By Betsy Wade, JAWS member
New York City’s Hall of Records is way downtown, in the 1899-1907 Surrogate’s Courthouse back of City Hall. You see it on TV; its Beaux Arts loops and swirls are much cherished.
On March 12, in my guise as a tour guide licensed by the city, I went to visit a women’s history exhibition created by city archivists. As I grasped the doorknob, the raspy voice of my old colleague Clementine Paddleford sounded in my head. Kinesthetic memory: The last time my hand turned those elaborate coils and monograms was 10 years ago, when I researched the will of Clementine Haskin Paddleford.
Clem was born in rural Kansas in 1898 and died in New York in 1967, but she is ever with me, her voice just beyond the range of comprehension, but surely warning me not to quit, not yet. One more doorknob, one more question.
She was one of two woman journalists to befriend me when I got my first newspaper paycheck. So for 60 years, she’s been there in my psyche: beyond gutsy, beyond anyone invented as a fairy godmother, and, most surely, beyond the arrogant hand of old age to brush aside.
You are unlikely to have heard of her, but Clem, influential and ambitious, was the country’s most famous newspaper food editor from the 1940s until the New York Herald Tribune began to slide toward its end in 1966. She was bylined daily: in the Trib, one of two full-sheet morning papers left in the city, and in the nationally circulated Sunday supplement This Week. She was a Kansas farmers’ daughter who made it big in the Big Apple.
In case you don’t plan to read further and don’t want to take my word for it, take just a bite. From Clem’s tiny gem of a book, “A Flower for My Mother,” here are the drought-year sand plums preserved better than in any glass jar: “In every bite of the jam I would remember the perfumed blossoms of spring, cool to the cheek, to the fingertips, fragrant like a sweet remembered kiss.” She could do purple, she could do down-home, she could do Air France or NOLA, or submarine nutrition, if need be.
I joined the New York Herald Tribune in July 1952, green out of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. I was hired to work in the women’s news department as a maternity replacement for Joan Cook, a reporter who covered family life and child care – today’s “parenting.” In the couple of weeks I overlapped with Joan, she gave me every bit of help she could think of. Then she wobbled out of the sweltering office with her adoring husband, Gerry, and there I was, alone, to make my own way.
But not so glib, Betsy. My stepmother had a friend named Tracy Samuels who had once lived on Astor Street in Chicago with other members of the journalism sorority Theta Sigma Phi. One of these was Clem, who had joined while an undergraduate at Kansas State University in that other Manhattan. So Tracy, by 1952 working in advertising in New York, wrote her old roommate Clem asking her to welcome the newcomer.
And she did.
Clem had six columns a week in the Trib, and a major article in This Week magazine, which appeared in the Trib. But when she was on the road, she could not write the Friday “market basket” column, with Thursday’s prices for produce and poultry. So she told the editor that in her absence, Betsy Wade should handle the Friday column, despite the presence of a staff home economist. Wow.
And when she wanted someone to appear in a photo to accompany her column, she twice asked the staff photographer to draft me. Once I co-starred with tomatoes, the other time with taffy.
After Joan Cook returned to work and the boss kept me on anyway, we gossiped some about Clem’s willingness to help young women. Clem had a foster daughter whom most of us believed to be her own child, and thought that she was the probable cause of Clem’s supportive responses. But documents later proved otherwise. One of the Theta Sigma Phi sisters had died, leaving a 14-year-old girl, Claire Duffé, and Clem was chosen amongst the former roommates as the best guardian for Claire. The daughters of those close-knit sisters were highly valued. So my stepmother’s link probably got me aboard, too. Incidentally, after college and marriage, Claire and her husband, John Jorgensen, went to live on a saltwater farm in Bath, Maine, that Clem had given them.
Clem’s will – the one I was seeking a decade ago – was professionally drawn and bespoke a good-sized estate for a journalist. It was evaluated at $250,000 and the main beneficiary was Claire D. Jorgensen. The will also provided for Clem’s cats as well as people who had worked for her and helped her in pinches, and there had been many.
But now, don’t leave without hearing about the death of the cat Prince Peter. I was there and, my dear, to understand Clem, you must hear this one. Joan Cook and I, charged with writing Clem’s obit for The New York Times, where we were by then both working, made sure that this anecdote was protected from any haphazard space cuts, and indeed it sailed through, although we learned later we had identified the wrong cat.
It was a regular pattern for Clem. When she arrived in the office in the morning, she would already have done a day’s work at home. She wrote by hand on yellow lined paper, and one of her two secretaries – one at home and one on 41st Street – would decode and type the material and then Clem would then interline her editing and additions for retyping. Back and forth, home and office. All work.
Mornings she would sweep into the office in her rippling capes and scarves. From a capacious basket, she would distribute paper, manuscript to secretary here, memo to the editor there, as she went. In addition to her obligations to This Week and the Trib, Clem was also working on a book, which was called “How America Eats” when it was published in 1960. Where she found the hours in the day for this, in addition to her lovers, is unknown to me.
At the end of the hall leading to the back of the building, the 40th Street side, she would enter her private office, scoop a cat from her basket and place it in the wooden “in” box on her desk. The office day was launched.
Prince Peter loved to sleep in the sturdy wooden box on her desk while she worked. He was perhaps first among equals in her menagerie, so by and by, when he died of old age, Clem organized a good funeral. Peter was placed, “in” box and all, in an appropriate coffin and Clem hired a car to drive up to her country house in Redding, Conn., where the animal could be buried. Both secretaries and a couple of others joined.
The next day, Clem swept into her office as always, reporting that all had gone well with the interring. Minutes later, she returned to the center of the office. Helen, she asked her secretary, where is the book manuscript? It’s not on my desk.
There followed a certain amount of confusion.
When it became obvious that the manuscript was buried in Redding, under the beloved Peter, there was indecision and virtual theological debate. When Helen Marshall, Clem’s secretary, dialed the limousine company for a return trip to Redding, we all understood the decision.
As Joan Cook put it: Sentiment is fine, but a manuscript is the future.
Clem’s Green Goddess Dressing
“This recipe from Clem is in my card file, typed upon a yellowing card, circa 1952, on my portable typewriter, which was what I owned then. It does NOT appear in Clem’s own book. It is amazingly old-fashioned, using commercial mayo, god forfend, but it was hot stuff when first published in the paper,” wrote Betsy Wade who worked with the famous Clementine Paddleford at the New York Herald Tribune. “It was the day of the sainted wooden salad bowl,” she added.
4 anchovy fillets, finely cut
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
2 teaspoons chopped chives
1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar
1 1/2 cups of mayonnaise
Combine anchovy, onion, parsley, tarragon, chives and vinegar. Add mayonnaise, gently mix until blended.
Yield: 1 3/4 cups of dressing.
Recipe tester’s note: The dressing is thicker than we usually use today, more than 60 years later. If desired, thin with a bit more vinegar. Try it as a dressing on chicken salad or as a dip for vegetables.