Clare Hollingsworth’s ‘scoop’ of the century, William Styron’s ‘mistakes,’ the Temptations, and reader reaction: newsletter, May 8, 2020

May 10, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: newsletter, watercolor, Women writers and journalists, woodworking, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, May 8, 2020.


{% endif %}One of the most enjoyable things about woodworking — besides completing a project itself — is something I had never really articulated before this week. I was watching one of Steve Ramsey‘s YouTube videos, and he managed to put it into words for me. Ramsey is one of the great, longstanding YouTube woodworkers and creator of Woodworking for Mere Mortals, which has been instructive and inspirational for thousands of woodworkers including me.

Ramsey was talking about what’s involved in woodworking, especially for those just starting out, and he said that woodworking always requires “problem-solving,” even on the simplest of project. He’s right, of course, and I have been thinking about that ever since. You always have to solve problems, test your assumptions, and figure out alternative ways of doing things. That’s what makes it fun.

Of course, that can be said of many other activities such as sewing, golfing, cooking, painting, and on and on. Whatever problem you’re solving this weekend, I hope for you that it’s fun and productive and gives you joy and satisfaction.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,587 subscribers and had a 26.2 percent open rate; 7 persons unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.

Clare Hollingsworth: A newbie reporter get the ‘scoop of the century’

During the last week in August 1939, Clare Hollingsworth had been a full-time newspaper reporter for less than a week. She had been hired by the London Daily Telegraph to cover Poland, and she was based in the western Polish town of Katowice.

She asked the British consul there if she could borrow his chauffeured limo, and in it she drove west toward Germany. The Germans, spotting the British flags on the car, let her pass through the border, and she went to the nearest town and bought some food, wine, and newspapers. On the way back, the Germans had hung camouflage screens along the side of the road, but a gust of wind blew them aside, and Hollingsworth was astonished at what she saw.

“. . . I looked into the valley and saw scores, if not hundreds of tanks lined up, ready to go into Poland,” she later recalled.

The next morning the Daily Telegraph carried a front-page story headlined, “1,000 Tanks Massed on Polish Border: Ten Divisions Reported Ready for Swift Stroke.” The byline for the story was simply, “From Our Own Correspondent.”

It was the first real indication that Hitler was indeed planning on invading Poland. Four days later it happened. Those German tanks that Hollingsworth saw came screaming across the border, and what became World War II had begun. Hollingsworth called the British embassy in Warsaw and told them what was going on. They didn’t believe her. She held the phone out of her hotel window so they could hear the sounds of the rumbling tanks, the explosions, and the gunfire.

It was the first word that the British Foreign Office had that the real war had begun.

(If you have been watching the current PBS series “The World on Fire,” some of this might sound familiar to you. The character in the series, radio reporter Nancy Campbell, is based in part of Clare Hollingsworth.)

Hollingsworth stayed in Poland, reporting on what she saw until the nation succumbed to the German invasion. She then went to Bucharest and later Greece to continue her war correspondence. She then made her way to North Africa to report on British forces under General Bernard Montgomery. Montgomery ordered her to return to Cairo, but she defied him — as she had done previously with attempts to censor her reporting — and went to Algiers to cover forces under General Dwight Eisenhower for the Chicago Daily News.

Subsequent travels took her to Palestine and Persia, where she became the first journalist to interview the Shah of Iran,

Born in 1911, Hollingsworth grew up near Leicester, England, and she showed an early bent toward writing. When she became an adult, she won a spot at Zagreb University to study Croatian. During that time, she sent articles to the New Statesman, and when the Munich Agreement was signed in 1938, she went to Warsaw and helped thousands of refugees from the Sudetenland obtain British visas. At that point, she was hired by the Daily Telegraph to report on events in Poland.

She continued her reporting career after the war, covering wars in Palestine, Algeria, China, and Vietnam. In 1963 she was in Beirut, Lebanon as a correspondent for The Guardian when she found out that a top British intelligence officer, Kim Philby, was last seen on a ship headed to Russia. She wrote the story, but the editors of her paper held it for three months, fearing legal action against the paper. Finally, Philby’s defection was confirmed by the government, and Hollingsworth had another big scoop.

Hollingsworth took up residence in Hong Kong in 1981 and gradually reduced her reporting activities. She was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1982. She died in 2017 at the age of 105.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

Temptations: soulful voices, close harmonies, and choreography that made you want to dance

No group that Motown produced exemplified the Motown sound better than the Temptations.

Throughout the decade of the 1960s, the Temptations dominated the charts with their deep, soulful rhythms, the near-perfect blend of their harmonies, and most of all their mesmerizing choreography. Those guys could dance, and if you saw them either live or on television, they made you wish you had just half the moves they did.

They started, of course, in Detroit, the combination of two rival singing groups: Otis Williams, Elbridge “Al” Bryant, and Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams & the Distants, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Primes. Motown founder Berry Gordy knew about these groups because he was good at scouting local talent, and in 1961 he signed them to a contract. Because of previous recording contracts, Gordy told them to get a new name.

The group considered various designations and took suggestions from Motown staffers. The name that stuck was the Temptations, and Gordy approved.

Despite their obvious talent, their success was not assured. They released various singles from 1961 to 1963 without much impact. But somehow, Gordy knew that if their talent could be developed, it could be overwhelming. Al Bryant, for one, couldn’t see that and grew sullen and frustrated at the group’s lack of success. At the end of 1963, following an altercation with others in the group, he quit (or was fired).

David Ruffin, a young Mississippian (shown here in the caricature on the right), had been following the group around, hoping that one day he could join them. Bryant’s leaving gave him his chance. He had a raspy baritone that had developed in the gospel singing churches of the deep South, and he carried that power to the North. In January 1964, the Temptations recorded “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” a song co-written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers, and by April the group had broken into the top 20 on the pop charts.

Subsequent recordings were not as big, but Robinson had listened closely to the group — especially to David Ruffin — and thought he could write the perfect song for him. In December 1964, the group recorded “My Girl,” another co-written song by Robinson and Ronnie White, and by March 1965, the Temptations were at the top of the charts again.

That song became the group’s signature piece and ushered them into what is called the Temptations’ “classic period.” They had hit after memorable hit, including “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” and “You’re My Everything.”

By 1967 the Temptations, to the outside viewer, appeared to have everything going for them. Inside the group, it was a different story. Ruffin had taken the lead on so many of their hits that he felt he should get special billing and lobbied Berry to change the name to David Ruffin and the Temptations. Ruffin regularly missed practices and was becoming increasingly dependent on cocaine. Ruffin had taken up with Motown star Tammi Terrell, and his abusive behavior toward her was no secret.

By June 1968, the group had had enough and got together and fired Ruffin. In his place they hired Dennis Edwards, but Ruffin began showing up at their concerts, coming onto the stage, and grabbing the microphone from Edwards. This stunt was repeated several times until Ruffin realized that he was not going to be able to rejoin the group.

With the addition of Edwards, the Temptations ended their “classic” period and shifted to what they called “psychedelic soul,” and they continued to produce hits such as “Cloud Nine” and “I Can’t Get Next to You.” The group also had a number of successful collaborations with Diana Ross and the Supremes.

Throughout the years, the Temptations have continually changed styles and personnel, but their essential brand — highly charged music, close harmonies, and precision dance moves — has remained constant. The original Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

See these previous posts about Motown:

Fifty years ago, Marvin Gaye asked What’s Going On?

Please, Mr. Postman

Berry Gordy began Motown with an $800 loan from his family

Martha and the Vandellas: Heat Waves, Quicksand, and but always Dancing in the Street

A novel writer’s obligation to the facts?

In March we shared a post about the writer William Styron and the controversy he stirred in the 1960s with his novel The Confessions of Nat Turner. The post referred to an article by Styron’s daughter Alexandra and discussed her father’s intentions in writing the book and the difficulties he had in defending himself against the charges of cultural misappropriation.

The daughter’s article, as you might imagine, took a largely sympathetic view of what her father had gone though during that difficult period of his life.

Not so sympathetic is Christopher Tomlins, a UC-Berkeley law professor and historian who has written a book on Turner titled, In the Matter of Nat Turner (available from Princeton University Press). In a recent article, Tomlins takes Styron’s work to task:

William Styron had no real desire to understand Turner on any terms but his own. Styron wanted to rewrite the historical Turner that appeared in the 1831 pamphlet “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by Virginia attorney Thomas Ruffin Gray. That Turner, Styron believed, was “a ruthless and perhaps psychotic fanatic, a religious fanatic,” and this was a figure with whom he wished to have nothing to do. “I didn’t want to write about a psychopathic monster,” Styron said.

So, claiming “a writer’s prerogative to transform Nat Turner into any kind of creature I wanted to transform him into,” Styron invented his own Nat, inspired by “subtler motives” than those he thought were on display in the historical record, motives that he thought would enable the man to be “better understood.” He would discover that he was wrong. Source: William Styron’s Misguided Meditation on History | Literary Hub

Tomlins believes that if you are going to appropriate a historical character and meditate on that person, you have some obligation to get your facts right — something he says Styron did not do.

Like William Styron, my own book In the Matter of Nat Turner attempts a meditation on history. But unlike Styron I am a historian. This means I believe that an actual existing Nat Turner is accessible in remnants or traces that one must attempt to comprehend, a Turner with whom it is possible to communicate if one listens for him and to him with all the powers one can muster.


Tomlins undoubtedly is a good historian — he has many well-received publications to his credit — but historical characters are not as accessible to us as he states. Even though they once existed as human beings, they have become symbolic beings to those of us who live in the present. Making them “real” again is one of the noble but often fallible conceits of the historian.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Vince V.: An eclectic newsletter is one in which you can find introspections side-by-side of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and William Wordsworth. Bravo. Kinda leaves me dancing in the streets.

Steve W.: Drove by (Hitsville, home of Motown) on a Hot Rod Power Tour, but was closed. Enjoying the memories of the great decade of the 60s.

Steve sent along the picture to the right:

Jim D.:  Your newsletter is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. I never know what I’m going to find but all of it is delicious. I love all of your literary treats, but what I found particularly savory the past few weeks has been your series on Motown. My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting Detroit last year. We loved the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield and the Detroit Institute of Art, but the undisputed highlight of the trip was the Motown Museum in what was once Barry Gordy’s home. 

Two things struck me about Gordy’s genius as we toured the MM. One: having worked in an auto plant he realized that a beautiful end product is achieved by attending to all the particulars in a systematic way. With that in mind he adopted an assembly line approach to developing his acts at Motown. No detail was overlooked as he attended to not only costumes and choreography but also to command of language, etiquette and presentation of self. When an artist emerged from Motown to take to the stage, he or she was a finished product ready for the rigors of touring and living in the public eye. The second insight Gordy had was that creativity does not abide by a time clock. He kept his doors unlocked at all hours and allowed access to his recording studio around the clock. Thus a Smokey Robinson or a Marvin Gaye was as likely to be working on a new tune at 3 AM as 3 PM. 
Gordy had his favorites as you pointed out here, and he had his flaws, but you can’t argue with his finished product. In the end he produced some of the best music in America in the late 50s, 60s, and 70s. 
David L.: I particularly liked your piece last month on Mort Drucker.  He was my favorite among the artists in Mad’s “usual gang of idiots.”  His “East Side Story” mashup of Broadway show and international politics at the UN (with script by Frank Jacobs) was–for better or worse–a big influence on my satirical songwriting that eventually helped launch the 40-year run of the Front Page Follies. I can still see the spot-on caricatures of Khrushchev, Castro and their comrades singing “When you’re a Red, you’re a Red all the way/From your first Party purge to your last power play.”
Bonita B.: You mentioned blackberry winter and reminded me of my dad who went to be with the Lord in Dec 2019.  He had a name for each mini-season within each season.   He grew up on a farm in Ky and knew about planting. 
I’ve been watching after mom and finishing up quilting projects during our quarantine.  I’ve managed to finish and start several more. 
Take care and thank you for the good newsletters. 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: The Batter

Try as I might, I can no longer ignore the fact that there is no baseball this year. I miss it. This is a watercolor of an old-time baseball player that I did about 10 years go.

Best quote of the week:

“Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure, only death can stop it.” Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), Nobel Laureate American journalist, war correspondent and novelist

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Martha and the Vandellas go dancing in the streets, Wordsworth’s 250th, checking on your local bookstore, and time in the workshop: newsletter, May 1, 2020


Get a FREE copy of Kill the Quarterback

Get a free digital copy of Jim Stovall's mystery novel, Kill the Quarterback. You will also get Jim's newsletter and advanced notice of publications, free downloads and a variety of information about what he is working on. Jim likes to stay in touch, so sign up today.

Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *