- The Airman and the Carpenter: The Lindbergh Case and the Framing of Richard Hauptmann by Ludovic Kennedy
Collins, 438 pp, £12.95, April 1985, ISBN 0 00 217060 4
The greatest story since the Resurrection was how Mencken described the 1935 trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. Among the three hundred-odd reporters present, besides Mencken, were Damon Runyon, Ford Madox Ford, Edna Ferber, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Walter Winchell and Joseph Alsop, who was required to write no less than ten thousand words a day for the Herald Tribune. Celebrities who dropped by included Ginger Rogers, Moss Hart, Lynn Fontanne, Jack Dempsey, Robert ‘Believe-it-or-not’ Ripley, Elsa Maxwell and Jack Benny. They were in court less because of Hauptmann than because of Lindbergh, the biggest celebrity of them all. It is a sign of the passing of time that on the dustjacket of this book the name of Ludovic Kennedy is five times bigger than Lindbergh’s. Half a century ago, nobody’s name was bigger than Lindy’s.
Vol. 8 No. 1 · 23 January 1986
SIR: It has belatedly come to my attention that in the course of his attempt to disprove the verdict in the Hauptmann trial of 1935, Ludovic Kennedy (whose book on the Lindbergh kidnapping was reviewed by Michael Davie in LRB, 6 June 1985) described me as writing ‘ten thousand words a day’ as a reporter at the trial. This is perfect nonsense. I have reached five thousand words a day, partly by incorporating chunks of documents: but this was a year or so later, when I was covering a Senate hearing of the utmost interest to New York City. I doubt that anyone on earth can turn out ten thousand literate words daily.
At the Hauptmann trial, I was not writing the running story. I was in fact solely responsible for what used to be called the side-bar or feature story, which averaged about a thousand words a day, or one newspaper column of that era. How Mr Kennedy arrived at his figure of ten thousand I cannot imagine – certainly not by reading my old newspaper, the New York Herald Tribune. I have not read Mr Kennedy’s book, but I feel compelled to add that I was in the courtroom for every day of the Hauptmann trial (always sitting on a window-radiator). Our crowd from the Tribune, the Daily News crowd under Grace Robinson and Robert Conway, and the Times crowd led by ‘Deacon’ Lyman, also lunched and dined together regularly, and all became my friends. All were as assiduous in the courtroom as I was. And at the end, not a single one of us doubted for an instant that Hauptmann was guilty. That weighed with me a lot, simply because I was, so to say, a member of an informal but unanimous jury of high average competence; and it still weighs with me more than any reinterpretation of the evidence half a century after the event
Vol. 8 No. 8 · 8 May 1986
SIR: I have only just seen Joseph Alsop’s letter to you (Letters, 23 January). He takes me to task on two counts: for saying (in my book The Airman and the Carpenter) that he had written ten thousand words a day while covering the Hauptmann trial of 1935, and for disputing the guilty verdict. As regards the first charge, I was given this (admittedly astonishing) figure by his wife and therefore saw no need to check it. As regards the second, I do not for a moment doubt that he and his fellow reporters at the trial all believed Hauptmann to be guilty. Unfortunately for them, they did not know what the files of the FBI, the New Jersey State Police, the New York City Police, and the papers of Governor Hoffman have since revealed: that the vast bulk (some 90 per cent) of the prosecution evidence was perjured. Mr Alsop says he has not read the copy of my book which I sent him last year, and which contains the new evidence. I am not surprised. In the light of his letter to you, he clearly does not wish to run the risk of having to admit to himself that he has been living I under an illusion these past fifty years.