Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Inquiring Minds Want to Know.

By Rick Marschall

We presume – or “they” presume, and I refer to hordes of Orson Welles devotees – that the great director and actor strained every nerve to make Citizen Kane as close, whilst staying apart, from the life and good times of William Randolph Hearst.

In my youth I was attracted to the real Hearst in all his glory, his good times, his bad times. Of course the “godfather of the comics” was appealing in that realm. But the larger-than-life persona and outrageous extravagances of WHR were irresistible to the young scholar and younger collector.

At the end of the story, I have managed to acquire letters and telegrams, King Features correspondence and internal memos, contracts and Marion Davies items – signed photographs, Christmas cards, and notes written after WRH died (from Millicent Hearst, the wife who wouldn’t divorce him, too) and notes from Randolph and Bill Hearst written during the Patty Hearst affair.

But that’s for another time. Citizen Kane was of only academic interest to me. I demurred from the universal praise about, say, the revolutionary camera angles (Howard Hughes/ Lewis Milestone’s Front Page, 1931, designed his film like Welles’s but a decade earlier.) Xanadu could never match San Simeon, which, of course, I have visited.

Besides, I was prejudiced. Hearst’s role in comics history – his incubator for Sunday supplements and unfettered cartoonists, his affinity for hiring geniuses, the formal innovations on his watch – whetted my appetite. I sought out cartoonists and newspapermen who had known him.

And, back to “academic” interest, for a time I searched for flaws in the movie script of Welles and Mankiewicz. It was a fool’s errand, because it consciously avoided close similarities. But one aspect the movie probably tried very hard to avoid (for fear of litigation as well as swarms of nit-pickers) was the name of Kane’s jewel in his crown – the New York daily that established his career path.

The New York Inquirer was that paper. Its headlines splashed in the faces of moviegoers. There never was a New York Daily Inquirer; Welles felt safe, and he probably searched deep and wide, because there have been scores of New York newspapers since before the Revolution.

There have been two New York Enquirers. In 1826 Mordecai Noah founded one as a pro-Jackson and eventually merged it as, ironically, a Whig paper, the New York Courier and Enquirer. Further irony is the fact that precisely a century later a New York Enquirer (note the different spelling) was launched. Hearst was peripherally involved as an investor, and to use the tabloid to test material that would, or would not, graduate to his major properties. Its editor, William Griffin, was indicted in 1942 for his anti-war editorials; and the paper eventually was sold to Generoso Pope, who re-packaged it as The National Enquirer.

About five years ago there was a short-lived web parody – more homage, really – built around Citizen Kane, with fake daily headlines of the New York Daily Inquirer.

That was it.

Except that it wasn’t.

In my digging years ago, I found a copy of the New York Inquirer, spelled as in Citizen Kane. The copy is from 1904, and is a weekly, Vol III, no. 9, so it had some life. Its modest catch-line is “A Smart Paper for Smart Persons,” and was “conducted” by Leander Richardson.

Richardson (1856-1918) was very busy as a journalistic entrepreneur, if not a journalist. He commenced his career on the Chicago Inter-Ocean. Subsequently – in masterfully euphemistic and diplomatic reporting by the Fourth Estate trade paper – Richardson “was known to be temperamental, and changed jobs often.” Those jobs included decent positions at the New York Tribune, the Denver Rocky Mountain News, and the Hartford Courant. He worked for the weekly Dramatic News, a racy trade journal, before “conducting” the Inquirer.

If the publication eluded Mr Bernstein in Citizen Kane and the real-life goniffs in Hollywood, it fooled better men than they. I find no references to the paper in Mott, Tebbel, or the other reliable sources of newspaper data.

The Inquirer was 48 pages, and had two-color wraps. Its advertising was almost exclusively from Broadway theaters, and its breezy contents consisted of “news” of the Great White Way; gossip; and puffery. It did not have the field to itself; respectable-looking periodicals like Town Topics (which dealt more heavily in society gossip) and the Smart Set, which mixed saucy fiction and serious literary finds, were rivals. The latter magazine had the advantage of being, for some years, the playthings of H L Mencken and George Jean Nathan.

So Richardson and his New York Inquirer was no Hearst. Nor was he a Mencken or a Nathan. He wasn’t even a George Foster Kane.

But he came first.


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