Why did Nathan found the American Spectator, the monthly magazine in newspaper format, whose editorial board included Dreiser, Anderson, Boyd, O'Neill, and Cabell? I fear the answer is very simple: to annoy Mencken, who had pushed him out of the American Mercury and who was having trouble on the magazine. Mencken knew it, Knopf knew it, but Nathan didn't know that Mencken and Knopf knew it.
Why did Mencken and Nathan finally break up on the American Mercury? One reason was that their interests changed; Mencken was abandoning literary criticism and going in for political commentary, while Nathan remained interested chiefly in literary matters. But there was still another reason—Nathan's laziness and selfishness. Nathan spent an average of about an hour a day in the office of the Mercury. He answered a few letters, glanced at a few short stories and poems, and sent most of the manuscripts and a good deal of other correspondence to Mencken. Mencken pleaded with him to do more work. Nathan refused. Then came the two political conventions in 1924, and Nathan continued to send Mencken the manuscripts and correspondence while Mencken was covering the conventions for the Baltimore Sun. When Mencken came back from the conventions, he decided to get rid of Nathan. Nathan fought back, but Mencken won out, with the aid of Knopf, who eventually sided with Mencken.
Nathan occupied a desk in the Knopf offices adjacent to the Mercury offices for some time after he was pushed out of the editorial conduct of the magazine. Several of the secretaries would do his dictation or otherwise help him out. Not once, as far as I knew, did he give a single girl a Christmas gift. Mencken was the opposite. He loved to hand out gifts.
Nathan, who generally had good intuition about people, especially women, was completely wrong about Sara Haardt, Mencken's wife. Nathan thought she was a great admirer of his. Actually she sneered at him, often calling him "a fop and a clotheshorse."
Nathan's reputation, at least in his earlier years, of being something of a Charlie Chaplin in his attraction to very young girls was based on fact. He apparently felt relaxed in the company of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds. A girl in her twenties was very old to him. Mencken, on the other hand, was attracted to older women. Mencken said once, "George likes them while they're still giggly and itchy. I like them over thirty, when they're beginning to get a little ripe and moldy. I look for a touch of gray in a woman."
Perhaps this is the place to say something about the difference between Mencken's and Nathan's views of virginity. It was my impression that Mencken was inclined to take what may be called the traditional view. Deep down in his heart, he probably had grave doubts about marrying any woman who had had sexual experiences in or outside of marriage. In his liquored moments he did call such women sluts. As a matter of fact, this very tendency of his was the cause of a serious squabble between him and Nathan. Eugene O'Neill had just married one of his later wives. Nathan, who was always anxious about O'Neill's happiness, said he was delighted, on the ground that O'Neill's new wife might bring him some of the personal happiness that he was so deeply in need of but had never before wholly achieved. Mencken laughed and said, "That's something, George! The new wife is like his former wives, or his former girls, just a cutie, just a slut." Nathan burst out, "That's barbaric!", and stalked out of the room.