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Territorial Enterprise’s revival arouses literary spirits

No story about the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, celebrated chronicler of high and low life on the Comstock, would be complete without mentioning its most famous reporter. That would be Mark Twain.

But if you can imagine such a thing possible, the great Twain wasn’t even the most interesting scribe to set foot in the building. I’d place him behind his old reportorial running mate, Dan DeQuille, in the newspaper’s early era.

And Territorial Enterprise editor Joseph Goodman was no slouch in the color department, either. In addition to running a newspaper in Virginia City and San Francisco, all he did was decipher the Mayan calendar.

Those three fellows set a high standard as characters, but for my money none could touch the grand Lucius Beebe when it came to personality behind the pen. “Luscious Lucius,” as columnist Walter Winchell liked to call him, was a wild man with a keen talent for the tall tale.

You’ve caught me reminiscing for a good reason. The Territorial Enterprise, like a friendly ghost returned home after a long absence, is back in business. It was scheduled to return to print today under the guiding hand of publisher Scott Faughn and editor Elizabeth Thompson. This time, the publication has taken the shape of a glossy monthly magazine and regularly updated website (territorialenterprise.com). It will cover politics, business and culture, and its friends and fans can only hope it will keep its sense of humor along the way.

A gleam in the eye is one thing the Territorial Enterprise managed to keep in boom times and bust. Twain, of course, went on from the saloons of Virginia City to become America’s great humorist, novelist, public speaker and yarn-spinner. Although his contributions were eclipsed by Twain’s gargantuan ability and celebrity, DeQuille was a truly historic figure in Western journalism and frontier short fiction.

But Beebe was something else. Educated at Harvard and Yale — he proudly claimed to have been expelled from both universities — Beebe had been a star celebrity nightlife columnist in New York City. Beebe wrote or co-authored nearly 40 books, was a successful poet, a noted photographer, a train historian, and a celebrated gourmand. He also contributed to The New Yorker, Gourmet and Playboy magazines.

Accompanied by his partner Charles Clegg, Beebe fell in love with Virginia City and moved there in 1950. Two years later, the dusty and silent Territorial Enterprise was up and running again with the audaciously colorful pair at the helm. According to some accounts, the newspaper soon attained the highest circulation of any weekly in the West. Editors of dailies were clamoring for the historical columns of Beebe and Clegg.

Whether strolling Broadway and tippling at the Stork Club in the 1930s or walking the boards of Virginia City two decades later, Beebe was a dandy’s dandy with a fondness for colorful suits, mink coats and ornate canes. Beebe and Clegg sold the Territorial Enterprise in 1961 and moved to San Francisco. Beebe died in 1966 at age 63. Clegg followed him in 1979.

Now that the Territorial Enterprise is back in the saddle thanks to Faughn and Thompson, it’s the perfect time to reintroduce the affable literary apparitions of DeQuille, Goodman, Clegg and Beebe to a new generation of readers.

A toast is in order. Just let the ghost of Lucius Beebe choose the vintage.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal that appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295

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