David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books — Media

MEDIA

• In the early days of the 20th century, the editor of a small-town newspaper in Indiana wanted to delay the afternoon edition of the paper until he received word of who had won the Indianapolis 500. In those days, the fastest form of communication was the telegraph, so the editor made arrangements for him to be telegraphed the name of the winner. Being nervous about holding up the afternoon edition of the newspaper, the editor telegraphed his correspondent, reminding him that the afternoon edition was being held up. The correspondent telegraphed back, “WILL OVERHEAD WINNER.” In telegram language, this meant that the correspondent would send the name of the winner by telegram when it was available. Unfortunately, the editor didn’t realize that, and the afternoon edition of the newspaper appeared with the headline “Will Overhead Wins Race” with a short article about a racer named Will Overhead coming out of nowhere to win the Indianapolis 500.

• As an early 20th-century newspaperman, Ben Hecht was a picture chaser. Camera equipment back then was difficult to lug around, and so picture chasers would sneak into houses and steal photographs of people in the news so they could print them in their newspaper. Often, Mr. Hecht would pretend to be a census taker or a bill collector to get into a house so he could steal a photograph from a mantel or off a wall. However, the champion picture chaser in Chicago was a man by the name of Leroy T. Benzinger. He would knock on a door, and when the lady of the house answered, he would take out his glass eye. After the lady of the house had fainted, he would walk into her house and steal the photograph his newspaper needed.

• Anne Royall, a feminist and muckraker, knew how to get an interview. President John Quincy Adams did not want to give her an interview, so she followed him. He went to the Potomac River, took off his clothes, then went swimming. Ms. Royall came out of her hiding spot, sat down on his clothes, and declined to leave until after he had answered all her questions. As a muckraker, she made Francis Scott Key so angry that he, Joseph Gales (publisher of the Washington Intelligencer), and John Eaton (Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson) had her arrested as a common scold. In court, she was found guilty of the charge, but the judge declined to give her the prescribed punishment — being dipped on a dunking stool. Instead, he fined her $10.

• As a young reporter in Chicago, Charles MacArthur interviewed Spanish novelist Blasco-Ibáñez, author of Blood and Sand (which was later made into a movie starring Rudolph Valentino), for the Tribune. Mr. MacArthur interviewed the celebrated author in his hotel room, where Mr. Blasco-Ibáñez was lounging in bed. Immediately, Mr. Blasco-Ibáñez launched into vociferous criticism of all things Chicagoan. The next day, Mr. MacArthur’s story appeared on the front page of the Tribune. He had written a few words about the celebrated author’s tirade against Chicago, but most of the article’s 1,000 words were devoted to a description of Mr. Blasco-Ibáñez’ toes, which had been clearly visible as he lay in bed.

• David F. Day and Gerald Letcher went West together in 1878. Soon, they decided to start a newspaper in Ouray, Colorado. Thinking about a name for the newspaper, Mr. Day said that the name must be solid and honest — like the famous prizefighter Bill Muldoon. Therefore, they named the newspaper The Solid Muldoon. Soon, the newspaper was one of the most widely read in the West, largely because of the crusading spirit of Mr. Day, who stood up for the rights of the people. Although Mr. Day faced as many as 47 libel suits at one time, none of the people suing him for slander ever received as much as a penny.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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