A Woman to Know: Aggie Underwood
|Julia Carpenter||Aug 12, 2016|
After covering big-time trials for 15 years or more, I'm pretty sure I don't act like celluloid newspaperwomen. — Aggie
(image via Los Angeles Public Library)
Talk about starting from the bottom: when Aggie's husband told her their little household couldn't afford to buy her new stockings that year, the 24-year-old L.A. housewife went hunting for a part-time job. She scored a gig at The Los Angeles Record, as a switchboard operator, and bam — a newspaperwoman was born.
From her time on the switchboard, Aggie swiftly made her interest in crime reporting and trial coverage known. She rose through the ranks at multiple L.A. newspapers to interview celebrities, profile Amelia Earhart and, most notoriously, investigate the grisliest murders of the 1940s and 1950s. She was known around town as "the first with the latest!" — an homage to her speedy trial reporting and incisive eye. When the bloody "Black Dahlia" murder made headlines in 1947, Aggie was first on the scene. While the murder remains officially unsolved, Aggie's descendants claim their mother knew the name of the killer and the true details of the crime — she just didn't have the final proof necessary to run the story. It wasn't the first time Aggie went to great lengths for her job; in 1935, when Aggie was first cutting her teeth on the trial beat, every reporter in town was dying for a 1-1 with Hazel Glab, an alleged murderess. Aggie wanted that interview, and damned if she was going to let herself be scooped by another writer. So, she hid Hazel in her own house until the trial wrapped — and when the Glab verdict came down, Aggie hit the presses with her exclusive interview.
She became the first woman city editor at a major metropolitan daily newspaper. In the photo above, she holds court at the metro desk — the baseball bat to her right was always on hand, she claimed, to beat off hungry Hollywood publicists.
Add to your reading list:
Newspaperwoman (Agnes Underwood)
Girl Reporter (Howard Good)
Did L.A.'s Top Crime Reporter of the 1930s Solve the Black Dahlia Murder? (Los Angeles Magazine)
The Grande Dame of L.A. Newspapers (The L.A. Times)
LA Crimes from the Notebook of Aggie Underwood (Vintage Powder Room)
Agness M. Underwood Collection (Oviatt Library)
The First with the Latest! Agnes Underwood (The Los Angeles Public Library)
Aggie Underwood: Newspaperwoman (The Native Angeleno)
Wanna Buy a Story? (Deranges LA Crimes)
The Press: City Editor (TIME)