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FROM MANZANAR TO PICO AND LOS ANGELES STREETS:
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAILY NEWS LIBRARIAN MARY KITANO AND HER HUSBAND, VETERAN LOS ANGELES JOURNALIST DOUG DILTZ.

PIONEERING ASIAN-AMERICAN JOURNALIST MARY KITANO left a life of incarceration and displacement at Manzanar "Relocation Camp" in World War II to return to Los Angeles, where she worked for City News Service, the Daily News, and eventually KNX Newsradio. She and her husband, veteran L.A. wire service journalist Doug Diltz, met when Mary worked in the Daily News libary, and Doug worked for United Press, which was just down the hall in the old Daily News building at Pico and Los Angeles Streets. They are pictured here in 2007 at the time of this interview. (Note: the Daily News seemed conducive to weddings, as this is the third couple to have met there (and stayed married ever since) that I've encountered in doing research.---RR.)

Q&A with MARY KITANO and DOUG DILTZ
As a girl, Mary Kitano dreamed of becoming a reporter. She was well on her way, having become editor of the Compton Junior College newspaper, and writing for the L.A. Japanese Daily, Sangyo Nippo. Then Japanese-Americans were ordered by the federal government to surrender their freedom, their property, their careers and report to so-called "relocation camps." Mary and her family spent a year at Manzanar, yet she continued journalism there by writing a column for the camp newspaper, the Manzanar Free Press. Furloughed early to work in beet fields in Colorado, Mary eventually landed in Chicago, and was about to take a job with a local news service when her father summoned her back to Los Angeles. There, Mary continued as a pioneering Asian-American journalist, spending two years as a reporter for City News Service before becoming librarian (and eventually television columnist) at the Los Angeles Daily News. She went on to joined KNX Newsradio, where she spent several decades in marketing before her retirement. The Daily News building at Pico and Los Angeles Streets was a funky affair, and it shared offices with what was then United Press. The UP guys were frequently hanging out in the Daily News offices---they shared tips and scoops---and it was there that a handsome young UP writer named Doug Diltz noticed the very pretty and very popular Daily News librarian, Mary Kitano. They soon married, raised a family, and still make their longtime home in the San Fernando Valley. Kitano's contribution to Los Angeles journalism at a time when minorities and women were not widely hired cannot be underestimated. Mr. and Mrs. Diltz were interviewed by Rip Rense.
 


Mary Kitano (right) while at City News Service in Los Angeles, 1945. Holding the paper is Betty Lyou (Korean-American); next to her, her husband, Rodney Voight, manager of City News Service; Fusako Takemoto and Kitano. Mary had just received a $25 check from Readers Digest for a picturesque patter item, and also has a commission to write for Now magazine. City News Service had 15 reporters at the time, covering metropolitan Los Angeles for nearby small-city papers. Mary's job included reading and finding news items in over 100 papers. She was hired over the telephone even before a personal interview, and brought her chum, Fusako Takemoto, who was hired as well. A Chinese rewrite man and three Russian women were also employed by Voight.  Photographer: Charles E. Mace. -- Los Angeles, California. 5/14/45 (photo and caption courtesy of Online Archive of California.)


RENSE: Please recount how you got into L.A. journalism, from the so-called "relocation camp" at Manzanar. Well, let's start with Manzanar, because you were involved with the camp newspaper, right?

KITANO: We had a series of editors, and they had been very good ones, professional people on the ethnic papers. They were terrific. They moved out, and the juniors started moving up, and I got one of the positions. But I was only in Manzanar for one year. Because as soon as we got into camp, my father said, "go to the administration and get us out of here." We had already started part of the procedure before we got caught in the evacuation. We were supposed to go to Colorado to a huge ranch, and we were all prepared to go, with our papers and everything, and they froze the whole area, so we couldn't go.

When my father told me that, I went to the administration office---do you remember a name, Walter Heath?---I went to see him. He was in charge of a lot of things, and he asked me all sorts of questions and took information down, and that started the whole thing rolling. But he said, "I don't expect anything to be happening for some time." I don't remember exactly his title, but he worked for the War Relocation Authority.

RR: So you tried to get the ball rolling to get out as soon as possible. . .

KITANO: So then he said it would take some time, and we settled down and I started working on the newspaper.

RR: Did you always have an interest in journalism?

KITANO: Oh, yeah, before I went to camp, I had worked on a Japanese language paper. I had done a column there. Sangyo Nippo. I understand all those columns are in the UCLA archives, and I hope nobody ever looks at them! Because, when you think of it now, you know, you were seventeen years old, writing a column! All I knew at that time was. . .use names. People liked it quite a bit. The column was about people around Compton.

RR: You grew up in Compton?

KITANO: Yeah.

DOUG DILTZ: She was editor of the Compton College newspaper.

RR: What high school did you go to?

KITANO: Compton High. The 11th and 12th graders went to the same place as the 13th and 14th graders did. It was a big campus.

RR: Were your parents immigrants?

KITANO: Yeah. My father came early in the century, and my mother came about 1920. My father was a teacher in Japan. My mother---I just can't believe it, a conventional family, letting their daughter go to the U.S.. I understand that she just wanted to go. They put her on a train. Her mother and father accompanied her to Yokohama, and she boarded a ship, steerage, and came to this country. I guess she arrived in Seattle. Most of them came through there. One day I'm going to go up there and find out.

RR: What kind of work did your family do?

KITANO: We farmed. I guess my father decided, well, what are you going to do? You can't teach. You don't speak English. Just like everybody else. First he went around with gangs of workers on railroad projects, and I guess he even got as far as Colorado. Then he came here and decided to settle down, working a farm in Gardena. And after a couple of years, he must have notified somebody that he needed a bride, so she came over. It was an arranged marriage. I guess most of them were. The only thing I remember the farm on Main Street in Gardena was that they were harvesting cauliflowers. These wooden carts that were being pulled by horses went by, as the workers clopped off the cabbages and tossed them---

DD: You're aging yourself.

KITANO: (laughing) Oh, I don't care. Well, they didn't have tractors or anything.


Librarian Mary Kitano at her desk in the Daily News city room, circa 1950.
(photo courtesy UCLA Young Library.)

RR: You were in the camp for one year. Did you get an early release?

KITANO: Oh, yeah, I think we were the first entire family to leave the place. About '42 or '43. Most were released probably in '43, but a lot of them got furloughs to work the beet fields in Idaho and all those places. Some of it was good, and some people never got paid.

RR: So you were "sprung" in '43. . .

KITANO: Mr. Heath called me in and said, "You've been cleared to get out of here," so I just hurried home as fast as I could and told my folks. We had an apartment in barracks. There were four apartments in barracks.

RR: Have you been to the Japanese-American Museum downtown to see the actual barracks that were reconstructed?

KITANO: I haven't yet.

RR: Did your family get your property back?

KITANO: Eventually, just so many cents on the dollar. It wasn't very much. There was no home to go back to, because we had sold it, and the ranch, when we left. After we left camp, you had to tell them where you were going, so I got busy writing to a man who owned a farm, so he said he could use us, so come. So I had to take the confirmation that we had a job in Colorado, and the clearing process began. We left on a Greyhound Bus one day, and had to go through Reno, and then the train to Grand Junction, Colorado, where the farm was. My mom, dad, two brothers and a sister. And a dog. When we arrived, there were people waiting for us, because they needed farm workers. I still remember the restaurant they took us to, and they said, "now eat whatever you want." And somebody said, "Why don't we all order steaks?" And it turned out quite well. The farmer, Mr. Hinshaw, was the richest man on the western part of Colorado, and he had about 200 acres, with quite a bit in sugar beets. Have you ever been on a sugar beet farm? They plant the seeds, and the rows are long---I mean they're long! So we were first to start thinning, then hoeing, then another hoeing after that. We went through the whole process, from the beginning to the end, doing the crops. To get them ready to pick, they hire something that goes quite a bit underground and just lifts it, and a knife-like thing with hooks on it. Pick it up, knock off the leaves, and throw 'em some place.

SEE Mary Kitano's March 20, 1943 "Shooting the Breeze" column for the Manzanar Free Press HERE.

RR: How long did you do this?

KITANO: Just the fall harvesting season. And we also harvested his tomatoes. I don't know how much they paid us.

RR: Did the family have any plans to go back to California?

KITANO: Oh, yeah! My father just did not want to raise kids in a camp. I was 21.

RR: Were there many Japanese-American laborers with you?

KITANO: No, we were the first ones from camp. And a fellow in camp said "When you go there, I know a fellow who has a restaurant, so go see him." I did, and found out there weren't very many Japanese in that area of Colorado. We met some of them, but after we finished working on the farm, we bought our own place in Grand Junction, and grew other things: peach trees, different things. We needed workers, so we told my brothers to find out if they could get some of their friends to come out and help. So we had about three of them come out to help. Then the next thing you know, other people are doing the same thing. There's a lot of stuff in there. . .

So let's see, we worked one year for Mr. Hinshaw. Then my folks bought the farm. So I worked the first year there. . .’43?

DD: And then you went to Chicago.

RR: And you wound up in Chicago?

KITANO: My friends were writing, saying “it’s fun.” I told my mother, “Emily writes and says why don’t I come to Chicago---it’s great and they’re having a good time.” I’m sure there was some reason---well, she didn’t want me to get stuck in Colorado. So I went to Chicago. They sent my younger brother along with me. And I think I went to the War Relocation Office to report in. They didn’t do much, didn’t give us much help (in finding jobs), but I went to that big publishing company in Chicago, Donnelly. Never had a job before, and I was just startled to see all these things. I had to learn to get to the place on a streetcar. . .Rode the subways.

RR: So here you were, from a camp to the farm to the big city, in short span.

KITANO: Oh yes, very short! And then, while I’m working a day job, a couple of friends were working in the YWCA in Chicago, in the kitchen. They said, why don’t you work with us at night? I said, I’ve got a brother and a girlfriend, can they come, too? And they showed up, and they hired all of us. The Harriet McCormick Y. So I stayed there until I was ready to come back home. And in the mean time, my girlfriend said the dietician wanted to see me. I thought, what did I do? Well, she said, “Would you be interested in running our coffee shop? It’s been closed since the war started, and they couldn’t get any help. But if you would, we’d sure appreciate it.” I said, “What am I supposed to do?” She said, “We’ll show you.” I asked if I had any helpers, and she said “We’ll have to get some.” I said, “What about my brother and my girlfriend,” and she said, “Fine!” So she showed us how to boil eggs and make toast, and everything. And the first day it was very crowded. We were really busy. Did everything, cleaned up everything, put the money where they told us to put it. They thanked us very much, and in the second week, it was just jammed. They were tyring to come through the doors. And I’m working there, trying to get the toast ready, and the juices and the coffee and so forth---and I see these people squeezing in! So I went and closed the door. Then the dietician called back and I said, “I closed the door and locked them out,” and she laughed and said, “You can’t do that---the fire department won’t let you!” So I opened it, and they surged in! We made a lot of money for them. Of course, it was nickels and dimes then. I remember getting breakfast for 39 cents down the street, before I went to work. . .

RR: How did you get back to L.A.?

KITANO: One night my father called me and said that the ban on Japanese on the west coast had been lifted, and said, “Why don’t you come down and help us?”

RR: So he called you from Colorado and it was decided that the family would go back to L.A.

KITANO: Oh, to tell you something in between, I was looking for a job, and I went to Chicago’s City News Bureau. I had to do the application, and it asked, “What do you want out of life,” and I wrote, “Well, I’m sure tired of being pushed around! I want to do things my way.” You know, they wanted to interview me? So they called me in, and this fellow said, “How long have you been in Chicago,” and I said, “One week.” He said, “I’ll tell you what. I want you to spend the next six months learning the streets of Chicago.” I said, “Okay.” But then, my father’s call ended that. I kind of regretted that. Oh, when I went to that office at the City News Bureau, I heard something that sounded like, “Coffee! Coffee!” And I thought, why don’t they get their own coffee? What they were saying was “Copy!” I’d never been in a newsroom before.

RR: (former copyboy) It’s almost the same thing. Most of the time they yell “copy!” they want coffee.

KITANO: It’s just as well that I didn’t work there, though, because I have a problem with directions. In Colorado, the sun would come out of the west and set in the east. And once in the whole time, it would straighten itself out. And that would confuse me, and I’d have to think, “No it doesn’t---it’s the other way around.” Even out here it happens. Your mind just makes up its mind! I remember being on a streetcar on my way home from work and all of a sudden the streets all straightened out, and I’m thinking, what am I doing on this streetcar---I don’t know where it’s going. So the first thing I did was get off and go into a Walgreen’s and ask, “Which way is north?” She looked at me a little funny and pointed.

RR: If you’d said, “Which way is east,” they might have arrested you.

KITANO: In the mean time, my brother had gone back to L.A.. He called me and I took the first train, “The City of Colorado” or something. Stayed there about a day, and my father says, “Okay, this is the plan. I want you to get on the bus and go back to L.A., get yourself a place at the Evergreen Hostel, and we’ll proceed from there. Get acclimated, etc.” So I stayed at the Evergreen Hostel in East L.A. for some time, a couple months, maybe.

RR: What was the plan?

KITANO: Get yourself a job, whatever you can do, and see what the climate is. I said okay. And I liked the climate---it was a nice place to be. I couldn’t believe how warm it was.

RR: Oh, you mean the actual climate---

KITANO: Both. I didn’t have any problems. I’m optimistic, I think. If they gave me a bad time, I try to find some way to avoid it, and find something else. Now what did I do? Oh, I reported to the War Relocations Authority people, because they like to keep track of where people are going. And Herb Walker was there. He was an advertising man from Santa Barbara, working for the WRA. He was very nice, and asked if he could help me. I told him I was looking for work. He said, “What kind?” I said, “Newspaper work.” He said, “I’ve got just the fellow you can talk to.” So he takes me to see this man who was head of the WRA in L.A., and he’s the city editor of the Daily News who is on leave to work on the WRA. And he talked to me, and makes a call to Rob Voight, managing editor of City News Service. And he’s selling me over the phone. He says, “You’ll like her.” Then tells me to go down to City News at First and Spring, right across from the Times. Because every morning, they’d say, come here and look---Otis is coming to work, being driven to work in the family limosine! So I went to Rob Voight, and he liked me, and he said, you’re fine, but referred me to another fellow. A girlfriend of mine wanted a job, so I said come along, and we were interviewed, and then this fellow said to me, “You get $110 a month, and you get $100 a month.” In Chicago, I think I must have been working for two-bits an hour! I didn’t know the difference.

So I started working at City News as a reporter and rewrite person.

 


Some of the astoundingly multi-ethnic staff of City News Service, 1945. Left to right: Betty Lyou, (a Korean-American), Fusako Takemoto, seated; Mary Kitano (beind Takemoto); Vera Haprov and Mary Planin, both from Russia.-- Photographer: Mace, Charles E. -- Los Angeles, California. 5/14/45 (photo and caption courtesy Online Archive of California.)



RR: The office was right on the edge of Little Tokyo, which was twice the size then---before the city took half of it and built Parker Center.

KITANO: You know, you’re so green. Rob sent me out on a story. I remember going out in the late afternoon to find out something. I had no idea where the courts were. I had never seen a (law)suit before. I get this huge amount of paper, and can’t figure out what’s going on. I later learned that on the very back page, everything is condensed. Nobody told me! It was hard.

DD: I don’t know if it was different when you were working. Mary and I sort of span that time. In that era, I think too many had seen too many Hollywood movies about reporters---Lee Tracy, and that kind of stuff. And that had this sort of idea that ---it’s like if you’re in the army or marines. They’d tell you to do something, and you’d figure it out for yourself. They’d just throw you to the wolves, and expect you to figure it out for yourself.

RR: So here you are in downtown, full of streetcars, electric buses, Red Cars, and people were still wearing hats, and it was still a nice place.

KITANO: Oh, yeah! And the streetcars would stop at a corner, and all the newsboys would rush out. That’s nice! That’s colorful. . .And one day they sent me to the police beat. I didn’t even know where it was. What a maze that place was.

RR: Before Parker Center.

KITANO: Oh, yeah, the old place. Well, they were all men, and I don’t think they looked at this kid---

DD: Little Japanese-American girl.

KITANO: So they never paid much attention to me, and they’d say, “Oh, nothing happened today.”

DD: (laughing) Great---there’s my lede!

KITANO: (laughing) So I called the desk and said, “They tell me nothing’s happening there!” They probably figured that I didn’t know what to ask. Later I had to go back to the police beat, and I ran into---do you remember Dick Reynolds? Real nice guy. Looks like he was sleeping. And when I showed up, he brightened and said, “Ah, change!” He didn’t give me any stories, but it was a nice welcome from the time before. He was a reporter at the Daily News.

RR: You’re talking about the press room, then.

KITANO: Right. . .I went to cover the Tower beat, the D.A.’s beat---the Tower covered some of the courts. And I remember a girl, Nadine Taylor, who was most helpful. . .They had a syndicate down there. That beat---the Times, Herald, major newspapers---they covered the big courts. They’d divide them up. . .

My knack was I could write ledes with twists. So I get story, and it runs on the wire (CNS), and one of the reporters got a call from their editor, saying how come you didn’t have that story.

RR: They couldn’t believe you’d come up with a decent story?

KITANO: They couldn’t cover everything. They wanted just the big stories. I’d look at the little stuff, too.

DD: The real motive behind these guys. . .They were competent reporters, but they all got together and decided that the best way to do this was so they wouldn’t have to work all day---and could talk on the phone to their girlfriends all day or whatever. There were dirty dishes all over the place (in the press room.) They decided that in order that you don’t scoop me---you’re the Daily News, and I’m the Herald-Express, etc.---to make sure we don’t scoop each other and make each other look bad---if you get a story, oh, there’s a body over in the La Brea Tar Pits or something, then somebody tips all of us off. And we all pick up the phones at the same time (and call respective city desks), and say, ‘I got something. . .’ Nobody gets fired that way. It was really job protection. And if somebody else came in, and was a ‘troublemaker,’ showing initiative, especially the Daily News reporter, who’s sitting at the table playing poker, and he sees that he’s been scooped in his own newspaper by a little Japanese girl, five-foot tall---well, he’d feel betrayed and suckered.

RR: Did you deal with a lot of that kind of thing, Mary?

KITANO: No, not too much because I wasn’t on the beats long enough. I filled in spots.

RR: I get the idea that it wouldn’t have fazed you very much. . .

KITANO: No. In the first place, because I wasn’t on the beat permanently. But even if I was, I think I would have survived. They weren’t very nice to the UP reporter, either. With wire services, right away it’s on the wire. . .

RR: So you were at City News for how long?

KITANO: Almost two years.

RR: You must have been pretty tough. It was novel enough just to be a woman reporter at that time, but to be a Japanese-American woman---

KITANO: You had to be naďve!

RR: I don’t know how naďve you can be after you’d been to a concentration camp for a year. So you were at City News for---

KITANO: Almost two years. Then we had labor problems and City News closed down. (Garbled here. . .Kitano applied for other jobs in journalism, but was offered only secretarial positions.) So I thought, gee if I’m going to be a secretary, I could have spent this past couple years and done well. Because I would have made a good secretary. I could have run an office---anything. . .So I’m getting very uncomfortable, and I’m thinking, I’ve just got to get a regular job.

RR: What do you mean by “regular job?”

KITANO: On one of the papers. ‘Cause I’m not doing any newswriting, not going anyplace. And I thought, well, the only newspaper I can go is the Daily News, because I knew they were liberal. By this time. When I first got here, I didn’t even know what a liberal was! So then I heard that the Daily News had an opening, that somebody had quit in the library. I thought, oh, gee, I could get my feet in there, see what’s going on. I applied for the job, and I bugged them all the time---“Have you decided yet?” And they’d say, “Not yet, not yet.” Finally they gave it to a guy named Jack Gintner. He showed up for a couple days, then didn’t. They checked up on him, and found that he and his brother had inherited money from an uncle, and were on a drinking binge.

DD: They’d passed out. It launched her career! God intervened!

RR: So you started in the library in. . .

KITANO: 1947.

RR: When you walked into the city room, the library was where?

KITANO: To the left. West.

RR: Near the publisher and managing editor’s offices.

KITANO: Third floor. You’d go right through the city room, left to the library.

RR: The offices are still intact.

KITANO: Really? Who’s in there?

RR: Sweat shop. Garment workers.

DD: (Who worked in the same building, across the hall at UP.) Ever hear any stories about the glorious elevator at the Daily News? The elevator didn’t work right. Frequently the doors would slam on you when you were trying to get out. Mary hurt her back on it. Not only that, but the doors into the city room would sometimes stick. So you’d run into the city room with a big story, and you go to push the (swinging) door, and you’d get hit in the face. One of the classic stories was about a fellow named Don Dwiggins. Very talented guy. Very eccentric guy, as a lot of guys were there. There weren’t the---what would you call it---the amenities that you’d find at the L.A. Times. And right around from the elevator, you’d go into the men’s room. There was no sign on it. You were just supposed to guess where these things were, and know where they were. And there was a classic story of this woman from some big PR firm who came in, and asked where’s the city room, and the guy said, “Oh, turn right” or something, and she made the wrong turn into the can, where Dwiggins was sitting with his pants down, reading the paper. There were no doors on the toilet. She lets out a scream, and Dwiggins says, “Can I help you, lady?” And she says, “City room!” And he points, and goes right on reading. So these kinds of things were commonplace in that building.

RR: Somebody told me that the elevator had a sign on it that said it was good for x-number of trips, guaranteed. And somebody had crossed it out, and considerably lowered the number.

DD: Yes. They had a lot of guys drinking, of course. And there was one guy who was a character who was on the copy desk, and he never used a belt. Tied his pants with a rope. Little red-headed guy, very quiet. He drank all day long. I had just come to work for UP, and they used copy from the pressroom---big rolls of leftover paper---for paper towels. So I went over to dry my hands on this stuff, and this guy started screaming at me. I said, what’s wrong? And he reached into the roll and pulled out a bottle. I don’t know what he thought I was going to do, but. . .

RR: So the drinking was right out in the open.

DD: One guy sat there, eating his lunch, with a fifth of booze right there, taking drinks like it was a Coke or something.

RR: One of the stories I was told was that Boddy issued an edict that booze bottles were not to be in evidence. So one of the night city editors made an arrangement with a copyboy to lower a teapot out the window---

DD: Oh, they did that a lot, yeah.

RR: And the copyboy would go over to Don’s Bar and fill it up with booze, and bring it back. My dad always said that the library was also a bar, and drinks were a quarter.

KITANO: I never heard that one!

RR: And you would know! Maybe he was embellishing.

DD: Maybe he was thinking of that back room behind the photography area. Wasn’t there a lunchroom there?

KITANO: No. The lunchroom was in the library. Where we cooked the steaks.

 


A librarian's duties at the Daily News were multi-faceted. Here the versatile Kitano cuts either a birthday or going-away cake for the Daily Newsies, circa 1950. Note the numerous women employed at the paper.  Also note: The seated fellow in the center is David Kenyon Webster, who was a copyboy and reporter at the Daily News from '49 through '52. He was also the author of
wrote a book about his World War II experiences, Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper's Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich. Webster's letters and manuscript were used as source material by Stephen Ambrose for his book Band of Brothers, and as background for the writers of HBO's ten-part miniseries, "Band of Brothers."(Anyone who can provide IDs of any persons in the photo should please write to rippost@verizon.net ) photo courtesy of Paul Weeks.

DD: Right. Was that room part of the library? Oh, I thought it was separate. Behind the photography place.

RR: Well, okay. You were about 24 years old. You went to work at the Daily News because you heard it was a liberal paper. And it was. They did hire some minorities, and deal with minority issues. Was it notoriously liberal?

KITANO: There weren’t that many minorities hired at that time.

DD: There were some right-wing people there as well. But it was largely a liberal paper.

KITANO: Did Paul Weeks ever tell you the story that he used to work for the Arizona Republic, and his whole aim in life was to go to Los Angeles and work for the Daily News?

RR: Yes.

KITANO: That’s how much reputation The News had.

RR: So how was it for you when you walked in there and saw all these---

DD: Wayward souls---

RR: Free spirits, madmen. . .

KITANO: There were some people I knew. So I’d wave and say hello, and that would help break the ice. And everyone had to come to us (in the library), because we were doing whatever research they wanted.

DD: At the Daily News, everything was in one big city room---all the sections, all the departments. Society people, the sports people. The society people was right next to the city desk, where there was all sorts of yelling and foul language and everything else. Mildred Norton was the society editor. Very pretty woman.

RR: Were you comfortable there? Did you fit in?

KITANO: Oh, I loved it! Nobody gave me any problems. I was lucky.

DD: You were just so lucky to get in the news business in that era. You’d drink out of a sewer if you thought you could get a job in a newspaper, you know. It was very glamorous in those days. From Hollywood, you know. Like the old “Night Beat” story, with Frank Lovejoy. The reporter was a big protagonist in film. There were a lot of movies. Women played reporters too. Rosalind Russell. It was a big thing to go to work for a paper. It was like going to work for the studios.

RR: I had no idea.

DD: Oh, yeah! People out of journalism schools---you might go to a very fancy journalism school, but if they gave you a job on the Daily News, you were willing to go in there. You didn’t care if somebody hit you over the head with a book every five minutes. You kept saying to yourself, I got a job! I’m working for a paper! It was a romantic thing, like somebody gives you a job in the police department. . .

RR: Was it more true in that era?

DD: I think so. Movies were the big thing, not television. And if you tell somebody you work for a newspaper, you were a big shot. There was one guy who had seen too many movies. Remember Lee Tracy? The actor who played a lot of newspaper reporters, press agents? Well, this guy would always go over to Don’s Bar, and all his compatriots would be in there, drunk. And he’d always walk in with a trenchcoat on, and his hat with a press card in it. And he wasn’t even a reporter, he was a photographer. But he always played the role to the hilt, you know. And this guy was completely enamored with this whole thing. You’d talk to him, and you’d think you were hearing dialogue from a script, you know. He must have sat there and watched 30 or 40 movies and got the idea that he wanted to be Frank Lovejoy or something. Today it means absolutely nothing.

KITANO: Well, when I was growing up, I think I was in first year of high school, 9th grade, and I found myself listening to Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor (on radio) playing a newspaper editor and reporter, and I thought, gee, I’d like that!

DD: Reporters were big shots. Humphrey Bogart, Lee Tracy. . .I mean, when I was going to L.A. City College, they had a great journalism school and newspaper. A lot of people became very successful from there. I remember distinctly that there were guys who were taking jobs at the La Puente Times or something like that, and they were glad. If you got a job on the Daily News, they’d step over bodies to do it.

RR: Same at all the big papers of the time?

DD: Oh, yeah! Absolutely!

KITANO: When I was thinking about getting jobs at that time, I thought, well, I just can’t go to the Examiner because Hearst hates Japanese. I thought maybe I could go to the Herald-Express and work for Aggie Underwood. Thought I’d say, “I’d like to work for you because I hear you’re terrific,” that kind of stuff. And she was terrific. But I thought, the heck with that, it probably won’t work. But it could have worked, because she liked gutsy women.

RR: I have this rosy idea that the Daily News was more reflective of L.A. than the other papers of the time, in its peculiarity, almost. Oversized tabloid, peach-colored---

KITANO: Only two or three cents!

RR: Right. It had panache. Somebody was telling that if they had two photos of the mayor, and in one he was picking his nose, that’s the one they’d run. My kind of paper! And the other papers were not irreverent and playful in that way. Is that true?

DD: Yeah, I think so. The Herald and Examiner were separate then, and they were equally every interesting papers, but I think the Daily News was more wide open. They didn’t care who they attacked.

RR: And I always hear that it attracted free spirits and people of independent spirit---Jack Smith, Matt Weinstock, sports editor Ned Cronin, Jack Jones. . .

KITANO: What a nice man. (Jones.)

RR: Doug, you were at UP in the same building as the Daily News for how long?

DD: I was in that building for twelve years or so. Until they closed the place, and that was quite a scene. Started about 1950, and Mary was in the library at the Daily News.

RR: And everybody at UP knew everybody at the Daily News, right?

DD: Pretty much. Some of the people were kind of strange, and you learned not to talk to them. Like any place. There was a guy by the name of John Clark, a genius rewrite man, and I got along with him fine. But if John Clark didn’t like you, he’d get up and throw you out of the city room. He tried to throw one guy out the (third floor) window when I was there. And one time I was holed up across the street (at the bar.) The way I met Clark was, well, they had a place with only about five stools, and I had a horrible hangover and I was hungry. And I had to have something. I figured I’d get an egg sandwich and take it back to the office. And I go in there, and sit down next to John Clark. And he was talking to the gal who was working there. And it was like a scene out of Dashiell Hammett. He was saying, “Where the hell do you get this crap?” And “What the hell is in these eggs?” And she was saying, “Eat it and shut your mouth.” And he says, “What did you say your name was?” I said, “Doug.” He said, “Oh, yeah, you work for UP. What do you think of this stuff?” I said, “Well, it doesn’t look very good to me.” And she says, “I don’t want any more reporters in here. You guys get your asses out of here.” So later, back at work, some guy comes running in there from the pressroom, and says, “There’s been a hold-up across the street. They held up the restaurant.” Clark says, “It’s about time.” And there are fire engines, and people are yelling, “It’s a big story, there might be somebody shot over there,” and Clark just sat there and said, “I hope it was that broad.” I mean, caustic, but funny. . .They had a lot of drifters at the Daily News, and getting hired. They’d get fired somewhere, like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and they’d get hired at the Daily News. Somebody would tell them, go to the Daily News. . .They had some really strange people in there, too.

RR: One of the staff photos during the war has more women than men---

DD: Well, they put the accounting department in there, probably. . .

KITANO: Probably during the war. When the men came back, they got the jobs. And they should have.

RR: And the presses really used to break down once in a while, and catch fire?

DD: (Laughing) They’d break down all the time. Smoke would be coming out of the city room, and somebody would be saying, “Oh, God, the presses are broken again.”

KITANO: And people would come running, with pliers---

RR: Pliers?

DD: Oh, yeah, some of that equipment, they never had any money to fix it. All the big presses were all wired up. Everybody was afraid they were going to explode. The whole building would shake from them---

KITANO: Oh, yeah, you knew the paper was going to press because the whole building shook!

RR: How many editions a day?

KITANO: Oh, quite a few. Maybe eight? They hit the streets constantly.

RR: So eight times a day, the building shook like that.

KITANO: (laughs.)

RR: Did the Daily News reporters mingle with the reporters from the other papers in town? The Daily News was kidded about being a “commie rag,” and the reporters a “bunch of pinkos,” etc.---

KITANO: That’s probably because we had contracts at the Daily News. And the Herald did, too. Newspaper Guild contracts.

RR: Everything started falling apart after Boddy sold the place in ’51 or so, yes?

KITANO: Right, and Robert L Smith took over.

RR: Handwriting was on the wall? People could sense the end coming?

KITANO, DILTZ: Yeah, yeah.

RR: There is sadness in both your voices after all these years.

KITANO: It was your home! It was your whole life!

DD: It was a unique voice in town. They thought the Mirror might pick up on it (the Daily News was eventually purchased by the L.A. Times, and “merged” with its own tabloid competitor, The Mirror, though the merger was largely cosmetic.) The Mirror was too much under control of the Times.

KITANO: It was sad. You spent so much time there, and had such good times, and made such good friends. I mean, it was really sad because you didn’t know where some of these people were going when the paper closed. . .

DD: There was a reporter named Frank Rutherford. He was one of the most agile and most competent police reporters in the town. He was always scooping people. He could barely fit into a car. He was almost 300 pounds. He’d hang around the News a lot, because he didn’t want to go back (to his job) at the Examiner. He’d phone the Examiner and say he was out working on a story.

RR: When it closed, what did it mean to the city? Did the city care?

KITANO: People who could plant stories probably cared a lot. I imagine the Democratic Party was very sad about it. One voice was gone, and the other papers couldn’t do it.

RR: The only Democratic voice---

KITANO: Right.

RR: Best columnists in town?

KITANO: Weinstock. . .I think that’s a good assessment.

DD: The Times was so dull. I worked for AP for a year as a copyboy, and I used to look in there, and it was just like working for an ad agency.

KITANO: Press agents and what-not used to be able to just walk right in, and have immediate access to editors, reporters. Now you can’t get past the guards downstairs.

RR: Papers were a lot more approachable, and more direct connection with the community. Not removed, aloof. . .

KITANO: It builds up community contact.

RR: You were not just librarian, but also wrote about TV and radio, right?

KITANO: I think it was 1952, Lee Payne asked if I would do this, and he said, “You’re it.” I became the good cop, and Paul Price (TV columnist) was the bad cop.

DD: Irascible one.

KITANO: But he was sure of himself. Wrote a good column.

DD: Somebody broke his leg one day. He was walking around with a big cast on. Somebody got to him. He’d write the nastiest stuff. . .Everybody was in love with Mary. They’d read her stuff and call her (instead.) One guy came in there one day, from NBC, and put his feet up on Paul’s desk, and Paul threw him out.

KITANO: Physically. Oh, he was furious. “Don’t ever come back!”

DD: Your father used to make a lot of jokes about the place. He had a lot of respect for the place, but he’d also laugh like hell about all the craziness. You’d mentioned how the typewriters stuck, or keys were missing, and he’d go into hysterics.

KITANO: We had wooden chairs, and they had cracks in them that pinched your fanny when you sat down. So I called people to complain about them, and instead of a new chair, they came with wires, pliers, and wired the whole thing together! (Laughing.)

DD: And Janet Vernon the artist (who became wife of Lu Haas) was over near a window overlooking the restaurant, and all this commotion would be going on right in the city room, and books would be flying through the air, and she’d work in her own little microcosm.

KITANO: There was a photographer, a very good one, named Cliff Wesselman, and something ticked him off one night when he came in. And he was so angry that he swung the door closed and it came off its hinges! It was a little askew the next day, but somebody put it back together. With more wire!

DD: Probably Paul Weeks put it back together.

RR: The swinging door is still up there!

DD: Now the immigrants have to put up with it. Who else would inherit the Daily News than a bunch of impoverished immigrants?

RR: It was a car dealership in the 20’s.

DD: Right. Packard, I think.

RR: Tell me about some of the other people you remember fondly.

DD: Chuck Chappell. He and Paul Weeks always held things together. Very determined, nice guys.

KITANO: Paul was one great, nice guy. . .I remember that Chuck and maybe Paul had me in for the preparation of the 1984 Daily News reunion. They were trying to figure out how to get money, and I said, why don’t you guys go shake some corporate trees? And they said, we can’t anymore!


I'D LIKE THAT HEADLINE MEDIUM-RARE: One of the famous steak fry-ups at the Daily News. The sirloins were grilled in the library on a hot plate or two, newspapers were spread out, and the staff chowed down. Kitano, evidently finished eating, smokes on a desktop by the open window. DN reporter Paul Weeks (center, black tie), butters toast. L to R: rewrite man John Clark, city editor Aaron Dudley (foreground), Kitano, copyboy Archie Lee, Weeks, night city editor Joseph "Sparky" Saldana. (Collection of Paul Weeks.)

 

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