The Tardy Times

  Not until he retired could Harry write about the 1933 lynching in San Jose

         Harry Farrell
          Dale Champion               
            Mel Wax
                                                                                                                                                 Brooke Hart

  Harry Farrell
CASCADES of copy came from Harry Farrell, who joined the Mercury in 1942 and left the Mercury News 44 years later. Often regarded as brash, aggressive and too anxious to get on Page One, he dominated Mercury political coverage in the 1960s.
     Harry retired the last day of 1986, taught journalism at his alma mater, San Jose State, and began a new career as an author.
    He won an Edgar Award for “Swift Justice,” about the 1933 lynchings of the Brooke Hart kidnappers. It ended years of frustration for Harry, who couldn't stand to see a good story go to waste.
    The young victim's family, owners of the dominant Hart Department Store, had pressured the Mercury and News owners and publishers to spike  retrospective accounts of the crime.
    As soon as he waved farewell to the newspaper, he began to work on dozens of interviews and accounts of the kidnap, the murder, the arrests and the mob that pulled the two kidnappers from their cells and hanged them in St. James Park. By then, the Hart family couldn't control the story.
   His booklist also included “San Jose and Other Famous Places” (1983) and “Shallow Grave in Trinity County” (1997) about the murder of 14-year-old Stephanie Bryan (see “Paul Avery and the Search for Judy,” Page 1 of the Geezer Gazoot).
    Unaccountably omitted from last year's Tardy Times report was notice of the tireless reporter's death from cancer on Dec. 31, 2005, 19 years to the day after he left the mothership. 

Dale Champion    
WHEN THE CHRONICLE replaced all its Underwoods and Royals with Selectrics in 1975, nobody was more affronted than reporter Dale Champion. "This is the change of doom," he said. Maybe he was right. But his courteous intransigience to needless change was remembered with affectionate regard 33 years later at his memorial service on Sept. 28, 2008.
   A veteran of the Cost Guard in World War II and the Stanford Daily afterward, Dale began his newspaper career in Red Bluff and Redding. He was at the Record-Searchlight when, as a stringer for the Chronicle, he foiled a big scoop by the Examiner in 1956. When the rival's Ed Montgomery led searchers to Stephanie Bryan's body, Dale phoned the discovery to the Chron city desk in time for the morning editions (see the Paul Avery page for more detail). He was soon hired by the Voice of the West. 
  A colleague described him as "ascerbic but never cynical." By Underwood or Selectric, Dale typed hundreds of stories on environmental issues (and just about everything else) during three decades in the cityroom's back-row desks  (known as Section 8, a term adapted from the old Army's code for the deranged). The noisy clatter of the Selectrics soon vanished (along with the optical scanning system), but Dale opted in 1989 for retirement. He was thus spared the noiseless but maddening glitches of the computer keyboards that turned every writer into a typesetter.
   As a retiree, he became a civic gadfly for his neighborhood association. He was 81 when he fell ill during a visit to Yosemite Valley. Back in the city, he died on July 24. Carl Nolte, his companion on the trip to Yosemite, was quoted in the Chronicle: "The best thing about Dale was his spirit of adventure and inquisitiveness. He loved the outdoors, he loved the city, he loved the mountains. He was fiercely French. The last time I saw him, he was wearing a red beret."

Mel Wax

THE FOUNDER of the Gazoot  spent the summer of 1965 covering city government for the morning Examiner. The competitors were an aloof Chronicle beat reporter, Mel Wax, and daily journalism's nicest guy, the late Jimmy Leonard of the late News Call-Bulletin.
       Mel came to his little cubicle in the City Hall press room with an impressive background: Graduated from Dartmouth '40, commanded a Navy subchaser in the Pacific, spun his work at small papers into a Nieman Fellowship, worked for the Chicago Sun-Times in newspaper warfare with the Trib and Daily News. He was hired by the Chronicle in 1958. He proceeded to gentrify a City Hall press room then noted for all-day poker games and bottles in the battered drawers of cigarette-scarred desks.
     After a few years, all those budget stories and commission hearings didn't seem to put excitement into Mel's stories. In 1964, while continuing to cover City Hall, he had crossed the line when elected as a councilman in Sausalito. No doubt it gave him perspective when covering the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco.
     When the Hearsts and Thieriots killed the News Call-Bulletin and shoved the Examiner into the afternoon, Mel stayed at City Hall but moonlighted at KQED-TV with a show called “City Beat.”
    Bored, he quit the Chronicle in 1967 to become the station's public affairs officer. It came in handy when the Newspaper Guild shut down the Ex and Chron with a strike that lasted two months in early 1968. Mel organized “Newspaper of the Air” on Channel 9 to keep the public abreast of regional news. He located the old Call-Bulletin's horseshoe-shaped copy desk and moved it into the studio. He acted as the slotman, dealing stories to a changing assortment of reporters plucked from the picket line. It was a huge success, and KQED (with the help of Ford Foundation grants) kept it going for nine years after the strike ended.
    In 1977, he abandoned TV journalism for PR. He became the press secretary for Mayor George Moscone and stayed on after Moscone's assassination to act as the spokesman for a difficult boss, Mayor Dianne Feinstein. For 24 years he had been in and around City Hall, but he left it in 1982 for a lucrative post as the chief flack for the Port of Oakland.
     He retired in 1994 to play tennis as often as possible. He died March 29, 2007, at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. He was 88.    Mel told Focus magazine in 1972, “I never really thought about doing anything but being a newspaperman.” He must have changed his mind.                     

Other reporters
LUNG CANCER took the life of writer Denne Petitclerc, 76, a Chronicle reporter in the 1960s. He died Feb. 6, 2006, in Los Angeles. He left the Chron to write TV screenplays, notably a 1969 series, “Then Came Bronson.” It was inspired by the adventures and tall tales of former Chronicle police reporter Birney Jarvis, an ex-member of the Hells Angels. (That's the way we heard it from Birney, then a Stinson Beach neighbor. Now 78, he moved to Alabama about 20 years ago and took his storytelling with him)  . . . Helene Montgomery, 93, died May 13, 2007. It was 15 years after the death of her husband, Pulitzer prize-winning Examiner reporter Ed Montgomery.  He specialized in crime scoops that the FBI leaked to him. In exchange, he demeaned the paper with the Reds-under-the-bed hit pieces. . . . Lorrie Bunker-Boquist, 80, the widow of the revered Examiner science writer Bill Boquist, died Oct. 9, 2007, in San Francisco. Multi-gifted, with careers in painting and drawing, advertising, photography and art education, Lorrie handled public relations from 1970 to 1985 for the Asian Art Museum and its Avery Brundage Collection. They were on vacation in 1990 when Bill, who left the paper to co-own a travel agency, died of a heart attack in a restaurant in Italy. . . Donna Pope, wife of retired Mercury News ex-city editor Ed Pope, died April 23 of cancer. 
September 2008

Website Builder