Personal History

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9780375701047: Personal History

Winner of the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

An extraordinarily frank, honest, and generous book by one of America's most famous and admired women, Personal History is, as its title suggests, a book composed of both personal memoir and history.

It is the story of Graham's parents: the multimillionaire father who left private business and government service to buy and restore the down-and-out Washington Post, and the formidable, self-absorbed mother who was more interested in her political and charity work, and her passionate friendships with men like Thomas Mann and Adlai Stevenson, than in her children.

It is the story of how The Washington Post struggled to succeed -- a fascinating and instructive business history as told from the inside (the paper has been run by Graham herself, her father, her husband, and now her son).

It is the story of Phil Graham -- Kay's brilliant, charismatic husband (he clerked for two Supreme Court justices) -- whose plunge into manic-depression, betrayal, and eventual suicide is movingly and charitably recounted.

Best of all, it is the story of Kay Graham herself. She was brought up in a family of great wealth, yet she learned and understood nothing about money. She is half-Jewish, yet -- incredibly -- remained unaware of it for many years.She describes herself as having been naive and awkward, yet intelligent and energetic. She married a man she worshipped, and he fascinated and educated her, and then, in his illness, turned from her and abused her. This destruction of her confidence and happiness is a drama in itself, followed by the even more intense drama of her new life as the head of a great newspaper and a great company, a famous (and even feared) woman in her own right. Hers is a life that came into its own with a vengeance -- a success story on every level.

Graham's book is populated with a cast of fascinating characters, from fifty years of presidents (and their wives), to Steichen, Brancusi, Felix Frankfurter, Warren Buffett (her great advisor and protector), Robert McNamara, George Schultz (her regular tennis partner), and, of course, the great names from the Post: Woodward, Bernstein, and Graham's editorpartner, Ben Bradlee. She writes of them, and of the most dramatic moments of her stewardship of the Post (including the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and the pressmen's strike), with acuity, humor, and good judgment. Her book is about learning by doing, about growing and growing up, about Washington, and about a woman liberated by both circumstance and her own great strengths.

Le informazioni nella sezione "Riassunto" possono far riferimento a edizioni diverse di questo titolo.

L'autore:

Katharine Graham is fondly remembered as the powerful, longtime publisher of the Washington Post. She died in 2001.

Estratto. © Riproduzione autorizzata. Diritti riservati.:

From Chapter One

My parents' paths first crossed in a museum on 23rd Street in New York. It was Lincoln's Birthday, 1908. Eugene Meyer, who was thirty-two years old, had been in business for himself for only a few years, but had already made several million dollars. Agnes Ernst, just twenty-one and a recent graduate of Barnard, was strikingly beautiful. She was earning her own living and helping to support her family as well by her free-lance work for a newspaper, the old New York Sun. She was also interested in the art world, which was what brought her to the exhibit of Japanese prints. Both her interests and her work were unusual for a woman in those days.

On his way down to Wall Street, my father, who was driving a Stanley Steamer, one of the earliest automobiles, noticed an acquaintance whom he didn't especially like. But Edgar Kohler looked frail and dejected and my father felt sorry for him, so he offered him a ride, mentioning that he was going to stop off at a Japanese-print exhibit. Kohler decided to accompany him.

Going into the gallery, they met two friends coming out, who assessed the exhibition this way: "There's a girl walking around who's better-looking than anything on the walls." Once inside, Kohler and my father immediately spotted her -- a tall young woman with fair hair and blue eyes, clearly strong, dynamic, and self-assured. My mother always remembered what she was wearing that day, because she felt that her "costume," as she called it, had played a part in her destiny. She must have been quite a sight m her gray tweed suit and small squirrel cap adorned with an eagle feather. My father, on seeing her, said to Kohler, "That's the girl I'm going to marry."

Are you serious?" Kohler asked, to which my father responded, "I was never more serious in my whole life." Kohler, supposing that they'd never run into her :again, suggested that my father speak to her. "No. That would offend her and spoil everything," my father replied. The two men then agreed that whoever subsequently might meet her first would introduce her to the other.

Just a week later, Kohler called my father and said, "Guess what happened?" "You met the girl," was the ready answer. "Damn you, I did," Kohler responded. He had been to a party at the home of one of Agnes's Barnard classmates, where they were giving an amateur performance of The Merry Wido7v in which my mother was playing Count Danilo. When she appeared after the performance out of costume, Kohler realized that she was the girl from the art show. He introduced himself, told her about the pact with my father, and arranged a lunch for the three of them.

My father's friend had fulfilled his pledge by introducing Eugene and Agnes to each other. On Lincoln's Birthday in 1910, two years to the day after Eugene had first seen Agnes in the gallery, they were married. When I look back over my long life, if there is one thing that leaps out at me it is the role of luck and chance in our lives. From this particular string of accidental happenings all the rest followed.

My father came from a distinguished Jewish family with roots going back many generations in Alsace-Lorraine, France. It was a family that numbered many rabbis and civic leaders. Jacob Meyer, my great-greatgrandfather, who was awarded the Legion of Honor, had actually been a member of the Sanhedrin, the college of Jewish notables called by Napoleon I in connection with recognizing the rights of Jews as citizens.

My paternal grandfather, named Marc Eugene Meyer, but always called Eugene, was born in 1842 in Strasbourg, the youngest of four children by his father's second wife. When his father died, his mother was left penniless, and Eugene could stay in school only until the age of fourteen; then, as his siblings had already done, he went to work to help support the family. He first worked for two Blum brothers who owned one store in Alsace and another -- improbably -- in Donaldsonville, Mississippi, and when one of young Eugene's bosses said he was going to America, my grandfather decided to go with him. In Paris, on the way, he was introduced by Blum to Alexandre Lazard of the firm of Lazard Freres, who gave him an introduction to their San Francisco partner. Eugene traveled to New York on the fastest boat going, a side-wheeler, for a third-class fare of $110, leaving Europe in September 1859. From New York he took a steamship to Panama, crossed the Isthmus by rail, and then caught another steamer to San Francisco, at that time a city of fifty thousand or so people. He spent two years there, learning English and saving a little money from his job at an auction house, until in 1861 he moved to Los Angeles, where a cousin of the Lazards' was said to need a clerk for his store. As described by Eugene himself, the town was made up of only three or four thousand inhabitants, mostly foreigners. There were four brick houses -- the rest were adobe with roofs that cracked. There were no paved streets or sewers. The water for both drinking and irrigation came from ditches. My grandfather stayed in Los Angeles for the next twenty-two years.

He started as clerk and bookkeeper, living in the general store's back room. Sometimes he slept on the counter with his gun, to protect the merchandise. As his reputation for reliability and sobriety spread, some of his new friends began leaving money with him, for there were no banks. Within three years, he became a general partner in the store, which came to be known as "The City of Paris." Within ten years, he and his brother Constant had taken it over. He also started lending money, became director of a bank and organizer of the Los Angeles Social Club, and helped maintain law and order as a member of the Vigilance Committee. He was an incorporator of the city water system, involved in real estate and mining investments, and doubled as the French consular agent. In 1867, he married the sixteen-year-old Harriet Newmark, whose father, a rabbi, performed the ceremony, following which a sumptuous dinner was served at the couple's new home -- complete with ice cream, something new to Los Angeles.

My father, named Eugene Isaac Meyer after his father and grandfather, was born in 1875, the first boy in the family after three girls, Rosalie, Elise, and Florence. Four more children followed: two daughters, Ruth and Aline; and two sons, Walter and the youngest child, Edgar. Harriet, not as strong as her husband, became a more or less permanent invalid -- whether from having eight children by the age of thirty-two under pioneering medical conditions or because there was some depression involved, or both. As a result, my father's mother-figure in his youth was his sister Rosalie, six years older than he, who left school to help raise her siblings.

These early circumstances help me understand my father's personality. His father was very strict and not particularly loving, as far as I can tell, and the only real mother-figure was a near-contemporary, sweet and sensitive but overwhelmed by being thrust into a position of authority well before she was ready for it. There couldn't have been much parental love for all those children, with the father ambitious and driven and no real mother. My father himself was never very good at personal relations of the intimate kind; the feelings were there, but they went unexpressed.

Early in 1884, my father moved with his family back to San Francisco, a city by then of 225,000 with much better educational and medical facilities than Los Angeles could offer the large Meyer family. It was also safer. I remember my father saying of his early days in Los Angeles that everyone carried a Derringer and almost every night someone was shot. But though my grandfather may have been pleased with the move, my father, a young boy of eight, immediately became embattled. He was a loner and a fighter, forced by his family to wear clothes -- including a white starched Eton collar -- that made him look "different." Older boys at school would put the younger ones in a circle, pitting them against each other. The fights would stop only when someone had a nosebleed, and this was usually my poor father. Nonetheless, he was forced to learn to fight to defend himself, all the while receiving severe reprimands from his father for his rough behavior. These encounters toughened him to the point where, when the family moved to Alameda, to improve his mother's health by removing her from San Francisco's fog, young Eugene outfought the local bully, who had previously ruled the playground. This victory had the dubious effect of making him the top troublemaker, both at school and at home. He led the younger
children in rebellion against the housekeeper, generally made mischief, and teased the girls, especially harassing poor Rosalie.

Alameda had done my grandmother no good, and it proved too remote to be practical for my grandfather, so after a short time the family moved back to San Francisco. It was the third change of school for my father. After getting hit in the eye by a baseball, he was forbidden to play, on the grounds that it would worry his mother. Football and sailing on a nearby lake had also been forbidden. He was, however, allowed to take fencing lessons, and boxing lessons from Gentleman Jim Corbett, later heavyweight champion of the world, but these too were stopped when a picture appeared in the paper of the lesson with Corbett, who was seeking publicity. He went on having a difficult time in school, and endured being called a sheeny, along with others who were called wops, micks, and chinks.

The family belonged to a Reformed Jewish congregation, and Eugene was instructed in Jewish history, Hebrew, and the meaning of religion, but when it came time for his bar mitzvah, he declined. Asked to declare "perfect faith," he said, "I believe some of these things, but I don't believe them all with perfect faith." He was never overtly religious, yet was later involved in Jewish charities, causes, and international issues. He was not a Zionist, however, believing strongly that he was an American citizen first and foremost.

School didn't interest him, but he read a lot. When he came out third in his grammar-school class, his father reproached him with not being first, largely because he knew the boy wasn't working, but eventually Eugene developed a true passion for learning, enhanced when his father included him more and more in his business meetings and discussions of politics and high finance.

Like my father, Rosalie became a strong and dominating person. She married Sigmund Stern, and her next-younger sister, Elise, married Sigmund's brother, Abraham. The Sterns were nephews of Levi Strauss, who had gone to San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush with heavy denim material for tents to sell to the miners. Either it didn't sell as tent material or it made better pants, sealed with rivets, but Levi Strauss made his fortune through those pants, and "Levi's" eventually became known throughout the world. Because Strauss was a bachelor, the Sterns, who managed his business, inherited the company, which was handed down through Sigmund and Aunt Ro to their daughter, Elise, and her husband, Walter Haas, and eventually to their children and grandchildren.

My grandfather was offered a partnership in Lazard Freres, and although the family hated leaving San Francisco -- which was now the home of the oldest two daughters, who after marrying had built two large houses next door to each other -- he saw the offer as a fine opportunity. They made the move to New York in 1893. At that time my father was seventeen and had completed his first year of college at the University of California at Berkeley. For the first time he saw the vastness of this country and the awesome size of New York, then a city of three and a half million, with its great luxuries and contrasting slums.

He went to work as a messenger at Lazard with the full expectation that someday he would succeed to his father's position there. With just three weeks' notice and only an average recommendation from Berkeley, he crammed for the Yale entrance examination and was accepted, settling down to an excessively grueling schedule. He knew very few people -- he was a lonely Jewish boy from the West -- so he studied all the time and took extra credits, with an occasional break for a workout in the gym, no doubt both to compensate for the lack of social life and because he was driven to excel. He emerged as a Phi Beta Kappa, and, with his extra credits, skipped his junior year and graduated in two years -- nineteenth in a class of 250. He was not yet twenty.

After a brief stint back at Lazard, he went abroad for a year and a half to be apprenticed in banks in Germany, England, and France. He arrived first in Paris, where he worked without pay but was rewarded with a beautiful pearl stickpin, which he wore always, at least in my early childhood memories. He also started investing in the market with $600 his father had given him for not smoking until he was twenty-one. (Years later, my father offered all of us children the same deal, but I believe no one took him up on it, or possibly none of us made it to twenty-one without experimenting with smoking. No doubt the $1,000 he offered us meant a great deal less to us than the $600 did to him.)

My father's first exercise in adult independence occurred on his return from Europe. His father had groomed him, and certainly expected him, to enter the firm of Lazard. What he found when he returned there was that nothing had changed: his year and a half of learning banking counted for nothing. He was started at $12 a week and increased only incrementally. In addition, he was working for his brother-in-law George Blumenthal -- a difficult man, with a big ego and a quick temper, whom he never really liked. Already an extraordinary foreign-exchange banker, Blumenthal later became even more successful as head of Lazard in the United States. He had married my father's much-loved sister Florence, or Florie, as the family called her.

When I first became aware of the Blumenthals, they lived winters in New York and summers in France or on yachts in the
Mediterranean. Their enormous and elaborate house in New York occupied half a city block and had an indoor tiled swimming pool. Florie brought home immense quantities of French clothes every year, so many that once, when her trunks were brought down from the attic for packing to leave for Paris, one was discovered full of clothes that had never been unpacked from the previous trip. My father once jokingly moaned to George about my mother's extravagant taste in clothes, exaggeratedly claiming she hardly ever wore the same dress twice. George turned to him and said in all sincerity, "Eugene, you don't expect your wife to wear the same dress twice, do you?"

Florie had a perfect figure -- one Christmas, instead of cards, they sent out plaster casts of her very delicate foot and ankle. She had only one child, whom George didn't allow her to nurse ...

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