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Skagit River Journal

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The 1930-32 letters of Edward R. Murrow to Hermine Duthie

(Murrow at WSU)
Murrow when he returned to speak at WSU in 1942. Photo courtesy of Hutchison Studio, WSU

      Ed. note: the 1930 photo of Hermine Duthie that was attached to this original article shows that she was indeed a striking young woman in her Marcel curls and pearls. And the article itself shows that she was creative and very bright, just like Edward R. Murrow. There is no implication that Murrow was unfaithful to his wife, Janet. Duthie broke off the romance months before Murrow met his eventual bride. By this point in his young life, Egbert Roscoe Murrow was just three years out of Edison High School, clear across the state of Washington, yet in many ways, he was on the other side of the world from where he had grown up — Blanchard, Washington.

Murrow's letters to Hermine Duthie
By Pat Caraher, Washington State University, April 2, 1999
      A collection of 28 letters and two telegrams written in the early 1930s by Edward R. Murrow to former Washington State University classmate Hermine Duthie tell of a young man passionate about his work. He is putting in 16-hour days and loving it. At the time, he writes that he is against marriage, but has a faithfulness to her.
      Murrow and Duthie earned speech degrees from WSU in 1930. Both were cast in the campus theatre production of The Enemy in 1928. The collection of Murrow letters was donated to the WSU Libraries recently by Duthie's daughter, Aletha Carlton, of Norwalk, Conn., a Pullman native and resident for three or four years. Her grandparents, John and Ida Duthie, owned a hardware store in Pullman.
      Duthie died in September 1996 and is buried in Pullman. Several months before her death, she told her daughter of the letters, but said she had destroyed them.
      "Imagine my surprise in their discovery," Carlton wrote in a letter to Laila Miletic-Vejzovic, head of the WSU Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections, who reviewed the letters. "All of the correspondence is one way, from Murrow to Hermine," says Miletic-Vejzovic. The letters were written between September 15, 1930 and May 13, 1932, when Duthie was teaching speech at the University of Syracuse in New York.
      During his senior year, when Murrow was student body president, he was elected president of the National Students Federation of the United States of America. After he graduated from college, he moved to the organization's headquarters in New York City. In that position, he traveled throughout the country, visiting more than 300 college campuses between 1930 and 1932. His letters to Duthie reflect a man on the move. The letters bear postmarks from Grand Central Station, N.Y.; Lincoln, Neb.; Philadelphia; Ann Arbor and Battle Creek, Mich.; and Iowa City, Iowa, to name only a few.
      "The letters are in excellent condition," reports Miletic-Vejzovic. She declined to put a dollar value on the collection, but said it has a "high intellectual price." In her correspondence with the WSU librarian, Carlton said that Murrow was living in New York at the time he was writing her mother.
      The writing confirms his passion for work. There are problems related to alcohol, burned lungs and nervousness. He is not interested in getting married "ever," but knows such a decision will leave him a lonely old man.
      According to Miletic-Vejzovic, some of the letters are "very intense." Some days, he would write a letter in the morning and another at night. In one letter, he wrote, "I miss you. I want to be with you." In another letter, he expresses his excitement after receiving a photograph of Hermine in a bathing suit. He also wonders if she could love a man who smokes a pipe.
      Many of the letters are written on National Student Federation stationery that includes the name "E.R. Murrow, President," printed in the upper right-hand corner. The two telegrams are dated February 14 and April 11, 1931. His terse Valentine's Day message reads "Valentine love to sweet Pauli can hardly wait to see you." Pauli was the part Duthie played in The Enemy, opposite Murrow.
      In the second telegram, Murrow writes, "Calling tonight at ten please be there." The letters address the problem of meeting, and his longing to be with her. Some letters are signed "Carl" or "Karl," in reference to his role in The Enemy, written by Channing Pollock and published in 1928.
      The culmination of the relationship was revealed in the April 15, 1932, letter with the final expression of his affection and respect. Carlton notes that shortly thereafter, her mother, engaged by then to her father, Tom Decker, went back to Pullman to be married.
      "Ed was devoted to his work. He couldn't make a commitment to marriage and settle down." Miletic-Vejzovic surmises. "She (Hermine) gave up on him, but continued to follow his career."
      In Carlton's letters to the WSU librarian, she said her father had a resemblance to Murrow and was a devoted family man.
      As a student at WSU, then called Washington State College, Duthie wrote for KWSC radio, and later wrote for a radio station in Bellingham. Before settling in Vancouver in 1950, she did extensive writing -- mostly documentaries -- for Portland radio stations. She also hosted a little series, "What's New," and children playlets titled "Who's Who in the Zoo." In 1940, her play, The Festered Lily, was selected by Stanford University as the "Best Play on American Life."
      Hermine Duthie Decker retired in 1971 after heading the Speech and Drama Department at Clark College in Vancouver for 21 years. From 1950 until she stepped down, she directed six plays a year, two each quarter. Later she became known as "Vancouver's First Lady of Theater" for her work with the Old Slocum House Theatre Company.
      Murrow, one of Washington State's most prominent graduates, went on to make his mark as a broadcast journalist with CBS Radio and Television. He died in 1965. His widow, Janet, died last December in Needham, Mass. After reading Mrs. Murrow's obituary, Carlton wrote Casey Murrow, Ed and Janet's son, telling him of the letters.
      "The correspondence and the relationship they reveal began and ended months before Edward met your mother, Janet," Carlton wrote. She added, "It seemed to me an opportune time to place them (the letters) in the safekeeping of the University at Washington State."

      Ms. Caraher included with her story this "Note to editors:" "An Exhibit of Letters from Edward R. Murrow" will be displayed in the Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections section of Holland Library at WSU during the month of April. Murrow's son, Casey Murrow, will be on campus Monday, April 5, 1999, for the 25th Edward R. Murrow Symposium at 7:30 p.m. in the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum. WSU alumnus and recently retired ABC Sports commentator Keith Jackson will be the featured speaker. You can read more about these and other documents in the 1998-99 annual report of the WSU Library.

Links, background reading and sources
About Hermine Duthie, including her plays

Story posted on Nov. 5, 2005
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