The A.A. Grapevine
“The year 1944 brought a vital development,” Bill W. related. “In New York City a few literary and newsminded A.A.’s began to issue a monthly publication . . .They called their magazine the Grapevine. It was by no means the first local A.A. bulletin or magazine. The Cleveland Central Bulletin, the Los Angeles Eye-Opener, and several others had preceded it. But the Grapevine caught on nationally.”
Bill went on to describe it thus: “The Grapevine is the mirror of A.A. thought and action, world-wide. It is a sort of magic carpet on which all of us can travel from one distant A.A. outpost to another, and it has become a wonderful exchange medium of our current thought and experience.”
The idea apparently began at an informal A.A. gathering in early April in a member’s apartment in White Plains, a New York suburb. Lois K. recalls that someone pulled a two-page newsletter out of his pocket. It was gotten out by the Cleveland A.A.’s, and though it was obviously an amateur effort, it was exciting. About three years sober, Lois K. had thrown herself into A.A. activity with great enthusiasm. So the next day, she hied herself up to Stepping Stones to see Bill. While he sprawled full-length on the floor in front of the stone fireplace, she broached her idea, “How about a newspaper or magazine for the groups in New York?” She didn’t mention that she had no experience to back up the proposal. After a brief discussion of the possible benefits, Bill said, “Go to it. And blessings on you.”
Some nights later, after a second meeting with Bill, Lois K. found herself in a small eatery on Twenty-Third Street with Marty M. and Priscilla P. Marty M. remembers, “We had no conception of what was on her mind, but when she showed us her little sheaf of papers and plans, we were swept with enthusiasm. We agreed that a monthly publication for A.A. ‘s in the New York area was needed. We agreed that if it was good it might spread beyond New York. (The same thought had been expressed by Bill.) We agreed to help get it started, and we agreed on a name – The Grapevine.” The three drew in Chase H., Abbott “Bud” T., and Maeve. These were probably the “six inkstained wretches” referred to in the editorial in the premier issue—the phrase so often used by Bill W. and others since. Grace 0. (and her nonalcoholic husband, Fulton, a noted professional magazine editor and writer) helped also. Kay M. was next, a key staffer since she worked as a proofreader; and Felicia G. (later Felicia M.) who was still a frequent contributor to the magazine in 1985!
As World War II was very much in progress in 1944, part of the original concept was that the new publication would be a means of communication with A.A. members in the service of their country, the names of whom were obtained from the Headquarters office. One complete page in the initial issue was “Mail Call for All A.A.’s in the Armed Forces.” It was also decided that the first issue would be mailed to most of the Group Secretaries across the country (about 300).
For about two months, the six volunteers worked feverishly—after doing their own jobs—to launch their new publication. They also contributed their own money to get it started, with Fulton 0. underwriting most of the cost of the first issue. They decided on a newspaper format, eight pages of three columns each. A printer was located, for economy reasons, in New Rochelle, New York, 25 miles away. Paper was scarce in the war years, but an adequate supply was found, of good quality. Lois K. remembers the six editors as all prima donnas. “Though nerves were jangled,” she writes, “and disagreements waxed hot, our battles were family fights among people united by a strong bond of common interest, love – and A.A.”
On the evening of May 22, they all met in a small midtown apartment in Manhattan to review and pass judgement on finished copies of the June 1944 issue of the Grapevine, optimistically labeled “Volume I, Number 1”. It was ready to distribute. The first print order was for 1,200 copies at a cost of $125. They had no way of knowing, after the first month’s issue appeared, whether they would sell enough (at 15 cents per copy) or gather enough subscriptions to pay for a second issue. But they did, with a heartening number of subscriptions from outside the New York area. That was so exciting, the staff would hold letters from the post office box until they were all present, and then make a ceremony of opening and reading them. Marty M., who was just organizing the National Educational Committee on Alcoholism (later the NCA), began touring the country in October in support of that activity. (The Grapevine devoted virtually its whole October issue to the Committee.) She traveled over 25,000 miles the first year, and everywhere she went she also talked to A.A. groups – and there, she was an emissary for the new publication. She carried copies with her, talked about it with A.A. members, and brought home material from distant groups and members – and subscriptions as well.
Regular features of the early issues were a “Guest Piece” by a nonalcoholic friend of A.A.; a “Time on Your Hands” column designed to give useful hobby suggestions to help fill the new free time that sobriety had brought; an “Editorial” by an older A.A. member; a “Points of View” column of letters from A.A. readers; “Central Office (i.e., ‘Headquarters’) Notes”; “The Pleasures of Reading” suggesting books which might be of interest to readers; and the “Mail Call” page for service men.
It was soon evident from the congratulatory notes and subscriptions that came in from all over the country that, although the Grapevine had been started as a metropolitan New York magazine, it was actually more popular in Texas, Michigan, California et al than it was east of the Hudson River. In 1945, recognizing its national appeal, Bill W. and the Headquarters office sent out a questionnaire to all groups asking the membership if they wanted the Grapevine as their national magazine. The answer was “yes”, and the December 1945 issue carried below its masthead for the first time the notice that this was “The National Monthly Journal of Alcoholics Anonymous.” The Alcoholic Foundation (later the General Service Board) agreed to subsidize the Grapevine and the first steps were taken to incorporate it.
In early 1946, the FBI challenged the name, because they already had an internal house organ called “The Grapevine.” This was settled to everyone’s satisfaction by the A.A. editors calling their magazine The A.A. Grapevine. The April 1946 issue carried this new name for the first time. In September 1948, the format was changed from a newspaper to the pocketsized magazine it has remained ever since. And in January 1949, the descriptive line under the title was changed to “The International Monthly Journal of Alcoholics Anonymous” recognizing the international scope and appeal of the magazine.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, production, editing and mailing the magazine was chaotic, to say the least. Bud T. recalls: “For the first several months we had no office. Whether assembling copy, proof reading or mailing out the paper, we worked entirely in each other’s apartments. This was pleasant but not very efficient. With perhaps two exceptions, the staff members at first were entirely vague as the meaning of such terms as “masthead”, “dummy”, “galleys”, etc. After several months we found a one room apartment conveniently located, for an office. There was no separation of Editorial and Business staffs; we all pitched in on almost everything.” In actual fact, the head editor and the treasurer-editor worked together daily on all the details from correspondence and writing to mailing lists. The entire six gathered twice a month, once to put together the material for the upcoming issue, and a second time to proofread the printer’s galleys. “Our venture seemed wild to most of our A.A. friends,” says Bud, “but we were determined to produce only a professional looking paper. Alcoholics usually like to do things the hard way, and we did just that.
“Our mailing facilities to take care of subscriptions were at first very clumsy, but we enlisted the services of an A.A. friend familiar with this type of problem, and he made arrangements with a direct mail house on the outside. A reputable bank had finally accepted our account. When we leased our office, we purchased a long architect’s table, six chairs, a big standing lamp—and a big coffee pot. Our first meeting in our new office was in September 1944, and it was a big thrill to us. We now found more willing hands to help out, still all A.A. members: experienced proofreaders, typists, and the like. Not until the last issues of Volume I came along did we have one part-time paid employee to type letters and manuscripts, and help with the subscriptions.” That employee was none other than Bill W.’s younger half- sister (offspring of their father’s second marriage), Helen Evans, nonalcoholic. Helen was living in Montreal when she received a phone call from Bill in the spring of 1945 inviting her to come down and live with him and Lois at Stepping Stones, share in the new A.A. way of life, and incidentally help out part time at the Grapevine. “It was hardly nepotism,” Helen laughed later, “because it paid only $40 a month, so there were no other takers.” She accepted, and after she had settled in at Bedford Hills, she went into New York and met the volunteer staff on the day when, to their great excitement, they had just received their first renewal subscription order -without even asking for it!
Helen enjoyed the spirit and the people she met, but found the office in disarray. For every subscriber, three cards were kept, which compounded the confusion and increased the chance of error. Helen was able to reduce it to one card per subscriber. “The treasurer, Bud T., who was a real dear, kept all the records in his shirt pocket on tiny little pieces of paper!” A few months after she arrived, the landlord of the building which house the office told the Grapevine it had to get out because the apartment was needed for wartime housing. The whole mess was moved to the basement of an old church building at 41st and Ninth Avenue which was then a clubhouse for A.A.’s. It was impossible to get a phone because of wartime shortages, so they had to use a pay phone on the corner for all Grapevine calls.
During this period the magazine ran into its first anonymity problem. When checks for subscriptions came in, they were endorsed “The A.A. Grapevine.” Several subscribers were outraged that their anonymity had been broken. So the stamp was changed to read (as it does today) simply, “Grapevine.” A second problem was the flood of unwanted poetry that. was submitted. “I never knew there were so many poets!” Helen exclaimed. “It seemed to me every alcoholic wrote verse, and I had to write all the letters saying we were sorry but we could not accept it We wouldn’t have had room for anything else -and most of it was dreadful anyway So it was simpler just to say, ‘No poetry at all.'” The policy continues today.
The Grapevine was growing at a surprising rate, nevertheless Helen remembers the whoops of joy when subscriptions reached 1,000 Mail began coming from everywhere, including Ireland, where Sackville M. , the moving force behind Irish A.A., was starting a magazine of his own. Tom Y was now the editor here.
The old clubhouse building was sold, and the Grapevine was homeless again. Leonard Harrison, nonalcoholic A.A. Trustee, was also Commissioner of Welfare for New York City, and so was able to find space in a small, old apartment building on Minetta Lane, in Greenwich Village. The building was so dilapidated that it had been condemned as unsafe for living -but Leonard pulled strings to get the City to permit the basement to be used for an office. Without money for moving expenses, the editors persuaded an ice-truck driver, who had delivered ice to the old clubhouse, to move their scanty furniture, subscription cards, files of correspondence and other possessions to Minetta Lane.
By this time, a second nonalcoholic employee, Katherine Swenzel, had been hired. The accommodations were marginal. The wooden floors, doors and windowsills were depressingly dingy, so Helen bought some red paint and painted them herself. The floor slanted so badly, the employees had to wrap their legs around the desk or table to keep their rollered chairs from sliding away. Derelict drunks congregated on the stoop. The basement space was dark. An important improvement was made, however, when Dick S., the second treasurer, persuaded some friends who worked at Newsweek magazine to look over the Grapevine operation and make suggestions. What they may have said to each other in private is not recorded, but they recommended that an Addressograph machine be purchased, to get rid of the troublesome subscription cards. A second-hand machine was located, and the subscribers’ names and addresses were transferred to metal plates – itself an enormous job. (This manual operation was continued until 1972, when the number of subscribers forced a change to electronic data processing by an outside firm. Many errors, delays and other problems were experienced with subscriptions, and the decision was made to convert to G.S.O.’s computer in-house. After some two years of programming and other difficulties, the conversion was finally completed in 1985.
The next move was to larger, lighter and more convenient quarters on East Broadway. The landlord developed a close, friendly relationship with his new and unusual tenants, and when he died his wife joined the Grapevine’ s circulation department in 1954, remaining until 1967. The editor and an assistant, both volunteers, moved to 141 East 44th St., on the floor below A.A.’s Headquarters office, but all the rest of the operations remained at East Broadway until the consolidation of all the service functions at the 305 East 45th Street location in 1960.
It is both interesting and significant to note that Bill W. kept a “big, old desk” in the basement office on Minetta Lane. He obviously loved the Grapevine. He gave it his full personal support from its very beginning, and whenever he spoke of it or wrote about it, it was with great enthusiasm and affection. And he devoted his time and effort unstintingly to helping it. For example, in 1946, he wrote a six-page single-space typewritten document in the form of a letter to attorney Royal Shepard about the corporate structure of the Grapevine and the concepts behind it. And in 1957, he wrote a six-page memorandum of reorganization. There were several reasons for this special interest. Bill perceived early that this was a means for him to communicate directly with the Fellowship without going through the Board of Trustees – especially when he was at odds with them on a given issue. And he used the Grapevine for this purpose frequently and effectively. The Traditions were born and grew to their present form in a series of articles in the latter 1940’s, beginning with a 1946 piece entitled “Twelve Points to Assure Our Future.” In 1950, a time when a majority of the Trustees seemed opposed to the idea, Bill and Dr.Bob wrote in the Grapevine suggesting that the A.A. membership as a whole should take over, through a General Service Conference. After nearly 12 years of trying to bring about the controversial change of ratio of alcoholic to nonalcoholic Trustees, Bill published an article in the Grapevine in 1966, and the change was voted into being that year.
The Grapevines of the 1940’s were exciting reading. A.A. had taken root and was growing, and news of the Fellowship ranged from reports of new groups being formed to an article on A.A.’s Tenth Anniversary Convention in July 1945. Along with expansion news, there appeared much that is timeless in A.A. For example, in 1945, articles covered topics of “the sleeping pill menace,” what to do about pill problems encountered in Twelfth Stepping, and “Those Goof Balls” – the latter written by Bill W. himself. Then there was an article by an A.A. who urged that special groups be formed for “older members”—those with over three months’ sobriety! The seventh issue, December 1944, carried Lois W. ‘s story, telling how she came to live by A.A. principles for herself, not just for Bill. The same issue carried several letters from the children of A.A. members, telling how A.A. had also changed their lives. These instances presaged the formation of Al-Anon and Alateen, of course.
There was news of the alcoholism field, too. The front-page headline in the first issue of the Grapevine read, “Two Yale Savants Stress Alcoholism as True Disease.” In April 1945, the magazine published a questionnaire designed by Dr. E.M. Jellinek, then head of the Yale School of Alcohol Studies (now Rutgers), to which A.A. members were asked to respond anonymously. Hundreds did so, and the information thus obtained was the basis for Dr. Jellinek’s familiar chart tracing “Phases of Alcohol Addiction.”
Many articles by early friends of A.A. enriched the pages of the Grapevine—Sister Ignatia, Dr. William Silkworth, Dr. Harry Tiebout, the Rev. Sam Shoemaker, Fulton Oursler, the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Warden Clinton Duffy. Other notable contributors to the Grapevine over the years have been Upon Sinclair, Charles Jackson, Mark Keller, Paul de Kruif, Gerald Heard, Russell Baker, James Thurber, Aldous Huxley, Dr. Ruth Fox, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dr. Karl Menninger, Margaret chase Smith, Dr. Marvin Block and Dr. Frank Seixas.
As the magazine began circulating among nonalcoholics, many of which knew little or nothing about A.A., it was desirable to make clear to others what A.A. is and what it is not. So the June 1947 issue carried the A.A. Preamble, written by the first editor, TomY., who borrowed much of the phrasing from the Foreword to the first edition of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Although it is still used often for public information purposes, the Preamble came to be included, in time, in much of the other Conference-approved literature. Along the way, it came to be used at the beginning of A.A. group meetings and larger gatherings—presumably as a painless way to inform the newcomer about the nature of the organization where he found himself. The custom spread until today the Preamble is read to open literally tens of thousands of A.A. meetings every day throughout the U.S./Canada and around the world.
The original version of the Preamble differed in two ways from the form which is familiar today. It stated that “The only requirement for membership is an honest desire to stop drinking.” But in 1958, the Trustees voted to drop the word because so many members had less than an honest desire when they came to A.A.—but stayed to achieve sobriety (and honesty!) The second difference was that the original Preamble contained only the brief phrase, “A.A. has no dues or fees,” which was shortly expanded to include, “We are self-supporting through our own contributions.”
Perhaps the best known work of art in AA., “The Man on the Bed,” appeared first in the Grapevine as a center spread in the December 1955 issue, where it was titled, “Came to Believe.” It proved so popular that four-color prints were made available and have been selling briskly ever since. The artist, Robert M., a volunteer illustrator for the magazine, presented the original painting to Bill W. who hung it in his studio at Stepping Stones, where it has remained. The scene is widely believed to represent the Twelfth Step call on A.A. #3, Bill D., by Bill and Dr. Bob., but this is only in the eye of the viewer, for it was intended as a general representation of sober A.A.’s helping the still-suffering alcoholic. As Bill W. wrote the artist, “The whole heart and essence of A.A. can be seen just by looking at it…”
The A.A. Grapevine is also credited with being the prime means by which the Serenity Prayer became widely known in the Fellowship. As is related in A.A. Comes of Age, an early A.A. member saw it in an obituary in the New York Times in 1939 and brought it to the Headquarters office to show to Bill W. and Ruth Hock. “Never had we seen so much A.A. in so few words,” Bill wrote. It was immediately printed on cards which were enclosed in letters from the office and distributed in other ways, and was thus adopted by the tiny Fellowship. It was also printed in A.A. pamphlets. After the Grapevine commenced publication in 1944, it carried the Serenity Prayer regularly, as it has ever since, and the prayer became widely and spontaneously assimilated into the group meetings, where it has been a source of help and comfort for millions of members.
The specific origin of the Serenity Prayer is unknown, as versions of it appear to date back several centuries. However, the prayer as it is used in A.A. was written by the eminent theologian, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, in 1932. More than 30 years later, in response to an inquiry, Dr. Niebuhr explained in a letter: “. . . The circumstances back of the prayer are rather simple. I composed it for our summer church in Heath, Massachusetts. A member of the congregation was the late dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Dr..Howard Chandler Robbins, who was chairman of the workshop committee of the Federal Council of Churches. He asked whether he could use the prayer in his monthly report. The prayer was lifted by the Federal Council and was printed on cards for the soldiers in the Second World War. After that (actually, as seen above it was before that), Alcoholics Anonymous adopted it, so the prayer has had wide circulation . . . I have never used it in any of my books.”
The history of the editorial staff and its relation to the Grapevine Corporate Board can be divided into three eras. Titles and functions changed over the 41 years, 1944-85, but the years fall into three major divisions. From 1944 to 1962, the Editors were part-time volunteers who were also President of the Corporation, Chairman of the Corporate Board, and usually a Trustee on the Alcoholic Foundation (later the General Service Board) as well. From 1962 to 1969, the Editors were paid, either full-time or part time, and were the operational heads of the magazine and the office, but did not hold corresponding positions on the Corporate Board or the General Service Board. From 1969 to 1985, the Editors were paid, but the chief executive was a person other than the editor, with a different title. Except for the first couple of years, paid back-up help—i.e., assistant editors, art directors, copy editors—was provided.
During the first era, the circulation rose from a’ few hundred to 38,000. Besides Tom Y., the Editors included other memorable figures. Al S. (’48—’52) was used by Bill W. at the Headquarters office as well, and composed the Responsibility Declaration which climaxed the 1965 International Convention and was then printed in many of the Conference-approved pamphlets. Sig H. (’52-‘ 54) and Sig S. (’54-’55) were strong editors and good businessmen who helped in the financial crises. Don G. (’55-’58) was a noted broadcaster (CHK) and a respected leader; he strengthened the staff. Gurney W. (’60-’62) in his outside – A.A. life was humor editor of the old Life magazine and later of Colliers magazine, and so brought true professional experience to the Grapevine. Jack H., art director and creator of the cartoon feature “Victor E.,” and later a co-editor himself, was hired during Gurney’s regime.
This era was a time of the Grapevine finding its way in attracting subscriptions, in improving mailing methods, in determining how much staff was needed and how much they should be paid, and even in examining what its function should be. Even though the circulation increased tremendously, income never seemed to catch up with expenses, so the magazine consistently ran a deficit, which the Alcoholic Foundation or General Service Board was able to offset from the Reserve Fund. It was generally agreed that the magazine was a service which should be underwritten for the benefit of A.A. as a whole—though it was hoped it would eventually make a profit. In 1953, jobs were classified and maximum salaries established for each category. The same year, the Chairman/Editor declined to publish a letter signed by Bill W. appealing for support for G.S.O., on the grounds that it was an improper intrusion into the Grapevine’s editorial independence—thus confirming a policy (established by Bill himself) that has been followed ever since. Another important policy was established in 1954 when it was decided the magazine should not operate on “deferred subscription cash.” As an economy measure, the Grapevine Board considered reducing the number of pages at least twice -but rejected the idea both times.
This era also saw the beginnings of the Editorial Board, which remains an integral and valued part of the Grapevine operation. The possibility of forming an Editorial Board was first recorded in the minutes of a 1953 Corporate Board meeting: “It was pointed out that such a board…would protect the volunteer Editor, who heretofore had assumed sole responsibility for deciding what material should be published in the Grapevine . . .The board should be small in number…Their duties should be strictly as prescribed by the Editor…” This discussion was apparently not followed up for the Editorial Board was actually established in September 1958, and since then its structure has undergone various changes. At first, it was tied closely to the Corporate Board, with whom it met jointly once a year. It was also the task of the Editorial Board to select the volunteer Editor, subject to Corporate Board approval. Soon after it became possible to hire a paid editor, this practice died out.
The Editorial Board, an advisory body of five to ten members, has had varying degrees of impact on the magazine, depending on the Editor. During the decade and more ending in 1985, its role gradually increased and Ann W., the 1985 Editor, characterizes it as “an exceptionally capable, creative and active group of publishing and communications professionals.” From its formation in 1958 for about nine years, the Editorial Board did not practice rotation. In fact, no firm policy of rotation was established until 1983, when a four-year term was specified. (Felicia M. and Jack H. were accorded emeritus status.) The Editorial Board meets every other month to review current issues, discuss article ideas and contribute suggestions of their own, and to critique special sections, illustrations, typography and the general tone and editorial direction of the magazine. It also provides input for the staff on special projects such as tapes, anthologies, etc. Its functions are advisory and it makes no formal recommendations to staff or the Corporate Board. As several of its members are volunteer writers and artists, they make themselves available for assignments when needed.
Jerome “Jerry” E. became the first paid Editor in January 1962, but lasted. only 15 months. A talented editor, he was also strong willed, sometimes contentious and caused problems. He had been in office barely six months when he suggested, to the Corporate Board that the Grapevine explore the possibility of publishing books—which they approved and to which the A.A. World Services Board offered no objections. The first book to be specifically proposed was a reprint of a series of articles written by Jerry E., which the Grapevine had published, entitled “Twelve Steps and the Older Member.” Before this could be accomplished, he was asked to resign, for reasons not entirely clear today. Jerry E. subsequently published the book independently. He also authored a muckraking expose article in The Nation, which caused considerable unhappiness.
Gurney W. was brought back for about a year on a volunteer basis until a new part-time paid editor could be found. He was Tom W., who served for three years (’64-’67), but also turned out to cause problems with a strong alcoholic ego, he was inclined to issue abrupt commands to his back-up staff and, in their view, to make hasty, pressured decisions. He also failed to consult the Corporate Board on some editorial decisions which finally got the Grapevine in trouble with its subscribers, and through them, with the General Service Board. Things came to a head with a section of articles entitled “Winds of change”, which violated several Traditions (principally the Sixth and Tenth), and which resulted in Tom S. being let go.
Meanwhile, back in 1962, Paula C. had joined the Grapevine staff and had been serving in various capacities. She had proved herself to be extraordinarily strong, capable, compassionate and wise. In addition to an intuitive editorial sense, she was superb in her relationship with people—staff, board, contributors, everyone. Trustee Bayard P. says, “I had great admiration for Paula. She was a wonderfully sensitive A.A. member, which helped make her a great editor.” So in January 1968, Paula C. was appointed Managing Editor, with administrative responsibility for the entire operation. As noted above, Jack M. had served since 1960, at first part-time and later full-time, as artist, art director and production person. He also had an excellent “feel” for material that would appeal to A.A. readers, but, by his own admission, was not an administrator. The Grapevine Corporate Board, wisely recognizing that they had unique abilities in-house, in March 1969 gave Paula C. and Jack M. joint responsibility for the Grapevine. In actual practice, Paula selected the material (subject to Jack’s agreement), corresponded with contributors and others, and dealt with the Board \and the Conference. Jack designed the magazine (with Paula’s agreement) and carried it through production. They were ably assisted by Janet G., a part-time copy editor and proofreader. Janet had a lifetime of magazine experience and had such an eye for mistakes that she literally made the Grapevine (and other work she later did for AAWS publishing) almost error-free.
There followed a six-year period that is sometimes referred to, in retrospect, as a “Camelot.” The quality of the magazine was consistently excellent; the articles were thoughtful and helpful. The circulation nearly doubled, from 53,575 to 103,600. The staff functioned smoothly and relations were harmonious with the Corporate Board. The latter included during this period:
Class A Trustee Austin MacCormick, who served on it from ’61 to ’79; Milton Maxwell, who was named a Director in ’67 (the only nonalcoholic, not a Trustee, ever to serve thus) and became a Class A Trustee in April ’71, continuing on the Grapevine Board until ’72); and General Service Trustees Ralph A.; Bob P. (who served simultaneously as a Director on the AAWS Board); and Ruth W. Other outstanding General Service Trustees who left their mark as Chairmen were Chuck H., Ed S., and Don D.
Ann W. was hired in 1973 as a “maid of all work” (her words) and became a full-time staff member in November 1975. The following year, Paula and Jack both announced their intentions to retire. Paula left in mid-1976, and Jack was in full charge until his own retirement in 1978.
Upon Paula’s departure, the Corporate Board designated the next two years as a “transition period” in order to plan for future staff. Although a good idea, this did not work out as well as anticipated because Paula and Jack had styled their jobs to fit their individual capabilities, regardless of title. Also, they had naturally come to regard the Grapevine as “their” magazine and tried to find replacements who would continue their practices. As neither the staff nor the Board evaluated the operation as a whole, and careful job descriptions were not worked out, the selection of people to fill jobs was rather a hit-and-miss operation, according to Ann. W., who lived through it. Over a period of about a year, three people were hired, and then fired, as Managing Editor, replacing Paula. Finally, in 1978, Retha C., a past-delegate Chairman of the Conference Grapevine Committee with a business background but no editorial experience, filled the position on a permanent basis. Upon Jack’s retirement at the same time, Ann W. was appointed Editor. Six months later Ann had an alcoholic slip and had to be let go!
Although Retha C. had no publishing experience, she was left in charge of the magazine. Lucy W., a young woman with magazine experience but little knowledge of Alcoholics Anonymous, was hired to replace Ann, but with the title “Associate Editor.” Tom N., an older member who was a seasoned art director and production man, had been working part-time to pick up the void left by Jack M.’s retirement. He was now put on full-time, also with the title “Associate Editor.” Thus the two people actually putting out the magazine had virtually no responsibility or authority. Lucy found it difficult to cope, and by 1982, was discharged. Ann W., who had gone immediately into treatment after her slip and had been sober ever since, was now hired on a free—lance basis as an interim editor, since she did not yet have the full four years’ sobriety to qualify once more as a staff member. During all this chaotic period, Janet C. had continued part-time to anchor the tasks of copy-editing, proof-reading, compiling “About Alcoholism” and writing “About A.A.”, providing a measure of stability and continuity to the editorial operation.
When Ann W. returned free-lance, Retha and the Chairman of the Corporate Board, Don D., sounded her out as to whether she would be interested in returning to the editorial job full-time when she had the requisite sobriety. She said no. “Having turned down the position,” Ann recalls, “I then felt free to express my opinion about it as an ‘outside’ party. I told them that both the title and the job had been so denigrated that no editor worthy of the job would be interested. I was pleasantly surprised to find that once the publishing realities had been pointed out, Don and Retha agreed!” Ann assented to come back as Associate Editor on a four-day-a-week basis for a year, and was hired full-time as Editor effective January 1983, in full charge of the magazine while Retha had administrative responsibility.
Evolutionary changes had been taking place at the level of the Grapevine Corporate Board, as well. In 1966, Ruth W. had been given the job of reviewing the by-laws and suggesting changes, which the Board had then approved in 1969. In 1967, committees from the Grapevine Board and the AAWS Board respectively met to discuss and clarify the publishing operations of both entities. A seven-point policy agreement resulted, which was set in writing and approved by both Boards. In 1970, Dr. Jack Norris discussed with Ruth W., then Chairperson of the Corporate Board, the desirability of changing The A.A. Grapevine, Inc. from a stock corporation to a Membership Corporation with the Trustees as the Members -the same structure as that of A.A. World Services, Inc. The Grapevine Directors gave their unanimous approval to the restructuring which was accomplished in1971. The Corporate Board, which met quarterly, had nine Directors until 1978, when the size was increased to 11 in order to add two Regional Trustees. This change was intended to counter the charge that was sometimes heard in the Fellowship that the Grapevine was run by “New York”; and to give the out-of-town Trustees participation in the management of the magazine. It turned out that two or three of these Regional Trustees were highly critical of the subscription performance and the financial problems of the magazine, and of its staff. As part of the Board’s efforts to revitalize the whole operation, it was decided to add a Controller, to ride herd on costs and help the Managing Editor with administration. The choice was Don Muerer, a nonalcoholic who was thoroughly familiar with all aspects of A.A., having been an auditor with Bud Flanagan’s firm.
The regional activists on the Board antagonized the staff, which resulted in a split among the Directors according to whether they were pro-staff or anti-staff, and morale sank. Dr. Bill Flynn, a Class A Trustee, was named to the Grapevine Board in 1982 to bring perspective and, hopefully, to restore unity.
In 1981, the so-called miscellaneous items sold by the Grapevine came under Board scrutiny. They had been a part of the operation since “The Man on the Bed” painting offered in 1955, and included wall-plaque reproductions of the slogans in antique lettering; the Serenity Prayer in similar lettering; a series of “Best of Bill” articles on Faith, Fear, Honesty, Humility, and Love published in a little booklet; the “A.A. Today” book first published in hard cover as a commemorative item for the 25th Anniversary International Convention in 1960, and then reprinted in soft cover by popular demand; and Grapevine calendars. Although the combined sales of these miscellaneous items was large, they were priced so low they lost money. A decision was made to raise the price to make them fully self-supporting. When this did not adversely affect sales to a significant degree, the Grapevine embarked on new items including several audio cassettes of popular articles and a book, The Best of the Grapevine. These have proved both popular and profitable.
Unlike the prices of the miscellaneous items, the subscription price of the magazine had been increased periodically over the years to keep pace with rising costs. This step was always taken reluctantly, over strong objections in some cases, and frequently too late to avert operating losses. The original subscription price of $1.50 was increased two years later to $2.50, further increases came along as follows:
1957 $3.50 1974 $5.00 1980 $6.00 1981 $8.00 1986 $10.00
As the Grapevine reached its 41st year of publication, it had mirrored all the progress and the growing pains of Alcoholics Anonymous as well. The earlier controversies over the Traditions and the Trustee ratio question had given way to hot debates in its pages over dual-addiction, the influx of drug addicts into closed meetings, and A.A.’s singleness of purpose. Problems such as smoking and bad language were discussed in articles and letters from readers. It covered the continuing differences between atheists and believers, between those who want to talk about booze and those who want to air their other personal problems. The grouping of several articles around one subject or one theme had special appeal. Humor continued to be stressed; laughter has a healing quality. It was once again projecting a healthy financial condition. Although its circulation of just over 123,000 was not nearly what it should be, in the eyes of many, it was healthy. The magazine was distributed to 78 foreign countries, and A.A. in many other lands had Grapevine-like magazines of their own.
In short, the Grapevine today is essentially what it has always been—a “meeting in print,” a sharing of A.A. experience, strength and hope, and one of the Fellowship’s important tools for sobriety.