How's Bayou? Fate accompli
It was written in the stars that Millie and I would end up as "legacy" journalists, the current moniker for those of us who actually saw our scribblings printed on paper, week after week, not just as evanescent collections of pixils on a multitude of screens.
Print journalism. Hot type, Linotype, paste-ups, dots and screens to render black-and-white photographs printable -- and copy editors who nit-picked, and corrected your mistakes, before ink finally hit newsprint. A world that began with Gutenburg and is ending with Steve Jobs and his ilk. -30- as we used to type at the bottom of a story: The End.
Millie first dipped her toes in ink when at age 10 she created The Family Reporter. At home with a cold, and apparently restless, she put colored pencils to paper and created a savvy little broadsheet that included not just brief reports of family import, but fanciful illustrations, short fillers, jumps to page two (on the reverse) -- and subscription information for the single-issue journal that foreshadowed the demise of once-mighty publications in the last decade.
Sister Betty, TFP chronicled, had friends over; and Ike 2, successor to deceased parakeet Ike 1, was, according to the headline, "Much Gayer." There were seeds of independent sections, including fashion, in which Millie’s mother went shopping and returned home with new shoes, a "brazer" and a host of other goodies.
A dozen years later, Millie was "Aunt Jane," editor of The Young People’s Page, her first job at The Times-Picayune, then located on North Street facing Lafayette Square. It was an ambiance that Brenda Starr, the iconic red-haired reporter in the eponymous comic strip, would have recognized, with heavy oak desks facing one another, Underwood manual typewriters and a single cord dangling from the ceiling to one phone shared by five reporters and editors. The floor was the trash can.
Frequently, Millie would return from lunch to find, typed on actual newsprint and left in her typewriter, little ditties that today would get anyone fired for sexual harassment.
Our favorite was the mock-heroic narrative poem, "The Chest of Millie Ball," which parodied the transportation of an antique chest her mother had given her for her birthday. Some would not be publishable, even today.
After the move to the new building in 1968, Millie interviewed Steve Jobs-biographer Walter Isaacson for her Terrific Teens column when he was just 17; and she completed the other bookend last month, more than a year into retirement after her final 18-year stint as travel editor, with her profile of Isaacson that ran top and center on page one. One avid T-P reader e-mailed Millie, "At first I thought Walter had died or won the [Times-Picayune] Loving Cup" when she saw the large photo of him in the most prominent position a newspaper can offer.
My journalistic debut came later in life, in 1964, when I "heeled" for a position on Yale Banner Publications, where my first-ever editor was Bob Woodward, he of later Watergate fame.
But my family had become involved much earlier. When my maternal grandfather opened a grocery store during hard times in the late 1920s, he came up with a concept not unlike today’s Picayune's zoned sections to promote his new business: the single-sheet Damonte's Neighborhood News. Besides trumpeting his thrice-daily delivery of delicacies and basics to Uptown New Orleans families in a sleek Phaeton-inspired van, it was full of useful information on new businesses and local happenings. It lasted longer than Millie’s TFR, but I’m not sure how many issues made it both into print and into the hands of locals strolling in Audubon Park, which bordered the store at its 185 Walnut St. corner location.
When all my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side had to get out and find jobs during The Great Depression, Aunt Edwina joined The Times-Picayune’s advertising-art department, eventually heading it as a vice-president of the company.
It was she who in 1934 suggested to her younger sister, my mother, that she open a graphic-arts-materials service – which became Dixie Art Supplies – because she’d had difficulty locating supplies in New Orleans for the art department.
She and my father became intimately involved with the newspaper business later in the decade when they represented an innovative company, Chemco Photoproducts, that invented the room-size roll-film cameras then used to transform black-and-white photographs into dots that then could be etched into copper sheets in a huge kettle-drum-like machine that spun the metal plates around and created the image with a red chemical mix known as "Dragon’s Blood."
Mother traveled through Latin America – quite a feat for a woman in those days – promoting these products to publishers and governments and garnering a profile in 1940 in a Spanish-language newspaper as one of the first super-moms: "Dama logra armonizar vidas de negocios y familia," the headline proclaimed: "Lady succeeds in harmonizing her business and family lives."
Meanwhile, my father kept a suitcase packed at all times, in case the Birmingham, Atlanta or Dallas newspapers had equipment problems.
I stepped back into the picture in 1972, when, before returning to London to complete academic research, I obtained, based on Aunt Edwina’s enthusiastic recommendation, a letter from then city editor Fritz Harsdorff, on the newspaper’s letterhead, informing the reader that "Keith Marshall is The Times-Picayune’s representative in Europe."
For $15 a column, I wrote about strikes and blackouts, museum openings and operas, in England and France – always linking events in some way to New Orleans, and parlaying the letter into a press invitation to Princess Anne’s wedding to Mark Phillips, my headiest column of the time.
My stints at The Times-Picayune, first as an arts-and-architecture freelancer in the late 1990s, and then as on-staff classical music writer, took my time as a legacy journalist to the autumn of 2004 and my final, and favorite Living Section cover, a feature in which I profiled Trinity Episcopal Church’s organist and music coordinator, Albinas Prizgintas.
Several years before the demise of my legacy career, I found myself in a large open area that once housed The Times-Picayune’s composing room. There, like a huge sculpture lurking in the shadows, sat one of the Chemco Marathon cameras that my dynamic-duo parents had sold The Times-Picayune decades before, useless in the digital age, but a poignant reminder of the days when the actual production of a newspaper was very much a dirty, hands-on business, not a matter of mouse clicks, e-mail interviews and flickering images on a screen.
How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.