By Burnham, Alexander | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Burnham, Alexander, The Virginia Quarterly Review

There were two moments in my father's day that I recall with particular fondness. The first was at the breakfast table where each morning The New York Times awaited his close perusal. As he read the gray, disciplined columns, he would express his doubts about an especially rash effort by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pull the United States out of its Great Depression and repeatedly he would voice his anxieties over Adolf Hitler's ominous instructions to the German Army to "fulfill its duty."

The second moment was in the evening, after dinner, when he would settle down into a comfortable chair to read the day's last edition (it was called the Sporting Final) of the somewhat snappier New York Sun for the late news, the closing stock prices, and perhaps a review of actress Gertrude Lawrence's most recent Broadway rendition of a sexy English lady as conceived by Noel Coward.

When war eventually came, after the German Army had "fulfilled its duty" and Japan had decided to challenge the United States, a study of The Times and The Sun sometimes became deeply personal as both newspapers began listing Washington's "honor rolls" of the dead, the wounded, and the missing in action.

Although newsmen like William L. Shirer were delivering disturbing reports from Europe over static-impaired broadcasts, raucous radio and television with their strident voices were still years away. It was Jack Benny time rather than noisy reporters.

For my father and other members of his generation, newspapers were the orderly and measured way to monitor a turbulent century. They relied on the rational judgment of carefully selected cosmopolitan newspapers which they viewed as intelligent and reliable. The writing was conservative, the advertisements were modest, and the graphics were sober and inelaborate.

Of course it wasn't all journalistic temperance in the first 50 years of the 20th century. Yellow journalism was in full flower and the urban tabloid press was taking the early steps toward today's nationwide media excess of celebrity and sex. Tabloids like New York's Daily News and Daily Mirror and columnists such as Walter Winchell had plenty of high jinks to write about.

Young women, who had won the right to vote in 1920, were raising their skirts and editorial eyebrows as they pierced the doors of Prohibition speakeasies to drink forbidden gin with the men; New York's playboy mayor, Jimmy Walker, was always good for a jolly headline-he compared the first woman to swim the English channel, the daughter of a Manhattan butcher, to Moses crossing the Red Sea or Caesar crossing the Rubicon; and goldfish swallowing was all the rage after a Harvard University student named Lothrop Withington Jr. gulped down one of the wiggling animals as press cameras flashed, thus confirming Harvard's preeminence among America's educational institutions.

After Wall Street crashed in 1929 and the resulting Depression rolled on well into the 1930's, the newspapers found relief in their most reliable pick-me-up: pretty girls. Reporters and photographers couldn't get enough of rich debutantes dancing in the arms of college boys in white ties and tails at swanky cotillions in ritzy hotel ballrooms. Life magazine put pulchritudinous deb Brenda Duff Frazier on one of its covers to cheer up an American population grown weary of hungry children in West Virginia, and demagogue Huey Long of Louisiana inspired lively headlines as he hoodwinked the innocent by promising every American an income of $5,000 a year by breaking up the fortunes of the country's millionaires.

But the debs would soon give way. Hollywood's pretty faces moved into the newspapers of America as movie palaces became the dream emporiums of Main Street, U.S.A. Indeed, Hollywood was establishing its leadership role of American culture. Tough guys like Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney gave swell impersonations of the Chicago gangsters so beloved by city editors and actresses like Barbara Stanwyck and Jean Harlow were portraying with sultry authority a succession of red-hot broads who delivered such racy lines as "Men aren't interested in a sheet of virgin-white paper. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.