Thursday, March 10, 2011

Advice Well Taken

During my days as an editor, I read an unpublished autobiographical manuscript by John Clayton, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and public relations executive during the early and mid-twentieth century. One of his stories has stuck in my mind all of these years, both for its human interest and its punch line, a bit of simple advice people would do well to heed.

Clayton had been a foreign correspondent in Germany, where he reported on the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler’s attempt to overthrow the government in 1923. He returned to the United States and found the Tribune would not offer him a job in Chicago. Clayton then became a publicist for the Lyric Opera.

Each year, Clayton wrote, the Lyric printed annual programs in several languages, and multiple copies would be left over at the end of the season. One of the extra editions was in Yiddish.  Clayton, being Christian and a relative newcomer to the city, asked his young assistant if he knew of a worthy Jewish organization to send them. The man, an Orthodox Jew, sensed an opportunity to cause trouble. “Why don’t you send them to the Standard Club?” he said, informing Clayton that it was an all-Jewish club. This sounded fine, and he sent the copies to the club.

The Standard Club

Shortly after the programs arrived, Clayton received several angry phone calls, accusing him of insulting the membership. The Standard Club at the time only accepted German Jews, and Yiddish was generally only spoken by Jews of Eastern European decent. Clayton later noted that if any of the members had ever known Yiddish, they had either long since forgotten it or never acknowledged they did. The Lyric was able to get some of its club member subscribers, including Mr. Kuppenheimer, to intercede on its behalf and point out no slight was intended.

After the controversy was cleared up, Clayton sternly admonished his assistant with some excellent advice: “Young man, from now on, conduct your vendettas on your own time.” 

I read this about 35 years ago. I’m going to have to say this to somebody this week.  Simple and to the point, I must say. I hope she listens.


  1. I would have had to say this in a public forum after some rather heated exchanges, but I think she got the message.

  2. Any idea where I could find that unpublished mss? I'm writing a book and Clayton is a character. Thanks, Lou Ureneck