Though the press constantly followed him, Terhune began to fear that he had been around so long that he was being neglected, and in the mid-1930s he hired a press agent, Amy Vanderbilt, then a young writer in New York. Miss Vanderbilt recalls that Terhune was a big, bumbly grandfather type, and "He couldn't stand dirty stories about dogs." She wangled him reams of publicity; he was especially delighted with the worldwide play he got when he announced that cats were smarter than dogs.
Terhune was a huge man. He was 6 feet 3 and weighed 220 pounds. He had the build of a lumberjack, and his head was almost heroic. His hair usually hung over his forehead, making him look like a brooder, and he had a massive, determined chin. Most of the time he dressed like an English squire and was fond of striding through the countryside accompanied by 30 or 40 of his collies. A capacious drinker, he had a great fondness for Swiss S, a cocktail that is made with Pernod, and he ordinarily began lunch by ordering a pair of doubles.
Physical strength and a talent for writing ran in the Terhune family. His great-grandfather, Abram Terhune, was in George Washington's bodyguard, and, according to family tradition, Abram is shown in the painting,
Washington Crossing the Delaware
, pulling the starboard bow oar. Terhune's father was the Rev. Dr. Edward Payson Terhune, a Dutch Reformed minister who occasionally shocked his congregations by his fondness for fast horses, billiards, shooting and fishing. Terhune's mother was from Richmond, where she had known Edgar Allan Poe. Under the pen name of Marion Harland, she wrote best-selling romantic novels and a cookbook, Common Sense in the Household, which sold almost half a million copies.
Terhune was born in Newark, N.J. on Dec. 21, 1872. His father later accepted calls to Springfield, Mass. and Brooklyn, but home was always Sunnybank, a 40-acre estate on the shore of Pompton Lake in north Jersey. Terhune went to Columbia and, to earn money during his senior year, he boxed professionally under an assumed name. He was fond of fencing, too, and one of his favorite opponents at Sunnybank was a neighbor, Cecil B. De-Mille. Upon graduating from Columbia, Terhune visited the Middle East and wrote his first book,
Syria from the Saddle, which earned him a few good reviews and a $50 advance. Then 21 and in need of a job, he became a reporter on the New York Evening World, published by Joseph Pulitzer. Terhune stayed at the World until 1916. "I did not like newspaper work," he wrote later. "I loathed it. During my entire 21� years on the World I never once ceased to detest my various jobs there and the newspaper game in general." Yet Terhune had a nose for news and a zest for work, so much so that he was nicknamed the "Iron Man" by his colleagues. One morning, upon observing a pile of broken chains in front of the World building, Irvin S. Cobb exclaimed, "Terhune must be taking a day off!" Terhune liked to make light of his labors, but he was proud that, when he quit, the World hired two men to replace him.
Terhune had a hand in everything at the World. He did rewriting and reporting, he wrote editorials and edited letters and features. For a while Terhune wrote a feature column for the World, "Up and Down with the Elevator Man." But his forte was long serials, such as Ten Beautiful Shopgirls and Ten Popular Actresses. He was the shopgirls and the actresses. He did another series, supposedly by Lillian Russell, who wrote to the World, "I wish it to be understood by all my friends that I am not in any way responsible for the incoherent drivel appearing in your pages under my name." For another series, an editor assigned Terhune to box with the leading prizefighters of the day. Terhune got in the ring against Jim Jeffries, Bob Fitzsimmons, Jim Corbett, Tom Sharkey, Gus Ruhlin and Kid McCoy. He had sparred with all of them on his own, but for the readers of the World he went through an ordeal, emerging with two missing teeth and a broken left hand. Later he discovered that the editor had secretly offered a special half-page story in the Saturday paper to the boxer who kayoed him. Terhune was on friendly terms with Corbett and Fitzsimmons, but " John L. Sullivan was the only fighter I knew well whom I did not like...he was a bully, a sodden beast, a hog. He has been handed down to posterity as a ring hero. He was nothing of the kind. Fie had the intelligence of a louse—if any." Terhune was often apologetic about his writings, but he was proud of a now long-vanished novel, The Fighter, which he called "my nearest fictional approach to literature."
In 1901 Terhune married Anice Stockton, whom he had known as a child. Terhune had one daughter, Lorraine, from a previous marriage, who died in 1946. In 1905 Anice Terhune became gravely ill, and Terhune, unable to afford a nurse, had to take time off from the World to look after her. She recovered, but it was a turning point of his life. "I realized I was a lazy failure," he wrote. "I was thirty-two years old. I had not one hundred dollars in the world, above my weekly pay. I was several thousand dollars in debt. I had no reasonable hope of doing better along the lines I was following.
"I saw no way to get ahead in the world except by forcing some kind of opening for myself as a fiction writer. Thenceforth, for several years, I set aside five hours a night, five nights a week, for this kind of work. After my nine-hour office day, I came home, got a shower and a rubdown; and, as soon as dinner was ended, I went to my desk and began writing. At first it was torment, to attack fresh toil at the jaded end of a nine-hour work period. But, bit by bit, I got into my stride."
Most of the stories were cheap melodrama without the slightest pretensions to literature—"I knew that better than did anyone else; and I grieved bitterly over the knowledge," he admitted—but he did well financially. By 1912 he was getting $100 for a story and $1,400 for a serial, and in a typical year he was writing 20 short stories and five 60,000-word serials. He was able to spend more and more time at Sunnybank with his wife and dogs. He had for some time tried to persuade editors to buy dog stories, but he was told that the reading public was not interested. One weekend in 1914 Ray Long, editor of the Redbook, happened to be at Sunnybank. Long, who had taken a fancy to Lad, suggested Terhune do a story about the dog. Terhune wrote His Mate, about Lad and Lady, and it was such a success that other editors began clamoring for Lad stories. Terhune left the World and quickly turned out a dozen stories, all revolving around this "eighty-pound collie, thoroughbred in spirit as well as in blood." In real life Lad was not registered with the AKC, yet in print he had a "benign dignity that was a heritage from endless generations of high-strain ancestors." Moreover, Lad had "the gay courage of a d'Artagnan, and an uncanny wisdom. Also—who could doubt it, after a look into his mournful brown eyes—he had a Soul."
Lad, obviously, was a dog of destiny, and in successive stories, or "yarns," as Terhune called them, Lad captures a thief in the night; rescues the Mistress from drowning; saves a baby from a copperhead snake; rescues his offspring, Wolf, from drowning; wins two blue ribbons at the Westminster Kennel Club Show; gets lost in New-York but makes it back home to Sunnybank by swimming the Hudson River. (In a later epic, Gray Dawn, the collie of the title name also becomes lost on the east bank of the Hudson but, instead of swimming the river, he wisely takes the Nyack- Tarrytown ferry.) There is little that Lad cannot do. Perhaps the best-remembered Lad stories involve the nasty Hamilcar Q. Glure, who "had made much money in Wall Street—a crooked little street that begins with a graveyard and ends in a river." Having "waxed indecently rich," Glure buys "a hideously expensive estate" and settles down as a gentleman farmer in the north Jersey hills, where he dresses like "a blend of Landseer's
Edinburgh Drover and a theater program picture of What the Man Will Wear." Anxious to accumulate prizes for his dogs, Glure offers a $1,600 gold trophy in the shape of a hat for the dog that wins a specialty competition, conditions to be announced later. They are not announced until the day of the show at Glure's estate, and it turns out that Lad is the only visiting dog that can qualify to compete for the trophy. He has won at least one blue ribbon at a licensed American or British Kennel Club show, and he has a certified five-generation pedigree with at least 10 champions. Now all he need do to win the trophy is to complete the obscure and tricky competition prescribed by the Kirkaldie Association, Inc., of Great Britain for Working Sheepdog Trials. But Lad really doesn't have a chance. He has never gone through such a competition, while the sly Glure has paid $7,000 to the Duke of Hereford for Champion Lochinvar III, the only dog in the world that can possibly qualify and win. But the Mistress, "like Lad, was of the breed that goes down fighting," and surely but very slowly Lad responds to her commands to complete the course. Full of confidence, Glure dismisses his dog's Scottish trainer to give Lochinvar hand signals. The dog bounds off to do the course, but Glure, who has been smoking a cigar, burns his fingers. He shakes his hand in pain, then he sticks his fingers in his mouth. Baffled by these strange movements, Lochinvar stops and refuses to move. In a rage, Glure tries to kick the dog and thereby forfeits the match by moving from the central post. Lad wins the Gold Hat, and the Master sends it to the Red Cross to have it melted down and sold to buy hospital supplies, explaining, "If that doesn't take off its curse of unsportmanliness, nothing will."
Nouveaux riches such as Glure were among Terhune's favorite villains. Others were tramps, any trespassers on The Place, "the professional dog catcher in quest of his dirty fee," and vivisectionists. The last flourished because "There seems to be no law to prevent human devils from strapping helpless dogs to a table and torturing them to death in the unholy name of Science." The vivisectionists were usually Germans, or, to put it another way, Germans were usually vivisectionists. Thus, in Bruce, written in the heat of World War I, the sinister Dr. Halding furtively goes around buying dogs at shows. "The bigger and stronger they are, the more he pays for them. He seems to think pedigreed dogs are better for his filthy purposes than street curs. They have a higher nervous organism, I suppose. The swine!" In time Dr. Halding is arrested as a dangerous alien. In addition to an ample supply of "treasonable documents," the arresting officers discover "no fewer than five dogs, in varying stages of hideous torture...strapped to tables or hanging to wall-hooks." Upon being seized, Dr. Halding bewails, "loudly and gutturally, this cruel interruption to his researches in Science's behalf."