People DO like lists. In the wake of Wednesday’s column about an author called the most popular writer of serials for the Saturday Evening Post, I had inquiries about a whole list of other writers from the Post. These did not, by and large, come from Millennials. Kids today are unfamiliar with magazines whose main purpose was to arrive on the weekend and provide an assortment of articles, stories, and cartoons just so you could enjoy yourself. (Millennials have an app for that.)
People still stick by their favorite Post writers. Since the Post’s era of greatness was a SMIDGE earlier than my day, the Post writers I recall tend to be the cartoonists: Ted Key, for example, whom I wrote about in an earlier blog. However, I did promise to make some mention of
WILLIAM HAZLETT UPSON was a tractor mechanic turned salesman turned writer. He is most famous for his tales of Alexander Botts, a tractor mechanic turned salesman for Earthworm Tractors (no relative, obviously, to Caterpillar, which had employed Upson.) Tales of Alexander Botts were expressed as reports from Botts to the higher-ups and better-offs at Earthworm, who were frequently dismayed at what their salesman was up to. He would be fired at the drop of a hat, only to have his superiors register shock and awe when he turned out to be right all along. They would then have to rehire him, and thank him for his good work. Upson was one of the favorite authors of my grandfather, who spent his life in middle management. I have NO idea what might have appealed to him about these stories.
I am personally jealous of GEORGE FITCH, who accomplished something few writers have done. The Post, in one of its occasional anniversary issues, published a story written by Fitch nearly one hundred years earlier, and didn’t mention this. The story, Ole Skjarsen’s First Touchdown, about a football player unclear on the concept, needed no footnotes. Fitch’s short stories, set at Siwash College (based on his alma mater, Knox College), dealt with matters which grow more potent as they age (or as the readers age.)
GUY GILPATRIC was a fighter pilot, stunt pilot, and pioneer of spearfishing (if you have a copy of his book on spearfishing, do drop it off. The price runs in the high three figures.) In the Post, though, you would find him aboard a ship. He recorded the exploits of Colin Glencannon, chief engineer, who was not in search of adventure but of whatever cash he could connive out of anyone handy. Writing a series about a con man is extremely difficult, as you need to be smarter than he is to think up the twists and turns of the tale. Gilpatric could not have thought of the plot twist in store for him: according to legend, he shot his wife and then himself on learning she had inoperable cancer, and never found out that the doctor had been looking at someone else’s chart.
NORMAN REILLY RAINE outdid the others. There was a movie about Alexander Botts, and a movie about Siwash, while Glencannon was turned into a TV series starring Scarlett O’Hara’s father, Thomas Mitchell, in the title role. But Raine wrote tales of Tugboat Annie, heroine of three movies, AND a TV series, AND namesake of a rock band. Raine himself achieved the distinction of writing the stories, and then writing the screenplay for the movie. (One story has it that he based the heroine of the stories on actress Marie Dressler, who wound up starring in the movie.)
I don’t know if there’s a magazine now that has the impact on pop culture that the Post had in its day. Somehow the editors knew just how to make a hit with middle America. (Oh, and Ted Key’s cartoons were turned into a TV series, too.)