The 1912 publication of Don Marquis’ first book, the novel “Danny’s Own Story,” created a stir in literary circles. Doubleday, Page & Co., Don’s publisher, heralded the young writer as a rising star, and reviewers favorably compared him with Mark Twain, who had died less than two year earlier. (It didn’t hurt that “Danny’s Own Story” bore a passing resemblance to “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Both were written in a backwoods vernacular and both used wry humor to tell the adventures of young boys, one an orphan and the other nearly so, who ran away from home and lived by their wits.)
Don wrote “Danny” while on the staff of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, but he moved to The Evening Sun just before its publication on January 17, 1912. To celebrate the new book, Doubleday hosted a reception a few weeks later at its headquarters in Garden City, Long Island, and among the guests was Ellis Parker Butler, a well-known humor writer at the time whose best-known work, the short story “Pigs Is Pigs,” had been published six years earlier.
At one point during the festivities a Doubleday photographer asked Don and his wife, Reina, to pose with Butler. No one at the time paid attention to an alarm clock sitting on a bookshelf directly above Don’s head, but when the photograph was developed the clock was gone — its glass face wiped out by glare from the camera’s flash. In its place, it looked for all the world as if an angel had come down from heaven and anointed Marquis with a halo.
Doubleday sent copies of the photograph to both Butler and Marquis, and a short time later it reported their separate responses in a statement it gleefully released to newspapers across North America. The following exchange was published in the March 2, 1912, editions of The Toronto World, with comments first from Butler, then Marquis.
* * *
I have received the photograph entitled “The Mephistophelian Waiter, the Lady and the Saint,” and have looked at it. I have only one complaint to make.
God — and my forefathers — are doubtless to blame for my face, and my tailor for my clothes, and my willing facial muscles for my satanic grin, but why, oh! why did you sneak my halo away from me and hang it over Don Marquis’s mussy hair? Any one can see that my 6 1/4 halo is a misfit on his 7 3/4 head. It looks like a cheap hand mirror when he wears it, or like a bright, but small thought lost in his hair jungle.
I am sorry this happened. I don’t like to lend my halo to anyone, and when I pose with a beatific smile, and with my glossy hair and glossy face all prepared to reflect the shining rays of my halo, and then find the halo has been sneaked away from me and stuck on another man, on whom it is a misfit, I am pained, yes, by golly, I am pained.
Ellis Parker Butler.
* * *
Thank you for the picture.
That is a halo. It hasn’t anything to do with genius (if any) but denotes virtue.
I am sorry that you have started this alarm clock theory. I can see no evidences of an alarm clock myself.
But on the contrary it has always been known in my family, and among my close friends, that I had a halo. When I was a kid at school the teachers used to notice it. Where the customary stunt was to show your sore toe for a bite of an apple, I always showed my halo to the other boys. As I grew older, and began to take the girls home from church sociables and spelling bees, it got to be a nuisance, however; it would shine over the hammock on the darkest summer evening. Of course it was a comfort to any parent to know that the young man sitting in the hammock with her daughter was a young man who had a halo; but it was inconvenient for me, at times; I never could get any privacy; other boys could steal watermelons, for instance; but I was always doomed to virtue; my halo marked me; but for that I might have been a successful chicken thief. It led me into a terrible adventure one time, however. When I was a stripling I fell, one night — I know not how — into the company of a number of rude and drunken roisterers, two of them at a time would hold me while the others tried to blow the halo out; their alcoholic breaths caught fire — in a moment we were all surrounded by a sheet of flame — the situation was truly desperate — but I summoned all my presence of mind and cried out — (To be continued in our next).