This is the final installment of interview by Dick Harnett, retired UPI San Francisco bureau manager, with Wayne Sargent, former vice president and sales manager for UPI and later a newspaper publisher. It was taped at Carmel, Calif., on Nov. 6, 1995, and corrected by Sargent on Feb. 17, 1996 by Sargent)
Harnett: I have his name.
Sargent: He took the ideas he tried to get UPI to do, he took them to CNN and put them into effect, and they worked. We always knew they would work. Turner was in a position to do this and wanted to do it. UPI was never in a position to do it. We didn't have the money.
Harnett: This mystique about Downhold. Was that part myth, or was there something to it?
Sargent: Nothing mythical about it, except what is a downhold? You never heard of a downhold being lifted, so one downhold was applied on another and another -- "This is a real downhold." Pretty soon it got so people just laughed at it and said this firm is in the condition of permanent impoverishment. You had the story that "Hold down expenses" became "downhold" in cablese. Well, theoretically, it was perpetrated by L. B. "Save a Nickel" Mickel.
Harnett: In San Francisco the business reps would be ordered not to travel, not to put in any expenses. But as far as I could see, all they did was wait until the downhold was drifting away and then put in the expenses. I don't know what they did about clients in that period.
Sargent: Part of my training, when I was doing the sales training program, I showed guys how to travel a territory at the least expense. It involved more use of the telephone. I worked with a guy who was an expert in marketing from the telephone company. He was on loan to UPI for that purpose. I took every salesman's territory and I said, "Now, there is a certain way you can go, from Los Angeles for example -- one trip to Arizona, one up the coast to Santa Barbara, then one inland. "So I said, "What you do is you spot your clients along the way. When you go out you first hit points A, D and G. But when you get to D you call B and C on the phone -- short calls. When you get to G you call E and F. This way you could hold down expenses but you've got contact with them all the time."
Harnett: Even phone expenses?
Sargent: Yeah. Then the next time you make a trip you have got a record of what you did, and you don't hit G and D, you hit B, F and I. And then I showed them what you do to shorten the sales call. I said the optimum was, for a guy in a crowded area with a lot of clients, you make five sales calls in one day. That's the target. I said, "Now if you are out in the middle of Kansas, if that is where you are assigned, you ain't got no clients so you have to think in terms of prospects and when you do that you do it a different way."
Harnett: These new guys who took over UPI. Even when I was bureau manager in San Francisco, they gave me a credit card. They gave the sports writers credit cards. They gave everybody a MasterCard or whatever it was. You could go and buy drinks with it or whatever. I thought it was terrible. I remember one of the business reps I overheard on the phone one day. He had bought a piano or something and was urging them to -- put it on the credit card. It wasn't MasterCard, it was the prestige one, the green one. They got $100,000 in the hole and they cut it off, but such a ridiculous thing. And Reeve Hennion, you know Reeve Hennion?
Sargent: Sure I do. I hired him. I take that back. I didn't hire him, but Tom Hennion, his father in Tulare was one of my closest friends.
Harnett: Is Tom still alive?
Sargent: No, but when Reeve was coming along, he said, "Can you get him a job in the wire service?" I said, "You bet your life I can." He was a great talent and I knew him.
Harnett: He worked in Hawaii a long time, worked in San Francisco, really tried to do a good job.
Harnett: Anyway, during the Democratic political convention, they had no money. I saw him go out to the convention hall one day. I said, "What are you going over there for?" He had a briefcase. He said, "I am going over to pay the staffers." They had no credit. He had the cash in the briefcase.
Sargent: The conventional wisdom of those days was that you didn't hire sons and offspring of newspaper people and you didn't try to sell contracts or keep a contract by utilizing their family. I never felt that way. I said sons of good newspapermen are good workers themselves, and I hired all of them I could. It not only kept us solid with the client, but all of them that I ever had any part in were good. Chris Ogden was good. He was the son of Mike Ogden, Providence, R.I.
Harnett: Ron Funk was one too.
Sargent: Ron Funk was conscientious and intelligent and worked hard and learned a lot and went back to his family newspaper in Santa Monica and he remained a good friend of UPI.
Harnett: One of the things mentioned about UPI is the genuine independence of the news. There was no line from the top. I can remember only one story, when Eisenhower was going to run for president, that somebody said, "This story about Ike is a Roy Howard must." But you never heard that. When Bart was doing the wine thing, he really chewed them out in New York one time because they did a long piece about him winning a wine prize. He liked to have a little story, but he didn't want that appearances of seeking publicity on the wire.
Sargent: I'll tell you what we did do. We were never commanded by Bart or suggested by Bart, but in Sacramento one of the yearly stories was to cover the state fair. The state fair had a big, probably the biggest wine judging contest, and we carried, every year, all the winners from top to bottom, including the honorable mentions. We got into that pattern. If Bart was in there anywhere we had it. I thought, "This is for his information, nothing else." And they got it to Bart in New York.
Harnett: I never worked on a paper, but my feeling was that there was always a kind of management policy, or line, even on the Scripps-Howard papers, that you kind of were expected to absorb and know. But in UPI I could never identify anything like that.
Sargent: No, there never was anything. It varied from paper to paper and in intensity. The Hoiles in Santa Ana took all their employees and put them through their own college in Colorado Springs, called Freedom College. People had to go there and they were politically trained and politically brainwashed to reflect the policies of that paper. For a long long period of time that was true. In some places it was only a matter of style. Colonel McCormack in Chicago had certain things. He said the word "through" should be spelled "thru" and that's the way it always was on the Tribune, in his papers. The McClatchys had certain things. Eleanor McClatchy at one time said, "There is no such thing as a penny. It is legally a one-cent piece, and we will not refer to it by its nickname. When there is any mention of coins that involves that particular copper coin it shall be referred to in our paper as a one-cent piece." So a guy named Bill Glacken, who did all the drama and music reviews, reported one time that Frank Sinatra in concert sang, "One-cent pieces from heaven." He never was criticized for it. Yeah, there were lots of sacred cows. When I became publisher at Nashville I found a whole set of rules that were given to me verbally by the previous publisher, Jimmy Stahlman. Frank Sinatra, his name was never mentioned in the Nashville Banner. It was illegal, improper to mention him at any time because Stahlman thought he was crook and had crossed him somewhere. I removed all those rules.
Harnett: How about the AP? Were they like the publishers? Something happens in our town, the publisher calls up and says, "I would just as soon you didn't put that out?"
Sargent: We'd get calls, but we referred them up to somebody who had the power to make that kind of decision and the publisher would be told, "I'm sorry. We can't do it."
Harnett: In the AP too?
Sargent: The AP too. The wire services were as objective and as honest as any journalistic society I know.
Harnett: This calls to my attention something I never forgot. During the McCarthy hearings I was filing the wire in SX and got a call from one publisher or editor complaining that we were pro-McCarthy. I said, "OK, I'll tell the bosses about it and pass it up," and I hung up. A half hour later a call came from another publisher who said our story was all anti-McCarthy. "You've got bias in here and I am going talk to Bartholomew." They were talking about the same identical story. I forget the byline but I said to myself, "That guy had it right down the middle."
Sargent: Right. If there were complaints from both sides, and there were on politically sensitive things, if you got complaints from both sides you knew you were all right. There were some trying times that were never reported back on the news side as a result. I don't know if you know the Las Vegas situation. There were two publishers up there. One was Don Reynolds, who had the Review Journal and about 39 other papers. And there was Hank Greenspun, who was a very flamboyant guy. I've got his two books right here. Greenspun had taken over the Sun, which had gone into bankruptcy earlier and was taken over by the typographers union. When they were going broke they called Greenspun in and he took over the paper for one dollar. That's all it cost him for the Sun. One group of people said Greenspun had never paid any money back that he owed to the ITU for the paper. He said that wasn't so. He said he borrowed $19 million and paid every cent back. Be that as it may, these two publishers were so at odds with one another that they would never even go to the same convention. They would send reporters out with feelers. Because one was going to the Nevada Press Association, the other would not. They hated each other. Al Kalin, who was managing editor of the Review Journal, had written a column for years, "From Where I Sit." Greenspun started a column in opposition to it. He called it, the same as his book, "From Where I Stand." He was standing, the other guy was sitting, it was that intense. At any rate, there was a candidate for governor of Nevada and he died in the middle of the campaign, and Greenspun took over his campaign as a surrogate. He was running for this guy. Reynolds was irate. He really got mad. The Review Journal had both AP and UPI. The Sun had only UPI. Reynolds felt that all of Greenspun's campaign press releases and so forth were all being funneled through his wire service, UPI, and UPI was carrying them all on the wire and he didn't want to see them. I was called up to his managers meeting at his home in Lake Tahoe. He stood me up in front of the whole group and told all of his managers, he said, "I want Mr. Sargent to hear this. As long as Hank Greenspun is a candidate for governor in the state of Nevada there are only three stories which UPI may carry. One when he loses. Two if he dies while campaigning. Three if he withdraws his candidacy. Those are the only three legitimate stories about Hank Greenspun." Here I am before all these managers and editors out there. I took a deep breath and told Bennyhoff, "Well, here we go, we are probably going to lose the Reynolds newspapers, all of them. Reynolds said, "What do you say in response, Mr. Sargent?" I said, "There is no way we can do that, Mr. Reynolds. There are stories that he's generating [Greenspun], issues that he's talking about every day. The UP will carry those, even if we lose all your papers from Fort Smith to Las Vegas." I said, "The answer is a flat no, and I'm prepared to take the consequences." We later sat down and worked it out. There was one guy in UPI he trusted, a guy named Russ Nielsen. I said, "Here's what we will do. Any story emanating from Greenspun's headquarters or about Greenspun originating in Las Vegas will be sent on a bureau wire to Reno first and will be reviewed and edited by your friend Russ Nielsen. You trust him. "And then the story will be filed back from there."
Harnett: Was Reynolds serious about that?
Sargent: Oh, absolutely. That morning he sent us cancellation for all his newspapers. But his master contract, fortunately, was negotiated by Bill Payette out of Dallas. Their headquarters at that time was Fort Smith, Arkansas. So Bill inherited it all. Bill had a trick of negotiation. He said, "Every year you lose something that you've got with Reynolds. The object is to pick up something else that you haven't got that's worth the same amount of bucks, and try to keep a parity." That's the way it went for years. Bill said. It was the worst torture he every went through in negotiations.
Harnett: We got some of them back eventually.
Sargent: Oh yes. We served them all, up pretty much until the end. I do some of their judging for them now, annual prizes. They call me up. I said, "If you knew what I've been through with the DonRey papers, maybe you wouldn't want me." But they wanted me, and every year I do editorial, pictures and whatever category.
Harnett: Guys like J. Hart Clinton.
Sargent: J. Heartless.
Harnett: Every time I saw him he said, "You work for UPI? I got them by the . . . I've got a 1932 contract and they can't break it." He died and his paper's going down the drain now.
Sargent: Well. I took very good care of him and his daughter Barbara when they were over in Bermuda. It was true. He had a 1932 Asset Value contract. It paid him a rebate of 5 percent on every dollar he spent. The contracts were later declared illegal by the federal government so we wrote no more of them, but he had one of the old ones and it was still valid. He wouldn't give up that contract. He knew he had something few had.
Harnett: He was using our service. It was the slow wire but his editors liked it because they didn't want to deal with all the paper.
Sargent: The San Mateo Times. When my father-in-law died, he lived in San Mateo, I called a number of people and got a little piece into the Chronicle and a couple other places. I called old J. Hart and said, "My father-in-law died, would you be interested in a story? He was quite a mover and shaker in the and around San Mateo." He said, "That was your father-in-law?" He gave it front page, a big story. Clinton sounded mean but was OK.
Harnett: I don't think his son is up to the job.
Harnett: There was another publisher out here on the West Coast, a guy up in Coos Bay, Oregon.
Sargent: Sheldon Sackett.
Harnett: Sheldon Sackett. I bet you've got stories about him.
Sargent: I was in SX when he pissed on the Fairmont Hotel rug in the lobby.
Harnett: I heard it was over in the in Oakland at the Claremont. He was a manic depressive or something like that.
Sargent: His wife tried to have him declared mentally incompetent so she could take charge of his empire. He used to carry $10,000 in cash. I saw him peel off $5,000 and give it to a student, just give it to him.
Harnett: Is he gone?
Sargent: Yes. Well, she had him on there (competency hearing) for five days. He so befuddled the lawyers. He had in his mind the workings of all his corporations, there was the Coos Bay World and KYA in the Bay Area and all the others. Over five days he befuddled them so much that the judge said, "Hey, there's nothing wrong with this guy's mental capabilities. You guys can't even follow what he's talking about. He knows." But he was odd. He wrapped himself in wet sheets whenever there was a full moon. And he tried to start newspapers all around the country.
Harnett: I knew a guy in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Harnett: I know a guy who worked for that paper. I saw him last summer.
Sargent: Remember what he did in San Jose? That was really funny and he actually did it. The San Jose paper was owned by the Ridder family. It was one of the Ridder papers, before Knight-Ridder, and it was always pretty healthy. The Ridder family is an old German family. They ran the newspapers the way old German families do. The oldest child was in charge of all the papers. The next one in charge of finance and so on down the line. There would be B.J., Ben, Hank and it finally got down to today's generation, the third generation, Tony and Dan. Tony is now president of Knight-Ridder. They owned, among other things, the Staats-Zeitung, the only and the best German newspaper in America, in New York. Like Lindbergh and others, the Ridders felt that Hitler was a wonderful asset to the country, and the nationalism that he was espousing, Nazism, the Nazi Party, was good for the country. You could see the country growing and getting stronger. So they supported Hitler all the way through to Poland and Czechoslovakia. Sheldon Sackett had pictures of all of them and he printed the pictures of the whole family with swastikas all around the outside of it and stapled them to damn near every telephone pole in San Jose. It said these Nazis own and run the San Jose paper and I, Sheldon Sackett, will come in with a new one and it will be better. The Nazi crooks ought to be prosecuted for war crimes, and so forth. What Sackett hoped to do was get around the pressmen and ITU and was going to have the paper be done by lithographers in San Jose. It never worked. But my remembrance is of all of the Ridders’ pictures pasted on telephone poles with swastikas on them. It was a wonderful chapter in history. Sackett did that.
Harnett: Some of the legends of UP, a lot of them have been repeated and repeated, and some, as you say, are mythological. I was talking the other day to a guy writing the military history of a unit. He started checking things out. He said, "I can get all kinds of stories, but they never happened." I wonder how much UPI legend happened? I think you have to go with the legends a little bit rather than try to pin things down to actual fact, because I just don't think it’s possible to get facts on a lot of these stories.
Sargent: You can get factual information on most of the stories, chase them back and find out whether they are true or not. But as far as the book is concerned, if you are going to run stories you can say. "This one may be myth. It’s been around UP for many years. We are unable to substantiate but the story is so good that we have got to tell it." Then tell the story.
Harnett: I think that's a good idea. Tell them it must remain just a story. There's always going be someone who presents another version of it. A year or two ago I was trying to track down some saints. A Catholic priest asked me do a story about Saint Veronica. Well, I started looking. There was no Saint Veronica. It's a total legend. Which is OK. I went over to Berkeley and talked to a couple of experts, saint experts. They said, "Well, it doesn't matter. This is a story." I thought, being a reporter I hesitate to say something about somebody who didn't exist.
Sargent: Sometimes those legends have moral connections with them, and the value of the moral is great enough that you want to tell the story because it's wonderfully illustrative of something you need or feel has got to be said. But some are true. You know, somebody said Mims Thomason never had his shoes on when he was in the office. Well, you can trace it back, he never did. He was almost always in his socks.
Harnett: Took his shoes off?
Sargent: Took his shoes off. Left them behind the desk. He would go out to meet somebody, in the middle of his office or even outside. He would shake hands with them, still wasn't wearing any shoes.
Harnett: Where did he come from?
Harnett: He started out as a newsman with UP?
Sargent: Yes, I think so. He was from Knoxville. Scripps-Howard had a newspaper there. Could be he started with it.
Harnett: UP never really had a union problem as far as I can determine. They had one strike, which I think the company won from the punchers, and then had a guild strike. But that was never a really big deal for UP was it?
Sargent: We came very close to some very heavy and large strikes even when I was in New York. I forget what year it was, but we went to mediation and arbitration and I know all of the executives had to learn TTS punching. We were assigned and worked two hours a day punching TTS. I became fairly proficient at it because I could type fairly well.
Harnett: You punched in Sacramento too.
Sargent: Oh yeah, but that was five-level. Six-level was considerably different and a lot harder, not the letter strokes but the justification of each line which you had to do.
Harnett: The shots were called on those things by UPI executives, or by the Scripps-Howard lawyer, Ezra Bryan?
Sargent: Ezra Bryan was our chief negotiator.
Harnett: He was really working for Scripps- Howard, wasn't he?
Sargent: He was assigned to UPI for all of their legal stuff and later some other people out of the same firm, Baker, Hostetler and Patterson. It was an outside law firm in Cincinnati. There were at least five lawyers in that firm that had something to do with UPI. One guy on collections problems, another guy on contract making.
Harnett: Did Roy Howard, in your time, did he have any direct influence on the UP?
Sargent: I never met Roy Howard, never have seen him. I gather that he had a lot of impact at the board meetings where UPI things were being discussed. I only know that second hand.
Harnett: Beaton said he was a friend of UP. He said the problem was the family trust of Scripps. They, like many of these other publications, had people who just wanted to get their money out of it. Actually, the Scripps family busted up and that caused a family feud.
Sargent: I think that's probably true. After Roy Howard, a figure who emerged, a very powerful, very bright man, was Jack Howard. Jack Howard, in my day, ran Scripps-Howard. But after Jack there was no heir apparent. Ted Scripps was UP's best friend. He went to the University of Nevada. Most money or practical experience he had was in real estate. He bought and sold lovely big houses. One house in Westchester County, N. Y., was so big his play room had big I-beams. It was the size of a gymnasium. When the weather was changing you'd be in this room and all of a sudden you would hear "crack." The beams were expanding or contracting with heat or cold. He had a bowling alley in there, and ping pong tables, pool tables, badminton court and everything. He had a really gorgeous house, including a library where he pushed a button and a whole shelf revolved around and there was a bar on the other side. He was a very nice guy, he and his wife, Jean. They had been in my house many times, and I had been in his house. But he was not regarded as a strong leader by the S-H organization.
Harnett: The Scripps Howard company did not really get involved in UPI at all. They wanted it to go but they told Beaton and you and other guys, "You guys run your business, but don't keep asking us for money."
Sargent: That's right. I was never involved at that level because I was not on the board. When UPI would meet with the board it was always Thomason and/or Beaton or Al Bock. I don't think they (the Scrippses) knew anything about running a wire service and so didn't try to, but they knew it was sustaining losses and as I said earlier, I tried to convince Mims he needed to talk to the board, tell them that they were losing some money, that they would continue to lose some money but that the amount they were losing could be sustained and it wasn't really affecting their lives or their income or their dividends or anything else and so they ought to bite that bullet and live with it. They chose not to. Roy Howard would have, Ted Scripps would have, maybe Jack Howard would have, but the people that came into prominence were others.
Harnett: Ed Estlow.
Sargent: Yes, Estlow, very much so.
Harnett: Were you there when they bought that Texas computer center for UP?
Sargent: I guess I was leaving about then.
Harnett: That was part of the technology thing. They were taking money away from sales to buy the computer.
Sargent: I think I had already departed by then, but I know there were talks about that and about moving. For years we had talked internally and at some of the UPI meetings about why UPI had to be headquartered in New York. A lot of people agreed that if we worked out of Kansas City, which was mentioned in particular, that the hubbing from there would reduce our transmission costs considerably, and that rents and the cost of people in New York would go down considerably and we could still maintain the staff in New York to cover the city, but the headquarters didn't need to be there as a matter of communications.
Harnett: At one time it was New York and Kansas City, way back, in the '30s, wasn't Kansas City a key place. Some big names, Cronkite etc., used to be in Kansas City. I figured it must have been a big bureau.
Sargent: Well, not to my personal knowledge. Kansas City was never a big bureau. It was Baillie who said, "I want you to write so it can be understood by the Kansas City milkman," and Reynolds Packard wrote the book "Kansas City Milkman." There were a lot of references to Kansas City, but I never thought of it as a main switching center. St. Louis was more like that. As you know, the X in all of the bureau call letters comes from the old railroad Phillips Code where X designated a crossing or a major center. St. Louis was the only bureau that was just called X. At one time it was a communications center for UPI, a major crossing and takeover point. That later switched pretty much to Chicago. You will remember when our main wire out to the West Coast was 7546. It was edited down from the eastern A and B trunk which went no further than Chicago, at which point a single trunk going out to San Francisco was edited by one Fran Leary. Fran Leary was the wire filer on 7546 in a day when wire filers were important. Leary was literally the guy who shaped the national and international report for the West out of Chicago. He said what goes on the wire and how much of it. We had no stock wires out there. We had lots of things that weren't out there.
Harnett: There's a bunch of guys UP got from Knox College, Ron Wagoner was one and there were a couple of others I heard of.
Sargent: Wagoner was the only one I knew. They probably tended to hire there because of previous experience. There is a little college up in Michigan where they taught Greek as late as the '70s, and when I got to San Bernardino I had three or four people out of that college. They were good. They were crackerjacks. God were they good. There wasn't one of them that really wasn't talented. I can't even remember the name of the college.
Harnett: One of the things about UP seemed to be -- I don't know whether it was deliberate or not -- but if you walked in the day they needed someone you got hired. I remember that I walked around every newspaper in town looking for job and did one smart thing. I always asked them if it was OK if I came back. They'd say, "Get out of here, we're not hiring," but I always asked if I could come back. About the fourth time I went to UP, it was the day Macarthur was coming back from Asia. I can just see Wag throwing up his hands: "Jeezus Christ, General Macarthur and you too!" I went home, told my wife I've got to do something else, sell shoes. Next day he called me. Somebody had quit or something, "Can you come in Monday?"
Sargent: There's a parallel story, not to top you. Atlanta had one big breaking story, the fire in the Atlanta Hotel, which burned down and killed a lot of people. Some guy wandered into the AJ bureau, became nicknamed "Smokey." He came in and said, "Do you guys know the Atlanta Hotel is on fire?" They said, "Tell us what you know, sit down and write it." He sat down and started writing. He would get up and go down to the fire and come back, write some more. Three days later, I'm told, Stan Whitaker, the famed division manager said, "Who's that?" They said, "I don't know what his name is, but he has been writing the hotel fire story. He came in and he really pulled us through, doing great." Whitaker said, "Give him a job."
Harnett: You know Whitaker? He lives in Florida. He's a way back guy.
Sargent: Yes, and much loved by his people and staff in Atlanta.
Harnett: Atlanta is one of the closely knit bureaus. I have heard from many of people there who remember it fondly. One is a guy named Ray Stallings.
Harnett: The relationship between photos and news, and how big was photos, was that half our operation after taking over ACME?
Sargent: In terms of revenue?
Harnett: In terms of revenue or whatever.
Sargent: I don't know, probably people who ran it, like Frank Tremaine and others might disagree, but my guess is it was never more than 25 percent of the revenue. You see, there were so many radio stations and little papers that had nothing but a mail picture service, that were not large contributors to the picture wire. So in terms of total dollars it was never high.
Harnett: You were there when we took INS, but we lost United Features then. When was it we lost United Features? There was a point at which UPI no longer had United Features. You were there then?
Sargent: It may have been the merger with INS. I don't know when it was spun off as a separate entity. But UPI salesmen, regional executives, always could sell any United Features that they knew about or wanted to know about. We did get some sales material regularly from United Features, and UPI salesmen were indeed paid a commission if they sold United Features. But United Features, while on the same floor with United Press International, was certainly run as a separate organization.
Harnett: By Scripps-Howard?
Sargent: For Scripps-Howard. It was a separate division, as was NEA.
Harnett: At one time United Features was part of United Press. The revenue from Snoopy was involved. Scripps-Howard said, "You can do this, you can merge the with Hearst, but you can't have the features." That cost us a lot of support because that was a money maker.
Sargent: United Features had maybe its best, and I can come pretty close to the year on this, when Bill Payette got out of Dallas and was made president of United Features. He was certainly running it then as a separate entity. He changed a lot of its distribution techniques, a lot if its sales techniques. He did some very smart things for United Features. Bill was made president of United Features along about 1963 or 64.
Harnett: I recall a time on the overnight we used to mail out all the features, and a couple of writers like Marquis Childs would call in. We had to take their stuff.
Sargent: A lot of people moved back and forth between the two. George Pipal is a guy who worked for United Features and United Press. Dick Fales went to work for United Features after he got into an argument with Beaton and quit. He was the Eastern Division manager out of Pittsburgh. Payette, one of the things that Bill did was he thought it was silly to try to make people sign a contract for features for a year or two years, three years, five years, whatever. He loosened up the whole procedure, working on a handshake. He said if you want to try Peanuts, you got it. It will be so much per week, and shake hands. He said, "I'll write you a letter confirming that you've got it and what the weekly price is."
Harnett: Was there also a little bit of leverage, if you were trying to sell UPI, if you could get them Peanuts too, maybe they would buy it?
Sargent: People who tried that came a cropper, and I can tell you, United Features had as many downside results for UPI as it ever had positive, the principal one being in Colorado Springs. The Colorado Springs Sun was then being run by a guy named Dick Woestendieck (spelling?). He's still around. His wife was secretary for Martha, the woman married to the attorney general indicted (Mitchell). She had a big mouth getting her into trouble. Anyhow, Woestendieck wanted Peanuts. Let me see if I can remember this correctly. Two papers in Colorado Springs, the Sun (Woestendieck) and the Telegraph (Hoiles). Woestendieck went around the procedure and he talked to Mike Howard, who had Peanuts in the Rocky Mountain News, a Scripps-Howard paper, and that had always blocked out Colorado Springs. Howard said he didn't care and that unlocked Colorado Springs, and United Features had no choice but to sell it to the Sun. At that point the Hoiles papers, about 22 of them, canceled UPI up and down the whole line. The Hoiles were very loyal people but they were also very unforgiving, and they never forgave UPI for that.
Harnett: For selling to a competitor?
Sargent: For selling to a competitor.
Harnett: Did UP sell it?
Sargent: No, United Features did it.
Harnett: But they took it out on UPI?
Sargent: They took it out on UPI. They said, "You've got the same ownership at the top and if you wanted to stop this you could have stopped it. You know who to go to in United Features or in Scripps-Howard. You could have stopped it. You didn't, and you knew about it, and you let it go." They punished us because they couldn't punish United Features.
Harnett: That's an interesting story. Well, I think I am probably worn out.
Sargent: I keep looking around. I know I have documents and things I'd like you to see. I don't know where the hell they all are.
Harnett: I wrote out some questions and couldn't find them. Certain things should be straightened out. What really happened. Of course, you weren't there when UPI was finally sold, but now, do you know, are you in touch with Scripps-Howard executives or anyone? Those people were considered UP people. We were considered their people, right? To a certain extent anyway.
Sargent: There was a wide separation between the Scrippses and the Howards, the parent organization, and UPI. They let it sit pretty much on its own. They said, "Run it. Just don't bring us continuing losses." UPI was a self-contained unit with its own set of officers, and they were expected to run it well. I said before it could not run at a profit, that I didn't know any way to do it. I said, "I made what I had hoped would be my contribution to UPI to build an organization, have a sounder sales and marketing force. But I was not able to sell us into prosperity, and I don't think it can be done." I could sell the service and negotiate a contract with the L.A. Times Mirror, a big contract, good price. I said everybody has a few of those victories. Everybody makes a few mistakes also, "this is something we shouldn't have lost," for one reason or another. But I don't see how anybody could sell us into prosperity.
Harnett: What year did you leave?
Harnett: Then you weren't there in the period that had new owners come in. I wonder if any of them asked you for advice?
Sargent: One of the two guys from Nashville did. He called me and, among other things, he hinted that if I would like to come back as general sales manager there would be a place for me. I said I would not be interested in doing that. We did talk, and he made an appointment. He said, "Next time you are in New York give me a call. I'd like to talk to you." I said I'd talk to him, but I got the impression that neither he nor his partner, I can't think of their names.
Harnett: Ruhe (Douglas) and Geissler (William).
Sargent: Ruhe and Geissler, that neither of them knew anything about the wire service business, as indeed they could not have grown up in it, and that thing I was trying to tell them had maybe such broad historic principles involved that it really wasn't of great interest to them. They were interested in having me say, "Push this button and it will make you a million dollars."
Harnett: Small and Overton got out of it. Small was a faithful UPI client. When they bailed out, it looked like the end of it.
Sargent: His father, of course, gave us our second Pulitzer Prize. Did you know that?
Harnett: I didn't know that.
Sargent: Well, we won two. One for Smitty's report on Kennedy. The other was by Tom Powers and Lucinda Franks and was called "The Making of a Terrorist." That happened in Kankakee. That's where the girl lived. Her parents had saved all of her letters and correspondence to her, and were telling Bill Small about this tragedy of how she had gone from a social debutante of high wealth and birth, down, down, down, down, trying to help people from within the system and finally being out of the system and finally blowing herself up as an anarchist making bombs in New York. What a tragedy, and they wanted to talk about it. Len Small said, "We would like to have that story in the Kankakee Journal very much, but it's a bigger and better story than that. Will you work with a larger organization?" He brought the story to UPI. Roger Tatarian snapped right at it. He knew it was a good story and assigned Lucinda, Tom Powers and Lucinda (Franks). As you know, they made a book out of it. They made a movie out if it. The two did a wonderful job of writing it. I got to read it before it was done and did some superficial editing.
Harnett: As a final thing, can you suggest appropriate sources for anecdotes, historical stuff, the UP now has nothing They called me up about six weeks ago and asked me: "Who was Bartholomew?"
Sargent: Who called you?
Harnett: The Washington news desk of UPI.
Sargent: Isn't that something?
Harnett: I put that little note in the newsletter about history, and a guy called me again and said, "You know if you get any history of UP we'd like to have it." I said, "I was going to go to you and ask for things." They didn't pay the rent on the warehouse, near 42nd St. someplace. They had all the records in a warehouse, didn't pay the rent. He told me he went over to see if the stuff was there. The warehouse had been torn down and there was an apartment building on the site.
Sargent: I was up on the 12th floor of UPI one time when this big rolling cart was rolling out. I was waiting for an elevator and I looked in this cart of refuse and pulled up some papers. It was copies of letters from E. W. Scripps to various people. I grabbed hands full of it. I've got it in a box someplace and haven't begun to read all of them. It was sad. Those are historic. I don't know where in one of those letters he tells why there had got to be a United Press.
Harnett: I read some of his stuff. I also hear there's an E. W. Scripps archive somewhere back in the Midwest. They have millions of things.
Sargent: There's a book, "Damned Old Crank."
Harnett: Yes, I just read that, by Charles McCabe. There is another one I am trying to get, "Lusty Scripps." It is supposed to be a good one about him. Actually, I think Joe Alex Morris did a pretty good job up to 1957. You remember, I guess that was an official UPI book. I know he had a lot of stuff in there. It is still the only reference. The one that was done by Ron Cohen and Gregory is very narrow, just a Washington perspective.
Sargent: Sources. Dick Fales is a good source of anything in the South and anything about the business side in New York, and some things about the Eastern Division.
Harnett: He lives up at Washington?
Sargent: He lives at Friday Harbor.
Harnett: I've got his address.
Sargent: I am trying to think. Steve's gone, Lyon's gone. The guys you are corresponding with on a regular basis, Cohen, Lou Carr, Growald, a lot of those guys have marvelous anecdotes from overseas and elsewhere. You're talking to me and I thank you for that. I probably know as much about the corporate operations from '64 to '72 as anybody you’ll find, but that's a relatively short period of time.
(end of tape)
Note: The following is dictated from memory while en route home from Carmel after interviewing Sargent and having lunch with him.At lunch Sargent told one about Bob Bennyhoff. Bennyhoff was a famous womanizer and got involved with clients’ wives here and there. But more interesting is the story that when he was in Korea during the Korean War he became a colonel in the ROK army. He somehow came upon a situation where there was a teletype transmitter that none of the Korean officers knew how to use. He said, "Well, sure I can use this."It was at a communications center.
He said he would handle it and somehow became a colonel in their army and was doing the teletype for them. Part of the transmissions were the news reports from all the correspondents covering that area of the front. So Bob told me he was in there to transmit the material. But what he did was look through all the dispatches, pick out the best material in them for a lead and send it to UPI. Then maybe a half hour later he would transmit the correspondents’ stories.
One of the correspondents found out what was happening and raised a tremendous furor all the way to the White House. Bennyhoff's life was in danger for a while, not from the enemy, but from the correspondents.
The way he got out of Korea was that he had a friend on the newspaper in Reno, publisher of the paper in Reno. Some way along the line in negotiating with that paper Frank Bartholomew was selling them or whatever and the publisher, Chick Stout, who was a friend of Bennyhoff. There was a general price increase. Stout agreed to the price increase and agreed to even more if
Bennyhoff was returned to Carson City. The paper at the time had no reporter at Carson City, only Bennyhoff. He was good. He later left Nevada for HC and the business side. Stout made it one of the terms of the deal that we would call Bennyhoff back and send him to Carson City to cover the Nevada Legislature as he had done before in a very acceptable fashion. That's how Bennyhoff got out of Korea.
Another interesting little story Wayne told me at lunch. In Las Vegas Bennyhoff saw Hearst's paramour, Marion Davies. She was all dressed up and going to get married to a man named Tom Brown, Captain Tom Brown. Bennyhoff recognized them and saw the preparations being made for them be married. Apparently it was not to be a public ceremony. He got himself into a bellhop's uniform, which was too small for him and tight, but got into it, and in that uniform he managed to be present in the room where this wedding took place. Then he called New York with the story. The desk people didn't want to take it. They said, "Are you sure, you know we're dealing with Hearst newspapers here. We can't put something like that out, unless we positively sure."
It took him a while to persuade them he had actually witnessed this wedding himself. They put it out and of course it was an exclusive story for some time. That was Bennyhoff, a very colorful character. There are many many stories about him, some of which I don't know. Some of which I don't want to find out about.
Note: Sargent's wife is Marybeth. His dog, a beautiful little brown and white, is "Miss Chiff." They also have a Himalayan cat which plays with a piece of string it had for several years. I didn't see the cat. They live in a gated condominium or development off Carmel Valley Road on the Monterey Peninsula. Wayne said his wife picked it out. He said when they were down in Redlands about to retire the question came up where they wanted to live. She told him, "Wayne, I've gone all over the country with you, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles. Now I want to live somewhere that I want to be." So she took her car and she drove up and down the coast. She called him from Carmel and said, "Send me some money. I've got to make a down payment on this place and get it furnished." That’s how they landed at Carmel.