Heywood Broun 1888-1939
American journalist, essayist, biographer, short story writer, novelist, and dramatist.
Broun was a noted post-World War I era newspaper columnist who won esteem both for his witty, insightful editorials and for his efforts as a leader of the American labor movement in 1930s. An outspoken liberal commentator, Broun confronted a number of controversial issues in his columns, including anti-Semitism, the Red Scare, the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, and the rights of workers. He additionally formed the New York Newspaper Guild and was subsequently elected president of the first national union of journalists, the American Newspaper Guild. Although he wrote several novels and a play, his most enduring works remain his journalistic pieces published under the title of his column in the New York World as It Seems to Me: 1925-35 (1935).
Broun was born in Brooklyn to Henriette Brose Broun and Heywood Cox Broun, a successful New York businessman. He was privately educated at the Horace Mann School, and in 1906 entered Harvard University. Relatively uninterested in academics while at Harvard, Broun attended for four years, but did not graduate because of his failure to pass an elementary French course. After departing from college, Broun became a journalist with the New York Morning Telegraph and for the next two years worked as a reporter until his request for a fifty percent raise resulted in his firing. He found employment in 1911 as a copyreader for the New York Tribune, soon making his way to reporter and sports writer. In 1917, he joined General John J. Pershing in Paris as a war correspondent. After the war, Broun began a daily column for the Tribune featuring his opinions and literary reviews called “Books and Things.” The success of the column allowed him to move to the New York World, where he was offered even greater editorial freedom in his column “It Seems to Me.” In 1927 Broun became involved in the controversy over the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti trial and execution; he argued in print that the two Italian immigrants and noted anarchists had been wrongfully accused. When Broun refused to keep quiet on the subject, he was suspended by his editor. Following the Sacco-Vanzetti incident, Broun became increasingly involved with social causes. He ran for Congress as a member of the Socialist Party in 1930, but was defeated. In 1933 he helped organize the American Newspaper Guild, and remained politically active in support of labor for the remainder of his life. Broun's political views, however, frequently proved a burden to his editors at the World-Telegram. He left the newspaper in 1939 and in December of that year contracted pneumonia and died.
Broun's first published volume, The A.E.F.: With General Pershing and the American Forces (1918), contains his writing as a war correspondent with the American Expeditionary Force in France. Broun's most well-known works offer his witty and journalistic descriptions of the everyday. Pieces of Hate and Other Enthusiasms (1922) is such a collection, and offers acute observations on people, society, and the ephemera of Broun's own personal life. Likewise, It Seems to Me: 1925-1935 reprints his popular New York World column, featuring outspoken editorials, including “Sacco and Vanzetti” and “The Piece That Got Me Fired.” In Christians Only: A Study in Prejudice (1931) Broun confronts the issue of anti-Semitism, analyzing and condemning the practice of ethnic intolerance in America. The Collected Edition of Heywood Broun (1941), edited by Broun's son, offers a thirty-year retrospective of Broun's career as a journalist. In addition to his reprinted newspaper columns and essays, Broun published a number of novels. Among them, The Boy Grew Older (1922) contains humorous observations on the growth of children and families. His collaborative effort with Margaret Leech, the novel Anthony Comstock, Roundsman of the Lord (1927), proved his most popularly successful work of fiction.
Broun's fictional writings, though admired by some of his contemporaries, have generally failed to attract the attention of modern critics, and are typically considered works of passing interest. Since his death, commentators have principally remembered Broun as an outspoken liberal, an esteemed newspaper columnist, and a dedicated labor leader. Congenial by reputation in his personal life, Broun earned a reputation as a knowledgeable but intractable writer, unwilling to compromise his views on any subject. Joseph J. McGowan has written of him, “he saw everything far and near, artists, authors, college-men, sports, politicians, laborers, judges, leaders of nations, family life, and especially life in the Broun family.”
The A.E.F.: With General Pershing and the American Forces (essays) 1918
Seeing Things at Night (essays) 1921
The Boy Grew Older (novel) 1922
Pieces of Hate and Other Enthusiasms (essays) 1922
The Sun Field (novel) 1923
Sitting on the World (essays) 1924
Gandle Follows His Nose (novel) 1926
A Shepherd (short story) 1926
Anthony Comstock, Roundsman of the Lord [with Margaret Leech] (biography) 1927
Christians Only: A Study in Prejudice [with George Britt] (nonfiction) 1931
Shoot the Works (drama) 1931
It Seems to Me: 1925-1935 (essays) 1935
Collected Edition of Heywood Broun (essays) 1941
(The entire section is 83 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Pieces of Hate, in The Nation, New York, Vol. 115, No. 2988, October 11, 1922, p. 377.
[In the following review, Van Doren admires Broun's Pieces of Hate.]
To characterize Heywood Broun's Pieces of Hate I quote a sentence from his essay on George Jean Nathan: “A man may remain pretty much to himself as long as he chooses to keep his touch light and avoid research.” These two things Mr. Broun does in a manner which I find always entertaining no matter how much I may disagree with him as regards particular verdicts. He is himself on every occasion, with an instinct for being cool when he is most personal which proves that he takes his ground without self-consciousness or effort. He has a large gusto for books, for sport, for intelligence, for fun, for human decency, without hard creeds about any of them. He has the courage of his gusto and knows how to write in the easy tone of speech—sometimes rather profoundly, often rather trivially, more often very acutely, and never uninterestingly.
(The entire section is 175 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Christians Only, in The American Mercury, Vol. XXIII, No. 89, May, 1931, pp. 123-26.
[In the following review of Christians Only, Mencken considers anti-Semitism and ethnic prejudice in 1930s America.]
What part [coauthor George] Britt had in the confection of this book [Christians Only] I can't make out. He appears on the title page as the collaborator of the Hon. Mr. Broun, but throughout the text the latter speaks in the first person, and much of the matter presented is derived from his personal experiences. Can it be that, in his old age, Broun is turning illiterate, and so, like Henry Ford, needs a ghost-writer? If so, the phenomenon ought to get some public notice. But whatever the fact, the book itself is a very interesting work, and presents a mass of material that is not otherwise accessible. Broun shows that even in New York, with its immense Jewish population, the old prejudice against Jews is still more or less alive, and that sometimes it takes very humiliating and damaging forms. It is measurably harder for a Jew to get a job than it is for a Christian, and harder to get an education. He is constantly challenged on the ground of his faith and race, even when he has renounced the one and well nigh forgotten the other. No trade or profession, not even that of an Episcopalian clergyman, bars him completely, but in almost every one, including such...
(The entire section is 2339 words.)
SOURCE: A review of It Seems to Me: 1925-1935, in Journalism Quarterly, Vol. XIII, No. 1, March, 1936, pp. 109-10.
[In the following review, Casey favorably assesses the socially conscious essays of It Seems to Me.]
Broun's liberal outlook pervades this collection of his column “pieces” [It Seems To Me], revealing the World-Telegram commentator preoccupied with social questions. He is quick to side with the under-dog when economic struggle breaks loose, as everybody knows. A long way has been traversed by the columnist since his virtuosity charmed the sports fans and there is an essential note of seriousness in his present-day work, but it has the defect of avoiding the hard and precise reasoning that might be expected of a theorist on social questions, or even of an observer of compelling events. Rarely is he guilty of clichés as a literary craftsman, but his economics is often bromidic. He levels his shafts at the heart, not the head.
Nevertheless, it is refreshing to read a columnist who keeps up a running fight and who is not afraid to exchange punches with his publishers on occasion. He is disdainful of Mr. Hearst, takes more than a single poke at Walter Lippmann, and unmercifully satirizes Mark Sullivan (see “The Tribune's Goblin Editor”). On the other hand, there is warm affection in his sketch of Bolitho.
A bit of...
(The entire section is 328 words.)
SOURCE: “Heywood Broun: It Seemed to Him,” in Men Who Lead Labor, Modern Age Books, Inc., 1937, pp. 115-42.
[In the following essay, Minton and Stuart discuss Broun's efforts as a leader of the progressive labor movement in the United States.]
The publishers greeted the formation of the American Newspaper Guild with sad shakes of their heads, predicting that newswriters could never successfully be organized. As Roy Howard, president of the Scripps-Howard chain of newspapers, complained to his employee, Heywood Broun, “You're doing a very silly and evil thing in trying to get reporters into a union. That would rob them of their initiative and take the romance and glamour out of the newspaper business. Still, I don't have to worry; the Guild will never get to first base.”
Roy Howard was wrong. Not only did the Newspaper Guild grow, but it fought William Randolph Hearst, the most powerful anti-labor publisher, and emerged from the showdown victorious. Actually Howard, Hearst, and the rest of the prophets who scoffed at the idea of unionizing newspaper workers overlooked the change of attitude through which professional and white-collar workers were passing. Loss of jobs, pay cuts, longer hours with no increase in earnings, insecurity of tenure, retrenchments that preluded dismissals did not bolster the myth that salaried employees somehow enjoyed a favored position in the economic...
(The entire section is 9855 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Collected Edition of Heywood Broun, in Journalism Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2, June, 1941, pp. 205-06.
[In the following review, O'Sullivan praises the Collected Edition of Heywood Broun.]
That all is grist that comes to the journalist's mill was never better demonstrated than in the collected works of Heywood Broun. Early in his career the output dealt largely with objective reporting of sports, the theater, and the first World War. In his maturity, subjects were found in the important political and social questions of the day—politics, Facism and Nazism, democracy, education, labor and a hundred other topics dealing with world developments.
The collection [Collected Edition of Heywood Broun] arranged by Heywood Hale Broun, son of the author, is most valuable for the journalism student. In addition to showing the wide variety of subjects with which the journalist has to deal and the range of knowledge required for proper development of the articles, the book gives an interesting picture of the life and times of which Heywood Broun wrote, from 1908 until 1939. The development of the writer may be traced over a period of thirty years. It gives an understanding of the responsibility of the journalist, not only to report the news as he sees it, but also the responsibility of the journalist to contribute to the welfare of the people from his own position,...
(The entire section is 532 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Collected Edition of Heywood Broun, in Thought, Vol. XVI, No. 63, December, 1941, pp. 765-66.
[In the following review, McGowan comments on Broun's perspicacity and spirituality.]
Collected Edition of Heywood Broun, in general terms, may be called a diary: his diary and a diary of public events interesting to a columnist. The autobiographical throb beats strongly in every one of the essay-like sections. Small effort and one can hear Broun telling what he has to say, see him changing under various moods. What he had to say may not be too profound; yet as a member of the human race (though always a troubadour in spirit), Broun was dead in earnest living the character of a man. A ring of eyes ran around his head: he saw everything far and near, artists, authors, collegemen, sports, politicians, laborers, judges, leaders of nations, family life and especially life in the Broun family. While his eyes scanned the world for human happenings he had for each object and person whom he observed a heart always nicely tempered in its movements, and ever retaining a human fondness even for those whom he justly had to oppose and condemn. With his opinions one may not agree, but all will find the company of Brown a real pleasure.
Strange as it may sound, Broun's communistic leanings were his steps towards the Catholic conceptions of the brotherhood of man and the...
(The entire section is 338 words.)
SOURCE: “Heywood Broun,” in The Saturday Review Gallery, edited by Jerome Beatty, Jr. and others, Simon and Schuster, 1959, pp. 308-13.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1942, Cerf presents a number of anecdotes from Broun's life and career as a journalist.]
Heywood Broun has been dead now for three full years. The multitude of friends who loved and admired him from the bottom of their hearts find it hard to believe that it's as long as that since they saw him shambling into his favorite haunts, sloppily attired, tardy for appointments, but welcomed with shouts of joy wherever he appeared. His name bobs up in conversations as frequently as though he were still alive, turning in his daily columns. And what columns the doings of these past three years would have inspired in him! By a stroke of cruel irony, the space they once occupied is now devoted to the outpourings of Westbrook Pegler, who represents everything Broun detested most. “The trouble with Peg,” he explained once, “is that he was bitten early in life by an income tax.”
Broun's classmates at Harvard included John Reed, Walter Lippmann, and Hamilton Fish—an omen, possibly, of the later conflicts between his political convictions and his sybaritic personal habits. Foreign languages were his nemesis. An irate German professor shied an inkwell at him, but missed. His habit of fulfilling assignments at...
(The entire section is 2345 words.)
SOURCE: “Broun,” in Rogues' Gallery: Profiles of My Eminent Contemporaries, Murray & Gee, Inc., 1943, pp. 125-34.
[In the following essay, Scully offers an anecdotal remembrance of Broun.]
The last thing I saw Heywood Broun do, was at a dinner in his honor in Los Angeles in the summer of 1939. More than five hundred persons attended—including a mayor called Fletcher Bowron, who said he used to be a newspaper man, himself.
Broun was talking about the American Newspaper Guild, which he founded; in connection with it, he was telling of Upton Sinclair's Brass Check—an indictment of journalism and, in Broun's opinion, true during the first quarter of the century.
“But when I die,” said Broun, “I won't have a brass check (the symbol of prostitution) to get me by St. Peter. I'll have this!” And he held up and proudly waved his membership card in the American Newspaper Guild.
Well, he's dead, and his good works already have preceded him through the golden gate. When it comes time for him to show his pass, St. Peter will have anticipated all that, and—to the wonder of Broun, who always was a sucker for mysticism and magic—the card will be countersigned by every writer from St. Luke to G. K. Chesterton. And if I know Broun, he'll be looking for the union bug to see if it's the real McCoy.
Born on December 7,...
(The entire section is 2223 words.)
SOURCE: “Heywood Broun,” in The Best Is Yet …, Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1945, pp. 77-82.
[In the following essay, Ernst recalls his friendship with Broun.]
This evening I heard Quentin Reynolds do his great GI Joe broadcast after the landing in France. Margaret said Quent learned much from Heywood Broun. And Quent would be the first to admit it. Quent didn't know him many years but he knew what Heywood Broun was about. Heywood had few friends and Quent was one of them.
At high school, more than forty years ago, Heywood and I first met. We were bound together then through Heywood's aunt, Belle Baker, my English instructor and one of my few inspired teachers. He went to Harvard and I to Williams, but he came to Williamstown several times a year for a course in poker with Alan Rogers and other boys we had both known at Horace Mann High School. I didn't play. I was unsophisticated. I envied these men of the world.
Heywood never graduated from college and maybe his initial disdain for Walter Lippmann—climaxed at the time of Broun's discharge from the old World because of his Sacco-Vanzetti column, which was engineered, he thought, by Walter—arose from his envy of Walter's success at Harvard, an institution of learning. But Heywood learned at Harvard and everywhere else he lived. In love with a slender dancer, he got his blow early in life. He...
(The entire section is 1688 words.)
SOURCE: “A Columnist Is Born,” in Heywood Broun: A Biographical Portrait, Current Books, Inc., 1949, pp. 91-102.
[In the following excerpt from his biography of Broun, Kramer recounts the development of Broun's career as a newspaper columnist.]
One day in the spring of 1919 Broun was dawdling about the high-ceilinged living room of his old-fashioned apartment at Seventh Avenue and 55th Street. Even the fact that Rudyard Kipling had once dwelt in the same rooms was no boon to inspiration. Neither for the moment was a small Shetland terrier named Michael, who was, as usual, angry about something.
Finally Broun sat down, rolled a sheet of copy paper into his typewriter, and hung his big forefingers over the keys. Slowness of inspiration may have been the result of fatigue. The day before he had been to the country looking at farmhouses with an eye to purchasing one.
The subject pressing at the moment was books. A few months earlier he had become literary as well as drama editor of the Tribune. Instead of confining his reports to the regular Saturday book department, he had received permission to run a three-times-a-week column. Broun never ostentatiously counted his “firsts” in journalism, but he later did sound a small note of pride at having fathered the daily book column. In the space, headed simply “Books,” he chatted about the new offerings,...
(The entire section is 3304 words.)
Lewis, John L. et al. Heywood Broun As He Seemed to Us., New York: The Newspaper Guild of New York, 1940, 48 p.
Memoir of Broun by his friends and colleagues.
O'Connor, Richard. Heywood Broun: A Biography. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1975, 249 p.
Biography that considers Broun's public roles as a journalist, reformer, and union leader, and explores his private life.
Rubin, Joan Shelley. “Self, Culture, and Self-Culture in Modern America: The Early History of the Book-of-the-Month Club.” The Journal of American History 71, No. 4 (March 1985): 782-806.
Briefly mentions Broun's career and exploits as a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club Board.
Seldes, Gilbert. Review of Seeing Things at Night, by Heywood Broun. The Dial LXXII (January 1922): 94-96.
Observes that “Broun is at his worst when he is trying to be witty and at his best when he is writing a straight narrative or setting down his ideas.”
———. Review of The Boy Grew Older, by Heywood Broun. The Dial LXXIV (January 1923): 100-102.
Calls The Boy Grew Older “as wise, as witty, as appealing to human sympathies, as good stories usually are.”
(The entire section is 203 words.)