Skip to main content

“World’s Zaniest Newspaper”: The Short, Happy Life of the Paris Edition


ISSUE:  Spring 2003

All along people were going to work. It felt
pleasant to be going to work. I walked
across the avenue and turned in to my office.

The Sun Also Rises

Jake Barnes’ work in Paris is newspaper work, though we only glimpse him at it—reading French morning papers, writing stories to be sent out by weekly mail, attending a briefing at the Quai d’Orsay—before he is off for the Lost-Generation escapades in Spain. Jake remarks that it is important in the newspaper business “that you should never seem to be working,” an aim he effortlessly realizes. Nonetheless, a working newspaperman he is, and as such a reminder that in the charmed period between the wars Paris was a magnet not only for American artists and writers but newspapermen. That the number drawn there or lingering after war service was considerable was suggested by Jimmie Charters, a prominent barman of the Dingo and other Montparnasse drinking establishments, in his 1934 memoir This Must Be the Place (edited by one American newspaperman, Morrill Cody, and with an introduction by another, Ernest Hemingway) when he noted that the largest part of his clientele—40 per cent—was made up of artists, writers, and newspapermen. Of course it wasn’t easy to distinguish the newspapermen from the writers since many, if not most, thought of their work as a temporary way station on the road to the literary life, with Jake’s creator the celebrated example. Yet like Jake they found themselves turning into offices each day, pleasantly or not, and facing the fact that, as Bill Gorton informs Jake during their idyll in Burguete, “You’re only a newspaper man. An expatriated newspaper man.”

Jake’s work is drawn not from Hemingway’s experience with the Kansas City Star and the Toronto Star so much as his friendship with Bill Bird, an American newspaperman who was the co-founder of the Consolidated Press Association and worked independently out of a Paris office as the Association’s European manager. It is a small but significant detail, for if Hemingway had put Jake in a more typical newspaper situation for Americans in Paris it might have been difficult to get him on the road. Placed in the newsroom of an English-language daily in Paris—one in particular—he might have been swept up into the quite different escapades that Harold Stearns, the quintessential expatriate with a walk-on part as Harvey Stone in The Sun Also Rises, called “the Never-Never-Land of male irresponsibility, absurdity, and entertainment, of which all men in their hearts forever dream—and so seldom ever reach.”

Stearns was referring to work on the Paris Edition of The Chicago Tribune, the daily newspaper for which he wrote in the 20’s, as Peter Pickem, a popular turf column. Two other American papers were published in Paris at the time and equally staffed mostly by Americans: the well-established European edition of The New York Herald (which after the sale of the parent paper would become the Herald Tribune) and the tiny, independent, and short-lived Paris Times. But by most accounts The Chicago Tribune’s Paris Edition was the liveliest of the three as well as the one most attuned to the artistic life of the Left Bank. Hands down it was the leader as a madcap place to work.

Hemingway regularly read the Paris Edition during his Paris days but never worked for it, and Scott Fitzgerald’s involvement was limited to sudden night-time appearances in the newsroom. On one he is said to have seated himself in the slot of the copy desk and drunkenly announced, “Come on, boys. Let’s get out the goddamned paper.” On another he arrived with Zelda, announced he had just visited a nearby brothel, and added, “Grand place, you fellows ought to go there and see what life is really like.” Ezra Pound was an outside contributor to the paper, as were Maxwell Bodenheim, Gertrude Stein, and Kay Boyle. But a lengthy list of remembered and half remembered Americans were once, like Harold Stearns, in Paris Edition harness: Elliot Paul, Henry Miller, James Thurber, William L. Shirer, Eugene Jolas, George Seldes, Vincent Sheean, Alex Small, Virgil Geddes, Ned Calmer, Robert Sage, Lawrence Blochman, Waverley Root, Alfred Perlès, Wambly Bald, Bravig Imbs, Joseph Freeman, Harold Ettlinger, Louis Atlas. Together with a handful of veteran journalists they produced a paper that Shirer pronounced, with an ironic salute to The Chicago Tribune’s self-styled eminence as the World’s Greatest Newspaper, “the world’s zaniest newspaper, a crazy journal without peer.”

Today the Paris Edition is scarcely more than a footnote in journalism history. Even in thick histories of the parent paper such as Lloyd Wendt’s Chicago Tribune: The Rise of a Great American Newspaper it receives only passing notice. In literary history the Paris Edition has fared better. Eugene Jolas is remembered as the founder in 1927, with Elliot Paul as co-editor, of transition, the little magazine that over the next decade published an impressive amount of new writing, including portions of James Joyce’s “Work in Progress.” The Paris Edition vigorously promoted the magazine in its columns, and staff members were frequent contributors; Robert Sage, who appeared with Virgil Geddes and Bravig Imbs in the initial issue, eventually joined Jolas and Paul as one of the editors. To some, the link between the paper and the magazine was so close that transition seemed virtually an extension of the Paris Edition’s book page and the arts-dominated magazine section of its expanded Sunday edition.

For scholars recreating the expatriate period the back files of the paper still prove useful. In The Left Bank Revisited, a collection of Paris Edition articles and reviews published in 1972, the editor, Hugh Ford, called its pages “the one most comprehensive documentary history we possess of the Left Bank”—an assertion borne out, to take one example, in Michael Reynolds’ Hemingway: The Paris Years, where the paper is repeatedly cited.

Continuing life of another sort is found in the memoirs, fictional renderings, occasional articles, and scattered references turned out by former Paris Edition staffers—a shelf of recollection possibly more extensive than that spawned by any paper of its small circulation and limited life span. Getting out the Paris Edition, Shirer declared, “was primarily a work of the imagination.” Working for the paper, he might have added, was equally a stimulus to the imagination.

II

The Paris Edition had its origin in The Chicago Tribune’s Army Edition, a four-page tabloid launched in Paris with patriotic pride on July 4, 1917, and directed to the American Expeditionary Force that had entered the European war, an overseas venture both supported and participated in by the paper’s otherwise isolationist owner, Colonel Robert R. McCormick. McCormick pledged that any profits—and he expected some from a newsstand price of two cents, later raised to four, plus advertising revenue from mail-order houses providing clothing and boots in short supply in the war zone—would go to the military.

Two months after it first appeared the Army Edition, directed by Joseph Pierson, a stateside employee who had originated the idea of a Paris-based paper, expanded to a full-sized publication with a blend of war and home-town news together with such familiar features from the parent paper as the cartoons of John T. McCutcheon and the editorial-page column “A Line O’Type or Two.” With the August 20 edition Ring Lardner brought his popular “In the Wake of the News” column from Chicago for a brief stay in Paris, announcing to the paper’s managing editor, George Seldes, that “the Colonel sent me to France to write the comic side of the World War.” An equally off-beat venture was a rambling series called “How Peggy Got to Paris,” with just “Peggy” as the by-line, written by a reporter from El Paso, Texas, Peggy Hull, who happened to be a friend of Floyd Gibbons, the Tribune’s daredevil war correspondent. Later, a friendship that developed in Paris with McCormick’s wife resulted in McCormick asking Hull to contribute articles to the Army Edition on life in the military camps as seen from a woman’s point of view. (Later still, in November 1918, Hull joined an American Expeditionary Force in Siberia with an official correspondent’s pass, the first issued to a woman by the War Department.)

With the end of the war in Europe, McCormick redeemed his pledge of turning over profits to the Army by issuing General Pershing a check for 112,000 francs—by one accounting, $2,240. But what seemed an ending was the real beginning. The Army Edition seamlessly continued as the European Edition (the paper’s official name, though among staff members it was commonly known as the Paris Edition), with Floyd Gibbons placed in charge both of the paper and the Tribune’s newly-created foreign news service.

Why McCormick maintained the paper is uncertain. In his biography, The Colonel of Chicago, Joseph Gies simply has it that “American tourists were already flocking to Europe and McCormick decided to keep the Paris venture going for this new clientele.” Others thought that McCormick, envious of the Herald’s prestige, wanted to show Europeans that New York wasn’t the only important American city. There was as well the prospect of profit, with McCormick at one point forecasting that by 1923, barring another war, annual profits would be in the range of $50,000 to $100,000. As it turned out, it is likely that the Paris Edition, always on the losing end of competition with the Herald for circulation and advertising, rarely if ever made money.

Whatever the full explanation for its continued existence, the seven-column, usually eight-page Paris Edition, published from walk-up quarters rented in the vast building on Rue Lafayette of the French daily Le Petit Journal (which also handled the paper’s printing and distribution), developed into a familiar feature of expatriate life through the 20’s and on to the paper’s demise in 1934. How it managed a 17-year run in competition with the relatively steady Herald, without a building or printing facilities of its own, and with a mercurial owner like McCormick at the helm in Chicago and a mismatched collection of amateurs and professionals at work in Paris, remained an ongoing mystery. The assumption of many former employees was that McCormick didn’t know what was in the paper. “Had McCormick read its columns, or understood them,” Shirer wrote, “he either would have suffered a stroke of apoplexy or killed the paper immediately—perhaps both. It was far more “un-American” than the New York newspapers, which he despised.”

Shirer was thinking primarily of Paris Edition’s attention to Left Bank cultural matters. In most other regards the paper’s day-to-day fare was unexceptional. Writing about the Paris Herald in the American Mercury in 1931, Whit Burnett and Martha Foley, who had both worked on the paper, noted that “the Herald, like all colonial papers, was a front page of news backed up by several pages of rewrite and reprint.” The Paris Edition was by and large cut from the same colonial mold.

Its front page, as Burnett and Foley said of the Herald, came from the “skeletonized cable, that is, brief stories sent from New York and expanded in the Paris office from a few sentences to a column.” The cable material was supplemented by news rewritten from the Paris and London papers together with features, editorials, comics, and cartoons from the parent paper. Local reporting derived largely from three beats: boat trains and the hotels, civic organizations, and the diplomatic run.

Shirer remembered the boredom of “leg work” when he shifted from deskman to reporter, the start of his long career as a foreign correspondent. The American colony in Paris had formed the same organizations as at home, and he sat through droning speeches at the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and American Legion. More daunting was reporting on American tourists in Paris, which required that he meet the boat trains at the Gare St.Lazare, then follow notable figures, especially those from Chicago, to plush hotels on the Right Bank.

News notes appearing daily in the paper’s “The Social World” column were on the order of “Mr. and Mrs. Frederick G. Garrison, of Chicago, after an extended stay in Bilbao, have arrived in Paris, for a short visit. They are staying at the Hotel Continental.” For the truly notable there were lengthy profiles in the “Who’s Who Abroad” column. The inner life of society was retailed in “Today in Society,” the daily column written for several years by May Birkhead and appearing generally at the top of the second column on page one, the space personally ordained by Colonel McCormick.

Birkhead, who had a lengthy tenure on the Herald before she was hired by McCormick in the hope her prestige would draw more Right Bank readership to the Paris Edition, was said to send her copy to the paper’s office each night in a chauffeured limousine. However it arrived, Waverley Root thought her work one of the few areas in which the Paris Edition gained a news rather than cultural edge on the Herald: “She had been on close terms with its [society’s] members since birth, and knew about all the skeletons in all the closets, although she was discreet enough never to mention them. Since she was always the first to be informed of impending events in high society, anyone who wanted to be up-to-date had to read the Tribune,”

Reporting in a more personal vein came from Alex Small, a Harvard graduate whose dense, wide-ranging, acerbic work in his twice-weekly “Of Fleeting Things” column was often at odds with the pieties of expatriate life. Harold Stearns, a fellow Harvard man, maintained that Small’s work was “much too good for the Tribune— and the best things in it were wasted on a wastrel Paris audience that to a melancholy extent had no deeper or keener intellectual interest than has anybody trying to recover from a hang-over.”

It was largely in the work of such in-house writers as Small, and especially in the reporting and columns dealing with the cultural scene, that the Paris Edition now and then escaped the colonial mold. Among the more notable offerings were Wambly Bald’s “La Vie De Bohème” column, a breezy collage of Left Bank reporting and gossip; the literary musings of Elliot Paul under the heading “A Litterateur’s Notebook” and of Eugene Jolas in “Rambles through Literary Paris”; and the lengthy reviews by B. J. Kospoth of painting, Irving Schwerké of music, and Florence Gilliam of the theater.

III

When former Paris Edition staffers wrote about the paper rather than for it, their accounts kept a wary distance from the venerable tradition of newspaper work as apprentice training for those with literary ambition. The work simply brought in the money that enabled them to stay in Paris, if barely. The paper’s pay was notoriously poor—$12 to $15 a week, in francs, for proofreaders and ordinary editorial workers, less than the Herald paid and considerably less than made by the Tribune’s elite foreign correspondents, housed in the same quarters and paid in dollars. (When Shirer shifted to the foreign staff his pay ballooned to $50 a week.) The equally venerable newspaper tradition that does appear in the accounts is of the devil-may-care Front Page variety, depicted in the vagaries of first getting hired by the Paris Edition, then in the vaudevillian antics of the newsroom and the after-hours delights of Parisian life.

After two years at Dartmouth, Bravig Imbs arrived in Paris in 1925 with ambition as a poet and little money. Despite a lack of any newspaper experience, he applied to the Paris Edition as a reporter from Chicago who was fluent in French. Put on the rewrite desk, he floundered when told to translate clippings from French papers. “I don’t know a word of French. Help! Help!” he begged in a typed note passed to the figure next to him on the desk. “Slip the cuttings under the table,” came back a note from Geoffrey Fraser. “I’ll slip them back with the translations.”

Soon thereafter Imbs was fired by the paper, though later rehired in the advertising department and as a proofreader. In Fraser, a rare Englishman on the staff, he had made a useful friend. In 1926 Fraser found a printer and acted as publisher for Imbs’ first book of poetry. He also drew Imbs’ attention to Elliot Paul, a published novelist who had been recently hired as a proofreader and relegated to a basement area among the linotype machines.

Imbs knew and admired Paul’s novels and set out to meet him, eventually taking a room in the same hotel. The generous Paul came to his aid in the writing of his first novel—and in reviewing his earlier book of poetry in the Paris Edition, where he remarked of Imbs that “he is a resident of Paris, works at various disagreeable occupations in order to remain here.” Paul provided similar service for Virgil Geddes by publishing his poems in transition and writing a preface to his book of poems published in Paris in 1926. In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, who credited Paul with “the first seriously popular estimation of her work,” noted that “at the same time he was turning the young journalists and proof-readers [on the Paris Edition] into writers. He started Bravig Imbs on his first book, The Professors Wife, by stopping him suddenly in his talk and saying, you begin there.” Paul returned the compliment by dedicating his 1930 novel The Amazon (in which the narrator works for a time for an American newspaper in Paris) to Stein.

James Thurber actually had newspaper experience in Columbus, Ohio, when he applied to the Paris Edition after being turned away by the Herald. “I got thirty men ahead of you who want jobs,” he was told by the city editor of the time, David Darrah, who then added: “What are you by the way, a poet, or a painter, or a novelist?” When Thurber told him he was a newspaperman with five years of experience who knew “how to get it and write it and put a headline on it,” he was hired on the spot. The next night, working on the copy desk rewriting the French papers, Thurber discovered the young man beside him, smoking a pipe and constantly consulting a French-English dictionary, was a fellow Midwesterner.

Despite a meager newspaper background and little knowledge of French, William L. Shirer, fresh from Iowa, was taken on by the paper—perhaps, he guessed, because as a child he had lived in Chicago and the paper wanted at least one staffer connected with the city. (It had been a by-lined story in The Chicago Tribune by Vincent Sheean, a former University of Chicago student who had become a correspondent based in Paris, that first prompted Shirer to imagine himself a newspaperman in Paris. With some newspaper experience and a facility with languages, Sheehan had been hired in 1922 as a combination assistant to Henry Wales, the Tribune’s Paris-based correspondent, and general handyman on the Paris Edition). Thurber introduced Shirer to other deskmen: Paul (“He’s the only one of us writers who’s got himself published”); Jolas (“He’s our poet—in three languages, German, French, American. Sometimes he gets them mixed up”); an Irishman whose name Shirer didn’t catch who claimed his novels were banned in Ireland. Sitting at a desk off to the side was Geddes (“Our other poet”).

“Harold Stearns,” Thurber whispered when a shabby fellow appeared in the newsroom to talk with the sports editor.

“Not the Harold Stearns.”

The,” Thurber said.

The man who had conceived and edited Civilization in the United States, an essay collection published in 1922 with an implied call for the young to abandon what Stearns called in the preface the “emotional and aesthetic starvation” of American life, was one of Shirer’s heroes. Seeing him in the flesh (“his melancholy face was unwashed, unshaved, and his hands and fingers were dirty”) was disillusioning. Over the next years in Paris Shirer saw Stearns often, usually drunk in a bar in Montparnasse, “looking a little like a silent Buddha, and people would say cruelly: “There lies civilization in the United States.”“

As a casualty of alcohol, Stearns was in good company on the Paris Edition. Jules Frantz, a veteran staff member whose many positions included managing editor, acknowledged that the paper “had a fairly liberal attitude toward drinking”—a vast understatement judging by the recollections of others. In The Last Time I Saw Paris Paul recalled that the twice-weekly accordion lessons he took from a Frenchman ended with a number of refreshments, after which “he staggered eastward toward the Pantheon and I sashayed westward to the . . .Chicago Tribune office, where another drunken re-write man, more or less, made no difference at all.” Stearns maintained that on any given day the editors could assume that a fixed proportion of the staff would be useless due to drink—half “because it was not there, and the other half because it was.” Joseph Freeman, who went on to become the editor of the New Masses, recalled that on the night shift “the copy boy’s exclusive job was to bring up from the canteen below beer, wine, cognac and anything else the messieurs on the desk ordered.”

The paper’s staff was made up of a core of regular, long-term members that included figures like Frantz and Small together with a revolving-door group that Stearns called “in-and-out stars” who moved among the three American dailies or dropped from sight entirely. After he was elevated from a proofreader to the editorial staff, Paul would for weeks work steadily on the rewrite and copy desks, then abruptly disappear—his departures coinciding with the arrival of royalty checks from his published novels. (Eric Hawkins, the long-time managing editor of the Herald, recalled that after several months of work on that paper Paul one day “rose from his desk, stretched and went out to get a sandwich. That was the last we saw of him for several months.”) He was routinely welcomed back. When Henry Miller, hired through the aid of Alfred Perlès as a $12-a-week proofreader, suddenly vanished for 10 days after his wife appeared in Paris, Frantz concluded he had quit without notice and hired a replacement. Frantz later remembered about Miller’s time with the paper that since half the staff “considered themselves budding geniuses of one sort or another—writer, painter, opera singer, Casanova or what have you, Henry didn’t make as much impression on the rest of us as he might have on others in a different milieu.”

In Miller’s version of Paris Edition days in Tropic of Cancer, his underground life among the proofreaders and the linotypes is one of odd contentment:

Which is what I try to din into Carl and Van Norden [read fellow proofreaders Alfred Perlès and Wambly Bald] every night. A world without hope, but no despair. It’s as though I had been converted to a new religion, as though I were making an annual novena every night to Our Lady of Solace. I can’t imagine what there would be to gain if I were made editor of the paper, or even President of the United States. I’m up a blind alley, and it’s cosy and comfortable. With a piece of copy in my hand I listen to the music around me, the hum and drone of voices, the tinkle of the linotype machines, as if there were a thousand silver bracelets passing through a wringer; now and then a rat scurries past our feet or a cockroach descends the wall in front of us, moving nimbly and gingerly on his delicate legs. The events of the day are slid under your nose, quietly, unostentatiously, with, now and then, a by-line to mark the presence of a human hand, an ego, a touch of variety. The procession passes serenely, like a cortege entering the cemetery gates.

The serene life ends after “one of the big muck-a-mucks from the other side of the water [read Chicago] had decided to make economies” and Miller is fired without warning. Though for a time he is able to pretend he is still with the paper, making it easier to bum meals in Montparnasse, his newspaper career is finished.

In fact, shortly before the Paris publication of Tropic of Cancer in September, 1934, Miller did return to the Paris Edition as, incredibly, assistant finance editor, the job again secured with the help of Perlès. Less that six weeks into the job, the position was eliminated. Miller returned to proofreading but after a few days, the basement job no longer a new religion, he left. “The truth,” Perlès concluded, was that “Henry didn’t really want a job.”

James Thurber’s year-long stay with the Paris Edition was long enough to establish him as a newsroom legend with a genius for inventing such one and two-sentence fillers as ” “A man who does not pray is not a praying man,” President Coolidge today told the annual convention of the Protestant Churches of America.” He was equally adept at fleshing out cryptic cable dispatches. “We got only fifty words of cable each night,” he recalled, “and the city editor would take sentences out of this cable and pass them around the desk to Bill Shirer, Elliot Paul, and me, saying, “Write a column on that.” I shall always remember two sentences he handed me. One of them was, “Christy Mathewson died tonight at Saranac.” The other said simply, “Admiral Richard E. Byrd flew to the North Pole and back in seventeen and a half hours.” “

In 1925 Thurber followed Lawrence Blochman (who would become a successful mystery writer and translator of French literature) as the assistant editor of the Paris Edition’s Riviera supplement, published in Nice during the winter high season. Essentially a sheet of local news wrapped around a day-old copy of the Paris Edition, the Riviera paper was hardly a taxing assignment—”a paid vacation in a pleasant part of the world,” Waverley Root called it. As recalled by Thurber, the editing job bore resemblance to work on his college daily, the Ohio State Lantern, some years before: “Editing these pages was something like playing a cross-eyed left-handed woman tennis player. You never know where anything is coming from, and everything takes a queer bounce. My only achievements on these papers consisted of little feats of technical ingenuity.” One such feat on the Riviera paper came when “I borrowed large cuts from the French Bureau of Tourisme and kept dropping them in when copy was scarce. Once, when three or four columns were still vacant, I set the whole damn paper up in 10-point. This may have been the only 10-point issue of a paper ever got out, I don’t know.” Another diverting feat was inventing eccentric guests who had just arrived in town. Example: “Lieutenant General and Mrs. Pendleton Gray Winslow have arrived at their villa, Heart’s Desire, on Cap d’ Antibes, bringing with them their prize Burmese monkey, Thibault.”

Similar inventions were standard fare in the Paris office. In Ned Calmer’s novel All the Summer Days, the paper transformed into the Paris American, a single word, artfully placed, is added to a boxed story on the front page: “Capri, May 11. Two hundred persons were drowned last night when an excursion steamer sank in the Bay of Naples. They were Italians, however.” For Harold Stearns, the choicest diversions were those entirely spun from whole cloth. Example: “Okokomino, Ind., Friday. Mr. Lysander C. Chew, head of the local House of David, was today severely injured, when his beard was caught in the automatic wringer of a steam laundry, where he was working incognito.” When invention flagged, Stearns added, there was the standby of “some story about the new regulations for drinking and cafe hours in the different quarters of Paris—a subject on which the boys were not only well informed but also highly critical and full of helpful suggestions.”

An invention with heroic status among Paris Edition staffers involved a deskman named Spencer Bull who, according to Waverley Root, was unable “to distinguish between fact and fantasy when he had a snootful, and he had a snootful not infrequently.” Given a handout to rewrite on the Prince of Wales’ dedication of an orphanage, Bull, having had a snootful, wrote:

Stopping before one manly youth the prince inquired: “What is your name, my lad?”

“None of your goddamned business, sir,” the youngster replied. At that, the Prince snatched a riding crop from his equerry and beat the boy’s brains out.

The story passed through copy editors and proofreaders and appeared on page one under a two-column headline: “Prince of Wales Bashes Boy’s Brains Out With Bludgeon.” The Prince subsequently accepted the paper’s apology and didn’t sue. Bull was fired, though according to Root he “lived happily on free booze and meals offered him by admirers who wanted to meet the man who had accused the Prince of Wales of murder.”

As former staffers chose to remember them, the Paris Edition’s flights of imagination weren’t simply newsroom fun and games but a deliberate style meant to separate the paper from the Herald. Where the Herald was stodgy, conservative, and Right Bank, the Paris Edition considered itself joyous, liberal, and Left Bank. Eugene Jolas recalled that “we made an effort to “jazz up” our reports, often growing lurid and sensational over the leads, applying the tabloid technique. We invented our own grotesque cable stories as fillers, and played gaily with nerve-demoralizing headlines. But we also tried especially to emphasize the new intellectual and aesthetic developments in Paris, and whenever possible, to scoop the Herald with unusual stories and interviews.”

For Harold Ettlinger there was an equal effort to make the Paris Edition “liberal and daring” in response to the reactionary tendencies of the parent paper in Chicago. He imagined with pleasure the “chronic indigestion” that would have developed had the owners “troubled to read carefully the columns of their Paris edition from day to day.” While the Chicago paper was solidly Republican, “the Paris paper did what it could to favor the Democrats”—all the while knowing what it said “was of little consequence in American national affairs, but it felt good nevertheless to be so independent.”

When memories shifted from working for the Paris Edition to living in Paris, there were warm recollections of cheap hotels just off the Boulevard St. Michel in the Latin Quarter, where most staff members lived. A favored place was the $10-a-month Lisbonne, where Shirer remembered “we had long bull sessions in each other’s rooms, read and criticized each other’s writing, argued over books and most everything else, planned joint adventures. . .and advised and consoled those who threatened to fall apart from drink, frustration or unrequited love.” In Calmer’s novel, when the narrator joins the Paris American as a proofreader he finds most of the staff living at the elegantly named Hotel Edmond Rostand et d’Auvergne, the focus of most of the novel’s events. The center of life in Paul’s The Last Time I Saw Paris is the Hotel du Caveau on Rue de la Huchette, a street Bravig Imbs recalled as a “dark, dingy and most disreputable street” and Shirer happily remembered as housing three bordellos, one directly across the narrow street from a Bureau de Police.

Waverley Root thought the Lisbonne (“a picturesque if squalid place”) should be ranked second among favored Paris Edition locales, with first place held by the Le Rendezvous du Petit Journal. Known to all as simply Gillotte’s, it was a tiny restaurant across the street from the paper’s offices (“the bistro across the way” in Tropic of Cancer) that served as a virtual clubhouse for staffers and where nearly everyone working on the night side dined before heading to the office. In addition to location and good food (though Eugene Jolas recalled the latter as ordinarily a “tough steak—horsemeat— with a glass of dulcified Algerian wine”), Gillotte’s appeal was easy credit that allowed eating on the cuff until the fortnightly paydays. Bill-settling was a ritual affair, Papa Gillotte sealing the transaction by pouring a thimbleful of an uncertain drink for both the customer and himself, on the house. “Thus fortified,” Root noted, “we were ready for one other half-monthly rite, paying the rent, after which we could spend what remained of our $30 on riotous living.”

IV

“There is never any ending to Paris,” Hemingway would write at the end of A Moveable Feast, but there was to the Paris Edition. It came when Colonel McCormick abruptly sold the newspaper to the Herald in 1934 for $50,000 (and a provision that for a nine-month period the Herald’s masthead would read “The New York Herald with The Chicago Tribune”) after first failing to buy the rival paper. The Paris Times had folded in 1929 with the beginning of the Depression but the Paris Edition, equally hit with declining circulation (according to Waverley Root, in 1930 the paper was claiming circulation of 20,000 copies but actually printing 8,000) and advertising revenue, had staggered on. Both in 1932 and 1933 there were pay cuts, and editorial workers who left the paper weren’t replaced.

Despite the reduced staff, the front page blazed each day with a banner headline no matter how minor the accompanying story and the paper contained the same eclectic mixture of American and foreign news. Regular columns continued to appear from Alex Small as well as from Louis Atlas (“Most Anything Can Happen”) and Hérol Egan (“The Once Over”); society was still chronicled by May Birkhead; films were reviewed by W. Lee Dickson and there were informed discussions of the arts by B. J. Kospoth and Irving Schwerké. But the Sunday magazine supplement was long gone; Wambly Bald’s “La Vie De Bohème” column had ceased appearing more than a year before; book reviews were now largely confined to Waverley Root’s cramped “In the World of Books” section of the Monday paper.

The death watch for the final edition on November 30 nearly got out of hand when, as Jules Frantz recalled, “younger, wilder members of the staff thought it would be fun to burn out the editorial room, and Waverley Root and I were kept busy putting out small fires which had been playfully set.” Root himself had different memories. During the last days, when staffers knew the paper was doomed, wastebasket fires were common, and on the last night “the ritual bonfire reached such proportions that it looked for a moment as though the whole building might be burned down.” Root couldn’t vouch for any of this, however, since November 30 was his normal night off and, contrary to Frantz’ recollection, he wasn’t in the paper’s offices.

Under the headline “”Tribune’s” Life of Service to Americans Ends Today,” the final edition carried a long front-page account by Wilfred Barber (who two years later would receive posthumously a Pulitzer Prize for his work as a Tribune foreign correspondent) of the paper’s history that ended with a tribute to the staffs skill and versatility:

Toss them a French clipping on a murder, a little scrap of something new in Hitleria, a bit about French politics, politics anywhere, a few words about new developments of the new deal, toss them anything—they knew the background, they didn’t have to pad (it’s too easy) and a readable accurate story came out. French? There were as many accents as men in the office, but they knew how to twist a subjunctive into a reasonable animal or take an official’s speech and make it, not a slice out of an encyclopedia, but an accurate piece of American.

Inside, under the headline “Americans Had Gay Time, Eating Cake, Having It Too,” Alex Small concluded a two-part article that linked the folding of the paper to the end of an era of Americans in Paris. The tide that began with the “reverse migration” of World War I had now receded; all that was left in Paris were “a few businessmen, a few incorrigible chasers of the blue flower, a few opulent esthetes who can still afford to turn old houses on the Ile Saint-Louis into annexes of the Cluny Museum. The rest have departed, as we are doing.” Small added: “It was too good to last, and it is as well that it should be ended. A man must live, fight and die with his own people.”

True to its improbable existence, the paper didn’t quite die with its death. A tabloid weekly with the name Paris Tribune appeared the next day, managed by Waverley Root and turned out by a handful of Paris Edition columnists and deskmen. Despite holding on to some of the deceased paper’s advertising as well as its editorial staff, the publication was fated to fail—and, after two months, did.

Some of the staff found positions as foreign correspondents or caught on with the Herald, prolonging their Paris days until advancing German troops caused the paper to suspend operations in 1940, while others drifted back to the States to jobs in and out of newspapering. In the memories many of them recorded over the years, having once worked for the Paris Edition would come to seem a privileged, if zany, badge of distinction. Harold Stearns might have been speaking for them all when he marveled, “What a newspaper!” And added: “. . .I use the exclamatory form half in amused wonderment that such a fourth-dimensional organization actually existed and, in some mysterious manner, functioned, and half in genuine affection for what has now become for me a vanished world.”

0 Comments

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Recommended Reading