Sunday, September 13, 2020

This Side of Paradise?

Heywood Broun (1888–1939)
From The Great American Sports Page: A Century of Classic Columns

Yale-Princeton Football Board Game, 1895, published by McLoughlin Brothers. The cover scene shows players wearing Yale blue and Princeton orange and black under moleskin vests. Image:
When F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise appeared a century ago, the notices were largely positive, with most reviewers either hailing a new literary star or treating the book as the work of a young writer with a promising career ahead of him. A major exception was the acerbic New-York Tribune journalist Heywood Broun, one of the original members of the infamous Algonquin Round Table and, over the course of three decades, a sports writer, war correspondent, political columnist, theater critic, book reviewer, and novelist. “Paradise and Princeton,” his review of Fitzgerald’s debut novel, appeared on April 11, 1920, two weeks after the book was published. Broun acknowledged that the book had received “enthusiastic praise from most American reviewers,” but he confessed that the novel “makes us feel very old” (he was 31) and he was “unconvinced as to the authenticity of the atmosphere” in the book’s portrait of campus life. Deriding the students portrayed by Fitzgerald as “male flappers,” Broun found it “inconceivable that the attitude toward life of a Princeton undergraduate, even a freshman, should be so curiously similar to that of a sophomore at Miss Spence’s” (an all-girls private school in New York).

But the comment that would sting most was Broun’s comparison of 23-year-old Fitzgerald to 9-year-old Daisy Ashford, whose best-selling book The Young Visiters, a too-precious novella published the previous year with misspellings and malapropisms intact, had become an international sensation (and was parodied that year by Ring Lardner as The Young Immigrunts). Broun’s sideswipe obliquely pointed to a significant problem with This Side of the Paradise that had been mentioned (or ridiculed) by many other reviewers: the book contained an unusual number of errors and typos. It turned out that the galleys hadn’t been properly proofread, since the young editor Maxwell Perkins thought his first newly signed author had looked over the pages and Fitzgerald assumed Scribner’s would take care of the task. Both were horrified.

Broun’s jibe stuck and Fitzgerald became “the Princeton Daisy Ashford” to several influential members of the press. Never one to let things go (especially if he started it), Broun scattered throughout future columns additional criticisms of the upstart author. “The self-consciousness of Fitzgerald is a barrier which we are never able to pierce. He sees himself constantly not as a human being, but as a man in a novel or in a play,” he wrote in one follow-up piece. Based on the actions of various characters in the book, Broun claimed to be “rather afraid that not a few undergraduates are given to the sin of not kissing and then telling anyway.”

In a later column, he took Fitzgerald’s “self-interview” that had been distributed to the press to promote the book and published choice excerpts  with the conclusion, “Having heard Mr. Fitzgerald, we are not entirely minded to abandon our notion that he is a rather complacent, somewhat pretentious, and altogether self-conscious young man.” The mockery was so pervasive that a month after publication, Scribner’s placed ads showcasing a list of glowing reviews under the headline “Heywood Broun Snorts and Scoffs, But—” That didn’t slow down the onslaught of darts thrown by the critic, who continued right through the summer until the fall, when Fitzgerald’s story collection Flappers and Philosophers appeared and Braun begrudgingly singled out “The Ice Palace” as evidence that maybe he “did have something to say and knew how to say it.”

Years later, while acknowledging the ludicrousness of the self-interview stunt, Fitzgerald recalled how he finally invited Broun for lunch and “in a kindly way told him that it was too bad he had let his life slide away without accomplishing anything.” He got further revenge in 1923 by beginning a remarkably favorable review of Broun’s first novel, The Boy Grew Older, with some thoughts about his nemesis’s shortcomings as a novelist: “His literary taste, when it is not playing safe, is pretty likely to be ill-considered, faintly philistine, and often downright absurd. . . . He seems unacquainted with anything that was written before 1900, possibly excepting the English units required for entering Harvard” (where Broun dropped out fifteen years earlier).

So “This Side of Paradise?”—Heywood Broun’s account of Princeton’s annual football game against archrival Yale—was in no small part the latest in a series of columns referencing and skewering Fitzgerald, his writing, and Princeton. The game, with a record-breaking 52,000 fans in the stands, provided a perfect vivarium for studying the new breed of undergraduate described in This Side of Paradise. For half a century the rivalry between the two colleges, which between them had snagged most of the national championships, had been the top draw of each season—and the intensity reached a fever pitch in the 1920s. Armed with Fitzgerald’s insights into the latest generation of undergraduates, Broun attended the game. What he found were young men who seemed remarkably like students of old.

Broun’s column ran in the next day’s Tribune, alongside Grantland Rice’s more traditional account of the game. (The sports page editor W. O. McGeehan kept the honor of writing the front-page story to himself.) As both Rice and Broun noted, the only Yale player who proved to be a match for the Princeton powerhouse was left tackle Albert Into, who (Rice reported) “played high-grade football,” leading a defensive line that allowed only four pass completions out of twelve attempts. The headline above Broun’s piece highlighted the lineman’s contribution to the game: “Into in Right and Is Yale’s One Lone Hero.” Subsequent reprints of the article have changed the title to “This Side of Paradise?”—but Into remains the star of Broun’s pun-fortified first paragraph.

Notes: Broun mentions three friends who also attended the game: Franklin Pierce Adams, a fellow Tribune columnist and member of the Algonquin Round Table; Damon Runyon, a sports writer for the Hearst syndicate and, later, a successful short story writer; and Frank Ward O’Malley, a longtime reporter and humorist for The New York Sun. When Broun jokes about the size of the numbers on the players’ uniforms, he uses the names of two type sizes: agate (5½ pt.) and nonpareil (6 pt.)

Broun refers to players simply by their last names. Here is additional identification for a few pivotal players for curious readers.
      For Princeton: halfback Hank Garrity, would go on to serve as head football coach at Wake Forest University from 1923 to 1925; quarterback Donold Lourie would be president of the Quaker Oats Company from 1947 to 1970, with a one-year leave of absence to be Under Secretary of State for Administration under Eisenhower; fullback Frank Murrey, was long remembered for his 77-yard touchdown run against Navy earlier that year; Stan Keck, named years later by Princeton coach William Roper as “the greatest tackle that ever played on a Princeton team,” became a sports program administrator at various colleges; only two weeks prior to the game, fullback Joseph Durand Scheerer, lost his older brother William (one of Fitzgerald’s classmates at Princeton), who died shortly before surgery to have his tonsils removed.
      For Yale: quarterback Thorne Murphy later became a vice president of McLouth Steel Company; Eddie Eagan had won the gold medal for light-heavyweight boxing in the 1920 Summer Olympics and went on to win a gold medal for four-man bobsled racing at the 1932 Winter Olympics. He remains the only person to win a gold medal at both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games in different disciplines.
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This Side of Paradise?

Princeton, hitherto believed to be this side of paradise, sent a line smash through the pearly gates of this afternoon and defeated Yale by 20–0. The score would have been larger but for the brilliant work of Into. He was a tough proposition. It might even be said that he was a tough preposition. He was stalwart on defense, good on attack, but a bad man to end a sentence with.

This, however, is supposed to be a skipping story of the game and ought to start at the beginning. We trust that the reader will take it for granted that the Palmer Stadium was full, the hotels crowded, the town gay with bunting and pretty girls. This year they are wearing woolen stockings.

Just before the whistle blew, Captain Tim Callahan of Yale and Mike Callahan of Princeton walked out into the middle of the gridiron. The referee said: “I guess I don’t have to introduce you boys,” and he was quite right, because the Callahans are brothers.

Mrs. Callahan believes in scattering her sons. She follows the old adage of “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” There is still another Callahan who is preparing for Ursinus. Mrs. Callahan believes that by trying all the colleges at least one of her sons is going to get an education.

Tim asked, “What’s the news from home?” And Mike said, “Well, I had a letter last week,” but before he could read it the referee interrupted by tossing a coin, and, as Tim is the elder, Mike let him win and choose his own goal. It was the only thing Yale won during the afternoon.

The two captains then returned to the side lines and gathered their respective teams around them for a few last words. Tim said, “Fight hard boys!” and Mike said, “Smash ’em boys!” These are brave words, but it’s in the breed.

Then the game began, and we noticed as it went along that, though the passes tossed by the Murphys, the Gilroys, and the Garritys did not always go to the designated receiver, there was generally some Irishman there to catch them.

Franklin Pierce Adams, who sat in the next seat, promised to give us first chance on anything he might say during the game, but after two periods the best he could do was to remark that there were three great plunging backs on the gridiron. “And the greatest of these is Garrity.” Then he left to go to another place in the stand where he had some friend who hadn’t heard it.

Princeton began as if to sweep Yale right off the field. Yale had punted and, following the kickoff, Lourie went around right end for thirty-five yards. Whenever a Yale man approached, Lourie stuck out his thumb, like little Jack Horner, and proceeded about his business. It was most enjoyable.

Damon Runyon immediately declared that he was going to send his son to Princeton and Frank O’Malley said he was also going there. That will be mighty convenient in the big game of 1936, because whenever Harvard needs five or six yards for a first down the quarterback will give the ball to H. Broun III and say, “Smash Runyon!” And if a scoring play is needed he can be sent around O’Malley.

However, although Princeton gained a lot of ground nothing came of it in the first period and Runyon began to weaken a little on his decision and said he heard Penn State well spoken of.

Just after the second period began Murrey sent a beautiful drop kick over from the thirty-five-yard line at a hard angle. Your correspondent thinks it safe to assume that the readers of the Tribune will realize that much cheering from the Princeton stands followed and all that will be omitted.

With the half almost ended, Princeton had the ball on Yale’s forty-yard line and big Keck dropped back for what seemed to be a try for a placement goal. Many in the stands and some on the field were suspicious, but Princeton carried out the deception admirably. The ball was passed to Lourie, who lay prone, and he made a motion as if to place it on the ground. Then he jumped up and began to run.

Keck was ahead of him, and it was hard to see Lourie from in front. He ran toward the Yale goal. One man in Blue was chasing him and seemed to stretch out his hand and say “Tag.” He failed to think of this, and in the race for the goal Lourie was first, with the Yale man a good second.

Musing between the halves as Yale and Princeton sang about God and Country, and Yale and Old Nassau and Princeton’s honor, and the rest of the sentiments which go to make up an afternoon, we began to reflect that numbering the players didn’t help as much as we thought it would. After all it would be almost as satisfactory to know that a touchdown had been scored on a pass from one Princeton man to another as that it had come from 16 to 28 to somebody who looked a little like 39, but might be 7. Of course, it might help a little if they would use nonpareil instead of agate.

Princeton’s touchdown in the third quarter was easy, for Murphy muffed a twisting punt from Scheerer and Mike Callahan carried the ball over the line. We noticed when Murphy went out of the game a little later that he buried his head in his hands and seemed terribly broken up about his error.

It is a great pity that all the circumstances of a big game compel young college players to take everything so seriously. Looking at the universe from a cosmic point of view, it doesn’t make much difference that Murphy dropped the punt, but he could not see it that way.

Princeton scored again when Keck kicked a placement goal from Yale’s thirty-six-yard line after a fair catch. Keck has great dramatic ability as well as skill in kicking goals. In the third period they carried him off the gridiron, and a few minutes later he turned up in the line-up and hit the crossbar from the fifty-yard line. But for his injury, he would undoubtedly have booted the ball over the wall of the stadium. At this point there was not a little sparring back and forth, and Yale sent in Eddie Eagan, the Olympic light heavyweight champion.

By and by the whistle blew, and again we think it is safe to assume that the reader knows that all the Princeton men from years and years back came to the field to snake-dance and throw their hats over the goal posts.

Mike went over to Tim and took out the letter to begin where he had been interrupted by the referee.

“Aunt Sally’s a little better,” he said.

“Damn Aunt Sally!” said Tim.

Originally published under the headline “Into in Right and Is Yale’s One Lone Hero” in the November 14, 1920, issue of the New-York Tribune and reprinted in Wake Up the Echoes: From the Sports Pages of the New York Herald Tribune (1956).