HOW IT WORKED
Summer of '39
When we reach 100, we are all
going out and celebrate and get good and drunk together. If we
ever should get all of these birds drunk at the same time and
in the same place, the Russian invasion of Finland would look
like bedtime at an old woman's home.
From a letter to Ruth Hock from Clarence dated
...and thus Cleveland became
the testing ground for what Alcoholics Anonymous was to be.
Ernest Kurtz, Ph.D., NOT GOD, A HISTORY OF
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (Mn.: Hazelden, 1979) p. 83
one evening, Edna McD., who was a nurse at the local Cleveland
Tuberculosis Society, called Clarence. She told him about her
husband, George, who was a drunk. George McD. was what Clarence
called a "high bottom drunk." Someone who as yet "hadn't gotten
down to the skids." Edna had heard about the wonderful work that
"the Alcoholics Anonymous" was doing in Cleveland. In her phone
call, she became very emotional and started to cry, and the words
began to get stuck in her throat. She unfolded a tale of woe to
Clarence. A tale with which he was not unfamiliar.
told Clarence George had gone out to a Hockey game drunk. She
said, "George blew off his big mouth; and some fellow told him
to shut it... beta the socks offa this poor guy, this George.
They gave him an awful beating."
said that while she was "pouring" George into bed, after he had
somehow managed to get home, she had told him about this group
of drunks that was having a great deal of success with men such
as himself. She told George she was going to call one of these
men that very night. George had told her to go ahead and then
proceeded to fall asleep in mid-sentence.
was the call Clarence had received. Clarence told Edna that unless
George wanted help, he (Clarence) couldn't give it to him. Clarence
then offered his support to Edna if she ever wanted to talk, and
gave her a few phone numbers of the other wives who would be there
for her as well.
next morning George's head was pounding. He was beaten and bruised.
Upon Edna's insistence he decided to quit drinking. Edna gave
him Clarence's phone number and then handed him the phone.
dialed the number; and, when Clarence answered, he asked for help.
Clarence "qualified" him over the phone, and then made arrangements
for him to go into Akron City Hospital.
the early days, all new prospects were hospitalized for at least
five to seven days, depending upon the severity of their physical
dependence and condition. Clarence called Doc to finalize the
arrangements and then called George back to tell him to get ready
to go into the hospital. Clarence George that he was picking him
up that evening . Clarence gave George a list of what to bring
and what not to bring.
Clarence arrived early that evening, he asked Edna a question
that she never expected to hear. He asked her if she had any alcohol
in her home. She was taken aback. "I thought this cure was to
stop my George from drinking? What do you want with liquor," she
explained to her that, on the way to Akron, George would be "hollering"
for alcohol every five minutes. Since "this was the last that
he was ever going to have, you might as well give it to him and
keep him happy on the way down," said Clarence.
George and Edna started on the almost forty mile trip. Every time
Clarence gave George a drink, Edna made a smart remark. She berated
George, Clarence said. She didn't stop talking and nagging all
the way down to Akron. There were times said Clarence that he
didn't blame good old George for drinking. He thought to himself
that if he had a wife like that, he didn't know if he himself
would want to stop.
finally got to the hospital and had George admitted. It was then
in the solitude and quiet of the waiting room that Clarence realized
that he would have to make the forty mile trip back with Edna.
was not a prospect to which Clarence looked forward. For "some
unknown reason," said Clarence, he went to Doc's house. Doc wasn't
as yet home. However, his wife, Anne was. Anne was sitting in
the living room with Arch T. from Detroit.
little skinny guy, scared of everything," said Clarence of Arch.
Arch had spent weeks and weeks at Doc's. He was being baby sat.
He wasn't drinking, but his mental and spiritual condition wasn't
improving either. He was in a strange city, with even stranger
people. He had already been at the Smith's home for about five
months, and he was afraid to leave his room.
and Anne were sitting and talking; so Clarence and Edna sat for
a while and spoke with them. Clarence was trying to stall the
inevitable; but when Edna kept insisting it was time to leave
and to start back to Cleveland, Clarence came up with what he
thought was a brilliant idea. He told Arch that all of the rummies
in Cleveland were driving him crazy. Clarence said, "I am so busy,
will you come up with me to Cleveland and please help me?" In
the back of his mind, Clarence felt he should take someone along
for the ride as self-protection.
looked at me as if he were hit with a club," said Clarence. Nobody
ever asked Archie to do anything because he felt that he was absolutely
worthless and useless to society," Clarence related to the author.
however, thought that it was a great idea. Anything that would
help Arch to get out of his room was brilliant. She told Arch,
"You heard Clarence. You're going with him. Run upstairs, and
get your sweater. You're going with him." Arch was dumbfounded.
He nervously looked back at Anne, then to Clarence, and back once
again at Anne. "Git," she said, and he ran up the stairs. He got
his sweater and came back down. He looked imploringly at Anne
who stood her ground. Despite Arch's sad face, she didn't budge.
reluctantly got into the back seat with Edna and settled in for
the long ride. Clarence breathed a sigh of relief and sank back
into the driver's seat. He relaxed as they drove back to Cleveland.
Edna was off his back.
next day, Arch seemed somewhat different. Maybe it was the fear
that Clarence would force him to suffer another long ride with
Edna, or maybe it was something else more profound.
got so busy with A.A. in Cleveland that he appeared to change
right before Clarence's eyes. Arch went to hospitals and dry-out
places, helping drunks all over the place. He got so busy and
so far in over his head that he forgot all about his fears and
phobias. Surprisingly, he became a big asset to Clarence and became
"one of the boys." He eventually went back to Akron a new man.
Within a few months he returned to Grosse Pointe and started the
first A.A. meeting in Detroit.
was either in the late summer or early fall of 1939 that Clarence
received a phone call from an insurance man that he once known.
This man was not an alcoholic, but he had seen the change in Clarence.
He had seen what this new way of life had done for him.
man told Clarence of a friend who was locked up in "this gooney
roost way out in the woods." The man's wife had him probated there.
He was a journalist, and he had been kicked off of almost every
newspaper in Northern Ohio. The Insurance man told Clarence, he
"is a good newspaper man, he ought to be salvaged."
went out to this sanitarium to visit with this other fellow. He
brought the A.A.'s Big Book for him to read; and after speaking
with him for a while, Clarence realized the man wasn't all that
"nuts." Clarence decided that if he were able to get the man out
and maybe get him a job on a newspaper, A.A. could get some well
the insurance man "and I went out to see the journalist's wife.
We talked her into getting him released," Clarence said. With
a car salesperson and an insurance man working their combined
sales pitch on her, the wife didn't stand a chance. She signed
the release papers, and Clarence went to get him out.
contacted some people in the newspaper business; and, with some
connections, got this man a job at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
This man was so grateful, that, on October 21, 1939, the first
of a series of seven articles about Alcoholics Anonymous was printed.
The first article was entitled, "Alcoholics Anonymous Makes Its
man was such a good reporter that he was able to have this series
printed very shortly after he got the job. The newspaper man was
Elrick B. Davis; and he enabled one of the first pieces of major
publicity that A.A. ever had.
articles were written with such sensitivity and insight that many
people felt Mr. Davis was a member of A.A. But Clarence would
neither confirm nor deny Davis's membership status. There are
other stories that have been told about how Clarence met Mr. Davis.
But this was the one that Clarence related to the author.
newspaper series produced Hundreds of inquiries from all over
- not just from Ohio. They poured in from all over the country.
"'Cause somebody would cut those things out and send 'em up to
Uncle Slug up here in Nebraska someplace and, you know, people
would write in," said Clarence. Even the New York office got numerous
Monday morning, Clarence would meet with members of the Cleveland
group. Just like a sales manager, he would distribute a handful
of the inquiries to each of them. "I'd tell 'em to go out and
report to me Wednesday what you did with 'em," he said.
"rummies" would run wild with these inquiries, Clarende said.
The meeting at Abby's home began to fill up with alcoholics. And
they were beginning to run out of room at Abby's house. Another
problem developed. A problem that had very little to do with the
obvious overflow of alcoholics meeting in the house at 2345 Stillman
of the more "intellectual" members were offended by Clarence's
getting the publicity in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He
was accused of getting paid for the articles. They accused him
of being paid a percentage for everyone who came in. Clarence
never learned where this percentage gossip came from.
one was making any money on the meetings or from the publicity.
Clarence told the author they never had enough money even to reimburse
Abby and Grace for the coffee and doughnuts. This even on an occasional
good night when they passed the hat and collected some change.
same Cleveland members also expressed a fear they would eventually
have their photographs printed in the pages of the newspaper.
They wanted to remain a nameless and faceless society of ex-alcoholics.
couldn't have agreed with them more. He tried to explain to them
that all he wanted to do was spread their message of hope to other
still sick and suffering alcoholics. The same kind of people that
they once were.
ensued. Fist fights almost occurred. The very Irish Catholic members
who had been the subject of Clarence's arguments with his sponsor
about and with whose continued recovery he was concerned, accused
Clarence of selling them out to the news media. Several times
Clarence tried to reason with them. He told them, "All of this
was crap, all hot air." They wouldn't listen. They were having
none of Clarence's explanations.
happened next was another first for A.A. The objectors all got
together and decided to take a vote. In true democratic fashion,
they voted with closed ballots. The result of that vote shocked
Clarence beyond belief. They voted him out of A.A.
I'm the first guy ever voted out of A.A.," said Clarence, Fortunately,
there was another group of members who didn't agree with the outcome
of the vote. However, there were outnumbered and outvoted. No
matter how hard they tried, they couldn't do or say anything that
would change the other's minds.
pulled no punches. He spoke his mind as openly and honestly as
he could. Dr. Ernest Kurtz, author of Not God, A History of
Alcoholics Anonymous wrote of Clarence that Clarence had an
"abrasive" personality. Clarence had much to do with the early
beginnings and growth of Alcoholics Anonymous in its formative
years. But Bill Wilson's secretary, Nell Wing, observed to the
author, "If he could have not been the kind of antagonistic person
that he was, he could have possibly been a tri-founder."
was a perfectionist. He pushed himself in the banking business
to be the best. He had made himself "the best drunk" he could,
and he pushed for the best A.A. possible, as he put it. But he
always tried to live up to the Four Absolutes of Honesty, Unselfishness,
Purity and Love. And he believed that he had gotten a message
to carry to the still sick and suffering alcoholic both inside
and outside of the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. And carry it