For a boy from the Bronx to have had any connection with the Duke of Windsor (formerly nearly King Edward VIII of England) would itself be a story. Well, tenuous though the connection was, it was real, and here is the story. If so brief a tale merits a dedication, it is dedicated to the working newspaper men and women of New York.
All the world will remember how the Prince of Wales was forced by the British government to make a choice, and that he gave up the throne so that he could marry the woman he loved. He was given the title, Duke of Windsor, and the couple left England somewhat miserably in 1937, spending some time on the Continent, including a visit to Germany, and a stay at a castle in Austria. In Germany they were treated much better by Hitler's government; in returning the courtesy the Duke made some favorable public statements about the Nazis' economic revival in Germany.
His host in Austria was an American, George Bedaux, who had made a fortune as an industrial engineer, inventing the Bedaux System, which many companies had adopted to get more work out of their employees, and which the employees called a "speed-up", and hated. In addition to his bad reputation among workers, Mr. Bedaux had certain notions about the organization of the economy that seemed to borrow ideas from the corporate state that Mussolini had created in Italy. After the Windsors' stay at his castle, Mr. Bedaux left for the United States, and it was rumored that he was coming, in part, to prepare the way for a visit they would make to this country, a visit which Mr. Bedaux hoped would get favorable publicity for his social program.
This friendly treatment by Adolph Hitler and by a "speed-up" slave driver with fascist ideas made the Duke's impending American tour sound threatening to some people, including me. I was then doing research work for the Socialist Party, and when I saw in the newspapers that Mr. Bedaux's ship was approaching New York, I went to the editor of the party's newspaper, The Socialist Call, with a proposal. I told him that this plot had to be scotched, that Bedaix's scheme could be exposed in the course of the usual newspaper interview as his ship docked, but that the ordinary press would be so infatuated with the Windsor connection that their interviews would concentrate on trivia about the former Mrs. Simpson--what hat she had worn at the castle in Austria, and similar light stuff--and a great opportunity to nail this fascist would be lost. There was one way out: The Socialist Call could send a reporter to participate in the interview, and I volunteered. The editor gave me press credentials, and my journalistic career was launched.
That afternoon I went down to the Battery and found the boat that would carry the New York harbor pilot, various officials, and newspaper reporters to the ship as it approached the harbor. I looked around me at the small crowd of my fellow journalists, wondering what kind of trivia about the Duchess of Windsor they would concentrate on. The launch sailed down the harbor towards the Narrows, and as dusk was coming on we approached the ship, the Europa, its lights blazing. Soon its black bulk was looming above us, the launch tied up at its side, and a door opened, enabling us to climb up a gangway and get aboard.
We headed for the purser's office, where I asked how I could find Mr. George Bedaux. They told me he was going to hold a press conference in one of the dining rooms, and when I got there I saw, sitting at a table, a young lady who told me she was Mr. Bedaux's secretary and, yes, this was where the press conference would be. I sat down to wait, and started to chat with the young lady. She volunteered information about the castle in Austria, and the Windsors' stay there. She had been particularly miffed by press reports that the plumbing in the castle was solid gold, and assured me that only the plumbing in the master suite was gold, and not solid gold, at that, but only gold-plated. I paid only slight attention to this demonstration of her employer's democratic credentials, because I was becoming increasingly apprehensive that time was passing, that we were getting well up into the harbor, and that neither Mr.Bedaux nor any of the other reporters had showed up for the press conference.
Finally, ignoring the secretary's reassurances, I got up, went back to the purser's office, asked for Mr. Bedaux's stateroom number, and headed for there. As I approached, the door opened and the whole press corps poured out: while I had been chatting with the secretary, the press conference had taken place. Miserably, I walked with them to the first lounge where there were a few chairs, and there they hastily compared notes to make sure they had got the quotations right. It was evident to me that they had kept the interview to the political issues, and had elicited statements by Bedaux of his social agenda. As the ship docked in mid-Manhattan they buttoned up the impromptu meeting and we all got off onto the bustling pier and made our way to the streets.
The next day's newspapers carried their stories: Bedaux's views were laid out in some detail, and it didn't sound like Thomas Jefferson. I dropped in on my editor that morning, and we agreed that, despite my scornful mistrust of them, the New York press had done the job, and there was nothing The Socialist Call could add, especially as it was a weekly, and the story would be dead by the time it was published. I had one scoop to offer my editor: the gold-plated plumbing at Bedaux's castle. He expressed an extreme lack of interest..
So ended my brief career in journalism. I left the field to New York's working press, who seemed to be able to do their jobs after all.