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Post Mortem

by David Westheimer

 

In the almost 50 years from 1940 until 1988 I worked off and on for the Houston Post in various capacities. Unforgettable years, crowded with memories.

First, there is Hubert Roussel, the amusement editor, my first boss. From my first day he taught me how to write a story, something ever writer should know.

“Just put one little word after the other.”

He was brilliant, acerbic and ironic.

Coming back from a concert by Helen Straubel, the heroically proportioned opera star, he said, when I asked him how he liked the concert, “Nobody knows the Traubel I’ve seen.” He didn’t use that comment in his review.

He detested misused commas. He had an assistant who was addicted to the punctuation. Roussel sent him off on an assignment and while he was gone filed the comma off his typewriter key.

I submitted a short story to a women’s magazine in New York and got back a two-page rejection letter from the editor praising the story. I showed the letter to Roussel. He read it carefully and said, “Davey, I see she liked everything about your story but the idea of printing it,”

Lloyd Gregory was managing editor of the Post when I went to work there in the old red brick building on the southwest corner of Polk and Dowling for $12.50 a week.

Because he was of Scottish descent, the touring Black Watch Pipe and Drum Corps came to serenade him in the city room. Harold Young, “Kewpie,” was city editor. He left to co-publish the Texas Spectator, a liberal weekly. I remember a Texas Manufacturer Association cartoon he ran showing Labor and Management as a bridal couple, intended to portray that Management and Labor as partners. His cut-line, “You know what happens to the bride next.”

I returned from the men’s room once to find someone had left a hed sheet wound into my typewriter. On it they had typed, “Job 19:23.” I look up the Bible verse. It said, “Oh, that my words were now written. Oh, that they were printed in a book.” Years later, when my words had indeed been written and published in a book, my wife, Dody, needle pointed a cushion for me with Job 19:23 on it. She did the same for a writer friend of mine.

Harry Johnston, a later city editor, turned to a cub reporter while Harry was on the phone and asked, “Are you a religious man?” The cub said, “I guess so. I go to church.”

Harry said into the phone. “I’ll let you talk to our religious editor,” and handed it to the cub. The cub was Post Religious editor from then on.

Campbell Geeslin was on the staff with me in the “new” old Post building, across the street from the old old Post building. He reviewed a novel of mine and didn’t like it. You couldn’t tell that from the review unless you knew his style. Usually when he didn’t like a book he wrote a cuttingly witty review. But his review of my novel was nice and gentle. Later, when we had both moved on and he was working for Time Magazine (I think) in New York, I invited him to a preview of a stage play I had adapted from the novel he didn’t like. We visited at intermission. His only comment was, “I thought the set was nice.” On the nights at the Post we worked late making up our pages in the back room we would go to dinner together. He always grinned when I ordered a Dr. Pepper with my meal instead of a beer or red wine, as he did. In our continuing e-mail correspondence, he still teases me about my fondness for the soda.

Arthur Laro was Executive Editor of the paper in the new old Post building. I was feuding with the then city editor (not Harry Johnston) about turf. I went to Laro and said, “Arthur, I don’t want to put you on the spot …” Before I could go on, he stopped me with a gesture and said gently (he always spoke gently). “David, I am not on the spot. You are.”

I was chatting with Hubert Mewhinney, the Post resident genius, who suddenly sat back in his typewriter chair and said, “Excuse me. I want to read a few pages of a Greek tragedy in Greek.” He closed his eyes and leaned back. He was visualizing the printed page. He could do things like. Not showing off. He was just in the mood.

It was when Leon Hale and I were at desks in the city room not far apart that he wrote my favorite Leon Hale column of all time. It was about a chicken that danced in a cage when you put coins in a slot that caused a few grains of fed to spill out in the cage. A man standing next to Leon said, seriously, he didn’t think the chicken was a very good dancer. Or so Leon said in the column.

I guess I could go on an on boringly about the old days at the Post. Maybe I already have. So I’ll just write -30- and go.


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