Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Faris oral history interview.
Opened April, 1975
Oral History Interview with
March 8, 1971
by J. R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Faris, I wonder if you would start this interview by giving me a little of your background, when and where you were born, something about your family, and then your jobs before you went into Mr. Truman's office when he became Senator.
FARIS: Well, I was born Edgar C. Faris, Jr. in Kansas City, Missouri, August 24, 1908. My father was City Architect of Kansas City. I think that he was only about twenty-five or twenty-six years old, and he built the City Market in Kansas City, and most of the fire stations. He was way ahead of his time, because he put an architectural design to the fire stations. I imagine some of them are still there. They don't look exactly like a fire station, the old drab looking, you know, buildings. He changed the design to sort of fit the architecture of the setting
of where the fire station was located.
I should go back, too, to his father, my grandfather, who was James E. Faris. He was a Republican. He was chairman of the Board of Public Works in Kansas City under old Mayor Darius Brown. My father was rather a strong-headed, strong-willed man, and he didn't like the Republican Party so he became a Democrat. He had known Tom Pendergast for a good many years, along with all the other politicians in Kansas City, because Kansas City was not too large a city in those days. I imagine there were two hundred and fifty or three hundred thousand people.
He built the City Market, as I said (I'm repeating myself), and then having known Tom Pendergast, he had designed Tom Pendergast's first home out in the Country Club district, I believe it was on Fifty-fifth Street and I might add that Tom Pendergast never paid him for the architectural work. I think my dad almost supervised the building of it, so I guess Pendergast figured that he paid him off by having -- I don't know whether Pendergast made him City Architect, I don't believe he did. I don't really know how my father became City Architect of Kansas City.
FUCHS: I wonder why Pendergast didn't pay him? They must have had some sort of a contract.
FARIS: Well, they did, but I think Pendergast was notorious for that sort of an operation at that time. But I never really did go into the details because I was young, and that was the least of my interests, whether Tom Pendergast had paid my father. As long as I got the car and the two dollars for a weekend date, why -- so, you know, you grow up in these things and actually they become commonplace to you. You know, you hear all the stories, and all the stories I have heard -- it was all hearsay, but I guess some of it was based on fact; and of course, there has been a number of books written about Pendergast and his early operations. So, I really don't see any reason for my going into that, because anything I know is just something that I had heard, you know, through the years. This is prior to my entering politics.
FUCHS: Where did you live in Kansas City?
FARIS: I lived on Warwick Boulevard in Kansas City. We had a home on Warwick and then we went to Florida, you see. We left Kansas City in 1925. My father had gone to Florida in 1921. There was a builder in Kansas City by
the name of McCandles, Guy McCandles, and Guy McCandles and my father took a trip around the United States to see what other cities were building in the way of apartment buildings, because they built homes and apartment buildings. And on this trip, they ended up in Florida, this is 1921; and my father was quite taken with Florida, so he bought some acreage there in Florida in '21. The big problem there in Florida was the palmettos, they grew wild there like a scrub palm, and the question was how to get rid of the palmetto to clear the land. There was a man by the name of Carl Fisher, who had invented the presto light for the first automobiles, it had a tank on the side and you went out front to the lamp to light them. Do you remember those lights?
FUCHS: Vaguely. I remember reading about them.
FARIS: You would light the headlights by turning on the gas from the presto tank. They were used in the early days on practically all automobiles. Carl Fisher had bought quite a bit of acreage on Miami Beach, and so, being an inventive type of man, he invented a plow that would plow up these palmettos with ease and cut the expense, you see, of clearing the land. So when the boom broke out in Florida in about '24, why, we moved
to Florida. So I finished high school in Miami and then I came back to Kansas City, I guess it was in the summer of 1928.
FUCHS: Did you come back with your family?
FARIS: Yes, I came back with my family.
FUCHS: They moved back?
FARIS: They had moved back to Kansas City, because the boom had stopped and my father had lost some money in Florida so we came back, but he still kept some acreage there.
FUCHS: You were about twenty then.
FARIS: Yes, in August of '28, I was twenty years old. That's when I went to Rockhurst College.
FUCHS: You entered Rockhurst, after you came back here, as a freshman.
FARIS: Yes, as a freshman, and I played football, basketball and baseball at Rockhurst. From Rockhurst I went to Missouri University.
FUCHS: Oh, you did. What year did you enter there?
FARIS: In '29.
FUCHS: In '29.
FARIS: Then from Missouri University I came back to Kansas City. I studied journalism at Missouri University.
FUCHS: Did you graduate from the School of Journalism?
FARIS: No, I left. I wanted to be a writer, I always had; that was my tendency anyway. I wrote a novel -- College Humor was the in college magazine at that time, a national magazine, that was subscribed to by all colleges, you know, all the undergraduates read it. College Humor used to have a contest every year for the undergraduates for the best novel. One of my colleagues, Thomas Cockrell, won it, and I got a mention but mine wasn't published and his was. Tom became a pretty fair writer. He later wrote for Saturday Evening Post and then he ended up in Hollywood writing screen stories. So then when I came back to Kansas City, I went to the Kansas City Journal Post as a cub reporter.
FUCHS: This would be about '31?
FARIS: Yes, about '31 or '32, I guess it was. They were
paying me $18.00 a week, so I decided that here I had been going to a university to try to learn to be a journalist and it was the wrong thing to do, because the newspaper city editors didn't want students from journalism schools in those days, the old hard-bitten city editors didn't want you to start in as a "copy boy" not from a journalism school. But I had some contacts so I got into the -- my grandfather, again, who was Chairman of the Public Works, was then a leading developer of tract homes himself, he was a builder, and from that he naturally went into the real estate business, had a real estate office in Kansas City, and he handled all the Walter S. Dickey real estate. Dickey headed the Dickey Clay Pipe Company and Dickey owned the Kansas City Journal-Post.
FUCHS: Was Charlie Ross still at the School of Journalism at that time?
FARIS: No, Walter Williams was president of the School of Journalism.
FUCHS: I believe Charlie Ross for a period, now I can't tell you what the dates were, was on the staff.
FARIS: Yes. Charlie was there, but I can't remember -- I
remember Charlie later, but actually I don't remember him being in the journalism school at that time. As a matter of fact, I can't even tell you the name of the professor now. So many thousands of names have gone through my mind in my life, you know, since then that unless I have something to recall it for me, I can't remember.
Well, anyway, I was going to make a step forward, I felt radio would pay better. I had gone to see Arthur Church, who owned KMBC in Kansas City; and Arthur and I were working out a deal for me to enter radio. Paul Henning, who now does the Beverly Hillbillies and Greenacres, and Paul was at KMBC at this time. Paul and I later met here in Hollywood. Paul had jerked sodas at the drugstore in Independence, he was from Independence.
FUCHS: You didn't know him back there?
FARIS: No, I didn't know Paul at the station. I learned this later that he was there at the same time that I was going to go with KMBC.
FUCHS: What did you do, work for the Post about two years?
Was that as a reporter?
FARIS: Yes, mostly sports. Well, I was with Parke Carroll, and Ed Cochran was the sport's editor. So, at this time, this was in '34, and I had been interested in politics anyway. At Missouri, I had helped elect the president of the class, you know, that got in, and I had worked in my precinct in Kansas City like everybody did, and worked up to the board. Otherwise, if you didn't have that experience, you didn't get anyplace in politics in Kansas City. That's where you had to start. That was good experience.
Anyway, I went to Arthur Church and we were working out a deal for my joining his staff at KMBC when Jo Zach Miller III, who was vice president of the Commerce Trust, called me one day and told me he'd like to have me meet him in his office about two o'clock, that there was somebody he wanted me to meet and talk to.
FUCHS: How did you know Jo Zach Miller?
FARIS: Well, I had known. Jo Zach through my family, I knew the Kempers, knew Billy, then Bill Kemper. My grandmother Faris was a good friend of the Kempers,
socially she was a friend of theirs. And Jo Zach -- where did I meet these people in the first place, I don't know, I knew them all. When you grow up in a town, and Kansas City being, not a tremendously large city, it was a moderate-sized city, and since they had a rather restricted, residential area, restricted in the sense of certain types of homes, certain priced homes in a certain area, and then a more expensive type, and then on out to the mansions. Well, if you lived out in that area, you knew everyone. And I lived out in that area, so, through your boyhood friends they were all connected some way, and, with either the insurance companies, the banks, or the packing houses or the railroads, so you knew all these people, I guess by induction. Well, anyway, Jo Zach I had known, my father was a good friend of Jo Zach's; so when I went to the Commerce Trust Company at two o'clock that afternoon, I was waiting there, and Mr. Truman walked in and he had just been elected Senator in the November '34 election. So, after we sat down and exchanged pleasantries and talked a few minutes, Mr. Truman asked me if I'd like to go to Washington as his secretary.
FUCHS: Did you know him at that time?
FARIS: Yes, well, I had been out to his house prior to this during the election. I had a lot of friends around the state, having gone to the university, and having been in politics in the university, and then my father was very well acquainted throughout the State of Missouri, too, and had many friends. So I had taken a list of men in various counties in Missouri and my friends also, who could help in Mr. Truman's campaign, and which they did.
FUCHS: Did you compile the list?
FARIS: No; I compiled my own list of friends that I had, and my father had a list of his friends, you know, which included county commissioners and mayors, because my father had gone with the Seagraves Fire Company, when architecture and building during the depression was so bad. He went with the Seagraves Company, they built fire engines, and in Missouri he sold fire engines around to all these, municipalities, so he knew all the politicians. So from that, there was a list that he gave me to take to Truman, plus the people that I knew from the university.
FUCHS: Did you see Mr. Truman in his home there?
FARIS: Oh, yes, 219 Delaware. Yes, I remember very well, he had on black and white shoes. He was very beautifully dressed that summer day that I went out there. He didn't have his jacket on, but he had his tie and his white shirt and his black and white shoes and he looked very dapper. As I was leaving he ran up those stairs, up two at a time, because he was in a hurry, he had a meeting, this was right during the campaign...
FUCHS: You mean the stairs to the porch?
FARIS: No, inside the house, the stairway up to the second floor. I know that I rather marveled, because I think I was only twenty-five at this time, and I marveled at a man who was at least fifty, which to me was quite elderly, who could go up stairs two at a time like he did.
FUCHS: Was there an outside stairway then?
FARIS: No, it was inside the house.
FUCHS: Oh, I see, it was just the regular stairway going to the second floor.
FARIS: Yes, the stairs going up to the second floor.
FUCHS: As you went out the door...
FARIS: Yes, he was saying goodbye, and he was going up and he was in a hurry.
FUCHS: Did you see Mrs. Truman at the time?
FARIS: Yes, she let me in, Mrs. Truman.
FUCHS: Was that the first time that you had met him?
FARIS: Yes, that was the first time I had met him.
FUCHS: Very interesting.
FARIS: Yes. Then later, of course, when I went to the house when the Wallaces were all there -- I'll have to come back to that -- but anyway, when I walked into the bank, and then the Senator-elect Truman walked in, and after pleasantries were exchanged, then he asked me if I wanted to go to Washington with him as his secretary. Well, I was, you know, looking forward to going to the radio station, that was in the back of my mind when he asked me, and so I hesitated. You know, maybe it wasn't very flattering right at that