The Laughing Desert, a book about Jane Hall’s father, humorist Dick Wick Hall, and his nationally syndicated newspaper feature that made the town of Salome, Arizona, famous in the 1920s, came out just in time for the 2012 celebration of Dick Wick Hall Day. This year the festivities take place on October 5. The book includes a complete replica of the 1925-1926 Salome Sun and previously unpublished material about Dick and his family. An introduction places the Sun in its historical context, and an epilogue reviews Dick’s legacy. I’ve added several new photos of Salome and the Hall family, love poems from Dick to his wife, Daysie Sutton Hall, plus images of Arizona’s McMullen Valley in the 1920s. Arizona’s Official State Historian and a prolific author, Marshall Trimble, wrote the Foreword. He’s a sought-after entertainer and ingenious storyteller. (I’ve heard him sing on two CDs and they are great fun. What a voice!)
Between November 22, 1925, and June 27, 1926, the 8 x 11 inch four-column Sun was released as a humorous feature for the Sunday editions of papers across the country.* It is full of Dick’s stories, poems, tongue-in-cheek news reports, and homegrown philosophy. Just as his daughter, Jane Hall, would do ten years later, Dick poked fun at all forms of pretension. He also came up with delightful anecdotes about small-town journalism, golf and golfers, and desert life. Claude “Put” Putnam’s engaging illustrations of Arizona Outback critters and characters such as Chloride Kate, the Reptyle Kid, Cactus Callie, Gila Monster Jake, and cub reporter Archie Bald Doveface, make The Laughing Desert a great book for readers of all ages.
I was deeply touched by the citizen-historians of Arizona’s McMullen Valley who keep the memory of Dick Wick Hall alive. Several organizations joined forces to raise the funds for a new fence around Dick’s grave and create a plaque in his honor. Other activities are planned as part of this Founder’s Square Renovation Project— an Arizona Centennial Legacy Project (details in the book).
These efforts inspired me to create a digital copy of The Salome Sun from a master copy I bought many years ago. With the help of print-on-demand technology, was possible to produce the first edition of this book as part of the Founder’s Square Project. Each of the students at Salome High School, the “Home of the Fighting Frogs,” received a copy.
Anyone who loves the history, literature, humor, romance and colorful landscape unique to the American West will find treasures in The Laughing Desert. As an early ad for the paper put it, if you enjoy the great outdoors and laugh at the West of Mark Twain, Owen Wister and Charlie Chaplin, “you will be hilarious over the Salome Sun.”
My research for this book made me realize why Dick had such a great influence on his daughter Jane Hall. Her diaries reveal that his lively imagination, forceful personality, and untimely death shaped her own search for fame as a writer as well as the choices she made as a young woman. (She must have known that Dick would have enjoyed lampooning New York’s cafe society and her debutante antics.) After Jane arrived in Hollywood at the end of 1937, she wrote to a friend that her fellow writers at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer all “remember Daddy.”
*The original mimeographed edition of the Sun was an informal handout at the Salome Service Station. Only a few copies exist (1921-1924) in the Arizona State Library in Phoenix, and the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson.
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