"Gangplank Willies” is the name for the news reporters and photographers who met famous passengers coming to New York City on trans-Atlantic ships in the 1900s, 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. These reporters and photographers practically walked the gangplank (a movable bridge used in boarding or leaving a ship at a pier) to get a story or a photo. “Willie” is a common name.
Although “Gangplank Willies” seemingly dates to the first half of the 1900s, printed citations from this period are lacking.
Merseyside Maritime Museum
Gangplank Willies was the nickname given to news-hungry New York reporters. Reporters and photographers often boarded the liners at Quarantine for the eight mile sail into dock. Cunard and White Star tipped them off as to any famous passengers on board.
In order to be first with the news of the Titanic disaster in 1912, the New York Times hired a tug to take reporters out to the Carpathia to interview the survivors. Captain Rostron refused to let them board. The tug broke down and the seasick reporters reached New York hours after rival newspapers had broken the story.
Purser McCubbin of the Lusitania entertained the Gangplank Willies to breakfast and Cunard whisky in his cabin. He sent bellboys to fetch millionaires or those involved in the latest divorce scandals, for interview. McCubbin went down with Lusitania when she was torpedoed in 1915 on his last crossing before retirement.
GANGPLANK WILLIE AND THE SEA SERPENT:
SHIP-NEWS REPORTING IN NEW YORK CITY, 1900-1941
By Greg Storey
The “gangplank Willies” were, as the Times put it in the January 7, 1969, obituary of World-Telegram and Sun marine editor James Edmund Duffy, a “small band of men who were as much a part of the port’s shipping industry as the pilot boat and the longshoreman with a sharp baling hook stuck through his belt.”
Celebrities of Yesteryear Who Travelled Cunard Line During the Golden Age of Transatlantic Travel
By Elspeth Wills
London: Open Agency
The arrival of a liner in New York Harbor attracted a swarm of reporters and photographers nicknamed ‘Gangplank Willies’. ln pursuit of a scoop the keenest newshounds hitched a ride on any boat scheduled to meet the liner as she came into port. According to one hard-bitten reporter: “An ocean trip makes people want to talk.” Commodore Bisset, one of Cunard’s most famous captains, confirmed this impression in the 1920s: “Very few celebrities are shy of reporters. That is one reason why they are celebrities.”
New York (NY) Times
The Love Boat
By STEPHEN HEYMAN
November 14, 2012, 5:00 pm
Yana and I set sail from the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, in Red Hook, the neighborhood where we usually go to buy cheap furniture and olives. Even our cabdriver was excited as we drove into port, exclaiming, “Queen Mary 2!” into his Bluetooth headset between bursts of Urdu. Of course, on the quay, there was none of the hullabaloo of the 1920s, when a scrum of reporters nicknamed “Gangplank Willies” kept tabs on the scions and starlets who would reliably stream off trans-Atlantic steamships.
New York City • Media/Newspapers/Magazines/Internet • Sunday, December 02, 2012 • Permalink