Reflection: Look Back At Media Hall Of Famers Fox, Graczak, Weil And Defty
When word came that four former Post-Dispatch people were being inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame, we asked our own Robert W. Duffy to reflect on those he had worked with.
I finally plowed my way into the newsroom of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1972 not as a registered, pedigreed member “Of the Post-Dispatch Staff” but as what’s called a stringer in the business, otherwise known as a free-lancer or correspondent.
That 1970s newsroom was high energy, you might say Front Page on dex. In the daytime it was alive with various rackets – people shouting “Copy!” and having someone appear to run their typewritten pages on to an editor, and from there to a pneumatic tube system that took the copy to the composing room and onward eventually to the big presses on the ground floor. There were the clatterings of the typewriters themselves, and the chatter of Teletype machines. Sometimes there were loud arguments; other times, cheering for one thing or another. There were practical jokes too.
A carcinogenic cloud of pipe, cigar and cigarette smoke hung over the proceedings; and after lunch at places such as the Bismarck or Rose’s or the exclusive Press Café and Annex – called the Press Box – cattycorner from the P-D plant, there was gin-generated conviviality. Somehow all the work got done, impressively I might add.
It was as rich and yeasty an environment as you can imagine, and so much fun. In spite of high jinx, the P-D newsroom I encountered in the early 1970s was overflowing with hardworking, dedicated, smart, quite idiosyncratic, genuine eccentrics. The stories are legion. There were tales of pistols stowed in desk drawers, along with bottles of whiskey, and the true account of a reporter who shot a man dead.
Back in Sports, a memorable writer called his wife The War Department, or War for short, and appeared never to go home. He operated a boutique in the sports department.
In the midst of all this were men and women whose lives and influences affected me deeply.
James Fox was my first editor at the paper when I was a stringer, and he was a stern taskmaster and taught me plenty about newspapering. He was also a generous friend. When he retired from teaching Intro to Journalism in University College at Washington University, he bequeathed me that job. He cackled when he laughed and growled when infuriated by some writer’s transgression, particularly when it came to a fine point about St. Louis. Woe to anyone who called Grand an Avenue rather than a Boulevard, for example. His commitment to accuracy stuck with me, and whenever I make a mistake I think of him with respect and affection -- and embarrassment.
Mr. Fox wrote a column about St. Louis that was beloved by many readers, principally because it featured places they knew and loved and because of the warm, chummy style with which it was written. Mr. Fox’s column was filled with facts, and bubbled with nostalgia. My mother wrote Jimmy Fox fan letters, and he answered them warmly, and they helped to animate her old age.
Ralph Graczak was a speedy illustrator with a style immediately recognizable. The figures who populated his drawings always seemed to me to exhibit profound shock or the effects of having been struck by lightning.
Mr. Graczak wore suspenders and bow ties, and had a well chewed, and actually rather gross, cigar stub in his mouth. His true claim to fame was his regular comics-page strip, Our Own Oddities, and I loved it.
People called in with amazing things such as “Stephen Lord Lives On Church Street” and his desk was often piled high with vegetables that readers thought resembled this person or that one. He received (and illustrated) an eggplant that looked like Richard Nixon -- truly. He seemed gruff and cranky at first, but in fact was a true gentleman; and I always thought, while intense and always busy, he looked as if he were having fun.
Richard K. Weil was another enduringly gentlemanly presence in the newsroom, a colleague who served the Post-Dispatch and the Pulitzer Tradition faithfully in his decades on the Fifth Floor, and maintained his commitment to it as chairman of the board of the St. Louis Beacon.
Weil -- a reporter of enormous distinction and erudition -- was a revered and thoughtful executive city editor and managing editor, serving in the latter capacity during an unsettled and unhappy time in the history of the paper.
I worked closely with him preparing a special edition of the P-D marking its 125th anniversary. It celebrated great moments in the history of the P-D from the time of its creation by the first Joseph Pulitzer in 1878 and the anniversary in 2003.
Weil retired soon after that commemorative edition was published. But rather than taking a well-deserved rest with his wife Josephine and their three children, Weil was a founder with Margaret Wolf Freivogel and me of the St. Louis Beacon. He provided strength and wisdom not only for its establishment but also for its growth forward, and on into its recent merger with St. Louis Public Radio.
If anyone ever deserved a place in a journalism hall of fame, it is my friend and colleague Richard K. Weil.
Similarly, Sally Bixby Defty deserves all the journalism stripes we can attach to her shoulders, along with medals, plaques and statuettes for her bookshelves.
Defty is a member of a celebrated St. Louis family. Her grandfather was William Keeney Bixby, who founded and was president of the American Car and Foundry Company and was a prescient collector of art and rare books. All that notwithstanding, Sally – with three children to rear on her own – had to go to work; and Joseph Pulitzer Jr. had the foresight to hire her first in the old Women’s Section. From there she moved to the City Desk, the first woman to have a permanent position there. She was nominated several times for the Pulitzer Prize, and was a finalist for her work on an arson-for-profit investigation.
Defty was elevated to the position of executive city editor and was terrific in that job, but she loved reporting and went back to it with a happy heart. She reported and wrote stories that brimmed with texture, color and detail – and the sort of attention to the facts that the first Joseph Pulitzer required in his demand for “Accuracy, accuracy, Accuracy.”
Defty was – is! – also a confidante, and hilariously splendid company. She is so warm and wonderful that the late, great John Michael McGuire, Of the Post-Dispatch Staff, called her Mom.
These four former PD staffers, along with 17 other men and women who’ve worked in various aspects of the news and entertainment business, will be recognized for their contributions to by the St. Louis Media History Foundation on Monday, Feb. 10, at 5:30 p.m. at the Moto Museum at the Triumph Grill, 3419 Olive Street. The public is invited; no admission charge.
For more see http://www.stlmediahistory.com
The complete list of this year’s inductees:
Russ Carter – Host of "St. Louis Hop" on KSD-TV
Robert Coe – Founder of KSD Radio
Chris Condon – TV anchor of 10-Minute news on KSD-TV
Sally Bixby Defty – Pulitzer Prize finalist for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Cathy Dunkin – Founder of Standing Partnership
Eugene Field – Poet and reporter for the Chicago Daily News
Jim Fox – 65 years in print journalism, including St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Suburban Journals, and the St. Louis Star-Times
Andrew "Spyderman" Fuller – Broadcast pioneer in black-owned radio
Ralph Graczak – St. Louis Post-Dispatch illustrator
Bruce Hayward – Anchor for the first local UHF-TV station
Don Hesse – Editorial cartoonist for the Globe-Democrat
Bob Lachky – The man behind the Anheuser-Busch marketing campaigns
Jeremy Lansman – Creator of independent community radio
Erma Perham Proetz – First woman elected to the National Advertising Hall of Fame
Pete Rahn – Creator of one of the first newspaper television guides
Clif St. James – Radio/TV host, weatherman, performer. Also known as "Corky the Clown" on KSD-TV
Wilma Sim – Pioneer of TV homemaker programs. Hosted "Homemaking with KSD-TV" throughout the 1950s
Robert G. Stolz – Founder of Stolz Advertising Company
Glenn Tintera – Originator of advertising use of focus groups
Richard Weil – 42-year reporter, editor. Spent time at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Beacon
Skeets Yaney – Radio entertainer and DJ. Known as Clyde "Skeets" Yaney, the "Golden Voice Yodeler"