“Busy as Bees” (E66)

  • Originally printed:  The New Yorker, July 12, 1930  
  • First reprinted in:  Never reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Guy Fawkes



Guy Fawkes gives no quarter (no Sunday edition nickel either) to his nemeses on the New York Times editorial staff, who found themselves hoist by their Boys’ Own Adventure headline policy during the summer of 1930. After years of flogging takeoffs, landings, ascents, and polar perambulations, a perfect storm of derring-do caught the “paper of record” short of frontpage real estate, allowing The Herald Tribune, The World, The Telegraph, and The American to latch their lousy linotypes onto the gravy plane. Roger Williams’ non-stop Bermuda journey and the Hunter Brothers’ 553-hour endurance flight were among the exclusive “scoops” that slipped through the Times’ clutches while they were busy chasing that aeronautic will-o’-the-wisp Charles Kingsford-Smith.

In other non-news, Benchley raps knuckles on both sides of the political aisle for the epidemic of bad faith arguments propounded by the Democans in support of and in opposition to the latest tariff law. Apparently, Hoover’s supporters contended that the new act had no connection whatsoever to an unfortunately timed dip in the already anemic 1930 Stock Market, while the Democratic organs naturally averred that Hoover’s policy would merely compound his economic felonies. Then, everyone turned on a dime (Benchley wouldn’t pay that either), adopting the opposite positions when trading ticked upward the next week. Through it all, much was made about the impact (or irrelevance) of “dominant bear” activity on Wall Street.

The author also takes the Treasury Department to task for pretending there’s no such thing as a “deficit” until the American people (in this case, the soon-to-be-famous Great War bonus veterans) actually need financial assistance. Then, suddenly, all of those Chamber of Commerce prosperity tales about bountiful national surpluses evaporate into hysterical mists of austerity. Some things never change.

Guy Fawkes isn’t all gunpowder this time out, though. He finds space for a paragraph in praise of the New York Times’ “French Correspondent”, who delivered an unaccustomedly graceful appraisal of the Allied evacuation of the Rhineland in the July 1st edition of the paper. And he ends on a note of mock-exhilaration in anticipation of keeping cool with ex-president Coolidge’s daily column for the remainder of the summer!

Favorite Moment:

Just as we were beginning to worry about light paragraphs for this department and to wonder if it might not be well to discontinue for the summer, the Herald Tribune starts in on daily sermonettes by Calvin Coolidge. So far, we have seen only followups to his old “Have Faith in Massachusetts” routine, evidently extending the series into “Have Faith in the Republican Party,” “Have Faith on the Lower Mississippi,” and “Have Faith in the Rockies,” but they are sufficient to make us cancel our passage to Europe. We can’t miss those.

“The Boys Go Literary” (E54)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, November 5, 1927
  • First reprinted in:  Never reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Guy Fawkes



In this early installment of The Wayward Press (so early it’s called “The Press in Review” instead), Guy Fawkes expresses grudging admiration for a fit of aberrantly elevated expression which gripped the city’s newspapers in October 1927. Writing in an appreciative mood more reminiscent of Robert Benchley, Broadway’s most doggedly delighted dramatic critic, than of Guy Fawkes, celebrated foe of the Fourth-Rate Estate, the author heaps promiscuous acclaim upon the various outlets’ moving memoranda on the deaths of Mexican General Alfredo Quijano and NYC underworld figure James “Little Augie” Orgen.

Fawkes does recover some of his wonted facetiousness in time to question the World’s step too far into sonorousness in its October 22nd issue, which he describes as a series of short story prize entries laid end to epiphanic end. Benchley stays with that much-abused organ as he coasts toward the close on a tongue-in-cheek treasure hunt for the faltering World’s late 1920s signature dog, cat, and pony show puff pieces on companionate creatures. He locates only one in this unusually highfalutin month of issues, although he briefly considers lumping a press release on the Rockefellers at play in with the rest of the animal antics.

Favourite Moment:

Once again, we must complain of the World’s household-pet news. After a frantic search of the files for the past three weeks, the only really exclusive story in this field appears to be the one on October 19 in which it is told (with two photographs) how Ethelbert, the cat in the County Clerk’s office, sits by the mail chute watching the letters drop past and tries unsuccessfully to stop them. A very pretty story, and told in that sharp, incisive manner which characterizes all the World’s animal news, but hardly sufficient for three weeks’ reading.

“The Beginning of the Slump” (E39)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, September 3, 1927
  • First reprinted in: Never reprinted
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes


Guy Fawkes takes stock of the calm that descended upon the New York papers in the days following the flashpoint execution of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. The author expresses admiration for the purity and elegance of the “pre-war” layout (8 discrete one-column heads) which graces the front page of The Times, whenever that paper finds itself with nothing to say.

There had certainly been plenty to say earlier in August, and Benchley had read every word of it with ever-deepening disenchantment. The humorist had played an unusually active role in the public furor surrounding the fate of the railroaded Italian immigrants. Abandoning his customary observer’s stance, RB had returned to Massachusetts in order to offer testimony against Judge Webster Thayer’s conduct while presiding over this celebrated miscarriage of justice. All to no effect, of course, and The Times edition for August 23rd, 1927 had carried the following headline across the entire width of the front page: “Sacco and Vanzetti Put To Death Early This Morning: Governor Fuller Rejects Last-Minute Please For Delay After A Day of Legal Moves and Demonstration.”

Taking a last look back at this defining defeat for roaring twenties liberals and radicals alike, Fawkes applauds the Times’ unusually fair-minded coverage of the affair’s dire denouement. Meanwhile, in The World, Benchley’s fellow Vicious Circler Heywood Broun found his column contradicted at every turn by the copy that surrounded it, due to the paper’s cowardly capitulation to the supposedly neutral Lowell Report, which rubber stamped the preordained exoneration of Judge Thayer. Broun and The World would soon part ways. But Benchley singles out The Sun’s piece of Thayer theatre for particular censure, citing comments praising the judge’s gentlemanly conduct and refusal to engage in controversy with the “persons [i.e. Robert Benchley] who have most maliciously assailed him.” Satire of the first order, RB asserts.

In the article’s second page, Fawkes examines the kinds of stories that were apt to find their way into 1927 newspapers whenever the state found itself temporarily deprived of opportunities to engage in red-baiting show trials and judicial murder – notably, picture laden spreads on young female competitors at the Caledonian Games and other rural contests involving farm implements. Oh yes, and the Herald Tribune saw fit to sound an utterly unnecessary front page alarm when President Coolidge spent a little bit longer than usual on a fishing trip and found himself without an overcoat as the evening cool fell upon Lake Yellowstone.

Favourite Moment:
As if this were not enough news for one day, The World, in the same issue and even on the very next page, gives us a two-column photograph of Miss Helen Barnaby, of North Danville, NH, who is the champion woman scythe-swinger and, “until a day or so ago” [that would make it about August 23 – ED.] “the champion mower of New Hampshire.”