The Porno Graphic - A SHOWMAN’S EDUCATION - Impresario: The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan - James Maguire

Impresario: The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan - James Maguire (2006)


Chapter 3. The Porno Graphic

THE NEW YORK EVENING GRAPHIC knew how to elbow its way through the clutter of New York dailies. The paper’s frothy mix of scandal, sleaze, sex, and sensation provoked howls of protest. Many claimed the Graphic was moral corruption in print. “Negress Bares Rich Man’s Love Notes” blared a typical headline, or “Doctor’s Death Bares Exotic Sex Orgies.” Each day the paper found a fresh way to assault the respectable, with shockers like “Dating Bureaus for Lonely Co-eds to Solve Undergraduate Sex Problem” and “Beauty and Married Man Take Poison in Love Pact.” The city’s other leading tabloids, the Daily News and the Daily Mirror, were paragons of thoughtful, in-depth journalism by comparison to the Porno Graphic, as it was called. But if few respected the Graphic, quite a few read it. The paper’s circulation was near three hundred thousand in the mid 1920s.

Graphic publisher Bernarr Macfadden was a notorious eccentric. A physical fitness buff who often walked barefoot through the newsroom, he hosted a radio show that guided listeners through rigorous morning calisthenics. The Graphic espoused his lusty appreciation of the human body and sex. The newspaper’s daily article about exercise featured photos of two scantily clad showgirls demonstrating moves, with captions: “Does your boyfriend’s driving get on your nerves?” asked one. “Yes,” answered her companion, “sometimes it seems as if he’ll never get out to the parking place!”

Like Macfadden’s other publications, True Story and Physical Culture magazines, the Graphic relied heavily on photographs. And if the Graphic lacked an exclusive photo, it invented one. When the tabloid wanted a revealing shot of a debauched Broadway party or a celebrity divorce trial, it fabricated one using an unorthodox technique called the composograph. Staffers re-created scenes from news events by dressing up actors (sometimes reporters), photographing the tableau, then using scissors and glue to create a single “photograph.” Including as many seminude models as possible was imperative.

For Ed, moving to the Graphic wasn’t a step up the ladder as much as a step toward greater notoriety. The paper screamed from the newsstand, and a Graphic byline gave a newsman a pronounced notoriety, if not respectability. Unlike some of the papers Ed worked for, at which he labored in anonymity, the Graphic moved him center stage.

He landed his own daily column, Ed Sullivan’s Sport Whirl, with his photo gracing the top. In his headshot he was squarely handsome, the young athlete with his hair slicked back and parted in the middle, looking out with a firm gaze. As a columnist he no longer had to chase down stories but instead offered his opinions, with a generous dose of gossip and barroom philosophizing. Sport Whirl was a free-flowing insider’s notebook of tidbits and factoids, sometimes with an actual story thrown in. His column roamed freely through the world of professional athletics, from the personal to the political to the trivial, as if the Graphic had said to him: Here’s a typewriter, we’ll publish anything you want to write.

Ed’s column pondered whether Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the godlike stars of the New York Yankees, would continue their home run streaks. He reported that Pittsburgh Pirate captain Pie Traynor gave up cigars when the season started to aid his batting eye. Readers learned that tennis star Bill Tilden had every phonograph record made by opera star Mary Garden, and that William Wrigley (the chewing gum magnate and Chicago Cubs owner) operated an aviary on Catalina Island, but quit after a $1,500 bird died.

Sullivan had a special fondness for boxing, which in the 1920s vied with baseball as the nation’s leading sport. In his column the give and take of the ring could be analogous to almost anything. In a 1928 piece he compared the battle for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations, led by Herbert Hoover and Al Smith, respectively, to the battle between fighters to determine who got a shot at heavyweight champion Gene Tunney. Boxing also allowed Sullivan to write about race, a visceral issue in the sport at the time.

Although Jack Johnson’s 1908 victory made him the first black pugilist to win the heavyweight title, after he lost in 1915 the boxing industry closed ranks to prevent another black champion. Ed addressed the issue in his 1928 column about George Godfrey, a fighter who he opined had a good chance of winning the title: “after peering at the two hundred twenty-five pound negro [sic], one can readily imagine him telling even Dempsey to go get a reputation.” But after a conversation with top promoter Tex Rickard, Ed reported Godfrey would be denied a title bout against reigning (white) champion Gene Tunney due to his race:

“Why does Tex shy from another mixed heavyweight scrap? I asked that question in his office one afternoon. ‘I saw pictures of colored men strung to lampposts after the Johnson-Jeffries fight.… I resolved that I’d never try that again,’ Rickard replied. Tex believes that the country has grown more tolerant, but he refuses to believe that our present degree of tolerance can prevail against passions which are a great deal older than any of the present generation. So Godfrey can be counted out definitely.”

Sullivan’s Graphic writing about race and sports was as much advocacy as reporting. He continued to cover a cause he had touched on at the Leader, civil rights. Ed claimed he had gotten access to a contract for a football game between New York University and the University of Georgia. In the document, according to Sullivan, New York University agreed to a demand by the southern university to bench one of its players because he was black. “For the next week, I castigated New York University’s immorality and suggested that their Hall of Fame be torn down and transferred to some other university with a higher regard for a boy’s dignity.”

In advocating for the rights of black athletes, Ed took a stand that there was little public demand for, and likely not what the Graphic’s sports readers paid their 2 cents to read about (though the paper itself relished controversy in all its forms). His vocal and unstinting support of equal rights would be one of the few facets of his career he pursued regardless of how the audience felt about it.

In one of Sullivan’s columns about boxing and ethnicity, he wrote that the results of three recent Madison Square Garden boxing matches “erased any immediate possibility that the Jewish race would break what amounts to an exclusing [sic] Irish-Italian monopoly on the world’s pugilistic titles.” He observed that titles once capably held by Battling Levinsky, Louis “Kid” Kaplan, and Charlie Rosenberg were now taken by Irish and Italian pugilists.

His own Irish-Jewish matchup continued apace, as he and Sylvia Weinstein maintained their tempestuous romance. The couple continued to be on-again, off-again, but remained steady despite the turbulence. She grew ever adept at handling his moods, knowing when to let him be and avoid the subject. And he began taking her to events other than sporting matches. As a Graphic staffer, he received tickets to events of many kinds, and one evening he took Sylvia to opening night of an Eddie Cantor movie, Kid Boots—a special thrill for his date. In a major step, the couple even made the trip to Ed’s home in Port Chester, though it did nothing to change the Sullivan family’s attitudes toward a potential marriage. And as always, Ed and Sylvia spent many evenings hopping between Manhattan speakeasies.

For Ed, nights on the town were a way to engage in his favorite sport: glad-handing. He was an incurable socializer whose crowd of acquaintances became a stepping-stone to a still larger crowd. The sports columnist socialized around the Graphic office as much as he worked, perhaps more so, never missing a chance to shoot the bull or trade the latest gossip. “While his associates sped hither and thither in a rush of activity, Sullivan just lounged around and talked to people,” wrote Graphic editor Frank Mallen. “He got more use out of a chair than anyone connected with the place.… He was a friendly person whose attribute of easily making acquaintances gradually spread his personality around New York.” Ed called everyone at the office by his or her first name, except for Macfadden. He became such a popular figure at the Graphic that the other sportswriters elected him sports editor.

But the social butterfly wasn’t neglecting his work, in Mallen’s view. “Those who mistook his easy-going [sic] gait as an indication of languor, however, were wrong. It was purely a matter of mathematics. It would take him half the time to write his stories than others needed. The reason was that he never had to stop to find the right word, an angle, a good start, or to look things up. They cascaded freely right into his typewriter, attesting to an uncanny gift of expression and memory.”

The columnist was continually looking for his next venture. He began organizing and promoting “Strong Man” tournaments, in which great hulking slabs of men performed unlikely feats of strength. Contestants bent and lifted a plethora of iron and steel contraptions, grunting while attempting to outdo the competition. He held the carnival-like events in New York’s Webster Hall, emceeing the contests himself, introducing the men onstage and enthusiastically directing audience applause. He also judged the tournaments, deciding—presumably based on audience reaction—which of the bulked-up behemoths won top honors. On occasion, some of the strongmen disputed Sullivan’s rulings. One giant demanded that Ed follow him to the freight yards and watch him move a train car using his head.

Ed also began organizing and acting as master of ceremonies for the celebrity-studded Graphic sports dinners, held at swank locations like the Hotel Astor. With Macfadden’s backing, Ed assembled rosters of star athletes, like Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Red Grange, and golf star Gene Sarazen; the charismatic Mayor Jimmy Walker made cameos as well. On certain evenings Sullivan assembled and hosted Graphic dinners with marquee stage performers, like Rudy Vallee, the popular crooner who sometimes sang through a megaphone, and Sophie Tucker, the risqué comedienne who warbled double entendre chestnuts like “Nobody Loves a Fat Girl, But Oh How a Fat Girl Can Love.” At one Graphic soiree Sullivan presented Al Jolson, the vaudeville singer whose blackface performance in the first talkie, 1927’s The Jazz Singer, helped introduce a new Hollywood era.

Being a master of ceremonies was a job that Ed found that he liked immensely. It put the young columnist right were he wanted to be, in the spotlight.

The Graphic employee that Sullivan would have the most longstanding relationship with was Walter Winchell, the paper’s gossip columnist and its biggest star. An egoistic workaholic whose column commanded the attention of Manhattan’s “in crowd” as well as those with their nose pressed against the window, Winchell is considered the original show business gossip columnist. Other publications covered Broadway, and gossip was a staple of newspapers long before Winchell, but he combined the two with a go-for-the-jugular ethic and streetwise verbal wit like no one before him. Graphic readers could hardly wait to read Your Broadway and Mine, his irreverent daily peephole into the lives of the rich and famous.

In an age when it was viewed as improper to report even a pregnancy, the Graphic allowed Winchell to chronicle the glamorous classes in intimate detail, including divorces, affairs, courtships, and illnesses. With a sprawling network of sources and a rat-a-tat-tat machine gun style, he exposed the peccadilloes of the well known seemingly without censor. That he was widely read didn’t mean he was widely loved. In fact he was loathed by many, by those who felt his skewering of the status quo was immoral, and by those whose secrets he exposed. But Winchell didn’t care. He was driven by his column. The public felt profoundly ambiguous about him—as it did about the Graphicitself—with some calling him a corrupting influence, but he sold newspapers.

And Winchell was powerful. Broadway shows sold more or less tickets and starlets gained or lost bookings based on his pronouncements, which were repeated up and down the Main Stem, as Broadway was known. Over time he would become a one-man media empire. At his height in the late 1930s and 1940s, Winchell’s column was syndicated in more than two thousand newspapers, and his hit radio show was talked about across the country. It’s estimated that more than half the adult population either read his column or heard his broadcast. As his influence grew, so did the scope of his subject matter. In addition to Broadway and Hollywood celebrities, he dispensed pithy opinions on novels, records, radio programs, and even national affairs, on which he editorialized with a populist bent. His seat-of-the-pants take on current affairs was so well regarded that government officials established a liaison to court his influence, and he was called to the White House on a number of occasions.

Over decades, Sullivan and Winchell would have a complicated relationship. It was often described as a feud, and it was that; the two squabbled bitterly. But at times they had something of a friendship and could be warm and almost brotherly. Each had reason to dislike the other. Ed felt deeply envious of Walter, whose column made him more famous than many of the stars he wrote about. Walter, for his part, was highly insecure, and disliked even his minor competitors, like a popular sports columnist with his photo atop his column. A loner with few, if any, real friends, Winchell was not susceptible to Sullivan’s easygoing glad-handing, and tended to be unimpressed with “Eddie Sullivan,” as he sometimes called him.

The feud-friendship began as soon as the two met. One of their early skirmishes involved Emile Gauvreau, the Graphic’s tough, shrewd editor. Gauvreau came to the paper from the Hartford Courant, a respected small paper, and he retained some memory of journalistic ethics. Paradoxically, Gauvreau supervised the Graphic’s fabricated news stories but tried to rein in Winchell as the columnist pushed the prim boundaries of 1920s propriety. After Winchell included a column tidbit about a married couple expecting a child, Gauvreau bellowed at him: “This is a family newspaper! You cannot say people are having babies!” Winchell changed the reference to a “blessed event,” but the battle between Winchell and Gauvreau raged constantly.

According to Sullivan, Winchell at one point asked Ed to intervene on his behalf, to get Gauvreau to go easier on him. The idea was that Sullivan, having plenty of friends at the paper—unlike Winchell—would have influence where the gossip columnist did not.

Sullivan went on a fishing trip with a Graphic executive, O.J. Elder, and put in a good word for Winchell. When Gauvreau learned about Sullivan’s attempt to influence senior management, he bawled him out for going over his head. After the editor vented his rage, he explained that it had been Winchell himself who had informed him of Ed’s attempt to go over his head. Sullivan felt he had been double-crossed.

At that point, Gauvreau called Winchell to his office. The gossip columnist admitted that, yes, he was the one who had told the editor—but he claimed Gauvreau had forced him. Sullivan, himself now enraged, said, “Walter, what can I do with a cringing coward like you? If I hit you, you might get hurt. If I spit in your eye, it will be coming down to your level.”

Winchell claimed this story was a Sullivan fabrication. And it may well be a case of the Sullivan Story. It’s not likely that Winchell would have asked Sullivan to intervene on his behalf. The Broadway gossip had considerable clout due to his immense popularity with readers; he wouldn’t have needed the sports editor to plead his case. According to Winchell, he himself lobbied management to stop cutting items from his column.

But the anecdote, if it was an exaggeration by Ed, says something about his envy of Walter, which he admitted only decades later. The story portrays Sullivan as having influence where Winchell did not—and it was exactly Winchell’s power and influence that Ed so admired. And it shows Ed as clearly the dominant victor, one-upping the star gossip columnist. That would always be Ed’s hope, and he would struggle to do so for quite some time. From this rocky beginning the two men would stay oddly intertwined throughout their lives, and would still be playing out their rivalry-brotherhood in their seventies. Ed had lost his twin brother Danny in infancy, but in Walter he found something of a replacement.

Over the course of his many nights at the Silver Slipper, Ed’s friendship with the mobsters who owned the speakeasy grew stronger. After racketeer Frank Marlow was shot to death near Flushing Cemetery in 1929, Ed wrote a fond remembrance of the syndicate figure:

“Along Broadway they are selling extras telling of Frank Marlow’s death, and yet some of us expect to see his fine eyes crinkle in a pleased smile and to hear his cheery ‘Hello pardner,’ a salutation that was not paralleled along Broadway for pure warmth of feeling.… To sit in a night club, to watch his eyes sparkle with pleasure, to hear him gently teasing the little blonde-haired girl with whom he was head-over-heels in love with.… To some, Frank Marlow was a racketeer … to us, who rejoiced in his friendship, he was an eager, impulsive, loyal friend.”

In the view of Dan Parker, a sportswriter for competing tabloid the Daily Mirror, Sullivan’s unabashed friendship with the mobsters who managed boxer Primo Camera had led to journalistic fraud. Although Camera, “the Ambling Alp,” would briefly take the heavyweight title in 1933, accounts of his career invariably mention rumors that he was aided by strong-arm tactics other than his own. Parker claimed that Ed’s Graphic column was part of the fix, that Ed was helping the mob groom Camera for an eventual title shot—a claim that Ed disputed. Sullivan was indeed the boxer’s cheerleader, writing plugs for the mountainous pugilist on a regular basis. But he claimed that his belief in Camera was sincere: “I really thought a lot of Camera, and praised him all the way up,” Ed said.

Parker and Sullivan became embroiled in a fisticuffs of their own. Parker wrote, “Speaking for the Duffy interests which he seems to represent, Mr. Sullivan, the columnist, and, as he confesses, ‘the original booster of the big man from the South of Italy,’ offers to take ‘any odds such a scoffer as Danyell Parker will offer and back Camera to beat such as Godfrey, Jim Maloney, K.O. Christner.’ … Now look here, Eddie, you old sheik … do you think I’d be foolish enough to bet on a fight in which Primo Camera participated—assuming, of course, that he will ever participate in a real fight?… And, oh, what I know about Eddie Sullivan!”

Ed quickly counterpunched. He filed a $200,000 lawsuit against the Daily Mirror and Dan Parker, charging them with libel and defamation of character. For Parker, that was more fuel for the fire. “Eddie picked the argument and then ran off sniveling to his lawyer and threatened to sue me! Hot cha cha! What a powerful writer! I mean Eddie’s lawyer.… A nice kid but he can’t take it … that is, he can’t take a bit of rough joshing … otherwise he can—and does—take it.… Now hop back into Primo’s left shoe, Eduardo, until I need you again.”

Sullivan’s arch nemesis, Walter Winchell, who in the 1930s and 1940s commanded a vast radio and newspaper audience. (Globe Photos)

Those words made Ed even more determined to fight back, but his court case suffered a setback. A State Supreme Court judge ruled that Sullivan had mistaken “facetious twitting for malicious libel.” Ed, however, didn’t give up. His honor had been impugned and he would, as always, keep slugging until he got what he wanted. He appealed the case to a higher court, where he won a reversal. The court case went forward and this time the judge ruled in his favor. But it wasn’t the money he was after. “I considered the reversal vindication enough,” Ed said. “I settled with the Hearst lawyers for my lawyers fees, about $850, I think. They were astonished when I said I didn’t want any money for myself.” As Ed reiterated after his court victory, he was indeed a friend of Bill Duffy’s, but his many plugs for Primo Camera had been genuine. As such, “I was willing to call the whole thing off after I succeeded in defending my reputation.”

(In 1956 Camera sued the movie studio that produced The Harder They Fall, based on the Budd Schulberg novel about a fighter whose fights are fixed; many felt it was based on Camera. The boxer lost his suit. In the film, a sportswriter named Eddie Willis is hired by the mob to promote a fighter until he can win a title bout with a champion named Gus Dundee.)

On the morning of October 29, 1929, Wall Street brokers began the trading day under a cloud. Soon after the gong was struck to begin business, their worst fears were realized. The great bull market, after weeks of hiccupping, and a handful of very bad days, was now heading dizzily, devastatingly, downward. The day’s collapse was the worst carnage in the history of American markets. As stocks had climbed in the late 1920s, they lured legions of small investors—teachers, seamstresses, railroad men. Every cabbie, it seemed, had a hot stock tip. Their nest egg was now gone. With the breathtaking declines of Black Tuesday, even large institutions cashed in their chips. Herbert Hoover assured the country that fundamental conditions remained sound, but the crash reverberated throughout the economy. Businesses failed and commodity prices tumbled. Within six months, unemployment soared. One of the sectors hit hardest was newspaper advertising, affecting the Graphic as much as any New York daily. The paper had always been a hard sell to advertisers. Its impressive circulation was offset by its questionable reputation; many businesses were reluctant to be associated with the lurid tabloid. Now, as advertising budgets grew tight, the paper’s fortunes began to slide.

The Depression, of course, was a change of mood as much as a change in business fortunes. The world that Ed inhabited, the nightspots and cabarets of Broadway, felt a sobering chill. It could hardly have been otherwise: by March 1930 the breadlines in New York snaked block after block, and the city’s YMCA fed twelve thousand unemployed workers daily. The mad spirit of the 1920s—the rouged flappers, the insouciant evenings at gin joints—was slipping away. The carefree effervescence was replaced by a deepening shadow. Even romances, once content to be casual, now faced a make-or-break point.

Ed and Sylvia’s relationship had grown ever stronger since its beginning in the fall of 1926, despite their steady-as-a-clock pattern of breakups and reconciliations. Although by the spring of 1930 it was clearly a longstanding romance, Ed appeared to be moving no closer to marriage. Sylvia, however, needed to move things along. “Ed had no intention of getting married,” she recalled much later in life, “but finally I trapped him into eloping.”

In April, Sylvia told Ed that she was pregnant. Hurried discussions ensued. Ed agreed to get married, but the two decided to keep the wedding a secret from their families until after a short honeymoon. Ed planned a City Hall ceremony, witnessed by close friends, to be followed the next evening by a short Catholic ceremony. (Ed wanted any children raised as Catholics, which Sylvia agreed to.) Then the couple planned on honeymooning for the weekend in Atlantic City, after which they would break the news to their parents.

Ed and Sylvia went to City Hall on April 28. The witnesses were Sylvia’s close friend Ruth Sanburg, and Ed’s friends Jim Kahn, a sportswriter from his Evening Mail days, and Johnny Dundee, the boxer who had shown him around New York when he first arrived. A quick wedding ceremony was performed, and the couple went to dinner at the Roosevelt Hotel with Dundee.

Everyone understood it was to be kept secret until Ed gave the okay, but apparently someone at City Hall hadn’t agreed to the plan. As soon as the newlyweds got back to Ed’s apartment the phone started to ring. Reporters quizzed them about the details; a photographer was on the way. This put Ed and Sylvia in a quandary—their families would soon read about their wedding in the newspapers. They realized they had no choice. The two of them placed hurried calls to their parents to let them know they had gotten married.

Sylvia’s family took the surprising news with relative equanimity. “At that point I was so emotionally involved with Ed that they wanted me to have anything that would have made me happy,” she said. But the Sullivans were aghast. As Sylvia described it, Ed’s family was “all devout Catholics—who were opposed to the marriage.” It would take several years—and diplomatic efforts on Sylvia’s part—before Ed’s family would speak to him.

Ed and Sylvia moved into an apartment on 154 West 48th, not far from where Ed had lived when he first moved to New York. They lived over Billy LaHiff’s tavern, a Broadway watering hole frequented by show business types, celebrity athletes, and politicians. (The apartment, owned by LaHiff, had once been rented by Jack Dempsey and, later, by Broadway chronicler Damon Runyon.) The couple’s only child, Elizabeth, named after Ed’s mother, was born on December 22.

In June 1931 the Graphic needed a new Broadway gossip columnist. Walter Winchell had gone to Hearst’s Daily Mirror in 1929, lured by a hefty salary increase and a signing bonus. Winchell’s high-profile post at the Graphic had been filled by Louis Sobol. As written by the mild-mannered Sobol, the Graphic’s gossip column was never as talked about as it had been under Winchell, yet Sobol still parleyed it into a career boost. In mid June, he too landed a column in a Hearst publication, the New York Journal-American. With Sobol’s departure imminent, the Graphic needed a new Broadway scribe to keep tabs on the glitterati.

The job was offered to Ed. Or, as he later claimed, he was forced into it. The Graphic, he said, gave him an ultimatum: “I didn’t want the job, but it was either take it or be fired.” He did agree to take the Broadway gossip column, yet in truth it may not have required the arm-twisting he later recounted.

Management changes at the paper were casting doubt on Ed’s job security. Lee Ellmaker, who co-owned a tabloid in Philadelphia with publisher Bernarr Macfadden, had joined the Graphic’s senior management. Ellmaker brought with him the Philadelphia tabloid’s sports editor, Ted von Ziekursch, to be the Graphic’s managing editor. But von Ziekursch had little interest in being managing editor; he wanted to cover sports. Hence, he looked enviously at Ed’s column.

As recalled by Walter Winchell, the new managing editor began encroaching on Sullivan’s turf. Ed ran into Walter one evening as he was buying a newspaper on 47th Street, and as they stood chatting, Ed told Walter of his troubles. “He takes my ringside seats to the fights and World Series. He covers them himself. My column doesn’t run. It’s humiliating.” Walter recommended that Ed live up to his contract regardless. “Keep turning in your column. If you don’t, he’ll use that as a reason to say you broke it. Give me some time to think. I’ll call you.”

However, the Graphic, despite von Ziekursch’s intrusion on Sullivan’s beat, wasn’t going to force out Ed to allow its managing editor to cover sports. When Ed finally began the Broadway column, his sports column was given to new hire Sam Taub—not von Ziekursch. Moreover, when Ellmaker offered Ed the Broadway beat, it wasn’t accompanied with a take-it-or-you’re-fired ultimatum, recalled editor Frank Mallen: “Ellmaker … called him to his office and asked him to make the switch saying he believed that Sullivan understood the Broadway setup better than anyone else.”

In fact, Ed even felt in a strong enough position to negotiate a raise, remembered Mallen. Sullivan told Ellmaker he would take the new assignment “on [the] condition that $50 a week be added to his pay for night club expenses. Ellmaker agreed.” Ed’s new pay was $375 a week.

Although he had agreed to write the Broadway column, Ed would never have admitted an interest in being a gossip columnist. He had always had a streak of the puritanical. That is, he presented a moralist’s face in his writings and later on television, though in reality he was far from this. And in 1931 being the Graphic’s gossip columnist was only a step away from being a pornographer, to some observers not even a step.

Underneath his reluctance to switch columns—clearly genuine—was likely some desire for the gossip beat. The last two men to have filled it went on to lucrative high-profile positions at better newspapers. For someone who had always enjoyed the attention that came with being a prominent columnist, the Broadway column surely held appeal.

As Ellmaker had said, the reason the Graphic wanted Ed to take the Broadway beat was that they knew he was well qualified. Like any good gossip, he was an inveterate socializer. He rubbed elbows with all and sundry up and down Broadway, from mobsters to flappers to barkeeps to shoe shine boys. His army of sources was already in place. And it was no secret he possessed the foremost job qualification for the Broadway reporter: he was a confirmed nightclub habitué. He had seen all the cabaret routines and musical revues for the last few years, the very acts he would cover. He had organized and emceed the Graphic’s celebrity dinners, with stars like Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker. His name and face were familiar to readers, and his sports column was already as much a gossip’s diary as straight sports coverage.

Still, this was a life-altering shift. In moving to the Broadway column, Ed was making more than a career change; he was making an identity change. A sports columnist was a man’s man, discussing Tunney’s uppercut and the Yankees’ pennant chances; a Broadway columnist was an odd creature, both sought after and shunned by society, living among musicians and comics and actors. Ed was not new to the milieu he was about to enter, but his new post would entail an unpredictable journey away from familiar terrain.

When Louis Sobol wrote his farewell column for the Graphic, he gently jibed the columnist-to-be: “I understand Eddie’s going to use his picture in this column. It’s a grand idea, because this Sullivan fellow is one of the good-looking, he-man type of fellows. When he turns his firm-chinned pan at a certain angle, he’s a dead ringer for Gary Cooper. Running his picture should help him a lot in the matter of mail from gal readers, and mail’s mighty important to a columnist.”

Sullivan was “not a newcomer to Broadway … his daily routine has brought him constantly into contact with Broadway,” Sobol noted. But he had some things to learn: “It’s only fair to warn Eddie, of course, that his home life is a thing of the past. He’ll be coming home anywhere from 5 to 8 in the morning. He’ll be coming home worn out, tired, grouchy and resentful at the world in general. He’ll toss around in bed wondering what in the world he’ll use for a column the next day.” Sobol went on to reassure Mrs. Sullivan: “They’ll only mean that Eddie is a good Broadway columnist. Only good Broadway columnists act that way.”

In the last week of June, the Graphic began running ads touting Ed’s debut as a Broadway columnist. On the Friday before his first week, it ran a half-page ad with Sullivan posed in a movie poster countenance, fedora at an even set, gazing out with an insider’s knowing look. The ad read:

“He’s a curiosity! He actually was born and brought up along the main stem of the big town. He’s the pal of Jimmy Walker, Jack Dempsey, Marilyn Miller, Buddy Rogers, Bernarr Gimbel, George White, Earle Sande, Nancy Carroll, Gene Tunney, Paul Whiteman, Flo Ziegfeld, Babe Ruth—of Mrs. O’Grady and Officer 666—and he will tell you all about them as you’ve never been told before. He’s been famous as a reporter and sports reporter these many years. Maybe you know Ed Sullivan, but, if you don’t, be sure to meet him Monday in the New York Evening Graphic.”

Ready or not, Ed was about to make his Broadway debut.