I am not complaining, but I have told my tale time and again and have seen the papers go on printing News of Shipping, as before. But because I have never sought to make myself a man of mystery, except to Mrs. Crater, if you know what I mean, I will relate to you what I have to so many other news agencies over the years.
On the evening of Aug. 6, 1930, after a light repast at the Haas Chophouse on West 45th Street with my choreographic adviser Sally Lou Ritz, I learned that the theatrical presentation for which I held a ticket had little to recommend it. Since on the following day commenced for me a well-earned four-week gardening vacation, I bid adieu to Mlle. Ritz, hailed a taxi, and went home to Long Island.
Hardly were the geraniums potted when the New York Sun trumpeted: "Judge Crater Vanishes from Face of Earth; Foul Play Suspected."
When I called the editor to point out that I was at home, and in any case had not even attended the suspected play, he responded, "C'mon, Judge. Who're you fooling. My advice is to lie low and let this thing blow over." Sees What Editor Meant
While I was pondering this, the ice man appeared at the door, caught one sight of me through the screen, let out a yell like a Bornean tribesman, and fell dead on the porch.
I began to see what the editor meant.
Shortly thereafter The New York Times ran a brief article under the heading Update on the News, which essentially retold the Sun story, using bigger words in the passive voice.
The Times, however, did send a young reporter around to interview me that evening, because, as he explained, "The Times always checks its facts." I pointed out that the misleading article had already appeared."That's when we check them -- afterwards," he said. He then listened to my verbal autobiography for seven hours, photographed my birth certificate with a miniature camera, and observed that my dog Hamilton, named after the Fish, came to me when I called.
"The editors aren't going to like this," he said ruefully on his way out. Indeed, the next I heard of him he had been assigned to the Belgian Congo, cleaving sticks for senior correspondents there. Many Years Pass
Many years passed. The headlines were Smoot-Hawley and me, Chamberlain and me, Ike and me, and in 1947, Levittown and me. Occasionally there were annoyances. When I filed suit to stop a vicious novelty song titled "No Crater Love Have I," my own New York State Supreme Court summarily dismissed the case, in an opinion based on a new legal principle of "Nolo Contendere Habeas Corpus Caveat Emptor" (Beware Those Who Throw Their Unproduced Body on the Mercy of the Court).
Frankly, I have long since lost count of the stories about me, but they all ended up in the same way. I was clearly more use in the press than in the flesh.
There developed a sort of standard Crater article; anytime was good for the Update version. On anniversaries -- quintennial, decennial, quindecennial, vigintennial, etc. -- a longer account was prepared, usually including the actual name of the play I never saw ("Dancing Partners"), and my height, weight and hair style (6 feet, 180 pounds, gray and pomaded) as of Aug. 6.
But those I personally enjoyed most were the "Judge Crater Sighted on Street" stories, short pieces usually run merely to fill up space when a staff reporter got too drunk to complete his article. In almost every case these little fillers were absolutely accurate. I had got into the habit of traveling widely and enjoyed introducing myself to people during the evening promenade in such places as Signal Mountain, Tenn., and Nome, Ala.
When the newsmagazines got into the act, my time was ever more in demand. Time once sent 71 persons to my home: 50 researchers, two librarians, eight associate editors, and a senior writer who arrived in a sedan chair carried by four Yale interns. The researchers checked every conceivable fact about me. The senior writer then went into a small room and wrote 10,000 words, 17 of which were sere. The word, not the definition. If you took the first word of each paragraph, his article also answered that week's Times of London Crossword Puzzle. The story came to the conclusion that on Thursday, Aug. 6, 1930, I had mysteriously disappeared, etc.
Newsweek arrived the next week and wrote the same story the same way, managing to use the word "mauve" 14 times, and proving Time was wrong: Aug. 6 was a Friday, not a Thursday. First TV Interview
My first television interview came in the 1950s, when a program called "Omnibus" spent six months doing a documentary on my life in Levittown. It was never aired. The producers explained that, if television was to gain credibility, it would have to mirror reality. The reality was that The New York Times said I had disappeared in 1930.
In 1965, Lyndon Baines Johnson had me flown to the White House to show me his scar, and we spent a delightful afternoon picking up his dogs by their ears. Convinced I was me, he prepared a Presidential Proclamation and a state dinner. Jack Valenti killed the idea. I Was Charmed
It does not pay, I have found, to get your hopes up. Just a few years ago, an attractive woman stopped by to see me. She said she was a professional journalist with a major network -- she could not say which one -- and was, as she put it, "sort of the female Dan Wather."
I was charmed, and since Mrs. Crater was water-skiing in St. Gstaad in the Caribbean for the month, consented to another full-scale go-through. She said she had three personal rules of interviewing which I had to consent to: First, she must let her viewers see the inside of my house; second, she must put her hand on my knee; and third, she must ask one unrehearsed question in the most appalling taste while leaning expectantly forward.
The program went marvelously, and the final, appalling question came at the end.
"tell me the twuth -- aren't you weawy Hal Holbrook!?
"No," I said, appalled. "I'm Judge Crater."
As usual, it was the wrong answer. Many Friends
As you can see, I am not bitter, for out of this long diversion I have made many friends, particularly among the media. Nobody knows a good story like a journalist, and nobody will go to greater lengths to get it right.
You say that the 50th anniversary of my disappearance is notable, and in fact we are having a little party here at my place to which you are cordially invited. We expect representatives from 124 news organizations to attend, among them Time, Newsweek, Runner's World, Writer's Digest, Pravda and the entire staff of the CBS Evening News (I have known Walter since 1938, and have cruised with him on his sailboat several times).
I trust you will indulge an old man and come, and that -- like your distinguished colleagues to this half-century -- you too have learned the value of keeping the news in perspective.
There is no difficulty finding the place -- my name is on the mailbox. Faithfully, Joseph F. Crater, Esq.