Thursday, March 21, 2019

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Because we have been waiting for you for a decade

Here's the story that made Hunter S. Thompson apply for a job at the Sun

The Vancouver Sun gleefully reported Monday the discovery of a letter that Hunter S. Thompson wrote in 1958, applying for a job with the paper. Shamefully, the Sun did not take the doctor up on his offer.

Thompson applied to the Sun after reading an item in TIME magazine. This article right here:

Sunshine in Vancouver Monday, Dec. 15, 1958

To tart-tongued Columnist Jack Scott, 43, of the Vancouver (B.C.) Sun, no target was ever more tempting than the Sun itself. He railed against the paper’s promotion contests (“cynical seduction of a gullible public”), declared western Canada’s biggest (circ. 211,012) and fattest daily was slow of foot and dull of eye. Critic Scott’s proposal to brighten the Sun: “More deep reporting and vivid writing, the sort of thing that will grab the reader by the lapels and command his attention.” Last September Scott got a chance to put up or shut up; Sun Publisher Don Cromie, 43, called him in and said: “Jack, I’m about to play the dirtiest trick on you that I’ve ever inflicted on anyone. I’ll give you $2,000 a month and the title of editorial director.”

When the news spread that Scott had deserted his columnist’s typewriter for the editor’s desk, staffers were flabbergasted. His witty, five-a-week “Our Town” was the Suns best-read column; his special reports from around the world (Hiroshima, Israel, South Africa) had made him one of Canada’s most honored newsmen. But for twelve years he had been away from the day-to-day run of the news, working at home or out of town. Cracked one staffer: “He’s often been a professional sophomore—now he needs to become a senior.” By last week Sun staffers and readers alike were convinced that Editorial Director Scott was indeed a senior.

No One Is Scott-Free. Grabbing his readers by their lapels. Editor Scott ran an expose of shyster used-car dealers that put the worst offender out of business, followed up with a story on a bogus real estate firm that led to three indictments for fraud. He front-paged an account of Vancouver’s skid-row bread line, side by side with a Canadian Press story saying that Kraft Foods Ltd. blamed the high cost of food on the consumer demand for fancy preparation. Even Publisher Crornie did not get off Scott-free. The Sun ran a three-part analysis of Vancouver’s faltering Community Chest, which Cromie headed last year.

Scott sent Managing Editor Himie Koshevoy to Washington to do a three-part series on John Foster Dulles that turned out more balanced than the Sun’s bitterly anti-Dulles editorials. Down to Uruguay bustled Newshen Simma Holt to find Stefan Sorokin, leader of the buff-stripping, dynamiting Sons of Freedom sect of the Doukhobors, filed stories of the wealth Sorokin had gleaned from his followers in British Columbia.

Heat & Light. Scott’s most startling idea was to send to Formosa monosyllabic Football Editor Annis (the “Loquacious Lithuanian”) Stukus, onetime coach of the Edmonton Eskimos and British Columbia Lions. Scott’s theory: “Stukus will give the average guy a sense of identification with where the hell Formosa is and what’s going on there.” Stukus filed some earnest Hemingway-like prose, scored a major beat by wrangling an exclusive interview with Chiang Kaishek. Though the session produced nothing new, Scott delightedly ran Footballer Stukus’ picture cheek by jowl with the Gimo on the front page.

Flooding the paper with his brand of Sunshine, Scott made fresh and imaginative use of pictures. He restored Pun-diteering Columnist Joe Alsop (TIME, Oct. 27) to the editorial page, added Columnists Red Smith and Jimmy Cannon to the sports section. Says Scott: “You have to do everything with a flair if you’re going to keep them reading the paper when I Love Lucy comes on. You’re in competition all the time against that big glass eye.”

With Columnist-turned-Editor Scott in control, the Sun is meeting the competition with more heat and more light.

And what happened? Well, it’s the Vancouver Sun. He was fired three months later.

From Time:

9 March, 1959

When Columnist Jack Scott got a chance last fall in a new job as editorial director to brighten the Vancouver Sun (circ. 213,000), he unleashed all of his formidable flair for spectacular stunts. He sparked exposés, played pictures high and wide, sent his football editor to Formosa to interview Chiang Kai-shek (TIME, Dec. 15) and his woman’s page editor to Cuba to cover the aftermath of the revolution. As Scott’s fireworks crackled and city-room morale soared, Publisher Don Cromie scoffed at the doubters who wondered if a columnist could run a newspaper, and said: “This may be the greatest idea I’ll ever have.”

It wasn’t. In the longer run, Jack Scott’s reforms turned out to be largely froth. Last week, when Scott got back from three weeks of vacation in California, he found a memo from Cromie waiting on his desk. His top-drawer job was gone. Taking Scott’s place as editorial boss of the Sun, with the title of managing editor, is a man who has had his eye on the job all along: harddriving, stolid, German-born Erwin Swangard, 50, who was demoted from assistant managing editor to night city editor by Scott, is cordially disliked by most Sunmen. Swangard thought that Scott was too close to his staff to be a good boss, and had mistakenly tried to run the whole paper as a column. Boomed Swangard: “All I want is production. We don’t need gimmicks and flash; we need hard-nosed reporting, honesty, accuracy and depth.”

Off to open a London office for the Sun, Columnist Scott summed up his feelings in one short sentence: “It was a ball while it lasted.”

Lastly, here is the letter that Thomson wrote,

To Jack Scott, Vancouver Sun

October 1, 1958

57 Perry Street
New York City


I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I’d also like to offer my services.

Since I haven’t seen a copy of the “new” Sun yet, I’ll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn’t know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I’m not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley. By the time you get this letter, I’ll have gotten hold of some of the recent issues of The Sun. Unless it looks totally worthless, I’ll let my offer stand.

And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you. I didn’t make myself clear to the last man I worked for until after I took the job. It was as if the Marquis de Sade had suddenly found himself working for Billy Graham. The man despised me, of course, and I had nothing but contempt for him and everything he stood for. If you asked him, he’d tell you that I’m “not very likable, (that I) hate people, (that I) just want to be left alone, and (that I) feel too superior to mingle with the average person.” (That’s a direct quote from a memo he sent to the publisher.) Nothing beats having good references.

Of course if you asked some of the other people I’ve worked for, you’d get a different set of answers. If you’re interested enough to answer this letter, I’ll be glad to furnish you with a list of references — including the lad I work for now.

The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It’s a year old, however, and I’ve changed a bit since it was written. I’ve taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you’re trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I’d like to work for you.

Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews. I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations. I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.

It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip. If you think you can use me, drop me a line. If not, good luck anyway.

Hunter S. Thompson

  1. Michael Arufe

    Don’t know if anyone is managing this site anymore, but the timeline of your article doesn’t make sense. How could that Time Magazine article have prompted Thompson to write a job application letter, then his letter was written in October 1958, and the Time Magazine article is dated December 1958, two months after. Doesn’t make sense.

    Perhaps there was some other Time Magazine article on the Sun during that period. That’s the only explanation I can think of. Or perhaps the date of Mr. Thompson’s letter is incorrect. Either, just wanted to point that out.

    - Sep 24, 01:27 am

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