The only journalistic activity more fun than writing for a daily newspaper is reading about a grande dame like The Paris Herald, especially when the author is James Oliver Goldsborough.
Pittsburgh readers remember Mr. Goldsborough for his 2009 book of local history, “Misfortunes of Wealth,” a candid, captivating account of boyhood summers spent at Sucasa, a 38-room mansion in Edgeworth that belonged to his grandparents and still stands.
The journalist and author grew up in California but traces his roots to some of the Sewickley Valley‘s oldest families, including the Shields and Olivers. He also spent 13 years in Paris writing for the revered International Herald-Tribune, successor to The Paris Herald. He started in 1965 by covering Paris jazz clubs. In the book, he recounts a memorable night with virtuoso jazz pianist and Pittsburgh native Erroll Garner, composer of that memorable standard, “Misty.”
“He was excluded from the Pittsburgh musicians’ union because he couldn‘t read music,” Mr. Goldsborough said, adding that Paris and Pittsburgh are similar because of “the great pride that the citizens take in the fact that they live in a unique place.”
Mr. Goldsborough makes three appearances this week. On Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., he will sign copies of both of his books at the Fort Pitt Block House in Point State Park. His great-grandmother, Amelia Neville Shields Oliver, wrote to heiress Mary Schenley to save the city’s oldest structure by deeding it to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
From 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, he will appear at the Penguin Book Shop, 417 Beaver St., Sewickley. At 2 p.m. Saturday. he will be at Rickert & Beagle Books, 3233 W. Liberty Ave., Dormont.
The author’s 15-year stay in Paris gave him a deeper appreciation for that city‘s architecture, food and memorable characters, including everyone from Charles de Gaulle to a solitary newspaper vendor who earned a living without acquiring any legitimate French papers. By 1977, Mr. Goldsborough was Paris bureau chief for Newsweek magazine, a job he held until 1979.
All of this is grist for his first novel, “The Paris Herald,” a roman a clef of sorts populated by standard-issue newsroom types and real-life characters like Washington Post owner Katharine Graham, publisher Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger of The New York Times and the aristocratic John “Jock” Whitney. In 1967, Mrs. Graham and Mr. Whitney invested in the International Herald Tribune to the great annoyance of Mr. Sulzberger.
“Kay Graham and Punch Sulzberger were basically duking it out. Nobody really wanted to leave Paris. Jock Whitney was so traumatized by the unions that had destroyed the Herald-Tribune in New York. He didn’t want to see it happen again,” Mr. Goldsborough recalled.
The Paris Herald, forerunner of the International Herald-Tribune, was founded in 1877.
”It was like a gift to Paris,“ Mr. Goldsborough said.
But last year, after the International Herald Tribune’s name was dropped and the newspaper was renamed the International New York Times, Mr. Goldsborough decided to dust off his old manuscript from the 1980s and finish it. He had plenty of material. One of the many perks of being Newsweek‘s Paris bureau chief was taking Mrs. Graham to dinner each year at Tour d‘Argent or another three-star restaurant.
“She did not skimp. She always stayed at The Ritz,” the 77-year-old author recalled in a recent telephone interview from his California home. “When she took over from her husband, Phil Graham, nobody thought she could do the job.”
His love for newspapers began when he read “The Front Page,” a play by Ben Hecht.
“When I got out of the Army in 1960, I set out to become a journalist. I had never written a story and never taken a journalism class,” he said.
An editor at the San Francisco Examiner told him he needed experience. So, he enrolled in law school at the University of California in Berkeley. Then, an Army buddy called from Daly City, just south of San Francisco, with great news.
”We’ve just fired the assistant managing editor for drinking in the toilet. Would you like to try out?“ his friend asked.
After a six-month stint in Daly City, Mr. Goldsborough moved to the San Francisco Examiner, where he was a cub reporter.
”It was so easy to break in in those days. You didn’t have to go out and spend three years in Des Moines for the Associated Press. They gave you a trial and you either made it or you didn‘t,“ he said.
Later, he served as editorial page editor for the San Jose Mercury News. Now, he writes for the Voice of San Diego, an online daily publication.
Marylynne Pitz: email@example.com or 412-263-1648.