Category : King News

King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 19 Part 2

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 19

The Freedom that has Passed (part 2)

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Closing the door of the Hearst organization behind me opened the way to the most attractive prospect of my career. It concluded in a spectacular episode of big business, suggesting less the dream of a group of financiers than the imagination of a dramatist. The project was a merger of newspapers more extensive than any chain in existence. It was devised by Eugene Greenhut, who put together the $70,000,000 consolidation of Hahn Department Stores, Inc. The presidency of the amalgamated newspaper corporations was offered to me.

Greenhut evolved a method that removed my objection to chain operation of daily publications. He worked out a system by means of which each unit maintained local autonomy in matters involving the relationship between the publisher and the reader. The effect was to pool the various ownerships and thus stabilize the value of their securities, at the same time assuring central direction of all measures deriving advantage from consolidated effort.

Several months were devoted to preliminary organization. In the summer of 1929 we had assembled a tentative list of sixty-six dailies for admission into our nationwide family. From this roster thirty-five were selected as initial members. At that juncture news of our plans reached print. First publication was made by the Boston American on June 12, 1929, under a headline filling the greater part of the upper half of the first page and reading: $100,000,000 Newspaper Merger to Cover Country.” The story broke in Boston because of the disclosure of a letter written by Whitcomb & Company, who had been entrusted with the task of acquiring New England newspapers. The Boston American’s narrative included a passage from the Whitcomb & Company communication, with this excessively flattering passage: “The presidency of the corporation has been offered to a man whose work in newspaper circles in the past ten years has never been equaled.”

June 16 1929

The largest property that we decided to take over was the Denver Post. Its value was fixed at $15,200,000. A program was arranged for the execution of formal options in New York at the rate of one newspaper a day. The conclusion of this phase of the elaborate transaction would consume approximately six weeks. No publisher showed more enthusiasm for the deal than Frank P. Glass, owner of the Montgomery Advertiser. We had been friends for more than a quarter of a century. He told me he intended to use the cash that would be paid to him for the purchase of a splendid country estate which he had selected to present to his wife.

Glass was telling me about this while W. R. Weiler, president of the Allentown Call Company, with his treasurer and business manager, P. W. Leisenring, were preparing to sign the contract for the sale of their newspaper. They were in the office of Root, Clark, Buckner & Ballantine. That was the law firm founded by Elihu Root. With Weiler and Leisenring was Frank Hambleton, head of a Baltimore investment firm.

Hambleton was acting for the banking houses with which he was associated in financing the enterprise. He had picked up a pen to affix his signature. At that moment a member of the law firm entered the room in great excitement. There was a long distance call for Mr. Hambleton from Baltimore. It was so urgent that all other business must be interrupted. Hambleton withdrew to answer the telephone. He never returned. That was the black Wednesday in October, 1929, on which American securities were engulfed in a veritable cataclysm. Some time later Hambleton’s name was added to the list of suicides caused by that debacle.

By one of those psychologic freaks that contribute to the infinite variety of life, the dimensions of my disappointment were obscured by a picture in which comedy vied with pathos. It was painted by the mingled rage and chagrin of Frank P. Glass. Thirty years before he had been my employer. He was old enough to be my grandfather. He held a similar seniority to the wife whom he had taken to bosom a year or two before. Collapse of our undertaking blasted his promise to her of the handsome villa upon which their hearts had been set. He placed all the blame on me. He had been trapped by reliance on our long friendship. The blow to his pride blinded him to the vastness of the misfortune that had befallen all of his fellows in the project.

Out of the wreckage came a series of incidents pungently described by Gene Fowler in his entertaining volume, Timber Line. Gene began his climb to the lettered heights as a reporter in Denver. Later, he brightened the galaxy of King Features Syndicate stars. So there was first-hand coloring in his story of my negotiation with Frederick G. Bonfils for the purchase of the Denver Post, in the course of which it became necessary for me to act as general manager of that extraordinary newspaper.

The New York banking firm of Eastman, Dillon & Company had approached me with a proposition to buy the most desirable of the properties that I had approved for the Greenhut venture. There could be no hesitation in selecting the Denver Post. In many respects that publication was unique. Its earnings and circulation outclassed those of any daily published in a community of equal population. It is doubtful that as many as twenty newspapers in the entire country exceeded its regular net profits. And its impregnability was maintained despite the fact that no citizen of the state of Colorado was more cordially hated than its publisher.

Bonfils agreed to deliver the Denver Post for the same price that had been offered to him by Greenhut in my presence. Of course, Eastman, Dillon & Company wanted a certified audit of the books. That presented a snag. Bonfils insisted on utter secrecy until the transaction was completed. He objected to “a stranger prying into his accounts.” It would disturb the confidence of his staff. It would lead to damning rumors. “Gossip about the sale of a newspaper,” he said, “must be prevented with the same care with which mention of a woman’s chastity is guarded.”

Frederick G. Bonfils

Frederick G. Bonfils was by all odds the most anomalous character I ever encountered. In his companionship, the emotions shuttled between fine sentiment and sheer savagery. With hair still unflecked by gray in his sixties, eyes that shifted between a brooding brown to a gleaming green, he had the figure and carriage of a beau sabreur. But the practice of a suave manner and a customary softness of voice belied his appellation of “tiger man.”

On a visit to New York in 1927, he confided to me that a conservative estimate of his assets exceeded $45,000,000. The figure was not astonishing. His late partner, Harry H. Tammen, had gleefully narrated to me several times how in 1894 he had checked the counting of $880,000 in cash in Bonfils’ safe deposit vault in Kansas City, Mo. This money had come from operation of the Little Louisiana Lottery. That was before the beginning of the strange partnership that for thirty-five years challenged the credulity while exciting the amusement of the newspaper world.

In singularly melodious tones, Bonfils filled a simple talk about the stars with more poesy than most verse-makers write into their studied stanzas. Within the hour, he chuckled in satisfaction over reducing the compensation of an employee who had “tried to work a smart-Aleck trick to get a salary rise.” Amassing wealth hardened the enamel that encased Bonfils’ individuality. He had always been penurious. But as each million piled up in his strongbox, he grew increasingly censorious over the sumptuary indulgences of his companions. Once, when his chiding became nettlesome, I tried to silence it with a quip. “You are no richer than I am,” was the taunt. Bonfils turned purple. His pet pride had been gouged. “What do you mean?” he sputtered. “It’s simple, was my answer. “I can spend a dollar with less of a wrench than it costs you to spend a dime.” Even that failed to stop his private lectures on frugality.

Half a dozen trips to Denver and twice as many long-distance telephone conversations in the winter of 1929-30 finally resulted in a program acceptable to Bonfils for effecting the desired audit of his books. My installation as general manager of the Denver Post was the first step. After some weeks in that position, it would be logical for me to make the next move – the employment of an expert of my own choosing for a thorough survey of the publication’s financial affairs. This would be so much of a routine procedure as to obviate speculation.

In due time, Herbert W. Cruickshank came to Denver. We had never met before. But those who questioned him gained the impression that we might be old acquaintances. Cruickshank did not reveal that he was chief auditor of the Frank E. Gannett chain of newspapers. Gannett was eager to acquire the Denver Post. Eastman, Dillon & Company had made a tentative deal with him. It would be consummated if Cruickshank turned in a satisfactory report.

If, as has been said, a banker finds poetry in profits, Eastman, Dillon & Company read an epic in the figures that Cruickshank forwarded. The annual net profits of the Denver Post during the preceding eight years showed an average of $1,313,659. That was after the deduction of income taxes and other adjustments. The gross earnings for 1929 were $2,094,818.66. Eastman, Dillon & Company’s manager of new business, Melville P. Dickenson, hurried to Denver. His meeting with Bonfils closed in a bit of melodrama. Cruickshank stood beside me as a witness while Bonfils and Dickenson solemnly shook hands, sealing the agreement for the sale of the Denver Post for $15,200,000.

Bonfils left my suite in the Park Lane Hotel to fetch his lawyer. Dickenson and Cruickshank went into several forms of silent but sincere celebration. They were participating in the biggest deal of its kind yet reported. Thus far, there had been no public record of a newspaper sale for a sum approaching what Bonfils would receive. My own exhilaration may not have been undiscernible. A fee of $300,000 was coming to me. Dickenson, six feet two, was eight inches taller than Cruickshank. This difference made it somewhat uncertain whether they were attempting a jig together or going through a secret fraternity ritual. The telephone bell distracted my attention. It was a call from Bonfils. He had been gone less than fifteen minutes.

“Everything is O.K.,” he said, “but I must tell you that those people won’t get one ounce of my white paper. I wouldn’t give them enough to dry their hands. Oh! I wouldn’t go that far; but you know what I mean.”

That was Bonfils’ way of “putting over a fast one.” The white paper, or newsprint, was scheduled as surplus. If that were withheld, all the other items in the same account would be similarly treated. Bonfils was breaking the news to me that, before the sale was completed, he intended to declare out in dividends his accumulated profits amounting to $1,634,976.46. He was adding that sum to the price he had agreed upon. Gene Fowler tells how this was identical with a trick worked by Bonfils and Tammen in their sale of the Kansas City Post a few years before. In that instance, the sellers picked up an extra tidbit of approximately $100,000. In this case, the entire transaction was ditched.

Yarns, including the version by Gene Fowler, have been printed about the meeting at which my relations with Bonfils were broken off. It is true that I reproached him rather sharply. But it is not true that physical violence attended the break. Bonfils’ share in the squabble was characteristic. Instead of defending his action, he tried to prove that it entailed a loss to me smaller than I reckoned. He asserted that his penciled memorandum that I held set my compensation not at $300,000, but $200,000. His passion for parsimony extended even to a canceled liability. Paring a dead promise to pay gave him a satisfaction akin to scaling a live obligation.


 The trend of journalism in the depression of the ’30s turned my mind to lessons taught by the balance sheets and operating statements I had examined in selecting candidates for the Greenhut merger. In the previous generation, the ordinary newspaper was one of the cats and dogs in the backyard of finance. The industry was considered too hazardous on the whole for sound investment. Competitive uncertainties were incalculable. “Anybody can toss a printing press into a cellar and start up as a rival for your business,” said one banker in explaining the refusal of a loan to a solvent daily.

Frank Munsey

By the ’20s that situation had been transformed. The publisher no longer pussy-footed around the financial centers. He was pulled in by the coat lapels. For this transition, the credit or blame rested on no one more than Frank A. Munsey. It was Munsey whose spectacular operations set the pace for the compression of newspaper competition. For a while he was the target of critics who dubbed him “Assassin of the Dailies.”

The sobriquet grew increasingly appropriate, as he consigned to the graveyard successively the New York Press, the New York Morning Sun, the New York Mail and the New York Globe. Selling the New York Herald to the New York Tribune in 1924 was his final contribution to journalistic necrology.

During the decade which ended that year, the list of American newspapers suffered a mortality of 27 percent—greater than has been recorded in any period of quadruple length. The obituary roll numbered 566. The roster of 2,580 dailies in 1914 was cut to 2,014 in 1924. Thus, that ten-year span witnessed 80 percent of the shrinkage that took place in more than a quarter of a century— from the 2,580 in 1914 to the 1,878 in 1940.

Munsey found great pride in an ability to assess the worth of a contemplated purchase, offhand or otherwise. Such a feeling was almost essential to his method of negotiating for a newspaper. No standardized formula existed for evaluating a periodical publication. One theory favored the capitalization of readers at so much per head. Offers to prospective members of the Greenhut merger were based on a multiplication by ten of the average net earnings for the last preceding five years. Overtures were made to various dailies on estimates of their profits. The Holden estate, owning the Cleveland Plain Dealer, refused to consider a proposal of $22,000,000. From this point, appraisal of newspaper properties entered the field of pure speculation. In that zone of statistical adventure one need not have rated as an expert to guess the worth of the New York Times or of the Chicago Tribune at “anywhere between fifty and seventy-five millions each—or more.”

The sale of the Philadelphia Inquirer for approximately $15,000,000 in 1936 to M. L. Annenberg supplied no additional yardstick of value. On the contrary, it emphasized factors that commanded recognition as determinants of worth as important collectively as the record of earnings. A study of the variations in these phenomena had meantime led me into a new field of newspaper work. I set up a service of private counsel for publishers. Out of the tasks thus assumed, a perspective was formed clearer and more comprehensive than any view afforded me along the firing-line of direct responsibility. It is from that vista that these pages have been written.

The newspaper dedicated to its readers can neither be built nor destroyed from the outside. Its fate is decided wholly by inner forces. It can make no errors of commission. Its only blunders are those of omission. Of such is the kingdom of journalistic service. But why, at the zenith of its usefulness, was the press called upon to meet the fiercest and bitterest attacks in its history? The Fourth Estate alone can answer. It became a victim of its own vices.

It was a far cry from the internal newspaper disaffections incipient near the close of the century to the widespread schisms that cropped up thirty-odd years later; but it traced a course of grave culpability. Few publishers put forth any effort during that period to correct the untoward conditions that were accumulating elements of explosion. No motion was made to abridge or modify the right of arbitrary dismissal. Pension plans were mentioned, but they remained in the pigeonhole of deferred business. There was no serious discussion of steps to insure job steadiness. There was no recognition of either the advisability or the validity of stated allowances for payroll severances.

Instead, the ax of retrenchment continued to fall in the news department without conventional restraint of any kind. Salaries were reduced at will. Working positions were consolidated with consequent multiplications of duties. The reporter had neither recourse nor redress. Small wonder that envious eyes turned across the aisles of newspaper servitude to the shelter of industrial organization—the alliances of printers, engravers, stereotypers, pressmen and even truck drivers—which commanded a share in the regulation of employment and wages. Small wonder, too, that when the hour of temptation struck, this privilege enticed many thousands from the ranks of professionalism into the folds of union labor.

The harvest of nettles came in the 1930s. By that time the hardbitten journalist was amenable to almost any regimen for relief. In 1933 the American Newspaper Guild was organized. It consisted of editors, reporters and artists. Trade unionists found ready converts among those who, under more satisfactory craft circumstances, might have scorned vocational parity with the butcher, the baker and the buttonhole maker.

In 1935 the Guild joined the American Federation of Labor. That meant the assumption of allegiance to a separate authority. Members of the Fourth Estate pledged a loyalty apart from newspaper sovereignty. Two years later, the American Newspaper Guild transferred its membership to the Committee (afterward the Congress) for Industrial Organization. Meanwhile, the Wagner Labor Relations Act had been invoked. It enforced the employment of Guildsmen with stronger predilections for excursions in sociology than for the newspaper policies of their employers.

All the activities of the American Newspaper Guild were under the sanction of a constitution and by-laws, to which each member subscribed. Thus was violated the primary canon of the code compiled from the lessons of my professional experience. That rule prescribes that the gathering and reporting of news shall be limited to those fitted for the responsibility. It adds: “Such fitness is inseparable from singleness of devotion to newspaper duty. It can subsist only in complete independence from divergent accountability or commitment.”

The constitution and by-laws of any organization with definite objectives must necessarily exact from its subscribers an accountability or commitment. When those objectives embraced industrial, sociological or political aims, certain obligations of fraternal loyalty were attached. A constituent thus became both formally and morally answerable to a central authority. So the American Newspaper Guild established an accountability divergent from independent journalism. Its members, therefore, became unfitted for the gathering and reporting of news under the primary rule of my code of professional ethics.

If this precept prevailed, it would have excluded from eligibility in 1941 a majority of the personnel of the American press. The elimination would have involved perhaps an equal percentage of employers and employees. The quest for industrial betterment had drawn into the Guild more than a third of the 35,000 news workers. Various pursuits, apart from their newspaper duties, had long since split the professional integrity of as large a proportion of publishers.


“The freedom of the press” is dead. Its passing has escaped the notice of those who, failing to understand it in life, are unable to identify it in death. Always a magnificent mystery to most of its beneficiaries, it has left for them a heritage of little more than mixed memories. The press, that so zealously and jealously fought against infringement of its freedom, has itself strangled the “freedom of the press.” It was a slow process of suffocation, through gradual closing of the hands that guided it, until a hallowed tradition became twisted into a mockery. The tragedy traces a misunderstanding more extensive than any fallacy that ever beclouded the genius of an American institution.

The term “freedom of the press” was a misnomer. It would have been better comprehended as “freedom for a press”—the right to operate a printing machine without let or hindrance. It became confused in the popular mind with the privilege or claim of a current business. It was in no way peculiar to a completed publication. It applied not to the printed, but to the unprinted, message.

It was a franchise to publish anything typed, written, drawn or engraved. That right belonged to everybody—to Tom, Dick and Harry. But Tom took it over as his very own and Dick and Harry never complained. Apparently, they never understood. Nor did they seem to care. Tom, himself, misconstrued the nature of his prize. He tried to hold it as an endowment. He sought its enrichment with substantial favors from government. He claimed for it immunities and exemptions denied to the manufacturer, the merchant, the banker, the engineer and the artisan. Yet the grant, on which he strove to base these special privileges, was no more his than theirs.

It bestowed on him no license. It released him from no obligation. It lessened none of his liabilities. It left him amenable to every penalty assessable for a criminal publication of any nature. Yet it was the most precious of his constitutional guaranties. It was the birthright of his calling. But, too often, it went the way of that other birthright from which we derive the Scriptural lesson of Esau.

The principle of freedom for a press, as inherited from the founding fathers, has been crushed in two vises. One—monopoly —was tightened by the established press. The other—tyranny— was clamped by that coalescence of power which, through laws regulating labor relations, prescribes how the publisher may lay his hands on his own printing machine.

Gentlemen most vociferous in decrying attacks on “the freedom of the press” were most active in arrogating that so-called freedom for themselves. By means of combinations, associations and financial and political wire-pulling, the publisher already in the field closed the door to additional entrants. To found a newspaper in any city of considerable size in the ’20s or thereafter required fluid capital running into millions of dollars.

In important centers, the organized channels of news were placed under exclusive command—the Associated Press through the protest rights of its members and the United Press and International News Service through a form of contract vesting an existent client with a cumulative equity in the value of the service delivered to him. Thus the publisher on the ground was empowered in some cases to withhold permission and in others to exact a price for a newcomer’s share in a vital element of newspaper operation. The permission has never been granted. The price was usually prohibitive.

Control of news sources to bar fresh publishing adventures was supported by the corralling of features. An insurmountable handicap confronts the daily unable to secure a regular supply of comics, columns and other copyrighted series adequate both in number and popularity. In many cities, these materials were removed from the market. They were bought to be suppressed. Of course, there was no statement of such a purpose. Usually, the buyer talked about “protecting his territory against destructive competition.” The syndicates were not unwilling. After all, they had no means of compelling publication of what they sold. And in time, the client might be persuaded to make use of some part of the budget for which he paid. Meanwhile, it would be futile to refuse a revenue otherwise unobtainable. That explains the “sewing up” of features under blanket contract.

To make impregnable the bulwarks erected against invasion of a publishing center, the local merchant has been enlisted. Without his patronage, a daily is hopeless. He contributes anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of its gross income. He has become a proselyte to the virtues of newspaper monopoly. He objects to spending any more money on advertising than is needed to move his merchandise profitably. He believes the job can be done more economically for him by one than by two publications covering the same community. He is selfishly interested in maintaining the established publisher in exclusive occupancy of the field. And his balance sheets are not lined for entries showing either “the abridgement of social and political expression” or “the cramping of cultural outlets.”

Equality of opportunity to publish a newspaper would not have been attained even by overcoming the obstacles thus far outlined, insuperable as they have generally proved. There would still remain several formidable barricades to scale. Behind one stands the space-buyer, second in importance only to the local merchant. He represents the difference between profit and loss on the average daily. He is variously described as the general, foreign or national advertiser. He acts through advertising agencies. They observe an unwritten agreement to withhold business from new publications for at least a year. Ostensibly the purpose is a test of permanence.

That period of starvation is accompanied by another trial even more severe. The new daily, if it has carried on to this point, will have been forced to fight for newsstand “locations”—positions on hundreds or thousands of display stations, according to the size of the city. The outcome of this struggle may prove a decisive factor in a newspaper’s life or death. It is often determined by political manipulation.

Apologists for this state of journalism may cite the launching of an afternoon paper in New York in 1940 and the subsequent planning for a new morning daily in Chicago, That plea turns upon itself. Marshall Field III was a backer of both ventures. His daring may well be explained by his own statement, “I happen to have been left a great deal of money and I don’t care what happens to it.” Freedom for a press can neither be redeemed nor restored by ransom, even with the many millions of so ardent a humanitarian as Marshall Field III.

Not until the halter of monopoly encumbered its defense did the right for a free press become vulnerable to invasion. Then the politician rode it down. At the head of a corps of union-labor pressure groups—with panzer columns made up of legislative enactments—he captured the industrial trenches of journalism. The American Newspaper Guild was installed as an army of occupation. Protests of tyranny lodged by newspapers were rejected by the courts. It is not intended here to analyze the merits of the conflicting claims, some of which, though sanctified by inclusion in the law of the land, still require judicial clarification. The facts have been set out in preceding pages.

From within the precincts of the “free press” itself have come manifestations of agencies that not only make it impossible for outsiders to enjoy freedom for a press but also curb drastically the freedom of those who have a press. They have brought into the complexities of publication a divided house, a disputed authority, and in many instances a definitely hostile opposition to the will, the wish and sometimes even the survival of the publisher.


 It must not be forgotten that, despite the buffeting and confusion of a swiftly changing social order, the American newspaper has continued to maintain world leadership in the highest function of journalism—the collection and publication of news. Prodigies of reportorial performance mark the era for special study by the future historian. He will find it difficult to reconcile these exploits with the ever-narrowing constrictions which the courageous resourcefulness of the editor and the correspondent unfailingly surmounted.

No matter what vehicle may be employed for delivery—the daily journal, the radio or some medium yet to be devised—an uninterrupted flow of the day’s tidings is essential to the maintenance and progress of our culture. Though the “freedom of the press” has passed, freedom of the news must not perish. No human possession should be more zealously guarded than liberty of communication—through the air, under ground, by whatever instrumentalities the genius of man may provide. Upon that liberty depends the happiness and progress of mankind. It is the perennial prey of the world’s marauders—of all the ruthless exploiters of their fellow men. It is the only pillar upon which humanity may rest its hope of peace and advancement.

The sole sovereignty that has stood unmoved by the assaults of world revolution is that dominion of mind in which man’s soul subsists on current intelligence. At the conference of press experts convened by the League of Nations at Geneva in 1927, I remarked that news was a process of civilization. Lord Burnham, the presiding officer, retorted that he had considered civilization a process of news. Between those observations emerges a truth of supreme importance to mankind. If, from the blood-drenched wreckage through which humanity has staggered, only one sovereignty shall survive, let it be KING NEWS.

The End

King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 19 Part 1

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 19

The Freedom that has Passed (part 1)

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Checkmating the conspiracy of Warsaw at Geneva brought the fulfilment of one of the fondest dreams of my boyhood. It led to my installation as a chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France. The conferment of that distinction was followed by sequels that reached a widely publicized climax. It incensed W. R. Hearst. He found fault with my acceptance of the decoration. His attitude was expressed in a page-wide editorial published in all the Hearst papers from coast to coast. The comment it provoked, in print and otherwise, determined me to record the facts with a fairness that could not be questioned. So the narrative is presented here in documentary form:

From Editor and Publisher of January 21, 1928 (reprinted from the daily press):

M. Koenigsberg, president of International News Service, Universal Service, King Features Syndicate, Newspaper Feature Service, and general manager of other Hearst organizations, has been named Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

The Knighthood was conferred for ‘conspicuous services in the interests of the freedom of the press and particularly for your brilliant contribution to that end at the recent international press conference at Geneva.’

Ambassador Claudel was advised by cable to notify M. Koenigsberg of the honor.

Telegram from M. Koenigsberg to W. R. Hearst under date of January 26, 1928:

Executive committee advises me that you question propriety of the acceptance by the president of your two news services of a decoration by the Legion of Honor of France. Thus, what I believe should have your high approval, appears to have evoked your condemnation. I am quite willing to resign as president of International News Service and Universal Service if you so desire, with the understanding that such action shall not be construed as an acquiescence in any charge of impropriety on my part or as the surrender of any other rights by either of us. In view of the quarter of a century of our association and in an eagerness to minimize the difficulties of the situation I am disposed to effect an immediate adjustment of my personal service contract on most liberal terms. This contract, which is with your syndicates and not your news services, has less than a year to run. What are your wishes?

From the New York Times of February 20, 1928:

Coincident with his formal acceptance of the Cross of the Legion of Honor of France yesterday, M. Koenigsberg announced his resignation as executive head of a group of Hearst news and feature services, of which he has been in charge, the Associated Press announced.

The French decoration was presented at a luncheon at the home of Pierre Cartier, jewel merchant and friend of Ambassador Claudel.

M. Koenigsberg was president of International News Service, Universal Service, King Features Syndicate, Newspaper Feature Service and Premier Syndicate, and was vice-president and general manager of International Feature Service, all of which are owned by Mr. Hearst.

Shortly after the announcement that the French Government had decided to award the decoration to Mr. Koenigsberg, an editorial was printed in the Hearst papers of January 30th, in which was included a letter from Mr. Hearst suggesting the resignation of any Hearst employee who accepted any favor or decoration from any foreign government. The letter included the following paragraph:

“I am distinctly and definitely opposed to any representative of our newspapers or news services receiving any decorations or honorarium from any foreign government, except for patriotic service rendered America’s allies in the time of war.”

Mr. Koenigsberg made no comment beyond confirming the fact that he had accepted the decoration and had severed all connection with the Hearst organization. Mr. Hearst’s representatives here declined to comment on Mr. Koenigsberg’s action.

The episode became a topic of lively discussion, especially among newspaper folk. Many were disposed to find in the circumstances a slur on the freedom of the press. Of course there was no warrant for such a view. A testimonial dinner of embarrassingly pretentious scope was tendered to me. It was organized under the auspices of the Friars Club, a theatrical and journalistic organization perhaps better known outside New York than any other social body in Manhattan. George M. Cohan presided. The speaker of the evening was Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University. The affair was probably inspired as much in reproval of Hearst as in endorsement of the guest of honor.

The date was fixed for April 22, 1928. It coincided with the annual convention of the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association. Several hundred members of that organization attended the banquet, which was given at the Astor Hotel. It is gratifying to recall how widely representative was the list of committees. They included Louis Wiley of the New York Times; Howard Davis of the New York Herald-Tribune; Keats Speed, managing editor of the New York Sun; Julian Mason, managing editor of the New York Post; Herbert Bayard Swope, managing editor of the New York World; Victor Ridder, publisher of the Journal of Commerce; Paul Block, owner of the Paul Block chain of newspapers; Otto H. Kahn, the financier; David Belasco, Daniel Frohman, Sir Harry Lauder, Paul Whiteman, Jack Dempsey, Lionel Atwill and Arthur Brisbane.

A glimpse five years ahead would have given a turn of rare whimsicality to the sumptuous function at the Astor Hotel. It would have shown the unusual fate of the much-vaunted medal about which Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler discoursed to the 1,500 banqueters. The facts were told in the introductory paragraph of a story in the New York Times of January 2, 1933. It read: “M. Koenigsberg, former head of a group of Hearst news and feature services, has sent back to Ambassador Claudel his decoration as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, because the French Government defaulted in its debt payments to the United States, it was disclosed last night. . .”

Two statements explained my action. One was contained in a formal communication to the French Ambassador. The other I was persuaded by my dear friend, United States Senator Copeland, to speak into a newsreel microphone. It read as follows:

I am told that I am the only person who ever returned the Cross of the Legion of Honor to France. That is a regrettable distinction.

Consider that it was the dream of my boyhood to win that decoration. Consider that its acceptance entailed the severance of a professional relationship covering a quarter of a century. Then consider the wrench of giving that decoration back.

My action has been referred to as a protest. That isn’t altogether accurate. After all, what would the protest of a private individual mean to a French parliament that decided an international debt covenant was merely a scrap of paper?

I intended my action as the sorrowful recognition of a cultural catastrophe. Our civilization must stand or fall on the principle that covenants are sacred. When repudiation sets that principle aside, we would better take to the jungle.

The Legion of Honor derives its existence from the Government of France. When that government dishonored itself, the taint was attached to the emblem of the Legion. I have merely returned a tainted emblem.

Let’s have a practical illustration. Suppose you were given a letter of recommendation by an eminent person. Suppose that after you had received the letter, the writer flagrantly disgraced himself. What would you do with the letter? Certainly, you wouldn’t present it. You might hide it. I’m not good at hiding things. You might destroy it. I don’t like to destroy things. You might return it. That’s what I did.

The many sympathetic messages that came after my withdrawal from the Hearst organization may be traced in part, at least, to memories of a singularly pleasant institution. That was the series of Larks which each April for nine years drew the enthusiastic presence of editors and publishers from every state in the union. They were invitation affairs. But their fame became so great that large bribes were held out for cards of admission. As much as $200 was offered for one in 1927. So many outsiders tried to crash that it was necessary to station at each door representatives of King Features Syndicate to whom every visiting editor and publisher was known.

The piece de resistance of each party was an all-star theatrical performance that ran uninterruptedly for not less than six hours. “The Broadway Shows beyond the reach of Broadway” was the description given these entertainments by the late Sam H. Harris, who provided much of the talent. “None of them,” he added, “has ever been equaled by any single performance of which I have heard.”

The annual spring convention in New York of the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association, which always included meetings of the Associated Press and other professional groups, had been declining in interest and attendance. The advisability of suspending these meetings or transferring them to other dates or places was being urged. It was then that King Features Syndicate conceived and presented its first Lark. After the third, more editors and publishers appeared regularly as guests at the King Features Syndicate Larks than had constituted the complete attendance at any one convention for several preceding years.

All the parties were given in the Friars Club, which maintained its own building on West 48th Street near Broadway. It contained a fully equipped stage in a banquet room which seated approximately 490 guests. The name of the club-house was The Monastery. This, together with the title of the club, drove home the ostensibly inviolate rule – and boast – that no woman could cross its threshold.

The Larks changed all that. They brought into the building the stars of the revues, musical comedies, dramas, vaudeville, grand opera and night clubs, a list of whom would be a roll-call of the foremost headliners in these fields throughout the period. To organize one of these shows required three months of intensive application. In these preparations were engaged King Features Syndicate staff members who knew their Broadway from the inside. In addition, professional directors were employed with stage managers and “stunt men.”

Apr 22 1925

Every year at least one spectacular novelty was produced. An instance was a sudden shower of especially edited and printed tabloid newspapers. When the startled guests looked up to the ceiling, there was nothing to solve the phenomenon. Not one of the five hundred newspapermen knew how this was done. And they still do not know. The paraphernalia of illusion were created and supervised by Houdini, the immortal magician. They were constructed by a crew of expert workmen.

None of the spectators was more completely bamboozled by this conjuring trick than Arthur Brisbane. It should be borne in mind that Brisbane’s “Today” column was widely regarded as the last word in popularized erudition. His corrugated brow had served as the model for an artist’s conception of “The Thinking Machine.” Seated beside me on the dais, he listened intently to my explanation that “the chief event of the evening—demonstration of how material substances are deliverable by radio—must be put off for a few moments because of a delay in bringing the mass transformers into unison with the atomic coherers.” Brisbane accepted this in all seriousness. When, a minute later, the rain of tabloids descended, he turned to me with a look of eagerness. “How did you do that?” he asked. “You know, I’ve always believed in the theory of atomic coherence.” I didn’t answer. It would have been most unkind to disillusion Arthur.

A historic Lark stunt was the presentation of the first talking picture ever exhibited outside of a laboratory. This was an address by President Coolidge made on the rear lawn of the White House by special arrangement. It was engineered by Jack Lait— then the Sunday editor of King Features Syndicate—with Dr. Lee DeForest, inventor of basic parts of the sound-picture process. DeForest himself turned the crank. Two truckloads of equipment had been driven from New York to Washington overnight to record the President’s voice.

With my announcement as toastmaster, “You will now be addressed by the President of the United States,” the lights were blacked out. Suddenly on a screen the President was seen and heard to speak. The sophisticated guests were dumfounded. They thought it was another sample of Houdini magic. That was on the evening of April 21, 1925. The event was recounted in press association dispatches that appeared the next day under top heads in newspapers throughout the country. The stories described “the first actual demonstration of the phono-film” as a notable scientific achievement. They included the speech of the President of the United States to the guests of King Features Syndicate.

To enlist the personnel required for the production of these entertainments the utmost influence and pressure were needed. No amount of money conveniently translatable into figures could have bought this talent or assembled these celebrities on the same bill for a paid performance. As will be seen, the task did not end with the borrowing of players to give their time and routine service, as is done in the Broadway “benefits.” For each Lark everything in every show was original, created for it by writers, directors and composers. Out of this material grew many famous vaudeville acts, sketches and one entire revue, Spice, which broke Broadway records and ran for three years throughout America.

Such men as David Belasco (who turned down an offer of $5,000 to speak on the radio for five minutes that night) not only staged these skits but made personal appearances in them and with them. At one Lark, Caruso drew charcoal cartoons while he sang without accompaniment. George M. Cohan directed, wrote and performed for the parties. Large casts of stars played especially written burlesques of their own scenes. On the nights of the King Features Syndicate shows, all Broadway was disrupted. Frequently professional schedules were altered to permit members of the company to appear in the Lark at the Friars Club.

On one occasion Lillian Leitzel, the stellar aerialist of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus, did her wrist spin over the heads of the guests suspended from the center of the ceiling. The roof was not constructed to stand such strains. So an engineer was engaged to reconstruct it—for an act that occupied four and a half minutes.

In addition to serving as palatable a dinner as New York cuisine could provide, there was the problem of Prohibition. For this a subterfuge was invented. Now that it can be told, the ruse may be forgiven. There was a law against buying, selling or transporting liquor. There was no law against its possession. A constant resident of the club was William D. Weinberger, its secretary. He was chosen as the “host” to be solemnly thanked on each occasion for “contributing” from his apparently inexhaustible stock of pre-Prohibition scotch, rye and bourbon. In truth, cases of genuine imported liquor were purchased from sources which supplied the flower of Park Avenue and Wall Street. And even then, every bottle was analyzed by chemists before it was accepted.

Each Lark brought with it an individual souvenir. Some especially created were highly prized. One was a glass container in a walking-stick. It supplied an added modicum of the forbidden cheer to take home. A timely significance attached to each favor. Some of the walking-sticks are still treasured. The total expense of each show ran from $14,000 to $25,000. Considered by many a prodigal outlay, it was one of the soundest good-will investments ever known in newspaperdom.

A roster of the players who appeared in these entertainments would run into the thousands. This should give a picture of a typical King Features Syndicate Lark: George M. Cohan and Charlotte Greenwood in a burlesque of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet; Henry Hull and Lenore Ulrich with the entire cast of Lulu Belle in a fifteen-minute strip from that success, followed by Fanny Brice and her brother, Lou, in a burlesque of the act (this travesty became the principal number of a subsequent Broadway revue, Le Maire’s Affairs), Valeska Suratt, El Brendel and Armand Kaliz in a sketch, All Night Long, around which the revue Spice was written, to open the following summer at the Winter Garden; Paul Whiteman with a band of thirty-six (at the time when he was the only famous Broadway conductor), with Ruth Etting and the late Helen Morgan in a musical program individually staged for this Lark; Texas Guinan and her entire company, including George Raft, Joan Crawford, Cecil Cunningham and Betty Compson in a floor show staged by Billy Rose (this took forty minutes, during which Texas Guinan’s million-dollar “booby trap” went without a show); David Belasco doing a part in a parody of his then current success The Bad Man, in which he played “the best damn caballero in all Mexico” with Holbrook Blinn and Judith Anderson supporting him; Weber and Fields, not only appearing for the first time in years since their retirement, but brought together after a feud of years’ standing; Ed Wynn, W. C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Bert Wheeler, Willie and Eugene Howard in a burlesque of the Sextette from Lucia; Mae West singing Frankie and Johnnie, with Harry Richman at the piano; Will Rogers, with special material directly aimed at the newspapermen.

How deeply the guests were impressed by the seeming extravagance of these presentations was shown in the “raves” they sent to their newspapers. An example was a yarn by E. E. Campbell, editor of the Alton (Ill.) Daily Times. Here is an extract from a story published over his signature after attending a King Features Syndicate Lark:

There is a chap in New York named M. Koenigsberg. He used to be in St. Louis. He is now with W. R. Hearst. Most folks think Arthur Brisbane at $52,000 per year is Hearst’s highest-paid man but I was told tonight that William Randolph Hearst pays Koenigsberg $250,000.

He may be worth it. But maybe he spends a part of it. He had five hundred editors as his guests tonight at the club at 110 West 48th Street. . . .

I doubt if any living genius could have called such a company together, even free as it was, except Koenigsberg and maybe that is the reason why he gets five times as much as Brisbane is reported to get. Maybe Koenigsberg has to deduct for expenses. . . .

If Mr. Campbell’s appreciation of the Lark matched his estimate of my salary, King Features Syndicate was well repaid for his entertainment. He might have approached somewhat nearer the actual figures if he had reversed the names. What Editor Campbell put into extravagant phrases, other Lark guests put into an extravagant testimonial. It came as a complete surprise. It was presented by a committee that had moved in secrecy until the appointed evening. The members were Major John S. Cohen, editor of the Atlanta Journal; C. P. J. Mooney, editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and Robert Ewing, publisher of the New Orleans States. That year the King Features Syndicate Lark was interrupted to permit the presentation to me of a suite of antiques. That generous token has been treasured not only in memory of the givers, but as a souvenir of the extraordinary parade of talent which wrote entertainment history on a countrywide newspaper slate.

Chapter 19 Part 2 Next Week   

King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 17 Part 2

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 17

The Sick Cat Chases the Mammoth (part 1)

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The first rumbling of the Associated Press storm that was to break upon Hearst came with word that his newspaper, the San Antonio Light, was to be deprived of its protest right. The San Antonio News was to be voted a membership. This was more than a slap in the face. It was a discrimination against a franchise-holder too violent to be other than a punitive measure. The situation was aggravated by notice that similar action was pending in Rochester, N. Y. There, also, the Hearst unit was to lose the exclusiveness of its service. Dismay seized Hearst’s advisers. This was a fight imperiling many millions of dollars represented in Hearst’s fifteen franchises—the largest number held by any member of the Associated Press.

This troublesome problem had prompted me several months before to advise a radical departure. My plan was to remove the bone of contention between Hearst and the Associated Press without real sacrifice to either side. A review of the central facts is necessary to envision the idea. When Hearst successively launched the New York Journal, the Chicago American and the Boston American, no adequate service of general news was obtainable for them from organized agencies. They were debarred from the Associated Press by the protest rights of existent members. A number of years were to pass before the United Press, under the vigorous management of Roy W. Howard, reached metropolitan stature. International News Service was organized not only to gather news for the Hearst dailies, but also to secure a permanent and inalienable source of supply.

It was possible to assure that objective without direct ownership. Operation by friendly hands could accomplish the desired end. It was my suggestion that Hearst rid himself of his Associated Press embarrassments by relinquishing formal ownership of International News Service to a purchaser on whom he could rely to safeguard his personal and his newspaper interests. I proposed to buy International News Service myself. My proposition was taken up by Hearst’s order at a special session of the executive council, his advisory board. The permanent chairman of that body was S. S. Carvalho, who had rejoined the organization some time before. The meeting began with the reading of a letter from Hearst, under date of May 6, 1926.

It told how Hearst had been startled by my proposition that he sell International News Service to me. He saw no reason to accept my offer. But the peculiar action of the Associated Press convinced him that he should maintain International News Service, if for no other reason than to protect his newspapers. This conclusion also embraced Universal Service. Nevertheless, he felt that the modifications of the present system which I had outlined might be advantageously applied to the organization under his continued ownership.

Hearst’s communication reviewed in detail my project to introduce a regime of mutuality in the relations between the news services and their clients. He accepted my plan for a committee of publishers, or at least for a Board of Control, on which the subscribing newspapers would have a 50-percent representation. He suggested the possibility of issuing stock certificates and bonds of which he would keep 50 or 51 percent. While he admitted that this would not make a wholly cooperative, mutual membership, he argued that “it would be about as good as the Associated Press” and that it would give the clients the feeling that they had something to say in the management of the institution as well as a certain permanence in the possession of their franchises. He completely endorsed the fundamentals of my proposition, but added some elements to assure his proprietary standing.

The executive council had not formulated any judgment on this proposal when the group in control of the Associated Press delivered its main assault on Hearst. It was the adoption by the board of directors of a resolution unparalleled in the annals of the organization. It was a formal declaration of Hearst’s unfitness for membership. It was a patent preliminary to expulsion. Under date of October 8, 1926, it read as follows:

Resolved that in the judgment of the Board of Directors the relations of the newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst represented in membership in the Associated Press with the news services owned by Mr. Hearst, cause an ever-recurring evasion and nullification of the obligations each to the other of members of this mutual organization and must be regarded as highly prejudicial to the interests and welfare of the Associated Press and its members, the prime object of the organization being the mutual cooperation, benefit and protection of its members.

Hearst assigned as his field marshal on this front, David E. Town. It happened that Town joined Hearst on my recommendation and despite some untoward influences set in motion by some of my associates. My friendship with Town began when he was general manager of the John C. Shaffer chain of newspapers in Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois and Colorado. It continued until his death in the ’30s. Town was engaged to carry out my suggestion that Hearst appoint a controller who would be in charge of mechanical, business and financial operations. He became one of my fellow members of the Hearst executive council.

Town’s efforts to smooth the friction with the Associated Press directors proved abortive. A clash between him and Kent Cooper, the Associated Press general manager, stressed the crisis. This phase of the trouble grew out of a demand that I cease my endeavors to persuade publishers to withdraw from the Associated Press to become clients of International News Service. An issue of fact arose between Town and Cooper as to a discussion of my activities in that respect. An exchange of communications between them was tinged with acrimony. Town reported the receipt of a complaint from Cooper on November 11, 1926.

It expressed Cooper’s conviction that none of my colleagues were aware of the insistence or extent of the International News Service raids upon the Associated Press membership. A memorandum from Town to the executive council outlined details of Cooper’s grievance. The State of North Carolina was cited as an illustration. There these members of the Associated Press had been solicited to desert that organization: Rocky Mount Telegram, Wilson Times, Concord Tribune, Henderson Dispatch, Fayetteville Observer, Goldsboro Argus, New Bern Sun-Journal, Wilmington News-Dispatch.

Cooper added that two papers in the state—the Greenville Reflector and the Edenton News—had already been induced to resign from the Associated Press and to substitute Hearst services. He named as other newspapers that had withdrawn from the Associated Press “upon such solicitation” that year: Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat; Yonkers (N. Y.) Statesman; Pulaski (Va.) Southwest Times; Charlottesville (Va.) Progress; Palatka (Fla.) Daily News.

All this apparently constituted a very grave affront to the dignity of the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Hearst’s advisers had fought off a panic stretching over several months. Hearst, himself, confronted the prospect of ouster from the Associated Press with a composure at strong odds with the alarm of his lieutenants. He instructed me to draft a plan of operation for institution at a moment’s notice. This was a precaution against cancelation of his memberships in the Associated Press. Various stratagems were submitted to him. He appointed a committee for their analysis. It consisted of Bradford Merrill, Morrill Goddard and Victor H. Polachek. They joined me in urging a consolidation of International News Service with the United Press. My views, outlined at a series of meetings with this special committee, might have been thus summarized:

1. Consolidation of International News Service with the United Press can be effected on terms assuring substantial and continuing profits for both with guaranties as to quality of service for the Hearst papers and with reservations that will withhold from papers affiliated with the United Press any special or exclusive prestige or advantage.

2. Negotiations to this end should be pressed with the utmost speed consistent with secrecy and safety because better terms will be procurable so long as nothing is known of the quarrel between the Hearst organization and the Associated Press. If possible, an option for consolidation should be obtained in writing in Mr. Hearst’s favor within two weeks, to be exercised within six months. He will then be in superior position to deal with any situation that may arise with the Associated Press.

3. Immediate steps should be taken, to compose all misunderstandings between the Hearst organization and the Associated Press directors as to morning memberships. This should be possible without any real sacrifice on the part of Mr. Hearst.

Adoption of a policy along these lines was urged upon Hearst by Bradford Merrill, Morrill Goddard and Victor H. Polachek. The recommendation was incorporated in a message wired over their joint signatures.

Hearst answered immediately. His code telegram—with the usual signature, “Doctor”—was translated by Merrill at a meeting that I attended with Goddard and Polachek. It was a characteristic message. It paralleled Hearst’s abiding passion to play a lone hand. He had talked with the United Press people. They were fully informed about the situation. “Doctor” believed they were concerned chiefly over the prospect of International News Service building an organization too highly competitive to suit them. They had submitted a proposal to which he was evidently indifferent, though he had promised to resume its discussion in New York.

Roy W. Howard

Not only did Hearst indicate a disposition to pass up any deal with the United Press, but he also favored holding the Associated Press at arm’s length. He was undisturbed over the possible loss of his Associated Press memberships. He cited, by way of approval, an estimate I had prepared showing that an additional expenditure of $10,000 weekly would provide an adequate service for his publications. “Doctor” would save almost that much if he stopped his payments to the Associated Press. He was inclined to favor such a course. Then his newspapers would have their own news and not be compelled to share it with competitors. However, he would not object to the arrangement of an accord with the Associated Press on a just basis. “But don’t expect any justice,” he warned. A bit of paternal advice followed Hearst’s wired wisdom. He counseled the committee not to worry, since “we were strong enough to take care of ourselves.”

A combination of International News Service with United Press would have produced an unrivaled organization. It could not have failed to affect the course of the world’s news-gathering history. Its possibilities were destroyed at a meeting between Hearst and Roy W. Howard, head of the United Press. Hearst took umbrage at an unintentional affront. Howard told him he was not fitted to operate a news service. He believed Hearst’s dominating interest in his newspapers could not be subordinated to an interest in a news service. The purpose of the remark was certainly not invidious. But it nettled Hearst to such a degree that the negotiation collapsed.

At that stage Hearst called up to the firing line a brilliant San Francisco lawyer, John F. Neylan, who held a membership in the Associated Press as publisher of the San Francisco Call-Post. Meanwhile, Hearst had decided to adopt a program submitted to him, at my instance, by my friend, Robert Ewing, publisher of the New Orleans States. This was a campaign to shear the strength of the cabal in control of the Associated Press. That clique, known as “the big six,” consisted of Adolph S. Ochs of the New York Times, Victor F. Lawson of the Chicago Daily News, Frank B. Noyes of the Washington Star, Charles H. Taylor of the Boston Globe, W. L. McLean of the Philadelphia Bulletin, and Elbert H. Baker of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Their power was derived from the regulations by which directors were elected. There were approximately 1,200 members. One hundred owned forty bonds apiece, each entitled to 100 votes as against the single ballot of a mere stockholder. Thus less than nine percent of the membership enjoyed a balloting strength of more than 4,000 against the 1,100 to which the remainder of the association was limited.

An intensive canvass directed by Neylan, with the assistance of Ewing and a group of so-called insurgents whom he rallied to the movement, resulted in the abolition of this oligarchic rule. The Associated Press was democratized. Every member was accorded an equal voice in the naming of the directorate. Hearst had mowed down the coterie that dominated the Associated Press.

A composition of differences between Hearst and the chastened Associated Press directorate included a condition of which no member would have dreamed a year before. It was the surrender of a cardinal principle. While it involved only one locality, it proved how far a great institution may bend backward. When the Associated Press was left with a single outlet in Pittsburgh, and that a Hearst daily—the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph—a. troublesome snarl developed. As an Associated Press member, the Sun-Telegraph was forbidden to deliver news to a non-Associated Press agency. Because of a unique news-gathering situation in that region, neither the Associated Press nor International News Service could reasonably afford to forego the correspondence facilities commanded by the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. Earnest consultations were held. Kent Cooper agreed that the Associated Press would be discreet enough to keep its eyes closed to practices that would otherwise be prohibited. But he failed to take into his confidence his Pittsburgh representative. An embarrassing complication followed. Cooper straightened it out with a special course in nictation. This was in amusing contrast with the attitude that Melville E. Stone maintained in a series of conferences with me a short time earlier.

In our several meetings aimed at unraveling tangles between the Associated Press and the Hearst organization, Stone presented in great detail a list of grievances. The case on which he dwelt most insistently arose in Rochester, N. Y. There an employee of the Democrat-Chronicle had been under surveillance for weeks. He was a copy reader. His tour of duty ended at three in the morning. He was trailed nightly. The spotters reported that he went direct from his regular place of employment to the building in which was situated the Rochester office of International News Service. This practice was condemned by Stone in the severest terms. The man was being exposed to suspicion of a heinous crime. Concealed on his person—possibly in the recesses of his mind—might be news belonging to the Associated Press. What was his purpose, so burdened, in entering the edifice in which a competitive news service functioned? The implications were awful. They recalled the traditional penalty for disclosure of unprinted Associated Press news—blacklisting for life.

It did not seem logical to me that responsibility should be impressed upon International News Service for the peregrinations of an employee of an Associated Press newspaper. There was a possibility that he was eking out his income with extra work for the Hearst bureau. If there were any obligation to determine that point, it did not seem to me to rest on International News Service. This was the weightiest of several questions that I failed to settle with “the grand old man” of the Associated Press.

The matter of greatest importance that arose in the conflict over news service involved the allegation that the Associated Press was a monopoly in restraint of interstate commerce. That averment, formally iterated in different tribunals, remains to be adjudicated. It was laid before Hearst in one of my reports outlining a method of counter-attack. It was my belief that the Associated Press would decline an issue in the courts. I felt that because of its vulnerability under the anti-trust laws, it would recoil from any judicial scrutiny of the power arrogated by its directors. The concluding paragraphs of an opinion on this subject, formulated by the law firm of Eppstein & Rosenberg, in conjunction with other attorneys, read as follows:

For the foregoing reasons, it is our opinion that the Associated Press is a combination organized for and engaged in the illegal restraint of trade, and that if proper proceedings should be instituted against it, it would be forced to dissolve.

Although proceedings might be instituted merely to restrain it from the further employment in its business of the illegal agencies herein pointed out, the effects of such proceedings, if successful, would in our opinion ultimately result in its enforced dissolution as a judgment, that so important an organization as is the Associated Press was organized and operating in violation of law, could hardly be ignored by the Department of Justice.

Upon such advice, judgment was reached that the millions of dollars represented in the memberships owned by Hearst would be exposed to too great a hazard by the institution of any suit attacking the validity of Associated Press regulations.

The handicaps imposed by deference to Hearst’s Associated Press complications did not deter either International News Service or Universal Service from setting new records in their field. Universal was the first agency to adopt automatic printer telegraph machinery as its exclusive means of transmission. It was the first to establish in America a transcontinental automatic printer circuit. These innovations were installed by Chester R. Hope, editor of Universal Service, whose vigorous enterprise contributed greatly to the efficiency of my executive staff. Under Hope’s direction, Hollywood and New York’s “Four Hundred” made their joint debut as daily telegraphic features. Louella Parsons and Cholly Knickerbocker (Maury Paul) were starred on the same coast-to-coast line.

International News Service performed a historic feat in the sending and transcribing of news by radio. The potentialities of this pioneer achievement have yet to be measured. Its first public demonstration was made at the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association convention at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1924. In room 1590 of that hostelry,  journalists gathered from day to day for a week to watch a typewriter capture from the air and transcribe a complete news report at the rate of sixty-five words a minute. It was the International News Service High Speed Automatic Radio Printing System. It was the result of more than three years of experimenting.

The inventor was William George Harold Finch, afterward recognized as one of America’s leading radio engineers. Finch was an insurance company inspector of wireless sets in Buffalo in 1921. I was combing the country for an instrumentality with which to push International News Service ahead of its competitors. The search had been suggested by the pyrotechnic advances in wireless. Word reached me of a relay invented by Finch. A week later he was installing a laboratory in the offices of King Features Syndicate. Lieut. Col. Archibald M. Stevens and William A. Bruno were engaged as his collaborators. After a series of successful tests covering many months, the cooperation of the Federal Wireless and Telegraph Company of California was enlisted. Rudolph Spreckels, the managing director, brought the president, Ellery Stone, to New York to confer with me.

Spreckels agreed to join the Hearst organization in the erection of three powerful wireless stations to blanket America. The commercial facilities were to be used by the Federal Wireless and Telegraph Company and the news channels by International News Service. Hearst showed keen interest. His executive council opposed the project. Meanwhile, my friend, R. R. Govin, now the owner of four dailies in Havana with circulations exceeding those of all the other newspapers in Cuba, expressed eagerness to associate himself with the undertaking. A meeting was held on Hearst’s yacht. Spreckels, Govin, Arthur Brisbane, Bradford Merrill and Louis B. Eppstein, counsel for King Features Syndicate, attended. It was Brisbane who devised a way to overcome the objection raised by the executive council. He suggested that Hearst and Spreckels share equally in the underwriting. Both assented. It was agreed that a total investment of $1,750,000 would suffice.

Spreckels and Stone brought a staff of technicians to New York. More than twenty men busied themselves in a New York hotel suite perfecting details of the organization. Their task was being completed when Hearst telephoned me. He wanted me to meet him at the office of Martin Huberth, manager of his New York real estate operations. It was a spot suited for privacy. Showing more embarrassment than I had ever noticed in him, Hearst called off the deal with Spreckels. He explained that his financial advisers had counseled against it. Not long afterward Spreckels sold the Federal Wireless and Telegraph Company to the Postal Telegraph Company for $20,000,000. That did not underline the wisdom of the advice Hearst had accepted.

The revolutionary changes with which radio was to overwhelm the empire of news were slow to reveal themselves to those most concerned. They flashed on me in a dramatic episode. It was August 2, 1923. Charley (C. O.) Powers, political editor of the Boston American, an old friend, hailed me on Broadway that afternoon. We had not met in years. Powers punctuated the chat with an astounding remark. “Harding is going to die,” he said, as if repeating an authoritative message. “What do you mean?” I asked in amazement. “Coolidge luck,” was the crisp answer. “It’s proverbial among those who have watched his career. I can trace every step in his advance to some circumstance of fortune. That night, Fred Mayer, a member of the Friars Club, burst into the room where I was seated, with the excited exclamation, “President Harding is dead!” Both the manner and the substance of his announcement shocked me. It was incredible. How could this stockbroker, without any newspaper connections, get such tremendous news before it reached me, the president of four different news organizations with worldwide affiliations? The thought was almost insulting. Mayer was insistent. “I know it’s true,” he said. “I just got it over my radio set.”

At that moment a page summoned me to the telephone. Clyde West, night manager of Universal Service, was on the wire. In the excitement that possessed him, his sense of values was upended by an enthusiasm for his calling. The order in which he stated the facts of his message is unforgettable. He was a newspaperman whose work was more important than the world’s history.

“Boss,” West’s voice came in shrill contrast with his customary drawl, “we’ve just scored an eight-minute beat on the death of the President.” Then, without waiting, he went on to tell how James R. Nourse, the Universal Service correspondent accompanying the presidential party, had come in first. Nourse’s room was on the same floor as Mr. Harding’s quarters in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. He was on the way to the elevator when a slight commotion attracted his attention to the presidential suite. He was at the door before the doctor had announced the tragic news.

West was still on the telephone when a recollection of Charlie Powers’ weird prediction gave me a start. And then even that strange coincidence faded into a commonplace beside the phenomenon which had enabled such a person as Fred Mayer to apprise me of an historic event. In one stroke, providence had sliced apart the chief domain of the Fourth Estate. The radio had come to share the primacy of the press in the world’s greatest cultural function—the dissemination of current intelligence.

King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 17 Part 1

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 17

The Sick Cat Chases the Mammoth (part 1)

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The jealousy with which W. R. Hearst guarded the making and handling of his features was explained by his immense confidence in their power. It was that faith which produced for me the opportunity to write the title of an important chapter in journalistic history. It put me in position to defeat an international cabal striving to establish a monopoly in news. A telegram from Hearst to Bradford Merrill was a prelude to this exciting sequence of events. Dated at Los Angeles, April 1, 1919, its purport was telephoned to me by Merrill, as follows: “General management of International [News Service] should be immediately turned over to Koenigsberg. This will enable International to be introduced by means of Koenigsberg’s features. Moreover, profits of Koenigsberg’s syndicate can maintain International until self-supporting. Universal, too, should be under general direction of Koenigsberg.”

The reference to “Universal” identified a corporation formed on June 17, 1918, as Universal Service, Inc. to furnish supplementary or special stories gathered at world centers for morning papers. The message had left a deep impression on Merrill. It meant a sweeping change in central functions of the Hearst organization. Merrill was prepared to give the assurance that he expected me to demand. The news services would have the same independence of management as the syndicates. My authority would be subordinate only to the owner himself. Hearst confirmed this understanding to me personally at a meeting the next week.

To muster in support of International News Service all the syndicate resources available, I added several corporate units. The time came when the list of corporations which recorded me as president and general manager was long enough to tickle a stock promoter’s fancy. But each of these eight companies fitted into a coherent operation: King Features Syndicate, Newspaper Feature Service, International Feature Service, Premier Syndicate (specializing in elements distributed on a commission basis), Star Adcraft Service (translating news illustrations into business promotion projects), International News Service, Universal Service and Cosmopolitan News Service (paralleling in the afternoon field the budget of telegraphic matter supplied by Universal Service to morning editions).

International News Service was in dire need of all the assistance that could be squeezed out of its pretentious roster of affiliates. It was one of the sickest cats that ever clung to the door-posts of metropolitan journalism. Deprived of cable facilities in 1916 by both the British and the French governments in rebuke for its methods, it had not divested itself of the stigma of propagandism with which it had been assiduously smeared by critics of Hearst. In the twelve months ending June 30, 1919, its deficit was calculated as $388,934.40. In the next eight years, its clients increased from less than 300 to 591. Its annual income meanwhile rose from $694,230.69 to $2,054,601.59. Its books showed several profit-paying years.

The accomplishment reflected in these figures lacks meaning without an understanding of the desperate plight to which International News Service had sunk. The lowliness of its estate was indicated by the distrust it excited among those who should have been most anxious for its welfare. Editors of Hearst papers, compelled to rely on it exclusively for general news, used its dispatches with proverbial fear and trembling. It became a by-word in the organization. It was called “reliably unreliable.” Not only did its institutional facade bear the bar sinister etched by the British and French governments, but it stood unacquitted of charges of piracy tried in United States courts.

Only two years before the management of International News Service was entrusted to me, it had been laid under an historic injunction. On complaint of the Associated Press, it was enjoined by the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York from “bribing employees of newspapers published by complainant’s members to furnish Associated Press news to defendant before publication.” It was also prohibited from “inducing Associated Press members to violate its by-laws and permit defendant to obtain news before publication.” The suit was appealed.

Melville Stone

That litigation was the climax of Melville E. Stone’s quarter of a century campaign to establish the claim that news might he held as private property. The sanctimonious passion with which the “grand old man” of the Associated Press clothed this so-called crusade, won the collaboration of a tremendously powerful circle. Such adversaries as Charles Anderson Dana and H. H. Kohlsaat, who came forward from time to time to contest his purpose, were weighted with the impedimenta of selfish interest. They fought just long enough to safeguard their individual assets.

No champion in shining armor ever led an array of ethical forces in front-line attack against the movement to create the basis for a news monopoly. Opposition to Stone, pathetic in its feebleness, did come from obscure workers anxious to shield a vital principle of human liberty. In this might be counted my own quixotic gesture of enlistment in the Laffan News Bureau of the New York Sun in 1897.

It is reasonable to assume that Stone suffered one of the worst shocks of his highly active life when the Supreme Court of the United States tarred the Associated Press with the same stick that was applied to International News Service. Both were placed under a reciprocal injunction. Each was enjoined from appropriating the news of the other. This decree was rendered May 19, 1919, six weeks before International News Service came under my-management. It did not absolve International News Service of culpability. It did imply that the Associated Press—that exalted assemblage of prestige and piety—might stoop to the same depraved practices of which it had accused the Hearst group.

But an adjudicated parity in potential impropriety did not embrace parity in business prospects. Membership in the Associated Press was the most highly prized privilege in newspaperdom, even if there were some stains on its background. There were critics harsh enough to describe it as born in perfidy and reared in subterfuge. The natal slur had reference to the machinations and betrayals through which the Western Associated Press deserted en masse from the Associated Press of New York in 1893 and entered a new corporate phase as the Associated Press of Illinois, progenitor of the present body.

The suggestion of trickery concerns the flight in 1900 of the Associated Press of Illinois from the State of Illinois to escape the application of a judicial mandate. That ruling required the organization to deliver its service to any newspaper tendering payment therefor. The escape was to New York. There a law existed under which a non-profit-making corporation could own property and yet function as a social unit. Thus, it was free to exclude any unsatisfactory member. The statute had been enacted at the behest of a coterie of sportsmen. It was framed to authorize corporate ownership of shooting and angling preserves. So the Associated Press obtained a charter on the same footing as a fish and game club.

Contemplating the taints on a competitor’s record neither gained additional subscribers nor strengthened the satisfaction of the current clientele. And there were some stains that International News Service must erase from its own escutcheon before pointing elsewhere. Hearst realized this. He cheerfully approved my plans for reorganization. Foremost was the need for a thorough house-cleaning. Next must come a different window-dressing. Convincing proof must be furnished that a changed management was eliminating whatever bias may have tinctured the service in the past.

Hearst expressed particular pleasure over the slogan I proposed to adopt. It was an amplification of a legend that had been in use. To the line, “Get it first,” I added, “But First Get It Right!’ That was the keynote of the policy Hearst sanctioned. “How can we expect the editors of our papers to comment intelligently on the actual news,” he asked me, “if the news we supply to them is false?” There was no naivete in that question. It had a double purpose. Primarily, it was a disclaimer of direct responsibility for the past. Secondarily, it was a sanction of the altered course.

It should be noted that Hearst never revised this instruction to me. The closest semblance to friction with him concerning International News Service arose over some dispatches from Mexico. Hearst’s vast holdings in that country afforded him sources of intelligence inaccessible to the ordinary newspaper correspondent. Moreover, Hearst cited a complaint from E. H. Clark, his general financial counsel, who specialized in Mexican affairs. A similar criticism some time later evoked a corrective program. I proposed to dismiss the offending correspondent and to replace him in each case with any of three seasoned journalists whom E. H. Clark would select from a list I would submit. Hearst was pleased with this arrangement.

That method of handling the International News Service personnel in Mexico was in effect in 1927 when the Hearst newspapers committed the historic fiasco of publishing a series of documents alleged to have been abstracted from the official archives of Mexico. It will be recalled that one of these writings mentioned a $500,000 bribe to a United States Senator. Another gave details of a conspiracy to foment a Central American revolution inimical to the United States. Still another outlined a plot to colonize Mexico with hordes of Japanese in preparation for possible invasion of this country. The investigating committee of the United States Senate, which finally declared the letters spurious, left untouched several phases of this extraordinary miscarriage of journalism. One, germane to my management of International News Service, is set down here.

Hearst had instructed three of his lieutenants to assure the fullest publicity for these “sensational disclosures.” The trio were Victor H. Polachek, for many years one of Hearst’s chief editorial functionaries and at the time the director of Sunday circulation for all the Hearst Sunday newspapers; Edmond D. Coblentz, managing editor of the New York American; and Victor Watson, executive editor of the New York American. Polachek, Coblentz and Watson urged me to take over the promotion and distribution of “this historic revelation.” I declined.

Not one word of the fantastic fake was transmitted over the wires of International News Service. No mention of the forged documents was made in any of its reports during my administration of the Service. Hearst never communicated with me about them. He suffered the penalty of an excessive faith in what he wanted to believe.

The first step in dissipating the propagandist atmosphere that hovered over International News Service was the employment of a chief of staff who could be held forth in promise of the new order—whose reputation offered a distinctly non-Hearst flavor. I appointed Marlen E. Pew editorial manager. Prominently identified for a while with the United Press, he had later served as editor of the Boston Traveler and of the Philadelphia News Post.

Pew was fanatic in his repugnance for secret influences. That quality made him especially valuable in the regeneration of International News Service. Unfortunately, at the end of three years, he found himself at loggerheads with his chief assistant, Earl Barry Faffs. They had been on the most intimate terms—a Damon and Pythias relationship. Pew demanded Faffs’ resignation. Faris was the wheel-horse of the news service. It would have been folly to let him go. Pew went instead. Afterward, he became the head of Editor & Publisher. George G. Shor, with a highly creditable journalistic record, replaced Pew as managing editor. In 1927, Faris became general news manager and in 1932, the editor. Evidently, no mistake was made in the choice that Pew forced upon me.

The rapid progress of International News Service led to an embroilment with the Associated Press of major consequences. The strife began with a letter I addressed to Melville E. Stone. It attacked what he esteemed sacrosanct—a claim for which he contended above all others—the exclusive ownership of news assembled by members of the Associated Press. Before the quarrel subsided, it wrought revolutionary changes in that august organization.

My communication was dated March 5, 1925. It called Stone’s attention to a story published on January 5th in the Associated Press newspaper in Lakeland, Fla., duplicating, almost word for word, an exclusive International News Service item which appeared the same day in the other Lakeland daily. The dispatch told of a criminal assault on two women in Jacksonville. It bore the dateline of that city.

This was a perfect predicate for the charge that the permanent injunction of the United States Supreme Court had been violated. Stone’s answer was indulgently patronizing. It was an exposition of the sophistry on which the Associated Press position was based.

Stone did not deny that the Associated Press had made use of International News Service news. On the contrary, he asserted that the action had been fully warranted. The story had been “furnished” by the Jacksonville Journal. That newspaper was both a member of the Associated Press and a client of International News Service. Stone cited this notice regularly published by the Jacksonville Journal and by all other Associated Press papers: “The Associated Press is exclusively entitled to the use for republication of all news dispatches accredited to it or not otherwise accredited in this paper and also the local news published herein.” The Jacksonville Journal failed to label the story in question. Hence, according to Melville E. Stone, this piece of intelligence became the property of the Associated Press.

The issues raised in my response have never been met. The annoyance and apprehension they aroused in the Associated Press directorate were indicated by the bitterness of the onslaught that followed against Hearst.

My reply, dated March 23, 1925, contended that the absence of a label did not alter the facts of a story’s origin and that the Associated Press could not gain rightful proprietorship of a competitor’s news through any incorrect or misleading notice published by its members. The great care taken by International News Service to investigate the source of each report it used was contrasted with the Associated Press pronouncement which authorized the taking of matter with no further inquiry than a glance for credit lines.

On the part of International News Service we found faithful observance of the United States Supreme Court injunction against the appropriation of a rival’s news. On the part of the Associated Press we observed a policy capable of interpretation as constant incitement to violate that writ.

These premises formed the basis for even more serious representations. Under the theory stated by Stone, it was pointed out, International News Service would suffer deprivation not through any fault or omission of its own but by reason of the remissness, neglect or deliberate design of members of the Associated Press. Finally, the requirement for publication of the notice purporting to vest in the association the ownership of news appearing in the papers of its members made it possible for them to print the dispatches of other services without credit so that the Associated Press could lift and use those dispatches on the theory that it was entitled to do so.***

The first rumbling of the Associated Press storm that was to break upon Hearst came with word that his newspaper, the San Antonio Light, was to be deprived of its protest right. The San Antonio News was to be voted a membership. This was more than a slap in the face. It was a discrimination against a franchise-holder too violent to be other than a punitive measure. The situation was aggravated by notice that similar action was pending in Rochester, N. Y. There, also, the Hearst unit was to lose the exclusiveness of its service. Dismay seized Hearst’s advisers. This was a fight imperiling many millions of dollars represented in Hearst’s fifteen franchises—the largest number held by any member of the Associated Press.

This troublesome problem had prompted me several months before to advise a radical departure. My plan was to remove the bone of contention between Hearst and the Associated Press without real sacrifice to either side. A review of the central facts is necessary to envision the idea. When Hearst successively launched the New York Journal, the Chicago American and the Boston American, no adequate service of general news was obtainable for them from organized agencies. They were debarred from the Associated Press by the protest rights of existent members. A number of years were to pass before the United Press, under the vigorous management of Roy W. Howard, reached metropolitan stature. International News Service was organized not only to gather news for the Hearst dailies, but also to secure a permanent and inalienable source of supply.

It was possible to assure that objective without direct ownership. Operation by friendly hands could accomplish the desired end. It was my suggestion that Hearst rid himself of his Associated Press embarrassments by relinquishing formal ownership of International News Service to a purchaser on whom he could rely to safeguard his personal and his newspaper interests. I proposed to buy International News Service myself. My proposition was taken up by Hearst’s order at a special session of the executive council, his advisory board. The permanent chairman of that body was S. S. Carvalho, who had rejoined the organization some time before. The meeting began with the reading of a letter from Hearst, under date of May 6, 1926.

It told how Hearst had been startled by my proposition that he sell International News Service to me. He saw no reason to accept my offer. But the peculiar action of the Associated Press convinced him that he should maintain International News Service, if for no other reason than to protect his newspapers. This conclusion also embraced Universal Service. Nevertheless, he felt that the modifications of the present system which I had outlined might be advantageously applied to the organization under his continued ownership.

Hearst’s communication reviewed in detail my project to introduce a regime of mutuality in the relations between the news services and their clients. He accepted my plan for a committee of publishers, or at least for a Board of Control, on which the subscribing newspapers would have a 50-percent representation. He suggested the possibility of issuing stock certificates and bonds of which he would keep 50 or 51 percent. While he admitted that this would not make a wholly cooperative, mutual membership, he argued that “it would be about as good as the Associated Press” and that it would give the clients the feeling that they had something to say in the management of the institution as well as a certain permanence in the possession of their franchises. He completely endorsed the fundamentals of my proposition, but added some elements to assure his proprietary standing.

The executive council had not formulated any judgment on this proposal when the group in control of the Associated Press delivered its main assault on Hearst. It was the adoption by the board of directors of a resolution unparalleled in the annals of the organization. It was a formal declaration of Hearst’s unfitness for membership. It was a patent preliminary to expulsion. Under date of October 8, 1926, it read as follows:

Resolved that in the judgment of the Board of Directors the relations of the newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst represented in membership in the Associated Press with the news services owned by Mr. Hearst, cause an ever-recurring evasion and nullification of the obligations each to the other of members of this mutual organization and must be regarded as highly prejudicial to the interests and welfare of the Associated Press and its members, the prime object of the organization being the mutual cooperation, benefit and protection of its members.

King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 16 Part 2

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 16

Genius Rides the Lone Wolf (part 2)

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A policy cutting off a large part of the patronage open to the consolidated syndicates was iterated in oral and written statements from Hearst. Boiled down to a single instruction, the effect was: “Don’t want to fortify our competitors in any city with any features or any material of any kind, except routine news service. This regulation applies to everything prepared or supplied directly or indirectly.”

The time came when that restriction excluded these seventeen centers from the general market for Hearst features: Albany, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Rochester, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, Syracuse, and Washington.

The reasoning behind the sacrifice of revenues from these communities was eventually proved illogical by its abandonment. In the ’30s the bars against sales to non-Hearst publications were let down. Again expedience had supplanted logic. A definite need for more income set aside a reluctance “to fortify competitors.”

The promptness with which top records were set by King Features Syndicate outsped my brightest hopes. The roster of clients soon represented a circulation surpassing that of any competitor. A whimsical estimation of this success was linked with a memorable encounter. It was my first meeting with Eamon de Valera. That was in 1919. De Valera had escaped from an English prison only a few weeks before. Twenty months earlier, an amnesty had saved him from the execution of a death sentence. Now, as President of the Irish Republic, he had come to the United States to organize the sale of bonds for his government.

In the rotunda of the Auditorium Theatre, the Chicago home of grand opera, I had passed Clarence Darrow, absorbed in conversation with a man leaning against one of the marble pillars. There was nothing about the appearance of Darrow’s companion to arrest my attention. A quick glance had set him down as an embodiment of moderate averages. A sallowish complexion, a careless posture and an attire almost as negligent as Clarence’s Bohemian outfit, confirmed a first impression of unimportance. Darrow called me back. His insistence on presenting me to his friend was puzzling. It became irksome when Clarence’s tongue seemed to twist the pronunciation of a commonplace name.

“Develin” was a good West Side moniker. It fitted this owner. Why try to make it sound classy, like something that wouldn’t become him? Darrow was plainly miffed over the perfunctoriness with which I acknowledged the introduction. That only quickened my desire to get away. As I turned to leave, Herbert Kaufman entered the theatre lobby. He stopped me. Holding my arm, he spoke in mock reproof to Darrow and the man beside him.

“What do you mean by letting Koenigsberg get away from you?” he demanded. “You need him in your business. Do you know that he is responsible for more printed words every day than pass through the hands of any other individual?” Two facts flashed from what Kaufman evidently intended as friendly humor. First, the “business” of Darrow’s companion was something about which an alert journalist should know. Second, my work had reached a responsibility of sobering proportions.

Eamon de Valera

De Valera’s sympathy eased my embarrassment over a seeming snub to a distinguished visitor. The utter simplicity of his manner is unforgettable. It set him in a special niche in my gallery of recollections of men who guided national destinies. Of the six presidents of the United States beside whom I have been privileged to sit, before or during their occupancy of the White House, one alone matched the simple ways of Ireland’s chief magistrate. He was Calvin Coolidge. But he amazed me with traits at complete variance with the prevailing conception of his directness and taciturnity.

President Coolidge sat for the greater part of an hour in the East Room of the executive mansion at Washington, one leg over a sliding shelf of his desk, talking to me without interruption save for three questions that I asked. And less than a minute was consumed in the propounding of each of those queries. One related to Prohibition, at the time the most critical problem confronting the country. At the end of thirty-eight minutes, when the interview ended, the President had not answered any of my inquiries. Nor had he expressed a definite opinion on any serious topic. It should be emphasized, however, that there had not been the slightest intimation that Mr. Coolidge would make a statement of any sort. He exceeded my expectations. He gave me a rare demonstration. It showed that a master of reticence may also be a master of volubility. And there was ample evidence that Calvin Coolidge found considerable enjoyment in furnishing the proof.

Whatever parallel I may have found between Coolidge and De Valera was totally absent from the ponderous dignity of Grover Cleveland, described in earlier pages in the account of my interview with him at breakfast in New Orleans; the motion picture personality of Warren Harding, suggesting at each of our meetings a Roman tribune of the people on vacation from antiquity; the frigid mien of Herbert Hoover, who could not bridge his aloofness even while granting me a favor (which happened to be an authorization to announce a presidential trip); the almost melancholy reserve of William McKinley; or the irresistible aggressiveness of Theodore Roosevelt.

My acquaintance with William McKinley began before his initial term in the White House. The Pittsburgh Times assigned me to interview him. He had just delivered an oration at a Grand Army of the Republic reunion. It included an apostrophe to Lincoln as “the pillar of a people, the center of a world’s desire.” McKinley seemed touched for a moment by my rhapsodic appreciation. Then, in gentle reproof, he said, “Young man, you must learn to bridle your emotions, or you will squander your devotions.” Outdated as may be the phraseology, it is still good advice.

Theodore Roosevelt, whom I met in successive stages of reportorial and editorial work, filled an important chapter of my syndicate experience. It was a negotiation for his literary services. Incidentally, it exemplified the limitless objectivity of William Randolph Hearst. No man in high station had shown greater hostility to Hearst than Theodore Roosevelt. As president of the United States, Roosevelt directed Secretary of State Elihu Root to speak for him in opposition to Hearst’s candidacy for governor of New York in 1906. Charles E. Hughes was the Republican candidate in that campaign. Root’s speech attained the superlative in vitriolic denunciation. Professing to quote Theodore Roosevelt, Root said that Hearst, arraying labor against capital and capital against labor, poverty against wealth and wealth against poverty, “spreads the spirit, follows the methods and is guided by the selfish motives of a revolutionist.”

The bitterness of the attack provoked countrywide astonishment. It was stressed by the unusual action of a president of the United States in meddling so vigorously in a state election. The normal man in Hearst’s position would have been imbued with an implacable hatred for Roosevelt. But we find Hearst trying at the earliest opportunity to enlist Roosevelt on his staff of writers. The apostle of the strenuous life had not left the White House before Hearst’s emissaries tackled him. First Morrill Goddard was detailed to sign him up. After a time the assignment passed to me.

Roosevelt agreed to discuss the matter with me at the office of the magazine, Outlook. He was winding up a term as contributing editor of that periodical. We were standing together in a doorway at the edge of a mass of more than two hundred persons packed in a room too small for the comfort of half their number. Suddenly, the former president shouted at the top of his lungs.

“Hey, McCarthy!” rang the call. At the same time, Roosevelt’s famous campaign hat was swinging around his head. The former president had just noticed a comrade of his Rough Rider days. The thrill that ran through the crowd left me cold. McCarthy was wedged between several women less than ten feet away. He was close enough to hear what was said if his colonel had spoken in the subdued tones of a private conversation.

There was no hint of a poseur at my next meeting with Theodore Roosevelt. Arriving ahead of schedule at his Oyster Bay estate, I set out to surprise him on the walk he was taking through the woods. The tables were turned. He startled me. Crashing through brush and foliage, the noise of his approach suggested a bear on a honey scent. It was a pleasant relief to hear his greeting.

The former president frankly admitted that the terms I proposed differed so much from the offer in favor of which he had practically decided that “the entire matter would be reopened for further consideration.” When we parted he assured me that “except in the event of an adverse outcome of a pending development,” he would comply with my request. The adverse outcome eventuated. It was the decision of a family conference. Mr. Roosevelt accepted the proposal of the Metropolitan Magazine at a rate of compensation much smaller than the figures I submitted.

It is interesting to scan the staff which narrowly missed the inclusion of Theodore Roosevelt. Eventually, King Features Syndicate, as the central distributing agency, listed these stars: Elinor Glyn (discoverer of “It”), Rita Weiman, W. L. George, Damon Runyon, Gene Fowler, William B. Seabrook, Rex Beach, Maria Jeritza and Lucrezia Bori (who wrote about beauty), Helen Rowland, Helen Wills (world-champion tennis star), Kathleen Norris and Charles Norris, J. P. McEvoy, H. C. Witwer, Ford C. Frick (afterward president of the National Baseball League), Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, Elsie Robinson, Lilian Lauferty (Beatrice Fairfax), Ward Greene, Elenore Meherin, Frazier Hunt, Grand Duke Boris of Russia, Hendrik Willem Van Loon, Norman Hapgood, George Bernard Shaw, Gabriel d’Annunzio, Sir Rabindranath Tagore, Marshal Foch, Guglielmo Ferrero, Maxim Gorky, William Jennings Bryan, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Fannie Hurst, Peter B. Kyne, Cornelius J. Vanderbilt, Jr., Ray Long, Vincent Richards (Olympic tennis champion), B. C. Forbes (noted authority on finance), Ogden Armour, Karl H. von Wiegand, Charles F. Bertelli, Otto Tolischus, Louise Bryant (who, as the widow of John Reed, married W. C. Bullitt), H. R. Knickerbocker, Isaac Don Levine, Duke N. Parry, Edna Lee Booker, Baron George Wrangell, Robert J. Prew, Than V. Ranck, Dr. Charles Fleischer, Sidney S. Lenz, William Phillip Simms, James J. Corbett, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney.

The list of King Features Syndicate’s 1,200 clients circled the globe. It included publications printed in twenty-seven languages. The syndicate’s greatest success was in the distribution of “funnies.” Its premier comic was George McManus’ Bringing Up Father. The central figure, “Jiggs,” attained popularity as far away as Buenos Aires, Stockholm and Shanghai. In 1928, Bringing Up Father was published in more than six hundred communities, the largest roster of clients ever obtained for a comic.

McManus, however, did not achieve the financial success won by Bud Fisher with Mutt and Jeff. Fisher’s earnings at one time reached $4,000 weekly. As has been told in earlier pages, the character, A. Mutt, may be traced to A. Piker Clerk, the first comic strip printed daily in America. That was the feature drawn, under my direction, by Clare Briggs for the Chicago American, in 1905. Fisher was living in Chicago at the time. He went to San Francisco. Two years later, he created Mutt for the San Francisco Chronicle. The character was a striking likeness of A. Piker Clerk. It is possible that Fisher made no conscious appropriation of the idea delineated by Briggs. But the similarity of Mutt and Piker was pointed out in a copyright suit in New York in 1913.

The popularity gained by Mutt and Jeff became so great that W. R. Hearst lured Fisher away from the San Francisco Chronicle. Fisher came to New York. J. N. Wheeler, one of the ablest managers ever to enter the syndicate field, persuaded Fisher to join him. Copyright history was made in the litigation that ensued. The Hearst case collapsed under weight of counsel—a craft overladen with legal giants. Wheeler afterward became the founder and president of Bell Syndicate, and still later the general manager of the North American Newspaper Alliance.

King Features Syndicate assembled the largest staff of comic artists ever gathered into one newspaper organization. Harry Hershfield, originator of Desperate Desmond and Abie Kabibble, and one of the most talented humorists with whom I have worked, was a member of this little army of laugh-makers. He dubbed the office, “The world’s biggest fun foundry.” Among his fellow workers, beside those mentioned elsewhere in these pages, were: George Herriman, creator of Krazy Kat; Tad (Timothy [sic: Thomas] Aloysius Dorgan), famous for his sports cartoons and his ]udge Rumhouser dog series, and who enriched the English language with more slang words and phrases than were attributed to any of his contemporaries; Hype Igoe, whose comments on sports shared popularity with his cartoons; Billy DeBeck, originator of Barney Google; Russ Westover, discoverer of Tillie the Toiler; E. C. Segar, whose Casper [sic: Castor] and Olive Oyl were reinforced by Popeye the Sailor and Wimpy; Chic Young, the entrepreneur for Blondie; Rube Goldberg, who engineered Foolish Questions in countless numbers; Frederick Burr Opper, sponsor of Happy Hooligan, Maud, and Alphonse and Gaston; Frank Willard, afterward responsible for Moon Mullins; Percy Crosby who made Skippy famous; H. H. Knerr, whose Hans and Fritz have been just as funny under his superintendence as they were in the original Katzenjammer Kids of Rudolph Dirks; Walter C. Hoban, Pat Sullivan, A. C. Fera, Gene [sic: Jean] Knott, Jimmy Swinnerton, Hal Coffman, Tom Powers, Tom McNamara, Zere, Paul Fung, Paul Arnot, C. D. Batchelor, Walter Berndt, Carl E. Schultze (Foxy Grandpa), Darrell McClure, Jo Swerling (Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean), Ad Carter, Jimmy Murphy.

One of my greatest cares was occasioned by the prima donna dispositions that fanned the atmosphere in which we worked. The emotional content of a company of divas is probably subject to fewer explosions than the volatilities pent in a staff of syndicate stars. It was my task to tend the vents ripped by these pneumatic energies.

Perhaps the best available index to the temperaments of comic artists was furnished by their major effort at organization in New York. A permanent club was launched. There was no trouble about electing the first president. He was Frederick Burr Opper. His seniority in age was so pronounced as to entitle him to the honor on that ground alone. When the time came for the second annual choice of officers, the society of kindly humorists was disrupted. It crashed into as many fragments as there were members. Each was of the unalterable conviction that he merited the chieftaincy.

A more rational, but not necessarily a more revealing, insight into the minds of the makers of “funnies” may be gleaned from their methods of work. Once I attempted to gather a symposium of their theories of humor. It was the consensus that the comic artist’s supreme passion could be summarized in the phrase, “Anything for a laugh.” Under that title, each of the corps of gentle fun-makers was invited to write an essay. Here are extracts from several of the contributions:

E.C. Segar

By the late E. C. Segar (to whom the world is indebted for Popeye):

All ideas seem good until they are drawn up. But after they’re all finished, their mirth-provoking possibilities, in my estimation, drop to somewhere below sea level.

Why not give birth to a new one right now? Let’s see——-Ha! Oh, baby! That’s what I call picking one out of the air! The above dashes represent three minutes of good, old, hard thinking. Why not have Rough-House, the cafe owner, talking to Popeye about how punk business is? He’s complaining that customers don’t eat enough.

“Blow me down!” sez Popeye. “I got a exter hot idear. Why don’t ya invent a appretizer wich’ll give folks a appretite? I means sumpin’ that’ll make a man so hungry he’d steal the spinach off’n his own kid’s plate.”

“Great!” exclaims Rough-House. “Let’s go over and talk to Professor Finklesnop about it.”

“Sure,” says the professor, “I can mix up some stuff that’ll make a mosquito eat a horse.”

The next scene shows many bottles of the powerful appetizer on the restaurant counter.

Enter Mister Wimpy—“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

If you are acquainted with Wimpy, you’ll know that he is the one man who should not have an appetizer. He’s a pest, always hungry, and always broke. And then he takes a swig out of one of the bottles!

This idea seems good now, and I’ll probably snicker a bit while I am drawing it up, but as soon as it is finished it will be like the others before it just something the cat dragged in.

Percy Crosby

By Percy Crosby, progenitor of Skippy:

When one is asked, offhand, “Can you recall your most interesting comic idea? How did it occur to you?” you grope around, lost and a little bewildered, sort of like the man with soap in his eyes, reaching for a towel; or the man in a strange dark room, groping for a bulb which is every place but at his finger tips. At any rate, I will plunge into the subject like a man diving into an icy pool. By thrashing out in every direction I might warm up to the subject.

When my little boy was three, and my little girl seventeen months, they sat with me at breakfast—one on each side. I share the orange juice and occasionally shove a piece of bacon here and there. They always remind me of a pair of little fledglings. The little girl pointed to a three-masted schooner which rests on the table. She said, “Trees, trees!” In a thousand years I never would have thought of trees on a ship; however, it amused me enough to get an idea out of it. It made a strip.

By H. H. Knerr, prompter of The Katzenjammer Kids:

How do you expect a comic artist to tell how he gets up his ideas? That would be giving away his groceries. And besides, half the time he doesn’t know himself.

To my mind, the best ideas are the most ridiculous ones—I mean, without being silly.

For example, I think one of the funniest comics the famous George Herriman ever made was when Krazy Kat runs up to Ignatz Mouse, all of a flutter, and says, “Oh! I have been ettecked by an engry engle woim!” The mouse replies, “Idiot! How were you attacked by an angry angle worm? What did he do to you?”—Kat, “I dun’t know whether he bit me or kicked me!”—Mouse, “What do you mean, you don’t know whether he bit you or kicked you?”—Kat, “Because fore and aft he was so much alike!”

When you analyze this it’s not as silly as it sounds, for who, I ask you, can tell the bow from the stern of an angle worm?

I suppose, to describe the “process of producing” a comic page, one might say that it is much like getting up a play—you have your cast of characters. You try to think up a plot and arrange a series of acts. These acts, or scenes, must have their stage settings, their composition, properties, dialogue and action, with a finale or climax and sometimes a moral. Some people don’t want to be bothered with morals these days. I guess the laugh is the most important thing, if any—and what may appear to be funny to one, may be just a pain in the gizzard to another—so there you are!

Billy DeBeck

By Billy DeBeck, who is proud of the paternity of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith:

Many years ago, W. R. Hearst wanted a good-looking gal in the Barney Google strip. Several weeks slipped by without any beautiful female. The reason: I’d rather take a beating than draw a fancy dame. Finally I turned out the most voluptuous blonde anybody could ask for. Then the fun began. I didn’t know what to call the little lady—Muriel, Jane, Eliza, Annie. None of them seemed to fit the charmer. I was stymied no end.

Finally I hit on “Sweet Mama.” Wow! That started something. Letters poured in. The readers wanted to know where her child was. How could a single gal be a mama? Was Barney the father, etc., etc.? We lost several clients. Brisbane phoned. “Cut out Sweet Mama,” he demanded. “Go back to Spark Plug.” But in two short weeks the expression “Sweet Mama” had swept the country. Songs were written about “Blonde Mamas,” “Red Hot Mamas,” etc. Brisbane phoned again. “Put the Sweet Mama back in the strip,” he said. “Don’t you know when you’ve got sump’n?” After that I started to play on certain expressions like “Heebie Jeebies,” “So I took the $50,000,” “Horse Feathers,” “Puddle Jumper,” etc. Anything for a laugh.

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