by King Harris
I first met Bayard Stockton in 1985 when he invited me to be on his KMGQ radio show called Santa Barbara’s Good Companions. He was intrigued by the role of television news anchors, and I was awed because I felt like I was being interviewed by Edward R. Murrow. Foreign correspondents like Bayard were gods to all upstart journalists and I wasn’t disappointed. But I do remember that when I told him the well-written word wasn’t as necessary in my business as his, thunder roared.
But Bayard thundered and roared about a lot of things, like Y2K and the Iraq war and Homeland Security and the Santa Barbara Film Festival and the News-Press debacle and anything else he thought was screwed up, including his own life. Privileged though he was, he did not have an easy time of it. Born October 27, 1930 in Lausanne, Switzerland, to Margaret Forest Zabriskie and Philip Bayard Stockton, he grew up as an only and lonely child in the New York environs of Gramercy Park and Long Island’s North Shore. He couldn’t get close to his mother because she wouldn’t allow it, and he rarely saw his father, who was lodged in an insane asylum. Bayard, having now become self-reliant, was shuffled off to private boarding schools like Harvey and then Exeter Academy, from which he graduated in 1946. He went on to attend Williams College, where he excelled at swimming and majored in political science. But he never finished (though he later receive an honorary degree). Instead, he opted to become a spy for the U.S. government.
“You’re kidding me, right?” I remember asking during the early days of our friendship, when he first told me about his espionage background.
“Nope,” he replied. “Almost 10 years, for the CIA in Berlin, in the 1950s.”
I started to get paranoid. “I’m not being recorded, am I?” I asked. I didn’t think people could ever leave the CIA. And I wondered how one got into it in the first place.
In Bayard’s case, he was recruited. The Army, it seems, was looking for the best and the brightest to fight the Cold War in Europe. Curious and intrigued, Bayard studied psychological warfare, took a crash course in German, learned to witness from the shadows, and became a case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. Bayard later recalled that his grandest experience during this time — other than serving with infamous undercover colleague Bill Harvey (about whom he later wrote a book) — was flushing out Soviet counterespionage agent Heinz Frose, who was working for the Americans under the name Hans Friesen. Frose was later convicted of high treason, much to the chagrin of Bayard’s superiors, who never believed it true. Was it a career fraught with danger? “Not in the slightest,” according to Bayard’s longtime partner George Kirby. “All we did was drink, smoke, party, and socialize,” he once told me. But all would not remain gay. By the tail end of the ’50s, both Bayard’s parents had died and his days as a spy were over, as was his six-year first attempt at marriage.
His second was to a woman he met at a Communist rally in Berlin in 1958. Bayard and Erdmuthe Von Flemming wed in 1960, the year that he started work as a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, first in Bonn and soon after in London. By the latter part of the ’60s, Bayard and Erdmuthe had produced three highly spirited children — Tara, Philip, and Vanessa — and were living in Greece. It was, according to Philip, the best of times. “Dad had a boat called the Alkyon,” he recalled. “All we did was swim and fish and play in the water.” Bayard, now freelancing, banged away on his typewriter from the stern of his ship. “He wasn’t as intense, though,” said Philip. “Dad seemed more carefree, and was very Bohemian.”
Given that climate and lifestyle, it’s easy to see how Bayard ultimately ended up in Santa Barbara. He divorced Erdmuthe in 1980 and moved to Santa Barbara one year later, where he quickly got involved in the community, first on radio. Over the years, he would be known in Santa Barbara as a teacher, writer, lecturer, media hound, political watchdog, and staunch supporter of causes like Veterans for Peace. He also authored three books: Flawed Patriot, a biography of CIA legend Bill Harvey; Nothing to Fear, a fictionalized account of the Y2K scare; and Catapult, a biography of mind expansion pioneer Robert Monroe.
When he wasn’t writing, he was at the beach: either Hendry’s — his favorite — where he would parade around from shore to sea, or a nude beach somewhere south, parading around for all to see. What better place to pursue his perpetual lust for the ladies. Bayard’s conquests got to be so numerous, his daughter Tara recently told me, that he wasn’t allowed to introduce any new girlfriends to his children unless the relationship was six months old.
He never quit, either. Just last October on his 75th birthday, he told me he was seeking a woman with at least 60 years of age, who was well-traveled, intelligent, and sexy. As far as I know, he never connected. But he did find peace. He discovered it one day in the early ’90s. It was the day he called me from Hell.
“King, this is Bayard. I need you to come over right now and convince me why I shouldn’t kill myself. Because that’s what I’m about to do.” He was not sober — though he sounded too exhausted to be drunk — but I hoped it was the bottle talking. Booze was Bayard’s worst enemy. He had quit 10 years earlier, even joined AA. I raced to his house to find he had relapsed and was on the tail end of a two-week binge, his spirit as empty as the empty liquor bottles I found all over the place. “At least you could drink the good stuff, Bay,” I remarked. When he laughed, I knew things would be okay. After four hours of talking about life and death, his mother and father, his children, his work, and his play, I drove him to the hospital, where he surrendered. He never touched another drop. When I asked him years later what I said that changed his mind and his life, he replied, “You answered my question.”
“What question?” I asked.
“Did I contribute? In all these years, did I ever make any difference?”
Are you kidding? See you at Hendry’s, Bayard.
In the bonds, King