|The Daily News Story---
Ralph Story, that is. . .
1964 edition of well-remembered KNXT TV show, 'Ralph Story's Los Angeles,' was devoted to The News Ralph Story devoted an entire episode of his well-remembered "Ralph Story's Los Angeles" series that ran weekly on KNXT (now KCBS) to the Los Angeles Daily News. The program featured an interview with News publisher Manchester Boddy, found on his ranch north of San Diego. The interview was conducted by one Joe Saltzman, a producer for the show at the time, and now a venerable professor of journalism at USC. Following is a transcript from that episode, # 48---with illustrations---which is available for viewing at the UCLA Powell Library. All comments are by Story unless otherwise indicated. (Thanks to Joe Saltzman and former KNXT newsman Dan Gingold for help in tracking the program down.---R.R.)
RALPH STORY: Tonight, we have the story of a man who made a name in Los Angeles by predicting things. He predicted events and emergencies of all kinds. He even predicted but could not prevent the misfortune which finally overtook him.
(Opening credits and jaunty theme music for "Ralph Story's Los Angeles.")
Our city of Los Angeles has always been thought of as a young community, almost adolescent, and yet we have reached an age where we wake up practically every morning to find that some friend is no longer with us---that some local personality has disappeared. Now these personalities don't always die. They sometimes vanish.
As one example, this gentleman is now 73-years-old, and these are not the surroundings in which he became famous. His name is Manchester Boddy. He published one of the brightest newspapers that ever dawned on our metropolitan scene. Boddy ran the Los Angeles Daily News for 26 of its 31 years. He became one of our most famous personalities, and one of the strongest voices in the west.
Today, Manchester Boddy has exiled himself, if not from civilization, at least from our city. He lives in this flower-banked wonderland in the hills east of Oceanside. Boddy's personal garden is not reminiscent of the old city room turmoil, the slapdash air of political battle, and the vigorous business of running a Democratic newspaper in a sea of Republican journalism. At one time, this pastoral silence would have killed Manchester Boddy. Now, he is happy among the camelias and artifical lakes that surround him. He built this wilderness himself, just as he built a staggering little tabloid into one of the most exciting if peculiar journals in the west. The Daily News reflected the paradoxical personality of Los Angeles in the '30s and '40s. And it served as a podium for that rare philosopher, Manchester Boddy. The Daily News is ten years dead, and Manchester Boddy is even philosophical about that.
BODDY: I would imagine that there were five newspapers folded during the lifespan of the Daily News. And we simply had to adjust to the facts of life. That's why Los Angeles has only two newspapers today. A lot of them tried to live, and couldn't. Surely, it might have been. . .if I had had vast holdings in real estate, a rich grandfather, or even a rich daddy, I think it would have helped a lot (laughing.) But we were not endowed with any of those, and that's why the Daily News finally went under.
STORY: Boddy didn't start the Daily News. The man who did start it had a rich daddy. In 1923 Cornelius Vanderbilt came west from New York and plunged into journalism here at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Los Angeles Street. On Monday, Sept. 3, ---Labor Day---he published the first edition of his tabloid, patterned after the subway journals of New York City. The Illustrated Daily News sold for a penny, and it looked like it might live forever. Circulation very soon reached 200,000 a day.
In a scandalous age, the paper was commissioned by its publisher to de-emphasize crime and scandal, but to report natural disasters. What Vanderbilt called "acts of God." For him, the Japanese earthquake of 1923 must have seemed like a birthday present. It was a story the Daily News wore proudly its first day on earth. A columnist declared, almost joyfully, "Once more the mighty and pifolous forces of planetary energy have hurled themselves upon the land of the chrysanthemum." This being the kind of prose you don't often see in newspapers anymore. (BANNER HEADLINE: "100,000 DEAD IN QUAKE.")
The editorial page was reserved and respectable, and it bore the motto that you're looking at now:
"Our motto: Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong. Abraham Lincoln."
("Daily News Platform: 1. Americanism. 2. California United. 3. Adequate traffic facilities for Los Angeles. 4. More Schools for Los Angeles. 5. More playfields for Los Angeles. 6. Clean press: a paper that may safely enter the home.")
The News took the trouble to congratulate itself. Here, Los Angeles Mayor George Cryer is shown gingerly inspecting one of the Daily News press units. While Police Chief August Vollmer was reported enthusiastic about the venture. Here is the Chief being enthusiastic (picture of chief reading the paper.)
The Daily News sports section had masculine appeal, and while Vanderbilt discouraged the blatant use of cheesecake, he admired feminine accomplishment in sport. By his standards, women athletes were okay to show, but he was touchy about masculine cheesecake, forcing his artists to paint shirts on the bodies of all male athletes. Well, lucky for the Daily News, the land of the chrysanthemum remained in the grip of those planetary forces for a number of days, and furnished a running story that fit Vanderbilt's "act of God" concept of journalism.
Cornelius Vanderbilt was determined that his tabloid could safely enter any home. In the absence of crashingly good natural disaster stories, the Daily News editors were obliged to cover stories that most tabloid editors would have swept off the desk. (HEADLINE: "FOUR HUNDRED CHICKENS DISAPPEAR.")
A picture of Calvin Coolidge actually smiling rated space as an historic event of the twenties. But in the main, the Daily News editors had to avoid the kind of sensation that had made the word, "tabloid" mean sensation. On days that the news did not lend itself to pictorial coverage, the paper ran whatever pictures it could scrounge. One example was this posed shot of a young Bavarian in moustache in trenchcoat. Pretty dull stuff for page one, but it occurred to the editor that Adolf Hitler was emerging as a fighting go-getter. This promising socialist leader, they thought, just might bear watching. (Caption: "Fighting go-getter: Is Adolf Hitler leader of Bavarian socialists? Here is his first picture.") On such slow news days, the ads in the Daily News were often more entertaining than the editorial content. But young Vanderbilt held strongly to his course of decency, and nothing would shake him from playing up the news that he thought was nice.
It was nice news when the Biltmore Hotel opened for business in 1923---so nice that it made page one of the Daily News. (Headline: "BILTMORE DAZZLES, AMAZES.") It was nice that knickers seemed to be becoming fashionable for evening wear. At least it was worth a whole column! And it was nice news when the chamber of commerce took an interest in reforestation. This smashingly graphic picture appeared under the compelling headline, "Discuss Plans."
So delighted were Los Angeles readers with Vanderbilt's decent, respectable tabloid; so receptive were they to his kind of nice news, that in three years, Vanderbilt's paper lost $3 million and collapsed into receivership. Here for Vanderbilt was a natural disaster of the first order. But the end was not yet, for galloping to the rescue came an itinerant former bookseller named Manchester Boddy.
And so here started one of the primely paradoxical stories of modern journalism. With no money, no publishing experience, Manchester Boddy turned out to be the perfect man to save the Los Angeles Daily News.
Manchester Boddy may not have had any newspaper experience, but he had a lot of ideas. And he may not have had any money, but he had a genius for borrowing money. In 1926, he managed to borrow just enough to convince a court that he should be appointed publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News. He kept the paper alive, barely alive.
BODDY: You must remember, of course, that I started the Daily News on what the Saturday Evening Post called a "borrowed shoestring." Frankly, I had $750 in the bank, and a second-hand---or a third-hand---Buick Roadster. That was my principal list of assets. So all the capitol we had to operate the News came from our commercial operations: advertising and subscriptions.
STORY: The Daily News under Vanderbilt had been like a brass band robbed of its trombones and trumpets, but now, as the twenties turned to the thirties, Manchester Boddy's restored the trumpets and the trombones, and incorporated some cymbals and bass drums, too. The Daily News began to look and sound the way people expected a tabloid newspaper to look and sound. Manchester Boddy had begun the struggle that he would never really win. Part of it was to pull advertisers away from the more established, more conservative daily papers in Los Angeles: the Times, the Examiner, and the Herald. So in 1930, Boddy was picking up ad dollars wherever he could find them.
(SAMPLE AD: "SEX SECRETS---THIS STARTLING BOOK REVEALS SEX SECRETS WHICH CLEAR THE WAY TO HAPPY MATINGS AND FULFILLMENT OF SEXUAL DESIRES. TALKS PLAINLY, UNAFRAID, BUT DECENTLY.")
From the beginning, Manchester Boddy felt he was living not only on borrowed money, but on borrowed time.
BODDY: I'll never forget, in the very first column that I printed, I felt that maybe we wouldn't publish more than five or six days. Maybe we could last out the first month, if we were lucky. Many a day, I would say, 'Well, now, boys, let's get this paper out as though it was the last one we were going to publish.'"
STORY: But oddly enough, the Daily News circulation was staggering upward and upward, and Boddy's editors were shoveling up the rich treasures of scandal, crime and divorce offered by our city in that age.
The entertainment pages were frothy and supercharged, lending escape and lifting the worries of people not only suffering from the Depression, but Prohibition as well. The society page took a strong position against philandering males, said to be littering the streets of Los Angeles with broken hearts.
(SOCIETY PAGE HEADLINE: "LOVE RACKATEER NEEDS EXPOSING. RUIN IS TRAILING IN WAKE.")
But a feminine heartbreaker was by now hard at work on the comic page. She was a brazen hussy named Dixie Dugan, whose talent for flattening male egos was matched only by her unmaidenly concern for the buck.
By 1931, smiling Cal Coolidge had recomposed his face into its normal stoic stare, and the News was featuring him as a regular columnist. Possibly of greater importance was the fact that the Daily News editorial policy was gathering strength and momentum. In a town not noted for its liberal press, the News began to praise and publicize the liberal point of view. And at a time when various nostrums were being offered to counteract the Depression, the News examined them closely, and more often than not, it judged them favorably.
The paper assembled columnists who offered a wide spectrum of sympathy and featured articles and stories by authors as old as Aristotle and as new as Phillip Wiley. The News became more than a paper to look at---it finally became a paper to read. Its principal spokesman and reigning columnist was its publisher, Manchester Boddy.
BODDY: Primarily, I think the Daily News appealed to the masses who craved a philosophy of life in their daily newspaper. An interpretation of what was going on in the world, what was going on in the United States. Why they couldn't get a job. Why they couldn't pay their bills on time, and that sort of thing. So we brought home, from the very beginning, a message to a large class of Los Angeles citizenship.
STORY: It's unlikely that any other newspaper in the west accepted the New Deal's National Recovery Act to the extent that it superimposed the blue eagle on its front page. And while it's probably wrong to state that Manchester Boddy's paper created the democratic landslide in 1936, the Daily News was the only paper in Los Angeles that helped to create it.
In the mean time, Boddy's dedication to reflective journalism did not prevent his people from reporting the history of our city in all its heartwarming poignance. Those who wanted Aristotle could read Aristotle. But those readers who merely wanted to check up on local happenings, who preferred to reflect upon the everyday activities of everyday people like themselves---these readers were not disappointed either. The Daily News city editors clung to the journalistic truism that the public has a right to know. Has a right to know everything. . .
(HEADLINE: "DIVORCED MAN'S WHOOPEE BACKED")
If a divorced husband elects to make whoopee in Tijuana or any other gay locality with women other than his former wife, that is his business. This point was cleared up by Superior Court Judge. . .)
STORY: Of great interest to the News staffers were the financial arrangements that linked some of our prominent business and political personalities. ("U.S. CHARGES TAX FRAUD AS H.H. MERRICK INDICTED. Politician accused of hiding profits in San Gabriel dam case.") Recurrent exposes by the Daily News were calculated to terrify the guilty, and delight everybody else. And while the paper's star reporters unearthed various financial scandals, the paper's star comic strip heroine retained her preoccupation with money, too. This mercenary philosophy was destined to lead Dixie Dugan down the road to permanent spinsterhood. But by the late '30s, Dixie was in the prime of life, and so was the Daily News. The Depression that had brought ruin to everybody else brought prosperity to Manchester Boddy and the Daily News. Though his advertising revenue stayed pretty small, his readership increased.
There were new columnists, among them a young fellow named Matt Weinstock.
He added a variety of new comics, including an old fellow named Major Hoople, who hung around pool halls. And another fellow named Joe Palooka, and who became, almost instantly, the heavyweight champion of the world.
(Ned Cronin's sports column was first known as "SECOND GUESS. "TOWN TALK, BY E. V. Durling, Chubby guy in fedora, was taken over by Matt Weinstock. Boddy's own column was "VIEWS OF THE NEWS.")
By 1938, that same fighting go-getter of a German socialist was pulling the whole world into war---something that Manchester Boddy had predicted six years before. (Banner headline: "FDR PLEADS FOR EUROPEAN PEACE.")Well, Mr. Boddy may also have foreseen difficulties for his beloved tabloid newspaper, but what you predict, you cannot always prevent---as Mr. Boddy knew, and as we shall discover.
Strange, Manchester Boddy never bothered to predict how long he could keep the Los Angeles Daily News running on that borrowed shoestring. He was much too busy predicting everything else. He was to predict the Nazi-Soviet treaty, the Nazi invasion of Russia, and the American invasion of North Africa, and these were all to grow out of the general disaster he had predicted years before. On the day of the Douglas Fairbanks funeral, and also one of the days Winnie Ruth Judd had been recaptured after one of her escapes, the Daily News was also reporting on a war that was closing in on the United States.
The year was 1939, and like every newspaper in the land, the Daily News turned its attention from murder on a local scale to murder on a global scale. The day of Dec. 8, 1941, was an eventual one in the pages of the Daily News. Oregon State was headed for the Rose Bowl, but USC and UCLA had just battled to a 7-7 tie. The Trojans were led by halfback Bobby Robertson, playing his last game. The Bruins were guided by Bob Waterfield, a quarterback so good, it was thought he might have some potential as a pro. On that day, columnist Raymond Clapper was questioning the policies of big labor unions. Eleanor Roosevelt (column) was defending the policies of big labor unions. And in the same issue, Dorothy Thompson was questioning, and was defending the policies of big labor unions. Dec. 8, 1941, found Superman utilizing his special talents in the never-ending fight against evil. And our old friend, Dixie Dugan, pressing her nefarious and predatory schemes, had enlisted the aid of an unwitting companion named Mickey. And a newcoming hero named Red Ryder was soliloquizing over a narrow escape from that bullet that had his name on it. And the redoubtable Alley Oop was facing a conflict that had elements of fantasy, but which was no more fantastic than the conflict reported that day on the front page and inside pages of the Los Angeles Daily News.
This was the day after Pearl Harbor, and though this kind of language was pretty well out of date, it could be said that the land of the chrysanthemum had unleashed some mighty planetary forces of its own.
(HEADLINE ABOVE MASTHEAD, TAKING UP HALF FRONT PAGE, "U.S. ROARS TO WAR ON JAPS." Three cents an issue. Also page one, "L.A. JAPS ROUNDED UP BY G-MEN. . .First impact of the war on alien Japanese in Los Angeles was the beginning of a round-up by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of a list of more than 500 Japanese. . .")
The Daily News was busy reporting the natural disaster of war. It brought the battle stories of Ernie Pyle to the public of Los Angeles, and the persistent philosophizing of Manchester Boddy---reminding people that tragedy had occurred before in this earth's history, and would likely occur again.
The features of the Daily News quite naturally reflected the war. By 1945, the undercover adventures of Captain Easy had carried him deep into the heart of Japan. Joe Palooka, now in uniform, was suffering torments in the waters of the South Pacific. And dear Dixie Dugan, by now resigned to spinsterhood, took advantage of the housing shortage to move in permanently with her folks. By 1945, though, Dixie was rather well housed and fed, and the war was going along nicely for most of us, the nation and the city were more prosperous than ever before, but the Los Angeles Daily News was beginning to starve.
The end of the war was the beginning of a new age in journalism, but not an optimistic age for newspaper journalism. For in the next very few years, the city of Boston lost the Post, Detroit lost the Times, New Orleans lost the Item, Cleveland lost the News, Oakland lost the Post-Inquirer, San Diego lost the Journal. The nation was to lose a dozen big-city newspapers in a dozen post-war years, and the Los Angeles Daily News would be one of them.
It is said that newspapermen are a special breed, pretty much at home in the face of disaster. It was clear that the Daily News employees found excitement in working at an underdog tabloid, but it also might be said in 1952 that they were dancing on a grave. Production costs were high, radio and television and other newspapers were stealing away audience and advertising dollars. Add to this the fact that the fighting publisher of the Daily News had fallen in love with camelia gardening and out of love with the newspaper.
(Big staff photo: "Here's the editorial gang"---some people mugging. Count up the number of women, and there are 13, while only twelve men. Looks like Jan. 1, 1948.)
BODDY: There is a rumor and I'm afraid a very widespread rumor that I had fallen in love with my hobby, which was wilderness, gardens, Descanso Gardens---and that money I could have plowed back into the paper was used to develop our gardens in La Canada, where I lived for all the years. Now that was absolutely unfounded!
STORY: Well, even so, on the 18th of August, 1952, Manchester Boddy gave up a twenty-six-year struggle. The new management took up burdens so great that one backer remarked, "I wanted a tax loss, but this is ridiculous."
(ANNOUNCEMENT: "Robert L. Smith named Daily News publisher. Completion of a comprehensive long-range program of reorganization and refinancing of the Daily News was announced today. Under this plan, Manchester Boddy will retire, and Robert L. Smith will become publisher as well as president. Boddy will continue as a member of the Board of Directors.")
Two years later, on the 18th of December, 1954, without a word of announcement, the Daily News published its last edition. On the comic page that day, the dauntless Alley Oop girded for a battle that he would never be allowed to fight. The paper shouted "help!" on page three, but for the hundred neediest families here, not for itself. But this was Saturday, and there would be no Monday, for the creature of Manchester Boddy was dead. Today, sitting in his gardens, ten years later, Boddy puts the Daily News adventure well behind him.
BODDY: I would like to add parenthetically that I believe the gardens will be remembered long after the Daily News and all the other newspapers in Los Angeles, perhaps, are forgotten.
STORY: Well, Mr. Boddy is entitled to that opinion. He has adopted the philosophy of the wilderness, and his words, as always, have a persuasive charm. But he leaves us with a question, and it's just this: How much more important is the culture of garden greenery than the cultivation of thoughts and ideas? I'm tempted to think that in its short life, the Los Angeles Daily News meant more to us than the prettiest bed of camelias. And thirty years ago, I don't think Manchester Boddy would have argued that point.
copyright 2003, 2012 Rip Rense