[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ritchie: Well, Fran, I thought we would start today by talking a little bit about your career that we covered yesterday up to about 1960. And I wonder if, in your career to that point, you ever had any disappointments.
Harris: Well, the disappointments were not in my career, the disappointments were only when someone failed to appear for a program that I was doing, something of that sort. I honestly had so much fun doing the whole thing that there wasn't any room for disappointments. I knew that when it came to the union, when we eventually were unionized a little before 1960, I had to pay my dues, naturally. But when the union decided that all the newscasters should have a raise, all of the fellows got together and they voted themselves a raise—and they forgot me! So that was a small disappointment but it wasn't that serious. It got straightened out, I talked to the boss about it and he straightened it out.
Ritchie: Did you ever present programs or have program ideas that weren't approved, that you had worked on and would have liked to have seen?
Harris: No. It wasn't quite that kind of a setup. Now I know that people work, and work very hard on creating a program. In my day, if I just wanted to do it, I just did it and created it as I went along. And fortunately, as I have said before, the general manager, Harry Bannister, was a trusting soul.
Ritchie: Would you say that he was your mentor?
Harris: In a way, yes. A protector, too. Because he saw to it that when some of the big events in the city occurred that I was the one to represent the station— we all took turns representing the station with newscasts and banquets and things of that sort. And he just saw to it that I was in the group, which was nice.
Ritchie: In later years did women ever come to you and ask for advice and see you as a role model, as a mentor, for breaking into the field?
Harris: I think we didn't think in those terms at that time. But a great many students came. One girl I remember vividly was the daughter of the one big shots over across the street at the Detroit News. And she came in and she said, "Well, I graduated from college now." "And what were your majors?" "English and music." And so I said, "Then you think you want a job?" "Yes, I want to be a newscaster." "And what background have you had?" "Oh, well, that doesn't matter. I can get that." Anyway, I told her she didn't have any future for us. But I was astonished that she would be so blind.
And then other students came, young men and young women both, and I encouraged them and told them that there were really more graduates in the broadcasting area than there were places for them. That was true way back then. But they were all sure they'd make it, and that's all right. You're supposed to feel that way when you get out of college.
Ritchie: Have some enthusiasm.
Harris: I have faulted some of the various university journalism teachers for giving students the techniques but not the overview of what it really meant to be a reporter or in the news business. Did I mention before that I was particularly stunned in Oklahoma—I forget whether it was the university or the state university—a journalism
professor there was experienced, he'd had six months in a city room, once, twenty years ago. That was pretty typical of journalism teachers at that time. Now, not all of them, and I don't know whether it's improved or not.
Ritchie: So the way for the students to get the experience might be through an internship program such as your grandson has participated in.
Harris: In the print area. Yes.
Ritchie: To get experience before they get out in the real world and start looking for a job.
Harris: You must realize that television particularly was, quote, "new," even in 1960. And radio, while everyone had a radio and listened to it and it was a part of everyday life, but people didn't understand it. They didn't realize that it was more than just getting up and reading something.
Ritchie: We talked yesterday about your efforts at the station to promote television and to get people to buy televisions. This was something new and people had to be educated about it. Did you see radio dying out? I mean, was there an awareness that radio was going to be the thing of the past?
Harris: It was a repeat from the ancient history—when radio came in, everybody was sure that the recording industry was going out. There would be no more records, people wouldn't have their victrolas any more, everyone would listen only to radio. The same thing happened when television came. Everybody'd have a television set and they'd never listen to radio.
One thing it did do—in radio, the early morning hours were cheap because at that time, people just didn't listen in the morning. I think the homemakers waited until the soap operas came on and then in the evening, they listened for entertainment. But not early in the morning. In television the expensive hours, once again, were at night and not too many people listened or watched in the morning, but radio became more important in the morning. It's been—well, drive time made the big difference. And it's been an interesting development. Now I think people have both and expect to have both and learn from both.
Ritchie: Well, especially with the car radio.
Harris: Yes. Yes.
Ritchie: Because when people are, as you say, driving—
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: —they for the most part don't have televisions in their cars although they do have those little hand-held things now.
Harris: Well, yes, but that doesn't set well with the police.
Ritchie: No. It doesn't take the place of a radio. Was there any difference between writing a program or preparing a program for radio and for TV?
Harris: Well, yes.
Ritchie: Listening and seeing are two different things.
Harris: Yes. Yes. Yes, indeed. There's more explanation in radio. In TV the idea can be delivered with a picture. But once again, I just played it by ear. It wasn't sufficiently organized as far as the teaching part of it was concerned and the multiplicity of detail.
Ritchie: So your radio interviews would have been a bit more explanatory/descriptive—
Harris: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: Whereas on the television—
Harris: You could see the person and see whether it was a man or a woman and what their hairdo was and what clothing and get rid of that without even mentioning it. Whereas on the radio, if it were a woman, you might say, "That's a beautiful suit that you have on," something like that, you know. Just toss it in.
Ritchie: Well, I guess especially in the area of fashion. I know you didn't do too much of that but if you'd had to describe something—
Harris: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: —when a person wasn't looking at it, you'd have to be much more careful and descriptive.
Harris: That's right. That's right.
Ritchie: And on a television program they can see it with their own eyes and make their own judgment.
Harris: There's one good thing about radio, people couldn't tell whether the voice always was black or white. So that several times I could interview some of the black people and nobody ever realized it.
Ritchie: Because that would not have been accepted at the time.
Harris: Not thoroughly. Not thoroughly.
Ritchie: But at your station—well, we talked yesterday because we saw some photographs of you talking with black entertainers.
Harris: That's true.
Ritchie: That that would have been acceptable.
Harris: Well, the entertainment business, like the journalism groups, has been most forward in accepting both women and racial differences. It just makes sense. It's the stodgy people who don't have anything else to think about that worry about it.
Ritchie: So your station, in terms of entertainers, did allow blacks—
Harris: Oh, yes. Yes, indeed.
Ritchie: Did you feel that your station covered black events or the black community at all? Were they part of your audience?
Harris: Well, they were a great part of the audience, yes. In those years, Detroit was probably—a third [of the] population was black. That would be the metropolitan area. Now it is three-quarters black.
So there are small differentials but as a white person viewing the television or listening to radio, you can't tell whether it's a black or white person. And there's some excellent black radio newsmen, excellent, in this town. Not always with our station but they're very good. And they should be.
Ritchie: Did your station ever cover some of the different ethnic community activities, such as festivals or customs that might have come at holiday time?
Harris: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. In depth.
Ritchie: So you were well-acquainted, I think you said yesterday that you could tell a church by the structure because you were familiar with the ethnic groups in the community.
Harris: That was radio. That part of it. And with television, the same pertains. They're people, basically they're customers. So who cares what color the person is with a dollar bill? But it's important when there is a major group of individuals who are a little different, it's important to just assume that they're normal people. And they are. They're good—good people.
Ritchie: And they were part of the community.
Harris: Oh, very definitely.
Ritchie: You were very much a community-minded person.
Harris: Well, I lay that fault to my parents.
Ritchie: Well, I'd say it's a good fault for anyone to have, whether you're in broadcasting or not. I can't imagine that a broadcaster would be too successful doing things like you did without having an interest and an awareness of the community they lived in.
Harris: My son the banker out in San Francisco says, "You know, there are two kinds of people. There are people-people and there are things-people." And he said, "Let's hope we're always people-people."
Ritchie: So that you care about them.
Harris: You care about the people, yes. You really do. I think sometimes when a celebrity from Hollywood or any broadcasting group starts being very particularly nice to an individual from an ethnic group, a different group, they would say, "Well, they're just doing that to get publicity." And I don't think that's always true. I think some of them are genuinely interested.
Ritchie: When the TV stars would come here, sometimes it was to perform. But would it also be to sponsor some type of event?
Harris: The sponsors would bring them. Yes, the automotive industry brought in a great many. And we have the headquarters for florist delivery, FTD, Florist Telegraph Delivery is here. And some of the other smaller businesses would bring in stars. They always ended up at my desk.
Ritchie: In the early days, some women were hired specifically in radio to have the celebrity type shows, to do interviews. But you really came into radio before that.
Harris: Before that, yes. Yes. And I was lucky, I think, in doing that. But it seemed to be a good idea and if I had an interview show where I needed celebrities, of course they'd come. They did, they came by the bushel.
Ritchie: You were fortunate after the war when you were starting your celebrity show, not to lose your job to a man, weren't you?
Harris: Very, very fortunate.
Ritchie: Because you mentioned yesterday some of the announcers were replaced by men.
Harris: Immediately. Yes. I just think the boss must have felt I was doing all right, you know. So let it be.
Ritchie: And there really hadn't been a man in that position before.
Harris: There hadn't been that position. And that's another thing. When I was promoted into management after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that insisted women and minorities be in more visible positions in business, I was immediately kicked upstairs. It was interesting. There were some of the things that the boys hadn't included me in but I was given freedom, which was important, and I just did what I wanted to do. And charged it to the station, by the way.
Ritchie: Good. When you moved into management, you were in charge of special programming for the station?
Harris: That's right. That's right. And there'd never been that position before. They created it.
Did I tell you about my frustration in that position? I happened to be busy with the Women in Communications, Inc. That's the new name for Theta Sigma Phi. I had been asked to come to Rochester, New York, to give a talk. Al Neuharth of Gannett Co. had arranged—at that time he was still there—and he'd arranged to have his auditorium available. Well, after all the proceedings were through, I went up to Neuharth—who incidentally became a member of Women in Communications, Inc., because he was the type of person in a position to give women good jobs and he did that.
He congratulated me on being in management. And I said, "I'm so frustrated. All I am is just a token." And he said, "Now, wait a minute. Think about this now. Don't think of yourself as a token. Think of yourself as a pioneer." And you know, after that the whole world straightened out. That was one of the—really one of the key points in getting used to the idea that I was in management.
Ritchie: So you changed the words. You replaced the word "token" with the word "pioneer."
Ritchie: Which you were and you had been—
Harris: You know, I hadn't really thought about it. I was so busy doing it, I really hadn't thought about it. So then I started to pioneer a little more, which was fine.
Ritchie: Well, you mentioned Women in Communications and I know that during the sixties you were very involved with several groups on the local, state and national—international level. Why don't you tell me a little bit about your involvement with the predecessor of Women in Communications?
Harris: That was Theta Sigma Phi. It had been created in 1909 at the University of Washington in Seattle. There were seven young women who were taking what was then called journalism. They saw that all the other courses had sororities and fraternities and they decided that they'd have a journalism sorority. Only they weren't going to call it a sorority, it would be a fraternity because it was not social. They really started something then. It worked out very well. As soon as some of their graduates, as they began teaching,
their graduates went to various towns and started other little groups and Theta Sigma Phi became a rather important, quote, "honorary" society. It was something that if you were going to be in the journalism business, you'd long to belong to. I don't want to repeat myself, did I tell you this?
Ritchie: No, no. It's better to have a repeat than not to have it at all.
Harris: Okay. Well, at college the Theta Sigma Phi bids were handed out at the end of the junior year and there had to be five in each chapter. I expected that—I hoped I'd get one. And I thought I didn't. The whole day just diminished and I was weeping like mad when some of my friends on the same floor of the dormitory came in and they waved this white paper and they said, "Here's your bid, here's your bid, we were just kidding you." So with about three minutes to spare, you know—you had to have on a white dress if you were going to be in any event—
Ritchie: For the initiation.
Harris: Yes. And I got my white dress on and stumbled down to the dining room and met the rest of them. But it has been a very warm and loving connection. The reason that it is now Women in Communications instead of Theta Sigma Phi is that—when I was buzzing around with the American Advertising Federation and the American Women in Radio and Television organization, the firm would pick up my expenses but they wouldn't do it for a sorority. I thought that that was stupid, so when I managed to get on a national level, I was vice president, I went all over the country. As I said before, my husband was at the airport waving a flag as I went by. And I think I went to every state except North Dakota and just talked to the various women in the different chapters and told them what the problem was and that the name really should be changed. And there was a lot of resentment, particularly on the West Coast because once you're in an honorary society, you don't want to give up that honorary bit. And my feeling was that it ought to be a professional society. I was not the first national president to think that. There were two before me who had the same feeling. [Tape interruption.]
Ritchie: We were talking about your role in Women in Communications—
Harris: That's right. And how I was going to all the states in the union.
Ritchie: And at this point you had been president of the Detroit chapter, I believe.
Harris: Yes, back in the fifties. Then came the Asian-American Women's Broadcast Conference in '66 which put me back in the spotlight again. Then after that I had a conference in Detroit, North and South American countries, and that was in '68. And then after that I got to be elected the national vice president in 1969. It was still Theta Sigma Phi at that time. But the people out on the West Coast and particularly in the Southwest didn't want to give up their honoraries, as I think I've mentioned.
However, when I was elected president of the national group, Theta Sigma Phi—that was in '71—my first big national meeting was in Houston in 1972. I resolved to myself: We're going to change that name, we're going to change it and let's not argue. So I checked with the parliamentarian, of course, because I'm not very good at parliamentary law. And I said, "How are we going to manage this?" She said, "First you have a vote on the idea of changing the name." Well, that passed, very fortunately. Well, fortunately, I think it was by nine votes or something like that, out of I don't know how many hundred. The next thing, then find out what name it will be. So I asked all of the people who were there to submit names. If they didn't like it, let them help work it out.
Ritchie: Suggest others.
Harris: That's right. And I had a long list and it was alphabetically arranged. We started with the Academy of Journalism Science or something weird like that and ended up with Women in Communications down at the bottom of the list. And for every one we had discussion and a vote—it took hours at a business meeting. My feet began to hurt, too. We finally got to Women in Communications and I finally said, "Look, we're going to change the name. Are we going to do it now or are we going to never do it?" And so they finally voted it would be Women in Communications, Inc. That finally settled that one.
I learned something there, too, that when you get a group where you're trying to sell an idea and they finally succumb and it's been a long session, if you have a couple other little things you want to have passed, put those at the end because everyone's so tired they have no resistance left. So after they changed the name and decided what it would be, then we raised the dues, doubled them, and voted to admit men. So that went through just boom, boom, boom.
Ritchie: That went in on the coattails of the name change.
Harris: That's right. Absolutely. But I made it clear then and it stuck, evidently, that the only kinds of men that we wanted were the men who were in a position to help women progress, which meant that we had some men on our program and they were all corralled immediately. We had Wally Schwartz who at that time was president of ABC News. And there was the president of McCann-Erikson Advertising Agency. And Edward Bernays who just recently has been named one of the hundred most important people in the country by Life magazine—he sent me a copy of this. And he began with the idea that social science should be used in persuading people to do what you'd like to have them do. And that turned into public relations. So he is known as the father of public relations, while he was there.
And I've forgotten—oh, yes, John Mack Carter, who's now the editor of Good Housekeeping. And there was one other whom I'm sure I shouldn't forget—but they were all on that level. And I told the membership that we don't need all of the CEOs in the business but we need people who can help the women along. And that really has been the pattern.
There are now some members—well, Al Neuharth from Gannett was the other one. And they've all been the kinds who could help women and they actually still pay their dues, which is fascinating to me, and the people whom those men brought in—for instance, Neuharth brought in John Quinn, who was one of the young men on the way up in the Gannett business. And I guess he's all the way up there now. But they brought in younger men who were also in a position to help, which is important.
Ritchie: So in this organization you had people from print and from broadcasting.
Harris: Yes. Oh, yes. And public relations as well. As a matter of fact, there are a great many from public relations now. And that used to be an easy one to get into. And I think we also had cameramen—photographers—and there are some excellent women photographers, too. But people who communicate. And of course, the journalism teachers.
Ritchie: So it's a wide variety.
Harris: A very wide variety. But they're all communications oriented, which is fine.
Ritchie: So this would have been a way through the years for you to meet and keep in touch with others who were doing similar things.
Harris: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: In other cities.
Harris: Exactly. And that was particularly true because it's a mobile society and so many of the membership—it didn't happen to me but a lot of them moved from this town to that town. If they belonged to Women in Communications and there was a Women in Communications chapter where they moved, they were accepted and the path was paved.
Ritchie: A nice introduction.
Harris: That's right. It helped a lot. There was a great deal of that going on, still is.
Ritchie: Well, yes. You were probably in a minority in that regard because you stayed put.
Harris: Because I stayed, I stayed put.
Ritchie: You were born and raised and [had a] career, all of this took place right here in Detroit.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: Which was not the case with, as you say, many, many other women.
Harris: Well, hardly anybody else, as a matter of fact, I gather.
Ritchie: And you mentioned a few minutes ago the Asian-American journalists. Tell me about that.
Harris: That was very interesting. That was in 1966, after I'd gone off the air. There was a woman in Hawaii, in Honolulu, named Meg Thompson working with the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. She thought it would be a good idea to get some American women and the Asian women together as they were in their similar jobs in their similar professions. So there were ten American women chosen and invited and then there were women from ten different Asian countries, as I recall, from the Philippines, from Shanghai—that's not a country but that's where they were from—and from China and from Thailand and Borneo was another one. As a matter of fact, the princess of Borneo was there. It was a very fascinating thing. And the Japanese, of course, were included. Each American would room with one of the Asian people, my dear roommate was from Japan. And she was not on the air but she was in the production area for the Japanese broadcasting system from Nippon—I've forgotten it exactly, it was NK something that she was with. And it was rapport of interested people and interesting things.
The only problem that I had with that was that a couple of days before I left to go to Hawaii, I got a call and said, "Would you mind being chairman of the event?" And I said, "What?"
Ritchie: Yes, what did that mean?
Harris: Well, Meg Thompson said, "We think that it would be very helpful if you would chair all of our sessions." So what am I going to say? I want to go to Hawaii. So I said, "Surely. I'd be happy to." Well, I was glad I did because Pauline Frederick was there and Rod Serling came—not that he was a woman but he was one of their speakers and so on. And it was a very interesting concept. And we all had our own points of view. Each person had to give a paper on what the broadcasting business was like in their country.
I remember the woman from Thailand—Sumchat Siddhichai. She said, "In television in my country we do our very best to create good programs for the peasants so that they can learn to keep clean and keep their homes in order and themselves in order and so forth. And she said, "You know, the only people—they just not are interested in those. All they want to see are fashion shows." So everyone just howled because it's the same thing everywhere. You want to "educate people," quote, but don't do it obviously.
Ritchie: They have other things in mind for entertainment.
Harris: Yes, they do. And if you can coordinate entertainment and education together, then you have it made. But it was a fascinating arrangement. I was so thrilled with that that I came back and reported to my own Theta Sigma Phi group here in town and I said, "We ought to do something like this, too. And why don't we do North and South America." And everybody thought that was a wonderful idea. So we ended up with three or four people from Canada—there was the head of the Canadian Broadcasting System head of the women's programs and there was an author from Quebec who was French-speaking but she nobly bore up under the English language and we tried to get people from Western Canada but the airfare was too heavy and then that didn't work. But we got people from South America—from Chile, from Honduras, from Haiti, from—oh, goodness, from the Argentine, from Brazil, Ecuador.
Ritchie: How did you identify these women?
Harris: Well, I called Washington and there is an assistant secretary of state in charge of—
Ritchie: Latin America?
Harris: Latin America. I explained what we wanted and he helped, he did. But there was only one of the women, and that woman was from Chile, who was an honest-to-goodness broadcast journalist. The rest of them were writers. But who's to argue because evidently still in South America the women are not that strong as active people. But from Canada, I had no problem at all. They were delighted to be here. Then they all gave papers, you see, and we all talked together. We had the same room arrangement with the Latin American women with the North American women and so forth. It worked out very well and it was all at Fairlane, at the Ford home, which was pleasant, too. How we got that, I guess I just called up and asked. I knew most of the public relations people all around town anyway, because they were always after me for one thing or another. So I just called up the head of PR at Ford and said, "Hey, we want to do this, what do you think?" "Oh, wouldn't it be fine to have it at the Fairlane?" Yes, indeed. So that's what happened and it worked out very well.
Ritchie: So this was a few years later, in 1968.
Harris: That was two—in '68, yes. And then I had to go to the national convention, at that time Theta Sigma Phi, and explain what we were up to and the fact that it was a success and how marvelous the Theta Sigma Phi people were and all. As a matter of fact, my group that put this whole thing on came from three different groups: Theta Sigma Phi, the Women's Advertising Club and the American Women in Radio and Television. Well, I happen to belong to all of them and they just chipped in, it was beautiful. It was a very satisfying experience.
And then after I reported to the national convention in 1968, I found myself a vice president.
Ritchie: Of Theta Sigma Phi.
Harris: Of Theta Sigma Phi.
Ritchie: And then you were active also in the American Advertising Federation?
Harris: Yes. That was before. And I really—I can't remember exactly how it happened. I've been in the Women's Advertising Club and we would go to national conferences—at that time, American Federation of Advertising [AFA]. There were two advertising groups. One was east of the Mississippi, that was the American Federation of Advertising. And the other, west of the Mississippi, was the American Advertising in the West. Well, ultimately, it all came together, the American Advertising Federation. But I was president
of the Ad Club here and so we went to the Advertising Federation meetings and they had arranged to have different regions, which is not unusual.
And I found myself lieutenant governor, as they called them then. It was like a vice president of this particular region—I think it was Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. Then after that I got to be governor. And being governor, then I went on the national board of the AFA. And oh, I met all of the top advertising people. I was the only woman. Well, no, wait a minute. There was one woman who was the secretary—naturally. This naive character that I was then—I was just awed. I met the president of McCann-Erikson, the president of Young & Rubicam, the president of this, that and the other. Oh, my word, this is wonderful.
Ritchie: So this was much more male-dominated.
Harris: Entirely male. Entirely male. Yes. Yes. I learned a lot. But at that time, there were fourteen women's advertising clubs across the country, separate from the men's advertising clubs. So I found myself vice president of women's clubs and I got all the presidents of the fourteen women's groups together and made a petition that the women ought to be officially represented on the national board. I was there simply because I had been a governor of one of the regions. And that was the first time they'd had a woman do that. Then they decided it should be a permanent place for women.
Ritchie: So that person would come out of those fourteen clubs.
Harris: And I conned the board into accepting that concept. Then the same year that I went to Hawaii, they had the national meeting of the advertising clubs down in Miami. So I swooped from Hawaii immediately to Miami and the men weren't quite sure how to program the women into this whole thing so what they did was to have an opening luncheon and that was the women's luncheon that everybody went to. So I was stuck with being chairman of that.
The president of the Advertising Federation, national president, was not very good about wanting women around. He had a very lovely wife, which interested me, but he just wasn't all that enthused. So when I introduced him, I remember I had a ball. I said that I had been told that behind every successful man—and you're supposed to say "stands a woman"—so I said, "Behind every successful man stands an amazed woman." Everybody just roared and he just hated it. I thought, yeah, I've got him! Anyway, he put up with me, which was all right.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ritchie: So that position on the board—
Harris: Is permanent.
Ritchie: —is a permanent one—
Harris: That's true.
Ritchie: —for the women's groups.
Harris: That's right. That's right. And now, as had been foreseen, I believe that there are only four separate women's advertising clubs, they've all merged with men's groups. But the men have accepted it. They said, "Well, we've got to put up with them, we might as well do it well." So that was fine. And a lot of the young advertising women in our own area immediately also joined the men's ad club. Gee, you never can tell where you'll find a husband, you know.
Ritchie: They had other interests in mind.
Harris: They did that. They did that. 1966 was pretty busy because at that time we also had the American Women in Radio and Television organization.
Ritchie: And is that one that you were active in also?
Harris: Oh, yes. And I turned out to be chairman of their national conference which was in Detroit in 1966. Right after I got from Hawaii to Miami, then I came back home and started working on the—well, continued working on the AWRT, American Women in Radio and Television, conference which turned out to be quite a success. I managed to get the chairman of the board of Chrysler Corporation to be our main speaker at the opening banquet which infuriated the woman who was the national president of AWRT at that time because she was from down South and she wanted somebody from one of her broadcast stations to be the opening speaker. I told her, "I've already asked the Chrysler man and he's accepted." She said, "Well, I suppose we'll have to put up with it." But I was stunned that the people who came from some of the other areas in this country didn't realize that Detroit was an automotive center. Where had they been? They're in the broadcasting business, where had they been? And they were just astonished.
But when the official president at that time of AWRT thought to herself, "Well, I'll bet that they'll give me a Chrysler and that will be all right." Well, as a matter of fact, Chrysler did provide transportation for some of the affairs. We went out to Greenfield Village which the Ford people were very kind about. We got everybody over into Canada, at least those who were born [U.S.] citizens, you know, so they wouldn't have any problem getting back. And General Motors helped us—I've forgotten quite what they did but they anteed up quite a lot of—they underwrote quite a good deal of the convention. So that's how I knew the publicity men pretty well. They were very kind about it. And my own boss was helpful, you know. I'm not taking all the credit. I didn't do it all.
Ritchie: Now, this group would have been a newer group.
Harris: Yes, it was founded, I think, in the 1950s somewhere. The reason I got into it, I wanted to go down to the United Nations to do some interviews with the new Status of Women Commission—or Council Committee—with the UN. And the boss said, "That's a good idea and while you're down there, there's this new group, the Women in Radio," it was initially, no TV yet, "and do you want to belong. We'll pick up the tab if you do." I said, "Sure." So that's how I got in with it.
But not to be unkind. Of course, I'm devoted to my own Women in Communications but it seemed to me that the people in the broadcasting business who were in this particular AWRT were all prima donnas, every one of them. I remember one of them standing in the middle of the Brook Cadillac Hotel lobby and expecting to have someone else do the registration for her and where was the bellboy, et cetera. She was impossible. She must have come from a very small town.
Ritchie: Where she was the star.
Harris: Where she was the star. But I'm not as devoted to them and later on, I dropped out.
Ritchie: Did you have a local chapter of that here?
Harris: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Still do. Very active now. Very good. So we have local chapters of all three, the advertising women, the broadcast women and the journalism communications.
Ritchie: But the Women in Radio and Television would have been a more defined group, a group with interests—
Harris: Very specifically.
Ritchie: Very specific, yes.
Harris: Although it's amazing how many people—when television came, it increased in membership because you need more people to put on a television program and all of the non-air people were included, naturally.
Ritchie: The behind-the-scenes.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: Which would range from the technical aspects—
Harris: Yes. Yes.
Ritchie: —to the writers.
Harris: Now the women cameramen and the rest of it. After I retired, I discovered—I think a year or two later—that my station had hired a woman cameraman for television. I thought, "A-a-ah, how wonderful!" you know.
Ritchie: So that was after you retired.
Harris: That must have been '76, '77, along in there. And now there're a lot of them, a lot of women photographers in the newspapers and so forth. They do a beautiful job.
Ritchie: When you moved from programming and being on the air to management, did you have an opportunity to meet with others in management at your station and help women from that level?
Harris: I always had had the opportunity. I had always worked with everybody. And I don't think—the pressure was not on in the sixties that became evident in the seventies. They were still getting used to the idea that women might be able to do it. And my boss, the general manager, is the one who would push it, to say, "Now, Joe, you better have a woman in that position, I think, if we can find a capable one." It worked but it was a slow process, frustrating.
Ritchie: Were you ready for a change when you moved into management?
Ritchie: Because you know, they could have stalled that for a while, if the men hadn't wanted you there. Even though the decision had been made, you know, there was stalling in many areas.
Harris: That's right. The boss called me up to the office one day and he announced that because of the Civil Rights Act and so forth, women had to be in more obvious positions. And I said, "Oh, for heaven's sakes, what's more obvious than being on the air?" And he said, "Well, I'm thinking management." I thought, "Wow!" So he said, "Now, think it over. Go off the air and come on to the management level for the last ten years of your business here." That was—I retired, mandatory retirement in '74.
Ritchie: At the age of sixty-five.
Harris: At the age of sixty-five, yes. And so I went home—well, first, after he had presented this thought to me to be—terrible name, Special Features Coordinator. And I said, "Well, what does that mean?"
He said, "Just do what you're doing, only you got a title." I also had a car with the new job which was terribly important to me. But I went up from his office to interview Gregory Peck again for about the third or fourth time and on the way up from his office to the studios, I thought—on the elevator—"My goodness, Frannie, if you are really kind of bored with interviewing Gregory Peck, maybe it's time for a change." So I decided right then and there it was time. I went to talk to my husband, naturally, about this and he was all for whatever I wanted to do.
Ritchie: As he had been all along.
Harris: As he had been all along. And so I went off the air and the next ten years I went gallivanting all over the place.
Ritchie: Yes, you were very, very active in professional organizations.
Harris: That's right. That's right. In 1966, as I've explained. And then one of the real breaks in 1973, the Women in Communications were part of a group with some Mexican women journalists and they decided that it would be a good idea to take a trip to Israel. Israel was then a unified country and Golda Meir was the bigshot. I had interviewed Golda Meir back when she was Goldie Myerson from Milwaukee, years ago. She came down a couple of times to just get money to help the new country. This was after 1948. And I liked her, very much, and then I was impressed that she was the prime minister. So I thought, "Well, that will be fun."
So we had about—the invitation was open to Women in Communications and there were about ten or twelve from across the country that thought it would be a fine idea. One of my very dear friends in New York who had just retired as vice president from McCann-Erikson Advertising Agency, her name is Margot Sherman, she decided she'd go, Margot Sherman Peete. She had evidently a bottomless pit of money so she paid her own way. We all went with—let's see, there were other individual journalists—Betty Friedan was invited and I've kind of forgotten some of the rest of them. But it was very good for the broadening of experience.
When we got there—oh, we were beautifully taken care of. But I remember at the Tel Aviv airport, here were all these armed people, these armed men around. Why? I'm not very bright sometimes. Then on the way in from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem where our headquarters would be, we could see these old tanks along the road—I don't know whether you've been there or not—
Ritchie: No, I haven't.
Harris: But there are vestiges of the war which they decided to keep to remind them of what this was all about. And in Jerusalem, the first thing that I was told was that there's a doctors' strike on. A doctors' strike? Doctors don't—well, yes, they do. They're nationally paid and they don't get as much money as the construction workers and it upsets them. And besides, everyone who's immigrating into Israel from other European nations are the doctors and the lawyers and we have too many. This was an unusual feeling.
Anyway, we got past the doctors' strike point and it was a fascinating eye-opener for me. It was ten days and of course you don't see a whole country in ten days, you can't but Israel really isn't all that big. So physically we practically did see the whole thing.
Ritchie: You covered the territory.
Harris: Yes. And I saw Golda Meir again. And I don't know whether she remembered me—she pretended to. You never know.
Ritchie: If they're smart, they pretend.
Harris: Yes. Yes. There was a reception, I think, at the president's home with all these wonderful women from around the world—from France and Kuwait and South Africa and Britain, the German, so many countries. Anyway, we were all there and Golda Meir was there and she was greeting all of us. A woman who didn't belong had come in. She had tears streaming down her cheeks and she rushed up—pushed her way up to Golda and she said, "Look, look." She had her concentration camp tattoo still on her wrists and she was weeping. Oh, it was sad. And Golda said, "It's all right. Never again. Never again."
Ritchie: And was she one of your group or someone—
Harris: No, she just came in. She knew that the prime minister would be there. And so she just wanted to see her. And evidently this was not a new feeling for Meir. She had met this a good many times before. So I kept looking for concentration brands on people.
Ritchie: Traveling around.
Harris: Yes, you could see it.
Ritchie: Were there a lot of women in the journalism field there?
Harris: A few. Yes. Yes. Of course, I went to the broadcast station. Most of the people were in the writing business—newspaper or magazine, one thing and another. But I went there to see what it was all about because it was a government-owned station and I hadn't happened to be in a government-owned station before. I was told that the favorite program, the program that stopped everything and everybody watched, was "Perry Mason." And they all just drop whatever they're doing and watch "Perry Mason."
Ritchie: So this was one of the old shows from the States that had been taken over and translated.
Harris: No. English is spoken. English and Hebrew and Arabic. And the people who come from the European countries must learn English, most of them had a touch of it, must learn Hebrew. And it was up to them whether they wanted to learn Arabic or not.
Ritchie: So the broadcasting was primarily in English.
Harris: Yes. Yes, it was. It certainly was. And the speech of all the people with this particular group would have been English. Then we went up to Nazareth and we went to all of the proper holy places and all that kind of thing. I felt that I should be terribly impressed at Bethlehem but I wasn't. It was too commercial. It was too bad. I was sad about that. The Greek Orthodox priests were assigned, evidently, to take care of the Bethlehem important places. Everywhere they have their hand out for a little money and I didn't care for that much. I understand why they did it but it didn't—
Ritchie: It takes away a bit.
Harris: That's right. But it was fascinating, just fascinating. Before I left for Israel my husband said, "Well, if you're going to be over there, why don't you go to England? You've always wanted to." Well, after we were through with Israel, a group of us had decided already to go to Greece and we went to Athens and went on a cruise around the islands and so forth for about three days. Then I went on up to London and I just felt at home. My antecedents had come from England and as I say, there is no other way to put it, I just felt at home. It was interesting. So later on, years later, I took Pat, my daughter, over to London and now she wants to go back.
Ritchie: Oh, good. So you've started something.
Ritchie: So you certainly did travel a lot, with your work, even though you weren't a traveling journalist during your working years.
Harris: No. Not at all. It was all organizational travel. But I had a very lenient boss and he picked up a lot of the tabs.
Ritchie: That's always helpful.
Harris: Yes. And then my husband was lenient about the rest of it.
Ritchie: About your being gone.
Ritchie: Of course, by this time the children were older and were on their own or in college.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: You mentioned a few minutes ago interviewing at the UN. Was this for your radio programs?
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: So you traveled to the UN?
Harris: I went to the UN and the woman at the Secretariat who was in charge of that particular area, the Status of Women group, corralled them all. I remember that the woman from India, when I asked her the status of women and she said, "We have no status," just like that. The woman from Denmark, about the status of women, "Oh, we do very well. We're very well recognized. We're very equal." And I don't recall just how equal was equal but she was still a little below the men there.
There were women from several other countries on that commission but the woman who made the greatest impression was Lady Reading from England. She said, "Do you know, we have status to a point. We have an interesting arrangement in England. We have our peerage and then we have our middle class and then we have our poor people. And it's very difficult to move from one to the other." She said, "I am looking to try to get a little more rapport between our various groups." And she said, "I have been over in your country, in America, and I am amazed at how much volunteer work goes on in America. The women do the volunteering." I said, "Oh, yes, it's just the way we do things." She said, "Well, we don't do that in England. And I am setting up a volunteer committee so that we will create the idea of volunteering in our country." She did that and evidently it's worked very well.
Ritchie: So there the social classes were very distinct.
Harris: Oh, yes. Yes.
Ritchie: Not only men and women but social classes.
Harris: Indeed. But she was a far-sighted woman and really a great woman. It was a pleasure.
Ritchie: Now, this would have been of interest to you possibly because of your work with the Michigan Commission on Women?
Harris: Yes. Oh, yes. Yes. Well, of course, the United Nations started the Status of Women and then the different countries took it up. And our country, on the national level—Mrs. Roosevelt was the head of it on the national level for a little while. Our Governor Swainson at that time in Michigan thought, "Well, if it's good enough for the country, why don't we do that in Michigan?" So he called, I think, thirteen or fourteen of us together—I was pleased to be included, by the way, and said, "Now, we're going to have a Michigan Status of Women commission." And he appointed a woman from Grand Rapids to be the chairman and we would meet every month up in Lansing and we would check on the status.
Everyone whom we picked had a special area. There was a woman who was an educator and a woman from United Auto Workers and a woman from one of the Grosse Point homes, you know. And they all had their particular areas of interest and they had their little subcommittees. And I was left with the New Direction committee, I think it was. It was a committee on what we were going to be doing and how we were going to be doing it.
Ritchie: So you had to look ahead to the future.
Harris: That's right. It was very much the future. I'm not sure how well it all went over but I think I was pretty busy with some other things, too.
Ritchie: Which governor would this have been?
Harris: Swainson. He was a Democratic governor at that time, succeeded by George Romney who was a Republican, then after that came William Milliken, also Republican. The appointment to the state commission was always through the governor's office and I survived for thirteen years.
Ritchie: So you were active in there.
Harris: Yes. And re-appointed.
Ritchie: So it was the sixties when you were re-appointed and the seventies when you retired.
Harris: I think it was '76, '78, one of those, I've forgotten which. But it was a very interesting concept because the top woman in each of the governmental departments, the top woman in the Labor Department and the Education and Public Health and all that, were also on the committee for the commission. And we heard their problems and they helped us and it was a good working group. And it still exists. It's now known as the Michigan Women's Commission.
When I was in the newsroom and I would be having to go up to the governor's office, I always got razzed, when are we going to have a Men's Commission? you know. Status of Men!
Ritchie: The men at the station kept you on your toes and aware of the facts.
Harris: Yes, they did. Yes, they did.
Ritchie: What you were doing was important but they—
Harris: Well, I'm not sure they thought it was important.
Ritchie: Well, if you're appointed the governor, though.
Harris: Well, yes. You can go in and say, "Hi, John [Swainson]. Hi, Bill [Milliken]. Hi, George [Romney]." That helps. It helps the station and I realize that.
Ritchie: Oh, of course it's wonderful PR for the station.
Harris: So we made the best of that.
Ritchie: I mean, your boss had far sight—
Harris: Oh, he was very special.
Ritchie: —to let you do so many things outside because of the recognition that it gave the station.
Harris: That's right. And I was once again the only one in the broadcasting business. Seems to me, sometimes I've wondered if there was anybody else in the broadcasting business.
Ritchie: When you traveled around. When you moved into management, was a woman hired to replace you for the interview shows? Or did that take—
Harris: No, that was all dropped. Although later more women were hired, never as an announcer but they began on the technical side with the cameramen and the photographers and so forth, that kind of thing. There were women there.
Ritchie: Well, do you think stars and celebrities, writers, actors stop traveling as much? I mean, now they have all these shows, Johnny Carson—well, he's been on for a long time—but they have a lot of the syndicated entertainment type shows—
Harris: That's right. I think the reason that they were traveling so much in the late forties and early fifties was because during the war Hollywood had taken a terrible beating. It was not the center of interest any more and they had to build up their business. So that's why they sent all of the stars around. And that was just lucky, I just happened to meet them.
Ritchie: Well, and the McCarthy era would not have been a good time for Hollywood.
Harris: No. That's absolutely right.
Ritchie: Did that have any effect in Detroit?
Harris: Not that I know of. I'm sure it may have but not that I know of, really.
You were noticing that I was reading Margaret Truman's latest book. And I interviewed Margaret Truman, too, when she was singing with the various symphonies around the country. I collected, I think—at one time I was stupidly curious so I figured that I had interviewed around four hundred and twenty or thirty famous people.
Ritchie: So you made a list of all of them?
Harris: Not all the people I interviewed but I mean the celebrities at the time. And that would be from Hollywood, from New York, from the book business, all kinds of businesses.
Ritchie: What would you do on a day when a celebrity wasn't in town?
Harris: Well, then I was very noble and I interviewed the important people in our own town. But I scheduled every one three weeks ahead. It was lucky for anybody to get on the show. But those days have past. But that's the memory, so we leave it at that.
Ritchie: So people from the local community also had an opportunity to talk with you.
Harris: Oh, yes. After all, they were doing the important things. A lot of the groups were. So they'd call and say, "Can we have somebody on your show?" "Sure, but it'll have to be about two weeks from now or two or three weeks from now." "Okay." It worked out very well. It was nice. I got to meet an awful lot of people.
Ritchie: I would say so, judging from your one picture album that we went through yesterday and this one that I hope we have time to look at.
Did you ever have a desire to go into TV news?
Harris: Not particularly because when TV was there, I was doing other kinds of programs like initially the children's show and then we had a group of three or four of us on a panel answering public questions and things of that sort. There was always something or other in the program area. And also TV news meant that you had to go out in the community on murder, arson or rape. As I told you before in the beginning, when I was first a newsman, I couldn't go out on the murder, rape and arson stories. It was no place for a lady. I'm so pleased when I see the women doing these things now. It recognizes the fact that they have minds.
Ritchie: They can do it as well or better than someone else.
Harris: That's right. Absolutely.
Ritchie: So the TV news was not a consideration because you were doing other things.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: And because of the limitations.
Harris: Well, yes. And because then when TV became really important toward the end of the sixties, I was already out of the actual airtime business. I'd been kicked upstairs. I know that my salary was not equal to that of the other heads of divisions but that never bothered me. I was just glad to do what I was doing. That wasn't very wise, I know that, but it worked out well.
Ritchie: Well, there has become much more awareness of that now.
Harris: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: Equal pay and equal work—
Harris: I never had a contract. Everyone now has a contract. But I never did.
Ritchie: So you didn't negotiate at the end of a certain time period for a higher salary. It was just when you felt you were ready for it, deserved it?
Harris: That's right. And I usually got it. I'd go up to the general manager and say, "Don't you think maybe I should have a little more money?" And he would say, "Hell, no!" And then the next thing I'd know, in a future paycheck I'd have more money.
Ritchie: Your general manager was there a long time.
Harris: Oh, yes, he was. And after—oh, I think it was in the late sixties, when I was up and around, he went to NBC, they asked him to come to NBC, and I think that was probably one of his wishes. So that he left the station and a succession of managers came along. And I was lucky enough to con them into letting me do what I wanted to. I can see now that I had a unique opportunity in a unique business because to the best of my knowledge there's no one who's ever taken on as a features coordinator since then. But on the other hand, the head of the advertising department now at this particular station where we were in television is a woman. There are several department heads who are women. They're not all clericals, by a long shot, any more and that's pleasing.
Ritchie: Oh, yes. Yes.
Harris: The discrimination now is more insidious because it is underneath but that too will pass. It's still there. I think less in the broadcasting business than in manufacturing and other kinds of businesses. But more power to them.
Ritchie: In the manufacturing such as possibly the automotive companies that you see here in Detroit.
Harris: Oh, yes, and then the suppliers and so forth. Women on the line are very good but I'm talking upper management. I know that now the seminars that some of the groups have are how to handle upper management positions and how to prepare yourself for upper management, which I think is—it's great! I'm glad I didn't have to go through all that. I just got there.
Ritchie: That's right. You just started out in 1929 when you graduated from college, you moved along in a career that came very naturally to you.
Harris: And once again, I never thought of it as a career. It was just a real good job.
Ritchie: You know, going back to the station manager, a lot of women had to survive turnovers in station management—new managers coming in and wanting to do new things. And you were fortunate in the early years to have the same station manager who trusted you and gave the freedom to do a lot on your own.
Harris: That's very true. But the times have changed, too. There's more mobility among all kinds of positions. I think women have become more aware that they're potential material for higher positions and so they go for them.
Ritchie: Today it would probably be rare to find someone like you who stayed in one position, with your talent and abilities.
Ritchie: Because they would really be encouraged and pushed to move on and climb the ladder.
Harris: I climbed it because of the Civil Rights Act. It took an Act of Congress to get me into management. But I had really no desire to go into management and it was a surprise. But it worked out. Especially since they let me do what I wanted to. I think they said, well, they've got Harris, let her go, don't bother her, you know.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Ritchie: I wanted to ask you about women who seem to slip between publicity for a radio station and feature stories for a radio station. Were you aware of women doing this? In other words, being in the PR part of the radio, such as selling ads, or doing feature stories. You didn't do the combination, did you?
Harris: Oh, no, no, no. I never sold anything. When the sales department sometimes asked if they could bring up one of their clients and all that kind of thing, I was always polite. One was. But that's as close as I ever came. No, there was nothing like. Of course, now, this is one of the bigger cities and I'm not sure that what goes on here would necessarily go on—would translate into some of the smaller cities. But I never had to sell ads, I never did any public relations work knowing that—doing it for public relations reasons. I did it because I thought it was important to do and because I thought the community would be interested. Sometimes public relations thrusts things upon people whether they're interested or not. So I didn't do that.
Ritchie: Did you ever find yourself in any ethical dilemma or find that you didn't want to do something or didn't feel it was right to do that type of program or PR work?
Harris: I don't think so. I realize now as I look back that I was completely my own man on this thing. And anybody who wanted any favors had to come ask for them. And if I didn't like the idea, I didn't do it. Back in the sixties and early seventies, public relations was not as powerful as it is now. And how it would be now, I'm not sure. But I didn't think in terms of public relations. I always thought, is it good for the station?
Ritchie: Your daughter Pat was telling us yesterday—or telling me yesterday—about her son's work on a newspaper and doing investigative reporting in terms of the asbestos situation in buildings that were being torn down and the improper handling of that. Did you ever report news items of that sort, of environment issues or working conditions, say, that weren't good for people in the factories or other places?
Harris: I didn't do it purposely but when I was doing programs in the factories, I let the women speak out as they wished. And it was not to the station's interest to belittle a factory in our town, at that point, because heaven knows, the factory might be part of the money-raising group for the station. Those problems were not as obvious as they are now so that I didn't worry about it.
Ritchie: Who did own the Detroit News?
Harris: It was the Scripps-Booth. Not Scripps-Howard, it was the same Scripps, but this was Scripps-Booth. And it was founded, I've forgotten how long ago, ages ago. And the Booth family and the Scripps family still were very important in it.
Ritchie: And they were local families?
Harris: Yes. Yes. Local families.
Ritchie: And then they owned the radio station.
Harris: Yes. It was—I called him Papa Scripps who was fascinated by this new radio thing and that's why we got the radio station. And also when their advertising department decided that it was too much of a competition, they limited the area that we could cover, which is still limited. Then the Booths lived out in Bloomfield Hills which is a terribly elegant part of our area. And when television first began, on their very first trial run day, we were all worried for fear the program that we were putting on wouldn't reach Bloomfield Hills which I would say is maybe sixteen, seventeen miles from downtown. But it did.
Ritchie: Because they also owned the television station in the beginning—
Harris: Oh, yes. When television came, they appropriated it.
Ritchie: But I understand now that the radio and television station are owned by separate companies.
Harris: I understand so. And that's too bad. Well, I don't know that it's too bad. It's probably all right for the stations. But my era has definitely passed.
Ritchie: Why don't we look at some of these photographs in book number two that you've assembled here?
Let's see. We're beginning in about 1960 in the second album here. And as I told you yesterday, some of these photographs would be wonderful when we do your video interview. And when we do that, we'll ask you to explain them again.
Harris: These were the nucleus of the movers and shakers among the women, these four here, particularly.
Ritchie: The early sixties, once again, and almost everyone has hats on.
Harris: Oh dear, yes, and gloves and so on.
Ritchie: And here we have you doing an interview with the Detroit Federation of Women's Clubs.
Harris: Well, that would be a day when there wasn't any celebrity in town.
Ritchie: So you had the women from the Federation of Women's Clubs and you have a note here that your mother was state president in 1922-23.
Harris: Quite right.
Ritchie: So you were well-acquainted with their work from your early days. And then, of course, keeping up with the community through the years.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: And I notice in this interview, probably because you have more than one person, you have two mikes set up. You didn't always—or at least I didn't see them—
Harris: No. No. And mikes progressed also so that now you only need one on the table for multi-directional reception. But in those days that hadn't happened.
Ritchie: These were on the overhead—
Ritchie: Here you are with some Explorer Scouts.
Harris: I can't remember what it was all about.
Ritchie: Community activity once again.
Harris: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: And your promotional—
Harris: They did that every once in a while.
Ritchie: —press picture taken by a WAC member, Bernice Clark.
Harris: Yes, her husband, Joe Clark, was—he's dead now but he was an outstanding national photographer and he always signed it, Joe Clark, Hillbilly. Because he was from Tennessee. But he was always proud of being a hillbilly. But he was a photographer for Time and Newsweek and the major magazines, too.
Ritchie: They lived here in Detroit?
Harris: They lived here in Detroit.
Ritchie: So his wife was in the—
Harris: And their son is named Junebug. Can you believe it?
Ritchie: Junebug Clark.
Harris: Yes. And that's when I began with the Advertising Federation.
Ritchie: And then we have—
Harris: General Mills.
Ritchie: Right. And someone from the Ross-Roy Advertising Agency.
Harris: Yes. That's the local agency, yes, with national accounts.
That's our woman council member.
Ritchie: Mary Beck?
Harris: Mary Beck, a good Ukrainian. The Ukrainians were having a very big banquet and I was invited to come and give a little talk. She got up and she spoke the whole thing in Ukrainian. I had no idea what she was saying.
Ritchie: Your introduction.
Harris: No, her own talk was first and it was all in Ukrainian. And then the introduction, fortunately, was in English. I felt I did a very bad job on that speech. I've never forgotten that.
Ritchie: Did you feel that because she had spoken in Ukrainian?
Harris: I didn't know what she was saying. I couldn't relate.
Ritchie: You felt like you were alone, isolated.
Harris: Out in left field is a good place. Yes.
Ritchie: Here you are looking at—
Harris: At John Saxon, I think.
Ritchie: Yes, the film star. And here we have some more—
Harris: Local people.
Ritchie: November 1960, Fran Harris Day, celebrating thirty years on the air. And there's the picture of Harry Bannister who was the general manager for so many years.
Harris: And Miriani is the mayor.
Harris: Miriani, yes.
Ritchie: How nice! So was an event to celebrate your—
Harris: Thirty years. Isn't that weird? It was a surprise, too.
Ritchie: Oh, was it? How nice.
Harris: One of my friends had said, "Let's go over to the Memorial and have lunch. Okay?" So we did and there they all were. All of the station managers in town, five or six of them, including Canada.
Ritchie: Well, that certainly was a first for women because no one else had been in the business that long.
Harris: Never thought of it that way, you know. It was fun.
Ritchie: Yes, you look like you're having a good time there.
Ritchie: Whatever Mr. Bannister is saying has both of you smiling there. Here are more of your colleagues from the Women's Advertising Club.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: The board in 1961.
Harris: This woman is Jean Hoxie who was a great tennis player and who trained many of the—she was in the Hamtramck school system and she trained many of the winning boys and girls in tennis, many went to Wimbledon.
Ritchie: I'm writing her name down so I get it right. It will help the transcriber.
Harris: Sure, I understand.
Ritchie: Here was another type of—
Harris: Well, that must have been a "Junior Achievement."
Ritchie: "Junior Achievement" which is a program for young people in the community—
Ritchie: —that you would have helped out with.
Harris: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: And this is an Angel banquet with actress Carol Channing.
Harris: That's right. With the big hat on.
Harris: That was the one of the Advertising Club projects. We wanted angels to finance good high school students—girls—in the Michigan universities who wanted to go into communications. We collected quite a lot of money that way. We had all of the presidents of the universities where the journalism courses were given, we had them all there. And we had, of course, the principals of the high schools and all that.
Ritchie: So it was a scholarship fundraising.
Harris: It was a scholarship fundraising deal. And that's my daughter Pat.
Ritchie: Oh, yes. So she was old enough then to take part in some of these events. And I see the angel halos here that she has.
Harris: That's right. Yes.
Ritchie: You have a note here that Mayor Miriani, said he trembled in his boots over what we might think up next.
Harris: That would be Mary Ball and Mae Derdarian, the three of us. We dreamed up an awful lot of trouble for him.
Ritchie: Mary Ball.
Harris: Mary Ball.
Ritchie: And Mae Derdarian.
Harris: Mae Derdarian. Mary Ball was married to Don Ball who was a very good reporter at the Detroit News and she was the first woman publicist in a major city. She was the publicist for the city of Detroit for several years. But they never had a woman before, any of the cities.
Ritchie: So the three of you worked together on this—
Harris: On all kinds of things.
Ritchie: The mayor knew it, too.
Harris: Yes, he did.
Ritchie: And here are some of the college presidents and representatives receiving the donations that you had raised.
Harris: That's right. And Jean Hoxie was really quite the star because [she was] a tremendous tennis teacher. She had a national reputation and her kids went to Wimbledon and all those things. She was good.
Ritchie: The students were fortunate to have someone like her.
Harris: Yes, they were. They were from Hamtramck, a tightly knit Polish suburb surrounded by Detroit.
Ritchie: Here's a promotional picture at the radio station, with Marjorie Gibbs.
Harris: She's from the Michigan State University extension and her big pitch was foods and that sort of thing. We didn't do environment, we did foods.
Harris: Nutrition, very much so.
Ritchie: So she had her own program on the radio.
Harris: Yes, she did.
Ritchie: And then Mary Ball?
Harris: Once again. Well, she never was on the radio but she pushed things around so that they happened. We were good friends, very good friends.
Ritchie: Did she work the radio station?
Harris: No. No. She was with city.
Harris: No, Mary was with the city of Detroit and now she is head of the International Institute here.
Ritchie: Oh, that we saw downtown last night when we toured around.
And here we have you in front of a WWJ News, radio/television van, broadcasting live from the State Fair.
Harris: Every year on the air.
Ritchie: Where was the State Fair held?
Harris: You remember Woodward Avenue is the main street that goes through Detroit, Woodward Avenue to Eight Mile—and we have Five Mile Road, Six Mile Road, Seven and so forth. And the State Fair is between Seven and Eight Mile Road. They claim it's the oldest state fair in the country and maybe it is. I know I took my kids there when they were young because they'd never seen a cow close up, they'd never seen chickens close up, you know. So I thought they really ought to take a look.
Ritchie: The agricultural—
Harris: That's right. Then it became a highly entertainment fair because people like Bob Hope would come in and that sort of thing.
Ritchie: And here you are in 1962, a TV show, "The Fran Harris Show."
Harris: That didn't last very long.
Ritchie: What was the format for that? This looks like a round-table discussion.
Harris: Yes, it was. I had some different groups with different interests. But it was not one of my star performances. It didn't last very long, it wasn't very good.
Ritchie: You preferred the radio interviews to—
Harris: No, it wasn't that. It was just that this didn't set well. An interview is an interview, whether it's radio or television.
Oh, the State Fair.
Ritchie: Back to the State Fair.
Harris: They had the parade every year from downtown Detroit out Woodward to Eight Mile Road and various people from the different stations and all would be in the parade.
Ritchie: Participate in the parade.
Harris: I hated it.
Ritchie: "Fran Harris and her music, WWJ 950" on the side of the car. You're sitting in the back with a lovely bouquet of flowers.
Harris: Yes. That was after—toward the very end of my air time. That must have been sixty-something—'63, '64?
Ritchie: Sixty-two, it says here.
Harris: We changed and I did news and music instead of news and interviews and I did it on location at Northland Shopping Center. Northland was the first—I keep telling you these things are the first—it was the first major shopping mall in the country, it was created by the D. L. Hudson people.
Ritchie: Of the Hudson department store.
Harris: Of the Hudson department store. No one was quite sure whether it would work or not but it did.
Ritchie: So it was one of what we call a mall now, a self-contained—
Harris: Oh, yes, yes, very definitely. And it's very large. And it was the place to shop, absolutely. And now, of course, there are quantities of them.
Ritchie: Oh, yes. Yes.
Harris: But this was the first.
Ritchie: And what type of music would you broadcast?
Harris: Popular. And requests.
Ritchie: So you were almost like a DJ.
Harris: For a little—that's right, it was. And I didn't enjoy that particularly. But that's all right.
Ritchie: So at this point you were doing the newscasts—
Harris: And the music.
Ritchie: So it was a new attempt at a different type of program.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: And so you would actually set up in the mall?
Ritchie: And people would come by and ask for requests?
Harris: No, it was in a glassed-away space so the people couldn't interrupt.
Ritchie: Oh, of course, you had to have that because you were broadcasting live.
Harris: Yes, and that's what I was doing when [President John F.] Kennedy was shot. I remember we had an arrangement so that when there was a major news flash, we'd be cut off and the news would come on from downtown. I remember saying that, "Of course, it's probably true that he's not really terribly hurt and all that kind of thing." Then I got the word that he had died, then I had to give that out.
Ritchie: So you announced that.
Harris: So I announced that. And on the way home, as we drove downtown, the engineer and I were just kind of bewildered about the whole thing, couldn't understand it. The thing that bugged me the most—which is ridiculous—was that immediately after the announcement of his death there came an announcement about the reaction of Wall Street. And I thought, "How dumb!" you know. But I understand why but it didn't fit. It just didn't feel right.
Ritchie: Did you have to announce the Wall Street information?
Harris: No, that was after I was off the air but it was in a short length of time.
Ritchie: So that the station would have called you on the telephone to ask you to announce it.
Harris: Well, yes, definitely.
Ritchie: And then you made the announcement and concluded your program.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: And went back to the station because then there would have been continuous coverage of the events.
Harris: There was, indeed.
Ritchie: And at that point, would you have gone to the national or would—
Harris: No. We went national, NBC.
Ritchie: You went national.
Harris: For a while. And then, of course, at the newsroom, the boys went out and talked to various CEOs and all asking, what does this mean to you and all that sort of thing. But it was a disastrous arrangement, it really was.
Ritchie: What did your children think of you doing music? Of course, by this point—
Harris: I really think they could care less.
Ritchie: Just one more thing you were doing at a different time.
Harris: Yes. That must be another year.
Ritchie: This is 1963. And you have a note here on the card accompanying the photograph: "How I hated the State Fair parade." Although you're smiling very nicely.
Harris: Well, of course.
Ritchie: And the banner on this automobile says, "Fran Harris, News For and About Women." So that was bringing women into the public eye. "WWJ 950."
Harris: I think that was one of the deals for the sales department.
Ritchie: It says, "Giving a pitch for Wyandotte"?
Harris: Wyandotte Chemical.
Ritchie: Chemical. This was that TV program where you were interviewing—it looks like two people.
Harris: Yes, and I don't know who they were. I've forgotten completely.
Ritchie: Forgotten what the program was about?
Ritchie: This next one is a Heart of Gold dinner.
Harris: Oh, yes. It was decided—there was a woman, they called her Murph Cousins who was related to a former mayor. Very wealthy woman. And she thought that it was time some of the volunteers were recognized and so she got a small group of us together. And one of the—I think it was Mrs. Lynn Townsend, the Chrysler president's wife, who came up with the idea that the Heart of Gold would be a good name. And that exists to this day. So that they picked X numbers of volunteers who have done an extraordinary deal. Some of them have just done cancer pads for thirty years, something like that. Another one would create a playground for a child and for children and whatever was good for the community.
Ritchie: So it's recognition of volunteers in the community.
Harris: Yes. And they needed it, too. It's useful.
Ritchie: Important, yes. Oh, here, this is an area of radio that we haven't really talked about, the FM. In 1963 you received recognition, a certificate of appreciation for an early FM show, "Jobs for Kids."
Harris: That I did. Of course, FM wasn't terribly important during those years. But I had the feeling that there were a lot of kids who wanted jobs and didn't quite know where to go. And there were a lot of places that could use kids and didn't quite go after them well. So I did the interviews, I went out to interview the businesses and I got some people from the schools to tell me about the kids. So we did supply a good many children with jobs, during the summertime. That's what it was.
Ritchie: So you coordinated the need and the—the supply and the demand. So that made it easier for everyone.
Harris: That seemed sensible.
Ritchie: Now, why would this have been an FM show? You read this on the air—
Harris: It was on—we had AM, FM and TV. And so I did that on the FM station.
Ritchie: And you would say—
Harris: I don't know exactly what I would have said, but this was "Jobs for Kids," and if your youngster is looking for a position for this summer, these might be good places for them to try. Or from the other point of view, this corporation is looking for X numbers of sixteen-year-old boys and so forth and that kind of thing.
Ritchie: So this was an idea that you had.
Harris: Oh, yes.
Ritchie: To help out the community. You had a lot of good ideas, you know. Actually, some of these children that were employed—I mean, you were programming for them a long time ago with the children's program.
Harris: That's the same thing and I don't know who the man was. Oh, that was part of the international series that I did.
Ritchie: With families of different nationalities?
Harris: In the city.
Ritchie: And this particular one is an Asian family.
Harris: Japanese, I think?
Harris: But it worked out very well and I met a lot of interesting people. Several of the nations had consuls in our town, still do. I talked with them and they recommended so-and-so and of course I always used a consul anyway, too. It went on for about a year and a half. Did I give the name of the thing there at all?
Ritchie: Of the program?
Ritchie: "International Detroiters" radio series.
Harris: All right. That's what we called it. Isn't it funny? You can't remember these things. But it was once a week and I did—I went all over the city and talked to the people. Why did they come and how did their children turn out? And if their forebears had died, what did their mother tell you and what did your father tell you about the old country? And it was very interesting to do.
Ritchie: And in Detroit you have a lot of nationalities.
Harris: Oh, of course. Yes, that figures. It went on for a year and a half and we never repeated it.
Ritchie: So you didn't run out of different—
Harris: No, we did not.
Ritchie: —people to interview.
Harris: There's another—
Ritchie: Miss America.
Harris: Chill Wills, I don't know what he was here for, maybe a show or something.
Ritchie: Another film star.
Ritchie: And here are you and Paul Williams.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: On a panel of some sort, maybe judging something.
Harris: I look as though I were completely bored. Probably was.
Oh, and that was one of the—either an auto show or a flower show or a builders' show or something show.
Ritchie: Builders' show.
Harris: Was that a builders' show?
Ritchie: So you would actually go on location and set up.
Harris: Yes. That was all right but I was not thrilled by it.
Ritchie: And would this have been at a convention center of sorts?
Harris: Yes, we had a convention center, a very big one, which has now been torn down because of the better accommodations on the riverfront now. But they were very popular at that time.
Ritchie: On location.
Ritchie: And you had to take all this equipment and your sound engineer along.
Harris: That was their problem.
Ritchie: They got it all ready for you because it was a bit involved there.
Harris: Of course, it's involved. And that was back in the sixties, wasn't it?
Ritchie: Right. 1964.
Harris: So you see, nothing was too self-contained.
Harris: That's probably more important for the equipment than it is for the broadcasting.
Ritchie: Here you are with people from the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults.
Harris: Well, I was being noble that day, I guess.
Oh, yes. This was 1964. Several of the other states copied Michigan and had state commissions of the Status of Women and we all met there.
Ritchie: And this is the copy of your new card.
Harris: Oh, I had that for quite a long time.
Ritchie: Fran Harris, Special Projects.
Harris: Yes, I had to ask for it. All the rest of the guys automatically got them. And I said, "Hey! Where's mine?" you know.
Ritchie: Because it was very common for the men to have them in business but they don't think about you.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: Oh, I've seen this in other communities. Christmas dolls.
Harris: Yes, Good-Fellow dolls they call them.
Ritchie: Collect them from people and then dress them up and give them to children.
Harris: You have to judge them.
Ritchie: Here we have the State Bar Association and talk, this was in 1966. You were in management at that point.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: And giving a luncheon talk, probably?
Harris: That's Margot Sherman, my dear friend.
Ritchie: Oh, yes. And that's your national convention in Miami.
Harris: That's true.
Ritchie: And in the 1970s you have a note here that you were both national presidents.
Harris: Yes, she followed me.
Ritchie: Oh, how nice.
Harris: And she still calls me up on my birthday. And I call her up on her birthday. And we always talk at Christmas. And she lives in Bronxville.
Oh, and this was when we had the national AWRT conference.
Ritchie: Right. And there's the speaker you mentioned.
Harris: Yes, Lynn Townsend.
Ritchie: The Chrysler president, Lynn Townsend.
Harris: That's more of the same.
Ritchie: The convention.
Harris: Oh, yes. And this was the president who didn't approve of me. But I introduced her to Benson Ford and she forgave me a lot.
Ritchie: Dora Cossé?
Ritchie: Cossé. And of course, Benson Ford is of the Fords.
Harris: He sure is—or was.
Ritchie: And here are some nice photographs from your—
Ritchie: —trip to Hawaii where you chaired the Asian-American Women Broadcasters conference. That must have been very interesting to learn what they did in other countries.
Ritchie: Even those from the United States.
Harris: And you know, I was so impressed that in Manila the head of the radio press was a woman. I thought, "My word, they're way ahead of us," you know.
Ritchie: Here's a photograph from 1967.
Harris: Yes, Jim Schiavone. He was general manager following Bannister.
Ritchie: So the one following Bannister was Don Degroot?
Harris: No, was Jim Schiavone. And Don Degroot followed him.
Ritchie: Followed him.
Harris: So at this point Bannister had left.
Ritchie: That's right.
Harris: So this photograph shows the management that came in 1967 includes five men and two women.
Harris: The other one of Mabel Munroe was the one in charge of the minutia of getting out the paychecks and she was called the financial—what? not analyst, she was just a financial person.
Ritchie: Officer or something?
Harris: Yes, officer or something like that. This was a business manager who was her immediate boss.
Ritchie: Hank Rogers.
Harris: Yes. He was a doll. And this was the head of the sales department for AM-FM and TV. These were all AM-FM and TV.
Harris: And Mischa Kottler was a member of the symphony, a pianist, but he had been with us for a long time.
Ritchie: And he was the music director.
Ritchie: What nationality was he? I'm just curious the name Mischa.
Harris: I have no idea. I know he was Jewish but I have no idea. A very nice man. He was the celebrity in the group.
Ritchie: And Stan Saboski?
Ritchie: Was sales.
Ritchie: Now, would you all as the management have met on a regular basis?
Harris: No. The managers—the publicity manager, the program manager and the general manager meet every Monday morning but I wasn't allowed in those meetings when I was promoted, so I thought, "The heck with them."
Ritchie: So it was the men that met, really.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: So you were given a title and a management position but you were not included in management meetings.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: So if a decision was made on programming or whatever they decided on—
Harris: It was their—yes, that was it.
Ritchie: It was their decision.
Harris: But I really never checked with them as to whether I could do anything. I just went ahead and did it.
Ritchie: You were doing what you wanted to do.
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: You didn't wait for them to come around.
Harris: Oh, and that's judging more Good-Fellow dolls.
Oh, that was—I told you about the conference in Detroit, north and south.
Ritchie: Right. Communications—
Harris: She was from—did I put it down? I guess I did. She was a print writer.
Harris: And there's Pat. And [she] later become head of a firm somewhere. I've forgotten what it was, what her business was.
Ritchie: It says here she was an account executive. Pat Mansfield from St. Louis, Missouri. You really had an opportunity to meet women in various fields.
Harris: Oh, yes. Yes.
Ritchie: Here's a keynote speaker. And here are more snapshots.
Harris: That's right. Then she was president of the Chicago Women in Communications—Theta Sigma Phi—and they have headliner awards that they give to the local people. She asked me to come on—I think that's '69, when I was the vice president, that was a two-year term. She asked me to come and give them so I did. She met me at the airport.
Ritchie: What were the headliner awards?
Harris: For excellence in professionalism and for community relations and just because you did your job well.
Ritchie: Did I see one in on your wall there?
Harris: Oh, yes. Mine was back in '52, '51.
Ritchie: Very early—
Ritchie: —recipient of the award.
Harris: In Chicago, they let some of the men get them, too—
Ritchie: Oh, I see.
Harris: Which I thought was interesting.
Ritchie: But men hadn't been voted into membership yet, had they?
Ritchie: So they weren't members of the organization.
Harris: They didn't always have to be members.
Ritchie: Oh, I see.
Harris: They could be just people who had done worthy deeds.
Ritchie: Another promotional photograph. Here you are—I noticed that you were involved with the Camp Fire Girls.
Harris: Oh, dear, yes.
Ritchie: And here you are at the Camp Fire national conference.
Harris: Yes, I was on their national board. But I resigned from that rather quickly because the national board—I was on the executive committee of the national board. And we had to meet four times a year in New York and I got bored. So I thought, "This is not the most important thing I have to do."
Ritchie: And at this time, in the early seventies, you were very involved in a lot of organizations—
Harris: That's right.
Ritchie: —and you had to place priorities. Four times a year is a lot of times.
Harris: It is a lot of time. I've noticed that a lot of committees which are planning committees waste so much time. They take two or three days to do what they could do in one day.
Ritchie: Not efficiently run.
Harris: Not at all. Well, anyway, I served a little bit of time. I'd been a Camp Fire Girl way back and my daughter accordingly would not be, she was a Scout.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 3, Side A]
Ritchie: I thought we might start this afternoon by your telling me a little bit about your involvement with the DACOWITS.
Harris: Yes. That's a short word for the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. It was created, I think in 1951, and Helen Hayes was the first chairwoman and so on. The point of it is that women were beginning to be interested in women in the Armed Forces after World War II and how were they being treated, what were their problems. By the time I got to be there in 1971-3—incidentally, I was appointed, as were all the DACOWITS members, by the Secretary of Defense. So it had a good geographic spread of individuals, and also of career thinking and career types, which was good. When I got there in 1971, the women at the WACs, Women Army Corps women, were training in skirts. You just don't know how ridiculous it looks for them to be in a formal marching order in skirts.
Ritchie: So you actually went and saw them.
Harris: Oh, yes, yes. We went to many bases divided between the army, the air force, the navy and the marine corps. We had two meetings a year and all of the four services were represented, and eventually through the three-year term, individual DACOWITS members got to all of the different services. The first time I saw those WACs marching in skirts, I nearly had a fit. But at that time, I was one of the junior members. I mentioned it, of course, and we started to work on the generals—we've recently done a good deal for those women. When they first came in as WACs, there weren't any special shoes for them so they wore small size men's shoes. Big deal. It was the rationale they could use whatever smaller men would use. We in DACOWITS allowed as how that wasn't quite right.
So by the time I was chairman in '73 and by the time I was through, the WACs had slacks and properly fitted shoes. Then we started working on the marine corps because the marine corps did not believe in promoting the women beyond colonel. No generals—heavens, no. And within the next few years, one of the women who had been a colonel was then made a brigadier general. But it was the constant pressure, you know. It was just fascinating.
Ritchie: So you would travel to Washington for these meetings?
Harris: We started out in Washington for our opening meeting, then we'd be flown—for instance, if the air force was hosting us at that particular time, we would be flown out to Colorado. We went through NORAD and that kind of thing, then went up to the Air Academy. I about popped at the Air Force Academy—the commandant was in a real dither. He didn't approve of women at the academy in the first place, unless they happened to be mothers of some of the boys who were injured or hurt or something. And here we were, the total number of DACOWITS members was fifty, at least. Usually about thirty-five came to these regular meetings.
One of the women said, "Well, you looked troubled. What's your problem?" And here's this general being confronted, he said, "Well, with the women, it's difficult." "Well, why?" "Well, it's a matter of plumbing." We nearly died, because they did have to reorganize their plumbing. "And not only that, but they
have to have different kinds of sleeping quarters. They can't be all in a great big bay." So we said that was very, very sensible. Before too many years passed that was settled.
But the academy did have one woman on staff who had been an Olympic swimmer and she was there to teach the men how to swim. That was a great condescension on his part, to have any woman anywhere near. But if she was in the Olympic class, maybe that would be all right.
Ritchie: Might make her acceptable.
Harris: And besides, they couldn't get a man teacher. My very first meeting of DACOWITS, always beginning in the Pentagon, the very first meeting was hosted by the navy. Admiral Zumwalt who had considerable success as a navy admiral said that he wanted some advice. Well, we were all excited about giving an admiral advice. And he said, "Now tell me. Women are going to want to join the navy and we think it wouldn't be very right to have women and men on the same ship. So would it be a good idea for the women to have a—could you just say a destroyer ship all for their own? And then it would be totally female—the total crew, everybody, would be a woman, up to and including the captain of the ship." We booed him, absolutely booed him. You should have been able to hear the boo from here to there.
Ritchie: He was ready to keep them in their own place.
Harris: In their own place. And I can see that that ship, if it ever had developed, would have been the last one in a regatta and it would have been maybe not even brought out for a lot of activity. It is true that, within the navy, there were a lot of pregnancies but not as many as they had anticipated. And what were you going to do with a woman who is pregnant? Well, what do you do when she's working? Does she stay home? Well, they finally arranged it so the pregnant women could stay on shipboard until they showed and then she'd have to take some time off.*
We did accomplish a few things during my tenure. We fussed and pressured for equal benefits for spouses. We discovered that WAC husbands weren't allowed to buy at the Post Exchange, but army wives could. Even though lots of WAC husbands were in college getting professional degrees, they were supposed to support themselves—wasn't that what men did? But army wives were granted maintenance money by the services. Finally, shortly after my term as chair ended, the Supreme Court handed down its decision that, as I recall the working, "It was unconstitutional to differentiate against females in the military" and that included a statement that WAC husbands were entitled to basic housing and medical care.
Another DACOWITS wish, which took lots more years to achieve, was promotion within the ranks for all military women. Back in 1969, the Defense Department canceled its standing order that no woman could attain a rank higher than colonel. The first woman brigadier generals—one for the army itself, and the other for army nurses—were on hand. The air force went the army one better and created the first woman major general, Jeannie Holm, a delightful, smart lady. But in spite of our continuing pressure, I understand it took the navy until 1977 to create a female admiral of the line, and the marine corps resisted even longer before it named its first woman brigadier general—I think it was in 1980!
Men do learn hard, don't they? But to be honest, so do women!
* There was considerable static on the tape at this point. Fran Harris completed the description at a later time.
© 1992, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.