RENSE: Whenever you hear Los Angeles newspaper history discussed the Examiner, the Herald-Express, and the Times are invariably mentioned. You would almost think that the Daily News never existed---
WEEKS: I know. And yet newspaper people in those days felt that was the newspaper to work for, because you had a lot more freedom to write what you thought, you know. When I was a kid and got my first job, I was in Albuequerque, and I got word that I had a job here, and we thought, boy, that's a newspaperman's newspaper. It had that national reputation. First of all, there was very little dictation from the top as to what you could write, except for the usual moral prescriptions and so on. The political slant was left to the editors and the editorial page. Which wasn't always true.
I remember at the old L.A. Times, you never saw anything critical of the Republican administration when it was in, but boy, the Democrats couldn't get their names in the paper.
RENSE: I like what you said about it being a newspaperman's newspaper. My father (sportswriter Art Rense) always talked about it fondly, and just out of nostalgia. He gave me the idea that this was a very special work environment. I'm coming to understand this a little, I think, through Rob Wagner's book ("Red Ink White Lies") and through talking to various Daily News veterans.
WEEKS: One thing I would like to say, off-the-top, is that the gender gap closed at the DN from the very beginning, at least from the time I got there in 1946. Helen Brush was already a photog, Sara Boynoff was a chief rewrite person---one of the top---and Mary Kitano, a Japanese-American woman, and the war was just barely over, was in the library. And let's see, who else. . .Carol Phinney on science, Uarda Winton on the DA's beat. As usual, the paper had women in the society pages, but we had women in drama and elsewhere, where nobody else did. Further, we at least got an opening into the racial gap. We had copyboys when I was there who were black and Mexican-American, so the racial thing was closed over very early. As a matter of fact, I was beginning to write stories about racial problems in L.A. then. You must say that it had an enlightened attitude about social issues, compared with the other papers, I think. The other papers were still running crime and corruption a lot, and the staid old Times was seeing that the Republicans didn't get a bad word in the paper---I wouldn't use a political party name, I would say the conservative side of the fence versus the liberal.
It really made for a deep sigh of relief to go to work for a newspaper that let you practice what you're taught about journalism, and that is, "just the facts, ma'am," you know.
RENSE: I've been looking through the photo files at the Young Library at UCLA, where the Daily News morgue is---something like 35,000 photos. When you said, "just the facts, ma'am," well. . .I just spent a few days going through about sixty isses that they have at the library. The actual newspapers from the last couple months of the paper's existence. I felt like hell every time I turned a page, and it crumbled a little more. Anyhow, I got the impression the paper was not at its best in those final months, but still I was able to get a sense of the style and feeling of the thing---how direct, no-nonsense, and how informative it was, yet how much personality it had. There were great columnists: Ned Cronin, Matt Weinstock---
WEEKS: Andwe carried a syndicated labor column by Victor Riesel, who was pretty much of a right-wing writer, so we did have a divesity of opinion among the columnists. After Manchester Boddy left, we began seeing the end coming, you know. You could sense it. It was not holding it's own when Clinton McKinnon (came along.) He was preserving his assets to the point where we didn't get severence pay. He got $25,000 for the subscription list, and I think $25 a year, something like that. He got some money to sell his stuff to the L.A. Times, in exchange for quote, writing a column, quote. There was a suit filed. Lu Haas has a lot of information about that.
But the paper had the sprightly influence of letting a little humor out. For instance, when we wrote the weather story, we absolutely had to quote the day's forecast accurately, but we could gag it up otherwise. I remember writing the story once and saying uh, this guy approached the house of the weatherman, and he was going to elope with his daughter, and he hollered up the back, "Is the coast clear, honey?" And a deep voice from inside responded. . ."Clear today, sunny this afternoon." But it was an excellent example of being able to write a story that was funny but stick close to the facts.
RENSE: As it should be! Why be so serious about everything?
WEEKS: That's right. And on the stories now, obviously the thing that sold newspapers was crime, corruption and sex, but it was entirely different than you see nowadays. It probably wasn't as explicit as it is nowadays. It's like going to the movies. Today's movies are pretty explicit, but the old-fashioned were, I thought, were a hell of a lot sexier. They were romantic, had love interest, and the sex behind it was obvious, but not clinically demonstrated. I worked in the Albuquerque Journal before I came to L.A. and I had to revise my views about making a story sing. You know, every blonde was either comely or she was lovely. She never was ugly.
RENSE: It was that way everywhere, pretty much, wasn't it?
WEEKS: I guess that's right, yeah. That, generally, was the tone of all the newspapers. You certainly could see sex in stories, but it wasn't explicit. Crime was the same way. You didn't tell where the guts spilled out, but you told that the Black Dahlia had been mutilated, or whatever. . .
RENSE: The Herald-Express was as sensationalistic as can be, correct?
WEEKS: Yeah, even in the later years, they were inclined to get the crime and corruption right up front, and it was all rather factual news, whereas the Daily News permitted us to look at social issues. We went into racial issues, social issues, unemployment. We could plow into statistics and look at the depth of the social issues.
RENSE: Why was the paper peach-colored?
WEEKS: I don't know, but I think it was peach because every newspaper wanted to have some splash on front. It was probably cheaper to put it on the front page. And there was a little gag about it, because Manchester Boddy grew peaches! And it was a great producing plant, the Daily News Peach. You still may find it in the nurseries, I don't know. I had one in my back yard in Pasadena, and it produced like the dickens!
RENSE: Did Boddy invent it?
WEEKS: Sure. It was his. He probably had a patent on it. I know it was in the catalogues as "Daily News Peach." There was also a woman I worked with at the Rand Corp. who grew Daily News peaches, and thirty years after the paper had folded, she brought me, as a farewell gift, a bag of Daily News peaches.
RENSE: My dad used to talk about the ad campaign, "Read the Peach." Then, after WWII, Boddy brought back the colored front page (absent to save money during the war) with the campaign, "The Peach is Back." Do you remember any of the "peach" ad campaigns?
WEEKS: Read the Peach? It probably was there, but I didn't see it. Newspapermen don't pay much attention to the ads--- when they ought to, because that's where their paycheck comes from!
RENSE: Newspaper ad campaigns are infamously lame, anyhow.
RENSE: In looking through the photos, I was expecting to see a lot of lifeless portraits of people who were around a long time ago, belonging to another era. I had the opposite experience. The personalities of Sarah Boynoff, the Saldana brothers, Lu Haas, and so many others jumped right out of the picture. Even when they were not mugging, or posing. There was one reporter triumphantly holding up a dead rat---
WEEKS: I think that's true. I think the personality of the paper would show up in the darnedest places. I mean, the photos and the stories we covered. The other day I found out that Helen Brush is a neighbor of mine. We went to (city editor) Aaron Dudley's funeral together and I had to do the obit---er, eulogy. She had a scrapbook that I swear was so heavy that my old back could hardly carry it. It was just full of everything she did at the DN and obviously you can tell by the pictures and accompanying stories, the nature of it.
We went on assignment together about a month or so ago, when the Christopher Columbus replica of the Nina was around. I got her to go aboard with me and sail up to Oxnard overnight, and we did a picture story for the Stockton Record, where Rob Wagner works. I like to mention that I started out at $5 a week, and now I get $75 a month writing for the Record. Two and a half times my beginning salary! I'm writing a column of memoirs and much about the newspaper business.
WEEKS: It came about because I'd talked to Rob when he'd written that book ("Red Ink White Lies: The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles Newspapers, 1920-1962.) He asked what I'm doing, and he was a features editor, and he said what are you writing? So I ended up with a column once a month, the first Tuesday, in this section they call Vintage, which is a euphemism for old farts, of course. And I have about 700 words. It's basically stories about covering Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen and my own entry into the newspaper business in Albuquerque. And I wrote about my coverage of Kennedy's inauguration, when I worked in Washington as a correspondent. But basically, a lot of my stories come from the Daily News. My favorite one with Helen is when she and I went up to cover Chessman. The Red Light Bandit. Do you remember that name?
RENSE: Sure. Caryl Chessman.
WEEKS: Right. I got a call one night. He was due to be executed the next morning at ten o' clock. I got a call from a woman who was crying and sobbing. She admitted that she was his ex-wife. The Daily News, boy, was going to milk it dry, I'm sure. So the city desk said get a hold of her, we'll fly her to SF tonight, and of course, we all knew that they wouldn't let her in to see him, because she wasn't related. But we flew up there, took her, anyway. That night, even before we got to SF, we found out that his execution had been postponed. There had been a reprieve. So we went out and had a couple of highballs at the Top of the Mark. She seemed like sort of a country girl, and was really enjoying it. The next morning, we went to San Quentin, and I had an interview with Chessman at ten o'clock. But the woman and Helen couldn't go in, they sat in the car. But Berniece Freeman, crime reporter for the Chronicle or Examiner, obviously had a leak from the warden, came driving up alongside, and said, "Are you the ex-Mrs. Chessman?" And she started to say yes, and Helen shifted into gear and drove out at top speed. And the gal took on behind her. And they went all through Marin County, through the orange groves up and down, and Helen couldn't shake her. Finally, the gal tapped her on the shoulder, and said, "Helen, let me drive." And they shook her right away! Helen says, "My God, where did you learn to drive?" And she said, "Chess taught me." Great story. I couldn't use it in the paper, however.
RENSE: Because. . .
WEEKS: Because it was about me, rather than the story. We didn't do much first-person stuff in those days, unless you were writing a column.
RENSE: Have you written a lot of memoirs?
WEEKS: Yeah, I've done quite a bit, mostly for my grandchildren, and it's about my experience. I wrote about how I got into race-writing. I did get my interest in writing abour racial issues because I walked to school with a kid when I was twelve years old who was black. We were just brand-new residents of New Mexico. And my mother stopped me one day, and said, "Paul, who is that boy you're walking home from school with?" "Oh, that's Johnny Lewis." She said, "Do you know he's" and I'm sure she said, "nigger." And I said, "Yeah, I guess he is." "Well," she says, "I don't care, but what would the neighbors think?" So I discovered that my mom had clay feet, too.My mother's use of "nigger" was probably handed down from being raised in Illinois by her mother, who was from Tennessee. So Johnny Lewis stuck in my mind. About a year ago, I was writing a story. One of the questions that my granddaughter posed for a class she was writing was "why did you get interested in racial things?" And I think, well, I interviewed Martin Luther King---I interviewed five people who were assassinated -- Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, John and Bobby Kennedy---and Lincoln Rockwell, the racist. . .well after the Daily News. I started to think, but who started me? And I thought of Johnny Lewis. And I knew there were a lot of Johnny Lewises in this world, and I knew the guy that was a labor guy, the guy who was a musician, and so forth. So I took a break from my story that day, got my copy of the Times out, got my cup of coffee, and there was Johnny Lewis, a major story on the obit page! John Lewis, famous composer, had died---head of the Modern Jazz Quartet.
RENSE: Really! What a story!
WEEKS: And that was the kid! I knew this was the one, because the obit told of his upbringing in Albuquerque, and told of his going through junior high and high school and college (where I went.) I can't imagine the miracle of discovering that right in the middle of thinking about it.
RENSE: Well, that raises all those kinds of questions. . .
WEEKS: I'm pretty much of a non-believer. It was just accidental. . .And let's see, trying to think of DN news stories for you. . .
RENSE: What brought you to L.A.?
WEEKS: I came on Sept. 7, 1946, and the reason I got there was that in the army I worked for public relations in Albuquerque, and one of my last PR officers became managing editor at the DN. Phil Garrison.
RENSE: I knew Phil. I worked for him at the Valley News, which became the current Daily News.
WEEKS: Oh, did you? Well, Phil and I got very close. We used to get loaded together when we were in the army together. And I told him, boy, I really want to get out of this small town as soon as I can after the war. And I had two opportunities. Another PR officer I had worked in advertising in New York. And both of them wanted me to go to work, and I could have made a much better living in New York, but I preferred to be a newspaperman, and I also figured I made more money because I live longer without ulcers, you know? I don't think I could have stood PR in the TV and motion picture business. That kind of PR really brings on the ulcers. Anyway, I got a wire from Phil one day after the way, saying "How would you like a job? I'm now assistant managing editor and we have an opening. We'd like to have you come out. I can't promise if you're going to stay here, but I think you will." I worked for about six months, and I loved my first city editor, Frank Rogers, and then I got to Jim Felton, and he didn't like me at all. And I didn't like him, because one day he assigned me to write a story about a crippled guy. Somebody else had written about a handicapped guy with no legs who was a beggar in Pasadena, and he got arrested, and Felton told me to "make it funny." And that really hit me between the eyes. He wanted me to rewrite somebody else's story, and make it funny. I just couldn't believe that the Daily News would want me to write a story like that. So I had found out later that I was number two on Felton's firing list, but thank God I didn't know that, because I stayed long past his regime. And the DN really lived up to what I thought it would be.
RENSE: What did you do about that story?
WEEKS: I didn't write it. I just refused to write it. And I don't know what the hell happened. I don't know if somebody else rewrote it. That ended it for me. I just said, hey, I can't do it.
RENSE: Tell me about the atmosphere, the personality of the place, the building. . .
WEEKS: It was an old car storehouse. It was a place that some guy who was an automobile dealer had cars in it. And of course, now it's in the garment district. I've been there once or twice, years ago. But it was an old brick structure. I have a picture of it when they were putting out a fire there, and it gives a pretty good idea of what the building looked like. One of course, that you already have, is the one you had in the Herald, mourning over the departure of the DN, with Dudley and Jack Jones and me with our heads bowed over a little casket of the DN. You used it at the time of the 25th anniversary (Note: the interviewer covered the 25th anniversary demise of the DN for the L.A. Herald Examiner in 1980.)
RENSE: Tell me about a big story you covered.
RENSE: Where the Press Club was?
WEEKS: Yeah, where the press club was.
RENSE: Your recall is quite amazing.
WEEKS: Well, those were such glory days for me that I've kept them. I remember those better than what I had for lunch. I'm 81. I just got a birthday party from my brother. He's 85, and he's a musician. Played with some big bands, and so on. And I had the recent band he played with and we had a jazz jam session in my back yard. And a column was written about it in the North County Times.
RENSE: What do you play?
WEEKS: I played the drums when I was a kid, but I don't play anything now. I quit when I got the job of sophomore reporter of the high school newspaper. My brother was the dean of music at Cal Poly and also played gigs in L.A. in Hollywood.
RENSE: So you were a general assignment reporter?
WEEKS: Yeah. One of the things I did, was I went to work for the Sunday paper they put out, a review of the week's news and all that (Note: this was an experiment done in the paper's last years, to boost circulation.) And then I was made assistant city editor for a while, and I didn't like that, because I much prefer to write than telling other people how to do it.
RENSE: Did you ride around in those great fire-engine-red Studebaker Commander "Daily News Radio Phone Cars?"
WEEKS: Nope. There was only one. All the photogs had (radio) connections, I think, but the Daily News Studebaker was one that we had at the office when reporters would go out. It was always available. One radio phone car. We'd take that radio-phone car in the night beat, and we'd sneak out to go to a restaurant for a meal, and leave (name omitted deliberately) on the city desk, so we could be in touch in case anything happened. (Same name) was the guy that once told somebody, when he read their story, "something like this is libelous---put it in the bottom of the story." I certainly want you to use that---at least not attributed to his name.
RENSE: And the library was a bar where drinks were a quarter? So my dad said. . .
WEEKS: I think that was before my time, or it might have been my time. But what we used to do, there was one night a week when John Clark and I and other guys in cityside, we had a hotplate back there, and we'd cook steaks! We had a ritual of having one meal a week, back in the library. And I don't know, we probably had booze, I don't remember. That was insignificant in those days, it was so readily available.
RENSE: Can you describe the neighborhood where the Daily News was? Helen (Jenkins) told me there was a whorehouse next door.
WEEKS: Across the street was a gasoline station and a sandwich shop, and a Catholic church down the street. And then there was a hot dog stand on the other corner, and a Bank of America, and Don's Bar and Grill was a block away. I don't see where they'd have room for a whorehouse in that particular area. There were certainly enough whorehouses in town, but I don't think we had one readily available for the staff.
RENSE: Looking at the photos of the interior of the city room, it looks very utilitarian, functional. People were scrawling notes all over the walls, and so on.
WEEKS: Yeah. The first bank of rewrite was right across. . .the backs of the desks were right up against the city desk. Photo, assistant city editor, city editor. Across from that was Boynoff, me and John Clark for a long period. Then we had two other rows of three desks apiece for cityside reporters. So that gives you nine reporters there, and then we had one on the side, away from the windows, where Don Dwiggins sat, and he always had his earphones on, as if he was taking a story, but he was writing fiction for magazines. And then, of course, Phil Garrison and Charlie Judson---Judson's office was glass-enclosed, and behind that was another glass-enclosed office where Lee Payne sat. And of course, Laura McGalis was Judson's secretary. He had a succession of 'em, including Ruth Harvey (see photo at top of page) who he promoted to reporter. Everybody was mad about that, but by God, she worked like hell and got to be accepted. Anyway, those are the kind of stories that we could spend the day talking about.
RENSE: How popular was your sports columnist, Ned Cronin, in L.A.?
WEEKS: Oh, he was tops. He reminded me of an early-day version---and I thought better---than the guy who got such a reputation at the Times, Jim Murray. Ned had a sense of humor that was so delightful. Cronin, of course, I didn't know him very well. He was a big company man, while I was in the union group. And Ned did not mix well with cityside. He had a good staff of sports reporters that he mixed with well. He was quite heavy and died young. He just had a great sense of humor.
RENSE: Cronin, Matt Weintsock---I have the idea that the Daily News had the best columnists in town, even if it didn't have the biggest circulation.
WEEKS: I must agree with you, and I'm certainly biased, but nobody had the freedom write with the humor and sparkle that we did have at the DN. And Matt, I tell you, he is one of the people I'll always remember. He didn't write long essays. He wrote just a series of little incidents that he'd pick up, from Skid Row to Beverly Hills. He had no class distinctions in his anecdotes. I've got a couple of his books.
RENSE: He wound up writing a column in the Times, in the '60s, right? I remember reading it as a kid.
WEEKS: Yes, he did. I think he went to the Mirror first, and then the Times.
RENSE: Didn't you also go to the Mirror, after leaving the News?
WEEKS: Yes, I went to the Mirror from 1954 to 1962.
RENSE: I'm not clear on the evolution of the Mirror-News. Was the Daily News name bought by the Times and stuck on to "Mirror?"
WEEKS: Yeah, the Mirror became the Mirror-News when they bought the circulation list. And they picked up a couple of reporters, well, maybe more than that.
RENSE: Jack Smith?
WEEKS: He left the DN and went to the Times long before the rest of us. I think he left the DN to go to Carl Byoir in Hollywood for a while, and then got mixed up in this plan that an independent outfit had to put out suburban newspapers, and it collapsed pretty quickly. And then the Times picked him up, and he had a long and illustrious career with them. And he did a good job. He was very popular at the DN. He was a rewrite man with a great, well if you read his columns, you know he had a great sense of humor and a light touch. He was sort of a star on rewrite. He went to the Times on rewrite.
RENSE: Why was the Daily News always third and fourth, considering how good it was, editorially?
WEEKS: Well, it was sort of on a shoestring all the time. Boddy didn't invest his money in the newspaper. He put it into his botanical garden in La Canada, and his political campaign, and so forth. We were all disappointed that he ran against the only Democrat that probably had a real chance, and they had a smear campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas, as a "red," and so forth. And Manchester Boddy, of all people, should not have run against her. We were disappointed in that. In fact, Vern Partlow, the guy who was fired for being a communist and failing to admit it, he used to say that Manchester Boddy was a liberal who led liberal causes up dark alleys and knocked 'em off. Vern Partlow wrote a great ballad. He used to play guitar, and he used to play it at parties. And Helen Brush has the words, "Oh a newspaperman meets such interesting people/ It's wonderful to represent the press. . ."And it goes on like that, and it's wonderful.
RENSE: I had her sing it to me! You know, it sounded kind of familiar to me, and I'll bet my dad used to sing it once in a while.
WEEKS: I'll bet he did. She has all the words. I know it has several
verses about ugly women who got sent to the electric chair, and the pretty ones always got
off. . .That kind of thing.
WEEKS: When I first moved out here, I took a housekeeper's house behind a woman's mansion up in Ventura County, and I commuted 45 miles a day in an old Ford. Anyway, Garrison found me an apartment right in the same block where he had a triplex. Place where my wife and my first baby were. And we'd have dinners together and so-on, but finally, we drifted away, because he and his wife were rock-ribbed Republicans. And Paul, he says, you know what you are? You're a socialist, which is a communist with a wife and two children. So we could drink together and have a good time, and I could tell you stories. I was driving home with him one night from the Press Club in his big old, I think it was a Packard, I think he always had a Packard, and he ran into a parked car. I guess I was following him. And he hurt his nose, maybe broke it, and maybe had a rib or two broken. But he got out, and went to the door to apologize, and kept getting his card out to show 'em who he was, but his nose kept bleeding on it, so he kept throwing it down and getting out a new one.
RENSE: While you're reminiscing, what do you remember about my dad, if anything?
WEEKS: Art and I were not very close. He was in sports, wasn't he? I
liked him. He was a very congenial guy, and we were acquaintances, and we liked each
other. He was a very busy guy. He was well-liked at the paper. Everybody liked Art, but I
guess he was not an exhibitionist like a lot of us were. He was not out there, getting his
name out in front. Steadfast, dependable, and a joy to work with---a guy that everybody
liked to work with. A lot of guys had sick time off to get drunk occasionally, but I never
knew of Art having any problems. I never thought of him as anything as one of the real
yeoman in that department. He worked at anything, and did it, and it was respected.
WEEKS: One of the unfortunates in the closing of the DN was Pat O' Hara. He had covered the Lindberg kidnapping case back in New Jersey, I'll never forget it. Pat called everybody "darling" when he called us on the phone. He could spin a line from the D.A., tell a crime story like nobody could. But I always wondered about how many of the facts were straight, you know. But it wasn't anything that ever got him in trouble, that I know of. And there was an incident, one time, when somebody else was covering the Bud Gollum (story), who was accused of killing (his lover's) mother and father by blowing up a yacht in Newport Beach, and they got arrested and jailed, and of course, that was a big story at that time. And one time, Manchester Boddy tipped the city desk that he had absolutely good information that Beulah (the lover) was pregnant. And oh God, we got that story in the city room, and what are you going to do? That was about as libelous as you can get. Finally, I think we had one edition, "Beulah Pregnant" across the banner line. You know, she may well have been pregnant, but she sure wasn't pregnant when she got to trial. Because she was on trial for murder, she wasn't very likely to sue for libel at that point.
RENSE: Would you say that Boddy was the reason that writers and editors at the Daily News were given such freedom?
WEEKS: Yeah, I would imagine so. I think that Lee Payne was a good
interpreter of Boddy's views, because Payne stayed editor as long as I was there, and by
God, he sure backed up his reporters. Lee was tough, and iron, and he wouldn't show any
sense of humor or sympathy, but boy, underneath he'd support you. One time he assigned
Harry Watson and I to cover the annual Fiesta in Santa Barbara. He called us in, and he
said, "the reason I'm sendng you two guys is that I've always had trouble with
anybody staying sober up there, and I know you two guys will stay sober." So we went,
and we did a credible job. But Harry and I would get to sleep in the same room and night,
and at 2 in the morning, he woke me and said I've got an idea---I'm going to call Lee
Payne. I've got his home phone number. So he called Lee, and (drunken voice) "Lee
we're stayin' sober. . ." And Lee was so mad at getting awakened in the middle of the
night for a Harry Watson prank. Oh, that's a good story.
"Paul Weeks, unsung hero." Bill Boyarsky's fine piece on Paul's years as a civil rights reporter.
L.A. Times obit on Paul.
Paul's blog: http://www.typosgalore.blogspot.com/
Here is Paul's final column, which ran in The Stockton Record July 3.
MORE WEEKS COLUMNS:
Lawyer Fought for All Rights
I Tremble for 2006
Browsing The Internet for Baseball Memories
Remembering John Buggs
Flying the Nostalgic Skies
How a Man Was Given His Life Back
Recalling Days on the Brink of War
Remembering Charles Schulz
Skid Row Blues
Remembering Ralph Story
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copyright 2003, 2012 Rip Rense