Reston’s Legacy–Larger than Life: Scotty Writes His Memoirs, 1987-1991

Main Exhibit Page |Too Close to His Sources?The Vineyard GazetteCredits and Exhibit Sources

A letter to Scotty from an admirer lamenting his impending retirement, August 5, 1987
Found in RS 26/20/120, Box 5, Folder: Retirement Correspondence (1 of 2), 1989-1990.


As Scotty’s career waned in the 1980s, his friends and colleagues urged him to write his memoirs. Jonathan Yardley, for example, one of Scotty’s former clerks, believed the project would shift the elder reporter’s away from his diminished column.[1] Indeed, Scotty was no longer a journalistic titan: prominent government officials, such as then Vice President George H.W. Bush, still returned his calls, but not instantaneously like the politicians of yesteryear.[2] In 1987, Scotty, spurred by his advancing years, decided to retire his thrice-weekly column, promising friends, colleagues, and admirers that he would begin writing his ‘long love letter letter to America.’[3] Random House eagerly purchased Scotty’s memoirs, titled Deadline, in 1989. believing readers were interested in his story.[4] Now all Scotty had to do was write the book.

A ‘Long Love Letter to America’

Unaccustomed to writing about himself, Scotty found it difficult to complete Deadline. Scotty’s initial drafts omitted the personal touchtones of his life and career: his relationship with Sally and his sons; his first assignments in London during the Blitz as a New York Times correspondent; his tumultuous year as Executive Editor.[5] Instead, Scotty wrote a series of essays–some were merely cut and pasted from his columns[6]–and historical events and leaders of the twentieth century.[7] Scotty later complained to friends about the tortuous process of writing a memorizing, noting that he was so ‘accustomed to collapsing at the end of a column,[sic] that my typewriter stuck at 740 words…’[8]Kate Medina, Scotty’s editor at Random House, staged several literary interventions to salvage the manuscript. ‘Whenever you are on the scene,’ Medina bluntly observed, ‘the book lights up. When it becomes objective, when you disappear…the book is skiable.’[9] Scotty accepted these criticisms and dramatically improved the earlier chapters of the book to include his family and his years as a cub reporter, yet he never managed to escape the mindset of a columnist. Random House released Deadline, despite its problems, in 1991.

Scotty sitting in his office at home posing for a publicity photograph for Deadline, ca. 1991.
Found in RS 26/20/120, Box Reston Framed + Unframed Photos, Folder: Deadline Publicity Photographs


Deadline would be Scotty’s final published work. His health declined when he suffered a stroke in 1992, and contracted bone cancer in early 1995. On December 6, 1995, Scotty died in his home surrounded by Sally and his three sons, listening to James Reston Jr. reading excerpts from Deadline about Scotty and Sally’s enduring love.[10]

Jonathan Yardley discusses his attempts to help Scotty improve Deadline, ca. 1996-97. Complete Interview found in RS 26/20/157, Card File Box 3: Yardley, Jonathan and Nitze, Paul.

Continue to: Credits and Exhibit Sources



[1] John F. Stacks, Scotty: James Reston and the Rise and Fall of American Journalism (Boston: Little, Brown, 2003), 341.

[2] Hillary Stout Interview, John F. Stacks Papers, 1914-2003; Record Series 26/20/127, Box 2, Folder: Notes fro Tape Recorded Interviews, University of Illinois Archives.

[3] Robert M. Andres, “James Reston Retires His Column,” Times News, September 4, 1987, 22.

[4] Kate Medina to Morton Janklow, March 31, 1989, Box 17, Folder: Book–Morton Janklow, 1988-1989. Morton Janklow was Scotty’s literary agent; Stacks, Scotty, 342.

[5] Jonathan Yardley to James Reston, February 19, 1990, Box 1, Folder: Jim Yardley, 1961-1990.

[6] Kate Medina to James Reston, November 29, 1990, Box 17, Folder: D Correspondence, “General Comments Read First,” 1990-1991.

[7] Kate Medina to James Reston, November 29, 1990; Russell Baker to James Reston, 1991, Box 17, Folder: Russell Baker, 1991.

[8] James Reston to Russ and Mimi Baker, August 18, 1989, Box 143, Folder: Baker, Russell, 1982-1992.

[9] Kate Medina to James Reston, July 25, 1989, Box 1, Folder: Kate Medina (“Editor of Deadline”) Critique and “Deadline Reviews 1989-1990.

[10] Stacks, Scotty, 345.