Total Pageviews

Popular Posts

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Harry and Me :Journalism School Radicals

The Local Lens

Wed, Mar 25, 2015

By Thom Nickels

The world was a very conservative place in the 1970’s, the so-called Vietnam War years. If you were a student then, as I was, you belonged to one of two camps: the anti-Vietnam War people or the pro-war people. There were very few in-betweens. This was a time when everybody had an opinion on war.

I met Harry at the Charles Morris Price School of Journalism, near 13th and Locust Streets, in Center City. I’d gone to the Price School right after high school and was one of the youngest students in the school; Harry was 26-years old, which seemed old to me then. Harry lived with his parents in Huntington Valley and took the train to school everyday, while I took the Paoli Local in from Malvern and Frazer, where I grew up.

I was a shy and nervous kid who very often stuttered when I spoke. On the first day of journalism school, I was shocked to learn that one of the required courses was Public Speaking. I knew there was no way that I was going to stand in front of the class, stutter and possibly be laughed at. The only solution, I decided, was to cut Public Speaking class altogether by sneaking around the corner to a greasy spoon named Dewey’s, and wait out the class.

After cutting that first class, I headed back to school and noticed another student coming from the opposite direction. That student was Harry, who told me upfront that, like me, he had just cut class because he had a fear of public speaking. We bonded immediately as fellow stutterers. We made a pact on that sidewalk in front of the school that we’d cut Public Speaking together, and we’d use that time as an excuse to hang out at Dewey’s.

The school newspaper, at that time, was a small, mimeographed four-page newsletter called The Kite and Key. The name had a Benjamin Franklin connection, since the school was associated with The Poor Richard Club. The Kite and Key was a tame, safe, cute little paper. One could read it and come away without having any sense of what was going on in the real world.

The newsletter’s cuteness, and the fact that people called it "little," bothered Harry and me. During our breakfasts at Dewey’s, we decided that we wanted a far more daring publication for the school. We wanted a newsletter or magazine that wasn’t afraid to possibly offend the suit-and-tie wearing teachers and professors, who, by and large, were advertising, marketing and journalism professionals.

The editor of the Kite and Key was an amiable and professional female student in her late twenties. She wore sensible shoes, and it was easy to see that her one goal in life was to make a lot of money in marketing or public relations. Despite our feelings about her, Harry and I wrote "little" pieces for the "little" newsletter, never dreaming that anything would change—until the day we heard that the efficient editor with sensible shoes was graduating early, which meant that the "little" newsletter would need a new editor.

We decided to run for the position as co-editors, so we put together a plan for a much thicker, more diverse and controversial publication, which we christened The New Price Review. By changing the name to NPR, we were thinking of magazines like The Paris Review or even Rampart’s Magazine, which were popular at the time. Our NPR vision included the publication of short stories, poetry, commentary pieces, one-act plays, essays and even editorial cartoons. The only student competition for the editor’s slot was a marketing major, a young woman who happened to be a friend of the former editor.

The campaign for a new editor was like a mini-presidential race, although Harry was the one to make the campaign speech before the student body. He was less of a stutterer than I was, although when he gave his speech before the student body, his face turned a terrible shade of red.

Harry promised the students that we would give them something substantial to read.

While Harry was speaking, I surveyed the class and got the feeling that we would win the election. Our competition, the efficient marketing major, wanted to keep the name Kite and Key. She also emphasized the editorial value of entertainment and fun, and that the newsletter should stick to school topics.

The class voted by paper ballots. Harry and I were elected co-editors in a near landslide. We celebrated by going to Alvin’s Alley, an old-time, very dark and rustic Evening Bulletin newspaper bar for reporters at 13th and Walnut streets. Alvin’s Alley smelled of stale draft beer and cigarettes. It wasn’t a big bar, but a tidy, efficient hole-in-the-wall where women never entered. The bartender was an old guy who looked like a Noir character in a Glenn Ford film. Alvin’s Alley was my first introduction to beer and serious discussions in dark bars.

After the celebration came the hard work. Now we had to make good on a promise to the students.

We put out the first issue of NPR right away after collecting submissions from students, writing pieces ourselves, and holding editorial meetings at Journalism School Radicals over French toast. Since the magazine was mimeographed, we had to buy mimeograph stencil sheets that contained strips of blue carbon, and then retype the articles for publication on each sheet—a process that took many hours. Since Harry wasn’t one for this sort of task, I gladly welcomed the opportunity, because it meant that I could fill in blank pieces of pages with quotations or sections of books that I found interesting.

I’d spend entire weekends editing and then typing articles onto these long stencils on a typewriter lent to my by my father. Problems like stuck typewriter keys, botched or dried-up typewriter ribbon, typos, or excessive build up of White-Out often plagued these weekend work sessions. When Monday morning rolled around, I’d take the completed stencils to a printing place on Sansom St., where it would take the printer at least a couple of days to print out multiple copies of the 27-page magazine. Back at the school, Harry and I would collate the pages and then staple them. This process took hours, and was done after class.

Working on the magazine became our hands-on journalism experience. We were still cutting Public Speaking class and using that time to visit the city’s many old bookstores, obscure pizza cafés, or even Larry Robin’s original bookstore near 13th and Market Streets, where there was more radical literature than in all of San Francisco or Berkeley.
The first edition of The New Price Review was met with curiosity and excitement. It also put some professors on the offensive. The more conservative professors started calling us "The Berkeley Bunch," and the Dean, Mr. Kaplan, was rumored to be unhappy with the publication.

But this was the age of protest, and there was no stopping us. When the Poor Richard Club awarded Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge Michael A. Musamanno an award for Patriotism and "Love of America," we organized a petition drive and drafted a letter to The Philadelphia Inquirer. We protested Judge Musamanno’s characterization of anti-Vietnam War protesters as ill-intentioned and unpatriotic. The published letter in The Inquirer caused consternation among the faculty, but Dean Kaplan made no steps to pull the plug on NPR.

But it was the second issue of NPR that really got the school talking.

As thick as a small Yearbook, the second issue’s front cover was a collage with satirical references to LSD, Vietnam, LBJ, the CIA, God is Dead, Sex, Mount Airy hippies, and Clutch Cargo. The contents included the results of a student poll in which Philly was voted a dull city. By a slim majority, most of the students also supported the Vietnam War. Harry wrote a piece on the faculty’s perception of the NPR as "The Berkeley Bunch," while I wrote a one act play on Vietnam. There were stories on drug addiction, poems about The New York Times, and profiles of students and teachers. The profiles balanced out the perceived radical nature of the magazine.

As much as we hated to do so, we also published pro-Vietnam views to emphasize our belief in freedom of speech.
The second issue of NPR was so popular among students, they had to be told to stop reading it during class.
Long-suffering Dean Kaplan kept his nose out of the magazine the entire time Harry and I were co-editors. He could have squashed the magazine at any time, but he relegated his criticisms to short meetings with us in which he registered his concerns. Dean Kaplan passed away a while ago, but I can still see him clearly with his auburn-colored, Wise Owlglasses and bald head.

At our graduation ceremony at the Franklin Institute, Harry and I were shocked when the ceremonial MC (M.C. or emcee) announced that we had both won the Carrie May Price Award for Best Student in Journalism. We nearly fell through the floor. Among the crowd congratulating us was Mrs. Kearney, the Public Speaking teacher, who had mysteriously given us both a ‘C’ as a grade for her class—despite the fact that we never attended it.

Photos: Charles Morris Price School; Dewey's at 13th and Chancellor; Actor Anthony Perkins, a dead ringer for Harry.