Posts Tagged 'Journalism'

The Day the Smiles Ended (12-4-1921)

Today the United States government ordered Chicagoans to stop smiling.  It said so on the front page of the morning paper.

12-4--Smiles headline.jpg

The saga begins in late October, when the Chicago Herald-Examiner published an article about eccentric millionaire Harry Phillips.  He was passing out money to complete strangers, just to see them smile.

The Herald-Examiner was the Hearst-owned morning daily.  The paper was trying to overtake the Tribune, and the Phillips story was just the sort of bogus stunt that Hearst often used.

Then the H-E reported that Phillips had left town.  But never fear—Hearst’s paper would carry on the philanthropy.  Each weekday copy of the H-E would now contain a Smile Coupon with a different serial number.  On Sunday there would be a raffle, with a $1,000 grand prize.  That would keep Chicago smiling!

The drawing took place on November 13.  The $1,000 winner was a Sears clerk—and sure enough, she smiled.  So the H-E announced it was putting $25,000 into a pot, to be paid out in $1,000 daily raffles.

At first, the Tribune took no notice of its rival’s stunt.  But during the first weeks of the Smile campaign, the Hearst paper’s circulation jumped 25% to 500,000, about the same as the Trib.  And on Thanksgiving Day, the H-E increased its pot to $100,000, with $3,000 in daily prizes.

So now the Trib launched its own giveaway.  With Christmas approaching, the paper would start printing Cheer Checks.  And the Trib‘s program would be bigger and better.  The World’s Greatest Newspaper would be distributing $200,000—-$5,000 each day.

Now the whole city was caught up in the frenzy.  News dealers reported people buying armloads of papers, ripping out the coupons, and tossing the rest into the street.  Fights broke out among customers trying to purchase papers.  The daily prizes went to $6,000, then $7,000.  The special Sunday drawing reached $20,000.

By December 4, the circulation of each paper was over 1,000,000.  On that day, both the H-E and the Trib received telegrams from the Postmaster General, asking them to end their Smile raffles.  The explanation given was vague.

Both papers used the government message as an excuse to end their competition.  From now on, Chicagoans would have to find their own reasons to crack a smile.



“The Chicagoan” magazine—1973 version

City magazines have been around for a long time.  Their modern era dates from 1968, when New York magazine was launched as an edgier alternative to The New Yorker.

Something similar happened in our city.  By 1973 Chicago Guide had become established as the local city monthly.  Jon and Abra Anderson, a columnist couple at the Daily News, felt there was room for another magazine.  That October they launched a new monthly with an old name—The Chicagoan.

October 1973--The first issue

October 1973–The first issue

The first issue laid out a perspective.  The staff of The Chicagoan liked Chicago, but didn’t like “baloney.”  The magazine would be open to any stories that were truthful, interesting, and well-written.    Phony boosterism was out.  Still, as Jon Anderson noted, “we are not going to be nattering nabobs of negativity, either.”

Anderson also asked readers to be patient while the magazine found its way.  He noted that the new Channel 2 news team of Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson had been launched with a huge wave of publicity, but were only now finding their style.

The Chicagoan quickly achieved its own style.  Each issue began with an introduction from Jon Anderson, followed by a group of short, topical pieces gathered under the title “The Frontlines.”  Then came a listing of the month’s special events and entertainment.  Regular columns included Abra Anderson’s pieces about food and drink, as well as others devoted to music, movies, media, art and architecture, theater and dance, and books.

December 1973--What Fun To Be a Bear!

December 1973–What Fun To Be a Bear!

The feature stories were heavy on politics—after all, this was the era of Daley the First.  Will Ralph Metcalfe run for Mayor?  Will Dan Walker or Charles Percy run for President?  Will Jim Thompson run for anything?  And who will be the Machine Boss of the Future?

Like the political articles, the features capture the special flavor of their times.  Oak Park is trying to stabilize as a multiracial village.  The Near West Side is struggling to survive.  Fast food joints have overrun Elmhurst Road.  Circle Campus is killing its students with coldness.  A new movie called The Sting is filming in town.  The Bears are having a lousy season.

Then there were the light-hearted odds and ends.  A Chicagoan board game. Various trivia quizzes.  A survival guide to O’Hare.  A dictionary of “Talkin’ Chicawgo.”

After nine wacky and wonderful issues, the Andersons sold the magazine.  The new owners kept The Chicagoan going through October 1974, then closed up shop.


“Chicago”—a lost magazine of the Eisenhower Age

The current Chicago magazine grew out of the small monthly program guide for classical music radio station WFMT. When the publication expanded and began concentrating on stories, the title was changed to Chicago Guide. In 1975 it became simply Chicago.

June 1954--with Mayor Carter Harrison Sr.

June 1954–with Mayor Carter Harrison Sr.

Nearly forgotten today was an earlier Chicago magazine. That one first appeared in March 1954.

Introducing their new publication, the editors claimed that Chicago was really two cities. While the city was notorious for crooks, gangsters, and grafters, there was another, less-celebrated city which has been “the principle seedbed” for some of the most revolutionary aspects of American life. Chicago the magazine would attempt to cover both.

Each monthly issue opened with a listing of upcoming local events, followed by short snippets of city life gathered under the heading “West of the Water Tower.” Pictorial essays visited points of contemporary interest like Riverview, Sieben’s Bierstube, and Maxwell Street, as well as the annual Chicago Cat Show and the Old Town Holiday Fair. There was also poetry and fiction, either every good or very bad.

Chicago-the-city was tearing down and rebuilding in the mid-‘50s. The magazine did a story on the demolition of South Side slums. Another time there was a “Sidewalk Superintendent’s Guide” on where to best view the construction of the Prudential Building and similar architectural wonders.

Contemporary issues, like the recent racial conflict in Trumbull Park, were analyzed. Studs Terkel contributed regular articles about the newest medium, television. Reform-minded Alderman Robert Merriam wrote a piece titled “Why Reformers Fail”—and a year later lost the mayoral election to Richard J. Daley.

"Chicago" contributor Studs Terkel

“Chicago” contributor Studs Terkel

Feature articles profiled Admiral Dan Gallery, Sewell Avery, Fritz Reiner, Tom Duggan, and other local celebrities. Advice was proffered on “How To Beat a Traffic Ticket.” The opposite ends of the music world were covered, with visits to the National Barn Dance and to the new Lyric Opera. Another story tried to determine who was the richest Chicagoan (It was either Henry Crown or John Cuneo).

Chicago seemed to be aiming at upscale readers. The real estate ads were heavily geared to North Shore and Gold Coast properties. Art galleries, furriers, financial brokers, and high-end auto dealers regularly bought space.  So did the city’s “better” radio stations.

It was a fun magazine. Sadly, it didn’t last. Three years after rolling out its first issue, this version of Chicago magazine ceased publication.


Chicago’s Little Green Book

In 1966, as the so-called Cultural Revolution spread through China, Americans became aware of a little red book called Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.  The title said it all—here were 304 pages of observations on life, the universe, and everything, drawn from the works of Communist China’s dictator.  Millions of Chinese youth were seen carrying copies of this secular Bible as they ran amuck through their country.

Mao Book

Such a book was a natural for parody.  In 1968 U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson’s wisdom was collected in Quotations From Chairman LBJ.  Conservative pundit William F. Buckley was the subject of Quotations From Chairman Bill.

Meanwhile, back home in Chicago, longtime mayor Richard J. Daley had become a polarizing figure.  In June 1969, University of Wisconsin grad student Peter Yessne compiled a little green book titled Quotations From Mayor Daley.Daley Quotations

The book is 125 pages long, divided into 24 chapters.  Some of the chapter titles include How to Get Elected, The Correct Handling of Riots and Demonstrators, On the Power of Patronage, Graceful Concessions, and The Limits of Conviction.  There’s even a chapter called Bipartisanship—which consists of a single quotation from Daley telling how the Democrats will spread the word about their candidates in the upcoming election.

There are plenty of the famous Daley malaprops here.  Reading the book, it’s best to keep in mind the advice of the mayor’s press secretary, who told reporters to print what Daley meant, not what he said.  (Come to think of it, today we still hear political lackeys covering for their boss the same way.)

Quotations From Mayor Daley is an entertaining book for anyone interested in the golden age of the Chicago Democrat Machine.  Inexpensive copies are easy to find.


Annie Oakley Busted in Chicago!

During the 1880s and ‘90s, Annie Oakley was the star attraction of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. She was a pretty young lady, a sharpshooter who could hit a dime tossed in the air thirty feet away, or split a playing card edge-on.  Once she shot the ash off a burning cigarette held in the mouth of the German emperor.  “Little Miss Sure Shot” was known and loved by millions of fans on three continents.

Then, in the summer of 1903, came the shocking news. Annie Oakley was in jail in Chicago!

The August 11 issue of the Chicago American told the story.  A scruffy-looking woman had been arrested for stealing the pants of a man who’d befriended her.  While in custody she’d admitted that she was the famous Annie Oakley.  She had stolen the pants to support her cocaine habit.


“An uncontrollable appetite for drugs has brought me here,” she told the judge when arraigned at the Harrison Street Police Court. “I began to use it years ago to steady me under the strain of the show life I was leading.  Have pity on me.”

The judge was unmoved. He imposed a fine of $45 on the woman, committing her to jail until it was paid.  “A good, long stay [there] will do you good,” he said.

The story was soon out on the wire services around the country. It was read with particular interest by Mrs. Frank Butler of Nutley, New Jersey.  She was the real Annie Oakley.

Oakley immediately started writing to the newspapers, exposing the impostor. After investigating the matter, the Publishers Press wire service issued a retraction.

The woman in Chicago turned out to be Maude Fontanella, who’d once performed in a burlesque Wild West show as “Any Oakley.” After her arrest, Fontanella had “accidentally” told a matron that she was the noted sharpshooter.  The matron had tipped off an American reporter.  The reporter had interviewed Fontanella, and she had conned him as well.

Now the papers began printing retractions. Apologies poured in to Oakley.  That was not good enough for her.   She decided to take legal action.  Perhaps having to pay out money would make the press more careful in their reporting.  She felt that she was being reasonable in taking this approach to the insult.  “In the South they simply kill the man who slanders the good name of a woman,” she told a reporter.

Over the next seven years, Oakley brought suit against fifty-five newspapers. She traveled from city to city to personally testify.  William Randolph Hearst, whose American had printed the initial story, hired a detective to look for any dirt that might be used against Oakley.  Nothing was found.

In the end, Oakley won judgments or settlements from all but one of the fifty-five newspapers. The total awards came to $625,000—the equivalent of $25 million today.  Taking into consideration legal fees, travel expenses, and missed income, most historians conclude that Oakley had actually lost money in her pursuit of justice. But her reputation had been restored, and the case is considered a landmark in celebrity libel law.


The Story of a News Photo

During the 1920s, a daily newspaper would go to outlandish lengths to top its rivals. If you were the first one with the big story, you sold more papers.  Ditto if you had an exclusive story—a “scoop.”  Ditto again if you had an exclusive photo.

Tom Howard being fitted with his ankle camera

Tom Howard being fitted with his camera

Tom Howard was part of this milieu. In 1928 the young Chicago Tribune photographer took one of the most famous photos in newspaper history.  And it all began with a scruffy little murder in Queens, New York.

Ruth Snyder was an unhappily-married housewife in her early thirties who was having an affair with a corset salesman named Henry Judd Gray. On March 19, 1927 they killed Ruth’s husband Albert for the insurance money.  They tried to make it look like part of a robbery gone wrong.

But the lovers proved to be inept criminals. The police quickly demolished their story, and they wound up accusing each other of dreaming up the scheme.  Ruth and Henry were tried for first-degree murder.  Both of them were found guilty, and sentenced to die in the electric chair at the state prison in Sing Sing.

The New York Daily News was a tabloid that had built its reputation on sensational news photos.  Ruth Snyder was going to be the first woman executed in several years, and publisher Joseph Medill Patterson wanted a picture of the execution.  Trouble was, photographing an execution was not allowed, and prison authorities knew all of the Daily News photographers.  So Patterson phoned his cousin, Chicago Tribune publisher Robert R. McCormick.

McCormick agreed to lend Tom Howard to the Daily News. In New York, Howard obtained press credentials to attend the executions as a writer.  On January 12, 1928 he arrived at the prison with a miniature single-shot camera strapped to his ankle.  A wire attached to the shutter ran up his trouser leg to a trigger-release concealed in his coat.

Howard waited while Henry Judd Gray was executed. Then came Ruth Snyder’s turn.  Howard edged forward.  As the current surged through her body, Howard squeezed the trigger release.  Then it was over, and he rushed back to the Daily News offices in Manhattan.

The famous photo

The famous photo

Howard had no way of knowing if the plan had worked, until the photographic plate was actually developed. But it had worked.  Four hours after Ruth Snyder’s execution, Daily News extras were on the street, the entire front page filled with Howard’s photo of her death throes.  The headline simply read “DEAD!”

Prison officials were outraged by the picture. They talked about bringing charges against Howard and the Daily News.  But since no laws had actually been broken, the matter was dropped.  Still, in the decades since, anyone admitted to an execution site undergoes a thorough search for concealed cameras.

Tom Howard returned to his career in Chicago. When he died in 1961, he was the chief photographer at the Sun-Times.


The ‘L’ Beauty Show (7-23-1910)

Ever get bored riding the ‘L’?  Tired of texting, or talking on the phone, or reading the paper, or daydreaming?  Want to just look out the window and watch the city go by?

A hundred years ago there wasn’t much to do on the train except read the paper or look out the window.  That’s why there was an ‘L’ floral contest.  The idea was to get the people along the line to spruce up their property.


In 1908 the Tribune had partnered with a fertilizer company to select Chicago’s best front porch garden.  The new contest was sponsored by the Northwestern Elevated Railroad, one of the city’s privately-owned transit companies.  Northwestern’s service covered the modern Brown line, and the Red line north of Belmont.

The contest was open to all outdoor floral displays visible from the Northwestern tracks.  Five judges from the Industrial Club had been riding around in a special train to inspect the entries.  The winners were announced on July 23, 1910.

Northwestern did not skimp on the prizes.  First place in any of six categories was worth $50, over $1200 in today’s money.  Cash was awarded for backyard gardens, window boxes, and porch displays.

No one was surprised that one of the awards went to Mathias Overton of 3649 North Sheffield Avenue—he had taken the grand prize in the Tribune‘s contest.  The most startled winner was Mrs. J.P. Hutchinson of 5430 North Winthrop Avenue.


“I entered my garden as a joke on my husband,” Mrs. Hutchinson said.  “He told me what I thought was pretty no one else would think was pretty, and that it was foolish to enter.”  Then she added, “Just think how I can laugh at my husband now!”

Another delighted winner was Reverend Paul Roberts of St. Joseph Catholic Church at 1107 North Orleans Street.  His garden, located behind the church, was an arrangement of geraniums, pansies, Zanzibar beans, and other plants, surrounded by neatly-trimmed hedges.  “I had no idea of winning a prize,” he said.  “I’ve always been interested in plant life, and spend all my spare time tending the garden.”

The Tribune called the 1910 floral contest “The ‘L’ Beauty Show.”  Maybe it’s time for CTA to sponsor a revival.