McCarthy Coyle (1939-2006)

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 1.25.59 PMPlaywright, journalist, and co-founder of The Borrowed Times and public access TV in Missoula, Richard “McCarthy” Coyle was a well known denizen of Missoula. Outspoken and at times a combative advocate for civil liberties and fairness in media, he was also a raconteur, singer, showman and world-class hitchhiker.

Coyle, born March 25, 1939, in Suffern, N.Y., grew up in New Jersey.  After a stint in the Coast Guard, Coyle earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Long Beach State in California.  His first job as a journalist was in Los Angeles.  He soon moved to New York to be a reporter for the New York Daily News. While at the Daily News, he was awarded a prestigious fellowship for a year’s study with other journalists at Stanford University.

Finishing at Stanford in June 1969, Coyle drove his old Chevy pickup south, through Mexico and Central America to the end of the road in Panama. Selling the truck, he continued down the West Coast of South America by train, plane, and hitchhiking to Chile, then over the Andes to Argentina, finally flying back to the States from Rio de Janeiro. He sold dispatches to U.S. papers along the way to support himself.  His traveling adventures later continued with a journey to Alaska by freight train and ferry, then a hike over the Chilkoot on the gold rush trail, and continuing by canoe down the Yukon River deep into the Northwest Territories.

In the early 1970s he used the G.I. Bill to study acting at the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco, and appeared in productions there and with the Berkeley Repertory Theater. Years later, he returned as Playwright-in-Residence at ACT.

After studying in San Francisco, he moved to Missoula and set to work as a journalist at the local underground newspaper, The Borrowed Times.  His academic background in political science and obsessive tracking of U.S. politics made him a remarkable source of information on political process and government. Coyle challenged everyone with his quick wit, piercing intelligence and his writing. He sometimes chided friends for their failure to remember a critical issue in an election that had taken place before they were born.

Coyle’s commitment to quality and integrity in media and the political process was a major theme in his life. He was equally knowledgeable about the political and legal issues involved in public access TV.  In 1980, he earned a master’s degree in broadcasting from Boston University and soon after he and friends founded Montanans for Quality TV (MQTV), a media center whose mission was to improve television in Montana and open access to the public, essentially creating Missoula Community Access Television (MCAT) in 1989. When the local Missoula TV license was being sold, he repeatedly intervened in the process at the FCC, demanding better news coverage, children’s programming and public access. His interventions prevented the license transfer until Missoula was assured of viable community television. Mastery of detail made him an extremely effective advocate. He was invited at the time to testify on the subject at a Congressional hearing in Denver. He was later a regular contributor to MCAT, interviewing everyone from politicians to people on the street.

His political engagement and television activism notwithstanding, Coyle frequently published opinion pieces in papers, ranging from the San Francisco Examiner to the Baltimore Sun, and sometimes syndicated around the country. His feature stories appeared in magazine sections of major papers like the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the San Francisco Examiner. He served as copy editor for The Missoula Independent during it first two years of publication.

Although Missoula was forever his home, his commitment to writing led to temporary absences when he accepted teaching appointments at Northern Montana State University in Havre and at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. He was a demanding but encouraging teacher, and some of his students stayed in touch with him until his death.

Still, theater remained his first love. A well-read impresario, he created one-man shows, notably appearing in character as Thomas Meagher, the first territorial governor of Montana. Presented at Fort Missoula and in various Montana cities, Coyle took his one man show on the road, performing in San Francisco and as far afield as Waterford, Ireland, Meagher’s birthplace. He loved appearing, as well, with friends and colleagues in local theater productions. He published two full-length plays, “The Root,” which is in the University of Minnesota series Playwrights for Tomorrow and, perhaps his proudest achievement, “Drawing Down the Moon.” The latter won him an invitation to and a production at the O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Conn. The Playbill shows him proudly in his cowboy hat. “Drawing Down the Moon” was also staged in Missoula with a cast of local theater people, and in San Francisco with professional actors from ACT and with his nieces, Sarah Kirley and Siobhan Gallaher, taking minor parts.

Coyle had the most remarkable gift for bringing people together, often at his little house on Chestnut Street.  He loved singing, especially with friends, and in recent years he faithfully accompanied Terry Jimmerson to sing at nursing homes and senior centers in Missoula. His exuberance often led him to ask the ladies to dance. Even with those who were wheelchair-bound, he found a way.

Coyle died suddenly and unexpectedly of pneumonia in late 2006.

 

The Borrowed Times

The Borrowed Times was an underground newspaper published in Missoula beginning in 1972.  Founded by Bill Vaughn, McCarthy Coyle and others, it began its existence in nine rooms located above a sewing machine store downtown.  The paper quickly gained a steady circulation of 2500 subscribers, many of them Depression-era radicals who had once subscribed to the Helena paper, “The People’s Voice”, which folded in 1968.  From its first issue, the Times sparked controversies, exposing shabby construction practices on Missoula’s south hills, and gender-based discrimination by the BN Railroad and The Missoulian.  Investigatory journalism, siding with victims and blowing the whistle on predatory business and government practices, were its early focus.  Later the paper morphed into more of a radical leftist publication “trying to start a democratic worldwide socialist revolution in Montana.”  But the paper never made any money, eventually became a drag on an associated type-setting business, and so The Borrowed Times was unceremoniously closed in 1980.

For more on the history of The Borrowed Times, here is an excellent article by Bill Vaughn.

Freddy’s Feed and Read (1972-1998)

Located at 1221 Helen Avenue, a block from the University of Montana, Freddy’s Feed and Read opened in 1972.  The little Marxist bookstore was initiated by a group of four local radicals, university figures, one of whom put up $25,000 cash and all of whom contributed sweat equity.  They called themselves collectively Our Gang, Inc.  Jan Konigsberg, one of the original four founders, informs us that the group bought Mrs. Olsen’s “University Grocery” store, renamed it Freddy’s Feed and Read and were the first area market to carry organic items. About a year and a half later, they were able to open the “Read” part of the store, a bookstore, in the other half of the building. In later years a mostly vegetarian restaurant was added.  Margaret Ambrose-Barton, a renowned local pastry chef got her first job there in 1991 and stayed until the store closed.  Fred Rice, a D.J. for KUFM, who now lives in Helena, was the manager of the place for many years. (Contrary to rumor, the store was neither named for Fred Rice nor for Fat Freddy of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers although, according to Jan, Linda Helding may have had the latter in the back of her mind when she blurted out Freddy’s Feed and Read during an hours long meeting to decide the name.) The last owner was Mark Watkins.  Freddy’s had been struggling for a long time, but the final straw was the opening of a Barnes & Noble chain store in Missoula.  All in all, Freddy’s lasted twenty-six years, finally closing in 1998.

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After the demise of Freddy’s, a permit to put in a pizza parlor was denied.  It turns out the property was zoned residential, and Freddy’s had been in violation of the zoning ordinance for its entire existence.  Evidently a waiver was later granted, as the next tenant at 1221 Helen Avenue was Quarter Moon Books, which was succeeded by the Bear’s Brew Coffee House, and then shared by the Java U coffee house and the Secret Seconds thrift store.  Today it is the home of the Buttercup Market and Cafe.

Judge Wallace Clark (1916-1990)

After an unsuccessful run for the post in 1965, and an unsuccessful bid for county surveyor in 1966, Wallace “Wally” Clark was elected police judge for the city of Missoula in 1967 on the Democratic ticket.

Born in Sweet Grass, Montana, Wallace Nichols Clark grew up the son of the sheriff of Toole County.  Putting himself through college working as a customs official on the Canadian border, he graduated from the University of Montana in 1940.  Clark entered the army in 1941, serving as an infantryman and in the medical corps in N. Africa, Sicily, Italy and South France. After the war he attended law school at UM and met and married Mary Beth Toney.

Clark graduated from law school in 1947, thereafter joining the Army Air Corps JAG office. He traveled the world in the service until 1963 when he retired. (Clark underwent cataract surgery around that time and subsequently, not trusting his vision, never drove again.)  He and his wife then moved into her family home on West Pine near St. Patrick’s hospital. He practiced law for a few years, also working as a deputy Missoula county attorney before his 1965 run for police judge.  He’d left the county attorney position by 1966.  It is unclear if a petition for his removal filed in 1965 was the cause of his leaving.

Elected police judge in 1967, Clark was returned to office several times before winning the new and more powerful position of municipal judge in 1977.  (After successfully lobbying the legislature for creation of the new office which combined and replaced the offices of police judge and city judge, he became the first municipal judge in the state).  Clark ran for the Montana Supreme Court twice, in 1980 and 1982, losing to Justice John Sheehy in both races.  Clark finally surrendered his judgeship after he was defeated by City Attorney Don Louden in the election of 1989.  Diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1988, he died in 1990.

Clark was known to lawyers and those who went before him as a cantankerous cowboy of a jurist who had eccentric ideas about punishment for offenders.  Questioning people before him about their backgrounds, he often tailored sentences based on family ties or ethnic origins.  (For example, if the offender was of Irish extraction, he’d throw him in the clink, because “an Irishman can’t stand to be deprived of his booze.” If the offender was Scottish, he fined him, “because those Scots can’t bear to part with a dime.”)  In other cases, he might use creative sentencing to teach the offender a “needed lesson.”

Clark openly espoused his creative sentencing philosophy in court and dared lawyers to appeal, admonishing them that their client would sit in jail for years by the time the case got to the Supreme Court.  He could also be very lenient and kind to sympathetic characters, especially the hard-up, whom he sometimes even treated to a meal at Hamburger Ace.

The following news stories written  between 1965 and 1980 give a bit of the flavor of Judge Wally Clark.

Spokane Spokesman Review, September 16, 1967

Spokane Spokesman Review, September 16, 1967

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Spokane Spokesman Review, January 13, 1978

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Spokane Spokesman Review, January 16, 1967

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Evening Independent, May 28, 1977

 

 

 

 

 

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Spokane Spokesman Review, April 10, 1968

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Spokane Spokesman Review, May 17, 1979

 

Lakeland Ledger, June 9, 1980

Lakeland Ledger, June 9, 1980

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Spokane Spokesman Review, February 5, 1965

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Spokane Spokesman Review, March 8, 1966

 

Miami News, July 7, 1977

Miami News, July 7, 1977

Mom & Pop Grocery Stores (& other small businesses)

  • 12th Street Grocery (12th and Garfield)
  • Bolich’s (10th Street)
  • Bugli’s (602 E Broadway) circa 1952 / Broadway Market mid-50s to 2004

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  • Dankers (846 S. 5th W)  circa 1952

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  • Fullner’s (701 S. 3rd W) circa 1952

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  • Hertz Grocery (1026 S. 3rd St. W) circa 1952

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  • Home Grocery (801 S 6th W) circa 1952

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  • Johnson’s (Johnson and 14th) – building has been razed and replaced by apartment houses
  • King’s Dairy (Clements and North) – building razed
  • The Little Store (up the Rattlesnake, corner Lolo and Raymond)

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  • Llewellyn Cash Grocery (1016 Worden Ave) circa 1952

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  • MacClay’s Market (South and Reserve) – building razed
  • Meadowland Creamery (3rd and Reserve)
  • Morrie’s Orchard Homes Grocery (next to Orchard Homes Country Club on 3rd) / formerly Claude’s Orchard Homes Grocery – circa 1952

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  • Olsen’s (Higgins and Kent), later called Ole’s
  • Shaffer’s (corner Worden and N 4th W)  1970s

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  • Springer’s Grocery (827 Cottonwood)

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  • Standard Meat Market (603 Woody) circa 1950s –  K&C Meats by the 1970s (now wholesale only, K&C occupies just the rear portion of the building)

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  • Stratton Grocery (726 Stephens) – burned down

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  • Super Save (1301 S 3rd W) circa 1955 / formerly “County Fair” circa 1952

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  • Super Save (701 S. Orange) circa 1950s through 1970s – now Food Farm
  • Super Save (405 N. Higgins) circa 1955

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  • Warne’s (720 Hilda) circa 1952, by 1955 it was Miller’s – still in business under various owners until about 1980

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  • White House Grocery (601 S 3rd W) circa 1952

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  • Woodworth’s (601 N 3rd W) circa 1952

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Wolf’s Second Hand

Wolf's2nd Marcus Wolf, a self-described “pack rat,” operated a second hand store and “non-profit museum” often referred to by locals as “Wolftown.”  His obsessive collecting and organizing instincts resulted in a labyrinthine compound (located on W. Broadway a few blocks past its intersection with Russell Street) brimming with thousands of items, including a trailer jammed with thousands of dolls of every sort.  With a creative and humorous spirit, Wolf produced tableaus using the prodigious quantity of materials at his disposal, for example, a “jail” with a kneeling female store-dummy whose head was placed in a toilet bowl. He welcomed customers in search of unique items and just curious passers-by. The tours he offered were an inspiration to many local artists and photographers.

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Garden City Gardens

  • Hughes Gardens (Highway 200, just east of town)
  • Stranger Tabish Gardens (Highway 200, just east of town)
  • John’s Gardens (Highway 200, just east of town)
  • Japanese truck farm (west of McClay’s Bridge) disappeared when internment began during WWII