Friday, August 20, 2010

The Flying Fool

Waverly Root (1903–1982)
From Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology

Charles Lindbergh atop the Spirit of St Louis in San Diego Airport, before departure to St. Louis the month before the New York–Paris flight, 1927. Courtesy Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The great aviator and author Charles Lindbergh died 36 years ago, on August 26, 1974. Few people alive are old enough to remember his singular accomplishment in 1927—making the solo flight from New York to Paris non-stop in 33.5 hours to capture a $25,000 prize offered by American hotelier Raymond Orteig.

Freshly arrived in Paris and oblivious to the impending event, the young Waverly (often spelled “Waverley”) Root had begun a gig working for the Paris Edition of the Chicago Tribune, one of three American papers published in Paris at the time. It was “the liveliest of the three as well as the one most attuned to the artistic life of the Left Bank,” writes Ronald Weber in an excellent history of the paper:
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 Perl├Ęs, 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.”
When Lindbergh accomplished his “perfect flight,” nobody was prepared; “the diplomats, the airport authorities, the police, the journalists”—all were caught flat-footed, both because nobody expected the young 25-year-old to actually make it and because few understood how his accomplishment would capture the imaginations of adoring mobs on both sides of the ocean. In his posthumously published 1987 memoir, Root (who is today remembered for his best-selling books on food) admits that he didn’t even know who Lindbergh was on the morning of May 21, 1927. In “The Flying Fool” he pieces together the chaos in Paris on that historic day.

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During my first days on the Paris Edition, I was still isolated from the matter-of-fact world by the euphoria of finding myself in Paris, above which I seemed to be floating without touching the ground. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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