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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Bath Ruth's Ghostwriter

This shot of Bath Ruth talking to his ghostwriter was organised by Ruth's agent Christy Walsh and taken in New York in 1922.
Walter Christy Walsh, born in St Louis on December 2, 1891, is considered baseball's first agent. As a young man he played the part of a gravedigger in an amateur production of Hamlet, providing an omen for his future.
He was introduced to the art of ghostwriting in 1912, when working for the Los Angeles Herald he secured an interview with baseballer Christy Mathewson, who was vacationing in California. After over-spruiking the story to his editors, they decided it sounded too good for a cub reporter to write, so handed it to Adela Nora Rogers St Johns (1894-1988), the later novelist who wrote screenplays for silent movies but is best remembered for her groundbreaking exploits as "The World's Greatest Girl Reporter" during the 1920s and 30s and her celebrity interviews for Photoplay magazine. Her soon-to-be-husband, chief copy editor William Ivan St Johns, remarked to Walsh, "That, young man, is your first lesson in the art of ghostwriting." Walsh later recalled, "And indeed it was. Having one's notes transcribed and set down in flowing phrases by such scriveners as W. Somerset Maugham, S. S. Van Dine or Adela Rogers St Johns is the last word in the ancient and honourable craft of literary make-believe. So I learned about ghosting from Adela."
A would-be sports cartoonist, Walsh went on to form a highly successful syndicate of ghostwriters for baseball’s most celebrated players, cementing the term “ghostwriter” in the vocabulary in the process. Among Ruth's early ghostwriters was the great Westbrook Pegler, but Ruth's most famous ghostwriter was Ford Christopher Frick, later baseball's third commissioner.
One of Walsh’s most heralded PR feats was to get a team of doctors to administer tests to Ruth to determine whether Ruth possessed any extra physical or psychological advantages.  The results were reported in a Popular Science Monthly article - "Why Babe Ruth is Greatest Home-Run Hitter" - and picked up by The New York Times
After working as a reporter and part-time cartoonist in Los Angeles, and in advertising for Maxwell-Chalmers automobiles, Walsh saw an opportunity for ghostwriting. He began by ghostwriting for World War I air ace Eddie Rickenbacker, describing the 1921 Indianapolis 500 and earning a half share in $874. In 1921 Walsh staked out the Ansonia Hotel, where Ruth and his wife were staying, and got the chance to stand in for a beer-boy to deliver grog to Ruth’s room.
In his 40-page 1937 memoir Adios to Ghosts, Walsh described how the next day he produced "a badly wrinkled contract in the form of a short, informal letter and without question, [Ruth] inscribes 'George Herman Ruth' in the correct spot and I go in search of a ghost to do the writing". Walsh's team of stars and ghostwriters quickly grew - to 34 in the case of the reporters, who included Damon Runyon (below).
Baseballer Walter Johnson was pursued by Walsh into the Pullman’s washroom of a train station in New Haven, Connecticut, to sign up for the syndicate. The syndicate, wrote Walsh, was "founded as a matter of dire necessity by an out-of-a-job cartoonist, started on a shoestring; and in 1937, after having weathered 16 October classics in the ball parks of seven major league cities, voluntarily shuffled off its World's Series coil."  
Shirley Povich, above, wrote a column in the Washington Post describing Ruth’s failed plans to cover the 1924 World Series. "My neighbour in the press box, according to the seating plan,  was to be, of all people, Babe Ruth. He had signed on to cover the World Series for the Christy Walsh Syndicate. That sort of thing was commonplace for the game’s big stars. They would be provided a press box seat, along with a ghostwriter and a telegraph operator, and never set their pen to paper. But minutes before the game, the word had come over the wires that Ruth had suffered an appendicitis and had been rushed to Emergency Hospital.  His ghostwriter also dismissed himself for the day. When Christy Walsh arrived and was told about Ruth’s absence, and why, he bellowed quickly, 'Get me an operator!' Walsh took Ruth’s seat and began to dictate: 'Washington DC, October 1, by Babe Ruth, paragraph, quote.  As I lie here, in Washington’s Emergency Hospital, as a native New Yorker my heart is with the Giants, but as an American Leaguer, it is my duty to root for the Senators.' And so it went."
Walsh was sports director for the 1939-40 World’s Fair in New York City. He died on December 29, 1955, in North Hollywood.
Ford C. Frick was commissioner of baseball from 1951-65, having been elected unanimously to replace Happy Chandler by the 16 club owners on September 20, 1951, after Cincinnati Reds president Warren Giles withdrew from the contest. Frick had served 17 years as National League president, where he was succeeded by Giles.
Born on December 19, 1894, in Wawaka, Indiana, Frick attended high school in Rome City and DePauw University in Green Castle, graduating in 1915. In the fall of 1916, Frick joined the Colorado High School faculty as an English teacher. He also began working for the Colorado Springs Gazette and soon gave up teaching to concentrate on newspaper work. In 1918 he became supervisor of training in the rehabilitation division of the War Department for four states - Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. In early 1919, he worked for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before returning to Colorado Springs to open an advertising agency and write an editorial column for the Colorado Springs Telegraph. Frick went east in 1922 to join the sports staff of the New York American. In August 1923, he moved to the Evening Journal. While employed there, he covered the Yankees and joined Walsh's team to became a ghostwriter for Ruth, writing everything from newspaper articles to books, including Babe Ruth's Own Book of Baseball.
During his National League presidency he was instrumental in saving the Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Boston franchises from bankruptcy and also helped place the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh clubs on firmer financial footing. In 1947 Frick threatened to ban players on the St Louis Cardinals who had proposed to sit out in response to Jackie Robinson’s debut in the National League. “If you do this you are through, and I don’t care if it wrecks the league for 10 years,” Frick told the strikers. “You cannot do this, because this is America.” Frick retired in November 1965 and died on April 10, 1978, aged 83.

1 comment:

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