January 31, 2008
Henry Blackman Sell & The Chicago Roundtable: Part 1
"Who is Henry Sell?"
So, ...a guy walks into the Chicago Daily News editor-in-chief's office and says, "I want to be the editor of the book review section."
"Well, asks the editor, "do you have any experience?" "A little," the man replied, but if you will give me the job I'll pay for lunch everyday for all your reporters over at Schlogl's Restaurant and Saloon."
Henry Blackman Sell got the job and the Chicago Daily News reporters found out that there was, indeed, such a thing as a "free lunch."
Henry Blackman Sell (1889-1974, Photo) was literary editor with the Chicago Daily News from 1916 to 1920 and editor of Harper's Bazaar from 1920-1926. From 1926-1940 he was president of Blaker Advertising agency and in 1940 founded
Sell's Specialties, a food processing company. Sell was the inventor of Sell's Liver Pate which is still being sold today. Later, Sell served as editor of Town & Country magazine from 1949 to 1964 before finally returning to Harper's Bazaar as editor from 1965-1970. At various times in his life, Sell was a glove salesman (at Marshall Field's), furniture salesman, student at The Art Institute of Chicago, reporter, editor, fancy canned meat manufacturer, interior decorator, nightclub promoter and vitamin manufacturer. He authored a book on home furnishings and was even awarded the Legion of Honor for promoting French fashions. He was an eclectic over achiever who seemed to succeed at whatever he turned his eye towards, and approached every day asking himself, "What problems is it my privilege to solve today?"
But, it was during his years at the Chicago Daily News that he earned an honored place in Chicago history.
The little story of how Henry Sell became the book page editor at the newspaper may only be a bit of Chicago folklore. The story, as related in A Talent For Living, a biography written with Sell's co-operation, is not quite that dramatic. But, from what I've read about this creative and industrious man, it is entirely possible. What is true is that Henry Sell did become the book editor, Chicago's literati lunched at Schlogl's at 37 North Wells Street around a large, round walnut table and, in the process, Sell became a catalyst of the Chicago literary Renaissance.
Sell had gained reporter experience while working for the Indianapolis Star a few years before. In Chicago he had worked for The Fine Arts Building and already knew Ben Hecht, Carl Sandburg and several other writers on the Daily News. So, when he decided to pursue his writing, the Daily News was the obvious employer of choice. Mollie Mann was the women's page editor and a friend and it was she who introduced Sell to Charles Dennis, second in command at the paper.
Sell convinced Dennis that the paper needed more appeal for the ever increasing numbers of immigrants that were settling in the city. Dennis decided to give Sell his shot, and it wasn't long before articles about Polish, Swedish, German and Italian life was appearing in the pages. These were the grocers, shopkeepers and bartenders of the city; the strong ethnic working class people that helped to elect alderman and mayors and that Chicagoans interacted with on a daily basis. As Sell predicted, they went out and bought the Daily News - and so did all their family and friends.
But, Sell was not on the newspaper's staff and that was what he wanted, along with a desk and an office and the opportunity to mingle with many of Chicago's most brilliant journalists. So, once again Sell set to work on an idea that would put him there.
NEXT TIME: Part 2 "The Sell-ing of a Good Book and Schlogl's"