Because this session was videotaped,
material from other sessions may be repeated here.
Go to Session One | Session Two |
Session Three | Session Four
Index | Cover | Home
Biagi: Talk to me, Kay, about your parents, about your mother and father and their influence in your life.
Beebe: Oh, yes. Well, I was thinking the other day that probably one reason that I never got anywhere much, as far as fame and fortune went, was that it was so pleasant and easy, and I was always supported by them. I don't want to go into too much detail, but Mother was midwest, her father was a doctor in the horse-and-buggy days, in Indiana, and they had a big house with nine bedrooms, usually filled with preachers, and all the girls went downtown and charged everything. They had everything they needed. My father, as a young man, was in Chicago and had his suits made in London and was quite a good dancer and whatnot. They had a lovely marriage.
Then after my brother was born, they had this terrible disaster; he lost his job. The head of Peabody Coal Company's young son was not behaving, and they thought they'd send him out to Chicago, and the only decent job was my father's, so they just gave it to him. Father wasn't particularly trained for anything, and so they were in real poverty. Mother lived in a tenement for a while, walked three floors down to a pump in the yard. The first job Father could get, he said, "I don't think we can live on this." And she said, "I'm coming." She had had to go back home with her baby and be a "widow" for a while. So it was difficult. Anyway, she was always the activist, and Father was the idea man.
After I was in college, finally, she always wanted to do things. She was writing for magazines, and she sold something for $25. A big deal! [Laughter.] Then she learned to swim. She would do everything, and her friends would follow her. This time Father had the idea that it was World War I and she liked mathematics and the budget and running the family, and so he thought that she could be helpful to women who were working for the first time. "Well, what would I do about it?" "Well, the big bank ought to be interested." It was the biggest bank in Kansas City. "Go to the biggest man in it."
So Mother was ready to put her hat on and start right out. But she thought about it a lot, so she finally managed to get her interview, and the man was interested. She went into the bank and had quite a career. She was getting on toward fifty.
Biagi: What position did she have in the bank?
Beebe: She was the manager of the women's department. After a year, she was really kind of a publicity person, I guess, what PR would be now. She wrote letters. She had a big acquaintance in town by that time, and she wrote longhand letters to everybody, joined clubs and made speeches. She got little pamphlets out about home budgets, children's allowances and whatnot. After a year, the deposits in the women's department were doubled, so then they were convinced. The top man had had trouble with his board, and Mother had had to go face them all (when her proposal was being considered.)
She'd had another bad time with a mastoid and lost the sight of an eye. They asked her about it. "Mrs. Beebe, is there something the matter with your eye?"
She said, "Well, just the same thing it was with Theodore Roosevelt's. No handicap. Just as much." She didn't have any sight in it.
So she then became an officer of the bank and helped organize the national organization of bank women and had much publicity. She just loved it. Father was quite proud of her, too.
Biagi: What was your father's role at this time?
Beebe: Father had the same job for years, because after he lost that one, he went up the ranks with Swift & Co., which is the meat packers. He had to work down in the bottoms. There was a big flood, and they had to go to work in boats, into the third floor offices down there. But he was the credit manager for Swift & Co., and he kept that job until he was about ready for retirement.
They had their home out at the lake then (suburban Forest Lake, Kansas). He was looking forward to that. He got a strep throat just before antibiotics, and died in three days. I was out here working and came home then, in December 1926.
Biagi: All this time you had gone to college and you were looking for your first job on newspapers. How did you get that job?
Beebe: I'm sorry to say I got it the way a lot of people did then. Somebody spoke to somebody on the Journal, which was the number three paper in Kansas City, I guess to the publisher of it, and said that I was ready for a job. I went down and they gave me one as women's club editor.* I was dying to get away and work elsewhere, but there it was. I had to have experience, you see. Of course, what I wanted was news all the time, and I had told the city desk about that. I did a couple of assignments on the city desk while doing these women's club items. So when I saved up $100, which I thought was enough to go, to set out on my own, and said I was going to go, the city editor came over and said, "Now that you're through with the women's desk, how would you like to come over and work for me?" And of course, that's what I had wanted all the time, but I had already resigned, and I thought that was strange, anyway. So I left.
Biagi: You went where?
Beebe: I went to Salt Lake City. Mother had a sister there. She said, "Look. It's all right for you to go and try your wings, but you haven't tried to do that. Why don't you stay with her for a while?" So I did. I had an awful time. There was a Depression on. I got some space work from the Catholic city editor of the Mormon paper, so much an inch.
Finally, my money was about to run out, so I went down to a teachers' agency and said I'd take anything provided the railroad fare to it was no more than $25. It wasn't more than that. I went out to Wyoming, and that's when I taught. I lived in a school house and the kids all came to school on their horses. I was in seventh heaven. I always wanted to be way off from everybody, and I certainly was. It took two days to get there from the railroad station at Carter in a sled stage (in March) with a prairie top. It was only for three months. I was asked to come
*The managing editor said, "We only pay women $15 a week for the first two weeks." Then I was raised to $18.50. KB.
back, though. I was also recruited by another district after a party in which I turned handsprings. [Laughter.] I said, "They don't know anything about my work."
"Well, you've got a lot of spirit. We'd like to have you." But that was my whole experience. (In teaching, which I had never wanted to do."
Biagi: Your frontier experience.
Beebe: Except two days of substituting in Salt Lake City, which was terrible. I got junior high school, and I couldn't keep them in line.
Biagi: So next what happened?
Beebe: Then I went back home. The next job I got was back in Madison, Wisconsin. My roommate's husband had become managing editor of the La Follette paper there, and he needed a society editor. He knew I hated that, but he needed one badly, and I thought it would be fun to go and be with my roommate. It wasn't particularly, because everything had changed. She had her first baby. And also the managing editor didn't stay at the Capital Times very long. So from there I did go up to Fond du Lac through the University of Wisconsin, on proper sort of recommendations, and I was a beat reporter there for a while on the Fond du Lac Daily Commonwealth.
My ambition was to have a job on a paper in California, and when I was in Salt Lake there, I wrote a letter every single day to a different paper in California, and I got some nice replies, but no jobs.
So then I left Fond du Lac and again went home. I had an offer through a friend at Wisconsin who had been at Stanford and had a group of close friends out here (in California). He wrote to Elinor Cogswell about me, and she was at that time working on a local paper here. She had wanted to be a critic in New York, but wound up being the editor of this Palo Alto paper and making quite a name for herself. She got me a job at Stanford University as secretary to the head of the journalism department. At that time his job was head of the journalism department and, on the side, doing all the publicity that was done for Stanford. So I was supposed to have a chance to do that and also have connections with papers. I was there for nine months. Through him I did get my first real job on the Oakland Tribune, where I was for two and a half years.
Biagi: How did that come about that you found a job at the Tribune?
Beebe: I went up with letters from Stanford's Evvy Smith to everybody and, of course, they all said, "What experience have you had?" In those days, they didn't want any degrees, you know. "Suppose you went to some kind of journalism school? We'd have to reteach you." They didn't want it. And the only open door was always through the women's department, because that was the only place. So I, again, was at a society job.
It was funny. The society editor was really a character. I used to come down every weekend back here at Stanford and laugh about Mabelisms, such as, "Is there a north and south equator?" [Laughter.] She knew everybody that was anybody.
Biagi: That was Mabel who?
Beebe: Mabel Williams. (She had been an assistant to the departing society editor.)
Biagi: So you worked for her?
Beebe: No. The managing editor said, "You girls work together." Well, we did. She hadn't gone to college, so she felt that that was a social feather in one's cap for her to be "co-editor." She'd say, "Well, So-and-So went to college back east. Did you know her, Kay?" [Laughter.]
I was all the time trying to get over on the news side. I finally did manage it, because a new paper started up. Hearst started a paper over there in Oakland, and took away all our best rewrite men, and they were scrambling for help. So I pushed hard to get a chance there. Roy Danforth, the city editor, said, "Well, we usually start people out in our suburban bureaus."
I said, "Well, I don't know anything about that. I do know the office." So they very gingerly tried me out, and I loved it. I knew all the names of all the bandits, and I would say, "Boy!" and they would come. They knew I had the front-page story, and I thought that was big stuff. I was there for two and a half years.
Biagi: What kind of a salary were you raking in?
Beebe: I had a good salary. It was a big salary. It was $45 a week!
Biagi: What year would that be?
Beebe: I came to Stanford in '23, I know that from this letter. It would be '24 and '25. And at Stanford (in 1923) I had $85 a month, you see. I found it adequate. I lived on the campus. Fifty-five dollars a month took care of board, room, and everything, and that gave me $30 to spend. I had clothes left over from college. So when I got $45 a week, you see, that was pretty good.
Biagi: And you were living in Oakland or San Francisco?
Beebe: Oakland. I would come down here to Palo Alto every weekend.
Biagi: So for two and a half years, then, you worked in Oakland?
Beebe: You know, I don't think we really regarded things the same. I didn't think of a career that I was doing. I wanted to support myself. I liked journalism and I liked doing it. But after I'd been there, I think a year, I was still on society, I had a chance to drive back east. A friend of mine had been given a car by her brother in Chicago, and we thought it would be nice to drive east. So I went and asked for a leave of absence. I can just see the managing editor, Leo Levy, tapping on the desk and saying, "My, I wish I could do that." [Laughter.] "Well, that's what you get for being managing editor!" I said.
Biagi: Had you ever driven a car before?
Beebe: Oh, yes. I had gotten a Ford, a Model T Ford with side curtains. I used it on the job. The garage took me a couple of times around the block. I don't think we had licenses. I think we were blanketed in later. I've never taken a driving test that I know of, except the written ones now, of course.
Biagi: Is that right?
Biagi: How did you learn to drive?
Beebe: When I bought the used car, I said I didn't know how, so the garage men took me around a few times, to make the sale. I didn't take any lessons. I don't think there were any. [Laughter.] You just had to find somebody who knew how and tell you. So I had that rattly old Ford and named him Ulysses. The nicest car I ever had. I had more fun with it.
But she had this beautiful Buick, and she hadn't learned to drive but a month or two, and we started for the midwest. Well, the managing editor said, "Well, if you want to go, go ahead. If you get ready to come back to work, let us know and we'll see if there's anything for you." He wouldn't give me a leave of absence, but that didn't bother me a bit.
Biagi: What an adventure!
Beebe: It was. The only pavement there was between here and the midwest was in cities. After we left California, we didn't have any pavement. Across Nevada, you would make about ten or fifteen miles an hour. The dirt road would be just a rut, you know.
Biagi: Where did you stay?
Beebe: We could always get to someplace. We stayed in some very strange hotels. I had said we'd better have what were not called sleeping bags then, but so we could sleep out. In fact, we did, on the pine needles of the American river, before we got out of California. We slept out one night. It was very nice. I said, "When it gets so hot in the midwest we may want to sleep out somewhere instead of inside." But we didn't have to hurry at all. All through the west, you see, there were resorts. People came by train. There were resorts, nice accommodations, little lakes and things. If we liked it, we stayed two or three days. We took a month to get there!
Biagi: So at this time were you corresponding with your father?
Beebe: Oh, with Father and Mother, yes, all the time. I wrote them.
Biagi: I remember you telling me about a letter that you wrote that talked about what you wanted to do and what kind of a job you wanted to have. Is that the letter that you wrote to your dad?
Beebe: Oh, yes. I saw this again last night. We were talking about why a newspaper career was good for you. I was trying to think about that and think about what I did like about it and why it was good and why I enjoyed it. I read this letter. This is amusing, because I was 22 at the time and apparently was rather snippy about what kind of jobs I wanted. Father had said, "Well, what kind of job would you like?"
I wrote back, "You were interested to know just what kind of job I would really like. I remember that phrase very vividly for I have thought of it a number of times since when I was tempted to pick to pieces one kind or another of legitimate employment. I have tried to analyze the things I would want and find they are about these: absorbing work, which means putting the best you have in you into it, using your head at high tension; ethical work, which means you are harming nobody and that your effort is for an end beneficial to humanity as a whole; interesting work that entails meeting and dealing with people and having a variety of contacts; well-paid work in which one could expect to become a personage of importance and unquestioned standing in the minds of fellow beings; and work that leaves time for one to enjoy active play." Of course, that was my idea at 22. It wasn't so far wrong. You certainly have contacts.
As for the ethics of it, I was thinking about that, too. People always had the idea that papers are so brutal, newspaper people are such boors. I know my mother's friends, when they heard I was a newspaper reporter, said, "What?" I was very shy as a child. "How could she possibly do it?" But I have found that, for the most part, the working press are always on the lookout for good guys and they always like to see them win, and they always are pleased when they do write something that is helpful.
While we know all the "Establishment" influences there are—and I certainly saw that in times like the general strike when San Francisco newspaper publishers simply got together and censored everything. They couldn't censor the Associated Press, but we had to stop sending them stuff. We could, since they were local. And they complained to New York about our stuff. There was a time when the strikers would talk to nobody but the Associated Press.
Nevertheless, on the whole, I think that you can't work with a better group of people to be with. They're good guys. They like to have things come out well. You're very often doing things which are good. You're writing about people in trouble and they get help, and you're writing about movements that are good and give some publicity that is helpful. Of course, you're writing about crime, too. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: So after your cross-country trip and you're off for the summer now.
Beebe: Yes. I was used to having summers free, and it seemed the right thing to do. Of course, my family was delighted to have me. Father would have loved it if I had just stayed home. They were very tolerant parents. Father would say, "Mother, we don't own these children, you know. They have their lives to make." So they always backed me in whatever I wanted to do—if I could find out what it was.
So then I wrote back. I loved California, and I wrote to see if I could get, not my old job; I was still trying to get on the news. But the managing editor said that I could come back to society, but not the news. So I did come back, but it wasn't long after that that they had this bad time, and I did make it to Rewrite Row. That was exciting to me*, because I was, at last, on a paper in California, doing news and showing them that I could do it. Their expectations were so low, you see, they never thought a woman could do anything. You got more credit than you really deserved. I used to tell young women later, when they were thinking about it, to be careful about that, because if they were half good, you know, or nearly as good as a man, they would get the big head. "My, my, we have such an exception here!"
Biagi: Were you the only woman on the news side?
Beebe: Oh, yes! There weren't any women around. There was a time that something happened there, when they decided to have women copy girls. Of course, the men picked cute little creatures that got everything all mixed up. I can remember one little one, meeting her in the john, she said, "Can you show me the way out of the building?" [Laughter.] And she ran out and never was heard from again.
That reminds me, too, that when I first went to work at the Oakland Tribune, they always put the women off somewhere. Society and clubs were as far away from what was going on as possible. They put us right by the restrooms, and there was this trail of men all day. I wondered if they all had diarrhea! [Laughter.] It seems that they had a smoking problem with insurance,
*It was a fast-paced job. "The Trib" was an evening paper, with seven editions and two "makeovers." Street sales, with shouting newsboys, were important.
and the only place they could smoke was over that tiled floor. So the minute they were free for a minute, they were all heading for this men's john.
Biagi: What did the newsroom look like at the Tribune when you were there?
Beebe: Rewrite Row was right along. The desks were all attached. It was a desk and your typewriter going like lickety-split. It was front-page stuff. The city editor was red-haired, whom we called "Pinky" Norton. His name was Stanley Norton, and he was really just the type that the movies had. He'd been a Hearstling, and he was yelling at everybody. He would come over and say, "You're right on the deadline!" which isn't very helpful. [Laughter.] But he did appreciate good work, and he was so pleased when you could be fast and get it out. I had disliked him very much, but I thought, "Well, if I can please this gent, I can probably get along anywhere." So I wound up doing it, because when I went back to Kansas City, I got a letter from him, which was practically maudlin, saying he didn't have any newspapermen that were as good as I was, and so on. Of course, I felt good, because what I was earning was the same that the men were earning. In fact, I got a raise, but I was told, "For goodness sakes, don't say anything about it, because the men wouldn't like this, you know. But you're worth it."
Biagi: What was your marvelous salary?
Beebe: I think I got $48.50 by that time, besides a car allowance, too, which wasn't very big. I can't remember exactly what, but it was quite adequate for me.
Then there was always the thought that the men were supporting families and they should have more. I was all ready to say, "Anytime you tell me that you are giving the men more when their wives have new babies, then I'll listen." But they never did, you know.
Biagi: What made you decide to leave the Tribune?
Beebe: My father died suddenly and, of course, Mother was alone. I just never thought of anything else; I had to go back to Kansas City.
Biagi: That was what year then?
Beebe: That was in 1926. Father died just before Christmas. I went home, of course, and stayed with Mother. We had to do all the things you do. Then there again, I was to get a job. I got a temporary one with some publicity group that was doing a campaign for a university there for a little bit. It was some friend of hers from high school days that had it. I did that and hated it, you know. I felt it was shameful. Anything that was PR—oh, no! But it did show me the way to the papers and the city desks, and I tried very hard to get on a paper. Of course, they just said, "We've got a woman," or, "We don't take women. We have a society editor," and that's what you got. I tried quite hard with the Star and I took clippings, you know. They just kind of listened vaguely, but I didn't get anywhere.
So my mother, who was then in the bank and well thought of there, was talking to an executive about this and about my being with her, and that I hadn't found a job. He said, "Does she want to work on the Star? We'll see about that."
Biagi: Who was that she was talking with there?
Beebe: She was talking with Mr. McLucas, Walter McLucas, who was a very intelligent, very cultivated person.
Biagi: Was he the manager of the bank? Was he the president?
Beebe: There were many officers. He was not the top man. That was old Bill Kemper, W.T. Kemper, who was, by the way, a big Democrat. Mother was a rabid Republican, so nobody could figure out how she got that job. [Laughter.] But she appealed to him and he saw that she had an idea and that it would pay off, and it did. But Mr. McLucas was in the hierarchy there.
Meanwhile, at the Kansas City Star, William Rockhill Nelson had died, and the paper was being administered by three universities—Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. It was sort of in limbo legally. Therefore, it was in the banks' control pretty much. Therefore, when Mr. McLucas told them that they should pay attention and give me a hearing down there, he said, "Just go down and see."
I felt awful, because my whole idea was that you had to do it on your own. I felt I had done it on my own. But I felt that I had to live there with Mother, who was alone, living out at the lake, and coming in town every day. She didn't know how to drive a car then, either. So I was just feeling terrible.
I went down and had a very pleasant interview with Ruby Garnett, who was the Sunday editor. Oh, he talked to me for an hour all about the paper and everything. I went away, and nothing happened.
So Mr. McLucas stopped at my mother's desk and said, "Did your daughter get the job?"
She said, "Well, she hasn't heard anything."
"Well, we'll see about this." And again I felt just ashamed, you know. I thought, "What a way." But after all, I had worked on the Kansas City Journal, you see, and I could have gone back there, but that would have been for $18.50 a week, and I could have gotten that job. That was just too much for me to swallow.
So I went down when the Star called me next day and they took me on. I thought, "Ah-oh. This is dreadful." And I was in Coventry for a while. They just let me sit!
Biagi: Was it your mother's influence and the bank's influence that had something to do—
Beebe: Oh, yes. The bank just told them to take me, and they had to and didn't want to. I knew that. I felt that everybody on the paper knew it, too. They had women's departments. They said I could do schools, that they had had a woman who did schools, but she had left a year or so ago and they didn't do anything about it. [Laughter.]
So they pulled up a desk from the basement that was the most awful rattletrap thing. Mr. Nelson had thought it was a good thing for everybody to be in view. "We won't have little cubbies for things going on." So everybody was out in the open in this one huge room. My desk was waaaaaaaay in the back by the back stairs, as close to the outside as they could get me. [Laughter.] I sat there for a day or two and found out about schools, and thought at least that would give me something I could do on my own, sort of.
One day the big business manager and the publisher came up the back way, and the publisher said, "What is that wreck there?" They said that was this desk for me. "Take it away," he says. So when I came back from lunch, there was no desk at all.
I said, "Where's my desk?"
"Well, they didn't like it, so they took it away." So then I had to sit in what they called "the pit," where rewrite and the reporters were, which was all right, and I never did get out of it. I had to sit there without much to do for a while.
There always comes a time when they need something, and it did, and I did it. The city editor said, "Did you have experience somewhere?" Remember I had been talking to him before and taking him clippings.
I said, "This is my sixth paper." [Laughter.]
Well, I think it was about six months before I really got my feet on the ground.
Biagi: There were some big stories in Kansas City at the time, weren't there?
Beebe: As I look back on it, it was a very good paper. It was what papers are meant to be. It was the voice of the people, you see. Old Mr. Nelson had had the idea that he didn't want to join country clubs, he didn't want to have people coming in and asking favors. He was very independent. At one time the theaters were trying to put pressure on him to do something and threatened to take their advertising out. He said, "Go ahead! Take it out!" They did, and they nearly went broke, and they had to come back on their knees. So it, of course, got arrogant, too.
But we had things like the penny ice in the hot summers for the poor, when everybody was suffering. Remember there was no air-conditioning in those days. You'd go out on assignment and the car was sitting in a lot with gravel, and it would be a hundred [degrees]. But we didn't know any better, so we just took it.
There were big varieties of assignments. The thing happens when you tell by the assignments you get, you see, and I gradually went up and I was getting big stories. When they had an upset at the University of Missouri, because they were about to kick the president out, a sex questionnaire had been circulated by the abnormal psychology professor, and he had asked the girls, the "flower of Missouri's young womanhood," if they had sexual experience. This was, of course, anonymous, but my goodness! The president very nearly lost his job. So they said they'd like me to go down, and whom did I want to take to help me, you know. You knew where you were when those things happened.
Biagi: Did they feel that they could give you any story? Was there any special treatment of you because you were a female reporter?
Beebe: They kept finding out that they could. There was a very nasty trial, a crime trial, of a man who had kidnapped the girl next door and buried her in a cave in his yard and kept her there for some weeks. Fritz Hinkle, the city editor, came over and said, "I'm going to get criticized for this, but I'd like to have you cover it, because it's going to be pretty nasty. We think you'd be able to give us everything printable we could have." So that was flattering to me, too, and I did it. There was criticism, you see. Oh, my!
Biagi: What type of criticism?
Beebe: "You've given an assignment like that to a young woman?" You know. You couldn't get around that. The newspaper office was no place for a woman, anyway, you see.
Biagi: Why? What was wrong with women being in the newsroom?
Beebe: Well, it was rough, tough. It was the men's place. This is a "nice girl"! And there was a reputation of sob sisters and so on. But after you got established and you could do it, and you weren't upset by anything and you didn't throw your weight around and you didn't ask help and you didn't get shocked at anything and you didn't notice it, they just got used to you.
But then, as I said, they gave you a great deal of credit. Through the bank, Mother heard that the managing editor had gone and sat on the country club porch and bored everybody for 40 minutes talking about how they hadn't wanted to take me and how wonderful I turned out to be. So, of course, that was, I felt, good. But it was a bad time at first.
Biagi: You were there for how long?
Beebe: I was there for nearly five years.
Biagi: And then you decided to look elsewhere?
Beebe: Of course, living with Mother, Mother was wonderful, but she was a whirlwind. I, of course, really wanted to be back in California pretty much. But I wanted to get away. Mother had a pitiful letter from a friend of hers who was a doctor and an osteopath, too, and had gone blind and wanted a place to come and kind of recover. Since that gave me a chance to go, I took off for New York, where I had friends then.
People on the Star had gone to New York, and there were several of them on the Associated Press. I wrote them and said that I'd like to come. This was mid-Depression. There just weren't any jobs. People were jumping off of buildings and whatnot. To go to New York then, without a job! So they said the trouble was, if I was there and there was something open, probably they could take me on and they'd like to get me, but everybody was broke and they had no budget.
The AP, as you know, is a cooperative. It's run by this board of publishers. The member publishers were annoyed because the AP was picking off good people from their staffs, and they complained about it. So the AP was supposed to not be doing that. But they said if I wasn't connected, it would be easier to take me. So on that basis, I went with what I had managed to save up then. That was quite a thing to be there. It took me three months to get a job. I looked every day. Everybody was broke. But on the other hand, everybody was willing to talk to you, because there was no business. You could go in and they'd be willing to talk all afternoon and say, "Well, gee, we wish we could take you on, but we haven't got a nickel to hire anybody. Just look. Look at the office."
I went to the firm that had done that publicity for the university project in Kansas City, because they had offered me a job in New York before, after the work I did for them. When I went in, it was, again, a great big oblong room, and there were just two people in it. He said, "Look. I think I'll be out tomorrow. There's just nothing."
Biagi: How, in the middle of the Depression, did you get a job?
Beebe: I just kept at it. I almost got three, finally. Everywhere I went, I said, "Where shall I go next?" And people were helpful, you know. I just kept going. It was Al Smith, who was coming up and about to run for president, who had this woman who was supposed to be his social conscience, Belle Moskowitz, whom I interviewed. She, I could see, was thinking maybe I could help her. She was overworked. But it was going to be so hard to train me, that she didn't know what to do. So I was pushing there, and also pushing at the American Medical Association. Oh, and I went around to, for instance, Time magazine. At that time the only jobs they gave to women were $25-a-week research jobs. I said, "I'll take one." And she said, "No, you're
overqualified. You wouldn't last here. If it weren't for the Depression, you wouldn't do it. We can't afford to do that." So I talked myself out of that one. But I kept going back to the U.P. and INS, too. Two or three times I was about to work for Hearst, but never did, I'm glad to say. I would have, of course.
Finally, the thing opened up. I was taken on at the World Telegram. A gal broke her leg in the women's department, and she was to be gone for six weeks. So I got on there, because one of my Star friends was there and knew that I would fill in all right, and I did, on that women's department job.
Three weeks after I was there, the AP opening came. They thought they'd like a woman on the night side. They had a woman on the day side. They finally managed to hack out of the budget a place. So I told them that I was supposed to be filling in for six weeks at the World Telegram and I would like to finish that, since I had said I would. "Well, if you're not interested—come to work Monday if you want it." So I had to go back to World Telegram and tell them, and they were very nice. They said, "In times like these, take it. We'll get along." So I did go then.
Biagi: It wasn't too long, then. [Tape interruption.]
One of the bigger stories you covered was the Lindbergh kidnapping.
Beebe: Yes, and that came very soon after I got to New York, and I really hardly knew my way around yet, you know, because my work had been mostly inside the office. They hardly, again, knew exactly what to do with me on the night side. I'd find myself on the city desk there, and I was filing a wire, too, which was very unusual. But I had been there a very few weeks. They gave me special hours, by the way, as a woman. I worked from two to ten, so that it wouldn't be quite so late when I went home. [Laughter.] I liked that, because I could get up late. I used to get breakfast, by the way, in the Depression at Alice McAlister's for twenty-five cents.
I had just gotten to sleep when I got called and heard, "The Lindbergh baby's been kidnapped, and you've got to get over to Hopewell." I had never heard of the place, you know. Of course, I realized that was the crime story of all time. He said, "If you need some money, come up and get some money." I didn't have any. I had no idea. So I dragged myself out of sleep again, phoning to find out how you got there and what to do.
To make a long story short, I finally got to Hopewell on an early train. I managed to grab the only car that was available. It was an old man called Ashton that trundled people around. He was kind of the only taxi. It was a little bit of a place, you know. The Lindberghs lived out of the town, about a mile or more than that, out of the town. The crowds were coming. I remember Lorena Hickok, who was a good day reporter, a big, rough, tough gal, talking to the office and saying, "Well, you know what it's like when the big mob's out," and the big mob was out; all the tabloids and the rough guys who carried guns in their cars. For the first time, you see, they were doing sound truck things, and they were big. So everybody was trying to get out to the Lindbergh house.
The Lindberghs, as you maybe know, after all his flight and too much terrible publicity, he was really embittered. He would never talk to the press. He must never be quoted. That night when the baby was stolen, our correspondent in New Jersey, who was the nearest one to it, rushed up there. The first thing Lindbergh said, "You know I must not be quoted." He wouldn't even corroborate that the baby had been taken. That didn't make much of a hit. The two or three local reporters that were there that night, I think, were let in and got hot coffee, but nobody ever again got inside the house. There was no communication. It was absolutely shut off, which meant that the rumors flew.
There was no place for anybody to stay. For ten days I didn't have a place to sleep, except I was sleeping around.* Once I slept in half of a bed of the woman whose house was a mile from Lindbergh's, and I had gotten there early and kind of gotten an "in" there. We could use the telephone. The only telephone, mind you, was a mile from the house! You'd go up and stand around with all the other reporters, and then you'd go back to the office and you couldn't get in touch with the other people in your office who were working. Nobody had any information. It was the most miserable possible assignment that anybody could have, I think.
I remember the Chicago Tribune sending one of its star reporters up to check a rumor that Lindbergh had kidnapped his own baby. I said, "What are you going to do with that?"
He said, "Oh, I'll just talk to you all for a while, call in and say, "I checked it, and it wasn't so." That's all you could do.
I remember, too, the aviation editor of the New York Times, Deke Lyman, who was well acquainted with Lindbergh—in fact, had been a dinner guest at their house and knew him—he couldn't get through. You couldn't get to the phone. You couldn't get any contact. And some sob sister from a Philadelphia paper got hold of him and said, "You've been in the Lindbergh house? Describe it. Tell me what it's like." And so he did, and she wrote this long story. There was nothing to write! All the editors were nearly crazy. They were spending all this money and getting nothing. So here came this story under her byline beginning, "I have been in the Lindbergh house."**
Biagi: Would you say that all of your colleagues were as ethical as they should have been in those days of reporting? Some people today might say that's unethical reporting.
Beebe: Oh, goodness, there was lots of it. The tabloids were jumping over transoms and stealing pictures. Oh, yes! But thereby, also, you have the advantage if you're not one of those. We went to the undertaker. There was a servant gal in the Morrow household who committed suicide, so immediately they thought, "Oh, there must be some connection here. She must be connected with the kidnapping." She was laid out in the undertaker's house, and the tabloids were trying to climb through a transom to take a picture of the corpse! [Laughter.] Oh, yes, it was rough.
*The AP soon rented empty rooms above an A & P grocery store and put in a couch and phone. There was plenty of kidding about "AP at A & P." And there was plenty of liquor, New Jersey "applejack," mostly.
**I see I never got back to finish aviation editor Deke Lyman's story after side-tracking to answer Biagi's ethics question. Lyman said the Times desk called him at once to ask why, when he had said no one at all could make any contact inside the Lindbergh house, some woman in Philadelphia was claiming under a byline that she had been inside.
"Ho! Ho!" said Lyman. "She never got in. She got all that stuff from me—said she wanted some background."
"Oh, is that so?" said the desk editor with heavy sarcasm. "Did it ever occur to you to favor the readers of your own paper with your information instead of those of a Philadelphia paper?"
Deke joined in our laughter as he finished his story. It was just an example of the absurdities that occurred in the frenzied competition day after day to fill the demand for news where there was none. I remember hearing one reporter's vain struggle to extract something usable from the mayor of Hopewell about "the significance of the tragedy" to his town. Another was solemnly reporting how many bottles the milkman had delivered that day to the Lindbergh household.
So when we went, I went with a young chap from the New York Times, who was civil-spoken, and we talked to the undertaker. He was so pleased with us that he told us things that he hadn't told anybody else. And I did find a friend of the family who was very nice, too. She was going up to the Lindbergh house every day, and I got a little stuff from her.
I got this diet story, too. That was an exclusive one. It was a suggestion from the office. I later thought it was my own idea, and I was credited with it, but somebody said, "Why don't you get the baby's diet?" So I wrote a note to Mrs. Lindbergh and told her that while we must look like vultures, many of the women had children of their own and we were very sympathetic, we were there because we had to be, and we had thought maybe how about the diet of the baby, that the kidnapper might be glad to have it because he certainly wanted the baby to be in good shape. So I wrote this off in one of these downtown stores on a tablet, put on my white gloves, and when I came back and went through all this mob of reporters just sitting around there—they looked terrible—and handed this thing to the state troopers. Other reporters came crowding up. They immediately were surrounded with state troopers, and they were shoving us back. That's all they did was shove us back. I said, "I have a letter for Mrs. Lindbergh," and they looked at me. I was as haughty as I could be, and I said, "Would you take this to her, please?" Well, they did. After some time came back the word that they would release the diet for publication, but of course it would have to go to everybody. The reporters had dispersed meanwhile, and I told the emissary that all would have it if the three wire services supplied it.
So I quickly got a UP man and an INS man and said, "Here's a story for us." Somebody came out from the house and read us this diet. The other two didn't know much what it was about or what to do with it, so I galloped off. It was three-quarters of a mile to walk to the phone every time, to this house which said that they didn't want us there, anyway. I phoned it in and got a rewrite man who made a real sob story about, "Here, kidnappers, is the diet of the baby," and put my byline on it.
Biagi: Was there a lot of competition between UP and AP at that time, UPI?
Beebe: It wasn't UPI; it was UP. There was competition with everybody. For a while there, we at AP had hired a car. Somebody said, "You want to watch that woman. She goes places. She must know something." All we did was check on each other. [Laughter.]
Then I was sent back to the New York office with the ransom note. The only hard news that came out was through the governor of the state of New Jersey, and, of course, we had a man who was close to him there. So we got the text of the ransom note, which was not to be published, but we got it. We didn't trust the phones because they were all being tapped. Everybody was tapping everybody else's phone, and they weren't working, anyway. So they decided to send me back to New York with it.
When I got in the New York office, I looked so wild that they sent three more men out to run around. [Laughter.] It went on for some weeks.
So I was back in New York. Then there was this contact with Jaffsie, the man who, up in the Bronx, was an elementary school principal, kind of an eccentric person, who had advertised in a local paper that he'd like to be the go-between. And the kidnappers used him. So then we all were sent up to the Bronx, and I was up there standing around in the rain until midnight, night after night, again without much result. Jaffsie would come out of his house and go down and get a hot dog, and we'd all trail after him. [Laughter.] Oh, it was really a dreadful thing. Everything that could be written, you know, was, and it went all over the world. I had diet story clippings in all languages. It went all over.
Biagi: Talk about the AP with me a little bit, about the issue of world coverage at AP. I know you had dreams of going overseas to London.
Beebe: Well, I don't think I did then. I had been there really only a year. I always wanted California. I was nostalgic when I'd see a little wilted acacia out on the dirty sidewalk by some New York store, and I wanted to get back to California. Also the man I later married was there, and I wanted to be there. So I asked for a transfer back to San Francisco, and they said, "Oh, what do you want to go way out there for? You're New York caliber." [Laughter.] Well, I did. I felt California had a better life, and if I stayed in New York too long, I probably wouldn't be able to leave because I wouldn't be able to get the same return. "Tell me. Would I get the same salary?" "Well, yes, but everybody wants to go to San Francisco. We've got many applications and we can't do it."
So I had to quit, finally, to go, and I quit and came back out here with my friends. I looked again, looked for jobs, and AP finally took me on after a couple of months.
Biagi: Did you cover the coronation out of the San Francisco office or out of New York?
Beebe: San Francisco. I was really with San Francisco all the rest of my time. Again, I had wanted to be a correspondent overseas and they said, oh, no, they wouldn't. They couldn't. Wes Gallagher, who was then the chief executive, said, "When I was in Berlin, if somebody had sent me a woman, I would consider he'd done me wrong. And I'm not going to do that to anybody else."
So my friend Elinor Cogswell said, "Poor Wes. He doesn't seem to know you're going to Europe, does he?"
So then I asked if I could go on leave of absence, because I was pretty nearly fifty. I was finally married out here in California to Edwin Pinkham, whom I had known on the Star. He had died of cancer in 1948. So I was foot loose and free then, and I wanted, before I got too old, to see something of Europe. You didn't fly to Europe then. So I thought I could make a stand over there and, by that time, probably do freelancing. Anyway, I wanted to see it. So I asked if I could take a leave of absence and I would go on my own. That was the arrangement.
But then I found that the coronation was coming on and that they intended to use me over there, but they hadn't quite decided. I went into the office when I came to New York on my way, and Wes Gallagher barked at me and said, "Where have you been?"
I said, "I didn't know you cared!" [Laughter.] "I've been up seeing my husband's aunt in Massachusetts."
"Well, keep in touch with us."
So I went over and tried to make my accommodations near the university where everything would be cheap. I was scared to death. I had a culture shock there. I had studied a lot of French, but it didn't work too well. I had gone up to the AP office, and they looked at me in their usual blank way, but later they sent for me. It seems that all the time New York had intended that I should help cover the coronation. So the Paris office was to take me on, meanwhile, on a temporary basis. It worked out beautifully. I got a full salary, plus a living allowance. I got home with more money than I started!
The coronation, of course, was the big assignment. In Paris, I was doing UNESCO, which nobody could get much news out of, and I wasn't any better than anybody else at it. But it was interesting, very, because there were all these countries. Also, the language was interesting.
I had an earphone with English coming in one ear and listening to the French in the other. I was afraid not to have the English. I got a couple of stories out of it that were—well, we covered it right along, but a couple that were—
Biagi: What was the thing you remember most about covering the coronation?
Beebe: The coronation was really a big thing. I was so pleased to be in England. I had thought all the time I wanted to be in France, but my whole background is English. In France, everything is done differently. I was leaning up against the walls looking at my map and struggling with my glasses, which I had for the first time, and everything was not where you wanted it. It was hard. You were assigned to go and interview the Japanese ambassador, and you'd go to the taxi and he had a little nightgown over his taxi meter; it was lunchtime and you couldn't budge him to leave until he finished his sandwich.
But England, everything was just where it should be, and you just walked over to the Thames and there it was. Everything just seemed like home. It was marvelous.
The war was over, the weather was beautiful, and they'd won, and people were in a good mood. I found people most talkative and pleasant, and the preparations for that thing were just gigantic. You know the British know how to put on a show, and they really put it on. The mall that led to Westminster Abbey was like a big theater thing with the pennants, like old-time tournaments. Seats in those boxes were terribly expensive, and yet everybody could go if they'd get to the area soon enough and could stand. People told me later that they went without going to the bathroom for a day and a half so they could hold places around some monument along the route.
They had built the press section at the stage door of Westminster Abbey, and there must have been two-thousand people in it. It was all beautifully built. Down in the back of the wooden press stands were telephone sheds, and all the languages of the world were bouncing off the walls. This parade that went by, I was glad I was there. Pat Morin was in the Abbey. There were very few seats in the Abbey, you see, and AP rated just one. I think the Associated Press had eighty people altogether. Of course, a lot of them were technical. It took a lot of work to communicate to the world what we writers were doing. Then there was all the London staff, because AP occupied a whole building in London. They covered all Europe from that headquarters.
Biagi: What was your responsibility there?
Beebe: I was there for three weeks ahead of time. I wrote stories, whatever came along. Some of them were just little features. The coronation road—where did it go and what was the history? What had happened along it?
Of course, oh, yes, I knew I was there for the queen's coronation, the dress. I hadn't been in the office very long, and I said, "How are we going to find out?"
"Well, call the palace."
I thought, "Call the palace?" [Laughter.] But, of course, the palace had a regular press setup, just as the White House does, you know. So the dress was the big thing. I shoved all the men off the front pages with that. Everybody wanted to know what the queen was going to wear. Earlier, I got a little feature about a place called Coronation Road, where a man had spent many months making a replica of the queen's crown, with little tin jewels and things, and he had worked all this time on it. That was fun. He was on Coronation Road, this little block of houses. I swear, his house was hardly any wider than that rug. These two little old people were so
thrilled, and everybody on the block, when I got out there to see what I could turn up for a story about Coronation Road, they said, "Oh, you must go see him, because he's all excited." The resulting story must have been widely used. I later saw a big spread on it, in color, in the National Geographic magazine.
Biagi: How did you find out about the dress?
Beebe: Oh, that was all formally announced at a press conference.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Beebe: Everybody had everything organized. All the nobility in their purple robes had a special subway. They came by subway, and here it was in the bright—well, it wasn't bright sunlight, but it was daylight, anyway, in their robes, riding on the subway to get to the Abbey. Surface limousines would have been mired in the dense crowds.
Biagi: What about the reporters?
Beebe: Days ahead of time, the reporters were fighting. I remember one AP cameraman, Lévy from Paris, was arguing. They all were struggling for best places. They had lots of PR people arranging everything and keeping people from almost fist fights over places. We were assigned places, and on the actual day it was very orderly. They'd been months and months and months in preparation.
Biagi: How did you get the stories out from where you were sitting?
Beebe: As I say, the AP had copy boys running your handwritten copy down to the press shack in the back with all the phones. It was solid phones all around there being used. Pat Morin, in the Abbey, I don't think those men were able to do anything until it was over. I don't think they let them have any copy boys there. So it was our story that was the running. Then AP columnist Hal Boyle, who was a good feature writer, decided he wanted to do the crowd, so he didn't have a seat; he didn't want one. He was roaming at the backs of the crowds and getting color and, I guess, just phoning where he could.
Biagi: But what did you do?
Beebe: I had the official AP seat in the press section stands built across from the Abbey entrance, and I was covering the running story of it as it went. But we also had the announcement over the loudspeakers from the Abbey for the ceremony itself. The pageantry that we got back there, Churchill with his cinqportes hat and all his medals, I think he was already getting flaky. He seemed to be kind of dazed, but he was holding up his V-sign fingers. And the roar that went up! I have never heard, not at any football game, such a roar, more even than when the queen herself arrived. We were there as everybody arrived and went in, and so the running story wrote itself pretty much.
Biagi: You covered that story. Describe for me what it was like working in that San Francisco AP bureau.
Beebe: It was pretty ordinary stuff. I did a beat for many years. They put me outside as quickly as they could, because they didn't have any women in the office, so I had the outside beat, and that was good. When I finally left it, because I wanted to read and edit foreign news and wanted to come in, and I did come in, and work on the world desk before I went to Europe, seven men asked for my "outside" job. I wore my feet out. The regular beat was the federal beat and the state appellate courts, because we needed the news that went away from San Francisco.
The papers covered the San Francisco stuff for us; it was rewritten in the office. So whenever there would be anybody to be interviewed, I was the only one loose, so I got a lot of general assignments which were fun and different. But the beat included all the federal and state offices, too, in three separate buildings.
The big stories that you were always asking about were the general strike, and that was exciting, and the United Nations, and then the big trials, the Harry Bridges trial and the Tokyo Rose trial, which I did both of those without help. I mean, I had to do it for three circuits, P.M.'s, A.M.'s, and then an early story every day, which was a real grind. Those were all exciting things.
Biagi: How did you come to get involved in the Tokyo Rose trial?
Beebe: It was on the federal beat, actually. So they just put somebody out to do the beat and let me stick with the trial, because I had to be there all the time.
Biagi: What was your feeling about that trial?
Beebe: It was the first time I think I really ever got involved in a thing like that. I thought it was a very unfair thing. If the atmosphere had been different, I don't think there would have been any question she was wrongly convicted. She was supposed to be the only "siren." I mean, there were five gals over there who were broadcasting this, and the others, if you please, renounced their American citizenship, but she refused to give up hers. She was over there visiting her aunt after getting out of school. She was an American gal. She hated Japan. She didn't speak Japanese. She lived with her relatives there and she got caught and couldn't get out, and where was she? She began to be followed by the Kempi Tai, which was the secret police, and they kept saying, "You belong with us. You're Japanese."
She'd say, "I'm an American."
"Then we ought to imprison you."
"Why don't you?"
"Well, to them you're just a Jap. We can't do that."
She got a job in Tokyo with UP because she had English, and she couldn't speak Japanese. Then somebody said they had this Radio Tokyo job with English speaking, and she went over there as a typist. If she'd stayed a typist, she would have been all right. But they brought these prisoners in and convinced them that if they got on the air with a little entertainment program, they would let them announce the names of prisoners that they knew about. They got these prisoners to do that, and one of them heard her voice and thought she would be good for this entertainment program, which was very innocuous. It was supposed to be a teaser, of course, for the hard stuff that came after. I don't think she had any thought about it. What's the difference? You're working there. And it was a chance to be with the Americans. She brought them food, and they thought maybe she was a plant. They were suspicious of her at first, until they really got to know her, and she was with them the whole way.
Biagi: What was the atmosphere surrounding the trial for her in San Francisco?
Beebe: It was bad. You see, it was pretty soon after the war, and the feeling was high. There was this legend about Tokyo Rose, this siren that taunted all these men. You could never kill it; it was just there. The military arrested her when the war was over and the occupation began, and they held her for a year. She had married over there. She fell in love with a guy at UP.
She lost her baby in prison. I remember there was testimony about some congressional committee going in and peeking when she was taking a bath, to look at her.
The military had a hearing, and they knew what people that were really helping the Japanese were. They let her go after a year in prison. They said, "Well, this isn't anything." So she was walking around on the streets, free, waiting to get back, when Walter Winchell came out in his column and said, "Guess who's walking free? The terrible siren Tokyo Rose." Whammy! Then immediately they cracked down and indicted her.
Under the Constitution of the United States, treason is the only crime in it that specifies what you do; it's the death penalty. I mean, it can be the death penalty. She must be tried, if she's out of the country, at the first U.S. port where they landed. So they didn't let her land in Hawaii; they kept her on the boat so she'd be tried in San Francisco. And Washington sent people out. Our United States attorney had reviewed the whole thing and decided that it was not a good case, that they wouldn't be able to convict her, and he so recommended, but he was overruled in Washington. They sent special prosecutors out. One of those committed suicide later, by the way.
Biagi: Your role as a reporter there was?
Beebe: [when reviewing transcript] I did it alone for AP, reporting, phoning, dictating, and writing for P.M. and A.M. papers, with new leads as warranted. At the verdict, at the end, AP sent a man to help me with simultaneous quick comment of attorney, etc.
Beebe: There were about 11 regulars at the press table, and we just covered all the sessions. It lasted three or four months. We took a vote when the jury went out. It was eleven to two for acquittal, and that's just bout what the jury was. But there were a couple of people who didn't listen to anything; they just decided beforehand. Maybe they had somebody in the war, you know, and they just held out. The judge, too—he was an old Irish Mick, a good police judge, but he really didn't seem to listen to the testimony in her favor, and he wouldn't let the hung jury go. He kept holding them and holding them. So they finally came out, they thought, with a tap on the wrist, guilty on one count of the eighteen. He gave her a ten-year sentence for that one count.
Then the appeal wasn't any good to her because if there's something technically wrong, you can hope for reversal on appeal, but the jury's judgment on credibility of testimony you don't touch on appeal. So I felt bad about that.
Biagi: You later carried that feeling on a little bit more than just a reporter's involvement in the story.
Beebe: Oh, yes. She later got a pardon. I wrote my feelings about it and sent it to her attorney. Her attorneys were good, but they were the wrong kind for emotional appeal. They were too technical, but they were honest and they didn't charge her much. In fact, it was an American Civil Liberties Union attorney. I had recommended to her father to get that. Her own father thought that she disgraced the family, until she could straighten him out on it. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: What I'd like to talk to you next about is how did you get your picture taken with Bing Crosby?
Beebe: I never expected it. I was prepared to dodge the camera as usual. Lévy didn't tell me about a New York memo to photographers directing them to snap AP staffers with UIPS whenever they got the chance, for use in the AP house organ. He posed us together with the
rumor-romance clipping after he took shots of Bing and his son en route to golf. Those were circulated that day and widely used. Some editor must have liked his other pose, too, and decided to circulate it to general service.
That was my first assignment in Paris when I was again shoveled on to them and they didn't know what to do with me. They said they had a query about Bing's latest supposed romance. Was he going to marry this gal? And why didn't I go out to his hotel. Ordinarily I'd just do it by phone. They wanted to get me out of the office. [Laughter.]
So I went, again, with this Jacques Lévy, and I made a bad boo-boo. I asked him about his family, and he said, "My name is Lévy, Jewish, you know. They're almost all dead." I hadn't realized how close it was, you see, to the Holocaust. But he was a camera man that I wasn't used to. When we got out there to the petite garden of Marie Antoinette, he leaped over the fence and picked me a violet. [Laughter.] I was not used to camera men like that.
I called at the hotel and said I was downstairs and I wanted to interview him, and he wanted to know what about. It was late. It was almost noon, and he wasn't up. He said could he just do it by phone, and I said I'd been sent out to see him. He had his son with him, and I had a camera man to take their picture together, and we didn't mind waiting. He said, "Well, it may be quite a while."
I said, "I don't care. I'm new here and I'm looking around."
So I waited him out, and he came down with his son. He was very, very civil, but I realized what a bore, you know. He thought he was away from Hollywood, and I had to ask him how about Mona Freeman? He said they were friends, but that was it. So I got a little more stuff from him. His son had never been to France before, and he said, "It's all so different. I don't know what I'm doing."
I said, "Well, join the club. I don't, either." So it was pleasant. Bing came out with one of these flunkies at the hotel, kind of ushering him along, and they seemed to be talking rapid French. I said, "Where did you get this French?"
He said, "I just fake it." But a good actor, he had all the inflections. He didn't have to say much.
Biagi: One of the things you said you liked about being a journalist was the variety. Describe the kind of variety that you had as a journalist in your life, what kinds of stories you covered.
Beebe: Of course, it just ran the gamut of everything. You were talking to potentates one day and criminals down in the jailhouse the next. Then people who were doing interesting things, explorers. I had a nice interview, I remember, a very pleasant one, with Gutzen Burglum, who carved the presidents' heads in Dakota, you know. That was in Kansas City. We sat out on a summer day and he held my hand while he talked for an hour, very charmingly. Don't ask me what he said; I don't know. But I wrote a story that they liked, so I guess I just probably prattled it all back. It was nice.
Then, of course, organizations I had to listen to, and politics, a lot of very boring speeches and committee meetings, and then court stuff. I was quite interested. You get so you can do that. Here's a decision and you've got to get it fast, what did they decide. Then you have to get your background from the extra records, to do that fast and get your stories out.
Biagi: Did you consider yourself a good reporter?
Beebe: I told the New Yorker I was. They said, well, they were maybe going to have me on that first section of the New Yorker. That was during the Depression. They took me in to see the guy who was doing it, and gave me an assignment, by the way. I wrote it. They always make you rewrite many times, and about that time I got the job on the World Telegram and never finished revising it.
Biagi: What made you a good reporter?
Beebe: I got things right, I got them fast and wrote it fast. That's what it takes, isn't it? Then I tried to put a little insight into it. The older you get, the more you do that, I think. You don't want your opinions in it, but you try to see a little bit more than is just the surface. You begin to know that you are [a good reporter] when people start asking for you.
Biagi: What makes a good reporter, in your opinion?
Beebe: It's a trade skill like any other, and integrity. That would be my definition. Plus, of course, if they have a real imagination and writing ability, they're not going to stay reporters very long; they're going to be wanting to write. But I considered myself—I know the difference. I didn't think I was a creative writer, though I got plenty of praise as a good journalistic one.
Biagi: But you were able to get the story, don't you think?
Beebe: Yes. Of course, that is important. You don't come back without it; you get it. Persistence without being too disagreeable is a skill, too.
Biagi: You talked to me about the difference between being a good reporter and being a good writer. I wondered if you could describe to me the difference. What's the difference between a good reporter and a good writer?
Beebe: We had good reporters that couldn't write anything; they never did. They couldn't spell, you know. We had little Danny Larrimer on the Star, who would get under the policeman's legs, and he could always get things fast and phone it in. Somebody gave him a book once, and he began to read it. He kept saying he had a book. He was reading it for a year and never got through it. [Laughter.]
A good writer? Well, my husband, Edwin Pinkham, was supposed to have bestowed more distinction on the Star than anybody ever did. You see, people think, "Oh, just a reporter." Well, he didn't want to be a desk man. They tried to make him one, but his salary, according to office rumor, exceeded the managing editor's. He was a syndicated correspondent in Washington and in Europe, and he brought all his reading and knowledge of history into the stories about the tourists who went to Shakespeare country and saw one thing. He wrote a series. Who else could put Shakespeare on the front page of a cow-town paper? That's a difference. Then, of course,
he did write.* He'd written a couple of novels and he was trying to write the last when cancer got him. He wouldn't use his name or his connections, so he never made it to money success. But I still have a lot of the writings that were not published. [Tape interruption.]
Biagi: When you got ready to go to London, what was the general response?
Beebe: Oh, my office, I had a lot of friends there, and they knew that I'd been trying to get there, and they knew that I'd been besieging Wes Gallagher, and that I was going on this funny arrangement, you see. I was just going to go on my own. They didn't know any different. But to my great surprise, they came out with a suitcase and presented it to me. It wasn't any party or anything, but it was sweet of them. I was quite touched. However, the suitcase was stolen in New York later. [Laughter.]
Biagi: In that picture there's a lot of men and you and one other woman in the picture, too.
Beebe: There are two other women there. The San Francisco bureau was a big hot spot during the war, and the boss' secretary had an assistant who kept records on little cards of everything. She had a quite valuable collection of data, which was later tossed out. But those were the two women. When I began work in San Francisco, the bureau chief had a male secretary.
Biagi: How was it being the only woman in the AP bureau?
Beebe: At first, the man who hired me was Ralph Heppe. He had an office outside the noisy main working area, and he always took his coat off when he went in to relieve the east wire editor at noon. So I had interviewed him with his coat on in the outside office. When I was finally to be put to work and I came in, he said, "I guess you'll just have to stand it. I'm going to take my coat off." [Laughter.]
Biagi: Was that hard for you to take, the fact that he didn't have his coat on?
Beebe: Of course not. Heavens! I'd been working on this—
*A first novel, Fate's a Fiddler, was published in Boston by Small Maynard in 1908. Though not a bestseller, it got excellent reviews and the publishers wanted him to contract for three more. But in those authoritarian days, he was bluntly told that if he wanted to be a fiction writer, he'd have to resign from the Kansas City Star. With a growing family of young children in his first marriage, he could not afford to take the risk. The Star's work week—full six days plus Saturday night—left little chance for creative writing, much less the necessary marketing, but he did manage to turn out a second novel, which is still unpublished.
After early retirement and moving to California, he had time to enjoy trying his hand in varied fields: short stories, plays, mysteries with literary flavor, humorous comment on world affairs, sketches from New England boyhood memories, etc. Alfred Knopf published one of the New England collections as a separate small book, Aunt Elsa. This won very favorable reviews, but had the bad luck to come out as World War II fever was mounting in 1941, and the country was in no mood for gentle, turn-of-the-century recollections. However, my husband continued to write, even through his final years of debilitating cancer and repeated surgeries that preceded his death in September 1948.
The point I failed to make clear in answer to Ms. Biagi's question is that I think anyone who is proficient in gathering information and presenting it in an interesting, accurate way can qualify as a good newspaper man or woman. But there is a distinction between journalistic writing, done mostly to order and for a payroll living, and the creative kind, requiring invention, imagination, and insight—all one's inner resources of feeling and intellect, together with acute perception in life experience. KB.
Biagi: But it was a new thing. Wasn't it a new thing for them to have a woman in the office?
Beebe: Yes. I had to do style stories in Los Angeles, and I said, "I don't know anything about fashions."
They said, "You're the only woman in the AP west of the Mississippi, so you're it. You have to go." [Laughter.] It wasn't too bad, either. There were some nice gals there from New York. They were good people.
They got used to me pretty soon. But the first story, I remember I wrote, was a story about rates for PG&E [Pacific Gas & Electric Company]. There had been a big to-do about it. I didn't have any background. I got hold of a Sacramento Bee man who was propagandizing, you know. His paper was crusading. He gave me a lot of background. I put it in the story. I think Heppe had the impression that I'd have a ruffle on the bottom of every paragraph or something. He said, "My, that was kind of a regular good story. It's all right." And the poor Sacramento Bee man got asked by his office why didn't he have that story? [Laughter.] He said, "You had it all in bits and pieces. This is background that I gave to this new gal on the AP."
Biagi: When you got ready to leave the AP, under what circumstances did you leave the Associated Press in San Francisco?
Beebe: That, of course, was bad. I was getting regular salary. When you talk about the feminists and the women's lib business, I did get the same salary in San Francisco that I did in New York, but because of raises there, mine was above average, I guess. All of a sudden, the boss called me. It was mid-Depression. He said, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to reduce your salary $20 a month, because you're getting more than the others."
I said, "Well, they told me in New York that I would not have that happen." But it was Depression. I didn't say anything at all about it. I found out much later from Heppe that the order came from an executive* in the business office in New York, of course, he didn't know anybody from anybody in the editorial ranks, but it was one of their economy spasms-AP was pretty sleazy about pay to everybody. It was chintzy. Here was this woman getting more than the men. He just said, "Terrible!" and told them to reduce my salary.
They had this policy that women should only work through age 55. Nobody had said anything to me about it. I read it in one of their pamphlets, and I nearly jumped out of my chair. I thought, "It won't apply to me. If you're good, you're all right, probably." But you see, New York doesn't know anything about that. By that time, all the people I knew in New York, my friends were all gone, because I was 20 years out here. You began getting automatic stuff from the business office that your birthday is such and such a day.
So I dickered with them. You could get an extension. I got an extension for a year, and then I bargained with them to make it for three summers. But it was really a most unfair thing. Pension was minuscule. It was a real blow to me. And that's why I've always been so conscious of my age. I just didn't think that would happen. The Guild wanted to back me in a fight, and I didn't want to.
Biagi: What was the retirement age for men?
Beebe: Sixty-five. And they didn't like retiring then, either. So they would have supported me, but I felt mortified, because I'd seen, in the news, women fighting for their jobs. I thought, "Well, if they're good, they wouldn't have to." I just said, "Never mind."
But I had to scramble, then, for ten years. Of course, every job I got, I got more money than the AP paid, and they were all temporary, but that was interesting. It was rather good for me, I think. I don't want the AP to know that, because I still think I could scare the daylights out of them now. You know, they have had to make restitution to women.* I'm pretty solvent, but I could make them come through with something now, I think. [Laughter.]
Biagi: After you left AP, you had several years of a career left.
Beebe: Oh, yes, I did.
Biagi: How many careers did you have after you left AP?
Beebe: I think I had six jobs, most in politics, then at San Francisco State College. I was very, very interested in Adlai Stevenson. I read all of his speeches and had saved them. The campaign was nearing its end, and I thought I'd work there as a volunteer if I couldn't get a job. But I did get a paying job.
Biagi: What were the other jobs you got after that?
Beebe: I also did some work for Clair Engle, United States senator. By the way, Alan Cranston, when I was up at Sacramento, wanted me to be his press person.
After the Stevenson campaign, the chief man who was in charge here had a fight with one of the political people and he was out, and I had to carry it on alone at the last. Adlai won in San Francisco, which was good for me. They offered me this job with the Democrats up in Sacramento, and I said that if a bunch of good safe-crackers had offered me a job, I would have considered it, because I needed one. But I didn't know about the nitty-gritty of politics at all. I'd gone up for inaugurations and general stories and things like that, and interviews, but how it worked, nuh-uh.
So I went up and got out a newsletter every week for Democratic legislators that they could use as their own, and went to the weekly Democratic caucus and all the legislative sessions. Much to my surprise, of course, I felt, "I'm just a flack," you know, but it was top stuff because the capital newsmen were eager for it. I was the only one in the caucus, and they all knew me, anyway. So it was all right.
Biagi: If you could describe your office conditions at the time, what office were you in?
Beebe: I don't know what you call it, sort of a man for all needs, a fixer who is always doing things, and it was he who hired me.** He said he was going to try to make an arrangement with the Republican publicist and get us both quarters in the capitol. I said, "Well, it's all right with me." I didn't know what to expect. So he said, "We've got a cloakroom here that I think we can
*AP fought for ten years a suit brought on behalf of women (not going far back enough to include me) and finally settled, with money payments and commitments to remove "glass ceiling" against promotions on equal basis with men. KB. [See the interview with Virginia Pitt Sherlock.]
use." He led me into this cloakroom. There was an empty file case and a table and a chair and a urinal, and that was the furnishing of it. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Why a urinal in your office?
Beebe: It was the cloakroom of a hearing room, you see, and it wasn't in use at the time.
Biagi: So what did you do to decorate the office?
Beebe: Nothing. I just turned my back on the urinal. Nobody was in there but me, except I think the first day I found out where bills—they're printed at once, as you know, and there was one that was controversial and we were discussing it. I got this phone call. They had put a phone in. A voice said, "I understand you have a copy of some of the bills."
I said, "Well, I don't have all of them." I'd brought back copies of that one. "What was it you wanted?" She told me, and I said, "Oh, yes, I can give you a copy of that." So she came up and I gave her a copy of it. It was the only thing in the filing case, the only piece of paper that was there. [Laughter.]
Biagi: That was lucky.
Beebe: The first day of the legislative session.
Biagi: Where did you meet Mary Ellen Leary?
Beebe: In San Francisco. She was, I guess, reporting. We met on stories. Then after she got her editorial job in the office, we didn't meet very much at all. I don't know when I would see her, but sometimes you did.
Biagi: You and she, for a long time, were the only women in the capital, weren't you, as reporters or press people? She remembers that.
Beebe: I really can't remember that there were any on the press corps. I don't believe there were any women. By that time I hardly noticed; you never expected them. I can't say that for sure. There may have been, but I don't remember any.
Biagi: Let's go back now and talk a little bit about your trip cross-country. We're going way back to your trip on the airplane.
Beebe: In Kansas City. Yes.
Biagi: What occasioned the story?
Beebe: Again, I was trying to get back to California, and I wanted to get a little extension of my vacation and get out and see my friends here. I did get a six-week one, I think. I learned—I don't know how—but it came to the office that they were trying to get air routes established, and maybe I could get a free trip. Well, that interested me. So it was offered to me, and I took it to the managing editor. He said, "You know, we don't do that kind of thing,* but I think this might be different because they are trying to get established, and it might be justified. So if you want to come back that way, all right." I said that would be great because it would save me money, because I was again on my own. I was on vacation.
*Accept free tickets or favors.
The plane went from Los Angeles. I had to get down there and out to the field at 2:00 A.M. or something—dreadful! I was just reading that piece that I did, and there were things I hadn't remembered in it. Wicker seats, six to a side, I said. Of course, the attendants were males, too. We flew low, so we saw a lot. It was a beautiful flight. But I get airsick, and I did. [Laughter.] The attendant brought these pasteboard cylindrical things, you know. I presented them back to him, as long as I had anything to give. He would go and throw them out the door. Over the Arizona desert, I guess, nobody knew the difference.
Biagi: Did you ever really reach Kansas City?
Beebe: We were in a storm and had to go down in Amarillo [Texas] for overnight. I notice in that story they made several stops between Los Angeles and Kansas City. That was airsick-making, too, you know, getting down in these funny little airfields. But I wasn't the only one sick. About half of them were pretty green.
Biagi: Some people have called you a pioneer. Do you feel that you were a pioneer?
Beebe: I never did at the time. I suppose now, as we look back, I was. There were physical inconveniences. For instance, in the little time I worked on the Salt Lake Telegram, there was no women's toilet at all. You see, there weren't any women. So I had to go downstairs and out the back alley, slipping around in the snow and ice, and go into the back door of the dime store to find a public toilet to use. [Laughter.] Things like that. But I suppose that would be pioneering. Otherwise, I never felt like a pioneer.
I wasn't trying to do anything except work where I wanted to and do what I wanted to do. I knew I could do it, you see, and again and again I got a little weary of having to start all over again with some new male executive that came in and had the same idea about women that the others did. It got a little bit tiresome, finally.
Biagi: How did you counteract that attitude?
Beebe: Just by work. Finally, they'd see. Besides, there were usually other people there who would know. I remember when I started to file a wire there in San Francisco, one of the punchers, the operators, came and had a big metal file. He laid it down and said, "You're filing a wire. You might need this."
And somebody else there said, "Oh, she knows all about that." [Laughter.] But he thought I was a woman first time filing a wire. That was a big joke.
Biagi: What's your advice to other women who want to be journalists?
Beebe: Now, I don't know. You are the one that gives them advice now. This mob scene! I'm so glad I had the opportunity to be there before radio and TV, when the press was everything, you see. Goodness, on election night you could hardly get to your typewriter. Everybody came out of the cracks, these characters that you'd never see. That's where the news was. We'd put bulletins up outside on the street, you know, and there were extras. That was exciting. When people called "extra," they knew something big had happened. But now, my goodness, with this mob scene, I don't know. I don't know that I would advise anybody to do it. Of course, the big money is all in TV, which is a show, an entertainment, a dress-up thing. It's so different. Once in a while, though, you find that some of these TV people really do have a news sense and experience, but many of them don't. They can talk beautifully, but I'm sure they couldn't get a story.
Biagi: If somebody wanted to become a journalist today, a good journalist, what's their best training?
Beebe: Things have changed today. You're the one that should say about that. I couldn't give any advice, except I think the fundamentals, the basics, are always there, that you need to get as much information as you can about everything and be aware, and be ready to be alert and go after what you want and handle it quickly.
Biagi: Has journalism been good to you as a career?
Beebe: Yes! Yes, I was very happy in it. There were times when I thought, "My goodness, they pay me for this?" [Laughter.] I would do it for free. I liked it. So there wasn't any great push to make a career, to be a big name. I sometimes look at Barbara Walters on the screen and think, "That poor woman, the pressure she's under. Just the fact that everybody knows what money she's making." After all, what is she doing except what a lot of people have done before, probably as well as she does, and she knows that. She must be in a pressure cooker all the time.
Biagi: Did you ever feel that pressure? Did you like it?
Beebe: But I wasn't under that kind of pressure, you see. It was so different. I was always a pleasant surprise to the people around me, because they didn't expect anything. So there wasn't that pressure, except my own pressure to make it good. That never leaves you alone, because you never do as well as you want to, you know, and you never like what you've written as well as you think you could have done it. We used to say, "I'm sorry I didn't have time to write it shorter." Because you have to handle so much in such a hurry. Then to get it right at the same time is pressure.
Biagi: What did you like best about the job?
Beebe: Oh, I think the variety and also the fact of that pleasant recurring triumph of triumphing over prejudice, you know. It's always pleasant to be better than somebody thinks you're going to be. Then I liked, too, to be more in the counsels of what was going on, and I was. You see, you didn't need titles for that, and to be writing about situations that required some judgment, and to feel that what you were doing was worthwhile.
Biagi: Thank you.
© 1990, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.