Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Sweet Tart of Sigma Delta Chi

Henry Morgan suffered neither fools nor sponsors gladly; to him they seemed interchangeable. ("Schick injector blades are educational . . . Try the new Schick injector blades. That'll teach you.") And it may explain a lot about why there were those who got nervous when Morgan accepted an invitation to address the 1950 edition of Sigma Delta Chi's (the national journalist's fraternity) New York chapter's annual dinner.

"It lasted all of a minute and a half," noted New York Herald-Tribune critic John Crosby, "a fine length for a speech, and it was a fine speech." Why, Henry practically behaved himself even in his barbs. You'll have to exhume Mr. Crosby's Out of the Blue (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952; 301 pages) to read his introduction to a full transcription of Bad Henry's address on the then-current state of the press. I share that transcription happily.
I was asked here this evening mainly because it's common knowledge that I am an authority on this stuff. A number of people here work on newspapers. That isn't nearly as bad as what I do. I have to read them. Some people produce radio programs. I have it much worse than they do. I work for them--newspapers and radio--the two greatest influences of our time, I figure. You see before you the creature you have made. I am the average warped man.

Because of you people in this room, I believe Owen Lattimore is a Communist. I also believe he is not a Communist. Because of you people I believe F.D.R. was a genius and also that he ruined the country. I believe that there is more crime in this country than ever before and that our police are the best in the world. I believe that Eisenhower would make a great President except that I have read that military men don't make good Presidents and, besides, he will run if enough pressure is brought, he will not run, he can't run, he refuses to run, he doesn't want the job, you can talk him into it, he's trying very hard to make it look as though he doesn't want it, he's happy at Columbia, he's miserable, he's got a cold, he feels great.

You have made it possible for me to take five cents and buy, in one package, a new picture of President Truman, my horoscope for the day, fifteen comic strips, and the stock market reports. And I've read some terrible things about you. You work for money. Advertising dictates your policy. The department stores dictate your editorials. Don't you think you'd be happier with some other system? Wouldn't it be nicer to have a bureau of some kind supervise your work? Then, if the bureau didn't like it, you could adjust or get killed.

Still in all, it's better than having people point at you and say: "There's a man who works for money." Somehow it's getting to be very un-American to work for money. It's also un-American not to work and to live on unemployment insurance. It's un-American to have social security and it's un-American to have such a small amount of social security. I strongly suspect that this is all your fault.

In short, you people in this room have put me, the average man, in a peculiar position. I now have to make up my mind for myself. As long as you keep doing that, as long as you keep forcing the man in the street to make up his mind for himself, that's as long as we'll have the only working definition of democracy that's worth a damn. Thank you.
One up for Bad Henry. And today we gaze upon the press (William Safire: "When you like us, we're the press; when you hate us, we're the media") and think we're not being left to make up our own minds. Today we also gaze upon the media (Ibid.) and think we're being left with no minds to make up, whatever the media makes up. We don't think a bureau of some kind supervising the press would do much good, we don't think a bureau of some kind supervising the media would do much harm. We still think it's un-American to work for money, we still think it's un-American to un-work for money.

We're not unlike some Presidential candidates and other, higher life forms that way.


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