Maury Z. Levy

Posts Tagged ‘john facenda’

John Facenda: When Times Were Tough

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980) on September 9, 2009 at 8:19 pm

By Maury Z. Levy

The Italians call it polenta. And if you mix it up really 
good with a big heavy spoon, you really can’t tell what 
it is. Which is probably better because all that mattered 
was that it went into your stomach and that it filled you 
up and that it kept you warm.

In the later days, when times were good, they would 
make it with bits of pork and bits of sausage and bacon 
and things like that. And real milk. But that was a good 
time off. In 1934, in West Philadelphia, on Chancellor 
Street near 55th, they mixed it with water and leftovers 
and bits of scrap they stole from the dish of the dog. But 
you couldn’t afford to stop and think about where it came 
from or what was in it. Only that it kept you from going 
hungry and that it was cheap. A lot of this doesn’t mean 
anything if you were born in the past 30 years or so. Sure, maybe the new Depression has you worried about 
the price of meat. The people who lived in this town, or 
tried to, back in 1934 didn’t worry much about the price 
of meat. Actually, meat wasn’t expensive. But it didn’t 
really matter, because when you’ve got no money in the 
first place, when you’re forced to steal a couple of lumps of coal to keep the furnace going, when you’re the 75th 
guy in the soup line and the kitchen closes in 20 minutes, 
you tend not to worry about such worldly things as the 
price of meat.

A lot of people suffered in 1934; they suffered from a 
lot of things. They were bad times, times a lot of people 
would like to forget but can’t because growling stomachs 
leave scars. And just in case you think you’re having it 
really rough now because the price of gasoline for your 
second car has doubled, maybe it wouldn’t hurt you to 
look at some of the pictures that follow, or listen to a 
report of the times by a man whose reporting has made 
him a legend in Philadelphia, a man who lived through 
and worked through and managed to survive 1934 and 
the few years before and the many years after.

JOHN FACENDA WAS GOING to school then, to school at 
Villanova on a scholarship because that was the only way 
he could afford it. His father, an engineer, a professional 
man, wanted his son to be one, too. But Facenda’s voice 
became his profession. He was destined to become the top 
newsman in town at WCAU. But then, to earn some pocket money and to help 
keep some polenta on the table, he was working two jobs while he was going to school. He figures he put in a good 
90 hours a week between the old Public Ledger and his first announcing job at wit’. He was making $18.75 a week 
in radio. He remembers it well. Reporting the strike stories, the labor violence, 
the political convention. He worked hard for his money, for his $18.75. 
”Today,” he says, “a booth announcer 
makes that much for saying ‘Sears sale starts tomorrow.'”

Facenda remembers the bad times and the good times, but mostly the bad 
times. And how people rallied to make 
them good. “It was the most difficult 
thing in the world,” he says, “although 
nobody really thought that they were 
poor because everybody else was in the 
same boat. It wasn’t a question of any 
disparity between a Cadillac and a push cart. It seemed that everybody 
had the push cart.”

Facenda says that one of the things 
that impressed him most as a boy 
growing into manhood was how hard 
it must have been for parents in those 
days. “To go to bed not knowing what 
you were going to put on the table 
the next day for the kids. And to wake 
up the next morning realizing there 
wasn’t enough food to go around, I can even remember my Read the rest of this entry »

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