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The story of The Forum’s ‘girl reporter’ who conquered Hollywood, but never forgot the folks at home – InForum

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FARGO – I’ve worked at Forum Communications for over 30 years, how did I not know about this amazing ex-employee?

Muriel Babcock worked for the Forum 100 years ago and died the year I became a full-time employee here. So for those reasons, obviously, I never got a chance to run into her in the break room. man! I wish I had. Instead, I had to find out about her story through the forum’s archives.

Weathered old newsprint tells the story of a trailblazing, driven young woman who could easily be fired in a male-dominated journalism world. Instead, she decided to go ahead and conquer it.

Before becoming one of Hollywood’s foremost journalists, Babcock was a staff writer for the Forum in the 1920s. We’ve all seen those 20’s and 30’s movie magazines smearing today’s biggest stars. Well, Babcock is the main alien.

She interviewed and shared news about the biggest stars of the day, including this priceless piece from June 17, 1934:

“Last Sunday was a hot and busy day for fan worship in Hollywood. Clark Gable nearly had his pants ripped off by a crowd of hysterical fans at Central Airport.”

Oh dear.

But before all this excitement, she was a “female reporter” from Wapeton, North Dakota, in a smoky 1920s newsroom full of men.

From the Heartland to Hollywood

Babcock was born in Minneapolis on March 19, 1900. She grew up in Wahpeton, where her father worked at a tool dealer. Earlier, she was hooked on the news, selling the Saturday Evening News as a child and setting up her own newsstand in high school.

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Muriel Babcock writes for The Fargo Forum and the Grand Forks Herald during the University of North Dakota off-campus. She eventually graduated from the University of California and began working on her thesis in Los Angeles.

Forum Archives

She attended the University of North Dakota, but also worked as a secretary for Norman B. Black, publisher of the Fargo Tribune, and eventually became a staff writer for the paper. She is also a reporter for the Grand Fox Herald. She writes human stories and is in charge of the movie section.

By 1923, she had moved to California, attended the University of California and worked for the San Francisco Examiner. By the late 1920s, she moved to Hollywood, where her career really took off.

When she first arrived in Southern California, she wrote film columns for the Los Angeles Times and The Los Angeles Examiner. She also became one of the first female journalists to cover major sporting events when the 1932 Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Her favorite athlete? Babe Didrickson, who said she was “an entire show of her own.”

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Muriel Babcock was assigned to cover women at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. She wrote that Babe Didrickson was the most “unique and unusual” person. She said Didrikson has the fastest set of coordinated muscles ever given to any woman.

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More honors, accolades, and promotions followed. By 1939, she was named editor of the nation’s No. 1 film magazine.

“The Slender Blonde Forum Reporter”

When Babcock got a major promotion to become editor of America’s top film magazine Picture Play, the forum’s headline read “Once ‘Skinny Blonde Forum Reporter’ is Now Editor of National Film Magazine”.

The editor wrote that she was “very girly, yes sir, very girly” and commented on her tall and “boyish” figure.

Have these cigar-smoking journalists ever asked themselves how her height, hair color, and figure have anything to do with her accomplishments as a journalist? In my extensive archival research so far, I’ve never found a single title that reads “Chunky brown-haired man gets promoted.” I will keep looking.

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Muriel Babcock with actor Robert Taylor.

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when she was named Four In a different magazine, an article with a headline describing Babcock declared, “Ms. Editor is Miss Babcock’s job, no glamour.”

What’s the difference between a “lady editor” and a regular editor? Maybe she’s smoking a Virginia Slim cigarette behind her pink typewriter while reminding her male colleagues not to call her “honey”?

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By 1942, Muriel Babcock was executive editor of four magazines. Even so, when a Fargo Forum reporter ended an interview with her, she said, “I’m not really busy. Stay and tell my family.”

Forum Archives

Babcock is known to be a “big guy,” but she doesn’t seem to have forgotten her roots. She has conducted several interviews with Forum reporters over the years, often asking them to tell her about what happened “with the people back home”.

One of my favorite finds is a letter Babcock wrote to Roy Johnson on the forum on February 23, 1939.

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Muriel Babcock’s letter to Roy Johnson of The Fargo Forum details life as editor of a major magazine in New York City. Although Picture Play’s tagline says it’s an “adult film magazine,” it’s not what you think it is. It’s just a magazine about movies.

Forum Archives

On powder-blue Picture Play letterhead, she talks about her reporting philosophy, “People love to read about people.”

But the best part of this letter is her opening remarks, which, I think, can help you really get a sense of her early days in the forum:

“Dear Roy: I do remember the old AP room and how I used to steal cigarettes. You might be interested to know, now that I’m an adult, I don’t like the smell of cigarettes and I rarely smoke.”

In her later years, Babcock extended her influence into publishing, even editing a book about the Kennedy family in 1962. Three years later, in 1965, Babcock retired from her “big shot” career.

She died on Long Island, New York, in 1988, and was survived by many nieces and nephews (at least one reporter on the forum today is willing to do whatever it takes to share a cup of coffee with her in the break room.)

Special thanks to Don Person, who first introduced me to Muriel Babcock.

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Tracy Briggs, “Back to Tracy Briggs” columnist.

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