Anna Louise Strong: The Radical Who Couldn’t Make Up Her Mind (1939)

y father, C. H. (Brick) Garrigues wrote letters — lots of them. Here is one he wrote to his friend, Toni Strassman, about Anna Louise Strong just after Brick and his new wife, Naomi Silver, moved from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Brick had been a  political writer for the Los Angeles Illustrated Daily News and then briefly did publicity for progressive municipal  candidates.

Anna Louise Strong, then fifty-four, was a prolific left-wing writer who, at this time, was doing articles  for leading periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Nation, and Asia. She was making a West Coast tour at  the suggestion of Eleanor Roosevelt.

2223 Roosevelt Avenue
Berkeley, Calif.
May 24, l939

Dear Toni,

Naomi ran into Anna Louise Strong (“Remaking an American,” “I Change Worlds,” etc.) last week while I was down south  and she wanted to hire us both as a one-man secretary. While she was up here, Naomi was to do stenographic work; while  she was in L.A. I was to act as her social secretary.

He Usually Lived With

I’d frequently wondered what it would be like to be a guard in a bughouse, but I wonder no longer. I had two of the  wildest days of leaping from place to place one could ever expect before I dashed feverishly northward to get away from her.

She had a bad habit of making appointments for herself, writing them on a slip of paper and sticking them into the huge  pockets of her huge coat, the huge purse or the tiny briefcase she carried.

She’d always remember the time of the appointment but never the place, the telephone number or the name of the person she was going to see. Then for hours we’d drive frantically about town trying to get someplace we were supposed to be until finally I’d call up enough people to find out who so-and-so was and where, then we’d get there.

One of the girls here drove with her down to Sacramento (one hundred miles away). She had no appointment, merely  wanted to see the town, but planned to arrive at three.

For various reasons they were an hour late in arriving. As they got into  the outskirts of the town, Anna realized it was four o’clock. Raving that she’d spent more time on this trip than it was worth, she  compelled Helen to turn around and drive back, without even entering the town she had come a hundred miles to see.

[“Helen” was Helen Hosmer of the Simon J. Lubin Society, a very small organization Hosmer and others founded to work for the welfare of California farm workers.]

The next day they drove to Fresno. Helen had made reservations at a hotel, but on their way down somebody wrote down  the name of an auto court that was supposed to be good. Anna stuck the name in her pocket.

When they got to Fresno, she  made Helen cancel the hotel reservations and then they started looking for the auto court. But Anna had lost the paper. So,after two hours, they went back to the hotel and went to bed.

In the morning when Helen woke up, Anna was gone. Several hours later she came back, explaining that she had found the  address of the auto court in her pocket, had dressed, taken a cab five miles out of town at three in the morning and spent the  rest of the night there.

So if you think you have troubles, pray that your path never crosses that of Anna Louise Strong.

Helen Hosmer told a similar story:

“When Anna Louise Strong came back from the Soviet Union, and came out to the West Coast . . . she announced that she  wanted to see California agriculture . . .

“She was this brilliant, famous, newspaper woman and writer. She had lived in the Soviet  Union and wanted to compare California farming with farming in the Soviet Union. She asked if I would be her guide and take her  around California.

“Neither of us drove a car at that time. But she claimed she drove a car, but when somebody loaned her a car, and  we got on the freeway down there somewhere, and she was going 20 miles an hour and screaming, ‘They’re going to kill me and I’m  going to kill you, and I can’t go any faster; I’m not used to this; we don’t drive like that in Russia.’ . . .

“She would make me get off and stop at about five or ten motels before she could choose . . . she could  not make a decision on small things. . . . .”

[From A Radical Critic of  California Agribusiness in the 1930s, an oral history conducted and edited by Randall Jarrell of the University of California at Santa  Cruz, 1992.]