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© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., October 1957
was the summer of 1939. A few months before, our alcoholic
Fellowship, boasting all of one hundred members, had published
a book we called Alcoholics Anonymous. But noting
else had happened. Our books, five thousand of them, were
piled in a warehouse of the printer, Cornwall Press, and
nary a one could be sold.
much-hoped-for piece in the Reader's Digest -- which
might have told the public about us and the new book --
had failed to materialize. Panic-stricken, we had rushed
from one national magazine to another, pleading for help.
But this was in vain. Works Publishing, the little company
we had formed to launch the book venture, was flat broke
and so was everybody else. There was seemingly no place
Providence knew better. Just as we hit this new low, Fulton
Oursler, the editor of Liberty, had a caller -- a
free-lance writer named Morris Markey. From Charlie Towns,
proprietor of the hospital where I had once been such a
good customer, writer Markey had received a terrific build-up
on AA, which he now retailed to the editor Oursler, one
of the most perceptive men I have ever met. Fulton Oursler
saw the possibilities in a flash. Said he, "Morris,
you've got an assignment. Bring that story in here, and
we will print it in September."
were the words of AA's first friend of the press. These
words were to save the bankrupt book and they also meant
that the public was to have its first view of Alcoholics
as promised, Morris Markley's article, "Alcoholics
and God," was printed in Liberty magazine. The
results were immediate and electrifying. More than eight
hundred urgent pleas for help hit Liberty's office.
We carefully answered each one, not forgetting to enclose
a book order blank. Orders soon began to come in and, helped
by still more letters from our little office on Vesey Street,
and by traveling AA members, new groups started up.
news-hawkers were not long in following the Oursler example.
A month later the public-spirited of the Cleveland Plain
Dealer gave writer Elrick B. Davis an assignment to
cover AA and to go the limit. For days on end articles about
AA in general and about AA in Cleveland in particular were
a leading feature of the Plain Dealer.
these articles there appeared editorial exhortations which
in effect said, "AA is good and it works. Come and
get it." Again the deluge. The tiny Cleveland group
was swamped. But it happily survived, and in a few months
its numbers had shot up into the hundreds. Alcoholics Anonymous
had started the year 1939 with less than a hundred members
and it finished with more than eight hundred of them.
February 1940 we got another mighty lift, this time as the
result of Mr. Rockefeller's famous dinner at which he introduced
us to his own friends and held AA up for the whole world
to see. Again the press did a job. This time many newspapers,
including the tabloids, said good things about us and the
great wire services carried the story worldwide. AA's membership
jumped from eight hundred to over two thousand in twelve
the spring of 1941, the same drama was reenacted on a far
larger scale. Mr. Curtis Bok, owner of the Saturday Evening
Post, saw AA at work in Philadelphia and urged his editors
to select Jack Alexander to do a feature assignment. When
Jack's piece hit the newsstands it brought in a Niagara-like
flood of appeals for help. Two years later AA's membership
stood at the ten thousand mark.
telling our story to the American public this small band
of early friends had increased AA's ranks by one-hundred-fold
in the short space of four years, had made AA a national
institution, and had laid the foundation upon which our
Society has grown so mightily ever since.
the list of AA's friends in press, radio, and television
is legion. At our Headquarters we subscribe to an extensive
clipping service. Every week the mass of clipsheets tell
us the graphic story of what these friends have said and
done. It is a never ending and always growing stream of
life-giving blood which they pump into our world arteries.
word of mouth and personal contact have brought in many
a newcomer, we can never forget that most of us are able
to trace our chance for recovery back to our friends in
communications -- we read, or maybe we heard, or we saw.
That is why AA now has 200,000 active members.
we hear members complain about the press as though we were
being exploited for stories and profit. They say, "Well,
those writers make a good living out of story telling and
publishers make their profits. After all, what is so remarkable
about that? They are only acting as they normally would."
most of us realize that such statements are far less than
half the truth.
every writer and editor of our acquaintance has gone far
beyond his call of duty or his natural desire for a stirring
ago we requested all people in communications to respect
the anonymity of our members. This was asking for a great
deal because the average reporter couldn't imagine doing
business without full names and pictures. But when we explained
the "why" of our anonymity -- that we dare not
allow "big shot-ism" to get going among us --
they saw the situation at once; and they have ever since
fallen over backward to conform to our needs, despite many
a temptation to publicize personally our nationally famous
members. On a few occasions, such members have deliberately
broken anonymity, but this has seldom been the fault of
the press. As a matter of fact, editors have frequently
restrained overeager AAs who wanted their membership made
their continuing enthusiasm for AA many of these friends
have gone still further. They have personally dedicated
themselves to our cause. Jack Alexander, for instance, became
a trustee for AA and greatly helped us with our literature
problem, and never missed a chance to give us a boost by
word and by pen.
well known is the relation we had with Fulton Oursler. His
was a most brilliant example of personal dedication to Alcoholics
1944 it was decided that AA ought to have a monthly magazine.
By this time Fulton had seen AA at work close at hand. A
person well known to him had made a remarkable recovery.
The moment Fulton heard of our magazine project he volunteered
at once and, though never an alcoholic, he became a member
of the Grapevine's editorial board and one of its founders.
He went into his own pocket for organization expenses, gave
advice, scanned manuscripts, and wrote a piece for one of
the early issues which he called "Alcoholics are Charming
People" [Correct title: "Charming Is the Word
for Alcoholics"]. We afterward joshed him about this
title. Grinning, he used to say that the title should have
been " Some Alcoholics Are Charming People"!
the years afterward I came to know friend Fulton very well.
A busier man I have never seen. No matter when he went to
bed, nothing short of pneumonia could keep him from being
at his desk at five AM, where he wrote until eleven. But
this day had then only begun; his countless friends and
activities kept him going far into the evening, and I was
the one who sometimes kept him up until midnight.
was then in the storms of its adolescence. Our Headquarters
was just taking on its shape and its responsibility. We
needed advice, especially about public relations, and it
was to Fulton that I frequently went. It was in this period
that Fulton became a senior editor of the Reader's Digest,
where his helpfulness to us was soon reflected in the wide
coverage they began to give us.
came the time when we wanted Fulton as a trustee for AA.
Knowing his immense burden of work, I was most reluctant
to ask him. But I needn't have felt that way, for when I
popped the question, his face lit up and he said, "Why,
certainly! When do I begin?" Fulton couldn't get to
all our meetings, but he was always on tap. I remember once
breaking into his busy hours with a request that he help
us out in Hollywood where we were in a jam with a motion
picture producer. He instantly dropped his work, and got
on the long-distance phone. Within an hour he called me
back to say that everything was settled, that we need worry
few months before he died we spent one more evening together.
It was then that he told me what AA had meant to him. Most
humbly describing his earlier life as a time of prideful
agnosticism and sophistication which had led him down a
blind alley, he went on to relate how the example of AA
had affected him; how he had eventually joined the church
of his choice, and how these two influences had inspired
him to write about the Bible in "The Greatest Story
Ever Told." He had done for AA, he went on to say,
only a fraction of what AA had done for him, a nonalcoholic.
and a host of other experiences with the men and women of
press, radio, and television, plainly tell us of what their
dedication has meant. In nearly every city where AA grows
today, we see our friends in communications following in
the footsteps of Jack Alexander and Fulton Oursler.
all such couriers of goodwill, let us be everlastingly grateful.
And let us always be worthy of their friendship.
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., October 1957
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