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

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

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Second in a 3-part series

By guest blogger Anne Marie Welsh
June 14, 2013

Distinguished arts writer Anne Marie Welsh will be sharing with us some of her memories and experiences over the course of decades as a real-life Girl Friday in the fast-paced newspaper business. Last week, we left off with Anne Marie having scored her first big interview with legendary running back for the Cleveland Browns, Jim Brown, and spending summers taking in the hum and groove of the Batavia Daily. Follow along as she continues her story…

Part II

Dateline: Washington, D.C., 1970s

In college, my budding journalism “career” gives way to a greater love for literature, and I earn a string of degrees through a Ph.D. in English lit, with an emphasis in theater. The writing I do is academic, and turns this teen sports reporter and Girl Friday into a thoughtful critic.

I live in Washington, D.C. and, while writing my dissertation, I teach writing, journalism and literature at a community college. Katie Couric is one of my students. In the summer of ‘74, I become obsessed with the Watergate hearings. I watch them live on TV and savor the hypocrisies again in the late-night replay.

I grow so fed up with the Orwellian testimony that I write a piece on obfuscation and the mutilation of the language and submit it to the Washington Star. “Watergate Language” runs as a Sunday op-ed with a well-drawn illustration. Two days later I’m being interviewed on NPR, and pretty soon I’m free-lancing for the paper.

Then, a week after I defend my dissertation and launch a job search for a university teaching position, Kismet happens. The features editor of the Star, Mary Anne Dolan, gives me a shot at writing about my first love, dance. Soon I’m sitting in the aisle seat just left of center in Row R of the Kennedy Center Opera House, again taking notes, this time on Rudolf Nureyev dancing with Marcia Mason in The Royal Ballet production of “Swan Lake.”

The Star likes my work, and I like them, and it’s back to journalism, this time as a critic of dance and, sometimes, theater.

Computers (which must be shared and often crash) have just come into the newsroom in 1974, so the sound of clacking typewriters is gone, along with the typesetters. But everybody still smokes, some scribes spike their coffee, and mice still scurry about the cluttered floor. The romance of newspapering remains, and so does the andrenaline-pumping pressure of late night deadlines: 12:30 a.m. for a next day review.

Before the Star folds in August, 1981, I see and review every major ballet, modern and world dance company that comes to town, interview Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Agnes DeMille, Jerome Robbins, Alvin Ailey, George Balanchine, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Natalia Makarova, Judith Jamison, Bando Tomasaburo V—all the great dancers and choreographers of the mid-to-later 20th Century.

I also write features and some reviews on the newly burgeoning theater scene in D.C., interviewing among many others, actors James Mason, Tammy Grimes and Penny Fuller, and Nobel winning playwright Wole Soyinka.

My colleagues at the Star include columnists Mary McGrory, Jack Germond and Jules Witcover, theater critic Dave Richards, and the fledgling Maureen Dowd. I am stretching my wings and my gratitude is boundless.

These are the years before portable computers with modems. So, like Hildy Johnson in “The Front Page” and “His Girl Friday,” I sometimes call in stories from phone booths, dictating from spots like Wolf Trap’s Filene Center for the Performing Arts in suburban Virginia to make that tight deadline.

Time, Inc., which had bought the Star three years before, does fold it in 1981. Arts criticism in newspapers is a rarefied specialty, so what’s next?

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/.

An ad for Anne Marie as dance critic for The New Washington Star, 1980.