Ambrose Clancy’s recent article about the company that prints the local newspapers was wonderful. His descriptions of the thunderous presses, the misting humidity spray, the rolls of paper being fed into the ravenous press were as vivid as they were interesting. I was once present when an endless stream of paper ruptured on a paper-making machine, spewing huge quantities of paper everywhere. It was chaotic as the machine was shut down and workers rushed to jam the paper down the long slit in the floor.
What I need now, though, is a book of fiction centered on a newspaper office, and I can’t think of one.
Movies? Quite a few. One, Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” is considered by some the best movie ever made. A few others weren’t awfully notable but I remember Humphrey Bogart, editor, taking on the underworld in “Deadline USA”; James Stewart, reporter, solving the crime and writing the story in “Northside 777”; and Jimmy Cagney, correspondent in Japan in “Blood on the Sun,” sniffing out the impending infamy and dying heroically in the process.
Books? Anyone out there with a fictional newspaper book?
Broadway! MacArthur and Hecht’s “The Front Page” is a classic stage play; “Newsies” not so much. In fact, “Newsies” was a dreadful 1992 Disney movie, getting two stars in most revues. “The Front Page,” a five-star movie in 1931, was retitled “His Girl Friday” in 1940, five stars again, then returned as “The Front Page” in 1974. Only three stars, in spite of Jack Lemmon and Carol Burnett.
C’mon, there has to be a book. Hemingway? Kate Atkinson?
OK, how about TV? There’s Ed Asner as the irascible Lou Grant, city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune — a successful spinoff from the splendid “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” It also starred Eileen Heckart and Nancy Marchand.
Dickens? Graham Greene? Margaret Atwood?
Well, radio then. Raise your hand if you remember “Big Town,” 1937-1952. The actor who initially played — wait for it — Steve Wilson was Edward G. Robinson; his associate was Claire Trevor. Then there were the inimitable Bob and Ray, who gave us the inimitable Wally Ballou, editor at large. Hysterical.
Twain? Anita Shreve ? I’ll settle for a Danielle Steele.
What about comic strips? One man and two women were reporters in two different strips. The man is fiction’s most famous reporter and one of the women worked with him. The other woman, a flaming redhead, was also a star reporter. Got them? Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Brenda Starr.
I give up on a book, but here’s a famous real-life journalist about whom you’ve heard your entire life: Sir Henry Stanley, who searched for, and found, Dr. Livingston I. Presume.
Here’s to newspapers and the thousands of people responsible for keeping us informed and entertained. I believe they’ll continue to do so, the Cloudiness of today’s communications notwithstanding. A tribute to all printers, written by Beatrice Warde in 1932, is reproduced above.
Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press. He can be reached at [email protected]