March 23: The New York newspaperman Franklin P. Adams died on this day in 1960. In the early decades of the twentieth century, as the muckraking journalists waged battle after battle, Adams became the quintessential gentleman-journalist, ready to deflate the latest fad or most earnest issue with a quip or a couplet. His “Conning Tower” column featured not just his own wit and around-the-town comments but the contributions of such rising stars as James Thurber, Ring Lardner, Eugene O’Neill, and many of the Algonquin group.
Many of Adams’s own poems were parodies, often aimed at reducing the fleeting fad by way of the canonized classic. Though Adams was himself once married to a showgirl, “On First Looking into Bee Palmer’s Shoulders” (inspired by Keats’s looking into Chapman’s Homer) pokes fun at the shoulder-shaking Jazz Age showgirl Bee Palmer, aka “The Shimmy Queen” for having invented that dance:
Much have I travel’d in the realms of jazz,
And many goodly arms and shoulders seen
Quiver and Quake — if you know what I mean;
I’ve seen a lot, as everybody has.
Some plaudits got, while others got the razz.
But when I saw Bee Palmer, shimmy queen,
I shook — in sympathy — my troubled bean,
And said, “This is the utter razzmatazz….”
Adams’s targets ranged from politics to modern poetry to baseball — most famously, he wrote the “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” ditty about the double-play trio for the Chicago Cubs. But as the quintessential newspaperman, he knew his drinks from his deadlines:
…Between the dark and the daylight, when I’m worried about The Tower,
Comes a pause in the day’s tribulations that is known as the cocktail hour;
And my soul is sad and jaded, and my heart is a thing forlorn,
And I view the things I have written with a sickening, scathing scorn.
Oh, it’s then I fare with some other slave who is hired for the things he writes
To a Den of Sin where they mingle gin — such as Lipton’s, Mouquin’s or Whyte’s,
And my spirit thrills to a music sweeter than Sullivan or Puccini –
The swash of the ice in the shaker as he mixes a Dry martini…..
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.