Woman power got a fair shake in this newspaper THE EVENING SUN SETS AT 85

September 15, 1995|By ELISE T. CHISOLM

How do you say goodbye to a newspaper, the one where you worked for 30 years?

Well, it's not easy. It's like saying goodbye to a member of your family who has stood beside you, sometimes frustrated you, but whom you loved all the same. Someone, something that was a part of your daily life for so long.

It was, in reality, a job. Yet a newspaper speaks to the world every day, and those who work there help it to talk. Unlike some large companies, a newspaper can be the voice and soul of its city. The Evening Sun was that since 1910.

In 1965, I was hired by The Evening Sun to report society news. Later, I got to write some features.

When I started writing, it was a time in which women found themselves in specific arenas: society, food or entertainment. After a couple of years of tracking down society people who had gone underground for security reasons, I asked the big boss (who was the most approachable boss I'd ever known -- Philip Heisler) if I might try a humor column. His reply: "By God, we need some humor around here. Go ahead."

So I did, the next day.

I started writing a very benign hearts-and-flowers column called "Woman Power." I knew even then that those were the days when women wrote soft stuff -- I never covered a murder.

Woman Power ran with a cartoon that was often funnier than my column. It was illustrated by two well-known and talented artists, the late John Stees and the late Chuck Lankford.

I loved being a columnist. There weren't many female columnists who wrote about home and coping, except the amazing Erma Bombeck.

She was so outrageously funny that for a while I tried to learn from her style, until I realized I wasn't cutting it. So I developed my own hodgepodge style.

Through the column, I talked about anything from the family to the famous, or just birth, marriage and death.

I surfed the daily news for ideas and I picked my own brain. Columnists can find a column in a frozen brook or a polluted pond, under a rock or over a fence. The editors let me have a wide berth. For that I will always be grateful.

People still ask me who some of my favorite interviews were back in the 1960s: Carroll O'Connor, Danny Kaye, Carol Channing, Tiny Tim, Vincent Price, Joan Rivers (she and I went shopping for a red dress for her after the interview).

Victor Borge (he fell off the piano bench twice while I was talking with him), Jessica Tandy, Mitzi Gaynor and Rich Little -- so many with so much talent.

And I have aged, as they have. My clippings about them are as yellow as my skin, their faces are different, however -- better than mine because of plastic surgery. Ah, but their hands look as old as mine.

I've interviewed doctors, lawyers, authors, but one of my favorite hours was with Lassie. She came into the newsroom for the interview and sat attentively on my right foot while I talked with her trainer, Rod Weatherwax. She was the seventh Lassie to play the part.

I had some memorable experiences. I was covering the Washington, D.C., International Ball, and after I had my story I asked the bartender for a Coke with a twist of lemon.

He gave it to me, and I noticed he had a beautiful accent. He FTC happened to be the Italian ambassador to the United States. He looked like a fancy bartender in his tails and fancy shirt front. He was making a drink for his wife, since the bar had just closed. In Italian (I think), he told me, "It was a great pleasure." I replied in French, the only other language I know, "Merci."

When I was told I could do three columns a week, I rejoiced, because then I could really say, for instance, what I thought about Mickey Rooney. In the '60s, when he played Baltimore, he asked me for a game of golf. He was between wives at the time. I didn't play, but he did -- golf, that is.

As a columnist, I could give my own opinions about things and people. All the opinions I had held back when I was raising four children, I could now vent freely. And I apparently "vented" a lot.

The most hate mail I received was when I wrote a column trashing okra. But guess what? I love it now, I even pickled some the other day. Whenever I wrote about animals or children, pain or joy -- I received lots of fan mail.

After I retired four years ago, I continued to write two columns a month.

I had a wonderful time, because I could give an older person's viewpoint. At 71, I see the world differently and the world sees me differently, as in graying, wrinkled and Medicare-thankful. But active.

Back in the '60s, The Evening Sun newsroom was a fun place to work. There was laughter, everyone seemed to know everyone, and I think they cared about one another.

There were real characters in the news business then. Now everyone seems to be cut from a more somber fabric. And over the faint hum of the computers the room seems much too quiet. No reporters yelling "copy, down"; no editors screaming at reporters.

So it is time now to say goodbye to The Evening Sun, and all the Evening Sunites are sad, and so are the loyal readers who loved this paper.

I hate goodbyes, whether at airports or car doors.

Perhaps we may see the day when there is a kinder and shorter working day or week. And people will take more time once again, and choose to read and digest the printed news at the end of the day.

Entering the Sunpapers world at 41, I was taught by The Evening Sun -- it is never too late to start again, and even now I'm planning to go on to write for other venues, other readers.

It is too late to cry over the death of our paper. One has to go on to the next step. Forward.

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