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Friday, September 21, 2007
Return of the Penman

When debonair, mustachioed Elisha Hudson Waterman last week became king pen of L. E. Waterman Co., the 2,000 astonished employees of this famed old fountain-pen concern could well imagine his father, Frank Dan Waterman, turning furiously in his grave. Thirteen years ago, crusty, conservative President Frank Dan kicked Elisha out of his $6,500 job in the company and banished him from the family. Last month, when bitter old Frank Dan died, he left Elisha a mere $100. Scarcely was the Waterman ink dry on the will when Elisha quietly played the trump card he had held up his sleeve for 13 poverty-stricken years as dishwasher, wine steward and hack writer. While the rest of the Waterman family sat around in speechless amazement, he not only returned but took undisputed control of the $4,500,000 (estimated) Waterman business.

After three years of war, Elisha Waterman could "only stand one year of Yale," then joined the family company to be groomed as his father's successor. But Frank Dan was dictatorial. Elisha progressive and pushing; they got along like cat and dog. In 1925. Frank Dan, just defeated by Jimmy Walker for the job of mayor of New York, went back hurt and angry to the job Elisha was all set to take over. Their row on policy was terrific; they never spoke to each other again.

To support himself, wife and baby daughter, Elisha washed dishes for $12 a week, read copy on a newspaper, for years could not afford a new suit. His only money was tied up in a $1,200 savings account his great-uncle had started in 1899. One day Elisha's wife begged her father-in-law for this puny sum. Legend has it that when he refused, she produced a horsewhip, thrashed him soundly in the lobby of his swank Manhattan office building. In 1928 she died, and Elisha sent his daughter, Audrey Bridget, to live with his parents while he gradually began to succeed as a detective story writer for pulp magazines and newspaper columnist under a pen name.

When Frank Dan died last month, he left his estate to his widow with the proviso that Audrey Bridget and Frank Dan Jr., "the good son," inherit it later. Thereupon Elisha and his second wife marched out of their small flat in Greenwich Village, reminded his relatives of the will left in 1901 by his great-uncle, Inventor-Founder Lewis Edison Waterman. None of the Waterman clan but Elisha had remembered that this sage greybeard bequeathed 60% of the fountain-pen stock to Frank Dan Waterman with the proviso that on his death it go to Elisha. Said Elisha last week as he became executive vice president and director: "It is quite clear that my great-uncle meant me to be his ultimate heir."

Sure of his destiny, Elisha kept tabs on the fountain-pen business during his exile, will now handle advertising and employee and public relations preparatory to "running things before long in cooperation with my brother." His chief ambition is to restore Waterman to the No. 1 position in the industry now held by Parker Pen Co. He hopes this will not prevent his writing a novel or two on the side. When he writes he scrupulously uses a Waterman fountain pen.