Letter to Mr. Warren
December 10, 1943
Dear Mr. Warren:
I'm afraid I never was much of a newspaperman, and I don't think I can supply much color about those papers. Probably the height of my career came the summer after I graduated from high school, which would make it 1914. I covered the baseball games of the Union Association for the Glassman paper, which was called then either the Ogden Standard or the Ogden Evening Standard, I forget which. I felt extremely adult and professional. There was an honest to God press box, in front of, and in full view of, the grandstand. It had a telephone by which I reported the score, inning by inning, to the Standard and to various local stores which posted it on their windows. I felt that the eyes of the world were on me and developed a set of mannerisms that would have been adequate for Richard Harding Davis phoning stop press stuff about the crash of empires. The Standard went to press about game time and so my story didn't appear till the next day. I forget who represented the Examiner, the morning sheet later merged with the Standard, but somebody must have. Or maybe Darrell Greenwell or Ralph Argubright wrote a story for it. Greenwell was the Ogden correspondent of the Salt Lake Herald and Argubright of the Tribune -- he was the league's official scorer too.
I tremendously respect those two and looked up to them. They seemed to me the summit of sophistication, which I then conceived to be the distinguishing characteristic of newspapermen. I listened attentively to them acquired their point of view, aped their talk, and revised my ideas of life and especially love to accord with theirs. They kidded me a good deal but did me the decency to kid me as a member of the profession. This gave me a sense of being an initiate, an insider, and was really a great kindness on their part and a great benefit to me -- it helped me to grow up. I was always awe-stricken when it came out that one or the other of them had read my story of the game.
I don't remember much about those stories. There were a number of young players in the Association who later got to be names in the big leagues -- "Bullet Joe" Bush who helped win a world series for the Athletics, Swede Risberg who was one [of] the "Black Sox," the White Sox team that threw a world series, somebody called Ducky Jones who played with Detroit, etc. Also some ex-big leaguers who, of course, were splotes [sic] of violent color to me. I wrote stuff about them in addition to writing the game -- a sort of embryonic sports column. But I can't remember what sort of thing it was, except that occasionally Argubright or Greenwell would either praise me or bawl me out for something, which indicates that I was experimenting with phraseology. I do remember that a player once hit an umpire with a bat and Frank Francis killed the paragraph I wrote about it, explaining that we didn't editorialize in news stories.
I never followed the team farther than Salt Lake. I'll bet I followed it there at my own expense -- if any. I had worked for the Bamberger railroad -- Salt Lake and Ogden? -- and could always deadhead with one of my friends.
I don't remember that Frank Francis taught me much. There was a reporter named Lonnie West, who did teach me to write leads to my stuff and to check names, etc. I remember that he was an orthodox Mormon, sometimes showed up at the pressbox or somewhere else where Greenwell and Argubright were, and got kidded about his orthodoxy. He was my mentor at the Standard -- though there was also a telegrapher there who liked me, who combed some of the hayseed out of my hair, and who also seemed to me the refined essence of world-weariness, disillusionment, and disenchantment. Naturally I admired him beyond belief and incorporated his sophistication into the brand I was picking up from Greenwell and Argubright. Years later I put him into a Saturday Evening Post story. That, by the way, was one of a series, five or six, which used various details from my Standard days. They were the best short stories I ever wrote.
I mostly ran errands for Lonnie West. I covered the local Chautauqua and sometimes did hotels, or the court house, or what not when Lonnie had something else to do. The big stuff was, of course, the police court but Lonnie usually took care to cover that himself, though I got a shot at it occasionally. I ran round tirelessly, acting the young reporter all over the place. I remember, as a specimen of my importance, that I once wrote two or three pages about the corpse of a horse on Washington Avenue. Naturally, none of it got printed.
That was the longest period I worked for the Standard. Later on I sometimes worked two or three weeks at a stretch when an extra or substitute was needed and I happened to be in town. At such times I did the regular stint and, being older, did it a hell of a lot better. Also, before 1914 I had occasionally written something for the Standard or the Examiner. Newspapers fascinated me, they were romantic, and I hung around both offices a good deal. Francis or the editor of the Examiner would ask me to cover something at the high school or something of the sort and I'd do it. I remember I once tried to do some feature stuff for Francis -- a kind of columnist at the age of sixteen -- but never got anywhere with it.
There was one incident that has amused me a good deal. When Homer Lea's Valor of Ignorance was revived a couple of years ago -- the book which foretells the war with Japan -- I remembered that I had written a piece about it years before. So I wrote out to Ogden and had the files of the Standard searched. Sure enough, dated May 10, 1913, "The Reasonableness of World-Wide Conciliation. By Bernard DeVoto, of Ogden High School." I was then a lieutenant in the high school cadet corps, which was run by a chap named Kneass, who had been in the Spanish-American War (or maybe the Philippines, I forget which), was captain of the local National Guard company, and later on was a major in the war. That spring one of the world-peace foundations was conducting a big campaign. Part of it was a nation-wide contest for essays on world peace by high school students. There was a big to-do at Ogden High School and all the brightest boys and girls were solicited or stimulated to enter the contest. It drove Kneass almost nuts. I was the only writer in his cadet corps and he sought me out and asked me if I believed in world peace. I didn't believe anything one way or the other, but I was always agin everything, and the fact that the bright boys and girls were on one side would invariably put me on the other. So Kneass evangelized me -- we mustn't let them get away with this, pacifism (if the word had been coined then) is the decay of civilization, we must save this nation from the bright poison, etc. He gave me a copy of The Valor of Ignorance and bade me make some kind of noise to counteract the dangerous softness into which Ogden High School had fallen. So I wrote the piece and the Standard published it, and the copy which I had made a couple of years back is one of my most valuable possessions. I want to tell you, it's a honey. It's the most doom-prophesying, saber-rattling, let-us-save=the-white-race, military-power-is-the-vigor-of-nations job you ever saw in your life, and the rhetoric of a sixteen year old evangelist is something. Homer Lea wrote it all right, but by God I rewrote it.
I spent one year, 1914-1915, at the University of Utah and occasionally hung round the Tribune office. I don't remember whether I ever wrote anything for it or not. I think I did at the time of the then celebrated faculty purge and secession at the U. I was the young revolutionist, spouting about free speech and the horrid Mormon suppressions. (I had also helped to organize a chapter of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, which as ordered not to meet on the campus.) I remember writing some verses lampooning the president of the University and I must have written other stuff.
While I was at Harvard I occasionally wrote some stuff for the Boston Herald.
I think that covers my newspaper career, bearing in mind that up to 1922, when I left Utah for good, I occasionally worked for a few days at the Standard. I remember interviewing de Valera in 1920, the president then in absentia of the Irish Free State....
Incidentally, someone taught me, sometime or other, the rudiments of interviewing. Every once in a while I am appalled by an interviewer who comes to see me, hasn't looked up my name or what I've done, doesn't know why he's interviewing me, and cannot conceal the fact that he never heard of me until he got the assignment and has done nothing about it on the way to my house. I have enough residual feeling for the newspaper business to feel humiliated, not on my behalf but on behalf of his paper. I've had that experience in a good many places -- I had it at Indianapolis last spring when I was delivering lectures on the University's biggest and best advertised foundation, and one of those birds showed up and I had to write his interview for him. But I never had it worse than I did in Ogden a few years ago -- 1940 -- when I was in town for the first time in years and the Standard sent a youth round to see me. I finally got so sore that I delivered a lecture on how to find out who a man is before you go to see him. I told him about the morgue and the public library in considerable detail, and finally informed him, I trust with considerable hauteur, that I had once worked for his paper and that the newspaper business had an old and sacred tradition about former members of the local staff.
I remember the Tribune as by far the best paper in Utah in my time. Maybe the memory of Frank Cannon contributed to that feeling, for he was not only a family friend but the Great Apostate as well, and so all but holy in my sight. But I think it was a good paper, regardless of that. There was another evening paper in Ogden called, I think, the Journal or the Utah Journal, or something of the sort. It folded while I still lived there, but something of the same anti-Mormon tradition was associated with it. Those must have been great days, the days when the Gentile papers crusaded and the Mormon papers fought back. It was long over when I became aware of it, of course, but I heard stories and still retain something of that glamour. I've always intended sometime to read my way through the files of the Tribune and maybe write something about it.
I don't know how much I was reflecting the emotions of my father, who hated the elder Glassman all his life, but I had, in those days, a firm belief that the Standard was just the agent of what we would nowadays call rackets run by old Bill. I guess he was something of a crook and certainly there was a vast and vivid folklore about him. C. C. Goodwin, of course, was the great man of Utah journalism and there was a story, I don't know how true it is but it has the superficial earmarks of truth, that C. C. was toastmaster at a banquet of newspaper editors and managers from all over the West and had the duty of introducing Bill Glassman. He faced his duty like a man and introduced him, the story runs, in these words: "...Bill Glassman, the kind of son of a bitch who would steal his mother's marriage license to prove himself a bastard for five dollars." That checked with what I heard and firmly believed about the old man. I also hated the guts of young Bill, who was something of a thug and a good deal of a bully and one [who(?)] beat hell out of me in a fist fight. I liked the oldest Glassman boy, Roscoe. I imagine that Abe was the power house. He was shrewd, likable, and probably not too scrupulous -- had something of his father's careful discrimination among the finer shades of honesty.
When I was setting up as a writer I did a piece for the Mercury on Utah. It was tolerably painful stuff, very Mencken, not too accurate, and full of the young revolutionist line. Still, it was also tolerably tame. But it wasn't received tamely. It hit the local inferiority complex dead center and rocked the state as few things have since the Liberal Party days. I not only got the Church's curse in hundreds of columns, practically every paper in the state raised hell with me and went on raising hell for, literally, years. I am still not respectable in Utah and though I long ago made amends in my writing for that piece and have, I think, written more favorably about the Mormon Church than any other Gentile who ever lived, every new book of mine is reviewed all over the state in terms of that old Mercury piece.
I don't remember anyone in my time who turned out to be a writer. I think that Lewellyn Jones, later literary editor of the Chicago Post and at one time something of a literary figure, worked for the Journal at some time, I don't know when. At any rate, when I knew him in Chicago he was full of Glassman stories. There was a real estate man in Ogden who dated back to the Liberal Party days and retained his anti-Mormon fire. His name was O. A. Kennedy. He developed into something of an antiquarian, and wrote m,any pieces about early Ogden and Utah history. They were incredibly badly written but they had a genuine feeling for the past and he knew enough to do research. They are very valuable stuff indeed and I have a great respect for them. It was a curious period — practically nobody had any interest in local history. We owe a good deal to men like him. Now that we are interested in western history we have such men to thank for the preservation of material, clues, leads, and records that would otherwise have disappeared entirely.
There were some eccentric literary figures. A mining man named Don Maguire wrote thousands of pages of fiction, very bad, inconceivably bad, and other thousands of pages of reminiscences of the old West which I would give an eye to see now, since he knew a lot and found out more. A doctor named Roche, also of Ogden, wrote a long epic in blank verse and published it at his own expense. Also bad beyond belief; I found a copy of it some years ago in Widener Library and leafed through it, remembering how he had talked it over with my father. Of course Wilbert Snow, the poet, taught at the University. In fact, he was one of those who were fired in the purge mentioned above. He was my instructor in freshman English. I see him occasionally for he is the most revered professor at Connecticut Wesleyan now and we talk like gaffers about those brave days of revolt.
You see, I haven't anything much to your purpose. It's a pious purpose, however, and I wish you success at it. I'm damned glad that you're doing that particular job. It badly needs doing and we'll all be in your debt. If I can help in any way, don't hesitate to call on me. I'm in Washington mostly, these days, and will be for six months more, with possible excursions overseas, but you can always reach me here.