THE LADY UPSTAIRS by Marilyn Nissenson


Dorothy Schiff and the New York Post
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Workmanlike biography of the woman who for 40 years owned and published the New York Post.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dorothy Schiff (1903–89) is that she ever managed to break out of the decorative role assigned by her wealthy German-Jewish parents and grow into a person with ideas of her own. Documentary producer Nissenson, making her print debut, emphasizes her subject’s progressive views, privileged background and good use of numerous husbands and boyfriends. Schiff’s first marriage, to unserious gentile party boy Dick Hall, removed her from her parents’ watch and gave her two children in quick succession. Second husband George Backer brought her into a literary, theatrical circle, and she got an initial taste of politics while working for FDR’s 1936 reelection campaign. In 1939, the Backers acquired the reputedly radical Post, whose draining debts Schiff would devotedly assume for the next 40 years. Three years later, she kicked her husband out and took control of the paper; in 1943, she married enterprising Post editor Ted Thackrey, who had shown her the ropes. The Post’s liberal, pro-Zionist, anti-communist stance was favored by Jewish immigrants and the working classes. After she divorced Thackrey in 1949, Schiff made the paper economically viable by courting advertisers and bringing on strong, loyal editors and writers such as James Wechsler, Paul Sann, Murray Kempton, Max Lerner, Pete Hamill, Alice Davidson, Sylvia Porter and Ted Poston, one of the first black reporters at a New York newspaper. She stuck to her New Deal ideals through the 1950s, though the paper lost its muckraking zeal and its financial fortunes began to decline in the late ’60s. Schiff sold it to Rupert Murdoch, its owner today, in 1976.

A personal story that reveals much about the evolution of American liberalism.

Pub Date: April 5th, 2007
ISBN: 0-312-31310-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2007


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