Camera Rolls: 314:08-11
Sound Rolls: 314:05-06
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Stanley Gordon , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on January 30, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
OK. Tell me what you remember about the Great—the one thing that stands out in your mind about the Great Depression.
The one thing is that I missed the Great Depression entirely because I had a job that I loved at the . And I met the girl that I wanted to marry and was so busy pursuing her for the next four years that I wasn't aware that a depression was going on.
You said to me before that these years were like the best years of your life.
Oh, easily. It's a—the job at the—
I'm sorry. Could we stop for a second?
You told me that the Great Depression was, this was the best years of your life. So, if you could tell me again and use those, you know, words in your answer.
Yeah. Actually, was the Great Depression was the best years of my life, because I had a job that I loved at the and I had a girl I wanted to marry. And I pursued her for four years while the Depression was going on and didn't even notice the hard times.
OK, very good. Tell me about being hired for the, by the . Was that exciting to you?
It was the most important thing that ever happened to me. I was a nineteen year old kid, and the  was putting in a new library system in what they called the morgue, and I was hired to help in that. And I was delighted. A job with the was the best job in the world.
OK, great. What was, what was it, what did you like about the job? Tell me, was it...?
Oh, it was just like working for, for a family, because the newspaper was family-owned and family-operated. Harry Chandler took care of all of us on the staff like as though we were members of the family. His three sons worked right there with us, and his daughter Constance was a reporter. And we didn't have any—the pay was low, and we didn't, we didn't have a pension system or a health insurance or anything like that, but we didn't need it. Because if any of us were sick, our pay went on regardless of whether we were there or not. It's real paternalistic.
I'm sorry, could you tell me that again, because I interrupted you.
More about the, what it was like?
You started to say it was a very, very paternalistic?
It was just a beautiful place to work. I can't say enough about it. I just revere the memory of Harry Chandler—
—and love everybody in his family.
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] —my son.
But she was a student at the time.
So, OK, ready? OK. I want you to tell me a little bit about your, your job at, as it related to Upton Sinclair, what you were doing in 1934?
Sure, I'll tell you.
When do you want me to start?
Just start by telling me what the  asked you do to, how, how, I mean just, just describe what the job was as it related to Sinclair?
But are, are we going now?
Are we live? Oh, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
My job at the Times [Los Angeles Times] was editorial researcher
** in the library as well as—I started there as a file clerk, you know, filing stories, and then researching anything they would, that the editors asked me to. And at the time of Sinclair's campaign, they wanted to verify these quotes
** that came in from somebody. I didn't know where they got them, but they had this series of quotes from, taken from his novels. And they sent me over to the library.
OK, I'm going to stop you for a moment. Can you, when you're telling me this, when you're saying they took these quotes and they printed them, they reprinted them up in the , right?
Can you tell me that in your answer?
OK, try it again.
Right now, start?
The  was running a series of quotations from Sinclair's fiction in box, in boxes every day. And they sent me to the library to verify the fact that these quotes really appeared in, in the books that we mentioned.
So what did you do?
Went to the library and there's some of the quotes I couldn't find in the library. I went to his campaign headquarters hoping to find some of his books there, and I didn't find any of his books, but he came in, in person, so I got to shake hands with him and got a jolly greeting and went on my way.
OK. I want you to kind of tell me the end, the end of this again by saying, instead of saying, "he", tell me who "he" is.
Yeah, so you said, yeah, so say that you went to the headquarters to look for some books.
[ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
OK, we're ready.
I couldn't find some of these quotations at the public library, so I went to Upton Sinclair's campaign headquarters on Figueroa Street hoping to find the literature there that I needed. I couldn't find it, but while I was there, he, he came hurrying in. He'd been out somewhere on a campaign speech. I got a nice meeting with him and he gave me a big handshake and a smile and went on his way later.
What did you think about meeting Upton Sinclair?
Oh, I enjoyed meeting him, because I, I had read his books.
Oh, I'm sorry. Could you start again by saying, "I enjoyed meeting—" [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] Sorry, I was talking while you were talking. OK, now.
I enjoyed meeting Upton Sinclair because I had read his books and enjoyed them.
When you met him, did you feel like you were meeting a candidate for governor? Or did you feel like—did he have that kind of stature and feeling about him?
I couldn't see him, I couldn't see Upton Sinclair as a governor at all. To me he seemed to be a, a dreamer, but a nice man and a pleasant fellow to meet, but not to be governor.
Why? Do you remember why you felt that way?
I thought his EPIC, Upton Sinclair's EPIC—
Start again, OK?
I thought Upton Sinclair's EPIC scheme was too far-fetched. We already had the Roosevelt program in effect and it was working. And—but Sinclair's scheme just didn't interest me.
Did you feel that it could be dangerous for the state of California, that it could cause, start causing more problems or did you just feel it wasn't, wasn't workable? What, what's that? Just one moment.
OK, I asked you about whether you Upton Sinclair's plan would work, and you told me what you—
Well, I thought Upton Sinclair's plan would, was just too far-fetched, and it would be dangerous for California. And he, as a person he was a nice man, but he just didn't seem to me to be a governor.
And why did you feel this way?
Well, for one reason, I suppose I was brainwashed in a nice way by my long-term work in the .
And what was the position on Sinclair?
Well, they were opposing him with everything they had.
Do you know why the was so much in opposition to Sinclair?
Because the in those days was a house organ for the Republican party.
OK. And—so that was know [sic] by everybody? That, that it was a, that it was a very—that it was a house organ for the Republicans?
Oh, yes it—the, the was famous for its Republican conservatism. And every reader of the  knew it, and they didn't expect to see any Democratic propaganda in the .
And you were telling me that you, you saw Merriam come to the  once?
Governor Merriam used to come to visit people in the  editorial room. I'd—I'd met him there more than once.
And why do you think, why was Merriam coming over to the ? What do you think?
Almost every politician came into the city room with the  one time or another, but he didn't appear there regularly.
You had said, and I don't know if this is something, that you thought that he used to get advice from the , or get some, consult with them on certain positions, and...
I don't know why he was there, but I'm sure he talked to Kyle Palmer—
I'm sorry, can you start again by, by saying who "he" is? OK.
I don't know why Governor Merriam was in the city room, but we all assumed that he was there to see Kyle Palmer, who was our political editor, and sort of our Republican boss for Southern California.
OK, good. Tell me about those, again, about the articles, the boxes for, the quote from Sinclair. Did you think people, and, I mean, I know you went and you saw the quotes and you verified them, do you think people took them seriously? What did, what did you think about that?
I was amused by this whole series of Upton Sinclair quotes, because they came from his novels, and I just couldn't imagine that anybody would take this stuff seriously as relating to his political position.
Can you explain that a little bit more? I mean, if someone didn't know about this. Was it, what do you mean that they came from his novels?
But when they appeared on the , did it look like it was Sinclair speaking, or did you know that they were from characters from his novels?
Were you concerned about that at all? Did it seem like it was right or not right or just part of politics?
I thought it was funny that we were running these things, because I couldn't imagine people taking—
—taking them seriously.
We're on a break.
OK, let me tell you, remind you where we were. You were saying before that you couldn't believe that, when the ran these boxes, you couldn't believe that people actually took it seriously since it was quotes out of Sinclair's fiction. And then we ran out of film. So I need you to tell me that again. Ready? OK.
The  ran these quotes from Upton Sinclair's novels in two-column boxes daily for many days, all of them quotes from his various novels. Characters making outrageous statements about one thing or another. And I could not imagine that the would take these things seriously, knowing that they were things fictional characters said in fiction.
And they attributed this fictional statements to be things that Sinclair himself believed? Is that right?
Well, the headline would, would lead you to believe that Sinclair himself said this. You had to read the text to find out that it was some character in a book.
OK. Do you think these ended up being damaging to Sinclair at all in the campaign?
I never, I don't know whether they damaged Sinclair's campaign or not. He lost by a great margin, and I just couldn't imagine people taking those things seriously.
OK, OK good. Can you—OK, no. Can you tell me, do you remember who you voted for in that campaign?
Can you start and tell me in sentence?
[ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
And did you think that Merriam was going to be good for the state and help bring prosperity to the state?
OK, good. Do you remember any, any jokes? Did you ever hear any jokes about either Sinclair or, or Merriam?
I can't remember any jokes about Upton Sinclair.
Because people sometimes used to say, we heard from a couple people that, that, that, that there were jokes about both of them. Some people would say, "Hold your nose and vote for Merriam." [laughs] And other people had all kinds of jokes about Sinclair.
Funny, I—I missed that entirely.
OK, tell me about going to the movies in the '30s. Was it exciting? Was it something you enjoyed?
Oh yes. My wife and I went to the movies regularly, always enjoyed them. As far as the hard times are, are concerned, we didn't see anything around Los Angeles like the Frank Capra movies and the newsreels, which showed the trouble they were having back east. We never saw people selling apples on the streets, never saw breadlines. But we went to movies because they were just marvelous escapist entertainment.
Do you remember the big movie houses with, I mean, was it [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] ...
Oh, do I...I remember some of those beautiful big theaters like the Chinese Theatre and The Egyptian and the Los Angeles Theatre downtown, just, and the Million Dollar Theater with their wonderful shows between pictures. The movie experience in the 1930s was completely different from what it is today when you sit in a little box some place, one, one of eight little boxes, and look at a picture.
Tell me about some of the pictures that you remember from the '30s? What, what pictures did you like, or actors? Do you remember any particular actors you liked or movies you liked? [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
I'm trying to think of the '30s.
Think around '30, the early '30s. Did you like musicals or Westerns or comedies?
I'm trying to think. Well, —I thought with Victor McLaglen, directed by John Ford, was a great picture. I saw it just recently on a rerun, and it holds up pretty well. It's, it's over-acted, of course, by, by today's standards, but in the '30s it was great.
Do you remember, did you ever like want to be in the movies? Was that ever, did you ever, was that life kind of attractive to you at all?
No, I never had any desire to be an actor. I was having too much fun working for the newspaper.
OK, do you, were, were the, the pictures, were they different than they are now? Were they, do you remember like all those big dance scenes and the big budget kind of movies? Were they different then?
The pictures? Oh, the pictures were, to my mind, much better then than they are now. We're getting what, the pictures today are what we used to call "kitchen sink" pictures.
What were they like then?
OK. Do you remember some songs from the Depression?
I remember "Ten Cents a Dance," "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?," from those Depression days.
Are you a singer? Can you sing the words to any of those?
Yeah, let's see. [sings] Ten cents a dance, that's all they pay me. But I can't remember the words. It was a very popular song.
What did it mean?
What's some other? I'm trying to think of some other.
Tell me again, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" Do you remember the words to that?
I can't remember. Sorry, I just remember the title. There was... I should've done some preparation on this. [laughs][sings] I could've, I could've thought of several probably.
Do you remember, was the song "California, Here I Come" popular in those years?
It's always been popular. You don't want me to sing that, do ya?
Sure, sing it!
[laughs] You're not serious! [laughs][sings] California, here I come, right back where I started from. The flower, the flowers...oh, I forget the words. [laughs] You're showing me up!
What did that represent? Were a lot of people attracted to coming to California? Was it, did people, was that, was California like a Mecca?
Oh, I think so. I think songs and newspaper publicity and magazines and everything was heading people toward California in the '30s.
It was just California habitat. They had real estate to sell out here, you know.
Great. You told me before, you said you were a Republican. But you also said you voted for Roosevelt. Why did you vote for Roosevelt?
Well, I thoroughly approved of his...I thorough approved, I liked—
I'm sorry—talking—I'm sorry, I was talking when you were talking. OK, now begin.
I liked Franklin Roosevelt's NRA program because it got me a five dollar a week raise at the . When NRA came in, if you worked six days a week, the employer had to give you at least thirty-five dollar salary. And I was earning thirty dollars when, when Roosevelt came in. And—
And so you voted for Roosevelt?
So I voted for Roosevelt. And NRA got me a five dollar raise.
[ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] Can we stop for a second?
You're doing great.
OK. Can you just—what did that five dollars a week, that raise, mean to you? Did that, did that—what did five dollars in those days mean?
The five dollar a week as a result of Roosevelt's NRA was a beautiful bonus, because I had been, my wife and I had been getting along very well on our thirty dollars a week. So five dollars more was beautiful.
What would five dollars buy, for example?
Five dollars would buy enough groceries for a week. And today, of course, five dollars is, buys a couple loaves of bread.
What, what did movies cost in those days?
Fifty cents, I think. Oh, the best—
—difference I can recall is haircuts.
Ready? OK, tell me about like when you walked into a movie theater, walking into the dark, and what it was like?
One thing I remember about the, the Great Depression is, is how wonderful the movie theaters were as, as an escape. They had these beautiful, large buildings, and
you'd walk in
** to this, this dark foyer, and a, on the, on the carpet that practically bounced, and they had an usher with a little flashlight would lead you down to your seat. And the seat was also beautifully upholstered,
** it was just a marvelous experience.
** You don't, that's, people today don't experience that.
Can you tell me that? And also, you said that you went to school with Karen Morley and some other actors. Was it unusual to live in Los Angeles and people that you'd know would end up in show business?
Oh no, there were...in work and at school both I was always bumping into people who had something to do with the movie business, either brothers or sisters of cousins of people who worked in pictures. It was one of the large industries of the city, and it thrived all during the Depression.
But was it like, you know, people like think, "Oh, I'm going to go to Hollywood and I'm going to get discovered as a star." So that really happened, huh? People like...?
Well, not to anybody I know, but certainly stars were discovered, like the most famous one, of course, Lana Turner, sitting on a, at a hamburger stand in, in Hollywood. Mervyn LeRoy saw her and gave her a screen test. [NOTE Lana Turner was spotted by William Wilkerson at a drug store, and, once signed to a talent agency, was brought to Mervyn LeRoy's attention.] That's the most famous one I can remember.
Tell me about James Cagney as an actor. He was one of your favorites.
I think in the '30s that James Cagney was probably my favorite star. And later on I got to know him when I got in the magazine business and found out he was the most popular actor in the studio, and in fact in, probably in all of Hollywood. He was a remarkably fine man.
Why did you like him as an actor? What, what about his...?
Oh, Cagney liked people, and just, he's just a bright, hard-working, modest man, completely un-movie-star-ish, you know.
Just one last question, and that is, back to Sinclair for a moment. You said you remembered reading . Do you remember, remember reading some of his books, and did he make an impression on you at all?
I remember—sorry, I couldn't hear you.
Do you remember reading any of Sinclair's novels, and did they, they make any impression on you?
Oh, . I remember . It made an impression. The meat packing business? Certainly made an impression. A terrific novel of its kind.
And why did it make an impression on you?
Because it was well-written and exposed a, what do you call it, a dangerous situation in the industry.
OK, great. OK, I think we're done.