[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: Today what we want to do first is talk about some dates, specifics and the dates in your life that might be notable for people to know about. We have your birth date.
Taylor: Too bad.
Biagi: Too bad. I'm sorry. We talked it out of you. Now what we want to do is talk about your first marriage and get the full name of your first husband.
Taylor: Edwin Wright Conklin.
Biagi: That marriage date was when?
Taylor: We were married in 1949. I don't remember even the date we were married. It was one of those traumatic marriages where you forget, like I forget names. It was June, I think.
Biagi: Big ceremony, small ceremony?
Taylor: We ran away. My mother had planned the ceremony, which was too much for both of us, I guess. We left. My husband had been in World War II, but prior to that he'd been with United Press. He wanted to enlist in the navy and come back, though; (he was in Buenos Aires with the UP bureau there and didn't have to be in the war: he had an exemption by being a newsperson and he was far out of the country, but he wanted to), so the United Press management gave him a tour, whatever he wanted, however he wanted to get back to enlist in the navy. He came through South America and Central America and through Mexico, because he had an affinity for Latin people and he loved Mexico. That he carried with him. He spoke fluent Spanish. It's strange, because he had blue eyes and blond hair, and I'm half Spanish. He kind of expected, I think, if he married me, we'd have Spanish-looking kids. We have two blondes. But if we would go to Mexico, people would speak Spanish to me and he would answer. The point of this is that he liked Mexico a great deal, and we'd gone to Mexico before we were married. So to do this fast and get out of all the encumbrances of too much family, too much everything, we ran away to Mexico. I had a nice dress that I had meant to wear for getting married, and wore it and got married in Tijuana, where it just didn't go at all. I mean, I wore it, but it was terrible.
Biagi: Who were your witnesses there?
Taylor: I don't even know. Some barber and probably a bartender. It was a terrible way to get married. I ever after kind of thought it was a big bad idea, and it wasn't my idea. I was a little more romantic than that.
Biagi: Did you drive there and stay?
Taylor: We drove there and then we stayed a couple of days and then we came back. It was not too pleasant for the families, either. They weren't much in favor of it. My mother was furious, and his family, they were very nice people and much too permissive. That's what was wrong with their rotten kid, I think. But they were just always very nice, so what their kids did, they accommodated themselves to. My mother was much more temperamental and she had a hard time swallowing all this.
Biagi: Then your first daughter was born when?
Taylor: She was born a little early. She was born February 1950, so she was a seven-month premature baby, which also upset my mother, but not that much because my mother and everybody was just completely bowled over by this beautiful child.
Biagi: Who was named what?
Taylor: Laurel Ann Conklin. My husband had figured out the name Robert, but it didn't work. [Laughter.]
Biagi: You call her Laurie.
Taylor: We call her Laurie.
Biagi: Then your second daughter was born.
Taylor: She was born five years later. She was born January 27, 1955, Susan Lee Conklin.
Biagi: In both cases, you were still in Los Angeles working all this time.
Biagi: You left to have your daughters. Then you went back to work.
Taylor: Right. Actually, when Susan was born, it was very much just a brief time off. I think maybe I mentioned that I continued to do all the commercials. The sponsor then was Hills Brothers Coffee still, I think it was. Whichever it was, Hills Brothers or Folger's, I still did the commercials. I taped the commercials and they were used in the program. I think I mentioned, too, that the morning after Susan was born I got a call from the man who was taking my place on this Ruth Ashton Show, or "Woman's News Desk," and he interviewed me about the baby and it was on the western network at that time. I may have mentioned that subsequently I got a thirty-two-page horoscope, astrological map, of her from some woman in the state of Washington. The big point of all she said sort of boiled down to this was an old soul, and Susan has had that kind of hung on her a little bit. [Laughter.]
Biagi: How much longer were you married to Edwin?
Taylor: We were divorced. I went to court and got an interlocutory decree in 1956, but it was not finalized until 1960.
Biagi: So you were single for how long before you met your second husband?
Taylor: I met my second husband [Jack E. Taylor] in television in '66. We actually got married December 26, 1968, so that was quite a long time.
Biagi: That was not a Tijuana marriage?
Taylor: No, that was a very big wedding in the Wilshire Methodist Church, where Shirley Temple had been married, and it was grand. I had a gorgeous gown which was part of what I'd missed the first time, and my daughters were my bridesmaids. A very good friend of ours who had been a good friend of my first husband's and mine, in fact, gave me away, and it was a traumatic time because it was a very long aisle. If you're in broadcasting, maybe if you're doing anything, maybe whatever life you have, maybe so often something that you don't count on, because you don't have it in your head, but all of a sudden you become terribly nervous and it's something that you can't explain and you can't stop it with your head, and I became terribly nervous and I just trembled the whole way down the aisle. I wondered at the time if ever a bride had fainted in the aisle going down. [Laughter.] It was terrible, because I was just shaking. Under these completely surprising kinds of reactions you have, you don't have control.
Biagi: How many people were there?
Taylor: A couple of hundred. It was not huge. It was a huge church, cathedral, a beautiful place. One of the problems was that that was one of the years when we had a very severe epidemic of the Hong Kong flu, and a great many of my friends crashed with the flu. It was like decimating all kinds of work places and the whole area. We worked together, Jack and I did, he as a camera man and I as a reporter. We made preparations for our wedding as we would be working. I remember we did one story with a doctor about the symptoms of the Hong Kong flu and everything, and he said, "Well, you're getting married. What can we give you?" We said, "A blood test." [Laughter.]
Biagi: That was handy. [Laughter.]
Taylor: So we sort of did the preparations for all this. We were waiting out a murder suspect being brought in, I think. I know we were at the police station. I can't remember which one. It was down by USC, when we made preparations for the church. [Laughter.] We were waiting and we had a lot of time. We were on the phone with the minister, but you just sort of did it in your spare time because it was a lot to do.
Biagi: His full name?
Taylor: Jack. It isn't John. It's Jack E.
Taylor: Well, he hates it. It's for Elmer, which he should hate. Well, all apologies to all Elmers, but that doesn't typify my husband, Jack E. Taylor. In this marriage I became Ruth Ashton Taylor. The previous marriage, I had not used my married name professionally, and that was difficult in ways that a lot of women have recognized, when you have children, particularly. You are Ruth Conklin when you go to the PTA meetings, when you go to school, when you do all these things. The kids are Susan and Laurie Conklin. But you're sort of a split personality. You're that Conklin lady sometimes and you're that Ashton lady the other times. So in this case we just put the name together. I was going to make it Ruth Taylor, but my boss didn't want to do that because I had built up a career and reputation as Ruth Ashton. Of course, you've got your
contacts and you know that. You call as Ruth Taylor, and who the heck are you? You have to start all over.
It was interesting, because people at the station who were in positions where they had to make various visuals, called to see if this was on firm ground so that they wouldn't waste their money making signs that said, "Ruth Ashton Taylor."
Biagi: Economic consequences to you changing your name and getting married.
Taylor: The first night I used the sign-off of Ashton Taylor, it was eleven o'clock, and I remember the story, too. Ingrid Bergman had just made a debut in Los Angeles, having come back from having been ostracized by the Congress for having had children out of wedlock and having an affair with Rosalini, subsequently married and so forth. But she had come back and she now was fully entrenched back in the Hollywood scene and did a play at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. This was early '69. I covered the premier and I signed off "Ruth Ashton Taylor." Well, this so shocked the producer at eleven o'clock. I sent back the track and my film, and when he viewed it (because I just went on from the show; I didn't put the thing together), he thought, "People won't know who she's talking about." So he cut the Taylor out of it. You can't cut audio without cutting video on film, so some people just disappeared all of a sudden out of the picture. But after that, we got it all settled and I would be Ruth Ashton Taylor from that day on, and that's who I have been.
Biagi: What's the status of your relationship now with you and Jack?
Taylor: We are separated. It was a long time of not being separated. We were married twenty-one years before there were major problems or at least a major split. I don't know how it's all going to turn out. I'll look back on it when I'm a hundred and know.
Biagi: What about the issue of marriage and a career? It seems you're quite qualified to make comments about that.
Taylor: I think you can only speak from your own personal experience, although you do have conversations with other people. It has been such in the era I grew up in, where it wasn't expected that a woman would have a reasonably successful career and also be married and have children and do those other things sort of on an equal basis. And I must say, too, that my priority was always my family and my kids. If somebody would say (as has happened), "Would you go to New York and do this kind of show?" I wouldn't. I wouldn't want my kids to go there. It wasn't even part of my thinking. The family was the first thought for me, my kids. But it's hard.
One of the problems in the era in which I grew up has been male ego. I firmly believe that a man really has had a hard time, and I think they're still having some hard times, with the idea of accepting women for their minds. When I did this 1960 set of stories about what the world would be like in the year 2000, I talked to this one sociologist, or whatever he was, at USC, and he said the big revolution in this country will come when it's accepted that women are as bright as men. That was 1960, when he thought it was still in the future. It still is in some places, it is difficult. You've got two things that happen. Either a man will sort of resent that. Or we find in other cases where a man will block it off and take advantage of the situation, as has happened in my life. "All right, so you're successful and you're maybe making more money than I do. So go ahead and do it. It's your responsibility. You take the burdens." It's happened. It happens, I think, a lot where guys these days in situations will say, "All right, we've got this equality. Here's the bill for dinner," or, "Let's go dutch," all the time. It's hard to keep any of those old
stereotypes in place a little bit where the man sort of takes care of the woman. Yet there still is a biological difference. They're stronger and they can fix a lot of things I can't fix, they can reach a lot farther, they can carry a lot more. Of course, that's talking physical. It's difficult, and I can see some of my friends having some difficulty, younger women, with this problem of how do you balance it out and what a man's ego can't accept, a man raised in the earlier times, particularly.
Biagi: What about the issue of the news business per se as a place for women professionals? Do you think it's any different than women professionals in other jobs and the demands it places on you?
Taylor: It places a lot of demands on your time, and this is very hard. You can't run nine to five, or even say you're a hard-working woman who goes to work at eight and works till six and works weekends and so forth. But if you have any idea of what the boundaries are in terms of time, that's contrary to what the situation is if you're in the news business, where I've called home at times on the phone in the car, and just called home when my kids were older, when I had one who was over sixteen, and say, "Honey, you'd better get out the beans and hot dogs tonight because I'm going to be late. There's a crash here of a helicopter, and I'm heading on down to San Pedro to cover it," or whatever. Or fires, the big fire where my husband was so impossible. But okay, I'm out till eleven o'clock at night. At different times when the kids were young, I had people, somebody there, but it's hard. And there are other jobs, I'm sure, that have the same kind of uncertain schedule. But not only is it uncertain, it's demanding of your thoughts, of your time, and your commitment of your head, what you can give in the way of emotion or thoughts. You're giving so much into your work that it can be very trying.
Biagi: What about having two parents in the same business, essentially? You both were in the news business. Was Jack's schedule any more flexible than yours?
Taylor: When we were first married, no. When we were first married, we worked very much together. That was a hardship because if we would be out on stories together, we'd both be gone. Later he went off and decided he would be an independent producer and he would do a lot of things independently. He became a freelance person and he worked separate from me, and he worked in different places from where I worked. So his schedules were different. Very different he would be home in the evening when I couldn't be home. I regularly, from the early seventies on through to the mid-eighties, a long time, I was doing two shows at night. No matter what night stories there might be, I also had to do two programs that would tape at nine o'clock at night, so they knew Mom was going to be gone on the night I did the religious show, which I was going to do one of and ended up doing it for thirteen years, moderating a program with clergy. Then I also did "Newsmakers," and we taped those programs at nine o'clock at night, which was great for not interfering with the work, because I was able to put in a full day of reporting, then go on to the night shows. It was bad for not being able to give time to my kids. But Jack was home a good deal of the time when I was doing those programs, and he's a good cook. He would cook and that was helpful.
Then, of course, during the eighties the kids were generally gone, but he was home all the time because he didn't have a regular job. He did freelance from 1972 on. He was basically freelance, but for a short period when he was on the ABC film stuff. So there are problems. It becomes too easy, probably, for some men to depend on women who are successful.
Biagi: What about your relationship with your children? How do you think it has been affected by your work?
Taylor: I'm sure it has. My daughter the other day was talking about how she's going to have two nights this week where I will be at her house and she's going to go out. She said she had terrible guilt. [Laughter.] I said, "Get used to it, because there were a lot of times when you just really feel awful about leaving your kids and worry about it." You simply had to. This is what you had to do. You had to always be sure they were well cared for and had somebody to take care of them, but you had to do it. I had to actually make the living a good part of the time, so you're going to have to. It's a single mom. A single mom has a problem and you become a single mom sometimes when you're married in certain situations.
Biagi: Was there care? Arranging for their care, was that your responsibility?
Taylor: Yes. There have been a lot of things written about it, but the role a woman plays has still been the role a woman plays, no matter whether she's also taking on the role that men traditionally have played to a high degree. I know a lot of my friends have the same situation. They still have the role of taking care of the house, taking care of the kids, being sure that you contact the teachers and the PTAs and all these things and arranging for anything related to the home, along with a career outside of the home and the paycheck and so forth. Very often, too, you take care of all the business. If you want it taken care of, you'll take care of it because it's your money sometimes. But women must play many roles very often. A lot of it I don't think is real fair, so you don't think about that if you have to do things. I think you just plain old do what you have to do.
Biagi: What about the idea of having a mom who's a public persona, somebody who is fairly well known or at least known among friends of friends? How did that affect your kids?
Taylor: Actually it was fun in some ways. Our program was very well known and highly watched, well watched, on television. I had a good, strong audience on radio. The interesting thing was when I made the transition in the sixties back to television, it came as a shock. I've thought of this in recent times, how your voice can convey some kind of impression of what you look like, supposedly. And I so often would hear from people who would meet me in the public and say, "Oh, I always pictured you as kind of a chubby blonde." Of course, I'm a skinny brunette. So it was a real shock.
But in terms of television, the recognition is gratifying, it's nice, and I've always felt it was important. If they weren't out there, you wouldn't be there where you are. The kids have gotten used to that. Somebody would say, "Aren't you—" and the kids would say, "Yes, she is." For many years, and still, it's quite nice because I think people who don't watch us anymore used to watch us in those important days when Channel 2 news was so important and well watched and preeminent in the country, so you still have that audience of people who talk about, "I grew up watching you," and here they're sixty, gray-haired, you know.
But there's also another thing. Because I was a woman and it was sort of a novelty, there were some kids' rock shows that used to spoof our news program, and I was Ruth Ashley Famous. For years the kids would call me Ruth Ashley Famous, and, of course, all my kids' friends and everybody knew Ruth Ashley Famous. So I'm still called Ruth Ashley Famous by some people who are even news directors, who used to hear this. I don't know what station it was on, and I never heard it, but I heard about it all the time. Then there was another skit that they had on another place. But it was a novelty having this woman out there, so I got to be known in these funny ways, where I was made fun of, and it was fine. I think that was flattering.
Biagi: Any recognition is better than none.
Taylor: Right. What it does, too, when you get recognized, as I say, the kids never minded. I think they sort of liked it. You see who are the people in the audience, and they are very different often from the people that your folks are saying are the ones who watch you. It's the person who sells you cosmetics at Magnin's. It's the little housewife who speaks part Spanish at the store. It's all the guys who are at the Los Angeles International Airport, the pilots, the guys who handle the baggage, the people even in Sacramento. Some of them had transferred from down south and I'd find people I knew over at the Sacramento airport.
It's interesting. I covered a great many airplane stories. In the old days there were public relations offices for the major airlines out in Los Angeles, and you were in touch with them a lot. There was a lot of news in union affairs, where there were strikes, where you had business problems with different airlines. I covered Continental through a great many traumas when the employees wanted to buy the airline and when the strike went on forever. Wherever I would go, I could just look at a picket line of captains from Continental and know half of them. Everyplace you'd go, you'd find people, cab drivers, people driving along the street, firemen driving along honking at you because you knew them either from their watching you or being on fires. But you'd see the cross-section of people who are out there and they weren't stereotypes that you keep being told are the ones who are watching you. So I always felt this was important, to just know who they are, having fun talking to them.
Biagi: In the ratings game, did they try to characterize your audience for you or use what they thought was your audience against you?
Taylor: I'm sure they have. Not to my knowledge. When things were really good, they don't want you to know that either. It was interesting to me, and there is a gentleman who is still around, who was a vice president in radio when I left radio, and he told me, "I just want you to tuck this into your mind so you have it for your reference." At that point I was one of the three top well-known personalities in broadcasting, and I mean in broadcasting, because he was also talking about a morning show guy who was well known, a commentator, and me, in the Los Angeles market. He said CBS had done some extensive surveys and so forth. "Just put this under your hat and keep it, use it if you need it," because nobody's going to tell you that, but I never was bright enough in a business fashion and I had no agent ever to use anything like that to my advantage. I got along well. I got to do anything I wanted to. I suppose that was to my advantage. People gave me pretty free rein in how I operated, and that would be to my advantage, if what I did seemed to work, then I could do some more of it. So I suppose that was an advantage, but in terms of financial advantage and things like that, I've never known how to play that game very well.
Biagi: Let's talk about that briefly and then go back and do our chronological discussion. In the age of contracts and negotiations for broadcast salaries, how did that work in your case? Were you on annual contracts? Were you on renewable contracts? How did that work?
Taylor: I had a personal contract a good part of the time. I had a personal contract when I was in radio because I was doing a specific program for sponsors, so that was a personal service contract. I was also always a member of AFTRA [American Federation of Television and Radio Artists], and therefore I would be under all the provisions of their contract, so whichever was better would be what would guide my life.
When I went to television, I came more under the AFTRA contract. Under AFTRA I made a great deal of money from overtime. One time one of the guys negotiating with me said, when they finally gave me an over-money break (which was to give you something so that they
can own you for a certain amount of time, it doesn't matter how much they work you, supposedly it takes in everything), and I was told, "If we continue to pay you overtime, we're going to break the company," because I worked so much overtime, which is not that easy. I'm working sixty hours a week or more, regularly, and that's a lot of overtime. For a long time they didn't pay overtime. For a long time they didn't pay for sixth and seventh days. When they finally paid for sixth and seventh days and made it retroactive, that was a good check.
Biagi: A full work week to them was thirty-seven and a half hours or forty hours?
Taylor: It became forty hours, I think, and then forty-five hours. Up to forty-five it was something extra, not too much. I don't remember how the scale ran, but I know that originally when I went to television, my contract read, "This employee cannot be worked more than seven days a week," which was very thoughtful, but it was like that. That's the way it was. I took a cut when I went to television.
Biagi: Were the contracts yearly?
Taylor: When I was under the AFTRA contract—and when I went to television, it was mainly under the AFTRA contract—it would be just yearly or whenever they renegotiated. But then I got to be under a personal service contract. I don't remember when that started. I would negotiate my personal service contract every year. Some of them in the seventies were for scale plus all of the after benefits, which wasn't bad. But then in the eighties I got into the personal service over the money-break contract, which I suppose in some cases, some years I didn't do as well as I would have done doing it the other way. I never made the big bucks. I never did have an agent. I almost had an agent one time, some people who came back, a very big agency who wanted to represent me, but they wanted me to do things I didn't want to do. They wanted me to go back and try to be a morning person with one of the networks and do certain commercials and things like that. There were things I didn't want to do, and also they took over your life.
Then it got to the point where I started talking to some agents, but though I was doing well, age was becoming a definite question. I know it was. No question about it. They would wonder how long was this going to be for. There's no question, age, for a woman, is a major factor. It still is a major factor.
Biagi: Was there ever any kind of a clause that there was a twelve-week or sixteen-week notice and they would let you go?
Taylor: Oh, yes. Very often there would be thirteen-week notice, but then I got to where my notice was a fifty-two-week notice. You pretty well had long runs.
Biagi: So if they had let you go, not that they did, but if they'd let you go, you had a year's salary.
Biagi: And you were negotiating that all yourself.
Taylor: I always did it all myself, which was stupid, because I'm a lousy businesswoman. I don't have any talent for that at all. Even when I know later, I say, "Gosh darn it, why didn't I ask for this?" Because I was getting along well with them. [Laughter.] But I had no savvy for that. When I started in the business, one of the big things, I've always been with CBS. The way people
have made a lot of money, and I see it in every field, is you leave that company and go someplace else, and they'll pay you more. Then the original company may pay you more to hire you back. I've seen this occur a good deal of the time. That was something I never did.
Biagi: You think they knew you wouldn't do it?
Taylor: Again, you ask about all the things you're doing. You're raising a family, you're doing all the things. I had a lot of miserable times, but you don't have time to make a great big change. You just don't have time to go through all that transition. As I say, there have been times when I was not going to voluntarily do it, but those times went past without my being bounced out of the way. So nobody else ever bounced me out of the place. I just wasn't calculating. I'm not a financially calculating person, and almost anybody can see that. [Laughter.] I've been really stupid.
Biagi: Let's stop for a second.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Biagi: Let's go back to our chronological work. We last left you with—
Taylor: Being stupid.
Biagi: Yes, being stupid, but now we're going to go back to 1968-69, I guess, in the newsroom at KCBS, which was in KNXT.
Biagi: Grant Holcomb is still in place. "The Big News" is still the big news, I think.
Biagi: The defining moment in our last discussion was when Grant Holcomb left "The Big News." You said things changed.
Taylor: Slid sideways.
Biagi: That was what year?
Taylor: 1970, '71, in there.
Biagi: What kind of changes did you see happen?
Taylor: New York began to dictate more what was to happen.
Biagi: Among the owned and operated stations?
Taylor: Owned the operated stations. Where you'd had an autonomy which they had been trying to chip away at, you now had New York coming in and pretty well calling the shots, and you had a station manager then, a general manager, who behaved according to the way they wanted him to.
He was afraid of his own shadow, really, but he did what he was told. The whole system was being invaded by these people with their formulae about what is the way you're supposed to do it. I think I mentioned that there had been a feeling way back that news was not going to be that commercial anyway, we don't have to bother about it. And then when it became very successful, the more successful it became, the more everybody wanted a part in what was going to be happening.
Biagi: So by successful, you mean it made money.
Taylor: It made money and it was watched by many, many people.
Biagi: For people who aren't native to Los Angeles, when I say "The Big News," they may not know what that means, so you'll have to explain and characterize the big news and what it was in '68 or '69.
Taylor: "The Big News" actually started in the early sixties, and it really was the big news because it was the first one-hour news broadcast to go on any local station or any network station, any network. There wasn't another hour news program around. It was the brainchild of a news director named Sam Zellman, and he started the hour program. It actually had Clete Roberts, I think, as the original major anchor, and then they had a person from Chicago who came out, and they got Jerry Dunphy, who was the long-time anchor. They had a panel of people on, the sportsperson and the weatherman and everybody. I came in in the mid-sixties as one of the reporters of "The Big News." The reporters, we all stayed quite a long time. I don't remember who the early reporters were, but there were only five of us starting in the middle sixties. The thing was that everybody in "The Big News" stayed there.
Biagi: Who would that have been besides you?
Taylor: We had Saul Halpert, Jim Brown, in terms of reporters. We had Paul Udell, Joe Bente, and then, of course, we had Bill Keene, who was the weatherman, Gil Stratton, who was the sportsman. We had Ralph Story, who did a little vignette-type thing every night. We had Maury Green, who did some kind of a think piece or a cultural piece, something like that. But your cast of characters was pretty stable.
Biagi: You were the only woman in the cast.
Taylor: I was the only woman in the cast.
Biagi: How long was that true?
Taylor: I'm trying to think who was the next woman who came along. They eventually hired a lady out of New York, and I can't remember her name. She was very independent. I think she was married to somebody who was successful, and she lived well down on Rossmore and was kind of remote. She was mainly on the eleven o'clock, as I remember. She didn't make any imprint and she was somebody's friend. That's kind of catty, but it was kind of like that. She just came in and she kind of circulated in and out.
The next woman who came, who stayed, was Glenda Wina. Glenda was a very attractive black lady, and her sister is Marilyn McCoo. Both Glenda's parents were doctors, very bright and pretty. She stayed. She ultimately started doing medical news and that became a specialty for her.
Biagi: Marilyn McCoo of the "Fifth Dimension," you're talking about.
Biagi: A singer.
Taylor: Yes. Her husband and she were a team. I don't know them that well, except that they were a very attractive family altogether. Glenda stayed and worked hard and was a single mom bringing up a child, too. Glenda had been married to a top administrator, executive, political figure in one of the African countries. I can't remember which one it was. She'd also been in England. She was quite a cosmopolitan person. When she came back from Africa, she had brought with her the daughter of her husband, who was not her daughter, but somebody whom Glenda loved and adored and spent a lot of time worrying about. This daughter eventually went into ballet in the Harlem Company. Anyway, Glenda was around and she was a friend. She's left in the past several years.
Biagi: Do you know what she's doing now?
Taylor: I don't know what she's doing now. She was the first woman to come and stay.
Biagi: So "The Big News" was first an hour and then it went longer, didn't it, at some point?
Taylor: "The Big News" was an hour. When did we start having other programs? NBC started to have a five o'clock program. Jess Marlow was on the five o'clock program for NBC. That became very successful. As I recall, that's what we then did, was make the jump to have a five o'clock show.
Biagi: What would the routine be then?
Taylor: I can't remember the sequence because there was a 5:30 show at one point, 5:30 to six, that Bill Stout did. I think we went to an hour, then I think we went from the 5:30 to the six. Bill Stout anchored it, and I remember I was pretty stupid because they said, "We want a woman on that show, Ruth. Will you audition for it?" It was an ego trip after all these years. I said, "I'm not going to audition to be on Channel 2 news! If you don't know what I do, you'll never know what I do." I didn't audition for it, and I guess they had to sort of show off what you do within that show, and I was so egotistical about it, I wouldn't do it. They brought in a young woman who had been in public relations. She was a girlfriend of a movie reviewer, and she auditioned and she had never been on the air, never done the news, but she started doing it and she did very well, and she's still there to this day. Her name is Patti Ecker.
Biagi: So you lost your chance.
Taylor: I lost my chance. It wasn't that; it was that they brought in another woman. I didn't lose my chance, because I still was doing the news. I did a lot of things on the 5:30 as a reporter, but I was not featured as they had wanted to do.
Biagi: So that was 5:30 to six.
Taylor: That was 5:30 to six.
Biagi: When did the network come on? At six?
Taylor: I don't remember.
Biagi: Was it two or two and a half hours' local news eventually?
Taylor: We eventually had two and a half hours, because we went on at 4:30. A lot of stations go on at four. I don't remember if we went on at four, but we went on at 4:30. I don't remember going on at four; 4:30 is when we went on. At 4:30 we were going on as recently as '87, I remember. I remember having to wait for us to go on, because I was at this fire, where the fire was coming down on top of us, and we had to move once because the place we were standing on burned out. Then where we got to, we just barely made it through the top of the 4:30 before we were chased out of there. But I remember that, and that was '87. So that's still a 4:30 show. I don't remember that we ever had it at four.
Biagi: What's the schedule now?
Taylor: The schedule now is five and six.
Biagi: So are they back to two hours of local news?
Taylor: No, five to 6:30, because the network comes on at 6:30.
Biagi: So it's an hour and a half.
Taylor: But it always amazed me, and I think I've mentioned in preceding conversations, that when we had an hour program, the length of the story I generally did would be three and a half minutes. Not just I, but the rest of the people, for an hour program. We didn't always go on every day. Sometimes we would have longer projects and we would be very carefully crafting these so they were mini-movies. But three and a half minutes, you'd tell your story. It didn't have to be that long, but that was kind of a regular thing. The longer the programs got, the shorter the stories would have to be. I never understood why. They began to jam more stuff into them, more feature things. I don't know. It didn't make any sense.
Biagi: Did you see, for instance, the role of the documentary and mini-documentary change? Was there much documentary programming in the news when you first started?
Taylor: No. We would do series at different times, and you'd have series during sweeps, which would be February, May, and November. My husband and I did a series on motion pictures one year. We did the series on underwater, on the ocean. When we did the underwater one, we made that into a half hour, and some of the series were made into half-hour programs after they were a series. I think that's still the case. I haven't done series for a long time. One of the reasons, and it's happened to a number of reporters, when you do a series, everybody's looking over your shoulder. Many times now they bring in outside producers who will work with you. The managing editor, the legal department, everybody wants to get into the act, so that you have a big difficulty if you have an idea, to get that idea on to the air in any form that you originally thought of it. I do have a series I do want to do that's coming up.
Biagi: For instance, you just did the Pearl Harbor series.
Taylor: I just did the Pearl Harbor stories. I didn't really do a series.
Biagi: I see.
Taylor: I just did stories on Pearl Harbor. So that wasn't a series. Of course, it wasn't in November, May, or February, so it doesn't qualify. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Unfortunately, Pearl Harbor took place in December. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Now it would be 1971, and New York is taking an interest in the news. What kinds of changes did you see happening in the newsroom?
Taylor: One of the big changes came around—it may have been later. I think I mentioned to you that around in this period of time we saw change of the personnel around '72, '73, where the old-timers got swept away, because now people were looking at talent in a different way. They were looking at demographics and people were going to appeal to a certain age group and a certain financial group and a certain everything. So all of these people are now those who have been very successful and have had really terrific ratings. My mom said, "Don't tamper with success." Nobody ever heard of that. They tampered with success and made it unsuccess.
One of the things that happened, too, they brought in at one point in the early seventies a bunch of people. They were like efficiency experts who would go out with you and who would sit by telephone operators and clock how many calls they answered, who would kind of catalog everything everybody did to see how efficient they were, the problem being that in the news business you can't stamp it out in the same way you can in many other fields. So it was all devastating. We had, for instance, two telephone operators at the time, which was working well, because one of them worked exclusively with reporters. You have a lot of calls coming in, you're in the communications business, your business is contacts. And you can start a story, but if you're going to have to go out and run on a story and do a today thing, you can't stay there to pick up the phones when the person for tomorrow's story calls. It's terribly important to have this second operator, which I yelled and screamed about for the next eighteen years, because they fired this gal because she didn't take as many calls as you take if you're answering, "Why isn't the world turning today," or whatever, you know. So just on the basis of numbers or whatever kind of statistics they needed to have, they weren't satisfied that she was that important to the operation. So she goes.
A lot of things were changing in terms of how we had to operate in the field, because these folks came in and took a look. There were a lot of accountants, bookkeeper types of people, who didn't have the foggiest notion of why we spent time doing certain things that we did.
So I wrote a letter to Mr. Paley at that time. I wrote to him from time to time, and generally I heard from Mr. Paley. This time my letter was passed over to the person who was the president of the owned and operated stations division, who said, "Ruth, you just don't understand. We are trying to become more cost-conscious," and all this sort of baloney and so forth. And it was baloney. It was total baloney because this whole business of cost cutting and not knowing what you're doing has ruined so many places where they cut away our bureaus. We had a bureau in Sacramento; they took that away. You're no longer in the capital of the state, finding out what the rascals are doing, which we had on every day. People know the cast of characters. They're interested and they follow it. We had a bureau in San Francisco. We had fascinating stories out of San Francisco, beautiful stories. We no longer had that. We had an Orange County bureau. I think we kept the Orange County bureau, because it wasn't a lot of expense. It was really close. But the things that were the blood and the attractiveness, the specialness about our place, got just beat up.
People still tried to do the special things they could do, but under a good many of these edicts such as, "Your story should not run longer than two minutes and twenty seconds because the audience attention won't last that long." Well, baloney. A well-crafted story, "Roots," look at the long things, "The Civil War." All kinds of things disproved it. Motion pictures, for goodness sakes! How long do people sit in a motion picture if it's a well-told story? Those were the things that began to happen. We had turnovers of news directors.
Biagi: Was there any attempt made to decide which kinds of stories you'd cover or prescribe certain types of stories had to be covered that others didn't? Some news operations have talked about a certain percentage of animal stories and a certain percentage of human interest and all those kinds of things.
Taylor: I think they probably had some lists, but I don't know what they were.
Biagi: You were never privy to them?
Taylor: No. I know very often we would have a lot of trivia stories. There was one place along the road where I was truly convinced that we were supposed to be the station that prepared people to play Trivial Pursuit because we had so much trivia. That's become a terrible part of what's happening now, there's so much trivia that people in the studio can play with.
Biagi: Was crime at all an important part of the formula?
Taylor: It wasn't as big a part as it is now, and you had action. The visual became the thing. You've got to start with your strong visual, so you've got to go out there and find a strong visual. You've got to get somebody hitting somebody. I mean, the formulae. And you've got to have real people in the first twenty seconds. These are different things that would come along. Then they would disappear. Real people, they would be the ordinary person on the street. Okay. So you're covering Sacramento and you're in where they're doing all these things and it's pretty exciting. They're yelling and screaming and they're voting and all that, but you're supposed to get somebody outside the door before you come in. There were so many different formulae that came along and got tossed out because they didn't work.
Biagi: Was the live shot part of that formula?
Taylor: There was a period of time where they had to have a lot of live shots, again no matter whether they made any sense or not, which I got caught in.
Of course, your technology changed a great deal. We went in the seventies from film to tape. That changed a lot of things. For one thing, we had had some excellent film technicians, people who are real photographers. We had some pretty bum ones, too. To work a film camera, you've got to have more knowledge of photography. You came along with your tape camera and if you could punch a button, there were a lot of buttons that were automatic and you could pretty well get along. We had a lot of people who were strictly technicians, didn't even know that you shouldn't put the sun back of you, you know, things like that. I mean, real elementary lack of photographic knowledge. In fact, one of our executive producers, when we went to all tape, said, "Well, it will probably take five or six years before we're back where we left off in quality of the visuals."
In a way, we've never come back, because so many things have diluted what we do. Beautiful pictures. A picture is worth ten-thousand words. Those beautiful pictures sometimes
would direct how you'd tell a story. You'd go in and you'd look at your pictures if you're a reporter, and though in your mind you've sort of figured out how you're going to tell that story, all of a sudden pops up this thing that you didn't know your photographer or your cameraman was doing, and it is so exceptional that it's going to grab attention right away and you know that and it's telling some story; you simply just turn around some of the things you're doing and the way you're writing, and you can start with that.
In fact, when I was working with Jack, who was an excellent photographer, he would know what he shot, and a reporter doesn't know often. You know a lot of things they're getting that you have to have, but you don't know some of these other things they see until you look at your video. But Jack would know what he had done and he'd say, "Just change these two paragraphs around. I think it would work really well, because we just got this and this," and so forth. He shot one story one day of a rescue when there had been a cave-in and this one man was buried, the firemen and other rescuers working to get this person out, a hand coming up, the expressions on the faces of the people. He told the story with so much natural excitement in the video and we had natural audio of just what was happening, and somebody else was assigned to write it, but he asked if I could write it. I did, because I did care a lot about video, and I think in a minute-and-a-half piece I probably didn't have more than twenty-five seconds of narrative in it because it told itself. All you did was glue it together. So you had that excitement of the video that you don't find a lot anymore, because it got lost. People came along and saw a cheaper way to do it. Now they have one man go out and do everything as fast as he can possibly do it, breaking his back as he does it very often.
Biagi: What was the process, for instance, at that time for you to gather a story? How many in the crew?
Taylor: Two, usually. We'd have a sound man and a camera man and a reporter.
Biagi: Would you do one story a day, two stories a day, on average?
Taylor: It would depend. Most often you'd do one and sometimes you would do one over two days. Say if you were doing a story on the environment, of course, environmental stories became very big and also a great way to have terrific visuals. I think I mentioned that the Forestry Service was going off into Arrowhead to see what has happened to the trees around Arrowhead as a result of smog in the Los Angeles Basin. They were going to do an infrared film survey, and the infrared film would show up where the decay was, and we took our own cameras with infrared film, went up and chartered an airplane and did some ground things and some upper things and developed our film and had it on the air the next day. It took a couple of days. It was well worth it. A lot of environmental stories were excellent when it was first a brand-new thing. In the early seventies, the environment was just beginning to come into our consciousness as something that was in danger.
Biagi: I'm sure it's hard for people to believe, knowing Los Angeles today, but I think that's worth noting.
Taylor: Yes. Smog, of course, was always a big problem, and the smog stories proliferate. Smog was more of a big problem in a way because we had had a great many smog regulations, the way our cars are built and the way factories are mandated to have pollution controls and all that. So those were always big stories, too.
Biagi: What about the fires and floods specialty of yours?
Taylor: Well, I don't know.
Biagi: How did that develop?
Taylor: I know how the first great big fire came about that I went on, when I had gone over to Channel 2 and it was in 1966, this great big fire where these twelve hot-shot fire fighters were killed in a backfire where I had this terrible time with this terrible cameraman (whom I later married). But the reason I was on that fire, it was late in the afternoon, and either the male reporters wanted to go home or one of them was all dressed up to do a "Newsmakers" panel or something, and I was there. The woman got sort of the other end, you know. There were dirty stories and floods people didn't much care for. I sort of liked it. I liked being outdoors. I hate being indoors a lot. In terms of if I'm working, I hate being indoors.
So I like being out running around. Of course it's pretty exciting, fires, but once you start doing this, a lot of people say, "Hey, let her do it." [Laughter.] And also you build up your contacts. I knew everybody in the fire departments, and I'd get a call from County Fire, a guy named Dick Friend, who wrote me just last year, and you had a limited number of PR people, but they were good in all these different organizations. Dick would say, "Ruth, there's a big thing breaking out here," or whatever and they'd call us. You get your beat on the desk. A lot of researchers will call up the fire folks and say, "What's going on?" and listen to the scanner and whatever. But people would call or they'd have some kind of exercises going on that would be exciting, that would be newsworthy, and they'd call you. So I got along real well with the fire folks and also the flood control people. I knew them all and trudged around.
I think I mentioned that in the early days when Los Angeles was becoming a big city, we had a very inefficient flood control system, so that you'd have to close all the schools if you had a two-inch rain, because you didn't have any running off and everything would be flooded. So flooding became a big thing. Then we had some really whing-ding floods in the seventies, a lot of heavy rain, and water would come rushing out of the canyons above, say, Glendora. I remember that was a whole big scene, and sweep houses away and undermine places. You'd go and look and you could see a roof and underneath the roof was mud all the way down. You'd start in on these and then you'd just be following them. For a period of time until they got some good flood control work in the canyons above the different valleys, the San Gabriel Valley, the San Fernando Valley, they had big disasters when we had lots of rain.
Biagi: Were you ever afraid, ever really threatened?
Taylor: As you know, there's a lot of excitement, so you don't really think about it that much. The times I've been afraid, I guess, when we're in some fires that are really erratic and you figure if you stick pretty close to where the fire guys are that you're probably going to be okay, but then you're going from place to place. I know when we were in this big Wheeler [Canyon] fire—and I talked to a gal on the phone the other day, who answered the phone way back someplace, and she remembered me talking to her in the Wheeler fire. That was in '87, I guess.
Biagi: Wheeler. Is that an area?
Taylor: Wheeler Canyon in Ventura. That was a period when there were these fire storms all around. They just skipped all through Southern California and ended in Ventura County and burned a whole lot of acreage. That was just an awesome fire. But you're driving down a road and the fire is so volatile and the winds are so erratic that all of a sudden the fire will jump so that it's all around you and you're driving right through the middle of it. That's uncomfortable.
Biagi: I would think so. [Laughter.]
Taylor: I'd never been so awestruck by a fire as I was by that one, because here are these big canyons, and you look, and the smoke is boiling fire, boiling up in the sky, and you know it's coming over into where you are. It was just like the gods are angry, you know, and are really going to get you all. I remember in that particular fire we were driving down the road and we saw this one house and barn, I guess, a couple of structures across a wooden bridge and they were burning furiously and there were fire companies there. So we parked on the roadside of the bridge and went across the wooden bridge. I know I talked to this man who was an old-timer there, who had been born in that house, I guess, and he talked to me about it as he watched it go up in flames. I looked at the bridge we'd come across and the wooden bridge was on fire. Fire units were over by the fire. Our truck was the other way. I went up and tapped the captain on his shoulder and said, "I'm afraid we're burning our bridges behind us." So he sent some guys over to try to take care of the bridges. But we all ran across. My crew and I ran across the bridge. The crew hopped into the truck as the fire actually was up to the tires of our truck, and I was last coming through this smoke. My cameraman tried to grab the camera because he said it looked like a refugee fleeing Vietnam or something as I came across that bridge. But there are those times that are memorable.
Then there are times you have to calm down. That particular fire, too, I had this cameraman who was a really fine cameraman, a daring young man, and he saw this hill. When you've got any kind of an event, you like to be on a high spot so you can get a good overall look at it. He said, "For our live stuff, let's go up on that hill." I said, "You're stupid! It's burning all the way up the hill." "But there's some fire folks up there." Yes, there were some fire folks up there, but we didn't have the same stuff they had to take care of us. We finally talked him out of going up the hill. It was absolutely totally on fire!
Biagi: Great video, though. Great pictures.
Taylor: Great pictures for the first half that you lived through. But then we did end up with setting up on the hill, at the base of the hill, and the fire fighters were going up. "How long do you think we have if we're here?" "Oh, let's see. Maybe ten minutes." So that's where we had to move, though, because the 4:30 show didn't start on time. We moved down about another fifty yards and the whole place was going up while we were on the air. Pretty exciting stuff.
Biagi: What was the last fire you covered? Have you covered one recently? Floods or fires? There haven't been any floods in California for a while.
Taylor: I'm thinking that I did, and I can't think where.
Biagi: Within the last year?
Taylor: Not within the last year. I can't remember. There have been some around. Of course, we had fires within Los Angeles.
Biagi: Did you cover the earthquake in San Francisco?
Taylor: I didn't cover the earthquake. What did I cover? I was down in Los Angeles the day the earthquake occurred in San Francisco, but I covered Dan Quayle that day.
Biagi: Is there any parallel there? [Laughter.]
Taylor: It was interesting because I was given Dan Quayle. Nobody covers Dan Quayle straight, but there are folks out there who do like Dan Quayle. If you're doing a figure who is public, my feeling is—and I heard some people violating it yesterday—I don't think you can make just a complete farce out of your story. Dan Quayle was speaking to the town hall or one of the big crowds in Los Angeles, and they wanted me to cover that.
Then they wanted me to go out and do the Dan Quayle watch. [Laughter.] That had just been created. It was like a Mickey Mouse watch, but a Dan Quayle watch. Okay. Now I'm going to have to carefully do this because I've got to not offend anybody, but the story isn't really all that serious on that Dan Quayle watch. The guy's selling millions of them. So I covered it and I came back and wound it together, trying to do it with some kind of finesse. It went on the air at about 5:03. I was in the edit room watching the tape, and I came rushing out after my tape was off the air—it got on and off—to say, "Hey, how about that? I got it balanced," and nobody gave a darn. The earthquake was on and, of course, then I just became totally involved with the fact that I had family in the area and was concerned about that. But I didn't cover the earthquake.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Biagi: I want to talk to you a little bit about some of the famous people that you visited in your time as a reporter. One that you've mentioned to me was Lucille Ball. She had a particular significance in your retirement, during your last week of work. Do you want to tell me about that?
Taylor: Actually, in my last week of work, that was the end of April 1989, when I was to retire on that Friday. She had been in the hospital already. She had gone into the hospital about a week and a half before I was actually slated to retire. The Monday of the week I was going to retire, I went to a luncheon. She was being honored by Eastman Kodak, as a matter of fact. They give an annual award, and lots of stars were there. She was obviously not able to make it, she was in the hospital, but the prognosis was she was going to be okay. Her daughter was there, Lucy Arnez, on her behalf, and told interesting things. I remember her telling the story at the luncheon, because it was light, you were not feeling that she was in real peril. Lucy Arnez talked about how her mother was all strapped up with things in her nose and everything, and when she was wheeled into the hospital, Lucy Arnez, her daughter, was there and Lucy kept making a gesture like she wanted to tell her something. So Lucy Arnez said she couldn't understand what she was saying, so she put her ear down to her mother's mouth, and her mother said, "Wouldn't you know it, this was my day for color." [Laughter.] So it was that kind of a thing on that Monday, and I was covering all the stars and all the people who came to that. It was just a sentimental, nice time.
Then Wednesday, two days later, Lucy died. I had talked to Lucy from time to time. I didn't know Lucy really, but, gosh, I knew of her and somehow she knew of me. I had called her a number of times on different stories, and I remember once when Steve McQueen died, as a matter of fact, I think she played in something with him and I called her and asked if I could come up and interview her on her thoughts about McQueen. She said she could tell me on the phone, but she was babysitting her grandchild, so she couldn't do anything with me. I remember that because it was just so homey when I was talking to her. "Oh, honey, I'm babysitting. I can't do it today," you know, and also you knew Lucy at that point was getting along and she put herself together with some care and took some time.
But the day she died, which was two days before I was to retire, was a real whing-ding day for me because I was asked to do stories about her for a lot of other stations around the country. The way I did that, I had some reaction of people and I made a little tape that we put on the wire, on the feed, so that people had these different little tapes they could insert into what I would say live. I stood up on the roof of Columbia Square with the Hollywood sign visible in back of me, and we had a producer up there to say, "Okay, now you're going to do the top of the show in New York. Then after you finish that, you'll do five minutes into the show in Chicago, and after that Philadelphia wants you to come up." And they all wanted different formats, so before I'd go on, he'd say, "They want you to lead into that tape number one. Give a little of what you felt today and what's going on. Lead into tape number one. It's Joe and Jenny who are there, so come on and say, 'Hi, Joe,' or, 'Hi, Jenny.' Then when you go out, of course, you'll sign off for WCBS in New York." Right? Okay. So you do that at the top of the hour.
"Okay, now in Chicago, they'd just like that sound bite from those two people you had on the second tape, so tell the story all around that. I think this is Lenny and Marie, so you come on with, 'Hi, Lenny," and, 'Hi, Marie.' Of course, you'll sign off for Ruth Ashton Taylor, WBBM, Chicago." Anyway, I did this for a couple of hours.
Biagi: How many stations would you say you did that for?
Taylor: About eight or nine.
Biagi: Every one was different.
Taylor: Every one was different. Some of them, I would come up at 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. because they'd have a 5:00 and a 6:00, and they'd be in the East. Some of them had half-hour shows, on the half hour, so at the top of the hour and at the half hour you were really busy. It was an emotional story, obviously. The whole world really knew Lucy [Lucille Ball]. So every time you did it, you couldn't do it just flat out like there was an earthquake 3.5 today. You're talking about a human being who is loved by people who are listening to you. So it was a very interesting last week I had. That was quite a day.
Biagi: So they didn't let you ease down.
Taylor: I didn't ease down. But the very next day, as a matter of fact, I was honored by the YWCA, and I used a quote from Lucy, because they asked me to give some advice to the young people there who had their eyes on journalistic careers or something. Lucy Arnez, when I'd interviewed her that Monday, had told me something about how her mother had given her such good advice. Her mother, Lucy Ball, had said, "Now, when you go into this business, you're going to have to work your head off. You're going to have a lot of rejections. People are going to give you hard times. You're not going to make much money, and you're going to have to work hard before you see any results. But you'll do it because it's worth it." That isn't the way she said it exactly, but that's the gist of it. To me, that was great advice for a mother to give a daughter. Of course, Lucy Arnez talked about that being the advice that had been so important to her. So Lucy was a big part of my last week. She was the Monday, the Wednesday, the Thursday.
Then by Friday, because I'd actually announced Thursday at the YWCA thing that I was not going to be on staff any longer at CBS after Friday—
Biagi: This was Friday, April—
Taylor: About April twenty-eighth. Thirty days in April. It was the twenty-eighth. So a lot of the people in stations around town were kind enough to want to do stories about me, so a bunch of people did stories about me about that time. It was pretty interesting, because my contract with CBS, I went off staff, as you know, and stopped receiving a regular paycheck. However, they kept me on a retainer. I had a contract for two more years, which has subsequently been renewed, that I would get so much for a retainer every month. I didn't have to do anything for that, but if they wanted to call me up and ask my advice, I was there to do it and also I was there to not go to ABC or NBC in case they had ideas. Also they would offer me what was a very nice per diem fee for doing freelance political stories for them. So I would stay on doing those stories.
The sort of ridiculous thing was there was all this big hullabaloo about my leaving, I got so many flowers they had to send a van out with some of them. I just wished that those flowers had been money! But anyway, I get all the flowers, there are all these stories about Ruth leaving, about whatever I'd done in my career, and about two weeks later, because there was a big teachers strike in Los Angeles that I had been covering the preliminaries on, I was back every day on the air, and this continued through the rest of the year. People would say, "Ruth, we said goodbye to you! Why don't you go?" [Laughter.] So it became a kind of joke and it still has been, because though I have tapered down now, for at least two years I was on a great deal. It became a kind of, "Come on. You say you're leaving. You're not leaving. You're never going to leave." But I'm less visible than I was before.
Biagi: Tell me about your move to Lincoln and why you're here, why you're in this spot.
Taylor: It's almost impossible to describe.
Biagi: First of all, the difference between this place and where you were before.
Taylor: I lived in Los Angeles for all these years. I was born in Long Beach, California, but always Southern California. When I went to school in New York, I said I wanted to live, work, and die in Los Angeles or in Southern California, and I was offered a job by the head of CBS to come to Los Angeles, but he said, "In the meantime I'd like to have you write for Bob Trout. I'd like to have you go to the conventions. I'd like to have you do all these things."
So I didn't make it back here right away, but then I did, because Southern California is where I wanted to live. I have lived in Los Angeles. I lived, most recently for twenty-one years, in Encino, which is in the San Fernando Valley, on a half-acre that was lovely, with orange trees. It was a good home for my family and the sort of double family after I married for the second time. So that's where I was. But Los Angeles and all urban cities are changing so rapidly, and, of course, in Southern California, even more rapidly than elsewhere because it's where everybody wants to be. So the crowd keeps coming. The freeways were congested. It would take me sometimes an hour to get home, which is fifteen miles from the office. It was just a big drag. I would do stories in Sacramento.
We have a place in Tahoe. As I would go by the rolling hills of the foothills of the Sierra, I would see these places up on top of the hills and I always had a great feeling for the out-of-doors. When I went to Scripps College, I fell in love with Mt. Baldey, which was my inspiration to kind of help me have perspective. I've always done a lot of environmental stories. I like to be out there and I also feel there's a lot to do to protect the environment. But I looked at these hills, and they just look so serene and such a good place to go do the things you wanted to do, maybe write,
learn the piano, do all kinds of stuff. In Northern California I would also be close to my daughters.
So I started looking around with a realtor, and I hadn't really meant to make the move when I did, but the realtor called me up after we had gone through a lot of places that he knew I didn't like. I was looking around. I was kind of a Lookie Lou, but I had also, in the course of my life, passed up a couple of places that were great, and I was always sorry. So this guy called me up one October morning in 1989. He said, "I saw a place last night that's what you've been looking for. It's on top of a hill. It's the kind of house that has views all around, 360-degree view. You walk into the house and you see clear through it. It's all indoor/outdoor. The place is for sale, but they've got two offers on it." So he said, "You'd better come up."
So I got in the car, I came up, I got to his office in Auburn at 4:30 in the afternoon. We came over here; I looked at it for twenty minutes and said, "Okay, let's buy it." And then I said, "What have I done?" [Laughter.] So that's kind of how it was. There's a lot of hard story that goes with negotiating all that, but eventually this is where I ended up. And I'm glad. It's a very different way of life.
Biagi: It's not a place that people who have known you as an urbanite, as you were, and a suburbanite, would expect you to be, I think. That's what is so unusual about it. It's a different change.
Taylor: People who know me well might expect me to be here, because I like the out-of-doors so much. Really, after I grew up, when I was in New York I loved hobnobbing with everybody from the business because everybody in New York does that. You lived your life with the people you associated with in your work. You go out to dinner with them, you see them after work socially all the time. It's a whole different thing. But in Los Angeles, you do sort of retreat to your own home a lot. And always for the homes I wanted, I wanted them where I had trees, where I had some kind of views maybe, but something that would have some nature around it. So that's a big feeling of mine. So basically this is just kind of a big leap, but it's in the same general "me" type of style.
Biagi: And your dog Sadie is living with you.
Taylor: My dog Sadie is living with me. She's twelve years old. We used to have a lot of dogs and had big doghouses. Sadie was outside. Now she's really living with me. She's in the house, and though she has seven and a half acres, she doesn't want to go out. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Let's talk a little bit about the kinds of reporting stories you did. You said you were familiar with Lucille Ball and you did stories with her. Because of your location and proximity in Los Angeles to the entertainment world, what were those stories that you remember the most of the entertainment type or of the personality type that you did that you liked?
Taylor: I did not do too many stories about Hollywood. I did meet a good many people in Hollywood at a lot of functions. I'd go to openings of art museums. Not too long ago, as a matter of fact, I went to an opening of an exhibition at the county museum, and there was Sidney Poitier, whom I think is wonderful. I met him for the first time and said, "Oh, I am such a fan of yours!" You know, like a kid. He said, "Well, I'm a fan of yours, too," which always amazed me that people in the entertainment business watch us, too, you know. And that happened a lot, which was fun.
In the old days, when this music center was opening, I went to a lot of functions down there and covered quite a few things. Alfred Hitchcock, for one thing, was very funny. He invited me to his house once because he was a great cook, and we talked about cooking, but I never did really a story per se with him. I would do their reaction or little interviews with these people. I ran into Irene Dunne quite a lot because she was around there, and a very warm, nice person. I went to a number of homes. I can't remember which Bob it was, a very well-known Bob. [Laughter.]
Biagi: A lot of people, I think their idea of especially a Los Angeles television reporter is that you're in this glamorous world of stars and entertainment all the time. They see television reporters as part of that world. They don't see them apart from it.
Taylor: That's not really accurate. You may be at some social functions, but most often when I was at those functions, a lot of them would be in that line of work, but not necessarily covering anything about the movies. It would be covering things about the music center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There were galleries that would open and you'd sometimes see interesting writers. Irving Stone and his wife I saw socially a lot. They were friends of some good friends of mine, a family that I'd known through a friend of mine in college. So you see a wide range of people.
I love going to this one house of my friend Jess Marlow and his wife Phyllis. He's an anchor in Los Angeles, and they have fantastic parties. But I'm always finding Joe Wambaugh there, a former cop, written a lot of novels. We always have such a good time talking to each other. So you see people like that going around, but it's a mix of the art world. You go to a lot of openings. I covered the art scene for quite a while when I did a thing called "California Style." What was happening when the county museum was opening—special galleries or opening new buildings. MOCA, the contemporary art museum, was moving into new places. Opera was starting in Los Angeles, a regular opera company. A lot of things were closing down, too, because they didn't have enough money for all these things.
I remember John Raitt was doing his best to keep some kind of a little workshop going, and I went out to talk to him because one of my daughters had always thought John Raitt was so great, so I had to tell her I talked to John Raitt.
I covered it when they opened the Orange County Performing Arts Center. You see lots of glamour in these places, a lot of important people, a lot of interesting people, but to me it was more. I've always felt that entertainment reporting in Los Angeles was much too limited. You've got a huge world of entertainment in Hollywood, in the movies, but you've also got so much going on. It used to be called the cultural desert in Southern California, and the desert has been blooming now for the last twenty years in a really important way, but you wouldn't know it if you watched television on most of the stations. So I thoroughly enjoyed doing this "California Style" that was on every Sunday that ran for about five minutes.
I did a lot on architecture, which I've always liked to do. I find it fascinating and I find it depressing, because so little effort is made to preserve a lot of the things that you should preserve, but more than that, there is such a lack of art in so much contemporary architecture that it is appalling that it can happen. These places with no character pop up and take up a whole landscape, and they have no meaning. They're just in the way.
Biagi: [Laughter.] One after another.
Biagi: Let's go on to the other kinds of stories you covered. You told me that one of your favorite stories was a story that you did on Armando Quesada. The reason you did that story, I think is important, the reason you like that story.
Taylor: I like that story. It was interesting because all of a sudden some police officers came to see me. You see the police a lot. You see the fire folks a lot. You're out in their place a lot where they're doing business a great deal, so you get to know them pretty well. These police officers came to see me. They were involved in a program helping youth on the East Side, and they were very depressed because a young kid they'd been working with had just died. They wondered if I couldn't do a story about this young man named Armando Quesada. Armando Quesada was a kid who grew up on the East Side, with all the temptations and problems, the family didn't have much, and we showed him as a cute little baby at the christening and then we showed him with the mug shot. He had gotten into a lot of trouble, which is easy to do with all the gangs and everything. And he'd done it all. He'd seen sent up to different juvenile facilities.
But then he got involved with the police in their work to try to help the kids, and he went into boxing; he went into different activities, and he also reached out, then, to the other kids that he saw going the way he'd gone, and helped a lot of them. So he was sort of a right arm, unofficially, for the police in trying to get the kids off the bad street onto the better street or into the gyms and things like that.
Then at the age of twenty-two or twenty-three, he had died of natural causes, some kind of genetic problem that he'd had or some ailment that occurred. So far as they knew, it was something that was just natural and, unfortunately, killed him at a young age. But they wanted to tell this story. My husband was very impressed, too, and we got some still pictures. We walked around the East Side and showed the location where Armando Quesada grew up, and we saw the little kid who had gotten into all this trouble with the cops, and we saw at the funeral the highest level of police coming to pay respects to Armando Quesada. We heard the priest give testimonials, reading letters from some of the boys who had been helped by Armando Quesada.
The story was dramatic and we were able to pull that out with the fact that here was a kid who had started out as this sweet little baby, turned bad, and was a trial for the cops, but then he turned good and helped others, and ultimately everybody wanted to take him to their hearts. But then he died. So it was a very mixed emotion kind of story. We were able to mix the emotions in the story so that it came out with a feeling. It was particularly moving to young kids. When I got home that night, my daughter had left a note on my pillow, saying, "Mother, this is the most beautiful story you've ever done." Kids in the newsroom, there was one young man, Mike Hernandez, on the phones, and he was a young kid from the East Side, too, on our phones, and he was also telling me how much he liked that story. Mike Hernandez has gotten to be one of the top executives in the engineering department at Channel 2 and has done very well, has been one of my favorites all these years.
I went out to a school where they were doing some kind of a drug education program and met some kids who also had seen it. It's amazing that kids were seeing this, but they were. It spoke to them, it spoke to other people, and it was a human interest story that told people several things, probably, along with the story that kids can change.
Biagi: Because of your Hispanic roots, have you ever felt that you are more sensitive to stories that are directed or that appeal to Hispanic kids?
Taylor: Not necessarily.
Biagi: Do you feel those roots?
Taylor: I don't feel those roots particularly, except people will call them up to me from time to time. I think I told you about when I was all of a sudden being congratulated once at the station. The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] had called for a count of minorities and women because there was supposed to be a certain balance in the different stations. One day either the news director or the general manager came up to me and said, "Congratulations, Ruth!"
"What? What are you talking about?" This person had just found out that my maiden name was Montoya, so I was not only a woman that they could count once, I was an Hispanic woman they could count twice!
Biagi: You were a double count. [Laughter.]
Taylor: I was a two-fer. [Laughter.] But essentially kids are important to me. It's interesting, too, because I covered a lot of school stories, education stories, but I think of school stories, good ones, when you go in the classroom and you see things that are being done that are creative and interesting and novel and that should be talked about more so they could be examples for people. I was down in South Central Los Angeles one day doing a vandalism story, where some places had really been trashed, and these little kids came up and they were all standing in line for autographs. They love your autographs down there. They were all so cute. I've done a lot of stories with little black kids, because they have had such a bad time, of course, in certain parts of the city that have been extremely depressed. They were right in the center of the storm with the desegregation plans and lawsuits and all of the things that were going on for a period of fifteen, twenty years in Los Angeles. I saw a lot of these little kids whom you sometimes would ache over because you could also see that they were coming from situations where they weren't going to have a good chance.
I started covering some poverty stories. What is poverty? That type of story in South Central Los Angeles after the Watts riots. I am still haunted by some of the things I saw down there, of young women who just simply had not had any direction themselves, who had spawned these many, many little children that you knew were not going to have any chance. You could foresee they would have to end up on the street. There was no kind of direction or place for them.
Subsequently, Head Start grew up after that in a way, and you could see a lot of hope in that program. But you'd also see, at home, there just was nothing for these little kids. They were not eating, properly nourished, or any of those things. You just didn't see how they had any way to go, anywhere to go. So there's that, that can be a haunting memory.
Biagi: Is there ever a dichotomy in your mind between being a reporter and comfortable in your life and walking into a situation that's difficult and then walking out?
Taylor: It's interesting, because in 1965, after the Watts riots, there were a lot of programs that started up, the Watts Writers Workshop, also a lot of programs to help the kids, a lot of programs in Watts. So I was down in Watts a lot, and I was not afraid to go down there. I wouldn't go near there now. That was supposed to be at a critical, crucial time.
Biagi: Wasn't that about the time of the Reuben Salazar incident?
Taylor: That was a little after. The East Side flare-ups came a little after the Watts flare-ups. The Watts riots were in '65. The Salazar incident was around '69 or '70. I talked to one of my daughters, and she got her sorority or high school group that she was involved with to collect food, and I know I took down a turkey and food to Watts, to a family, at night, by myself in the car, and delivered this box of things for this large family. Subsequently we did a few other things. You had a feeling you wanted to do something.
I have also been extremely moved by kids in the central city who have to live in these slum places, slum hotels, on the street somewhat. There is an organization called Para Los Niños that was put together by another alumna of Scripps College. I've made some contributions to them. They do a wonderful job. But the stories of the little kids, it's hard to have hope that they have a future. They are maybe getting some help that you don't see in the future. I know in one case I did a story on Para Los Niños, and I started it at a hotel, a big, flashy dinner with beautifully dressed women in gowns with their jewels and all the rest. It was another huge charity affair where you have this real contradiction. There are the richest of all people, and they are doing something good, but they are also having a chance to show off all their beautiful jewelry. Their entertainers for that evening were kids from the Para Los Niños crowd, and they did a real good job. They danced, they sang, they did all these things.
I started my piece there and then the next scene was the next day when I went to the home with two boys, and I went to their home, which was one of these slum hotels right in the center of the skid row area of downtown Los Angeles, and went up to where they lived with their dad and his lady friend in this one room with a hot plate up there. You had to trip over people in the halls to get up to where they lived. They were well dressed and went to a school in that general area, but that's what they saw every day. That's where they lived every day. I went to a nursery, and you hear the stories of where these cute little babies come from and some of the terrible things that have happened to some of these kids who are prey for really bad individuals who lurk around. It's awful. You do get caught up and you just do little things, and you keep thinking you want to do more. You don't, often, but you can do something once in a while.
Biagi: Speaking of government and its attention to issues like that, starting in the early fifties, you've been interested in politics, so you obviously, I would assume, have covered every governor, just about, California has ever had since that time. Is that right?
Taylor: The first governor I knew was Goodwin Knight in the late fifties. I had interviewed him and I'd seen him at different things, but I was not up in Sacramento. In fact, the one time I remember covering him, he was host to the conventions in 1956 in San Francisco and I covered him then. Then I covered Pat Brown quite a lot. I didn't cover Pat Brown up here. Pat Brown came down to my talking shows in Los Angeles. That was the only program he went on, the old "Firing Line" that we've talked about. He came down from time to time. He still remembers that. Pat's a good friend of mine. Then I started covering the Reagans before they were in the governor's office. In fact, it was this great big thing, this movie actor thinking he could be a governor. We covered it that way, too, you know. "Who does this guy think he is?"
Biagi: Little did we know.
Taylor: Right. I had covered Ronald Reagan a little bit when he was an actor, when he was doing certain things, but then I covered him before, when he was trying to be governor, and then I covered him quite a lot while they were up here. We had a regular bureau in Sacramento, so in terms of the day-to-day coverage, we had good coverage by Bob Simmons, who was the first one. He was here when Reagan was here. Others were here, too.
Biagi: Howard Gingold.
Taylor: Howard Gingold was here and Warren Olney was here. That was fine. We had regular coverage, but I would still come up. I would do features most often, and I did a lot of things with Mrs. [Nancy] Reagan. I continued doing stories with Mrs. Reagan and following the governor around, President Ronald Reagan, when he was trying to be president in '76.
Biagi: Was Lyn Nofziger involved in the campaign at that point?
Taylor: Oh, yes. I knew Lyn. He did say, when I had been missing for a while, "Ruth, we've been positively Ruthless!" [Laughter.] But Lyn was one of my good friends. I've been in some communication with him from time to time, since he's had his problems. But I liked him and he was a good, real stereotype of the old newsman.
Biagi: What was your impression of the Reagans, covering Mrs. Reagan, in particular, but of Ronald Reagan, his relationship to the press and to you as a reporter?
Taylor: He was very nine-to-five, from what I could see, in his relationship to the press. I didn't see him on a day-to-day basis enough—we had the other folks doing that—to really know. Whenever I did see him, he was always very much sort of "on" in a nice, gracious way. They treated everybody, it seemed to me, pretty well. He would take umbrage. Sometimes in news conferences, where I was, he was not slow to let you know if he thought you were really harping on the universities too much or things that he was not treating very favorably at the time. But I saw him a lot when he was with Nancy, and he would come over when she would have big affairs. She was big with some grandparents organization that she had helped found, and she was carrying that on. I'd come up from time to time.
Nancy Reynolds, whom I liked a lot, who was working with her and the governor, would have some of us come up, for one thing, when they first moved up here and Nancy [Reagan] didn't want to live in the mansion. There were about four or five of us came up from Los Angeles. Mrs. Reagan took us into the old governor's mansion, and I know she took us around and showed us all the different sites, and then she stood up on a stairway between the second and third floor and jiggled it, to show us how the place was ready to fall down. "See, that's why I don't want to live here. It's a fire trap." So we came for different things that they'd haul us up for. I covered the inaugurations and things like that, but I wasn't in regular coverage up here.
Then Jerry Brown. I covered Jerry from the time he ran for community colleges in Los Angeles, where he was one name among the 133 candidates, but he emerged as the one with the most votes. He acted as though he was so surprised! Of course, Edmund Brown, Jr.'s dad had just been the governor of the state for two terms. But he didn't want you to call him Jerry Brown. He was really a stuffy little guy. But then he kind of calmed down. As a community college trustee, he wasn't any great big thing and you didn't cover him a lot, but he started agitating around and you knew he was going to be trying for more things, and he did when he tried for secretary of state. By that time he was getting to be a little more used to the press. I know he always hated it, I did one story looking back on his life and used a picture of him as a baby. He always has talked about that. He hated that. Every time I've done a story on Jerry Brown, half the time I bring that up. I pull back the old film and there's a picture of Jerry Brown as a baby.
Biagi: I didn't think he ever was a baby. [Laughter.]
Taylor: He was a cute little baby. He was cuter as a baby than he has been a lot of times since. My most recent encounter with Jerry, I did a "Newsmakers" with Jerry in December of 1991, and, of course, he had decided to go off to try to run for president again. I've covered Jerry forever.
I've covered [George] Deukmejian a lot. I covered Deukmejian starting with when he was in the California Senate when he was responsible for the bill bringing back the death penalty. Then I believe it was vetoed and he had to get an override vote, and did, and they pulled one member of the assembly in out of the gutter. At that point I think it took twenty-seven.
Biagi: To make the vote?
Taylor: To make the two-thirds override. I covered him then. Then he ran for attorney general against Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, and you really thought that because she had had a lot of visibility, she'd probably beat him, but he won. So here you're covering Deukmejian, whom you never really would spot as the up and coming politician, and he just kept being up and coming. I was rather particularly interested when he was running in the primary against Mike Curb. I've always felt that the Reagan organization had made it pretty good for Pete Wilson to get out of the governor's race in '82 and run for Senate, because Mike Curb was the anointed one, and they didn't really pay too much attention to George Deukmejian, who was such a dull old guy that they didn't think he was any big thing to worry about. Even if they tried, Deukmejian is a kind of stubborn guy when he sets his eye on something. He's not going to be swayed. So we actually had a debate before the primary in '82 between Curb and Deukmejian. It was an hour long, as I recall. A lot of people felt that that debate was sort of a turning point for Deukmejian, and he went on to beat Curb in the primary, much to many people's surprise, and go on to ease out Tom Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles, even after Tom Bradley had celebrated at lunch on election day in the victory that he didn't get. So there you had a really interesting guy. I've covered Deukmejian. In fact, I haven't seen him since he left office, but it got to be so that when I would see him, he'd say, "Ruth, are you still there?" [Laughter.] But I've enjoyed them. I did stories at their home when they finally got a home after the donnybrook over where the governor would live, after Jerry Brown had rejected the mansion that had been built for Ronald Reagan.
Biagi: That Nancy never lived in.
Taylor: That Nancy never lived in and no governor ever did live in. But it is called la casa de las gubernadores now and has been bought by a developer. Of course, covering Wilson, we're up to date so far.
Biagi: Let's talk a little bit about this career you've had, which has been rather fruitful.
Taylor: And lengthy.
Biagi: You've described to me the collection of awards you've received in your closet here sitting in the cupboard in the dining room nearby.
Taylor: I have one that's a very pretty one which was given to me by the Newspaperwomen of California when they for the first time honored a woman who was a television journalist. I am very proud of that.
Biagi: Is that the California Presswomen's?
Taylor: Yes. Then I have a couple of Emmys. I have one of them I'm very proud of, which is the Governor's Award from the Academy for Lifetime Achievement, which I thought was very nice. I also received the Sigma Delta Chi Journalist of the Year Award. That's a plaque that's up someplace else. In the cabinet here there's a Golden Mike from 1954. There is a little plaque that sits there, which is one of the Seven Legends of News, so named by the Los Angeles Press Club, and I told them I really didn't feel I was old enough to be a legend and they must have made a mistake.
Biagi: How old do you have to be to be a legend?
Taylor: I don't know, but for a woman it's very hard to feel you've become a legend. I told them that. "Okay, you guys, that's fine. You can say all of your achievements through the year and make it sound really important. When a woman starts to say it, you say, 'Oh, my god, she's that old?'" Anyway, I've got the YWCA Pretty Award there. I've got a lot of plaques and resolutions from the Senate, the Assembly and the state, from the supervisors of Los Angeles County. They've given me a whole bunch of them. They're tired of me at this point. I had a couple of nice resolutions and a great big ceremony by the city council in Los Angeles one time, which was a big surprise to me.
Biagi: What did they do?
Taylor: It was really funny, because I had a busy day planned. I was doing some kind of a long-range project, as I remember, on a Friday. I was told the night before, "They want you to go down and cover the city council meeting tomorrow morning." It was Friday. Nothing happens at the council on Friday. They give a bunch of stuff. They said, "No, they're going to take up some issue," that I was interested in.
"Okay, I'll do it."
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Biagi: So you didn't see this crowd?
Taylor: I didn't see the crowd, but then at some point there came a call to Joy Picus, one of the councilwomen, to get up and make a special presentation, and she got up and made this special presentation to me. And here was our crew down there. Well, they were there, I thought, covering stuff for me, my story, but they were there to cover me. So they rolled on this whole business of my being presented this resolution and the council was real nice and all these folks came out. It was a surprise. It was one of the times when it was a surprise.
Biagi: They got you.
Taylor: They got me. So that was nice and I have some nice pictures from that. So I've had that. There are a bunch of things. I've got a couple of letters, too. It certainly was no award, but there's a letter up there from John Wayne.
Biagi: What a wonderful thing!
Taylor: It was interesting because I gave my husband a nice present for a particular birthday, and his big idol was John Wayne, so I thought, "What a great idea if Wayne would come to dinner or do something, or even call him." So I wrote to him. This is a far thing. I didn't know John Wayne. I had covered John Wayne a couple of times, but I'm one of the mob. Of course, with these people it's often a huge mob. Anyway, I wrote him a letter saying, "You may not know me, but my husband thinks you're a wonderful thing, and his birthday is such and such." Well, I got this letter back saying, "I certainly do know you and I've always liked you, but now that you're doing such a nice thing for your husband, I like you even more." All these things. It was a real sweet letter. He said, "I am sorry I am not able to come to dinner, but if you call and tell my secretary your phone number, I will call at 8:30 on Jack's birthday," which he did. He was a really nice guy. Subsequently I did cover him. He did know me, but he knew me a little more after that. That's not an award, but little things like that are sort of fun.
Biagi: That's great. Being a woman in your business, how is it different from being a man in your business? Is it different?
Taylor: Oh, yeah. You work a lot harder, I've always maintained. [Laughter.] You have a lot of different kinds of battles through the years that have to do with strange things. They sometimes have to do with somebody in charge, an image that person may have, or a feeling that person may have about assigning women to certain kinds of stories. That used to happen more than it does now.
Biagi: Were there stories that you couldn't go to because you were a woman?
Taylor: Sometimes you'd get some of those sow's ear's stories. In fact, I used to call myself the head of the sow's ear department, and it became a kind of challenge at times to make chicken soup out of it. [Laughter.]
Biagi: How do you define a sow's ear? [Laughter.] There's a mixed metaphor somewhere.
Taylor: I know it. You make chicken soup out of chicken something else, is what I'm really talking about. But I called myself the head of the sow's ear department. They were stories of little significance, but little human interest stories. There got to be a point, though, where it was almost flattering with some people. They'd assign me to a story that you just couldn't tell. They'd say, "Go prove us wrong," you know.
There's where writing is very important. You can see things if you're a reporter and you like being a reporter. You like people and you like a lot of things, if you don't think you're just meant to be in this world to do all the important things in the world, if you can take your job with some sense of humor and some fun, it becomes a challenge to find a little grain or human interest strain or something in the persons who are afraid of something they're doing, but they're looking like they're really in charge. You find a little theme that you can pull up and make it interesting and fun and touch an emotion, maybe. Often with these little stories that's where you are really challenged. Sometimes there's just nothing there and you have a hard time. I don't know that that's true very often. You just don't want to do too many of them. It's a big challenge.
Biagi: So that's different for a woman, you think?
Taylor: Yes. I think you get those much more often. Also there will be a tendency, also—used to be a tendency—to assign women to strictly women's-type stories. I did a lot of wives of people. That's all right. I think knowing about the wives of important people and more about their
individual lives gives you a better perspective on these people who are running the world. So I didn't really mind that, and I always expected it, too. "Here comes Muriel Humphrey. She's yours." You know. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Not Hubert!
Taylor: I'd get to Hubert. I did get to Hubert. He was a charming man. I thought he was a great guy. But also there are attitudes that I've mentioned in this narrative of men very often who will take a discussion, maybe a little controversy, from another man. They won't take any kind of back-talk from a woman. There is that personality, and it exists. It still exists. I know it's there. I call it my own form of sexual harassment, where they could be really hard on a woman who gives them a bad time, "because women don't talk to me that way." They're still much too much around.
Biagi: Throughout your career, have most of your supervisors been men?
Taylor: Oh, yes. There have been some women producers, and I've gotten along very well with the women I have worked with who are writers and producers. Still do. There are some extremely talented women who have made their way onto the middle rung. We still have never had a woman news director. There have been a few around, but where I've worked, we've never had one. And no women general managers. I don't know that there have been any. I can't think of any, anywhere, that I've ever heard of.
I have written to CBS folks who are nice enough to write me back. They would have these closed circuit talks to the employees of CBS, coast to coast, and you would have your top executives, presidents of all the divisions and the CEO [chief executive officer] and so forth. I remember I wrote one time saying, "There certainly is a lot of gray and navy blue in that crowd. Wouldn't you like a little hot pink or orange?" And I did get reactions. They did talk about how they were more interested in having more women do more things, but they didn't act on it. There are a couple of women in the hierarchy, not many.
Biagi: Why do you think that is?
Taylor: Let's face it. In this country, for so many years it was a man's world. It was. We're talking about the twentieth century now. In the early part of the twentieth century, women weren't voting. Women weren't doing anything. They were in the home. A woman's place was in the home. A woman's place was barefoot and pregnant, you know, all those things. It has been a big battle for women to show that they are as bright as men. Intellectually they can do the same thing men can do. As far as energy is concerned, as far as imagination, all these things, all those things were invisible, in the real qualities of a woman's mind and personality were invisible in the world for many, many years. There have been periods through history when women have risen up in one way or another, but they've been individual women very often. You haven't seen it as a great big women's movement. Women have actually moved forward in this century, as far as women in general in every way and every facet of life.
So I am, unfortunately, old enough to have started before it became something you accepted, that women were able to do what men would do, and sometimes better.
Biagi: We overlooked one award which isn't in your closet, but at least is on the street, the star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Taylor: Yes! My goodness sakes, yes.
Biagi: People are walking over you every day!
Taylor: That's right. As a matter of fact, that award, which sometimes you say it's a bunch of baloney, but it's caused more of a stir than any award I've gotten, which is my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is on Vine Street.
Biagi: And next to?
Taylor: It's near Ava Gardner's. I think it's also near Lana Turner's. Anybody walking by will see Ava Gardner's and Lana Turner's, and when they see mine, they say, "Who the heck is that?" But it's there.
Biagi: They walk over you to get to Ava. [Laughter.]
Taylor: It's there and it was a big ceremony and it was a big day.
Biagi: This was just last year, wasn't it?
Taylor: This was December 13, 1990.
Biagi: A little over a year.
Taylor: Scary day. Very scary. It was a big luncheon, everybody was there, the chief of police had his picture taken with me, hugging me, and we put it on my police pass, and he'd only done that once before. He hugged Bill Stout, too. [Laughter.] He was a very impressive reporter in Los Angeles, and he has his star not far from where mine is. But there are no other women journalists on that walk at this point.
Biagi: I just wanted to make sure we remembered that.
Taylor: Oh, I'm glad you did. For goodness sakes, that will last long after these other things have done something else.
Biagi: Let's go on to women you've admired and you really think were important as role models for you.
Taylor: In terms of women I admired who were out there in the world before I was out there at all, I remember Eleanor Roosevelt. I admired her.
Biagi: What was admirable about her that you remember?
Taylor: She was a woman in the world. She cared a lot.
Biagi: You interviewed her, you said.
Taylor: I interviewed her many times.
Biagi: Did she come to Los Angeles?
Taylor: I interviewed her first when she was in New York when I was still in New York. I was doing things for the Doug Edwards Show on television, but nobody was watching because it was so early in television. She was a strong, impressive woman. I thought she was remarkable in the places she went, the things she said. Then, again, when I was married and going to have my first baby and was scared, as I guess is natural with a lot of women, I think of Eleanor Roosevelt, who had five kids and still was doing fine. So she was important to me. I have every book about Eleanor Roosevelt, probably, and I saw her many times when she would come here to California. She had a real devoted following among people in the press, too, because when you'd go to a news conference for Eleanor Roosevelt, you'd meet people who weren't just interested in asking regular questions. They truly were hanging on her ideas and her opinions about everything. So that was always a very big experience when I would see Eleanor Roosevelt again.
Then Adela Rogers St. John, who used to be on my program quite a lot. She was, of course, an author. Her father was very important in the legal profession. She knew everybody who had ever been important. I can remember asking her one time, "Adela, let's look back over the past half century." She said, "Egad! Don't make me sound that old." But she always seemed to have some wisdom about every subject she ever talked about, and I just admired her and thought she was an exceptional woman. Whenever I think of people who have stood out, she is somebody.
In school, of course, the people who are impressive to you, you take a slice of philosophy from. I couldn't have written a news story or paper without [Johann Wolfgang von] Goethe, because I started every paper with a quotation from Goethe.
I wrote my own philosophy of history in order to argue with Arnold Toynbee, whom I thought had it all wrong. Who had it all right was H.G. [Herbert George] Wells, because he was starting from a different perspective of the human being, an inductive kind of reasoning, which was the kind of thinking that I gravitated toward. I mentioned that I was a math major in high school and also science and math have always been important to me and intriguing to me, and I've studied and was fairly good at the subjects. H.G. Wells obviously has that scientific approach to history, to everything. So I was following his line of thinking in writing my philosophy of history. I have not carried it forward. I don't know how we're coming out.
Albert Einstein, because he had always been just a name that struck awe, but then after the atomic age had dawned, he became such an important figure. When I interviewed him, I considered that something was happening to me that was a miracle.
Biagi: From that story that you told me about him, I have this vision of the two of you walking—I have no idea if this is true or not—on a path in a grassy area, together, just the two of you.
Taylor: It was. We walked down a road on a hill, but it was a country road in Princeton, kind of the back countryside of Princeton. This was where it was out in the country, the Institute of Advanced Studies. Then when we got to the institute, it was a grassy lawn area where we just stopped and talked for a long time, but we talked, walking to work, down the road, and that's the way it was. He had a big black coat on and flowing white hair. This is an impressive figure. Then under all that hair, this mind that was cosmic. So it was a major experience and a major important person in my life.
Biagi: It seems that's the magic, in a way, of being a journalist.
Taylor: That you get to meet people, actually meet them, and you have a reason. It isn't just running up to them for an autograph. You're able to try to stop and have a conversation with them.
Maybe that's a trick. You don't go up for an autograph; you pretend. Now it won't work anymore. There are too many journalists now, so they're not impressed.
Leonard Bernstein I also have always been impressed with. Music has been important in my life, even though I'm not a musician. I've always wished I were. I wished I could sing. In fact, when I was in high school, they'd ask you, "What do you want to be?" I would say, "I want to be an opera singer." I used to always listen to the opera on radio on Saturday afternoons, the Metropolitan. I thought it was wonderful. Lily Pons was somebody I thought was great. I had a lot of tenors that I liked, too. I can't think of a single one right now, but nobody else would know them either at this point. But I couldn't sing, which had a lot to do with my not being able to realize that ambition. But music and dance. I did dance. I danced a lot when I was a kid and I danced professionally a little bit. So music in all forms has always been important to me.
Bernstein was the renaissance man to me, a thinker on many, many subjects, and also a great communicator. He was able to translate music into words to you and make you feel that you understood, and you did. You understood what it was like to be a conductor. You understood what it was like to be all these different composers for the moment he was talking to you. Unfortunately, that understanding went away and you never could make something out of it. [Laughter.] But he was important, too. A lot of people. I can't think of all of them, but as you go along, some of them are well known, some of them aren't very well known.
Biagi: What's next for you now? We've got this legend sitting here.
Taylor: Blowing her nose. I would like maybe to write some of the things that I think about, as I see what's happening in journalism. I don't know. Maybe I'd sidetrack on just writing about being a woman. I don't know. I also have some new drives. I am very upset with the legal profession in what I see are so many excesses, some things that are really impacting our society that come from excesses in the legal profession, in the medical profession, in business, where people are being motivated so much by their own personal greed, things that all add up to what we call, for instance, a recession now, but it comes from some of the individual activities of people in high places, to a high degree. I don't just mean government. There are a lot of good people in government, a lot of lousy people in government, and that's true all around, but there are people on whom responsibility has been placed, who don't take the responsibility for anything but their own aggrandizement.
I would like to do some more stories about these different fields, where you've got some terrible abuses, and I think they're impacting us in ways people don't see and there need to be corrections. I think the legal profession is basic to so many things. The legal profession has impacted what happens in business, what happens in medicine, what happens to our lives in general. Of course, this is a country built on laws. If there isn't justice for everybody, or at least access to justice for everybody, then there's something wrong.
Biagi: One cosmic question. You use the word "cosmic." What makes a good broadcast journalist?
Taylor: I think you've got to be a good journalist to start with. Unfortunately, a good journalist can get ground down by some systems, so I think you have to have, as a human being, a lot of determination to do what you set out to do, which means you have to be a strong person and, to a large extent, a dedicated person so that you can see above the fray. There are so many little things that can throw you off your course, so many things that can make you angry and make you say, "I quit," or, "I don't want to play anymore." So I think whatever you are, journalist or artist, lawyer,
doctor, anything that you are, in this day and age when the systems all around can so impact you, you have got to be strong and dedicated and have your eye on a course and know that what you're doing is the right thing and, therefore, you plunge forward, even if it's hard.
© 1992, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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