After retiring from journalism, meeting and interviewing celebrities and fashion icons along the way, Barbara Cloud has picked up the pen again. Her first book, By Line, looks back on a life that has been “blessed.”
In 1952, while waiting in New York to be discovered as the next Broadway starlet, Barbara Cloud needed a paycheck. She returned home to Southwestern Pennsylvania and took a “temporary” position with her hometown newspaper, the Uniontown Evening Standard. There she penned a column, “About People You Know,” filled with newsie items about births, anniversaries and the comings and goings of local folks.
Then she became women’s editor and remained in that post five years.
Today, the retired Cloud can look back proudly on a 55-year journalism career that, she says, “just happened.” During that time, Cloud worked at two newspapers in addition to the Evening Standard—the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press and the Post-Gazette—conducted hundreds of interviews and wrote thousands of fashion columns and special features. All the while, Cloud’s readers often learned just as much about the author as the subjects she covered, which can be attributed to her more personal approach to journalism—a style that, much like her career, “just evolved.”
“Not being schooled in fashion writing,” says Cloud—who would later serve as fashion editor of The Pittsburgh Press for 33 years—“possibly allowed me to open up with more personal observations. That’s what I found interesting. When I want to share a story with readers, I begin to write as if I am writing a letter to a friend and I want them to know what or who I have just seen.” And Cloud has seen and has interviewed some amazingly interesting people—everyone from Joan Crawford and Nancy Reagan to Smokey Burgess and Ralph Lauren.
Though she may have hung up her pencil for good, readers and fans of Cloud’s work can find a comforting dose of nostalgia in the author-compiled career retrospective, By Line, which collects Cloud’s favorite writings—most of which she describes as “human interest.” What she may not realize, however, is that to a slew of readers here in Pittsburgh, Barbara Cloud is of human interest.
PM: How are you passing the time nowadays?
B.C.: When the Press was sold in 1992, I wrote part-time for 15 years for the Post-Gazette—a column every Sunday and an occasional feature—so I began passing time taking pictures with an old 35mm camera. I just went digital last year.
PM: Any favorite subjects?
B.C.: I simply like taking pictures, and every so often I get one I am very proud of. I am often driving along the road and I see something I think is a shot—maybe clouds in the sky framing the Cathedral of Learning, an Amish buggy, a funny sign or painting, or pumpkins stacked at Giant Eagle. I love taking pictures of my granddaughter, Grace [daughter of her son, Drew], but I’m better with scenes than with people.
PM: Is this a second career?
B.C.: I’ve sold a few, but it isn’t a business, just a hobby. I am not a pro. A highlight of past years was having an exhibit of my photographs at the Twentieth Century Club, encouraged by that wonderful artist Harry Schwalb. Marjie Allon Fine Stationery store in Shadyside also carried some of my note cards featuring Shadyside scenes. That made me very proud, and it was fun. I stress I am not a pro! I don’t always manage to capture what I’ve seen, but when I do I am excited…and I enlarge it or frame it.
PM: You’ve had the good fortune of meeting so many famous people. Any favorites?
B.C.: I have to say not a movie star or fashion designer, but Myrtle Brady, a 96-year-old woman from this area. She showed me what a “survivor” in a tough world looks like…she lived humbly, raised her own vegetables, even made her own lard…and felt “old people complain too much.” She was a delight, an early interview, and I never forgot her.
PM: How about fashion advice?
B.C.: I don’t think you have to spend a lot of money to look stylish. Trends are fun, just for change, but nobody should feel they have to follow all the new ideas designers and the industry come up with because they say so.
PM: What fashion trend did you not see coming?
B.C.: See-through fabrics. The trend didn’t last long, but unfortunately it also didn’t go away. Another trend I pooh-poohed…hot pants…and platform shoes, the first time around. They came, went and are back. So much for my predictions. I also would NEVER have guessed jeans would become a fashion must-have. Maybe that is really the trend I never saw coming and was surprised when it did, more than the above.
PM: What about fashion today?
B.C.: Puzzling. So much of it does not flatter a woman. It seems designers are trying to be remembered for something outrageous rather than making a woman look truly beautiful. I wish people dressed nicer to go to town to shop or even to the mall, but our lifestyles have changed drastically. We shop in the same clothes we wear to wash the car or clean out the garage. Casualness has snowballed to a fault. And I admit I am often guilty.
PM: How does Pittsburgh’s fashion sense stack up?
B.C.: Pittsburgh has a fine fashion sense. I miss Horne’s, Kaufmann’s and Gimbels and wish we still had all those stores and even more specialty stores, but I’m annoyed when we put ourselves down and declare, “I must go to New York or wherever to shop…there’s nothing in Pittsburgh.” Not true!
PM: What would you say is timeless?
B.C.: Good taste.
PM: If you had to sum up your life in six words or fewer, what would you say?
B.C.: Blessed am I…blessed am I.