(Something we wrote for the San Diego Reader in December 1992.)
Sinor was the last of the shaggy-dog columnists, a throwback to the gentle days of hot lead and warm Pegler, when one opened a newspaper not for titillation or a recitation of disasters but to check in with a familiar personality… Sinor’s appeal, like that of Dagwood Bumstead and Dwight D. Eisenhower, lay in his banality…
— Imaginary eulogy for John Sinor
The Best of Scribes, the Worst of Scribes
The London funny mag Private Eye has an occasional feature called “Peter McLie, The World’s Worst Columnist.” Mr. McLie (a takeoff on some English hack) specializes in a fatuous babbling that’s more easily illustrated than described: “Have you seen the latest idea from America in the shops? They are called gloves, and they provide warmth and comfort to your hands during a cold spell. If you see a pair of these so-called gloves, I advise you strongly to snap them up, as they seem to be very thin on the ground just now.”
So much for London. Here in Sandy Eggo, some local journalists and word-watchers long maintained that we had a columnist every bit as bad as Peter McLie. His name was John Sinor, and he was a 30-year veteran of the San Diego Tribune when it folded into the Union last February.
Sinor’s specialty was to spend 500 words, every other day, telling you how he’d spent the previous 48 hours. One column he’d give you a blow-by-blow description of how he got up at two a.m. to raid the icebox; in the next he’d rattle on about how friendly school bus drivers used to be.
Then there was coffee. My collection of Sinor columns is far from complete, but it would appear that he wrote about Nature’s laxative at least once a week. Sometimes it was instant, sometimes it was spilled, sometimes it was keeping him up all night. Last January, in one of his last pieces, Sinor spent an entire column giving a recipe for making a righteous brew out of just four coffee beans.
Sinor was a poet of the commonplace but never seemed to pay much attention to headline news. Try to guess when he pecked out the following paragraph. “Whatever happened to all the gasoline anyway? Last year at this time they had so MUCH gas, stations were begging us to buy. Offering eight times the usual amount of trading stamps if we would fill up.”
That was February 1974. The height of the OPEC oil embargo. This obliviousness was honest and homespun, not an act, and it tickled Sinor’s legions of fans — and he had them, surely, else why would he have survived so long? But of course it irritated some young up-and-coming journalists who believed a hack’s first duty is to produce something called News You Can Use.
These up-and-comers entered journalism in the 1970s and 1980s and represented the first generation of journalists to regard themselves as high-class professionals (newspapermen having traditionally been a colorful but uncouth lot, drawn mostly from the same hairy-armpit castes that provide us with public-school teachers and private investigators). Knowing little about journalism’s gnarly past, these youngsters fancied that most people who wrote for a living were keen-minded, worldly wise folk who swallowed international affairs and public policy issues with their morning java. “Columnist,” to these youngsters, meant Mary McGrory and Anthony Lewis and other professional thumbsuckers who worried long and often about detente, racial inequality, abortion, and the bomb.
But Sinor’s worries seemed to come straight out of The Life of Riley: a flat tire, a son in Marine boot camp, a rec room that needed repair. Good material for a humor columnist. Perhaps if Sinor had packaged himself as a sort of male Erma Bombeck, the up-and-comers wouldn’t have hated him so much. But he wasn’t a joke-smith any more than he was a political commentator or a movie reviewer. He was an old-fashioned as-I-please monologist, in the tradition of Aleck Woollcott, Robert Ruark, the young Westbrook Pegler, and George Orwell before he got TB.
Back when we had about 17,000 dailies in this country, newspapers had more Sinor-type columns than Carter’s had pills. And the people loved ’em. But tastes change. In recent years, whenever two or more young reporters gathered in a San Diego watering hole, was a dead certainty that 20 minutes wouldn’t pass before someone started cussing out old John Sinor.
“We’ll, there’s one good thing about the Tribune folding,” seethed a 30-something reporter at a Tribune “wake” in September 1991. “Finally we’ll get rid of old Sinor and his mindless meanderings.”
There’s no room today in daily newspaper columning for the John Sinor type. His approximate successor at the merged U-T is Peter Rowe, a deadly earnest young man who cannot compose a two-sentence paragraph without reminding us that he knows everything that’s happening in the world and moreover also knows the politically correct stance to take anent each problem. One really feels for poor young Rowe: here he is, writing the “passing scene” column and striving so hard to be whimsical in the manner of the great Sinor — but producing, instead, tortured jokes that have all the gossamer gaiety of the “humor” page in The Masses, ca. 1930. One gathers that Pete is too proud to write the way old John did. People might think he was…stupid.
Sinor and Morgan:The Dueling Columnists
The young turkeys sneered at old Sinor, but the joke was on them. He was the class act of the Tribune, a newspaperman completely lacking in earnestness, intellectual pretension, and public ambition. Best of all, he refused to allow himself to become engaged in ideas. Paul Fussell, in his satirical monograph “Class,” describes this kind of intellectual apathy as an unmistakable badge of the American aristocracy. It’s only the middle classes, with their subscriptions to The New Yorker and the New Republic and National Review and their eagerness to stay up-to-date with political fashions (saying “gay” for homosexual and “African-American” for Negro), and their ludicrous belief in Getting Ahead Through Education, who yearn to be intellectually trendy. Imagining Sinor as a warrior-barbarian whose only present concern is an early-morning raid upon Thanksgiving leftovers in the refrigerator, one immediately thinks of Henry VIII (or at any rate, Charles Laughton). Where’s the other drumstick, m’love?
“A mind so fine that no idea could penetrate it.” That’s what T.S. Eliot said about the grey matter of Mr. Henry James. And people are still reading stuff that James wrote over 100 years ago. We shouldn’t be surprised if, 100 years hence, folks are still perusing the morocco-bound essays of our own John Sinor.
As luck would have it, lack of ideas was a signal trait of the Tribune’s other veteran columnist, Mr. Cornelius (“Neil”) Morgan. No coincidence there. Like Sinor, Morgan was a self-made aristocrat from humble beginnings (Sinor had been a shoe salesman, Morgan a Navy lieutenant, before each entered the hurly-burly of the fourth estate). They ought to have been friends, and at times they were. But there is something poignant and heart rending about these two solons being stationed at the same journal. It meant that Sinor had to spend most of his working career laboring in the shadow of the other.
As the senior columnist, Morgan always got the finest pickings from the mailbag, while Sinor had to make do with the crumbs. An unfortunately high percentage of these epistolary leavings were semiliterate scrawls, in Crayola and carpenter’s pencil, on the backs of four-color postcards from Quality Court motels in Truckee, California, or Sparks, Nevada.
Thus Morgan’s “Crosstown” would shine with social notes from the local glitterati — Jim Copley’s baptism, Lizabeth Scott’s coming-out party — but Sinor’s columns would go for weeks with no mail. Finally, just when John was beginning to look like the loneliest man in the world, he’d publish some random correspondence under the heading of “Dear John Letters.” Sometimes these notes would give us glimpses of secret glamor in the life of Sinor. From the early 1970s: “Dear John: On a recent visit to relatives in Phoenix, I saw a documentary film on television on the building of the railroads in the east. One of the main characters looked remarkably like you, except he had a beard. Could it be? Do you moonlight as a film star? — Mrs. C.B., La Jolla.”
“Dear Mrs. C.B.: Well, I did make the film some years ago for Encyclopaedia Brittanica Films….”
We can well imagine what sort of gentlemanly rivalry must have existed at the Tribune during those rip-roaring days of the 1960s and 1970s, between Messrs. Morgan and Sinor. Sinor the film star, Morgan the nationally known writer. It was inevitable that sooner or later one would burn with envy for the other’s laurels. Since most of the laurels went to Mr. Morgan, the green mantle usually fell to John Sinor.
If you are of a mature age, you may recall that in those far-off days, Neil Morgan had acquired for himself some repute as a social historian. He wrote many books about California and the modern American West — Westward Ho!, Decline of the West, and California Here I Come! are just a few of them, if memory serves.
Sinor used to smart when one of these new titles appeared, which they did, regular as clockwork, on the average of once every six months. And who can blame him? John Sinor was a true Westerner, raised in the shadow of Sutter’s Fort (pronounced Sooter’s Fo’t). Whereas Neil Morgan was a slicker from the East (Mt. Pilot, NC) who happened into California only because that’s where his Navy boat chanced to dock one day in 1945.
Yet it was Morgan who now was setting himself up as a latter-day H.H. Bancroft, authority on all things Californian. Can you imagine the outrage in Morgan’s little piney-woods piedmont home town if John Sinor had presumed to go to North Carolina and start telling Tarheels about then own history?
Well, sir! It’s a good thing Mr. Sinor was an even-tempered sort. He chose to bide his time and then take his own journey to Northern California and Oregon. When he filed his dispatches it became dear that Sinor was the true son of Californee, and Morgan just a lucky interloper.
Neil Morgan would never have been able to furnish us with the understated, Hemingwayesque detail that John Sinor gave us at the end of 1964:
“Farther to the north and east, in the Tahoe country, the Truckee River is brown and roily and rumbles throng the ponderosas.
“On a summer day, a boy can wade in the Truckee and catch a fine big German brown trout. A few days ago, a boy waded in the river to save his dog and the torrent drowned him.”
A man who can write like that need never fear for immortality.
For me, one of the great takeaways from the Willis Allison Carto Online Presidential Library—actually it’s https://willisacartolibrary.com/—is watching the conservative mainstream drift off into the distance while Mr. Carto pretty much stayed in the same place. Beginning in the mid-Fifties and rolling through later correspondence, is like standing in the middle of “Pangea”—the theoretical original single continent of Earth—and watching plate tectonics gradually pull the continents away from the center.
In 1955, most “conservatives” espoused pretty much the same beliefs and attitudes that Carto & Co. would still be upholding 20, 30, 40 years later. Carto didn’t leave Conservatism, Conservatism Inc. left him.
Not everyone drifted far, of course. Avery Brundage was a good solid egg who knew enough to keep a low political profile. Westbrook Pegler used his column to praise the young Carto in 1955, and a decade later, forcibly retired, was still sending him funny missives. Revilo P. Oliver always remained cordial, though his experience with “the Bircher Business” made him chary of endorsing any organization larger than himself and his wife.
Even Bill Buckley was friendly till the early Sixties…and when relations turned chilly it wasn’t because of race or segregation (the two men were on the same page there for a long time), but rather over Free Trade, with Buckley taking the libertarian “market” side, against what I should consider the true-conservative endorsement of tariffs and any other practical and necessary types of trade protection. Buckley’s stance wasn’t necessarily a sincere, deeply held belief, but it was necessary to keep the libertarian ideologues happy at National Review. In a vague way, Bill imagined NR was carrying forward the torch of Albert Jay Nock, a sometime free-market and anti-statist hero of his youth. Bill had to exile Prof. Oliver from the magazine for very different, practical, reasons but I have it on personal testimony that the Buckley family remained fond of RPO.
For Carto, one can see storm signals arise in 1958, with a curious communication from the new editor of The American Mercury, William LaVarre. LaVarre returns an ms. to Carto, apparently unread. It may have been written by, or was of interest to, Lawrence Dennis, since Dennis is copied in the correspondence chain. Anyway, LaVarre completely balks at the submission, and obliquely hints that Carto has some dodgy “West Coast associations,” and consorts with “‘lunatic’ fringe” types and others who lack “community prestige.” Carto fires back a whaaat? letter, whereupon Mercury Publisher Russell Maguire warmly apologizes to Carto for his editor’s rudeness. But the questions remain answered: who are these bad associations, and who exactly is leaning on William LaVarre?
LaVarre took the editorship in 1957, around the time that Bill Buckley declared that anyone who wrote for American Mercury could not write for National Review. LaVarre may simply have decided to follow Buckley’s example, or maybe he was just encountering the same obstacles that plagued Buckley. Basically, it was a question of distribution. Most magazines did not depend entirely, or even mostly, on mail subscriptions. They needed newsstand sales. Magazines cost fifteen cents or a quarter: pin-money impulse purchases, you’d read ’em on the commuter train or after dinner. There were only a handful of distributors, and they acted as a cartel. I remember back in the mid-Sixties you couldn’t find Mad magazine in many newsdealers around New York because William Gaines was fighting with the distributors, who retaliated by giving Mad‘s shelf-space to Cracked and Sick instead. And Cracked and Sick were pretty terrible, let me tell you.
Likewise, National Review had distributorship problems in the Fifties and early Sixties because some NR writers were essentially on a blacklist as “anti-Semites.” Bill Buckley himself, in fact, was considered dubious because he was a Professional Conservative—strike one!—while his father was well known to the ADL for trying to keep Jews out of his corner of Connecticut—strike two!
When Gore Vidal libeled the Buckley family in the September 1969 issue of Esquire, it was just old news from Arnold Forster and his ADL hate-file. Anyway, Bill had to keep people like Prof. Oliver out of National Review because RPO had suddenly become a founding member of the John Birch Society. And the JBS, in 1958 ADL ideology, was ipso facto an aunty-seemite org. (Even after a million sellouts by Robert Welch and company, some people still do believe that about the JBS, even today.)
To keep National Review alive and in distribution, Buckley had to make nice with the Mephistophelean powers that were. No RPO, no JBS, no friendly letters to Willis Carto and Liberty Lobby. And thus, after a dozen years, Buckley finally scored a nasty Time cover (1997) with a caricature by David Levine.
But bringing The American Mercury out of purdah was a different thing entirely, a hopeless effort. It would always be this fringe magazine that William F. Buckley, Jr., George Lincoln Rockwell, and William Bradford Huie (checkbook journalist on the Emmett Till trial) once worked on, or wrote for. The hapless William LaVarre was snorting fire to no practical end at all.
Myself, I only discovered the still-extant American Mercury in the early 70s because my college library had been subscribing for 50 years and its octavo-sized issues were pigeonholed right next to the similarly shaped American Opinion slot in our Periodical Reading Room. By that point the Mercury had failed so badly it was now owned by Carto’s Liberty Lobby. If you subscribed to it, you also got Liberty Lobby’s Washington Observer newsletter, a sort of thin predecessor to The Spotlight (“The Paper You Can Trust!”). Not an awful lot of advertising revenue; often just back-cover ads for The Six Million Swindle, by Prof. Austin J. App (Scranton University; LaSalle University; PhD, Catholic University of America), probably published by a Carto publishing house on the West Coast.
What’s missing from the Carto website is correspondence from sometime Richmond News-Leader editor and veteran columnist James J. Kilpatrick. That is too bad, because Kilpatrick is one of the few classic American conservatives who stayed the course until the pressures became unbearable, and they had to start paying lip-service to race-egalitarian nonsense, if they wished to keep their newspaper or syndication alive. In Kilpatrick’s case this seems to have happened around 1970. As a reward for his sellout, Kilpatrick got to become a popular television personality, trading barbs with Shana Alexander on 60 Minutes‘ “Point-Counter-Point” segment…and then being lovingly parodied by Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin during the early Michael O’Donoghue genius-era of Saturday Night Live (“Jane, you ignorant slut!”).
But Kilpatrick did not completely sell out, or disavow his roots. There came a time when certain Washington columnists (mainly the “Washington Merry-Go-Round”‘s Drew Pearson, and his Igor/successor, Jack Anderson) decided to attack Willis Carto for having masterminded or subverted a 1968 Youth for Wallace movement. Their columns were relentless, full of cheap shots, but they had detected that the Youth for Wallace had been transformed into something called the National Youth Alliance. Pearson and Anderson wouldn’t give up. In 1969 they ran continuous exposés in their columns about how Willis A. Carto was behind the whole thing, and he was using it to push a subversive tract by Francis Parker Yockey, called Imperium.
James J. Kilpatrick treated it all as a joke. He was often used by syndicates as a substitute columnist when William F. Buckley, Jr. was on vacation, and so this column, May 29, 1969, went far and wide. “The next edition of the Liberals’ Demonology is likely to see Willis Carto elevated to the position of Number One Devil.”
Today we’ve long known that the National Youth Alliance was the early edition of the National Alliance, but in 1969-71 it was easy to frame it all as a sinister fad, something masterminded by one Willis Carto, of Washington DC, Sausalito, and points south. There was dissension in the post-Youth for Wallace movement, with one faction going for a populist-conservative movement, friendly to the YAF and NR types, and the other side going for a radical, Yockeyist point of view, calling itself the National Youth Alliance.You can decide for yourselves which side, if any, succeeded.
I have a sentimental attachment to this fracas, because it was what first brought me into some kind of vague kind Rightist movement, a few years later. National Review had run an out-of-left-field article by one C.H. (“Chris”) Simonds, attacking Willis A. Carto (September 10, 1971 issue). Shortly afterwards, advertisements began to appear (in popular magazines, not National Review), warning young people to avoid youth alliances of all sorts, particularly those promoting the sinister bible called Imperium.
“It is an actual historical fact,” says retired professor and history writer Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr., “that the greatest mass murder of African Americans in United States’ [sic] history took place during the New York Draft Riots of July 1863, which were the greatest riots in American history.”
That’s what he said, this historian: “an actual historical fact.” Not only the greatest mass-murder of African Americans, but it all got to happen during the greatest riots in American history! Now, Prof. Mitcham is merely promoting his little book, The Greatest Lynching in American History: New York 1863 (Shotwell Publishing, 2020), so perhaps we should permit him some hyperbole. Still, I doubt anyone who remembers Watts or Detroit or Newark in the 1960s—or the nationwide BLM/Antifa riots of 2020—could agree with that last part. Greatest riots, truly?
As to “mass murder,” documented sources can name only about 10 negroes (as we all used to say until about 1972) who were beaten to death or lynched in New York City between 13 and 18 July 1863. Mitcham declares there must have been 200 blacks killed, on no basis other than his own fevered imagination. And even 200 isn’t that big a number in comparison with the hundreds of phantom deaths that black activists Ida M. Bell and W. E. B. DuBois used to conjure up a century or more ago, when ringing up the totals from race riots: they counted any missing negroes as lynching victims.
Mitcham’s little book is thus another entry in the genre of Lynching Porn, along with such dubious, inventive pulp-histories as Herbert Asbury’s The Gangs of New York (Knopf, 1928) and Barnet Schecter’s The Devil’s Own Work (Walker Books, 2005), both of which Mitcham leans heavily upon for source material. Mitcham is also totally wild on the subject of how many people were killed in the riots. Careful scholarship and documentation have long since pinned that number down to a hard 119, including soldiers, police, and accidental deaths. Mitcham wants to believe it’s somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500. Those were estimates floated by the NY Metropolitan Police and the War Department in the immediate post-riot hysteria, before anyone took the time to check the records.
What’s weird about Mitcham is that, to judge by his other writings, he’s not some anti-Copperhead crackpot who wants to hang Jeff Davis from a sour apple tree. He’s something of a Southern patriot, in fact, as are many authors in the Shotwell Publishing imprint. I just don’t get it. Perhaps Mitcham imagined that deriding pro-Confederate New York City could be a good way of sticking it to the Yanks.
“The Sky Was Black!”
A few years back I wrote about the burning and sacking of the Colored Orphan Asylum at Fifth Avenue and West 43rd Street. This conflagration often figures as a gleaming centerpiece of the July 1863 “Draft Riots” narrative, in spite of the fact that no one died in that arson, nor was anyone ever prosecuted for it. Since much of the surrounding neighborhood was also put to the torch—including a hotel, a stockyard, and an ice cream parlor—local cognoscenti maintained it was all part of an urban-renewal plan. The City wanted to get rid of eyesores and low-rent tenants on City-owned plots between 42nd Street and the lush new Central Park at 59th, soon to be the most expensive real estate in the world. About the only building in that region that still stands today is St. Patrick’s Cathedral—then unfinished—along with its Tuckahoe-marble rectory and parish house: all built on private land donated to the Archdiocese.
But even more renowned than the burning of the black orphanage (which was actually a fee-paying, partly charitable boarding school) are the endless fables about innocent negroes being suddenly plucked off the streets and strung up on a tree or lamppost. “The sky was black with hanging negroes!” runs an ignorant cliché. However I have found only about a half-dozen of these documented in news reports of the time, and they mostly follow a similar pattern: negroes shoot white people, they get captured, beaten, and often hanged.
As reported in the New York World of July 14, 1863:
An intense excitement was created in the vicinity of Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue last evening [July 13], in consequence of a white citizen being shot while passing up Bleecker Street… A gentleman…was going to his home, when he was accosted by a partially intoxicated negro, who was so abusive in his language as to provoke a quarrel. Some altercation ensued from this abuse, when the negro drew a pistol and shot the white man, who soon after died. [A crowd gathered, chased the negro to the old St. John’s Cemetery on Carmine Street, beat him, hanged him, cut his throat, and built a fire beneath him.]
And in the Daily News—same day, same neighborhood:
About eight o’clock last evening four negroes were seen running down Carmine Street, with a large crowd in close pursuit. One of the negroes being overtaken, turned and fired upon his pursuer, shooting him with three bullets, and killing him instantly. The negroes then separated, each taking a different route. [The crowd] pursued the first to near the corner of Varick Street, where he was secured and very badly beaten…then hung from a tree. The field was then left to a party of boys, who amused themselves by building a fire…
Which Paper Do Ya Read?
It made a big difference which paper you read. Henry Raymond’s stridently Republican New York Times appears to have combined elements from both the above stories and added extra details, while leaving out the crucial fact that it all began when a negro shot and killed a white man. The imaginative spin is breathtaking:
There were probably not less than a dozen negroes beaten to death in different parts of the City during the day. Among the most diabolical of these outrages that have come to our knowledge is that of a negro cartman living in Carmine Street. About 8 o’clock in the evening as he was coming out of the stable, after having put up his horses, he was attacked by a crowd of about 400 men and boys, who beat him with clubs and paving-stones till he was lifeless, and then hung him to a tree opposite the burying ground. Not being yet satisfied with their devilish work, they set fire to his clothes and danced and yelled and swore their horrid oaths around his burning corpse. [July 14, 1863.]
The Times is really winging it here. “Not less than a dozen negroes beaten to death”—we don’t know where or how, but that’s our story and we’re sticking to it. Similarly, when writing up the Colored Orphan Asylum’s destruction, which happened around the same evening, the Times claimed that the school housed “600 to 800” colored children, although the true number was 230.
Then you have personal reports in letters and diaries, equally imaginative and based almost entirely on hearsay. An elderly Columbia chemistry and botany professor, John Torrey (1796-1873), saw no mob violence in the street, but he heard tales and readily believed what people told him. As Torrey wrote in a letter on July 15th:
This morning I was obliged to ride down to the office in a hired coach. A friend who rode with me had seen a poor negro hung an hour or two before. The man had, in a frenzy, shot an Irish fireman, and they immediately strung up the unhappy African. At our office there had been no disturbance in the night. Indeed the people there were “spoiling for a fight.” They had a battery of about 25 rifle barrels, carrying 3 balls each, & mounted on a gun-carriage. It could be loaded & fired with rapidity. We had also 10-inch shells, to be lighted & thrown out of the windows. Likewise quantities of SO3, with arrangements for projecting it on the mob. Walking home we found that a large number of soldiers—infantry, artillery & cavalry are moving about, & bodies of armed citizens. The worst mobs are on the 1st & 2nd & 7th Avenues. Many have been killed there. They are very hostile to the negroes, & scarcely one of them is to be seen. A person who called at our house this afternoon saw three of them hanging together.
Quite a bit to unpack here. A frenzied negro is said to have shot an “Irish fireman,” and was immediately strung up. Is the story true? And if so, how and why did he draw a bead on the “Irish fireman”? And how did Torrey’s friend know the victim was Irish? Because most firemen were? Or because that fit in with a current narrative? No matter: Torrey and friend agree the negro gunman shouldn’t have been hanged, but rather should have got off scot-free, just on general principle. Torrey seriously thinks negroes are being hanged all across the city, and readily believes a visitor who claims to have seen “three of them hanging together.”
The side note about Torrey’s office crew at the downtown Columbia campus is also amusing. They’re preparing to defend themselves with rifles at the windows, globular bombshells, and sulfur trioxide, which I take to be an early and very painful version of tear gas. Another science-professor whiz at Columbia, Richard Sears McCulloh, also liked to build gas bombs, and soon would leave New York City for Richmond, to develop such dainties for the Confederacy. So it appears this was an ongoing research interest at Columbia College.
As for that encounter between the negro and the “fireman,” the newspapers give us a “synoptic” version of the story. It appears the excitement got started when the negro shot and killed a veteran of the “Fire Zouaves” (a now-disbanded Union regiment of firemen also called the 11th New York Volunteers).
From the Daily News of July 16th:
At half after six yesterday morning a middle-aged negro, named Potter or Porter, was passing quietly down Thirty-second street, near the [Seventh?] avenue, when he was met by a fireman, an ex-Zouave, named Manney, who hailed him, asking where he was going. The negro not understanding, apparently, what was said, made no reply, and Manney, with the most kind intentions, told him that the excitement was very great, that the mobs would certainly be around today, and would doubtless kill him or severely beat him, if they should catch him. Still, apparently misapprehending Manney’s intentions, and probably misunderstanding his language, the negro drew a revolver and discharged it with fatal effect. He shot twice, certainly, each ball striking Manney full in the forehead, and entering his brain. He then started to run, but was soon overtaken by a crowd of excited and infuriated people, and by several of the firemen residing near by, who chased him a short distance, and soon overtook him. The heart sickens at the recollection of the fearful and
which followed. The negro was pounded, battered, kicked, pummelled, stoned, thrown down, trampled upon, and fairly bruised into a jelly. A bloody pulp was all that was left of the mistaken murderer in a very few moments; but even this was considered slight revenge, and the mutilated mass of blood and bones and quivering flesh was carried brutally to a tree, to a limb of which it was hung, amid the cheers and jeers of the indignant crowd.
Poor Manney had the best of medical attendance, but probably for naught…
No good deed goes unpunished! West 32nd Street seems to have been a hotbed for this kind of shooting/lynching. On the evening of the same day (July 15) there was a crowd of “between four and five thousand men” gathered near the corner of Eighth Avenue, per the New York Herald. They were awaiting the arrival of Federal troops fresh from Gettysburg, and they weren’t sure whether to welcome them or take to the barricades.
But first there was a distraction. From the July 16 New York Herald:
A negro unfortunately made his appearance, when one of the men called him an opprobrious name. The negro made a similar rejoinder, and after a few words the indiscreet colored man pulled out a pistol and shot a man. With one simultaneous yell the crowd rushed on him. He was lifted high in the air by fifty stalworth [sic] arms and then dashed forcibly on the pavement. Kicks were administered by all who could get near enough. Some men then took hold of his legs and battered his head several times on the pavement. Life was now nearly extinct and a rope was called for. The desired article was in a moment produced and the black man’s body was soon after suspended from a neighboring lamppost.
There are also instances of white people being shot by negroes who manage to run away. But these accounts are much shorter, as there’s no payoff in the end, and little newsworthiness.
Is There a Backstory?
Needless to say, these narratives are repetitive and maybe tiresome, apart from their stilted and amusing turns of phrase. And they leave a lot of open questions. For example, how is it that all these angry negroes happened to be “packing”? Well, one obvious answer is that in those days you could buy handguns in your local hardware store. And while I haven’t found precise documentation for this, it seems very likely that New York City negroes had been encouraged to arm themselves, both by white Abolitionists and by firebrand black preachers such as Henry Highland Garnet. The excuse presumably was that the white people in New York would soon be murdering all the blacks they saw, so you’d best prepare. (Often “white” would be euphemized as “Irish,” so as not to offend Caucasian Abolitionists. But as the majority of white people in New York were Irish—whether immigrant or first- second-, or third-generation—this was an frivolous distinction from the negro point of view.) John Brown himself, who definitely wished to arm all blacks for a bloody revolution, had close ties to New York through his local ally James Sloan Gibbons, whom he visited shortly before his Harper’s Ferry raid in 1859.
Gibbons, a financial writer by profession, was perhaps the leading Abolitionist intelligence operative in New York. Supposedly his home had been one of the major safe houses in the Underground Railroad. He was certainly an effective propagandist. He wrote the lyrics to one of the most thumpingly gleeful songs to come out of that war, “We Are Coming, Father Abra’am, 300,000 More,” an 1862 ditty that inspired a half-dozen musical compositions, including one from Stephen Foster, though Foster’s was not the best. Friends of Horace Greeley, the Gibbons family owned a marvelous five-floor townhouse on West 29th Street, then also known as Lamartine Place (a romantic 1840s dedication to the French poet and statesman). The neighborhood still exists today, as fashionable as it was in 1850.
The memory of James Gibbons is enshrined in a memoir written by his daughter, Lucy Gibbons Morse, “Personal Recollections of Draft Riots of 1863.” A not-for-profit calling itself the Riot Relief Fund gives out a little book, The Riot of the Century, to donors and well-wishers, and it contains this peculiar little essay. The writing is full of interesting biases and evasions, but it gives a flavor of Abolitionists’ self-righteousness and sentimentality. The bullying friends of terrorist John Brown are now feeling the terror of the persecuted. As “Riot Week” progresses, little Lucy and her sister hear their house is going to be attacked—they’re just a few blocks from those mobs on 32nd St.—and so they’re preparing to move out of the city. But too late! Their father is off attending strategy powwows at the Fifth Avenue Hotel on 23rd St., so he isn’t there when a mob ransacks the house and drags off their books and pots and piano. The girls watch disconsolately from a top-floor window.
Finally they’re rescued by a family friend, young celebrity lawyer (and future Ambassador to Great Britain) Joseph Choate, who takes them to his house. Lucy and her sister marvel at the “quiet restful order” of the Choate domicile:
It was beautiful—we did not know how beautiful until they told us they had five colored refugees in the kitchen!
Besides this sort of smarm, the essay is distinguished by the deceitful pose of the narrator. She is depicted as a dizzy, befuddled young girl of about nine or ten, or so I thought. It comes as a shock to discover that little Lucy Gibbons was actually born in 1839 and at the time of this tale she an adult, a 24-year-old music teacher.
In the immediate aftermath of the Riots, most press treatments dwelt were shot through with the lurid and sensational. Newspapermen seldom did on-the-spot reporting, preferring to write up incidents they didn’t witness but learned about via telegraph from the police stations and other newspapers. The telegraph was the internet of its day, with all the cop shops and pressrooms wired in to each other. And so the reading public were encouraged to believe that hundreds if not thousands of innocent negroes were being immolated and hung from lampposts, while drunken rioters looted every dry-goods shop they could find. Actually the only notable clothing store to get wrecked was Brooks Brothers on Catherine Street, and that was for a reason that went beyond theft and vandalism. Brooks Brothers was a notorious war profiteer. In 1861 it supplied the New York Volunteers with uniforms made of shoddy—fabric scraps rolled and glued together in a semblance of cloth. Running back from their Bull Run defeat in the rain, these Federals found their clothes disintegrating around them. (Zouaves kept their uniforms on, I believe; they’d used a different vendor.)
A Pause in Sensationalism
The atrocity tales were eventually forgotten by the public, and even newspaper commemorations of Riot Week turned sedate. Every July, for about 25 years after the war, the Associated Press ran a potted recap of the events, penned by Western historian J. H. Beadle. No gratuitous lynching of black men in the Beadle telling; now the victims of violence were mainly brave police and heroic militiamen. All across the country, in the Cedar Rapids Gazette or the Baldwinsville Gazette and Farmers Journal, readers could thrill year after year to the story of how Police Superintendent John Kennedy was beaten within an inch of his life by a mob outside the draft office on East 46th St.; how doughty Colonel O’Brien was dragged and stamped to death in his own yard at 32nd St. and Second Avenue; and how the great anti-war, anti-negro agitator, Mr. Andrews of Virginia, was captured in a brothel with his colored mistress.
Sensationalism returned in the 1920s with the pulp-fiction histories of Herbert Asbury. Asbury discovered that one could cobble together spicy “true crime” stories by pillaging old newspapers at the New York Public Library. He researched an article that began as an architectural history of lower Manhattan but quickly turned into a fantasia about low dives and large harlots. After this piece was published in The American Mercury, as “Days of Wickedness,” Asbury expanded it with dubious legends of 1830s street ruffians. He called the new manuscript The Gangs of New York. To give the book extra piquancy he put in a long lurid section about the “rioters” of July 1863, and added every atrocity he could research or invent. In Asbury’s telling, most of the rioters lived in Five Points in Lower Manhattan, rather than Chelsea, Kips Bay and Midtown, as the records show. (Five Points’s heyday was actually around 1812.) And many rioters apparently were madwomen who liked to mutilate dying negroes, slice open their “quivering flesh,” fill the wounds with oil, and set them aflame. Contrary to The Gangs of New York, most people in the so-called “Draft Riots” weren’t gang members at all, just as few were protesting conscription. (Most were ineligible for the draft anyway, due to age, sex or nationality.) But this didn’t seem to matter, since Asbury was making up much of his narrative. He secured a very fine publisher, Alfred Knopf, but the book was taken to be light entertainment. No one confused it with serious history.
That was 1928. A few years later the Riots figured in a piece of fiction by Robert W. Chambers, clearly influenced by Asbury’s imaginings. The story was written as a movie treatment for a Civil War film starring that celebrated comedienne, Marion Davies (Operator 13, 1934). Alas, the New York scenes were cut.
So far as I can tell, the “Draft Riots” reentered mainstream consciousness in the 1960s as a sort of rationalization for the many race riots and civil-rights protests during that turbulent decade. It was a way of saying, “It’s okay if Negroes need to let off a little steam; in the 1800s white people (or ‘the Irish’) did it too.” That was in fact the basic pitch of James McCague’s The Second Rebellion (1967), one of the first serious attempts in modern times to treat the July 1863 events as history. Unfortunately McCague drew too much upon the Asbury version. And like Asbury, he was defeated by a mare’s nest of scattered, inconsistent, and highly politicized newspaper stories.
Some Cases of Mistaken Identity
Both Asbury and McCague introduce us to a supporting player who is almost—but not quite—totally fantastical. That is Colonel H. J. O’Brien, or perhaps Col. Henry J. O’Brien. He is a foolhardy, or maybe intoxicated, man on horseback who leads 150 raw recruits down Second Avenue to face a mob at the corner of 34th Street. It is July 14, 1863. The Colonel’s men set up howitzers in the street and, like Napoleon in 1795, offer the crowd a whiff of grapeshot. Many are wounded, some die. O’Brien fires his pistol and orders the crowd to disperse. Unfortunately he shoots and kills a woman holding a baby. Some hours later, O’Brien returns to this neighborhood with a cart—he lives a couple of blocks down the avenue—to see if the mob have looted his house. They have. He goes to his friend Mr. von Briesen’s pharmacy on the corner of 34th St. for a drink of water, or maybe something more fortifying. The crowd apprehends him when he exits, and they beat him to a pulp. The Rev. William Clowry of nearby St. Gabriel’s Church strolls by, sees O’Brien is dying, gives him Extreme Unction. O’Brien gets dragged into his own backyard, where the mob beats him again. Finally Father Clowry returns with a wheelbarrow and takes him to Bellevue Hospital, where he is pronounced dead.
That’s as clear an account as you’ll ever find. However, there is no such person as H.J. or Henry J. O’Brien who fits the time and place. There was no Col. Henry O’Brien at all. There was a Lt. Col. James O’Brien, of the 48th Massachusetts, recently killed during a heroic assault at Port Hudson on the Mississippi. Our unfortunate fellow with the horse and cart is most likely Mr. Henry F. O’Brien, 43 years of age, address 559 Second Avenue. Still a British subject, but he recently filed for naturalization. Henry F. was briefly commissioned as lieutenant, then captain, at the end of 1862, but he only lasted two months and saw no action. I hear Fredericksburg was a huge black pill for Union morale. He resigned.
Anyway, a few months later Henry F. comes up with the idea of reconstituting the 11th New York Volunteers—the Fire Zouaves! I don’t know if they were planning to wear those snazzy French-Algerian Zouave outfits. The 11th had a very poor record during their one year of existence, but if Henry F. gets enough recruits for his new regiment he can style himself a colonel!
This is right after the Union defeat Chancellorsville, and the Federals seem willing to take anyone. And thus we get the legend of Col. Henry O’Brien…a figure yet unknown to the Adjutant General and War Department.
O’Brien’s terrible, though probably deserved, death brought Henry F. a measure of international fame. Somebody in Sheffield, England read the gruesome tale and thought he recognized an old neighbor. As reported July 29th in the London Telegraph:
The correspondent of a Sheffield paper expresses his belief that the Colonel O’Brien who was lately hanged to a lamppost in New York, cut down before he was dead, and then brutally murdered by the mob, was the Colonel M. D. T. O’Brien who had been a resident in Sheffield for some time, and who was well known to many of the leading families in that quarter under the name of Thompson, his mother’s maiden name. The colonel had formerly seen some service in the Crimea, and had been in Italy with Garibaldi. In December he sailed for New York and was slightly wounded in the battle of Fredericksburg.
If only the “Colonel” could have lived to see this!
Huckleberry Finn’s father is such a towering, terrifying figure of American literature, it’s a wonder no one’s ever built a drama around him. Maybe we should put together a one-man show. “Pap Finn Tonight!”
Like that “Mark Twain Tonight!” entertainment that Hal Holbrook wrote when he was at Denison University in the 1940s…and then kept revising and reviving to moderately amused audiences…for the next seventy years. That is, until 2017, when he was 92, and decided to take a rest and focus on more serious dramatic roles. “Mark Twain Tonight!” had begun as a jokey college project, but over the decades it turned into a tidy nest egg. We all remember Hal Holbrook from TV shows and movies from recent decades. The Firm, 1993, with Tom Cruise, is what always comes to my mind. But actually Hal’s career didn’t take off big time till he was, like, 45. Or maybe 50, when he played Deep Throat in All the President’s Men, 1976.
But in the meantime he kept doing his Mark Twain thing. “Mark Twain Tonight!” was a honey of a property because it required no supporting cast, practically no props, and no rights-clearance at all. All Hal Holbrook had to do was edit and recite stuff that the great man himself had scripted for endless lecture tours in the 1890s and 1900s. Seems Twain had gone bankrupt from numerous crazy schemes, and needed to make his fortune back.
All this was on my mind many years ago when I was with a comedy troupe in the 80s, and actually did write a piece called “Pap Finn Tonight!” This was just a five-minute skit, an obvious takeoff on Hal Holbrook, though slightly edgier. I seem to have conceived it around the time that Vanessa Williams, our first black Miss America, was shamed out of her crown when Penthouse ran some old nudies of her. So Vanessa Williams was on the cover of People magazine, around mid-1984. And in my conception, this magazine is what sets old Pap off. He picks it up and waves it around, and does some drunken raving based on his actual rant in the Huckleberry Finn book, when he’s taken Huck to the cabin and he’s all whiskey’d up. Something like:
They call this a govment? Oh this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. What’s this nigger doin’ on a magazine cover? Oh they say she’s a free nigger. So free she sells naked pitchers of herself. What’s the country a-coming to? I know about these free niggers. One o’ them wouldn’t-a give me the road if I hadn’t shoved him out of the way. I says to the people, why ain’t this nigger wench put up at auction and sold? They call that a govment?
At this point the audience should be really alarmed and intrigued by Pap. So now the “Stage Manager” comes out, he’s dressed in a black suit and a top hat like the Mute in The Fantasticks, and he stage-whispers to Pap that it’s time get off. Pap berates him the way he berates Huck:
Why ain’t you a sweet-scented dandy? You got top hat, clean suit. I never seen such a son. Why, there ain’t no end to your airs. I’ll take some o’ these frills out o’ you before I’m done with you. I’m a-standing about all I can stand now. So don’t gimme so sass…
During this last bit of monologue, the Stage Manager has gone to get his crook. He hooks Pap around the neck and hauls him off the stage as Pap continues to rant. Exeunt.
As a very short, broadly comedic number, the skit bears some similarity to the “Royal Nonesuch” entertainment we read later on in Huckleberry Finn. That’s when the old bald guy with the white beard—the “King,” the one who claims to be the Dauphin of France—paints himself in multicolored spots and stripes, and for a minute or so cavorts naked on all fours before an audience of Arkansas yokels, who think they’ve come to see a grand theatrical offering from Edmund Kean. (I could tell you what happens next, but that might be a spoiler.)
So “Pap Finn Tonight!” was never produced, alas. Because—well, just because. When we did our Sunday afternoon script readings, jaws dropped. I think my colleagues missed the humor mainly because they just didn’t know Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They couldn’t relate to its manic outrageousness. Back around 1980 SCTV did skits about poor, starving Okies in the Depression, and they were entirely based on the film version of the The Grapes of Wrath. They were hilarious if you knew the source material, but mean and mystifying if you didn’t.
My “Pap Finn Tonight!” has had a long afterlife in memory. One of our company, who decades later would win an Emmy Award for writing a politically correct comedy show about two colored guys, would laughingly complain to me: “Every time I move, every time I have to go through all the scripts we have—there it is, staring at me, right on top of the pile! ‘Pap Finn Tonight!'”
Ironically I myself haven’t had a copy of the script for many years. I was just improvising up above. In the course of a half-dozen transcontinental and trans-Atlantic moves, most of my juvenilia went up the spout.
In my old troupe—which shall remain nameless because a lot of these people still have careers and families—I not only wrote scripts, I was a performer and I built props. We performed in downstairs- and upstairs-cabarets in Manhattan. Sometimes on TV. Our live sketches were interspersed with video segments, because a lot of our work was simply not feasible on a live stage late at night. For instance, we might have a big number set at an amusement park, and we needed a genuine roller-coaster in the background. Well you just can’t build that on the stage at the West Bank Café on West 42nd Street (a favorite venue, where our compère was the young and ever-pissed-off Lewis Black). So we put televisions on the side of the stage to show the video skits. It was professional quality video, because one of our number ran the A/V department at AT&T. I’m giving you all these details in case you ever want to run a comedy cabaret yourself.
I was particularly fond of my “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” sketch, which was all-video. This had a car-front prop I built out of posterboard and acrylic paints. The premise here was that Ian Fleming’s famous kiddie book was also his greatest James Bond story. In one scene (I recently came across it, I think on YouTube) we have the 007 character in bed post coitum, smoking a cigarette, asking Chitty in a Sean Connery voice, “Was it goood for yoou?”
I pushed the envelope whenever I could, and so my scripts were often shot down as too risky and offensive. For example, “Tard School,” a script for live performance. This was a takeoff on Dale Carnegie courses, which teach nervous losers how to present themselves smoothly and make themselves likable. Maybe even “Make Friends and Influence People,” as the saying goes. I was attuned to such things because I had no social graces whatsoever, and nearly signed up with Dale Carnegie. But I had this theory that most retards were like the rest of us. And so, instead of teaching them to make brooms or whatever, we should teach them to recite a script, put up a big front—present themselves as outgoing, friendly, articulate people. “Hey, I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad you’re here!”
I still believe this was a brilliant idea, and should be implemented in the teaching of the mentally retarded. Life is mostly an act, after all. Sincerity is something you fake. I grew up near a posh boarding school for the retarded, the Devereux Foundation, and we often used their grounds and buildings for parish barbecues and scouting events. We’d occasionally run into some of the inmates, or students, or whatever we called them. Mostly from rich, often celebrity families. They weren’t all that feebleminded or helpless. They were just inept. Maybe a bit spastic, perhaps autistic, though we didn’t know about autism then. What these kids (some of whom looked to be 23) really needed was the Dale Carnegie touch. And that was the moral of “Tard School.”
Nevertheless “Tard School” frightened the pants off a couple of our folks—specifically, the one-and-a-half Jews in our company. This surprised me, because I’d have expected such folks to dig its offbeat wackiness, and the faux humanitarianism that “Tard School” espoused. But that’s asking for too much. They problem was simply that my script was about…retards. They’d apparently received some ukase from the Community Relations boys, telling them never to mention the feebleminded in a humorous context. So even in the mid-80s, certain subjects were being declared verboten. The fact that I’d probably had more experience with retards than most of my colleagues wouldn’t really carry any weight, so I didn’t argue the matter.
* * *
When I was little, a cousin of mine was given a boxed set of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, a lavishly illustrated (by Donald McKay) pair of editions that Grosset & Dunlap originally brought out in the 1940s. I think Book of the Month Club was giving them out as a subscriber bonuses around 1960. Anyway, said cousin received the books from his grandparents, who later asked if he enjoyed them. Always eager to please, he responded that he particularly enjoyed Huckleberry Finn because Pap Finn would get drunk and beat up Huck…just like his own father beat him up!
I believe this was an accurate description—the parent did indeed say things like, “I never seen such a son,” though presumably with better grammar. But it must have caused a lot of embarrassment and further abuse in that family. Confusion, too, because this drunken father would completely black out on what he said or did and honestly had no memory of it.
My cousin was seven years old at the time. His father had read Huckleberry Finn when he wasn’t much older. So the character of Pap Finn had embedded, insinuated itself into the father’s mind, way back in 1929, and it came out spontaneously when he was intoxicated and encountered his little son.
“Why ain’t you a sweet-scented dandy?”—there were remarks like that too. This was not a family tradition; they didn’t all go around channeling Pap Finn, swilling rye and beating each other up. The abuser’s father was in fact a very gentle, if somewhat remote, corporate executive and engineer. It’s not true that abusers were all abused as kids. Abusers might abuse just because they can.
Was Pap Finn a role model for child abusers? It sounds absurd. He’s such a terrible loser, drunk and dirty and determined to grab the fortune that his son somehow lucked into. (Huck owns $6000 in gold, 1839 dollars, because of treasure he discovered with Tom Sawyer in the first book.) But strange things can come out when people have a load on.
A question that’s easier to answer is where the hell Pap Finn came from. If he was 50 years old in 1839, then he was born about 1789. One somehow doubts this birth was in Philadelphia, Baltimore or Boston; and Missouri would be highly unlikely, as it wasn’t even a state until 1820. Pap was most likely born in a western territory, perhaps along the Ohio River in the future states of Ohio, Indiana or Kentucky. And how did he come to be in a small river town in Missouri? (“St. Petersburg” in these books, presumably based on Twain’s hometown of Hannibal.) Was there a billet for Town Drunk that Pap decided to apply for?
No, the likely answer is that Pap is just an old Kaintuck. A onetime boatman from the flatboat days, before steamboats came to dominate Mississippi travel in the 1820s and 30s. Goods traveled down from the Ohio and Mississippi rivers via flatboats. The boatmen got to Natchez, or New Orleans (after Louisiana was part of the Union), sold their goods, and then pretty much had to walk back north via the Natchez Trace, through Mississippi and Tennessee. Pre-1820 these boatmen largely came from Kentucky, hence they were all called Kaintucks. If Huck was 14 (my estimate) in 1839, then he was born about 1825, right about the time that the flatboat-sailors were being phased out in favor of the new steamboat trade.
Pap most likely washed up on the Missouri waterfront in the 1820s. Presumably he married, and worked odd jobs till he was just too sorry and drunken and unemployable. Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens would have seen such people in riverfront towns when he was growing up.
Huck’s mother died somewhere along the line, probably when Huck was very young, as neither Huck nor Pap make mention of her. Then Pap went away, following the promise of a job, a few years before Adventures of Huckleberry Finn begins. Then he heard rumors that his abandoned son came into a fortune, and so Pap comes right back to St. Petersburg.
And that’s his story, near as I can make out. Pap Finn Tonight!
The feast day of St. George Floyd, Holy Martyr, passed on May 25 without much commemoration in the news media. Actually I didn’t see any commemoration at all—unless you count James Fulford’s mention of him in his Memorial Day piece. But I did come across something much better in the New York Times. (I’ll link it down below.)
You may remember the “Central Park Karen” incident. That was also May 25, 2020. But early in the day. It dominated news and social media even more than the George Floyd story did. It certainly contributed to the BLM riots that broke out soon after. To refresh your memory, here’s the typical news spin we got:
A white woman was walking her dog, off-leash, in a hilly wooded area of New York’s Central Park, called The Ramble. A large black man came from behind a bush and yelled at her to leash the dog. The woman was terrified, and took out her mobile phone to call for help. She said she would tell the dispatcher an “African American man” was threatening her and her dog. The “African American man” videoed some of this, sent it to his sister, and it soon went viral on social media. The woman was thenceforth denounced as “Racist Central Park Karen.” A couple of days later she was terminated from her job as insurance portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton.
In short order the news media began to inform us that this large black man was some kind of local hero. He’s a birdwatcher. He’s a Harvard graduate in his late fifties. He used to write for Marvel Comics. He’s even gay! (Coincidentally or not, The Ramble is a famous cruising area in the Park.) Christian Cooper is his name, and National Geographic television has given him his very own birdwatching show, due to premiere in mid-June.
And it gets better. He’s just published a book at Random House, Better Living Through Birding, in which he tells of his lifelong passion for his fine feathered friends, and his struggles with being gay and black, and his encounters with Central Park Karen and other exponents of racism. He even compares himself to Emmett Till, that martyred harasser of white women.
Mr. Cooper treated us to a short-form version of his life story on May 26 in the New York Times. (May 28, print edition.) He tells us how he wasn’t happy about that May 25, 2020 encounter…but he’s glad it led to his getting a TV show. He now finds himself “living an absolute dream.”
But as you’ve probably guessed by now, Christian Cooper is no hero. He’s a bully and serial harasser. He even writes in his book that he still harasses white women with dogs—and videos them. And though it may not be in the book, he also harasses and threatens white men with dogs. And black men with dogs. There are several reports of physical altercations. One of them was with a 30-year-old black man—Mr. Cooper is an equal-opportunity bully—who gave a statement to NBC News after the ‘Karen’ story broke. That was three years ago. NBC asked for the testimony, but they’ve been sitting on it ever since.
This statement is quite an eye-opener. It turns out Mr. Cooper’s modus operandi was the quite the same with this young black dog-owner as it was with “Central Park Karen.” When Mr. Cooper sees an unleashed dog in a leash-only area, he chases down the owner, acts in a threatening manner, and then takes doggie treats out of his pocket—presumably drug-laced if not actually poisoned—and goes, “Here, doggy!”
After the “Karen” encounter, he even bragged about it on Facebook. As we read in the statement to NBC News, Mr. Cooper said he told her, “you’re not gonna like what I’m going to do next.” As our testifier comments in his statement:
That’s a threat. And she [‘Karen’] has no idea if this man is pulling out a knife, a gun, or a treat that laced with a rat poison.
This assuredly is not the only report to contradict the media spin on the ‘Karen’ tale. A year ago Megyn Kelly did an extensive interview with podcaster Kmele Foster, who deep-dives into the facts and absolutely destroys the media narrative. Two years ago the Deseret News did a similar, less detailed takedown of the “racist ‘Karen’ in Central Park story.” (This opinion column, from Salt Lake City, erroneously assumes that the ‘Karen’ video surfaced after the George Floyd event, when it was actually circulating on social media earlier the same day. George Floyd, as it happens, was just more fuel on the fire.)
And now we come to the ‘Karen’ herself. How is she doing? Her real name is, coincidentally, Amy Cooper. Well, she didn’t get her old job back at Franklin Templeton. She sued them for termination and lost…even though her lawsuit included reports that Christian Cooper was a known harasser of dog owners in Central Park. Presumably the investment company was leery of PR fallout if they reinstated the “racist” Central Park Karen.
Of course PR fallout works both ways, and coincidentally or not Franklin Templeton was rated the worst-selling fund manager of 2020 (Source: Financial Times) and was still in the middle of a debt-fund crisis in 2022. Franklin Templeton has made some bad acquisitions in recent years, but it’s nice to think their brutal, peremptory treatment of Amy Cooper led some investors to transfer their portfolios elsewhere.
It’s also nice to think that Franklin Templeton made some kind of confidential settlement with Ms. Cooper, probably accompanied by a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Anyway, rumor hath it that she’s out of the country now…pitching tent in a non-English-speaking land where no one will have heard of Central Park Karen.
Humanity’s best chance to save the planet from climate change lies in locking up white men, Hollywood actress Jane Fonda told an audience at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday.
“This is serious – we’ve got about seven, eight years to cut ourselves in half of what we use of fossil fuels, and unfortunately, the people that have the least responsibility for it are hit the hardest – Global South, people on islands, poor people of color,” the Barbarella star explained, insisting, “It’s a tragedy that we have to absolutely stop.”
We have to arrest and jail those men – they’re all men.
Without naming any of the men she believed to be responsible for the looming demise of the planet, Fonda went on to draw connections between Earth and its minority inhabitants, arguing, “There would be no climate crisis if there was no racism. There would be no climate crisis if there was no patriarchy. White men are the things that matter and then everything else [is] at the bottom.”
That title will make no sense to anyone born after about, say, 1975. But bear with me! We’re going to tell you a story of magazine publishing, mass media, Women’s Libbery, and sex talk over the last 50 or 60 years.
But first please take a tour with us in our Backstory…
Understanding Trade Advertising
A few years back I was trying to write an essay on the precipitous, seemingly never-ending decline and decay of TIME magazine. I was going to call it The Long, Grueling Downward March of TIME. The featured illustration would be a mockup of a title card from the March of Time newsreels, which of course were a big deal in the 1930s and 40s. Back when my average reader was growing up.
But it was a difficult topic to encompass, and I let myself get sidetracked by a curious side-story to the whole thing: magazines’ trade advertising, a now all-but-vanished industry.
Forty to sixty years ago you’d see ads at commuter railroad stations, and on the bulkheads (or whatever you call ’em) of passenger coaches on the New Haven RR. Also the Long Island RR, the NY Central’s Harlem and Hudson Lines, the PRR’s Paoli Local on the Philadelphia Main Line, and most probably the Erie Lackawanna out in New Jersey. Railroads had individual names then. They were clean and classy, they ran on time (usually), and they carried a lot of trade advertising for newspapers and magazines.
Such advertisements weren’t aimed at potential readers of Forbes or, Lord knows, Parade (an extraordinarily lowbrow and popular newspaper Sunday supplement that lived for 80 years till it finally died a few months ago). No, these commuter-railroad ads were aimed at ad buyers, and maybe the sales people at the agencies, the people who called themselves “account executives.”
TIME magazine had perhaps the most elaborate trade advertising campaign of the late 60s, helmed by Young & Rubicam. You’d see a half-dozen, maybe even a dozen, poster ads out on the train platform. All in a row, all nearly identical mockups of a TIME cover, only with a different upscale TIME advertiser featured in each one. The copy would go something like: “TIME: Where Braniff Flaunts It.” Which in those days everyone knew was a reference to the big double-truck ads from Wells Rich Greene for Braniff Airlines, with the heading, “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It!,” with a startling visual of, say, Andy Warhol chatting with Sonny Liston in Braniff first-class seats. (This was an era when most sentient people were expected to recognize advertising slogans, and so Mel Brooks put the Braniff line into his 1968 film, The Producers.)
Anyway, as you walked down the train platform, or glanced out the windows at Cos Cob or Bronxville, you’d get the message, over and over. TIME was where the smart money went. TIME was where you wanted to advertise high-ticket items to upscale customers. Braniff. MG 1100’s. Brooks Brothers suits. Johnny Walker Black. Lucchese boots.
Actually they never featured Lucchese. Ad buyers on the New Haven line in 1969 wouldn’t have understood that. Johnny Black they would understand, so if you were handling the campaign for Glenlivet, you’d look at the outdoor ads and be reminded that Johnny Black scotch had two full-page TIME insertions per month, while Glenlivet didn’t have any. And you’d think, “Maybe we should make TIME part of our media buy!”
An implicit but unstated message in the TIME trade-ad campaign was that TIME was still a solid and trusted advertising environment. While Henry R. Luce (1988-1967) still lived, Time Inc. had been considered a gilt-edged, crack outfit, right up there with—as they used to say years ago—the Marine Corps, the Catholic Church, and McKinsey & Co. All of which may be well and thoroughly pozzed today, though none quite so badly as TIME, which was already in sorry shape in the 1980s when they started putting Madonna on the cover…instead of painterly portraits of Ev Dirksen or the DuPont CEO who gave us Corfam.
So much for this tangent. I’ll save my TIME eulogy for another time and place. Right now I’m going to move along to another classic bit of trade advertising from the same era, one that didn’t claim upscale status at all. In fact it reveled in being the vademecum of shopgirl and secretary. That was Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmopolitan, an aggressively low- to middle-brow sex-and-makeup rag that came out of the Hearst Building on West 57th Street.
Or, the Transitional ‘Rabbit, Run’ Era of Sex Politics
Once upon a time, back in the 1910s and 20s and 30s, Hearst’s Cosmopolitan had been a popular family-type offering along the lines of the Saturday Evening Post, specializing in longish-form fiction (Agatha Christie, Jack London, Sinclair Lewis) and columns by name-brand celebrities (Gene Tunney, Amelia Earhart). This was all long gone by the 1960s, when editor Brown wrote Sex and the Single Girl, an early-Sixties bestseller on how to find the right man and get laid without necessarily getting pregnant.  After which, mid-Sixties, Brown revamped Cosmo, from an anodyne ladies-and-family rag into a celebration of working-girl licentiousness. “Career-girl freedom and sophistication,” Helen Gurley Brown might prefer to call it. But, as I say, the magazine’s target audience was secretaries and shopgirls.
If the magazine had had an iconic symbol in those days, it would be what doctors used to call a “pessary.” That is to say, a contraceptive diaphragm, less formally known as a “flying saucer,” according to John Updike. A round, flexible pink thing you stuck up your quim when you’d been to the singles bar and found yourself entering into a one-night-stand. (The you in this directive is female, needless to say.) Yes, a “birth control” device. It lived in a clamshell case in your top bureau drawer, or maybe at the bottom of your handbag, if you were out on the prowl. Often kept alongside some spermicidal cream or unguent. That’s enough detail.
I recall Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, in Updike’s Rabbit, Run, getting really pissed off when the girl he’s getting lucky with—part-time whore, as it turns out—runs off to the bathroom just as they’re getting started. “You’re gonna put on a flying saucer?” yells Harry. Harry hated the obviousness, the crassness of the whole thing: approaching sex or “lovemaking” as a mechanical necessity, an ugly physical function. You know, like going to the utility closet and taking out a Fleet Enema because you ate a lot of turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving and now you’re impacted and you’ll have huge difficulty taking a dump. Not exactly an arousing bit of foreplay.
The novel is set in the late 1950s. Perhaps 1959, as Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, is age 26, and that’s what author Updike was in 1959. So they both were born in 1933, in Reading, PA. Only in the book Reading is called “Brewer.” (Pennsylvania Dutch country, you see: they brewed beer.) John Updike wasn’t exactly like his protagonist. Harry Angstrom, a former high school basketball star, is a lower-middle-class guy with a nothing job, demonstrating MagiPeel Peelers in dime stores around Brewer; whereas Updike was then a young New Yorker writer who’d come out of Harvard. Rabbit, Run, which Updike originally began as a movie script, is a kind of “What if” contemplation on the author’s part: How shitty would my life be if I hadn’t gone off to Harvard? Would I be like some of those guys I went to high school with, who stayed in Reading?
Early in the book, the Mickey Mouse Club show is on TV and Head Mouseketeer Jimmie Dodd is carrying on about proverbs and ethical living. “Know thyself,” he tells the kids. “Know Thyself, a wise old Greek once said… God gives to each one of us a special talent.” Harry and his young drunken wife Janice watch this when Harry gets off work. Harry has contempt for the smarmy Head Mouseketeer but watches this intently, because Jimmie seems like a wise preacher or coach who might have useful advice about how to straighten out your life. Later on, when Harry and Janice drift apart, Harry looks for advice from a real-life Jimmie, in the person of a shallow, agnostic, wisecracking Episcopal minister named Rev. Jack Eccles.
I last read Rabbit, Run about 1969, and this is the kind of stuff that sticks with me through the years. Mouseketeers and diaphragms.
Today, pop social-historians will talk about birth control and tell you, “Diaphragms were totally passé after The Pill came in.” Not quite, hon. They were the go-to protection at least through most of the 1970s. Most of us weren’t going to do The Pill. Hormones? All those side-effects? Your breasts would swell. It might ruin your fertility long-term (though that risk wasn’t clearly understood or enunciated back in the day). Finally: maybe you won’t even have sex this year. And meantime your diaphragm’s waiting safe and sound in your bureau drawer.
“Female Empowerment,” Sort Of
And now we circle back to Cosmopolitan, which my social peers and I seldom ever touched. Cosmo was coarse, but put it down a marker. Getting laid a lot in the 1960s and 1970s became a sign of Female Empowerment, a term that did not yet exist, but should have. And here is where Cosmo led the parade.
Then, during its high-water mark in those late 60s, early 70s, Cosmo‘s man-catching “empowerment” ethos started facing down competition from a much fresher and weirder bit of popcult—Women’s Liberation! Women’s Lib ideology operated in much the same way as Cosmo‘s—you were supposed to spend a lot of time thinking about your private parts, and you were to strive for independence and assertiveness. Except man-chasing and singles bars weren’t much in the picture. A baby might occasionally turn up, but he usually had no visible father.
Cosmo seldom directly addressed this pop-culture conflict in its pages, so far as I know. When the Women’s-Libby Ms. magazine appeared in 1972, it didn’t acknowledge Cosmopolitan either. You could tell from the outset that Ms. wasn’t going to be anything like Cosmo. It wasn’t chuggy-jam full of makeup ads, and it didn’t have questionnaires and tips about sex and dating. And of course it didn’t have those garish, cat-in-heat Cosmo covers.
However one could argue that Ms. did take swipes at Cosmo in a very oblique way: it ran a page or section at the back called “No Comment,” displaying perversely funny instances of “sexism” in advertising and media. “Sexism” here usually meant showing a buxom, glamorous female model in an ad for t-shirts or limousine services or whatever. In other words, using sex to sell your product. Precisely the sort of come-on that Cosmopolitan used on its cover month after month.
So Cosmo editors and Ms. editors inhabited two different universes and neither side openly acknowledged the other. I don’t recall anyone ever remarking on this paradox. Even though both camps were selling a Career Girl persona that liked to imagine itself as “Fun, Fearless, Female”—to use a 1990s Cosmopolitan slogan. But the rivalry really wasn’t between two magazines. At its root was a fierce culture war that neither could really articulate. And this made for many amusing, unacknowledged ironies.
Ms. featured actress Marlo Thomas as a contributor in the early years, mainly in a running feature about children’s self-actualization and sex-role ambiguity. These bits were later collected in a book called Free to Be…You and Me. Now, Marlo Thomas was mainly known as the Danny Thomas daughter who landed the title role in a 1966-71 TV sitcom, That Girl.  In this sitcom, Marlo’s character, Ann Marie, was all about chic clothes, flip-hairdo, mascara-and-eyeliner, and being man-hungry and marriage-focused (though there weren’t really any marriageable men around, given that the men in Marlo’s social circles consisted mainly of Jews, elderly divorcés, and homosexuals).
In other words, this sitcom actress, now playing on the Women’s Lib/Ms. team, was mainly famous for playing a character who was the veritable template of the Cosmo Girl! As the Cosmo ad copy went at the time (paraphrasing from memory here), “I’m 23, I’m a Gemini, I love to dance and snow-ski and listen to semi-classical music. I raise pedigreed longhair dachshunds, I’m fresh and funny, and I make a great chocolate fondue. I guess you could say I’m That COSMOPOLITAN Girl!”
A trade-ad version of the “Cosmo Girl” copy was refined into a text-heavy print advertisement that might take up a whole page in the New York Times, or a four-foot poster in a subway concourse. This copy had more word, more italics, with the final tagline, “If you want to reach me, you’ll find me reading COSMOPOLITAN.” The Cosmo Girl campaigns were widely enough recognized that in 1973 Donald Barthelme published a postmodern comedy takeoff in The New Yorker, “That COSMOPOLITAN Girl.”
Helen Gurley Brown sometimes called herself a feminist, and to the end of her life believed that she and Cosmo had helped to pioneer the Women’s Liberation movement. But attempts to express this always looked like comical misfires. Much like the Virginia Slims cigarette print ads and TV commercials of the early 70s. (“You’ve come a looonnnng way, baby!”) For cigarette advertising, “women’s rights” meant that dames could now smoke skinny 100mm cigarettes in public.
For Cosmopolitan, it was all about young women being actively sexual and maybe promiscuous—we’ve got the Sexual Revolution now, baby, and The Pill! This was supposed to put them on a par with men, whatever that meant. Why they would want to be on a par with men remained the great unanswered question.
Why Ms. Failed
A great irony about Ms. magazine is that it was largely conceived and funded by Clay Felker, Gloria Steinem’s great & good friend, editor, mentor; and also founder of New York magazine. Ms. began with a big promotion from New York, while Clay and Gloria’s connections, including the best editorial and business brains of the era, seemed to guarantee its success. And yet…Ms. tanked…it ran in the red for many years and finally ended up as a squirrelly not-for-profit vanity operation that now barely exists as a website. This story deserves close examination.
In the early 1960s Clay Felker, a St. Louis boy (Webster Groves, MO), was associate editor of Esquire. Clay should have become top editor, but he lost out to Harold Hayes. A few years later he triumphed anyway, redefining the regional magazine business in the late by creating the brash, elegant, up-to-the-minute-hip New York. It was a hit from the moment of its launch in 1968. (Go to Google Books and look at early issues.) Its success spawned a series of imitators in the field of regional weeklies and alternative-news magazines and papers of variable quality…New Times! New West! Miami New Times! Phoenix New Times!, LA Weekly!…some of which exist even to this day.
New York magazine was the resurrection, or continuation, of a newspaper Sunday supplement. That was New York Herald-Tribune‘s magazine, also called New York, which Clay had also edited. Tom Wolfe, among others, got his start writing for that Sunday-supplement way back in the early Sixties. When the Herald-Tribune died in 1966-1967, as the result of a bad merger and massive newspaper strike, Clay Felker and some of his edit staff and stable of “New Journalism” writers—Tom Wolfe, Gloria Steinem, Jimmy Breslin—quickly got together and launched the glorious new standalone New York magazine.
A success from the start, as I say, as New York had both eye-grabbing design and no serious rival for advertising bucks. The New Yorker was the only other glossy weekly with a Manhattan focus. But after many years of William Shawn’s editorship it was now grey, somnolent, inward-looking; usually stuffed full of 40,000-word three-part John McPhee treatises on the history of barley or whatever, as well as obscurantist attempts at humor by Donald Barthelme. Apart from movie reviews and (sometimes) a Talk of the Town piece or a rare John Cheever or John O’Hara story, The New Yorker‘s editorial content was pretty much inaccessible. People got the magazine mainly for the cartoons and movie listings. Back in the late 60s we still had a movie house, maybe two, on every block of Midtown Manhattan. In those days a periodical could survive on running little more than movie and theater listings and ads. The weekday New York Times would have three or four pages of movie ads and reviews alone. To mention Tom Wolfe yet once again: he gained his first real notoriety in 1965, when he mocked editor Shawn and the stultifying dullness of The New Yorker, in the Herald-Tribune version of New York. (“Tiny Mummies! The True Story of The Ruler of 43d Street’s Land of the Walking Dead!” Story told here in a Wolfe obituary.) Serried ranks of aging writers came out of the woodwork to damn the audacious young popinjay, and the rest is history.
But to get back to Ms. For reasons I cannot now recall, Gloria Steinem had become a big deal in 1970 or ’71. From being a byline in New York magazine she became the uncrowned queen and default spokesman of the Women’s Lib movement. Her media-friendly looks had a lot to do it: she wasn’t a harridan or hippie-radical, and she had a trim figure and big, long, honey-brown hair. She was like a Cosmo girl who’d gone to Smith and once took a job as a Playboy Club bunny, just so she could write a jokey magazine article. And now, finding herself a “movement” leader, she thought she needed a publication, a mouthpiece to communicate with fans and supporters. Maybe, she thought—a newsletter!
This is where Clay Felker jumped in and told his old protégé, more or less, that the newsletter thing was the lamest idea he’d ever heard. Something like: No, Gloria! You must have a hot new hip magazine! Yes! And I will help you! What Clay imagined was a witty, snarky female version of Esquire. Clay had wanted to be top editor of Esquire back in 1961, but lost out to Harold Hayes. And now he would midwife, so to speak, a new, brainy, funny Esquire, only—you know, for the ladies! Maybe Clay would get New York/Esquire “New Journalism” writers to contribute. Gail Sheehy, Gay Talese, Susan Sheehan, Jimmy Breslin, maybe even Tom Wolfe!
Months before Ms. was officially launched, Clay promoted a mini pilot issue of 40 pages, stapled into a December 1971 issue of New York. The bloodline was apparent here, and in the early issues the following year. No bra-burner stridency here, but lots of hipness and irony. A light, supercilious attitude dominated.
Clay knew editorial and design, but maybe not the business side of magazine publishing. Furthermore, Gloria and the other Women’s Libbers in Ms. editorial not only did not know the business side, they were downright hostile to business and advertising in general. Ms. got the biggest, send-off any new magazine has ever had, and it could have sailed on high forever had it accepted ads from Lancôme and Bergdorf-Goodman, but Gloria and colleagues decided they absolutely did not want advertising for cosmetics or fashion.
In fact, they didn’t want most female-oriented advertising. I suppose they were afraid of looking like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. They had it in their heads that fashion and cosmetics were the problem, the enemy of Women’s Libbery. Gloria probably didn’t think that, but as with the Bolsheviki, she had to accommodate the angriest, most extreme factions in the party.
Hence, the financial failure of Ms., one of the greatest paradoxes and fiascos ever, in magazine publishing. It’s as though Esquire were to reject ads for sports cars and golf clubs and scotch.
Another problem, on the editorial side, was that there were militants at the magazine who were mainly focused on navel-gazing issues of Women’s Lib. A big one in those days was, “Can we let lesbians into the Movement?” Ironical to consider today, but it was serious in the early 1970s. There was also cheerleading for abortion—pretty easy to obtain pre-Roe v. Wade, but they moaned about restrictions anyway. (Plus ça change. The current iteration of online Ms., led by octogenarians, is still obsessed with the need for free and easy abortion.)
And the Ms. staff would ask themselves, “Can we let men write for Ms.? I gather they gave a resounding no on that one. Just as they didn’t want male editors or business staff. So, no cover stories by Tom Wolfe. For that matter, no Gail Sheehy, either. She and Clay Felker had become an item—they would eventually marry in 1984—and they could see that the Ms. editorial board had determined to drive the magazine into the ground.
Only one spark of Clay’s original concept remained, and that was the notion that Ms. should have humor. This effort was relegated to that “No Comment” page, which mainly complained about “sexism” in advertising. Poor Clay himself got the shaft here in 1977, when his newly launched New West magazine (West Coast version of New York) ran a cut-rate subscription ad featuring a young lady’s poitrine tightly clad in a New West Magazine t-shirt. “Take advantage of us while we’re young an innocent.” And so it was slammed in the “No Comment” page.
The below Ms. commentary describes the Clay Felker/New York contribution to Ms. as a “one-page insert in 1972” when it was actually a 40-page mini-mag stapled into New York in December 1971. Gratitude is indeed just a word in the dictionary, and it does not lie sweetly with forgetfulness.
By 1987 Ms. it was seriously in the hole, and got passed to a series of owners trying to turn it around. Today it’s just a website that purportedly publishes a print quarterly. You can blame Ms.’s political advocacy for its failure, although obscurantist political missions don’t need to be fatal for a magazine. After all, National Review was always a money-losing operation, surviving year-to-year on gifts and grants and subsidies from the Buckley family. NR‘s bean-counters eventually figured out that they could shore up finances with such devices as selling tickets to $5000 shipboard cabins on celebrity-speaker cruises. This option, however, was never a likely one for the Ms. audience.
Moreover, Ms.’s editorial mission was very confused. Editorial content had less and less to do with its original core target audience (middle-class white American women), as the magazine started to fill up its pages with all sorts of extraneous topics, about foreigners and politics and People of Color, usually slanted from a progressive-Left angle. No more wit, hipness, irony. This was perhaps inevitable. There was a limited amount of subject matter directly relevant to Women’s Libbery, or even that amorphous, shifting cluster of grievances called “feminism.”
I once worked, briefly, on a strange website called Women’s Media Center. The content had almost nothing to do with broadcasting media, or with normal American women. About every featured personage was a “person of color” or Jewish (excuse me; Jane Fonda did turn up occasionally). and the topics under discussion were things like, “How Can We Get More Latina Anchorwomen?” I look at this website now, and it is still that way. Any outlet that makes its mission and purpose the promotion of a “progressive” ideology will inevitably go down this path of militant, ineffectual, fury. Likewise, Ms. magazine still exists, but only notionally. It makes no money, carries no ads, and no one I know reads it.
One can only wonder what would have happened if Clay and Gloria had managed instead to launch an “Esquire for Women.” They had the potential advertisers, and they had the editorial and advertising connections (via New York). Not so lucky was a later magazine called New York Woman, launched in the 1980s, conceived as an “Esquire for women,” and actually published by the Esquire parent company. It was witty and excellently designed. It was free of strident Leftism and Libbery. It was advertising-friendly. Alas, it couldn’t pull high-ticket ads because it never got much visibility or circulation, or a celebrity editor. Perhaps it didn’t have a definable audience. And finally, the failure of Ms. had probably ruined the market for this sort of thing. So New York Woman turned out to be just another showcase. It survived for a while because American Express Publishing took it under its wing, along with its Travel+Leisure and Food & Wine. But it never got the kick-start that Clay Felker’s publicity chops, and Gloria Steinem’s celebrity, were able to give Ms. in the early days. Most people reading this will never have heard of it. Nevertheless it lasted six years (1986-92), and it did better stuff in those six years than a whole half-century’s worth of Ms.
Unseen Adversaries, Inchoate Theories
As I said before, the culture war between the Cosmo camp and Ms. faction was seldom acknowledged because the two sides were virtually oblivious to each other’s existence. One was firmly rooted in a culture of working girls who used sexual wiles and gossip to gain power. It didn’t start with the 1950s. Early 1930s “Pre-Code” films are littered with instances of Jean Harlow, Clara Bow, Barbara Stanwyck sleeping their way to the executive suite. And not to be an executive, mind you! Sometime Vanity Fair editor Clare Boothe Luce did a slightly later, slightly more sanitized version of this immoral fable in The Women (1936 play and 1939 movie).
So that was the Cosmo camp. The other faction was rooted in journalism, academia, and abstruse theorizing about social dynamics and sex roles. One of their leading tenets was that sex roles are not innate but are learned. According to Socialization Theory, people are born as tabulae rasae but are socialized to be male or female. Presumably, if you’re an only child with neglectful parents who don’t socialize you, you get to end up as neither sex. This bizarre theory was propounded as serious feminist sociology and psychology fifty years ago. It is still advanced today, in many a cultural-marxist fever-swamp.
Hang out with progressive self-described feminists on social media, and you quickly see arguments telling you how Obnoxious Male Behavior is the result of Socialization. You know—how they send 5-year-old boys off to Socialization Camps. Sort of like Parris Island in ’42, I guess, where they have to climb the water tower and go, “This is my rifle, This is my gun…” and other sorts of hazing and bullying.
Other persistent myths and conspiracy theories from those days include the notion that Men oppress Women, and that this is because of a Patriarchy Culture that must be dismantled. Actually you didn’t hear so much about Patriarchy back the old days; that term seems to have been dusted off and shined up in recent years because of the rise of critical theory in academia.
Patriarchy theories couldn’t get much traction In the 1960s and 1970s because back then most people were still conversant with a social culture in which most people were expected to get married, and have babies, and it was generally the female parent who ruled the roast. (Yes, the word is roast, not roost.) If you alter that arrangement—take the mother out of the picture—you have the basis for a situation comedy, because having the father stand in for both parents is inherently humorous. Even in savage jungle tribes, it’s the old females, not the silverback males, who demand that the young females be brought before them to be de-clitorized and de-labialized, with their vulvas sewn up. Ain’t Matriarchy a gas?
The social and cultural divide between the two camps could never be breached. Many a teenage girl of this era affected a distaste for fine clothes and grooming, lest she be mistaken for a dim-bulb Cosmo reader. Back in the 1970s, did you see a lot of girls at Smith or Mount Holyoke going around in cargo pants or white painters’ overalls, with scraggly, unwashed hair in the 1970s? Well, if you didn’t see them, that’s how it was. The fear of Cosmo-world propelled some of them into disheveled lesbianism, or performative lesbianism, or at least priggish spinsterhood.
It’s the same mentality that today makes otherwise intelligent women believe that the television series of The Handmaid’s Tale describes an actual, possible future in which women will somehow be enslaved and oppressed by the likes of Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. (Actually the original Margaret Atwood novel was a dystopian satire, mocking 1980s Leftists’ fear of Evangelicals and the Moral Majority.) While that is a confused, delusional way of thinking, it is useful for mindless sloganeering, in a sense someone like George Orwell would have understood. Better to die single and childless, many a middle-class, well educated young woman must have mused in the last fifty-odd years, than to focus on Hunting for a Man—as though I were a Five Towns JAP or a Cosmo floozy!
So which was worse, Ms. or Cosmo? I tend to think that Cosmopolitan did far more to ruin relations between the sexes than Ms. or mainstream “Second Wave” feminism ever could. It made the heterosexual dating game tawdry and distasteful. It made catching a spouse (and seeking a home and family) something anyone should sneer at, if her ambitions were anything above the level of stewardess or cocktail waitress. And thus we raised a whole generation of girls, women—under this pervasive yet unnatural mindset.
I recall, in the 80s, being asked by strangers if I were seeking a husband or looking forward to raising a family. I would go into an absolute cringe. What did they think I was? The sort of bimbo who read Cosmopolitan?
Edited by Pascal Fouché
Foreword by François Gibault
Paris: Editions Gallimard, 2022
I must have been lying there for much of the next night. The whole ear on the left was glued to the ground with blood, the mouth too. Between the two there was an immense noise. I fell asleep in this noise and then it rained a heavy rain.
I’m not quite sure how that works, your ear and mouth both glued to the ground with dried blood. Maybe there’s a huge clot of blood? Anyway, this is how Louis-Ferdinand Céline, alias Destouches, begins his small novel Guerre, partly based on his experiences being wounded and hospitalized, 1914-15, during the Great War.
It was written in 1933-34 but published only last year. We can date the manuscript confidently because he wrote the Los Angeles address of his American girlfriend, Elizabeth Craig, on the back of one of the ms. pages (she’d recently moved back there from Paris), along with a draft of a letter to her. In the summer of 1934 he would go to California to look her up, and also to sell his bestselling novel Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) to the movie studios. Neither effort quite panned out. Elizabeth had taken up with someone else, and Céline’s novel was thought too racy for the new Motion Picture Production Code. 
Guerre was one of three unpublished manuscripts that Céline left behind in a cupboard when he fled Paris in mid-1944, with his wife Lucette and their cat Bébert. What happened to the works afterwards is speculative and murky, but it appears they were lifted by a professional looter in 1944. They ended up in the hands of a Left-wing Liberation journalist who pretty much sat on them for many years, not wishing Céline’s widow to benefit from their publication. Céline, after all, had been a renowned collabo, propagandiste, anti-Semite, etc., etc.
I regret to say that an English translation of Guerre is not yet available, but given this work’s brevity and uncomplicated prose, an English version should be available before long.
The French edition of Guerre and its sequel, Londres, were both published last year by Gallimard. The third manuscript, a medieval saga called La Volonté du roi Krogold, remains unpublished at this time, but portions of it appear in Céline’s Mort à crédit (Death on the Installment Plan) and also in Guerre, as dreams or imaginings when the narrator is hospitalized. Céline therefore had special affection for this Krogold work, as one would for a gifted but autistic child. His publisher, Denoël, refused the book around 1933, despite the spectacular success of Céline’s first novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit. 
Getting back to the opening of Guerre, the narrator is describing in detail his painful consciousness as he lies there on the battle ground, numb and partly deranged. With his bloody mouth and bloody ear (and broken arm, we find), he sleeps, wakes up in the rain and looks at the remains of another soldier.
Over to the side there was Kersuzon, a heavy corpse all stretched out under the water. I waved an arm towards his body, and touched. The other arm I couldn’t feel. I didn’t know where the other arm was. Kersuzon had gone up in the air very high, whirled in space and then came down to shoot me in the shoulder, right through the raw flesh.
The wounds are partly autobiographical, though the author was never wounded in the head. So says Céline’s literary executor, François Gibault, in the book’s foreword. From a self-diagnostic report Céline supplied to his jailers during his time in Denmark, after the Second World War:
Permanent headache (or almost) (cephalgia) against which any medication is almost useless. I take eight pills of gardenal a day – plus two pills of aspirin… I have my head massaged every day, these massages are very painful to me. I suffer from cardiovascular and cephalic spasms which make all physical efforts impossible – (and defecation). Ear: Completely deaf left ear with uninterrupted intense ringing and whistling. This state has been mine since 1914 when I was first injured when I was thrown by a shell bursting against a tree.
‘I caught the war in my head,’ the narrator says shortly afterwards. ‘It is shut up inside my head.’ This is a running theme in Guerre. Headaches, painful tinnitus. So is that perennial Céline leitmotif, disgust.
Deaths here and there. The guy with bagpipes, he had burst himself like a grenade, you might say, from the neck to the middle of the pants. In his very belly were already two cushy rats which covered his rucksack with stale crusts. It all smelled of rotten meat…
Ferdinand—for such is his name, same as Ferdinand Bardamu in Voyage—now gets up and forages around, finds a couple bottles of burgundy and some canned monkey meat [slang: bully beef] that exploded from the heat but is still edible. He runs into some British soldiers who take him to hospital. And that’s where we spend most of the book. We’re somewhere near Ypres, where Céline himself spent some time in hospital after being wounded in 1914.
Ferdinand’s parents journey up to see him, he thinks them sniveling, pathetic bores. He makes friends with another wounded soldier, a bed-neighbor named Bébert, after whom the author will eventually name his cat. Or maybe it’s the other way around; one of the loose ends in the draft manuscript is that the same character is often called Cascade. Cascade/Bébert has a pretty young wife, Angèle, who is a prostitute. Both come to unfortunate ends. At one point Angèle asks Ferdinand to work a scam with her, playing an angry cuckolded husband who barges in while Angèle is servicing her British john—then Ferdinand angrily leaves while the “terrified” harlot weeps and shakes the soldier down for even more money. 
Another charming lowlife character is the nurse, Mlle. L’Espinasse, who pleasures the wounded and dying men, and perhaps herself, with hand jobs and maybe more. There’s some intimacy with a corpse, the narrator tells us. Eventually Ferdinand blackmails her with with these stories, enabling him to be transferred to a hospital in London. (That much is semi-autobiographical; Céline did go to London in 1915 after his hospital stay in Belgium, but he was fully recovered and put to work at the French Consulate.)
As is common with Céline, the narrative slips in and out of fantasies and hyperbolic riffs. Did nurse L’Espinasse actually have coitus with a corpse? Or is Céline just having us on, parodying the soldier-nurse romance in A Farewell to Arms? I find the latter thought irresistible. For four or five pages we have a reverie about King Krogold and crusading quests. Two British officers drive up and their names are a delight. “Major B K K Olisticle of Ireland and Lieutenant Percy O’Hairie, really a young woman of distinction and svelteness.” So that’s how British/Irish names look to the French? I see, very comical. What’s even funnier is trying to sort out what the author means by Lt. O’Hairie being an attractive young woman. Would a British army major have a female adjutant in 1915? I do not believe so. So perhaps Céline means Lt. O’Hairie looks like a young lady…or perhaps is one…inadequately disguised. This is Céline’s world, we have to make the best of it.
Alice Kaplan, writing last year in The New York Review of Books, blithely judged Guerre to be a 150-page outtake of Voyage au bout de la nuit. Actually it’s about 130 pages in my standard-size large-type Kindle edition. Thus a very short novel indeed; though there are lots of forewords and appendices and images of heavily reworked holograph pages, in ink and pencil. While it looks as though the manuscript was last reworked in early 1934, it could be a third-generation rewrite of something antedating Voyage. An outtake? Probably not.
Kaplan sniffily dismissed the little book as sloppy writing and acted appalled that a book by such a banal, evil man was getting so much attention.
With 150,000 copies in bookstores since its publication on May 5, Guerre may be the first Céline book read by a generation that lacks the background for understanding what’s at stake. It is serious.
Groan. Yes, we know: those who do not remember the past are condemned to write lies about it, in the NYRB and elsewhere. But of course that’s Alice’s job, slamming Robert Brasillach and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and French Rightists in general. And it’s been a steady living.
 The story of Céline, Hollywood, and Elizabeth Craig was covered here in 2018.
 From a French-language website in 2012, some years before the missing manuscripts turned up: “If we want to look closely at the theme of Krogold, we must rely on the fragments we find in Mort à crédit. Although Céline speaks several times of a whole lost manuscript, an ‘epic novel’, a ‘Celtic legend’, entitled La Volonté du roi Krogold, we have found no trace of it. Fortunately, the legend, as it appears in Mort à crédit, is enough to reveal very interesting aspects of Céline’s fundamental vision and therefore provides us with a precious key to understanding his work.”
 “Fake victimhood: a fine allegory of Céline’s own modus vivendi,” says the disapproving Alice Kaplan in her New York Review of Books review.
4] Kaplan is sort of atypical. Jewish authors and critics are not all condemnatory of Céline. Elsewhere in that NYRB review she notes that Morris Dickstein commented that Death on the Installment Plan, “with only minimal adjustment, could sit on the shelf of Jewish American classics.” Philip Roth was also a fan. In fact, Dickstein has claimed Roth wrote Portnoy’s Complaint under the influence of a Ralph Manheim translation of Death on the Installment Plan, from which he drew not just the theme of masturbation but “the heightened farcical tone of the monologue, the sense of pain at the heart of laughter, which had little precedent in Roth’s work.” The quotations come from “Sea Change: Céline in America,” in Dickstein’s A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World (Princeton University Press), 2005. Elsewhere in the minyan, we have Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, who sees Roth channeling Céline in Sabbath’s Theater. Oy vey.
Some years ago I was having dinner with John Derbyshire and some others when John suddenly erupted, apropos of nothing, about the 1972 Jean McConville killing in Belfast. He did the usual denunciation of the killers, who remain unknown (though there have been many possible candidates).
Why was he on about the McConville case at this time? I guess it was in the news again. It had been in the news recurrently for the past few years, sometimes indirectly. In 2011 the Royal Ulster Constabulary (now calling itself the PSNI), along with the UK government, successfully subpoenaed some old audio tapes from my father-in-law’s library at Boston College. This subpoena was controversial for two reasons. One is that Boston College had given the interviewees a solemn oath that the tapes would not be made available to any intelligence or law-enforcement agency, whether from the UK or the USA or anywhere else, while any of the interviewees were still living. The subpoena was essentially a demand that Boston College break that promise. The other, simpler bit of controversy was that the US Department of Justice was enabling a foreign agency to lean on a private American institution.
The correct response to the subpoena by the Burns Library and Boston College, in my opinion and in that of my brother-in-law (who endowed and named the goddamned library) would have been to make digital backup copies of these interview tapes, then run the tapes through magnets till they were well and thoroughly scrambled. That would enable BC to comply with the letter of the subpoena while still keeping their word to the interviewees (who by this point were mostly dead and couldn’t complain). Everyone knows cassette tapes go bad eventually. At least I assume they were cassette tapes. Open-reel? Same deal.
I would also have advised President Nixon to have done much the same with the White House Tapes, and burned the originals in a mad bonfire on the White House lawn. (South Front; near Rose Garden.) I am not the first to think of this, but at this point it is neither here nor there.
Going back to the McConville case, it was in the news once again in 2014 because Gerry Adams had just been arrested by the PSNI for his possible role in the execution of Jean McConville. Rumors abounded that it was Adams who ultimately gave the order. Adams denied the accusation, there was no proof, and he was quickly released. This may have occasioned the Derb’s outburst at that dinner.
There’s never been any reliable evidence or testimony in the McConville case, yet I’m still seeing UVF-wannabes and others rant about it on Twitter, insisting that one Brendan Hughes or Dolours Price did the deed, and Gerry Adams gave the order.
The most preposterous reasons are offered for McConville’s death. One is that she was a Protestant, so that’s why the Provos killed her. Well, she wasn’t a Protestant, though she seems to have been, nominally, as a child. Another explanation is that she once helped a wounded British solder that came to her door, and this generated hostility among her neighbors. She may well have done such a thing (this is a claim made by her children) but that was year or more before her abduction and execution. Anyway her late husband, a Catholic, had been likewise a British soldier.
What nobody seriously challenges is that Jean McConville was at least suspected of giving aid and comfort to the British intelligence services—be they Special Branch, the RUC, MI-5, or intelligence operatives in the army. Her military handlers allegedly supplied her with a piece of radio gear, either a large Stornophone, or the newer, smaller Pye radio. This was a claim of Brendan Hughes, one of her abductors. The RUC/PSNI ombudsman and Special Branch roundly denied it. But then, it’s an easy claim to deny long after the fact. No proof is necessary or even possible. Ed Moloney and James Kinchin-White seem quite certain Jean McConville did have a police/army radio. Whether or not she used it much is another question.
A common narrative is that about a month before her final abduction and death, Jean went off to a bingo game, but was taken away for what seems to have been a drugged interrogation. She was discovered hours later, wandering the streets, barefoot and disoriented. Presumably she had been interrogated and warned by the Provos. Her final abduction suggests the Provos thought the warning didn’t take.
Those who whinge about Jean McConville’s death being “murder,” a murder of an innocent mother of ten children, simply deny all evidence and testimony to the contrary. Surely they could still mourn her death while nevertheless admitting the likelihood that she was a low-level spy, an intelligence asset for the army or RUC. This points to profound dishonesty on their part. Likewise, any culpability on the part of her handlers is overlooked or dismissed. She was living in a public-housing complex that held many IRA sympathizers and operatives. Surely, it was an unsafe place for her to be. Her handlers could and should have moved her and her family to some neutral ground, an estate where the neighbors were less partisan. Her handlers obviously didn’t care; they were ready to sacrifice her. Meanwhile using her and her children as human shields whom the Provos wouldn’t dare hurt.
And if the Provos did hurt them, well, enhh—no great loss, one supposes. Fine and dandy people, those handlers.