This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Theodore White discusses his career as a journalist and his recent book, "The Making of the President."
Edward Streeter tells anecdotes and discusses his book "Chairman of the Bored."
Finally, Leo Rosten discusses his long career as an academic and his books.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 71187
Municipal archives id: LT9449
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
I'm going to turn this luncheon back to my colleagues. By this time become aware of and friendly with this. Is the daily book review our three days a week on the Herald Tribune Tuesday Thursday and Saturday he is also conducts the department of books and authors in the Sunday but. It's something not to miss. Thank you operator. We are all of us in this room today and. In a way beneficiaries of a hobbit fellowship. Set up by an alumnus named Frederick Sheldon. And one of nine hundred thirty eight by a Boston Massachusetts by name Theodore White it was a traveling fellowship and its terms were unusual but eminently acceptable the senior who wanted to must spend twelve months outside the limits of the continental United States without studying and without working. The authorities allowed that he had missed a flight sent back a few stories to the newspapers from time to time it would not be a breach of the rules that he set off to meet the will of the Boston Globe paid him six dollars for a story from the Middle East. That matched the Guardian paid him for going to use for a story from the Far East pleased him even more by giving him the byline I was a special correspondent in Manchuria. Special and only. From Manchuria he went to China. There in nineteen thirty nine TIME caught up with him and he became chief of its bureau in that country. A post that he helped throw off the wall yes. His first book thunder out of China written with an early Jacoby was published in one hundred forty six and was a book of the Month Club Selection. The book of the Month Club has been selecting Mr White's works with some regularity in the years since fire in the ashes an account of Europe in the post Marshall plan here up the mountain road a novel of the war in China and his most recent book The Making of the president if you will from the fortieth floor novel about the dying days of a great magazine was a literary guild selection. In the making of the president carried on a long held ambition to write about American politics in action which is quite different from American politics in the sober and all too often dull prose of the textbooks the presidential election of one hundred sixty often one of the most dramatic demonstrations that Mr White reported it and interpreted it in detail from the rough in-fighting of the primaries to the long suspense of election night. President Kennedy's victory may have been a natural one Mr White's turned out to be not even close the book has been a top bestseller for a period of more than thirty weeks and there is every prospect that it will stay that improving the state of the Union's knowledge of the workings of its democracy is to get off. LULU. But normally I feel very silly talking at book an awful lunch. See what brings people to them and I wonder. Why they're filling up the middle of the day with a book and off the launch and yet on a day like this when you have a hall filled with people who tried to sue the snow and probably got their shoes and stockings when. You suddenly realize that maybe they are interested in books so that. We are usually required to speak these luncheons about how we came to write a book and what a book is of but which is embarrassing and I felt that today I could do so until I was sitting here and there's a young lady in this audience who is a good friend of mine called Rachel Ritter and there was a Gretchen write up who sent a card up here I said You'd better be damn interesting Gretchen I don't know where she's sitting but. I realize it's been hard to come here but if I may say I would. This is a book of reporting even though my publishers have three presidents actually the present president is here the past president is here next to his present left home minding the store Athenaeum even though my publishers of describe this is a history I would like to deny that because I'm reading quite a bit of history lately and props way to describe this book and by denying its the validity of its title cities wrote the greatest of all histories says in the beginning of his book about the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta which went on for thirty years he said with reference to the speeches in this history it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in one's memory so my habit has been to make the speaker say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the occasion. This is a normal historical approach which you can't quite get away with when you're writing about Live characters and real people who are acting now in history there was a lot so I'm reminded of another story I think the greatest of contemporary historians a structural and I think perhaps one of the greatest histories of our times in history the English speaking people. And he a lot of research is helping him on this. And he wrote the story of heroism on than Eleanor of Aquitaine Ellen that was married to her new you always you and. In later life on the have always you began to. Play around and he found fair Rosamond very attractive and Eleanor of Aquitaine penetrated one day to the place where Henry kept. Rosamond and he and she she offered this young woman who was a king's mistress her choice of the dagger which she held in her hand out to drink of the poisoned cup and killed her rival Now Churchill tells a story of great relish and delight and then the historical researchers were checking his book came to him and said Mr Prime Minister at that time he was prime minister I said. You know this doesn't check out recent isn't really accurate and he put a footnote there at the end of the page of volume one and he said tiresome investigates have undermined this excellent tale but it certainly should find its place in any history worthy of the name. And went on with it now. The real trouble with reporting American politics is this is the most subtle and sophisticated and complicated system of politics when I left Boston Massachusetts on the scholarship which Mr describes. I was leaving for a period of almost twenty years I voted in one thousand nine hundred eighty six before I left but I never came to vote in American election again till one thousand nine hundred fifty I was in Indonesia covering the Japanese invasion in one thousand forty including China at an Army hospital in forty four in Prague Czechoslovakia. Watching the communist takeover in forty eight Paris France in fifty so it was until fifty six I got to vote again and I learned a lot about politics in the meanwhile. And those of us and I know I speak in this hall I'll refer to it later see American politics from close up where you can smell a kitchen smells normally despise it we affected this buys it the first one of the first turning points in my life in understanding politics was in China early after I got there was speaking to a dictator a warlord of sin John and he told me that he had killed my younger brother now being the chief of Red China that flabbergasted me that man would offer a thought like that just casually and I said well why did you kill him and he said oh he killed my younger brother and I said the site not knowing what else to say being very young how did you kill him and he flexed his fingers and he said I strangled him. That was a system of politics and I knew in the area I've seen other systems of politics in the Orient Asia India Europe but you see the ossification the fossilization of politics in a place like France or Germany or England and then when after all this travelling one comes home to one's own country and sees American politics it becomes for min this excitement they are really the best system of politics and yet devised and the think perhaps I like best about them is people keep asking after a book like this tell us the inside story there aren't truly a great many inside American stories and politics they all happen here on the opens today and if you wish to pursue them and understand them you must understand the central thing about them that these great forces that operate in American life from the stark pressures that change us from generation to generation and then there are individual men who must act under the pressure of these forces the strains the tiredness the weariness the instant decision. And all these things transpired in the we've had for example a suburban migration in the past twenty years of which you probably all of participated in it and the contours of topography of the country has and when you suddenly see a candidate for the majestic office of the present United States campaigning at the supermarket or crossroads in a suburb of Los Angeles Queens you say my God this is demeaning the office and yet you realize that these men are responding to a great force a great migration in our country we know for example in the past twenty years there's been a tremendous migration of Negroes out of the south where they cannot vote to the northern cities where now at last they are allowed to vote that this Negro vote is one of the most part phony imponderable problems in American politics and you see as one saw in late October a man like Martin Luther King arrested in the south and you see two men with Nixon the Mr Kennedy both of them exhausted both of them tired who must react within six hours how do they do it what will they do because on the shifting of this vote may hang the election and you see both of these men in exhaustion one getting off a plane in Chicago. Being told of this standing at the plane and then going to the telephone booth at the airport and dialing Atlanta Georgia and calling Mrs King and saying I'm with you I wasn't with Kennedy that there was with Nixon you see him standing in the rain at a place called Middletown Ohio he having heard the report also and there in the rain a little place with a Negro vote is quite an important making a very elevated speak about Negro rights and civil rights figuring this is the way he will express his opinion one man acted directly. Calling the wife of a man and present the did it on another level and then one sees how people react politics or simply individuals in action under great pressure you see their vitality you see their exhaustion their worries They George hang slack it's almost barbarians saying American politics I remember if you wish you can take this call and the romantic things about American politics the past four or five years I have been in this very room more times than I can count and the Waldorf Astoria decorated sometimes with pink roses sometimes with red roses sometimes with blue Also it's a way to and it takes a different character two and a half years ago the seven men who sat on this platform were now sitting seven Democrats and it was the under veiling of each of their campaigns and one that watched them as they sat here and one knew what was going on behind as Mr Humphrey wanted to speak before Mr Kennedy Mr Kennedy wanted to speak before Mr Humphrey because Mr Humphrey is a spam wind and Mr Kennedy has a sort of dry. You Although a ton of delivery now and you saw the aides of these men jockey to get one before the other county of course being and being the clever man finally once they were going to speak not by alphabet not by seniority but only by the alphabetical name of the state which they were but that's just going to be for Minnesota but one of the songs and seven individual men striving to take the majesty of the USA all along it is a question of how a man is under stress. This is a totally unfinished story that is why my book is report. And not a history we do not know how our system will survive its challenge. We do know that our system is the most open of all the men who wanted those seven The men who wanted the presidency most has it you can wait this morning and you will read the Russians are trying to Buzz our planes again in the Berlin Caradoc if they shoot one down or brush one down this is an act of will the Algerian situation is. The secretary of defense is off this morning to Hawaii to discuss whether we should put American troops into Vietnam and have American troops killed in the jungles of Southern Indochina there's a bus strike in New Jersey as we all know and this raises the whole commuting problem and how do we decongest our great cities and make for effective communication all these things lie on the desk of the president of the United States this morning it was you who elected him whether you voted for one or the other you put these concerns on his desk and he wanted them it's how you did it and how he dealt with you how all of them dealt with you but make the substance of the reporting this book of this book thank you. I've. Some years ago when in the words of one popular song we were going to teach the Kaiser to be wiser and in the words of another we were assuring Tucker Katie that we had my meter at the kitchen door the national morale was considerably aided by a collection of letters by young American doughboy to his sweetheart there Mabel. It was published in nineteen eighteen and sold six hundred thousand copies in a year three more D.N.A. but books followed in the next two years its author was a young man who had been born in just a fun New York gone to Harvard way out of a nine hundred fourteen Lampoon worked for a while as a report on the buffalo express. Did a cavalry stand and pushing Mexican campaign against the other and then took his own place in the massive educational assault launched against cries of ill health so they say the time to tap the twenty seventh Division returning to civilian life the end of the banking profession and remained in it until his retirement in one hundred fifty six at which time he was vice president of the Bank of New York in the Fifth Avenue bank he continued to write and his writing continued to contribute to the national morale commuters found comfort in daily except Sundays parents who had survived a wedding past an agreeable convalescence with the father of the bride businessman still raring to go but reluctantly retired found a situation created with great sympathy in this dispute his latest book chairman of the board may already be speaking of a hero to be a book an awful luncheon and not a fifty six Mr Street have said that to be described as a humorist is to be put permanently behind the eightball I'm not at all sure that to be called a humanist doesn't put a man in the same position but it is with that description that I would reduce Mr Edward St thank. You. For that very generous. Living out. Of. Life. That it is. Quite hard on all the. Right you know that they're. Watching. Here to negate listening you're right I'm at a list of things because. I think I can best best present my reactions to the right. I tell you I'd be called on the historical context. In the rain. Here all. The Roman sports fans used to fill the Coliseum every Saturday afternoon to