Born: March 7, 1873
Died: April 25, 1936
Ohio connection: Birth
Although his father was Cadiz, Ohio’s leading merchant, thirteen-year old Percy Hammond felt irrepressibly drawn towards newspaper journalism, and worked as a “printer’s devil” for his uncle’s newspaper, the Cadiz Republican. In the audience in a dramatic production at the county fair, Hammond had his first taste of theater, a penchant that would remain insatiable. Acting as an usher or selling playbills to cover the ticket price, he attended performances at the Cadiz Opera House, enthralled at the Broadway successes that made it to town. When his father’s disapproval threatened his continued experiences with drama, Percy ran away to Pittsburgh, where the fifteen-year old sold newspapers to pay for tickets, and for a few weeks, practically lived in the audience stalls. Washington, D.C. beckoned, as well as a steady job. Over the next four years, Hammond put his experiences in journalism to work setting text in the Government Printing Office. During that time, he made a decision to return to Ohio, where, in New Athens, he attended Franklin College between 1892-1896. On May 25, 1896, he married Florence Carnahan, with whom he had been acquainted since childhood. His long career in newspaper journalism commenced with a two-year stint at the Chillicothe News-Advertiser, owned and operated by his uncle. Deciding to abandon Ohio for Chicago, Hammond found employment on the City Press Association, gaining the experience of a police reporter, an assignment of which he was quite proud. Following that assignment, he spent nearly ten years as a reporter, editorial writer, and finally, as a drama critic on the Chicago Evening Post. In 1908, the position of a lifetime opened up on the Chicago Tribune. As drama critic, his predilection towards blunt, honest, forthright critiquing (peppered with an acerbic wit) made Hammond just as many admirers as he had enemies. A notorious contest of wills soon erupted between himself and the managers of Chicago’s Shubert theaters. Bit once too often by his scathing reviews, Shubert barred Hammond from their theaters. Backing him to the hilt, the Tribune responded with a coup de maitre by withdrawing all advertising for the Shubert theaters out of its paper. The feud ended after theater management capitulated.
During the closing days of the World War One, Hammond was sent to France as a roving war correspondent, remaining there until the commencement of the Peace Conference. With his popular acclaim and notoriety extending beyond the confines of Chicago, the editors of the New York Tribune recruited him. After a rocky start, he entered on to a brilliant career, as he acquired a wide readership through the extensive syndication of his columns. Those who saw Hammond in the audience remarked on his consistently deadpan expression. He apparently made it a point never to indicate through his expressions either approval or disapproval for the drama that unfolded around him. Behind this persona, friends knew there lurked a retiring, sensitive, yet mischievous personality. Both his wife and their son, John Carnahan, a frequent companion of his father’s on opening nights, shared his love of the theater and of journalism. Five months after the death of his wife in 1935, Percy Hammond succumbed to pneumonia. He died April 25, 1936 at the age of sixty-three.