David Susskind was raised in a Jewish family. He graduated from Brookline High School in Massachusetts and entered the University of Wisconsin at Madison. During WWII, he joined the US Navy and was assigned as a Communications Officer aboard the USS Mellette (APA-156), a Haskell-class attack transport which was named after Mellette County, South Dakota. The ship received two battle stars in recognition of its combat operations. Susskind would author ‘Transport to Hell’, relating the experiences of the ship and its crew in relation to the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Returning to civilian life, Susskind would begin a long career in media and specifically broadcasting. Starting out with a show titled ‘Open End’ in New York City, it would evolve into ‘The David Susskind Show’ in 1966, and was known for its wide variety of guests, often focusing on controversial topics rarely if ever discussed on television at that time, including rights for the LGBTQ community, then termed ‘Gay Rights’. Susskind would remain on the air, in one format or another, for the next 20 years. Susskind hosted Malcolm X and perhaps most famously, strongly criticized heavyweight boxer Muhamad Ali. Ali was controversial at the time for refusing induction into the US Army during the Vietnam War and Susskind called him “a disgrace” and said he belonged in prison.
Susskind also conducted an extended interview with former President Harry S. Truman. The interview took place on the porch of Truman’s home in Independence, Missouri. Susskind asked why he had not been invited in, and Truman told him that his wife didn’t want a Jew in the house as a guest.
Susskind died in 1987, at the age of 66, in New York City.