Two men of letters, both from Oak Park

DOOPers memories

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Robert St. John was born in Oak Park in 1902. He graduated from Emerson School and was a freshman at Oak Park and River Forest High School when Ernest Hemingway was a senior. St. John dropped out of high school at 16 to join the Navy during WWI.

After the war, he attended Trinity College in Connecticut but he did not finish because he was expelled for opposing the college's position on censoring an outspoken professor, and he also spoke against censoring student articles in the college newspaper.

In his early 20s, he became the publisher of the Cicero Tribune and wrote exposes of Al Capone. One of his articles earned him a serious beating at the hands of Capone's thugs, but he received an apology from Capone who also paid St. John's hospital bill.

During World War II, St. John covered the London blitz for NBC and, as a war correspondent in Eastern Europe, he was seriously wounded by shrapnel. In August 1945, he scooped all other reporters when he announced the end of the Pacific war on a broadcast from the NBC studio in New York.

In 1950, he lost his job at NBC because his name had been mentioned in The Red Channels, a magazine that specialized in exposing "communist sympathizers" who worked in various media. There is no proof, however, that St. John had ever been affiliated with the Communist Party.

From the 1950s until well into the 1980s, he covered events in the Middle East. His last book (he wrote 23), an autobiography, was completed in 2001, the year before his death at age 100.

Kenneth Fearing was also born in Oak Park in 1902 to Harry Fearing, a well-known lawyer, and Olivia Flexner Fearing, a novelist and poet. His mother left the family when he was just a year old to pursue her writing career in Chicago, so he was raised by his father and his father's sister.

Fearing graduated from Whittier School in 1916. At the graduation ceremony, he read an essay he wrote concerning the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. At OPRF High School (1916-1920), he was the editor of The Trapeze student newspaper and, as a senior, he was voted both "class wit" and "class pessimist."

After studying at the University of Illinois for two years, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin from which he graduated in 1924. He then moved to New York City, where he began a career as a poet and novelist. He also became involved in leftist politics, but, like St. John, there is no evidence that he was ever a member of the Communist Party.

In the 1920s and '30s, he published pieces in the New Yorker and The Paris Review. He also worked as an editor and speechwriter and as an author of pulp fiction.

His best known novel was The Big Clock, which was made into a movie of the same name in 1946. His best known poems were "Dead Reckoning," "Afternoon of a Pawnbroker" and "Stranger at Coney Island." The focus of much of his work depicted an urban and mechanized society lacking in human compassion.

Fearing was married twice, but both marriages failed due to his dependence on alcohol. The last 10 years of his life were marred by poor health and near poverty because of his alcoholism and the failure of any of his literary works to earn enough so that he could pay off his debts.

He died in New York City in 1961. He was 59.

I wish to thank the reference librarians at the Oak Park Public Library, main branch, for assisting me in finding materials regarding both Mr. St. John and Mr. Fearing.

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