There used to be a newspaper publisher in Charlotte, NC, Harry Golden, who was known by this phrase: Only in America.
That was the title of his first book. The original book jacket cover states, “Crammed with wit, packed with common sense, this is the $4.00 best seller which has taken all America by storm and which all America has taken to heart.”
Harry Golden’s story, if you care to look it up online, is filled with great details you just can’t make up. Born in what is now Ukraine, he was brought to America when a small child by his father and older brother who had gone before to earn money. When they could, they sent for him and his mother. As an adult, he spent time being a stockbroker but went to jail in a white-collar mail fraud crime during the Depression. At age 39, he moved to Charlotte to start over with a new name.
And he became a beloved writer who sprinkled generous servings of humor in with his observations about life in America and the south, while including heaping helpings of his liberal views (at the time) of racial inequality across the land.
Harry Golden told stories. He was a man about whom stories were told. People tried to discredit him. Yet he was best friends with poet Carl Sandburg and had a running correspondence with Billy Graham his whole life.
To Harry Golden, only in America was there the possibility of a poor Jewish immigrant succeeding beyond the cards he was dealt at birth.
He relied upon words in the new writerly stage of his life.
The written word has a lot of power.
It can cause people to love you and it can cause people to hate you.
For Harry Golden, he had a lot of one and less of the other.
But if you doubt the power of story or the power of words, don’t.
I was amazed recently by two films I saw that both speak to the power of both.
J Edgar, about the life of J. Edgar Hoover, founder and director of the FBI, is a brilliant telling of the life of a man who had quirks, issues and power galore. Words definitely shaped his life. The first main scene revolves around terrorism in 1919 that was a result of the words of revolutionaries.
As time went on, Hoover literally changed the way his bureau was regarded by changing the stories that got told about it.
Story and words. Words and story.
Another film, even more saturated with words and story, is the much-maligned film Anonymous. I loved it. That’s just me, though—anything about Elizabeth I, especially as portrayed by the queen of all British actresses, Vanessa Redgrave, well—I just gravitate towards that.
I love the music of the era, the scenery of the countryside, the funny clothes, the life at court. Vanessa Redgrave will always be Guinevere from Camelot for me.
This film, however, questions ideas about the actual writer of Shakespeare’s plays and is a tribute to the power of words. It made me look at those plays I read in high school in an entirely different light. And I don’t mean the authorship part. Anonymous points up the caricature and satire that spoke directly to the political wiles of the time.
I found Anonymous so engaging I’d like to see it again. There’s mystery and plotting and killing and backbiting, along with plenty of squalor and torture. Fun enough. But I’d like to see once more – on the large screen –the exact words written by that quill pen, the look of one particular character, the exchange of talk and money behind backs, all the little things that are easy to miss the first time around.
So what does this have to do with Harry Golden?
Words. And stories. They permeate everything. Every subject. Every article is made of them, every ad, every communication.
If you ever think corporate-speak is the way for you to go in your business, you might need to pay a lot more attention to what engages.
Hint: story and the mighty word is what grabs people.
Not the false sounding “we” when you’re a one-person shop. Not avoiding telling your prospective customers and your clients who you are, what you believe in, why you do what you do, what your product or service will do for them. In great detail.
So, that being said, be on the lookout next week for a very interesting announcement.
I’ll leave you on that mysterious note.
And I’d love it if you’d tell me about a personality whose story you find interesting, as I told you about Harry Golden. Or about a movie you’ve seen now or long ago in which story or words played an important role.
Please, tell me, and all of us reading this blog, now in the reply area below.