Friday, December 1, 1967
Kingscote Gardens harbors former 'New Republic' chief
An interview with Bruce Bliven
Most journalists come and go. Bruce Bliven came to journalism nearly 60 years ago and is still very much here today.
Just after the turn of the century, Bliven worked his way through Stanford by writing for the San Francisco Bulletin. He is now 78 years old and limited to two hours of writing a day by a weak heart, but nevertheless is simultaneously working on his autobiography and several articles for national magazines.
It is an autobiography that will tell of 25 years as Editor
of the New Republic, friendships with George Bernard Shaw, Virginia
Woolf and John Maynard Keynes, confrontations with presidents
and generals, threats to personal survival, and most of all a
life-long dedication to creating a liberal and
Bliven graduated from Stanford in 1911 and came back to live here in 1955. He and his wife live in a small but comfortable apartment in Kingscote Gardens, a privately owned apartment house located behind Tresidder Union and the Faculty Club.
He left the New Republic in 1955 after his first serious heart attack, but he remains alert and responsive to world and local events. He talks with equal ease of narrow escapes in Cuba 40 years ago and of developments at Standford two days ago. His eyes sparkle when he comments on anti-CIA demonstrations and he relates with spirited energy his expose on a post-World War I military prison outside Paris and produced a massive Congressional investigation.
"When the iron is hot, you strike!" For many years Bliven's iron was hot and he never failed to strike but he feels the aura of society has changed drastically. "The iron isn't hot today, so newspapers cannot strike as we did when the times were right."
During Bliven's reign, the New Republic was one of the most outspoken liberal journals in the country. He feels it is not as actively liberal today because "the Vietnam War prevents the free-ranging liberalism that existed in my day. Journals are a reflection of their times and today is not the time for journalism as it existed during the New Deal."
As Bliven thought back to the years of FDR, he casually teased his gray moustache or readjusted his dark-rimmed glasses. He is a small, thin man, though a good deal taller than his wife, whom he met as an undergraduate at Stanford. He greeted me with a brisk hand-shake and an observant look.
The Bliven living room looks out onto a rising lawn leading
to the I Center. The room is graced with colorful flowers and
packed bookcases. Radiators were steaming, so much so that Bliven
removed his vest and got up to turn down the heat. He wore a tweed
jacket and a red bow-tie which hung slightly askew
below the aging contours in his neck. He often spoke with an accepting attitude about his two heart attacks while quietly clasping his deeply lined, yet strong hands. He spoke rapidly with great decisiveness and clarity.
Much of his conversation was directed at issues concerning the students around him in the university. "I'M disturbed by the violence of demonstrations because it may bring a backlash against the students, but I can understand the violence which stems from frustration about the ugly mess in Vietnam.
"But we can't have it both ways. It was only several years ago that people scolded students for lack of activity and now those same people scold them for activity. I do think many students fail to understand the complex interplay of forces in society, and thus may not be cognizant of all the ramifications of their actions."
Thinking back to his days as a youth, Bliven said, "I was a Utopian Socialist, a Fabian, thinking that economic ill were the only wrong and the key to improvement if they were repaired. Since then there have been many new insights, including, of course, the theories of Freud. But I have been surprised at private capitalism's ability to reform itself."
Asked about the overall spectrum of dissent today, Bliven noted, "There has been an unfortunate mix-up in the public's mind about the components of dissent. Three things have been confused by unfair combination: political dissent, hippies, and the hippie fashion. These are all separate forces.
"People have mixed political dissent with hippies, who are basically not politically oriented and also view those who follow hippie fashions as real hippies, throwing the whole appearance of political dissent into a confused picture."
Bliven feels the country is governed by a military posture and he says, "We are bcoming more and more like the Europe we once scorned, ensnarled in a huge bureaucracy, endless paper work, and mountains of classified material."
These thoughts led Bliven back to part of his rich past and he quickly gave a "striptease of my autobiography." He is writing it from memory since many of his notes and most of his correspondence were destroyed at the New Republic simply because "I failed to end a crazy filing system that kept things for six years and then burned them."
He told about several of his more daring exposes. One involved traveling to Cuba during the time of Machado and learning, undercover, of the ruler's tyranny and destruction. Bliven was informed during many secret meetings with underground groups and on his return to America printed the facts in an astonishing report. He later heard that his chief informant had been ruthlessly murdered and he was warned never to return to Cuba unless he wanted to get involved in "an unfortunate accident."
Bliven can often be seen walking through the Stanford campus. Doctor's orders are to walk as much as possible, so Bliven puts in two miles a day. He uses a piedometer to be sure he doesn't cheat and he mentions with pride that last year he clocked over 850 miles around the campus. He adds, "It's too bad it doesn't lead anywhere. By now I might be well on my way to New York."
Today Bliven does not travel far from Stanford. He attends most campus cultural activities and lectures. He talks to Communication majors several times a year, but for the most part, he lives quietly at Kingscote, receiving vistors from time to time.
His mind, however, is always curious and restless, seeking new channels for expression. The physical act of putting word to paper has become increasingly difficult in recent years, but he continues to dictate and write by pen, with his wife doing most of the typing.
His career has been marked by almost complete freedom to write when and what he wants, and he has come to be considered one of the most eminent journalists of the century.
Bliven says much of it was "a matter of luck."
Mrs. Bliven, however, is quick to add "it's difficult
to write even a single word."