Friday, April 01, 2016


Walt McDougall's This is the Life Chapter 12 Part 2

This is the Life!


Walt McDougall

Chapter Twelve (Part 2) - The Wolf Enters the Fold

WARNING: This section contains some of Mr. McDougall's more egregiously bigoted writing which we can only keep in mind was unfortunate but by no means unusual for the era.

Nye and I had planned a log cabin to be built on his estate, "Skyland," seven miles from Asheville, N.C., which he had bought several years previous, and upon its completion I journeyed down to spend a month with him and incidentally describe Asheville, then claiming to be the "Queen City of the South." The "log cabin" had developed into an expensive structure with a ballroom for his children, and Bill into a landed proprietor with a fine team of bays and a Swedish coachman, but all this pomp had not swelled his head.

It was a wild mountainous region in the heart of the moonshine belt and, to the lover of salt water, rather monotonous, but at that period I was not in love with solitude. The country was full of ex-slaves living in tiny shacks in the remote hills; not far away was a deserted village of pre-war days, a long line of gray houses, without occupants except one ancient still operator, who followed me two miles looking for a good spot where he could shoot me, thinking me a revenue agent, until he haply recognized my horse as belonging to his cousin. Then he took me home with him and showed me the mysteries of moonshining.

One day we walked out on a path by a stream in which an old Negro was fishing, and Nye stepped on and broke his clay pipe. Bill gave him a quarter with apologies, and the next day, looking out of the window, he described an interminable line of coons stretching to the horizon, apparently. Investigation revealed that almost every darky in Buncombe County was seated by the path with a clay pipe beside him, for the news had spread that a millionaire had arrived from the North.

I wrote a humorous article on Asheville, making fun of its pretensions from the standpoint of a New Yorker, for at that period I had not learned that there was such a thing as civic or municipal pride or sensitiveness. The story appeared in the Sunday paper, and when it reached Asheville it caused immense feeling. It never occurred to me that this might be the result, but a sort of vigilance committee was organized for the purpose of lynching me. I do not claim that this was an official act; indeed, it was probably merely the outburst of injured real-estate men and town-boosters urged on by the plaintive wails and groans of the leading newspaper.

Their purpose seemed so serious that a lady rode out to Nye's to warn me on the morning of my departure that they were already collecting at the railroad station with ropes. She also brought out a copy of the World, and on reading it Nye solemnly affirmed that I ought to be hung. However, he relented and we drove to a watering tank north of Asheville, while my preserver returned to town to instruct the conductor to stop there for me. The baffled crowd of lynchers searched the train for me before it proceeded.

The Asheville Citizen, an unimportant sheet edited by a man of brains, took my side of the controversy, claiming that while my humor might be scurrilous it was based on truth, eventually bringing many to agree with him. Senator Swanson of Virginia once told me many years later that my satire had compelled Asheville to pave its streets and make other improvements, and gave it as his opinion that if I visited that city I would be met by a brass band. I never tested this assertion, however. Some of those realtors, now strict Rotarians, may still be living!

Now to climax Pulitzer's troubles stole into town the sly furtive Hearst, who, two years before, had taken Sam Chamberlain as pilot and J. P. as his model—and target. He operated smoothly. Ridiculed for his youth and assurance, condemned as a gross voluptuary, sneered at as a rich man's son rushing in where angels feared to tread, in other words, where Albert Pulitzer had failed, he was both pitied and jeered when it leaked out that he had bought the Evening Journal. For with the purblindness common to all New Yorkers, whether native or imported, nobody seemed to know anything about his record in San Francisco.

Not long after Sam's arrival he telephoned me to come over to the Journal office and see him. While we were in the midst of a joyful reunion, during which he did not mention his real object in getting me over there, there entered the room noiselessly, almost diffidently, a tall young man in black, with a long face, close-set eyes and a peculiar, strained smile, with a manner that was a combination of Harvard graduate and faro-bank look-out. After he had scrutinized me silently for a few moments, Sam introduced me to William Randolph Hearst with a few complimentary remarks but in an offhand manner that conveyed no warning to me.

Hearst was rather serious, in fact he seemed actually shy, and his pale and shifting eyes roved over me uneasily as he walked the room talking in a guarded manner about his intentions but revealing nothing of importance. I knew little of his purposes, and really cared less, and I had no idea that he designed to give J. P. the battle of his life for supremacy. I took his purchase of the decadent sheet as the freak of a millionaire's son, making the mistake of underrating his abilities, his capital and the deadliness of his purpose.

Finally, in my simplicity, for I did not imagine there was another newspaper owner in the wide world who would bid more than Joseph Pulitzer for my services, I remarked with a laugh that he might benefit me immensely if he would only make me a handsome offer that would compel my boss to raise the ante. His long flattish face altered instantly, I observed, but he did not smile nor reply and in a minute or so he abruptly left the room.

"Well! You've put your foot into it!" exclaimed Chamberlain. "He was going to make you an offer to come over to the Journal, and it would have made your eyes stick out."

"Why couldn't you have given me a hint of it?" I asked. "I am not a mind reader!"

Then began the hegira of the most serviceable of Pulitzer's staff, the Sunday force going in a body, bought like a bunch of carrots, all the young and vigorous members who actually delivered the goods, which exodus had its amusing as well as annoying features, as is ably described by Don Seitz in his Life and Letters of Pulitzer. Hearst produced a paper that he sold for one cent, and obliged J. P. in a panic to reduce the World to that figure. This was the occasion when, in view of the fat and unprecedented salaries that William Randolph was distributing, I suggested a raise in mine would be welcome and J. P. told me that he was losing $700,000 annually. It is my impression that this was the
last time I saw Pulitzer alive. He had received such a jolt that there was no evidence of querulousness nor asperity in his face or voice; in sooth, he seemed like a chess-player studying a vital move. With that keen sense of the justness of the other man's position that has always hindered my progress, I dropped the matter.

That May my daughter Winifred, aged seventeen, died. When but one man on the World staff came into my room to condole with me in my sorrow, although she had been well known to all, it occurred with sudden force to me that with the exception of one man whose intellect was swiftly clouding, all those left by Hearst in his raids were too deeply occupied in watching each other to even think of my affliction. I discovered, many months later, that J. P. had not been informed of it. Feeling that all of my real friends had gone over to Hearst, on a sudden impulse I went to him and offered my services.

He had secured no cartoonist, and in a cold business-like tone he asked me what salary I wanted, and when I named my price he said: "I'll have a contract drawn up this afternoon."

"I don't need any contract," said I. "Your word is sufficient." His face brightened somewhat. Not a man had gone to him without having a contract for from one to five years, all of them taking great credit for sagacity in thus insuring their positions, but it was his business acumen that inaugurated the practice. He was a long way ahead of others in recognizing that every man with a distinctive and popular product is an asset to a paper and that in losing such a man the paper loses prestige. Even now the personal likes and dislikes of a proprietor often blind him to the actual business value of a well-known name, but from the first Hearst never made this mistake; in fact, I think he went rather to the other extreme. One could write an interesting chapter to show how the petty pride or personal blind prejudice of a newspaper owner, or dozens of them, has lost them the invaluable distinction of a popular name. For some unknown reason, there is no prouder or more obdurate animal, with a few exceptions, than the successful newspaper proprietor. Old Uncle Horace Greeley put on his famous white hat and proclaimed to his country visitors that "Now you see the New York Tribune" and perhaps for the same reason left it in the office when he fled and hid under Uncle Ned Windust's dining-room table during the Draft Riots. Even yet few owners recognize the expediency of the long-term contract; most of them content themselves with the yearly agreement, mainly, perhaps, because they think it keeps the victim in a state of uncertainty and proper humility.

George Folsom puzzle example, St. Nicholas magazine
When I informed Don Seitz, one of the two business managers, always a sincere friend and adviser, that I was about to leave the paper, he proposed that I consult J. P. before doing anything so rash, but when I told him what the Chief had said to me not long before about financial conditions, and stated that I did not believe in the customary method of extorting a raise of salary, he sighed but said no more. So with nothing but my scrapbooks and other trifles I departed and took an office in the Tract Society Building, for the Journal office was crowded to repletion. Here I had fat and bibulous Dan McCarthy, a good but very erratic cartoonist, George Folsom, commercial artist and famous maker of puzzles, and the gifted Syd B. Griffin, then launching into a successful poster-making career, as roommates. There were many newspaper free lances in the building, among them the rather volatile Willie Vanderveer, the most capable of photographers. He was deploring the fact one day that it was impossible to obtain a photograph of Hetty Green, and then casually mentioned that she had a Skye terrier exactly like my Tatters, whereupon I suggested that therein lay an opening of approach. We hurried over to Jersey City, obtained an audience with the old lady, and besought her for the privilege of photographing her dog, blending the prayer with subtle expressions of doubt as to his qualifications in comparison with Tatters, then appearing in the comic supplement. She evinced immense interest at once, produced the dog, who was really almost Tatters' peer, and then conducted us to the roof, where she posed the little animal for several pictures, in each of which Hetty Green was, of course, the most prominent figure.

Next Sunday these pictures appeared in papers all over the country, and when Van sent her copies she acknowledged the courtesy in a nice note betraying no evidence of suspicion that it was her portrait and not the dog's that made them interesting.

It was this same Vanderveer who was for a time on the Philadelphia North American later, who came rushing into my studio, pale and agitated, and informed me that he had drunk a large swig of developer by mistake for whiskey in his dark room. As this was something entirely new in photography, I was unable to advise him, but counseled him to follow the dose immediately with two parts of whiskey and let nature take its course. This he did with no harmful results.

I remained with the Hearst outfit for a trifle over a year. He never forgave me my unintentional affront, however, and while many of the others were companions in his revels, for he was a lively and generous imitator of old Maecenas, I was never admitted within the charmed circle. Only once while on a trip with him on his private car did he relax and talk to me quite like a human being, and I do not suppose I conversed with him six times in the year.

Brisbane, who had loudly protested before my departure that he would never, never leave Mr. Pulitzer, was seeking a position on Hearst's staff within three or four months. It seems that it took him several days to secure an interview, Hearst being reluctant, but Arthur's selling talk was so effective that he landed and the old war was on again.

One day I met Seitz on Newspaper Row and he asked jokingly, as was his habit: "Do you want a job?"

"I do!" I replied seriously.

"Will you come back to the World?"

"This very minute!" I replied.

"Will you do the "Daily Hint"?" he asked.

"Of course."

"You are on!" he chuckled, and I walked back to my studio.

I now think this offhand method of transacting such important business is unwise; it is derogatory to one's dignity and it lessens one's importance. The modern method of making an event of such a transfer, billing the walls and the wagons and publishing one's photograph, gives the readers an enlarged idea of the value of the acquisition and thus benefits all parties.

Lillie Langtry
About an hour afterward the city editor of the Journal called me up to inform me that the tickets for Mrs. Langtry's opening night were at hand. "You use them yourself," I suggested. "I am working for the World now." By some queer electric freak I heard him call for Mr. Brisbane, and then silence fell.

"Your versatility will be your ruin!" said Brisbane to me in Mouquin's one day. On another occasion he remarked with intense seriousness: "To Hell with Fame and Power! I intend to be rich! That's all there is to this life! But you can't get rich in this business!"

Yet he has remained in the business and, oddly enough, become opulent.

A comical incident occurred soon after my return. When Nelson Hirsh was Sunday editor and Irving Bacheller, the author, was his assistant, Bacheller had been very well known as one of the first syndicate promoters and was a pleasant, capable editor but too mild for Hirsh. Hirsh had secured permission to make Irving walk the plank and had announced the fact to me one morning. At noon, while at lunch, Bacheller, with equal glee, informed me that certain publishers, having read about half of "Eben Holden," had that morning offered him fifteen hundred dollars if he would complete the book at once and he was going to resign that day.

I advised him earnestly not to delay, but to spring his resignation immediately after luncheon, which he did, leaving Hirsh completely flat. Irving sailed away on a sea of success that still floats his craft; Hirsh was killed in an accident not long afterward.

I entered the City Room late one night when John Hunt was night editor, and was accosted at once by a diminutive office boy with the query: "Whoja wanter see?"

"I want to see the city editor," I grunted, pushing forward.

"Whaja wanter seeim about?" he persisted.

"I want to kill him!" I rumbled in a good imitation of John L.'s thunder, and strode on swaggering.

He hurled his frail form upon me, clutching desperately at my legs in a frantic effort to impede me, and I dragged him to Hunt's desk, making a commotion that aroused the whole room, and the alarmed lad only suspected a brutal joke, when Hunt looked up at me and mildly asked: "What are you doing down here at this hour?" The boy had believed a dangerous maniac was loose and had unhesitatingly thrown himself upon me to save a hated, feared city editor. His devotion to duty so impressed me that I secured him for my own office. His devotion was never afterward particularly evident, but he developed a certain aptitude for copying pictures and within a year he had discovered the monetary value of art. What he lacked in originality and circumspection he more than supplied by pure nerve. Selecting a page picture from a World of a date two years before, he carefully copied it, signed his name to it, and sold it to the American without difficulty. When the fraud was detected, as was inevitable, he was refused admission to all the newspaper offices. Like several well-known comic artists and all vaudeville performers, he had not the least notion that an idea is private property; he thought that by reversing a picture, for instance, it became an original idea! He never learned to draw, yet he secured various jobs as a cartoonist throughout the country and later established a
so-called art school in New York that was well advertised and which made him rich. He was killed last summer in an automobile accident. He was the first of the horde of rubber-stamp machine-made cartoonists with which the country is flooded, who are putting the the once proud title on a level with that of jazz songwriters.

As evidence of the esteem in which a cartoonist was held, I preserved for years a program of Chuck Connors' Ball, but lost it after all. I found it printed in Moss's "History of New York." Judge Moss seems to regard the list of members as authentic—and representative—but his judicial acumen should have enabled him to perceive that this was merely Connors' method of attracting the elite to his low, coarse and quite disreputable function. Mr. C. Connors at this time was in great request as a guide and chaperon in Chinatown, one of the city's characters, a former newsboy and tough who seems to have lacked some of the peculiar attributes that have brought fame and wealth to other Bowery infants. Chuck, like Steve Brodie, occasionally worked about the World at one job or another, and was a link between the underworld and Fifth Avenue.

The names he selected to ornament his program simply indicate that they were those whom this uncultured but observing worker considered the most eminent within his
ken, in other words, the actual shining ornaments of lower New York. No question. Hence I am unashamed of being found with several other distinguished artists of the period, and therefore I reproduce them as supplied by Judge Moss:

July 25th, 1897

George Francis Train, Financial Secretary. Howard Hackett, Recording Secretary.

Among the members were:

George Arnold
R. F. Outcault
Walt McDougall
Dan McCarthy
Al. Smith
Bob Dore
Mickey Finn
Jim Wakely
Charley White
Steve Brodie
Roland B. Molineaux
Timothy D. Sullivan
Oscar Hammerstein
George B. Luks
Parson Davies
James J. Corbett
Art. Lumley
Dan. Smith
Bob Fitzsimmons
Andy Horn
Lloyd Bingham

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