Q&A with ROY RINGER
RENSE: The Daily News was really a writer's paper, right?
RENSE: Is it true that (Publisher Manchester) Boddy woudn't pump enough money into it to keep it going?
RINGER: The whole problem with the Daily News was during the war years, when Boddy was making a fortune off the paper, he plowed it back into his own interests, like Descanso Gardens. Later on, of course, for his own ill-conceived political ambitions. And he never spent money on new presses or new equipment. . .Things changed toward the end. The staff was shocked when Boddy ran against Helen Gahagan Douglas (for senate; Boddy's candidacy split the Democratic vote and allowed Richard Nixon to win.) In fact, he was the one who branded her the "Pink Lady," not Richard Nixon. Nixon picked it up in his campaign against her.
RENSE: What is meant by "bastard tabloid?"
RINGER: The Daily News was a bastard tabloid. It was six columns instead of five. A
tabloid is five columns, and standard size is eight. We were six, which meant we had to
have paper especially made for the paper.
RINGER: You know the famous Checkers Speech? I was sent over that night to cover it, at a TV station. And I got in one of the first questions. I said, "Senator, you've talked about a lot of things tonight---Republican cloth coats, and your dog, but you never once said whether you have been taking $18,000 a year from wealthy friends, and not declaring it as income or political contributions. Would you answer that question now?" He said, "What paper are you with, the People's World?" Which was the communist paper. And I said, "No, the Daily News." And he said, "The same thing." Years later, I got to fire back. I wrote the (Los Angeles) Times editorial demanding his impeachment.
And Nixon was a creation of the L.A. Times, you know. He was working in a federal department in Washington, and the then-political editor of the Times, persuaded him to come east and run against Jerry Voorhies, and of course he red-baited the hell out of Voorhies, and won the seat. He was the kingmaker---he would decide who the Times would support. The Times supported Nixon for every office he ran for, until they urged his impeachment. Interesting that he pulled out a couple days later.
RENSE: You later went to work for the Times?
RINGER: I was an editorial writer at the Times. I worked in political PR here in town for a while for Baus and Ross. The Times saw to it that Baus and Ross got most of the campaigns here for bond issues, propositions, that kind of stuff. When I was working for them during the Dodger referendum, believe it or not, I had to send my copy over to the political editor at the Times for approval! And the same thing was true when I did publicity on a sewer bond election. Again, I had to clear my copy with the Times.
RENSE: What's this I hear about you stealing some proofs from the Examiner?
RINGER: You must have read the book by Rob Wagner. The story is in there about my swiping the proofs off the hook at the Examiner during the Black Dahlia case. . .We had about two reporters assigned to the Black Dahlia, and the Examiner had about twenty. Charlie Judson suggested that I go over there, walk in as if I were a copyboy, go to the spike where they had their proofs for the next day, grab a bunch and bring them back. And the Daily News had everything, the next morning, that the Examiner had! And my third trip over, James Richardson, the Examiner editor, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, "Nice try, but don't try it again."
RENSE: Pretty friendly of him. Today, you'd be arrested.
RINGER: He admired the initiative! There were a lot of characters on the Daily News. Have you heard about John Arrington at all?
RINGER: John Arrington was reputed to be, and probably was, the bag man for gambling interests during the Frank Shaw regime. And he ended up on the Daily News overnight police beat. He always carried this gun, which was a long-barrelled six-shooter, old western style. And there was a card game every night in the press room. And when one of the guys wanted to quit, John would just pull his gun out, and lay it out next to his cards, and say "deal." The game didn't end until he said it ended. At that time, this was in the old city hall, downstairs.
RENSE: When was this?
RINGER: This would have been the early 1950's.
RENSE: Were you a general assignment reporter?
RINGER: Yes. You might cover a convention of atomic scientists one day, and a murder trial the next. The presumption in those days was that a reporter could cover anything.
RENSE: As it should be.
RINGER: As it should be.
RINGER: He was a rewrite man, and absolutely wrote the cleanest copy you ever saw. He drowned himself in MacArthur Park, in about four feet of water, falling out of one of those little boats. He was a very strange guy. You did mention Pat O' Hara as one of the good writers. Pat also committed suicide. He hanged himself from a tree up near Santa Barbara in a spread out position, almost like a crucifixion, when they found him.
RENSE: Tell me what you remember about the day the paper went under. (It was purchased by the L.A. Times.)
RINGER: On the Saturday morning, I heard it on the radio that the Daily News folded. I went down to the office to pick up my stuff. And as I'm leaving with nothing but a manila envelope, these L.A. Times armed guards stopped me down below, said, "What've you got there?" I said, "Oh, a linotype machine, a typewriter---what the hell do you think I have?" But they still insisted on inspecting it. And when I got home, my first call was from city editor Smokey Hale's secretary at the Times, asking me to come down and see him. I said, "No thank you, no thank you." I didn't want to work for the Times then.
RENSE: You reviewed opera while at the News?
RINGER: (laughing) If there's a person in the world more unqualified to review opera than I, I don't know who it would have been. I like opera. I found myself in the drama section, one day. Good story, how I got there. I don't know if it will interest you or not.
RINGER: I was in the sports department, and season tickets came from the Hollywood Park
Race Track, and I didn't have any, so I asked the sub editor, Chuck Genuit,
"where are my tickets?" He said, "you didn't get any this year." Well,
I couldn't quite believe that, so I called the track, spoke to the PR guy, and he said,
"yeah, you got yours along with everybody else. I put them in your box." I said,
"Well, they've been stolen." So two or three days later, Ned Cronin, who was
sports editor, well, his doctor shows up at the track with my passes. And he was arrested!
That's when I was transferred from sports to drama!
RINGER: I made up the drama section. I was reviewing drama. Anybody can review a movie, but when it gets to dance and stuff like that, I was totally unqualified. But that was it. In those days, you did anything you were asked to.
RENSE: When did you work in Sports, and what did you do?
RINGER: I was there very briefly, strictly an office job. I didn't cover any sports. Took the stuff off the wire, the box scores on baseball, strictly a desk job. I hated it.
RENSE: Put me in the city room. What did it smell like? Full of smoke? Rats?
RINGER: Yes, plenty of smoke. No, there were no rats. After (Clinton) McKinnon took over (in the early '50s), we complained about the fact that the building had not been painted in years, and the walls were smoke-stained, and everything. So he had the brilliant idea, "why don't you people come in on Saturday and Sunday, your day off, and do it!" We didn't think the painters' union would think much of that.
RENSE: Which brings up the vaunted liberalism of the paper, and its decline after Boddy left.
RINGER: You know, Boddy's running against Helen Gahagan Douglas really teed all of us
off. The Daily News stopped being a liberal paper. At a certain time, there was a Fair
Employment Practices Act on a city ordinance on the ballot, and of course the Daily News
would have to endorse it. But they didn't, because the department stores made it clear to
the Daily News that if they did, there would be no more advertising. So we actually came
out against it! And most of the staff were liberal people, and we could not have believed
that we had done that. So its proud reputation as the only Democratic, the only liberal
newspaper in L.A., really was diminished badly in the final years. It wasn't fun there
toward the end. I was pretty much fed up with journalism. That's why I didn't want to go
to the Times.
Vivian Sharp joined the Daily News in 1948, after leaving a career in book publishing in New York City. She was co-founder with George Braziller of a liberal book club, the Book Find Club, and editor of its monthly publication. (The club later was sold to Time Life.) At the News, Vivian wrote for the women's page, as it was known in those days, and also a series of children's fiction. Her happiest memories were of the occasionally rollicking times she was also sent on general assignments with her favorite fotog, Harry Watson. After leaving the News, she worked in Hollywood as executive assistant to producer Edward L. Alperson , whose films included "A Star is Born" and "Irma La Douce." She married Roy Ringer after what he described as a "whirlwind" courtship of eight years, and the two lived in England for a time, leasing the former home of Virginia Woolf in the village of Rodmell, Sussex. There, working at Woolf's desk, Vivian wrote her novel, "The Secretary," published by Delacorte (hardback) and Dell (paper), and Barrie & Jenkins in England. She sold fiction to many leading magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post and Redbook. She was interviewed by Rense (with Roy joining in.)
ROY: Hey, Vivian, be sure and tell him about the copy desk and the missing o's on your typewriter.
VIVIAN: Well, let's start there.
ROY: Well, Vivian---the Daily News was sort of broke. So Vivian had a decrepit typewriter that had no o's on it. And she had to sit on a couple of telephone books to reach the desk!
VIVIAN: Yes. The shop steward wanted to make an issue out of it, and I said, "Oh, no way!" Because I'd just been recently hired. Anyhow, Roy was on the copy desk at the time, and since I had no o's in my typewriter, he had to fill in the o's. And he got really upset about it, and came storming back one day, and said, "why don't you fill in your own damn o's!" And that's how our romance began.
RENSE: Really! A great story! So he had to physically type them in?
VIVIAN: He'd pencil them in.
RENSE: So that's how you met?
ROY: I finally asked Vivian out on a date. Said let's have dinner and listen to some music. She said yes and met me in Hollywood. But the boxing writer, a guy named Johnny Allen, said, "Roy, would you fill in for me tonight for the first few preliminaries, and I'll be back for the main event." So Vivian met me at the bar, and we had a few drinks. Then I walked her into Hollywood Legion Stadium, where she sat next to a timekeeper. He smiled. And when the second round came, the blood began to fly. She stood up and said, "I'm leaving!" I said, "I'll take you home." She said, "You will not, and I never want to see you again!" We were married eight years later.
RENSE: Things didn't start out to well for you, then----
ROY: We had an eight-year courtship.
RENSE: Eight years? Somebody had to work hard. . .
VIVIAN: (laughing) I don't think this belongs in the Daily News story. . .
ROY: I don't see why not!
RENSE: So how were you hired, and when?
VIVIAN: I used to work in the book publishing field in New York City, and there was a columnist for the New York Post, Cliff Boutell, who did book gossip and information, so I thought the west coast should have something like that. So I did two sample columns of book gossip, and walked into the Daily News and asked to speak to the editor. Well, incredibly, I got to speak to him and he was very gruff and very independent, just like a fictional editor would be. (Laughs.) I left, and I thought, that's that, nothing's going to happen. And then I got a call to report Monday to the women's section, and I did.
RENSE: Why did you come to L.A.?
VIVIAN: Just because I wanted a change. I wanted to see what life was like out here.
RENSE: And why did you walk into the Daily News, and not the Examiner?
VIVIAN: Because I'd been a lifelong Democrat, and it's the only Democratic newspaper that this town has ever seen.
RENSE: Still, when you walked into the joint, it wasn't real elegant. . .
VIVIAN: Uh, noooo. . .There was an elevator that barely worked---
RENSE: Two blocks away was the grandiose Examiner building, and all that money. You weren't put off by the Daily News' "rustic" interior?
VIVIAN: Oh, no, no. I was just concentrating on wanting to go to work for the newspaper.
RENSE: So you started off writing the book column.
VIVIAN: No, they never picked up on that. They just assigned me to the woman's page, you know, to do society reporting and all the little bits and pieces they did in those days. At one point, my editor, Gert Price, said I was to write a continuing children's story. I said I'd never been near a child, so how could I write a children's story? She said, "well, a good writer can write anything." So I started this continuing children's story, I think it published two times a week, and then I would do the other society reporting.
RENSE: What was the story about?
VIVIAN: The magical world of Dlrow ("world" spelled backwards), and it had characters like Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear, and Amy the Lovesick Hippopotamus, and characters like that.
RENSE: So you're sitting upstairs in this smoke-filled, profanity-ridden, ramshackle den of a newsroom, cranking out lovely little children's tales. That's quite a picture. Okay, when you got the job on the women's page, you were not disappointed that you didn't get the book column---you were happy to get the job?
VIVIAN: Yeah, I was delighted to get the job. I didn't think about the column at that point.
RENSE: I've looked at old issues of the paper, and the society pages. The women's pages must have had a small staff.
VIVIAN: Actually, it was just the two of us. Me, and Gert Price, the editor.
RENSE: Can you give me a taste of the atmosphere for a woman at that time in such a place?
VIVIAN: Well, it was great fun, because all of the reporters were young and competitive, and they were all trying to write the best they could, and as originally as they could. And then after work, we'd take off and go have a couple of drinks and tootle around. I remember really good scenes, like with Jack Smith or others on the paper. We were all single---Jack wasn't---but after hours, we'd just tootle around the town. Mainly Hollywood.
RENSE: I've heard some weird and wonderful tales of the place, not the least of which was Don Dwiggins plinking beer cans off the window sill in the evenings, with a BB-gun, and being asked by Manchester Boddy to stop while he did his radio broadcast.
VIVIAN: That I wasn't privvy to, but I remember seeing Mickey Cohen in his black Cadillac with his henchmen. We'd all look out the window. Then they came stomping up to the Daily News, and he demanded better coverage than he was getting! I don't know what the aftermath was.
Other stories. . .Photographers would accompany me when I was photographing for society articles (society matrons), and they'd be called off for another assignment, and I'd have go with them. I'm sure somebody told you about Brenda Allen, the famous madam. Anyhow, she was in the hospital, and the photographer and I gallopped about eight flights of stairs in the hospital, ripped into her room, and she put a newspaper in front of her head, and he told me, "take that newspaper away!" Automatically I did, although I would think it a very rude thing to do, and he shot the photo! And that's the daring kind of crazy stuff that would go on.
RENSE: That kind of thing wouldn't happen today without a lawsuit.
RENSE: There were a great many more women working at the Daily News at the that time than other papers. Can you confirm that?
VIVIAN: No, I can't, because I don't know how many were working at other newspapers.
RENSE: But there were a number in the newsroom, right?
VIVIAN: Yeah. A good representation. Kind of a free-flowing atmosphere. Great camaraderie, and it was a union shop, so we were entitled to our grievances.
RENSE: I wonder how often there were grievances, because from what I hear, it was a happy family.
VIVIAN: Definitely a good atmosphere.
RENSE: When people rhapsodize about the old papers in L.A., you seldom hear about the Daily News. It seems all but forgotten. Comments on that?
VIVIAN: I don't know why that should be.
RENSE: Part of the reason someone suggested is that it's been gone a long time. But they've all been gone a long time.
VIVIAN: But the Daily News has been gone longer.
RENSE: All right. Put me at your desk. You're sitting on two telephone books. Is that true?
VIVIAN: Yeah, it's true, because I'm five-foot-one, and I had this typewriter that was busted. I thought, well, I'll do the best I can. The shop steward came by and said you should make a grievance out of this. You should have a decent typewriter, and you shouldn't have to sit on two telephone books. I said, no, because I didn't want to make waves.
RENSE: Do you think there could be a paper like the Daily News today?
VIVIAN: Oh, I don't think it's possible to have that kind of a newspaper anymore. For many reasons. It's much more formalized. In order to get a job on a newspaper these days, you need the college degrees, all that formal education. It's much more structured. We were all young, adventurous, energetic, competetive, and showing off to each other. (Degrees) never entered the employment scene at all. It was "can you write?" You would submit what you had written, and you were hired on that basis?
RENSE: Imagine that! It seems that there are a lot of journalists with degrees who don't know how to write.
VIVIAN: That's very true. I can't remember anybody on that little staff having degrees or anything---they were just writers.
RENSE: L.A. was such a different city---no freeways, really. Just the Arroyo Seco until the early '50s, essentially. . .but you had street cars, electric buses, no skyscrapers. Did it feel more like a community then? Because it sure doesn't today.
VIVIAN: Yes, actually. We felt kind of like we owned Hollywood---Musso & Frank's, and the boulevard. We'd eat at a lot of places there. Musso & Frank's was the favorite hangout, and I guess remains so for creative people.
RENSE: Where was the women's section---what part of the newsroom?
VIVIAN: The city desk was up front , and then far down on the right-hand side was the woman's section---our little place. And beyond that was sports. Of course, after work, we'd go over to the Press Club at the Case Hotel, and fraternize with the sportswriters and others, have a couple of drinks. So it was all very convivial, very social. You don't have that these days. You don't have that intermix of people who worked together. And you had slot machines at the Case Hotel.
RENSE: Slot machines? Legal?
VIVIAN: No. I think, at a certain point, someone invited police chief Bill Parker, and he said, uh-oh, we can't have this. But they were there for a long time.
RENSE: So everybody hung out there, from the Examiner, Express, Times?
VIVIAN: Yeah, it was really a genuine press club set-up, where we all mingled.
RENSE: It should still be there.
VIVIAN: It was great. A good scene. And now it's pathetic---just one room at the Hollywood Roosevelt. All that happens is that you get a twenty percent discount if you eat at the Cinegrill.
RENSE: Even that (later Press Club) building on Vermont was preferable, if you ask me.
VIVIAN: That was good. We had a Daily News reunion there.
RENSE: Well, maybe we met there, because I covered the Daily News reunion of 1981 for the Herald-Examiner. The 25th. I met Johnny Allen, Jack Jones, Chuck Chappell, and a lot of others. Went with my father, which was a lot of fun.
VIVIAN: Well, most of the people were still alive and healthy, and it was a good reunion. Don Dwiggens was there---we drove down with him.
RENSE: My dad worked with Dwiggins at Douglas Aircraft, I think, in PR. Chuck Chappell was there, and Phil Garrison. Garrison left to go to the Valley News, which is where I wound up working as a copyboy, and then a reporter. I worked for Garrison and Larry Fowler, so the Daily News kind of runs through my life.
VIVIAN: It was actually Phil Garrison chewing gum who I talked to first, when I was applying for the job, and then he sent me into the editor!
RENSE: He was always chewing gum! Even when I knew him. And he always had the Guinness Book of World Records with him. He was the night copy chief, and when I mentioned this to my dad, he said, "Does he still have the Guiness Book with him?"
VIVIAN: He was a charming man.
RENSE: So you were at the Daily News until it folded?
VIVIAN: No, I wasn't. I was hired to replace Olive Taylor. . .(left to get married, but didn't). . .and she came back, and I got bounced in favor of her! I hated to leave, but fair is fair. I was probably there for about five months, then I went into theater publicity.
RENSE: And Roy stayed in touch with you?
VIVIAN: Oh yes (laughing.) Yes, he did. He was persistent.
RENSE: How did he make up that boxing date to you?
VIVIAN: Well, he would keep calling, and we went up to the John Ford Ranch for a newspaper party, and I went with my date, and he went with his date. And he invited us back to his apartment in Hollywood for a drink afterwards, and he started playing opera on his old 78s. And my date said, "Let's get the hell out of here," and I said, "I'm interested," as I'd really not paid attention to opera. He said he wanted to leave, and I said, "I want to hear some more." Anyhow, I stayed and left alone, but I saw the other side of Roy. I thought somebody who liked Jussi Bjoerling can't be all bad!
VIVIAN: That changed my perception of him, and I was more open to listening when he called and said, "let's have a drink."
RENSE: Another lovely story. When you think back on your five months at that great, classic American newspaper, the likes of which there will never be again, what do you think about?
VIVIAN: Oh, it was a fresh, energetic, exciting period---working with exciting,
creative people. They were so competitive with each other. Like Jack Smith was going to
have a better story than Roy, you know? And the last time we saw Jack Smith at one of the
Old Fart Society luncheons, he was remembering a story that Roy had written about a little
boy who had gotten his head stuck in a toilet seat. Jack remembered that particular story
because he thought it was brilliantly done. So there was that kind of appreciation
for writing and other people's work.
VIVIAN: Well, it was quite extraordinary because. . .looking at all those bent heads (of garment workers) over the sewing machines, barely looking up, I was kind of identifying with them, as well as remembering the past, to tell you the truth. (Laughs.) It was just overwhelming. I was thinking, what pressure! I thought "This is the other side of Los Angeles that I haven't seen for so long." So that mixed with seeing old friends I hadn't seen for a long time, you felt other-worldly.
RENSE: And so it was. You were from another world, and another time, visiting. . .Somebody told me that the building bears no resemblance to what it used to be, no way you'd ever recognize it. And yet, when you were up there, everybody was pointing out the managing editor's office, how the interior had not really changed.
VIVIAN: You could see it all in your mind's eye. I mean, it had the same kind of general expanse, and that kind of sweep through the city room right through women's section and sports. Cubicles were missing, but you could visualize them.
|BACK TO PAGE ONE|
copyright 2003, 2012 Rip Rense