Happy Birthday Valley Advocate!
Here's the story that landed me into hot water with one local cartoonist. Sorry but that version of "King Kong" still sucks.
I’ve been wanting to say “Happy Birthday” to the Valley Advocate for about a week now. The area’s alternative weekly is celebrating 35 years in print.
The Advocate was the first publication that paid me to write and I will be eternally grateful for the opportunity.
In 1975 I was a junior at UMass and was carrying a double major of English/Journalism. I was considering writing for the campus paper the near legendary “Daily Collegian,” but one meeting in their offices was all it took to sway me form that course.
I have always hated snobs. I’ve always hated bullies. I’ve always hated the fraternity atmosphere that permeates so much of college life. That’s what I found at the “Collegian,” and I said, “Screw it.”
So I wandered into the offices of the Advocate, which in 1975 were located in a house near Amherst Cinemas. The editor who greeted me was Charles “Chuck” Smith, a man with a background in acting and performing. We talked about assignments and I think – I couldn’t find my clip file easily – my first gig was interviewing NBC newsman Edwin Newman who was appearing at the Big E promoting his book on the English language.
Newman was low key and affable, which was fine as I was nervous – about the only other celeb I had interviewed at this time was Buster Crabbe – and I produced a story that met with Chuck’s approval.
Writing for the Advocate didn’t pay a whole lot and I clearly remembering trying to cash a $12 check for a story only to be told the Advocate didn’t have that amount in its account.
Ah, the salad days.
I wrote a review of the 1976 remake of “king Kong” that earned me my first negative letter to the editor from an UMass colleague who later turned out to be a multi-millionaire cartoonist.
From 1975 through the late 1980s, I wrote a number of freelance pieces for the Advocate, all mostly performing arts stories. When I was on WREB radio as the evening drive talk show host I would convert a number of the interviews into stories for the paper, thus making a little coin to augment my $5 an hour salary.
My interviews with George Romero, Larry Cohen and Lillian Gish, among others, were seen there.
My editor then was Bill Swislow, a nice guy who seemed to share my pop culture sensibilities. His successor was a person with whom I shared nothing and she made it very clear she wasn’t interested in my work, so that ended the association.
In the past few years, I’ve been given a halo by the Advocate staff in their “Horns & Halo” annual review, which is a designation, because of my history, that means a fair amount to me.
Although some people discount the Advocate as not having the impact it once had, the fact is The Advocate has done some great work in trying to shed some light on Springfield’s political morass over the past 20 years. If it were not for the Advocate, I doubt people would have been aware of the nature of the Albano Administration.
And thanks to Tom Vannah, Stephanie Kraft and Maureen Turner, the publication is still doing great work.
© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs