Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Meet the Players: David Halberstam

David Halberstam was born in New York City on April 10, 1934. HIs father was a surgeon in the US Arm so the family moved a great deal during World War II until they settled in Yonkers, New York in the 1950s. Halberts attended Harvard University where he became the managing editor of the student-run newspaper The Harvard Crimson until he graduated in 1955. Upon graduating Harvard with a degree in journalism, Halberstam took at job at the Daily Times Leader of West Point, Mississippi as he wanted to be in the South to cover the civil rights struggle. He eventually moved to Nashville to write for their large daily newspaper The Tennessean

In 1960 Halberstam joined the Washington bureau of the New York Times where he covered the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Later that year he published his first book, The Noblest Roman, a “novel of political skullduggery” in the Deep South. The Times soon sent him out as a war correspondent to cover the independence struggle raging in the Congo.

In September 1962, the Times reassigned Halberstam to its Saigon bureau to cover the escalating conflict in Vietnam. The official Pentagon and State Department statements declared that the U.S. and its South Vietnamese allies were winning a war against a ragged band of Communist rebels. However, Halberstam found another story when he followed the troops into the field. The insurgents, backed by the Communist government in the North, enjoyed widespread support in rural Vietnam, where the U.S-backed Saigon government was deeply unpopular. His reports were denounced by Kennedy’s supporters as dishonest, if not disloyal, but Halberstam continued to report the story as he saw it. In 1963, he received the prestigious George Polk Award for his reporting from Vietnam, and at age 30 he was awarded the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. The following year he published The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam During the Kennedy Era

During his travels, Halberstam was staying in Warsaw, Poland, where he met and then married Elzbieta Czyzewska, a Polish actress. They stayed in Poland for a few years to allow Elzbieta to continue her career, but Halberstam’s criticism of Poland's communist dictatorship caused the government to expel the couple from the country in 1967. The pair made a new home in New York City, where she resumed her career. They divorced in 1977. Halberstam married Jean Sandness Butler in 1979.

After the assassinations of both John and Robert Kennedy, Halberstam continued to write a number of books about the Vietnam War and Washington politics. Halberstam's reputation as a major historian was firmly established with his best-seller The Best and the Brightest (1972), in which he traced the path by which a gifted and promising team of political and military experts had led the nation into the greatest foreign policy disaster in its history. The book was a number one best-seller and has had a pervasive influence on many Americans' thinking about foreign policy for over a generation. 

Halberstam next turned his attention to the growing concentration of influence in the hands of a few very large media corporations in his 1979 book, The Powers That Be. 

In the 1980s he switched gears and turned to sports, a personal passion. He traveled with the Portland Trail Blazers professional basketball team in the 1979 season and wrote a book about this experience. Over the next two decades, a number of Halberstam's books evoked the drama of professional sports to mirror larger movements in American society. He wrote more than 20 books throughout his career and was a reporter until the end. 

Halberstam died on April 23, 2007 at the age of 73 in a car accident in Menlo Park. He was in town chasing a story - he was headed to an interview football player Y.A. Tittle for a book about the 1958 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, often called football's greatest game. The car Mr. Halberstam was a passenger was in was broadsided by another car while making a turn onto Willow Road. Halberstam was pronounced dead on the scene. The car was driven by Kevin Jones, a UC Berkeley grad student who was a journalism student and had volunteered to drive Mr. Halberstam. Jones pled no contest to a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge and was sentenced to 5 days in jail, with a recommendation that the time be served in the San Mateo County Sherriff’s Office work program rather than behind bars, and was ordered to complete 200 hours of community service, 2 years of probation, and had his license temporarily revoked. The book that Halberstam was writing was completed after his death by Frank Gifford, a player on the losing 1958 Giants team and was titled The Glory Game.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Meet the Players: Susan Mary Alsop

Seated in the front row: on the left is Jackie Kennedy and on the right is Susan Mary Alsop

Susan Mary Jay was descended from John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States and grew up as one of America’s most privileged daughters. This daughter of a diplomat was born in Rome and grew up in South American and Europe. Her mother attended the wedding to Russian royalty - Nicholas and Alexandra - in 1894. 

As a young woman, she had Sunday night suppers with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House. As a teenager, she had tea with Edith Wharton.

Susan Mary took a job at Vogue as a receptionist, model, and writer in 1939. In October 1939, at the age of 20, she married a man named Bill Patten. After World Ware II, she joined him in Paris where he held a job at the American Embassy. She as known for the entertaining dinners she held for European, British and American social and diplomatic luminaries that had a serious underlying intent: to strengthen European-American ties. She was often seated beside British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ("He has decided I am . . . French . . . and nothing will deter him from speaking French to me.") when she wasn't drinking champagne with Noel Coward and the Duke of Windsor. Bill and Susan Mary had two children - a son name William Jr. and a daughter named Anne. Bill Patten died in 1960 of emphysema. 

Susan Mary returned to the United States and she married Joe Alsop, Patten’s college roommate, in 1961. Susan Mary and Joe divorced in 1973 but continued to remain great friends. They continued to host joint dinner parties for the political luminaries of the time and helped raise their grandchildren. After the divorce, Susan Mary started to write. She published several books and became a contributing editor at Architectural Digest

After her death on August 18, 2004 of complications from pneumonia her son Bill discovered through a DNA test that he and his sister had different fathers. It’s now believed that William Jr’s father was Duff Cooper, the British Ambassador to France. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

In His Own Words: Stewart Alsop

While doing some research on the Alsop brothers I came across this great interview with Stewart toward the end of his life. It's lengthy but interesting - enjoy!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Meet the Players: Stewart Alsop

Stewart Alsop

 Stewart Johonnot Oliver Alsop (May 17, 1914 – May 26, 1974) was born in May 17, 1914 in Avon, Connecticut. Alsop attended the Groton School in Massachusset, and then Yale University. After graduating from Yale in 1936, Alsop moved to New York City, where he worked as an editor for the publishing house of Doubleday, Doran. 

After the United States entered World War II, Alsop joined the British Army, because his high blood pressure precluded his joining the United States Army. While training in England, Alsop met Patricia Barnard "Tish" Hankey, an Englishwoman, whom he would marry on June 20, 1944.
A month after the wedding, Alsop was allowed to transfer to the U.S. Army, and was immediately sent on a mission planned by the Office of Strategic Services. For the mission, Alsop was parachuted into the Périgord region of France to aid the French Resistance. Alsop was later awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm for his work on that and other wartime missions. Alsop worked with and for the OSS for the rest of the war.

After the war, Alsop resumed his journalism career, now working with his brother, Joseph. Both self-styled New Deal liberals, to produce a column called "Matter of Fact" for the Herald Tribune. Generally, Stewart remained headquartered in Washington to cover domestic politics, while Joseph traveled the world, covering foreign affairs. Their partnership lasted from 1945 until 1958. After the Alsop brothers ended their partnership, Stewart Alsop went on to write articles and a regular column for the Saturday Evening Post until 1968, then a weekly column for Newsweek from 1968 to 1974.

Stewart published several books, including a "sort of memoir" of his battle with an unusual form of leukemia, Stay of Execution. At the end of his battle with cancer, he requested that he be given something other than morphine to numb the pain because he was tired of morphine's sedative effect. His doctor suggested heroin. Alsop passed away on May 26, 1974, and left behind 6 children with his wife Tish. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Meet the Players: Joseph Alsop

Joseph Alsop
Joseph Wright Alsop was born October 11, 1910 in Avon Connecticut to Joseph Wright Alsop IV and his wife Corinne Douglas Robinson. Corinne was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, the cousin of Eleanor Roosevelt, and was also distantly related to President James Monroe. Both of his parents were very active in Republican politics - his father made several unsuccessful runs for the governorship of Connecticut and his mother founded the Connecticut League of Republican Women. Both served in the Connecticut General Assembly. 

Joseph attended the prestigious Groton School, a private boarding school in Massachusetts, then graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1932 and became a staff writer for the New York Herald Tribune. This was a rather unusual move for a man with his pedigree and education. In a short time he established a substantial reputation as a journalist, particularly by his comprehensive coverage of the Bruno Hauptmann trial, the man tried for the abduction and murder of the baby of Charles Lindberg, in 1934

In 1937 he began collaborating with Robert Kintner on the column “The Capital Parade,” a daily nationally syndicated column, for the North American Newspaper Alliance. His first book, The 168 Days, was published in 1938 and covered Roosevelt's unsuccessful campaign to enlarge the Supreme Court and became a bestseller.

He stopped writing to join the U.S. Navy in 1940, and during World War II he served with the American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers, as an aide to General Claire L. Chennault and was briefly held prisoner by the Japanese in Hong Kong.

After the war, Alsop resumed his journalism career, now working with his brother, Stewart. Both self-styled New Deal liberals they produced a column called "Matter of Fact" for the Herald Tribune. The use of the word "fact" reflected Alsop's pride in producing a column based on reporting, rather than opinion pieces like those of many columnists. While his brother Stewart remained headquartered in Washington to cover domestic politics, Joseph traveled the world, covering foreign affairs. Their partnership lasted from 1945 until 1958, when Joseph became the sole author of "Matter of Fact" until his retirement in 1974. “Matter of Fact” was one of the longest-running columns of its kind, appearing in around 300 newspapers, three times a week. 

The Alsops once described themselves as "Republicans by inheritance and registration, and...conservatives by political conviction."Despite his identity as a conservative Republican, however, Alsop was an early supporter of the presidential ambitions of Democrat John F. Kennedy and became a close friend and influential adviser to Kennedy after his election in November 1960. Alsop was a vocal supporter of America's involvement in Vietnam, which led to bitter breaks with many of his liberal friends and a decline in the influence of his column.

Joseph Alsop was at work on a memoir when he died at his home in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., at the age of 78 on August 28, 1989. Patricia Alsop, Stewart's widow, publicly stated that the cause of death was severe anemia, lung cancer, and emphysema, all of which he'd been fighting for more than a year. The memoir was published posthumously as I've Seen the Best of It.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Peek at the Original Broadway Production of The Columnist

David Auburn's play The Columnist opened on Broadway On April 25, 2012 at the Manthattan Theatre Club. Directed by Daniel Sullivan, the original cast featured John Lithgow (Joseph Alsop), Margaret Colin (Susan Mary Alsop), Boyd Gaines (Stewart Alsop), Grace Gummer (Abigail), Stephen Kunken (Halberstam), Marc Bonan (Philip), and Brian J. Smith (Andrei). Playbill magazine made a little video with the original cast - see what they have to say about this new work from David Auburn.

The Bay Area premiere of The Columnist opens in downtown Redwood City on May 29th. Tickets and more information about the local cast and crew can be found at