Book Review: 'The Huntress'

Jan 25, 2017

Despite its odd title, The Huntress is not about hunting, though Alicia Patterson was an excellent shot and a superb horsewoman. What it is, is a biography of the debutante who was the founder and editor of Newsday. The co-authors are Alicia Patterson’s niece, Alice Arlen, who died this past February, and her husband Michael Arlen, a staff writer for years at The New Yorker.

Alicia Patterson was quite a mover and shaker. The subtitle of The Huntress gives the chronology: “The Adventures, Escapades and Triumphs of Alicia Patterson: Aviatrix, Sportswoman, Journalist, Publisher.” She was the middle daughter of the renegade Chicago Tribune heir, Joe Patterson, who wanted only boys. Alicia all her life craved his attention and love. No doubt that’s why she married much older men, the first two, friends of her father. And it’s probably why she eventually went into the newspaper business. “Poppa” could be daring. He left Chicago to found The New York Daily News, but once Alicia tasted the life, she outdid him in forging an independent press. She couldn’t have children. Newsday became her baby, and what a baby it was.  

In 1954, she made the cover of Time. As the authors say, there were few American women in Patterson’s social strata then “whose activities took them much beyond bridge or canasta tables, or the country club or shopping.”

She was gutsy, considering her wealth and background. She could have been just a socialite considering that her third husband was the powerful, prominent, conservative and, yes, older, Harry Guggenheim, whose Long Island estate out-Gatsby-ed Gatsby’s. Harry joined his wife to start the paper but maneuvered to keep 51 percent. She persevered, working out of an abandoned car dealership, and with great determination, fought Harry and her father, going her own way, and turning an “amateurish local newssheet” into a multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning national newspaper. It’s interesting to note by the way that once their subject has made it, the authors refer to her as “Patterson,” not “Alicia.”

The Huntress is more than biography. It’s also a fascinating look into mid-century politics. Carefully researched, with engaging home photos, it presents extensive archival material in an engaging manner. Who knew the extent of Alicia Patterson’s complicated, long-time liaison with Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate for president in 1952 and 1956, both of them married. His letters to her are priceless – evidence of his dependency and his passion for her as well as of his passionless, often befuddled, pursuit of high office. Not incidentally, the book is also a disturbing eye opener on medical care at one of the country’s most prestigious upscale hospitals at the time. Alicia died there in 1963, from complications of stomach surgery related to cancer. She was 57. But what a legacy, for large circulation, liberal newspapers and women in journalism.