“Who was Walter Crawford Howey?” by S.M. O’Connor

Walter Crawford Howey (1881-1954) was a legendary newspaperman who worked in Chicago and Boston, broke the story of the Iroquois Theater Fire in 1903, was closely associated with William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), was the inspiration for the newspaper editor in The Front Page, and launched the cinematic career of his niece, Colleen Moore (1902-1984).  According to the Chicago Tribune obituary of his father, he was the son of Frank Howie, who died in 1918; the grandson of Major Harris Howey, a Civil War veteran who was active in the Grand Army of the Republic; and great-grandson of General Bliss of the American War of Independence.[1]  His brother, Edwin, was a soldier in the railroad artillery.[2]   Their sister married Paul Johnson of St. Paul, Minnesota.[3]   Their mother or stepmother was named Rosa.[4]   Frank Howie died in his vacation home in Forest Lake, Minnesota.[5]

Howey began his journalistic career in 1902 as a reporter for the Fort Dodge Messenger in Fort Dodge, Iowa. [6]  The first newspaper he worked for in Chicago was the Chicago American, which William Randolph Hearst founded in 1900 and Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936) ran for Hearst.[7]  On December 30, 1903, while he worked as a reporter for the Chicago American, he was walking along a street when he saw a manhole cover open and a stream of hundreds of people poured out. [8]  They were survivors of the Iroquois Theater Fire. [9]   They had sought shelter in the cellar, which connected to the sewer. [10]  At the age of twenty-four he became City Editor of the Chicago Inter-Ocean.[11]  [The Chicago Inter-Ocean was a rival Republican newspaper of the Chicago Tribune (back when the Tribune was unabashedly Republican) that had the motto “Republican in everything, Independent in nothing.”[12]]  Subsequently, he held the same position at the Chicago Tribune. [13]

In 1910, Chicago Tribune Managing Editor James Keeley hired Howey as City Editor.[14]  Chicago Tribune drama critic Burton Rascoe opined Howey was “a journalistic genius of the kind which began to disappear with [World War I].  He insisted on news stories being written in a colorful, dramatic, or humorous fashion; they had to be readable and entertaining first.  Their strict news value … was unimportant.”[15]

      Howey’s character as a city editor was best reflected in one of his first admonitions to me, ‘Don’t ever fake a story or anything in a story – that is, never let me catch you at it.’[16]

On one occasion, Howey told Lucian Carey (1886-1971), who started his writing career as a reporter at the Chicago Tribune in 1910 and later became a novelist and short story writer, to write a front-page lead – the most important article published in that edition, prominently placed in the top right-hand corner – on a train crash.[17]  He told Mr. Carey to re-write it.[18]  Then he gave it to another reporter, and finally, or so it seemed, he gave it to Rascoe.  Still dissatisfied, and with the deadline swiftly approaching, Howey “sat down at a typewriter and, writing at incredible speed, tore off a news story that was a classic of newspaper writing.”[19]   On another occasion, Rascoe, who was then Assistant Sunday Editor, complained to Howey about not seeing his wife and children in Rogers Park often enough, and Howey made the ridiculous reply that nobody who worked for a morning newspaper should get married.[20]

In 1914, James Keeley, the Managing Editor of the Chicago Tribune and Vice President of the Tribune Company, who had hired Howey, left to run the Record-Herald.[21]  [Herman H. Kohlsaat (1853-1924), who had been a baking company executive and had owned the Inter-Ocean, in 1895 merged the Times and the Herald, to create the Times-Herald.[22]  He later purchased the Record and merged it with the Times-Herald to create the Record-Herald.[23]  In 1910, Victor Fremont Lawson (1850-1925), who at that time was publisher of both the Record-Herald, his morning paper, and the Daily News, his evening paper, had tried to purchase the Chicago Tribune.[24]]  At the same time Keeley gained editorial control of the Record-Herald, the new owners also acquired and merged with it the Inter-Ocean.[25]  [Kohlsaat purchased controlling interest from Victor Lawson, but Lawson retained an ownership stake and Keeley’s friend utilities magnate William Insull (1859-1938), as well as other investors and the Continental National Bank.[26]]  Consequently, the new co-publishers of the Chicago Tribune, first cousins Colonel Robert Rutherford McCormick (1880-1955) and Joseph Medill Patterson (1879-1946) had to share editorial responsibility and feared Keeley would lure the cream of the Tribune’s talent, but he was only able to persuade Night Editor Leighton Reilly and Washington correspondent John C. O’Laughlin to accompany him.[27]  Keeley ran into management difficulties that resulted in Hearst acquiring the Record-Herald and merging it with the Examiner, and thus created the Chicago Record-Herald and Examiner, also known as the Chicago Herald-Examiner.[28]

In 1917, Howey left the Chicago Tribune after an argument with Patterson over a puff piece for a D.W. Griffith film, and went to work for Hearst’s Chicago Herald and Examiner.[29]  Hearst had a standing offer that he would pay Howey double what he made at the Tribune and when he accepted the offer he became the Managing Editor of the Chicago Herald and Examiner, so he received a promotion as well as a raise.[30]  This was the start of a thirty-seven-year-long relationship with William Randolph Hearst and the Hearst interests.[31]   Supposedly, while he was on his way home from lunch with Arthur Brisbane during which they closed the deal for him to come back to the Hearst fold, he saw a limousine pull up, and Col. McCormick stepped out and said, “I’m glad you told Joe Patterson what you did.  He had it coming to him.  I have a check here for three months salary, which I’ve brought as a bonus to you, and I have lined up a job for you at the Minneapolis Tribune.”[32]  Howey appreciated the offer but chose to stick with the course he had set.[33]

Howey’s best reporters were Hilding (“Hildy”) Johnson and Charles MacArthur (1895-1956).  At the Chicago Herald and Examiner, Howey hired Charles MacArthur, the journalist who later became a playwright and screenwriter and was married to Helen Hayes (1900-1993), who was widely considered one of the four greatest American stage actresses of the 20th Century, from 1928 until his death in 1956.[34]  When MacArthur quit to take a train to New York City with his fiancée, Howey had MacArthur arrested in Gary, Indiana on the pretext “the son-of-a bitch stole my watch,” an incident MacArthur was sure to include in The Front Page.[35]  MacArthur and writing partner Ben Hecht (1894-1964), who had also worked for the Examiner, based The Front Page in part on MacArthur’s experience as a journalist at the City News Bureau of Chicago, but modeled the editor Walter Burns on Howey.[36]  Osgood Perkins (1892-1937) played Burns when the play was staged on Broadway (at the Times Square Theater) in 1928-29.  The play has been adapted for the silver screen four times and once for television.  Adolphe Menjeau (1890-1963) played Burns in The Front Page (1931). Handsome and debonair Cary Grant (1904-1986) played Burns in His Girl Friday (1940), which switched the setting from Chicago to New York City, turned the drama into a comedy, and replaced the heroic reporter Hildebrand (“Hildy”) Johnson with Hildegard (“Hildy”) Johnson, played by beautiful Rosalind Russell (1907-1976).  Instead of using a big story as an excuse to keep his best reporter from getting married and getting a respectable job, his best reporter is also his ex-wife and he is trying to prevent her from leaving the newspaper and becoming a housewife (for somebody else).  Walter Matthau (1920-2000) played Burns in The Front Page (1974), which was a black comedy.  Switching Channels (1988) was a remake of His Girl Friday, but replaced the newspaper with a cable news channel.  Burt Reynolds played John L. Sullivan IV, operations manager for Satellite News Network, who is trying to keep his ex-wife Christy Colleran (Kathleen Turner) from leaving the S.N.N. and sabotage her impending marriage.  John Daley (1914-1991) played Burns on television in The Front Page (1949-1950) on C.B.S.

      Walter Howey played a series of pranks on the Chicago Tribune.[37]  One of these pranks was to hire an actress to play a fake heiress from South Bend, plant her in the Bismarck Hotel, and printed a small piece about her.[38]  After the Tribune took the bait, sent someone to interview her, and printed a story about her having only a few months to live and seeking advice in Chicago about how to dispose of her $10,000,000 fortune, which would have been an enormous sum back then, Howey revealed this was a publicity stunt for serial fiction, The $10,000,000 Heiress, that the Herald and Examiner would publish on Sundays.[39]  He also hired Eleanor (“Cissy”) Patterson (1884-1948), who was then divorced from County Josef Gizycka, to write about high society and appended to her byline “Sister of Joseph Medill Patterson of the Chicago Tribune.”[40]

Howey missed his Assistant City Editor, Frank Carson, who was reputed to know every policeman in Chicago by name – – and the mistress of every office holder, so Howey got Carson drunk and persuaded him to sign a resignation letter that was sure to anger J.M. Patterson he would let the newsman go despite being under a contract.[41]

      I address you as ‘Mister’ Patterson because your phony pretensions to democracy, urging the help to ‘Just call me Joe,’ turn my stomach as they do all who must lick your boots for pay.  I could stand your cousin because the man is honest according to his lights.  He is a Twentieth Century Quixote, tilting at windmills, visible t no eyes but his own.  You are a common pander, catering to the meretricious tastes of the masses.[42]

Howey’s plot worked, but that did not prevent Patterson from later hiring Carson to edit the New York Daily News.[43]

      Walter Howey’s first wife was Mrs. Lew Board (Elizabeth) Board, née Kelly, who called herself Liberty (“Libby” for short).[44]  He was her second husband.[45]    Cathleen Moore’s biographer, Jeff Codori, noted, “They were both energetic, exciting people whose epic arguments, were the stuff of legend, at least in Kathleen’s mind.”[46]

Lib and Walter’s arguments were loud and dramatic, epic opportunities to ‘try out their vocabularies.’  They were small dramas for Kathleen to watch, each as exciting as any film or play.  At times they would argue over Kathleen; Liberty doted on her, calling her the ‘child of her soul,’ while Walter would reply she was the ‘child of his imagination.’  It made her feel like ‘some pumpkins.’  They both adored her.[47]

One of the things young Kathleen Morrison loved about visits to her aunt and uncle in Chicago was that she could take the streetcar from their apartment to the Essanay Company movie studio at 1333-1345 Argyle.[48]  When Walter & Libby resided at 4161 Sheridan Road, the Northwestern L ran past their apartment building at street grade.[49]  Kathleen could board at Buena Station and two train stops later get off at Argyle at 1118 West Argyle. [50]   [The Argyle stop is now on the Red Line Chicago Transit Authority’s “L” (elevated railroad).]  The route remained the same when Walter & Libby moved to 4942 Sheridan.[51]

In her autobiography, Silent Star, Colleen Moore revealed that many of the teenage actresses who became featured players, if not film stars, had their big break as a result of a “payoff” as she termed it, a social favor a filmmaker owed someone outside the film industry, and she was one such star.[52]  In her case, the filmmaker was D.W. Griffith (1875-1948), the first American director of epic films – Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) – and the person he owed a favor to her was Uncle Walter, a newspaper editor in Chicago.[53] Griffith owed Howey a favor because Griffith screened Birth of a Nation in the roadshow format, taking it from place to place, where he or a promoter would screen it in an auditorium, but it was difficult to show the extremely controversial film Birth of a Nation in Chicago, where he had trouble with the censorship board, and Howey helped him deal with the censorship board.[54]  When Griffith answered critics who were angered by Birth of a Nation with his lavish production Intolerance, it, too, had difficulty getting past the Chicago censorship board and once again Howey aided Griffith negotiate with the censors.[55]  In gratitude, Griffith asked Howey how he could repay him and Howey explained he had a young niece down in Florida who wanted to become an actress.[56]  Griffith was dismayed because he had many such requests, but felt obliged to give the girl a chance.[57]  One long-distance telephone call from Chicago to Tampa, and the Morrison family learnt that Griffith was offering fifteen-year-old Kathleen Morrison a six-month-long contract.[58]  She related in Silent Star that Carmel Myers (1899-1980); Mildred Harris (1901-1944), whom Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) wed when she was sixteen; and Winifred Westover (1899-1978) were payoffs like her.[59]

It was Howey who chose “Colleen Moore” as the screen name for Kathleen Morrison.[60]  He felt Colleen would appeal to Irish-Americans and replaced Morrison with the shorter Moore because it would more easily fit on a cinema’s marquee.[61]   Moore was a family name as the younger of Charles Morrison’s two older sisters, Lizzie, had married a grocer with the surname Moore.[62] Kathleen Morrison’s grandmother, Mary Kelly, accompanied her to Hollywood to act as her chaperone.[63] First, though, Kathleen Morrison, her mother, Agnes, and grandmother, Mary, went to Chicago where Kathleen Morrison underwent a screen test at Essanay Studios to ascertain if her eyes looked alike in front of a motion picture camera at a time when the irises of blue-eyed people sometimes looked white.[64]  There, Colleen met the youngest actress on the lot, Helen Ferguson, who noted Kathleen was able to cry on command.[65]  The difference in color of her eyes were not a problem.[66]  Subsequently, Agnes signed the contract for Kathleen.[67]

Uncle Walter saw Colleen Moore, Agnes Morrison, and Mary Kelly off at the train station in Chicago on Tuesday, November 21, 1916.[68]  He gave Agnes a newspaper with an article about the new actress Colleen Moore and he gave Cathleen a letter that read, “Hollywood, where you will now be living, is inhabited by a race of people called Press Agents.  The studios pay them a lot of money to think up stories about the players under contract and to persuade the editors like me to print their stories.  So the moral of this letter is: never believe one damned word you read about yourself.”[69]

In 1922, Howey went east to become managing editor of the Boston American.[70]  Two years later, William Randolph Hearts summoned him to New York City to work as a consultant. [71]  Howey was an inventor as well as a newspaperman.  He invented a photoelectric engraving machine in the early 1930s.[72]  In 1939, Howey returned to Boston as Editor-in-Chief of the Hearst newspapers in that city.[73]  The last two years of his life, he was more of a consultant on editorial and circulation issues.[74]  He was both a Director of the Hearst Corporation and a trustee of the Estate of William Randolph Hearst.[75]

Walter and Liberty were married until her death in 1935.  On September 1, 1936, he wed his second wife, Gloria Ritz.  With her, he had his only child, William Randolph Howey. [76]  Walter died two months after Gloria.[77]  She died on January 24, 1954, while he was in the hospital in critical condition as a result of injuries he had suffered in a car accident.[78]  At the time of his death, on March 21, 1954, at the age of seventy-two, Walter Howey was Editor-in-Chief of the Record-American-Sunday Advertiser, the Hearst newspapers in Boston, now known as the Boston Herald (under different ownership).  His survivors were his son, William Randolph Howey; his brother, Edwin, who was then a resident of St. Paul, Minnesota; and their sister, Josephine Fields, was then a resident of St. Clair, Michigan.[79]


[1] “Walter Howey’s Father Dies in His Summer Home,” Chicago Tribune, 25 September, 1918, p. 12

[2] “Walter Howey’s Father Dies in His Summer Home,” Chicago Tribune, 25 September, 1918, p. 12

[3] “Walter Howey’s Father Dies in His Summer Home,” Chicago Tribune, 25 September, 1918, p. 12

[4] “Walter Howey’s Father Dies in His Summer Home,” Chicago Tribune, 25 September, 1918, p. 12

[5] “Walter Howey’s Father Dies in His Summer Home,” Chicago Tribune, 25 September, 1918, p. 12

[6] A.P., “Legend in News World – Death Ends Colorful Career of Walter Howey,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1924, p. 4

[7] Joseph Gies, The Colonel of Chicago: A Biography of the Chicago Tribune’s Legendary Publisher, Colonel Robert McCormick. New York, New York: E.P. Dutton (1979), pages 34 and 45

[8] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[9] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[10] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[11] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[12] Lloyd Wendt, Chicago Tribune: The Rise of a Great American Newspaper. Chicago: Rand McNally & Company (1979), p. 313

[13] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[14] Gies, p. 45

[15] Gies, p. 45

[16] Gies, p. 45

[17] Gies, p. 45

See also “Lucian Cary, 85, Novelist-Editor,” The New York Times, 9 September, 1971, p. 46

[18] Gies, p. 45

[19] Gies, p. 45

[20] Wendt, p. 451

[21] Wendt, p. 395

[22] Wendt, p. 313

[23] Wendt, p. 313

[24] Gies, p. 30

[25] Wendt, p. 395

[26] Gies, p. 43

[27] Wendt, p. 395

See also Gies, p. 43

[28] Wendt, pages 395 and 396

[29] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

See also Gies, p. 45

See also Wendt, p. 462

[30] Wendt, p. 462

[31] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[32] Gies, p. 45

[33] Gies, p. 45

[34] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[35] Gies, p. 45

[36] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

See also Gies, p. 45

See also Wendt, p. 462

Burt A. Folkart, “Colleen Moore, Film Star of Flapper Age, Dies at 87,” L.A. Times, 26 January, 1988 (http://articles.latimes.com/1988-01-26/news/mn-38566_1_colleen-moore) Accessed 03/20/18

[37] Gies, p. 46

[38] Wendt, p. 462

See also Gies, p. 46

[39] Wendt, p. 462

See also Gies, p. 46

[40] Wendt, p. 462

[41] Gies, pages 45 and 46

[42] Gies, p. 46

[43] Gies, p. 46

[44] Codori, pages 7 and 14

[45] Codori, p. 14

[46] Codori, p. 14

[47] Codori, p. 21

[48] Codori, p. 24

[49] Codori, p. 24

[50] Codori, p. 24

[51] Codori, p. 24

[52] Robert Sklar, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies. Random House, 1975. Revised and Updated. Vintage Book, a division of Random House (1994), p. 75

[53] Codori, pages 14,

Neff, p. 108

See also Sklar, p. 75

[54] Codori, p. 24

See also Neff, p. 108

[55] Neff, p. 108

[56] Neff, p. 108

[57] Codori, p. 24

[58] Codori, p. 24

See also Neff, p. 108

[59] Sklar, p. 75

[60] Neff, p. 108

[61] Neff, p. 108

[62] Codori, p. 7

[63] Codori, p. 25

See also Neff, p. 108

[64] Codori, p. 25

[65] Codori, pages 25 and 26

[66] Codori, p. 26

[67] Codori, p. 26

[68] Codori, p. 27

[69] Codori, p. 27

[70] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[71] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[72] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[73] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[74] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[75] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[76] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[77] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[78] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

[79] A.P., “Legend in News World,” The Kansas City Times, 22 March, 1954, p. 4

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