Interviewed by Stephen Francis
18 July 2006
Oral History Program
Weber State University
18 July 2006
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Sidney Hyman, an oral history by
Stephen Francis, 18 July 2006, WSU
Stewart Library Oral History Program,
Special Collections, Stewart Library, Weber
State University, Ogden, UT.
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with Sidney Hyman. It was
conducted by Dr. Stephen Francis of Weber State University on July 18, 2006. In
the interview, Mr. Hyman discusses his experiences with Marriner Eccles and
writing Beckoning Frontiers: Public and Personal Recollections.
SF: This is an interview with Sidney Hyman. We are in Ogden, Utah on July 18,
2006. Welcome and thank you so much for coming.
SH: Delighted to be here.
SF: I‟m looking at Marriner Eccles and his role in management and you are probably
the world‟s greatest authority on him.
SH: That would be right if you confined the scope of the world to one inch!
SF: Would you explain how you met Marriner Eccles and came to work with him?
SH: Yes, but you will have to put up with my slow start. During the Second World
War, I served as a junior officer in the First Armored Division, starting under
General George Patten in North Africa, and ending under General Mark Clark in
Italy. When I was demobilized in Washington, I was tapped by Harry Hopkins to
work with him on four books he wanted to write. The first would deal with the war
years in which he served as Roosevelt‟s alter ego and communication link with
Churchill and Stalin. The second would deal with the New Deal years, in which
he was the head of the WPA [Works Progress Association], and then Secretary
of Commerce. The third would be a profile of Roosevelt, drawing on Hopkins‟
exceptionally intimate relationship with him from 1930 to 1945. The fourth would
amount to a book of reflections about the American commonwealth.
I was quite young at the time. I had been strongly recommended to him
by David Hopkins, my former classmate at the University of Chicago; by
Katherine Meyer (later Graham), also a classmate; and her father, Eugene
Meyer, the owner and publisher of the Washington Post. It was agreed that I
would do the research on the books in view, but, as Hopkins put it, by the time
work began on the fourth book, I “would be grown up” and would join his name
as its co-author.
It was an extraordinary opportunity, coming after three and half years in
the Army, most of which were spent overseas in combat situations. The
opportunity became more extraordinary when I began actual work on Hopkins‟
war papers. I broke the wax seal on all the major wartime conferences, including
those where basic strategic decisions were made by the Big Three, capped by
the decisions contained in the Yalta papers.
Hopkins, however, died in his New York apartment nine months after I
began to work with him. I was too young and inexperienced to handle the writing
side of the projected first book. When I was asked by David Hopkins, Harry‟s
son, whether I would be willing to stay with the project, I answered with an
emphatic yes. When he asked which senior writer I would want to work with, I
said Robert R. Sherwood. He was a distinguished playwright, a three-time
winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a speechwriter for Roosevelt during the war years,
and the head of the overseas work of the Office of War Information.
The book for which I did the research, and for which I provided the
organizational structure, was published in 1948 as Roosevelt and Hopkins. It
won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, was serialized by the
Beaverbrook Papers in England, and was translated into thirty or forty languages
worldwide. In consequence of it all, I was asked by the organizer of the newly
formed Roosevelt Memorial Foundation to be the director of research. The work
would entail getting oral histories from main figures in the Roosevelt story,
starting with his election in 1932 and concluding with his death in April 1945.
And here I come to Marriner Eccles. In Washington—I moved here in
1948—when I asked a basic question of a person being interviewed, I was often
told, “I really can‟t answer that question. You better see Marriner Eccles.”
Though I often heard the name, Marriner Eccles, I could not connect the man
with anything I had brought together for use in Roosevelt and Hopkins. What is
more, when looking in the index of the book, I found that he was mentioned only
as having been present at a meeting in the White House during the war years. I
thought, “Oh my Lord: so much for authoritative works of history and biography.”
In a penitent mood, I called on Marriner in his Federal Reserve Office—the
time was the early 1950s, and he was in the thick of his final, titanic, and
ultimately successful battle to break the dictatorial power of the Treasury over the
Federal Reserve Board in the battle against inflation. I explained what I had
encountered in connection with my rounds in Washington for the oral history
project, and I was shamed by what I had omitted from Roosevelt and Hopkins
regarding his critical importance to so many aspects of Roosevelt‟s presidencies.
He laughed at my concern, saying that he had not read Roosevelt and
Hopkins, and so could not take offense at what I had left out about his work.
After that first meeting, I arranged to see him a number of times. The more we
talked, the more fascinated I became with him, and the more I realized why so
many other people I interviewed said, “You had better see Marriner Eccles about
that!” At one point, he said to me, “I was thinking of writing a book, but I just
don‟t have the time. Besides, I don‟t know how to organize a book.” I said I
might have some ideas about the matter, provided I could sample his papers. He
consented to my doing so, but I had a problem convincing Marriner‟s suspicious
secretary that in looking at his papers, I was not out to do him harm.
By the end of two weeks of study of what was in his files, I put together a
draft outline and structure of a book that would bear his name. At that point, I
said to him, “Mr. Eccles, no one else in the Roosevelt years knows as much as
you do about its inner dynamics, because you were the fundamental mover
behind the major battles over policy decisions, and legislative and executive
follows-through. Please consider writing the book.” To which he again said, “I
really don‟t have the time.” At this point, I violated the old Army rule, “Never
volunteer.” I said, “I‟d really like to work with you, and I am ready to quit my job
with the Roosevelt Memorial Foundation to do so.” He suddenly became very
alert and revealed to me that he had been approached by Alfred Knopf, the five-star
New York publisher, to write a book of the kind I had outlined for him. He
said that if I was serious about wanting to work with him, I should go to New York
and meet with Alfred Knopf for a discussion about terms, etc.
This was done. Knopf said yes to what I proposed. Marriner now also
said yes. I resigned from the Roosevelt Memorial Foundation, and began to
work with Marriner on his schedule. I would see him at lunch. I would see him at
night. I would see him on Sundays and holidays. He would sometimes come to
the place I had rented in Washington. I would sometimes go to his place in the
Shoreham Hotel, or to a side office next to his in the Federal Reserve Building.
The book was written more on the basis of his memory than an elaborate
marshalling of documents. The actual documents drawn upon would probably fill
four filing cabinets.
In my work with him on the draft manuscript—I would eventually be listed
on the title page as the editor, with Marriner as the author—he did not want to
talk about religion or about his formative years. He made some references to his
father and mother, and a few to his eight siblings. He made some longer
references to his innovations in banking, capped by his account of how he coped
with runs on the bank during the Great Depression. The focus of the book was
on his concept of how a compensatory economy works, and on his battle in
Washington to win Roosevelt‟s support for fiscal and monetary policies that
would help lift the country out of the trough of the Great Depression. The
concept of a compensatory economy, which Marriner brought to Washington,
was later called Keynesianism—but he introduced it at least three years before
John Maynard Keynes, in 1936, published the work that gave the concept its
In the years that followed the publication of Marriner‟s Beckoning
Frontiers, I “grew up” and could do things on my own from A to Z. I wrote The
American President, the first book about the presidency itself to be published
after the end of the Second World War. In it, I tried to bring a picture of the
presidency as an institution into focus, given the changes that had overtaken it in
consequence of the New Deal and war years. The book was published by
Harper Brothers, was translated into a number of languages, and was used as a
basic textbook in about 800 American colleges.
At the risk of being downright obnoxious, I want to flap my wings for a few
seconds. Early in the Kennedy administration, a committee of university libraries
under the chairmanship of Yale‟s librarian was formed to choose 3,000 books
from all those ever published in the United States up to that point, that would
form the core of a White House Presidential library. I knew nothing about the
project, but when the titles of the books chosen were published in the New York
Times, I saw that the list included three in which I had had a hand. They were
Roosevelt and Hopkins, Beckoning Frontiers and The American President.
Also during the years after the publication of Beckoning Frontiers, I began
to write for the New York Times magazine; served on the staff of Senator Paul H.
Douglas; served as a special assistant to Eugene Meyer, the publisher of the
Washington Post; married; spent two years in Europe at the International Institute
of Educational Planning, a UNESCO agency; returned to Chicago as a senior
fellow at the Adlai E. Stevenson Institute; joined the faculty of the University of
Chicago, taught courses in the social sciences, and served as director of a
degree-granting program in public affairs; was a contributing editor to the
fourteen-volume Annals of America and a special editor of the Annals of Political
Science; published the Lives of William Benton, The Politics of Consensus,
Youth in Politics, and The Aspen Idea; helped build the Department of Criminal
Justice in the new University of Illinois at Chicago; served as a member of the
Illinois Racing Board and the Illinois Arts Council, and so on. To tell the truth and
shame the devil, in the course of twenty-five years, I had no direct
communication at all with Marriner.
Suddenly I got a call in Chicago from Marriner. He was deeply concerned
about the course of American policy in Vietnam. He had a pacemaker in his
heart and knew he was dying. He often said that if he had known what it was like
to walk around with a pacemaker, he would have accepted death. He wanted to
pick up the story he had to tell from where he left off in 1950. He asked whether I
would be willing to work with him. I had enjoyed my earlier association with
Marriner. Though I had had eminent professors of economics as a student at the
University of Chicago, I believed that Marriner, under deep sedation, would make
more sense about the application of economic concept to concrete cases and
controversy than the economics faculty that comprised my academic mentors.
Working with Marriner on his new book, which was to be a biography, not
an autobiography, would entail my commuting between Chicago and Salt Lake
City, but after a visit with him to discuss the details of the project—including fees,
against which he pleaded poverty—I agreed to the project, and never regretted
The book was published as Marriner Eccles: Private Entrepreneur and
Public Servant. The Stanford Graduate School of Business was the publisher,
and the University of Chicago Press was the printer and distributor. Marriner had
the pleasure of learning that his book was accepted for use in the economics
classes of two rival figures: Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago and
Kenneth Galbraith at Harvard. I had a special, personal reason to be pleased
with the publication of the book. Marriner was very lonely toward the end of his
life, and his vision was fading, but Sallie Eccles, his wife, put the book on tape,
and he regularly listened to it, section by section, reliving the great battles he had
fought in the past. It was one of his last pleasures.
SF: How do you differentiate between the process of the memoir and biography?
Were they similar from the standpoint of his input?
SH: No. In the memoir, the input was all Marriner, except for some of the literary
flourishes I added. I did no library research or talk to anyone except Marriner. In
fact, I think he would have been distressed—considering that he was in the thick
of a great battle at the time with the Treasury Department—if he knew that I was
talking to anyone outside his office. Though I did the writing, except for the
portions where I drew on his testimony before the Congressional committee, the
story was told in the first person singular.
By the time I got around to the biography in the early 1970s, a number of
academics had made careers centered on a critical analysis of Marriner‟s work.
In addition, many autobiographies or papers of major figures in the Roosevelt or
Truman years had been published, including the Harold Ickes and Henry
Morgenthau diaries. It was important in the autobiography to study the published
works of Marriner‟s contemporaries in Washington, as well as the other major
works of the period, such as Arthur Schlessinger‟s multi-volume study of
Roosevelt, starting with the volume Collapse of the Old Order. It also made a
great difference to shift from “I” to “He.” It was a shift that allowed me to say
things in judgment of Marriner which he could not say or would not think of
saying about himself.
SF: One of the things I found very interesting in the first part of Beckoning Frontiers
was the comparison between Marriner Eccles in Washington and Joseph in
Egypt. Whose idea was it to set up the parallel?
SH: I did. I come from a religious background with more than a few years devoted to
the study of texts in the original Hebrew. In fact, in my own writings, I often drew
on the Old Testament for governing ideas and modes of expression. I think one
of the reasons why I have always felt comfortable as a Gentile in my encounters
with Mormon culture is due to my recognition of the Old Testament material that
is entwined in the Mormon outlook. I believed the relationship between the sons
of Leah and the sons of Rachel—where the latter want to dispose of Joseph, the
son of Rachel—fit the nature of the relationship between the brothers of the first
Eccles family and the brothers of the second. As in the Old Testament story,
where Joseph survived to become an adviser-in-chief to pharaoh in Egypt,
Marriner survived the hostility of the oldest sons of the first family to become, in
Washington, the advisor to President Roosevelt.
SF: Did Marriner enjoy the comparison?
SH: Yes. Marriner was not a religious man, but he responded to the analogy, and
believed it fit what he had experienced first in Utah, then in Washington.
SF: How did he want his relationship with the Mormon church portrayed? You said
he was not a religious man, but in Washington people would say, “Oh, you‟re a
SH: The Mormon community that existed before World War II was not the Mormon
community as it exists today. Before World War II, it was viewed by so-called
“main stream” Americans as an eccentric mountain spur in American religious
history. When he first appeared before the Senate in the Roosevelt
administration, Senator Alben Barkley made some sort of joke about the need for
someone named Marriner, and a Mormon, to be confirmed. Marriner answered
with a joke, and that was that. He never denied his upbringing as a Mormon, but
never made a big thing about it.
In his conversations with me, he was always respectful of the structural
and material achievements of the community—as would be anyone with a pair of
eyes in his head. He respected the efforts of the Mormon church “to take care of
its own” during the Great Depression, but he also stressed the fact that the
Church was in no financial position to take care of its own, and he was unhappy
about the way Reuben Clark and other members of the general authorities
decried the efforts of the New Deal to come to the aid of the many millions of
Americans who were in distress. He was also unhappy about the way they were
critical of his personal efforts to promote the cause of population control through
Planned Parenthood. When I asked him if he believed the story about Joseph
Smith and the gold plates, he asked if I believed the story about Moses coming
down from the mountain with the tablets of the law written on stone. When I said
I didn‟t believe that story, he said that in both cases a compelling reason to
believe was the promise of land.
SF: In 1951, he returned to Salt Lake from Washington and ran for the U.S. Senate. I
noticed in the biography that you made a point of saying that was one area he
really didn‟t want to talk about. Do you have any idea why?
SH: I think he was embarrassed by his decision. I can understand why he ran in the
first place. He was still in a fury over the way he had been dealt with by President
Truman in connection with his reappointment to the Federal Reserve Board. He
was also deeply concerned over the messy things he saw on the move in the
area of economic policy, and in the realm of American foreign policy. Dwight D.
Eisenhower was bidding for the Republican nomination for the presidency at the
same time, and Marriner may have thought—this is pure conjecture on my part—
that if he identified himself as a Republican and as a candidate for the Senate,
then even if he lost the party nomination to Senator Watkins—the conservative
incumbent and a loyalist to Senator Taft‟s bid for the presidency—he might be
considered for an appointment in an Eisenhower cabinet as Secretary of the
Treasury. Nothing worked out as he thought. Eisenhower appointed George
Humphrey, a right wing corporate executive and the head of a coal company.
SF: Once he returned to Utah, did you get any sense of which enterprises were most
important to him?
SH: All the enterprises with which the Eccles family had historic connections were
important to him. In the case of the First Security Corporation, the flagship
enterprise of the Eccles family, he could not, by law, as an ex-chairman and
member of the Federal Reserve Board, take an active part in its executive
management. He could only serve as chairman of the board. The importance he
attached to the continued success of First Security was made manifest in the
care he took in preparing Spencer Eccles to succeed George Eccles as its CEO.
The fact that Marriner could not, under the law, be an active executive in
the First Security Corporation, enabled him to concentrate his attention on Utah
Construction. Not that Marriner was in any way a day-to-day executive in Utah
Construction. He had an unerring eye for young executive talent, as when he
recruited Ed Littlefield to join Utah Construction. When Littlefield protested that
he didn‟t want to get mixed up with other kinsmen who had a stock interest and a
role in the management of Utah, Marriner replied: “Ed, that‟s exactly why I want
you to prepare yourself to be the leader of Utah. Too many businesses have
failed, not because of market conditions, but because of nepotism.” I believe
Marriner was reacting to what happened when the sons of the first Eccles family
took over the management, respectively, of Oregon Lumber and the chief
executive function in Amalgamated. Whatever their personal qualities, they were
not qualified to manage the enterprises for which they were responsible, but
owed their posts simply to the fact that they were the oldest and second oldest
sons in the first family. Marriner wanted Ed Littlefield to know that if he stood his
ground and did not allow himself to be pushed around by members of the other
families that had an interest in Utah Construction, he would have Marriner‟s full
SF: Yet, Ed Littlefield is still from the family; and Spencer Eccles, in connection with
First Security, is still from the family.
SH: That‟s true. On the other hand, there were a number of other nephews on the
scene in the First Security setup. Remember that the term “nepotism” comes
from the Latin nepos, which means nephew. Marriner did not think the others
were equal to the task of running First Security, whereas Spencer was. It would
have been wrong to deny Spencer a steady advancement to the top post in the
corporation simply because he was related to Marriner and George. Marriner, in
a sense, was very selective in his nepotism.
Marriner may have been disappointed with the way his two sons turned
out. One died in the prime of life from an avoidable sickness. The other had no
interest in banking, but concentrated on photography. Ed Littlefield may have
become the son Marriner would have liked to have had. Toward the end of his
life, George Eccles, who was childless, may have found in Spencer Eccles the
equivalent of a son. This is a very complicated family.
SF: How would you assess Marriner as a business manager?
SH: Could I talk about him with an eye towards his difference with George Eccles?
SF: Actually, that was my next question.
SH: George was a slam-dunk manager. Do this. Do that. Don‟t do this or that. He was
very quick in his judgments and orders. Like other managers, he would never
claim to be infallible, but he would insist that he was never wrong. George was
very proud of his capacity to decide, and his record warranted the pride because
he was immensely successful. There was, however, a price the bank itself paid
because of his reluctance to delegate power to some of his subordinates. By
retaining the power of major decisions in his own hands, he did not allow his
subordinates to “grow up”; moreover, the effect deterred First Security from
responding as fast as it should to meet the challenge of new competitors. The
price here could be hidden when First Security was a relatively small institution.
The price loomed very large when First Security grew to a size where no one
man could logically be expected to hold in a single vision every rational decision
that had to be made in connection with its affairs—often in a race against the
absolute of time itself.
As for Marriner, it was often said that if he had to get the washing in on
time, he would starve to death. The hyperbole was based on the fact that before
he made a decision, he turned its elements inside and out. Once he was
satisfied that he had taken every contingency into account, the decision he made
hit a bull‟s-eye like a rifle shot by an expert marksman. He always seemed to
stand outside himself and to ask: “What am I looking at? How do I know what I
think I know about it? Am I sure? And if I am, what—if anything—should I do
with respect to it?”
Another part of the difference between Marriner and George goes back to
what I said about the relationship between Marriner and Ed Littlefield. George
thought he was going to live forever, and so balked at any move to designate a
successor to his own post, and his reluctance to delegate power to subordinates
was related to that fact. Marriner, on the other hand, being conscious of
mortality, was always on the lookout for young executives who could be brought
forward to top posts while still quite young.
SF: He saw George‟s ability when George was a young man.
SH: I‟m glad that you mentioned that. I want to add something more about Marriner.
He was the kind of person who comes along once in a generation. He didn‟t care
two-pence for the pride of place, except for what it would mean by way of
enabling him to do the things he was convinced were in the public interest.
He once said to me that if he were accused of anything, it would be
patricide. I said, “In what sense did you kill your father?” He said, “I repudiated
his governing outlook. The outlook was defensible for his time, but not for mine.
To cling to it in the depths of the Great Depression would have been an invitation
to a compounded disaster. My father‟s outlook had to be cast aside.”
SF: Do you think he would be willing to accept another generation saying to him,
“Marriner, you were right for the time but not for now?” Or would he insist that he
got things right for the farthest future?
SH: He would not insist on anything dogmatic. He was too sensible for that. He
thought that every age is an age of change. The challenge for the passing
moment is to try to anticipate the nature and the direction that change will take
before it occurs. He used the image of a general maneuvering at the head of
troops who, by taking measures born of foresight, turns events in desired
directions, instead of waiting until it is decided by events before he acted.
He believed that power and responsibility should go together. It made no
sense to him to give an individual power in either a public of private context,
without holding him accountable for the use he made of it. Conversely, it made
no sense to hold an individual responsible for the outcome of an action without
giving him the material means to do what was expected of him.
He was a star in the New Deal, but he was also highly critical of it, as well,
because it did not get the United States out of the Great Depression. It was the
Second World War that did that. He also warned against the United States
getting involved in Asian conflicts. I initially disagreed with him about his
opposition to America‟s role in the Vietnam conflict, but I later realized that he
was right and I was wrong. He was also brave enough, at a very early hour, to
stress the importance of an accommodation with Communist China, and he was
widely assailed for doing so in 1952. Now everyone is investing like mad in
China, or complaining about the Chinese because they are too successful.
SF: What, if any, impact did his Washington experiences have on the way he
managed businesses? Do you see a difference between how he ran his
corporations before Washington and then after, or was it just a continuation?
SH: In Washington, of course, he was not free to choose the people he worked with—
from the Secretary of the Treasury down to members of the Federal Reserve
Board. There were also limitations on what he could do without the consent of
Congress, but in all other essential respects, there was a striking symmetry
between the way Marriner bore himself in business and in Washington. In
business, he was an innovator—the inventor of the multi-state operating bank
holding company. In Washington, he was the innovator in the field of insured
mortgages, and in the realm of central banking. Also, in business and in
Washington alike, the aides he chose were young people at the forefront of new
thinking. If they made a convincing argument to Marriner about what should or
should not be done, he would make the argument his own. Moreover, in
meetings in Washington, and in the meetings of his corporate executives‟
directors, he was the eternal missionary, with a case to make and skeptics to
He was always accessible to young students who wanted an interview
with him, whether they were writing for a school newspaper or a term paper. I
think he never got over being the LDS missionary who always said, “Now wait a
minute, I‟ve got another point to make,” and, just like LDS missionaries, he got
used to being heckled when he made speeches. Marriner, to my knowledge,
never lost his temper while being badgered before a congressional committee.
He just plowed ahead, saying what he thought was right.
SF: I see him as very much the “big idea” man who needed agents to implement his
SH: You couldn‟t have put it better. Marriner thought in strategic terms and George in
tactical terms. He saw, for example, that Utah Construction had to go in new
directions at the end of World War II, and he found in Ed Littlefield the makings of
the gifted young executive who took Utah Construction to new fields of business.
By the way, though Marriner seldom complimented anyone for the way they
performed in a job, he could not say enough in praise of Ed Littlefield. Ed was
“terrific,” “a star,” and “brilliant.” I saw some correspondence in which Marriner
urged George to study the way Ed Littlefield ran Utah Construction, and apply the
lesson to his own management of First Security.
SF: Why do you think Marriner seldom complimented anyone else for their work?
SH: I think it was because his father never did. His father, David Eccles, was a dour
Scot who rose to prominence in the intermountain West from the lowest depths
of misery in Glasgow, Scotland. If one of his many employees did a good piece
of work, David Eccles would say, “Why should I compliment him for doing what
he was hired to do?” Incidentally, with the exception of some institutions of
higher learning in Utah, none elsewhere complimented Marriner personally for
his immense contribution to America‟s political economy by giving him an
honorary degree. Harvard never gave him an honorary degree; nor did Yale,
Columbia, Chicago, Stanford, MIT, etc. Why not? I suppose it was because
Marriner was such an odd duck who never fit any traditional mold that could
serve as a standard for judging his merits. At the same time, he was never
elected as a director of any major corporation other than his own. Perhaps the
other directors knew he might raise hell if they invited him into their secret lairs.
SF: Why, despite being so crucial to the New Deal, doesn‟t he get the recognition he
SH: It was against his own temperament to engage in puffery, to hire a PR agent who
would plant flattering pieces about him in the press. What counted with Marriner
were the results achieved through the application of his ideas to concrete cases
and controversies. He was always concerned with ideas about ideas, and he
seemed to welcome the time he could spend in his own company where he could
quietly think through what the best course of action might be in a given situation.
I am always leery about playing curbstone psychoanalyst—to claim that I
understand the secret mainsprings of another person‟s action. If a pure guess is
allowable, perhaps the answer to the question you asked entails a carryover of
Marriner‟s upbringing when the second family, because of its polygamous status,
lived in isolation in Baker City, Oregon, instead of actively drawing attention to
SF: If it were not for the regulations that prevented Marriner from taking an active part
in banking, do you think he would have been as concerned as he was with Utah
SH: David Eccles, his father, never maintained a desk in any bank in which he was a
dominant figure, nor did Marriner, even before he went off to Washington. His
father used to say that banking was “just a bunch of notes.” Marriner would not
be that dismissive, but he was bored with the mechanics of banking—making
loans, collecting on loans, deciding on interest rates, etc. George Eccles, on the
other hand, loved every aspect of banking, and it would have surprised no one if
he showed up at a First Security Bank before anyone else did, just to open the
front door. For that reason, Marriner should have been grateful that George was
always around “to mind the family store.”
On his return to Salt Lake City from Washington, Marriner wanted to be
chairman of the First Security Executive Committee, but George was already
chairman, and in no mood to yield the place to Marriner. To repeat, the actual
business of making and collecting loans at First Security—coming against a
background of seventeen years of making economic decisions in Washington
that affected the nation, if not the world beyond it—could not make Marriner‟s
heart skip a beat with excitement. Utah Construction, on the other hand, opened
up entirely new challenges in the post-War World II era, and seemed a perfect fit
for Marriner‟s interest.
SF: Is there a way you could distinguish his time spent in pushing the management of
his business interests with some of his broader concerns such as Vietnam, and
SH: I think he made fundamental, strategic decisions where he thought Utah and
Amalgamated Sugar should go. More than that, once he had set in place the
order of succession to top posts in both companies—not to overlook the
succession of Spence to George as CEO of First Security—I think he tended to
retreat from a front and center concern with these corporations. In any case,
toward the last years of his life, he was plainly more preoccupied with public
matters than with business matters. The public matters, in his view, acted in
inexorable ways on business matters.
He had something interesting to say in response to my question about
how he used to choose new officers for First Security. He said, “We would look
for the top graduates from different schools, and once employed, they would get
off to a fast start, but some would then level off. I kept wondering why. It then
occurred to me that the people we were picking, originally, were those who got
„A‟ grades because they were able to respond as a phonograph record and to
repeat what they had been taught by their professors in answer to questions
asked on a test. In business, the important thing to know is what question is
worth asking. There was no guarantee in advance that the people you hired had
that kind of mind set—that is, to seize a problem at its center and then ask
questions worth asking about it.”
SF: Marriner seemed quite proud about not having a college education, although he
was maybe a little insecure about it at the same time.
SH: He surrounded himself at the Federal Reserve with graduates of Harvard, some
of whom had also served as instructors there. He may have originally felt
uncomfortable in his dealings with them, but not for long. He made himself their
student while he learned their vocabulary, especially their vocabulary expressed
in terms of mathematical formulations. As I‟ve said before, Marriner got his ideas
about how a compensatory economy works several years before he came to
Washington. Once in Washington, he depended on his staff members from
Harvard to give the concept a dressing in mathematics.
SF: Was he willing to give them credit for their work?
SH: Yes, and that goes for the credit he gave George, as well. He knew he owed a
great deal to George, just as George owed a great deal to him. It was really a
love-hate relationship between the two, because they had many fights. The only
time that George Eccles was known to look beaten was when he came out of an
executive committee meeting of First Security and when he had an encounter
with his brother. The report is that people in other offices would run for cover
when these two went at each other. To the external world—this again is a
carryover from growing up as the second family at a time when they would
suspect that clandestine life—they presented a united front.
SF: Did that same type of relationship exist with Ed Littlefield? Do you know if they
clashed privately but presented a united front publicly?
SH: An author of a book on Utah Construction mentioned a case where Littlefield and
Marriner disagreed over compensation for employees. They went at each other
for some time until Marriner said: “Okay, Ed, you and I are never going to agree.
Let‟s put the issue to a vote of the board.” When the vote was taken, a majority
sided with Littlefield, at which Marriner proposed to make the vote unanimous
rather than have the record indicate that there was some kind of split over the
Marriner also sided with Ed and opposed George at a meeting when Ed
wanted First Security to finance at prime a Utah Construction project. George,
who was present as a Utah board member, said that First Security would not
make the loan at prime—because no bank would make a loan at prime to a
construction company. Marriner, though Chairman of the Board at First Security,
spoke up and said hotly to George: “You know damn well if you don‟t give us the
loan at prime, we will get it from the Bank of America.” His responsibility at that
meeting was to Utah Construction. In another context, where it was a meeting of
First Security directors, he would have a different judiciary responsibility to
SF: What was the main difference, or thing that struck you from the early time you
knew him and then right at the end of his life?
SH: A good question. I was, myself, twenty-five years older and had had many
intervening experiences that would naturally be conducive to my seeing things
more clearly than when I first began to work with Marriner. I had enough sense
to recognize from the start that his qualities were those that make for a great
man, but I was shy at first about asking him direct questions that would touch on
sensitive subjects—and that he might think presumptuous coming from a kid. By
the time the biography was being prepared, I had passed—independently of my
association with Marriner—a number of confidence building tests. I knew that he
recognized that to be the case, and while I could never reduce the full distance
between the two of us, I could be more open and direct in asking him what I
wanted to know.
As far as he, personally, was concerned, he was the same man when it
came to public anxieties. That included his anxieties over the Korean War, over
proper fiscal and monetary policies, over the Vietnam War, over the shabbiness
of the Nixon Administration, over population control and so on. There might be a
shift in the immediate object of his anxieties, but not in his innate tendency to be
anxious about the trend of public things. He always held himself responsible for
doing something that would help set right things that were out of joint. As a
young man of twenty-two or so, he held himself responsible for the welfare of his
mother and his eight siblings. He held himself responsible for the survival not
only of First Security banks during the Great Depression, but those of the
Intermountain region. He held himself responsible for saving the whole of the
American state and society from dissolution. There was something egocentric
about the way he placed himself at the center of responsibility for what was done
or not done. It was a sacred egocentricity—considering what he actually did to
set wrong things right.
Unlike George, who accumulated a large estate, Marriner‟s estate was
relatively small, partly because he gave much of it away before his death, but
mainly because he had no compelling drive to accumulate money. When he
finished the first book, Beckoning Frontiers, he said to me, “What do I need to go
back to Utah for? To make another couple of million? I have that already.” I
think he would have wished to spend the rest of his life in Washington—to be
deeply involved in political arguments leading to major political decisions. He
missed that kind of challenge in Salt Lake and in San Francisco, as well.
SF: Thank you so much. I gained a lot.
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