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From "Front Page" to the Front Page: Q&A WITH JACK JONES. . .
dnweeksjonescrunch.jpg (54658 bytes) PAPER PUT TO BED:
Daily News reporter Jack Jones (right, with cigar and nifty knit tie), reverently joins dapper city editor Aaron Dudley and fellow reporter Paul Weeks at the funeral of the ill-fated Daily News weekend edition, in the DN city room, 1954.
A graduate of USC, Jack Jones began his career by scoring an interview with mobster Mickey Cohen for an article in the Daily Trojan. He joined the Daily News in 1949, then later hired on at the Times. He was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team of reporters who wrote a series of articles in 1965 on the causes of the Watts Riots. He was interviewed by Rip Rense.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Weeks.)

RENSE: When you hear old newspaperfolk recounting the old days of  L.A. papers, you hear about the Herald-Express, Examiner, Times, but not often the Daily News---

JONES: Yeah, it's faded from everybody's memory.

RENSE: Why is that?

JONES: I don't know. I think it's because it's been so long. It went out of business Dec. 18, 1954. I remember exactly, because it was six days before Christmas. Newspapers always seem to fold just before Christmas. We're talking about fifty years, almost, and that's just a long time. At the time, it was a different kind of newspaper, because it was the liberal newspaper in town. In fact, people (used to say) it was a bunch of Reds! (Laughs.) When it folded, Jack Smith, who had worked at the DN, recommended me to Bud Lewis, city editor at the Times. Bud says, "Oh, no no, I don't want to pick up any of those guys from down there---they're all a bunch of reds" I said, "I used to work there, and I'm not a red." And he said, "Oh, yeah, that's right." Everybody thought of us as a bunch of radicals.

There were some people on the staff who had been involved in ultra-liberal things, and maybe even a few of the suspect meetings and all. I have no idea what the real thing was. It had a reputation around some of the town as being pretty left wing.

RENSE: How left-wing was it?

JONES: I don't know. I didn't think it was (very.) I came out of USC, which was a pretty conservative school, although it was full of GI bill types, like myself. I never thought of it as being radical, but later, one of those guys, Vern Partlow, came up to the Times as a press agent. I was standing there at the city desk, and he and I were standing and chatting. After he left, the guy who was the chief editorial writer at the time came storming out and says to me, "What's a card-carrying communist doing on the third floor of the Los Angeles Times!" Jesus Christ! I said, "He's a friend of mine!" I didn't know whether he was a card-carrying communist or not. I never thought about it.

I saw "The Front Page" when I was eight years old, with Lee Tracy. The old version. And I wanted to be a newspaper reporter from that day on, and it never changed.

RENSE: Communism had a different connotation in those days---

JONES: The guy to talk to about this, who could give you a pretty good idea, is Lu Haas.

RENSE: He and I spoke about the Vern Partlow/Darr Smith problem (see Haas Q&A):

JONES: Right. I guess Darr Smith was---I can't remember what his involvement was. I think there was a previous city editor before I got there. I think if I'm not mistaken, and don't hold me to this, he had told some committee some names. . .guys who were on the staff who had been at meetings--whether they were Newspaper Guild meetings or whatever somebody thought might be radical groups. I think Darr Smith was one of the people named in that. I'm being very cautious here, because I don't personally know that they were. I never went to any such meetings myself, and never saw them. I just know that their names would come out when the conservatives would slam the DN.

RENSE:  When I looked at the actual issues of the Daily News---which came straight out of old stringbooks, I got acquainted with the paper a little, and it impressed me as friendly, unpretentious, with lots of personality. True?

JONES: It really did have a lot of personality. They had some really salty guys on that staff. I remember one story on page one. There was a guy named, I think, this was Freeman Lusk, a TV personality who used to interview people or something. If I'm thinking of the right guy, he got in a fight with his wife where they were hitting each other outside a nightclub or something. And the story that ran in the Daily News, said, "In other bouts last night, so-and-so scored a ten-round TKO over so-and-so at the Olympic, and listed all the fight results! Everything was irreverent. Johnny Harrington, who was a police beat reporter, used to write stuff for that paper that was really salty. We had a guy named Lee Goodman, who was a good writer, who died a couple years ago, and he covered something at the Biltmore Hotel, a big science meeting that had a lot of complicated stuff. And he didn't know what was going on. His lede was "Big doings at the Biltmore yesterday!" He went with a story that didn't make any sense at all! And the paper ran it. They thought it was funny.

RENSE: And you had Matt Weinstock. I don't know how popular he was, but I can't imagine there was a better columnist for L.A. at that time.

JONES: Yeah, that's right. He really zeroed in on the flavor of L.A. and the winos on Skid Row and everything else. He had a feel for the town. He was a wonderful, warm guy.

RENSE: Why was the Daily News always third or fourth in circulation?

JONES: I'm not sure exactly where it stood, but I know it was way below the Times and Examiner, and the Herald.


JONES: After WWII, you didn't have a lot of liberal type people. Everybody was so conservative. They were afraid of the Russians, and the Soviet Union, and the communist party, and all that stuff. It was the McCarthy era.

They sent me, one night, to First Congregational Church. A Rev. Fiefield was the minister there, and he ran these meetings that were really right-wing. He'd talk about how Joe McCarthy was a tail gunner, or bombardier, or something which wasn't really true. And his method of fighting was just bombs away! He was defending this business of attacking everybody, whether you had information or not. I went out to cover one of those meetings one night, and because I was with the Daily News, some woman was selling little envelopes with American flags on them---freedom kits, they called 'em, full of brochures and stuff---and she looked at me and said, "YOU ought to buy one of these." Because I was from the Daily News, as far as she was concerned, I was one of them commies!

RENSE: Of course, the front page was kind of peach-colored---almost rosey---which made it addtionally suspect---

JONES: During the war, for a while, they took the peach color away, because I guess it was harder to get that newsprint, and then after the war, they made a big promotion out of the fact "The Daily News Peach is Back!" They had convertibles going down Broadway with people throwing peaches out to the crowd.

RENSE: Wonderful. I was looking through the photo archive, the morgue from the paper, at the Young Library at UCLA, and I saw some billboards that said, "Read the Peach."

JONES: Several of us went out to UCLA the night they had some sort of a meeting to make a big deal of the fact they'd gotten hold of the DN library, and they were showing slides. And the guy who was showing them didn't have the vaguest idea who these people were, and he would misidentify reporters in the pictures, and all. And two or three of us were kind of giggling and saying, "no, no---that's so-and-so," and the lady in back of us kept saying "shhh!" She wanted to hear, even though it was wrong!

I used to have to come in at 4 o'clock in the morning and start the coffee. Well, there one guy, a great rewrite man named John Clark, but he was a drinker. And you'd have to call him and wake him up, because you couldn't depend on is alarm clock to wake him up. You'd have to call him and be sure he was alert and on his feet so he could get to work. That was part of my job. . .

RENSE: You went straight to the Daily News from USC?

JONES: Yeah, I did. When I graduated from USC, I knew Cleve Hermann, who was in the sports section of the DN, and he and I worked on a radio program together, writing it for an independent station, channel 13. I called him, and he had me come down and he introduced me to Chuck Chappell, who was then city editor of the News. So I showed him my clip files at the Daily Trojan. I'd interviewed Mickey Cohen and stuff, and so he hired me as a copyboy. A lot of these people were going out of journalism school and taking jobs as press agents, because that's where the money was. And I was going to work as a copyboy for hardly anything, but I loved it. And when the Korean War came along, I went back in the Navy for fifteen months---I'd been in the Navy during WWII---I went over to Japan for a year, and then I came back and they had to give me my job back. Because I had been in the service.

It wasn't long before Paul Price, who was the television columnist and promotion director for the News, took me on as his assistant, to help do the TV logs and all that stuff, write little bits in his column, and write the column on Saturdays. Then when they started the Sunday Daily News, which didn't last too long---that sounds like an oxymoron, the Sunday Daily News----

RENSE: Wasn't that a sort of "greatest hits of the previous week" compilation?

JONES: Well, almost, almost. They tried to do special features and stuff in there which I got stuck with writing a lot of, to kind of bulk it up. But you had to compete with the Times, and all the funnies, and all the stuff they had. And it didn't go very long. In fact, we've got pictures of ourself burying it in a shoebox! (Laughs.) (SEE PIC ABOVE.) Aaron Dudley was the editor of the Sunday News. Paul Weeks worked for it for a while. Jack Smith worked for it for a while. They had to do the week in the news, and by Friday afternoon, they were sitting there with events overtaking what they'd written already! And having to change it. And they were going crazy. Jack Smith left the paper and went to Carl Byoir and Associates at that point, and then to the Times. Paul Weeks stuck it out for a while, until the Sunday News folded. But it wasn't successful at all. It was poorly planned. Didn't have any chance.

RENSE: How long were you at the Daily News?

JONES: I was there for five years, but I was out for fifteen months in the Navy. When I came back, they had me on that job, Paul Price's assistant, then the Sunday News, and then they made me a cityside reporter. So I was probably a cityside reporter no more than a year or two before the paper folded altogether, then I went to the Times.

RENSE: The death of the paper was a surprise, correct?

JONES: Not really. We knew it. I remember standing with Paul Weeks in front of the paper one night, and he was saying, "I think we're down to the short strokes." It was a surprise in one way, in that the exact date took us by surprise. I was at home on a weekend, and a friend of mine called and said, "I'm sorry." I said, "About what?" He says, "You just lost your job." It was on the radio, and I hadn't been listening. I went running down there, I don't know why, and they had already boarded up the place. The Times had taken over. Clinton D. McKinnon, the last owner of the DN, I guess he sold the library contents, its features and good will, whatever that was, and then sold himself as a columnist for the Times for about $25,000. There was no money left for anybody. Nobody got any severence pay.

RENSE: The Times got the rights to the name, Daily News, at that point?

JONES: That's what I understand. As I understood, the Times owned it. Supposedly they were merging the DN with the Mirror. The Mirror became the Mirror-News. And eventually, of course, that paper folded, and was picked up by the Times. And the DN name---I don't know the legalities of this---supposedly still belongs to the Chandlers. Except I don't guess when the (Valley News and) Green Sheet decided to call itself the DN, I don't guess anybody cared. I don't know if there was any legal hold on that.

RENSE: A funny sidelight about that. I was working at the Valley News when the name change happened. I spoke to the publisher, Scott Schmidt, about the original L.A. Daily News. I said, "if you're thinking of going citywide and want to change the name, you might want to call it the Daily News. I told him the Times probably had the rights to the name, because my father had told me this. Anyway, it was about two months later that the name change came about. They probably would have called it the Daily News anyhow, but I like to think I had something to do with it.

JONES: You may well have. I, of course, sort of resented it at the time. Because I thought there ain't no new Daily News! I thought the Daily News was the Daily News, and nothing could replace it. I had that kind of loyalty. But the people who owned it didn't have any loyalty!

RENSE: Isn't that always the case?

JONES: Yeah, McKinnon came in and bled every dime out of it he could, and went into bankruptcy. Involuntary bankruptcy. A bunch of employees, or the union, I don't remember exactly who actually filed the suit, but I think they sued to force him into involuntary bankruptcy.

RENSE: The people who worked for the paper were particularly loyal to it, more so than the other papers in town, would you say?

JONES: Yeah, I think so. I felt we were.

RENSE: Because of the ideological bent of the paper?

JONES: That might well have been, because you were kind of in the minority at that time. You were fighting the McCarthy influences and the conservative elements. It was sort of like you were alone against the world. I came out of SC as a kind of conservative person, because SC wasn't exactly the most liberal place in the world. Although we were all GI Bill types at that time, consequently there were a lot of liberal types in school. And it was very easy for me to start being influenced by the guys who were working at the DN. I said a couple of things, once or twice, and they said, "You're naïve, Jones. You just don't understand." And I guess they were right.

I don't feel that I should be saying an awful lot about those days because I was a copyboy for part of it, and then I worked for the television thing, and I was in the Navy for fifteen months. People like Lu Haas were in better positions to really know about the paper.

RENSE: Well, I've talked to Lu, and Paul Weeks, and Helen Jenkins. There aren't a lot of you around.

JONES: That's right. I keep trying to think of anybody that's left, and I can't.

RENSE: How old are you?

JONES: I'm 78.

RENSE: You sound great.

JONES: Well, thank you. I feel great. I just got back from the gym a little while ago. I used to play tennis, but I had to give that up because I had a hip replaced, and my doctor says that's not a good idea.

RENSE: Hip replacement take pretty well?

JONES: Fine. Sure. I never even think about it. I said, well I know guys who play tennis who've had hip replacements, and the doctor says, "Well, I can tell by looking at you that you probably will, but I wouldn't advise it because the parts might wear out." Some friend of mine says, "How long do you want 'em to last?" (Laughs.)

RENSE: After the Daily News, where did you go?

JONES: I went to the Times right away. It folded on a Saturday. I think I went down to the Times right away, that day, if I remember correctly. By the time Bud Lewis, city editor of the Times decided I wasn't a communist, he called me up---or Jack Smith called me---and I went down there. He put me to work Monday morning. I actually didn't miss a day's work. I just took the weekend off. I was very lucky. I guess I was younger and faster than most of the people. (Laughs.)

RENSE: And you were at the times for decades.

JONES: I was there for 35 years. In December of '54 I went to work there, and I retired at 65 in 1989.

RENSE: Of course, I remember seeing your byline forever.

JONES: Yeah, a lot of people used to get me mixed up with Jack Smith. They'd say to me, "gee, loved your column." I finally got to the point where I'd just say, "Oh, thanks." Hard to argue with 'em.

RENSE: I'm sure Jack Smith didn't mind.

JONES: I didn't mind because he was such a good writer. If people wanted to think I was writing that stuff, that's fine. We used to get each other's mail and phone calls. He sat right in back of me for a while before he got his own office and started writing his column. Somebody would call up, bitching about some story in the paper, and he would listen to them for a while, and say, "Well, you're probably right." (Laughs.) Used to end that. Never argued with 'em at all!

We knew it. I remember standing with Paul Weeks in front of the paper one night, and he was saying, "I think we're down to the short strokes." It was a surprise in one way, in that the exact date took us by surprise. I was at home on a weekend, and a friend of mine called and said, "I'm sorry." I said, "About what?" He says, "You just lost your job."

RENSE: Why has every paper in town ever since been so comparatively---I don't want to knock the Times too much here---

JONES: You looking for the word, "bland?"

RENSE: Bland and stuffy!

JONES: Well, I don't know. My guess is that the kind of saltiness that the DN has doesn't really sell in mass numbers. You can be funny about somebody having a fistfight with his wife in front of a bar, then listing all the prizefights at the Olympic that night. But a lot of people get very upset about you doing something so disrespectful. You get a few people who love to see that irreverence, but I'm not sure you can make a living at it.

RENSE: A self indulgent question. I loved the anecdote you told me earlier about my father taking you out to Redlands to see the Rams practice.

JONES: Oh, I had more fun! I can still remember, and you know some of the great players were there, then. It was a great weekend. I really loved it.

RENSE: My dad used to tell me that the library was bar, and drinks were a quarter.

JONES: I don't remember that, but it could have been. I wasn't one of the drinkers, so I probably didn't get back there at the right time. Don's Café, a block away, was the bar everybody went to.

RENSE: And you used to fry up steaks in the city room once a week or so? Garry Watson (photog) told me that somebody once bought horsemeat because it was cheap, and stunk the building out!

JONES: People used to cook stuff on a hotplate back there, their lunches and stuff like that. And there was always coffee going. When I was first there, I used to have to come in at 4 o'clock in the morning and start the coffee. Well, there one guy, a great rewrite man named John Clark, but he was a drinker. And you'd have to call him and wake him up, because you couldn't depend on is alarm clock to wake him up. You'd have to call him and be sure he was alert and on his feet so he could get to work. That was part of my job, to start the coffee and get a hold of John Clark, so he could come in on the early shift. He was due in at 5 on the early morning rewrite.

RENSE: From the photos, the place looks about as unpretentious and downright funky as can be. Real "Front Page" material.

JONES: Oh, yeah. I can see it now. Of course, I saw it about 50 years ago. It was an old auto repair place before the newspaper took it over. When Cornelius Vanderbilt bought the DN, he took over the building, an old auto place. And they had a big freight elevator that carried autos up and down. It was really quite a drab place. No air conditioning, and during the hot summer, they'd have to leave the windows wide open. Don Dwiggins would sit there with his shirt off, with a BB-gun, shooting at beer cans lined up along the windowsill (laughs.) One night, when Manchester Boddy was doing his nightly fifteen-minute radio broadcast that he did for KFWB that he did from his office, he was pontificating on world affairs. And they had to send word out to Don to stop shooting at his cans for a few minutes until they were off the air. So he did. (Laughs.) Put his rifle aside, kept an eye on the clock, and when fifteen minutes were up, picked it up again.

RENSE: That's my kind of newspaper.

JONES: Oh, yeah, we had some real characters. Pat O' Hara was a wonderful guy. He was a guy who when that paper folded, that was the end of it for him. I saw him down at the Times once. I saw him in the hall. He'd come down to kind of look for a job, but he didn't know how to do it. And he just said, "I don't know. . ." and he got in the elevator and disappeared. And the next thing you know, he'd hanged himself up by, oh, where was it, in central California somewhere. In a lonely tree. Took off all his clothes and hanged himself. He'd been rewrite and covering the federal beat for a long time. He was a wonderful old guy. He'd say, "Well, let me see, now, dahling. . ." He'd dictate to you from the federal beat, and do these stories right off the top. "Let me see, now," and he'd spin out these wonderful sentences. He was great.

RENSE: Not meaning to sound facetious, that's real devotion. Any other guys you want to mention?

JONES: There were a lot of interesting guys like that. Johnny Errington, of course, would get drunk and carry a gun. He threatened to come down and kill me on the police beat one night because I wouldn't come up to see his parakeet. "Ohhhhh fuck. . ." he said. I said "I'm busy, Johnny," and he said, "Yourrre not busy. . .yeah, I worked the police beat. . .you're not busy. . .if you're not down here in twenty minutes, I'm gonna come down with my gun." (Laughs.) I think old Lee Goodman who wrote the "Big Doings at the Biltmore" story, he used to tell a story. . .He lived up in the La Canada area someplace. Got up one morning, and there had been a very light frosting of snowflakes on the ground. So he decided that he was snowbound, so he called the paper and told them he couldn't get in because of the snow. What he forgot about was that Manchester Boddy, who was the publisher, lived about four blocks away from him, and was at the office. Lee got in okay.

RENSE: There is a wonderful photo of a reporter holding a dead rat by the tail, at his desk.

JONES: (Laughs.) I didn't see that one.

RENSE: And you look at the walls, and there is handwriting and graffiti all over the place. . .

JONES: Oh, yeah. And then I went to the Times, and my wife wouldn't tell anybody where I worked! She said I worked downtown, because it was so conservative. But I was glad to have a job, let me tell you. And of course, the Times eased up a lot and became a little more liberal and easier to work with.

RENSE: I was trying to remember what my father did after the News folded. I know he shared a place with Cleve Hermann at some point, perhaps when he was out of work. The story was that Hermann had the apartment on weekends, so my father would go out and sleep in all-night movies downtown. Apparently, Cleve used the apartment for um, recreation.

JONES: Well, Cleve used to borrow my apartment! He said, "Listen, are you going to be home tonight?" So I'd have to go to movie, wait, and spend some time somewhere while he brought some dame up to my ratty apartment up on Lyman Place in Hollywood. I'd find something to do, but I can't remember that I liked it much.

RENSE: Well, you both did Cleve a good turn.

JONES: Well, maybe so.

RENSE: Paul Weeks says there was only one Daily News Studebaker Commander "radio phone car." Is this right?

JONES: I think we only had one. And one night, some guy stole it from in front of the building. A black guy. They pulled him over in south-central somewhere, and he says, "Don't stop me now, man, I'm on a big story!" It said Daily News all over the side. (Laughs.)

RENSE: There were a lot of women working at the paper. I saw one staff photo from the mid-forties in which there were more women than men.

JONES: Yeah, Sarah Boynoff was on rewrite. She was the wife of Fred Coonradt, a journalism professor at USC. Carol Phinney, who was the former wife of Milt Phinney, had been the city editor. There was a gal named Buzz Salisbury. She went out once on a story where six children had been killed where a steel truck had rammed into a station wagon full of kids. She went out and went to every home and got pictures of every one of those kids, and I never forgot that. I thought, Jesus, that was something I would have hated to do. And I hated to do a lot of that, but I never had to get six at once. She ended up marrying David Bongard, who was a drama writer at the DN, and he became a press agent for the Music Center.

RENSE: What about Mary Kitano, the librarian?

JONES: Mary Kitano, she'd been in Manzanar. She was a gung-ho union type. She was a nice gal, and I liked her. Everybody liked her, but she was really bitter about things, I think. She married a guy named Doug Dietz who used to work for UPI. Whether they're still around, I don't know.

RENSE: It must have been highly unusual for Japanese-Americans to get jobs straight out of internment camps---

JONES: Well, I couldn't really say no to that. Mary worked for us, and. . .I guess some of them gradually worked into the work force, but I can't put my finger on 'em.

RENSE: Tell me about the Saldana brothers?

JONES: Oh yeah, Sparky and Lupi. Lupi was a fish and game writer at the Times. Sparky Saldana was a wonderful guy. He'd clear his throat, "well, uh, listen kid. . ." Somebody phoned in one night, a drunk from a bar, and said, "Who won the Dempsey-Firpo fight?" He says, "well what do you say?" "Well I say, Dempsey did." He put the friend on, and the friend said "Firpo." And Sparky said, "You're right," and hung up. He figured there was probably a big fistfight after that.

RENSE: My brother remembers, as a kid, visiting the paper and meeting a linotype operator who was a deaf mute.

JONES: They had a lot. They had a training school in Riverside for deaf mutes to run linotype machines because the noise didn't bother them. I think they had them in a lot of newspapers. I don't think that was exclusive to the Daily News. I'm saying a lot. I may be overstating that, but I know it was not exclusively a one-man situation.

RENSE: Is there anything left in the old building that suggests it was a newspaper?

JONES: Oh, no, not a thing. There was an old elevator---a rickety old thing. There had been a little filler item in a newspaper saying the average passenger elevator makes 110,000 trips before it collapses. Somebody had cut that out, pasted it inside the elevator, and had started making little pencil marks! (Laughs.)

RENSE: I don't know where I got the idea that newspapes were great places to work, but it must have had something to do with my father talking about the Daily News.

JONES: I know where I got it. I saw "The Front Page" when I was eight years old, with Lee Tracy. The old version. And I wanted to be a newspaper reporter from that day on, and it never changed. That was in the thirties.

RENSE: In your career, do you look back on any particular period more fondly than others, and if so, is it the Daily News period?

JONES: I probably do, but realistically, a lot of my time at the DN was as a copyboy and working for radio and TV, so the bigger stories I did, were at the Times. My experience at the Times was more enjoyable from a career point of view, but if I stop to think about the newspaper business, I probably think about the DN. Because it was colorful, and they had such characters. We had a couple at the Times, too, but we didn't have it quite like the Daily News.



                                                                        copyright 2003, 2012 Rip Rense