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Frank K. Kelly Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Frank K. Kelly

Writer and journalist; speechwriter in the Research Division, Democratic National Committee, in Presidential campaign of 1948; speechwriter for Senator Scott Lucas, 1949-51, and for Senator Ernest McFarland, 1951-52; Director, Washington, D.C. office of Harriman for President Committee, 1952; and executive positions, after 1952, in the International Press Institute, American Book Publishers Council, Stephen Fitzgerald Company, Fund for the Republic and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

Independence, Missouri
April 15, 1988
by Niel M. Johnson

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


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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May, 1990
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
Frank K. Kelly


Independence, Missouri
April 15, 1988
by Niel M. Johnson

Summary Description:

Topics discussed include the Kansas City Star in the 1930s; the Nieman Fellowship; the liberation of Paris; the National Housing Agency; Research Division of the Democrat National Committee; American Veterans Committee, "Files of the Facts," Democrat National Committee, speech writing for Truman's 1948 campaign, atomic bombing of Hiroshima; election of 1948, press conference of Franklin D. Roosevelt, W. Averell Harriman's Presidential campaign in 1952, International Press Institute; news coverage of Latin America; McCarthyism; Fund for the Republic; Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions; Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; and dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur.

Names mentioned include Pete Wellington, Richard Lupoff, Francis M. Kelly, Ernest Hemingway, Hal Boyle, James Conant, Walter Lippmann, Martha Gellhorn, Andrei Gromyko, Ken Birkhead, Porter McKeever, James F. Byrnes, William Batt, Martin Quigley, John Barriere, Johannes Hoeber, David Lloyd, Phil Dreyer, Clark Clifford, Tallulah Bankhead, Jonathan Daniels, Jack Redding, George Elsey, Thomas E. Dewey, Charles Murphy, Walter Winchell, Oscar Chapman, Elmo Roper, Henry Luce, Louis Bean, Walter White, Charles F. Ross, Henry Wallace, Ted Alford, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Scott Lucas, Ernest McFarland, W. Averell Harriman, James Lanigan, Adlai Stevenson, Joseph Stalin, Grace Tully, Alben Barkley, Charles Jamison, Wallace Drew, David Krieger, Robert Hutchins, Douglas MacArthur, and Richard Russell.


JOHNSON: I'm going to begin by asking you where and when you were born and what your parents' names are.

KELLY: I was born right here in Kansas City, Missouri on June 12, 1914. My father's name was Francis M. Kelly and my mother's maiden name was Martha King. And my father had been very much interested in the Democratic Party in Kansas City and so was his father, my grandfather, Michael Kelly.

JOHNSON: What was the address of your birthplace?

KELLY: 3031 Holmes Street. I was born in a house next to a fire station at 31st and Holmes, then occupied by my mother's parents, Alf and Constance King. Later they


moved to 2912 Charlotte. My father was a city fireman at the time. I grew up in Kansas City; I went to the Catholic schools and De La Salle Academy down on the Paseo.

JOHNSON: What was the name of that?

KELLY: De La Salle Academy. Before I went to De La Salle -- that's a high school -- I went to St. Vincent's parochial school in Kansas City. And when I graduated from high school the Depression was on, so my father lost his job at the National Cloak and Suit Company, and we moved to Indianapolis for a while. I started writing science fiction. I had my first science fiction story published when I was 16 years old.

JOHNSON: While you were at De La Salle?

KELLY: Yes. I continued to write science fiction all through the '30s.

JOHNSON: Who would have influenced your early writing abilities or talents?

KELLY: I was greatly interested in science all through school. I was concerned about space exploration. This was at a time when most kids weren't interested in that,


I guess. I started writing these things and sold every story I ever wrote. Recently a collection of them has been republished by Capra Press, called Star Ship Invincible and Other Stories, that I wrote back in those days.

JOHNSON: What journal did you first get published in?

KELLY: The first one was called Wonder Stories; it was edited by a man named Hugo Gernsback in New York City. He started up the first science fiction magazine in the United States. Now there is a man in England named Michael Ashley who is doing a book about the early American science fiction writers, and he's got a section in there about my work. I was one of the youngest American writers that had science fiction published, at the age of 16.

JOHNSON: Did you write for the school paper?

KELLY: Yes, I did. I was an editor of the University News at the University of Kansas City. We moved to Indianapolis and then returned to Kansas City. I attended Butler University in Indianapolis and then went to KCU when my family came back here. I graduated in 1937 with a degree in liberal arts. I had no thought of


going into journalism, but one of the editors of the Kansas City Star was a friend of one of my professors and he said, "Have you ever thought about working on the Star?" I went down and talked with Pete Wellington, the night editor, and he finally offered me a job as a reporter. I started at the Star in February of '37. I was a general assignment reporter, feature writer, then a copy editor on the city desk and the telegraph desk.

I stayed with the Star for four years, and then in January, 1941, I went to New York and worked for the Associated Press in Rockefeller Center. I was awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in September, 1941, for outstanding work in journalism. In January, 1943, I entered the U.S. Army. I served for three years in World War II as a soldier and as an Army correspondent in Europe. I received a citation for distinguished service from Lieutenant General John Lee, one of General Eisenhower's deputies. I came back from the war and returned to the Associated Press. And then I wrote a novel about the United Nations, the clash between the U.S. and the Soviets over Iran back in 1946. That was one of the first times when the Truman administration met head-on with the possibility that the Soviets were trying to expand in the Middle East. I


made that the background of my book. It was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1949.

JOHNSON: What was the title of it?

KELLY: An Edge of Light.

JOHNSON: It was published about what year?

KELLY: That was finished in 1948, just before I went to work for Mr. Truman. It was published in January of 1949. The whole focus of the thing was how the press handled the crisis of 1946 that occurred between the United States and the Soviet Union.

JOHNSON: You say you had a liberal arts degree from the University of Kansas City which is now UMKC, the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

KELLY: Yes. I also had a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, which is equivalent to a master's degree. I had a year at Harvard and received faculty status there.

JOHNSON: They didn't have a major just in liberal arts at KCU, did they?

KELLY: I really majored in English literature.

JOHNSON: But you had history courses too?


KELLY: Yes, history and French. I took French, which came in useful later when I was in the Army overseas.

JOHNSON: But science fiction was your first big interest.

KELLY: First writing.

JOHNSON: The first theme of your writing. So you studied science, but more as a hobby?

KELLY: Yes, it was just that I was interested in it as far back as I could recall as a little boy, walking out at night looking up at the stars. I had this feeling I wanted to explore the stars. I was quite sure there would be space travel someday. Somebody has written about my early work. I predicted a lot of things that would happen later, and some of the illustrations with my stories were almost exact duplicates of the kind of space outfits that the astronauts wore when they landed on the moon.

JOHNSON: Who wrote these things about you?

KELLY: A writer out on the West Coast.

JOHNSON: What's his name?

KELLY: Richard Lupoff wrote it for a science quarterly named


Science Fiction Review. He did an interview with me for a public radio station on this subject.

JOHNSON: When was that?

KELLY: This was seven or eight years ago now, maybe more, maybe ten years ago.

JOHNSON: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

KELLY: I have one brother who is dead, and one sister who is living in Santa Barbara where I live now.

JOHNSON: What's her name?

KELLY: Catherine.

JOHNSON: So you just had one brother and one sister. And your father was a fireman...

KELLY: Later, he volunteered for service in World War I and went to officers' training camp at Camp Funston. He came out with a captaincy. After the war, I guess it was the National Cloak and Suit Company that was looking for officers with military background, and he got away from working with the fire department and became an executive. He was sort of an efficiency expert; he could look at almost any type of problem in a business


and tell you how you could do it much more efficiently and at less cost. So he became a very successful executive in that way. Later on he was with Sears; most of his career was with Sears.

JOHNSON: Your father was not in politics, involved with local politics?

KELLY: No, he was not directly involved except that our sympathies were always with the Democratic Party.

JOHNSON: How about World War I; yo