On theislandofIe Shima, on April 18, 1945, war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed in action and that is why that date has been selected by the National Society of Newspaper Columnist to be designated as National Columnists’ Day.
After a few years of writing about Ernie Pyle for National Columnists’ Day, it grew a bit challenging, and so the focus for our annual column for that occasion was expanded to include homage to other famous columnists from the past such as Herb Caen and Walter Winchell.
For a columnist named Bob Patterson, who was born and raised inScrantonPa.and now lives in Berkeley CA, to celebrate National Columnists’ Day by writing this year’s installment about a columnist, scalawag, and rascal named Bob Patterson, who was raised about a hundred years ago in Berkeley CA, is a daunting challenge. In order to produce a column that doesn’t sound like a noteworthy example of shameless über-egotism and crass self-promotion, we will refer to the writer from the past by his pen name of Freddie Francisco and note that the facts for this column were contained in the “exposé” story Freddie Francisco wrote about himself for a weekly newspaper named “The City of San Francisco” in their August 10, 1975 issue.
Francisco revealed that during the Twenties Patterson landed a $47 a week reporter’s job on the New York <I>Graphic</I> and when he began to work the police beat Freddie/Bob was offered a $100 a week bonus from a Prohibition entrepreneur who wanted a phone call tip whenever the Prohibition agents left on a raid. That stunt got him fired. His confession relates that subsequently Freddie/Bob went to work for the fellow who had supplied the tip bonuses.
In the early Thirties, Freddie/Bob moved toJapan. To augment his pay while living there Freddie wrote about the forbidden topic ofTokyo’s notorious Yoshitwara district. That got him another pink slip and deportation status on the same day that he contracted malaria.
Freddie quickly transitioned to the staff of the China Press inShanghai.
Freddy/Bob arrived inShanghaibetween World Wars. Freddie described his reactions thus: “It was fine, fine, fine; Patterson decided to stay forever, and maybe three days over.” It took only two months for him to get the assignment of writing a daily column he dubbed “The Dawn Patrol.”
During Freddie’s stint inShanghai, he gathered enough human interest stories to fill a thousand novels, if he ever retired from journalism.
In describing the conduct of a battle between rival houses of prostitution, he informs readers that the madam with seniority hired coolies to defecate on the front steps of the rival location just as the evening was about to begin.
One kindlyShanghaimortician used to offer free services to indigent Americans who died far from their native land. He also, Freddie reported, paid for shipping and interment back home in theUSA. Customs started digging up the opium laden coffins before the morticians’ associates and then the concept of the altruistic motivation went up in smoke (as it were).
Freddie got to visit at Madame Sun Yat-sen’s home, thanks to Andre Malraux.
Freddie wrote a book about the glory days inShanghai. When the book was republished in theUSA, the American publishing firm gave Freddie the run-a-round rather than residuals.
In the 1975 article, Freddie glossed over the time line and ignored certain gaps in the narrative saying only that when it came time to apply for a job at the San Francisco <I>Examiner</I>, that “Sing Sing doesn’t provide irresistible references.”
Back in the day when Frisco was home for very memorable gin mills such as “The Fly Trap,” “Mark’s Lower Bar,” and the “Home That Jack Built;” Freddie/Bob became good friends with San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, and the two gathered material by going bar hopping together. Feddie/Bob conceded that his arch rival was “a shade faster because of fancier footwork and better streamlining.”
Once, after the two purchased some toy machine guns and participated in some late night frolicking, they were apprehended by two rookie policemen and the columnists indignantly inquired if the youngster knew who they were trying to arrest. When they arrived at the station house, they walked in and the watch commander broke into a hearty laughing fit and finally managed to ask the two patrolmen if they knew who it was that they were trying to arrest. (Case dismissed – on the spot.)
Freddie pushed the boundaries and got in hot water with management when he used the word “poontang.” He was forbidden to use that word ever again and the top proofreader was charged with making sure the embargoed word was banished forever. In a description of a party that included a list of forty names, a mysterious guest named Poon Tang was listed and won Freddie a wager for a double sawbuck.
In a dispute about running a story about a business man and a bimbo, Freddie asked about using that information in the paper. His boss, out of concern for the fellow’s wife, replied “Forget the story and give him a call so he knows that we know.” Freddie elaborates the result: “Max dumped the doll and stayed away from expensive poontang from then on until coffin time.”
Freddie was involved in a plot that involved hush money for his prison record and he spurned the chance to cover it all up. His termination was reported to the readers in a box on a subsequent <I>Examiner</I> front page.
Freddie/Bob reports that he then went into business with “Honest” Luke Carroll playing poker on various passenger liners sailing the Pacific. The company that owned the vessels eventually stopped selling tickets to the two card players.
Freddie/Bob bummed around the Journalism Industry and picked up some writing assignments inHollywood, but then: “In 1967, Patterson felt homesick for the <I>Examiner</I> and asked them for a job.”
In 1960, the <I>Examiner</I> had suffered some humiliation when (according to the Freddie exposé) Bud Boyd “was discovered (by Ed Montgomery) to be writing a wilderness survival series from the comfort of his living room.”
A few years after rejoining the <I>Examiner</I> staff, the rehired Freddie/Bob scored some exclusives fromChina; the newspaper’s managment didn’t take kindly to allegations that the scoops had been penned in Hong Kong and not the interior ofChina. It was time for another front page box informing readers that Freddie/Bob had been fired again.
A copy of the Freddie/Bob story was located in the San Francisco Public Library and other sources indicate that Freddie/Bob’s story didn’t end there. Due to a law suite, Freddie/Bob was suspended from writing assignments but was kept on the payroll at full pay until the legal matter could be clarified. (Some guys have all the luck?)
Like Elvis, Jim Morrison, and James Dean, Freddie Francisco (AKA Bob Patterson)’s death was well reported in the Bay area many years ago. The World’s Laziest Journalist intends on holding a brief memorial service on National Columnists’ Day for Freddie Francisco. Since one of the legendary Frisco bars, the Gold Dust Lounge (Est. 1933), which got fond mentions from Herb Caen, is in immanent danger of closure now, perhaps we will hoist a glass of diet cola in Freddie/Bob’s honor there as our celebration of National Columnists’ Day. What’s not to like about a fellow who loved traveling the world, having good times, and then writing about his own adventures? Putting it on the expense account could only have been putting frosting on the cake.
Freddie Francisco’s lead for his exposé provides an apt closing quote for this column: “Bob Patterson, erstwhileSan Francisco<I>Examiner</I> newsman,Chinaexpert and scoundrel is a very misunderstood man. He is misunderstood by his critics, by two former wives and by at least one god-fearing and red-blooded former employer who recently fired him on the front page.”
Now the disk jockey will play “On a slow boat toChina,” the soundtrack album from “The Lady fromShanghai,” and the Flatlanders “My wildest dreams get wilder every day.” We have to go over toSan Franciscoand look for some very old books. Have a “stay out of jail card” type week.