Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with James W.S. Spain
The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project
AMBASSADOR JAMES W.S. SPAIN
Interviewed by: Charles Stuart Kennedy
Initial interview date: October 31, 1995
Copyright 1998 ADST
Q: Today is October 31, 1995. This is an interview with Ambassador James W. Spain and is being done on behalf of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and I am Charles Stuart Kennedy. If we could start, could you tell me where and when you were born and a bit about your family?
SPAIN: I was born in Chicago in 1926, so I am on the last months of my proverbial three score and ten. I became conscious, I think, fairly early that Chicago had a history and a life of its own. I am probably one of the few people left living who saw Al Capone because my father took me out of the first grade one day, that would have been 1932, and took me down town. We had lunch in a speakeasy. It was the last year of prohibition, and I remember the free lunch. We went to one of the new movie palaces that were the antidote for the depression and at 3:00 in the afternoon we went to stand in a particular place where Al Capone passed through every day. We saw him.
It was a very ethnic Chicago. There were the WASPs, for example, Col. Robert R. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune. The other prominent communities were the Irish, Germans and Poles. Even the gangsters were ethnic. Al Capone, the top of the line, was the Italian gangster. Dion O'Bannion was the Irish gangster who the Capone people killed. And Moses “Mo” Annenberg, was the Jewish gangster. Mo Annenberg was the father of Walter Annenberg, who became very respectable.
I was an only child. My mother and father were both born in Ireland. My father, having gotten out, as he put it, “a jump ahead of the Queen's troops” at the age of 16, lived alone for a while and did everything under the sun. He finally got to driving a street car for a living and working for the AFL labor organization. My grade school was, of course, Catholic.