William Mann Clayton was born July 14, 1884 in London, England, in the South Western Borough of Wandsworth. He was Roman Catholic. His mother, Eliza S. Clayton, was born in 1847 in England. His father, William D. Mann, was born in 1839 in Ohio. The father was a renowned publisher, inventor, businessman, and Colonel of the American Civil War. His parents met in London in 1883, where the father spent the year promoting a new Trans-Atlantic Steam Ship Line to New Orleans, Louisiana. His parents were not married, although in most archival records his mother was listed as a widow.
By 1884 Colonel Mann had failed to convince the required number of European businessmen to invest in his proposed Steam Ship Line, so he left London and returned to New York City to concentrate on other business interests, chief among which was Town Topics Publishing Company. Colonel Mann lived in Morristown, New Jersey, with his wife, Sophie Mann (b.1849), and daughter, Emma Mann (b.1866).
Colonel Mann published several newspapers and magazines, including Town Topics, which was a popular "scandal sheet" that sensationally revealed the improprieties of American High Society. Eventually his own reputation was ruined when he was sued for libel and the subsequent trial revealed that W. K. Vanderbilt (1849-1920) had paid him $25,000 to not print a scandalous article in Town Topics. Newspapers eagerly covered the trial and Colonel Mann was popularly derided as the world's most infamous blackmailer. One beneficiary of this notoriety was the circulation numbers for Town Topics, which skyrocketed, along with the stock market value of the company.
In 1889, at the age of five, William Mann Clayton and his mother suddenly left London and moved to New York City when they received a windfall endowment to own and operate a large boarding house in Brooklyn at 111-113 Henry Street.
The 1892 records of the New York State Census list Eliza Clayton, age forty-two of England, living in Brooklyn with her son, William M. Clayton, age seven-and-one-half.
In 1900 a homeless man knocked at the door of Eliza Clayton's Boarding House to beg for shelter. She charitably permitted him to sleep in the basement in exchange for janitorial services. Unfortunately, he soon invited another young conspirator, who joined him to steal and pawn valuable contents from several storage trunks that belonged to tenants. When the police were informed the culprits were arrested and several NYC newspapers published human interest stories of the ungrateful robbery of a charitable soul.
Eliza Clayton continued to manage the Brooklyn Boarding House, but she and her sixteen-year-old son moved to Manhattan, where they lived at 159 West 44th Street, while her son attended high school.
Colonel Mann informally referred to Town Topics Publishing Company as "T.T. Publishing." In 1900 he founded Ess Ess Publishing Company to produce Smart Set, which was a literary magazine edited by Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956). H. L. Mencken was renowned for his witty irreverence. In his revealing autobiography, My Life as An Author and Editor, he openly identified William Mann Clayton as the illegitimate son of Colonel Mann. However, Mencken stipulated that the book should not be published until after his death.
During the summer months of 1900 Colonel Mann hosted a Summer Sporting Event for socially prominent families at his mansion, The Waltonian, on his private island on Lake George. Sixteen-year-old William M. Clayton participated in many of the water sport contests, which he frequently won. Colonel Mann continued to sponsor these summer regattas for several years and William M. Clayton went on to win many such contests, which were duly reported in the society columns of NYC newspapers.
William M. Clayton once listed his highest level of education as the completion of his Freshman Year at college. The name of the school is not known, and no college enrollment record has been found. However, considering the date of his birth and the approximate age of nineteen for a student to complete his Freshman Year, a likely date for such an event would have been June of 1903 or 1904.
In 1905 W. M. Clayton began to work as a Traveling Sales Representative of Smart Set Publishing Company. He handled newsstand sales of Town Topics, Smart Set, as well as Cosmopolitan Magazine.
By 1907 he was promoted to Circulation Manager of Smart Set.
In 1908 Colonel Mann founded yet another auxiliary concern, New Fiction Publishing Company, at 16 East 33rd Street, which produced W. M. Clayton's first periodical, Magazine of the Month.
On July 14, 1908 on his twenty-fourth birthday, William Mann Clayton married Annie Marie Cahill. She was born November 6, 1883 in New York, which made her one year older than the groom. Her family was of Irish ancestry and were also Roman Catholic. The newlyweds moved to an apartment at 606 West 178th Street in the Washington Heights Section of Upper Manhattan.
In 1909 their daughter Dorothy Clayton was born. After which his sixty-three-year-old mother also came to live with them.
In 1909 he published his second periodical, The Monthly Book Review. An announcement of this new enterprise was heralded in paid advertisements in several issues of The Publisher's Weekly.
In 1911 W. M. Clayton published the Housewife's Handy Scrap Book with decorations by Henry Richard Boehm (1870-1914).
In 1911 W. M. Clayton was appointed the New York Editor of The Rotarian Magazine, which was the official organ of this international fraternal order of businessmen. The magazine was printed in Mount Morris, Illinois, by the Kable Brothers Printing Company. This same company was later owned by W. M. Clayton's business associates Warren A. Angel and Samuel J. Campbell.
During the first three days of July 1913 Colonel Mann attended the Fiftieth Anniversary Reunion of the Veterans of the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was photographed with a fellow officer, Colonel Clem.
In 1914 New Fiction Publishing Company produced W. M. Clayton's Romance Magazine. His magazines sold well and received supportive attention in NYC newspapers. W. M. Clayton purchased extensive advertisements in trade journals to announce his impressive circulation numbers to potential advertisers.
On February 6, 1915 his mother Eliza Clayton died at the age of seventy-one in Manhattan. After her death the Clayton family moved to a more prosperous home at 261 Brevoort Street in Kew Gardens, Queens, NY.
On March 1, 1916 William M. Clayton, along with an editor and a receptionist, was arrested by a Special Agent of the Society For The Suppression of Vice for producing indecent publications. He was charged with publishing and offering for sale obscene literature. Although the case was eventually dismissed, his arrest and the subsequent trail was widely covered in sensational newspaper accounts. Rather than retire in shame from publishing, W. M. Clayton took out even larger advertisements in several publications. To capitalize on the notoriety of the scandal he announced publication of three new titles, Live Stories, Pepper Pot and Ginger Jar.
On June 14, 1917 during the Great War William Mann Clayton registered with the Selective Service as an Alien Citizen of the United Kingdom living in New York. He was recruited into the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He served in the Technical Branch of the Canadian Royal Air Force. On October 29, 1917 he received a commission as Second Lieutenant, and was honorably discharged on March 11, 1919, after which he returned to his family in NYC and resumed his career in publishing.
In 1919 he formed Reader's Publishing Corporation with offices at 41 Fourth Avenue, and released his newest magazine, Telling Tales, which was an outright imitation of his father's once-popular high society gossip magazine Town Topics. Snappy Stories had a parallel history as a declared imitation of Smart Set.
On May 17, 1920 Colonel William D'Alton Mann died at home in Morristown, NJ, at the age of eighty.
The June 1920 issue of The American News Trade Journal included the feature, About Ourselves, which portrayed W. M. Clayton, Editor of Telling Tales.
Colonel Mann's complex business interests had all been based on his powerful personality. After his death, financial matters were finally clarified by accountants for the first time in order to legally settle his vast estate. The process took five years. Among the many itemized debts and assets were several entries of relevance to W. M. Clayton. The New York Times reported that at the time of his death Colonel Mann's widow and daughter owned over $150,000 of borrowed dividends on stocks of the New Fiction Publishing Company, which produced W. M. Clayton's Snappy Stories. Colonel Mann's estate also included "a debt of $2,021 due Anna Clayton for money received from her." This entry is noteworthy because Anna Clayton was the wife of William Mann Clayton.
In order for estate properties to be justly divided between heirs another important phase in the accounting process was the required sale of all stock in New Fiction Publishing to a central holding company. The January 13, 1921 issue of The Printer's Ink, a publishers' trade journal, reported that W. M. Clayton and his step-sister Emma Mann had sold their stock in the company to the Metropolitan Credit Corporation. This notice is interesting for several reasons. First, it publicly identifies the co-ownership of Snappy Stories by Mann and Clayton. Secondly, it identifies the magazine's new business manager as George T. Delacorte, Jr., who was twenty-six years old at the time. Thirdly, it states that Delacorte had previously been the President of Snappy Stories Distribution Company. Another account of this transaction was reported in The Bookseller and Stationer, as well as in the February 18, 1921 issue of The Editor.
W. M. Clayton and Colonel Mann's daughter transferred their controlling stock to a trust of the estate, but as heirs they remained partial owners of all combined assets. Precisely how the resulting trust was administered is undocumented, but one consequence was the founding of the Publishers' Fiscal Corporation, of which W. M. Clayton was President. George T. Delacorte Jr. soon agreed to leave his position as Business Manager with a severance payment of $10,000, with which he started his own Dell Publishing Company. He was replaced by Douglas H. Cooke (1886-1948), who was President of Leslie-Judge Publishing Corporation.
On June 22, 1922 W. M. Clayton's son Robert G. Clayton was born in Queens, NY.
On November 8, 1923 The New York Evening Telegram published an article on the resulting corporation that had controlling interest in New Fiction Publishing Company.
During the next ten years W. M. Clayton produced a memorable line of pulp magazines. His titles included Ace-High, Astounding Stories, Clues, Cowboy Stories, Danger Trail, Five-Novels Monthly, Ranch Romances, Rangeland Love, and Strange Tales. Cover artists included Walter Baumhofer, Elliott Dold, Hans Wesso, John Drew, Charles Wrenn, Fred T. Everett, and H. C. Murphy. The Circulation Manager was Al Ross, who traveled the country to promote business and good publicity. One of his most important editors was Harold Hersey (1893-1964), a long time associate of Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955), who published Physical Culture, True Romances, and Photoplay. Macfadden's long time Supervising Editor was Fulton Oursler (1893-1952).
In 1925 W. M. Clayton joined four other executives from the NYC publishing industry to form the National Council For The Protection of Literature and the Arts from all forms of censorship. This publicity stunt was a strategic move in response to growing pressure from organized suppressors of vice, such as the Catholic Church and the moral crusades of politicians like Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947). Clayton's other council members included one banker and one distributor of Motion Pictures, as well as the Treasurer from Macfadden Publications and the appointed President of the restructured New Fiction Publishing Corporation, which continued to produce Snappy Stories and Live Stories. It is significant that W. M. Clayton is identified in this context as the President of the Publishers' Fiscal Corporation, rather than the President of Clayton Publications. This suggests that the Publishers' Fiscal Corporation had shared business interests with Macfadden Publications.
In 1926 the Clayton family sold their home in Kew Gardens to a developer of apartment housing, and then moved to an apartment with a river view at 90 Riverside Drive on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
On July 6, 1928 the assets of the New Fiction Publishing Co. were auctioned off at their offices at 119 West 57th Street, after which time Harry Donenfeld became the new owner of Snappy Stories, Ginger, and Pep.
After the 1929 stock market crash W. M. Clayton continued to publish pulp magazines during the first chaotic years of the Great Depression. However by 1932 Clayton Publications was bankrupt and his properties were sold at auction. Ranch Romances was sold for $30,000 to Warner Publications. Eltinge Fowler Warner (1879-1965) was a stock broker who first bought Smart Set from Colonel Mann. He published it for several years and then sold it in 1924 to William Randolph Hearst, who ran it for four years and then sold it in 1928 to James R. Quirk (1884-1932), who owned Photoplay and Opportunity Magazine. According to H. L. Mencken, E. F. Warner "told me he had received a tip that it was the only profitable magazine in the Clayton string. Its success, he learned, was due to a woman editor (Fanny Ellsworth), and he took over the editor with the magazine. He ushered me to her office to introduce me to her - a slim, pale, quiet blond, apparently beyond her first youth."
After Clayton Publication properties were all sold in 1932, W. M. Clayton continued to identify himself as a NYC editor of magazines for over ten years, although the titles of such periodicals are not known. Considering his role as the President of Publishers' Fiscal Corporation, it seems likely that W. M. Clayton may have contributed uncredited supervisory editorial services to every publisher that sought affiliation with this financial company.
On March 3, 1933 his daughter married William Henry Scoble. The service was performed in the rectory of St. Patrick's Cathedral at 50th Street and Fifth Avenue, where Cardinal Hayes officiated. The groom was born in 1904 in NYC. He was a Salesman at the Eison-Freeman Lithographic Printing Company, of which he later became President. The married couple moved to 360 East 55th Street in Manhattan. On June 22, 1934 his grandson, William Clayton Scoble was born. His granddaughter Susan Scoble was born one year later.
In 1940 W. M. Clayton and his wife lived at 40-06 155th Street in Queens, NY, with their eighteen-year-old son, Robert G. Clayton. He soon graduated high school and left home to attend college, after which his parents inhabited an empty nest.
On November 29, 1940 they sold their home and moved to 1889 Palmer Avenue in Larchmont, NY, which is near to New Rochelle and Mamaroneck, NY. The area is forty minutes north of NYC by commuter rail and was a community popular with magazine publishers, editors, writers and artists, who enjoyed golf and country club socializing.
On July 12, 1941 his wife Anna Marie Clayton died at the age of fifty-nine.
In 1942 W. M. Clayton left Larchmont and moved back to NYC, where he lived one block away from his daughter and grand children at 330 East 54th Street for the rest of his life.
William Mann Clayton died at the age of sixty-one in New York City on April 5, 1946.
© David Saunders 2014