Thursday, September 5, 2013

to Otto Goldschmid, December 31, 1941




Murray was getting his Masters at the Columbia School of Journalism when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. With the exodus of journalists to the army, he was hired within days at CBS Radio, and soon after by both Time Magazine and the New York Herald Tribune. He was 25. He kept all three jobs, with Rosa attending his Columbia lectures and taking notes, until he collapsed from exhaustion.

Dear Otto—

The book [I Had a Dog and a Cat, by Czech playwright Karel ńĆapek, who later wrote R.U.R., from whence came the word “robot.”] came last night and it almost made us late to the University of Washington – NYU basketball game in Madison Square Garden. …

The card wasn’t half bad either. Isn’t it a reserve print of one of the pictures you had in your folio? It certainly looks familiar. But how did you manage to get the light effect around the bell? … Your mother’s card with the picture of the mountain [to Tacoma natives, “the mountain” inevitably means Mt. Rainier] is another beaut. We have been showing it to the New York natives so they can get an idea of what good scenery really is. 

Now, before asking some more questions, here is a bit of dope about us. About three weeks ago I was in Brooklyn, giving a talk to a high school journalism class. The Columbia school of journalism sent me to pinch-hit for a prof who didn’t want to have to make the talk. While I was out I received word from the school that a fellow named Paul White wanted to see me right away. They gave me the address. It turned out to be the Columbia Broadcasting Studio and Paul White was the head of the Columbia news service. He asked me if I’d like to try out for the staff. I said sure. So I worked eight hours that night and I’ve been working there ever since. 

I’m still going to school—right now it’s vacation—but this seems to be a permanent job. I’ll probably keep working on here in June. Now I’m working 36 hours a week (basic beginners pay is $50 for a 40-hour week) and most of my hours come in the early morning. My duties are simple. I rewrite news from the AP, UP and INS tickets and put it in shape to be broadcast. Four days a week I do five minute “shows” for 6 a.m., 6:55 a.m. and the opening news summary and closing news summary on the morning “News of the World” program, in which Columbia calls in its correspondents. It is transcribed for the Pacific Coast and I don’t know what time the stations at home use it. But it is the morning stuff that you hear on the CBS stations. On Mondays, I write a full fifteen minute network show. It is fun to write that one as there is room for all sorts of background.

The staff here is really wonderful. There is quite a bit of pressure on the boys as they prepare the news shows, so they have developed a real esprit. (Actually, however, there isn’t as much real pressure here as there sometimes was on the Washingtonian on nights of big sports events when the phone just went crazy.)

Elmer Davis--an all-grey man
If I recall, you are great admirer of Elmer Davis. He is really a remarkable fellow. The first couple days I was here I talked to him quite a bit—that was before I found out who he was—and then I was a bit scared to butt in. But he hasn’t any airs and now I chin with him the same as the rest of the guys. He’s a walking encyclopedia. I never saw such a memory for dates and place names, and his dry humor is just as good off the air as on. He’s an all-grey man—grey hair, grey suits, grey spats—except for the black horn rimmed glasses which look remarkably out of place. William Shirer [author of Berlin Diary] was around here the first few days but is taking some time off. He doesn’t seem to have half the depth of Davis. Ed Murrow, formerly of London, is a real boy. He definitely knows what’s playing. 

Murrow and Shirer, before the rift that ended their friendship
One thing around here keeps bothering me. It’s hearing some familiar radio voice and, looking up, discovering that it belongs to a human being and not a loudspeaker. I get a jar from that everytime it happens, which is often—for the boys wander around practicing all the time.

Rose has been keeping very busy, too. Now she’s going to be more so. She’s sending in her credits to City College of New York and will soon be starting school there. She’s tickled pink at the prospect. She is also down as a blood donor for defense, but I don’t know when the doctors plan to drain her, and neither does she. 

School work for me hasn’t been terribly tough. Most of the class is without real newspaper experience, and I have quite an edge—even if my work was on nothing better than the Washie. In addition, I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing for small magazines with Howard Daniel, our Australian friend. We have an article on Reinhard Heydrick coming up (under Howard’s byline) in the February edition of Who, and have had a lot of stuff published in the Dutch publicity magazine, Knickerbocker

Most of the articles we wrote before the war were based on the interesting thesis that Anglo-American air power in the Pacific would keep the Japanese from trying anything fancy! They make most interesting reading today. I hope that Knickerbocker readers are not in the habit of saving their old magazines. But the editor has forgiven us for our mistakes and is still accepting stuff from $20 to $30 an article. 

Now that I have a job and there is more money coming into the Morgan coffers, we are getting around a bit more. Rosa and I went to see a play, Angel Street, on Monday night and it was really good. ["Angel Street" was the American name for the the British play "Gaslight," later made into the eponymous film. Vincent Price played the devious Mr. Manningham the night Murray and Rosa saw it.] A couple of weeks back we saw the Ballet Theatre. Next in line for us will probably be Macbeth and Watch on the Rhine. We are also contemplating an opera, but just which one we’re not sure.
And that brings us back to you. How is the war affecting your activities? If I remember, you have an Austrian passport, so you haven’t had to turn in your cameras. Right? Is Shelton blacked out, and if so, does that effect your hours of work? And what effect will the war have on pulp anyway. Are you a war product? (Lord, I sound like I was conducting an interview.)

We had a nice letter from Phyllis a couple days after the war started. She sounded slightly shell-shocked, but seemed to think it all very interesting. It is hard to realize out here in New York. It seems as far away as it was in Europe—until I see in the Washie about kids I knew who were killed at Pearl Harbor or read flashes from here about subs just off the coast.
Well, Otto, I guess that I had better bring this rather incoherent set of questions and answers to a close. … We both send love to your mother and hello to everyone,

Murray and Rosa