14-YEAR ARGUMENT + 10-YEAR SILENCE = DAILY BRIDGE

By George Copeland, former Sunday travel editor, New York Times

Times Talk, August 1959

The recent advent of a daily article on contract bridge in The [New York] Times may have come suddenly on some readers, but the decision to run it might be termed the result of ten years of non-arguing by the author, Albert Hodges Morehead. When bridge-playing Sunday Editor Lester Markel in 1935 decided to use a column on one of his favorite sports, Al pleaded vainly for a seven-days-a-week stint. He argued for fourteen years, then kept silent for ten — twenty-four in all. His silence, plus the possible interest of certain newsroom characters who flip the cards in the early morning hours, may have won the victory. Now, Times readers no longer have to buy another morning daily to mull over a bridge hand.

It’s too early to predict whether Al’s victory will make life easier or more complicated for him. A man who makes a living at freelance writing, who has always worked twelve to sixteen hours a day, usually seven days a week, who can do almost anything with a typewriter, who is the author, co-author or editor of seventy-one books, not counting several multi-volume encyclopedias — seldom catches up with himself.

Al now has four offices , or workplaces, to speed to and from. A desk has been allotted to him in The Times third-floor Coliseum. His official headquarters is The Bridge World on upper Broadway. Nearby, in the Hotel Dauphin, a small staff, including his two sons, Andrew, 19, and Philip, 17, are working on a dictionary — begun in 1952, to be published in 1961. In the Morehead apartment in Yonkers wife Loy, formerly an accountant with NBC, handles production on everything — books, meals, schedules, household chores. Al has an attic room there with typewriter, files and so on, “where I do my work.”

The Times Sunday Department people who handle Al’s copy feel the new schedule will make things easier for them. Paul Friedlander says: “ He used to rush in with his copy on Thursday morning — deadline was Wednesday; now that he has a desk in the building we can get our hands on him, I hope.”

Another eighth-floor resident observes: ‘We seldom saw him. He used to glide in like a wraith, leave his copy and run out before our noses left our desks.”

This observation is probably accurate except for the word “wraith.” Al is 6 feet 4 inches and built to match. Some have pointed out his resemblance to Steve Allen. However that may be, Al did well a few years ago in a television show titled “I’ll Buy That!” Emceed by Mike Wallace, it featured Audrey Meadows and comedians Hans Conreid and Ernie Kovacs, with Al as the straight man or brains. Al has written TV and radio scripts, fiction, music and many magazine articles.

One article in particular intrigued me. Al showed up in Washington in wartime soon after President Truman took over and asked for help on a piece for Cosmopolitan Magazine. The subject was, “How to Assassinate the President,” but as I was working for the White House-State Department at the time I was reluctant to extend concrete and whole-hearted assistance. What happened?”

“I wrote the article,” says Al, “and the magazine accepted it, paid a good price, and called it ‘How the President Is Guarded.’ I described how I could assassinate him, but couldn’t figure how to get away alive myself. The article was set in type, then the Secret Service got wind of it and raised the roof. They went all the way to Richard Berlin, the publisher, and threatened to carry the fight to W.R. Hearst, Sr. So it was killed — the article I mean.” Al has written considerably on criminology, particularly in connection with gambling, and points out that an assassin “does not mind being killed on the job, but he wants to make sure he has succeeded in his chore.”

The Moreheads have had their ups and downs. Of the latter, one occurred a few years back. As the nation was busy building houses, the encyclopedia business was booming. People buy them to decorate walls, Al observes, and of course for their children. He quickly gathered a writing staff, plus thousands of old manuscripts and files, and banged out a twelve-volume children’s job.

Next came a twenty-volume book for teen-agers, the highly successful “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Knowledge,” later sold in chain stores. But then Al piled on a twenty-volume paperback set for adults, and tried to edit the last two at the same time. The camel’s back broke, the publisher withdrew and the money ran out. The experience threw Al deep in debt for a few years.

Al has just finished a crossword puzzle book written in quiz style, a new edition of Roget’s Thesaurus, and a hardbound volume of plot outlines of novels, plays and classics such as “Das Kapital” and “The Prince.” He is now working on a paperback series of these plot outlines, also a book on poker with Joan Crawford. A recent success, which he enjoyed writing, was “The Fireside Book of Games,” co-authored with Oswald Jacoby.

Al seldom plays money bridge. He’s too good to compete with run-of-the-mill players, and unwilling to risk possible big losses with the experts. “Stakes are at least 3 cents a point and run up to 7 cents,” he says. He used to play with Ely Culbertson — he co-authored or ghosted many of Culbertson’s books — for 50 cents a point, but other players would “carry” him.

Albert was born in Flintstone, Ga. His father was a choral conductor and musician; his mother a piano teacher. Al showed little aptitude for music, but much for cards, what the South called the “devil’s tickets.” The family moved to Chattanooga, Tenn.; Al worked on The Times there. He went to Baylor Prep, then to Harvard, and to New York to sell cars with much profit until the 1929 crash. Came years with Culbertson and The Bridge World. Al became vice president of Kem Playing Cards, consultant to the U. S. Playing Card Co., games editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, vice president of the John C. Winston Co., a staff writer for Redbook and Cosmopolitan magazines, and freelancer for others — including The New York Times Magazine.

For relaxation, Al has been writing three or four songs a year and until recently ran a music publishing company, Sigma Music, now sold. He is a member of the Cavendish, Regency and Friars clubs.

Al has vowed, now that he has to write a bridge story every day, that he will cut down on his other activities. That is as may be, for according to his friends and business acquaintances, no one has ever heard him say “No” to anything or anybody.

George H. Copeland