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Our Back Pages
brings you tidbits of Nashville history from near and far, chronologically speaking.
For this edition, we revisit Thanksgiving week, 1925. In the span of a few pages from the Sunday paper on November 22 of that year are moments of old-Nashville business lore, broadcasting history and silent-movie nostalgia.
The working theory behind this post is that an almost random selection from your peripatetic scribe's garage-full of ancient newspaper volumes can yield the occasional cinema verité
revelation. Your thoughts on that theory will be welcomed.
Among other personalities from our past this week, we meet an insurance magnate whose mandate from beyond the grave may have caused much of a $36 million nest-egg to dematerialize during last year's market crash.
Bonus points: Find all of the unfunny racist jokes used to fill empty column space--not only the Rastus stuff you might expect, but one aimed at the Irish as well. Call it equal opportunity.
So here's the Sunday Tennessean
. It includes a section called The Firing Line, "devoted to the interest of Jobbers,
Manufacturers and Traveling Men of Nashville and the Retail Merchants
in the Territory." Its audience consisted of "drummers" (wholesaler representatives who called on grocery stores), sellers of finished goods made in the city, and others in sales roles.
On the section front
is news of important supplies that retailers have stocked up on, including Havana cigars
and Luxury-brand fruitcakes. Speaking of deadly materials, the fruitcake story sits next to an article extolling the virtues of a "marvelous new building material" called asbestos
. A half-page ad for the asbestos vendor runs below the article.A.M. Burton's best-laid plans
Front and center on the first page is a photo
of Life & Casualty insurance honcho A.M.
Burton, accompanied on page 2
by a fawning profile
Burton and his business and on page 3
by a photo of the new office building
at 159 Fourth Ave. N. that the insurance company would occupy until it moved
nextdoor, 32 years later, into the L&C tower--the South's tallest
skyscraper at the time it opened in 1957.
Why all the ink? Maybe it had something to do with the double-truck L&C ad spread that appears later in the section.
A.M. Burton died in 1966, but he planned on L&C lasting forever. He
established a series of trusts under which his heirs could never sell the L&C
stock he bequeathed to them. L&C paid an ample dividend, which he deemed
sufficient to keep the coming generations of Burton progeny
well-endowed. Problem was, American General bought L&C in 1969, so
the heirs became involuntary shareholders of that Houston-based
insurer. Still, the dividends remained OK.
Then AIG bought American General in 2001. AIG historically paid only a
tiny dividend, far less per share than L&C or American General had
doled out. By now there were scores of Burton heirs in Nashville and
around the country, and they had varying opinions over whether they
wanted to have major parts of their nest eggs tied up in AIG stock.
SunTrust Bank, as trustee, sued to ask a court to decide whether it
still had to enforce the restriction in the old man's will.
Chancellor Carol McCoy eventually presided over a settlement that provided for the gradual diversification of the trusts so that by 2012, AIG stock would make up between 10 and 20 percent of their holdings. Court documents show that by January 2007, the trusts had a total value of $36.75 million. The court file does not reveal how much of the AIG stock was sold off by then or in the 19 months afterward, but the rules of the settlement indicate that it must have still owned a substantial amount when AIG imploded amid the financial crisis in late 2008. Today, that stake is worth 2.7 percent of what it was worth in January 2007.A grand ole entry
Tucked into an interior page in the section is news
involving Life & Casualty's local competitor, the National Life & Accident Insurance Co., and its fledgling radio station, whose call sign stood for the motto "We Shield Millions":
NEWS OF INTERESTGeorge Dewey Hay, the "Solemn ol' Judge" of WLS, Chicago, Ill., is back South to occupy a post at the head of Station WSM, Nashville, Tenn.
TO RADIO BUGS
Geo. D. Hay, the "Solemn
Ol' Judge," Joins the
Landing a talent of Hay's caliber was a coup for WSM, and the new man made an impression right away. Six days after the item appeared in the paper, at 8 p.m. on the night of Saturday, Nov. 28,
Hay presented the first episode of a live music broadcast called the WSM
Barn Dance. Two years later, Hay would give the show the nickname by
which it came to be universally known: the Grand Ole Opry.On the silent silver screen
Buried inside the Firing Line section was the cinema page
. New films out this holiday week starred the likes of Mary Pickford, Tom Mix and Rin-Tin-Tin, the latter to be accompanied by hot tunes from the Miami Lucky Seven. Also, back by popular demand a decade after its initial release, Birth of a Nation
begins a run at the Fifth Avenue theater. The paper hails D.W. Griffith's epic celebration of all things Klannish as "expressive of the vital American spirit of the land."