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A Star is… Found

Frank B. Gilbreth Jr wrote more about the family than perhaps any other person—not just the two famous books of family lore, with his sister Ernestine, but a third such book, a formal genealogy and several other books of autobiography and family history. We are indebted to him (and “Ernie”) for giving us this long, lush look at the internal world of the Gilbreth family.

But for a variety of reasons Frank Jr did not always tell the whole story, nor (sometimes) quite the actual truth. He was, after all, writing for entertainment and writing about what could have been very sensitive topics among his siblings. Lillian was also alive through all but his last two books of family stories, and her sensibilities were carefully regarded in the way he told certain tales.

But beyond that light fictionalizing for entertainment and circumspection for family privacy, Frank Jr occasionally just omitted a few things... maybe in the name of story flow and maybe for personal reasons. For whichever of those or other reasons, he omitted a fairly important passage from his 1951 autobiography I'm A Lucky Guy. Therein, he simply says he pursued his first wife, Elizabeth, to her home town of Charleston SC, married her, and went to work for the News & Courier.

What he leaves out is that after a short stint at that venerable newspaper, he quit, and with two of his brothers in law, founded a new paper for the city. It quickly failed, and he went back to the News & Courier. The only clue to this effort is in Lillian Gilbreth's desultory autobiographical notes, published only fairly recently under the title As I Remember (written about 1941, first published in 1998). Therein, in outlining her oldest son's life and career, she says about as much as I summarized in that first sentence... and no more.

For quite some time, I searched records to see if this short-lived newspaper had left any mark (and, for that matter, had actually existed). All I could come up with was the Charleston Star, published about 1936... no further information available, no confirmation that this was actually the Gilbreth/Cauthen effort. None of the institutions that archive old newspapers had any record, much less any copies.

And then in a routine followup, I managed to hit on one slightly obscure archive in South Carolina which not only had the full run of the paper on microfilm, but was almost as much in the dark about its history and principals as I was. An archivist was kind enough to provide a full PDF of the microfilm's contents, and... there it was.

First page of the first issue of the Charleston Star. The column at right is almost certainly Frank Gilbreth Jr's writing.

For unknown reasons, the paper never included a formal masthead (which, by the way, is the listing of publisher, editors, etc. usually found on an inside page of most rags, and not the banner title atop the first page). So it was not quite as simple as looking at the list of culprits in any issue; there wasn't one.

But it didn't take long to find an article bylined Frank B. Gilbreth Jr., and many more bylined by the Cauthen brothers. Although Frank Jr's byline is quite rare thereafter, there are many pseudonymous and un-bylined feature and history columns that seem to be his work. The paper launched on December 1, 1935 and its last issue seems to be that of July 31, 1936. The lack of a masthead was probably a subterfuge to conceal that the staid journal was the work of just three overworked reporter/editor/publishers. But, without question, the short-lived Charleston Star was what Lillian referred to, and what its (probable) publisher and managing editor delicately excised from his life history.

If anyone has any comments or questions about the Star and doesn't want to wait for my book, please do post or ask them here or drop me a line. I will be happy to answer anything I can, and to point serious researchers to the SC institution where they can request the full archive.

Besides the satisfaction of finding yet another important but forgotten detail of Gilbreth family life, I had two small pleasures stem from this discovery. First, I was able to provide the archive with all of the above contextual information and more for their (possibly unique) holding.

And second, I was able to forward the archive to Frank B. Gilbreth's son (Frank and Lillian's grandson), who although a Charleston newspaper executive and columnist himself, had only hazy stories of his father's failed swing at independent journalism, and had never so much as seen a copy of the Star. I am, of necessity, taking much from the family's long history and both published and archived materials; it's a real pleasure to be able to give something back.