Truman’s Former Right-hand Man Celebrates His 93rd

Barney Discusses the Legendary Life of Frank Kelly

Truman’s Man: Frank Kelly likes to tell stories about speech-writing for President Truman, getting literary advice from Ernest Hemingway, and meeting President Roosevelt.

Kelly, a former journalist, war correspondent, and staffer for the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions – when it was located here in SB – is being honored on his 93rd birthday.

On the Beat

In an interview at the Harry S. Truman Library a few years ago, Kelly recalled how Hemingway paid a visit to the Kansas City Star, where Kelly was a young reporter and where Hemingway had worked before becoming a famous novelist.

“He came through there right after he had finished writing For Whom the Bell Tolls,” Frank said. “He showed up in our city room with Martha Gellhorn and said he’d take everybody out to a bar for a drink.”

Gellhorn was one of the most famous war correspondents of the 20th century, as well as Hemingway’s wife. The marriage was a stormy one. “I remember that she wore a beautiful mink coat,” Kelly said. “So one poor guy had to watch the Star‘s telephones while the rest of us went to a bar up the street.

“I told him I was working on a novel and I said, ‘Give me some advice on writing.’ Hemingway told him, ‘Well, the best advice I can give you is to quit when you’re going good.’ I asked, ‘What does that mean?’ And he replied, ‘Well, I found it’s hard to get started with a blank piece of paper when you’re writing a book, but you finally get underway.’

‘Then the thing is just pouring out of you. As soon as it starts to pour out of you, stop. Because the next day when you pick up those pieces of paper and see that you’ve written something in white heat, it really encourages you to go on, and you can do a whole book that way.'”

“And I found that worked,” Kelly said. “I’ve written a number of books.”

In Washington during the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency, Kelly got invited to a press conference – held in the Oval Office in those days – with a few journalists crowded around FDR’s desk.

FDR concluded the meeting by saying: “I’m sorry I haven’t got much news for you boys today.” “Thank you, Mr. President,” one of the reporters said, and most of them hurried from the room.

The regular Star White House beat reporter took Kelly around the desk, and said to Roosevelt, “Mr. President, this is a young reporter for the Star I brought with me today – Frank Kelly.”

FDR and Kelly shook hands and FDR cocked his cigarette holder in a corner of his mouth. “Do you like being a newspaperman?” FDR asked. “I like it a lot, sir.” I replied.

The President grinned. “I thought about being a reporter myself when I was young.” He chuckled a little. “I guess I took the wrong turn.”

Kelly said he couldn’t resist saying, “You’re doing pretty well, Mr. Roosevelt.”

“Thank you,” FDR said. “This is a pretty good job, too.”

Vice President Harry Truman became president when FDR died and Kelly wrote speeches for his 1948 election campaign.

Kelly, a founder and senior vice president of the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, will be honored at a birthday luncheon June 14 at the University Club. RSVP to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation by calling (805) 965-3443. The $100 fee will support the Frank K. Kelly Lecture on Humanity’s Future series, established by the Peace Foundation.

Watch Those Travel Scams: I’m a travel nut and somehow I’ve avoided being nailed by one of those scams that cost Americans over $10 billion a year.

For starters, beware of “free” trips and Internet come-ons promising rock-bottom prices that sound too good to be true. Santa Barbara has many reliable travel agents, which is one way to go. I usually plan my own trips, but a good agent can save you a lot of hours before the computer and can offer sage advice. The Better Business Bureau recommends paying with a credit card and avoiding deals that require you to book 60 days in advance. Why? Because credit card companies allow you to dispute charges within 60 days of a purchase. After that, my best advice: Be cautious.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns on Tuesdays and Fridays and a print column on Thursdays.


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