Thomas J. C. Martyn and granddaughter Anne Alexander, 1975
Practically strangers except for letters, my grandfather and I only spent time together in person three times. He came to visit my family in 1961 and we went on a family beach vacation, but being only two years old at the time, I don’t remember that trip. He also visited in 1968. The last time I saw him in person was in 1975, when my younger sister and I went to stay with him in southern Brazil for six weeks.
On my return home, I carried in my suitcase the manuscript that forms the basis for this book. Subsequent letters from my grandfather made it clear that he wanted my father and me to try to get it published. In 1977, he wrote to me saying that he intended to draft another important document on Newsweek, and that he would send it to me when he finished. He died two years later, his important document unsent.
Always the good son, my father kept his emotions to himself and never prevented me from writing to my grandfather. But my father had essentially been abandoned by him at the age of six, so he rarely spoke about my grandfather and, according to my mother, was very bitter about him. So my father was unlikely to do anything to advance my grandfather’s interests by getting his memoir published. As for me, at the time I was sixteen, preparing to go to Switzerland for a year on a student exchange program and then to college, and I did not give the manuscript much thought. It ended up on a shelf in my father’s closet. For 34 years it sat there, along with my father’s unresolved anger. My siblings and I rediscovered the manuscript after my father’s death; with the benefit of my life experience, I could see its inherent significance, which had escaped me before.
At that time my grandfather’s oil portrait was moved to my brother’s house. Now as an adult I studied it afresh and realized that my nose was strikingly similar to his and very unlike the noses of my father, mother, and siblings.
It struck me that I also inherited his entrepreneurial “gene,” which no one else in my family has, or, to be honest, wishes they had, as well as his fiery temperament. As an eight-year-old, I bought candy from the local grocery store and sold it at a profit to my mother and sister. I ran a foot massage business, rubbing my father’s feet for one cent a minute (or two cents a minute for “super first class” which included corn huskers lotion). I founded Anne’s Advertising Agency, which provided signage for my customers’ needs, primarily my father, who ordered signs about closing the chimney flue and other household directives.
I was also a blooming writer. My father gave me a used manual Royal typewriter from the insurance company where he worked, and as a pre-teen I produced four novels and assorted poetry, as well as The Weekly Newspage, which consisted of neighborhood, local and regional news, book reviews, quotes, jokes, recipes, sports, and biographies of historical figures such as Gandhi, Robert Frost, Roald Amundsen, and Benjamin Franklin. Going through old letters from my grandfather many years later, I realized that he was an official subscriber of The Weekly Newspage (one dollar for 20 issues), and I discovered an astounding and poignant letter regarding my journalistic effort, which clearly drew on his own experience in publishing.
May 13, 1970
Another The Weekly Newspage has come and has been, so to speak, devoured. It is getting better, and steady improvement is a big leaf in your crown of laurels. I know of nothing quite like it, and have never known anything like it. It is original, informative, and entertaining. Keep it that way.
Starting a publication, any well-intentioned publication, is an act of friendship. You make friends with a lot of people, many of whom you will never know. And they will not only make friends (sometimes critical friends) with you, but they will begin to rely on you as well as support you. The fundamental difference between you and them is that all of your public will get to know you.
So, whether you like it or not, your reputation becomes involved, if not at stake.
You are with every new issue contributing to a chapter in the annals of American Journalism. You are entitled to be proud of yourself. Have you ever thought of it that way?
As a child, I had no idea that in my own small way I was following in his footsteps and what that might have meant to him. In my grandfather’s letters to me over the years, he showed himself to be a delightful correspondent and a loving and supportive grandfather, despite being thousands of miles away. As his granddaughter, I didn’t have the history with him that my father did, and I was able to see my grandfather in a more balanced way. I wish we had been able to have a relationship from which I might have learned more about his amazing accomplishments, not only with Newsweek, but with his experience as Time magazine’s first foreign editor, and before that, his wartime experience as a pilot. Of course, I also wish my grandfather had had a stronger attorney at the time of his ouster from Newsweek, because perhaps he could have reached a much better outcome.
Nonetheless, until my grandfather’s memoir resurfaced when my father passed away, I rarely even thought to tell friends that my grandfather founded Newsweek. It was as if what he achieved and lost was a kind of open family secret. Since I carry in my genes both his entrepreneurial and his journalistic traits, I felt compelled to share the story he drafted. I hope that his side of the story, in all its fascinating detail, will help redeem his accomplishment and fill out the story of a great magazine’s history.
In addition to taking whatever lessons you may draw from these pages, I hope you enjoy the ride.
Anne Martyn Alexander