HINDMARSH OF THE STAR
THE GREATEST THREE-CENT SHOW ON EARTH — Conclusion
IN THE RANKS of that vast army of men who at one time or another have worked for Harry Comfort Hindmarsh, the presiding genius of Canada’s largest newspapers, the Toronto Star and Star Weekly, there circulates an intriguing but untrue story that illustrates the awe in which he is held. The story has it that Hindmarsh has sent for an old employee to tell him he is fired. When the old man reaches Hindmarsh’s office and hears the news he thanks him profusely.
“W’hat are you thanking me for?” growls Hindmarsh. “It’s Christmas Eve! You’ve been here forty years! Can’t you see I’m cutting you off without a cent?”
“I realize that, Mr. Hindmarsh,” says the old retainer, tugging at his forelock, “but when I first heard you had sent for me I thought you were going to sell me.”
In some sections of the newspaper fraternity, where Hindmarsh is regarded as an ogre, this sort of thing is believed as gospel. In others where he is revered almost as a saint, it is dismissed as
calumny. Around this almost legendary figure, whose name and reputation are inseparably enmeshed with the newspapers he controls, the winds of controversy blow with gale force. But if an occasional gust disturbs the impassive calm with which, from the pinnacle of his office, he views the world around him, he does not show it.
In his forty-two years at the Star, in which he has risen from cub reporter to president, Harry Hindmarsh has neither answered his critics nor coddled his admirers. His detachment is such that he has never publicly displayed any of those passions of hate, love, anger, frustration, reverence and awe which he has inspired in others, and on
which the Star itself has thrived for half a century.
Even to the closest members of his staff he is an unknown quantity, a creature of myth and fable, whose own picture has appeared only once in his newspaper. Few men know him well. He has seldom called anyone who works for him by the first name. He is “Mister” to all; all are “Mister” to him. When he eats in the restaurant below his office he eats alone, a little before the rush hour, a silent figure at an empty table.
There are few neutral opinions about this huge brooding man of sixty-five with the small heavylidded eyes, the close-cropped white hair, and the plodding gait. He is still held in awe by most. Of the fifty-five newspapermen and former newspapermen interviewed during the gathering of material for this article, fewer than half a dozen would allow themselves to be quoted directly about him. But whether they respect or hate him, almost all newsmen who have crossed his path are secure in one opinion: he is the greatest editor they have
ever worked for.
Under Hindmarsb’s peculiar genius, the Toronto Star has gained its reputation for a relentless coverage of the news unequalled anywhere, as well as for some of the most erratic journalism extant. Money is no object to him; distance no obstacle. Reporters have flown off to Persia on a whim or phoned Montevideo on a hunch. Under his aegis Star men have hired everything from tugboats to airliners to get the news. One man hired a railway train and returned to the office aghast at what he had done. But Hindmarsh raised his salary ten dollars a week.
Many have hated his guts. One reporter tried to kill him with a foot-long pair of copy shears. Hindmarsh never changed expression or took his hands from his pockets as underlings leapt to his rescue. Ernest Hemingway wanted to punch him in the nose. When the Star building was erected on King Street in 1929 one wag suggested that a motto be carved around it: Every Man for Himself and The Devil Take the Hindmarsh.
But Star reporters have always worked for him like beavers. “You really live a story with the Big Guy,” one ex-staffer recalls. “When a hot story was breaking he’d come out of his office to take control and a sort of aura would form around him.” In moments of crisis he is the calmest man on the floor. As managing editor he used to deliver in his deep slow' voice an unending series of instructions that might dispatch a dozen reporters to a key spot, some on a dead run. But he himself never spoke above a low conversational level. “It was like joining a religious order,” another old reporter says. “When you worked for Hindmarsh you couldn’t help yourself: you just lived, ate and
breathed that goddam Star.”
The Star’s greatest scoop occurred just after Hindmarsh became managing editor in 1928 and it illustrates the lengths his men went to get the news for him. The German aircraft Bremen had crash-landed off the Labrador coast after history’s first successful east-west crossing of the Atlantic. Bush pilot Duke Schiller was expected to return to Lake St. Agnes in Quebec with first news and pictures of the event. It was the greatest story since Lindbergh and the Press of the continent dashed to the lake to meet him.
But the Star was ahead of them all. Before Schiller got away to Labrador it reached him with an offer of seven thousand dollars for his story. To get his men to Lake St. Agnes at once Hindmarsh hired a special train. The Star reporters fought off six American newsmen who tried to climb aboard. Then at Murray Bay, the nearest telegraph outlet, they tied up the line by ordering the operator to wire a copy of the New Republic back to the office.
Schiller finally flew in carrying one precious roll of film. For a single picture a New York tabloid was later to offer twenty thousand dollars. An American reporter got the film first, but Fred Griffin of the Star seized him and physically tore it away. He put the film on a Star plane which flew off for civilization. The plane was forced down at Quebec. The Star hired a train to speed the film to Montreal. At
Harry Comfort Hindmarsh, the most controversial newspaperman in Canada, now guides the destinies of Canada’s most controversial newspaper. Hated by some, admired by others, he is responsible for some of the Toronto Daily Star’s most bizarre headlines as well as its most memorable scoops
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Montreal it was printed and Roy Greenaway of the Star hired a taxi to drive the three hundred and fifty miles to Toronto. The taxi drove at sixty milesan hour through a raging blizzard. At one point tbe steering wheel came off. Greenaway and the driver rammed it on. At another point it hit an oncoming car. “We’re from the Star,” cried Greenaway. “It’s all right,” said the other driver, “I’m a friend of Mr. Atkinson (the Star publisher).” Shortly before 11 a.m. the pictures arrived at the Star. They appeared on the paper’s front page that day giving it a twentyfour-hour beat on every paper in the world.
Hindmarsh’s news imagination often nudges the bizarre. In July 1926 fifteen youths were plunged into Balsam Lake, northern Ontario, when their war canoe capsized. Eleven drowned. Hindmarsh’s reaction was immediate. “Reconstruct the tragedy,” he said to the first reporter back from the scene. Dutifully, thirteen reporters went out, hired a war canoe, paddled it inio Lake Ontario, capsized it and plunged into the icy waters while photographers snapped the scene.
“News,” Hindmarsh has said, “is the greatest gamble in the world.” Once he sent Gregory Clark and photographer Norm James to B. C. with
orders to get a story—any story. They ran into a major air crash and came up with exclusive interviews with the survivors. He has never had much sense of geography. One reporter remembers being in New Orleans on a story. He got a call from the Star: “Hop up to Chicago.” In vain he protested it would be cheaper and swifter to send a man from the office.
Many of the Star’s great stories have been the result of Hindmarsh’s analytical mind. Once he sent a reporter to cover the murder of three little boys who had been shot in their sleep by their twelve-year-old sister. He was not satisfied with the reporter’s story. “There’s something behind this,” he said. Further digging revealed the child had been fascinated by her father shooting pigs through the eyes. She had re-enacted the scene in her sleep. It was another Star scoop.
Hindmarsh’s “hunger to know what is happening,” as one of his reporters calls it, his “childlike wonderment in the little things” is reflected in the heavily scrawled suggestions on Star galley proofs, which he reads carefully. His attention to small detail has always been a source of wonder. He gives his men explicit instructions on what to do, where to go, what questions to ask. During the kidnapping of brewer John Labatt, when Toronto was being combed for suspects, one Star man was assigned simply to stand across from the Royal York hotel until 4 a.m. and note whether anyone who looked like a gangster walked in the side door.
Hindmarsh has always felt that a
picture is worth ten thousand words. Reporters ransack the homes of the slain to get photos of the victim. One Star reporter was told by the widow of a man impaled on a picket fence that there was only one available photo of the victim showing him as a child. “It’s all right,” said the reporter cheerfully, “we’ll paint a mustache on.”
Hindmarsh is so insistent on harsh black-and-white contrast in his pictures that photographers have carried rolled-up bed sheets with them to get the stark simple backgrounds he likes. He also insists that the faces of the subjects show. A Star photographer once took a touching photo of a returned soldier, his face buried in the bosom of his two little girls. It won prizes but the Star wouldn’t use it: you couldn’t see any faces.
Hindmarsh chooses pictures with the speed of light from the stacks set before him. He chooses the sugary Star Weekly cover paintings in similar fashion. One reporter once brought him a painting as a Christmas present. Hindmarsh thought it was for the Weekly. “Take it away!” he rumbled after a swift glance.
At one point the Weekly decided to run reproductions in color of famous paintings. Hindmarsh selected a man to choose them. “But Mr. Hindmarsh,” the reporter protested. “1 know absolutely nothing about art.”
“Fine,” said Hindmarsh.
“But there’s something else,” the reporter added. “I’m color blind.”
“Excellent!” boomed Hindmarsh. “You’re the man.”
This contempt for the public was apparent in another Hindmarsh innovation—the symposium. Reporters would select dozens of names at random from the phone book and ask such questions as “Do men make more fuss over pain than women?” The paper found this a useful tool in editorial campaigns. “Hindmarsh trained us to ; ring up people and get them to say, ‘Yes, you are quite right,’ ” one former symposium expert recalls. Last summer the Star attacked the Toronto City Council through the symposium technique. One man told a reporter he thought the council was inept. “That’s the exact word Mr. Hindmarsh wants us to use,” said the reporter gleefully.
Hindmarsh’s disdain for the public has been matched by a cavalier attitude toward the great by-line writers who once worked for him. He was once asked why men like Ernest Hemingway, Morley Callaghan, Pierre Van Paassen, Gordon Sinclair, Gregory Clark, Jimmy Frise and Matthew Halton had all left his employ. “They all got too big for their breeches,” Hindmarsh said.
Two of the greatest legends surrounding Hindmarsh concern the departures of Hemingway and Van Paassen. Hemingway worked for the Star between 1920 and 1923 and there are several versions of the reasons for his departure.
The Gordon Sinclair, or popular, version is that Hemingway, after returning from Spain, was assigned to write a promotion story on a white peacock and refused in a spectacular resignation which, when pasted together sheet by sheet and hung on the notice board, measured five feet in length.
The J. Herbert Cranston, or authorized, version differs. Cranston, a former Star Weekly editor who knew Hemingway well, says that Hemingway had received some documents from an Italian diplomat he was interviewing which he promised faithfully to return. When he found that Hindmarsh had flung the papers in the wastebasket he quit.
The Hindmarsh version is that Hem-
ingway was sent to northern Ontario to cover a labor dispute. His dispatches so favored the strikers that Hindmarsh wired him to start reporting the news. Hemingway returned in high dudgeon, stormed into Hindmarsh’s office, gave him a half-hour tongue-lashing, and then quit.
There is probably some truth in all three versions. Hemingway seems to have quit over a variety of things. He did post a long critique of the Star on the notice board and he certainly hated Hindmarsh. “Working for him was like being in the Prussian army under a rather poor general,” he once said. At one time he planned to write a novel about Hindmarsh called The Son-In-Law (Hindmarsh had married the daughter of Star owner Joseph Atkinson). Years after he quit the Star he wrote the struggling Newspaper Guild announcing that he was enclosing a cheque for $100 “to beat Hindmarsh.” There followed four pages or so of comment and then a final sentence: “On second thought I’m
making it $200.”
The popular legend about Van Paassen is that Hindmarsh, on being told by two Catholic priests that the correspondent was covering the Spanish war from a Paris apartment, secretly got on a boat, went to Paris, walked in on Van Paassen, said two words: “You’re fired!”, got back on the boat and came home. Actually, though Hindmarsh did go secretly to Paris he didn’t see Van Paassen. On his return he fired him by letter, giving no reason, but enclosing a cheque for one thousand dollars. Van Paassen's dispatches, which had been markedly anticlerical, disappeared from the Star. Van Paassen still regards the whole affair with bewilderment. Star men, he says, kept popping up wherever he went while he was in the paper’s employ, apparently checking up on him. Once he came out of Ethiopia and was accosted by a missionary who said: “I’m a friend
of H. C. Hindmarsh. Have you really been in Ethiopia?”
When Hindmarsh considered that one of his “prima donnas,” as he called them, had grown too big for his breeches he brought him down a peg. Footloose Gordon Sinclair, back from a world tour, found himself writing obits. Hemingway, back from Spain, Greece and Turkey, was hauled out of bed at 4.30 a.m. to cover minor fires. When the late and great Fred Griffin, a fiery Irishman, grew temperamental, Hindmarsh chopped his salary.
“Hindmarsh is always sympathetic to someone in trouble,” Sinclair said the other day, “but he doesn’t respect strength.”
A shy youth, who became a big man physically and financially, Hindmarsh has a gruffly paternal attitude to the men who work for him. To the weak ones he is like a father, half indulgent, half stern. There are numerous instances of Star reporters whom Hindmarsh has bailed out of debt. It is his custom to have all the man’s bills brought to him. He totals them carefully, checks to make sure there are no more, then signs a cheque for the entire sum. His only stipulation is that the man involved keep quiet about it. Hindmarsh has sent sickly wives of staffers to Arizona and paid for their children’s operations. One woman prays for him every night because he saved her husband from alcoholism and took him back on the paper.
But he insists on doing things his way. When Star men get sick they often find Hindmarsh selecting the doctor and prescribing the treatment. Once he called in Morley Callaghan and told him in a fatherly way that he had been smoking too much and
staying up late at nights. “But you w wrong, Mr. Hindmarsh!” said Callaghan emphatically. “You’re fired!” rumbled Hindmarsh, who doesn’t like to be told he’s wrong. Callaghan was fired five times from the Star but never actually stopped work. “The trouble with you Mr. Callaghan,” Hindmarsh said to him once, “is you’ve never been broken to harness.”
When Matthew Halton wanted to write a book, Hindmarsh, who felt that a man’s every waking moment should be devoted to the Star, refused him permission. Halton indicated he would anyhow and was fired. Then Hindmarsh made him a present of $10,000 and agreed to buy an article a week from him at a sum that exactly equalled his staff salary.
It was precisely this dominant attitude that made the Star the dominant paper in the news field. Hindmarsh has never allowed anyone—man or newspaper—to get the better of him. When George McCullagh bought the Telegram and announced he would “push that Communistic rag (the Star) off its pedestal,” the Telegram began to beat the drums for a serialization of Dickens’ Life of Christ, an old circulation getter that the Star itself had published decades before. Hindmarsh promptly called in a reporter. “Get me a life of Christ by 5 p.m.,” he said in the same slow voice in which he had once told a city editor to “get me an elephant.” The reporter got a life of Christ and the Star got it into print a full day before its rival. Since then its circulation has risen steadily. The Telegram’s hasn’t budged.
The sharp edges of Hindmarsh’s many-sided personality have left their mark on everything with which he comes into contact. The desire to dominate, the almost fanatic attention to detail, the insatiable and childlike curiosity have all had their effect on his family, his private life, the people who work for him, the political party he supports, the church he goes to and the town in which he lives.
It is impossible to divorce his private existence from his newspaper for the two are impossibly tangled. He lives at Oakville, some thirty miles along the lake from Toronto, and Oakville to the Star is the most important small town in Canada. It «hronicles the town’s events in minute detail. When British American Oil began building a refinery near the Hindmarsh home, Star reporters combed the area gathering critical opinions charging that it would pollute the beaches.
No Teletypes on the Tees
Hindmarsh is a member of St. John’s United Church, Oakville. Once when the church was looking for a new minister, teams of Star reporters combed the province for a likely candidate. The teams were usually three strong: a
reporter, his wife and a shorthand man. The shorthand man took down the minister’s sermon verbatim. The reporter wrote a memo on his appearance and popularity. The reporter’s wife wrote a memo on the minister’s wife. From this, the new man was chosen.
When Hindmarsh became president of the Oakville Golf Club, he called ¡ in seme of his executive staff and urged that they take things easier. “Get out in the fresh air. Play golf!” said Hindmarsh. They dutifully swelled the membership of the Oakville Club. One or two actually attempted to play golf. In their absence a big story broke. A memo from Hindmarsh told them to stay at their posts from then on.
Many old-time reporters have memories of curious assignments involving homework problems for Hindmarsh’s
four children. One man had to comb through all English exam papers of the Oakville high school for a decade and find out what six essay topics were assigned most frequently. He then had to prepare essays on all topics, written in the style of a teen-age girl. These were for the "guidance” of one of Hindmarsh’s daughters who was having trouble with the subject. Hindmarsh went over this homework as carefully as he did Star galley proofs. Sometimes he would call in a second reporter and ask for a rewrite.
He is nothing if not. meticulous. One reporter was called in to select a hired man for the Hindmarsh home. He interviewed sixty-three prospects before he got the right one. Once, planning a vacation to the Bahamas, Hindmarsh had a reporter check the average temperatures there for a week. One evening Hindmarsh visited the new home of his son-in-law Ab Fallon. He discovered one of the bookcases only partially full. He produced a tape and measured the gap. Next day he sent down to the Star library for four feet eight inches of books.
He takes a microscopic interest in the details of his reporters’ private lives. One reporter sent him a memo announcing he was to be married. He got back four closely typed pages from Hindmarsh giving detailed advice on how to start a home: the exact brand of refrigerator to buy, the kind of heater to install, and the section of the city in which to settle.
"He warms his hands over the fires of other people’s lives,” a former employee has said of him. "He lives vicariously in the lives of his reporters,” another comments. Certainly, Hindmarsh who sends people to the ends of the earth, seldom stirs from the steady day-to-day routine that takes him from home to office and back again. Such is his isolation from the world and the men around him that few know his history or background. Perhaps this is purposeful. One reporter was so terrified of Hindmarsh he was physically unable to speak to him. Then one day he was told Hindmarsh’s nickname at school had been Dogmeat. This regained him his voice.
Hindmarsh is a big man who weighs 220 pounds, stands 6 feet 3 inches and walks without swinging his arms. Many of his staff believe he is German in background, perhaps because he looks like Bi..n arek without the mustache. Others are certain that he was a foundling or a stepchild. Neither belief is true. He was born of Canadian parents in Missouri, the son of Harry Frank Hindmarsh, a telegrapher. His
father’s people came from Margate, England. His mother’s family, the Comforts, were from New England.
The father impulse is strong within him possibly because he never knew his own father. Hindmarsh keeps his own family closely around him on his twenty-two-acre estate. One son and two sons-in-law work at the Star and live nearby him along with twelve of his fourteen grandchildren. Only his eldest boy John rebelled, quit the newspaper and went off farming by himself. It was a blow to his father.
Hindmarsh’s own father died young of tuberculosis. All his life Hindmarsh, who was only two at the time, has lived in the shadow of this. He has a fear of chest colds and will go home at once at the sign of a sore throat. The Star has long advocated compulsory X-ray examinations for TB. Hindmarsh has a hypochondriac’s interest in doctors and diagnosis. New medical discoveries fascinate him and the Star covers them with gusto. (It got the first newspaper story on Banting’s discovery of insulin.) Hindmarsh always asks to see the complete reports of medical conventions and he sends men about the country on the hunt for new' miracle cures. He is as careful about the ailments of his staff as he is about his own weight and diet. He once ordered a rotund reporter to lose weight, and to make sure had him weighed daily on the scales in the circulation department.
Hindmarsh’s mother was a strongwilled woman with a fierce, possessive love for her boy. After her husband’s death she moved back to her former home of St. Thomas, Ont., where her father Hiram Comfort, a woolen merchant, was the richest man in town. She inherited his wealth and used some of it to indulge her son. (His was the finest cornet in the collegiate cadet band.) Years later when Hindmarsh moved to Toronto she moved with him. She couldn’t bear to see him marry. When his betrothal was announced she conscientiously redecorated the house for his bride. The night before the wedding she fled to California.
In her later years she unaccountably took to drink and this too had its effect on her son. Around the Star there is a saying that if you take one drink you’re fired; if you’re a hopeless alcoholic your job is secure. All his life Hindmarsh has tried to save his men from drink. Homewood Sanitarium in Guelph and Shadowbrook in Toronto have been called Star Annexes. At present five Star reporters are taking daily Antabuse treatments. Hindmarsh himself has had only one
drink in his life: once when he caught cold he took desperate measures and accepted a glass of whisky.
In St. Thomas, Hindmarsh, living alone with his mother, grew up a shy and somewhat lonely boy. Some of the shyness is still in him and partially explains his remoteness from others. He was fond of cats, dogs, and music and played the violin, bugle and cornet. He was taunted for playing with girls and this his pride could not stand. He lay in wait for one girl and gave her a thrashing. He still loves music and recently instituted the Star hour of recorded music which runs 365 days a year on a Toronto station. Hindmarsh personally selects it himself, mainly from pieces he remembers as a boy. The program is rehearsed and played daily into his office loudspeaker.
At the University of Toronto he became a leading figure on the campus. In his sophomore year, the third-year students warred with his class. Hindmarsh refused to let them get the better of him and led his fellow students in an attack on the third-years, trapping them in a ravine, daubing them with ink and shoe polish and shaving their heads. He and Norman Lambert, now a senator, were suspended for two weeks as a result. Later he organized resistance to fraternities and managed to vote all fraternity men out of office. He became a successful debater, president of the History Club, vice-president of his class, a member of the Literary and Scientific Executive and editor of the Varsity. Some of his classmates were later to provide grist for the Star mill. Two were hanged for murder, one killed himself, one absconded with a client’s funds and one, Vincent Massey, became Governor-General.
The quotation underneath his picture in the University yearbook would baffle many a Star reporter today: “For this,” it read, “was the gentlest I man and the meekest that ever sat in hall among ladies.”
Hindmarsh had taken a year out to work on the Detroit News. His first assignment was an interview with a gypsy king. The king wouldn’t talk until Hindmarsh paid his daughter a quarter. Since then he has never hesitated to spend money to get exclu! sive stories. He transformed the Varsity from a literary weekly to a daily paper complete with big pictures on the front page in which can dimly be recognized the techniques he was later to perfect. The power of the Press fascinated him. “Be he a veritable pygmy,” he wrote, “the newspaperman may quiz the grandest minion of the law with impunity. Mention the magicword ‘reporter’ and this dweller on Olympus becomes as other men are.”
On graduation he went to work for the Globe. Once when a sensitive reporter balked at covering a hanging Hindmarsh volunteered. On the gallows the prisoner confessed to two more murders. After he dropped, Hindmarsh leaned over the trap and watched fascinated as his toes and fingers twitched their last. Then he rushed below to watch the body cut down. His report was so enthusiastic that Toronto reporters have ever since been barred from covering hangings.
Hindmarsh joined the Star in December 1911. Two years later at twenty-six, he was city editor. In 1915, Joe Atkinson, disturbed at the young men flocking about his daughter Ruth, remarked that “Next Sunday I’ll bring I a real man out.” The man was Hindmarsh. Ruth rebuffed him at first: she felt her father was thrusting him i at her. But Hindmarsh courted her ardently. Eventually they were married and have had a close and happy married life. Atkinson told Hindmarsh
to find another job: he didn’t want
a son-in-law on the Star. Then he changed his mind. Hindmarsh stayed on. For more than thirty years he was literally at Atkinson’s beck and call.
The gentlest man and the meekest was now having the iron boiled into his soul by John R. Bone, the Star’s scholarly looking but tough managing editor. Bone looked like an elderly Arrow collar man with his pince-nez and slicked-down hair but his appearance belied him. The picture that dominated the wall of his office was anything but scholarly: a huge copy
of a New York tabloid’s famous photo of Ruth Snyder dying in the electric chair. He rode Hindmarsh hard. When he died, in 1928, the new managing editor’s character was cast in a permanent mold.
He was now, to all intents and purposes, the dominant personality on the dominant newspaper in Canada. But there was one man he could never dominate and that was his father-inlaw. Atkinson was always as close as the buzzer on Hindmarsh’s desk and before the shrill, carping tones of the publisher, the big man was submissive. He complied promptly with Atkinson’s demands which often meant stopping the presses. But he accepted his rebukes with the same impassive spirit which has characterized his career. Sometimes, after berating an underling, he would remark, in his slow way: “Well, he’s had his for today; we all get our share of that.” In the hours off the paper he had little social life. He didn’t like the embarrassment of Atkinson tracing him down for an impromptu conference wherever he might be.
Gingerale for the Chest
The greatest division between him and his father-in-law was over money. Hindmarsh, brought up in comparative luxury, was a spender. Atkinson, who went to work for a living at fourteen, was a saver. When Hindmarsh plunged on a big story Atkinson made him recoup next month. To do so he had to fire men and cut salaries. A proud man, he took the brunt on his own shoulders. “If you have something unpleasant to do, do it at once,” he has said. In 1930 he gave thirteen men their notice on Christmas Eve. It was to plague him for years. Each Yuletide a group of ex-employees would send him a Merry Christmas telegram, collect.
But a greater blow came in 1948. Unknown to Hindmarsh, the Star’s great writer and artist team of Gregory Clark and Jim Frise had decided to go to work for the Montreal Standard. Their names and faces were familiar to millions through their Greg-and-Jim feature in the Weekly. Their whole lives had been bound up with the paper.
On the train back from Montreal one October evening the two old retainers sat glumly. The die had been cast; they were leaving the old sheet. Finally Frise broke the silence. “Greg,” he said, “somebody has got to tell Hindmarsh.”
“I suppose so,” said Clark.
After another silence, Frise spoke again. “Would you tell him, Greg?” he asked.
“Okay, Jim,” said Clark.
More gloomy silence. Finally Frise spoke. “Greg?”
“Tell him on Christmas Eve."
Today, the buzzer no longer sounds in Hindmarsh’s office. Last winter he stunned the organizers of a Community Chest cocktail party for the Press by accepting an invitation which for years he had ignored. He and his
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wife arrived and drank gingerale. He has taken to appearing at other functions as well. But he turned down, rather wistfully, a testimonial dinner which a group of ex-staffers wanted to give him.
His staff, organized by the Newspaper Guild immediately after Atkinson’s death, is now the best paid in Canada. Experienced reporters get upwards of $100 for a 37x/¿ hour week, plus overtime. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to the Star,” Hindmarsh says today.
The raffish crew who passed by the score through the Star’s office has been replaced by serious young men in double-breasted suits and horn-rimmed spectacles. Hindmarsh believes in hiring only university men, preferably editors of the Varsity or graduates of journalism faculties. “The cult of the prima donna is dead,” be says.
He still occupies the same office, just off the editorial rooms. Like his character it is a strange blend of the Spartan and the sentimental. The walls are bare of pictures except for one of bis old friend Senator Lambert and one of the Star building. The office is furnished with the original chairs and chandelier that Joseph Atkinson started bis career with. On his desk with a clock, two statuettes of dogs and a humidor for the Bachelor cigars he constantly smokes, is an inkstand made from the original stone that went into the Star building. In it is a huge pen, a foot long, which holds an entire bottle of ink and has awed Star reporters for more than forty years. It was given him by his mother when he first became city editor.
In this redoubt he spends the greater part of his waking day. “He only feels secure in his office,” an acquaintance says. He arrives at nine and begins sending out the memos with the huge interlocking initials “HCH” which are looked on as law at the Star. He reads everything that goes into the paper. Nothing is purchased for the Star Weekly, no picture chosen without his okay. Indeed the Weekly has no editor in chief other than Hindmarsh. He even chooses the sweaters sent out to poor children by the Star Santa Claus Fund. Social workers have occasionally differed with him on this score but, as always, the big man is adamant. During the recent Royal Tour he was down at the office by 5 or 6 a.m. to choose the day’s pictures and put them on the engraver’s enlarger himself.
Harry’s Just Wild About It
And yet he still does not exercise supreme control over the paper that has been his life. The ghost of Atkinson still haunts the Star. Hindmarsh is president of the Star publishing company charged with “supervising the carrying out” of the decisions of the board of five directors that Atkinson’s will set up to govern the paper. Hindmarsh is one director. The others are Frederick Tait, business manager, Alex Stark, Star lawyer, young Joe Atkinson and Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh. All but Mrs. Hindmarsh, who serves without fee, draw an annual twenty-five thousand dollars in salary.
The Star itself is owned by the Atkinson Charitable Foundation which to date has distributed $336,867 to some forty-two worthy causes, mainly research foundations, universities and hospitals. Atkinson conceived the idea in 1927 after Hindmarsh asked him not to leave his money to the Hindmarsh youngsters for fear it might spoil them. The foundation was set up in 1942, but didn't operate extensively until Atkinson died. Its formation has been as controversial as the man who created it. The retroactive Charitable Gifts
Act passed by the Ontario Conservative government after Atkinson’s death seems to he aimed directly at the Liberal Star. Under its terms the foundation must sell ninety percent of the Star by 1956.
In this law, Harry Hindmarsh faces the greatest battle of his career. Freed from Atkinson’s restraining hand he has brought the full force of the Star to bear upon it. During the Ontario election campaigns the Star has smote the Leslie Frost Conservative government, which passed the Gifts Act, hip and thigh. At the peak of election campaigns the paper has carried little else hut political news dominated by flaring headlines, and full-page photographs, frankly pro-Liberal. Hindmarsh has written the most controversial headlines himself.
One was a frank appeal to the voters:
SUPPORT HOSPITAL PLAN AND INSURE YOUR HEALTH ELECT WALTER THOMSON
Another read simply: MAY BE
YOUR MOTHER—THOMSON, and was accompanied by the greatest fooferaw of pictures and political eulogy yet seen in Canadian journalism. The Star somehow contrived to give the impression that the Conservative government was driving old ladies into insane asylums.
Since Atkinson’s death Star readers and reporters have become resigned to this sort of thing. During the Federal election, which the Star covered with fifty reporters and photographers, Hindmarsh wrote another headline in the Star’s clipped style, which read:
KEEP CANADA BRITISH
DESTROY DREW’S HOUDE GOD SAVE THE KING
The final line was too much for Alex Stark, a staunch Baptist who felt it was vaguely blasphemous and perhaps unpatriotic as well. He persuaded Hindmarsh to change it to VOTE ST. LAURENT in the second edition. St. Laurent won the Federal election and Hindmarsh has felt ever since that the Star was largely responsible. He has less to say about the provincial results. The Liberals only elected seven men and Walter Thomson, their leader, was himself beaten. This debacle was blamed on the Star by almost everybody. The paper’s circulation declined by seven thousand for the first time in the peak month of December. If Hindmarsh was shaken by the result he did not betray it. His explanation for his paper’s wild behavior was simple enough. And in it was echoed something of the personality of the youth who refused to let the third-year gang get the better of him and the man who wouldn’t be dominated by prima donnas. Some people, Hindmarsh said, had the idea that the Star was afraid of the Conservative government of Ontario because it hadn’t been attacking it as violently as it had when George Drew was premier. In the election campaign he wanted to make one thing clear: The Star did not
support the government that passed the Act designed to crush it. The Star was afraid of no one.
In this at least, Harry Hindmarsh, the gentlest man and the meekest, succeeded. ★
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