The molten cup of
the September sun lifted behind the spine of Mount St. Ursula, sentinel of the
Caribbean. The gray cloud-herds drifting lazily over the dark vegetable
confetti of the far-flung islands were transformed into pearly behemoths.
Between St. Ursula Isle and St. Thomasina the dim blue slick of Three-Mile
Channel changed to a shimmering ribbon of sapphire, and in the lee of Black
Virgin Cay, lynchpin rock of the reefs, the shadowy lagoon yielded to the
stereoscope of dawn. In its aquamarine shallows amethyst and amber patches
showed where the submarine coral formations lay.
Then the sun,
standing clear of the mountain, struck its dark flanks, mutating them to jade;
struck the wide pewter curves of Conch and Tortuga beaches, transforming them
into flashing silver scimitars; struck the pink hibiscus bushes and orchid
trees on the hotel lawns, and the yellow trumpet vines and scarlet
bougainvillaea that clambered over the hotel cottages, turning them into
flowery jewels. And then, piercing one unshuttered room, it struck the closed
eyelids of the resort's most distinguished guest, Mr. Bryton Bixby, and so
awakened him to a morning of beauty—and terror.
Bryton Bixby, at
30 a Pulitzer Prizewinner (Men, Money and Missiles), at 33 was top Washington
correspondent for a sizable and liberal midwestern newspaper. At 35 he was by
common consent of the Washington press corps considered the hottest pistol in
During June and
July, at national convention time, Brite Bixby had written his byline above
more exclusive interviews with more of the presidential candidates than any
correspondent in the country. During the interviews he had cleverly managed to
put every one of them on the spot—and on the record—about the Outer Space Lag.
TIME'S Press department gave him three inches. Under the headline BRIGHT
BIXBYLINE, it speculated whether, as a result of his one-man campaign, the U.S.
might still beat the Russians to the moon by a nose-cone.
Six feet one, and
unmarried, Bixby was also the hottest pistol among Washington's small corps of
bachelors. He worked hard at both his vocation and his avocation, the ladies,
who not infrequently were married. Early in August Bixby hit the headlines
himself. He received the largest number of votes cast by the Washington press
corps for the reporter they would most like to see follow the Astronauts into
There were some
who whispered that this proposed elevation of Bixby into outer space was
motivated as much by the jealousy as by the admiration of his colleagues.
However that might be, as a result of the poll, Bixby received an offer from
the Pentagon to train with the Astronauts. The offer was extended in writing by
a three-star Air Force general (whose wife had supplied Bixby with much of his
guided missile dope). When the Pentagon released this offer to the wire
services, Bixby was immediately tagged as Journalism's No. 1 Moon-Man. And
while he was pondering somewhat uneasily the strange fate that could overtake a
dedicated journalist, the lunar publicity snowballed. Bixby's publisher
enthusiastically agreed to relieve him of all assignments which might conflict
with the Pentagon's program and promised him a thumping bonus—on his return
from the nearest planet.
Bixby was quite
aware that if he accepted the general's offer his outer-space journalistic kick
might well be the death of him. On the other hand, he saw that he had no choice
either as a journalist or as a man of honor but to seem as eager to launch
himself into the singing void as the Pentagon and the Washington press corps
seemed to be to launch him. While he pondered this dilemma, he received other
flattering offers. Both
The New York Times
and the Herald Tribune asked him to
join their staffs—giving him as much time off as he needed with the Astronauts.
CBS asked him to do an Eric Sevareid or Ed Murrow type of show covering
Significant Events and Important People, with a clause granting the program
Exclusive Coverage of his moon jaunt. But the biggest offer—good for 30
days—came from the president of the young Liberty Broadcasting Company, who
offered Bixby a five-year contract for $50,000 a year plus expenses, a sizable
stock option, and the title of Executive Vice-President in Charge of Scientific
and Political Newscasts. This offer—to Bixby's surprise and delight—included no
clause about the space trip. Bixby felt this was an excellent resolution to his
public and professional problem—how to get out of Washington and duck the moon
tag—and to his personal problem—how to break off with a general's lady who had
more than served her purpose.
While Bixby had
no trouble in making up his mind to accept the Liberty Broadcasting offer, he
did not, however, relish explaining, face to face, his motives to his
publisher, his colleagues, the general or the general's wife. All this, he
concluded, were better done in writing from a distance. He decided to take
cover for a week or 10 days. He chose St. Ursula, in the Virgin Islands, not
only because it was off the journalists' vacation beat, having no telephone,
but also because, in looking through the morgue files on Mr. James Lindley,
president of LBC, he found that St. Ursula was the favorite retreat of his new
boss, whose favorite sport was spearfishing and snorkeling.
Bixby landed by
plane on St. Thomasina at 11, where he transferred to the Tortuga Beach Hotel's
speedboat, which brought him to St. Ursula 30 minutes later. After lunch he
walked across the high hump of Hawk Point, the long promontory that separated
Conch Beach from Tortuga, to his little two-room cottage, where he unpacked and
got into his scotch-plaid bathing trunks. Then he walked briskly back in the
brilliant sunshine to the beach shop in Tortuga, where he bought a bottle of
suntan lotion from the black girl in attendance and applied for a snorkeling
said that the snorkeling instructor would be busy all afternoon with the
children. Bixby, humiliated by this response, said that it didn't look too
difficult, he would try it on his own; the worst thing that could happen was
that he'd get a snoot full of water.