From National Book Award–winner Michael J. Arlen and screenwriter Alice Arlen, here is the fascinating, adventurous life of Alicia Patterson, who became, at age thirty-four, one of the youngest and most successful newspaper publishers in America when she founded Newsday.
With The Huntress, the Arlens give us a revealing picture of the lifestyle and traditions of the Patterson-Medill publishingdynasty—one of the country’s most powerful and influential newspaper families—but also Alicia’s rebellious early years and her dominating father, Joseph Patterson. Founder and editor of the New York Daily News, Patterson was a complicated and glamorous figure who in his youth had reported on Pancho Villa in Mexico and had outraged his conservative Chicago family by briefly espousing socialism.
Not once but twice, first at age twenty, Alicia agreed to marry men her father chose, despite having her own more interesting suitors. He encouraged her to do the difficult training required for an aviation transport license; in 1934 she became only the tenth woman in America to receive one. Patterson brought her along to London to meet with Lord Beaverbrook, to Rome to meet Mussolini, and to Moscow in 1937, at the time of Stalin’s “show trials,” where a young George Kennan took her under his wing.
Alicia caught the journalism bug writing for Liberty magazine, an offshoot of the Daily News. A trip to French Indochina highlighted her hunting skills and made the sultan of Johor an ardent admirer; another trip would involve India,the dangerous sport of pigsticking, several maharajas, and a tiger hunt. A third marriage, to Harry Guggenheim, blew hot and cold but it did last; it was with him that she started Newsday in a former car dealership on Long Island. Governor Adlai E. Stevenson, two-time Democratic candidate for president, would be one of her last admirers.
With access to family archives of journals and letters, Michael and Alice Arlen have written an astonishing portrait of a maverick newspaperwoman and an intrepid adventurer, told with humor, compassion, and a profound understanding of a time and place.
(With black-and-white illustrations throughout)
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
ALICE ARLEN is the author of Cissy Patterson and was for many years a successful screenwriter; among her credits are Silkwood—cowritten with Nora Ephron and nominated for an Academy Award—Alamo Bay, Cookie, Then She Found Me, and The Weight of Water. She is the niece of Alicia Patterson and, until her death in March 2016, lived in New York City.
MICHAEL J. ARLEN was for thirty years a staff writer and television critic at The New Yorker. He is the author of many books, including Thirty Seconds, An American Verdict, Exiles, which was short-listed for a National Book Award, and Passage to Ararat, which won a National Book Award.
Read an Excerpt
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It would likely be unfair and uncharitable (though maybe temptingly ironic) to suggest that Joe Patterson and Alice Higinbotham’s brilliant wedding represented the high point in their marriage. For one thing, most marriages—even the discordant and implausible ones, even those that in hindsight might seem challenged from the beginning—are surely voyages with many stops and starts, surprises, sideline excursions, and not all of them unpleasing. For instance, years later a middle-aged Joe Patterson recalled for his twenty-six-year-old daughter, Alicia, that on their Georgia honeymoon his young wife had been “good in the hay,” a snippet of information that, among other things, gives some notion of the oddly familiar relationship that came to evolve between father and daughter.
On the other hand, on the subject of that same honeymoon—two young people alone together for the first time, at a resort in the piney woods of Georgia—what the bride mostly remembered (not being one to chat easily with daughters, or anyone else, about “the hay”) was the impatience and disapproval of her new husband. “He liked it that I rode,” she once told her youngest daughter, Josephine, “but he was down on me for not shooting although I just didn’t like to. And he was always scolding me for fussing with my hair and trying to get dressed properly.” More tellingly she could sense that he was already becoming bored with her company. In fact, soon after their return he was writing glumly to his mother to the effect that Alice, “in spite of three years at Miss Porter’s School,” appeared to know little more than “how to read and speak a little in the French language”; indeed, save for “her interest in the decorative arts,” he continued, his new wife knew little “in the way of History or Politics”—a deficiency, he said, he was doing his best to remedy by compiling a reading list for her.
In January of next year, as planned, the Pattersons settled into a modest apartment near the railroad tracks in Springfield, then a town of some forty thousand, embedded in the great, flat downstate prairie, far from the familiar sophistications of Chicago. Alice worked at learning to keep house with the help of a Swedish farm girl, who did most of the heavy lifting in an era of washtubs, laundry lines, and weighty hand irons, to say nothing of the chores and crafts of the kitchen. In her free time she tried to get through her mountain of wedding thank-you letters, and wrote almost daily to her mother, who remained doggedly skeptical of the Swedish girl’s domestic skills. “Inger prepared a fine breakfast for Joe,” Alice declared in one letter, “using fresh eggs obtained from her cousin, although J. was as usual in a great rush to get to his office.” Joe Patterson’s office was a half mile away in the statehouse, where he was just then the youngest member of the Illinois legislature—a Republican assemblyman from Chicago’s Eighth District: a job he’d strenuously campaigned for in the months before his wedding, having come to the conclusion that he could accomplish more in politics than he could as a lowly reporter on the Chicago Tribune in the shadow of his august father.
In the beginning Patterson’s experience of statehouse politics was much to his liking—the noisy, often raucous speechifying of downstate politicos, the slow-motion give-and-take of lengthy sessions, and then afterward the late-hours camaraderie and tavern talk, almost like a Yale fraternity without the Yale men. For much of that spring the legislature was occupied with the heated issue of Chicago street railways; at the time there existed dozens and dozens of small, mostly inefficient trolley car operators, and inevitably there were the usual forces wishing to consolidate them. Patterson instinctively regarded himself as a man of the people, and soon devoted much energy and many words trying to push forward a populist agenda. But which was the populist agenda? The one favoring small operators? Or the one backing municipal consolidators? Legislative sessions grew noisier and then violent. Fistfights often broke out on the floor. Joe himself was named in a newspaper account for throwing an inkwell at the Speaker, an accusation he accepted noncommitally if not cheerfully, which horrified his wife. “Of course I like him to be working hard,” she wrote her mother, “but not so lathered up, and not letting his good name be trampled in the mud.” But in the end the great street-railway debate led to one of those typical legislative compromises, which didn’t do much to change Chicago transportation one way or the other, but which put Joe Patterson on what he thought to be the wrong side of the fight and sent him back to Chicago, for the time being disillusioned with politics and thankful to have a desk he could return to at the Tribune. By then, too, Alice was pregnant with what her husband felt certain would be their first boy: his son and heir. Not all men in those days placed sons at such a premium, but many did, and certainly Joseph Patterson was one of them.
By the time Alice was ready to have her baby, she and Patterson were living on Stratford Place in Chicago, another rental on the not entirely acceptable North Side; which was one among several reasons she moved back into her parents’ huge mansion on Prairie Avenue for her accouchement, as proper people called it, a female ritual best managed in the comforts and cleanliness of a well-appointed home (as opposed to the unsanitary conditions prevalent in most hospitals). Here the Higinbothams’ family physician was in attendance, maids were everywhere, and a young German wet nurse waited in a room down the hall to breast-feed the newborn. In due course, and without notable trauma to Alice, who had the benefit of chloroform, a fine baby girl was produced—in fact, more than fine, everyone agreed: a beautiful, quite perfect little creature. Even Joe Patterson, summoned from his office at the Tribune, doubtless surprised himself a little at his gruff satisfaction with the lovely little female, who was instantly named after his mother: Elinor Medill Patterson.
Indeed, she would remain remarkably beautiful for most of her long life (and in that one respect at least prove a tough act to follow); although as Joe soon wrote his mother, he was now more confident than ever that their next child would be a boy.