Washington Press Club Foundation
Mary Ellen Leary:
Interview #2 (pp. 17-44)
August 15, 1990, p.m., in Piedmont, California
Shirley Biagi, Interviewer

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[Begin Tape 2, Side A]

Biagi: So we've got you at the public housing series that you did.

Leary: Well, I was always trying to show them that I could.

In the one corner office was a very sweet elderly guy, Bob Paine, who had been the very first city editor on the Scripps-Howard paper over in Cleveland and was out here. He had no job or assignment but he loved writing letters to the editor and he wrote them long hand. And so my job would be to type them, of course, which was not very easy because his longhand was not easy to decipher.

And a number of people would dictate letters to me and a couple of them, I remember the News editor starting to dictate to me and said, "Well, don't you take shorthand?" And I said, "No, but I think I can get it." And he said maybe I ought to consider shorthand. So later I had a talk with the city editor and I think even the managing editor, did I need shorthand on this job? And both of them said, you figure out what direction you're going to go. If you're going to be a secretary, you need shorthand, if you're going to be a reporter, no, because your notes, you may have to have your notes read by somebody else, even if they're hasty and relatively illegible, there's a possibility on a story that you'd have to hand your notes to the cameraman to bring in and you stay at the scene doing something. So you take things, write things in longhand as fast as you can, make your own short words up as you go. So: I didn't want to be a secretary, no shorthand.

I would say the News was a crusading paper. And it was kind of fun to be in on some of the crusades. One of the points that they were very indignant about was public boards having meetings in secret. And ultimately, of course, this led to a state law prohibiting such meetings.

Biagi: The Brown Act?

Leary: The Brown Act. The San Francisco Board of Education, which considered itself a very elite group that could run its own world its own way, customarily met in secret about an hour prior to the time set for their public meeting. And when they would come into public meeting, they would say, "Item 16 on the agenda, we will now take a vote on that," but not mention what it was. And they would vote, so many ayes and one no, or something like that. And you would have to scurry around and find out what Item 16 concerned. Ultimately they got so they would at least mention what the topic was.

We ran stories carefully pointing this out and saying exactly how many minutes they had met in secret and the time when they came out. And we would compare the length of time in the public meeting with the length of time in the private meeting. And we badgered them as much as we could. Now that was how we tried to cover the school board.

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But we did everything that we could to press the sense that this was not the way to conduct the public's business.

I remember one meeting of the Juvenile Justice Commission, or whatever it was called at that time, having a meeting at a restaurant for lunch. And I went in to the room, I found out where they were going to meet, they had a private dining room upstairs in the restaurant, and I got a chair and sat back against the wall. And they came in and chatted with each other and finally they said, "Well, what are you doing here?" And I said, "Well, I'm a reporter, I'm just going to cover your meeting." And they said, "You can't do that, we're having a private meeting here. This is the Board of Juvenile Justice or whatever. And I made a big fuss and said, "Is it a public agency?" and so forth. And I just said, "No, I'm not going to leave." And so finally a couple of them got up and hustled me out.

Biagi: Ah! In what way did they —

Leary: They took me on either arm and said, "Come on, you have to get out, we can't have any meeting here while a reporter is here listening." Ultimately — other papers were badgering them, too; maybe not quite as explicitly, and ultimately it led to the Brown Act. The legislature was good on ending private meetings, too, of their committees.

Biagi: Were you a general assignment reporter?

Leary: I was general assignment but I was assigned quite a bit to the school board. I was assigned a lot to do welfare stories. We still at the end of the Depression — when was this, about I guess it was around '39, the beginning of '40, and I did a lot of stories about the problems of the poor. Met some absolutely marvelous women there who had become social workers but only — without training, just because they'd thrust themselves in to trying to help with things, as volunteers. And ultimately in the housing field, which I continued to be interested in and write about. And that was one area in which I would sort of initiate stories because I was staying in touch with people who were in public housing.

I met Alice Griffith who was then in her seventies — how ancient! — who had been a founder of the Russian Hill settlement house, came from a family of considerable wealth, never married and after the 1906 earthquake went before the city council to fight for some standards on the new housing that was going up. And she took a notebook and a tape measure and went around to where the new things were being built and showed how close to the border of the lot they were building, how few windows they were providing, and made the first fight for standards on light and space and rallied enough support and got them through, and continued to be interested and was on the first — when San Francisco did set up a public housing commission, she was on the first commission. She was a wonderful person, for me an opportunity to have met people like that. It was great.

In doing welfare stories, one time the desk said, "Tomorrow when you come in I want you to spend the day as though you were a woman who had come in to town alone, a single woman, with absolutely no resources. What happens to a woman who arrives like that? Suppose you'd hitchhiked a ride in with a truck and you are deposited in downtown San Francisco, where do you go?"

So I got my old college uniform, which had the hem coming out of it and was pretty worn, and I put an old sweater on over it, and looked as sloppy as I could. And I didn't have very many fancy clothes then. And I decided I'd better have a little money in case of an emergency, so I knotted a handkerchief with a couple of dollars and some change and safety-pinned it to my underpants. And then later in the day I made the discovery that I looked so disreputable that I couldn't go in to any place that I would be willing to go into the ladies' room to get at it.

But I started out asking a policeman if there was any place I could get something to eat.

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Biagi: Where did you deposit yourself?

Leary: Well, I left the News, I went in to check in with the city desk.

Biagi: And the News was located where?

Leary: At Fourth and Mission, right off of downtown. And so I went up to the cop who stood on the corner of Fourth and Market and said — I didn't have a camera and I didn't plan on any pictures because I was going to write this, I was going to be kind of anonymous in this. But he told me that the Ferry Building — not the Salvation Army but the Visitors Bureau or something — gave free meals and might give me a certificate for another meal or something like that, some meal ticket I could use in a restaurant.

So I walked down to the Ferry Building and told the people that I'd just come in. There was a room where they had a counter and you could get soup and coffee and very simple stuff. But they gave me food and kind of asked about my plans and told me where the welfare office was. And they gave me carfare and told me how to go. And I went to the welfare office and waited for a long time in this roomful of people. And a kid was telling about hitchhiking in on a train and how a buddy who'd been hitchhiking with him had fallen off the train and been killed. And so I kind of had a sense of being in reality with that.

And they gave me a ticket, a voucher, to go to get a room in a crummy old hotel. But I wanted to pursue a little bit further and see what would happen. And I went to a number of other places, asking for handouts and was there anyplace, did anybody know where I could stay. And a couple of people, I can't remember now exactly who, did say, "Yes, well, come back about six o'clock if you haven't found someplace, come back then, and we'll see that you have someplace to stay." And I went to a Catholic hospital and they just said, "No, there isn't anyplace and we can't give you any help." And I was so upset at the prospect of having to write the story and expose the Catholics, so when I was leaving I said, "Well, I don't know where I'll sleep tonight." And that got them so they called me back and said, "All right, well, if you haven't got any place tonight by seven o'clock, call us and we'll see what we can do."

So anyway, I went back and wrote a story about it.

Biagi: Were you taking notes the whole time or did you just have to remember?

Leary: I wasn't taking notes because I couldn't — I wasn't carrying anything that I could carry paper in and so I went back. I think I went back to the office in the middle of the day and kind of rattled off some notes for myself —

Biagi: In your lovely outfit.

Leary: Yes, with everybody laughing at me.

Biagi: But was that the only time you ever did that, when you were posed as somebody, or were there other circumstances?

Leary: No, I didn't do too much posing. There was a certain amount of that — no, there was one other time. There was a dating bureau, an escort bureau, started up. And the city desk said, you know, "Mary Ellen, we're going to get you a date with them, you're going to find out what it's like to go out. We'll give you the money, you have to go out, and you'll hand him the money and he'll take you out for the evening and see what turned out." But the Chronicle was faster than we were and they had gotten them all sewed up. So the city editor said, "Oh, well, we'll run our own."

And so Baron Muller (I see by Herb Caen that he's written a book) Baron Muller was the News reporter on the police beat and was very genial and delightful, a good-looking guy with a stutter.

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And Baron and I went out, we thought this was just a lark, overtime — we got overtime for it because we were working at night. And we went to the St. Francis Hotel for dinner, the office had that arranged, and then I don't remember where else we went — we went to the theater and we had tickets there. With a cameraman with us because this was — and I was in one of my leftover-from-college long dresses, Baron was —I think he was in a tux.

And I remember, I think Eddie Murphy was with us, the cameraman, and when we sat down in the St. Francis, he sat with us and was going to probably have a drink while we were eating, something like that. And there was a long table of men near us and one of the men came over and asked Eddie if he would take their picture because they were having a meeting together, hadn't thought to get a cameraman. They were a group of embalmers, mortuary world. And Baron's nickname, his name was Adolph, Adolph Muller, and he had picked his nickname of Baron, the Baron because he looked big and pompous. And when we came in to the St. Francis with the cameraman saying, "Well, Baron, do you mind going back in and let's both of you come out again from the door." Well, everybody, of course, thinks it's a real baron.

In the middle of the play, I have no idea what it was that we had tickets to, he said, "I think this is very boring." So he took me instead to a burlesque and it was the first time I'd ever been to the burlesque. I found it highly embarrassing. But anyway, I still thought that was quite funny that I was being paid time to go there.

Biagi: Sure. Now, so it really wasn't a dating service that asked that, they just arranged this date for you.

Leary: So we wrote a story pretending this is what it was.

Biagi: That brings up the question of ethics now.

Leary: Well, I will say there was another pretense, a big one that I did. In its crusades the News was always after the police department for one thing and another. Apparently there was a lot of take from the illegal, illicit abortion houses, in spite of all the Catholic membership in the police department. There were other rackets, there was a lot of gambling that was paying off the police, too, which Pat Brown, as district attorney, moved in on, tried hard to curb, at least. Shocked everybody by sending somebody actually to San Quentin for being involved in gambling. Nobody could believe that that was a crime.

I'm sure the city desk was not really trying to break the abortion ring or particularly expose them, they were trying to show the payoff that the police were getting from them, which was common knowledge. So I went out with one of the reporters, they wouldn't send me alone, of course, but I went out with one of the reporters to make an appointment to find out how much an abortion cost, with the idea being that I would say I would see whether we could get the money. And I was such an ignorant that the fellows had to tell me how long to say I'd been pregnant to keep it within an interim that they would consider an abortion, these husbands and fathers who took me out.

And I had seven abortion appointments in one week. Scared to death, actually, in many of them, especially when one of the doctors insisted on — going to examine me and I didn't quite know how to get out of that except to start crying like mad, which I did, and went out to my husband who was waiting out in another room. Joe Sheridan, the assistant city editor, was with me on this.

Biagi: He was your husband that day.

Leary: Yes, he was my husband that day. And then we went into the — Inez Burns was I guess most respected among the abortionists because she'd been a nurse and ran a pretty big operation. And when I went in to her, she said, "Well, when you come back" — I think it was to cost $50 — "When you come back, try to come in the middle of week because we like to save the weekends for the working girls," which gave me a great lead for my story. And I wrote it as Miss X of the News, I didn't use my own name.

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Biagi: And of course the stories at that point didn't have by-lines.

Leary: Not so much. Well, they had some. They were beginning to use by-lines.

Biagi: But at that point you were Miss X.

Leary: But I was Miss X.

Biagi: What neighborhood were they? Were they all in one place? Or did you have to go all over town?

Leary: Oh, no, no. They were around town. And they were always in homes that looked like every other home along the block. Inez Burns' was out in the Mission district in a very respectable place. As a matter of fact, we had planned that when I came out — Joe was with me that day, too — it was part of the Mission district where the houses are up high with a long steep bunch of stairs. And the cameraman waited across the street, looking in a store. And the idea was that when we came out, I would — we had planned this — at the top of the stairs I would turn my head, kind of like I was crying onto the shoulder of Joe, and he would reach over to me so that both of our faces would be masked, and the cameraman down below would shoot up and get the house. And just as we came to this point, two nuns came out of the house next door and were walking right into our path past the stairs — so that didn't work. And we tried it later on when we were lower on the steps and that didn't turn out very well, so they just got the house without us in it, which was all right, too.

Biagi: Well, this brings up the issue of the ethics which we talked about a little bit.

Leary: Yes.

Biagi: Were there any? Were there discussions about ethics which we have today?

Leary: There were points at which there was a no-no. There was something going on that we were trying to follow somebody's comings and goings. And I remember that Baron Muller said, "I've been watching that house and the mailman has delivered some mail there and if you want me to, I'll go over and steam the letters open." And at that point, the city desk said no way, no, we won't do that. You can continue your vigil on the house and see if you can catch the guy we're trying to talk to but no, we won't — there was at that level a line drawn on doing anything clearly illegal.

As far as the ethics of masquerading, there was some sense over the telephone that you mustn't misrepresent yourself. That was fairly strong, not to call somebody and say that this was the police department or the morgue or something. And I think the sensitivity to it must have arisen from the fact that there'd been abuse before. And there was very conscious, deliberate "We do not misrepresent ourselves" on the phone, and in person you would assume, also.

Biagi: Are there situations that today we would consider unethical but at the time were kind of normal behavior?

Leary: Yes, there were. Well, the business of going out and trying to get abortions, I don't know whether — today I don't think anybody would attempt a pretense. Besides, public attitudes have changed. In those days, nobody talked about abortions. The police were finally turned off on that only because — I guess it was Frank Ahern who was later chief but happened to be in the office alone with all of the more superior people out to lunch or something when a woman who was dying in a hospital from an abortion that went wrong called the police department to complain about this particular abortion. And Ahern was so shocked, Ahern didn't know that abortions were going on, he was new enough in the department not to have been brought into the circle. And he exposed a lot of it and led ultimately to an end to this kind of payoff.

There was some masquerading in order to get stories.

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Biagi: How far would a reporter go to get a story?

Leary: Well, I can remember one time, again Baron Muller going into a hospital in gown and mask and going into the operating room in order to get a story about somebody, I don't know who the patient was. When Tom Mooney had been out of prison and Olson freed him —

Biagi: Governor Olson?

Leary: Governor Culbert Olson, yes. Mooney was operated on for — I don't know what, an abdominal problem. And I was sent out on the death watch to report what happened. And I remember walking — making my way somehow up to the same floor as the operating room, I was not in any kind of disguise, I was walking along, and it was the only time I saw Mooney, he was lying on a gurney and was out, and with a thing over his head, the paper cap and all this. And I was trying to figure out a way in which I could go into the operating room. I was looking for a closet where I might find a robe but I couldn't find it and somebody shooed me out, "What are you doing here?" and so I had to get out. And so I just walked in the garden, praying for him while he was operated on. And called in when he came out; he was okay.

There were lots of those cases of just waiting all day for something.

Biagi: How far —

Leary: People would go pretty far. Instances at the moment don't come to mind although there were lots of times in which you used arguments to get stories. I remember a time when a girl out on the — overlooking the ocean on that point just above the restaurant, the Cliff House, and there's a park above on that steep hill. And a girl who was a model was — a model or a dancer — was out there and they were photographing her for something and they kept getting her closer and closer to the edge and she stepped back and fell and was killed. And I went out with — since I didn't have a car, almost always the transportation had to be with a cameraman taking me around. The cameraman drove me to her residence. She lived with her mother in an apartment and I came up to the door and saw her mother setting the table for the two of them for lunch and I had to go in and tell her. There were lots of terribly hard things like that where you were the bringer of bad news. And I rang — it was an old style apartment with a glass door so you could look through — her mother let me in and the phone rang. And it was just then the police calling her to tell her. But I was inside. So then my job was to get a picture.

This does remind me of one time when I did a funny thing. Somebody involved in, I guess some terrible tragedy; we were trying to get pictures. It was a woman, and we tried to get the school yearbook and we found that the Examiner had gotten ahead of us and gotten the yearbook. Apparently there were very few other opportunities for pictures. And I was at the office and they said, "Gee, the Examiner's got that picture and we haven't got it." And I said, "I'll see if I can get it." Talk about ethics.

I walked over to the Examiner and went up to the receptionist and said that I was a cousin of the woman and the family was terribly anxious to get this picture and we understood that they were using it and could I have it back because the family wanted it so much. Maybe it wasn't the yearbook. But it was a picture from the yearbook. Probably the photographer who did the yearbook picture, that's probably where it came from. And I put on a big song and dance and convinced the receptionist and she went in and got the picture.

And I sat down with it and said, "I'm waiting for my aunt to come and get me and I'll wait for her, thank you so much. We're just going to copy it, we'll bring it to you." And the receptionist said, "That picture, you can show it to your aunt, but that picture's not to leave here. And is this the one you want?" And I said, "Yes, this is the one I want." And I sat there while she was going in and out, and in and out, and she went in, I got up and walked out with the picture and went to my own city desk and said, "Here's the picture."

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They had a big discussion and they said, "We can't use that because if we do this, the Examiner will start doing the same thing with us and they're much craftier and less ethical than we are and we'll be skunked by them." So we sent the picture back with a copy boy. Now that's an example — anything for a story. That was when I was still secretary to the city editor and willing to try almost anything to get on as a reporter. That gives you a little bit of the flavor, I guess.

Biagi: Well, you did kind of border on "off" at times.

Leary: Yes.

Biagi: In the newsroom where editors talk about ethics, did it become an issue or did you just go ahead —

Leary: There would be times when the managing editor or the editor would come in and say, "What is this I hear that you're planning? No way. Sending somebody out representing himself as a ________, you don't do that." Then at the top level there was a pretty strong sense of it. At the reporter level there was a sense of anything to get the story. And a lot of it was for pictures.

Well, I'm trying to think of other episodes. We had a story of a girl who tried to commit suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge soon after it was opened. And she didn't die. As a matter of fact, all she did was break an arm — or maybe both arms. She'd been a swimmer and when she started into the water, she knew enough to stiffen her body and she apparently went down feet first and came up and was still alive. And the Coast Guard boat came out and fished her out.

Well, I got on the phone with her mother, they found out who her mother was and where she had been living and so forth. And I did an awful lot of talking about how concerned I was about her and so forth, buttering up the mother to try to get the story about why the girl did it. And of course she did it because she was broken-hearted about some guy who was about to be shipped off in the military. She was from a Dutch family and the mother had quite an accent. And I kept in close touch with the mother. Now, I was pretending a friendship and a closeness which went way beyond what the reporter's role would be. And I went on then — I don't know whether I suggested it or not, but the city desk followed up and found out where the guy was and then got in touch with whoever was congressman —

Biagi: Maybe Frank Havener.

Leary: — and got some kind of change in orders so that he could at least have a three-month leave or something like that. And the girl ultimately got better. But now I'm aware, was very much aware then and uncomfortable with myself about it, that I was pretending a friendship with the mother, sort of pretending that I knew the girl, trying to get the mother to talk to me which I was successful in doing. So we had a whole bunch of stories about it.

Biagi: And then him coming home.

Leary: Him coming home and the congressman acting.

Biagi: It also brings to mind the issue touching on the characters at the time in San Francisco — and I use that as a broad stroke. I mean the characters and the kinds of people that you were reporting on. Who were the people who would play a role in San Francisco history?

Leary: Actually, what strikes me is that we did a lot of feature stories such as today you might find an unwed mother debating whether to have an abortion or not. And you would write a detailed story about her. Now, today they'll use a name and the real circumstance for a lead into a general story. But we would write much more, I think, individual feature stories about one of the many human beings who were caught in some kind of circumstance,

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then move and try to set the wheels of government in motion to try to rescue them or something like that.

One time a young woman, very pregnant, obviously, came into the city room quite early in the morning to say that she had just arrived in town and she didn't know how to get help. Now, I don't know why she came to the paper. Maybe she talked to a policeman about a problem, maybe he said go to see the News. She came in and said, "I'm going to have a baby and my husband is in San Quentin Prison and I came because I wanted to be near him." They did something then which I guess no paper would do today. They said, "Mary Ellen, you take that woman and keep her at your apartment so we can keep in touch with her, we want to make this our story and we don't want any other paper to get hold of her."

So she did. And then we wrote stories that she needed prenatal care and so forth, and we got some doctors to volunteer, took her to their office, and absolutely shepherded her. And then the baby was born and so we kept up this continuity of reports about her. And the husband — I don't remember, he was released but not right away, not really. Ultimately got out. Then with our writing all the stories, somebody volunteered to take her in and take care of her until the baby came and then somebody else, another family volunteered to let her come and work for them as a maid and bring her baby. So we kept this up.

Now, what we were trying — we were acting as a social welfare agency, in a sense, and we did this on quite a lot of stories. Not too many that I had to bring the people home to my apartment, fortunately. Gradually, through covering the school board, we got into a great deal of interest about juvenile detention problems and wrote — I went down to visit to see what the juvenile hall looked like and it was miserable, it was just a prison. And the cement enclosure, where they could exercise a little bit. That was all. And no effort at schooling or anything for them, it was horrible. And little kids eight, ten, eleven, locked in cells.

And there was a campaign then for camps for the juveniles to be sentenced to, instead of jail. And the News campaigned hard for that — and a Log Cabin Ranch I think still exists, up the Mendocino coast. It was started, a lot of it through the campaigning of the News, and I went up, drove up to look at the place right about where this land was available and the head of the juvenile department in San Francisco at that time was very enthusiastic about this. It was a way to keep the kids from being sentenced into a regular prison, to separate them from adult criminals. Now, ultimately, we built that campaign into a statewide support of separate juvenile facilities, that really began the California Youth Authority. These are the things that when I say it was a crusading paper, we'd go after.

Biagi: And the reporters became part of the crusade, in that sense?

Leary: Yes, you'd follow it through and dog it day after day. And you didn't always get a new lead that you could develop a story on but by just hounding it and staying with it, you would build it up and you'd find a legislator who was going to put a bill in and then you'd round up all the San Francisco legislators, were they going to support the bill and that sort of thing, so that you would stay with it and build a story and ultimately a change was accomplished.

There were a number of things of that kind going on which I think had a little flavor that's different from today. Now today there's much more focus initially on government and how the government is failing such, as working on the homeless. And you've got agencies, a whole bunch of them, volunteer agencies and so forth that you contact, plus the government. And the story becomes: What are the agencies doing, not so much the individual homeless person. Of course, to some extent you're overwhelmed by the problems now.

[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]

Biagi: Can you discuss how you went and wrote the stories and how the newsroom worked, just a little bit of the atmosphere of San Francisco at the time and what it was like to be on a newspaper at the time.

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Leary: All right. The city editor, or sometimes assistant city editor, kept an assignment sheet. When I was secretary, I would give him sometimes a typed list of stuff, the meetings that were coming along, and major meetings when the Chamber of Commerce was doing this or that, or some woman's club was doing something. And I let him know what they were and he might make an assignment out of one of them or he might not. And I would have available for him the press releases that had come out about it, so if he decided to go for it, he could give that to the reporter.

And reporters did sort of fall into categories, into certain areas where the city desk assigned them over and over again. Some of them were better on finance stories than I would have been. Of course, the financial page was over there, John Piper ran a very strong finance page. But I guess that there were education and welfare beats and so forth. And then as the war began, I developed my own beat of war agencies. They were blossoming all over the place. But from my social welfare stories — oh, I did a map one time showing all the places where a person could go asking for help and be shunted from one to the other, emphasizing the need for some central place. But I came to know from that kind of reporting some of the government agency administrators. There was a very fine sensitive guy who headed the federal government's regional social services — I forget what it was called. As the federal government got into more funding of work projects and the state got into more funding, I would know some of these top-level guys and once in a while would phone them and say, "What's going on, what's happening, what's new?"

I'm coming back to your question of how did I work. If I'd been sitting around and the desk hadn't assigned me anything and there wasn't anything right then that I had on, then I would start scouting some of the people that I had met and got along with or in housing. Through the housing developments I got to know a fellow who did some of the early polling, the first time that I discovered that you could sample people round the city and come up with a reliable idea of where things were going. He was an awfully good source for stories because he was being called on a lot by different groups that wanted to know whether something would fly or not.

So you would try to hustle your own stories along lines you were interested in. Now once in a while, you'd be sent out on —I remember early, I hadn't been on the city side, which is general reporting, very long when I was sent out with a camera to a woman who cut out her own tongue. And when we got there, we were there ahead of the police or ambulance or anything, and the basin was bloody and not just one piece of her tongue but two. Of course she was pretty nutty but she thought she had talked too much about something. And she was in this apartment with a towel at her mouth, walking back and forth. And it was one thing to, you know — she had a roommate, somebody there who could tell us a little bit about this. And when I called the city desk and said — I was almost crying, it was so shattering to see this — and we hadn't been there long and the cameraman couldn't take a picture of her with this towel on her face. As fast as I could get out of there, I called the desk. And Joe Sheridan was on. And I said, "Joe, this is just a horrible thing to have seen, just awful." And he said, "Well, you wanted to be a newspaper reporter, you've got to be tough."

Biagi: Were you tough?

Leary: Yes, but the cameramen were inclined to be protective. They would go in first, a suicide, fire victims, and then they would come out and say, "Come on, I'll tell you about it but don't go in." Guys that shot their head off. Horrible tragedies like that. They were tougher, the photographers. I got wise that some of it was pretty — some of it was rough. I tried to picture the suicide blowing his head off and, oh, that just haunted me for a long time.

Biagi: Were there stories you think they didn't send you on because you were a woman?

Leary: Yes, I think so. For instance, they never sent me to an execution, and purposely. I got into it, I got very interested in the death penalty, and that was after Chessman's execution in 1960. Not too many other assignments were withheld that I'm aware of.

Oh, I don't think I told you about my salary raise, my first salary raise.

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Biagi: Oh, your first salary raise.

Leary: Two-fifty. I was hired at $17.50 a week. About two months later I got $20. And I thought that was just wonderful and went around thanking everybody, you know, that was great. Years later, they told me that they'd all been talking about my raise at the top level and talking about what I was paid and they didn't see how a woman could stay honest on $17.50, so they give me $2.50 more. I always thought my virtue was prized at two dollars and a half. That would keep me honest.

I was always trying to develop stories and I think many people worried that I was particularly aggressive about it. But I mentioned the tongue cutting-out as illustrative that the desk would be feeding assignments to me, too, or calling, "Come on, Mary Ellen, you're going out on," — such and such, or calling me on the morning before Veterans Day and saying, "Mary Ellen, dress in black today and if you've got anything that looks like a veil, wear it, because we're going to have a picture taken." So I would be out at the military cemetery with my head down and the veil covering me taken —

Biagi: And you would be the —

Leary: I would be the weeping widow, right on page one. Talk about — there was no ethical question, it was just a symbol.

Biagi: Let's talk about this virtuous woman at $20 a week, now, how you lived, how your lifestyle was — so-called, they call it today lifestyle. You commuted to work, what did you do?

Leary: I got started while working in Stanford for two months. I was trying to save — I was doing something else, too. They had under the FDR efforts, NYA, National Youth Administration, and I was typing for a Stanford professor and getting, I think, $20 — it couldn't have been $20 a week, it must have been $20 a month. However many hours, I was typing stuff for her so I had that as a little supplement.

Biagi: And you were commuting from the area?

Leary: And I was commuting from Palo Alto. And getting my dinner.

Biagi: Getting your maid's outfit on, right?

Leary: Yes. I even used my finishing school curtsy by going in and announcing dinner with a curtsy, saying, "Dinner is served." I thought that was a nice touch to add.

I had a couple of friends from Stanford who were in the city, one of them desperately looking for work, and she came soon after I got my apartment and lived with me for about three months until it really got to be too much because she was sleeping on the couch. It was a one-room apartment with a Murphy bed, the kind that you open a door and it pulls down. And it had a very, very tiny kitchen and a table for eating off of. I lived out on the marina.

Biagi: And you commuted —

Leary: My friend who came in and sort of camped with me was much better than I at looking for places and she hustled around and found this. And it was just fine because I could get a bus downtown and it was only $35 a month and it was just a couple of blocks from the bay shore, right up from the lovely Palace of Fine Arts park and the marina. So it was a nice neighborhood.

Later I moved around and lived in a couple of other apartments and ultimately lived on Jackson Street where it was — again the same friend found it for me. It had a wonderful view, you walked up —

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it was supposed to be three floors but actually you kind of were walking up four. Had a bedroom by that time, I was able to get not only a living room but a bedroom and bath and a kitchen with an adequate table in it.

And that was the place in which — it's such a funny thing to think of in today's age — I didn't have a refrigerator but I had a refrigerated box in which I could keep milk and eggs but I needed ice and it would only take twenty-five pounds. I had an arrangement with the ice company and the ice man had a key and would come in to the apartment because I was gone working. And then, closing and locking the door, would go out the back door which had an automatic lock on it. And would bring — I don't know, it must have been every four days or something like that, my twenty-five pounds of ice up.

Biagi: What was your social life like? Did you mix with people at the paper or did you have another —

Leary: I didn't mix too much with people at the paper at that time. One or two. Yes, Don Douglass was copy editor and he had been at Stanford and felt kind of compatible. His wife had been the daughter of a Stanford professor, and we had quite a bit in common and I would see them and they ultimately lived not far from my Jackson place. I saw them quite a bit. I tended to see some of the Catholic friends whom I knew through the Musantes and one of them, John O'Toole, was city attorney at that time.

Biagi: But your social life — were your working days long, what were your typical working days?

Leary: Yes, I had to be at work at 7:30. On an afternoon paper, you have to get started real early. And theoretically I was through, I guess, at 3:30, something like that. There was not as much policing of time then and if I could work myself into writing something, I might stay until 4:00 or 4:30. I would get out ahead of the rest of the crowd. But many of the reporters came in that early, some of them came in earlier than that. It was a long day and on weekends, much to do at home what with laundry and so forth.

And I was dating some of my Stanford friends. I can remember I would have them for dinner. They were all as poor as I. Some of them didn't have jobs yet, some of them were still getting their Ph.D.'s at Stanford. I remember the day the Golden Gate opened, whatever year, when was that, fifty years ago? So that must have been '37 or something like that, and I hadn't worked very long but they sent me out with others to be at the bridge at like six in the morning. And we were all day long going and phoning in, you know, the first woman to wheel her baby across and the first high school class to walk all together across, silly stuff like that. And it was a day somewhat like this, overcast, and I didn't realize that you can get very sunburned on a day like that out on the Golden Gate Bridge. And I had invited a lot of friends to come for dinner, assuming that I'd be home early and be able to get it. And not being aware of how tired I was, I guess I walked across that bridge about six times. I was just dead! And had all these people coming. Somehow I got through it.

I'd love to go out on the ocean beach. We'd go out to Golden Gate Park on weekends. Nearly always with some friends, I nearly always had someone to do it with.

Biagi: Well, the image is of carousing male journalists, going to bars and working all their sources and everything? Was there any of that going on?

Leary: There was a lot of that going on and I felt outside of it. I'm not sure that they were so much older than I but they seemed older because they were living a different life pattern. And sure, there was a bar down at the corner, Gallagher's, and there was a lot of drinking which the guys could function with and a lot of drinking then after-hours, after which they might not have functioned so well. I wasn't drinking at all to start with and I think was hesitant about getting particularly involved. Nearly all the guys were married, the only ones around who weren't were the copy boys who were much younger.

I'm not sure why I never did really fill my social life around people on the paper. I met some people at Cal — and oh, I forgot all about a fellow from Iowa that somebody knew who'd gone to Creighton. He was a policeman in Berkeley, ultimately became police chief and then alcoholism did him in.

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But he used to take me dancing and that was fun. I found my social life outside the newspaper world and I'm not awfully sure why but I think maybe the drinking. And then I was very conscious of being poor and of course I didn't have a car.

Biagi: Did you go to Gallagher's at all?

Leary: Yes. And sometimes would have a cup of coffee. Ultimately, of course, I finally did begin to drink and I found that you could drink and make one drink go a long way. And that it was a social thing and by the time I got married, I was accustomed to social drinking.

When I covered the legislature, I made an absolute rule for myself of never more than two drinks between meals any time because I was so aware that drinking was available all the time and that it was a hazard, a hazard personally and a hazard to your job.

Biagi: Well, now, the male reporters eventually have sources there, or they would have a place where they could bring sources they knew —

Leary: Which I didn't have.

Biagi: Yes. Did you feel left out of the loop or did you find your own way of finding sources?

Leary: In the legislature, when I was writing politics, I was very concerned about whether I was going — how was I ever going to get contacts who would tell me anything because the fellows were playing poker with them and the lobbyists would have hotel rooms in which there was liquor flowing, none of which — nobody ever invited me to and I didn't want to go to. So I worried some and I felt that there was a lot that I did not know about that was going on and I had to work awfully hard to kind of catch up.

But I also then found out that there were people who were not doing that much drinking who were quite willing to be interviewed and be talked to. And in the long run I felt that I did just as well. That was in the Earl Warren era and many of his allies in the legislature were fairly straight guys and they would go out of their way to be sure that I knew what was going on. That helped.

Biagi: In San Francisco, to go back to that part of your life, did it hurt you at all that you weren't part of the group
that was —

Leary: I think not. I think not. The managing editor Jerry Ray, the news editor Morton Sontheimer, the editor himself, Bill Burkhardt, all played the role of being men-about-town. Paul Edwards, who was associate editor, was also chairman of the trustees or whatever they're called at Stanford and a very strong active participant in Stanford's decision-making life, a graduate, obviously, who lived near Palo Alto in Los Altos, He and the managing editor when I first started, I can't — well, Frank Clarvoe was managing editor but then he kind of moved up, and Charlie Massey, later managing editor, also lived down the Peninsula. They were strong family people and they were not living this carousing life and I never felt that that was essential.

And you had one cluster of people who were very active in the labor movement, George Wilson and Betty Ballantine and Don Wiley also just wonderful at rewrites. Those people were not out drinking a lot, their whole life was how was the labor movement going and who's organizing who right now.

Biagi: So there was a social life that the reporters had in town but you didn't essentially have that social life. Who were your sources? When you say "work your sources," who were they?

Leary: The housing people a lot. And I had some social life with them and that led me to people, a couple of fellows I dated for quite a while, the poll taker guy was one. So I was making friends among the sources. Also I had this sort of Catholic mode. Gordon O'Neil, editor of the Catholic paper, would take me out to dinner every now and then. I'd built up my social friendships.

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And when the editors got into a crusade for mass rapid transit, BART, I was writing that over a considerable time and our paper was the only one pushing for rapid transit through many stages. By the time they began doing the planning, it was the first time any regional planning had been ever done in the Bay Area. I got very involved with some of the planning people and discovered that they were very interesting sources. I knew some of them at the University of California in Berkeley. And Catherine — wait a minute, I'll think of her name in a little bit — who married an architect, Bill Wurster. Catherine Bauer — came as a housing expert to work for the San Francisco Housing Authority. She was someone I just liked instantly. I remember doing an interview with her the day she arrived and she became a good friend among the many housing people that I knew. And then ultimately her husband taught at U.C. Berkeley and designed the School of Architecture at the university — which I don't like, it has all of the equipment exposed, you know, the pipes and all this. But then my husband and her husband became friends and we had some social life together. There, there was some continuity.

There were a couple of lawyers that sometimes I went out with. But basically there still were some Stanford friends around and I would see them. One of them was teaching at San Francisco State and then he married and I saw them a lot, I liked her.

Biagi: You created your own group.

Leary: Yes. I was never sure of a group, never really felt that I could always know what I was going to be doing on each weekend. Well, and then as I began writing politics, of course, I would be busy on weekends, there would be political stuff going on. And I would be socializing with the politicians, so that developed, until I met my husband.

But if this is answering what you are looking for, yes, I kind of felt that I didn't know how to make my way into the newspaper crowd as a social group. I think they felt, since I came out of graduate school at Stanford with a degree and all that — what's a master's degree these days? Nothing! — that I didn't belong, either.

Then I began trying to do some writing on weekends and got into doing a little bit of magazine work and got strongly encouraged to do that. And I ran into what I still find, the difficulty of making yourself sit down and write, after you've done a full day's work. It's easy to do if that's the main thing you're doing, but not as easy to do if you're trying to do it on top of everything else. But I had a couple of pieces in the Saturday Evening Post while I was on this kind of regular city side reporting. I wrote a profile of Roger Lapham who was mayor then. Lapham had represented the shipowners' side during the big waterfront strike in the thirties and he decided to negotiate with Harry Bridges and had brought about peace on the waterfront. He understood San Francisco and he ran for mayor and was elected. I liked him and I spent a lot of time interviewing him — I had really no idea what I was doing or how to do it. I overwrote the profile and they all were mad at me back at the Post because they had to do so much cutting. But then my editors still are like that, I overwrite.

Biagi: You do?

Leary: Yes, I put in all I know. Tend to. Then I go back and try to cut it out.

Biagi: When you sit down to write a story, we talked, we started to a little bit just about how you write, or how you wrote then and how you write now.

Leary: Well, I'm not awfully good about outlining. I have to know a story and have all my questions about it answered before I can write it. And I know that I put too much work in on developing background. I just did a story about the use of compressed natural gas in motor vehicles. Just because I don't know very much about how they run on gasoline, I had a lot to learn. But I kept talking to more people and more people and I thought to myself, "You could have stopped — three days ago and written about it," if I had just a little bit easier, lighter way of writing.

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I'm not an awfully good writer and know that, acknowledge it, at least to myself. I feel hypocritical when I tell people I'm a writer.

Biagi: You do? Why?

Leary: Because I'm a reporter.

Biagi: Is that right?

Leary: I can write and once in a while I write something that turns out to be pretty — reads well. But I find that the thing that I'm after is the pursuit of the essence of the subject and the truth and what is this, really? And I dog it until I feel that I really know this story. Then I write down, not in outline but I write down what are the main points I really want to bring out, bat them off on the typewriter. And then I get into the lead. By this time I begin to know what quote will probably be the tail end of the story and what I really want to use, what somebody said but I don't like the way he said it. Talk to him again and get him to say it a different way.

I use the phone an awful lot now, but I did before. They always kidded me in the office about how much I telephoned and so did my husband — he wasn't always kidding. And I'd say, "I'm not talking, I'm listening." I know how to find sources, I mean I know how to go after a story, and I find a challenge still in approaching something — like compressed natural gas as a motor vehicle fuel — and you know nothing about it and it's fun then, to start finding out who does know and where you go and developing new leads on who to talk to. It's a game. And that I found surprisingly satisfying, as I was reporting. So that kept me hooked. Do you know what I mean about that?

Biagi: Oh, I sure do. What about the writing then, is that more fun than the reporting?

Leary: Once in a while it becomes very exciting — I mean once in a while, how to put it together. I have never had a light style — I envy people who can just make it kind of come together so easily — but I'm terribly conscious of trying to make it clear and trying to convey the point that I'm trying to make. I try hard to put personality into — to get a human being involved in the story. And I work on my vocabulary, to some extent and I work on trying — I'm afraid that I do a lead about four or five times. Today I write a story three times, really. I write it first and then probably turn it all the way around and redo it and put things in a different place. Sometimes I do it with the scissors, cutting and just changing it around, so that I would do fine if I had a computer/word processor. But basically I need to put down what it is I'm trying to say and then to say, "All right, you haven't said it interestingly enough. Start over again." And when I get through, I find I've done it three times.

Interestingly, when I was back in Washington one time with Scripps-Howard people, they were trying to talk me into working back there — they said, "Anybody on our staff usually does a story three times." That's what it takes, they found — they're writing, not for a single outlet but for multiple outlets and had to make the story convey something to all these different communities. In a way, that was kind of good training for the Economist because they have to look at this broader audience.

Scripps-Howard did urge me to work in Washington for them. And I don't know why —

Biagi: This would have been at what time in your life that you —

Leary: Right after I was at Harvard.

Biagi: The Nieman?

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Leary: Yes. When I was back as a Nieman which was '45-46. I felt — all right, I'd had a year living in the East then, in Cambridge, and was fascinated by learning a new part of the world and loved Boston and found New York exciting and all that and Washington. But I felt I was a Westerner and wanted to come back to the West. And I just felt so strongly that I didn't want to be part of that scene back there in Washington. Today I would think maybe that was a terrible mistake to have not stayed there. Of course, it was an act of Providence because I came back and the next year met my husband.

But at that time it was consciously that I felt I was part of the West and understood the West and wanted to write about the West. So that's why I — anybody would say, "Turn down the chance to work in Washington? That's dumb."

[End Tape 2, Side B; Begin Tape 3, Side A]

Leary: Whatever is there to talk about? Garbage?

One time when FDR was coming to town, there was going to be a parade, I think I was out watching with the cameraman to catch something of him when he was starting or something like that. And the photographer said to me, "Gee, I got a compliment for you. The boss was out" — this was Burkhardt, the editor — "asking all around the city room who did the story on the garbage rates. And Dick Chase said you did it. He said, 'Why that's marvelous, that's one of the best stories we've had in a long time.'"

New garbage rates were going to be set by the Board of Supervisors. I just asked how come they set them that way, who has the authority to and what are they related to, how do they figure it out. I kept asking these questions and I put it in a story. That was the first time they'd reported the process by which garbage rates got set. So that was kind of fun.

You were talking about by-lines. The first by-line I got was when they sent me down to the railroad station, as we got sent to meet arriving celebrities in those days, to meet Connie Mack. And again it was one of those occasions when the city editor, looking around the room and who is there to send, and I'm sitting at my desk and none of the fellows were around. So I went down with the cameraman. A whole horde of reporters was gathered, most of them were sports writers. I knew Connie Mack managed a team from Philadelphia, whatever its name was, I don't know, Philadelphia baseball team, Connie Mack. I knew the name, anyway.

It turned out it was Good Friday and there were lots of questions and he did a lot of discussing about baseball which I took notes on but — and then he said, "Anybody here know where there's a Good Friday service?" And yes, I said, "I do." And he said, "Is it anywhere near downtown?" I said, "Sure, just a little ways." He said, "Come with us." And his wife was with him. And we got a cab — and I don't remember whether he stopped at the hotel first and unloaded his luggage and we went to old St. Mary's where I happened to know the schedule and knew that they had a Three Hours' Devotion. And so on the way I — what do I talk to him about? I had no idea what to talk to him about. And I looked at his hands and they looked like my grandfather's hands, the knuckles were all swollen and big. And I said, "You have hands like my grandfather." And he said, "Yes, that's from playing baseball, sandlot baseball before we had mitts." And he said, "Nearly all of my fingers have been broken." And he said he used to play — and he went on talking a bit about when, as a kid when he started playing baseball. And so then we left him and his wife at church and I came back with — oh, and he said, "I'll pay the cab for you to go back." Those little gratuities were so nice.

I got up in the office; what am I writing? I have all my notes about what he talked about but I thought, well — so I wrote about his hands and how almost every single finger was broken and what he remembered about playing ball himself when he started. And so the fellows thought this was great and I got a by-line on page one. But what I learned from it was that you have to start from your own experience and approach a story out of what you do know for learning what you don't know.

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And I thought of it sometimes because, you know, you go into something that you don't have any idea about and just ask ordinary silly questions and it leads you somewhere.

Biagi: Was there anybody at the paper who worked with you who particularly took an interest in you or did you really have to make your own way?

Leary: Oh, two or three of them really tried hard. Morton Sontheimer, who was news editor, who went on to New York and did some writing and then became a PR for Puerto Rico and helped build that up. And Sonty, as he was known, really did a lot of encouraging. A couple of people who were not even on the paper but who read stuff of mine very strongly encouraged me — one Frank — and I can't think of Frank's last name, who did a lot of magazine writing. And I was beginning to do quite a few feature type stories, about welfare and so forth, and — I wish I could remember his last name, maybe it will come to me before we're through. He was writing a lot and published a lot and he called me in to his office which wasn't too far from the News and sat down with me and urged me to write, that I could do this, and I could build it up into other outlets, such as doing magazine work, too, and so forth. He gave me a lot of encouragement.

I would say — well, Paul Edwards whom I mentioned, the Stanford guy — unworthily I later wore his title of associate editor. His daughter right now is pulling some of his writings together into a book. He died quite some time ago. And she's called me and wanted to talk to me and I was too sick, so I said later. She sent me a piece that he'd written I never knew about, about me.

Biagi: Is that right?

Leary: But he was a very big help, really. Mostly by his responsiveness. Now, the reason would be that when I was writing politics I would talk to him about what I thought we might editorially take a stand on. And I've never known whether I exceeded proper limits for a reporter, whether other reporters do this. Some of them were editorializing in their stories. But if I felt that something was really outrageous or something really strongly worth responding to — I'd call the office almost two or three times a week to say, you'll see this going on and I think the guy's a crook, dammit, and here's a line we might take and so forth. Or positively on something else.

There's a lot of discussion about whether a reporter — how much intervention a reporter should have into editorial policy. I find most reporters when I talk to them about it just feel there should be absolute separation, let the editorial writers make their way but don't ever encourage them or give them — if they ask you, okay, but not to venture suggestions — maybe writing politics is sort of different because it gets to be so close to a paper's editorial approach.

Biagi: So you felt, then, going every once in a while and calling —

Leary: Yes, I did, of saying — I didn't always get a result but I would say, I think this is something we should look at and think about or something, and if you want to know more about it, may I get you what facts you need, further than in my stories? But I'd talk to other reporters who said, "Look, let them get what they need out of the stories I've written and that's all I'm going to give them. If they take their own editorial stance, that's fine. I'm not part of it." Maybe again that's part of feeling part of the whole paper but I'm not sure. I'm not even sure whether it was proper of me, but I did it.

Biagi: You mentioned to me you really felt part of the team. You really felt part of a group working.

Leary: Yes.

Biagi: Why do you think that was? Why do you think that happened?

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Leary: Oh, I think that must have been the kind of a thing that Burkhardt as editor got into the staff. He was prior to his death, prior to his last days, and prior to my knowing him, he had a reputation of being just a terrific editor. And I think he was innovative and excited about the paper. I think he built up an esprit. Now, there were some on the paper who kind of laughed about it having a kind of a Boy Scout attitude or trying to go out and save the world. And others outside the paper sometimes kidded about that.

But I have since — at a couple of parties where old News hands have gotten together, with Harry Press. You know Harry? This isn't something Harry would say but some of the other reporters have said we were awfully lucky to be on that paper, that was a remarkable paper, we had such freedom. A reporter could bring in a story and say, how about this? You were encouraged to show initiative and get your own stories. And the whole world was there to write about, you didn't have to feel we're going to write about big business or even that we're just writing about labor. We could write about lots of things. It was more open and more full of invitation.

And this was a little bit before the war I'm talking about and I think after the war. During the war there was never — you didn't have time to think about policy or anything, just worked like mad, and so shorthanded that you were just writing all kinds of stuff. But after the war, the tragedy with the News was that after the war, when there should have been the most support from the business side to take an honest look at what's going to happen now to circulation and advertising, instead of that they sent as business — editor, business, whatever, head of the business side — a man who was very ill who immediately went down to Palm Springs and sat in the sun. And we had nobody except when the editor, Clarvoe then, was scrambling to figure out not only the editorial side but also the business side.

And then later on, Frank Ford came and Frank said — as editor — he said, "We have a chance to move into the Peninsula, there's a paper we could buy quite inexpensively and we could enlarge this whole area and save our circulation." And instead of having anybody to support him on that from the business point of view, in the East with Roy Howard, by that time I guess Jack Howard, it was all just no, no, we can't spend any money, no! Whereas if somebody really good on the business side had been here, he could have argued about it and made it work. And that's what they should have done. Instead of that, they stayed in San Francisco and got eaten up by the Shopping News and so forth.

Biagi: Let's go back to this team idea as it existed. What did you feel your role was as a member of that team? What was your job?

Leary: To find out what was going on in San Francisco, whatever little area I got hold of that day, to find out what was important that was going on and to tell people so they could either appreciate it or change it or react to it or something like that. I'm not sure I know why this incident comes to mind right now, but I remember when the first black was hired by the Muni Railway. He was a guy who had a degree from Cal [University of California] and it was the only job that he could find and he came out number one on the exam and they had to hire him. And the rest of the Muni employees — I don't remember whether they actually went on strike but there was a very violent reaction. And while that might have surprised me because I didn't have any kind of innate sense of racial hostility, what really shocked me was that most of the reporters joined with the rest in attitude, joined with the rest of the Muni streetcar guys and felt that he shouldn't have been hired. And I was outraged. Now, I didn't upbraid anybody publicly but it made me want to write more about racial discrimination because I just felt — I just felt that was so senseless and unbelievable, I could not believe that reporters could share that attitude.

When I got interested in the death penalty and — oh, I guess that's a case in which I really talked the editorial writers into a position — well, that's maybe unfair, maybe they didn't need that, because we became at that time the first paper in the state to come out against the death penalty. A lot of the reporters would come over to me and say, "What did you get on this kick for, Mary Ellen? That's stupid. Of course we'd have to execute some of those bums." And again I was — what was I setting out to do? Do I make my own judgment about what was important?

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I guess that's kind of it, trying to find out what was going on and what seemed important that people should know about.

Biagi: Was it part of your role to decide what was the right thing to do?

Leary: I hate to say it but I think probably some of that was there. But I think honestly I felt to bring it out and to bring out another point of view than the prevailing one. I still am not positive from society's point of view whether executions may be a good thing; I don't know. But somehow the feeling, almost unanimous, "let's execute 'em, it does something healthy for society" appalls me and I would like to at least get that subject aired and thought about and argued out a little bit more.

Biagi: What about other social issues? What do you see as the newspaper's role, the press's role in society?

Leary: To discern what is new, what's developing in society, where we're going, our culture or our public life, our governmental relationship to human beings, to discern it and to examine it, to hold it up, to try to bring questions out for public awareness, not to say this is right or this is wrong — leave that to the editorial writers! — but to say: This is something that's happening. And I still try to do that, to watch what is it that's going on that is really new and is it important, does it matter to people, and if so, tell about it. And what happens from then on, that's not so much my role or important for me to work on it, to just point out what's new, what's changing.

For instance, in the homeless situation, I find this public reaction of "sweep 'em off the streets and get 'em out of sight" is really only one of the things that's happening. Another thing that's happening, which is invisible, is that a lot of the organizations that have had a little hostel or a place there for them to sleep are beginning to get together and organize and there's a much more intelligent movement towards a social structure rather than just the need for housing. By coming together there's much more of a regional interchange of understanding and ideas. I sense something new happening in that very effort to create a structure which will deal with a very big social problem which we don't have a structure to deal with. And I find that worth writing about quite as much as the "move 'em out of Civic Center."

Does that tell you what you're —

Biagi: Yes. I was also wondering, though, I think it was your relatives when you went home and you told them that you were a reporter and they said that's not a very important job. Why did you say it was an important job? What was important about what you were doing?

Leary: Oh, I've always felt that if you can explain to people what's happening in the world that that's two-thirds of the way toward government. And what you're trying to do is to bring people to a comprehension so they can deal with things. Not that you're going to tell them how, but that this is something that's needs to be dealt with. And maybe the homelessness is an example of that. To dwell on it as a social issue which has to be confronted, you can't just sweep it off into another neighborhood. I try to find out what are some of the ideas people have about how to deal with it. Centers for employment and centers for detox and so forth. You find people who are actually dealing with the homeless have some quite interesting ideas about things that are needed, even more than money, I mean things that are needed in the way of help. And I feel that is a part of government in a sense, a part of government that is not elected and not voted but is a part of keeping a democracy going.

And I have no idea why I got onto that. But I think reporting has a value. I don't think I could have stayed with it if I didn't think it had. And it may be because it got me into writing about politics that I felt this, maybe that naturally led me to writing about politics. But even when I'm not writing about politics, when I'm writing about pressurized natural gas in automobiles — well, I've always been interested in alternate fuels and the whole business about utilities and how they're regulated and how the consumer's voice can be brought to them. That sort of thing has always interested me.

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Biagi: Let's go back to 1939. That's where we were. And we're in lofty places now but we'll go back to the practical which is in the forties. And you're in the newsroom, general assignment, essentially you said developing, as the war started, kind of a war department beat.

Leary: Yes, war agencies. There were all these —

Biagi: How did that come about?

Leary: Well, the first thing of importance on the civilian front was the regulation of prices and wages and everything else. And then the manpower agency trying to steer people into jobs where people were needed. But OPA, the Office of Price Administration, was a key thing. And I guess that came about by just the city desk saying how much butter are we going to be allowed or how much coffee can we get next month. And you certificates were issued for gas — I didn't have a car myself but I knew that that was the key question for everybody. And so I began going to OPA and talking to people there and found very good sources such as Barbara Armstrong — fine people who later on became law professors and good longtime friends, actually.

And I remember one of the early problems in which I could just see how the story developed. The farmers around here were going mad because they couldn't find out how much they could charge for asparagus, how much the canners were going to be able to charge. And they were growing asparagus and they wanted to find out how much they could sell it for and the canners couldn't tell them until the government in Washington told them how much they were going to allow them to sell it for, next year. And this would be in about the end of January. And everybody in Washington said, "Well, don't bother us about that, wait till the crops come in the summertime." And they were saying, "Look at this, asparagus is going to be ripe in about a month and they have to know the price structure early, canners have to announce how much they will pay the farmers."

And I got kind of fascinated by the time problem which nobody in Washington could comprehend. There's an awful lot of asparagus grown in the Bay Area, a lot of it in the delta. So this guy that tipped me on this problem gave me a lot of the details and the specifics about it and what last year's price had been and problems with that and so forth, and canners going broke because they couldn't manage it at that price. And so I got a good story out of that, with Washington people saying it's crazy.

But that led to other things. Really it was because the city desks recognized that the big domestic stsories concerned how much gasoline people are going to be allowed next month and so forth, and what the price of it's going to be, and butter. I had a little grocery store half a block from my place, where I would buy whatever I needed at the last minute because I was always buying at the last minute, never doing the sensible thing, going to Safeway or something. And so took a cameraman in there one time when — I don't know, butter or something we were talking about that was going to be rationed and hadn't been before that — and we took the store owner's picture with whatever this item was. And boy, after that, I never had any problems with rationing for anything in the grocery store.

But we had rent control, rents were frozen in San Francisco, too — how widely in the area, I'm not sure. Those were the stories people lived by. It meant more to them than even battles going on. And those were days in which you could take a stack of newspapers as high as your shoulders out on the corner of Market Street and they would be gone in about a half an hour because everyone wanted to read about the war. Maybe they didn't all want to read about the OPA [Office of Price Administration], what it was doing, but that helped. I remember gas limitations were so severe that as kind of a good PR stunt the News hired, I think, three or four horse-drawn buggies and delivered a lot of their papers to their local districts with them. Of course, it made a good image. But it also — it was imaginative to do, saved that much gas.

Biagi: How did the war itself change reporting?

Leary: Well, it took away the reporters. I mean, it was just astonishing — and of course, what it did was change newspaper opportunities for women. The whole climate of the paper, the whole inside operation

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changed because all your key people who were young were just gone. Some who were over-age or had kids and couldn't get called nevertheless volunteered. But apart from the photographers, every department just lost men and all of the young leg men who could get out on a story and hustle just were gone. And all over town, everyplace. So the opportunities open to a woman were just totally new.

One of the funny things was that for the first time you had women — girls — as copy boys. And we sometimes — one of the fellows kind of liked going out at night and picking up a couple of chicks and we would sometimes wonder if the new copy girl wasn't somebody who came in because the night before she had said, "Oh, you work on a newspaper, I'd like to work on a newspaper." We had a few of them who came in, in high heels and —

Biagi: They were copy girls?

Leary: Yes, became copy girls. And they had to run up this steel — one of these winding stairs, dangerous as could be, everybody in the city room, partly watching the skirts fly and partly waiting for her to fall down and so forth.

Biagi: How many would you say left, essentially, or percentagewise among newsroom men? What did it look like after they were gone?

Leary: Well, they would then try to hire and you'd get a few old replacements.

Biagi: Men?

Leary: All men. All the replacements. But I have a plaque down in my basement which has all the names of the people from the News — and I'm trying to think, it must be about — from our office it must have been about sixteen which made a big dent.

Biagi: Sixteen reporters?

Leary: Reporters, yes.

Biagi: Were they all replaced by women or were they —

Leary: No, there were a lot of them just not replaced. I remember one time — I think it was Joe Sheridan sitting as the city editor at that time — said, "I'll hire anybody who's smart enough to find this office, strong enough to climb the stairs, and sober enough to come into the city room." Anybody!

Biagi: So it was a sense of desperation at that time.

Leary: Oh, very much so, about how to get the paper out. How much could you do? And you'd be writing all those silly little eight-head things of such-and-such a meeting or this-and-that, little tiny things, big flock of these to be written, and you'd write them just as fast as you could — I mean things that normally you wouldn't bother with, when you were working on a story you're not going to pay attention to that stuff. But everybody pitching in to try to do what you could.

I'm trying to think of what — the financial page became even more important, the financial department, because of the impact of the war on the economy. We didn't have economists writing or much news about what was called the economy then but boy, there was an awful lot on what happened to business. And some of that was city side news but much of it — the finance news became very critical.

Biagi: Did it open up any opportunities for women as editors?

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Leary: Not much as editors. But for women — I'm trying to see if I can remember. A friend of mine, Ruth Teiser, was hired on the finance page. About three more women came onto the paper — and good ones. We did a good job on the city side.

Biagi: What were their names?

Leary: One was Jane Sudekim. She was on the paper a long time, then married. Her last name was McClelland then. She set up a very successful public relations office in San Jose. Mary Crawford was a whiz of a reporter, covering Marin some of the time and San Quentin prison. Dorothy Walker was an excellent woman's editor. Helen Civelli Brown moved from city side to head the women's department. Also on the city side: Eloise Dungan. They did not last as long. In the women's department the News had outstanding, capable women: music critic, Marjory Fisher; Society, Blanche Burnett; drama, Emilia Hodel; fashion, Theodocia Stavrum. One of the best reporting on city side rewrite: Jane Conant, originally on the Call-Bulletin. The type of stories that women were allowed to do also expanded a great deal. Even though I was doing government-related stories — like I did garbage rates — even though I was doing welfare stories and education and juvenile issues, there was a kind of a feeling among editors that that was all right. I wasn't doing a lot of crime or street violence or automobile coverage or various areas in which we would automatically think that's not a woman's field, that's a man's field. I think I still was being kind of categorized on the city desk for a limited range of assignments even though I found the stories rich and full of interest to readers. But surely what most significantly happened, of course, was that I got to write politics, and very unexpectedly.

I had been doing the federal stories and moving from OPA into — there was an awful lot of federal government policy being established about a lot of different things — manpower, all kinds of, well, even onto utility rates and that sort of thing. And agriculture was very much impacted and I began writing some water stories. Well, I was out on a story and I don't even know who was on the desk but somebody, I called in to give the story, whatever it was. You'd call the city desk first so that he'd know — it was always he — although actually at that time the Los Angeles Hearst paper, I think it was, had a woman city editor. You may know about her. And she was tough and good. I never met her but I heard a lot about her.

But anyway, you'd call in to the desk, you'd always check into the desk first so that he'd know what the story amounted to. You could say, "The fire is out and nobody is hurt and it's a dumb little thing and it's not worth a story." And he'd say, "Come on in." But I called in and he said, "By the way, when you get in the office, come and see me." And I thought, "Oh, now what have I done?" And he said, "I was talking to Frank Clarvoe to assign you to write politics." Just like that.

So our political editor had been — it was Brooke Clyde and he had left to go, not into the military but into the Office of War Information and he had a key job. A lot of the departures were of that nature, people moving into government posts where they could be helpful in the war effort. So I started out.

You asked me about people who helped me. Art Caylor was a columnist for many, many, many years and he wrote engagingly and charmingly, quite a different style from Herb Caen, but you felt the flavor of the city in what he was writing and often it was more around a central story, not just dot-dot-dot stuff. But Caylor, who had been a reporter for a long time apparently had worked with Burkhardt on another paper and Burkhardt brought him here after he became editor. Caylor was an awfully good newspaperman. And he probably did more to guide me and encourage me on the paper than anybody else. He sat down with me and said, "Look, you're going up there to the State Capitol where everybody writing politics has been there for" — I think the minimum then was nine years was the youngest, the Examiner guy had been there only nine years.

Biagi: And "there," he meant Sacramento.

Leary: Sacramento, yes. And Behrens from the Chronicle, Squire Behrens, Earl Behrens, had been reporting since World War I. Well, Don Thomas from the Tribune — no, he was the youngest, he'd been there six years. And Royal Jimerson [R. W. Jimerson] was the Examiner guy. And the L.A. Times man — whose name I ought to be able to say.

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The Sacramento Bee guy, Pete Philips [Herbert L. Philips], had been there twenty-two years or something like that. So Caylor said, "You're up against that kind of competition. They all know more than you'll ever know. They all know all the background about everybody up there and they understand the pressures that are being exerted. You won't know any of that. So just go in and write what you see. Look around and observe as much as you can and just write it, starting with your ignorance, just write it."

And I took his advice and my first story, I guess, up there, or one of them, was to tell what the chambers looked like and where people sat and what the rules were about getting on the floor and this kind of thing. And I was inclined to do a "Day in the Life of —"

[End Tape 3, Side A, Begin Tape 3, Side B]

Leary: — covered, I guess, was '44. But let me see. So I must have gone up in '43 — I mean presidential campaign. Is that Wendell Willkie, I think. In '36 I can remember in the city room hours and hours at night answering the telephone with people calling up because in those days it was the newspapers they turned to for information on the elections.

Biagi: In '40?

Leary: Yes, and in '40 — I don't remember.

Biagi: So was that '42-'43?

Leary: It must have been '43.

Biagi: At this point, are you thirty-one?

Leary: How old was I? No, no, no.

Biagi: My math —

Leary: Maybe I was. Yes, I was, about. Born in 1913.

Biagi: Your thirties.

Leary: Well, all right.

Biagi: Was anybody saying to you now, "Mary Ellen, why don't you settle down and have a family, why aren't you married?"

Leary: Oh, they were saying that all the time.

Biagi: Who is "they"?

Leary: Oh, my family. And my dad was worried about me, you know. What's going to happen to her? And I'm sure my Aunt Jo was practically praying, "Where's that nice Catholic young man?" I had guys in pursuit, stories I haven't told my children. And a number of them were sufficiently interesting that I felt — oh, I guess some satisfaction in one's need for companionship. And some of them, a couple of them insisted they were in love and so forth. But I wasn't. Fond of, but not in love. So I had a fairly busy life as far as my emotional needs were concerned — if not satisfying, at least busy.

And I think time went by without my kind of counting it as much as I might have. By the time I went back to Harvard I was beginning to worry but actually the — yes, lots of people, for instance there's

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Gordon O'Neil, people who were older and looked at what I was doing and would say, you know, "Wait a minute, are you sure this is something you want to keep doing forever?"

And when I went up to Sacramento there a certain amount of well-intentioned efforts by either some of the press or the legislators to say, "Hey, Mary Ellen, there's an awfully nice Catholic guy who's the senator from so-and-so. Take a look at him, you know. Don't just write a story about him, take a look at him." And a couple of these recommended guys were so dull that I couldn't believe it.

I think what distracted me from a desire for marriage was the fact that there were these episodic changes in assignment. I mean first the whole war, and it sounds, compared to the war front covering these domestic beats was so insignificant. But on the other hand, it was very — it was an exciting new world for me getting into where the government was regulating so darn much in private life. A whole new range of people to know. It was very challenging, there was that. And then to move into the whole coverage of politics was for me very exciting. Yet looking at all these guys who'd been doing it all their lives, there were moments when I thought, "I don't want to do it for thirty years."

But I found enough satisfactions and I did have, I guess, the comfort of some associations with men who were assiduous and interested. So that I wasn't worried about the future although my family and I guess that some of my close friends were. "When is she going to get married, find the right guy?" And, as I say, up until I went back to Harvard — and I think the fact that I was alone, separated there from familiar relationships. My colleague, fellow — woman back there was Charlotte Fitzhenry. Charlotte was engaged. She was from Chicago, had been with AP. And she was engaged. Her husband died just this last year. I had a feeling of everybody in my Nieman class being identified with, you know, the important other. And I felt as I never have when working, I felt a kind of aloneness.

Biagi: But that was a few years later. What year did you go to —

Leary: '45.

Biagi: '45. So it was two years after —

Leary: After I started covering politics. And I was at Harvard thanks to Bob Elliott who was a reporter on the paper who had been general assignment and then finance specialist and then he became the one who wrote most in this state about the impact of the war on California's economy and the growth of the war industries and where that was going to take us — and sort of was picked up by Henry Kaiser. And he became a good friend of Kaiser's and ultimately left the paper and worked with Kaiser. Bob, by virtue of what he was writing about the state's economy — and I mentioned that we didn't have economists, well, the war woke us up into looking at the broader picture of finance and he was writing a great deal about the aviation industry and what it was doing in California's economy and what the future was.

When he was back as a Nieman, he lobbied for acceptance of a woman and he did it on my behalf. He said they ought to include a woman. And when he came back urged me right away to apply. And I did apply and didn't get it, didn't get chosen. And then the next —

Biagi: Were you at war then?

Leary: Yes. And then he urged me again, do it again, do it again. And I thought that was kind of foolish but he said no, go ahead. Well, he was talking to people back and forth, especially Louis Lyons who was the curator of the Nieman fellowship. And they felt, what with the war and changes in society it was high time. And by that time, Harvard was bringing Radcliffe women onto its campus in classes — during the war, anyway, in order to keep the numbers up. And there was enough female presence around so that they thought that they should and Bob made a strong pitch. And there were other women applicants.

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Biagi: Now, in '44 you applied and you weren't accepted but no other women —

Leary: No, no women were accepted.

Biagi: And was Bob at the News? Where did you know Bob?

Leary: Yes, he was at the News. He was a reporter on the News. First human being to cross the Bay Bridge. He went across on girders.

Biagi: Okay. I wanted to clarify that. So then in '45 you applied and Charlotte also.

Leary: Yes, I think a number of women applied and Charlotte was chosen at that time, along with me. That was because she had a good background. She covered the stock exchange and other assignments and did stories — a lot of city planning.

Biagi: You were the first two, then.

Leary: Yes.

Biagi: And you were the only two that year.

Leary: That's right.

Biagi: In the class of — how many Nieman fellowships?

Leary: I think there were twelve. And Louis Lyons told me that [James Bryant] Conant, who was president, said to him, "Well, if we admit a woman, we have to have two because they'll go around the campus together like two nuns," which was so funny because of course we never were together except when we were at a Nieman meeting. But he was very hesitant about the idea of admitting a woman. "What will they do? What will they be interested in? What will they do when you have meetings?"

Biagi: What did you do and what were you interested in and what did you do when they had meetings? Tell me.

Leary: When they had meetings, Charlotte and I had tea and they had beer.

Biagi: You're kidding, is that right?

Leary: No, really, I didn't like beer and didn't want beer.

Biagi: But you could have had beer.

Leary: I could have had, oh, yes. And when we had dinner meetings, we all had drinks. But in the afternoon, I didn't want any beer.

What I did — in applying you have to write what you want to do and what you think it will do for your career and so forth. And I wanted background in government and got some absolutely marvelous classes. I took a course from Pound, I think we discussed this before —

Biagi: Ezra Pound?

Leary: — I found him so exciting, yes. It was on the elements of common law. And I guess I must have absorbed some of this interest in law from my father and the lawyers in my family, my uncle and so forth.

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But he would just lecture, just go on, and the class found that he was really just reciting his book. And so they would try to interrupt him and sidetrack him because he became more interesting when they got him off of that. And I said it was so fascinating and some of the other Niemans came to the class and they said, "This is the dullest stuff I ever heard. [I'll] never go back there."

They were all taking different studies. A couple of them in science were way over my head. It was a wonderfully exciting year because there were some great physics people at Harvard who would come and talk to us. I learned the future of space flights and having stationary stations up in outer space —

Biagi: How unbelievable!

Leary: Yes. Nobody knew that the Russians would beat us at how long we could stay up there. And we had discussions about going to the moon.

Charlotte wanted to take special courses on city planning or urban planning. And I wanted to do work particularly on a really academic background on government. I took a look at all the classes they had at the — a very good school on practical government functions and I went around and listened to a few of the classes and it was just the stuff I'd been covering. It was how city councils work and the legislative process. And I tried to take a course in economics, the elementary economics, and I simply couldn't cope with it. It was too — I don't know whether it was too mathematical and I didn't know the terminology. One day the professor walked in and said, "Oh, I made a total mistake yesterday. The sketch that I drew on the blackboard of how things were going is all wrong," and that was the last day I went to that class.

But I found that I was fascinated by very high-level graduate classes in economics and public policy — where I didn't have to do the math. So I took them. A number of those classes, top-level economic analysis in terms of governmental policy.

And then there was a professor who taught about cultural changes and immigration and the impacts of immigration and that fascinated me, even though most of his research had been on the Boston area so that it was heavily about Boston.

Biagi: You had a feeling of many people there having significant others.

Leary: Yes.

Biagi: You said there was a moment or at least a time that you thought about it.

Leary: Yes, I began to think that, gee whiz, I wish I'd find the right guy. And I actually had not considered myself — considered marriage, I thought I could kind of float along in this happy life with somebody or other saying, "As soon as you get back from that trip, let's have dinner." But I realized that there was another element that I was missing and began — I didn't spend a lot of time worrying about it but I began to wish about it. So that predisposed me. But actually it was then '46. I came back, came back to an intense campaign, a city-wide recall campaign against the mayor I'd done the profile on.

Biagi: The mayor, anyway.

Leary: Yes, the mayor. Roger Lapham. And gee, I had to plunge into that immediately. And I got awfully busy getting kind of caught up. On the way, I had stopped at Washington. I had stopped a couple of places that Scripps-Howard had talked about. In New York I met the Scripps-Howard people that I thought I ought to know,

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as long as I was back there. And the general atmosphere was, you've been back to Harvard, you're wrecked as a reporter, now you'll never be any good to us.

Biagi: Why did they feel that?

Leary: Oh, they felt that rough, tough newspaper people, you couldn't get into that Ivy League stuff, they don't know what's going on in the world, and you'll be spoiled. And the Herald-Tribune guy who had — whose name I can't say right now —

Biagi: The New York Herald-Tribune?

Leary: Yes. Who'd been out in California during a political campaign, I guess during the '44 one, and had been out a couple of other times and always looked me up. Eastern reporters would frequently come around and look you up to find out what was going on, what the background was on this story. And he said, "Stop by and see me, I think we'd like to have you come and work for us." And he was head of the Washington bureau.

So it was a day in which there was some — I was flying into Washington and there was some kind of a problem with the airport and the plane that we were in had a flying pattern to hold for about an hour and they didn't land. And he had told me, "The minute you get in, call, because I'm about to leave on vacation." So I missed him. And I thought, "Well, there went —" But I told the Scripps-Howard people in Washington that I had been invited for an interview with the Herald-Tribune and they said, "Oh, well, if you're going to think about Washington, you've got to come here and anything they offer you, we'll beat. You come here and work for us." And that's the point at which I decided, "No, I'm a Westerner, I don't want to be in this game."

Anyway, I came back to San Francisco and was trying to catch up and find out what was going on politically.

Biagi: And you did come back to Sacramento.

Leary: Yes. But of course I lived in San Francisco and would go up to Sacramento. The sessions weren't quite as long then as they have been lately.

Biagi: I forgot that, yes.

Leary: And basically at first when I began, they were every two years. And so then they got every year but they were not nearly as long.

Biagi: And you'd stay at the Senator Hotel, is that right?

Leary: Yes. Stayed at the Senator, right.

Biagi: That would be about, what, six months a year or so?

Leary: Roughly from, you'd go up January right away and be there until maybe early July. With some breaks and be back home on weekends and so forth. I remember I had a hard time keeping up with my utility bills. I'd come back and I'd be too tired to look at the mail.

'45, '46, and I came back up to Sacramento in '47. I didn't meet Arthur until '48, the session of '48. When I came back, one of my good friends proved to be a woman who was in the district attorney's office in Alameda County, Cecile Mossbacher. She was a deputy D.A. And [Governor] Earl Warren had set up — I'm sure self-interestedly — that the Alameda County office would take on the chore of representing D.A.'s all over the state. And I guess they must have gotten supplementary work for everybody but they became kind of the lobbyist for all D.A.'s.

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And Cecile was their representative. And that was an era in which Samish was dominating.

Biagi: Artie Samish?

Leary: Artie Samish, who represented the liquor interests and was the key force in the legislature. And I really mean that because he, by swapping influence and funds, controlled — in both houses but especially the Assembly — enough votes and the speakership. So that committee assignments, you know, were pretty much what he chose. And it became very challenging to try to write about him and figure out how to. Sometimes I did just what Art Caylor said I was to do: write a story of what I saw and say, "Artie Samish with his straw hat on the back of his head sat at the back of the chamber and those who came back to talk with him were," and then ticked them off. "And of them, those who changed their votes after talking to him were—"

Biagi: Now let me ask you this: You were the only woman when you went up in '43, and the first woman that they had up there?

Leary: No, no, no. There was another woman, representing the Communist paper.

Biagi: The Daily Worker?

Leary: Yes. Mary Lindsey. A charming, very nice person. She and I were the only women up there at first. Then Maggie Ralston who had been with — was still with UPI. She'd been covering the Iowa legislature for UPI and she was assigned out here. Whether she asked for it or was assigned, I'm not sure. Anyway, she showed up in Sacramento and she's still one of my very closest friends. In fact, I'm going to dinner with her tomorrow night. Maggie is a very mild, quiet-spoken person who adores doing stories about engineering. And she ultimately went with McGraw-Hill. She came to Sacramento and we became friends, not awfully close at that time, but good friends.

Biagi: Was that in '44 then when she came?

Leary: This I can't remember whether she came after I was back or before, I can't remember which one it was.

Biagi: So a press corps of about how many people —

Leary: I can go and look it up.

Biagi: Twenty, thirty?

Leary: Twenty. The wire services and the L.A. papers and the Sacramento papers. And you had people who'd come up occasionally. We had no radio and no television people. They began to have radio interviews; people would be assigned or would come up to do one or Sacramento people would do interviews. And Behrens made it, we had a press corps kind of unit and would — rarely met but sort of vote on stuff. Big questions come along like this, how to treat the electronic media. Behrens insisted and all the others insisted that the radio guys could have their interviews, fine, but only after a press conference for print finished. And we would have, the governor would have the basic official rooms for press meetings and then Goodie Knight, as governor, would have weekly or more frequent press conferences and we'd all sit around his desk. And actually there would be not much more than fourteen sitting around his great big desk.

Biagi: And it was a press conference, it wasn't in a big room or anything.

Leary: No. It was just around his desk in his own study, as it were. A little bit more than his study, it was a kind of formal place. A little room, not too much bigger than the one we're in here.

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Major press conferences — radio interviews came afterwards. We would finish the press conference and we would leave or we'd hang around and see what developed. But basically the rule was they [broadcast reporters] couldn't interfere with us. And when they first set up larger, special rooms for press conferences with down in front the cameras for television, it was quite a change.

Biagi: I'll bet. Any form of accreditation of the press corps now?

Leary: Oh, yes.

Biagi: Any trouble getting accredited?

Leary: Well, I think it had to be a publication that everybody recognized was in business. Trouble? If there was, I don't know about it. The press group could meet about a problem of somebody that they didn't trust or consider authentic in representation. Something like that. And what you had to show, they kind of set the rules on what you had to have. You had to have a letter from your editor, and you had to have proof that that's what you were there for. Largely they were worried lest some lobbyist get somebody in who might begin interviewing people and begin getting — I mean, they were very wary about people coming in just for short term, lest they be representing a special interest.

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