Heywood Broun

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Heywood Campbell Broun (7 December 1888 - 18 December 1939)

Newspaperman Heywood C. Broun was born in Brooklyn. He attended Harvard from 1906-1910, where he befriended Walter Lippman and John Reed.

The Journalist

Broun left Harvard only 10 credits short of a degree to become a sportswriter for the New York Morning Telegraph. He joined the New York Tribune and covered WWI as its correspondent in France. In 1921, he joined the New York World and debuted his column, "It Seems to Me."

Broun campaigned for the underdog, against censorship, racism, and for women's rights. He supported Eugene V. Debs, Margaret Sanger, D.H. Lawrence, and Tom Mooney, a labor leader believed to have been framed in a bombing case.

Broun resigned when the World refused to run his coverage of the Sacco and Vanzetti case.

The Socialist

In 1930, Broun ran unsuccessfully as a Socialist for Congress. Several years later, the Socialists expelled him for appearing on the platform with members of the Communist Party in support of Mooney and the Scottsboro Nine.

He wrote for The Nation and the New Republic and helped to establish the American Newspaper Guild in 1933, which today gives out the Heywood Broun Award for news organizations showing an abiding concern for the underdog.

One of the Algonquin Round Table Wits

Broun, one of the wits at the Algonquin Round Table, was said to have whispered to Tallulah Bankhead during a Broadway show in which she was starring: "Don't look now, Tallulah, but your show's slipping." The droll newspaperman wrote several books and novels, including The A.E.F. (1918), The Boy Grew Older (1922), and a biography, Anthony Comstock, witlh Margaret Leech (1927). Two collections of his columns were published: It Seems to Me (1935) and Collected Edition (1941).

Broun's Wit

  • Only Puritans think of the Devil as the most fascinating figure in the universe.
  • Precarious is the position of the New York newspaperman who ventures any criticism of the Catholic Church. There is not a single New York editor who does not live in mortal terror of the power of this group. . . . If the church can bluff its way into a preferred position, the fault likes not with the Catholics but with the editors.
  • The pursuit of happiess belongs to us, but we must climb around or over the church to get it.
  • Christian ethics are seldom found save in the philosophy of some unbeliever.

The Catholic Convert

He died of pneumonia at age 51 in New York City.

Time, in a 1 January 1940 story, described how more than 3,000 mourners attended his funeral at St. Patrick's Cathedral:

Into the candlelit vastness of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan, one day last week, drifted Protestants, Jews, agnostics, atheists and Communists as well as Roman Catholics, to attend a Solemn High Mass of Requiem for the soul of the late Heywood Broun. There were faces from Washington (Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter), from City Hall (Mayor LaGuardia), from Broadway (Tallulah Bankhead, George M. Cohan, George S. Kaufman, Irving Berlin), from newspaper row (pavement-pounding reporters along with Franklin P. Adams, Westbrook Pegler, Rollin Kirby, Roy W. Howard, Herbert Bayard Swope). Many friends of Heywood Broun, accustomed to going to church only for funerals and weddings, did not know when to kneel or bow. Few of them had ever heard a funeral oration like that which was presently delivered to them by the man who last spring baptized Heywood Broun a Catholic: Monsignor Fulton John Sheen.
Handsome, hollow-eyed, musical-voiced Monsignor Sheen, philosophy professor at the Catholic University of America, is one of the most brilliant U. S. pulpit and radio orators, and one of the most astute of Catholic minds. Before baptizing Broun, he instructed him in the faith for ten weeks. Before Broun died last fortnight, Monsignor Sheen administered to him the Church's last rites, and gave him a special blessing from Pope Pius XII. Heywood Broun, voluble to his friends on all other subjects, never talked much about Catholicism. To mourners at the funeral, Monsignor Sheen's address — which he called "The Biography of a Soul" — was a lofty revelation. But to some of Broun's friends, Monsignor Sheen's eulogy, with its references to "the Broun nobody knew" and its implication that his lifetime liberalism counted less than his hour in the vineyard, was a pain.
Heywood Broun, said Monsignor Sheen, had tried psychoanalysis, had lain on a couch for hours of "questionings on trivial incidents," but "never once did he find peace." He turned to the Church, he told Monsignor Sheen, for four reasons:
" 'Firstly, a visit I made to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. . . .
" 'Secondly, the election of Cardinal Pacelli as Pius XII convinced me that there is only one moral authority left in the world and that is the Papacy.
" 'Thirdly, a fear of death. I should dislike to appear before the judgment seat of God with my soul in the condition that I believe it is in now. . . .
" 'Fourthly, to me there is nothing more ridiculous than individualism in either economics, politics or religion. . . . I love my fellow man, and particularly, the down and out, the socially disinherited and the economically dispossessed. . . .. I want, therefore, a religion which has a social aspect. ... I have never been a Communist and never will be a Communist. I have very often defended birth control. But I would not do it now; for I have begun to see a spiritual significance of birth.' "
Sheen: "I never met a person who had a clearer premonition of death. 'Let us hurry,' he would say, 'I may not live another month.' ... At the next to the last instruction, I reminded him of the seriousness of the step which he was about to take. ... He arose from his chair, put his arm around me and said, 'Father, you're worried. You will never regret receiving me into the Church. I promise you that.' . . .
"He who might have been a Chesterton for America, as he hoped a certain literary colleague of his would one day be its Belloc, was given only one brief hour in the vineyard of the Church. . . . Thus ends the biography of a soul as far as this world is concerned. To but few men of his profession has come the thrill of living as he has lived. . . ."

Monsignor Sheen's remarks were more than funereal eloquence. They were probably intended partly as an answer to those Catholics who still viewed Heywood Broun as an unreconstructed Red, who ought never to have been accepted by the Church. And they were undoubtedly voiced, by one of the nation's most influential Catholics, as the sincerest tribute he could make to a man who had sincerely been his friend.

Broun is buried in the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven in Hawthorne, New York (about 25 miles north of New York City).