Clips from Boston's `Newspaper Row'
THE recent passing of my longtime friend Max Grossman excites good memories of his newspaper yarns that are worth sharing. Born at Odessa, Russia, Max came to America as an infant and grew up in the Boston area. In the 1920s he began writing for the Sunday ``side'' of the old Boston Post, a distinctive journal that was then enjoying the largest circulation in the country. He was thus an alumnus of Boston's famous ``Newspaper Row,'' a section of downtown Washington Street that was home to just about every Boston newspaper except this one.
The Post's publisher liked to have ``bylines'' on all stories, indicating the writers' names. Max, accordingly, wrote under ``By Max R. Grossman.'' But like the other writers on the Sunday side, Max usually did more than one article a week, and for his second story he would use, ``By Patrick O'Sullivan.'' This was a gesture to the numerous Boston citizens from the Old Sod, and when Max did a third story he would sign it, ``By Sebastian Cabot,'' a gracious nod at the proper Bostonians.
I came to know Max at about that time, and since his style of composition was his own, I could see, as could anybody else, that all three people were Max.
Max continued with journalism, and while still writing for the Post he became head of the department of journalism at Boston University. Later, he was provost of Brandeis University when it was founded. He then joined our diplomatic corps, to retire finally after a distinguished career.
He told me once his most pleasant assignment while at the Post was a trip to the Vatican when Cardinal O'Connell went from Boston to attend the election of a new pope. Cardinal O'Connell hoped to be that new pope, but Boston was disappointed when Cardinal O'Connell arrived in Rome and the new pope greeted him. It took longer in those days to cross the Atlantic. Max cabled daily stories and a big one for Sundays while on this trip, and said being the only non-Gentile in the Cardinal's party was a privilege.
Of Newspaper Row, Max had an endless supply of yarns. He liked to tell how the Globe finally moved to a building outside the city. For generations the Globe had been published from a rabbit-warren set of ancient buildings that was long-since inefficient. Everything in the old location was moved except the press - a new press had been set up. Typesetting machines, desks, stools, bookcases, pictures, coat racks, everything in the accumulation of a century was tagged, moved, and reinstalled. In this mid-20th century transmogrification the management of the Globe was surprised to find the newspaper still had a bicycle editor.
Resistance to change was typical of Boston journalism in the days of Newspaper Row, and Max further demonstrated this by telling about Old Tom. The complex of Globe buildings on the Row had a back entrance, and Old Tom was a sort of ostiary at this convenience, used mostly by Globe people. Every morning General Taylor, who owned the Globe, would arrive by hackney, later by motor taxi, and Tom would help him descend. Then Tom would hold open the door and the General would enter to take the elevator. The conversation was always the same:
``Good morning, Tom.''
``Good morning, General Taylor.''
This went on for long, long years. Then one morning Tom wasn't there, and General Taylor said to his secretary, ``Old Tom wasn't there this morning. Wonder what happened?''
``Tom died last night.''
``Oh? Sorry. Well, see that he has a good obituary; he was a faithful old Globe employee.''
When the secretary communicated this order from the boss to the news desk, the reporter assigned to Tom's obituary had no trouble assembling information except for one thing. Nobody knew just what Tom's job was. What did he do?
In the long-gone past it was the custom for reporters to forward hand-written copy for the afternoon editions by a special system of hackney drivers, so that for an hour just before noon Tom would stand by the back door and take envelopes from passing carriages, which he took upstairs to the copy desk. Later, taxis were used. And still later, the whole system went out of use. But Tom still stood there, faithful. All he had to do was draw his pay and open the door for General Taylor. So Max said.