Face-to-Face: Ernie Pyle portrait

Web Video Text Tracks Format (WebVTT)


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Jim Barber: Ernie Pyle was born 1900 in central Indiana. He was the editor of his school newspaper. Of course he wins the Pulitzer, as Ian said, for his World War II journalism.

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He will go to the University of Indiana. He leaves right before his last semester. And he decides that, he's got a job opening in Indiana - a journalism job - he only stays three months.

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Comes to Washington D.C. about 1921 and gets a job with the new upstart Washington Daily News. And - I used to deliver that paper, back in the 60s for a few years and it's why they ask me to do Ernie Pyle - um, not really, but, um - it was tabloid-type paper, it wasn't like the Washington Post— it wasn't a tabloid, but it was in the book format of a tabloid.

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Pyle will be again with no - he didn't get a college degree - he's going to be - jump into the managing/editing job. He doesn't really like it, he stays about 3 or 4 years. He likes to write. He can't write, he's behind a desk, he's watching everyone else write.

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So he leaves, he up and leaves, heads to the west coast of Florida and before long he starts writing eleven columns for the Scripts Howard, [[coughs]] pardon me, syndication. And these are vacation articles.

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And the managing editor or the editor-in-chief of Scripts Howard looks at these and he says, "There's a Mark Twain quality about these that knocked my eye out", he was really taken with them.

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Pyle shortly becomes a syndicated writer for Scripts Howard. He travels the country and does general interest pieces and he really gets his base audience that way.

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In 1928 he becomes basically the first aviation journalist to follow the airplane scene— this was the year after Lindbergh made his transatlantic flight.

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World War II will begin in 1941 for the United States. Pyle doesn't enlist, but he's there right with the troops throughout North Africa, Europe, and in the Pacific Ocean and the theater there.

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He's not focused on the battles, he's focused on the common solider, you know, the life of the common soldier. And again wins a tremendous following— his syndication is about 300 newspapers.

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Jim Barber: He reminds me of -
Audience Question: How old is he, at that point in time?
Jim Barber: He is about 43 - about that time when he starts.

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And the person he reminds me of is— his colleague, in a different medium, would be Bill Mauldin, who would be following the troops, not with Pyle. I don't even know if they knew each other— I'm sure they did, they knew of each other.

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But he would, Mauldin would be writing, you know, doing the wonderful cartoons of the soldiers, and Pyle would be doing the same thing in journalism.

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In, on April 18th 1945, they're on an island near Okinawa, and he's in a jeep with 3 others or 2 others. They come under machine gun fire, out of the blue, and they stop the jeep, get out, and they duck. The fire opens up again, Ernie Pyle is hit, instantly killed, and that's the end of Ernie Pyle.

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He will win a Pulitzer prize, though, for his journalism that year. Now what I don't know - and unfortunately I can't tell you - I don't know whether— the Pulitzers comes out in the spring, least they do now. I don't know whether he ever knew he that won that Pulitzer or not. But anyway, it was about the same time that he will do that.

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The piece, the bust here, is by Joe Davidson. Joe Davidson was a noted New York sculptor and he had a decade, a five decade career. And did many, many— from Franklin Roosevelt to Ernie Pyle, to you name it —if you were important, uh, Helen Keller.

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And he does Pyle's back in the States just before he dies. It's either late 1943 or early 1944.

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He will be in [[cough]], he's in New York, Joe Davidson finds out he's in New York, wants to meet him, does, and convinces Pyle to sit for three days while he makes his— not this bust.

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I brought some, um, you can pass these around. This is also [[Omobello Portugali?]] this is the plaster tha- which he actually made. Pyle was sitting in front of him. That's what he actually made [[cough]].

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Joe Davidson said, he once quoted, when he was talking about how difficult it is to actually get a likeness with some people. And he said, "Sometimes it's a short story, sometimes it's a novel."

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And, uh, three days, that's a-that's a pretty generous time for Pyle to have given Joe Davidson— I don't know how quickly Davidson can work. Uh, there was a Time—

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Jim Barber: Uh, a Time Magazine cover of Ernie Pyle— and those covers were, could be generated —some of those artists could generate those in a matter of hours, and they're excellent.

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Jim Barber: Uhm, so I don't know how long Joe Davidson really spent. You ta-- Well, we do know three days, but what he did after that I'm not sure.

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Jim Barber: So from that plaster, he will then create a mold, make a mold— and you have the, uhm, the bronze bust.

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Jim Barber: This is what Ernie Pyle looked like. This is the photograph of the Time—you might want to pass that around. So the likeness, in my judgment, is excellent.

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Jim Barber: Sculpture, it's unlike two-dimensional paintings, in that it's, it's — it can often be hit or miss, uh, both for the artist and for museums that display it.

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Jim Barber: It's very hard to photograph, to get right. It's, it's, uh, and what you see here, if I-- had paid more attention I guess, early on I would've maybe tried to get the light people to, you know, focus.

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Jim Barber: We need a light right here [[laughter]], uhm, but uh, you know, take a little time to look at the, uh, at the piece. It's just a very very good likeness.

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Jim Barber: But he's sorely missed. He was buried three times. Once immediately, after he was killed. He was reburied on Okinawa for a little bit, and his final resting place now is in the National Memorial Cemetery in Honolulu. So that's where he seems to be [[laughter]] staying these days.

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UNKNOWN AUDIENCE: Is this considered one of his smaller— I'm familiar with a few of his pr —is this considered one of his smaller sculptures that he did?

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Jim Barber: Uh, Joe Davidson? Not really, this is about, uh, [[coughs]] pardon me, this is about normal for Joe Davidson. It's basically life-sized and it's extraordinary because it's— it's from life, so near his death.

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Jim Barber: I mean that's— so, so often, before I really looked— paid any attention— much attention to this I thought, "Oh, it's dated 1944. It's probably— his death was probably the occasion for Joe Davidson to do the bust after photographs." But not so in this case, yeah.

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Jim Barber: And Joe Davidson, for the most part, worked from life. Uhm—
Jim Barber: —and all, so that's nice, too.

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Jim Barber: So this is really the kind of portraiture, that the Portrait Gallery is really after.