In the Prince’s Wake
A newspaper reporter who ‘covered’ H. R. H tells of the trials and tribulations of those ordered to get ‘human interest stuff’
ANNOUNCEMENT that the Prince of Wales will sail at the end of July for a brief official visit to Canada must have quickened the pulse of many a newspaper man on this continent. When the Prince paid his last visit to this continent, the affair generally was known as the Battle of Long Island. And that wasn’t telling the half of it, either. But at that, being long drawn, like trench warfare, it did not have half as much excitement in it for the war correspondents as the brief, hectic, hitherto unrecorded battling which served as a prelude to the Prince’s first arrival on North American shores.
That was away back in 1919 when, a blushing fledgling he stepped ashore at St. John, N. B.
For this fighting was among the correspondents themselves. Some thirty of them, Canadian and American had flocked into the city, three days ahead, to meet the Prince. And to complicate matters, there were a score and more of hard-boiled camera men, mostly from New York, where a photographer has to be more than a three-minute egg to pass muster. Every one of these fifty news individuals regarded each of the other forty-nine as an enemy; and each of them was figuring on a plan to beat everyone else.
And then, just when the clatter and tumult was at its hottest, some wise head called a general meeting to discuss the possibility of co-operation instead of conflict. This proved the way out—and a committee of four—two Americans and two Canadians— was appointed to secure the best possible facilities and privileges for the bunch.
As a result, that evening the four of us set out to see Sir Robert Borden, then Prime Minister. He was staying at the home of Colonel H. H. McLean, then M. P. for Sunbury and Queen’s, near Rothesay.
We drove there, and, on our arrival, the other Canadian of our party, who happened to be brimming over with joie de vivre, took the leadership into his hands. He told us he had known Sir Robert from boyhood and persuaded us to let him enter first as ambassador. In ten minutes he came back and invited us all inside.
He led the way upstairs, flung open a door, and, 'with a very majestic sweep of his hand, invited us
to enter a room. As we seemed, in his bold eyes, to hesitate somewhat, he sang out encouragingly, “That’s all right. Step right in. I know all the boys.”
The ‘boys’ happened to be Sir Robert himself, Colonel McLean and Sir Douglas Hazen, former Minister of Marine. They had just finished dinner, and they took our friend’s freshness in good part, indeed with a degree of amusement, and were very gracious. But Sir Robert assured us that he was powerless in the matter of our rights and privileges as all the arrangements for the morrow were in the hands of Colonel H. G. Henderson, military secretary to the Governor-General. Perhaps, he suggested, we might call on the colonel—he was in attendance on the Duke of Devonshire at the home of the late Hon. William Pugsley, who was then LieutenantGovernor of New Brunswick, which was quite near by. One rather suspects that there was something like a twinkle in the Prime Minister’s eye tvhen he said it.
At any rate, to Mr. Pugsley’s we harked and asked for Colonel Henderson. And the scene still lingers in one’s mind of the interview between our diminutive, but upstanding and democratic Canadian friend, and the tall, cold, aristocratic Englishman. The small Canadian had little respect for red tape, or red tabs in mufti, and the verandah echoed with his vigorous eloquence as he tried in vain to convince the English colonel that the Prince’s arrival would be a decided failure unless proper and adequate recognition were given to the visiting newspaper men; and with the colonel’s haughty, and it must be admitted, somewhat heated replies.
Noise Attracts Duke
rT'HE arguments could never, in such surroundings, have descended to the level of a vulgar brawl; but, nevertheless, the noise on his threshhold was sufficient to bring Mr. Pugsley out. In fact, in his rear came the Duke of Devonshire, no doubt wondering what rude roughness thus disturbed the night. As always, in the House of Commons and elsewhere, Mr. Pugsley was suavity itself, courteous, smiling, and tactful, as he inserted himself diplomatically into the scene and changed our young Canadian’s arguments into a smoother channel.
Indeed, he ended up by leading our hero into the hall
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In the Prince’s Wake
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where the Duke was now standing— he had been playing bridge with Mr. Pugsley and their respective ladies until our arrival—and he presented him to the Duke, the austere, heavilymoustached, portentously solemn Duke of Devonshire. Whereupon our irrepressible comrade, with friendly fervor, seized His Excellency’s hand and shook it warmly; and, in a voice which we could hear quite plainly outside, exclaimed in the kindliest possible way: “Pleased to meet you, Duke. Sorry we can’t stay, but we’re in the deuce of a hurry.”
The Duke murmured something—we could not catch the words—and our colleague rejoined us, airily bidding goodbye to Colonel Henderson as we all climbed into our car.
How did the next day go off? Fine, just fine. We all got as close to the Prince as we wanted to, wrote yards about his smile, etc., etc., and got it sizzling across the wires in record time, without a hitch.
That afternoon we all went out to Rothesay, where the Prince, standing on the wide verandah of the Pugsley home, was holding his first Canadian reception. Encircling the scene were the news and movie photographers. And it must be understood that nothing is sacred to the American press photographer with the scent of a picture in his nostrils. So it was not surprising when one of them sang out with an utter disregard for the courtly atmosphere: “Hey, prince, we’d like you to turn a bit this way.”
One of the New York reporters was much upset at this gaucherie on the part of a countryman before royalty, and he exploded, sotto voce, “Jumping Jehu, if one of those fellows was photographing Charles the First on the block, he’d ask him to hold his head up higher—to let him get a better shot.”
"DUT, looking back on a total of over five months spent trailing the Prince of Wales during his previous visits to Canada and the United States, one is surprised at the restraint shown at all times by the men and women charged with giving a close-up record of his actions and reactions. One might have expected the Americans at least, with their craze for the sensational, especially in view of the remarkable news interest every least gesture of the Prince had, to have pulled stunts or attempted coups which might have been embarrassing or annoying to him. But with one or two exceptions no one ever did.
Before he landed that first time at St. John, there was much discussion as to whether he should or should not be interviewed — the ‘interview’, getting somebody to say something at first hand which may be placed in quotation marks, being one of the chief aims of every American news man. Most of these chaps were airily lacking in any particular awe for the heir to the British throne. In their own country they were accustomed to tackling everyone from the president to the patrolman for his opinion; and it may be said that not one of them would have hesitated to ask the Angel Gabriel for his views, if he had come again. But, after discussion, it was finally decided that the Prince was somehow differently situated from either city politicians or movie queens, and that he should not be interviewed.
The men all kept this agreement. But the women were not so chivalrous. One of them, a writer from Boston, who pleaded after the event that she had not subscribed to the understanding which bound the mere males, watched for her opportunity during his visit to a Halifax hospital, sidled up to the Prince, and, to his astonishment, shot half a dozen questions at him. The only one
that stays in the memory at the moment was, “What advice did your mother give you when you were leaving home?”
The men saw red; but they recognized it as an achievement on the lady’s part when they subsequently saw the Boston paper with several columns of her ‘exclusive interview’ signed and splashed all over the front page; and heard that her office had wired her a bonus and congratulations.
“DUT it was during H. R. H’s second visit to Canada, in 1923, this time incognito as Baron Renfrew, that a lady reporter got something really exclusive when she secured several dances and many confidences from the unsuspecting Prince. That was in the Chateau Frontenac at Quebec, the evening he landed from the Empress of France, where he attended a dance previous to proceeding next day to his Alberta ranch.
The girl was ’Gene Stanley, of the New York Daily News, a sensational picture paper of the tabloid variety. She was sent up specially; and her assignment was to interview the Prince. It must be told to her credit that she carried out the task.
In Quebec she was as much incognito as the Prince himself. No one knew she was a newspaper woman, not even fellow craftsmen from her home city. She appeared on the ballroom floor—and in subsequent sensational gossiping—as the ‘unknown girl in green.’ She was a very pretty youngster, in her early twenties, rather an ingenue in appearance, but she was no tyro from an art sense. She played the game with the skill of an Oppenheim adventuress; and, alone, friendless, in the face of the jealous stares of Quebec ladies who would have given five years of their lives to be in her shoes and their hopes of heaven to know who on earth she was, danced, chatted and smiled with superb unconcern on the shoulder of H. R. H. She even achieved the distinction of being invited to sit with him in his reserved corner, which she did with the assured ease of a Vere de Vere. And all because she had the wit to make the acquaintance of one of the Prince’s staff and dazzle him into making a presentation, letting the Prince’s own inclinations do the rest.
And after the ball was over this Cinderella from a New York news room took the first train back, in duty bound, to her office with as big a scoop, viewed from an American viewpoint at the time, as any reporter ever brought back to an ungracious city editor.
They say in New York that when Miss Stanley got back to her office she refused at first to write a line of the exclusive stuff she had obtained. She was under the Prince’s spell. It would not be fair, she reasoned, womanlike, to disclose the things the Prince had said under the magic of the ballroom. But editors, nearly weeping, begged her on bended knees to finish the job she had begun. And ’Gene Stanley finished it; though, again to her credit, it must be said there was not a line of lese majeste in the stuff she wrote for the News to splash.
Strangely enough, it was a feminine colleague of hers on the same paper, Grace Robinson, a bright, clever girl, who figured in one of the most interesting of the achievements pulled off by newspaper people during the Prince’s visit to Long Island in 1924. She did it in connection with the $150,000 ball given in honor of H. R. H. by Clarence Mackay, the cable king, at his magnificent home, Beacon Hill. A thousand guests were invited. But newspaper men and women were absolutely barred. Commands had been given that no one smelling of printer’s ink should enter the plutocratic
portals where a prince was guest. To add point to such orders, some two hundred plain clothes operatives had been distributed in the glittering grounds to catch any such intruders and feed them to the fishes in the Sound. There was a detective behind almost every tree that flanked the avenue.
Imagine, under such circumstances, little Grace Robinson being called to the telephone in that stuffy Syosset boarding house where we all stayed, somewhere around ten o’clock on the night of the party, and being ordered, yes, ordered, on long distance from her New York office to attend and secure a full and detailed report of the historic hulabaloo. Hers not to reason why— hers but to dress and get there. But how? Beacon Hill to an uninvited reporter that night seemed as unattainable as Paradise. It was certainly an agonized face that the girl turned from the ’phone to a group of us sympathizing males. And as she shrugged her shoulders in despair we said nothing.
Nerve, Plain Nerve
'“PHIS was where Shannon Cormac, of the New York Times, came to the rescue. He Was an Australian by birth; he had served with the Canadians in France; and he had a beautiful English accent which, on occasion, he could develop into the most juicy of haw-haw tones. In addition, he had the most extreme nerve in social situations.
He had given evidence of this nerve a few evenings previously when he had strolled nonchalantly into another Long Island holy of holies, the Piping Rock Club, while the Prince was dining there, utterly deceiving the flunkeys and operatives by his debonair air of a Wodehouse johnny. It was true that on this occasion a flunkey had the last laugh. For while Cormac was busy ‘mingling’ at the affair, at which Will Rogers as well as the Prince was present, the fact leaked out that he was a newspaper man, though no one in authority at the club made any attempt to interfere with his presence, sportingly recognizing his entry as an achievement. But when he came out, with the grand manner of a European princeling, and ordered his car, the aforesaid flunkey thundered out: “Four-
thirty-two—for the reportah!” Which proclamation of his exact status did not upset Cormac one whit.
Such was the gentleman who turned to Miss Robinson and said: “Come on. I feel like a dance tonight. We’ll both attend the Mackay ball.” So they donned their respective evening outfits and in quick time were tooling along towards Beacon Hill in one of the finest limousines on Long Island.
Theirs was a direct attack on the exclusive citadel. They even turned on the lights in the car so that their gentility of manner and get-up might be evident even to the hirelings who lay in wait. The gates of Beacon Hill swung open at their approach—who dared to stop a car that might have been carrying the Vanderbilts?—they passed scores of operatives on the long avenue brilliant with a thousand lights. And not one person said them nay. Indeed, it was only when their car drew up at the very steps of the Mackay mansion that a secret service man stepped forward and laid his hand on the door questioningly with a view to seeing their credentials. It was then that the resource of the nimble-witted Cormac came into play. For, with a cigarette dangling on the edge of his lips, he leaned forward and in the fruitiest of accents, drawled: “I say, old chappie, have you got a match?”
For a moment Grace Robinson’s heart stopped beating. But the ‘old chappie’ fell for the nobby Archie manner—and probably thought he was greeting a member of the royal suite. “Why, certainly, sir,” he said, as be produced one, waited while Cormac lazily lighted
his cigarette, and swung the door open for the notables to alight.
It was as easy as that. The pair of adventurers strolled into the magnificent reception hall and were received as legitimate guests by Clarence Mackay and his daughter. The latter, it was true, seemed slightly frigid; she could not place them—but she gave no cry of “Ho, varlets, hurl them in the moat.” And in a, few minutes they were mingling with the gilded throng.
Grace Robinson did not dance with the Prince, a climax that would have capped the Arabian Nights adventure, but she at least danced with one of his staff. And when the latter, puzzled, asked her, “Who is this Major Cormac?” she replied with uplifted eyebrow, “Oh, don’t you know Major Cormac!” As the result of which there was nothing more said.
DUT ‘crashing in’ was not confined to Long Island when the Prince was around. A very successful instance under difficulties was staged at a big club in a Canadian city during his last trip. This was an affair of so much ‘dog’ and distinction that newspaper people were absolutely forbidden to defile it with their presence, and every precaution was taken to see that no ticket fell into their unwashed hands. Needless to say, the papers were keener than ever, just to show it could be done, to get the ‘dope’ on the dance and get it straight.
One city editor in particular exhausted every stratagem he knew to get one of his staff into the exclusive function. To no avail. Then, at seven o’clock, he made up his mind—he called three youthful, handsome and cultured reporters, and ordered them to go home, dress and get into the dance as best they knew how.
In due time they reached the exterior of the place of assignment. One of them began the proceedings by trying a rear attack on the citadel. He went up a side street, and passed through a private garden with a view to climbing the club house wall. But, unfortunately, he collided with a savage dog en route which mistook him for an intruder, caught him by the reverse end of his evening pants and made his appearance unworthy of a princely function.
The second youth tried a frontal attack on the main door. Carrying a cased trombone in his hands he presented himself as one of the orchestra. “Where’s your ticket?” demanded the doorman.
"Oh, Mr.—(naming the leader:) has all our tickets.”
“He has, has he? What do you play?”
"Here, you get to blazes out of here. You’re the third trombone player as has tried to get in here tonight.”
But it was this young man, not to be denied, who finally did get in. He awaited the moment of the Prince's arrival, when everyone was busy watching the royal guest. At that moment he doffed his hat and coat, climbed the wall right on the main street, and presently bareheaded, with a cigarette in his mouth, was strolling quietly across the grounds to the club house.
Unfortunately, he did not quite know the lay of the land inside, and he did not dare ask anyone, so that the first place into which he strolled by mistake was the ladies’ dressing room. That mistake was quickly rectified. He survived the horror he had inspired there, and eventually reached the ballroom where he made himself inconspicuous as a sort of orchestral super. Thus he saw the dance at first hand and brought out a report of the proceedings which rather astonished the club moguls when they read it next day in their favorite paper.
During the 1923 visit, the writer was ordered to leave Quebec and get to
Montreal in time to catch a west-bound train that would reach High River, Alta., ahead of the Prince. Unfortunately, the last train had left Quebec by which the connection might have been made. But a flying boat was at hand which agreed to try and turn the trick. It tried, but failed.
A forty-mile head wind all the way up the river slowed up the machine so much that it ran out of gasoline and had to make a forced landing on the St. Lawrence at Sorel. Here nearly an hour had to be spent, which put all chance of catching the train out of the question —although, at that, we failed only by a mere fifteen minutes.
And so it happened on that occasion that, instead of preceding the Prince to his Alberta ranch, we followed on the train behind his. Our orders in regard to this assignment were definite enough — three of us were told to keep in as close contact with the Prince as was at once possible and circumspect. When you realize that his temporary hermitage was stuck in the heart of the practically shelterless foothills of the Rockies, a locality to which we were absolute strangers, you may see that problem of how to keep close to him was rather a difficult one.
We had, incidentally, been provided by the office with a small car so that there would be no excuse for not pursuing the Prince when he set out in his RollsRoyce across these same bounding foothills. It was an admirably behaved little car—for it was never called on to show its pursuit powers—except that one night it froze up and next morning, refused to budge until one of the Bar-U wranglers came along. He simply unwound his lariat, bitched one end to Lizzie’s nose, snubbed the other end on the peak of his saddle, and started off at a jog trot. He dragged us along easily for forty yards when the recalcitrant car, warming up, began to snort along under its own power.
A Friend in George Lane
TT was the late George Lane, king of -I this horse country, who proved a friend indeed to us. There was no place to stay close to the E. P. ranch nearer than the hotel at High River, fifteen miles away. And we might as well have been in Calgary as there for all the good that was as a vantage spot from which to keep tab of the royal movements. But, in our dilemma, we called up George Lane by long distance telephone at Calgary, where he was staying at the time, and told him we could find no place to stay at all convenient to His Royal Highness. Of course we explained that we were newspaper men from Toronto. And Mr. Lane, who knew absolutely nothing about us but what brief facts we gave him over the ’phone, exclaimed at once: “Put up at my ranch house. Stay as long as you like. There’s nobody there but my cook. Get him to feed you—and make yourselves at home.”
For western hospitality this invitation would have been hard to beat. For all Mr. Lane knew, we were, not tenderfeet, but toughs. But we whom he had never seen and never actually did see, became his guests at the Bar-U, one of the greatest ranches in Alberta, and for several days enjoyed the freedom of the ranch house and the services of the Chinese boy.
We were no longer reporters but rancheros. Literally enough. For, with all this enterprise we did not once set eyes on H. R. H. during our stay since we were most careful to avoid trespassing on the royal ranch. We were the Prince’s nearest neighbours, but we might as well have been in Winnipeg or Toronto,
for all we knew of his doings. Our hopes were always that he might have dropped over, neighbour-like, to visit the Bar U. But he knew of George Lane’s absence and did not come. At the same time, he knew of our presence. Indeed, when he was told that we had come all the way from Toronto and were camped next door him at the Lane homestead, he was reported to have said: “How extraordinary!”
Which at least covered the situation.
It would be a pity if this random narrative did not mention the English newspaper men who were colleagues of myself and the other two official Canadian correspondents on the royal train throughout the tour of 1919. There were six of them, all men of quality: Phillips of the Daily Express, knighted later with Gibbs for his war reporting, and since Sir Percival; Campbell, of the Times and Warner Allen, of the Morning Post, both of them given the Legion of Honor for their writings from French headquarters; Massey, of the Daily Telegraph, all through the Palestine campaign with Allenby and afterwards its official historian; Douglas Newton, of the Chronicle, a novelist of some note; and Everard Cotes, of Reuters—an experienced and distinguished group who were the most delightful of associates.
Needless to say the traditions of these men did not permit them to ‘cover’ the Prince with the harum-scarum vigor that we Canadians and Americans were expected to display, or to grab at the intimacies, harmless as these might be, which to us were human interest. They were discreet and dignified observers attached to His Royal Highness’s Canadian tour. In fact, at the earlier official functions some of them appeared in silk toppers and morning coats. But Ottawa was, I think, the last occasion when any of them appeared thus bedecked. After all, it would have been a little high hat, y’ know—especially as H. R. H. had himself learned quickly to emulate western premiers and eastern mayors by being perfectly comfortable and democratic in a lounge suit or plus fours.
One story will illustrate how we played the game, English style after the manner of the Fleet street men, on that 1919 tour. We were all staying at a Canadian hotel where the Prince stopped briefly. Suddenly, attached unofficially to the royal party appeared two people whose presence intrigued us. We noticed them first when they lunched in the dining room with two of the Prince’s suite. None of us said anything—we had all learnt discretion by this time —but each of us had our private wonderment.
At dinner that evening, we nine correspondents found ourselves—by design undoubtedly, for it was unusual — seated at the same table. Nota word was passed about the strangers, though they were again in the room at a table nearby, until at the end of the dinner, when one of the English press men leaned forward, coughed slightly and said quietly: “Oh, by the way, you chaps, —(he named one of the Prince’s aides) stopped me this afternoon and asked me if we would make no mention in our despatches cf the two—ah, persons whom we had no doubt noticed. And I gave him my word none of us would.”
And none of us did, not even when their identity became common knowledge among us, though it would have made a whale of a first class yarn at the time and under the circumstances.
No, looking back on a total cf five months of as close an observation as any outsider had during the Prince’s previous visits to this side, it seems as if the outstanding feature of the belavior of those “demn’d repo’tahs” —as we were more than once called—was an admirable restraint.