By Gregory Clark, September 29, 1928
“What have you this week?” asked the editor.
“Nothing,” I said. “I can’t seem to get going since that article by Charles.”
“That was only meant in fun,” said the editor
“It may be, but I’ve had to shave off my moustache, borrow $500 to pay a lot of debts, answer a lot of letters and generally clean up. I haven’t had time to do any work.”
“Why,” asked the editor, “not take your revenge?”
“Charles is bigger than me.”
“I mean,” said the editor, “take your revenge by writing one about Charles. Revenge is sweet.”
“He wouldn’t stand for it,” said I. “He’s funny that way.”
The editor and I leaned out and looked through the door at Charles. He was sitting at his desk, close up to it, his back very straight. Charles looks at everything with the same expression. You can’t tell whether the thing he is reading is a cheque from his brokers or vice versa. He even reads his own stories with perfect emotional control. In all the time he has been with us he has never been known to stop the rest of the office working while he read aloud a few choice sentences.
“Not a very promising looking prospect,” said I.
“Every man is vain,” the editor mused. “Charles is probably no different. Go at him by stealth. Don’t let on you are going to interview him. But if he suspects anything his vanity may overcome his suspicions.”
“Yeah, but,” said I, “what will I interview him on? He hasn’t got any weaknesses, therefore you can’t describe his character.”
“Eh?’ said the editor.
“And he hasn’t got any hobbies, so you can’t make fun of him.”
“Don’t be bitter,” the editor said.
“He’s one of those cold-minded men that nobody could interview but himself. You know the kind of people Charles interviews? I’d sooner go out and interview Scarborough Bluffs.”
“You are afraid of Charles,”
“Say, listen …”
I got up and walked out to Charles. He was reading something. It looked like the annual report of a bank or something.
“Good morning, Greg,” he replied, looking up politely.
“Say, Charles, you ought to have some kind of sport. You ought to fish or shoot or something.”
“Why? Don’t I look well?”
“Yes, you look all right. But I don’t like to see a man who hasn’t any hobby.”
“I have. I play golf.”
No Angle of Approach
“Gosh. It’s the first I ever heard of it. I never heard you even speak of golf.”
“Why should I?”
“Well, what I mean to say … a fellow might … what I mean to say, you hear me mention fishing now and then.”
“Your fishing wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t hear about it,” said Charles.
The trouble with interviews is you are liable to get into arguments.
“We’ll let that pass,” I said. “How about your golf? What’s your handicap?”
“It’s a delicate subject,” replied Charles.
“Sure, but I’m interested, Charles. Just as a friend, you understand? This is very interesting about you. Suddenly coming across a thing like that. Tell me something about it.”
“What shall I tell you?”
“Well, for instance, about golf. Which is your favorite golf stick?”
Charles has an inscrutable way of gazing at you. He began to tap the paper he was reading ever so gently on his desk. Then a smile slowly spread all over his face. And he just looked at me and said nothing. Not a word.
“I’ve been decent with you,” I said. “I’ve told you all about fishing. You might tell me about golf. I’d like to hear about golf. Maybe I’d like to play it if it was a good game.”
Charles continued to smile.
“Ask some of the other boys,” said he. “Bill Orr or Deacon Johnson know far more about it than I do.”
“Oh, well,” said I.
I went back into what is generally called the editor’s sanctum.
“No luck,” I said. “Revenge may be sweet, but this is sour.”
“Well, you don’t expect to get an interview in three minutes, do you?”
“No,” I said. “But there isn’t any angle of approach. I tried to get him going on sport. He plays golf.”
“Certainly,” said the editor. “The way to Interview him is to go and play a game of golf with him.”
“I’d drop dead before I’d ever take a golf stick in my hand.”
“Take him to lunch then. That’s the way he interviews the big fellows. Lunch or a golf game.”
“Who? Henry Ford and Al Smith and all those fellows?”
“That’s the way he gets them,” said the editor. “They’re all human, after all.”
“Charles isn’t,” said I.
“Well, then, work him this way. Tell him you are going to interview somebody and ask him how he goes about it. It would make an interesting story. The public like to know how you go about interviewing these big men.”
“But,” said I, “I don’t want to play him up. I want to get my revenge on him. I want to describe his character.”
“Won’t that show when you tell how he gets the facts out of men like Hoover and Big Bill Thompson of Chicago?”
A Psychological Gunman
“I suppose I could make him out a sort of a gunman.”
“Sure,” said the editor. “A dandy heading, ‘Psychological Gunman.'”
“You would spoil it!”
“Don’t give up. Revenge is sweet,” the editor egged me on. “Get after him. You can pry him open.”
“With a brad awl. Like an oyster,” said I.
I walked out to Charles again. He had a pink slip in his hand. It looked like the second notice from the electric light company. But Charles was viewing it with the same composure with which he would regard a complimentary memo from the chief.
“Good morning again,” said he.
“I’ve got a big interview I’ve got to do. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me some ideas about interviewing big men.”
“Are you kidding?” asked Charles.
“Certainly not. You’re the interview man. I never do interviews.”
“Then why not let me interview this fellow? Who is he?” asked Charles.
“No, the editor has asked me to get this interview and I couldn’t very well pass it up, could I? But tell me, what’s your method of approaching these big fellows?”
“Usually on foot,” Charles replied.
“But seriously, Charles. There is surely some technique about it. Do you write them first? Do you make appointments and so forth, and arrive in some ceremony?”
“Yes, I hire the town band and get a bunch of the boys to make a torchlight procession.”
“I wish you’d help me, Charles. I’ve often helped you. Remember the time I introduced you to the police sergeant?”
“Well, then, what do you want?”
“I want to know how you go about interviewing these nabobs, these moguls of finance and industry and politics.”
“All right,” said Charles. “You walk into the room. They ask you to sit down. They offer you a cigar. You don’t take it. You talk to them. They talk to you. You look at your watch. In twenty-five minutes your train is leaving. You apologize, rise, shake, hands and depart. That is an interview.”
“But what about technique?”
“It is all bunk.”
“How do you analyze them? How do you arrive at an estimate of their character?”
“No man reaches a high place in any work whose character has not been made manifest.”
“Then interviews are easy?”
“Easy as rolling off a log,” said Charles.
“I disagree with you.” I retorted, and walked back into the editor’s room.
“Well?” asked the editor.
“Bad,” said I. “Think of all the years Charles and I have been friends, working on the same jobs, sharing our toothbrushes and so forth, and now he turns to me the frozen face.”
“Maybe he is on to you. If Charles is nothing else he is shrewd.”
“I have been very guarded.”
The Art of Interviewing
“Well, do what he did to you, then,” said the editor. “Ask him all about his views on Canada as a nation and whether we should have a governor-general.”
“We couldn’t possibly print Charles’ views on that sort of thing.”
“That’s right. But didn’t you get anything out of him on the art of interviewing?”
“He said it was nothing.”
“We know better.”
“Yeah, but how can you describe the character of a man who says to you that the art of interviewing is all bunk?”
“Well,” said the editor quietly, “that’s kind of a character sketch in itself.”
“I don’t want to leave a good impression like that,” I said. “He’s got to get his.”
“Well,” said the editor, “he’s a worker. You know that. Make him out a regular steam engine for work. The public likes to think of other people working like the dickens. It explains the general failure.”
“Then I’ll make out that Charles is nothing but a toiler. A kind of robot. A mechanical man. That’s the stuff.”
“All right,” said the editor, “get him to tell you how he got on top of that stuff about the St. Lawrence waterways. There was a job.”
Once again I crossed the room to Charles
“Ah,” said he. “Welcome. You seem a little restless this morning.”
“Say, Charles, a fellow was asking me the other day how you got around all that material about the St. Lawrence waterways, how you went about it, and so forth. By golly, I couldn’t tell him. I wish you’d tell me some time the story of how you go about getting a grasp on subjects like that – technical and involved and complex.”
“It is work,” said Charles. “You wouldn’t understand that.”
“Charles, you are being nasty?”
“No, I am being careful.”
“Look here, Charles, you don’t suspect me of anything, do you?”
“Well, I mean to say, we’ve been friends long time. We’ve slept in the snow together and ridden in aeroplanes together and been summer bachelors together and all that sort of thing.”
“Granted,” said Charles.
“We’ve banged around all these years together in the unhappy business of amusing and entertaining the public, getting frozen in Elk Lake and attending functions that made us both sick, risking our lives and going hungry together …”
“You got the big half of that porcupine,” interrupted Charles. “But what are you driving at?”
“Well, then, Charles, why don’t you help me? I want you to tell me some things about you?”
“You asked me my object in life and I told you.”
“So you did.”
“Then will you tell me your object in life?”
“Yes. My object in life is to have a large bathroom with a fireplace in it.”
Well, what I mean to say, what can you do with a man like that!
Editor’s Notes: This is a story about Charles Vining, a fellow reporter at the Star Weekly. He was only at the Star Weekly for three years, with this year, 1928, as his last.