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Interview with Jonathan Worth Daniels

Daniels, Jonathan Worth
Daniels, Mabel
Blythe, LeGette
Date of Interview: 
Writing; Historiography; Journalism; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Paul Green; Thomas Wolfe
Jonathan Daniels and LeGette Blythe, long-time friends and former classmates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, discuss their university experiences including former classmates, professors and college pranks. Much of the interview revolves around writers and writing and includes a discussion of the differences between historical, literary and journalistic methods. UNC Chapel Hill classmates, Thomas Wolfe and Paul Green, along with their writing and work habits are discussed at length. Mr. Daniels also talks about his recently published (1970) history, "Ordeal of Ambition", about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Mr. Daniels discusses his work as editor of the News and Observer only briefly.
Chapel Hill, NC; 1910-1970
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed at Red Carpet Inn in Charlotte, NC on a Friday afternoon. Mabel Daniels, wife of Jonathan Daniels, was also present for the interview.
Piedmont Stories
Collection Description: 
LeGette Blythe interviewed several prominent North Carolinians for a UNCC oral history project on leadership in the state.
LB (LeGette Blythe, interviewer): This is the recording of an uninterrupted two-hour conversation of Jonathan Daniels and LeGette Blythe at the Red Carpet Inn in Charlotte on Friday afternoon, November 6, 1970, with an occasional whispered comment by Mrs. Daniels. Daniels and Blythe were friends and classmates at the University of North Carolina, Class of 1921, and have been closely associated as colleagues in journalism and the writing of books in the years since their graduation. Here they are reminiscing about their school days, Thomas Wolfe, Paul Green, Professors Frederick H. Koch and Edwin Greenlaw, The Carolina Playmakers, the Carolina campus of their Chapel Hill generation, and discussing particularly Mr. Daniels' most recently published book, Ordeal of Ambition, which throws new light on the stories of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The North Carolina editor and author talks, too, of his working routine, reveals what he contends is ethical and unethical in writing, particularly in writing books in the field of history, and defends vigorously his views.
LB: We are trying to get a tape collection of, well, mainly North Carolinians (I've gotten some in South Carolina) significant in various fields, some of them probably not so significant in the eyes of a lot of people, but maybe in ours. We are trying to get just an informal interview and mainly the idea is to record the voices, actually. We have any number of people that have died just recently-take Bill Sharp for instance, I had him on the list to get, and Paul Sanger, just any number of people have died since we started this. That's the idea-just to have this permanent collection and people can go there. For instance this tape that you have brought us on your talk about Tom - Recollections of October--was that what you--
JD (Jonathan Daniels): My book is called October Recollections of Thomas Wolfe. The speech was made in October and of course October was Tom's--
LB: What year was that, do you remember? Of course it probably tells on the record, doesn't it?
JD: I don't know. I would think it was in the fifties, wouldn't you think?
LD (Lucy Daniels): It was the late fifties I think.
LB: When did your little book come out? You sent me a copy, but it has been years ago.
JD: I have no idea.
LB: It was ten or twelve years ago.
JD: Does it say anything on that box?
LB: Anyway we ought to date that if we can.
JD: It will be easy enough to date the time of the speech.
LB: Because you can locate the meeting in Raleigh.
LD: The speech was the October before the book came out, and the book has got a date in it. There is no date on here.
LB: We can get that. That's the general idea, to get a recording of a person's voice and then of their story or anything that they would like to talk about.
JD: Well I'm a very reticent person.
LB: I know, I can support you on that for fifty years or more. You were very reticent for fifty years, which goes back to when I was considerably younger and you were considerably younger too.
JD: What class are you?
LB: `21, same as you.
JD: I started in `22.
LB: I was just thinking, I guess we first met when you entered as a sophomore didn't you?
JD: No, I came in as a freshman, but doubled up.
LB: But that was in the fall of 1918.
JD: Yes, just before the Armistice.
LB: That's the time that Prof. Koch came to Chapel Hill.
JD: Yes, and the flu epidemic was in full.
LB: You were there in the fall, because you were entirely too young to be in the Army.
JD: I couldn't get into what they called the SATC, the Student Army Training Corps. They had a thing called the non-SATC which was drilled by a Captain--
LB: Captain Allen.
JD: Captain Allen of the Canadian Army, and then invalided home, a charming fellow.
LB: Yes, I was in that Company D.
JD: We worked hard, and then they paid me.
LB: A fellow named Cooper was Captain.
JD: Yes, and when the Armistice came all the other boys who had been drilling in the SATC got sixty dollars, and we didn't get anything.
LB: But I had been in Plattsburg that fall of 1918.
JD: How old are you, LeGette?
LB: I'm right along there with you, but I've gone over the hill of seventy.
JD: I've got nearly a year and a half still to go.
LB: You know that was the fall that Prof Koch came down from North Dakota and Tom and twelve coeds were his total class.
JD: Is that right? I thought there were some other boys taking it.
LB: No, see Paul came back when I did. Paul had been overseas a couple of years and he came back after Christmas of 1919 and we were over there in the old library one day. There were a bunch of us in there and Prof. Koch came in, in his little Norfolk jacket shaking around, and his cloth hat.
JD: What do you call those ties he wore?
LB: Ascot?
JD: No, they were bowties.
LB: I don't know, but he had a cloth hat you know. He was trying to recruit some members for his class because he was afraid they would run him away. He just had twelve girls and Tom all fall. Paul Green came in the library and I called him over there, a bunch of us were around him talking, and I introduced Prof to Paul, and we all decided to take his course because it sounded so easy, which it was, of course. That's how Paul started in his life's profession of playwriting. You weren't in that class.
JD: No, I was one of the actors in the first -
LB: I know. You were on the bill of -
JD: I was in something called The Return of Buck Gavin.
LB: That was Tom's play, you know.
JD: Yes. Then there was another one I was in.
LB: You were in two plays and I've got the-- It's in Prof's book.
JD: There is a picture there. I played a sort of a half-breed desperado.
LB: Tom was an old lean . . .
JD: He was a big old villain.
LB: You know his pictures in that play have been in a lot of things.
JD: Wasn't one of them called The Third Night?
LB: That's right.
LD: John has got one of him and Tom and Paul, all of them in this Buck Gavin thing.
LB: I expect so. You remember Dorothy Greenlaw of course and Bill Royal.
JD: Yes. Was the girl that Kenny married named Mary?
LB: Mary Ella
JD: Is she still alive?
LB: No, I think she is dead. Of course George is too.
JD: I knew George was.
LB: You were talking about not talking about it--let's don't talk about that because you know they are dropping off all the time, our generation.
JD: We are spending a good deal of time now on Hilton Head Island where we have a writing hideaway and I told my neighbors we live on Outward Bound Island. All of them are retired people. But they seem to be pretty lively.
LB: That's a beautiful place; I've been down there several years ago on a tour- you know this propaganda business the state puts on to bring tourists in. I was down there right when it was just William Hilton Inn.
JD: They have changed that now to the Hilton Head Inn. You wouldn't recognize the place it has grown up so much.
LB: It was sure beautiful.
JD: I'm now chairman of an unofficial committee to blow up the bridge. We think there are getting to be too many people there.
LB: Is that the one over to the mainland?
JD: The only bridge.
LB: Well that's where Cal Sergeant lives.
JD: Cal Sergeant lives at a place called Bram`s Point.
LB: Isn't it across the bridge?
JD: It's the first, practically the first place you come to on the island after you cross the bridge.
LB: He ran his uncle, Mr. Smith's, bookstore here for years, then retired down there when Mr. Smith died.
JD: He's a great boating enthusiast and I'm not much of a--
LB: He started on the Catawba out here--that's where he got his interest.
JD: So I don't see him as much as I would like to.
LB: You and Lucy stay there practically all the time, except for running -
JD: We've been staying there more and more, but we still call North Carolina home.
LB: How about little Lucy? She still lives in Raleigh, doesn't she?
JD: She lives in Raleigh. Her husband is associate editor of the News and Observer. I'm now called Editor Emeritus.
LB: I noticed that someplace.
JD: I don't know what it means exactly.
LB: Well, it could mean different things. Hope it means the best for you.
JD: Well, maybe. They ( ) nourishment regularly.
LB: Everybody asks me this, I on, I guess they do you--what kind of hours you have, writing habits?
JD: Well, in my old age I don't get up at dawn anymore, not that I ever did, but I go to work just as regularly as if I were on a newspaper writing my books.
LB: That's the way I do.
JD: I would say I work probably a six-hour day, sometimes longer.
LB: I imagine you work according to your deadlines, too, right much, don't you, when the publisher gets to breathing down -
JD: Well, they haven't breathed hot down the back of my neck for some time. I'm working on a book now which I expect to finish in about a year and a half. I work just like a banker does, regular hours, or like a laborer, and mine is more labor than banking.
LB: You don't, like these TV and radio skits and magazine articles, you don't just sit around out there on the beach in a silk dressing gown and dictate to a blond secretary.
JD: I still work on a typewriter with the hunt and peck method.
LB: That's my system too. As a matter of fact, you know they talked about Tom so much that he couldn't write on a typewriter and all this, that and the other. Well Tom did a lot of his writing on a typewriter.
JD: I'm sure he did.
LB: I know he did; I've got letters that he wrote himself in pretty good writing.
JD: I think a long letter I got from him just before he and I both went abroad on Guggenheim Fellowships, must have been later than that, but he wrote it on a typewriter I remember.
LB: Well, they've got his old typewriter up there in the Old Kentucky Home.
JD: He did write a lot I understand in ledgers and stuff like that.
LB: Oh yes. Fred told me he wrote about seven or eight lines or less to a page - big writing.
JD: Somehow it had to be put together in some form to go to a publisher.
LB: He would write them and throw them on the floor, and then this girl he had helping him, sort of a pseudo-secretary or something, would come.
JD: You are not talking about Eileen Bernstein?
LB: No, he had a kind of a maid, she cleaned up the place occasionally and came and kind of looked after his getting these sheets in order. Fred was telling me about that I believe. Mabel told me too, that he would just throw them on the floor and he didn't number them, you see, he would just write them and throw them down.
JD: LeGette, I think a lot of this is romanticized.
LB: Well, a lot of it is, but that was a fact I think, because Fred knew about it. He visited him right much up there and of course Mabel did too and they said this girl would have a time getting the things in order.
JD: Well I think both Fred and Mabel have engaged in romanticization.
LB: Well everybody has I think.
JD: But anybody like Tom who wrote, he was proud of what he had written and he didn't throw it away.
LB: He wasn't throwing that away, see, he was throwing it down for her to copy.
JD: He wasn't in Asheville very long.
LB: No, this was in New York. You know the story they tell, all this stuff about Tom's moments of inspiration. It was his idea, I think, or act - just like he did that time, were you in the class that time when he read that piece?
JD: The thing he had written about
LB: Yes, and ended it up that way. Well you know that was a gag.
JD: That was a gag, sure, of course.
LB: He planned that thing, but he meant for it to appear that he had had a great inspiration in the middle of the night and jumped up and wrote on everything he could find, then couldn't find anything and had to get --
JD: That was pure acting.
LB: Sure it was, but a lot of Tom's was acting. He was more an actor in a sense than he was a writer, don't you think?
JD: Yes. At first he put Tom Wolfe in a book under the name of Eugene Gantt and then later as he grew older he, Wolfe, became Eugene Gantt.
LB: That's right.
JD: It's very interesting.
LB: And everybody in Asheville became the people that he had written about. I found out when I was working on this book in Asheville I talked to a lot of those people and they told me that first they were so furious about it and then later they were very mad because, some of them, because he hadn't put them in the book.
JD: Well I think that's a pretty usual experience. People you don't put in books get madder than the people that you do.
LB: I know. Mabel said that was a fact. You know she had this book club she went to and at first the ladies kind of froze up to her, and then they got warmer as Tom's fame spread.
JD: Well, Mabel was certainly a great actor and talker. She would talk the ear off of a brass monkey.
LB: Oh wouldn't she. I don't know whether you knew this, but you know Ed Aswell was editor of Harper`s and bought Tom out. I met him way back in 1936 or somewhere along there while Tom was still living. Elizabeth Nowell--I was working on this book and Elizabeth acted as agent for me on that. That's the only one I ever had, for that first book. She took me up to see Aswell and then later Aswell went to McGraw-Hill and he got me to do this Sloop book, you know. Mrs. Sloop went up to New York and he met her and he was so impressed by her story that he asked her to write it and she said she had never read a book, much less written one. She was a great old soul. Then after that he went to Doubleday and that's when he asked me to do the Wolfe thing.
JD: Did he leave and go to Doubleday after Harper`s?
LB: No, he went to McGraw-Hill. That's where the Sloop, Miracle in the Hills, was done. Then he went from there to Doubleday. After he sent me this contract--it was a three way deal with Mabel and me and Doubleday--he told me to take it up to Asheville and get Mabel to sign it. I did and that was on a Saturday afternoon, and Mabel died the following Monday week, and I hadn't gotten a thing in the world. She was supposed to be the author, the coauthor at any rate. I hadn't gotten a thing from her except just her talking. But I found a lot of stuff and worked it out, but as you say she could really talk.
JD: She ran a boarding house in Washington, didn't she, during the war?
LB: I believe so. That demonstrates the value of these things we are doing here. If she hadn't left some tapes that she did for the Library of Congress, for instance, well that's where I got practically all the stuff from her and it was absolutely legitimate because it was in her words exactly and that's the way these tapes will be. People years from now doing research--well somebody may have the wild idea of writing something about you--and these very informal things make the very best.
JD: When they use this to do research about me, they are going to find out all about LeGette.
LB: That's the point; but isn't that a fact that this informal business is where you get your stuff.
JD: I guess that's so. What's happened, LeGette, I have a theory that just as our archives are growing and we are more conscious of the value of them, as to contemporary matters they are becoming less and less valuable because no man any longer ever writes a love letter to a woman that he loves--he calls her up on the phone, and certainly the politicians don't put down in letters political deals. That's the telephone too, or the back room. So most of the written materials tell very little about people's lives.
LB: That's true. Certainly of letters--you don't ever hear of anybody writing letters any more, formal type letters. But now you take your new book, right now the most interesting, and I've just gotten into it, but the most interesting things you have are not the things that other people have been down the track with - it's little unusual .
JD: I'm shocked at you - you are just showing one of the greatest faults of reporters that live ever known.
LB: What's that?
JD: That is to say, you come to see a man and talk to him about his book and you haven't even read it.
LB: Well, I didn't come to talk about your book. I came for your, to talk, and as you say I've been doing most .
JD: I'm a very reticent man. There is a lot of wonderful stuff in the old records, although God help you in reading the handwriting of some of our statesmen. Today we've got perfectly beautifully typed records most of which is just as sterile as dust.
LB: That is what I was trying to say--these things that are good are the little unknown things that you come on. I've just been wondering and wanted to ask you if you did run into many things that have never been seen at all by people writing about these three.
JD: Oh, I am just appalled at the big gaps in historical research even in fields that have been worked over and over and over, like the Jefferson and Hamilton stories. In this book I've got a great deal about a man named John Beckley who was Jefferson's man Friday, his spy, his informer, he handled the attacks on other people that Jefferson wanted to smear and in the end Jefferson made him the first librarian of Congress. But in none of the biographies of Jefferson is he given more than the most casual treatment, and in many of them, no treatment at all. One of the most distinguished of Jefferson's biographers has got his whole background entirely incorrect. I don't know, I don't think that the academic historians go on the rabbit paths--they keep their eyes right on the main stage, and the main stage has never been the place where most of the real action took place. They had "smoke-filled rooms" as far back as the plotting of the patriots in Boston took place, and probably back in the days of the Peloponnesian War.
LB: I imagine so.
JD: But the Romans didn't do all their dickering at the Forum and neither do politicians now or in the past, but the historian is apt, it seems to me, to go back from the document but bound by the document rather than to go into the real lives of the people who shaped them.
LB: Don't you get that feeling from your newspapering, digging in and getting something different?
JD: I really do think that the best training for a historian - and maybe I say this but shouldn't is to be a reporter who goes after the facts, realizing that the facts often are deliberately hidden or carefully covered up. You've got to take that attitude toward history as well as toward current affairs.
LB: You take if the News and Observer had stayed over there in the State House and stayed away from the Sir Walter
JD: They wouldn't know what was going on really. That would be just like the Journal. The Journal will tell you the final action, give you some roll calls, record a few speeches, but none of it buttonholing, and none of the things back in a man's district or state which made him do what he did on the stage is visible if you just keep your eyes on the stage, the acting.
LB: This past election just the other day will show that. It's the maneuvering back home that did it rather than the reports from CBS in New York.
JD: I would loved to have had a taped recording of the conversations at the White House when the election returns came in to compare them with Nixon's statement that he won a victory. I'm sure that would be very interesting reading.
LB: Did you see his interview out at the airport where he made this statement before the mike then walked off very jauntily across the field and then some of the commentators added their comments on his explanation of how it was a victory--more of a question than an explanation?
JD: I don't know that I saw that.
LB: That's the sort of in between the scenes business that really gives the story. Of course, that's been your theory and mine all the time in all these books that we've done of that type - to try to dig out the unusual or the --
JD: What makes human beings tick.
LB: That's right, and that's the reason anything, I think, that does that gets pretty immediate acceptance by the readers.
JD: Well no, it is very difficult to get people to discard their cliche prejudices.
LB: Well, I don't think the readers are, except the professional historians-now they will never. I just wonder what professional historians will say about your book for instance.
JD: Well, I do too. This man on the Saturday Review who had some things to say about it . . .
LB: Is he a professional historian?
JD: Yes I think he is. I think he is one of the Ph.D. boys.
LB: He's in the union.
JD: Yes. It's a very amazing thing, LeGette, how much of the best known history of our times has been written, not by academic historians but by the journalists, the newspapermen--Bruce Catton, Carl Sandburg, Freeman, Lloyd Lewis, Harding Carter . . .
LB: Your esteemed friend from Charlotte--you are not leaving him out. I was speaking of Harry Golden.
JD: Well I don't think Harry is a --
LB: Harry is a journalist.
JD: Harry is a journalist, yes, I guess.
LB: l agree with you entirely. In fact that has been my theme. I get a kind of "nose turned up" from some of these professional historians, I presume, at a lot of things that I do maybe, and you do, and all of us that look at it from the journalistic standpoint. I've always maintained, I remember over at the State Literary and Historical Association, the first meeting I ever attended, I was the speaker ( ) anyway it was right after the Ney book came out.
JD: What year was that?
LB: 1937 or 1938, somewhere in there.
JD: I was going to them regularly in those days.
LB: You were there I think, but anyway my talk was--I had never been to one and consequently Hubert Poteet who was the Vice President said "Boy, you've never been to this thing before, have you?" I said "No sir." He said "Evidently you haven't because this first fellow, who was a professor of history and head of the History Department at Duke was the President, and he made the first paper. He had most of them pretty well asleep as he droned along on his professional paper; and then I, not knowing that that was the way you were supposed to do, I had some jokes and so on and one of which I said -
LB: I've enjoyed being over there at the University just watching them.
JD: Are you on the staff at the University?
LB: Yes, I'm on the Faculty.
JD: Do you teach anything?
LB: No, I never have exactly known my function, but
JD: What Department are you connected with?
LB: I'm a member of the English Department. I make a few talks and things around now and then, but mainly I just go there, I go to all the Faculty Meetings and sit around and watch and it is a revelation to see how an institution works from the inside.
JD: I imagine that's so.
LB: You could write a wonderful novel .
JD: I've done a lot of bad things in my life, but I never have taught anything.
LB: And you've never been on a faculty to look at the inside doings have you?
JD: No, I never have been on a faculty.
LB: Speaking about your book, this ought to be one of the big contributions to that period.
JD: Well, this man that reviewed it in the Saturday Review, Wilson Sullivan, said "Nobody can any longer write about Jefferson without recognizing that the image has been changed."
LB: I noticed this in the Saturday Review, the lead paragraph, "The interlocking enmity of Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr is the subject of Sullivan's study by Jonathan Daniels. While Mr. Daniels concedes that all three men have been sufficiently scrutinized as 'separate figures,' he is persuaded that they have been inadequately examined in their companionship and conflicts." That's really your theme, to go at them from a different -
JD: No, just to see them as they acted as men, not as they acted as figures in a patriotic drama.
LB: That's the way you have written everything actually, all your writings are that way.
JD: Try to get at the guts of the thing.
LB: and if it riles a few of them, that's all the better.
JD: Well, I'm a very, very amiable sort of fellow, I never make people mad.
LB: Well you are; I'll admit you are very amiable, but you love to stick little gentle needles in them here and there. We are talking here on the sixth of November, just past Tom's favorite month of October. I guess he said that was his favorite month, didn't he?
JD: Well, he kept returning to October. Did he die in October?
LB: No, he died September 15.
JD: Just before that month. Was he born in October?
LB: He was born October 3. He would have been 70 years old this past October.
JD: He had been at our house not long before that western trip. I remember he brought me from New Orleans a bottle of ( ), which is a sort of a synthetic version of absinthe. I kept it, still have a little of it left. Some painters got in my closet once and took some of it. I think Paul Green and I, I think that goes to whoever survives Paul Green and myself. We've agreed to be the other's pall bearer if we outlive him. But I'm getting so that I don't think I could carry a pall from the hearse to the grave.
LB: Well, Paul has got some years on us.
JD: Yes, I don't know exactly how old Paul is, but he is a tough customer.
LB: Paul is four, five or six years older than we.
JD: He will get out and built stone walls and--
LB: I know. He still plays tennis doesn't he, bare-footed?
JD: This I don't know.
LB: I think the last time I saw him he was flopping across the court barefooted.
JD: Just got out a new good book of stories largely from Harnett County, some very amusing ones in it.
LB: I know, he sent me a copy of it. This past June would have been Tom's fiftieth anniversary at Carolina, his fiftieth commencement.
JD: Paul Green?
LB: Tom. We're back on Tom.
JD: He graduated in 1920.
LB: That's right.
JD: I remember very well how we looked at the Fifty Year Club when I was a student at Chapel Hill, and they all looked a million years old. I thought so, and maybe I was right then, but they seemed a lot older than they do now.
LB: I've noticed that. I was a commencement marshall I believe in 1920, no, it was the commencement of 1919, I guess, and this class of 1909 were having their tenth reunion and all of us thought they were old men back there - been out ten years. I think John Umstead was one of that crowd.
JD: That ought to be about his time.
LB: We were talking about these old fellows - been out ten years. Now ours is next year.
LB: You want to stop? OK. [TAPE PAUSED]
JD: It's been a long time ago, LeGette, those Octobers, but they don't seem very far behind. You were talking a little while ago about those professors in those days. Somebody asked me the other day if there was a sort of North Carolina renaissance at that time, and I said that it didn't seem to me that enough attention had been paid to the people who actually created it, who were not the writers like Tom and Paul and you, but the professors that were there who were a special, very splendid group of men. You spoke of Prof Koch. Prof had really less learning than almost anybody I ever knew. He knew nothing really about the drama, but he could engender enthusiasm in the young and make everybody there believe that they too might be Eugene O'Neill. The actors of course all were Garrick's. He transmitted enthusiasm and self-confidence into his students. And old Eddie Greenlaw, the Head of the Department, he had the same way in a very dry, witty way. He never showed the exuberance that Koch did, but he managed to get under the skins and into the minds of his students.
LB: Do you remember how at the end of the class he would say "Brethren, go in peace."
JD: Yes. There were many - James Harley Hanford, John A. Booker - there were a number who seemed to be as book dry as anybody you could find, but really was a . . .
LB: Collier Cobb, did you ever .
JD: Of course Collier Cobb was not in the English Department.
LB: No, but he was that type.
JD: He was a sort of a ham actor in geology. Bernard rode around the campus in what looked like a bathtub but was probably the first imported European car.
LB: It had one seat in front and one behind.
JD: I don't remember about the one behind, I just --
LB: It was just one seat wide, one in front and one behind.
JD: Yes, that's right. I was in Chapel Hill the other day, and of course, I get lost there. The body of automobiles is just amazing. When I was at Chapel Hill not a single student had a car and when one student did bring a car to the campus at a commencement he was really a man flying in a chariot in among the rest of us pedestrian creatures.
LB: Occasionally they would have a few at the dances, you know, spring -
JD: But they were brought in for that occasion.
LB: Ben Cone, I think, brought one.
JD: ( ) Gantt brought one.
LB: I saw him at this past commencement, Adam Gantt.
JD: Yes, but there were no student cars. There was no place to park, nobody wanted to park.
LB: I remember I roomed in South one time, and Old West and New West right there on Emerson. A car would go through there and if there were any girls in it, everybody would holler "fire" and just raise sand. There probably wouldn't be six cars a day along that street.
JD: I don't know--you hear so much about the misbehavior of college students today. There was a good deal going on when we were young, but ours was just childishness. We didn't attach our rambunctiousness to ideals as much as these boys are. I'm not sure that this is not a more creative generation in that while they are more violent, they are violent about ideas, whereas we just threw rocks for fun.
LB: And didn't do that very much. We didn't do much actual damage; it was more just childish mischief.
JD: That's right. It was very childish.
LB: In fact we didn't have the imagination.
JD: Well, one time everybody on the campus got a pistol. I don't know what a pistol is except it shoots blank cartridges. We were making the night hard with the sounds of our guns.
LB: The worst thing that we would do, was to dump beds. You would slip in on freshmen or somebody in the night and grab the side of the bed and --
JD: Now we think of that as prep school stuff.
LB: Well it's hardly that now. It's not even grammar school now
JD: No, I suppose you've got to have a Molotov cocktail in order to get any attention today.
LB: That's long, long years ago, but it doesn't seem so long when you get to talking about it. Time just more or less vanishes, doesn't it, telescopes. Jon, have you got any --
JD: I'm not puffed up with very much to say.
LB: Well, our idea is just, as I said, mostly informal. The trouble about most of these things that you suggested --
JD: Look, you've got to get into those. Now what were you going to suggest?
LB: Tell us about what Tom. Sit down and tell us.
JD: I'm going to say something tonight, LeGette, at this meeting we are going to.
LB: Incidentally, Jon, the name of it is Old Catawba Club, and that's very much reminiscent of Tom's -
JD: Well, when I first - not first came to Charlotte - about 30 years ago I came up here promoting an early book called A Southerner Discovers the South. I don't know whether you were in the hotel room at the time, I suspect that Bill Dowd (James Edward, but we always called him Bill) the publisher of the Charlotte News and I were up there and we were taking a drink, and you were probably in your regular dry way just standing by and then W. J. Cash came in the room and said that Franklin Roosevelt had just declared the South to be economic problem number one. With a book about the South to sell, I was glad about it bringing attention to the subject and Cash accused me of putting Franklin D. Roosevelt up to it as a book sales gimmick.
LB: Were you in with him then?
JD: No, no. I didn't work for Roosevelt until the war began. I never held any office until when the war began and everybody had to get in it.
LB: You were speaking of A Southerner Discovers the South, you probably knew it not at the time, but after the Mayflower Cup deal was over, but I was one of the judges, you know, when you won the Cup.
JD: Well I appreciate your vote.
LB: Well, you got it. I know you got mine and I don't know how many more, but I remember I was judging in that --
JD: I remember I referred to myself in that book, which I wrote in 1937, as a man entering middle age - 37 - and then I met a fellow up -
LB: Well actually I guess we were entering middle age.
JD: I guess 37 is, but I met a man not long ago who said that he thinks a man is middle aged who is ten years older than he is.
LB: That's a pretty good definition. We used to write in the paper "elderly" and I remember people occasionally somebody would get offended. I don't think I'd like that term, but I remember writing about any number that were ten or fifteen or twenty years younger and I called them elderly.
JD: I remember that when the King of Rumania died at the age of sixty-three we had a headline in the News and Observer "Aged King of Rumania Dies." My father at that time was sixty-three and he wanted to blow up the newsroom.
LB: I remember Uncle Joe still with great affection. I remember going right along this street one day with him. I don't know where we were going, but Mr. Julian Price and Mr. Daniels and I were in the back seat. I don't know how long it's been.
JD: Long enough for you to forget.
LB: No, I haven't forgotten it, because I remember. Of course the thing that I remember first about your Dad was that famous commencement, our commencement, that he and Mr. Cam got in an argument, or they took cross views. He was advocating liberality.
JD: Father said every young man should be an iconoclast, an image-breaker.
LB: Mr. Cam got up and refuted that.
JD: Oh, he said that would be terrible.
LB: And the papers just played it up big--that they had a big contest right there on the stage. Ty Taylor, you remember, graduated with us and --
JD: What ever happened to Ty Taylor?
LB: I heard that he died just a year or so ago. You remember he wore a light gray suit and wouldn't wear his gown, just to be different you know. Of course he stood out in the whole crown because he was the only one that had on a light gray suit--he wouldn't even wear a dark suit.
JD: He started out looking like he was going great places, and then just sort of faded out very quickly.
LB: You probably saw him some in Washington. He went, you know, to Washington as some sort of--wasn't he in the government or --
JD: I think he was, but he suddenly sort of disappeared off the scene.
LB: I know; I haven't heard of him in years. Then there are others--Dan Grant, have you ever heard of him later?
JD: He also was a man who was going great places and then just didn't get anywhere.
LB: Well, I never have heard in a long time of him.
JD: Its very strange, LeGette, what happens to people. When we were in college-I think he was in our class--the man at Chapel Hill that was expected to be the most successful writer was a boy named Garland Porter, who went to Atlanta and was --
LB: He was a class behind us.
JD: He was voted the best writer at Chapel Hill. He became an advertising salesman and runs a little advertising journal in Atlanta.
LB: He went with Ernest Abernethy in Atlanta.
JD: That's right. They published these trade publications.
LB: I haven't seen Garland in a long time.
JD: I hear from him occasionally. He has become very bitter on the race question.
LB: I haven't heard from him in years. We had a little shy fellow up there that was a very popular boy and a good student, but not one of the campus leaders you might say, and that was J. C. Cowan. Do you remember J.C.? He turned out to be president of Burlington Industries.
JD: Quite a surprise to everybody.
LB: I know. A lot of them went up and then some faded out, but I still remember them all with about the same sort of feeling about them as I had at the time.
JD: It's been a damned interesting experience. I'm one of those that would go through it again.
LB: I'd love it myself.
JD: I'd be born again and take all the licks and blows as well as the fun.
LB: They were pretty rough at the time, but looking back I don't think we had -
JD: But Chapel Hill, my God how that place has grown!
LB: I know. You know Bill lives over there and is a professor.
JD: I thought he was in the med school at Duke.
LB: No. He is a Professor of Medicine at Chapel Hill and lives over--you know where Hillside Circle is, where Hugh Lefler and ( ) Citizen and Daddy Ross and
JD: I know all that drive.
LB: You know where Roosevelt Drive is? You go down to Franklin on that curve-
JD: I remember Franklin and Rosemary, but Roosevelt Drive was not -
LB: It's right where the road turning does downhill, the road to Durham, Franklin. You swing off to the right and it's up in there. He lives there. He has been there about all his life. Daddy Ross was another character.
JD: Oh, he is a great person--I'm very fond of him.
LB: Daddy is, you know, he's one of the top men in the med school.
JD: He did some wonderful work in writing about midwives in North Carolina some years ago. I suppose that they're disappearing off the face of the earth.
LB: That's his field, you know, obstetrics in the med school. I tell you something, Jonathan, you ought to write, or I don't know whether either of us, but somebody ought to write a story about Dr. Eddie. I don't believe there is a class in the history of America in any university, one single class, under one professor, at one time, just one course, that has had as many books and plays put out. Do you know any?
JD: Well the class of 1911 at Harvard, 1910 at Harvard--that was the greatest class that ever graduated from any university in the world. T. S. Eliot -
LB: But were they all together in one class?
JD: Well I don't know that they were all in one class.
LB: Well that's what I'm talking about--one class that were all sitting down together under one professor for one semester. Do you know any that has put out as much?
JD: Well, I'm sure that Baker and his workshop at Harvard had some -
LB: I'm talking about at one time, though.
JD: I have never tried to look into this.
LB: Our class would have well over a hundred, that one little group, counting all of Paul's plays, produced plays. I'm not talking about the ones that were written on the class--I mean the ones that were produced and the books that were published.
JD: I wrote Paul after this last book came out. I think he has something like a hundred published volumes. I said he made me feel like a sluggard.
LB: Of course Paul's have been all in dramatics except a few like this new one, and then he wrote The Hawthorne Tree, but most of his has been in dramatics, but you have had, and I too, more of a, a bigger variety than Paul.
JD: Of course, LeGette. I'm a frustrated novelist. I was going to be a novelist and I was going to write the great American novel of course. And I wrote one novel and then I plowed other fields.
LB: Did you ever try to?
JD: Oh yeah. The novel is not my form.
LB: Well I know it really isn't because you are more a historian and an observer of the current scene, well, an editor actually.
JD: Well, yes, but I would like to write a novel but somehow the patterns come out better when I write history or travel.
LB: Well, had you ever thought about doing a historical novel?
JD: No, not really. I don't like historical novels. I don't think it is necessary to use the form of the novel and fictionize history.
LB: You don't have to fictionize it.
JD: What I write now, this book I've just written, is a novel in the sense that it is a tale of a time and a man. But it does not have in it a single line of dialogue or a single thing that is not actually documented fact. You will find in the letters of these men that there is dialogue that you could hardly create in a novel. I find that the form of the novel written in the spirit and with the dramatic quality of the novel, that's history to me and I don't think there is any difference, should be any difference in the reader because he gets a story, he gets people, he gets drama and he gets at the same time absolute fact. So many historical novelists will just distort history to death to get a situation that they want to create rather than was created in fact by people in history.
LB: But that's not a reputable procedure.
JD: Oh yes it is, you can do that.
LB: Not to, not to - it's always been my principle to never -
JD: You create a hero who is not necessarily a great man in history, and then you put the other characters who are in history around him.
LB: But I don't change the history of the thing, what I mean. As long as you keep your history straight you can have . . . in fact these created characters help you point up and illuminate the history really.
JD: Well I ran into an incident in writing this last book. There was a woman up in New England who wrote a book called My Theodosia, which was in effect a fictionized history of Theodosia Burr.
LB: Well that's a - you are living right down in the middle of some of the finest historical stuff.
JD: But wait a minute. This girl fabricated a letter from allegedly from, Meriweather Lewis to Theodosia Burr. Some poor historian up in Virginia in a weak moment picked up and thought it was authentic, and he has been apologizing ever since.
LB: Well now, that's absolutely not cricket at all, as you know, for a historical novelist to do that.
JD: Well they do it all the same.
LB: Well I, some of them do, but that's what is wrong with that type of thing because you lead the reader - now most all readers thought that was an actual letter didn't they?
JD: This man did. When I got it I looked at that and I smelled a rat.
LB: If you hadn't been a student in that field you probably wouldn't have, would you?
JD: Well I guess not, but I had no business writing a history if I hadn't been a student in that field.
LB: Well that's what I say, but if you had just been a reader with a casual knowledge of Jefferson and Burr and all that crowd, you would have probably have thought that was a legitimate letter.
JD: Well I thought enough of it to check from every source, and finally got to this professor who said he'd just been taken in completely.
LB: Well that was indefensible, the way I look at it, from the standpoint of a historical novelist.
JD: Then I find some historians--for instance one who has been very popular, Claude Bowers, he will make up dialogue for his historical figures which never took place and present it, not as fiction, but as history.
LB: Well I don't think that, I wouldn't consider that legitimate at all.
JD: Well I don't either but Bowers- got away with a good deal of it. He had a long conversation between Burr and Theodosia on a horseback ride down in Washington at a time when actually Burr was in the west and Theodosia was in South Carolina.
LB: Well, uh and also -
JD: Meriweather Lewis was in the west and Theodosia was in South Carolina.
LB: Well actually anybody would know that Bowers had no way of knowing that unless he had letters and there would be no letters of a conversation on horseback.
JD: That's perfectly true, but he put it out there.
LB: He should have - it would have been legitimate if he had billed this a historical novel if it was in theme, but as a history -
JD: This is in a book called Jefferson in Power.
LB: That was a -
JD: Supposedly a straight history, yes. But he could have - he just got off on belief in this legend of a love affair between Meriweather Lewis and Theodosia Burr which never existed.
LB: I think it would have been legitimate if he were writing a historical novel if he had had that conversation if it were absolutely in character with the people, but it wouldn't be as a history.
JD: Well it's got to be more than just in character.
LB: I mean as an historical novel. I'm talking about if its a history it certainly not in any sense
JD: Well, I don't believe in creating dialogue for people even it it's characteristic.
LB: Well I don't either except I think it'd be legitimate in a novel. That's what I think.
JD: That the reason then you, then you get to go astray you begin to get out into the field of imagination rather than the field of -
LB: If you do but you cant' let yourself do that, that s the point. I don't see how in the world a straight history could quote something like that people were saying riding on a horse because you know -
JD: [laughter]
LB: there's no record of it. How did he know they said that -
JD: Well he just said it and put it down like that
LB: You know right off that he had no way of substantiating
JD: Well, once again, once again I'd check back to see if there could of even been a meeting of this sort at the time he said it they were thousands of miles apart.
LB: If they had been there'd been no way of recording a conversation unless they'd gone back home and written the thing down.
JD: Oh yes its perfectly possible that one of them had written a letter and said Theodosia and I took a horseback ride yesterday and while we were standing on the cliffs over the Potomac she said this to me and I said that to her.
LB: But it's getting pretty thin you know.
JD: But if you've got that letter you've got it.
LB: Oh sure.
JD: But there is no such letter.
LB: Well . . . I'm sure you get a lot of fun in running these things down just like -
JD: It takes a hell of a lot of work.
LB: I know . . . just like a detective though, tracing - when you get an idea then you try to develop it and see if you had to write out -
JD: It's a very strange thing seems to me when you're working on a subject, it seems by accident that you come upon material but you don't come on it by accident, you've got your antennae eye up but still it's only because you're listening and thinking about a thing that it comes to you - [RECORDING ENDS ABRUPTLY]