By Mitchell K. © 1991, 1997
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Index of Chapter 5

Chapter 5:   HOW IT WORKED 5.4 - Other Publicity
5.1 - The First A.A. Meeting in the World 5.5 - Personal Contact - "Attraction Rather Than Promotion"
5.2 - Summer of '39 5.6 - The Rockefeller Dinner
5.3 - Cleveland Continues to Grow 5.7 - Trials and Tribulations of 1940

Chapter 5.2


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 12/2/39

...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

Late 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.

Edna 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."

Edna 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.

This 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.

The 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.

George 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.

In 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.

When 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 asked?

Clarence 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.

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.

They 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. Alone.

This 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.

"A 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.

Arch 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.

"Archie 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.

Anne, 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.

Arch 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.

The 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.

Arch 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.

It 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.

This 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."

Clarence 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 needed publicity.

"Jerry," 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.

Clarence 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 Stand Here."

This 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.

The 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.

The 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 inquiries.

Every 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.

The "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 Road.

Some 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.

No 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.

These 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.

Clarence 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.

Arguments 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.

What 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.

"So 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.

Clarence 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."

But Clarence's 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 he did.

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