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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Emmett Watson

Royal Brougham Was More Than Just Another Name On A Downtown Street Sign

I came out of this half-billion dollars' worth of diamond, which is even more costly than the Hope Diamond, and stood at the corner of First Avenue South and South Royal Brougham Way.

Because of this Tiffany-quality ballpark, South Royal Brougham Way now becomes, at times, the city's busiest street.

I had something to do with the naming of that street. When I suggested a street be named after Royal Brougham, the late sportswriter, then-Seattle City Councilman George Benson picked up on the idea. We should give George a medal.

George waded through thickets of bureaucracy, got the street's new name approved, then said, "It's only right to name a street after Royal. He did a lot for Seattle."

So there I was on South Royal Brougham Way, watching people, cars, buses and traffic cops in orange jackets as the crowd exited Safeco Field.

A young guy came up and asked, "Say, who was Royal Brougham?" No kidding.

You miss a lot of things living life too late. Who was Royal Brougham? He was Seattle history, young man.

For more than 50 years, Royal Brougham wrote one of the liveliest columns in America. He got more fan mail than Drew Pearson, Ann Landers, Prudence Penny, Westbrook Pegler and all the other hyped-up writing stars combined.

His column was called "The Morning After," but Royal himself never had one. Being "a hard-shelled Baptist," he didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't stay late for Saturday night events. That was because he had to get up early the next day to teach Sunday school.

I worked for him once at the Post-Intelligencer, and I can testify that he had power. Mayors called him for advice. So did several governors. He advised athletes, school presidents, University of Washington power brokers, coaches and fight managers. Even bookmakers sought him out.

You sat across from him at his desk and he was almost hidden by piles of fan mail.

His office was a zoo; every day, a parade of supplicants came in: busted-down pugs, underpublicized trapshooters, cops, sheriff's deputies, ministers, ex-pimps, and guys auditioning to be Santa Claus at his Christmas parties.

He was part poet and part P.T. Barnum, a promoter and self-promoter.

Royal had only a high-school education and his English was awful. But he had a sense of word-rhythm. The carriage of his typewriter had a worn spot where he tapped with his knuckles as he tried to think of another punchy phrase.

His column, set in 10-point type, was anchored in the same place six days a week. The last part, called "Chitter Chatter," featured brief items and corny rhymes he called "pomes." It was read by people the way scientists peer into a microscope. Because in "Chitter Chatter" there was often a hint of big doings - a manager or coach to be fired, a scandal about to unfold.

Royal rarely, if ever, used the pronoun "I." He referred to himself as "Your Old Neighbor." Seattle was "Dad Yesler's little sawmill town."

He came out of the era of old Hearst newspapers, housed in ramshackle dirty old buildings. Hearst newspapers were sensational, flamboyant, vivid, biased, highly politicized, according to The Chief's wishes.

In the 1920s, William Randolph Hearst named Royal managing editor, then forgot about the P-I up in the remote Northwest. So Royal threw out the canned Hearst editorials and put out a pretty good paper.

Then Hearst remembered. Royal was fired as managing editor. After that, it was all sports and home-town boosting.

Over the years, Royal Brougham raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities. During World War II, he came up with many more thousands for servicemen. When he called on the city's power people, folks like Dave Beck, Emil Sick and Chuck Frankland, Torchy Torrance and Joe Gottstein, they came to help Royal's countless fund-raising charity promotions.

Sometimes they got rewarded with a nice mention in "Chitter Chatter."

His memory was a nonfunctioning ragbag. Almost everybody was "Hi, fella," because Royal couldn't remember names. It took him six months to master the name of his star golf writer, Phil Taylor.

Royal Brougham died in 1978 at the age of 84.

It is nice to know that one of the elegant entrances to our new ballpark is on South Royal Brougham Way. He had his faults and foibles, he enraged and delighted, but in his own Baptist way he earned that street sign with his name on it.

Though he flinched at blasphemy, it also can be recorded that, when all is said and argued, the name on that street sign was that of a man who gave a damn about practically everybody.

Emmett Watson's column appears Tuesdays in the Local section of The Times.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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