The inspiration for Harry

In the following post, Mari Anne Christie tells us about a giant of American journalism who is little known today.

My great-great uncle, (Percy to friends and family, P.H. to readers) was rather a giant of a man in the world of letters, and was the inspiration for Harry Wentworth, protagonist of Blind Tribute. The writing of the book began with me envisioning him sitting at his desk, writing something. (I will defend to the death my contention that he placed himself at the start of the Civil War, most likely to be allowed to write the epistolary editorials and letters that were, more than any other part of the book, all but automatic writing at first draft stage.)

P.H. Whaley’s name, and his conjoined contribution to journalism and the business world, have been muted by history, but in his time, he was an internationally known journalist—before journalists were known internationally—recognized worldwide for the contributions of the Whaley-Eaton Business Service (W-E), an international newsgathering organization based in Washington, D.C, an entrepreneurial venture started with partner Henry M. Eaton.

My “Uncle Percy,” whom I never met, but who is—not incidentally—the caricature on the cover of Blind Tribute, is the man from whom Harry inherited his profession, his Charleston ancestry, his barrier-island plantation, his beloved (but not enslaved) black nursemaid, and his writing career (to say nothing of his monogram). My favorite story about him is the origin of Harry’s initials and “the delivery [Harry] used to roar across newsrooms and offices.” In his later years, beset with emphysema, Uncle Percy was known to bellow/growl at the telephone operator when calling Washington D.C. from the first (then, the only) telephone on Edisto Island, South Carolina, in the public post office: “P as in Peter, H as in Hell, Whaley!”

Educated at Hobart and Kenyon, he was admitted to the Louisiana Bar in 1905 and the Washington DC Bar in 1922, and received an honorary doctorate from Hobart in 1932. He served as an editorial writer for the Charleston News and Courier beginning in 1909, a reporter for the Philadelphia Public Ledger from 1913 to 1914, the first Executive Editor of the Philadelphia Evening Ledger from 1914 to 1918, and Founding Publisher of W-E from 1918 to 1957. He died in 1964 at Prospect Hill Plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina, on land owned by our family since the 1700s.

Analogous to Wentworth and Hoyt Business Service in Blind Tribute—although almost 60 years after Harry’s venture— W-E was an international wire service headquartered at the Munsey Trust Building in Washington, DC. Over the years, W-E also had offices, at various times, in London, Paris, and Tokyo. As well as private economic and market research on behalf of business clients, and multiple periodicals through the years, W-E published bimonthly Whaley-Eaton Pamphlets on matters of interest to businessmen, and the Whaley-Eaton American Letter and Foreign Letter, the first widely circulated investment newsletters in the United States. These weekly publications were precursors to, and friendly competitors with, The Kiplinger Letter, still in circulation, often wrongly cited as the “first business newsletter” in America. (Some sources claim The Kiplinger Letter has never reached the same print circulation as the Whaley-Eaton American Letter, but this is disputable, and somewhat irrelevant in the age of the internet, which has broadened Kiplinger’s reach exponentially.)

A description of Whaley-Eaton from the Papers and Proceedings of the Forty-Third Annual Meeting of The American Library Association, June 20-25, 1921, from which I extracted excerpts as descriptions of Wentworth and Hoyt, would have been a point of particular pride for both Percy Whaley and Harry Wentworth, and might describe either of their business ventures.

“Mr. Whaley states: ‘Our object is to perform a distinctly personal service for our patrons in the form of a comprehensive study of tendencies and movements as they relate to the formulation of policies.’ [Whaley-Eaton] representatives are in close touch with people of importance and thus ascertain the pulse of sentiment. They decline in every way to perform the functions of lobbyists, confining themselves entirely to information. They keep in touch with European affairs, maintain a principal office in Paris and correspondents in all of the important European capitals. They publish a series of letters describing points of interest at Washington, administrative policies and congressional activities. They also furnish their clients with a series of foreign letters based upon information supplied by their London and Continental bureaus. Much of the data contained therein is of great commercial value. The information concerning European politics is well expressed and informative. The Whaley-Eaton Service is an unusual form of news gathering which is based upon confidence and the highest type of intelligent journalism.”

Eventually, in the 1980s, as Whaley-Eaton’s readership declined, the Kiplingers bought out the last vestiges of the company and its subscriber list. According to Knight Kiplinger, current CEO of Kiplinger, Inc., his grandfather made the decision to purchase the ailing company because “he didn’t want to see the name exploited by people who would discount Whaley-Eaton’s contributions to journalism.”

Through the course of my research for Blind Tribute, I found myself in touch with Mr. Kiplinger, who put me in touch with John Eaton, a noted jazz pianist and grandson of Henry Eaton. (One of the oddities of writing books is that small coincidental things crop up that the author never intended, but have much larger significance. I did not realize until very recently—after the July 2017 publication of the book—that Henry Eaton was called Harry. To be clear, this was not the genesis of Harry Wentworth’s name. Wentworth was so named because his middle name was Harrold, and to mirror Uncle Percy’s initials.)

It has become clear through my discussions with Mr. Eaton, that we are both interested in finding a way to dust off the W-E name and place our illustrious forebears in their proper context in the history of journalism. As such, although I had thought Blind Tribute was the vehicle by which I would honor the man who passed me the writer’s genetics, we will now be seeking out an academic library to open a special collection of the extremely rare W-E catalog. I am determined that the next person to do research on my great-great uncle will not find it so difficult to ferret out his legacy.

For further posts on Blind Tribute, including blurb and buy links, see:

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