In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles Sime Silverman, the founder of Variety, the bible of show business.
VARIETY’S THE SPICE OF LIFE
HE’S the sole owner, publisher and editor of the bible of show business: SIME SILVERMAN.
Variety, the man in type form, is one of the best, most respected and most influential trade journals in the world.
He was fired from the Morning Telegraph because his review of a vaudeville act displeased the managing editor. While on that sheet he signed his reviews: “The Man in the Third Row.”
He is not moody.
He is fifty-three years old. Was born in Cortland, N. Y. Has been married to the same wife for thirty years. The pride and joy of his life is his son, Syd, who wrote on Variety as a child critic at the age of seven, signing his articles with the pen name “Shigie.”
Decided to publish a paper for the profession which would print news items and show reviews as the staff writers wrote them. He discussed the possibilities with Mrs. Silverman. Together they named it Variety. Then, absentmindedly, she sketched on the table cover the funny capital “V.” It’s still the trademark of the paper.
His first office was a tiny room on the fifth floor of the Knickerbocker Theatre building.
His only pet is an Angora cat named Steve.
He summers at Alexandria Bay—when he summers.
In mid-December, the year 1905, the first copy of Variety, appeared on the newsstands. It contained sixteen pages. It sold for a nickel.
The wise guys gave the paper three months to live.
He likes to eat in road houses. His credit is good everywhere. He always pays cash.
In the beginning Variety‘s space was devoted solely to vaudeville. Today vaudeville receives but little attention, motion pictures being the big feature.
He still reviews the small-time vaudeville shows.
Is probably the hardest working editor in America. His day begins at eight-thirty A. M. Can generally be found at his desk at two A. M. still working.
He eats in the hunting room at the Astor. Is the greatest check grabber Broadway has ever known. Has never been known to allow anyone to pick up the “bad news.” Is a very liberal tipper.
He can go to bed at six in the morning and be waiting for breakfast at seven-thirty.
The thing he hates most in this world is a deadbeat.
At one time things were very bad. Most of his staff had disappeared. He walked into the office one day to find only two men there. One was Johnny O’Connor, one of his reporters. The other was a sheriff, placed there by a creditor. They were playing rummy. It looked as if it would be necessary to get the next issue out in mimeograph form.
Variety was originally published on a Saturday. Then it moved back to Friday. Then to Thursday. Now it appears on Wednesday. This is the only respect in which it has gone backward.
He smokes Turkish cigarettes and Havana cigars. Never takes more than a dozen puffs from either. Never smokes a gift cigar. Never refuses one. His desk is always littered with expensive weeds. As his staff arrives they disappear.
His first office was so small that when one asked a question it was necessary to go into the hall to answer it. Later his office was quartered on the site where Loew’s State Theatre now stands. Today he occupies an entire building in Forty-sixth Street, east of Broadway, that formerly housed Frances, the modiste. His desk is on a platform where models used to pose. It’s his throne.
He weighs about 180. Has never been known to walk fast or eat slowly.
He never wears a vest.
No one but himself knows the circulation of Variety, and he won’t tell.
He works in his shirt-sleeves. If the weather is hot he works in his undershirt.
He has little use for sports. Seldom sees a ball game, and never plays the races. His passion is auto riding. He maintains three or four high-powered cars.
A ride in the country at three in the morning is quite the usual thing for him. Generally alone or with a member of his staff.
He never carried a cane. Hates to wear the “soup and fish.” Generally passes up affairs requiring this.
He dictates his business mail once weekly. The day his paper comes out. He typewrites replies to all his personal mail himself.
No one ever owned a share of stock in Variety. He owns it all.
Leo Carillo was a cartoonist on Variety. He received a fine offer from Albee to become a vaudeville monologuist. This was one way of putting an end to his drawings.
He loves to play poker. Will sit up all night going direct to his desk from the card table. His favorite haunt is the Friars Club.
The circulation of Variety was built on a bicycle. He sent Johnny O’Connor on the road as circulation man. Johnny was gone fourteen months, touring the entire country and part of Canada. He hired a bicycle in each town. Made the rounds, placing Variety on every newsstand. Also appointed a correspondent wherever he went. In return for weekly news O’Connor gave them a credential card calling for free entry to all amusement places.
He walks with a pronounced slouch. Generally has one hand in a trousers pocket.
He maintains a private charity list. No one knows anything about it but himself and his secretary.
Was badly injured in an auto accident several years ago. Despite a few broken bones, some wrenched ligaments and what promised to be a fractured skull, he hailed a flivver and was driven forty miles to his home without asking for aid.
Variety was once advertised as “The Green Sheet.” Then it carried a green cover. Then it sold for a dime. During the war the green stock became scarce and it went back to a white cover. On special editions, however, the green cover is called back into service.
His favorite drink is a Scotch highball in a tall glass.
Twenty years ago the front page of Variety was sold to Joe Cook for $25. Ten years ago it was sold to Irene Franklin for $2,500. Today it’s news.
He has never been abroad. His paper was ten years old before he left New York to visit an outlying office. Then he went to Chicago and returned the same day he arrived.
He once had a Jap butler. But only once and not for long.
He makes notes on small pads with a tiny pencil. He takes an ordinary lead pencil and cuts it into a number of small ones.
He is a deep thinker. Likes to cut up paper into small bits when exercising his mind. Also twirls his forelock between his thumb and forefinger. Also likes to spin his signet ring, the only jewelry he wears.
Has never been seriously ill. His sole trouble being with a trick set of teeth.
He lives on upper Central Park West. In the same building in which the late E. F. Albee lived. Occasionally they would meet in the elevator. They would never chat.
His favorite expression is “Aw, nuts.”
He is the best known man on Broadway. They call him a “Square Shooter.” That’s Broadway’s definition of all that can be expected of one of its own.