I'm reading Harrison Salisbury's autobiography, A Journey for Our Times. Despite the lame title, it's actually pretty good.
Salisbury was one of those Major 20th Century Journalists. WWII correspondent in London and Moscow. Ran the New York Times op-ed page for twenty-some years. He was the first big-name journalist to turn on Vietnam. (1966. He went there, looked around, and basically said "wait, this is totally screwed".)
What's interesting about the book, though, is not so much the close-up view of history. It's the arc of Salisbury's own life: how a nice, chaste god-fearing Eagle Scout from Minneapolis evolved into a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, cynical newspaperman with a bad marriage, two mistresses and a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit; and how that guy, in turn, grew into a wise, calm elder statesman. (My description, not his. Salisbury keeps the habit of self-deprecation throughout.)
The other thing to like is that he gives a pretty good description of what it was like to be a journalist back in the day. Less "that Sunday I saw Churchill at lunch" stuff, longer on the grotty details of boarding rooms, censors, transatlantic cables and editorial red pencils.
But the best part is his year in Stalin's wartime USSR, 1944-5. We think of that as a grim time, and it was, but not for the foreign journalists. They lived a pretty wild life -- constant heavy drinking, constant struggles with the bureaucracy and the editors at home, wild parties, feuds, fights, black market dealings, smuggling.
And women. Lots and lots of women. Makes sense, right? Wartime Moscow was short on men, especially men with hard currency. But even adjusting for that, there's something about this part of the story that's instantly familiar. We think of modern Russia as something that exploded after the repression of Communism, but that's not really true. Modern Russia is a reversion to type, and it's a type that was there all along.
Everyone knew that Eddy Gilmore, the AP correspondent, lived barricaded in his fifth-floor room and would not emerge for fear someone would steal Tamara, the beautiful fifteen-year-old (well, I guess she was seventeen by this time) whom he had taken away from an English tobacco buyer, knocking the man to the ground and carrying Tamara up to his chambers like a knight of yore. And why shouldn't he protect this Dresden doll -- hadn't he got Wendell Willkie to intervene with Stalin himself when the Moscow police sent Tamara back to chop wood at her grandmother's log hut, fifty miles outside Moscow? True, Eddy couldn't marry Tamara, because his wife in Washington refused to divorce him. Eddy lived behind his barricade in the corner room, on guard. I can't prove that Eddy would have killed anyone who tried to take Tamara, but I think he would...
Not until Stalin died were Eddy and Tamara able to sanctify their love with marriage and was Eddy able, at long last, to bring his bride back to his hometown of Selma, Alabama. Tamara died a few years ago and the papers said she had been a Bolshoi ballerina. Ballerina she wasn't, but Russia never produced a more exquisite fifteen-year-old.
Googling shows there's a bit more to the story. Eddy Gilmore was another major journalist now completely forgotten; he won the Pulitzer in 1947 for his wartime reporting. He did indeed marry Tamara, and wrote a book about it -- "Me and My Russian Wife" -- which sold well, and was made into a bad movie with Clark Gable and Gene Tierny. There are multiple press accounts about Eddy and Tamara; most refer to her as a ballerina.
I've found one description of Gilmore himself. It uses the word "pudgy".
Next up: Nancy Mitford. What was it about 1930s Britain that produced so much great writing, anyhow?