Washington Press Club Foundation
Edythe Meserand:
Interview #1 (pp. 1-48)
August 31, 1990 in Esperance, New York
Fern Ingersoll , Interviewer

Go to Index | Cover | Home
Page 1

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Ingersoll: Edythe, we want to concentrate today on your work beginning the newsroom for WOR. But before that, let's talk just a little bit about your jobs before that and your family life before you began your broadcasting career. First, where did you live? Where did you grow up?

Meserand: We lived in Philadelphia, my mother [Gaetana], father [Albert Meserand], and sister [Mary], who is eight years older than I am. We had a very quiet life. As you know, Philadelphia is more southern than some southern cities, and we had a darling little house, row house, and it was a very happy childhood. I went to schools there, and then when I was about—well, I was graduated from what would be elementary school very young apparently, because I graduated from high school at age sixteen. That was in New York, because we moved to a house outside of Jamaica, New York, the old Frederick Estate.

We lived there for a number of years and then moved up to an area known as Morris Park. That was in the Bronx and it was right off the Pelham Parkway area. It was sort of country, and we had a house there. It was while I was there that I went into the job market because of certain reverses in our financial status. I could not attend college. I did not attend any formal college.

I did go to a business college so that I could enter the work market, and my first job was with a French organization known as Pathex. It was a subsidiary of Pathé News. Are you familiar with that?

Ingersoll: Pathé News.

Meserand: We had newsreels featured in the movie houses in those days. The vice president of Pathé was here in New York City to introduce and market a home movie camera and projector, and they had offices on Forty-Third Street in New York, right opposite Stern's Department Store. My job was to condense and write a résumé of the films that they had on eight-millimeter film for use in the home, like the "Our Gang" comedies and other films that they had purchased.

The man in charge of this was a Frenchman by the name of Jacques Borst. It was B-O-R-S-T, but it was pronounced like an E [Berst]. He was a charming gentleman, very rotund, and arrived in New York with his gold telephone and manicured hands. His hands really fascinated me because I had never known anybody who had manicured nails of the male sex. [Laughter.] He was very intrigued with my writing, apparently, because he always said to me, "Edeet, you are going to day-ve-lup." And it took me a little while to figure out what he was saying, but he thought that I would develop into something, apparently.

As far as family was concerned, we were a family-oriented family, if you know what I mean. It was the hub of all activity. My father loved music and, consequently, we were exposed to the opera, the concerts, and particularly the band concerts in Philadelphia, which he loved. I can remember Mother packing a picnic lunch and dinner, and we would start out very early on Sunday mornings by trolley car. We had no car. No one had cars in those days, except the very

Page 1

Page 2

rich. We'd go to Willow Grove Park and we'd have our picnic and then the band concerts. They had one sort of a matinee and one in the late afternoon for the later crowd, and we stayed for both. That's when I heard John Philip Sousa and [Cesare] Creatore and [Franz] Schubert. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience.

Then at home, Papa would put on the Red Seal recordings of such stars as [Enrico] Caruso and [Amelita] Galli-Curci and Lucretia Bori, and others, and he would explain the opera to us and explain what each scene was as the music progressed. So I got a very, very good knowledge of music and the opera, in general, but other music, as well.

Mother was very creative with her hands. She loved to do handwork. My family's background is Italian, and like all Italian ladies, they were taught to do beautiful handwork for their own use. I still use all the things that she had in her trousseau, as well as the trousseau she did for me.

My sister was eight years older, to begin with, and I idolized her because I looked up to Mary, and also she spoiled me. Let's face it. What I couldn't get from Mom, I would go to my sister and I usually got what I wanted. So I really credit her with a lot of the spoiling. We had a very close, close family relationship.

As far as career was concerned, who thought of career at that early age? I wrote always. I had always written. The first thing that I remember was Mama gave me a diary, when I was barely able to write, but I would write my thoughts and my experiences, so called, you know, like going to the store. [Laughter.] But that I did all my life. Then as I grew a little older, my cousins, who were my playmates, and I would put on plays. I guess all children do that. Down in the cellar, we would use the old portières. Do you know what portières are?

Ingersoll: Yes. The curtains.

Meserand: Very, very heavy, musty, horrible, green things with tassels that looked like fur balls hanging down. When these were no longer used, we would use those as a stage curtain and it made a beautiful stage curtain on a clothes line. I would write the plays, and my cousin Lilly would try to do the costumes. My other two little cousins would be the actors, Tessa and Marie. The four of us would do these plays in the cellar. For music we used an old phonograph that you had to wind, and dash to it, put the needle down, then dash to the stage to do the production. I give you this background because apparently from the time I was very little I was interested in creating and in theater, actually.

Ingersoll: That, of course, fed into your later interests in so much of the broadcasting.

Meserand: Sure.

Ingersoll: As far as news is concerned, was that ever a topic of conversation at home, what was going on either locally or nationally?

Meserand: Oh, yes. Of course there wasn't any radio then, and you depended on newspapers and magazines. Of course, I remember the Saturday Evening Post was a "must" in the house. The Philadelphia Bulletin was always in the house. You read the news and it was discussed, but it was not a major discussion. It was just topic of conversation throughout the evening when you were sitting around after dinner. As I said before, there wasn't any radio. We depended on visits of friends and neighbors. But primarily it was family, as I recall, more than anything else.

I think the thing that I remember best about Philadelphia, I remember I was only twelve, I think, or thirteen, when we moved to New York, but the early years, all I can remember is a feeling of peace and of no fear whatsoever. I think the first time that I ever remember being

Page 2

Page 3

afraid was when my cousin Frank was called into the service. I was asleep when he arrived at the house, and they woke me up. I was just about eight at the time, I guess. That would be 1916, wouldn't it, or thereabouts?

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: When did we enter the war? It was '16, wasn't it, World War I?*

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: He was one of the first to go overseas, and I remember Mama picking me up and saying, "Kiss Cousin Frank goodbye." I didn't know why I was kissing him goodbye, but I just knew it was something dreadful. That was the first time I ever knew fear. Again, it was family oriented. What I'm trying to point out is that no matter what the emotion was, it seemed to stem from that hub.

Ingersoll: Of your family.

Meserand: Of the family, the family unit. It's always been very important to me throughout my life.

Ingersoll: Then in school experience, did you have any particular writing or speaking experiences in school, school newspapers?

Meserand: No.

Ingersoll: Debating societies or anything like that?

Meserand: No. The only thing that might be—yes, one thing. I was asked [to write a paper] in one of the classes. I went to a school called Drexel in Philadelphia. It was a small elementary school. One of the papers that we had to write was about the theater, where did the theater start, which was rather an ambitious thing for an eight- or nine-year-old, I thought.

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: Anyway, I wrote about that and I said—it was really amazing. [Laughter.] I don't know why I did it this way, but I said the Catholic mass was the first indication I had of drama. I wrote the whole paper on the Catholic mass, which to me is still one of the most dramatic [presentations] today. Now I'm angry with them because they do it in English and I liked it better in Latin because it had a great mystique about it. But going back, thinking about it, that was the first time that I came across anything that belonged to me that had to do with drama or writing. I'm saying writing from the standpoint of something not in my little diary.

Ingersoll: Yes. Was speaking at all important to your early life?

Meserand: Yes. In high school we had a wonderful elocution teacher, Catherine Hayden Jones, who later became a movie star. Not a star, but she had bit parts in Hollywood. I lost track of her after that, but we stayed friends for many, many years after I was in radio, as a matter of fact. Catherine had a drama club in high school, and I was very active in that, in all phases of it, because she felt that you could not act unless you knew how to produce and how to do scenery and do makeup, etc. So that everyone who belonged to the drama club had different phases of drama to participate in, and I was very active in all they did. I remember I was—what's the

* April 6, 1917.

Page 3

Page 4

thing in Gilbert and Sullivan? "Sweet Little Buttercup." "The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife"—remember that?

Ingersoll: Oh, yes.

Meserand: The French one. Well, I was in that. But I also did makeup, I also did costumes, I also helped in setting up stage scenery, etc. So that was a great influence in my life. I learned about the theater through her, really. Long after high school, Catherine used to meet me and we'd go to matinees together. So she was a great influence as far as drama was concerned.

Ingersoll: Were there any other teachers besides Catherine Jones who had an influence on you?

Meserand: Yes. [Laughter.] Dr. Krauss. You had to pronounce it that way. He was my French teacher, and he was a great influence in languages, particularly the romance languages. He spoke all of them, Italian, French, and Spanish. He taught me the beauty of languages, and I had a good ear for them, so it was a very pleasant association.

Ingersoll: Did you ever find, in your broadcasting career, that this love of language, one, and your particular ear for languages and being able to use them was of use to you?

Meserand: Yes. At NBC, I remember when they were waiting for the smoke signal from the Vatican to see who was going to be Pope. You know, they have the smoke signal.

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: And who it would be. It was because of my knowledge of Latin, which I loved, incidentally. He was also my Latin teacher. I almost forgot to tell you that. I was able to say to whomever it was in the room, in the master control, "It's So-and-so," because, of course, they announced it in Latin and I translated it immediately. I know it impressed Johnny [George Wilfred] Johnstone so much, he never got over it. It impressed me because I didn't know that I was going to do it, either. [Laughter.] But it was just a lucky thing. I would say that, and other things, of course, when you were discussing any news during the war years. It came easier to pronounce some of the French areas and the Italian areas, particularly, that were involved in the war.

Ingersoll: From high school, then, did you go directly to that rather short job you had with Pathé?

Meserand: No. I went to the commercial school so that I'd have some inkling of what to do in an office. I learned how to type, for instance, and I did that very quickly. I learned a little bit about stenography so that I could take notes. That was very valuable to me in later years when I attended press conferences, because I could take notes so much faster. I guess that was it.

Then from there I went to one of those agencies where they place people, employment agencies. They had a great many of them in New York at that time. I went to one. I think it was Ostrander. I don't know why I remember that name, but I do. It was my first interview. I went into Pathé and talked to Mr. Borst and was hired right on the spot. He took a chance on me because I was, you know, just out of school, really, and I was only seventeen.

Ingersoll: Very young! That was a writing job?

Meserand: Yes, it was a writing job. Again, I was lucky, because I loved to write. I don't say that I did it well, but I did it well enough for him to be satisfied. I had to do rewrites a number of times.

Page 4

Page 5

Ingersoll: This, I understand, was condensations of home movies that were being put out by Pathé.

Meserand: Yes. What they did was they made up a folder with a picture of the star, the length of the movie, and the content of the movie. A little marketing angle,too, I guess, was put in, to make people want to buy it. But it was a very pleasant job.

Ingersoll: Then it was in 1926, wasn't it, that you began with NBC?

Meserand: That's right.

Ingersoll: Was that at the time that WJZ and WEAF combined and it was really the beginning of NBC, also?

Meserand: That is right.

Ingersoll: How did you get that job?

Meserand: I was at a cocktail party, and a man there by the name of George Engel was there. He was vice president in charge of NBC's Artist Bureau. I was introduced to him. You know, you talk generally. "What do you do? How do you do it?" and so forth. He asked me and I said that I was miserable because Pathé had moved to Jersey City, and it took me two hours to go from home to Jersey City, because I had to take the Boston Westchester, then the subway, then the Hudson tubes, then a bus to the old Pathé studios. As a matter of fact, the offices were in Pearl White's dressing room and it was a cold, dank, horrible building in the middle of nowhere. Two hours in the morning and two hours at night was a dreadful thing, plus the fact there wasn't a place to eat. You had to live on milk and crackers or a sandwich that you brought from home. That wasn't very pleasant.

So I happened to mention all this to Mr. Engel, and he said, "Why don't you come and work for us at NBC?"

I said, "I wouldn't work there for anything! I hate biscuits," thinking it was the National Biscuit Company. I didn't know what the National Broadcasting Company was. I don't think anybody knew very much about it.

So he gave me his card and he asked me to go see the personnel director at NBC, and it was a gal by the name of Ruth Keeler, a great big gal. Scared me to death when I walked into her office. She took a liking to me, apparently, and when she saw that I did some writing at Pathé, she said, "Gee, you'd be perfect for the job that's open," and sent me to Johnny Johnstone in the press department.

Now, the press department at NBC at that time had three desks. Johnny was the manager, or director, of the department. There was a WEAF desk, and the young man there was Herb Devins. There was a WJZ desk, and the young man there was Walter Stone; his father had a newspaper upstate in New York. Then the feature desk was handled by William Burke Miller, better known as "Skeets" Miller. Johnny had a secretary, and each of the desks had a girl who did the answering of the telephone and some writing if the man wasn't available.

So the job that was available was the WEAF desk. That was the Red Network. The WJZ desk was the Blue Network. My job was merely to answer the telephone, get the information that I was supposed to get from whomever Mr. Devins told me to talk to for whatever program he was going to write about. Well, Herb was an ardent fencer. He loved to fence. After fencing, he and his friends would, I guess, go out for refreshments. Consequently, he very seldom got in on time. I found myself writing the story, using his format, so that Johnny, I thought, would not

Page 5

Page 6

know that I had written the story. [Laughter.] You had to hand these in, you see. So Johnny would edit or correct or send it back for more information or whatever, and then it had to be stenciled and sent to the mail room so that the mail room could process it. Then the releases would go out to the newspapers. So that was the concept of the department.

I got away with it a number of times, but this one morning Herb just didn't show up. I called his house and no answer. He was dead to the world, I guess. Johnny called me into his office and he said, "If you think I'm going to have you do this, you're going to be fired."

And I said, "What?"

He said, "Now, don't tell me you didn't write this."

I said, "I did write it. Herb wasn't in, and I can't reach him."

He said, "I don't want you to ever do that again. Let Herb stand on his own two feet. Don't you protect him."

I thought that was rather cruel. [Laughter.] I didn't think that was very nice of Johnny to do. But what it did was that Johnny taught me how to do it, how to write a story, what to look for, what to put into a release, and he did it in a fashion that I didn't know I was being taught. I think this was very valuable. Johnny became my mentor in radio and television.

Ingersoll: And a wonderful mentor.

Meserand: Yes. He was. He was the greatest.

Ingersoll: Yes. Then did your responsibilities grow with time during those four or five years that you were with NBC?

Meserand: Five years. That's where I got to meet so many of the wonderful women who were in radio. Now, remember I didn't know that I was doing a career; this was not a career. This was the most fantastic job in the world to me. It was great fun. I never knew what I was going to do during the day. It was a challenge and an experience. NBC was a family. Everybody knew everybody else, and it was just delightful. We had so much fun. You hobnobbed with all sorts of artists and celebrities of that period.

Jane Barton: Tell the Schumann-Heink story.

Meserand: She just said to tell the Schumann-Heink story. Well, that came a little later. But in the very early periods, you were partying with people like Vaughn de Leath and Peter de Rose and May Singhi Breen and Hugo Mariani and, oh, just so many. The Revelers, for instance.

Baby Rose Marie—golly, she used to sit on my lap. I remember one time there wasn't anybody to escort her to a date that the Artists Bureau had made for her at one of the resorts in New Jersey, Lake Hopatcong, I think was the name of it. Johnny called me into his office and he said, "Please, would you take that little girl and go there for the weekend? All your expenses will be paid. We'll have a limousine take you there and bring you back. But just keep your eye on her." And we did, and we had a marvelous relationship. I had the pleasure of giving Baby Rose Marie the picture she autographed to me up here fifty or sixty years later. [Laughter.] So it was that kind of thing.

As the department grew, as radio grew, so did our department and so did the functions of our department. At the very, very beginning, you know, the newspapers resented radio

Page 6

Page 7

desperately and did not want to print our programs and so forth. It was a long period before they came around to seeing that this was no different than the theater.

Ingersoll: Did newspaper people—newspaper women, let's say—have this same kind of feeling toward radio women that was held more generally between the newspaper and the radio?

Meserand: No. Absolutely not. No. There were a lot of women who reviewed and who had columns in the newspapers that had to do with radio. I will cite two of them whom I enjoyed very, very much. One was Harriet Mencken and the other one was Kay Trenholm, whom I had great admiration for. She wrote for the New York Sun, and her columns were really marvelous. Nellie Revell, who was the top woman publicist of the country, I think she was the first in motion pictures as a publicist. But Nellie Revell was famous throughout the country and a dear friend. I adored her. But these were the women that you were exposed to.

As far as the staff was concerned, we had very fine women on the NBC staff. As I told you, Ruth Keeler was the personnel director, and she hired everybody from top to bottom. Then there was Helen Guy, who handled continuity. She was the head of continuity.

Ingersoll: What did that mean, continuity?

Meserand: Everything that was spoken on the air. When an announcer introduced a program, it had to be written. The writers were continuity writers. They wrote the introductions and the closings or whatever had to be written that had to do with the program. And the same thing with the commercials. The commercials all went through the continuity department to see that all copy was good copy and there was nothing in it that would be objectionable on the air.

The head of the library was a gal by the name of Galbraith, and they used to call her "Battle Axe" because she was so jealous of her files. God forbid you should do something to the copy that she let you borrow!

Bertha Brainard, who was program director, she had the most fascinating and fantastic job of all, I think, and was a great influence in my life. I think I showed you a picture of me in a satin blouse. I even copied her blouses.

Ingersoll: Tell me as much as you can about the sort of influence that she was on you, please.

Meserand: Well, Bertha was my size. That was number one. I identified with this.

Ingersoll: And you were small.

Meserand: Oh, very small. [Laughter.] Wet, I must have weighed ninety pounds! But you know how small I am now. I was not much bigger. I've shrunken, I know. Now at eighty-two, I would shrink. But I was not much taller than I am now. I was 4'11" and a half or three-quarters or something like that in my stocking feet, so I wore enormous heels just like Bertha Brainard wore, but I wore those before I knew her. But I loved the way she dressed, and I was influenced by this. She had brilliant, brilliant red hair and a temper to match, and she had eyes that went right through you. She saw right through you. But she had a great feeling for people, and she knew instinctively, I think, whether or not you were the kind of person who could do the job that had to be done, whether it was singing, whether it was drama, whatever.

She proved this with the programs that she was responsible for. Milton Cross, who was an announcer, she selected him to do the opera broadcasts. Milton had the right voice for it, he had the right personality, right persona. He was opera! He didn't know he was opera; he was an announcer.

Page 7

Page 8

Ingersoll: And Bertha Brainard, you think, was the one who—

Meserand: She knew. Now, she fought to put the opera on radio for I don't know how long. I can't remember. But it seems to me that Johnny would come down from board meetings saying, "Oh, are they ever going to stop talking about that opera?" Their objection was that people in Topeka or Wichita or Timbuktu would not understand the German, the Italian, the French, and so forth. And who wants to hear it, anyway? They would much rather hear the songs that they were familiar with. Well, she finally fought enough, and as you know, the broadcasts are still on the air. So I would say it was rather a success.

Ingersoll: Was it generally, then, that she had a higher opinion of audiences than some of the other people?

Meserand: No. I think that she had a knowledge of the thing that she was trying to give to somebody. She loved opera. She wanted other people to love opera. She wanted to expose them to opera. So how better to do it than to have them listen to it? They couldn't all come to the Metropolitan Opera, and there weren't that many opera houses throughout the country, you know. They had one in Chicago and they had one in St. Louis and they had one in California; I've forgotten where. But they weren't in the small towns. To do an opera in a small town was almost prohibitive financially. There weren't enough people involved who had the voices, the money, and everything else that goes with the theater or with opera. So this was a perfect way, a perfect media, for this.

The same thing she did with the "Goldbergs," Gertrude Berg. Gertrude Berg was in and out of the office I don't know for how long before they allowed the "Goldbergs" to go on the air, because they said that the Jews would be insulted, that they just would not accept this kind of humor. Well, they were so wrong! Because it became one of the best programs on radio and eventually it was equally popular on television.

There were so many others. The "Walter Damrosch School of the Air." "What child is going to listen to it?" was the question. Well, what child did listen to it? A lot!

Ingersoll: I was quite impressed and interested in that wonderful oral history you did with Catharine Heinz* that you said that you felt that if a man had been in Bertha Brainard's shoes, these things wouldn't have happened.

Meserand: I think that's right. I don't think that the opera would have gotten on the air unless that man happened to be an opera buff, and there weren't that many around at that period that we knew, at any rate. Certainly "Walter Damrosch School of the Air" would never have gotten on, because that was really almost controversial, because the feeling was that no child would sit in front of a box, listening to classical music and learning how it came about or who the people were who brought it to you. But they were wrong! They were very, very wrong. It was, again, I thought, a wonderful thing that she did.

Of course, now, you've got to go back. I told you that Papa used to sit me down and he'd play those records, for he had to wind the thing and it had a great big horn to listen to.

* Oral history conducted by Catharine Heinz for Broadcast Pioneers Library (Washington, D.C.), August 31-September 1, 1977. Broadcast Pioneers Library also has invaluable historical documentation of E. Meserand's career.

Page 8

Page 9

Ingersoll: "His Master's Voice."

Meserand: "His Master's Voice." That's right. The Victrola. I think it goes back to those days, because I think that the things that you learn in your very, very early childhood up to the age of seven or eight, perhaps, stays with you forever. You never lose them.

Ingersoll: I think that's so true. Was Margaret Cuthbert there at that time?

Meserand: Oh, indeed. Oh, how I loved her.

Ingersoll: Did she also have a strong influence on you?

Meserand: Throughout my whole career.

Ingersoll: Could you give me some examples of that, please?

Meserand: Yes, I will. Johnny sent me up. I don't know where my dear boss was. Margaret [Cuthbert] was director of talks for NBC. I didn't even know what that meant. But her office was a floor above ours. He told me to go up to see Margaret and to take down all the information so that Johnny could write this story if Herb [Devins] didn't get in. I went up. I had no idea who Margaret Cuthbert was; I had never met her. She had a young gal by the name of June Hynd, I think, and June ushered me into her office, and this woman stood up. And you know how short I am. I probably reached her waist. Tall, stately, very, very severe-looking, and my heart was in my throat. I could barely talk, I was so scared of her. She used to laugh about it later. She said to me, "You're new."

I said, "Yes, ma'am."

She said, "You don't have to call me 'ma'am.'" [Laughter.] She told me to sit down, and I sat down with my little book. I told her why I was there, and she gave me the information. By the time she got through, I wasn't scared anymore. She had put me at my ease very easily and very quietly. She was a very quiet person. She wanted to know about me, where I came from and so forth. I told her. She told me that she hoped that I would be with NBC for a long, long time, that I would enjoy it, and to feel free to come and see her whenever I wanted to talk. I thought that was the dearest thing I had ever heard from an utter stranger!

Well, our lives met many, many times, both at NBC and after I left NBC. She actually is the one who pushed me into AWRT [American Women in Radio and Television], because she called me when they were going to have the convention in New York to organize, and she said, "Now, you're going to be the organizing convention chairman."

I said, "Oh, no, I'm not."

She said, "Oh, yes, you are, because I've already given your name to the committee." And that's how I became the convention chairman of the AWRT organizing convention and then, of course, was elected president. But she never stopped.

I think all my records are with Catharine [Heinz], as you know. There's a letter there from her (when I won the McCall Golden Mike), from Margaret Cuthbert that's absolutely precious. You must read it the next time you're there.

Page 9

Page 10

Ingersoll: I will look for it. I know you were quite young all the time you were there. Was it at that time in your life possible for you to make any kind of innovations at NBC?

Meserand: Well, the only innovations, if you could call it that, Johnny [Johnstone] always said, "If you have something that has to be done, no matter what it is, give it to Meserand and she'll find a way of doing it." This is why I credit him so with the things that I did later, because he would throw assignments to me that I hadn't the slightest, vaguest way of knowing how to do. I had to find my own way. For some unknown reason, I think the good Lord had his arms around me. I found that way.

For instance, our mailing lists grew and grew and grew out of proportion, and it was so mixed up. Johnny said, "You think that you could straighten this thing out?" I remember I worked until nine o'clock one night just rearranging the files so that it would be easier to contain certain areas. Nobody asked me to stay there until nine o'clock at night. I just did it because I wanted to get the job done. I think this was true of other things that he would assign to me.

Then as things progressed, there were many radio editors, all the newspapers decided on having—well, you know the theater sections that we have today and we've had for years and years. They started a radio section. It was a separate section in the newspaper. Every major newspaper throughout the country had these radio sections. The radio editors were really newspapermen that had been taken off whatever their assignments were to handle the radio desks, like Jack Foster of the [New York] World Telegram, Jack O'Brien of the [New York] Times, Joe Ranson at Brooklyn Eagle. I could go on naming all of them. AP [Associated Press] chose C.E. Butterfield, "Charlie" Butterfield. The first radio editor in radio was a man by the name of Webb Artz for United Press.

So that these were all seasoned newsmen who became regular editors, and they would call Johnny and say, "I want an interview with Jessica Dragonette," or Countess Olga Albani or the Revelers or Madame [Ernestine] Schumann-Heink and so forth. Somebody had to handle this. So who did Johnny give it to? Me. And that's when I got my first secretary. He made arrangements so that I could have a girl assist me, because the burden was really very, very large, when you consider a kid—I was only a kid at that time!

[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]

Meserand: You had to have a photographer assigned. You had to have the room where the interview was to take place available, which was the board room. I mean, there were innumerable things that had to be handled. Then you had to get the artist back where he or she had to go. Sometimes you had to accompany them because if it was a child artist, you wouldn't let the child go alone.

Ingersoll: A great deal of handling of detail.

Meserand: Detail.

Ingersoll: It was important in your learning in that job.

Meserand: And that's where I learned it. And boy, I still am, where detail is concerned. [Laughter.]

Jane [Barton] said to tell you about Schumann-Heink. NBC, by this time, was very class-conscious, and everything was done up brown, you know, like red carpet coming into the entrance of 711 Fifth Avenue, and we thought we were really the greatest at that time.

Page 10

Page 11

Jack Foster, who was radio editor of the New York World Telegram, had called me and said that he wanted an interview with Madame Schumann-Heink. It was just at the time that the organization had given her an office and all she did in the office was to have interviews. If there was a musical program, she would say, "I don't like that selection. You should use thus and so." You know who Madame Schumann-Heink was?

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: She spoke with a very heavy accent. I had a mad crush on Jack Foster. He had said to me, "After the Madame Schumann-Heink interview, why don't we go out and have a bite to eat together?"

And I said that was fine, because it was in the afternoon that he was going to interview her. So I got dressed up in my best suit, because that's what I wore, suits and blouses, just like B.B., Bertha Brainard. We all called her B.B.

So Jack arrived and I had gone into Madame's office and talked to her secretary. I said, "I'll bring him in as soon as he arrives."

She said, "Fine."

So we went in. I have never used a lot of makeup. The only makeup I ever used was powder and lipstick. I never used anything else. Never used rouge or eye makeup. I went into Schumann-Heink's office with Jack and introduced the two, and she looked at me and she said, "How old are you?" This is in front of the man that I had a mad crush on!

I told her, and she said, "Go in there and wash your face." She had her own bathroom. I did as I was told. You didn't argue with Madame Schumann-Heink. Jack had very little eyes, very twinkly eyes, you know, the dark eyes that twinkle like that. I could see his eyes twinkling, and I said, "He's laughing at me," and I was so embarrassed. I went in and washed my face, and she said, "You're too pretty to have that makeup on your face. Now you look like a nice little girl." [Laughter.] And we had our interview, and Jack never let me forget that I was a nice little girl and I didn't need makeup. But these are the funny things that happen in your lifetime.

Ingersoll: Yes. Do you remember how much you were paid in those days?

Meserand: I haven't the slightest notion. I think something like $25 a week was a fantastic salary. I think that's what I was paid. You know, in that period your bread was 5 cents a loaf, and you rode the subway for 5 cents. Your top executives might make $10,000, if they were lucky. You say these prices of these things today and they sound ridiculous.

Ingersoll: Surely. Yes.

Meserand: But this is what it was in that period.

Ingersoll: Did you live at home?

Meserand: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Mother would never think of letting me out of her clutches. [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: When I was looking through your scrapbook, there was a squib in the Evening Graphic. Was that a New York paper?

Meserand: Yes, it was.

Page 11

Page 12

Ingersoll: It came from November 1931, which seemed a little out of the ordinary. It said [reading from notes], "After working at the Fifth Avenue Air Factory, NBC, for four years, Edythe Meserand of the press department was fired because Frank Mason, VP #3456, and a two-month-old member of the organization, thought she was incompetent. Mr. Mason arrived with a fanfare of trumpets and has been making more noise than that and doing nothing ever since." What was that all about?

Meserand: That was written by Jerry Wald, who was a very young reporter. The Graphic was a new newspaper in New York similar to the Daily News and the Daily Mirror. It was that kind of paper. Jerry was furious when he found out, like everybody else—he was not the only one who wrote about it. The Sun, the Times, I think you'll find clippings of all those newspapers. Kay Trenholm did a whole column. They were furious that this thing had happened.

What happened was that Frank Mason was brought in as a—what do they call these things?

Ingersoll: Time and motion expert? Something like that?

Meserand: Efficiency experts. He took a personal dislike to Johnny Johnstone. Now, I don't know how much he heard about Johnny or what he heard about Johnny. You know, the rumors in those days were just as bad as the rumors today. If you were seen with somebody, it was worse then, because today nobody cares, really. But if you were seen in a restaurant with So-and-so, you were immediately tied to that person. If somebody started a rumor, it was believed and enlarged upon. Why he disliked Johnny, I don't know, but he obviously did. He interviewed everybody in the station about their work and what they did and so forth, and he would decide whether you stayed or not. The interview with me, which I understand—I have no proof of this, but I was told by one of the engineers at NBC that he had recorded his interview with me. Why he went to those lengths, I'll never know. But no matter what I told him about my work, it would go back to [the subject of] Johnny. Did Johnny go to parties?

I'd say, "Yes, we all do."

Did Johnny womanize?

I said, "That I wouldn't know anything about." I knew Johnny as my boss and so forth. Well, the crux of it was that he wanted me to say a certain thing about Johnstone that I refused absolutely to say, even if I knew it was true.

It was then, at that time, that I made up my mind that no matter where I worked from then on, my personal life was going to be completely separate from my business life. I had many, many personal friends and I have had throughout my life, but none of them had any connection with my business life, with one exception, and that was Henriette Harrison, who later came into the broadcast field, but she had been a personal friend before that. So that was the story behind that particular item.

Ingersoll: And Mason was responsible for getting you fired?

Meserand: Yes, he fired me. He fired me that same minute after the interview. He fired me. It broke my heart, I can tell you that, because I loved what I was doing. I was respected by all the radio editors throughout the country, which you saw in the scrapbook.

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: You saw letters from all the people who were coming to the opening of my big broadcast. [Laughter.] It was the Hearst station.

Page 12

Page 13

Ingersoll: In your next job.

Meserand: Yes, in my next job. Joe Connelly was president of INS [International News Service]. I wasn't even out of NBC when he offered me the job at WGBS, which Hearst had just bought, and that later became WINS. Our studios were on the top floor of the Hotel Lincoln, and the control room was in the bathroom, the control panel was in the bathtub, the engineer sat on the john to work the controls. The studio was an improvised old bedroom that they hung monk's cloth all around the walls and opened the windows so I could get air, and I did the Musical Clock program there from six o'clock until nine o'clock in the morning.

Ingersoll: That was a news program, wasn't it?

Meserand: That was news, it was weather, it was stories that could come up or something that I read somewhere, music, mostly classical and the musical comedy type and some popular, but early morning was not the time to have razzmatazz type at that time, at least not for me. [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: Was that the one where you were known as the Musical Clock girl?

Meserand: Right.

Ingersoll: So it was a variety program.

Meserand: Yes. Then I switched hats and became program director. [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: So you wore the two hats. What about that very first program, the one you referred to a few minutes ago, that you did, I think, in December of '31? It was one that the Brooklyn Eagle announced by saying [reading], "Miss Meserand has joined the staff of WGBS, and while not known as a broadcaster, has a radio voice and will make this special broadcast about the people she knows best"—I take that to mean the radio editors—"and with whose eccentricities and idiosyncrasies she has had to deal during four years of service with the big network stations." There were several things in there that interested me. I knew that radio voice was very important, wasn't it, for women in that day?

Meserand: Yes.

Ingersoll: Many women were told they did not have a radio voice.

Meserand: That's right.

Ingersoll: But yours must have been different.

Meserand: Well, mine had a low timbre, as it still has, only it didn't shake as much as it does now. I had a good radio voice, there's no doubt about it. It was deep, I enunciated properly, and I didn't do it on purpose; I just spoke that way. It was a natural voice. That was Joe Ranson of the Brooklyn Eagle, I think, that wrote that.

What happened was that Joe Connelly of INS, as I told you, hired me for this and he decided that what we should do is to have a big cocktail party for all the radio editors that I knew so well and have them all come and we would do a broadcast from the hotel. I told you we were at the Hotel Lincoln. I would talk about each of the radio editors that I knew and tell a

Page 13

Page 14

funny story about one or two of them or whatever, and maybe put him on the air and have him do a story about me about something that they had experienced. It was just a fun thing. That's what the broadcast was.

I was not interested in broadcasting from the standpoint of being in front of a mike. I did it under protest. I was much more interested in the executive end of it, really, and the producing end and that sort of thing, but not actually air work. I did it in the early stages because it was demanded of me, but I didn't enjoy it really.

Ingersoll: That's interesting. There was a program that I was particularly interested in because of the women's angle. It was called, I think, the "Women's Roundtable Series" that you did between 1932 and 1935. What was that?

Meserand: That was on WINS. I would read papers. You know, everybody did. I would pick out subjects that I felt were of primary interest at that particular time or there may have been a personality who arrived in New York who had a certain angle about a certain thing. It didn't have to be a woman's angle at all, but it was something like when, for instance, Sister Kenny* came into town. I thought, well, gee, she'd make a wonderful subject for the Roundtable, so I would get a group of prominent women who could speak on that particular thing, like the head of Visiting Nurses, for instance. You would get a panel of four or five women—four, usually, or maybe three. It all depended on what the subject was. We'd have this guest speaker and we would just talk about the particular work that she had done or was going to do or whatever the story was. It was not primarily aimed at women; it was women who were doing things that were of benefit to everybody, not just women. So that was basically what that program was about. We had it on for about a year, I think, or more. I don't remember, really.

Ingersoll: I think that may have gone for as many as three years.

Meserand: Maybe! [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: If the information I got from your scrapbook is correct.

Meserand: That should give you an idea of the kind of people we had on the program.

Ingersoll: Were there any other programs that were rather special like that?

Meserand: That I did?

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: Oh, dear. You know, you're asking me to think back so many years, you know, two lifetimes ago! I just don't remember. You're talking about WINS right now, aren't you?

Ingersoll: Well, let me go on to another angle and that is in 1935, at the time you did leave WINS, in Variety there was an article of October 30, 1935, and the point was made that you were leaving at that time, but you had survived some six changes of management by that time. How did you do that?

Meserand: I don't know! I think I talked myself into these things. We did have six complete changes of management, and each man who came in as a manager would bring his own staff, his own program director, his whatever. I seemed to go from publicity to programming, from

* Sister Kenny, an Australian nurse, developed a treatment for polio.

Page 14

Page 15

programming to publicity, and from publicity to sort of special features like that program we just discussed.

Ingersoll: Sometimes did you wear those two hats both at the same time?

Meserand: Oh, yes, yes. For instance, there was a man who claimed to be God, Father Divine. Father Divine was a Negro minister who claimed to be God. He got the most fantastic amount of publicity! He had lawyers who represented him. He wouldn't come to the telephone. I think my special features—what is the word I want?

Ingersoll: Role?

Meserand: Well, the thing that made me valuable in WOR was because of some of the special features that I did when I was with WINS, only I didn't know it. When all this publicity took place about Father Divine, I think the thing that really made the big splash in the newspapers, particularly in the Hearst newspapers, was the fact that he married a young white woman, and yet this was accepted in his church in Harlem, which they didn't think would happen, but it did and it was fine. So we said, "Why don't we have him do a broadcast?" Or I said. [Laughter.] "Why don't we have him do a broadcast for us on the air?" So that started the negotiations with Father Divine, who would not talk to you on the telephone, but his lawyer talked to you. The outcome was that we had to have a white microphone, and the engineer had to have a white cassock type of thing, you know, over his suit. Oh, he had all sorts of recommendations.

I never saw this man until the night of the broadcast. We arrived there, and I always had somebody with me when we went on location. Incidentally, these remote broadcasts were called Nemo in those days.

Ingersoll: Were they rather new, the remote broadcasts, at that time?

Meserand: They were new when I was at NBC, and they were still new when I was at WINS, but, of course, you had to go over there and set up, had to buy lines from the telephone company to have the power to broadcast, and you set up your microphones and your equipment, the portable equipment which was available at that point. Prior to that it wasn't available.

But anyway, we get to Harlem and Father Divine had, I think, three houses that had been sort of gutted so that it made one large auditorium and he had a stage, and this is where he broadcast from. Well, the place was absolutely mobbed. I got out of the car. I was a chain smoker, incidentally. I had a cigarette in my hand, and this gentleman came over to me and he said, "Take that cigarette out of your mouth. You're in front of God's house."

I said, "Yes, sir." He was much, much bigger than me and certainly bigger than the two men I had with me. [Laughter.]

So we went in, and it was just amazing to me to see the kind of audience. Really, some of the people were such that you would not believe that they would be followers of this kind of sect. Then in the basement they had a group of women who were cooking, and they had these enormous tables, just miles of them. Well, imagine three houses' worth. They were all set up with tables and place settings, and the food was unbelievable—turkeys and hams and roast beefs and so on. See, what they did, they signed over all of their money to this man who was God, and then they were fed and clothed by him. I don't know about housing; I don't know how they did that. I don't remember, really. But this was an image during that period of time that was really one of the first of the so-called sects that later became like the Moonies and the rest of the Oriental groups that have been formed in this country.

Ingersoll: Was it your idea to cover this?

Page 15

Page 16

Meserand: Yes. This is what I mean. This was the beginning of my [career], without realizing that this was something that I was going to really do as a career, because I didn't know I was doing a career; I was doing a job.

Ingersoll: You were taking each day as it came along.

Meserand: Each day. I'd read the paper and see the story about Father Divine or I'd see a story about something else, and it would spark a thing, and I'd say, "Gee, this would be an awfully good program." I'd talk it over with the program director, talk it over with the station manager, and then put the whole thing together.

Ingersoll: Would they usually agree?

Meserand: Yes. I didn't have too much difficulty that I remember. The only person I had any difficulty with at WINS was the publicity director when I was program director. [Laughter.] I told you I was like a yo-yo. One year I was one thing, one year I was another. This man's name was George [von] Weida. He was a baron, Baron von Weida. He did not believe in women, so I had a little problem with him. No matter what I suggested at our program meetings, you know, he scoffed. But he lost out. If the manager said it was okay and the program director said it was okay, you went ahead. Anyway, that was not anything important, but I know you want the little frictions there.

Ingersoll: Yes, that is good for our documentation. You then had survived these six changes of management.

Meserand: Oh, god, yes!

Ingersoll: Apparently in 1935, something must have happened where there was a letter from the manager of WINS, and he said they were going to start a specialized publicity campaign for the station, "and were it possible to have found a place for you in those plans, believe me, it would have been done." What happened at that time and what does he really mean there?

Meserand: He doesn't really mean what he says. We had a difference of opinion, shall I say. This was the first time that I ever felt that there was a real discrimination. Shall I use that word? I did not intend to have him in my life, and he would not accept that. So this was the first time in my career—and the only time in my career, actually—that this sort of thing came up. I would never give him the satisfaction of knowing that I recognized what he was doing, so that basically is the story.

Ingersoll: Was that connected at all with Elliott Roosevelt's—

Meserand: Oh, no. That was another thing. That was completely different. That had no connection to it.

Ingersoll: Was it from this point that you went to the offices of the Hearst people?

Meserand: What happened was that when I was out of there [WINS], when I knew that, according to his letter, the station was going to do other things for publicity purposes and so forth, I did know the Hearst boys quite well, casually, but knew them, particularly Jack, who was a close friend of a close friend of mine. As a matter of fact, this young man that I'm talking about had been Jack's roommate in college, one of the colleges they were both thrown out of. Morey [Maurice Kintsler] talked to Jack and said, "Hey, you know, Edythe's been kicked out of WINS."

He said, "Oh? Well, send her over to Hearst Radio. Tell her to go to Hearst Radio."

Page 16

Page 17

I went, and there was a man by the name of Emile Gough, who was head of Hearst Radio, whom I had known. He's a pioneer in radio. Emile knew me and knew my work, and he said, "There really isn't an awful lot available right now, but there is an opening in the sales department. You'll be working with the salesmen. Is that all right? Would you take that?"

I said, "Sure." I didn't care, but I wanted something better.

He said, "We're going to move and have regular offices." They were just setting up the Hearst Radio office. See, they had ten stations. Hearst owned a building on Fifty-Seventh Street. I don't remember just where. Anyway, they decided they'd take those offices and Hearst Radio would be there. They would have a person to handle the promotion, ads in Broadcasting and in Variety and in whatever publications they put ads, if I would do the ads for the ten stations. Well, you know, this was an assignment again that I knew nothing about, so I quick got myself acquainted with what was necessary, and where angels fear to tread, I did tread. [Laughter.]

So that's when I went into the Hearst Radio executive offices to handle the promotion for the ten Hearst stations and did very well with it and was very happy in it, because it was another challenge.

Ingersoll: I think you mentioned in your oral history with Catharine Heinz that you went to Columbia [University] and took some special courses at that time, to be sure you were doing the right thing.

Meserand: That's right. That was the period. I had forgotten that. I'm glad you reminded me.

Ingersoll: I thought it was interesting that you sometimes took that route along the way.

Meserand: Yes. In order to do that, I had to learn what I was supposed to do. I certainly wouldn't let anyone down who was kind enough to have faith in me to give me the job, as was Emile Gough. First Jack Hearst and then Emile Gough, because they both had faith in the fact that I would be able to handle the assignment, I guess, or they wouldn't have given it to me. That was a very nice experience and a very good experience for me, and I enjoyed it very, very much.

Ingersoll: That must have been a very growing time for you, doing things, again, as you had many times in the past, that you'd never really done before.

Meserand: That's exactly right.

Ingersoll: You simply had to jump in.

Meserand: Yes. I got to be very good friends with all of the station managers, the one in New York and the one in Pittsburgh. I used to remember all their names, but I can't remember them now. But Milwaukee. Ralph Weil, I remember his name. Isn't that funny? All ten stations, they seemed to be very pleased with the advertisements that I mapped out. They would feed me material, of course, because I didn't know what they were doing. I did go to visit all of them to see their setup so that I would know what I was talking about, because I felt very keenly about this sort of thing. Unless you know what you're doing—I always quote my mother, who always said, "Having a maid isn't the answer. The answer is knowing how to do it so that the maid knows what to do; what she's doing, you have to know how to do first." So this was something that I followed through subconsciously without realizing I was doing it. She had a great influence on my life.

Page 17

Page 18

Ingersoll: Was this the time when a man was hired to take your job?

Meserand: Oh, yeah. Well, there were so many reorganizations. I guess during that period, too, it wasn't only at Hearst Radio, it was radio in general, it was a coming of age kind of thing. They decided that they had experts to do certain things. Well, the expert in the case of WINS or Hearst Radio was a man by the name of Elliott Roosevelt, the president's son. Well, he apparently was out with some of his friends and decided to give his friend [my job], whose name I cannot remember to save my soul. It probably is in the things that you've looked at in the library. Anyway, it's not important.

I came into my office and my secretary was at her desk looking utterly frustrated. I asked her what was the matter. She said, "There's a man sitting in your office."

I said, "Did I have an appointment?"

She said, "No. He's sitting at your desk."

I went in, and sure enough, his hat was on the clothes rack and here he's sitting with pieces of paper in front of him at my desk. He looked at me and said, "May I help you?"

I said, "Well, may I help you? This is my office."

He said, "No, not anymore. It's mine." And I was furious. I thought that that was the worst kind of treatment that anybody could give anyone. Somewhere in those papers you'll see a telegram from Eleanor Roosevelt to me, which, in a sense, was an apology.

Ingersoll: Why is that?

Meserand: For Elliott.

Ingersoll: What did you do in that case?

Meserand: Well, the first thing I did was to call Johnny Johnstone and say, "You will never believe what happened to me."

And he said, "I'll believe anything that happens to you." [Laughter.] I'll never forget that. I told him, and he said, "Oh, for god's sake!"

Then I called—who was it? I can't remember who it was at the [New York] Journal-American. It's not important. Anyway, I called several people who had any connection with Hearst Radio. And Emile Gough, I called him, and he had been fired before me, because Elliott Roosevelt came in to take over Hearst Radio. That was it. He said he was so sorry and he wished that he could do something, but he was trying to find a job for himself.

So Johnny said, "You come over here and see me." And I did. I went to see Johnny, and he said, "You know, there's nothing here that I could really offer you right now. There's an opening in the office, but just somebody to type."

I said, "I don't care what it is, Johnny. I want to work with you again."

He said, "Well, let me introduce you to Mr. Streibert," Theodore Streibert, who at that time was general manager. The president of the company was Alfred J. McCosker. So I don't know why the general manager had to interview a person who was only going to do typing in a press department, which is what Johnny had. He was director of the press. Now, Johnny's secretary was the sort of major-domo of the entire department. You know, some secretaries are

Page 18

Page 19

sort of "heads of the department" with their bosses. Turns out that she was my former secretary, Johnny's niece, whom I had trained at NBC and was very unhappy about my being there. Her name was Eleanor Hurley.

Ingersoll: Why was she unhappy?

Meserand: She didn't feel secure with my being there. Why she thought that I was after her job, only God knows, because I was not after a secretarial job. I was not after anything. I just wanted to work with Johnny because I loved the way he worked and I liked the things that he did. Remember, throughout the years, anytime I had a problem or anything that I wanted to discuss, PR-wise or publicity-wise, I would talk it over with Johnny either on the phone or we'd have a drink together or whatever, because we had been friends for all those years. You don't lose that kind of friendship.

Incidentally, I had a lot of male friends who were not lovers or sweethearts or anything; they were just friends. And Johnny was one of them. So when he said this, I said, "I don't care, Johnny. Do you think I'll get along with Eleanor?" She was known as Pat Hurley.

He said, "Well, you'll have to work that one out."

So I said, "Okay."

So I went to see Streibert, and Streibert kept me in his office for two hours, because he knew my background, he knew who I was, and he couldn't get over the fact that someone who had gotten out of an executive position—my expense account was more than I was to make as a salary, for god's sake!—and that I would give up that kind of prestige for the lowest kind of job in the press department of WOR. Well, the only reason I wanted to work there was because of Johnny, plus the fact that I had heard from other sources that WOR was the nearest thing to what NBC used to be. And I missed that. I missed it very much, that family loyalty kind of thing that we all had at NBC in the beginning. And he couldn't understand that. Streibert couldn't understand it. He kept saying, "You will never get anywhere. You will never be an executive in this organization. I just want you to know that that's the way it is here." Well, of course, he ate his words a few years later.

Ingersoll: Why was that? Why would he say you would never be an executive?

Meserand: Because he didn't believe in women! Women had two places. You know the same old story. One was the kitchen. I was never in a kitchen. So he just couldn't understand this. No amount of talking—I just said, "I'm resigned to it. I just ask you for the opportunity of letting me work here for the length of time that I can."

Finally, he said, well, if he couldn't break my spirit down, he wasn't going to try. So I went to work there under very adverse circumstances, really.

[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]

Ingersoll: So you began to work in WOR in a fairly lowly position, but how long did that go on?

Meserand: It's hard for me to remember at the moment now. It didn't go on too long, because I was bored with what I was doing. It was not giving me the opportunity to do the things that I might want to do.

But at that time the publicity department, which Johnny Johnstone headed, had several reporters. Dave Driscoll was one, Alvin Josephy was another, Jerry Danzig was a third. What they did was that certain programs were originated by the press department and the boys would

Page 19

Page 20

go out and cover that particular story. Dave and Jerry had a program called "Let's Visit," which was a weekly program where they went to visit people in their own homes, very much like the thing that Edward Murrow did later on, on television. This was ordinary people, not stars or personalities per se. They wrote publicity releases about their particular stories that they were covering or about the people who were on WOR, personalities that were on WOR for the various programs that were produced there. So that was mainly their function. There was no news operation at all.

So consequently, once I had done whatever had to be done for Dave or for Alvin or whoever was working on the program, I had very little to do except filing, which I loathed and I had never done in my life before, but I soon learned how. I typed the stencils. I was pretty much on my own, so I started to do things that I thought should be done.

At that time they had a log—a large book, actually, was what it was—and they called it the special features log. Each person who was working on a specific program, be it a talk somewhere or whatever the coverage was, would write in the log on the certain day that it was going to take place, what the program was called, the time, and who the contact was, the telephone number, and his own name in parenthesis. It occurred to me that they had no real records of these things. I'm a record keeper. [Laughter.] I keep records about everything. It seemed to me that it was not right for the organization not to have a record of the public service things that they did, be it announcements, which we also did in the office, or the on-air programs that they were responsible for. So I started a monthly report, on my own, and after I finished it, I gave it to Johnny Johnstone. I said, "Do you realize what this department has done for public service?"

He said, "No, it never occurred to me to keep a record."

I said, "Well, I just did it on my own. I thought that you might be interested in it." So Johnny, who was always ready—and this is the thing that I loved about this man—if you made a mistake and you told him, he would find a way of excusing it, but if you did something that was good and he felt that you should receive praise, he would praise you to the heavens if necessary. So what he did was to attach a little handwritten note to Mr. McCosker ["Hollywood" McCosker], who was president, with a notation to pass it on to Ted Streibert, who was the executive vice president, and on it he wrote, "Meserand (which is the way he always referred to me, never by my first name) did this on her own. This is the kind of initiative that I talked to you about." He said something along those lines; I don't know if I have the exact words verbatim. It's in my scrapbook; you can find it there.

So he sent it to them and they were really quite impressed, and they started to look for it each month. So I created a job within a job, and then this was done on a stencil and it was sent to the sales department. We had a promotion department and the program department and, of course, to McCosker and Streibert. So this is the kind of thing that I occupied myself with.

Then, of course, came the situation when England declared war on Germany, and that's the time that I found myself.

Ingersoll: Oh, that's such an interesting time. I think even though you've told that for the oral history with Catharine Heinz, would you tell it again? It has such significance.

Meserand: The office was going to be closed at four o'clock in the afternoon because it was a holiday weekend. I think it was Labor Day, if I'm not mistaken. The telephone operators called downstairs to each department and said, "The offices will be closed at four o'clock, just a skeleton staff." It was up to the director of that particular department to choose who stayed until the normal hour. I had a yachting date that weekend with my current beau, and the

Page 20

Page 21

announcement of our engagement was going to be made following this little weekend trip. You remember you saw some pictures earlier of dear friends of ours.

Ingersoll: Oh, yes.

Meserand: It was on their boat that we were going on this little yachting trip. So my beau called. He was a young lawyer. He was just leaving a courthouse that was midway between my office at 1440 Broadway and the marina at City Island where the boat was docked. He was at the courthouse at, I think, 149th Street, if I recall it correctly. I said, "It's silly for you to come all the way downtown. I'll take the subway and meet you at City Island," because he was so near there. So that was fine. That was about a quarter of four.

A few minutes after that—see, we had no newsroom at WOR. We had no news operation whatsoever.

Ingersoll: None at all?

Meserand: None. There was a printer. You know what a printer is?

Ingersoll: I'm not quite sure what that is.

Meserand: A printer looked like a teletype machine, without a keyboard. It printed the reports on a continuous roll of paper. Bells would announce a story coming in, and if it was a bulletin, this was preceded by a constant ringing of bells. The material was supplied by the news agencies—AP, UP, INS, etc.

Ingersoll: Did it come through on a tape?

Meserand: It came through on very much like the things on the computer now, a whole page. It wrote right across as you would a normal page. It had a roller on it, and as it rolled off, you tore off the bulletin or whatever.

Ingersoll: Did you have all three services?

Meserand: No, no. There was only one—Trans-American or something unbelievable. I think that was the name of it. It was not one of the major ones.

Well, this printer was in the back of master control, and when something came through, bells would ring. When the bells started to ring, the man in master control, the engineer, would pick up the phone, call Johnstone, and say, "Bells are ringing." Johnny would race upstairs, tear the thing off the machine, and run into the production office, and they would get an announcer and the announcer would put it on the air. That was the whole news division. You see how inaccurate that could be and how terrible that could be and how time-wasting.

Well, this is what happened right after that phone call at a quarter to four. I remember the time only because they had just told us that we could leave at a quarter of four. So Johnny dashed upstairs when master control called and said, "Bells are ringing." He dashed up to master control, which was right upstairs on the same side of the building where our office was, so it was just up the stairs and into the master control. The next thing that happened was that Johnny called downstairs and said, "Driscoll, get Meserand and get up here."

So I went upstairs with Dave, and that's the last anybody saw of me until the following morning when John Gambling went on the air and said, "Guess who was here all night?" [Laughter.] And mentioned my name. You can imagine my family! Because everybody was calling Mother to find out where I was and why wasn't I at the marina to go on this trip. So then

Page 21

Page 22

followed a lot of telephone calls to hospitals, police departments, and so forth. When she would call the studio, the telephone operator would say, "Oh, she's not here. They all left at a quarter to four." So the first the family knew that I was alive was at six o'clock when John Gambling went on the air, and our family had listened to John Gambling long before I joined WOR, because I don't think anybody in New York got dressed unless they heard what the weather was and John Gambling told them what to wear. [Laughter.]

So when she heard this, of course, she got on the phone and wanted to talk to me and bawled me out quite nicely for not letting her know where I was, because that was very unlike me. And I learned my lesson that night that I would never, never put her through that again. She knew exactly where I was twenty-four hours a day from then on. So that is how that little situation happened. Incidentally, there was no engagement announced. [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: Did that end the relationship?

Meserand: No, no. We were friends. We were very good friends, and he married someone else. I was to dinner at their house innumerable times. No, the friendship continued, but the romance wasn't there, obviously.

Ingersoll: I think I remember from the oral history with Catharine Heinz that getting the news, that terribly important piece of news at that time, really had a strong effect on your life and your orientation toward news as a career.

Meserand: It did. It changed my whole viewpoint. I knew then that what I really, really wanted was what I was doing and not marriage, obviously. What I wanted was doing what I was doing. It was that happening that resolved the situation at WOR, that war was something that we must cover and we must have a news staff to cover it. It was this event that precipitated the division between the publicity department and the news division, you see.

Ingersoll: Was it at that point that you went to work with Dave Driscoll?

Meserand: They called me in and said, "This is what we're going to do," because he had discussed it at the executive board meeting that the time had come that we needed two departments for this and no longer could we wait for the bells to ring in master control. It was agreed that a news division was necessary. So Johnny was told to do what had to be done, and he called Dave in first. Dave, as I said before, was a reporter originally and he had his degree in journalism and he loved doing that sort of thing. So he was the logical person to be in charge of the news division, who, at that point, before it became an actual division of the structure of the organization, still reported to Johnstone until such time as we had a full division set up.

Then he [Johnny Johnstone] called me in and he said, "Meserand, what do you want to do? Do you want to stay with me in the publicity department or do you want to work with Dave in news?" And I chose news. This had no reflection on Johnstone, but I knew, after that night, that this is what I wanted to do. I was no longer interested in writing about Peggy Fitzgerald's styles or coverage of a parade or whatever. I wanted to be in the news field and work directly with Dave on whatever coverage we had to cover.

Ingersoll: Do you now think that it's fair to say that the newsroom that you and Dave Driscoll set up was really the prototype for the modern broadcast newsroom and one that many other stations then followed?

Meserand: Well, I can't speak for the other stations. I just know this, that the newsroom that we set up was really a counterpart of what a city desk in a newspaper is. We had our writers, we had our sportsman, we had our feature writer, the whole thing, and we had a city editor. So that each thing was covered very similarly to the city desk of a newspaper. Every bit of news that

Page 22

Page 23

went out was rewritten by our writers. They each had assignments. If you look through my things, you'll notice that each person that was listed on the staff when we first started had an assignment, an afternoon programmer or morning programmer or the night shift. What did they call that night shift? We had a name for it. I can't remember it right now. Anyway, we were on twenty-four hours a day, so that we had coverage in that newsroom for twenty-four hours. Everything was written for that particular period.

We also started having news on, but that didn't happen until later in the year, not the year that England declared war [1939], but when we went into the war ourselves [December 8, 1941], we had news periods on every hour and every half-hour. So you can see the amount of work! And these were not the same news stories. These were all new segments that were put in. So you could see how much work was involved in putting these on the air.

I don't know what other stations did. I was too busy working my own job. But I do know this, that thirty-five years after we left WOR, they were still using the same procedures that we set up. The people might have been different, although the news staff was pretty much the same. They had additions, of course, because there's always the case of somebody dying or moving on to other things. But on the whole, the actual setup and function of the newsroom was still the same.

Ingersoll: Was this local, national, and international news that WOR newsroom collected?

Meserand: Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. You see, we were the key station for the Mutual Network.

Ingersoll: How many other stations were there, do you know?

Meserand: On the Mutual Network?

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: I honestly don't know, but there were lots. There were an awful lot. It must be in that folder that I gave you on WOR and the Mutual Network.*

So we originated it. Anything that came out of New York or the area of New York, we fed it to the network. Also, many of the programs that were on WOR were fed to the network. We also picked up from the network certain programs that originated, let's say, at WGN in Chicago or someplace in California or whatever. One of their stations in Pittsburgh, I know we'd pick up some of our commentators from there if they were traveling in that area. They would broadcast from there and we fed through WOR to the whole network, you see. So there was a constant interchange there between WOR locally and Mutual Network, as far as the network itself was concerned. But on the whole, they took practically everything that we originated.

Ingersoll: Then I understand that Dave Driscoll was often away as a foreign correspondent during that time period [1941-1945].

Meserand: During the war, yes. You see, prior to that I had been made a full-fledged member of the special features staff. Once we started to do the newsroom, we were still WOR News and Special Features. I don't remember what year it was. I'm very bad on dates.

* WOR was the flag station, that is, the originating station of the majority of the Mutual programming. Originally, WXYZ in Detroit, WGN in Chicago, WLW in Cincinnati, and WOR formed Mutual's nucleus [1934]. Later Mutual had five hundred outlets, making it the largest network in the world. From WOR Radio: The First Sixty Years (1922-1982).

Page 23

Page 24

Ingersoll: I can always look those up.

Meserand: But I was made a full-fledged member of the special features staff, which meant that I could originate programs on my own, suggest on my own; and also if calls came in, let's say, from Catholic Charities or from any other public service organization, the American Jewish Committee, or during the war years all the British War Relief and all the rest of them, they wanted to get on the air to tell their story, I would book them and work with them and produce the programs that were put on. So I was then a full-fledged member of the staff.

Ingersoll: I have a February 25, 1941 article here in Radio Daily that said that, "Edythe Meserand, who had been secretarial assistant to Dave Driscoll, has been made a full-fledged member of the special features department."

Meserand: There you have it.

Ingersoll: 1941.

Meserand: That was '41. I don't remember, as I said before, the dates. They don't mean very much to me.

But then after that, you see, is when we went into actual broadcasting from the newsroom. We had our own studio, we had the United Press, because at that time the United Press was just United Press and there was International News Service. Then recently United Press became United Press International, because they bought out International News. So you had Associated Press, UP, and INS, your three major. Then you had Reuters, which was the German, and you had the BBC. So you had all of these in your newsroom. We worked very closely with the British Broadcasting Corporation. Did I say we had a studio?

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: So you could go from the newsroom. You'd open the door and you were right in the studio. The production man was right across the hall and we could get control of the air in a split second, so that you went from the news ticker when the bells were ringing like crazy, and you learned to read very fast. You pulled it off and you quickly—by the time you walked, or ran, to the studio, you had the whole thing under control and you had somebody there to read it. So that was our general operation. It was a nerve-racking kind of a thing, but this was news. You know news didn't wait for anybody.

Ingersoll: It must have been a much more expensive kind of operation, many more people involved than there had been in the past.

Meserand: I don't know what it was like in the past. We didn't have anything in the past. You see, WOR didn't have anything except that one news printer upstairs. But there wasn't any coverage of anything, really. Just tearing of the news items from a printer is not—

Ingersoll: No. Quite different. Can you remember any of your part in the decision-making of whether to do it this way or that way as the newsroom was being formed, either in terms of positions or who would fill those positions?

Meserand: Not really. We all made suggestions. Johnny made suggestions, I did, Dave did. We had people on tap that we could get to. Johnny had all the connections with the press associations. He knew all of them. The one suggestion that I made later on when we were really into a news operation when we needed a city editor, he was the last one we chose, and I made the

Page 24

Page 25

suggestion of a man by the name of Robert S. Wood, whom I knew as "Cap" Wood.* I don't know why he was called "Cap" Wood, but when I first knew him was when I was press contact for NBC. "Cap" Wood would call and say, "I'm sending So-and-so over for an interview with Countess Albani," or Damrosch or whichever one he was sending. We got to be telephone friends. I found that I had a lot of telephone friends. I had no idea what they looked like, and I didn't know what "Cap" Wood looked like, but to me I thought he was an old, old man. Remember, I was very young. When it came about that we were talking about a city editor, I said to Dave, "I don't know whether this man is available, but he was city editor of the [New York] World and then the [New York] World Telegram, and he was a great guy on the phone. That's all I know about him. I never met him, but we worked very closely on the telephone."

Well, anyway, we found him. Dave asked him to come in for an interview, and I was very glad to see him. I said to Dave, "I want to ask him just one question," and that was, "Bob, do you feel any resentment to the fact that you will be answering to Dave and me?" Because here was a man who was old enough to be my father! I had great respect for this man, and I didn't feel that it was right that he should be working for me, as it were. It was a completely different—a reversal to the positions that most people would have taken under the circumstances, I think.

So he said absolutely no—he just laughed. I have a picture of him someplace. I'll show it to you. We became very close friends. After everybody was fired, I don't know where Bob went. I lost him after I left WOR, and I don't know. I'm sure that he has gone to his rest by this time. But he was living in Virginia the last I heard.

Ingersoll: Did you ever suggest any women for positions in that newsroom?

Meserand: During the war, we hired two women in the newsroom. Both had good qualifications, both did an adequate job. One did a particularly good job. But they were not as dedicated as one would hope. Times had changed a little bit, too. All of a sudden there was a feeling, "Well, he's getting more money than I'm getting," kind of thing, and it wasn't true, because WOR paid the same scale to them that was paid to another writer if she was a writer. But people do talk sometimes and they do exaggerate things. No, there was never any—and I didn't know anybody who would fit into the positions available. So it was hard for me to recommend somebody if I didn't know anybody who did that kind of work. I didn't know any women reporters. The only reporters I knew were men, because they were the reporters from the newspapers. They had very few [women] staff reporters on the newspapers in comparison to the male element, even during the war.

Ingersoll: I noticed that one of the women who was on a list of staff at one time, I think it was a woman, Alois Havrilla.

Meserand: No, no. Alois Havrilla was an announcer on WEAF when I was at NBC. Alois was just an announcer. He was not a reporter. He became an announcer on WOR Mutual when he left NBC, but he was not Hispanic.

Ingersoll: That is exactly the question I was going to ask you.

Meserand: No, he was not Hispanic.

Ingersoll: I am interested in when Hispanics got into broadcasting.

* The Meserand papers contain a memo from David Driscoll (November 7, 1946). This was the first time Robert S. Wood was listed as a member of the staff. He was a product of Pulitzer's Evening World, the London Times, and the Manchester Guardian.

Page 25

Page 26

Meserand: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, what was that group that gave the awards for the best announcers?

Barton: Atwater-Kent?

Meserand: No, that was the commercial announcement. Oh, it's so maddening. I wish I could remember.

Ingersoll: Maybe we can fill it in later.

Meserand: I'll try to think of it. But at any rate, the announcers would compete for this honor. It's like the Oscars and the Emmys and so forth. The National Academy of Arts and Letters? Alois Havrilla was one of the winners of this award that was given to the announcers, and every one of the men at NBC was a member who had been cited by this group.*

Ingersoll: Lucy Kent was the only woman's name that I found in these various memo lists.

Meserand: Lucy Kent joined us during the war years. She was one of the women I told you that we hired. Graveyard shift. You see how I remember things? Isn't that awful? Well, that was the midnight to eight a.m. shift. Lucy joined us in the news staff. She was a journalism major and she had worked on the local school paper, and she had worked on a small newspaper. I can't remember where she was from now. Very nice gal. She was with us for a number of years. All during the war years, I think she was with us. Shortly after that, I think she got married and went off somewhere. I never heard from her again after she was married, so I don't know what happened to her.

Ingersoll: Would she have been the only woman, then, in that newsroom besides yourself?

Meserand: We had another one who didn't work out, and I can't remember her name.

Ingersoll: Someone who came and went?

Meserand: Yes. She was not really interested in doing what she was doing. The hours were too long. What she wanted was a plush nine-to-five job where she could go out and have a two-hour lunch, not interested in getting back and having a sandwich or not eating at all, as the case might be if a story broke. How many times we went without food, you know! But no, she did not work out. But Lucy did, and she worked every shift. See, we would rotate them so that no one always had the graveyard shift, for instance. No one always had the early morning shift. So they became acquainted with the various personalities [newscasters] that they wrote for, because that was important. If there was a change in something, at least we would have somebody there.

Ingersoll: You had a different audience at each of these different times of day.

Meserand: That's right. It worked out very, very well.

Ingersoll: There weren't very many who were involved in something like this, but in a case like Lucy Kent, who came in probably to take the job of some man who had gone off to service, did those women have to sign something saying that they would give back the job when the man came back? I understand the Associated Press women had to.

* Alois Havrilla won the Academy of Arts and Letters Diction Medal. [from Catharine Heinz].

Page 26

Page 27

Meserand: No. Absolutely not. No, no. There was nothing that they had to sign. I think at some places they had loyalty oaths, and I don't think that we even had that, not that I recall, anyway.

Ingersoll: A little bit later, maybe, then.

Meserand: Maybe. Probably. But I don't remember us having it at all, really.

Ingersoll: As the war went on and probably some of the younger men from the newsroom were taken into the service, who filled their places?

Meserand: Very often there were quite a number. Of course, during the war, World War II, if you had children, you were relieved of the responsibility of going to war. Now, we had a number of men, like Campbell Crawford, I remember him because he had so many children. I can't tell you how many he had. But if you were a man who was sustaining a family or the sole support of a mother or parent or whatever the situation, you were excused. Now, a lot of these men worked for AP, UP, INS, and this is where we drew our members. Most of our members came from AP and UP.

Ingersoll: Then to talk just a little bit about the content of wartime news, was there very much about the home front news, industrial mobilization? Was there very much coverage of the women who worked in shipyards and factories?

Meserand: There was coverage of the story, not of women. They were not separated. They were part of a team that worked in whatever it was, whatever the field might be. I don't remember anybody doing any specific—except for special event kind of things, you know, where you did the story of a factory where they hired Rosie the Riveter or whatever. Those were features. But the actual mobilization story was that the factories were running, they were producing. Whether it was man, woman, or child at the controls was not important; what was important was the bottom line, as they say today, the article that came out of that factory. This is what we covered in the news.

Ingersoll: That's interesting. Then what about patriotic coverage? I've read that World War II was one of the few wars where there was no criticism of the war per se. Was there anything at all of that kind of thing on WOR? Anybody wanting to get on a story that maybe Hitler could have been stopped in a different way or anything like that?

Meserand: We covered news, Fern. Only news. We did not cover somebody's opinion. You had commentators for that. We covered the news as it happened. Whatever it was, was given without being slanted in any way. We covered the story as it was, not as we wanted it to be or somebody else wanted it to be. I think that answers your question.

Ingersoll: I noticed in something that was put out somewhat later—your saying "not slanted" brought it to my mind—that there was an unwritten policy that news should not be slanted in any way, even by tone of voice.

Meserand: That is correct. We watched that very carefully. I was really the watchdog on that. I didn't care who it was. If he did it once, he never did it again—he or she or it. This was something that we prided ourselves on, and I think it was the thing that made WOR the top station in news for the simple reason that people believed us because they knew that we were telling them the truth.

* Reprint of an advertisement written and produced by WOR for Broadcasting Magazine, November 17, 1947.

Page 27

Page 28

Ingersoll: Was it hard to be objective?

Meserand: No. Absolutely not. It wasn't hard for me, and I don't think it was hard for anybody else. It would certainly be harder for me than for anyone who was just reading it [over the air].

Ingersoll: Was there any equivalent in broadcasting of the press' obituary writing of young men who were killed, a real effort to do that kind of thing?

Meserand: Young men that were killed?

Ingersoll: Any age men that were killed in the war.

Meserand: I don't quite understand that. We had an obituary file on every person that was important during those war years particularly, who were in the public eye. Obviously we couldn't have it on every individual who served in the services, male or female. But for the top personnel and people who were important in the news, we had an active file. Every one of us contributed to that. If I saw an article on a certain person, I would clip it out, add it to the dossier, and then assignments were given to particularly the night staff when things were a little more on the quiet side, to work it into the file that we kept on these people. So that should somebody die, which happens very frequently, the file was taken out and we had the material at hand. Not only did we have the material on that person, but we also had telephone numbers and contacts of people involved with that particular person that we could call on to augment whatever we were going to do as a memorial for that particular person. It was very well organized.

Ingersoll: Another question I was interested in was whom did you cover. I understand that the black press grew very greatly at this time because the "normal" press didn't cover what the black units were doing. Only the black press covered them. Was there any effort on a broadcasting station like WOR to cover the activities of the black soldiers, as well as the white units?

Meserand: We covered the war in its entirety, regardless of whether you were black, yellow, green, or orange. There was no discrimination, as far as we were concerned. If there was a story about the black regiment, it was put on just like there was a story about the white regiment, or whatever. It was the story. I must stress that. I find today that an awful lot of people, in covering a news program, it irks me, particularly on local radio and television, where they seem to look for the negative, always the negative. We didn't have to do that. We had enough material with what we were getting and what we were fed by the United States government, by the British government, by the equivalent of all the various government sources overseas. The story was there. We didn't ask who was fighting. We didn't know who was fighting. If we knew the regiment, we spoke of the regiment. Now, whether the regiment was white or black didn't matter to us. What mattered was that they were part of this picture, and this is what we gave them. But we certainly didn't go out to search for any particular color or sect or religious group or whatever.

Ingersoll: Let me turn this tape over.

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

Ingersoll: Then I understand that it was during the war that you did the first Seder on the air.

Meserand: Yes, yes.

Ingersoll: Did you have any special reason for doing that at that time?

Page 28

Page 29

Meserand: Well, number one, I didn't know what a Seder was until somebody happened to mention it. I think it was the man who was head of the American Jewish Committee, Milton Krents. Milton was working with me on something; I don't remember what it was. He said, "I have to get back home because of the Seder."

I said, "What's that?"

And he explained what it was. I said, "Oh, that's wonderful." I was very, very interested in religions, too, as well as other things. So we had a lady who was secretary to Alfred J. McCosker, who was then president of WOR, and her name was Bert Greene. Bert was sort of the Mother Hubbard of the whole organization. She took care of everybody. No matter what happened, she took care of it. I went over to her and I said, "Bert, you know all about the Jewish religion. Fill me in on a Seder."

She laughed and she told me. So I went to the library and I got out all the books I could on the Jewish holidays, particularly the Seder, which was happening very soon. When he [Krents] said he was going home for the Seder, he didn't mean he was going home for the actual holiday period; he was going home to either work with his wife in preparation for it or whatever it was. It wasn't that particular night that he was anxious to get back home for.

So I found out about the Seder and I read on it. The next day I called him [Krents] and I said, "What would you think if we put on a Seder for the boys who are shipping out?" Because the Seder was going to be, let's say, Friday night, or whatever night it was, and this was the beginning of the week. I said, "We could do it from the point of embarkation at the Brooklyn Navy Yard."

Henriette Harrison at that time was the publicist and PR person for the national YMCA. She was the only woman on their entire staff. This is the national YMCA. I called "Hank" and I said, "Do you think that we could use the Y?" They had a Y at the Navy Yard, and they gave the boys accommodations, doughnuts, and all that sort of thing. I said, "Do you think that we could do this at the Y?"

She said, "Oh, I think that would be great." Now, "Hank" was Jewish. Although she was not a religious person, she knew what the Seder was and what it represented. She said, "I think the boys would be very grateful for such a thing."

So that's how that came about. Through Milton Krents I got the right kind of rabbi, the cantor, and somebody to do the four questions of the Seder, to ask the four questions. It has to be the youngest member, and so forth. I wrote the script with his help and the library, and we did the broadcast. It was the first time that it had ever been done on the air, and I did the same thing when we went into television. I did the first Seder on television, which was beautiful.

Ingersoll: Do you think one could think that perhaps a woman might have more of a feeling for how important something like this, which is really a religious and a family event, would be for boys of a certain religion going overseas than a man might feel?

Meserand: Well, if a man had the same kind of background that I had and the family was the hub of his life, and if he felt about whatever his religion was—mine happened to be Catholic, and I was very interested in Catholicism, but I was also interested in everybody else's religion. So if he felt the same way as I did, I don't see any reason why there would be any difference, really. I think it's up to the individual. I have never separated man and woman, obviously, as you can tell by my comments. But the fact remains that it was the individual that did it, not the sex.

Ingersoll: And it was during this period that you did the first St. Patrick's Day celebration?

Page 29

Page 30

Meserand: No.

Ingersoll: Was that later?

Meserand: No. I don't know where you got the St. Patrick's Day. What we did was the midnight mass from St. Patrick's.

Ingersoll: Maybe that was it.

Meserand: We did that for the same reason that we did the Seder. The reason was for the people here who had loved ones abroad, and it was sent overseas for those who could receive it for the same reasons. It was merely a sense of comfort just like the Seder was.

Ingersoll: Yes. As the war went on, you did several other interesting programs, any number of interesting programs, but there was that one about the V-mail script and how you use it. I remember reading a letter from the public relations department of Eastman-Kodak [September 1942] asking you for that script because they thought it was such a good one.

Meserand: Yes. What we did was to acquaint the people here in the United States of the procedure to take to send a V-mail letter—and I have one here. This was through the navy, because the army had headquarters and the navy had headquarters, and you see the size of that. It's about three by five [inches]. What you did was you wrote a regular letter on paper or typed it, and then it was put onto this form so that these letters were then sent to a central office of the army or the navy or the marine corps, whatever. Then they were given to whoever you wrote to. Of course, most of this was filmed with Eastman-Kodak film.

When we put it on, after it was on, I got a letter from this gentleman that you spoke of, and he wanted a copy of the script to put in their museum, because he had heard the program on the air and he wanted to know whether we had a transcript of it or whether we had recorded it. Well, I recorded everything that I ever did for our files, because we realized that these things were going to be of value at a certain time or period. So I wrote back and I said we had the recording and the script, and I mailed the things to him. He was very grateful for it. But I wrote that script.

Ingersoll: That's rather interesting to me, that V-mail letter. You mentioned that to me just before we started recording, that it is particularly ironic that this one is the one that came back to you from David Driscoll.

Meserand: Yes. He was in Italy then.

Ingersoll: Can you tell the story of that, please?

Meserand: You have asked repeatedly if there was any friction between the male and the female of the organization, and I told you that I had not really had too much experience with that. But at this point, when you saw this letter—and I guess there's a date on it somewhere, but I can't read it.

Ingersoll: Maybe I can find it.

Meserand: It just says October twelfth. That's a big help. I don't know what the date is. See if you can see it, Jane [Barton]. '43. It's on the envelope. It was 1943. We had a man on our staff who was excused from service because he had several children. I don't know why this staff member wanted my job, but he did. When Dave was overseas, he would send—and I'm sure you saw those memos—he would send memos to everybody saying that Meserand was in charge of the department.

Page 30

Page 31

Ingersoll: Yes, there are any number of those.

Meserand: Yes, and that certain people were responsible for certain operations of the department. In other words, this staff member would be responsible to make sure that all the newsmen were where they were supposed to be and when they were supposed to be and had to work directly with the newsroom. But everybody reported back to me because I was representing him [David Driscoll].

Well, he decided that he wanted my job, and he worked in cahoots with the secretary in the department, who didn't have much love for me, apparently. She was the only one that I ever had any problem with. I was not aware of what these two were doing, except that I was so busy with what I had to do, believe me, that I didn't have time for the kind of nonsense that they were up to.

But one morning I came in and I found the side drawer of my desk had been monkeyed with and it was open. I always locked that drawer because it had a lot of my personal papers in it. Whenever I would write, for instance, to Dave [Driscoll] overseas, I always made a carbon so that I would not forget what I had said or written and just to make sure that I'd given him the information and not give him the information two or three times. So I always made carbon copies of everything that I did. My desk had obviously been opened, the papers were not in the sequence that I normally [kept them]—that's how I found out that somebody had tampered with the desk—and they were misfiled. I later found out that this is what had happened.

He wrote a letter to Dave overseas, accusing me of doing something, and to save my life, to this day I can't remember what it was. I did not know that he had done this. He had never faced me with it. So Dave had written to his wife. We were very close friends, all of us. As you can see from this letter, this was addressed to me care of her. Lib [Driscoll] called me and said she had this letter from Dave and what was it all about. I said, "I'll call you back on a private line." I had a phone that was not connected with the switchboard so that whatever I wanted to discuss with someone was not within hearsay of anybody else in the organization. So I called her back and she read the letter to me, and I was fit to be tied, needless to say. Well, you can see from the letter that he wrote me, care of his wife, that this was—what angered me most was that he had gone to the executive board and made this accusation, whatever it was, and really it was not anything terribly important. But the fact that it was done was important.

Ingersoll: And never speaking to you about it directly.

Meserand: And never facing me, you know. If you face the person, you know whether that person is telling the truth or not because he can't look you in the eye. Apparently he got nowhere over there, because apparently Streibert, from what Dave says in the letter, shut him up and said that "that would be discussed at a later date when Mr. Driscoll was back or that he would talk to me." He didn't talk to Whitmore about it, see.

So when I got this, I realized how disturbed Dave was by it, and this is the thing that angered me, because here he was in the trenches, carrying all this terrible equipment. We had lousy equipment in those days. We had wire recorders that weighed a ton and that didn't work at all. And the frustration that these poor newsmen must have felt, carrying all this equipment that didn't work—well, what they were going through was not very pleasant. Then to have a letter from home giving him this disturbing news was very, very upsetting. So you can read for yourself what he says and what I wrote him.

At that same time—and I think this is the thing that was bugging him, because he didn't know what it was about—BBC offered me a job in London at a fantastic salary in those days. I don't remember what it was, but it was much, much more than I was making. I had talked it

Page 31

Page 32

over with Lib and with my own family, and I decided against it. I felt, "I'm happy here and what would happen to the department?" I just felt that I would be disloyal to an organization that had given me so much. I said that I had to think it over, and they told me I couldn't think too long because they needed the personnel over there. So I went back and refused the job. I told Dave about it, just to bolster his spirits. I felt that this would make him know that I would never do anything to hurt the department and the organization that had been so good to me. So that was the situation, the only time that I had any conflict between a member of the male sex and myself as a female in my job.

Ingersoll: This was a very large staff of men.

Meserand: No, because he was the only one who did this.

Ingersoll: Yes, but a large staff who were answering to you and doing it apparently willingly.

Meserand: Well, to this day they're doing it willingly. The last time I saw one member of our former staff, Jerry Conway—he's dead now; he died last year—was at a New York State Broadcasters meeting here in Albany, and he came running over to me, threw his arms around me, and said, "How's my boss lady?" [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: I understand that during these [war] years you and Dave Driscoll, when he was on the scene, had something of the role of a censor, that you had to be careful, at least, that some things weren't sent out over the air.

Meserand: We were not censors, and it's a bad word. There was no censorship per se. The Office of War Information, the OWI, had certain personnel from each network that were asked to go to Washington and meet with them. They did not tell us what to look for, but they suggested that all copy be reviewed to make sure that there was nothing in it that could give aid to the enemy, no matter how innocent it may seem on the written page or whatever they were going to talk about. It was obvious that they wanted us to be very careful of anything that had to do with any equipment. We didn't know what it was, nor were we privy to any of the information, but we all sensed that we must be careful. They didn't say "a secret weapon" at all, but it was enough information for you, as a newsperson, to know that you must be on the lookout for anything that had to do with the end of the war or something that was going to finalize the situation. You had to be very careful.

Consequently, every bit of copy that went on the air, whether it was commercial or news, was screened by the news department twenty-four hours a day, and there were only two people.

Ingersoll: Just Dave Driscoll and yourself?

Meserand: Right. So that when Dave was overseas, which was a lot of the time, that twenty-four-hour period was mine. So there was stress.

Ingersoll: You must have been working fantastic hours.

Meserand: I never looked at a clock. Neither did anybody else during that period, I don't think. I never heard anybody complain except this one girl who really wanted a nine-to-five, and she decided to leave. But the men were just those who worked in the newsroom and in the production department. The man I told you I talked to in California, Danny Enright of the Barry Enright Productions Company, he's now very well known in the industry and has been for many years, Danny [then Danny Ehrenreich] was our night production supervisor. I worked very, very closely with him. To this day he will tell you that nobody ever thought of the number of hours we put in or whether we had time to eat or didn't eat or slept or whatever.

Page 32

Page 33

During the hectic periods, the very hectic periods, Streibert had a bathroom in his office and I would go in there and take a shower. Mother would send some clothes down, and I would change my clothes. But I would just catch cat naps. I had a little divan in my office, and that's where I would catch a little bit of sleep. But no one complained. It was part of what you were doing. You were covering the war! [Laughter.] You couldn't be over there, so you were doing the best thing that you knew how.

Ingersoll: I understand that in 1942, going back a little ways, there was a Radio Women's Service Unit for Defense formed.* I guess these were all New York women.

Meserand: This was an organization that was like a government organization. We worked with government agencies. They were all women in broadcasting. Some were broadcasters, you know, on-the-air personalities. Let me see. I think Helen Sioussat was one for CBS. She was director of talks. Margaret Cuthbert was director of talks at NBC. I've forgotten who was at ABC; I don't remember now.

Ingersoll: Was Henriette Harrison there?

Meserand: Henriette was, I told you, the head of public relations for the YMCA, and she was very active.

Ingersoll: Agnes Law?

Meserand: Agnes Law was CBS. She was the librarian for CBS. Do you remember the play "Desk Set"?

Ingersoll: Oh, yes.

Meserand: That was written about Agnes Law. Agnes Law was head of the steering committee for AWRT. You see how we were all intermeshed later. [Laughter.] It was all through our lives that we sort of tread on one another's toes.

Ingersoll: That's interesting. You mentioned some women in that oral history with Catharine Heinz who learned Morse Code during the war.

Meserand: Yes.

Ingersoll: Was that these same women?

Meserand: Some of them were the same women. That's very interesting. I came across that just recently. I found one of my sheets, my homework. This came about through one of our engineers. I can't remember which one. Charlie Singer, I think. He said, "You know, you gals ought to get a group together," he said to me, "to learn the Morse Code. You don't know what's going to happen. What if a bomb should fall here? If you needed help and you knew how to use the Morse Code, you might be able to save your life."

* "Radio Women Form War Emergency Unit" in Radio Daily, July 2, 1942. The article states that the "members of the news service unit include the following: Bessie Beatty, Bertha Brainard, Viola D. Calder, Marian Carter, Ilka Chase, Margaret Cuthbert, Mrs. Roy Durstine, Dorothy Gordon, Henrietta K. Harrison, Adelaide Hawley, Isabel Manning Hewson, Helen Hiett, June Hynd, Grace Johnson, Alma Kitchell, Mila Mack, Alice Moslin, Edythe J. Meserand, Natalie Da Nesi Murray, Mary Margaret McBride, Adele Gutman Nathan, Lisa Sergio, Lucille Singleton, Helen J. Sioussat, Jane Thompkins, Mela Underwood, and Marion Young.

Page 33

Page 34

So great. Where could we meet? "Hank" [Henriette Harrison] was not very well. She had problems, a little heart condition. So we didn't want her to be traveling around, so we decided we'd meet at her apartment. "Hank" and I shared an apartment at that time. So it was Henriette Harrison, Helen Sioussat, Dorothy Gordon of the New York Times, Adele Gutman Nathan. Incidentally, she's one of the top authorities on railroads, and we had her in it because she was involved with the railroads. There was somebody else.

Ingersoll: Was Bertha Brainard involved?

Meserand: No. I don't know that Bertha was alive then. I think that Bertha had died by that time. I'm not sure of that. You'll have to check her obit. I really don't remember when B.B. died.

Well, at any rate, we would meet and Charlie [Singer] would send an engineer over. He might come or one of our engineers at WOR. We were taught how to use the Morse Code, and we were given sheets. We had homework to do. We met once a week at night, and we learned the Morse Code. I only got rid of that little gadget about ten years ago when I was cleaning out the attic.

Ingersoll: Never any use for it, I take it.

Meserand: Thank God.

Ingersoll: Yes. I think your oral history with Catharine Heinz also had a very interesting description of what happened on D Day, when you somehow—and I didn't understand the technology of it and wanted to ask you more about that—you somehow pieced together things that were coming to you. How did that work?

Meserand: Well, D Day, if you remember, because of the date line and because of the hour differential between France and the United States, you know, it happened at two o'clock in the morning here and it was six o'clock over there or whatever time. There was a time difference. Well, we worked all night with the taping of the stories that came through from SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces], which was the headquarters, and the recordings that we did in those days were on glass. The disks were glass. So after everything had settled down, obviously everybody was sleeping, or most people were asleep at two o'clock in the morning until the thing ended. But to put the whole thing on was almost impossible because it was hours and hours and hours of description and so forth.

I said to Dave, "You know what? I think we ought to take these disks and take the meat out of the things that we want and do a documentary (only I didn't use the word 'documentary'), do a recap of the whole thing into one program so that the people on the six o'clock news will hear what the people at two o'clock heard." It was worth repeating at six and at eight and at ten and at eleven, or whatever.

He said, "Oh, but how can you do it? Look at how many records we have!" You know, the stack was like this. [Meserand demonstrates about two feet.] Glass had to be handled very carefully. So right next to the newsroom, we had a recording room. I forgot to tell you that. It was a tiny little room with turntables and a high chair like that one. So I went in there with my little records and I took the pieces and marked them with red marker pencil, took them downstairs to the recording division, and worked with an engineer there and pieced all of this thing, hours and hours' worth, into a half-hour segment or a fifteen-minute segment, I don't remember now. It was just fantastic! We got mail like you wouldn't believe.

Ingersoll: The impact of something like that must have been fantastic.

Page 34

Page 35

Meserand: The switchboard just lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree with people saying thank you for that and how wonderful it was, because they had missed it, you see. That was the first documentary. [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: Isn't that interesting! The original glass disks would have been made in the United States or in Europe then?

Meserand: Here. The original commentary took place at SHAEF or wherever it was being transmitted from.

Ingersoll: Would it come by telephone or wireless?

Meserand: Wireless, because it came from overseas. When it was broadcast here, you see, it came through, let's say, BBC came through BBC and so forth. Well, we would get the information at WOR, recording would record it there, and then the recordings were sent up to the newsroom for us to do with what we pleased. This is when I got the idea of putting all this stuff into a neat little package of a half hour.

Ingersoll: That would have meant listening to them again and recording.

Meserand: Oh, my! Listening.

Ingersoll: The important parts.

Meserand: So that you'd have the right substance, too, and you would have the right sequence of events. It was a very thrilling moment for me.

Ingersoll: Oh, it must have been. Have they ever replayed those?

Meserand: Yes, they did. They replayed them. We did what was called "The Year in Review" each year, and we did the whole year's events. Incidentally, some of those are in the Library of Congress now.

Ingersoll: Then in August of 1945, in your scrapbook there was a memo from Streibert [August 17, 1945] appreciating your "superb performance and really extra effort during the peace negotiations and the surrender of Japan." Can you tell a little bit about what those special efforts were?

Meserand: By this time Mr. Streibert knew that I didn't belong in the kitchen, shall I say. [Laughter.] No, we were very good friends after thirteen years. You see that memo here from him congratulating me on being still there after thirteen years. But what took place was that I was there two days and two nights, never off my feet, and he knew it because he was in and out of the office and I was constantly working to get every bit of information out to, not only the people, our audience, but also I wanted to give, in addition to the communiqués that came through, there were a lot of people of all religions who were looking for comfort.

So I did a program with Cardinal—well, he wasn't cardinal then, he was Archbishop Spellman, who was a very dear friend of mine. Cardinal Spellman, for the Catholics; [Norman Vincent] Peale for the Protestants; Rabbi Finkelstein, who was head of the Jewish Seminary of America, for the Jews. And who was the other? Have I got everybody? Catholic, Protestant, and Jews. All right. So I had the three, and I had choral groups from each, you know, from two cathedrals and a synagogue. I had a cantor from the synagogue. And the voices of these three men, the three reverend men, giving comfort to the families. I think that's what he was referring to as the extra, because he thought it was so wonderful that I had thought of the people who were the mothers and fathers and wives and children of men and women who were overseas, because

Page 35

Page 36

everybody else was doing just the communiqués like crazy and repeating and repeating, and we repeated this several times because it was good for the early people and the people who stayed up all night. I think he was referring to the fact that you thought of other things over and above the end of the war.

The thing that affected me most on V-J Day—and incidentally, it was more than two days—was a deep feeling of numbness. I looked over at Dave and said, "Well, Dave, this nightmare war is over at long last."

"He looked at me and said, "No, my dear, the war has just begun." He was so right!

Ingersoll: Then after the war, I understand the department again became special features and the news.

Meserand: That's right.

Ingersoll: I was particularly interested to see somewhere that when [Prime Minister Winston] Churchill came to this country in January 1946, Driscoll was there at the gangplank of the ship with his microphone. You were in the newsroom editing as it went along. What was the technology there?

Meserand: I wasn't editing there at the time, because it was impossible to do that, but what we did was, that we recorded what was being said and the descriptions, because it was terribly, as I recall, noisy, almost difficult to hear or understand.

Ingersoll: Was this again with the wire recorder?

Meserand: No. I don't remember what we used. No, I think we had lines or maybe we had equipment. Did we have the mobile unit then? I don't remember. I really don't remember what equipment was used. What happened was that the material that Driscoll gave came over, we recorded it, and they were doing duplicate recordings. I used one set of recordings and marked where to stop, and it had to be that fast because we put it right on the air right after that. Apparently I had a little bit of a knack of doing this editing job.

Ingersoll: Oh, you must have!

Meserand: I can't do it now. [Laughter.] At that time I was able to, and I enjoyed doing it, obviously.

Ingersoll: There were several very important, I think, and interesting programs that came along during 1947. You did that one on the Bowery and Chinatown.

Meserand: That was fun.

Ingersoll: What was involved in all of that?

Meserand: We were now News and Special Features again.* So you wanted to do either cultural things or something that was amusing. There was a lady at that time—I can't remember her name, but it must be in my papers, because I know I wrote that script, so her name has to be in it—and she used to go down to the Bowery and give out dollar bills. She would stand up in her—I guess it was a convertible, at least an open car—and she would just throw out dollar bills and give them to these gentlemen who were down there. So we did a feature on that.

* During the war, it had been called the War Services and News Division.

Page 36

Page 37

Then it was my suggestion that we do one on Chinatown. Now, Chinatown, at that time, was vastly different than it is today. There was no crime in Chinatown. They had their own newspapers, they had their own schools, they had their own way of living, which was the Old World China where the master of the house was the papa and he married the person that his family had chosen for him at birth, and he never knew his bride until they were married. There was such a vast difference in culture that I thought it would be interesting to bring this to the American public. So I made arrangements through the newspaper down there to select a family that was typical of the new China. Now, this is long before what's happened in China, when it was just China. They still had their war lords and all the rest.

So he gave me the name of the man who spoke English very well, and he was involved in I don't know how many different ventures—the newspaper, the temple, he had a grocery store, he had four or five or six different—because their theory was that if one thing didn't become successful, they had the other things to rely on, you see.

Ingersoll: Excuse me just a minute. I want to get another tape.

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

Ingersoll: Do you think you covered that Chinatown story in any way different from the way a man would have covered it?

Meserand: We go back to the same thing. I covered it as a story. I gave the story of this family and what its aims and purposes were. I gave a factual report. There was no angle to it; I just gave a report of life in Chinatown in, I would say, an upper middle-class family. They had two daughters and a son. I lived with them for three weeks. I didn't sleep there, but I had all my meals with them. I did everything that they did during the day and very late into the evening, but I went back to my own apartment to sleep and change clothes and so forth.

As I said before, they had two daughters, one who was a graduate of Barnard, the other one was at Hunter College, and the boy was at M.I.T. [Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. So you get the picture that this was not the ordinary downtrodden Chinese that we see. All of them had been educated in the schools down in Chinatown and then came, of course, uptown to the high schools and universities. The second girl, who was at Hunter, was the worst tomboy you ever saw outside, but the minute she stepped foot inside that apartment, she was Chinese. She bowed to the scroll, went to her grandmother and bowed to her grandmother, went to her mother and bowed to her mother, and then went to her room and changed clothes and became Chinese. When she went outside, she wore Western dress, of course, to school.

The other girl had been graduated from Barnard and was engaged to marry her brother's roommate, who was studying to be an engineer. He was at M.I.T. There was great disturbance in the family because she had already been promised to somebody when she was born, because that's the way the Chinese household was run. You had a girl child, you already knew who was going to be her husband. You had a boy child, you knew who was going to be his wife. They never saw one another until the day they were married. But in Chinatown at that period, they had their own societies. In other words, all the Lees were one society, all the Wongs were one society, and so forth. According to your name, you had a society. When you had a problem, you went to that society and that society determined what was going to happen to you or the problem. Consequently, there was practically no crime in Chinatown then because this was all resolved. At least if it was there, they resolved it. It wasn't in our courts and so forth.

So when she decided that she was going to be an American rather than a Chinese, this was a big decision, particularly at that time. You must remember that we're talking forty years ago or more. Fifty years ago. My god! Well, that problem was resolved this way. Upon his graduation,

Page 37

Page 38

when the boy was free to marry—of course, his family had the same problem because he had already been promised to somebody else—he and the girl would be married by the society so that it would have authenticity, but they had to devote X number of years upon their marriage to go back to China and give to China all the knowledge that they had gained in their profession. So I thought that was a very interesting thing to point out to our society how some societies work, you know.

Ingersoll: Yes!

Meserand: There's a very amusing story about this. On the last night that I was there, they decided that we would have a Chinese feast. I had John Wingate—you saw his picture. He was what we used to call our "yellow horse" because he was sent out on assignments. John was sort of my protégé at the time, and I had him do all the segues from—if we were in the temple, what to say about the temple. He knew what I wanted said because I was writing the script as we went. I would give him the information and he would say what I had written on a piece of paper for him and add to it as the case might be, and when we were in the school and so forth. So that the entire picture was there. But this was the last night. They invited John to dinner, too.

As you know, the Chinese eat from a bowl and they have the courses in the center of the table, and you take with your chopsticks. Well, one of the courses was carp, I think. Is that a large fish?

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: So out comes this monster. We had been out the night before until very late, and I was really not in the mood to look at a dead fish. I had my little rice bowl here. So did everybody else. In comes this thing with head and all—head, tail, the whole thing. The father of the household took his chopsticks and, with great motion, picked up the head of the fish and said, with great delicacy, "This is the choicest part of the fish and you, as our honored guest, should have it," and puts this thing on my rice bowl. And here's this eye looking at me, this dead eye of a fish. If you've ever wanted to see anything more horrible, I don't know what it would be. I quick gave a prayer. [Laughter.] You were supposed to eat this! Otherwise you'd insult them, no matter what it did to you.

So I looked him square in the eye, picked up my chopsticks, grabbed this horrible thing on my rice, and said, "We, too, have traditions." I kept thinking, "What tradition? Quick!" [Laughter.] I said, "In our tradition, the choicest part of anything goes to the oldest member of the family," and with that I put my dead fish eye onto grandma's dish, and she just sat there and cackled because she never got it, because it always went to the male, the head of the family. I thought John would absolutely die! He was trying so hard not to laugh when this man paid me the highest compliment, I think, that he could pay me, and he said, "Miss Meserand, you are very old, very old, indeed." And John started to laugh, and I gave him such a kick under the table! [Laughter.] But that was a compliment, you see, because they venerated the older members of the family, although they didn't give them the choicest part of the fish. They still had great respect for the elders.

Ingersoll: It was in 1950 that you did the mobilization story.

Meserand: That was really Dave's program. I assisted him on that. Now let me see. [Meserand looking at notes.] I was more involved in "Death on Wheels" and "Name Your Poison." What was that thing that he did on mobilization?

Ingersoll: The reason I thought it was interesting was because I think it started with the women and the mobilization of women. I thought that might have been your idea.

Page 38

Page 39

Meserand: That was "For Americans Only"? No, that was another one.

Ingersoll: I think that was another one that began with the women, then went on to the mobilization of other parts of society. It ran weekly.

Meserand: Yes, I remember.

Ingersoll: For a half hour.

Meserand: For a half hour.

Ingersoll: It explained and dramatized various phases of the nation's mobilization.*

Meserand: Oh, I know that. I remember now. Yes. There was a woman by the name of [Nadine] Blakesley. I can't remember the rest of her name. She was a socialite. Her husband was a very famous doctor in New York.

Barton: Amanda?

Meserand: No, it was not. I can't remember what her first name was. Nadine, that was it. She came to Streibert with this idea of doing a program on what people were doing who had worked in the war effort and now the war was over and how could they channel their energy and their know-how for the rebirth of a nation, really, is what it was. She said that they [the companies involved] couldn't afford to pay for time on the air, but that she would make it possible herself to see whether or not we could put a program together that she would pay the scriptwriter or the orchestra or whatever—in other words, putting together the program. Either she would do it or the company that we were referring to would do it, and that's how that came to be.

Who was assigned to it? I was.** It's not the kind of program [arrangement] that I was particularly interested in, but she was such a nice lady and she wanted so much to do this. The first program that she did I don't remember too well, but the one program that I do remember that was extremely interesting to me and I enjoyed doing was with Texaco. What she did there was to show—or they told me what they had done during the war effort, and then how they were transferring responsibilities in their plants for the use of today after the war, post-war use, and how they were using their personnel who had been highly skilled in their endeavor prior and during the war to a peacetime operation. This is the scripts that we wrote.

Ingersoll: Oh, that's interesting.

Meserand: What we did was to intersperse with music and we had regular actors to portray the roles that the company was talking about. Because to use the actual personnel was deadly, you know. They're not actors and they were scared to death of the microphone. So we did this with actors, but using the material that was supplied to us by the corporate firm. Then we always had a message from the president of that company. But it was at no expense to WOR except for time, but in relation to this you got a very fine program.

* According to WOR-TV News, July 26, 1950, "Mobilization Story" was arranged and produced by Edythe Meserand.
**Edythe Meserand suggested that we add the following list of programs which were in the "Mobilization Story": 1) The Women; 2) The Traitors; 3)Communism; 4) Replacement for the USO [United Service Organization]; 5) The Draft Dodgers of 1950; 6) The A-Bomb Story; 7) Civilian Defense.

Page 39

Page 40

Ingersoll: Would this have been one of the public service programs?

Meserand: That's right.

Ingersoll: To which you were referring when you gave a talk to some group a little bit later and you said that WOR, you thought, was different from some radio stations in that a public service program was followed all the way through from the very beginning to the very end.

Meserand: That's pretty much it.

Ingersoll: It was special.

Meserand: Yes.

Ingersoll: In this case, you followed it all the way.

Meserand: Yes. Anything that we did. See, special features and documentaries were the things that were usually my assignments. On-the-spot news was always given to somebody else or tried to. It all depended. If I was there, I was there. But if it had to do with something that we knew in advance, then I was the one. But let me point out one thing. Everything that we did in our department was done by the department for the department. No one person was credited. In other words, when we started this, I may have been given the assignment to do it, but it was in discussion with Dave, with John Wingate, if he was going to be part of it, with the producer, which normally was Roger Bauer on the production staff. When music was involved, we had to have the music division, so that we all talked this over. This one said this and this one said that. By the time we got through, it was no one person's idea; it was an ensemble that got together and put the program together. So therefore, it was always—and you'll notice in the scripts, if you ever read any of my scripts, that this was produced and directed by the War Services and News or by the Special Features Division under the supervision of Dave Driscoll or Edythe Meserand or whatever, then directed by—and so forth, with the credits. For many years I never took credit for any of this. Henriette Harrison is really responsible for my taking air credit.

Ingersoll: How did that work?

Meserand: Because she said, "You're so stupid! Why don't you give yourself credit on the air?" This is long before contracts were even thought of. Who would have thought of demanding a contract? Who ever thought of saying, "What will you give me for this?" or, "What do you do for this?" There was none of that. You did your job. All I was doing was my job, and I didn't think air credit was important. But she pointed out that it was, and she was right. She was very right. I'm sure that, had I done it earlier, it would have done me a lot more good.

Ingersoll: Was it about this period, then, early 1950s, that she pointed this out to you?

Meserand: It was in the late forties. But you see, I had been doing this for a long period of time and I had done many, many programs. During the war alone, the V-E script was only one minor thing. I did the one on the WAVES, one on the WAACS, I mean, name it.* Anything that had to do with the war effort was done through our department, and most of these special things were under my category, not in another category of our operation.

* In Edythe Meserand's papers at the Pioneer Broadcasters library there is a letter to Meserand from Ben G. Wright, second lieutenant, Headquarters First Flight Command, December 1942: "Thanks for sending the WAAC script to us. I saw the show in the Information Center yesterday and think it was an excellent piece of writing all the way through."

Page 40

Page 41

Ingersoll: Yes. Then in April of 1951, I think it was, you became the head of the committee to form, and then later became the first president of the American Women in Radio and Television. How did that all come about? It came about from the group of American Women in Broadcasting, didn't it?

Meserand: American Women in Broadcasting was headed by a lady by the name of Dorothy Lewis, who then became the U.N. correspondent for all of the networks. In other words, you went to her if you wanted anything from the U.N. Dorothy was a very ambitious, wonderful lady, but she was very pushy, shall I say. [Laughter.] She was, at the time, the head of the American Women in Broadcasting, which was an arm of the National Association of Broadcasters, that was headed by Harold Fellowes. In order to belong to the American Women in Broadcasting, your station had to be a member of the NAB [National Association of Broadcasters]. So it eliminated all the women who were in broadcasting on other stations, and WOR happened to be a member of NAB.

So who does Mr. Streibert assign to go to the AWB meetings? Me. And I hated—hated!—women's organizations with a passion. I was not a joiner. I argued with him, and he insisted that I go. I remember the first one I went to was in Cleveland, I think, and there was a gal by the name of Pat Mower, who walked in the room. She was Pat Griffith then, and she was a captain in the WAAC. She was a great big gal. To this day she teases me because she said I took one look at her and she knew how much I hated her! [Laughter.] We are very, very close friends.

Well, I came back from that meeting and wrote Mr. Streibert a two-page memo on why you shouldn't belong to the American Women in Broadcasting. He paid no attention to me or the memo. He said, "When there is another meeting, you will please attend." That's what he wrote. [Laughter.]

Mr. Fellowes decided that the time had come for the Women in Broadcasting to have their own organization, and he called several women to Washington—Henriette Harrison, the same old group, Doris Corwith of NBC, Margaret Cuthbert of NBC, Agnes Law from CBS, Geraldine Zorbaugh of ABC—she was ABC then. Yes, she was ABC then; she went to CBS afterwards. She was a vice president of CBS. There was somebody else.

Anyway, we went down there and he said, "You have to form your own organization." He kept Dorothy Lewis out of it because he knew that she would try to take over, and he didn't think that was right. He thought that we should form our own organization, and then if we wanted her, we could include her into it. He said that he would support us and he was sure that a lot of other people would support us in the broadcasting industry, meaning the men and the women who were station owners, who belonged to the NAB. We would have their blessing.

Ingersoll: The main reason was to get in the larger group?

Meserand: Yes. All the other women who were not members, whose bosses were not members in NAB. He had foresight. He was a wonderful man, Harold Fellowes.

So we came back to New York and we had a meeting at CBS. Agnes Law was appointed the chairman of the steering committee. So she and Geraldine Zorbaugh, who was a lawyer and a vice president of ABC, a wonderful gal, and somebody else formed a committee within a committee, if you know what I mean, to start working on the constitution. Dorothy Kemble was the other person; I couldn't remember her name. Dorothy Kemble then worked with Henriette Harrison on writing the code of ethics. So all of us worked together in forming this so-called group. There weren't very many meetings, because actually the steering committee, Agnes Law, Margaret Cuthbert, Gerry Zorbaugh, and "Hank," I think those were the four, because they used to meet at "Hank's" apartment. It was the easiest place to meet—Henriette Harrison's apartment,

Page 41

Page 42

who was better known as "Hank." They really started the ball rolling as to how this was going to be done.

I was busy with other things, so I was not paying too much attention to the steering committee when I got a call from Margaret Cuthbert. I told you our lives were all interwoven. She said, "We are going to have this convention and you're going to be the convention chairman."

I said, "Oh, no, I'm not."

She said, "Oh, yes, you are. I've already given your name to the committee," and she spoke very softly but very firmly, and you never said "no" to Margaret Cuthbert. If she said, "You're going to do it," you'd do it. And I was not the only one who followed. [Laughter.]

So that's how I became convention chairman, of which I knew nothing. I give a lot of credit to Doris Corwith, who loved conventions and she had handled so many conventions for the American Legion, where she was very active. So we had our organizing convention and I was elected president.

Ingersoll: That code of ethics was very interesting to me that you drew up. Do you think that code of ethics was any different drawn up by women than a code of ethics of men?

Meserand: I have no idea what men would do. The code of ethics was really put together by Dorothy Kemble, Henriette Harrison, and Geraldine Zorbaugh. The Constitution and Bylaws, Agnes Law had a great deal to do with, but the Code of Ethics, those three were really the ones who did this. We did it at Dorothy's house in Redding, Connecticut. I remember I was there and we spent the whole weekend there and worked on that.

Ingersoll: There was a pledge, too, that I read in your scrapbook, "To make the time period entrusted to me the most productive possible to the station, to the sponsor, and to the listener; to do everything in my power to make my program an integral part of the civic and social life of my community; to investigate before accepting any product or service for advertising on my program; to adhere to good broadcasting practice and to avoid all commercial excesses."* Have they been able to do that?

Meserand: Pretty much. You see, at the time that the code of ethics was written, you must remember we had a great many women broadcasters who were on-the-air broadcasters and had women's programs all throughout the country.

Ingersoll: More than at the present time?

Meserand: Oh, many, many more! Many more. You have more newspeople today and those talk shows. You didn't have talk shows; they weren't called talk shows. They were women's programs. You had Mary Margaret McBride; Marion Young, who was Martha Dean; you had Bessie Beatty; you had Barbara Wells. Now, that's just WOR! Now you take that and you have all the people on NBC and CBS and the local, like Ina Bailey on WNYC, who gave all the reports on produce and the city things that had to do with the women who needed that information. I mean, every station had at least three, four, five.

* Published in Variety, April 11, 1951. The Code of Ethics of ARWT was also published at this time and is in the Meserand papers at the library of Pioneer Broadcasters: 1) to protect the best interests of our listeners and to merit and maintain their confidence and support; 2) to be constructive; 3) to report the news with painstaking accuracy; 4) to be honest in all presentations; 5) to make certain that all sources of information are reliable and that all worthy phases of community life are served equitably.

Page 42

Page 43

Ingersoll: Would you think maybe that some, at least, of these women were women who had gotten into broadcasting during the war when the men were away, and when the women all went home, were then doing women's programs?

Meserand: No. No, no, no. A lot of these programs were on the air before the war, during the war, like the [Alfred W., Jr.] McCanns, like Marion Young, Mary Margaret McBride. She was on the air all during the war. These people were broadcasters. They gave recipes, they gave book reviews, they gave news bulletins, because we would feed it to them. They did reviews of the theater, if there was a new play. It was a magazine, really, is what it was.

Ingersoll: It was a genre that we hardly have anymore.

Meserand: We don't have it anymore. The one person I blame for that is a man who I knew when I was with Hearst Radio. He was a salesman. His name was Ted Oberfelder. I met him again after he had left and he'd gone up in the ranks. Did he become president of NBC Radio? I don't know. But he grew in the ranks. He was one of the speakers at one of our conventions or conferences in Chicago, oh, way back. I met him for breakfast because I knew he was there and he knew I was there, and we said, "Let's have breakfast together." Of course, he ate my English muffin like he used to do at Hearst Radio when we'd always send out for breakfast. He never ordered one; he always ate half of mine. Well, he did the same thing that morning and I said, "You haven't changed a bit," and we laughed over that.

We got talking about women broadcasters, because that's what we were there for. He said, "Edythe, I'm going to see that every one of those women is off the air before the year is out."

Ingersoll: Why was that?

Meserand: He hated women and he hated women broadcasters and he hated any woman who was on the air. I don't care what she was or who she was.

Ingersoll: He was high enough to be able to do it?

Meserand: He was high enough to do enough damage so that a lot of the stations got rid of their women broadcasters. That was my first inkling of what was going to happen.

Then I blame a lot of the women, because they did not keep up with the trends. They were still giving recipes, they were still doing book reviews when they should have been doing newsworthy things. The women who had been working all during the time of the war, had come out of their shell, they were much more progressive, they wanted to know more about everything. They didn't want to be pacified with a new brownie mix, you see. A lot of them went by the wayside. Those who did keep up, those who did continue, stayed on the air.

Ingersoll: That's very interesting.

Meserand: I can't tell you the dates of these things, but it was in the course of events, in other words. That may answer your question.

Ingersoll: Yes. Then the following year, after AWRT was formed and you became president, 1952 was the year that you retired.

Meserand: 1952 was the year that we were all fired. I didn't retire. [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: How did that all come about?

Page 43

Page 44

Meserand: The General Tires Corporation bought WOR and the man who was in charge of it was Tom O'Neal. Tom O'Neal had all of us up in the studio and said, "Don't worry. Nothing is going to change here. The esprit de corps (I could almost give it to you verbatim) of WOR is legend. We are not changing anyone in any position on the staff of WOR. You're all going to be where you are. Just give us the same cooperation that you have given over the years." And I had to leave the next day to go to Atlanta to help set up the Atlanta convention for AWRT. I had been appointed the liaison.

So I'm in Atlanta and I get a telephone call from my secretary, [Martha] Pope. You read her letter. She said, "Mr. Driscoll wants to talk to you. Something terrible has happened."

And Dave got on the phone and said, "Well, we're all fired." That's how I got the news. From Streibert right on down, we were fired. So you see, that's how I left WOR, and I always swore that I'd only leave in a pine box. I almost did, because it nearly killed me.

Ingersoll: Oh, that must have been so hard. Was that the same time that you got this card that I see here signed by all the men of the newsroom, that says, "To Edie, the newswoman among men. WOR, 1952"?

Meserand: Yes.

Ingersoll: Then quite some time after that, in 1976, was when they gave you a very special recognition, I understand, and this wonderful book of letters that were sent to you from people like Pauline Frederick.

I thought this one from Robert Blake, WPIX, was particularly interesting. "I know from personal experience you are never one to count. You never counted the endless hours devoted to the cause. You never counted the marathon days, including sleepless nights, spent to get the job at hand done. You never counted the invaluable ideas and concepts you originated and formed into realities in programs, documentaries, news features, organizations, and causes. You never counted the endless amount of energy you expended in guiding people's careers, personal lives, and family affairs in the pursuit of your devotion to an industry and to people just as people."

Then Pauline Frederick, who says, "It's with pride and gratitude that I join your many friends and admirers in hailing you on this great anniversary of your life and career. I am proud to have known you over the years and am very grateful for your truly pioneer work in breaking down the sex barrier of what once was a man's world of broadcasting. What you did long before women's lib has made it possible for our sex to participate increasingly in this vital area of communications. May the newcomers never forget that you did it first." It's a beautiful book with—how many are there? Over fifty, I'm sure.

Meserand: More than fifty.

Ingersoll: Letters from people who hailed you on that important occasion.

Meserand: That was a very thrilling time for me. The dinner that was supposed to have about a hundred people turned out to have nearly two hundred, I guess, or more. Jane Barton was the one who handled all the details of the dinner, and she did a fantastic job. But the thing that was so thrilling was the three important persons who were involved in the celebration. One was Pauline Frederick, who the next day was to leave to go to California to be the moderator for the presidential debates. She had gotten a telegram the day before she came up here, and trooper that she was, how many people would have done that? They would have cancelled. She came up from Connecticut to the Gideon Putnam in Saratoga to be the MC at the party. She just wouldn't let us down. She left the next morning, sworn to secrecy not to say anything. So it was Pauline.

Page 44

Page 45

The main speaker was Mary Anne Krupsak, who was the first lieutenant governor of the state of New York, who was to leave at five o'clock the next morning to go to Poland. She just about made it from the Saratoga. The third person was Joanne Miller, the wonderful singer who used to have the Cooperstown Playhouse here in Cooperstown and has since done a fantastic job in Granbury, Texas, where she has her own theater. She was the top singer for Tommy Dorsey's band, and my favorite singer, and she flew up from Texas to sing at the party. So you see the kind of thing it was.

Then the only remaining vice president for WOR at that time was Jack Popele, who was the vice president in charge of engineering, and he drove up from New Jersey to come to the banquet and insisted on having equal time. He brought me—I must show you—a Swedish glass squirrel about so big, and he said that he had saved that from the WOR Christmas fund that I started forty years ago, forty-five years ago [1948], and they still have it, incidentally.

Ingersoll: That's something we should have talked about.

Meserand: He had saved that from the Christmas fund to bring to me. [Laughter.] Which I thought was rather cute. But it was a great night for me, one of the most thrilling that I've ever had, believe me.

Ingersoll: Is there anything else that you think we should talk about that we've missed?

Meserand: You just said the Christmas fund. That was something that was very dear to my heart. You asked me how that came about. I wasn't hired for the job. That was my pet project. It had nothing to do with my work. Dave and I had worked very late this one night, I don't remember on what, and we decided we'd better have something to eat. His favorite eating place was Joe Madden's, the Sportsman. We called Joe and said, "Is the chef still there?" It was about ten o'clock at night.

He said, "He's just leaving. Why? Do you want to come and eat?"

We said, "Yes." So he held him to put two steaks on for us, and we went over and had dinner.

Joe said, "Have you got your car here?"

Dave said, "Yes."

He said, "Will you drive me to Bellevue Hospital?"

So we said, "What are you doing at Bellevue at eleven o'clock at night?"

He said, "Well, I have some candy." This was in early November of mid-November. "I have some candy that I want to bring to the hospital for the children that have been abandoned." He said, "I do it every year."

So Dave said, "Sure. I'll take you over." So I had no recourse but to go, too, because we wanted to get him there and he would drive me to the apartment and then he would go on home.

So we went, and the nurse there told me about what Joe had done in the past, and said, "Would you like to see the children?"

I said, "At midnight?"

Page 45

Page 46

She said, "That's all right. I just want to show them to you." She took me into this ward and I will never forget it as long as I live. She had a flashlight, and she said, "This little boy was thrown out of the window. This little boy was such and so. This one was abused and such and such." I got back to the apartment in tears, and I couldn't sleep that night. I kept thinking, "We've got to do something. We've got to do something."

I went in the next morning and said, "Dave, those children."

He said, "No. I don't care what it is, the answer is no."

And I said, "We have to do something for those children." It happened to be the day of the board meeting. I said, "I want to come to the board meeting and I want to tell them about the children."

He said, "They won't listen to you."

Ingersoll: Wait just a second till I turn this tape.

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

Meserand: So we went to the board meeting and his introduction was, "Miss Meserand has something to say to you." [Laughter.] That's as much help as he was.

So I told them the story about going to Bellevue that night and so forth, and I said, "These children are abandoned, abused, nobody wants them, and we simply have to do something. This is what I propose." Now, remember I was the only woman in that room; everybody else on the board were men. I had one man who really liked to needle me quite a lot. His name was Jules Seebach. He was the program director. I said, "I would like the cooperation of the station to put announcements on the air asking people to support us by sending money so that I can buy toys and clothing for these kids, and we will distribute the clothes."

"Well, this will take too much of your time."

"It will not take too much of my time. I will do it at night when I'm not working. It's not fair."

And they went on and on and on and on, and finally Streibert said, "If Miss Meserand feels that she can do this, she should at least be given the chance to do it." That was it.

Ingersoll: Isn't that interesting. The same man!

Meserand: The same man who told me—

Ingersoll: Who didn't want you on the scene in the beginning.

Meserand: Right. He also was known to have said, I was told, "Isn't it too bad Miss Meserand does not wear trousers?" This is before we wore slacks, you know. [Laughter.]

Ingersoll: I think that's particularly interesting because we've heard in some of these other interviews with press women that when their newspaper would ask them to be head of a Christmas fund for children, they would often be very resentful, because they, as a woman, was asked to do this. I think your attitude was really so different.

Barton: And isn't it interesting that she got the idea from a man!

Page 46

Page 47

Ingersoll: Yes, the combination is very, very interesting.

Meserand: That's true. Well, what happened then was that we put the announcements on the air, I scheduled them, I wrote them so that nobody had any extra work to do, and we had the [Reuben C.] Donnelly Corporation, so that nobody could say we were stealing, and the response was overwhelming. I had no contacts in the toy field or clothing; I just used the—

Barton: The children's names were on the presents.

Meserand: Oh, yes. I just called the manufacturers that were listed on Seventh Avenue who did clothing and toys or whatever and told them what I was doing, would they cooperate, all I wanted to do was buy them. Well, not only did they give them to us wholesale, but they also contributed, a great many.

Then I worked with Bellevue Hospital and Dr. Jacobs there. It was Dr. Jacobs who really, really helped me so much, because when we went through one ward where the unbalanced children were from beatings and so forth, he said, "There but for the grace of God go I." Oh, boy, that did it to me. That did it to me. I went to each ward, got each child's name, and had the nurses give me sizes, because I don't know one size from another. We bought the clothing, we found out what the children wanted. Each gift was wrapped in Christmas wrapping. You saw the picture of Streibert holding the dolls. I sent a memo to the staff, men and women, and said, "We're going to be working on such and such a night to wrap Christmas presents. Please cooperate." They all did.

Then Mr. [Robert] Dowling gave us a whole loft, because this developed in years afterwards, it developed so that it was all the hospitals, not only Bellevue, but there were over ten thousands kids that had to be taken care of. So we had to have room for all this, and Mr. Dowling gave us a loft that we could use. In those days, it was safe to walk on Broadway. Again, the things were all gift wrapped and given to the children with their names on them and they were distributed by our staff. What we did was to use our personalities to deliver the gifts. But when I would walk into a ward, the kids would call me the Christmas Lady. So it was very rewarding, but I was always sick for Christmas.

Ingersoll: I can imagine so, after all that work.

Is there anything you would have done differently through the years if you had it to do over again, do you think?

Meserand: Yes, I think so. One thing. What I did, I did because I wanted to do or because I felt it was my duty to do, it was my job to do it. Whatever I do, I always put everything I have into that particular endeavor. I don't know how to do it halfway. But I think that I would have taken a section out of the pages of the new women in broadcasting who have agents, whatever they call those people who do the negotiations for salaries and so forth. But that was unheard of then.

Ingersoll: Yes.

Meserand: I never wanted to talk about myself. I talked about whatever we were doing. I think I might have done that just a little bit differently if I were to do it again. I think I would have given myself some credit for some of the things that I originated, that I did. But in the long run—when I think about and say, "Why?"—I have gotten all the recognition that I could possibly get from my peers and from everybody. So I think I've been an extremely fortunate person.

Ingersoll: You certainly have, and thanks ever so much for sharing these parts of your life with us.

Page 47

Page 48

Meserand: My pleasure.

Page 48

Go to Index | Cover | Home

© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.