THE HUNTRESS: The Adventures, Escapades, and Triumphs of Alicia Patterson: Aviatrix, Sportswoman, Journalist, Publisher, by Alice Arlen and Michael J. Arlen. Pantheon, 357 pp., $28.95.
Alicia Patterson, the founder, first editor and first publisher of Newsday, had three marriages — two of them forced on her by her parents and none of them made in heaven.
The first was to James Simpson Jr., the polo-playing son of the chairman of Marshall Field’s department stores. During the one year it lasted, he seemed more interested in horses than in her, and she more interested in fox hunting than him. The second, which lasted two years, was to Joseph Brooks, an amiable All-American football player at Colgate who was more a friend of Patterson’s father than a romantic interest of hers. She learned of their engagement when she read her father’s announcement of it in a newspaper. “Furious not consulted,” she cabled both of them.
The third marriage was to Harry Guggenheim, the fabulously wealthy heir to the Anaconda Copper fortune, but a man who, like Jim Simpson, ultimately seemed more interested in his horses — one of which won the Kentucky Derby — than her. For much of their marriage they feuded and slept in separate bedrooms while still making public appearances together.
According to Alice Arlen and Michael J. Arlen, in their carefully researched and compelling biography, “The Huntress,” Patterson’s great romance was with Adlai Stevenson, the Illinois governor and Democratic candidate for president. During their long and clandestine affair they exchanged many love letters in which he called her “cockroach” and she called him “rat” — rather odd terms of endearment. Guggenheim, perceptive when it came to business dealings, seems to have been oblivious to it.
Patterson was from a wealthy Chicago newspaper family, the second of three daughters born to a father who wanted sons. Her grandfather, Joseph Medill, had been the owner of the Chicago Tribune, and her father, Joseph Patterson, had used Tribune money to start the New York Daily News. She herself, with Guggenheim’s money, bought a tiny, awful community newspaper in 1940, changed the name to Newsday, and turned it into a journalistic success.
For all its merits, “The Huntress” does not offer the definitive history of Newsday during the Patterson years; that remains Robert Keeler’s “Newsday: A Candid History of the Respectable Tabloid.” The Arlens focus almost as much on her exploits as a horsewoman, pilot, fly fisher, world traveler, tiger hunter and pig sticker as on her role as editor and publisher.
Alice Arlen, who died in February, was a daughter of one of Alicia’s sisters. Michael J. Arlen is the author of the critically acclaimed “Exiles” and won a National Book Award for “Passage to Ararat.” (The Arlens were husband and wife.) Their biography is admiring but not uncritical, and the narrative is smooth and polished from start to end. It’s also sometimes painfully vivid, as when it describes the operation to remove Patterson’s cancerous tumor: “Back then, in 1952 . . . pretty much every aspect of an operation was assaultive to the body: Incisions were longer, instruments were larger and clumsier, stitching material was thicker, needles of all sorts were wider, and the anesthetic of choice, sodium pentothal, had the kind of sledgehammer effect that often took days of headaches and nausea to dissipate.”
They describe a young woman who was attractive but not beautiful, an indifferent student who never went to college, and a debutante who was more athletic and daring than demure. Patterson’s relationship with her parents was strained, particularly after she took up with Guggenheim. The Arlens say there was no doubt that Patterson had a problem with his daughter marrying a Jew who had more money, bigger estates and more national prominence than he did.
During World War II, Guggenheim served in the Navy in New Jersey and the Pacific. He seemed to have little interest in getting home quickly, spending months in Hawaii and California. Patterson, happily running Newsday on her own, seemed to have no great interest in having him back. The long story short is that until her untimely death from intestinal bleeding in 1963, they spent much time feuding, especially about Guggenheim’s criticisms of Newsday’s editorial content and management, and his insistence on maintaining a 51 percent share of the paper.
He may have kept financial control, but when Time magazine did a cover story on Newsday in 1954, Patterson was on the cover and Guggenheim barely a footnote. He simmered about it, but Time was right. Newsday was her creation, her joy and — as the Arlens make clear in their engaging biography — the love of her life.
Anthony Marro was editor of Newsday from 1987 to 2003.