“Remembering the St. Louis Star-Times”

By Rick Stoff

July 13, 2011 -- As I was sifting through boxes at the Media Archives and reading about the final days of the St. Louis Star-Times, I realized that I had lived through a parallel experience at the Globe-Democrat. Three decades after the Star-Times was killed off, a nearly identical plot played out in our building, which was just across the street from the old Star-Times offices. The outcome and the leading suspect were the same. I even knew some of the characters in the Star-Times caper as they were working at the Globe when I arrived in 1977.

I was a reporter at the Globe-Democrat on that day in 1983 when our publisher, G. Duncan Bauman, summoned the entire staff for an unprecedented meeting. We were told that the Newhouse family was closing the paper. The Globe struggled along for another year or two under different owners before succumbing to its injuries. We later learned that the Globe’s owners had figuratively merged with the Post-Dispatch. By agreeing to share profits with the Newhouse family, the Post dispatched its last daily competitor. The Newhouse family would reap a share of the resulting monopoly profits for many years to come.

History quickly forgot that the Globe led the Post in weekday circulation due in part to our possession of the preferable morning position. Despite our hard work and seemingly healthy circulation, we probably will be forever remembered as a failed newspaper.

The Media Archives holds a newsletter from the St. Louis Newspaper Guild that tells the tale of the last day at the Star-Times -- June 15, 1951. They called it “Black Friday.”

According to the Guild, “That morning, after preparation of the first edition was well underway, word got around that a story announcing the sale of the Star to the Post-Dispatch was being set in the composing room – and it was the last day of publication.

“How much the Post-Dispatch paid to wipe out its lively afternoon competition has never been announced, but estimates have ranged from one million dollars all the way to eight million
dollars, with two-point-four million dollars, plus the amount of severance paid to dismissed employees, considered the likely figure.”

The Archives contains the termination notice sent by registered mail to Ray Noonan, who was working in the Jefferson City bureau. It reads:
“This suspension of publication makes it necessary to terminate your employment as of today. Any dismissal pay or accrued vacation pay that may be due under the terms of applicable labor contracts will be sent to you as quickly as possible.”

Ray Noonan was one of a handful of Star-Times staffers who found positions at the Post and Globe. He retired as the Globe’s assistant managing editor. Mary Kimbrough, a long-time friend of the Press Club, was hired by the Post and later retired from the Globe. She was one of the dedicated retirees who helped launch the Media Archives collection by volunteering to catalog donations.

Ray was president of the Press Club in 1976. Mary was one of the first people to be honored as a Press Club Media Person of the Year. I worked at the Globe with Mary and Ray.

The Star-Times achieved national significance in its 67 years.

The Star-Times’ first ancestor was the St. Louis Sunday Sayings, which was first published in 1884. Four years later it became a daily, the Evening Star-Sayings.

In 1895 it was sold and renamed the St. Louis Star. From 1905 to 1908 it was merged with another paper and was known as the Star-Chronicle.

The Star was sold in 1913 to John C. Roberts, a founder of the enormous International Shoe Company. Historical reports say he bought the paper to give his sons, Elzey and John Jr., something to do. The elder Roberts also viewed the newspaper as a vehicle for pursuing his interests in civic improvement.

Some of the paper’s colorful history is found in several boxes of papers and memorabilia in the Media Archives.

During World War I a cub reporter, Aaron G. Benesch, solved the kidnapping of a three-year-old girl. Despite considerable public interest in the sensational crime, police were stymied. Then, within five hours of receiving the assignment, Benesch followed a tip from a streetcar conductor to a hotel in Granite City. Presenting himself as a bill collector, he gained admittance to a room taken by a man and woman and saw the missing girl. He called his city editor. Police arrived within minutes to rescue the girl and arrest the kidnappers.

In the 1920s the Star covered the war between the Egan and Hogan crime gangs, who were said to be “fighting openly in the streets of St. Louis.” Somehow, the Star persuaded Ray “The Fox” Renard, a lieutenant in the Egan gang, to confess his mob’s crimes. His serial confessions ran daily in the Star and solved 22 murder cases and robberies involving $5 million – more than $61 million in today’s dollars. Renard’s court testimony led to federal convictions for every member of his gang except one who was able to disappear.

The gang story was orchestrated by reporter Harry D. Brundidge, who later conducted an expose of medical college diploma mills. Under the alias Harry Thompson, Brundidge managed to become a full-fledged doctor of medicine with just 57 days of training. The U.S. Senate followed his investigation and quack medical colleges across the country were closed.

The Star also was credited with ending a prohibition against the employment of married teachers in the city schools and with the passage of a so-called “clean restaurant” law. During the 1930s the Star-Times was one of the major newspapers beating the drum about the evils of marijuana and inducing federal action to make it illegal.