(3-28-21) Many years ago when you entered the village limits of Rockford, Ohio you would be greeted with a sign welcoming you to – Rockford…the hometown of columnist Earl Wilson. That sign is probably now probably hidden somewhere in the attic of a local resident.
Wilson is undoubtedly the most famous person known world-wide to hail from Rockford and Mercer County.
Earl Wilson Jr. said this about his father in a 2003 Cultural Weekly article –
My father was born on a farm in Rockford, Ohio in 1907, population 1400. I recently contacted the mayor to find out more about what he knew about my dad. He said that my father was the most famous man who ever came from Rockford, Ohio. And then I learned the reason. Nobody ever leaves Rockford, Ohio. In 2013 the population is still 1400.
Wilson was a multi-talented writer over many decades, but during that time he was best known for his six times a week nationally syndicated column – ‘It Happened Last Night’.
Harvey Earl Wilson (May 03, 1907 – January 16, 1987) was born to Arthur Wilson, a farmer, and Chloe Huffman Wilson in Rockford, Ohio.
Wilson contributed to the Rockford Press and the Lima Republican Gazette, which would be the first to pay him for his writing and got a $15-a-week job as sports editor of The Piqua Daily Call by writing stories free while in high school. He later earned a journalism degree from Ohio State University and worked for newspapers in Columbus and Akron and for the International News Service before moving to The Washington Post.
In 1935, Mr. Wilson made it to New York with the help of Ruth McKenney, who had been a colleague of his on The Ohio State Lantern, and went on to work for The New York Post and later gained fame as the author of ”My Sister Eileen.”
Wilson was the author of two books, Show Business Laid Bare, and an unauthorized biography of Frank Sinatra, Sinatra – An Unauthorized Biography. The former book is notable for revealing the extramarital affairs of President John F. Kennedy.
But in the years between 1942, when he started his six-times-a-week column, and 1983, when he retired, he also captured the pulse of show business and was able to sustain a gossip column when many of his rivals found their audiences dwindling. In the late 1960’s his column was carried by 175 newspapers across the country. Accompanied by ‘B.W.’
Billed as the newspaper’s ”Saloon Editor,” he prowled the city’s cabarets, bars and other Broadway spots in search of tidbits for his column, which was titled ”It Happened Last Night” for most of its run. His readers came to expect, and were usually rewarded by finding, the results of the columnist’s copious research into the physical endowments of stage and film starlets.
In his last days Wilson suffered from Parkinson’s disease, he was admitted to the medical center on December14th, 1986 with pneumonia and subsequently suffered a stroke. He would pass away on January 16th, 1987.