This is a story about a Flyers cap, but it’s like a Matryoshka Russian nesting doll, with stories hidden within stories, with a pinch of irony thrown in for added flavor.
Good columns are like rifles — they pick a single target, filter out distractions, and drill it. This one is going to be more like a scattergun, sending pellets all over the place. I hope you will indulge me. It is a long journey, so I will do it in two parts.
It starts with lunch at the Palm — me and Bill Marimow, best-known locally as the former editor of the Inquirer — two separate terms — and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner before that. Along the way he also ran the Baltimore Sun and was vice president of news for NPR. These are ingredients in what is called a distinguished career.
The lunch was long promised by Marimow to thank me for giving him his first job in journalism.
If you are surprised to hear that, so was I the first time I heard it. Stunned, actually, but since I heard it from Marimow himself, I kind of had to believe it.
It is 1969, Marimow has just returned from a summer hitchhiking around Europe with his girlfriend (now wife) Diane, and the Trinity College grad has an admission letter to Boston College Law School in his back pocket.
But he doesn’t want to be a lawyer, he wants to be a reporter, God knows why. He picks up the phone book — remember those? — and starts calling publishers. Early in his hunt, under C, he finds Chilton Company, a large, respected publisher of industrial magazines then headquartered in Bala Cynwyd in what was called Decker Square on City Avenue.
He interviews with Art Megraw, a genial, white-haired gentleman who headed Personnel, which was what Human Resources was called back then. He must have greatly impressed Megraw.
Chilton has no openings, Megraw tells Marimow, but . . .
There is an “editorial committee” that might be able to do something, and Marimow is sent to meet with the three-man committee.
He impresses the committee and after the meeting, Marimow is hired as assistant news with Jeweler’s Circular Keystone — how’s that for a name? — Chilton’s magazine serving the retail jewelry trade. A law career crashed as a journalism career was launched.
Here’s the point: Maybe 20 years ago Marimow collars me in the cafeteria at what was then Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., at 400 N. Broad St., once sarcastically nick-named the Tower of Truth. Following one of the strangest real estate transactions of the century, the building soon will become police headquarters. (Each of the two Pulitzers Marmow earned in that building involved police misconduct.)
In the cafeteria, Marmimow tells me the story of how he was hired and says I was one of the three men. The other two were Don McNeil, editor of Jeweler’s Circular Keystone, and Bob Haftel, editor of Boot & Shoe Recorder — how’s that for a name? — Chilton’s magazine serving the footwear trade (which was crucified by low-cost imports, notable from Italy, Spain and Brazil). I was Haftel’s executive editor and I have no memory whatsoever of that meeting or of the so-called special editorial committee I was part of.
Here’s what I think happened: Megraw saw a kid with a lot of potential and created the editorial committee as a means to override the “no openings” rule. Had that committee met more than once, I might have remembered it. But I don’t. While I sent the meeting down the memory hole, Marimow carried it around for some time, perhaps waiting for the right moment to spring it. We were separately hired by PNI in 1972, he as an Inquirer reporter, me as features editor of the Daily News. Our paths rarely crossed. When he collared me in the cafeteria, he joked about how he “owed” me for launching his career. For years, he delighted in telling the story to Inquirer staffers, some of whom, honestly, were not fans of me or the Daily News.
Lunch at the Palm was on him, as payback for my efforts on his behalf, so many years ago. I retired from whatever PNI now calls itself last July and Marimow left at year’s end. Our departures were not related.
As lunch was wrapped up, a short, older lady came over to say hello, and asked if I remembered the Stanley Cup cap she had given me in 1997.
I didn’t remember her name — but the card she handed me identified her as former Municipal Court Judge Georganne Daher, a colorful jurist who was an acquaintance during the two decades I was writing what came to be known as the Byko! gossip column. The column did a pretty good job of breaking stories about local celebrities and it had several gimmicks, such as the Birthday Book, it which I reported celeb birthdays and Stu’s Spies, which is what I called my confidential sources.
One person who didn’t like the term was Mayor Frank Rizzo. Unusually sensitive, he said “spies’ was a negative. I said, “What about James Bond? Spies can be good guys.”
He was not convinced.
But I digress — as I warned you I would.
The retired judge said she would like to have the Flyers cap back, and I said if I had it, I would return it.
Did I have it? Did I return it? That’s what we call a cliffhanger. You have to come back tomorrow to find out.