By Jim Newton
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Jerry Brown is no ordinary politician. Like his state, he is eclectic, brilliant, unpredictable and sometimes weird. And, as with so much that California invents and exports, Brown’s life story reveals a great deal about this country.
With the exclusive cooperation of Governor Brown himself, Jim Newton has written the definitive account of Jerry Brown’s life. The son of Pat Brown, who served as governor of California through the 1960s, Jerry would extend and also radically alter the legacy of his father through his own service in the governor’s mansion. As governor, first in the 1970s and then again, 28 years later in his remarkable return to power, Jerry Brown would propound an alternative menu of American values: the restoration of the California economy while balancing the state budget, leadership in the international campaign to combat climate change and the aggressive defense of California’s immigrants, no matter by which route they arrived. It was a blend of compassion, far-sightedness and pragmatism that the nation would be wise to consider.
The story of Jerry Brown’s life is in many ways the story of California and how it became the largest economy in the United States. Man of Tomorrow traces the blueprint of Jerry Brown’s off beat risk-taking: equal parts fiscal conservatism and social progressivism. Jim Newton also reveals another side of Jerry Brown, the once-promising presidential candidate whose defeat on the national stage did nothing to diminish the scale of his political, intellectual and spiritual ambitions.
To the same degree that California represents the future of America, Jim Newton’s account of Jerry Brown’s life offers a new way of understanding how politics works today and how it could work in the future.
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Umpire Jocko Conlan, known for his cheerful command of the game and the bow tie behind his chest protector, inaugurated the 1960 baseball season in a brand-new park by a sparkling San Francisco Bay.1 The sky was open and blue, the seats gray and framed with orange, the bay choppy and bright. Sailboats skittered across the horizon.
The crowds made their way to Coyote Point, south of San Francisco, drawn to the city's proud new edifice, the $15 million stadium known as Candlestick Park. Fans poured across the landscape, arriving by "land, sea and air," the San Francisco Examiner reported. Cable cars were enlisted—this was San Francisco, after all. Special buses departed from one of the city's juiciest landmarks, Trader Vic's, at 10:00 a.m.; cocktails were served aboard. Bay Aviation Services, brainchild of a local entrepreneur, charged passengers $10 to hop on a helicopter at the Ferry Building, whirl around the Bay Bridge, and land at Hunters Point, where a station wagon covered the rest of the trip to the ballpark. And as for arriving by sea? Hilary A. Belloc, a "socialite, lecturer, real estate investor and erstwhile crab fisherman," piloted his thirty-six-foot ketch, the Signe, to the waters off the point. Dropping anchor, Belloc caught his ring finger in the anchor cable: the finger was cut clean off, but he made it to the park anyway, sealing his place in history as Candlestick's "first casualty." Meanwhile, well-dressed fans—men in coats and ties, women in furs—loaded up at the St. Francis Yacht Club, thirty or forty to a craft. And still more groups were delivered by ferry; high heels clacked over the gangplank.
"Normandy," grumbled Sidney Keil, secretary of the Great Golden Fleet, "was never like this."2
It was a busy week in California. Authorities in Petaluma arraigned a woman and her handyman in connection with a string of arson fires; the handyman ratted out his boss. A swimmer discovered the skeleton of a skin diver in the waters off Catalina Island in Southern California; authorities puzzled over it, the latest diver disappearance in the area.3 The House Un-American Activities Committee laid plans for a meeting the next month in San Francisco; critics took note. And in cultural news, a young actress named Jane Fonda opened in her first movie, Tall Story, with Anthony Perkins. He played a basketball player, she a freshman cheerleader "eager to snare a tall husband." The Examiner described Fonda as "reserved" and remarked on her "shapely legs."4
In Los Angeles, the state's flagship paper made news of its own. A day before the San Francisco Giants debuted their new diamond, Norman Chandler took the stage at the Biltmore Hotel. At his invitation, 725 of the region's luminaries gathered for a luncheon, where the senior Chandler promised a "special announcement." The Los Angeles Times publisher kept his remarks and reminders of his family history brief. "A newspaper," he said, "must be the image of one man, whether you agree with him or not." For fifteen years, that man had been Norman Chandler—and his father before him and his grandfather before him. They had forged their family enterprise as an engine of growth, a bulwark against organized labor and a stalwart of the Republican Party. But those men were gone or going. Now the Times was to receive its fourth leader. Said Chandler: "I hereby appoint, effective as of this moment, Otis Chandler as publisher of the Times."5
Otis Chandler, Norman's thirty-two-year-old son, had learned of his father's intention just an hour earlier and still was recovering from the shock. When Norman made his announcement, Otis was sitting at his father's elbow. Broad-shouldered and barrel-chested, Otis, a former shot-putter, rose to his feet, smiled, and said: "Wow!"6 It was a childish remark, one he would always regret. In the ensuing decades, however, he went on to greatness, converting a woebegone excuse for a paper into a publication of national note, one worthy of the state where it was headquartered.
Back at the ballpark, San Francisco took its turn. Completing their journey to the stadium, fans filled the stands and took their seats, voices raised with the excitement of a moment, of participating in more than a game. It was a happening, a tick in history. All told, 42,269 fans made it to the park that afternoon.7
Candlestick hummed with promise and hinted at conflict. Women donned scarves to fend off the breeze and bundled against the possibility of a Bay Area chill—"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco," as Mark Twain did not say but as generations grew up believing he did. A heralded new heating system to counter foggy evenings at Candlestick was supposed to supply relief. Sadly, it never worked. Candlestick was cold at night, but it could put on a show in the afternoon.
In the audience that sparkling day were California's present and future. Governor Pat Brown, "burly and ebullient,"8 builder of aqueducts and monuments, strode onto the field just before the game and winced at the response. There were some cheers for the governor, but there were boos, too. Brown had just postponed the execution of Caryl Chessman, the notorious red-light bandit and rapist whose case had become an international cause célèbre and a dividing point for Californians. The crowd let Brown hear its displeasure. The boos would haunt Pat Brown for the rest of his life.9
It was Brown's second comedown in two days: the night before, at the city's "civic send-off" for its new team, Brown had remarked that he hoped to be in the stands when "the Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers meet in the World Series next fall."10 Teams in the same league can't meet in the series, so Brown was forced to explain his mistake. As they say in politics, when you're explaining, you're losing.
And, in politics, for everyone who's losing, another is winning. Sitting near Brown at the ballpark was Richard Nixon, vice president of the United States and a candidate for president. He had been a California congressman and, briefly, senator before joining the presidential campaign of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Ike never knew quite what to make of Nixon—appreciating his work ethic and devotion, suspicious of his partisanship and edginess, wary in a way that tore at Nixon's insecurities. In their eight years together in Washington, Ike and Nixon never played a round of golf. Nixon nursed hurt feelings along with powerful ambition.
On that sunny afternoon in 1960, Brown was an embattled governor, Nixon a potential president. Nixon mugged in the locker room with Willie Mays, the greatest of all the Giants, perhaps the greatest player of all time. The crowd that booed Brown welcomed Nixon with a "tremendous cheer."11
Joining Nixon and Brown among the dignitaries was another Brown, Pat's only son, Edmund G. Brown Jr. They did not, at least then, have much in common beyond their disdain for their given names. Edmund senior was Pat; Edmund junior was Jerry. Jerry was twenty-two years old, just emerged from three and a half years in seminary and charting a new course for himself at the University of California, Berkeley. His mother and father had picked him up at Berkeley en route to the ballpark, so together they endured the crowd's displeasure.
For Jerry Brown, the boos that greeted his father had special personal meaning. Pat Brown had been prepared to allow the Chessman execution to go forward until his son, in an appeal to politics and faith that would become a trademark, caught his father at home alone one evening and convinced him that their Catholicism did not permit this act. The jeers at Candlestick were aimed at the father, but they struck the son, too. Reflecting back on that moment decades later, Brown wondered if it might have been the first inkling that Nixon could challenge his father for dominance of California.12
The crowd cheered Nixon as he threw out one of the ceremonial first pitches. The vice president shook the hand of the governor's son. He did so limply. Nixon had a hot dog in one hand and mustard on his chin. Young Jerry Brown had grown up with royalty, particularly of a political stripe, but on that day, in the new park, he got a full dose.13
At 2:21 p.m. on April 12, 1960, Sam "Toothpick" Jones—nicknamed for the twig he rolled around his mouth while on the mound and sealed in the history books as the first black pitcher to throw a no-hitter—took a short look at St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Joe Cunningham and brought his first pitch to the plate. No one was cooler than Jones. His other nickname was Sad Sam. He rarely grinned.
Cunningham fouled out to third base.
The Giants batted in the bottom half of the first inning, the debut appearance of their offense in the new park. They did not waste time. Leadoff hitter Don Blasingame, the Giants' second baseman, reached first on an error and was bunted over. Mays, batting third, drew a walk. The powerful, lanky Willie McCovey fouled out, then Orlando Cepeda, a whirlwind of an outfielder, tripled to center, scoring two. The home team won the first game in its new park by a score of 3 to 1. Mays, McCovey, and Cepeda would all find their way to the Hall of Fame.
Sad Sam smiled. San Francisco basked.
The San Francisco of Jerry Brown's childhood was normal. Sort of. Few cities have defined themselves more enthusiastically around change—migration, disaster, boom and bust, sleaze and glamour—and the war years were typical in a city where tumult was the norm. On the day of Edmund G. Brown Jr.'s birth, April 7, 1938, the local papers carried news of strikers commandeering a sugar plant, Hitler gaining influence in Germany and strengthening his hold on Austria, and a local nurse stabbing a woman—a crime blamed on the nurse's use of "mad weed."1
Brown was born in a city that had been turned into a battlefield in a country on the cusp of war. In 1934, a general strike, the largest in American history, brought labor and law enforcement into fierce San Francisco combat after a confrontation that left two dead and scores wounded.2 The state called in troops to force open docks; labor mounted barricades and tossed bombs to shut them down. Struggling to recover and with an eye toward the grand, city leaders set out to hold an international exposition and plunged into the task of building a man-made island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Its name: Treasure Island. The Golden Gate International Exposition opened on that whimsical piece of landfill in February of 1939, but sputtered, closed, then reopened in 1940, when exhibits such as Sally Rand's Nude Ranch, featuring half-naked women playing sports, did the trick.3
It was a city of grand gestures and discreet enclaves. Lofty homes in Pacific Heights peered down through the fog into the military base at the Presidio—and the Golden Gate beyond. The Tenderloin teemed with vagrants, their desperation leaking into the nearby Financial District, still reeling from the collapse of the stock market and its slow recovery. San Francisco attracted the early glimmerings of the beatniks, soon to take root in North Beach beneath the city's tribute to its firefighters, Coit Tower, and later to congregate at City Lights bookstore. Newly constructed bridges linked San Francisco to Marin County (via the Golden Gate Bridge) and to Oakland (via the Bay Bridge). As the 1940s opened, the Bay Area was bustling and busy, worried about war but removed from the troubles of Europe and Asia.
That changed on December 7, 1941. Bombs fell on Hawaii, and Americans recoiled at the duplicity of Japan's surprise attack. Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war against Japan the following day. Germany followed by declaring war on the United States. The America First Committee, the leading isolationist group of the period, folded its opposition and retreated into what would prove a protracted state of remission. States of emergency were declared in most American cities. Schools closed along the West Coast. Military recruiting limits were lifted, and recruitment centers stayed open twenty-four hours a day to keep pace with enlistments. The Customs Service blocked departures of all vessels attempting to leave the United States. Authorities called for the distribution of one million gas masks, then asked for more.4
Racial tensions moved up the dial. "Jap town is under strict surveillance," San Francisco police announced.5 In Washington, the Justice Department announced that it had "seized" 2,303 "enemy aliens," including 1,291 Japanese.6 In Tokyo, Japan's Home Ministry announced that it had taken 1,270 American and British nationals into custody.7 In defiance of those actions, some sounded a call for unity. "We are fighting," the Oakland Tribune declared in a front-page editorial. "We must now put to one side all of the petty differences among us. We must mobilize every last resource."8 Pleas for unity and common sense would soon become vanishingly rare.
As America plunged into war—two wars, really, on opposite sides of the planet—San Francisco became the operations center of the Pacific theater and, along with San Diego, emerged as one of two major disembarkation points for sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen headed into combat against Japan. The Bay Area was anchored by the army's Presidio but also included major air corps installations in Marin County and San Francisco. Fort Mason bordered the Presidio, and the East Bay included major facilities in Oakland and to the north, where Mare Island trained sailors and pumped out vessels. One million soldiers were processed through Camp Stoneman, a little-known base northeast of San Francisco, where as many as thirty thousand men lived at any given time.9
The navy ruled Southern California, though it had a major presence in the north as well. Treasure Island, in fact, served as the navy's western command. To the south, the hastily built Camp Pendleton, with its main entrance at Oceanside, straddled an enormous stretch of the Pacific coast between Orange and San Diego Counties.10 A few miles north, Marine Corps Air Station El Toro shuttled troops and equipment, while to the south, the San Diego harbor hummed with America's growing fleet of carriers, battleships, destroyers and submarines.
California would never be known for its calm, and war only exacerbated the state's tendency to flail and blame. More than 110,000 Japanese and Japanese American men and women lived along the West Coast of the United States, and though two-thirds were American citizens—many having never even seen Japan—their loyalty came into question. No less a champion of fairness than California attorney general Earl Warren surveyed Japanese landholdings and imagined suspicious patterns—farms near rail yards and airports and other sensitive installations. Maps prepared by Warren's office became some of the most convincing, and absurdist, evidence of sinister intent. "Such a distribution of the Japanese population appears to manifest something more than a coincidence," Warren testified before the US House of Representatives' Tolan Committee on February 21, 1942.11 Never mind that Japanese people owned those parcels because they were cheap and because the owners were prevented by racial discrimination from acquiring more desirable property: in the dim light of fear, Warren saw subversion. It was not his best moment.
Nor was he alone. The removal of the Japanese from the West Coast was ordered by FDR in February of 1942 and upheld by the United States Supreme Court twice. Their absence left a hole in the life of the region, a vacuum temporarily filled by the arrival of thousands of young men, most of them volunteers, clamoring to fight the Japanese forces in the Pacific while dreading it as well. Those men swarmed into San Francisco, swelling the city's bars and brothels, both of which it boasted in abundance: indeed, this migration was in some ways reminiscent of California's first, when gold miners, almost all of them men, stopped over in San Francisco for a last taste of women and booze before heading to the Sierras. Then it was for fortune, later for country, but 1940s San Francisco would have been familiar to a forty-niner.
It was there that a young family was setting out on a life that would shape California as abruptly as any earthquake, as profoundly as any migration. Pat and Bernice Brown were compatible but different—he a gregarious, Catholic, ambitious, and outgoing young man, she a more intellectual, Protestant, and retiring young woman. They met in high school and, once their quite different educations were complete, were together the rest of their lives.
Born in San Francisco in 1905, Pat hawked Liberty Bonds in World War I and was so spirited that his friends took to calling him Pat, short for Patrick Henry. The name stuck, and when he took to politics, he recognized the political value of it in San Francisco, where it didn't hurt to be thought of as Irish. In fact, his ancestors were half-German, too. The family patriarch, August Schuckman, first arrived in California in 1852. A few years later, he returned to Germany, where he married his wife, Augusta, and the couple immigrated yet again to California in 1863. They settled northwest of Sacramento, buying a stagecoach stop in Colusa County, tucked into unnamed foothills at a modest crossroads. August established himself as an innkeeper.
Bernice Layne was the daughter of an honest cop and a quietly Episcopalian mom. She was born in San Francisco in 1908, when the city was still recovering from the ruin of its 1906 earthquake and fire, and she was raised there with her four brothers and sisters. Bernice was a solid student, accomplished in math and intoxicated by reading. She plowed through her young studies and entered Lowell High School early, before age twelve. The following year, Pat, a few years older but still at Lowell as well, asked her out. Her parents would not allow her to go. Pat persisted.12
Thus began the pattern of their lives—Pat dogged, eager, and open-faced; Bernice angular, incisive, and quietly determined.
After high school, Pat went to work—first at his father's photo studio, with a dice game in the back, and later as an apprentice to a local lawyer. He skipped college and moved directly to San Francisco Law School. Bernice, true to her form, crossed the bay and attended the University of California, Berkeley. Pat and Bernice courted across the bay, no small feat in the days before the Bay Bridge. Still running ahead of her age, Bernice graduated in 1928, not yet twenty, and took a job as a schoolteacher. One condition of her employment was that she remain single. She defied it.
Bernice and Pat eloped to Reno, Nevada, and were married there on October 30, 1930. She was twenty-one. He was twenty-five.13 They complemented each other. He loved people and crowds and parties; she preferred family and travel and quiet. But he appreciated her calm, and she learned to love more garrulous company. Bernice even came to enjoy politics. Still, they retained their essentials: when the two took up golf, Pat began playing immediately with friends. Bernice took lessons for eighteen months before playing with anyone else. Once she did, she regularly beat her husband.14
Pat and Bernice eventually would live in Sacramento and Los Angeles, but their early years were set in San Francisco. They rented an apartment on Fillmore Street, then moved to Chestnut Street, both in the Marina, then to the Twin Peaks neighborhood, and then to the corner of 17th Street and Shrader Street—on the edge of Haight-Ashbury, which was then far different from what it would become. They settled there with their two daughters, Barbara, born in 1931, and Cynthia, born two years later. Bernice was pregnant with their third child, and the Shrader Street home had an extra bedroom.15 Jerry was born in April of 1938, and a few years later, the family moved one more time, to 460 Magellan Avenue, where the youngest, Kathleen, was born. That neighborhood, known as Forest Hill, would be the Browns' home for the rest of Jerry's youth.
Pat Brown was excited by politics early and for good reason. His combination of intelligence, engagement, and genuine compassion made him a natural for public service—and, specifically, for elected office. Many politicians resent campaigning—the showmanship, the grubbing for money, the pleading for attention. Indeed, although those aspects of politics would later irritate Jerry, once he sidestepped into his father's business, the demands of vote getting did not bother Pat. Pat loved the rub and hustle.
Pat Brown started his political life as a Republican and made his first stab at elected office at the age of twenty-three, when he ran for the California state assembly. He got walloped, but defeat did not deter him. After switching his party affiliation in 1935, he supported Democrat Culbert Olson for governor only to be disappointed by not landing a job in the administration. He then took aim at San Francisco's district attorney, Matthew Brady, a veteran with a reputation for losing cases and prosecuting union activists. Brown lost again, but this time he made an impression on the electorate. In 1943, Pat Brown was elected district attorney for San Francisco. His son, Jerry, was five years old.
Given their common careers, Jerry would most often be compared to his father, but he was more his mother's son. They looked alike, for one thing. Jerry inherited his mother's profile and her incisive eyes. She read for pleasure, unlike her husband, who devoured newspapers and reports but was never much drawn to books. There, too, Jerry followed after his mom. Pat was so extravagantly extroverted that it would be difficult for anyone to resemble him there: Jerry was less shy than some assumed, but he found greater succor in close company, again resembling his mother.
Finally, and perhaps most relevant to Jerry's career, Bernice Brown was studiously frugal, a coupon clipper from the earliest days of her marriage into her husband's governorship and beyond. Pat never got the hang of counting pennies, but Jerry did. Once grown, he would elevate government parsimony to a near-moral command, and his devotion to balanced budgets and limited government would set him apart from his Democratic colleagues and rivals for most of the rest of his life. He had his mother's example, reinforced by later vows of poverty and a general inclination toward cheapness, to thank for that.
At West Portal Elementary School, the kindergarten class assignment one day in November was to draw. Jerry, not destined for a career in art, sketched a colorful but uninspired clown. To his surprise, the teacher gathered all her students' work into a book and presented it to Pat Brown, the newly elected district attorney, to congratulate him on his victory. Naturally, the teacher put Jerry Brown's work on the cover: Jerry sensed the favoritism—he knew his picture was not the best and did not deserve the special attention it received—and he was mortified, the first of many instances when he drew extra, sometimes unwanted, praise for being his father's son.
Bernice Brown ran the family home. She cooked, often with assistance from her daughters. When things broke—a hinge twisted or a light burned out—her brother, who lived down the street, came to lend a hand. Pat Brown, at least in the memory of his children, did not change a lightbulb or boil a pail of water. He responded with a flash to the problems of his constituents, but he did not help around the house.16
The family often skipped breakfast—Bernice liked to sleep in—but gathered for dinner.17 They would wait for Pat to return home from work and then would sit down together. There were "big, volatile conversations," Kathleen Brown recalled. "You were expected to have a position and defend it." Not everyone enjoyed it. The oldest, Barbara, was entering high school and was enchanted by literature and learning; the dinner table conversation didn't have much place for Chaucer. Her aversion to politics started early.18
As young Jerry grew older, he and his father often clashed, as fathers and sons will, especially when both are as strong-willed as Edmund Brown senior and junior. The two would remember these conversations differently over time. To Pat, they were exciting and provocative. Jerry sometimes regarded them as oppressive, forcing him under rather propelling him upward.
Jerry veered from his father's approach to debate. Pat stirred the pot, urging his children to join in boisterous disputes. Jerry staked out more cerebral ground. Pat was in the world; Jerry somehow beyond it. Even their Catholicism was different. Pat was culturally Catholic but hardly devout. It was not until Barbara was seven years old that her mother and father were married in the church. Until then, they were bound by the civil ceremony of their elopement, without any religious blessing.19
- A Los Angeles Times Bestseller
—David Axelrod, author of Believer: My Forty Years in Politics
- On Sale
- May 12, 2020
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Little, Brown and Company