I began working in journalism when I was eight years old. It was my mother's
idea. She wanted me to 'make something' of myself and, after a level-headed
appraisal of my strengths, decided I had better start young if I was to have any
chance of keeping up with the competition.
The flaw in my character which she
had already spotted was lack of gumption. My idea
of a perfect afternoon was lying in front of the radio re-reading my favorite
Big Little Book, Dick Tracy Meets Stooge Viller. My mother despised inactivity.
Seeing me having a good time in repose,
she was powerless to hide her disgust. "You've got no more gumption than a bump on a log," she
said. "Get out in the kitchen and help Doris do those dirty dishes."
My sister Doris, though two years younger than I, had enough gumption for a dozen people.
She positively enjoyed washing dishes, making beds and cleaning in the house. Doris could have
made something of herself if she hadn't been a girl. Because of this defect, however, the best she
could hope for was a career as a nurse or school teacher, the only work that capable females were
considered up to in those days.
This must have saddened my mother, this twist of fate that had allocated all the gumption to
the daughter and left her with a son who was content with Dick Tracy and Stooge Viller. If
disappointed, though, she wasted no energy on self-pity. She would make me make something of
myself whether I wanted to or not.
She was realistic about the difficulty. Having sized-up the material the Lord, had given her to
mould she didn't overestimate what she could do with it. She didn't insist that I grow up to be
President of the United States. When I turned eight years old, she decided that the job of starting
me on the road toward making something of myself could no longer be safely delayed. "Buddy,"
she said one day, "I want you to come home right after school this afternoon. Somebody's coming
and I want you to meet him."
When I burst in that afternoon, she was in conference in the parlor with an executive of the
Curtis Publishing Company. She introduced me. He bent low from the waist and shook my hand.
Was it true as my mother had told him, he asked, that I longed for the opportunity to conquer the
world of business? My mother replied that I was blessed with a rare determination to make
something of myself. "That's right," I whispered. "But have you got the grit, the character, the
never-say-quit spirit it takes to succeed in business?" My mother said I certainly did. "That's
right," I said.
He eyed me silently for a long pause, as though weighing whether I could be trusted to keep
his confidence, then spoke man-to-man. Before taking the crucial step, he said, he wanted to
advise me that working for the Curtis Publishing Company placed enormous responsibility on a
young man. It was one of the great companies of America. Perhaps the greatest publishing house
in the world. I had heard, no doubt, of the Saturday Evening Post?
Heard of it? My mother said that everyone in our house had heard of the Saturday Post and
that I, in fact, read it with religious devotion. Then doubtless, he said, we were also familiar with
those two monthly pillars of the magazine world, the Ladies Home Journal and the Country.
Indeed we were familiar with them, said my mother. Representing the Saturday Evening Post
was one of the weightiest honors that could be bestowed in the world of business, he said. He
was personally proud of being a part of the great corporation. My mother said he had every right
to be. Again he studied me as though debating whether I was worthy of a knighthood. Finally:
"Are you trustworthy?" My mother said I was the soul of honesty. "That's right," I said.
The caller smiled for the first time. He told me I was a lucky young man. He admired my
spunk. Too many young men thought life was all play. Those young men would not go far in this
world. Only a young man willing to work and save and keep his face washed and his hair neatly
combed could hope to come out on top in a world such as ours. Did I truly and sincerely believe
that I was such a young man? "He certainly does," said my mother. "That's right," I said.
He said he had been so impressed by what he had seen of me that he was going to make me a
representative of the Curtis Publishing Company. On the following Tuesday, he said, thirty
freshly printed copies of the Saturday Evening Post would be delivered at our door. I would place
these magazines, still damp with the ink of the presses, in a handsome canvas bag, sling it over
my shoulder, and set forth through the streets to bring the best in journalism, fiction, and
cartoons to the American public.
He had brought the canvas bag with him. He presented it with reverence fit for a chasuble. He
showed me how to drape the sling over my left shoulder and across the chest so that the pouch
lay easily accessible to my right hand, allowing the best in journalism, fiction, and cartoons to be
swiftly extracted and sold to a citizenry whose happiness and security depended upon us soldiers
of the free press.