By Michael Granberry
This essay is being written because I am blessed to be friends with the great George Rede.
Unbelievably, fate threw us together during “the Watergate summer” of 1973. George and I were lucky enough to share an internship at The Washington Post, where Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were unraveling one of the greatest scandals in American political history.
And now you’re saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
George and I were scarcely aware of how richly momentous our shared moment would turn out to be. There we were, college kids, surrounded by Woodward, Bernstein and the one-and-only Ben Bradlee, the Post editor, who were blasting their way into history right in front of us.
In 1973, they were our voices of August. And June and July.
Despite the presence of such luminaries, meeting George was the best thing that happened in the summer of ’73, because it resulted in a lifelong friendship. Oh, sure, we got to meet Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee, but let’s be honest, mates, they were all a tad busy that summer.
Even so, Woodward was kind enough to share his time on several occasions, underscoring through memorable but brief snippets of conversation what Maya Angelou once said:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
My assignment that summer was in the sports department, which, at the time, was undergoing a major transition. Even so, the Post sports section had its own stable of thoroughbred talent. There I was, working alongside and learning from the likes of Shirley Povich, George Solomon, Leonard Shapiro, Thomas Boswell, Kenneth Denlinger and William Gildea, who could not have been kinder. They taught me a lot. I even got to cover a few Baltimore Orioles games, allowing me to meet (at the now-demolished Memorial Stadium) such childhood heroes as Brooks Robinson, the most Herculean third baseman ever, and Minnesota Twins slugger Harmon Killebrew.
In later years, the Post sports section added Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, now known as the hosts of Pardon the Interruption on ESPN. Solomon, who gave me more than one terrific story idea that summer, ended up as sports editor of the Post, where he became one of the best ever.
Luckily, I also got to meet William Greider, one of the best political writers in the country. Through Greider and his mensch-like generosity, I was able to arrange a lunch with Hunter S. Thompson, who was holding court that summer at the Washington Hilton, where he was happily ensconced, covering Watergate for Rolling Stone. I spent the better part of a day with the Prince of Gonzo, the two of us lounging by the pool, where he wore his aviator sunglasses and, OK, drank a few beers but imbibed nothing harder. As far as I know.
The late Dr. Thompson was known, of course, for his manic machinations, which propelled his gonzo reputation through such New Journalism classics as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trial ’72. But in many ways, his reputation obscures the truth of who and what he really was. He was a gifted reporter, one of the best ever, with laser-like insights and a style that no one will ever duplicate. The tone, the rhythm, the pacing, all carried along by those piercing insights, one of which I committed to memory:
“It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character that every other country in the world has learned to fear and despise.”
And yet, a la Angelou, I remember him most for his kindness. I was a 21-year-old college kid, in between my junior and senior year, and not once did he show me a shred of condescension or arrogance. I am proud to say I learned a lot from HST, albeit in the course of a single day.
Music was also a huge part of the summer of 1973. I loved going to Merriwether Post Pavilion in nearby Columbia, Md., where just a few years later Jackson Browne recorded much of his 1977 live album, Running On Empty. Last I checked, Running On Empty was anything but, having sold more than 7 million copies.
I saw Loggins and Messina one Friday night but came away wanting to know more about the warm-up act, a guy named Jim Croce. Little did I know that Croce would die in a Louisiana plane crash weeks later, after I’d heard him sing “Operator,” “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” “These Dreams” and “Dreamin’ Again” on the stage at Merriwether. Such a loss.
I saw Hal Halbrook do his Mark Twain imitation at Merriwether, and at the Arena Stage, I saw a gripping theatrical version of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which would later become a movie starring Jack Nicholson in his prime.
I also traveled, and that I shared with Mr. Rede, who went with me to New York City, where we took in a Yankees game at the old Yankee Stadium and rode the entire circuit of the New York City subway system and lived to tell about it.
During the summer, I rented a room in the basement of a Georgetown mansion – for $95 a month.
It was 10 weeks that went by so fast, not a moment of which I’ll ever forget. History won’t let me.
I do, however, have one regret. On one of my days off, I wandered over to Booked Up, a rare bookstore at the corner of 31st and M streets in my neighborhood of Georgetown. And there, sitting behind the counter was the owner, my favorite novelist and fellow Texan, Larry McMurtry.
I had met Woodward, Bernstein, Bradlee, Brooks Robinson, George Rede, Shirley Povich, Harmon Killebrew and the Prince of Gonzo, but in coming face to face with McMurtry, I was too shy and tongue-tied to even be able to introduce myself. He had written one of my favorite novels, The Last Picture Show, which in 1971 became one of my favorite movies, for which he had co-written the screenplay with director Peter Bogdanovich.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“No,” I replied meekly. “Just looking.”
Oh, well. I did get to have a longer conversation with McMurtry, in an interview I conducted for The Dallas Morning News in 2008. No big deal. I only had to wait 35 years.
Michael Granberry was born and grew up in Dallas, where he graduated from Southern Methodist University. He has been a working journalist since his senior year of high school. During “the Watergate summer” of 1973, he interned at The Washington Post. After graduating from SMU, he worked in Anchorage, Alaska, before returning to Dallas for two years, then spending almost 20 years at the Los Angeles Times. He returned to The Dallas Morning News in 1997 and continues to work there as a writer covering the city’s frenetic arts scene. He is working on a book about, what else, the Dallas Cowboys.
Editor’s note: I was captivated by the great Michael Granberry from the time we met in the Post newsroom. Here was a freckled, red-headed Texan with a gift of gab to match his prodigious writing talent. He made me feel at ease and took interest in a quiet, long-haired Californian that other interns mistook as a laid-back surfer. Ha! Mike was a groom in my wedding nearly 42 years ago and I love that our friendship remains strong.
Tomorrow: Lillian Mongeau, Waiting