People I’ve met along the way: Eleanor Roosevelt

Feb 23, 2011 by

People I’ve met along the way: Eleanor Roosevelt

It has been said that in old age a man reflects on his accomplishments. If that is true then the following story and those that come after it in my new series “People I’ve Met Along the Way…” should give you an idea of what my life as a Broadcast Journalist was like. Before you correct me for capitalizing Broadcast Journalist I stand before you as one, therefore it is a title and it deserves capitalization.

In this new series I intend to tell you what it was like being a Broadcast Journalist in Los Angeles in the early days of television news reporting. It was a tremendously exciting time, a time of experimentation, innovation and satisfaction.  I will, in this series, assail your imagination with stories of my early years in broadcasting and what it was like to run with the likes of Tony La Frano, General manager of KHJ Radio and Television, Bob Green, Mutual Broadcasting News Anchor, Clete Roberts, Newsman extraordinaire, Hugh Brundage, News Editor at KMPC Radio, Bill Brundage, Sportcaster supreme, Bob Kelly, “Old Kell” who broadcast the Los Angeles Rams Games, Dick Whittinghill, Disc Jocky supreme, Bob Ewbanks, TV show host, Stan Chambers, Newsman, announcer, host, anchor, you name it he did it at his one and only place of employment for more than sixty years, KTLA Television.

You’ll hear about Johnny Babcock, one of the finest broadcast newsman I ever knew, Lloyd Perrin KNX News Radio, another keeper, Johnny Grant, Honorary Mayor of Hollywood, the old “Tiger”, Bill Stout, the best investigative reporter I ever worked with, Tom Harmon, former football great and sports anchor at KTLA TV, and those are just some of the people I worked with.

It would take two pages to list all of the significant people I interviewed but just to tease your palate, you will hear the stories of my interviews with Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Reynolds (most people knew him as Eddie Fisher but I always felt he belonged to Debbie, I actually called him Mr. Reynolds one day) Marilyn Monroe who called me a “Boob”,funny choice of words from her,) The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Danny Flores (Rio who wrote and recorded “Tequila”,) Steve Allen, Gene Autry, my boss at KMPC and KTLA…John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, Jerry Brown, Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Stuart Symington (Senator from Missouri,) Adlai Stevenson, Ambassador to the United Nations for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and on and on. I think you can see this could be a lengthy series. I hope you will read my offerings about these people and others in the light they are presented, as a reporter, seeking the facts and nuances of their lives. I think you will find it enjoyable reading
So, without further ado:

Eleanor Roosevelt

The Grand Lady of American Politics.

I received the note that Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would receive me for tea at 3:00 PM in her rooms at the Senator Hotel in Sacramento. She had stopped in the California State Capitol to pay her respects to Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown after a speech at a meeting of the U. N. General Assembly in San Francisco and to discuss with the Governor the upcoming Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. The Governor was an early and vocal supporter of Senator Kennedy as was Mrs. Roosevelt much to the chagrin of Adlai Stevenson.

I checked at the hotel desk prior to going up to her rooms thinking there would be some sort of security clearance necessary before one met the former first lady of the United States.

I was pleasantly surprised when the clerk said, “Oh yes Mr. Strobel, Mrs. Roosevelt is expecting you.”

I arrived at her hotel room door at the appointed hour and she received me herself, opening the door in a swish leaving me in awe as I realized I was looking at one of the most important political figures of our time. She was a former first lady, a tireless worker for the rights, civil and otherwise of women, blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and her favorite challenge, the rights of children.

On the day of our meeting/interview, she appeared very matronly or perhaps grandmotherly would be more accurate. She was dressed in a simple afternoon tea frock of deep navy blue, her hair was not coifed, but combed back into a bun, a part of her appearance that was almost a trademark. Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood well over five feet seven inches in height but appeared to be most fragile, a trick of nature that she learned to use to her advantage in many a heated discussion or political argument. I have never met anyone since that day that could manipulate (with great grace and charm) a conversation to her benefit as could Mrs. Roosevelt.

She was in her mid seventies that day in the Senator Hotel but she exuded her abilities, charm, graciousness, and a mind of steel, as if she were a thirty year old.

Mrs. Roosevelt greeted me with a wide pleasant smile and said, “Come in Mr. Strobel, please, my grandson and I have been playing monopoly and you are a welcome break from the drubbing he’s been giving me.” She led me into a sitting room and I saw out of the corner of my eye, a youngster heading into a bedroom, Monopoly accoutrements under his arm

There was no awkwardness in our meeting. She extended a dainty milky white hand that showed its age with brown liver spots beginning to discolor them and I shook her hand as she led me to a large couch in the drawing room of her suite.
We sat and she opened up the conversation with, “Well, I am told that you are interested in what I have been up to recently, although I don’t know why. I have been doing the same things for years and it usually makes headlines when I stub my toe or say something that is too far to the left for the likes of Congress or the president or vice president (She was referring to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard M. Nixon).

A young lady came into the room and asked if she would like tea served now. “Her response was, “Oh, yes of course dear, Mr. Strobel is probably dying of thirst listening to my rantings. You may bring the tea. I’ll serve Mr. Strobel if he doesn’t mind.”

I was non-plussed, me, John W. Strobel III, News Director for a small radio station in Sacramento, California being asked if I minded if one of the most powerful women in the world served me tea. I lost all train of thought about the questions I intended to ask her and instead melted back into the camel’s hair couch and decided Mrs. Roosevelt would probably interview me rather than the opposite. If I ever asked her one of the questions I had so laboriously prepared, I don’t remember. I do remember her asking me about my wife and six children. She was very partial to girls and was enthralled at the news that I had five girls and one boy in our family. She wanted to know their names, how old they were, how they did in school and what my wife was like. As you can imagine we went through two cups of tea before I had finished the history of my family. With that and the light conversational interplay we enjoyed the hour she had set aside for me and itwas gone before I knew it.

Mrs. Roosevelt said, “John, it has been a pleasure meeting you”, signaling the end of the interview, “And I hope we meet again someday. You are a very nice young man and I won’t worry about the direction of the news, now that I know you and others like you report it so responsibly.” In our conversation we had discussed Governor Brown and I told her how I had helped him disseminate information during the Caryl Chessman controversy.

As I got up to leave I realized I had not turned on my tape recorder, so I had no record of our conversation. She put out her hand and rested it on my arm when I showed my dismay. She said, “John, I’m sure there are much more important things to report in your newscasts than the ramblings of an old lady. You didn’t lose anything by not having that machine recording what we said. I choose to make it a conversation between friends, not a conversation because I once lived in the White House.”

I left the Senator Hotel in a daze. I realized I had been completely bamboozled by an expert. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt rarely let a conversation go any way but exactly where she wanted it to go.

I was able to interview her again at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. She was staunchly supporting John F. Kennedy while sitting in the box with Harry S. Truman and his wife Bess. President Truman got up and left as I put a microphone in front of Mrs. Roosevelt, Bess turned away but Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “John, how nice to see you again, are you enjoying the convention? How is that family of yours?” She had done it again, as we were surrounded by other reporters she smiled and waved at me as I was shoved aside by other, more important journalists. “She said over the top of their heads, “Maybe we can have tea again soon…”

That never happened but I think she knew what stature she gave me among my colleagues when she spoke directly to me. I will never forget our time together and I always felt a sense of pride when she said something of great importance, as she did very often until her death in 1962 at the age of 78.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the woman of her time and my friend.

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you, all of you who left a comment on this story and those who read it but didn’t. Mrs. Roosevelt helped change the world and she gets too little recognition for her efforts. I’m happy you liked the story of our encounter and I hope you will like those that follow in “People I’ve Met Along The Way…” JWSIII

  2. Rita brunn

    John, what an honor to have had tea with Mrs. Roosevelt. Sad that her husband did not keep in mind all her wonderful qualities and character,

    I loved the picture you shared of her as a young woman; we don’t often see pictures of her at an early age!

    I have always been a fan of hers for many reasons!

    You have much to share with us and I will look forward to reading of the other encounters you have had during a specific period of your life’s journey!

  3. Jeanne Raines via Facebook

    I love this story; I love the simple glance that John gives us of Mrs. Roosevelt; and I love Eleanor Roosevelt, period.

  4. Wow, thanks you guys, you don’t know how your words reinforce my determination to keep on writing in MY style. I have been critiscized recently for writing too much about me and my family…Oh well, to each their own…I’ll just keep on keepin on as long as there is a reader left out there that gets something out of my words…JWSIII

  5. What a wonderful comment Rochelle, Love you gifted ones who have such power of expression and way with words. I have a little crush on Johns style of writing. Try not to miss any of his stories on moments count. He draws one in to the era historically and without a hiccup weaves humor in the mix from his personal experiences of which he is not bereft of. Hope Rita reads this and adds her comment. Wow! fb friends are amazing. Love this sharing thing!

  6. tks so much for this, I greatly enjoyed reading about one of my two women role models I chose as I grew up, the other being a grandmother after whom I was named and who died nine months before I was born:-)

  7. This is a most interesting and fun read!

  8. Eve forcinel

    John , I beg your forgivness that I have not seen this article before. It is most wonderful and absolutely superb. I do hope Brooke posts it on fb again it is worthy of notice. Been busy with lots of ‘stuff’ lately and haven’t kept up with moments count like I want to, but believe me I know the quality is there . I have to run forth and back between real life to check fb . My grandson was here recently and we played monolopy. And believe me I experience a ‘drubbing’ from him. It is always a delight to read your accounts of your most exciting adventures. Love /me