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The Press: Washington Comics

4 minute read

Bald, scholarly Eugene Meyer, longtime managing director of War Finance Corp., lately the distinguished Governor of the Federal Reserve Bank, had a fight last week in Washington with a red-haired lady. The fight was over Andy Gump, Winnie Winkle, Gasoline Alley and Dick Tracy. The lady was Eleanor (“Cissy”) Patterson, vivacious editrix of Hearst’s Washington Herald. Banker Meyer did not fight in person, but as publisher of the Washington Post which he bought at auction last month (TIME. June 19).

The comic strips about Gump, Winkle, Tracy et al., plus the sports comment of Westbrook Pegler and medical advice by Dr. William A. Evans, have long been features of the Post. All are syndicated by the Chicago Tribune* which is published by Editrix Patterson’s famed brother & cousin (Patterson & McCormick). When the Post went into receiver ship its contracts were considered void, and features were bought on a week-to-week basis. At that point alert Mrs. Patterson stepped in, got the Tribune Syndicate to make an exclusive contract with the Herald for the comics & features, beginning this week. While they were still running in the Post last week, the Herald announced the change in full-page advertisements. Such intense journalism might have cowed the Post in the decadent days of the McLean regime, but Publisher Meyer refused to lie down. In Washing ton his lawyers got an order restraining the Herald from printing the features. A court dissolved it. In Manhattan other Post lawyers tried to enjoin the Tribune Co. from selling to the Herald. On the crucial day, Washington newsreaders were treated to an extraordinary sight. The Gumps, Winkles, Tracy, et al. appeared in the Herald, and also in the Post. Everyone knew that one of the dailies would have to drop them, but none could predict which.

Win or lose, a squabble with pontifical Eugene Meyer over a comic strip is precisely the sort of antic that delights publicity-wise “Cissy” Patterson. Her three-year career as editor, during which the Herald has gained 23,000 circulation, has been marked by many another conspicuous exploit. First thing after taking office she promoted and front-paged a quarrel with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, managing to involve also Ruth Hanna McCormick and Idaho’s Senator Borah. She published an interview with the Haitian Minister purporting to show that a fort, once captured by General Smedley Butler, did not exist. General Butler demanded redress. Mrs. Patterson cleverly got her competing papers to publish a denial, without humiliating herself. She wangled an interview with Al Capone by walking unannounced into his Miami Beach home. She slept in a Salvation Army lodging house and wrote about it in her paper.

Beginning by raising salaries, even paying the difference out of her own pocket, “Cissy” Patterson easily ingratiated herself with her staff. She dashes to the office in an open 16-cylinder Cadillac, sometimes in riding habit, sometimes in evening dress. At her command is the vocabulary of a circulation-wrangler. Often she entertains her reporters in the magnificent house on Dupont Circle (formerly Daisy Harriman’s) where the Coolidges stayed following the White House fire. Also she has bought and is rebuilding the famed Dower House near Rosaryville, Md., once owned by Lord Baltimore.

Not all of Mrs. Patterson’s experiences are reported in her Herald. During last year’s presidential campaign she journeyed to Warm Springs in her private car “Ranger,” gave a number of parties aboard, served champagne copiously. One of the guests, Louis Ruppel, then correspondent for Patterson-&-McCormick’s New York Daily News, now Assistant Commissioner of Narcotics, made some critical observation of Publisher Joseph Medill Patterson. Said his hostess:

“I think, Mr. Ruppel, you are a very cheap type of man to criticize the man who happens to be your employer and my brother.”

Up jumped another guest, Professor Raymond Moley (who was not drinking): “I think you are the one that’s cheap, Mrs. Patterson, for making a remark like that to one of your guests.”

Mrs. Patterson: “I have a good mind to ask you both to leave!”

Mr. Moley: “That’s unnecessary. I’m going anyway.”

(Mrs. Patterson & Mr. Moley have since made up.)

*Another Tribune comic, “Moon Mullins,” last week made things exceptionally difficult for parents who must explain the “funnies” to their children. Said small, tough “Kayo” Mullins: “. . . She called me a illiterate brat.” Roared big, tough Moon Mullins: “She did, did she? Here, take your birth certificate over and show her you ain’t!”

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