Back When a Noted Gambler Led a Police Parade

Westbrook Pegler

Shreveport Times/January 8, 1955

George Boothby was a Western Union operator who handled the press-file from one of the early military camps in the Adirondacks as the United States fudged closer and closer to a war in which we had no business.

When a New York division sailed for France in 1917, Boothby went along as correspondent for the World. He did well and came home with a good reputation.

In January 1943, George was down and out. He couldn’t get any kind of job until an old friend of the war days sent him in at the World-Telegram. The job was little better than that of copy-boy, but it took George off the streets. He stuck it out from January to October and then drifted. Lee Wood, the executive editor, does not remember him at all. Some people in the city room recall him faintly. He died in August, 1945 and the brief obits reported that he had been in publicity.

Boothby’s greatest exploit was a success that haunted him all his days.

In the spring of 1920. Donald Henderson Clarke, a gay, Bibulous but competent and absolutely ethical member of a very superior corps of New York reporters, drew an inside tip on the impending surrender of Nick Arnstein, a con-man and tub-workers, or sea-going poker-player. Arnstein had either had a part in the theft of a great mass of securities or had been dealt in as a middleman.

Arnstein was a stylish fellow, married to Fanny Brice, then playing Ziegfeld’s roof. She was supposed to be getting $2,500 a week. Her theme song, “My Man,” was popularly believed to be a cry from her heart, but coincidence played a part there. The song actually came from Paris. However, Fanny apparently was nuts about Arnstein and when she moaned, “For whatever my man is, I am his forever, more!” The audience bawled with the pathos of it all.

Arnstein’s lawyer was William J. Fallon, “the great mouthpiece” of Gene Fowler s first successful portrayal of a buzzard as an angel. Fallon was a shyster who was to die a bum, abandoned and betrayed just as he had abandoned and betrayed his loyal wife. But he was “handsome” to the eye and an impudent drunken rogue who beguiled judges by his very gall in court.

Don Clarke hid out with Arnstein, Fanny, Fallon and other picturesque characters while Fallon dickered with the district attorney for a safe-conduct to the old Criminal Courts where the D.A.’s office was. Fallon finally got an agreement that Nickey would be allowed to walk in, put up $50,000 bond, and walk out.

By coincidence or design, Fallon, driving the party in a touring car with no top, fell in at the head of the annual New York police parade and drove past the reviewing stand where Red Mike Hylan, the mayor, and Dick Enright, the commissioner, were standing under plug hats to take the salute. Fowler says Fallon did not realize that the parade was on and horned into the lead by accident. My hazy memory is that Arnstein tried to stand up and wave his cap to Hylan and Enright and that Fannie and Boothby pulled him down. My further recollection is that when they reached the Criminal Courts hard by police headquarters, the most wanted man had to drive three times around the building, passing the Bridge of Sighs and the Tombs on each circuit, before Fallon could find a door that wasn’t locked.

It was a gorgeous coup; anyway, and Hylan and Enright, who were stuffy characters detested by reporters, got a great going-over.

Don Clarke, of the World, had drawn the assignment for several reasons beginning with his exceptional ability as a reporter and writer. Moreover, he had a way with theatrical and underworld people and a high boiling point.

This time, however, his drams finally outnumbered him and Don phoned the World to ask that some friend keep an eye open while he got some sleep. He had been holed up for days and had a sneaking hunch that Fallon was about to take Arnstein downtown.

“So,” Don wrote a few weeks ago, “I toddled down to the old Opera Cafe and phoned. An office boy answered. Then Boothby was on the phone. At some discomfort to myself I had gotten him his first job with the World. He was very careful to see that I was not awakened.

“I later told George I hoped he would live to be very old because it would be torture having to live with himself. But, of course, I was all wet not to keep myself in shape for the story.”

Charlie Bayer, the inventor of Borden’s “Elsie the Cow,” was one of our company then. He agreed with a general opinion that this triumph was the sorriest success that ever plagued a man in our craft and that Don Clarke was a master and a gallant colleague who would always give a bug-eyed cub or anyone else everything he got on any story.



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