Volume 77 / Number 48 - April 30 - May 6, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
A tale of two newspapers; Reflections of a writer
By Jerry Tallmer
The Villager, a weekly newspaper serving the people and businesses of Greenwich Village, was founded in 1933 by the brother-and-sister team of Walter and Isabel Bryan. It was therefore only 22 years old when, in the summer of 1955, four World War II veterans — Ed Fancher, Daniel Wolf, Norman Mailer and myself — met to talk about starting our own weekly; but for us and other adventurous Villagers, the existing paper might have been 82 years old. I always thought of it as a newspaper for little old ladies with cats, and there was, in fact, a cat named Scoopy who conducted a chitchat column for the musty Villager from his vantage point, as I remember it, on a windowsill of The Villager’s office. (Scoopy’s still doing it, though today the column is a fun and informative read.)
“It was actually a very successful neighborhood newspaper,” says Ed Fancher, the only other surviving member of The Village Voice’s Founding Four. “It made more money, had more advertising, had more pages than any other weekly in New York. That’s one of the reasons we started The Voice.”
Walter Bryan had been, in Fancher’s words, “an advertising guy from Kansas City, Missouri,” and The Villager had a natural bent for the Chamber of Commerce outlook, the bank and real estate community. It was, in truth, loaded with real estate and apartment ads — the main reason for buying the paper for those otherwise uninterested in its coverage of ladies’ socials and community events at Greenwich House or its endless plugging of the annual — biannual? It never seemed to go away — Greenwich Village Outdoor Art Show to which would-be Van Goghs from across the country would bring their daubster sales and publicity. This recurring promotion for The Villager was a bad joke to all the real artists, from Edward Hopper on down to the gang of young 10th St. rebels who hung out at The Club or the Cedar Bar on University Pl. or Louie’s joint just off Sheridan Square.
Still and all, to Edwin C. Fancher, himself a small-town boy from Middletown in Orange County, N.Y., the Bryans’ Villager was a “very good — if very conserva
tive, small-town New England-type newspaper.”
Cover of The Villager
|The Villager’s Oct. 27, 1955, front page, the day after the first issue of The Village Voice, featured an article on the 90th anniversary of the Tough Club. Boasting city leaders, mayors and judges as members, the club was founded in a bar owned by George Topf. A typo called the club Tough and the name stuck. Its clam chowder parties were renowned.
What it did not represent, to Ed, to Dan Wolf, to Norman Mailer and most certainly not to me, was the Village into which, coming out of World War II, we had moved, and our reason for moving into it — the Village with Eugene O’Neill, Edna St. Vincent Millay, the old artists, the new artists, Maxwell Bodenheim, Joe Gould and all that.
“I even took an ad out in The Villager,” says Fancher, a rugged, red-bearded (now snowy-white-bearded) psychologist who had served in the 10th Mountain Division under a sergeant named Fred Fleck. When they met again at the New School after the war, they started a moving business in Fred Fleck’s pickup truck, and their ad in The Villager promising “Cheap Packing.”
Soon after the start of The Voice, The Villager acquired a new editor named William H. Honan — a tall, gangly, likable young man who had come over from The New Yorker and would one day go over to The New York Times. There might have seemed a certain softness in him — so it appeared to me — until the moment the distributors’ union, threatening to strike The Village Voice, sent a couple of gentlemen — “like out of ‘The Sopranos,’ ” says Ed — over to have words with publisher Fancher. Shortly after, my phone rang. It was Bill Honan at The Villager.
“I just wanted you to know that if you have any trouble you can use our trucks,” he said, in what always seemed to me to be an extraordinary act of generosity.
In 1992, under new ownership, The Villager fell on hard times and the paper stopped publishing for half a year, but was then bought by the husband-and-wife team of Tom and Elizabeth Butson. Tom had retired after many years as an assistant news editor at The New York Times. His wife, Elizabeth, was a vice president at Philip Morris.
Once again, one day my telephone rang. It was Tom Butson, asking me to come down and talk with him about writing for The Villager.
“I can’t pay you much,” he said, “but I’ll print you.”
He ran the paper most gallantly, until 1999, despite a draining series of chemo treatments.
Right before Tom died in 2000, he and Elizabeth sold the paper to John W. Sutter, who runs it to this day. Ed Fancher hasn’t read The Village Voice in years, nor have I.
“But I never miss an issue of The Villager,” says the founding publisher of The Village Voice.
A founding editor of The Village Voice, creator of the Obie (Off-Broadway) awards and longtime New York Post writer and theater critic, Tallmer is a Villager arts and theater feature writer and managing editor of Thrive NYC, a Community Media monthly magazine.
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