William Allen White

1948 W.A.White postage stampAmong the real-life American editors portrayed in Cavalcade of America episodes, the Emporia Gazette’s William Allen White may be second only to Horace Greeley in inspiring fictional works.

Rogers of the Gazette” certainly has echoes of White, as does the college professor’s venerated father in the movie “Teacher’s Pet.”

“From Emporia Kansas” was the title of the 1944 Cavalcade of America biographical drama about White, broadcast a few months after his death. The drama sets scenes for some of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning country editor’s best-known editorials, as a defender of free speech and enemy of the Ku Klux Klan:

“To make a case against a birthplace, a religion or a race is wicked, un-American and cowardly.”

His Cavalcade profile is one of the journalist as American citizen — “first citizen and average citizen of his hometown… a symbol of what is good and decent and forward-thinking.”

“The new editor hopes to live here until he is the old editor … The new editor of The Gazette is in the newspaper business to make an honest living, and to leave an honest name behind.” — White’s first Gazette editorial, in 1895.

The profile includes the story of newspapers and the Republican Party reprinting his “What’s the matter with Kansas?” editorial, credited in the broadcast with getting President McKinley elected, and with making White a spokesman for Middle America for a half century, while staying anchored in Emporia and refusing higher-paying jobs or political appointments. (Although he did run for governor unsuccessfully in 1924 as an independent, protesting the failure of both political parties to take on the Klan.)

The patriotic wartime broadcast doesn’t mention his Republican opposition to the Democrat Franklin D Roosevelt, although White had been known as a progressive in earlier years.

“What we want,” he wrote, “what we shall have, is the royal American privilege of living and dying in a country town, running a country newspaper saying what we please when we please, how we please, and to whom we please.”

“And we liked that,” says the actor playing an Emporia neighbor…

“especially coming from a man who knew all the presidents and had written a big bestseller novel, sold a quarter of a million copies. But I guess Will White was an Emporian, just like the rest of us, proud of boosting his hometown.”

Few voices are heard in the broadcast. Scenes are set by a narrator, and by Parker Fennelly as the neighbor, with Frank Readick as White, delivering messages in the editor’s words, including a particularly moving reading of his column on the death of his young daughter.
The William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas is part of the editor’s legacy and tells his story here … http://journalism.ku.edu/william-allen-white

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