Connelly, Dolly (1913-1995)

  • By Kate Kershner
  • Posted 8/20/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9890

Dolly Connelly was a journalist and photographer in the Pacific Northwest. As a stringer for Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated, she covered topics that included the new outdoor recreational activities offered in the area, while also writing pieces on subjects from Robert Kennedy to Grace Slick. Along with writing and photographing pieces for The Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and Sunset magazine, Connelly also became involved in the conservation movement. She promoted the establishment of what is now the North Cascades National Park, and opposed the proposed open-pit mine in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. After Connelly's death, an annual award was established in her honor that recognizes Outstanding Environmental Journalism.

From California to the Strait of Georgia

Dolly Connelly was born on January 12, 1913, in Arcadia, California. Her childhood home was across the street from what is now the Santa Anita racetrack. Connelly's father, R. H. Schwarzkopf, was a realtor in California who was related to United States General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Sr. (1895-1958) and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. (b. 1934).  His work prospered in the years before the Depression, and he did well enough to buy his own small island in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland.

Dolly Connelly's childhood was marked by summer holidays to the island, fostering a life-long love of the Pacific Northwest and its environment. She attended Stanford University, but after the stock market crash of 1929, her father's lucrative real-estate practice dried up, and she was forced to drop out to save family expenses. She took a job with Wide World Photos, but also find more ingenious ways to make money.

A Bit Part with Big Servings

As a young woman in 1935, Connelly worked on Catalina Island in the tourist industry with other young people her age. She was cast as an extra in the film Mutiny on the Bounty. Her role as a Tahitian maiden let her frolic alongside Clark Gable. The movie stars were a perk, but the real attraction to the Depression-era young adults was the craft service table. "Each morning we boarded a fast boat at Avalon and whizzed to Isthmus Cove," Connelly wrote.

"We wrapped ourselves in sarongs and descended like varmints in a chicken run on the long-plank buffet table laid out all day long for the picture company. We ate ourselves into an agreeable coma. Like husky sled dogs accustomed only to a scant diet of frozen salmon, once fed abundantly at this rich table we became bloated" (Connelly, Sports Illustrated, 1970).

Meeting Joe Connelly

During the war, Connelly met and married Joe Connelly (1901-1988), who was working on the San Francisco Boardwalk (formerly an industrial area). A Brooklyn native, he was Dolly's opposite in background, with little education or family pedigree. "Probably one of the few bridegrooms in the history of New York ever to have been checked out fully beforehand by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf Sr., of the New Jersey police," Joel Connelly, Dolly's son, says of the apprehension Joe Connelly must have felt marrying into the family (Kershner interview).

During the war, Joe worked the waterfront while Dolly drove a meat truck to do her part for the war effort. "All the way to the end -- almost at his death -- my father could still cause her in her 70s to blush, talking about the bulging muscles that she grew while driving the meat truck all during the war," Joel recalls (Kershner interview).

After VE Day in 1945, Joe and Dolly drove from San Francisco to Canada, with the intention of settling in Victoria. But without jobs, they couldn’t secure housing. They ended up in Bellingham instead. Joe spent his career working in the industrial areas of the Bellingham waterfront.

Journalist and Advocate

It was in Bellingham that Dolly Connelly began her journalism career. Time Life had a Seattle bureau at the time, run by Bob Schulman (b. 1916), who would later become a commentator with KING television station. In 1954, with the introduction of Sports Illustrated, Time Life found a need for regional stringers who could report on ski conditions and area sporting events.

Connelly firmly believed that a sporting magazine should cover more than what Joel Connelly said his mother referred to as "sweaty sock sports" and team athletics (Kershner interview). She pushed for both outdoors and environmental coverage (Kershner interview).

In 1965, Dolly Connelly traveled with Robert Kennedy (1925-1968) and climber (and  Connelly friend) Jim Whitaker (b. 1929) as they scaled the 14,000-foot Mount Kennedy in the Yukon. The piece is both an account of the journey as well as a quiet rumination on Robert's aspirations to reach the pinnacle of the mountain named for his martyred brother, President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).

Her push for environmental and outdoor journalism was a mark of good timing. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Pacific Northwest became a hotbed of industry-vs.-conservancy arguments, and Connelly became involved with all of them.

While immersing herself in her community's environmental battles, Connelly was writing feature articles for The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer weekend magazines, and writing profiles and features for national magazines as well.

Connelly's work as a journalist and photographer was fitting for a woman of such open-minded curiosity, and resulted in radical shifts of opinion throughout her lifetime.

"My mother was a woman very influenced by what she saw," Joel Connelly says. He recalls her seeing a group of African American being refused service at a diner in Bellingham, and the injustice of it stuck with her (Kershner interview).

Grace Slick and Changing Times

But along with her more somber changes of opinion, Dolly Connelly also was being exposed to a counter-culture that most housewives in Bellingham had only distant ideas of at the time. Joel Connelly recalls his mother calling him while he was at college, and "talking her down" after she did some fieldwork interviewing Grace Slick for the Life magazine cover in 1968 (Kershner interview).

Slick's band, Jefferson Airplane, was booked at Western Washington University, and Connelly met her in the Leopold Hotel to talk. Slick had cheerfully offered Dolly a joint during the interview, and Connelly also was surprised to see that she was pregnant (with no intention of marrying the father).

"Put it this way," Joel Connelly says of his mother's frantic phone call to him at the Notre Dame dorms. "There were various things pinging around in her head" (Kershner interview).

The contrast between her private life as a housewife and mother didn't fit any stereotypes of the adventurous, inquisitive freelancer, which Time magazine pointed out in a "Letter from the Publisher" about the various freelancers it employed in 1964:

"Some of the stringers are unexpected types -- for example, Dolly Connelly of Bellingham, Wash., a housewife who bakes very good oatmeal-walnut yeast bread, and who is also a freelance journalist who covers her area of the Northwest U.S. with a bright and knowing touch" (Letter from the Publisher, Time, 1964).

A Passion for the Environment

Although Connelly was portrayed by her publisher as a sweet homemaker, she showed her grit when it came to environmental issues in the Northwest. In 1960, Life  did one of the first pieces detailing the challenges to the environment, and Connelly's photo of Bellingham Bay -- its murky waters polluted by pulp mill runoff -- accompanied the story.

Connelly's passion for the out-of-doors was not limited to her journalism. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Connelly found herself becoming involved with the leading environmental issues of the day.

One of those was the proposed establishment of a copper mine at Glacier Peak in the 1960s. Working with Martin Litton, then-editor of Sunset magazine, Connelly covered the potential environmental ravages a half-mile open mine would wreak on the area. "For some years, the bumper sticker 'Spit In Your Open Pit' resided on the bumper of the Connelly's station wagon," Joel Connelly recalls, "my father having rejected a slightly racier first word" (Kershner interview).

Connelly also became a leading advocate for establishing the North Cascades National Park. At a 1960 hearing on the proposed area, she spoke of the need for a protected park. The head of the local chamber of commerce read his own statement against the park. Connelly, no stranger to fact checking, pressed him until he admitted that the statement had been ghostwritten by the Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Company.

Along with advocating for the North Cascades National Park and opposing the copper mine, she also was a part of the group opposed to the aluminum plant being proposed on Guemes Island, near Anacortes.

An Independent Mind

Joel Connelly describes his mother's early politics as very conservative, but as issues hit close to home, she became a progressive liberal. "She went from Barry Goldwater ... to Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy," Joel Connelly says (Kershner interview).

But Connelly proved an independent voter. She "helped vote in a GOP governor [Dan Evans, b. 1925] during the Dems' 1964 sweep, and put a Democrat in the Statehouse [Booth Gardner] in the face of Republicans' 1984 Reagan landslide" (J. Connelly, Seattle Post-Intelligence, 2006).

Legacies

Connelly and her husband retired to Port Townsend, where she continued writing and taking photographs professionally. She wrote and took photos for several airline magazines.

Dolly Connelly's journalism and activism shaped local and national thought, but she is also credited in some quarters for a photograph that, in modified form, has become a well-known symbol around much of the world -- the artist rendering of an Alaska Native that is the ubiquitous logo of Alaska Airlines, emblazoned on its aircrafts' rudders and featured in its ads and promotions. However, the provenance of that image is disputed. At least one source, Larry Leonard, a former ad-agency executive who managed the Alaska Airlines account in the early 1970s, maintains that the idea for the image came from a photo taken by a pair of also-prominent Northwest photographers, brothers Bob and Ira Spring. Alaska Airlines maintains that the artist created a composite image, not based on any one photograph. The airline asserts that it has no information on who the artist was.

Another legacy of Dolly Connelly's continues in the Northwest. Her son, Joel Connelly, went on to become a metro columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. For more than 35 years, he has covered the area that his mother brought into a national spotlight. Covering environmental issues and the political play of the region (occasionally issues from his mother's era that are still with us), Joel Connelly has continued bringing attention to the impact residents have on the Northwest habitat.

After Dolly Connelly's death in 1995, Joel Connelly set up a foundation to award small and mid-sized newspapers the Dolly Connelly Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism. The award strives annually to honor those organizations and reporters who show remarkable insight and drive to expose and explain environmental issues to readers.


Sources: Kate Kershner interview with Joel Connelly, July 21, 2011, Seattle, audio in possession of Kate Kershner, Seattle; "About Dolly Connelly," Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association website, accessed July 26, 2011, (http://www.pnna.com/contest_connelly.cfm); Dolly Connelly, "Happy Poverty on Catalina," Sports Illustrated, July 6, 1970;  "A Letter from the Publisher," TIME Magazine, September 18, 1964; Dolly Connelly, "None So Big," in The Last Frontier: Incredible Tales of Survival, Exploration, and Adventure from Alaska Magazine, ed. By Jill Shephard and the editors of Alaska magazine, (Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2004), 105-110; Joel Connelly, "How Bandits Made a Believer Out of My Mother," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 25, 2003, p. A-2; Dolly Connelly, "How did I get Myself into This?" Sports Illustrated, April 5, 1965; Jean Godden, "Old Friend is Back for St. Paddy's," The Seattle Times, March 15, 1995, (http://seattletimes.com/); Joel Connelly, "Party Over Person -- It's a Split Decision," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 25, 2006 (http://seattlepi.com/); Seattle Post-Intelligencer Staff, "Dolly Connelly, Northwest Writer for Four Decades, Dies at 82," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 10, 1995; Dolly Connelly, "Bellingham Schools' New 'Teams,'" The Seattle Times, June 20, 1954, p. 8; Dolly Connelly, "District Ranger: Ross Files' 321,000-acre Domain in Mount Baker National Forest Is a Big Responsibility -- With some Big Hadaches," The Seattle Times, December 28, 1958, p. 7; Dolly Connelly, "Indians, Miners, Stockmen Blazed the Way," The Seattle Times, July 10, 1960, p. 10; Dolly Connelly, "Children Learn of Their State's Resources," The Seattle Times, September 17, 1961, p. 44; Dolly Connelly, "B.C.'s Tower of Spiritual Strength," The Seattle Times, November 11, 1962, p. 4; Larry Leonard, "The Greatest Airline Logo on Earth: A Personal Memoir by Larry Leonard," Oregon Magazine website accessed March 12, 2010 (http://oregonmag.com/MyEskimo.htm).
Note:  This essay was modified on August 9, 2012, to reflect disagreement among sources as to the origin of Alaska Airline's famous logo that depicts a smiling Native Alaskan.

Related Topics:   Biographies | Environment | Media | Women's History | Writers & Poets

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