Crusading Seltzer was compassionate dynamo

After all deeds are tallied and history casts the final vote, Louis Benson Seltzer, who lived in Lakewood for 35 years, may well be adjudged one of 20th Century Cleveland's greatest influences for good.

Surely, in the opinion of most scribes who worked for him during his heyday -- the Richard Harding Davises and the reportorial reprobates alike -- he should be a shoe-in to win such distinction.

As editor of the Cleveland Press from 1928 until he retired in 1966, Seltzer was a formidable foe of crime, corruption and political chicanery. He used the power of his crusading newspaper and competent staff to combat injustices and the forces of evil at every turn.

He was a kingmaker, who launched honest, capable leaders, such as Frank Lausche (who became Cleveland mayor and then governor and a senator from Ohio) and Anthony J. Celebrezze, (a mayor, member of President John F. Kennedy's cabinet and finally a federal judge).

Seltzer, known to his friends as Louie or LBS, was born in 1897 on Cleveland's near West Side. His father, Charles Alden Seltzer, eventually became a successful writer of western stories, but during Louie's youth the family was very poor.

At the shop of a kind neighborhood meat man, Louie's mother used to get butcher's wrapping paper upon which the elder Seltzer would write fiction in longhand. He authored 200 stories before one was accepted.

Louie, at 13, without finishing seventh grade, left school to become an office boy and cub reporter for the Leader. After several years of switching back and forth between that daily and the Cleveland News, he joined the Cleveland Press in 1915. Then, his career really took off.

The following year, he was named city editor. Later, he served as political editor, chief editorial writer and associate editor before advancing to editor-in-chief in 1928 at age 30.

As a newspaperman, he was a dynamo with prodigious endurance and special writing skills. As editor, he wrote page one editorials about vital issues and sentimental stories about the heroics of common people.

Early on, he wanted to excel as a public speaker, too. He worked at it hard, and, though his voice was high and thin, he finally became one of the most sought-after speakers in the city, frequently delivering two addresses a night.

Humor and high jinks were staple fare in Louie's domain. When he walked into the city room, his copy readers, seated around the perimeter of their horseshoe table, would raise toy guns and fire salvos of Ping-Pong balls at him. Louie, on the other hand, to break deadline tensions, would playfully dump full waste baskets on the heads of unsuspecting reporters who were glued to their typewriters.

Louie was cocky, outgoing, down-to-earth. He decried phonies and the pompous privileged. He had compassion for the needy and for poor souls broken on the rack of life. For years, street people lined up outside his office for regular $2 handouts.

Though he abstained himself, he showed considerable forbearance for those smitten by the demon rum, whether they were his own staffers or outsiders.

Louie was small, slim, trim and impeccably dressed. He had a large, handsome wardrobe that many felt was the result of his being short-changed in his youth.

However, he gave away suits long before they were worn out. Thus, one of the Press's elevator men, who was Louie's size, always looked like a clotheshorse.

Louie and his wife, Marion -- whom he married in 1915, loved dearly and credited for his success -- lived at two places in Lakewood, where they were active in community affairs. Both addresses were on Lake. They moved to 17427 in 1931 and to 17825 in 1936.

The latter residence, in Clifton Park, a beautiful English Tudor built in 1928, was their home for 30 years. The Seltzers had two children.

After Louie's wife died in 1965, he moved to the Rocky River home of his daughter Shirley Cooper. In 1973, the Coopers settled at Spencer Lake in Medina County and Louie went with them.

Our journalistic incendiary died there in 1980, but in the annals of newspaperdom his fire that once was burning gold will never be forgotten.

Newspaper editor Louis B. Seltzer posed beside a bust of Cleveland Press founder E.W. Scripps in this 1964 photo.

Louis B. Seltzer in a 1964 photo.

This article appeared in the Lakewood Sun Post April 20, 1989. Reprinted with permission.

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