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Mary Williams (pseudonym "Kate Carew") was born in 1869 in Oakland, CA. Daughter of Robert Neil Williams, a mining engineer, Mary attended San Francisco School of Design. In 1889 she worked as one of seventeen staff illustrators for the San Francisco Examiner. By 1890 she and her husband Harrie Kellett Chambers had moved to New York where Mary landed a position with Joseph Pulitzer's New York World providing illustrated interviews with caricatures of the rich and famous which she signed "Kate Carew." In 1901 Pulitzer sent her to Europe for a series of interviews titled "Kate Carew Abroad." After a divorce, Mary moved to London in 1911 and worked with The Patrician and The Tatler. After the start of World War I, she returned to America and continued working for American newspapers including the New York Tribune. She eventually returned to California where she died in 1960.
The names of those who were defined with Kate Carew's keen eye and pen read like a who's who of yesteryear. They include entertainers John Drew, Ethel Barrymore, Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Annette Kellerman, Theda Bara, Adelina Patti; writers Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Emil Zola, Jack London, W. B. Yeats; artist Pablo Picasso; politicians Richard Croker, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Chinese Ambassador Wu Ting Fang; tycoons and moguls such as Henry W. Lucy, D. W. Griffith, J. P. Morgan, Charles Schwab, Sir Thomas Lipton, Wilbur and Orvill Wright and countless others.
The following interview appeared in Pearson's Magazine,
of an Interviewer.
[Kate Carew, interviewer, dramatic critic, and caricaturist, is the pioneer of interviewing as a woman's profession, and to-day she holds the position of being the only prominent lady interviewer in the world. She spent part of her childhood in a mining camp of the Californian Sierras, such as Beret Harte was then making known to a wondering world, and studied art in San Francisco, New York, and Paris before entering journalism and adopting a pen-name. In private life she is the wife of Harrie Kellett Chambers, younger brother of Haddon Chambers, and like his brother, a dramatic author. Kate Carew has interviewed with pen and pencil many international celebrities, and in her article relates some of her experiences.-ED. P.M.]
That was my first interview, but I want to lead up to it with another story, which has to do with the why and wherefore of my becoming an interviewer at all.
Really and truly I was innocent of any such malevolent ambition. I was a comparatively harmless painter person who had set up a studio in New York with a single eye to serious work-art with a capital "A," you know--and in a mischievous moment I inked over some grotesque sketches of an actor which I had made on the margin of a theatre programme, and sent them to a newspaper, hardly expecting ever to hear of them again.
--and as she sees herself. She draws this caricature of herself on the warpath.
But lo! I did, and the sequel throws a light on the hunger for novelty which is the ruling passion of the bright young editors trained up by Mr. Joseph Pulitzer, proprietor of the New York World. It was to the World that I had sent my sketches. They fell into the hands of an editor whose hunger for novelty was especially poignant, and within two days I was engaged at what to a lowly painter of portraits seemed a ridiculously handsome figure, to supply the paper twice a week with two columns of theatrical caricature seasoned with frivolous comment. I awoke to find myself pseudonymously famous. The alias with which I had signed the sketches--I had selected it a random--shouted at me from advertisements and posters, and "The Only Woman Caricaturist" was flaunted before the public with a persistence which made me thank my stars I had not signed my real name.
All of which was more than I had bargained for, but to my editor it was only a beginning. He had a new idea--twenty new ideas, for that matter, but one in particular: illustrated interviews by "The Only," etc. And my resolve to be drawn no more than from the narrow path of art with a capital "A" was smashed to smithereens beneath the dynamic force of his authority.
Mark Twain had just returned to his native land after many years of absence. His publishers were paying him a princely retainer for the exclusive rights to his every word, spoken as well as written, and under this contract he steadfastly refused to be interviewed, which seemed to my editor a good reason why Mark Twain should be marked as the first victim for experiment. Poor Mark Twain! Can you wonder that he has again fled from the land of his birth?
If I had known about the publishers and the contract and all the rest of it, there would be no story to tell, but the sagacious editor merely remarked that he would like me to make some sketches of the great humorist and would send an intermediary to ask his consent and introduce me to him. And, as if by way of afterthought, he muttered that whatever I might induce mark Twain to say would be of value to the paper.
Mark Twain consented to be sketched as he sat at breakfast in his hotel. Yes, and he did utter a few sententious remarks now and again as I sat nervously fumbling with my pencil at the other side of the table. Such a wholesome, rugged, gnarled old man, crowned with voluminous white! And such a reticent old man! But some of his few grudging words were positively golden. This, for instance--delivered with the solemn, broken drawl so characteristic of him:
Mark Twain, the famous humorist, was the first of Kate Carew's journalistic conquests.
"Lying--is not an art--not that I have ever been able to--discover--and I have tried--hard--all my life. It--is a device of--primitive--intelligences. The best--liars--are savages and--children. The most cultured people speak the--truth--as often as--they--think of it, and enjoy hearing--it--spoken by others. In--Heaven--I shouldn't wonder but they use--the truth--'most all the--time.
That interview, to my unbounded astonishment--and Mark Twain's, too, I dare say--occupied a whole page in the Sunday World, seven of my sketches taking up a great part of the space. The editor chuckled quietly, but I never heard what Mark Twain's publishers thought; and although American journalism resembles love and war in its standards of fairness, I have never since interviewed a man without his knowledge.
From Mark Twain it is a natural transition to Bret Harte, whom I interviewed a year later-in the autumn of 1901, to be precise-during a visit to England. They had sprung from the same school and had been friends in the wild old frontier days; but the author of "The Luck of the Roaring Camp" was as a child compared to the author of "Huckleberry Finn." He was a loquacious as the other had been taciturn, and the serious spirit in which he took the facts of life and the opinions of others was a strong contrast to the incorrigible drollery and satire of his old comrade. Though his tone was cheerful, he had grievances--a grievance against Mark Twain because he had called him a sentimentalist; against travelling Americans because some of them were snobs in the presence of titular nobility; against Californians for being, as he mistakenly believed, ashamed of the picturesque old frontier days. Some of his literary criticisms were happy. Of Kipling he said: "One might say that he has an almost feminine adoration of force."
It was in Surrey that I found Bret Harte, secluded in the midst of a sweet, trim countryside, where one couldn't wander to right or left without trespassing on somebody's pocket slide of the landscape, and couldn't wear a sombrero or a pair of cowhide boots without being arrested as a suspicious character; and when I though of the tumbling stretches of California and the lofty breathing room of the Sierras, I asked him whether he ever missed the rough joys of Roaring Camp as he sipped the cloying sweetness of Camberley. He explained that the literary atmosphere of the Old World and the charm of the English people held him a willing prisoner, but I think he paid the Sierras the tribute of a sigh-a sigh that the world echoed a year later, when the poet of the Sierras passed away.
Bret Harte--Kate Carew interviewed him in England, which country, he told her, he preferred to the States.
Meanwhile the genus celebrity had been losing its terrors for me. One broiled lived celebrity per week was the diet prescribed and rigorously inforced by my uncompromising editor, and he organized a staff of one, whose duty it was to hunt down the designated victims. The staff would make an appointment, and I would follow with the instruments of torture, consisting of an inquiring eye and a stub of pencil.
Joseph Pulitzer is pre-eminently a publicist in journalism, whence it happened that most of the victims were politicians and statesmen--unless it be true, as I am prepared to believe, that a statesman is only a politician who happens to be dead.
Knowing nothing of politics and caring less, I had the proverbial luck of the beginner at cards.
The Governor of the State of New York waxed confidential with me at a time of great political excitement arising from his having apparently overthrown and usurped the power of the "Boss" of his party, and I treasure a souvenir of the occasion in the shape of a handsome ring sent to me with a letter of commendation by Mr. Pulitzer, the unseen but very-much-felt power behind his great newspaper.
Only in the rarest cases--as with artists like Bernhardt and Coquelin, or a woman of the world like Mrs. Arthur Paget--have I felt really interested in my subject or his pursuits, and the history of most of my interviews has been a frantic effort to penetrate beneath the crust of the politician in search of the man. In this process I have discovered many public men to have something almost human about them, and only when they are lawyers do they object to having it known.
More than once I have spent weeks at a stretch in Washington, gathering in the high panjandrums of American statesmanship. In the light of recent history in the Far East it is an interesting coincidence that of all my Washington subjects the two that left the most sympathetic impression were the Countess Marguerite Cassini, niece of the Russian Ambassador and hostess at the Embassy, and Mme. Takahira, wife of the Japanese Ambassador.
Mme. Takahira wears creations from the Rue de la Paix, and has been called the best dressed woman in Washington. She poured tea for me ever so daintily, but when it came to interviewing, deferred meekly to His Excellency her husband, who cheerfully did all the talking for her, even when the latest thing in corsets cropped up. Whenever he paused in his harangue, Madame would lisp "Y-a-a-s!" and give me a ravishing smile and a fresh cup of tea.
The Countess Marguerite Cassini, on the other hand, talked about everything under the sun with the freedom of a bouncing and beautiful young Muscovite who had seen a good deal of the world and loved it well, and yet was puzzled enough about some things to have developed a streak of philosophy. I asked her what had been her girlhood's ambition.
"I don't know that I had any," she said amusingly, "unless--unless it was to be as beautiful as possible. Yes; I think if my early ambition were translated into prayer it would be 'Please God, make me as beautiful as you can.'"
I suppose it would be lese majeste to omit to mention that I interviewed President Roosevelt during that Washington trip. All he said was "De--lighted!"--a phrase that has since become a popular symbol of the presidential cordiality--but he was worth a page to me, just the same.
Then there was Wu Ting Fang. I think you have had him in London, haven't you--the wise and witty "Mr. Wu"? He was the Chinese Ambassador tot he United States at that time, and wonderfully popular; but oh! Such a slippery customer in the hands of the luckless interviewer. All the craft and evasion of Oriental diplomacy came to the surface; every term had to be defined and disputed over; and, instead of answering my questions, he countered, as the pugilists say, with a raking fire of his own. "Do you live in Washington?" "When did you arrive?" "Are you married?" "Do you get a salary or are you paid by results?" "Do you make much money?" "Where were you born?" "How old are you?" And so on.
"Mr. Wu, will you tell me about your career?" "What do you mean by 'career'?" Or, "Is the average Chinaman happier than the average American?" "What do you mean by 'happy'?" Or, "Does love play as important a part in Chinese literature as in ours?" "What do you mean by 'love'--have you ever been in love?" Oh, it was an exasperating Mr. Wu that confronted me in dark blue petticoats relieved with a pale lavender that would drive the dyers of Christendom to despair. But in the end he talked entertainingly on love, politics, business, the comparative civilisations of the Orient and the Occident, and the superiority of Confucianism over Christianity as a practical religion.
It was at quite an early stage of my newspaper experience that I interviewed Richard Croker--that singular compound of iron will and childlike simplicity who ruled Tammany Hall and New York as despotically as any Tsar. He confessed that he loved his famous racehorse, Dobbins, better than any man, and the conversation went on thus:
"Are you fond of other animals?"
"Oh, yes--horses and cows, and dogs and cats. I like cats. Don't you like cats?"
"Then you must like the country, where you can have all sorts of animals about you."
"Yes, I'd rather live in the country than in town."
"On a farm?"
"Well, perhaps. Some place where I could have lots of animals and things around--nice and homelike."
"Don't you love to lie down and smell the fresh earth, and make out faces in the clouds?"
"N-no, I like to be doing something all the time."
"Would you like beautiful pictures and books in your home?"
"Oh, I'm not particular. I don't know anything about pictures. Oh, I like 'em, but I don't look at them much."
"But you'd buy some?" "Oh, yes--just enough to make the place look nice."
"Oh, yes." (Indifferently.)
"Aren't you fond of reading?" "
No; not very much. Oh, I like, maybe, to read a story if it's true, but I don't like anything unreal. I couldn't read a book--haven't the time, anyway; besides, 'most everything is not so in books, and if I see a story hasn't everyday true facts in it, I drop it--won't be bothered with it."
"Did you ever read any of Mark Twain's books?"
"No; had no time."
"Nor Dickens, nor Thackeray?"
"No; no books."
Mr. Croker looked amused. Then, evidently judging that I was a frivolous person who cared for useless things, he added:
"Would you like to see some of the pictures in the Democratic Club? I don't know, but I guess they are all good--they tell me they are, anyway. Now, there's one of those French pictures--Napoleon taking a ship in the morning. See all the ice? Pretty good, isn't it? That's a real French painting."
All of which, and much more of the same kind, I reported simply and faithfully, and learned afterwards that Mr. Croker was greatly pleased with the interview.
As for my editor, he seldom or never allowed me to think he was pleased with anything--thought it wold be bad discipline, I suppose. His manner was generally gruff and disparaging; but I had learned to watch for the twitching of a muscle I his cheek which meant satisfaction, and at rare intervals of great excitement he was betrayed into sending me a laconic telegram of approval--almost always followed shortly by a growling criticism well calculated to prevent me from growing conceited.
Strange, shy, saturnine man, with his pugnacious zeal for the newspaper he served, his masculine scorn of small rivalries, and his big impetuous nature struggling beneath the carefully cultivated demeanour of a grizzly bear--it was a tragedy to lose so loyal, though irascible, a friend. He was killed in the night, alone--thrown while riding a nervous brute of a thoroughbred home along a country road, and dragged to his death with the reins wound, as his reckless habit was, about his wrists.
It was in the early part of last winter that I had the privilege of interviewing the adorable Patti, on a new "farewell tour," and with a new husband. First she swept a sentimental audience off its feet by warbling, as only she can warble. "Home, Sw-e-e-e-t Home." Then she talked with me for half-an-hour in her own hotel apartments, with the lucky Baron von Cederstrom hovering sentimentally by, and I marvelled greatly that this bonny, bird-like, matter-of-fact little body, who reminded me of nothing so much as a Java sparrow in a ray of sunshine, could excite any emotion deeper than a desire for another lump of sugar in one's tea.
For, with all her charm--her preeny, sparkly, soft, round-eyed, restless, bright, bird-like charm--Mme. Patti is quite devoid of that element of magnetism which for want of a better word I will call mystery. She is all there--all open and above-board--a sweet little, neat little, tidy little tea-party lady, who can twitter well-bred trifles in eight languages--but of the subtlety that one looks for in an emotional artist she is as bare as the palm of one's hand, so far as can be discovered in private conversation. In fact, no human being ever baffled me as completely as Patti, and yet none was ever more charming.
Which reminds me of Mme. Bernhardt, who is--well, different. Oh, the mystery in the eyes that look out from the shadow of her hair! And in the hands, and the lips, and the draping of the gown, which gives her the lines of a slender vase still bearing the faint aroma of a Greek wine.
One quotation from our conversation:
"Is it possible, Mme. Bernhardt, to do anything great in art without having experienced a great love?"
"Oh, yes. To portray the passions one need not have lived the reality. That wold be too sad. Think what we poor players would be compelled to suffer--oh, la! La! If it were love alone, that would be agreeable; but there are wicked passions to be portrayed and crimes to be committed. An artist must be able to express all with truth, because within himself--in the imagination--he is capable of all. Then sometimes it is innocence that one portrays. Oh, an actress may play the part of a nun excellently without experiencing the purity of a nun."
And Mme. Bernhardt spread out three fingers of her left hand and translated herself into a long-drawn and coaxing Irish-Americanism "sure."
"Shu-u-u-err!" she trilled, with the most writhing and eloquent of shrugs; "shu-u-u-err! Ce grand amour n'est pas indispensable au grand art!"
Mme. Sarah Bernhardt.--She told the interviewer: "To portray the passions one need not have lived the reality." Yet she seems to live in her part on the stage.
Much more recent and not a bit less fascinating was the experience of interviewing Mrs. Arthur Paget. More mature than the Countess Marguerite Cassini, and with far more experience of the great world, she was equally frank, equally philosophical, and even more sympathetic; and if ever I were threatened with the fate of becoming a woman of society, I think I should translate the Russian girl's prayer into: "Please God, make me as like Mrs. Arthur Paget as you can!" She compared society in a monarchy with society in a republic, English with American husbands, and American with English women. She discussed the importance of not being sentimental in society, the philosophy of international marriages, the sort of cleverness necessary to a woman who would please the King, and other absorbing topics. Would you know Mrs. Paget's recipe for the making of a successful hostess?
"Oh, it is the simplest, easiest thing in the world," she said. "all you have to do is to throw open your doors and simply stand there. When the people come in you hold out your hand, that's all. You don't have to introduce people; you don't have to do anything to entertain them; it is all most beautifully simple."
"But there must be something else," I protested, "because some hostesses are failures."
"Oh, well, a little tact," confessed Mrs. Paget. "Just use a little tact--that's the whole secret."
W. B. Yeats, Irishman and poet
Within the last few months I have had the privilege of interviewing two distinguished Britons--but hold! One of them was William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, so I hasten to take back the "Britons." Heavens, how indiscreet! But the other was a Briton, and a delightful one--Henry W. Lucy, alias "Toby, M.P." Mr. Lucy proved to my satisfaction that Punch was a humorous paper--a contention disputed by many Americans.
Mr. Yeats discoursed vivaciously and brilliantly on souls, apparitions, symbols, the Irish drama, magic, the devil, religion, Mr. George Moore, and other fascinating topics.
Mr. Lucy, in discussing English and American humour, said:
"Our humor is certainly kinder. We are not as savage as you; your humour always has a butt."
It was not many weeks later that I asked Mr. Yeats what he thought of American humour.
Henry W. Lucy--Toby, M.P., of Punch--He convinced the Americans that Punch was a humorous paper.
"It's very unlike English humour," he said quickly, "in being good-humoured. English humour always has a butt."
"Dear me! That's a precise contradiction of what Mr. Lucy said," I gasped.
"Oh, but Mr. Lucy's an Englishman and I'm not!" Retorted the poet with a shrug of his high shoulders and a laugh of sardonic enjoyment.
|And oh, I was nearly forgetting Sir Thomas Lipton--Sir Thomas, with his rawboned frame, and his north-country laugh, and his canny eyes beneath the bushy eyebrows, and his air of shrewd satisfaction rivalling that of the cat in the picture "I've eaten the canary!" He is such a very-much-interviewed Sir Thomas that I have nothing new to tell about him. And although I could compile a long list of other victims, many of them illustrious in American public life, none that I can recall would aid materially in rounding these random confessions.|