Researching Odd McIntyre at The Esther Allen Greer Museum
at the University of Rio Grande near
McIntyre’s hometown of Gallipolis, Ohio.
I haven’t blogged much this year because all my time has been spent working on a biography about Odd McIntyre. I was really happy today to finally launch the web site, anoddbook.com, and all the social media accounts that will support the launch of the book. You can now find some great content about the book and all the things Odd wrote about on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If you happen to be a Facebook user, please be sure to LIKE my “An Odd Book” Facebook page.
It’s really been a fun experience researching and writing about Odd and Maybelle McIntyre, and I know it will be even more fun sharing their story with everyone when the book comes out on April 1, 2017.
McIntyre’s life is a fascinating story of how one man found fame and fortune against incredible odds. It’s a story of camaraderie and friendship between some of the most popular writers, musicians, artists and entertainers of the early decades of the twentieth century. It’s a love story about a married couple who struggled to get to the top, and then experienced humiliating failure, but survived.
It’s a story of having the best of everything money can buy, while simultaneously suffering from an undiagnosed illness that resulted in severe physical and mental disabilities. But more than anything, Odd’s story is about the power of the written word to “entertain people a little each day” as he put it. Thanks to the thousands of articles and columns he wrote during his lifetime, he also left behind a unique view of popular culture during one of the most exciting times of change and innovation in American history.
Odd wrote more, made more money, and had more readers than anyone else in his time. When the world was hungry for newspapers and magazines, and radio and movies were in their infancy, he carefully managed his public persona to become a media superstar.
He worked in a period of great innovation in communication, politics, art, and entertainment, as the world was shifting from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era. New technologies and methods of communication were being quickly adopted around the world, as were new ideas regarding journalism and the role of media in American politics and society. Odd was at the epicenter of communication during the birth of this new modern age.
When differences between traditional values and new urban points of view created a culture war, he was one of the few writers who could bridge both worlds with ease. Later, when the country experienced the disastrous economic depression of the thirties, Odd was there to encourage, to entertain, and to remind readers of the hope that existed all around them, in both the big cities and the small towns.
Odd was also there during many of the historic moments of that era. He was there with his pad and pencil on a cold, rainy New York day as Titanic survivors stepped onto the pier and began sharing their stories of what happened when the “unsinkable” ship struck an iceberg. He was one of the first reporters to interview the Wright brothers when they were a couple of unknown bicycle mechanics trying to build a flying machine. Odd was there to observe and share the stories of the men and women responsible for creating the music that exploded out of Tin Pan Ally and spread across the world.
Odd and Maybelle and friends at one of the many parties they attended in the 1920s. At this New Year’s Eve party Maybelle, bottom row center, was photographed between George Gershwin and Rube Goldberg (reclining). Groucho Marx is on the bottom row, far right of the photograph. Odd is on the back row, third from right, while his friends Ray Long and Roy Howard can be seen fifth and sixth from the left.
As Florenz Ziegfeld’s press agent, he was backstage absorbing—and then sharing—every detail as Broadway theater shifted from vaudeville to something completely new and exciting. He was the first to write a feature on the stars of Amos ‘n’ Andy, the radio program that became a national sensation. As a close friend of Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin and other actors, Odd had a literal front-row seat as moving pictures became nickelodeons, nickelodeons became silent films, and silent films became talkies.
He spent hours in Parisian bars with a group of writers who came to be known as the “Lost Generation.” He was there as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote their earliest groundbreaking work.
And through it all, he never stopped thinking of himself as a newspaperman. Working side-by-side with early muckrakers like Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Upton Sinclair, he experienced first-hand the changes that could take place in society when journalists worked to uncover and report the truth in the face of powerful opposition.
His newspaper column, “New York Day by Day,” and his thousands of stories in magazines like Cosmopolitan, Life, McCall’s, and the Saturday Evening Post were filled with pop-culture references, celebrity insights, opinions about modern society, and humorous observations that were somehow relatable for millions of readers who would never actually get to see New York, Paris or Hollywood for themselves. Even today, Odd’s descriptions of the people he met, places he traveled, and things he experienced invoke vivid scenes from the years when modern entertainment, media, and business were being born.
Despite the extroverted “man-about-town” image he projected to the world, as he grew older, Odd was plagued by a variety of social anxiety disorders and severe depression, likely caused by pernicious anemia. Eventually, he retreated to a life in the shadows, venturing out only at night in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce.
Odd’s career was a joint venture. His wife, Maybelle, provided the initial motivation and inspiration for his success. She pushed him forward when he was ready to give up, and she later managed his career and negotiated for him some of the most lucrative contracts in the syndication business. Especially toward the end, he could only write if she was in the room, and he would sometimes have a panic attack if she left their building even for a short time.
In assessing the popularity of Odd’s column, a writer for The New York Times captured the essence of his relationship with readers when he wrote, “His quality of breathless wonder was coupled with an extraordinary ability to make the name of an actress, a crooner or a newspaper rewrite man shimmer in the eyes of the public, who sat on an aisle seat of what for him and them was the greatest show on earth.”
The life of Oscar Odd McIntyre is a story of tenacity; of pushing forward despite great obstacles, even when it looks like there’s no possible way you’ll find success. It’s a story of what can happen when someone is at the right place, at the right time, with the right talent, and has the good sense to take advantage of it. It’s a story of a man who, when no one would give him a chance, created his own way to do what he loved. In the process, he produced an incredible body of work that brings to life one of the most fascinating periods in modern communication and American pop culture.