Although in the past I had glanced over W.L. White’s name in the credits for the picture, as author of the eponymous book, I’d never noticed them, and didn’t know him from Adam. But I had an indirect connection to him of almost 50 years’ standing.
For generations, there was only one network late night talk show (at 11:30 p.m.), NBC’s The Tonight Show, starring first witty, multi-talented Steve Allen, then mercurial Jack Paar, and finally, for almost 30 years, the brilliant, aloof comedian, Johnny Carson.
During the same period, CBS followed the local 11 p.m. newscasts with back-to-back programs of old movies, The Late Show and The Late, Late Show. During the 1970s, CBS even had a delightful, animated opening and snappy theme music to the programs, in which a house and bedroom converted, in seconds, into a bed-theater under the stars for the tired, lone viewer.
During the summer of 1973, The Late Show offered a special, weekly feature, in which a classic picture was shown, with a host opening the program, like at a film festival. Whoever put it together was a huge Clark Gable (1901-1960) fan, because four of the pictures starred him (The Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935; San Francisco, 1936; Command Decision, 1948; and Teacher’s Pet, 1958).
Teacher’s Pet was a romantic comedy that co-starred Gable as hard-nosed, big-city newspaper editor Jim Gannon, who scoffs at journalism school, and who pecks away—very rapidly, I might add—on an old, manual typewriter with two fingers. Gannon decides he’ll show up a journalism professor, by signing up for her night school class under an assumed name. The professor was played by Doris “Dodo” Day (1922-2019), then and for years thereafter, the world’s biggest movie star.
(Gannon acts as if your typical, big-city newspaperman never attended college, but that was Hollywood at work. Mike Royko [1932-1997] was the greatest American newspaperman of his era, yet he was always insecure about being the only staffer in any newsroom he was in who had never attended college.)
At the end of the picture, we learn that the teacher has printer’s ink coursing through her veins. She was born and raised the daughter of a nationally revered, small-town newspaper editor, whose last editorial column was read from coast to coast after his death.
A year or two two later, while wandering through the pages of our hand-me-down World Book Enclyclopedia (1963), which my Aunt Ruth, a schoolteacher in Bellmore, NY, had given us when she bought a new set, I learned that that small-town newspaper editor was anything but fictional. His name was William Allen White (1868-1944), he was the editor-publisher for about forever of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette, and was known as “the sage of Emporia.” And when William Allen White died, Americans read his last column from coast to coast.
Color me green with envy, because I’ve spent as much time researching and writing single reports as William L. White spent writing bestsellers for which he got movie deals. The 1942 film adaptation of his 1941 success, A Journey for Margaret, about the Whites’ adoption of their English-born, orphaned daughter, made a star of child actress Margaret O’Brien. (O’Brien’s name was Angela, but she changed it to Margaret, to match her first major screen character.)
At the age of 14, W.L. White began his career as a reporter on his father’s newspaper. He later wrote for the Washington Post and Time magazine, among other periodicals, and following his father’s death in January, 1944, he returned home to Emporia, to put out the family newspaper.
Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.