[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.