Camera Rolls: 314:32-35
Sound Rolls: 314:18
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Raymond Haight , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 5, 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.*
—impacted upon your father, and how that, how he changed, because of the Depression.
Well, he was such a—
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , start again, "My father—"
My father, Raymond Haight, should I say Raymond Haight?
You can refer to him as Raymond Haight, or you can refer to him as your father.
—refer to the Depression in the first sentence, a little bit?
I didn't even let you finish your first sentence, so no.
Yeah, you can say that "my father", you know, "the Depression caused a change in my father," or whatever.
OK. All right. The Depression caused a change in my father that was so dramatic, that I'll just, when I look back, it was a total, a total turnaround. He'd been a corporation, conservative lawyer for twentyyears, he, whoops, stop it, he wasn't a conservative lawyer for twentyyears, he was only a conservative lawyer for about—
No, just keep going.
Start from the beginning, though.
OK. My father was a, should I start with my dad was changed by the Depression?
Yes, start from the beginning.
Wait, I talked when you talked, so, OK, start.
OK. My dad was changed dramatically by the Depression. He had been a conservative corporation lawyer, a Republican, his politics were capitalism, and then 1929 came, and he was really just destroyed. Years later, I found that he had read Norman Thomas, and Henry, Henry George, and 50 to a 100 other economists, and that in 1932 he voted for Norman Thomas, so he voted for the Socialist Party, and so he had gone from being a confirmed capitalistic conservative lawyer, to a very left-wing socialist, not Democrat, but really a socialist, had gone all the way.
So what happened in 1934? Why did he decide to run for governor? He's back to being a Republican by that point, right?
Can you explain to me?
He, Dad, the reasons why Dad ran for office are very complicated, I don't know exactly, I don't have any real facts, but I have a lot of hints. Now, one thing was the Depression, and he seemed to feel like, after he'd read all these books, that he knew how to, how to go over, go after, this election. He ran because he was a Republican, and he tried to get the Republican nomination, and Frank Merriam, who had taken over the governorship when Rolph died, who was governor at the time, he couldn't get the Republican nomination, and he did not respect Frank Merriam. He referred to him in the 1934 campaign as a "Charlie McCarthy" kind of candidate. The radio in the 1930s had Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy was the dummy that sat on his lap, and Edgar Bergen would tell him what to say. That's how Dad saw Frank Merriam, and he saw Frank Merriam carrying out the same old things during a Depression, and the state needed a whole new approach.
Did, did your father feel that he could do something different than any other candidate? I mean, it's very unusual to not get a party nomination, and go create your own party.
That's right. Yes, he definitely felt he could do something different than anybody else.
I need, again, you to refer, tell me who you're referring to.
My father definitely felt that he could do something different. For instance, he'd been in politics long enough to know that money was a big factor, so he made the decision that he would not accept any big campaign contributions, which meant that, many years later, that he had to pay off these debts when he died, and mother made sure they were paid off.
I want to ask you, you referred to him the other day, as—
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OK. That he felt that only, that he was going to run because he felt that only he could do this.
Dad did feel, he was a kind of a Don Quixote figure, that has a kind of Haight family history. My grandfather, shortly before he died, called me into the room and told me Haights were responsible for California, and for their future, and so forth. I realized that this grandfather of mine, Dad's dad, did the same thing with Dad, made him feel like he had responsibilities, and that he could do them, that in 1867 Henry H. Haight had been a compromise candidate, had come out of nowhere and been elected governor. I know that Dad felt that that part of history might happen with him. One of the things that is so intriguing is, did he think he had a chance? There's no question in my mind, but that he thought he had a chance, and not, I don't think he would have run, if he didn't think he did.
Again, I need you to tell me who your referring to, when you say "he".
OK. Dad, I'm sure Dad felt that he had a chance. I don't think Dad would have run, if he didn't think that he had a chance. But he was a Don Quixote figure, because he was, still, he had never run for office, any office he had held had been an appointed office. He was very naive, but somehow he thought he was going to go in there without all the money-strings. Dad felt he could turn the state around, take care of the Depression, and save the state, and so forth.
OK. Can you tell me about what happened when he announced his candidacy, that the Republican Party tried to bribe him?
One of the things that happened to Dad when he announced his candidacy, and when he began to draw votes away from Merriam, which is another story, because there's always been a debate whether he drew more votes away from Sinclair or Merriam. Stay with that?
Let me kind of make connections, OK?
So, tell me the story about him announcing his candidacy.
OK. When Dad announced his candidacy it upset [coughs] the Republican Party.
Wait, start again, you—
Right. When Dad announced his candidacy, it upset the Republicans. They felt that Sinclair was the greatest menace that, not only the state, but the nation, had ever faced. He had won the Democratic nomination, he was a Communist, and they felt that Dad, having threatened, even at the convention, to take a large percentage of the Republican votes, that he would pull votes away from Merriam, and Sinclair would win the nomination. As a result, as the campaign went along, they, the Republicans, sent different friends of Dad's, or different influential personalities, they offered him money. They offered him whatever post he wanted if Merriam got elected. They had threats. One day I was riding my bicycle home from John Burroughs junior high school, and I ran into a door, a car door, when it opened, and a man came up suddenly and picked me up and helped me, and when I got up back on my bike and kept going, I noticed this man was following me at about five or tenmiles an hour, and I got home, I said, "Dad, what's going on, there was a man following me," and Dad said, "You have been threatened. I have been told that they're going to kidnap one of you, and so I have a detective following each one of you." So even as a 13 year old which is all I can remember, I was aware of the attempts to get Dad to withdraw from the race by the Republicans.
Was it unusual, I mean, was kidnapping common in those times, or was that unusual?
Well, kidnapping was a threat, the famous Lindbergh kidnappings had occurred during this period. My Dad is a lawyer, had sent a couple of detectives to help some of his clients who felt that their children might be kidnapped. This was a real menace, apparently, after, or a threat, or a fear, during that particular period of time. There was one other factor. The Al Capone and the Chicago group had moved west, and so as a result, the mobs and the crime had moved out to the Bay area and to Los Angeles, and so Dad, who had been a police commissioner in 1931, he was aware of the dangers that lurked out there, and so he was responding in kind.
—told him that he would only campaign against Merriam and not against Sinclair.
My father, apparently, had a number of meetings with Upton Sinclair, and there were times that the men really seemed to get along, Upton Sinclair and my father, and I know my dad said he liked Upton Sinclair. I've read references that Upton Sinclair liked my dad, admired him. Dad, at a certain point, promised Upton Sinclair that he would never campaign against him, but he said that Merriam, he was going to go all out in his attack on Frank Merriam.
And why did he go out, why did he attack—
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My dad really felt that Frank Merriam was not only not the answer, but the corporate interests were not the answer to the Depression, to unemployment, to getting the country going again [coughs], and he knew the man so well, that it was almost his total goal to defeat Merriam any way he could. He said to Sinclair, in Sinclair's book, at least, he said to Sinclair—
I don't want you to tell me it's in his book.
Sorry. He said to Sinclair that he didn't care which one of them won, but that he wanted one of them to beat Merriam.
OK, I want you to start that again.
By saying, you were saying—
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My father—start over—my father really wanted Merriam to lose. He wanted either Upton Sinclair or himself to win the election. He promised Sinclair he would never attack him, but he said to Sinclair, and during his entire campaign he attacked Merriam. He attacked Merriam because he believed that he was a, as I've said before, no, he attacked Merriam because he was, he felt he was a Charlie McCarthy of the corporate interests, he felt that the corporate interests would do the same things, that they would not attack the Depression, that they were responsible for the Depression. He felt that there had to be the use of government somewhere in the process.
OK, explain to me your, what you think is, was your father's plan, you know, the fact that he felt that one of the candidates would end up being forced out and he would come in and pick up the pieces.
Dad's idea of winning was really a very complicated, and I've never seen it actually occur -- it occurred with LaFollette -- which was one of the reasons my father ran. It occurred with Robert LaFollette in Wisconsin, where he ran as a third-party candidate, but dad believed that if he got in, and he became a valid candidate, and he got enough votes, then it would be a problem for Merriam or Sinclair to deal with him, and he figured that one of them, that maybe if he got ahead of Merriam, that the interest behind Merriam would get Merriam to drop out, and he'd become the conservative role, or that if he, if Sinclair began to falter, that he could go to Sinclair and Sinclair would drop out, and that he could win. He really believed that this was a valid situation, but he needed one of them to eventually drop out.
OK, could we stop for a second?
My dad believed that he could sneak in, and win the election, because he believed—
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My father, Raymond Haight, believed that he could win [coughs] the election. When Upton Sinclair was attacked by the newspapers and the radio, he was convinced that they would smear him, and when that happened, he felt that eventually the polls would show that Sinclair would begin to go down. At that point, my Dad felt that he could go to Sinclair, and say, we both have said we want to defeat Merriam, will you withdraw and support me? We will make sure that he is defeated, and we will work together to change things in California.
OK, great, I want you to tell it to me again, but just, let's just do it one more time.
Right, right, and I'll improvise. My dad, Raymond Haight, was convinced that he could win. His plan was to, to wait in the wings, continuing to get recognition, to go throughout the state. He had a little radio mic that he took around, and he would speak on street corners and tie up traffic, because this was rather a phenomenon in '34, and he felt that he would get name recognition. Then, when Upton Sinclair would be thoroughly attacked by the press, the radio, called a Communist, a pinko, left-winger, a radical, going to bring Russia into California, that Sinclair's popularity would plummet, and when it went down, that would be his chance. Because they both wanted Merriam out, he would go to Sinclair and say, now that you're going down in the polls, will you withdraw and support me, so we can beat Merriam?
OK, tell me what you know about the meeting that they had, on precisely that issue.
The meeting took place, the meeting between my father and Upton Sinclair took place in Sacramento. They met for about an hour. It was apparently a very cordial meeting, and when the meeting was over, Sinclair said that he would consider withdrawing, and that he would get back to him. Within 24 hours the press picked up on the meeting, and they called my dad and said that Sinclair had made a statement, what did he want to say? My father made a statement. They had tricked my dad, then they called Sinclair—
I'm going to actually ask you to stop.
It's getting very complicated, so let's go back to a simple thing, that, your father had a meeting with Sinclair, Sinclair indicated that he may withdraw, if you consider the proposal your father gave him, and then he heard back from Sinclair.
Yes, eventually he heard back Sinclair—
I want you to start from the beginning.
You mean the meeting.
All right. My father, Raymond Haight, met with Sinclair in Sacramento for an hour. The two were very cordial. They discussed the fact that Sinclair was falling in the polls, the fact that neither of them, if they both stayed in, could defeat Frank Merriam, and Sinclair finished by saying that he would get back to my father, and give him an answer as to whether he would withdraw. Later, [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] , he indicated that he would not withdraw, and my experience personally—
I want to stop, for a sec.
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My, my father, Raymond Haight, made it very clear to Sinclair that neither of them could win if both of them were in the race, and he asked Upton Sinclair to withdraw. Sinclair, after a meeting of an hour, said he'd get back to him. He got back to him, and he told that he was going to withdraw, was not going to withdraw.
OK, start again.
Yeah. When Upton Sinclair got back to him, he said he was not going to withdraw, that his constituents would not let him withdraw, and they were both in it to the end.
OK, could we stop?
—brings a focus to it, too, it's very fascinating.
OK, let's hear about the dinner table.
My father came home, one night, and he was very depressed. It's a moment that I'll never forget, because usually he was a very outgoing and jovial man. He sat down, and he didn't talk to me, or Bill, or my, my brother Bill, or my sister, who was very tiny in a, in a, high chair. He talked to my mother. Let me start over. My dad came home—
OK, wait, the camera needs to go back on again—OK.
My father came home one night, very depressed, and he started talking to my mother. He told her that Sinclair was not going to withdraw, that Dad was not going to win, and that there wasn't any hope. I've never seen Dad, except for one other time, when he was so shattered. He was a man who tried, when he had an idea, when he tried to do something, he just had to win. The defeat was devastating to my dad.
So, can you tell me again, at this, that, at this point he knew he was defeated, it wasn't waiting for the election day, but it was Sinclair's withdrawal, refusing to withdraw?
My dad realized, at that point, that he was defeated. The election was still a couple of days off, but he knew it was all over, that he could not defeat Merriam with Sinclair in the race, and he knew Sinclair could not defeat Merriam. Mainly, Dad felt that he could, he could pull most of Merriam's support away, if Sinclair was not in the race. His polls time and again showed that the Republicans, and the conservative Democrats that voted for Merriam, wanted to vote for him but were afraid, if they voted for Dad—
OK, start again with the polls, and tell me who "him", be very clear on who is who, because you're referring to several people.
Right, right. My Dad ran many polls. The polls showed consistently that most of his strength lay with the Republican Party and some conservative Democrats, all of whom said they would refuse to vote for him because they were afraid Sinclair would win. Dad realized, when he was sitting there at the dinner table, that he wasn't going to get the Merriam votes, so that there wasn't a chance.
OK, can you tell me about filling out the postcards?
The, the other experience that I remember as a 13-year-old, was the exciting moment of licking the stamps and putting them on postcards. Dad ran a number of postcard polls, before he even ran, and continually, about every month, after he ran. I only helped put stamps on twice, I remember sitting at the dining-room table and reading the questions that were on these postcards, and then very proudly putting this one cent stamp on these postcards. The addresses were written out by my mother and father. That, to me, was a very exciting moment, and I shared it with my pals at John Burroughs Junior High School.
Your father didn't have a campaign staff, or, or—
My father had a campaign staff. He had a, he had a manager, he had all of that, but for some reason these postcard polls were done on our dining-room table, and I remember my brother Bill, and I, both licking stamps and putting them on the, on the postcards.
And what did the polls tell you, when they got back?
The polls indicated, repeatedly, that Dad could win if he ran against Merriam, or if he ran against Sinclair. He could not win if they were both in the, in the race.
Do you understand at all, and can you describe what the dilemma of the Republican and Democratic Parties were at that point? And why your father felt that he could fit into this niche?
My father believed that the Republicans were a very conservative, 1920, no regulation, no control, free capitalism, which would not solve the problem as far as California was concerned, and he saw the Democrats having gone far to the left with socialism and radical idea of government programs, and that he would be the candidate of the middle of the road.
OK, but did he feel that both the, both the Republicans and Democrats had candidates that were unworkable for them? You know, that the Republican was too conservative, and—
My father did believe that the candidates, both candidates, the Republican candidate Merriam, and the Democratic candidate Sinclair, were vulnerable, and that they had weaknesses, and that they could be exploited, and if the, if everything worked out, then he could sneak in.
OK, great. Can you tell me that your father, about being disappointed that he got no press from the ?
Probably the saddest part of the election, for my father, was the lack of publicity in his own city, Los Angeles. He was on good working terms, since he'd been a Republican in the 1920s and right up until the election, with the , with the Chandlers, he had worked so closely with them. But when that election began, he needed name recognition, and he just did not get any publicity at all. There is one article that I saw once, going through the files, that referred to him as a pinko, and that is the only thing that I can find in the .
We he depending on the to help him win the election?
At the beginning, I feel my dad was depending on the to win the election. He felt that they would at least be neutral, at least get his name before the public, at least to get his ideas, so that he could compete with Merriam as far as ideas were concerned. So he was really disappointed, that was not what he expected to happen. He thought Sinclair would be attacked, but he didn't think he would be not attacked, not even mentioned.
OK, great, can we stop for a moment?
My father came up with the idea, the plan of the third party. He called the party the "Commonwealth Party". Because California had cross-filing, a candidate could run for any party, and all he had to do was file. Dad knew that if he created his own party, and he put all his friends there, that he could get in the run-offs in November. So he got together a thousand of his friends, and the last month before you filed, they all signed up in the party, and he was, of course, elected easily, that thousand votes, all of which went to Dad, for the Commonwealth Party. And that put him in the race, in November, against Merriam and Sinclair.
OK, I want you to just tell me one other element of this, and that was that he ran on the Republican, no, did he run on the Republican ticket?
Yes, he ran on the Republican—
OK, he ran on the Republican ticket and when he lost, he still felt he had to go against Merriam.
And then created his own party.
Dad ran, cross-filed, and ran also—
Don't say cross-filed, it's very complicated.
Confusing, OK. My father ran as a Republican, too, he ran in the Commonwealth, and he ran as a Republican. He finished fourth, but he got 85,000 votes when running against Merriam. He knew, that even if he lost to Merriam, that he would still get another crack at him in November.
OK, can we stop for a minute?
—your answer before. OK.
My father was so convinced that he was the solution the problem, that he was the answer, that he knew California, that he knew the politics, that he knew the way to get things done, that he wanted somehow to get in the finals. He knew enough about politics to know that his chances of beating Merriam in the primary, as a Republican, when he would file Republican, was a real long-shot. So, he created his own party, the Commonwealth Party, which meant that his thousand friends would vote for him, he'd get the election of the Commonwealth Party, which would put him in November and give him another chance to defeat Merriam, and give him a chance to do what he really thought would save the state.
—California. Tell me about it. OK, wait, wait, wait...OK, go.
My father believed that he could win the nomination and get into the finals, if he created his own party. So, he created the Commonwealth Party—
I'm going to ask you to start again.
OK, that your father ran for governor, ran, ran in the primary on the Republican ticket, didn't win, and then created his own party.
OK. But you did have to, to be very exact, both these things were done—
—were happening simultaneously?
Simultaneously, you don't run for one and then win the other, in the primaries, all these things happen at the same time.
OK, so he really was, like, guaranteeing his candidacy by—
He was guaranteeing, exactly, he was guaranteeing, and that's a good word too.
OK, so let's hear it.
All right. Ready?
My father guaranteed that he could get in the run-offs in November by creating his own party, the Commonwealth Party, but he also ran in the Republican Party, against Merriam. He knew his chances of beating Merriam were very slim. He did pull 85,000 votes, and he lost, but because he had created his own party, and was, he became the nominee of the Commonwealth Party, and therefore got on the ballot for the finals in November.
OK—let's do it one more time.
That's great, so take five.
All right, all right. My father created the Commonwealth Party to make sure that he could get into the finals in November. He also, of course, ran or nominated, tried to get the nomination of the Republican Party. He wasn't able to do it, but because he was the only nominee in the Commonwealth Party, and he got all the votes of the Commonwealth Party, he was nominated, and he was able to run in November.
And so therefore he ran against...and in November?
OK. In November, he was therefore able to run against Sinclair and Merriam.
OK, great. Now we're going to completely go off the subject, and I want you to tell me about your first, getting your first Ford car.
Oh... OK, [sighs]. Is this on camera?
OK. In the 1930s, my grandfather decided I should have a, a car. So he wrote a check, for $25 dollars, which I have to this day, and I went down and bought a 1929 Model A roadster with a rumble seat in the back. And that car became my transportation through most of the '30s.
Was it exciting to have a Ford car?
It is probably one of the more exciting moments of my life. The first thing that happened, my mother decided to teach me. We went to the LaBrea tar pits. In those days, they were real tar pits. When I was a eight-year-old, I fell into one of those oily tar pits. She took me over there, and she turned me loose, and I discovered that the car didn't always turn if you didn't turn the wheel, and I gave her many exciting moments, and then my first week, I had three accidents in my Model A. In my third one, I was side-swiped by some fella who went through a red light, and ended up in a nursery with flower pots in my rumble seat.
[laughs] Can we stop for a second?
How you felt having a Ford, OK?
My car was so wonderful. When I went to the high school, I was one of the few that had a car. I transported the basketball team—
We're going to start one more time. We need to hear that it's a Ford.
OK. My Model A Ford was special, but even more so, there were only a few of us who had cars. When we went to play Manual Arts High in L.A., I drove the team, and that meant eight of us in this car, some of them sitting on fenders. I remember, after the game, I came out, and to my horror, some Manual Arts student had taken my gear-shift and wound it around my steering wheel, so I had to unwind it in order to get home. But that meant I could date, I had not dated, that meant I could—
I'm sorry, so it's that, instead of saying "that meant", "having my Ford," "having my car."
Having my car meant that I could date, that I could go to dances for the first time. Even though I was still pretty small, I could ask any girl out, and it freed me. I felt so independent. I totally understand how anyone who gets a car feels, because that was a big moment in my life.
OK, were you more popular, having a, did it give you a feeling of status and popularity, having a car, having a Ford?
There's no question in my mind but what my status rose immediately when I drove my car to school for the first time.
OK, so let me, say that again and call your car a Ford.
There is no question in my mind, but what, when I drove my Model A Ford to school for the first time, that my status had risen 100%, not only with my basketball friends, but all of my buddies. I was suddenly very, very important, and I was really proud. So my grandfather had done a wonderful thing for me with that $25.
OK, would they make you more popular with girls?
Did it make me more popular, oh, wait a minute, I'm not going to say—my popularity with girls was not very good, in my opinion, when I was in high school, regardless of the car, because I always felt intimidated by my size. They all of them seemed so much bigger than I was, but it did mean they went out with me, it did mean I could get a date, and in that sense I was more popular.
Good. Tell me about going to the movies, in the '30s. Was it an exciting thing, did you like going to the movies?
I went to the movies every Saturday afternoon. The movies cost tencents, and you had at least two serials, you had at least two movies that you'd see. The westerns were the most popular. I can remember Tom Mix, and all of the various famous movie stars from way back, can't remember the names anymore, but I can remember the pleasure of watching one western after another where they shot 'em up. Then there were different horror films that were serials, which you'd always end up with somebody hanging by the end of the rope, 'bout tenstories up. So there was always, but I, the movie, the theater was about ten blocks from our house, down on Fairfax and Beverly, and I remember that lovely walk every day to it, being in that movie for about three or four hours, and coming out at five or six. Every single Saturday, I couldn't wait till I went to the movies. Now later on, my father and mother, who couldn't go to movies in the 1920s, they were Methodists who didn't even drink malted milk on Sunday, began to take us to movies, and we went to movies every Thursday night. One of my father's best friends was, dated movie stars, and occasionally at our dinner table someone like Jean Harlow would suddenly show up, and of course this caused great excitement, not only for me, but my mother, and so forth.
OK, great. Tell me what you felt in the movie theater when the lights went out, were you transported into a different world, was it escape, was it adventure, was it fantasy?
I have always loved the movies. My wife and I, we go to the movies—
I don't want to, I don't want to hear it all.
OK, you don't want to hear that. I have always loved the movies. It seems to transport me, really, to another place. I've always been accused of, I see a movie, and suddenly for the next week I'm playing the role of one of those that's in the movies. Movies, to me, is, is my way to look into the future, to get away from misery sometimes, to, I love to laugh...
But in, but as a young kid, when you're talking, back in the 1930s—
What did they mean to you as a child? As a teenager?
[sighs] As a teenager, when I went to the movies, we're talking about 11, 12, 13, it was just an exciting adventure. It was the brand-new thing to do, all the kids, usually there were five or six of us that went together. We couldn't wait when we'd see the coming attractions, we couldn't wait till we came back to the next one. Inside, when the lights would go down, I would just find myself totally wrapped up on the screen. I never seemed to know what was going on to my left or my right, but I—just totally absorbed by the movie.
OK, great, good. I think that's it. Anything that we forgot that you can think of? I mean—