Moses "Moe" Louis Annenberg was born on February 11, 1877 in Kaliscz, Russia. His father, Tobias Annenberg, was born in 1839 in Russia of Prussian Jewish ancestry. His mother, Sophie Annenberg, was born in 1844 in Russia of Prussian Jewish ancestry. His parents married in 1860 and had ten children, of which eight survived infancy, Jacob (b.1867), Hyman (b.1869), Anna (b.1870), Bertha (b.1874), Eva (b.1875), Max (b.1876), Moses (b.1877), and Riva (b.1882). They were all born in Kaliscz, a town on the historic borderline of Germany and Poland. The area had been annexed by Prussia in 1793, after which time the ancestral family became Prussian citizens. In 1815 Kaliscz was overtaken by Russia and in 1881 a law was passed that expelled all non-Russian Jews from Kaliscz.
In 1885 the Annenberg family immigrated to the USA. They sailed on the Steam Ship Australia to New York City and settled in Chicago, where they lived at 191 West 12th Street. The father worked as a grocer.
The neighborhood suffered high crime and poverty. Max and Moses Annenberg grew up working for local hoodlums, under whose influence they began lucrative careers in gambling and protection rackets.
By 1898 the Annenberg brothers had notorious reputations in Chicago, where at that time William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) was building the nation's largest newspaper chain through a circulation war of fire bombings, murders, and violent intimidation of news dealers. These atrocities solidified Chicago's warlord culture.
On August 20, 1899, at the age of twenty-two, Moses Annenberg married Sadie Cecilia Friedman. She was born June 3, 1879 in New York City of German Jewish ancestry. They eventually raised eight children, Diana (b.1900), Esther (b.1901), Janet (b.1904), Enid (b.1906), Walter (b. 1908), Lita (b.1909), Evelyn (b.1911), Harriet (b.1914).
In 1906 Moe L. Annenberg founded the Chicago Newsstand Distribution Company to promote circulation of Hearst newspapers. Allegiance to his company was enforced by the infamous North Side Gang, which was eventually headed by Dean O'Banion (1892-1924).
In 1908 Moe L. Annenberg expanded ninety miles north along Lake Michigan to gain control of the Milwaukee Newsstand Distribution Company.
On July 17, 1910 his father, Tobias Annenberg, died in Chicago at the age of seventy-one.
By 1915 Moe L. Annenberg was a major investor in Milwaukee real estate, parking lots, theaters, pool halls, and a taxi service.
In 1917 he became the publisher of The Wisconsin Daily News of Milwaukee, where he hired Joseph Ottenstein (1897-1973) as editor. Two years later he sold the newspaper to William Randolph Hearst and moved to New York City, where he served on the Executive Council of the Hearst organization. Moe L. Annenberg continued to serve as a leading member of the Hearst Executive Council for the next ten years. At the same time he continued to pursue further control of the nationwide gambling industry.
In 1918 during the Great War he was forty-one, married, with eight children, and was not selected for military service.
On January 17, 1920 the Eighteenth Amendment took effect, which made the sale of alcohol a federal crime. Demand exceeded supply to such an outrageous extent that law enforcement was quickly overwhelmed. Politicians had intended to prohibit unwholesome behavior, but inadvertently generated a national syndicate of organized crime that controlled and coordinated the wholesale import, manufacture, storage, trucking and distribution of alcoholic beverages. Criminal gangs were suddenly involved in a wildly lucrative mass production industry on a scale that was previously unimaginable.
During the roaring twenties Moe L. Annenberg's old circulation enforcers, the North Side Gang. lead by Dean O'Banion, became the major rival in the Chicago bootleggers war with Al Capone (1899-1947). Through this powerful business associate Moe L. Annenberg gained control of a nationwide monopoly on racetrack wire services, along with an affiliated network of racing forms. In 1921 he bought the National Racing Wire. In 1922 he bought The Daily Racing Form, the preeminent tabloid of horse racing statistics, which remained among his most profitable publications. He also bought The Running Horse, as well as The New York Daily Racing Tabloid, which was printed and distributed by Theodore Epstein (1894-1979). Anti-racketeering prosecutors targeted the national wire service of Moe L. Annenberg, because they considered it the lifeblood of the gambling industry that nourished American gangsters. At that time gambling was controlled in New York City by a partnership of three mobsters, Lucky Luciano (1897-1962), Frank Costello (1891-1973), and Arnold Rothstein (1882-1928). It is hard to imagine how Moe L. Annenberg gained control of a nationwide monopoly of racetrack wire services without their complicity.
In 1923 Moe L. Annenberg arranged for production of six million promotional brochures distributed as inserts in Hearst publications. There were several oddities involved with this deal. Surprisingly the printer selected for this massive project was Harry Donenfeld (1893-1965), who at that time was an insolvent salesman at his older brother's modest print shop, Martin Press, at 76 Hudson Street. Fortunately Harry Donenfeld was a friend of Theodore Epstein, who printed The Daily Racing Tabloid for Moe L. Annenberg. To handle this lucrative project Harry Donenfeld founded Elmo Press, Inc. There is a curious echo between the names "Elmo" and "Moe L." Annenberg. However the most striking irregularity is that Elmo Press was located at 32 West 22nd Street, which was the same address as Theodore Epstein's Tab Printing Corporation, where The Daily Racing Tabloid was printed for Moe L. Annenberg.
In 1924 the bitter rivalry in Chicago between The North Side Gang and the Capone Mob resulted in the murder of Dean O'Banion, which led the remnants of his gang to wage a brutal war of revenge that lasted five years.
In 1924 Moe L. Annenberg bought The New York Daily Mirror and The Elizabeth New Jersey Times. His brother Max Annenberg bought The New York Daily News. They were also financially involved with Bernarr Macfadden's (1868-1955) purchase of The New York Evening Graphic and The Philadelphia Daily News. These tabloid newspapers were printed at the Jersey City Printing Company in New Jersey. When they needed color for special sections or Sunday supplements they used Art Color Printing of Dunellen, NJ.
Moe L. Annenberg owned a network of printers with rotogravure presses that produced racing sheets in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago and Washington D.C. Along with his racing sheets this same network of printers also produced "scandal sheets" in those same cities, Broadway Brevities, Philadelphia Hush, Baltimore Brevities, The Chicago Hush, and The Washington Brevities. Such publications have a jaded history of extortion and blackmail, by printing rumors of disgraceful misdeeds by members of high society, next to coverage of lurid sex crimes, gangsters and political corruption. In NYC he published Broadway Brevities, which was printed by Theodore Epstein and edited by Stephen Clow (1873-1941). Illlustrations were drawn by Ken Browne. The legendary sports writer Ned Brown (1882-1976) was the advertising solicitor. When juicy gossip concerned persons of wealth, the subjects were contacted for comment, and also offered the opportunity to "invest in preferred stock" of the Broadway Brevities Company. This style of extortion earned a lot of money as well as legal attention. In 1925 the NY District Attorney indicted Broadway Brevities. The editor, Stephen Clow, accepted full blame and was convicted of blackmail, fined $7,000 and sentenced to five years in jail. Two years later he was paroled and returned to edit The New Broadway Brevities, which went on to face additional indictments.
By 1927 Moe L. Annenberg had gained full control of the General News Racing Wire Service.
In 1928 he formed the Walter Holding Company, which was named after his son, Walter Annenberg. He also founded the Cecilia Investment Company, named after his wife, Cecilia Annenberg.
In 1929 he bought The New York Morning Telegraph, which primarily covered events in racing, sports and theater.
On Valentine's Day, February 14, 1929, the remaining seven members of Dean O'Banion's North Side Gang were murdered by gangsters dressed in police uniforms. Shocking photographs of the carnage were featured in nationwide newspapers as the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre." Two weeks later Al Capone visited Philadelphia. If the goal of his trip was to forestall further reprisals, the Philadelphia area with nearby Atlantic City, was a likely place to "bury the hatchet." He was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and released one week later. He then traveled to his home in Miami Beach, Florida, and hosted an impressive celebration party, which was attended by Ned Brown, William Kofoed and his twin brother Jack Kofoed, all three of whom were journalists at newspapers owned by Moe L. Annenberg.
In 1931 Bernarr Macfadden acquired Liberty Magazine, in partial payment for which Max Annenberg gained control of The Detroit Mirror, a tabloid newspaper with a daily circulation of 170,000 that featured notable cartoonists Chester Gould and Bert Whitman. One year later The Detroit Mirror mysteriously ceased publication.
In 1931 Max and Moses Annenberg used their influence with Chicago's largest newspaper printing company, W. F. Hall, to purchase Art Color Printing at Washington & South Streets in Dunellen, NJ. At that same time W. F. Hall bought the Edward Langer Printing Plant at 184th Street in Queens, NY. In consequence of these developments 140,000,000 annual periodicals from Macfadden Publications were printed in Dunellen, NJ.
On November 18, 1932 The New York Times reported that The Brevities Publishing Company, which produced scandal sheets in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C., was under indictment by the Federal Grand Jury for interstate sales of obscene material. Those indicted were Moe L. Annenberg, Walter Annenberg, The Walter Holding Company, The Cecilia Investment Company, The Daily Running Horse, and The Maryland Newsstand Corporation. It is worth noting that the President of this last company was Joseph Ottenstein, who was employed for many years at newspapers owned by Moses Annenberg, and also served as President of S-M Newsstand Distribution Company, which was the largest affiliated member of Independent Distributors (ID, Inc.). According to the U.S. District Attorney all of these companies were interlocked with The Brevities Publishing Co. In an effort to mitigate penalties the Brevities Publishing Company stopped printing scandal sheets in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. Nevertheless, the prosecutor sought convictions of five years in jail and fines of $5,000.
At that same time a District Attorney in New York City opened a new libel investigation against Stephen Clow, the editor of The New Broadway Brevities, which was published by Theodore Epstein.
On January 17, 1933 the Federal Court imposed a fine of $10,000 and an eighteen month jail sentence in Federal prison on Joseph Ottenstein of The Brevities Publishing Co. for violation of postal laws governing sales of obscene material.
On August 28, 1933 Time Magazine published an article about Moe L. Annenberg, "Selling newspapers in Chicago is a hard-boiled business. To the strong-arm methods of old time Chicago circulation managers some historians trace the origin of gangsterism. Famed in Chicago for circulation getting is the name of Annenberg. Max Annenberg was circulation manager of the Patterson-McCormick Tribune, now holds a similar job for the other Patterson-McCormick paper, Manhattan’s Daily News. Equally proficient and long employed by Publisher Hearst was Max’s brother Moses. Last week, quite unintentionally, Brother Moses made news. Virtually unknown to the world at large, Moe Annenberg has become a 'big shot' in publishing on his own. The news was that he had bought out his two partners for about $2,000,000 in cash."
"The legend of tall, cadaverous, unsociable Moe Annenberg is that he came from Germany and started in as a circulation hustler for Hearst’s Chicago papers. From Chicago he moved to Milwaukee and started a newspaper distributing agency which he still owns. Arthur Brisbane went to Milwaukee, bought The Milwaukee Sentinel (later taken over by Hearst who in 1929 sold it to Paul Block) and made Moe editor & publisher. Afterwards Hearst took Moe to New York. There in 1921 Moe got into partnership with a pair of gentlemen named Joe Bannon and Hugh Murray. Aware of the huge public that follows horse-racing and of the money that flows freely through that public in betting, they bought The Daily Racing Form, a tipster sheet published in New York, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco. As Racing Form flourished, they gathered together a whole stable full of racing sheets including Daily Running Horse, The Racing Record, Sporting Times, which they ran through two companies, the Walter Holding Co. and AB&M (Annenberg, Bannon & Murray) Corporation. Later they brought out Radio Guide and Baltimore Brevities (for the last they were all indicted for sending obscene matter through the mails). Annenberg also bought an interest in The Morning Telegraph, a Manhattan daily devoted to the tracks and the theater. He is also supposed to have built up a string of news agencies throughout the country."
"From the shoddy throngs that follow the horses, a steady stream of dollars flowed in the direction of Mr. Annenberg’s tipster enterprises. He branched into banking, brokerage, real estate. Only he knows the full range of his interests, and Moe Annenberg does not talk about himself. He does not even like to have it said that he has made millions, but today, father of eight children (seven of them daughters, all married), he owns a ranch in Wyoming, 'his showplace of the Black Hills,' from which like Hearst at San Simeon he rules a far-flung empire by private wires. He has also an estate at Sands Point, L.I., and this year he bought the magnificent Miami villa of the late Albert Russell Erskine."
"There is nothing illegal about tipster sheets, per se, but Moe Annenberg hates publicity about his string because there is enough trouble in the business as it is. Rivals or enemies mysteriously wrecked The Daily Racing Form’s shop not long ago. And between Moe and his partners there was a bitter quarrel. That was, it is said, what made him buy them out. They had been suing him, asking for receivers for the properties, since Depression forced down the string’s sales. The betting public was content to get its tips from 3¢ daily papers (Racing Form, Running Horse, Racing Record cost 15¢ each in New York, 20¢ in other cities). And to make matters worse Moe was putting out his Telegraph, in which Partners Bannon and Murray had no 'slice,' at the same hour Racing Form went on sale. Now he will own the whole show, do as he likes."
In 1934 Moe L. Annenberg founded the Nationwide News Service as a monopoly racing wire service. He then bought The Miami Tribune of Florida.
In 1936 Moe L. Annenberg purchased The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of America's most venerable newspapers. He also founded Triangle Publications, with offices at South Broad Street in Philadelphia, and The Triangle rotogravure press was at 440 North Broad Street. The name "Triangle" is thought to refer to his three most lucrative holdings, Nationwide Racing News Service, The Daily Racing Form, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Triangle Publications also produced Detective & Murder Mysteries, Official Detective, Quick, The Radio Guide, and Screen Guide. When Triangle first published Screen Guide Moe L. Annenberg sought to boost circulation by featuring sensational nude photographs of pin-up models, for which the magazine was banned in several States and Canada.
In 1936 Philadelphia became the second major publishing center for spicy pulps, such as True Gang Life, Scarlet Gang Smashers, Real Confessions, Modern Adventuress, and Gay Book. The indicia of these magazines identify a variety of publishers, however they were all printed on the same rotogravure press and featured illustrations by the same artists, Earle K. Bergey, Ken Browne, Walter Scott Darr, Raymond Thayer, W. W. Davies and Hugh J. Ward. For instance Gay Book was edited by William H. Kofoed with executive offices at 201 North Broad Street and printed by Art Color Printing of Dunellen, NJ. Modern Adventuress listed the same Philadelphia address for both the publisher, Associated Authors, Inc., and the distributor, Shade News Company, while the advertising was handled by Combined Publications of NYC at 125 East 46th Street. That is the address of Culture Publications and Trojan Publishing Corporation, but it is also the side entrance to 480 Lexington Avenue, where Harry Donenfeld published Gay Parisienne and Gay Broadway. Along with Combined Publications at 125 East 46th Street this was also the address for Detinuer Publications, which spelled backwards is "Reunited." These abrupt switcharoos were common practice at the time for publishers of indecent magazines, who continually risked indictment on obscenity charges. The old cliché of a crooked Bedouin trader who folds his tent and disappears into the night was an appealing defensive measure for such publishers. The "fly-by-night" approach also had the advantage of confounding unpaid bill collectors. Aggressive prosecution by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice led several publishers of such magazines to relocate their "front office" mailing address to out-of-state jurisdictions.
In 1937 Triangle published Click Magazine, which also featured nude pin-ups along with sensationally gruesome photographs of sex crime scenes. The editor Emile Gauvreau (1891-1956) later recalled, "I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest to make money they don't want to buy things they don't need to impress people they don't like."
In 1938 Moe L. Annenberg founded M.L.A. Publications at 515 Fifth Avenue at 45th Street. The company produced Living Romances, Intimate Detective Stories, and Gags Magazine, which featured gags and black & white photographs of pin-up models.
One curious clipping from the turbulent political landscape of the Great Depression is a 1939 advertisement published in Pennsylvania newspapers that portrayed Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal as engaged in a power struggle for American Democracy against the criminal organization of Moe L. Annenberg.
On August 11, 1939 the same District Attorney and Federal Judge who had historically convicted Al Capone of tax evasion, brought similar charges against Moe L. Annenberg.
On April 20, 1940 Moe L. Annenberg was convicted to serve three years in Federal prison and to pay a fine of $8,000,000, which was the largest such penalty in U.S. history.
Before incarceration he installed his son Walter Annenberg (1908-2002) as business successor to assure smooth continuity to the operation of his vast empire.
On June 6, 1941 ex-convict Stephen Clow died impoverished at the age of sixty-seven in Bellevue Hospital in NYC. According to the claimant who identified his body, the former Editor of Broadway Brevities had recently expressed regret for having played a dupe for higher ups.
He had continued to write copy for Theodore Epstein's tipster sheet, but could barely afford the rent on his lodging house room in Hell's Kitchen.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor an America went to war. Joseph Ottenstein spearheaded a public relations campaign to demand the release of Moe L. Annenberg on patriotic grounds, "In this war period he would be serving the country better at his desk as publisher of his big Philadelphia newspaper than in prison."
Moe L. Annenberg's health declined to a critical extent, while serving his three-year sentence in Lewisburg Pennsylvania State Prison, until doctors urged his early release for medical treatment on June 3, 1942. He traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis for an emergency brain operation. While recuperating from surgery, Moses Louis Annenberg died at the age of sixty-five on July 20, 1942.
His son Walter Annenberg lead Triangle Publications to even greater prosperity and became one of America's most outstanding charitable and political donors, by which leverage he forged advantageous connections to Republican Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush.
© David Saunders 2014