04/27/21

“You want to write? Then write. Don’t talk!”

 

Carl Spielvogel, 1928-2021

After a long Covid interruption, we resume with this salute to a sturdy son of City College and Baruch, my friend Carl Spielvogel, who left us on April 21, 2021. Spielvogel, New York Timesman, prototype of advertising’s swashbuckling Mad Men (“It’s Miller Time”), diplomat, and philanthropist, died in a Manhattan hospital at 92.

I don’t know if he ever met Luther Gulick, that other adventurer in democracy chronicled in this blog, but both men shared a love of humanitarian causes and responsive government. Spielvogel was a lot better at making money. And he had an adman’s special way with words, like his description of a corporate bungle: “Ready. Fire. Aim.”

A 1952 graduate of the pioneering free-tuition business school originally known as “City, downtown” — a year before it was named for the eminent financier, FDR-advisor, philanthropist, and 1889 alum Bernard Baruch — Spielvogel had a long relationship with Baruch College, spun off as a separate unit of the City University of New York in 1968.

He served as president of the board of trustees of the Baruch College Fund, and in 1990 received the Baruch College Distinguished Alumnus Award for Outstanding Career Accomplishment. In September 1992, the college inaugurated an annual lecture series on global marketing communications in Spielvogel’s honor, and in 1998, he was elected to the City College Communications Hall of Fame. In 2008, to celebrate another distinguished City College graduate, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Spielvogel funded “The Colin Powell Fellows,” that each year sent two summer interns to the U.S. Department of State, where Spielvogel himself had served as the Clinton-appointed Ambassador to Slovakia in 2000-01, a diplomatic title he gloried in forever after. He also was a trustee of the State University of New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, the Asia Society, Mount Sinai Hospital, and the New York State Democratic Party, along with many other institutions to which he also generously contributed. He was married for 40 years to the urban preservationist and author Barbaralee Diamondstein-Spielvogel.

His Times obit Carl Spielvogel, a Longtime Power in Advertising, covered a lot of ground but didn’t mention how he got his job at the World’s Greatest Newspaper, the time he met Hemingway, or some of the other great stories he shared with me over long lunches at the Asia Society, conveniently close to his opulent Park Avenue apartment. He loved to reminisce and given our shared Times history (he left in 1960, four years before I arrived, and was on the board of Lincoln Center in the 1990s when I covered culture for the paper), we always had a lot to gossip about, especially since I had also attended City College (uptown), and we had both started our journalism careers at the very bottom, as copy boys.

He told me how he had once taken a train down to Florida to find Hemingway. A great fan, young Carl made his way to Key West to seek out his idol. He knocked on Hemingway’s door and the writer actually answered. Nervously, Carl babbled on about how much he worshipped the great man, had read all his books and wanted to be a writer just like him. Hemingway listened impassively and finally said. “You want to write?” Oh, yes! Carl said, going on and on about his dream of becoming a writer. “Then write,” Hemingway said. “Don’t talk!”

Spielvogel realized his dream, in a fashion, at The Times. He had been hired in 1950, he told me, thanks to Herbert Mitgang, another Times stalwart, who had joined the staff after service as a combat journalist in World War II. Mitgang (1920-2013) was eight years older than Spielvogel and came from Manhattan whereas Spielvogel grew up in Brooklyn but somehow they had met and Spielvogel envied Mitgang’s job at The Times. Mitgang asked if Spielvogel would like to work there. “I would mop the floors at The Times!” Spielvogel remembered gushing. Mitgang got him hired, barely a rung above janitor but blessedly in the cacophonous news room where he fetched coffee for star reporters and ferried paragraphs from their smoking typewriters to the copy desks of grizzled editors in green eye shades and sleeve garters.

After a stint in the Army, he returned to the paper as a business news reporter. One day the financial editor pulled him aside. “You know anything about advertising?” “Oh sure,” Spielviogel bluffed. He spent the weekend in the public library reading everything he could find about advertising. Which is how he became the paper’s first advertising and marketing columnist, writing six days a week.

He wasn’t the only Timesman to find allure in advertising. Ernie Tidyman, a dashing copy editor on the soc-obit (society news and obituaries) desk from 1960 to 1966, wrote ad copy in his spare time, enabling him to afford a converted red barn as a chic weekend getaway in Connecticut. He did especially well after he wrote the bestseller crime series “Shaft” and the screenplay for “The French Connection.”

Spielvogel quit The Times in 1960, lured away to apply his expertise far more lucratively as a publicist for the advertising giant McCann-Erickson and eventually vice chairman of its parent company, Interpublic. But when he was passed over for the top job after 20 years, he left in 1979 to found, with his former McCann-Erickson colleague Bill Backer, their new partnership Backer & Spielvogel. Backer was legendary for having scribbled on an envelope during a forced layover at Shannon Airport in 1971, the anthem “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.”

By 1987, with clients wooed away from competitors, B&S, a subsidiary of Saatchi & Saatchi, was billing $550 million a year. That year it merged with another Saatchi subsidiary, Ted Bates Worldwide, to form an even huger conglomerate with 104 offices in 46 countries and annual billings of $2.7 billion.

Among their clients was the upstart South Korean carmaker Hyundai. As Spielvogel told me, their strategy capitalized on the fact, little known to car buyers, that Hyundai was the world’s largest shipbuilder and oldest steelmaker in South Korea.

Their campaign noted this, Spielvogel said, with the irresistible tagline, “Think we can build a car?” They could. Hyundai became one of the hottest new brands.

After I became a Distinguished Lecturer in the Newman Library in 2010, Spielvogel told me one day over lunch that he was seeking a home for his voluminous papers spanning his advertising years and diplomatic career. I begged him to consider the Baruch College Archives which housed some of Bernard Baruch’s books and memorabilia and other important collections like the Gulick papers and the Institute of Public Administration history. Alas it never worked out. His archives, and Barbaralee’s, ended up at the Duke University Libraries.

We last booked a lunch before the pandemic at his favorite French brasserie in the East 70’s. As 1 o’clock came and went, I sat alone. My phone finally rang. He was stuck downtown in horrendous traffic. “Order anything you want,” he told me. “Champagne, caviar.” I settled for a beer. He arrived half an hour later. We ate and talked late into the afternoon, pushing away from the table as evening diners were beginning to trickle in. I watched him cross Lexington Avenue and waved goodbye.

03/18/20

Boy Scouts Sex Scandal: “Be Prepared” — But Were They?

Long before the “Perversion Files” and long before an onslaught of sexual abuse lawsuits drove it into bankruptcy, the four-year-old Boy Scouts of America underwent its first comprehensive study at the hands of the nation’s most rigorous civic auditor, the upstart New York Bureau of Municipal Research that had already claimed the scalp of a Manhattan Borough President.

What its Boy Scout investigation found way back then was — well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

It was 1914, the year the world caught fire, and four years after the scouting movement, founded in England in 1908 by the British colonialist Army officer Robert Baden-Powell, had made its way to America. As the (embellished) legend goes, William Dickson Boyce, a roustabout reporter, publishing entrepreneur and explorer who started a newspaper wherever he touched down around North America, was in London enroute to a 1909 safari in British East Africa when he became lost in a dense fog. (Accounts differ whether it really was a foggy day in London town that day.) A young boy guided him to his destination but when Boyce offered him a tip, the youth rejected it, saying he was only doing his duty as a British scout. It inspired Boyce, once he got home, to incorporate the Boy Scouts of America, on Feb. 8, 1910. Five years later, in a rift with the BSA, he founded the Lone Scouts of America, which later merged with the BSA.

The masthead boasted America’s biggest marquee names: the BSA’s honorary president was the President, Woodrow Wilson; and the two honorary vice presidents were two former occupants of the White House, the future Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Taft, and Col. Theodore Roosevelt.

Boy Scouts, who had to be at least 12 years old, would learn camping, angling, blacksmithing, woodcraft, fire-making, first aid, path-finding, signaling and other outdoors skills,

but more important, integrity, hygiene, charity, civics and the then-not-yet-quite-lost art of “chivalry” — the knightly virtues of horse soldiery, valor, dexterity in arms, gallantry and piety, updated to the modern age as honesty, tenacity, humility and good manners. Pledged to perform at least one “good deed” per day, they were grouped in 8-boy patrols, three or four patrols to a troop, usually affiliated with a church but occasionally a synagogue or civic organization. Annual scout dues were $5 (equivalent to about $130 today), uniforms and equipment extra, but including a subscription to the excellent scout magazine, Boys Life.

Scouts took an oath — “To help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight” — and a code of regimented dress, at times too militaristic for some critics who bridled at marksmanship training and an affiliation with the Remington Arms Company and its popular rifles.

Volunteer scout masters were to be supported by three “reputable” citizens of the neighborhood, and were supposedly trained in administration and investigated for good character and moral rectitude. “He is the instructor, preceptor and guide of the troop,” the Bureau’s study said. “The scout master, in short, represents the effective personality in close and constant touch with the boy, interpreting the scout law, stimulating his interest and directing his activity. In the character of his leadership is determined the extent to which scout ideals will be instilled in the boy. It is through him that the scouting is made the vital living thing.”

Applicants, who had to be at least 21, completed a questionnaire listing their employment history, church preference, marital status, whether they had boys of their own, why they were seeking the position and why, if there was a vacancy, the last scout master resigned.

The organization was under the national leadership of the Chief Scout Executive, James E. West, a lawyer and youth activist recommended for the position — as it happened — by the uncle of our collection’s Luther Halsey Gulick III. The younger Gulick was then a 22-year-old Oberlin graduate soon to go on to Columbia University and join the Bureau of Municipal Research, founded in 1906 to expose the pervasive corruption of Tammany Hall. His uncle Luther Gulick, president of the Playground Association of America, had co-invented the game of basketball with James Naismith in Springfield, MA, in 1891. http://www.hoophall.com/hall-of-famers/luther-gulick/ 

West was paid $6,000 (almost $157,000 today) and would run the Boy Scouts for 32 years. By 1914 the Boy Scouts of America encompassed about 7,000 volunteers supervising some 300,000 boys nationwide.

Which brings us to our story and the key question: Did the Bureau’s study raise any red flags on the sex scandal that would engulf the Boy Scouts decades later?

Our IPA Collection (encompassing records of the Bureau of Municipal Research and Luther Gulick Papers) in the Newman Library Archives contains a digitized and hard copy of “the final report of our survey of the Boy Scouts of America” prepared by the Bureau and transmitted June 22, 1914 to John Sherman Hoyt, an industrialist, Boy Scouts founder, and chairman of a “special committee” involved with the study. https://digital.janeaddams.ramapo.edu/items/show/4020

The report (in the IPA Collection, Series III: Printed Materials and Reports, Sub-Series A:Early Reports, Box 43, Folder 3) runs a whopping 362 pages. Here it is, digitally:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1s52AnMG3a0Stfqj7sV75V_fBedx5nAnb/view

The Bureau, given its strong affinity for good administration, was vexed by the haphazard organization of the local Boy Scout councils. In particular, the Bronx and Richmond councils were under Manhattan jurisdiction, and Queens was part of Brooklyn’s bailiwick. The Bureau recommended making the three into separate councils.

It  focused on the New York City councils with some 3,000 enrolled scouts, but also ventured afield, finding a national problem of poor scout training and inspection, a lack of planning at the councils, and excess centralization that failed to bring decision-making down to the individual troops. There was little interaction between troops, and financial controls were “chaotic.” Attendance at meetings was spotty and the minutes often fragmentary. But the report gave a resounding “No!” to the idea of moving scout headquarters from 200 Fifth Avenue on the northwest corner of 23d Street (later the International Toy Center) to Washington D.C.

So what about any instances of scout master misconduct, specifically any sexual victimization of scouts?

The issue never came up throughout the report’s 362 pages. Whether no cases had emerged in the Boy Scouts’s first four years (unlikely), or the Bureau felt unequipped and unprepared to take on the issue, or society itself in that era shrank from confronting such a distasteful scourge, remains unclear.

Chief Scout Executive West’s standard letter to newly commissioned scout masters stuck to the positive:

“It is to our scout masters that we must look for the perpetuation of the high ideals which have made the Scout Movement such a potent force in boy development and community service. It will be your privilege and responsibility to help develop the character of many boys. You will be the leader and, in directing the work and play of your boys, it will be your duty to to keep ever before them the Scout Oath and Law which bind us all in Scout brotherhood.”

Yet, according to the Los Angeles Times, by at least 1919 — barely five years later — the BSA had begun maintaining “in­eli­gible vo­lun­teer” files in­ten­ded to keep sexu­al ab­users and unfit others out of its ranks.

But the files were were closely held by the Boy Scouts and the issue seemed to stay buried for the first quarter-century of the organization’s existence. Then at the scouts’s silver jubilee meeting in Chicago in May 1935, with his distant cousin, Franklin, in the White House, Col. Roosevelt dropped a bombshell. The Boy Scouts, he announced, maintained a “red flag list” of 2,904 undesirables banned from working with the 3.3 million boys in scouting.

“Throughout the years — through our twenty-five years of existence — we have tried to safeguard ourselves  in every way from men unfit to lead or to influence boys, and we intend to continue to do,” the Colonel said in remarks The New York Times featured at the top of the front page of May 18, 1935.  “Our red flag list is in constant use.”

Three weeks later, Chief Scout Executive West rushed out a clarification to combat a widespread misconception: the red flag list had nothing to do with Communist subversion. It was simply a reference to a red sticker put on the file of anyone with a scout commission who had been removed for various reasons, including The New York Times reported, “moral perversion.” But considering, West said, that in its first 25 years, the BSA had dealt with more than 1.3 million different scout leaders, and “only” 2,919 had been red-flagged (the number had grown slightly since Roosevelt’s revelation), “it is not very alarming.”

Yet over the years, cases of abuse continued to grow, as the BSA systematically covered them up, The Los Angeles Times reported in an extensive 2012 exposé of what became known as the “Perversion Files.” Over more than a year, reporters compiled the most comprehensive database of the cases ever published, including 1,900 files and 3,100 case summaries, all derived from court records, spanning 1947 through 2005.

On Feb. 18, 2020, days after its 110th birthday and facing a mountain of sexual abuse lawsuits, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy. Under the Chapter 11 filing, the organization would continue to operate while creating a trust to pay hundreds of potential victims in what lawyers said could be one of most complicated bankruptcy cases in American history. According to The Washington Post, the BSA reported $1 billion to $10 billion in assets and $500 million to $1 billion in liabilities.

“The BSA cares deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologizes to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting,” the Post quoted Roger Mosby, the scouts’s president and chief executive.“While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process — with the proposed Trust structure — will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission.”

An investigator hired by the scouts said last year that her team had identified 12,254 victims and 7,819 perpetrators in internal documents from 1946 through 2016.

How soon after its founding in 1910 did the Boy Scouts of America become aware of a potential problem and start compiling its red flag list? The 362-page 1914 report of the Bureau of Municipal Research sayeth not.

08/23/19

Uh-Oh! October 29, 1929 (+ 90)

When municipalities ran out of legal tender in the Great Depression, some came up with a creative solution — they printed their own money, called scrip. If Uncle Sam didn’t recognize it, who cared? It helped desperate people survive.  Luther Gulick collected some prime examples of scrip, coins and bills, which we’re proud to showcase in our Gulick Papers collection. They’re listed in our finding aid here:

https://www.baruch.cuny.edu/library/documents/Gulick_Finding_Aid.pdf

We’ll be showing these and other images of scrip in a talk Oct. 29 at the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street — 90 years to the day after the Stock Market…Cr…Cras…– gosh!, we can’t  bear to say the terrible word.

https://www.moaf.org/events/general/2019-10-29-ralph-blumenthal-on-crash-the-stock-market-collapse-of-october-29-1929-and-the-rise-of-fake-money-scrip

 

 

Of particular interest are some red-baiting spoofs targeting the would-be Socialist Governor of California, muckraker Upton Sinclair, an 1897 graduate of City College, by the way. Sinclair lost his 1934 race but garnered nearly 880,000 votes and, with his EPIC  (End Poverty in California) campaign, left an enduring political and social legacy. (Bernie Sanders, anyone?)

http://depts.washington.edu/epic34/