Because I spent most of the 1980s interviewing elderly townspeople about early days in Arlington Heights, I was interested to see an article on interviewing by John McPhee in the April 7 New Yorker magazine.
That eminent writer was following Jackie Gleason and Thomas Hoving, head of the Metropolitan Museum, around with a notebook and a tape recorder as I talked to my neighbor, Al Volz, who thought up Northwest Highway.
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We, McPhee and I, have some things in common as interviewers. When he was interviewing Gleason, over a period of time for a Time magazine cover story, McPhee had some problems when Gleason would tell him to clear out. One morning, McPhee tells, Gleason "told me to stay away, and said it was really over this time -- done, finished." Of course it wasn't. The cover story finally ran.
In somewhat the same way, I found that whomever I approached for an interview was almost certain to say they could not do it. "I don't remember that much that was interesting."
Then, to a person, those same people would be following me out the door two hours later "with just one more story that you have to hear."
McPhee observed that "plenty of people who are willing to talk are not at the same time sensing what the effect of the eventual piece will be."
I remember a woman who lived by the little Memorial Park who told how her neighbor was often shut out by her alcoholic husband. The interviewee's daughter would not release the tape.
Other interviewees took a lighter view. Gertrude Pfingston described the night after Prohibition started. "The same drunks rolled out of the same taverns" as the night before, she recalled, only the taverns were called speak-easies.
Some people are natural interviewees. McPhee said of actor Richard Burton that "you just listened and wrote down what he said."
I can think of at least two naturals in Arlington: Ronald Bradley and Myrtle Lauterburg. They both had an intense interest in the town they grew up in and a piquant view of what transpired there.
Ronald's grandfather was a great friend of William Dunton, and the town was named "Bradley" for him (briefly) before it was called "Dunton." He lived on south Arlington Heights Road, way south of Central, and trudged to North School every day, except when a kindly farmer gave him a lift in his horse and wagon.
Myrtle Lauterburg lived in the center of town, at Campbell and Evergreen, in Wheeling House, one of the hotels in town. There were eleven rooms in the hotel, a tavern in the front and bedrooms above for "drummers" with their stock and a meeting room for locals. Myrtle, youngest of the Lauterburg children, "loved the talk, the hustle and the bustle, the farmers. I had a great time when the politicians came by us. The Busses from Mount Prospect, the Hoffmans from Des Plaines -- all Republicans, all of them, we didn't know what a Democrat was."
What was important to Myrtle was her family and her village. She admired "workers for the town." She once said impressively, "We are one big family. If you want the town to grow, you have to be a worker for the town."