REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
Twenty years ago, in 1994, Los Angeles Times staff writer Evelyn De Wolfe compiled in a paperback volume the goings and comings, the to and fro, the hither and yon of one Phlange Welder, the equivalent in many ways at the Los Angeles Times of The New Yorker’s signature character Eustace Tilley.
Her book has long been out of print, so it’s only logical that Evie would go to her computer and expand and update the book and publish it as “The Life and Times of Phlange Welder” (Ashlin Press, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2nd edition, 76 pages, large format trade paperback, available from Amazon.com, $8.85).
The late 1950s and early 1960s were a far different era than the grim newsrooms of today, where everybody seems to be waiting for the pink slip to drop.
Newspapers were prosperous and many; Evie notes that five daily newspapers covered greater Los Angeles and the world: the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Examiner, the Los Angeles Mirror, the Herald Express, and the Hollywood Citizen. In the ‘burbs there were dailies, too, in Glendale, Pasadena and the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. Long Beach — never a suburb, but a proud city by the sea, had its daily paper.
Reporters from the five L.A. papers competed for scoops and everybody in that Mad Men era wore a hat, the ladies of the press included.
The name Phlange Welder came from the unlikely source of a job advertisement in a government handout that landed on the desk of cityside reporter Ted Sell. Seems the government was seeking someone who could expertly weld flanges, described by Wise Geek as ” internal or external ribs or rims … may be used as a strengthening member, a guide, or indexing element or as a method of joining system parts such as pipes, tanks, valves, and blanking plates.”
As Evie describes in the book, Sell tubed the handout — in those vacuum tubes you see in old time newspaper movies — with the Flange Welder ad circled, to copy editor Carl “Pony” Swenson with the question: “Is this guy in the Blue Book?” Swenson replied that he was and he preferred to spell his first name “Phlange”. Thus a legend was born: Phlange Welder, man about the world and denizen of the L.A. Times Test Kitchen and the employee cafeteria.
“The Life and Times of Phlange Welder” at first might seem like too much inside baseball for non-newspaper people, but I think general readers will enjoy a look at an era that has sadly past, brilliantly chronicled by Evie De Wolfe. When Evie told me about the reprinting of Phlange’s saga, she said to not get too personal. I agreed, but I have to say I’ve reviewed her books on this site. And I worked with her on the Real Estate Section of the L.A. Times during my almost 15 years at the paper.
About the Author
A native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Evelyn De Wolfe earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Brazil at age twenty and worked with the U.S. Embassy as a translator and consultant and later as a researcher for Walt Disney and still later as a journalist for a newspaper in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra CA and later the Los Angeles Times for 40 years in various reporting capacities. She lives in the Hollywood Hills.