February 6, 2017

1940. Bill Downs' Early Career in New York

Downs Writes Home from New York
Bill Downs (second from right) in the 1930s
Bill Downs was hired by the United Press shortly after graduating from the University of Kansas in 1937. He first reported from the Kansas City bureau before transferring to Denver, and then moved on to New York in 1940. He left for London later that year to cover World War II as a wire reporter for the UP. He wrote these letters to his family in Kansas City, Kansas while still in New York. Later, after he became a war correspondent, excerpts and anecdotes from some of his letters home were published in the local Kansas City papers.

The letters below are slightly abridged, with ellipses in place of personal details and addresses.
July 3, 1940

Dear Folks,

The letters from your very successful party made me homesick—although I'm sure I missed having one of Kansas City's biggest hangovers. I could almost feel that dark brown taste and see those darker vapors from the morning after.

No kidding, I wish I could have been there. Tell everyone hello for me and I'll get back on my next vacation, whenever that is.

I'm still seeing New York and having myself a time. Received $23 on my ticket which I immediately plunked on my debts in Denver. Have been taking in some concerts and playing bridge and walking around and seeing shows and people. Outside of that nothing much has happened to me. I did go to the beach last Sunday, but it was too cold to do much swimming. Got a nice sunburn though and am now peeling like an onion.

The job seems to be going alright. I got onto a steady trick at the first of the week—filing the New England, New York state, and Montreal wires out of here. I don't like the job, but I figure I'll show them I can do it before yelling to get back on rewrite. Have applied for work in the cables department writing war news, but that probably won't develop for a while. I've had some pretty good stories the past few days which you might have seen in the Journal or the Kansan. None of them have been worth putting my name on, but I hope to rate that soon. I'll keep you informed.

Didn't get to see either of the fights here—either the Louis-Godoy or the Baer-Galento—because usually tickets are harder to get than diamonds. But I'm biding my time and will see what comes up. Also haven't been out to a ball game, although I can go any time I have a day off. My hours have been usually from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., but starting next week I go on a 7:30 to 4:30 p.m. shift . . .

The boys have been real friendly and given me a boost when they can, so I have that much in my favor anyway.

Gotta go now.



October 27, 1940

Dear Folks,

Well, I got myself registered for the draft and am about to become one of the brave fighting forces of the good old United States Army. I don't know as I relish the idea so much—I can't seem to reconcile the futility with the reality. That is, everyone knows how futile it is to kill millions of men—no one ever gains. But it seems that if we don't, we are liable to end up by losing the few freedoms we have now, one of which is writing letters and being sure that no one will ever read them except you.

Not much has happened or developed since I last wrote. I have heard nothing of the Kansas City transfer more than I told you. I hope you didn't let it get to anyone who might hear of it in the United Press. They tell me that if I don't want the job there they won't send me, but you can't be sure. I'm having a lot of fun and a lot of trouble sleeping. My debts are damn near paid off and I should be able to go comfortably in debt again by Christmas.

I have been doing a lot of cable writing—handling foreign stories and such. Outside of that, nothing much to report.

I don't know what my registration number is yet, but I'll let you know.—and then by next Tuesday you can listen and maybe estimate when I'll be called. Tuesday is the day of the drawing. We have formed a pool in the office, and the man whose number is drawn first stands to win about $40. I expect to collect. Actually, I don't believe I'll mind so much. The chance to get some of the excess fat off me and to get some healthy sleep might do me some good . . .