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Don't Call Her 'Doll': How Mary McGrory Became 'The First Queen Of Journalism'

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Don't Call Her 'Doll': How Mary McGrory Became 'The First Queen Of Journalism'

Author Interviews

Don't Call Her 'Doll': How Mary McGrory Became 'The First Queen Of Journalism'

Don't Call Her 'Doll': How Mary McGrory Became 'The First Queen Of Journalism'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/441470551/441701828" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Columnist Mary McGrory holds court among reporters and observers at the 1973 Watergate hearings. Mary McGrory Papers/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Viking hide caption

toggle caption Mary McGrory Papers/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Viking

Columnist Mary McGrory holds court among reporters and observers at the 1973 Watergate hearings.

Mary McGrory Papers/Library of Congress/Courtesy of Viking

Mary McGrory became a columnist in a time when women in journalism were still called "doll." She wrote a nationally syndicated column for more than 50 years, first for The Washington Star and then for The Washington Post, and in 1975 she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Mary McGrory

The First Queen of Journalism

by John Norris

Hardcover, 342 pages |

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The First Queen of Journalism
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A Democratic president once propositioned her, and A Republican president put her on his enemies list; she gave great parties, characterized by bad food and high spirits; and she was an unflinching Boston liberal who believed in the most conservative tenets of her church.

In Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism, John Norris tells the story of a columnist who was at once old school and a trailblazer. Norris joins NPR's Scott Simon to talk about the sexism McGrory faced and her awkward encounter with a commander in chief.


Interview Highlights

On getting one of her first big breaks after telling an editor she wouldn't get married

Her editor at the old Washington Star, Newby Noyes, came to her and said, "We've been thinking about doing more with you, but we're worried that you're going to go off and get married and have children. If you're not planning on doing that, perhaps you'd go cover the Army-McCarthy hearings for us."

On how McGrory reinvented her craft in the 1950s with the rise of television

I think that Mary quickly understood that TV brought a certain immediacy, so you had to give people something else in print. You had to illuminate the characters on the grand, national stage. And her style was pretty revolutionary for the time. ... It was chatty and was informal ... but informed by a real dedication to going out there and doing legwork and following campaigns and following politicians and going up on the hill every day and knocking on doors and buttonholing people for tough answers.

John Norris is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. Rebecca Hale/Courtesy of Viking hide caption

toggle caption Rebecca Hale/Courtesy of Viking

John Norris is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

Rebecca Hale/Courtesy of Viking

On the institutional sexism she faced throughout her career

She knew she would have to work harder and write better than the men to be a syndicated columnist. But she was also fairly comfortable with the hand she was dealt. She was not a trailblazing feminist in a traditional sense of the word. She figured if she was going to get paid less and have to work harder, she would make the men on the campaign trail damned well carry her bags. ... I don't think a more illustrious group of porters has ever been assembled, that you could find people carrying her typewriter ... who invariably had won a Pulitzer. And as her cousin once joked ... if the reporters around weren't able to do it, she would make the candidates do so.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mary McGrory chat outside the Oval Office in 1965. LBJ Presidential Library/Courtesy of Viking hide caption

toggle caption LBJ Presidential Library/Courtesy of Viking

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mary McGrory chat outside the Oval Office in 1965.

LBJ Presidential Library/Courtesy of Viking

On getting propositioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson

During LBJ's administration, Mary was at home in her apartment one night and she got a call from someone saying that he was with the Secret Service and the president planned to stop by. Mary was immediately convinced that it was one of her colleagues or friends pulling her leg, but when she opened her door and saw two secret service men standing by the elevator, she furiously began to tidy up her apartment and prepare for an impromptu visit from the commander in chief.

Lyndon came in, they had a drink or two and Lyndon professed his great affection for her. "Mary, I'm crazy about you." And made clear that he wanted to sleep with her. And in a way that was prototypically Lyndon Johnson, also said, "I know you love the Kennedys, and now you should love me," which has to be about the worst pick-up line that I've ever heard in my life. And certainly the worst pick-up line for Mary.

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