When the Writer Becomes the Movie: Authors on Film

When the film adaptation of Karl Alexander’s novel Time After Time arrived in theaters 40 years ago this week, it hit audiences with an original premise: what if H.G. Wells, the author of The Time Machine, had built one himself? The plot has Wells chase Jack the Ripper through time from 1890s London to 1970s San Francisco, commenting along the way on the differences in culture and offering a (fictional) explanation of how Wells might have arrived at some of his ideas.

That story is just one of many times that famous writers have made it into the movies. Sometimes their lives or adventures are entirely fictionalized. Other films give us rigidly researched dramas, broad comedies, or the what-just-happened mindtrip of Naked Lunch. Let’s look back on some of the most memorable transitions authors have made to screen.

Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price Ellis in The Whole Wide World (1996)

The trailer for The Whole Wide World (upload by micarone)

Robert E. Howard is considered the father of the “sword and sorcery” subgenre of fantasy. He created Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, Dark Agnes, Kull the Conqueror, and more. Through his writing for the pulps like Weird Tales, he became friends with H.P. Lovecraft and contributed to the horror master’s mythos stories. His relationship with schoolteacher and writer Novalyne Price Ellis became the subject of two of her books, notably One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard, The Final Years. The Whole Wide World adapts that book, with Vincent D’Onofrio as Howard and Renee Zellweger as Ellis. Howard took his life at age 30 (an event depicted in the film), but his work lives on in prose and in Marvel Comics.

C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman in Shadowlands (1993)

The trailer for Shadowlands (uploaded by SMMC4lyfe)

C.S. Lewis, most famous for The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, stayed a bachelor until his late 50s, when he wed the writer/poet Joy Davidman. Initially, their marriage was made to keep Davidman, an American, in England, but it developed into something more when Davidman was diagnosed with cancer. She overcame it for a time, but unfortunately, it returned and she died in 1960. Lewis continued to raise her two sons from a previous marriage, one of whom, Douglas Gresham, became a producer on the Narnia films. Shadowlands recounts the story of the relationship, with Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and Debra Winger as Davidman. Curiously, in the movie, Davidman has only one son.

Dorothy Parker in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)

The trailer for Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (uploaded by nicelyquick)

A host of real-life writers and actors feature in Alan Rudolph’s 1994 Palme d’Or nominee, but the most important is the titular Mrs. Parker. Famed for her lacerating wit, Parker is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Leigh applied her usual caliber of scrupulous preparation for the role, reading all of Parker’s works and studying the two remaining audio recordings of the writer’s voice so that she could master Parker’s speaking style. The “Vicious Circle” of the title refers to an alternate name for the Algonquin Round Table, a group of critics, writers, and actors that met daily for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City from 1919 to around 1929.

Charlie Kaufman and Susan Orlean in Adaptation (2002)

The trailer for Adaptation (uploaded by Umbrella Entertainment)

Certainly the strangest entry on the list, the wild path that Adaptation takes began with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage). Struggling with adapting Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief into a film, he radically altered the story, making the screenplay about himself trying to adapt the book. Along the way, he invented a twin brother for himself, devised a love affair between Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her book’s protagonist (Chris Cooper), and generally took it very far afield from reality. Director Spike Jonze was all in, and crafted a hybrid of comedy, drama, and thriller that drew enormous critical praise, four Academy Award nominations, and one win (Supporting Actor for Cooper).

Harvey Pekar in American Splendor (2003)

The trailer for American Splendor (uploaded by Facyka)

Harvey Pekar charted an unusual course to fame. While working as a Veterans Administration hospital clerk in Cleveland, Ohio, he created and the wrote the underground comic book series American Splendor. The stories, based on his own life and observations, drew national attention, which led to multiple appearances on Late Night with David Letterman. Pekar also wrote biographies and was well-known as an incisive music critic, with jazz as his specialty. The film is a unique hybrid of biography and documentary, including scenes where Paul Giamatti (playing Pekar) appears alongside the real Pekar. Some scenes use an animation style that features Pekar stepping in and out of the comic to reflect the autobiographical nature of his work. It was nominated for a number of awards and won several, including the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Film.

William S. Burroughs in Naked Lunch (1991)

The trailer for Naked Lunch (uploaded by HD Retro Trailers)

David Cronenberg likes his movies . . . different. The Canadian director used his unique talents at generating unease through body-horror and unsettling visuals to bring Burroughs’s book to life. As Burroughs, Paul Weller appears in scenes inspired by both the book and the life of Burroughs himself. Sometimes, that verisimilitude is brutal, such as when the film stages a re-enactment of Burroughs’s accidental shooting of his wife and his drug use. Other parts are hallucinatory, involving imaginary creatures and the transformation of everyday objects like typewriters into monstrous insects. It’s not your conventional biopic in any way, shape, or form, but it is visually and structurally audacious.

Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) and Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

The trailer for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (uploaded by MyEdit)

Speaking of drugs, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s life was full of insane adventures, a number of which were made possible by the miracle of modern chemistry. In fact, his exploits have been adapted into two films starring major talents: Fear and Loathing with Johnny Depp, and Buffalo with Bill Murray. Buffalo takes a bit more of a straightforward approach, while Fear and Loathing leans into the drug-fueled, propelled by director Terry Gilliam’s innovative visuals. Though neither commits a summation of Thompson’s work or personality to film, both movies led to an increase in interest for Thompson’s writing upon their respective releases.

Anne Perry in Heavenly Creatures (1994)

The trailer for Heavenly Creatures (uploaded by Movieclips Classic Trailers)

Anne Perry’s work typically deals in detective fiction of a historical variety. What wasn’t widely known until after the release of Peter Jackson’s 1994 film is that Perry herself had participated in a killing as a teenager that saw her incarcerated for five years. The movie tells that story as Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet, in her film debut), best friends with a rich fantasy life, decide to kill Parker’s mother when it appears that they’re going to be separated upon the divorce of Hulme’s parents. Parker and Hulme went to prison, and Hulme later adopted the name Anne Perry after her release. Perry has published  47 novels, two as recently as last year.

Many other films, good and bad, deal with writers in real and fictional circumstances. There’s the wartime tale of a young Ernest Hemmingway (In Love and War) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s indelible work as Truman Capote in Capote. There’s the risqué look at the lives of Henry Miller, his wife, June, and Anais Nin, Henry & June; the sexually charged narrative helped lead to the creation of the NC-17 film rating. Cameron Crowe fictionalized his own teen years working for Rolling Stone in Almost Famous, giving us a big dose of music critic Lester Bangs (Hoffman again) in the bargain. Just last year, Lee Israel’s story of writing and forgery made it to the screen.

They say that real writers never run out of stories; maybe the truth is that writers, and the rest of us, are stories, too.


Featured image: Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep in “Adaptation”. Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.

Why Go Dry? How the Temperance Movement Sold Prohibition

One of the abiding questions of American history is “Why did Americans ever vote for Prohibition?”

The original reason was obvious. They could see alcohol destroying the health, careers, and income of too many people, often leaving their families destitute. While that wasn’t reason enough for the government to prohibit alcohol, it didn’t stop temperance organizations from trying to keep people from using it and saloons from serving it.

Saloons were plentiful in urban America; in 1909, there was one for every 200 people. But they had an evil reputation. Many were crime-infested hovels, neighborhood centers for gambling, prostitution and violent gangs.

An anti-alcohol poster
Library of Congress

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was formed in the 1870s to encourage men to give up liquor. The women kneeled outside saloons and prayed in the street in hope of touching the conscience of drinkers inside. After decades of such efforts, Prohibition had gained little ground. Proponents realized only the law could end the liquor trade.

In the 1890s, the Anti-Saloon League was formed to push for anti-liquor laws at the state and national level. By the 1910s, it had become strongest lobbying group in Washington as it attacked both liquor and the establishments that served it.

The League realized it had to come up with practical arguments to convince legislators to outlaw liquor. Recent events had already provided several reasons. The federal government had long supported itself with an excise tax on liquor. But in 1913, this revenue was replaced by individual income taxes. The budget no longer depended on the sale of alcohol.

A poster
A prohibition poster from World War I (The Ohio State University)

Grain used in distilling and brewing was now needed to feed its soldiers now that the U.S. had entered the world war.

Prohibitionists now added several more arguments.

The major breweries were owned by German immigrants or German-Americans, any of whom, the prohibitionists argued, could be secretly working for the German government. Beer was called “the Kaiser’s brew.” The head of the Anti-Saloon League said, “a number of breweries around the country are owned in party by alien enemies.” Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor said, “We have German enemies in this country… the most treacherous, the most menacing, are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller.”

Advocates also claimed America would gain a sober, responsible, productive workforce once alcohol was taken from workers. Businesses liked the idea of sober workers, who’d be more diligent and honest. They also saw a chance to reduce worker’s compensation due to liquor-related accidents.

An anti-saloon flyer (Library of Congress)

The armed forces had already embraced the benefits of sobriety. Believing it essential to the strength and morale of America’s soldiers, the government outlawed all intoxicating beverages within a five-mile radius of army camps.

Sensing growing support across the country, many advocates began promising highly optimistic results. Economists predicted a more prosperous nation. Churches promised higher morals and a more honest, even virtuous, citizenry. The histrionic evangelist Billy Sunday said, “The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and jails into storehouses.”

Some towns were so confident of the coming redemption of their citizens that they sold their jails.

According to an  October 4, 1919, Saturday Evening Post article, “Doings in Dryland” by Samuel G. Blythe, prohibition was already raising the quality of life for Americans in unexpected ways.

Read “Doings in Dryland” by Samuel G. Blythe from the October 4, 1919, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

In Los Angeles, where prohibition was already in force, a barber told him that since he’d stopped drinking he had more money to spend on the family and the house. He’d repainted his home, wallpapered some rooms, and bought a piano for his daughters. And he’d wiped out all his debts.

The manager of one of the city’s biggest hotels said that prohibition had originally cut into his revenues but they had returned to their old level. Also, there was better discipline in his employees and better behavior among his guests.

In San Francisco, hotel owners found receipts from their ballrooms and restaurants increasing. Newspaper circulation numbers had gone up. A saloon had been successfully converted into an ice cream parlor.

The dry future seemed bright, as Blythe saw it, which might have led him into overconfidence. For one thing, he said New York would go dry, whether or not New Yorkers liked it. They might “consider themselves the premium Americans,” but prohibition was now the law and they’d have to obey it.

New York, of course, took its own wayward path. It became a center for smuggling and serving alcohol. In his book, Supreme City, historian Donald L. Miller wrote there were 32,000 speakeasies in New York in 1927.

Blythe also said Americans would eventually accept prohibition and it would cease to be an issue. “We are an adaptable race, and though many will not admit it as yet we’ll get used to prohibition just as we have got used to many other reforms — not like it, it may be, but accept it and adapt ourselves to it.”

America didn’t adapt. And prohibition didn’t bring prosperity. The entertainment industry went into decline. Restaurants failed when deprived of alcohol sales. Thousands of workers in the liquor industry lost their jobs. Instead of improving American morals, prohibition corrupted law-enforcement officials and grew organized crime into a vast industry. Chicago mobster Al Capone raked in $60 million untaxed dollars annually. In his policy analysis of Prohibition, Mark Thornton found that reported crime in 30 major cities jumped 24 percent in the first year, and the murder rate shot up 78 percent.

Individual income taxes gave the federal government an alternative to liquor excise taxes, but states didn’t have that option. Prohibition wiped out 75 percent of New York state’s revenue.

Prohibition actually did reduce drinking in America. When it was repealed and Americans began drinking again, alcohol consumption was less than half of what it was in 1919.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that per-capita alcohol consumption rose above its pre-prohibition level.

Featured image: Anti-Saloon League cartoon by Russell Henderson, 12/23/1916 (Anti-Saloon League Museum, Westerville Public Library)

Rock Hudson: A Star Is Named

Originally published September 27, 1952

Raoul Walsh, one of the most experienced directors on the lot, glared at Rock Hudson past his black-patched eye. He alternately stared at him and quizzed him
for a while. “All right,” he said finally. “We’ll give you a bit and see what you can do.”

“We’ll sign the contract as soon as I can change his name,”
[talent scout Harry] Willson said cheerily. “Thanks, Raoul.”

“What did you say about my name?” feebly inquired Hudson — who was
then still a chump named Roy Fitzgerald — as they went out. ä

“No good,” said Willson sternly. “There are a couple of very good actors with that name already in the business. And it’s too big for star billing. They always have to spell it F-Z-G-L-D on the marquee.”

Hudson, who had never liked his name anyway, acquiesced. The next morning Willson greeted him beamingly as he entered the office. “Just saw a fine auto ad,” he reported. “I’ve got your name. Hudson! Like it?”

Hollywood actors Rock Hudson and Doris Day in "Pillow Talk"
Rock Hudson with frequent co-star Doris Day in Pillow Talk. (doctormacro.com)

Hudson did.

“Your first name is going to be Dirk! Dirk! Isn’t that great?”

“No,” said the newly christened Hudson.

“Okay,” said Willson, “how about Lance? Lance Hudson! I can see it in lights!”

“No,” said Hudson.

“This is temperament?” asked Willson, extending a list. “I’ve got seven more. You pick one.”

“Why don’t you call me Spear Mint?” said Hudson bitterly. He took the list and studied it. “What’s that?” he inquired, indicating one.

“Roc!” cried Willson, slapping him on the back. “You couldn’t have made a better choice. It’s a mythical bird.”

So Roy Fitzgerald became Roc Hudson. Later it was changed to Rock at his own request. It seemed more masculine and indubitably tougher.

—“How to Create a Movie Star” by Richard G. Hubler, September 27, 1952


This article is featured in the September/October 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: doctormacro.com.

A Brief History of Executive Privilege

Executive privilege is the president’s right to keep certain information secret from the other branches of government, even if the information is subpoenaed.

But where did executive privilege come from?

You won’t find it mentioned anywhere in the Constitution.  It has been assumed from Article II, which sets out the separations of powers in the three branches of government. In order to maintain a balance of power, the reasoning goes, the president need to be able to consult with his advisors and develop his policies beyond Congressional observation.

But executive privilege won’t cover just anything. It must relate to national security or protecting White House confidentiality when in the public interest.

In the past, the courts have made decisions that defined executive privilege. But taken together, they give only a vague sense of what the privilege covers and when can it be used.

In 1789, Congress investigated a military campaign against Native Americans that ended in disaster. It asked for documents from President George Washington. The president argued that he could refuse a request for documents in the name of national security. In time, though, he handed them over.

When Aaron Burr went on trial for treason in 1809, his defense subpoenaed President Thomas Jefferson to testify and supply papers related to the charges in Burr’s trial. Jefferson refused. The Supreme Court said he had to comply. In the end, he refused to testify in person but provided select documents.

In 1833, Senator Henry Clay demanded that President Andrew Jackson release documents about cabinet meetings where the Bank of the United States was discussed. Jackson declined and was censured, but held onto the documents.

A cartoon showing President Andrew Jackson as a king, 1832 (Wikimedia Commons)

President Grover Cleveland used it repeatedly to prevent Congress from reviewing documents related to his executive appointments to government positions.

When President Theodore Roosevelt prosecuted U.S. Steel for antitrust violations, the Senate demanded to see his papers on the subject. Roosevelt denied the request, then moved the documents to the White House to prevent their being seized.

It was President Dwight Eisenhower who coined the term “executive privilege.”  He invoked it to prevent Senator Joe McCarthy from questioning his cabinet members. Eisenhower wanted to maintain the secrecy of conversations he had with his advisors about McCarthy and communists. He also wanted to keep sensitive documents from public view. In the course of Eisenhower’s presidency, he or his advisors invoked executive privilege 44 times.

Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson rarely used it, but President Richard Nixon relied on it to protect himself and his advisors from the Watergate investigation. A challenge to his use of the privilege went to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Warren Burger said executive privilege was warranted when the requested information concerned “military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets.” But it didn’t provide protection from a criminal investigation. Documents and testimony crucial to the inquiry had to be provided. Consequently, Nixon released the tape-recorded conversations from the Oval Office. “The president is not above the law,” said the Chief Justice.

Nixon seems to have cast executive privilege in a bad light, because subsequent presidents were wary of using it. Even when a Congressional investigation into the Iran-Contra matter led to the White House, President Ronald Reagan did not invoke it.

President Bill Clinton cited executive privilege 14 times to spare himself and his wife from testifying in Congressional investigations of his business dealings and sex life. The Supreme Court ruled that a prosecutor’s right to investigate matters was more important than confidentiality. Ultimately, Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, but the Senate did not convict him.

When the Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed Karl Rove in an inquiry into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys, President George W. Bush refused, citing the privilege. The committee chair said it didn’t apply because the president wasn’t involved. Ultimately, Rove testified in a closed-door session.

In 2012, an investigation into drug smuggling misfired and resulted in a load of guns getting into the hands of criminals.  Congress requested the White House hand over 1,300 documents. President Obama claimed executive privilege, and his attorney general was cited for contempt of Congress for not cooperating. When the matter went to a federal court, the claim of executive privilege was denied and the documents were released.

The case law would indicate that there is no privilege if the matter involves a criminal investigation and doesn’t directly bear on the national welfare. But it appears that the final call isn’t usually made by the president, the media, or legislators, but the nine members of the Supreme Court.

Featured image: Shutterstock

News of the Week: Summer and Fall, Dad Jokes, and 50 Years of The Brady Bunch

60, 84, 65, 80, 71

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to complain about the weather anymore this year. Recently I was saying how happy I was that September was finally here, with its comfortable temperatures, the heat and humidity of summer in the rearview mirror. Apparently, though, Mother Nature doesn’t care about rearview mirrors, because this week was a cavalcade of yo-yoing temperatures. As I type this, it’s 65 with low humidity. Great! Yesterday it was 85 and the sweat was pouring off me as I loaded groceries into the car. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be 80 again, and then it’s supposed to be in the 60s. Next week it’s supposed to be more fall-like, with consistent temps in the 60s, maybe even a falling leaf or a pumpkin or two. Then we might have a day of 80.

I actually put my big fan away and had to drag it out again the next day because I’m not sure what each day is going to feel like. What’s that Robert Burns quote? “The best laid plans of mice and men who put away their fans too early?”

Maybe I jumped the gun and I don’t like September as much as I thought I did. Maybe what I’m really looking forward to is October. Yeah, October. Bring it on.

New Words

Like you, I’ve been waiting patiently for Merriam-Webster to add autogenic training to their dictionary. It finally happened!

That’s just one of the 530 new words — or in some cases, phrases — added to my favorite dictionary. This is an semi-annual event I always look forward to, because it reminds me of words I had forgotten and introduces me to words that are apparently so popular that they’re going into the dictionary, yet I’ve never heard anyone use them once. This includes free solo, pain point, stinger, and rhoticity. They’re also adding dad joke and many abbreviations and portmanteaus, like vacay (vacation), inspo (inspiration), and sesh (session). They should have included a link to the definition of portmanteau.

By the way, autogenic training is defined as “a self-relaxation technique that involves repeating calming statements to yourself.”

No No No No No No No No No No No No No

Tech Insider says “this wearable chair could change how we work and travel.” And I’d like to say to Tech Insider that no one is going to walk around wearing a chair.

The people behind the LEX chair say it lets you sit where you want. It also lets you be mocked by both total strangers and members of your family. Can you imagine having to walk around with this thing hanging off your back, having to take it off to sit in cars and in your office? Don’t actual chairs still exist? While I could possibly see a limited use for this by people who have pain or physical problems, I don’t think it would be embraced in any mainstream way.

Also, can you imagine going to a restroom?

I’m not sure if this is the oddest product of the week, or if this “Sexy Mr. Rogers” Halloween costume is.

Here’s the Story …

I was a Brady Bunch kid. No, I don’t mean I was an actual Brady Bunch kid. That would have made seven kids, and I don’t think they had enough rooms in that giant house. I guess dad Mike, a talented architect who for some reason forgot to put a toilet in the bathroom (maybe he designed that chair above?), could have put in another bunk bed so I could sleep above Greg, but they would have to rearrange the entire room to fit everything.

Boy did I digress. I’m just trying to explain that I was a big fan of the show as a kid. I remember going down to the Reliable Market on Friday nights to get a giant bag of junk food and snacks to eat while watching the Bradys and The Partridge Family. This month marks the 50th anniversary of The Brady Bunch, and to celebrate, HGTV bought the iconic Studio City house you saw on the show. It was only used for exterior shots (the interior was a Hollywood soundstage), but the network, with the help of the show’s cast, completely redesigned the house to make the interior appear as it did on the show. Of course, they made a TV series out of it.

It wasn’t easy, because the real house was a one-story and the house on the show was two. They had to get creative.

RIP Barron Hilton, Suzanne Whang, Carl Ruiz, Sid Haig, Aron Eisenberg, Jan Merlin, and Robert Hunter

Barron Hilton took over from his father as head of the Hilton Hotel chain in 1966. He was also one of the original owners of an AFL football team, the Los Angeles Chargers. And yes, he was Paris Hilton’s grandfather. He died last week at the age of 91.

Suzanne Whang was the host of House Hunters from 1999 to 2007, and was one of the “Road Warrior” correspondents on FX’s Breakfast Time in the ’90s. She was also an actress, appearing on such shows as Las Vegas, Two and a Half Men, Dexter, and Arrested Development. She died last week at the age of 56.

Carl Ruiz was a celebrity chef and owner of several restaurants who made appearances on many Food Network shows, including Guy’s Grocery Games. He died Monday at the age of 44.

Sid Haig was an icon of horror films, appearing in House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, and in many TV shows, including Star Trek, Batman, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible, Gunsmoke, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. He died Saturday at the age of 80.

Aron Eisenberg was probably best known for his role as Nog on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He also appeared on The Wonder Years, Tales from the Crypt, and Blade of Honor, among other shows. He died last week at the age of 50.

Jan Merlin was a veteran actor and one of the stars of the ’50s sci-fi show Tom Corbett: Space Cadet and the ’50s Western Rough Riders. He also appeared in many TV shows and movies like The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, The Oscar, The Hindenburg, Take the Money and Run, and The List of Adrian Messenger. He died last week at the age of 94.

Robert Hunter was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead, penning songs like “Uncle John’s Band,” “China Cat Sunflower,” “Casey Jones,” and “Touch of Grey.” He died this week at the age of 78.

Quote of the Week

“Ben, I’m still alive.”

—Bob Newhart, to Ben Stiller, who was talking about classic sitcom stars who are no longer with us, on the 71st Emmy Awards

This Week in History

The Great Hurricane of 1938 (September 21-23, 1938)

The storm has many titles because they didn’t give names to the storms back then. Almost 700 people died in the hurricane that hit New York and New England over a period of three days.

George Gershwin Born (September 26, 1898)

Here’s orchestra leader Paul Whiteman on the first public performance of “Rhapsody in Blue,” from the March 6, 1926, issue of the Post.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: This Does Not Commute (September 24, 1955)

This Does Not Commute

If I’m not quite sure what’s happening on the cover of an old issue of the Post, I look at the explanation on the table of contents. The explanation for this George Hughes cover isn’t completely helpful, though it looks like the men on the train are rather shocked by what they see out the window. But are they shocked by what we see, or what is coming up next that is just out of frame? The woman doesn’t care, though. She’s too engrossed in the book. It’s 1955, so I’m just going to assume she’s reading Lolita.

Pork Chops and Applesauce!

To celebrate 50 years of The Brady Bunch, how about some recipes based on one of the classic episodes of the show, the one where Peter thinks he doesn’t have a personality?

Here’s a recipe for Pork Chops and Applesauce from Epicurious, and here’s one for the same meal from Skinnytaste that is more Weight Watchers-friendly. And here’s one with the slightly different name of Applesauce Pork Chops from Allrecipes.

By the way, when you make these recipes, it helps if you talk like Humphrey Bogart.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

National Good Neighbor Day (September 28)

It’s a shame we don’t know our neighbors the way we used to. There are many neighbors I couldn’t pick out of a lineup, and I’ve lived in my place for 26 years. This is a good day to get to know them.

Major League Baseball Playoffs Begin (October 1)

The National League Wild Card Game will air on TBS starting at 8 p.m. The following night, the American League Wild Card Game will air on ESPN.


Featured image: Shutterstock.

An Earthquake Rescue Dog Saves Lives in Haiti

The women sat in the dark and waited to die.

Almost three days earlier, as the heavy afternoon heat crept over Port-au-Prince, the massive earthquake had stolen the ground from beneath their feet. In terms of percentage of a country’s population killed, the earthquake was the most destructive natural disaster ever in modern history. The earth shook so violently, the artificial ground fill making up the foundation for much of the port took on the properties of a liquid. For almost 14 seconds, the firm ground became a quicksand-like trap, swallowing foundations and mercilessly toppling buildings. It turned an apartment where three young Haitian women resided into a prison of rubble. The prison would soon be a tomb.

Three days without food or water slowed the women’s shallow breaths with fatigue. There would be no escape under their own power. Like fighting a slowly constricting python, any struggle to push out would further collapse their cell. There would be no rescue from outside either.

The curtains of mangled concrete withheld any indication to passersby the collapsed apartment had spared anyone from the terrible fate that had claimed from 150,000 to 300,000 lives. At the time of the quake, Haiti was the poorest country in the western hemisphere, with half its population living on less than U.S. $1 a day. Disregard for building codes and regulations was commonplace. The resulting shortcuts left the majority of structures in the country well outside of what would be considered earthquake-safe construction.

International aid was beginning to trickle in, but the women’s apartment was just another rubble pile in an entire city of rubble. Lacking the ability to signal to the outside world that they were alive, it was unlikely they would be saved by the already overwhelmed relief effort. The women didn’t need help. They needed a miracle.


Landing lights pierced the night sky as the helicopter came in low over the palm trees. It was coming for one dog.

The craft from the Kern County emergency services in Southern California hovered for a moment, then set down next to Fire Captain Billy Monahan. Billy, who’d served almost 40 years in the fire service, knelt in an empty lot across from his house with the dog of the hour tight by his side as the rotor wash flattened the grass around them.

It was a fitting entrance for a border collie who in his seven years had earned a reputation as having a flair for drama. He boasted a flowing lion’s mane of copper fur, a snowy white underside, and a dollop of white just before the tip of his nose. This was Hunter.

He projected a regal grandeur, giving an air of importance that people couldn’t help but respect and admire.

Hunter wasn’t a large dog, but he projected the regal grandeur of royalty, giving an air of importance that people couldn’t help but respect and admire. Hunter loved attention. His chest would puff proudly. His mouth would crack into the bright canine smile of a movie star. By design or fortune (but probably his own design), Hunter always managed to put his best paw forward when the cameras came around.

On January 15, 2010, crammed in the back of a commandeered Chevy Blazer screaming across the fractured roads of Port-au-Prince, Hunter and Billy weren’t exactly traveling first class. Twenty-four hours after touching down in Haiti, Billy knew this was a different ball game. He and his loyal partner were about to face the biggest challenge of their long career.

The destruction in the Caribbean nation was beyond comprehension. Still today Billy recalls the enormous number of dead; the bodies that hung from windows and fractured hallways; the stacks of bodies lining the streets; the overwhelming and inescapable stench.

Billy tried to stay positive; his emotion transmitted up the leash to Hunter. He maintained the first responder’s subconscious hope for survivors, no matter how dire the situation looked on the surface. But they were nearing the 72-hour cusp since the disaster — the upper limit of the estimated timeframe a trapped human can survive without food, water, and proper medical attention.

Their first search of the presidential palace had turned up nothing but dead. Simple odds were they’d only find more bodies to add to the pile.

As the Blazer swung to a stop and opened its doors, Billy shook off the gnawing mental exhaustion and waded out into the thick humidity of the midday air, Hunter by his side. Time to focus — Hunter was up first, and the search did not look easy. What used to be an apartment was now a small mountain of rebar, trash, and jagged concrete chunks that stuck up like tombstones. The daunting size of the pile did little to raise spirits. Finding anything here would be difficult and dangerous.

HUnter and Billy Monahan training.
Dogged determination: Hunter and Billy Monahan ascend a ladder during a training exercise. (Photo by Karen L. Newbill)

Billy walked Hunter into position at the edge of the rubble and gave the small mountain another glance. No signs of life, but no time for doubt. There were an infinite number of sites to search, and that was barely scratching the surface. He looked down at his loyal partner. Hunter was sampling the air with his extraordinary nose and pulling the leash taut. No Hollywood drama here. The dog was ready to work.

Not knowing three lives were depending on what his dog did in the next five minutes, Billy unleashed Hunter and the search began.

Hunter sprang forward into air thick with scents of all types. A building collapse might dredge up buried odors or release trapped ones from within the walls, the building materials, or the surrounding ground, in addition to the scents that were already freely floating. Hunter was literally walking into a flood of smells. Except he wasn’t walking. He was bounding, bouncing from stone to stone like his feet were rubber. He bypassed a coil of razor wire, two metal chairs, and a broken window frame. Billy noticed his partner was picking up speed as he neared a jagged arrangement of broken concrete.

The concrete dropped into a crescent-shaped bowl of rubble. Billy tried to imagine the acrylic bubbles they would use in training to show air currents, floating across the remains of the structure. The air was hot here. Invisible thermals rose from different locations and would fling molecules off hard surfaces and send them ricocheting off in different directions, an ever-stirring pot of invisible stew. Or maybe not moving at all — sometimes scent gets trapped in buildings, especially thick concrete, and very little escapes.

A little extra pep in Hunter’s step was nothing to get excited about yet, but did warrant some extra attention. Hunter crested the berm and descended into the small depression. There were tiny crawl spaces, no more than a foot and a half, into which Hunter would scrunch himself. He would penetrate the rubble pile so far back that Billy could only see the bronze-circled reflection of his eyes before he popped back out again. Hunter was focused. All his training was coming through in his every movement.

Then it happened quickly. Hunter, who’d been running an even straight line, suddenly cut left like some invisible wire had snagged him. The official term for this is “hooked” and it literally looks like some offstage hook in a cartoon reaches out and pulls the dog in a different direction. Billy now had reason to get excited. Hunter was onto something.


Four stories below the surface, the three women still had no reason to hope. Any sounds of the search were unlikely to reach them. But their bodies were emitting dead cells from their skin, bacteria and organic matter in their breath, sweat from their pores, all of which could act like molecular rescue beacons for the sniffing machine circling above. As the molecules seeped out from the concrete, they hit more concrete; they mixed with the rest of the other scents — dirt and dust, rust and metal, bone and blood of the dead — diluting them, thinning them, masking them.

Billy felt a sharp tug and the weight f the water bottle was gone. Someone had grabbed it off the end of the stick. These people were alive.

Somehow — maybe a lucky ricochet, maybe a favorable breeze — some of those molecules made it into Hunter’s nose. The scent bounced through Hunter’s nostrils, into one of his three hundred million or more sensory receptor sites and lit up his brain to human scent. Live human scent.

Hunter’s search area grew smaller, more focused by the second. His body seemed to tighten. His tail began to wag. Billy felt his pulse uptick slightly, but he tried to remain detached until he was sure. In his 28 years involved with the Los Angeles Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, he had never been able to pull anyone out alive.

Then Hunter’s search area was only a few square feet, focusing on nothing more than a tiny gap in the concrete. He had something. Billy was certain of that now. But was it alive? Then Hunter stopped. Whatever he was interested in, he’d found the apex of the scent.

Then he began to bark.

Billy waited no more. He motioned to the interpreter to call to the victim. Breathing hard, the man stumbled partway down the rubble toward Hunter, who was still barking at the crack. The man steadied himself. “Hail out!” he yelled in a thick French accent. He wanted to hear if the person trapped inside was alive. “Hail!” he called again.

Billy, still atop the crest and keeping an eye on Hunter, did not hear a response. If no one was alive, they would have to move on. There was too much destruction to waste time on more dead. But when the interpreter turned to face him, Billy knew they weren’t going anywhere.

“They answered,” the interpreter said, as if he were trying out the words for the first time. Billy felt goose bumps prickle up his arms. There was no way anyone had survived this long. The countless dead were testament to that. ­Anyone could see that Port-au-Prince was a town of ghosts.

But then he was moving. His firefighter instincts propelling him down the steep face of the rubble, sliding and stumbling his way toward Hunter. He began hearing the muted voices coming from the gap in the concrete.

With a numb hand that felt detached from his body, Billy fumbled a water bottle out of his pack and secured it to the end of a stick with his glove. Tentatively, almost afraid the sounds of humans were merely apparitions and might disappear if approached too quickly, he stretched the stick forward into the crevasse. For a moment, only the unsupported weight of the water bottle hung heavy on the stick.

Then something happened that Billy would later recall as the undisputed highlight of his 40-plus years of firefighting. Like hooking a fish after 84 days at sea, Billy felt a sharp tug and the weight of the water bottle was gone. Someone had grabbed it off the end of the stick. These people were alive.

Hunter sat expectantly, waiting for his reward, and as Billy keyed his radio to bring the extraction crew, he heard something he’ll never forget. From the depths of the rubble that had seemed to mock them at all the other sites, from where no one was supposed to survive, came a faint but clear voice:

“Thank you!”

It took two rescue squads — 16 individuals — and a contingent of doctors almost seven hours to burrow down the four stories and free the young women. All three women were tired and injured, but alive. By the time they were being checked out by the medical staff, Hunter and Billy were already on to their next search.


Back at his home, where almost three weeks earlier a helicopter had landed to spirit him and his dog away, Billy Monahan reflected on the experience. The catharsis of saving multiple lives and the unflinching determination of Hunter and the rest of the team, coupled with the outpouring of so much gratitude from a country that had so little, crashed over Billy in a deluge. He sat alone on his bed, letting the triumphs and heartbreaks flood him. It was too much. Billy felt the warm streaks of tears make their way down his cheeks.

He let them flow freely. Then he felt the warm nuzzle of a familiar figure by his side. Buried as he was in emotion, Billy should not have been surprised to see his loyal partner.

Hunter, as always, had found him.

True dog lovers may be interested in our special collector’s edition, A Celebration of Dogs. To order, go to saturdayeveningpost.com/dog.


Wilma Melville is the founder of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF). She served as a FEMA-certified canine search specialist deployed in response to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Paul Lobo is a writer, Army veteran, and volunteer for SDF.

This article is featured in the September/October 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Karen L. Newbill.

In a Word: An Autumn Mystery

Managing editor and logophile Andy Hollandbeck reveals the sometimes surprising roots of common English words and phrases. Remember: Etymology tells us where a word comes from, but not what it means today.

Autumn is officially upon us, and though the word is just as common as any other season’s name, it has a more mysterious past. While our other season names — spring, summer, winter, and fall — are native English words that we can trace back to our Germanic roots, autumn has a more mysterious past.

In Old English, the season was referred to as harvest — because it was the time to bring in the crops. But during the late 14th century, the Old French word autumpne, which finds its roots in the Latin autumnus, found its way into English, and it became pretty popular pretty quickly. It makes sense, too — harvest could otherwise refer to the actual crops or to the act of bringing in those crops, so opportunities for confusion were abundant. (Imagine, for example, if we called winter snow.)

However, how autumnus entered Latin is a mystery. As the Roman Empire grew, it seems neither Roman scholars nor politicians were much interested in studying, much less preserving, the culture, traditions, or — most important for this discussion — languages of conquered peoples. Their existence was not lost completely, though; some pieces were absorbed, including local words. We can usually trace words to these languages, though, even if they are now dead.

Not so with autumn.

A common approach to hunting down the etymology of difficult English words is to compare them to other known Indo-European languages. Languages change in sometimes predictable ways, and careful study can reveal not only the history of a word’s evolution, but its physical route across the land. But with autumn, no such luck. The names for this season vary widely — from Croatian jesen to Corsican vaghjimu to Greek phthinoporon — with little to indicate any distant relation to autumn. One theory is that the word comes from Etruscan, an extinct language once spoken on parts of the Italian peninsula, but we may never know for sure.

So for now, the word’s past will lie hidden beneath centuries of bright fallen leaves.

Featured image: Shutterstock.com

Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott: Highlights from the Toronto International Film Festival

Bill Newcott shares the best from the Toronto Film Festival, including A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the Mister Rogers biopic starring Tom Hanks; the perfect murder mystery Knives Out; Joker starring Joachin Phoenix; the story of Harriet Tubman, Harriet; Ford v. Ferrari starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale; The Aeronauts with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones; Eddie Murphy’s Dolemite Is My Name; and a powerful film portrayal of civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy.

See all Movies for the Rest of Us.

Featured image: A scene from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Photo by Lacey Terrell – © Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Cartoons: Wildly Funny Animals

Want even more laughs? Subscribe to the magazine for cartoons, art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.


“He’s what you call an ‘Elephant’s Elephant’!”
September 30, 1944


May 31, 1952
“He looks just like his father at that age.”
Leo Garel
May 26, 1951
Vahan Shirvanian
May 26, 1951
“Really? I thought I felt a draft!”
Ed Nofziger
May 19, 1951


Vahan Shirvanian
May 19, 1951


“Peanuts—fresh, hot roasted peanuts!”
December 29, 1951


“They’ve been meeting secretly like that for months.”
Ed Nofziger
December 30, 1944


Want even more laughs? Subscribe to the magazine for cartoons, art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

World War II Brings the First Copygirl to a Chicago Newspaper

It was December 18, 1944, and I was dressed for success. A black suit and high heels — sling pumps to be specific. They did not have the stiletto heels of today so I was at no risk of them catching in the wood planks of the Madison Street Bridge as I crossed the Chicago River, a streetcar passing by making the planks quiver. On the far side, what is now considered an Art Deco building worthy of historic preservation, was the Chicago Daily News Building. My destination: the seventh floor, where the editorial offices of the Chicago Sun were located.

Chicago Daily News Building
The Chicago Daily News building. (Wikimedia Commons, Grant Schmalgemeier Century of Progress Collection / public domain)

It was still the Chicago Sun, not yet merged with The Times a few blocks up the river, and still in the Daily News Building, where it had originated. It had been given space by the then owner and publisher of the Chicago Daily News, Colonel Frank Knox. Knox had offered the space to Marshall Field III so he could start his paper before he built a building to house it. Alas, the paper’s first issue came out on a Sunday — a Sunday noted not for its publication but an event halfway around the world: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

The war was still part of the story on the day I headed for the Daily News Building in hopes of getting a job. My first.

I was 18. My father had had a heart attack the previous month, and it was thought he would never work again. So I waited for the quarter to end at Northwestern and headed for the Chicago Sun offices in hopes of becoming a copygirl, like the girl who sat next to me in my newswriting class in the Medill School of Journalism.

Chicago street
Bustling State Street in 1940s Chicago. (Library of Congress)

When I stepped off the wood planks of the bridge and onto the concrete sidewalk I came face to face with a newsstand — a small building, close kin to a garden shed, with a wide open front that displayed the newspapers of the day. Chicago had six daily newspapers then. And the headlines were on the latest battle, a surprise attack by the Germans, in the Ardennes. It would come to be known as The Battle of the Bulge.

That battle was one of the events of World War II that would define so much of the 20th century. And although I did not know it as I walked past the newsstand, it was also responsible for my success that day.

The war had so drained the pool of young men that copyboys were in short supply and the Daily News had decided to take girls without the slightest hesitation or delay. The first words out of the director’s mouth after he told me I was hired were: “Can you start tomorrow?”  I could, and when I reported for work the next morning at 9:00, I became, according to an editor some months later, the first copygirl at the venerable Chicago Daily News — “the grey old lady” of Chicago journalism.

That explained, in part at least, why for days — indeed, well into my second month — reporters scattered throughout the city room would often call out “Boy!” even while looking straight at me. It was only later that I realized the cry of “Boy!” was synonymous to them with the cry of “Copy!

To say that the city room was a male bastion is to say that the sun rises in the east. There were five or six women reporters, temporary replacements for the men who had gone off to serve their country. There were no women in the departments off the city room, and certainly none in the Man Cave of Man Caves, the sports department. True, there was a Woman’s Page section at the end of another corridor, but it was like a detached garage.

I’d only seen editors and reporters at work in the movies, where they yelled “Scoop! Scoop!” and “Stop the presses!” Now I was in the city room of one of the great newspapers in American journalism history. Many of the editors and reporters were legends even then. One of the most famous stories of World War II was written by George Weller of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service  an account of the emergency appendectomy performed aboard a submarine deep in enemy waters. It would win the Pulitzer Prize. And the Chicago Daily News itself would win, in the same period of time, almost as many Pulitzer Prizes as The New York Times.

This photo of the New York Times news room in 1942 was typical of newspaper offices of the era (Library of Congress)

My first week I faced rowdy encounters when I went to the sports department to deliver proofs. It was days before Christmas and the holiday spirit there was largely bottled. One time someone, I think it was the sports editor, told them to tamp it down. And they did. But I was so uncomfortable as the days went on, I finally asked the director of copykids to have the boys deliver the proofs to the sports department, and he did … or took them himself. When we returned after Christmas, all was well.

Other than that, I was only subjected to a couple of crude/rude remarks in eight years at the Daily News. It may be that I fared so well because, being 18, in my saddle shoes and pleated plaid skirts, I was everyone’s kid sister or daughter. And I’m not aware of any sexual harassment of the women reporters. I may have missed it, but I think they were simply accepted because everyone knew that when the war ended and the guys returned, they’d be gone. It was a matter of law, writ, on the books, that when those who’d served their country returned, their jobs were there, waiting for them, as surely as their loved ones.

When that time came, two of the women were retained, one in the city room as a reporter — she’d become a star — and one moved down the hall to the features section to take over the daily radio column, there being no television yet.  The rest went off to smaller newspapers, back to where they’d been before the war … but with highly polished credentials.

By then, I’d moved up to the picture desk as an assistant and member of the staff, part of the apprentice system in place for years with boys. In January 1946 I started a column — for high school and college students, as befit my age — and was no longer in the city room. I was housed at first in the women’s page offices and, then, the ever expanding features section.

One woman in the city room my first day — and last — was Margaret Whitesides. She sat at the city desk — a female hole in the donut of editors. She answered the phones, opened the mail, kept track of the notices of upcoming events. Her father was a printer in the composing room on the fifth floor, as was her brother, but she had come to work at the Daily News as a secretary in one of the business offices on the fourth floor. She yearned, however, to be in the city room. When the now legendary Clem Lane became city editor, it came to pass.

She would stay there through the comings and goings of scores of men and women whose names are woven into the history of the Chicago Daily News, a quiet, friendly face amidst the editorial storms that struck almost daily. And when the Daily News ceased to be, Margaret started a newsletter a few years later. She wrote it on the old Underwood typewriter she’d used for so many years, and was allowed to take when the paper closed.

It has come to be more than a vehicle for catching up or keeping up. It has come to be a repository of journalism history. So much so a complete set is part of the growing Chicago Daily News Collection at the Newberry Library.

The June-July issue this year noted the passing of one of the most famous women to ever have a byline in the Chicago Daily News, Georgie Anne (“Gee Gee”) Geyer. Written by Rick Kogan, a Daily News alum who’d moved to the Chicago Tribune some years before, he said:

In an era when a woman in a newsroom was, as her friend Mike Royko once put it, “as rare as a teetotaler,” Georgie Anne Geyer not only made her mark as a foreign correspondent and syndicated columnist, but also became an inspiration to generations of women who followed in her globe-trotting footsteps.

How hard that was is suggested by the story’s subhead: “‘She’s nuts,’ we laughed when Gee Gee said she wanted to be a foreign correspondent.”

The August-September issue looked back on the career of Lois Wille, “pioneer on many frontiers.”  Said editor Jack Schnedler:

The Daily News newsroom was almost totally a man’s world in 1957 when Lois Wille reported for duty from the paper’s so-called “women’s pages.” The city’s only other female reporter covered the traditional distaff beat of education.

One reporter introduced himself by bending down and rubbing Wille’s ankle. As she later told it, she rebuffed the offending jerk by shouting loudly, for everyone in the newsroom to hear: “Jack, that’s my ankle!”  She was never manhandled again.

They, like Margaret, the copygirls who came after me and, however slowly, the women who followed the war time “temps,” were part of the revolution described by Schnedler as “so seismic that most newsrooms today – in print journalism’s twilight – are staffed by as many or more women than men. And women in top editor’s positions are no longer rarer – pardon the lame simile – than hen’s teeth.”

My first weeks, I was often teased. Still so young I yearned to be older, I chafed at always being told to “Take this to this to the copy desk, like a good little girl,” or “Get the clips on the mayor from the library … that’s a nice child.”  One day I blurted out: “I’ll be 19 … three weeks from next Tuesday!”  City Editor Clem Lane took a step back, surprised, but recovered nicely. “Then you’d better hurry … before Social Security gets you.”

I also tried the patience of many an assistant editor when I was granted the opportunity to start learning to be a reporter. I particularly remember one effort coming back with the comment: “Please, Val. Not Bow Wow. The Chicago Kennel Club announced the opening of its annual dog show ….”

But when I went out with a photographer to cover my first story, and then was told to take it on to the copy desk, the guys there were so happy for me. “We hear you wrote this,” they said. To which I happily replied, “I did.  I did!”

Much water has passed under the bridge since that December day I crossed the Madison Street Bridge, the wood planks quivering when a streetcar rumbled by, my dressed for success high heels in no danger of being caught as I headed for the Chicago Daily News Building … and my entry into, to me, the hallowed walls of The Fourth Estate.

A long time ago, now.

But I was there, if not at the Creation, the beginning.

Featured image: Val Lauder handing off copy to a copyboy in 1947 at the Chicago Daily News. (Used with permission of Eileen Darby Images, Inc.)

When Smoking Was Just What the Doctor Ordered

In 1946, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company began making a bold claim in their advertisements: “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” An ultra-specific statement in passive voice dangled above to back up this “fact”: “113,597 doctors from coast to coast were asked!” A revised version might have read “We asked 113,597 doctors from coast to coast!” Or, more accurately, “We asked 113,597 doctors from coast to coast after bribing them with free Camels!”

R.J. Reynolds’s “more doctors” ad campaign was published in most national magazines for six years, and television commercials showed men in lab coats gleefully lighting up while reading thick textbooks or making house calls.

Country Gentleman, 1946

Smoking cigarettes during this time period was as ubiquitous as drinking soda pop. Although a full-fledged public health campaign against tobacco was still decades away, anxiety about smoking and its negative health effects could be found going back to the turn of the century. Big players like American Tobacco Company, Philip Morris, and R.J. Reynolds sought to soothe these fears by using advertisements to marry doctors and cigarettes in the American mind.

Otorhinolaryngologist Dr. Robert Jackler, of Stanford University, and his wife Laurie founded the group Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, and they compiled around 50,000 original tobacco advertisements, many of them from this magazine. The collection ranges from the absurd to the bizarre, with images of storks taking smoke breaks, cigar parents raising cigarette babies, and children smoking while their parents look on and giggle. Some of the most surreal ads, from today’s perspective, feature doctors touting the benefits of smoking certain brands. In April, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History opened an exhibit called “More Doctors Smoke Camels” that showcases many of these American artifacts. Jackler says many museum visitors have gawked at the ads and their health claims in disbelief, but these images and their style of persuasion set precedence for all kinds of health-based advertising.

Cigarette ad
Country Gentleman, 1943

In the 19th century, it was widely believed that smoking could actually cure some ailments. For asthma, bronchitis, hay fever, and influenza, Cigares de Joy advertised “immediate relief.” Similarly, Marshall’s Cubeb Cigarettes could supposedly “absolutely cure” all of those, along with the buildup of mucus known as “catarrh.” Inhalation of smoke had long been a health concern, but well-known European doctors promoted smoking cubeb (tailed pepper), stramonium (jimsonweed), and even tobacco to ease coughing fits. These half-baked remedies coincided with the growing popularity of smoking tobacco as a signal of economic independence and masculinity.

Come the 1900s, everyone seemed to be picking up the habit.

In 1930, Lucky had first made the claim that “20,679 physicians say ‘Luckies are less irritating’” on an ad with a smiling doc offering up a pack of the most popular smokes of the time. American Tobacco Company (the maker of Luckies) hired the advertising firm Lord, Thomas, and Logan to mail cartons of cigarettes to physicians in 1926, 1927, and 1928 with a survey asking whether “Lucky Strike Cigarettes … are less irritating to sensitive and tender throats than other cigarettes.”

American Tobacco Company, 1930, SRITA

In the decades to come, newcomer Philip Morris would claim that their cigarettes were scientifically proven to be less irritating as “eminent doctors report in medical journals.” The company insisted their addition of diethylene glycol — a poison — into their tobacco made it moister and better on the throat, and they sponsored researchers to find as much. In reality, the foundation of their claim was an experiment in which two Columbia University pharmacologists injected the chemical into the eyes of rabbits. Other researchers disputed their results.

Along with its “More Doctors Smoke Camels … ” claim, Reynolds also pushed the idea of the “T-zone test” (for taste and throat), illustrated by a T-shape superimposed on a woman’s smiling face. The diagram was reminiscent of something you might see on a poster in an otolaryngologist’s office. This came years after what Jackler called “perhaps the strangest claim in all of tobacco advertising history”: R.J. Reynolds insisted their cigarettes helped speed digestion by increasing alkalinity (“For digestion’s sake, smoke Camels!”). A 1951 FTC cease-and-desist order prohibited the company from making such claims, but that ad campaign had come and gone.

Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, 1949, SRITA

Two years ago, Dr. Jackler released a paper on a lesser-known advertising strategy of the tobacco industry from the 1930s to the ’50s. In order to court doctors directly, tobacco companies took out ads in most weekly and monthly medical journals, and particularly the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Since advertisements were often scrapped before the journal’s archives were bound, many of these ads were forgotten, but Jackler’s team compiled more than 500 of them. “Not one single case of throat irritation due to smoking Camels!,” a 1949 JAMA ad reads. “Put your stethoscope on a pack of Kools and listen,” a 1943 ad beckons. Philip Morris flirted with absurdity in a 1942 ad emblazoned with the suggestion “What! — Prescribe Cigarettes?”

“Even though more and more data was coming out about lung cancer and eventually chronic lung disease and heart disease, so much money was coming to medicine journals [from tobacco companies], particularly JAMA,” Jackler says. In 1949, the AMA received 33 times more income from JAMA’s advertising than from membership dues.

According to Dr. Jackler’s paper, JAMA’s editor-in-chief (from 1924 to 1949) Morris Fishbein made a slow transformation from tobacco critic to consultant over the course of his career. In the late ’20s and early ’30s, Fishbein authored books and editorials criticizing cigarette advertising and the medical industry’s advertising practices more broadly. Fishbein developed a relationship with Philip Morris, however, that evaporated his skepticism in the years to come. He maintained correspondence with the company to help them create ads and even authored an editorial defending their use of diethylene glycol after 75 people died from poisoning in 1937. Fishbein ruled the journal with an iron fist throughout the ’40s, squashing dissent against its advertising practices and even ignoring calls from the board of directors to rein it in. When the protest of physicians against tobacco advertising in JAMA grew too large, the journal finally ceased publishing tobacco ads in 1954. The same year, Fishbein took a job with Lorillard Tobacco Company, making the equivalent of about $240,000 a year in 2019 money. As late as 1969, Fishbein publically doubted the link of cigarettes to cancer, calling it “a great propaganda.”

R.J. Reynolds, 1931, SRITA

Tobacco ads on television and radio were banned in 1971, and the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998 curtailed other forms of tobacco advertisement. Tobacco companies can still advertise in print publications, although there are far more restrictions for those today. Health claims are out of the question.

A study on tobacco advertisements in magazines in Preventive Medicine found that cigarette ads increased more than threefold in publications like Rolling Stone, Star, and Entertainment Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Of course, e-cigarette advertisements have also taken off in recent years. It is possible to grab a magazine in a doctor’s office waiting room and find a full-color ad spread that calls attention to the “experience” or “taste” of tobacco, but the chance remains unlikely that we will ever again see any featuring the doctors themselves. The 1.95 percent of doctors who do smoke — according to JAMA’s latest numbers — aren’t likely to flaunt it anyhow.

Featured image: P. Lorillard, 1938, SRITA

The Amendments That Never Made It into the Constitution

In 1789, two years after the Constitution was approved, Representative James Madison proposed 20 additional amendments to the Constitution that would protect individual liberties — the Bill of Rights. When he finally presented them for Congressional approval, there were only 17.

Congress removed some and combined others, finally approving 12 amendments for voters in the states to ratify. All but two were approved.

Lost was the original First Amendment, which established a formula for calculating the size of the House of Representatives based on the growing population. It was meant to ensure that small constituencies would continue to be represented and not get lost in giant congressional districts.

Under the original First Amendment, the number would be increased every ten years based on the national census. Had this amendment been approved, the House of Representatives would today have anywhere between 500 to 8,000 members, depending on how the Supreme Court interpreted the law. (Its membership is currently set at 435.)

This amendment didn’t receive enough votes, nor did the Second Amendment, which spelled out the distinction of powers between the different branches of government:

The powers delegated by this Constitution are appropriated to the departments to which they are respectively distributed: so that the Legislative Department shall never exercise the powers vested in the Executive or Judicial, nor the Executive exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Judicial, nor the Judicial exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Executive Departments.

Congress discarded it, but saved the second paragraph of this amendment, making it the Tenth Amendment: “The powers not delegated by this constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively.”

One of Madison’s original 17 amendments wanted to ensure each state protected their residents’ liberties. “No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.”

But Congressmen didn’t feel this was necessary. They also combined two of Madison’s original 17 amendments. One guaranteed freedom of religion, and the other protected freedom of speech, press, assembly, and right to petition.

Congress also altered what became our Second Amendment. Its original wording said,

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

Madison also wanted to insert the Declaration of Independence before the Preamble, but Congress didn’t approve. It would have buried the memorable phrase that began the Constitution — “We the People…” in the text.

Featured image: Shutterstock.

What Killed the Know-Nothings?

For as long as people have been emigrating to our country, we have struggled with the question of how to treat newcomers.

Throughout America’s history, our immigration policies have often been driven by fear. In 2002, it was the fear of terrorism. In 1918, it was worries about communists. In the 1880s, it was the perceived threat of Chinese workers. And in the 1840s, it was the fear of Catholics.

Actually, the issue then was broader than religion alone. Americans feared the country was being overrun by foreigners. The number of immigrants entering the country rose from 100,000 per year to 2.9 million by mid-century — most of them Catholics coming from Ireland and Germany.

Many Protestant Americans believed these newcomers would never fit into American culture. They believed they were idlers and drunkards who were causing a rise in crime and poverty, and would vote as their religious authorities told them to.

In Boston, where Protestants felt threatened by an influx of Irish, mobs repeatedly attacked Catholic immigrants and even burned down a convent.

In 1836, “Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, or, The Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent” was published. It purported to be a woman’s account of the sexual abuse and baby murders she had witnessed in a Catholic convent. It was a total fabrication spiced with bigotry and pornography, but it sold 300,000 copies and added to religious paranoia.

In May and July 1844, nativists in Philadelphia demanded that Catholic children in public schools be forced to sing Protestant hymns. To show their strength and resolve, they staged a demonstration in an Irish neighborhood. It started a four-day riot, resulting 14 dead and two Catholic churches burned down. In July, the nativists were back, attacking the state militia protecting another Catholic church, leaving 15 dead.

A scene from the Philadelphia nativist riots in 1844 (James Baillie, Wikimedia Commons / public domain)

Meanwhile nativist riots broke out in New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Cincinnati.

These fractious times presented a golden opportunity for a political party that could capitalize on the fear and hatred of foreigners. In 1849, Charles B. Allen of New York launched the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, a secret society that would promote nativism — the rejection of foreigners and foreign influences. It also hoped to prevent the wholly fictional threat of the Pope leaving the Vatican and seizing control of the Mississippi Valley.

An anti-Catholic cartoon from 1855 (Library of Congress)

The Order wanted to strictly limit immigration, exclude all foreign-born citizens from holding public office, extend the residency requirement for naturalization from five years to 21, eliminate all Catholic influences from American society, and require daily readings from a Protestant bible in schools.

The Order was so secretive that its members were ordered to divulge no information about it. When asked about the OSSB, members were to reply, “I know nothing about it.” This response earned the order the nickname of the “Know-Nothings.”

How the Know-Nothings saw themselves – as “Uncle Sam’s Youngest Son” (Library of Congress)

Despite its secretiveness, the Order spread across America, finding thousands of supporters. By now, it was calling itself “The American Party.”

But just as many threw their support behind the Know Nothing, nativist cause, many others bitterly opposed its principles, which were spelled out in “A Defense of American Policy,” written by Thomas R. Whitney.

Reviewing the book on May 31, 1856, the Post editors wrote:

Its most noticeable features are its shallowness, its bigotry, its recklessness of assertion, its sophistical warping of facts to its own purposes, its lack of knowledge, its ignorance of the philosophy of republican institutions, its impudent nationality, its general inhumanity, and its utter practical denial of the brotherhood of the race and the fatherhood of God.

The American Party did well in the elections of 1854, winning control of the Massachusetts, Delaware, and Pennsylvania assemblies, and 43 of the 234 seats in the U.S. Congress.

By the next year, they controlled New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland and Kentucky, and formed large minorities in southern states. Party leaders believed they had a serious chance of winning the presidency in 1856.

The Know-Nothings’ success was only partly due to its anti-Catholic/immigrant agenda. It also gained support from the collapsing Whig party. The abolitionist movement had divided the Whigs. Party leadership hadn’t been able to reconcile its pro- and anti-slavery faction, and many Whigs were leaving their party. Many switched to the Know-Nothing party; two years later, the Whig Party was gone

An anti-immigrant cartoon circa 1850 showing two men wearing barrels labeled ‘Irish Wiskey’ and ‘Lager Bier’, carrying a ballot box (Alamy)

But the Know-Nothings had little time to enjoy their success.

Once elected, the Know-Nothings found they could get little cooperation from other parties. Congress refused to act on immigration reforms from its Know-Nothing members. In the Massachusetts, the Know-Nothing governor and legislature let their immigration bills die in committee. They set up a board to investigate sexual scandals in Catholic convents, but found nothing — other than that the principle reformer was using committee funds to pay for sex. A search of Catholic schools for guns and other evidence of impending rebellion produced nothing beyond laughter from their critics.

But even these problems weren’t enough to destroy the Know-Nothing Party. That was accomplished by the same problem that ended the Whig party: clashes over race.

Southern members were pushing the party to support slavery. This caused Abraham Lincoln to write:

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’… When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equals, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to that I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

Northern Know-Nothings would have nothing to do with slavery. At the party’s national convention, a debate on the issue caused members to storm out. It ended the convention and, in effect, the party.

Immigration, foreigners, religion, culture wars — any of these issues are big enough to support a major political party, and win elections.

Until a more critical issue comes along.

Featured image: The Know-Nothings flag circa 1850 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Come of Age” by B.J. Chute

Writing young adult fiction in Boy’s Life, Child Life, and Boy Scout Magazine, B.J. Chute’s work ranges from fantastical romance to silly farce. In 1944’s “Come of Age,” her short story about a young boy coping with the unimaginable, Chute depicts the innocence of World War II-era America alongside devastating grief in the eyes of a child. As a product of its time, the story gives a snapshot of idyllic family life interrupted by the horror of war.

Published on September 30, 1944


Content Warning: A racial slur


Timothy crossed the road at the exact place where the tar ended and the dirt began, paused on the sidewalk, squinted up at the sun and gave a heave of satisfaction. He was too warm with his sweater on. He had known he was going to be too warm, and he had made a firm announcement to this effect to his mother before he left the house in the morning. Thousands of layers of woolly stuff, he had pointed out darkly, intimating that a person might easily suffocate.

Having barely survived this fate so far, he now decided to make a test case out of it. If an automobile passed him on the road before he had counted up to ten, that meant it was really spring and too warm for sweaters. His own internal workings were positive on the subject, but he was amiably willing to put the whole thing on a sporting basis.

“One,” said Timothy. After a while he added, “Two.” He then suspended his counting while he made a neat pile of his schoolbooks and lunch box, putting them carefully on a bare patch of ground, away from the few greenly white sprigs of grass that were struggling up into the sunlight. If the car came by, he would have to put the books on the ground anyhow, in order to take off his sweater, so it seemed wiser to do it ahead of time.

“Three,” said Timothy, looking up the road. There was nothing in sight, so he closed his eyes, waited, said “Four” and opened them again. This time it worked. There was a car coming. Timothy put his hands to his sweater and stood pantingly prepared to jerk it over his head.

The car swished by with a friendly toot.

“Five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten,” said Timothy rapidly, just to be perfectly fair about the whole thing, vanished momentarily into the sweater and reappeared with his hair standing on end and the expression of one who had been saved from total collapse in the nick of time.

He turned the sweater virtuously right side to again, with his mother in mind, and tied its arms around his waist, allowing the rest of it to fall comfortably to the rear, where it could flap without giving him any sense of responsibility. Then he tucked his schoolbooks under one arm, picked up the lunchbox and peered hopefully inside it. There were three cake crumbs and some orange peel. He licked his finger, collected the crumbs on the end of it and disposed of them tidily, then extracted a piece of the peel and took a thoughtful nibble.

It tasted vaguely like a Christmas tree, but rather leathery, so he put it back, felt a momentary dejection based on a sudden desperate need for a great deal of food, recovered rapidly, took another look at the sun and gave a pleased snort.

It was certainly spring, and for once it was starting on a Friday afternoon, which meant he would have the whole weekend to get used to it in. Also, by some great and good accident, his sixth-grade English teacher had forgotten to assign the weekly composition. This was almost incredibly gratifying, especially since the rumor had got around that she had been going to give them the dismal topic of What My Country Means to Me.

Timothy sighed with satisfaction over the narrow escape of the sixth-grade English class, knowing quite well the same topic would turn up again next week, but that next week was years away. Besides, she might change her mind and assign something else. One week she had told them to write what she referred to as a word portrait, called A Member of My Family. Timothy had enjoyed that richly. He had written, inevitably, about his brother Bricky, and it was the longest composition he had ever achieved in his life. He felt a great pity for his classmates, who didn’t have Bricky to write about, since Bricky was not only the most remarkable person in the world but he was at that moment engaged in being a hero in the South Pacific. He was a pilot with silver wings and a bomber, and Timothy basked luxuriously in the warmth of his glory.

“Yoicks,” said Timothy, addressing the spring and life in general. “Yoicks” was Bricky’s favorite expression.

“Yoicks,” he said again.

He was, at the moment, five blocks from home. The first block he used up in not stepping on the cracks in the sidewalk, which was not the mindless process it appeared to be. He was actually conducting an elaborate reconnaissance program, and the cracks were vital supply lines. By the second block, however, his attitude on supplies had taken a more personal turn, and he spent the distance reflecting that this was the day his mother baked cookies. His imagination carried him willingly up the back steps, through the unlatched screen door and to the cooky jar, but there it gave up for lack of specific information on the type of cookies involved.

Besides, he was now at the third block, and the third block was important, consisting largely of a vacant lot with a run-down little shack lurching sideways in a corner of it. The old brown grass of last autumn and the matted tangle of vines and weeds were showing a faint stirring of greenness like a pale web.

At the edge of the lot, Timothy paused and his whole manner changed. He became alert and his eyes narrowed, shifting from left to right. He was listening intently. The only sound was the peevish chirp of a sparrow; but Timothy was a world away from it. What he was listening for was the warning roar of revved-up motors.

In a moment now, from behind that shack, from beyond those tangled vines, Japanese planes would swarm upward viciously, in squadron attack.

Timothy put down the books and the lunch box, then he stepped back, holding himself steady. His hand moved, fingers curved knowingly, to control and throttle, and from his parted lips there suddenly burst a chattering roar.

The Liberator surged forward gallantly to meet the attackers. Timothy’s face became tense, and he interrupted the engine’s explosive revolutions for a moment to warn himself grimly, “This is it. Watch yourselves, men.” He then nodded soberly. It was a grave responsibility for the pilot, knowing the crew trusted him to see them through.

The pilot, of course, was Bricky. It was Bricky who was holding the plane steady on its course, nerving himself for the final instant of action. The deadly swarm of Zeros swept forward, but the pilot’s face remained impassive.

Z-z-z-zoom, they spread across the sky, their evil advance punctuated by the hail of machine-gun fire. The Liberator climbed, settling back on her tail in instant response to the pilot’s sure hand. As she scaled the clouds, the bright silver of her name, painted along the side, shone defiantly — The Hornet. Bricky had at one time piloted a plane called The Hornet. It was the best name that Timothy knew.

After that, it was short and sharp. A Jap fighter detached itself from the humming swarm. The Hornet rolled and the tail gunner squeezed the triggers. The plane exploded in midair, disintegrated and streamered to earth in flaming wreckage.

“Right on the nose,” said the gunner with satisfaction.

The Hornet had their range now. Zero after Zero fluttered helplessly down out of the sky, dissolving into the earth. The others turned and skittered for their home base, terrified before the invincibility of American man and machine.

A faint smile flickered across the face of The Hornet’s pilot, and he permitted himself a nod of satisfaction. “Good show,” he said.

Timothy sat down on the ground and drew a deep breath. Then he said “Gosh!” and scrambled back to his feet. At home, even now, there might be a letter waiting from Bricky, full of breathless and wonderful details that could be relayed to the fellows at school. A few of them, of course, had brothers of their own in the Air Force, but none of them had Bricky, and that made all the difference. He was quite sorry for them, but most willing to share and to expound.

Gosh, he missed Bricky, but, gosh, it was worth it.

A dream crept across his mind. Maybe the war would last for years. Maybe some one of these days, a new pilot would stand before his commanding officer somewhere in Pacific territory and make a firm salute. “Lieutenant Baker reporting for duty, sir.”

His commanding officer would look up quickly from his notes. “Timothy!” Bricky would say, holding it all back. They would shake hands.

For the entire next block toward home, Timothy shook hands with his brother, but on the last block spring got into his heels and he raced the distance like a lunatic, yelling his jubilee. The porch steps he took in two leaps, crashed happily into the front hall and smacked his books and his lunchbox down on the hall table. He then opened his mouth to shout for his mother, not because he wanted her for anything specific, but because he simply needed to know her exact location.

His mouth, opened to “Hey, mom!” closed suddenly in surprise. His father’s hat was lying on the hall table. There was nothing to prepare him for his father’s hat on the hall table at three-thirty in the afternoon. His father’s hat kept regular hours. An unaccountable sense of formality descended on Timothy. He looked anxiously into the hall mirror and made a gesture toward flattening the top lock of his hair. It sprang up again under his hand, and he compromised on untying the sleeves of his sweater from around his waist and putting it firmly down on top of his books. None of this had anything to do with his father, who maintained strict neutrality on the subject of his son’s appearance. It was entirely a matter between Timothy, the time of day, and that unexpected gray felt hat on the hall table.

There were a dozen reasons for dad’s having come home early. There was nothing to get excited about. Timothy turned his back on the hall table and the hat, opened the door and went through into the living room. There was no one there, but he could hear his father’s voice in the kitchen, and, because the kitchen was a reassuring place, he felt better. He went on into the kitchen, shoving the door only part open and easing himself through it.

His mother was sitting on the kitchen chair beside the kitchen table. She was just sitting there, not doing anything. She never sat anywhere like that, doing nothing.

The formal, pressed-down feeling returned to Timothy and stuck in his throat.

He looked toward his father appealingly, but his father was leaning against the sink, with his hands behind him pressed against it, and staring down at the floor.

“Mom — ” said Timothy.

They both looked at him then, but it was his father who answered. He answered right away, as if it had to be said fast. “You’ll have to know, Tim,” he said, almost roughly. “It’s Bricky. He’s missing in action.” Missing in action. He had met the phrase so many times that it wasn’t frightening. There was no possible connection in his mind between “missing in action” and Bricky …

Missing in action. It was a picture on a movie screen, nothing more. Bricky, the invincible, would have bailed out, perhaps somewhere in the jungle. Or he would have nursed his damaged crate down to earth in a fantastically cool exhibition of flying skill, his men trusting him to see them through.

A hot, fierce pride surged up in Timothy. He wanted to tell his mother and father not to look that way; that Bricky, wherever he was, was safe. He wanted to reassure them, so that they would be smiling at him again and all the old cozy confidence would return to the kitchen.

His father was dragging words out, one by one. “The plane didn’t come back,” he said. “They were on a bombing mission, and they didn’t come back. We just got the telegram.”

An awful thing happened then. Timothy’s mother began to cry. He had never in his life seen her cry. It had never occurred to him that she was capable of it, and a monstrous chasm of insecurity yawned suddenly at his feet.

His father went over to her and got down on his knees on the kitchen linoleum, and he stayed there with his arm around her shoulders, murmuring, with his cheek against her hair, “Don’t, Ellen. Don’t, dearest.”

Timothy stood there in the middle of the floor with his hands jammed stiffly into his pockets and his eyes turned away from his father and mother. He was much more frightened by their sudden unfamiliarity than by what his father had told him. “Missing in action” was just words. His mother crying was a sheer impossibility, made visible before him.

He realized that he had to get out of the kitchen right away, because it was the place he had always been safest, and now that made it unendurable. He couldn’t do anything, anyway. Later, when his mother wasn’t — when his mother felt better, he could explain to her about Bricky being safe. He slid out of the room like a ghost, and, linked in their fear, neither of them even looked up.

In the front hall, he stopped for a moment. The spring sun outside was shining, bright and warm, on the street, and he knew exactly how the heat of it would feel slanting across his shoulders. But his mother had thought he ought to wear his sweater today. He wanted very badly to do something to make her feel better. He frowned and pulled the sweater on over his head, jamming his arms into the sleeves and resisting the temptation to push up the cuffs. It stretched them, his mother said.

He went slowly down the front steps, worrying about his mother. The words “missing in action” still meant exactly nothing to him. They were only another installment in the exciting war serial that was Bricky’s Pacific adventures, and there was not the slightest shadow of doubt in his mind about Bricky’s safe return, though he was eager for details. He guessed none of the other fellows at school had members of their family gallantly missing in action.

No, it wasn’t Bricky that made him feel funny in the pit of his stomach. The thing was he hadn’t known that grownups cried, and the discovery took a good deal of stability out of his world.

His mother might go on being frightened for days ahead, until they heard that Bricky was all right, and he would be tiptoeing around her in his mind all the time to make things better for her, and what he would really be wanting would be for things to be again the way they had been before.

He didn’t want to feel all unsettled inside. The way he felt now was the way he had felt the time they had been waiting to hear from his sister in California when the baby came. He had known quite well that Margaret would be fine and everything, but just the same, the baby’s coming had got into the house and filled it with uncertainties. Now it was the War Department. He was suddenly quite angry with the War Department. Bricky wasn’t going to like it, either, when he got back. He wouldn’t like mom worrying. Timothy wished now he had stayed a little longer in the kitchen and asked a few questions. He would have liked to know what that War Department had said, and, as he went down the street without any particular aim or direction, he turned it over and over in his mind.

He had walked back, without meaning to, to the vacant lot with the old shack on it, and it occurred to him that, while he had been shooting down those Jap planes in Bricky’s Hornet, his mother and father had been there in the kitchen. Looking like that.

He left the sidewalk and walked into the grassy tangle, scuffing his shoes through last autumn’s leaves. He would have liked some company, and he toyed for a moment with going over to Davy Peters’ house and telling him that the War Department had sent them a telegram about Bricky, but decided against it.

He sat down on the grass with his back against the wall of the shack. He could feel the rough coolness of the brown boards even through his sweater, and the sun spilled warmth down his front. It was unthinkable that the shack should ever be more comforting than the kitchen at home, but this time it was.

He wished he knew just what the telegram had said. There was something, he thought, that they always put in. Something about “We regret to inform you,” but maybe that was just for soldiers’ families when the soldier had got killed. He had seen a movie that had that in it once, and it had made quite an impression, because in the movie it was all tied up with not talking about the things you knew, and for days Timothy had gone around with a tightly shut mouth and the look of one who is giving no aid and comfort to the enemy. He had even torn the corners off all Bricky’s letters and burned them up with a fine secret feeling of citizenship, and then he had regretted it afterward, when he remembered it was only the United States APO address and no good to anyone. It was too bad, in a way, because they would have made a good collection. On the other hand, he already had eighteen separate and distinct collections, and the shelf in his room, the corner of the second drawer down in the living room desk, and the excellent location behind the laundry tub in the basement were all getting seriously overcrowded.

He wondered if maybe later he could have the telegram. He could start a good collection with the telegram, he thought. He would print on a piece of paper, “Things Relating to My Brother Bricky,” and paste it onto a box. He even knew the box he would use. It held his father’s golf shoes, but some kind of arrangement could be worked out for putting the shoes somewhere else. His father was very good about that sort of thing, once he understood boxes were really needed, and, later on, this one could hold all the souvenirs and medals and things Bricky would bring home.

The telegram, which maybe began “We regret to inform you,” would fit neatly into the box without having to be folded. It would go on with something about “your son, Lieutenant Ronald Baker,” and then there would be something more, not quite clear in his mind, about “He is reported missing in action over the South Pacific, having failed to return from an important bombing mission.”

Timothy scowled at a sparrow. There was another part that went with the “missing in action” part. Missing, believed — Missing, believed killed.

That was when it hit him. That was the moment when he suddenly realized what had happened — when the thing that the telegram stood for took shape clearly before him, not as something that had frightened his mother and made his father hold her very tight, but as something real about Bricky.

Bricky, his brother. Bricky, with whom he had sat a hundred times in this exact place and talked and talked, Bricky who went fishing with him, who showed him how to tie a sheepshank, who was going to help him build a radio when he came back.

“When he comes back,” said Timothy aloud, licking his lips because they had unaccountably gone dry. But suppose now that Bricky didn’t come back? Suppose that telegram was the end of everything?

It was the vacant lot and the shack that weren’t safe anymore. In the kitchen, he had known, without questioning it, that Bricky was all right. It was here, out in the open, that fear had come crawling. Bricky was dead. He knew Bricky was dead, and he was dead thousands of miles from anywhere, and they wouldn’t see him again ever.

Timothy sat there, and the pain in his stomach wasn’t anything like the pain you got from eating too much or being hungry. He rocked back and forth, not very much, but enough to cradle the sharpness of it, being careful not to breathe, because if he breathed it went down too far inside and hurt too much. If he could just sit there, maybe, not breathing

He couldn’t. There came a time when his lungs took a deep gulp of air without his having anything to do with it, and when that time came there was no way of holding out any longer.

Bricky was dead. He gave a great strangled sob and rolled over on his face, sprawling across the ground, and everything that was good and safe and beautiful quit the earth and left him with nothing to hold on to. He clung to the grass, shaking desperately with fear and pain and loss, and the immensity and the loneliness and the danger of being a human rolled over and over him in drowning waves.

Behind him, the shack, which only a little while ago had been a shelter for the sneak attack of Zero planes, was immobile and solid in the sunshine. It was only a shack in a vacant lot. The tumbled weeds and vines above which The Hornet had swooped and soared were weeds and vines, not a battleground for airborne knights.

It wasn’t that way. It wasn’t that way at all. It had nothing to do with a gallant plane, outnumbered but triumphant. It had nothing to do with the Bricky who had flown in his brother’s dreams, as safe and invincible as Saint George.

A plane was a thing that could be shot down out of the safe sky by murderous gunfire. Bricky was a man whose body could be thrown from the cockpit and spin senselessly down into cold water. It was a cheat. The whole thing was a cheat.

The war — this vague big thing that moved in shadowy headlines, in a glorious pageantry of medals and flags and brave men shaking hands — wasn’t that at all. He had thought it was something like the Holy Grail and King Arthur, that it shone with beauty and was very high and proud.

And it wasn’t. It was fear and this hollowed panic inside him, and it was not seeing Bricky again. Not seeing him again ever. That was why his mother had cried.

That was why his father’s voice had been so rough and quick. And it wasn’t to be endured. He breathed in shivering gasps, there with his face buried in cool-smelling grass and earth and the sun friendly and gentle on his shoulders that didn’t feel it anymore. It would go on like this, day after day and week after week. Bricky was dead, and the place where Bricky had been would never be filled in.

That was what war was, and he knew about it now, and the knowledge was too awful and too immense to be borne. He wanted his mother. He wanted to run to her and to hold to her tightly and to cry his heart out with her arms around his shoulders and her reassuring voice in his ears.

But his mother felt like this, too, and his father. There was no safety anywhere. No one could help him, except himself, and he was eleven years old. He didn’t want to know about all these things. He didn’t want to know what war really was. He wanted it to be a picture on a movie screen again, with excitement and glory and men being brave. Not this immense, unendurable fear and emptiness. He couldn’t even cry.

He was eleven years old, and he lay there face down in the grass, and he couldn’t cry. He groped for anything to ease him, and he thought perhaps Bricky’s plane hadn’t been alone when it crashed to the flat blue water. He thought that other planes might have been blotted out with it — planes with big red suns painted on them.

But even that didn’t do any good. There were men in those planes with the suns on them. Not men like men he knew, not Americans, but real people just the same. No one had told him that he would one day know that the enemy were real people, no one had warned him against finding it out.

He pressed closer against the ground, trying to draw comfort up from it, but he kept shaking. “Now I lay me down to sleep,” said Timothy into the grass. “Now I lay me down to sleep. Now I lay me — ”

It was a long, long time before the shaking stopped. He was surprised, at the end of it, to find that he was still there on the ground. He pushed away from it and sat up, his head swimming. The sun was much lower now, and a little wind had sprung up to move the vines around him so they swayed against the shack. The sweater felt good around his shoulders, and it was the sweater that made him realize suddenly that he couldn’t go on lying there waiting for the world to stop and end the pain.

The world wasn’t going to stop. It was going right on, and Timothy Baker was still in it. He would go on being in it, and the thing inside him would go on being the thing inside him. He would have, somehow, to live with that too. He would have to go back to the house, to the kitchen, to his mother and father, to school, to coming home and knowing that Bricky wouldn’t be there.

Timothy looked around. He felt weak and dizzy, the way he’d felt once after a fever. The shack was there, with no Jap Zeros behind it. The place where he had stood when he was being Bricky and The Hornet was just a piece of ground. His mouth drew in, with his teeth clipping his lower lip, while he stared. There wasn’t any escape. He would have to go back — along the sidewalk, up the path, through the front door, into the hallway, into the living room, into the kitchen. There wasn’t any escape from his mother’s eyes or his father’s voice. He knew all about it now, and he was stiff and sore from knowing about it.

He saw what he had to do. He had to go home and face that telegram. He got to his feet. He brushed off the dry bits of grass that had clung to the blurred wool of his sweater, and he pulled the cuffs around straight, so they wouldn’t be stretched wrong. Then he walked across the grass, out of the lot and onto the sidewalk, holding himself very carefully against the pain.

He held himself that way all the distance back, and when he got to his own front yard he was able to walk quite directly and quickly up the path and up the steps. He turned the doorknob and he went into the front hall. It was getting darker outdoors already, and the hall was dim. It was a moment before he realized that his father was standing in the hallway, waiting for him.

He stopped where he was, getting the pieces of himself together. He wasn’t even shaking now, and some vague kind of pride stirred deep down inside him.

He said, “Dad” dragging the monosyllable out.

“Yes, Timmy.”

“May I see the telegram, please?”

His father reached into his pocket and took out the brown leather wallet that he carried papers around in. The telegram was on top of some letters and bills, and it was strange to see it already so much a part of their living that it was jostled by business things.

Timothy took the yellow envelope and opened it carefully. There it was. “Lieutenant Ronald Baker, missing in action.” The stiff formality of the printed words made it seem so final that he felt the coldness and the fear spreading through him again, the way it had been at the shack. His mind wanted to drag away from the piece of paper, and he had to force it to think instead.

With careful stubbornness, he read the telegram again. It wasn’t really very much that the War Department said — just that the plane had not returned and that the family would be advised of any further news. He read the last part once more. Any further news. That meant the War Department wasn’t sure what had happened. Bricky might have bailed out somewhere. There had been stories in the newspaper about fliers who bailed out and were picked up later. That was a hope. Timothy weighed it carefully in his mind, not letting himself clutch at it, and it was still a hope. It was a perfectly fair one that they were entitled to, he and his father and mother.

He held his thoughts steady on that for a moment, and then he made them go on logically and precisely. Another thing that could have happened was that Bricky had gone down somewhere over land that was held by the Japanese. If that was it, Bricky might be a prisoner of war. Prisoners of war came back. That was another hope, and it was a perfectly fair one too.

He had two hopes, then. They were reasonable hopes, and he had a right to hang on to them very tightly. The telegram didn’t say “believed killed.” Frowning, he went through it in his head again, adding up as if it were an arithmetic problem. There were three things that the telegram could mean. Two of them were on the side of Bricky’s safety, and one was against it. Two chances to one was almost a promise.

Timothy drew a deep breath and handed the telegram back to his father. His father took it without saying anything, then he put his hand against the back of Timothy’s neck and rubbed his fingers up through the stubbly hair. For just a moment, Timothy turned his head, pressing close against the buttons of his father’s coat, then he pulled away.

“Can I go outdoors for a little while?” he said.

“Sure. I guess supper will be the usual time.”

They nodded to each other, then Timothy turned and went out of the house. He went down the steps, his hands jammed in his pockets, and began to walk along the sidewalk, feeling still a little hollow, but perfectly steady.

His heart fitted him again. It had stopped pounding against the cage of his ribs, and it didn’t hurt anymore. The old feeling of safety and comfort was beginning to come back, but now it wasn’t a part of his home or of the day. It was inside himself and solid, so that he couldn’t mislay it again ever. He pushed his hair away from his forehead, letting the wind get at it. The air was cooler now and felt good, and he had a vague moment of being hungry.

Then he looked around him. He was back at the vacant shack, and the shack had been waiting there for him to come. He eyed it gravely. Behind the shack were the Jap Zeros. They had been waiting for him too. He knew they were there and that their force was overwhelming. Timothy’s fingers reached automatically for the controls of his plane. His jaw tightened and his eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth to let out the roar of motors.

And, suddenly, he stopped. His hand dropped down to his side and his mouth shut. He stood there quite quietly for a moment, as if he had lost something and were trying to remember what it was. Then he gave a sigh of relinquishment.

His fingers curled firmly around air again and closed, but this time they didn’t close on the controls of a machine. They closed on dangling reins.

“Come on, Silver, old boy,” said Timothy softly to the evening. “They’ve got the jump on us, but we can catch them yet.”

He touched his spurs to his gallant pinto pony, and, wheeling, he loped away across the sunlit plain.

Read “Come of Age” by B.J. Chute from the September 30, 1944, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

The Persistent Problems of Punctuation

Though we like to believe our everyday problems and complaints are substantially, systemically different from those of our ancestors from, say, a century and a half ago, some things never really change. Take punctuation. We may think our complaints about misplaced or missing commas, overused exclamation points, and that maddening-in-every-way semicolon are thoroughly modern, but they just aren’t. They’re older than your grandparents.

As long as editors and proofreaders have been correcting authors’ works, and as long as compositors have been setting text into printing presses, those supposing to have some authority in the realm of “proper” writing have found reason to complain about everyone else’s misuse of punctuation. And in the Post’s nearly 200-year history, we’ve devoted a surprising amount of space to those complaints.

For example, this story of one author’s grumblings appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on February 7, 1829:

In preparing works for the press, it is usual for the printer, after the proof-sheets have been seen by the author, to go over them again, and clear them of what are called typographical errors, such as wrong spellings, inaccuracies of punctuation, and similar imperfections. In performing this office for a celebrated northern critic and editor, a printer, now dead, was in the habit of introducing a much greater number of commas than it appeared to the author the sense required. The case was provoking, but did not produce a formal remonstrance, until Mr. W—n himself accidentally afforded the learned editor an opportunity of signifying his dissatisfaction with the plethora of punctuation under which his compositions were made to labour. The worthy printer, coming to a passage, one day, which he could not understand, very naturally took it into his head that it was unintelligible, and transmitted it to his employer, with a remark, on the margin, that “there appeared some obscurity in it.” The sheet was immediately returned, with this reply, which we give verbatim — “Mr. Jeffrey sees no obscurity here, except such as arises from the d——d quantity of commas, which Mr. W—n seems to keep in a pepper-box beside him, for the purpose of dusting all his proofs with.”

This piece from January 16, 1864, not only finds fault with the overuse of commas but of exclamation points, too — two subjects that remain salient today:


The Dean of Canterbury says on this subject:— “I remember when I was young in printing, once correcting the punctuation of a proof-sheet, and complaining of the liberties which had been taken with my manuscript. The publisher quietly answered me that punctuation was always left to the compositors. And a precious mess they make of it. The great enemies to understanding anything printed in our language are the commas. And these are inserted by the compositors without the slightest compunction on every possible occasion. Many words are by rule always hitched off with two commas: one before and one behind; nursed, as the Omnibus Company would call it. Too is one of the words; however, another; also, another; the sense in almost every such case being disturbed, if not destroyed, by the process. I remember beginning a sentence with — ‘However true this may be.’ When it came in the proof, the inevitable comma was after the however, thus of course making nonsense of my unfortunate sentence. I have some satisfaction in reflecting that, in the course of editing the Greek text, I believe I have destroyed more than a thousand commas, which prevented the text being properly understood. One very provoking case is that where two adjectives come together, belonging to the same noun substantive. Thus, in printing a nice young man, a comma is placed after nice, giving, you will observe, a very different sense from that intended: bringing before us the fact that a man is both nice and young, whereas the original sentence introduced to us a young man that was nice.

“Thus too in the expression a great black dog; printed without commas, everybody knows what we mean; but this would be printed ‘a great, black dog.’ Take again a case where meaning is intensified by adjectives being repeated — as in the wide wide world, the deep deep sea. Such expressions you almost invariably find printed the wide, wide world, the deep, deep sea, thereby making them, if judged by any rule at all, absolute nonsense.

Article clipping
A comical note on missing punctuation from April 2, 1864, that would be eminently tweetable today.

“Still, though too many commas are bad, too few are not without inconvenience also. I saw the other day a notice of ‘the Society for Promoting the Observance of the Lord’s day which was founded in 1831,’ giving the notice that the day, not the society, was founded in that year. Had the date been 1631, instead of 18, an awkward interpretation might have been possible.

“While I am upon stops, a word is necessary concerning notes of admiration. A note of admiration consists, as we know, of a point with an upright line suspended over it, strongly suggestive of a gentleman jumping off the ground with amazement. These shrieks, as they have been called, are scattered up and down the page by compositors without any mercy. If one has written the words O sir, as they ought to be written, viz.: with the plain capital ‘O’ and no stop, and then the comma after Sir, our friend the compositor is sure to write Oh with a shriek (!) and to put another shriek after Sir. Use, in writing, as few as possible of these nuisances. They always make the sense weaker, where you can possibly do without them. The only case I know of where they are really necessary, is where the language is pure exclamation, as in How beautiful is the night!  or, O that I might find him!”

It’s worth noting that copy editors still argue about and struggle with these exact issues today.

But it’s not all complaining. Then, as now, professional wordsmiths can gnash their teeth about issues of punctuation while acknowledging their own shortcomings. If you think you have problems with semicolons, you’ve got nothing on Cosmo. Check out his Post article from June 17, 1865:


Which, according to my rendering, reads — Pretty — Poor — Punctuation.

It is very generally understood, I believe, by those who have ever waded through Lindley Murray [an 18th-century grammarian and author] as far as Rule XXVII, that the laws of punctuation are as arbitrary as the laws of life. But it is not nearly so generally understood that we do so twist and transpose the English language — every man and woman of us who attempt to speak or write it — torturing its genius to conform to our ideas, instead of bringing ourselves up to the correct standard, until the rule can never be applied in two instances alike.

Any editor of a literary paper or magazine, with a single year’s experience, is a competent witness to prove that not more than four out of every forty who scribble for bread or notoriety, have any more correct ideas of punctuation than a Patagonian has of Paradise. One profound thinker, leaving out the h, drives on over three pages of foolscap without a single dot of punctuation. Another perpetrates one line periods, bringing us to “down brakes” at the end of every line, as abruptly as if we had checked up against a dead wall at thirty miles an hour speed.

No. 3 keeps up a continuous string of exclamation points — eternally screaming at something that requires no screaming at whatever. A good many affect the dashing style of punctuation, slipping in one m, two, three, and half-line dashes indiscriminately, dashing paragraphs into spasmodic nonsense.

The semicolon was my forte and foible for a good many years. I had the semicolon chronic, but I am happily rid of it. I have an idea that I shall never quirk my pen into another semicolon after I shall have got through with this communication.

When I began first to write for the public, a literary savant in whom I had all faith said to me one day:

“Young man, in all your writings, dash in semicolons. They are the beauty of composition. They will transform nonsense into sound sense, bring order out of chaos, make sublimity out of the softest trash you can write. Douse in plenty of semicolons, and you’ll always pass.”

Believing all that, as I did the Gospel according to St. Luke, I mounted Semicolon as my hobby, and went on for years sowing semicolons broadcast, to the utter disgust, I have no doubt, of thousands of better-bred people. And there was no one honest enough — no one having the peace of society and my own good sufficiently at heart — to admonish me of my error.

Thus I went on, the semicolon malady becoming chronic, the pestilential quirk-o-gees of everlasting semicolons, peppering quires of MSS. [manuscripts] with no more order than a moonlight flight of blackbirds.

At length, one day not very long since, in a bit of discussion with Mr. Peterson, one of the publishers of THE POST, that gentleman looked me squarely and steadily in the eye, and observed resolutely — just as I always like to have a man, or woman either, talk to me:

“Cosmo — there is one thing which you do that is awful.”

“Why — what is that, Sir?”

“You chuck in semicolons abominably. Semicolons enough in one of your sixteen page MSS. to supply all that would be needed for the entire paper.”

I was astonished. I knew myself to be an extensive dealer in semicolons, but I had no idea that I scattered them so liberally as that. “I’ll see about this thing when I go home,” I said, and I did. I took four pages of MSS., letter-size, which had been written for THE POST, and went into an investigation. I counted all the punctuation points, and here is the result:

;;;;;;;;;; — ? ; . ;;;; ! , ;;;;; : ;; . ;;;;;;;;; — ; ? ;; — ,
! — . ;;;;;;; , — : ;;; ? ! — ;;;;;;;; . ; ! ;; — , : ;;;;; .

There they are — a semicolon brigade. Their appearance in manuscript is much like a staff of Madagascar music. I have scarcely an idea what it will be like in print if it ever gets there.

Printers, as a rule, are very correct punctuationists, but they do make sad slaughter of sensible English sometimes. I give a brace of instances in which mine was murdered recently. I have an idea that it was done with malice aforethought. In both instances “copy” was followed to the letter, but not to the comma:

“The principal actors in the drama were a monstrous bull run crazed with a beautiful girl, flying for life.”

Now I didn’t put that comma after girl, but I did put it after crazed, and the printer moved it along down. Again:

“It was the man who had married the lovely Lucile an old skeleton worn out mare, for his companion.”

Don’t you see how the rascally printer remorselessly made a mare out of the “lovely Lucile?”

Punctually yours, Cosmo.

Featured image: Shutterstock.

No Sweat Tech: Making Good Passwords and Keeping Them Safe

My husband and I recently celebrated our silver anniversary, which means we have generated an entire box set of things to bicker about. He hates the way I load the dishwasher, I hate the way he leaves the TV on. He sometimes thinks my taste in music is suspect, and I think he makes up lousy passwords.

It’s the old married nerd in me: I love him and I want him to stay safe online. This is one argument he lets me win, and he does use better passwords than the ones he initially dreams up. (Perhaps one day we’ll reach a similar detente over my dishwasher-loading skills.)

How are your passwords? Let’s talk about ways to make better passwords — and keep up with them! (And no, you don’t have to be married to an old nerd.)

What’s the Big Deal?

You might be wondering what the big deal is. You’re not famous, you’re not in government work, you don’t have millions of dollars. Why would anyone want to crack your passwords?

Because no matter how not-famous you are, you’re probably doing more and more things online. Do you bank online? Do you buy and sell online? If your email and social media accounts were hijacked, could they be used to scam your friends and relatives out of money? Could they be used to spread malware or ransomware? (Ransomware is a kind of malware that locks up files and makes them inaccessible until a ransom is paid.)

When you choose and use strong passwords, you’re not only protecting yourself, you’re protecting your friends and relatives. Generating passwords isn’t tough, and keeping them organized isn’t tough either.

Ditch the 12345

Before I show you what good passwords are, let me show you what they aren’t. Here’s a list of the worst passwords of 2018, compiled by SplashData. They’re not all common words. There are strings of numbers (12345), proper names (charlie) and even sets of words (iloveyou). These kinds of passwords are not clever and they’re not safe. They endanger your online security.

Passwords should look more like this: ~pX!da.6nx%D/_+6 . It’s 16 characters long, uses special characters and numbers as well as upper and lowercase letters, and it’s randomly generated. Here are three tools to help you make safer passwords.

Secure Password Generator

You may have come across different rules for passwords at different sites. On one site, you might not be able to use special characters for your passwords. On another, you might have to use at least one number and one capital letter. Or your password might be limited to ten characters. Or you might have to use at least 14! Secure Password Generator takes all that into account with several checkboxes for including/excluding symbols, numbers, etc.


Choose the number of characters you want in your password as well as what kind of characters you want to include. Generally the longer a password is the harder it is to crack; I would argue that it’s better to generate a 12-character password that’s just letters and numbers than it is to generate an eight-character password with numbers, letters and symbols. Eight-character passwords used to be pretty standard, but nowadays they’re too short. Twelve isn’t great; 14 is better, and 16 and up are better still. I have passwords that are over 20 characters long!

One of the things I like about Secure Password Generator is that it gives you a way to help remember the password. Ideally you’ll use a password manager (more about that later) but sometimes you just need a little assistance.


Hugh’s Password Generator

Hugh’s Password Generator works a little differently; you start by providing a sentence and the generator turns it into a strong password.


You can use any phrase you like as long as it’s at least eight words. It can be a quote, a song lyric — whatever. I’m going to use the absolutely true phrase “There’s nothing wrong with how I load the dishwasher.”


As you can see, Hugh’s Password Generator takes the phrase and runs it through multiple iterations. The first version isn’t very secure (it’s too short and has no special characters), but the last version — %T^ww-HIl+d!% — isn’t bad at all, though I might still add a little to it as it’s only 13 characters long.

Use a Passphrase

The concept of using a passphrase (a series of four or more random words) for a password was popularized by an XKCD comic several years ago. The idea is that four random words is easier to remember and harder to crack than shorter passwords made up of random characters and numbers. There is some controversy about this; passphrases can be significantly less secure if you use common phrases, stick to the most popular words, or don’t use completely random phrases. Use a Passphrase will generate a random phrase for you without those particular pitfalls.


Just open the site and it’ll present you with a random four-word phrase. (You also have the option of making five- or twelve-word phrases.) The site explains why these phrases are secure as compared to randomly generated character strings. Personally, these passwords still make me a bit nervous as I’m afraid they’ll still fall prey to dictionary attacks, but I can understand why you might want to use them if you need a password for something that doesn’t have to be as secure as possible.

At this point you might be wondering how you know which passwords are secure and which aren’t. Some of it is just experience, but there are also tools online that give you an idea of how quickly passwords might be cracked by a determined hacker. How Secure is My Password is one of them. Enter a password and it’ll estimate how long it would take for that password to be cracked, from instantly — a really horrible password like “password” — to ridiculous amounts of time like “113 Septenvigintillion Years” (for a 60-character password). Let’s see how that tool likes the password I mentioned at the beginning of this column, ~pX!da.6nx%D/_+6.


Looks like a good password!

You may also be wondering why you would enter your special private password into a web form? Aren’t you just exposing a password to possible theft and misuse?

That’s a great question. When I am using a password-generating site, I create two using the same rules — one to use, and one to check the quality of the algorithm. For example, I might use Secure Password Generator to generate two passwords — *[email protected]$#[email protected]?kyuGf and Lq\\gm8V6bs]7MnJ — using the same sets of rules about length, what should be included, etc. I will keep the first one private, and paste the second one into How Secure is My Password. That’ll tell me how strong the rules for creating the passwords are without disclosing the password itself.

Password Managers

Now you’ve got a set of much more secure passwords for all the websites you belong to. Now what do you do? Write them on your hand? Put them on a sticky note next to the monitor? Nope; you put them in a password manager, which is a place to park your passwords so they’re easily retrievable when you want to use them. Before I get into the specifics, let me mention a few ways I try to keep things as secure as possible when using a password manager:

  1. I don’t use the browser extensions. Many password managers have extensions meant to be used in your browser so retrieving passwords is easier. I don’t use these extensions because to me, any time you’re linking your password manager to something else you’re increasing your risk. And sure enough, while I was writing this article I saw that one extension had a security issue. When I need a password, I log in to the password manager’s website for a copy-and-paste.
  2. I don’t store my email password on my password manager. If I lose a password and need to reset it, how am I likely to do that? By having a reset tool sent to my email. Therefore, to me, my email password is the most important one I have, because my email is a vector to access my other accounts. I store it safely offline; that way, if the unthinkable happens and my password manager is breached, it is still safe.
  3. I use 2FA. 2FA stands for “two-factor authentication”; that just means that after you enter a password, you have to do something else to verify your identity, like typing in a number you get via text message. I use a YubiKey. My next column will be about 2FA options.

Let’s get into some specifics.


LastPass is my favorite password manager, and the one I know best.

As I mentioned I use a two-factor method for LastPass, but I also use a very strong password — it’s 27 characters. Once I’ve logged in, I’m presented with two folders; one with over 100 real passwords and one with a bunch of silly examples I made for this article.


The + in the red circle is used to add passwords; in addition to putting in the regular user name and password combination, you can also add notes and require the master password to be entered again to access that password. (That’s the “Require Password Reprompt” checkbox.)


If you try to access one of those passwords, you’ll be prompted both for your master LastPass password and for the amount of time you want that entry’s password to be available without requiring the master password again.


There’s also a place to securely store notes like sensitive numbers, address information, and so on. If you get a premium account (it’s $36 a year) you’ll also get access to 1GB of encrypted file storage as well as the ability to set up emergency access for your account and additional types of 2FA access.

I pay for a premium account; I have a lot of passwords to store and to me it’s worth $3 a month to set up emergency access and use a YubiKey. But honestly, if you’re just one person and you don’t want to the emergency access features, the free account should be fine.

Get busy generating and storing your new, shiny, much-safer passwords, and next time we’ll talk about keeping them even safer via two-factor authentication.

Featured image: Shutterstock