After close to a century, Allene Arthur finally came out about her age.
I’d driven Miss Arthur to numerous social events over a period of 15 years. We covered those posh events together—and until recently, I had no clue that she started writing her column before I was born. That’s how good she is at keeping secrets.
Well, now we know her age: About 100 people showed up at Seven Lakes Country Club recently to help her mark her 90th birthday.
This seasoned journalist started writing her lifestyles/scene column in 1959—and has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. Yes, she’s been covering big events for a long time—including the royal wedding of the (20th) century, of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, in 1981.
‘‘I phoned the story in from London, and it appeared on the local daily’s front page the same day as the wedding,” she told me during our one-on-one at her Palm Springs home.
In the media business, things can change in a heartbeat, sometimes tragically, after a story is published. In 1994, Arthur experienced such a moment following an exclusive with DinahShore for a local magazine.
“Palm Springs Life printed my feature interview with Dinah in which she spoke in present tense!” she said. “Unfortunately, she died just about as the magazine was to hit the stands. There was no time to change her quotes into past tense.”
As the decades went by, Arthur experienced various changes in technology—which, of course, changed the way she did her job. One of the biggest changes came while she was working at the local daily as a society editor.
“I was 55 when computers came around, so here at the paper, we went to the classes to learn about it,” she recalled. “Soon, the classes split into advanced and slow ones. I ended up in the ‘dumb’ class—as did the publisher and editor-in-chief, who were my generation.
“The younger reporters got into the computers faster, and I bet you the fifth-graders would beat us all to it!”
Arthur’s personal story is that of a strong-minded woman who raised her son (after a divorce) while working as a single female in a tough corporate environment. The long hours, multiple events to cover and many pages to write—all on deadline—may have left a small impact on her health.
“I did have a minor stroke a few years back, but it did not hamper my column-writing in the slightest,” she said. “It was not a downer in that way.”
Here, Arthur paused. She smiled, remembering something. “Well, Kirk Douglas had a stroke, too,” her hazel eyes flashed, “but he was so charming and engaging when I was taking his quote, you couldn’t tell.”
Allene Arthur has written more than 2,500 columns so far—and that’s just locally! Twice, she said, she quit writing her column. “After both of these interruptions, I’m told there was a considerable letter campaign from The Desert Sun readers that my column be restored. Once again, editors asked me to return to my regular column.”
On this rare occasion, Arthur offered an exclusive: She revealed who the hardest celebs were to quote.
“Frank Sinatra was, by far, the worst one!” she said. “I’d been at his Palm Springs home several times, covering events he and Barbara hosted. Sinatra was always cold and distant. He hated journalists! Also, another former local resident, novelist Harold Robbins, was so blunt and rude!”
President Gerald Ford was just the opposite, according to Arthur.
“I was so impressed by Ford!” she said. “He and Betty were at several social events I covered. At one, where he was the guest of honor, we were introduced during the pre-dinner cocktail hour and fell into conversation. He was a gracious gentleman. And I was seated next to the first lady during the dinner.”
How does Allene Arthur keeps going? What keeps her feeling young?
“I love porn flicks!” she joked with a bright smile. “I never run out of material; there’s just not enough space to publish everything I want!”
We talked about the place of columns in American journalism, and Arthur mentioned that her idols were Erma Bombeck and Ogden Nash. That’s when Arthur pointed out an ingredient of the master columnist: “I write for the reader—not the advertiser or the people being written about, but the reader!”
It would take up a whole story just to list all of the awards Arthur received for her “first century” in journalism. Instead, I took a picture of her by her “vanity wall.” They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but there’s always another word to be written—until the final column, that is.
That leads to my last question for Allene Arthur: When’s the time to quit for good?
She answered without hesitation.
“I’ll end it when I run out of something to say, or when publishers decide to eliminate me—whichever comes first!”