This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Van Doren introduces Thomas, who speaks about his most recent book about Lincoln, Reads some comments from readers and critics. Van Doren requests that Thomas tell a joke about Lincoln being sick with smallpox.
Van Doren introduces Meyer, who talks about his book "Merely Colossal" and tells stories about motion pictures, his time at the Rialto Theater, and a trip to India. Mentions audiences, merchandising, and communism.
Van Doren introduces Lilienthal, who talks about his book, "Big Business, a New Era."
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 71171
Municipal archives id: LT2321
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Today is Mr Thomas. Lincoln but it was. His classical classic one volume. Which. I don't mean I'm sorry. But it's long been for us the standard biography of Lincoln and. Lincoln scholarship has gone on. And others have examined critically every life and. The materials of the Robert Todd Lincoln. Well. One. Thing. It's all about. Well of modern scholarship in a biography that explain correct and revitalize our conception of one of the greatest figures in our history Mr. Reading. The words and the surroundings and the time. That. He was. Abraham Lincoln Association in. His work. Of. The story of the village lived from eight hundred thirty one to thirty seven and of his development. Within the county of Lincoln from eight hundred forty seven to fifty three. And granny newspaper. But it had its satisfactions. And Lincoln documents had been discovered long since Mr Thomas was able to find a number of new ones in Lincoln time writing but without his signature five years ago he published for posterity the story behind the Lincoln books the arguments in few of Lincoln biographers as shown by their correspondence. Some humorous some. Gossip finally almost inevitably has come this one volume biography on which he spent. Writing and twenty years of reading interviewing the mountains of evidence Mr Thomas never exaggerates never sentimental. He set straight many legends that have come to be accepted as. Convincingly. Stories right. And the great mass of material. That was rapidly and as simply as possible. In marriage to married. Life Lincoln lived with her for thirty years. And acquire. The first nomination and the first election like citing. Particular. Opponents and his cabinet his great loneliness and sorrow. And moving and out of it all around them. He described as merciful. I've written many books about our great Civil War President. But that fact in no way detracted from the effect this both had on me I think in tears as I think most people will who love the characters and the mind boggling it is with real pleasure that I am able to introduce to you its own enjoyment. Thank you. Thank you Mrs Van Dorn for that wonderful introduction although I had written several Lincoln involved I must confess that I never expected to have a book of mine on the bestseller list and I had mixed emotions about it was exciting and this at the same time rather embarrassing to find myself week after week creeping up on to a little before a nationwide audience. I don't believe there was any real danger in the situation however because the Bible stood between us a good part of the time. And it was also the power of positive thinking. Or what was suggested to me that I should write a new one volume life of Lincoln I hesitated because it impressed me as an awesome undertaking that met the compression and to some five hundred pages of the enormous amount of research that had been done upon Lincoln during the past thirty years plus all the reminiscent in fact of all material that appeared before that time it meant becoming an interpreter of this greatest of Americans to the American people. And it meant trying to put a fresh glint on a story the essentials of which were already known to most people although I sometimes think maybe not quite as well known as those of us who have worked close to Lincoln had thought but after turning over the matter in my mind I agreed to write the book The problem of compression proved to be not in the interpretation column I work the law in fact I put the story together the facts took on new meaning for me even though I had pondered over some of them for many years and fortunately freshness was provided by new Lincoln material hither to the news that material was chiefly in the collected works of Abraham Lincoln which will be published on Thursday and of which I as an editorial advisor was unable to get a preview before its publication. And then there was a great amount of new material in the Lincoln papers the so-called Robert Todd Lincoln collection which had been impounded in the Library of Congress and was only open a student in one thousand nine hundred seventy and only Nicolay in hay had been permitted to use that material until that time it was an exciting experience to go through those letters and papers in the rubber Todd Lincoln collection they say there are some eighteen thousand of them although I didn't try to make a count and I put in a whole summer examining them the great deal of the time it was very very because it was not topical index I had to go through the page by page not reading everything of course but at least reading the first paragraph of the letter to find out what it was about an application for a job which a great many of them were I could go on to the next item. And always of course I was on the lookout for significant names it reminded me of handing for gold I had to process a lot of words to find the nuggets of the nuggets are there in abundance chiefly in the incoming letters the nickel and at least most of you thank you self but very few of the incoming letters had ever been seen by anyone but nickel and hey there's nothing in that collection that sensationally changes the Lincoln story and maybe that's the reason for the disappointment when the papers are open but out of this welter of material comes a sharp and picture of Lincoln pouring through it I found a new reason for his actions I could feel the pressures that were put upon him. More than I ever could before I learned things about his family and his friends and it was understandable in reading some of these letters why Robert Lincoln who was a very sensitive man didn't want the public to see some of them too soon not that there was anything disparaging the link in any of them but some of it friends and relatives didn't come off so well. What I accomplished in this book that of course is for the reader to say I can only tell what I tried to do first of all I tried to present a living Lincoln rather than a statue I think it's a mistake to try to make Lincoln out as a perfect man and none of us are perfect it's the fact that we can overcome our imperfections rise above them that makes us great like and we human just as we are human and I think to maintain or kinship with him we must keep him real flesh and blood man one of the most gratifying comments on the book was made by Gerald Johnson in The New Republic he said Here at last was a Lincoln that he could believe in. In fact a Lincoln that he found it impossible not to believe in I thought that was a very fine column another thing that I tried to do was to show Lincoln's amazing growth because he was a man of amazing growth through felt effort for instance as a young lawyer he tried to write poetry and he liked to read poetry one of his favorite poems was called mortality was written by a Scotsman William Knox there's a very good poem but it attracted Lincoln immensely and one time he sent a copy of it to a lawyer friend of his in Quincy Illinois this more you wrote back and asked if Lincoln had written it himself and Lincoln replied No he hadn't but he would be willing to. Give all he had and go in debt for the ability to write such a poem so here you see we have a young lawyer yearning and striving for the power to coax beauty from language so it wasn't by mere chance or sudden inspiration that later under deep emotion he could utter imperishable words the roots of the Gettysburg Address and the second inaugural were in the prairie soil of Illinois another thing I try to do was to relate Lincoln to his own and to our own times and there is a close relationship between them because democracy was under challenge in Lincoln's day just as is in ours he probably understood the true meaning of democracy better than any of our leaders and for that reason I think his life holds lessons for us and for the world today in fact I sometimes think that Lincoln's vision was so far reaching that we are just now beginning to catch up with him. I think maybe the reason for the continuing even increasing interest in Lincoln is a realization that there is something about this man that is very close to the heartbeat of America something in his life story that Americans need to know and they have kept groping for it and I hope that I have helped them to find that many gratifying things have happened since the book came out a man here in New York wrote and asked me to autograph a copy which he proposed to send to Lord Charnley to present Lord Charming would son of the Lord would like an biography and preeminent Carl Froch crocks bookstore in Chicago wrote that one of his customers had bought a copy of the limited edition to send the pope for the Vatican Library at least Devens and told me after a trip to Washington that he saw a copy of the book on the table beside President Truman's bed all those things of course are very gratifying to an author one man wrote told me that he became so absorbed in the book that his wife complained that she'd become a Lincoln widow and he added she has it now and I'm a Lincoln widower. A graduate student wrote to me a little while ago I finished your Abraham Lincoln I am a present working we're a lead toward a Ph D. and most of the reading I must do is rather like eating shredded wheat by the bathtub full. And without benefit of milk. Your book as it once aroused a fresh my enthusiasm for Lincoln enlarge my understanding of his time and less of hours and hard me to continue my labors in the crash Thanks for writing it well this is a claim has left me feeling a little bit like Noah Webster the famous dictionary man who devoted his life to the precise use of words. One day his wife came into the kitchen and pounding him found him embracing the mate she said Mr Webster I'm surprised Oh no Mrs Webster he corrected her I'm surprised you're amazed. I'm both surprised bandmates Thank you. Thank you. There is one incident in Mr Thomas's book of an occasion when Lincoln was ill with a mild. Smallpox and when you tell them. Oh of course he'd been pestered to death by office seekers and he said Now I have something I can give everybody. Ironically when they said they'd all left. It may seem a lot from Lincoln to the movie but I think Lincoln probably would have enjoyed movies don't you certainly would have enjoyed with broadband a sense of humor the way Mr Mayer has written about the movie after may have began his career in the motion picture business thirty three years ago I believe when he went to see Sam Goldwyn about making art pictures and was so eloquent that he was mistakenly engaged by Goldman as a salesman. Salesman advertising their own a publisher to direct a play importer and distributor of once all separately he's been all these things ever since he knows the motion picture industry it's behind the scene operations it's life and its people from its people and Nickelodeon beginning to today's great palaces and auditorium you can tell a Hollywood love of exaggerated effect of the time when I had been paid twenty five thousand dollars to fight only in the daytime so that a real picture of a Mexican revolution could be made the picture was read. In order to add more bloodshed. And a recent occasion when pictures taken of the terrible and blinding comic explosion at Las Vegas were considered too and would. Really like he tells the history of some of the great characters in the movie. Of. The twenty's and grow. They have all sorts of ingenious ways of getting people into theater one of their new mobile devices devices that. Carriages on the sidewalk report that be and so that mothers could go in to see the show. An attendant was on hand and if the baby began to cry during the performance a slide would be flashed on the screen model number forty seven your baby is a crime. Details of the wild competition for theaters of the spreading second big little ones and being in turn even up by bigger ones of the enormous spent to buy up strategically placed groups the million was spent for one chain. Three extraordinary score us brothers of Nick's gang Sam Goldwyn and other amazing to use in a packed growing amazing industry. And you got a large experience of the egotism and the vanities of the movie world as a publisher to direct the complaints Paudeen on him of course from all directions and at all hours once a movie actress called him at three A.M. to tell him that's a lot of the spelling her name on the marquee Well one eighth of an age smaller than how contract calls. She had climbed a lot I measured them. On. The side once with relief when the play to be publicized was The Taming Of The Shrew as he realized that Shakespeare would not complain that Mary Pickford and Douglas by the banks got bigger billing and needless. It pays tribute to some of the people of the movie scene to the genuine quality of Caroline bought and the real WITH of Bob Benchley to the generous cooperation of Marlena Dietrich though as he says when she insisted on wearing slacks despite the pained protests of the studio the publisher to stop had to get hold of fashion expert and popularized flux for women to forestall the public shock. Finally Mr Mayor broke loose from old associates and bought the reaal toted off right over here you know but he made an enormous success by deliberately feeding the public largely male mystery murder and mayhem grew gorillas with half naked girls my arms violence of all salt at the same time and shock fifteen years to courageously imported and distributed some of the most famous foreign films we have seen such an open city says on the Bicycle Thief and seven days to new. Few of these pictures were of business success and if as one critic said he seldom go on one count and on the other he feels justified how he was able to impart the finest only because at the reality show he consistently show the worst. They were profitable. During the war Mr Mayer helped organize and operate the wall Activities Committee for the motion picture industry and service film consultant for the secretary of war he dropped films high up and up and I showed it on the decks of transport ships carried it deep into the jungle in theaters dug out of hillsides in and out and crafted nice and hot in caves and bombed out monasteries and after the war he was decorated and returned to Germany as cheap chief of the Motion Picture division a military government you will find nearly colossal A fascinating account of a side of the movie industry about which we know little written with with full of amusing and revealing anecdote by a man who has lived it all its lean days as well as its life without a Mayor thank you and by the a. Fine Dining fellow guys like this and gentleman when I was in the Pacific during the World War and overseas almost chaplain on one occasion introduced me in the amputee is Ward as