The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.
The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.
The Houston Public Library retains the literary and publishing rights of its oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without the written permission of the Houston Oral History Project.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to:
The Houston Oral History Project.
Houston Public Library
Houston, Texas 77002
The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.
For more information email the Houston Oral History Project at email@example.com.
Interview with: Jack Loftis
Interviewed by: Frank Michel
Date: March 13, 2008
FM: We are here on March 13, 2008, talking with Jack Loftis, long-time editor of the Houston Chronicle and the pride of Hillsboro, Texas. Jack, thanks for coming.
JL: Well, I look forward to this.
FM: I guess start at the beginning. You grew up and were raised in Hillsboro. Talk a little bit about that and then what first brought you to Houston. Do you have any early memories of when you first arrived here?
JL: I was born in Hillsboro. That is between Waco and Dallas. Basically a farming community. Had good schools there. Had a good junior college that went out of business just as I was entering high school so we had a lot of those professors come over to the high school level and start teaching. I was trying to be a baseball player and football player and one of the English teachers said, "Why are you wasting your time? You have writing talent." Well, as it turns out, she was absolutely correct but I continued and did not really devote myself to any form of journalism. I went down to Baylor and I tried to play baseball and did pretty well my freshman year but since there was no scholarship money for my sophomore year, my agreement with my dad was I would get a job and help pay my way through college. So, the job I took was at the Hillsboro Daily Mirror - 30 miles from Waco so I was commuting during the day and I was working in the circulation department. And after about 6 months, they asked me, "If you could go down tonight and cover this football game, the Hillsboro Eagles, if they win it would be winning the District for the first time since 1939." Well, this was 1955. So, I went to the game, I covered it, Hillsboro won, and then went all the way to the State Finals that year. Well, by the time I got that far, I had already bought myself a portable typewriter and a hat with a ticket in it saying "Press" and I was on my way to a journalism career. I continued at Baylor and got a business degree but stayed in the newspaper business.
The Chamber of Commerce manager in Hillsboro was Neil Blanton. He was from the famous Blanton family here in Houston. Brother to Jack and his father was the former Chamber of Commerce manager, Bill Blanton. And he knew I was ready to go to a metropolitan newspaper and he said, "I'd forget Dallas. I think Houston is where it is going to happen and my dad would be very happy to bring you down and introduce you to either paper you want to talk to." So, I said, "Well, the Hillsboro Daily Mirror is an afternoon paper, so I guess I had better talk to the afternoon paper in Houston." I really did not know the significance between the Post and the Chronicle. So, fortunately, I chose the Chronicle and within 2 hours, I had landed the job. So, I came down and started in 1965.
FM: What job was it?
JL: I was working on the copy desk, basically splitting my time between the day copy desk and the night copy desk. Back then, we would have 7 editions a day, so I would go to work at 10 at night and get off at 6 in the morning. So, years later after I became editor, some of the Chronicle employees would gripe about having to work nights because we were then a morning paper, and I was never too sympathetic because working night and going to work at 10 o'clock and getting off at 6, it did not mean getting off around midnight.
FM: What was Houston like about then? Talk a little bit about how it has changed.
JL: Well, I don't know if it was called the Exxon building. I think it was still called the Humble building. It was a major landmark downtown, the tallest building. There was a lot of retail downtown back then. A lot of dives. Around the Chronicle, there were all kinds of beer joints and strip joints. It was a completely different time. As I say, a lot of retail. You had Sakowitz and Foleys and Bettlesteins and all kinds of engines. It was a very lively downtown back then.
FM: And do you recollect what part of town you lived in? Any movie theaters, restaurants and things like that that you . . .
JL: Oh, yes. When I came down, I moved into the Montrose area because it was very close to my job. Some of the restaurants I went to, Valians was the pizza place in Houston back then. It is long gone. The Red Lion Inn was a popular place. It is gone. And downtown, of course, you had Chris' Cafeteria and Princes Hamburgers. When I first started at the Chronicle, I was eating at Princes quite often. I could walk in and they would say "Number 9." They knew exactly what I wanted. And I got so close to those people that they asked me to help draw names at Christmas if I wanted to be part of their name drawing deal. So, I was a regular. A hamburger cost about 60 cents then, I guess. But the part of downtown that . . . the Rice Hotel was sort of the center of things and of course the Chronicle building was just across the street. So, it was in the Rice. You had the old Capital Club where politicians and journalists and a lot of very important people in government would come in the afternoons. One of those persons was Percy Foreman and I learned the rules quite early. If Percy wanted to talk to you, he would come to your table but don't go to his table. He was always courteous but he just would not talk. And the same thing at the Inns of Court Club which was just one block from the Chronicle. It was also a meeting place for a lot of judges, lawyers and what have you. And somehow the Chronicle had a membership in all of these plus we were all members of the Press Club which was in the Rice Hotel. So, it was a colony of drunks, I guess you would call it.
FM: Things were a little different back then.
JL: Yes. They were all private clubs.
FM: I will talk about the newspaper in a few minutes but going back to Hillsboro, you grew up with a couple of famous Texans, knowing their families and knowing them. Talk about that a little bit.
JL: Well, there are actually 3 people that are pretty well known from Hillsboro: Bob Bullock who was my great friend, Willie Nelson is from Abbott which is just 5 miles outside of Hillsboro, so we claim him. And then, Dr. Red Duke, he is also from Hillsboro. But I would say that Bullock was probably the most . . . I don't know what adjective to use for Bullock. Certainly, if he was your friend, you had a friend for life but if you ever crossed him, you had an enemy. He had a mean streak as broad as the trans-Texas corridor we were talking about. But Bob and I always got along. He would call me at the Chronicle and if he called for Jack Loftis, I knew he was in good humor but if he asked the secretary to speak to Jack E. Loftis which was my name when I was in school, I knew he was upset about something. And I spent a great deal of time with him and also his brother who was an outstanding architect, Tom Bullock. He did a lot of the major projects here in Houston. He just passed away recently over in Brenham. But they were from a very fine family. Willie - I did not really get to know Willie when he was in high school but after he got out of high school, he went into the Air Force and then came back to Abbott and started playing music around central Texas, and enrolled in Baylor. And back then, we had the quarter system which was 9 weeks per quarter, and Willie said he would go back to school. I warned him against dropping out but he did after 9 weeks. He wanted to get back to music and I suggested maybe that this was not a good decision but like everything else in my life, he proved me wrong.
Dr. Duke, a very outstanding physician, but he is an eccentric person like most people from Hillsboro. He is so devoted to his job, I think . . . recently, I heard he had moved in to the hospital where he works and has an apartment there so he can be around it 24 hours a day.
FM: Talk a little bit . . . you started the paper in 1965, I think you said? As copy editor. Talk about your rise up through the paper and then we will talk about some of the things you have seen.
JL: O.K. Well, I came in 1965. I was 31 years old and I was the youngest person on the copy desk. That has certainly changed in recent years. Copy editors back when I was at the Chronicle got to be in entry level jobs but back in 1965, you had to have a lot of experience before you could get the honor of working on other great writers' copy. So, I spent a lot of time working the day side and also the night side and spent a lot of time down in the composing room as the makeup editor. This is back when we had the metal type, no computers. Worked on typewriters and linotype machines. That was quite an adventure because it was a union shop and if you were not a member of the union, you were not supposed to touch anything. But I worked there so much and got such good support and friendship with some of the printers, I would just say, "Well, let's move this paragraph over here," and he would say, "Well, move it. Go ahead and do it." And, of course, I did. And then, the perils of hot metal type - you had to shave the metal with a band saw and someone was always losing portions of fingers or something. And that just got to be routine. But working the day side and then maybe the next week, working the night side and then back, I think it led to my schizophrenic behavior. Something did anyway! After being on the copy desk for 5 years, I became editor of Texas Magazine, the Sunday supplement that we had for many, many years, and one that I really miss today - we don't have it. From there, I became features editor for the entire Features Department. And then, I was named an assistant managing editor for the Features area. That takes us into the 1970s. In 1979, I was named assistant editor to Phil Warner who had succeeded Everett Collier, and I held that position until 1986 when the paper was sold to the Hearst Corporation, and Phil left and I became the editor.
FM: I guess they say journalism is the first draft of history. You have seen a lot of Houston's history. Talk about the newspaper business itself for a minute. First of all, one of the things that we do not see too much in this country anymore is that we had a very competitive newspaper town. [pause] We were talking about the newspaper business and in particular, there were actually 3 or 4 newspapers in competition at the time. Talk about that a little bit.
JL: Back in 1965 when I came to Houston, the Houston Press had just closed the year before and that was a real writer's newspaper. It never had the resources of the Post or the Chronicle but it had some great writing talent there. But anyway, that was sort of the beginning of the no competition era. And then, it left two, the Chronicle and the Post. I have never really understood why the Post did not win the battle between the Chronicle and it because they were the morning newspaper, they had the retail advertising, and we were an afternoon paper and I guess the social scene changed, too, the society of the family started having both the wives and the husband working. Somehow, we decided and I think it was probably the best decision the Chronicle made and it was made by Dick Johnson, that we would enter the morning market. So, we started out with a Saturday morning. Instead of being a Saturday afternoon paper . . . we were previously 7 days a week, well, except Sunday.
FM: They called that The Owl?
JL: Yes. We got into the morning market and then from there, we _______ on a daily basis and at one time, we were putting out a morning and an afternoon edition. And, again, that adds to your schizophrenia. You didn't know whether you were morning or afternoon. But I will always be puzzled why the Hobby family, who owned the Post, decided to sell it. They sold it to a group of Canadians who I don't think ever really understood the American newspaper market, and then they turned around and sold it to a gentleman named Dean Singleton who had owned the Dallas Times Herald. When Dean came to Houston, I believe he realized that he only had two choices: one was to take us on and beat us, the Chronicle, and the other choice was to not put out as good a newspaper perhaps as they should have been putting out but then turn around and sell the assets to the Chronicle, and under the existing Justice Department regulations, you had to show 3 years of losses before you could sell to a competitor in your same city. So, that was accomplished and we bought the paper. And Dean, a man I really respect - I got along with him well - in an interview in the New York Times last year, he said the two biggest mistakes he ever made was losing the Dallas Times Herald to the Dallas Morning News and losing the Post to the Houston Chronicle. So, I am very happy that we were the winner of the battle. There is a bit of irony to it though. You would think that the surviving newspaper would say, well, we did it because we were better writers or we were better editors or we were smarter, blah, blah, blah. The straw that broke the camel's back for the Post was when the Chronicle cornered all of the food coupons. Now, that sounds ridiculous but it made a big, big impact on circulation. I mean, it just jumped for the Chronicle. And shortly thereafter, the Post was up for sale and we bought, or we bought the assets as we like to say.
FM: And the comics section had something to do with that, too.
JL: Well, when the Post shut down, no exaggeration - we got 9,000 phone calls, letters, emails from comics readers at the Post - all of them urging us to not drop their favorite comic. So, what the Chronicle decided to do was just take all of the Post's comics and add them to the ones we had which made 4 pages of comics - more than probably any other newspaper in this country or maybe in the world. And that remained until some time last year when, because of current economic conditions they say, the Chronicle had to cut back on some of the comics. So, I think they are now running maybe 3 pages.
FM: You mentioned the Hobby family and the Post a little earlier and, of course, the Chronicle was owned and operated for many years by the Houston Endowment, which, another famous Texan was his legacy. Can you talk about that? And then, there was a battle for a long time that went all the way to Washington about whether the Endowment would have to divest itself of the Chronicle.
JL: Yes, back when the Hobbys had the paper and the Endowment owned the Chronicle, there were always accusations being made that because the Chronicle was owned by a foundation, it was not necessary that we turn a profit. And there may be some truth in that but as far as my expense accounts and my travel arrangements for reports and what have you, there was always the concern about the bottom line. And, on the other hand, the Hobby family, they weren't exactly broke so there was no public stock involved for them either and they had the choice of spending big bucks or . . . There wasn't a great deal of competition back then. There was a lot of respect, I think, between the two papers. I think the Hobby family respected the Jesse Jones interest and family. Mr. Jones had died by the time I came to the Chronicle so my immediate contact with the endowment was with Howard Creekmore who was the chairman of Houston Endowment and therefore, the publisher of the Houston Chronicle. And he was a very nice man. He would call me and say, "Jack, I know that you are busy and I hate to bother you but maybe you guys would like to look into this matter," whatever it was. Well, by the time he got to the end of his sentence, I already had a reporter going out the front door. But he was always so gracious about it and it never appeared that he was putting any pressure on us. And he never put any on me. There may have been some higher up the ranks than me but it was a pleasant condition. And then, when the Hearst Corporation took over, one of the first breaks we got . . . well, my personal break was being named editor at that time, and that was a decision that I give most or all the credit to Dick Johnson who became publisher at that time. But the first thing that Frank Bennick (sp?), the chairman of Hearst said, he said, "You guys don't have enough employees, not enough editorial people." So, he gave us a lot of leeway the next 3 or 4 years and we added about 70 people to the staff at that time. Unfortunately, economic conditions are causing the employment situation to reverse and a lot of newspapers now are laying people off, relying more on the online editions of the paper rather than the print.
FM: There are two people at the Chronicle that I would be interested in - they are almost kind of different personalities but also maybe different eras in the newspaper and journalism - is Everett Collier and Dick Johnson.
JL: Well, I was quoted in Everett Collier's obituary, a man I had great respect for . . .
FM: And, so people know, he was the publisher of the paper.
JL: No, Everett Collier at that time was the editor. Dick was not the publisher back when the Endowment owned it. He was the president. The publisher's title went to the Endowment, Mr. Creekmore. But anyway, Everett was the editor and as I indicated, I had a great deal of respect for him. But he was part journalist and part politician and I believe I was quoted in his obituary saying that he was probably more politician than he was journalist. This man lived politics, and it was a different era back then. Maybe some of the ethical things that we look at now and say we would never do that, it was a pretty common practice. Everett always had the ear of the governor. Of course, this was back during the era when there was no Republican party. It was Conservative and Liberal Democrats. But Everett always managed to have the ear of the governor and when someone worthy in Houston would like to become a judge and there was a vacancy, Everett could pick up the telephone and call the governor and maybe 8 out of 10 times, this person would be appointed. I remember the great criminal district judge, Pete Moore, was talking one night and all his friends were saying, "Well, I was appointed by" so and so, Governor so and so, and he just said, "Well, I was appointed by Everett Collier." That was Everett.
FM: People used to come and seek, who were interested in running for office, would seek audiences with him?
JL: Yes, and back in those days, we did not have editorial board meetings. If you wanted to talk about something that you wanted the Chronicle's support for a project or something going on or you wanted their endorsement, you would go to the editor, and that went on with Everett Collier and later to Phil Warner. And, for some reason, when I became editor, I had some good people around me, you included, and I say that . . . and we decided that we would have editorial board meetings and do it like other newspapers do. And I think it was certainly a more democratic way to voice our opinion. As far as Dick Johnson, I have already mentioned that he was the one that guided us into the morning market. Had he not done that, I am afraid maybe the Chronicle would not exist today. It was a brilliant move and he timed it right. He started ending the afternoon editions maybe a 50 mile radius of Houston and then we would come in and in and in. There was one circulation district that was the last one to have a choice to get the evening or the morning paper and that was River Oaks. I don't know why. But Dick was a good publisher, he was a good civic-minded person here in Houston. He did a lot of good for a lot of people and a lot of projects and he is sorely missed.
FM: You mentioned the editorial board and the _______. Talk a little bit about the newspaper as an important institutional voice in the community and maybe some of the issues that you recall that came up where the Chronicle may have had influence and some of the debates around those if you remember.
JL: Well, it seemed like if you were in the editor's seat or you were the director of the editorial page, that every issue that comes up is quite important but let me first tell you a story about the late Barbara Jordan. When her congressional district was created to guarantee that it would probably be an African American going to Congress, I guess in Texas for the first time, she was very close to the Chronicle and we thought a great deal of her and she and Everett Collier were very good friends, so the Chronicle did have a bit of conservatism in those days. [let's cut this part if we can] Let me tell you about Barbara Jordan and the Chronicle. She and Edward Collier were great friends and when her district was created or she was running for it, she came down and told us, because we did have a rather conservative image, that if we really wanted to help her, don't endorse her, but we did endorse her and fortunately, she won. I guess probably the most interesting part of being at the Chronicle was attending editorial board meetings. Everybody who came in there had a point to make and sometimes they were very strong about it and oftentimes, we would get back in their face just as strongly as they were talking to us. One of the more pleasant issues that came up, although it was heated but in the end, it was not maybe as important as a lot of the things that go on in our society, was whether to build a downtown baseball stadium. The Chronicle looked at it as being something that would benefit downtown and downtown needed some improvements. The Chronicle got behind it very strongly. It barely won and I think even today, Drake McClain would say that maybe the Chronicle did make the difference in that.
During my tenure as editor, I would like to think that we were moderate to liberal on social issues and probably moderate to conservative on fiscal matters, and that is not a bad ground to stand on.
FM: You mentioned Barbara Jordan but over the course of the years, I would suppose you met and interviewed and talked with every governor, every mayor, probably every U.S. president, certainly every senator and Congress person and the candidates for that - do any of those stand out to you?
JL: Well, of course, I got to know Bill Clinton when he was still governor of Arkansas. He came over and brought a group for a terrorism campaign, trying to create travel in the Ozark. I met Bill back then. He was a freshman governor and I never really expected ever to see him in the White House but realized then he was a very smart man who might have had some flaws. Yes, I guess I have met every president since . . . I never met Jack Kennedy, but from Lyndon Johnson on, I have. And there is an interesting bit of trivia: most people ask who do you think the last Democrat the Chronicle endorsed for president in the general election would be? And most people scratched their head and they would give me somebody like maybe Jimmy Carter or maybe it was Clinton. It was Lyndon Johnson. And before that, the last Democrat to be endorsed was Franklin Roosevelt. Mr. Jones was a member of his cabinet and legend has it that he was being considered for vice-president in perhaps Roosevelt's third term. He was not picked and he came back to Texas and Washington. For some reason, the Chronicle began endorsing Republicans and that has been the pattern ever since, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson.
FM: And you must have sat through thousands, tens of thousands maybe, of candidate interviews and things of that sort. Do any of those stories stand out to you?
JL: Well, there were stolen sunglasses. Jesse Jackson came in one day with an entourage and we had a very pleasant meeting and he asked me, "Is there a place I can change clothes? We are going to have a march downtown and I need to get out of this suit and get into something more comfortable." I said, "Sure, come into my office and you can change," and he was in my bathroom with the conference room next door. And he did, he came back to thank me and he left. About 30 minutes later, he said, "I left my sunglasses in your office." I said, "Let me see." I could not find them. So, to this day, I think Jesse thinks I took his sunglasses. That was kind of an interesting side bar to serious business.
FM: And while you were at the paper, you came in the mid 1960s. This is the Civil Rights era. Houston has changed a lot. What are some of the big stories do you remember covering in the paper?
JL: Well, when I came to the Chronicle, integration in the public schools in Houston was a new wave and there was a lot of news coming out of the school board. We were very fortunate, and I am not sure I will leave it up to historians, that Houston really did not have the violence that some of the cities had while going through this change of order. Outside of integration stories, the story that shocked me the most I guess in my early days at the Chronicle was the mass murders story in Houston. There was a man named Dean Corll who, with a couple of associates - Elmer Wayne Henley and David Brooks - coaxed these young men into their homes and murdered them and buried them down somewhere near Galveston. I will never forget one of the photographers came into the newsroom and somebody said, "How many bodies?" and he said, "27." And, to this day, I still remember how the shivers went down my spine. And then, there has been the tragedies with NASA. Those were big stories, painful stories to cover. There have been a lot of things. Just the growth of Houston, whereas the downtown may have declined a bit, the rest of the city just continues to expand. Even today, after being in Houston for 42 years, I still find myself in areas of the city that I didn't know really . . . I mean, I had heard it existed but I never really had been . . . especially going on the west side of town. It is a huge city.
FM: As a newspaper person and editor, you had a chance to meet a lot of famous and powerful Houstonians and you had a chance to meet lots of people from all walks of life. Do any of them stand out to you who we may not know about?
JL: Well, you are going to have to help me with this one because one of the most amazing persons I ever met was a former Soviet general who had been in charge of the Russian troops in Afghanistan.
FM: General Lebed. Alexander, I believe, Lebed.
JL: Yes. He came to the Chronicle. He was in America to learn a little bit more about Democracy after the break up of the Soviet Union and I will never forget - he came into our editorial board room and the guy looked like he was straight out of Hollywood. He had a scar on the side of his face and had very piercing eyes and had an interpreter. We said, "Would you like some coffee?" He was served a cup of coffee and then spoke something in Russian and the interpreter said, "You call this coffee?" He was really just looking through me. I said, I am not going to give in, so I started staring back at him and for about 3 minutes, we both started laughing. But that was a very memorable event.
A lot of show business people used to come through. Everybody trying to get into Maxine Messinger's column. She was a very powerful woman in Houston. She started out at the Houston Press and then after it folded, she came to the Chronicle. But Maxine, to really know Maxine, she was just a sweetheart and she never took herself seriously although all the powerful and the wealthy and the people in high society treasured getting their names in her column. She would sometimes take me along to dinners where show business personalities were there and that was a nice perk for me. I got to meet Mitzi Gaynor who we were at a Chinese restaurant in Hollywood and Mitzi was known for her dancing, her legs, and I actually turned over a pitcher of hot tea in her lap. I could just see Variety the next day saying, "Editor jailed, assault." But anyway, there were all kinds of show business people that would come through. I am not going anywhere with this.
FM: That is O.K. You mentioned the baseball stadium a little bit earlier. Certainly lots of sports stories that you covered during the time Houston did not always have a professional baseball team or a basketball team. You were very close to some of the team owners.
JL: I had gone to school with Drake McClain at Baylor. We did not know one another but, of course, we had a lot of mutual friends so after he came to Houston, it did not take us long to begin a good friendship which we have continued to have. There have been moments when he would call me up totally upset over something that appeared in the paper but we always managed to talk it through and remained friends. But as I said earlier, the Chronicle's support for building the downtown stadium or passing the bond issue that permitted them to do that I don't think would have happened without the Chronicle's help. Bud Adams, I never knew Bud very well. He would come by I think maybe the most 3 times in my career at the Chronicle. He seemed like a nice man. But he had in his mind that he needed a new stadium. There were a lot of powerful people in Houston that said never, it will never happen, and he left. And then, we ended up turning around later and building a stadium probably at twice the expense that it would cost us back when the Oilers were trying to get one built. Some of the other sports, I have met Les Alexander. He is really on a roll right now with the team but he has been a guy that I admired. He has never hesitated to go out and get the talent. And there have been good years, bad years, but he has always never seemed to be what a lot of people would call cheap. Probably my biggest thrill in sports was going out to see the Astros, I guess it was in 1986, when the ended the season with a no-hitter and they won the Division, the Central Division I guess they ran back then. But to win the pendant and see a no-hitter the same day, that was breathtaking.
FM: Ten or 15 years from now when somebody is looking at this tape, what is it, maybe 1 or 2 things you would like people to know about the Houston of your era and maybe even the newspaper in particular but Houston in general?
JL: Well, I guess if you are looking at it 10 years from now or later, I would like them to know that there used to be an era in which newspapers were printed on paper with ink because I see it heading in the other direction - electronic editions, and I think that is probably what the younger people today prefer, but I will go to my grave believing there is still no better way to read a newspaper than to have it with you in the morning when you are having a cup of coffee or breakfast, reading it, turning the pages, seeing the displays. I have always believed that a story had to look good on the page to be read and you can do that through outstanding graphics which the Chronic is doing today. And we did our best, too. But if you look at stories online on the internet, they all look the same. There is usually one photograph and the typesizes are all the same. It is just not the same. So, I would like people to realize that there was an era and maybe we could call it the golden era of newspapering, and produced probably as many characters as any profession I can think of. Back when I came to the Chronicle, we had a gentleman named Stan Redding. Stan was one of the best writers I have ever edited but he was a character and he would have fantasies. And sometimes, his fantasies would get over into the factual part of the stories so we tried to watch out for that but the guy was just a poet. He was really a wordsmith. And I was editing Texas Magazine and he was one of the writers assigned to the magazine. He came to me, he said he had a gentleman he wanted to do a piece about who was a con man. We talked about it and I said, "Well, if you believe all this to be true, let's do the story." Well, after the story came out in the magazine, the city editor, Zarko Franks, came over to me and said, "You fell for the story. Redding sold it to you, right?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Well, he came to the city desk first and I would not run it." So, I said, "Well, we ran it." That same story then became a book that was called Catch Me If You Can. And after Stan's death, they made a film out of it. So, there was a story that nobody really wanted in the beginning which turned out to be a good one and as far as I know, was factual.
FM: You mentioned Zarko Franks. There are a number of stories about him. He was another one of the great characters . . . a particular story, I don't know if it is hypocriphal about him winning the editorship in a poker game.
JL: Well, he played a lot of gin rummy with Everett Collier when Everett was the editor and he may have won it but he never claimed it if he did. But he was a good city editor and he was a colorful city editor and he was a good teacher. He was kind of the Damon Runyon type here. I still see Zarko. He has given up gin rummy, I believe, and now playing golf. There was an interesting comment made at Everett Collier's funeral. Everett Collier's secretary was Daisy Potenza who was . . . she actually put in 63 years of service at the Chronicle as a secretary to all the editors and even worked for Mr. Jones. But anyway, at Everett's funeral, I heard her look at Zarko Franks and laugh and say, "You know, if you had let him win every now and then in gin rummy, he might still be alive." Unfortunately, Daisy passed away last year at age 101.
FM: Any other newspaper characters stand out to you or media characters?
JL: Well, we had some great photographers and they still do at the Chronicle. There was a photographer named Blair Pittman and back while I was editor of the magazine and then later, he had an obsession with trying to find the ivory billed woodpecker in the Big Thicket. And I don't know how many trips we approved for him to go up there and hang out in the Thicket but we have yet to see a picture of a woodpecker.
FM: Well, I have just about run out of questions, I think. Well, I will just end it on this: is there anything that we have not talked about, you may want to talk about?
JL: Well, one of the things I regret about my tenure at the Chronicle is the fact that we never won a Pulitzer prize which is the standard by which newspapers are judged. We came close on 2 occasions and once since I have left. There has been another finalist for a Pulitzer but so far, the Chronicle has not won one and I do regret that because I think we had the talent and I think we had the opportunity and somehow, the judges just saw it a different way. I did have the distinct pleasure of serving as a Pulitzer juror on 2 different occasions and I learned a little bit about the way newspapers were judged. I am not quite sure that contests are the way to judge newspapers but it is what we live with.
FM: Well, Jack, thank you very much.
JL: It is my pleasure.
FM: I enjoyed it.