The Road to Grand Larceny

An early 20th century adding machine from the Electric Institute of Washington

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

“Grand larceny. The judge pinned the whole mess down with two words. Night after night I keep rolling on my cot, trying to figure it out. I go back twenty-six, twenty-seven years, thinking...”

This episode of Toward a Return to Society—a show produced for WNYC with the New York Department of Corrections—focuses on Bob, a middle aged man convicted of grand larceny. It begins with the judge, delivering his sentence. Then Rod Serling, playing the character of Bob, reflects on his life. He traces the root of his problem back to a time when he was six years old and wanted to watch Charlie Chaplin’s “Shoulder Arms.” The drama flashes back to the boy Bob, sniffling on the street. A man sees his distress and gives him money to purchase a movie ticket.

Bob quickly learns to take advantage of people. We listen as he pretends to lose a dime down a grate and tells an elderly man he’s afraid he’ll be beaten for losing the milk money. He uses the dime he’s given to go back to the movies.

He explains to the listening audience that he couldn’t get the money at home. His father was a grocery clerk working to support six kids. His father was rough, he says—and then we hear his father’s voice, explaining, “Education. That’s what I never had. I want you to go to school. Pick something you like and learn how to do it. Now, if you don’t mind what I say, I’ll take a stick to you.”

The show cuts to the panel of experts reviewing Bob’s case, the Classification Board. (Made up of Hilda G. Schwartz, Secretary of the Board of Estimate, and attorney; Dr. Bertram Pollens, Executive Secretary, New York Consultation Center; Herman K. Spector, Director of Education and Recreation, Department of Correction; George E. Mears, Probation Officer, Kings County; Norman M. Stone, Correction Department Executive Secretary) Each week, the board reviews the medical, psychological, and social records of the offender in question to make recommendations for his rehabilitation in penitentiary.

The board agrees that the relationship between the father and the son in the source of all of the problems.

“I think we can only understand it in the light of the father’s repression and inability to express himself,” Dr. Pollens suggests, “ which later led to overcompensation in the field of conniving and getting things the easy way.”

Hilda Schwarz agrees, “There lurks the foreboding of trouble. On Bob’s childhood and adolescence lay the shadow of insecurity and lack of affection.” She adds that the pattern is familiar in American homes, but ignored.

Mr. Mears and Mr. Spector add their views. Then the dramatization of Bob’s life resumes.

Bob narrates his high school career, and his aptitude for mathematics. In his first job as a bookkeeper, however, we hear a man with a heavy immigrant accent steer him astray, convincing his to cook the books for a bonus.

He leaves for New York at 19, and works as a bookkeeper for an insurance firm, enthusing about the adding machine. “I liked that adding machine,” he says, “ I liked the smooth feel of the keys, and the way the numbers popped. And I liked the burr of the totalizer. And I never made a mistake. The supervisor, he got to like me.“

Things seem to be looking up for Bob. He gets a raise—thirty-two dollars—marries a woman, and then goes into sales. But he can’t sell well, and is forced to return to bookkeeping at the same salary. Ten years later, he tells us, he is still working for the same salary, but now with a wife and two children. In the dramatization of their interactions, she is worried, and he snaps at her.

He seeks refuge, first at the bar, but when he can’t afford that, he moves to the movie theater. There, he meets Lucille, from the local beauty parlor. They agree to meet again.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 8472