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Tears For The Tar Baby

By Ray Schultz

Jack Johnson, newly pardoned by President Trump, had one of the hardest heads ever pounded on by the leather boxing glove. Stylish, arrogant, successful and persecuted, he was, like Muhammad Ali in the 1960s, revered by many for his attitude and skills. But if Johnson was typical of black aspiration in the ring, he was never typical of actual black gain. He was healthy and still trading on his name when killed in an auto crash in 1948, unlike Sam Langford, who died blind, broke and forgotten, except by true aficionados.

Johnson may have been run out of the country and jailed by the white establishment, but he never sank to the misery experienced by his black contemporaries who fought each other for peanuts and were denied the chance to challenge for the world title.

This may be a good time to reflect on the history of black fighters in the heavyweight class.

The first men ever to fight for sport and profit in America were black freemen—Tom Molineaux and Bill Richmond, “The Black Terror.” They practiced their brutal art in the early years of the 19th century, and were close friends, according to the historians. Molineaux became the first American ever to fight for a championship—the heavyweight title—when he met Jim Cribb in London in 1810 and lost by a very tight margin—so close, in fact, that a rematch was held a year later at Thistoleton Gap in the County of Rutland, and Londoner Pierce Egan, inspired by what he had seen, started the first publication ever devoted exclusively to boxing, Boxiana.

Boxing was illegal in those days, and matches were conducted on the sly, at hidden rendezvous, much the same as cock-fighting today. In his book, “The Sweet Science,” A.J. Liebling describes a picture of the second Molineaux-Cribb bout that had appeared in Boxiana. The scene was typical of boxing matches up into the twentieth century.

“In the foreground of the picture there is a whore sitting on her gentleman’s shoulders the better to see the fight, while a pickpocket lifts the gentleman’s reader (watch). Cribb has just hit Molineaux the floorer and Molineaux is falling, as he has continued to do for a hundred and forty-five years since.”

But Liebling adds that “the detail I recall first when I think of the picture is the face of Bill Richmond, also an American Negro, as he sees his man go. He is following Molineaux down with his eyes, bending as the challenger falls, and his face is desolate.”

Egan paid heed to Molineaux by writing: “The hardiest frame could not resist the blows of the Champion; and it is astonishing the Moor stood them for so long.”

It is equally astonishing that boxing stood its illegality for so long—right up to the time of Jack Johnson. If it was difficult for a white man to get along in the sport, it was ten times as difficult for a black man. Talented black fighters could only hope to scrape out living in the ring—nothing more.

John L. Sullivan barred black opponents while champion, saying, “I will never fight a black man.” Sullivan’s leading contender was just such a black man, Peter Jackson, who was finally held to a draw in 61 rounds by Gentleman Jim Corbett after several years of futile waiting. Guess who got the title shot? After losing to Corbett himself for the title, Sullivan is said to have remarked, “Thank God I lost to an American.”

Black fighters of the lower weight classes were never quite that unfortunate, although they came close. The most untalented heavyweight king is always a shade above the middle and welterweight champions in charisma and respect—the title is like a lightning rod. Thus, several lighter black men—Joe Gans, George Dixon, Joe Walcott, Tiger Flowers, Battling Siki—were able to become champion of their divisions during times when a black heavyweight king was unthinkable to the white American public.

Conditions were at their worst, if anything, during Johnson’s unlikely reign. The leading black contenders—Sam McVey, Joe Janette and Sam Langford—were forced to fight each other sometimes as many as 20 or 25 times in every tank town along the pike. The white contenders avoided them if they could, and even Johnson, as champ, refused to fight them. He did face a black contender—Jim Johnson—during his exile in Europe: they fought to a draw in Paris. But the bout lost money. It was the first time two black men every met in a heavyweight title fight, and the last for many a long day.

Sam Langford, the Boston Tar Baby, was typical of the time. He was a slippery boxer with a good punch, and murderous infighting skills. Born in Nova Scotia in 1880, he began boxing in 1902 as a featherweight. Growing up the weight scale, he fought almost every leading boxer of his time: Joe Gans, Joe Walcott, Jack Blackburn (who later trained Joe Louis), Stanley Ketchel, defeating many of them. He beat most of the white hopes of the time: Jim Barry, Jim Flynn, Tony Ross and Sandy Ferguson, and lost a close fight to Johnson who refused to meet him again for the title or otherwise.

As a result, Langford with his deadly skills was forced to go on tour of the sticks, fighting his fellow blacks. He fought Joe Jeanette 14 times, McVey 14 times, and Harry Wills 23 times. He took many a beating, and dished many out. Towards the end of his career he went blind from cataracts, and managed to stay alive in the ring by holding on to his opponents and punching in their direction in the clinch. He retired in 1924, with a record of 151 pro fights, 39 decision wins, 99 knockouts and only 19 decision losses and 4 knockout losses, the remainder being draws and no-decisions. When elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1955, he was living in cellar in Boston. They took up a benefit for him, but he died a year later.

Langford, like Johnson, was hated and feared by a generation of whites. After he fought Gunboat Smith in Boston , the Boston Globe cartoonist wrote some very racist captions for drawings of the fight: “The Tar Baby’s grin, which rapidly vanished,” for flashing white teeth, and “The smoke at times made if difficult to see the Tar Baby,” for a picture of dense smoke and the vague shadow of a human form.

Johnson, of course, didn’t fare any better in the press. One cartoon of the era showed a group of white hopes running away from a black man (looking very much like Johnson) with a spear, vowing never to fight “that coke,” or “that smoke.”

Even Damon Runyon was guilty of racism when commenting on Johnson’s loss to Jess Willard in Havana in 1915, Had Johnson cut a deal with U.S. authorities to throw the fight and be readmitted to the States after his fled to Europe to avoid being jailed on a Mann Act conviction? Runyon wrote that “the case was in the hands of the feds who were not making deals with the likes of Johnson.”

Jack Dempsey, in his autobiography, admitted that he was frightened of Sam Langford and refused to fight him on the way up. Dempsey, however, is better known for his failure to meet another African-American fighter, Harry Wills, who was a leading contender during Dempsey’s championship reign. Wills was entitled to the shot, and at one point had even signed a contract with Dempsey for the bout. Somewhere along the line, Dempsey’s people pulled out, and in Dempsey’s own words, Harry Wills died without ever knowing how he would do in a title fight.

It is unclear today who deserves blame, but Dempsey’s promoter Tex Rickard could share some of it. Rickard had promoted the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries match in Nevada in 1910, when Jeffries was brought out of retirement to re-establish the “fistic supremacy of the white race,” and was beaten to a pulp. The match caused repercussions that were still felt up to and after Dempsey’s time. It wasn’t until 1937 that another black fighter received a shot at the heavy title, and only after he had carefully instructed about how behave. He was Joe Louis.

Black heavyweight kings have been predominant since then. But they owe a debt to the McVeys and Langfords, and others who went down unsung.

Doggone It: More Bullying By United Airlines

By Ray Schultz

In yet another sickening case of airline brutality, two travelers were forced to put their dog—a sort-nosed French bulldog who probably couldn’t breathe all that well—into a closed overhead bin, where the frightened puppy barked for two hours then died

United should be sued for millions, and the flight attendant who performed that stunt should be fired.

This is the same airline on which officers dragged a passenger off because he refused to surrender a seat he had paid for, and almost beat him to a pulp.

Now one may wonder: Why did the family with the dog comply with this demand? Personally, I would have said, “Land the plane. Arrest me. You’re not touching my dog.”

Based on what I’ve seen in TV news reports, this was a case of bullying of people who seemed vulnerable. Let’s not blame the victims.

It is, of course, only one episode. No matter how many airline miles people wrack up, the service is terrible on planes, the seats are cramped and the help is often rude.

Yeah, I know, drunken passengers sometimes cause disturbances and physically attack flight attendants.

But most of us don’t—we quietly endure the torture. And most of our dogs don’t nip. Yet we stand to get arrested for terrorism if we even complain that the coffee is cold.

No wonder some of us would rather take Amtrak when we can.

I’m tired of these blogs in which flight attendants list the things you should never ask them.

Rubbish, I’ll ask them anything I want, and it’s their problem if it aggravates them. It’s their job to serve passengers. To paraphrase a character in Godfather II, it’s the business they chose.

 

Your GDPR Security Blanket

By Ray Schultz

Last December, I was at a holiday party thrown by a software developer, and was just about to sample some rigatoni when I felt a great weight on my left shoulder: Yale Moss, six feet, 195 pounds, stuffed into one of those tiny Tom Brown suits, was leaning on me.

It wasn’t a pleasant surprise. The last time we talked, Yale threatened to punch me out for failing to get his father Mo Moss into the DMA Hall of Fame. Now he was pretending to be friendly. “We’re having a Webinar tomorrow for my new business. I’d like you to be on it.”

“That’s short notice,” I said.

“Not in the age of real-time response,” he replied.

Trying to change the subject, I asked, “How’s your dad?”

“I’m no longer his son,” Yale said. “I refuse to be associated with that slimebucket.”

Huh? Now I had no interest in getting involved in any business of Yale’s, especially at the Moss family’s usual pay rate, which is no pay, nor in their internal disputes. But Yale insisted on hyping his new scam, Your GDPR Security Blanket, and he ordered, “Hear me out!”

I protested, mildly, that there are many fine products that help firms deal with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, the law that takes effect May 25.

“Not like this.” He was right about that.

To hear Yale tell it, all you have to do to comply with GDPR is merge your email list with his and Mo’s Proclivities database of alcoholics, opioid abusers and other such unfortunates.

That sounded like a non-starter to me–nobody in their right mind would turn a list over to Yale, given the Moss family’s history of stealing lists.

And what would happen if Yale’s algorithms failed and you ended up in trouble anyway? Yale said he would deploy his crack legal team. After probing, though, I learned that this consisted of Erwin Forrest, a collection hack who is unable to function outside of Part B of the New York Civil Court, and is known for shouting at reporters, opposing counsel and even clients.

I tried to demur, but Yale was insistent, and since he was twisting my arm and getting close to breaking my elbow, I agreed to participate.

The next day, I showed up at the Data Shack headquarters, in a desk-share place in Williamsburg. There was Erwin, looking reduced, and Yale, dressed in a knit cap, sweatshirt and pajama pants.

We had the usual hot chocolate laced with hot shots of caffeine, and jelly donuts, this being Free Jelly Donut Day in this joint. High on sugar and caffeine, we went into the Media Room, a small airless chamber with thick glass windows. There was no rehearsal. Yale got on Skype, there was a beep, and we got started.

My role, I learned, was to give the technical instructions for listeners, as they used to do in 2002. This took 10 minutes. Then Erwin started reading from legal documents in his gravelly voice, getting flustered at times by footnotes. It turned out he was reading an out-of-date paper on landlord-tenant law, so he tore through his papers until he found something on GDPR. Then he really got lost.

Scheduled for 45 minutes, the Webinar ran over into an hour and a half and we watched on the screen as the attendee list—mostly other people in the list business—dropped from 50 to 35 to 5.

For his part, Yale gave his pitch, and as always, there was something menacing in his tone. “You’ve got three months,” he said. “Don’t be stupid.” By the end, the only person left was a British lawyer who commented, “You people don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Erwin and I shared a green cab back to Manhattan. “Erwin,” I asked, “do you really expect to get paid for all this?”

“I’m a collection lawyer,” he growled. ”I know how to get paid.”

That was the last I heard of it for a month. Then Yale called me to say, “-You won’t believe this–we’re being sued by the FTC,” as if I cared.  It turned out that the Data Shack had been hacked in 2016, and that data on persons on the Proclivities list was exposed, and Yale forgot to report it. “Hell, I’ve got a business to run,” he said. Yale insisted that I  attend the first hearing in the Brooklyn Federal Court.

Who was there but Mo himself, up from Tampa, with an expensive lawyer who specializes in this area. “I have to defend my own flesh and blood,” Mo said. Of course, he had little choice, since his name was also on the incorporation papers. Yale looked sullen.

I never gave Mo too much credit for smarts. But the two of us had coffee at  Starbucks afterwards, and he revealed the cause of his falling out with his son—namely that he, Mo, had refused to back Your GDPR Security Blanket.

Note: All resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental, etc. 

What Do You Call A Norwegian?

By Ray Schultz

President Trump’s alleged comment that we need more Norwegian immigrants in this country (as opposed to people from Africa and Haiti) has caused some wags to wonder: Are there any racial epithets for Norwegians?

Of course there are.  The late Chicago columnist Mike Royko wrote a column in the 1970s laying out at least a couple of ethnic slurs for individuals of Norwegian descent.

Like many Royko columns, this one is presented as a barroom conversation. While beering themselves up, a small circle of white guys debate what Norwegians should be called.

The sole Norwegian present says there are no epithets for them because Norwegians are all nice. But his friends respond with names that they seem to invent on the spot.

The consensus is that there are two names for Norwegians: Noogins and herring benders.

Like many ethnic insults, these may sound funny unless you’re part of the group being assailed. If Norwegians ever attained critical mass in the U.S., they would have to deal with that and more.

Welcome to America.

Rokyo also reported that Lithuanians are called Loogins, proving that there’s an ugly name for everyone.

We never heard that one in New York. It must be a Chicago thing.

Sam Exits The Stage

By Ray Schultz

There were rumors months ago that Sam Shepard was ill. I suspected it was liver trouble caused by his reputed alcohol consumption. But it wasn’t: He died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a malady caused by genetics. It was nothing he did to himself.

And I was saddened in several ways—for one, over the suffering he must have endured with that illness. As a Shepard character says of a deceased singer, “He was going out, and he knew it.” Then there was the loss of this figure who was on the cultural stage for over 50 years, whose work I enjoyed. Finally, it reminded me of the passing of time.

The first Sam Shepard play I saw was Forensic and the Navigators, at Theater Genesis, upstairs from Saint Mark’s Church on the Bowery. It was a snowy Saturday night in January 1968. The playwright Lanford Wilson showed up wearing jeans and sneakers.

The play started in darkness, with the cast singing a spiritual: “We’re gonna be born again, oh Lord.” Soon the two guys in the cast were being instructed on the proper way to prepare Rice Krispies—you could hear the cereal snapping, crackling and popping. Shepard’s future wife Olan Johnson gave a lively performance. It ended with exterminators arriving. The small room filled up with steam and colored lights flashing through it. .

I have no idea whether Shepard ever took LSD, but this play was trippy. And it was funny—all that blather about the myth of the west obscured just how funny he was. In this way, Forensic and the Navigators was in line with the other one-acters he seemed to jot off, like Chicago and Icarus’ Mother. 

You have to remember the time. The Fillmore East was a block or two down 2nd Ave., and the East Village Other had its office there. You could get the best Danishes in the city in Ratner’s, the old dairy restaurant.

Shepard was a figure in the neighborhood. You’d see him at the luncheonette on 10th, buying a container of tea to take a rehearsal. And he was at the acid-drenched party at St. Mark’s church on New Year’s Eve 1969, dressed in full hippie regalia.

The first Western-themed play that I recall was The Unseen Hand, which was presented on a double bill with Forensic and the Navigators downtown in the spring of 1970. It was a futuristic play in which some cowboys are projected into a bleak Mars-like landscape. A character plaintively asks, “There’s no more trains?”

It was a fine companion piece to Forensic and the Navigators. But the new Western direction wasn’t clear at the time. What was obvious was that Shepard wanted to be more than a playwright: There he was in the lobby, playing drums with the Holy Modal Rounders.

I didn’t get it: would Pinter or Beckett do this? Probably not. But I later realized that Shepard had a rock ‘n roll sensibility, not a trait I admired. It came out in The Melodrama Play (a bad play), The Tooth of Crime (a great play) and Cowboy Mouth, the piece he wrote and performed in with Patti Smith.

And it emerged when he accompanied Bob Dylan on a tour. I wondered why a talent like Shepard had to cozy up to Bob Dylan. But his onscreen presence in the resulting documentary led to his getting a role in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, in which he was a quiet, haunting figure. And he was off on his movie career.

In between, Shepard wrote some of his best plays, like Buried Child and True West, for San Francisco’s Magic Theater. I can quote lines from memory (forgive me if I get them wrong). In Busied Child, a character says, “I was thrown out of Arizona. I don’t want to be thrown out of Illinois.”

In True West, in which two adult brothers battle it out, exchange roles and are pulled apart by their mother as they grapple on the floor, one rejects a dinner plate showing the capital of Montana. In effect, he says, “I don’t want to see Montana when I’m eating. When I’m eating, I’m here.”

We saw the original production of that classic, starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinese.

Shepard had a certain integrity as a writer. But at some point, I feared that he had lost his sense of humor. He made a film with Wim Wenders called Paris, Texas, a slow-moving work that was symbolized for me by the guitar going, “boiiiinnng!”

Later, Shepard and Wenders made a movie called Don’t Come Knocking, in which he played a Western movie star who escapes the set. It was savaged by the critics, but I kind of liked it. His mother, portrayed by Eva Marie Saint, keeps a scrapbook of his DWI arrests. It had a little of that old anarchic spirit.

Contrary to reports that Shepard hated New York, he was often in the city. Andrea and I would go to a Moroccan place called Orlin on St. Mark’s Place at midnight to write headlines and eat pasta with potatoes and pesto.

Shepard would sometimes be there, eating by himself, reading a book. Maybe he’d have a drink with his meal Nobody treated him like a celebrity. He looked like a man who could survive and enjoy life on his own. Maybe that’s the Western spirit they’re always talking about.

Honduran Gold

By Ray Schultz

The United States was in a rare period of felicity in 1899. It had won the Spanish American War, taking over the remnants of the Spanish empire. William McKinley, a pro-business Republican with a benign nature, was in the White House; prosperity reigned. The automobile had been invented, the airplane would follow, and people could buy cylinders containing recorded songs like ”I Guess I’ll have to Telegraph My Baby,” by Arthur Collins. But nobody was more optimistic than the lucky few who received pink Express Mail circulars from Honduras at the start of the year.

These were for the Honduras national Lottery (aka the Louisiana Lottery). They offered 12 monthly drawings, each featuring a $30,000 grand prize and hundreds of lesser awards. They were sent by private Express Mail because it was a crime for lottery operators to use the U.S. Post Office. And, of course, they didn’t go to everyone: They went only to lottery enthusiasts—to the fools who had previously bought tickets from the company that had opened for business during Reconstruction.

In 1868, Louisiana was occupied by federal troops, and run by corrupt Republicans, “ignorant Negroes cooperating with a gang of white adventurers, strangers to our interests and our sentiments,” one Southern editor wrote, reflecting the racism of the time and place. Among the newcomers was a 31 year-old Baltimorean named Charles T. Howard. Some people said Howard inflated his Confederate war record, but it didn’t matter, for he had something in short supply in Louisiana: capital. It was provided by the New York gambler John Morris, and Howard liberally dispensed it to the Republicans in the legislature. His hosts rewarded him with an exclusive 25-year charter to operate a lottery, and made it a crime for anyone else to even start one. And the company was exempted from all taxes, except for a $40,000-a-year contribution to the state educational fund.

At first, the Louisiana Lottery sold chances mostly through policy shops in the state: the daily drawings were “the special curse of the colored population,” one observer wrote. But it soon moved into the mails, largely thanks to Dr. Maxmillian A. Dauphin, appointed by Howard as president in 1873.

Dauphin was born in 1837 in Alsace Lorraine, and emigrated to the United States at age 16 with a brother. But the siblings separated after arriving, and Maxmillian ended up friendless in New Orleans. He attached himself to Dr. Sam Choppin, “then the center of one of the most brilliant social, professional and political coteries.” and under his sponsorship became a physician. Then he went into business.

Dauphin knew that the lottery would never realize its full potential until it dominated the Yankee market, which it did within a few years. Next to New Orleans, Washington was the most lucrative city. The Lottery offered tickets at cigar stores, hotels, saloons and barber shops, and through bootblacks and newsboys in the streets. And, of course, it peddled them by mail, so many that Bin “D,” in the Washington post office was assigned to Dauphin, and clerks worked into the night, using “express wagons and furniture cars to haul the outgoing mail,” one account reported.

It was similar in New York and Chicago, where lottery agents mailed tens of thousands of packages a month, containing letters, certificates, logos, entry forms and tickets, all promising “grand” and “extravagant” prizes. One package sent in New York in 1880 said: .“No seed, no harvest.” The Lottery’s mailings pulled in $30,000 a day, or almost $11 million a year. And they constituted 45 percent of the entire business of the New Orleans post office.

The drawings were held in an ancient hall in New Orleans, with an alligator paddling around a pool outside. They were under the “personal supervision” of two venerated Confederate generals: Jubal T. Early and G.T. Beauregard. General Beauregard “was of large stature, but the progress of years weighed heavily upon him, and his shoulders were bent so as to throw his florid face, with its full white hirsute covering, forward towards the floor. Gray-blue eyes, fierce and penetrating, gleamed beneath bushy, overhanging brows. A suit of Confederate gray clothing, well cut and near, covered the aged man.” Then there was Jubal Early, “clad in black, and a handsome face crowned by now-white closely cropped hair was poised proudly above an elegant, dignified form.”

The generals were each paid tens of thousands of dollars a year to stand on stage once a month and “preside.” The drawings featured blindfolded boys from a local orphanage, wearing knickers, and were conducted before men who were “redolent of rum and tobacco and poor bathing facilities, and had no taste or money for clean raiment,” according to one eyewitness account. “With the utmost solemnity, Croupier Early proceeded to blindfold the boy beside him,” wrote another witness. “Located near the brazen drum, Croupier Beauregard, with corresponding gravity, tied a white handkerchief over the eyes of his juvenile assistant.”

The drawing began. Jubal drew the white paper from the encircling black rubber tube. “In measured tones he read the number, 48,146. The voice of General Beauregard was likewise measured and somewhat harder in its timbre when he called the figures on the white slip of paper which he drew from the little black tube: ‘200’ he said.” What it meant was the holder of ticket 48,146 had won $200.”

Several larger prizes were drawn, including jackpots of $100,000 and $300,000, but no winner came up to claim them, causing groans in the gallery. With good reason: One third of the tickets in the drum were unsold, still owned by the Lottery, which meant that the bettors were playing against the house. And the house did well. Government lotteries in Europe distributed up to 85% of their ticket money in prizes; the Louisiana Lottery kept more than half.

In 1890, Congress passed a law making it a felony to use the mails to conduct a lottery. Unlike previous bills, this one made it an offense to even to patronize a lottery by mail. President Benjamin Harrison signed it, and his Postmaster General, the retail magnate John Wanamaker, vowed to enforce it.

So Dauphin bypassed the mails, employing private express deliverers and removing he criminal taint for customers. His ads advised players to “remit currency by express at our expense. Give full address and make signature plain.” But the pressure and his rich New Orleans diet must have gotten to him, for in December 1890 Dauphin died at age 53 after a brief illness. Charles Howard was dead, too, having been thrown from a horse.

Paul Conrad, former chief clerk of the Lottery and part owner of an ice company, took over. The lottery office in Canada mailed thousands circulars over the border. They announced that “recent changes in the United States Postal regulations have rendered it preferable to more closely consult the interest of our Canadian patrons by establishing a branch office in Canada.”

At this point, the Supreme Court of Louisiana was deciding a case over whether to renew the Lottery charter or put it on a ballot referendum. The court, heavily subsidized by the Lottery, ruled to renew, and Conrad quickly got out a mailing hailing the victory. The pamphlet contained return express envelopes addressed to the New Orleans National Bank, again bypassing the Post Office. Worse, in John Wanamaker’s view, it was designed to look like a newspaper, and it was duly mailed at the second class rates for publishers.

Still, the publicity was bad for business. And in 1892, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the anti-lottery laws. Conrad had one more trick: He relocated the Lottery to Honduras, again bypassing U.S. post office. “The Congress of the United Sates having lately passed laws prohibiting the use of mails to all Lotteres, we use the Express companies in answering correspondents snd sending Lists of Prizes to the U.S.A.”

The prices were as follows: Whole tickets, $2; Halves $1; Quarters 50C; Eighths 25C. The pieces also specified: “No order filled for less than one dollar.”

It’s not clear if Conrad was still involved (or even alive) at this point. Purchasers were advised to send their mail to E.J. Demarest, of Puerto Cortez, Honduras, C.A., care of Central American Express, in Port Tampa City, Florida.

The circulars also warned recipients to avoid fraudulent lotteries. “BEWARE of any lottery which claims to be drawn anywhere in the United States,” they said. “Buyers are cautioned against dishonest loteries. Fake lotteries give vendors thirty or forty cents on every dolllar for selling their tickets, therefore, an unscruplous vendor wll help their sale because it increases his profit.”

It’s not clear if the Honduras operation lasted far into the 20th Century: It probably didn’t. In 1901, during the first year of his second term, William McKinley was assassinated. His succssor, Theodore Roosevelt started an era of heavy federal regulation. And few of the old junk mail pirates survived.

Black Mail: How the Nazis Used Direct Mail In America

By Ray Schultz

To the untutored, 1940 probably seemed like just another year ending in a zero. The movies Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were playing around the country. On the radio, one heard Frank Sinatra singing with the Tommy Dorsey band. But some people were not consoled by such entertainment. The Germans were overrunning Europe, the Jews were in peril. And at home, there was a struggle between isolationists like Charles A. Lindbergh, whose comments were tinged with anti-Semitism, and those who felt the U.S. had to help defeat Hitler.

Henry Hoke was in the latter category. The 46 year-old Baltimore native and Wharton graduate was a direct mail expert. He had run the industry’s trade group, The Direct Mail Advertising Association, and he published a magazine called The Reporter of Direct Mail Advertising. He was ever on the alert for frauds who abused the medium. And he felt he had uncovered just such a group.

The Nazis.

Yes, the Germans were using the U.S. mails to spread propaganda, and Hoke, whose son Pete had isolationist circulars shoved under his door at Wharton, took it on himself to expose them. As he wrote later, in a book titled Black Mail, “the German government, through mail issued by specified agencies to selected lists, was attempting to divide the country so that the United States would be helplessly unprepared for future military attack.”

Could he cite examples? Sure. For one, “the German Library of Information guided by Matthias F. Schmitz (assisted by George Sylvester Viereck), issued about 90,000 copies of a semi-weekly, well printed and written Facts in Review to ministers, school teachers, editors of college papers, legislators, publishers,” Hoke wrote in May 1940 in his magazine. “Purpose: to sell the National Socialist ideology and to prevent preparedness against attack.”

Then he added that “the German Railroads Information Office, guided by Ernest Schmitz, issued about 40,000 weekly mimeographed bulletins to hotel mangers, travel agencies, stock brokers, bankers and ‘small business men,’” to “convince Americans that the Nazi system of doing business was best.”

Hoke wasn’t done: “The American Fellowship Forum, guided by Friedrich E. Auhagen, assisted by George Sylvester Viereck, Lawrence Dennis, and others, issued pamphlets or bulletins to a ‘cultural class,’—educators, civic leaders, authors and a selected list of persons who might be sold the idea that the German mind was filled with nothing but the milk of human kindness for all humanity.”

It took courage to write that, even for an American tucked safely at home in Garden City, Long Island. E. Schmitz, from the German Railroads Information Office, wrote to demand that Hoke retract these “slanders,” and assured him that if he did, “a waiver will be given, releasing you and your publication from further claim.” Hoke noted that the letter “had been sent to my home…not to my office.” Were the Germans trying to intimidate him?

If they were, it didn’t work. Instead, Hoke published his exchange with Schmitz in a special mailing—“I refuse to be intimidated by you or by any German controlled organization. I refuse to have my family intimidated,” he wrote. And he got more outspoken as he realized the scope of the German operation.

“For the first time, it was possible to show how the Nazis had built a large mailing list (estimated at 250,000) of German Americans with relatives in Germany…how Japanese boats brought hulls full of printed material from Hamburg, Munich, Berlin…how these pieces were delivered under International Postal Union Treaties free of charge by the United States. (Under International Postal Treat, the country of origin retains the postage collected,” he wrote in Black Mail. “The country of delivery delivers free. A wash-out transaction to avoid bookkeeping).”

But the Germans were only part of it. Hoke found that Sen. Burton K. Wheeler, the Montana Democrat who had broken with Roosevelt over his court-packing plan, was sending out isolationist mail under his free Congressional frank. Analyzing the addressing on the envelopes, Hoke traced the pieces to a German group: the Steuben Society, Also sending seemingly pro-Hitler mail, for free, was Rep. Hamilton Fish (R-NY), who in 1938 had met with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in Europe, and reportedly said that Germany’s demands in Poland were “just,” according to Hoke.

Hoke, who was not Jewish, deplored the anti-Semitism expressed by many isolationists. “On April 25, 1941, in Omaha, Nebraska, Charles B Hudson, violently anti-Semitic publisher, admitted to reporters that he had distributed isolationist speeches under the Congress free mailing franks of Senators Worth Clark of Idaho, Bennett Champ Clark of Missouri and Burton K. Wheeler of Montana, and Representatives Oliver of Maine and Bolton of Ohio,” he reported.

Hoke wrote to Wheeler: “Unaddressed franked mail under your signature and under that of former Representative Jacob Thorkelson of Montana, has been distributed by your violent adherent Donald Shea at his anti-Semitic meetings and by Nazi-loving, Jew-baiting Joe McWilliams at Christian Front meetings. Recipients were instructed to address the franked envelopes and dump them into the nearest postal box, without payment of postage.”

Of course, isolationists had a right to circulate their views, although not under franked mail, Hoke argued. Wheeler fought back. “I am not seriously concerned about Mr. Hoke’s misrepresentations,” he wrote in a letter. “In the first place, Mr. Hoke is interested in direct mail advertising, as he himself says, and is opposed to the use of the franking privilege on general principles.”

Sen. Wheeler then claimed that “Mr. Hoke makes no reference to the fact that those in Government who apparently favor our intervention in foreign war sent out under various Congressional franks some 2,00,000 pieces of mail all over the United States, much of it distributed by the pro-interventionist committees and organizations.”

Wheeler also falsely wrote that Hoke was employed by the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai Brith, as if that discredited him. Meanwhile, Hoke reported that the supposedly good name of the Order of the Purple Heart was being used as a cover in the scheme.

Events moved quickly. Franklin Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented third term in November 1940. On June 2, 1941, Hoke wrote, “a friend beside a news ticker called me on the ‘phone to beat the headlines…’Henry, you ought to be glad to know,’ he said, ‘the President of the United States has just issued an executive order closing the German Railroads…the German Library of Information…and the German Consulates.’”

Hoke was pleased, although this crusade had practically wrecked his business. But he kept after the Nazi sympathizers, using the techniques of his trade to undo them. For instance, friends wrote flattering letters to the appeasers, using dummy names, and soon received isolationist letters addressed to those names, fueling his investigative reporting. And more was to follow.

“We learned from a girl who worked in a locked and guarded room on the top floor of the Ford Building at N. 1710 Broadway in New York City that Ford Motor Car Company employees were compiling a master list of appeasers, anti-Semites, pro-Nazis and Fascists from fan mail addressed to Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh, to former Senator Rush Holt and to Representative Hamilton Fish,” Hoke wrote.

He added that “the lists, when compiled, were delivered to Bessie Feagin, circulation manager of Scribner’s Commentator. That explained how some of the dummy names used in writing to radio orators eventually got on the list of the American First Committee and Scribner’s Commentator. But why the Ford organization? But why…a lot of things?”

Feagin was eventually hauled before a grand jury, as were many others, including Hamilton Fish. “No one knows what Hamilton Fish told the Grand Jury on December 5, 1941,” Hoke said. “Someone was pulling every possible string to have the case buried.”

Two days passed. Then: “Sunday afternoon, December 7, 1941, just as our little family sat down to dinner…the flash we feared came over the radio…Pearl Harbor!”

Myth has it that the country pulled together at that moment, but Hoke knew better. Isolationists blamed Roosevelt for the war, inferring that Japan was in its rights to attack. “Remember…these were statements made by Americans on the Sunday night of December 7, 1941…the blackest day in American history,” Hoke wrote. “Made by the same Americans who for months had been mimicking and distributing the printed propaganda of the enemy.”

And they continued. “By the fall of 1943…the volume of black mail had grown to alarming proportions and was increasing rapidly,” Hoke charged. “The average citizen, when told about it still said, “I don’t believe it.” He didn’t see many of the Hate Sheets of the vermin press—or he may have seen only one or two which he passed off as “crack-pot.’” Hoke cited several anti-Semitic publications, like The Defender, Destiny and The Mothers of Sons Forum Bulletin.

There were victories along the way: Multiple indictments for sedition and other crimes. Some resulted in convictions, including that of George Hill, secretary to Hamilton Fish. Hill was “that certain man,” sought by Hoke, who ran the massive propaganda operation. “He was convicted of perjury—but the evidence proved him guilty of conspiracy with Viereck and Dennet to use the Government Printing Office and the Congressional franking privilege for the dissemination of Nazi and Fascist propaganda,” Hoke wrote.

Then there was the case of George Sylvester Viereck, who had failed to register as a foreign agent. Hoke recorded the scene:

“11:30 P.M. Judge Lawes appears and the courtroom is filled with an air of dignity…and tension. The jury walks in a semi-circle at the side of the bench. Viereck stands before the jury and glares. The clerk reads each count and the foreman answers—‘Guilty’…six times. Vierecks lawyer asks that the jury be polled. Viereck glares at each juror as the question is put six times, an the answer six times is ‘Guilty.’ Seventy-to times Viereck hears his ‘fellow citizens’ say the word ‘Guilty.’ The big marshal standing behind George Sylvester Viereck takes out his handcuffs and the Nazi agent goes out through the back door. Court adjourned.”

Henry Hoke lived until 1970. His son Pete took over the magazine, and changed its name to Direct Marketing. Pete’s son Hank is now in charge of the Hoke operation. To paraphrase James Agee, let us now praise Henry Hoke for his selfless campaign. Why did he do it? “Because some people, some place…are running a campaign to destroy Democracy,” he wrote, concluding Black Mail. “Our destiny is better than that. Our boys and girls deserve a better future. Fight against this black mail. If we do not…we’ll not know the sweet of Freedom until we have lost it.”

How Does A Gentleman Know a Cad?

By Ray Schultz

Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in 1961, and many people believed he had lost it as a writer by that time. First, there had been his 1950 novel, Across the River and Into the Trees. It was savaged by critics as self-parody; only Tennessee Williams thought it was among his poetic best. Hemingway recovered in 1952 with The Old Man and the Sea, a short novel published to universal acclaim; it won him a Pulitzer and helped him snare the Nobel Prize for Literature. I especially love the scenes in which the boy brings food and coffee to the old man. But a certain revisionism soon crept in. Some critics deplored what they saw as the heavy handed symbolism of the old man carrying the mast of his boat, like Christ carrying his cross. I never bought that academic line. But it was the last book published in Hemingway’s lifetime, and readers wondered what he had been doing.

What he had been doing was working. In 1964, three years after his death, his widow Mary published A Moveable Feast, his memoir about his youthful days in Paris. I first read it at age 19, while working in a Navy photo lab. Here’s how it opens:

Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal and the Café des Amateurs was crowded and the windows misted over from the heat and the smoke inside.

Imagine opening a book with the word “then,” a word Jonathan Franzen says a writer should never use. But who needs Franzen’s advice? A Moveable Feast contained some of the best prose Hemingway ever wrote, on a level with that of his short stories. I read on, enjoying paragraphs like this one, in which he enters a cafe:

It was a pleasant café, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the tack above the bench and ordered a café au lait. The waiter brought it, and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write. I was writing about up in Michigan and since it was a wild, cold, blowing day it was that sort of day in the story. I had already seen the end of fall come through boyhood, youth and young manhood, and in one place you could write about it better than in another. That was called transplanting yourself, I thought, and it could be as necessary with people as with other sorts of growing things. But in the story the boys were drinking and this made me thirsty and I ordered a rum St. James. This tasted wonderful on the cold day and I kept on writing, feeling very well and feeling the good Martinique rum warm me all through my body and my spirit.

Thirty or 40 years before the movie, that section transported me to the fantasy world depicted in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Obviously, it did the same for Allen and millions of other people.

Then there was this little scene about hunger, which Hemingway believed heightened his perception of the Cezanne paintings in the Louvre. Hemingway had just visited Shakespeare’s bookstore, where he all but admitted he was broke, and was handed a letter from a German publisher, containing 600 francs, a nice piece of change in those days.

Hemingway is angry at himself: You God-damn complainer. You dirty phone saint and martyr, I said to myself. You quit journalism of your own accord.

But now he has money. So, he writes, Hunger is healthy and the pictures do look better when you are hungry. Eating is wonderful too and do you know where you are going to eat right now?

 Lipp’s is where you are going to eat and drink too.

 It was a quick walk to Lipp’s and every place I passed that my stomach noticed as quickly as my eyes or my nose made the walk an added pleasure. There were few people in the brassiere and when I sat down on a bench against the wall with the mirror in back and a table in front and the waiter asked if I wanted beer I asked for a distingue, the big glass mug that held a liter, and for potato salad.

 The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. The pommes a’ I’huile were firm and marinated and the olive oil delicious. I ground black pepper over the potatoes and moistened the bread in the olive oil. After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly. When the pommes a I’huile were gone I ordered another serving and a cervelas. This was a sausage like a heavy, wide frankfurter split in two and covered with a special mustard sauce.

I share these quotes merely to give you a sample of Hemingway’s writing—I offer no critical commentary. But admit it: Wouldn’t you want to be there?

But let’s get down to cases. This book also has its detractors. Gore Vidal, a writer I admire very much, hated “the spontaneity of his cruelty. The way he treated Fitzgerald, described in A Moveable Feast. The way he condescended to Ford Maddox Ford, one of the best novelists in our language.”

Vidal was right about the cruelty, and he would have known–look at some of the portraits in his own memoir Palimpsest . But those chapters were so funny. And both Ford and Fitzgerald  were fair game- they were world-renowned authors. Consider this exchange between Hemingway and Ford Maddox Ford as they drink at an outdoor table. Ford had just “cut” a man he identified as the writer Belloc. “Did you see me cut him?” he asks in a boastful way. Young Hemingway challenges him about it.

“A gentleman,” Ford explained, “will always cut a cad.”

 I took a quick drink of brandy.

 “Would he cut a bounder?” I asked.

 “It would be impossible for a gentleman to know a bounder.”

 “Then you can only cut someone you have known on terms of equality?” I pursued.

“Naturally.”

“How would you ever meet a cad?”

 “You might not know it, or the fellow could have become a cad.”

 “What is a cad?” I asked. “Isn’t he someone that one has to thrash within an inch of his life?”

 “Not necessarily,” Ford said.

 “Is Ezra (Pound) a gentleman?”

 “Or course not,” Ford said. “He’s an American”

Oh, how delicious.

And Fitzgerald? I revere him as a writer, but the man had his tics, and Hemingway captured them. Take this scene, in which the two are traveling in Fitzgerald’s car, which has no roof, from Lyon to Paris, and are drenched in the rain, drinking wine all the way. Fitzgerald is convinced he has caught a fatal congestion, and they check into a hotel, and are dressed in their pajamas in the room while their clothes are being dried. Hemingway is reading a crime serial in a French newspaper.

On this evening in the hotel I was delighted that he was being so calm. I had mixed the lemonade and whisky and given it to him with two aspirins and he had swallowed the aspirins without protest and with admirable calm and was sipping his drink. His eyes were open now and were looking far away. I was reading the crime in the inside of the paper and was quite happy, too happy it seemed.

 “You’re a cold one, aren’t you?” Scott asked and looking a him I saw that I had been wrong in my prescription, if not in my diagnosis and that the whisky was working against us.

 “How do you mean, Scott?”

 “You can sit there and read that dirty French rag of a paper and it doesn’t mean a thing to you that I am dying.”

 “Do you want me to call a doctor?”

 “No. I don’t want a dirty French provincial doctor.”

“What do you want?”

 “I want my temperature taken. Then I want my clothes dried and for us to get on an express train for Paris and to go to the American hospital at Neuilly.”

That doesn’t happen. Fitzgerald who had just published The Great Gatsby, is finally persuaded by Hemingway that he is well (“I’ve always had remarkable recuperative powers”), and they get dressed and go down for dinner, where Scott passes out.

I’m sorry, but I still laugh when I read it.

By today’s standards, one may quibble with the portrait of Gertrude Stein: Hemingway wrote that he broke with her after walking in on an intimate lesbian scene. It’s a distasteful, stereotypical anecdote, if you will, but I believe there had to be more to it. There was growing professional tension between the two. And Stein had plenty of nasty things to say about Hemingway, both his writing and masculinity, long before he wrote that account.

Hemingway also ridiculed an apparently gay writer who sat down with him, uninvited, while he was writing in a café. Well, nobody said Hemingway was a saint. Later, if you believe Kenneth Tynan, Hemingway had a friendly encounter with Tennessee Williams at a bar in Key West; they exchanged the names of doctors.

But back to A Moveable Feast. How did the physically declining writer achieve that level of prose? Biographers report that in 1957, when stopping at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, Hemingway was told that a trunk had been found that he’d stored there in 1927. To his delight, it contained his notebooks from that time.

Did Hemingway merely rearrange anecdotes written 30 years earlier that he discovered in the notebooks? Or did he truly write A Moveable Feast? in the 1950s based on information in the notebooks? That’s not clear, but I hope it’s the latter. Either way, he was preparing the book for publication, as he was with The Dangerous Summer, on a bullfighting rivalry. Sitting there unpublished, not quite ready in his view, were three full-length books: Islands in the Stream, The Garden of Eden, and True At First Light (later repackaged as Under Kilimanjaro).

What had he been doing, indeed.

So yes, I’m a Hemingway fan. Do I also worship the macho man who reveled in what H.L. Mencken called “the armed pursuit of the lower fauna?” No, I compartmentalize that, just as I plan to compartmentalize the news, just out, that Hemingway signed on as a Soviet spy in the 1940s, although he never gave them anything. One must forgive him. just as one forgives John Dos Passos and James Gould Cozzens for being conservatives—it’s the work that’s important. Even Picasso was a Communist for a time. But who thinks about that when viewing his paintings?

Forget all the Life magazine hoopla. To see what kind of man Hemingway was, one must turn to Nelson Algren. In 1955, five years after he won the first National Book Award for his novel, The Man With The Golden Arm, Algren was in crisis. He was losing his beach house in Gary, Indiana, his passport had been seized, his brief marriage (his second to the same woman) had ended, he regularly lost money gambling and his confidence as a writer had been shaken. Passing through Miami, he took a steamer to Havana; you didn’t need a passport to go to Cuba then. He called the Hemingways, and Mary Hemingway invited him out to their farm, Finca Vigia. Hemingway had been an early booster of Algren’s work, but they had never met. So Algren visited Hemingway, who was bed-ridden from injuries sustained in his 1953 plane crashes in Africa. To Algren, Hemingway looked more intellectual than he’d imagined. Algren, who had seen Disney’s The African Lion in Miami, insisted on showing the great hunter how big cats stalked prey. They talked about boxing, and Hemingway invited Algren for Christmas dinner the next day. Algren’s biographer, Bettina Drew, notes that Christmas at the Hemingways’ was just where he belonged, unencumbered by a wife and knowing he was accepted and respected for his writing, for what he was. The party was significant for Nelson because of the emotional affinity, far deeper than words, stirred by Hemingway.

Algren spent time alone with Hemingway prior to the dinner. Then, he reported, “Hemingway got out of bed painfully. He was fully dressed. There were guests waiting.” Algren recorded this scene in a remarkable 1965 book, titled Notes From A Sea diary: Hemingway All the Way, in which he wrote about his time as a passenger on a tramp steamer in the Pacific, in the form of a diary, and combined that with reflections on Hemingway and a counter attack against Hemingway’s critics. Here’s what he had to say about Hemingway and his guests:

He sat among them gravely serious. He carried an air of tranquility. He didn’t throw a punch at anybody. He didn’t stagger. He didn’t brag. He listened, perceived, and he liked having company. What he brought to a table of many guests was the feeling that everyone understood one another. I remember hearing Spanish spoken, and French, and of understanding not a word of what was said: and of knowing, when I spoke English, that some of the guests didn’t understand me. But because of Hemingway’s presence everything seemed understood.

His beautiful and moving writing aside, that’s how I think of Ernest Hemingway.

The Fuehrer’s Database

By Ray Schultz

Twitter received kudos this month when it said it would not assist in the creation of a Muslim registry. Of the nine companies queried, it was the only one to give a definite “no.”

Good for Twitter. But it made me wonder: Did a country ever use information technology to identify people by religion?

Sure it did. The Nazis utilized a metal punch-card sorting system to find Jews and send them to their deaths, Edwin Black writes in his 2001 book, IBM and the Holocaust.

In essence, the equipment leased to the Nazis by IBM’s German subsidiary, Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellschaft (or Dehomag), was a state-of-the-art mailing list system for that time.

With Dehomag’s help, the Nazis conducted a census, asking pointed questions about religion and ancestry, Black alleges.

“What emerged,” Black continues, “was a profession-by-profession, city-by-city, and indeed a block-by-clock revelation of the Jewish presence.” Moreover, by cross-sorting the columns, the Nazis could “identify who among the Jews would be its first targets for confiscation, arrest, imprisonment, and ultimately expulsion.”

Another effort occurred a few years later when Germany was about to launch the war; they even went through old church records to find Jews whose families had converted to Christianity generations before.

Later, the punch-cards were used to code the demises of the victims, and record which ones had received “special handling” (usually, extermination in a gas chamber), Black claims.

“All Auschwitz name information, including workers still alive, deaths, and transferees, was continuously punched into the camp’s Hollerith system,” Black charges. “Tabulated totals were wired each day to the SS Economics Administration and other offices in Berlin to process cards and lists for each inmate transferred.”

It’s not clear how much guilt is shared by IBM/Demohag. But one thing is certain: Technology can result in monstrous ends, especially when misused by states in partnership with the private sector.

Ivanka Live

By Ray Schultz

Ah, memories. Did you know that Ivanka Trump, the daughter of our next President, once spoke at a direct marketing event?

It happened on June 16, 2009 at DM Days in New York. And I covered it. Not that it was a big story—I can’t remember where, or even if, it was published. But it might be of some slight historical interest. So here’s my report, with not a word changed, not even the archaic term “DMer.”

Lessons From Ivanka Trump

With all respect, why do beleaguered DMers need lessons in living from 27 year-old Ivanka Trump?

It’s not that we disagree with any of the tips she offered this morning on how to succeed. But she’s Donald Trump’s daughter. What can she possibly know about adversity?

Granted, she’s been around enough self-made people to know what it takes (not that her dad qualifies). And she argued that it’s not easy being a Trump. “Much is given, much is expected,” she said.

She did make one pertinent observation about the downturn: “The last 18 months are the best education I’ve had to date, better than Wharton and operating in the hottest real estate marketing anyone’s seen.”

We’re still not sure why her real estate job in the Trump empire qualifies her as a speaker at DM Days. But here are some of her prescriptions:

  1. Make sure you love what you’re doing. 
  2. Be resilient. Ivanka has seen many successful people become despondent during the downturn, “unable to get out of their own way.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make cold calls.

We’d suggest that she collect these nostrums into a book. But she probably already has.