from Authors' League Bulletin
Ellis Parker Butler
by Ellis Parker Butler
The public knew Ellis Parker Butler as the author of plain tales whose uproarious humor rose from his appreciation of the fact that so-called common sense is one of the most uncommon qualities in the human makeup. We veterans of the Authors' League knew him as an indispensable wheel horse. He belonged to that small and somewhat bewildered group which formed the League in 1912, at risk of a boycott by publishers. Butler was filling the magazines just then; he was at the heyday of his popularity. Many best sellers of the period refused to have anything to do, at first, with anything so dangerous and revolutionary as this cross between a professional association and a labor union; one or two others signed up and then withdrew for fear of unfriendly relations with their publishers. Butler needed no persuasion. Not only did he join as soon as invited but he took off his coat and went to work. Men and women of our literate trade are as a class illiterates when it comes to the details of business. Butler, already owner of a trade periodical and on a verge of becoming a banker, supplied that lack. It was he who built our financial structure in the beginning -- and built it so soundly, note, that twenty years later our devoted office staff could bring us through the greatest depression in American history. For nearly a quarter of a century, he was our official or unofficial secretary of the treasury. Were we running behind the game? Send for Butler. Presently he arrived from Flushing, found the hole, plugged it. Had a phony publisher found some new, ingenious scheme for skinning the author? Butler dropped in and put his finger on a weak spot which we could attack. Had the Authors' League Fund a windfall which needed investment? Butler again.
He did much more for us than that. Butler in person was like Butler on paper: a humorist who never lost his hold on common sense. He was sweet-tempered and even-tempered. No one of us ever saw him hurried or flustered or angry. The Council of the League being composed usually of positive people with positive ideas, has had a jolly row now and then -- a sign, to the philosophical mind, that we are not getting ossified. We would have had many more but for this humorist in our midst. When the atmosphere grew surcharged, the belligerents would hear a deep chuckling laugh from Butler's corner, would turn their eyes to his broad, genial grin. Then he would speak -- usually in a single sentence. It would bring down the house, for it was funny; it would resolve the whole dispute, for it was common sense.
When he was President of the League, I for one attended Council meetings not only as a duty but as one going to a good show. I have never sat under a presiding officer who got so much business done in so little time. Brushing aside trivialities and the customary formalities, he guided us straight to the heart of the matter in hand. I can see and hear him yet, reading out one of those nut-letters which sometimes figure in the deliberations of the League. He would deliver it slowly, with emphasis in the right spots, and yet so comically that he had us rocking with laughter. At the end, he would pause and drop a single comment of his own which set us all off again. Then, grinning genially, he would let it flutter on the table, and dismiss the matter without a vote. And when it came to business on which there were differences of opinion, with Butler in the chair we debated in witticisms and wisecracks.
He was a pioneer in forming and organizing the Authors' League Fund, to which he gave more liberally than the published list of contributions has ever shown; and no one else, except George Creel, ever gave it so much of his time and interest. We all remember those humorous sketches pointing the moral "give to the Fund" which Butler used to write, and as an actor in which he used to convulse the audiences at our annual party. And I hope we have not destroyed his silent film, "An Author at Work," which he composed, acted and made for one of these shows. A hundred years from now, authors will still find excuses for failing to buckle down; and this film will be as effective then as it is today.
We shall miss his work for the League; he occupied a unique place among us. But most of all we shall miss Butler, with his kindness, his friendliness, his character, his courage, his wisdom and his wit.