A FAREWELL TRIBUTE TO PAUL SANN|
September 10, 1986
The New School for Social Research
66 West 12th Street
Those of us who are here tonight were lucky because we did get to know Paul in the time of his life. We knew him. We heard him bark his lines at us. We knew his deft use of the pencil. We knew the
way he could write headlines, and we knew one thing more than anything else, that Paul -- perhaps more than any other man
that I've known -- spent his
life doing exactly what he wanted to do. And that was getting out the edition. In a way, each of us will remember him in our own way. Much about Paul was not really a question of specific moments or even lines, but a tone, an attitude. A way he looked at the world. A way he looked at
newspapers. A way he looked at the people who worked for him. In my time at The Post he
protected his people. He tried to make them better both as newspapermen and as human beings. And he made some of us conscious right from the beginning that if we didn't learn to laugh at ourselves we weren't going to be very good in this business. He had a very healthy attitude, not only towards journalists but towards almost everything else that he did. Like the great newspapermen, he looked at politicians in the only way he thought he could, which was down. [laughter] The only thing that he looked up to was talent. He cherished it. He cherished it in newspapermen and women. He cherished it in athletes. He cherished it in great novelists. He was the only newspaper editor that I've ever had who could yell at me about a homicide at eight o'clock in the morning and talk to me about F. Scott Fitzgerald at nine. Later on in his life he became a great writer of letters. In some odd way I think those letters, those Paul Sann letters, those great file folders I have...full of them at home and that many of us here have...are probably the greatest form that he ever developed for himself. They were full of wit, self-deprecating humor, and remarks about newspapers. He always talked about newspapers, which he called in an endearing way to me, "blats." He was always talking about what the other "blat" had that morning. And what the "blat" up on 43rd Street was doing and what the "blat" down on South Street was doing. And each time I got one of those letters I remembered the time that I was most directly affected by Paul. Marilyn Monroe had died. And Al Aronowitz and I embarked on the longest series in the history of the New York Post, except perhaps for "Walter's Wrongos" when Winchell was being slaughtered. [laughter] And it had the most amazing byline I'd ever seen. It said, "By Leonard Lyons, Sidney Skolsky, [laughter] Earl Wilson as told to Judy Michaelson, [laughter] Pete Hamill, Alfred G. Aronowitz" and several others whose names I can't remember. [laughter] The byline alone was as long as your usual article in USA Today. [laughter] And Aronowitz at the time...I was a very young reporter and essentially working as a legman for Al, who was doing most of the writing...and Al was the kind of series writer who would get fixated on the childhood of whomever he wrote about. He would give you 14 takes on Bobby Darin's third year in grammar school. And he did the same for Marilyn Monroe. So the first week of the series went on and at the end of the sixth installment Marilyn Monroe was 11. [laughter] It came around to Monday. Marilyn Monroe is now 12. [laughter] On Wednesday, Marilyn Monroe finally got that job in the war plant where she met her first husband. On Thursday morning, Sann came over to Aronowitz at about ten minutes to eight, just before the lockup, and he said, "For Christ's sake, Al, make her a star!" [laughter] which Al did in the next day's paper, and then, for Saturday, to close the paper, covered: the marriage to DiMaggio, the marriage to Arthur Miller and the suicide, all in one piece. [laughter] Well, nobody's around to
say to any of us anymore, "Make her a star!" -- certainly not Paul. He never struck me as much of
a religious man or a believer. He was too much rooted in this city. He was too much involved in the time of his own life and in the life of the people he knew to worry about what might happen in some hereafter, but since last weekend I keep thinking of him, somewhere in one of those Heavens, walking up to the man with the beard and saying, "What do you mean in the beginning was the word?
For Christ's sake, the lead's in the second graph." [laughter] And walking on by, because as always
for Paul Sann, it would be time wherever he is to get out the edition.
We have some people here tonight who will share their memories and thoughts about Paul and the
first one I would like to introduce, a man who has been at the New York Post almost since the time of Alexander Hamilton: Alan Whitney. Alan.
(aside) There goes Hamill again. ...Paul hated pretension. I quote from his last style book at The Post, "Don't use 'inner city' as a euphemism for slum or ghetto. Don't say it was a 'trio of bandits', just three. Don't say 'Clinton' when you mean Hell's Kitchen. Don't use 'reside' for live or 'facility' for building. Don't say 'lacerations and contusions' when you mean cuts and bruises. Don't say the building is 'situated' at 55th and Fifth. It's just at 55th and Fifth." Now abandoning the style book, we come to the expression, "Stop the presses!" which most of you being in the media probably know -- though practically de rigueur in movies about the media -- very rarely occurs in real life. And Paul really hated that kind of thing, you know, where people would think that this is the way it is. If he ever saw a guy with a hat with a press card stuck in it he would have thrown him out in the street. I don't remember what this was about but there was an assistant city editor sitting there one time going through wire copy. A bulletin comes. "Stop the presses!" he yells through the city room. Paul was sitting over in his enclave down at the old city
room on West Street there, and in a trice or perhaps half a trice is at this guy's desk saying, "Look, don't say, 'Stop the presses!'" So, anyway, that was the end of that thing but then there came the occasion when we actually did stop the presses. This was the Kennedy assassination, the first, the John Kennedy assassination. Incidentally, there's something typical of the old Post in this. The bulletin came over the wire and the kid that was in the wire room, not paying attention, let it go back down behind the wire machine, and a printer came running in from the composing room who had heard this on the radio and told us the President had been shot. [laughter] Nevertheless, Paul, with his usual energy, I think was able to get the story on the street first. But I was coming to the point: we had to stop the presses because you weren't going to sell any newspapers on that day that didn't refer to this story. So Paul went over to his desk and very quietly dialed the press room and told them what was happening and then he said, "We'll have to stop the presses," but he said it in a very low voice. I don't think he even wanted to hear it coming out of his mouth, you know. [laughter] Paul knew everybody in the building. Everybody in the building knew Paul. I have to confess that I've been working there for a long time...there are printers that I know, but I couldn't tell you their names for a million dollars. Paul wasn't like that. Paul knew everybody. Everybody knew Paul. First time Paul got sick everybody from the building said, "How's Paul?" Even if he wasn't sick, you'd run into people, "Have you seen Paul Sann lately? What's Paul Sann doing?" This sort of thing. Paul was a very kindly man. He also could be tough. Some years back -- I think in the Sixties when it seemed like every college student in the Metropolitan area knew somebody at The Post and three quarters of them were able to exploit this relationship in order to get summer jobs -- and the city room, although a little short on telephones than some other facilities, was loaded with copy boys. One day Paul is sitting down there and Pete Skiko, his secretary, is over here. Paul sees a covey of these copy boys over there talking and paying no attention to what's going on and he turns to Skiko and says, "Fire four!" [laughter] Pete goes over, and I don't know how he picked them out, but he ran four guys out of the city room. On the other hand, there's a guy who, I don't think I want to give his name, but a guy who, a troubled guy, but a man of talent, who for a period of something like two years was starting the paper with his late stories every day and Paul carried him, you know; went along with him all that time because he had a certain feeling for the guy who had some quality to him. And then, of course, there was "Chooch," the shoeshine man. A lot of you probably remember him from West Street. A little guy who was deprived by nature of a full intellect, but who was well loved by everybody in the building and then when we moved over to South Street, Paul arranged through Mrs. [Dorothy] Schiff, who's here today, to pension off Frank because it was no longer practical for him to come down to do the shoe shines. Paul, he worked hard and he played hard. We used to play wiffle ball in the city room sometimes, and Ruth Preston, who's here I believe, almost had her head taken off by a line drive off Paul's bat one night. He's always given me little presents. Ashtrays, souvenirs of the Boston Celtics. I think [Arnold] "Red" Auerbach, his pal, is here tonight as well. Paul was kind of a meticulous guy and he wanted to be sure he took good care of these things, so when he'd come over my house he'd look around and make sure the Celtics' glasses were clean [laughter] and the ashtray in the office...I'm not very neat myself, as some of you know, I never cleaned out the ashtray. I figured ashtrays are to put ashes in, it's not like a dish or something. Paul would come up and say, "Jesus Christ, I've given you an ashtray, aren't you going to keep it clean?" Stuff like that. [laughter] Now Paul, like many civilized people, was a cat lover and his meticulousness comes in here, too. He was at a party at my house one night and at that time we had a visiting cat. Cat lived down the street and he'd come over the rooftops, down the fire escape and pay daily visits to us, mostly in the interest of nutrition, which I guess he didn't get enough of at home, but we're having this party and the cat comes in and sees all the noise and confusion and goes right back out the window, but returned about three o'clock in the morning when everybody had gone home except Paul, and he and I and my wife were the only ones there. So the cat comes in and Paul immediately becomes very interested in the cat, picks it up, puts it on his lap and is checking it out very carefully, looking at its claws and everything; decides that the cat has too much hair on its belly. So he goes into the bathroom and gets a pair of scissors, turns the cat belly up on his lap and, needless to say, we'd all had a few drinks, like about seven hours worth. Paul is, he thinks carefully grooming the cat, but he's not all that careful. The cat looks kind of funny and I think his owners may have wondered where he spent the night when he got in the next day. [laughter]
Pete mentioned his wry sense of humor. Fred McMorrow, who is also here today and now works for The Times, reminded me of one of his memos on the bulletin board:
Antony Armstrong-Jones was spelled
wrong all day. This is bad and also
not good. I'm mad at everybody.
Now Paul's last name confused outside people. Some people thought he was Chinese, [laughter] and very few, if they didn't know him, they didn't know he was Jewish. He began to get a lot of correspondence from some anti-Semite who apparently perceived him as an isolated gentile among the Hebrew hoards at The Post and started telling him things like, "Don't let the Jews take over the world, or the solar system, or the galaxy, or the universe, or even the next block." So Paul, instead of immediately writing back to this guy or just ignoring him, let the guy go on for like two years or something like that [laughter] and then he finally wrote to him and said, "Look, I'm a Jew. What are you telling me all this stuff for? Please don't write anymore." [laughter] I mentioned Paul being civilized. In the Sixties, he was one of the first to perceive the beginning of the Age of Deliberate Ugliness even before it wasn't completely out in the open. He put up a notice on the bulletin board that he wanted the men to wear ties and jackets and he wanted the women to wear skirts and stockings and high heels. Now this was not received with unanimous joy especially among the copy girls, who did a lot of walking around during the course of their work. Incidentally, or perhaps not incidentally, one of the copy girls, a particularly zaftig one, was a certain Phyllis Chesler, who today is one of the leading radical feminists in the country. [laughter] However, as I look around the city room today and find it increasingly difficult to tell the copy boys from the copy girls, and to tell either one of them from the panhandlers on 8th Street, I see once again the wisdom of Paul Sann.
When I went to The Post there was a daily feature that one man in this room was the master of. And that was called, "The Daily Closeup." I didn't realize when I first started there that there were in fact two kinds of closeups, "The Daily Closeup" and "The Jewish Closeup." [laughter] And Joe Wershba was the master of both. [laughter] Joe was there from 1958 to 1964. He's now a superb producer at "60 Minutes," and a very close and dear friend of Paul Sann. Joe.
Well, predictably one word in here, rough word, is a Jewish word. The other is an English word. You'll have to figure out which. I'm glad to see that our good friend, Bill Tatum, the editor of The Amsterdam News, is here. The Post, under Mrs. [Dorothy] Schiff and Paul and Jimmy Wechsler, we had one great black reporter. In those days it was still a beautiful word, a "negro" reporter, Ted Poston, one of the greatest of all. And Ted, well, he must have felt like the man that they rode out of town on the rail. The fellow said if it wasn't for the honor of the thing he'd just as soon walked because Ted was always getting sent down into Ku Klux Klan country and he really didn't look like a light-skinned Julian Bond, [laughter] but he was our reporter and we're very proud of that tradition at The Post. Just looking at [Arnold] "Red" Auerbach and [Jack] "Dutch" Garfinkel, one of the great stars of the court, who is here. And, am I wrong that Marty Glickman is here? It looked like Marty. Marty is here. One of the greatest of all athletes whoever came out of New York City.
If Paul Sann had been just a few inches taller, we'd be meeting here tonight in honor of a great basketball player from CCNY. [laughter] He always walked with that swivel hip as if he was just ready to break into a full court press and it wasn't the cowboy boots that made him walk like that either. [laughter] If Paul had gone to college, we'd probably be here in honor of a professor of American Literature. The kind who write those seminal works like Elements of Style. You remember a book called, Me Gangster? Paul's book would have to be titled, Me Writer. Although let's face it, Paul had more than a touch of the gangster in him. Paul Sann was a multitude. He was a reporter, editor, journeyman, historian, basketball player, that touch of the con man, a poet, a lover, and a hater. God, he was such a good hater. [laughter] He was an honest one. [more laughter] I don't think he could have written a complete autobiography. He had a code as strong as the Mafia's code of silence:
omerta. In Paul's code that translated into the word "unbecoming." It would have been "unbecoming" of Paul Sann to criticize the place where he worked. To friends in private, yes, he would talk about it in that wonderful, sardonic, funny, literary street lingo of his which Pete just imitated so beautifully I thought Paul was in the room. But in public? On paper? Never! Paul would never have written a word about where he worked. But let some other son-of-a-bitch say something about his newspaper, his writers, his reporters and the guy would have to go looking for a new pair of cojones. [laughter] Now, editors are not for loving. ... Judge [Burton] Roberts is joining us, one of Paul's dearest friends. ...Editors are not for loving. My wife loved him, but she never worked for him. I did have a warm relationship with him but it was for a short time. Only 28 years. I came on as a tryout reporter in 1958 and was soon installed in George Trow's "Poet's Corner." That's where the closeups started. Anybody touched my copy, including Joe Rab [Rabinowitz], who's here, I bitched loud and long. So I came, therefore, properly to Paul's attention. He autographed my copy of his Lawless Decade, which I treasure, and it reads: "To old Joe Wershba, A fucking nuisance." [long laughter] That's my shield of honor. [laughter] And, if you remember, he always signed the word "Paul" with a little face inside of the oval part of the letter "P" and I did that too. I got that from Paul and my other letters are always signed, "Your Humble Servant" or "Your Obedient Servant," because Carl Sandburg did that.
I think Paul softened to me the night of the Kennedy election in November 1960. It was about midnight and the returns were still uncertain but Jimmy Wechsler was toasting the election of JFK. Somehow, anything that made Jimmy happy seemed to make Paul unhappy. [laughter] Well, Jimmy kept toasting Kennedy's early lead and I horned in with the Truman/Dewey election of 1948, which I had broadcast over CBS, and said that anything that was that close at midnight. you'd have to wait until 11 A.M. the next morning for a final decision. Paul gave me his undivided attention. [laughter] Jimmy was past toasting by then. Sure enough, Kennedy didn't win till about 11 A.M. After that, Paul showed me some respect. He often said to me, "Listen schmuck, I took you out of the gutter." [laughter] I bought all his books and I got most of them autographed. I was not allowed to mention the word "remainder." [laughter] Even though I spent most of my off hours in "remainder" book stores. Paul's books were never remaindered. And they weren't. Paul said, however, he knews lots of guys who wrote directly for the remainders. [laughter] Paul let me cover a news story in 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald's psychiatrist. It was a real beat, the wood, the front page. Paul organized that story from A to Z. It's still a miracle of how he organized that story and later he put it in for a Pulitzer. Joke. Nobody, to my knowledge, on The Post in Paul's time ever won a Pulitzer. They had to wait until they got onto a Kosher paper, but don't kid yourself, the Pulitzer was for their work on The Post, including recent Pulitzers. Paul and Mrs. Schiff gave writers space. He let them write. And a lot of big reputations were made on The Post, and let them not forget it. In 1946, I went back to CBS and Paul treated me like I was Judas. "You sold out for thirty pieces? [laughter] You sold out for three hundred pieces? You sold out for three thousand pieces?" He didn't care how much. It was a sellout. But he wrote me a generous letter of commendation and it hangs on my office wall with the old Post and it says:
March 16, 1964
To Whom It May Concern:
The bearer, Joseph Wershba, came to the New York Post during a period of financial stress some five years ago and was given employment. His work was at all times satisfactory. I can grade him reasonably high in such areas as punctuality, deportment and character. Well, there were lapses, but not of a serious nature. On the personality side, Mr. Wershba did at times have difficulty with some of his superiors. But this is understandable in any high-tension, high-purpose operation such as this one. There were also times when Mr. Wershba expressed a strong feeling that the publisher herself was interfering in the publication of this newspaper. Possibly because she felt that she owned it. But this may have been due to an evident lack of knowledge on his part of the very nature of the industry. He left here to go and help operate a television network.
very truly yours,
After that I was not allowed to approach the throne for about five years. Then Paul softened his heart toward me, mostly because of Shirley, and I was allowed to pick up the tab at The Beatrice. Before Paul moved from The Village he gave me a large and valuable collection of classical recordings. I, also, like Pete, treasure a large and valuable collection of letters he wrote me. One of them, the other day, contains a sentence saying that I "wrote something good." And another sentence says he "likes me." And, of course, he always liked Shirley. I found him an extra copy of his novel, Dead Heat. I had to negotiate that very gingerly. I swore to him it was not a remainder. [laughter] As a matter of fact it came from the old Jewish Lady's Thrift Store on 56th and 9th Avenue where I get all my very expensive books. I said it wasn't a remainder and his answer was pure noblese oblige. He said, "I"ll take any copy of Dead Heat." He got the book a day or two before he died. When I heard he died, all I could hear pounding in my brain was Camus' existential "yawp." As Pete said, he lived for the moment. It was absurd. When Thomas Hart Benton, whom I knew, died -- I think in 1958 -- I said to his wife, Rita: "But I thought Tom would outlive us all?" And Rita answered, "He wasn't supposed to die." And when my dear teacher Carl Sandburg died at 89, his wife said, "There are people whom God had never intended to die." In Paul's case, it's absurd. He had so much more writing to do and he was in his psychic and mental prime. He was the fastest wrist in the East. I once heard his wife call him, "Bones." Aldo at The Beatrice called him, "Paolo." A name I loved and it's the one I used. I heard our dear Ike Gellis, who is here, once call him with great tenderness, "Paulie." And when Paul softened and spoke of the true meaning of his own heritage, he referred to himself by his Jewish name, "Paish." Shalom, Paish.__________________________________________________
One of the great things about The Post under Paul was that there were hardly any personnel managers in those days and almost anybody could get at least a shot at working in the place. One of the people who was given a shot was me. And I had followed various other people who had come in. Eleanor Roosevelt had sent down an opera singer who would burst into song in the middle of rewriting murder stories and lasted a couple of weeks and there were a lot of those college people who came in the summertime. And when I came I knew absolutely nothing about the newspaper business. And I was given a story to rewrite out of the Times, the Trib, the News and the Mirror about a murder and I was told that what I needed to do was to think of a very short word that would become the slug. So I slugged this story "kill," which meant that the linotype operators immediately threw it away. [laughter] The man who explained it to me, what I should be doing, was a couple of years younger than I was and he was already the assistant night city editor at The Post and he's our next speaker and
now the editor of New York magazine, Mr. Ed Kosner.
I really did tell him, "Slug it 'slay.'" [laughter] The group that Pete referred to, the night vagabonds in the late Fifties, were a very, very odd bunch and we had the former managing editor of The Daily Worker. We had Paul Capron, who I think had been thrown out of West Point for eloping with the Commandant's daughter. [laughter] We had Betsy Luce, the only woman night rewriteman in New York at the time. I used to sit next to Betsy and all night long she was drinking coffee out of a little mug that said, "Betsy," in red nail polish, and about every 40 minutes she'd get up and go off, and I'd assume that Betsy was going off to the ladies room from drinking all that black coffee, and about five years later someone explained to me where Betsy was going and what was in the cup. [laughter] Anyway, it was quite a bunch and [Stan] Opotowsky would sometimes be the night city editor and he'd have his feet up on the desk. He's the only guy who could have two cigarettes in his mouth, have his feet up on the desk, and write a story at the same time, faster than anybody else. Anyway, I was the youngest person. I was about 14 and I got all the drek assignments on night rewrite and one morning, it was the day after Thanksgiving, in other words, Friday morning after Thanksgiving night, and I came in and I was assigned the "Holiday Star Dash," and for those of you who were not at The Post at that time and don't know what the Holiday Star Dash was, it was a compilation of AP items and clips from the News, the Mirror, the Times, whatever papers, and the night city editor would take this stack of stuff and throw it at you and say, "Three and a half books, Star Dash." That meant you took all the little items of things that happened on Thanksgiving, wrote a paragraph each, and separated them with a little dash that had three asterisks in it. The Star Dash. So, being an ambitious young man, I decided I was going to make something special of this opportunity and so I decided I would write the story, the Thanksgiving Star Dash, as an acrostic, or whatever it is, and I so composed it so that it spelled out, "Thanksgiving." The first sentence said, "T is for the Turkey that little Tommy Brown was given up in the Bronx" and it said, "H is for the happiness that the nuns are..." Anyway, it went all the way down to "Thanksgiving." It was edited. It was styled by Herbie Nagler, with initials for each of these letters. It went out to the composing room. It was laid out on page three and then the proofs came back and about six o'clock in the morning Paul came in and I was sort of sitting there having my English muffin and wretching and doing what I always did at 6 A.M. and Paul was going through the proofs and about a quarter to seven a copy boy
brought the proof over to me and I could see that there was that little red writing that Paul had, and I said, "Oh boy, I'm getting a compliment. This is really something." And it came back and it said, "Thanksgiving," and the "'S'" was circled, and it said: "S is for shit." [laughter] And so I learned lesson number one about pretentiousness and cutesy-pooness and I never forgot that, and the wonderful thing about The Post was that the lessons that you learned there both about journalism and about human nature were and are lessons that serve one well all the way through life and certainly all the way through a journalistic career and, for many years at Newsweek and now for some years at New York magazine, I've found myself again and again repeating the same things I learned, many of them from Paul, and also from Al Davis and George Trow and Stan. One of them Pete mentioned in the lovely piece he wrote on Saturday, and Alan mentioned it also in his piece, that it was the newspaperman's job to interest the reader, not the other way around. Your job was, How am I going to get somebody to read this story? Why should anybody read this story? If I change it this way or that way, will that get more people to read it? You'd be amazed, or perhaps you wouldn't be amazed, how many people are in our business who have never absorbed that simple lesson and think the equation works the other way around. It's the reader's duty to absorb what they have to offer and [they] are very resistant to doing any changes. The other thing we learned from Paul and the people at The Post is that you could do anything with a telephone and a typewriter and it really didn't matter if the other blats had 45 reporters and 18 radio cars and all the other stuff they had. At The Post we didn't have anything and for two years from 3 A.M. till 6 A.M., from the time [Leonard] Katz went off until the time [Carl] Pelleck came on, anything that happened in New York City I had to cover. So you could see what bad shape they were in. You could do anything. We had the Spring Hill mine disaster in Nova Scotia in which the first group of people died and some were rescued and then about 10 days later more of them were rescued on a Saturday morning. And, working the phones, we put out a great paper in about an hour. And I never forgot that lesson and it held very valuable at places like Newsweek and at New York magazine as well. Go do it. Pick up the phone. Ask the question. Run out the door. Don't sit around figuring out why you can't do it. That's the way The Post came out and that's why those of us who were there are so fond of it. Another lesson that Paul was very good at teaching by osmosis -- and sometimes by direct action -- was the fact that one should be as serious about trivial things as you were about serious things. That there is nothing wrong -- in fact, it was called for -- to take as seriously the story you were doing about a movie star who tried to commit suicide or the fourth time Cheryl Crane ran away from the wayward girls home, which I wrote. Everything. The caption. You shouldn't write "Westward Ho!" 44 times for the picture captions; that there is nothing that would be done on a tabloid newspaper or on any publication, no matter how light the material might seem to be, that didn't deserve to be taken seriously and that didn't benefit from being taken seriously, and you yourself would benefit from taking it seriously because you wouldn't feel that you were wasting your time. The last thing, and I think the most important lesson, is one that Pete mentioned also, which is the sheer pleasure and joy of craft. There's never been a place that I have been associated with that in which the people so much...much as they complained and bitched and had terrible problems...the people so much enjoyed practicing the craft of what we were doing and there's something about a tabloid newspaper which is a wonderful, wonderful expression of the journalistic craft and I don't think it was ever done better than in the years that Paul was running it. Any tabloid that can run the headline, "They Even Fixed The Kid."...Remember that? [laughter] It was the quiz show scandal, I think. There was some little eight-year-old kid -- Robert Strom, I think his name was -- and as the scandal unfolded it turned out that even he had been fixed and The Post came out one day with a wonderful wood, "They Even Fixed The Kid," which was slightly better than, "Frankie Kicks Ava Out" or "Ava Kicks Frankie Out." Anyway, thank you.
There obviously are a lot of people who can't be here tonight. I talked to Jose Torres, who wrote a column for the paper and for Paul for a long time, and he's at a convention in Las Vegas. He's now the Boxing Commissioner and he just wished that he could be here to see all the other people that he misses so much from those days at The Post, and we also have a man named David Pitt who is going to read a couple of things from some other people who worked at the paper in the years we were all there together. David.
I only knew Paul for a couple of years. I came to The Post in 1975 from the wilds of the Berkshires. I'd never worked for a big city newspaper before. In fact, the only newspaper I'd ever worked for before was The Berkshire Eagle, which was a far cry from The Post. I learned quickly. But Paul, apart from all the things that I did learn from him, looms as what we call a key figure in my life for two principal reasons. One was, he gave me my first page one byline ever, anywhere. Although he gave me a hard time about my insistence on using my middle initial, which he thought was kind of prissy, and I haven't used it since. [laughter] And the other reason was that he's the first guy I ever knew who wore cowboy boots into the newsroom. If I needed any further convincing that journalism was for me it was the example of Paul Sann clumping into the city room in the pre-dawn hours in his cowboy boots and his flight jacket and his cigarette dangling out of his mouth. Also, I was impressed with his choice of stationery. I didn't hear very much from him in the last couple of years, but going back through my voluminous archives I was reminded of the fact that this guy had the most astonishing collection of stationery. One letter that I got from him in February of 1977 came in an envelope marked, "The Indies Inn and Yacht Club, [laughter] Duck Key, Florida," and inside was a note from Paul on the stationery of "The Tel Aviv Hilton." [laughter] Most of the writing in it was in Hebrew.
I'm basically here to read two pieces from two guys who knew Paul longer and better than I did. One is from Clyde Haberman, who sent this particular piece up this afternoon from the Tokyo bureau of The New York Times where he is now.
"I'll keep this short," Clyde begins, "since it was Paul Sann who first told me that if I couldn't tell it in a paragraph or two it probably wasn't worth telling. I'll also leave it to my betters to talk about his slashing pencils, corner-of-the-mouth asides, and wood headlines written at 7 A.M., some of them so exciting I had to wait for the story to catch up. This story is about a 22-year-old reporter who in 1967 had been working at The Post only a few months after getting the sack from a place further uptown. This fellow had virtually traveled nowhere in his life. After getting off work one night at 1 A.M. and then drinking for several hours with a friend, he got it into his head that he was going to go to Europe, right then. So at 5:30 in the morning, he went back to the old Post building on West Street, walked up to Sann,
and asked for a leave of absence. "Are you crazy?" Sann said" "I just turned down Ed Katcher for a leave of absence. [laughter] Why should I give
one to a kid who just got here?" So the kid said he was quitting. Sann offered to extend his vacation. When that did no good he told the fellow to go ahead and quit, but also to know that he could always have his job back. I'm not sure what the point of this story is, but I don't know all that many people who would fully understand and put up so well with the whims of a petulant young man he barely knew. It made it a lot easier to take
off for Europe. I enjoyed it a lot. But it was good to go home, and very good to go back in those days to The Post." That's from Clyde.
I got a letter from Paul dated the 19th of last month. Warren Hoge, whom I work for, had asked me to send Paul some clips that he needed on something that he was writing having to do with the Phoenix project, the Vietnamese assassination program. The letter began:
"Dear David, Thanks so much for the clips." ...This arrived in some stationery with his signature on it from Rhinebeck. I was a little bit disappointed.... "Dear David, Thanks so much for the clips. There's nothing more I need on Phoenix and its failure to rise from the ashes." ...I said in the letter that I was sorry that I hadn't caught up with him in the last five years but that one of these days I'd get up to Rhinebeck ...and in reply to that in the letter he says, "I'm a little hard to see because I'm up here in this good writing, also breathing, which is easier, country. Please thank Warren for me and give him my best. I doubt whether the guy would admit it, but without me he would have wound up on night rewrite on the Reverend Mr. Moon's blat down in your country [laughter] and God, look at him now." This is from Warren Hoge:
Memo for Sann from Hoge: Paul, you had a favorite editor, too. You used to talk about him all the time. Walter Lister, former city editor at The Post. You said he was such a guy that he even considered giving you a day off for your honeymoon, but then, in your words, he changed his mind: There was some kind of story breaking and he needed a reporter. So I'll hope you'll understand when I tell you I can't be here today. I'll miss it as much as you must have missed running away with Birdye that day. I work for a newspaper and I've got an assignment out of town.|
Paul, you're the editor I talk about all the time. David Pitt, the colleague and friend who's reading these few words in my absence, is my witness because he's often around when I do it. Those conversations turn on stories and anecdotes from the days at The Post in which you were invariably the star player. No doubt anyone hearing me go on about that time can figure out how I felt about you, but in farewell I'd like to say it a little more directly. Grown men don't talk about love nearly enough and so we never did. But I loved you and your love for me was something that I not only sensed but treasured. You always delivered the message in your own way. I remember when I dropped in on the basement apartment one Saturday, a decade ago, to tell you I'd decided to leave The Post to go to work at The Times and you shook your head. "No, you're not,"
you said, "you'll be no use to the Times after I've personally broken all of your fingers." [laughter] Your last letter a couple of months ago, I think this one came on yellow onion skin in an envelope from the Police Commissioner's office, [laughter] ended with a P.S. "P.S. I ain't sayin'
one word about the job you're doin' but I will say this: I'm not sorry that I asked Abe Rosenthal to get you off my payroll because the grunt hurt too much." [laughter]
There was something else you said about Lister that comes to mind now when I think about you. He was so incredibly talented
in his craft, you said, that after him none of us could be real good city editors. There was just no way. No way at all. I'm reminded of that at home where I've got a varnished set of old Post mats on the wall that show what brilliancies you wrought over and over and over again from 72-point wood type. At work, I don't need the reminder. You long ago established yourself at my desk as the consummate newsman. I'm reluctant to put "thirty" on this page. It doesn't seem appropriate because we'll never stop talking about
you. You were, are, and will continue to be the liveliest story in town.
Joe Wershba reminds me that Walter Lister's son, Walter Jr., is here with us. He now works as a news producer at CBS -- in the family tradition. Paul had a number of friends in the years that I knew him most often, saw him most often, who spent most of their time, it seemed to me, in saloons. Most of the them in midtown Manhattan. During the day, they had other jobs. They were cops or they were basketball coaches or they were something, but they certainly didn't seem to do anything else at night except stand around in [Toots] Shor's. One of those men is here now and will speak next. He is now a judge and he's a man that Paul was very fond of and that most of us who have had any dealings with him are also fond of: Burt Roberts.
JUDGE BURT ROBERTS:
I should've known. I truly am out of my league with you fellows here. Pete Hamill, who wrote one of the great eulogies I've ever read, and truly one of the few columns he's ever written in which the hero wasn't a fellow by the name of Jose [laughter] and a four-year-old kid named Carmen wasn't freezing to death in a cold water flat. [laughter] I never knew he could write a story without Carmen and Jose. But it's really good to be here, and I know that Paul would have had the same comment, Pete.
I've known Paul Sann for a long time, not as long as some of you or as well as some others, but long enough and well enough to be honored to be asked to say a few words or to say something at this memorial service, and really to testify before each and everyone of you that he was a wonderful man and a good and loyal friend. Now, if there is a hereafter, I'm not so certain at that. Pete is more certain than I, but if there is a hereafter -- so you can imagine how certain there is that there is a hereafter if he's more certain than I am -- if there is a hereafter, I'm certain that he's now the executive editor of The Heavenly Free Press [laughter] or a heluva daily known as Fire and Brimstone. Now he'd do exceptionally well with both newspapers, both for himself and the paper. But I have a hunch, knowing Paul, that he would have a better time and enjoy being around the personnel, the reporters and editors at The Red Hot Daily. [laughter] Paul was fun to be around. You folks have testified to it. He was a great companion for dinner, drink, or truly for drinks, and he was always filled with conversation. Plenty of conversation. And he'd always take the opposite side. If you said Hitler was a bad guy, he'd tell you he was a good guy -- just to have an argument with you. But Paul was really more than that and all of you know that. If you were his friend and you had trouble or a problem, he was Johnny-on-the-spot. He was ready, willing and able to bail you out. But, as someone remarked, he really had no tolerance for pretentiousness. I remember -- you know everybody leaves The Bronx to get a break; I got my break by going back to The Bronx -- there was a time I was sent to The Bronx as Chief Assistant District Attorney and some son-of-a-bitch reporter that worked for The Post wrote an article in which he said that, "Burt Roberts has a gigantic ego as big as the borough of The Bronx and a mouth to match." [laughter] And I called Paul and I says, "What the hell kind a story is that?" He says, "He really caught you, didn't he?" [laughter] And I had to admit that he did, you know. But I never liked that fellow. Paul I liked, but not the fellow that wrote that story. There was another time when we were trying to build up the image of The Bronx D.A.'s office and I personally went out on a raid and, I don't know, we grabbed a couple of traffickers in narcotics and got maybe four or five, maybe six or seven ounces of heroin, all packaged, and I laid it on the desk, you know, and declared [emphatically]: "The Bronx District Attorney's office today declares war [laughter] on all porveyors of heroin." "Purveyors" was always a good word used by the D.A. And a fellow by the name of [Leonard] Katz, you remember? He's a swell fellow. He was the reporter and he left the room and he came back and he said, "I just spoke to Paul Sann and he wants to know, Mr. Roberts, whether or not there was a peaceful detente between the narcotic sellers and the D.A.'s office prior to last night?" [laughter] You know, I truly have a way with words, but I couldn't answer that. I really couldn't. But really it revealed something which carries on to this day and whenever I read governors (and even good governors), governors and the media, and oh, U.S. Attorneys and District Attorneys -- they're even worse than I was when I was a D.A. -- these guys, talking about crack, they never call it "crack"; "the dreaded crack" or "the dreaded crack plague," I recognize how valuable those little retorts, those little comments, those little observations of Paul Sann might be. If I had to pick...I suppose all of you agree with me on this...but if I had to pick one word or one characteristic which depicts Paul Sann, that word would be "loyalty." Sort of a Jewish Stephen Decatur. Right or wrong, he stood behind you and was your friend. He knocked the bejeezus out of you for saying how wrong you might have been, but truly he stood behind you and backed you and helped you. He's helped me, and as I look around this room, I know he's helped most of the people in this room. If Paul can hear us -- I doubt that, too -- but if he can, I would like Paul to know that you always made it appear as if you were a tough guy. Those of us who truly knew you, knew that you really were nothing but a pussycat. You know, you always were a fanatical supporter of the underdog -- I never understood how you rooted for the Celtics -- but you always rooted for everybody else that was an underdog. You tried to act tough by liking the bad guys, but you never liked those bad guys until either they were in jail, they were killed or they were on their way, very shortly, to The Big House. And I guess that's why everybody in this room loves you and that's why the memory of Paul Sann, as we say at every memorial service that I appear at in Court, that's why the memory of Paul Sann truly will be forever greener. And Howard, you should be proud of your old man, and as proud of him as each and everyone of us are. Thank you very much.
Paul in many ways gave you a sense of family at the newspaper but he had his own family, too. And I think it's appropriate that his son, Howard, be the last speaker here to wrap up some of the feelings all of us have about Paul Sann. Howard.
I just want Judge Roberts to know that my father started rooting for the Celtics before they were winners. [laughter] I know that anything that I could say, my father would say was too long and he would cut it in half. I am very proud. I haven't had much time to feel the loss, but I know how proud I am. My father and I were as close as a father and son could be. We edited each others words. We double-dated. He fired me as his son three or four times. [laughter] But I feel fortunate that we worked at it, that he could hear the truth, and that he left with nothing left unsaid between us. And I feel very complete about that.
My father's concern this summer was finishing his third novel. That's all he did, except for visit G.G. Steele, his favorite little girl on the planet. This book was his obsession. It was the hardest thing he ever did. He said he was "racing the clock." In a letter that my friend Doug got on Monday, my father said that he "had just got the book to the typist" and that he "had to go like hell"...to Heaven. He got this book to the typist on the last day of his life. That's complete....I'll never forget when I got out of prison 30 years ago and I got home -- he bailed me out -- he was really pissed off. He was so angry at me. Well, he was pissed off about that the week before last, still. [laughter] He told me the day he heard I was in, he got a phone call and was told that Ramsey Clark, who was then the Attorney General, could get me out. And my father told Ramsey Clark, "No." And it took me a while to respect him for that, but I did. My father wouldn't have wanted this tribute -- it was Hamill's idea and Hamill will have to answer for it [laughter] -- but I know that he would have loved it, and I know that he wouldn't have admitted that he loved it. When I called him up, I guess it was middle of July, to tell him that my wife [Judy] and I were expecting our first child, he said to me, "That's the best news. Just make sure he's tall and black. [loud, long laughter] He'll make a lot of money in the NBA." [laughter still] In July, he was in the hospital for a couple of days. He was really upset, they wouldn't let him go home. He hated hospitals, and we were talking about death and dying, and he described "death" as when "The Man calls him to his reward." He said to me, "Don't mourn for me. Don't cry for me when I die. I lived my life." Last night, I was looking at his third novel. I had never seen it with a title on it. It's called, Call Back The Dream. And I had seen copies of it, but not with the dedication and after the dedication page, at the beginning of the book, there's a quote from William Saroyan from 1938, and it says:
My father was a romantic. He had a generous, generous heart and I'll always love him with all of my heart....Thanks. I don't know what else to say. Thanks for coming.
They'll tell you it's Carter's Little Liver pills you need,|
but you won't believe them because you know it ain't
the liver, it's the heart. Lord God, it's the poor heart.
I think it's appropriate that Paul should have the last word. I'm going to read something from his Last Will and Testament, which someone handed to me on the way in tonight. It's dated October 18, 1979, so if he was thinking of dying then he got himself a good piece of time well after this was written. But it's so much Paul that I think it should be the way we all go home tonight:
That's Paul Sann. Thank you all for coming. Good night.
When I take leave, I ask no more than the minimal observation: a shroud, the least inexpensive pine box, no eulogy beyond what Howard Sann may wish to say if he so desires, someone to play Mr. Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto #1 and the Jewish anthem, Hatikvah, and then to be laid to an uneasy rest on a green hill in Westchester County, N.Y., alongside the woman I loved and never stopped loving. It is my hope that there will be no tears, because it is not to weep. I had my shot and took it. Let all those whose paths crossed mine rejoice, and see what the boys in the back room will have, because I had more than my allotted share in my days.