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Publication Name:

The Censor

Years in print:

1898- 1947


Formerly Dyer's News Letter

Dyer’s News Letter, a little bundle of sweetness and vitriol, hit the news stand at 816 Chestnut Street on a Saturday morning in the fall of 1896, and the city was never quite the same during the fifty years it flourished.
Had theatrical comment (which filled most of the first issue) been all, the life of the weekly would have been short and unremarkable. But the founder and publisher, George Coleman Dyer, added a few items of local gossip, possibly filler. That did it. On such flotsam Dyer’s News Letter swirled to heady success, accumulating more morsels for each issue until the turn of the century when it changed its name. Ostensibly, this offshoot of St. Louis publishing proclaimed itself to the city as “The Censor.
The long rule of this self-appointed arbiter makes no sense at all, unless it be remembered that from trading post to metropolitan present, St. Louis has been - and is – both tolerant and gossipy.
The city is also conservative. B. C. (Before Censor) gossip had been tongue to ear, a well-bred buzz-buzz, in no way transgressing the accepted social decorum. At that time a lady’s name properly appeared in public print at birth, marriage and death.
This was the atmosphere into which The Censor burst, serving succulent canapes of gossip and scandal regarding people it gratingly referred to as “the ultra-ults.” Scandal, proffered without names, was embellished with such minute detail that the principals were recognizable to the city at large. These true romances, licit and otherwise, were sold for five cents per copy. It took scurrying to find it for, to the disappointment of many, The Censor was an immediate sell-out in carriage-trade drug stores. Hypochondria fell away from patients in the waiting rooms of prominent physicians as they grabbed The Censor. Many people subscribed at two dollars a year to be certain of seeing every copy; those of uneasy conscience subscribed in order to read the worst locked behind closed doors.
Tongue in cheek, Dyer called his magazine “an urban weekly of politics, society, art and music.” The first issue’s ample theatrical coverage dwindled in time to brief announcements. Political comment suffered a crimp when Theodore Roosevelt’s star rose. Dyer, a Republican, had an antipathy toward the President. State politics did come in for an occasional Dyer outburst. Frank Luther Mott, in “A History of American Magazines,” wrote of Dyer, “…he was very outspoken,” citing his comment, “That is a fine bunch that represents St. Louis in the present legislature,” adding, “With few exceptions they are all there for graft.”
Art and music were squeezed out as the ever-expanding “Social Peek-A-Boo” devoured space.
No column ever published in St. Louis ever equaled this one which was signed by “Boo.” It was The Censor. Any who bought the magazine were paying to read “Boo.” So gushing was the verbiage piling one coy expression on another that readers had to plow their way through an avalanche of words to find the nugget of news. It is happily reported that none ever faltered.
And who was “Boo?” “Boo” was many people. She was a succession of women referred to by the magazine as “the mysterious ‘Boo,’” a sort of feminine counterpart to his mysterious majesty the Veiled Prophet. Like him, only one “Boo” has even been identified. She was the late Miss Mae Cerf, who seems to have relished her title of “Boo.” She enjoyed her well-paid job and later wrote for “Town Topics” in New York.
“Boo” never entered the office of The Censor. She talked to many on the telephone, and her copy arrived by mail. Among those she talked to was Dyer, a clearing house for tipsters. The tipsters might have been anyone, a parlor maid, a caddy, a beauty shop operator or a waiter. During the ‘20s a wellspring of information named Harrison was a car-hop at Nelson’s on DeBalievere avenue. Unlike others serving the young at that popular drive-in, Harrison did not hop; he hung around, and the boys and girls doted on his antics. Harrison was a born comedian. He knew who dated whom. He saw hands held and he heard heated arguments. When a slip of the tongue appeared in The Censor someone remembered that Harrison had been there but no one objected. The legend gave Harrison added stature.
After all, the debutantes themselves frequently were unpaid tipsters for “Boo.” She would call in mid-afternoon, when mothers were out and the girls gathered around the bridge table. While “Boo” waited the hostess would shriek to her guests, “It’s ‘Boo.’ What shall I tell her? If we don’t tell her something she may be nasty or leave me out altogether.” So they told all about the people they did not like.
One St. Louis woman of genuine distinction remembers Dyer offering her the job of “Boo.” She declined, but she recalls the salary mentioned as handsome, and Dyer saying to her, “The only people you’ll have any trouble with are the porch-climbers.”
No couple was ever married in The Censor. In the realm of “The Social Peek-A-Boo” worthy sons and adorable daughters of impressive cognomen entered into “matrimonial contract.”
But before that could happen, “Rosebuds from the local social realm came through the barrage of debut parties with flying colors.” Only then did “Boo” gush, “Sh! Sh! Kindly keep this under your favorite chapeaux. It has been whispered into Boo’s organs of hearing that come Christmas Day (or should we say Dec. 25) an event to which Boo has been looking forward to for some time, namely the engagement of a girl whom Boo refers to as ‘the ultrault’ is about to be announced to a worthy son. If what appears in our crystal ball can be relied on, we have a pretty good idea who the second part is, but for the nonce, an affair of the heart, a romance of serious proportions. We must await developments. A betrothal announcement will break forth at any moment…Should this develop as we are expecting it to do, don’t forget it was Boo who gave you first inkling of the romance. Patience, and shuffle the cards.”
The amazing factor in “Boo’s” style is not that one woman could produce it, but that it never changed as columnists succeeded each other. The only discernible difference is that one “Boo” would write “How time does fly,” while another favored “Tempus does fugit.”
Through years of prosperity and peace, through wars and times of depression, “Boo” never wavered. During the tragedy of World War In “Boo” explained her method. “There would be no time left to play and keep in good spirits to tackle the endless job of writing ‘The Social Peek-A-Boo’ if Boo researched the attractive uniforms of the motor corps.” Describing one of her heroes, she wrote, “He looks stunning in his uniform, busy as a bee and as proud as a peacock in glorious plumage.” This stalwart, as “Boo” describes him, “was giving his best efforts to his government in the alien income department.”
By that time The Censor was selling for fifteen cents a copy or five dollars per year in this country, six dollars in Europe. Yes, there were St. Louisans abroad who wanted it, though it no longer flushed secrets.
On the occasion of The Censor’s golden anniversary, the magazine itself printed the story of its early revelations saying, “First these occasioned considerable disapproval, but at the same time earned it the respect of many who realized that their private lives were not their own as long as the mysterious “Boo” was around. Graduating out of those scandalous days, The Censor finally became a reflector of social gossip, with a spicy tidbit here and there, but with no attempt to dig too deeply into the personal lives of the people of the city.
“Today, as everyone must know, this spicy form of gossip has disappeared altogether from its columns, with ‘Boo’ devoting herself to a more constructive policy of reflecting social news of a friendly and delightful nature…”
The “friendly and delightful nature” did not pay. In 1947 The Censor was dead, its new owner, William Heitland, caught with back bills. Heitland, who would like to forget his venture, believes that the circulation of the magazine reached 15,000 at one time. The Britt Printing Company, which turned out the copies of many years, insists the circulation varied between 2,000 and 3,000, never more. Even at Christmas time the advertising seems pitiful by today’s standards. The Censor did have one obvious source of income. The imitation Harrison Fisher cover drawings of earlier times were replaced by young girls of social prominence. Heitland says that the fathers of these young women paid fifty dollars for the honor of having their daughters’ pictures displayed. During the final years of The Censor the girls gave way to prominent business men who undoubtedly paid for the privilege.
That the magazine was a shoestring operation is plain to see. Dyers sold the advertising and put the weekly together with the aid of Heitland and the copy of “Boo.”
But the success, which reportedly furnished trips for the Dyers and furs for Dyer’s wife, eludes the observer. Only Dyer knew the secret of The Censor’s fifty years.
Of George Coleman Dyer, born in Warren County, Missouri in 1862, little is known  before he began his publishing venture on Chestnut Street.
Harry Turner, editor and publisher of the competing “Much Ado,” told what he knew, or believed, of Dyer in his opus on Feb. 18, 1915. “The editor of the scandal monger is an ex-race track tout, a gambler, a man utterly without merit or sense of decency,” Turner began. “His specialty is sly insults poked at young women just entering society and innuendo suggesting all that the low mind can conceive of.”
Apparently, no fathers of these young women ever attacked Dyer, though many were vociferous in shouting what they would do, should their daughters be insulted. If lawsuits were filed, the records moulder under the accumulation of our most wordy profession. Certainly none ever reached the Missouri Supreme Court. One meany put a stick of dynamite under Dyer’s plant and blew it to bits. But it happened at night and no one was hurt.
The Censor moved to the Arcade Building, and the new environment brought a milder attitude. When Dyer died in 1943 his magazine hailed him as “a rough-hewn gentleman of the old school” known as “The Colonel.” According to the obituary in The Censor, “His contributions to American journalism will long be remembered in the minds of the prominent people of the city.”
If he is still remembered in the minds of the prominent people of the city who once felt the lash of “Boo,” they may sleep in peach. No library, public or private, has preserved copies of the early, scandalous issues of The Censor.
(Originally published, unsigned, in The St. Louis Magazine 3/1965).

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