The Scholastic is the official student publication of the University of Notre Dame.
Founded in 1867, Scholastic is the United States' oldest continuous collegiate publication. In its history, Scholastic has served both as Notre Dame's weekly student newspaper and now as a monthly news magazine.
Bellairs On Campus
During Bellairs's time on campus (1955-59), the Scholastic was the weekly student newspaper, featuring news, commentary, and other student-penned articles. For the 1958-59 school year, Bellairs and fellow student Charles Bowen joined the writing staff to alternate each week as columnist for the weekly humor column, "Escape." In many ways these articles are reminiscent of the material in Saint Fidgeta and Other Parodies and one can see Bellairs's sarcastic wit emerging as he exercises it across campus, leaving little safe as he takes shots at a wide variety of college-life topics.
Picking Up the Pen
Bowen does not immediately recall how the duo became involved but assumes that it may have started during their freshmen year when both shared a common interest in writing humor.
"We shared our attempts, me some of the sketches I used to do and, in return, Bellairs provided a script he and his friends wrote in high school that wasn't very good (neither were my sketches) and contained things that I'm sure John couldn't have been responsible for. For example, a stage direction that said 'he is waiting in his drawing room -- which is very odd because there are not many rooms that can draw.' On his worst day John would never have perpetrated that."
At the time Bowen says he thought some of it funny and sent a copy to a high school friend back home. This friend was not at all amused, Bowen recalls, who wrote back to say "that young man has a future in Diesel." It is unclear if this phrase, referring to the slogan 'You have a future in Diesel' found circulating inside matchbooks of the day, is to be considered the first review of Bellairs's written word.
Bellairs and Bowen were picked for the assignment by their first editor, George Clements.
"I had read some of the material they had each written. While I thought both of them were way over the head of most readers, their iconoclastic writings brought a certain 'tone' to the Scholastic, which usually covered more mundane matters like the Student Senate, dances, and lectures."
Main article: Escape
Bellairs kicked-off the duo's semester in print with an article in the October 3 edition, in which he made "some uncomplimentary (and entirely insincere) remarks about me," recalls Bowen, who gladly returned the favor the following week in his first article on October 10. The two kept the exchange of un-pleasantries running throughout the entire year without "either of us ever responding to the other's spitballs with anything but amusement." By the end of the school year, and 25 issues later, each author had written 12 columns. The remaining issue was the annual Football Review (December 4, 1958, issue #9) that Bowen describes as being "so intensively dedicated to Notre Dame's 1958 season (surely one of the most wretched and least deserving ever to receive such scrutiny)" that there was no room for a humor column. "Or maybe the editor felt that it was best to maintain a consistently dirge-like tone." Whatever the reason, there was no "Escape" in that issue.
Anything was fair game as far as topics went but both Bellairs and Bowen mostly kept the subject matter light, focusing on their witty and irrelevant observations about life in and around Notre Dame and South Bend. Bowen does recall a few “corrections” to his columns at the hand of the Scholastic's editors, a unit he thinks were an “unimaginative and censorious bunch -- or perhaps the work was done by a solitary curmudgeon” that never hesitated to correct anything that looked unfamiliar. "I remember using the word 'inspiriting,' and writing a stiff note in the margin commanding the compositor to leave it alone, and not change it to 'inspiring.' This command was successful, but I didn't anticipate that, in the same column, the word 'scuttlebutt' would appear new and strange, and would have to be separated into its two constituent parts to satisfy the compositor's sense of the rightness of things. In another column, I referred to a 'BAd senior,' using the standard campus abbreviation for "Business Administration," but this was altered to "bad senior."
Reaction to the columnists was favorable and garnered some praise from their classmates. Toward the end of the school Bowen did yield to some friends' suggestion and used the title of his column as a joke on a fellow Sorinite. "The title, 'Mark Shields Loves Pat Donovan,' had nothing to do with the contents. It was funny enough, although I didn't really write it myself. I don't actually remember much about this except that I was somewhat chagrined that I got about ten times more congratulations on this hilarious item than I ever got on my own work, which (I felt) had reached far greater heights." Shields is now a political pundit seen on various television programs.
As for faculty comments, Bowen remembers but a few. "I was taking a course in piano music (appreciating, not playing) with a young professor who had just joined the faculty as an artist in residence. He enjoyed a column I wrote about folk music, and told me so. On another occasion, near the end of the year, I met a faculty member for the first time at some gathering, and he told me he had enjoyed my columns. Inwardly I preened. Then he told me that he had enjoyed John's somewhat more than mine. Oops. I excused his bad taste on the personal grounds that John had been one of his students."
"At the time we were writing the column, I privately felt that, on my best days (certainly not all days), I was capable of writing funnier stuff than John. However, I could never have produced Saint Fidgeta, and as for everything he did after that, it was quite beyond me."
Bellairs wrote two humor pieces for the Scholastic that were not part of his ongoing "Escape" series. The first, "Permanent Residents", was written during his freshman year and is a riff on repeatedly encountering two ("sometimes three") of the same students in the dining hall - and elsewhere on campus. The second, "Decline and Fall of the Main Building", was a longer piece steeped in Notre Dame history and bureaucracy.
|Apr. 27, 1956||Permanent Residents||Bellairs|
|Mar. 20, 1959||Decline and Fall of the Main Building||Bellairs|
- University of Notre Dame Archives: Scholastic (Vol. 100: 1958-59)