How Did Salome Become Famous?

Thomas Lansing Masson (1866-1934)  Mentor to the Hall Family

In this age of social networking and instant access to information, it’s hard to imagine life 90 years ago when it took a lot of patience and more than a little luck to put a tiny town like Salome, Arizona, on the national map. That’s what happened when “The Salome Sun” came across the desk of editor, author and humorist Tom Masson. Born in Connecticut, he lived in New Jersey and worked in New York for most of his life. That didn’t discourage him from helping out a maverick in Arizona who poked fun of all forms of pretension in his desert news sheet. Masson’s enthusiasm gave everyone in Dick Wick Hall’s family hope – including little Jane – at a time when their chips were down. And what nobody knew until now – I certainly didn’t until I found some letters he wrote to Dick’s wife Daysie – was that Tom Masson became a spiritual mentor to the Halls even after Dick was no longer on this Earth in the material sense (as Masson would put it).

Dick’s lucky break came at some point in 1922 when a literary-minded traveler, Karl Harriman, stopped in Salome and picked up some copies of the mimeographed “Sun.” He mentioned Dick Wick Hall to Masson who had just become the editor of the “Short Turns and Encores” humor pages in The Saturday Evening Post. Masson came to The Post after twenty-nine years as Literary Editor and then Managing Editor of Life –the general interest magazine that Charles Dana Gibson took over when Masson went to The Post– not the photo journalism magazine Henry Luce launched in 1936. By then, Masson had written several stories, articles and books; he was something of a sage. In Tom Masson’s Book of Wit and Humor (1927) he recounted how he “got the Salome Sun man” for his column.

Harriman, then editor of The Red Book, told Masson about his recent trip to Arizona one night over dinner in New York City. He said, “There’s a fellow out there who has a frog that has never had a drink, although he seven years old.'” (Actually, the frog had never had a swim and could not have survived in Salome without a drink.) Masson was as intrigued as Harriman had been by the tales of Dick Wick Hall and his quirky little hamlet. He wrote to Dick, who before too long, (and after more than one request according to Dick), sent him a pile of his work.

“As soon as his humor was featured in the Short Turns page,” Masson wrote, “he was approached by a lot of magazines and is now – well, almost a national character.” Dick’s first contribution to the “Short Turns” page came out on August 12, 1922. That fall, excerpts of varying length from “The Salome Sun” appeared every week but, because Dick was preoccupied with his mines, only two appeared in 1923. Fourteen excerpts turned up in 1924 and three in 1925. Dick often signed these nuggets of desert humor and philosophy “Dick Wick Hall, Editor and Garage Owner.” According to Dick, The Post paid him $.25 a word “to copy and run” the segments from “The Salome Sun.”

Pretty soon Dick’s luck got even better. In the Twenties, readers everywhere clamored for good fiction and for a mere five cents they could have a lot of it on slick coated high-quality pages. In 1925, under long time editor George H. Lorimer, The Saturday Evening Post was one of the top mass-circulation magazines in the United States with more than two and three-quarter million readers. The welcome publicity for Salome increased once The Post accepted Dick’s short stories. The first of these, “Salome – Where the Green Grass Grew,” came out on January 3, 1925. He was paid well and in good company in the mid-twenties Post which featured authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, and William Faulkner, to name a few.

Masson also gave himself credit for energizing Dick’s and Daysie’s marriage: “One of the funniest things he [Dick] ever wrote was a private letter to me in which he said that his wife somehow never seemed to have much respect for him, but the day his stuff came out in The Post [sic] she said that after all she guessed he did have brains. I know that Dick won’t mind my telling this, because I happen to know that they’re both crazy about each other.”

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