William Loeb had an outsize influence on national politics as publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, New Hampshire’s statewide newspaper. From 1946 until his death in 1981, he published pugnacious conservative editorials on the newspaper’s front page.
Presidential aspirants feared and courted Loeb because of his impact on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation Presidential Primary. Candidates for state office fell into line with his demand they take a no-tax pledge – that is, if they wanted to win.
Loeb called Gov. Nelson Rockefeller a “wife swapper,” helping to derail his presidential campaign during the 1968 New Hampshire primary.
opined that President Eisenhower “has done more to destroy the respect, honor and power of the United States than any President in its history.” Eisenhower’s sin? The treaty that allowed the Soviet Union to continue influence over Austria.
“Jerry Is A Jerk” blared one headline about President Gerald Ford because he had offered amnesty to draft dodgers. Loeb had not served in World War II, but claimed he didn’t fail the physical on purpose. Critics said he drank huge quantities of alcohol before his physicals so his ulcer would flare up.
William Loeb, Mr. Low Ebb
Loeb famously crippled Sen. Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign in 1972 by publishing a forged letter that accused Muskie of saying “Canuck,” a derogatory term for French Canadians. Muskie responded with a speech in front of the newspaper office that forever after was called “the crying speech.” David Broder of the Washington Post reported Muskie broke down three times. Others, including Muskie, said snow melted on his face.
Though Loeb could generally run down people, he was less successful building support for politicians. One exception was his support of New Hampshire Meldrim Thomson, a three-term governor who suggested nuclear weapons for the state’s National Guard.
Detractors called him Mr. Low Ebb.
Here are 11 things about William Loeb you may not have known:
1. His father was Teddy Roosevelt’s right-hand man.
William Loeb, Jr., served as executive secretary to President Theodore Roosevelt. He was the son of a barber who had immigrated to Albany, N.Y., from Prussia. Loeb became a stenographer and court reporter, and got interested in politics.
He received an appointment as an official stenographer when Roosevelt won election as governor of New York. Roosevelt liked his ability to perform tasks without specific instructions and his familiarity with Albany politicians. He went to the White House with Roosevelt as one of his most trusted advisors.
When William Loeb III was born on Dec. 26, 1905, Roosevelt stood godfather to the child.
2. He always carried a gun.
A New York magazine profile of William Loeb called him the “pistol-packing publisher.” He always carried Charter Arms .38 in a shoulder holster; his wife carried hers in her purse. He was reported to have shot the office cat, an accusation he denied.
In 1971 he told the New York Times Magazine that everyone should know how to use a gun. “It might lead to a few more wife killings and that sort of thing,” he said. “But it would lead to a great diminution in armed crime.”
3. He fired Ben Bradlee.
After Loeb fired him, he went to work for the Post. Bradlee later published the Pentagon Papers with the New York Times, and he supported the reporters coverage of the Watergate scandal.
Bradlee also had a close friendship with John F. Kennedy, later a nemesis of William Loeb.
4. He tried to keep his second marriage secret.
As a 20-year-old Williams College student he secretly married a Smith College faculty member, Elizabeth Nagy, on May 29, 1926. She was eight years his senior. He dreamt of becoming a lawyer and got into Harvard Law School, but Elizabeth discovered his affair with another woman. She accused him of violating the state’s anti-adultery laws and he had to leave Massachusetts.
Then he married Vermont resident Eleanore McAllister in 1947, a union that lasted until 1952. He tried to hide his first marriage from his second wife, but he couldn’t hide his second marriage from his third wife, Nackey Scripps Gallowhur. They were both married when they began courting.
5. His mother and father cut him out of their wills.
His father disinherited him when he married Elizabeth Nagy. William Loeb, Jr., didn’t even mention William Loeb III in his will. His mother did mention him, but only to say she was leaving him nothing. The bulk of her million-dollar estate went to his daughter, Penelope, by his second wife. He remained estranged from his daughter for the rest of his life.
One reason for the animosity between mother and son was that she believed he tried to cheat her. He deposited $250,000 in securities as collateral for a loan from her to buy the paper. Then she discovered the securities were missing.
Loeb sued her estate, draining it of most of its money and ending up with about 10 percent of it.
6. He ran the newspaper from his estate and his ranch.
Though William Loeb struck fear into the heart of New Hampshire politicians, he didn’t run the paper from New Hampshire. He called in his editorials from his mansion in Pride’s Crossing, a wealthy enclave in Beverly, Mass. (It was once featured in a General Motors ad for a luxury car.)
Loeb also called them in from his ranch outside of Reno, Nev., where he and Nackey got their divorces. He also declared Nevada as his legal residence so he could pay fewer taxes than in he would have in Massachusetts.
7. He published his baptismal certificate.
He did it twice, on the front page of newspapers he owned — the St. Albans Messenger, the Burlington Daily News and the Manchester Union Leader. Some said he did it to prove Teddy Roosevelt was his godfather. Others said he did it to prove he wasn’t Jewish.
8. He spent a night in jail.
How exactly he ended up spending a night in jail is unclear. He himself admitted to it. According to one story, George Gallowhur, first husband of Loeb’s third wife, sued Loeb for alienation of affections under an old Vermont law. Loeb couldn’t post bond and spent a night in jail.
According to another story, the local police chief tried to serve both him and Nackey while they were having dinner with his mother. Nackey slipped out and Loeb wouldn’t say where she went. So the police chief arrested him.
9. He falsified his resume.
He claimed in a 1974 editorial to have worked for eight years as a reporter for the Hearst Corporation’s New York World.
Hearst denied it, pointing out the newspaper folded eight years before Loeb claimed to have worked for it.
10. He couldn’t crack the Boston market.
During a Boston Herald strike he tried to import the Union Leader into the city, but stopped when crime figures threatened him because the newspaper printed incorrect sports information.
11. JFK denounced William Loeb.
He called Sen. John F. Kennedy “the No. 1 liar in the United States” after Kennedy denounced the Union Leader on the day before the 1960 New Hampshire Primary:
Kennedy timed his attack carefully, so Loeb couldn’t do him any damage. He did it on the day before the 1960 New Hampshire Primary.
“I believe there is probably a more irresponsible newspaper than that one right over there.” said Kennedy. “But I’ve been through 40 states and I have not found it yet. I believe that there is a publisher who has less regard for the truth than William Loeb, but I can’t think of his name.”
Images: Ben Bradlee By John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA – Ben Bradllee, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75081998. This story updated in 2022.