Friday, December 11, 2015


Walt McDougall's This is the Life: Chapter 6 Part 1

This is the Life!


Walt McDougall

Chapter Six (Part 1) - WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG

Not very long after Joseph Pulitzer had been elected to Congress from a Tammany District, I went to Washington with him. It must be mentioned here that one or two man's-size drinks had the effect of bringing out in him a boyish, noisy boisterousness, a boastful garrulity quite unlike the testiness, asperity and impatience of his later days as recorded by his biographers. On a certain night, when we were leaving the Capitol grounds, he was lit up to the seventh magnitude by a few cocktails—so few that I was actually ashamed of him and embarrassed to painful silence when a policeman appeared and arrested him. J. P. haughtily announced that he was a Member of Congress and bade the cop begone. The officer curtly replied that Congressmen cut no ice whatever with him, and proceeded to hustle his prisoner stationward with considerable rudeness.

I touched his arm and murmured: "Say, old man, you don't want to jug this gent! He is Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World."

"Holy Cheesus!" exclaimed the cop. "Why didn't he say so at first? I'll get you a carriage and you can take him home without anybody seeing him."

As a Representative, J. P. proved a flivver, for he soon perceived that the owner of the World was far more important than the most eminent statesman, and so he loafed on the job for a space and then abandoned it.

He was a competent judge of human nature as a general thing, but he frequently fell a victim to cocky, assertive and flowery conversationalists of the Brisbane, Harvey and Ballard Smith sort. Such men as Col. Jones of St. Louis managed to sell themselves to him by their eloquence alone, and until they failed at their jobs he never seemed to see through their shallow eloquence. After a few years he evolved a scheme of double responsibility for many of his business and editorial heads, with the idea that one would watch the other. They did almost nothing else! The plan was as unproductive as it was mean and clumsy.

It produced in time a condition of suspicion, jealousy and hatred, a maelstrom of office politics that drove at least two editors to drink, one into suicide, a fourth into insanity, and another into banking. Even those of his employees who were naturally kindly and of generous instincts were compelled in self-protection to resort to unseemly tricks. Brisbane, who hated me cordially, frequently took occasion to protest that my pictures were coarse and vulgar and to insinuate that I could not draw. J. P., who loved to have his staff at actual enmity, laughed and retorted: "He draws circulation, and that's enough!"

I earned Brisbane's enmity by pure frankness and kindness of heart, for I admired his ungodly nerve and flippant audacity. He had brought to me a Paris paper with the suggestion that I borrow an idea and Americanize it. Rather impatiently, I counseled him to pretend to have an original idea occasionally. He had recently been fired from the Sun and had not yet completely grown a new hide, and my friendly criticism galled him, but, quite characteristically, he did not openly resent it.

It was one of his duties to write daily reports to J. P. concerning the conduct, opinions and general usefulness of members of the staff; whenever he aspersed my value to the World, J. P. would promptly send them to me in order to keep my tropic New Jersey blood in circulation. I imagine he took a keen enjoyment in this, for he rarely neglected it. Arthur and I had but one open break. That was in the foyer of the new World Building, and everybody deserted his post on the ground floor in order not to be a witness to the shedding of blood between two hard-riding, hard-hitting, hard-bluffing semi-professionals who had worked with John L. Sullivan, Arthur Chambers, Jim Corbett, Billy Muldoon and Bob Fitzsimmons. There were hard words in plenty, but no actual blows.

Another fight long before this had become traditional in Newspaper Row. This was the famous mill between Pulitzer and Joseph Howard, Jr., and I was the innocent cause of it. Howard was then, as Brisbane is now, the most spectacular and highest-salaried newspaper man of the time, an indispensable figure at all first nights at the theater, a tall, handsome, jaunty fellow of perhaps forty-five, who always wore a low-cut waistcoat displaying an immaculate shirt bosom, and whose assertive and independent manner, with its total lack of veneration for wealth and position, was a continual protest against the disesteem under which all newspaper men labored in those days. He once introduced me to the eminent impresario Henry E. Abbey, and upon Abbey very patronizingly nodding and saying: "Aw, glad to meet yah," Howard snorted and exploded: "'Glad to meet yah!' Why, you big stiff," he echoed, "that kid has more brains in his little finger than you have in all your big fat body!" and Abbey then looked at me as if I were human.

Howard employed two stenographers, a blonde and a brunette, in his office somewhere below Fulton Street, and was under a large retainer from a great insurance company, it was said, owing to the fact that he possessed most damaging information concerning its methods. Pulitzer had engaged him at the incredible salary of seventy dollars a week to write about what he pleased. He was the progenitor of the modern eight-cylindered publicity agent. On first nights he never entered the theater until all were seated, and then his entrance was as important—and as conspicuous—as the rise of the curtain.

In the Winter of 1885 Erastus Wiman, a rising financier of Canada who was just then hypnotizing New York, invited a number of prominent citizens to be his guests at the Montreal Ice Carnival. Among them I remember Elihu Root, then Pulitzer's attorney, District Attorney John R. Fellows, Charles A. Dana, William J. Arkell of Judge, Keppler of Puck, Thomas Nast of Harper's and many others—there was actually a trainload—and, among them, myself. On my receipt of the invitation, I informed Pulitzer of it and he instantly told me to go, also to draw a hundred dollars of expense money from Mr. Shaw, the cashier, and, if possible, send on a story about the trip. Elated at the prospect, I hustled with my daily work in order to be ready for a preliminary dinner to be given by Wiman that evening at the Metropolitan Hotel, then the best hostelry on the continent.

Two hours later Howard sauntered into the editorial rooms, where J. P. happened to be, and informed him that he was going to Montreal with Wiman next morning. J. P. said: "No! McDougall is going with that crowd, and we can't afford to have two high-priced men off on one job of that sort."

Joe instantly flared up, and in a minute the office was fogged with recrimination, insinuation and damnation. In another minute the two tall black-attired figures were past words and their long arms were flailing the air. Neither of them had the least knowledge of the fistic art, and the spectacle resembled a combat between two sandhill cranes. Both lost their eyeglasses and were practically helpless and harmless, but each did his best until the bystanders, fearing that the ancient and tottering building could not long withstand such unusual strains, interfered and separated them. Howard left the office and never returned. No decision.

Edward S. Van Zile and myself are probably the only surviving witnesses of that memorable and ludicrous battle of the Titans. It was a fiasco, but it was far more uplifting than the ignoble horsewhippings and the like to which many an editor of the previous decades, such as James Gordon Bennett, had to submit occasionally. It was, at least, in the line of that elevation of our craft which in time led to our sitting at the guests' table at banquets and addressing the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club on a level with ambassadors, chewing-gum dealers, movie magnates and owners of department stores.

Such exhibitions are rare indeed, and hence long treasured in newspaper offices. They do much to cheer and encourage the hard-working toilers. Newspaper Row cherishes a short list of such sudden and brief slave-risings, most of them occurring in the remote age when city editors were Simon Legrees. In the days when Thomas Lamont, Frank Vanderlip, George Harvey, Morrell Goddard, Augustus Thomas, Willis Holley, Don Seitz, George Ade, W. O. Inglis, Roger Farnham and Finley Peter Dunne were mere reporters, the tribe doubtless required stern and strict treatment to keep it within bounds and out of jail. The present-day newspaper men, apart from the unregenerate columnists, seem to have no vices at all.

Another grotesque episode was long talked of in the World office. Nym Crinkle, the wittiest writer of his day and then the World's dramatic critic, had written a clever article on Jem Mace, the famous pugilist, in which Mace was referred to several times as a savant. Harry Hill, to whom the pleased fighter showed the story, informed him that the word meant all that was unprintable, unpopular and abhorrent, whereupon Mace started downtown.

Entering the room of the city editor, Dave Sutton, he produced the paper, laid it on the table, and placing an enormous distorted thumb upon the offending article, he rumbled:

"I want to see the ——— that wrote that!"

Sutton informed him that Nym Crinkle (Andrew C. Wheeler) had written it and that he would not be down until the afternoon.

"All right. I'll wait for him!" growled Mace, taking a chair.

Man by man, the office staff sneaked out silently until only Sutton and the heroic elevator boy remained on duty. The latter would tip off all newcomers and they would immediately descend to the ground floor without disturbing the graveyard peace of the city room. After a time, Mace began to manifest impatience by sundry grunts and wriggles, and fixing Sutton with a sarcastic leer, he demanded:

"Say, does this Wheeler bloke ever lose any of his bloody wheels? You tell me where he lives, and I'll go git him!"

Before Sutton could answer, there darted from the elevator the sporting editor, Eddie Plummer, a short, fat, jolly sport, whose red face registered intense annoyance and disgust. He hastened to Mace, took him by a cauliflower ear, and as he lifted him from his chair, he shouted:

"You big bum! Whadya mean by raisin' hell round a swell joint like this? Who've ya been beatin' up, you dirty plug?"

"I ain't been beatin' up nobody!" protested the pugilist. "I'm a-waitin' fer a Dutchman named Bimskinkle, or somethin' like that. He's been writin' me up in the paper . . . . Here it is . . . . Called me a sayvant . . . . See, here's his name signed to it —"

Eddie glanced at the story, and then, seizing Mace's arm, led him toward the elevator.

"You big tub o' guts, somebody's been goosin' ya!" he roared. "That sayvant thing means pachydermatous, and that means about as high-toned as they make 'em. You never had as fine a send-off in your life, you blitherin' ape! Get outa here before you get ashamed of yourself!"

Then he pushed Mace into the elevator, pulled the rickety door shut, and added:

"If you come up here beefiin' about anything again, I'll lam your bloody conk off ya!"

Mace's heavy tones boomed from the descending cage:

"Hi, Eddie, tell that Dutchie I thought it was a good piece, all but that sayvant part —"

Those were happy days! Nothing to do save a daily cartoon, some illustrations for Bill Nye's stuff, some more for an article by Jim Townsend or Gil Van Tassel Sutphen on Mrs. Astor's ivory carvings, then luncheon with kindred indolent souls at Mouquin's in Fulton Street, where a battle of Pommard or Beaunne cost but a dollar, then the launching of a new battleship by Secretary Whitney over at the Navy Yard, then a sketching jaunt to Coney Island, an unfailing bonanza, then a test of Paul Boyton's swimming suit off the Battery, then the Horse or Dog Show, the quest for a fabulous wild man at Far Rockaway, a juicy murder up in the wilds beyond Goshen, a trip with Nellie Bly to the insane asylum at Blackwell's Island, a society wedding, an hour in Recorder Smythe's or Judge Goff's court with the astonishing Bill Howe pleading, and finally, after dinner, a boxing bout at Coney Island or Pain's Fireworks at Manhattan Beach.

Pains Showreel from Pains Fireworks on Vimeo.

First (?) Daily Hint from McDougall
After the Evening World was established, I had an additional cartoon to make every day, the "Daily Hint from McDougall." Often enough it would take me hours to find an idea for it and twenty minutes to make the drawing. Of course, these drawings were all atrocious. This was the Neolithic Period of newspaper art, and we were Cro-Magnon draftsmen. Nevertheless, although forty years have passed, newspaper illustration in general remains almost as crude. The high-hat artists of Harper's, Frank Leslie's and Puck looked down at us as beneath contempt; this was when an Academician still scorned to do an advertising picture, but in time even these fell for the lure of regular meals and sure rent-money, and we inscribed on our rolls many names of distinguished members of the Palette, Kit Kat and Salmagundi Clubs.

Glorious days in vast untrodden, unexplored fields, just like airplaning ten years ago—the days before the Partition had been invented to give the editorial head the permanent "waive" and part him from eager contributors—when any man or woman with an idea was welcome as the flowers of May in an editor's room and his suggestion was considered, when Inspiration dwelt after dark in Andy Horn's cave, Tom Gould's grotto, Theiss's Palm Garden or Billy McGlory's hectic hell.

Despite the fact that the whirring presses threatened hourly to bring the shuddering building down upon our heads, that predatory rats of monstrous size infested the moldy structure in such hordes that I have shot a half-dozen with a Flobert rifle in a forenoon, that a famous apple girl of wondrous charm and unbounded sex-allure tormented and distracted the entire staff until at last she married the head of a Brazilian steamship line, and that the paper was barred from the public libraries about every six months, we worked like Rum Row sailors fifteen hours a day for six days of the week, and on Sundays thought up special features. My brother Harry published in his paper, the Newark Sunday Call, a story to the effect that my wife found my little son crying one day, and that when she asked the reason for his grief, he sobbed: "That man who comes here Sundays licked me!”



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