Sunday, August 7, 2011


Joan Blair holding the U-Boat books she 
referred to as "her babies."


[Note:  To the recent series of pieces on the Joan and Clay Blair interview, I add this post of a recent, follow-up conversation with Joan to learn about their writing career after our 1994 interview. Clay had alluded to a new contract for another book, which, as it turns out, split the voluminous material into two books.  As Joan said to me, "You can barely pick up one book with one hand.  Imagine if this were all one book!"  
Joan and Clay had continued working on the Hitler U-boat book, to later be published by Random House as two books:  The Hunters 1939-1942, and  The Hunted 1942-1945.
  - DP

Q – I think that doing the transcript of our 1994 interview reopened my eyes as to all the work you did together.  It also really impressed me with the amount of detail.
Joan -  Yes, that was Clay’s hallmark.  He went into every single, the most minute, detail about everything.  He used to drive me crazy sometimes!  I’d say, let’s don’t do things to free the world again. 

Q – There are those who write history and do it well, but to tackle  a subject with all of the detail…even if you have all of the information in your lap, which it wasn’t…to assemble that huge project.  How do you make sense of all that?  And from Clay’s quotes, he didn’t know, either.  It’s innate, I guess, is what it is.

Joan -  Most of this was before we had a computer.  In fact, we didn’t get a computer until we had a U-Boat book.   So he would write facts, dates, everything on 3 x 5 cards.

Q – He had given me these (manila file folders with samples of U-boat movements, etc.), and said, “This is the kind of thing..”

Joan -  And then he’d collate all the cards, and then he’d write it out, longhand. 

Q – But even to do that from this, he’d have to know the story, and had an idea where he was going.  So much detail to not get confused or completely befuddled in the process.

Joan – Right.   No he was really a detail (person).  He learned that as a reporter for Time-Life, and Saturday Evening Post.  “Always ask the next question,” he used to say.

Q – And that was also clear in the tapes that he was thinking about other projects, some of which would just pop up.  Or others that made sense out of what he already had.

At the point I had met with you in 1994, you were about to finish the U-boat book.   What took place after that?

Joan – We didn’t actually finish the U-boat book (then).  The second one didn’t come out until 1998, and that was …He did manage to see both books on book store shelves just before he died on a trip to Washington.

Q – What is the difference between the two books?  The titles are similar.

Joan -  The first book is The Hunters, and that’s the first part of the war, from ’39 to ’42, when the U-boats were all over the place, rampaging around, and we hadn’t figured out how to stop them yet.   Then the second book was called the Hunted, ’42 to’45, and that’s when the Allies really got on the offensive.

Q -  So when I spoke with you in ’94, that decision had not been made, or hadn’t officially been made?

Joan – Probably not.  But look at it, how could you make one book out of that?  (Pointing to the two volumes.) 

Q -  They’re enormous!   Do you look back at that and wonder how you did it?

Joan -  Absolutely!  It took so long, we worked on that book for so long, over ten years between the two of them.   We consider it all sort of one.  

Q – Was there anything else (that might have been on the forefront) as this was going to press?   On the horizon?

Joan -  Yes.  In fact, we even had a contract that was on a book about the Americans who helped break the codes and then what they did after the war.   They were inventors who went into computers, all of that, and we had started researching that. 

Q – Kind of related work, but not for the military, right?

Joan -  Right. Not military at all.

Q – If you had a computer in 1994, would it have helped?  Wouldn’t it have been a nightmarish thing?  There was no program that would have helped, other than the typing?

Joan -  Right.  But that helped enormously.  (Before the computer) Clay would make a correction on a page, and I would have to retype the whole thing all over again. 

Q – You had an electric typewriter which had a little capability...

Joan -  A computer saved my life!

Q – If there was any particular book or subject matter that interested you most, would you have preferred that to military history?  Military wasn’t your background, although you had worked for the government.  Was that a natural fit for you?

Joan –  I was just fascinated by any...all of it.  I became interested in the knowledge about submarines, for instance, WWII.   I loved it all, and the research.  The research was really fun.  The interviews, while they were going on, were wonderful.  They we’d go home and I’d have to transcribe all of them.
Q – Fascinating characters, people who were at the pinnacle world wide of their careers, their military careers?

Joan – Oh yes, we interviewed some fantastic people, like the military guys, Gen. Westmoreland, Ridgway, Gavin, Ambassador Harriman, and in the Bradley book…and all kinds of people Mrs. Bradley wanted us to interview who had absolutely nothing to do with his life!  But, yes, it was fascinating, it really was.

Q – For most of those interviews you would travel to the homes and accommodate the person you were interviewing? 

Joan -  Yes.

Q -   A tremendous amount of travel and time spent in travel? 

Joan – Yes. 

Q – Anything else you’d care to add?   Was this how you thought you might spend your career?

Joan -  Well, yes, I guess I did.  What Clay did.

Q – If I remember correctly, your mother (Jean Rutledge, who often wrote book reviews for the Island paper) loved books.

Joan -  Oh yes…Mother and Daddy were both avid readers.  So we grew up with books and reading. 

The two additional books that were not listed in the Part VII listing:

Hitler’s U-Boat War:  The Hunters 1939-42, Clay Blair   (Random House, 809 pages)
Hitler’s U-Boat War:  The Hunted 1942-45,  Clay Blair   (Random House, 909 pages)

  -  Dick Purinton


Bill Tobey said...

Absolutely fascinating material, Dick. I found a link to an online version of "The Hunted", read some of it (it's incomplete of course) and found it captivating. Today I found both Hitler's U-Boat volumes in Amazon's used book stores and ordered both. That reading will keep me busy for a while, close to 2000 pages! Those who are interested in WWII military history owe a real debt of gratitude to the Blairs. Thank you so much for posting the interviews!

Bill Tobey
Littleton, CO

Richard Purinton said...

Bill - I'm pleased you found it interesting. I hadn't gotten too much feedback before today, but had a very positive comment from several others besides yourself, and this has also resulted in their interest in reading one or several of their books. I found that they had much to offer in terms of their work habits and the interesting way they pursued or fell into new subject areas. Hope you enjoy the U-boat books. *** I'm not certain if they are still recommended reading for naval submarine officers, but I suspect they are. - DP