Before anyone had ever heard of Katharine Graham, there was Alicia Patterson. She built a major newspaper out of a small-town gazette, hobnobbed with presidents, wrote about hotspots around the globe and was a close adviser to Adlai Stevenson, the dominant liberal politician of the 1950s. She was also his lover, despite the fact that both were married.
Patterson, the founding publisher of Newsday, died too young in 1963, at the age of 56, and she’s little remembered today. The Huntress, a biography by her fond but clear-eyed niece Alice Arlen, an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, and her husband, Michael J. Arlen, a longtime New Yorker writer, revives her story.
Patterson was to-the-manor born near Chicago, with serious wealth on both sides of the family. Her father, Joe Patterson, was a scion of the colorful Medill publishing clan that ran the Chicago Tribune. Joe himself founded the New York Daily News. But his daughter did have much to overcome—she was regarded as a family disappointment, unwilling to settle down in placid upper-class matrimony.
Patterson was a top horsewoman, pioneering aviator and big-game hunter, but she later dismissed those avocations as “pointless.” Luckily for her, her third marriage, to rich, influential Harry Guggenheim, took. Although they constantly clashed, he bankrolled Newsday.
Then came Stevenson, unhappily married, intellectual, ambitious, endlessly dithering about his future. He and Patterson were lovers on and off for years, and she helped push him to two presidential runs. He lost, but he was the era’s liberal icon.
The Arlens have a breezy, witty writing style that would have pleased Patterson, an intrepid woman who finally found her true calling in journalism. Alice Arlen died earlier this year at 75; she left a buoyant tribute to the aunt who encouraged her own aspirations.