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Martin Duggan, journalist and gentleman provocateur - Part 1

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 27, 2009 - "All right," the gravely voice bellows out. "Let's get on with things here."

Martin Duggan sits in an old chair with chipped edges. The studio's dark and cold except for hot lights shining on the five people around the table.

As they tape another episode, Duggan rolls through the cast members' names like they're one word exclamations: "Wennnndywiese," "Billmclellan," "Raaayhartmann."

Duggan sits in the middle, his face pulled softly with 88 years of news gathering and news sharing. He wears a sport coat, a dress shirt, a tie.

His cane has been tucked away somewhere.

On the set behind him, light glows out of a lamp with a pleated green shade. There's a hand-sized replica of the Arch, a framed photo of Kurt Warner, another of Ozzie Smith.

And there, at the head of the table, Duggan's running the show as he has nearly every Thursday night for the past 23 years.

But his time here is running out.

Duggan has a handful of shows left before he retires and leaves the institution he helped create, a show that is the highest rated locally produced show on PBS, where conservatives and liberals come together each week and argue the issues, their voices overlapping, before heading down the street for a burger and a whiskey.

That's "Donnybrook."

When people talk about the show now, they mention the civility of it all, how it's a place where people seem to disagree, but still get along. If you've watched much news, you'll know that's a rare thing.

But it didn't just happen. And when asked how it did happen, each person around the table points back to the man in the middle.

In the dark of the studio, Stewart Wolfe, the stage manager, stands watching the show. He holds up a hand-printed card.

10 min.

The cast continues with raised voices, talking about salaries for Cardinals players and skewed values.

"All right," Duggan says, changing the subject. "Hey, Ray Hartmann, talking about big money ..."

South Side Boy

On a summer night too hot for a dress coat, Duggan took Mae Mosher to the Muny.

Both were in high school. He took the street car from his south St. Louis neighborhood to pick her up in north St. Louis. Then the two rode a crowded bus to Forest Park. She thinks she wore a long skirt that swung about, and he wore a summer shirt.

"He was very impressive," she says. "Martin was really dignified, but a lot of fun, too."

Duggan, who was born on the first floor of a four-family flat at 3214 Michigan Ave., grew up in south St. Louis, first at the home of his birth, and later at a home on Connecticut Street. Duggan was number three of four children and spent his time playing in Tower Grove Park. His father worked the commercial printing press. His mother was a homemaker.

Duggan attended Catholic schools: Holy Family Grade School, South Side Catholic High School, which remains on South Grand but is now known as St. Mary's.

And as he grew, his love for the news became pronounced.

"I was always interested in newspapers," Duggan says. "Not just the news, but newspapers themselves."

His junior year in high school, Duggan went to Cleveland, Ohio, for a class trip and he brought back newspapers from all the places he'd passed through.

By his senior year in high school, Duggan was editor of his school paper. He was also on the debate team, which that year won the state championship finals in Springfield.

After his first year of college at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Duggan came home and, with help from a family friend, got a summer job at St. Louis' morning newspaper, the Globe-Democrat. He was a copy editor in the Sunday feature department.

"I used to tell my mother, she was very proud of me, that I was the dog editor, the stamp editor," Duggan says, chuckling. "And she said, 'What do all those other men do down there?' And I said, 'I haven't the foggiest idea.' I was too shy to ask."

The next summer, he did the same thing, and third summer Duggan advanced to the news copy desk.

Then, just before Christmas break his senior year, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

"That changed everyone's lives," Duggan says. "Every member of my senior class served with the military in World War II."

Duggan came home during Christmas break of 1941 and met with Globe-Democrat managing editor Lon M. Burrowes, who told him he was losing his staff to the draft. Burrowes offered him a full time job.

"And I said, 'Gee, my folks expect me to finish college'."

"Could you get married on $45 a week?" the editor replied.

It was more money than Duggan had ever made, and the more he thought things through, the more he realized this was the job he was going to school to get. Duggan transfered to St. Louis University to complete his eight hours of studies.

At 20, he was a news copy editor.

On The Rise

In 1942, he and Mae Mosher married. Then, Duggan served the Marines in Chicago as a news editor, covering the war from the hometown angle. In 1945, he returned to St. Louis and the Globe-Democrat for $60 a week. Before he was 30 he became chief of the copy desk. In 1955, he was named news editor, and went on to become assistant managing editor and the editorial page editor.

Duggan worked long hours, often nights, as his family grew to include four sons and a daughter. He always worked weekends, Mrs. Duggan remembers, and usually holidays.

But after 45 year in the newspaper business, Duggan was about to try something different. He retired.

He was 62 and not ready for the arm chair. Then, one Sunday morning in 1986, he sat in his living room watching The McLaughlin Group. The guests were all arguing their politics furiously.

"And I said to my wife, 'I could do something like that locally.' Mae said, 'Why don't you?'" Duggan remembers.

"Here we are."

Of course, it wasn't that simple.

Duggan had to find the right mix of people, get a station on board, set the tone, choose the topics and then he had to keep it all going week after week.