Aggie and the Los Angeles Record

Exterior view of the Los Angeles Record building (top, middle of photo), located next to the Pacific Electric Railroad tracks. Building has three large arched windows on the second floor. Photo dated: September 12, 1933.

Aggie’s newspaper career began at the switchboard of the Los Angeles Record in October 1926. The Record was at 612 Wall Street near the Pacific Electric station at Sixth and Main. The streetcars rumbled past the building providing an industrial soundtrack for the “weird wonderland” of men pounding away on old typewriters. Aggie enjoyed the ambient hum, occasionally punctuated by the shouts of reporters as they called out phone numbers for her to dial.

Gertrude Price, the woman’s editor, approached Aggie when her temporary job at the switchboard was almost over. Price wrote a column under the pseudonym Cynthia Grey. Each year at Christmas, she organized a food and gift basket program for the needy. Hundreds of letters poured in from donors and the poor alike. The job of putting together the baskets was an enormous one, and Gertrude asked Aggie to assist. 

At the end of the 1926 holiday season, Aggie contemplated her return to domestic life when Gertrude surprised her with an offer of a part-time job. Price asked Aggie if she would work two hours a day taking phone messages and handling Cynthia Grey correspondence. Aggie gratefully accepted the offer.

William Edward Hickman [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Gertrude Price became Aggie’s friend and mentor. One of the most important lessons she learned about the newspaper business came near her twenty-fifth birthday. Los Angeles reeled from the kidnapping and mutilation murder of 12-year-old schoolgirl Marion Parker. Authorities identified William Edward Hickman as the killer. He became the subject of the biggest manhunt in Los Angeles’ history. Aggie saw a United Press flash announcing Hickman’s capture in Oregon. She was so excited she telephoned her husband and shared the news with him. 

Price overheard the call and warned Aggie about discussing a story before it circulated on the streets. At first, she felt ashamed because she’d disappointed her mentor. Then she realized Price was instructing her on a fundamental principle of the news business. She would not make the same mistake again.

Aggie couldn’t stay at her desk while the bulletins of Hickman’s capture continued to flood the newsroom. She finally committed the “unpardonable sin” of hovering over the shoulder of Rod Brink, the city editor. Brink said to her, “All right, if you’re so interested, take this dictation.” In that instant Aggie realized she wanted to be a reporter.

Aggie Underwood – Reporter

Aggie began her career as a reporter assisting Gertrude Price with the women’s page.  Through her assignments Aggie became acquainted with dozens of people in public office, many of whom would become her best news contacts later in her career.

It was at the Record that Agness acquired her nickname.  As the reporters got to know and like Agness it was inevitable that her name would end up shortened. One day the sports editor, Stub Nelson, shouted out “Aggie” and the nickname stuck. Aggie wasn’t pleased at first; she’d hated the nickname when she was a kid. Again, it was her friend and mentor Gertrude Price who explained life in the newsroom to the younger woman.  She told Aggie that she should embrace the nickname as a sign of acceptance and individuality.

Wrestler c. 1930s

Wrestler c. 1930s

By 1929, Aggie had taken on extra duties at the Record, and she was rewarded with free tickets to local theaters and events – a major perk in lean times.  One day she approached Stub Nelson and asked him for tickets to a wrestling match – she wanted them for her husband.  Stub gave her the tickets on the condition that she report on the match for the sports page. Aggie didn’t know anything about wrestling, but Stub assured her that it wouldn’t take her long to learn the ins and outs of the sport.  Stub was right; in Aggie’s thorough fashion she took the assignment seriously and grilled her husband about various holds and falls, and the next day her story appeared in the sports section.

Aggie’s wrestling match assignments continued, and she was determined to learn all that she could about the sport. She became so adept at covering the wrestling matches that she was soon assigned to covering the auto races at Ascot speedway.

Eventually Aggie was summoned by Rod Brink, the City Editor, who introduced her to an elderly man who had been credited with planting the first cotton in California. Brink told Aggie to interview the man and said that her story would be a by-liner, which meant that her name would appear above the story.

Aggie’s career as a reporter was underway.