Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Frank A. Munsey - V - Munsey; or, The Periodicals' Voice of Progressivism - III and Conclusion

     In the previous installment, detail was given concerning Munsey's support of  Theodore Roosevelt during his 1912 bid for the Presidency, in the form of published articles and editorials. Aside from support in print, Munsey was one of The Colonel's most important sources of campaign capital; it is not an exaggeration in the least if one were to say that Munsey had just as much at stake as did The Colonel himself. During testimony in 1913 before a Senate committee, regarding campaign finances, Roosevelt stated "I think I could not get off on a trip until Mr. Munsey and Mr. [George] Perkins underwrote it . . " Such dependence on Roosevelt's part is demonstrated by an event that occurred during the Bull Moose campaign, when the party's credit was not allowed to be used in lieu of cash, in purchasing much needed tickets for The Colonel at New York's Grand Central Station. It was only after Munsey had been contacted personally, and a cash payment of nearly $2,000 was delivered, that Roosevelt was allowed to leave.

Munsey, in 1896
Munsey, 1910
Munsey, ca. 1915 (probably later)

Even before the Republican convention, Munsey had donated nearly $70,000 to the campaign, and was nearly single-handedly responsible, in terms of both manpower and capital, for providing Roosevelt with the delegates of the New Jersey Republican primary. The cash flow continued after Roosevelt had moved camp to the Progressives; $111,250 was the amount Munsey gave to the new party immediately following its formation, and the support continued in following months. Munsey was also among a small group of advisers that helped decide where and when the candidate would go on the stump trail.
     The extent to which Roosevelt and Munsey were personal friends is uncertain; Munsey is never mentioned in Roosevelt's 1913 Autobiography, although it is well-known that the two had met long before 1912 (on the other hand, Munsey's friendship with George Perkins, lasting decades, has been well-documented). Stories abound concerning trips the two, with others, took during the campaign, and of one incident in particular, wherein a jovial, boyish Roosevelt talked the squeamish Munsey into feeling his ribs, where a bullet had been lodged, and left, after a recent assassin's attempt to murder the candidate (this was the famous instance in which, after being shot, Roosevelt sought medical attention only after having finished the speech he had started before the assailant attacked). "Poor dear Frank" Roosevelt called Munsey quite often, either a jab at the reserved, un-warrior-like appearance and somewhat dull demeanor Munsey displayed, or perhaps even a sign of Roosevelt's appreciation for Munsey's financial support, which he drew on heavily throughout the 1912 election season. Munsey, judging from eyewitness accounts, seems to have been a member of a close-knit group of like-minded associates, and perhaps friends. Henry L. Stoddard, friend to both Munsey and Roosevelt reported in his work, As I Knew Them,  that following the loss of the Republican nomination to Taft, Munsey had emotionally offered his full support to Roosevelt, in what Stoddard believed to be a heartfelt promise of friendship.

     No matter the level of personal, financial, or propagandist support that Munsey offered, the election of 1912 did not go in Roosevelt's favor, with Woodrow Wilson taking advantage of the cleft in the Republican Party brought about by the Taft/Roosevelt rivalry. With Roosevelt's defeat, Munsey retreated from politics for the most part, although his dislike of Taft's successor, Woodrow Wilson, would show itself in editorials blasting the president for both a lack of nationalism, and a tendency towards cowardice: "When all this was happening [referring to the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915], accounts that wring the soul of all humanity save that of German blood, the President went off to the country for a day at golf. . . Great God! . . . Has there been such a spectacle as this since Nero fiddled at the burning of Rome?" Munsey continued his assault on Wilson, being one of the most vocal published attackers of The League of Nations proposal, and, more or less, of anything Wilson did during the Versailles Peace Conference of 1919. His outspoken dislike for Wilson's Democratic policies was so virulent that, when Republicans returned to the White House in the form of Warren G. Harding, many, including Munsey himself, assumed he would be offered a post in the new administration, Secretary of the Navy and U.S. ambassador to Great Britain being among the assumed rewards; much to Munsey's chagrin, however, no such presidential offer arrived, and his full attention returned once again to his papers.
Munsey's Magazine, from March 1901 - displaying typical Munsey, using the cover of his publication itself, to brandish his sales, and more importantly success, to both his patrons as well as his competitors.
     As the years passed, Munsey, who had accumulated wealth not out of a desire for material possessions, but more so out of the drive, the need, to succeed in an Alger-like fashion, constantly inquired to friends and associates just what he should do with his enormous fortune. He had no family, no heirs (not marrying and fathering children being one of the greatest of his regrets), and but a handful of relatives. "To-day I have forty million dollars, but what has it brought me?" Munsey queried to a friend near the end of his life. "Where can I leave it? I have made up my mind to leave it where I made it - in New York City, and where I can get its equivalent in value." After setting amounts aside to make close friends, employees and relatives comfortable after his passing, Munsey donated the bulk of his fortune to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York.
     After a terrible amount of suffering over the course of ten days, brought about by both appendicitis and related operations, Frank Andrew Munsey died on the 22nd of December, 1925 at the age of 71. His newspapers, per his orders, were all sold, and the Argosy was eventually sold to Popular Publications in 1942, sixty years after the ambitious, young telegraph operator from Maine had arrived in New York and began publishing the title that would place him among the richest entrepreneurs of his generation.

What was probably (with issues being released at least a week prior to the cover date) the last issue of Argosy published and distributed before Munsey's death
     Below are several more booklets Munsey wrote and published during his life, only a handful of a larger whole. While most focus primarily on business and economics, even within those are valuable insight into the man's sense of ethics, and purpose. To claim he had no great cares, other than for money and circulation statistics, is to underestimate Munsey, and speaks only of the simplicity of the accuser, rather than of the accused. I hope that the preceding introduction to Munsey's life and career offered some amount of new information to longtime Munsey followers, as well as a wealth of previously unknown information to those new to the pulps and related media.

As always, I am sincerely grateful for your time, and I thank you.

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Britt, George. Forty Years – Forty Millions : The Career of Frank A. Munsey. Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1972.

Stoddard, Henry L. As I Knew Them - Presidents and Politics From Grant To Coolidge. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1927.  

Photographs of Frank Munsey, courtesy of George Britt's biography (Munsey in 1896), and the Library of Congress, respectively.  

Thanks to Galactic Central's Pulp Magazine Cover Index for the image of Argosy 12/26/1925.

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