Every paper has its characters; The Press was no exception
By Ray De Crane
(Newsmen of "Front Page" legend kept a bottle of liquor in a desk drawer. Some indulged more than others. Below, Ray De Crane recalls some of the memorable imbibers on The Press staff.)
By Ray De Crane
George Davis was the drama and movie critic during the '30s and early '40s. He had a desk which was next to a window overlooking Rockwell Avenue. George was the only staff member who had a safe next to his desk. The only "valuables" in George's safe were his liquor bottles.
One night while working on a review of an opening night play, George felt the need of another drink -- he already had several. He put a water glass on his desk and then opened his safe. Unfortunately, none of the bottles in the safe contained much liquor. As George emptied the meager contents of a bottle into his glass, he tossed the empty bottle out the window where it smashed on the Rockwell Avenue sidewalk four floors below. He proceeded to empty one bottle after another -- it making no difference if it contained bourbon, gin, scotch or vodka. Again, as each bottle was emptied, it went out the window. When the glass contained enough for him, the critic closed the window and the safe, then emptied his glass.
He liked to work at his typewriter in his stocking feet. So George took off his shoes. As he walked to the men's room -- a considerable distance from his desk -- George carried several newspapers. With each step, he positioned a page of the newspaper down in front of him on the floor. He made several round trips on the paper-covered wood floor before completing his review. Fortunately, no one was walking along the sidewalk that night. At least there were no reports of anyone being hit by falling bottles.
Another veteran newspaperman gained entrance to Associate Editor Norman Shaw's doghouse by over-indulgence. Shaw didn't want to fire him; because of the man's long tenure at the paper, he would have been entitled to a year's salary as severance pay under the Guild contract. Instead, Shaw instructed the city desk to give the offender no assignments and nothing to rewrite, hoping that he would quit.
The veteran outsmarted Shaw. He came to work every morning with a couple of books. He spent the entire working day reading books, taking an hour off for lunch. After a few weeks, Shaw fired him and the offender collected his year's severance pay.
Byron Filkins, a photographer, who if he were wearing elevator shoes might have been five feet tall, was another Press character who had a drinking problem.
One day he was sent to a suburban high school to take a picture. Thinking it would improve his picture, Filkins mounted a step ladder to get elevation for his group picture. Unfortunately, in his stupor, he fell from the ladder, to the amusement of the high school students.
Outraged, the principal of the school telephoned Seltzer, informed the editor of the incident and demanded the photographer be fired. Seltzer reluctantly complied when "Fiddles" returned to the office.
Instead of going home -- or to a bar -- Filkins crossed E. Ninth Street and went directly to the office of the Diocese of Cleveland where he asked to see Bishop McFadden. The photograher knew the bishop because of the many times he had photographed him at ceremonial occasions at St. John's Cathedral, a short block from The Press at E. Ninth Street and Superior Avenue.
Bishop McFadden was amused by the photographer because of the many times Filkins used to call out, "Hey, Bish, look this way," to get a better shot during processions into the Cathedral. Although not a Catholic, Filkins asked the bishop to give him the "pledge" so he would stop drinking. As soon as it was administered, Filkins said, "Now do me a favor. Please call Louie Seltzer and tell him to give me back my job." A friend of both Seltzer and the photographer, the bishop called Seltzer and then happily told Filkins to go back to work. Filkins never had a drink after that. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and maintained his sobriety until the day of death many years later.
Always borrowing money during his drinking days, Filkins started to save money and delighted in showing anyone who asked a big roll of $20 bills tightly wrapped by a rubber band. It became his security blanket. Whenever he was tempted to have a drink, he would reach into his pocket and pull out that wad of bills and realize he never had that during his drinking days.
Last Updated November 4, 1998