thumbnail of The Great Depression; Interview with Leone Baxter. Part 1
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CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Give me a moment to settle down here, then it's all yours.
INTERVIEWER:
OK well, we'll begin at the beginning, and if you can tell me how you first got involved with the Sinclair campaign?
LEONE BAXTER:
Well I, got involved in about 1933 when I decided at the age of about eighteen, I was nearly eighteen, not to go to university but to get a job instead, and maybe work for a couple of years. It was the middle of the Depression. It was a good thing to do. I thought I'd work for a couple of years and then go back to school. I was lucky enough to find the very interesting work with the Redding Chamber of Commerce right in California. It was a period when they were concerned about the Central Valley Water Project, all of California was. It had been voted affirmatively in the Congress, and was coming up on the ballot in California. And the concern of people at Redding, at the Redding Chamber of Commerce, of course, was that it might be built, this great, great project, might be built in Tehama County instead of Shasta County, where Redding is situated. They had the responsibility of preparing for a visit of a congressman from Washington, just getting ready for them, and the problem was to convince them that Shasta was the proper locale for such a great project. We really had a real flurry of preparing for the several meetings that would bring the convention. The congressman came, went through our places, they went down to Tehama County, to study what they had, and we luckily won. We were very very, very delighted. What took me into this type of work that was utterly fascinating to me, it truly was, and the committee turned out to be my board of directors of the little town of Redding [sic]. And they heard that there was a young man in Sacramento who was making history. He was apparently a splendid writer, and he was writing a great deal of material for the newspapers on public affairs, and his name was Clem Whitaker. And my committee decided to interview him to see if he could take over our problem from that point. They had him come up, and they were so fascinated with him that they gave him the job handling the campaign statewide. And we decided, we spent several days concerned with the problems that would confront us, because we were both very young, he was in his early twenties, and we decided that we would handle the campaign together. So we went to Sacramento and opened our office, opened the office of, we called Campaigns Incorporated [sic], and that was our first brush with a public issue on the ballot. I must say to finish this story properly that we won, and under very interesting circumstances. We had, compared with campaigns today this is almost laughable, but we had $40,000 to spend, statewide, for a statewide ballot issue, $40,000. I haven't seen the budgets for many many years, since 1933, but I am interested in getting hold of it and seeing just what did we spend that for? [laughs]
INTERVIEWER:
So then how did, so you were very successful in that and then you got asked to handle the Merriam for Governor campaign, is that correct?
LEONE BAXTER:
Yes, we were. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER:
And why didn't you take that campaign?
LEONE BAXTER:
We didn't take it because we didn't think he was a good governor.
INTERVIEWER:
I'm sorry, can you start that again? Instead of saying \"we didn't take it,\" say—
LEONE BAXTER:
Oh, we were asked to manage the Merriam campaign for re-election, and we felt that he had not really been a good governor, and we had a, we were very idealistic, stars in our eyes, we thought that we could afford to take the campaigns that we believed in and not consider other types of campaigns. We weren't against Merriam particularly. He was a nice old man, but he was not a good governor. So when we were asked to get into the Sinclair campaign, the campaign against Sinclair, who was running against Merriam, we demurred a bit on that too because, for a very different reason, because Clem's brothers, who were all missionaries and ministers, and teachers, were very fond of Sinclair, he was a good friend of theirs, and, they made it very hard on Clem, to say, \"Yes, we'll get into that campaign.\" But
we made a very careful study,
we thought it was very careful, we spent a lot of time on it,
to determine just what kind of man Sinclair was,
and we heard all the rumors that he was a communist and many things of that kind. So we got together everything we could lay our hands on that he had written, and he was a great writer, he was really a fine writer, and a very effective writer, so we read. We thought maybe this would tell us something about him, and what kind of governor he'd be. He had written books which we brought into our library on all the meat packing industry, very critical ones, very critical indeed, caustic, and he had written books on the banking industry, same situation, on Wall Street, and we concluded that he was right in most of those instances. We didn't particularly like his iconoclastic way of expressing himself, which seemed to have a good deal of bitterness, hatred in it, but we concluded that he was right but he wrote some other books on the church, on religion, on marriage, the institution of marriage, and other things that have very great importance to most ordinary people, in which we thought he was very, very wrong. Some material was coming out at that time from the, from the Committee Against Sinclair in Southern California, and we thought it didn't express our views at all. It was very critical of Mr. Sinclair, but we felt it was not, generally was not fair, meaning he appeared to be everything that we didn't think he was. For instance, it was claimed that he was a communist, and our study of the things he had written indicated to us that he was not a communist, that he was a socialist, and a zealot, and a man who would rather pound the table and express his own views then hear or listen to anybody else's. And he also had some views on things that we felt important, that I've just mentioned, that were not suitable for a Governor of California or any other state we've held. So we got the idea that, of a way to let him indict himself. Would you like to hear about that?
INTERVIEWER:
Yes. Can we stop for a second?
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Great.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Good job.
INTERVIEWER:
Where are we at on the film?
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
We've got a hundred feet left.
LEONE BAXTER:
Take two.
INTERVIEWER:
Take two.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
OK, yeah it's—
INTERVIEWER:
OK, so I would like you now to tell us the story about going through Sinclair's books and looking at the quotes.
LEONE BAXTER:
Oh, yes. We noted in reading his, Sinclair's books, that there was a good deal of material in it, that he had some views
on things that most people think are the backbone of Americanism, our churches, our schools,
our—
INTERVIEWER:
I'm sorry, can we start again because it's noisy? OK let's go, let's just see the...
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Take three.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, well let's start back again with looking through Upton Sinclair's writings.
LEONE BAXTER:
We were discussing our approach to managing the campaign against Sinclair. [coughs] Oh, I'm sorry [coughs] I'm sorry.
INTERVIEWER:
That's fine.
LEONE BAXTER:
INTERVIEWER:
Don't worry. OK, continue.
LEONE BAXTER:
We were discussing Sinclair's books and how his writings affected the attitudes of voters in California. We thought that his books, his own observations on the church, education, on family life, on the institution of marriage, and the institution of—[coughs]. I'm sorry.
INTERVIEWER:
Would you like to start again?
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
The roll is out.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, we have to change film anyway.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Take four.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, we'll go back to the, let's just start the story again.
LEONE BAXTER:
Shall we just continue that?
INTERVIEWER:
Mhm.
LEONE BAXTER:
Now?
INTERVIEWER:
Yes.
LEONE BAXTER:
Well, we were talking about the effect of Sinclair's writings on the public, particularly his writings in respect to the church, the institution of marriage, religion in general,
and we thought that some of his observations
and beliefs were so bothersome to normal house holders, normal voters, that we might use those in some fashion in the campaign. We had an editorial cartoonist who worked with us on a number of things. His name was Bill Lenoir, and he was not an ordinary cartoonist. He didn't write funny, ridiculous things. We gave him the direct quotes from Sinclair's books, and he executed some very beautifully done artwork. One that I remember particularly, was a picture of a bride coming out of a church. And on her beautiful white dress we had superimposed a big black blot, and in that we had in reverse, in black and white, we had quoted precisely what Sinclair had said about the institution of marriage. Of course we recognized that these writings of his, this type of writing, was done, of course, these were done to sell, and they did sell, apparently they were read everywhere, because people do like to read that type of thing. But they were not suitable for, they did not fit the role of a governor properly at all, and they were very very widely disseminated. Several of the national news magazines used them to indicate what was being done in California. He said, after that campaign, that the blot of Sinclairism, cartoons, did him more damage than anything else that happened in his campaign because they were direct, built around direct quotes of his, we made every effort not to take them out of context.
INTERVIEWER:
And why were they so effective? How did—
LEONE BAXTER:
I'm sorry?
INTERVIEWER:
Why were those cartoons so effective? Why did people react to them in that way? Do you know?
LEONE BAXTER:
Probably because
they were offensive to the deeply felt emotions of most ordinary people,
when you talk about disparagingly of religion of any kind, or the institution of marriage. Now maybe they wouldn't be so controversial today, because we've gone a long way past that time.
INTERVIEWER:
But people felt that they were challenging, he was challenging or making fun of their basic beliefs?
LEONE BAXTER:
I believe they did, that in part, and also because so very few people would have agreed with his judgments of marriage and religion. I had a feeling also, however, that when he wrote the book on anti-religion for instance, he was thinking largely of the type of radio ministers we were just developing in California at that time, such as Aimee Semple McPherson. Now he was just as much a zealot on his, in his positions as she was, but people were beginning not to like that type of appeal.
INTERVIEWER:
Now how were these cartoons distributed? Did you send them out to the newspapers?
LEONE BAXTER:
They were sent to newspapers, both dailies and weeklies.
INTERVIEWER:
And you distributed them widely throughout the state?
LEONE BAXTER:
Oh yes, yes.
INTERVIEWER:
Can you tell me that?
LEONE BAXTER:
Well, the distribution of the, we matted the cartoons, and sent them to every daily and every weekly in the state. We at that time had, one of the things we did in our campaigns was to use a feature service we had, we had California Feature Service, which was a free distribution operation, free distribution because many newspapers, particularly small dailies, and weeklies, simply could not afford during the Depression to hire special writers for things of that kind, nor to subscribe to the distributions of many of the feature services in the East. So we gave them a feature service, which consisted of four or five editorials and four columns, one on politics, one column of quotes, one on women, it was very very popular, and the nicest thing I remember ever hearing anybody ever say about that, that is, a publisher said, was when people, when publishers would say, \"If I just had time, I'd have written that myself.\" [laughs] It was a service to newspapers and much of our material went out through that service.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, what did you find offensive about Sinclair? I mean, you were very concerned that if he did get elected governor, you were concerned of what that may mean. Can you tell me a little bit about what your concerns were?
LEONE BAXTER:
Yes,
our main concern was that he was not the caliber of person to handle important state governmental problems. He didn't really know very much about, if he knew anything, about how state government works. He had a program that wouldn't have worked, an agrarian program,
returning California to an agrarian situation, which was most out of date. It wouldn't have worked among most Californians. It wouldn't have solved the problem.
INTERVIEWER:
Can you actually tell me that again by referring to that concept of \"production for use,\" when you had talked about it at lunch you were saying that Sinclair's concept of 'production for—'
LEONE BAXTER:
His plan for California actually was not a plan at all, it was his position opposing the situation, which was very bad, not only in California but in all the states at that time. And he was very much opposed to it of course, as everybody was. He wanted to see it cleaned up, but his plan, his so-called plan, was not a plan to correct the situation. For instance, he had a plan to give everybody a plot of land, and give the machinery to work that plot of land, thinking, or supposing, that they would produce goods, or materials, or food stuffs, which would be the basis of a barter system. Now we were way past,
we were not ready to go back to a barter system,
that was ended some generations ago of course, but his plan simply wouldn't work. Now he really didn't know what it would take to get any element of his plan through the legislature, for instance. He did not know. He didn't know what the legislature at that time was, how it was run. It was actually run by Artie Samish, which is a terrible think to have to admit, and if he had thought about it or said something about it, he could only have said, because he was a good man \"We must end this,\" which eventually it was ended. But in the meantime he didn't recognize the practicalities of that kind that were, in order that he would have had to deal with as governor.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, but it's one thing, I mean, for somebody maybe that's inexperienced, or doesn't really know government, but did you feel that his plans could be dangerous to California, that they could drive away business, that it had larger implications than just not knowing how to run?
LEONE BAXTER:
We thought beyond that, that Sinclair himself, and we warned Clem's brothers who were so fond of him, that he was in danger himself from, from others, who were not as altruistic as he, but who really wanted to be taken care of, and properly, because people needed jobs, they need all kinds of services, which he would not have been able to supply. We thought he was, perhaps, physically in danger.
INTERVIEWER:
And so—
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
The battery, we're out.
Series
The Great Depression
Raw Footage
Interview with Leone Baxter. Part 1
Producing Organization
Blackside, Inc.
Contributing Organization
Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
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cpb-aacip/151-1n7xk85321
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Interview with Leone Baxter for The Great Depression.
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Raw Footage
Genres
Interview
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Copyright Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode).
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Interviewee: Baxter, Leone
Producing Organization: Blackside, Inc.
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Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: cpbaacip151kd1qf8k307__fma259966int20120112_.h264.mp4 (AAPB Filename)
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Citations
Chicago: “The Great Depression; Interview with Leone Baxter. Part 1,” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 9, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-1n7xk85321.
MLA: “The Great Depression; Interview with Leone Baxter. Part 1.” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 9, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-1n7xk85321>.
APA: The Great Depression; Interview with Leone Baxter. Part 1. Boston, MA: Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-1n7xk85321