Floyd Phillips Gibbons

One of radio's first news reporter/commentators and the one with probably the fastest talking delivery, Floyd Gibbons often spoke from personal experience. The reporter lived the life of danger of which he often wrote and spoke.

Floyd Gibbons Gibbons was born in Washington, DC in 1887. Not a lot is known about his younger years because the biography written by his brother, Edward, perpetuates the mythological aspects of his brother. Gibbons did get into the newspaper business first as a newshawk around 1907 working himself up to reporting for the Chicago Tribune, then one of the premier world newspapers under the auspices of Colonel Robert McCormick.

Gibbons hit his stride while reporting for the Trib. A quintessential foreign correspondent, handsome with a huge sense of adventure, unlimited daring, and great personal courage he became legend for his reporting on the Mexican border war in 1916. His writing style conveyed the adventure he was experiencing.

He again became the news when he wrote about the torpedo sinking by the Germans of the Cunard ship Laconia on which he was a passenger. After spending a night at sea, he was rescued and taken to Liverpool where he filed his story via telegraph within 30 minutes after being rescued.

It was during the First World War at Belleau Wood where he lost an eye after being struck by machine gun fire while attempting to rescue a fellow soldier. When machine gun fire began, the troops dropped into the fields. One, however, did not and as Gibbons moved toward him to pull him down, he was struck three times in the arm, shoulder and head. The white patch which covered his damaged eye became a trademark of the style of living Gibbons portrayed.

The twenties were an exciting time of adventure and technology. Lindbergh's flight held the public in awe, movies became ascendent, Robert Byrd traveled to the South Pole. In 1929, Gibbons took his quick style to the newly burgeoning field of radio as commentator and news reporter. His fifteen minute news summaries were described by Time Magazine as a "machine-gun stream of syllables, which Reporter Gibbons gave as a daily radio broadcast for The Literary Digest..." He also continued to write a column for the newspaper. Listening to his broadcasts made one breathless and on the edge of your seat. The example here [Click for Sound] is about a devastating flood in the Connecticut River Valley in 1936. Despite the tragedy, Gibbons still describes his flight over the flooding valley as "an exciting 300 mile flight up and down both sides of the Connecticut Valley."

During the late twenties and through much of the thirties, Gibbons voice could be heard over the newsreels that held viewers captive at local theaters. Among the narrations one included the Academy Award winning With Byrd At the South Pole. This plus his notariety in the entertainment world earned him a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

At the age of 53, Gibbons living on his farm in Pennsylvania, died of a heart attack in September 1939. This is how Time Magazine described in in their October 2, 1939 edition:

"Floyd Gibbons, who was torpedoed on his way to London on the S. S. Laconia in 1917, then lost an eye at Cháteau Thierry, saw Italy's war in Ethiopia, Japan's war in China. But last week in Pennsylvania, as it must to every man, Death came to Floyd Gibbons."
Sources

Time Magazine, "Fair-Haired Boys", October 2, 1939; "Quien Vive?", November 17, 1930.
Remembrance of Things Paris, "Paris in the Twenties" by Irene Corbally Kuhn, edited by Ruth Reichl, Modern Library, March 2005. (Excerpt can be found on the web here. )
Sinking of the RMS Laconia