High, Higher ̶ ̶Hired
By Peter Goldman
I had a gazillion memorable moments in my 25 years on staff and 20 more as a contributing editor, but my favorite war story is still the one about how I got hired in the summer of '62. I was (relatively) a kid then, a 29-year-old reporter/rewriteman for the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat. I was hungry to move up from Double-A ball to the big leagues, and my new bride, Helen, was seriously homesick for New York and her old gig at the NY Post, in its honorable pre-Murdoch past.
So I got together some clips and wrote a heart-rending letter to the then co-managing editor Kermit Lansner, who was a friend of a friend of Helen's; I said I'd be in New York on such-and-such a date, and could I please please please come by for an interview. I never heard back, but since I was in Gotham anyway, I put in a follow-up call to Kermit.
"Where are you?" his secretary said. "The editors have been looking all over for you."
Can You Write: As I would learn later, Kermit had lost my letter and my clips. (That became unsurprising to me only after I got to know him.) But his co-equal co-Wallenda Gordon Manning happened to have had a phone chat a day or so earlier with his old friend Bill Mauldin, the great World War II cartoonist who'd moved on to the editorial page at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. They'd talked for a bit when, almost as an afterthought, Gordo asked Mauldin, "Do you know anybody out there who can write? We're four people short in our Nation department."
The Post-Dispatch was the much-honored,
many-Pulitzered big dog in town, but Mauldin had never stopped being an infantryman at heart; while most of his colleagues headed home for the 'burbs at the end of the day, he'd wander a couple of blocks to the Bismarck Cafe and drink 25-cent steins of Michelob with the dog soldiers from the Globe. I was one of those grunts, and Mauldin talked me up to Gordo.
So Gordo had scrambled the jets, also unsurprising once I got to know him; at the moment I called for an interview, someone from the Chicago bureau was in St. Louis trying to hunt me down. I asked Gordo tremulously if and when he would see me.
"How about now?" he said.
Another Try: That was late on a Thursday morning. By afternoon, I found myself in a Nation cubicle wrestling with a 40-line short and an 80-liner on Lenore Romney as a surprisingly successful surrogate for her husband, George, who thought he would make a keen governor of Michigan. They were both no-risk, throwaway stories, but they both made the magazine pretty much intact, and I was invited back to try something harder the following week.
The something harder turned out to be a 200-line takeout on some obscure DC policy debate ̶ ̶I didn't really understand it then and don't remember it now. I was due back in St. Louis on Friday, so Thursday was my last day, and I'd only written a couple of paragraphs when Bill Roeder, the Newsmaker writer, invited me out for lunch.
We had a bite and a couple of drinks, so I had a light buzz going when I got back to my desk and my Underwood Standard. I'd hacked out another paragraph or two when Joe Carter, then the Nation editor, loomed in my doorway and said, "Let's go across the street for a drink."
Pour It On: "Across the street," as it turned out, meant the bar at the old (and now long departed) New Weston Hotel, a favored Newsweek watering hole on the far side of Madison Avenue. We ordered drinks, a martini for him, a Jack and water for me. Carter never quite said he wanted to hire me; instead, he asked, "What would you do if I came to you at the end of three months and said you hadn't worked out?"
"I'm young," I said. "I'd find a job somewhere." You could still realistically say that in olden times.
Joe waved for a second round, and by the time we got back to the office, I was well beyond buzzed; I was still trying to get my fingers on the right keys when Gordo appeared in my cubicle and said, "Let's go across the street for a drink."
Ante Up: By this time, Gus, the bartender at the New Weston, would've been within his rights to 86 me, but a drink appeared, and after a swallow or two, I got seriously brave about negotiating a price. Gordon wanted to hire me for the Guild minimum, then $10,400 a year. That was nearly $4,000 more than I was making in St. Louis, but I said it wasn't enough. Gordon upped the ante to $11,500. I took another swallow or two and said I wanted moving expenses, too. He said OK. We had another drink to seal the deal and headed back to 444 [Madison Ave, Newsweek’s offices].
When we got upstairs, I looked in on Carter and said, "Sir, I've got a start on that takeout, but I'm not sure I'm in shape to write it."
"Forget it," he said. "We don't need it. Welcome aboard."
Peter Goldman was a senior editor and contributing editor at Newsweek from 1962 to 2008.