Seeing “The Post,” Steven Spielberg’s film starring Meryl Streep as publisher of The Washington Post, was more than a movie outing for Larry Hanson. It was more than watching a taut pre-Watergate drama, or cheering the early-’70s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers.
For Hanson, who retired as The Daily Herald’s publisher in 2002, watching the movie Sunday was a reminder of time spent with Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee after The Washington Post Co. purchased The Herald in 1978.
“It is terrific. It did bring back a lot of memories,” said Hanson, now 80 and living in Mukilteo.
In the movie, Graham is the Post’s publisher and head of the company, a role she filled after her husband, Philip Graham’s, suicide in 1963. Bradlee, played in the movie by Tom Hanks, was the legendary Post editor who led the relentless coverage that forced President Richard Nixon from the White House.
After her company bought The Herald, Graham visited Everett several times, beginning in March 1978.
Hanson, whose Herald career spanned 45 years, recalled that after local Publisher Robert D. Best died in 1976, his widow, Jane Best, and her family considered several buyers for The Herald. Graham, Hanson said, “flew out and met with Mrs. Best.”
“What convinced Mrs. Best,” said Hanson, “Kay Graham said ‘The last thing you need in Everett, Washington, was another Washington Post.’” He said that Graham assured the Best family that The Herald would operate as “a local, community newspaper.”
“And Mrs. Graham was really true to her word,” Hanson said. “She took time to tour The Herald plant, visit with people in each department, and in particular she loved the newsroom.”
I remember sitting on the floor of a packed Herald lunchroom while Graham fielded questions. “That was very much her,” Hanson said. “Here was this famous newspaper owner and publisher fresh off the Watergate success, and she really took the time.”
Hanson showed Graham around Everett and Snohomish County. “You would assume she’d want to stay at one of the fancy hotels in Seattle,” he said, but Graham opted for the now-closed Marina Village Inn, a boutique hotel on the Everett waterfront.
Her favorite local restaurant was Charles at Smuggler’s Cove, a Mukilteo landmark also now closed. Hanson and his wife, Raili, who died in 2010, also entertained Graham in their Everett home. “She wanted to see the community,” Hanson said. “She was so open and interested in what people thought. She asked a lot of questions. She was gracious, accessible and always impressive.”
Hanson said Graham agreed to give a talk when he was president of a state newspaper publishers group. And in 1995, Graham was here again to visit The Herald, speak to the Seattle Area Chamber of Commerce, and attend a reception for United Way of Snohomish County donors.
She was interviewed by former Herald writers, among them Bob Wodnik. In 1995, at 78, Graham told Wodnik about the start of her career. Fresh out of college in 1938, she worked as a reporter for the San Francisco News. “I had the best year of my life, practically,” she told The Herald writer.
By 1979, Graham’s son, Donald Graham, had succeeded his mother as The Post publisher. Don Graham made many trips to Everett, and Hanson traveled often to Washington, D.C.
Katharine Graham, chairwoman of the board and CEO of The Washington Post Co., was the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Hanson was impressed by a movie scene in which Graham, faced with whether to publish the top-secret Pentagon Papers about U.S. involvement in Vietnam, tells members of her board that the company isn’t her father’s or her husband’s, it is her company. “Her tenacity and strength of character, the show really does portray her commitment,” Hanson said.
He said Bradlee was also interested in The Herald. “I invited him to speak at an Everett Chamber of Commerce annual meeting. He did a fabulous job,” he said.
Bradlee spent a day in The Herald newsroom. “He was very impressed with Joann Byrd,” he said. The Herald’s executive editor from 1981 to 1992, Byrd later worked as The Washington Post’s ombudsman, and co-chaired the Pulitzer Prize Board.
Before Hanson became The Herald’s publisher, he was invited by Bradlee to spend two weeks in The Post’s newsroom and attend daily news meetings. “It was important for a business-side guy, which I was, to have an appreciation for the newsroom,” he said.
Hanson attended Graham’s funeral in 2001, and was in Washington, D.C., again in 2014 for Bradlee’s funeral. Both services, in the National Cathedral, were attended by vice presidents, other top government officials and journalism luminaries.
In 2013, Hanson was in Oregon when Don Graham called to tell him The Herald was being sold to Canada’s Black Press, which operates as Sound Publishing Inc. in Washington. It was the same year that Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos took over as owner of The Washington Post.
Seeing the movie, Hanson was reminded of Graham’s strength during a stressful presentation he made to The Post’s board. After The Herald launched its Sunday edition in 1981, he made a pitch for a new offset press. “Halfway through my presentation, Kay said, ‘Excuse me, Larry, I thought the idea of me buying The Everett Herald, you were supposed to send me money,’ ” he recalled.
She suggested he do that for a while. “True to her word, we did that for a while. And she said, ‘OK, let’s get the new press,’ Hanson said.
“She was right. We did our part, she did hers,” he said. “She gave us the freedom to keep the community newspaper alive.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.