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Monday 28 January 2019

The Gunslinger Who Died at His Typewriter

Old West gunslinger turned New York sports columnist Bat Masterson stands at his New York Morning Telegraph desk with his close friend, Western silent film actor William S. Hart. The photo was taken 18 days before Masterson died at this very desk.
Two of New York's most legendary sports columnists are believed to have died at their typewriters, Bartholemew William Barclay "Bat" Masterson on October 25, 1921, and Henry Grantland Rice on July 13, 1954. Well, in the case of Grantland Rice, that's not entirely true - he actually died some distance from a typewriter, in Roosevelt Hospital at 6.15pm, six hours after suffering a massive stroke. He had written a "Sportslight" column on Willie Mays at his apartment at 1153 Fifth Avenue and gone into his office at 22 West 48th Street, Manhattan, to have his secretary, Catherine Mecca, submit the copy to the North American Newspaper Alliance.  Rice was 73.
Grantland Rice very much alive at his typewriter.
On the other hand Bat Masterson, the infamous Old West gunslinger, did die at his typewriter, suffering a massive heart attack sometime before noon at the offices of the New York Morning Telegraph on 50th Street and Eighth Avenue. Masterson, 67, had just finished writing his column, which was duly published two days later. It contained the words, "There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours. I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets it in winter things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.”
Bat Masterson outside his newspaper office.
Newspapers of the day reported Quebec-born Masterson was found slumped on his typewriter, which some said was a Remington. He was found by Sam Taub, who Masterson had hired as a copy kid in 1908,  five years after joining the paper himself. Taub went on to become sports editor of the Telegraph and a boxing writer and commentator.
The New York Times report of Masterson's death.
Masterson called himself a "ham reporter" but readers found his colourful misuse of the English language appealing. His friend Jefferson Davis Orear, editor of the Arkansaw Thomas Cat, said he was "probably the best known newspaper writer in the country" and as someone who "never slops over and stands in the suds, can pack a pause with feeling and put a pressure of power in the silence. His intellect is crystalline - his verb always catches up. He says things."  Masterson's columns were "pregnant with fearsome facts [loaded with] cocktail brilliancy and Tabasco sauce trimmings."
Eighteen days before his death, Masterson was visited in his office by his close friend, the actor William Surrey Hart, who was fascinated by the Old West and was the leading Western film star of the silent era. Masterson and Hart were photographed at Masterson's desk.
Among the many notable journalists who worked with Masterson at the Morning Telegraph was movie gossip columnist Louella Parsons, who joined the staff in 1918 and found Masterson "a kind-hearted old man, a grand newspaper crony". Another was American Newspaper Guild founder Heywood Broun.
Louella Parsons at her Remington Model 2 portable typewriter in 1929.
Below, Heywood Broun.


Bill M said...

I never knew Bat Masterson became a reporter.

Johnpyyc said...

Amazing article. I never knew that about Bat Masterson. Now we need to find out what he typed on.


John Cooper said...

Masterson's friend O'Rear had a rare way with words - in his short quote I see an allusion to the early 19th century British wit Sydney Smith, expert use of alliteration and metaphor, and a masterful balance of ornate construction with plain Old English ("He says things") - and it's terrible that most of them seem to have been lost.

The expression on Louella Parsons' face is perhaps the most terrifying I have ever seen photographed.