Like many things in history, the undoing of my boss, Gleda Balls happened by chance. It began with an incident that, in and of itself, would give you no reason to suspect that a shake-up was imminent. Much like the cow that kicked over the lantern and brought on the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Or, the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which consequently led to World War I. Who could predict that these events would lead to something so consequential?
Yet, that is exactly what happened to Gleda Balls. And, it all began with, ahem, me, the typist. Or maybe it really began with Mary, the publicist, who would hand me the press releases to type.
When Gleda came on board, she hired Mary to write all the copy for the department. The only problem was that Mary wasn’t a writer at heart, and nobody seemed to notice but me. Jeff, the assistant director, was in charge of producing the promo spots and spent a lot of time in the editing room in a building across campus. But it wasn’t his job to check Mary’s work.
From the moment Gleda arrived, she missed Texas something awful and spent a lot of time talking about the wide-open spaces on the cattle ranch her daddy owned. She was a regular Scarlet O’Hara, who still considered herself a coquette, even though she was well past her twenties. I imagined she kept a bag of smelling salts in her purse for when she got the vapors. All this left her little time to run the department, much less proof Mary’s work. So I was the only one reading it. Each week, as I typed the copy, I’d make corrections as I went along, and nobody knew, except, maybe, Mary.
Much like the cow that knocked over the lantern, or the guy who killed the duke, I didn’t set out to start the chain of events that led to Gleda’s undoing. All I did was question something Mary wrote. A little red flag. Nothing mind-blowing; just enough to make me wonder if I should get a second opinion. I considered taking it to Mary, but that didn’t seem efficient since she was the one who wrote it.
So, I went in search of Gleda Balls. In typical fashion, her office was empty. She was seldom at her desk. Long lunches and the fact that she was still getting settled into her new home, while pining for her old one, kept her away much of the time.
I headed back to my office, and, in the hallway, ran into Burnie, the program manager, who happened to also be my boss, on days when I worked on viewer mail. Burnie, who hailed from Nebraska, was tall and rather bland looking, with shorn hair, deeply recessed, squinty eyes, and thin lips. He also happened to care a lot about the station.
“You look lost,” he remarked. “Is there something I can help you with?”
I debated whether to say anything. This was Gleda’s domain, after all, though the release was about a program, which was Burnie’s purview.
I handed him the release. “Would you let me know if you think this is okay to say?”
He read the first line aloud. “Set your VCR’s and be sure to record this ____ program.”
The line was a bit longer, but that was the gist. Burnie looked at me incredulously. “No, this is not appropriate at all.”
Granted, by today’s standards this particular line might not seem like a big deal. But, at that time, VCR’s were still new, and copyright issues were running rampant. Program managers like Burnie understood that they were witnessing the beginning of the end for TV ratings and audiences. He would often tell us this at staff meetings. As a TV station, it was our job to do everything we could to encourage watching the programs when they actually aired, even though it was a losing battle.
“What does Gleda think about this?” I didn’t say anything, but from the strained look on my face, Burnie was beginning to figure it out.
“She hasn’t read this, has she?” His beady eyes probed into mine.
“I’m not sure,” There was no way I could tell him she never reads the releases before they go out.
“Do you think you can rewrite the opening?” I nodded. Having typed and secretly edited many a press release, I knew the formula.
He then headed back to his office.
The next day, Gleda called me into hers. She seemed tense. There was a twitch in her eye, as if an eyelash was stuck in it, and she was biting on her fuchsia-colored lips.
“Sugar, a little birdie told me you found something wrong with one of the press releases. Is that so?”
I nodded, even though I wasn’t sure if she said, “birdie” or “Burnie.” I’d never seen her so discombobulated, as if working in the office was new to her, and it was all she could do to hold it together. She was making me anxious, and I wondered if her smelling salts were handy.
“Tell me, Honey, is this the first time you’ve found a problem with the press releases?”
“Not exactly.” I then explained how I’d been correcting some of the grammar and spelling as needed.
“Really? Well, that’s just peaches. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
As I walked back to my desk, I wondered what Burnie had told her. It was just a little red flag, and we’d resolved it, or so I thought, so I wasn’t sure why she seemed so frazzled now. But then I heard it. A high-pitch scream that resonated throughout the halls.
Here’s what I didn’t know at the time of my meeting with Gleda. Apparently, the “little birdie” she referred to was the general manager. The head honcho. Burnie had shared our conversation with him. The GM, in turn, tried in vain to reach Gleda, who was nowhere to be found. Evidently, she was having a spa day, only she hadn’t “officially” taken the day off. When he finally reached her, the GM went ballistic, demanding to know who was running the department. Where were the checks and balances?
Word had it that Gleda tried to work her Texas charm on him, but he just told her to stop sulking about Texas, and grab the reigns and get a hold of her department.
Or, as Jeff would say, “Wake up and smell the coffee.”
Which is what she did, and she took it out on Mary. I kind of felt bad, on account that it wasn’t really Mary’s fault, as she had never received any guidance from Gleda. But then, neither had I.
The following week, Mary, who hadn’t yet been there six months and was still in her probationary period, took the fall. Gleda got off scot-free, but, unbeknownst to me, management began keeping a close eye on her.
As for me, someone put a word in on my behalf, and I became the new publicist.
Turns out, the press release wasn’t the only problem, but it was the one that broke the camel’s back. And kicked the lantern, too.
Missed a chapter? Read past installments, by visiting the page, The Road Taken.