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Currie: I'd like to go back a little bit, before we get you to Chicago. You said that you had spent one semester at the University of Illinois, Champagne. What kind of emphasis did your father place on education?
Eads: He really sort of left it up to me, and he had very little to do with it. He was sympathetic and interested, and he even came to Champagne to see me, along with my brother, but that's about it.
Currie: What made you want to go to college?
Eads: I guess because everybody else that I knew was going to college. I don't have any lofty ideas about the need for a college education. I think in those days, I don't know, none of my friends seemed to be talking about it.
Currie: So you were saying in those days, it wasn't—
Eads: I mean, in my group of friends that I had.
Currie: They didn't think college was that important?
Eads: We didn't talk about it. I'm very sorry about this. You have asked me about how I was influenced in art and education and college as I was younger, and I just can't recall any particular thing that propelled me, especially in journalism. It just happened to be that I got that first job as a proofreader, and I don't know, I went to Chicago and worked on a community newspaper one time, a neighborhood newspaper, the throwaway. To read the proof for that paper, they'd send up to the Chicago Herald and Examiner in the city. We were in a suburb. One of the men who handled the copy told my boss that I ought to work on a big paper because I wrote the way they required people to write, with as few adjectives and sometimes verbs as possible. You've seen those.
Currie: Why don't you describe the paper. This is the throwaway paper in Chicago?
Eads: Just small, a couple of pages, mostly it was want ads and community ads, like the hardware store and grocery store. Then they'd have several columns of news. And lots of regular want ads, rentals, and sales items, etc.
Currie: What kind of news?
Eads: This I can't remember. It wasn't important. Just a few brief local items, fires, deaths, robberies, perhaps.
Currie: Did you report that?
Eads: I wrote it. I wrote all of it, and I swept out the office. I did everything, except go out with the boss. He tried to get me to. He was married. In those days, we were more leery about going out with married men.
Currie: You were very young at the time, too.
Currie: When did you get the job on the throwaway paper? You had gone back to Quincy, then you went to Chicago.
Eads: Yes, and I worked in various places in Chicago for a couple of months or so until I finally got—at one point, I worked on the Chicago Tribune, just stuffing something into envelopes for a contest of some kind. Then I worked on a mail order catalog one time, just a couple of months or so, writing copy for this mail order catalog for two-dollar dresses or something. Then I don't know how I heard about this community newspaper, but it was in the North Shore, near Evanston, Illinois, and right at the line between Chicago and Evanston, the city line, I guess you would call it. It was called the Howard News.
I used to have to go to Evanston sometimes to take the copy. They printed a local Evanston, North Shore paper. I began thinking then about wouldn't it be a great idea for the Evanston News Index to have a junior newspaper supplement, like the one in Quincy.
Currie: The one you'd worked on.
Eads: Yes, about the same size of paper. I went to them with that idea, but I think they interviewed me and took a lot of notes. Then for a long time I didn't hear anything, until a couple of weeks or so later, they either wrote or called me and said they didn't want to have this Sunday paper, community junior paper, but they needed a straight news reporter, and they would like to try me if I wanted it.
Currie: Did you send them any copies of anything you had done?
Eads: No. Maybe they checked. Anyway, that's what I did.
Currie: So you went to the Evanston News Index.
Eads: No longer in existence. [Tape interruption.]
Currie: So that's how you got hired at the Evanston News Index, and you became a general assignment reporter. What kinds of things did you cover there?
Eads: Everything about city government—taxes and, you know, just any kind of news.
Currie: You said earlier that you had the right style for a newspaper.
Eads: Not there, but that was later, when I worked for Cissy Patterson and one time at the AP in New York. When I was in Paris, I wrote about fashions a lot.
Currie: What I was referring to, you said that they mentioned that you wrote the right way for a newspaper. How did you learn to write that way?
Eads: I don't know. I never took a course in journalism. About all I did was graduate from high school, and not with honors.
Currie: Was there anyone who taught you anything in journalism early on that you remember?
Eads: No. There were certain rules, like on the Hearst papers, you know, that Mr. Hearst insisted on—short paragraphs and just style, mostly. The AP had a regular style book. But you don't have time to look up rules when you're writing a hot news story. Sometimes we used to write practically on the scene.
Currie: How would you do that?
Eads: One time at a Republican Convention in Cleveland, the night [Alf] Landon was inaugurated, all the press was right there. He was in a box in this hall, and I had my typewriter, and I had it right on my desk, also there was a man standing on my desk to see, and I was typing away.
Currie: So you would type away and some one would take the copy, and it was sent to the newspaper?
Eads: I don't know who took the copy. I can't remember that at all. I know that was very exciting, and I felt very excited being able to do this.
Currie: It sounds like, from what you're saying, that your ability to write for a newspaper was almost instinctual. Is that correct?
Eads: I have maybe a feeling that it was, because I was never any great student of history, and I had few friends, I mean, that were instrumental in telling me what to do or how to cover a story. The only definition I ever got about this, you know: who, what, when, where, and how, those five. When you answer that, you've written a story, practically.
Currie: If we go back chronologically a little bit, how long did you work at the Evanston News Index?
Eads: Almost a year. But then I got fired, and I don't know why. They fired a group of people for no reason. I think probably economics or something. That was the best thing that ever happened to me, because from there I got a job on the Herald and Examiner as a North Shore correspondent. This is how I started on that. I went from the News Index to that, because I knew that whole area. That was all the North Shore—Evanston, Winnetka, as far up as Waukegan was the North Shore. Most of the news centered around in there was covered by the North Shore correspondent. I was the only one for the Herald and Examiner. The Chicago Daily News had a correspondent, the city press had one, AP had somebody. I didn't have an office; I was in the police station. That's where my headquarters were. I'd use their public pay phone.
Currie: What kind of area was the North Shore at that time?
Eads: It was just like any suburban area, more or less a privileged and exclusive-type place. Northwestern University is in Evanston. All the smaller towns. It's like outside of San Francisco, what they call bedroom communities. I mean, a lot of people worked in Chicago and lived in Evanston and Lake Forest. Lake Forest is one of the wealthiest areas around, outside of Naples, Florida. I've since had a lot of friends down here from Lake Forest. It was a beautiful suburb, still is.
Currie: What kinds of stories did you cover?
Eads: All sorts of stories. It's hard to tell you. Divorces and murders, robberies, any kind of story that you'd have in the city.
Currie: So you basically had general assignments for that whole area?
Eads: That's right.
Currie: Was it traditional for reporters to be in the police station?
Eads: No, but they didn't have any office.
Currie: I see. Did you have an office in the police station?
Eads: No, just went there, and sometimes when I had a late assignment—I remember one night I slept in the police station, in the courtroom on one of the benches.
Currie: How come?
Eads: I've forgotten the story, but it was something to do with somebody stealing rugs, Oriental rugs. But that is not really as accurate as I'd like to be if you're going to use it at all.
Currie: But it's interesting. So you would hang around the police station.
Eads: That's where we got the news.
Currie: I see. How did you gather the news? What would happen in the police station that would tip you off?
Eads: I guess the policemen would tell us, or we were sitting around in front of the desk when the reports would come in. It wasn't a big police station; it was a small police station.
Currie: How many reporters would be there with you?
Eads: There were, I'd say, four or five or six.
Currie: Were there many other women?
Eads: I only remember one other one. Also, you see, they also were partly working for the metropolitan newspapers. They were the correspondents for the metropolitan newspapers. I was a correspondent for the Herald and Examiner. They were correspondents for the Chicago American, which was the afternoon Hearst paper and other urban papers. We were all friends. We tried to beat each other on the stories, which was difficult to do in such a small space.
Currie: Because if you were all together, you'd get it at the same time?
Eads: Well, if they'd disappear suddenly and quickly, you'd know something was up.
Currie: What would happen if someone would disappear?
Eads: They'd be going out on some kind of a lead for a story, you would think.
Currie: Did you try to find out what they were going out for?
Eads: Yes, sure.
Currie: How would you do that?
Eads: I don't know. Follow them. I don't know exactly.
Currie: Where were you living at this time in Chicago?
Eads: I lived on the near North Side, and that's where I lived most of the time I lived in Chicago. It's around Chicago Avenue and Division Street and Michigan Avenue. I used to live at a place called 10 East Elm Street, and it was a very interesting neighborhood. I loved it, because it was like in San Francisco, a lot of creative people, artists, and writers, then also a lot of just plain apartment dwellers. But part of it was pretty exclusive, high rents.
I got an apartment. I found out that the top floor of one apartment building had a floor above it on the roof, and not expensive, and I got that. Except that I lived in the apartment on the roof, not the top floor apartment, and it was like a little penthouse. I had smallish windows that looked out. I fixed it up real cute.
Currie: How did you fix it up?
Eads: I papered a screen in gold, like Chinese, and I had other colors. It was all second-hand furniture, mostly, things like that.
Currie: Did you live alone?
Eads: I had a lot of company.
Currie: Who were your friends?
Eads: Newspaper people, mostly, and my brother and my aunt. My aunt was living in Chicago then, too, working in Chicago. She was an excellent seamstress, and she only did our clothes until my father married again, and then she went to Chicago and worked for a very well-known dress house. They would come for lunch on Sundays and holidays, and I cooked all the time. I love to cook.
Then I started going with this man I finally married, a reporter.
Currie: How did you meet him?
Eads: I worked right next to him in the office at the Herald and Examiner. He was a graduate of the University of Chicago, an excellent reporter, brilliant. Do you want me to get into Chicago?
Currie: Maybe we'll get to Chicago a little bit later, because you then went from the Herald and Examiner to the Chicago office, is that it?
Eads: No, I didn't work downtown for the Herald and Examiner then. I was a North Shore correspondent for the Herald and Examiner.
Currie: What's the difference between working for the Herald and Examiner and being a North Shore correspondent?
Eads: Because all I did was cover the news around Evanston and those north shore suburbs. It was mostly small news stories, you know, like in a small community.
Currie: But were you paid by the Herald and Examiner?
Currie: And you were on salary?
Eads: On salary.
Currie: So you were in a bureau?
Currie: I see. Did you ever move to the Herald and Examiner in Chicago?
Eads: Yes. That's next.
Currie: I see. Now I've got it. How long did you stay in the North Shore?
Eads: Not very long, several months or so. I liked the people I worked with. When a big story broke, they'd send people out from the paper, too, photographers and all. But then finally, I got a vacation. I went to Quincy, and I got to thinking about it. I wanted to work on that metropolitan paper downtown in Chicago.
Currie: Why do you think you got the job?
Eads: I think he thought I was eager enough and willing to work hard. Maybe he thought if I were that brash, that maybe I'd be pretty good on covering some of these stories.
Currie: So you moved?
Eads: I lived in the same place, because this time it was close. Where I lived was pretty close to downtown Chicago. You saw the first byline I had.
Currie: Which I'd like to talk about. When you got this new job at the Herald and Examiner, what was your assignment? Where did you work?
Eads: Downtown in a regular office. I had a desk.
Currie: In the city room?
Eads: Yes. It was a big city room. They had many reporters, including my former husband.
Currie: Whom you sat right next to?
Eads: I met him at a party of a very well known Latin American cartoonist. At that time he had a big party at his apartment, which was near where I lived. It was new, and I was one of the people he invited, all newspaper people. That's where I met my former husband.
Currie: What was your former husband's name?
Eads: Seymour Berkson. He was a publisher of the New York Journal American when he died, but we were divorced.
Currie: What attracted you to your former husband?
Eads: I don't know. We just absolutely fell in love. We were together all the time. When I finally did a series of articles, he was my escort on the one I did about night life.
Currie: So you'd spend almost all your time at work and away from work together?
Eads: Well, we spent an awful lot of time together, six years.
Currie: Had you gone out with other men before that? Was there anybody else that was serious?
Eads: Yes, but I wasn't all that attracted to them. I liked several people. We had so much in common. Mostly he covered political news and the state legislature from Chicago, interviewing people.
Currie: So you think it was an advantage that you both were doing the same kind of work?
Eads: I just never thought about it. He lived with his family on the South side of Chicago. They were a very modest family, Jewish, and he was not an Orthodox Jew, but I remember he had me out for Sunday dinner sometimes, and one time I went to the synagogue with his parents and he didn't go.
Currie: You went and he didn't go?
Eads: I don't remember that he was there with us. He might have been, but I doubt it. He had definite ideas.
Eads: About politics and life.
Currie: How would you characterize his ideas?
Eads: I don't know. It's hard for me to say. He was an educated man and very urbane, elegant, marvelous dancer, a little naive with women, I think, when he first met me.
Eads: I thought so.
Currie: What do you mean, naive?
Eads: That I can't explain.
Currie: So there was a religious difference between you?
Eads: No, we never really discussed religion.
Currie: Had you been raised as a Protestant?
Eads: Yes, but not forcibly. I mean, we always went to Sunday school. We were Presbyterian, and we went to church with my father. My stepmother was a Christian Scientist, and later on, when we came down here, at one point I was reading Science. I had some problems and felt that it helped me. No, we never had anything like that particularly.
Currie: So religion wasn't an issue.
Currie: You went out with him for a long time.
Eads: Six years.
Currie: Did you think that this was the man for you?
Eads: There were times when I thought it would be nice if we were married, but I never dwelled on it. I never even discussed it with him. We never talked about things like that.
Currie: What did you talk about?
Eads: We talked about stories we worked on, we talked about people, what was going on in the world, big things. I remember having a big argument one night with him and another man. This was quite a while back. I said the trouble with the world is overpopulation, and I still think that. We had this big argument about it. But I mean, we discussed things like that.
Currie: Was there ever any conflict if the two of you were covering the same story? Did you ever go after the same stories?
Eads: When I did a series on night life in Chicago during Prohibition, he was my escort, but I wrote all the stories and I got all the copy, and he didn't like that. He didn't like being an escort, but it was an assignment. You saw some of those stories.
Currie: I did. I want to talk more in depth about the whole series. So he had some ego problems, is that what you're saying, when you were in the limelight?
Eads: No, I don't think he ever was envious of any assignment I had, or that I was of any assignment he had. I remember going to one of the state—I think he was an investigator for the state of Illinois on financial deals or something, and he was covering that story. The man happened to have an apartment in Chicago, and we both went to that.
I remember another story. We went to this apartment. He went to see the man and to have a drink. It was about 11:00 o'clock at night, and we came out of the apartment, about the eleventh floor, right in the near North Side, near the Drake Hotel. We came out and we looked down the hall toward the elevator, and we saw somebody bowing and pointing this way. We got
there, and everybody in the elevator had their hands up, and this guy had a gun. It was in that era in Chicago where not a night passed without something like that. He ordered us to get in the elevator. The elevator man, I think, he was sitting on a stool. I think he was a semi-invalid. Everybody was scared.
Anyway, he ordered him to go to the second floor and not to do anything, not to signal anybody or anything. He wanted what we had in our purses. We'd just gotten paid, and I had two rolls in my pocketbook. I don't know why I had divided my money. I think one was probably for my rent or something, and then I had another. I reached in my big pocketbook, and I was behind people in this elevator, scared, too, and he was holding this gun not at me, particularly. I grabbed one roll and I gave it to him. I thought, "If he ever finds out about it." Then he was right up against my friend's—right this way, [holds hand as if it were a gun up to her face] and he took his pen and pencil set out of his pocket. I thought, "Why doesn't he do like this?" But he didn't dare because the gun might have gone off.
Anyway, we got to the second floor and he ordered us all to stay there five minutes or so, so he could get away. As soon as we got out of the elevator, we went right down to the desk in this apartment building. He'd cut the wires of the phone. We finally got hold of the police and told them what had happened, and several days later they got him. He was a well-educated, young son of a wealthy North Shore—Evanston or one of those places—family, and he was, I guess, robbing people for a thrill. There were a lot of things like that going on.
They found him in a Chicago movie theater, sitting there with a debutante, and he was arrested. They took him to the police station, and we had a reporter stationed all the time at that police station. It was the central station, I guess. He knew about this story, of course, and he saw the pen and pencil set with Seymour's initials on it, S.B. He grabbed them out of this guy's pocket. [Laughter.] And Seymour got his pen and pencil set back. I just remembered that story when I got to thinking about going to see this man who was an investigator for the state.
Currie: That was pretty wild stuff going on in Chicago at that time.
Eads: I remember going home after that. Of course, Seymour didn't live with me every night. He was around. Then I was a little afraid. I kept thinking about what was going on in the city, but not for very long, because it was almost an everyday occurrence.
Currie: Maybe now is a good time to talk about some of the stories that you covered. Did you cover some interesting stories during that time at the Herald and Examiner?
Eads: All of them were, really.
Currie: You mentioned your first byline, and I think you've got your scrap[book] here, so let's pull it out and we can look at it.
Eads: A lot of stories I covered are not in there.
Currie: We can talk about them, too.
Eads: The other time I was afraid, I was going to tell you about it.
Eads: There were a number of times, but one night I remember very well. One night we were sent off, a photographer and I were sent out on a story, and it was a shooting or something. We had to call into the office on the way, because I don't know whether we couldn't find the
address or what. We called the office, and they said, "Forget it. Get over to this street on the South Side of Chicago."
We went over there, and a man had been murdered, and he was lying on the street. I thought, I mean, this is a good story, really. [Laughter.] The body here, I could see it and everything. So then I went into a house across the street. This is a nice, quiet little neighborhood, except for murders. [Laughter.] I went in and asked if I could use her telephone, and I was talking to the office about this. I said, "A man's body, it hasn't been identified yet, and I think it's a little petty gang murder." And all of a sudden, I heard a scream, and I said, "I'm going to hang up. Somebody's identified the body." You know, they wouldn't scream if they didn't know.
So I ran out, and it was the woman. I hung onto her arm, and they pushed her into the police car in the back seat, and I got in with her. They said, "Are you a relative?" I said, "Yes." We went way down on the South Side of Chicago, way down, almost in Indiana. Anyway, it was way down. It was a cold night, too, and I sat with this woman. When we got to her house, she was more or less was hysterical, and she didn't pay any attention to me. The police didn't ask me any questions. I went in the house with her. I said, "Maybe we'd better lock the door," because the Chicago Tribune was following. [Laughter.] He was ringing the bell, and I'd say, "She can't see anybody." They finally had to get—I think they got a doctor or a friend doctor, and they gave her some sedative. I would talk out the door to this reporter, and I'd say, "She can't see anybody. She's in sedation."
Currie: You said that to your competitor.
Eads: He finally went away. This was on the second floor, I think, of this apartment building. I don't know whether they still do that, but they had a door downstairs that locked, that went up the stairs, you know, to the apartments.
Currie: A two-door entry?
Eads: Yes. Then there was sort of a lobby downstairs. This was a small apartment building. I called the office and got this fabulous guy, Romanoff, I told you about, big, fat man, who sat on the city desk and knew all the policemen. This is about two o'clock in the morning. I said, "I don't know where in the hell I am, but I'm on the South Side, and I can't get a cab, and I don't know how I can get back to the office."
He said, "I'll come and get you." So I said, "I'll be waiting." It never occurred to me how long it would take to come from downtown Chicago all the way out there, and so I waited downstairs and I was really scared. I'd look out the door, and then I'd think, ~"Should I ring the bell and go back? Just stay inside the locked door would be better than this." But I didn't do it, because I was worried about this woman.
As it turned out, it turned out to be one of the smaller stories in the paper, and this man was not a very important gangster.
Currie: But it was your baptism by fire.
Eads: No, not really, but it was one of the stories. A lot of stories were like that, very touch and go about people you talked to and relatives that were threatening and things like that.
One time I stole a picture. When the photographer couldn't get a picture, we stole it.
Currie: How did you do that?
Eads: When the people wouldn't be there, we'd just take one off a mantle. This was a big one that I took.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Currie: You were saying that if you couldn't get a photographer to take a picture, you'd steal one.
Eads: Not always, but most of the time.
Currie: You said that once you took a big one off a mantle.
Eads: Yes, because I remember when one of the brothers and the father came to the office, marched right into the city room and pointed. I don't know how they knew who it was, who took the picture, but anyway, they wanted it back.
Currie: So you'd then run it with the story.
Eads: We had already run it. I guess that's how they knew.
Currie: How did you learn those techniques? Did you have anybody to show you the ropes?
Eads: No. I think when you're in positions like that, you're not helpless. I mean, you don't just sit there. I mean, when I think of some—I was practically a robber part of the time. [Laughter.]
Currie: What other things would you do?
Eads: I took other pictures, stole other pictures. About the same time of the St. Valentine's Day massacre*, when I was late getting to that assignment, I had to go to the apartment of one of the mistresses who was being held at one of the police stations, not as an accomplice. But the guy lived with her, also in a very beautiful apartment near North Side. I went into the apartment and there was nobody there except a policeman sitting in a chair right on the opposite side of the room from the door. I went in, and I saw this picture on the mantle. I walked over toward it, and he said, "Are you a relative?" They always asked if you were a relative. I said, "Yes." You know, you didn't have to say much.
I said, "I want to look over some things." I went in their bedroom and counted all the suits he had in the closet and looked over her perfumes and things, and I even looked in the bathroom, and I found they had lilac toilet paper. I put all this stuff down, because I thought it would make it—and then I finally wound my way around to the kitchen. They had liquor bottles with locks on them, special liquor, decorative liquor bottles. And they also had a recipe for taffy apples, which I thought was very funny in this gangster. So that was my story. I called the office and gave them that story.
Currie: You said you got to the St. Valentine's Day massacre late? Can you tell me what you remember about that?
Eads: I went into the office. It was a morning newspaper, so we didn't go to work until around 12:30 or 1:00 o'clock, and then we worked sometimes until 12:30 or 1:00 or more at night. I remember getting on the elevator in the building, and the elevator operator said, "Boy, you're
* The St. Valentine's Day Massacre took place February 14, 1929 in Chicago. Seven gangsters were killed by rival gangsters.
going to have a busy day." I said, "What happened?" He said, "Seven men were killed all at once." [Laughter.] Which was very funny to me. [It's usually] one at a time, you know.
Then I went into the city room and hardly anybody was there; they were all out on the story. I was so mad. I went over to my desk, and somebody called to me and said, "Got an assignment for you." I think he read it probably someplace. He sent me on a—I said it was a dinky little two-body murder on the West Side of Chicago, and even the policeman was disgusted. There was a Chicago Tribune reporter and photographer along with him, and we got together there.
I remember going in their apartment. I hate to tell you this, but I stepped over the bodies. I didn't step on them; I stepped over them to the phone, which was hanging on the wall, and called the office.
Currie: Nobody had moved the bodies yet?
Currie: Were the police there?
Eads: I went at the same time they did.
Currie: I see. So you all got there about the same time.
Eads: There was one policeman. Then it was after that, in the early evening, when I went to the apartment of the mistress.
Currie: In other words, you stepped over the bodies to get to the phone to file your story.
Currie: Which was more important, right?
Eads: Getting to the phone? Yes. [Laughter.] I wasn't about to lift up the bodies.
Currie: Well, I don't blame you. I wouldn't either. [Laughter.]
Eads: These stories are very funny.
Currie: They're wonderful.
Eads: One time there was a little boy on Sunday that went out in Lake Michigan from the beach, on the South Side, got on the ice, a piece of ice, and it was an ice floe. It started drifting out into the lake, Lake Michigan. They were trying to rescue him, and the office sent me and a photographer down there to get a picture of the little boy on the ice floe. It was on a Sunday, and I remember I had on a very fancy dress and I had a date that night with Seymour. We were going dancing. Here I was. They had a boat, you see, I guess the Coast Guard or something, and the photographer went in the little boat to rescue this boy. I walked along the beach. Lo and behold, at my feet, after I'd walked a ways, was a body. [Laughter.] And it was a man. I didn't think; I just reached down to see if there was any identification. This is true. I found none, but they finally found out who he was. It was what they used to call in those days, nothing but a little two-head story in the paper. A two-head was a small heading over a small story.
Currie: Do you remember who he was?
Eads: Oh, no, it wasn't anybody that anybody cared about. And that reminds me of another story.
Eads: That murder story was the first byline, but one of the first stories I had was to go over to a morgue on Randolph Street. You don't know Chicago, do you?
Currie: Not very well.
Eads: Our office was on Madison Street, and then there was Monroe and, finally, Randolph Street. I don't know if it was connected with the county or what, but it was a small morgue. They had a body there of a woman, and they had gotten the body from the Chicago River. They were beginning to write these stories about somebody's mother, you know, poor, nobody identified her and nobody knew who she was, and they had fished her out of the river. I had never seen a dead body and I'd never been in a morgue before, and there was absolutely nobody there except when I opened the door on the ground floor, I called and said what I was there for, and a young man's voice said, "She's upstairs on a slab." [Laughter.] "Just go up the steps."
So I went up, and there was this woman lying on a slab. Her clothes were in a pile in the corner, like a little tramp, you know. I said, "What color are her eyes?" And he took his finger and said, "Well, they're brown."
Currie: He lifted her eyelid up.
Eads: [Nods "yes."] He said, "She's a dirty little wench, isn't she?" And I said, "All I have to do is find out who she is." They ran this story for several days, and they found that she was a derelict who drank a lot and just fell in.
Currie: Why did they send you to the morgue to look at her body?
Eads: I don't know, but nobody had identified her, and I guess they thought if I got a description of her, gray hair, straight nose, crooked mouth, or whatever, they'd print it in the paper and somebody would come forward.
Currie: I see.
Eads: They often did that. There were lots of dead bodies found around Chicago that nobody identified ever. It's the truth.
Currie: I'm sure. You went down and got this description of her. Did you ever help find out who she was?
Eads: I don't know whether they ever did find out. They found out that she was a derelict and that people had seen her staggering along on the riverfront.
Currie: How did you feel, going to look at this dead body?
Eads: I didn't feel. I thought it was pretty eerie and distasteful, especially when I saw that she didn't have anything, no purse, nothing. It was pathetic. But I didn't weep. I just thought, "I've got to get this story in to the office."
Currie: And you saw a lot of bodies after that.
Eads: Oh, yes.
Currie: Going back a little bit to the afternoon of the St. Valentine's Day massacre, you went to what you called the dinky two-body murder. How did you get the idea to go to the mistress'?
Eads: I came back to the office, and they sent me. They were questioning her at the detective bureau or some place, and she was still being held there. She was a beautiful woman, blonde. I remember she had a squirrel coat on, down to her ankles, and I thought she hadn't gone home yet. I think they thought she would probably be there, and they thought it would be a good story if I interviewed her.
Currie: Do you remember your first byline?
Eads: Isn't this it?
Currie: Yes. This is great. August 1926.
Eads: I don't remember covering the story.
Currie: You don't?
Eads: I remember talking to the widow.
Currie: Let's talk a little bit about the story.
Eads: I can't remember anything more than I talked to the widow and got the information from her.
Currie: It says "Labor Killing Turns Bridal Veil to Weeds." So she was going to be married?
Eads: His daughter and his wife, the mother of the bride-to-be, were going to shop for a wedding outfit. Instead, the father was murdered.
Currie: So you had a good hook that way.
Eads: Yes. "Labor Killing Turns Bridal Veil to Weeds." Instead of looking for a bridal clothing, they looked for black clothing for a funeral, I guess.
Currie: Did you try to look for that kind of spin for your story?
Eads: No, I just wrote the story and then somebody on the copy desk put that head on it.
Currie: I see. Was that the first story you did, or your first byline?
Eads: First byline. I think one of the first stories that I did was this woman in the morgue.
Currie: So you didn't always get a byline.
Eads: No. But most always.
Currie: How did they determine what got a byline?
Eads: I think the importance of the story or the way it was written, mostly the importance of the story.
Currie: So were you competing to get bylines?
Eads: They had a number of women reporters on the Herald and Examiner. A lot of them were really queens, I mean, the star reporters when I started. They were the ones that would interview people like Rudolph Valentino and people like that.
Currie: Do you remember who some of them were?
Eads: The trouble is, I remember part of the name. It may come to me later. One woman wrote just about sports, a very delicate woman, and there was a very young woman who finally married a very elderly newsman on the paper. We all made cracks about that. Then there was one who did a lot of straight news stories, Pat O'Malley. She was a good reporter, but she was the prima donna of the office. There was also another one, an older woman, who was one of the top newspaper women in Chicago at that time. I can't remember her name right now, but she was a good friend. They all were. We had a very good working relationship.
Currie: You got along well together.
Eads: Never any envy. I think that some of them kind of envied me that assignment on the plane.
Currie: What about the men? How did you get along with the men?
Eads: Wonderfully. I just got along well with everybody. I mean, I was sort of new to them, and I was kind of young. I don't think that had anything to do with it at all, and they knew that Seymour and I were in love and going together, and they always made remarks about that.
Currie: What kind of remarks?
Eads: Just if I'd go someplace, where was Seymour. I can't remember. When I flew out of Chicago, he came out by train to meet me.
Currie: When you did the big story?
Eads: Yes. There was a picture of him in a little office publication.
Currie: I saw it, as a matter of fact. How did the men relate to the women in the news room?
Eads: I don't remember any arguments or anything. We all had our own jobs, our own assignments, and really, more or less, our own fields of reporting.
Currie: Did you cover the same things as the men?
Eads: Oh, yes, quite often. Like in this story, here was that Sacco and Vanzetti story.*
Currie: Tell me about that.
* Sacco, a shoe factory employee and radical agitator, and Vanzetti, fish peddler and anarchist, were found guilty of killing two men in a Massachusetts payroll holdup in 1921. A six-year worldwide campaign for release on grounds of want of conclusive evidence and prejudice failed. Both were executed August 23, 1927. On July 19, 1977, fifty years after the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, Governor Dukakis issued a proclamation that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed in 1927 for murder, were not treated justly in the judicial process and that any remaining stigma be removed from their names. There were, however, objections to this, including those arising from the opening of previously closed papers at Harvard University. New York Times Index, 1977, p. 867.
Eads: I went out with two of the top men in our office who were labor reporters on this story, and this was out on the West Side of Chicago, not the greatest neighborhood. I mean, a lot of Poles and different nationalities were living there, union people and workers. That's where this big riot broke out . These people who were sympathetic to Sacco and Vanzetti, you know, just like any riot today, sympathizers.
We got there and got out of the car, and I looked down a ways, and I saw this girl with the police around her. I said to the men, "I'm going down to see what this is. It's my story." I ran down. She was running, and we ran right into a cordon of police. They had their arms interlocked to get her. They took us both. I kept saying, "I'm with the Herald and Examiner." They didn't listen at all. They pushed me into a car on the floor. It tells about her; they don't mention me in it. And that really isn't my story. I called my story in, but I was in jail. They took us to a jail, you know. I called the office, and this Romanoff, I don't know whether he was in "The Front Page," I think he was, part of the story in "The Front Page," one of the characters. What happened, when the reporters got into trouble with the police for speeding or anything at all like that, we called "Romey," and he'd call the captain of the police station and say, "You better fix this up or I'll see that you get transferred to Hegawitch," which was a dinky little suburb south of Chicago that nobody wanted to go to.
So they let me out, and then I went to the office and told them what I heard. They already had a pretty good story.
Currie: So you didn't get to file the story on the woman?
Eads: Well, we didn't call it filing then.
Currie: What did you call it?
Eads: Just called it in.
Currie: So you didn't get to call that story in.
Eads: I gave them some details about what happened to her and to me, but it was all intertwined with their own story.
Currie: She was a leader of the Sacco and Vanzetti—
Eads: No, she wasn't really. She was a student.
Currie: Aurora D'Angelo.
Eads: I don't even remember hearing her name.
Currie: She was a student who was just there protesting?
Eads: Yes. And there was a young man, also a student at Northwestern University, who was in that skirmish, too, but I don't know what happened to him. I don't remember seeing him, even.
Currie: So they just sort of arrested you without—
Eads: She was leading the mob, that particular part of it. She wasn't leading the whole riot, just this part of it. She had a following of people. I don't know if they knew who she was or anything, but the police just had their arms out to get her, and they got her. I happened to be hanging onto her, so they put me in with her.
Currie: What can you tell me about Romanoff?
Eads: He was a very dark-haired, dark-eyed, and fat and bossy man, but good, you know. He'd boss reporters. You'd call in to the city desk and sometimes, instead of getting the city editor, you'd get him. I remember once I told him I couldn't get the picture that they sent me for. He said, "Don't come back until you get it. Don't come back." I mean, he was like that. Everybody liked him, I think. I don't know why they wouldn't, but he was a big bully, sort of. We used to send to a saloon across the street, to get the most wonderful steaks. I never ate such food. We used to go there after work a lot of times, too. Of course, get a drink, as well. When we'd send over for the food, the copy boys, the guys that ran our copies from us to the copy desk or the city desk, would pick up these steaks and stuff and bring them, and we'd eat in the office. "Romey" would invariably come up and steal some of my steak and other people's. I remember that so well.
Currie: So he wasn't the city editor.
Currie: What was he?
Eads: He had a connection with the police. He knew every police captain in Chicago, and on big stories, he used his influence a lot to get information from them. He'd brow-beat them until he got it. You know, the Herald and Examiner was a big paper.
Currie: Was he an editor?
Eads: No, he was sort of what you call an in-between thing. I mean, sort of managing. He didn't have a name like that.
Currie: But he seemed to have some kind of position.
Eads: He sat at the city desk. We had an assistant city editor. We had an editor, a day editor and a night editor, and an assistant city editor. Then we had another editor at that desk, I think he was there for out of town news, and "Romey." He sat there at one end of the desk and was like a boss over that whole thing, but he wasn't really the boss. But he had a lot to say.
Currie: Sounds like an interesting character.
Eads: He was. I think he was the most interesting on the paper, really. There was another man that we loved, everybody loved, because he was always helping you with your family trials and tribulations and love affairs and everything. He was assistant city editor. His name was Eddie Haserkamp, and he was a dear. He was not quite as bossy as a real city editor.
Currie: What did a real city editor do?
Eads: He'd give us our assignments.
Currie: But you said he wasn't quite as bossy as the real city editor.
Eads: He was more humorous about telling us what to do.
Currie: So he was more polite?
Eads: More considerate. If you couldn't get some detail, he wouldn't yell at you or threaten your job.
Currie: That was pretty much standard procedure?
Eads: I didn't have it too much of the time. Most of the time I got what they told me to, or I tried.
Currie: You said that "Romey" had threatened this police captain with moving. How could he?
Eads: He just had influence. The paper had influence, political influence. I think, in a way, they could get your job, you know, threatening. "If you don't do what I ask you to do, I'll see that somebody gets your job," or something.
Currie: What do you think he might have done to actually get rid of this guy?
Eads: I don't know. It's just like in the White House. I mean, if you don't do or think, even think, eventually something happens to your job. Not always; it depends on who's the boss. But Chicago was rife with political deals in those days.
Currie: Even on the paper?
Eads: Well, I wouldn't say in that way, but I'm talking just about—
Currie: That's how life was.
Eads: Yes. I mean, it wasn't always a threat, just once in a great while that they'd say that. I just happened to pick out those couple of times.
Currie: But he sounds like quite an interesting character. He's very vivid.
Eads: Stories have been written about him, but it's so long ago and I don't know where the stories are or what happened to him or anything.
Currie: Was there anyone at the Herald and Examiner who was a mentor to you, someone who really helped you out?
Eads: Nobody. If you wanted to know who to see in some outfit or how to get someplace or where it was, and what their standing in the community was, you could ask different people, like the chief political writer or anybody. Various people knew various parts of the city, the county building, the city building.
Currie: So you would sort of use everybody else on the paper to get the information you needed?
Eads: Never, not unless I didn't know. No, I never had to ask. That didn't exist, that sort of thing.
Currie: So you were sort of on your own?
Eads: I guess so. In your job, it's just like a job you have. You know what you have to do, and you do it. You don't have to go to somebody and say, "How do I ask this opera singer how she reaches high C?"
Currie: Do you know if the women who worked at the Herald and Examiner were paid the same as the men?
Eads: No, they weren't. That's why I quit. After six years, they were starting to give some raises to the men, and I went up to the city editor, and I said, "What about it? I've been here six years. What about the women here?"
And he said, "Well, that will come along. It'll come, but not now."
And shortly after that, I knew a man on the AP in Chicago, who had been chief of the bureau in Chicago. He was transferred to New York as one of the big shots of the AP in New York, as managing editor. We were sort of friends in Chicago. I wrote to him and asked him about a job, and he said there wasn't any right then. He was sort of pleased that I wanted to come. He was always very complimentary in Chicago.
Not very long after that, he wrote one sentence, he said, "There's an opening on the news staff in New York; it's yours if you want it." That's all he said. And of course, I wanted it, and I left. My boyfriend was very upset. Not really. He understood.
Currie: Did you make more money going to the AP?
Eads: Not much. That was during the Depression. I didn't make very much at all, but I had always wanted to go to New York, just dreamed about New York. It was the city more than the job, really. [Laughter.]
But I can remember, I first got there and I stayed in a hotel first, until I found an apartment. I walked over to Fifth Avenue and turned the corner on 42nd Street onto Fifth Avenue, and I felt I was in heaven. It seemed to be what I had wanted all my life, just to walk down Fifth Avenue! I was so thrilled.
The desk was small. You know how the AP is, a tremendous organization. My small group, there were only, say, in the daytime, on the day staff there would be about, at the most, ten or 12. There was one other woman. She was there, but for a while she and I were the only two women on AP for a long time. Ruth Cowan was on the AP in Chicago then. I think she was there then. But there I did have to ask around a little bit, the men that I worked with right there on the desk. They were an interesting group of people. Lorena Hickok was the other woman, and there's a book that she wrote. She was Eleanor Roosevelt's very close friend, and it's in this book about Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, a lot of talk about that.* It was in the book or on the cover or something.
Currie: When it first came out, there was some implication that maybe Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt had been lovers.
Eads: I doubt it. I doubt that they were.
Currie: You don't think they were?
Eads: No. She had a lot of friends like that.
Currie: You mean Mrs. Roosevelt?
* Faber, Doris. The Life of Lorena Hickok: Eleanor Roosevel's Friend.
Eads: Women, yes, that she admired. But Lorena was a crack newspaperwoman. I think she was originally in Detroit or something. She used to be a policewoman, somebody told me, and she looked like one. She was a big woman and wore her hair in a little skimpy bun in the back. I remember on the Lindbergh kidnapping, it was several days before she got assigned to cover it. She just absolutely was so mad, she just got red.
Currie: Was she agitating to cover it?
Eads: Oh, she wanted to cover that. It was a very important story, of course. I was married to Seymour then, and we were living in an apartment in New York. This call came in early in the morning, and I answered the phone, and it was his office. He was working for Hearst's Universal Service as a reporter then, and he was sent out on that story. That's when we first heard of the story. He went, of course. Oh, I was envious. I wanted to go, too, and I would fume and fuss around. I went into the office, finally, and I didn't get it. They had already assigned people. They had all their top people covering that. Lorena finally got sent out. But I finally got to work on the story after a while.
Currie: I noticed in your clips. I want to talk about that, too, because those are interesting stories.
Eads: That's New York, and that's after.
Currie: Yes. What more can you tell me about Lorena Hickok?
Eads: Lorena Hickok and I were very close friends. I even went out to Fire Island one time with her. There was a man with us, too, and they weren't living together. She was a good cook, and we used to go up on Sundays to her house and have drinks, mostly the men and I. That's before Seymour came to New York, which was only about a month or so after I left Chicago. I got married about a month after I got to New York. We didn't tell the office.
Currie: Why not?
Eads: Because they hired him, too, and they just weren't sympathetic at all to anything like that.
Currie: They didn't want the reporters marrying each other?
Eads: I don't think that was it. Here they'd hired me from Chicago, and here I turn around and get married right away. I didn't tell them for a couple of months or so, but we finally told them, because Hickok—we called her Hickok—came with one of the men from the AP one night. We'd already gone to bed. We had a one-room apartment. They knocked on the door; they hadn't called. We let them in, and I said, "Well, anyway, we're married." [Laughter.] And then she found out we were married. They didn't tell the office for a while.
He had different hours than I did, too, because he had worked for the AP. I practically talked them into hiring him.
Currie: After you went to New York?
Eads: I said to them one day, to my boss in New York, "How would you like to meet a good newspaperman?"
And he said, "Is he out of a job?"
I said, "No." I said, "In fact, they wouldn't want to lose him." But I said, "He's pretty good."
And so Seymour came to New York, and we got married the day he came. Then he went in to see about the job, and he finally got it.
Currie: So you were both working at the AP.
Eads: Yes, we were for about a month, and then he got this job with Universal Service, INS, a morning service.
Currie: That was a Hearst wire service.
Currie: So he came for the job at the AP, but then he switched over to the Hearst service.
Eads: That's where he belonged, too, because he rose very fast in that outfit. You know, to be publisher of New York Journal American, that's something. He was bureau chief in Rome and in Paris, and that's how I happened to be in Rome and Paris, too.
Currie: Why did you decide to get married when he moved to New York, after you'd been seeing each other so long?
Eads: I don't know. I guess he thought he'd better hang on, he'd better make it permanent or I would maybe go to London the next time. I don't know; I'm just making that up.
Currie: Because it happened pretty quickly.
Eads: It happened a month after I started working there. That's why I hated to have the office find out.
Currie: Why did you not want them to know?
Eads: As far as I knew, that didn't happen anyplace else.
Currie: No one told you that you couldn't be married?
Eads: No, no. I think I made it up or something.
Currie: So no one objected?
Eads: I just felt silly, you know, wanting this job so much, then getting it, then right after I get it, I go and get married, which would mean that I might quit or have a baby or something. Then it wasn't very long after that, that Seymour got sent to Rome, and I had to quit about six months later. No, I guess I worked there over a year or something.
Currie: That was very short. Where did you actually get married?
Eads: In a little town of Harrison, New York, right outside of New York City.
Currie: Do you want to describe your wedding?
Eads: It was by a Justice of the Peace. There's a story in here. A girl who wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune used this story—I decided, in order to let people know that we were
married, that we'd use a marriage license, the paper, you know, and we had copies made of it, and we sent it around to our friends.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Currie: You were saying that you sent, as your wedding announcement, copies of your marriage certificate.
Eads: To friends.
Currie: That was a cute idea.
Eads: But then we always wondered whether some of the friends might not use it if they went out and illegally slept together in hotels.
Currie: Did you have to produce a marriage certificate to stay together in hotels?
Eads: No, but I just think that maybe they did in those days. Not a marriage certificate, but some proof that they were husband and wife.
Currie: So there were probably a lot of people using your name.
Eads: Yes. Oh, we just joked about that.
Currie: Did you have any friends at your wedding?
Eads: I had one friend. She wasn't very close, and I wasn't very fond of her either. And my brother came from Chicago, and he was with us. After the wedding, we went back to New York. It was a suburb—Harrison, New York. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant. And my brother had just arrived in New York, and he kept saying, "Let's go to the Empire State Building." In those days, the Empire State Building was more than Disney World or anything. Tourists all went to see the Empire State Building, and they'd go up to the top, I forgot how many stories it was, and look over the city. I said to my brother, "We have other things to do." [Laughter.] I said, "You and what's-her-name go."
Currie: You don't remember her name?
Eads: Julia English, I think, was her name. I think she wrote advertising copy. A lot of my friends were in advertising, doing things in New York. One was an artist, and one was an interior decorator, then newspaper people. We used to get together in our apartment for dinners, and I'd cook or they would. We'd go out to fabulous restaurants, not too expensive in those days. Night life was our dish.
Currie: Where did you live in New York?
Eads: We had an apartment on the East Side, within walking distance of the East River, in the 50s of New York. I found the first one we lived in. I found the second one. But we were divorced after we came back from Paris.
Currie: We can look at the clippings and talk about the stories. I want to sort of wrap up, because we had gotten ahead of ourselves. We had gone to New York and you'd just gotten married. Had you thought about what you would do about your career once you got married?
Currie: Did you have any plans?
Eads: I wasn't all that gung-ho about a career. I just loved doing what I had been. I just never thought I'd take advanced courses in journalism to improve myself or editorial writing or anything like that. It was a job that I had to do, and I did the best I could. Nothing else that I could do could make it any better, I didn't think. I probably could take foreign languages and international politics and things like this, but I found it very sufficient the way it was, I mean, gratifying. I enjoyed it.
Currie: If you had children, did you think you would continue working?
Eads: You know, I really didn't think of those things. That may be stupid, but I just didn't.
Currie: I don't think it's stupid; it's just that you didn't.
Eads: I did have a child, you see.
Currie: But that was a little later.
Eads: But I had a career then. I was writing all those columns from Paris.
Currie: You did combine that?
Eads: I had a nurse and I had a maid. That makes a lot of difference.
Currie: Yes, that is a lot different. I thought I'd ask that because we had gotten ahead of ourselves, and I thought I'd ask you what your expectations were about that when you got married.
Maybe now we should go back to Chicago, because we didn't get to cover a lot of the other stories that you covered during the twenties, essentially. You married Seymour Berkson in 1931.
One of the big stories—let me get out the scrapbook for this one—I'd like you to talk about. You have lots of scrapbooks, and we'll get these out and it will help a little bit. You were the first commercial passenger on an airplane?
Eads: Yes, man or woman. You see, it was a commercial plane and they were to start in June, whatever day it was, taking paid passengers.
Currie: It was a combined passenger and air mail plane that was going to take passengers.
Eads: It was the forerunner of all the airlines that are today.
Currie: That was July 1, 1927. Can you talk a little bit about how you got assigned that story?
Eads: Maybe the airline company. But I think it was the brain-child of somebody higher up in our office. It was a big moment in history. I mean, the Chicago Tribune had wanted to send a passenger. For a long time, the Herald and Examiner kept it absolutely secret, and everybody thought it was a society girl or somebody like that. They didn't know who was going to make this flight, and they didn't know until the last minute, some of the papers, that it was one of their competitors. I don't know. I went over to one of the hotels when some of the big brass from Boeing and the other air manufacturers came to Chicago, to talk it over. I went over and talked to them, had a drink with them, came back to the office. Anyway, it was all set.
Currie: Do you know why you were selected to do it?
Eads: I know why. It was because I was the best.
Currie: That's probably true.
Eads: No, I don't think so. I think it was maybe because I was younger. I don't know. Don't ask questions like that.
Currie: You don't like that question?
Eads: Well, I don't know why, except that they just thought I was maybe in a position, that I didn't have a family, didn't have children. I don't think that's the reason, but it could be. I had done other things for them. They liked my work. I guess that's part of it.
Currie: Who gave you the assignment?
Eads: The managing editor of the paper. It was a whole hierarchy of people, the upper echelon in the Hearst outfit. I wouldn't be surprised if Hearst himself didn't—I don't think he was alive then, but his son was publisher of the San Francisco paper, and he was at the airport to meet me, with other people from the paper. They took me to their office. I wrote a piece about landing.
Currie: So they were in San Francisco when the plane landed?
Eads: That's where they were all the time. He was publisher. That was the son of William Randolph Hearst.
Currie: I see. When they told you that you were going to go on this airplane flight, how did you respond to that?
Eads: I was thrilled. I had never been in an airplane before.
Currie: Not many people had, had they?
Eads: No. It was just a challenge, you know. I thought it was fun.
Currie: Did they give you any idea about what kind of stories they wanted you to write?
Eads: No, just to write as I went along, which is what I did. I never stopped, hardly.
Currie: There are lots of pictures of you, but there's a picture of you getting into the plane. I noticed in a lot of the clips, they describe your outfit in great detail. How did you decide what to wear?
Eads: I don't know. I went shopping and I bought the hat, and I had the suit, I guess. I don't know where the feather boa came from. [Laughter.] Dorothy Williams, a Washington Press friend, never stops kidding me about that feather boa.
Currie: You look very chic. You're in a cloche hat.
Eads: Yes. That's what they wore in the twenties, all pulled down. You looked like a turtle with this thing pulled down like that over your ears. I had clothes I took with me. Among other things, I had a kind of chiffon or crepe dress, a real pretty color, sort of dressy. Part of the way,
as we went over the desert, I think it was, it got unbearably hot, and it wasn't air-conditioned in this plane. I was able to get this dress off, and it had sort of a tie sash around it. I changed from the suit and put the dress on, and I kept saying, while I was doing it, "What if we crash and here I was in my slip?" They'd wonder what was going on in the plane. And also, the ends of this belt slipped out under the door of the cabin. The pilot was not in with me; he was by himself back in an open cockpit, which is unusual. I mean, that's the way it was in those days. He said, after we came down, he wanted to know what in the hell was going on. He saw this flipping in the breeze, this part of the strip. That's what it was.
I went to San Francisco, and I went from San Francisco down to San Diego, and I came back on a train, and stopped in El Paso, where I had a friend. She had a party for me, and people interviewed me along the way coming back, wherever the train stopped.
Currie: It made you quite a celebrity.
Eads: At the time, I guess.
Currie: Was this something that the paper did with Boeing?
Eads: Boeing was the only one that did it. There was no other company at all.
Currie: But it was a good P.R. thing for Boeing to do.
Eads: Sure, it was. But I don't know whether they thought of it. I kind of doubt it.
Currie: How did the flight progress? How would you file your stories?
Eads: We left, I think, around nine o'clock. Then we got to Iowa, and there was a Western Union man waiting for the plane. I just wrote longhand as I went along, and I just handed him that. The same thing every other place we stopped.
Currie: So you stopped in Iowa?
Eads: It tells there. [Looking at scrapbook of clippings and telegrams from the flight.] Iowa City. The first stop. Never having flown in a plane before, I didn't know what was happening when the plane started to descend. I thought we were going to crash. I said that in the story.
Currie: You did say that. [Reading from clippings.] "Thrilling. Fine," says Jane Eads in blazing sky trail.
Eads: It was.
Currie: [Reading from clippings.] "Jane Eads Lands on Coast."
Eads: I was never afraid. I got awfully tired toward the end, because you couldn't lie down. They had a two-passenger seat, it was one seat, and it was a small cabin. I could curl up, sort of, which is what I did. I don't think I ever really went to sleep in 24 hours. I might have.
Currie: And you also had to be writing, had to be working.
Eads: Yes. I wasn't forced to, but I sort of wanted to. I was doing the story. Then I got all those wires which you saw.
I was so thrilled with this flight, and one of the top people on the Herald and Examiner, he wasn't a managing editor, but he was up there someplace, assistant publisher, was so envious that he made the next flight that they had himself, and pretended like he was first. [Laughter.].
I was so thrilled that I got in touch with another pilot, and we got to talking. I said, "Maybe another trip I could get for myself."
Currie: So you were going to do it again?
Eads: In another way, sort of, maybe a different destination. This pilot was all anxious to do it, too. He wasn't one that I had on the flight at all. I think this is the one who signed himself Bill Kramer. Because we wanted to get some backing for this so-called flight that we were trying. I didn't even ask the office.
Currie: So you were just trying to line one up again?
Eads: Yes. We went to see [William] Wrigley. They had Wrigley Field, you know, to see if he would sponsor us. He was sort of lukewarm about it. Then I told him I wasn't sure that the office would give me any publicity if he were paying for it. Then the office also said, "No way."
Currie: I see. You got a lot of telegrams. [Looking at scrapbook.] There's one from your editor. He kept saying great things. Here's this picture of Seymour meeting you in San Francisco?
Eads: No, that's when he took off from Chicago on the train. That's the back of a train, and the other people there are newspaper friends of ours.
Currie: I see. So he took off in the train to meet you in San Francisco.
Eads: My father was so thrilled. This is my father.
Currie: [Reading telegrams.] "We're mighty proud of you."
Eads: That's my stepmother, Gladys, and that's my half-sister. He was so proud of me, that he wired ahead to my cousin, who lived in Iowa, the first stop. Anyway, they were there, and I'd never seen them before. I had little time to chat with anybody, you know, at the airport. But my boss took me in his own car to the airport, and he gave me a bottle of whiskey, and somebody gave me a box of chocolates. I got on the plane and I didn't know what to do with that bottle when I got to Iowa, the first stop. I asked the pilot to take it—Ira Biffle. I said, "I can't get off with this bottle, and you have to take it." He did.
Currie: He had taught [Charles] Lindbergh, the pilot?
Currie: How did Ira Biffle get involved with this flight?
Eads: He was hired. He was one of their pilots.
Currie: I see. So he was chosen. [Reading telegram.] "Hurray for our Lady Lindbergh!"
Eads: That was my night city editor.
Currie: Jack Molloy?
Eads: Yes. He was a wonderful guy. This was my boss, Duffy Cornell, city editor. He's the one who took me to the airport.
Currie: [Reading.] "Congratulations! You're a great kid. Your story's great. The one from Salt Lake, incomparable." [Reading another telegram.] "Jane Eads, flying reporter, arrives your city on Burlington at 9:20 tonight."
Eads: They were warning people that I was coming.
Currie: That's great. Here's some more.
Eads: Here's my boss again.
Currie: "Western Union man will meet you, but please file your story by Universal Services plan when you left. Cornell." And there's something from Boeing.
Eads: Yes. My trip marks an epoch in transportation. [Reading.] "We are exceedingly glad to welcome you after your flight of 2,000 miles across the continent." Can you imagine anything so silly? I mean, now when you think of all these planes flying around.
Currie: But at the time, it wasn't silly. This is funny.
Eads: What was her name? She was the other woman I was trying to think about who was on the paper. She was one of the top writers, an older woman.
Currie: This is a great telegram. [Reading telegram from woman.] "Your stories are great. Everybody raving about them. You certainly have mastered trick of perfect description in shortest sentences. Doug says that he is going to endow you and Berkson and let you marry and breed good reporters, because they are getting scarce. Hearty congratulations and a lot of love. Signed Leola." That's cute.
Eads: This was sort of a semi-city editor.
Currie: [Reading.] "Congratulations, you lucky devil. Your story's darbs." What's a darb?
Eads: That was a slang word in those days.
Currie: What did it mean?
Eads: I don't know.
Currie: That's good?
Eads: Sure, that's what it meant.
Currie: Was that a journalistic term?
Eads: No, it was just slang of the day. You see, you weren't born then. There's a lot of things that you didn't run into.
Currie: That's true. "Great story from Iowa City. God bless you. Cornell."
Eads: Yes. He was really—there's Daddy. Oh, I loved that guy.
Currie: Who's that?
Eads: He was a newspaperman. He died. He drank too much, but he was sober when he wrote this. [Laughter.]
Currie: [Reading.] Tom Killian. "Great work, kid." A man of few words.
Eads: He wrote like a dream.
Currie: Really? Was there a lot of drinking going on?
Eads: It was Prohibition. Everybody was drinking then, even the people who never drank before, because they wanted it.
Currie: There are lots of clippings on the flight. Did they send it out over the Hearst news service?
Eads: A lot of other papers carried it, too, even in Latin America. It was all over. There's one picture of me.
Currie: It's in Spanish.
Currie: Why don't we take a look at some of these clips and see if they remind you of anything. It says, "Air Pockets Give Her a Scare."
Eads: It's so different. You've flown a lot, I'm sure.
Currie: Yes. I've even been in a small plane. What did it feel like?
Eads: This was a small plane. Not anything like the ones today. I didn't think it was too bumpy or anything, except when you'd go over those pockets. In any plane you feel it, don't you? They had sandstorms, and we had a terrible time getting to Reno. "The trip took more than three hours, and the pilot and I were all in. The plane rocketed and jumped fiercely all the way. To make my troubles worse, we hit a real Nevada sandstorm. Sand blew in on us 1,000 feet up. I didn't get any sand, but the pilot did." [Laughter.]
Currie: The pilots changed?
Eads: Every stop. We changed planes and pilots three times, which was kind of interesting. I think that was probably part of the publicity. I don't know.
Currie: Here you are. "Jane Eads, Herald and Examiner reporter, with a bag of mail for President Coolidge."
Eads: Yes. I didn't have anything to do with it, but it was there on that plane. I've forgotten the place where they dropped that off. He was at a vacation place. Here it is. North Platte, Nebraska.
Currie: So part of it was a mail bag for him.
Eads: That's what they were going to do, you know, deliver mail by air. That was the first air mail, too.
Currie: But they were also going to add these passengers. People could pay to be commercial passengers.
Eads: Oh, yes, they had to pay plenty. This is about landing. We changed planes at Omaha, and Jack Knight was also a famous pilot. Then we got to Salt Lake City. We changed planes, too. No, we didn't. We stopped there for some reason. It was very hot, and we hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, so I guess the pilot or somebody got us sandwiches nearby, brought them to the plane, and I put mine like in an automobile, you know, on the front.
Currie: The dash?
Eads: Yes. In about an hour, I hadn't eaten. It had cheese in it, and the cheese melted, it was that hot.
Currie: It says, "I'm Not Plucky, but Lucky Girl, Says Jane Eads." That's the headline.
Eads: "Aerial reporter." That was new.
Currie: That's what they called you. Would this be the kind of reporting that they used to call stunt reporting?
Eads: I think it's part of it, but then I wouldn't call this a stunt.
Currie: What would you call a stunt?
Eads: Well, like getting into a banquet to cover a speech and you weren't invited, and you'd dress up like a maid or a butler. That sort of thing, you know. Falsifying, not altogether. And maybe you would call it a stunt, but it was a pretty expensive stunt. It took an awful lot of doing.
Currie: There was kind of a tradition of the adventuresome girl reporter, I understand.
Eads: It was just like front-page stuff, especially that expose on night life and things like that.
Currie: Can you tell me about that exposé of night life in Chicago that you did?
Eads: It was during Prohibition and there were all sorts of things. There was the St. Valentine's Day massacre and a lot of people were involved in bootlegging, and crime was more or less rampant, really. There was a lot of illegitimate serving of liquor in nightclubs, and the city editor or whoever, and the managing editor thought it would be a good idea to go around and investigate these places by having somebody go as a customer. So I went, dressed all up and went with Seymour to these night places. We'd have dinner, we'd dance, and just act like anybody else, but all the time we were there, my ears were bigger, and I took notes on everything, the people sitting at the next table, what they were talking about. Even in the ladies' room, I wrote down notes on any kind of paper I could find. Then we'd be out until after midnight, when Seymour would drop me off at home. Then I'd go to bed and get up in the morning and write the story. I did it right there in my apartment, every story, every time I got the material.
Currie: Do you recall what kinds of things you found out?
Eads: Just about what they did and what they were drinking, where they got it, and how they got it. I know one time we went one place, and we were driving, then the doorman at one
of the nightclubs said, "Just stay here." And he brought the bottle out to the car, put it under the seat.
Currie: Maybe it's a cliché, but did you have to have a password to get into these speakeasies?
Currie: Oh, it was easy?
Eads: I don't remember that we had to. I remember some of those that we went to. I went to one in New York, I remember, and I think we did in Chicago, too, some of them, where they'd look out sort of a peephole at the door and see who was there. We did go to one in Chicago that was run by one of the gangsters.
Currie: Which one?
Eads: I can't remember. There were a lot of them. There were two different gangs there.
Currie: Who were the principal gangs?
Eads: Al Capone had one, and there was another one. I can't remember the name. They were fighting for territory, bootlegging stuff in, and they had their own customers and all that. It's hard to talk about that, because I never got too much in that side of the story.
Currie: How long did you do this series on the night life?
Eads: I think we covered about eight or ten of them, and the reason I did it under the name of Sally O'Brien—
Currie: Oh, so you didn't use your own name.
Eads: No! For my own protection. You see, they started running while I was still writing these things. We were exposing these gangsters in the nightclubs, and gave the name of the nightclub and told where they were. There was no secret about where they were. I mean, they were very prominent, a lot of them, and some of them were very plush nightclubs.
I know one night when Seymour and I were going, we thought we were being followed, and we dashed around in back alleys and things to get away from this car. I'm sure we were being followed.
Currie: Were these nightclubs closed, or did the police crack down on them as a result of these stories?
Eads: No. The Republican was mayor of Chicago. I'd better not get into this, because I'm not too sure about who was mayor at the time. But the incoming new mayor disavowed any association with the liquor problem in Chicago.
Currie: You mean he just said there wasn't a problem?
Eads: I think so. He said, "It's been exposed. This has happened. It's not in my administration. It all happened in the other guy's administration."
Currie: I see. Were you afraid that if you were caught, something might happen to you?
Eads: No. I was kind of worried that night that we were being followed. The way things were going, they'd just as soon take a shot at me as anybody else. In the twenties, Cicero, Illinois, was noted as a real bad spot in the whole United States for crime and everything, liquor. We went out there, and I did a story about the nightclub in Cicero. All I said about it were good things, because there was no excitement at all. The Cicero paper had a big headline across, just thrilled because somebody had said something good about it. But I couldn't find any gangsters or any out-of-the-way things there that I found in other nightclubs.
Currie: They didn't have any illegal liquor?
Eads: I can't remember about that. I think we did get some. We went to one place, and they had "needle" beer.
Currie: What's "needle" beer?
Eads: They needle it with a raw alcohol or something, and that makes you real high and everything. We drank that, and I remember when I got home that night, I wasn't ill, but I was kind of nuts. [Laughter.]
Currie: Sort of like wood alcohol.
Eads: Yes. It was fun. We had all expenses paid, our dinner every night.
Currie: Was that the only time you used a pseudonym?
Currie: I understand it was a practice for people to have different names that they would use, that people wouldn't necessarily use their own name.
Eads: They did. Some people did. Some people writing about socialites, it was chic to do that, I guess, or they just didn't want people to know exactly they were writing gossip columns, stories about movie stars, things like that.
Currie: They didn't want people to know who they were?
Eads: That's right, although most people could find out, would know.
Currie: That was the era for what they called sob sisters.
Eads: That's it. I was going to ask you if you'd ever heard of sob sisters.
Currie: I've heard of it.
Eads: I've thought a long time about it, and people have been after me for years to write a book. I thought, if I write a book, I had the title, but I didn't have the time or the inclination to sit down and write. I was going to call it "Sob Sister."
Currie: Why were you going to call it that?
Eads: Because more or less, that's what some women reporters were. They'd write sympathetic stories of crime for some poor little murderess who had murdered her husband. They felt sorry for her being in jail, and then they'd write a story about how she was sorry that she'd killed her husband. You know, that sort of thing. They always took the part of the person they were interviewing.
Currie: So part of being a sob sister was to get sympathy for the person you were writing about?
Eads: No, it was just that that's sort of the way they were writing. Not all newspaperwomen were writing like that, but occasionally you would write a story. I wrote several stories, not siding with them or anything, but just they told a sympathetic story. It was just a name that they gave, like "flappers."
Currie: Sort of part of the era?
Currie: Did you do any sob stories?
Eads: I was just saying, interviews with women in jail, who were there because they'd murdered their husband or lover, stories like that.
Currie: Did you have fun with those stories?
Eads: Yes. I always saw their side of the story, as well as the other side in most cases.
Currie: I noticed, also, in your clippings that there's a story about a fracas at Northwestern University, causing a ruckus in a sorority house, some young women. There's a picture of you demonstrating the Charleston for the judge.
Eads: Yes. They were making a noise, and some neighbor—maybe it was in an apartment building, but somebody—
[End Tape 2, Side B; Begin Tape 3, Side A]
Currie: So they were just having a good time dancing, and someone reported them to the police?
Eads: Yes, and they said they were doing the Charleston. He didn't know what the Charleston was, and nobody would tell him. I happened to be there. I told you I did my telephoning there in the police station. We were always hanging around there. This story came up, and I guess I volunteered to show him what the Charleston was.
Currie: Then your photographer was there and took your picture doing it?
Eads: I don't remember whether it was our photographer—some photographer.
Currie: That was nice of you to help them out that way.
Eads: [Laughter.] I really didn't know how to do it myself.
Currie: So you weren't a Charleston dancer?
Eads: I knew how it was done, but I wasn't very good at it.
Currie: Let me ask you about the job at the Herald and Examiner. What was the worst thing about the job?
Eads: I can't think of anything now, except that sometimes we worked very long hours, and then when we'd come back, we'd all sit around and tell stories and have a lot of fun with
newspaper people, and we'd go home or go and get some food or a drink. But I really felt that all of us should get more money, but it was never a big problem with me.
Currie: What did you enjoy most about the job?
Eads: I think I liked everything. You go in the office and you never know what's going to happen or what's going to break during the night or any minute. There are people jumping out of buildings and shooting themselves, and raids on nightclubs, divorces. Always something to write about.
Currie: About how much money were you making?
Eads: I haven't any idea. I can't remember at all.
Currie: How did what reporters got paid compare with what other people got paid in the twenties?
Eads: I don't know. I think probably the society editor made a few dollars more, five dollars more or something like that.
Currie: What was the social status of reporters at that time?
Eads: It was pretty good. A lot of people like publicity, you know, wanted to see their names in the paper.
Currie: So did that give you entre to things that you wanted to do?
Eads: Sometimes, especially meetings where there would be a speaker or something, they wanted the press.
Currie: Was there ever a time in Chicago in the twenties where you had a moral dilemma about a story that you were supposed to cover?
Eads: You mean that I didn't want to do?
Currie: That you didn't want to do or you felt uncomfortable about covering.
Eads: I can remember a few times, but I can't remember what they were. One was a divorce story. I wasn't very happy having to ask things like why. I just can't remember anything about those things. I did do one story that I felt badly about later. It was a girl who had been trying to commit suicide, and she was in the place for disturbed people, the county hospital. I went to see her, and she said, "The next time I'll succeed," and she did. But she called the paper before that and said, "Don't tell Jane Eads this story." I never could understand why she was so upset, because I didn't do anything except report what she said, which wasn't detrimental to her, particularly. But she was not well, anyway, you know. But that's the only thing.
Currie: She said, "Don't tell Jane Eads this story." That was after you had interviewed her?
Eads: She called the office or told the police, and some cop got hold of me and told me. He was kind of laughing about it, but I didn't think it was very funny.
Currie: It's interesting that you routinely would report on people trying to commit suicide.
Eads: She was in police custody in the hospital to keep her from doing it again. She'd tried twice before.
Then, on the other hand, I remember one of the first stories I did a long time before that, was some young girl was missing and her family was frantic. I wrote a piece about her. They had a radio station there, and I even said something on the radio about her. They were so pleased because they found her, or she heard and came back or something, and they gave me a little statuette. I've forgotten what it was, like a good fairy or something like that.
Currie: Her family did?
Eads: Her father did. It was rare when you got things like that. I got compliments now and then.
Currie: Did you ever have a problem maintaining objectivity on a story?
Eads: Not that I remember.
Currie: You had to confront bodies and all that. You described earlier how you just sort of—
Eads: You just went ahead and did it. [Laughter.]
© 1990, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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