Friday, October 21, 2011

David Reid Was A Better Writer Than Shakespeare

David Lytton Reid

"Chris Von der Ahe's old secretary, Dave Reed, was a valuable assistant to the boss, and being popular among the newspaper men, he settled many of the disputes that arose between the boss and the reporters," says Tom Brown.  "Dave wielded a facile pen and knocked off many clever articles for the papers that advertised the German band far and wide.  Dave was a genial soul, and often indulged in kite flying expeditions and red paint soirees.  These periodicals of Dave's started Chris' temper, and he discharged the genial Dave as often as six times a month.  He went to Comiskey once and said: 'Say, Commie, dot tem Dafe Reet is out again bainting der down.  He can't keep sober two days in a bunch alreatty.'  Comiskey said he knew a steady, temperate fellow out of a job, who would write better articles than Dave.  'Vot's his name?' said Chris.  'Shakespeare,' said Comiskey, 'and he is in a class by himself.  Dave ain't in it with him.  He wrote a great play, called "As You Like It.'  Now Chris always held that Dave Reed was the most brilliant writer in America, and sure, though, he was on Dave, he wouldn't believe that any one was capable of spinning out the gems of thought that trickled from Dave's pen.  'Dot Shagespear you shpeak of, Commie, may be a good writer, but I don't gif a dem if he wrote "As You Like It," as 'Catch-as-catch-can,' or 'Vere You Tem Please,' he can't write such good stories as Dafe Reet.  If Dave ain't sober tomorrow you can send Shagespear arount to der office, and I vill gif him a trial.'"
-Washington Post, September 7, 1896

Putting aside the Von der Ahe nonsense, this little story does tell us quite a bit about David Reid.  He was popular among newspaper men.  He was genial and a bit eccentric.  He liked to drink and his drinking interfered with his work.  He was respected by Von der Ahe.

I think it's a bit rare to find this kind of information about the personality of someone who's a rather obscure 19th century baseball figure.


David Ball said...

Perhaps it's not that rare to discover that a relatively obscure 19th century baseball figure was a drinker. Joe Campbell, the Washington Post writer responsible for this item, himself died at age 34 of cirrhosis of the liver.

Campbell was known for foisting quotations on "interview" subjects he had not really interviewed, and a phrase such as "often indulged in kite flying expeditions and red paint soirees" is an unmistakable specimen of his characteristic style. Brown may well have been the source for the story, as distinct from its literary form, but he lived in England and California until 1882 and did not play in St. Louis until the 1890's, so he can not have crossed paths much at all with Reid, who died in May, 1885.

In the 1890's Campbell was a leading purveyor of Von der Ahe's image as a buffoon, wholesaling "humorous" stories like this one (which to my mind is somewhat closer to genuinely funny than most of them). Even so, when Von der Ahe was on his last legs Campbell wrote a couple of articles that recognized Von der Ahe as in reality an experienced and resourceful operator fighting stubbornly against overwhelming circumstances.

Campbell would open an item with a phrase such as "Chris says..." secure in the knowledge that, nobody would have to ask "Chris who?" Chris had become a protoElvis, and no last name was needed.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

The drinking stuff is never really a surprise but I'm always happy to find any info on Reid.

I'm fascinated by the guys who worked for VdA. It probably took a special kind of person to be able to work successfully with him and it's interesting to see what people like Reid or George Munson or Comiskey had in common and what traits they shared that allowed them to be succesful when working with such a demanding boss. Not everyone was able to work with VdA and lot of people didn't like the guy. I think it's useful to ask what the difference was between someone like Comiskey and someone like Ted Sullivan or Reid and Al Spink.

Thanks for the info on Joe Campbell, although I still don't know what to really make of the phrase "kite flying expeditions and red paint soirees." Not sure what that really means.

David Ball said...

"Red paint soirees" means he was in the habit of going out at night and painting the town red. "Kite flying" is a little harder to explain, but in context it pretty clearly has the same meaning.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

Thanks for that. I assumed the red paint thing was a reference to drinking but wasn't sure. Had no idea about the kite flying and was having images of Reid literally flying kites.

I think I'm going to start using "red paint soiree" as a euphemism from now on. It sounds much better than "I'm going to the bar for a drink."