The Last Rebbes: Life among The Hasidic Jews, Part XIV–Epilogue

By Ray Schultz

There is a reason this account stops in 1974 and does not continue as a full-fledged history: I had a bad, chopped-up article appear in the New York Times Magazine that fall, which I now find mortifying. and after that gave up on the idea of doing anything more—there was no demand, and I would have lost access in any case. This narrative mostly consists of verbatim notes I wrote up in 1973-74 on cheap yellow paper, then retyped into my computer over the last couple of years, editing along the way.

I don’t present this as a great work of journalism. But it’s a document of sorts: It tells the story of my encounters with the Hasidim at a particular moment in history: the era of Watergate and the Yom Kippur war, and the aging of the great Rebbes. 

Almost 50 years have passed, and there are postscripts to several of the stories. 

Samuel Shrage died of a heart attack in 1976. There were charges within Hasidic ranks that the African-American ambulance attendants took their sweet time and let him die. I couldn’t believe that. 

A summer or two later, I was in CBGB’s, the Bowery punk-rock club. As Patti Smith was shrieking, I ran into David the Lubavitch dropout. He was very unfriendly, and said, “Stop asking me how I am.” I concluded based on his attire and the venue that he had not returned to Lubavitch. 

In 1979,  the Satmar Rebbe died at age 92. Given the state of his health, I suspected the Satmar were already used to getting along without him. Later, I  learned that the movement split into two groups, with different rabbinical leadersship.

There also was change at Lubavitch, although it took longer to unfold. In 1991, the Rebbe and his caravan of cars were driving back to Crown Heights from Montefiore Cemetery, when the last car in the procession hit and killed Gavin Cato, a seven year-old African-American child. This precipitated riots and conflict in which a young Jewish man, Yankel Rosenbaum, was stabbed to death. These tragic events exacerbated stresses that had existed as far back as the 1960s. 

The Rebbe died in 1994. And the Lubavitch movement also split into two groups, at least intellectually—those who believed the late Rebbe was the messiah and those didn’t. 

The Bobover Rebbe died in 2000, and his movement, too, eventually broke into two groups.

Historians may uncover the truth behind these splits.. But I have my own theory: that the job in each case had become too big for one man. 

The passing of the Satmar, Lubavitch and Bobover Rebbes marked the end of an epoch. These were the leaders who escaped the Holocaust and made their way to the United States. There they pulled together small groups of survivors and new adherents who had nowhere else to turn, helping them get a toehold in America and in so doing rebuilt their shattered communities until they were more robust than ever, in the face of grave poverty and other problems, all the while giving tirelessly of themselves as they entered old age. Hopefully, no future Rebbes will face such harrowing challenges. 

That’s why this account is called The Last Rebbes. 

Of course, other Rebbes performed similar feats. And both younger and older Rebbes continue to lead their congregations today. But Schneerson, Teitelbaum and Halberstam were giants of a type that surely deserve study. 

As for me, you might wonder if this experience turned me into a Hasid.  It didn’t. A skeptic, a bohemian and a hack. I could never submit to the kind of regimented religious life pursued by Hasidic Jews: My brief taste of it convinced me of that. 

Then there were the political issues.

I had long been bothered by the Haredi’s outsize political influence in Israel, and the Orthodox rabbinate’s power to determine who is a Jew and to pass on the legitimacy of marriages. It’s one thing to voluntarily choose a religious way of life—it’s another to be compelled to observe even small elements of it. Surely, there must be room in the Jewish tent for converts, non-believers, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, individuals whose fathers were Jewish but not their mothers, gays, lesbians, the transgendered and other outliers. 

One must also question Hasidic positions on the occupied territories, and the tendency of the Orthodox in the U.S. to support Republican candidates and to align on issues with the religious right. 

Late in 1974, I was on the Broadway Limited train from New York to Chicago, when men wearing black coats and hats boarded in Ohio. Not Hasidim—Amish. I did a double take. My traveling companion scarcastically said. “There’s your next article,”

Please, no—I’d had enough of black-coated religious groups for a time and was in fact fleeing New York to escape the probable reaction to my article in Crown Heights. But one thing became clear as the years went by and I grew even more ambivalent about the politics and my own belief structure: I missed the Hasidim. 

Introduction

Part 1

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

Part VIII

Part IX

Part X

Part XI

Part XII

Part XIII

Yale And Danny Do The Pandemic

By Ray Schultz

A Sunday or two ago, I was enjoying a stroll in Central Park when I was almost knocked over by a lout on a skateboard, wearing no shirt and no mask. I was about to curse the Millennials, then I saw it was a particular Millennial: Yale Moss by name.

I tried to hold my temper because Yale’s wife Danny was sitting on a bench not three feet away, wheeling a baby carriage back and forth. And she at least had a mask on.

The last time, I had seen this pair was at their wedding reception in January. Danny’s dad Hal Hall had finally accepted Yale as his son-in-law, mostly because of Yale’s sales record, and had even named him as VP in charge of used car lots and hauling and cartage concerns for the Middle-Atlantic region. And a baby was on the way.

Not that I cared, but how had they been faring and what were they doing in Central Park?  They looked a little gaunt. I sat down with them, carefully social distancing myself, and they told me the story. Yale did most of the talking.

The baby arrived in March and he was named in honor of his two grandfathers. There was some debate over whose name should go first, but Hal’s was chosen because Hal Mo sounds better than Mo Hal when the contractions are used together, and Hal is the billionaire.

Over Danny’s objections, Yale insisted that they fly to Tampa to see his folks Mo and Wendy. But the minute they landed, they were clapped into quarantine because Florida ordered that anyone from New York be isolated for two weeks. The only food they could get was takeout pizza during a three-hour window each day. Fortunately, they had enough baby formula and diapers.

When the quarantine was up, Florida put them on a plane back to New York, and the minute they arrived, they were  thrown into quarantine again because New York was retaliating by blocking anyone arriving from Florida. Here they were given leftover jailhouse bologna sandwiches once a day.

No sooner had the last two weeks expired, with things getting gamier by the day, when they were grabbed by ICE and transported on a bus with barred windows to Easton, Pennsylvania because someone heard Yale joke that they were being  “deported.” They were quarantined again, and left to rot  in a motel where there was no food available at all, and they had to subsist on small packets of Famous Amos cookies and Cheezits from a vending machine.

Meanwhile, Hal Hall’s  battery of high-priced legal help couldn’t even figure where his family members were, let alone how to get them out of this predicament.

One night, Hal was venting to Mo over the phone, and Mo suggested he call Erwin Forrest, a landlord-tenant lawyer who might be able to help. Hal called and Erwin was happy to hear from him because business was slow, there being a moratorium on evictions in New York State.

Hal, a man accustomed to great authority, had to visit Erwin’s office in a rat-trap office on Fulton Street, where file cabinets were kept in the hallway outside the elevators. Speaking over a telecom, Hal explained the problem and Erwin gruffly ordered Hal to deliver $20,000 in small unmarked bills, exclusive of fees.

Hal has never been talked to this way in his life, but he had a certain familiarity with criminality. He sent the assistant who was with him to his office to get the cash from a safe. Then he had to deposit the money into a automated teller’s window in the wall in Erwin’s hallway.  It took a day or two, but thanks to Erwin’s magic, Yale, Danny and little Hal Mo arrived back in the city by private limo.

All three had contracted colds, but thankfully not Covid-19. They were sure of this because the adults were painfully tested with long nasal swabs that went right up to the eyeball at every step of the journey.

Altogether, they  were in custody for two months, and their marital relations were severely strained. Danny threw Yale out of her apartment in the Pierre the day they got back.

Luckily, Yale had won a contract to gut the office of a bankrupt Philadelphia law firm, and the bankruptcy court insanely approved a fee of $1.5 million, most of which was profit.

Determined to save the deal, Hal brought in a telehealth marriage counselor, who advised Yale and Danny to laugh at themselves, enjoy the sunshine and then go isolate in the Hall family compound in Southhampton, Long Island. So here they were, making goo-goo eyes at each other again.

I was happy that the lovebirds were reconciled, but not that happy. When I got home, I found that I had a fever.

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Introduction: Oh, Pioneers

By Ray Schultz

Copyright 2014

For Andrea

The consumer was prey who had to pray,” Copywriter Ed McLean

“`Who? Who’s got a steady job, a couple bucks nobody’s touched, who?’ David Mamet in Glengarry Glen Ross

Known for their beauty and even more for their vast ore deposits, the hills around Laramie, Wyoming were in 1865 the scene of regular knifings and garrotings. Then the Union Pacific Railroad was extended to Laramie, and westward from there: By 1875, trains were pulling in to refuel, and passengers were rushing into trackside restaurants to dine on dishes like minced liver on toast and calves tongue with tomato sauce. And there was one other sign of civilization: a lottery run by a man listed in the city directory as “Pattee, J.M., capitalist.”

Not that most townspeople were aware of the Lottery King. Having been run out of Omaha for swindling, Pattee had learned to operate by stealth. There would be no public drawings in Laramie, as there had been in Omaha. He would also pull back on advertising in newspapers. Why bother with that when there was a more hidden medium, one that would render him “hard to arrest for the deeds of the present, and harder to locate for the deeds of the past?”

That would be what is now called junk mail. This medium did not yet have a name, but it was the precursor of spam, and all other forms of instrusive advertising, and Pattee had mastered it. His circulars, 40,000 at a time, were printed by the Daily Sun, a newspaper located two doors down from his office, placed in hand-addressed envelopes, then loaded onto trains, some ending up “where the temperature is fifty degrees below zero, and little business has been transacted beyond sending to the general store for provisions,” as legend had it. Others went to places where “the golden scresent sinks beneath the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico. and summer is eternal.”

The pieces were simple prize sheets. There was no way to tailor the copy by classifying people by their characteristics. Still, early junk mailers like Pattee had little trouble targeting their customers: They referred to them, simply, as “the fools.”

It was all they needed. For the real pioneers were grifters of whom little good can be said except that they were less likely than train robbers or other postal felons to be tattooed.

Chapter 1: Crooked Colonials

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 25: Harbors Of Missing Men

By Ray Schultz

The Depression year 1932 was not a good one for mailing list compilers or anyone else. “There has been a steady decline in lists of all kinds,” said E.J. Williams, age 72, in his apartment in the Waldorf-Astoria. “In 1929, we had far more millionaires, wealthy widows or paper hangars worth $2,000 or more.”

Williams, the owner of Boyd’s City Dispatch, had long experience in this business. Started by John T. Boyd in 1844, Boyd’s had delivered mail in New York and even had its own stamps, featuring the image of an eagle on a globe. Williams joined the firm as an errand boy, and traveled around the city on foot and on horse cars.

One Friday in May 1883, the delivery boys left for their first of two runs for the day. Waiting for them on Beekman Place were postal inspectors. The inspectors, armed and with full police powers, ordered the boys to turn over their mail bags: The post office had decided to protect its monopoly by shutting down independent delivery operations. Counting those seized from both Boyd’s and Hussey’s, another delivery company, the haul that day was 25,000 letters.

This should have been the end of Boyd’s. But the firm then known as Boyd’s City Despatch Addressing, Mailing & Delivery Agency had a side business. Around the time of the Civil War, a steamship line asked to use the Boyd’s address list to mail cruise solicitations. In time, Williams bought a half-interest in the firm for $150 during a downturn, and eventually owned it all. He changed course when he took over: He created mailing lists by copying names from public stock listings.

Foremost on the Boyd’s list were the 2,532 widows in the country said to be worth over $50,000. Williams also collected the names of “fat people, bald people, and sufferers from asthma or liver trouble.” But he was ethical up to a point. Though he had no problem renting the widow’s list to real estate agents or philanthropic fundraisers, he drew the line matrimonial agencies.

In 1923, Williams wrote a article, outlining some of his methods, and stated, frankly, “The hardest names to get are those of responsible persons with means.

“People worth up to a thousand dollars, and who are known to have a good standing because they pay their bills, are on what we call the general mail-order list,” he wrote. “They receive catalogs from mail order houses, and also announcements from dealers about such moderate-priced products as clothes, shoes and raincoats.” The types of solicitations improved as a person moved up the financial ladder. “The man who is supposed to be worth from $1,000 to $5,000 receives letters from jewelers concerning moderate-priced rings and watches,” Williams wrote.

“The cigars brought to his attention range in price form five to ten cents,” he continued. “His letters from an insurance company tell him of policies ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. If he receives letters from hotels or summer resorts, his information is about accommodations to be had for from three to five dollars per day.”

People at the $5,000 pinnacle received letters about “pianos, organs, high-class domestic furniture and rugs, and silverware. The insurance suggestions sent to a man in this class range from 10,000 to $15,000. He receives letters from hotels whose rates are from $5 to $25 a day. The cigars he hears about are priced at from ten to thirty cents.

“The preparation of any such list as this requires a great deal of expert investigation, covering public records of property holdings and stock lists,” Williams explained. “Facts which on their surface might indicate that a man is very well-to-do cannot always be relied upon.”

Here he took a slam at rivals R.L. Polk and Donnelley—Midwestern companies that compiled car registration lists. “To some extent, the kind of automobile a man owns might be accepted as an indication of his worth; but, on the other hand, a man may have bought a high-priced car second-hand.”

There was good reason for his boasting. Boyd’s, in little more than a year, had sold “150,000 lists containing 200-million names, at a price for each list ranging from one dollar and a half to six thousand dollars,” Williams said. Its millionaires’ list was ever popular, as were its doctors’ and lawyers’ lists (you could rent all 7,000 doctors for $17.50).

Williams admitted that business had suffered since 1929. But there was a bright side: With 11-million unemployed, there was a great pool of college graduates available for stuffing envelopes, Williams told the New York Times at the Waldorf.

*****

Boyd’s competitor, R.L. Polk Co., was started by Ralph Lane Polk, a Civil War drummer boy who was present at Appomattox. A “stern and frugal man,” who had enlisted in the Union army at 16, Polk sold patent medicines door-to-door after the war, then was hired as a city directory enumerator for $2 a day.

City directories were the main listings of individuals in that pre-telephone age. In 1837, McCabe’s Directory of Detroit listed Andrew B. Calhoun, merchant tailor at 175 Jefferson av.; Denis Callaghan, laborer, on Wapping; and Barnaba Campau, gentleman, at 178 Jefferson.

In 1870, Polk started a directory of towns along the Detroit and Milwaukee railroad. And as the railroads pushed west, he published directories in many other towns, outpacing his competitors. Polk directories eventually became known as the “books with thousands of characters.”

Don’t think the Polk family was infallible: It should have moved into the telephone directory business, competing against Reuben H. Donnelley, but it didn’t. “That was probably the biggest single mistake my grandfather made,” the scion Stephen Polk said in a 1996 interview. “He decided there wasn’t much business in telephone books.”

But there was another business waiting, and Polk found it thanks to a lucky piece of geographic planning. Though he could have settled in Milwaukee, South Bend any other Midwestern town, the patriarch chose Detroit. And it was in that city that the automobile was mass produced.

“Alfred P. Sloan, who was the real founder of General Motors, knew my grandfather (Raph Lane Polk Jr.) socially,” Stephen Polk said. “He always complained that Henry Ford lied to him about how many cars he was selling across town. We were the largest directory company, managing all these slips of paper, and keeping track of millions of people. He said, “I can’t believe you can’t keep track of the autos being sold.”

So the Polks went into the automotive statistics business, and it was there that they found another lucrative sideline: In 1921, they bought regional companies that compiled mailing lists based on automobile registrations–in Des Moines, Newark and Cleveland. And they started sending brochures to local auto dealers, selling them on the benefits of direct mail.

Like E.J. Williams, R.L. Polk Jr. found one positive factor during the Depression. “Our city directories are ‘harbors of missing men,’” he wrote in an article. “In this day of change, when folks move about like checkers on a board, the directory alone probably holds the record through which they may be located.’”

There was, of course, one man for whom there was no hope at all, although he was hardly missing: Louis Victor Eytinge. “We got him a job,” wrote Henry Hoke, a copywriter who had run the Direct Mail Advertising Association and now published a magazine called The Reporter of Direct Mail. He. “He paid back his ‘obligations.’ But he was sometimes, ‘Jekyll.’ Sometimes ‘Hyde.’ His name gradually dropped out of the picture.

But Hoke kept up with him. “I last saw him in Chicago during the summer of 1938,” Hoke continued. “He was 59 years old then. The uncontrollable had been controlled by laws of nature. He was making good on a job. His genius for writing was still great. He asked me please not to give him any publicity. He smiled at his broken memories and the mess he had made out of the big promises of 1920. ‘Hyde’ was dead. ‘Jekyll’ just wanted to be left alone with what might have been.” Louis Victor Eytinge died a year later.

Chapter 26: Black Mail

 

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 24: The Traveling Salesman

By Ray Schultz

Edward Proctor Jr. was a child of privilege. He’d gone to the Hackley School, a boarding school, in Tarrytown, New York after his father decided that the children of tenant farmers of Teaneck, where his family lived, were not suitable classmates.

Young Proctor hardly ever saw his father, who worked non-stop to build the business he had bought. But as side benefits accrued as the prosperity of the 1920s took hold. One summer, the family visited 40 states on a train tour of the U.S.; the following year, they went on a European trip.

Proctor later attended Cornell, and hoped to become a journalist. He was hired as an intern on the Bergen Record in Northern New Jersey in the summer of 1931. One day, when the regular reporter didn’t show up, Proctor was sent to cover the dedication ceremony for the George Washington Bridge. He found himself riding in an elevator in the superstructure of the bridge with New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was shocked to see Roosevelt seated in a wheelchair.

It was easy to forget that his education was being paid for by the mailing list business, and that there was a depression going on. But Proctor was reminded of it that fall when his father called him in for a talk.

The old man got right to the point. Business was so bad that he had to restructure and lay off several people. There was no choice but for Ed Jr. to leave school and come to work for the company. Another young man would have rebelled, but Proctor took it well. “Everything my father suggested I just automatically accepted–so different from the children today,” he said.

So Proctor became an apprentice in the mailing list business, just as his father had in 1899. He started keeping entries in the same old ledger that had come down with Charles Guild from Boston. And although he attended night courses at Columbia University, he traveled one week a month to the Midwest.

It was a grueling regimen. Brokers like Proctor looked through newspapers for mail order ads, then contacted the companies and asked if they would rent their lists. “They made endless calls to list owners. They trudged up countless fights of stairs to dingy offices to meet with publishers and merchandisers who wore green eyeshades,” wrote the copywriter Denison Hatch.

“The big argument was money,” said Proctor. “We’d say, ”Look at all you’re losing. Ten dollars a thousand was a lot of money during the Depression.”

One such candidate was American Products, the possessor of about 2 million names mostly of the gullible. In a typical ad, it said:

Here is a new way to make money—a way that offers a chance for big, quick profits. Men and women everywhere are making $6 to $10 a day in full time—$1.00 to $2.00 an hour in spare time—taking orders for Jiffy Glass Cleaner—a new pure, harmless liquid that instantly cleans glass surfaces without water, soap or chamois.

Proctor visited them. “I went and sat in office in Cincinnati, trying to persuade them,” Proctor said. “They took in other bids, but ours was bigger—we had users lined up.”

In time, Proctor also “pried loose a few subscriber lists,” starting with that of The Workbasket, a magazine for “little old ladies who knitted.” He rented it to the publisher of a sex manual that he remembered as “How to Sleep with Your Wife.”

Then there was the Dale Carnegie list. “It reached a total of about 65,000 names and back in 1937 that was a large list — probably the largest high grade list available at the time,” Proctor said..

Either way, there was rental business to be had. Liberty magazine mailed millions of pieces for its Presidential poll, which wrongly forecast that Alf Landon would beat Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936–it was said to be the biggest direct mailing ever. And Lucky Strike mailed 12 million pieces for its Hit Parade that year.Capon Springs, which sold mineral water, sent this letter in 1933:

Dear friend:

Would you like to “feel years younger?”

Would you like to be “made over anew?”

Would you like your eliminative organs to function naturally, thoroughly, and of their own accord, without outside help?

Then drink water from the magic spring — the Fountain of Health — Capon Springs — “The most delicious water I have ever drunk.

The offer was 5 gallons of his water bottled and sealed at Capon Springs, West Virginia) for only $1.25 (regularly $3.25).

Also included in the envelope was a black-and-white brochure, titled “Things you will observe about Capon Springs Water,” which made these claims:

It leaves a clean taste in the mouth. Capon uncoats the tongue and checks pyorrhea.

It regulates the bowels. Capon restores their normal peristaltic action (the eliminative urge).”

Another good customer for mailing lists was Psychiana, the mail order religion run by Dr. Frank B. Robinson. I Talked with God. So Can You — It’s Easy, Dr. Robinson promised in his direct mail copy. You may learn to use this fathomless, pulsing, throbbing ocean of spiritual power just as you learn to use chemistry, physics or mathematics.

List brokers like Proctor were delighted with the sheer volume of names Robinson used. “Many mailing lists were prospected, with the highest conversion rates – 20 percent — coming from a lonely-hearts list and a list of inquirers interested in ‘the power of thought,’ wrote Martin Gross, a direct mail copywriter.

Gross continued, “The next list generated a return of 16 percent. These were mail order buyers of fish. (Always experimenting, Dr. Robinson had bought a very large list of these seafood lovers. He tested only 2,000; of those who responded, 16 percent bought the lessons. He expanded the test and the return was much like the first.)

“Other results included a Yoga list (14 percent), two astrological lists (12 percent and 11 percent), a Charles Atlas-like list (six percent) and a parents’ organization (six percent),” Gross continued. “No conversions at all were received from inquiries for a high-fashion list.”

When not on the road, young Proctor also adjusted to office lie. List brokers worked half a day on Saturday, and nobody was ever addressed by their first names. (“Everyone was Mr. or Miss,” Ed Proctor, Jr. said. “It was very formal in those days.”

Chapter 25: Harbors Of Missing Men

 

 

 

 

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 22: Air Mail Special

By Ray Schultz

Aviation was barely out of its infancy in 1928. But business people realized that planes could deliver mail. On Aug. 1, the Post Office reduced the air mail postage to five cents for a one-ounce letter. And at the stroke of midnight, 30,000 direct mail letters were delivered to the New York postal center by yacht designer Henry J. Gielow Inc.

The stamps had to be shipped from Washington to New York by air, and they were costly, given that a regular letter cost two cents. But Gielow figured that airmail would be noticed.

And it was: Gielow sold $450,000 worth of yachts in ten days to people who had probably never gotten a letter by air, according to the October 1928 issue Direct Mail Selling, a trade journal.

Others firms followed. On Aug. 14, the Reo Motor Car Co., sent 350,000 air mail letters in a nationwide drop weighing 7 1/2 tons. The postage bill was $17,500, but the mailing paid for itself. Druggists, hat manufacturers and varnish makers followed.

“Direct mail advertisers, like the Reo people, find that air mail gets the same preferential reading as a telegram,” the journal Direct Mail Selling noted. And delivery was fast, for mail planes flew “100 miles an hour at night as well as in the day time.”

Of course, there were less positive trends occuring down on earth—way down. A.J. Liebling, who wrote for the New Yorker for almost 30 years, was known for his articles on boxing, food, the press and World War II. But buried within his body of work are a few paragraphs on the mailing list business, contirbuted by Col. John R. Stingo, a racing writer and Broadway characte, over bottles of “Gambrinian amber” in a Times Square dive.

One tale concerns his stint early in the last century as credit man at Tex Rickard’s Northern gambling house in Goldfield, NV. (This was way before automated scoring systems.) “Many a man rife with money makes no outward flaunt,” the Colonel says. “His habiliments, even, may be poor. But, Joe, when it comes to rich men, I am equipped with a kind of radar. The houses I worked for collected on ninety-five percent of markers, an unchallenged record.”

These gifts came in handy when he went to work for the traveling evangelist Dr. Orlando Edgar Miller in the 1920s. As part of their routine, they asked congregants to include their addresses on the envelopes they dropped into the collection plate (the better to receive literature).

“The Doctor was not interested in the addresses of people with less than a buck,” the Colonel tells Libeling. “Such were requested to drop their coins in the velvet-lined collection box, where they wouldn’t jingle. The jingle has a bad effect on suggestible people who might otherwise give folding money.”

Though not trained in mailing lists, the Reverend had figured out how to suppress unwanted names. These were identified when his employees followed up with prospects. “If, as occasionally occurred, they encountered a scoffer who had invested a buck just to see what would happen, the name was scratched from the mailing list,” the Colonel relates.

Dr. Miller also pioneered list exchanges. “When we swapped towns with another big preacher, like Dr. Hall the hundred-dollar-Bible man, we sometimes swapped mailing lists,” the Colonel recalls. “But we would always keep out a few selected prospects, and so, I suspect, would the other prophet.”

The Miller list, a “mighty lever to place in the hands of a stock salesman,” was eventually used to peddle shares in a movie that bombed. Like Max Bialystok in “The Producers,” Dr. Miller drew jail time for the scheme. But he emerged unscathed and went back to his ecclesiastical dodge.

Chapter 23: A Loan To God

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 23: A Loan To God

By Ray Schultz

Louis Victor Eytinge had barely arrived in New York in 1923, having served 16 years for murder, when it was announced that he had married. The lucky woman, Pauline I. Diver, was a 43 year-old secretary for a publishing company, who had written for Postage and served as Eytinge’s “proxy” at conventions.

With her as his muse, Eytinge got right to work. Among his great direct mail letters was one for a combined cathedral and skyscraper in New York.

Have you ever heard of any one loaning money to God?

Yes—and having an actual 5 per cent interest paid, the loan being secured by mortgage? Not only would the investment be quite profitable and safe, but it can bring in tremendous happiness through contribution to the community welfare.”

No, you are not asked to contribute one copper cent. No one is begging you for a gift. We are trying to interest you in an investment—

A loan to God first, secured by income-earning property—but better still, an investment that will give vital happiness to your neighbors and more to yourself.

Mailed to 8,000 prospects, this letter raised $502,000. And Eytinge was lionized. But he had his disappointments. He wasn’t on the program at the DMMA convention in October 1923, and he was defensive about it. “Sure, I’ll be at St. Louis,” he wrote to a friend. “What’s the use of asking that question? If I’m not on the program, I’ll be where a chap can see the wheels go round.”

Soon, he left John Service, which had hired him right out of jail, to work for Franklin Printing, of Philadelphia. and this, too, failed to pan out. “I am too much of an individualist to fit in with any organization,” he admitted, then offered his services as a freelancer. “Quite modest fees will be asked of firms whose ideals can command my keenest enthusiasm—others not desired.”

Eytinge may have also been too much of an individualist for marriage. He and Diver separated barely five years after their wedding, although they lived in the same house. Months later, Eytinge was arrested for passing worthless checks in Pittsburgh. He blamed his wife—she had overdrawn the account, he ungallantly charged.

“You see, I am legally dead,” he explained. “Whenever a person is sentenced to life in prison he becomes dead in all legal respects. After my marriage Mrs. Eytinge and I agreed to a joint bank account, with the understanding I was to use her name on checks, since I was legally dead and could not enter a contract.”

A young copywriter, Henry Hoke of Baltimore, visited Eytinge. “Behind the bars in a Pittsburgh jail, he told me he was lost in the outside world and had only recently written to the Arizona warden asking that he be taken back,” Hoke wrote. “He told me, ‘Don’t worry about me, Henry. I feel at home here.’”

But Hoke helped spring him, and Eytinge pleaded nolo contendre to three charges of false pretense. The sentence: Probation and restitution.

Chapter 24: The Traveling Salesman

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 21, The Inertia Plan

By Ray Schultz

Copywriter Robert Collier did “not have a lot of pride”–he would sell anything, an acquaintance said. And he certainly displayed some cynicism in his letter offering Bruce Barton’s book, “The Man Nobody Knows,” which posited that if Jesus Christ returned to earth he would be an advertising man:

Jesus Christ ‘the founder of modern business?

Jesus a master of efficiency in organization, a born executive?

Jesus a sociable man, a cheerful, bright companion with a pat story on His lips…?

Jesus wording the best advertisements ever written?

This letter, and others like it, were accompanied by a brochure, asking: Was Jesus a Physical Weakling?

The painters have made Him look so—but He swung an adze and pushed a saw until He was thirty years old. He walked miles every day in the open air. He drove a crowd of hard-faced men out of the Temple.

Collier’s letter sold millions of books. But an upheaval was coming: the Great Depression. At that time, people viewed Jesus in a more traditional light: as minister to the poor and fallen.

Collier was a copywriting legend, even without cellestial help.“Collier was first guy that really sold merchandise by mail,” said the agency pioneer Robert Stone in 1997. “He came up with 10-day pre-trial guarantees, all things we use today. He was a merchandising genius. For example, he had a bunch of black raincoats that they couldn’t sell worth a damn. Who absolutely has to have a black raincoat? So he had a list of undertakers. and sold out entire stock. It was a lesson I never forgot.”

Stone met Collier at a conference in 1939.  “He wasn’t aloof , he was a loner,” Stone observed. “There’s a difference. He was a shy man.”

Collier came from a renowned family. He finally joined his uncle’s business, P.F. Collier & Son Co., publishers of Colliers magazine and books like Harvard Classics, the Five-Foot Shelf of Books. His uncle “had always told me he did not want me in the business until I could bring something to it they could get nowhere else,” Collier wrote.

Whlle Collier was selling books about Jesus, two hustlers were sitting in a cold-water flat in Greenwich Village, also thinking of ways to peddle books: Maxwell Sackheim and Harry Scherman. “We were young, poor, ambitious. — I think we began to plan, scheme and invent from the day we met,” Sackheim said.

Scheme was the right word. Their best ideas weren’t even theirs. The Boni Brothers, who owned a bookstore in the neighbodhood, came to Sackheim with the idea of publishing classics in leather. “Scherman and I each put up $100 or $150 and we were in the publishing business with copies of Romeo and Juliet,” Sackheim continued.

The Leather Library was nothing of the sort. The duo realized they’d go broke binding books in real leather, so they found a cheap substitute: imitation leather with ground cork backing, the kind used as a sweatband in men’s hats. They sold these editions in Woolworths, then by direct mail. But this turned out to be “absolutely impossible for the simple reason that the selling cost had to be charged against the sale of a single book,” Scherman said.

“The logic of it was that if the selling cost could be spread over a number of books that problem would be solved, just as in the case of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde , or Joseph Conrad, or any of the other sets being offered at that time — O. Henry, Zane Grey, Mark Twain, etc.,” he explained.

In other words, “you couldn’t sell a single volume profitably, but you could sell the set because the selling cost could be applied against the total number of volumes. Therefore our prospective customer had to buy over a period of time — something like a subscription.”

These boys, who also had a mail order agency called Sackheim & Scherman, sold their interest in the Library to Robert Haas, and with his help launched their next project in 1926: The Book of the Month Club. The scheme was that the editorial board would select a book, and the Club would arrange for suppliers with the publisher. Then the selection would be “sent to each subscriber without pre-notification…but with a review of book by one of the board members. The Subscriber could return it, and the charge would be cancelled.”

The first ad for the new enterprise ran in the April 25, 1926 issue of the New York Times, featuring pictures of the editorial committee, and this copy:

You Can Now Subscribe to the best new books—just as you do to a magazine

Please send me without cost, your Prospectus outlining the details of the Book-of-the-Month Plan of Reading. This request involves me in no obligation to subscribe to your service.

The best new book each month is selected by this committee and sent you regularly on approval.

There was only one problem: Not everyone liked the given selection every month.

“The first book of 1927 was the one I pick as the one with which we had the worst experience of all,” Scherman said. “It was probably as a result of that book we changed the system radically. That book was The Heart of Emerson’s Journals, edited by Bliss Perry. By that time, we must have had about 40,000 subscribers — and that book just came back by the carload. The country didn’t want The Heart of Emerson’s Journals; they did want any part of Emerson’s Journals…”

It soon became apparent that “no book could please everybody,” no matter who selected it, and that any fixed period subscription would be a mistake. Few subscribers accepted twelve books consecutively and earned the three extra books free.”

Scherman added: “We had plenty of trouble with returned books in those days ….it was probably around that time that we decided we’d have to be ever so much more liberal with the subscribers and allow them NOT to get books if they didn’t want them, and also for our own protection. There was nothing to be done with the books when they came back — they had to be scrapped. It was a great expense, and in that respect it was not a good system at all in the beginning.”

Sackheim came up with an idea: “Why can’t we notify subscribers of the book selected before shipping it to them, giving them an honest review of it and telling them the book would be sent to them unless within two weeks they returned a certain form notifying us NOT to send it, or to send some substitute selection which we would also describe in this advance form?”

Sackheim called it the “prenotification plan,” but it was also known as the “automatic shipment plan”and the “negative option” plan.

“The negative option plan was started with one thought in mind; that of removing resistance on the part of the prospect to order merchandise which he wanted but which through normal delay, inertia or whatever you want to call it, was put off until eventually the purchase was missed entirely,” Scherman wrote.

Sackheim added: “Originally, I called it the ‘inertia plan’ because it was thought at the time to be a sales incentive that relieved the subscriber of the job of ordering something he wanted but knew in his heart he would never order if left to his own devices. There was no feeling on our part whatever that inertia meant the dumping of books on unsuspecting people who were just too lazy or too preoccupied to return a card refusing the book offer.

“My dictionary gives this description of inertia — the tendency of a body to resist acceleration; the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest or of a body in motion to stay in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force. ”

This eventually drew the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. “Mainly the complaint declared that the “of-the-month” sales technique relied substantially on exploiting such human traits as procrastination and forgetfulness.”

The summer of 1928 was a hot one. Franklin Roosevelt, barely able to stand on crutches after being afflicted by polio, nominated Al Smith, the Happy Warrior as the Democratic candidate for President. Young Sherman Sackheim came home to New York from summer camp, but his parents had moved to Cleveland, Sackheim having sold  his interest in the Club to Scherman in 1928.

Sherman Sackheim had very mixed feelings about his father.

“To outsiders, he was personable—very short, 5 feet 2, knowledgeable, accommodating, generous,” he said. “He had a sense of humor, and an ego: He could look someone in eye who was 6 feet tall and simply dismiss him. He was a tyrant in his own way. Even in my childhood, he could be a tyrant, a dictator, the old school, and it wasn’t until I started my own agency in 1962 that he finally came around to recognize me not only as his son but as a person who had ability.”

Chapter 22: Air Mail Special

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 28: Inside The Johnson Box

By Ray Schultz

On May 2, 1941, Frank Johnson submitted six direct mail letters and a cover memo to Francis DeWitt Pratt, the circulation manager of Time Inc. Although he later called Pratt “a very bad judge of good copy,” the young copywriter wanted something from him.

“Here is a try at getting everything in one letter, the whole approached from the Rich, Beautiful Prose–or Archibald Mac Leish–angle, and ending on a note of Auchincloss,” Johnson wrote, describing his first letter:

 Dear Subscriber:

A Panzer Division raising dust clouds along the north coast of Africa…a brawny riveter earning overtime in the Newport News shipyards…a half-scared, half-thrilled youth on his first solo flight over Pensacola…the members of a Congressional Committee in Washington scrawling endless figures on foolscap as they struggle with the stiffest tax bill in U.S. history–

He went on to Number 2. “Probably a reaction from Number 1, and pretty frivolous for a sales talk. However, you’re supposed to gather that I can do these, too.”

Dear Subscriber:

Want to add two or three years to your LIFE?

Here are the years:

1941 1942 1943

He moved onto to Number 3, which he described as “The middle way. I like it.” It started by saying, simply, LIFE takes no bets…

The next one he described as “same idea, cut down to a page.” Johnson added that with one exception, these letters are purposely not serious in tone. This is because it’s 1941: and headlines, radio, and corner store talk are all pretty damn gloomy.

What did he want? “I shall burn joss sticks and paper prayers the week-end long, because I really want that job,” Johnson wrote. “More important, I’m now pretty sure I can handle it.” Pratt must have agreed, for Johnson was named circulation promotion manager of Life for a salary of $75 a week.

Born in 1912 in Cambridge, Ohio, Johnson graduated from Ohio State with a degree in economics in 1934, then headed for New York. His first job there was as a claims adjuster for Liberty Mutual, but he quit when a woman whose claim he was investigating threw a poker at his head. Then he got himself hired by Time Inc as a CBOB (college boy-office boy) for $20 a week. “I remember walking in the door of Time and thinking, ‘Hey, I’m home,'” he said.

The CBOBs— liberal arts graduates from good schools–earned the business by sneaking a look at the internal mail they delivered, including that of founder Henry Luce, whose red pencils Johnson picked up as part of his job.

Expected as a CBOB to “get up or out,” Johnson moved up into the circulation department in 1938. Time Inc., built on direct mail, had several great writers and circulation experts on staff, like Bill Baring-Gould and Nick Samstag. Johnson, who was passionate about Kipling, Thurber and Twain, was soon accepted as one of them.

“Everybody there talked my language,” Johnson said. “We were all the same types. Super literate. We talked too much, and we drank too much. I could drink two martinis and come back to work and not go to sleep.”

Johnson wrote his first direct mail letter for Life in 1940, describing a contraption that sounded just like the Internet, provided by his daughter Judy Thoms:

Dear Subscriber:

Here is an artist’s approximation of a multiperimicrotelicona-rayoscope.

The one pictured is the only machine of its kind extant.

It was designed and built by a Prof. Dr. Zanathope Johnson, whom you can see.

For thirty years he secluded himself in a great hilltop-laboratory, planning, experimenting, building–for he was making a machine which would see everything of interest, all over the World!

In 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and Time proclaimed in a direct mail letter that now the news is happening to us. Draftable despite his poor eyesight, Johnson entered the Army Air Force, and was sent to Wright Field in Ohio, where he put out the Air Surgeon’s Bulletin. Johnson would ruefully say, “I’m the guy who lost the war. I never got out of the country.”

After the war, Johnson returned to Time Inc., which had kept him on partial salary during his service hitch. Given postwar inflation, “It was a good time to write direct mail because you just kept saying ‘Buy now, or the price is going to double pretty soon,” he said.

In an interview in 1999, Johnson examined several letters from that period to determine authorship. One was the Cold War piece known simply as “The Crumple Letter,” from the fall of 1949. It was crumpled, as if someone had rolled it up in a ball.

Dear American:

This is the way this letter might look (after it had been fished out of the wastebasket and somewhat smoothed) if I had sent it to Andrei Vishinsky or Maurice Thorez or Ana Pauker.

For this is an invitation to subscribe to TIME–and Communists have as little respect for honest journalism as they have opportunity to read it.”

 “I think I had something to do with that,” Johnson said. “We had one that was burnt on the edges, too. And we had a hell of a time with that. In the first place, we had a hard time setting it on fire. Finally, it took blowtorches. And the blowtorches tended to set the whole damned file on fire. People complained when they opened it because soot would fall out [of the envelope]. But boy, it was fun to do.”

Then there was the 1951 letter for Life addressed to all the Johnsons in the United States (an amazing feat given that Time could not yet deduplicate its subscriber lists). Johnson wrote:

Dear Reader Johnson:

You’re one in a million. And you and 999,000 other Johnsons in the U.S. can proudly boast a flourishing family tree.

“Time Inc. was making money like crazy, so we never asked what anything would cost,” Johnson said. “We used to look back at what we had done and say, ‘My God, we were damned fools.'”

Johnson wrote in hand on a yellow legal pad, using a soft-lead Eberhard wingtip pencil. “I was the world’s slowest,” he said. “I’ve been known to stare at blank paper for days before I wrote a word. I’d write ‘Dear Subscriber,’ then scratch that out and write “Dear Reader,” then scratch that our and try ‘Subscriber’ again.”

When not writing himself, Johnson hired and trained writers. One of his finds was Bill Jayme, a war veteran and Princeton graduate who was “terribly articulate and very insulting to practically everybody,” as Johnson put it.

Jayme quickly made an impression with one of his first letters, “Cool Friday,” celebrating the 15th anniversary of Life magazine:

It was a cool Friday in November.

Plymouth offered their newest model for $510—in an ad that also reminded you that you could tune in on Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour any Thursday from 9 to 10.

Loyalists and Rebels were fighting in the outskirts of Madrid—while many U.S. citizens were preparing to celebrate two Thanksgivings. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were at the Shubert, ambling through “Idiot’s Delight”—and a few doors down the street, a pillow-padded Helen Hayes was appearing as “Victoria Regina.”

Jayme later said the piece originated “out of my brain. Life was having a birthday, and we needed a letter to use as a hook to get people to subscribe. I went down to the public library and sat there with a lot of bums in the reading room, with my head sunk in this viewer, and rolled these scrolls about what was going on, like the price of the car, taking notes on the ads—sort of setting the scene.”

“It was leisurely, something you can read aloud after dinner,” he said. “It conveyed warmth and it conveyed charm. We tried to reward the reader for his reading time.”

In 1954, Johnson himself  started moonlighting for American Heritage, a start-up run by former LIFE editors Joe Parton, Oliver Jensen and Joe Thorndyke, and soon was involved in all aspects of their direct  mail operation. For instance, he wrote to his bosses that “I am still as skeptical as a virgin on a troop ship” about a plan to use the Changing Times list.”

In a 1956 letter, Johnson observed that The ability to read intelligently is not a common attribute. It is a delicate subject, for with it go a lot of implications about education and culture and background–things we traditionally soft-pedal in this country, especially if we suspect we’ve acquired ’em.

It was during this period that Johnson invented what is called the Johnson Box, although he later denied ownership. But friends said he did deserve credit. The purpose of the box, Jayme said, was to summarize the letter, “just as 19th century English writers like Dickens would say at the top, ‘Chapter 10, in which Mr. McGruder discovers Emily in a Compromising Position with the Director’s Son.'”

In one letter, Johnson stuffed these headlines into the famous box:

SECRETARY OF WAR’S SON HANGED FOR MUTINY

“MUSHROOM CLOUD” KILLS 30,000 OFF U.S. COAST

ENEMY TROOPS INVADE VERMONT

ELDER STATESMAN WEDS EX-MURDER SUSPECT

In an interview in 1999, Johnson offered his secrets of direct mail success.

“All you’re trying to do with any letter is to keep somebody from throwing it out,” he said. “You tell funny stories, you put in funny pictures, you do any goddamned thing you can to keep them reading. One of my rules is never end a sentence at the bottom of a page, so you had to turn the page. I’m teaching you a lot of tricks.”

Johnson added that he always put in “a couple of indented paragraphs on pages two and three that told a funny story or said something outrageous, so that if you were beginning to skim through the letter, they would catch your attention.” He admonished, “I don’t believe exclamation marks.”

Follow-up letters were another challenge. “You send a four-page letter and you don’t get anything, then you follow it up with something quite different–shorter, different pictures. ‘As you recall, we wrote you two weeks ago,’ or words to that effect. What’s exciting, of course, is when you a write a piece of direct mail and mail it and it works.”

As for graphics, he advised, “Get a cute little girl and a cute puppy, and figure out how to run them both, and you’ve got a winner there.”

Chapter 29: Gifts From Foreign Lands

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 20: Peace!

By Ray Schultz

Americans awoke on the morning of Nov. 11, 1918 to the sound of church bells and gunfire. Germany had surrendered and people ran into the streets, drunk on “100 percent-proof, government-bonded patriotism.” And where were our junk mail pioneers? Buckley was in Chicago, as pleased as he could be. Peace meant the paper quotas would be lifted.

Edward Proctor was at his home in Teaneck, New Jersey. But he had little time to celebrate. His client, the John C. Winston Co., had summoned him to Philadelphia, and now he had to get to the train station past mobs in the streets.

But he was happy to go, for Winston, the country’s largest Bible publisher, was the kind of client he wanted. Of course, Winston also sold a book titled, “Sexual Knowledge: What every young man and every young woman should know,” that it sent in a plain brown wrapper. But now it had hired an historian and a military analyst to write a book titled, “History of the World War.” Proctor had to help sell—by mail—a book that was not yet written. He went home that night with an order for several million names.

Meanwhile, the balance in the Guild office had shifted. Mr. Guild was spending more time at his home in Maine. He hunted and enjoyed his breakfasts of steak and fried potatoes. Proctor ran the place, although Guild’s wife Addie was listed as president.

Louis Victor Eytinge heard about the war’s end in his prison cell, where he was quietly hoping that outsiders would spring him. Private detective William J. Pinkerton argued that Eytinge was innocent of murder (“his criminal bent was not in that direction”). And a former warden said he had reformed.

“To my personal knowledge Eytinge’s money has paid for milk and eggs for men who were too sick to eat prison fare. Eytinge’s money has paid for sending paroled prisoners home to die. He has given men going out of prison money to start life on. He has paid transportation to employment, even across a Continent. In doing for others Eytinge has found himself.”

Eytinge wrote that “I am reasonably certain of coming east some time during the winter.” But he didn’t make it out that winter, nor the following summer. Instead, he ended up back in the “lunger’s yard” at the Arizona Penitentiary at Florence.

“YES—I’ve been sick,” he wrote. “That’s one of the reasons I gave up the editorial end of the old POSTAGE..I want and need WORK to keep me upspirited, to keep me grinning and growing. I’ve time schedules that will permit me to take THREE MORE CLIENTS—And no more.”

It was harder to stay upspirited as the years dragged on. But Gov. T.E. Campbell finally heeded the call of the advertising industry, and on the morning of Dec. 30, 1922, Eytinge, age 43, walked through the gate of Florence. He wasn’t exonerated—he apparently was paroled. But he was free. And he had a $6,000-a-year job waiting for him with John Service Inc., a producer of personalized mail campaigns, in New York.

“There’s a moral in the tale of Louis Victor Eytinge,” a man wrote to Postage. “It’s this: if a man in jail, suffering with a supposedly incurable disease and existing amidst surroundings that sap all initiative and inspiration, can win his freedom, win his health and win a place in the sun—what heights are not possible to you and me and the other man, out here in the open?” He concluded with an even more pertinent comment: “It vindicates your claim that ‘Anything that can be sold, can be sold by mail.’”

Chapter 21: The Inertia Plan