By all accounts, Earl Buie was a newspaperman’s newspaperman, and his unique writing and editorial styles were ingrained in the pages of The Sun for nearly 50 years.
He was born in Whitlock, Tennessee, on Jan. 21, 1897, Buie moved to San Bernardino with his family in 1910.
Earl Buie began his writing career in 1914 as a high school junior, covering sporting events at his school for a salary of $2.50 a month. In June 1916, Buie started working full time at the Sun in the Court Street office, directly across from the courthouse and near the jail.
Buie’s salary for his new full-time position skyrocketed to $4.50 per week. That was the inadequate compensation a newsman received for long work weeks — sometimes working as many as 80 hours in a week. The newsman of this era had to physically gather information from nearly any imaginable source, rush back to meet a deadline, and pound out a story on a manual typewriter.
In a 1958 column, Buie affectionately described the hardened, experienced reporters at the paper who helped guide him through his cub reporter years as “prolific, distinguished, and lightning fast on a typewriter.”
The most notable of these practiced reporters was James A. Guthrie, who later gained fame as the longtime editor and president of the Sun, which was known as The Daily Sun at the time and was then The Sun-Telegram. It is now known as The Sun.
One of Buie’s first columns appeared in February 1918, as a first-hand report on the sights, sounds, and activities at the Orange Show. He covered a variety of topics in short, separate, descriptive sentences. This style became a precursor for his later columns. Buie’s observations in the column included a sarcastic reference to the curse of frequent rainy days during the Orange Show: “Some of the many of the thousands present were disappointed because it did not rain.”
In June of 1918, Buie joined the Navy and became a radio operator. The war ended shortly after his service began, and Buie returned to San Bernardino in March 1919.
Buie quickly became the type of reporter who was never without a notepad and a 2-inch pencil stub used to scribble out a slice of news, and sometimes a bit of humor from even the dreariest subject.
On June 8, 1921, Earl Buie married his high school sweetheart, Lillian Cross, in a simple ceremony at the home of the bride’s parents in San Bernardino. The couple drove off for a 10-day motoring honeymoon to San Francisco.
Lillian gave birth to Charles Edward, the Buie’s only child, years later on Nov. 20, 1926.
Proving his worth as a reporter, Buie rose to the position of city editor, leading the Sun’s news team.
In a brief diversion from the Sun, Buie moved to Riverside and became managing editor at The Daily Enterprise in Riverside in December 1930, which is The Press-Enterprise today. The Great Depression forced staffing cutbacks, and by July 1932, Buie was back in position as city editor at the Sun.
With his name splashed across the pages of the largest newspaper in the city daily, Buie became a local celebrity. He was frequently asked to emcee events, serve as a contest judge, and give speeches at regional meetings.
Buie seemed to be at his best when writing about events where people were enjoying themselves.
His graphic style brought the printed stories to life, like this description of the evening celebrations at the 1937 amateur rodeo in Victorville:
“Perhaps never before in Victorville’s colorful history was there such a night of entertainment. Nobody, it seemed wanted to sleep. Nor could they sleep, so noisy was the town.”
In 1947, Buie left the Sun to become the press relations man, and later the manager for the National Orange Show. He retired from the Orange Show in April 1957 and went idle for a few short months before being lured back to the Sun by Jim Guthrie to write a column created to match his talents.
On Jan. 21, 1958, Buie’s newsprint photo began gracing the upper corner of his renowned “They Tell Me” columns.
In the first column, Buie explained, “They Tell Me will follow no set format or pattern.” Instead, it would contain tidbits of information that didn’t fit in any of the paper’s regular sections.
“They Tell Me” became one of the paper’s most beloved pieces, and Buie extended the range of his musings. The subjects of his column ranged from humorous to inciteful, to introspective, to storytelling. The columns often drifted into nostalgic ramblings that he titled “Do You Remember?”
The title of the column was the tease that drew readers in.
Titles like “Dig That Crazy French Teacher” featured Buie’s visit with a Barstow resident who owned a parrot that spoke French. Another column titled “The Man Who Didn’t Come to Dinner” was about Buie’s granddaughter, who didn’t understand why Santa Claus came to her house, but wouldn’t stay for dinner.
In 1963, the Sun-Telegram put out a booklet of Buie’s selected “They Tell Me” columns: “The Best of Buie.”
Sun reporter Bob Geggie wrote a wonderfully inciteful forward in the booklet, explaining the process of creating a Buie column:
“Six days a week we in the newsroom of The Sun-Telegram are witnesses to an agonizing drama – the birth of an Earl Buie column.
“The columns are not gaily bounced off the keys of Earl’s typewriter; they are wrung out.
“The torturing process of creating tomorrow’s ‘They Tell Me’ finds Earl chain-smoking his unfiltered cigarettes, pacing circles around his desk, making trips to the drinking fountain, staring blankly into the opposite wall.
Mark Landis, San Bernadino Sun