Here's an interview by Dick Harnett, retired San Francisco bureau chief, with Robert Bennyhoff, retired UP/UPI newsman and manager, at Bennyhoff's home in Orange, Calif., on Feb. 5, 1996. (There may be some spelling errors in proper names.)
Harnett: I called a few people. I talked to Mrs. Stevenson. Steve started this project. He's gone. Then I called a few other people, Robert C. Miller, Frank Tremaine. They said it is a great idea but "forget it -- I'm not going to do it." So I thought, since I don't have anything to do I'll start collecting stuff. I get a lot of mail anyway because of the newsletter (Ninety-Five). After the death of Stevenson and Tatarian I thought I would collect stories.
Bennyhoff: I will give you a check later. I meant to, forgot it. I'm getting old. I'm 74 years old, have diabetes and have skin cancer. I was just operated on for it the other day. Luckily it was OK. I'm alive. I wake up in the morning and pinch myself. If I feel it I get up, if I don't I wonder who I'll see down here. I've got a long list of people I am going to see down here.
Harnett: I know how it is. A lot of people are dying. It makes me sick. We are all limited, OK. I thought I would collect interviews. I talked to Wayne Sargent, "Sarhoff."
Bennyhoff: Yes, Sarhoff was an institution for quite a while.
Harnett: And I talked to Rod Beaton up there in Sonoma. He just had heart surgery, which I have had three times. I think diabetes is worse. With the heart, you either die or you feel all right.
Bennyhoff: Did you ever walk into a supermarket and see all the cakes and pies you can't eat?
Harnett: I had bypass surgery three times, in 1981, then 1991 and again last May.
Bennyhoff: How old are you?
Harnett: I'm 69.
Bennyhoff: Child, child. Sargent, where's he?
Harnett: At Carmel. I went down there and spent a couple of hours with him.
Bennyhoff: Still married to Marybeth?
Harnett: Yes. They have a little dog, Miss Chef.
Bennyhoff: Wayne and I were together several years in Los Angeles. He was Sacramento bureau manager and I was on the business side.
Harnett: I thought you two were the General Patton of UPI.
Bennyhoff: I'll tell you something about that. Wayne and I made a good team. As you know I am inclined to be outgoing. Wayne in a way is stuffy, but is a damn smart stuffy person. We clicked together. There was good chemistry. We worked together and just about ran the AP out of California. The UPI radio was just forming then. We just about cleaned the map on that. We must have caused heartburns at AP. The two of us were together for three or four years, then (Doug) Gripp came along. Then we had Rice. We had "Ricehoff" for a while. But the Sarhoff, at one point -- I forget the guy's name, the head of United Features -- he wanted Wayne and I to go to work for them. I damn near went, but Wayne couldn't think about it. So I wound up in Dallas as division manager and Wayne in Atlanta. Then he went to New York. I got into a war with Mims Thomason and wound up in Australia, then came back here again.
Harnett: Was Australia a punishment?
Bennyhoff: Well, they had a guy in Dallas who wasn't performing. They had a guy named Brandt. Bart sent me down to Dallas, and Brandt did everything he could to sidetrack me. I got Mims on the phone, Mims was president, and I laid it on. Mims took offense at this and after a while I wound up in Australia. I was there four years. I enjoyed it. I had a helluva time.
Harnett: Did you follow (Charlie) Bernard?
Bennyhoff: No. I followed Eric Riel. Eric Riel came back on the business side.
Harnett: I talked to his widow, who lives in Menlo Park, a couple of weeks ago, asking her if Eric left any memoirs, diaries, letters. He didn't.
Bennyhoff: He was a good character. If you could imagine what an English lord was like, that was Eric. He had a British accent for some reason.
Harnett: Maybe he went to school there.
Bennyhoff: He carried himself like an English lord. He was a helluva talker. The trouble was he talked sometimes maybe more than he should have. I couldn't talk like that. Eric would have been a perfect match for a Homburg, a London tailored suit. He was a very good newsman, but on business side he was too much wheeler dealerish.
Harnett: I think (George) McCadden told me that. He also was in Australia.
Bennyhoff: Roger Johnson was my buddy. Charlie Moore I thought was the best rewrite man in the company. You name 'em. Remember, I was around a long time, in a lot of places.
Harnett: McCadden, up there in Sonoma, I went up to see him. He told me a few things about Australia. He told about Pete Gruening.
Bennyhoff: Oh, hell yes. Pete Gruening, Hank Minard.
Harnett: Hank Minard. That's a guy I have been trying to think of.
Bennyhoff: Hank was in Seattle. At one point we had a strike, the operators went on strike. We all were down at Moraga, at Reg Tibbetts. Hank came down and I guess (Dick) Litfin came down. Bart was still Pacific Division manager at this time. A whole bunch of people, Cooper came over from Phoenix. They came from everywhere. We were living in some fancy motel. Hank Minard came down with only what he wore. He needed a new wardrobe. We were getting paid extra for all this work we were doing. We worked about 12-hour shifts, and so Hank went out and bought a new pair of shoes, a couple of hundred bucks for a suit and tie and everything. One night we were sitting around drinking, all getting drunk. He got a little drunk. Somebody bet him $10 that he wouldn't go jump in the pool. He said, "The hell I won't." He went out, jumped in the pool and ruined 250 bucks worth of clothes. That's a true story. Hank liked to live it up.
Harnett: I got to know him a little bit went he went on the skids. He had been in South America and had a hard time. Towards the end of his life I guess, he used come in the San Francisco bureau in the middle of the night. If Bart was there Bart would give him 20 bucks. I didn't know Hank Minard. He was goddam business side or puncher and a business rep. But when I was the only one there I'd give him two bucks, which he was satisfied with. After that he went down to Santa Cruz with Goodwill and cleaned up his act. He used to call in their news releases.
Bennyhoff: Hank was a smart person.
Harnett: Maybe he is still around. He was with the Goodwill in Santa Cruz. You know UPI is gone. There is nothing there. They called me up couple months ago: Who was Frank Bartholomew? When Walter Cronkite was doing something on his career with UP. They called me and said Walter Cronkite wants to know some people who worked with him in UP.
Bennyhoff: You know when I first met Cronkite. I was in the 8th Air Force, World War II, we were flying out of a place called Bassingbourne with B17s. A tall, gangling guy comes along and says his name is Walter Cronkite. He said he used to work for UP in Kansas City. I said. "My name is Bennyhoff. I used work for UP in Reno and San Francisco." We were flying B17s from Bassingbourne near Cambridge. Cronkite was sent to cover it -- the Kansas City milkman. I went to the University of Nevada in Reno. I didn't have much money. I had been working for "Pop" Small, M.F. Small, who was, I think, the elder (Edmund G.) Brown's (former California governor) press secretary finally. He had a little weekly called the Feather River Bulletin. I was working there in high school, part time, a cub reporter. I learned how to run a linotype and all those things. I went to the University of Nevada in Reno and went down to the Nevada State Journal, which at the time was not owned by Gannett, and I got a job there as proofreader. In the second year they let me do some reporting. The third year I was weekend society editor and a few things. While I was working for the Journal -- this was about '37’ '36, around there -- a guy named Nick Bourn was Reno manager. He later wound up on the business side. Nick Bourn needed some help, so I started filling in for him, learning how to punch. Reno was MC, named for Fred McKecknie who was publisher of the Journal when Bart sold them the service. I started working there. So, when I got out -- I graduated in 1941, the early part '41 -- I went to work for UP in San Francisco. Then Bourn went up to Portland and they sent me to Reno. I was in Reno on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. I went down the following Monday, being a nut, and tried to get into the Marines. They told me I wasn't a Marine. So fuck them. About a week later I saw an ad in the newspaper. It said, "Join the Army Air Corps." There was a $500 bonus if they take you. So off I went and got in the 8th Air Force and stayed in the 8th Air Force and then went out to the Pacific in B29s in the 20th Air Force, and got out in 1945. I went back to Reno for a while after that. While I was in Reno I started covering the atomic bomb tests. Let me tell you how we got the first word, the first published word that the United States was doing atomic testing in southern Nevada. We had a publisher, a weekly publisher who I got to know when I was covering the legislature, Danny Nores, who was publisher of a little paper in Lincoln County, Pioche, Nevada, called the Pioche Record. One morning about five o'clock I get a phone call at my house. The judge stuttered. "Bob, this is J-j-j-judge Nores." He was a justice of the peace too. "What have you got, judge?" B-b-b-bob," he says, "I d-d-d-don't know. There's some f-f-f-fucking fires in the sky down t-t-t-towards L-l-l-las Vegas. You b-b-b-better call them and see what h-h-h-happened." So I called down to Las Vegas. The people on the Sun and the News Journal were clients of ours. "Something blow up down there?" "We don’t know. Everybody in town is upset. There was a big flash in the sky." Turned out it was the first test. They didn't tell anybody what they were doing. So we broke the story, we announced they had just tested the atomic bomb.
Harnett: The war was still on?
Bennyhoff: No, this was long after the war. This was between '47-'48.
Harnett: Was that the hydrogen bomb?
Bennyhoff: No, this was the atomic bomb. They bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was nuclear. This was an atomic bomb. What they were doing in those days, Dick, they were testing air burst primarily. One day they blew an underground bomb. When they first started there was an announcement, "We have started testing." Since I was in Reno I would come down and cover the bomb tests. So anyhow, the first several tests they wouldn't let us anywhere near the site. But we found a place called Mount Charleston, where people skied. There were telescopes. We could look down on the test site, which was about 30-40 miles north of Las Vegas, out in the desert. For several months we were covering the bomb tests from Mount Charleston with a short wave radio and a telescope, watching the bomb tests. One day I saw one that looked -- by this time Bikini had come when UP sent me out to Bikini with Bob Miller, Murray Moler. Bart was out there, and Joe Myler was out there, and the whole crew -- So I had seen the underwater tests and I saw in the dirt the pattern I had seen at Bikini. I'll tell you a funny story about the Nevada tests. Finally they let us on the site. They had a place called News Knob, where they had all the reporters. One day they were testing something they were very proud of so they told us quite a bit about it, not too much technical but mostly theatrical show biz. For that test, Baillie came out from New York, and, of course, Bart came down from San Francisco. I was down there. By this time I was covering Nevada politics, one thing and another, and I made friends with a lot of the gamblers. A guy named Benny Binnion owned the Horseshoe Club. I needed a car and UPI kind of frowned if I rented a car because with the bomb tests sometimes we were kept waiting 10 days for weather conditions. Benny lent me one of his cars, a great big long green Cadillac, Benny Binnion's car. I'm writing about gambling and I knew all these people. So Bart flew into town first and I went to the airport to pick him up. He looked at the car and said, "Where did you get this car?" I told him Benny Binnion. "Who's Benny Binnion?" I told him and, "Oh my god!" Baillie came in a little later in the day. Baillie said, "What's this?" You know how Hugh was. "What are you doing with this car, Bennyhoff?" I'm driving the goddam car. "Whaddyamean what am I doing with it?" He said, "You can't be seen in a gambler's car." I said, "Ok, you want to pay me $40 a day to rent a car?" "Well, I guess it's all right," he said. Baillie, I used to love him . . . Bart, here's something about Bart. Bart was a shrewd businessman. Bart had property in Carson City.
Harnett: I knew he had a place up on the lake.
Bennyhoff: he lived up in Glenbrook, but he had property in Carson City. I got a call one afternoon. I was Reno bureau manager at the time. Bart called me and said, "Bob, go over to Carson City and do me a favor." I thought he wanted me talk to the governor or some kind of damned thing. He said, "I'm building a little shopping center over there and I think I'm being short-changed on my bricks. Would you go over and see how many loads of bricks they are using?" So over I went, 30 miles. It turned out he wasn't being cheated. That was Bart.
Harnett: I think he died of cancer. I might be wrong, but I think he was down at that Nevada test and he stuck his head up to see something and got a shot of that stuff.
Bennyhoff: I covered, between there and Bikini I must have covered 40 or 60 tests. I often wonder why I'm not dying of cancer too. Joe Myler died of cancer. Bob Considine died of cancer. They were all out at the test site. I'm still here. We covered one in a tank. We were 1,500 yards from a 30 kiloton bomb on a 500-foot tower. The tank was buttoned up, all the crevices were sealed. When that thing went off we were all sitting facing the rear. The tower was over there, we were facing the other way. We had dark glasses on. I could see every bone in my hand. The tank jumped about 10 feet. I wrote a story, I think I said, "Shake rattle and roll. Give me a 50-ton tank and you can drop a bomb on my doorstep." It got printed everywhere. I covered bomb tests for a long long time. Best was my favorite rewrite man in Los Angeles.
Harnett: Bill Best?
Bennyhoff: Bill Best was a great rewrite man.
Harnett: He was L.A. bureau manager.
Bennyhoff: He was also up in San Francisco, night manager.
Harnett: I got there when he had moved to Los Angeles. Bennyhoff: Have you heard the Natalie Knight-Bill Best stories? Oh never mind.
Harnett: Natalie Knight and Bill Best.
Bennyhoff: Natalie Knight and Bill Best and Al Weiss. Remember Al Weiss? Al Wiess’' number two girl in San Diego was Natalie Knight. She and Bill got married finally.
Harnett: What was her other name?
Bennyhoff: That was it, Natalie Knight Best.
Harnett: He died young.
Bennyhoff: I worked with all those people. By the way, Ed Thomas. Remember Ed?
Harnett: I didn't know him well, but I remember him.
Bennyhoff: Ed was in San Diego a long time. Ed's son, Larry, was Senator Pete Wilson's press secretary when Wilson was mayor of San Diego. He went back to Washington when Pete went back to Washington as a senator. He then became George Bush's press secretary. He then came out here and he works for the Irvine Company, which owns half of Orange County.
Harnett: Ed Thomas worked for the San Diego paper?
Bennyhoff: Ed left UPI and went to work for the Union Tribune down there.
Harnett: Virginia McPherson.
Bennyhoff: Virginia McPherson, a woman of famous stories in the Los Angeles bureau. Bill Payette was overnight manager and Virginia was writing the (Hollywood) column, and they had a couch in the bureau.
Harnett: She told the story herself.
Bennyhoff: Many many stories about that. I think they married later on.
Harnett: Virginia Payette.
Bennyhoff: Is Vernon Scott still alive?
Harnett: Vernon Scott is writing a column for the UP, at least he was the last time I talked to him. I said, "Who's getting your column?" He said he does it to keep his contacts. Apparently there are people out there who don't know there is no more UPI.
Bennyhoff: Hank Rieger. Remember Hank Rieger? He was in San Francisco.
Harnett: I know Hank Rieger. He was my bureau manager.
Bennyhoff: Did you ever hear the famous story about Hank and Bart's visit? Wayne (Sargent) and I were up in the front office. This was when we were in the Hollywood Citizen News. Bart wanted to talk to us about something. He flew down. Bart liked Hank, but Hank would always talk too goddam much. You know Bart didn't like to be cluttered up with yakking. I used to talk too much but somehow he tolerated me. He didn't want Hank to yak at him all the time. Hank wanted to get all the problems solved with the boss. Bart came in the office quietly about quarter to twelve. He said, "For Christ sake, don't tell Rieger." So we didn't. Rieger was in the men's room, in the john. Bart came in and the three of us took off to go to lunch. When Hank came back into the bureau he said, "Where's Bennyhoff and Sargent?" "They left with Bart." Hank says, "God dammit! I'm never going to take a shit again in my life." He had one of those spikes with the lead bottom. He threw it clear across the office.
Harnett: He told me once, and I'll never forget it. He said "I'd rather work than fuck."
Bennyhoff: Hank was a goddam good newsman but the trouble was he's a pain in the ass trying to get along with him.
Harnett: He's still around. He does the Emmy magazine.
Bennyhoff: He was working as a press agent for somebody?
Harnett: He worked for the gas company. He was going to work for the Olympics when you had them in L.A. but he didn't get that job. He worked for Emmy magazine and he still does. I was surprised when I talked to him. He says he goes to work at Emmy magazine. I wondered about his leaving New York? Was he fired?
Bennyhoff: I understand that New York got sick and tired of him. I was told -- remember John Sehon, he was a friend of mine, and others -- that Hank was not suited for that environment. Hank got back there and proceeded to tell everybody how they should do business. They didn't like that. It finally got to the point, I'm told, I think Roger (Tatarian), said, "Hank, either shut up or get out," and Hank chose to quit. Hank was a darn good newsman.
Harnett: He was a hard worker.
Bennyhoff: Worked his ass off.
Harnett: I hardly every called in sick. Once in my career I called in sick, and Hank came on the phone. He said, "Well, I'm sick too. But you stay home." That was his manner. He never took a vacation. So when he left he thought they owed him months of vacation time. I don't know if he got it.
Bennyhoff: He would come in Saturdays, Sundays. They said, "Hank, for Christ sake, stay home, we don't need you here."
Harnett: He is a funny guy.
Bennyhoff: Another guy we had who was a workaholic was John Lowry.
Harnett: I remember John.
Bennyhoff: John was a teletype operator. He taught himself how to write and became a damn good bureau manager (in Los Angeles). He died a while back.
Harnett: When I went to work for UP I started on a Friday or Saturday. I went in Sunday morning. I was the Sunday morning guy. Here's John doing three teletypes, keeping them all going.
Bennyhoff: He could do it, a helluva operator. He also could repair 'em too. When we had the strike, John had parts in one hand and the other hand kept punching.
Harnett: He used to go to work at 5 in the morning in HC. He lived up in the mountains, near Castiac. I figured, jeez, the guy must get up at 3 o'clock.
Bennyhoff: He did. And John kept meticulous files. He had one of the best organized files on Hollywood people and the movie people. New York was always calling up, "Do you have a file on so-and-so?"
Harnett: He told me about that before he died. He said, "You know, we kept files on everything." He said to me, "Every story is going to end up in L.A., and I’m going to keep a file on it, and he did. I talked to his daughter after he died, asking if he had any memoirs or diaries." She said, "Well, there is a garage full of stuff." I said, "If you find anything there about UP, let me know." Gave her my number. Never heard from her. I thought he might have a treasure of stuff.
Bennyhoff: John was a worker. John kept out of the political. There was a lot of politics. John got along with his staff well.
Harnett: He was a well-liked guy.
Bennyhoff: He was a workaholic. He worked his butt off, and he turned out to be a fairly good writer after a while.
Harnett: I don't want to find flaws, but, on a good story it was hard to get him to send somebody out. He had about 10 guys in the bureau. Something's happening out here, he was reluctant to send anyone. Anyway, you had a career as both newsman, reporter and also business side?
Bennyhoff: I have been around.
Harnett: You did everything.
Bennyhoff: I was in Korea, you know. I was sitting in the bureau one afternoon. This was when I was still in Reno. Jack Howard came in. I had met Jack in several places. Bart had the house at Glenbrook. I guess I was kind of one of Bart's favorites. I had been there occasionally and I knew Jack. He says, "Bob, we've got young Ted Scripps and we want him to get some experience with the wire service, but all he wants to do is go out and get fucked. Would you mind bringing him in your bureau and working with him?" I said well all right. Comes this guy, tall, lanky, you know, very personable. I think he had a red convertible of some kind. He comes in and says, "I'm Ted Scripps." "Hi, my name is Bennyhoff." He says, "I guess I'm going to work for you." I said, "Well, you own the goddam place." All right, so for about 18 months I had a lot of fun with that guy. I tried to teach him how to be a wire service reporter. He was a fairly quick learner. My only problem was that he would party at night. We had an early morning radio split, it went out at 6 o'clock. Sometimes I had to come down and do that or it wouldn't get done. I think he stayed there about a year and a half or two years. About this time, the Korean war came along. I was talking to Ted one day and he said, "Hey, New York says you are going off to Korea." In Korea I had an awful lot of fun. I met Earnie Hoberecht, who is another legend. Somebody should write about Hoberecht.
Harnett: I've talked to Hoberecht.
Bennyhoff: Hoberecht was a whole ball game.
Harnett: I sent him a machine like this (tape recorder). I said, "Talk into it."
Bennyhoff: He could tell stories without stop.
Harnett: I said, "Talk about the history of your time with UP." He said, "Well, if I can't remember, I'll make it up." Anyway, you went to Korea.
Bennyhoff: I went to Korea, and one of the things I found there was that the Japanese domestic telephone system was partly working. I didn't tell anybody this. One of our troubles in Korea was getting our copy back. This was before satellites and laptop computers. I decided to go up the west coast with the Korean I Corps. The Koreans very rarely fought side by side with Americans, mostly because Americans didn't really want them. But they had KMAG, the Korean Military Assistance Group, a couple of American officers, a major, a captain, who sometimes went with the Koreans. So we were going up the west coast in the direction of the 38th parallel. Somebody had sent us by mistake an RTT, a regular teletype, with microwave and everything. About this time the big debate among the United Nations was: do we cross the 38th parallel? This RTT truck did not come with an operator. There was a technician who was able to set it up but didn't know how to run the goddam thing. I knew how to punch. "Let me make a deal with you. I'll punch your copy, code it and decode it if you let me have access to your teletype." This was fine. There were no other correspondents, just me and 30,000 Koreans and the KMAG people, a captain and a sergeant. Then I heard on the radio that the United Nations says we are not going to cross the parallel. They worried that the Russians would come in or the Chinese would come in. The night before, I had seen a message a battle order, saying that we were going to cross the parallel at 4 o'clock the next morning. I wrote a story and sent it down to Taegu, which was still in our hands in those days, and told them to hold it for release. Don't send it out or I'll get my ass suspended. And we went across the fucking’ parallel about eight hours after they told us they weren't going to do it. I find a pilot, a Korean pilot in a spotter plane. I said, "Are you going back? Will you give me a lift?" He did and when I got back to the truck I made a call and said release the fucking story. They denied it. I was back up there about eight miles into North Korea, across the parallel.
Harnett: Sargent said they made you a colonel in the ROK army?
Bennyhoff: I hate to say this, but I'm an honorary colonel in the Korean army. See, nobody was paying attention to the ROKs, the Koreans. I was the only correspondent with them. Charlie Moore and Frank Tremaine at this time were in Tokyo. After this the correspondents all came over, Homer Bigart and the rest. "How are you getting copy out?" Nobody knew I had this (communications) truck. Finally I had to tell them. Somebody in Tague spilled the beans. I had to tell them. Then there was a kind of a tank scrimmage. I was on top of a hill. In the valley below me North Korean and South Korean tanks were going at each other. I found a field phone and called 24th Division. The 24th Division was "Danger." I said, "Danger, gimme 'Scotch'’" Scotch was Taegu. "Scotch, gimme Tokyo." This was Sunday morning. "Tokyo, can you patch me through to New York?" "We'll try." I find myself talking to somebody back in New York. I said this is Bennyhoff. I'm on this hill watching this battle. "Aren't you in Korea?" This was long before we had satellites. I'm on top of this hill with a field telephone. They could hear me perfectly. I wrote a story about it. When I first got over there. That was I guess four or five days after it started, they told me I'd be there for six weeks. I stayed there a year and a half before I came back. The 24th Division was over there. The First Cav was over there. We were getting our ass kicked off. General Walker -- he later got killed when his jeep rolled over -- he called us in one day and said, "I want to tell you people that if you want to get out of here, now is a good time to leave, because there is going to be no Dunkirk here. There's no way we can get people out of here. If you stay with us there's a good chance we're going to get overrun." Remember, the gooks were chasing us back pretty goddam rapidly. I remember that very vividly. There were three people from the University of Nevada that often worked together (in UPI), Bob Miller, Murray Moler and myself. The three of us were together at the bomb tests. We were together in Korea.
Harnett: Where did Moler come from?
Bennyhoff: Moler was from Salt Lake City.
Harnett: I think he's dead isn't he?
Bennyhoff: I think Murray died. Murray was also later on the business side.
Harnett: He was well known as a business person.
Bennyhoff: Bob Miller, you know, Bob's still alive I understand. Is he still living in Hawaii, or is he back here?
Harnett: He sent me a tape. He's some place in California. He has a place up in northern California.
Bennyhoff: He bought this goddam gold mine. It didn't have any gold in it.
Harnett: That's where he is. He sent me a tape and said as soon as it starts getting chilly he was going to be in Australia. I guess he has a girlfriend down there.
Bennyhoff: Bob has a girlfriend everywhere. Everywhere we went Bob had some girl. Bob was a remarkable gatherer of information. In Korea, I'd be out on the combat patrol, which I had no business being on, up where the fighting was going on, keeping my head down. Bob was sitting in camp. I come back with some great story. "Hello Bob, I've got a story." He says, "Yeah, somebody came through camp and told me about it." Bob managed never ever to get up where it was dangerous but always knew what the hell was happening. He kept telling me, "You’re going to get your ass shot up one of these days. Come down here and let me show you how to be a good reporter." He was a goddam good writer. He was an expert at getting information.
HARNETT: He must have been independently wealthy.
Bennyhoff: He was.
HARNETT: He worked when he felt like it. He worked vacations in Honolulu, but had to take whatever pay the person he replaced had. Pat Killen said to me, "I was a first year guy, and Bob came to replace me for my vacation. He came up to me and said, 'I can't afford to work for your salary'."
Bennyhoff: You know Charlie Bernard?
Harnett: Oh yes, I know Charlie. When I started at UP he broke me in.
Bennyhoff: He was in Honolulu. Somebody came over there. I don't remember who it was. Charlie took an instant dislike to him. Charlie was a little guy and this was a big husky guy. They had words and this guy took Charlie up and hangs Charlie by his coat on the hanger on the wall and walks out. Charlie later told me this was true. Charlie was a worry wart.
Harnett: Yes he was, but he was a good newsman.
Bennyhoff: Very meticulous.
Harnett: I thought he had been a bellhop. He came from a hotel family in Austria. He told me once he had been a bellhop but I guess he was joking. I had been taught in journalism school to write everything in the active voice. He made everything passive. He was night manager for a long time, then went to Australia, Honolulu, Iran and he came back to San Francisco at the end of his career. I was a good friend of his so we went for coffee a couple of times. They put him in as bureau "administrative" officer. He was supposed to keep the thermostat at the right level, that was his job. He didn't like it. I said, "Why don't you come back on the news side?" He says he couldn't afford to. "How much you make?" I said Guild salary now was now $600-$625. He lights up, says that wouldn't be bad. He wasn't making a lot of money.
Bennyhoff: Is he still alive?
Harnett: No, he died a couple years ago.
Bennyhoff: I used to get Christmas cards from him from Hawaii. When he came back to San Francisco he told me a little bit about his career. He said Beaton wanted get him out of Iran for some reason, and asked him where he wanted to go, Dallas or San Francisco. He said, "Dallas," and he was transferred to San Francisco. Beaton had a way of making people unhappier than they needed to be. As long as you are not doing anything, you might as well not do anything in Dallas.
Bennyhoff: Rodney (Roderic Beaton) was manager in Fresno. Rod was very business minded. His dad, I think, owned the Stockton Record. I think he was publisher of the Stockton Record. Bart, you remember, paid a lot of attention to the publishers’ son. Jake Funk was publisher of the Santa Monica Outlook. Jake had two kids. Both went to Stanford. Ron came to us and Dean went to AP. The old man played that right down the middle.
Harnett: Ron Funk came to San Francisco, was there for a while and then went on the business side with you down in L.A.
Bennyhoff: But Ron was not a good business sider.
Harnett: What bothered me was that this guy is a client.
Bennyhoff: Ron knew that his dad was publisher, and Ron really didn't bust his ass.
Harnett: What I was concerned about was that this guy is going to learn all about UPI, how cheap we'll go. Then he's going to tell his old man.
Bennyhoff: Jake knew what he was doing. Here was Ron knowing what our price schedule was. His other son, Dean, knew what AP was. I used to have to negotiate with Jake once in a while. Jake was the owner, the publisher. I'd go in there he'd have the AP rate and the UPI rate. I'd say, "Jake, I know you know what the rates are. What do you think you ought to be paying?" We'd argue a while, but it would end with me saying, "Give me whatever you want to." Dean was the older brother. He got a job with AP and Ron got a job with UP. Between the two of them they knew everything that was going on. Ron enjoyed himself, Dean was prissy, the typical AP man.
Harnett: They cost us in the next contract.
Bennyhoff: Jake knew more about UPI than I did. He could say, "Whaddya mean $800 a week? They (another client) are paying $600."
Harnett: Beaton told me you and Sargent were better at psyching out the competitive thing.
Bennyhoff: Don't ask me why, but between the two of us I think we had the best sales record in UPI. Not either one of us by ourselves. Later on they broke it up and I always wondered what would have happened if they left us together. Wayne and I are entirely different kind of people. Wayne's kind of prissy, old lady like.
Harnett: He was the only Guild member in Sacramento, and I was surprised when he became a business rep in L.A.
Bennyhoff: I was there first. Bart called me one day and said, "I'm going to send Wayne Sargent. I think he'll make a good business rep." I had met Wayne somewhere, but I didn't know anything about him. He walked in the office that day and said, "I'm Wayne Sargent." I said, "My name is Bennyhoff."
Harnett: Beaton was there (L.A.) before you guys?
Bennyhoff: Yes, Beaton was there.
Harnett: But he was transferred to Atlanta or New York. Bennyhoff: He was transferred to Atlanta. Later on Bart put me in Dallas and put Wayne over in Atlanta.
Harnett: He (Sargent) told me that whenever somebody started making money in a place Bart would promote him to a place where he had to start over.
Bennyhoff: When they cranked up UPI radio, New York offered a prize, $500, for the most sales in radio, $250 for second. Wayne and I won both first and second prizes. We sold more goddam radio than anyone else in the country.
Harnett: I'd like to get some business side incidents, stories, things that happened in negotiations. We have to indicate why this great outfit didn't succeed, or did succeed and died. Some people say bad management. Some say corporations that own the newspapers were saying why the hell do we support two services.
Bennyhoff: A combination. One of the things that happened was that Scripps-Howard got tired of deficits, got tired of supporting it. Secondly, when Mims Thomason came in, and Beaton came in later, Wayne went back to New York and (became sales manager), instead of letting us sell what we could, for the most we could get, they decided that UPI was so important and such a major force that they would set up a plan of rates based on the market size. Wayne always wanted to make everything by formula. I was more seat-of-the pants. We're losing money, so New York gets this great idea, we won't sell our service below certain levels, for every radio station depending on its power and coverage, they pay this much, network pays that much, if a network has 20 members they pay this and if it has 40 they pay that. Newspapers, depending on circulation and coverage area, they pay such and such. The first place we tried that was with the Los Angeles Times. They were paying us something like eight thousand bucks a week -- remember this was quite a few years ago -- that was a lot of money. We went in to see Otis Chandler. Wayne came out from New York. We went in together. Otis said: "You want to do what? You want to raise me to $10,000, why?" Wayne started talking about his goddam chart. I said, "Wayne, let's tell the guy the truth, we're going to go broke if we don't get it?" Otis, to his credit, said, "OK, but I want to warn you. Don't do this very often." Something else happened too. All of a sudden New York began to want to do different things. We had a business wire. The sports wire was a success. We had the race wire. I used to have to go down to Caliente. I had to call New York and say, "I need $2,500. "What do you need it for?" "Don't ask any questions, I need it to go down to save the John Alissio contract." He was paying $10,000 a week.
Harnett: He was Bart's friend, right?
Bennyhoff: Bart's friend. I go down to John Alissio and go to the telephone guy and give him that money. He puts the circuit up. How the hell could I tell New York what I was doing? We made a lot of money off the race wire.
Harnett: One of the things that bothers me, and I haven't gotten an answer for it, was our geographical accounting. The best example is Alaska. When we lost a client we pulled the bureau out. Unless an area could pay for itself, somehow it was not considered a news source. The news component was not figured in when dealing with clients. I saw messages going to New York from (Jim) Buckner and different guys. They'd say, well, 25 bucks line haul, 10 bucks paper, five bucks for machine, that's 40 bucks. We are going to charge them 45 and will make a $5 profit. I always wondered what about the cost of the report.
Bennyhoff: New York was under increasing pressure from Scripps-Howard, from Jack Howard. Bart told me one day, he said, "Bob, I don't think it's going to last." Now this was while he was still in New York. Remember when Bart got sick and had a serious operation? Lee Keller came up to San Francisco and established himself in Bart's office. Lee had always wanted to be Pacific Division manager. He came into Bart's office and started to run the division. I spoke to Bart in the hospital one day. I said, "Bart, what do you know about Lee Keller?" Bart says, "He is in my office? That sonovabitch." I think that made Bart get well. There was a lot of company politics. Thomason was not the president, nor was Beaton, that Baillie had been or even that Bart had been. Baillie was a hard-charging, rock- em sock-em. But,in defense of the others, the economic climate had changed.
Harnett: Roy Howard made money on UP when he was president. Baillie must have made money.
Bennyhoff: Baillie did quite well.
Harnett: Bart, I don't know if he made much from UP. I don't think he did.
Bennyhoff: They used to give the division manager an override. Are you familiar with that?
Harnett: I knew they got a little cut.
Bennyhoff: We had a base line. I had a base line in Dallas. I got a percentage graduated on the improvement from that line. I think twice out of the five years I was there I got something. We were weak in some areas. We were weak in the coastal states, from Atlanta, along there. We were pretty strong in New England. We were very strong in the Far West for a while. AP outspent us too. Remember Bob Woodsum? Woodsum set up this idea of the stock market delivery on 12 goddam lines, the whole stock market in 20 minutes. Well, while we were doing that, the AP was working on some new thing called digital transmission. AP was spending money on research, which we didn't. Our radio was much better than AP's for quite a while, but AP put some money into it and then we began to slack.
Harnett: It seems to me we had a lead in some technical things like Unifax and later, maybe after you left, we came out with these dishes. We had a better one, but we were charging the customer 6,000 bucks for it. AP came along and said, "We'll give it to you." They're not going to give it, they're going to get the money back. But newspapers went for it. I heard that UPI and Movietone had a real potential to become the CNN.
Bennyhoff: Burt Reinhart. He had a lot to do with the success of CNN. He wanted to do that with UPI.
Harnett: The reason he didn't was that the Scripps said we can't afford it? Or was it that our management thought it's not going to be that big a thing?
Bennyhoff: There is something else. The big moneymaker in UPI was United Features. Peanuts alone must have brought in millions. And we had some other damn good strips and columnists. The Scripps newspapers were doing fairly well, but down the road apiece they began to run into trouble too. I've never understood the Scripps management.
Harnett: I have been reading books about E.W. and the other Scrippses.
Bennyhoff: "Damned Old Crank" and so forth. I knew Ted pretty well. He kept in touch with me. I saved his ass a couple time from disasters, marital disasters.
Harnett: They had family disputes.
Bennyhoff: Ted was feuding with his sister, feuding with his brother. When you add Jack Howard into the mix. Roy Howard was a power. Roy commanded the whole goddam thing. The older Scripps was one of a kind.
Bennyhoff: One of a kind. Later on the family weakened. I think they lost interest.
Harnett: This trust E.W. set up. The trust was reaching a point where the grandchildren were supposed to split it up.
Bennyhoff: Charles Scripps was one of the problems. I got to know the Scrippses pretty well, Peggy, Charlie, Ted. They had a house at Lake Tahoe, not very far from Bart's at Glenbrook. I was working with Ted all the time and got to know them, somewhat. I was a strictly an outsider, but I began to see divisions.
Harnett: Family problems. The publishers in this country made a helluva mistake thinking they only need one wire service.Sargent told me you once wrote a contract in blood.
Bennyhoff: Not exactly.
Harnett: I was asking because I need business side stories, client relations stories. I know (Ron) Wagoner.
Bennyhoff: Ron was another one of my old buddies. I used to get him free hotel rooms at Reno and Las Vegas, he and Scoop Beal, his pal. The biggest sponger in the company.
Harnett: Wag was a character in himself.
Bennyhoff: A very good newsman.
Harnett: He was, in his day. When he was in San Francisco, he'd be laying there in his office chair. You'd think he was asleep. He'd come out into the newsroom: "Have we got this?" and point to a little item in the Call-Bulletin. One time it was Jonas Salk working on polio vaccine. It turned out to be a great story.
Bennyhoff: Remember Francis Vanderwie, the Ding Dong Daddy of the D-car line?
Harnett: Yes. He was married about 30 times.
Bennyhoff: I worked in San Francisco a while, and I was in and out of there all the time on the business side.
Harnett: I was there a long time.
Bennyhoff: Years and years.
Harnett: Wag hired me.
Bennyhoff: Wag hired me.
Harnett: A story I was told is that Wagoner had a "protector" down on the L.A. Examiner or someplace because Bart would hear about it if he tried to discipline Wag.
Bennyhoff: Wag also owned the goddam [San Francisco] Press Club.
Bennyhoff: Don O'Kane was one of his pals.
Harnett: Was he the Eureka guy?
Bennyhoff: Yeah. Wag would call me, "Bob, what you doing this weekend? Can you fly up to San Francisco?" I'd go up, and Don O'Kane would meet the two of us and we would go out on the town. Don wore one of those bowler hats and had a cane. Ron had a piece of the Eureka paper. Don let him have a piece. He was a shareholder.
Harnett: Remember Horace Benjamin?
Bennyhoff: Yes, Horace was the office boy.
Harnett: The only good thing I know Ron ever did was he left Horace about $10,000.
Bennyhoff: Ron did very well I understand, with his money. The Eureka newspaper was a moneymaker.
Harnett: They seemed to be such an important client but they weren't paying that much.
Bennyhoff: They were friends. Ron liked to drink. Don liked to drink. Ron wasn't much on chasing broads but O'Kane was a pussyman from way back. I guess I had a reputation at this time for being interested in females. Going out with them was an adventure, I'll tell you that.
Harnett: They'd go over to Bob's Nevada Lounge.
Bennyhoff: You were talking about the business side. It was far from fun and games. I learned early on that the important part was to try to establish a feeling of mutual respect. With a client, instead of saying, "I'm UPI, we can do better for you." I'd get acquainted with the guy. Do your homework before you get there, and find out all you can about him. Then don't play games with him. If you make a promise or you say you'll do something, do it. This is one of the things Wayne and I used to argue about. Wayne was inclined to play the high-low game. We travelled together. One of us would mention a high rate. We'd kind of whipsaw the guy. Let me tell you a funny story about Bart. One day we were up in Portland, Oregon. The publisher of the Portland Oregonian, I forget his name, Jackson? He had been our client for years. He was hard of hearing, had a hearing aid. Bart and I were going to play the high-low game. Bart was going to say, "Mr. Jackson, you know you've been paying a pretty low rate. We've gotta raise this." Then I would say, "Bart, Mr. Jackson is our friend. He supported us all these years." We kept that up for 30 minutes and I noticed Jackson didn't seem to be paying much attention. Then Bart said he thought he saw a tear in Jackson's eye. "I think we've got him," Bart said to me. Then he turned to Jackson and said, "I detect that you are going to give us this rate increase. Jackson turned around and said, "Bart. Horseshit." He had turned his goddam hearing aid off and hadn't heard a word. Something had got into his eye. That's the story.
Bennyhoff: Remember INS? They were out selling for peanuts. But I didn't like some of the AP people because they were tough. One of our troubles was we never had the establishment, the aura that they had.
Harnett: If a guy looked like he was going to UP they'd put him on a committee.
Bennyhoff: They had different board of directors. Every time one of their sizeable clients felt a little wobbly and they though he might go UPI, he would wind up being a director of AP.
Bennyhoff: The Watsonville Pajaronian.
Harnett: I went with the sales rep there and we had them switching from AP. Next time we went it was lost. He (the editor) said the AP was making him a director or something.
Bennyhoff: They made a big thing of the APME every year. Whenever the American Newspaper Publishers Association would meet in New York, division managers were all asked to go back there and wheel and deal. But we didn't do half the entertaining the AP did. We finally had a UPI editor's group, but it was nowhere near the APME.
Harnett: They created a prestige thing. Sargent told me, that AP really didn't have salesmen out there much.
Bennyhoff: We were hustling, we had to hustle.
Harnett: When you went down to Dallas, was anything different down there?
Bennyhoff: Yes, Dallas was very heavily AP country. We had a guy named Fred McCabe. Fred quit, bought a newspaper up in Wyoming.
Harnett: Jackson Hole.
Bennyhoff: He bought the newspaper there and became a country squire. He was a Texan. Texans like Texans. I got along pretty well with the publishers there, but it was AP country. The people on the Dallas Times-Herald were friendly. We had Charlie McCarty. For a long time we used to run the Dallas Times-Herald photographic staff on contract with UPI. McCarty was the bureau manager handling that. We served the Dallas Morning News, but the people there were pretty high up in the AP directorship. That's one thing that always played against us. They (AP) found that we were going to get our hands on one of the papers in New Mexico, Santa Fe I guess. We had the guy convinced. Then AP made him a member of the board of directors. That was the end of that.
Harnett: Somebody told me, maybe it was Rod Beaton, that when INS merged, Scripps-Howard said, "You can buy INS if you want, but we are going pull away the features."
Bennyhoff: We didn't get much. Hearst kept King Features.
Harnett: UP lost United Features to Scripps-Howard. That was a significant loss. Beaton told me he didn't realize how important that was. Peanuts was keeping UP alive for a while.
Bennyhoff: You know in the executive ranks Earl Johnson was a tower of strength. So was Roger (Tatarian) but Roger didn't have real stature. H.L. Stevenson was a real good newsman, but he wasn't a tower. I don't know. In the AP you are a member of the club. That was one of our problems. In UP you were a customer. The AP told them, "It's yours, you own it, you run it." A lot of people liked that.
Harnett: That's why we did a lot better on broadcast.
Bennyhoff: The broadcast side, and that's why we did better on the smaller newspapers, because AP didn't really pay attention until they realized what we were doing to them.
Harnett: Tatarian told me the (San Francisco) Chronicle paid us $2,500 a week and paid the AP $5,000. We'd take that money out to the hills, to the little radio stations, and give it away. You couldn't win that game. AP had more to give away.
Bennyhoff: By the time I came back from Australia, I knew the die was cast. I went back to Los Angeles. Scripps-Howard was increasingly demanding that we break even. They were tired of supporting it. I had a pretty good in with Ted (Scripps), and Charlie. Ted regarded me as kind of father confessor. They kept telling me, "Bob, we don't know how long we can hang on." They were friends of UP. And then there was Beaton. I liked Rod but he didn't seem to have the drive. You know what I mean? How do I describe it?
Harnett: He wasn't highly regarded.
Bennyhoff: Bart was highly regarded. Baillie was highly regarded. Mims Thomason had been a division manager. Beaton was better than Thomason.We were always trying to get the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when I was in Dallas. We had the Daily News, we had the Times-Herald. Thomason came out a couple times. I was horrified when I saw him talk to the publishers. People just didn't warm up to him.
Harnett: Somebody told me a story that on a potential Reuters connection, Thomason went over to London for a meeting with the Reuters management.
Bennyhoff: Remember that Reuters is another member-owned organization. I learned the meaning of that down in Australia.
Harnett: Thomason came into the meeting and said, "Well, what is it going to take for us to buy out Reuters?" Then the head guy from Reuters stands up and says, "What is it going to cost us to buy UPI?" The meeting broke up in five minutes.
Bennyhoff: Down in Australia I got to know a gentleman named Rupert Murdoch pretty well. He had one of the Sidney papers. We served them exclusively. Rupert's father, Keith Murdoch, owned the paper in Melbourne, the paper in Perth and one in Brisbane. We were able to wheel and deal pretty well until AP began to do things technically that we weren't doing. Rupert asked me one day if I would like to work for him. I didn't go.
Harnett: (George) McCadden went to work for him.
Bennyhoff: I know he did. Eric Riel almost went to work for him.
Harnett: After you left, UPI started selling itself, sold the picture service to Reuters -- gave it away.
Bennyhoff: They gave the picture service away, and the library. Somebody just bought the archives recently.
Harnett: Yes, Bill Gates bought it. I'm sure he paid $20 million for it. UPI sold the thing for peanuts.
Bennyhoff: I remember before it was UPI pictures. It was Acme. Remember Cliff McDowell?
Harnett: Yes, I talked to him not long ago.
Bennyhoff: Cliff and I were friends. I was a lot older and not so harum scarum I guess. I talked to Rupert one day about all this. "You know," he said, "maybe I ought to buy UPI." I called New York and said they might want to talk to Murdoch. They told me he was a maniac. Well, he was a goddam rich maniac. Look where he is now.
Harnett: He bought Fox TV.
Bennyhoff: Rupert's top editorial guy came to me when the Americas Cup yacht race was coming up. A guy named Frank Packer was in it. Rupert said, "We'd like to have some special service from UPI on the Australian entry." I said OK but it's going to cost. He said he didn't care, to give him a figure. So I called New York. Here's a guy that is paying us about $15,000 a week. They said tell him 25 or 30 thousand a day. That made Rupert mad. I wanted to get a decent price but not to gouge him.
Harnett: Did we have a loser mentality in a way?
Bennyhoff: No, I think later on we got a desperate mentality.
Harnett: Remember Jimmy Anderson?
Bennyhoff: Yes, very well. He was in Sacramento.
Harnett: He was a great newsman, a beautiful newsman. I gave Jimmy Anderson a ride home one night, in the '60s. He was division news manager in San Francisco after Wagoner. I was shocked when he told me this company was not going to make it. I thought it is terrible if that's the way our managers feel about it.
Bennyhoff: Pete Willett. Remember Pete? A real sharp character. If we had done some of the things Pete wanted to do, we wouldn't be out of business now. We all kind of agreed among ourselves that it was the beginning of the end.
Harnett: This was in the '60s?
Bennyhoff: Sixties, '70s. I retired in '86.
Harnett: In the early '60s UP was maybe not making money but paying its way.
Bennyhoff: We were breaking even, but you see, Pete wanted to really expand. We made a bad mistake, and I think (Bill) Payette was partly responsible for this. Payette took over the UPTN. Burt Reinhart, if they had listened to Burt. he wanted to expand. He wanted to make deal with Viznews, which was Reuters, and he wanted make deal with some outfit in Asia. Scripps-Howard said no you don't want to do that, we would have to put money into it. We had a pretty good television service but, again, they wouldn't spend the money to do big things.
Harnett: When you were down in Dallas did they have that big computer center?
Bennyhoff: No, that came later. When I came to Dallas a guy named Brandt was division manager. Fred McCabe had been a powerhouse. Bart sent me down to take Brandt's place. The bureau was dispirited. We had a guy named Ward Caldwell. Ward was division news manager. Charlie McCarty was picture manager. He was the only bright spot down there. The fellas were dispirited. AP was kicking our ass around. In the late '60s and early '70s the handwriting was pretty much on the wall.
Harnett: I called Bill McCall couple weeks ago. Somebody told me he was going blind.
Bennyhoff: Is Tom Curran still alive?
Harnett: Curran died a couple years ago. I didn't’ know him well. He knew a lot of people. Everybody thought he was a great gentleman.
Bennyhoff: He ran Acme for a while.
Harnett: Sherman Montrose.
Bennyhoff: All these guys were my friends.
Harnett: There are still some alive. Dick McMillan and Boyd Lewis. He joined UP in 1923 and left in '45. They still remember those days.
Bennyhoff: There was still a gung-ho spirit that AP didn't have. I used to write the political column for the Nevada State Journal, not under my name, under the publisher's name. I also got mixed up in the legislature over there and I was wheeling and dealing, doing all kinds of things. Would have got fired if they knew what I was doing. The publisher there was Jim McDonald, owned by Merrit Speidel, Speidel newspapers. They owned several papers. He offered me the job to be editor of the Journal. Later I could have been a publisher for Gannett. They all got about 2 million bucks apiece. I turned it down. All of us had chances go somewhere else.
Harnett: You liked your work.
Bennyhoff: I did, and I was having a ball. I didn't get much money but I was having a ball.
Harnett: That characteristic marks the UPI concept.
Bennyhoff: It changed, later on that was gone. I don't know what happened.
Harnett: After you left they brought in a guy from the Chicago Tribune who had no idea what was going on. Then two guys from the Washington Post. Each of them was getting $1,300 a week. They didn't have any idea what was going on. What was really disastrous about that was that we had guys like Lou Carr and other talented people who had worked for as long as 40 years for UPI and were getting 680 bucks a week. A few people got soured. Wagoner was kind of soured.
Bennyhoff: Wagoner told me once he was just going to wait for his pension.
Harnett: That's what he did. I remember the day he left the bureau. I went down the elevator with him. He said, "They wanted to give me that watch but to hell with them."
Bennyhoff: Another thing we didn't do enough of, we didn't bring women in. Aline Mosby and Ginny McPherson, and we had somebody in Denver, we had some women but we were pretty heavily male dominated and I always thought that was a mistake. I think when I was in Dallas I made three or four women bureau managers.If I had to do it over again I'd probably do the same thing. I gotta tell you I enjoyed most of the years I was with UPI.
Harnett: I enjoyed my career.
Bennyhoff: Not a lot of money but I got by.
Harnett: Hell, I had seven kids. When we moved to San Francisco I started out at $47.50 Guild scale. My wife didn't work.
Bennyhoff: When I came back from the war I was a navigator. I was a lieutenant colonel, with combat pay and overseas pay I was getting something like, 2,500 bucks a month. In 1945 that was a lotta money. The generals in the Air Force were all pilots. I was one of the highest ranking navigators in the goddam Air Force. But I couldn't bear the peacetime Air Force. They had a bunch of jackasses running the place. If I'd had any sense I'd have stayed there 10 years and got my retirement. I went back to work for UP in the Reno bureau for $47.50 a week.
Harnett: One of the things I want to verify is this story you mentioned to me on phone and Sargent mentioned to me, about William Randolph Hearst's paramour, her wedding.
Bennyhoff: Marian Davies, she was marrying some sea captain, Horace Brown, a retired merchant sea captain. I was down covering the bomb tests. That particular night it was wiped out because of the wind. Danny Kettleman owned the El Rancho Vegas. I was staying there at the time. Marian, you know, was now a very wealthy woman. The first guy I saw was a photographer for the Herald-Express who I knew very well. He came over to me and said, "Bob, I want to give you a tip but for god sake don't ever tell anybody I gave it to you. I'm going out and get back on the plane and going to Los Angeles." He'd been on the plane for some reason and sat next to Marian Davies. He knew who she was. Now remember, the old man was just dead, and UPI had just made the deal for INS. Anyhow, he didn't want to get fired by the Herald-Express. Pretty soon Kettelman came over and said, "I've got a tip for you." I said, "You’re gonna tell me Marian Davies is getting married. He said, "How did you find out? They are getting married here in the hotel. I'm not supposed to tell anybody. I've been invited to the wedding." I said, "I want to go to the wedding too. Why don't you tell them I'm the assistant manager." Off we went. They got married. I went to the phone and called San Francisco. I asked for Wagoner. I said, "Ron, I've got a story here. Marion Davies is married. The INS people are all running for the hills. I think we should run the damn thing." "Bob, I don't know. Why don't you call New York." I did and I think I got Earl Johnson. "How do you know she was married?" "Well, I was there." We had just made this deal with Hearst. "The Herald-Examiner people and INS people tell me they're not going to touch it. They flew back to Los Angeles." Earl said, "Well, are you sure?" "For Christ sakes, I was there. I saw the marriage license." "Well, all right Bob, but you better be goddam sure. It'll be your ass and mine too." We ran the story. I had to argue with Johnson. He said, "Why don't we let somebody else do this?" There was a lot of politics there. Nobody knew how influential Marian was with the Hearst brass. Remember, the deal had just happened. We had just taken it (INS) over. And the Herald-Express, which Hearst owned, their guy said, "Don't you tell anybody I was on that airplane."
Harnett: It's not true that you sneaked into this wedding in a bellhop's uniform?
Bennyhoff: No. No. The truth is I was an assistant manager. Marian said, "Who's that?" They were married by a justice of the peace. They had to have one witness, which was Belden, and there was a photographer, they wanted a picture. There wasn't any party. Marian didn't want anyone to know they were getting married. They flew out immediately on a chartered plane to Palm Springs, and that's where the rest of the world had to catch up with them because Belden wouldn't talk. Remember, I was covering gambling. I knew all these people.Belden Kettelman, they had a bunch of parking lots. The first casino in Las Vegas was the El Rancho. Then there were the Stardust and the Grand. When I got back from the war and was in Reno, we had a state official called the surveyor general. It was a carryover from the silver days, the Comstock. He came in one day -- I knew him -- Red McCloud. "What do you want?" "Bob," he says, "there's some tax land down at a place called Paradise Valley. They're selling it for $6 an acre." It was about four or five miles outside Las Vegas. I didn't have any money, but my wife did. Off we go, down to Las Vegas. We drove around the fuckin'’ desert down there. "Christ, how much do they want? Are you gonna buy?" He said, "I think I'll buy some." When I got home my wife said, "$6 for a desert? No way." Guess what sits on that land now, the Grand, Caesar's Palace, the Stardust. Anyhow, I coulda kicked my ass.
Harnett: Are you from California?
Bennyhoff: I am from Oroville, born Oroville, grew up in Quincy, California, grandparents in Oroville, grandparents in Chico. Nevada had legalized gambling in 1933. Silver mining was over and there wasn't much gold in those days, the '40s, '50s. The state was going broke so they legalized gambling. Most of the gamblers in the country at that time were operating by paying off (bribing authorities) in places like Beverly Hills, in Kentucky, Detroit, Chicago, Miami, Costello in New York. They'd pay off. They didn't do numbers, they didn't do drugs, they didn't do beer. They gambled, but they paid off a percentage of the profit and it was goddam profitable. They came out to Nevada. Lo and behold, they could get a license. They had to pay a table tax and one thing and another, but they didn't have to have a bodyguard. They didn't have to be afraid of somebody shooting their ass. They were startled. "Bob, how much do you give the mayor? How much the governor?" I said, "For Christ sake don't." So I got to know them pretty well. Then the state decided they should start regulating it a little more closely because they had quite a few people coming in. And although in the IRS files they were a big red R -- "racketeer," in Nevada they were considered general business people. They were not doing what they had been doing, they were not doing fun and games. They were legitimate. They had an understanding among themselves. If you are going to kill anybody, don't kill 'em in Nevada. Kill 'em in California or Oregon. You remember the Cal-Neva, Sinatra's place on the (California-Nevada] border? One night some guys got into a fight and one was shot on the Nevada side of the lobby. They called the cops but before they got there they dragged the body over to the California side.
Harnett: Did you know Howard Hughes?
Bennyhoff: Quite well. Howard didn't talk to anybody. I knew him through Hank Greenspun. Hank Greenspun was his partner in some aspects. Howard was an egocentric, a maniac. He was a Mormon. He had these guards. He took over the Desert Inn. A guy came out named Sam McGinny. His inn was owned by Wilbur Clark, who owned a bar down in San Diego. I was talking to McGinny one day. We were talking about Detroit. They used to have a big gambling hall there called Willow Run, outside Detroit in a place called Mount Clemens. One of the Fords, probably Edsel, did a lot of gambling. They would get into him for two or three million bucks. So one day, the guys went over to see the older Henry, who was still alive those days. This was before the war. They said, "You know, we'd kinda like to get our money." The older Ford said, "Do you people own any laundries? Why don't you go out and buy the biggest laundry you can find." In those days Ford provided uniforms to all its employees as he had a mania about being neat and clean. So they got rich on doing Ford's laundry. They ploughed money from that into the Desert Inn. I had connections with the governor and tax commission -- gambling commission in those days -- and the legislature. The gamblers wanted to talk taxes with the state. They didn't want to approach it head on, and they didn't want lawyers because they didn't trust 'em. For some reason they trusted me. I had been writing all kinds of stories. What they were trying to do was avoid the sales tax. They wanted to set up a system of taxing one table, a certain tax, two tables more. Some had 40 or 50 tables, plus a percentage of how much the house won. We finally worked it out. About this time a guy named Frank Costello ran the New York operation. We always thought he had a piece of the Sands hotel. The Sands was owned by a guy named Jakie Friedman, who came from Houston, a club called the Le State Privee, an upstairs illegal gambling joint. Your admission was a $10,000 bill. One day Costello was in a barbershop in New York getting a shave. Somebody took a shot at him and missed him, but the cops got there and searched him. In his pocket was a piece of paper with a certain sum on it and a dollar sign. It turned out that the figure was the exact count of the Sands boxes for the night before. The way the clubs work is that they take the boxes out and count 'em. When they counted the money they are supposed to tell the state how much they made. So the state then put somebody in the rooms to watch 'em count. Then they realized they better have somebody watch the people watching the count.
Harnett: Costello was skimming?
Bennyhoff: No, Costello wasn't skimming. Jakie was just the front man. Jakie one time offered me 2 percent if I'd go to work for him. I don't think you can print this. I made a mistake, too. His mistress, a luscious looking redhead, and I had an affair. I found out later who in hell I was sleeping with, and got scared.
Harnett: Where did Myram Borders come from?
Bennyhoff: Myram, she came from the University of Nevada. She won a Harold's Club scholarship. She went to work for me, then we put her down in Las Vegas as bureau manager. Myram was a damn good news lady. Harold's Club gives scholarships, in those days four-year, $5,000 scholarships. That was a lot of money in those days.
Harnett: One more guy I want to ask you about, in Reno before you got there. Was it Beebe?
Bennyhoff: Clark Bigler.
Harnett: There was another guy that Wagoner fired.
Bennyhoff: He got in all kinds of trouble. I can't remember his name.
Harnett: I remember the day Wagoner fired him. The guy had gone to a Ford dealer and took a Ford car as a "bonus."
Bennyhoff: Wag was funny. He told me, "Don't take anything." Then every couple months he'd call, "Can you get me a free room at the Riverside or Sands?"
Harnett: He was a freeloader.
Bennyhoff: You know it. If you want, I will take you down and buy you lunch. How do you like that?
Harnett: I'd love it.
At lunch Bennyhoff told me about Oscar Fraley doing his expenses account once in which he had an item, "men aren't made out of wood." L. B. Mickel called him on it and he said, "Yeah, it was whorehouse." But Mickel paid it. One of his stories about Korea was that the First Marine Division set out tin cans on strings so they would hear them rattle if enemy soldiers came in. One night the Marines heard these cans and started firing into the woods. The Marine general tried to put it down as great victory. Bennyhoff wrote a story saying it was just an animal in the tin cans. The general was unhappy about that.
Bob has a dog, a cat, a goat, a horse, a jackass and two Mexican workers on his property. He is very active in community politics. Reporters from the Orange County Register and the L.A. Times ask him how to become an investigative reporter. He tells them, "First, you have got to become a reporter, get your own information." He said somebody recently offered him $75,000 for his paper, but if he gave it up, what will I do?
He was planning a trip to the Greek islands.