Lem Hooper on Dictators
by Ellis Parker Butler
Court-Officer Durfey, who had been on his two weeks' vacationing, hurried into the courtroom of our eminent jurist, Justice of the Peace Lemuel Hooper, and hung up his hat.
"Good mornin', judge; it feels fine to be back," Durfey said, and then asked: "Anything new happened since I went away?"
"Durfey," said Judge Hooper solemnly, "I am glad you are back, for I need your comforting smile. I am a heart-broken and disillusioned man, Durfey. This world, which I thought was a kind old cow that gave down sweet milk containing the full legal requirement of butter fats, turns out to be nothing but a wormy crab-apple. The guy that gave me the tip that life was one grand sweet song fooled me, Durfey, for I have discovered that life is no song at all, but a mess of poison ivy.
"I do not refer, mind you, Durfey," Judge Hooper continued, "to the disillusionment that has come to me since you went away regarding the younger school of authors in which I had put such high hopes. I had thought it was an enfranchising movement conducted by the younger intelligencia, Durfey, and I discover that His Sleepless Eyeness, Mister Sumner of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, says it is a conspiracy. I thought the eager lads who wrote the books that mother puts under the mattress when Gladys comes home from school are our one best bet, and I learn that many of them were so awkward they busted their fiddles and have to use them for garbage scoops to make an indecent living. It is a shame, Durfey! The time will come, if this keeps on, when a man cannot read a dirty book and get folks to believe it is because he is trying to wash his mind clean enough to tackle the Rollo books. If it keeps on, Durfey, the time will come when folks will believe I buy the rank ones because I like them rank and not because I am a higher intelligence recognizing the better things.
"Mr. Sumner has written to Mr. Williams of the Authors' League, Durfey, suggesting that a committee be appointed to pass on the propriety of manuscripts before they are printed. 'This book,' the committee will say, 'has infected tonsils which should be removed before it is allowed to go to the party,' and 'I suspect, from the spots on its abdomen, that this book has a case of the measles and I recommend that it be interned until further notice.' 'In the case of the novel entitled The Cocktail Gulpers,' the committee will write, 'we beg to report favorably, with the exception of the contents, and we recommend that the cover and the copyright notice be permitted to be published after the picture on the cover has been submitted to the Committee on Garments established by the Ready-Made Garment Makers' Association of East New York, for approval or revision.'
"It should be no trouble to establish a committee, Durfey. A man has but to wiggle his little finger and he can establish a Committee for anything from Improving the Morals of Smoking Tobacco Signs to a Committee for Prohibiting the Sale of Nude Radishes to Adolescents, but the question is what the Committee will commit.
"For a book, you understand, Durfey, is not a motion picture, nor yet is it a stage play. Many a time you've seen the bold boast that this and that motion picture cost sleepless nights and the toil of thousands and $1,000,000, and maybe it did cost more than a house with a tile roof. And it's a poor stage play, Durfey, that don't cost more than you and I make in a year, both added together. A man does not want to have such royalty walk the plank, Durfey, and he'll stand a search first, but a book costs little more to make than a screen star will spend on a dinner to her second-best friends. So it will be 'Up with the black flag, and rake in the dubloons while the good times last!' and the line in front of the stall that sells the books bearing the colophon of the skull and cross-bones together with the motto 'We take a chance!' will not last a minute -- the mob that rushes to get the uncommitteed books will pile over it like the ocean surf over a water-logged peanut."
Judge Hooper wiped the perspiration from his brow and snorted angrily.
"If I was a writer, Durfey, I would call a suggestion to committee my writings an insult to my honesty and decency and good sense. Committee! By thunder, Durfey, I'd rather have a Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis dictatorship any minute of the day!"
Court Officer Durfey rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"Well, your honor," he said hesitatingly, "I can't make head nor tail of what you've been sayin', but I can see easy enough you're dead right on the subjec'. The only thing, judge, is that I don't see why it should rile you so."
"Rile me? Rile me?" cried Judge Hooper. "Great cats, Durfey, that ain't what riled me! I'm just working off my rile on that! What riled me, Durfey, is that yesterday I had to hold my own special bootlegger for the grand jury in $500 bonds! My own bootlegger, mind you, Durfey!"