Among the material I didn’t use in the book was a vast abundance of press coverage. Pinocchio was such a cultural event in 1940 that it triggered a great outpouring of comment in the press, and I could only use a few highlights in the book. Below is a highlight that wouldn’t fit. Westbrook Pegler was one of those colorful, larger-than-life journalists of the old school; you may recall that he had privately commented that Snow White was “the greatest thing since the Resurrection” but, in his column, scaled it down to “the happiest thing that has happened in this world since the Armistice.” Pinocchio found him no less eloquent. As you’ll see below, his comment wasn’t one that could be reduced to a brief quote—but it’s so enjoyable that I didn’t want to ignore it altogether. So here it is in full, as syndicated on 13 February 1940.
All my superlatives were used up on Walt Disney’s last picture, the Snow White show, so that this one, Pinocchio, catches me without symbols fit for the occasion. Perhaps I should make up some, as the late Joe Humphreys used to do in some of his orations from the Garden ring, or borrow one of his.
One night when Tammany Hall had appointed one of the faithful to an important patronage job in Madison Square Garden, a beefsteak and beer brawl was flung to solemnize the occasion in the private debauching, drinking and falling-unconscious-on-the-floor room designed for the relaxation and segregation of Tex Rickard’s 800 millionaires.
This party was of that degree of elegance and charm known to the chivalry of the Tammany organization as an affair, which is not to be confused with a racket. An affair is where you got to get invited or you can’t get in, whereas a racket is where anybody can get in just so they buy a ticket, and if you don’t buy plenty of tickets how would you like a broken leg?
Anyway, Mr. Humphreys presided and, according to his own custom, divided his oration into two fairly even parts. In the first part he would pay many wholesome if rugged and woefully inadequate compliments to his wit, wisdom, fine spirits and capacity for loyal friendship “through thick and thin, taking the bitter with the sweet.” This would be followed by summaries of the fine personal qualities of the distinguished shysters, bootleggers and political extortioners and thieves who chanced to adorn the occasion.
On the occasion I now recall, Mr. Humphreys, without warning, took off into space on a joyous and utterly unprovoked flight of adulation of that greatest little pal that God ever made, that greatest little Mayor and friend of the wonderful, manly sport of fistiana where clean-limbed young Americans irregardless of creed or color develop their character and self-reliance, with fame and fortune hanging in the balance, that world’s champion of wonderful pals through sunshine or sorrow, James J. Walker, who wasn’t even there.
The mention of Mr. Walker’s name evoked prolonged cheers, attended by the throwing of hardshell rolls and olives and banging of steins containing nutritious, if immature beer from the immune brewery of Mr. Ownie Madden, another great little pal that God ever made, and the sweetest character, too, when you got to know him.
At the lower end of the table a noted jury fixer got into a fight with a blackmailer specializing in insurance on boom-time building construction over the deadly but obviously imponderable issue of which one knew Mayor Walker better and loved him more.
Ignoring this diversion, Mr. Humphreys continued to soar in the rare, pure atmosphere of his own admiration for Mr. Walker until presently, as was his wont sometimes, when common language proved inadequate, he began to gibber in spots. His gibberish, flung to the world unexpectedly amid a context of more or less standard English, was too elusive in sound and too soon gone to be transcribed, which is a pity, for there was a beauty beyond the poor power of book words.
They were precious sounds, rather than mere words, appropriate only to the emotion of the particular instant in the whole length of time, and once uttered, were gone.
Mr. Disney’s Snow White put me in a state two years ago, and my praise, written in an emotional condition, was the only document of the kind of which I have never felt a willingness to retract at least a little. Yet, on seeing Pinocchio, I have a sense that the same terms applied to this marvelously beautiful and nimble creation would seem surly.
Only one of Mr. Humphreys’ improvised words ever remained with me. It was not one of his very best, but it may give you an idea. At the climax of his eulogy Mr. Humphreys declared that Mr. Walker was not only noble, generous, brave, kind, wise, honest and loyal to the last gasp, but was positively infidictimous.
My friends, for Pinocchio that goes double.