[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: Let me ask you kind of a general question first. We're going to get to Tokyo Rose and everything, because that's where we left off. I was thinking last night, I really don't know how you worked, how you wrote, how you thought about writing and what writing meant to you.
Beebe: You worked wherever you could, and you learned to do it. I often composed leads in the bathroom. It was the only place you could have privacy, you see, especially if I had to dictate. [Laughter.]
Biagi: That's wonderful. That's honest.
Beebe: Well, it was a place, especially when you were on the hoof, you see, you could only get away from the others and get your thoughts together rather quickly some place private. There's always that. [Laughter.] I never liked dictation. When I was working a beat, I'd sometimes have to. The office was so busy and they said, "At least, half dictate it." I remember one awful day I dictated 18 stories from that beat, and I think the next week or two, some big executive came out from New York. Periodically they would pep everything up, they came and got examples of things that could be improved. He was reading some of these stories. I found that when you dictate, you reach for the cliche, because you have to keep going and you just don't have time to write it short. [So I said] "Sorry, I didn't have time to write it shorter." So I stood there and stood it for a while, and I said, "Excuse me, but about four of those things are mine. That's the day in which I had to dictate 18 stories from the beat."
We got the stuff covered, and often there were requests from papers, you know. Some paper wanted to know how the irrigation or a bridge or something up in Montana was, and you had to do it. You had to get them what they wanted, and they didn't care too much that it was a sparkling piece of literature. They wanted the facts. But I always thought that [with] dictated stories, even when our big shots came from Washington for the United Nations in San Francisco, they would make this lovely fluent dictation a column long, without very much substance to it, because it was speculation and there wasn't very much fact. I always thought that you could improve any story by not dictating it.
Biagi: Did you see yourself as being a strong reporter or a strong writer, or both?
Beebe: Well, I think I was regarded as a good writer, but that, you see, is where the Star and the Tribune were so different. The Star always wanted you to do your own writing. They did very little rewrites. They figured that go-between, that's another way to make mistakes and get the wrong impression. So I liked assembling the facts. I always struggled with writing. I always felt good when it was done. The idea of coming in, you had so much, especially after, in the Associated Press, when everything had to be pretty concise, sometimes the pressure was good. I remember coming in one time with a story, it was quite complicated and it was fairly important. I was expecting to have time to write it for the night cycle's round, I don't know, 1:00 o'clock, 1:00 p.m. As I sat down, the East desk editor came over and said, "Look, could you just give us this much [six inches] for the P.M?" [Laughter.] I said, "Sure." Of course, knowing I had to do just that much, it took shape and I could do it. It really helped me. Then I went back and agonized over the night story, trying to get the rest of it all in.
I never longed to write the world's great novel. I always felt that I was too literal minded and I had a husband who was a creative writer. I just knew the difference. I was listening the other day to Russell Baker. They had him on Public T.V. Did you hear him?
Beebe: He said he just wasn't a fiction writer. He does the kind of thing that Edwin did for the Star, a wonderful ironic touch. He said he didn't think he was writing a humor column. I didn't think of it much as writing, but I have letters complimenting me for both reporting and writing.
Biagi: Did you at all keep a journal while you were working?
Beebe: Everybody advised me to do that, and I didn't. I said if something was really worth remembering, I'd remember it. I couldn't have been wronger! [Laughter.] I wish I had, but I didn't.
Biagi: It seems the letters that you wrote home may have been kind of a journal, in a sense, because you still have them.
Beebe: No, I don't.
Biagi: You don't?
Beebe: Mother asked me if I wanted them, and I said, "No."
Biagi: So the ones that you do have—
Beebe: Are just strays that came, some from Elinor, somebody that saved one and was going over things and sent me them. I did save those from Lone Tree, because I thought sometime I might do something with that. That was quite an experience. That was three months of teaching out in Wyoming, and I enjoyed it so. But no, I have very few letters. I wrote voluminously because it was easy then. It was easy to write freely to my friends, but not ever easy for me to write just the way I wanted to, because always you're trying to convey to the reader exactly what you had seen. You see, television can do that; they take you there. I saw a piece on Africa, half an hour on television, and I thought, "You could write yourself for a lifetime and you wouldn't get what you get in this half hour of actually seeing it." But as a writer in the days before we had that, you were always trying to take your reader there and tell them what it was all about and what's going on. I had always a feeling—people would say to me sometimes, when I was on the beat there and I knew I didn't want to change because I was more interested in my home—"What are you going to do?"
I said, "I'm doing it." [Laughter.] I always felt that it was a worthy enough thing to get information straight to people who could use it better than you could. You're a communication link between scientists, between medical people, educators, what's going on in the field. If you do a good job, it seems to me you're all right in society.
And another thing where a woman then had an advantage, men were under quite a lot of pressure to get up and be executives. We used to say on the Star they spoiled some of the best writers they ever had by trying to do that to them. You remember Scotty Reston on the New York Times refused to do it. They finally hung a title on him. The Star didn't do that, but people had more prestige as writers. There were a few, but they did. It was possible to do that. However, most of the men who were not particularly brilliant writers or anything were always
supposed to go up the executive ladder. Well, there was no pressure on me to do it, and I could have my prestige without it. So I never felt that when people said "just a reporter," the Star made a great thing of being very proud to be a reporter. Usually people would say "correspondent" or "special writer," as if "reporter" was something sort of low, like the low man on the totem pole. In a way, we were, but goodness, there were reporters who were proud of it, who made far more than the medium executives that others were pushed into doing.
Biagi: Did you feel proud, do you think, to be a reporter? Was that a good calling, do you think?
Beebe: Oh, yes. I felt a little evangelical about it, too.
Biagi: In what way do you mean?
Beebe: I mean I felt people would say—one of our lovely Irish guys on the Star went to some private school festivity that they wished some publicity, and he came back and said he was standing there, and somebody was passing the cookies and said, "Who are they? Oh, reporters!" and passed them up. [Laughter.] Of course, we all burst into laughter at that, but we understood that the term had a certain indignity to it, and we were anxious to change that. Of course, I was socially with executives. I never felt any inferiority at all, and I didn't know anybody in journalism that had gotten into a top executive post who didn't say, nostalgically, "Oh, I wish I could be reporting again." It's much more fun. And it is, to be out and on the move and be around. It's amazing, the people you see. When I got up in the governor's office in Sacramento, Hale Champion said, "She knows everybody." Well, they'd come in to see the governor, and of course I'd met them. I mean, you just do over the years. Everybody that's anybody comes through, you see them, you interview them.
Biagi: What did you like best about being a reporter?
Beebe: I just told you, just the fact that you're active, you're seeing things straight and not through anybody else's eyes, and using all your faculties and sizing things up fairly and quickly. It's a good feeling. You feel on top of it, you know. Then even on the beat, I broke in an awful lot of youngsters there. Of course, there was no pressure on me to get scoops. I did get some in the Bridges' indictment. The United States Attorney came and gave it to me. But since three of the four papers in the Bay area were AP members, they got everything we had, anyway. So there was no great pressure for scoops, which makes it possible to pay more attention to accuracy rather than speed. Of course, you're supposed to do both.
Biagi: What did you like least about being a reporter, do you think?
Beebe: Of course, there's a lot of very—it's not glamorous, you know. You're doing little chores for little papers in places, and you can spend as much time on some little uninteresting—well, it's not necessarily uninteresting, but certainly not very glamorous stuff. The run-of-the-mill things you handle are not particularly fun. I used to like even the obits. [Laughter.] I remember on the Star, some reporter would feel very important after a big story, and come into the office. They'd say, "Mr. Jones, will you call the undertakers?" Get off your high horse and remember that you're a reporter.
But I found that if you really poked around a little bit in people's lives, almost anybody's life has something interesting in it. I was highly complimented in New York. I spent a whole evening, rushed to the library there, because Helen Keller was about to die, and we didn't have her in the morgue [files kept for writing obituaries]. So I went and read and read and read, and then had to get it out in a hurry. She didn't die for many, many years later. I saw her obit and
wondered if anything that I had written was in it. I found a couple of paragraphs, because we circulated it eventually when she did die. Some of it had survived even then.
Biagi: You said you had some corrections you wanted to make from yesterday.
Beebe: I did make the one about—oh, yes, here's the three defendants in the Bridges trial I believe we spoke of. With Bridges were J.R. Robertson and Henry Schmidt. Goldberg was one of the attorneys, I think.
Here's a picture, by the way, of something about the trial. It's a good one of Harry.
Biagi: Where was this trial?
Beebe: San Francisco Federal Court. All this propaganda here [shows newspaper clippings] tells you it was 21 years they were trying to deport Bridges, move him through various trials. But this one was the charge of perjury that he had lied about his communist membership. So it was the perjury trial. Everybody lied. The government lied, the government's attorneys lied to you. You had to check things. I discovered one time when I came back, I had been phoning a story and you had to fill in, you see, and the attorneys are a good source. I found that one had lied to me. After that, I had to check every single thing. It was an ugly picture of the prejudice and the communist scare and the belligerent labor of the thug element and the snitchers. It was not a pretty scene. But I got to have quite a little respect for Bridges. I think he was a good labor leader. Later he changed from being an embittered person, I think, when the Supreme Court of the United States upheld him and reversed his conviction.
Biagi: How did the "red scare" affect you at all?
Beebe: We had state red-baiting committees. They moved down from Sacramento, wherever they felt they could get the most publicity. It touched some of my friends. One of my friends was quite a left-winger and she was working for the INS, by the way, the Hearst service. When the perjury trial came, she was also covering it part of the time. They took her to their bosoms, all the prosecutors, assuming that she was on their side with the Hearst point of view, and she had a very hard time. She was very outspoken and had very strong opinions—a very hard time keeping her mouth closed about it. I think one of her sons had joined the Party for a little while.
A lot of people joined the Communist Party. It was a very interesting, attractive thing for a while, because in the Depression, our system seemed not to be working, and here was one that promised a job to everybody, and nobody was supposedly left out. Although no one, of course, likes to be bossed around, we were curious about it. In the AP, one of my friends who was the night city editor with me, studied at Cal for weeks, studied Russian and wanted to go to Moscow, so they sent him to Mexico, which is often the way with the AP. [Laughter.] He finally got to Moscow. He got disillusioned and it wasn't too long until he asked to get out and go to Paris. He had no use for them after being there and seeing a little bit of how it was working. People were afraid to talk to each other about it, because there was always somebody ready to pounce. All you had to do was just bring up the term, and to call anybody a communist was like calling them a bad name.
Biagi: Was there a lot of that issue covered in San Francisco in the courts that you remember?
Beebe: Of course, the Bridges perjury trial was really the apex of it, because all through that there were the communists there, and there were some communists who were very proud of it, you see, and open communists. Old Gus—what's his name?—Gus Hall, who was head of the communists for so long, he was around. Everybody was around that trial. It was the thing to come and see. Celebrities would come and try to get in, and people waited in line for it.
I was always impressed with the worship that those working men had for Bridges. I was also impressed with their testimony about how things were before they had any union, how they would have to get out at 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning in the cold, stand in a crowd. The employer's agent would come out and say, "I'll take you and you and you and you," and the rest of them just slouched around during the day. They didn't make enough. Nobody dared get married. They didn't have, some of them, places to stay. They'd get shoved out of doorways when it was raining. "Move on," you know. It was just wretched. And after the union came, there they were looking like librarians with their spectacles and their children in school and college.
They just worshiped that union. They had headquarters in San Francisco, you know, with all kinds of educational stuff going on. I went to a French class down there at night once, and I've often wondered if I'm probably on a black list somewhere because I was seen going in their building, since they were checking up on everyone. I don't know. The man who taught us had been in a concentration camp in Europe, and he was fascinating.
Biagi: What role did the union movement, or the Guild movement, have in your life?
Beebe: When the Guild was first organized, I thought it was a very good thing. Heywood Broun was the big figure in it, and this is what I thought it should be—people who didn't need it. I got along under the old system very well. You know, you make good with your boss and you're a fair-haired person, and you do all right. But the ordinary person, the ordinary man with a family, who wasn't really going to go anywhere, had bad working conditions. You worked on holidays, there was no overtime, there was no pension, there was no security. That's why newspapermen in my early time were such scalawags; they were all heavy drinkers and they rode through the country and they could go in and take up a pencil and get on the copy desk anytime. But you could also be fired. If you got one or two weeks' pay, you were lucky. That's all you could expect. So the type of person it attracted was this devil-may-care sort. Brilliant, some of them were, as you know. Some great writers came from it. But there were some awfully scruffy people. [Laughter.] I worked with people I didn't have any respect for at all, but, of course, you have to get along with everybody if you find you can.
It changed later when the Guild—well, I was at the AP then. We wanted to get a letter up to write to the management, but New York already had fired Morris Watson for his organizing attempt, and some of the men were worried because they had families and they didn't want to be out there. I said, "I'll sign it, because I haven't got any family."
Biagi: That was in New York?
Beebe: No, here. So I was a charter member of the chapter here. But again, then they thought I was going to be one of the movers, you know, and take part. I always hated organizations, anyway. I also was interested in my home, and I didn't want to give the time. I wasn't going to spend Sunday mornings doing it. But I did get asked to come to a few meetings. I remember going with a group of three or four, who were taking the lead, sort of. We went off to a cafe, and I began talking about how I thought we ought to have some moral standards, that the Guild ought to get respect by policing itself. They looked at me. They thought I was talking about love nests, I guess, instead of ethics. They just sort of passed me over and went on talking. They wanted me to go to a convention in Cleveland. I discovered later that these were the communists. See, the communists tried to take over the Guild, and the Guild had a time getting rid of them, but they did. I was not in on that, however, because I just didn't want to be active. I, of course, joined, and I didn't always make it to meetings. I got scolded for that.
Biagi: Why did you feel that they needed some ethical standards? What made you think that?
Beebe: I knew what I'd seen.
Biagi: Such as?
Beebe: There were a lot of unscrupulous things in covering. You know, the second-story men stealing pictures and any sort of ruse to get what you wanted. Then unfair competition, too.
Biagi: Such as what?
Beebe: Well, it's hard for me to remember those things—very. I kind of steered clear. If you did your own work, you see—but there were always cadgers that were too lazy to do it, and they relied on the camaraderie among reporters who were always glad to help you because they didn't know but what the next minute they might come in late and need to be briefed and need help. But some of the real cadgers were a pain in the neck. We had one in our press room for a while. He would come in just after we'd all gotten our stuff ready to unload, and then he'd just slide in and listen and phone and go away again. So we had to gang up on him a little bit and not show up, and do our phoning elsewhere, make him do his work. He didn't do it very long. He didn't last very long. He was too lazy.
One story I heard, it was a true one. There was a cadger covering the hotel beat. You see, there again, there's always free stuff that they want to give you. The press room at Christmastime, they'd bring you all kinds of stuff. I hated that, and I couldn't get much support. Everybody was glad to take it.
Biagi: What would they bring you? What kind of things?
Beebe: Oh, I remember lawyer Joe Alioto—later mayor of San Francisco—one day said if he had a girl—he had a whole family of boys—if this was a girl, he'd bring us a whole box of shrimp or something from his place. He did. He brought this great big box. That's his Angela (a San Francisco supervisor, I believe) that's now a grown-up. I've always remembered that shrimp. That was all right; that was different. But at Christmastime, I remember I got from Santa Fe one time, this was after they were trying to get an expanded franchise from the Public Utilities Commission. It was a long series of hearings. Goodness, such dull stuff. They had these boxes of all sorts of food in it. They'd send it to your house. Well, what could you do? I didn't like it, but you can't return it. There it is. When people would come to the press room at Christmastime—and the Chronicle at Christmastime was kind of, I thought, scandalous, because there was so much brought in. What did we think we were getting—tips? You know, I didn't like that.
Biagi: So this fellow. You said you remembered one guy.
Beebe: Oh, yes. In the hotel beat, he was always cadging. Hotels had to give freebies and food and stuff and everything to reporters, and they were so poorly paid, too, you see, in the early days. Again, they were glad for a free meal. Later, when our pay was decent, that changed, too. So he had overstepped. He'd gotten a lot of stuff. They fixed him up. They told him, yes, they had this man from Scandinavia they thought he'd like to interview, and introduced him—Mr. Peter. He gave him this little interview about economic conditions and so on, and he wrote the story about Mr. E. Normus Peter. [Laughter.] It got into type, but they saved his paper from getting it into print. It almost got into print.
Biagi: Who had set him up now?
Beebe: The hotel and some of the other reporters. [Laughter.] Mr. E. Normus Peter. But you can see how you wouldn't think of it. It sounds Scandinavian—E. Normus. [Laughter.]
Biagi: That's a good story. Now, we've got to get down to serious reporting here with Tokyo Rose. Let me ask you the chronology here so that we figure this out. The Harry Bridges trial ended in '49?
Beebe: That was in '49. I didn't realize that. Tokyo Rose came before it. See, the war ended in '45. She was a year in Japan before they brought her over. So that would be about '46 or '47. I can give it to you exactly, I think.
Biagi: We'll look it up later. [1947-49] What were the circumstances? Why were you involved with that trial?
Beebe: Tokyo Rose was a big figure in the war. There was one in Europe. Broadcasting for the enemy was enough that this would be treasonous. So these Tokyo Rose broadcasts from Japan were well known. The papers had told their war correspondents, "Never mind the officials. Find Tokyo Rose." That was an assignment when they got there. I can't give you the details of that. It has been published, and it was not very creditable to the press. It was Clark-someone who found her. They found that there were a number of girls who were doing this, but they were quick to light on her. She had, I guess, also had this moniker stuck upon her with this program she did, which was fairly popular. Oh, it's such a long story.
She was a Nisei, born in Los Angeles, and her father was in the vegetable business and wanted his daughter to have an education. She went through the university down there and was kicking around, as people do, "What do I do next?" They said that her aunt in Japan was quite ill and her mother was not in good health. She'd never been to Japan. Why didn't she go and see her roots? So she hadn't anything else to do, and she went. She hated it. She didn't speak Japanese. It was hot, it was crowded, all the customs there, she was supposed to be subservient woman, and she wasn't that way. All her friends were American here. She was not a bit happy there. She was about to come home when the war hit, and she couldn't get out. She was so pro-American and talked so openly that it embarrassed her folks and the neighbors began to talk, and she had to leave.
She had no way to earn money. Everything began to be rationed, too, and you couldn't live without your ration card. She did get a job at, I think, United Press first, because she had English, you see. She didn't have Japanese, however.
Then Radio Tokyo offered her a better job, or she found she could make a little more money over there. She went over as a typist to do English typing. Of course, she was well educated in English and could do that. Had she stayed a typist, she would have been all right, although you can technically say if you were contributing to a radio station and writing stuff, you would be unpatriotic to your country. They also wanted her to give up her citizenship. They followed her around. The [Japanese] Secret Service followed her around and said, "Your people are in concentration camps." Of course, all communication stopped. "You're Japanese. You're Japanese."
She said, "No, no, no, I'm American."
"Then we'll have to intern you with the Americans."
She said, "That's where I belong."
"Oh, no, you can't do that. They would tear you to pieces. To them, you're a Jap. You belong with us."
But she wouldn't do it. She told them, "If you've ever seen Americans on a football field, you know that Japan hasn't got a chance." She was not popular.
When she was working with Radio Tokyo, they brought these prisoners of war up, and one of them was a radio man from Australia, a very impressive guy. He had talked to his commander in Singapore and said they'd probably find out that and probably try to make him get on the air. He supposed he'd better put a bullet to his head. He was a little bit of a swashbuckler. They said, "No, don't do that. You might have a chance at the crucial time to communicate. Play along with it." At least that was his story. Well, he came up. They forced marches, exhausted. You see, the Japs had taken all the area. They'd gone clear down to Singapore. They wanted to put this program on. They wanted a light entertainment program to attract the American soldiers to the radio. Then they would do their propaganda. But they didn't say that; they just wanted a little light entertainment program for the soldiers. And if he would do that, they would let him broadcast names of prisoners so that some of that would reach home.
So the program was initiated, and he had met this girl there. She immediately went to the prisoners of war. They were Americans. They were her buddies, and she went to talk with them. They were suspicious of her. They thought she was a plant because she, of course, looked Japanese, but her English was just as American as mine. She had this gravely voice, and he thought that she might be good. He asked if she'd come and work. He said, "Can we have this girl? We can use her."
So they just said, "They're doing this. You go and do it." She was delighted to be with them, because they were Americans and she felt at home with them. She got their trust. She brought them food and stuff. She was free to go home at night. They were, of course, under duress, and they proved later that they were under duress, so they were not accused. The Australian, it never occurred to him that she was an American citizen; it just didn't come up. She wouldn't give her citizenship up. They had all these other gals who were doing the broadcasting. Nobody ever got on the radio and said, "This is Tokyo Rose." There was no such thing. She was "Orphan Ann." It was a little light sort of skit program. But it wasn't the heavy stuff at all that she did. Since she was the one with American citizenship, she was the one they lit on because they could call her a traitor, whereas the others had given up their citizenship. Some of them came to this country later on scholarships and went to college while she was in prison when the military then took her over. She was there for a year. Also, she had met and married a Filipino there, and she had a baby, a miscarriage, in prison.
But the Army pretty soon got their breath and looked into her case. She was very open about it. She showed them the scripts, said how it had come. They didn't think too much of it. They were there on the scene. They knew what collaboration is. What do you do? How was she going to live? Also, the soldiers who remembered her program, it was light stuff. There was no animus against her. So they released her.
Along came Walter Winchell, and his column was something. "Who was walking on the streets of Tokyo, scot free? This traitor, this siren, who plagued young men and told them their wives were not true to them and so on." So immediately, bang, that hit Washington and she was slapped back in prison, and they brought this treason indictment against her. That's the only crime, you know, that's in the United States Constitution. An act has to be attested by two witnesses; that's a requirement.
So they went over the case, and if anyone is accused of treason, they must be tried. If they're outside the country, they must be tried in the first port of the United States. So when she was brought home, they didn't let her land in Hawaii; they kept her on the ship. When she landed in San Francisco, that's where she was tried.
The United States attorney there, whom I knew well, Frank Hennessey, had gone over the case. They'd asked him to go over all the evidence and see, and he had done so. He recommended against prosecuting her. He said, "This isn't what you think it is." But they overruled him politically in Washington and sent out a special prosecutor. Later I found that that man also was in great doubt, but he was a good soldier, so he did it.
Biagi: This was the other prosecutor?
Beebe: Yes, a special prosecutor. They were both at the table. I think I won't go into detail about the trial, because I felt very strongly. In the first place, I didn't know about it. I started from scratch perfectly with the same legend that everybody else had, and only as the trial proceeded did really the true picture come out and we saw that the jury, too, was seeing it. The press table, I think, except for the Hearst person, all thought this was a mistake, that she shouldn't have been called a traitor, whatever she did. Maybe collaborator, but she'd already been a year in prison, lost her baby. She paid plenty for it as it was.
The judge was a great figure in it, too. Finally, they tried to get a verdict. The jury was really a hung jury. There was one woman and, I think, maybe another. There was one hold-out. They were just absolutely sure. You see, there was more hysteria still that Japs—oh! She just didn't listen. She just had it in her mind that this was that awful siren that had plagued our boys, and they couldn't move her. There were, I think, 14 counts. The jury finally, after the judge kept sending them back and sending them back again, he also was sort of an Irish mick that never should have been on the federal bench. He was a good police judge, but he didn't follow a lot of that stuff. I knew him, too, and he later shocked me by saying, "I always wondered what she was up to when she went to Japan." I couldn't imagine such a thing! It was so obvious, you know. There was nothing about it. It was the natural thing to do.
But he kept sending the jurors back and sending them back and telling them how much money had been spent. Indeed, the government spent all kinds of money, and they procured two witnesses there who perjured themselves on the stand. It was later shown that they had, and they all wanted to get a free trip over here. Well, the defense had no such money as that, anyway. She didn't even have an attorney at first. I was there when they brought her into the United States commissioner for the first procedural thing. Wayne Collins, who was ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] type of attorney, a persistent guy, but very honest. I met her father, who was there and in great distress, because he thought she'd disgraced the family, that really distressed her, the thought that her father felt, too, that she had done wrong. I said, "This attorney will not cheat you." Indeed, he stuck through everything and worked without any money. He was not the emotional kind that could have gotten her off at the trial.
Anyway, the jury finally decided to acquit her on all but one count, and then the judge gave her the maximum on that one count—ten years on that one count. She spent seven years in prison.
Biagi: What was the one count?
Beebe: The one count was that she had said, "Now that your ships are sunk, how are you going to get home?" They both testified to this. Oh, my, they were a sorry sight on the stand.
Biagi: The two procured witnesses?
Beebe: Yes, they were. They came from the Sacramento area, by the way. I don't know what they were doing over there. Later it was practically proved.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Beebe: Later it was proved that the geographical arrangement at the station, that there was no way they could have overheard it. There wasn't a loudspeaker that went anywhere else unless they were actually in the room, which they were not. She said, of course, she hadn't said it. That conformed to the constitutional provision of an act with two witnesses, that that was a treasonable act. So she had ten years in prison. She was to serve, I think, seven of it.
Biagi: Did you have conversations with her?
Beebe: We were not allowed to. They treated her as if she were a captured head of the enemy army. We had to submit questions in writing. I did that, but no, we never exchanged a word with her the whole time. Poor little gal, she had this one little suit that she wore all through the trial. She had a clean blouse every day and this suit. She sat there in the middle of all this swirling stuff.
Biagi: Were there any other women reporters covering it?
Beebe: My friend Connie Hitchcock for INS did it partly. They'd never give her the time to do it all. The AP freed me to do nothing else, because I had to do the morning papers, the evening papers, morning papers, and the early, too. So I didn't have much opportunity to do work outside the courtroom, although we could do a little. [Laughter.] For some of those witnesses, they got servicemen to come and say, "She came on there and she said, 'This is Tokyo Rose.'" Well, we knew that wasn't true, because nobody had ever said that, and there was no question about that. So we were twitting the prosecutors, "Where did you get some of your witnesses?" They'd say, "You should have seen some that got away." [Laughter.] As it went on, it just seemed more and more unfair.
Biagi: What role did Walter Winchell have to play in this at this point?
Beebe: None. I never heard any more. He was, of course, a gung-ho flag-waver. I suppose that he had the legend, too, and he thought, "What's the Army doing, letting go of our siren traitor there?" The legend is not broken yet; it still persists.
Biagi: So what was your role after the trial?
Beebe: I just always felt bad about it. When the appeals came, I met her for the first time, talked to her after her release from prison. They were still trying. She didn't want a pardon, because she felt that that meant she was guilty, and she didn't think she was guilty of treason at all. And we didn't. I polled the press table, and I think we were nine to two. The Hearst people, of course. Connie didn't. Connie Hitchcock for INS didn't vote guilty. The jury, afterwards, I asked the foreman, "How could you do this?"
He said, "I can't sleep at night." He said, "I wish I had hung out." But he said, "Of course, our neighbors, it was wartime. She had broadcast for the enemy. There was no question about that. When I told him how the press room poll came out, he said, "That's about the way the jury was."
So I saw her at that time and through this long fight to get a reversal, which she wanted. There was no way. The appeals went against her because it was the jury's decision there. An appellate court, there was no technical legal thing, and the jury decided whether she was telling the truth and whether the witnesses were telling the truth. The court can't interfere with that legally.
Biagi: What do you feel was the press' role in that case? Do you feel they contributed in any way to the—
Beebe: I think we were helpless, because as the trial went on and these witnesses came, you reported what they said. Big headlines. Because as long as it stood as the legend, that was the headline. Then two days later on cross-examination, it was proved that somebody else was broadcasting at that time, or she was sick or not there, you know, who cares about that? They'd carry it, grudgingly, but it would be a little thing on the back page. The legend somehow just persisted. You reported it literally; you could do nothing else. At the end, the public doesn't pay enough attention, you see. So the legend wasn't disturbed.
Anyway, 23 years later, they asked me if I would write a statement about it, and I did. I have that, which I'll turn over to you. I did it.
Biagi: Who asked you to do that?
Beebe: I think Wayne Collins, the attorney, who was still with her. I went up then on my way—I was going to Europe. I went to Europe for a year. This was after. Yes, surely, yes, this was in 1971 after my retirement. I spent a year in Europe seeing things which I never had had time to. I stopped off in Chicago. She went back to Chicago. Her father had had to move back there after the war, and had a business there, which she was helping with. She was very able. I went up and talked to her one evening. We had exchanged Christmas cards. I was always going to see her out here and we've always missed. She had friends here. She was a nice—
Biagi: The statement they asked you for, what was the purpose of that?
Beebe: I could say that I thought the impressions that we had, that it was shown that it was a great injustice. I'm convinced that it was, and I have plenty of company. So I wrote the statement. You can have it if you like.
Biagi: Did Mr. Collins use it for some purpose?
Beebe: I think so. I don't know. By that time I was in Malta. It was so hard to try to get it in. I didn't have any of my records with me when I wrote it. It was a memory. I had to get it notarized. By that time, I was in Malta, so I went to the United States consul to get it notarized in Malta. [Laughter.] I had left it there and asked if I could get it notarized. I waited for quite a while there, and finally I was ushered in. He said, "You know, I'm just fascinated with this. I was out there in the Pacific. This is all new to me. I never knew any of this. What are you going to do with this? Is this going to be published?"
I said, "I'm sending it to the attorney. I don't know." So I don't know. He had, of course, by that time lots of things collected for her, and she did get, finally, the pardon. Was it [President Gerald] Ford who pardoned her? I've forgotten now.
Biagi: I don't know either.
Beebe: Somebody distant enough from it and, of course, the atmosphere and all had changed. But it still comes up, it still does. She told me that she had trouble with her own family, with some nieces and nephews. "How was it to be Tokyo Rose and do this?" "I have to straighten you out a little bit on this."
Biagi: You told me that you wrote a letter to David Brinkley about it, did you?
Beebe: Yes, I did. David Brinkley brought it up, too, and made reference to the same old thing, that she was convicted of these things, convicted of taunting soldiers, our boys, and so on. Really, all those counts were dismissed. Of course, you could say that was a taunt, this "Your ships are sunk. How are you going to get home?" which she said she never said, and there was no proof that she had said it either, except these two witnesses, who were later shown—I think they later confessed that they had perjured themselves. I'm not sure about that. But they were certainly discredited. They were discredited with us when we saw them on the stand, and on cross-examination, they were very sorry characters.
Biagi: Want to take a break?
Beebe: Okay. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: Now we return to the coronation story, I guess.
Beebe: I had to make a campaign to go. My husband died in 1948. Then I felt that I was going to kind of tread water. I didn't care about anything much, but I knew I had to go on living. So I thought that I didn't have too much time. When he died, I was 47. It took a while to get equilibrium back. I went back to the office and kind of went through the routines to get myself together. I decided that I wanted to go to Europe. Well, of course, everybody wants to go to Europe at the AP. So I started my campaign to do it. I ran into barriers immediately, as I knew I would, but you always did, you know, and you kept going.
So I started writing to Wes Gallagher, who was chief executive by that time. I said, "Why don't you dust me off and see what I have?" Well, of course, no way. When he visited the San Francisco bureau, I talked to him. He said, "No. When I had the bureau in Germany, if somebody had sent me a woman, I would have resented it, and I'm not going to do that to anybody." [Laughter.]
I said, "Well, I might not be a liability."
He said, "Besides, we've just got people lined up."
So I finally decided that I wasn't going to make it that way, and I said, "Well, I'm going to Europe because I want to see something of it. So can I have a leave of absence? Perhaps I can do some free-lance writing or something. I'd like to have a leave of absence because I'm going to go." Well, all right, I could do that.
I went east. Drove, by the way, by myself. I didn't have any deadlines, you see, at all. It was at that time that I talked to Tokyo Rose. I saw friends on the way.
Biagi: So this was 19—
Biagi: That you went? Or '49?
Beebe: Wait a minute. I'm mistaking this. I did not drive. No, no, indeed, I didn't. This was 1953. No, I had to have all my reservations. I'm getting mixed up with a later trip. I got passage on an American line and flew east. I was kind of scared because I knew it would all be strange. I went up and saw my husband's aunt up in Massachusetts. I came and stopped in at the office then, and I went into Wes Gallagher's office, and he said, "Where have you been?"
I said, "I didn't know you cared." [Laughter.] "I've been on a leave of absence up to see my husband's aunt."
"Well, we want to keep in touch with you." So I went to Paris and got key quarters over on the Left Bank, figuring I'd kind of huddle up to the university, and didn't know quite what I was going to do. I had culture shock. See, I was 52 years old! Everything was different. I had some French, but I couldn't use it at first, I found. I could read and write, but it didn't sound right in my ear. I made some friends on the boat, with some young people. We huddled together for a while.
Biagi: But you'd never been to Europe before?
Beebe: Never been to Europe before. Walked around that first night, just a little bit away from my hotel. A little French sailor, a little tiny guy with a sailor hat, stopped me and asked directions. [Laughter.] That was kind of thrilling to tell him that I had just come.
Well, I went up to the Paris office and it felt good to be just near those noisy printers up there. It was in the Herald Tribune building there. I talked with them, said I was going to be around. Wes Gallagher had said, "You needn't think you can go over there and get taken on, either, because everybody thinks they can do that, and they're not going to do it." They were mildly courteous, and I went away. I was scared. I was scared to leave the hotel for a whole day. All of a sudden, I got a call to come up to the office. [Laughter.] They said they had instructions that I was to be put on the staff there at full salary, and was to cover the coronation in London. They knew that all the time! Wes Gallagher knew that! He was just figuring out a way not to pay my passage over. The AP did things like that. [Laughter.]
Later I talked to one of the gals in New York on the feature section. You know Mary Margaret McBride?
Beebe: She worked with Mary Margaret McBride, who was going to the coronation. The AP tried to get her to go and get Mary Margaret McBride to pay her way. They wanted a woman at the coronation because it was a queen! [Laughter.]
Biagi: I see. I see. So it was an advantage.
Beebe: That's right. So there I was. I was taken on. It was really wonderful. I was in full salary there, plus living expenses.
Biagi: That would have been how much?
Beebe: Oh, goodness, I can't remember it—200 or 300 a month is all, I guess. I don't know. You know, I really never was terribly interested in salary, except that I wanted to get what others were, because I knew that to be respected, you needed to get that money, which I always did. In fact, I always made as much as the men did, and several times I made more and was told not to say so. So that was never a problem, really, with me.
Biagi: So you were the only woman in that bureau?
Beebe: Yes. They had a fashion—of course, with Paris, they had a fashion writer, who wasn't there. So I was to do the fashion. I said, "I don't know anything about fashion. You couldn't get anybody worse."
They said, "We're worse. We've had to do it. You can do fashions. The openings are going to come along pretty soon." Pres [Preston] Grover, who was the bureau chief, said, "I have a young woman here who knows about this." She came into the office to meet me, and she said, "Mr. Grover's a very old friend of mine. Very old friend." She didn't like my being there at all. She gave me, I think, some very bum steers, too. But I did find the right place to go was up at the Herald Tribune, where there was a good old gal who knew her stuff and was a very nice person. She helped me out a bit.
Biagi: Do you remember her name?
Beebe: Can't. But I do have one picture of the—meanwhile, I let a lot of it go by, because this first gal had told me, "Don't pay any attention to all these early invitations. This is the small stuff. You wait until later." As a matter of fact, some of them were rather important. So I got a late start.
The big one was supposed to be Jacques Fath. I do remember that. [Laughter.] There were these little wiggly, frail, gold chairs that you get in Paris. I don't know how big people sit on them. They were all arranged around this ramp where the girls could go up and down. They had a ribbon around one chair for the deposed King of Egypt [Farouk]. The name slips away from me now; it will come later. To the gal who sat down next to his chair, somebody said, "Did you bring your chastity belt?" [Laughter.] He never showed. But among the stars who did show was Gary Cooper. I remember after the show, he got up and all the little midinettes and the models were mobbing with squeals. He looked so uncomfortable sitting on one of these little gold chairs, and he had really loud socks on and they stuck out so everybody could see him. You could see he wished he was anywhere but there. How his publicity people managed to get him there, I don't know. And all these girls were squealing and mobbing him, and trying to get away from them, he backed through a door, thinking he was getting into another room, and in that was where they were dressing. [Laughter.] It was even worse. The last I saw of him, he was beating it down the stairs and out as fast as he could go. One little model shrilled, "Mais, c'est un timide!"* It was fun.
I had stuff all over the world. Models came in barefoot, showing these styles. It was translated into German. I got a lot of clippings, and I laughed. Really, I didn't know much about it. But that's what you'll do, of course. When you're a general reporter, you're always doing something that's a little different. You're covering a medical convention, and they think, "Oh, my, she's pretty good. You know, now, if you'd start reading some books." And I'd say, "Yeah, but tomorrow I may be doing the plumbers, you know."
I didn't have anything very big to do in Paris. They gave me some assignments. The first day I went out to see Bing Crosby, who had just arrived, and Hollywood was pressing because he was supposed to be having an affair with somebody named Mona Freeman. I didn't want to go back without it, so I went out with a photographer. I called up at 10 a.m. He had not gotten up and didn't want to for a while, and I said, well, I was going to wait, because I didn't dare go back without it, you know. I wouldn't say anything over the phone. We waited several hours. Meanwhile, the French photographer took me all around and showed me stuff. A newspaper photographer—can you imagine?—jumped over little—they had little wire around grass plots, just one little frail wire, and people pay attention to it. He leaped over the wire and went in and picked a violet and gave it to me. [Laughter.] Photographer—his name was Lévy. I was asking him polite questions, you know, "Do you live here and have a family?" He said, "My name is Lévy, you know. They're dead." He was Jewish. He was the only one left in his family. This was '53, right soon after the war. I knew about it, but only vaguely, and it hit me.
*"Why, he's a shy one!"
Biagi: So how long were you there before the coronation?
Beebe: Oh, I don't know. I guess a couple of months. Then I went to the coronation and was there for three weeks.
Biagi: What's your single biggest memory about that?
Beebe: Well, the coronation itself. It was huge. England knows how to put on a show, and they did. It was the biggest thing you ever saw. Trying to get there, the press section was behind Westminster Abbey. It was big enough for a stadium. They had the mall. People paid huge prices for seats in this, sort of boxes up and down the mall, because the whole parade was to go by. Everybody went in this back entrance, you see, the whole lot of them. Royalty came on special subways, and their purple robes were specially arranged. The only way they could get there, the crowds started assembling days before. I had known where my seat was to be and had made dry runs, and had figured out that I'd better give it plenty of time and get there early.
On the day that it occurred, the crowds were so dense, it was the first time in my whole life I have not been able to get through a crowd. You say, "I'm sorry, I have to get through," and people are pretty good about that. I said it, and they said, "We can't move." Talk about gridlock; it was a gridlock of people. They were all good humored, but it was frightening. Finally, the St. John's Brigade, which was there to get people who fainted and so on, somebody said they were there, and they got me through somehow. They came and got me through so I could get to my seat. I should have gone two hours before I did, and I thought I was way early. But I don't think I've ever seen so many people. They were just everywhere, and they were on the tops of the buildings.
The pageantry, you know, I heard the hoofbeats of horses all night. They had all the wonderful horses in the kingdom and attached to these rickety old gold carriages. We had programs, and we had, also, fortunately, a speaker, because the ceremony itself inside Westminster Abbey was—oh, everybody in England, of course, you can imagine what it was like. The AP had two seats—no, they had only one, I guess. They only had one. From America, of course, the entire London staff was working on it, but this time I was a trained seal. I had other trained seals put over me, and this time, of course, I was. I had the one in the press section—Pat Morin was in the Abbey, and Hal Boyle, the columnist, wanted to view the crowds. He wanted to roam behind and pick his own stuff.
Biagi: By a "trained seal," what do you mean?
Beebe: Trained seals were always the stars that came in. When the United Nations was born in San Francisco, our whole Washington office came in and superimposed itself on us, you know. We tended them like water boys, sort of. This time it was the other way around, and it was a young woman in the office there who felt this was her queen, you know. She came with me, but there was only one seat. She stood up somewhere in the back.
We had to write in pencil, and then runners took it back to the press shack. Everything had been organized for months. That was fun to see. They built sort of an unpainted shack there, and there were phones all around the room, and all the languages of the world were going over it, you know. After all, there wasn't very much actually happening, except it was a pageantry and you had to just tell it blow by blow.
Then we had the ceremony also piped to us in this bigger press section, because, of course, the press had very few seats in the Abbey. The mayors of all the towns in England had a lottery. I think only two mayors got a seat in the Abbey. But they couldn't see very much.
Where the press was was up on this balcony. It was this way. If you weren't in the front row, I don't see how you could have seen anything. They weren't any better off than we were.
But I had a good break there. The man next to me was the London correspondent of a paper in Holland, and he was very knowledgeable because he'd been in London for a year. He had been assigned to San Francisco for a year, had been very well treated out here, and he was very happy to give me a lot of help as we went along. Of course, we had the program, fortunately, too, but he could identify people.
When Churchill got out of his carriage to go in, I have never heard such applause in my life just from the throats of all the people. As you know, Churchill was a war hero, but then he was thrown out of government. But this day, they all recognized him. He had everything on. He had his cinqportes hat, all his medals and braids, and I think he was already getting senile, because he seemed to waver a little bit, but he was going up the line with his fingers this way (Churchill's fingers in a Victory sign). And from the rooftops and the windows and of the whole crowded way, everyone's voice was just one, and it was a thrill.
Biagi: Then how long were you there?
Beebe: Three weeks.
Biagi: But in Europe at the AP?
Beebe: I went back to Paris. I was there—I don't know, four or five months, I guess, altogether. My mother was ill in Los Angeles, and she got a cold just about as I left. The whole time I was in Europe, I was thinking I was going to have to come back. She had always wanted me to go ahead and do whatever I wanted to, but this time she said, "Oh, can't you wait until I go?"
I said, "Mother, do you want me to sit and be looking at you all the time and wondering how long before I can go to Europe? You don't want that."
She said, "No, I don't." But it had been hanging over me. Her friends would write, and I'd try to get in touch with the doctor. We didn't have as much long-distance phoning as we do now. Also, it was temporary, you see. I was to be there temporarily, and that was all right with me.
The Paris office was a great disappointment. It was kind of a dull place. I'd come in with some idea and say, "Well, could I maybe do this?" you know.
Old Harvey Hudson would say, "Well, we tried that once and there wasn't much interest." He was a damper on everything. There was only one writer in the place, John Roderick, who's just now retiring from AP and lives in Honolulu, who was a spritely soul and had a little enthusiasm.
But I did cover the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization]. That was interesting, too. It was in an old, beautiful building with lots of gold on the ceiling and chandeliers and elegance. That was interesting because we had translating earphones. I did have French, and my French was better for that type of thing, because I was familiar with what was going on, but I was afraid to rely on it. I was afraid I would miss a word that was crucial, so I would put one earphone on, listen to English with one ear and French with the other. That worked very well. But again, that was rather dull. They said nobody had been able to get much out of it.
I remember walking up and down with Sir Ronald Tree, who was one of the officials at the time, and asking him, somewhat impertinently, besides all these voluminous reports, what did they ever do? He told me about one school that they'd established in North Africa, and everybody laughed and said, "That's all they always bring up." There seemed to be great lots of reports that they all ran around to each other. I got one or two fairly good stories out of it.
Biagi: I'm going to stop you. [Tape interruption.]
Beebe: I did have to come back. I was coming back by ship. I did have a chance to go to Holland and meet the woman that I had come over on the ship with. I had then more money than time, and so for three days, I hired a chauffeur and went with her and her young nephew all around Holland. She saw me off on the ship, and I went home, right to Los Angeles, and stayed with my mother for the rest of my leave of absence, which was, I think, four or five weeks.
I then tried to get transferred to the Los Angeles office and found the same thing. There was again the prejudice against women. They pretended that they didn't want to have to pay as much as they would have to for me. They had a place there, but they wanted to get somebody that was cheaper. However, I got Hub Keavey to admit that it was really my being a woman. He never had had one and didn't want one. So I had to arrange to find a place to put Mother and come back to San Francisco and go back to work at the San Francisco bureau, with the idea that I would go down on weekends, every other one. I was starting that.
Biagi: This would be 1954?
Beebe: 1953, still. It would be fall then. I had been home, back just three weeks when Mother died rather suddenly.
Then about two weeks after that, Hub Keavey had talked to some of the people down there that had been in San Francisco. I don't know what they told him, but anyway, he changed his mind and said he'd like to have me down there. So I said to Harold Turnblad, who was then bureau chief here, "Tell him to go jump in a lake." [Laughter.]
Biagi: What's the date that your mother died?
Beebe: In October of '53.
Biagi: So you told Harold—
Beebe: I said, "Tell him to go jump in the lake." Then later I said, "I trust you relayed that a little more diplomatically." He said, "I did."
Later, I was on duty one Sunday when I got this wild call from Hub Keavey, who was on a train. He found that I was the only person in the office, and he hated to ask me for a whole lot of favors. I was supposed to get taxis to get him off the train and make the train stop and do stuff. He told me the man I could get in touch with, who would arrange everything. The man was out of town entirely and had left the country, and I had to spend a lot of time fixing him up. He was most embarrassed when he had to thank me for it later. [Laughter.] But I was glad not to work in Los Angeles. I never wanted to, and I'd turned down the Hollywood thing.
So it wasn't too long. In fact, when I went abroad, for the first time I had seen in some little pamphlet of AP about the policy that women would be retired at 55, and I was jolted by this. I had never heard such a thing.
Biagi: What was the age for men?
Beebe: Sixty-five. And remember, Social Security didn't start until 62 at the least. So I tried to find out how firm was this policy, and everybody was mealy-mouthed about it. By this time, you see, it was long since I'd worked in New York and I didn't have the personal friends there that I had had. Some of the women in the New York office had told me later that when they encountered this, they said, "Oh, don't mind. We'll put you on contract." But I didn't have those personal relationships then. I later discovered that they had two women they wanted to be rid of. One had become an alcoholic and one was giving them trouble, and they were both about the same age as I. [Laughter.] So that didn't look very good to me. I was never much of a rebel. It always seemed to me that if that was the way things were, all you did was work around it somehow or other. I began trying to think what was I going to do. You know, a job at 55, a woman, is very difficult.
Just typically, I went down to one of the United Air, I think, where I had some friends, and they said, "We'd like nothing better than to take you on, but I have been working nine months to get So-and-so on, a man that we knew who wanted to work here, because he was 48." Because of keying you into all the fringe benefits that were then in place, they didn't want anybody over 35, man or woman. So I realized that that kind of a job was not going to happen.
I was very interested in Adlai Stevenson. I was reading his speeches, and I have saved copies of them. It seemed to me that he had the ideas that I'd heard from Edwin. His language was wonderful. I would like to get in on that campaign. I'd never had any political experience. I'd try to get a paid job if I could. If not, I would work for free.