Jewish World Review Feb. 23, 2000 / 17 Adar I, 5760
Of paste pots, Denver
finding Dr. Sam
THE BEST JOB I ever had -- I sensed it then, but I
know it now -- consisted of cleaning paste pots,
running out for sandwiches, and looking for Dr.
I am reminded of this because, in Cleveland this
week, the Dr. Sam Sheppard case is back in
court. Dr. Sam -- as he was referred to in
headlines -- was the most famous convicted
murderer in America in the 1950s; he had been
sent to prison for killing his pregnant wife, even
though he insisted that a bushy-haired stranger had
done it. The hit television series "The Fugitive" was
a fictionalized version of Sam Sheppard's story.
He won a retrial, and was acquitted in 1966. And
now his son is trying to prove his late father was
not only technically not guilty -- but was
That will be decided in the courtroom. But for me,
every time Dr. Sam's name is back in the headlines
is a reminder of that great job I had at age 17 --
my first job.
I was a copyboy at the Columbus Citizen-Journal,
a morning newspaper that now, like Dr. Sheppard,
is dead. The paste pots had to be cleaned in the
men's room -- in the days before computers in
newspaper offices, pieces of paper with headlines
written on them had to be pasted to pieces of
paper on which news stories were typed. Paste
pots -- ceramic coffee cups filled with thick white
paste -- were used for this. When they would get
all gunked up, the copyboys would have to swab
them out with copy paper dipped in water. This
seemed like a fine way to earn a paycheck; it was
actually sort of fun.
The sandwich runs were for the entire news staff --
four times a day the copyboy on duty was required
to ask each reporter, copy editor and
photographer whether he or she wanted a
sandwich, and then go out to Paoletti's restaurant
and fetch them. This, too, seemed at the time like
noble work, and as I recall the most popular
sandwich among the C-J staff was something
called a Denver, the making of which necessitated
the copyboy standing around Paoletti's while eggs
fried on a grill.
But the Dr. Sam day . . . now, that was something.
Dr. Sam was incarcerated in the Ohio Penitentiary,
which was right in downtown Columbus. Going
from the Citizen-Journal to the Ohio Pen was like
going from Tribune Tower to Water Tower Place
-- that close.
And one day during the summer of 1964, Bill
Moore, the city editor, called me over.
I knew what was coming -- he wanted Larks. That
was what he smoked -- he would always send me
out to buy him a pack of Larks, which cost 35
cents, and invariably the drugstore clerk would
refuse to sell them to me because I was only 17,
and a phone call to Mr. Moore would ensue.
But on this day he said, "Sam Sheppard has just
been sprung from the Ohio Pen, and we hear he
may be at Benny Klein's."
Benny Klein's was a hole-in-the-wall bar near
Broad and High. Sam Sheppard had, indeed, just
been released. Bill Moore had heard he was
drinking at Benny Klein's.
And -- I still love this -- here was my assignment:
I was supposed to go to Benny Klein's and ask
Dr. Sam Sheppard to come back to the paper
with me so we could take his picture.
Now . . . "The Fugitive" was already a huge hit on
TV. The Dr. Sam case had been called, at least in
some quarters, the Crime of the Century. Think
what the media coverage would be now if such a
convict were to be suddenly freed.
But in 1964 the word "media" meant virtually
nothing, it sounded like a heroine in a Greek play.
That day there were no mini-cams or helicopters
-- only me, 17.
"Just walk up to him and talk him into coming back
to the paper with you," Bill Moore said.
I went, and -- this will not shock you -- Dr. Sam
was not there. Neither was his woman friend, who
was referred to in the papers as a "blond German
glamor girl," and who, in the words of one news
report at the time, was allegedly "a wealthy
divorcee whose half-sister-in-law was Mrs.
Magda Goebbels, wife of Dr. Josef Goebbels,
Hitler's propaganda minister."
This is something you would think would be quite
noticeable in Benny Klein's -- Dr. Sam Sheppard
and the blond, if distant, relative of Josef Goebbels
-- but they were not present.
But what an interesting day that was -- and what a
cool job. In our current news era, in which so
much of the business at times seems, literally and
figuratively, to consist of searching data bases,
what a cool memory that job is. Go out and find
Dr. Sam Sheppard-- and when you're finished,
swab out the paste
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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