My Uncle Wede, Raconteur and Word Man

Dec 1, 2020 | 1 comment

Willard Espy:  Author, Wordsmith, Raconteur

In same ways, my uncle Willard Espy had a checkered career — as in a number of disparate jobs.  But all of them, one way or another, had to do with writing.  Now he is remembered mostly for his books on wordplay, or if you live around this neck of the woods, for his book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.  But it was his hob-nobbing with the rich and famous that always interested me most.

In the 1940s, Wede was the Public Relations manager for the Reader’s Digest.  Part of his work in that capacity was to write the back cover for each monthly issue.  Actually, he was a ghost-writer (in lay-terminology) and, as such, he set up interviews with prominent personalities who then “wrote” endorsements for the magazine.

This morning I ran across some of Willard’s notes — apparently impressions from some of those interviews and also from a later radio show called “Personalities in Print.”  The format was fifteen minute (daily?) interviews, also with well-known people who had, for one reason or another, a book or article currently in print.  How I wish I could ask him a little more about each.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Duke of Windsor (and the Duchess) — her remarkable capacity to seem to focus her whole attention on what was being said to her.
Albert Einstein — his patched sweater, his lack of sox, the halo of hair behind his head, his aura of utter saintliness, his sailing ability (well — not too hot.)
Winston Churchill— watched him consume a bottle of brandy before delivering a stirring address to the joint Houses of Congress.
Richard Nixon — his disquisitions on luck, with examples from his own life; his stopping all other work in the Vice Presidential office to locate Adlai Stevenson when Stevenson’s son was injured in an accident.
H.L. Mencken (before my Digest days), sitting in his backyard and consuming bottle after bottle of beer.

Lillian Gish, Silent Film Star

Lord Halifax in a receiving line, somehow causing even his most distinguished guests to look like red-faced butchers as he shook their hands.
Jim Gavin’s crash course in French when he was made Ambassador to Paris — all the French he knew before was what was required to haggle with the madams in the towns his division captured over the rates she would charge his boys.
Lillian Gish and the seagull.
Trying to persuade Betty Friedan to serve me breakfast in bed.
And dozens, scores, more — some from my old radio program, others from Readers Digest.

That last sentence makes me think he was compiling the list for his editor with an eye toward another book.  I wish it had happened; it would have been a fun read.

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Cassy Espy

    Love it! I, too, would have loved to see it. I remember Sinatra did a segment! I admit with embarrassment, that was the one I was most interested in!!!!!,

    Much love, Cass

    Reply

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