Alexander Woollcott - Death and Legacy

Death and Legacy

Woollcott was still not saying anything—at great length—when, on January 23, 1943, he appeared on his last radio broadcast, as a participant in a Writers' War Board panel discussion on the CBS Radio program The People's Platform. Marking the tenth anniversary of Adolf Hitler's rise to power, the topic was "Is Germany Incurable?" Panelists included Woollcott, Hunter College president George Shuster, Brooklyn College president Henry Gideonse, and novelists Rex Stout and Marcia Davenport. The program's format began as a dinner party in the studio's private dining room, with the microphones in place. Table talk would lead into a live network radio broadcast, and each panelist would begin with a provocative response to the topic. "The German people are as guilty of Hitler as the people of Chicago are of the Chicago Tribune," Woollcott stated emphatically, and the panelists noted Woollcott's physical distress. Ten minutes into the broadcast, Woollcott commented that he was feeling ill, but continued his remarks. "It's a fallacy to think that Hitler was the cause of the world's present woes," he said. Woollcott continued, adding "Germany was the cause of Hitler." He said nothing further. The radio audience was unaware that Woollcott had suffered a heart attack. He died at New York's Roosevelt Hospital a few hours later, aged 56, of a cerebral hemorrhage.

He was buried in Clinton, New York, at his alma mater, Hamilton College, but not without some confusion. By mistake, his ashes were sent to Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. When the error was corrected and the ashes were forwarded to Hamilton College, they arrived with 67¢ postage due.

At the time of his death, Woollcott had completed the editorial work on his last book, As You Were, an anthology of fiction, poetry and nonfiction for members of the armed forces. The idea of creating a much-needed "knapsack book" for service members reportedly came to Woollcott while he was staying at the White House in November 1942. An experienced anthologist, he drew on the knowledge of soldiers' reading preferences he gained while he was editor of Stars and Stripes during World War I, and also asked for nominations from friends including Stephen Vincent Benét, Carl Sandburg and Mark Van Doren. Like his final radio broadcast, As You Were was a contribution to the war for which Woollcott waived all royalties and planned to donate profits to welfare organizations. The book was published by the Viking Press in March 1943.

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