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PASTE POTS, BOOZE, LIBERALISM AND BB-GUNS:
A TALK WITH L.A. NEWSPAPER HISTORIAN ROB WAGNER

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Once upon a time, in a Los Angeles far far away, there were. . .newspaper wars. There were five---count 'em, five---papers in town, and as many as eight editions per day. Rob Leicester Wagner, grandson of original Daily News reporter Les Wagner, is the only writer ever to put the history into a book. This was an uncrowded, freeway-less time of paste-pots, cigars, Red Cars, and just a touch of alcohol. Red Ink, White Lies.
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Wagner began his journalism career in 1974 at his hometown newspaper in Sierra Madre, Calif. He has worked as a reporter, city editor, night editor, and managing editor for daily newspapers in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. He has written fifteen books on regional film and automotive history. Aside from his grandfather's journalism background, Wagner's great-grandfather (also Rob), was editor and publisher of a literary film magazine. Married to wife Deniece, and the father of three, Rob is features editor at the Stockton Record, in Stockton, Calif. He was interviewed by Rip Rense.

"It was a dusty, dirty office. There was a lot of noise coming up from the street. In the summertime, it was damn hot in there. All the windows were open, which means there was more noise in the summer. There was a lot of banter among the staff. In the early days, before there was a hunt for communists, there was a lot of discussion about politics. A lot of guys wore their politics on their sleeve. They loved to play practical jokes on each other. The librarian kept their booze in the morgue, and they paid 25 cents a shot for whiskey."---Rob Wagner.

RENSE: Whowhatwhenwhereandwhy did you write the book?

WAGNER: Well, I kicked around the idea for many years. As I told you, my grandfather, Les Wagner, was with the DN off and on over a fifteen-year period. So I had a lot of DN clips. I knew the stories, the names of the folks he worked with. When I was a kid, I used to go downtown to the Central Library and look at his clips. He worked for the Mirror in the '50s, and for Fortnight Magazine. He worked for the Times as a correspondent, while he was in Santa Barbara, working for the old Santa Barbara Press, back in the '20s.

When I first got into the business in the '70s, I ran into a lot of guys who had worked with him, and they associated my name with his. And so I got to hear these anecdotes. I got to hear some great Les Wagner stories, but a lot of stories about what happened in L.A. during that time.

RENSE: How did you meet these people?

WAGNER: Journalism seminars, workshops. I remember running into Delmar Watson at a National Press Photographer's Workshop, back in the '70s. Lot of these guys were speakers. A couple at papers I worked actually had people who had worked at these papers. Louis Nunez had worked as a photographer at the Mirror. I worked for the Arcadia Tribune when I first started. When I was on assignment, I'd run into some old CNS guys, Jake Jacoby, who knew my grandfather. We chatted, and these guys would tell me some stories.

Les was a reporter, mostly, but he also, like just about everybody else at the DN, worked as assistant city editor or city editor. When he was at the Mirror, he was a columnist for a long time. He started at the DN in '29, worked there through '34, went to UP, came back in '42, and stayed through '48. All told, about eight or nine years.

RENSE: Why did he go back to the Daily News?

WAGNER; He got a better job at UP, better pay. And it was in the same building as the DN, at Pico and Los Angeles Street. And his father was a writer and silent film director, so my grandfather was always connected with Hollywood, so there was a period where he was a press agent for 20th Century Fox. But he missed newspapers, he missed cop reporting, he missed the action of putting out a paper on a daily basis. (Eventually) he said "I'm tired of this, I need to go back to newspapers." He briefly went to SF and worked for the SF News, then his dad died in '42, and that's why he came back to the DN. He had to go back to Southern California and take care of his dad's business, and the DN was there with open arms.

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CATCHING THE RIM-RATS AT WORK: A group of L.A. high school students gather around the Daily News copy desk, to see how it's all done, sometime in the mid-30s. Prior to computers, copy editors sat around curved desks, or "rims," and the copy chief, or "slot man" would doll out the stories to be edited, and slapped with headlines. Note the amusing "Copy Deadlines" sign on the wall (blown up at right.)
(photo courtesy UCLA special collections)

RENSE: So the book was an outgrowth of interest in your grandfather?

WAGNER: That and the fact that I heard so many great anecdotes from friends of his, like Paul Weeks. I knew there was a great story to be told. No one had told it. Most of the books that had come out focused on newspapering at the publisher level, the corporate level. There was no street-level journalism that was being analyzed or discussed. I wanted to have a book that focused on the grunts in the businss. The reporters and the city desk.

RENSE: It's the only history of L.A. newspapers I've ever seen.

WAGNER: Yeah, if you don't include the corporate histories.

RENSE: And I don't. I'm not interested.

WAGNER: I could have spent more time at the corporate level, to give a more rounded view of the financial pictures of these newspapers from the competitive era of the '30s and '40s, but I thought that would have lost a lot of the flavor of what these guys did on the streets.

RENSE: Those guys didn't care about the corporate stuff, or the publishers. . .

WAGNER: They were very disdainful of anything above the city editor level.

RENSE: As it should be! I don't know of anyone in newspapers who had particularly warm feelings for a publisher.

WAGNER: I agree. Manchester Boddy (Daily News publisher) might be an exception. He is still regarded with a little bit of distrust, but of all the publishers in L.A. during that period, I can say without reservation he is probably the most loved by his troops. Because he cared about journalism content. He was a savvy businessman. He knew what he was doing, but if a story meant losing an advertiser, so be it. That's the way it was. He was liberal. He had no issues about going into the newsroom and mixing it up with the troops. He was very personable. He could easily talk with the muckety-mucks of Los Angeles, as well as the janitors and copyboys. He was very friendly with everybody.

RENSE: And yet he was somehow to blame for the Daily News's demise, correct?

WAGNER: Yeah, indirectly, I believe he was. I think after the war, he certainly lost interest in the newspaper. He had the Descanso Gardens, he had his camelias, his ranch in La Canada-Flintridge. I think that consumed most of his time. That was his new venture, his new love. That, and the fact that he was a little bit burned out about the day-to-day operations and going downtown every day. After the war, he distanced himself from the operation. Gave more hands-on control to Robert Smith, and I think Smith was ultimately the person responsible for the demise of the newspaper. He was the general manager, and he did well under Boddy's mentorship, I believe, but he was more of a quck-hit kind of guy. When he had full control of the paper after Boddy retired in '52, Smith was interested in quick profits, and he looked at the balance sheets on a weekly or monthly basis, not thinking in the long term. He was always looking for the next dollar.

RENSE: Is that when that ill-fated Sunday "highlights of the week" issue came out?

WAGNER: Exactly. Around '53. Smith was also very impatient. He brought in editors to help spice up the paper, to help make it profitable, to strengthen news content, but he never seemed to be satisfied. He wanted quick results, and if he didn't get them, he had a tendency to fire people. He also was impatient during negotiations when other people were interested in purchasing the paper. For some reason or another, he had this kind of tendency to sabotage these negotiations. Especially in '53 and early '54. There was some good money thrown at the paper from people who wanted to invest, and he wouldn't pick it up!

RENSE: Because. . .

WAGNER: I think he was looking for the big payoff, and it didn't come.

RENSE: What happened to some of the staffers after The News folded? People like Matt Weinstock, Jack Smith, Jack Jones went to the Times, via the Mirror. Who else? Lupi Saldana?

WAGNER: Lupe went to the Times and became an outdoor writer. Sparky went into public relations. Aaron Dudley, whom I'm sorry you had not the pleasure of meeting, one of the few conservatives in the DN newsroom, went into commercial agricultural publications. My grandfather went to the Mirror-News. He was older than most of the folks there. He was the senior reporter. By the time he got to the Mirror, he was in his '50s. Roy Ringer went to the Mirror. Paul Weeks was the top Times reporter. In the book, I give a litany of the guys who went to the Times.

"And I think a perfect example (of the DN's liberalism), and I've writtten about it in the book, was some equal rights demonstrations in the late '40s, which blacks held at some of the local high schools. There were some pickets out front, and a fear factor that there might be some violence. But you can tell by reading these reports, that DN reporters had no problem. . .going out the picket lines, and talking to each and every black student. . ., and getting their point of view and reporting that. You never, ever got that at the Herald-Express. I know the Times never even covered it. "

RENSE: Put this in perspective for me. Roy Ringer mentioned that when Boddy challenged Helen Gahagan Douglas for congress, the staff was dismayed. (Boddy ultimately splite the Democratic vote, paving the way for the election of one Richard M. Nixon.)

WAGNER: Yes. They thought he was a traitor. He was a traitor to the journalistic cause. They always viewed him as a purist. Not an opportunist. Journalism came first, and journalism and politics never mixed. But I think this goes to Boddy's boredom, and distancing himself from the paper. He was looking for new challenges. In the '30s, there were tons of challenges and causes for him to pick up because of the Depression. All these economic schemes that were in vogue then. Police and city government corruption, a lot of things for him to do--and to support the war effort during the war. But after the war, there weren't really a lot of causes for him to fight. In my opinion, he might have gotten hoodwinked into running against Gahagan Douglas, because the Democrats were a little shy in having a quality candidate, and because Boddy was this high profile liberal, they considered him. But he was ill-prepared. He ran a very sloppy campaign, and he earned the displeasure of his staff because of it.

RENSE: The paper was very profitable during the war?

WAGNER: Yeah, and that's about it. Only during the war. I can't remember offhand the specifics, but all the papers were profitable during the war. Costs were a little bit less, and the main reason I think was the huge influx of workers from the south or east who came to Los Angeles for war work in the aircraft plants. L.A.'s population swelled considerably during that time, and they stayed in Los Angeles even after the war. So you had this huge readership. They put out more editions. They put out what they called "Aircraft" or "Plant" editions, where they were selling as many as 10,000 extra copies a day, just at the plants. They'd send newsboys down to the gates, and when the workers got off at the midnight shift or swing shift, the newsboys were there to sell papers, and they sold, I think, 10,000 citywide. So they had more readers and bigger circulation.

RENSE: The book is very detailed. How many years did you work on it?

WAGNER: Six.

RENSE: Did the research take the mjority of the time?

WAGNER: I'd say so. Probably four years researching, and a year and a half, two years, writing.

RENSE: It's the only book that deals with L.A. newspapers from the grun-level standpoint, as you say, but it's theonly history of the Daily News out there. Which brings up the angle of why the Daily News is so forgotten today. Why, whenever you hear old guys rhapsodizing about the old days of L.A. newspapers, it's always about the Examiner or the Herald-Express and the Times, and seldom is there any mention of the Daily News. But when The News is mentioned, it's always with tremendous affection; almost reverence. Plus it had such character, being Democratic, an oversized tabloid, peach-colored, populated with the most free-spirited reporters and photographers and editors in town. How has it come to be that this paper is so eclipsed in memory?

WAGNER: I'd say one is, the two largest circulating papers in L.A., pre-war and immediately post-war, were the Examiner, and the Times, which were morning papers. And I think by sheer size, and when you think of newspaper competition today, you think of morning competition. And not to mention that the Chandlers and the Hearsts were two of the biggest publishers in the country. I think that had a lot to do with it. So much attention has been put on those two papers, that the Herald-Express, Daily News, and the Mirror are almost footnotes now. And the Evening Record went out of business in the mid-30s, and the memories of those papers are diminishing fast.

"What's mystifying to me is that pretty much these guys are forgotten. And they're the ones that recorded L.A. history! And they were out there every day rubbing elbows with a lot of different characters in Los Angeles, from city and county government to all the mobsters out there, and the Hollywood elite, what-have-you. They were there. They told some great stories that they don't get credit for now."

Another reason, I think, the Record was, depending on your point of view, a very good newspaper, because it championed socialist causes, it took on lost causes, and was very much a crusading newspaper. The DN was very liberal-minded, and had a large black and latino readership. I think the liberal papers of the past have a tendency to get buried under the larger-circulating conservative papers. I can't think of two many (liberal) papers nationwide, or even publications, for that matter, that really stand the test of time. You know, P.M., which was in New York and published in the '40s, and very liberal leaning, well, you don't hear too much about them anymore. But you hear about the New York Daily Graphic and other New York dailies that at least live on as legends. And which were conservative papers.

RENSE: The Daily News had a large black and latino readership?

WAGNER: After the Record died, certainly, it picked up a lot of minority readership.

RENSE: Because it was the Democratic liberal paper in town, next to the Record?

WAGNER: It was the Democratic, liberal paper, although by today's standards they still did a very poor job of covering those communities. There was a sensibility about the paper that blacks and latinos (and other minorities) thought they could get a fair shake.

RENSE How liberal was the paper? I know in your book, you mention that by today's standards it would hardly be the bastion of communism it was outrageously accused of being from time to time.

WAGNER: Right. I think the DN staff reflected what the community readership was, which was liberal for its time. Obviously there is still racism during that period. Blacks were not hired there (except for, unconfirmed, a copy boy) but they did have Asians and latinos on staff, and they were very proud of these people that worked for them. Sparky Saldana and Mary Kitano. . .

RENSE: Kitano was hired right out of Manzanar, from what I hear. A great many women were employed there?

WAGNER: A lot of women. And this was before the war, as well. They had no problem hiring women and keeping them in high-profile jobs. Carol Tiegs was their science writer in the '30s and '40s. Sarah Boynoff was a popular reporter during that time---pre-war, all before jobs became available to women during the war. But liberalism in the '30s and '40s is considerably different from what liberalism is now. And I think Paul Weeks kind of typifies the liberal attitude of the DN in that they looked at it as a Constitutional issue, that all men are created equal, and you have a right to free speech, and you're entitled to opportunities. Now they're not going to play up social events in south-central L.A., and they will not do promotions of black police officers in their paper; they'll leave that to the California Eagle. But if there are issues involving blacks and city hall, or some kind of confrontation that way, of a political nature, I think that they were always willing to give (minorities) a fair shake.

And I think a perfect example, and I've writtten about it in the book, was some equal rights demonstrations in the late '40s, which blacks held at some of the local high schools. There were some pickets out front, and a fear factor that there might be some violence. But you can tell by reading these reports, that DN reporters had no problem going out---yes, they'd talk to the white students, who were very angry about these black students demanding equal rights, and nervous principals talking about some of their concerns---but they had no problem going to the picket lines, and talking to each and every black student on that picket line, and getting their point of view and reporting that. You never, ever got that at the Herald-Express. I know the Times never even covered it.

So if you got a story at all from the other papers---I'm talking bout the Herald-Express and Examiner in particular---you'd have the white angle on it. The Times would not pay any attention at all. You'd leave it to the DN (and earlier, to the Record) to put that minority point of view in.

"One interesting character they had was named Ted LeBerthon, and he's in the book. He was what you'd call today the minority affairs reporter. His job was to hang around the Lincoln Heights Jail and Lincoln Heights Court---night court, back then---and just record the folks that came in and out of jail and court. Inevitably, there were a lot of blacks and latinos that went through there, and he started writing about their stories. He was largely responsible, in the late '30s, for writing about blacks and latinos, and their issues. And he had his personal phonograph record player that he'd haul from his apartment, over to the newsroom, and put up on the windowsill, and play black jazz all night."

RENSE: Fascinating. The Examiner was infamously right-wing, but the Herald-Express was really reactionary and ugly, was it not?

WAGNER: Very much so. And if you look at the Zoot Suit Riots and some of the unrest over the Sleepy Lagoon trial, you'll see that the Herald-Express often baited latinos, often baited the community. And took a very gleeful tone. And if you read their editorials, there were strong fascist leanings, at least in my opinion, demanding state intervention, state police, invoking martial law. It's very alarming.

RENSE: You mentioned that blacks were not hired at the Daily News? (There are unconfirmed reports of African-American copyboys at the paper.)

WAGNER: To my knowledge, no. I find no evidence of it.

RENSE: Was that deliberate?

WAGNER: I can't say it was deliberate, but they certainly didn't go out of their way to hire any. I can't even say there were any blacks that had even applied there. Now, I know of one example where the Herald-Express hired a black man, but they gave him no assignments, so he did nothing all day. He quit after about two weeks.

RENSE: While it has surfaced, one of the Boddy anecdotes was that he used to do a radio broadcast right from the building, weekly, in the late '40s, and there was a city editor, Don Dwiggins, who liked to plink bottles with a BB-gun, right in the office. He'd line up bottles on the window sill and pick 'em off. He was doing this while Boddy was on the air, and boddy sent someone out to tell him, "Knock it off while I'm doing my commentary." That really illustrates the folksy nature of the guy.

WAGNER; Not only that, but it's a testament to the affection the staff had for him. I don't think they would have done that with a David Hearst or a Chandler!

RENSE: Talk to me about the personality of the place. Looking through the photo morgue gives me a sense of it---ramshackle desks, and the walls seem to be covered with jokes, graffiti, phone numbers, pin-up girls, calendars. You weren't there, but you probably might as well have been. Put me there.

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This is what must have passed for a formal staff meeting within the brick walls of the Daily News City Room, early 50s.
(photo courtesy UCLA special collections.)

WAGNER: It was a dusty, dirty office. There was a lot of noise coming up from the street. In the summertime, it was damn hot in there. All the windows were open, which means there was more noise in the summer. There was a lot of banter among the staff. In the early days, before there was a hunt for communists, there was a lot of discussion about politics. A lot of guys wore their politics on their sleeve. They loved to play practical jokes on each other. The librarian kept their booze in their morgue, and they paid 25 cents a shot for whiskey.

RENSE: Where did you get that info?

WAGNER: I got that from a couple of different sources: Harry and Delmar Watson.

RENSE: I asked everybody I interviewed, but no one remembered it being in the library. All my life, my dad, who worked there as a sportswriter, said "the library was a bar, and drinks were a quarter."

WAGNER: That's very true. So there was drinking right there on the job, which was not unusual for any newspaper at that time, of course. There was a fair mix of women and men on the job. There was a tendency to, how should I put this. . .They loved to find ways to make fun of the Los Angeles elite; the power-brokers. And I think more than anything, they took special glee in how they could bring down a power-broker. And I don't mean bring down with investigative journalism or a big expose or whatever. It was almost as if there was a competition among a lot of the reporters and staff, "How can we embarrass so-and-so today? What can we do to humble this guy? This arrogant son-of-a-bitch." So if they caught some city official picking his nose, I can assure you that that photograph would be in the paper.

Cliff Wesselman, I think, was an expert at being Johnny-on-the-spot and finding these poor guys in the worst way and photographing them. He also had a knack for being at crime scenes where he would find cops doing shady things. One of my favorite stories is that there was a shooting in an alley, and he was only a block away, and heard it on the radio. He drove up and saw two cops standing over a body, and he took a quick photo and went off to another assignment. That's before anyone else got there. He came back an hour later, when all the press was there, and he looked down at the body, which was still laying there, and in the body's hand was a gun! He thought, "I don't remember seeing that gun." So he developed his two plates, and sure enough, there's one shot of the guy without the gun, and the other one with. And they published them side by side!

And those are the things they liked to do. Of course, nothing ever came of it. I'm sure the cops were suspended.

RENSE: For a week, maybe. . .

WAGNER: Yeah. And the guy who was the chief then banned the DN from the pressroom for a while, but that didn't last very long. So that was the attitude that those guys had---to find the best way to drop the hierarchy a notch.

RENSE: Proper journalistic attitude!

WAGNER: You don't see that too much anymore.

RENSE: No, and you can't admit to it, either. Even if it's out there. Anyhow, getting back to the personality of the joint, looking through the photographs, there's a great shot of a copyboy sitting at his desk holding a dead rat by the tail. A great shot of one of the Watson brothers faking the D.T.'s. A great shot of Lu Haas with about fifty press passes on---lots of gag shots.

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Daily News copyboy Pat Foley displays four- legged rim-rat, date unknown. Note the city room wall, used variously for displaying amusing photos, taking notes, and jotting phone numbers.
           (photo courtesy of UCLA Special Collections.)

WAGNER: I think that's pretty typical of all the papers. They did a lot of gag photos then. One interesting character they had was named Ted LeBerthon, and he's in the book. He was what you'd call today the minority affairs reporter. His job was to hang around the Lincoln Heights Jail and Lincoln Heights Court---night court, back then---and just record the folks that came in and out of jail and court. Inevitably, there were a lot of blacks and latinos that went through there, and he started writing about their stories. He was largely responsible, in the late '30s, for writing about blacks and latinos, and their issues. And he had his personal phonograph record player that he'd haul from his apartment, over to the newsroom, and put up on the windowsill, and play black jazz all night. There were a lot of staffers who loved it, and a lot who hated it. After a while, he started writing more about religion issues, and I don't know if he became mentally ill or unbalanced or what, but he pretty much became a religious fanatic, and that's all he wrote. According to one staffer I talked to, he began to see the face of Jesus Christ in every homeless man that ever walked in looking for a handout, and they eventually had to let him go. But for a brief, shining moment for a five year period, he was the only man in town who took the time to write about the downtrodden and the folks that live on the fringes.

RENSE: Unless it wound up in Matt Weinstock's column, as he was always quoting people from Skid Row, or relating anecdotes about thd downtrodden. Which brings up the type of people who worked at the DN. I am struck from what I've read and seen that this was a place that attracted free spirits.

WAGNER: The business then attracted a lot of talented guys that didn't quite mesh with mainstream. Newspapers suited them fine. You had a lot of reporters that never wrote a word, who were always on the beat, phoning in the stuff. Their talent lay not even in reporting, but in schmoozing, and being able to tell stories, and hear stories and pick up whatever they could pick up. A perfect example was Pat O'Hara, with the DN in '40s and '50s. He was a storyteller. I don't think he had much education, and he followed his wife around from city to city, kind of a layabout, but a great dresser, and spoke with a clipped accent, and he had an affectation about him. Probably couldn't write a lick, but he had this ability to get information out of people. And I think the business, especially then, attracted those kind of folks. (For more on Pat O'Hara, see the Q&A with Jack Jones.)

One thing about the DN that the other papers would not permit, is they allowed experimentation in writing. They allowed you to flower as a writer. They allowed you to make mistakes. They allowed you to do things that you would not see in other papers. And I think it afforded that opportunity to everybody. And I think that's one reason that Boddy was so loved by the staff. I know the city desk, and the M.E. down there let them do that, but it was really an edict from Boddy. "Let them do what they want," was his philosophy.

RENSE: As it should be! When you look at the newspaper, aside from the unique physical appearance of it---the color, the six columns---it's friendly! You've got the unpretentious cursive letters in the masthead, not some big gothic proclamation, like the Los Angeles Examiner.

WAGNER: Yeah, it was softer. It was reader-friendly, in terms of how you picked up the paper and looked at it and read it. They used a lot of seraph, lot of italics. In addition to its peach color, it was kind of folksy. You knew when you saw all the newspapers at the newspaper stand, you could pick out the DN right away.

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When L.A. was a four-newspaper town. Five, if you count the Hollywood Citizen-News. (photo courtesy of UCLA special collections)

They weren't afraid to use art, either. The Times was very conservative. The Examiner was better, but mostly on their inside pages. But the DN liked to play art big, even if it was lousy art. So the photographers there had free reign in what to do and how to handle that art, and they had input---Lu Haas would tell you that---in how the art should be played. So you had a very interesting style, and a very interesting presentation. Also, it was a little bit looser, in terms of presentation, in terms of topography, than the Times and Examiner. The Times and Examiner, if you look at their front pages, are more dense. There is a little bit more air in the front page of the DN, which makes it easier to read, and more reader-friendly. And that's something that wasn't appreciated by any papers until the '70s and '80s, when there was more attention paid to design.

RENSE: So it was ahead of its time, graphically. Was the emphasis on softer type faces and larger art part of a deliberate effort to be reader-friendly?

WAGNER: I couldn't say for certain whether that was deliberate. I don't think back in those days that presentation was much on their minds. The newspaper is really the only other outlet other than radio. So just as in content, I believe the presentation was. . .we'll give the readers what they need to see. It's our paper, and they can take it or leave it kind of thing. We don't have that attitude now, 'cause we're scrambling for every reader we can get. But in those days, a newspaper was the only place you'd get news, so whatever you give the reader, that's what they're going to take.

But I do think it is a reflection of Boddy's personality, his folksiness and personable demeanor. And I think that in itself is important. I think it's more a reflection of him than any marketing effort, so to speak.

RENSE: Did he have anything to do with the look of the paper, the peach color, the size? I've never heard of a paper that size---larger than a tabloid, smaller than a broadsheet.

WAGNER: Well, he did do that for the paper to stand out on the stands. He wanted a bastard measure, and something that would stand out from the stack. If you look at the Illustrated Daily News from the '20s, under Cornelius Vanderbilt, it's a vastly differently designed paper. I think that design stayed until the early '30s, until the one that we all know and love came along in '33 or something. He had a new general manager that came in then, and a new managing editor, and the UP offices came into the building at that point. I also think that when they absorbed the Record in '36, they did a redesign of sorts then as well. Again, I don't know the motive behind it.

RENSE: The Daily News absorbed The Record?

WAGNER: Yeah. It became the Post-Record in '33. The Daily News took over the operation in '36. I think the Post-Record became the afternoon edition of the Daily News, and they combined to a twenty-four-hour operation in 1940.

RENSE: Did a lot of Record guys join the Daily News?

WAGNER: Some did, yes.

RENSE: So there was a direct line of succession in being the liberal newspaper because The Record was a liberal paper.

WAGNER: Well, you'll notice that not too many DN staffers went to the Herald-Express or the Examiner when the DN folded in 1954. They went to the Times or they went to the Mirror. And most of them went to the Mirror, because that was the liberal-leaning paper after the DN died. Same thing with the Record. The Record employees went to the DN. But I don't think any of them went to the Examiner or Herald-Express. They were very principled reporters. They were not about to work for a Hearst newspaper, if they could help it. If they could not get a job at the DN, they went to another city.

RENSE: So there's the issue of loyalty. Not only were staffers loyal to the Daily News, but readers were loyal to it, too, correct? More so than other papers?

WAGNER: I don't think the Times garnered the loyalty that the DN did. I think the Herald-Express was kind of a free-for-all. I think the Examiner had a very loyal readership. Well, they were the ying to the DN's yang, I guess. As you know, the Times was not a very good newspaper until Otis Chandler took it over, so it did not garner loyalty among a lot of readers.

RENSE: The stereotype is gray, self-serious, Republican.

WAGNER: Yeah. And they did a lot of omission. I mean, there is a lot of omission of news. They would not go to the extremes that the Herald-Express or the Examiner went to, with these right-wing Republican causes, or what I think were fascist causes. They just simply ignored stories.

RENSE: As the old expression goes, if it wasn't in the Times, it didn't happen?

WAGNER: Exactly.

RENSE: Which brings up the communism issue. Various people would refer derisively or half-kiddingly to "those commies" at the Daily News. Being a communist or having sympathy for communist ideas in the thirties and forties was very different from what it came to connote in the fifties and sixties. It was more or less equivalent to super-idealistic liberalism.

WAGNER: Not only that, but it was born out of the Depression, where people were grasping at a lot of different alternatives to what they saw as democracy failing, with the stock market crash. So it was not unusual for young idealistic college students to embrace communism as an alternative. You have to remember that before Stalin's murderous rampage was known, he was considered a hero among liberals, as saving this huge country and making it work. Of course, it wasn't until later that they found out that was all horseshit. When you see the witchhunts in the late '40s and early '50s in newspapers, that was because of activities these guys did in the '30s and the pre-war era. They weren't embracing communism in the late '40s and early '50s. They had reached middle age and maturity and had abandoned those things.

RENSE: Which brings up a very sad part of the Daily News history, the "red-baiting" of Darr Smith and Vern Partlow. Partlow wrote that wonderful song about reporters (see the Q&A with Helen Brush Jenkins.) A fascinating and terrible chapter.

WAGNER: Yeah. It didn't serve the DN very well, that this liberal newspaper fired its two reporters for communist leanings, especially on scant evidence, and the fact that there was never any discussion between those two about communism at all, in the newsroom, or in the news columns! Yet they felt compelled to (fire them.) It's interesting to point out that it had nothing to do with Boddy, who had essentially retired at that time. It had everything to do with Smith, who was a businessman. And who feared that if there's a communist taint at the DN, he would lose advertising. So purely on business principles, he wanted to see these guys fired.

RENSE: He was ahead of his time! He should have been CEO of Enron or something.

WAGNER. Yeah, yeah.

RENSE: I was amazed to see that it was Larry Fowler who defended these guys; that it was Fowler against managing editor Phil Garrison. Garrison wanted them fired, and Fowler and Lu Haas were defending them on behalf of the Newspaper Guild. The weird thing is that years later, when I worked at the Valley News (which later changed its name, ironically, to the Daily News), Fowler was running the place, and Garrison was night slot man. . .Well, what I'm most interested in doing with my article and the website is celebrating the grunts here. To me, the Daily News was a real newspaper, and these were real newspaper people. A newspaper should be un-air-conditioned, and full of smoke, and sweaty in the summer and too cold in winter, and phonograph records should play hot jazz on the windowsill at midnight, and you should be able to get shots of booze in the library. . .

WAGNER: What's sad to me---sad isn't the right word. What's mystifying to me is that pretty much these guys are forgotten. And they're the ones that recorded L.A. history! And they were out there every day rubbing elbows with a lot of different characters in Los Angeles, from city and county government to all the mobsters out there, and the Hollywood elite, what-have-you. They were there. Literally rubbed elbows with them---they were very friendly with these folks. They told some great stories that they don't get credit for now.

RENSE: The Daily News feels like L.A. to me. Do you get that sense? More than all the other papers of the time?

WAGNER: Oh, definitely! I don't think any of them compare to how the DN approached newsgathering, and I think the reason is that they looked at it as fun. I don't want to trivialize it or minimize it by saying they looked at it as a lark, but they had a lot of fun. And they found ways to make their stories fun. And if it meant stretching the facts, if it meant being a little dishonest with their sources, so be it. Because the idea was to tell a great story, and no one's going to read the paper, and the DN will not be distinctive, unless you tell a great story. So if it meant some liberal interpretations of the facts, that's the way it was.

RENSE: But that was also true of the Examiner and Herald-Express, correct?

WAGNER: Yes. But remember, DN reporters had the freedom to write. They had the freedom to take chances, to be creative in their writing, to take chances and to try new styles. The other papers didn't have that opportunity, especially the Examiner and the Times. You never see that there. So not only did you get these guys saying "why don't we approach the story this way. . ." but "let's write it this way, as well." So they're thinking about an angle out in the field, and they're thinking about "well, here's the kind of writing style I want to employ when I get back to the newsroom, or this is the kind of writing style I want the rewrite man to employ."

RENSE: So when you're talking about playing a little fast and loose with the facts, you're talking about from a human interest point of view, certainly not in terms of manipulating the news for monetary or political purposes, right?

WAGNER: Oh, not at all. Right. I'm talking about little things, like ugly girls become beautiful.

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