Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened May, 1967
Oral History Interview with
July 8, 1966
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Block, would you, for the record, give me a brief run-down on your background, where you were born, your education and a brief resume of your career?
BLOCK: I am a first generation American. My father was born in what is now called Czechoslovakia and my mother was born in Poland. As a matter of fact I went back to Poland, German Poland, with her when I was eleven years old. I was born in Cherokee, Iowa in 1889, June 21st. The town had been settled about forty years before, and moved from one area to another when the railroad came in. The Indians had left there, some twenty-five years before, although Sitting Bull died after I was
born. Actually this background occupies a full chapter in an autobiographical record which is now being reviewed by a publisher for possible publication (not accepted). I graduated from the local high school and while I wanted to go to Harvard, which was at that time the aim of all aspiring young men, my father said, "No, your mother isn't well." As a matter of fact, she outlived him by some twenty years or more. So we compromised on Ann Arbor.
I've never discovered the basis of the name Cherokee; the Cherokee Indians were much further south. Originally the town had been settled by the New Milford Settlement Company of New England. Most young men in Cherokee went to Ames or Iowa City or even Madison, Wisconsin, but few had gone to Ann Arbor. I remember that my father took me to Chicago and we talked to the Pullman porter about Ann Arbor. He said to me, "Now if you want to change your mind, even now, and come back and go into business with me, you can, and nobody will think any the worse of you." I realized then that
I was already older than my father.
I graduated at Ann Arbor with a Phi Beta Kappa key, etc., etc. I majored in philosophy, which was unusual in those days. I was going to Harvard for a graduate year and then into law. A graduate student convinced me that law was business. I didn't know anything about business, he said, and I cancelled the Harvard acceptance. My father had retired and had moved sixty miles further west to Sioux City. I went home, to the public library there and looked at the newspaper rack. I had heard of Henry Watterson, and I wrote him a letter, saying that I was a brilliant young man and I would make a fine editorial writer. On copy paper, with green ink, he wrote, "We have no jobs, but if you want to work for nothing, come ahead." I was in Louisville many years later and they interviewed me and quoted it. I went to the Courier-Journal and worked for nothing. But one day I wrote a funny story abort an Indian medicine man who had a big car with his name on it. He had been in a wreck in a fashionable district; but nobody
had been hurt. The story was printed on the front page. The next day I was put on salary at $12.50 a week.
I went from Louisville to Detroit, the morning Detroit News. But Detroit, which was a city of about a half million then, and was bustling with all the fever of motor car manufacture, was too much for me; I didn't stay very long. I went home, worked briefly on a local newspaper, the News, owned by a man who later headed the Liberty Loan, named Wilson. Then I went to Kansas City to the Star, morning issue, the Times, and then later the Star, the afternoon issue. I really got my education in journalism then. Toward the end of my stay there, I was associate news editor, sat on the desk at noon, ran either the city desk or the telegraph desk Saturday night, and I wrote a weekly column on art. In those days the Post Impressionists were just beginning to be known in America, Degas, Monet, etc.
HESS: What years...
BLOCK: That was about 1916. I was also drama critic, all at $35 a week. When I said that in a month from then I was going to New York the city editor went to the managing editor, came back and said, "Fifty?", and I said, "No." My wife who had been a graduate of the University of Michigan, went to business college and took a job so that I could go East.
I had a letter from an aunt of Alexander Woollcott, then the drama critic of the New York Times. I also had a letter to Arthur Hopkins, then the chief dramatic producer in New York. One of his assistants was Ruth Hale, later to become the wife of Heywood Broun, first of the New York Tribune, and then of the World. In a way Broun and Woollcott became my godfathers. I remember Woollcott saying, "Anytime you want to come down and see me, I'll take you over to the Astor and we'll have a chocolate ice cream soda." I was on the Tribune first as a very insignificant worker with the art editor, covering art auctions, on space which paid $12 a column. I went from there to the Evening Sun. I
used to get down at five in the morning and write the whole front page for the street edition. From there I went back to the Tribune as the day assignment editor. Then the war came along and because the Star had a reputation for “miscellany," -- I used to cull all the foreign newspapers. One day I had a letter from Ruth Hale saying, "When you read this, Heywood and I will be on the sea bound for France."
The managing editor said, "You know something about the theater, so take charge."
George S. Kaufman was my assistant. "F.P.A.", Franklin P. Adams said, "Kaufman should have had the job."
And I said, "Yes, he probably should have, but I have it." George S. Kaufman went to the Times; a fine and able man, later to become famous as a playwright.
The war bothered me. After a brief stint on the New Republic the managing editor of the New York Tribune said, "Washington is more of a theater
than Broadway. You'd better go down there and be attached to the bureau. I'll print all your stuff on the editorial page."
Here on the wall is a piece about FDR; four books have quoted it. He was then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The last paragraph is the one that attracted attention. That was June, 1918. I wrote in the column "He isn't hidden nor inconspicuous, but he is a man whose obvious powers are such as to make you wonder how a Democracy of opportunity can afford to leave him subordinated now, when the need is not so much for measures, of which there have been, heaven knows, enough, but for men."
At the end of the war I went back to New York as editor of one of the Tribune Sunday magazines, The Review. In a way it was a precursor of Time. Then I had a quarrel with the managing editor and I quit. I was going out in the country to write fiction, and somebody said, "Look, there's a movie job open." Movies at that time were pretty low. But my wife said, "Well, look into it, at least."
I became the director of publicity for Samuel Goldwyn and a few months later my salary was doubled, as the head of publicity, exploitation, and advertising. Howard Dietz, who later became vice president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was my assistant.
In 1920, I went out to the coast, came back, went to England, and in 1922 I moved over to Paramount. I had a long history in Hollywood of more than twenty years as a producer and writer, and towards the end of it I was active politically. I ran the local campaign for FDR in 1940, in Hollywood. I was asked to run for Congress from the Sixteenth District, which is next to the district in which Helen Gahagan was defeated, by Nixon, but rejected the idea.
When the war came in 1941, I was asked to become Assistant Regional Director of Civil Defense for the eight Western states, the Federal district. During that year, 1942, the Office of War Information was born, and I was asked to head the office on the west coast. I couldn't tell them why I
couldn't do it, that there was a Japanese task force threatening the coast. After the Battle of Midway, I wrote to Elmer Davis that I was now free and I was asked to go to India.
I spent four years in India. I was special assistant to Ambassador [William] Phillips, the personal representative of the President and Special Assistant to the United States Commissioner after Phillips resigned. But my real job was as head of the Office of War Information in South Asia. I had 150 men doing psychological warfare up near the Burma line. After the war ended the State Department asked me to stay another year as the Public Affairs Officer of the American Mission, which was quasi-diplomatic, at that time because India was still under the British Government. Toward the end of that period, in 1946, there were just enough troops left to take care of the piles of war materiel. A U. S. Colonel came to my office and said, "I have been asked to decorate you. I haven't got any troops. The medal you're supposed to get is the Medal of Freedom, but
I've never seen the goddamned thing."
I said, "Please don't be so hot under the collar about it."
He replied, "When you go home call the Adjutant General of the district. He'll have the decoration for you."
My successor was due in November of '46. I'd gotten a house for the imminent arrival of my wife and daughter. They went by freighter to Manila, and the Army flew them to Calcutta, where I met them.
That year, when I came home, a colonel came over from the Adjutant General's office and said, "You're to be decorated. Where do you want it?"
I said, "Well, I've never been baptized that way before so I'd rather have it over there at the Pentagon."
I brought my wife and daughter down from New York where they were visiting and we went to the Pentagon. Much to my pleasure I found that all the old India hands had gathered there, including Dean Rusk, now Secretary of State, who had been Deputy
Chief of Staff of the American command in Delhi. I was decorated with the Medal of Freedom, by order of President Truman.
I found that I couldn't go back to Hollywood. Hollywood had changed; I had changed; I had been spending time in a cause that was other than selfish. I was asked to head a secret office of one of the divisions of the State Department that had to do with U. S. occupied areas of the world.
An Army colonel, an Air Force colonel, a Navy captain and a CIA man were on my staff, with special quarters for them. Then the whole information process changed and I became the head of the foreign information policy staff of the State Department. I finally changed from Foreign Service Reserve to Civil Service so I could stay on until I was seventy. Even then they kept me on an extra year. That's the general background.
I want to tell you about President Truman. I received a decoration "by order of the President," although I'm sure he never knew about it. It came from the old War Department which was the
predecessor of the Department of Defense. I never knew Harry Truman in Kansas City. The haberdashery shop came after I left.
The only member of the governing body of the county that I knew was Judge Porterfield, then chief of the Jackson County board of supervisors. When I came into the Kansas City Star office one Saturday morning, the city editor's desk said, "The Colonel," [William Rockhill Nelson] "wants a story about macadam roads, and he wants to get it from Judge Porterfield."
I called Judge Porterfield but couldn't reach him. I tried all day and finally, at a quarter of twelve that night, I got him somewhere out in Sni-A-Bar township. I told him that the Colonel wanted him to give me a story on macadam roads.
He said, "You know as much about it as I do. You write it and I'll stand for it."
So I wrote a long story about Judge Porterfield's opinion of macadam roads and it appeared on the front pages of the Star the next morning.
I met Miss Margaret Truman after she was
married, when she attended an Elmer Davis commemoration at Columbia University, and I told her that her father had once given me a decoration.
I liked Harry Truman. My daughter, who went to Woodrow Wilson High School, a hotbed of Republicanism, stood staunchly for Harry Truman in 1946. He had quality. After all, that middle country was my country. I understood him, and I've always had that feeling about him.
HESS: Do you remember anything about the general political situation?
BLOCK: Yes, I do. Our first house was in Westport, near Kansas City, a bungalow -- Sunset Hill was already fashionable, further out. Then we moved to a bungalow, a very pleasant place one door away from the Paseo. On the corner was the house of a secretary of the Commerce Trust Company, Mr. [Henry C.] Schwitzgebel. As a reporter at that time I always came home pretty tired. I had one palm beach suit which I washed and ironed myself.
After the Fourth of July in 1913, in the front
room I was already asleep, but my wife was still reading. Suddenly in my dream I heard a sound, like firecrackers. I woke, and she said, "Turn out the lights quickly. Somebody's shooting." I had no gun and I got a stick and went out. Schwitzgebel's son had come to the window fronting on our place, and he had said, "Come out of there or I'll shoot." The man fired at him and he fired back, and then the man disappeared. We hired a Pinkerton man after that.
The town was split at that time between the "Goats" and the "Rabbits." Shannon (the Congressman) was the Rabbit and the man who later went to prison, with the police reporter of the Star who later became police commissioner (Higgins), was the Goat. Shannon's brother was prosecuting a case in police court. I don't remember what the case was, but I know something about it and I was annoyed at the injustice that was being done. I said to the city editor, "Let me handle this," I went down to the police court and I raised Cain with Shannon. I told him where to get off. I read
him, as my father would say, the "riot act."
Where we lived was an area where there were houses alike, built by one contractor. In the same spot two blocks over, a young man, about my height -- I can't remember who he was -- came out of his house one morning and was killed.
HESS: Maybe they were shooting at you.
BLOCK: That's pure conjecture, but Kansas City was a tough town. My father, who came to this country after the Civil War, at age sixteen, in the steerage, used to tell me about earning his first dollar in New York in a button factory on Maiden Lane. Later when I was a drama critic for the Tribune down near Park row, I could look down on Maiden Lane. He used to stop in a doorway, take out the dollar and look at it. He had earned a dollar. From New York, my father went to an uncle, a plantation owner in Arkansas, near Camden and Pine Bluff. His first name was Solomon and my father's name was Sigfried. Apparently the "S" bothered his uncle because of the "S" on the cotton bales.
He made my father take an extra initial, "E"; and he was always known thereafter as E. S. Block. Finally E. S. went to New Orleans, walking from Pine Bluff to New Orleans, where he had yellow fever.
He used to tell me about scrubbing floors in a charity hospital. I crossed Africa three times during the World War II and each time I had to take yellow fever shots. E. S. B. worked his way up north doing odd jobs for troops in the war. Then he went West, became a cowboy. Finally he came back into Nebraska and worked in a general store at Tecumseh. Then he went to Nebraska City and went into business for himself. At one time he had two stores, in Nebraska City and Cherokee.
My father was a fine man. He was untutored in the conventional way, but he held his own. He was a member of the school board and wrote a fine script that he learned in night school in New York. My mother was more sophisticated.
HESS: Do you remember anything about Mr. Pendergast in Kansas City?
BLOCK: Many years later, when I was in Hollywood, I received an invitation from Otto Higgins, who I knew as a police reporter, who had become the police commissioner. They were opening a new police headquarters and they were asking all the old Star men to come. A man that I knew did go and came back and told me about it. He said that Kansas City was wide open.
On Saturday nights I used to go home at about one o'clock on the 18th Street car line, with a transfer to the Troost Avenue car line. I always was afraid that something was going to happen. My father had once been in Kansas City and he said that after the Civil War it was called "the jumping off place."
HESS: Getting into your job, the post that you held during the Truman administration...
BLOCK: When I came back from India, I mentioned the fact that I couldn't go back to Hollywood. I became head of a committee to plan psychological warfare for future purposes.
I might interject that when General Maxwell Taylor went to Vietnam, as Ambassador, I called his attention to the fact that I had a two hundred page report of psychological warfare activities in Burma. While the means had changed, the principle was still the same. A few days later I got a call from a colonel asking for a copy, which I had had declassified before I had left the Government.
At the time of the Eisenhower administration I was the head of certain activities that had to do with Russia and the Communist countries. When it became the U. S. Information Agency, under Eisenhower, I became the advisor to the head of the Information Center process. This has to do with the foreign libraries, and exhibits. After that, I became the head of the bibliographic division. And at that time, the officer who had been the Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs when I first came back, became the head of the U. S. Information Agency. He used to call me on the telephone and ask for my advice.
As you approach seventy, your energy begins to flag a little.
When I reached seventy, which is the age at which one retires from the Civil Service, I was asked to stay on for another year. Since then I have written my autobiography, have revised, and rewritten a novel which I had started before the war, and I have now completed a 90,000 word novel which I am now revising.
HESS: Since you served in the Department of State through the full time Mr. Truman was President, could you give me your impressions of the four men that served as Secretary of State: Stettinius, Byrnes, Marshall, and Acheson. What kind of men do you think they were? What kind of a job do you think they did?
BLOCK: I didn't think much of Stettinius. I thought he was sort of a -- what is the German word I'm trying to think of -- ersatz, a substitute. Who is the next man?
HESS: Jimmy Byrnes.
BLOCK: Byrnes I didn't know at all. I have no recollection of him, except that he was a fiery southerner. He probably believed in secession. I think he was a man of talent who somehow was held by his prejudices away from the main line of development. The next man was Marshall? I didn't know Marshall.
One day in New Delhi I was advised that a former Secretary of War, Patrick J. Hurley, an Indian fighter from Oklahoma, later ambassador to China, was coming through New Delhi.
It was difficult to entertain in those days. I had a quasi-diplomatic position, sometimes in uniform, sometimes in civies. I had planned to have a number of people come into the office for cocktails, then we were going to see a movie. You were limited by the Delhi government as to the number of people you could entertain, because food was scarce. A colonel came over and wanted 10 places for the Hurley party, and, I said, "I'm sorry, but by stretching it, I can give you three." I had met Hurley once on a transcontinental trip, he was a fine looking
man, married to a woman with money, I think. Well, he went to Chungking as American Ambassador. At that time the Chinese government was in Chungking. Hurley also had the rank of major general. When he was presented to Chiang Kai-shek he should have been presented in diplomatic clothes, but he presented himself as a major general.
HESS: What do you think of John Davies?
BLOCK: A fine man.
HESS: What dealings have you had with him?
BLOCK: Very close. When I was in training for the India job, I was to go out as the administrative head, not as the chief. The chief was a former Rhodes scholar, Robert Aura Smith, whose knowledge was chiefly of the Far East, and a triple bourbon man at lunch.
One day I learned that John Davies, whom I didn't know, the political adviser to General Stilwell, was in town. So, I said I wanted to meet him, and the people at OWI said, "Why do you want
to talk to him?"
I said, "I'm going to have something to do with him in India."
Jim Linen, who is now the president of Time, then head of the Outpost Service Bureau, said, "I'll go with you."
We went over to State, but Davies was careful not to say much. He was rather cool, but he asked one question. He said, "What about the other man, Robert Aura Smith?"
Linen said (which was news to me), that Smith was to be the head of psychological warfare, but I was to run the operation.
And Davies said, "Well, that's too bad because he's persona non grata to Stilwell."
When we left I said to Linen, "You can handle this. I bow out. I don't know anything about it." A few days later I was called in by Elmer Davis, and by the OWI Board, and asked to take over the whole business. Smith would be recalled. I said, "Of course, you must have a policy for an informational operation." (We had two jobs: One was psychological warfare against the enemy with the American forces;
the other was information inside India, Gandhi having practically invited the Japanese to come in,) The OWI Board said, "Well, you write one." I thought, "My goodness, this is a bunch of amateurs."
Finally, I wrote, after a good deal of care and study what I called "Notes on India," that later became the guiding policy. It was cleared by the State Department with some changes, but not until I'd gotten to Cairo.
HESS: That was the first time you'd met Davies?
BLOCK: Yes. When I got to India, the first thing I wanted to do was to get hold of Davies, and I found that he had flown to Chungking; the plane had fallen in the Naga country, the head-hunting country.
HESS: It went down?
BLOCK: Yes. Among the people on the plane was a commentator for CBS, Eric Sevareid. He's on every night at seven o'clock on CBS here, with Walter Cronkite. The story Davies told me later was that
there was a Chinese general on the plane with him. When they took to the silk, they all came down in different areas. When they were finally rounded up, the Chinese general said, "Very interesting, very interesting. Now, what do you do in New York to avoid those tall buildings:" He thought that's how they got out of planes in New York.
In November of '43, we were called to the American mission. Davies was among those who were called; also the head of OSS in New Delhi. A Foreign Office man, named [Sir Maberly Esler] Dening, who I think later became the British Ambassador to Japan, a large, able, fast-thinking man, said that the Supreme Commander, Lord Mountbatten, established as the Supreme Commander of Southeast Asia at a meeting at Quebec, wished to integrate all forces. Well, we couldn't be integrated, because that meant we would be backing British policy in Asia. So, we didn't integrate.
I had in the meantime gotten certain language people from the local British Ministry of Information Office. There were some nice guys in the
office, a couple of Australians, and a Foreign Office man, whom I met many years later in Philadelphia. For dropping leaflets, we didn't have type fonts. We had to have it all hand-lettered in the native language, and then the leaflet would be photographed -- an offset process. Suddenly, these people were withdrawn from us. I got very angry, in the Hollywood manner. And I called the M.O.I. men. I had already had sufficient irritation with the British. I asked them to come down to my office. They came in very calmly and I took them into the dining room, which was off of my office. As I looked at them, I realized that they were under orders; it wasn't their fault. And I started to laugh. I ordered drinks, didn't say a word about what was on my mind. They laughed rather uncomfortably, we joked with each other and then they went home.
Some time later, there was a meeting at Mountbatten's rear echelon in New Delhi. He hadn't moved to Ceylon yet, where Kandy was headquarters. At the meeting they would decide what they would do
about the people I wanted. The British were there with all their medals. [Benjamin G.] Ferris, brigadier at the American headquarters in Delhi, wore a typical Stilwell blouse with nothing on it, and winked at me. Davies was also there. There I met General [Albert Coady] Wedemeyer, who became the American commander at Chungking. In Europe, the Americans were one, the British were two, Eisenhower being number one, the British number two. In Mountbatten's command, the British were number one, the Americans were number two. In other words, Wedemeyer was Deputy Chief of Staff and the Chief of Staff was an English Lieutenant General. I met Wedemeyer, introduced myself, and I said I hoped we could work together.
HESS: What was your impression of him?
BLOCK: Well, I'll tell you that later: A few days later I got a call from his aide, who said, "The General wants to see you." I had planned to go to Bombay the next day to see my staff there. I asked, "Can he wait until after I return from Bombay?"
"No, he wants to see you right away." So I went up there.
General Wedemeyer said, "What about this coordination business -- integration?"
I said, "Nothing."
He said, "Hasn't Dening called on you?"
I said, "No. I haven't had a word from any of the British."
Then he called General Ferris at American headquarters, and while he was talking, in walked the Chief of Staff of the British. Immediately Wedemeyer hung up.
The English General started to say something which sounded like doubletalk. It was about a plan that had already been cancelled. I said, "General, don't you know that's been eliminated?"
He indulged in some more doubletalk, then walked out. I took an envelope from my pocket and wrote on it, "Your phone is tapped." Obviously the Englishman didn't want Wedemeyer to talk to Ferris. Wedemeyer said, "If that's true, then my position here isn't tenable." When I started to
say something, he pointed to a big oil portrait on the wall. So I shut up.
HESS: Why, was there a microphone behind the painting?
BLOCK: Probably. Later, I was invited to dinner by Wedemeyer. He and Mountbatten lived in a Delhi house of one of the old Sikh rajahs. There were a lot of those in Delhi. Wedemeyer didn't mention the incident. We had dinner and later saw a Twentieth Century Fox picture in a projection room of the life of then Admiral Mountbatten; but I didn't meet Mountbatten. Actually, I had met Mountbatten in Hollywood, at a dinner given by the young Douglas Fairbanks. But neither one of us indicated that we knew each other until much later. After the War, the Prime Minister of Patiala -- (I had visited Patiala and I liked the Sikhs very much), had a reception at one of the Indian clubs. I and Mrs. Block were there, and he said, "Come on up, come on up to the platform." There was Mountbatten. We shook hands and that was that.
In '44 I used to make daily visits to the G-2
Colonel at the American headquarters; and sometimes to General Ferris. He said, "I'm going home in a few days."
And I said, "Well, don't rub it in." I was already beginning to feel lonely -- I was in my fifties then. When I got back some hours later to my office, I found there had been a call from the airport -- how much luggage was I going to carry. In other words, I was going to go, too. In those days, it took longer than it does now. We went by way of Ascension Island, where we spent the night. When I got to Washington I had a wire from Sherwood, Robert E. Sherwood, whom I knew, from London, saying, "Don't do anything until you talk to Wedemeyer."
I found Wedemeyer at a temporary office in the old Munitions Building, I said, "Well, what are we doing?"
He said, "We'll work it out with the State Department and the War Department."
General Ferris had called me, saying, "Go on home. Let them work it out here. You take a rest."
I went out to California, but every day the OWI were on the phone with me. Finally they said, "Come back." So I came back to a meeting chaired by General Wedemeyer and later by Colonel Lincoln, one his men. Others present were Elmer Davis, and David Bowes Lyon of the British Embassy, uncle of the present Queen. We worked out a plan whereby -- we would work with the British on psychological warfare through a committee that would meet alternately in Kandy and in New Delhi.
When we came back to New Delhi, from Washington, John Davies and I went up to Kandy and scouted around. Davies said, "Wedemeyer has a letter from Sherwood saying, 'No, that isn't the way it's going to be done."'
At this time Sherwood was having a fight with Elmer Davis. Davies said, "You'd better talk to him." Wedemeyer showed me this letter and said, "What about it?"
I said, "That's not it. We made a deal in Washington." He said, "What are you going to do?"
I said, "I'm going back to Delhi and send a
wire to Elmer Davis."
He said, "You don't have to go back. Send it from here. Colonel Lincoln will take care of it and see that nobody sees it."
I sent a wire, and Davis wired back, saying, "The deal is as it was set up here."
Then, I went back to Delhi. I had had a back difficulty for many years; sometimes in the jungle I had to wear a brace of steel and leather.
HESS: That wouldn't be very comfortable in the jungle, would it?
BLOCK: No, not in that heat? I'm much better now.
When it came time for the settlement meeting, at Kandy, I couldn't go; I was flat on my back, I commissioned Davies to represent me. When the matter was broached, Mountbatten said, "I'm either the Supreme Commander or I'm not the Supreme Commander."
Davies replied: "Then I am commissioned by Mr. Block to say that he will withdraw his psychological warfare forces from the theater." And
Mountbatten gave in.
Back here in Washington in '44 when I went to see Wedemeyer, his aide came in and said, "Mrs. Wedemeyer on the phone."
I got up from the chair at his desk and walked away. He said, "Hello, dear. Just a minute." He said to me, Ralph, come back. This phone isn't tapped." That was the only reference he ever, made. Wedemeyer later went to Chungking. He became Chief of Staff here after the war and came over once to talk to our group. Wedemeyer had been trained in Germany, that's why I think they sent him to the Asiatic Theater.
HESS: Why? Did they think he might have German sympathies?
BLOCK: I don't know. Anyway, I'm sure he was a true American. I had a feeling that Wedemeyer was able, but perhaps not always adequate.
Going back to Davies, at the time after the war that Davies was a member of the policy staff of the State Department, he had advised (this was
under Dulles), that certain actions be taken, certain policies be pursued, which seemed alien to the simon-pure Communist haters. It wasn't a policy idea to them. Some State Department people, men that I have known, very able men, confided to me that they didn't like Dulles.
BLOCK: He was a lawyer, a corporation lawyer, rather than a statesman. Incidentally, in this list of salon passengers on the Mauretania going to England in 1920, including Mrs. Block and myself, I discovered the name of John Foster Dulles.
HESS: He was on the same ship.
BLOCK: In 1920. There wasn't a great deal of difference between our ages -- here it is -- Mr. John Foster Dulles.
He was probably a young man. That was 1920; I was 31.
HESS: Was that about the time you left Kansas City?
BLOCK: No. I left Kansas City in about 1916.
Well, anyway, Davies was out of the State Department by Dulles’ command. He went to Peru and engaged in business there. The book that he published when he came back recently is called "Foreign and Other Affairs."
HESS: Now, when we got onto Davies, we were going to discuss General MacArthur...
BLOCK: General MacArthur?
HESS: General Marshall, my error.
BLOCK: Well, Marshall followed as ambassador to Chungking, the former Secretary of War [Patrick Jay Hurley]. I had a lot to do with the informational side of the Marshall plan, a great idea, historically, that we would set enemy nations up again.
HESS: What was your impression of Dean Acheson?
BLOCK: Acheson was the Secretary of State when I came back from India. There was a man on the staff of
the State-Army-Navy-Air Force Coordinating Committee, who used to call for me with his car. At that time I lived in Georgetown. One day we passed Dean Acheson and Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court Justice, walking. They walked every day, apparently, as great friends. My driver friend stopped and said, "Would you gentlemen like a lift?" They declined courteously.
About Acheson; if you took away all the pretense of his position -- he was married into one of the Canadian liquor families who had money, the little mustaches and all the rest of it -- if you took all that away, what was left was a very earnest, sincere, able, not top man, but near the top, a man who was wise and prudent and had the courage of his convictions -- the way he stood up for Hiss, for instance. He didn't know, he just assumed that the Hiss charge was libelous and he stood up for him. But then, Dulles did too. Dulles was among those who appointed Hiss in New York.
Every man has to have a little pretense about himself, a little sense of what he is, a little
picture of himself.
HESS: During the time that you were in the State Department, did you personally talk to any of these men? Did you have conferences with them?
BLOCK: No, not with them. I talked to Bohlen [Charles Eustis] "Chip" Bohlen, one day when he was the Counselor of the State Department. I was very much impressed by him. He also had pretenses about himself, allowing his hair to grow on the back of his neck, a la Parisian.
HESS: What were you discussing with him at that time?
BLOCK: Some policy question that I wanted guidance on.
HESS: What was your general impression of him and his ability in the job?
BLOCK: He was extremely knowledgeable about the world we live in -- I knew that his brother-in-law, who is an author now, had been forced out of the State Department. Before we continue with Bohlen, I want to say that I had been much happier in the State
Department in my experience in India, than I ever was in pictures. In pictures, I always had a feeling that "I'm here by accident -- it's stage money." I did have responsible positions. I produced twelve pictures for Joe Kennedy, father of the President, who must then have been about eleven. Joe Kennedy bought out de Mille.
At Paramount, where I was the managing editor, Jessee Lasky, the producing head, called me one day. His brother-in-law, Hector Turnbull was running the Paramount studio in California. Lasky said, "We want you to go out and hold things together while Hector comes East."
I said, "He won't come."
He said, "Well, we'll see that he comes."
So, Hector met me in Pasadena and said, "What's up?" I told him and he said, "No, I'm not going." Later he disappeared to telephone. When he came back he said, "Well, I'm not going."
So, I wired and said, "Can I come back?" And they said, "No, stay and help Hector, and meet us in Chicago at the convention."
In the meantime, Walter Wanger (I don't know if the name means anything to you), had become general manager of productions. He was later the husband of Joan Bennett. He wrote me a letter asking "What's the matter with that studio?"
Well, it was obvious to me that the producers were all young scenario writers who hadn't had enough experience. I wrote, "I hear that there are men in the business on Poverty Row, making pictures with a shoestring." I named a few of them.
When I got to Chicago to the convention I found one of them had become the head of the studio. That was Ben Schulberg, the father of the writer, Budd Schulberg.
I was then asked to go back into production. One of the film papers had asked, "Why aren't they making use of Block?"
I elected to go to the Long Island studio, where, among other pictures, I made a movie of The Great Gatsby, the Scott Fitzgerald novel.
The Friday executive meeting used to be held
in my office, which had been the former dressing roo