The Paris Tribune At One Hundred

PrintPrintEmailEmail

In World War I, Bennett became an unlikely hero. He was an old man, dying really, but he personally took over the daily operation of the paper as the German army advanced on Paris. He published every day, even when French newspapers (and many of his own employees) had fled the city. Two years later, with the Allies on the way to victory—and the American Expeditionary Forces buying 350,000 Heralds each day—he went to his villa in the south of France to die.

Despite its ups and downs, the Trib has always been the hometown newspaper for every American in Paris

During the last months of his life, he negotiated a $50,000 loan from the Rothschild Bank for living expenses. He had spent $40 million, a great deal of it on the Paris Herald, which never made a centime until the Yanks came in 1917. Millions went, too, for automobile races and balloon ascensions, two Bennett passions, and for his yachts, particularly the Lysistrata, built in 1901 at a cost of $650,000 and staffed by a crew of 101- including an Alderney cow for morning milk.

Bennett’s estate was not settled until 1920, when the New York Herald, the Evening Telegram, and the Paris Herald were sold for $4 million to Frank Munsey, the owner of the New York Sun. By then the doughboys had gone home and the Paris circulation was back at its pre-war level. But the paper was surviving—a knack it had through good times and bad, mostly bad, against a dozen other English-language competitors over the years.

And in 1924 the Paris Herald survived again when Munsey sold the New York Herald to the family of Ogden Reid, owners of Horace Greeley’s old paper, the New York Tribune—creating the New York Herald Tribune. The Paris edition, though, did not change its name, because there was then a Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune.

The golden twenties meant Harding, Coolidge, Babbitt, and Prohibition on one side of the Atlantic, and Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, and Henry Miller on the Left Bank of the Seine. The Herald stood squarely and solidly with Harding and Coolidge. It was the newspaper of the Right Bank. “Paris Clubland” was a popular Herald feature, documenting the genteel doings of the American Club and the groups at the American Church, the Episcopal Cathedral, the Rotary and the American Legion. Circulation rose to 39,000 by 1929 and advertising tripled—while the scruffier Tribune was catering to the Left Bank and filling columns with stuff by Miller, who was a Tribune proofreader, and by James Thurber, William L. Shirer, Waverley Root, plus the Hemingway crowd.

By 1930 the Herald had become profitable enough to build a new building on the Rue de Berri, just off the Champs-Elysée, and to introduce the first rotogravure magazine section in France. The day that confirmed the Herald’s respectability and new prosperity was September 20, 1927, when a fifty-six-page special edition celebrated the tenth-anniversary parade of twenty thousand American Legionnaires down the Champs.

There was barely room—and no Herald reporter assigned—for a small story that day under the headline FEW ATTEND ISADORA DUNCAN’S RITÈS. Actually five thousand people did turn out in the rain to pay final homage to the American dancer who represented the spirit of twentieth-century feminism and the avant-garde. But they probably weren’t Herald readers.

Whichever side of the Seine an American newspaperman was working, Paris was a hell of a place to be in the 1920s. This is the way it was in the Herald offices during those days, according to an account by a rewrite man, Ken Stewart: “The night-side would straggle in about eight o’clock, well wined and dined, to take over from the day staff, which had leisurely collected the tourist registrations at the Right Bank hotels, recorded the comings and goings from the Riviera, interviewed arrivals on boat trains, listened to the talks on international amity at the Anglo-American and Franco-American luncheons.

“After a few preliminaries, we would drift out again to the corner bistro for coffee or liquor, then come back to deskeletonize the cables....”

“Deskeletonization” was at the heart of the operations of the Herald and the other English-language papers in Paris. What it meant was expanding short (and shorthand) cables from New York into readable and interesting stories. Thus a few characters on dropping stock prices in New York became, in the Herald, “brokers tearing the shirts off one another’s backs during a hectic day on the Stock Exchange.”