In the early summer of 1964, when my older brother, Leonard, was evidently on leave from his Navy career, he noted that here I was 17 years old and hadn’t started working yet. He’d grown up at a time when both the country and, especially, his family had no extra money, and anything he had he earned for himself. Life was better for his much younger brothers, which is not to imply there were many loose bucks floating around. So one day, when he happened to be reading a local newspaper that functioned much as does a modern shopper advertiser, he saw an ad for a “part-time photographer.” Perfect, he said, go answer this ad. So I did.
I have no memory of the interview, but I think they were hoping for someone like me: relatively experienced in things photographic but so young as not to expect to be paid much. In fact, they didn’t want a photographer at all but, rather, a photolithographer. In the inexpensive printing process known as offset printing, a page is converted to a large negative, and that negative is “printed” onto a chemically sensitive aluminum plate that is then used to print large sheets of paper. The photolithographer’s job is certainly related, technically, to photography, but a real photolithographer would have been looking for quite a bit more than the $1.50 an hour I remember being paid (sounds worse than it was at the time—I was very happy with my salary). The photography angle was designed to be an enticement, and in fact there were certain kinds of true photographic assignments intended for my position, almost all of them outside normal working hours. Working conditions were simple: Friday after school, all day Saturday and Sunday, Monday after school, and Tuesday after school (when we shipped), which usually slipped into the evening, especially if something went wrong (it always did).
I was to take over from Frank, whose eyesight had worsened even beyond his advanced years. For normal copy work, this wasn’t a horrible problem (yet), but for doing halftones (the printing equivalent of a photograph) it had become a big problem. Besides, as I soon enough found out, he never did do it correctly—the halftones had been bad for a long time, and the publisher considered the quality of their photographs to be their chief selling point.
The paper was very much as Garrison Keillor describes the Lake Wobegon Herald Star, and its publisher/editor was very much like that paper’s Harold Starr. No bad news ever appeared in that paper. In effect, it was a society paper, because the community for which it was intended prided itself on not allowing any more business to locate within its boundaries than had already sneaked in before the town got tough. I think the zoning was even about one-half or a full acre, at least for new developments. The idea was that Saratoga is where people of means would live, and their work (when they had any) would be somewhere else. The News was intended to reflect that distance from real life.
It didn’t make its owners—Sherman Miller and Helen McLeod—rich. Miller had been a reporter on a San Francisco or Bay Area newspaper during the 1940s and 1950s, and evidently grabbed the paper when it became available around 1955. By chance, a later friend (Nancy Boone's husband, David Molinari) had worked for the competing paper a few years before I joined the News. He described how Miller had forced them out of business with every legal and extra-legal trick in the book. I’m glad that activity was over before I started with the News. Seeing how modest a living the winner of that battle made, there certainly wasn’t room for two. McLeod ran the advertising aspect of the paper, and of course that’s where the money comes from. But advertisers wanted quality, especially for that community, and the paper had lost ground as the quality of its society photographs declined.
Frank taught me what he knew (he would die within a few months of “leaving” the paper—I now remember his forced retirement party) but it wasn’t much. He’d picked up what he’d known somehow, and didn’t have much to pass on. Things got worse when I took over. We were in trouble. They didn’t really blame me—they hadn’t paid for an experienced photolithographer, and they hadn’t gotten one.
One day soon after Frank left, a traveling salesman (yes, there were such things) came by. He represented the 3M Company, which had recently decided to market a line of photolithography chemicals and supplies. We used Kodak, if we knew what we used at all. Evidently, Miller saw a possibility of salvation in this salesman, and quickly had him come into the back room (the darkroom) and talk with me. We struck a deal: if we ordered 3M products, he would teach me how to use them. Done.
I’m so sorry I don’t remember this wonderful man’s name. He’d been a photolithographer himself, as so often happens, and had taken the sales position as a way of bettering his income for his new family. I think he genuinely delighted in getting his hands wet again, and he had a willing and, time would show, able apprentice.
The first thing he did was get rid of the camera back we used (which required spraying adhesive on it before placing each unexposed negative in place) with a pneumatic version, and I think he changed the lights, too, but I do remember that they were arc lights all the time I worked there. To get the degree of brilliance necessary for this process, some kind of combustible material was used that I would have to replace quite often as it burned down.
All this, by the way, was taking place in a converted house (currently housing Bella Saratoga, a mid-level restaurant). The darkroom was in the former kitchen. Oh, and the bathroom—the only bathroom—was also back there. So, I had a constant stream of visitors in my supposedly light-tight chamber. Fortunately, all but one—the boss—would knock first, in case I had film out. Over time, I learned to recognize the boss’s footsteps, and he usually stopped just before the door to light his pipe, so I had time to cover whatever light-sensitive material he was about to destroy.
Unbelievable, by modern standards, but it was all we knew, so we were happy.
I hope I caught on reasonably quickly. Certainly, I don’t remember any more problems (of a technical nature) over my next four years.
The workflow went something like this: the girls (they were always girls) created the pages of the newspaper (including the ads) by the then conventional methods. The editorial content was typed on a publishing IBM typewriter, that is, one that allowed for variable spacing so that text could be justified. This required typing out the text, counting printing spaces, and then calculating how many words to put on each line as well as how many spaces and of what size. Unbelievable. This was not work for every girl who worked there but, rather, was limited to the ‘typist’ of the time. There was never more than one at any one time that I remember. They probably made less than I did. Ads and headlines were composed on a phototypesetting machine, and then the exposed paper tape had to be developed—guess where— in my darkroom! A letter from one of the girls I recently re-read suggested that this was not something they minded much.
Most of the composing crew had similar situations to mine: they were high school students who worked after school and on the weekends. Despite our location in the militantly anti-working community of Saratoga, we who worked at the paper were invariably working class, and if we hadn’t been at the paper we would have been working somewhere else. Typically, I think, a girl would leave after high school, either for college or for a regular full-time job somewhere else. One adult woman—Margaret—worked exclusively on ad accounts. Like everyone else, she pitched in at whatever was needed, but her main responsibility was bringing in ads and keeping the customers happy. I believe she was paid on a commission basis, and certainly she was as close as we had to a full-time employee. The other two people there every day were the manager and the owner—McLeod and Miller.
I have many memories of my time at the News, but little in those memories serves to pin them down to a particular time. After what must have been an intense summer (1964), I started my senior year of high school at a newly opened school—Westmont. Various artifacts suggest that I was not as involved in, for example, the photography activities at my new high school as I had been at Campbell High School. Surely, this was because I had definite after-school commitments now, if not every day then enough to put a damper on the many hours I used to spend doing extra-curricular things.
As Miller gained confidence in my abilities—both as a photolithographer and as a “society photographer,” he turned over more and more assignments to me. Typically, these were evening events that required a picture of some organization big shot giving someone an award. I must have shot hundreds of these events. Nearly all have gone from memory. An occasional memory remains. For example, I once went to an organization’s dinner party to photograph some award. I arrived when instructed, only to learn that the award would be presented after the dinner and speeches. I got to sit there for a LONG TIME, without dinner, waiting for my moment.
I remember, too, an occasion when I was putting a No. 5 flashbulb into the socket and it went off. In my eyes. I was temporarily blinded, but had to reach for another bulb because whatever event I was supposed to be shooting wasn’t stopping. That one went off, too, right into my almost blind eyes. Even today, I can sometimes see the pattern of the flash reflector when I close my eyes.
I shot one debutante. The problem with being working class is that you don’t know what this means, but I knew it involved a young woman and money. I don’t remember where we took this picture, but I do remember being much impressed with this young woman. And not just because she was attractive. I began to think that being rich didn’t automatically make a person bad.
One of the older young women from my initial year (she might
have been 20) might even have been the equivalent of full-time. Dini was the
typist. I think she had finished high school and wasn’t going to college. We
must have become reasonable friends, because she asked me to photograph her
wedding, which took place in the winter of 1966. I had done at least one
wedding before that (and would do several more), but I certainly did it as a
favor. As I hope the candid photographs show, I remember the wonderfully strong
family Dini came from, and was much moved by the love that was so in evidence
during the preparations (a photographer—especially a quiet one—can witness some
remarkably intimate moments in other people’s lives). Dini married an Army officer,
and a note from her shortly after the wedding shows that she spent her early
months in Oklahoma.
A year later, she brought her new baby by to show us, on a visit to her family. I hope her husband made it through Viet Nam.
Another memory was of a ‘retired’ flight stewardess organization. In those days, when a stewardess married (there were no stewards)—invariably to a pilot, she had to retire. She took up life in Saratoga (or a place like it) and waited for the babies. Because so many of these retirees were still quite young, they missed their former active lives, and founded organizations to keep in touch. The occasion I photographed was probably nothing more than an award ceremony, perhaps for charity work, but it obviously made a deep impression on me that I would think about for years later.
I remember, too, that I was able to get my brother Lyle a job there in the following summer. There was precious little to do, so to occupy his time he carefully wrote out labels for every object in the darkroom. For the next few years, the girls outside the darkroom would occasionally hear me consumed by laughter as I saw—for the thousandth time—a label on the fan: ‘fan’, a label on the door: ‘door’, a label on the window: ‘window’, etc.
One day in early summer 1967, I emerged from the darkroom to find a friend there in what had been the parlor, now our paste-up room where most of the activity took place. Evidently, I had said enough interesting things about my job that Marilyn Ruick (Westmont '67) either applied for an announced job opening or simply inquired into openings. I believe she told me later that she hadn’t mentioned knowing me during her interview. That was certainly a nice change of pace for the summer—someone to lunch with whom, now and again, I’d be seeing outside of work anyway.
Most of the photographs I took around the office are from the last couple years I spent at the News. The typist of that time, featured in many of these shots, was named Donna. I think she was there for at least two years. Together with Marilyn in these pictures are Janie and Karen, who also worked there at least two years and whose names had completely left me. Fortunately, I had kept the note from Barbara Krause (Westmont ’69), who worked at the News during my last summer. She also sent me a copy of the high school paper, later in the fall, showing herself as both a new student body officer and also as an editor of the school paper (simply dreadful but likely not the fault of Barbara).
After two years, my family moved to Scotts Valley, near Santa Cruz. Still living at home, that meant a daily commute over the dreaded Highway 17 each morning and evening, but I had bought an Austin Healey Sprite in 1966, and after a few weeks the car drove itself.
I also started my junior year at UC Santa Cruz, and I began to see that people who lived on campus (or, at least, within the college community) had a rather different experience of college than I was having, what with nearly daily work across the mountain and all. So after the summer following my junior year, I left the News, and went off to a different life as a campus-resident senior. As with any significant experience, my encounter with the Saratoga News continues to live on in the part of me that it made.