Beginning in 1921, Katherine (Kay) Harris spent nearly 50 years working in journalism and journalism-related jobs. As a reporter for Associated Press in New York City and San Francisco from 1932 to 1956, she covered the Lindbergh kidnapping, the birth of the United Nations, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and the trial of Tokyo Rose, among many other important stories.
Before she settled at Associated Press, Harris worked at the Kansas City Journal; the Salt Lake Telegram; the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin; the Daily Commonwealth in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; the Oakland Tribune; the New York World Telegram; and the Kansas City Star. At the Star, she met the man who would become her first husband, journalist Edwin G. Pinkham.
At many of these newspapers and at the Associated Press bureau in San Francisco, Harris was the first woman the organizations had ever hired to cover news. Women working on society beats were fairly common, but a woman who wanted to cover news was a startling concept. A photograph included with these interviews shows the young Harris in the San Francisco Associated Press bureau, a lone female surrounded by men, some wearing the journalist's archtypal green eyeshade.
Harris retired from Associated Press in 1956 because AP then required women to retire at age 55, although men could work until age 65. Harris says she didn't question the policy, and instead held six subsequent journalism-related jobs in political and university press relations. Her last job was working in the public relations office at Stanford.
These interviews were conducted at Kay Harris' home on the Stanford University campus. Her modest two-bedroom apartment, within half a mile of the center of the university, became available to Harris because of her second husband's position as a retired Stanford University professor. Now widowed, Harris lives alone but leads a very active life that includes swimming, attending campus events, traveling, and hosting family guests.
Harris prepared for these interviews by sorting through boxes of letters, photographs, and clippings. During each interview, she referred to a short list of two- and three-word items she had written before the interview as reminders of specific subjects to discuss, but otherwise she used no notes.
At the end of the last interview session, ("in my ninetieth year," she observed), Harris walked me to my car, which was parked in front of her apartment. We passed her white 1986 Dodge convertible sitting in the carport, and she said she was shopping for a new car, another convertible, one that would go faster than the Dodge. She's always liked driving a convertible, she said, so "I can feel the wind in my face."
As a writer, she was known both as Katherine Beebe and Katherine Pinkham. In this oral history series, she is indexed primarily as Katherine Beebe.
January 3, 1991
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: We're supposed to start at the very beginning, so if you want to just talk to me first about where you were born and how your life started, that's terrific.
Beebe: I'm sorry I wasn't born in a log cabin or anything. Middle-class, middle west, WASP background. I came across, going through all this junk, a picture of my mother's graduation from this Ohio college in 1890, just 100 years ago in June. I have it in there. I can also show you a picture of her house in Indiana and where my father grew up in Illinois, which was near Galena, and the family knew Grant.
Biagi: What do you remember most about your mother?
Beebe: Oh, if I start on Mother! I'm sorry you couldn't interview her, because she had real distinction. She was going to be a musician, and instead she was a music teacher and married Father and brought up her family, as one did. She hated to cook, but she did it. [Laughter.] She even sewed and made my clothes and had never learned how at all, because they had help at home.
Then when I was in college, she had a banking career at my father's suggestion. He was the idea man. She went to this bank. It was the First World War. She'd always done the household finances; Father didn't like math, but Mother did. She had done it. Women were having money. For the first time they were working then. So she said, "How do I do it?" He said, "Well, it's always well to go to the biggest person and the biggest thing."
So she tried for an appointment with the biggest man in the biggest bank in Kansas City. Took her quite a while to get to him. I don't know how long she worked at it, but she got there. Like bullets, she gave her ideas about this. He said, "You interest me very much. Make another appointment with my secretary." It took her three or four months to get it. She didn't know anything about banking, you know.
Biagi: And she'd never been in banking before?
Beebe: No, no!
Biagi: And she had never worked before outside the home?
Beebe: No. Well, just schoolteaching for a year or two. So she was sort of a publicity person, I guess. She wrote longhand letters to everybody. She knew everybody in town and joined all the clubs and made speeches about family allowances. She always was serious about that. We always had allowances. Father started the children to learn about money. Inside of a year, she had doubled the deposits from women in the bank, and after that, of course, she went up to
become one of the first officers of a bank in the country and helped organize the National Association of Bank Women, had conventions there with rotogravure* publicity, and she loved it.
Biagi: Which bank was that, do you remember?
Beebe: Commerce Trust Company. I was in college during the First World War, and it was then that women were having their money, before 1920.
Biagi: During the war, would you say 1915?
Beebe: No, no. I went to college in the fall of 1917, and it would be 1918 when she first went in.
Biagi: In the meantime, what was your father doing?
Beebe: Father was the intellectual in our family. Unfortunately, he spent his life with Swift & Co. (the big meat packers), finally credit manager for Shift & Co., because he had had a terrible setback. They were Chicago people, and Father's people were the ones that Mother said she got a little tired of hearing about. [Laughter.] They were professional and literary people. My goodness, this really does go back. I can show you pictures of his ancestors he was so proud of, who had a fight with the establishment in Chester, England, and won out after going clear to Parliament with the thing. You don't want to go back this far.
Biagi: No, but I do want to know about your dad.
Beebe: Anyway, Father didn't have much regular schooling. He and his two brothers were tutored by a Unitarian minister, so he had a lot of literature but he said his grammar was "limited to indicative mode, present tense, lickety-cut, straddle the fence." He never, never liked math very much. When it came time to get a job, he had relatives in Chicago that recommended him, and he got a job at Peabody Coal Company. He was secretary of the company.
Biagi: This is in Chicago now?
Beebe: In Chicago. Father had his suits made in London and he went to opera, and he was quite the gallant. He was a wonderful dancer and whatnot. Mother was teaching school with an older woman that she admired named Katherine Beebe, for whom I was named. Katherine Beebe took Mother home. She thought she'd like to have her in the family, introduced her to 11 eligible Mr. Beebe, and she said she picked the best one. [Laughter.] They had a wonderful little home in Evanston. Mother lost her first child. [Beebe said off the tape that her mother's first son who died was named Donald.]
Biagi: When did they get married?
Beebe: They got married in '95. Mother was 25, and I think Father was 30. They courted during the World's Fair in Chicago, went on their bicycles every day. I don't know what Father was doing. Anyway, maybe this job wasn't so pressing. But I'm sure he was good, because he studied coal and he always wanted to know about everything. I'm sure he did well. But it seems that the owner's son in New York was getting rather wild with wild companions, and they decided to send him out west to Chicago, and the only job that was suitable for him was the one
*A process preceding color in newspapers—expensive, better quality paper, sepia (brown) tones for photos.
my father had, so they just gave him my father's job, and Father was on the street. He didn't know anything about anything then. They had a terrible, terrible time.
Biagi: This was the Peabody Coal Company. They let him go?
Biagi: And they had just gotten married after that?
Beebe: No. One child had died, and my brother Stanley was born. Father didn't want to go back to the family and was trying to get a job. He didn't have any particular training, you see, or anything. They had a horrible time. Mother had to take the baby back home to Plymouth, and people looked at her as a grass widow. Finally, he got a job in the stockyards for something like $12 a week. He said, "We can't live on this." Mother said, "Yes, we can."
Biagi: Is that in Chicago?
Beebe: In Chicago. They lived in a tenement. There was one faucet in the yard, and Mother said, "I had always thought the poor could at least be clean, and now I realized why they couldn't." She had diapers with the baby.
Biagi: With the one faucet.
Beebe: And they lived way, way up. Oh, it was terrible.
Biagi: How long did that last?
Beebe: Father was so scared, you see. He was always afraid to leave. He just went up with Swift & Co., and then he was moved out to Kansas City, where I was born.
Biagi: When did he move to Kansas City?
Beebe: I was born in 1901.
Biagi: So before 1901, at some point he moved out there.
Beebe: Very shortly. Mother was pregnant that whole first summer in Kansas City. It was over 100 every day for six weeks and, of course, no air-conditioning or anything. They had a very small house at a rather poor end of town.
Biagi: And there was Stanley and you.
Beebe: That's right. I was on the way. I was born in September, you see. I just had my 88th birthday last Saturday.
Beebe: Sixteenth. 1901. I was born in a terrible-looking house on Olive Street in Kansas City.
Biagi: Do you remember the address?
Beebe: No, no. It's gone now, which is fortunate. [Laughter.] If I had gotten famous, they wouldn't have any place to put a plaque. And I wasn't expected, either, by the way. They had planned parenthood, but there was a slip-up. So when I arrived, there was rather consternation.
Biagi: How inconvenient! [Laughter.]
Beebe: Yes. But Mother always told me I made up for it because I never gave any trouble. I was a very happy baby. My brother was a rebel all his life, and they had a lot of trouble. Her father was a doctor, by the way. She said my grandfather said, "She's too happy. I don't think the child has good sense." [Laughter.] So I had to make up for my coming. Then Father just kept sawing away and wound up as credit manager. He should have been on a college campus, because he read all the time. He loved to read and he loved to discuss. When my brother was a teenager, they would talk about what my mother called the "whichness of the is." I would listen. I missed it so when I later went to a women's college for two years. There weren't any men, and nobody talked about anything except just what we were doing.
Biagi: Then in Kansas City, tell me a little about living there. Did you stay in that house?
Beebe: We had a lovely time. By the time I remember—in fact, my first recollection, I think, is of moving. I was three years old, and we moved to what was a nice, two-story, middle-class house then. They picked one that was across the street from 80 acres of pasture land that was being held for real-estate money. So we had those 80 acres to play in, in a city, which was wonderful. And my childhood was very happy. We didn't have much money. Father was a saint. He lived to please Mother and do whatever she wanted, and she always wanted something, so it worked out that they were devoted to each other. I never heard a cross word between them. People say that wasn't true, but it was. I didn't know people threw frying pans at each other. I thought everybody grew up that way. I think probably that's one reason that I never was bitten much by ambition, to be conspicuous. Father said, "A gentleman is never conspicuous." [Laughter.] He played with us. Oh, goodness, he had to ride something like three streetcars to get to his work in the stockyards. You couldn't live near there. Nobody had cars yet.
I remember the first car that came on our block. There was excitement! All the children got a ride in it and we went 25 miles an hour! Look!
Biagi: Who owned the car?
Beebe: Some neighbors that had no children and had, therefore, a little more money and decided to change their horse for a car.
Biagi: Did your family have horses?
Beebe: Oh, no. We weren't in that bracket. Mother had college friends, and we went to church for a while in the more fashionable end of town. We had friends who did. But no, we didn't.
Biagi: So you had your feet and the streetcars.
Beebe: Most everybody did that, so we didn't feel deprived. Of course, public transportation is always better when that's all there is. People used to smell, you know. They didn't have deodorant and it was hot, and the working people all expected to smell. When the streetcar was crowded, it wasn't too pleasant.
Biagi: Tell me about grammar school.
Beebe: We went to the neighbor grammar school.
Biagi: You and Stanley both went there?
Beebe: Yes, we both went. We had a walk of about three-quarters of a mile, but we went through a park. It was a city park, very, very nice.
Biagi: Do you remember the name of the school.
Beebe: Oh, yes. Thatcher School. I had a teacher in the first grade I always will remember. She was tops. Later, when I was back on the Star covering education for awhile, she was then teaching others how to do it, so I was in luck.
Biagi: What was her name?
Beebe: Her name was Miss Robinson. Wilma Robinson. Imagine that coming out! I think that was it—Wilma Robinson.
Biagi: Why was she so special?
Beebe: She made us all feel good, and we liked to learn. We'd sit on the floor and she had cards that she flashed, with phonetics. I was never bored. We learned to read and write.
Biagi: That was first grade?
Beebe: That was first grade.
Biagi: Did she teach any other grades?
Beebe: I don't know what happened after that. She later was on the faculty of the junior college, which was sort of a teachers' college. I was there until the sixth grade, when Mother jerked me out because there was a teacher who was in her eighties. Of course, there was no pension, so she couldn't stop teaching. She was not fit to teach. She was throwing ink wells at the sixth graders. [Laughter.] Mother just—
Biagi: Did she ever throw an ink well at you?
Beebe: No. I was only there for a couple of days, and Mother put on her hat and went down to the Board of Education and got permission for me to go to anther school, which was a longer walk and not right in my district, but Mother was a determined character.
Biagi: What about Stan?
Beebe: Stanley was through. He had graduated from that. That's the only thing he ever graduated from. He got into trouble, and finally they took him out, and he took examinations to get into college. He didn't get a college degree, either. Mother discovered that by second semester he was in the library reading all the philosophers and hadn't gone to any classes. So Stanley's degree was from elementary school. He, too, was an immense reader.
Biagi: When you left sixth grade?
Beebe: Sixth and seventh grade. We only had seven grades in Kansas City. I don't know why that was. Also, Mother got me into kindergarten a year early, because Stanley was bored. Our Aunt Katherine Beebe was a kindergartner and in Who's Who for that. We had had a lot of that
at home, and he was bored. That's what happened to him in school; he was bored. So Mother was determined I should start earlier, and I got to kindergarten at five, which is what they do now. But Missouri law said that taxpayers were only responsible at six. Kindergarten was fairly new.
Biagi: The different school you went to, do you remember the name of that?
Beebe: Scarritt. That was a little better district for the northeast end of town. The upper-crust group lived rather close to that school. I made some good friends there, and Mother was always pushing for me to have more social contact. I was a very shy child. I was bothered when people spoke to me. Later, when Mother told people I was being a newspaper reporter, they said, "Katherine? It can't be!" [Laughter.] This is a totally different thing, you know. When you have a commission to do something, you do it. But I still feel just as shy personally. Always have.
Biagi: In that time when you left seventh grade now at the Scarritt School, where did you head after that?
Beebe: We had moved again. Meanwhile, this 80 acres had gone, and we moved. We were only a couple of blocks from the high school. It was a brand-new high school, Northeast High School. I went to it, graduated from it in three years, in 1917, with distinction. And very unhappy I was, because, of course, all that amounts to anything in high school is how popular you are, and I was not. My brother was the Beau Brummel, sought by everybody. Girls would come to the house—"Is Stanley there?" [Laughter.] But you see, I was only 15 when I was graduated. But I was unhappy in high school and so there was nothing to do but study.
Then Mother was very ill. That's another reason she wanted to make up for a huge expense they had.
This isn't journalism, you know.
Biagi: Sure it is.
Beebe: But it is history. She had an infection in her antrum. They were young and healthy, didn't have any doctors. The dentist said, "There's an ear and nose man upstairs here in the building. I don't know anything about him." She went up. He thought he could drain it out, take the tooth out and drain it. Instead, he went up and he was a butcher. He wrecked her eyes. She was totally blind for three weeks, she lost the sight in an eye, and she was two years with great pain.
Biagi: Is that when she was working at the bank?
Beebe: Oh, no, no. That's one reason she wanted to do something to make up for all the money. There was no health insurance, you know, at all. Father was still on a small salary.
Biagi: Swift didn't provide any?
Beebe: Oh, goodness, no! There was nothing. There was nothing! So it was up to you. Good free-enterprise days, those were. And you didn't expect it. I mean, so what? I guess they were in debt. They never talked about money to us, and we always had lots to play with.
Father put up swings and rings, and we had a playhouse in the back yard. Mother saw to it that the children played in our yard. The grass suffered, but it was much better to have everyone there. We always had fun, and Father played with us every night. He read to us every
night, one on each arm of his chair. We learned to read that way. The Fourth of July, we had the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack in washtubs in the yard, which also meant there was plenty of water in case we'd get burned, you know. We had cigar boxes at that time. We whittled little boats and put masts and sails on them and things, and we would put firecrackers on them and have a battle. We had lots of fun. It was lots of fun. Mother was always there, and anything that was wrong, she fixed it. Father came home and played with us, and it was nice.
Biagi: So at 15, what does a 15-year-old do, headed for college? Were you?
Beebe: Mother had gone to this little, as she said, one-horse college in Ohio. She was supposed to go east, too, to Wellesley and didn't want to go there, but she was 16 when she went, scratched her name on the window with a diamond ring her boyfriend had given her, and people didn't know she had. When I went there, I saw the window. I was next door to it, and there it still was. She scratched her name and her roommate's name on the window. So Mother had gone to this Western—I think it was still called Western Female Seminary at Oxford, Ohio. That's where Miami University is. I have this picture in there that I will show you of her and the class. She was going to be a concert pianist, by the way, but she had kind of a nervous breakdown in college and wound up schoolteaching instead for this brief time. But she wanted me to go. Also, I had a scholarship—$50. Not for any reason of excellence, but because Mother knew the woman who had been head of the college when she was there, married a wealthy man who moved to Kansas City, and she had this little $50 scholarship and thought I should have it.
Biagi: What was the name of the scholarship? Did it have a name attached to it?
Biagi: It was just $50.
Beebe: Fifty dollars, yes. Mother thought it would be a good thing, since I was so young, to be at a woman's college, since I had only brothers, I was a tomboy and always played with the boys and beat them at shinny. We had basketball hoops on the trees and we had turning poles in the yard. So I went with the idea, "Now I must make friends and I must not go off by myself," which I was inclined to do. So I made a great effort to do that. "Now I'm going to get into activities."
In fact, when I decided to get through high school in three years, I counted up my units and I was only one unit short of getting out of there, you see, and I wasn't happy in high school. I had time to persuade them to let me do it. I had this interview with the vice principal. I said, "I can get out of high school if I just have one more unit, and couldn't I take that outside of school?" He gave me a long lecture about how you really needed to be a little older and it would be a good thing if I would stay and take more things there. He made a very plausible, nice, long talk and got up to dismiss me, and I said, "Well, I think I'd still like to get out." [Laughter.] So I then persuaded somebody to give me a course in natural geography or something like that—isotherms. I don't know how I did it. He did. After school, I went to him and I got that unit with math and got my unit and graduated.
But the day I graduated, Mother was then at Mayo Clinic. She was three times there with all this terrible business. That's the only housekeeping I learned, too, because Mother wasn't functioning and I kind of had to. She was a great teacher, though. She could lie on the couch and tell me what to do. But she was again up at Mayo, and Father, of course, was working. My brother then was in college at a small college in Missouri. So nobody was there for my graduation. I didn't think anything about it.
Biagi: Was it during the day?
Beebe: Yes, it was during the day. But this program had stars for the ones who had gotten certain grades, and I had two stars by my name, so when I went up to get the diploma, there was applause. I thought something had happened. I looked around and didn't see what they were clapping about. Of course, they were just clapping because I had two stars by my name.
Biagi: What did the two stars mean?
Beebe: No grade below A- or something like that. It was a scholarship thing. I was very surprised at that. So my idea was that if I had to stay in high school, I was going to join everything and be in activities and see what I could do, but I wanted to get out of there. So at Western, I went with the idea of getting into activities, and I did.
Biagi: In high school, did you work on the high school newspaper? Did you do anything like that?
Beebe: No, nothing. I had to go home and keep house a good deal of that time. I'd go home. I had a very good friend on the block, who played. In those days, you see, there was no television and no radio or anything, and you played sheet music. So she got all the popular songs and she played them. I loved to sing, but can't. [Laughter.] So I would do that a little bit in the afternoons, but I was not in any high school activities at all. I think I was in the French club. I was crazy about learning French and had even a little of it in grade school, believe it or not. They had some idea of enrichment even then, and they had somebody come after school. We had pottery and French and little stuff, so I took French all through high school and all through college, and still I couldn't understand it or speak it, but I've had quite a bit.
Biagi: So you went to college. You went away, essentially, to college. It wasn't very far. How far was it?
Beebe: It was two nights—let me see. You went to Chicago overnight on the train and you went down again, so it was a two-day trip.
Biagi: About how many miles away?
Beebe: To drive it now wouldn't be too much, but look at the map. Oxford, Ohio, is near Cincinnati, and Kansas City is on the western border of Missouri. So you didn't come home weekends. My granddaughter is amazed at this—we sent our laundry home. There were special laundry cases. You'd flap it this way for this address, and this way for the other address, and you sent your laundry home.
Biagi: That was a good deal.
Beebe: It was a very good deal, because when it came back, I'd have little pies in it. All the girls said, "What did you get in your laundry?" [Laughter.] But around the post-office box, here were all these laundry cases, because there were no washing machines. What would we do? We wore more clothes, too, more underwear. No nylons. So you had to have it done.
Biagi: Were you excited about going away to college?
Beebe: Yes. I can remember sitting on the floor by my bookcase. I always was crazy about books. Christmas was a big time, and we'd have all these presents. There were always books.
I'd get to that pretty soon, you know. I sat on the floor by the bookcase and cried quietly, felt that I was leaving home, leaving everything behind.
I was very homesick when I got to college, and I wrote to Mother. I've got a letter in here saying, "Mother, please come." And she came and saw that I was with the wrong roommate. She again had taken steps to see that I got in a good, new dormitory, and that was wrong, because the freshmen were all in the other one. I got one of the pills of the school, who was later thrown out. She was a junior. Mother sized her up in no time, you see. I was trying to be nice because I knew I must make friends with everybody, and she was an upperclassman. So Mother straightened that out very quickly and I went back to the big dormitory. There was only one building that was there when she was there in Western Female Seminary, a big old brick thing, three or four stories high. We had a lot of tradition, tradition about things that you were to do, which was to secretly climb up to the roof and sleep all night. Very dangerous, too, but, of course, we all did.
Biagi: You did that?
Beebe: Yes, I did that. I came down the next day with a spider bite on my eye, which was not good. [Laughter.]
I went out for athletics.
Biagi: What did you go out for?
Beebe: Tennis. I was class champion and runner-up for the school championship, because I'd always played tennis with boys. I'd never had any instruction, but I played with the boys and, of course, the girls hadn't. So I was pretty good. I also won the high jump in a track meet, having gone out just the day before. They got some of the sports department at Miami University to come over and see if we couldn't line up some people to have some events. So I jumped. I didn't know how. I just pulled my legs up under me and jumped.
Biagi: How high did you jump?
Beebe: I jumped four feet. If you try to do that that way, you will find that it's not easy. [Laughter.] So the next day I won the high jump, and my roommate's brother had made an ice cream soda bet that the other gal would do it, because she was much bigger and stronger. So that was a nice triumph. And we hiked. We would hike out on the unpaved road to Meredith, which was a farmhouse that made wonderful chocolate pie with whipped cream on it. You see, we didn't have anything to buy, no place to buy anything. The college was a mile from the town of Oxford, and you walked. If you walked there and got something to eat, you were just as hungry when you got back. [Laughter.] So we ate three meals a day in the dormitory, which was, of course, I guess very good for us. But there was no place to buy candy bars. There was nothing at all.
Biagi: No vending machines?
Beebe: No vending machines of any kind. The only hope you had if you missed breakfast, the muffins that were left over were put in a great big can, and when the mail came in at 10:00, the muffin can, you could get a muffin to get you through until noon. But that was the way it was.
Anyway, when I left as a sophomore, I had my letter, my "W" letter for six things.
Biagi: Which were?
Beebe: Goodness. I don't know if I can remember that. I got one in gym. I did that by asking the teacher, "How do you get your letter in gym? Doesn't everybody do the same thing?" "You always come on time and you do what's told." So I got in the front row and did everything hard, and I got the letter. That was one. Tennis was one, and the track meet was one. I guess swimming. We all had to learn to swim before we could graduate from that women's college. What would be the other? Oh, basketball I played and hockey.
Biagi: What position?
Beebe: You know, girls' basketball was different. We had three. I played guard and then I played forward, but I wasn't particularly good. But just being on the team was one thing for the letter. Wasn't that enough?
Biagi: That's fine. That's good.
Beebe: There were six.
Biagi: We'll have to think about it.
Beebe: The letter to sew on my sweater, which reached to my knees, I didn't get until after everything. Oh, I know. I got a Better Baby prize of five dollars. Some man who cared about women's physique—I suspect the colleges would have a good time with him now—he was a donor. He put some money up and every year there was a Perfect Baby. We were all measured when we came. We had to take gym, you see, and you were supposed to be improving. But the Perfect Baby was the one that had the best measurements at the beginning, and then the Better Baby was the one that had made the most progress. I was the Better Baby.
Biagi: That was the sixth one? [Laughter.]
Beebe: That was the sixth one, and I got five dollars.
Biagi: That was a good award. Did he come and give you the five-dollar award? Did he come and give out the awards, do you remember?
Beebe: You know, it's very vague. I suppose he was there, but we were awfully bored with that.
We went every morning to chapel. This college, which was then Western College for women, had had a Presbyterian background. We started every morning with chapel for half an hour, which was not too bad, because that was where you found out what was going on and all the announcements. Everybody was there, so there was nothing to do otherwise. It wasn't too bad. Of course, we went to church on Sunday. I sang in the choir, if you please. Of course, I couldn't sing, but they were having a new chapel built, and they had to expand the choir. So they were urging us, if we could sing at all or would try, to come out. So the man tested me and he said, "You know, you can match tones, but you don't know where anything is." He said, "Stand next to Mildred Nusbaum and you'll be all right." She was a musician, one of my good friends. So I sang in the choir and had a lovely time, because they couldn't stop me. However, I had to move away from her. She was alto, and you know, the sopranos always had the air, so I couldn't stay with her, so I had to move over to the sopranos in order to get by. [Laughter.]
Later, after the chapel was dedicated and we had had the expanded choir for dedication, the choirmaster said that now they wouldn't be needing so many people, so I just didn't show up
again. I knew I was a tail-ender. He met me on the sidewalk not long after, and he said, "What's the matter? You're not coming to choir."
I said, "Well, I can take a hint. You didn't need so many people."
He said, "We'd like to have you." Apparently I paid attention, you know, and he said, "Please come back." So I did. It was handy, too, you see, because you didn't have to dress for church. You could go out and wade around in the Talawanda River and have a picnic, and then just toss the choir thing over your head and you were set. So that was a plus, too. I liked it. I had a good time there and had many friends.
Biagi: How many students?
Beebe: About 250. Then, you see, to move to the University of Wisconsin with 7,000—one of the other girls in our immediate group—you always form your own little group—also decided to go. It was considered sort of treasonous to leave after two years, as many wanted to, so we didn't say anything about it. I was later accused of starting a stampede to Wisconsin, because two others went, too, and we didn't even know they were going. But somehow or other, they thought I was responsible for it and were not very friendly about it.
Biagi: Your lower-division classes that you took before you left Western, what did you study?
Beebe: It was humanities stuff, and I've always been glad I had it, because I think I paid more attention and got my mind opened more at that time than ever since. It was the only really humanities education I got, because at Wisconsin I was in a trade school with journalism. I didn't know it. I didn't know I wasn't getting an education. I had a degree and good grades, but I didn't really know. I didn't have English literature. I got through college and high school without any chemistry or physics and thought it was smart. I've been sorry ever since.
Biagi: Did you study anything at Western College that you really remember being important to you?
Beebe: I had to study Latin, for one thing, and I had thought that I was through with Latin. We had to do that in high school in those days, and ordinarily you had four years of Latin, but I had only the three. Since I was getting through, that junior year I was taking a very heavy schedule, my mother suggested that I have a pony for Caesar. She said, "You shouldn't do this if you aren't conscientious, but it will save you time. You make sure how the construction comes, but it will save you time." So I used the pony. When I got to Western, I discovered I had to take more Latin, so I had been weakened by that. I had a wonderful Latin teacher. She later became president of the college.
Biagi: By "pony," clarify what you mean by that.
Beebe: A pony is a translation. I told the teacher about this, and also she found this writing above the words as we studied, you know, writing the words. She said that, too, would weaken us. She gave us the first idea of scholarship. I didn't, I think, absorb it too well because I finally did well enough in Latin that she wanted me to go on and take more than I needed to, and I said, "But what for? I won't get any more credits." [Laughter.] I couldn't understand scholarship that well. But she was good.
Biagi: What was her name?
Beebe: Miss Byrne. What was her first name? People didn't have first names then, you know. I can't think what it was. Her best friend was the English teacher, Miss Windgate.
Of course, we had English, much English, and very good prose help. We had to do it and we had to write, and we had to take elocution and we had to get up and speak. That was always hard for me. The teacher had a system. She said, "Now, who's ready?" She wanted us all to stand up. Everybody who was prepared was to rise. So that then when she called on us, we couldn't back out. My system was not to rise until the class was just about over. Then I would rise. [Laughter.] I would get up and say, "This morning I'm going to tell you about Ellis Island," and the bell would ring. I did it, I think, three times, and my classmates said, "What's going on here?"
Biagi: You figured out the system.
Beebe: I don't think my grade was very good in elocution, but I still was getting good grades there. We had lots of English. I didn't take Bible. I've been sorry since, because they had a Bible teacher, and I later wished that I had.
I had biology. That's how I got out of taking any other science. We had lab. We had animals one semester and plants the other, you know. That was really almost the extent of my science. Terrible. And math—oh, yes, math. A very poor teacher who was a good mathematician, but very young and she didn't know how to teach. French, too.
Biagi: All women teachers?
Beebe: The man who taught organ and the choir. I don't believe I had any other man teacher when I was there. No, I think they were all women teacher.
Biagi: Were there any writers or any particular books at that time that were really important to you?
Beebe: We had a visiting celebrity, Edgar Stillman Kelley. But he was a musician. They had a house on campus, so they had—
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Beebe: I can summarize, you know.
Biagi: I bet you could write a quick news story. If you had to write a news story about yourself, what would you say?
Beebe: I've thought of that. The only distinction I have, I suppose, is being one of the first small group of women that managed to escape out of the sob-sister society box of newspapers and stick to news and do it. That's my distinction, if any.
Biagi: What headline would you put on that story?
Beebe: I know what they'd put: "Pioneer Newswoman Dead."
Biagi: Oh, no! [Laughter.] No. If you wrote a news story about you today? Let's go back. We've got you in college.
Beebe: At Wisconsin now?
Biagi: Let's go to Wisconsin. That's what you did next.
Beebe: There was a question of whether I was going to go east to Wellesley or Wisconsin. Again, Father and Mother thought, "Now it would be better to be in a co-educational place."
Biagi: This was what year now?
Beebe: Let's see. I was '17 to '19 at Western. At Western, the Armistice was signed and we straggled in a funny little line from Western into the town of Oxford. It was a mile of dusty walking, not very exciting. But the war was on while we were at Western. It was exciting, you know, and sort of fun, and lots of songs. I didn't realize until my roommate had a brother in the Rainbow Division and went every morning to look at the casualty list. We knitted socks in chapel. You couldn't knit on Sunday in church; you could knit socks in chapel. We had Red Cross things and wrapped bandages and made awful sweaters and things.
Biagi: Were you very good at that?
Beebe: I was good. Yes, I knit socks with red, white, and blue tops. We had even little arrows going up the sides. Yes, very fancy. But as a grandmother, I don't seem to knit at all. [Laughter.]
Biagi: So it was 1919.
Beebe: 1919, in the fall. I went with my friend from Western, Mildred Nusbaum, and we went together to Wisconsin. That was a whole different chapter and it was wonderful. I learned how to have a good time, and I wanted to. I actually would stop myself from studying. My parents backed me in that. They thought it was time that I should, you see.
Biagi: So you were 17 then, were you?
Beebe: I was 15 when I graduated from high school, but the next September I was 16. I was 16 as I started to Western, so I was 18 as a junior at Wisconsin.
Biagi: Is that at Madison?
Beebe: That's at Madison. There was only one then, and it seemed perfectly huge, you know, to us. At Western, we would walk along the sidewalks and meet the teachers. "You're going to be with us next year?" And at Wisconsin, we were at the end of the line, standing there trying to get up to windows and try to find out how to register. It seemed absolutely immense to us!
Biagi: Did you live in the dorms there?
Beebe: No, no, we didn't want to. We had had dorms, thank you. It was fun, too, but no, we rented a place right down on the lakefront. Well, about on the lakefront—Lorch's.
We had rather an unsocial time at first, but that's when I had to decide, since I was a junior, what my major was going to be. So now we come, really, to begin. I'm afraid it was done rather aimlessly. You had to pick a major and, of course, I always talked over everything with my parents. We were on very good terms. They said we had writers in the family and I seemed to do well in English, so why didn't I want to write? How about journalism? I said, "Well, what's journalism?" more or less.
Biagi: Who were the writers in the family that they kept referring to?
Beebe: Just that they wrote journals. It was a literate family. Mother wrote a book, by the way, when she was pregnant. My Aunt Katherine Beebe said that they ought to have more life
and history and take a hero and make it come alive to the children. She said, "Okay," she would do it. So she wrote one about John Paul Jones. I have it. All you had to do to Mother was give her an idea and she was halfway done. My father was still talking about it and would say, "Let's wait. Let's talk about this," and was involved. She got $500 for it. She mailed it, I think three days before Stanley was born, and she got $500. But she had the choice of royalties. Had she taken it, it was taken up by the Chicago schools the next year, we would have made money.
Biagi: Who published it?
Beebe: I don't know, but I've got the book.* [Tape interruption.] She also had a magazine article published: "Outdoor Recreation for City Children." She wanted to do something, you see. She felt trapped there. She didn't like domesticity, but she did it. She didn't like to cook. That banking career was just wonderful for her.
Biagi: She never wrote another book?
Biagi: Or any magazine article or anything else?
Beebe: No. She made some talks. She wrote her own speeches. No, I don't think so. I don't have anything, anyway, if she did.
Biagi: Let's go back to your choosing your major.
Beebe: So I talked to them and decided, "Why not journalism?" My roommate, Mildred Nusbaum, said she didn't have any idea, either, so we might as well both do that. It was that casual.
Biagi: She became a journalism major, too?
Beebe: No. I'm still in touch with her. She said I persuaded her; she didn't really belong in it at all, but she went home and worked for a year on the paper. She was engaged when she got through college and she worked on the hometown paper, then got married and raised a family. Her husband, by the way, was head of journalism at Northwestern University for 25 years.
Biagi: Is that Stewart?
Beebe: Ken Olson. Ken Stewart was out here. Did you know Kent Stewart?
Biagi: No, I didn't.
Beebe: But Ken Olson was at Northwestern.
Biagi: So here you are, choosing a major.
Beebe: There we are, choosing a major. We went to the first journalism class and it was too big. Everybody seemed to want to go to journalism. They said they were going to have to wash out some people, and it was going to be very hard. They told us what we were going to have to do and they said, "We won't accept any papers in longhand after November. After that, it's got
* Four American Naval Heroes by Mabel Borton Beebe, published by Werner School Book Company in 1898.
to be typewritten." And we didn't have typing, you know. We rented typewriters and a book, and went at it and made it by November. But when we came out of the class that day, we were in some doubt about it. The professor, Grant Hyde, sounded pretty discouraging, you know. We decided to stay with it, so we did.
I think the thing that really seriously made me decide to be a journalist is reading Philip Gibbs' Street of Adventure, if I have to pick one thing. I liked Philip Gibbs' stuff. Do you know about him?
Biagi: No. Tell me all about him.
Beebe: I'm afraid I've thrown away most things. I looked last night for my textbooks in journalism. I thought you might be interested to look at them.
Biagi: I would.
Beebe: The news writing and editing. This Street of Adventure was Gibbs' more or less autobiographical account of journalism in London. The journalists sat around and toasted chestnuts by the fire. Sounded very nice. Also they were finding ways to ride behind the royal carriage by dressing a certain way. It sounded rather exciting, and I thought, "That's it! That's what I want to do."
Biagi: Was that required reading?
Beebe: No, it was recommended extra reading. I came across it. That book was suppressed for quite a while because of libel threats. Then it came out again later. When we had history of journalism, perhaps I got interested in it. That's why I got a copy and read it. That is a little bit simplistic, because, of course, he told what was really involved in being a journalist.
Biagi: What did you think at that time was your view of a journalist's job?
Beebe: We were getting told about it pretty much. We had a good course. Our news-writing course was taught by an ex-newsman who was very literate, too, and had integrity. There were three papers in Madison at that time, and he made an agreement with the papers that his students, or certain ones of them that he would recommend, would cover assignments for free, and since there were many speeches in a university town and many things that would have to be let go, they were glad to take him up on it. But they said, "We are not going to fool with students who don't show up and so on." So if we made this agreement, you personally had to be responsible. He had every schedule that we had. He knew exactly where we were every hour of the day, so we would get this assignment and go and cover the speech. Then we would write it up, take our carbon, and we would submit it to the paper we were assigned to do, and the carbon to him. He would tell us what was wrong with it.
I can remember my first assignment. I can't even tell you what it was, but I had made an introductory paragraph, and when it got in the paper, that was all that got there. [Laughter.] It was like one of the New Yorker funny ones, you know. So then you went to the conference and he looked at it and he said, "I don't need to tell you anything about this, do I?"
I said, "No. I see." It's the way to tell you what might happen. [Laughter.] But I think that was very good, really.
I had one little triumph. I went to one assignment, which was a school parent-teacher meeting, when it had been discovered that students were writing love letters back and forth. A teacher had managed to get some. Everybody said, "Read them! Read them!" And she looked
around and said, "Well, we don't want publicity on this," looking hard at me. I just sat, looking blank and didn't say anything. [Laughter.] Sure enough, they read these letters about when they would meet and so on. So I went and wrote this up and it made front page with big headlines. Oddly enough, the other paper had the same story and there was a big kick about that. They wondered if I had taken it to the other paper. I hadn't. It was a mystery. I don't know what ever happened, how it was.
Biagi: Did they publish the actual letters?
Beebe: Oh, yes, they published the actual letters. That's what made the front page. They were mild. I mean, they were not specific as things would be now.
Biagi: What paper in town was this?
Beebe: That one was the Wisconsin State Journal, which was the leading paper. The other one that cribbed it somehow, maybe they got a first edition when that came out and made it somehow. The Capital Times, that was the La Follette paper, on which I later worked for three months.
Biagi: So did you do almost all your work at Wisconsin in journalism?
Beebe: Pretty much, because, you see, I hadn't had any of the undergraduate courses that I would have had if we were going to do that. No, we had to take some other things. I took European history. Mother never liked history. Father did; Mother didn't. So Mother was most decided in all opinions, so I thought I didn't like history, either. That was the lowest grade I got. It was a lecture class only, and what I did, I guess, really showed that I was just a reporter. I wrote my notes of what he said, and then I crammed for exams. But unfortunately, I had not given myself enough time. About 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning before, I thought I'd better get a little sleep and I'd only gotten two-thirds of the way through. So his exam was five questions, and the last two were on ground I hadn't covered, so I got called on it. My first three were fine; the last two—that would be 60—were absolutely terrible. It looked as if the person I was copying from had gone home and left. So he wanted to know what had happened. I told him. He said, "Don't you take it in? As you listen to it, doesn't it mean anything?"
I said, "No, I just write it down and get to it later." [Laughter.] That shook him, so he changed his course.
Biagi: Oh, he did?
Beebe: Yes, he did. He said, "I'll make a deal with you. If you will take history again next semester, I'll just call this an incomplete or something." So I did and came out with a B at the end.
Biagi: How were your other grades? Did you do well?
Beebe: Yes, I got good grades, but I didn't even know about Phi Beta Kappa. When one of my friends said she made Phi Beta Kappa her junior year, I said, "What's that?" They had an honor society at Western, but no Phi Beta Kappa. We, of course, had no sororities. We had clubs. But the journalism group was fun and we put on a Gilbert and Sullivan play, and soon we had a group, of course a co-ed group, and two or three of the girls were engaged, and two or three of us weren't. I have a letter in here that I've just dug up and I'm going to show it to my great-granddaughter about the house party. We went to get chaperones for it. Apparently it seemed queer to us that there wasn't any supervision at these things, because we were so used to
rules, you see. We got a young married couple to be chaperones for our house party. The gals slept upstairs and the boys slept downstairs.
Biagi: Very appropriate. Tell me first what role you played in the Gilbert and Sullivan play.
Beebe: I don't know. I usually pulled the curtains, and I did at Western, too. My friends were always actors and actresses. I played a Pullman porter at Western once, with Shinola* on my face. It was very hard to get off! Then I was in a French play because I had good French, but I was no actress, so I was a curtain puller. In Gilbert and Sullivan, I was in the chorus.
Biagi: You got to sing again. [Laughter.]
Beebe: I got to sing. I was drowned out. [Laughter.]
Biagi: What other memorable things happened to you at Wisconsin?
Beebe: I have letters here that I wrote to Mother about all the dates I had, and nothing about studying at all. I think she was delighted, because she thought it was time, you see. I just had a ball. But it was slow coming. Our first semester was pretty grim. It was big and different, and we weren't sorority, you see. We came as juniors, and that was bad. Nuzie was supposed to be—in a little town, you must make a sorority—and she came home from a rush party in tears because she said she knew that you could see they had a lot of people there, but they had only certain ones they wanted.
Biagi: Did you try to get in a sorority?
Beebe: I had introductions, too, but I could see, too, right away that it was nothing. Finally, I went to one, to Pi Phi. That was amusing, too. One of our Western friends was coming to Wisconsin as a graduate, and her sister was a national officer of Pi Phi. She had never seen a sorority party and she was, of course, invited and was supposed to be kind of an honored guest because she was the sister of this So-and-so, and so would I go. I said, "All right, I'll go." They're not interested in me. Naturally, she was a graduate, so I would go. When I went there, she hadn't come. They were supposed to bring her. I went around and said, "You haven't got Miss Florence Bryan, who's waiting to come." They didn't seem to know what was going on, and I found myself in this place with tables of four. We were eating, and everybody was talking about what kind of cars they had. They had Packards and they had this and that and so on. They said, "What kind of car do you have?"
I said, "We don't have a car. We can't afford one." [Laughter.] Just at that moment, as sometimes happens, there was dead silence, and it was a terrible silence. The whole room heard this. I did it kind of on purpose, because I just knew that it made me kind of ill, anyway, all this stuff that they were talking.
Afterwards, one of my good friends, who is a journalist and was a Pi Phi, told me that they had a big row in the chapter and almost had a majority take me in because they liked what I said. I was so surprised, because I thought the Pi Phis had a reputation of being butterflies. Absolutely impossible for me.
Anyway, we did not belong to a sorority. So that was what most social life was keyed to, you see, there. So it really took us quite a little bit before we had our outside group. It wasn't like Stanford, where people chose not to. The roughs were boasting that they didn't belong. In the midwest, it was pretty important.
Biagi: What were some of your assignments working for that newspaper?
Beebe: They were mostly speeches. I can't really remember. They were nothing. They wouldn't give students assignments that were anything very—they wouldn't take a chance on that, you know.
Biagi: You did that for two years, then?
Beebe: Yes, I guess I did. Both of us went to work on the Cardinal. That's the daily university paper. We were really working there every day and writing every day about school stuff. I can't remember what it was. You know what they're like.
Biagi: Any big scoops?
Beebe: No. It wasn't a scoop atmosphere. In fact, I don't know that I heard that word, really. It was just telling what happened. That was my idea, anyway. Of course, it was acceptable.
Biagi: Did you have a teacher working with you on the paper?
Beebe: Oh, no. It was student. By the way, no woman was, of course, main editor then, but the number-two person was Esther Van Wagoner (later Tufty.) She went to U.S. News [& World Report], didn't she?
Beebe: She had her own service in Washington.
Biagi: So she was there when you were there.
Beebe: Yes. Let me see if I can think of any famous people. Fredric March Bickel, he was a big star on campus, theater production, very good, too. [Charles] Lindbergh was there, by the way, but I didn't know it. He was at Wisconsin at the same time. I never met him, but I heard later where he lived, and we were a block or so apart there. He was not known in school.
Biagi: Did you do general assignment at the Cardinal?
Beebe: I guess just general assignments. That was already the thing I wanted to do. I never liked the departments and I never liked the women's stuff. You see, Esther got her job because she was supposed to be the women's editor. But she was a good newspaperwoman, too. If you wanted to get anywhere—and that's what they told us in journalism school. They said, "Your chance is with women's specialty, because the others are pretty well exclusively for men," whereas, of course, I decided, with my general perversity, that that was what I wanted to do, because that was the more important thing and that's what I wanted to do. I spent most of my career doing it. I'd have to start, usually, with women's stuff and work around it every time, over and over again.
Biagi: Were there a lot of other women working in the journalism school and at the Cardinal with you at that time?
Beebe: There were quite a few girls, yes—we didn't call ourselves women then—that were in it, but I don't know that many of them went on, except for Esther Wagoner. I suppose some of them did, but I didn't keep track of anyone who did, and I think most of them did go on to specialties of style or so on. Women were already then interested in it.
You see, the Roaring Twenties were starting, and it was post-war. Many men at Wisconsin were a little bit older because they had been to the First World War and were coming late to get their education. Since women had worked during the war for the first time and had tasted a little independence and independent money, it was more or less—I'd always assumed that I would go through college and then I would earn my living. So I didn't have any history of having to be a rebel, you know, my family thinking that I should go home and be in the kitchen. They didn't. Of course Mother didn't and neither did Father. He was very liberal and broad-minded and had a very high opinion of women's abilities, because I think men do if the women around them have abilities. The ones that marry little butterflies that are kind of crazy and look like the comics, you know, think all women are like that. They just judge by the ones who are around them. I found that throughout. I remember people on the court beat, a bailiff. "My mother was a wonderful woman," he said. They would be glad that I was there. In unexpected places you'd get it, whereas overall, the idea that a woman was limited and she could do "women's stuff," but otherwise, "My goodness, isn't there a man around here?" They'd look over your head. "Who's doing it?"
I remember one time I was on the Star and was interviewing Martin Johnson. I don't know whether that name means anything to you, but he was quite a nationally known explorer, and his wife, whose name was—I can't remember. I've got a clipping in here. I saw it the other night. We had a photographer who was very intelligent and interested in things, and he was literate, too, which was unusual. The usual newspaper photographers in those days were just, "Move over, queen, if you want to get in the picture." [Laughter.] So he was talking, too, a little bit. Of course, Johnson would be talking to him. To me he said, "You know, my wife is over there now."
I said, "Yes, I'll talk to her later." So I went on. He was very interesting. I had a column or so in the paper and it made the front page. He wrote a letter. He said he didn't know who had written it. "There seemed to be two or three people there." Whoever had written the story, it was the only time in his whole experience when there was no mistake in it. So the paper put that letter on the bulletin board, but didn't mention who had written it. We didn't have bylines on the Star. But I was very pleased at that.
Biagi: I'm sure you would be. So we get you to Wisconsin.
Beebe: I just had a good time socially and enjoyed it, did journalism and got good grades.
Biagi: Were there any women teachers there? Were they all men in the journalism program?
Beebe: I'm trying to think. I think there was a Genevieve Broughman [spelling uncertain] who came. No. Let's see. Willard Bleyer was the head of the journalism department. He was a wonderful person, but he did have the driest course in the history of journalism that anybody had ever heard of. Then there was Grant Hyde, the news-writing teacher. I mustn't get it mixed up with Stanford now. It seems to me there was somebody else. No, there was no woman, I guess, not in those two years. But I think quite soon after I left there, they did have one.
Biagi: How did you find your first job?
Beebe: I went home.
Biagi: This would have been what year?
Beebe: This would have been 1921, my graduation. So I wanted to go out on my own. I had glimpsed an adventure from one of the young men in our group. He was a very glamorous
figure. We all fell in love with him in turn. He saw life as adventurous, and he more or less opened my eyes about that. So I was very interested to go and try the world on my own, but, of course, I didn't have any money. So I went home. "Why don't you get a job here? I'll see Mr. So-and-so." Somebody, I think, talked to the publisher of the number-three paper in Kansas City, and I went there. I suppose the publisher had said, "We'll look at this person." They needed a women's club editor. Women's clubs were very big then, especially in the midwest. That was the only activity women had, you see. There were columns of their meetings. There were all these Eastern Stars and drill teams and everything, and then the Atheneum in Kansas City was the club where lecturers came and they had groups and different courses for women and whatnot. There were clubs of every kind. So I was taken on for that. The managing editor said, "Can you come to work right away?"
I said, "Yes, right away."
"Come to work tomorrow," or Monday. "We only pay women $15 a week to start, the first two weeks." I didn't bristle at that. I mean, I was not a rebel. That was the way things were.
Biagi: What would have been a good wage or a fair wage at that time, do you think?
Beebe: They were all low, I know that. There was a woman on the paper that was kind of a drudge by that time, had worked there a long time, and she told me she was getting $30 a week. This was after 25 years or something, I think. So I worked the two weeks. It was a roundtable of clubs, and although I couldn't make a speech, I was anxious to get to them the fact that we were going to open this department. So I kind of forgot about it and told them that we wanted to pay attention to them and cover their activities. Oh, I got applause!
Biagi: This is which paper now?
Beebe: That was the Kansas City Journal. It was a morning paper, the number-three paper. The Star owned everything. The Star was morning, evening, and Sunday for ten cents a week for years. Try to beat that competition. They owned everything and they were quite arrogant. Then the Kansas City Post was the sensational P.M. paper that sold on the streets. The Journal was more or less a financial morning paper. So that was the one.
Biagi: Do you remember your first day of work there?
Beebe: I can't seem to remember where I worked. I can't see my desk. I've had so many since, that it's gone. But the thing I do remember was that this managing editor had his sleeves rolled up, had a large snake tattooed on his arm, and I noticed it. I was told by somebody there that there was a story in this, that he had gone to work at the Star and that then city editor, I believe, George Longan, who later became the top man at the Star, had a phobia about snakes. This reporter went up to put his story down and put his hand down, and George Longan saw it and gave a scream, jumped from his chair, and fired him. [Laughter.] That's why he was working at the Journal. He was a young managing editor. Nobody got much money.
Biagi: What was his name?
Beebe: I can't remember. [Earl Smith.]
Biagi: But he had a snake.
Beebe: But he had a snake. It was a big, colorful snake, too. I don't know where he got it. That's my impression, more or less, of the first day, except the first time I handed in my stuff for the Sunday paper with all these clips, I got a lot of notices out of that meeting. I took the
Star, which had columns of them, and I called the people and said, "Wouldn't you also like it in the Journal?" "Oh, yes," they'd like it. So I had a whole bunch. "Where did you get all of this stuff?"
So I did my clubs there for two weeks, and then I went around and said, "I've worked two weeks now. You said $15 a week for two weeks."
"Oh, is it two weeks?"
"Yes." Then I got $18.50. I was getting up.
Biagi: Did you change your assignment? Did you still have the clubs to do?
Beebe: Oh, yes, that's really all I had to do. But meanwhile, they were short with everything. The city desk borrowed me for a stunt story that they wanted. They were going to try to expose some fake fortune tellers that were apparently actually prescribing medical things to people. So I was to go and pretend to be a fortune-telling person.
Biagi: You did that?
Beebe: I did that, and I can remember she said, "Did anyone ever tell you you look like Gloria Swanson?"
I said, "No. You think so?" I did a story about this, and they liked it.
Meanwhile, I was saving money. Of course, I lived at home. I'm puzzled now at parents who say that their children should be earning when they're 18 and "I'll only have to support them another year." There was never anything like that. My father and mother, too, would have been delighted if I'd just stayed at home. I lived there. Why would I pay anything, you know? So I could save, and I was saving. So I had $100, and I thought that would be enough to start out and seek my fortune.
My goal was not very grand; it was to work on a newspaper in California because of this young man at Wisconsin, who was a Stanford graduate and a very gung-ho Stanford person, Noel Stearn—we called him "Christmas." He had a beautiful tenor voice, he was an athlete, he'd earned his way through Stanford in three years and sent money home, he wrote poetry, he wrote music, and he would say, "I have disposition indigestion, and I'm going to walk around the lake tomorrow morning. I'm going to start at 7:00. Does anybody want to join me?" It was 28 miles around the lake. Of course, several of us turned out and walked around the lake. This was what I had been saying, you know—it gave me a different idea about things. He was going to be a geologist. He had been an English major at Stanford and decided he was going to be a geologist. He was a graduate at that time. He thought I belonged in California, so he introduced me, by mail, to his old Stanford bunch, and we exchanged letters. That became the reason I came out here.
First, Mother said, "Well, if you want to go, how are you going to get there? What are you going to do? You have my sister in Salt Lake. Why don't you go there? I'll write and see if you can stay there. Maybe you could get a job there and then see what you could do."
So I went and said I was going to resign.
Biagi: This would have been what year now?
Beebe: Let's see. '21. I went that summer. It was fall of '21.
Biagi: You just worked three months or so?
Beebe: Just to save $100. It was winter. Must have been maybe November. The $100 seemed to me to be the amount that I would need until I could get a job. Of course, I figured I could get one. Of course, Mother arranged that I could go and stay with her sister, and then if I didn't get a job, I could come home. I was never at risk, really. So I did do that. I went around to the papers. There were three of them in Salt Lake City. I was told, "Well, you know, we've got a woman. We took a woman once on the news side, and she didn't work out. We fired her and she committed suicide, and we don't want any more of that."
I said, "Well, I have a family at home and I won't have to commit suicide."
"Well, you come back and see us later."
I said, "Well, I'll be back every day."
"Oh, don't do that! Don't come until next Monday." I came the next Monday and I got a job for two weeks on the Salt Lake Telegram. They had a budget for two weeks because they were going to have a man who had worked for them and had gone to the big town of San Francisco and didn't like it, and was coming back. He wouldn't be there for two weeks, so I could have that two weeks' job—$35 a week! Up from $18.50, this was great. That added $70 to my pot. Of course, I wasn't paying my aunt anything. You didn't do that with a relative.
Biagi: What was your assignment there?
Beebe: General. They had had a gal who left, and as I went around to sort of a beat she had, the Chamber of Commerce and whatnot, they'd say, "Where's So-and-so? She was cute as a little red wagon." I could see they didn't think I was very cute. [Laughter.]
Biagi: But you had the better body, you remember? You had won the better body award.
Beebe: It was only better than before.
There was a story. People were making speeches about how the war would never happen again, you see, big, big stuff. They had an election. That was interesting to me. I worked on the election and got a little extra money, I think. The candidates were LDS or Gentile, you see.
Biagi: Those were the parties? Is that how they were listed as parties?
Beebe: Yes. It was still a Mormon town. When you wrote obituaries, you had "survived by his wife So-and-so and his wife So-and-so." People who had had polygamous families were allowed to keep them, you see. After polygamy was outlawed, they couldn't do it anymore, but there were those women. That interested me.
Beebe: With me and my aunt was my brother's young wife, who was separated from him. She went with me. I don't want to make this too complicated, but she was there, too, with my aunt, and they didn't get along. Mother found that out and she said, "Get out quickly," so we went and rented a pad, a little room. We didn't have any cooking, I think. Soon after she went back to New York, leaving me there.
I went to the Salt Lake Tribune, which was the number-one paper, to see if I could get work. Of course, they wouldn't take me on, but I did write a piece for them about a weekend mountain club. I went with a Mormon mountain club up to a summer resort which was covered with snow. It was fun. I didn't know a soul, and I was adventuring then, for sure. I wrote this up and they used it, but they didn't pay me anything. The club was great.
Then I went to the Mormon paper, which was Deseret News. It had a Catholic city editor, and he said, "Of course, I haven't got any budget. No, we can't take on a woman, but I'll tell you what. If you're hard up, you can do some space stuff. You can be paid for space." He gave me a few little assignments. "Go out to a suburb and write about the new streets or something like that." They paid 15 cents an inch, but he gave me such crummy assignments, he paid me 30 cents an inch. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Do you remember some of those assignments? What were they?
Beebe: I can't. They were just very crummy, you know, nothing interesting at all. But a lot of things you wrote then, everything was progress. Growth, you see, that was the story. Everybody approved of that. Everybody was pleased when population grew, people grew, houses went up, and so on. When new streets went in, that was news.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Biagi: We are now competing with the Salt Lake Tribune in Salt Lake City. You are writing, also.
Beebe: Yes, and my money ran out. The landlady didn't want to lose me, so she got one of her boarders to give me a job as a carpenter's helper on a railroad. He was an engineer and he couldn't hire anybody but that. I'm sure now that I think back, he made it up, but he said the big boss was going to come look at his notes of bridges and they were so messy, would I copy these.
Biagi: This was extra work beyond being a reporter?
Beebe: I had nothing but temporary. I had those two weeks, then little pieces.
Biagi: The guy came back to work?
Beebe: Yes. He came back. The two weeks are gone. They were nice. They said if there was another opening, but that was it, that they could take me again. But there wasn't. There was a little depression going on then, too. The mines were shut down for some reason. So I was broke.
So I went to a teachers' agency and said if they had anything that would take less than $25 to get to, which is all I had left, I would take it. I got a job teaching in Lone Tree, Wyoming, 40 miles from the railroad. We lived in a school house. I was a principal. I was then 20. This was in March, so it would be just to fill out the year, you see. But because I had a university degree, I was really up there. You could teach elementary school with high school and one summer of pedagogy in Wyoming at that time. So I was up there, but I hadn't had any pedagogy. I didn't know anything about it! [Laughter.] That was really a fun adventure.
I have in there letters I wrote. Mother saved all those, thinking I might want to write it up sometime. It was really fun for me. I'd always wanted to be in the wild west with room, so I was the only person in the whole landscape when I got up there. The kids, I had some Indians. I remember it took us two days to get there from the railroad. We went in a prairie schooner
(covered sleigh), believe it or not. We stopped overnight in this big half-way house, which was the most awful place you could imagine. But to me, you see, this was adventure. I was having adventure. So I was very popular at the school, because mostly they got crummies from Salt Lake that couldn't get any other jobs except this god-forsaken place. But to me, it was just what I wanted. I would go out and walk. That seemed very strange, because they'd ride horses to go across the street. All the way over, this bunch of sheep men, they were telling me about what happened to the last schoolteacher. Her throat was cut by one of the Indians and they threw her out the window. Of course, I thought I was being kidded. Actually, the incident was true. [Laughter.]
I went in the first morning, determined to say that, of course, I didn't believe in corporal punishment, but if there was any need for it, I would not hesitate to do it. Came clumping in these two great big half-breed Indians, so I changed my speech. I didn't mention anything about that. We'll skip it.
Biagi: How many students did you have?
Beebe: I only had about eight or nine, and only one of them had a mother. The mothers all died out there. [Laughter.] I had the upper grades, and the other teacher had the lower ones. Then the third room we lived in. We had to bring our water from across the road, dip it out of a little stream that ran through the barnyard with all the animals walking across it. Mother was writing to me, "For goodness sakes, boil your water!" Which I did. I boiled it. And we cooked on wood, a wooden range and a wooden stove.
Biagi: How long did you stay?
Beebe: I stayed through June. I was asked to come back, too. But no, I still wanted to get to California.
I forgot to say that when I was in Salt Lake, I got the Ed/Pub and wrote one letter a day to a California paper applying.
Biagi: Editor and Publisher? Is that what you're saying?
Beebe: Yes, Editor and Publisher, with all the papers in it. I took a California paper a day and wrote a letter each day. I got some very nice replies, but no jobs. But I still had it in mind. However, at the end of June, I was home again—no job, no money. Well, I did. I got my check all at once—$405, I think, for the three months. It was good stuff.
Biagi: So this would have been which year?
Beebe: 1922. Of course, it seemed natural to me to go home in the summer and lie around. By that time, the little lake cottage we had, Father and Mother had built their permanent home there
Biagi: Where was that?
Beebe: At Forest Lake, Kansas. It was on an electric railroad to Lawrence by the University of Kansas. We were half-way between Kansas City and the University of Kansas there. It was a little handkerchief-size lake, very pretty, with hills around it, and a clubhouse. They had built there. I had the summer at home, trying to see what I was going to do next.
That is when I got word that my roommate's husband now had become editor of the Capital Times and horribly needed a society editor. He knew how I hated it, but it was a job.
So that sounded good to me. So back I went to Madison. Also, the glamour boy was there, and I thought this was going to be fun, you know. It wasn't. [Laughter.] This is at the Capital Times in Madison.
Biagi: The glamour boy is Stearn.
Beebe: He died last week, 93, up here [October 1989]. He didn't marry any of us, but he remained single until he was about to retire early in his fifties, then married a red-headed Catholic gal in the office and had eight children. They came out here to live. They were our neighbors up at West Ridge in Tortola Valley. So the rest of his old group, they all came back to Stanford and took me in. I was a member of that group for all those years. Now I think I'm, with one other, the only leaf left on the tree.
Biagi: So Noel was there?
Beebe: Yes, he was, but he was interested in another gal. He was interested in all the gals, anyway. There was Mickey Hahn, by the way. Do you know—the New Yorker. She's written several books—Emily Hahn. Then my roommate was having a baby and I couldn't have cared less, you see. My thoughts were not that way at all. Of course, she was all taken up with that. I couldn't get anyplace to live in the university end of town; I had to go on a streetcar way into the other end of town, go to a job as society editor of the third ranking paper. It just wasn't much good.
So then through the journalism department at Wisconsin, they said that there was a job at Fond du Lac, on the Fond du Lac paper. Again, it was women's editor. Of course, I would grab any way I could get my foot in the door. But when I wrote, I got a reply that they had just filled that position, but they did need a reporter, and if I knew of any, would I tell them. I told them I was one, and I persuaded them to take me on, on the news side. So I went to Fond du Lac.
Biagi: That paper is what?
Beebe: Dead. I've killed a lot of papers. The Journal is dead; the Salt Lake Telegram is dead, and this was the Fond du Lac Daily Commonwealth. Oh, but it was a skinflint paper.
Biagi: Why do you say that?
Beebe: Well, when I was pressing for a raise, I still had my $35-a-week as my idea that I should be paid, and I was paid $30 there. When I applied for a raise because I knew I was doing all right and they were pleased, they said, "Well, how about $2.50 a week for a raise?" I said, "Well, it seems so little, I guess I'll wait until they get to five." So they did five.
Biagi: They did five?
Beebe: Yes! It was funny. That was a fairly pleasant time. This was the first time I had a beat. It was a court beat. The opposition for the other paper was the brother of Grant Hyde at Wisconsin, so he was friendly. Of course, he was also a good newspaperman and he was in that little town because his wife wouldn't leave it. Her family was there. He was stuck there. I had extra help in that whatever we covered, you see, I could see what he did with it in his paper, because I never got any help at my own paper.
Biagi: How many other people worked at that paper?
Beebe: My paper? Well, it was fairly sizable. I was outside, you see. The typewriter I was given—[Laughter]—I was the last man in, so I got a typewriter—I don't know if you've ever seen one.
The capitals are up here and the others down here. I'd never seen a thing like that, and it was just ready to fall to pieces. But I, of course, had to do it and I struggled with it. After I'd been there about two weeks, I got up suddenly and my dress caught on it, pulled it off on the floor, and it broke. There weren't two pieces of it together. So that took care of that. I had to get another typewriter. That was an improvement. That's the chief thing that stands out about that journalistic job.
Biagi: Where there ten people there? Fifteen? Twenty reporters?
Beebe: Fifteen, twenty, all going around. The editorial room was fairly spacious. There was a women's department. I had the beat. There was a city editor. It was a regular set-up. The managing editor had his more important desk. They had all the structure.
Biagi: Were there any other women reporters?
Beebe: No. There was this women's society editor, but no.
Biagi: Other than your typewriter, do you remember other stories you covered that were interesting?
Beebe: Goodness. I just remember one time when I scooped my opposition because Bill Hyde had gone home. [Laughter.] He and my predecessor had been in considerable competition, but he felt that I was a neophyte and it wouldn't be quite fair. So he more or less shared what there was. He had gone home and I got it, and his paper jumped him about this story. That was sort of fun, and he laughed about it, too.
I'll tell you a thing I do remember about it, though the assignments really were not much. I did learn a little about the courts. Speeders were brought in to the municipal judge if they were going 30 miles an hour, because 28 was the speed limit. We had a collection of that. We had a horrible old municipal judge that married people. He had tobacco juice all streaming down his vest. [Laughter.] I wondered how the poor brides and grooms could stand it.
I remember covering a Highway Commission meeting in the middle of winter, when it was almost 20 below zero, and it was in a basement with everything shut tight, and they all smoked pipes, strong pipes. And I had a cold. [Laughter.] I didn't know whether I was going to survive that or not.
But the thing I remembered was that I got the offer of this job just before Christmas, and I think I managed so I could go home for Christmas, come back in January. I still had the academic idea, you know, you went home on vacations and came back in January. After I'd been there two or three weeks, I found that when they put their finger on me, they had fired a man whom they didn't care for, I guess, a week before Christmas—a man with five children, and without any further notice. That was it. He might have gotten a week's salary, but that was about it. Of course, I was cheaper. That I remembered when the Guild was organized. That was one thing I remembered and used to tell others later when they got kind of bored with the Guild. "What did the Guild ever do for us?"
I said, "You don't really realize what it did for people, especially who were not going to go anywhere else and they were stuck in those cubbyholes and were trying to raise families and never got home for holidays, never got any extra pay, never got any pensions, never had any notice for firing. You just don't know what it was like." That was one example.
The other was one when I was later on the Star. Wilbur was the son of a mechanical person in the Star who thought it would be much more prestigious if Wilbur would be a journalist.
So Wilbur was hired and he was there for ten years doing accidents and roundups of little obits and whatnot. Finally, they decided that Wilbur wouldn't do, and they fired him. Now, of course, under the Guild, after two years they would have had to decide about Wilbur. But he'd lost ten years and they just fired him without any notice after one of their periodic lookings-over of the staff. He was dead wood and whatnot, and they decided they could do without Wilbur. That was the other thing I would tell them about the Guild.
Biagi: Was anybody in this point in your life, in your family or anywhere else, saying, "What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Do you want to be a reporter forever?"
Beebe: I have just found a letter that I wrote to my father. He asked me what kind of a job did I want. Do you want me to read it? It's not too long. I came across it and can lay my hands right on it. I'll bring it in. [Tape interruption.]
"Dearest Father, For some time I've been meaning to drop you a note and thank you for keeping me so well posted while Mother was away when I first arrived," and so on. This is when I was out here at Stanford, my first job being a secretary, which I had never trained for. It's 1923. Father always said, "You know, if you have secretarial training, you can always get a job and that's a good place to start." I didn't want to do that.
"In this job it doesn't take a great while to learn the foibles of one's boss, and then it's a simple matter to watch him cater to them. But on the other hand, it means making a point of doing things another person's way, not good executive business training," and so on. "However, it's a very pleasant sort of existence and certainly is not a very great strain. I have been somewhat disappointed lately to learn there will not be as much of the journalistic writing here as I had at first thought. Everything is so extremely conservative that it is really impossible to keep a straight newspaper point of view. In fact, the newspaper correspondents about here seem to regard Mr. Smith more as a professor than a newspaperman. It wouldn't hurt most of them, though, to absorb a little of his integrity and idealism." [Laughter.] Prig!
"You were interested to know what kind of a job I would really like. I remember that phrase very vividly, for I have thought of it a number of times, since when I am tempted to pick to pieces one kind or another of legitimate employment. I have tried to analyze the things I would want, and find that they are about these: absorbing work which means putting the best you have in you into it and using your head at high tension; ethical work, which means that you are harming nobody and that your effort is for an end beneficial to humanity as a whole; interesting work that entails meeting and dealing with people and having a variety of contacts; well-paid work, in which one could expect to become a person of importance and unquestioned standing in the minds of fellow beings; and work that leaves time for one to enjoy active play. As far as jobs go, there ain't no such animal, of course, since this is only the earth. There are lots of things which would meet one or two of these requirements, but nothing which would meet them all, and there are probably more if I should stop and think about them a little more carefully." So that was my thought process in 1923.
Biagi: Sure it was. Well, at Fond du Lac.
Beebe: Yes. I left there after six months. I figured it was time to move on. I still wanted to get to California. That was the only goal I had, not a very lofty goal, but a newspaper job in California was still the goal.
So I went home again, of course. Should I even tell you that we hitchhiked home, a college friend of mine and I? Because glamour boy had been doing this, and, of course, that gave us the idea. So we did that.
Biagi: This is a woman friend?
Beebe: Yes, a woman friend that I had had at Wisconsin, who had a teaching job in a neighboring town. I knew nobody in Fond du Lac when I went there. I had to get a boarding house place to eat and a room. It was kind of grim, too. I didn't mind. I was on my own, and it seemed adventurous and independent and so on. So she, who had been one of glamour boy's favorites, and I decided we would do this. We got into khaki pants. I wore my brother's World War I pants with boots. It was hot weather. [Laughter.] Believe it or not, I actually had a gun. I'd been covering police, too, and I told them what I was going to do, and they said, "You should have something." So I went down in the basement to their police target range and they gave me a .38. All I could get was a blood blister trying to pull the trigger. [Laughter.] I subsequently got a little .22 and I had that. I don't think there were any laws about it at the time. I never used it, but I had it.
Biagi: Where did you keep it?
Beebe: In my hip pocket! We had sacks on our backs. Oh, was it hot. Anyway, I wrote home. Of course, I knew the folks would have a fit, so I left letters to be mailed after I went so that they would still be getting letters. They knew I was coming, but I said I hadn't got my ticket, just what day I'd be home. Well, we made it in about six days. It was fun. That's another story. It was fun and we got there and surprised them. Of course, we were safe then, so that was all right.
Then it was that summer that I got the letter from Elinor Cogswell, whom I had met by mail only.
Biagi: She was Noel's friend?
Beebe: Well, yes. She was part of this Stanford bunch. She, in fact, was sort of the head of it. She was really older than the rest a little bit. She had found that the head of the journalism department at Stanford needed a secretary, and he was also, with his left hand, publicity director for the university in his odd moments. So that appealed to me, you see. I thought I'd get some connection with papers out here, and this would be a good opening. But I didn't have any secretarial training.
So I got a shorthand book and studied it on the train coming out. It took two days and three nights to get out here. It wasn't enough. [Laughter.] But he knew. He knew about it, and mostly he could say what he wanted in the letters, I could phrase them, and he could edit them. That went all right.
We also got out news releases, and almost all began the same way: "President Ray Lyman Wilbur announced today—" And the newspapermen did make fun of him for this, but I thought his theory was right. He said, "What the papers want is an authoritative source. They're going to rewrite it, anyway. This is really what they want." But they kind of made fun of the newspaper style. We ground out our releases with a mimeograph machine and there were four papers for the city, student correspondents. Some of those people I've met afterwards through the years.
Biagi: What was Stanford like then?
Beebe: It was a very, very pleasant place. Oh, that was such an easy job, you know, two hours at lunch and you'd just stroll around. Evvy Smith would come in in the middle of the afternoon and say, "I see no point in your staying on. I don't think there's anything more this afternoon." There was no push about anything.
Biagi: That's who you were working for?
Beebe: Yes. Everett Smith. He was the first head of journalism. At that time it wasn't even a department; it was a division, I think. He was there, and then there was Buford Brown, who did the business courses. And that was it. So I stayed for that academic year, which was very pleasant, indeed. Then Evvy gave me letters to all the papers in San Francisco.
Biagi: This would have been 1923?
Biagi: That's when you wrote your dad that letter.
Beebe: Yes, it was when I was working there.
Biagi: It says "the office" at the top there, doesn't it? Do you see?
Beebe: Does it say "the office?"
Biagi: October 19, 1923, when you wrote that letter.
Beebe: I had just been there a month or hardly that. I was quite new.
Biagi: You were typing all right.
Beebe: I'd been typing then ever since 1919, you know. But, of course, I never really had instruction in typing. Nuzie and I stopped when we got to the numbers and the extra things. If we could just do the others, we thought we had it fixed. So I really never learned to be a proper typist, but I typed better than lots of newspapermen, who used two fingers then. That was not at all unusual. My husband did it two fingers. You can do it pretty fast, you know.
Biagi: Yes. I saw a reporter the other day—I've never seen it before. He typed with his full right hand and one finger of his left hand.
Beebe: Now, that's a new one!
Biagi: Have you ever seen that one before?
Beebe: I wouldn't know about that. But when the electric typewriters came in, again, I was always a little bit leery about extra gear to get out of whack. I said, "My typewriter can go just as fast as I can think."
Biagi: Were you offered a lot of jobs?
Beebe: I wasn't offered any jobs at all. Oh, goodness, no. I went the rounds. I can remember Evvy saying—I told him I was experienced. After all, I'd worked on the Journal and I'd worked on the Fond du Lac paper, I'd worked on the Madison paper. I thought I had experience. He didn't say much about that. I can remember the letter he wrote. "She's a very quick and straight-thinking young woman." He knew what he was talking about. He said, "Bill Wrenn at the Examiner will probably look at your legs, anyway, instead of your record. You can tell them about that." [Laughter.]
So I went the rounds. The Chronicle, no, they didn't have anything at all. The Examiner was then the monarch of the dailies, you know. It ruled the roost on things, or thought it did. They were both morning papers then and separate. There was also the News, which was a Scripps-Howard paper, and the Call, which was the Hearst paper, and the Bulletin. There were all those papers. I went to all of them. I can remember the Bulletin was kind of the best. I had to nail the city editor, who was going with the story, "I want a job."
"Well, a little."
"Did you cover anything hot?"
I said, "I covered a fire once." [Laughter.] But no, he didn't have anything. They were courteous, they were nice, but they would let me know later.
In fact, when I went to the Examiner, I said, "But you'll be so glad to take my name and address and let me know."
He didn't like the fact that I wasn't believing him. He said, "No, I have something in mind. We have a correspondent up in Marin County who is so bad that not even a woman could be worse." [Laughter.] Again, I didn't bristle. I knew that's the way people thought. I knew also that I could probably do it all right. So I'm thinking of trying it there, trying it out there. He said, "When can you go to work?"
I said, "In June, when my—"
He said, "No, I wanted you to go up Monday. When you get ready to work, come back." So I wasn't going to leave Evvy in the middle of the academic year. I just wouldn't do that.
Then I went over to the Oakland Tribune, and the managing editor there was a Stanford graduate.
Biagi: What was his name?
Beebe: Leo Levy. He was tall, rather good-looking, Jewish, artistic, a good person. He said, "Well, what's going on down at Stanford now?"
I said, "Well, they're talking about doing away with sororities."
He said, "That might be interesting. You want to do a story about it?"
I said, "All right." And I did. I went and got the pictures of gals, and there was this movement about how cruel it was. Then there was the row and the sororities. It was quite a division there, and it was a bad, snobbish setup.
Biagi: The "row?" What are you describing?
Beebe: The row of sorority houses. Roble was the dormitory. So it was "Roble or the Row." I had quotes and these pictures, and they used the story on the front page. Then my boss, Evvy Smith, down here, got a call from the Chronicle. They said, "We never get anything out of Stanford. In the Tribune, there's a front-page story about sororities there."
He said, "Yes, that was written by my secretary, who tried to get a job with you and you didn't listen to her." [Laughter.] So that was fun.
The upshot was that I got a job on the society desk of the Oakland Tribune at $40 a week. Since at Stanford I had been getting $85 a month, that was big stuff. But $85 was all right. I had board and room of $55. I was on the campus. There were no other expenses. I had all that and $30 to spend. But, of course, it would be different in Oakland.
Biagi: Did you live in Oakland? You did move to Oakland?
Beebe: Oh, yes. I moved to Oakland. I went to work with the society editor, who was a legend. She had only a high school education, but she knew who were the "right" people to write about. Society departments were big then, you know. They wrote up all the weddings at length. They had great pictures, and Sunday there was a big spread of the people doing whatever they were. Although Oakland was sort of like Brooklyn to New York, nearly Piedmont (an exclusive San Francisco suburb) was top copy. So they had their upper crust. Dear Mabel!
Biagi: This is Mabel—
Beebe: Mabel Williams was society editor. She had no sense of humor whatever, and she was really pretty ignorant, you know. She'd say, "You came from the east. Did you know So-and-so?" The "east" being Kansas City. "She went to the university, I believe. Did you know her?" [Laughter.] She used to send her copy down with common pins, with it all stuck together, and it would stick in the tube. There was always a new story about Mabel. She was good for a laugh. One time she called up. She had a caption that had been wrong for some reason, and she called the city editor at 2:00 a.m. "This is Mabel. I'm way over in Forest Hill."
He said, "That's very interesting, especially at this hour."
She told him. She knew he went to work earliest because he was also the music critic, and he'd be early in the composing room and could catch her mistake.
Biagi: What was it like in the newsroom?
Beebe: That was the first time I was in a real paper with those characters you get. I just loved it, you know. There was a business editor, an automobile editor, a theater critic, and, of course, the news staff, columnists. There was a lot of camaraderie there. It was pleasant, but I was stuck with Mabel and I hated it, of course, terribly.
Biagi: What did you hate about it?
Beebe: Society? It was awful, you know. I didn't want it. It was calling up people and asking them what the bride wore or the tea party. The scoop was to get somebody's tea party before some other paper got the tea party. But nothing in it had any interest to it. The news side would take it away if there was anything happening.
I did have a break about two weeks after I came on. One of Mabel's sources, a society person who was a well-known woman, called and wanted to talk to her. She wasn't in yet. Her nephew had been killed in Central America. I got the story from her and went over and told the city desk I had it. They said, "Write it." I wrote it. I remember the lead yet: "Killed by a Stray Bullet," etc. The city editor came over with a first edition and he said, "Eight columns, front page is what you get today." That was a big thrill.
Biagi: That was about your second front-page story that you've described to me. The first one was for the competition. The Chronicle had the story about Stanford.
Biagi: That was a front page.
Beebe: They didn't connect that.
Biagi: No, what I mean is, that's another front-page story.
Biagi: That's unusual for somebody who's working in the society side.
Beebe: Well, I don't know. It's just sort of the breaks. I didn't think about it. The front page hadn't been written then, and I didn't think about it in those terms. I really didn't. I was pleased because they were pleased, but I didn't think it was so wonderful.
Biagi: Did you have a byline on those stories?
Beebe: I don't suppose so. I don't think so. I'm sure they wouldn't give bylines to a new recruit. They were given out later. That didn't matter. The Tribune had seven editions and two makeovers for the P.M. paper. In those days, the street sales were big, because there wasn't much radio, there wasn't T.V.; we were all there was. I have often been glad that I date back to the time when we were it and that there wasn't any other news media. It was a whole different setup than now.
I was there a whole horrible year, I guess until the next spring. Then I decided, since I had a friend at Stanford who had been given a car by her rich brother in Chicago and wanted to drive back to Chicago, I thought it would be fun to go with her. So I put in for a leave of absence.
Biagi: Which year?
Beebe: 1924, that would be. He [the managing editor, Leo Levy] was somewhat surprised. People didn't do that, I guess, but I think I was still in that academic business that you worked and then you had the summer, kind of. He said, "Well, I can see you now packing. I wish I could do something like that."
I said, "Well, because you're managing editor, you can't." [Laughter.]
He said, "Well, I can't do anything like that. If you want to go, go ahead. When you get ready to come back to work, you write us and we'll see if there's anything."
So with that, I said, "Well, I think I'll go." So we did. We drove across the country.
Biagi: What kind of a car?
Beebe: She had a Buick coupe. She had not driven before. By that time, I had bought a Model T Ford with side curtains, a touring car. I'd gotten it for $175. The garage man told me how to drive it.
Biagi: You'd never driven before?
Beebe: No, no. But, of course, already California was booming. As soon as Fords came out, things were booming. So I had this Ford. I left it with somebody, and off we went. We started from here. Or did we start from Oakland? Anyhow, between that and the midwest, the only paved roads there were outside of cities were 25 miles between Reno and Carson City. Otherwise, it was all just unpaved roads. We were not in any hurry at all. We stopped when we thought it was nice to stop, in the mountains or whatever.
Biagi: You camped?
Beebe: No, no. There were always hotels, you know. But I said, "We'd better have some kind of bed rolls, because when we get to Kansas, it's going to be hot and we won't want any stinky hotels. We might want to sleep out." I think we did sleep out once in California on the banks of the American River, with the river rushing by and the needles under us one night, by some other campers. We said we weren't really campers, but they said, "Fine." It was pleasant.
But we went through a stream and the car stopped. It got wet, you see. We got out of the stream, but it wouldn't go. It coughed and gave up. A couple of men came by and said, "What's the trouble?"
"We got it wet."
They looked and poked and everything. They said, "Where are you going?"
We said, "Milwaukee." [Laughter.]
Well, they tried some more and said, "We've got to go. We can't stay."
We said, "Okay. It's all right." We had oranges and crackers and we ate them. After an hour, it dried off and we went on.
It took us a month, I think, to get back. I guess we went first to my house in Kansas City, and then we went to hers in Milwaukee. Then I went back home for the rest of the summer, I think. [Laughter.]
Biagi: The true academic pattern.
Beebe: That's right. I hadn't grown up, you know. In fact, I told them once on the Tribune, the day of the big game, I said, "I'd like to go to the big game." I said I had forgotten to tell them when I came to work that I only worked there between big games. They laughed and let me go. It was a very famous game, too.
Biagi: Oh, sure.
Beebe: It was the 1924 game, which is still in the—it was 20 to nothing against Stanford, and Stanford tied it in the last minute or two minutes or something.
Biagi: Worth going for.
Beebe: Yes, except I missed it, because somebody died in the stands behind me, and I thought, "Oh, it's probably somebody important. I'll have to find out who that is and phone it." By the time I got back to my seat, the score was 20-20. And he wasn't anybody important. [Laughter.]
Biagi: So you stayed with your parents for the summer?
Biagi: You're now 23, 24. Was anybody saying to you, "Isn't it time for you to get married?" Was anybody asking you about marriage?
Beebe: No, no, because, you see, this was the twenties. The girls in high school got married to the postman or somebody and went home and had kids. It just didn't look good to me. I knew I expected to get married sometime, and I wanted a family. I thought that would be the thing. But I wanted somebody who would sweep me off my feet, because I would have to give up all my so-called career, and I wanted a chance to do it. You got married or you worked. You didn't do both. I knew which one I wanted to do first. So, no, my parents never put any pressure at all on me. I wasn't like Daisy May, who was an old maid at 19, you know. There wasn't any pressure that I felt. I was having a ball, and I had my goal of working on a paper in California, so I expected to go back there, and I did.
Biagi: Want to take a break?
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Biagi: You're in the newsroom. I wish you would talk a little bit about that.
Beebe: I went back to Kansas City again, and then I began to write to Mr. Levy when it came time to come back, to try to get out of society. "Couldn't I get on news?" I got nowhere. Of course, that was a big concession, anyway, to take me back. I wanted to come back, the place there was society, so I had to come back to society.
Biagi: So you came back. Was that September?
Beebe: I can't tell you exactly, but it was the summer that I was at home, so it would be in the fall, anyway, sometime. I had, however, a good break soon afterwards, because a new paper was started in Oakland. Hearst decided to move over and start a new paper—PM, I guess. It didn't last very long. But the first thing they did was come and raid the staff of the Oakland Tribune, take three of their best rewrite men all at once. I heard about this, and so I stamped across the room and said, "How about taking me now? I do want to get on the news side."
Roy Danforth, who was the city editor, was a little hunchback, and he was very well liked. He was also the music critic. He had a sense of humor and he was a well-liked person. He said, "We start people. We usually put them out in the bureaus, over in San Leandro or something."
"I do know how the office works, and I don't know anything about that over there. It's rewrite people you want. Couldn't I try out?"
So he, being very hard up, took me on. "You have to get to work at 7:00, you know."
I said, "I know." I never liked getting up early. My little Ford, by that time, that I had, and I was living in Berkeley with a couple of students. I was still kind of campusing, you see.
I can see Roy. One time I was standing there, and he said, "You may approach." There was a nice spirit in the office. They didn't take themselves too seriously, you know. Rewrite was fast stuff. We had these seven editions, and the first thing, you got there and there were all those morning-paper clippings, which we had to rewrite for the early editions of the Tribune. I survived. One time I said something about 7:30. I was a little hungry. Everybody came to work and then they went out afterwards for breakfast. I always got breakfast first, because I couldn't move much without it. I said, "I need some food."
"Well, you're getting to be a regular rewrite." But I liked it, even though it was a push, because speed was really—I was never as fast as my mother or brother. If they leave me alone, I'll take as much time as there is. But I knew I had to do it fast, so I kept pushing and did.
About that time, Roy went on a vacation. An assistant city editor, who nobody liked, he was a Hearst-trained person, had had paralysis of some kind, so that when he walked, his feet kind of flapped. You could always tell when he was coming across the room. He had fiery red hair, all frizzy, and lots of freckles. He was rather crude, too. He decided that he wanted Roy's job. While Roy was on vacation, he moved into the chair and made a lot of extra stuff and a lot of show for the powers that were, and nudged Roy out of his job. That kind of paper, family-owned, Knowland, didn't fire people. They made him assistant managing editor—just boosted him up. But there was Pinky. Pinky Norton was in the seat. I felt—oh, it weighed on me that this horrible creature now was the city editor. The city editor, as you know, is king, czar. They own you. [Laughter.] Then I thought, "Well, if I can please this Hearst-trained guy, I can probably survive anywhere. So I will just put my mind to it and see what he wants and see if I can do it." And I did win him over. I have a letter from him. I don't know whether you saw that or not.
Biagi: No. I'll look.
Beebe: Anyway, he would come flapping over and say, "This isn't sensational enough!" I wouldn't say anything. I'd just wait until he made a suggestion and I'd do it. Well, I did it. Pretty soon, I was the one doing all the main front-page crime stories, and that was the era of the bandits. It was after the First World War, and a lot of the soldiers came home and they were hard up, and they robbed banks and things. We had crime and bandit stories, and I knew them all by their first names. [Laughter.] When I would say, "Boy," they would come fast, because the copy boys always know who has the front-page stories. I was in my element. I just loved it, because it seemed big stuff after that horrible society thing.
Beebe: I felt, "Well, I'm here. I'm doing it now."
Biagi: Were there any other women doing that kind of reporting at the Tribune?
Beebe: Oh, no, no, or anywhere else.
Beebe: There was one woman who covered Berkeley, by the way, and that was one of my arguments with Roy to give me a chance. I said, "How about Rose Glavinovich?"
He said, "Well, we might make another Rosie of you." Rosie Glavinovich was one darn good reporter and she covered the University of California, had good sources, and was well thought of there. But she was a great exception. Of course, she wasn't in the office. Keep the
women out of the office, except over there in society. So I was on rewrite row, you see. The men wore their hats.
Biagi: Describe that newsroom.
Beebe: It was noisy. Desks were joined together, so there were two rows of them. Kind of like the front row, we had mostly front-page stuff, and many of the men wanted to get off that, you see. They didn't want to do that; they wanted to do features and edit special stuff. That's why I had the chance to, because they were eager to get their names in the paper and do things otherwise. I was eager to show I could do it with the regular and take the gaff for the regular things.
I can see Pinky Norton coming in. I could hardly get my hat off and slide my chair, and here he'd come with his hands full of clippings. "Write! Write 'til you almost collapse!" he would say. He did all the front-page stuff. You could hardly believe it. But he loved it. He was one of a kind I've met since in newspaperdom, who lives, breathes, and thought nothing but papers. I've seen him on his day off. I drove by him one time and he was on a park bench, completely surrounded with newspapers. That was his life and all he cared about.
So you see, I had then made my mark when, all of a sudden, this Bluebird rumpus occurred.
Biagi: Describe for me what the Bluebird book was.
Beebe: Bluebird was just a Christmastime project. Instead of having as many papers do a party for inviting all the poor children, they asked people to write letters and asked the post office to give them Santa Claus letters. Then they took these names and they got the stores to give toys. They had the party, but they also went around to homes and left toys at some of these homes. I was told by the receptionist outside of the door there that this trail of people that got the toys were mostly Portuguese, that she had a very low opinion of them, of course, and that the beggars were getting it all, and the people whom the social workers knew about, and the families that had pride, never wrote, and that it was not good.
Well, I was supposed to do this one year. I had to do a story a day. I had the letters and I would pick the ones that were the sobbiest and use them and make a little lead to it. Apparently, they got more money in that year than they had at all, and I was groaning about it when Roy went by one day. I said, "This is awful."
He said, "Well, one thing about it, you only have to do this one year. We never make anybody repeat."
Biagi: This was what year, then, that you did it?
Beebe: Let's see. It must have been '25, probably. Yes, because then came the next year and they asked me to do it. I made the mistake of saying, "Well, I was promised not to have to do it." Meanwhile, Roy was no longer city editor.
They said, "Who promised you?" and I had to say, and I realized it was a mistake, because the managing editor said, "We don't make promises of that kind," and got very stiff about it. Then I got stubborn and didn't want to do it. I went into the managing editors' office, and he reminded me that when I came to work, he said women always blew up over something and that they didn't want women, and he reminded me. He said, "Remember when you came here to work?"
I said, "Yes, I do." I had thought of all this. Well, he very kindly said he had to do a lot of things he didn't like and I'd better go out and do it, and that I had gotten better results, and they wanted me to do it again. Well, I walked around and decided I could do it after all—but wouldn't. I had a lot of soul searching about it, and I laugh at it now, but then it seemed very serious.
So the next morning, when Pinky, with his flaming hair, came over and said, "We want a story on this now," and put it down, I looked at him and said, "I'm not going to write it." Well, he was usually very profane and loud, you know. He almost had apoplexy. He swallowed hard, then said, "Well, you can't stay here."
"I know that."
And he said, "You're foolish!"
I said, "I know that, too." And the upshot was that they had a big to-do about it. You see, Pinky Norton didn't want to let go of me now. I was very useful to him. He'd got me trained just the way he wanted it. So he didn't want it, Roy didn't want it, and Leo Levy didn't want to fire me, either. But how can you do anything else if that's what you're going to do on a paper, as I had acknowledged in the first place? But instead of going home, I just thought I'd stay and make them fire me. They had an awful time about it. Finally, I got the letter from Leo Levy that told me I'd have to go. Leo said he was very sorry and I could stay until the first of the year, which meant another six weeks or so, and he'd give me recommendations and so on.
Biagi: Why didn't you want to do the story?
Beebe: I just felt that the newspaper was using its power to encourage begging, and that if we worked with the social workers—now, the New York Times had what they called "100 Neediest Families." They were doing it in a little bit more scientific way and trying to find the people who really needed it, whereas we were just bidding for people to exploit us. It just seemed wrong to me. Of course, what I didn't know was that it was a sacred cow in the paper because it had been engendered, in the first place, by a man who lost his wife to the managing editor. So the managing editor was very careful to preserve this project.
Biagi: Had you talked with anybody else about it? Who did you talk to about it?
Beebe: I talked with my Palo Alto friends. I was coming down here for weekends. Elinor Cogswell was my friend for 60 years. They followed all my agony from step to step. This took—oh, I don't know, two, three, four weeks before they finally managed to bring themselves to—poor Leo really hated to fire me. He was a nice person. I wrote him a letter afterwards and said, "I know you had to do it. I would have done it, too, in your place. Don't feel too bad about it." [Laughter.]
So I was still working there and beginning to go over to the city and try to get a job in San Francisco, which was very nice that they said they'd give me recommendations. Also, you were expected to try to get to the big town, rather than the East Bay paper, although the Tribune did very well. But still, it was not San Francisco.
It was then that my father died suddenly. I just had to go home, so I went home to be with Mother. So I really never stopped working there. I just went home then.
Biagi: Before the end of the year?
Beebe: Yes. Father died on—I remember—December 14, 1926. I got the telegram, "Father very ill. Come home." Of course, you didn't fly then. It took two days and three nights, and I knew that I was going to leave for good, that I would be staying with Mother. Well, you just took that for granted. She already was having her career. She was in the bank. It was not quite the same as a poor old mother who was going to cling; she was a person in her own right. But Father was her whole world.
Biagi: What was her job by this time in the bank?
Beebe: She was the manager of the women's department there. I don't know whether she was an officer of the bank or not, but she always was department manager. Then there was no question but that I would try to work in Kansas City. Of course, I had worked on the Journal there. I went back to the Journal and they said, yes, maybe I could work for $30 a week. I'd been earning more. In fact, I had gotten raises on the Oakland Tribune, and they demanded, "Don't tell anybody, because you're getting more than some of the men." That would never do!
Biagi: How much were you making at the Tribune?
Beebe: I think it was $48.50, which was all right. So to go back to $30? That seemed pretty bad.
So now comes a really shameful incident. I got my job on the Kansas City Star by sheer pull. There was no other way you could do it. I don't know whether your fame goes to—oh, dear, a New York writer on the New York News, who did politics and had a column and was quite famous.* When she met me in New York and said, "You mean you got to work on the Kansas City Star? Let me touch you. I bombarded the Star for almost a year and I couldn't break them down."
And I said, "Just be calm. I didn't get it through anything except just sheer pull." The way that happened was that the Star—you know your history of journalism and William Rockhill Nelson. He had died, and the paper was in hock at the time. It was in sort of a trust to the three universities of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, I believe, and to the banks. So there was quite a period there when it was really kind of a headless horseman. Since my mother was in the bank, and since Mr. McLucas of the bank was a very powerful person and he was sympathetic with Mother's loss, her first husband, said, "When your daughter gets ready to work on the Star, let me know."
I thought, "How awful! I don't want to get a job that way." So I went down and tried to see the city editor, and I did. I had some clippings. I just got mumbles, polite, but nothing happened at all. I was getting absolutely nowhere. So I thought, "Well, I've got to live in Kansas City. The Star is it, so why don't I? They don't know I'm any good. I know I'm any good. So all right." I said, "Mother, go ahead. Tell him."
So I suddenly got a call from the Star, and I went down. I was escorted over to the Sunday editor's desk, a very charming gentleman, and he talked for an hour to me, very pleasantly, fluently, and I had a lovely chat. I went away and nothing happened.
In about a week, Mr. McLucas stopped at my mother's desk and said, "Did your daughter get a job on the Star?"
She said, "No, she hasn't heard. She went to talk, but nothing's happened."
He frowned and went back to his desk. The next day, I got summoned to come to the Star. Well, I felt just awful, you know. I felt, "Oh, what a way to have to get a job!" They didn't want me. I was in Coventry for weeks. They gave me nothing to do. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Who was this person, the Sunday editor? Do you remember?
Beebe: Ruby Garnett. Yes, I do. He was a charming person. I knew everybody afterwards. The Star was a wonderful experience. They had had at one time a woman who did the schools. They didn't call them education editors, but she "did the schools." She was not there anymore, and they thought that I might do the schools. So they got an old desk from the basement. It was just a wreck, and an old typewriter, and put me down at it. Mr. Nelson's idea was that everybody should be in one room. It was nearly a block long. Everybody was there, so you wouldn't have cubbies and you couldn't sleep behind walls. Everybody knew what everybody else did. That was his theory. I was put down toward the back entrance, way back as far as you could get. [Laughter.] And this awful old desk. Well, that was all right. At least I had something to do. I could go to the schools and went down to the school board and started to see what I could do.
One day the business manager and the publisher—I guess the Nelsons' son-in-law, he was the only one who had a separate office. He was quite a wild gentleman and had a cane, was a sophisticate, but I don't think he did anything much except just kind of come in and go to lunch. But he and the business manager were going out, and they had come back the back way from lunch. The business manager looked at that desk and said, "What is that thing?"
"This new person that they hired, they had to get a desk for."
"It's terrible. Take it out." So when I got back from lunch, I didn't have anything! [Laughter.] So there was nothing but to sit me up in what they called "the pit." Instead of desks all along, they had long tables. Then typewriters were fastened to the floor at intervals, because, you see, we had the Star and the Times and the Sunday paper. So there was a rotation. Nobody had any drawers, nobody had any desks, and they sat me in front of one of these typewriters and gave me no assignments. I really suffered through this.
Of course, I did know that the time would come when there were some stories coming in and there wouldn't be anybody else to call on. I got one from some drowning in a bus accident down in the country somewhere. They suddenly heard my voice raised, because I was trying to get what I needed. I said, "What did they say when—" I was working at it and got the story. It seemed to be all right.
Then, too, I was covering the school board. They came around and said, "If you need a taxi to get home, of course, you could do that."
I said, "Are you sure? I live out at Forest Lake, 15 miles in the country." [Laughter.] So I always stayed overnight at the hotel downtown at my own expense. I figured, well, it wasn't their fault that I was commuting from the country.
They wouldn't send me alone to cover the school board, either; they didn't trust me for that. They had one of their regular staffers. I got a break then, again, because at one of the first meetings there came up the question of a dance class after school. Now, remember, this was midwest, and the idea of schools promoting dancing? This was going to be viewed with some alarm. So I thought, "Well, this is a pretty good story." When we came home, he said, "I'll write the budget story," which was always on the front page, the school budget.
I said, "I'll just write this one about the dance class." So I did, and mine was the one that took the front page, and his trailed under it.
The next day, I think, the city editor—I was working under the night staff. They came on about 2:00, and I had a funny little third assistant city editor for the night side that would give me some assignment that would keep me after 5:00, and I was trying to drive Mother home. It was a mess. The city editor on the day side said, "Don't pay any attention to that old man." It was a very unusual organization.
After that school board story—no, I guess it was the next one. The next one, they had a new plan, a pay-as-you-go plan financially. By that time I had met them down there and I knew these people, and I talked to the head of the school board and brought the story in.
Biagi: What did that mean, a pay-as-you-go plan?
Beebe: It was to finance with money that you wouldn't go into debt. You'd spent it as you went. They thought it might work better. Anyway, I wrote the story and it made the front page. "Did you have some experience before you came here?" the day editor asked me.
"This is my sixth paper and I told everybody that when I was trying to get a job." [Laughter.]
So then I was moved over to the day side, and from then on, I had it made. As I've often told other young women who wanted to go into newspaper work and wanted to get on the news side, I said, "You know, you've got to look out for something, because you have nothing to beat. Their expectations are so low that exceeding them doesn't take much effort. Then they think you're wonderful, and you can get the idea that you're more important than you are. Compared to what they thought you'd be, you know, 'You write like a man. You're wonderful! This is a very great exception.'" And there were quite a number of those young women beginning to try it.
Biagi: At the Kansas City Star?
Beebe: Oh, no, not the Star. Oh, no. Heavens, I was still the only one on the regular news staff. But I've had occasion to meet them and every one would laugh. They all were thought to be exceptional. They really were like newspaperwomen; they weren't sob sisters. They were exceptions.
Biagi: What was the attitude in the newsroom towards you generally?
Beebe: At first, of course it was hostile. I remember one dreadful feeling of rebuff I had. I was sitting there on this row and there was nothing going on, so they were talking about something, and all of a sudden I put my oar in and made a comment. Instead of acknowledging it, they just looked at me as if I were a two-headed eagle or something. "What's this?" And never acknowledged anything and went right on talking as if I hadn't spoken. I had forgotten, because the atmosphere was the same, more or less, as the Oakland Tribune, and we were all such friends. I'd forgotten for the moment. That was when I was being in Coventry pretty much. But I had no other place to sit. But as I began to do the stuff, yes, they were not only friendly, but very helpful.
Biagi: What about the people you covered? Was there any reaction to you?
Beebe: No, I don't think so, because I still had the schools beat. People know you. They feel comfortable. Also, to write the story and it comes out the way they wanted, or at least if there
were no mistakes in it, why, they're delighted. These reports began coming back. I guess maybe I'd been there a year when I heard Mother was told by Mr. McLucas, the banker, that out in the country club front porch, George Longan, the managing editor, had bored everybody for 40 minutes talking about me, about what a surprise it was and how they hadn't wanted to take me on, and how glad they were they had me, and so on. Of course, Mr. McLucas was very pleased because he would have made them take me, no matter. [Laughter.]
So I was then set. You knew how you stood by the assignments that you were given, you see. That's what your status depended upon. You began to get out-of-town assignments. Of course, Kansas City is not a place where a lot of exotic things happen, but, still, we had things that did happen. I was sent to Columbia to cover a sex-questionnaire rumpus down there at the university that almost dislodged the president. When they wanted me to cover it, they said, "Whom would you like to help you?" and let me pick one of the young men to take with me. Then there was a student correspondent down there, too. That turned out to be a very interesting assignment, but again, I had one of my experiences that depend on your being a woman.
We were all sitting out waiting for the board. The board was meeting on whether to fire both the president and the head of the abnormal-psychology department, who had sponsored this sex questionnaire, which asked the students—anonymously, mind you—if they had had any sexual experience. The idea of the flower of Missouri womanhood being asked questions like that? Did the man have no sense at all? [Laughter.] So, you know, it was good copy. We were sitting out there waiting for what was going to come out of the board meeting. Finally, the president of the university, Stratton Brooks, came dashing out, went down the hall, and a whole pack of us followed him. He turned into his office and went through a door. I was along with the group. It was his john! [Laughter.]
Biagi: So you stopped.
Beebe: I backed away. Charlie Grumich was our student correspondent then, and he later was quite a big-shot with the AP. He never resisted twitting me about that. [Laughter.] I had friends there.
Biagi: There was no question how far you would go to get a story. [Laughter.]
Beebe: It's just that I thought he'd gone to get some data, you know. Here was all this crowd in this little narrow thing, and here suddenly I saw him starting to get on this john. I think he saw me at the same time, so, of course, I quickly fled. Since I had two helpers there, I didn't miss anything. But I felt pretty bad. So you do have experiences like that. It is true. And you understand, too, why they didn't want to fool with women.
On that Salt Lake paper, by the way, they didn't even have a toilet for women. Where I had to go was downstairs at the back, and it was icy, leading into a back alley, half a block down to the dimestore, and go in and use the public restroom at the dimestore. So they just didn't have women. That was that!
Biagi: What was the best thing about working at the Star, that you liked the best about it?
Beebe: Oh, they called it the Star family, and it was. We had parties. We had a group of good friends. The Star, also, it was kingpin. You had entré anywhere. It wasn't at all what you'd get in many places, about, "Reporters, get out of here," you know. "You're from the Star? Come right in." Although we did have our experiences, too. There was a very fashionable women's private school that had some kind of a tea, and they wanted it covered. They sent one of our quite good, very able writers, a little Irishman, Hubert Kelly. He stood there, and if somebody came by with a plate of cookies or something, they'd say, "Who are these?"
"Oh, reporters," and she passed him up. [Laughter.] We all, of course, roared at that.
But mostly, the Star had a great deal of power. It also had respect for writing. On so many papers, the desk people are the ones that have prestige, but they didn't have at the Star. When we got a new managing editor, Roy Roberts, who came home from Washington—he'd been Washington correspondent there—we gave him a party only for reporters—no deskmen invited. He was a reporter, too, you know. No deskmen were permitted. I was, of course, the only woman there, and I left early so they could tell their jokes.
Biagi: Did it ever make you feel uncomfortable at all?
Beebe: No, because so soon you were accepted. This is why I've always said it was a good thing. In subsequent jobs, for instance, at Stanford, I found that you never could get over the barrier, but on a newspaper, the city editor, the person getting out the paper, doesn't care if you're black, white, blue, male, female, or between. If you can do it, they can use you. If you can do it and you show you can do it, you have the respect of your colleagues. That's why I liked it. That's why I stayed with it. I turned down chances, one, to be a national women's correspondent in Washington, and one to be a Hollywood-star writer for the movie business. I didn't want either of those things.
Biagi: How did having that job affect your social life? Did it affect it in any way? Or did you have a social life?
Beebe: Well, you know, if you're not a couple, a social life isn't exactly conventional, anyway. I was happiest with the people that I knew and was with. Remember, I had grown up in Kansas City. We had family friends, too. Also, it was on the Star that I met the man I later married. That was a very long and agonizing thing, because he was married. Of course, one didn't do that then. We were both Victorian, so we didn't do it. That's why I went to New York.
Biagi: He was a reporter?
Beebe: When we were on the Star, we were taught to say very proudly that we were reporters. He was very much of a special writer and had prestige—well, he gave distinction to the paper and he just was in a class by himself.
Biagi: When did you first meet him?
Beebe: I met him first in what he was writing. He had been doing editorials and was pretty tired of that, so he became a roving correspondent. He was writing about California. Of course, I was very homesick for California. I just couldn't wait to get the paper in the morning, and I would burst into laughter and read the stuff aloud to Mother. I had never met him. I wasn't working there yet.
Biagi: What was his name? His byline said—
Beebe: He didn't have a byline. Nobody had any byline. Just "The Star's roving correspondent."
Biagi: So how did you know he was writing it, then?
Beebe: Well, I knew somebody was. I didn't care who it was.
Biagi: You didn't know it was him at that point?
Beebe: No. At the office I said, "This is wonderful. This is Pink's stuff." He was kingpin.
Biagi: That was his nickname, though?
Beebe: Yes. He was Pink. So I guess I had probably carried out the threat of Leo Levy. I blew up and finally I fell in love, and then later I had a family and the paper came last. So I guess I carried out all his fears. But then, as I pointed out, the men get drunk and also fall in love and are no good. They also blow up! [Laughter.] But I managed to work through it.
I was at the Star for five years. We had the first political convention nominating Herbert Hoover. I was completely ignorant about that. I hadn't even taken political science in college, although I was advised to. I didn't and I was sorry afterwards. But that was very interesting.
Oh, I don't know. What else happened that was exciting and different on the Star? I was sent to various things.
Biagi: Did you ever go back to the kind of police reporting or bandit stories and all those kinds of stories? Did you do any of that again?
Beebe: The Star didn't do much of that. You see, it was a different thing. You were interviewing people and writing whatever would happen, you know. We had a report that the hospital had blown up. At the time, they were taping a movie about the Star and how it worked, and they were having reporters rush up to the city desk and so on. We got this report about the blow-up, and the city editor came out and said, (whispering), "Explosion at research hospital. Will you get up there?" So I tiptoed out and rushed up, and it turned out to not be much. But by that time, it was established that anything that there was, you know, I could do.
I had an interesting story and was sent off to Iowa. A man had died there and left all his money to establish a library into which no woman should enter and in which no books by any woman should be. It sounded kind of freakish and interesting, so they sent me up to see what it was all about. It was very fascinating. He was dead, you see, and I went around to try to figure out, from everybody who knew him, how come. He was a great misogynist. But oddly enough, he'd gotten married three or four years before. "He certainly beat a path to my door," said his widow. Of course, the city had to question, because women were taxpayers. They weren't going to support such a library. There was a legal fight about it and whatnot, a whole page of Sunday stuff about it. It was very interesting.
Biagi: But you couldn't get into the library?
Beebe: You never find out. When the thing gets into litigation, you know, it's there forever. I suppose it just died a death. I don't know whatever became of his money. His widow told me that he was almost sick when he learned that Henry Mencken had gotten married. Remember?
Biagi: Yes, he said he would never marry. Fell deeply in love, really, Mencken did.
Beebe: Yes, he did. Then we had a very nasty crime trial there of a man who had kidnapped a child, a young teenager, from the next-door neighbor. He had dug a pit and put her in his yard and he kept her down there in chains.
Beebe: Yes. Oh, yes, for sexual purposes. She'd been there some weeks, I guess. So this was not the kind of crime that Kansas City was used to. It was rather a messy sort of thing. The city editor came over and said how did I feel about covering it. He said, "I would like to have you do it because I think you would be better to be able to write about it. It's pretty sensational stuff," which the Star was not. "But we want it. We want everything we can get, and we think you'd do it best."
I found out later that there was talk around. "Oh, what did they mean by sending a nice girl to a trial like that?" But I did it. It was, I guess, another feather in my cap at the city desk, as far as that went.
I got my name in the paper just once, and that was when I came back to California. I managed to get an extended vacation and some leave to go out and see my friends.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: We were just getting into the crime trial, and there was a man who had kidnapped a child, a young teenager, from the next-door neighbor.
Beebe: Oh, yes. I was asked if I would cover it. The city editor said, "We want all we can get in the paper. This is a family paper, you know, and I think you'd be the best person to do it. But I'm not going to insist that you do it." Of course, I said, "Oh, yes." I understood that there was considerable talk about how dreadful to assign a nice young woman—a nice young "girl" in those days—to a thing like that.
Biagi: Tell me, when they say "a nice young girl," describe to me what it is you looked like at that time. How did you dress? Describe yourself to me.
Beebe: I never looked at me. [Laughter.] I had workable clothes.
Biagi: Brown hair. How did you fix your hair? I'm curious.
Beebe: I think I cut my hair short during the Kansas City time, because I think that's when I had my first permanent wave. It was just coming in, I think. But of course, you always wore a hat when you went out and gloves.
Biagi: In the news room, what did you do with the hat?
Beebe: That is a good question, especially in the pit. There was nothing. I guess I did speak about that, that later there were desks, because one time they wanted to go back on a story, and I had stuck my notes—we had a little locker. Everybody had a little locker way off. That's where I would stick my hat, on top of that, as I came in.
Biagi: There was no place inside?
Beebe: No place, no.
Biagi: Wide-brimmed hat? What kinds of hats did you like? I'm curious.
Beebe: Well, the twenties, the skirts were getting quite short then, and the coal scuttle hats. [Laughter.] And the dresses were long-waisted, too, and I liked them because I could just go in and buy one quick off a rack, without anything done to it. So I had no trouble. I never liked to shop for clothes, but I could do it in a hurry. In a hurry, you had to. Six days a week, you know, six full days a week. So when the men had wives to buy their shirts and stuff, I had to go without lunch to get a shoelace, practically. [Laughter.] But I wasn't about to complain, you know.
Biagi: What were your hours there in a typical day?
Beebe: [Laughter.] Well, that's a little bit complicated, because when I went, they thought they'd do better to get rid of me being on the Times. But I was to come in the morning. It was a double operation there—morning, evening, and Sunday papers. They overlapped, so people changed seats at certain times. I was assigned to the night side, and yet I was supposed to be working day hours. I wouldn't really get any assignment until 1:00, and then I never could get through to get home when the rest of the night side went through. My poor mother was waiting for me. It was an awful—
Biagi: Which would have been how late, for instance, did you get home?
Beebe: It depended on the story, you know. You were writing it. She was ready to come home at 5:00, and I maybe would keep her waiting around until 7:00, and we lived out in the country, commuting 15 miles on a hogback road.
Biagi: So your day would start typically when?
Beebe: We got up early in the morning, and Mother [and I] drove into town together. She had a career at the bank. Mostly we'd get home in the evening, but often not. The only assignment I had was schools, and school board night I always stayed. I got a hotel room and paid for it myself, because I figured it wasn't their fault I lived out in the country.
Biagi: So you stayed in town that night.
Beebe: I stayed in town that night. Mother would arrange to get home some other way, usually.
Biagi: Tell me about this trial now.
Beebe: I thought it was interesting that it would bring up an argument in the news room about assigning a woman to a thing like that. Now they would think nothing of it. Nowadays you have that kind of thing all the time, but, of course, Kansas City didn't have anything like that. Came the awful moment when the little girl said that she was thirsty, and he said if she was thirsty, she could suck his privates. [Laughter.] Of course, I left that out. Of course, there were always smut people in the office that were dying to get it. I didn't. No, the purpose of telling it was just that at that time, it was so unusual that it made a little commotion.
Biagi: What other arguments about content or about stories do you remember taking place in that news room? Were there any arguments about stories that you wrote?
Beebe: No, I don't think so. You see, there was quite a contrast between the Oakland Tribune and the Kansas City Star. I thought that was one thing I would want to speak about, because, of course, a newspaper office is a wonderful place to work, especially if it's a good paper.
In the old days when papers were the whole thing, I think they were more close-knit a little bit, too, because there was no T.V., no radio. Radio was just coming in, you see. If you wanted to buy a car, there was the automobile editor. If you wanted to buy a house, there was the real-estate editor. If you wanted to go to the theater, there were tickets. Incidentally, the Oakland Tribune always paid for tickets, and I was very pleased at that.
Weekends on the Oakland Tribune began after you got the Sunday together. Sunday night, we would drive way up through dusty roads and camp by the side of some lake and stay for Sunday, then drive back. We had a good deal of socializing. We all knew each other. Everybody helped everybody. But there was a lot of crime in the Bay area then. It was after the
First World War, so it was bandits and an evening paper with its seven editions and two makeovers. I was not inclined to be a speed demon, but I did get my speed up, because I saw that was the thing to do. I enjoyed it very much. I told you about the first city editor. "It's right on the deadline!" And he'd tear it off as you were writing it paragraph by paragraph. You'd say, "What's the last word?" [Laughter.]
Biagi: How did that compare, then, to the Kansas City Star?
Beebe: Then you go to the Kansas City Star. You'd go in the morning, and maybe we'd go over to the radiators. It was cold driving in from the country. We'd get a little bit warm and read the paper a while, because there was no rewrite to do. Everybody took both the morning and the evening papers, so there was no rewrite. I would be sent out on a story in the morning, and I would call in excitedly at 10:30 or 11:00 and say, "I have this," you know, like with the trial. "Oh, come on in and write it." You'd come in and write it for the P.M.s, and then somebody else would take over for the A.M.s.
Biagi: Did you give up your desk?
Beebe: You didn't have any desk. [Laughter.] It was just this chair and a long table. You just got out of your chair. There was always someplace empty. The whole thing was in one big square room; that was old William Rockhill Nelson's idea. So everybody knew what everybody was doing, except in the corner where God sat.
Biagi: Who was God?
Beebe: God at that time was the son-in-law of Nelson, and he didn't do anything.
Biagi: What was his name?
Beebe: My goodness. Oh, Lord, Nelson's daughter smoked. That was before my time, but that was considered quite something.
Biagi: We'll come back to that. Anyway, his son-in-law didn't work very hard?
Beebe: Oh, no. He came in looking as if he'd just come in from his club, you know, and was going to read the paper a while. They'd go in and consult with him. Then, of course, it was soon lunchtime.
Biagi: He was the editor?
Beebe: No, the publisher, nominally, but he really didn't do anything. But you see, Nelson had owned the paper, and when he died—I guess when I came, the daughter had died, too—but the son-in-law was sort of the family person that had the money. Then when he died, there was a general move-up. The man who was city editor had moved to managing editor, who had moved up to the business manager, and the deaths would come on. We all went to the funerals. One day this move was going on to the head of the room, and we sang "Nearer My God to Thee." [Laughter.]
Biagi: You were moving closer to God. [Laughter.]
Beebe: Nelson's will had left the paper to be sold and the push to establish this Kansas City Art Institute. People at the paper felt pretty bad about that, and they finally fought it themselves. It was arranged. There was a period, meanwhile, while it was sort of in escrow, and the management of three universities, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas, were sort of in charge of
the money, and we couldn't have any policy much. It was really kind of in limbo. Eventually it was sold to the employees. I left not too long after that. I always suspected that what happened was that they all got rich, you know, because the stocks that they bought out of their wives' socks and wherever they could grab any money went up so much that a lot of these ex-reporters became millionaires.
Biagi: The employees?
Beebe: The employees. I don't think they probably wanted to do much work after that. The good old whip and prod were missing. I don't know. I didn't follow it too much. By the way, did you notice that the Kansas City Star and Times have merged now?
Biagi: Is that right?
Beebe: I saw it in the New York Times this morning. So it's changed the picture now. There's going to be one paper and it's going to be Kansas City Star, which used to be, of course, the evening paper. But it will now be a morning paper, and that's going to be it. Very different.
Biagi: Let me ask you about the culture of being in that news room, about decisions that were made and the reporting practices. Today we call those ethics. We call those the ethics of reporting. Would you say it was an ethical place to be, that the reporters were ethical?
Beebe: Well, I don't think it's changed very much. Yes, of course the Star was a different milieu. A lot of things you were writing about were things like the ice wagon in the summer that was free to the poor. You wrote about that, and you wrote about the schools that needed a bond issue, and you wrote about the clubs and all sorts of organizations doing good. It was much more constructive, much less crime, so that your temptations were different. You see, their competition was practically nothing. I mean, they owned the roost there, so they could do pretty much what they wanted to do.
I remember one time being on some story where we had been repulsed rather nastily, as you sometimes are, you know. You came back and, "Well, we'll get even with them." This lovely white-haired poet, John Gilday, who had one of the chairs over on the side, I don't know what he did on the editorial page, sometimes he had little poems in the paper, he very quietly said, "Well, you know, we're not really in the business of doing that here. We just write it as it is; we don't take on feuds and vendettas like that." I felt quite a little bit abashed and very pleased, too.
Then I remember an assignment. This was after our Washington correspondent came out to be managing editor as the ladder changed there. He had never been an editor. He was the reporter who became king. We gave him a dinner when he came home, and allowed no desk men to come. [Laughter.] He wanted me to go out to check on rumors that the poor house, which had a different name, but we still called it the poor house, that there were bad conditions there, so I was supposed to go out unannounced at a mealtime and see what the food was like and talk to what people I could without going through the management. I did go out and I did go through the food line, and it wasn't too bad. People seemed not too unhappy. Some I talked to were complaining, but, of course, the kind of complaints you hear now in millionaire retirement homes, are of idle people.
Anyway, I came back with that. I said, "Of course, I'm sure if we stayed longer and managed to get to people, we would hear complaints, but as I saw it, and they didn't know I was coming, it didn't seem to me to be too bad."
He said, "Let's not write anything about it." I was pleased at that.
One time there was a story about an auto accident. Of course, we gave more space to them then. This young man in a sports car had run over and injured a child, I think. Anyway, they had arrested someone. They had found the car with something on the bumper, and they had the man. My instructions were, "Let him have it." Of course, I didn't see him. I was talking to the police reporters and people who had seen him, and they described him to me. I wrote a pretty nasty, mean story about him. Somebody said, "You convicted the poor guy on his mustache." He had one of these black greased mustaches, and he was kind of fat, and I made him look like a pig. [Laughter.] He was the wrong man. He came around and said he had the perfect alibi. He wasn't the one. But nobody said anything.
Biagi: How did you feel, though?
Beebe: Well, I felt bad, of course, but I was acting on orders. I didn't feel it was my fault, but everybody, of course, felt that was too bad. It was kind of a lesson to me, too, that you just mustn't jump to conclusions like that.
Biagi: Sure. So you were at the Star now for how many years?
Beebe: Nearly five.
Biagi: What was your relationship with the people in the news room?
Beebe: You see, I had to sit there for weeks with nothing to do, and the first time I was sent on a story, this man at the other—the very first break I think I had, I was supposed to be doing schools, and schools weren't even in session at the moment, but high schools were. There had been a bus accident of a basketball team and some people were killed. So they had been going to have a jubilation assembly. I went out for that and, of course, it was called off. So when I called in, I said, "There's no story. It's called off." I thought we would laugh together at that. That's the famous newspaper story about the new recruit. He said, "Oh, I think you should go back. You should go in there now and take your pencil and just write down what the man says." [Laughter.]
I said, "It's over. I have some quotes here."
So later, he said, "My, I didn't know that gal had any experience. She was just as smooth." So in spite of the fact that I'd gone and tried hard to get on the Star, you see, as far as anybody knew, I was just somebody who had been thrust on them and they didn't want me there. So it took a while.
Since it was that way, since then they discovered that I was a good working newspaperman, of course I got more credit than really I deserved, more than my share of it. You know when you're in, I mean, when they come and say, "Who do you want to help you on this assignment?" they sent me to Columbia when the president was about to be kicked out over the sex questionnaire—did I tell you about that? I think I did.
Biagi: You mentioned it.
Beebe: I think I mentioned it while [telling about] trying to follow the men to the toilet.
Biagi: Yes, you did.
Beebe: When they ask you whom you want to take with you, you know you're in. I knew that I had made my way there.
Biagi: Was the Star using a lot of photographers or photography in the paper?
Beebe: Yes, they did. At first, you know, they wouldn't use any—what did they call them?* The Star was very, very conservative. Nothing more than one-column headlines, you know, and they had drawings. So the art department, everything was drawings and kind of etching-like things.
Biagi: Illustrations, maybe?
Beebe: There's a term for it, what the other papers were using, where you had the photograph, but it's gone from my mind at the moment. It may come to me. But that came in shortly. It came in while I was there, but they were very careful. The things were not very big, and the headlines were never very big. I believe I told you they said they were saving the four-column headline for the Second Coming. People who came to the city said they couldn't read the paper, you know. It didn't have big headlines. They were "showing." But people who were used to it swore by it and liked it that way.
Biagi: When you went on stories, did the photographers go with you?
Beebe: Oh, yes, yes. That happened as soon as we got photographers. I believe I did tell you about Martin Johnson and the photographer who was very intelligent, and Martin Johnson kept talking to the photographer all the time.
Biagi: I don't think you did.
Beebe: He was an explorer, he and Osa Johnson, and they bought pictures of them with their feet on dead elephants and things. He kept saying, "Osa's over there," to me. I said, "Well, I'll see her later." So Bowersock, the photographer, was an awfully nice chap, not like most of the photographers I knew out in San Francisco at all. He was a very intelligent guy. Of course he was talking to—so then I went back and wrote the piece, and that's the time that he wrote the letter and said of all the places he'd been in the country, he'd never had a story thoroughly accurate except this one. He said, "I don't know who wrote it. There were two or three people there." [Laughter.]
Biagi: That's Mr. Johnson who wrote the letter.
Beebe: Yes. He hadn't realized you see, who was doing the writing. I said, "I am," but he was thinking that I was going to write a piece about his wife, as it usually was.
Biagi: Because you were there as the female reporter.
Beebe: Oh, yes, and there was a man there, you see, who was talking to him.
Biagi: He was talking to the photographer?
Beebe: To the photographer. [Laughter.] So the paper put his letter on the bulletin board, but, of course, no mention of who wrote it. I guess they knew.
Biagi: You said there was one story when you had a byline there.
Beebe: The only one was when I had a leave of absence to come back to California, and flew back from Los Angeles. That was a little break of policy for them. It was after Roy Roberts came to the paper. He said that they never took freebies. You see, they didn't want to be under any obligation to anyone. But he thought that in this case, if they wanted to give me a free ticket and I would write a piece about it, since the whole industry was new, that it was justified. So, of course, I wrote a first-person piece, and they almost had to because I said, "I." They didn't put it at the top, though. They had the usual, "By a member of the Star staff," and at the end my name was there. That's the only name I had in the paper, except later when I was with Associated Press, then they would use my byline and say that I had been formerly a member of the Star. [Laughter.] But not while I was there. Nobody had it then.
Biagi: Tell me about that trip. You went to Los Angeles?
Beebe: Yes. Not to Los Angeles; I was up here, of course.
Biagi: Up here in San Francisco?
Beebe: In the Bay area. That's where I had my friends. I was here a while. But the flight was from Los Angeles. I had to go down there and had to get up at something like 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and drive out to this field. It was really exciting, because there were no jets, so you didn't fly so high. You'd get to see something. We had to stay overnight in Texas because of a storm. We were forced down in Texas. I got airsick. There was one steward who took care of everything and brought us pills and blankets and brought us cylinders to fill up. He tossed them out the door of the plane, happily over Arizona. [Laughter.] When I got home, my mother said she was going to carry an umbrella from now on. [Laughter.]
Also, of course, a thing that I didn't put in the story, the toilet arrangement was the same as it was on a train; you simply flushed it into the atmosphere. [Laughter.]
It was a great flight. I enjoyed it. We were overnight in Texas, and I think I gave the statistics about how many hours we took. We were going up to 100 miles an hour, you know.
Biagi: Very fast.
Biagi: That was your only byline?
Beebe: I think that was the only byline I had while I was there. I guess it was one of the few the paper had. It was finally the man I eventually married who broke over people demanding to know who was writing that stuff. They called it the Star's Roving Correspondent. He did a series from Europe and whatnot. After Roy Roberts came to the paper, it was a little bit different. He'd been in Washington, so he had a little different ideas about that. But it was Pink who first broke that taboo. There was some point to it. When you didn't have bylines, you didn't have all that jockeying for position. Two or three people would go on a story and they would collaborate and do it. Everybody inside knew who everybody was, you know, and once you had your standing, and there were people there who made more money as writers, and the desk people were held in low esteem by the writers. But that wasn't quite fair, because some of them were quite good. I always felt that good "copy butchers," as they used to call them, saved me many a bad error.
Biagi: Do you remember any particular errors that they saved you on?
Beebe: Oh, my. The number is legion, especially when they were taking your stuff off as you write it, you know. You can't quite remember what you—you say ridiculous things. I can't, no, because once they save you, you see, it goes right out of your mind. If it gets in the paper, that's something else. But usually it didn't, and the system worked. It worked pretty well. The Star's standard of editing, of course, was much, much higher than the Oakland Tribune had been. I think the quality of their critics—they were not too pressed for money, either. There was a movie critic, and I think we had two drama critics, although we didn't have but the one real theater in the town, really. There was, of course, the society editor and the club editor, and they had their assistants. They didn't have a separate bin for them, either, but they had a separate island for their stuff.
Biagi: You were there for five years.
Beebe: Not quite. I was there from early '27, I think in the spring of '27, to the fall of '31. I often thought, and I thought later, of what that managing editor in the Tribune had said, that they didn't want women because they'd either fall in love, you know, or they would get married and have a family that would interrupt their interests, or they would blow up some way. I thought afterwards, well, I had done all three in my career, but I didn't ever stop working. The decisions I made on a personal basis, of course, I'm sure militated against ambition and going up and getting a lot of prominence. I was never eaten by that particularly.
Biagi: Tell me about your relationship, then, at this time with Pink.
Beebe: I had just assumed—it's sort of an incredible story that I haven't talked about. Pink was a very lonely man, I guess. Everybody on the paper knew that he was—well, when he went to Europe, he took a daughter instead of his wife. We had a lot of social occasions and nobody would ever see him with his wife. Apparently they had some sort of an arrangement. So I guess he must have been a very lonely man, fantasizing some way or other, but he fell in love with me, and I was too astounded at it, because he was, of course, old. He wasn't my picture of the white knight at all.
Biagi: Old? By old, what do you mean?
Beebe: By old I meant about 50, I suppose. [Laughter.] And he was married and had daughters. His eldest daughter, whom I knew, she wasn't much younger than I. Of course, my mother was terrified. When I went to California, I was really getting out of the pressure for a little bit. He talked very candidly to my mother. He won Mother. He could win anybody. Mother was delivering letters between us for a little while, but she was in agony over it. It's hard to realize how things were then. I remember when Pink asked me if I'd marry him, as if he were free. He asked me to marry him, I think, the second time I saw him. It was the election night, I remember. He didn't drive. He had terrible eyesight and he was always driven by somebody. He didn't have a way to get home, and I said, "I've got to stay tonight, so I've got a car. I'll take you home." The college stuff. You just do.
"Oh, well, that would be fine."
Biagi: This is election night what year now?
Beebe: That would be '28, was Herbert Hoover, and he'd been nominated there, you see. That Republican Convention was my introduction to politics, and was I ignorant! [Laughter.] I used to make terrible mistakes, but they were caught at the time and I learned. So I drove him home and he said, "I can't let you drive back alone to the hotel. I wouldn't think of it."
I said, "For heaven's sakes! What?" He just wanted to talk to me. I think he kissed my hand that night. I was overcome, sort of, because I didn't think it was a joke. Something told me it wasn't, and yet it just didn't have any place in my setup at all. Remember, I was born the year Queen Victoria died. What that old gal did to us! [Laughter.] All through college, we never—we just didn't do it, you know.
Also, that generation was after the First World War, when there was the Roaring Twenties, and we had a whole lot of freedoms that nobody had. At Western College, we had chaperones for dates, and there weren't any dates to speak of, anyway. But at Wisconsin we were pretty free on our own, and we were rather proud of the fact that we were a group, you know. Of course you could be alone. What did they think you were doing? We weren't doing anything we shouldn't—and we weren't. A fairly small group of us weren't. I suppose it always went on. On the whole, I think the gals who overstepped were in the minority. In Kansas City, on that sex questionnaire story, I got the impression that it was a minority. As one of the girls said, "Well, I'm pure, but I don't criticize the other girls if they want to." That was too steep for the Star. They cut that part out. [Laughter.]
So you can see that it was a terribly unsettling thing. He said, "Would you marry me if I was free?"
I said, "But you're not free. I'm no home-wrecker." But on the other hand, you know, my feeling was that if people were not in love—I was a romantic. If they were not in love and didn't like each other, well, they should get divorced. Goodness gracious. And I didn't realize what it would mean after people had a family and they're established. Also, it was kind of a disgrace, divorce was. Why should he get a divorce, you know, really? I wouldn't say. I wasn't any home-wrecker. I said, "I don't know, anyway. I don't know. But you're not free, so there's no point in talking about it."
He finally wanted to leave and said, "Maybe I should go."
I said, "Oh, no. Your whole career and family's here. I think it's for me to get out." That's why I went to New York in the Depression. I had a chance to go because Mother got a letter from an old friend who was an M.D., a woman, who was going blind. She wrote and asked if she could have haven with her for a little while, and that was wonderful for me, because she was a doctor and Mother wouldn't be alone. So I took my leave from the Star. They offered to give me stock in the paper if I'd stay.
Biagi: Did they?
Beebe: I'd have been a millionaire now if I'd had anything to invest, which I didn't. But I never was sorry about that.
I tried to get a job in New York before I left. You see, Kansas City Star had sent lots of people to New York to make good. There have been many famous people from the Star, as you know, Eugene Field and William Allen White. You know your journalism history. I got stories about William Allen White coming to work for the Star when he was a pink-cheeked little boy, kind of, and drank them under the table. Then he turned completely dry thereafter, because his fiancee was upset about it.
Biagi: So this was '31?
Beebe: This was '31. The Crash was in '29, and New York was absolutely dead. So I wrote to two or three of the Star people who were there, and there were two on the Associated Press. I had hoped that I could manage that. But what they wrote me was, "If you were here without a job,
we might see, except nobody has jobs right now. But just recently, the board has been criticized by the papers. They don't want us to take their good people away from them, so we're not supposed to do that. If they're still with the paper, we're not supposed to offer them jobs." But I had the hope that if I could go there and would have broken my connections, that I could get on. But fortunately, my brother was living in Long Island, so I had a place to go and look in these three months.
I looked for a job there for three months, and it was very interesting, because I got an audience where I wouldn't have in better times. Nobody had anything to do. I went to this Tamblyn and Brown, that I had worked for in Kansas City briefly, and there was a great big room almost as big as the Star and this man sitting up there, and all the desks were empty. There was nobody there. He said, "You see what it's like. There just isn't anything." People were jumping out of buildings. The AP, while I was there, had a rule out that we weren't to mention suicides anymore. There were too many of them.
That was also instrumental in changing my politics, because I had always been a Republican, of course. I mean, everybody was Republican, except people on the wrong sides of tracks. And also I was a great admirer or Mr. Hoover because of the Stanford connection and the Kansas City nominating convention and everything, you know. I read all his speeches, and I thought Mr. Roosevelt was just terrible to attack him that way. But on the other hand, here was a system that wasn't working, and here were people that wanted jobs. In the midwest, if you wanted a job, you could have it. "If you were any good and you were hard working, my boy, you will get ahead." Well, here it wasn't true and it wasn't working. It jolted me.
Also, I nearly went to work for Al Smith, of all things. I went everywhere. I went every place that anybody sent me. Where will I go next? And I just went more places than you could think of. For instance, the New York Telegraph. They said a lot of people had started on that paper, you know. So I had an appointment. Somebody would say, "Phone over to Bill and say you're coming." I got a copy of it. I couldn't make head or tail of it, this kind of jargon of sports and theater talk. So I had this thing in my hand when I came, and I said, "I don't think I could work for this paper. I can't read it." [Laughter.]
He said, "Oh, you'd be good. We haven't got anybody." So I really got to talk to a lot of people. Now in a more prosperous time, they wouldn't have the time to talk.
Biagi: So when you got your job, how did that come about?
Beebe: Eventually, the AP wanted to take me on, but they had no budget. But they got a man on night side that wanted to stir things up and have more features, and I guess he thought a woman would be good to do that. So he was pushing for it. I, finally, then was called. But I first got a job with the World Telegram, but temporarily. A gal had broken her leg in the women's department.
Biagi: You went back to the women's department?
Beebe: I would have taken anything. I went to Time magazine, by the way, and they said, "You're overqualified." They paid $25 a week to women researchers. There were no editorial women at all. [Tape interruption.]
[End Tape, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Beebe: I got quite a routine for job-getting. It was interesting.
Biagi: How would you?
Beebe: Of course, you go from one person to another, always, and get an appointment. People were, for the most part, very friendly, much to my surprise. They would tell you what the situation was and what the chances were. Three times I thought I was going to work for Hearst. I was practically promised it, I thought, for INS at one time there.
Biagi: International News Service.
Beebe: Yes. It was a funny thing, too. I had been told to come back at a certain time and see Gary. He said, "Where have you been?"
I said, "I came today. You said to come."
"Well, I thought you were coming earlier." He had me mixed up with somebody else. He didn't have any job, anyway.
Then another time I went to the UP and the man said, "Well, we just don't hire women at all." There was a pause, you know. I guess he expected me to come back and demand why and so on, and I just didn't say anything. He said, "You know, it's not good work. It's dirty in here." [Laughter.] "We have lots of carbon dust. I wish we could take you on."
I said, "I wish you really meant that." He got interested, and I think was toying with the idea, but—
Biagi: Did anybody else say that to you in that job hunt that you remember in New York?
Beebe: Not so much. Earlier they'd say, "We've got a woman," you know. Enough. I told you about the one in Salt Lake, I believe, that said that they had a woman once and she didn't work out; she committed suicide.
Biagi: Tell me about AP now.
Beebe: I kept going back to AP because I did have friends there, and they were working for me. They wanted me.
Biagi: Mostly from the Star?
Beebe: Yes, the Star. There was Bill Brooks and Wilson Hicks. There was sort of a troika around the throne of Kent Cooper, who was, of course, king of all things. Two of them were proponents for me. They had been on the Star when I was, and they knew I could—
Biagi: Was that Brooks and—
Beebe: Brooks and Hicks. The other one was Marion Kendrick, who was this night editor that was sort of flamboyant and had come from Hollywood and wanted a woman. So among the three of them, finally they said, "Get over here. I think we've got a job." And that's when I was on the World Telegram for six weeks. I went and said, "I'm filling in for six weeks for someone who is off. Can I wait three weeks?"
"If you want the job, you'd better come Monday."
So I went to the World Telegram and told them, and they said, "You'd better go." Of course, it was kind of a nuisance to them, too, because they, I think, had to get somebody else or double up before this gal could get back on the job.
Biagi: So where was the AP at this time?
Beebe: The AP was on Madison Avenue, I think 44th Street, between 44th and 45th, I think.
Biagi: How many people were in the bureau then, roughly?
Beebe: It was big. You see, it was the world headquarters. On the editorial floor, there must have been—I hate to guess. It was a big room. There must have been 40 or 50, I suppose.
Biagi: Not all at one time.
Beebe: Yes, remember it's around the clock. So again, I was given special hours because it was the night side man that wanted the woman, but because I was a woman, I was supposed to work in the daytime. I was supposed to come at 10:00 and leave after eight hours or eight and a half, or whatever it was.
Biagi: Were you the only woman then?
Beebe: No. There was Lorena Hickok, but she was working on the day side. She was a real pioneer. She'd come from Minnesota. She had followed sports teams around, believe it or not, on that paper, and she was doing politics. This was unheard of! But she was a big sort of masculine type, and she could play poker and swear and smoke and drink with the best of them. We became quite good friends. She'd say, "Beebe, I've got to teach you to play poker and swear a little." [Laughter.]
Biagi: Did you learn?
Beebe: No. I got assignments that they wouldn't send her on, too.
Biagi: Is that right? Such as?
Beebe: Well, let's see. Mrs. Roosevelt, for one. Again, they didn't realize that Lorena was able to take any coloration. She was perfectly able to go into any situation and acquit herself well. But because around the newsmen she was really one of them, they would think it would be quite appropriate, you see. But they needn't have been afraid of that.
Biagi: What kind of assignments did you get then that you remember?
Beebe: They didn't know much what to do with me. Of course, I was on the desk. Perhaps I should say that, again, I didn't realize much what a press service did. I didn't realize what a difference it makes. I would always recommend anybody work on a paper instead of a press service, but I liked the AP because you did have straight news, which is what I wanted. You didn't have to have all the extra things that the papers have. Baby contests I've done and cooking schools and all the oratorical contests and things that I didn't consider were really news things would fall to a woman on the staff. But the AP didn't go for that much. In New York was the only place where they had a feature—they had feature departments. They had separate offices. But they had quite a feature service, and they did have some women there, one or two, writing. They had a theater critic, too, but mostly the AP doesn't have any of that thing.
It is not a microcosm at all, and it's around the clock. You never had that lovely business of the papers done, we've done the best we could, and don't have to do anything until tomorrow. It was always somebody's deadline somewhere in the world. So no matter what time it was,
you never had that feeling of relaxation. Of course, you got off and somebody else was on, and you could take a long breath.
One of the first things, I was sent to see Mayor Jimmy Walker getting on the train to go out to the convention in Chicago. I went to AP about January 1 of '32, so you can imagine the election talk was big. So I went to see him off. I said, "Anything special about it?"
"Oh, no. They interview him all the time. He'll probably get on the back platform and say a few words."
So I went and I listened. He came out on the back platform and there was a little group of people around on the press. I took notes, the train went off, and I went to the nearest phone and walked briskly and called them and reported it. It wasn't anything, you know, and I didn't think it was much of a story either. There wasn't anything about it that everybody wasn't saying all the time, anyhow. I went in, and he said, "We were a minute and a half later than the UP."
I said, "Is that bad?" [Laughter.] They did. They kept track, you see, all the time, and I hadn't really realized that, especially since I'd come from the Star, where things were pretty leisurely. If you didn't have it today, you could have it tomorrow. There were other papers, but there was no such pressure at that. So I had to change my whole perception of what was going on. It's a fast business. The nickname, you know, for Associated Press, with the opposition, was "Apathy." Our nickname for the United Press was "Leavit" for levity. I've forgotten what INS was. But it wasn't very apathetic. The competition was difficult.
But as I say, they hardly knew what to do with me. I didn't have any period like the Star, because there's always something to do at the AP. There's this volume of stuff. You see, we have all the local papers. You get the copy. In fact, I was practically a messenger girl every night to go over to the Herald Tribune and get their copy. The Times was so snooty that they stood on their technicalities and wouldn't let us have copy until it was in proof. That was a little later than the copy. Everybody had to make carbons, you see. So I went over to the Herald Tribune every night and got the carbons and went through them to see what we wanted for the country, because, of course, strictly New York news, we didn't need it.
Biagi: So you weren't transmitting local New York city news by any wire service; it was strictly by carbons. You say you were carrying the carbons back to AP, is that it?
Beebe: Yes, I'd just take the carbons back, because, of course, you see, if any story was hot, we had our own people on it at once. But if it was just the New York news, we would go through it and take what we needed to take out of it. Sometimes I would, as I say, practically carry the bundle back, but if there was time, if there was a lot of it, they'd say, "Do you want all this?" and I could eliminate quite a bit before I took it.
Biagi: You would bring it back and read it.
Beebe: Bring it back to the city desk, and they'd go over it. I sat on the city desk there a night or two when somebody—and that, of course, I hadn't had any experience in doing, especially with a press service—wanted to go to the theater.
There was a funny thing one night. This chap had asked me if I would do it, and I said I would. He had given me some story. I've forgotten what it was. In New York, of all things, I met him and his wife dressed to the eyes going to a party. [Laughter.] I just laughed. But I was pretty uneasy about it, because they never taught you anything, you know. They never taught you anything in the newspaper—nobody ever gave you any instructions at all. You just had to catch on.
Biagi: But didn't you know, do you think?
Beebe: Well, of course, in the AP, the scheduling and the dateline, the way you must write it, was full of rules. You just had to kind of absorb it as you went, because nobody had time. If you couldn't catch on, why, it was too bad. There were plenty waiting for your place.
There were various editors; there were some little pipsqueaks. There was one that they hated. He was a friend of the boss' and he had pink cheeks and he'd smoke a big cigar, trying to look old. He would go around bossing these older men. He asked me on a date to go to 21 Club. Well, I'd already been. I took out my little ball to show him I already had one. [Laughter.]
But he wanted one night—let's see. Oh, yes. We had a little publicity thing come in to us from a radio station about Emily Post. Sometimes people who are the correct people used words that the dictionary didn't approve of or something like that. I thought it sounded interesting. He didn't think anything of it, but somebody said, "Go and see." It was raining cats and dogs, and I went to interview Emily Post in her beautiful apartment with light carpet. The butler who met me at the door didn't offer to take my umbrella, my galoshes, which I had, or my coat. So I galumphed in and sat down on her lovely upholstery. Pretty soon she came sailing in. She didn't ask me to take off my coat, either, so I sat there in it. We had tea, and she didn't give me any napkin. I always thought that was something to tell. I went to have tea with Emily Post—and no napkin. [Laughter.] This is a good story, too, because she was outraged, it seemed. Some snippet just out of Wellesley College had tried to correct her when she used the word "condolence" instead of "condolence," as the dictionary said. She said, "Nobody who's anybody will say condolence." So you know, that was kind of a cute story. I made a little story of it, and it went big. Some people made drawings to go with it and so on, so that was a little feather in my cap. Also, I was delighted because this pipsqueak editor said it was no good, and everybody was pleased that it went over—everybody was.
Then there was the big kidnapping of Nellie Donnelly in Kansas City. She had built a business of house dresses for women. She was the first person who had an idea that you didn't have to look like calico or something; you could have pretty dresses. She had gotten married at the University of Missouri as a student, and she wanted to look nice for her husband. She developed this million-dollar business in Kansas City. Later she married a United States senator, Jim Reed. But she was kidnapped in Kansas City, and they caught the kidnapper in Africa somewhere and were bringing him into New York. The district attorney from Kansas City was coming to grab him. Since I had come from Kansas City, I got the story. I didn't pay any attention to hours. I went and saw the district attorney. I hadn't known him personally from before, because I wasn't on that beat. From the New York point of view, he was a real hick. He wouldn't ride the subways; he would only go in a taxi. He didn't think they were safe. We had to go clear over to Brooklyn early the next morning, and I went with him to put his hand on this character. I made him into a sort of Javert [the inspector in Les Misérables]. He was really a bulldog. He was going to get this kidnapper or else. That story made the front page of the Herald Tribune with the Associated Press byline—not mine, of course, and I didn't have one.
In New York, the AP was looked down on. See, everywhere else it was looked up to, but New York thought New York was the only thing that was, and New York news didn't interest us too much. So they just figured that we had news that was out in the sticks. So they didn't use anything of ours that covered New York, you see, ever. So that was also a little feather in my cap that instead of quickly putting somebody of their own on it and getting their own story, they used the AP story on it, which was good for me.
Biagi: What's your most memorable time there, the most memorable event that happened while you were there?
Beebe: I always remember the Lindbergh case, of course. I was still quite new. It was in March of '32 and I was very new and very green, still. I was called. My hours, as I told you, I came at 2:00, I guess, and worked until 10:00. How was that? That's only eight hours, and I could eat somewhere in that. Maybe 10:30. I've forgotten. Anyway, I had gone home and, of course, I never went to bed early because I could sleep late the next day. I had just gone into my deepest sleep when I was waked up and they said the Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped, and to get out there. "You're supposed to be a good reporter. Get out there." I had no idea where anything was.
Biagi: "Get out there," meaning where?
Beebe: Hopewell, New Jersey, where the Lindberghs were living, had gone to get away from the press and live in a rather remote situation. They were in the woods far out from this little town. I had written a letter that you are going to take, that tells you pretty much in detail how it was. It was a mess. Lindbergh, who hated the press, would say nothing to anybody. We had only rumors in the press. There must have been 500 of the press. That was the first time I saw television people, too. No, no, it wasn't. The television came at the second time out there after the baby was found. It was many weeks later.
Biagi: You mean broadcast radio?
Beebe: No, just television. Wait a minute now. Whoa, whoa, whoa. It wouldn't have been, would it, in '31?
Beebe: But they had all this big equipment.
Biagi: Was it a photography setup?
Beebe: Yes, photography and voice, too.
Biagi: Maybe it was news film.
Beebe: Maybe news film. But it was on the spot, so they had to operate from these big trucks. As I say, I don't think I'll go over all that.
Biagi: Tell me the highlights of your recollections of that event and your covering it.
Beebe: It was pandemonium.
Biagi: How many days were you there?
Beebe: Oh, I was there weeks! The AP rented us quarters above the A & P store, and there was a couch there. Anybody could lie on it. Lorena came out. Oh, mercy. Everybody came out and went back. I was sent back, finally, with a copy of the kidnapper's letter and the symbol they used, which was not to be published. They wouldn't trust it to be talked over the phone, even. Since I was new and the last man on the totem pole, very low ranking, they gave it to me to take into the office. When I got into the office, they looked at me and said, "What happened to you?"
I said, "Well, I'm still functioning." We were up 24 hours a day. There was no place to sleep. In that little town there was one tiny little restaurant, there was no food, and there was no news.
There was nothing but rumors. No phone calls went through to the house; they wouldn't take them. There were stories about—I remember the Chicago Tribune sent its man there to check a rumor that Lindbergh had kidnapped his own baby. I said, "Well, what do you do with a thing like that?"
He said, "Well, I just come and talk to you guys for a little while, and I'll call them and tell them there's nothing to it."
Biagi: Was Lindbergh accessible at all?
Beebe: Not ever. In fact, we all felt pretty resentful. I thought very poorly of him, because the night it happened, our nearest person was the chief of the Trenton bureau in New Jersey. Of course, that was the state capital. He got there in a great hurry, and Lindbergh was there. The first thing AP must always do is corroborate from one of the principals. The baby's been kidnapped. "You know my rules about quotes," he said, or something to that effect. He would not even say that. They did, I think, give hot coffee to the ones who were there that night because there were only four or five. By the next day, when we were surrounding the place like a siege of vultures, why, you were being prodded by the state constabulary. There was no FBI. In fact, the FBI got its big boost, you know, from that case.
So anyway, I was sent back to Hopewell, too, after taking the message in. They wanted it, of course, on hand there. I remember one time it was snowing. It was winter when we went out there. It was the first of March and there was snow on the ground and everything. Then suddenly it got hot. I had wool clothes on. I went to a store there in maybe Princeton. Every so often we could get to a hotel in Princeton and get a bath. I went to a store and got something light enough to wear for the hot weather, but I didn't have any money. Granted, they told me I could get money, but they'd given me $25. So I bought this dress and I called them and said I had a dress and I had the taxi man outside, and the taxi bill was climbing and I didn't have any money, and could they do something. They acted very quickly. All I had to do was get in the taxi and get to the Western Union and I had my money to get my dress. [Laughter.]
Biagi: What kind of salary are you making now as this hot-shot AP reporter?
Beebe: Hot-shot AP reporter. Salary, yes. That was a thing I wanted to talk about, too, because on the Oakland Tribune, I was making—I felt very good being a 23-year-older when I went there, and I was making the same salary that many of the families were. Then I got a raise and they said, "For God's sake, don't tell anybody." [Laughter.] This wouldn't do. Then when I went to Kansas City, you see, I was told I could go back to the Journal, but I was getting $18.50 a week when I left, and I gathered that maybe they might come up to $25. I'd been making $50! So that's why I then went to the Star. The Star only gave me, I think, to begin with, $150 a month. But I believe I was up to $200 or maybe a little more. Yes, I think I was up to a little more over $200, was pretty good when I left. I think the AP was paying me $200. I think I had to take a little bit less when I got on, but remember this is the high Depression. There were Ph.D.s working for $12 a week in Depression times.
Biagi: Where did you live in New York City?
Beebe: I lived first on Long Island with my brother, when I was looking for jobs. Before I got a job, he and his wife moved out to Borsodi's [author of This Ugly Civilization]—oh, my goodness—in upstate New York. So there I was with a rug out from under me, and I just had the money that I had come with, which was, of course, dwindling. I had to buy a winter coat under those circumstances. That was quite a thing to decide. I had to look well enough to look for a job, but it was hard going.
I went down to the Village and I lived on West 8th Street and paid $10 a week for my room. It didn't have a bath, of course, but there was a bath, and since my hours were different from most people, I had the use of it all right, no competition for it. So I got along fine, although other people thought it was very strange because they had apartments. I just didn't think I could afford one. The room was about streetcar size and smaller than a streetcar, and that was when I began to learn to be a little bit orderly again after college. I couldn't get in if I didn't. [Laughter.]
At night I would go home riding on the top of the bus. It was summer. Riding on top of the bus, it was nice. Sometimes I'd stop off at the Empire State Building because the press card would allow you to go up, instead of paying a dollar for fee. I'd just go up and look around, because I felt claustrophobia in New York. Buildings were closing in on me. I loved the outdoors and I missed California terribly. Getting up there on the Empire State Building was good. One time the guard followed me around. I had a black coat on, and I was going around the rail, and I guess he thought I was thinking of suicide. I realized he had his eye on me. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Tell me about your social circle. What was your social circle while you were there?
Beebe: There were various people. Everybody went to New York. I had a friend from the Star, Frances Dickson, who was there. She lived in Brooklyn. Mostly we phoned. Incidentally, I got a phone into that little room. In those days, the phone company would give anybody a phone for five dollars, you see. To put in my phone, they had to get it in from a back alley and go over fences. It was a job that must have cost heaven knows what to get me my five-dollar phone in that little streetcar room that I had to have.
I didn't have much social life. I, of course, had left very much in love and was not interested in anything but one person. So there wasn't too much. Then I worked funny hours, too. So I don't remember in New York as being—first I was with my brother and he had friends there in Long Island. I saw some of them. But as far as socializing with people in the office, I didn't do it, or very little. I don't even remember much about it.
Of course, the Lindbergh thing took an awful lot of time. Then when that phase ended and the baby was not found, then came the ransom which was paid by this peculiar, eccentric elementary school principal up in the Bronx, who had put an ad in the paper saying that he would like to be a go-between, and the kidnappers took him up on it. He is the one that threw all the money over the cemetery wall. So we had a stakeout in front of his house up in the Bronx, and I was assigned to that at night. Again, some of the men in the office thought that was very terrible. That was, again, the young editor with the cigar who sent me up there. I was glad to be in on it, because, of course, I was very much involved with the case. But again, we were just standing around talking to each other. The old principal would come out, go down to get a hamburger, and we'd all trail after him and get nothing. I got awfully tired of that.
I found out that he was teaching some sort of a course downtown, and I found that out and got down there when he came out of his course, and rode up on the elevated train with him and got a story about it. They had had some more notes. They had him under guard all the time, though, and the guards didn't like it that he was talking to me. I didn't know whether to believe him or not. Neither did the office, but they used some of it. It was not any great feather, except I was trying, anyway, and got something that was a little different from the others. We got nothing on that. Then suddenly, the baby was found, of course was found not too far from the house. Again, they sent me out there. No, that night the night editor said, "Will you write a story, please, on how Mrs. Lindbergh has held up under all this?" I had the lead story to do, and I just
couldn't do it. I finally went over and said, "I haven't anything to go on. I can't write that kind of thing."
"Well, get on out there." [Laughter.] So again, I went back out. That is the time that I first saw these equipment people. They were a rough crowd. They arrived with trucks and they set up their cameras and their sound businesses. We had surrounded this poor Negro driver of a truck who had found the body. He had stopped his truck because the call of nature had gone off in the woods, and apparently the shallow grave had been disturbed by animals, and he found it. Apparently there was still some clothing. They had also taken the baby's clothing off and had sent some piece of a shirt, I think, or something, but there was still clothing and they were able to identify the baby, Lindbergh was. So all this talk about never having the baby was rumors, rumors, rumors, was, I think, not true.
But the poor Negro, they said, "Now you just tell how it happened, now. Tell how it happened." And there we were, this whole mob was there again of the press. [Laughter.] He said, "Ladies and gentlemen." The only kind of speech he'd ever heard started that way.
"No, no, just tell what you found." Oh, it was really a very sorry thing from beginning to end. It was a tragedy and the press were a rowdy bunch. There were tabloid reporters who climbed over windows, and there was all this competition, and editors storming and swearing at the other end because they were getting nothing. It was a most frustrating thing.
Biagi: How did the competition in the New York newspaper business affect your job or how you had to work?
Beebe: On that story, in that first period, one time I had again found out there were some friends of the Lindberghs, a Mrs. Hulse, I believe her name was, a lovely person. Let's see. Was that in Princeton? Anyway, she had access to the house and we were able to get a few little crumbs from her. She talked very freely. I went with a New York Times man together there.
But earlier, when it was supposed that there was this family that we might go to, some man had gotten the assignment from the office, I offered to go with him, because I knew there was going to be a man and his wife there. I was thinking of the way we did it in the Star. This group said, "You're trying to horn in on this."
I was pretty naive, you know. I said, "Look, I'm just from the country. I don't know. I just got here. I don't know anything about it. We don't have any bylines on the Star. I thought it might be helpful." But that hit me like a hammer. I realized then what a dog-eat-dog business it was. But usually it didn't affect me. Either we were working inside the office, or you were assigned a story and you got it, you did it for yourself and it was going over the wires to everybody. Also, what you wrote went to your member papers in New York, too. Although later in San Francisco, and I suppose it was true in New York, you could say, "Locals in or locals out," as you wished to. If you were doing it on your own for AP, you didn't have to put locals in, I think. We didn't in San Francisco, I know.
Biagi: Was there ever a time when you remember stories being exaggerated because of the competition?
Beebe: Oh, all stories were exaggerated pretty much all the time! [Laughter.] Because, after all, what was a story? There wasn't any. All the florid writers were doing their best. The readers were hungry. The world was hungry. This was a worldwide story. Lindbergh was a world hero, you know. You couldn't have imagined the story that would be bigger. I remember really feeling a kind of thrill early on. "Here I am in the biggest city in the world," which it was
at the moment, "the biggest story that has ever broken and here I am! Great!" But it wasn't great. It was frustrating from the word "go." Oh, yes.
Then a maid at the Morrow house committed suicide, and we rushed over there. Again, the troopers were keeping us away. That time Lorena helped me. We got a limousine. She had a fur coat, a miserable old thing, but it looked impressive in the back. I think I had some white gloves that I had always found rather useful. If you waved a white glove for a taxi or something, it helped. I had some white gloves and a hat. I wrote a note and we got some good-looking stationery. We rode this limousine up to the iron gate. Of course, they came out to see. I handed a note and said, "I wish to deliver this note to the Hibbenses." He was president of Princeton, and he had been supposedly picked as go-better by the press. There was a rumor that the organized crime was in on this and that Spitale and Bitz, a couple of kind of Mafia characters, were going to see the president of the university. [Laughter.] So that can tell you how wild these stories and rumors were.
He said, "There's no admittance here."
I said, "Will you then, please, take the note up?" It was a long "fur piece" up, very cold through the snow to the door, and they decided they'd rather let us drive in, so they did. I rang the bell and thought, "Oh, heavens, now what?" President Hibben opened the door himself. I introduced myself, and he said, "Oh, do come in." So we had a pleasant chat. He said, "Do you know anything about this Spitale and Bitz thing?" They didn't know. They only knew that the press had been calling them and said that these characters were coming. Everybody wanted to help if they could, if there was any sort of connection to be made. They had picked somebody who would obviously have great integrity, you see, and trustworthy.
Biagi: Explain to me what a Spitale and Bitz is.
Beebe: Spitale and Bitz. They were the two underworld characters. I don't know what their first names were, but this was a duo of thugs that were supposed to make contact through Hibben about the baby.
Biagi: But he didn't know any more than anybody else?
Beebe: No, he didn't know any more than what he'd read in the paper about it. [Laughter.] They were very pleasant. He and Mrs. Hibben were pleasant. Again, I said what we were all going through out there. He said, "This is ridiculous, you know. This is a horrible thing." But of course, he was very courteous.
I said, "Well, I guess there's nothing then. You haven't heard?"
I said, "Supposing you hear. Can I call you?"
He said, "Yes." Well, we could have a signal, see. [Laughter.] But nothing ever happened, so nothing came of it.
Biagi: What was your signal?
Beebe: Oh, so many rings or something.
Biagi: On the phone.
Beebe: Yes. Some way that I was to be able to get through to him, because they had somebody on the phone to turn away calls. It had been ringing, ringing, ringing, because all the papers in the city had the same rumor. They were expecting something to happen, but it didn't. So that's the kind of thing it's full of.
Biagi: Sure. Want to stop for a second?
Beebe: Okay, we'll stop. [Tape interruption.]
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Biagi: So tell me about Puddler Jim Davis.
Beebe: He was in a scandal involving the lottery and his fraternal organization. Which was it? The Eagles? The Elks and the Antelopes and the Eagles. [Laughter.] I think it was the Eagles. Anyway, it was a fast-moving thing, because the Pennsylvania papers were very, very hot for it. The trial was in New York, because that's where the crime had supposedly been committed. I worked with Morris Watson, who was the figure in the Wagner Supreme Court decision. Morris did the running and the day leads, and then I came in and did a night lead on the trial all the time.
Biagi: What year would this have been now?
Beebe: That was in '33, I believe. About that time I decided that I was going to come back to California—personal reasons. Actually, the publisher of the Star, who was on the AP board of directors, had come to New York and asked to see me. He told me, "Pink has left us. He's left the paper and gone to California." Meanwhile, we had broken off altogether and we had misunderstandings that I don't care to go into. There was a woman who told a lot of lies, and I'd never encountered that. Anyway, I hadn't been in touch with him at all. I just decided I was going to go to California. I wanted to, anyway. I loved California.
So I told them that if the trial went too long, I was planning to leave by November, I think, or whatever it was. As a matter of fact, it did extend too long, so I did leave them in the lurch, sort of, in the middle. I wanted them to assign me out here to San Francisco, but they wouldn't do it. They said they had 30 people who wanted to get to San Francisco, and besides, why did I want to leave New York? "You're New York caliber, why do you want to go out in the sticks?"
I said, "Won't I get the same salary?"
"Oh, yes, of course you will."
I said, "If I stay any longer in New York, I won't be able to leave it and I'll be there the rest of my life, and I don't think that's where I want to live the rest of my life. I like the west and I like California. I am going in November, but I will start the trial. But if it goes too long, I'm going to leave." And I did leave in the middle.
Morris Watson then later became this nationally known figure, because he was the center of this test case of the New Deal Wagner Act. He won, you know. He came back and collected his back salary and then, of course, left the next day. He came out to the West Coast right away and got out the longshore paper for Harry Bridges.
Biagi: Did he?
Beebe: Yes, he did. That, I think, is the only thing that people will recognize Morris Watson's name—the Wagner Act. So, again, I came to California and I didn't have a job. I always managed to get a job somehow or other. I had to go the rounds again. The Chronicle offered me a chance to go to jail over Christmas holidays and discover the narcotics ring. [Laughter.]
Biagi: What do you mean they offered you—
Beebe: Well, they sort of knew who I was, but they didn't have a straight opening. They wanted to break this. I thought it over and said I didn't think I cared for it. In the first place, I didn't think I was equipped to. I didn't know the lingo.
Biagi: They were going to put you in jail?
Beebe: Uh-huh. That kind of a stunt thing I had really never gone in for.
Biagi: Had you ever done any stunt reporting?
Beebe: Well, I can't think of any now. I suppose I had on a small scale, because it was done all the time. But I never traded on that kind of thing, and since I could do the other and there was always need for it, I could usually manage to not. So I didn't do that. Of course, I had letters to the San Francisco bureau, but they never had had a woman. They didn't even have a woman secretary at that time; they had a man secretary. [Laughter.] But fortunately, the bureau chief in San Francisco was a very boss-oriented person. I mean, whatever the management wanted. They had written a letter. It was policy never to thrust anyone. The bureau manager picked his own people, supposedly, and he had all kinds of people waiting for jobs. But they just wrote a letter and said I was going to be out here and I might be asking for a job. So it was quite a while I went without one. I was glad to be without one for a little while, too.
Biagi: Where did you stay?
Beebe: With Elinor and her mother. Then I had joined this group out here at Stanford. They had just adopted me, practically.
Biagi: This group comprised of whom?
Beebe: People who had gone to Stanford from '16 to '20. One of the men in that, Noel Stern, I met at Wisconsin. He thought I belonged in California and he had written to Elinor. It was he who got me the job at Stanford University. I mean, Elinor got me the job at Stanford University, sight unseen, as secretary to the journalism man, and that's how I got the job at the Oakland Tribune. But meanwhile, always I'd written to Elinor all the time. When I was at home, I was writing to Elinor. When I was out here, I was writing to Mother. That's why I have all these letters. I wish I had kept them. Mother kept everything. But I said, "I don't want them." She moved and she threw some of them away, but she had a few left. These are some that I have now.
Biagi: So how long did you look for work?
Beebe: It was quite a little while, because, again, see, we're still Depression. In fact, the Depression was late coming to California. But all people looked good to me out here. Their complexions looked more human. In New York, you know, they're all pallid and sallow and nervous and hurried. I felt at home. In due time, I guess, poor old Ralph Heppe thought he had better take me on. He had an outer office at the AP in the Chronicle building. Inside were all the rest of us. He would see me, in his office with his coat on. So when I was finally hired, he said, "Well, I guess you'll just have to see us as we are." He took off his coat and went into the
workplace, because he filled in for the east editor when he went to lunch or something. It was rather a small operation compared to what there had been in New York.
The first thing they did was to send me out on the beat because they wanted to get me out of the office. There was one "outside man." The outside man was Louis Ashlock. He took me around and he told me later, he said, "I thought you were certainly going to be an awful flop." I really was kind of lost. I'd never done a beat except for the while I was up in the Bronx, there were beat men out there that time. But that wasn't the beat where you had to watch a lot of offices to know what was going on and who everybody was and what they all wanted. It seemed difficult to me, but it didn't take too long.
Biagi: What was your beat now?
Beebe: It was the federal courts and the state appellate courts and, of course, all the federal offices and all the state offices, and then anything that broke. Since I was out and not attached to a relay spot in the office, why, I would get the outside assignments, too. They'd take the man off the beat. So it was really quite a good spot.
Biagi: What do you mean they wanted to keep you out of the office?
Beebe: Well, they didn't want a woman in the office. I mean, they didn't know what to do with me, you see. It was a disturbing elephant, as the little boy said. [Laughter.] "The teacher says I'm a disturbing elephant."
So the thing I had to do, though, was to come in and sit on the city desk at 4:00 to relieve somebody, and that's when the baseball innings were being relayed and the baseball leads going. I'd never been to a baseball game in my life, and none of the men in my family had cared anything about baseball. I didn't know beans about it. I found myself writing baseball leads during that time, too.
That beat, I was content, because I wished to be here for my own personal reasons.
Biagi: Were you seeing Pink?
Beebe: Yes, I was seeing Pink then, but Pink also had gone with one daughter out here, but then he brought his whole family, he brought his mother and his father. He had a daughter dying of the narrowing valve of a heart and all kinds of troubles. Yes, I was seeing him.
Biagi: What was he doing at that time?
Beebe: He was retired. He had owned stock in the paper.
Biagi: He was how old by this time?
Beebe: I guess sixties. To finish that up, he was divorced in, I think, 1936, but he then still had all this trouble. We were married in '41, five years later. I was not anxious to leave, and I was glad to stay here. He was living in Carmel and Los Gatos, and I didn't, therefore, want to go anywhere else. I was offered Hollywood, did I want to go there and take the other cycle. Bob Thomas, you know, had been there forever. He had P.M.s, and I was to have the A.M.s, I believe. I don't think I wanted it, anyway, but I didn't want to leave. Of course, that would have been a byline every day, but oh, goodness, Lolly [Louella] Parsons stuff. I didn't want it. So I was glad to have the beat, and I commuted from here, drove the Bay Shore Highway.
Of course, then subsequently Edwin and I were married in '41, and he had bought a house for his mother, and his daughter died in it. I was there every day. He was divorced then, but very hard pressed.
Biagi: Did you ever feel in that time that you were, or weren't, assigned a story because you were a woman? That you were denied a story because you were a woman or that you were, in fact, assigned a story because you were a woman?
Beebe: Once in a while you'd be assigned a story because if they had to do, for instance, a wedding of some notable or anything, they would always grab me. I expected to do anything like that because I had had the experience they hadn't, you know. But no, I was never not assigned anything. It didn't take long, especially since I had come with a New York recommendation. They had seen my stuff. It didn't take long so that I was just accepted as one of the hands, you know. The office being small, you had to learn. You were in the city desk one time or night city desk another time, and then eventually I decided I wanted to get a little bit more worldly when I asked to come in. So I did come in on the world desk for a while.
Biagi: How much were you making at this time? What was your salary here, do you remember?
Beebe: It wasn't very much. Oh, yes, I must tell you about that. I've got it down here, "Pluses and minuses for early female in the field salary." New York had said the salary would be the same in San Francisco, and it was. Remember it was high Depression. After I had been here, I think, oh, maybe a year and had gotten quite a lot of kudos and reassured the poor bureau chief who was so amazed that I did a great story about PG&E, you know, I think he thought there would be a ruffle on the bottom of every paragraph. It just sounded like everybody else's, so he was reassured.
Came this letter. Now, I didn't know what happened. He, very embarrassed, coughing behind his hand, came to me and said he was going to have to reduce my salary, that New York was cracking down and it was going to be $20 less a month. He was obviously very uncomfortable about it. I just accepted it. He said, "These are Depression times."
I said, "Well, I suppose I have to, then." He departed, and that was that. Some years later, he told me that what had happened was that Lloyd Stratton, who was a big executive in New York on the business side, was going over one of their periodic things, and he discovered that I was getting more than some of the men here. Of course, that must not be, because I'm sure he thought I was probably sleeping with somebody. [Laughter.] You know, it wasn't possible that she might be worth more, at least than some of them. So he just said, "That can't be. You've got to cut that off." And so there you have it. That was female discrimination.
Biagi: How many people were in that bureau?
Beebe: Oh, say 30 or so, because, again, around the clock. But that didn't mean very many on duty at once. There was plenty to do all the time.
Biagi: Throughout the Depression, were you the only woman in that bureau there?
Beebe: Yes. All the time I was there, I was the only one, except they finally got a woman secretary. They had a man before. [Laughter.] Then during the war, they had gotten copy girls instead of boys, and I saw some washed stockings out on the wastebasket. I thought, "Oh, we're going to the dogs!" They got a few copy girls up there to run copy around. But there wasn't anybody else editorial all the time I was there.
Biagi: Before the war, between the time you went to work there and the period when the war started, other stories that you covered?
Beebe: Of course, we had the strike, you see. We had the general strike in San Francisco.
Biagi: This would have been what year?
Beebe: In '34 or so, I guess. The longshoremen, the whole business. The general strike was certainly something. Just imagine suddenly nothing. There's nothing, no transportation, no gasoline, no phones, no anything! I was out on the beat. So all I could do was to come in and write it. I had to walk all the way in from the Civic Center back to the Chronicle building.
Biagi: That's a couple of miles at least?
Beebe: I don't know. Of course, I walked all the time then. The time when I left the job and another man came on and I took him around, he went to bed the next day! He'd been inside and wasn't used to walking. I was covering the ground and rather enjoyed it. I've thought since, you know, probably it helped me. Walking is very good for you. I never thought of it at the time, but I was walking, because the buildings were apart, you see, the federal building and the state buildings. Once in a while I was at City Hall when there was something special over there and elsewhere, too, and back and forth to the office and around on assignments.
But the general strike really—of course, it was broken very quickly because that scared everybody, because we thought the communists were taking over. San Francisco was a good labor town. That parade after the men were shot on the waterfront, there was a labor parade, and without any organization, everybody just fell in like a congo line. It stretched clear to the end of Market Street. Everybody in labor rose up.
Biagi: This is the longshoremen.
Beebe: The longshoremen and the waterfront strike. The waterfront employers.
Biagi: When you say the men were shot on the waterfront?
Beebe: Two were killed in riots down there. The police shot them. And they had crosses on the street. It's still a union memorial date that they keep. But that was the trigger that set off the general strike. The general strike was manipulated by Harry Bridges and, of course, they'd been trying to get him deported, a supposed communist, for a long time. That is one time when there was a big influence on the business interests. Waterfront employers—oh, oh, the coverage was terribly biased, terribly biased. Of course, the AP's was not. They didn't like this, and so the papers in San Francisco who were our members were pressuring us, too. So we were simply told, "Mark locals out of what we're sending." And we did the only straight coverage, I think, of that strike.
Biagi: What was the pressure for you to do?
Beebe: My pressure was not too great. I was out on the outside, and those things still had to be covered. Of course, they summoned people. I was not on the riots down on the waterfront. Then there was a time that they asked me to go over to the Call-Bulletin—we had a desk in the Call-Bulletin—so that we could save time. If anything broke, instead of waiting for the copy to come up, the regular copy runners would bring it up, the carbons of the things that the local people wrote, there would be somebody to phone it quickly. So I was there at that time, because the Call was our evening paper member. I could relay things very fast to our office from the Call-Bulletin office from our desk there. I did that.
Biagi: Were you ever in any kind of physical danger?
Beebe: None at all. In fact, I don't think anybody was after that first day, and that happened almost before the press got there, so I don't believe anybody was. But everything closed down. They allowed two restaurants to be opened for a day or two.
Then the whole tempo turned, you see. At first, all the labor rose up because they were so angry at this very unfair waterfront employers' fight and anti-union fight. Then when the communists began to tell us where we could eat, everybody turned the other way and broke that strike in a day. The strike went on, but the general strike only lasted a couple of days, I think. But it was scary. Of course, I stayed up in town; I couldn't get home. I stayed in a hotel. I couldn't get down. I was still living in Palo Alto.
Biagi: What do you remember about labor politics in the thirties, being in that town?
Beebe: San Francisco was considered a good town for labor, and it had a good tradition of it. But this was a very crucial fight, and the communist menace flared up and it was made to flare up as big as it could to win the middle group as far as possible against it. I think it sort of worked. Howard Fast has written some interesting stuff about it. I met him. He wanted to know what I thought about his rendition, and I was going to write him some things and never did.
Then, you see, I did cover the Harry Bridges perjury trial, which was a communist trial to show that he had lied, that he was a communist. That was a real toughie, because everybody lied. The government was lying. I don't know whether he lied or not. I never knew exactly. But I came to have quite a bit of admiration for him, because he never made great money, you see; union people did. He didn't. I thought his union was a pretty straight-away, honest union. The first time I met him, I was in a group of reporters that were told that Harry Bridges was up in the state building for some reason, and he was always on the pan. We were after him to find out something or other. I hardly knew what it was at that time, but I was there. They called me and said, "Look and see what's going on."
So I followed down the corridor, in the gang that went down, and here he was. He was trying to dodge them. He went through a door and then he was trapped. He was in the corner and he just looked like a cornered rat to me. He kind of snarled at everyone. But he changed later. I saw a very interesting thing there, especially during the war, you see, when suddenly Russia was our ally. There he would be sitting in on groups with high admirals and city officials, and he and the big admiral got along just fine. [Laughter.] They understood each other well.
Then later, after he was convicted at that trial, by the way, it was reversed, you see, by the United States Supreme Court. That did a lot for his bitterness, because it showed we did have a system that worked. He was giving speeches at Harvard, and it changed him, I think, quite a lot.
Biagi: Go back a minute. When you talk about the biased coverage that everybody else was giving and the fact that AP was giving the straight story, talk about that concept of objectivity, what you think about it.
Beebe: Well, I know it's now considered an old-fashioned idea to say that nobody's objective. You always have your opinions and I had mine, but I do think that the old literal concept of that, that everybody deserves a fair hearing, and when there is a conflict, you make an effort to find out what each person thinks and you say so and let the reader make up his own mind, I still think that's valid. I don't know. I may be antiquated and out of date, but I think it is.
But union groups were going by the Examiner and throwing things, rotten tomatoes, at the windows, you see. They were furious because of the coverage, which was quite obviously very biased.
Biagi: Was there ever a time in a story that you did, that you had trouble being objective?
Beebe: That's a good question. I wonder if I knew it, if I worked, you know. Nothing comes to mind immediately. I'll think about it later. If I think of one, I'll tell you, but I don't, because, for instance, in the Tokyo Rose trial, where I came to be extremely—I had a very strong opinion, but I had no opportunity to exercise it. The witnesses came and you said what they said, and that was it. A lot of them thought they were very damning against her, and you felt you were doing an unfair thing in just being objective, because you said what the witness said, and the witness said that Tokyo Rose was taunting these men, and that was on the front pages all over the country. Then when the defense would cross-examine and discover that she wasn't even on the air at that time, that it was somebody else and knocked the whole thing down, it never got anyplace. You'd phone it in and we'd carry it, but it was on page nine or ten, you know. So I felt that all of us at the press table—well, not quite, not the Hearst reporter—but almost all the rest of us were her partisans before we got through. I don't think the press helped her any. I mean, you're pretty constrained, you see.
In a trial, you tell what the witnesses said and what the attorneys say and what the judge says, and that's what you do. Since I had to cover that one entirely, I had to do all three cycles, you know, A.M.s, P.M.s, and early for the next A.M.s. I didn't have the time to follow up things outside that I would have liked to. I did a little of it, but not much. Couldn't.
Biagi: Let's go back to Harry Bridges now. That carried you into what year?
Beebe: It's hard for me to say. Those trials, I've forgotten which came first. I could look it up for you. It was the mid-forties, of course. I know with Tokyo Rose, the war was over, because she was brought over after we were occupying Japan.
Biagi: Let's go back to during the war.
Beebe: Bridges must have been first. Oh, yes, I'm sure. The Bridges trial must have been first. Then there was another trial about Bridges. This is one that he was tried with two of his companions, Goldberg and—what was the other man's name? I have clippings in there about it, but I can't place the year right now. It must have been the thirties. It seems to me that they were fairly close together. I'm not too sure.
Biagi: So we've got San Francisco in the war years. What was it like being a reporter in the war years?
Beebe: It was rather dull for me, because everything was classified. It was so dead! [Laughter.] I can remember one time some Army officer jumped off the bridge because of a love affair, and some colonel or something came in and said, "Now, you understand you can't use anything of that because that would be hard on the rest." We just looked at him.
Biagi: What role did the military have?
Beebe: They moved in here. You see, they were guarding our coast, and they set themselves up all over the place. Out here in Palo Alto, the Army came in and they set up a camp out here back in the hills. They were going to shoot the Japs that came over, I guess. After a while, they moved out and then the Navy moved in. They tore it all down and put up one of their own. [Laughter.] But our stories on the federal beat were the condemnation of land, only we couldn't print any of that.
Biagi: You couldn't?
Beebe: No! We couldn't print the weather! Oh, war hysteria, you see, the Army is in its heyday. They loved it. Everything was shut down. All other news paled besides the war news, so really, for me, it was rather a dull time. But by that time, I was married and I didn't care at all. It's very well if I got there on time. [Laughter.] Of course, Pink, my husband, was a historian and we sort of kibitzed the war by the radio, of course—no TV, but the radio. That absorbed everybody, anyway.
Civilian life was not easy. I remember waiting for a bus one time, and this woman in uniform was tapping her foot there, you know, and she said, "Two of them have passed me by."
I said, "Well, you know, you have to be tough to be a civilian in this day, because the Army has everything." She kind of grinned. It was true. They took all the cars. I was riding in this SP train car down to the peninsula. They dug them out of the attic, you know, and they had coal stoves in the front. The conductor had one of these iron seats that went out with the foot rest. He'd say, "All you need, lady, is a bustle to go with this train." [Laughter.] Sometimes I rode down home on the bar. They had a bar car, you know, and I would be sitting on the bar because it was crowded. We never had enough room for anything.
One night I got home by going out in the middle of the street and kneeling down this way as the bus driver was coming. We started to walk to the train because you didn't know when a bus would come, or whether it would have any room for you. You'd start to walk, and the blocks were long. You'd be in the middle. So I dashed out and did this [with hands up as if praying]. It struck him funny, so he stopped for me. I got the train. But everything was, of course, inconvenient. They made us all civilian defense, too. We all had arm bands.
Biagi: You mean all the press?
Beebe: Yes. I could have had more gasoline coupons than I got, but I didn't think that it was fair to do that. I wasn't outside. Well, part of the time I was, but I didn't drive at all. I came on the train then.
Biagi: You were still living in—
Beebe: I always commuted. [Laughter.]
Biagi: In Palo Alto?
Beebe: Yes. Of course, Edwin and I had been living in Atherton, had a home there.
Biagi: So you got married in '41.
Beebe: Just before the war.
Biagi: Where did you get married?
Beebe: We got married on April 16, 1941, in Yuma, Arizona, because, you see, California has all this delay business that you have to do and we didn't want to. We just wanted it to be quiet. Actually, I had bronchitis every year, and I was having a bad time. The doctor said it would be good if I'd get in the sun. I was going to go down there, and we couldn't go down unless we got married, so we went down and got married, because he didn't feel at that time that—everything
had kind of broken badly for him. He was writing then. Of course, he wouldn't use his name or his connections, and he was pretty old to start from that.
Biagi: Writing what?
Beebe: He wanted to try various things. He wrote plays and he wrote novels. When his daughter was dying, that was a hard thing. He wrote some sketches of New England, and we did sell that to Knopf.
Biagi: What was the name of that?
Beebe: Aunt Elsa. They took the first sketch and made a little book of it, a charming thing.
Biagi: Under his name?
Beebe: He was writing under a pseudonym, and I sold that over the transom to Knopf. But they wanted his real name, and I said, "For goodness sakes, do." This sketch really was referring to someone who had been in his family years before and he had not wanted to do it, but he did do it. So it was under his name.
Biagi: Did he publish anything else?
Beebe: He had had an earlier novel published when he was on the Star, long before he met me. The Star, they owned you, you know, and they wanted another three books from him. He had a family of children, young children. He couldn't leave the paper, and they wouldn't let him write anymore.
Biagi: What was the name of that one?
Beebe: Fate's a Fiddler. But he got cancer. He was still working all the time through it.
Biagi: Why, after all those years of being in love with him, did you finally decide to get married?
Beebe: Because I had bronchitis and I had to go to Arizona. [Laughter.]
Biagi: That's not an answer. [Laughter.]
Beebe: Of course, I wanted to, but he felt then—earlier, he had health and money.
Biagi: Health and money problems, you mean?
Beebe: No, he had health and money to offer! [Laughter.]
Biagi: Okay. [Laughter.]
Beebe: But he knew that his health was not good and his money was—oh, goodness! You see, there was no health insurance, nothing. His daughter was a year in bed. Then his father and mother he brought out. His father died out here and his mother went back to Oklahoma, and he had to go and get her and bring her out here. Her granddaughters hated her. Oh, it was a mess. So he just didn't feel that he—in the first place, it was he who was pressing, and after, it was I. So bronchitis really was quite a thing. I had to go down there, and I didn't want to go down alone. In those days, you didn't travel around with somebody if you weren't married to them, so we got married down there. We honeymooned in Palm Springs.
Biagi: It was quite an outpost then. Palm Springs would have been quite a quiet place, or was it?
Beebe: Yes, it was fairly quiet and very pleasant.
Biagi: So you were still working at this time.
Biagi: You took a vacation?
Beebe: Oh, yes. I took leave. I would have liked to stop, but you see, he wasn't launched as a writer. Although when he left the paper he would supposedly be well enough off to live on it, his daughters didn't go with their mother after the divorce as he thought they would. They wanted to stay here, and they didn't get married. Oh, he had heavy, heavy expenses all the time. I said, "The sooner you don't have any money, the better I like it."
Biagi: Why would you like it better if he didn't have any money?
Beebe: Well, I mean he—I don't like to talk about this.
Biagi: It's all right. Sure.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Biagi: You got married at how old to Pink?
Beebe: I was 39 and he was about 25 years older. I forget now what that would be.
Biagi: So you lived here?
Beebe: We lived in Atherton then, in the house that he had bought there to bring his mother out from Oklahoma.
Biagi: Did any of the children live with you?
Beebe: Oh, no. They were all grown, you see. Dot had been with him, of course. Dot, his mother—oh, dear! They were at loggerheads, so his mother was in—we had to finally move her to a nursing home. She lived to be in her nineties.
Biagi: So you commuted every day to the AP in San Francisco on the train.
Beebe: Or driving. Of course, during the war, with no gasoline, I was on train, but usually I drove. I never had an accident on it, either.
Biagi: So you would leave at what time in the morning?
Beebe: It depended, you see. I was working different shifts. Sometimes I was working the night desk, and sometimes the beat. The beat was the easiest, because that was regular. That's why I liked keeping it, and also I had it well in my hand. There was a woman out there from the INS, Connie Hitchcock, who was quite well known. She was a sailor. She studied navigation during the war. She sailed her own boat to Tahiti, believe it or not. She and I had the beat
pretty well in control all the time, and we collaborated, although we were—we had a cabal. Nobody could beat us.
Biagi: I'll bet!
Beebe: So if I wanted to get my hair done, she'd cover. It worked very nicely. We'd get up there at 8:00 and 9:00 to go right to the beat; didn't have to go into the office. We'd leave when the offices closed, which was 5:00. Sometimes I could leave early, which I very often did. I'd leave, then phone back through friends on the beat if there was anything late-breaking, and I could cover by phone. So I liked that.
Biagi: What kind of restrictions did the war place on reporting that you tried to do in your office?
Beebe: As I say, there were so many things classified that really there was very little enterprise. It wasn't encouraged, you see. But what we did have in San Francisco, we were the funnel for all war correspondents going out, and the office was occupied with all their logistics and their permits and their passes and whatnot. We had returning war correspondents all over the place. Of course, they made fun of each other. One of them came in the office one day with all his gear on, you know, came clumping in with things all over him. As he walked through, there was this great murmur, "Oooohh!" They knew it was just show and most of them had been out there. He never tried that again.
Biagi: What happened here when the story about Pearl Harbor broke?
Beebe: Let's see. Edwin and I were listening to the Sunday symphony. I understood afterwards—did you ever hear that someone called the symphony in a rage that they had interrupted that lovely program with that terrible news? [Laughter.] Yes. Well, we were making curtains, you know. We had to go and make little black-out things. Of course, it was ridiculous. Everything was ridiculous. We were hysterical here, because on a moonlight night, the Bay, the geography—you don't need anything! But we had all these volunteer people going up and down, civilian defense people. We saw somebody walking up and down the block, and he'd gotten out his old rifle. He was marching up and down so if anybody let a crack of light show, he would go and bawl them out.
Land was being grabbed. The Army moved in and grabbed the best hotels. I remember the William Taylor Hotel was taken over, our lovely place that we used to go up and get a drink on the roof—gone. Everything was grabbed for the Army and the Navy, and nobody dared say anything. Nobody did. I mean, the war, everybody agreed, it was priority number one, so as far as our office went, it made all the news that we had to offer anywhere was diminished. We were a relay station, and we had lots of that.
I was in the office when the picture came in of the flag raising on Suribachi. That was Joe Rosenthal, with AP then, and he had sent this in to be developed. He hadn't seen it at all. So as they developed it, there was a sensation. "You ought to see what's come in." I remember hanging over shoulders, looking in the photographic bin there, in the water, and there it was. I said, "That'll be in bronze some day." So I was very glad to see it in Washington in bronze. But Joe came in and told us the story about it. He didn't know. Kent Cooper sent him congratulations out. The messages all went through our office. We were just a relay point, pretty much. How wonderful it was. He didn't know. He had thought that he would get a picture of the whole battle front, you see. If they could get up to Suribachi, the mountain, he would get a picture of this whole battleground, that that would be the picture of the war. So he had that hard in mind. As they came up the hill, this flag was being raised. "Oh, that's a good picture." He tried to get it. He made them do it over. Then he went about his big project. He was there an
hour, trying to set up the other picture, and he worked and worked and worked on it. So he didn't know. He thought it was the other picture that they were talking about. He didn't realize what he'd gotten. He knew that was a good picture to get, but you couldn't tell without looking. You never know.
Biagi: So he'd done it twice, actually.
Biagi: That's Iwo Jima.
Beebe: Yes. Iwo Jima. Mount Suribachi. He subsequently left the AP, you know, and went to the Chronicle. He's still around, I think. That's his fame forever, that picture.
Biagi: During the war, did the character of the news room change at all? Were there any more women in the news room at AP?
Beebe: I told you they had some women copy people, but they didn't have any—I said once to the bureau chief, "Aren't you pretty glad you've got a hand here that's not going to get drafted?"
He said, "You can say that again!" [Laughter.] They were really appreciating me then. Of course, they were glad for it, because most of the AP men were of draft age, and a lot of them went. But I don't believe—I'm trying to think if they brought any women. We had one woman who was a war correspondent. What was her name? She was from Portland or Seattle, but she came through on that. She was a nice gal. I don't think we had anybody working, because, after all, where would we get them? What we needed was relay people and people who knew the office routine.
Biagi: Were there any other women covering?
Beebe: There were women out on the beat. Oh, yes. I came in one day and there was a picture on the blackboard of dresses. They were drawing pictures of the dresses they were going to make or something. I saw a pair of stockings washed out, I think.
Yes, the papers were hiring women, and we had a funny collection of them. Some of them were very good and some of them not at all. But they were treading around on the beat.
Biagi: Who were the good ones you remember?
Beebe: Hmm. I remember one whose name was Alice. I can't tell you the rest of her name. She went to Life magazine, I think, later. She was good. She was good. But most of them didn't last, you know. It was hardly worthwhile getting acquainted with them because they just didn't last. There wasn't anything going on, and the things that were going on, you couldn't use. Ordinary things that we would have, the condemnation suits and all the land that was being appropriated by the government—
Biagi: This is the Japanese condemnation, is that what you mean?
Beebe: No, condemned land to take for military uses, you see, since we were attacked on this coast, this is where it all poured out. They all had to have offices and headquarters and establishments and gun emplacements all up and down this coast. They were going to shoot to Japan or what? But I can remember General—what's his name?—saying, "Japanese planes were over this city last night." It wasn't true at all, but I think he believed it.
Biagi: Did you report it?
Beebe: Oh, yes, we all reported him saying it. Of course, everybody was hysterical and all doing black-out curtains. So you can see why the Japanese relocation happened. Earl Warren, who was an excellent public servant, I liked him very much, he, you know, later very much regretted that he had made that order, but he, too, was swept up by this hysteria. We didn't know.
Biagi: Did you report on any of those kinds of stories?
Beebe: Oh, yes. Sure. But I don't think I had anything to do with the actual relocation camps, though. I don't think I was ever out on that story, because, you see, it was played down. Again, the whole atmosphere was different from the usual one of making a lot of everything you had. You made little of it, because if it had to do with the war, nobody wanted it played up. Some papers, I think, did a rather good job on the relocation, telling what it meant to some of those people and the advantage that was being taken, that some of them grabbed each other's businesses. Some of them also saved each other's businesses. But the AP didn't do anything like that. In the first place, we were down to a skeleton crew, so you just manned the pumps. That's all. Furthermore, there was no incentive to do it, because New York had more news than it could handle—world war. They didn't want our stuff. No use, you see. There was no incentive for enterprise at all.
Biagi: Where were you the day the war ended?
Beebe: Let me see. You mean the Japanese or the one in Europe?
Biagi: The war in Europe.
Beebe: I don't think I remember where I was. We had a false armistice and, of course, the AP, you know, was caught. They had it announced the day before it was. So all of us were concerned with that, you know. Our faces were red. I don't remember that a bit.
I do remember Roosevelt's death quite well. I was out on the beat. I called Edwin quickly. There was nothing for me to do. You see, what did I have to do? There was nothing for you to do. We were just a side wash, and it suited me fine, because I was interested in my home and my husband at that time.
Biagi: So when the war ended, I guess the next big news item would be what?
Beebe: Of course, then we had all the Japanese. That was quite a while more. All the attention was on the Pacific then. Then is when we had more activity than ever. Then the occupation. I do remember when MacArthur came. He thought he was going to be president, you know, and come and move Truman right out of his chair, I think. Of course, San Francisco did give him a very rousing welcome.
Biagi: When these kinds of stories happened, would you be sent out on them?
Beebe: I was out on that one. There were several people out. Of course, there were various places to cover it. I don't remember. I remember being outside of a hotel as he drove up. You called in what you saw, and it was that much [one inch] of the story. That's all there is to it. You'd cover what there is.
As far as newspaper-career stuff, the war was a complete damper for me, and that suited me very well because I was interested in my home at the time, and all I had to do was keep fires
burning and do whatever came up, because you never knew who was not going to be able to be there. You had to fill in wherever it was, and you did. It wasn't spectacular, mostly; it was just covering what you had to cover. It was, to me, uninteresting stuff about movements and—
Biagi: No weather, though?
Beebe: No weather. There were no weather reports in the papers. It was silly. Lots of silly stuff.
Biagi: How about Tokyo Rose?
Beebe: Oh, dear. Do you know what time it is?
Biagi: I'd better stop.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: Let me ask you kind of a general question first. We're going to get to Tokyo Rose and everything, because that's where we left off. I was thinking last night, I really don't know how you worked, how you wrote, how you thought about writing and what writing meant to you.
Beebe: You worked wherever you could, and you learned to do it. I often composed leads in the bathroom. It was the only place you could have privacy, you see, especially if I had to dictate. [Laughter.]
Biagi: That's wonderful. That's honest.
Beebe: Well, it was a place, especially when you were on the hoof, you see, you could only get away from the others and get your thoughts together rather quickly some place private. There's always that. [Laughter.] I never liked dictation. When I was working a beat, I'd sometimes have to. The office was so busy and they said, "At least, half dictate it." I remember one awful day I dictated 18 stories from that beat, and I think the next week or two, some big executive came out from New York. Periodically they would pep everything up, they came and got examples of things that could be improved. He was reading some of these stories. I found that when you dictate, you reach for the cliche, because you have to keep going and you just don't have time to write it short. [So I said] "Sorry, I didn't have time to write it shorter." So I stood there and stood it for a while, and I said, "Excuse me, but about four of those things are mine. That's the day in which I had to dictate 18 stories from the beat."
We got the stuff covered, and often there were requests from papers, you know. Some paper wanted to know how the irrigation or a bridge or something up in Montana was, and you had to do it. You had to get them what they wanted, and they didn't care too much that it was a sparkling piece of literature. They wanted the facts. But I always thought that [with] dictated stories, even when our big shots came from Washington for the United Nations in San Francisco, they would make this lovely fluent dictation a column long, without very much substance to it, because it was speculation and there wasn't very much fact. I always thought that you could improve any story by not dictating it.
Biagi: Did you see yourself as being a strong reporter or a strong writer, or both?
Beebe: Well, I think I was regarded as a good writer, but that, you see, is where the Star and the Tribune were so different. The Star always wanted you to do your own writing. They did very little rewrites. They figured that go-between, that's another way to make mistakes and get the wrong impression. So I liked assembling the facts. I always struggled with writing. I always felt good when it was done. The idea of coming in, you had so much, especially after, in the Associated Press, when everything had to be pretty concise, sometimes the pressure was good. I remember coming in one time with a story, it was quite complicated and it was fairly important. I was expecting to have time to write it for the night cycle's round, I don't know, 1:00 o'clock, 1:00 p.m. As I sat down, the East desk editor came over and said, "Look, could you just give us this much [six inches] for the P.M?" [Laughter.] I said, "Sure." Of course, knowing I had to do just that much, it took shape and I could do it. It really helped me. Then I went back and agonized over the night story, trying to get the rest of it all in.
I never longed to write the world's great novel. I always felt that I was too literal minded and I had a husband who was a creative writer. I just knew the difference. I was listening the other day to Russell Baker. They had him on Public T.V. Did you hear him?
Beebe: He said he just wasn't a fiction writer. He does the kind of thing that Edwin did for the Star, a wonderful ironic touch. He said he didn't think he was writing a humor column. I didn't think of it much as writing, but I have letters complimenting me for both reporting and writing.
Biagi: Did you at all keep a journal while you were working?
Beebe: Everybody advised me to do that, and I didn't. I said if something was really worth remembering, I'd remember it. I couldn't have been wronger! [Laughter.] I wish I had, but I didn't.
Biagi: It seems the letters that you wrote home may have been kind of a journal, in a sense, because you still have them.
Beebe: No, I don't.
Biagi: You don't?
Beebe: Mother asked me if I wanted them, and I said, "No."
Biagi: So the ones that you do have—
Beebe: Are just strays that came, some from Elinor, somebody that saved one and was going over things and sent me them. I did save those from Lone Tree, because I thought sometime I might do something with that. That was quite an experience. That was three months of teaching out in Wyoming, and I enjoyed it so. But no, I have very few letters. I wrote voluminously because it was easy then. It was easy to write freely to my friends, but not ever easy for me to write just the way I wanted to, because always you're trying to convey to the reader exactly what you had seen. You see, television can do that; they take you there. I saw a piece on Africa, half an hour on television, and I thought, "You could write yourself for a lifetime and you wouldn't get what you get in this half hour of actually seeing it." But as a writer in the days before we had that, you were always trying to take your reader there and tell them what it was all about and what's going on. I had always a feeling—people would say to me sometimes, when I was on the beat there and I knew I didn't want to change because I was more interested in my home—"What are you going to do?"
I said, "I'm doing it." [Laughter.] I always felt that it was a worthy enough thing to get information straight to people who could use it better than you could. You're a communication link between scientists, between medical people, educators, what's going on in the field. If you do a good job, it seems to me you're all right in society.
And another thing where a woman then had an advantage, men were under quite a lot of pressure to get up and be executives. We used to say on the Star they spoiled some of the best writers they ever had by trying to do that to them. You remember Scotty Reston on the New York Times refused to do it. They finally hung a title on him. The Star didn't do that, but people had more prestige as writers. There were a few, but they did. It was possible to do that. However, most of the men who were not particularly brilliant writers or anything were always
supposed to go up the executive ladder. Well, there was no pressure on me to do it, and I could have my prestige without it. So I never felt that when people said "just a reporter," the Star made a great thing of being very proud to be a reporter. Usually people would say "correspondent" or "special writer," as if "reporter" was something sort of low, like the low man on the totem pole. In a way, we were, but goodness, there were reporters who were proud of it, who made far more than the medium executives that others were pushed into doing.
Biagi: Did you feel proud, do you think, to be a reporter? Was that a good calling, do you think?
Beebe: Oh, yes. I felt a little evangelical about it, too.
Biagi: In what way do you mean?
Beebe: I mean I felt people would say—one of our lovely Irish guys on the Star went to some private school festivity that they wished some publicity, and he came back and said he was standing there, and somebody was passing the cookies and said, "Who are they? Oh, reporters!" and passed them up. [Laughter.] Of course, we all burst into laughter at that, but we understood that the term had a certain indignity to it, and we were anxious to change that. Of course, I was socially with executives. I never felt any inferiority at all, and I didn't know anybody in journalism that had gotten into a top executive post who didn't say, nostalgically, "Oh, I wish I could be reporting again." It's much more fun. And it is, to be out and on the move and be around. It's amazing, the people you see. When I got up in the governor's office in Sacramento, Hale Champion said, "She knows everybody." Well, they'd come in to see the governor, and of course I'd met them. I mean, you just do over the years. Everybody that's anybody comes through, you see them, you interview them.
Biagi: What did you like best about being a reporter?
Beebe: I just told you, just the fact that you're active, you're seeing things straight and not through anybody else's eyes, and using all your faculties and sizing things up fairly and quickly. It's a good feeling. You feel on top of it, you know. Then even on the beat, I broke in an awful lot of youngsters there. Of course, there was no pressure on me to get scoops. I did get some in the Bridges' indictment. The United States Attorney came and gave it to me. But since three of the four papers in the Bay area were AP members, they got everything we had, anyway. So there was no great pressure for scoops, which makes it possible to pay more attention to accuracy rather than speed. Of course, you're supposed to do both.
Biagi: What did you like least about being a reporter, do you think?
Beebe: Of course, there's a lot of very—it's not glamorous, you know. You're doing little chores for little papers in places, and you can spend as much time on some little uninteresting—well, it's not necessarily uninteresting, but certainly not very glamorous stuff. The run-of-the-mill things you handle are not particularly fun. I used to like even the obits. [Laughter.] I remember on the Star, some reporter would feel very important after a big story, and come into the office. They'd say, "Mr. Jones, will you call the undertakers?" Get off your high horse and remember that you're a reporter.
But I found that if you really poked around a little bit in people's lives, almost anybody's life has something interesting in it. I was highly complimented in New York. I spent a whole evening, rushed to the library there, because Helen Keller was about to die, and we didn't have her in the morgue [files kept for writing obituaries]. So I went and read and read and read, and then had to get it out in a hurry. She didn't die for many, many years later. I saw her obit and
wondered if anything that I had written was in it. I found a couple of paragraphs, because we circulated it eventually when she did die. Some of it had survived even then.
Biagi: You said you had some corrections you wanted to make from yesterday.
Beebe: I did make the one about—oh, yes, here's the three defendants in the Bridges trial I believe we spoke of. With Bridges were J.R. Robertson and Henry Schmidt. Goldberg was one of the attorneys, I think.
Here's a picture, by the way, of something about the trial. It's a good one of Harry.
Biagi: Where was this trial?
Beebe: San Francisco Federal Court. All this propaganda here [shows newspaper clippings] tells you it was 21 years they were trying to deport Bridges, move him through various trials. But this one was the charge of perjury that he had lied about his communist membership. So it was the perjury trial. Everybody lied. The government lied, the government's attorneys lied to you. You had to check things. I discovered one time when I came back, I had been phoning a story and you had to fill in, you see, and the attorneys are a good source. I found that one had lied to me. After that, I had to check every single thing. It was an ugly picture of the prejudice and the communist scare and the belligerent labor of the thug element and the snitchers. It was not a pretty scene. But I got to have quite a little respect for Bridges. I think he was a good labor leader. Later he changed from being an embittered person, I think, when the Supreme Court of the United States upheld him and reversed his conviction.
Biagi: How did the "red scare" affect you at all?
Beebe: We had state red-baiting committees. They moved down from Sacramento, wherever they felt they could get the most publicity. It touched some of my friends. One of my friends was quite a left-winger and she was working for the INS, by the way, the Hearst service. When the perjury trial came, she was also covering it part of the time. They took her to their bosoms, all the prosecutors, assuming that she was on their side with the Hearst point of view, and she had a very hard time. She was very outspoken and had very strong opinions—a very hard time keeping her mouth closed about it. I think one of her sons had joined the Party for a little while.
A lot of people joined the Communist Party. It was a very interesting, attractive thing for a while, because in the Depression, our system seemed not to be working, and here was one that promised a job to everybody, and nobody was supposedly left out. Although no one, of course, likes to be bossed around, we were curious about it. In the AP, one of my friends who was the night city editor with me, studied at Cal for weeks, studied Russian and wanted to go to Moscow, so they sent him to Mexico, which is often the way with the AP. [Laughter.] He finally got to Moscow. He got disillusioned and it wasn't too long until he asked to get out and go to Paris. He had no use for them after being there and seeing a little bit of how it was working. People were afraid to talk to each other about it, because there was always somebody ready to pounce. All you had to do was just bring up the term, and to call anybody a communist was like calling them a bad name.
Biagi: Was there a lot of that issue covered in San Francisco in the courts that you remember?
Beebe: Of course, the Bridges perjury trial was really the apex of it, because all through that there were the communists there, and there were some communists who were very proud of it, you see, and open communists. Old Gus—what's his name?—Gus Hall, who was head of the communists for so long, he was around. Everybody was around that trial. It was the thing to come and see. Celebrities would come and try to get in, and people waited in line for it.
I was always impressed with the worship that those working men had for Bridges. I was also impressed with their testimony about how things were before they had any union, how they would have to get out at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning in the cold, stand in a crowd. The employer's agent would come out and say, "I'll take you and you and you and you," and the rest of them just slouched around during the day. They didn't make enough. Nobody dared get married. They didn't have, some of them, places to stay. They'd get shoved out of doorways when it was raining. "Move on," you know. It was just wretched. And after the union came, there they were looking like librarians with their spectacles and their children in school and college.
They just worshiped that union. They had headquarters in San Francisco, you know, with all kinds of educational stuff going on. I went to a French class down there at night once, and I've often wondered if I'm probably on a black list somewhere because I was seen going in their building, since they were checking up on everyone. I don't know. The man who taught us had been in a concentration camp in Europe, and he was fascinating.
Biagi: What role did the union movement, or the Guild movement, have in your life?
Beebe: When the Guild was first organized, I thought it was a very good thing. Heywood Broun was the big figure in it, and this is what I thought it should be—people who didn't need it. I got along under the old system very well. You know, you make good with your boss and you're a fair-haired person, and you do all right. But the ordinary person, the ordinary man with a family, who wasn't really going to go anywhere, had bad working conditions. You worked on holidays, there was no overtime, there was no pension, there was no security. That's why newspapermen in my early time were such scalawags; they were all heavy drinkers and they rode through the country and they could go in and take up a pencil and get on the copy desk anytime. But you could also be fired. If you got one or two weeks' pay, you were lucky. That's all you could expect. So the type of person it attracted was this devil-may-care sort. Brilliant, some of them were, as you know. Some great writers came from it. But there were some awfully scruffy people. [Laughter.] I worked with people I didn't have any respect for at all, but, of course, you have to get along with everybody if you find you can.
It changed later when the Guild—well, I was at the AP then. We wanted to get a letter up to write to the management, but New York already had fired Morris Watson for his organizing attempt, and some of the men were worried because they had families and they didn't want to be out there. I said, "I'll sign it, because I haven't got any family."
Biagi: That was in New York?
Beebe: No, here. So I was a charter member of the chapter here. But again, then they thought I was going to be one of the movers, you know, and take part. I always hated organizations, anyway. I also was interested in my home, and I didn't want to give the time. I wasn't going to spend Sunday mornings doing it. But I did get asked to come to a few meetings. I remember going with a group of three or four, who were taking the lead, sort of. We went off to a cafe, and I began talking about how I thought we ought to have some moral standards, that the Guild ought to get respect by policing itself. They looked at me. They thought I was talking about love nests, I guess, instead of ethics. They just sort of passed me over and went on talking. They wanted me to go to a convention in Cleveland. I discovered later that these were the communists. See, the communists tried to take over the Guild, and the Guild had a time getting rid of them, but they did. I was not in on that, however, because I just didn't want to be active. I, of course, joined, and I didn't always make it to meetings. I got scolded for that.
Biagi: Why did you feel that they needed some ethical standards? What made you think that?
Beebe: I knew what I'd seen.
Biagi: Such as?
Beebe: There were a lot of unscrupulous things in covering. You know, the second-story men stealing pictures and any sort of ruse to get what you wanted. Then unfair competition, too.
Biagi: Such as what?
Beebe: Well, it's hard for me to remember those things—very. I kind of steered clear. If you did your own work, you see—but there were always cadgers that were too lazy to do it, and they relied on the camaraderie among reporters who were always glad to help you because they didn't know but what the next minute they might come in late and need to be briefed and need help. But some of the real cadgers were a pain in the neck. We had one in our press room for a while. He would come in just after we'd all gotten our stuff ready to unload, and then he'd just slide in and listen and phone and go away again. So we had to gang up on him a little bit and not show up, and do our phoning elsewhere, make him do his work. He didn't do it very long. He didn't last very long. He was too lazy.
One story I heard, it was a true one. There was a cadger covering the hotel beat. You see, there again, there's always free stuff that they want to give you. The press room at Christmastime, they'd bring you all kinds of stuff. I hated that, and I couldn't get much support. Everybody was glad to take it.
Biagi: What would they bring you? What kind of things?
Beebe: Oh, I remember lawyer Joe Alioto—later mayor of San Francisco—one day said if he had a girl—he had a whole family of boys—if this was a girl, he'd bring us a whole box of shrimp or something from his place. He did. He brought this great big box. That's his Angela (a San Francisco supervisor, I believe) that's now a grown-up. I've always remembered that shrimp. That was all right; that was different. But at Christmastime, I remember I got from Santa Fe one time, this was after they were trying to get an expanded franchise from the Public Utilities Commission. It was a long series of hearings. Goodness, such dull stuff. They had these boxes of all sorts of food in it. They'd send it to your house. Well, what could you do? I didn't like it, but you can't return it. There it is. When people would come to the press room at Christmastime—and the Chronicle at Christmastime was kind of, I thought, scandalous, because there was so much brought in. What did we think we were getting—tips? You know, I didn't like that.
Biagi: So this fellow. You said you remembered one guy.
Beebe: Oh, yes. In the hotel beat, he was always cadging. Hotels had to give freebies and food and stuff and everything to reporters, and they were so poorly paid, too, you see, in the early days. Again, they were glad for a free meal. Later, when our pay was decent, that changed, too. So he had overstepped. He'd gotten a lot of stuff. They fixed him up. They told him, yes, they had this man from Scandinavia they thought he'd like to interview, and introduced him—Mr. Peter. He gave him this little interview about economic conditions and so on, and he wrote the story about Mr. E. Normus Peter. [Laughter.] It got into type, but they saved his paper from getting it into print. It almost got into print.
Biagi: Who had set him up now?
Beebe: The hotel and some of the other reporters. [Laughter.] Mr. E. Normus Peter. But you can see how you wouldn't think of it. It sounds Scandinavian—E. Normus. [Laughter.]
Biagi: That's a good story. Now, we've got to get down to serious reporting here with Tokyo Rose. Let me ask you the chronology here so that we figure this out. The Harry Bridges trial ended in '49?
Beebe: That was in '49. I didn't realize that. Tokyo Rose came before it. See, the war ended in '45. She was a year in Japan before they brought her over. So that would be about '46 or '47. I can give it to you exactly, I think.
Biagi: We'll look it up later. [1947-49] What were the circumstances? Why were you involved with that trial?
Beebe: Tokyo Rose was a big figure in the war. There was one in Europe. Broadcasting for the enemy was enough that this would be treasonous. So these Tokyo Rose broadcasts from Japan were well known. The papers had told their war correspondents, "Never mind the officials. Find Tokyo Rose." That was an assignment when they got there. I can't give you the details of that. It has been published, and it was not very creditable to the press. It was Clark-someone who found her. They found that there were a number of girls who were doing this, but they were quick to light on her. She had, I guess, also had this moniker stuck upon her with this program she did, which was fairly popular. Oh, it's such a long story.
She was a Nisei, born in Los Angeles, and her father was in the vegetable business and wanted his daughter to have an education. She went through the university down there and was kicking around, as people do, "What do I do next?" They said that her aunt in Japan was quite ill and her mother was not in good health. She'd never been to Japan. Why didn't she go and see her roots? So she hadn't anything else to do, and she went. She hated it. She didn't speak Japanese. It was hot, it was crowded, all the customs there, she was supposed to be subservient woman, and she wasn't that way. All her friends were American here. She was not a bit happy there. She was about to come home when the war hit, and she couldn't get out. She was so pro-American and talked so openly that it embarrassed her folks and the neighbors began to talk, and she had to leave.
She had no way to earn money. Everything began to be rationed, too, and you couldn't live without your ration card. She did get a job at, I think, United Press first, because she had English, you see. She didn't have Japanese, however.
Then Radio Tokyo offered her a better job, or she found she could make a little more money over there. She went over as a typist to do English typing. Of course, she was well educated in English and could do that. Had she stayed a typist, she would have been all right, although you can technically say if you were contributing to a radio station and writing stuff, you would be unpatriotic to your country. They also wanted her to give up her citizenship. They followed her around. The [Japanese] Secret Service followed her around and said, "Your people are in concentration camps." Of course, all communication stopped. "You're Japanese. You're Japanese."
She said, "No, no, no, I'm American."
"Then we'll have to intern you with the Americans."
She said, "That's where I belong."
"Oh, no, you can't do that. They would tear you to pieces. To them, you're a Jap. You belong with us."
But she wouldn't do it. She told them, "If you've ever seen Americans on a football field, you know that Japan hasn't got a chance." She was not popular.
When she was working with Radio Tokyo, they brought these prisoners of war up, and one of them was a radio man from Australia, a very impressive guy. He had talked to his commander in Singapore and said they'd probably find out that and probably try to make him get on the air. He supposed he'd better put a bullet to his head. He was a little bit of a swashbuckler. They said, "No, don't do that. You might have a chance at the crucial time to communicate. Play along with it." At least that was his story. Well, he came up. They forced marches, exhausted. You see, the Japs had taken all the area. They'd gone clear down to Singapore. They wanted to put this program on. They wanted a light entertainment program to attract the American soldiers to the radio. Then they would do their propaganda. But they didn't say that; they just wanted a little light entertainment program for the soldiers. And if he would do that, they would let him broadcast names of prisoners so that some of that would reach home.
So the program was initiated, and he had met this girl there. She immediately went to the prisoners of war. They were Americans. They were her buddies, and she went to talk with them. They were suspicious of her. They thought she was a plant because she, of course, looked Japanese, but her English was just as American as mine. She had this gravely voice, and he thought that she might be good. He asked if she'd come and work. He said, "Can we have this girl? We can use her."
So they just said, "They're doing this. You go and do it." She was delighted to be with them, because they were Americans and she felt at home with them. She got their trust. She brought them food and stuff. She was free to go home at night. They were, of course, under duress, and they proved later that they were under duress, so they were not accused. The Australian, it never occurred to him that she was an American citizen; it just didn't come up. She wouldn't give her citizenship up. They had all these other gals who were doing the broadcasting. Nobody ever got on the radio and said, "This is Tokyo Rose." There was no such thing. She was "Orphan Ann." It was a little light sort of skit program. But it wasn't the heavy stuff at all that she did. Since she was the one with American citizenship, she was the one they lit on because they could call her a traitor, whereas the others had given up their citizenship. Some of them came to this country later on scholarships and went to college while she was in prison when the military then took her over. She was there for a year. Also, she had met and married a Filipino there, and she had a baby, a miscarriage, in prison.
But the Army pretty soon got their breath and looked into her case. She was very open about it. She showed them the scripts, said how it had come. They didn't think too much of it. They were there on the scene. They knew what collaboration is. What do you do? How was she going to live? Also, the soldiers who remembered her program, it was light stuff. There was no animus against her. So they released her.
Along came Walter Winchell, and his column was something. "Who was walking on the streets of Tokyo, scot free? This traitor, this siren, who plagued young men and told them their wives were not true to them and so on." So immediately, bang, that hit Washington and she was slapped back in prison, and they brought this treason indictment against her. That's the only crime, you know, that's in the United States Constitution. An act has to be attested by two witnesses; that's a requirement.
So they went over the case, and if anyone is accused of treason, they must be tried. If they're outside the country, they must be tried in the first port of the United States. So when she was brought home, they didn't let her land in Hawaii; they kept her on the ship. When she landed in San Francisco, that's where she was tried.
The United States attorney there, whom I knew well, Frank Hennessey, had gone over the case. They'd asked him to go over all the evidence and see, and he had done so. He recommended against prosecuting her. He said, "This isn't what you think it is." But they overruled him politically in Washington and sent out a special prosecutor. Later I found that that man also was in great doubt, but he was a good soldier, so he did it.
Biagi: This was the other prosecutor?
Beebe: Yes, a special prosecutor. They were both at the table. I think I won't go into detail about the trial, because I felt very strongly. In the first place, I didn't know about it. I started from scratch perfectly with the same legend that everybody else had, and only as the trial proceeded did really the true picture come out and we saw that the jury, too, was seeing it. The press table, I think, except for the Hearst person, all thought this was a mistake, that she shouldn't have been called a traitor, whatever she did. Maybe collaborator, but she'd already been a year in prison, lost her baby. She paid plenty for it as it was.
The judge was a great figure in it, too. Finally, they tried to get a verdict. The jury was really a hung jury. There was one woman and, I think, maybe another. There was one hold-out. They were just absolutely sure. You see, there was more hysteria still that Japs—oh! She just didn't listen. She just had it in her mind that this was that awful siren that had plagued our boys, and they couldn't move her. There were, I think, 14 counts. The jury finally, after the judge kept sending them back and sending them back again, he also was sort of an Irish mick that never should have been on the federal bench. He was a good police judge, but he didn't follow a lot of that stuff. I knew him, too, and he later shocked me by saying, "I always wondered what she was up to when she went to Japan." I couldn't imagine such a thing! It was so obvious, you know. There was nothing about it. It was the natural thing to do.
But he kept sending the jurors back and sending them back and telling them how much money had been spent. Indeed, the government spent all kinds of money, and they procured two witnesses there who perjured themselves on the stand. It was later shown that they had, and they all wanted to get a free trip over here. Well, the defense had no such money as that, anyway. She didn't even have an attorney at first. I was there when they brought her into the United States commissioner for the first procedural thing. Wayne Collins, who was ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] type of attorney, a persistent guy, but very honest. I met her father, who was there and in great distress, because he thought she'd disgraced the family, that really distressed her, the thought that her father felt, too, that she had done wrong. I said, "This attorney will not cheat you." Indeed, he stuck through everything and worked without any money. He was not the emotional kind that could have gotten her off at the trial.
Anyway, the jury finally decided to acquit her on all but one count, and then the judge gave her the maximum on that one count—ten years on that one count. She spent seven years in prison.
Biagi: What was the one count?
Beebe: The one count was that she had said, "Now that your ships are sunk, how are you going to get home?" They both testified to this. Oh, my, they were a sorry sight on the stand.
Biagi: The two procured witnesses?
Beebe: Yes, they were. They came from the Sacramento area, by the way. I don't know what they were doing over there. Later it was practically proved.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Beebe: Later it was proved that the geographical arrangement at the station, that there was no way they could have overheard it. There wasn't a loudspeaker that went anywhere else unless they were actually in the room, which they were not. She said, of course, she hadn't said it. That conformed to the constitutional provision of an act with two witnesses, that that was a treasonable act. So she had ten years in prison. She was to serve, I think, seven of it.
Biagi: Did you have conversations with her?
Beebe: We were not allowed to. They treated her as if she were a captured head of the enemy army. We had to submit questions in writing. I did that, but no, we never exchanged a word with her the whole time. Poor little gal, she had this one little suit that she wore all through the trial. She had a clean blouse every day and this suit. She sat there in the middle of all this swirling stuff.
Biagi: Were there any other women reporters covering it?
Beebe: My friend Connie Hitchcock for INS did it partly. They'd never give her the time to do it all. The AP freed me to do nothing else, because I had to do the morning papers, the evening papers, morning papers, and the early, too. So I didn't have much opportunity to do work outside the courtroom, although we could do a little. [Laughter.] For some of those witnesses, they got servicemen to come and say, "She came on there and she said, 'This is Tokyo Rose.'" Well, we knew that wasn't true, because nobody had ever said that, and there was no question about that. So we were twitting the prosecutors, "Where did you get some of your witnesses?" They'd say, "You should have seen some that got away." [Laughter.] As it went on, it just seemed more and more unfair.
Biagi: What role did Walter Winchell have to play in this at this point?
Beebe: None. I never heard any more. He was, of course, a gung-ho flag-waver. I suppose that he had the legend, too, and he thought, "What's the Army doing, letting go of our siren traitor there?" The legend is not broken yet; it still persists.
Biagi: So what was your role after the trial?
Beebe: I just always felt bad about it. When the appeals came, I met her for the first time, talked to her after her release from prison. They were still trying. She didn't want a pardon, because she felt that that meant she was guilty, and she didn't think she was guilty of treason at all. And we didn't. I polled the press table, and I think we were nine to two. The Hearst people, of course. Connie didn't. Connie Hitchcock for INS didn't vote guilty. The jury, afterwards, I asked the foreman, "How could you do this?"
He said, "I can't sleep at night." He said, "I wish I had hung out." But he said, "Of course, our neighbors, it was wartime. She had broadcast for the enemy. There was no question about that. When I told him how the press room poll came out, he said, "That's about the way the jury was."
So I saw her at that time and through this long fight to get a reversal, which she wanted. There was no way. The appeals went against her because it was the jury's decision there. An appellate court, there was no technical legal thing, and the jury decided whether she was telling the truth and whether the witnesses were telling the truth. The court can't interfere with that legally.
Biagi: What do you feel was the press' role in that case? Do you feel they contributed in any way to the—
Beebe: I think we were helpless, because as the trial went on and these witnesses came, you reported what they said. Big headlines. Because as long as it stood as the legend, that was the headline. Then two days later on cross-examination, it was proved that somebody else was broadcasting at that time, or she was sick or not there, you know, who cares about that? They'd carry it, grudgingly, but it would be a little thing on the back page. The legend somehow just persisted. You reported it literally; you could do nothing else. At the end, the public doesn't pay enough attention, you see. So the legend wasn't disturbed.
Anyway, 23 years later, they asked me if I would write a statement about it, and I did. I have that, which I'll turn over to you. I did it.
Biagi: Who asked you to do that?
Beebe: I think Wayne Collins, the attorney, who was still with her. I went up then on my way—I was going to Europe. I went to Europe for a year. This was after. Yes, surely, yes, this was in 1971 after my retirement. I spent a year in Europe seeing things which I never had had time to. I stopped off in Chicago. She went back to Chicago. Her father had had to move back there after the war, and had a business there, which she was helping with. She was very able. I went up and talked to her one evening. We had exchanged Christmas cards. I was always going to see her out here and we've always missed. She had friends here. She was a nice—
Biagi: The statement they asked you for, what was the purpose of that?
Beebe: I could say that I thought the impressions that we had, that it was shown that it was a great injustice. I'm convinced that it was, and I have plenty of company. So I wrote the statement. You can have it if you like.
Biagi: Did Mr. Collins use it for some purpose?
Beebe: I think so. I don't know. By that time I was in Malta. It was so hard to try to get it in. I didn't have any of my records with me when I wrote it. It was a memory. I had to get it notarized. By that time, I was in Malta, so I went to the United States consul to get it notarized in Malta. [Laughter.] I had left it there and asked if I could get it notarized. I waited for quite a while there, and finally I was ushered in. He said, "You know, I'm just fascinated with this. I was out there in the Pacific. This is all new to me. I never knew any of this. What are you going to do with this? Is this going to be published?"
I said, "I'm sending it to the attorney. I don't know." So I don't know. He had, of course, by that time lots of things collected for her, and she did get, finally, the pardon. Was it [President Gerald] Ford who pardoned her? I've forgotten now.
Biagi: I don't know either.
Beebe: Somebody distant enough from it and, of course, the atmosphere and all had changed. But it still comes up, it still does. She told me that she had trouble with her own family, with some nieces and nephews. "How was it to be Tokyo Rose and do this?" "I have to straighten you out a little bit on this."
Biagi: You told me that you wrote a letter to David Brinkley about it, did you?
Beebe: Yes, I did. David Brinkley brought it up, too, and made reference to the same old thing, that she was convicted of these things, convicted of taunting soldiers, our boys, and so on. Really, all those counts were dismissed. Of course, you could say that was a taunt, this "Your ships are sunk. How are you going to get home?" which she said she never said, and there was no proof that she had said it either, except these two witnesses, who were later shown—I think they later confessed that they had perjured themselves. I'm not sure about that. But they were certainly discredited. They were discredited with us when we saw them on the stand, and on cross-examination, they were very sorry characters.
Biagi: Want to take a break?
Beebe: Okay. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: Now we return to the coronation story, I guess.
Beebe: I had to make a campaign to go. My husband died in 1948. Then I felt that I was going to kind of tread water. I didn't care about anything much, but I knew I had to go on living. So I thought that I didn't have too much time. When he died, I was 47. It took a while to get equilibrium back. I went back to the office and kind of went through the routines to get myself together. I decided that I wanted to go to Europe. Well, of course, everybody wants to go to Europe at the AP. So I started my campaign to do it. I ran into barriers immediately, as I knew I would, but you always did, you know, and you kept going.
So I started writing to Wes Gallagher, who was chief executive by that time. I said, "Why don't you dust me off and see what I have?" Well, of course, no way. When he visited the San Francisco bureau, I talked to him. He said, "No. When I had the bureau in Germany, if somebody had sent me a woman, I would have resented it, and I'm not going to do that to anybody." [Laughter.]
I said, "Well, I might not be a liability."
He said, "Besides, we've just got people lined up."
So I finally decided that I wasn't going to make it that way, and I said, "Well, I'm going to Europe because I want to see something of it. So can I have a leave of absence? Perhaps I can do some free-lance writing or something. I'd like to have a leave of absence because I'm going to go." Well, all right, I could do that.
I went east. Drove, by the way, by myself. I didn't have any deadlines, you see, at all. It was at that time that I talked to Tokyo Rose. I saw friends on the way.
Biagi: So this was 19—
Biagi: That you went? Or '49?
Beebe: Wait a minute. I'm mistaking this. I did not drive. No, no, indeed, I didn't. This was 1953. No, I had to have all my reservations. I'm getting mixed up with a later trip. I got passage on an American line and flew east. I was kind of scared because I knew it would all be strange. I went up and saw my husband's aunt up in Massachusetts. I came and stopped in at the office then, and I went into Wes Gallagher's office, and he said, "Where have you been?"
I said, "I didn't know you cared." [Laughter.] "I've been on a leave of absence up to see my husband's aunt."
"Well, we want to keep in touch with you." So I went to Paris and got key quarters over on the Left Bank, figuring I'd kind of huddle up to the university, and didn't know quite what I was going to do. I had culture shock. See, I was 52 years old! Everything was different. I had some French, but I couldn't use it at first, I found. I could read and write, but it didn't sound right in my ear. I made some friends on the boat, with some young people. We huddled together for a while.
Biagi: But you'd never been to Europe before?
Beebe: Never been to Europe before. Walked around that first night, just a little bit away from my hotel. A little French sailor, a little tiny guy with a sailor hat, stopped me and asked directions. [Laughter.] That was kind of thrilling to tell him that I had just come.
Well, I went up to the Paris office and it felt good to be just near those noisy printers up there. It was in the Herald Tribune building there. I talked with them, said I was going to be around. Wes Gallagher had said, "You needn't think you can go over there and get taken on, either, because everybody thinks they can do that, and they're not going to do it." They were mildly courteous, and I went away. I was scared. I was scared to leave the hotel for a whole day. All of a sudden, I got a call to come up to the office. [Laughter.] They said they had instructions that I was to be put on the staff there at full salary, and was to cover the coronation in London. They knew that all the time! Wes Gallagher knew that! He was just figuring out a way not to pay my passage over. The AP did things like that. [Laughter.]
Later I talked to one of the gals in New York on the feature section. You know Mary Margaret McBride?
Beebe: She worked with Mary Margaret McBride, who was going to the coronation. The AP tried to get her to go and get Mary Margaret McBride to pay her way. They wanted a woman at the coronation because it was a queen! [Laughter.]
Biagi: I see. I see. So it was an advantage.
Beebe: That's right. So there I was. I was taken on. It was really wonderful. I was in full salary there, plus living expenses.
Biagi: That would have been how much?
Beebe: Oh, goodness, I can't remember it—200 or 300 a month is all, I guess. I don't know. You know, I really never was terribly interested in salary, except that I wanted to get what others were, because I knew that to be respected, you needed to get that money, which I always did. In fact, I always made as much as the men did, and several times I made more and was told not to say so. So that was never a problem, really, with me.
Biagi: So you were the only woman in that bureau?
Beebe: Yes. They had a fashion—of course, with Paris, they had a fashion writer, who wasn't there. So I was to do the fashion. I said, "I don't know anything about fashion. You couldn't get anybody worse."
They said, "We're worse. We've had to do it. You can do fashions. The openings are going to come along pretty soon." Pres [Preston] Grover, who was the bureau chief, said, "I have a young woman here who knows about this." She came into the office to meet me, and she said, "Mr. Grover's a very old friend of mine. Very old friend." She didn't like my being there at all. She gave me, I think, some very bum steers, too. But I did find the right place to go was up at the Herald Tribune, where there was a good old gal who knew her stuff and was a very nice person. She helped me out a bit.
Biagi: Do you remember her name?
Beebe: Can't. But I do have one picture of the—meanwhile, I let a lot of it go by, because this first gal had told me, "Don't pay any attention to all these early invitations. This is the small stuff. You wait until later." As a matter of fact, some of them were rather important. So I got a late start.
The big one was supposed to be Jacques Fath. I do remember that. [Laughter.] There were these little wiggly, frail, gold chairs that you get in Paris. I don't know how big people sit on them. They were all arranged around this ramp where the girls could go up and down. They had a ribbon around one chair for the deposed King of Egypt [Farouk]. The name slips away from me now; it will come later. To the gal who sat down next to his chair, somebody said, "Did you bring your chastity belt?" [Laughter.] He never showed. But among the stars who did show was Gary Cooper. I remember after the show, he got up and all the little midinettes and the models were mobbing with squeals. He looked so uncomfortable sitting on one of these little gold chairs, and he had really loud socks on and they stuck out so everybody could see him. You could see he wished he was anywhere but there. How his publicity people managed to get him there, I don't know. And all these girls were squealing and mobbing him, and trying to get away from them, he backed through a door, thinking he was getting into another room, and in that was where they were dressing. [Laughter.] It was even worse. The last I saw of him, he was beating it down the stairs and out as fast as he could go. One little model shrilled, "Mais, c'est un timide!"* It was fun.
I had stuff all over the world. Models came in barefoot, showing these styles. It was translated into German. I got a lot of clippings, and I laughed. Really, I didn't know much about it. But that's what you'll do, of course. When you're a general reporter, you're always doing something that's a little different. You're covering a medical convention, and they think, "Oh, my, she's pretty good. You know, now, if you'd start reading some books." And I'd say, "Yeah, but tomorrow I may be doing the plumbers, you know."
I didn't have anything very big to do in Paris. They gave me some assignments. The first day I went out to see Bing Crosby, who had just arrived, and Hollywood was pressing because he was supposed to be having an affair with somebody named Mona Freeman. I didn't want to go back without it, so I went out with a photographer. I called up at 10 a.m. He had not gotten up and didn't want to for a while, and I said, well, I was going to wait, because I didn't dare go back without it, you know. I wouldn't say anything over the phone. We waited several hours. Meanwhile, the French photographer took me all around and showed me stuff. A newspaper photographer—can you imagine?—jumped over little—they had little wire around grass plots, just one little frail wire, and people pay attention to it. He leaped over the wire and went in and picked a violet and gave it to me. [Laughter.] Photographer—his name was Lévy. I was asking him polite questions, you know, "Do you live here and have a family?" He said, "My name is Lévy, you know. They're dead." He was Jewish. He was the only one left in his family. This was '53, right soon after the war. I knew about it, but only vaguely, and it hit me.
*"Why, he's a shy one!"
Biagi: So how long were you there before the coronation?
Beebe: Oh, I don't know. I guess a couple of months. Then I went to the coronation and was there for three weeks.
Biagi: What's your single biggest memory about that?
Beebe: Well, the coronation itself. It was huge. England knows how to put on a show, and they did. It was the biggest thing you ever saw. Trying to get there, the press section was behind Westminster Abbey. It was big enough for a stadium. They had the mall. People paid huge prices for seats in this, sort of boxes up and down the mall, because the whole parade was to go by. Everybody went in this back entrance, you see, the whole lot of them. Royalty came on special subways, and their purple robes were specially arranged. The only way they could get there, the crowds started assembling days before. I had known where my seat was to be and had made dry runs, and had figured out that I'd better give it plenty of time and get there early.
On the day that it occurred, the crowds were so dense, it was the first time in my whole life I have not been able to get through a crowd. You say, "I'm sorry, I have to get through," and people are pretty good about that. I said it, and they said, "We can't move." Talk about gridlock; it was a gridlock of people. They were all good humored, but it was frightening. Finally, the St. John's Brigade, which was there to get people who fainted and so on, somebody said they were there, and they got me through somehow. They came and got me through so I could get to my seat. I should have gone two hours before I did, and I thought I was way early. But I don't think I've ever seen so many people. They were just everywhere, and they were on the tops of the buildings.
The pageantry, you know, I heard the hoofbeats of horses all night. They had all the wonderful horses in the kingdom and attached to these rickety old gold carriages. We had programs, and we had, also, fortunately, a speaker, because the ceremony itself inside Westminster Abbey was—oh, everybody in England, of course, you can imagine what it was like. The AP had two seats—no, they had only one, I guess. They only had one. From America, of course, the entire London staff was working on it, but this time I was a trained seal. I had other trained seals put over me, and this time, of course, I was. I had the one in the press section—Pat Morin was in the Abbey, and Hal Boyle, the columnist, wanted to view the crowds. He wanted to roam behind and pick his own stuff.
Biagi: By a "trained seal," what do you mean?
Beebe: Trained seals were always the stars that came in. When the United Nations was born in San Francisco, our whole Washington office came in and superimposed itself on us, you know. We tended them like water boys, sort of. This time it was the other way around, and it was a young woman in the office there who felt this was her queen, you know. She came with me, but there was only one seat. She stood up somewhere in the back.
We had to write in pencil, and then runners took it back to the press shack. Everything had been organized for months. That was fun to see. They built sort of an unpainted shack there, and there were phones all around the room, and all the languages of the world were going over it, you know. After all, there wasn't very much actually happening, except it was a pageantry and you had to just tell it blow by blow.
Then we had the ceremony also piped to us in this bigger press section, because, of course, the press had very few seats in the Abbey. The mayors of all the towns in England had a lottery. I think only two mayors got a seat in the Abbey. But they couldn't see very much.
Where the press was was up on this balcony. It was this way. If you weren't in the front row, I don't see how you could have seen anything. They weren't any better off than we were.
But I had a good break there. The man next to me was the London correspondent of a paper in Holland, and he was very knowledgeable because he'd been in London for a year. He had been assigned to San Francisco for a year, had been very well treated out here, and he was very happy to give me a lot of help as we went along. Of course, we had the program, fortunately, too, but he could identify people.
When Churchill got out of his carriage to go in, I have never heard such applause in my life just from the throats of all the people. As you know, Churchill was a war hero, but then he was thrown out of government. But this day, they all recognized him. He had everything on. He had his cinqportes hat, all his medals and braids, and I think he was already getting senile, because he seemed to waver a little bit, but he was going up the line with his fingers this way (Churchill's fingers in a Victory sign). And from the rooftops and the windows and of the whole crowded way, everyone's voice was just one, and it was a thrill.
Biagi: Then how long were you there?
Beebe: Three weeks.
Biagi: But in Europe at the AP?
Beebe: I went back to Paris. I was there—I don't know, four or five months, I guess, altogether. My mother was ill in Los Angeles, and she got a cold just about as I left. The whole time I was in Europe, I was thinking I was going to have to come back. She had always wanted me to go ahead and do whatever I wanted to, but this time she said, "Oh, can't you wait until I go?"
I said, "Mother, do you want me to sit and be looking at you all the time and wondering how long before I can go to Europe? You don't want that."
She said, "No, I don't." But it had been hanging over me. Her friends would write, and I'd try to get in touch with the doctor. We didn't have as much long-distance phoning as we do now. Also, it was temporary, you see. I was to be there temporarily, and that was all right with me.
The Paris office was a great disappointment. It was kind of a dull place. I'd come in with some idea and say, "Well, could I maybe do this?" you know.
Old Harvey Hudson would say, "Well, we tried that once and there wasn't much interest." He was a damper on everything. There was only one writer in the place, John Roderick, who's just now retiring from AP and lives in Honolulu, who was a spritely soul and had a little enthusiasm.
But I did cover the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization]. That was interesting, too. It was in an old, beautiful building with lots of gold on the ceiling and chandeliers and elegance. That was interesting because we had translating earphones. I did have French, and my French was better for that type of thing, because I was familiar with what was going on, but I was afraid to rely on it. I was afraid I would miss a word that was crucial, so I would put one earphone on, listen to English with one ear and French with the other. That worked very well. But again, that was rather dull. They said nobody had been able to get much out of it.
I remember walking up and down with Sir Ronald Tree, who was one of the officials at the time, and asking him, somewhat impertinently, besides all these voluminous reports, what did they ever do? He told me about one school that they'd established in North Africa, and everybody laughed and said, "That's all they always bring up." There seemed to be great lots of reports that they all ran around to each other. I got one or two fairly good stories out of it.
Biagi: I'm going to stop you. [Tape interruption.]
Beebe: I did have to come back. I was coming back by ship. I did have a chance to go to Holland and meet the woman that I had come over on the ship with. I had then more money than time, and so for three days, I hired a chauffeur and went with her and her young nephew all around Holland. She saw me off on the ship, and I went home, right to Los Angeles, and stayed with my mother for the rest of my leave of absence, which was, I think, four or five weeks.
I then tried to get transferred to the Los Angeles office and found the same thing. There was again the prejudice against women. They pretended that they didn't want to have to pay as much as they would have to for me. They had a place there, but they wanted to get somebody that was cheaper. However, I got Hub Keavey to admit that it was really my being a woman. He never had had one and didn't want one. So I had to arrange to find a place to put Mother and come back to San Francisco and go back to work at the San Francisco bureau, with the idea that I would go down on weekends, every other one. I was starting that.
Biagi: This would be 1954?
Beebe: 1953, still. It would be fall then. I had been home, back just three weeks when Mother died rather suddenly.
Then about two weeks after that, Hub Keavey had talked to some of the people down there that had been in San Francisco. I don't know what they told him, but anyway, he changed his mind and said he'd like to have me down there. So I said to Harold Turnblad, who was then bureau chief here, "Tell him to go jump in a lake." [Laughter.]
Biagi: What's the date that your mother died?
Beebe: In October of '53.
Biagi: So you told Harold—
Beebe: I said, "Tell him to go jump in the lake." Then later I said, "I trust you relayed that a little more diplomatically." He said, "I did."
Later, I was on duty one Sunday when I got this wild call from Hub Keavey, who was on a train. He found that I was the only person in the office, and he hated to ask me for a whole lot of favors. I was supposed to get taxis to get him off the train and make the train stop and do stuff. He told me the man I could get in touch with, who would arrange everything. The man was out of town entirely and had left the country, and I had to spend a lot of time fixing him up. He was most embarrassed when he had to thank me for it later. [Laughter.] But I was glad not to work in Los Angeles. I never wanted to, and I'd turned down the Hollywood thing.
So it wasn't too long. In fact, when I went abroad, for the first time I had seen in some little pamphlet of AP about the policy that women would be retired at 55, and I was jolted by this. I had never heard such a thing.
Biagi: What was the age for men?
Beebe: Sixty-five. And remember, Social Security didn't start until 62 at the least. So I tried to find out how firm was this policy, and everybody was mealy-mouthed about it. By this time, you see, it was long since I'd worked in New York and I didn't have the personal friends there that I had had. Some of the women in the New York office had told me later that when they encountered this, they said, "Oh, don't mind. We'll put you on contract." But I didn't have those personal relationships then. I later discovered that they had two women they wanted to be rid of. One had become an alcoholic and one was giving them trouble, and they were both about the same age as I. [Laughter.] So that didn't look very good to me. I was never much of a rebel. It always seemed to me that if that was the way things were, all you did was work around it somehow or other. I began trying to think what was I going to do. You know, a job at 55, a woman, is very difficult.
Just typically, I went down to one of the United Air, I think, where I had some friends, and they said, "We'd like nothing better than to take you on, but I have been working nine months to get So-and-so on, a man that we knew who wanted to work here, because he was 48." Because of keying you into all the fringe benefits that were then in place, they didn't want anybody over 35, man or woman. So I realized that that kind of a job was not going to happen.
I was very interested in Adlai Stevenson. I was reading his speeches, and I have saved copies of them. It seemed to me that he had the ideas that I'd heard from Edwin. His language was wonderful. I would like to get in on that campaign. I'd never had any political experience. I'd try to get a paid job if I could. If not, I would work for free.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: I wanted to start today's discussion talking about your experience being asked to leave AP, essentially, because of the mandatory retirement age there.
Beebe: I wasn't asked. That was another thing about it. [Laughter.] I think it was before I went to Europe, when I was just working along there, that I got a pamphlet. Once in a while, the AP would put out one, you know, about policies and stuff. Buried down in it was this little paragraph about the policy for women to retire at 55. I was sort of startled. Of course, nobody in my office had ever heard anything about it.
Biagi: About when did you get this pamphlet, do you know? Had you been there for a while?
Beebe: Oh, no, nothing was said when I came at all. Never. I think it was probably shortly after my husband's death and I just came back and was working there. It startled me, and I asked around did anybody know about this. Nobody did. Of course, there wasn't any other woman. I was uneasy, but really I kind of put it aside, because I always was confident that if you were good, you didn't really need to worry, you know. [Laughter.] If they wanted you, if you were really good, they needed you, and it was probably an outdated thing, anyway.
However, when I was taking stock of career, I had it in mind and thought if it should turn out to be true, I'd better hurry to do something, because who knew? There wasn't an awful lot of time ahead. Then the only notice I got was from the business office in New York. You see, that's automatic. You do give them your birth certificate when you come, and therefore, when Joe or whoever, no matter what he does in the AP, you just get this notification that your pension will be so and so and you'll be doing it at this time. So then, of course, I did get busy about it. We had a new national executive. I didn't know any of the New York people by that time, or very few. I said, "I realize there's probably a transition time that this would be changed." He didn't know that there was any change. I said, "Well, is it taken into consideration at all a person's record?"
He said, "Well, you know, I've talked to lots of men at retirement time, and they always think they're as good as they ever were." Of course, he didn't know anything about me or anything, but that was pretty discouraging.
Biagi: So you were approaching 55?
Beebe: That's right. I was 47 when Edwin died. Then it took me quite a long time, this campaign, to get to Europe. I decided that I'd better move and do something. I was just treading water there and perfectly content to do it. The stuff kept coming.
Well, the head of the Guild came to me and said, "You know, if you'd consent, we'd really like to make a case of this, because you're a good subject, you see. You've got a good record, and we'd like to do it." I was mortified, of course. I had read stories about women who were fired and made a fuss. I always privately thought they probably weren't much good, anyway. [Laughter.] I just didn't want to be in that position. So I said I'd really rather not.
I guess maybe I was cowardly. I should have done it. I suppose if I'd been a feminist, I would have thought, "Well, I ought to do it," because I think they would have won.
The AP, you know, has since had to—they fought for ten years a discrimination suit that some gals brought, and they finally settled it. The women were getting a lot of money and they had to come out and offer to give them executive posts and all this! This is fairly recent. I'll look for that. I have the note that was sent to bureau chiefs, because a couple of them gave it to me. But this came all later.
Biagi: Do you have any regrets that you didn't take a stronger role at that time?
Beebe: Well, as I look back, I think perhaps I should have done it, but, no, as a matter of fact, as I say here [looking at letter], things have turned out in a queer way. If that had happened, without question, I probably would have won, and I would have been put back in my wire-filing post that I wanted, and I would have stayed there and eaten carbon dust for the rest of my time. It would have been just a dull, monotonous playing-out until I got to be 65. As it was, I had to scramble for ten years.
The terribly unfair thing about it was that the AP had changed its pension system when the Social Security came in, and they said, somewhat huffily, that if the government was now going to interfere, they would have to rethink, and their pension system would be supplementary to the government. In other words, less! So what was I to do for the ten years that I wasn't going to get any? And my pension was $88 a month.
Biagi: There was no Social Security at 55 then?
Beebe: Oh, yes!
Biagi: Oh, there was?
Beebe: Oh, yes. It came in in the mid-thirties.
Biagi: But I mean, were there any Social Security benefits at age 55?
Beebe: Oh, no. You waited. You could do it at 62, but you took a lower amount.
Biagi: So this would have been your total income, then, $88 a month on that pension.
Beebe: Yes, on that pension, would have been until 62. Of course, I wouldn't want to take it at 62, anyway.
But as I told you, I was not particularly feminist. I thought, "Well, that's the way things are. What do I do?" And so I began. I just scrambled.
Biagi: Did you have any other source of income at that time, or would this have been it?
Beebe: Well, not an income. Of course, after Mother died, I had a little money, and I invested that, by the way, and made some money on it. And I always had some saved. Money was never very important to me. You see, I was not supporting a family and I always had followed my father's advice. He said, "If you just spend a little less than you have, you're always all right." [Laughter.] And since I never cared too much about clothes or things, it just never—I always made, you see, what the men did, so I felt good about that, and sometimes more. I was just told to not mention it. I felt all right about my money, but I just knew that I was going to have to have a payroll. I couldn't live on that.
Biagi: Sure. What was your salary then?
Beebe: You keep asking me that, and I can't remember. I have these two—the things that I got out there. It will give you some idea about how they—that's what the "great god" would do to newcomers, but you never saw him thereafter. Here. Is there a date on that?
Biagi: Effective September 15, 1942.
Biagi: Your salary was increased by six dollars to $63.50 weekly.
Beebe: Yes, we had it weekly. It was this long before—$100 a week was considered pretty top stuff.
Biagi: So in 1947, October 9th, it says you were making $100 weekly.
Biagi: So by the time you were ready to retire, then, or they were ready to retire you, I should say, what would you say your salary was, if you had to guess?
Beebe: I suppose—I doubt if it was more than $125. Meanwhile, I think, they had changed to monthly. The Guild figured out they could cheat us out of a couple of days. [Laughter.] You know, the Associated Press has a bad reputation for being very chintzy, and it's because their organization is different, you see. They are a co-op and their big bosses are the directors of big papers who want them to keep expenses down, and they also want their own stars to be not eclipsed by the AP.
In fact, I think this might be interesting. Leonard Milliman was very active in the Guild, and he was a wonderful guy. I was rather proud of his union activities. He said that in New York the executive at the time, Wes Gallagher, had privately told him to put lots of pressure on them to bring the salaries up. He said, "We want them up. We want to get the better people, and we need this pressure to counteract the pressure of our board, which is trying to keep us down," which I thought was quite interesting. But my relations with the AP people I worked with were always very pleasant, and whenever I was in any need, they always made a great effort, you know, to do whatever I wanted. And it was a very pleasant atmosphere, too, because we were all—there was pretty good equality there. Senior journeyman newsmen, you moved from spot to spot. There wasn't this hierarchy much.
Biagi: So you were going to go, then, from roughly $500 a month to $88 dollars a month.
Beebe: I don't think it was $500 a month. Oh, no!
Biagi: If it was $125 a week, it would have been $500 a month.
Beebe: Well, maybe. Maybe so.
Biagi: Something close to that. It was a big cut.
Beebe: It was a big cut. Of course, I just considered it impossible. I just knew that I would have to be on a payroll somewhere. Because you asked if I had any other money. I can't even remember.
I had some resources, but no other income. As I told you, we were wiped out with Edwin's four-year illness. There was no health plan, and that's what happened.
Biagi: So how did you go about looking for work?
Beebe: Well, it was not easy. Of course, I had lots of friends then, because I knew everybody. [Laughter.] Fortunately, all of my outside work, as the outside man for the AP, I really knew people, but I knew that a woman in her fifties, that was what was so hard on me. I thought, "Well, here I am. I'm kind of a drug on the market. It doesn't matter what I am or can do, I am."
I went, of course, down to United Air, where I had some friends, and they said, "We'd like nothing better than to have you, but it's taken us almost a year to push through a man that we very much wanted, who is ten years younger than you." Because you see, then they had all these fringe benefits, so they couldn't really afford to take people that were much—they didn't want anybody over 40.
So I thought, "Well, I'll just see." I was interested in the [Adlai] Stevenson campaign, and I decided I was going to work for it, you know, no matter. I would try to get a job in it, if I could, and I saw friends. It was a fixer who came and he said he had inquired about me. He didn't inquire of any of my bosses; he went around and inquired of opposition paper people that worked with me. He said, "I can't believe what I hear. You can't be that good." So I went to work in the Stevenson campaign.
Biagi: In San Francisco?
Beebe: In San Francisco.
Biagi: What were you doing?
Beebe: Well, what does the publicity do in a campaign?
Biagi: Was that what you were doing, publicity?
Beebe: Yes, publicity for the area. There was a man in charge, of course, and he was absolutely terrible. Shortly before the end, he had a fist fight with the fixer, and I was left alone to carry through to the end. They were so pleased about that, that they said, "We'd like to take you up to Sacramento." As I said at that time, if a bunch of good safe-crackers had invited me to join them, I would have considered it. [Laughter.] So I did go up to Sacramento.
Biagi: Let me back up one second. A couple of things. You said "fixer." What do you mean by "fixer"?
Beebe: Elinor said, "The sinister Don Bradley." I don't think he had any title, but he was the man that kind of put together the political things, saw people and arranged things. He was just always kind of there.
A campaign, you know, is like a mushroom. You have to gather people to work for it, and there's something the matter, usually, with all of them, because they don't have regular jobs, just like me. So it's a queer bunch that you get. It was all new to me; everything was new. All these six jobs—and I do think we should summarize them—were pretty much like that. I had every time a whole new thing, and I had to learn a whole new set of people, a whole new set of names, and it really kept me hopping. And I think it was good for me. It was much more interesting than it would have been had I had to just label myself as somebody that had a job
because they were made to keep me on. Of course, I don't think I would have stood that. I hope I could have broken out of it. But it would have been hard, because that label would have been on you.
Biagi: Enumerate now your six careers after AP.
Beebe: I can do that. That was a legislative session, and I didn't know about that. I hadn't even studied political science. I didn't know how the government really worked.
Biagi: So you did move to Sacramento?
Beebe: Oh, yes. Well, I got a place up there. I commuted weekends back to this home in Westridge. My fixer said, "I think we can get quarters for you in the Capitol." I'm working with the Republicans, so they each one had. So I was led to my quarters in the Capitol, and it was a cloakroom of one of the legislative hearing rooms, you know. Into it I went, and here was a large urinal and a coat rack and one table. I don't think there was a chair. He was going to get a chair. And there was a filing case, empty. They said I'd get a phone in here.
Biagi: How did you cover up the urinal?
Beebe: I didn't! [Laughter.] My back was to it.
Biagi: You didn't put plotted plants in it or something?
Beebe: It didn't bother me. I wasn't receiving people, anyway.
Biagi: What were your responsibilities?
Beebe: Well, I was to get out a newsletter, a weekly newsletter for the Democrats, who were at that time on the rise. The Senate was evenly divided, Democrats and Republicans, and the Assembly was still dominantly Republican. No Democrat could get elected except by being sort of a maverick. The proposal made to me was, "We want to lift the party. We want to get better people as candidates. Now we go to some promising young men and we say, 'We want you to run,' and they say, 'No way! That thing?' We're trying to get better people. We think if we get together and have a voice, this is what we're going to try to do."
They had a weekly caucus, from which the press was excluded, but they would take a stand on something. After the caucus, the press always jumped to me, you know, if I could give them a program, which was good.
Biagi: What year is this, now?
Beebe: This was '57, '58. Goodwin Knight was the governor, and I was a hatchet man. I gave him a bad breakfast many mornings, when we put out releases. I didn't do any of the investigative work; I was simply to put out releases with what I was given. I found it was rather fun, because my newspaper friends up there—of course, I had them—had said that they just felt that Knight was really very poor quality, California deserved better. So I felt all right about it. I felt if we could get him out, it was good. [Laughter.] I've wondered now since, if I'd been a little older, if I would have done it. People would say, "Oh, that's great stuff!" They evidently loved this "bang-bang," kind of old-fashioned things that they could get on him. Then it was a grind to get out that weekly newsletter that was distributed to the legislators so they could use any of it or say it was theirs and send it to their papers at home, or take anything out of it. So it was a busy time.
Then the session was over, and I was home again. Let me see.
Biagi: How long did a session last then? Do you remember?
Beebe: Well, you went into the summer, early. But meanwhile, you see, I had made the dicker with the Associated Press. They said, well, they usually would extend—see, in some cases they'd extend for a year. Then when they told me, yes, they'd extend my stay for a year, I said, "How about instead of that, I come back for summer vacation relief here for three years? I would like to do that." That would give me at least an income for sure for that time, and they agreed to that. So I guess I came back then.
Biagi: Was it the summer of '58, then?
Beebe: Yes, to AP. Up at the legislature, I had been interested in the Educational Television Bill. Cappy [Casper] Weinberger, by the way, was the Republican who was pushing it, so we used to kid each other that we were both in support of a good project, although, of course, everything else we did was all wrong. [Laughter.] I liked Cappy Weinberger, and I never have been able to quite see this Defense hawk that we've had. Strange.
That led to my meeting Lyle Nelson, who was the director of publications and number-two man at San Francisco State. He was also interested in this educational television. It was through him, because he was leaving for a much higher-paying job in Michigan, he got me the job at San Francisco State as his successor there.
Biagi: Which was the job of what?
Beebe: Well, it was director of publications. The odd thing about it, Lyle Nelson was working with Leonard, the president [of American University of Beirut], who was leaving for Beirut, and the new president coming in was a big Republican. [Laughter.] So I was wondering a little about that. I was working at the AP, summers. I went and interviewed [Glenn] Dumke, who was the new president at San Francisco State, and afterwards told him my situation, that I was looking for a job, but a temporary one. I knew that was the way to do. He said he was interested at once, because he had a man that he had his eye on, who was finishing his Ph.D. He said, "I need somebody just to be dignified and sit on the job for a year." But when he said publications, I said, "I'm not really qualified for that, because I don't know the processes outside of a little makeup and various newspaper jobs."
He said, "Don't worry. We haven't any budget for it, anyway." [Laughter.] So I had, again, a different kind of year at San Francisco State. I don't think we need to go into it. But he liked what I did and it was all right. And again, it was going to end. He wanted to keep me on. He kept saying through the year, "I don't know. He may not come, you know. He may get another job. If so, we do want you to stay on." But he did want to come, and he did come. I wasn't terribly in love with the job, anyway, and I was, by that time, encouraged that I could find things to do and that I could support myself somehow. But there were gaps in it.
Biagi: Let's go back one second. Do you remember your salary with the Stevenson people and at San Francisco State?
Beebe: Here's a statement. This is the most I had. I hadn't made this much money before, so that will tell you.
Biagi: So effective 10/15/57, it says that you made—
Beebe: That's only for $500 a month.
Biagi: $584 a month.
Beebe: That is about $8,000 a year, was it? I think.
Biagi: Yes, roughly.
Beebe: You see the associate professor ranking.
Beebe: He said, "You have to have that."
I said, "I'm not going to. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to face classes and lecture."
He said, "That doesn't matter, but you have to have at least that ranking or they won't listen to you around here."
Biagi: You were associate professor, one, second step in the Language Arts Division. Good to know.
Beebe: [Laughter.] Let's see now. So that would be '58. Back to AP for the summer. Then nothing happened. I didn't get a job. The legislative session was coming again, and then I found that that job that I had had was going to go to an INS [International News Service] man, and did he need it. The INS died about that time, and he had covered for INS at Sacramento. He had a family and kids, so they gave him that job. Meanwhile, we did it. Knight was gone! We had a Democrat, you see. Pat Brown had come in. His press secretary was Hale Champion of the [San Francisco] Chronicle, whom I knew. He was a prince of a guy. I liked him very much. He was terribly apologetic about this when I went up to see what was going. He said, "Well, never mind." I went home and decided that—I'd made some money, by the way, with this little money Mother had left me, in a tip of a friend, on an oil stock. I thought, "Well, I'll just get out of there, because I just spend too much money here at home." So I went to the Caribbean, where my old college roommate was, and I spent some months down there, had a lovely time—Puerto Rico and got around to several of the islands, went to Martinique to polish up my French a little bit. I wrote to Hale and said, "Now, don't do me wrong. Just because you 'done me wrong,' don't hate me. Keep seeing what you've got there."
So then I came back and, I guess, went back to AP. Oh, no. Dumke would have made a job for me, but I didn't want to be with the new man between us. I thought it would not be a good thing. I thought I might have to take it, but I was looking around various places. But back at the AP in the summer, all of a sudden, somebody told me that Hale Champion had been trying to find me. This had been going on for ten days and nobody told me. So he asked me to come up and be press aide there.
Biagi: This is 1960?
Beebe: Yes. Well, late '59 when my summer job ended.
Biagi: But you went to the Caribbean when?
Beebe: It would be—oh, dear, I ought to have a calendar. Anyway, that was the succession, because the state college job ended in the summer and I went back in the summer. Then '58. I fiddled around, I guess doing nothing, until '59 and went there for several months, came back. It was still '59 when I came back again for the summer. Then '59, '60, I guess, I was up with Hale in the governor's office.
That was fun. That was, of course, more pay. I think it was $10,000. My goodness!
Biagi: A year.
Beebe: Five figures, you know! [Laughter.] That's what people who left the news and took PR jobs with Rockefeller Foundation and all were getting, so that was very nice.
Biagi: What title did you have?
Beebe: Oh, just press aide. That was an interesting, very interesting job, too. Hale was good. But he left the job to become finance director. Jack Burby came in. But it was a good group there, and we liked it. All right. That was that year.
No, I was there when I was looking around still, because, of course, all political jobs were not too sure. I wasn't too pleased with some things, anyway. Then commuting was very hard. Well, I had this home, you see, here in Westridge [in Palo Alto], and was coming weekends and commuting.
So I'd always wanted to work at Stanford. I'd always thought that would be a pretty good idea, but they never paid anything. Well, they were going to have this big campaign for $100 million. Again, Lyle Nelson had come back, and Lyle Nelson helped me get my job at Stanford. How many jobs is that? I know there were six. Oh, no. I guess the Engle campaign came in there. Senator Engle came in one of those places, which was rather short.
Biagi: What was his first name?
Beebe: Clair. I have the date here, a letter from him. Later he—you might be interested in that, but we can do that later if we want to get through. He's asking my advice about whether the newspapermen were down on him, and I told him, and he said he was going to follow my advice. [Laughter.]
Beebe: He died, you know, not long after that. So there were the two campaigns, Stevenson and Engle. There was the state college job and—
Biagi: Did you work for Engle after Stevenson and before state?
Beebe: I think after—when we were trying to fill in that gap, maybe, after State.
Biagi: The year on this letter is 1960.
Beebe: Well, you see, I was over—see, he addresses me at my home.
Biagi: So you worked for him before 1960, then.
Beebe: Oh, yes. By '60, I came to Stanford. That was the last job I had. But there were the two political campaigns, there was state college, and the two jobs at Sacramento different, you know. The one with the legislature with the enemy in charge, and the one when we were on top, the governor's office.
Biagi: With Pat Brown.
Beebe: With Pat Brown and Hale Champion. Then Stanford. That's six, isn't it?
Biagi: Yes. So in 1960, now, you came—it would have been in 1960-61 you came to Stanford?
Biagi: '60 or '61?
Beebe: I think it was just about at the turn of the year. I suppose somewhere I have those records. Stanford has them.
Biagi: So you stayed here?
Beebe: Six years at Stanford.
Biagi: What was your job then?
Beebe: Again, I did very well with money, because I learned that I was getting—see, they had to pay something for this campaign. They had to get professional people. Stanford's academic salaries were just terrible. They wouldn't even give the statistics on it to the AAUP [American Association of University Professors], because they sold their climate here, you know, and they could do pretty well to loyal old Stanford people, but it wasn't happening. After the war, you see, there was no money and things had gone down.
So I got a double appointment to the Development Office, in other words, the fund-raising, then in the news service, too, because they were somewhat related, although the news service here is very, very, very independent and very different from most places, very good. I loathed the fund-raising. This, I thought, was a job I could do with one hand tied behind me and would be easy, and I never had a worse time. Stanford was terrible about women! It was the worst job that I had had anywhere in that regard. When I came there, I thought, "Oh, dear, they're very arrogant around here, and it's going to be stiff and formal." At the state college, you know, I was sitting in with the top group, with policy, my car parked next to the president, and I knew everybody, first name. So somebody called me Katherine, and I thought, "Oh, isn't this nice?" And I discovered, no, women were called by their first names, and middle-aged women were bringing coffee around to these little pipsqueaks just out of Stanford Business School. [Laughter.] "What man do you work for?" they'd say.
Of course, in a campaign, it's, again, like a campaign. Everybody is new and everybody is trying to sort of pretend he's more important than he is. We had a New York firm coming to tell us how to do it. It was, again, my campaign experience was useful, but I didn't like any part of it.
Biagi: Were there any other women in the office, professional women?
Beebe: Yes, there were art people and all very nice, very nice people, but everybody was more or less swallowed in the campaign. Of course, the faculty resented it, you know.
I had to arrange all kinds of things to get publicity for what Stanford was doing and interrupt academic work and come on hands and knees and say, "Look, if we can get you some more money, we can get out of your hair and you can do it."
There were some interesting things about it. I remember interviewing the people whose names have slipped me now, but had just given a million and a half to Stanford and were feeling a little bit dazed. [Laughter.] I think it was Dave Packard [co-founder of Hewlett-Packard] who had gotten it away from them. This donor had never been to college. He had made all this money. People want to do something, you see. They scrape and scrape and scrape and they want to make money. Then they have it, and so what now? They like to do something that counts.
So I finally pulled one foot out and got with the news service about the time that I decided I wanted to go on half-time, because I was pretty tired.
Biagi: This would have been when, now?
Beebe: Well, let's see. I left Stanford. I retired voluntarily at 66. That was in 1967. I had been working half-time about a year, I think. I felt maybe that would do it. But I got this writing block. That was one of the things that fund-raising job did. I would put out something and it would go to 12 people, and 12 people would have a different idea about how it ought to be changed, and all sit and mull over it. It somehow made me—I couldn't write very freely, and I found it was getting very painful to write.
The news service was good. Meanwhile, we had young Bob Beyers. He had worked with Lyle Nelson in Michigan. He was great. He was a workaholic and he had to take over a staff that were all older than he was. They all had funny crinkcrankums, too. I thought he did a wonderful job. I had him down at Westridge to dinner. I always said I helped Stanford to get him, because he had never been to California. He didn't think much of it. He'd been driving up and down El Camino, and he said that night, when I had invited Lyle and some state college people down and we were having a party up in my aerie at Westridge, he said, "I have this chap I'm trying to get to come to Stanford." And I said, "Well, bring him along." He didn't know anybody. He said, "I just sat there and looked out the window. This is California. This is good!"
Biagi: He liked the view and the surroundings?
Beebe: Yes. He could see this California wasn't just El Camino. So he came in his thirties; he's been there ever since. There's something going on there now about him that's another story. But he put Stanford on the map. He was wonderful. He made it a real news service and made it open its policy. Of course, that's very hard to do in academia. It's a job that's never done, but he was very firm about it. He's been accused of making a cult of it, but the newspeople liked it. He was always available and said, "Everything is open."
I would have fun, too. People would call from the press and say, "Is there some way I could get to So-and-so?" They thought they had to get around the publicity office. I said, "Look, we're all newspaper people here. Go to it, but you may find you'll need us, because they often say if you're going to bring somebody, come protect me from the press." So they would say, "Well, well, this is great stuff!"
Biagi: What was your experience working on the other side, being a publicity person and a news-service person?
Beebe: Well, I had some jolts. I had some jolts up at Sacramento on that. I was bawled out terribly one time by Earl Behrens, Squire Behrens, you know, of the Chronicle. He was a good
friend of mine, and I depended on him a lot of times when I was with AP. As the Sacramento people would come down and hold a meeting in San Francisco, I guess they wanted to get away from Sacramento. So of course, Behrens would be there, and he knew all the background and everything about it. He would say, "You'd better check in on this meeting," and I didn't know the background at all. He was always helpful and good.
Biagi: Let's turn over the tape.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Beebe: There was a group in the corridor with some issue that I cannot remember now, but the press was all going for one of my Democratic legislators on this subject, and they asked him this question and I answered it. I felt as if I was one of them. [Laughter.] The answer, you know. The poor legislator, who was not one of our brightest, grabbed my reply and said it. Behrens turned to me and said, "If you ever do that again, we'll never speak to you. We're not asking you! We want what he says." [Laughter.] That taught me, of course. I realized I shouldn't, but you know, I was so newly there from the press and sort of felt as if I was one of them.
I also had other experiences. I did the Stanford fund-raising one time. I remember I was talking with a local newspaperman whom I knew, and I was telling him about how we wanted to get a good crowd for this occasion, whatever it was. I didn't think he was quoting me by name. He quoted me by name as if I was trying to pretend that we had a bigger crowd than we did, which upset me a little. I thought, "I forget. I must remember. I should look to the real PR people who know how to do this, and learn how to do it, because you can't just be big buddies at all with your old friends. You're in a different position," and it's one, of course, that I had never wanted to be in. But if you're in it, you'd better do it and do it as you should. So you learn. I was learning all the time, I guess. As I say, I guess it was really good for me in the end.
Biagi: What was your relationship with your former colleagues in the new position?
Beebe: It was good. It was very good. Mary Ellen Leary, by the way, was covering up there and they asked her about me. She said, "Well, bring her up. You're going to be lucky to get her." Oh, yes, very good. Morrie Landsberg, of course, from the AP, I was an old friend of. In fact, he had soothed my feelings because when I went up there, Hale Champion was putting me on without really the budget to do it. So they pulled a fast one, as, I guess, often. My official job was in the employment department, and I didn't like that. I said, "I don't like that kind of thing."
He said, "Well, it's done, and we need you and the salary is good." And I certainly needed the job, but I never did like it. I wanted to get off of it, and he thought he could arrange it, but then he went on to another job, and I guess I never did get off of it. That's one reason, too, I think I was glad to leave and come back to Stanford.
Biagi: What's your recollection of Mary Ellen Leary, working with her up there?
Beebe: I saw very little of her, you know. Our ways were different. I was working hard and so was she.
Biagi: Is that where you first met?
Beebe: Oh, no. I'd known her, of course, because she was on the San Francisco News, and we'd meet on stories. I was the outside man. At AP, I knew everybody. That's what Hale
Champion said. No matter who came up to see the governor, "Oh, you're here!" It was good, and it was good for contacts and for jobs and so on. So I survived.
Biagi: Ready to take a rest now?
Beebe: Okay. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: What I thought we could do now, just briefly kind of summarize your interests since you've retired, what you've been doing. What kinds of things have occupied your time?
Beebe: I thought I could tell you down here what I did. Travels, brief second marriage, year in Europe, auditing Stanford courses, classics, history, music, screening applicants for journalism fellowships, volunteering at the Suicide and Family Crisis Center Hotline, and so forth. And with my Pinkham family progeny, I have now one surviving step-daughter, who is in her seventies, in poor health, in Nevada, whom I've seen recently, and I have three granddaughters and four great-grandchildren, all of college age. I see all of them I can. Some are in Saratoga, some in Carmel, and a daughter in Nevada, where I was last weekend. I took her daughter up to see her, because I knew she was never going to get there, and she's got a car that wouldn't even go that far. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Tell me a little bit about the history of your white Dodge convertible in the driveway right now. I think it's marvelous. How did you come to buy that?
Beebe: Well, I always liked convertibles and had them. I had a Buick Roadmaster convertible when I was commuting back and forth from Sacramento. The cops would stop me on late nights and say, "How old is that car?" I'd say, "Well, it's not new. It's a little like me." "Well, now, you know, you were going there. I was following you. You were going 58, then you were going 60, then you were going 62, then you were going 65. Then I stopped you." [Laughter.] I think they were mostly just lonely. I never got a ticket on that. [Laughter.]
Biagi: So what made you decide to buy this car?
Beebe: Well, you see, after our ménage à trois there at Westridge broke up and my older friends went to the Sequoias (a retirement residence). I was again a floater, but I escorted them to their graves. They both lost their minds and it was a long thing. I spent quite a bit of time that way. Of course, I had other friends that didn't drive, and I had a good, solid Buick four-door that I could take old ladies to dentists with. After they died and I was going to get another car, I thought, "I'll probably only have one more, you know. My license, I don't know." I just got a new license, by the way.
Biagi: You did? How long will it last?
Beebe: 1992. That ought to take care of me, I think. Somebody encouraged me. I said, "I'd like to have a convertible again, but it seems a selfish thing, kind of." But I wanted one at least with a back seat. I looked at them, looked at the new Chrysler and rode in it, but it didn't have room. You couldn't meet anybody at the airport, you know. You couldn't bring a suitcase back. I just saw this in a lot, and it appealed to me, and I took a chance on it.
Biagi: That's a white Dodge.
Beebe: It's a white Dodge. It's the last convertible that Dodge made. The next year, only Chrysler made it.
Biagi: What year is that?
Beebe: It's an '86. It does have room in the trunk and it does have a back seat that two people—that I could take a couple to the movies or somewhere, two friends, if I have to. I wouldn't take a long drive.
Biagi: Let's talk. I love your stories about that car. Let's talk a little bit about two things we haven't touched on, which is your second marriage, first, and then the group that you came to live with briefly in Westridge.
Beebe: I was with them for 60 years on and off, really close friends. I don't think we want to—I mean, do we want too much time?
Biagi: Tell about the relationship that you had with them and how you came to live with them.
Beebe: That was how I came to California in the first place. Haven't we covered that?
Biagi: Yes, you told me all about that, how you came to—
Beebe: So this group of Stanford people stayed close together always. They had taken me into their bosom. I was somewhat younger. Elinor Cogswell and Harriet McCausland were kind of the center of the group and friends on the periphery were there a lot. When I came back to California in '33, I went to live with Elinor and her mother, and I was living there when I got married to Edwin. So when he died, I went right back there. Harriet McCausland—there were two only-daughters whose mothers were widowed, and they supported them and they didn't marry. They had little houses about a block apart. So it was kind of a community thing. We were together a lot. Then when Edwin died and I had that house and we were going to have old age, we decided this Westridge was opening up and we would live together. Why not? Sell our houses and go there.
Biagi: This location, what was it?
Beebe: Up there?
Beebe: Oh, it's beautiful. Westridge is—now you couldn't touch it, you know. It's million-dollar estates there now. Our house is probably worth half a million now, and we built it for about $50,000.
Biagi: When did you build it?
Beebe: In '52.
Biagi: You had two and a half acres?
Beebe: Yes. The land alone, now, is way, way up there. In fact, we sold the place for $75,000.
Biagi: In what year?
Beebe: In 1970, when we had to break up and they went to the Sequoias retirement home. Elinor always saw what was coming. She was very smart about it, every move. And we would
have never done it if it hadn't been for her. She wanted to do it. It was fun, but I was not in a position to go as early. We were going to do it later for our old age, but theirs came a little sooner than mine. We were going to wait until our mothers were gone. Mrs. Cogswell was still living, and it was she who said, "I'd like to know where you all are going to live, so why don't we just go ahead?" So the three of us and one mother, who lived there for several years before she died, she was a great asset, too.
Biagi: Live "there," meaning Westridge?
Biagi: This was one house?
Beebe: One house. We built it and designed it, and Harriet McCausland, an English teacher, was the architect. She drew the plans the way we wanted it. But I was going to want separate quarters, too. We wanted to each have our own quarters and then, you know, a living room. We had a little dining room, but a big living room and big kitchen, a four-woman kitchen. One thing I insisted on was two sinks. "You want the hot water? I'd like a little cold." We had two sinks and also an ironing board that came out, that you didn't have to go and get. We had lots of entertaining there. We had three sets of friends besides our many mutual friends. It was, of course, a very good thing for me.
I wanted to see Europe. I still had never gotten back to Europe, you know, and I was wanting to do that. I still had Mother, whose health was failing. She was living in Los Angeles, alone, by that time. She had opposed my marriage to Edwin. I never blamed her for that. Imagine her beloved daughter falling in love with a married man with grown children your age, almost? Of course not. So there was a breach there, which I was glad to heal at the last, and we took trips together, and did.
Biagi: She never came to live with you at Westridge, did she?
Beebe: Oh, no. Well, she came to visit. Oh, yes. But we couldn't have lived with Mother. I said Harriet's mother was a martyr, and mine was a Tartar, but Mrs. Cogswell was a darling. She could get along with anyone, and she was quite an asset, I thought.
Biagi: So that was a real supportive living arrangement that you had.
Beebe: Oh, yes, it was. It was a very good one. All the time I was scrambling, you see, they had already moved. I said, "I can't come in on it yet. I don't know whether I'm going to want to. I want to go to Europe. I don't know about Mother, the money, and I'm not ready to settle down, anyway. I don't know just where I land." So they said they could do it without me and went ahead and built it. But we arranged it so that I could build my little aerie on top of the carport later. So I had that decision to make.
I never wanted to marry again. Edwin was my husband forever, and I just couldn't imagine ever marrying again, but I also knew that I certainly wouldn't if I moved there. It was too comfortable, it was too pleasant. We were very congenial, we read aloud, and we had our fireplace and we had our friends. For three middle-aged women, our men friends said, "This is going to be good, these strong-minded—the roof will go right off." We never had any trouble. We put in the kitchen a whole pile of our stuff, you know. We had three households of things, besides other household things. We had seven carving sets and four double boilers. We'd hold one up. "Is this dear to you?" "No." Out it goes. And we amalgamated our furniture and had it upholstered kind of together. It came out really beautiful! We had four bedrooms and four baths, three and a half baths.
But I had all this to do after Mother's death. I came and said, "Well, I'd better pay my third of the house." I'd been living there, anyway, and paying expenses, but "I'd better do that first." Elinor said, "No, Mother's—we're going to have to have a nurse in the guest room, and I think you'd better get your upstairs built, anyway, and pay for it as you can."
So with the proceeds from the Atherton house, I had the studio built over the carport. "We ought to have an architect for that, because we don't want it to look like a sore thumb." He did indent it into it, and I had a lovely aerie with fireplace and books. It was altogether comfortable. And I knew that would mean that that was always a place to come to, and it really was.
Biagi: How did you meet your second husband?
Beebe: Well, I'd known him since 1924. He was part of the periphery of the group. I knew his first wife better than I had known him. He was in history, and he went to Washington and the State Department during the war. She was in bad health, and she died there in Washington. Then he met a second wife there, very wonderful gal, red-headed, warm, just what he needed, and she was a scholar. She was in the State Department.
The first thing he did when he brought his Eastern red-headed wife, everybody came to Westridge, you see, and we knew them and liked them, and they had a big place in Los Altos Hills. We were there at parties.
Biagi: Was he teaching here then?
Beebe: He came back to teach here, because they couldn't stay in the State Department because her field was Near East and his was Middle Europe, and they were about to get assigned apart. They could see that wouldn't work. The Hoover Institution made a place for her, and actually, I think she was the only full professor they ever had. They didn't have professors there. I had to argue with them about that at Stanford when I was writing something about David. I knew he was right.
Biagi: For the record, so we'll have it on tape, his name was?
Beebe: David Harris.
Biagi: Middle name?
Beebe: Well, he didn't like it. It was David W. Clancy Harris, but he didn't like that. He wanted to be David Harris.
Biagi: He was a historian?
Beebe: Yes, and a real scholar. He read everything in the world. The deference that was paid to him by his colleagues was a pleasant surprise to me, because he was a very modest person, but very professorial. He had studied in Europe. He had come from Texas. He didn't want to talk like a Texan. When he came home from Europe, he had what Elinor called "a god-awful accent." [Laughter.] And it sounded affected to some people. I think newspaper people thought he was, and I'd thought he'd gotten awfully professorial. He seemed to be very, very formal.
After retirement, I wanted still to get to Europe. There was a good bargain to England. Of course, I'd been there on the coronation and seen just a little, not much. So I wrote to them and said, "Don't you want to get your noses out of books?" They had just retired.
Beebe: David and Christina.
Beebe: They were married 25 years. She had had a marriage before and a son, who was no good. When they retired, they were going to go to Beirut, because she had three books in the mill from the Near East. They sold their place and sold everything and were on the way to Beirut when the war broke out. They only got to London. So they stayed in London, and they had been there a few years.
I wrote and said, "Why don't you get your noses out of books? I want to come to London on this trip. Why don't you come and we'll drive somewhere?" And they decided they'd like very much to do that. They had been thinking about it, anyway, but they couldn't either one of them drive. He'd had cataracts, which was not done the way it is now, and she had hurt her foot. So I went, and we drove together for 18 days, and had a perfectly beautiful time.
Biagi: What year was this?
Beebe: That would be '70, I think. This was just after the breakup of Westridge. I moved temporarily into a friend's house, Roxanna Ferris, who was part of our group back down in the old neighborhood, and I just perched in her bedroom while I tried to find—I was going to find an apartment, but I wanted to go to Europe, too.
So then it was the next year that I spent the whole year in Europe, and I had time to prepare for that, of course. I had to write to people and I had to fix my money. I thought, "What better?" My idea was that you could go. I had my pensions by that time; there were three of them and Social Security. I could go and stay someplace that was fairly cheap until my money would accumulate and no expenses back here at all. So I had my things in Roxie's garage and did that.
I was there a year, and I saw the Harrises were going to take a cruise, and they said, "Why don't you join us?"
I said, "Well, I'll jump on your boat when it comes through Gibraltar, because I'm going to be down there." There was cholera breaking out there, but I did that, and they got me a passage on this ship. It was a Welsh school ship, a nice one. I joined them at Naples and we cruised over to Ephesus and back up to Venice, and it was a very pleasant cruise. Then they flew back to London, and I saw 20 countries in Europe and was there a whole year. I spent a month in Malta and I had a friend near Nice. I rented an apartment there. There was a school for intensive French, and I was still trying to get my French more fluent. I went to that and stayed there for two or three months. I didn't know anybody in Germany, so I took a boat on the Rhine for four days.
It was just fun, because I could do it by myself, but I was scared, too, part of the time. I was with friends about half of the time and half the time I was on my own. It's no fun to be in a country whose language you don't understand. You're sitting in an airport and they're making announcements and you don't know what to do. [Laughter.] But I did get really a good year.
When I was about to come home, I came down from Norway to London and stopped at the Harris' again just before I left, for a day or day. Christina was telling me that she was in cold terror because David had this aneurism and he might die at any time. I said, "Well,
Christina, David looks pretty sound, better than you do." And she said, "I've had the flu and it's been bad, but I think it's going to be a nice spring. I'm going to be all right." But it was cancer, and she died within a couple of months.
David then came back here and went to Channing House, because he felt his health was not good. His old friends all rallied round, and I was freest of anybody, so I "rallied" a lot and felt very much at home with him.
Biagi: Channing House is?
Beebe: A retirement home in Palo Alto. It's 15 floors and it has all the things. So he put his money into that, because he knew he might need care. But we took some trips in California. He was delightful, and he was delightful in Europe, too. On a trip, they both had bad health, and part of the time she'd say, "I don't want to go tonight," and sometimes he'd say he didn't want to go. I said, "I will do the driving, and you will show me what I'm looking at because you're the scholars and I'm the ignorant person." He took me to cathedrals and Christina to castles, and we really had a nice time.
Biagi: So how old was he then when you got married?
Beebe: Well, I was 72 and he was 73. So he wasn't at all formal. I found that he was just delightful. And to my surprise, you know, in 26 years, I was still Edwin's wife, and so I just thought I was consoling him. So after two years, when he suddenly wanted to marry me, I was bowled over, and I think he was, too. But we did, and it was just simply incredibly delightful. I was incredulous the whole time. Every single day, it seemed to me, I found out something new and nice about him, and he seemed pleased, too.
And the aneurism. He wanted to get it taken care of before we got married.
Biagi: Where was it?
Beebe: It was right close to the heart, an aortic aneurism. I said, "Well, I suppose I'd feel that way, too, if I were you, but I hope not." They wouldn't operate in London. They said it was fairly stable and was very dangerous to operate, and they'd rather not. So he wanted to do it, and I said, "Well, it's yours. You don't have to do it, but if so, please let them know that I'm not just another lady at Channing House. I want to have access to get to you in the hospital." That was after we knew we cared, but we hadn't thought much about marriage particularly. But it just kind of had to be, because as we said, in our circles, you know, people were all living together if they wanted to, but it wouldn't be with us.
So we went to the doctor's office, and he said, "Now, I'll talk to him and then I will call you in and introduce you and explain that you are pretty special." So I sat there and sat there, and pretty soon he came out and motioned this way [to the left]. I said, "What's the matter?" He said, "He won't do it." I said, "Thank God!" He said, "It's pretty stable." So he said, "We'd better get married right away." I said, "Why don't we just do it? We talked about a little wedding. There's no such thing. It's a nuisance! Let's just do it. Let's just go to Nevada."
Christina's family was there, that is, the son's wife. The son's wife had been deserted, but Christina's grandchildren and her new family were up there, and he wanted to take some of her jewelry. I said, "That's a good excuse. We'll go up there and we'll just get married. Then you keep your place." He had his apartment and all his money at Channing House.
We hunted, before we went, for a little place right close down near Channing House. I said, "I can't say, 'Dear, I will take you out of all this,' because I can't run a home now." We got this little place about a block away, so we had a split home. I said, "If kids can shack up without
being married, we can be married without shacking up if we want to." [Laughter.] That's what we did. So it was very nice, because, you see, if I didn't feel like eating, we could go over and have meals at Channing House; I didn't have to cook. But if we wanted to be by ourselves, we could. And more and more and more, we were living in this little place, just very tiny. He had said at first, "I have grave misgivings about this place." If there hadn't been a little roof, suspended platform from the garage, I don't think we could possibly have done it.
Biagi: So did you get married in Nevada then?
Beebe: Yes, we did. It was very funny. I went and paid obeisance to the courthouse when I was up there this last weekend. That was very amusing, too. We went to a judge there, you know. You go in, and we sat on a bench. [Laughter.] There was a sign there saying that criminal cases had precedence. We were sitting there waiting to get in. There was also a funny group that was also waiting for marriage, came up and started talking to us. We chatted with them a little bit. So finally, we went in and we were married there. I found that, of course, I knew the judge, I knew friends of his. I knew all the judges. We went around and we had a pleasant chat.
We came out and started down the courthouse, feeling a little dazed, and this bunch that had talked to us suddenly appeared from nowhere and threw rice at us. I thought it was quite sweet.
Biagi: Yes, it is.
Beebe: So it was really nice.
Biagi: You were married for—
Beebe: A year. Then suddenly, the aneurism began to swell, and that made everything wrong, so he had to be operated on. I said, "Please go on living!" He said, "I have every intention of it." But there were too many other things. He did, he got through the operation all right, but there were too many other things. They told me they'd have to cut his leg off, maybe, and I said, "I can't give permission for that. You'll have to get him conscious enough to say it by himself." Anyway, everything went wrong, so he just lasted about five days.
Biagi: So then did you stay in that little house for a while?
Beebe: Yes, I did for a year, but it was a rental. You see, with the two places, we could give parties in Channing House, and he had all his things there. He had his correspondence. I could have gone to Channing House, of course, and I could have gone to Sequoias. Elinor and Harriet were still there, out near Westridge. They are both very good retirement homes, but I just am not an institution person. And the landlord was not good there, and I felt very exposed all of a sudden down there.
Meanwhile, this place was being built. David had been very scornful of it. He said it was an architectural atrocity and a rabbit warren. [Laughter.] It was just building when we were there and we went by it. But I found that I was eligible to come, and I could buy in here.
Biagi: So you moved here.
Beebe: I moved here in '76. I can't believe, you know! I thought David and I would totter off into the sunset together. I supposed I probably would live a little longer than he, but I didn't think it would be that short. And here it is, '76, '89, 13 years I've been in this dump! [Laughter.]
Biagi: Now, it's not a dump. Let's be clear. It's a very pleasant place.
Beebe: Well, it is very pleasant. It is a pleasant place, a very good place to land, and it's kind of half and half. I have automatic watering, and the neighbors are very nice, and we have the pool, which is great.
Biagi: You're really on the Stanford campus.
Beebe: Yes. I thought I'd be going over to all kinds of things, but I find I don't much. For a while I had bad back trouble, and I couldn't walk without pain. Much better now.
Biagi: Well, that's good. What I'd like to do now is kind of go over the global issues and talk about your perspective on things, and talk about Lorena Hickok. I hear you pounding on the book.
Beebe: [Laughter.] Yes. I think I'd like to get that on the record.
Biagi: Let's do that. Okay. We went through last time and talked about Lorena Hickok and that relationship and your knowledge of her. I want to go back to it. You are feeling strongly that you want to go back to it, so let's do that now.
Beebe: Well, as I outlined to you briefly before, while I was at the AP, Edwin had suggested that Mrs. Roosevelt would be a very unusual person. He had known her when he was covering the Smith campaign and Roosevelt was still governor. He said she was a very unusual woman. At that time, Roosevelt was a handsome, rich man, rather lightweight in politics, everyone thought, although Edwin found more there and wrote some pieces that were later considered very perspicacious. So I suggested it to the AP, and I did go and interview her, and we got a good story, because she said she hoped her husband wouldn't run for president, it was so bad on the family. She said it was bad when he was governor, because her youngsters were teenagers, and you couldn't get into their heads that they mustn't take privilege, you know. "Oh, come and park right here." "Don't do it!" "Why not?" You know. [Laughter.] She said, "You are not the governor! He gets these privileges, but you don't." She said, "All the time I'm having to try to tell them that they must keep down, that they're in a special position. With the president's office, it would be much, much worse." And she hoped that he wouldn't run. That was a good story. There were other things that she tended to ask that I thought would be worth going into. She said, "Come to Hyde Park." I interviewed her in her New York apartment, and I had the date made.
But meanwhile, I had decided suddenly, when I found that Edwin was ill and had left the Star and gone to California, I thought he had left his family, too, I just decided I would come out here. I couldn't get transferred to San Francisco.
Biagi: So that would have been in what year?
Beebe: That was in '32. I was in New York in '32, and it was in the fall of '32, near Christmas, that I came out here. Lorena, then, got the assignment to go to Mrs. Roosevelt, and some of the people in the office.
Biagi: Lorena was working with you then at the AP?
Beebe: Yes. Oh, Lorena was established. She was a star. She was covering politics, very unusual, and she had covered football when she worked in Minneapolis. She was a very mannish-looking gal, but everybody liked Lorena, and I did. I had seen quite a little of her.
Let me see. This time business always bothers me. But we were together out in that mess of the Lindbergh case, and it was at that time a thing which I hadn't talked about at all, that I learned that she, if not a lesbian, she had experimented and she had lesbian friends and so on. She was ill there, and I went and got her things. She had gone off without even an overnight, which I didn't do. I got her stuff, and apparently was feminine and mothering, and suddenly I felt creepy. She wanted to hug me, and it wasn't good, you know. I didn't know much about it. All that I knew was what my mother had told me about terrible diversions that were different. So Lorena talked to me then about it, quite freely, and told me about her background, that her father had raped her and beaten her. Later, by the way, he tried to blackmail her in the White House. We were good friends. I thought, "Well, what am I afraid of? After all, I'm a strong girl." There were never any further incidents. Our friendship held, and she, I gather, had experimented both ways. So I guess nowadays the bisexual thing is quite usual. My great-granddaughter tells me half the people she meets at San Francisco State are bisexual and say they are. But it was all kind of new to me.
Well, when I left New York, Kent Cooper, whom I'd never met, (he didn't wish to meet people in the New York office; it would be an unfair advantage over staffers in other cities.) Through intermediaries, he said that if I was—I, of course, didn't say why I wanted to leave. I said I was tired. I'd worked for seven weeks, seven days a week on the Lindbergh case, and I was tired.
I liked California and I thought I didn't want to stay in New York; I wanted to go to San Francisco. Well, everybody wanted to go to San Francisco. But if I wanted to go to California, I could go for AP assignment on the Hoover train. Hoover had been defeated and was bitterly going to go back out to Palo Alto to lick his wounds on the Stanford campus in the home that they had built here, which is right close to me here, by the way. I don't know if you've ever seen it. The president of Stanford has it now.
But when I got through, then, I would have to go wherever they put me. I could do that assignment and then take some time off and see my friends in California, and then I would have to go where they put me. I said, "No, I want to stay in California, so I think I'd better just leave." Because if you refuse assignment for the AP, you'd never get anywhere. You'd better salute and say, "I'll go," or else you're done for. You'd never get another chance to go anywhere. So I thought I'd better just leave. That's what I did and came out here.
Biagi: So you did go on the Hoover train? Did you?
Beebe: No, no, no, no!
Biagi: You just came here? I wanted to clarify that.
Beebe: I just quit the AP. I resigned and came out here on my own to see what was going on with Edwin. See, again, personal things had always interfered.
So it was many, many years later, you see—recently. When did this book come out? Just a couple of years, a year or two ago.
Biagi: Hang on one second. Let me stop this tape.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Biagi: So when you're talking about the book, you're talking about The Life of Lorena Hickok by Doris Faber.
Beebe: Yes, E.R.'s friend, by Doris Faber. I got a phone call from Boston, from a man who said he was an AP man in Boston. His wife was going to write a book about Lorena Hickok, and he'd like to introduce me to her, and understood that I had known Lorena and would I talk to her about it. And I did. I said, "You're going to write a book about Lorena? She's a very interesting person." "Yes." Would I write her a letter about her? Well, of course, I now hate to write anything, but I sat down and wrote a letter about Lorena and how she was. She asked me a lot of questions about her, so I wrote. Of course, I said she was very mannish-looking and always kept her hair long because she thought she'd better.
So then she phoned me again, and she said, "I'd like to know more about this. You kind of skirt over it. You talk about her being mannish. Was she a lesbian?"
And I said, "Well, she had lesbian friends." I then did tell her about—of course, Lorena was dead and had no family. I did tell her about that incident on the Lindbergh assignment.
After she got this out of me, she said, "Now I've got it!" She said, "I wasn't able to pin this anywhere, that she was a lesbian. Now I've got it." Then she told me she had these letters. She'd gotten interested in her letters to Mrs. Roosevelt, and she had found these letters which were very hot.
I said, "You are going to make a book about this?" I said, "Of course, I suppose you can. It'll make you some money, if that's the way you want. You'll get notoriety out of it. But you didn't tell me that was why you were getting this." I was furious.
She said, "Well, somebody else will get it if I don't. It's there, and I'm going to do it." She said, "My husband doesn't want me to do it, either." Well, she went ahead and did it, and then she sent me the book. I will have to say that it could certainly have been much worse. She did work on the book, and I'm sure she did, and she didn't, thank God, use my name. I said, "If you mention any of the stuff that I've told you in my name, I think I'll sue you. I'll say it isn't so. I'll back out." So what she did was put this section in there.
Biagi: Page what are you—
Beebe: On page 78, about, "A younger reporter, half a century later, would insist on not being identified if her recollections were to be recorded, so we'll call her Barbara Hanson." Then she goes on with this. There's a little truth in it, but—
Biagi: Do you feel she quoted you accurately?
Beebe: Well, yes, some of it. Yes. I told her how Lorena said, "Baby, I'm going to teach you to play poker and swear." I said, "Well, I don't think I'm going to need it." I just chatted, had chatted to her, and I had told her, too, that I was carrying around The Well of Loneliness one day, and she saw it. She said, "I wouldn't carry that book." I said, "Why? I think it's interesting." It was about lesbianism, and it was new to me, and it was popular at the moment. So I realized that she was very ticklish about the subject. That was, of course, before the Lindbergh case, so I didn't—she hadn't made for me. I did then tell her—I had told her about this incident. But as she relates it, it's just not right.
Biagi: What's wrong with what she says here?
Beebe: "Hick, upon arriving, felt symptoms of the flu, and Barbara left their room rather late at night to purchase some aspirin and a toothbrush from the hotel's drugstore." [Laughter.]
We didn't have any drugstore! There wasn't any hotel. I mean, she made up all these details because she knew she couldn't call me back again. But sure, we had grabbed some vacant thing over the A&P store for the AP, you know. It was a dump. Lorena was going around in her pajamas. I guess she had bought them somewhere; I don't know how.
"'When she returned, Hick,' as Barbara would put it euphemistically so long afterwards, 'made for me.'" Possibly I did say that; I don't know. But anyway, I said I felt creepy. "Rebuffed by a terrified Barbara." I wasn't terrified. I felt upset, you know. "Hick not only apologized, she also explained, 'You were just so sweet to me that it undid me.' Then she proceeded to talk sadly and soberly for some time." That's true. "She spoke of her miserable childhood and told Barbara about being raped by her father." That's true. "Wryly, she described longing for respectability still propelled her into such follies as buying English golfing shoes at Abercrombie's." I never heard anything about that. All this stuff. "She even poked fun at herself for her haste to seize her Minneapolis opportunity." I don't know what she's talking about.
Biagi: So she's attributing those things to you, and you didn't talk about that.
Beebe: No, I don't think so. I don't think so. But then she described some girl from Wellesley. I did tell her about how Lorena always liked respectability and she had this rich friend in Minneapolis from Wellesley and she used to kid her about Wellesley. Well, you could read it. I don't know. It's upsetting.
Biagi: Let me ask you this on a broader topic.
Beebe: Then she also brought my own name into it here. Oh, yes, she said I was leaving to get married. [Laughter.] Well, I didn't get married for eight years, so that, of course, wasn't true, but she names me here.
Biagi: What page?
Beebe: On page 91. "Meanwhile, the third woman to be hired by the agency's New York bureau among nearly 30 men was given the candidate's wife, so Katherine Beebe went to the Roosevelt country place in Hyde Park. " I didn't go there. I went to her apartment in New York. "She wrote a few pieces, but her heart was elsewhere." I didn't write anymore. [Laughter.] "Not for creamed chicken and green-pea luncheons had she come East." What's that got to do with anything? Nobody ever said anything about anything like that. "And at the beginning of September, she quit, to marry in California. Anyway, and how could Hick not have known it? Shortly afterwards, Mrs. Roosevelt herself joined her husband in Arizona."
Biagi: You're saying that several of the smaller details are rather fabrications, you think?
Beebe: No, it's just I think a poor job of what was told her. But what I objected to, of course, was her—I felt so angry at myself not being astute enough, as she was talking about the Roosevelt letters, to know what she was up to. She had gotten this lesbianism from me by guile, and I felt that it was just a mean trick, and that I was stupid not to catch on. But you see, the AP man in Boston and all, I thought we were kind of among friends. I wasn't on my guard, in other words.
Biagi: Critics would say that that's what the press does. Critics would say that that would be the role of a press researcher.
Beebe: Yes, but for a fellow worker? I don't know. I mean, I don't think they would.
Biagi: Did you wonder about the ethics of it?
Beebe: Yes! I don't think she—if she had told me, I guess maybe I probably would never have told her about the lesbianism. If she wanted it for her book, okay. Then there's your ethics problem. But I certainly felt betrayed. So I never acknowledged the book. I think perhaps I should have, because, of course, she could have used my name and she could have done it even worse, I suppose. But I think the liberties she takes with details makes me doubt her performance, although I have these clippings about the book. I read them with some interest.
I have been glad to note that in future, as you get the references to these letters, there's never any mention of her name at all or of the book or the author, although it got its publicity. I'd like to know. I'd very much like to know what the sales were and whether they dropped off. I think everybody's glad to forget it, because Mrs. Roosevelt's image is so firmly good, that people don't, I think, want it besmirched. And I think that's happening, and I'm glad whenever I see evidence that that's just as you gave it to me, telling about the people in the White House who think that she didn't have proof.
Biagi: You mean Eleanor's [Roosevelt] press corps.
Beebe: Yes, her press corps, and also some of these reviews say that, well, they're all kind of glossing it over. Mrs. Roosevelt I had good relations with, too. She always remembered me when she came out here. She was really just a marvelous person. I asked her about Lorena and how she was, and she always remembered. What have I got on that page? Something that I thought might be of interest.
Biagi: You rode along with her to the airport.
Beebe: Oh, yes. She was so casual with everybody. That's when I was working for the Democrats. I don't know how it came about, but she had gotten away from her Secret Service people, and I guess I took her there. No, because there was a driver. But anyway, we wound up we were alone, talking in the back seat. She found out that it was about the time I was 55, going to be retired. She said, "I think the AP is just dreadful!" [Laughter.] I think she'd gotten some of it from Lorena, too. But I see why the press did like her. She was so very frank, and she was so very good to the corps. She was a good person. So I just resented this whole project.
Biagi: Let me ask you two things that are related to that. About the issue of ethics and the press, was there any kind of standard of ethics that you see observed throughout your career in the press among reporters?
Beebe: Well, I think everyone had his own. It varied with people. We had terrible people who would do anything, you know, and you were working with them. And there were people who were very fine, just very fine. I remember George Wallace with white hair on the Kansas City Star. They said his hair turned white trying to be a newspaperman and a gentleman. [Laughter.]
When the Guild was organized, I went with the group that was organizing it, and said that I was interested in standards and morality of the press. I thought if the Guild would take a stand on this, it would be a good way as we were trying to get our feet on the ground, and they thought I was talking about love nests. [Laughter.] They looked at me strangely. I found out later this was a communist cell that was already working with the Guild, that we had to throw out later.
Biagi: But you never did, at that point, establish a standard of ethics?
Beebe: No, no, no. That didn't get anywhere. As I say, I think it was an individual matter, because, true, it was a rough, tough business, you know, and stealing pictures and climbing up—I remember somebody describing a newspaper woman as somebody who would rather go and steal a picture from the second story than ring the front doorbell. [Laughter.] And it was laughed about.
Biagi: Was that true? Was that an accurate portrayal, do you think?
Beebe: I don't know. I didn't know her. But I suppose—
Biagi: But I mean, as a journalist, in general?
Beebe: Oh, well, yes. You were sent out by the city editor, "Get it. Never mind how. I won't ask." And I did that one time. In a criminal case, a neighbor came in and chatted with me and took me into the person's house, and I saw the pictures I wanted and I said, "Oh, I'd like to have these." She said, "All right," and she gave them to me. I was quite sure that the owner never would have. I took them back to the office. "Where did you get these? Nobody has got anything like this!" And I said, "Never mind." [Laughter.] And he didn't ask anything further. So if I had stolen them, it would have been fine with him. I didn't. I sent the pictures back to her and never heard anything.
Biagi: Did you use the pictures?
Beebe: Oh, yes! Sure. We had an exclusive on it, and everybody had wanted it.
Biagi: But the neighbor gave you the pictures.
Beebe: The neighbor gave me the pictures. I never did meet the owner. I got away before she returned. I was nervous. I was afraid she'd get home before we got away. [Laughter.]
Biagi: In that sense, what's the furthest you ever went to get a story?
Beebe: I had my own standards. I remember a stubborn girl that didn't want her picture taken. She was about 13. I had a photographer with me. He wanted to steal her picture, and I wouldn't let him, because I identified with her. I would have been just as stubborn myself, and she was alone there. I didn't take it.
You're asking me to confess my worst thing, and I can't at the moment. I can't think. It would probably have been on the Oakland Tribune, because the Hearst city editor there was one of these hammer-and-tongs guys, you know, and I had set out to please. He had come flapping over to say, "This isn't sensational enough!" [Laughter.] So I would whoop it up a bit.
I guess I told you about the time that I layed into this chap in Kansas City that was supposed to have run over and killed someone.
Biagi: No, I don't remember that.
Beebe: Yes, I think it's on tape.
Biagi: Tell me again, because I can't remember.
Beebe: It was a hit-and-run affair, and they had caught this sportscar, this greasy-looking mustached playboy, and found something on the front of his bumper, and they thought they had him. The city editor came over. I was not out on the story, but I was writing it. They said, "Lay for him!" And I just wrote this story as if he'd done it. No reader would have doubted that he
had done it. Some of them kidded me. They said, "You convicted him on his moustache." [Laughter.] I made him look pretty awful.
Biagi: By implication.
Beebe: The next day they discovered that they had the wrong man. So I felt bad about that, but not responsible, because it wasn't my assessment that he was guilty, and I had my directions. I was sure he was. But I felt bad about it, all the same. I don't know. I knew people—I think newspapermen, as a rule, are always sort of for the good guys in their hearts. I told some professors at Stanford one time that I thought that the newspapermen's standards were a little bit higher than theirs. They were sort of shocked. Someone had said to me, "Never mind. You want statistics, I'll give you some. It's only for the press." And I said, "Well, we wouldn't do that."
Biagi: Wouldn't do what, now?
Beebe: We wouldn't make up statistics. We'd get facts. But he thought as long as it was the press, it was all right. But I liked the newspaper people. The character of them changed, of course. They were roustabouts and always out for a free meal, but likeable and usually pretty brilliant and interesting in the old days. Then when things got more secure, it brought in a much better standard there. People wanted education. Didn't want it when I came. "I suppose you went to some journalism school? We'll have to teach you all over." [Laughter.]
Biagi: When people talk about ethics in journalism, they typically use the word, for instance, "fairness." Was there an ethic of fairness, would you say, in your career?
Beebe: Oh, well, of course, the Bridges case was an outstanding one, when the papers all ganged up on him.
Biagi: Harry Bridges. Because the waterfront employers were trying to get him out of their hair and deported to Australia, and they would have used any means. The papers backed the employers up, and Bridges would talk to nobody but the AP. And that is one reason I liked the Associated Press. They said it was dull and so on, but we didn't ever have an editorial policy. I had a friend who would say, "What does the AP think?" [Laughter.] I burst out laughing, because, of course, we were a headless horseman. We served papers of all complexions, and they didn't want any ideas from us; they wanted the facts, please, as they were.
So for all of almost 25 years with the AP, nobody ever suggested, you see, that that be done. But the papers did it. They did it and they did it in their news columns. Very often Hearst papers would get people who were of like views, so putting their chauvinistic and "ra-ra" views in came easy to them.
Biagi: Let's go to another issue, then, that's related to Lorena Hickok and what you were talking about there. That is the issue of women working with men in a man's world. Would you say that's an accurate description of your career: you were a woman working in a man's world?
Biagi: Oh, certainly was. I suppose—I remember a chap I didn't care for, nobody did. He said, "When you were a newspaper woman, you managed to be a lady." [Laughter.] That's a term that I don't—my mother said they talk about washer ladies; let's not talk about ladies. But yes, I never saw any reason that one had to be particularly tough. I mean, I wanted to get the facts, and people like to talk about themselves. Sure, I'll tell you what I have done, yes. I have urged people to talk, but I have never promised to keep a thing out that I didn't. But I certainly have gotten them to talk very freely. Then when it's come out later, they have been upset by it.
Biagi: What is your best example of that, do you remember?
Beebe: Or they would say, "Oh, I didn't want that in." I'd say, "But you knew you were talking to the press, you know." Sometimes, of course, if there were really reasons for it, I mean, you know, danger, FBI stuff, I would. Theoretically, it's for your desk to decide always, but I think reporters decide on their own quite often. "What your city editor don't know won't hurt!" [Laughter.]
Biagi: Is there anything else now about working in a man's world?
Beebe: Well, have you read the book, the New York Times book about all the affairs going on in the office and so on?
Biagi: The Kingdom and the Power, you mean? Gay Talese's book?
Biagi: Yes. Is that accurate?
Beebe: I don't know. I suppose it is. I remember a woman working on a Salt Lake paper, who was kissing one of the men in a stairway and was seen by somebody else's wife, who was horrified. She said, "Well, can't a Jane kiss a Phil?" [Laughter.] But you see, I was strictly Victorian, and with all our college group, we were. We didn't do it, and we were proud of not, because only recently had we gotten rid of chaperones, and we wished to show that we could behave on our own. But of course, I know it always went on, and I suppose it did in newspaper offices.
I did tell you, I think, when I went to work at the AP in San Francisco, that the boss' wife came in and said, "I think you're so brave to work down here with all these men!" I looked at her, you know. I didn't know what to say. Bravery wasn't involved.
I think men, the reason they wanted not to have women was that they knew that they would be upsetting, because sex and men, you know, it's there, and it would be a distraction to them, and many of the women would probably be glad of it, and I guess that's true. But then, life is like that. Why shouldn't they have to do it there, as they do all over in business? There are men and women. I, of course, was quite straight-laced. I just didn't. But then, you see what happened to me. I fell in love with a man in the office, which, when I first talked to Leo Levy, he said, "We don't want women for three reasons: they'll fall in love, or they'll get married and have a family, or they'll blow up some way." And I did all three in my career. But as far as being able to work with men on a completely platonic basis, it's possible, because I always did it. After all, I never worked with Edwin. I mean, he was way out on a different plane. But of course, men would try, but I never—I just, "No way," you know. I didn't want to put them on the—
Biagi: Did you feel—
Beebe: No! I just—no. When you were working, you didn't do it. And I think they respected it.
Biagi: Did you feel that professionally you had to compete, that you had to be as good as the men you worked with?
Beebe: Oh, you'd better! Yes! I do. Yes, because they always thought, you know, the women could do little side stories and whatnot. You were usually assigned because, "God, we haven't got anybody else." And then you'd turn it in.
I remember the first story I brought in out here in San Francisco. It was on a rate hearing, you know. The boss said, "Well, that was a good story." I thought he had a note of relief in his voice. I guess I told you he probably thought I'd have a ruffle around every paragraph. [Laughter.] You see, the nice part is, once they find you can do it, they have to each one find out, and that gets a little bit monotonous after a while, to meet the same attitude and have to convert one after the other. Then every new job, you have to do it all over again, because it's set in their mind.
I think there must be change now, because women have taken over. They're in there; they're in all the jobs. So I don't think it is the same at all. I'd be very interested to know how some of the younger men do feel about women. But you know, there were no women allowed in the Press Club in San Francisco. Well, there were a lot of floozies going up and down Powell Street, and they felt if they let women in, they'd be in there. There were living quarters in there, you see.
Biagi: So you were never a member of the Press Club?
Beebe: No! I was never a member of the Press Club. I was invited with one other, Jane Conant, when this woman war correspondent, Maggie [Marguerite] Higgins, came and spoke to the Press Club. They called her and called me to see if we'd go, because she would otherwise be all alone. Jane and I said, "Are you going to go?" I said, "I don't know. What do you think?" [Laughter.] She said, "Well, I will if you will." So when we went in, there was applause all over the room. I guess it wasn't long before they let women in. Of course, I left before that was done. There were no women in the Press Club. There were no women in the Washington Press Club, as you know.
Biagi: No, for a long time.
Beebe: But I knew other women that were very much respected. I met a number. Usually they were settled in the job on the paper and had families at home, and they established themselves as capable workers and not sexpots. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Looking back on your whole career and all the things that have happened to you, what do you think was the happiest time of your life?
Beebe: Of course, I was delighted on the Oakland Tribune. I thought I was big stuff. I got to be rewriting all the crime and yelling, "Boy!" and they would come. But the Star was the best, I think, until I got involved personally and it was not comfortable for me at home or anything. But the Star was a family paper. There were wonderful people there, and we had a lot of fun all the time in the work and in the place. It was a whole community, and it stood for good things in the community. Of course, there's always another side to this, always clay feet, but on the whole, it did what a paper's supposed to, I think. It covered the city and stood for good things and promoted them. The people were fun to be with. We had parties and dances. It was a camaraderie which I think you get nowhere else.
When the Washington correspondent Roy Roberts came home to become managing editor of the Star, his wife was very unhappy. She liked the newspaper crowd and had liked them in Washington. So she came home. In the new executive job he had, she had to go to all kinds of functions with what she considered very stuffy people, so she would give a lot of parties for just the press, because she liked them better and they were more fun.
Biagi: Do you think that's true?
Beebe: Yes, I do. I do. I can't think of any group I'd rather work with, because they're supposed to be cynical, but they really, I think, are always with the good guys. They're romantics at heart, you know, and I think idealists, too. Of course, there are some awful crumbums, sneaky people, that would do anything. Then now, I suppose, with the competition and the ambition and the scramble, it may be a rather different picture. I'm not sure. But I still think that you're a spectator sportsman on the world, and your job is not a very lofty one, particularly, but if you do a good one of getting information right and spreading it to the people who should have it and can use it and do other things with it, I don't think you have any reason not to have self-respect.
Biagi: What was your most unhappy time professionally?
Beebe: At the fund-raising at Stanford. After all that long career, to find all that prejudice.
Biagi: What do you mean, prejudice?
Beebe: About women, that they were coffee-breakers. Oh, yes. I think there at one time I was to get some information from one of their big donors, it was immediately decided a man would have to do the interview. They would get somebody else to make the approach. I'd interviewed presidents! It was laughable, but unpleasant. Also, the whole business of the fund-raising. You talked about the ethics, you know. Here came this New York firm to tell you slick ways how you got more out of people. "Don't let them write you a check for $500. Oh, no. You've got to find out somebody who's in their same class and you must get them to pull them along with their interests and get half a million instead of $500. This is how you do it." Well, of course, they have to have the money and so on, but I just didn't like it.
Biagi: Was there a time in journalism that you didn't like, as a day-to-day reporter?
Beebe: Let's see. Well, I was so anxious to get started. Oh, yes, of course I didn't like my society job at Madison, Wisconsin, and I did it as a favor to my roommate's husband, who was managing editor, and had to have one. I wanted to go back to Madison. But of course, being society editor of that crummy little paper, the work was no good, but the people in the office were. So I was not too unhappy there. But as far as the job went, it was the pits. I only stayed three months.
Biagi: These are kind of ticking off questions I should ask you in no particular order. What effect do you think the women's suffrage movement had on you since you lived through it?
Beebe: I didn't live through it, really. The belligerent suffrage movement, you see, was over and we got the vote in 1918. My first vote could have been in '20, but I was not yet 21, so I had had no part of it. That fight was over. I still, I think, shared sort of the picture of the suffragette as being a big, belligerent, unwomanly character. I think I probably had that prejudice.
When the feminist movement started, the more recent one, you know, I told you I turned down the job to be national correspondent for women in Washington. Well, it really wasn't that yet. I was told I could make it into that, and I'm sure I could have, and it was just as that movement was starting. So when it did start, I thought, well, I would have been in the thick of this.
Biagi: You didn't tell me about that. I'm not sure you did.
Beebe: I thought I had.
Biagi: Tell me briefly, if you could.
Beebe: Well, when I was working in New York, a friend of mine from Kansas City, a woman, had been on the Star for a while doing some special things. There was an oratorical contest she was running, and she was a very good person. She wanted a job. I asked about it, if there was any place. I had heard in the office, something that there might be a place in Washington, and they said, "Well, we have a place. Could Frances fill this Washington slot?" He'd known her and he didn't want her. He said, "But I'll send you to Washington."
Biagi: What was the job?
Beebe: Well, it was sort of women's affairs in Washington.
Biagi: Would this have been in the thirties, then?
Beebe: Yes, that was in '32. I always had spent my time getting away from the women's affairs, and I said, "Well, I can see that there's a future there, but I've never liked women in herds." [Laughter.] "I don't think I'd want to spend my time working just with women's things. I know it's all right, but it's just not for me." And besides, I wouldn't take the job that I'd been asking for her. I would have felt, "Grab it myself?" You know. So I didn't go.
Biagi: So to be associated with just one kind of reporting.
Beebe: Yes. A friend of mine, who was a very fine newspaperwoman from Kansas City [Vina Lindsay], did go to Washington and she had the women's page on the Star, and she did things with it that lifted it up quite a bit. I think I have a hint in here at the end of what I wrote there about ideas on—
Biagi: I don't have anything else.
Beebe: You don't? Oh, I know where. Here it is. This is when Wilson Hicks wanted me to go to Hollywood.
Biagi: That's in 1933?
Beebe: Yes. I had come out here. I was then working in San Francisco. I didn't want to go to Hollywood, of course, particularly on account of Edwin, but I didn't want to go down there, anyway. But then they said that this job in Hollywood was with this new service of SNS, and they told me something about it. So I said, "Why couldn't it be done in San Francisco?" And I wrote this letter about that. Down here is where I said I wanted to be in the news, and I also said I had ideas about the news.
[Reading] "Of course, this would be in the feature field. I'd enjoy working on a full-time basis for a while, but I'd never want to get too far away from the news report, which is always my real interest. I have some theories about that in relation to women readers I'd like to expound some day, if it wouldn't be thought presumptuous. I believe women are actually repelled by the phraseology and treatment of the important stories of the day, though they really would like to be informed about them." I found that out when the Republican Convention was on in Kansas City, I was talking to some women friends and telling them informally what was going on that I was finding out about. I was a neophyte. They said, "We never were interested in politics, but this is interesting."
"The radio is way out in front, I fear, in knowing how to tell things simply and conversationally and how to seek out and put into the news the gossipy details women like. Most of us women newswriters hold our jobs by virtue of the fact we have learned how to write like men. Perhaps that is exactly what we shouldn't do. But filing editor and copy desk guys are usually alike, and we must write to get our stuff through these wickets. I venture a guess that many a filing editor goes home at night and tells his wife about some story he has hung up, that's stashed away, because he felt it should give way to more momentous things. Yet when he talks to her, he instinctively knows she would like to hear about it. Would an educational campaign help, do you think?" Nothing came of all this.
Biagi: Are you saying there, too, that some people respond to women differently than they do to men as reporters?
Beebe: I'm not, but I think they do. Oh, yes, I do. And I think you have an advantage at times, because I think men are more likely to—lots of people are more likely to talk confidentially to a woman. They feel she's sympathetic, and they will.
But what I'm talking about is the phraseology that is the jargon of journalism and politics and public affairs, which kind of repels women. They'd like to know what's going on, but do you have to put it that way? You know. I've always felt—and that's what Vina Lindsay did in Washington. I think she did some of that. She managed to tell, in a more conversational way, what was going on, as you would if you were talking to a woman friend, instead of putting it into the jargon. I have always thought that that could be done.
My example of that was, "Here comes a picture. Oh, see the funny hat!" You know, some outrageous thing. That's women's page. That isn't! That's men laughing at women's features. Clothes are serious business to women. In France, I found that men took an interest in women's clothes. They didn't say, "Let the little woman go out and shop." He went with her. It was important, and he didn't play it down. He thought that was an important thing.
I think that women's news—well, of course, now there isn't any such thing. They've thrown it out with the feminist movement. But women are still different from men, and I think their approach and their interests are different. I think there's a real field for women writers that know this, if they could just get the permission to do what they would like to do. Of course, some of them write slop all over the page. But I really think that that hasn't been looked into enough. Men are still dominant and they still have these old hoary hangups about women and their "inferior, secondary, silly little interests." Even though now a lot of men are working for women bosses on papers. I wonder how that goes.
Biagi: It would be interesting to know.
Beebe: Yes. I've heard young ones talk about them, just as they would about the men bosses in our time now. Some of these young journalism fellows, you know. That's interesting to me.
Biagi: Over the years, which journalists' work have you admired the most?
Beebe: Of course, people like Walter Lippmann. I remember the first radio commentator, Pauline Frederick. She was good. Of course, I never saw better newspaper stuff in my life than Edwin G. Pinkham's, but I could be prejudiced. But no, I mean, there were plenty of people who felt the same way. Whom did I like to read?
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Biagi: We had time to think now. Do you want to add any names?
Beebe: I've been talking instead of thinking. I did say Scotty Reston, because he managed to stay a reporter and still be up there. I'm trying to think. It's a very good thing to do. I think lots of men are spoiled. Good writers are spoiled by being shoved into executive positions that they're not fitted for. They think they have to because their wives want them to get ahead. So I think that more prestige to the people who have made it in writing, whose writing is outstanding, should be accorded. I guess perhaps it is now, but that comes more through television, I think.
Russell Baker, I said, on the Times, I enjoy. But my mind seems to be a blank about people I admire.
Biagi: Your contemporaries that you admire? Were there reporters that worked with you really liked and admired?
Beebe: Yes, but they weren't spectacular. I remember a man named Knickerbocker, who was of the New York Knickerbockers. He came out and was covering a beat in San Francisco, and he had the most beautiful English. With all the Press Club casual group, his English just sounded like a drawing room always. It was perfect. He was a real patrician, but he couldn't write very well. His writing was rather pedestrian, but his speaking, he should have been in the television age. He would have been wonderful.
Biagi: You often said that you loved Edwin's writing. What was it you liked about it?
Beebe: Well, he had humor and great knowledge, and he was called the best political prognosticator in the country. But he wrote with a—why is it the things you care about, you don't find words for? I remember a story he wrote about Andy Mellon. You know, he was a stingy old guy. What he said was, Mellon would stroll through the park and the squirrels would come up. "They think he's going to give them something." [Laughter.] That kind of delicate thrust, you know. It's all you needed to say.
Biagi: If you could describe the world of a journalist and why you became involved in it, what is it that you liked about the profession?
Beebe: Well, I liked being able to see a variety of the human scene. You get to do that. You see the very rich and the very poor and the very brilliant and the very stupid, and all the drama that there is in life, you have a ringside seat to the world. It seems to me that that's a very good job.
Biagi: Is it the future you ever envisioned for yourself as a child?
Beebe: No. I can't say that I did. I came into journalism because I had to pick a major as a junior when I went to the University of Wisconsin. [Laughter.] I remember reading Louisa Alcott, and there was a picture of her shaking her fist at the bird, saying she was going to be somebody some day, she was going to be a writer. That had sort of impressed me, but I don't think I yearned to be a writer particularly. Of course, I'm not a creative writer. I know the difference. I was married to two of them. [Laughter.]
Biagi: We'll stop.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: Talk to me, Kay, about your parents, about your mother and father and their influence in your life.
Beebe: Oh, yes. Well, I was thinking the other day that probably one reason that I never got anywhere much, as far as fame and fortune went, was that it was so pleasant and easy, and I was always supported by them. I don't want to go into too much detail, but Mother was midwest, her father was a doctor in the horse-and-buggy days, in Indiana, and they had a big house with nine bedrooms, usually filled with preachers, and all the girls went downtown and charged everything. They had everything they needed. My father, as a young man, was in Chicago and had his suits made in London and was quite a good dancer and whatnot. They had a lovely marriage.
Then after my brother was born, they had this terrible disaster; he lost his job. The head of Peabody Coal Company's young son was not behaving, and they thought they'd send him out to Chicago, and the only decent job was my father's, so they just gave it to him. Father wasn't particularly trained for anything, and so they were in real poverty. Mother lived in a tenement for a while, walked three floors down to a pump in the yard. The first job Father could get, he said, "I don't think we can live on this." And she said, "I'm coming." She had had to go back home with her baby and be a "widow" for a while. So it was difficult. Anyway, she was always the activist, and Father was the idea man.
After I was in college, finally, she always wanted to do things. She was writing for magazines, and she sold something for $25. A big deal! [Laughter.] Then she learned to swim. She would do everything, and her friends would follow her. This time Father had the idea that it was World War I and she liked mathematics and the budget and running the family, and so he thought that she could be helpful to women who were working for the first time. "Well, what would I do about it?" "Well, the big bank ought to be interested." It was the biggest bank in Kansas City. "Go to the biggest man in it."
So Mother was ready to put her hat on and start right out. But she thought about it a lot, so she finally managed to get her interview, and the man was interested. She went into the bank and had quite a career. She was getting on toward fifty.
Biagi: What position did she have in the bank?
Beebe: She was the manager of the women's department. After a year, she was really kind of a publicity person, I guess, what PR would be now. She wrote letters. She had a big acquaintance in town by that time, and she wrote longhand letters to everybody, joined clubs and made speeches. She got little pamphlets out about home budgets, children's allowances and whatnot. After a year, the deposits in the women's department were doubled, so then they were convinced. The top man had had trouble with his board, and Mother had had to go face them all (when her proposal was being considered.)
She'd had another bad time with a mastoid and lost the sight of an eye. They asked her about it. "Mrs. Beebe, is there something the matter with your eye?"
She said, "Well, just the same thing it was with Theodore Roosevelt's. No handicap. Just as much." She didn't have any sight in it.
So she then became an officer of the bank and helped organize the national organization of bank women and had much publicity. She just loved it. Father was quite proud of her, too.
Biagi: What was your father's role at this time?
Beebe: Father had the same job for years, because after he lost that one, he went up the ranks with Swift & Co., which is the meat packers. He had to work down in the bottoms. There was a big flood, and they had to go to work in boats, into the third floor offices down there. But he was the credit manager for Swift & Co., and he kept that job until he was about ready for retirement.
They had their home out at the lake then (suburban Forest Lake, Kansas). He was looking forward to that. He got a strep throat just before antibiotics, and died in three days. I was out here working and came home then, in December 1926.
Biagi: All this time you had gone to college and you were looking for your first job on newspapers. How did you get that job?
Beebe: I'm sorry to say I got it the way a lot of people did then. Somebody spoke to somebody on the Journal, which was the number three paper in Kansas City, I guess to the publisher of it, and said that I was ready for a job. I went down and they gave me one as women's club editor.* I was dying to get away and work elsewhere, but there it was. I had to have experience, you see. Of course, what I wanted was news all the time, and I had told the city desk about that. I did a couple of assignments on the city desk while doing these women's club items. So when I saved up $100, which I thought was enough to go, to set out on my own, and said I was going to go, the city editor came over and said, "Now that you're through with the women's desk, how would you like to come over and work for me?" And of course, that's what I had wanted all the time, but I had already resigned, and I thought that was strange, anyway. So I left.
Biagi: You went where?
Beebe: I went to Salt Lake City. Mother had a sister there. She said, "Look. It's all right for you to go and try your wings, but you haven't tried to do that. Why don't you stay with her for a while?" So I did. I had an awful time. There was a Depression on. I got some space work from the Catholic city editor of the Mormon paper, so much an inch.
Finally, my money was about to run out, so I went down to a teachers' agency and said I'd take anything provided the railroad fare to it was no more than $25. It wasn't more than that. I went out to Wyoming, and that's when I taught. I lived in a school house and the kids all came to school on their horses. I was in seventh heaven. I always wanted to be way off from everybody, and I certainly was. It took two days to get there from the railroad station at Carter in a sled stage (in March) with a prairie top. It was only for three months. I was asked to come
*The managing editor said, "We only pay women $15 a week for the first two weeks." Then I was raised to $18.50. KB.
back, though. I was also recruited by another district after a party in which I turned handsprings. [Laughter.] I said, "They don't know anything about my work."
"Well, you've got a lot of spirit. We'd like to have you." But that was my whole experience. (In teaching, which I had never wanted to do."
Biagi: Your frontier experience.
Beebe: Except two days of substituting in Salt Lake City, which was terrible. I got junior high school, and I couldn't keep them in line.
Biagi: So next what happened?
Beebe: Then I went back home. The next job I got was back in Madison, Wisconsin. My roommate's husband had become managing editor of the La Follette paper there, and he needed a society editor. He knew I hated that, but he needed one badly, and I thought it would be fun to go and be with my roommate. It wasn't particularly, because everything had changed. She had her first baby. And also the managing editor didn't stay at the Capital Times very long. So from there I did go up to Fond du Lac through the University of Wisconsin, on proper sort of recommendations, and I was a beat reporter there for a while on the Fond du Lac Daily Commonwealth.
My ambition was to have a job on a paper in California, and when I was in Salt Lake there, I wrote a letter every single day to a different paper in California, and I got some nice replies, but no jobs.
So then I left Fond du Lac and again went home. I had an offer through a friend at Wisconsin who had been at Stanford and had a group of close friends out here (in California). He wrote to Elinor Cogswell about me, and she was at that time working on a local paper here. She had wanted to be a critic in New York, but wound up being the editor of this Palo Alto paper and making quite a name for herself. She got me a job at Stanford University as secretary to the head of the journalism department. At that time his job was head of the journalism department and, on the side, doing all the publicity that was done for Stanford. So I was supposed to have a chance to do that and also have connections with papers. I was there for nine months. Through him I did get my first real job on the Oakland Tribune, where I was for two and a half years.
Biagi: How did that come about that you found a job at the Tribune?
Beebe: I went up with letters from Stanford's Evvy Smith to everybody and, of course, they all said, "What experience have you had?" In those days, they didn't want any degrees, you know. "Suppose you went to some kind of journalism school? We'd have to reteach you." They didn't want it. And the only open door was always through the women's department, because that was the only place. So I, again, was at a society job.
It was funny. The society editor was really a character. I used to come down every weekend back here at Stanford and laugh about Mabelisms, such as, "Is there a north and south equator?" [Laughter.] She knew everybody that was anybody.
Biagi: That was Mabel who?
Beebe: Mabel Williams. (She had been an assistant to the departing society editor.)
Biagi: So you worked for her?
Beebe: No. The managing editor said, "You girls work together." Well, we did. She hadn't gone to college, so she felt that that was a social feather in one's cap for her to be "co-editor." She'd say, "Well, So-and-So went to college back east. Did you know her, Kay?" [Laughter.]
I was all the time trying to get over on the news side. I finally did manage it, because a new paper started up. Hearst started a paper over there in Oakland, and took away all our best rewrite men, and they were scrambling for help. So I pushed hard to get a chance there. Roy Danforth, the city editor, said, "Well, we usually start people out in our suburban bureaus."
I said, "Well, I don't know anything about that. I do know the office." So they very gingerly tried me out, and I loved it. I knew all the names of all the bandits, and I would say, "Boy!" and they would come. They knew I had the front-page story, and I thought that was big stuff. I was there for two and a half years.
Biagi: What kind of a salary were you raking in?
Beebe: I had a good salary. It was a big salary. It was $45 a week!
Biagi: What year would that be?
Beebe: I came to Stanford in '23, I know that from this letter. It would be '24 and '25. And at Stanford (in 1923) I had $85 a month, you see. I found it adequate. I lived on the campus. Fifty-five dollars a month took care of board, room, and everything, and that gave me $30 to spend. I had clothes left over from college. So when I got $45 a week, you see, that was pretty good.
Biagi: And you were living in Oakland or San Francisco?
Beebe: Oakland. I would come down here to Palo Alto every weekend.
Biagi: So for two and a half years, then, you worked in Oakland?
Beebe: You know, I don't think we really regarded things the same. I didn't think of a career that I was doing. I wanted to support myself. I liked journalism and I liked doing it. But after I'd been there, I think a year, I was still on society, I had a chance to drive back east. A friend of mine had been given a car by her brother in Chicago, and we thought it would be nice to drive east. So I went and asked for a leave of absence. I can just see the managing editor, Leo Levy, tapping on the desk and saying, "My, I wish I could do that." [Laughter.] "Well, that's what you get for being managing editor!" I said.
Biagi: Had you ever driven a car before?
Beebe: Oh, yes. I had gotten a Ford, a Model T Ford with side curtains. I used it on the job. The garage took me a couple of times around the block. I don't think we had licenses. I think we were blanketed in later. I've never taken a driving test that I know of, except the written ones now, of course.
Biagi: Is that right?
Biagi: How did you learn to drive?
Beebe: When I bought the used car, I said I didn't know how, so the garage men took me around a few times, to make the sale. I didn't take any lessons. I don't think there were any. [Laughter.] You just had to find somebody who knew how and tell you. So I had that rattly old Ford and named him Ulysses. The nicest car I ever had. I had more fun with it.
But she had this beautiful Buick, and she hadn't learned to drive but a month or two, and we started for the midwest. Well, the managing editor said, "Well, if you want to go, go ahead. If you get ready to come back to work, let us know and we'll see if there's anything for you." He wouldn't give me a leave of absence, but that didn't bother me a bit.
Biagi: What an adventure!
Beebe: It was. The only pavement there was between here and the midwest was in cities. After we left California, we didn't have any pavement. Across Nevada, you would make about ten or fifteen miles an hour. The dirt road would be just a rut, you know.
Biagi: Where did you stay?
Beebe: We could always get to someplace. We stayed in some very strange hotels. I had said we'd better have what were not called sleeping bags then, but so we could sleep out. In fact, we did, on the pine needles of the American river, before we got out of California. We slept out one night. It was very nice. I said, "When it gets so hot in the midwest we may want to sleep out somewhere instead of inside." But we didn't have to hurry at all. All through the west, you see, there were resorts. People came by train. There were resorts, nice accommodations, little lakes and things. If we liked it, we stayed two or three days. We took a month to get there!
Biagi: So at this time were you corresponding with your father?
Beebe: Oh, with Father and Mother, yes, all the time. I wrote them.
Biagi: I remember you telling me about a letter that you wrote that talked about what you wanted to do and what kind of a job you wanted to have. Is that the letter that you wrote to your dad?
Beebe: Oh, yes. I saw this again last night. We were talking about why a newspaper career was good for you. I was trying to think about that and think about what I did like about it and why it was good and why I enjoyed it. I read this letter. This is amusing, because I was 22 at the time and apparently was rather snippy about what kind of jobs I wanted. Father had said, "Well, what kind of job would you like?"
I wrote back, "You were interested to know just what kind of job I would really like. I remember that phrase very vividly for I have thought of it a number of times since when I was tempted to pick to pieces one kind or another of legitimate employment. I have tried to analyze the things I would want and find they are about these: absorbing work, which means putting the best you have in you into it, using your head at high tension; ethical work, which means you are harming nobody and that your effort is for an end beneficial to humanity as a whole; interesting work that entails meeting and dealing with people and having a variety of contacts; well-paid work in which one could expect to become a personage of importance and unquestioned standing in the minds of fellow beings; and work that leaves time for one to enjoy active play." Of course, that was my idea at 22. It wasn't so far wrong. You certainly have contacts.
As for the ethics of it, I was thinking about that, too. People always had the idea that papers are so brutal, newspaper people are such boors. I know my mother's friends, when they heard I was a newspaper reporter, said, "What?" I was very shy as a child. "How could she possibly do it?" But I have found that, for the most part, the working press are always on the lookout for good guys and they always like to see them win, and they always are pleased when they do write something that is helpful.
While we know all the "Establishment" influences there are—and I certainly saw that in times like the general strike when San Francisco newspaper publishers simply got together and censored everything. They couldn't censor the Associated Press, but we had to stop sending them stuff. We could, since they were local. And they complained to New York about our stuff. There was a time when the strikers would talk to nobody but the Associated Press.
Nevertheless, on the whole, I think that you can't work with a better group of people to be with. They're good guys. They like to have things come out well. You're very often doing things which are good. You're writing about people in trouble and they get help, and you're writing about movements that are good and give some publicity that is helpful. Of course, you're writing about crime, too. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: So after your cross-country trip and you're off for the summer now.
Beebe: Yes. I was used to having summers free, and it seemed the right thing to do. Of course, my family was delighted to have me. Father would have loved it if I had just stayed home. They were very tolerant parents. Father would say, "Mother, we don't own these children, you know. They have their lives to make." So they always backed me in whatever I wanted to do—if I could find out what it was.
So then I wrote back. I loved California, and I wrote to see if I could get, not my old job; I was still trying to get on the news. But the managing editor said that I could come back to society, but not the news. So I did come back, but it wasn't long after that that they had this bad time, and I did make it to Rewrite Row. That was exciting to me*, because I was, at last, on a paper in California, doing news and showing them that I could do it. Their expectations were so low, you see, they never thought a woman could do anything. You got more credit than you really deserved. I used to tell young women later, when they were thinking about it, to be careful about that, because if they were half good, you know, or nearly as good as a man, they would get the big head. "My, my, we have such an exception here!"
Biagi: Were you the only woman on the news side?
Beebe: Oh, yes! There weren't any women around. There was a time that something happened there, when they decided to have women copy girls. Of course, the men picked cute little creatures that got everything all mixed up. I can remember one little one, meeting her in the john, she said, "Can you show me the way out of the building?" [Laughter.] And she ran out and never was heard from again.
That reminds me, too, that when I first went to work at the Oakland Tribune, they always put the women off somewhere. Society and clubs were as far away from what was going on as possible. They put us right by the restrooms, and there was this trail of men all day. I wondered if they all had diarrhea! [Laughter.] It seems that they had a smoking problem with insurance, ______________________
*It was a fast-paced job. "The Trib" was an evening paper, with seven editions and two "makeovers." Street sales, with shouting newsboys, were important.
and the only place they could smoke was over that tiled floor. So the minute they were free for a minute, they were all heading for this men's john.
Biagi: What did the newsroom look like at the Tribune when you were there?
Beebe: Rewrite Row was right along. The desks were all attached. It was a desk and your typewriter going like lickety-split. It was front-page stuff. The city editor was red-haired, whom we called "Pinky" Norton. His name was Stanley Norton, and he was really just the type that the movies had. He'd been a Hearstling, and he was yelling at everybody. He would come over and say, "You're right on the deadline!" which isn't very helpful. [Laughter.] But he did appreciate good work, and he was so pleased when you could be fast and get it out. I had disliked him very much, but I thought, "Well, if I can please this gent, I can probably get along anywhere." So I wound up doing it, because when I went back to Kansas City, I got a letter from him, which was practically maudlin, saying he didn't have any newspapermen that were as good as I was, and so on. Of course, I felt good, because what I was earning was the same that the men were earning. In fact, I got a raise, but I was told, "For goodness sakes, don't say anything about it, because the men wouldn't like this, you know. But you're worth it."
Biagi: What was your marvelous salary?
Beebe: I think I got $48.50 by that time, besides a car allowance, too, which wasn't very big. I can't remember exactly what, but it was quite adequate for me.
Then there was always the thought that the men were supporting families and they should have more. I was all ready to say, "Anytime you tell me that you are giving the men more when their wives have new babies, then I'll listen." But they never did, you know.
Biagi: What made you decide to leave the Tribune?
Beebe: My father died suddenly and, of course, Mother was alone. I just never thought of anything else; I had to go back to Kansas City.
Biagi: That was what year then?
Beebe: That was in 1926. Father died just before Christmas. I went home, of course, and stayed with Mother. We had to do all the things you do. Then there again, I was to get a job. I got a temporary one with some publicity group that was doing a campaign for a university there for a little bit. It was some friend of hers from high school days that had it. I did that and hated it, you know. I felt it was shameful. Anything that was PR—oh, no! But it did show me the way to the papers and the city desks, and I tried very hard to get on a paper. Of course, they just said, "We've got a woman," or, "We don't take women. We have a society editor," and that's what you got. I tried quite hard with the Star and I took clippings, you know. They just kind of listened vaguely, but I didn't get anywhere.
So my mother, who was then in the bank and well thought of there, was talking to an executive about this and about my being with her, and that I hadn't found a job. He said, "Does she want to work on the Star? We'll see about that."
Biagi: Who was that she was talking with there?
Beebe: She was talking with Mr. McLucas, Walter McLucas, who was a very intelligent, very cultivated person.
Biagi: Was he the manager of the bank? Was he the president?
Beebe: There were many officers. He was not the top man. That was old Bill Kemper, W.T. Kemper, who was, by the way, a big Democrat. Mother was a rabid Republican, so nobody could figure out how she got that job. [Laughter.] But she appealed to him and he saw that she had an idea and that it would pay off, and it did. But Mr. McLucas was in the hierarchy there.
Meanwhile, at the Kansas City Star, William Rockhill Nelson had died, and the paper was being administered by three universities—Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. It was sort of in limbo legally. Therefore, it was in the banks' control pretty much. Therefore, when Mr. McLucas told them that they should pay attention and give me a hearing down there, he said, "Just go down and see."
I felt awful, because my whole idea was that you had to do it on your own. I felt I had done it on my own. But I felt that I had to live there with Mother, who was alone, living out at the lake, and coming in town every day. She didn't know how to drive a car then, either. So I was just feeling terrible.
I went down and had a very pleasant interview with Ruby Garnett, who was the Sunday editor. Oh, he talked to me for an hour all about the paper and everything. I went away, and nothing happened.
So Mr. McLucas stopped at my mother's desk and said, "Did your daughter get the job?"
She said, "Well, she hasn't heard anything."
"Well, we'll see about this." And again I felt just ashamed, you know. I thought, "What a way." But after all, I had worked on the Kansas City Journal, you see, and I could have gone back there, but that would have been for $18.50 a week, and I could have gotten that job. That was just too much for me to swallow.
So I went down when the Star called me next day and they took me on. I thought, "Ah-oh. This is dreadful." And I was in Coventry for a while. They just let me sit!
Biagi: Was it your mother's influence and the bank's influence that had something to do—
Beebe: Oh, yes. The bank just told them to take me, and they had to and didn't want to. I knew that. I felt that everybody on the paper knew it, too. They had women's departments. They said I could do schools, that they had had a woman who did schools, but she had left a year or so ago and they didn't do anything about it. [Laughter.]
So they pulled up a desk from the basement that was the most awful rattletrap thing. Mr. Nelson had thought it was a good thing for everybody to be in view. "We won't have little cubbies for things going on." So everybody was out in the open in this one huge room. My desk was waaaaaaaay in the back by the back stairs, as close to the outside as they could get me. [Laughter.] I sat there for a day or two and found out about schools, and thought at least that would give me something I could do on my own, sort of.
One day the big business manager and the publisher came up the back way, and the publisher said, "What is that wreck there?" They said that was this desk for me. "Take it away," he says. So when I came back from lunch, there was no desk at all.
I said, "Where's my desk?"
"Well, they didn't like it, so they took it away." So then I had to sit in what they called "the pit," where rewrite and the reporters were, which was all right, and I never did get out of it. I had to sit there without much to do for a while.
There always comes a time when they need something, and it did, and I did it. The city editor said, "Did you have experience somewhere?" Remember I had been talking to him before and taking him clippings.
I said, "This is my sixth paper." [Laughter.]
Well, I think it was about six months before I really got my feet on the ground.
Biagi: There were some big stories in Kansas City at the time, weren't there?
Beebe: As I look back on it, it was a very good paper. It was what papers are meant to be. It was the voice of the people, you see. Old Mr. Nelson had had the idea that he didn't want to join country clubs, he didn't want to have people coming in and asking favors. He was very independent. At one time the theaters were trying to put pressure on him to do something and threatened to take their advertising out. He said, "Go ahead! Take it out!" They did, and they nearly went broke, and they had to come back on their knees. So it, of course, got arrogant, too.
But we had things like the penny ice in the hot summers for the poor, when everybody was suffering. Remember there was no air-conditioning in those days. You'd go out on assignment and the car was sitting in a lot with gravel, and it would be a hundred [degrees]. But we didn't know any better, so we just took it.
There were big varieties of assignments. The thing happens when you tell by the assignments you get, you see, and I gradually went up and I was getting big stories. When they had an upset at the University of Missouri, because they were about to kick the president out, a sex questionnaire had been circulated by the abnormal psychology professor, and he had asked the girls, the "flower of Missouri's young womanhood," if they had sexual experience. This was, of course, anonymous, but my goodness! The president very nearly lost his job. So they said they'd like me to go down, and whom did I want to take to help me, you know. You knew where you were when those things happened.
Biagi: Did they feel that they could give you any story? Was there any special treatment of you because you were a female reporter?
Beebe: They kept finding out that they could. There was a very nasty trial, a crime trial, of a man who had kidnapped the girl next door and buried her in a cave in his yard and kept her there for some weeks. Fritz Hinkle, the city editor, came over and said, "I'm going to get criticized for this, but I'd like to have you cover it, because it's going to be pretty nasty. We think you'd be able to give us everything printable we could have." So that was flattering to me, too, and I did it. There was criticism, you see. Oh, my!
Biagi: What type of criticism?
Beebe: "You've given an assignment like that to a young woman?" You know. You couldn't get around that. The newspaper office was no place for a woman, anyway, you see.
Biagi: Why? What was wrong with women being in the newsroom?
Beebe: Well, it was rough, tough. It was the men's place. This is a "nice girl"! And there was a reputation of sob sisters and so on. But after you got established and you could do it, and you weren't upset by anything and you didn't throw your weight around and you didn't ask help and you didn't get shocked at anything and you didn't notice it, they just got used to you.
But then, as I said, they gave you a great deal of credit. Through the bank, Mother heard that the managing editor had gone and sat on the country club porch and bored everybody for 40 minutes talking about how they hadn't wanted to take me and how wonderful I turned out to be. So, of course, that was, I felt, good. But it was a bad time at first.
Biagi: You were there for how long?
Beebe: I was there for nearly five years.
Biagi: And then you decided to look elsewhere?
Beebe: Of course, living with Mother, Mother was wonderful, but she was a whirlwind. I, of course, really wanted to be back in California pretty much. But I wanted to get away. Mother had a pitiful letter from a friend of hers who was a doctor and an osteopath, too, and had gone blind and wanted a place to come and kind of recover. Since that gave me a chance to go, I took off for New York, where I had friends then.
People on the Star had gone to New York, and there were several of them on the Associated Press. I wrote them and said that I'd like to come. This was mid-Depression. There just weren't any jobs. People were jumping off of buildings and whatnot. To go to New York then, without a job! So they said the trouble was, if I was there and there was something open, probably they could take me on and they'd like to get me, but everybody was broke and they had no budget.
The AP, as you know, is a cooperative. It's run by this board of publishers. The member publishers were annoyed because the AP was picking off good people from their staffs, and they complained about it. So the AP was supposed to not be doing that. But they said if I wasn't connected, it would be easier to take me. So on that basis, I went with what I had managed to save up then. That was quite a thing to be there. It took me three months to get a job. I looked every day. Everybody was broke. But on the other hand, everybody was willing to talk to you, because there was no business. You could go in and they'd be willing to talk all afternoon and say, "Well, gee, we wish we could take you on, but we haven't got a nickel to hire anybody. Just look. Look at the office."
I went to the firm that had done that publicity for the university project in Kansas City, because they had offered me a job in New York before, after the work I did for them. When I went in, it was, again, a great big oblong room, and there were just two people in it. He said, "Look. I think I'll be out tomorrow. There's just nothing."
Biagi: How, in the middle of the Depression, did you get a job?
Beebe: I just kept at it. I almost got three, finally. Everywhere I went, I said, "Where shall I go next?" And people were helpful, you know. I just kept going. It was Al Smith, who was coming up and about to run for president, who had this woman who was supposed to be his social conscience, Belle Moskowitz, whom I interviewed. She, I could see, was thinking maybe I could help her. She was overworked. But it was going to be so hard to train me, that she didn't know what to do. So I was pushing there, and also pushing at the American Medical Association. Oh, and I went around to, for instance, Time magazine. At that time the only jobs they gave to women were $25-a-week research jobs. I said, "I'll take one." And she said, "No, you're
overqualified. You wouldn't last here. If it weren't for the Depression, you wouldn't do it. We can't afford to do that." So I talked myself out of that one. But I kept going back to the U.P. and INS, too. Two or three times I was about to work for Hearst, but never did, I'm glad to say. I would have, of course.
Finally, the thing opened up. I was taken on at the World Telegram. A gal broke her leg in the women's department, and she was to be gone for six weeks. So I got on there, because one of my Star friends was there and knew that I would fill in all right, and I did, on that women's department job.
Three weeks after I was there, the AP opening came. They thought they'd like a woman on the night side. They had a woman on the day side. They finally managed to hack out of the budget a place. So I told them that I was supposed to be filling in for six weeks at the World Telegram and I would like to finish that, since I had said I would. "Well, if you're not interested—come to work Monday if you want it." So I had to go back to World Telegram and tell them, and they were very nice. They said, "In times like these, take it. We'll get along." So I did go then.
Biagi: It wasn't too long, then. [Tape interruption.]
One of the bigger stories you covered was the Lindbergh kidnapping.
Beebe: Yes, and that came very soon after I got to New York, and I really hardly knew my way around yet, you know, because my work had been mostly inside the office. They hardly, again, knew exactly what to do with me on the night side. I'd find myself on the city desk there, and I was filing a wire, too, which was very unusual. But I had been there a very few weeks. They gave me special hours, by the way, as a woman. I worked from two to ten, so that it wouldn't be quite so late when I went home. [Laughter.] I liked that, because I could get up late. I used to get breakfast, by the way, in the Depression at Alice McAlister's for twenty-five cents.
I had just gotten to sleep when I got called and heard, "The Lindbergh baby's been kidnapped, and you've got to get over to Hopewell." I had never heard of the place, you know. Of course, I realized that was the crime story of all time. He said, "If you need some money, come up and get some money." I didn't have any. I had no idea. So I dragged myself out of sleep again, phoning to find out how you got there and what to do.
To make a long story short, I finally got to Hopewell on an early train. I managed to grab the only car that was available. It was an old man called Ashton that trundled people around. He was kind of the only taxi. It was a little bit of a place, you know. The Lindberghs lived out of the town, about a mile or more than that, out of the town. The crowds were coming. I remember Lorena Hickok, who was a good day reporter, a big, rough, tough gal, talking to the office and saying, "Well, you know what it's like when the big mob's out," and the big mob was out; all the tabloids and the rough guys who carried guns in their cars. For the first time, you see, they were doing sound truck things, and they were big. So everybody was trying to get out to the Lindbergh house.
The Lindberghs, as you maybe know, after all his flight and too much terrible publicity, he was really embittered. He would never talk to the press. He must never be quoted. That night when the baby was stolen, our correspondent in New Jersey, who was the nearest one to it, rushed up there. The first thing Lindbergh said, "You know I must not be quoted." He wouldn't even corroborate that the baby had been taken. That didn't make much of a hit. The two or three local reporters that were there that night, I think, were let in and got hot coffee, but nobody ever again got inside the house. There was no communication. It was absolutely shut off, which meant that the rumors flew.
There was no place for anybody to stay. For ten days I didn't have a place to sleep, except I was sleeping around.* Once I slept in half of a bed of the woman whose house was a mile from Lindbergh's, and I had gotten there early and kind of gotten an "in" there. We could use the telephone. The only telephone, mind you, was a mile from the house! You'd go up and stand around with all the other reporters, and then you'd go back to the office and you couldn't get in touch with the other people in your office who were working. Nobody had any information. It was the most miserable possible assignment that anybody could have, I think.
I remember the Chicago Tribune sending one of its star reporters up to check a rumor that Lindbergh had kidnapped his own baby. I said, "What are you going to do with that?"
He said, "Oh, I'll just talk to you all for a while, call in and say, "I checked it, and it wasn't so." That's all you could do.
I remember, too, the aviation editor of the New York Times, Deke Lyman, who was well acquainted with Lindbergh—in fact, had been a dinner guest at their house and knew him—he couldn't get through. You couldn't get to the phone. You couldn't get any contact. And some sob sister from a Philadelphia paper got hold of him and said, "You've been in the Lindbergh house? Describe it. Tell me what it's like." And so he did, and she wrote this long story. There was nothing to write! All the editors were nearly crazy. They were spending all this money and getting nothing. So here came this story under her byline beginning, "I have been in the Lindbergh house."**
Biagi: Would you say that all of your colleagues were as ethical as they should have been in those days of reporting? Some people today might say that's unethical reporting.
Beebe: Oh, goodness, there was lots of it. The tabloids were jumping over transoms and stealing pictures. Oh, yes! But thereby, also, you have the advantage if you're not one of those. We went to the undertaker. There was a servant gal in the Morrow household who committed suicide, so immediately they thought, "Oh, there must be some connection here. She must be connected with the kidnapping." She was laid out in the undertaker's house, and the tabloids were trying to climb through a transom to take a picture of the corpse! [Laughter.] Oh, yes, it was rough.
*The AP soon rented empty rooms above an A & P grocery store and put in a couch and phone. There was plenty of kidding about "AP at A & P." And there was plenty of liquor, New Jersey "applejack," mostly.
**I see I never got back to finish aviation editor Deke Lyman's story after side-tracking to answer Biagi's ethics question. Lyman said the Times desk called him at once to ask why, when he had said no one at all could make any contact inside the Lindbergh house, some woman in Philadelphia was claiming under a byline that she had been inside.
"Ho! Ho!" said Lyman. "She never got in. She got all that stuff from me—said she wanted some background."
"Oh, is that so?" said the desk editor with heavy sarcasm. "Did it ever occur to you to favor the readers of your own paper with your information instead of those of a Philadelphia paper?"
Deke joined in our laughter as he finished his story. It was just an example of the absurdities that occurred in the frenzied competition day after day to fill the demand for news where there was none. I remember hearing one reporter's vain struggle to extract something usable from the mayor of Hopewell about "the significance of the tragedy" to his town. Another was solemnly reporting how many bottles the milkman had delivered that day to the Lindbergh household.
So when we went, I went with a young chap from the New York Times, who was civil-spoken, and we talked to the undertaker. He was so pleased with us that he told us things that he hadn't told anybody else. And I did find a friend of the family who was very nice, too. She was going up to the Lindbergh house every day, and I got a little stuff from her.
I got this diet story, too. That was an exclusive one. It was a suggestion from the office. I later thought it was my own idea, and I was credited with it, but somebody said, "Why don't you get the baby's diet?" So I wrote a note to Mrs. Lindbergh and told her that while we must look like vultures, many of the women had children of their own and we were very sympathetic, we were there because we had to be, and we had thought maybe how about the diet of the baby, that the kidnapper might be glad to have it because he certainly wanted the baby to be in good shape. So I wrote this off in one of these downtown stores on a tablet, put on my white gloves, and when I came back and went through all this mob of reporters just sitting around there—they looked terrible—and handed this thing to the state troopers. Other reporters came crowding up. They immediately were surrounded with state troopers, and they were shoving us back. That's all they did was shove us back. I said, "I have a letter for Mrs. Lindbergh," and they looked at me. I was as haughty as I could be, and I said, "Would you take this to her, please?" Well, they did. After some time came back the word that they would release the diet for publication, but of course it would have to go to everybody. The reporters had dispersed meanwhile, and I told the emissary that all would have it if the three wire services supplied it.
So I quickly got a UP man and an INS man and said, "Here's a story for us." Somebody came out from the house and read us this diet. The other two didn't know much what it was about or what to do with it, so I galloped off. It was three-quarters of a mile to walk to the phone every time, to this house which said that they didn't want us there, anyway. I phoned it in and got a rewrite man who made a real sob story about, "Here, kidnappers, is the diet of the baby," and put my byline on it.
Biagi: Was there a lot of competition between UP and AP at that time, UPI?
Beebe: It wasn't UPI; it was UP. There was competition with everybody. For a while there, we at AP had hired a car. Somebody said, "You want to watch that woman. She goes places. She must know something." All we did was check on each other. [Laughter.]
Then I was sent back to the New York office with the ransom note. The only hard news that came out was through the governor of the state of New Jersey, and, of course, we had a man who was close to him there. So we got the text of the ransom note, which was not to be published, but we got it. We didn't trust the phones because they were all being tapped. Everybody was tapping everybody else's phone, and they weren't working, anyway. So they decided to send me back to New York with it.
When I got in the New York office, I looked so wild that they sent three more men out to run around. [Laughter.] It went on for some weeks.
So I was back in New York. Then there was this contact with Jaffsie, the man who, up in the Bronx, was an elementary school principal, kind of an eccentric person, who had advertised in a local paper that he'd like to be the go-between. And the kidnappers used him. So then we all were sent up to the Bronx, and I was up there standing around in the rain until midnight, night after night, again without much result. Jaffsie would come out of his house and go down and get a hot dog, and we'd all trail after him. [Laughter.] Oh, it was really a dreadful thing. Everything that could be written, you know, was, and it went all over the world. I had diet story clippings in all languages. It went all over.
Biagi: Talk about the AP with me a little bit, about the issue of world coverage at AP. I know you had dreams of going overseas to London.
Beebe: Well, I don't think I did then. I had been there really only a year. I always wanted California. I was nostalgic when I'd see a little wilted acacia out on the dirty sidewalk by some New York store, and I wanted to get back to California. Also the man I later married was there, and I wanted to be there. So I asked for a transfer back to San Francisco, and they said, "Oh, what do you want to go way out there for? You're New York caliber." [Laughter.] Well, I did. I felt California had a better life, and if I stayed in New York too long, I probably wouldn't be able to leave because I wouldn't be able to get the same return. "Tell me. Would I get the same salary?" "Well, yes, but everybody wants to go to San Francisco. We've got many applications and we can't do it."
So I had to quit, finally, to go, and I quit and came back out here with my friends. I looked again, looked for jobs, and AP finally took me on after a couple of months.
Biagi: Did you cover the coronation out of the San Francisco office or out of New York?
Beebe: San Francisco. I was really with San Francisco all the rest of my time. Again, I had wanted to be a correspondent overseas and they said, oh, no, they wouldn't. They couldn't. Wes Gallagher, who was then the chief executive, said, "When I was in Berlin, if somebody had sent me a woman, I would consider he'd done me wrong. And I'm not going to do that to anybody else."
So my friend Elinor Cogswell said, "Poor Wes. He doesn't seem to know you're going to Europe, does he?"
So then I asked if I could go on leave of absence, because I was pretty nearly fifty. I was finally married out here in California to Edwin Pinkham, whom I had known on the Star. He had died of cancer in 1948. So I was foot loose and free then, and I wanted, before I got too old, to see something of Europe. You didn't fly to Europe then. So I thought I could make a stand over there and, by that time, probably do freelancing. Anyway, I wanted to see it. So I asked if I could take a leave of absence and I would go on my own. That was the arrangement.
But then I found that the coronation was coming on and that they intended to use me over there, but they hadn't quite decided. I went into the office when I came to New York on my way, and Wes Gallagher barked at me and said, "Where have you been?"
I said, "I didn't know you cared!" [Laughter.] "I've been up seeing my husband's aunt in Massachusetts."
"Well, keep in touch with us."
So I went over and tried to make my accommodations near the university where everything would be cheap. I was scared to death. I had a culture shock there. I had studied a lot of French, but it didn't work too well. I had gone up to the AP office, and they looked at me in their usual blank way, but later they sent for me. It seems that all the time New York had intended that I should help cover the coronation. So the Paris office was to take me on, meanwhile, on a temporary basis. It worked out beautifully. I got a full salary, plus a living allowance. I got home with more money than I started!
The coronation, of course, was the big assignment. In Paris, I was doing UNESCO, which nobody could get much news out of, and I wasn't any better than anybody else at it. But it was interesting, very, because there were all these countries. Also, the language was interesting.
I had an earphone with English coming in one ear and listening to the French in the other. I was afraid not to have the English. I got a couple of stories out of it that were—well, we covered it right along, but a couple that were—
Biagi: What was the thing you remember most about covering the coronation?
Beebe: The coronation was really a big thing. I was so pleased to be in England. I had thought all the time I wanted to be in France, but my whole background is English. In France, everything is done differently. I was leaning up against the walls looking at my map and struggling with my glasses, which I had for the first time, and everything was not where you wanted it. It was hard. You were assigned to go and interview the Japanese ambassador, and you'd go to the taxi and he had a little nightgown over his taxi meter; it was lunchtime and you couldn't budge him to leave until he finished his sandwich.
But England, everything was just where it should be, and you just walked over to the Thames and there it was. Everything just seemed like home. It was marvelous.
The war was over, the weather was beautiful, and they'd won, and people were in a good mood. I found people most talkative and pleasant, and the preparations for that thing were just gigantic. You know the British know how to put on a show, and they really put it on. The mall that led to Westminster Abbey was like a big theater thing with the pennants, like old-time tournaments. Seats in those boxes were terribly expensive, and yet everybody could go if they'd get to the area soon enough and could stand. People told me later that they went without going to the bathroom for a day and a half so they could hold places around some monument along the route.
They had built the press section at the stage door of Westminster Abbey, and there must have been two-thousand people in it. It was all beautifully built. Down in the back of the wooden press stands were telephone sheds, and all the languages of the world were bouncing off the walls. This parade that went by, I was glad I was there. Pat Morin was in the Abbey. There were very few seats in the Abbey, you see, and AP rated just one. I think the Associated Press had eighty people altogether. Of course, a lot of them were technical. It took a lot of work to communicate to the world what we writers were doing. Then there was all the London staff, because AP occupied a whole building in London. They covered all Europe from that headquarters.
Biagi: What was your responsibility there?
Beebe: I was there for three weeks ahead of time. I wrote stories, whatever came along. Some of them were just little features. The coronation road—where did it go and what was the history? What had happened along it?
Of course, oh, yes, I knew I was there for the queen's coronation, the dress. I hadn't been in the office very long, and I said, "How are we going to find out?"
"Well, call the palace."
I thought, "Call the palace?" [Laughter.] But, of course, the palace had a regular press setup, just as the White House does, you know. So the dress was the big thing. I shoved all the men off the front pages with that. Everybody wanted to know what the queen was going to wear. Earlier, I got a little feature about a place called Coronation Road, where a man had spent many months making a replica of the queen's crown, with little tin jewels and things, and he had worked all this time on it. That was fun. He was on Coronation Road, this little block of houses. I swear, his house was hardly any wider than that rug. These two little old people were so
thrilled, and everybody on the block, when I got out there to see what I could turn up for a story about Coronation Road, they said, "Oh, you must go see him, because he's all excited." The resulting story must have been widely used. I later saw a big spread on it, in color, in the National Geographic magazine.
Biagi: How did you find out about the dress?
Beebe: Oh, that was all formally announced at a press conference.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Beebe: Everybody had everything organized. All the nobility in their purple robes had a special subway. They came by subway, and here it was in the bright—well, it wasn't bright sunlight, but it was daylight, anyway, in their robes, riding on the subway to get to the Abbey. Surface limousines would have been mired in the dense crowds.
Biagi: What about the reporters?
Beebe: Days ahead of time, the reporters were fighting. I remember one AP cameraman, Lévy from Paris, was arguing. They all were struggling for best places. They had lots of PR people arranging everything and keeping people from almost fist fights over places. We were assigned places, and on the actual day it was very orderly. They'd been months and months and months in preparation.
Biagi: How did you get the stories out from where you were sitting?
Beebe: As I say, the AP had copy boys running your handwritten copy down to the press shack in the back with all the phones. It was solid phones all around there being used. Pat Morin, in the Abbey, I don't think those men were able to do anything until it was over. I don't think they let them have any copy boys there. So it was our story that was the running. Then AP columnist Hal Boyle, who was a good feature writer, decided he wanted to do the crowd, so he didn't have a seat; he didn't want one. He was roaming at the backs of the crowds and getting color and, I guess, just phoning where he could.
Biagi: But what did you do?
Beebe: I had the official AP seat in the press section stands built across from the Abbey entrance, and I was covering the running story of it as it went. But we also had the announcement over the loudspeakers from the Abbey for the ceremony itself. The pageantry that we got back there, Churchill with his cinqportes hat and all his medals, I think he was already getting flaky. He seemed to be kind of dazed, but he was holding up his V-sign fingers. And the roar that went up! I have never heard, not at any football game, such a roar, more even than when the queen herself arrived. We were there as everybody arrived and went in, and so the running story wrote itself pretty much.
Biagi: You covered that story. Describe for me what it was like working in that San Francisco AP bureau.
Beebe: It was pretty ordinary stuff. I did a beat for many years. They put me outside as quickly as they could, because they didn't have any women in the office, so I had the outside beat, and that was good. When I finally left it, because I wanted to read and edit foreign news and wanted to come in, and I did come in, and work on the world desk before I went to Europe, seven men asked for my "outside" job. I wore my feet out. The regular beat was the federal beat and the state appellate courts, because we needed the news that went away from San Francisco.
The papers covered the San Francisco stuff for us; it was rewritten in the office. So whenever there would be anybody to be interviewed, I was the only one loose, so I got a lot of general assignments which were fun and different. But the beat included all the federal and state offices, too, in three separate buildings.
The big stories that you were always asking about were the general strike, and that was exciting, and the United Nations, and then the big trials, the Harry Bridges trial and the Tokyo Rose trial, which I did both of those without help. I mean, I had to do it for three circuits, P.M.'s, A.M.'s, and then an early story every day, which was a real grind. Those were all exciting things.
Biagi: How did you come to get involved in the Tokyo Rose trial?
Beebe: It was on the federal beat, actually. So they just put somebody out to do the beat and let me stick with the trial, because I had to be there all the time.
Biagi: What was your feeling about that trial?
Beebe: It was the first time I think I really ever got involved in a thing like that. I thought it was a very unfair thing. If the atmosphere had been different, I don't think there would have been any question she was wrongly convicted. She was supposed to be the only "siren." I mean, there were five gals over there who were broadcasting this, and the others, if you please, renounced their American citizenship, but she refused to give up hers. She was over there visiting her aunt after getting out of school. She was an American gal. She hated Japan. She didn't speak Japanese. She lived with her relatives there and she got caught and couldn't get out, and where was she? She began to be followed by the Kempi Tai, which was the secret police, and they kept saying, "You belong with us. You're Japanese."
She'd say, "I'm an American."
"Then we ought to imprison you."
"Why don't you?"
"Well, to them you're just a Jap. We can't do that."
She got a job in Tokyo with UP because she had English, and she couldn't speak Japanese. Then somebody said they had this Radio Tokyo job with English speaking, and she went over there as a typist. If she'd stayed a typist, she would have been all right. But they brought these prisoners in and convinced them that if they got on the air with a little entertainment program, they would let them announce the names of prisoners that they knew about. They got these prisoners to do that, and one of them heard her voice and thought she would be good for this entertainment program, which was very innocuous. It was supposed to be a teaser, of course, for the hard stuff that came after. I don't think she had any thought about it. What's the difference? You're working there. And it was a chance to be with the Americans. She brought them food, and they thought maybe she was a plant. They were suspicious of her at first, until they really got to know her, and she was with them the whole way.
Biagi: What was the atmosphere surrounding the trial for her in San Francisco?
Beebe: It was bad. You see, it was pretty soon after the war, and the feeling was high. There was this legend about Tokyo Rose, this siren that taunted all these men. You could never kill it; it was just there. The military arrested her when the war was over and the occupation began, and they held her for a year. She had married over there. She fell in love with a guy at UP.
She lost her baby in prison. I remember there was testimony about some congressional committee going in and peeking when she was taking a bath, to look at her.
The military had a hearing, and they knew what people that were really helping the Japanese were. They let her go after a year in prison. They said, "Well, this isn't anything." So she was walking around on the streets, free, waiting to get back, when Walter Winchell came out in his column and said, "Guess who's walking free? The terrible siren Tokyo Rose." Whammy! Then immediately they cracked down and indicted her.
Under the Constitution of the United States, treason is the only crime in it that specifies what you do; it's the death penalty. I mean, it can be the death penalty. She must be tried, if she's out of the country, at the first U.S. port where they landed. So they didn't let her land in Hawaii; they kept her on the boat so she'd be tried in San Francisco. And Washington sent people out. Our United States attorney had reviewed the whole thing and decided that it was not a good case, that they wouldn't be able to convict her, and he so recommended, but he was overruled in Washington. They sent special prosecutors out. One of those committed suicide later, by the way.
Biagi: Your role as a reporter there was?
Beebe: [when reviewing transcript] I did it alone for AP, reporting, phoning, dictating, and writing for P.M. and A.M. papers, with new leads as warranted. At the verdict, at the end, AP sent a man to help me with simultaneous quick comment of attorney, etc.
Beebe: There were about 11 regulars at the press table, and we just covered all the sessions. It lasted three or four months. We took a vote when the jury went out. It was eleven to two for acquittal, and that's just bout what the jury was. But there were a couple of people who didn't listen to anything; they just decided beforehand. Maybe they had somebody in the war, you know, and they just held out. The judge, too—he was an old Irish Mick, a good police judge, but he really didn't seem to listen to the testimony in her favor, and he wouldn't let the hung jury go. He kept holding them and holding them. So they finally came out, they thought, with a tap on the wrist, guilty on one count of the eighteen. He gave her a ten-year sentence for that one count.
Then the appeal wasn't any good to her because if there's something technically wrong, you can hope for reversal on appeal, but the jury's judgment on credibility of testimony you don't touch on appeal. So I felt bad about that.
Biagi: You later carried that feeling on a little bit more than just a reporter's involvement in the story.
Beebe: Oh, yes. She later got a pardon. I wrote my feelings about it and sent it to her attorney. Her attorneys were good, but they were the wrong kind for emotional appeal. They were too technical, but they were honest and they didn't charge her much. In fact, it was an American Civil Liberties Union attorney. I had recommended to her father to get that. Her own father thought that she disgraced the family, until she could straighten him out on it. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: What I'd like to talk to you next about is how did you get your picture taken with Bing Crosby?
Beebe: I never expected it. I was prepared to dodge the camera as usual. Lévy didn't tell me about a New York memo to photographers directing them to snap AP staffers with UIPS whenever they got the chance, for use in the AP house organ. He posed us together with the
rumor-romance clipping after he took shots of Bing and his son en route to golf. Those were circulated that day and widely used. Some editor must have liked his other pose, too, and decided to circulate it to general service.
That was my first assignment in Paris when I was again shoveled on to them and they didn't know what to do with me. They said they had a query about Bing's latest supposed romance. Was he going to marry this gal? And why didn't I go out to his hotel. Ordinarily I'd just do it by phone. They wanted to get me out of the office. [Laughter.]
So I went, again, with this Jacques Lévy, and I made a bad boo-boo. I asked him about his family, and he said, "My name is Lévy, Jewish, you know. They're almost all dead." I hadn't realized how close it was, you see, to the Holocaust. But he was a camera man that I wasn't used to. When we got out there to the petite garden of Marie Antoinette, he leaped over the fence and picked me a violet. [Laughter.] I was not used to camera men like that.
I called at the hotel and said I was downstairs and I wanted to interview him, and he wanted to know what about. It was late. It was almost noon, and he wasn't up. He said could he just do it by phone, and I said I'd been sent out to see him. He had his son with him, and I had a camera man to take their picture together, and we didn't mind waiting. He said, "Well, it may be quite a while."
I said, "I don't care. I'm new here and I'm looking around."
So I waited him out, and he came down with his son. He was very, very civil, but I realized what a bore, you know. He thought he was away from Hollywood, and I had to ask him how about Mona Freeman? He said they were friends, but that was it. So I got a little more stuff from him. His son had never been to France before, and he said, "It's all so different. I don't know what I'm doing."
I said, "Well, join the club. I don't, either." So it was pleasant. Bing came out with one of these flunkies at the hotel, kind of ushering him along, and they seemed to be talking rapid French. I said, "Where did you get this French?"
He said, "I just fake it." But a good actor, he had all the inflections. He didn't have to say much.
Biagi: One of the things you said you liked about being a journalist was the variety. Describe the kind of variety that you had as a journalist in your life, what kinds of stories you covered.
Beebe: Of course, it just ran the gamut of everything. You were talking to potentates one day and criminals down in the jailhouse the next. Then people who were doing interesting things, explorers. I had a nice interview, I remember, a very pleasant one, with Gutzen Burglum, who carved the presidents' heads in Dakota, you know. That was in Kansas City. We sat out on a summer day and he held my hand while he talked for an hour, very charmingly. Don't ask me what he said; I don't know. But I wrote a story that they liked, so I guess I just probably prattled it all back. It was nice.
Then, of course, organizations I had to listen to, and politics, a lot of very boring speeches and committee meetings, and then court stuff. I was quite interested. You get so you can do that. Here's a decision and you've got to get it fast, what did they decide. Then you have to get your background from the extra records, to do that fast and get your stories out.
Biagi: Did you consider yourself a good reporter?
Beebe: I told the New Yorker I was. They said, well, they were maybe going to have me on that first section of the New Yorker. That was during the Depression. They took me in to see the guy who was doing it, and gave me an assignment, by the way. I wrote it. They always make you rewrite many times, and about that time I got the job on the World Telegram and never finished revising it.
Biagi: What made you a good reporter?
Beebe: I got things right, I got them fast and wrote it fast. That's what it takes, isn't it? Then I tried to put a little insight into it. The older you get, the more you do that, I think. You don't want your opinions in it, but you try to see a little bit more than is just the surface. You begin to know that you are [a good reporter] when people start asking for you.
Biagi: What makes a good reporter, in your opinion?
Beebe: It's a trade skill like any other, and integrity. That would be my definition. Plus, of course, if they have a real imagination and writing ability, they're not going to stay reporters very long; they're going to be wanting to write. But I considered myself—I know the difference. I didn't think I was a creative writer, though I got plenty of praise as a good journalistic one.
Biagi: But you were able to get the story, don't you think?
Beebe: Yes. Of course, that is important. You don't come back without it; you get it. Persistence without being too disagreeable is a skill, too.
Biagi: You talked to me about the difference between being a good reporter and being a good writer. I wondered if you could describe to me the difference. What's the difference between a good reporter and a good writer?
Beebe: We had good reporters that couldn't write anything; they never did. They couldn't spell, you know. We had little Danny Larrimer on the Star, who would get under the policeman's legs, and he could always get things fast and phone it in. Somebody gave him a book once, and he began to read it. He kept saying he had a book. He was reading it for a year and never got through it. [Laughter.]
A good writer? Well, my husband, Edwin Pinkham, was supposed to have bestowed more distinction on the Star than anybody ever did. You see, people think, "Oh, just a reporter." Well, he didn't want to be a desk man. They tried to make him one, but his salary, according to office rumor, exceeded the managing editor's. He was a syndicated correspondent in Washington and in Europe, and he brought all his reading and knowledge of history into the stories about the tourists who went to Shakespeare country and saw one thing. He wrote a series. Who else could put Shakespeare on the front page of a cow-town paper? That's a difference. Then, of course,
he did write.* He'd written a couple of novels and he was trying to write the last when cancer got him. He wouldn't use his name or his connections, so he never made it to money success. But I still have a lot of the writings that were not published. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: When you got ready to go to London, what was the general response?
Beebe: Oh, my office, I had a lot of friends there, and they knew that I'd been trying to get there, and they knew that I'd been besieging Wes Gallagher, and that I was going on this funny arrangement, you see. I was just going to go on my own. They didn't know any different. But to my great surprise, they came out with a suitcase and presented it to me. It wasn't any party or anything, but it was sweet of them. I was quite touched. However, the suitcase was stolen in New York later. [Laughter.]
Biagi: In that picture there's a lot of men and you and one other woman in the picture, too.
Beebe: There are two other women there. The San Francisco bureau was a big hot spot during the war, and the boss' secretary had an assistant who kept records on little cards of everything. She had a quite valuable collection of data, which was later tossed out. But those were the two women. When I began work in San Francisco, the bureau chief had a male secretary.
Biagi: How was it being the only woman in the AP bureau?
Beebe: At first, the man who hired me was Ralph Heppe. He had an office outside the noisy main working area, and he always took his coat off when he went in to relieve the east wire editor at noon. So I had interviewed him with his coat on in the outside office. When I was finally to be put to work and I came in, he said, "I guess you'll just have to stand it. I'm going to take my coat off." [Laughter.]
Biagi: Was that hard for you to take, the fact that he didn't have his coat on?
Beebe: Of course not. Heavens! I'd been working on this—
*A first novel, Fate's a Fiddler, was published in Boston by Small Maynard in 1908. Though not a bestseller, it got excellent reviews and the publishers wanted him to contract for three more. But in those authoritarian days, he was bluntly told that if he wanted to be a fiction writer, he'd have to resign from the Kansas City Star. With a growing family of young children in his first marriage, he could not afford to take the risk. The Star's work week—full six days plus Saturday night—left little chance for creative writing, much less the necessary marketing, but he did manage to turn out a second novel, which is still unpublished.
After early retirement and moving to California, he had time to enjoy trying his hand in varied fields: short stories, plays, mysteries with literary flavor, humorous comment on world affairs, sketches from New England boyhood memories, etc. Alfred Knopf published one of the New England collections as a separate small book, Aunt Elsa. This won very favorable reviews, but had the bad luck to come out as World War II fever was mounting in 1941, and the country was in no mood for gentle, turn-of-the-century recollections. However, my husband continued to write, even through his final years of debilitating cancer and repeated surgeries that preceded his death in September 1948.
The point I failed to make clear in answer to Ms. Biagi's question is that I think anyone who is proficient in gathering information and presenting it in an interesting, accurate way can qualify as a good newspaper man or woman. But there is a distinction between journalistic writing, done mostly to order and for a payroll living, and the creative kind, requiring invention, imagination, and insight—all one's inner resources of feeling and intellect, together with acute perception in life experience. KB.
Biagi: But it was a new thing. Wasn't it a new thing for them to have a woman in the office?
Beebe: Yes. I had to do style stories in Los Angeles, and I said, "I don't know anything about fashions."
They said, "You're the only woman in the AP west of the Mississippi, so you're it. You have to go." [Laughter.] It wasn't too bad, either. There were some nice gals there from New York. They were good people.
They got used to me pretty soon. But the first story, I remember I wrote, was a story about rates for PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric Company]. There had been a big to-do about it. I didn't have any background. I got hold of a Sacramento Bee man who was propagandizing, you know. His paper was crusading. He gave me a lot of background. I put it in the story. I think Heppe had the impression that I'd have a ruffle on the bottom of every paragraph or something. He said, "My, that was kind of a regular good story. It's all right." And the poor Sacramento Bee man got asked by his office why didn't he have that story? [Laughter.] He said, "You had it all in bits and pieces. This is background that I gave to this new gal on the AP."
Biagi: When you got ready to leave the AP, under what circumstances did you leave the Associated Press in San Francisco?
Beebe: That, of course, was bad. I was getting regular salary. When you talk about the feminists and the women's lib business, I did get the same salary in San Francisco that I did in New York, but because of raises there, mine was above average, I guess. All of a sudden, the boss called me. It was mid-Depression. He said, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to reduce your salary $20 a month, because you're getting more than the others."
I said, "Well, they told me in New York that I would not have that happen." But it was Depression. I didn't say anything at all about it. I found out much later from Heppe that the order came from an executive* in the business office in New York, of course, he didn't know anybody from anybody in the editorial ranks, but it was one of their economy spasms-AP was pretty sleazy about pay to everybody. It was chintzy. Here was this woman getting more than the men. He just said, "Terrible!" and told them to reduce my salary.
They had this policy that women should only work through age 55. Nobody had said anything to me about it. I read it in one of their pamphlets, and I nearly jumped out of my chair. I thought, "It won't apply to me. If you're good, you're all right, probably." But you see, New York doesn't know anything about that. By that time, all the people I knew in New York, my friends were all gone, because I was 20 years out here. You began getting automatic stuff from the business office that your birthday is such and such a day.
So I dickered with them. You could get an extension. I got an extension for a year, and then I bargained with them to make it for three summers. But it was really a most unfair thing. Pension was minuscule. It was a real blow to me. And that's why I've always been so conscious of my age. I just didn't think that would happen. The Guild wanted to back me in a fight, and I didn't want to.
Biagi: What was the retirement age for men?
Beebe: Sixty-five. And they didn't like retiring then, either. So they would have supported me, but I felt mortified, because I'd seen, in the news, women fighting for their jobs. I thought, "Well, if they're good, they wouldn't have to." I just said, "Never mind."
But I had to scramble, then, for ten years. Of course, every job I got, I got more money than the AP paid, and they were all temporary, but that was interesting. It was rather good for me, I think. I don't want the AP to know that, because I still think I could scare the daylights out of them now. You know, they have had to make restitution to women.* I'm pretty solvent, but I could make them come through with something now, I think. [Laughter.]
Biagi: After you left AP, you had several years of a career left.
Beebe: Oh, yes, I did.
Biagi: How many careers did you have after you left AP?
Beebe: I think I had six jobs, most in politics, then at San Francisco State College. I was very, very interested in Adlai Stevenson. I read all of his speeches and had saved them. The campaign was nearing its end, and I thought I'd work there as a volunteer if I couldn't get a job. But I did get a paying job.
Biagi: What were the other jobs you got after that?
Beebe: I also did some work for Clair Engle, United States senator. By the way, Alan Cranston, when I was up at Sacramento, wanted me to be his press person.
After the Stevenson campaign, the chief man who was in charge here had a fight with one of the political people and he was out, and I had to carry it on alone at the last. Adlai won in San Francisco, which was good for me. They offered me this job with the Democrats up in Sacramento, and I said that if a bunch of good safe-crackers had offered me a job, I would have considered it, because I needed one. But I didn't know about the nitty-gritty of politics at all. I'd gone up for inaugurations and general stories and things like that, and interviews, but how it worked, nuh-uh.
So I went up and got out a newsletter every week for Democratic legislators that they could use as their own, and went to the weekly Democratic caucus and all the legislative sessions. Much to my surprise, of course, I felt, "I'm just a flack," you know, but it was top stuff because the capital newsmen were eager for it. I was the only one in the caucus, and they all knew me, anyway. So it was all right.
Biagi: If you could describe your office conditions at the time, what office were you in?
Beebe: I don't know what you call it, sort of a man for all needs, a fixer who is always doing things, and it was he who hired me.** He said he was going to try to make an arrangement with the Republican publicist and get us both quarters in the capitol. I said, "Well, it's all right with me." I didn't know what to expect. So he said, "We've got a cloakroom here that I think we can ______________________
*AP fought for ten years a suit brought on behalf of women (not going far back enough to include me) and finally settled, with money payments and commitments to remove "glass ceiling" against promotions on equal basis with men. KB. [See the interview with Virginia Pitt Sherlock.]
use." He led me into this cloakroom. There was an empty file case and a table and a chair and a urinal, and that was the furnishing of it. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Why a urinal in your office?
Beebe: It was the cloakroom of a hearing room, you see, and it wasn't in use at the time.
Biagi: So what did you do to decorate the office?
Beebe: Nothing. I just turned my back on the urinal. Nobody was in there but me, except I think the first day I found out where bills—they're printed at once, as you know, and there was one that was controversial and we were discussing it. I got this phone call. They had put a phone in. A voice said, "I understand you have a copy of some of the bills."
I said, "Well, I don't have all of them." I'd brought back copies of that one. "What was it you wanted?" She told me, and I said, "Oh, yes, I can give you a copy of that." So she came up and I gave her a copy of it. It was the only thing in the filing case, the only piece of paper that was there. [Laughter.]
Biagi: That was lucky.
Beebe: The first day of the legislative session.
Biagi: Where did you meet Mary Ellen Leary?
Beebe: In San Francisco. She was, I guess, reporting. We met on stories. Then after she got her editorial job in the office, we didn't meet very much at all. I don't know when I would see her, but sometimes you did.
Biagi: You and she, for a long time, were the only women in the capital, weren't you, as reporters or press people? She remembers that.
Beebe: I really can't remember that there were any on the press corps. I don't believe there were any women. By that time I hardly noticed; you never expected them. I can't say that for sure. There may have been, but I don't remember any.
Biagi: Let's go back now and talk a little bit about your trip cross-country. We're going way back to your trip on the airplane.
Beebe: In Kansas City. Yes.
Biagi: What occasioned the story?
Beebe: Again, I was trying to get back to California, and I wanted to get a little extension of my vacation and get out and see my friends here. I did get a six-week one, I think. I learned—I don't know how—but it came to the office that they were trying to get air routes established, and maybe I could get a free trip. Well, that interested me. So it was offered to me, and I took it to the managing editor. He said, "You know, we don't do that kind of thing,* but I think this might be different because they are trying to get established, and it might be justified. So if you want to come back that way, all right." I said that would be great because it would save me money, because I was again on my own. I was on vacation.
*Accept free tickets or favors.
The plane went from Los Angeles. I had to get down there and out to the field at 2:00 A.M. or something—dreadful! I was just reading that piece that I did, and there were things I hadn't remembered in it. Wicker seats, six to a side, I said. Of course, the attendants were males, too. We flew low, so we saw a lot. It was a beautiful flight. But I get airsick, and I did. [Laughter.] The attendant brought these pasteboard cylindrical things, you know. I presented them back to him, as long as I had anything to give. He would go and throw them out the door. Over the Arizona desert, I guess, nobody knew the difference.
Biagi: Did you ever really reach Kansas City?
Beebe: We were in a storm and had to go down in Amarillo [Texas] for overnight. I notice in that story they made several stops between Los Angeles and Kansas City. That was airsick-making, too, you know, getting down in these funny little airfields. But I wasn't the only one sick. About half of them were pretty green.
Biagi: Some people have called you a pioneer. Do you feel that you were a pioneer?
Beebe: I never did at the time. I suppose now, as we look back, I was. There were physical inconveniences. For instance, in the little time I worked on the Salt Lake Telegram, there was no women's toilet at all. You see, there weren't any women. So I had to go downstairs and out the back alley, slipping around in the snow and ice, and go into the back door of the dime store to find a public toilet to use. [Laughter.] Things like that. But I suppose that would be pioneering. Otherwise, I never felt like a pioneer.
I wasn't trying to do anything except work where I wanted to and do what I wanted to do. I knew I could do it, you see, and again and again I got a little weary of having to start all over again with some new male executive that came in and had the same idea about women that the others did. It got a little bit tiresome, finally.
Biagi: How did you counteract that attitude?
Beebe: Just by work. Finally, they'd see. Besides, there were usually other people there who would know. I remember when I started to file a wire there in San Francisco, one of the punchers, the operators, came and had a big metal file. He laid it down and said, "You're filing a wire. You might need this."
And somebody else there said, "Oh, she knows all about that." [Laughter.] But he thought I was a woman first time filing a wire. That was a big joke.
Biagi: What's your advice to other women who want to be journalists?
Beebe: Now, I don't know. You are the one that gives them advice now. This mob scene! I'm so glad I had the opportunity to be there before radio and TV, when the press was everything, you see. Goodness, on election night you could hardly get to your typewriter. Everybody came out of the cracks, these characters that you'd never see. That's where the news was. We'd put bulletins up outside on the street, you know, and there were extras. That was exciting. When people called "extra," they knew something big had happened. But now, my goodness, with this mob scene, I don't know. I don't know that I would advise anybody to do it. Of course, the big money is all in TV, which is a show, an entertainment, a dress-up thing. It's so different. Once in a while, though, you find that some of these TV people really do have a news sense and experience, but many of them don't. They can talk beautifully, but I'm sure they couldn't get a story.
Biagi: If somebody wanted to become a journalist today, a good journalist, what's their best training?
Beebe: Things have changed today. You're the one that should say about that. I couldn't give any advice, except I think the fundamentals, the basics, are always there, that you need to get as much information as you can about everything and be aware, and be ready to be alert and go after what you want and handle it quickly.
Biagi: Has journalism been good to you as a career?
Beebe: Yes! Yes, I was very happy in it. There were times when I thought, "My goodness, they pay me for this?" [Laughter.] I would do it for free. I liked it. So there wasn't any great push to make a career, to be a big name. I sometimes look at Barbara Walters on the screen and think, "That poor woman, the pressure she's under. Just the fact that everybody knows what money she's making." After all, what is she doing except what a lot of people have done before, probably as well as she does, and she knows that. She must be in a pressure cooker all the time.
Biagi: Did you ever feel that pressure? Did you like it?
Beebe: But I wasn't under that kind of pressure, you see. It was so different. I was always a pleasant surprise to the people around me, because they didn't expect anything. So there wasn't that pressure, except my own pressure to make it good. That never leaves you alone, because you never do as well as you want to, you know, and you never like what you've written as well as you think you could have done it. We used to say, "I'm sorry I didn't have time to write it shorter." Because you have to handle so much in such a hurry. Then to get it right at the same time is pressure.
Biagi: What did you like best about the job?
Beebe: Oh, I think the variety and also the fact of that pleasant recurring triumph of triumphing over prejudice, you know. It's always pleasant to be better than somebody thinks you're going to be. Then I liked, too, to be more in the counsels of what was going on, and I was. You see, you didn't need titles for that, and to be writing about situations that required some judgment, and to feel that what you were doing was worthwhile.
Biagi: Thank you.