FOLLOWING A tradition begun in 1967, The Dallas Morning News in its Christmas Day edition reprinted the late Paul Crume’s column, Angels Among Us. And that’s a good thing.
Crume was a uniquely talented writer who died at age 63 in 1975. His Angels column makes him available to new generations, who may be inspired to read his two books, A Texan at Bay and The World of Paul Crume.
Regarding angels, Crume wrote, he was highly in favor of them. “As a matter of fact, I am scared to death of them.”
He poetically described how any adult human being who has spent time in loneliness, “when the senses are forced in upon themselves,” has felt the wind from angels’ wings and been overwhelmed by realizing “the endless and gigantic dark that exists outside the little candle flame of human knowledge.”
In conclusion he quoted the 19th century English poet, Francis Thompson, who wrote, “The angels keep their ancient places. Turn but a stone, and start a wing.”
I HAVE A correction to the current version, in which an editor’s note says that Crume’s Big D column appeared in The News from 1948 until 1975.
No, it took longer than that for the top brass to realize what a writer they had on board.
Paul had served in the Navy during World War II and was one of the generation of veterans who staffed the newsroom when I went to work there as a new journalism graduate of UT-Austin in the summer of 1949.
I was soon in awe of Crume, the writer. He would pace around the newsroom, chain smoking, and make several trips to the cafeteria for coffee before he was ready to write.
Once he sat down at the typewriter (manual, of course) the story would unfold in perfect form. It was so well organized in his head that there were no strike-overs or changes of any kind.
BUT THEN HE was mis-assigned as assistant night city editor. That was when my stories began to come under his pencil. This was a unique form of torture. I would watch Paul slashing away with his pencil, looking perturbed, until finally he would reach for a blank sheet of paper.
I knew that he was about to rewrite my story; it would emerge as a much superior piece of writing to what I had turned in. Sometimes a fact or two would be misplaced or turned around, but that would be my problem, should any news source complain.
Sometime in the early 1950s one of the higher-ups had the idea that a local column was needed. So that various writers could take turns writing it, a nom de plume was chosen for the byline. If memory serves, the name was Lorrie Brooks.
THE COLUMNS Crume wrote were so superior that he was invited to write the new daily column called Big D. At the urging of many, including the publishers McGraw-Hill, he collected the best of his first nine years into a 1961 book.
Paul inscribed my copy of A Texan at Bay to my children, writing, “To Sally and Russ Greene, with affection.” His other book, The World of Paul Crume, was assembled from his writings by his widow, Marion, and published by the SMU Press in 1980.
The angel column was the subject for longtime SMU professor and Dallas Morning News book editor Lon Tinkle when he wrote in the foreword: “[Crume] believed in the existence of good and evil, of good tutelary angels and fallen ones like Lucifer. One of his best essays, stating this view, forms in a way the climax of this book . . . ”
And so the famous column, then titled To Touch an Angel, appears on the last page.
IN GETTING these two books off the shelf I found an editorial page I had saved from the May 29, 1978 News. Columnist Ann Melvin wrote about Crume under the headline, There Were Giants in Those Days. Ms. Melvin joined The News after I left and enjoyed a long career there.
She wrote about the “heady circumstance” it was for a young writer from a small town “to be in the same newsroom with king Krueger, with McCormick who knew every significant criminal in the pen, with Foree and his blistering agile tongue that wove stories with the ease of breathing, with the ponderous political acumen of Duckworth and the scathing, sure copy pencil of King, the bright irreverent brass of Tolbert, the gentle probing of Callaway . . .” This cast of characters greatly influenced me as well.
She referred to City Editor Jack Krueger, crime reporter Harry McCormick, columnist Kenneth Foree, political writer Allen Duckworth, Assistant City Editor John E. King, columnist and roving reporter Frank X. Tolbert and medical writer Helen Bullock Callaway.
“And behind it all, ranged against a post, just at the edge of the fray, the baleful, chain-smoking rangy figure of Crume, back to the wall, watching the scene unfold.
“Most of what he wrote turned on the fine point of a well-honed wit, and some of it was just unabashed chuckles. But sometimes he cut to the heart and left you bleeding.”
CRUME FOUND many column subjects in his growing-up years on a farm at Lariat, a hamlet near the New Mexico border on the far western High Plains of Texas. But he knew all about Gilmer before he met me.
That was because he had served in the Navy with the late Jack F. (Spot) Baird of Gilmer.
They shared a duty station on Treasure Island in San Francisco before the luck of wartime assignments in World War II sent Crume to the Aleutian Islands. Baird went on to Pearl Harbor, where he maintained an unofficial Gilmer welcoming station for home boys who passed through.
And in his postwar life the late possumologist, “Professor Spot” Baird became a colorful enough character he cropped up in Big D columns from time to time.