[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ritchie: Okay, I think we're ready to begin.
Ludtke: Okay, go ahead. All of this is going to have to dredge up many things from my memory that hasn't been focused on this in years, so you're going to know more about it than I am.
Ritchie: Well, last time, which is almost ten months ago, that we met, we talked about the events leading up to the lawsuit, the World Series in 1977, and I thought maybe you could just briefly summarize those events to start out today.
Ludtke: During the World Series in '77, which is when the access issue came up. The events of that World Series really began the day before the World Series began, during a sort of practice day, where the teams both came out and just did batting practice and fielding practice. I just went up that afternoon to the stadium, and on my way out to the field, ran into Tommy Lasorda, who I had met when I had been working on a book with Roger Kahn the year before, so there was a remembrance between the two of us.
We got talking, and I simply mentioned to him the possibility of what would it be like if I needed to come into the locker room during any time in the Series, would that be possible? I think at that stage—I know at that stage—Billy Martin, who was the manager of the Yankees, was starting to let me in the back door of the Yankees clubhouse, so I felt that there I could at least figure that I could get some access if I needed it, so I was kind of asking Lasorda for his view.
He was walking at the time with Tommy John, who was a pitcher for the L.A. Dodgers, but also happened to be the player rep [representative] for the team, so I think he felt, "This is one I can toss right over to the player rep," which he did. He introduced me to Tommy John, and I just sort of went through introducing myself, and the question posed to him was whether I could have access and what the players would think about it. He sort of volunteered himself to go back and ask the players what they'd think about it, and let me know before the game the following day what they had said. We kind of both assumed that if the players thought it was okay, then it would be okay.
The irony is, as I think you've seen in the scrapbook, I, of course, had a pass to the World Series which enabled me to go into the locker room, so I was credentialed for it, but because it was evident that I was a woman, that credential was thus meaningless as soon as I was near the door.
Ritchie: You mention the word "credential," and I wonder how one obtains credentials. If I were go to and say I was interested in writing an article or a book, could I get credentials?
Ludtke: Yes, you apply through, I believe at the World Series it falls under the bailiwick of the Baseball Writers Association handles it, but during the year, you'd apply to the teams, wherever you were going to go to cover a game. You'd call up the public relations person and say, "I want
to come cover a game." I never had any problem, because I was working for Sports Illustrated, but I suppose if you were coming in just out of the blue and said, "I just feel like coming to the game, and I'm writing something on spec for someone," they might say, "Well, we're not going to credential you." It's certainly their right to give credentials.
Ritchie: And you would wear that tag?
Ludtke: You wear it around you so that it enables people to see that you have access to the field or to the press box or wherever. It just kind of identifies that.
So I had one that said I could go in the locker room, but it obviously was rather worthless for that.
The next day, which was a Tuesday, the first day of the World Series, I came up to the park for batting practice, and Tommy John found me and sort of said, "Come on over here for a second." We walked back to the sort of edge of the field, and he said to me, "It wasn't unanimous, but there is a majority of players who said that they feel perfectly fine having you come in, they understand what your job is, and that it would be okay. Since we work as a majority, you're more than welcome to come in after the game if you need to."
I said, "Fine. I'll just see how things go."
He said, "The one thing I'd ask you to do is to check with the public relations people"—a man named Steve Brenner, I believe, was their public relations person—"and just let him know what we've talked about," because it hadn't gone through any sort of "official channels" to do it.
So I did that, and what that set in motion, evidently, was quite a fracas, because what happened is Steve evidently then went to the commissioner's office, or he may have gone, in fact, to the Yankees and the commissioner's office as well, and said, "Here's the situation that we've possibly got after this game."
So this discussion must have gone on for several innings of the game, because by about the fourth or fifth inning, I was called upstairs to the main press box. I was sitting down in the auxiliary press box, which is down in the stands, and heard my name called over the loudspeaker's box and went up there, not quite knowing, but figuring that it must have had something to do with this, what was awaiting me.
When I got to the press box, a gentleman named Bob Wirz was there to greet me. He was, I believe, the public relations person for the commissioner's office, and he pulled me aside to tell me that whatever had been agreed to between myself and the Dodgers—and this was also to apply to the Yankees, as well—but whatever had been agreed to between myself and the Dodgers was invalid. I was not going to have access to the locker room, and it was by an edict from the commissioner [Bowie Kuhn], and that was just simply the way it was going to be.
In fact, I had no room for protest on my own, as an individual, that night, and I didn't think of calling my editors to raise a stink about it at that point. I just figured that somehow I'd mention it to them when I got back to work, which was going to be on Thursday, because Sports Illustrated's days were Thursday through Monday. So even though I was working on a Tuesday-Wednesday, it was really a day away from the office.
So that night, obviously, I didn't go in the locker room, and I didn't try to press it any further. They did say to me that the two reasons why—at least Bob Wirz said that two of the reasons why I wasn't being allowed access was because the players' wives had not been notified or asked their opinion, to which I asked him sort of rhetorically when was the last time baseball had asked players' wives about their rules. And the other excuse was that the children of the players would be ridiculed in their classrooms if this kind of thing happened.
Ritchie: What was your thinking about that?
Ludtke: Well, I thought it was ridiculous. I just thought it didn't have merit. It didn't strike me as being at the top of my list of why I would think there would be any problem with it.
Anyway, that's the way it was left, and, again, it wasn't until Thursday morning, when I got into the office—so Wednesday's game went by, and I just—in retrospect, I don't know why it is that I didn't call my baseball editor and say anything, but I think part of it was that I was just so used to this. It may be hard to imagine why I didn't separate this from sort of other things, but I'd been so used to needing the access and being denied the access, that this didn't strike me as particularly out of the ordinary in terms of the result. Maybe I should have been more aware of the process of how they came at it, and the fact that the commissioner was involved in it, and it wasn't sort of just simply a law of the land that had no person attached to it. Suddenly the commissioner was certainly involved in this. But for whatever reason, whether it was my own lack of news judgment or just feeling that it was something that could just be brought up in the course of work, that was how it was.
So Thursday morning when I got to work, the baseball editor, Peter Carey, called me almost immediately on the telephone, said, "Come on down to the office. I need to talk to you," and I hadn't even mentioned it to him yet, so I didn't know quite why he was so eager to see me.
It turns out that a mutual friend of ours, another woman sportswriter named Jane Gross, who now writes for the New York Times, not covering sports anymore, but at the time she was a sportswriter for Newsday, and she had gotten wind of this, and was a very close friend of Peter Carey's and had called him to tell him what was going on.
Ritchie: Was she actually there at the game?
Ludtke: I don't think so. I'm not sure, but I think she knew enough people, maybe someone from Newsday mentioned it to her or something, but I don't recall her being there. She never talked to me about it, but I remember Peter saying to me that it was Jane who had called him and told him. Now, Jane is more than a footnote to this, because she, herself, was the first woman sportswriter to gain access to basketball locker rooms, covering, then, at that point, the American Basketball Association, the New York Nets. Julius Erving was their star player at the time, and she was covering them.
Ritchie: And this was before?
Ludtke: This was maybe a year and a half or so before, and what happened there is it never made the headlines, because her coverage of the Nets, they just simply worked out that she would have access to the locker rooms, and, in fact, it led to an opening of the locker rooms in the National Basketball Association as well, not by lawsuit but because Commissioner Larry O'Brien saw that there was a reason to work this out, and he simply sent a message to all the clubs that this was going to be the policy. So Jane was someone who was very aware of this as an issue and, I think,
the meaning that was attached to what was happening. So she was much more astute than I was about some of the significance of this.
So Peter's message to me on Thursday morning was, "This is serious. The commissioner's basically denied you access."
My reaction was, "Well, Peter, what's new? I mean, three years I haven't had access, and no one around here's been real exercised about it. This has been the way it's been."
Ritchie: Why do you think he was concerned?
Ludtke: Well, because I think he correctly judged the fact that we now had an opportunity to act on it, whereas before we might not have had a particular sort of intersection of this supposed rule, which was discriminatory, being cited by the commissioner as a reason to exclude me. So we had an incident to which we could point.
If my memory is correct, I think the next step we did was we contacted the commissioner's office to see if, through meetings or through some kind of negotiations, we could work out something. I don't think our immediate impulse was to rush to the courts. I recall writing a letter myself to the commissioner, going through the series of events that had led to this, and I'm certain that Peter and the managing editor, a gentleman named Roy Terrell at the time, did make contact with the commissioner's office, and I think there were conversations about it.
Ritchie: So this would have been in the late fall of 1977, following the Series.
Ludtke: October, yes. But those conversations, no, I think took place during the World Series, because—
Ludtke: Yes, immediately. And the reason I'm fairly certain of that is that before the Series ended—the Series then left New York. That Thursday was an off day. It was on its way to Los Angeles. I wasn't going along on the trip to L.A. over the weekend, but it would return to New York the following Tuesday.
Ritchie: Was your not going a decision based on what had just happened?
Ludtke: No, it was the way the coverage was split, and as reporters there, one also had the duty of "checking" the stories when they came in from the writers, and the magazine closed on Sunday. So obviously I had to be in New York at that time to close it, so I was going to stay, and I think Jim Kaplan, who was the other reporter, was going to go out to L.A., and then I was going to pick it up. I was the junior baseball reporter at the time, so I would pick up the series when it came back to New York.
Between Thursday and the following Tuesday when it came back, there were enough discussions so that the commissioner's office, as their way of trying to compromise this situation to make it amenable to us, which it wasn't amenable, was to assign me a helper. He turned out to be a gentleman named Larry Schenk, who was the PR director for the Philadelphia Phillies, and his job was supposedly to be assigned to me to go into the locker room and bring players out into the corridor for me to interview.
Ritchie: As you requested them?
Ludtke: As I requested them. It was clearly not a strategy that was going to work. There are just too many reporters in that locker room who want too many of the same players for him to be able to go in and say, "Excuse me. Could you come out here?" It just was not going to work, and it didn't.
Ritchie: Were you the only woman at the time, covering?
Ludtke: No, there were other women. I'd have to say probably—this would be a total guesstimate—but at the Series, probably maybe six, eight, ten. That would be my high, something like that. This was '77.
Ritchie: But there were others there. You weren't the only one.
Ludtke: There were others there, yes.
Ritchie: But were you the only one that this special arrangement was made for?
Ludtke: Yes, at least that's my understanding. I don't think they made it retroactive to all women. I think they were just trying to accommodate what they saw as a potentially—
Ritchie: Appease you.
Ludtke: Yes. So it didn't work, because, of course, the sixth game of that World Series was the game in which Reggie Jackson hit three home runs. Of course, I went to him and said, "I'd like to speak with Reggie Jackson," and after waiting two hours, I think, about two hours and fifteen minutes in the corridor, Reggie came out to say to me, "I'm just too tired. I can't talk right now. We'll do it another time."
But in the meantime, there had been television cameras in the locker room, which had caught what was happening in there for at least fifteen, twenty minutes after the game as they did the ceremonies and the rest, so the TV cameras were in there, but I wasn't, so I got none of the sense of the feel of what was happening, which is oftentimes what you want to have, as a reporter. As much as you want to interview people, you want to have a sense of what's going on.
Ritchie: What were your feelings at the time, do you remember?
Ludtke: I think just continued frustration, just at the fact that this thing—it just pointed out to me how long this had been going on, and I think I was starting to get the message from the people at Sports Illustrated, which was a very welcomed message, that they were understanding for the first time what this meant, in terms of their ability to really get the kind of coverage that they should have had out of the people who were working for them. So that part was, I think, encouraging, so I think there was a mixture of encouragement at an awareness of this as a problem, but frustration that it was still a problem.
Ritchie: And then after the Series, what events took place?
Ludtke: I think after the Series, I believe that there was still a period of time in which there was some attempt at negotiation with the commissioner's office again, to just see if there wasn't a way that we could bring some resolution to this by the following season, by when it opened.
I think those talks broke down based on the commissioner office having no desire to find a middle ground. They were very adamant that women were not going to go into that locker room and report.
Ritchie: Did you actually participate in these talks?
Ludtke: No. All I did was write the letter, and I did not participate. I think they were probably done by lawyers for both sides. I think that the managing editor and Peter probably had one round, and then probably they went to attorneys, and by December— [Tape interruption.]
Ritchie: So at the end of December, you filed the lawsuit.
Ludtke: Yes. I don't know the date, but it was sometime near the very end.
Ritchie: Late December. I've had an opportunity to review some of the affidavits and the court procedures. Of course, it was a lengthy, involved procedure that took months.
Ludtke: Yes, it's lengthy, but, relatively speaking, it almost seems to me that it went by pretty quick. They filed it in December, and by the following World Series, it had been resolved. It had gone through the federal court, it had gone to a court of appeals—baseball took it to a court of appeals—and it was resolved by the time the next World Series came along. So as court cases go, I think it struck me as being one that was actually fairly effectively moved through the process. But you're right, it's a pretty thick book and there were a lot of affidavits and depositions and hearings and the rest.
Ritchie: I wondered if we could talk a minute about the affidavits and some of the people who gave them in support. There were about twelve or thirteen. If we could just look at the list of names, actually.
Ludtke: Yes, all right. Let's see. Who are they? You want to do it, or do you want me to?
Ritchie: I thought we could put it so both of us could see it.
Ritchie: I wonder, in general, how the people were selected and how they were related to you or to Sports Illustrated in one way or another.
Ludtke: Let's see. Frederick Schwartz, "Fritz" Schwartz, was my attorney, so he did an affidavit. Roger Angell is a writer for New Yorker magazine, a baseball writer for the New Yorker magazine, someone who would later go on to write a very, very detailed and, I thought, quite compelling article about not just myself and this case, but about women sportswriters in general, and what it was like to be a woman sportswriter, for New Yorker, and it then later appeared as an essay in one of his books. So he was someone who was quite empathetic about our situation, I think someone who we felt was very important and well regarded in terms of his intellectual understanding of all of this.
An affidavit from me. An affidavit from Mervin D. Hyman, who was my boss at that point. He was the chief of researchers at Sports Illustrated. Betty Cuniberti was a sportswriter, and I believe at that time she was a sportswriter for the Washington Post, although I could be wrong.
Ritchie: I think that's correct.
Ludtke: Pete Axthelm was at that time the sportswriter for Newsweek magazine, and again, obviously someone who was supportive of our efforts and could talk, from his perspective as a magazine writer, about the necessity for access to athletes. Sheila Moran, I'm not sure. She was a newspaper reporter who covered probably sports in general for, I think, a Chicago paper. I'm not sure. I'd have to look her up. She's eleventh. Sheila Moran—she's in L.A., a copy editor on the sports desk of the Los Angeles Times. She had evidently covered the New York Yankees at their spring training camp in the beginning of 1973, and she writes about how her job was very difficult because she was not permitted to go in the Yankees' locker room, talking about the difficulties of covering them, and how she lost out on an opportunity to cover the Yankees' opening game in Boston because her editors sent a man to cover it instead, probably because she couldn't have access to the locker rooms. Then she went on to be a hockey writer for the L.A. Times. Hockey also was one of those sports that, as Lawrie Mifflin, who was a hockey writer for the New York Times—she also wrote an affidavit—would testify hockey was the second of the sports to give access to female sportswriters, and they did so without being brought into a court of law to do it. So they and basketball already had it prior to the baseball lawsuit.
Ritchie: So this was the first suit in terms of access and locker rooms, the first lawsuit?
Ludtke: Yes. And I think, actually, it was the only one that had to do with the direct question of access. I don't think in football, except for the Lisa Olson lawsuit that happened later, that had to do with charges of sexual harassment, I don't know that there was one for football, either.
Murray Chass was the baseball writer for the New York Times. Jane Gross, as I mentioned before, was at that time a sportswriter for the New York Times. Henry Hecht was a columnist for the New York Post and someone who had been a friend of mine and very, very supportive of my attempts to get access.
Ritchie: Gross wasn't at the New York Times at that time, was she?
Ludtke: She wasn't? Let's see. Was she at Newsday still?
Ludtke: She may have been at Newsday. Soon after that, she would go to the New York Times to be a sportswriter there, and then to go on to become a national correspondent for them. But she says here that she became the first female reporter to enter a basketball locker room. In early 1975 she did that. So she was obviously testifying to that. Robin Herman, another writer for the New York Times, covered hockey. Mike Lupica was a very well-read and respected columnist at that point for the [New York] Daily News, I believe. He had been at the New York Post briefly before that. Elie Able was at the Columbia School of Journalism. Was he the dean there at the time?
Ritchie: Yes, I believe so.
Ludtke: So he was talking about it from the perspective of journalism. I guess, just glancing at it, he's talking about how many students at the Columbia School of Journalism, more than 50 percent of them are now women, and he thinks that it should be a matter of equity that all fields of journalism should be open to qualified women.
Ritchie: How were these individuals identified?
Ludtke: I think through a mixture of me giving names to the attorneys, of them doing some legwork on their own and finding out who among the sportswriting community would be both supportive and also illustrative, I think, of some of the things that they were trying to get at. Jane Gross is an obvious one, given her experience earlier with the locker room access issue. The women who covered hockey would be other good examples. I think it was important to get a balance of not just women sportswriters, but also men who understood the need and were supportive of our perspective on it. So it was probably a mixture of all those.
Ritchie: What triggered your decision to go ahead with the lawsuit? Did you ever have thoughts about not doing it, or concerns?
Ludtke: No, I didn't. When it got to the point that it seemed unresolvable in any other way, they, of course, asked me if I would be willing to go ahead with it, and I had no hesitation. I think that it's one of those things where you don't quite know what you're getting into until you're into it. That's not to say that any time during it I would have had really second thoughts about it, but I think it is true that you can't really understand how something like this is going to affect your life and what it's going to draw you into until you are actually in it. But, no, I had no hesitation.
Ritchie: What was the reaction of your colleagues at Sports Illustrated, first, and then maybe the wider community of sportswriters and people that you knew?
Ludtke: I think fairly supportive. I don't know that I can remember anyone coming up to me and presenting any kind of a negative view of it to me. I think that particularly for the women at the magazine, of which there were growing numbers, I think this was an indication to them that they felt that the magazine was understanding some of the issues that they were confronting every day, that they're pioneers in a certain way in this field of sportswriting, sports reporting. So I think it was primarily one of encouragement and support.
Ritchie: You certainly got a lot of media attention, as evidenced by the amount of clippings, and the headlines really vary a lot. I think you talk about this later in one of your talks. They vary from things like "Baseball Sued for Barring Girl from Clubhouse," to "Girl Sues Over Locker Room Access," to "There Are Limits" or "Time To Change."
Ludtke: I think there was some "Babes In Boyland."
Ritchie: Yes. And you got a great deal of national press coverage and then local. I notice that your hometown paper in Amherst, the Hyannis paper, covered it. International, there was a clipping from Stockholm, I believe it was.
Ludtke: Right. Untranslated.
Ritchie: Right. I took that it dealt with the case, though.
Ludtke: I have, to this day, no idea what it says.
Ritchie: And even a letter from the president of Wellesley. You immediately became a public figure. How was that?
Ludtke: First of all, I think that what should have been obvious to me before the suit was filed, in terms of that question of did I have any hesitation, became rapidly obvious to me after it came out, and that is that if you mix the ingredients of sex, sports, and the potential for the notion of
nudity, kind of in the middle of it and women and men, you're sort of guaranteed that you're going to get an enormous amount of coverage in this country. I just had no concept of what it was going to bring, in terms of the explosiveness of the headlines and the stories.
I can remember the day the suit was filed, my parents happened to be in New York. It was around Christmastime, it was the end of December, and I can't remember why they'd come down, but I had gotten tickets to go to a Broadway play. I can't remember the name of the play, but I do remember us walking in and sitting down in our seats—we were up in one of the balconies—and it must have been 7:30, quarter of 8:00 as we sat down, and that night, the local news in New York had it all splashed over, and it was sort of the talk of the theater. I sat there, just obviously not identifying myself, and one of the kind of nice things is that for all the stuff that was written about it, because I was not a TV personality, I was still a writer person, that in terms of being known by my face, that didn't happen. So I could kind of sit back and take in all of this conversation and the comments about it, as well as my parents could, as we sat there kind of waiting for the show to open.
That was really an eye-opener, or an ear-opener, for me to realize that this was something that other people were going to make judgments about. I think most of it was the guffawing and the laughing about the idea that a woman would want to go into a man's locker room, so it was another realization to me that this was not going to be understood on the level in which I was understanding it, that it was going to take on a lot of other dimensions for most people who looked at it, and that was why they were going to remember it, and not because it was an issue of equal access, but because it was this bizarre idea of this woman walking in with all these naked men wandering around. So these images were evidently very powerful, and played, I think, into a lot of societal—
Ritchie: In a few of the articles, I noticed cartoons accompanying them, and most often they dealt with the man with the towel, or the woman peeking around the corner of the locker room.
Ritchie: So they certainly did dwell on the image.
Ludtke: Oh, yes, absolutely. I forget what your question was, in terms of me.
Ritchie: Dealing with the press and the headlines. Actually, you got coverage not only in the print media, but I believe you appeared on a television talk show or two.
Ludtke: I did the "Howard Cosell Show." Actually, we taped it, and it ran on the day of the Super Bowl. In fact, it preceded the Super Bowl show, so it got a rather large audience pulled into it. Howard Cosell used to do a half-an-hour show on sports issues or whatever, so I did that one afternoon, which I have on tape if you want to see it.
Then I also did "The Today Show" with Jane Pauley, of which there's a transcript in my scrapbook, in which she asked me her last question—I had just sort of been chit-chatting with her before we did the interview, and I can remember, sort of in my nervousness, looking behind me and seeing on the wall of the set where they had me sitting, a huge picture of Reggie [Jackson] in the locker room, his shirt off, I think he was drinking from a champagne bottle. It was clearly a celebration of some kind. And I kind of jokingly said to her, "Oh, so that's what his chest looks like." That was off camera. And then we went through the interview and I thought it was going very well, and she turns to me with some last question, she said something like, "Before we went
on the air today—" Or maybe I should just read it. Where is it? The black book that you have over there, right behind you.
Ritchie: Your scrapbook.
Ludtke: Yes, it's right in there, because it sort of set me back, I must say, to have kind of gone on there with some of the expectation that here was Jane Pauley, sort of my woman hero, and then all of a sudden here she was asking me what I thought was this ridiculous question and unfair question.
Ritchie: And that's how the interview ended, with that question?
Ludtke: And that's how the interview ended. Let me just see. I know it's in here. Did you see it?
Ritchie: I saw it, today.
Ludtke: I can find it. It's towards the beginning here. All right. So we go through, and it's going quite well, and we get to the end of it, to which she says, "When you first walked out here, and you stood and looked at the picture and you said, 'Who is that?' and I said, 'That's Reggie Jackson,' and you said, 'That's Reggie's chest?' Now, why did you say that, lest we create the impression that you are, after all, leering at athletic bodies?"
To which I replied, "No, I was trying to get loose, because I was sitting here thinking, 'What am I going to say?' I was thinking, well, you know, I was just trying to get loose and really it was a situation where I almost felt, when I walked in here and saw that, I thought, you know, I missed that. I never saw that part of Reggie Jackson's evening. I never saw—I think that's Gabe Paul pouring champagne over his head, or watched Reggie Jackson drink from that champagne."
And then Jane Pauley says, "I'd like to know if I could ask a rhetorical question—the sex of the camera that was allowed into the locker room to take that photograph when you weren't allowed there, and I don't know that anybody can answer that question. Melissa Ludtke, thank you for being with us, and we'll be following your case."
So I felt that she kind of unnecessarily tried to nail me at the end over something that really was a very offhanded comment, that really was nothing more than trying to be a bit funny and relax with someone before you go on air.
Ritchie: Before the camera was on.
Ludtke: So it was another lesson. There are a lot of lessons that you pick up along the way as you go through this.
Ritchie: How about the interview with Howard Cosell?
Ludtke: That actually went very well. The only thing that, as I look at it today—I don't look at it every day, I haven't looked at it in years—but what I remember from it is at the end, he turns to me in a somewhat Howard Cosellian patronizing way, and says, "You speak very well for a woman," or a girl, or something like that, to which I started saying, "Well, thank you very much." It's always made me uncomfortable to see that over again, but he was obviously trying to compliment me on having gotten through what I guess could have been perceived as a difficult interview. But I think I was starting to get used to the expectation of what kind of questions
would be asked about this, and how to answer them in a way that would try to draw it back to what the reason, after all, was that I wanted this to work out, and to try to remind people it was an equal access issue and not this kind of gender bashing, just running into locker rooms to peer at naked men.
Ritchie: Were you aware of other lawsuits during this time that women were bringing for equal access, whether in the media or—
Ludtke: I was certainly aware that groups such as women at NBC, women at Time, Incorporated, years before had sued over issues of equal treatment, sex discrimination, in terms of hiring, in terms of promotion, in terms of job designations, New York Times. I was certainly aware. I wouldn't say I was following them with any kind of legal eye on them, but I was aware that this was a time in which women were using the courts in a variety of professions, not just journalism, to try to win rights that they actually had by law, but seemed to have to affirm by going to court.
Ritchie: Who were some of your close friends at the time? Who would you have been talking to about the lawsuit, that you felt you could talk comfortably with?
Ludtke: I think probably my parents, my family most of all. At the time, I was dating a man who would become my husband [Eric Lincoln] sort of midway through the lawsuit—we got married in May of 1978—and he was also a sportswriter for Newsday, so I would talk with him about it. At the magazine, I can't really identify any really closest friends who I would have talked much about it. I don't know that I talked much about it to anyone. It just sort of was happening, it was there, and I'd go through the stages of whether it was giving a deposition or an affidavit, but it wasn't something that preoccupied my life. It seemed to stretch over enough period of time that it certainly wasn't a focus of my life every day.
Ritchie: So your life went on, and you were dating someone and still working at Sports Illustrated?
Ritchie: What were you covering at that time?
Ludtke: Baseball, and also I was shifting at that time during the winter to take on covering pro basketball.
Ritchie: And at that time, covering the basketball, would you have gone into the locker room?
Ludtke: Definitely, yes, and I did. So that was a bit strange, now having such easy access, and knowing that in the history of it that no one had had to go through this kind of thing to gain access to what, after all, is just viewed by most people as a very routine part of the job, and to see that the players were, for the most part, very at ease with it, that no one seemed to be having a problem with it. If anyone one was, it would probably be the rookie players who were kind of getting accustomed to this, but they were getting accustomed, I think, really, to the whole thing of having anyone, regardless of what sex they were, in the locker room.
What I would constantly remind people, and, in fact, had to learn myself, was that these locker rooms that we talk about are not like we remember locker rooms from high school. They're not just huge, open spaces in which there's no room for privacy. The basketball locker rooms are much smaller than baseball locker rooms, and don't have necessarily the kind of private spaces off
of them such a players' lounge or a pitchers' room. There's just a lot less space and there's a lot bigger people, generally, in them, and yet they didn't seem to have difficulty in terms of having their privacy when they wanted it.
So I guess what it made me aware of is that baseball, which I would come later to understand, had these gigantic locker rooms with, as I said, all of these rooms that players could kind of vanish into that were off limits to all of the press, that the shower rooms were, again, usually immense and sort of cut off from the main locker room, so that if players wanted to go to the shower and have a towel around them, all of that was perfectly doable.
Ritchie: I noticed in the court case that there is a map, or a diagram, of the layout of the facilities at Yankee Stadium, and pictures of the area where you had to wait, and pictures of how there was adequate space within the locker room.
Ludtke: That's right, yes, and there certainly was. At the time that I ended up being able to go into the locker room, it became quite apparent that if a player chose to have privacy or wanted some kind of privacy, all they had to do was ask. It could be a very civil exchange between two grown-ups, both who had jobs to do, and there were players who weren't at all uncomfortable with whatever state of dress or undress they were in, and there were others that you came to understand did want their privacy, and that was something that you certainly went out of your way to give them, and there was room within the locker room to be able to do that.
Ritchie: Did you actually ever go to court for the lawsuit, and sit in the court?
Ludtke: Yes, down at the federal courthouse in New York.
Ritchie: It was a female judge?
Ludtke: It was, Judge Constance Baker Motley, an African-American woman, and she's someone who I think has been a very well-known justice in her own right. I think she was one of the first African-American women put on the federal bench in New York. Very well known. She was picked out of a lottery. That's what they do. They sort of spin a wheel to assign cases to judges, and she came up. Of course, people, I think, had a hard time believing that it was done randomly, given what the case was about, but that's how it was done and that's who came up. I think she asked good questions, she obviously took a look at the entire record, and her case was upheld by the court of appeals without any problem. I think it was three-nothing was the vote. So her decision was very sound. That was a three-man court of appeals, so had they seen something that, as a woman, she had done improperly in terms of her decision, it certainly would have been overturned, which it wasn't.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ritchie: There were several stages in the decisions. Her first decision wasn't the final decision, I believe.
Ludtke: There may have been decisions on procedure or on things that were raised which I don't know about.
Ritchie: This went right down to the wire, actually, with the World Series.
Ludtke: Yes, it was. It was. I think the decision came down just as the playoffs were under way, if my memory is correct, and baseball appealed it immediately to try to stop them from having to deal with it, I think, during the World Series, and the appellate court heard it, I think if not the next morning, then like a couple mornings later. I went down to that hearing. I think it lasted maybe all of half an hour, and the court of appeals voted right away, and they ordered baseball to accommodate women writers in an equal access way.
Ritchie: How did they do that the first year? Because it was right upon them in 1978.
Ludtke: It was '78, during the World Series. They tried a number of things, and I don't know in exactly what order it was, but I can give a sense of the variation. They were reluctant, for whatever reasons, to simply allow women to have the same access or to have the locker room procedure work in the same way with women involved as it had when there were just men going in. So what they attempted to do was, since it had to be equal, they tried to change it in terms of setting up different routines. Something along the lines of everyone can go in for ten minutes, and then everyone has to clear out for fifteen minutes or something, the idea that that would then give the players privacy, and then everyone could go back in for X amount of time. As I say, the times may not be right, but that was their objective. It may have been that the second night they tried it, ten minutes the locker room would be closed to everyone, and then fifteen minutes it would be open.
What happened, which I think was actually pretty interesting, was that as they tried to change the customary routine for the coverage, it was the male sportswriters who began to get very angry, and, of course, they held the power within their organization, the Baseball Writers of America, and the rest, which has a lot of clout within that whole baseball world, and they began to get very angry at their limited access to players. As a woman, I actually found that, on one hand, in one sense, humorous, on another hand, sort of affirming, that they really had to confront what we had been dealing with, but in a much lesser scale, for years and years and years, and they were so angry, and felt that they had to really exert their power in order to get in there at the times that they wanted. By the end of the World Series, they just were right back to doing it the way they were doing it. The women were right in, but it certainly didn't take them as long to get back in in that way as it did for us to get in in the first place.
Ritchie: Did anyone ever take it out personally on you? You were there covering it, weren't you?
Ludtke: Yes. I didn't have a sense that people took it out personally on me, although others have told me, in retrospect, that there were a lot of people who were angry at me for inconveniencing their life in this way for this brief time. Obviously, although I've mentioned a couple of male sportswriters who were very supportive, I think the majority of them felt threatened in some ways by what was happening.
When I first started going up to the ballpark to even begin my work as a baseball reporter, which must have been somewhere in maybe '74, it was a rarity to see more than one woman in the press box, if one. I would look around up and down rows, and there would just be no one else.
Ritchie: You were the only woman?
Ludtke: Yes, often. Sometimes there was another, but it was very rare. I think the idea of us arriving, first in the press box, because if you remember, historically, women weren't even allowed in the press box. Five, six years before 1974, women were excluded from the press box. Now, what would be the reason for that? So here they'd broken down that barrier, they were in
the press box, they were on the field before the game, and it was almost a feeling of "What's going to be next?" That sort of slippery slope. "We're reaching that threshold point where God knows what's going to happen to us if they get in here." So I think there was a lot of fear, particularly among the older generation of sportswriters, who were probably also looking over their shoulders at the younger men, as well as now this sort of stampede of younger women coming into it.
Ritchie: They had two groups to contend with.
Ludtke: Yes. So it was certainly not an atmosphere in which everyone was coming up and just slapping me on the back and saying, "Way to go!" It was very much not that. Fortunately, there were a few who were supportive enough that I could kind of get that from them, and as far as people saying things directly to me, I don't think they did. Either that or I just don't remember it.
Ritchie: So were your stories, was your reporting enhanced? Was it better that year because of the access?
Ludtke: Yes, I think so. I do think so. It made me much more able to get to know players. When you just can see them on the field in batting practice, frankly, they're there to do batting practice, they're not really there to talk at that point. It was always kind of hard to just try to catch them along the way between one thing or another, as opposed to being around them when there were times to really get to know players and to interview them. That's how male sportswriters got access to ballplayers, by getting to know them. That's how any journalist works. You're around, people get to know you, they get a sense of who you are, whether they can trust you, so that was beginning to develop.
I think the other thing that no one ever remembers in this, nor should they if they're not a part of this profession, is that the interview process doesn't just take place after ball games with these hulking, sweaty athletes wanting to just jump in the shower, and the women upsetting their privacy. Also, there's a huge amount of time prior to a game when athletes are in the locker room, dressed in their uniforms, getting ready to play the game, where most of the writers get their stories from. That's where most people really sit down and talk with athletes. We weren't allowed in there then, either.
Ritchie: Before the games.
Ludtke: Before the games. Even when there was no issue of nakedness or privacy, we weren't allowed in there. So the difference of being able to go in and just sit down with a Tommy John or a Reggie Jackson or a Thurman Munson or whatever, Lou Pinella, and just sit and have them get to know you and just kind of be around, that made a world of difference in terms of just getting to some understanding of who these people were as people.
Ritchie: When you had the access in 1978, were you still the junior reporter?
Ludtke: Yes, I was always the junior reporter. It's sort of like the senior senator and the junior senator. I was never going to be the senior one as long as the person who had the longevity on me was still at the magazine, and he outlasted me. He was still at the magazine when I left.
Ritchie: What were your reasons for leaving?
Ludtke: Leaving the magazine? I just wanted to go on and do other things. I always felt like sportswriting was an entrance point for me into journalism. I began to feel that way. I had no
background in writing, never really studied English, never worked for a school newspaper, but I knew sports. As people would say, "For a girl, you really know a lot about sports," and I did. So sports was my access point to learning about journalism, but I don't think I ever really envisioned staying as a sportswriter for an entire lifetime, making it a career. But I love journalism, and there was something in me that said that really what I wanted to do was to go on and do something else in journalism.
The first job I ever applied to was a job as a researcher at CBS News, it wasn't a sports job, but, of course, I wasn't hired, but when I left Sports Illustrated, the job I went to was as a researcher at CBS News.
Ritchie: When did you leave Sports Illustrated?
Ludtke: I think that I left in 1979. Yes, I think in '79, probably sometime in the early winter of '79.
Ritchie: So that was right after the lawsuit.
Ludtke: I also felt that you tend to get labeled in things. Actors talk about getting labeled in parts they play in TV and stuff, and I felt in some ways that whatever I was going to accomplish in sportswriting—and it's not that I ever set out to accomplish some lawsuit or whatever—but I felt that I had done that, and that as far as the reporting in sports, I kind of felt as though it was getting too predictable. The questions weren't exciting any more, the answers weren't feeling new. I wasn't regarded at the magazine as someone who was a good enough writer to be able to go out and really do profiles of athletes and that kind of thing, so it was really just continuing coverage, sitting there watching games. I, frankly, got a little tired of it and of the routine, so I wanted to do something else, and I guess what I wanted to do was take journalism and turn it into doing something with news, news coverage, so I left.
Ritchie: And you went to CBS as a researcher?
Ludtke: I went to CBS as a researcher for the news department, right.
Ritchie: And what did that entail?
Ludtke: I worked on "60 Minutes." I did some work with the producers. Usually the researchers were assigned to producers or to particular shows, doing what researchers often do, which is a mish-mash of whatever needs to be done for the producer. So I worked a little bit on a couple of shows for "60 Minutes," helping to do questions, and looking through clips and stuff for a producer. Learned a little bit about the nightly news. I didn't stay very long. I only stayed for a couple of months, because I really found I didn't like it at all. It wasn't the news part I didn't like, but I didn't like television.
Ritchie: Why was that?
Ludtke: I was, I think, at that point, nearly thirty, which I thought was getting on there in years, I was extremely old, and the idea that I was sort of starting over in a whole new field, sort of at the bottom of what I look at in television as very much more of a triangle, very heavily weighted down at the bottom with a lot of researchers and people scampering around, all to make one person on air look great, and I didn't really like the pyramid, what I perceived as sort of a pyramid. I just didn't get the same satisfaction out of whatever my contribution was.
And I also looked around, and I saw that men who I thought had very similar experience to mine in the written world had been brought in as associate producers, so I went to the vice president for news [Ben Benjamin] and observed that I thought that I was certainly of equal caliber to these men who had been brought in at that level, and he didn't necessarily agree or disagree with my sense of my merit, but he simply affirmed that it wasn't going to happen. So a lot of those things contributed to my feeling like this was just not the right move, so I decided not to do it, and decided at that same time that I did want a job, so I wanted to go back to Sports Illustrated and sort of think it through again.
Ritchie: When you went to CBS, do you remember how much you were making as a beginning researcher there?
Ludtke: About the same as probably I was making at SI at the time, probably in the high twenties, mid-twenties.
Ritchie: Did the equal access give you equal pay?
Ludtke: To whom?
Ritchie: Your colleagues at Sports Illustrated.
Ludtke: I don't know. I don't think I ever knew, and still, when I worked at Time, I don't think I ever really knew what my colleagues were making. It wasn't as though salaries were published, so I don't know. Probably not. The fact that I was involved in the lawsuit certainly didn't change my status at the magazine or the sense of a raise or anything like that, no.
Ritchie: Who financed the lawsuit?
Ludtke: I believe Sports Illustrated—Time, Inc.—paid for it. I can't remember the settlement at the end, but I think that baseball was supposed to pay for our fees, but for some reason it strikes me that there was some accommodation made at the end, in exchange for baseball not paying the fees, they would do something. I can't remember. I shouldn't probably even mention it. But it was obviously financed through Time, Incorporated. I didn't pay.
Ritchie: But you had no financial obligation, and you had no gain from it?
Ludtke: No. In order to get into federal court, you have to sue for damages of at least $10,000, but the first day that we went up to court, my lawyer came up to me, Fritz came up to me on the steps before we went into the courthouse, and he said, "Don't be surprised when the first thing I do when I stand up in court today is I'm going to say that we're dropping any damages, any monetary damages, to show good faith or something."
I said, "It's fine with me. I don't care. I didn't get into it for the money." So I think what we did is the first day we dropped the $10,000 in damages from the suit. So, no, I never received any money for it whatsoever, nor did I expect to.
Ritchie: How do you think it benefitted or harmed your career, your long-term career, in any way? That's almost two questions.
Ludtke: Did it benefit it, first of all? I think that it would be ridiculous of me to say it didn't benefit me in the sense that people might have taken a second look at me as a journalist because in
our sort of wacky world, the fact that one has notoriety somehow brings one more attention. Often people don't look at what the notoriety's for. In this case, I would think if people even looked at why they recognized my name, they might, in the end, think that what I did was a good thing, and have some respect for me going through it, but I'm not sure if that ever went through anyone's mind. No one ever said to me, "We're hiring you because we think what you did was so terrific back there." But what I hope people would come away from was the sense of just a respect for me as a journalist and fighting for something that I thought was the right thing to do. So whether it translated in that way to other people, I don't know.
Ritchie: What about any negative impact on your career or your life?
Ludtke: I don't think that I could pinpoint any particular negative impact on my career. On my life, what may have seemed discomforting at times because of the lawsuit, probably in the larger scope of things it was an incredibly informative experience, in terms of maturing me, I think, to a great degree. I think when you have to present yourself as twenty-seven years old at the time, on national television, you have to begin to understand that the words you choose to speak can vary in meaning beyond just your own circumstance, and that you begin to learn some things about—I don't want to say public relations, but more the sense of how to communicate ideas to people. I think that probably was very valuable.
Did I get hurt a couple times in the process, either by headlines or by someone misconstruing what I said, or an article that hurt me for some reason? Yes, but I think each of those probably was a learning experience, which was probably, in the end, quite valuable.
Ritchie: So after CBS News, you went back?
Ludtke: Well, not really. I wanted to go back, but what happened was that I basically said to them I wanted to come back, and they seemed eager to have me back. I'd talked with Peter [Carey] and with some other people at the magazine, and it seemed to me that it was right on course, and that it would be fine.
But that same week, unbeknownst to me, the New Yorker published Roger Angell's piece that he had written on women sportswriters, and he had done the interview with me the previous fall, before I'd even made the decision to leave to go to CBS, so I hadn't said things in the interview that I would say only because I knew I wasn't going to be working at the magazine, I had said things because I was answering his questions as truthfully as I knew how.
However, his pieces of that interview with me, unbeknownst to me, when I went in to my meeting with Sports Illustrated, had angered more than a few people at the magazine. Among the things I said to Roger, and among the things he printed in the piece, was my view that part of the reason that Sports Illustrated had taken an active interest in this case was that the woman at Time, Inc. had filed a lawsuit five years before, charging the company with sex discrimination, and this was a very public way of demonstrating that it didn't exist at the company. Then I made the statement that despite the fact that the lawsuit had been filed—I used the words "the basic workings of the magazine have not changed." So these things upset the powers-that-be at the magazine and at the company. Having just funded this lawsuit, I don't think they appreciated the person whose name was attached to it saying these things or making these observations, which, of course, they did not believe were true but I did.
So when I arrived for my meeting, which I thought was going to be about my return to the magazine, I found myself behind a closed door with two people [Peter Carey and Gil Rogin], and
those people held up an issue of the New Yorker magazine and started reading me back my words, and asking me if I actually believed them, to which I said I did. Anyway, they were very angry, and expressed that anger, and the bottom line was that I was essentially told at that meeting that unless I was willing to retract what I had said, in a fairly public way—in other words, I was asked to give speeches occasionally on this. I was still occasionally being asked, even though most of the coverage had by then dissipated, but occasionally someone who was sort of late to the story would call. So this sort of implicit deal was that I was to make specific reference to these comments and retract, or try to say that it wasn't quite said the way that I meant to say it, or whatever, enlarge upon it, to which I said I wouldn't do it. I refused to do it. So since I wasn't an employee, they couldn't fire me, but they could simply say, "We don't think we're going to re-hire you." So in fact, that's what happened, so I was out of a job.
Ritchie: How did you ever get a job with Time? Is it completely separate?
Ludtke: They hired me. Actually, the gentleman [Ray Cave] who was then the managing editor at Time when I was hired had been at Sports Illustrated during this time, so I don't think he was unaware of this, but I think he might have just understood more of what I was trying to get across. The two aren't totally related, even though they're in the same company. But that's a good question. Someone might wonder how I did, but, thankfully, I did, and things went on. But that was not for another year.
I then had to obviously look for freelance work for a while to kind of get myself through. Again, life works in strange ways. Just sort of by happenstance, a friend of mine called me about his brother, who had just graduated from journalism school and really wanted to work as a summer intern or something at Time, so I called the woman who was the chief of research at Time on behalf of this other person, and she said, "Well, I'm really not looking for a summer intern, but I certainly have heard of your work and the rest, and would you be interested in some freelance work just as a researcher?"
And I said, "Yes, I'd love it." So I can remember that fall, that September—I think it was in March that I ended up walking out of that meeting at SI—so through much of that fall and then that December, she put me on for four weeks to do the "Decade in Pictures." I became the researcher on that. So I did a lot of work at Time.
Then CBS called me again and said, "Can you come back and do freelance with us?" That quite appealed to me, because I thought, "Well, I'll give it another chance where I won't have to commit myself, but I'll just do freelance work."
Ritchie: Do what you wanted to.
Ludtke: Do a little what I want, yes. So I went back to work for them, but for some reason, I got sick, very sick, that winter, starting that January. I began to get a succession of what seemed to be flu at first. I can remember because there was a transit strike—this was 1980—that winter, and I can remember getting up and feeling incredibly weak, and I lived on Thirty-Fifth and Second, and CBS was on Fifty-Seventh and Tenth, and I can remember walking to work, and just getting there, and just collapsing, just feeling terrible, and taking a heating pad with me to work, I'd have chills and this. So finally I'd stay home and then I'd start feeling better, and then I'd go back to work.
Anyway, by April, after just several months of really feeling terrible, I was put in the hospital, and they diagnosed me with what they thought was Hodgkin's disease, and decided that
they were going to operate and do a biopsy to try to check some lymph nodes in me. This is a long way of getting to the point that there were a couple of people who then started feeling sorry for me. [Laughter.] But the operation that they did to do the biopsy on the lymph nodes, they ended up biopsying my liver because it looked like it was involved. They came out with a diagnosis of a Stage IV lymphoma, which is not good, but, anyway, they botched it. Whatever they saw in the liver in the frozen section didn't look the same when they did the permanent section, they wanted to go in and operate again. I said "No, we're not doing that again."
So I ended up leaving the hospital after being in there for about a month, having had this surgery, and in the time that I was in the hospital, I got a note from a vice president at CBS News saying, "We would love to talk to you about a full-time job when you get out. We'd very much like to help you out and see what you can do." You know. And I got a note from the managing editor [Ray Cave] at Time, saying, "When you get out, we'd love to talk to you about a full-time job." There were a lot of people, sort of my guardian angels, kind of watching over.
So when I finally got my strength back, probably, I would guess, the end of July, maybe the middle of June, I obviously didn't have Hodgkin's, and I obviously didn't have Stage IV lymphoma, they do not know what I had, they don't know why I was sick all those months, but I had a lot of building-up to do in terms of my weight and just recovering from all of that. So it was around July I went to lunch with the people from CBS, and I also went over to the people at Time, and indeed both of them were willing to offer me full-time jobs, which was wonderful. So I chose to go with Time, and started work there, I think, that August.
Ritchie: In New York City?
Ludtke: In New York City, yes, as a researcher-reporter for Time magazine.
Ritchie: Did you cover a particular subject area?
Ludtke: I asked for, and was willing to be given, what I'd call—Calvin Trillin once wrote a book called The Floater, which was a book based on his experience when he was at Time, which was about this person who sort of floats through the magazine and becomes an instant expert on everything. I hadn't read Calvin Trillin's book at the time, but I said, "I'd really like to get to know the magazine, and if it would be okay, I'd love to be sort of a substitute. I'd like to just fill in for people who are on vacation or sick or whatever, and just bounce around."
Ritchie: Different assignments.
Ludtke: Right, as opposed to just take on one. Leah Gordon, who was then the chief of research, she said, "That sounds okay, actually. I've been kind of looking for someone who might want to do that, so we'll start you doing that." That's what I did for about the next three years, and I loved it, because it really introduced me to everyone at the magazine, all different kinds of areas that I could kind of sink my teeth into and get a little sense of what I was interested in doing in terms of news coverage.
Ritchie: So you covered the whole gamut.
Ludtke: Yes. I asked for specifically the back of the book, which is the area that starts after you go through with the nation, the world, sort of international business, and then you get to the back of the book, which is education, medicine, society, behavior, plays, the arts, all of sports,
whatever, and essay. I loved doing the essay section. I loved working with the essay writers we had at the time.
So it was just ideal for me, and I did that for about, I guess—let's see, I got hired in '80—so probably about two and a half years or so. Then one day I got a call from Leah, who was the chief of researchers, and she said, "We're looking to see if there's someone who might want to go and just sit in the New York bureau and work as a correspondent for three months, just as a kind of adventure for you, and they can use some help up there."
Ritchie: In the New York—
Ludtke: New York correspondent bureau. It's sort of the New York bureau. You're not a researcher any longer; you work as a correspondent. Those are the ones who go out and really do the interviews and the reporting for the magazine. As a researcher, I'd had a lot of opportunities to do reporting, so she knew I was pretty good at it and liked it. She said, "This isn't a guarantee of anything. In fact, after three months, you're going to come right back to doing your same job, so don't take it with the idea that anything is going to happen, but if you want it, you can do it." And so I did it. That was in the spring of '83, and by the summer I was back as a researcher.
Ritchie: When you say research reporter, you would actually do research, go out and—
Ludtke: Occasionally I would do that, but more often than not, I would often get clips for writers, I would work with writers if they needed maybe a phone call made, or getting out queries to the various bureaus that were involved in the story that week. So it was really a catch-all, but you were mostly in-house in New York working with the writers. As a way of delineating it, you were on the editorial staff, the New York-based editorial staff. Correspondents were part of what was called the Time/Life News Service. They were in bureaus like in L.A. and San Francisco and Houston, wherever. There was a New York bureau which was part of the Time/Life News Service, not part of the editorial staff, but part of the news service staff. That's where I went to. That's where I went to for those three months.
It just happened by pure serendipity that one Monday, I was sort of the only one floating around when Newsweek came out with their story on the Hitler diaries, and the question of whether there was a forgery involved in these diaries, so I got assigned to that story, because literally there was no other warm body in the office that day to do it. It turned into not one but two weeks' cover stories for us, and I ended up staying on as the reporter for that the whole time. So that was rather unusual, that someone who was sort of just drifting into the bureau would end up doing two fairly prominent cover stories. And I sort of got the bug. I loved it, but I also kept hearing Leah's words in my ear, saying, "This is not going to lead to anything, so don't push it."
But when I finished, I wrote a note to the chief of correspondents [Richard Duncan] thanking him for the opportunity, and saying that I had enjoyed it and I'd gotten a chance to do a lot more than I though I could, and I wanted to thank him for that opportunity, and that I'd love to be considered if he was thinking of something. So by August of that year, he called me in and said, "Well, we are thinking of something, and we know you have the sports background, although you haven't covered any sports since you've been here, but we'll sort of make a deal with you. If you'll go out and cover the Olympics for us in L.A., move to L.A. and be a correspondent (this was in '83, and the Olympics were the next summer in '84), we'll made you a correspondent, but you have to move to L.A., and you have to cover the Olympics."
I didn't really even have to think about it. I said yes immediately. I had gotten divorced by that point, so New York didn't hold a great attraction for me any longer. In fact, I wanted to get out, and I very much wanted the opportunity to do something more than be a researcher, and this was the way to do it.
So I went out to cover the Olympics.
Ritchie: For Time.
Ludtke: For Time. We broke down the coverage. It was very clear going into it that at least from the American point of view, there were really a few key people that we were going to cover, and the two biggest ones, going into it, were track and field athletes, Carl Lewis and Mary Decker. For whatever reason, I ended up with Carl Lewis, and the other person who was in the bureau covering the games with us, a gentleman named Steve Holmes, who's now a Washington-based reporter for the New York Times—he's a black man—he ended up with Mary Decker, and I ended up with Carl Lewis. So I spent a lot of time down in Houston with Carl Lewis.
Ritchie: This was before the Olympics.
Ludtke: This was before the Olympics, just getting ready. You had to get ready. I also got assigned not only to Carl Lewis and to sort of overall track and field, and Steve got assigned to Mary Decker and overall track and field, but also I ended up doing swimming and diving, so I did Greg Louganis, and I had to get familiar with all of the swimmers, and get all of that material pulled together, and then, during the Olympics, cover those areas.
Ludtke: Yes. So it was really a very interesting year. I'd never covered the Olympics before, so I actually loved it. It was a whole new thing for me.
Ritchie: Were you allowed in the locker rooms?
Ludtke: They didn't do interviews in locker rooms. No one did. They did all their interviews bringing athletes out individually into press areas, but I had a lot of access to Carl that other people wouldn't have had, because we'd known each other so well at that point. He didn't live in the Olympic Village. He rented a house and he brought his whole family out from New Jersey, and they lived in what was designed to be a secret location so that people wouldn't be around and bothering him, but I was given access and went over and spent some time with him there, and went to the practice track that he had gotten to use where people didn't know about that, either. So you put in the time and it kind of pays off, so I ended up doing a cover on Carl the first week, because he won four golds, as he predicted he would.
Ritchie: Was that your first cover?
Ludtke: For Time?
Ritchie: For Time.
Ludtke: No. I'd done a number of them before. Of course, the Hitler diaries. I'd done some as researcher.
So after the games were over—do you want to know this?
Ludtke: After the games were over, I went to the Cape for a vacation. I needed a vacation. I was just about ready to get on the plane—I think I was about two days away from getting on the plane to go back to L.A., I'd been in the Cape for about three weeks and just completely relaxed, and not really looking forward to going back to L.A. now that the games were over—
Ritchie: But you were going to be in their bureau?
Ludtke: I was in going to be in their bureau.
Ritchie: Did you like living in L.A.?
Ludtke: No. I liked it the first winter. Everyone does, the first winter. The idea you don't have snow, and it's warm. But aside from that, L.A. wasn't my kind of city. A New Englander, I don't think, finds themselves right at home in L.A.
But anyway, I was on my way back, and I got a call from the chief of correspondents. He said, "Well, you're not going back to L.A. right now. We want you to go to Washington, and we're going to put you on the campaign plane with George Bush and do some coverage of that for us. We don't know how long we're going to keep you on, but we want to try you out there and see what works." So, you know, whatever clothes I had from vacation I put in a suitcase and flew down to Washington and picked up the campaign plane, and ended up on that for nine weeks, until the election.
Ritchie: Did you enjoy it?
Ludtke: I did enjoy it, to a degree. It was a lifestyle which I would never want to go through it again, but with a sense of an end in sight, it was okay. I didn't think it was a great challenge as a journalistic endeavor, because, frankly, you're kind of cooped up on a plane, landing on three different tarmacs in three different states. It's really an endurance contest.
Ritchie: Had you done much political?
Ludtke: I'd done no political reporting up till then, so it was rather, again, a strange fit for them to put me on it, but it was a learning experience, and occasionally we would switch off. I would do [Geraldine] Ferraro, and the Ferraro person would go on Bush's campaign. It was interesting. I got to know a couple of people who have become still great pals of mine in the journalism world from that experience.
Ritchie: Did you have strong political views yourself? Was it hard to keep your personal views to yourself?
Ludtke: Yes, I think in some ways it was. I grew up in a Democratic state. I grew up in the summers living next door to the Kennedys and knowing them, and was kind of the antithesis of George Bush, but I'd like to think that I was able to put much of that aside and report in the way that Time needed the reporting done in a fairly accurate, unbiased way, but there's probably no way that you can totally obliterate your own—I came to like him enormously as a man. I thought he was an extraordinarily kind and usually very generous-spirited. I think in terms of reporting
the political stuff, it was pretty much there. It was what was happening. It was pretty difficult to change what was happening. So it was an interesting experience.
That went into the beginning of November, and then I went back to L.A. after that was over.
Ritchie: For your second winter.
Ludtke: For my second winter, yes. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do. I mean, what was I there to do? I can remember I did a cover story on Nancy Reagan, as sort of the West Coast correspondent on it, doing it with the Washington bureau. Just sort of a mish-mash of stories. Things would just kind of get thrown on my desk by the bureau chief, and I would do them, but I was still really looking for what I wanted to do.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Ludtke: I'm in L.A. trying to figure out what it is that I want to do. Well, one day, across my desk comes a press release from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which is an institute having to do with family planning and issues of pregnancy, etc. They had shipped out a press release on teenage pregnancy. Today, 1994, we would think, my God, you're always getting press releases on teenage pregnancy. Well, back then, we weren't covering teenage pregnancy a lot. It was just coming into national awareness that, for a variety of reasons, people having children as teenagers was perhaps not a good idea. The age of marriage was going up, but a lot of teenagers were choosing to have kids and not get married, a lot of economic issues were beginning to change, and we were having an awareness that you needed more education in order to provide a living wage. There were a lot of things changing, and teenage pregnancy was sort of being discovered as a social problem.
Reading these statistics in this press release was just eye-opening, particularly the comparisons that they were making to European democracy industrialized countries. Their teenage pregnancy rates were so much lower. So I really just somehow got captivated by this press release and by these figures, and I started just doing some work and looking into it, and decided that I would suggest that we do a cover story on teenage pregnancy. At that point, people weren't doing cover stories on teenage pregnancy.
Ritchie: It wasn't something that was covered?
Ludtke: Covered a bit here and there, but it didn't have the kind of bite to it that it does now.
So I worked for a while and put together what I thought was a pretty good suggestion—which is what the process was, if you came up with an idea, you put together a suggestion, sent it in to New York—and to my relief, surprise, delight, they accepted the idea.
Ritchie: Was this the first time you'd ever put one together?
Ludtke: No. No, I'd had other ones, but this somehow clicked with me as something that was really a very important story that I wanted to do. So I took about—four or five weeks is a fairly long time to report a story, but I think they gave me essentially that, and my idea was really not try to report a story based on statistics, but to really try to understand, to the best degree we could, why it is that kids were doing this. I mean, what were they thinking about in this, what was their experience like? So I really went out and went beyond the standard experts that we
always would quote in Time, and really went to try to talk to the kids and the teachers and the guidance counselors and the rest.
Ritchie: In the L.A. area?
Ludtke: I traveled a little bit on the story, but I think primarily in L.A., yes. This is often the way Time works, but I remember doing the reporting on the story and getting it in probably by early summer, and it was not until—and I'll get to this—that I had left the magazine, taken a leave of absence from the magazine and was, in fact, back in Boston, in December of 1985 that the story actually ran as a cover, but it did.
Ritchie: So it takes a while?
Ludtke: Well, it doesn't usually, but—I kind of joked about the fact that it was a nine-month project. But it finally did run, with the headline, "Children Having Children." But what it had done for me is really persuaded me that that was just an area of reporting that I loved. I loved just trying to understand what it was about teenagers and pregnancy, but extended past that was an interest I was developing in, obviously, children's lives, in families, in all of those dimensions that weren't really getting a lot of coverage in the magazine, but I thought, you know, if I could really take this area and work to develop some coverage of it, it would be something I'd really want to do.
Ritchie: It was something you wanted to develop?
Ludtke: Yes, but I also wanted to move back to the East Coast, and it was very apparent that I was not going to be brought back, particularly to Boston, by the Time News Service. They were having a difficult time because of an illness in L.A., in the L.A. bureau, among other things, so even though I had the discussions that summer with the chief of correspondents, saying, "You told me I only had to stay two years in L.A., that you would move me," he said, "Listen. Other things have come up. It's going to be a while."
So I was back east again that summer for a vacation, and during my time back east, I did a couple of interviews at various newspapers, looking for possibilities.
Ritchie: You'd never done newspaper daily work.
Ludtke: No, no, but I was really looking to move back to Boston. I went to dinner one night with an old friend of mine who was at that point beginning to consider running for Congress. "Tip" O'Neill had said that he was going to be leaving Congress, it was the Eighth District, and it was going to be a wide open seat, and asked me if I would be willing to be his issues director on the campaign. He was still thinking about it, but he wanted me to come on board and sort of be around as he went through the process of trying to think whether it was the right thing to do, etc. So that really appealed to me, primarily because I wanted to move back. I'd also kind of started up a relationship with a man who I'd known on the Cape from my earlier life, and L.A. just wasn't where I wanted to live.
Ritchie: So you had a lot of things pulling you back to the East Coast, or attracting you back.
Ludtke: Yes. So I went back from that vacation to L.A. and called the chief of correspondents, and told him that I was asking for a leave of absence for a year, and that if he wouldn't give me a leave of absence, I was leaving, and that I would be moving myself back to Boston, and he said,
"I'll call you back." So he called me back, they gave me a leave, which was nice, in retrospect, it was nice to know that I had a job to go back to.
So I moved myself, two weeks later, back to Boston, and set up as issues director. I worked as issues director for Joe Kennedy, who ended up winning the election.
Ritchie: That was the election that fall?
Ludtke: Not that fall. That was '85, and the election was '86, so I came on board with him in the fall of '85. The election would be the fall of '86, so I was with him for a bit over maybe thirteen months or so. Joe and I had grown up together, knew each other, and like many of the other people he hired for that first campaign, it was people who were really trusted friends of his who had areas of expertise. His brother was his finance director, his best childhood friend was the campaign manager, etc. So I did that.
Ritchie: So he set up the campaign very carefully, selecting people close to him.
Ludtke: Yes. It was smart of him to do it. It was an intense campaign, and I think it was important to have people he was really comfortable around. So I became his issues director, so that meant that he and I were together for about sixteen hours a day for about thirteen months.
Ritchie: So as issues would come up, you would help him develop viewpoints?
Ludtke: Well, we had thirty-six debates among candidates. I had to prepare him for each of those, whether they were on Mideast policy or on AIDS or on environment or on the economy or health care, whatever they were. I had to do all the issues papers that the campaign put out. If he had a meeting coming up with someone in an area, I had to brief him on that. So it was constantly getting the information, setting up briefings with him on people and sort of general areas. It was fascinating. I got to sit in.
Of course, he attracted a number of people to him. We met Jeff Sachs, who's now the economist who's doing the economies of Russia and Poland. Jeff Sachs became our economics advisor, and Lester Thurow at M.I.T. [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], and just a number of very interesting people, obviously, he could attract to it, so I learned an enormous amount about social policy issues and about politics. So it was really a wonderful opportunity. He won the primary, and then he won the election in '86, and then invited me to come down to Washington to work for him, but I just didn't want to move. I wanted to stay in Boston.
So I went back to Time, and I said, "I'd like to come back. The leave's up." And they said, "We want you to move to New York." I said, "No, I'm staying in Boston. I moved myself to Boston. We've been through this. I think I'll go to work for Joe in Washington." They said, "No, I think we could accommodate you."
So I ended up in the Boston bureau, and went right to work in trying to get back into coverage of families or social policy, domestic policy issues, focusing on children and family and women, and I was pretty successful in being able to do that, did cover stories on child care and on any number of children's issues, a cover story on women. Whenever stories came up in that area, I would do those, plus education, housing, health care.
Ritchie: So that really became a specialty.
Ludtke: Yes. Then in 1987, fall of 1987, I really had become interested in children's issues, children and poverty, what children's lives were like, drugs and children, little inkling of violence in children, and just the fact that children's lives had changed so much, and working parents and the rest. So I was thinking about doing a book on it, then someone said to me, "You have a job at Time. Why don't you propose doing a story there on it?" So I did. I wrote up a suggestion and proposed that I go live with kids and tell their stories of what it was like to grow up in America today, and I would choose a sort of representative sample of kids, not adolescents, but kids, have them become, like the teenage pregnancy story, the experts. It was not going to be about psychiatrists and psychologists; it was going to be about kids.
So I did. I traveled for about four months and lived with kids, lived with a kid in New Orleans, and a kid in Austin, Texas, a kid in Seattle, Washington, lived with a kid in a coal mining town in West Virginia, lived with a kid in Belmont, Massachusetts, here whose father was a university professor. That ran in August of '88 as a story called "Through the Eyes of Children," which was my favorite story I've ever done. It was just wonderful. I loved it. I'm not sure the magazine loved it so much. It was a long piece. In fact, I think it was one of the longest pieces they've ever run, and I don't think they've run anything that long since.
But that, really, I think in some ways solidified my interests clearly to the magazine as this is what I wanted to do, so I really continued to do that. I did cover stories on crack kids, and we did a children's story on how does society think about children, a lot of those, and every story that was on kids that was in that magazine I was involved in. Violent kids, whatever it was. So I really was quite content doing that, but I seem to get a five-year itch.
Ritchie: I know it doesn't end there.
Ludtke: So my five-year itch came upon me again, and it was in '91, and I applied for a Nieman [Fellowship] at Harvard. I just felt like I wanted another break to just think about things. I always seem to need this reflective time that others seem to be able to do without, but it takes me longer. So I applied for it, and to my surprise—and I guarantee you, to the surprise of Time—I got it.
Ritchie: You don't think they were expecting—
Ludtke: Time really loved my reporting, they thought I was a terrific reporter. They didn't necessarily think I was a very good writer. I didn't write like Time writes, and I was always sort of a bit disruptive to the process. I always wanted to try different things and the rest. I certainly wasn't, in many ways, one of their favorite, at least from my perspective, and I think they were very surprised, frankly, that I got it, because no one from Time had gotten a Nieman in years, and I was up against, as it turns out, one of their Time stars, and he didn't get it and I did, so I think there was this surprised feeling.
Anyway, I took a leave. They gave me a leave to do the Nieman. But two months into my Nieman, they did a major cutback in terms of personnel. They were going to lose twenty of ninety-one correspondents from around the world, and they were offering buy-out packages for it. As part of it, they were also going to close various bureaus, and Boston was one of them that they were going to close. We had three correspondents there when I left for my Nieman. They were going to reduce it to one and close the bureau. There was going to be no secretary, there was going to be no services associated with it. The person would just basically float around and work off of a laptop and be here, and I was not going to be that person.
Ritchie: Because you were on leave?
Ludtke: No, because I think they made the choice out of the Boston bureau who they were going to do, and from my perspective, they knew how much I loved living in Boston, they knew I was willing to travel for stories and do it, but it sort of signalled to me that they weren't necessarily caring whether I stayed or left, but I knew that I was valuable to them, and if I wanted to stay, there was certainly going to be a job, and I wasn't going to be one of the ones cut if there weren't enough people. I had a strong enough sense of that that I knew I had a job if I wanted it, but it would mean moving.
Ritchie: Once again.
Ludtke: And here I am, at that time forty years old, having moved a couple times in my life for my job, settled around near where my family is, my nieces are, bought a house, I like it where I am, I'm happy here. The idea of going as a single woman to a city and trying to find a network of friends and all that, I thought, "I really don't want to do it," and also, it's a potshot. Where am I going to go? Am I going to be sent to Houston or Miami? I don't want to go there.
So I made the decision to take the buy-out, which was actually a quite generous buy-out, and it would not start until after I finished my Nieman year, so I knew that it gave me a little cushion on the end, so I took that. The Nieman ended on, I think, May twenty-first or May twentieth, all my friends started leaving, which was sad, my Nieman family, but I think it was the next day, or it was certainly that week, that Dan Quayle gave his now very famous speech on Murphy Brown. In the back of my mind, during the year that I'd been doing my Nieman, I'd both taken courses and also thought a lot about particularly teenage pregnancy again and single parenthood. I, myself, personally, had both contemplated and actually tried for some time to become a single parent, unsuccessfully, but it was something that was in my mind.
So all of a sudden, here was Dan Quayle putting this subject on the front page, so I called my agent in New York, and I said, "Do you think would be a good time for me to get that book proposal in on unmarried motherhood?"
Ritchie: You had been thinking about it?
Ludtke: I'd been thinking about it, but I hadn't written anything at that point. She said, "Yes, I think it would be an excellent time." So I took two weeks, and within two weeks got her a proposal, and within a week we sold the book. So I suddenly had the next thing to do with my life. It was kind of out there in front of me. So I applied to become a visiting scholar at Radcliffe, which would keep me sort of within the Harvard community and give me a sort of home base, and that's what I've been doing for the past two years. I've been at Radcliffe and been writing this book, and I've taken on a couple other things in my life to kind of give me the sort of interest in policy that I really enjoy, doing some work as an education consultant for a coalition of twelve urban school districts, and things that really revolve, again, around kids. I've been writing some freelance pieces again, ones on kids and education and families.
Ritchie: Do you ever teach?
Ludtke: I did. I taught at the Kennedy School, I taught two what they call study groups, and most recently I taught what's called a current affairs study group, in which you just work with undergraduates, which I love, and go in each week and really try to present to them a way of taking in what's happening in their world outside of these ivory towers. I really like that.
And I work through Radcliffe with two Harvard undergrads who are women through something called the Radcliffe Partnership Program, and that's an attempt to really provide a mentoring experience, particularly for women at Harvard. They do research for me on my book, and, in turn, I spend time with them and we go over the research, and we have become very good friends. So that's been a kind of wonderful offshoot.
Ritchie: I would think that you would be a very good mentor for a young woman, because your career has taken so many different directions and covered so many different types of approaches to your work.
Ludtke: I hope so. I hope they get that sense, which I think is hard for young women to get today, that life can take a lot of twists and turns as you go through it, and it's not necessarily one linear track that they're going to be able to sit down now and sort of plot out with any degree of certainty.
Ritchie: I know that we're watching the clock, but is there anything else you want to add?
Ludtke: No, I can't think of anything else interesting to say about my life.
Ritchie: Your whole life has been interesting, I must say.
Ludtke: Well, we'll see what the next chapter brings, but now I have to get this book written, and that's due in this coming summer for Random House, so that's my task at hand, to try to bring some common ground between the experience of teenagers and what we euphemistically call "single mothers by choice," a sort of older, more privileged group of women.
Ritchie: When you say you tried to become a parent, is that by adoption?
Ludtke: No, it was by donor insemination, but I am now forty-two years old, and, from my point of view, obviously not in a position to have a child at this point, or bring a child into my life at this point, given both my poverty situation as a first-time author, as well as the time involved in being able to do that, but I've said to myself that if indeed I finish the book and go on to a sort of more normal life that enables me to think about doing this, I'll probably do it through adoption. I don't think I'll go back through the biologic route.
Ritchie: The video interview will give us an opportunity to pick up several areas and elaborate on them, or go into areas that we haven't talked about yet, so this will be a good place to stop.
Ludtke: Fine. Okay.
© 1994, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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