[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Knight: Good afternoon.
Campbell: Good afternoon.
Knight: We are ready to go. Last time, we got through high school and college, and you skipped ahead a little bit into your work with the AP. Let's start at college and go to your first job at the Springfield Leader. You got a certificate in journalism from University of Oklahoma in 1929?
Knight: How important, in looking back, do you think a college education was?
Campbell: Oh, absolutely important. I knew some good reporters who had not gotten a degree, but there were just so many things that you'd run into, that you might not have ever expected to, where some course you had taken gave you the information you needed to make a wise decision. So I think it's terribly important.
Knight: Were there people that didn't think it was? Did you find any, when you were out in the workplace?
Campbell: [Laughter.] Well, I remember my publisher, who was a really great man, I was crazy about him, but he told me once, my certificate in journalism meant nothing to him at all. You know, I was doing very well, and he was glad he hired me, but he certainly didn't do it because I had gone to journalism school. His father had been the publisher of the St. Paul, Minnesota, paper, and one of his brothers had a paper somewhere, and they hadn't all gone to college, certainly hadn't gone to journalism school. I think that was why he was thinking that.
Knight: Was there a special school within the college? Was it a regular college degree? Was it a separate kind of program?
Campbell: It had to be both. O.U. had not gotten final approval of the separate journalism school. When I went to my freshman year in college at Columbia, MO there was, at the University of Missouri, a journalism school, and a very fine one. O.U. had started one, but the degree had not yet been approved. In 1929, you had to get a certificate that required the same courses as the degree in journalism approved for the next year.
Knight: So you only went for three years?
Campbell: Yes, to the University of Oklahoma.
Knight: In other jobs, did the degree make a difference? Was the degree a respected degree in the field?
Campbell: I think college was, at that time, assumed, but journalism degree, no.
Knight: Tell me about how you got the job at the Springfield Leader.
Campbell: [Laughter.] Oh, partly, first of all, Sigrid Arne, oh, the loveliest woman reporter I ever knew, worked on the Daily Oklahoman, which was just a few miles from Norman, where the University is. She had come down to talk to our class in the journalism school. I had gotten acquainted with her, and liked her. I went to see her once in Oklahoma City, and she came back to see me. So when I was looking for a job, I asked her, "Who was the best editor you had when you first started out? Who taught you the most?"
She said, "There's no question—George Olds," who, at that time, was on the Muskogee paper for Edson Bixby. "He now is with Bixby on the Springfield Leader, the afternoon paper, in Springfield, Missouri."
So I immediately wrote to George Olds, because it was good training and a good beginning that I wanted. She'd convinced me that that was important, I guess, because I didn't hear very many people talking that way. But anyway, I got a letter saying that they had a job—or maybe it was a wire; I think it was—but it didn't say a thing about how much it would pay me. So forgetting that we were in the beginning of a Depression, I was just fresh and coming out of college, I sent back a wire, "Have other offer. How much?" Well, people thought I was crazy, and that I would never hear from him again. But I got a telephone call that time, saying it would be $25 a week, and they wanted me to come immediately—when did I graduate? "The first."
"Well, we want you here on June fourth." [Laughter.]
So I went to work three days after I graduated from college, at $25 a week, and I was just a reporter on the general staff. That's the way it worked. Before I got through, I'd been everything on the paper; I'd even been sports editor once, and covered a wrestling match. Don't ever do that on the front row! [Laughter.] Blood spurts all over you. But the sports editor had gone on vacation.
Knight: You didn't actually interview for the job; it was by letter?
Knight: Just by letter.
Campbell: They may have called Sigrid, because I gave them her name in my first letter, since she knew me.
Knight: Do you remember the first day on the job?
Campbell: No. I can't. I remember everything about my first day here with AP, but I don't remember what I did on the Springfield Leader, except that I just know that I had—well, I remember one thing about it. I was two minutes after eight o'clock arriving, and George Olds said, "You see that clock? If you ever come in again after eight o'clock, you'll be fired. And I mean fired." He said, "I'm not teasing." And he did it to somebody else. I never came in after eight o'clock after that. [Laughter.] I really got there before 8:00.
Knight: Now, did you know before they hired you what your beat was going to be, what your job would be?
Campbell: No, no. Just whatever they needed on a general news staff. And that's what it was every place I ever worked. They didn't promise me a thing. [Laughter.] But in Springfield, I covered the—just every time they had a meeting of anything at the City Hall or a trial or anything, if they needed me, I covered lots of trials, and some of them were pretty nasty. I'll never forget, one was over at Joplin, Missouri, miles away, and the man had been charged with rape. His attorney I knew, and there wasn't a chair left when I got in. I had ridden over on a bus from Springfield, at five o'clock in the morning. [Laughter.] He said, "Take this chair," or something, so I was very close, and I could hear what went on between the defense counsel and the man who was being tried. None of this is particularly important; there are thousands of cases of this, I'm sure. But when it was decided, and the jury came in, and the judge asked them what they had decided, they decided that he was guilty of rape in the first degree. And he said, "Oh, no," and the judge, in the meantime, had gone on and said, "He will hang by his neck until he is dead." First time I'd ever heard that, you know. And this man's face just—he just couldn't believe it.
He said, "And that'll be a lesson to me." [Laughter.] You know? He really just wasn't conscious of the fact that if you hung by your neck til you were dead, you didn't take lessons much. [Laughter.]
But then the wonderful thing about the paper, the Springfield paper, George Olds at that time was their city editor and managing editor, and Bix [Edson Bixby], the owner, was the [publisher]. But they did all kinds of special kinds of things that everybody didn't do, and if a reporter could think up something different to do, you usually got to do it. Well, I remember, once I went around, I had been impressed with how almost everybody I ran into, for any reason, when I was able to talk to them, had a story of some kind. It may not be what I'd gone about, but, anyhow. So I said to Mr. Olds, "You know, I think that practically everybody in Springfield probably has a story. Why don't you send me to go get them?"
And he said, "Well, that's a very good idea." And he said, "You can go in the evenings, so that you'll be able to get the men home from work, as well as the women home from work, and the whole family. The children might be interesting."
So that's what I did. I'd go up to a door and knock, and say that I was Beth Campbell of the Springfield Leader, and that I thought everybody had a story, and could they tell me a little bit about themselves and let me decide whether they had one or not. And they did! All except one. I mean, the first time I got invited in to every place, and I went—oh, we had decided this between us, Mr. Olds and I, that I would go to a different kind of neighborhood every night—poverty, wealth, the works. And I did. And the only time that I was not allowed to come in—and it was put like this—I could have gotten in there, the man said, "Please don't come in." He said, "I can tell you don't want the kind of story that I would have to tell you. I was falsely accused of being communistic in my last college." "But I proved to them here that I'm not communistic, and I have a job, and I'm enjoying it very much, and if you interview me, and it's on page one of the Leader, it will bring it all up again."
And I said, "Goodbye. I won't stay." [Laughter.] But that's the only one.
A photographer came and, wherever they would let us, took a picture, though we
didn't force anybody to take a picture. And it made a story for 20 nights, called "Read Folks at Home".
Then another thing, I remember it was on New Year's Day—oh, cold, it was very, very cold. I decided I would splurge and have my breakfast at the Kentwood Arms. Well, there was George Olds, having his breakfast, and he invited me to sit down with him, so I did. We were just talking generally, and I said how cold it was, and how awful it was for people who didn't have any money. I had written some stories about girls who worked for a produce company—I think it was either eggs or chickens they dealt with—the week before, and I said, "They only make $10 a week. How can they get enough to eat, by the time they've gotten a room and have enough clothes to cover them?"
He said, "That's what you should find out, starting tomorrow."
And I said, "What do you mean?"
"Well," he said, "I want you to do a story. You took, as I recall, a bunch of foolishness like home economics when you were in college, didn't you?"
And I said, "Yes."
And he said, "And carbon chemistry, didn't you take that?"
And I said, "Yes."
"You know about vitamins and calories and things. Well, that's good." So he said, "Start tomorrow. Don't eat a bite except what you report for the paper, and we'll call it the 'Ten-day, Two-bit diet.' You're not to spend more than a quarter a day, because as I figure it, I don't think those girls would have more than a quarter a day for food. So we'll see whether they can get enough to eat. But be sure and come early to work, and I'll arrange for a doctor, because you need to have a doctor's examination before it."
Well, I did, and the doctor examined me, and I went out to get breakfast. I had an idea for the first one, because somebody had told me the night before that out at the YWCA, they had a breakfast where you could get oatmeal for ten cents a bowl if you had cream on it, but if you just had a pat of butter in it, it would be seven cents. [Laughter.] So I had a bowl of oatmeal for seven cents that first morning, and then other times. Some of the other things were very crazy. The college was of help, though, because they had a special on sandwiches, and I remember one day I was able to get a nice sandwich. But you could only do that once, and the next day there wasn't any such special. The only day that I really got enough to eat, I think, but it would have been terribly dull if I'd tried it every day, and I couldn't have written a story about it, because I had a photographer coming around behind me to get pictures of me in the line and everything, and what I got the day I got enough to eat was a loaf of bread and a very small jar of peanut butter. [Laughter.] And I ate it for all three meals, as I recall. But that was an interesting feature. At the end of it, I hadn't lost a pound, maybe a half a pound or something, but what I had lost were red blood corpuscles. I knew enough to count my calories and vitamins and minerals, but I didn't know enough about whatever you get—white blood or red blood corpuscles. [Laughter.]
But things like that cut into the routine nature of reporting. Of course, much more exciting were the—it's not very nice to talk about them, but the criminal kind
of things that came along. I was there to cover the biggest story that came while I was in Springfield. There were two young brothers who killed six peace officers, and two of the peace officers, the sheriff, Marshall Hendrix, and the Chief of Police, both were good friends of mine. And it was just awful. I had located, as I recall, the address of their mother, after they had killed a couple of people in Texas, and the officers there thought they had come home to their Springfield home, wherever it was, four miles out of town, on a farm. The sheriff and the police chief and four other officers went out to arrest them, and, as I say, there was a massacre, really, and they got away. Eventually, I've forgotten for sure, but I think they killed each other in a Fort Worth, Texas hotel. At any rate, they both did get killed; they didn't have to be tried. They realized what they'd done or something; I don't know. But that was exciting, because, of course, nobody was there but the Springfield staff to cover it at the beginning. But after two days, we had people from New York. [Laughter.] And after one day, we had two St. Louis papers, you know, a lot of other people came in, and they were all trying to interview us, who had been on the story all the time. I met a lot of names in the newspaper business, whose bylines I had read.
Is that what you want to know?
Knight: Yes, it's very interesting. It was your first job. What was the hardest thing for you to learn? What surprised you, I guess, about the job that you hadn't anticipated?
Campbell: I don't think anything surprised me very much, because I had known enough newspaper people, and had worked on the paper for three years in college. I had been on the staff. And by the time I graduated, I had one summer on the Bartlesville Morning Examiner in my home town. The only way they had a job for a woman was as society editor. I told them I wouldn't work as society editor only. If I could cover regular stories, too, for my $25 a week, while Peggy Carmen was in Europe, I would be glad to work. Well, that's what I did. So I had had a summer.
Knight: How did you handle getting emotionally involved with stories? Was that ever a struggle for you?
Campbell: Oh, yes.
Knight: Did you have to make rules for yourself? How did you work that out over the course of your working life?
Campbell: I don't think I had rules, except the general rule, that you couldn't do your job if you were crying or sobbing inside, you know, just so very involved that you couldn't think. But that was just part of doing the job right, to me. I don't think I made a rule about it; I just knew I couldn't do it. But I did. [Laughter.] You know, you do get upset about people. You find tears in your eyes occasionally, but I didn't ever break down. That I stuck with.
But I suppose the hardest thing was—I'm sure all through the years that I was writing for newspapers—was getting every word right, getting every person's name right, getting every job they did right, being exact and not ever saying, "Well, I asked him, and now I've forgotten what he said, but I think it was—" No, I couldn't do that. I had to get everything right, and that's hard to do. I mean, to most of us, I think—am I wrong?—in society, generally, they have things right most of the time, but they don't really feel guilty if they don't have everything right, but I did.
Of course, that was made very dramatic for me by George Olds, the wonderful man who taught me, and I hated him all the time he was doing it. [Laughter.] He made me feel so small and dumb. But I remember, particularly, when—I've forgotten how many weeks I'd been there, six, eight—he said, "I think you're ready to handle a death notice." To heck with it! What's so special about a death notice? He said, "You know, the one time in a person's life that it means the most to them, whether this is the person, the mother or the father or the wife, whoever is left of the person who's died, is that person's name appearing properly in the paper. And so I never let anybody cover a death notice until I think they can be absolutely accurate." Because he said—and he never seemed to have any emotions—[Laughter]—but he said, "You know, people just get so upset if something's wrong." They'd been in protesting to him, I guess, and that kind of thing through the years. So I did the death notices for quite a long time.
I don't know how long it was before the stock market went kerflouey. It couldn't be too long, because September '29—
Knight: And you started in June.
Campbell: In June of '29. Soon, he said that he thought I could be trusted to go get the closings. I didn't even know what a closing was. I guess this is the hardest thing I ever had to do, because it was so strange to me. I didn't know enough about the stock market. It was something my family hadn't gotten involved in. But anyway, I was sent to a broker's office every afternoon, to be there at two o'clock, and to take down for a certain list of stocks, the entire list that they got the reports on, from New York, whatever a stock had closed at that particular day at two o'clock. And I had to get them right, he said. He pointed out that there had been one person who died as a result of what the stock report said. Well, it happened that one had been right; it wasn't wrong. But he said, "You wouldn't want to be the first one to get it wrong and have somebody die." So I was very careful about taking down the numbers. I took them back to the office, and we put them on the teletype machine, and I did this day after day after day after day. There were plenty of people, I'm sure, who wanted to jump out windows. We had one person jump out of a window in Springfield. I guess there were lots of them in New York.
But that kind of thing, too, it's like the two bit diet that I was on, 25 cents a day, or going around to find people who were interesting in their lives. That kind of thing breaks into your regular things which happen on every newspaper in every town, where someone did something special, and they come in to report it, or you go out to them to get it reported, or the police court. Of course, police court could be interesting, too. We had a police reporter who didn't go to college, but who was a very good police reporter. He could get things right. He didn't write at all. He was awfully good to dictate things to you over the phone, but not like some people dictate, expecting you to take it word for word, you know. [Laughter.] That's what I had to do when I went out and had to dictate a story. But he just told you what happened, and he said, "Well, this is going to be hard. I don't think I better give you anything on it until you ask George."
I said, "Why?"
He said, "Well, this prostitute got up on the stand in police court this afternoon and said that our publisher gave her the fur coat she had on." [Laughter.]
I asked George, and he said, "Well, what would you do if it was anybody else in town?"
I said, "Well, I'd say so."
So he said, "Say so."
So I wrote it. [Laughter.] And Bix never said a word about it. Whether it was true or not, I don't know. But anyhow, that's what she said.
So there are always bright things or different things, whether they're bright or blue, in a newspaper job.
After I'd been there about six or eight months, when they gave me a column to write—"The Very Idea." I got to choose the name of the column. I had had a big argument with them over using my own name. They wanted to give me funny names. Every other reporter on the whole staff had a funny name that wasn't his own or her Own.
Campbell: Well, the paper owned the name. If the people left, the name stayed on, and somebody else could go into the job, except they had given Sigrid Arne—her name was Agnes Holmquist, and when she'd worked for them earlier in Muskogee, they had given her the name, or she'd chosen it, but they had given it to her, Sigrid Arne, and that was her byline. When she left there, they gave her permission to take the name. It fitted her so well. She was a tall, attractive, blonde Swede.
Knight: So that wasn't her real name.
Campbell: No. Her name was Agnes Holmquist.
Campbell: But she went clear through. She was the Associated Press Feature Service reporter at the United Nations. I think I told you about her once before. She just was one of the most outstanding newspaper women there ever was. She had to leave the AP, though, because at that time, thank goodness, they changed it later, but the AP had a rule that women reporters had to be retired at age 55. She got a job immediately on the Cleveland News, where she'd worked in the beginning [Laughter], and had it for a number of years.
Knight: But in your column, they let you use—
Campbell: I just refused to choose any other name.
Campbell: Well, it seemed silly to me. I had a name, and it was my own, and if they wanted to use a name, I didn't see why I had to have a different name. I'd been writing there for a long time without a name, no byline. Why couldn't it be my own?
Well, the first time, that was all there was. I just didn't get a byline. About six months, they tried me again on some story that he liked real well, and that time, he didn't say any more, after he'd proposed some names and so on, and I said,
"No. I'd just rather not have a byline." And that time, I was on it. And anywhere else I've been, I've always had my own name—Beth Campbell.
Knight: With a special slant on the column? How were they different from the regular news stories you were covering?
Campbell: They were on the editorial page, and they were wider, instead of however many—eight columns, it was six or something, so that they were wider, and the headline was different up at the top—"The Very Idea" in great big letters, by Beth Campbell.
Knight: That was the name of it, "The Very Idea"?
Knight: And did you have specific topics you were more interested in?
Campbell: No. I chose whatever I wanted. That's how I got into that mess about the sermon. I suppose I told you about that.
Knight: No, you didn't.
Campbell: I didn't? Oh, my
Knight: You haven't talked about the Springfield Leader yet.
Campbell: Oh, really? It was a mess. I was church editor, and I go to church myself, and I believe very much in Christianity. But we had 65 churches in this town of 65,000 people, and some of the preachers were great, and some of them were terrible, and some of them were lovely, nice people but just couldn't preach sermons, you know. I didn't like to say that about any one of them. They all wanted their sermons in the paper. They brought them down themselves, generally, traipsed in to the paper on either Sunday afternoon or Monday with whatever they'd preached on the Sunday before. So I read a great many sermons, and I thought, "Well, it can't be this bad. I'll go listen to them." So I went from church to church, every Sunday, listening to the sermons.
So then one day, it was Sunday afternoon, it was time to write the Monday column, so I sat down at the typewriter and wrote, "Something ought to be done about sermons. They're terrible!" And then I said, "Religion deserves a better presentation than it's getting in Springfield, Missouri." I said, "Some of the ministers are great, but there are others who read every word of a typed sermon without ever looking up from their notes, there are others who don't ever write a sermon, who just talk, wander generally around some given subject, without your ever knowing exactly what it was," and then I went on with all kinds of things that were wrong. There were just a lot of them. And somewhere in there, I was going too fast, I guess, because I wrote, "Even I could preach a better one."
And I didn't even worry about it. Nothing happened Monday; nothing happened Tuesday. Thursday, the Reverend G. Bryant Drake, who was the minister of the Congregational Church at Drury College, the best minister in town at that time, without any question, in my belief, called and said, "You didn't think you were going to get by with that 'Even I could preach a better one,' did you?" He said, "As I read this column you wrote last Monday, it says that you said that, and I want you to occupy my pulpit this Sunday night, 7:30." [Laughter.] Oh!
"I can't say no, after I said that in the paper. I have to do it, but I don't think you'll be very glad afterwards, you know." [Laughter.] "I don't think I'll be so great."
He said, "Well, I'm going to count on you for Sunday night."
So I was scared to death. That, I guess, is the most scared I ever was. I walked over to the desk and said, "Mr. Olds, I've gotten the paper in terrible trouble."
He said, "You have? What did you do?"
I said, "Mr. Drake of Drury has challenged me to preach a sermon in his pulpit on Sunday night." This was Thursday, about noon.
He said, "Really? Docia, come interview Beth, please. Somebody get hold of Charlie Werner. We want a picture." [Laughter.] He didn't think I'd gotten the paper in trouble at all; he thought it was a great story! [Laughter.]
So I thought, well, if he thinks it's so great, when he got through with whatever he had to say, I said—you know, this is Thursday, and this was my night to work on the church page. I started as soon as the afternoon paper was out, usually, and I used to work until 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. in the morning, because it was writing eight columns of copy and putting all the headlines in. I said, "Could I have a little time off between now and Sunday to write the sermon?"
"I'm sorry," he said, "I can't do that. But you don't need any time off. You can do a sermon." [Laughter.] Well, I didn't get any time off. Every minute that I could get, except to eat, occasionally, I wrote something on the sermon. I finally got one written, but, of course, I couldn't use it verbatim. As it was, I couldn't read it, because that was one of the things I had criticized; I had to do it by heart. So I started memorizing, and at some point along there, at the office, not at home—I didn't have a typewriter at home—I took some cards and made some notes of different sections of the sermon that would remind me, in case I did forget. When the time came, I had a date. I had told him I was sorry, I had to go preach a sermon. Well, he said, "I can take you there and bring you home, can't I?"
I said, "Sure." So he came to pick me up at seven o'clock—Eddie Ellis, I think his name was—and had a cab. He didn't have a car. I said, "Before we go out to the church, I've got to go by the office and get those reminder cards I did."
So we went downtown. It wasn't far—three or four blocks from where I lived. And I went up to get the cards. When I came back downstairs, because I was the only one who knew where to look for them, there was Eddie with the hood up, and no driver for the cab. I said, "Where's the cab driver? We need to hurry. Hear those bells?" They were the church bells ringing for our 7:30 service, and we were going to be there early.
And he said, "Well, he said he was sure we'd do better and get there faster if he went to his cab headquarters and got another cab, than if he tried to fix this one, because he hadn't been able to do a bit of good." But he said, "I've got it started now, so let's go." So I jumped in, and he started the engine, and off we went. We kidded a little bit about stealing a car. He said when I got out of
church, "When you get through preaching your sermon, come down and get me out of jail." [Laughter.]
So I went on in. Oh, the church—Mr. Drake said, and other people who had been there longer than he had, said that the crowd was the most people that had ever been in that church. They opened up all the Sunday school rooms, and the choir staff. Where the choirmembers usually sat, was my publisher.
Knight: Had they done a story in the Friday paper?
Campbell: Oh, sure. They'd announced it, you see. We carried their announcement. I didn't write anything about it. [Laughter.] But then, afterwards, the AP and UP carried 1,500 words on it, apiece. And that was the beginning. I got letters, more than 1,000 letters, from Colorado, Texas, Kansas, everywhere.
Knight: What kind of letters?
Campbell: People saying that I was the most sacrilegious, horrible, awful newspaper reporter they'd ever heard of, and people saying, like one woman, "Oh, my dear girl, you've just simply made my life. I can die now. I had nine boys. And all but one of them joined the church, as they were growing up, at various ages. But one of them just never would join, never would go to church, never would do anything. I just felt like I wasn't the right kind of a mother. But he read your sermon in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and he joined the church last Sunday. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart." There were others. Nobody quite like that, who said that somebody who'd resisted for 42 years had joined the church. [Laughter.] But others just as complimentary, and others on the other side that just thought that it would take scum to get up in a church pulpit and pretend to preach a sermon. Whichever was right doesn't matter now.
Knight: What was the sermon about?
Campbell: The text was "Rejoice in thy youth." See, I was 20. [Laughter.] Oh, dear. Ecclesiastes. I can't remember the rest of the verse. I've got a copy somewhere of the sermon, but I haven't found it for years. Betty Beale of the Washington Star got hold of it at the time I went to the White House. She was writing a personality piece. I got all these requests. I could have quit my job to go all over the country and preach the sermon again. And they didn't even ask me to write a new one! First, I did nothing about them. Bix called me up to his office one day, and he said, "Why, if you wanted to go and preach a sermon somewhere else, couldn't you have done it in our trade territory? I've got a copy of a letter to you, asking you to repeat that sermon, but it's from Oklahoma City. You know, nobody buys the Springfield Leader in Oklahoma City."
Well, I said, "You know, I was going to come and ask you. The others, I haven't done a thing about. I have a lot of them. I have a whole pile you can have. If you want all of your trade territory, I won't be able to work for you for quite a long time." [Laughter.] But I said, "This one is from Oklahoma City, and I haven't been back there since I graduated from college, and Oklahoma city is just 20 miles from Norman. It's just the same sermon; I wouldn't have to do anything new. I would like to go down there."
Well, he kidded around a little bit, and finally said, "Okay. I don't like your attitude, but you can go to Oklahoma if you want to." And so I did, and saw people I hadn't seen for ages.
Knight: You really put yourself out on the line.
Campbell: Oh, I really did. I really did. And I wasn't sure I wasn't wrong to have done it, but I didn't think I was a rapscallion or a skunk or anything quite as bad as some of the people said I was. [Laughter.] But some people just think that, you know, a newspaper reporter—or they did then; I wonder if they do now—you probably know, being outside—they thought newspaper reporters were bad, that they weren't honorable.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Knight: You were talking about some of the people on the paper, your co-workers on the paper—Max Boyd.
Campbell: And even George Olds, the managing editor, wrote a column once a week, the same place where I went, and he wrote as Edward Eddy. I think George Olds is a lovely name; Edward Eddy seemed strange—and Felix Flanigan for Max Boyd just seemed so silly to me. Then we had Allen Oliver, his name was Dick Terry, and he wrote a humorous column once a week. He went to the St. Louis Post Dispatch and stayed Allen Oliver.
Knight: Did the women hang around together and the men hang around together?
Knight: Were you all reporters together?
Campbell: We were all reporters together. On a given story, George sent whoever he thought could cover it, depending on who was available. If people were already busy, he might send somebody that he wouldn't have normally thought was able to handle the story, but he had to. At the beginning, Max and Docia were the ones who could handle anything and do it beautifully, and had done lots of stuff for the AP and the UP and the various big feature services and that kind of thing. But the rest of us were getting to be in shape, too. Well, actually, Celia Ray (her real name was Lucille Morris, now Lucille Morris Upton) could do it, too. She'd been our specialist on the Ozarks. Springfield is the queen city of the Ozarks.
We had Congressman Dewey Short, who was from Galena, which was about 35 miles down into the Ozarks from Springfield, and we all got stories from him. He could quote Shakespeare, an hour at a time. Not very many congressmen could do that. [Laughter.] But it didn't take George very long to get everybody able to handle most of the stories. When they assigned me to be sports editor for two weeks, I thought they'd really found one that couldn't work, but when I was somehow able to go to the office the next day, after that wrestling match, I decided I could do anything. [Laughter.]
Knight: Did you ever get a sense that either you were sent or weren't sent on a particular story because you were a woman?
Knight: Did it make any difference at all?
Campbell: No, no. Never, ever. I mean, or they wouldn't have sent me on that rape story.
Knight: Did you think that was unusual?
Campbell: Yes, yes, I do. Very unusual. I was lucky all my whole way through, because I went from Springfield, after five years, to the Daily Oklahoman, which was a bigger paper in a bigger city, a bigger state, which also—well, it didn't have near as many women, but it certainly had had respect for its women reporters. Sigrid had worked there. That's where she was when I heard her speak. And Walter Harrison—the managing editor respected women just like he did men. Now, I don't think my city editor did quite. I loved him. He was a great, big fellow. But he came over to me one day. This was when I smoked—thank goodness, I don't anymore—but he came over and said, "Beth, I wondered if you would mind, if you insist on smoking, would you mind going down to three and a half?" Three and a half was the ladies restroom.
And I said, "Look. If I sit here at my desk and smoke, I can work while I smoke. If I go down there, you lose my time. Why? Why? Everybody knows that I smoke."
"Well, I'm not sure Mr. Gaylord does." (He was the owner of the paper, and he was a millionaire, and had a lot of other things, later a TV station, and certainly the golden guernsey cattle, who made milk, and other businesses.)
And he said, "Well, you'll just have to quit smoking."
I said, "You didn't tell me that when I came here to work. You were very anxious to have me." So I just went on, and the managing editor never mentioned it. When I left, two years later, Mr. Gaylord lighted my cigarette at the dinner he gave in honor of my leaving. [Laughter.] Oh, dear. So what I was trying to say was that women were respected as reporters on the Oklahoman, too, the Oklahoman and Times. I was on the Oklahoma City Times, really, the afternoon paper. But I think it's only the Oklahoman now, and it had been the Oklahoman at the beginning, and the afternoon paper was a later addition. But that fit better. I had been on an afternoon paper in Springfield, and, you know, you learn the hours and that kind of thing.
We had a regular team. This was on the Daily Oklahoman—I'd left the Springfield paper now. Dick Pearce, later, was the editor of the San Francisco—the Hearst paper out there, because he wrote me, I remember, when he first went, that he was getting used to being a "Hearstitute." [Laughter.] But at any rate, he was only a reporter then, but he was promoted. He and I used to be sort of a team. When a big trial was going to last, you know, for a week or two, you needed somebody not only to cover all the testimony, but also there were features popping up all over the place. Well, I was there to pop up the features, but also to be able to take Dick's place when he went to lunch or when he went to see somebody about something in connection with a part of the testimony, the district attorney or somebody like that. But the two of us would cover it. I mean, they'd always had men doing that before, but the—I'm trying to think if there was another woman. There were a lot of other women on the paper at various times, but when I was there, I didn't have this little group of other women, like in Springfield. I had an assistant, when I was school editor, who helped every day. She was a girl. I can't remember. In society and places like that there were women. But I don't remember anybody else on the general staff, but I think that it didn't make any difference. I never had any feeling from the people that I worked under that I was any different than the men on the paper.
Knight: As far as you know, were the pay scales the same for men and women?
Campbell: Yes, except they weren't classified that way, because this boy who came from my home town of Nowata, Oklahoma, and who went to the same journalism school, and whom I knew very well, had just left the Oklahoma City Times, as I recall, when I went there to work, and I saw him in the next three or four days. We went out to get coffee or something. He said, "Well, I hope you did better than I did on the paper." He'd been on it for two years.
I said, "What do you mean?"
He said, "Well, I'm only getting $15 a week." He had a college degree and a journalism certificate. When I went from my $27.50 job in Springfield to Oklahoma City I got $35 a week. And the managing editor, Walter Harrison—"Skipper," we called him—in Oklahoma City, oh, what a darling he was. He was a bright, good editor. But he came to Washington or New York all the time, because he was not only the chairman of the AP managing editors committee or convention or what have you, but he also got to be president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Then later on, he was president of National Sigma Delta Chi. But anyhow, he called me over to his office one day—he didn't have an office, but to the corner of the newsroom where he was—and said, "Beth, how would you like to go to Washington to work for the Associated Press?"
And I said, "Well, can I have a couple of minutes to think about it? I'm not absolutely sure, because I have a young brother who's in high school, and my mother just died." I didn't say any more; I just was quiet, thinking. And I figured out ways I could do it, and I spoke up and said, "Yes, I would like to go."
"Well," he said, "I'm sorry I made you think so hard, because you can't go. I told them you couldn't." [Laughter.] It seems he had seen Byron Price, who, a very short time after that, was the second man to Kent Cooper, in the whole AP, over the world, but he was at that time the bureau chief in Washington. I had twice spent just one day in Washington, so I could go call on bureau chiefs and editors there. I had done the same thing in New York, I'd been to see the city editor of the New York Times, the World Telegram and the Herald Tribune. But at any rate, he said, "They wanted you for the Washington bureau, and I said you couldn't go." He said, "I didn't think you'd want to, for one thing, and I didn't think we could spare you, for another. But I'm sorry, since you really think you could have gone." He was not very sorry. [Laughter.] A lovable fellow, though. But at any rate, that was all there was.
About—I don't know how much later, two months maybe, he had been to Washington, to a meeting of managing editors, and he was on his way to Dallas, where the Sigma Delta Chi national convention was going to be, and whenever he had things like that, he had somebody, usually one of the police reporters, bring his mail to him out at the airport, and bring back any messages he had. Jeff went out to the airport to meet him that day, and when he came back, he said, "I am sorry, Beth. I can't remember exactly, but the Skipper said to tell you that he'd sold you down the river, but somehow I didn't make him tell me what he meant."
I said, "Well, I certainly don't know. It either means he's told them I can come to Washington, or he's told them I can't come." [Laughter.] "I have no idea which." Well, he came back two days later and told me that I could go this time, if I got the Times' Christmas baby off my hands before then. He also had insisted they pay me $65 per week, which saved my life.
Every year, the Oklahoma City Times had adopted, in a strange sort of sense, the first baby born after the New Year. So by the time I got there and was made Christmas Baby editor, among other things, we had a dozen of them over the country, maybe more. Then we each year had one coming. So one thing I had to do was raise either money or clothes for a baby, you know, for a new baby, to give to whoever the new one was, but I also started pretty early writing to all our earlier Christmas babies in Kentucky or Alabama or somewhere like that, and finding out what had happened to them. By that time, some of them were up in high school, some of them were playing football, and it was all very interesting. I enjoyed it thoroughly. But it was a split-second kind of thing, but I managed to get it done, and I managed to leave. As a matter of fact, I managed to leave—I knew somebody else could write this story about the new baby coming on December the 31st, at whatever time, so I left and got to Washington on the morning, eight o'clock, of December the 21st, 1936. Because '37 was when President Roosevelt was going to be sworn in as the new President, and this was the first time on January 20. It had been March the fourth all through the years, until Congress had changed it.
Knight: Let me go back to when you were in Springfield, because I want to save the whole AP experience for the next time we get together.
Campbell: Oh, all right.
Knight: But let me go back. Did your social life revolve around people at the paper? What was your personal life like?
Campbell: Well, it was very nice. It had so many different angles. In the first place, I was lucky that I had a cousin, a younger cousin than I, who was a student at Drury at the time I went, and one of the first things she did was arrange a date for me for a Drury College dance. He was a very attractive young man. He had just finished his college at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and he had specialized in script writing and that type of thing, and had gotten a job in Hollywood at the same time I got mine in Springfield, writing screenplays and things like that for people. So we had a lot of fun, not only dancing—he was a very good dancer, and I loved to dance, that's my chief—it was for many years—hobby, outside of the newspaper business. But at any rate, we had dates.
But then I must have started awfully soon, because I think it was that first year—no, it must have been the next Christmas, but he had gotten home. I didn't tell you. [Laughter.] This is not going to hang together very well. He had gotten a job in Hollywood at the same time I got my job, but he went along for, I've forgotten, six months, seven months, so I had been in Springfield some time before I met him. But then he lost his job about then, and he went around other places and couldn't get one. Finally, the only thing he could do was come home—his folks had a home there in Springfield—and look for jobs there. Of course, he couldn't get any writing scripts, but he was wanting to write anything. But at any rate, we had a few dates before this happened, which I am about to tell. We had, almost next door to the Springfield Leader, there was a bookstore. Oh, a wonderful bookstore, where you could browse, where they even had chairs for you to sit and browse in! I was browsing in there one time, and I found this little book, which, I think, cost 75 cents. It was Nietzsche, I believe. And I glanced at it a little bit and thought, "I've been trying to figure what I could give Bennett. He might give me something, he might not, but if I did give him something, it had to be something very little, or he'd feel embarrassed, whether he gave me something or not." So I bought this little book for him and wrapped it up. It must have been practically Christmas Eve when I
did it, because I didn't ever read it all, and that's a rule that I've never broken since! I don't ever give away a book that I haven't read! [Laughter.] But at any rate, I did give it to him. I guess I had a date with him that night or something.
But anyhow, the next morning, he called around noon, I guess, and said, "Do you really want me to commit suicide?" [Laughter.] Well, I got the book back, and I saw what he meant. [Laughter.] I hadn't read enough Nietzsche philosophy.
But anyway, then he just didn't have money to take me even to a movie; he didn't have any money. His mother had a job, but not a very big job, and his father had died. But he was so talented, I knew he was going to make a good deal of money some time, and he made a great deal more than I did before too long. But at any rate, we figured out once, after I moved in with Hope Schwab, Irving, her date, came over every Sunday night, and they usually went out someplace. He had more money. Lawyers did, even in the Depression, a lot of them. And so I've forgotten who suggested it, it could have been Hope, could have been Irving, "Why don't the four of us write something?" That would make it unnecessary, you know, Bennett could just come over, and we could all four have fun and talk, and we could write something. Well, we took it up with Bennett, and he thought that was fine. So for a year, we had a date, the four of us, every Sunday night, over in our apartment, Hope's and mine, and we wrote a play. It was a wonderful play. It was a political play. We had a guy running for President, who was just like Will Rogers, who, at that time, had a column on every front page of practically every paper in the United States. It was this long [5 inches], and I read all of them, and picked up all the Will Rogerisms that we could. But at any rate, we thought, finally, we revised, and we were all kind of particular about what we wanted, and I think it was good. I don't know whether I still have a copy. I may have gotten so mad, I threw it into the trash. But when I got to New York, my sisters had a blind date for me for the first night, and we went to this play, and it was the same play as ours. There was no way they could have gotten hold of it; it wasn't plagiarism. It was just the same idea had burst in Springfield, Missouri, and wherever the author of this play was. It was the hit. It had just opened, but it stayed the top hit on Broadway all that year and the next year.
Knight: What was the name of it?
Campbell: I can't think of it. It wasn't "Of Thee I Sing," or maybe it was. And the second scene in the first act was just almost word for word. It was in a hotel room, plotting how they were going to go about the campaign. It was very interesting. Even words, whole paragraphs, practically, were the same. But my mother had told me a long time before, so that I wasn't as suspicious as a lot of people were, that she took, when I was a child, growing up, she had all these women's magazines, Delineator, Women's Home Companion, Ladies Home Journal, along with Harper's and Atlantic Monthly, but she said that every so often, there would be the same story in the same issue of several magazines. She was the one who figured out that certain ideas just hit the country, and people with good minds or minds along a particular line would feel the same way about them and put them into some very similar words. Some of these stories, I remember her telling me, were just almost like they were identical. So when somebody else had our play almost identical, I could be mad, but I couldn't be surprised. [Laughter.]
You were asking about social life. That was one kind of social life in the Depression. I never heard of anybody else doing the same thing, but we had a year. It was very pleasant. Then I also saw Bennett and saw other people. I didn't date him steadily. But I met other people. I never dated anybody on the paper. I made
it a rule. That's one rule that I made, that it wouldn't be a good idea to date people on the paper.
Knight: Why did you decide that?
Campbell: I don't know. I just thought that—you asked me about mixing up emotions with working for a newspaper, and I didn't think—you couldn't ever tell when something would turn out to be something affecting your emotions. And it might affect your job, and so you just were better not to mix them up. It worked for me. There were people who asked me for dates on the paper, and I just told them that I had this rule, you know, and thanked them very much. We could have coffee together some morning or something like that, you know. As far as I know, it didn't cause me any enemies. As a matter of fact, we had dates almost every afternoon when the paper went to bed. There was a place just half a block—the Ontra—which was a tearoom. The whole afternoon paper staff went up there, almost everybody, George Olds and Docia and Max and Celia and Dick Terry and I, and just talked for 40 minutes. It was a good way to finish your day, and to get your problems, if you'd had any, out in the open. It was a great way, and it was so easy, because it was close.
But then also, I met some other young men who were going to Drury, who were about my age, not quite, because I was kind of young for getting out. Movies were about all the things people did for dates in those days, that I knew about.
Wait! Oh, and dancing! We had—oh, the most wonderful place called Half a Hill, about 5, 6 miles from town, huge ballroom. We just don't have them anymore; it's a great loss. But at any rate, it was huge, and people went, dozens and dozens. You met people out there, because they had the business of tagging people, and you didn't have to know people to dance with them. Well, we hadn't had to in school, in student council dances. But if you liked them and they liked you, you were apt to dance together, especially if you danced well together, you were going to see them again some time. Oh, this was so wonderful! A young man, I don't know whether he just cut in on me, or whether somebody introduced me to him, it doesn't make any difference, he was the best dancer I ever danced with in my life. We just danced all over that big auditorium. They had all these marvelous orchestras that were the big, famous ones in the United States and on the radio all the time. Well, my roommate, Hope, said, "You haven't mentioned this boy that you dance with all the time at Half a Hill, but somebody told me you were practically going steady with him."
I said, "Oh, if he asked me to dance, I couldn't dance with anybody else; he's so much better."
And she said, "Who is he?"
I told her his name, Eddie somebody, and she wanted to know what he did. Well, I was ashamed. It's the only time in my life I've ever been ashamed to tell anybody what I did or what anybody I liked did, but he worked for a company that sold the kind of thing that you use on bodies after people are dead, you know, get them ready to bury.
Campbell: Yes, embalming fluid. He was a salesman for embalming fluid. Now, how can you tell your best friend that you're dating—I didn't date him any time except for the dances—but I danced with him every minute I had a chance to dance. He was a salesman for embalming fluid.
Knight: [Laughter.] Did he ever ask you for dates?
Campbell: For other dates? Yes. But dancing was the only thing. We couldn't have any conversation. We didn't have any. [Laughter.] We tried sometimes. Actually, maybe we didn't try hard enough, because it was just such fun to dance with him.
Knight: At that time, what were your expectations for yourself, for both your career, your future work, and for your personal life?
Campbell: I wasn't thinking about getting married yet. I always intended to get married. I thought marriage and family was something I'd like. I liked the family my own family had, and I wanted to have it, too. But I was too young to begin thinking about that. I kept putting it off all the time, and got to be older and older. I didn't ever, you know, think, "It's time I got married now." I did get—oh, dear, I've really forgotten about Springfield. I was half engaged to a guy there once. [Laughter.] He was going to make me—he and his friend were going to make me the best woman tennis player in the state of Missouri. I couldn't play at all, never had played tennis. But they were just so sure that their talents as teachers would be so good, that they could make me into the best the state had ever had. So we had just started the lessons, and I had finally learned, so that I could go under instead of over to return a ball, when I came to Washington. So I'll never know.
Knight: You were engaged?
Campbell: I was engaged to him, sort of half engaged.
Knight: What does that mean?
Campbell: Well, he didn't know when he—he, too, he was a Harvard graduate, with a Ph.D., and he was having to earn a living. Anyway, he was making a living in the Depression. He had enough money to take me places, to dinner—gosh! He bought me my first cocktail, I remember. But at any rate, he was earning this money by restringing people's tennis racquets. You know, there are the most amazing ways to earn money if you go out and look. But I just knew that was over. I was in love at the same time, whenever I came back East in the summer, which I did several years, with a guy who was a teacher at Dartmouth. He was wonderful. [Laughter.] I liked him, too. We weren't ever formally engaged, I guess, but you know, in both cases, we were serious about it. We wanted to get married. But you know, you can't get married to two people. So that didn't ever work out. The first one, the one that lived in Springfield, who made the tennis racquet strings, we lost contact. I have no idea what's happened to him. But I've stayed friends with Dean, and he married a lovely girl, who I got to be very fond of. They live up in Maine, in the same town where L.L. Bean is, Rockport, [Freeport] I think. I had visited him up there, or rather, to be nice, I visited another faculty couple that invited me on his behalf, so I could have a place to stay, without going to a hotel, so it would be proper.
Knight: What about work? How did you think about your work? You told me you knew you would always get married. What did you think that your future in journalism would be?
Campbell: I didn't think about it. You know, whether I would go on with the journalism after I got into the family, I had no idea. I was maybe not very serious-minded or something. [Laughter.]
Knight: And yet you took your job very seriously.
Campbell: Oh, yes! It, at that time, was more important than any of the sort of half-love affairs I was having, thinking I was in love with a guy when I couldn't really be. I mean, he thought he was in love with me, but he couldn't really support me if we got married, one of them. The other one could have, but I just never could be absolutely sure. I couldn't see him enough, and my mother was sick. This was right before she died. I remember writing to both of them that we'd just have to cancel our alleged engagements, because I couldn't think of whether I loved anybody or anything, because Mother was too sick. So I just cancelled out all of the social engagements, and then I went to work in Oklahoma City after she died. With this one guy from Maine, I've kept up the friendship all through the years, because he was a very close friend to my two sisters, too, and that makes it a little bit different. He'd be seeing them, and I'd come out to take them to the theater when I was visiting them in New York or something, you know.
Knight: After your mother died, you told me the story of having to leave the Springfield paper. How did you decide on Oklahoma?
Campbell: Well, the managing editor there, Walter Harrison, I had met back in college, and had seen him a number of times since I'd been there in Oklahoma City with Mother. Not a number of times, but three or four. And he knew that I was around. Oh, there was another woman reporter—Virginia Nelson, on the paper. She covered things just about like I did, no difference, and a very good reporter. But anyway, he wrote me a letter and said that he understood that Mother was very critically ill, and that he didn't know whether I wanted to work while she was so ill, but that if I did, that he would like me to come see him, and if I didn't, I might come anyway, because if the opening was still possible, if she did die later, he wanted to be sure to stay in touch with me, or something like that. So I did go in to see him and made this temporary kind of thing. This was about the point where she was unconscious most all the time, and both my sisters and my brother and my dad were there. So I actually went to work before she died, but not more than a couple of weeks. That made it very nice, because then we got an apartment for Daddy and Jack and me, and Flo and Dot went on back East. And there was a new life.
Knight: So you lived with your dad and your brother when you lived in Oklahoma City.
Knight: Not the bachelorette any longer.
Campbell: That's right. No. Then one of my cousins, whose mother had died and who didn't really have a good place to stay for high school, she'd been going out in the country, where she was visiting some relatives, but she came and stayed with us. She went to the same high school Jack did, so that worked out fine. And thank goodness that we had that kind of a family, that we are still good friends. I got a letter from my brother just the other day. He'd driven back from California, where he'd been at the Huntington Library, writing a book, and on his way back, he said, "I stopped to see Marg." And I thought, gee, some people just don't know the joy of having had a continuing relationship with relatives. But we did, and we have.
Knight: How was the Daily Oklahoman? Was it much different from the Springfield paper? Did you feel comfortable? Did you like it better?
Campbell: Skipper was just as wonderful a managing editor as George Olds, I think. A very different paper, much bigger. But the fact that the owner, unlike Mr. Bixby, who was the owner and publisher of the Springfield paper, was very, very wealthy, a multi-millionaire, and who stuck his nose in wherever he took a notion, I mean, if I were really honest and told you what was the difference in the two papers. It didn't come out very often, as far as I was concerned. It did in other places.
I'll never forget, when we had the dust bowl, Irving Hearst, who was the city editor of our morning paper, the Daily Oklahoman, took off and went out to the part of Oklahoma where the dust was raging and rampant. The next thing we heard, he had dust pneumonia. That's what his mother or father or wife or somebody told us. I think he was married, though. But at any rate, he had to be brought back, and was very, very seriously ill. The Oklahoman never mentioned that there was such a thing as dust pneumonia. In fact, at one point, it quoted some doctor that nobody had ever heard of, saying there wasn't any such a thing. Well, Irving had come so near death with it, that, you know, maybe there isn't such a thing, but you can imagine what we all thought on the paper staff. But that was very rare, you know.
The only time it ever affected me was when the people who did bacon—Armours or Swifts or somebody else, but anyhow, there was a big—you don't call them factories, but at any rate, it was where they made all this stuff. They had a strike, and I went out to cover it, because it hadn't been very satisfactorily covered. There had been a bunch of letters to the editor and what have you. I discovered that the reason that they were still producing whatever they were producing—bacon or sausage or what have you—was because they had such a big staff of workers who had not gone out, and the reason, they'd been afraid to go out and try to cross the picket line every day and come in, so they were living inside. So that was why—well, no real damage to the company was being made by the strike. I wrote all this in a story, who did what on it, and I never had any trouble with anything like that before in Oklahoma City, and the story did not come out the next day. I eventually, of course, mentioned it to Skipper, and it was the only thing he ever was embarrassed to talk about.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Knight: This is an ethical issue that you ran into.
Knight: It happened in Springfield once, too?
Campbell: Once. And it also was a strike. Here's one I can't immediately remember as to what the story was, but it didn't get printed. It was the same thing. Once in each town, and each in connection with a strike. One was important, the Oklahoman one. I mean, I'm sure it meant profits to people. The one in Springfield was not particularly important. I don't think it made any difference to anybody.
Knight: Did any other reporters on the paper have that experience? What did you do?
Campbell: Well, I told other people on the staff, and tried to get them excited about it, and everybody said, "You know good and well that they're not going to change whatever has had to have been the policy of the paper for a long time." So there was no use getting yourself all stirred up, and I never did do anything. I later joined the Guild, as soon as it was going, but at that time, no. I joined the Guild here in Washington, I guess.
Knight: There was no union or trade association activity at either of the papers?
Campbell: No. But the American Newspaper Guild is what I meant, that I did join as soon as I could. I can't remember the details at this moment, but they will come back to me. I don't really have any trouble remembering things; this is trouble at the moment, of whatever went on there at Springfield. As I say, it wasn't nearly as important as—I had a page-one story out of that, all these people locked in, you know, being fed, and all that kind of thing. I can't remember what it was in Springfield.
Knight: Did they ever talk to you about why they didn't run it, or it was just not run, and there was no mention made of it?
Campbell: I went to see the editor. [Laughter.] There was nothing until I did, but heaven knows, there are a lot of stories that you write that don't get in the papers just because they're not any good, or because the paper's too full. You can't use everything. And you don't worry about them, you know; they're not left out on any particular principle. But both of these cases had to be principles.
Knight: What else did George Olds teach you?
Campbell: He taught me that hate can turn into love. I thought I hated him, because he said if I didn't get there at eight o'clock, I'd be fired in two minutes, and I knew I would. And it's so unfair, so awful! And also because of his—well, I don't think I told you, or maybe I told you before, about how he taught me to be accurate. Oh, boy, that took about a year. I thought I was pretty darn accurate already, and he had thought I was enough that he had let me do the death notices and the stock market closings. But somewhere along the line, he said, "You really need to learn to memorize everything in here that might be important." And he said, "You don't do that. Nobody on the staff does." He said, "I'm going to send you. You have your evening free, you don't have any children or anything." He didn't care about my social life. [Laughter.] He said, "I want you—I'm going to send you to evening meetings, where people speak, like the University Club or the Rotary Club, and some of them will be worth stories in the paper, some won't. At the moment, half the time, the morning paper doesn't cover them, because they aren't usually worth anything from a news standpoint. But they are from your learning standpoint. So anything that you can quote in direct quotes, you can get in the paper. But anything you cannot, you can't say, 'Dr. James Jones told the Kiwanis Club last night that the United States would run into trouble if it did so and so.' You can't say that. It has to be direct quotes."
So the first week, I got through about one paragraph every night that I could know by heart, and I would write a little story. And if it was news of any kind, they'd print it, and if it wasn't, George would talk to me about it, and be proud that I was doing better. Well, I thought I was doing terribly. But I kept at it. Before we got through, I had been able to write a news story and get it published—it happened to be worth printing—and I had written a whole column, all in direct quotes. [Laughter.] But that did more for me, you know. I just didn't have to worry, really, about whether I could remember things or not. By that time, I knew I could remember things and put the quotes around them. Once in a while, I didn't remember exactly everything, and I didn't use it. Of course, you don't need to most of the time; he gives you a copy of his speech. [Laughter.] But that was another thing with George, that every time I didn't get to go to a movie and had to go to some fool convention of the podiatrists, I was pretty mad at him, but I did find out,
when it turned over in my mind, that I was thinking of him so fondly, what a really great guy, and how much he meant to me, and I didn't hate him at all. It helped me with a couple of my personal relationships, too, where I thought I hated people. Once you realize that you can think you hate people and realize you don't, then you can set about trying to change any of these other hates. So at the moment, I don't hate anybody.
Knight: What else did you learn from him?
Campbell: Well, I learned what's important in—how do I put it?—in a convention or even a University Club meeting. Actually, I learned that you could stay a whole hour and write it all down, and none of it's important for the rest of the people in the world. It's directed at the people who are in that room. And I also—oh, I know. This is different, but that's one of the ones that I learned, but this one, I think it was when I was in Oklahoma City that I realized how valuable it was. It has been the most important thing in almost all the other jobs that I've had, except for newspaper writing, and that was if you went to cover a convention, a special kind of convention, that everybody couldn't understand, and everybody didn't get to go to them, that there are some of them that are very important to the public, but they have to be translated. And you are the person who has to translate, and you have to know what that stupid doctor up there is talking about when he uses language that you've never heard before. So it really means your vocabulary increases, and it means that if you're going to cover a medical convention—and that's where I realized it most—you have a read a lot, before the convention comes, in medical journals, so you do get familiar with the terms that they use, so that you can translate them into something that somebody can understand. If you, with a college education, and a few experiences thrown in besides, can't understand something a man says up on the floor, then he's wrong and you're right, and you've got to find out what to say, so that people who are not doctors can understand. And whether it's doctors or whatever it is.
I remember when I went to work for Senator A.S. "Mike" Monroney as press secretary, he said, "I don't handle press secretary's job like most senators do. The main thing I want to do is get to the people of Oklahoma what's going on in Washington." He said, "All the departments up here sent out press releases all the time, but the editors of Oklahoma papers get them, and they have no idea what to do with them, except put them in the wastebasket, because they're not written in a way that they can understand them, and they know their readers wouldn't. So I want you to send out to all the weeklies, as well as the dailies, the dailies will probably have had it already because of the wire service, but anything that's important that comes to us from Agriculture, from Treasury, or anywhere, you translate it and send it, for me, to the people and these editors." And my goodness, it didn't necessarily mean that Mike Monroney's name got used as much as a lot of senators who were running for office would think they'd like to have their names used, but it certainly—well, it convinced the editors. He got more editor friends out of it, so that would have been a political plus. But the main thing was what he was after in the first place, that farmers in Oklahoma would know what the Agriculture Department was doing! So that's the same thing, exactly, as my medical convention story.
Knight: It sounds like Sigrid Arne was right about George Olds.
Campbell: Being the best teacher.
Knight: Did you stay in contact with her and give her a hard time?
Campbell: Oh, I gave her a hard time! But I also was in contact with her when my kids went to college. She lived in Cleveland, and Vicki, the last one to go to college, went to Ohio Wesleyan, which was in Delaware, not too many miles. It was as easy for me to come back to Cleveland on big highways as it was to go down through Columbus. So I usually spent a night with her. I was able to tell her, you know, how much I had appreciated her telling me what she did about George Olds, and whatever she had done, (she never admitted she did anything, about helping me get a job with him) because I had a job. I had a job with the Austin American—I mean, at the time I got this letter.
Knight: I didn't know that.
Campbell: I didn't say that. I said, "Have other offer. How much?"
Knight: So you really did have another offer.
Campbell: I really had another offer, also for $25 a week, from Charlie somebody, who had come up to the journalism school. He had gone there. I guess they didn't have a journalism school then, but at least he had gone to the university. He came up to look over the current crop that was getting out. I think the Austin American, of course, it's in a college town, too, you know, was about the same size paper, about the same kind of circulation as the Springfield paper was. And he may have been very good, you know, I don't know, but I met him, and I liked him, and I appreciated his offer, but I had it up in the air. I told him I'd let him know by such and such a time. When this came, I let him know I couldn't come, and I went to Springfield.
Knight: Who were some of the reporters whose work you admired at that time? You said Sigrid Arne, but were there others?
Campbell: Dorothy Thompson. Of course, she was writing, at that time, for a much more difficult audience than Sigrid was, because she was older. She was on the New York Herald Tribune, and had been sent to France and Germany and everywhere, practically, and had written columns about all those places. This was before the Second World War.
Let's see. Who else? Well, when I was in O.U., we each had to subscribe, in journalism school, to a newspaper personally, you know, pay for it and get it yourself. I took the Baltimore Sun, which, at that time, was a really great paper. Well, it has been most of its life. I don't think it's been as good lately as it used to be. Joe was on it from 1943-1950. I got interested in 1930 in Henry Mencken. Later on, I lost my interest in him. He became so much more conservative as he grew older, and quirky.
Let's see. I was trying to think of men reporters. There were several that I really admired. I guess Walter Lippman. But I'm not telling you, and I guess I haven't thought about this enough—oh, yes, I have another one, Tom Stokes. Are you aware of him? He worked on the paper here. Well, he was on the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain staff, but we saw his column in the Washington Daily News. He wrote a book, a wonderful book, on what should be watched over in the sense of our water and our forests and our land, a marvelous book, and died too soon. His wife is 89, and I see her. One of my sons is very crazy about her, and she about him. We always go to her birthday party at the Cosmos Club. [Laughter.] Let's see. I guess maybe he was my favorite.
Knight: When you admire something about somebody else's reporting, what is it that you find most compelling about other people's work?
Campbell: One, a feeling that it's true. I think you always get that feeling about something, whether it is or isn't. Whether it's true or not. The second thing is style—very close is vocabulary. I love somebody who can write and really use the English language, and some of the columnists we've had have been able to do that. I don't think there are as many now as there used to be. I worry a little bit about, well, these people who go on television—and I watch the shows with great interest, like Paul Duke—he has one every Friday night, and four other people with him.
Knight: I've done some reading about women in journalism, and the '20s and early '30s were kind of characterized by the young girl reporter who would go out and do pranks. What was your feeling about those people? They were your contemporaries.
Campbell: Oh, well, I was it.
Knight: Were you identified as one of those?
Campbell: Well, everybody thought that girl reporters were stunt reporters, and that was what most editors—I started to tell you about being on the Bartlesville paper, when I was between college years.
Knight: The hitchhiking thing.
Campbell: The hitchhiking thing. Well, that was that kind of thing.
Campbell: And then when I got on the Springfield paper, of course, they had a great deal more sense to them than most of the stunt things—the one with the diet, because we did follow up with the fact that you wouldn't have enough red blood corpuscles, and that the salaries ought to be raised. And the same way, there was a point to the people that I went to call on in the evenings. But then I also—where was I, in Springfield or Oklahoma City?—Oklahoma City, I believe, I ran an engine, a train engine, got a picture of me sitting up there, a big old engine. It was in Springfield, I guess, though, that I flew a plane. That's kind of crazy stuff, but it was interesting to do, and I actually did fly the plane. I'd been interested in aviation. I turned out to be aviation editor of the paper, met Lindbergh and Anne. [Laughter.] But those were mainly the people's ideas, that girl reporters—never women reporters, and never men, or never boy—the girl reporters did all these crazy things and got their pictures taken doing it. I've done quite a lot. [Laughter.]
Knight: Did you think of yourself as one of those?
Campbell: Oh, no, but I knew that people did, and I did if they did. I wasn't trying to be moralistic about what people should think. If I could entertain them, I did. There were others that I'm not thinking of. A lot of these I haven't thought of for years until—I may think of some others.
No, it wasn't exactly that, but I did go on a TWA plane, a Ford tri-motor, that's how old-fashioned it was, to fly from—it didn't come by Springfield yet, it did a little bit later; we were right in the middle of negotiating at that time, but anyhow, I went to St. Louis some way, either by car or by train, and got on a plane up there for New York. I was seated right next to Irene Rich. I don't know whether
you ever heard of her or not; she was one of the real stars of the movies at that time, like Gloria Swanson and like that. Very pretty. And we talked, and we went a little ways, and she said, "Do you like buttermilk?"
"I love it. Nobody's mentioned buttermilk to me for years, but I do like it very much."
And she said, "Do you like pumpkin pie?" "I really do. It's one of my favorites, not just Thanksgiving, other times, too."
She said, "Well, when you get off at the next airport with me [because they had to have longer stops at airports then, and you had to wait quite a little while], we'll go in and get some pumpkin pie and buttermilk." Well, sure enough, all the way across the country, I had pumpkin pie and buttermilk at every airport with Irene Rich, the movie star. [Laughter.] I think I used that in a column some time later on. It certainly wasn't a news story, but it was a kind of interesting thing to have happen.
I guess you'll have to think of some more questions. But there's one about the silly—but the overall picture is what you're really interested in, I guess, and I had wanted very much to mention it to you, because I thought about it this morning, or yesterday, that at the time I went into the business, the majority of people, I think—I never knew—thought of girl reporters as sob sisters. That was the word that often was used. But they also—I don't think I ever had to do anything sobby, but it went also for these unusual kinds of things, you know.
Let's see. What else did I drive besides an engine and an airplane?
Knight: But it sounds to me that even though people thought of you as doing those things, you also had a lot of other story responsibilities that weren't of that kind of story.
Campbell: The majority of my work was other work.
Knight: But the perception by the public about women reporters, you think?
Campbell: I think I helped change it, other people and I. This girl Virginia Nelson, I thought of, who worked at the Daily Oklahoman, she did the same thing I did. She was very good at the stunt stuff, too, but she also could write a serious story as well as anybody.
Knight: And you were given the opportunity.
Campbell: And she was given the opportunity,too. Now, some people have told me—you asked me this, I guess, and I don't remember answering—that they were not permitted to cover those serious stories on the paper, that the only way they could do one was to do something that would cause a kind of sensation. But I never had that attitude toward me. I mean, they thought of these things for me to do, or sometimes I thought of them to do. The ride in the airplane was my own idea. [Laughter.] Cliff Stanley, my teacher. I didn't have a regular course and lessons in an airplane, but I think he gave me about a half an hour several times before I actually did it by myself. I don't mean that I did it by myself; there was somebody else in the plane, dual controls. I didn't have to have them used, but it was there. I was safe enough.
Knight: We'll finish up for today, and I'll start with the AP next time.