PHILIP M. WAGNER, the editor of this page from 1943 to 1963, was witness to the transformation of The Sun from "the good club" it was in the days of H.L. Mencken to a newspaper that today is more focused on its readers than its writers.
For most of the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, "brain alley" at The Sun was the scene of fierce intellectual debate (and not a few personal feuds) among such luminaries as John Owens, Hamilton Owens, Gerald Johnson, C.P. Ives, Thomas O'Neill, A.D. Emmart, Price Day and other legendary opinion-makers of their day.
Mr. Wagner, who died over the holidays at the age of 92, joined the fun in 1930 after a stint of magazine writing and soon distinguished himself with the quality of his work. He was JTC dispatched to the paper's London Bureau in the mid-Thirties just in time to cover the romance between the king of England and a Baltimore divorcee named Wallis Warfield Simpson. He obtained a celebrated "non-interview" with the future Duchess of Windsor, whimsically informing his readers that "Mrs. Simpson is not giving interviews."
On his return to Baltimore, Mr. Wagner was soon appointed editorial page editor, first of The Evening Sun and later The Sun.
Harold A. Williams, in his history of this newspaper, wrote that Mr. Wagner changed the direction of the editorial columns from "abstract considerations toward the practicalities of public life." Dispersing his staff from the ivory tower, he had its members gathering information on such mundane topics as oysters, urban sprawl, mass transit and zoning. This was quite a jump for a self-styled "civil libertarian" who later in his career found his views at odds with Sun policies more attuned to "civil rights" and a pragmatic liberalism. He was as critical of his successors as his predecessors.
Philip Wagner's roving mind made him an authority not only in public affairs but in pioneering a wine-making industry on the East Coast, a second career that attracted international recognition and honors. Perhaps that was because wines and newspapers stimulate such strong opinions.
Pub Date: 12/31/96