Monday, June 04, 2007

Jarvis Speaks

Dear Mr. Reed,

Your piece on the Humphrey "clash" was sent on to me where I reside in retirement in the hinterlands of Alabama. It is true that the Chronicle and Examiner were once great competitors and every day of my long tenure at the Chronicle I did my utmost to scoop the Examiner. I had a pretty good success rate. As for Mr. Burgin claiming credit for naming the whale, my best response to that would be for you to check the dates when Humphrey appeared on stage, so to speak. I believe you will find that the Chronicle "scooped" the Examiner for I did indeed publicly name Humphrey first (although giving credit to a Rio Vista restaurateur) and the name was subsequently used by the Examiner from whatever source. This is not to infer that Mr. Burgin did not also think of the name, but as an Examiner editor he should have been accustomed to being scooped by me.

Mr. Burgin may have "forgotten" to take credit for naming the whale but I have not forgotten the circumstances leading to MY naming the whale--and the undeniable fact that the Humphrey name appeared first in the Chronicle. I no longer have my clips on Humphrey (and others detailing a 44-year journalistic career) as they were buried under 5-1/2 feet of water a couple of years ago during Hurricane Ivan. It should, however, be fairly easy to check out my "naming" story. I don't believe the name was used in a headline, but was buried in the second or third piece I did on Humphrey. In fact, I was in the field and phoning my stories to rewrite man Jerry Carroll. He definitely recalls that I named Humphrey in the second story of my series. You can reach him for verification at 501-922-5918.

While this may be redundant, let me say that, like Mr. Burgin, the obvious connection was HUMPback, HUMPhrey.-- but I had a second reason, one that wasn't used in the recent story by Steve Rubenstein. It is lengthy, but bear with me: In 1964 I did a three-day series in the Chronicle on the Hell's Angels, being well qualified to do so being that I was a charter member (1954-1958) of the San Francisco (FRISCO) Hell's Angels. Hunter Thompson came to me after reading the series and asked me to collaborate with him on a book about the Angels that he had been commissioned to write. I told him that I was soon leaving on what turned out to be a two-year sailing adventure and wasn't interested. I did, however, introduce Hunter to a bunch of the Angels so he could get moving on the project. As I had been more than a little involved with the outlaw group during my Angel years, I told Hunter that he could write anything about me that he wanted, just to spell my first name correctly. He did, but much of the copy was thrown back by an editor who deemed it libelous (which it was). I was nowhere around to sign a release so Hunter chose a pseudonym: Preetam Bobo. He used this contrived name and my own (spelled correctly) in his book, "Hell's Angels; The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs." It was years before I learned the significance of this foreign name which, in Hindi, purportedly means Wandering soul or wanderer. I took the name Bobo to signify that I was being called a clown or, Wandering Clown.

While Hunter was doing his Angel "thing," fitting in a bit of carousing on the side, part of which resulted in a well-deserved (in my opinion) beating, I visited where he staying with a woman he had introduced as his wife. Hunter was away researching or whatever, and I visited for awhile with the "wife." Being a bit angry with Hunter at the time for varied reasons, the woman confided that Hunter was not the writer's birth name. It was, she said, in fact Humphrey and "He hates it!" I have told this story many times for I resented being called a clown. So, we get down to the fact that when I named Humphrey, this happenstance also flashed through my mind.

A recent blog by former Chronicle reporter-turned-journalism instructor, J. Michael Robertson explains why I did not take “credit” for naming Humphrey. I am herewith asking him to send you a copy of the blog which explains the move—ethical or not. I no longer have a copy.

You see, nothing is simple. If you so desire, you can use this in a Letters section, deleting the superficial stuff or using it all or not at all. You see, my reputation as a "responsible, accurate journalist" -- as noted in a letter from former San Francisco Police Chief (and later mayor) Frank Jordan in a letter to me on my reitrmen in 1987--is at stake. And Mr. Robertson's blog explains his quasi-approval of my ethics.


johnworld said...

dear Sir.

I got confused. Are you Preetam Bobo?

Thank you.

John Clacy.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Birney Jarvis was and probably still is. I think he's in Alabama now, among the rustics.

Anonymous said...

i used to work in the composing room of the san francisco newspaper agency. the "comical" (chronicle) and the "monarch (tyrant) of the dailies" (examiner) both shared the same production space, at least since the "Joint operating agreement". I didn't begin work @ the SFNA until the 90s, but the reason the Comical "regularly scooped" the Tyrant of the dailies probably had more to do with the fact that the Comical was a morning paper and the Examiner was an evening paper. Since the composing room was located between the examiner and chronicle editorial rooms, it is likely (imo) that there was a certain amount of contact between the two staffs.