Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Why, Daddy?" Becomes "Tell Me Why!"

A "Why Daddy?" heading from the June 6, 1956 Lorain Journal
Back in 2010, I did a series of posts about An Open Book, the memoir written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and critic Michael Dirda, who grew up in Lorain in the 1950s and 60s.

One of the things I liked about the book was that Dirda wrote about the "Tell Me Why!" feature that appeared daily on the Lorain journal comics page. He noted, "The comics pages also offered A. Leokum's "Why, Daddy" column, later reslugged "Tell Me Why" at about the same time its author's first initial was revealed to stand for the clearly un-American name Arkady."

A "Tell Me Why" column heading from June 1969

As Dirda explained, "Kids would mail in "scientific" questions such as, "Why does the earth go around the sun?" and Leokum would explain in the simplest possible English."
Dirda noted that his father encouraged his children to enter the daily contest. "As we grew older he urged his inquisitive brood to send in questions, partly for the glory of seeing our names in the paper (if our letters were lucky enough to be chosen), but also for the award of various educational prizes. 
"In due course, the Dirdas received several collegiate dictionaries, an atlas and, eventually, when we'd already outgrown it, a Junior Encyclopedia Britannica."
I thought it was interesting that whoever was syndicating Leokum's "Why Daddy" column changed the name to the less sexist "Tell Me Why!" beginning around 1960. It was also a smart marketing decision, because Leokum later published a popular series of books with that name.
By the way, thanks to the various newspaper websites, it was easy to find out when the Dirda children won the contest. Pamela Dirda of Lorain, Ohio was the winner on May 19, 1961, and on July 7, 1965, the column noted, "Today's winner is: Linda Dirda, 11, Lorain, Ohio."


Dennis Thompson said...

You might be able to locate my winning entry in the late 1950s also. We used that encyclopedia a lot!

Dan Brady said...

Hi Dennis,
By George, you're right! "Dennis Thompson, Lorain, Ohio" was the winner of the 15 volume Encyclopedia Britannica Jr. back on October 3, 1957! (Good thing the Gazette and Daily from York, Pennsylvania is part of!)