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Willard A. Edwards Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Willard A. Edwards

Correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, in its Washington, D.C. Bureau, 1933-1973; reported on Capitol Hill and White House activities.

Washington, D.C.
September 17, 1988
by Niel M. Johnson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Notice
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened November, 1989
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]



Oral History Interview with
Willard A. Edwards

Washington, D.C.
September 17, 1988
by Niel M. Johnson

Summary Description:

Topics discussed include crime in Chicago in the 1920s, the Washington, D.C. bureau of the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers in 1930s and '40s, President Truman in Key West; Chicago Tribune headline in 1948 election, Truman's 1948 campaign, Presidential news conferences, Washington, D.C. Times-Herald, drinking among Washington, D.C. newspapermen, Chicago newspapers, Chicago Tribune's editorial policy, McCarthyism, the transition to television coverage of White House events, Richard M. Nixon and his foreign policy, and Lyndon B. Johnson and his campaigning techniques.

Names mentioned include Burton K. Wheeler, Arthur Sears Henning, Robert McCormick, Lloyd Norman, Walter Trohan, Harry S. Truman, Charles Ross, Thomas Dewey, Leon Stolz, Philip Warden, Doris Fleeson, May Craig, Edwin A. Lahey, Robert M. Lee, Joseph McCarthy, Joseph Alsop, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Barry Goldwater and Lyndon Johnson.

 

[1]

JOHNSON: Mr. Edwards, as I mentioned, I am going to start by asking you the date and place of your birth, and your parents' names.

EDWARDS: I was born December 7, 1902, and my parents' names were Mary Edwards and Evan Edwards; Welsh background.

I was strictly an accident as a correspondent in Washington; I had worked for the [Chicago] Tribune from -- I joined the Tribune in 1925 and was covering murders and ordinary things around town when a member of the Washington bureau got sick and they needed a substitute, and I was pretty good on features and so

 

[2]

forth so apparently they picked me to go down and take his place. So I was to go to Washington for a couple of weeks anyway, and I stayed for about 50 years.

JOHNSON: Maybe I could back up a little bit -- to ask you where you were born and where you were educated.

EDWARDS: I was born in Chicago, on North State Street, very close to the loop, but I didn't stay there long. We moved to Elmhurst and I had my schooling there.

JOHNSON: Did you go to college?

EDWARDS: Didn't go to college.

JOHNSON: Graduated from high school in Elmhurst?

EDWARDS: Graduated from high school at St. Ignatius Academy in Chicago. That's a Jesuit academy. After a year of public high school, my parents decided I was wasting my time, so they transferred me, at considerable cost to them, to this Jesuit academy in Chicago, where I got the equivalent, in my belief, of a college education.

JOHNSON: Did you have any brothers or sisters?

 

[3]

EDWARDS: I had two brothers, one's living in San Diego now. Both of them are living out on the West Coast.

JOHNSON: What's their names?

EDWARDS: Francis is the youngest one, and Paul is the other.

JOHNSON: I take it this is a Catholic family?

EDWARDS: Yes, it sure is.

JOHNSON: After graduating from St. Ignatius, did you go to work right away?

EDWARDS: I did. I will preface it by a little story. When I was about twelve years old I saw a moving picture, and a newspaper reporter was the hero. So from then on, when company was in and somebody would say, "And what is this little man going to be when he grows up?" I would say, "a newspaperman." And that stuck. So, when I graduated from St. Ignatius I was offered a scholarship at Loyola, but chose instead to go to work for the Tribune.

JOHNSON: By the way, what was your father's occupation?

 

[4]

EDWARDS: He was a manager in a steel company; A.M. Castle & Company.

JOHNSON: So he was white collar?

EDWARDS: Right.

JOHNSON: So you started work then?

EDWARDS: I went to work. I'll never forget my first day on police work. We got the call -- this was during the prohibition days, of course, and the gangs were in control of Chicago -- and the call was from a barber shop. I went along with the police on the call, and we came to the barber shop and there was nobody around, except two figures, two bodies, both of them with a bullet hole neatly in the middle of their foreheads, with the blood flowing down and mixing with the lather on their faces. They had been getting shaved and so forth. That was my introduction.

Well, that went on for about seven years, and then this substitution into Washington came.

JOHNSON: What year did that happen?

 

[5]

EDWARDS: That was '33, the first year of Roosevelt's administration.

JOHNSON: But you started to work for the Tribune back in…

EDWARDS: In '25.

JOHNSON: In the middle of the gangster era.

EDWARDS: Right. And I had numerous stories about gangland figures, but you wouldn't be interested in that I think.

JOHNSON: Is that on tape, or on the record somewhere else?

EDWARDS: I don't believe so. I will tell just one story.

JOHNSON: All right.

EDWARDS: It was necessary in those days to have a gangster friend, so you could get some information from his side of the story. I became a friend of a figure known as "Dingbat Oberta;" and he was a jolly, gay, companion. We got together along very well, and I got a little information from him. And then I was awakened to the

 

[6]

fact that he was not such a good companion after all. We were double-dating and dancing in the rear room of a saloon on the south side of Chicago. I happened to be looking at him. He was dancing with a girl with a bare shouldered dress, and just out of pure whimsy, he put his lighted cigarette into her shoulder. As she screamed, he put his head back and laughed; that was the funniest thing he had ever seen in all his life. I thought, "These are a different breed of men."

JOHNSON: Dingbat.

EDWARDS: Dingbat Oberta. He was found dead about a year later in a ditch, full of holes.

JOHNSON: Was he considered a member of the gang?

EDWARDS: He was a member of the gang, and he apparently offended somebody higher up. He did something that was wrong.

JOHNSON: Was Bugs Moran involved?

EDWARDS: Bugs Moran was a member of the northside mob, in opposition to the Capone gang.

 

[7]

JOHNSON: You didn't get in on that Valentine's Day massacre?

EDWARDS: I was there, but I got there late. I wish I could say I was there.

JOHNSON: Were you a police reporter, or general features reporter?

EDWARDS: General features. As I say, it got to be known that I could write a good feature story. That was why they sent me to Washington.

JOHNSON: A little Irish flavor to it?

EDWARDS: Could be.

JOHNSON: So then you got the call to Washington in 1933.

EDWARDS: In 1933.

JOHNSON: Were you politically very conscious at this time, or did that kind of grow on you; the political side of things?

EDWARDS: I will tell you a story that illustrates how

 

[8]

little political leanings I had. One of Colonel [Robert] McCormick's favorite "bete noirs" was Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana, who was against [the United States] getting into the war. I ran into a committee hearing, by Wheeler, and I was impressed with the way he ran it. I wrote a very favorable story about Wheeler. The boss of the bureau, Arthur Sears Henning, called me in the next day and said, "I got this message on your Wheeler story." It was from McCormick. It just said, "Has Edwards hired out to Wheeler?"

JOHNSON: So he didn't run your story on Wheeler?

EDWARDS: He ran the story. He ran the story. McCormick did not try to censor stuff before it got into the paper; he. read the paper when it was out. In this case, I was lucky I wasn't fired, of course.

JOHNSON: In other words, your boss didn't edit it, or rewrite it?

EDWARDS: Well, it was a good story; it was a factual story.

JOHNSON: In fact, I think Harry Truman was on Wheeler's

 

[9]

committee, in the transportation field.

EDWARDS: Yes, I believe that's right.

JOHNSON: Do you recall when you first saw or met Harry Truman, when you first saw him?

EDWARDS: I'm sorry to say I don't. I've thought about that. He made no impression upon me at all, but then he had this investigating committee, which did a hell of a job.

JOHNSON: I might ask you about the Bureau, the Chicago Tribune bureau here in Washington, D.C. Do you remember how many people were working for it, and how did it compare with other newspaper bureaus?

EDWARDS: We had seven men working in the Washington bureau, which compared, for example, with the New York Times of about twenty; we were about one-third. But we had one of the biggest. Most of the newspapers had one man in Washington.

JOHNSON: Where were you located?

 

[10]

EDWARDS: In the Albee Building. That's where the New York Times was too. In fact, a lot of newspapers were located in the Albee Building, at 15th and G.

JOHNSON: What floor were you on?

EDWARDS: We were on the 10th floor.

JOHNSON: Do you want to mention some of the other correspondents who got bylines and who were fairly prominent as reporters on Washington or Federal Government affairs?

EDWARDS: It's hard to single them off, you know, one from another. Each one had his specialty. Lloyd Norman, for example, was the Pentagon man, and he handled Defense. Somebody else had the State Department, and I can't...

JOHNSON: You don't remember who dealt with the State Department?

EDWARDS: No, I don't.

JOHNSON: What was your specialty, or did you have an area?

EDWARDS: I covered the Hill; I covered Congress, both houses for a while. It's kind of interesting to recite

 

[11]

this one, I think. I was introduced to the Senate by [being told], "Go up and cover the Senate." That's the only preparation I had. I had a hell of a time finding out where the Senate Chamber was.

JOHNSON: This was in '33.

EDWARDS: In '33, the first day on the job.

JOHNSON: Who covered the President? Who covered the White House?

EDWARDS: Later, it was Walter Trohan.

JOHNSON: Trohan, yes, I remember that name. In fact, the Truman Library has an interview with him. It is in our oral history collection.

EDWARDS: He later became kind of an Assistant Bureau Chief, and therefore didn't cover the White House. But I covered all the Presidential campaigns, switching off between the candidates.

JOHNSON: Is Walter Trohan deceased?

EDWARDS: He's still around; he's living in Columbia,

 

[12]

Maryland. You might look him up. He's a talkative guy; he can tell you a million stories