In many respects, Manly was as much of a journalist as he was a fiction writer. He was close to his (two years older) brother Paul for all of their mutual lives. When Manly got out of college in the 1920s, Paul as editor of the Wichita Beacon gave Manly his first full-time job–as a reporter.
At the time, newspapers were generally the voice of a particular political party. (What you see today with Fox News on one side and National Public Radio on the other was even more strongly and generally the case of rival newspapers in Manly’s day.) When a Republican bought the Beacon, the entire staff marched down the street and were hired by the Wichita Eagle, whose Republican staff passed them going in the other direction because Democrats now owned the Eagle.
Manly’s job didn’t change, and he continued working directly under his brother.
Manly contributed poetry–well, verse–to both papers, much of it anonymous, but mostly he worked as a reporter; and in Wichita then, crime made up quite a lot of the news. The city was a railroad hub and drugs, heading from Mexico to Chicago and New York, passed through it. Inevitably, some of the cocaine and heroin stopped before it got further east.
Besides drugs, Prohibition was still in force while Manly was in Wichita. Manly was husky and athletic–he’d been a scholarship football player at university–and was on good terms with the police, so he frequently accompanied them during operations.
One night Manly along on a raid on a roadhouse. Several men were caught in the reception area when the police burst in. One of the cops handed Manly a heavy blackjack and told him to hold the men there. The police went into the back of the building where the gambling equipment was.
After a minute or so, one of the men in the front said, “I’m going to get my coat and get out of here.”
“Stay where you are!” Manly said.
“The hell I will,” said the man as he lifted a sheepskin jacket hanging with other coats in an alcove. Manly slammed him across the side of the head with the blackjack. The man dropped like a stone, and the jacket thudded to the floor.
Manly picked up the coat and found “… a revolver with a barrel this long–” while telling the story, he would spread his index fingers an unlikely twelve inches apart “–in a holster under the left arm.”
Not all Manly’s memories of journalism were quite so dire as that. One night at dinner somebody mentioned a public figure who had made a statement to the press although he obviously would rather not have done so. Manly laughed and said, “I know how that goes. ‘Tell him he can talk to me now or we’ll print what we’ve got!’”
Sometimes, though, Manly’s memories were very dire. A smalltime crook and hophead named Rabbit had a very beautiful wife. She was far too beautiful for the likes of Rabbit, and before long she was keeping company with one of Wichita’s major crime figures.
One day she and her new boyfriend were in a car which rival gunmen ambushed, killing both of them. This was front-page news–and the paper wanted a ‘before’ picture of the girlfriend. Manly, who knew Rabbit, said he could find one.
Rabbit lived in a shotgun house–a two-room shack–across the tracks. Manly drove down to it. No one answered to his knock, but the door wasn’t locked; he opened it and went in. There, on a table in the front room, was a glamour photograph of Rabbit’s late wife. Manly crossed the room and grabbed the photo. He was just about to hide it under his jacket when he heard a click behind him and turned.
Rabbit stood in the doorway, “… pointing a revolver at me with the hammer already roostered back.” Rabbit’s pupils were shrunk to pinpoints from the cocaine he’d been sniffing.
Manly when he was sober had one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever encountered. Now he held up the wife’s photograph and said, “Oh, Rabbit, I’m so sorry! I came right over when I heard about Nancy!”
For a moment, nothing happened (which wasn’t the worst possibility). Then Rabbit lowered the gun and said, “Aw, Manly, you’re my only friend in the world. I know she was no good, but I loved her anyway.” And then he started to cry.
Manly led him over to the couch and sat down with him. They talked for some while with Rabbit repeating how lovely Nancy was and how much he missed her, and Manly agreeing.
Finally Manly said that as a favor to his friend, he could get Nancy’s picture on the front page of the newspaper so that everybody would see how pretty she was. Blubbering his thanks, Rabbit sent Manly on his way with the photograph–silver frame and all.
Wichita was on the transcontinental train route between New York City and Los Angeles (Hollywood). Manly’s paper would regularly schedule interviews with celebrities passing through, even though the train would not be stopping for any length of time in Wichita.
Manly would either ride up to the next station, board the train there, and conduct the interview as the train approached Wichita–where he would get out and file the story; or ride with the celebrity to the first station below Wichita, then return by the next train in the other direction. Among people whom Manly mentioned interviewing in this fashion were Bennett J Doty, promoting his Foreign Legion memoir Legion of the Damned; and Edgar Wallace, on his way to Hollywood to write the script for King Kong.
By the early ’30s there were transcontinental airline flights, but the planes of the day had to stop for fuel along the way. Wichita was one of the refueling stops, and Manly interviewed a number of celebrities at the airport while their plane was being serviced. He mentioned two, both Hollywood actresses.
One was Lupe Velez, later ‘the Mexican Spitfire,’ whose flight had been a rough one. All Manly remembered her saying during the ‘interview’ was, “Ooh, I am so seeck!”
The other was Ginger Rogers, whose plane landed before dawn and needed minor repairs as well as fuel. Manly looked at the available time and asked Miss Rogers if she would be willing to come back to the paper with him and give the guys in the city room a thrill. She was willing, so Manly bundled her into his car and ran back to town.
Fifty years later Manly still smiled when he talked about it. Ginger Rogers was the most charming woman he had ever met. She’d had coffee and doughnuts with them until it was time to get her back for the flight. The hard-bitten reporters of the Eagle were still thanking Manly days later for bringing her by.