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On the Case with a former Girl Friday: My life in newspapers, from baseball to ballet - La Jolla Playhouse Blog

On the Case with a former Girl Friday: My life in newspapers, from baseball to ballet

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First Post in a 3-Part Series

By guest blogger Anne Marie Welsh
June 7, 2013

In the spirit of our season opening production, His Girl Friday and tenacious female journalists like Hildy Johnson everywhere, we’ve invited distinguished arts writer Anne Marie Welsh to share her experiences in the rapid-pace, ever-changing newspaper business over the course of a decades-long career.  Anne Marie was the San Diego Union and Union-Tribune’s dance critic and arts reporter for 15 years and the paper’s theater critic from 1997-2008. We’re honored to share her story here.

Part I
Dateline:  LeRoy, New York, Fall 1959

I’m a freshman at Notre Dame High School in Batavia, commuting 10 miles on a schoolbus from home. A devoted ballet student, I have energy to burn and hope to compete in sports, like my brothers do. But at our school, girls are considered pansies and can only play half-court basketball. So I try out for cheerleading, make the squad, but hate it and quit.

I keep score for my brothers’ Little League and Babe Ruth League teams each summer, so when the school’s athletic director asks if I’d like to do that for the boys’ high school teams, I jump at the chance.

Keeping score at that level turns me into a reporter. I am 13 years old. For the next four years, I keep the official books and call game statistics in to three newspapers, the Buffalo Evening News, the Buffalo Courier Express, and the Batavia Daily News.

My father is a physician whose office is attached to our house, so after the games, I strut into his secretary’s office, put my feet up on the desk, and dial the newspapers.  If I’d had a cigar, I would have chomped on it. “Sports,” some crusty guy answers, and I tick off the stats. Fast, accurate, on deadline, as they demand. I feel all grown up.

Pretty soon I have my first bylines in the Batavia paper. The prep sports editor in Buffalo, Dick Stedler, writes a column with my picture, titled “First Girl Stringer for High School Sports.” And then I hit the bigtime: Jim Brown, just beginning his legendary career as a running back for the Cleveland Browns, is going to speak at Notre Dame’s annual Sports Booster Club banquet, and I will get to interview him.

Notebook in hand, I jot down the high points of the speech: “Remember, academics are Number One,” he tells the big, mostly male crowd in the school cafeteria, “and athletics are Number Two.” Pretty soon I’m standing next to the NFL star asking questions about his college career in Syracuse.
Someone shoots a photo of the two of us, him in a three-piece suit, me in my plaid shirtwaist with the shiny black buttons, patent leather belt and matching flats. My story appears in the school paper, the photo lands in our yearbook Mater Dei, and I’m hooked on journalism.

Summers I work for the Batavia Daily, where generous, multitasking editors like Paul Bostwick and Jimmy Gerrity teach me the ropes. Typewriters clacking all around, I write stories on thefts, fires, animals at the county fair, visiting exchange students, and do plenty of scut work like getting coffee and putting headlines on little fillers that come in over the teletype wire.

Guys wearing sleeve garters and green eyeshades are editing stories with thick pencils; linotype operators above us are setting the pages line by line in hot type. The whoosh of vacuum tubes sending rolled copy counterpoints the action.

I’m meeting all kinds of people—and sources—and I’m getting paid for doing what I love, writing. It doesn’t matter that I’m a girl here. This is all so good.  But where will it lead?

You can learn about Anne Marie Welsh’s new life as an author, writing coach and Yoga instructor at her website, and you can follow her blog, The Inward Eye, at http://www.annemariewelsh/blog/.

Guest blogger Anne Marie Welsh on Opening Night of HIS GIRL FRIDAY