An interview with Marlboro’s first graduate.
Interviewers: Kevin Kennedy, Catherine Harrington ’07, Rohan Argawal ’06 and Teresa Storti
Hugh: I’m Hugh Mulligan, and I was the first graduate, in 1948. The first; there was only one graduate in ’48, and I was the lone graduate. My brother said I had to start my own college in order to graduate, and that’s about the way it worked out.
MC: Could you talk a little bit about your background—both in the schools that you attended, to the military, and how that led you to Biarritz and then Marlboro?
Hugh: As the war was near the end, during the Battle of the Bulge, those of us who’d just entered the military, instead of going to a long basic training we went to 13 weeks and were hurried overseas because the Germans had overrun the American infantry in the Battle of the Bulge.
The division I came into as a replacement had been the first one hit, the 106th division; they had one regiment captured, one completely decimated, and one dispersed; they just took off. So we came in as replacements and the battle was over; this is in December of course, and then by May the war was almost ending, we ended up guarding a huge German army that had surrendered on the [name indecipherable], almost a million German soldiers.
So, first it was thought that the division would be sent to the Pacific, where the war was still going on; then they decided to actually disband it, because it didn’t have so many experienced soldiers and most of them were replacements like us.
So we were put in the army of occupation, and when the war ended we had these German prisoners—who didn’t need to be guarded, because they wanted to be captured by Americans, not by the Russians.
Anyhow, those who had enough points—who had been here long enough—were going to be granted going home, those who didn’t were going to be assigned occupation duties. And the first sergeant was going home, and he said to me, “They’re starting a university, in Biarritz, France, for students with not enough—GIs with not enough points to go home— would you like to go?”
He was a buddy of mine, so he put my name down, and I found myself going in a boxcar across Germany, across France, ending up in Biarritz, where the army had taken over 90 hotels in this beautiful resort town on the Atlantic, took over a guesthouse and formed an impromptu university by bringing over some of the top professors from America. We would get complete college credit, I think it was 16 weeks—you could take any courses you want. I wanted to be a writer, so I took English.
The head of the English department was Walter Hendricks, who came from the [Alliance] of Technology, the Honor Institute—he was head of the English Department. Walter always talked about someday starting his own college; he was so impressed at the Biarritz experiment of a college just being started immediately.
And he had a farm, and there was a young lieutenant named Philip Rodman, was a brilliant guy, had taught in a primary school before the war, was an expert in Shakespeare, [Guide], Shaw, in addition to being an expert in art and music—really, one of the first Renaissance men I’ve ever met. And Lieutenant Rodman—Hendricks was very impressed with him, so when Marlboro started about a year later, he brought Philip here as the dean of faculty or dean of students, I forget which, that was the year after I left, …
Hendricks even then was a good scrounger; he didn’t wait for the army to ship over textbooks, he knew he had these armed forces paperback editions of books, which were brought for the GIs, and he heard there was a replacement camp in Belgium, for injured soldiers who were not bad enough off to ship back to America, and he heard that they were closing that down and had all these books, so he sent Philip and me off to Belgium to scrounge what we could – particularly short stories and novels, cause that’s what he was teaching—and interested in teaching.
We found five cases of Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove (one of the most boring novels ever written) and it then became required reading for freshman because it was the only novel that they had, so then he sent us to Paris on the same mission; to acquire books from rest centers and Red Cross café’s and stuff, and Philip was so into art—was 19 years old—that he went to call on Picasso.
Picasso was living in a unheated flat in Paris cause he was a Spaniard, he was considered a neutral, so he spent the war in Paris. And for a long time, Picasso began chatting in French and in Spanish, and I didn’t know either, so I got kinda bored. So I decided to wait outside, and Picasso gave me an orange. Very rare in wartime Europe, to have an orange. If he’d given me a picture of an orange, rather than the orange, I’d be a millionaire now. Anyway it’s fun to have that kind of connection.
Anyhow,I came back to America, finally, after being in Germany as a GI. Coming back on the boat—on the troop ship—I meet Lieutenant Rodman, who’s now a captain, and he said to me, “I wonder if Walter Hendricks ever did anything about startin that college,” and we just discussed it on the boat.
And about a month later, I was about to enroll in Fordham, where my two brothers had gone, and I get a letter from Walter, saying he started this college, why don’t I come, there’s a student heaven, you know like Biarritz.
So I called him up and I said, “Well Walter, you know, I had two years of college, before entering the army, and between Biarritz and taking some courses at the Sorbonne, I probably have another year in.” And Walter said, “Good, we’ll start a senior program, you’ll be our only senior.”
So he met me, and Walter was just the same as he had been in Biarritz; he scrounged all the cups from army bases that were being closed down; he scrounged all the sinks and showers, all came from army barracks or someplace; and he scrounged more books—and again, we found more of The Wings of the Dove, that ended up in the Marlboro library, there’s no getting away from Henry James.
But Hendricks—of course in addition to being president – he taught Chaucer, he taught short story writing, he taught the novel. And I think I told you yesterday, that you’d be sitting in class, in the dining room where he taught, Hendricks would be teaching Chaucer’s ‘The Miller’s Tale,’ and he’d throw up the window as a cement mixer went by, yell at the driver, tell him where he was delivering cement, close the window again and carry on with class.
Hendricks was building a college and teaching at the same time; he was really an incredible person that he could do that.
But those—that spirit at early Marlboro—most of us were ex-GIs, but as we were saying last night—no one ever talked about the war, there were no war stories, no one ever talked about what their experiences were. Even last night, I just found out last night that a troubled student we had, a guy named Dick Murray, always in trouble, he was a heavy drinker, really had gone through some really ghastly combat experiences, which is why he was ….
And we never knew that, because I guess they all wanted to get on with their lives, and the military was in the past. We had Navy guys, we had [indecipherable word] guys, we had machine gunners, we had Marines; and we never asked what each other did in the war; I think last night she asked for a show of hands, how many had been in the service, and I think it was about 8% of them, right? On Thursday.
They talked a lot about drinking last night, beers and stuff like that. I think these were—serious things, students, that the faculty was pretty demanding, and most of these were young adults, and they wanted to make something out of it.
I remember talking to Boyd Lehrer and he said he missed the GI students because they were original thinkers and asked questions that the ordinary college student coming out of high school does not ask; he said they had more inquiring minds, and more original minds, and I hope that’s the impression that we made on the faculty, because Walter did gather a very interesting faculty.
Including later, when Rodman came here, he taught a course in ‘Shakespeare as Opera’, and he would play the piano, and play selections from Otello and Falstaff and Romeo and Juliet, and it was marvelous to be able to combine great literature with great music.
But his main field was actually philosophy, and Laurie Schmidt was telling me later, the only A he ever got – from any course at Marlboro—he got in Rodman’s class, because Philip said he had ‘an interesting mind’.
Then, my roommate, Dick Murray, who drank a lot, was always very impressed that Philip Rodman would quote Socrates, “an unexamined mind is not worth living,” and Dick would go down to the bar and examine his mind for hours every night and then finally return to the campus.
But even this morning we were talking about what people have done since—I didn’t know that George Richards, who we took for archery here, was the first mate on a number of sailing ships on the New York to Bermuda race and that he was an expert sailor, and had been one of the leading sailors out of the Larchmont Dock Club, which is one of the world’s great centers of ocean racing—of sailboats, without motors.
But anyway, what they became—what they made of their lives since then—Larry Smith became an accountant and Marlboro taught no courses in any kind of business, never even typing, but he became an accountant.
I think that they’re an interesting group as young guys go – because at that time it was an all-male campus because they only had male bathrooms, and several ladies came from town, you know, commuted every day, but the ones living on campus were mainly ex-GIs.
Because that was the College’s main source of income, the money that came from the government to pay your tuition; Marlboro charged as much as Harvard only because that’s what the government had to hand out, I think we all got $50 a month living expenses and if you were married, then you got $75.
Am I talking too much?
MC: No, I had a question for you though. What I find interesting is that you had certainly a very higher-educational background before coming here, and you had an opportunity to go to an established university—Fordham. What was it that led you to come here, then?
Hugh: I think it was probably, like Hendricks, I wanted to relive the Biarritz experience of being in a new college and small classes had its appeal then, although I didn’t realize how small most of them would actually be.
Anyway, when fall term ended, in Germany, I met this Irish girl—when awaiting the invasion of Europe, Eisenhower had his headquarters in London, and he hired all these Irish secretaries from northern Ireland, and my wife was a secretary with chief headquarters, and then moved to Versailles, and on to Germany.
So I met her in Germany, and I told Walter I would not be returning for the spring term, cause I was going to Ireland to get married; I had to get on with my life and find a job and a place to live, so Walter said, “Don’t worry; we can solve that,” he goes around looking for an apartment, and it turns out that the governor of Vermont, [Ernest Gibson] lived on Western Avenue.
Vermont has no governor’s mansion, so when the legislature was in session in Montpelier, he was looking for a live-in couple to look after their four kids. One of them was now a judge.
So Bridget came here, this beautiful mansion on Western Avenue—I think she thought all Americans lived like that, it’s been downhill for her ever since. So she was the Mary Poppins for these four kids, ranging I think from twelve to eight.
So I returned to Marlboro, but now I was a townie; I was one of the guys who commuted every day from downtown.There were about 9 of us and Tom had a pickup truck, and most of us would ride in the back of that, an open-air school bus, in snow and storm and ice and everything else … I don’t think any of us ever missed a day of school on account of the weather.
MC: Did they ever close—did you ever have a snow day?
Hugh: I don’t think so, I think we talked about it last night; I think we had a dance one time, and the girls came over from Williams and Bennington, Smith, Holyoke; there was a blizzard that night and they got snowed in, and the guys would double in rooms or sleep on the floor in sleeping bags and Flora Hendricks patrolled the corridors so our community remained celibate, even during a blizzard.
But Hendricks said to me one day as graduation bloomed, “Do you think you can get your landlord to come to graduation?” So I asked the governor and he said sure, he’d be glad to come, and my mother and father came, and we rode up in the limousine with Vermont plates “#1,” the governor’s car, and my mother and father were very impressed, and of course Robert Frost who was Hendricks’ great friend, read a poem at the graduation; Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the novelist, was one of the speakers; I remember she ended her talk on the most feminist note I’ve ever heard; she said “Trust in God, she’ll be with you always,” shut the whole campus right up.
The presidents of all the New England colleges, most of them came to the graduation; to inaugurate a new college; James Bryant came over from Harvard, and the president of Yale, and they were all in these beautiful caps and gowns, and cowls, Renaissance caps, and here was me, the lone graduate in the procession.
And there was the problem with getting a cap and gown; no outfit in Springfield or Boston would rent one cap and gown, they would only rent a dozen, or two dozen.So I finally went over to Bennington; Larry Smith knew a girl over there, and she was graduating two days later, and she loaned me her cap and gown. But as collateral, I had to give her my copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, which was a contraband pornographic novel, and had to be sure to return it on time.
But that was the first Marlboro graduation; it was held right out there in the parking lot, they put a platform up, with mountains in the background. And Life magazine, I daresay you remember it, had a picture of Nation’s Largest Graduation, at the University of Southern California, about 2000 graduates, and they had Nation’s Smallest Graduation, and it was Marlboro, then you had a picture of Nation’s Smallest Graduate, which was some kid at MIT, and then they had the picture of Nation’s Only Graduate, which was me. I was thinking they got the captions mixed up, that I was the smallest graduate.
MC: So what was going through your head, at graduation?
Hugh: I was the only one who knew where his place was in line; I was last. I didn’t have to worry about whether the President of Harvard should march in front of the President of Yale or not.
I think there was a lot of jockeying, for, particularly with Robert Frost there. I don’t think he’d won the Nobel Prize yet, but he certainly wouldn’t surprise me; lot of jockeying for position to shake first and so on. And he wrote a poem for us, that no one seems able to find, cause I was so hyped up, I don’t even recall what the poem was about – well it was about, obviously about New England and farming, because he and Hendricks had once owned adjoing farms. And then, he came here as a visiting lecturer and stayed at least a week in one of the downstairs dorms in this building here.
We had all kinds of experiences with visiting lecturers. There was a guy named John Aldritch, a famous critic who wrote a book called After the Lost Generation, the writers living in Paris who followed Hemingway and Fitzgerald and people like that. And it was a very widely acclaimed book; and Aldritch came, and he lived in Hendricks’s house here, and he spent about a week here.
And a big snowstorm came, and someone spread the rumor that John Aldritch was lost out in the snowstorm. So the whole college—the cooks all went out—were out in the woods with dogs and everything out in the snowstorm—and it turned out he was in a cabin down by the lake with a very handsome young lady, and he didn’t want to be found. And here the whole college was outside. The guy was so embarrassed he left the next day.
And then Charles Jackson—this happened after I left—the guy who wrote The Lost Weekend, about a famous alcoholic that won the Academy Award, Charles Jackson came as a lecturer, and I guess Hendricks didn’t realize that The Lost Weekend was autobiographical, and while he was here Jackson developed a terrible thirst and went from that to a bad case of the shakes and began breaking up all the furniture and it ended up on the front page of the Boston Globe, so Hendricks’s experience with the lecturers was always questionable; like getting on the cover of Sports Illustrated, something bad would happen. But those are just some random memories of Marlboro.
MC: What did it look like when you first came here? You said they were still doing the farm, and everything …
Hugh: Well, everything was under construction. The barn, the dining room—Luke Dalrymple lived down the road here—in fact, I still buy my maple syrup off his grandson—Luke lived between here and route 9 on the left-hand side. I think Hendricks paid Luke $2,000; he was a master carpenter, and he built most of these buildings.
Luke had this dry New England sense of humor, and we had this kid named Jim Shingle, he came from Hawaii, his family was very rich, and they gave him a Chrysler Town and Country convertible car, beautiful car, and it was great in Hawaii, but a convertible there … and there was one warm winter day, when Jim had parked the car out there and forgotten about it, and in the middle of class—and in those days people would come to class in pajamas and bathrobes and slippers with a cup of coffee—and Jim’s sitting in class and he looks out the window and sees the snow, and so he goes dashing out in his bathrobe to put the top up on the convertible, and Luke is standing there talking to Hendricks, and sees this crazy student go running out in his pajamas putting the top on the convertible, and he looks at Hendricks and, “Sap’s running early this year.”
It became a story that Jim Novak cut open. But you wouldn’t think that Luke was a witty person, cause he was a very monosyllabic Vermonter, but he really had a lot … we used to call him the Christopher Wren of Marlboro. I’m really glad they named the dining room that, and Dalrymple Hall. I never knew who Mather was, I guess it was the name of the original farm?
MC: Captain Dan Mather built Mumford House, which was the president’s house, and I don’t know if it was he himself or another member of his family, who I guess established a farm up here.
Hugh: Would he have been around, in our day, or was this earlier?
MC: No … well, the President’s house was built in I think 1812 so, this is a 19th century house as well.
Hugh: We’re staying at the Whetstone Inn, that must be … in the 1700s?
MC: Yeah, 1770 something.
Hugh: Some of the early faculty stayed at the Whetstone Inn. I remember Philip Rodman had a little two-room suite, and he’d walk up the road … and Alan [Tayne?], the mathematics teacher, decided to build his own house by the inn, and this is part of this faculty that Hendricks assembled ….
Roland Boyden was an ex-Navy officer and a very erudite guy on British economic history and stuff like that, and Stan [Stovolsky?] kind of a sad face looking, he taught European history, and he looked like [PL Laurie?] in a bad movie, and then Louis Drake arrived as a student, and Louis spoke about 5 languages, he spoke more languages than the language professor, but his English was fairly bad, so Hendricks had me tutor Louis in English, and the guys on the ground floor here —Larry Schmidt and them—tutored him in more expressions than I want to take credit for, haha.
I think the faculty was as interesting a makeup as the student body was—Ted [Given?] taught chemistry, and he was a high school chemistry teacher, and one of the things he taught was how to make Calvados out of ordinary cider, out in the woods, so sometimes those guys with coffee cups weren’t drinking coffee in class, they were drinking hard cider. There was a cider mill, back in the woods someplace—I think it was an inventive group of that sort.
MC: What were the interactions between the faculty and the students like?
Hugh: Yeah, the faculty often had people come to dinner; sometimes had classes in their houses. Bob Curry’s house—I think, uh, one didn’t have electricity—electricity hadn’t come up that road to South Pond yet—and you’d go to class in his house and it would be by kerosene lamp, and his wife would serve brownies and stuff. I think because of the town meeting style of government, there was a great deal of interaction between the students and faculty.
The first moderator of town meeting was a student named [Dick Tyler?] who later became a member of the Vermont legislature; and Dick had a very impressive, stentorian voice like a Mississippi senator uses. At his age, he was a postmaster of a small town in Vermont.
He ran the town meeting with a heavy-handed gavel, and when something was tabled under Tivus it was buried into the ground. But he was a much firmer moderator than later, when a faculty member took over. Dick didn’t know anything about Robert’s Rules of Order, it was just a matter of patience and out-shouting the other guy.
MC: Were they well attended?
Hugh: Extremely well attended … the whole – the cooks would turn out, the wives, Luke would show up … Then, we were invited to attend the Marlboro town meetings downtown, in the Marlboro town hall, but we just went as observers; in those days the college students were not considered part of the town.
MC: Right, well, if they were registered here as residents. Could you talk about some of the issues that came up at the college town meetings?
Hugh: I always thought—and I think I’m right—that you could discuss anything except the curriculum and faculty salaries at the town meetings. I sat next to madam president last night and two hot-button issues were noise in the dorms and building a tennis court, and she said, those are still the two issues. They still haven’t built a tennis court, is that right? They were going to build a tennis court, they still haven’t built it.
We had some athletes. Dave [Bond?] was an all-state New Jersey baseball player, and he made the high school All-American team. Marlboro didn’t even have a baseball field, and I remember one day they played Putney School out here where the theatre is now, and David had a ball. These kids had never even seen before … I mean, he really was a tremendous athlete.
And then John Crawford was an Olympic-class high jump skier—I think he was a candidate for the American winter team and he didn’t go, but he was a top skier. In fact, there was a kid … Hendricks said when he was recruiting students he found a student from Norway called [Ole Husabfo?] and Hendricks said he’d found the only person in all of Norway who didn’t know how to ski yet. Ole and I were the only two people on campus who didn’t know how to ski. A little messy comin all the way from Norway and not known how to ski. He may have learned before he left here.
But yeah, I’d say the town meetings were very, very well attended. Most of us had never been part of anything like that before, and you know … Some things were done immediately on the student work program, like they did rebuild the library, which was in a small blacksmith shop, that had been, I don’t know if the building’s there anymore …
MC: Yeah, it’s the outdoor program.
Hugh: Okay, well, students built the shelves and things like that … They did pave the parking lot, I think, not pave, but leveled it. And the road between here and 9, all the way down was not paved, and the road from South Pond up there was really in terrible shape. Hendricks had to petition – it was either the state or the town, I forget which, and they put a road counter out, and we were under a solemn obligation, every time you went down there you had to back up three or four times, and we didn’t have enough to have it paved anyhow…well, not paved during the time I was here. I don’t know if that was officially rigged during the town meeting, but it was rigged anyhow.
MC: Were the constitution and bylaws actually being written?
Hugh: I think they’d been written at that time –
MC: So that was an exciting time.
Hugh: Yeah. Did they ever show up? Are there any constitution, bylaws … yeah, they must have been made then. I think a guy named Gene White, who was business manager and had been a minor executive with a telephone company in Ohio, was in charge of making up the .… And they were faintly based on Robert’s Rules of Order, which was designed to cut down on the shouting, and I don’t think it ever did.
But the noise in the dorms was an issue—there was a kid from Hawaii, who had an electric guitar, and he was homesick, and he sang sad Hawaiian songs all day long and drove everybody crazy.
MC: I read an article in a copy of the Citizen newspaper from 1948 or so, and I don’t know if it was an editorial or what, but it was asking students to not shoot their firearms under open dorm windows, because students inside might be trying to study. Does that resonate with you?
Hugh: Yeah, I remember a couple of guys had pistols – army pistols and that, and I don’t remember them shooting them off, but occasionally—I guess in hunting season, Marlboro always had a contingent which hunted, and brought back a deer, which … someone told me that the first motel up the road here, I think it’s now called the “Golden Eagle” had a sign up, “No gutting deer in the bathtub.” There’s a new version of it now cause the buildings are smaller cabins, but … I wouldn’t be surprised though, but that would be a minor noise compared to a steel guitar in the room next to you playing a Hawaiian war chant.
MC: And everyone lived [here in Mather]?
Hugh: Everyone lived in this building … people like Pete Gore, who came from towns around here, lived at home and some people lived in Brattleboro, but I’d say around 80 percent of the original campus lived in Mather House, right.
Although some of them did have rooms in the Whetstone Inn when it was owned by … Morris Hendricks, it must have been. This was long before Ames House was used. It was two in a room, and sometimes three, and the ground floor suite the left hand one, with four people in there, who started putting out the first newspaper, the Marlboro Citizen, a mimeographed paper that came out whenever—well rumored it was whenever we could borrow the mimeograph machine from the office to turn it out.
Larry Smith was one of the editors, and Jack Kohler, and Emma Robb … I did some satirical articles on faculty and students which Flora Hendricks thought were ‘faintly smutty.’ She was wrong there—‘faintly’ was an incorrect word.
But when I went overseas to get married … in those days there was a list of passengers onboard. I noticed the name Tennessee Williams, he had a top-deck suite; I wrote him a note, saying I was a student from Marlboro College and I’d like to interview him for the Marlboro Citizen, which I think he thought was some kind of literary magazine … he didn’t know it would come out whenever Larry Smith was sober enough to turn it out!
But anyway I did get this interview with Tennessee Williams. He was a very nice guy … he was going over—A Streetcar Named Desire had just opened on Broadway, to smash reviews, and he was going over to London to open The Glass Menagerie, his first play, which had not appeared in London yet.
And I remember he invited me up, and he had champagne and pâté, and I remember him saying “I hope you don’t think this is pretentious, but” and he asked me if I was going to be a writer, and I said “I hope so,” and he said “I hope you’re not going to become one of those damn writing teachers.”
But he said, “I hope you don’t think this is pretentious, but there’s no point in being a success if you don’t enjoy it.” And he said, “Three years ago tonight, on New Year’s Eve, I was washing dishes in the Rosemont Hotel.” Three years, four years, he was really enjoying it, and it was nice to see someone who’d made it enjoying it. Rather than saying how he’d deserved it, he almost couldn’t believe it himself, and it was great to see someone saying, “Wow, isn’t this great, here I am!” rather than saying “I always knew I’d make it, I deserved it,” he was very surprised at his own skills. Which is great, you know.
MC: Could you talk a little bit about how if at all your experience at Marlboro prepared you for your career?
Hugh: Well, I think two things … in Hendricks’ short story class, I wrote a short story and “Tomorrow” magazine, a brand-new magazine, had a contest for college students, a nationwide contest. Hendricks insisted that I enter it and send this thing off … and it won second prize, which was 50 bucks … and the college was very impressed with the prestige that they got, and I was very impressed to get 50 bucks for something I’d written … I’d written for the paper in the army, but only the colonel got a byline.
Also, by going to a smaller college, you knew the president personally, every professors personally and you got recommendations for graduate school that you could not have gotten from a huge college, and I immediately got into Harvard based on the level of the stuff that Hendricks had written, and others had written.
So going to a small college … I think that college admissions officers are always looking to spread a broad net, and bring in as many different students as they can … I remember once being on an airplane with the admissions officer of Princeton, and I said to him, “To get into Princeton these days, do you have to be computer literate?”He said, “Yes, but know other directions.” I think that’s probably true even now.
But Marlboro did influence my future … made me become a writer, and getting into Harvard. I remember James Bryant being here at the inaugural graduation, and three years later he was handing me a diploma as a Master of Arts and literature from Harvard, but I didn’t remind him. He had signed the diploma, “Jacobus,” because the Harvard graduation diplomas are in Latin, so he was “Jacobus Bryant,” which—I should say, “Hey Jack, how you doin?”
MC: You kind of touched on this, but how did current events and politics affect US students?
Hugh: You know, I think in those days it was not a very politically minded campus, although there was a presidential election coming up, and I lived in Governor Gibson’s house, and one day he had all the neighboring governors at a cocktail party, the Republicans, and Tom [Buey?] came, and Buey was running for president—against Truman—and here we had a presidential candidate in town and it did not make any uproar on the campus at all.
They were not very political at all—not initially, anyhow. I suppose, coming from all different parts of the country, that they had no interest in Vermont politics … but on the national level, most of them just coming back from overseas were not particularly opinionated—I don’t remember anyone saying they were Republican or a Democrat—there were not many political discussions.
Even guys who were taking Bob Curry’s class in American government, there were not that many—at least not at the don level. There may have been a class, but I was not in any of those classes.
MC: Could you talk a little about how you’ve seen Marlboro change over the years, and your impressions of it today?
Hugh: Well you know, I’m always impressed when I read the different stories that the … Marlboro students who are graduating, the wide range of subjects that they pick to specialize in as their personal program, we didn’t have that choice in those days.
But you know I still think that you walk into the library, you find someone reading books … I’m so impressed that I see and I hear in the dining room, a lot of laughter, so I think at Marlboro, I hope that people are still having a good time. I seem to think they are, when I walk around.
I’m always impressed, as I say, at these personal programs and the wide range of interest and that the faculty is able to help them in some of these very eclectic schemes—the Plans of Concentration. I think that must be impressive when you apply to graduate school, to have this—you’re almost doing a graduate specialization at the undergraduate level.
I wonder if the draw of the humanities is still as—well, I hope that no one’s reading The Wings of the Dove. I’m impressed, and I think that when I come for reunions, the spirit of Marlboro still seems to be the spirit that we had, that this is a different place and this is a place of character, and there is a sense of community about it. I don’t know if the town meeting’s as strong as it used to be.
MC: It ebbs and flows, I think—some years it’s very well attended, and other years people have complained about its lack of attendance.
Hugh: See, most of us didn’t have cars, there was no place else to go, some of the time. It was an exciting time, most of us had never been through anything like that. It still exists, though?
MC: Oh absolutely, every three weeks.
MC: You were talking about Henry James … were there any particular classes that you enjoyed?
Hugh: Well, I think that I enjoyed the literature courses, and Hendricks was very good on the American short story writers like [indecipherable name?] and other writers like that.
I think that Rodman was a true Shakespeare expert – who really enjoyed the plays, and although we didn’t put any of them on, there was a guy named John Butler who thought he was John Barrymore’s illegitimate son, and he’d memorized every soliloquy from Henry IV on, and the gentleman here would have a couple of glasses of hard cider and they’d be rolling around, to be’ing or not to be’ing …
I took one of Boyden’s classes in English economic history, and although I later lived in England for 10 years as a reporter I was never interested in British economics, and it should certainly be one of the dullest subjects in the world, but under him it was not, because he got into the part of the Irish famine, which is interesting to me, being of Irish extraction.
I think, they had the idea to combine lecture with give-and-take class discussion, but it was good to have the lectures first, because—later I went to Harvard— – I always found that in the discussion classes, you were listening to other students rather than listen to what you were paying for.
I remember I had a professor from Trinity named John Sullivan, who was one of the great Joyce experts. One day we had a kid named [Blybury?] who later became editor of the Wall Street Journal, and John Sullivan had a very bad speech defect, and Blybury complained that there was very little class discussion, and Sullivan said in his Irish accent, “Mr. Blybury, there’s only two people in this class whose opinion I want to hear, and you’re not one of them!” Often in discussion classes I’ve found—here at Marlboro too—the discussion was on the part of the biggest loudmouth in class, who sometimes didn’t know anything.
One day Rodman had a student and he asked him—we were supposed to read T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and he asked this guy what he thought of it and he said, “Well, I think it’s typically Eliot,” and Rodman said “Well it would be, he wrote it, didn’t he,” and he went on about four or five questions and then he said, “Mr. Snyder, did you read it?” and he said “Well, as a matter of fact, I didn’t have time.” He tried to flub his way through 9 questions, and he got deeper and deeper into it.
I think that Marlboro had the ability to combine lectures with discussion—mainly cause the classes were so small, with 8 or 9 in a class you wouldn’t waste the whole hour, nor would you be bored the whole hour listening to a lecture. I don’t know if that’s still true—I remember most of my classes at Harvard, the professor lectured and no questions, you’d try to nail him after class and if the guy was smart he’d be out the back door before you could catch him.
I don’t think that answered your question, did it?
MC: No, it did, I just wanted to listen to some of the classes you took and so on.
Hugh: Okay. Is there still a Marlboro paper?
MC: Oh, the Citizen? Yeah, there is.
Hugh: Is it still as irregular as it used to be?
MC: … Yes.
Hugh: An impromptu paper, right? Are you one of the editors? (No.) Are you? (No.)
MC: Hugh, can you talk a little bit about your life after Marlboro and the ties you’ve made and how Marlboro affected your career path and so on?
Hugh: Okay, well, I was at Harvard and I took the MA, and I had enough points on the GI Bill to go on to Ph.D., but I didn’t want to become a professor I wanted to become a writer.
So I went over to Boston University where John [Lachlan?], the novelist, was teaching a course on how to write a novel, and then—this was in 1950, I’d just finished a language requirement for Harvard—Harvard required for an MA, one modern and one ancient language, so I had to take a class in Latin and French, I think I took.
So I enrolled in John Lachlan’s class at BU, and the bursar called me in one day and said, “The government is not going to pay for this course.” Because you had to be taking a degree. And he said to me, “Why don’t you take an MA in English Literature?” And I didn’t want to say to him, I’d already taken one at Harvard. So I said to him well, I’m not interested in literature, so he said to me, “Well, why don’t you take a course in journalism? You can put that into … that’s not a conflict.”
So I took Lachlan’s course until he got the flu, and was replaced by Elliot Paul, the novelist who wrote The Last Time I Saw Paris. Paul was drunk all the time, he’d come to class wearing his beret and he taught a class in movie writing, and he’d put on a movie, and then he’d go in the back of the class and fall asleep.
I still wanted to be a writer, but they had— one of the requirements in one of the journalism classes was to enter a nationwide contest called “The Paper I Want to Edit and Why,” it was sponsored by the American Newspaper Association, and it was a gold medal and 500 bucks. The professor made us all enter the thing, and I won the nationwide contest, 500 bucks and a gold medal.
And all of a sudden I got an offer from the Minneapolis Tribune, did I want a job there? Now I didn’t want to work for a newspaper, but I thought gee, if this thing has any job potential—I wrote to Associated Press, New York Times, and Time Magazine.
Only A.P. Hanson, the bureau chief in Boston, called me up living in Boston, called me in to take a test, which I did—to take a writing test. And then he said okay, and I didn’t hear from him again, and I began teaching school at Boston Latin School, and about a week before Christmas, when I was about to sign up for a second term teaching, a call came from the Boston Area Associated Press and said “There’s an opening in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—would you like to consider it?”—no, first they said New Orleans. And I said yes, and I accepted it, told my wife and I drove down to New Orleans and found out the job wasn’t in New Orleans, it was in Baton Rouge, and I was very disappointed not to be able to work in New Orleans.
But it turned out Baton Rouge was the state capital, and [Erlong?] was the governor, and it was a very exciting time and place for a reporter to start with no newspaper experience, with a governor on the way to the insane asylum.
I always tell kids today, if you’re going to start a newspaper career, don’t go in a good government area—corruption is very good for bylines. Good government will get you nowhere in the newspapers. But that’s how I ended up as a journalist.
But again, because I had gone to BU to learn how to write a novel I ended up … Also—another short story that I’d begun at Marlboro but I think I’d finished when I was at Harvard, a mystery story, I’d entered in a magazine writing contest, and it won third prize, but the big cap to my ego was that first prize was won by William Faulkner, the only [something] story he ever wrote, called “A Knight’s Poem,” so I can say, “Well, I was only two behind William Faulkner.”
This all sounds like a big ego trip, but these are all the bizarre things that happen if you go to Marlboro and mix with this crowd.
MC: Did Walter Hendricks take most of the GIs from that school in Paris and bring them here?
Hugh: No, I think that Rodman and I were the only ones who had been at Biarritz who had been here … it was difficult to be an introvert in college, they were all crowded …
Do you remember that the first President Bush lived in a [quamset?] hut on campus cause they were obligated to take all the ones in the war years who had not gotten back, they were obligated to take them back, so they had four years of Yalies who were all coming back at once – so, if you had applied to Yale in 1946 or ’47, you would not have gotten into Yale – in fact, I was surprised to see that Whitney had gotten into Harvard, because it was very ,,,
Marlboro thrived because it was an easy college to get into, looking for students—most of the big schools like Fordham, Holy Cross, or Boston College were turning students away because they had so many coming back from the war, whose education had been interrupted, or like Harvard, who’d had those that’d been signed up since they were born, whose parents were big donors to the university probably.
Hendricks ended up with GIs mainly cause that’s the only— now, no one in my family went to college—neither my mother nor my father graduated from high school, so I think all of us came from that kind of background; without the GI bill we would not have gone to college, and without Walter’s starting a new one, we’d still be waiting to get into Amherst or somewhere, I suppose.
But that’s where his main student body came from, because that was a big available supply of people wanting to go to college. And it became a boy’s school because that’s where the available student body was, with the available money coming from the government, in order to pay for it; there were very few rich kids here. Although, I was surprised, this morning, to find out that some of them had gone to very good prep schools.
But I think Marlboro was integrally, in those formative years, related to the GI Bill. And didn’t Charles [Kurault?] come here sometime? Or his crew did—I wasn’t here at that time, I was living in London.
MC: Yeah, for Sunday morning.
Hugh: Is that available? On a cassette or something?
MC: Yeah, we can get you a tape of that, a VHS tape.
Hugh: Did he do a good job?
MC: Yeah, I think so. We brought a bunch of Pioneers here … It was both the college’s and the GI Bill’s 50th anniversary.
Hugh: We didn’t know we were the greatest generation … at breakfast, we saluted each other as the greatest geriatrics.
But someone asked us this morning, did we talk about the war. And we never talked about the war. Because that was yesterday, and we hoped that Marlboro was tomorrow, I suppose—we wanted to get on with life. And I guess for many of them, the war was not a horrible experience—for many it was an exciting experience. And it was a time when the country was very united, which I think it hasn’t been much since then. Even the Korean War veterans among us don’t have the same esprit de corps that the WWII veterans had. We were lucky in that respect—we did not serve a divided country.
MC: I think Ellen asked this yesterday, but—if there was anything that you would want to say to the students of Marlboro today, what would that be?
Hugh: You know, I think that Whitney said yesterday—to make the most of the opportunities that you have here, and maybe to realize that the ones around you probably will be friends for life, and maybe at its root, the best batch of people you will ever come across, for our intentions.
And the faculty, diverse as it was, was just our version of the Internet putting us into learning in other directions. I don’t think any of the lectures we heard here were maxims for life, but the whole experience was, and I think first of all, to enjoy it, because Marlboro was fun, and to profit by it, because you only get as much out of it as you put into it, not what the faculty puts into it but what you put into it.
Even that final book report that Marsh Carroll lacks, we told him we were all going to write it for him and stage a new graduation—we keep threatening that tomorrow we’re going to call an impromptu graduation, and have a guy graduate sixty years later. I think that would make all the—it would take all of us combined on the thesis, I think.
I didn’t know they required—is some kind of thesis required now? I guess when you’re doing a concentration, that’s your final entry isn’t it? Can it be a performance? (Yes.) If you’re a dancer, right. (But there’s a paper too.) So in addition to a performance you have to write? (Yes.) Someone’s going to have to read all of them someday, it’d be a life sentence. (Well, they’re all in the library.) Oh, they’re all in the library?
MC: What was it about the people that you went to school with and the people that Marlboro drew at that time, that reflected what a unique school that Marlboro was? Was there a sort of commonality between the people you went to school with that sort of reflected the strangeness?
Hugh: I suppose the commonality would have been the wartime experience, but they never spoke about it. The only commonality was that we all came from someplace else, except for the few that lived around the area.
And we all had never been subjected to anything like this, but yet having been in the military the relative hardships of having to build your own shelves or put in a closet were not daunting to us, and we didn’t think that we’d been cheated, we didn’t think that the college (like Oxford) would provide maid service.
The common value was that we were all close to being adults, and it was not a prep school type community, it was not your high school graduating class going into freshman year of college.
To drive—most of them couldn’t afford a car. Also, cars were not greatly available—production had just gotten back to normal, so no one had enough money to buy a new car; most of the used cars were – we still had Model A’s on campus, someone had one Model T …
Hendricks had a Ford Phaeton, which was a four-door convertible; I don’t think anyone makes a four-door convertible any more. And as I think I told these guys yesterday, he was a terrible driver; he’d take the Catholics down to Mass, and it really was an act of faith …
But that car, you fed the gas—to accelerate—to a lever on the wheel, there was no gas pedal. And it was a bizarre thing to learn how to drive, most of the ones driving it had not driven it before and it was a great experience when one of the guys didn’t realize there was no more gas coming and the gas would suddenly putter to a stop on the way down to Marlboro – to Brattleboro. And it was always a contest to see if you could get all the way to Brattleboro without touching the accelerator, if you could do the entire thing in neutral. And I think someone said yes, it was a guy with a 12-cylinder Lincoln, a thing the size of a tank, you know, and he’d go all the way down the hill from here into Brattleboro without once feeding any gas into it. Try it sometime.
MC: Could you talk a little bit about Walter Hendricks and his family being on campus, and what that was like?
Hugh: Walter had, let’s see, he had four children now, and Geoffrey was away at college, the girl’s name – Anna Marie? Hilda Marie went to school locally, Nate went to Putney School, and John went to Marlboro—John was 9, 10 years old, John went to the Marlboro Elementary School.
They lived in the president’s house over here, and Flora did a lot—she taught a class in poetry, she had written a book called Purple Bowls of Fantasy, which was one of the things that we cruelly satirized in the Marlboro Citizen, calling it “Porcelain Bowls of Fantasy” I think—I’m surprised that we could get away with that kind of thing. “Porcelain Bowls of Fantasy.”
But she was a terrific woman, and Hendricks told me how he had recruited Jim Shingle—this very rich kid who came from Hawaii with his Town and Country—his mother was, I think, the heiress to the Dole Pineapple fortune, and his mother was bringing him east to go to, I think to Dartmouth.
But he’d read about Marlboro and he wanted to take a look at it, and he called and Hendricks said yes—Hendricks immediately had his wife and Luke fix up a phantom “typical room” like none ever existed afterwards. Luke slapped on some wallpaper and Flora made curtains and the bedspreads matching, and then he had a cocktail party for him downtown so he wouldn’t see too much of the campus, and then—well, Mama Shingle was not impressed, but Jim wanted to stay, and he loved it, and he became one of the great students.
But I remember that Flora did a lot of the curtains in the dorm, besides raising a family, doing all the cooking for her family, cooking for all of the lecturers that came; she’d be putting them up in the house, they didn’t have any house there, and she took care of the kids and the president, and taught the class in poetry … We gave her an honorary degree, one year, I spoke at it, I don’t remember what year that was …
MC: Was that when Rod Gander was here? I remember seeing a picture of it …
Hugh: It may have been when Ragle was here. Yeah, I think it was. They had a reunion that night—of the Pioneers – and at the same time they had a reunion of all these Oxford professors whom Tom Ragle had brought over, and we all ended up in Ames House, and we had this terrific drinking session between the Brits and the Pioneers … I remember when I spoke that night I spoke about Tom Ragle changing Marlboro by bringing over these unemployed and virtually unemployable Oxford dons—actually broke up the house, but they loved it too. But that wasn’t initially part of Marlboro; suddenly they started bringing in these Oxford dons. We didn’t have the Oxford dons in our day, but – do they still have them?
MC: Classics fellows, yes.
Hugh: Are they still virtually unemployable? No, they were … they must have been … there was a guy from Edinburgh at dinner last night, he was married to … that was an interesting group of people they had there. Of course, Ragle was kind of an Oxford character anyhow, wasn’t he?
MC: Yeah, he was an Oxford grad.
Hugh: Yeah, he looked very Oxford, didn’t he? Gander was a popular president, and he was always very much attracted to the Pioneers, I think he helped make it a group. Do you see yourself coming back 50 years later?
MC: To look around? Yeah …
Hugh: Maybe to pay your tuition bill? How about you, do you see yourself …?
MC: I thought it was great, when I saw you guys yesterday sitting around … I hope to have friends like that, 50 years later.
Hugh: You think you will?
MC: I hope so.
Hugh: How long have you been here?
MC: I’ve been here three years.
Hugh: Three years, okay … so you’re getting ready to be sprung, huh?
MC: Is there anything else you’d like to close with, Hugh?
Hugh: No, I think I’ve been talking too long, I think no one’s going to believe anything here.