Ham Brooks – Building a Literary Character

Literary characters take their origins from many sources.  Sometimes they are purely the result of the author’s imagination while at other times they appear to literally be yanked from the pages of history. The Ham Brooks character from the Doc Savage series presents an interesting study.  Brooks is a first-rate attorney, achieved the rank of Brigadier General, and has a weakness for both beautiful women and fine clothes.

The military rank for Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks may originate with a very real and youthful British Army officer from New Zealand who distinguished himself during World War One.  Bernard Freyberg became a Brigadier General at the age of twenty-seven on April 21, 1917.  Freyberg was nothing less than a soldier’s soldier.  Attention first came to Freyberg in 1914 at the landings in Gallipoli where he earned a Distinguished Service Order.  During the Battle of the Somme, he again rose to the occasion and subsequently was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1916.  By the end of the war, he had been wounded nine times.

Freyberg was in the news once more in 1925 when he made an attempt to swim the English Channel only to falter a few hundred yards from the English shore.  It turns out that this portion is the most difficult due to the tidal currents and has routinely defeated many attempts just as the finish comes in sight.  A year later in 1926, Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to successfully swim the English Channel.  (Lester Dent included a reference to Ederle in “The Sea Magician but it was cut from the published version.)

Freyberg also fought in World War II where he ultimately rose to the rank of Lieutenant-General before finally retiring with four Distinguished Service Orders along with his Victoria Cross.  If the Ham Brooks character in the Doc Savage stories was patterned after Bernard Freyberg, he would have been age forty-four in 1933 when the stories began.  That is not an unreasonable age for a man in good physical condition to be doing the kinds of things that were generally occurring in the Doc Savage stories at that time. Freyberg himself validated the veracity of this argument by his own military service in World War II.  Using this as a basis, Ham Brooks would then have been age sixty in 1949 when the series ended. 

Just as Bernard Freyberg provided a military template for Brigadier General Theodore Marley Brooks so does a remarkable lawyer provide a similar legal superstructure to base the legal portion of the Ham Brooks personality.   William Cromwell was a brilliant attorney who graduated from Columbia Law School in 1876.  Working as a clerk for notable attorney Algeron Sullivan while in law school, Cromwell went on to become a partner with Sullivan & Cromwell in 1879.  Cromwell made his fortune by being one of the first of a new breed of corporate lawyers.  His knowledge of accounting and business practices enabled him to solve complex legal problems while earning handsome fees for doing so.  The lawyer had a reputation for planning against all possible contingences and was nicknamed “the fox.”

Cromwell worked with many of the financial magnates of his time such as J. P. Morgan and the Rockefellers.  He told friends that he made more money than he could spend and became a well-known philanthropist.  David McCullough in his book, “The Path Between the Seas,” describes Cromwell: An almost pretty little man, with thick, curly, prematurely white hair and white mustache, he had large, glittering blue eyes – “as clear as a baby’s,” according to one account – and a smooth , pink complexion that “would not shame a maiden.  In striped trousers and morning coat he looked like a clever drama student dressed for the part of elder statesman.

Despite his tremendous success as a corporate lawyer, William Cromwell is probably best known as the lawyer who sold the United States on the idea of a canal through Panama rather than the then popular route through Nicaragua.  Besides his acute legal acumen, Cromwell was known for two other things. He liked to be called by his full name – William Nelson Cromwell, and he had a full head of curly prematurely-white hair.  Cromwell was a prominent lawyer during his lifetime and frequently in the news.  In 1930 he established the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Foundation.

Like Cromwell, Ham Brooks is always introduced by his full name Theodore Marley Brooks and has a head of prematurely-white hair.  He is an attorney with a world class reputation and is “possibly the most astute lawyer Harvard ever turned out.”  In “The Man of Bronze,” Dent could just as well have been describing William Cromwell: He looked steadily at Ham, starring with Ham’s distinguished shock of prematurely gray hair, and running his little eyes slowly down Ham’s well-cared-for face, perfect business suit, and small shoes.

Another contemporary historical figure provides Ham Brooks’ character with his natty attire and fondness for chorus girls.  Marc Eliot’s “Down 42nd Street” includes some information of possible interest to Doc Savage fans.  Jimmy Walker, an extremely popular New York politician, was elected Mayor of New York City in 1926.  Walker was an alumnus of the New York Law School and had previously served in the state assembly.

Two things are of key interest here: Mayor Walker’s affection for fine clothes and his penchant for chorus girls.  Even after a public affair with chorus girl Betty Compton, his popularity remained undimmed.  Everywhere and especially in New York City financial growth was explosive.  People were making money and had little concern for anything else.  Consequently, the many peccadilloes of the mayor were overlooked or even admired in some circles. It was not until hard times hit with the Depression that fate caught up with the mayor.  .

Investigated for bribery by Governor Franklin Roosevelt, Walker resigned as mayor in 1932, and eventually fled to Europe where he remained for several years before returning.  There was a lot of talk about corruption but in the end, nothing was ever done.  His Honor, the Mayor, was never convicted of a crime.  Walker’s interest in clothes shows up again in “The American Century, The Jazz Age — The 20s.”  Mayor Walker appears on page 163 with Hollywood cowboy actor Tom Mix.  The photograph’s caption emphasizes Walker’s love of clothes: “Costumes were Walker’s strong points; he usually changed clothes three times a day.”

Gareth Jones was a freelance Welsh reporter of some note with impressive credentials such as serving as British Prime Minister Lloyd George’s Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs.  One of his most famous articles dealt with the systematic starvation in the Soviet Ukraine.  The article so embarrassed the Soviet Union that Jones was forbidden to ever enter the country again.  Jones was killed in China in 1935 while investigating the Japanese army in Manchukuo Territory.

Gareth Jones had some blistering comments for Mayor Walker in the September 9, 193, issue of The Western Mail, a Welsh newspaper in England.  In his article, Jones makes pointed remarks concerning the mayor’s silk pajama collection.  The reporter calls attention to a photo of the mayor posing in front of his wardrobe — the main point being Walker’s 150 pairs of silk pajamas.  Jones makes one other comment of interest to Doc Savage enthusiasts.  It is his description of the mayor as having a “wasp-like waist” and a man whose entourage includes several platinum blondes from Ziegfeld’s Follies.

Lastly, we come to the surname Brooks.  This is likely attributed to the famous clothier, Brooks Brothers, which opened in 1818 as D. H. Brooks & Company.  Its reputation as a supplier of fine apparel continued to grow over the next hundred years.  In 1931 the company opened a second store in the center of the Wall Street financial district.  Clientele included Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Roosevelt.  Other notables included Admiral Richard Byrd and aviator Charles Lindbergh who both wore the Brooks Brothers label.  Elite customers included the giants of industry such as the Rockefellers, Morgans, and Vanderbilts.  The company’s reputation for fine apparel goes hand-in-hand with the Ham Brooks character’s penchant for fine clothes.

While we are talking about clothes there is one literary character from H. Rider Haggard’s works that is of distinct interest here.  Captain John Good, formerly of the Royal Navy, makes his first appearance in “King Solomon’s Mines (1885).  The narrator makes it a point to emphasize Good’s absorption with his personal appearance.

There he sat upon a leather bag, looking just as though he had come in from a comfortable day’s shooting in a civilized country, absolutely clean, tidy, and well dressed. He wore a shooting suit of brown tweed, with a hat to match, and neat gaiters. As usual, he was beautifully shaved, his eye-glass and his false teeth appeared to be in perfect order, and altogether he looked the neatest man I ever had to do with in the wilderness. He even sported a collar, of which he had a supply, made of white gutta-percha.”

In the 1887 sequel, “Allan Quatermain,” John Good’s obsessive fascination with his dress becomes a focal point of one chapter. The group trekked hundreds of miles across the unexplored wilderness. After these travails, the group prepares to meet an official entourage from the local government. Good astonishes everyone by calmly producing his full naval uniform. Before leaving England, Good had taken the unusual precaution of having the uniform hermetically sealed in a metal container that he then carted all over the African continent.

We watched this undoing with the tenderous interest, and much speculation. One by one Good removed the dull husks that hid their splendours, carefully folding and replacing each piece of paper as he did so; and there at last lay, in all the majesty of its gold epaulettes, lace, and buttons, a Commander of the Royal Navy’s full-dress uniform – dress sword, cocked hat, shiny patent leather boots and all. We literally gasped.

Captain Good is pernickety in his attire and appearance to the point of absurdity. Yet in “King Solomon’s Mines,” circumstances force him to parade around clad only in a flannel shirt, without his pants, and with only one side of his beard shaved. His pale white legs are a thing of hitherto unknown beauty to the native population. To further add to his indignity, Good is forced to play the part of wizard with the natives by “magically” removing and reinserting his false teeth.

Could the dignity of a man who prized his physical appearance be demeaned any worse than this? Well, yes it could. At the end of the story, Quatermain receives a letter encouraging him to come to England, enjoy his newly found wealth, and live near his friends. The letter also notes that Captain Good is furious, as the story of his “beautiful white legs” has somehow ended up printed in the society section of the local paper. Certainly, this is the ancestor of one of Monk Mayfair’s jokes on Ham Brooks.

In July 1935, during “Quest of Qui,” Ham Brooks finds himself in a predicament similar to Captain Good’s. Ham’s garb just now would have been a disappointment, however. It consisted entirely of a gunnysack, none too clean. Two holes had been torn in the bottom for Ham’s legs, and he filled the rest of the sack – it was not a very large one snugly indeed. Paralleling Haggard’s story line, Monk tops the segment with a comment on the value of a picture of Ham entering his club wearing the gunnysack.

One last matter of interest is Ham’s club.  Innumerable references are made about Ham’s residence at one of the city’s best clubs.  One likely candidate for the basis of this line of thought is the Harvard Club of New York City.  This fraternal organization was officially incorporated in 1887 for the benefit of Harvard graduates living in the city.  Ms. Mary Saunders is the current curator of the Harvard Club. In response to some questions, she answered that the club has had bedrooms available for members since 1905.  She also went on to say that in the past some members have listed the Club’s address as their place of residence.  This would go along with the story line Dent used in the Doc Savage adventures concerning Ham’s residence.

While it is never specifically named as the location of Doc Savage’s office, the Empire State Building at 350 Fifth Avenue matches the overall location and description used in the novels.  The Harvard Club is about ten blocks from the Empire State Building or just over just over one-half mile at 27 West 44th Street.

That no story is ever created in a vacuum is self-evident in the examination of the character makeup of Theodore Marley Brooks. In conclusion, we see that Ham Brooks is an amalgamation of Brigadier General Bernard Freyberg, attorney William Nelson Cromwell, and Mayor Jimmy Wilson.  Dent finishes off the creation by adapting some capers from Haggard’s novels with Brooks Brothers providing the apparel.

In tweaking some pages, I ran across this in my notes. It comes from “The Spook of Grandpa Eban (December 1943).  It is a reinvention of Ham’s nickname.  This version simply explains that Ham has an aversion to pork products.

This is a little different origin tale from that of the earlier stories. As I read, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder if Ham was Jewish and simply following kosher guidelines. Going back to the original version of this story where Ham was hauled up on court martial charges of stealing hams would indeed be a quite a joke on the lawyer if he were Jewish.  Wikipedia has a page for the surname Brooks.  It mentions that one line of the Brooks surname is derived from Hebrew and means “blessed.”