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Randall S. Jesse Oral History Interview, December 23, 1975

Oral History Interview with
Randall S. Jesse

Mr. Jessee was a reporter for WDAF-TV when he met then President Harry S. Truman. The close personal friendship developed between the two men after the President returned to his Independence home. Mr. Jessee was the Truman family spokesman at the time of the Presidents death. He has had various governmental positions with the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Liberty, Missouri
December 23, 1975
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley

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


Notice
This interview was conducted by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill as part of a intern and independent study project at William Jewell College in March 1976, under the direction of the Political Science Department of William Jewell College. 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 transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill.

Opened July, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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



Oral History Interview with
Randall S. Jesse

Liberty, Missouri
December 23, 1975
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley

[1]

STILLEY: Mr. Jessee, when did you first meet President Truman?

JESSEE: Actually I met him while he was President, one time when he was visiting in Kansas City, but we didn't really have any rapport develop out of that because it was a very casual meeting. He met thousands and thousands of people at that time. But I really got acquainted with him, which is what I presume you are referring to, after he returned home. It was rather unusual in that when he came home with Mrs. Truman, at that time he was in disfavor with a great many people, or at least the press would lead you to believe that

[2]

he was, including the Kansas City Star, for which I worked at the time. I was news director and program director.

The Star was--not the Star particularly, but my immediate superior was very much against Mr. Truman, so he implied-- although he didn't give us a direct order not to go out and cover his arrival home--but he implied that he would just as soon we didn't. But this sort of irritated me and so I said, "Well, there may not be many people out there, and for the former President of the United States, he should be welcomed home, so we'll all go out." We left a young man named Charles Harness in the news room. Charles is now new director for KBEA, but Charles at that time was a copy boy. We left him in the newsroom and all the rest of us, Bill Lee, Walt Bodine, and Bob Higby and I, all went out to welcome him. It was the largest crowd ever had been before or since at the Independence station that night. They claimed that there were, oh, from twenty to thirty thousand people there to greet Mr. Truman when he came home.

[3]

It showed that even a paper like the Star wasn't exactly in tune with what the people were really thinking.

Well, they were both delighted to be there, and, of course, the White House press corps then stayed around afterwards; and inasmuch as our television station at that time, WDAF Channel 4, was the only channel in Kansas City because of the freeze that had been put on, our responsibility to the public of Kansas City was, you know, very great, because being the only television station, we had to serve all of these things.

Anyway, we met him and I did an interview for NBC with him. Then on the way back we saw some flames in the sky and it was a lumber yard burning down that night and we missed that story. But anyway, we welcomed him home.

As I was a stringer for NBC, I was called on by the National Broadcasting Company to, you know, make various recordings for them. At that time we couldn't feed direct to the network. I guess

[4]

maybe we could by that time, but anyway quite often we would make film recordings for them. This White House press corps, a lot of them stayed over here for a few days, And I'll never forget Mrs. Truman came out of the house early the next morning--we were all out there going for a walk with the President, waiting for him--she came out to get the paper and she said--she was in a house dress--'Now boys, gentlemen, no pictures please." She said, "Wouldn't you know, they always throw it under the bushes," and she bent over and pulled the paper out from under the bushes. Here was a woman that had been waited on hand and foot for seven years in the White House, and she immediately adapted right back to her home town of Independence just as though she hadn't been anywhere, she had never left home.

In the course of those meetings with President Truman, a great rapport developed between us, not only as a reporter and interviewee, but also as a personal friendship, so that I was the only newsman

[5]

invited as a guest to Margaret's reception when she got married. He made it very plain that I was being invited as a friend, not as a reporter. I worked all morning for NBC and the coverage of it prior to the wedding, and went across the street to Lou Choplin's home over there, and changed clothes, and my wife and I went to the reception as guests. So, I wore two hats. They say Mayor [Charles] Wheeler has a lot of hats, well, I had two hats that day.

We got acquainted during the--that's a long answer to a very simple question, but I think it gives you a little background.

STILLEY: Was that about the last contact, or did you start inviting him over to your home?

JESSEE: Oh, no. What happened then, I had a number of interviews, oh, maybe once or twice a week on NBC. He was always very accessible to the press. And as much as we were the only network operating at that time, after three or four months, I guess, I went home one evening, told my wife, I said,

[6]

"I think they're lonely," because, really, naturally people were a little bit in awe of the former President and they thought that they had changed a great deal from what they were when they left. Of course, without meaning to, you do change, at least your relationship to the public changes where you almost become a prisoner in your own home. So, I said, "I'm going to invite them over for supper."

She said, "Oh, you can't do that."

I said, "Yes, I can too." Not that she wasn't willing and delighted to have them, but she was sharing this generally felt feeling that, "Oh, here's the former President." So, I invited him and he said, "When?" Called up Mrs. Truman and we set a date and they came to our home for dinner, and that was the beginning of a long friendship.

STILLEY: Was it kind of difficult deciding what to serve a former President?

JESSEE: Well, I'11 tell you what, the ladies worried a lot more about that than I did, because I suppose I felt by that time I knew him much better than

[7]

they did. We invited Tom Benton and his wife--the artist and Rita Benton--they were neighbors of ours, so we invited them for the same dinner. Rita and Fern sort of planned the dinner and I said, "Well, he eats down at Brettons a lot, well call up Max Bretton and see what he likes particularly." It turned out he liked chicken wings and dumplings and Mrs. Truman liked beef, I believe it was. I could be in error on this, but I think this is right. I don't know how we found that out; so we had a two main course dinner.

STILLEY: Mr. Truman, did he know Tom Benton before then?

JESSEE: They had met once in the White House, more or less like I had met Mr. Truman, very casually, and they actually hadn't hit it off too well right at first. As a matter of fact, when I told Mr. Truman who the other guests were going to be, why he said--I told him Benton, because that was the only one I knew at the time we were going to have, and he said, "Well, I don't know whether I

[8]

like that fellow oar not."

I said, "0h, I think you will when you get acquainted with him, because," I said, "you're a lot alike. You're both very honest, and lay it right out on the table, and no sham about either one of you," and I said, "I think you'll get along fine," What he was referring to really was that Benton had painted in the early thirties the mural in the state capital, and had insisted that Tom Pendergast be included in those murals in a rather dominating position, sitting up on the platform more or less, by implication at least, dictating what the speaker was going to say. And there were some people who objected strenuously to Mr. Pendergast being included thinking that it was against his wishes. Then, of course, I went back to Tom and I said, "Well, you know, I think the President is a little,"--thought he should be warned at least--''the President's a little skittish about you because of the murals in Jefferson City,"

He said, "Why that was exaggerated out of all proportion. That wasn't started by Pendergast,

[9]

that was started by some of his loyalists who read a lot into it. which wasn't there." He said, "Tom Pendergast actually supported me in that mural because he posed for me in his office, and I still have the sketch." He said, "I never did tell anybody about that because it was good publicity for the mural, all that controversy." He said, "I'11 bring the sketch over there and give it to him."

He either brought the sketch that night or else told him about it, I've forgotten which; and eventually I think Mr. Truman got the sketch. It seems to me like that he did not bring the sketch with him thinking that would be inappropriate, but he did tell Mr. Truman about that; and as far as I know, later on Mr. Truman got the sketch of Mr. Pendergast that he had made,. Over that they became fast friends, after that dinner. So, actually, they met in our home.

STILLEY: Is that from then on? That's how Truman decided to have him paint the mural?

JESSEE: We