Voices -- Jerry Clark, 1940 – 2010
June 5, 2010 | 12:35 pm
KTLA’s Stan Chambers, left, Times reporter Nieson Himmel, center, and Jerry Clark.
Writing -30- to a 35-Year Career
Seventeen years ago today was my last day of almost 35 years of working for Times Mirror newspapers--4 years with the Los Angeles Mirror News and 30-plus years with the Los Angeles Times.
Could it be that I have been retired half as long as I was employed at First (and Second) and Spring? My final night seems just like yesterday.
The 1993 company buyout, the second in two years, was perhaps the most generous of the many buyouts that cut the Times work force by more than 50% over the years.
I had not considered the buyout when I first heard about it. As a member of management, I was too busy answering employees' questions: Will their be another buyout next year? How will we get the paper out without the experienced workers who will be taking the buyout? Will there be more overtime for those who remain? Will part-timers be made full-time? I didn't have the answers but pointed out that overtime increased in the previous year after the first buyout.
I readied myself for a busy coming year, expecting more duties of departing members of management to be shared by those of us who remained.
Then, on the final day to sign up for the buyout, I found myself in Human Resources asking, "Where do I sign up for the buyout?" Returning to my office, word of my leaving the newspaper had already reached the employees, who asked: "When did you decide?" "Who's going to replace you?" "You're young, what will you do?"
Again, I did not have any answers. I did tell them that I made the decision the previous evening, but it wasn't until I found myself in Human Resources that I realized that it was a firm decision. What I didn't tell my caring colleagues was that I had been diagnosed with diabetes two years previously and had a tough past year controlling my condition. After the first buyout in 1992, I was given added managerial duties--increasing my work day by two to three additional hours. I tried to hide the fact that I wasn't feeling well but those who knew me could see I wasn't the same "put it on my shoulders" self I was for over three decades as a Times employee.
I loved putting out a daily newspaper but it was clear to me that, like a ballplayer whose talent was diminishing, it was time to retire. I did not want to be a Willie Mays hanging on so long that people forgot how great he was. I was not great, but my love for newspapering was.
The highlight of my last night was my tour of the building long after the employees had gone home. Being a Saturday night, I did not encounter a single person as I went from floor to floor of the empty building where I had worked since 1958, letting the ghosts of my journalistic past speak to me.
No one was at the City Desk where one would usually find Nieson Himmel reading community papers and listening to the police scanner long after the home edition was put to bed. How many nights, after finishing my shift, had I sat with Nieson and talked about the historic L.A. stories and mutual friends we knew when I was the police reporter for the Mirror News and Nieson worked for the Herald-Express in the late-1950s, early-1960s. Often, editorial writer Roy Ringer, driving in from Malibu at 4 a.m., would join us. Ringer, a Mirror colleague, had gone on to write speeches for Gov. Edmund G. ("Pat") Brown and ghost-write a novel for Pierre Salinger, before joining the Times.
I walked down the stairway to the Pressroom. No rumblings of presses to be heard--the Olympic Plant, with its state-of the-art color presses, had opened five years previously. Going into the long-empty Pressroom office was like taking a walk back in time. There on the wall were the names making up each of the press crews five years before on that final day that papers were printed on Spring Street.
I went to the Corporate Building and was surprised to find that no doors were locked. I found the namesakes for the Picasso Room and the Tomayo Room. There is something to be said for having the time to admire great art in solitude. I wondered if I should tell the guard on my way out of the building that maybe the corporate area ought to be locked.
Instead, I nodded at the sleeping Second St. entrance security guard and made my way to my car in an empty Times garage.
On the way home, my mind was awhirl with memories from a 35 year journalistic career:
--The day in 1960 I told the editorial operator, Easter Bolton, that I would not be able to attend a luncheon at the Biltmore because I could not leave my post on the police beat at Parker Center. A minute later my phone rang, and Mirror City Editor Hank Osborne said, "Clark, it's not a request--it's an order. Be there!" And thus I was in attendance when Norman Chandler introduced his replacement as publisher of the Los Angeles Times--his 32-year-old son, Otis.
--Two years later when the Mirror merged with the Times and many of us were out of a job.
--Getting some vacation relief work that same year at the Hearst's surviving Los Angeles newspaper, the Herald-Examiner, where I worked for legendary City Editor Agness Underwood. The August day that Aggie prodded me every ten minutes for anything on the death of Marilyn Monroe, who had died during the night. Later I found out the Herald crews at Monroe's home in Brentwood couldn't produce much due to strict security at the scene. Aggie's prodding was successful as I worked the phones from Parker Center and came up with some sensational facts that later were deleted from the death story just as the final edition was about to go to press. That story of what was deleted--and why--will be included in my memoirs, which I am currently in the process of writing.
--Being the first to report the Bel-Air Fire and the Dodger Stadium (lack of) Drinking Fountains stories.
--Growing a beard in the mid-1960s (it's now been with me for 45 years) and being stopped by security in the Globe Lobby coming to work one day after attending early-morning literature classes. It wasn't Times' security--it was the Secret Service. President Lyndon Johnson was in the building. After they searched my brief case and found nothing but a Thermos bottle half-filled with coffee and copies of Shakespeare's Sonnets and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, I was allowed to continue on to my work area--late.
--Being part of the team that helped the Times go from the era of "hot type" and Linotypes to the cold type/paste-up process in the 1970s. At least we saved some of that romantic past for the museum in a small corner of the Times Lobby. I hope it's still there.
--Finding out first-hand what the term "Times Family" means in 1976 when Arleta and I suffered the loss of our first child. During my grievance days, I received a call from Times V.P. Charlie Chase informing me that Arleta had been put on my insurance (I had forgotten to add her when we got married the previous year) and the medical bills would be covered.
--And finally, the leaders and the employees:
Norman Chandler, who used to visit every department during the Christmas holidays and thank employees for their performances.
Otis Chandler, who brought the Times up to the same level of the great U.S. newspapers during his time as publisher.
The great editorial staff--from editors like Nick Williams and Bill Thomas, to columnists such as Jim Murray and Jack Smith, to those talented journalists who staffed beats, foreign and domestic, and to those important "rim rats" on the myriad copy desks. And the photogs--who can forget Bill Beebe's 1962 photo of JFK coming out of the surf at Santa Monica or the great sports photos of Art Rogers?
My different managerial assignments after my editorial years (Proofroom Foreman, Night Operations Manager, Special Assistant to the V.P. of Production) enabled me to work with and appreciate other Times departments: The excellent advertising departments that brought in the revenue that allowed for the expansion of the newspaper' editorial coverage. The crackerjack Circulation department that made sure the paper got to your driveway and in news racks daily. A top Promotion department that plugged our excellent product: ("Pick Up the Times-- Pick Up the World").
And I can't forget all of the production employees who faced, and overcame problems daily, in producing the newspaper at three plants--rain or shine.
Never needing an alarm clock during my years in journalism, I awoke the the day after
my final night at the Times, ready for a cup of coffee before beginning my 14-mile trip downtown. Then it hit me--I would no longer be making that drive. All that day I wondered if I had made the correct decision in taking the buyout. How would the newspaper do without me? Would it still get out on time?
Three years later, a 56-year-old former Times employee made his first visit to the Times since his retirement. "You look great," an ex-colleague said to me. "Retirement has done wonders for you," another said. "Yes," I thought to myself, "and my daily three-mile walks around the Rose Bowl hasn't hurt, either."
Seeing up close that those who remained were fully capable of putting out the paper that had been such a big part of my life for so long, I told myself on the way home: "You are now officially retired--enjoy it!" I am.