Finley Peter Dunne
Finley Peter Dunne
July 10, 1867
|Died||April 24, 1936 (aged 68)|
|Margaret Ives Abbott|
Finley Peter Dunne (July 10, 1867 - April 24, 1936) was an American humorist and writer from Chicago. In 1898 Dunne published Mr. Dooley in Peace and in War, a collection of his nationally syndicated Mr. Dooley sketches. Speaking with the thick verbiage and accent of an Irish immigrant from County Roscommon, the fictional Mr. Dooley expounded upon political and social issues of the day from his South Side Chicago Irish pub. Dunne's sly humor and political acumen won the support of President Theodore Roosevelt, a frequent target of Mr. Dooley's barbs. Dunne's sketches became so popular and such a litmus test of public opinion that they were read each week at White House cabinet meetings.
Peter Dunne (he added the first name Finley later) was born in Chicago on July 10, 1867, to a carpenter also named Peter Dunne and his wife, the former Ellen Finley, both born in Ireland. He was born with his twin brother John, who died in infancy. Peter was the fifth of the seven Dunne children who would survive to adulthood. Ellen Dunne was well-read, and created a bookish environment for her children. The Dunne family had many Catholic priests, and one such relative suggested the bright boy be trained as a clergyman, but the elder Peter Dunne refused, saying there would be no children forced to become priests in his family. Recognizing Peter's potential, his parents sent him to high school, the only Dunne boy to attend. His mother had become ill with tuberculosis as young Peter finished grade school, and she died while he was at West Division High School. Likely due to his loss, Dunne finished last in his class, though he shone in the school's literary society and as a debater. Dunne had taken the college-track curriculum at West Division, but his poor grades scuttled any such plans. He found a job as office boy at the Chicago Telegram and started work there in 1884, just before his 17th birthday.
Through his relatives, and as a local boy, Dunne was thoroughly familiar with the local police courts and firehouses. When superiors realized he could write, he was promoted to reporter and sent to cover the police department. His writing talent became clear to newspaper rivals perusing the pages of the Telegram, and Chicago Daily News managing editor Harry Ten Eyck White lured him away in 1885 at an increase in salary. The Telegram barely made ends meet; the Daily News was by far the most successful newspaper in Chicago. Instead of longer editorials, White preferred pithy comments ranging from sentence to paragraph length, and gave Dunne training in this. Some of the elements of Dunne's experience at the Daily News may have resonated in his later Mr. Dooley pieces. Editor White, a humorist of local note and a racing fan, had invented a character, "the horse reporter", who dispenses earthy wisdom to a Chicago newsroom's visitors, and had written a series of sketches about an Irish family living on Archer Avenue, Dooley's future home. On the Daily News staff was Eugene Field, a humorist and easily the best-paid journalist in Chicago from the 1880s until his 1895 death. Field's work tended to be noncontroversial, contrasting with the Dooley pieces, but Field's success proved that newspaper humor could pay.
Editor White assigned Dunne to general news reporting, and tried to allow him to write special features, which he preferred, disliking the need for legwork in general reporting. Sometime before 1886, Dunne took his mother's maiden name as his middle name, and in 1888, reversed the two names, for Finley Peter Dunne.
Dunne's city was at this time baseball-mad over the success of the Chicago White Stockings, and in the spring of 1887, the Daily News started covering baseball games (rather than merely printing the final score) and White assigned Dunne. Both at home games and on the road, Dunne sent commentary, usually of the first six innings or so, the most that could be set in type before the six o'clock edition, the final one for the day (the scores from the later innings were punched into the printing plate). According to James DeMuth in his book on Chicago newspaper humorists, Dunne, together with Chicago Herald sports reporter Charles Seymour, "largely shaped the modern forms of American sportswriting". Rather than dry summaries, as had been common to that point, Seymour and Dunne adopted ballplayer slang as technical terms. One term that Dunne is credited with coining is "southpaw" to describe a left-handed pitcher; in the White Stockings ballpark, a pitcher faced west as he threw to the plate; thus he threw with the arm on the south side. Dunne was no baseball fan, and saw that many players were well-muscled but ignorant; this would cause his most famous literary creation, Mr. Dooley, to remark of one young man's career, "fractions drove him from school, and the vagrancy laws drove him to baseball".[a]
In January 1888, Dunne was hired away from the Daily News by the Chicago Times. That paper had been in decline since the death of its longtime editor, Wilbur F. Storey[b] and new management was seeking to revitalize its staff by raiding other papers. Dunne saw the potential for further advancement in an election year. Historian Charles Fanning deemed Dunne's coverage of the Republican and Democratic national conventions "brilliant" and Times management must have agreed, for they made him city editor, though only aged 21.
Dunne was city editor for less than a year before leaving for a position at the Chicago Tribune. During that time the Times published a number of pieces containing Irish dialect, though their authorship cannot be ascribed to Dunne with certainty as they do not bear a byline. It was while holding that position that Dunne had his greatest scoop: breaking the Cronin case. Alexander Sullivan, local head of the Clan-na-Gael, was borrowing funds from it for market speculation something loudly opposed by a member, Dr. John Patrick Cronin, who subsequently vanished after climbing into a vehicle of men who said his services were needed. Few took much note of the doctor's absence until Dunne learned of the Clan situation, which had escaped press notice. Dunne pushed for an investigation of Cronin's disappearance, and a police detective, Daniel Coughlin was assigned, who did little work before announcing there was no evidence of foul play, and continued his indolence once Cronin's badly beaten body was discovered. Dunne became suspicious of the policeman, and had him watched. Through contacts, Dunne discovered that Coughlin had hired a horse and buggy matching the description of that which had taken Cronin, and stopped the presses. Coughlin was arrested, but his murder conviction was reversed on appeal, and he was acquitted in a retrial. Despite his journalistic coup, Dunne was forced out at the Times due to a power struggle among the publishers, and his post at the Tribune, as a reporter, was a step down.
About the time Dunne moved to the Tribune, he and other young Chicago journalists formed the Whitechapel Club, named for the locale of the crimes of Jack the Ripper. The club attracted attention for its stunts, including two semi-humorous mayoral campaigns, and the midnight cremation of a member who had committed suicide, well covered in the papers. It provided the venue for frank political discussions among members who were generally far more progressive than their employers, and the young journalists bluntly critiqued each other's writing. Dunne was one of those who specialized in deflating the self-important, as would Mr. Dooley in the years to come. Fanning found that "the Whitechapel experience was crucial in Dunne's development as a thinker and a writer".
Six months at the Tribune saw Dunne gain promotion to editor of the Sunday edition, soon after the start of 1890. This relieved him of the drudgery of the daily reporter's beat, which he disliked. Before the end of the year, he moved again, this time to the Chicago Herald--publisher John R. Walsh and editor James W. Scott were building a staff composed mainly of enthusiastic younger journalists, including Dunne's old colleague from the ballpark, Seymour. Several Whitechapel members were there, as was future politician Brand Whitlock, who later wrote, "when they induced 'Pete' Dunne to come over from the Tribune, the staff seemed complete". Another reason Dunne was willing to jump papers was that he would have the opportunity to do political reporting. Although hired as a reporter, not an editor, Dunne's experience and competence quickly placed him high on the staff. Dunne got to do political work, covering the 1892 Democratic and Republican conventions. He also had to do work he found less interesting--the young Theodore Dreiser, assigned like Dunne to cover a florists' convention noted that Dunne seemed to scorn not only the event, but the fact he was assigned to cover it. Despite his affected nonchalance during such assignments, Dunne still turned in brilliant copy.
Dunne was transferred to the Walsh-owned Chicago Evening Post after the 1892 conventions and was put in charge of its editorial page under the paper's editor, Cornelius McAuliff. There, he met his future mother-in-law, Mary Ives Abbott, who reviewed books for the Evening Post. Ellis noted that Abbott, a widow who had lived for some years in Calcutta, was the wittiest woman Dunne had ever met, while she recognized his genius. The acquaintance with Abbott, who was a popular dinner guest, launched Dunne in Chicago society. Dunne, with these connections, and continued fine writing, became prominent in Chicago. Assigned by his paper to cover the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the city appointed him as its representative at a number of events there that had an Irish connection.
The first Dooley articles appeared when Dunne was chief editorial writer for the Chicago Post, and for a number of years he wrote the pieces without a byline or initials. They were paid for at the rate of $10 each above his newspaper pay. A contemporary wrote of his Mr. Dooley sketches that "there was no reaching for brilliancy, no attempt at polish. The purpose was simply to amuse. But it was this very ease and informality of the articles that caught the popular fancy. The spontaneity was so genuine; the timeliness was so obvious." In 1898, he wrote a Dooley piece that celebrated the victory of Commodore George Dewey over the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay--and this piece attracted national attention. Within a short time, weekly Dooley essays were syndicated across the country.
In 1899, under the title Mr Dooley in Peace and War, a collection of the pieces was brought out in book form, received rave reviews from the critics, and was on the best seller list for a year. Dunne moved to New York as a full-time writer and national literary figure.
Selections from Dooley were read at meetings of the presidential cabinet. Theodore Roosevelt was a fan, despite the fact that he was one of Dunne's favorite targets. When Roosevelt published his book, The Rough Riders, Dunne wrote a tongue-in-cheek review mocking the war hero with the punchline "if I was him I'd call th' book 'Alone in Cubia'" and the nation roared. Roosevelt wrote to Dunne: "I regret to state that my family and intimate friends are delighted with your review of my book. Now I think you owe me one; and I shall expect that when you next come east you pay me a visit. I have long wanted the chance of making your acquaintance."
The two finally met at the Republican Convention in 1900, where Roosevelt gave him a news scoop--he would accept the nomination as vice presidential candidate. In later years, Dunne was a frequent guest for dinner and weekends at the White House.
Dunne wrote more than 700 Dooley pieces, about a third of which were printed in eight books. Their era of influence ended with the start of World War I. After Dooley became popular, Dunne left Chicago and lived in New York, where he wrote books and articles and edited The American Magazine, Metropolitan Magazine and Collier's Weekly, becoming a beloved figure in club and literary circles.
Dunne's "Dooley" essays were based on realistic depictions of working-class life, and did not reflect the idealism of most political commentators of the Progressive Era. Fanning says:
On December 10, 1902, Dunne married Margaret Ives Abbott (1878-1955), a society woman in Chicago, prominent golfer, and 1900 Olympics winner. She continued to play golf while she and Dunne were raising their four children, Finley Peter Dunne Jr., screenwriter/director Philip Dunne, and twins Peggy and Leonard.
He died in New York on April 24, 1936.
He coined numerous political quips over the years; one of the best-known aphorisms he originated is "politics ain't beanbag", referring to the rough side of political campaigns.
As a journalist in the age of "muckraking journalism", Dunne was aware of the power of institutions, including his own. Writing as Dooley, Dunne once wrote the following passage mocking hypocrisy and self-importance in the newspapers themselves:
The expression has been borrowed and altered in many ways over the years: