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    "I do not like cold houses or the climate of England at this time of year!"

    Franklin D. Roosevelt: Typed Letter Signed as President.
    -November 30, 1942. Washington, D.C. One page. 7" x 9". White House letterhead.
    -To: Major Richards Vidmer, London, England.
    -Folds and even browning throughout, some fading, very good.

    FDR writes, "I want to tell you how grateful I am to you for taking such good care of Mrs. Roosevelt on her trip in the British Isles. I wish I could have gone along even though I do not like cold houses or the climate of England at this time of year!" ('!' added by FDR in black ink in his own hand.) In 1942, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt accepted an invitation to visit England to see what British women were doing for the War effort and to convey a message of support from her husband, the President of the United States, to the American troops stationed there. The recipient of this letter, Richards Vidmer (1898 - 1978), was a well known sportswriter, flier, and intelligence officer.


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    A rare and wonderful World War II letter dated and signed by FDR on November 30, 1942 on The White House Washington stationery to Major Richards Vidmer, Air Corps, Intelligence Branch, G-2, London England, regarding Eleanor Roosevelt's recent goodwill trip to England during World War II, mentioning FDR's own humorous thoughts about British houses and climate. FDR writes: "My dear Major Vidmer:–/ I want to tell you how grateful I am to you for taking such good care of Mrs. Roosevelt on her trip in the British Isles. I wish I could have gone along even though I do not like cold houses or the climate of England at this time of year! [‘!' added by FDR in black ink in his own hand]/ Very sincerely yours,/ Franklin D. Roosevelt." In 1942, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt accepted an invitation to visit England to see what British women were doing for the War effort and to convey a message of support from her husband, the President of the United States, to the American troops stationed there. Vidmer played a major role in that potentially perilous journey during World War II. Richards Vidmer elevated the craft of sportswriting with the simple approach of amusing and entertaining his readers. His colorful prose enhanced the story but never overstated the message he was attempting to convey. Vidmer never took himself, or sports, too seriously. In the twenty years he reported sports he maintained a crisp, innovative approach, endowing almost every story he wrote with a fresh angle. Richards Vidmer was born on October 7, 1898 in Washington, D.C. He was the second child of George Vidmer and Carol Richards Vidmer. George Vidmer was a captain of cavalry in the United States Army at the time of Richards's birth. A poised career officer, George reached the rank of general and served as superintendent of West Point. Richards grew up on horseback and played polo. This familiarity with horses later enhanced his sportswriting when he reported on polo matches for The New York Times. Reared in the nomadic style of the military, Vidmer did not suffer from a parochial outlook on life. Before he reached his teens he had lived in Washington, D.C., Cuba, Japan, West Point, the Philippines, and Texas. As a result, he brought polish and worldliness to his later work as a sportswriter. Star athletes did not impress him as much as they did some of his peers. In 1917 Vidmer graduated from St. Luke's School in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Although he had been accepted at West Point as the United States entered World War I, Vidmer was eager to join the War effort. He passed on West Point and enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, eventually earning his wings as a pursuit pilot. To his disappointment, however, he never experienced combat overseas. While attempting to land on a field in Hicksville, Long Island, following a routine training flight, his plane collided with another aircraft in an overcast sky. Of the four people aboard the two aircraft, Vidmer was the lone survivor. Nine months of surgery and rehabilitation in Walter Reed Hospital followed. After his release from the Air Corps, Vidmer enrolled at George Washington University. He had recovered from his wartime injuries sufficiently enough to play football and baseball in college. While still in high school he had played professional baseball in El Paso, Texas, but in order to protect his eventual college eligibility he had played under the name of "Widmeyer." Vidmer's experience as an athlete prepared him to report sports with insight. He knew that an errant bounce of the ball or a momentary lapse of concentration endowed even the greatest with feet of clay. He never hesitated to criticize a ballplayer for doing something foolish or irresponsible. In June 1921 a casual meeting on a street in Washington initiated Vidmer's newspaper career. Just out of George Washington University, he met the managing editor of the Washington Herald, who offered Vidmer a job at $25 a week. He did general assignment work and on occasion wrote a feature story. His first feature was about the fiftieth anniversary of the Chicago fire. In June 1922 Vidmer married Miriam Miller in Washington, D.C. They had three children: two sons and a daughter. It was the first of three marriages for Vidmer. When Vidmer's managing editor at the Herald left to join the Washington Daily News in 1922, he took along Vidmer as sports editor. At the same time, Vidmer was the football coach at St. John's College, a military prep school in Washington. Knowledgeable of sports but unsure what an editor did, he accepted the position at the Daily News, covering the Washington Senators as well as football and boxing. While in New York in 1924 to cover a heavyweight bout Vidmer visited the offices of The New York Times and spoke with managing editor Carr Van Anda, who introduced Vidmer to sports editor Bernard Thomson. Two weeks later Thomson offered Vidmer a job. Vidmer, unsure of his ability to compete in the New York market, hesitated to accept the offer. He recalled to Jerome Holtzman, the Chicago Tribune writer, that he asked his friend Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson for advice. Johnson encouraged him to take the job, saying that it had always been his dream to pitch in New York. Vidmer reveled in the "gee whiz" style that dominated sportswriting in the 1920s, with its "jargon, florid phraseology and mixed figures," as Stanley Woodward characterized it in his Sports Page (1949). Vidmer preferred to begin his stories with an angle. A story he wrote for The New York Times while covering the 1925 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators, for example, leads by focusing on a former Pittsburgh player now relegated to obscurity: "Just after noon a big broad merchant emerged from his little shop on Wood Street. . . . His gnarled fingers fumbled with a key, turned a rusty lock and with curtains drawn the store was closed to customers for the rest of the day. Bowlegs rolled the big body up the street and boarded a surface car. . . .Just sixteen years ago the same bow-legged, hook-nosed Buccaneer entered the park to the clamor of the multitude in the World Series of that year. He flitted around shortstop in the Pirate's infield, occupied today by a younger member of the crew. Hans Wagner was just a name to most who gathered here today." Every fall Vidmer made the transition to football coverage, drawing on his own experience as a player at George Washington University. His favorite game to report on was always baseball, however, and his sport of choice as a player was golf. He played the game at par or below for most of his life and was also a master bridge player. He reported with equal skill on polo, horse shows, boxing, tennis, track and field, rowing, and golf. While at The New York Times he was a regular contributor to the column "This Week in Sports," for which he recorded the off-season baseball news, noting matter-of-factly the winter injuries and deals. Vidmer's primary goal as a sportswriter was always to entertain the fans. In his account of a October 31, 1925 Michigan Wolverines game, for example, he demonstrates his penchant for the lively metaphor, reporting that "A hungry pack of Wolverines set upon the Navy eleven from Annapolis on Ferry Field today, chewed and clawed and finally buried the Easterners under a 54-0 score." Vidmer made full metaphorical use of the fact that the game was played on Halloween, writing that "The Wolverines played many and sundry tricks on this day when the spirits came to haunt the world" and that "the pack started charging through the line, crashing as though it were just a huge tissue-paper Jack o' Lantern. . . ." Vidmer delighted in the fast life of New York City. Novelist Katharine Brush based Toby McLean, the protagonist of her best-selling novel Young Man of Manhattan (1930), on him. McLean is a playboy sportswriter on a New York City newspaper, gifted but with a bent for dawdling. When he is beset by misfortune he responds with a flourish. Set in the speakeasies and city rooms of New York City newspapers during the Roaring Twenties, the novel added to Vidmer's dashing reputation. Bob Cooke, later sports editor of the New York Herald Tribune, observed, "Young writers . . . wanted to be debonair like Dick Vidmer." Vidmer's "gee whiz" approach to sportswriting was fully in evidence in his report on the October 10, 1926 World Series game, in which the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Yankees for their first championship. In the seventh inning of game 7, the Cardinals' manager made the surprising decision to send in pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander in relief, despite the fact that the thirty-nine-year-old veteran had just pitched a complete game to beat the Yankees the previous day. "A ghostly figure walked through the dull gray haze that shrouded Yankee Stadium. As a blotch of red showed against the leaden background in far left-field, a thrill-swept throng peered forth into the mist, eager to see who it was that strode forth to face the fire of a Yankee uprising that threatened to wipe out the Cardinals' one-run lead and sweep the western warriors down to defeat in the seventh, last and deciding game of the World Series. . . . As he emerged from the bull pen his blazing Cardinal sweater showed brilliant against the sodden background. Over the long stretch of left field he lumbered, his shoulders bent, his crooked legs wobbling, his shoulders drooping. Not an imposing figure or fearful man. He looked more like an old man, bent with age. But as he drew nearer it was seen that his little gray cap was tipped sideways and slanting at a disdainful, cocky, devil-may-care angle. And the crowd roared one word as it recognized him: ‘Alexander!'" In 1929 sports editor Harry Cross asked Vidmer to consider joining the New York Herald Tribune. Arthur Draper, a special assistant to publisher Ogden Reid, wanted him on the staff. Vidmer was considering another offer at the same time, however. Gene Fowler, managing editor of the New York Morning Telegraph, had also approached him with a job offer. A group of investors had purchased the Morning Telegraph, hoping to mold it into the dominant journal of arts, sports, and politics in New York City. They planned to hire only the most talented writers and paid top wages. Vidmer could not refuse Fowler's job offer and joined Walter Winchell, Ben Hecht, Ring Lardner, and Westbrook Pegler on the staff of the Morning Telegraph. The paper quickly failed, however, primarily because of its large payroll. Sensing the end, Vidmer moved over to the city room of the Herald Tribune in 1929. By the 1930s sportswriters were beginning to shift away from the "gee whiz" approach to covering events. Vidmer, as one of the leading practitioners of that style, came under some criticism. New York Herald Tribune city editor Stanley Walker, in his book City Editor (1934), singled out Vidmer and Heywood Broun as examples of "otherwise fairly sensible writers" who depended on a melodramatic lead to their stories. Walker offered Vidmer's Herald Tribune coverage of the heavyweight championship bout between Primo Carnera and challenger Max Baer as an example of his tendency to use a suspended, or "Fabian," lead: "The Baer went over the mountain and brought the heavyweight championship of the world back to the United States in his right hand. With audacious confidence, smiling surety and a sledgehammer punch developed slaughtering cattle, Max Baer whittled Primo Carnera, the man, down to the size of a Singer midget in the Madison Square Garden Bowl last night, toyed with him like a mongoose teasing a cobra, and made his final strike in 2:16 of the eleventh round scoring his eleventh knockdown." Walker held that the reader was forced to wade through half a column to discover the pertinent details of the fight: "this sort of thing, even when it is understandable and apt, soon becomes meaningless, even obnoxious." Vidmer believed in respecting the privacy of the athletes he covered. A he told Holtzman, "I never could see blowing the whistle on somebody." On the road he was a golfing partner to various players, including Babe Ruth, who also drank and played bridge with Vidmer. Vidmer only reported on his on-field performance. He afforded a similar measure of privacy to another player he respected, Lou Gehrig, after he pulled himself from the Yankee lineup in 1939. Vidmer spoke with Gehrig's doctors in the Yankee clubhouse but declined to report that he was suffering from an untreatable creeping paralysis out of consideration for the player. When Bill McGeehan, who wrote the popular column "Down the Line" for the New York Herald Tribune, died in 1933, Vidmer was asked to replace him. Although there were, in his opinion, two or three better writers on the staff, he credited his ability to report on a variety of sports, not just football and baseball, for the offer. The column was renamed "Down in Front" and was nationally syndicated in more than one hundred newspapers. The "Down in Front" column gave Vidmer a wider creative latitude. He eschewed rewrites, believing that his first draft was the best, and he employed a variety of styles, including sometimes verse: "The Golden Bears from the Golden West Beat Alabama in New Year's test, Which causes the East at large to wonder if Fordham wouldn't have snowed them under. . . ." In 1936 he wrote a column, "Girl at the Game," dedicated to female football fans: "You've seen her. You've seen her trudging along the road on her way to the Yale Bowl, her sturdy little boots scuffing up the dust. You've seen her sauntering beneath the brown, bare-limbed trees at Princeton. You've seen her walking with decisive strides across the bridge at Cambridge, her steps turned to Soldiers Field. . . .She's the All-American Girl." The close of the piece states: "They always look better when they're with the other guy." Vidmer also used his column to highlight some of the customs, legends, and traditional rivalries of sports. In a column surveying many Saturday afternoon football rituals, for example, Vidmer wrote: "On the last day of practice at North Central College the varsity squad gathers around and burns a pair of football pants, silently going over past mistakes and vowing not to repeat them in the final game." Vidmer sometimes used humor to convey scorn, as well. During the 1941 World Series, when Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen dropped a third strike that would have won the game against crosstown rivals the Yankees--a game in which the Yankees rallied and then won – Vidmer created "Baseball's Gallery of Goats," with Owen the newest member: "‘Move over Merkle. Out of the way Zimmerman. Back to the shadows, Gowdy and Wilson, Snodgrass and Miljus. Make room for a new member – ya bums!" When the United States entered World War II Vidmer received a commission as a major in the Army Air Corps. He was assigned as an intelligence staff officer in Washington, D.C. In 1943 he joined the Eighth Air Force in England, finally realizing his opportunity to be an active part of the war effort. He landed in France with the Eighty-fourth Fighter Wing as the air-ground control officer. Vidmer became one of the few pilots who flew in both World War I and World War II. In June 1994, outside Cherbourg, France, Vidmer was wounded while on a reconnaissance mission to locate a site for an advanced airfield. After the war, he remained in England as a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. He never wrote about sports again. Vidmer recalled that Grantland Rice had told him: "When athletes are not heroes to you anymore it's time to stop writing sports." After all the action Vidmer had seen in Europe, sports were no longer glamorous. Vidmer's twenty-year marriage to Miriam was also a casualty of War. Their years of wartime separation led to divorce. While a foreign correspondent in England he met Elizabeth Brooke, the daughter of the rajah of Sarawak, a British protectorate located in northwest Borneo. She became his second wife. Vidmer left the Herald Tribune in 1951 and with Elizabeth relocated to Barbados, where he worked as a golf pro. He also helped his friend, golfer Bobby Jones, design golf courses. After nearly a decade of life on Barbados, however, Vidmer became homesick for the United States. Vidmer's second marriage ended with his decision to resume working in New York. He worked as an editor for Dun and Bradstreet and married again, to Mary Field. The couple retired to Murray, Kentucky, in the mid 1970s. Respected as both a sportswriter and military officer, Vidmer counted among his friends such notables as Babe Ruth, Grantland Rice, Gene Fowler, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Elliot Roosevelt, and George S. Patton. Another friend of Vidmer's, sportswriter Bill Corum, recalling the 1913 West Point football team in his book Off and Running (1959), wrote: "it included a fellow with a twisted knee named Eisenhower, . . . and a skinny mascot named Richards Vidmer, who later sank to the level of sportswriting," a sardonic observation that Vidmer likely appreciated. Richards Vidmer died in the Murray-Calloway County Hospital in Murray, Kentucky, on July 23, 1978. The cause of death was heart failure brought on by complications from emphysema. A wonderful and personal letter from FDR to Vidmer during World War II, thanking Vidmer for assisting in the wartime visit to England of FDR's wife and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, with humorous commentary about the "cold houses" and inhospitable climate of England during the winter months.



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    Auction Dates
    June, 2008
    7th Saturday
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