The old three story building rattled every time the Woodland Avenue trolley passed. Woodland Ave. still angled up a slight incline on the University of Pennsylvania campus back then. The campus had been enlarging since its’ beginnings in 1740, but in 1954 it still looked much like a college town.
Our small Journalism building was soon to be torn down and the tracks pulled up for major changes. Where would the trolleys go?A new modern Library would be erected on its site, and I was sure they would plant lots of Ivy. The old library, “our” library, was in the wonderful historic red brick Frank Furness building on 34 th Street. The Wharton School of Business was the only modern edifice on campus.
I was not allowed into Wharton. I was a woman. End of story. No I will tell you.
I was a happy student at the main campus of Penn State in the idyllic town of State College. We called it Happy Valley. Towards the end of my sophomore term, 1953, I decided I was a city girl and needed to transfer to the U of P., in Philadelphia. I received a letter securing my position as a junior in the fall semester.
I was thrilled and then I re-read the part that stated I would have to change my major. That seemed odd. I was an Advertising Major and my marks were good. I had visions of working on Madison Avenue. I had a plan, and I had contacts. So I called the Registrars’ office and was connected to a real person who quite calmly answered my query, “Well you must understand, Advertising is part of Marketing”
“Yes,” I responded
“Well Marketing is in the curriculum of The Wharton School”
“Well Wharton is not open to women.”
“Oh, I said.
I did not burn my bra nor lead a protest.
Nor did the woman administrator on the other end of the line. It was 1953. Neither one of us was an activist.
I changed my major to English with a focus on Journalism. Wharton opened to women the year I graduated.
The Furness Library was my favorite place to go. I wrote a story about the guard at the gleaming brass turnstile. He was a gem and had many tales to tell. He alone checked the book bags , nothing remotely electronic. He got to know everyone by what we read, and often made suggestions. The interior of the building had a main reading room, and the floors above circled around the inside edges of the building much like a concert hall. You could look up from your studies and see people headed to the different topic stacks of books. And oh the music you heard in the turning of the pages.
Last night I read the obituary of William Link in The New York Times. Bill and his friend Richard Levinson were the creators of Columbo, my favorite, and many other TV sleuths, such as Angela Lansberrys’ character in Murder She Wrote. Together they created the modern TV detective genre. I was obsessed with mystery ever since reading my first Nancy Drew.
At Penn, I was fortunate to be in a twelve student seminar with Link and Levinson in a class on Movie and TV Criticism. We met in the Journalism School in that shaky building on Woodland. We were blessed with the distinguished Professor James. He too, was a little seedy and a little shaky, his obligatory tweed jacket catching the dust particles circulating in the shafts of sunlight coming through the old uncloaked arched windows. I sat directly across from the Professor at the center of the long rectangular table; the other students to my left and right. We turned in weekly papers about a specific movie or TV show, mine hand-written on lined paper. The following week the professor returned them marked up and we discussed them. James handed the pile to me, and I passed them on to the emerging writers beside me. I got a couple of goods and one excellent. What impressed me the most was what the professor wrote on Bill and Dick’s offerings. Once I saw, “ Thank God Young Man You can Write!”
Another I remember said, “Happy to witness this!” I used to get chills handing back their papers. Their writing always had an innovative, fresh approach. James’ comments were effusive. He was so excited that they had found their talent.
I always thought writing was the most abstract and difficult of all the arts. I still do. I feel freer now to express myself as I am not worried about being judged, or if I am, I just don’t give a damn.
I am sure many of the other students recognized their names, as I did, in articles written about their successes over the decades. Link and Levinson made a huge impression on me. I think it was their complete dedication to the excitement and pleasure of the written word.
Professor James taught a Three Beat Theory of writing criticism. I still have my notes! He was a bit mystic about it. He felt art criticism was an art in itself. We had a wicked reading list and he was always quoting philosophers. I struggled but loved every minute.
The Three Beats
FACTS, REPORTING, OBSERVATION, RESEARCH
2. OH HO!
WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WORLD ….IMPLICATIONS
SOCIAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL
3. AH HA! THE EUREKA MOMENT
SOMETHING FOR THE READER TO TAKE AWAY
NOT JUDGEMENT , BUT ANALYSIS
THE POINT ITSELF
Sixty years later, I am so grateful to be in another writers group with an inspiring leader. We no longer sit at a classroom table, but sit in our own homes. We are comfortable. No trolleys in sight and nowhere to go. It is winter 2021, the year of Covid 19. We latch onto each others words over a platform called Zoom on our computers. We see each others expressions and body language and in a way are more intimate than if we met in person. We too critique each others work. I feel close to my new writing friends. I would not hesitate to call on any one of them to ask a question or get some advice or feedback. I know it would be honest and supportive. I know they all love writing and are so good at it. We all have had so many adventures. We too are racing to catch the next trolley for more adventure, and eager to share another tale.
I did not feel that way in college. Things were moving so quickly. There was no time for reflection and introspection. We wanted to absorb everything but at the sacrifice of learning and retaining very much. It was always on to the next class or event.
William Link and Richard Levinson were local Philly guys. I only knew them from one Journalism class, 66 years ago. I didn’t realize that they were Wharton students until I read the obituary. They went on from Penn to NYC , maybe Madison Avenue and then to Hollywood. They created wonderful plots and characters.
I am a happy writer now, older and hopefully wiser. I still tap out my observations of life encounters and the copious memories of paths crossed with interesting people. No mysterious trolleys disappearing into the fog of West Phila., nor wrinkled trench coats, but I get by.