The back of The Star newsroom was the best place to have your desk -- far from the editors and close to the windows.When I came to work there in 1960, I snagged a desk near Lee Cohn, the premier economics writer, and Mary McGrory, the best stylist writing on the political scene. But the dominant figure in the group -- literally and figuratively -- was the Countess, Fifi Gorska. Married to the only Polish nobleman in Rockville, Fifi edited the Teen weekly tabloid and cast a doubtful eye on everything else The Star produced. Her view of political coverage was pretty basic. The whole thing, she said, could just as well be boiled down to a front-page box, with the election results, on the day after the voting, and spare everyone a lot of misinformation and grief.
Harrigan's was the official hangout for the Star staff -- a down-at-the-heels place off Maine Avenue in Southwest. Morris Engle owned it, but his real passion was acting bit parts at Arena Stage; his son, Bobby Engel, ran it, but his real function was as a small-loan maker for perennially pinched Star reporters. The garden of Harrigan's was the designated site for parties for people leaving The Star to work elsewhere -- and there were a lot of them, even in those days.
Fights between reporters and editors are part of every newspaper's life, but they were more highly developed as an art form at The Star than any other place I ever worked. Miriam Ottenberg, the paper's top investigative reporter, was also the toughest in her dealings with the desk. She is the only reporter I have ever seen whip off her belt and drive an editor under the desk while demanding better play for her story.
But The Star also had its gentle souls -- notably George Kennedy, proprietor of The Rambler column, and Jay Carmody, the drama critic. Kennedy and Carmody would make a point of inviting new staff members to join them at Hammel's for Kennedy, and the Raleigh Hotel for Carmody. That was really uptown, but The Star was a really uptown paper in those days.