HEYWOOD BROUN: A Biography by Richard O'Connor


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It seems to me,"" Heywood Broun might have intoned, ""that I'm not getting a fair shake here."" Not that there's anything wrong with Richard O'Connor's briskly written life of the great columnist, but O'Connor (who wrote The Golden Summers, 1974) concentrates on Broun's personality and treats the background material as just that--a necessary set of stage directions. It would work if he didn't have some reservations about his subject, hovering just out of sight but never quite disrupting the amiable flow of the narrative. Broun comes across, through a faint haze of kindly condescension, as a lovable heap of inconsistencies: crusading, self-indulgent, honest, self-deluding, independent, conformist. He figured in the Algonquin Round Table and the growing fraternity of newspaper columnists which included Alexander Woolcott, St. John Ervine, Franklin P. Adams, etc. The age is presented as perhaps golden, but composed of ingrown little mutual admiration societies bringing out the worst as well as the best in each other. In Broun's case the worst was a tendency to posture and overdramatize, as well as the inconsistency of trumpeting egalitarian slogans while eagerly pursuing the rewards of success. (In one incident here, Robert Benchley finds Broun and Dorothy Parker taking time out from a picket line on the wrong side of another picket line.) A faintly patronizing air hangs over even O'Connor's admiring quotations from the Sacco-Vanzetti columns which caused Broun's departure from the New York World, not without a healthy relish for his own martyrdom. To investigate these intangibles would have been to analyze the development, the possibilities, and the limitations of journalism dependent on the sense of personal involvement, to come to grips with Broun on the terms of his craft--a tribute he deserves. O'Connor shows signs of wanting to dig more deeply, but never quite gets around to it.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1975
Publisher: Putnam