We’re Back

By Ray Schultz

Finally. After weeks of technological buffoonery, I’m happy to announce that the TellAllmarketing Blog is back up.

After a fashion. My old blog simply died one day—you could no longer access it. And it was beyond my technical skill to figure out why.

So I engaged WordPress, and created this new version, which looks a little like the old one. Granted, I’ve got questions to answer going forward—like what to do with the dead site. Do I repost the 700 or so items that had piled up, starting in 2010?

I’ve decided not to. I don’t want to be like the Nelson Algren character who saved old racing forms “against a day when age would lend them some value; as age had in no wise increased his own.”

But I have recycled some oldies for the record, like my interviews with Art Spiegelman and Charles Ludlam.

The question might be asked: Just what is the TellAllmrketing Blog about?

In theory, it’s about marketing. But it also delves into the history of marketing, especially the direct mail medium.

It may be true that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. But there’s a more positive reason to study it—to get an idea of our heritage, and how our forebears solved their problems.

The blog also contains appreciations of writers I admire. I’m no literary critic— these pieces are an excuse for sharing long quotes by the authors. In the end, it’s all about writing.

This isn’t the first time the blog has gone dark. It tends to suffer when I’m working on a deadline.

Deadlines? Yes. I write content for cutting-edge firms like Aimia and IBM, doing everything from blogs to white papers.

I’ve also been writing books. I’ve finished one on boxing, titled The Man With the Brass Jaw, about the great Cuban journeyman Angel Robinson Garcia. And I’m writing a commissioned biography of a leader in the distance-selling business, a direct marketing legend whose name you will recognize when it’s published.

In the interim, please forgive the typos, missing headlines and other errors that pop up on the blog. It’s clear I have hardly mastered this process.

But enough of all that. It’s Memorial Day. Let’s remember our departed heroes and return to work on Tuesday. Have a great weekend.







‘I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight’

An eBook By Ray Schultz

In 1906, a Navy petty officer tried to enter a dance hall in Newport Rhode Island, and was turned away because of his uniform. Normally, that would have been the end of it, but Chief Yeoman Fred J. Buenzle was a wily old salt. He’d bought a 25 cent ticket when wearing a civilian coat and hat, and having paid that money, he felt he had a contract and could sue the Newport Amusement Association for failing to honor it.

Predictably, Buenzle lost the case right up through the appellate court. But in 1908, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed the Uniform Act, barring discrimination against men in uniform; the State Senate rapidly followed suit. And Buenzle, a man with broken service and at least one disciplinary case on his record, deserved the credit for it.

Why is this important now? Because service men and women still face obstacles (different ones). By pursuing that case, Buenzle did more for his fellow enlisted personnel than John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur and anyone in the panoply of Naval legends.

So who was this unlikely hero? Here is his story.

Part I: Dirty Lubbers

Fred Buenzle was born in 1873, in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, of parents who owned what he called a “commercial hotel.” He spent every night of his youth helping his father fill bottles of beer in the cellar, and was often overcome by the fumes. At 16, he enlisted as a boy apprentice in the U.S. Navy in to fulfill a childhood dream of going to sea (and probably to get out). His father disagreed with that decision, but signed the papers anyway.

The Navy Buenzle joined was not a very healthy place for enlisted men, though. As he put it, foreign mercenaries filled the ranks, while Americans wearing the uniform were disgraced at home. “New promises were made to the recruits, and the old-timers had to subsist on broken pledges,” Buenzle wrote in his 1939 memoir Bluejacket, a book I first read as a young sailor.

That was driven home on Buenzle’s very first day in the service. Before boarding the USS St. Louis, an old sailing ship at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, for the signing of his apprentice articles, he met an old sailor who tried to talk him out of signing. The problem, the old man stated, was not with the Navy—that was fine—but with the civilian populace.

“The dirty lubbers and crooks on shore won’t serve a man in uniform, not in any decent place they won’t! And you won’t be able to buy a good meal or a clean bed, or go to a theater. Only the dive-keepers and the trollops will give the sailorman a hand, my boy, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Buenzle joined anyway, but that very night he came close to regretting he did. In full view of the crew, the captain of this hulk put a group of men in irons, a brutal punishment for minor offenses. “This incident of my first day in the Navy was my earliest lesson in the need of prompt and unquestioning obedience to any order received from a superior in rank or rate,” Buenzle wrote. “It made me also aware of the possibilities for tyranny at the hands of men clothed with absolute power, and of how easily a headache or any slight upon the dignity of the afterguard might be taken out upon the hapless lower ratings.”

About the only good thing that happened on the St. Louis was that Buenzle met some relics of another age, like Happy Dorgen, Baldy Tom Dunn, Jack Robinson (“a mighty liar), Basil Bono and the Hawaiian Kanaka, who told stories of a buried treasure.

As a youthful reader, I tended to view all this through a romantic haze. The base mess hall in Newport, Rhode Island periodically served what a yearbook described a typical Navy breakfast in the 1890s: boiled eggs (hard or soft), Navy beans and corn bread. I liked it because I felt it connected me to the past. In reality, Buenzle’s first meal aboard the St. Louis was a “tin-dish supper of boiled rice, molasses, hardtack and tea,” wrote New York Times reviewer James Thompson.

Following this interlude, Buenzle was sent to Newport, Rhode Island for apprentice training aboard the USS New Hampshire. But the ship was moored in “sewage crusted slough,” and an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out, causing the New Hampshire to be called “the floating coffin.” Training had to be continued onshore.

A month or two later, Buenzle set sail on an ancient vessel called the Portsmouth. It sailed from Newport to the Caribbean, stopping in New York, where “a half eagle was sufficient for a snug twenty-four hour liberty.” Buenzle soon found, though, that life at sea was hellish. Everything was damp, food was always cold, and there was plenty of deck duty, from which “all our clothing was sodden and the skin on hands and feet became bleached and tender,” he noted. Finding the port of Barbados to be a place with a “remarkable lack of points of interest,” Buenzle wrote of the lonely watches at sea during the early morning hours. “The boys,” he wrote, “hunch closer, and in whispered tones talk together of sharks at sea and sharks ashore, and of human wolves, and of the loneliest time in boyhood that each of them could remember.”

The young sailor next reported to the sailing frigate Lancaster, the new flagship of the Asiatic station. En route to Asia, he received his first disciplinary action for sleeping on watch. In 1893, at the age of 21, disgusted with being rousted out of wet hammocks at night, of eating cold mutton while officers ate delicacies, including desserts like cherry pie, and of the “pious pomposities,” of the officer corps, Buenzle took his discharge in Shanghai.

Part II: Buried Treasure

Buenzle’s first stop as a civilian was the American consulate where because he refused government passage back to the States, he had to waive the right to any further aid. But he was resourceful: When war broke out between China and Japan, he took a commission as a captain in the Chinese Army, and served as an instructor up the Yangtze River. There he met Merci Fabre, a friend of the Hawaiian Kanaka, and they went in search of the treasure described by the latter. They sailed from Shanghai to Hong Kong, then to the southern part of Formosa, where (if you believe it), they uncovered the treasure, ten thousand dollars in American and British money. When they tried to transport it in a fishing boat, though, the vessel capsized; Buenzle, who couldn’t swim, had a hard enough time saving his own neck. Twenty-two days later, without a dime of treasure, he was aboard a Canadian Pacific ship en route to the United States.

After a tenure as a special writer for the Philadelphia Times, Buenzle decided that civilian life could never match the peace of mind—i.e., the security—of the Navy. He re-enlisted aboard the sailing ship Monongahela with the rank of Ship’s Writer, First Class. But he soon learned that the Navy had changed. Aboard the battleship Brooklyn, a “new ship,” Buenzle found “young men who ha never before felt the swell of a ship beneath them. The old shellbacks remaining were in charge of gangways and lower decks.”

Buenzle had changed, too, and he had some strong views about Navy life. After sailing to Britain for Queen’s Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 (“our uniform was more honored than it was in our own land”), he reported the USS Dolphin, and there met Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt. The two men discussed the plight of the enlisted man and together drafted a memorandum to the Secretary of the Navy. “We must make a determined effort to create a public opinion so strong and aggressive that every class of people in the United States who pretend to be patriotic Americans will not dare to erect a barrier against the uniformed men of our national defenses, whether there be any law governing the cases or not.”

Part III: Murder At Sea

Buenzle’s next post was on the battleship Iowa, part of the Great White Fleet, where he served as clerk to Captain William Thomas Sampson. Sampson was the president of the Court of Inquiry that investigated the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor; Buenzle was the stenographer. When war was declared, Sampson was promoted to Rear Admiral and given command of the North Atlantic Fleet. Buenzle accompanied him to the flagship New York.

Convinced that the enlisted men should be given some word of the events, Buenzle established a daily log, “The Squadron Bulletin,” and printed out 1,000 copies a day on a primitive duplicating machine. There was plenty to write about. First, the New York captured the Spanish merchantman Buenaventura. The booty was split among the crew, and Buenzle ended up with $300. Then, from the flying deck of the New York, he witnessed the destruction of the Spanish fleet as it tried to emerge from Santiago harbor; he even selected the volunteers who helped lieutenant Richmond Pearson Hobson sink the collier Merrimac in an effort to block the channel. “The fleet under my command offers the nation as a Fourth of July present, the whole of Cervera’s fleet,” Buenzle ghostwrote for Sampson.

Privately, Buenzle saw little reason to celebrate, though.

“ …It was impossible that they could feel lighthearted in the face of so much suffering,” he wrote in Bluejacket. “I never wanted to hear the word ‘war’ again; and I determined, on that day, while the air was yet filled with the sour tang of smokeless powder and the crash of exploding shells, that I would be glad to exchange my naval billet for the humblest calling on shore if there was any more murdering to be done on the sea.”

Part IV: Dogs and Sailors, Keep Out

After the war, Buenzle reported to Newport again, where as Chief Yeoman, he was named officer-in-charge of the Yeoman School. And it was in Newport that his campaign for the enlisted man fully materialized.

With the three hundred dollars he received from the capture of the Buenaventura, he launched Our Naval Apprentice, the Navy’s first station newspaper, in 1901. Its mission was to entertain the men and to fight the prejudice downtown. It eventually evolved into the Newport Navalog, a newspaper that published its last print issue last year.

Next, Buenzle filed his lawsuit against the Newport Amusement Association. “Painful remembrances of the many indignities heaped upon my comrades in the sea eservice had urged me to initiate the prosecute the case of my own expense,” Buenzle wrote. These included signs saying, “Dogs and sailors keep out,” and “No men in uniform allowed.”

In this, Buenzle had the support of officers like Rear Admiral Charles M. Thomas who handled his legal fund. But they were of little help during cross-examination. William C. Clarke, the president of the company, brought in some  lawyers, and they started out by claiming that Buenzle had violated Naval regulations by disguising his uniform when he purchased a dance-hall ticket.

“You expected to be refused when you presented that ticket in uniform, didn’t you?” the opposing counsel asked the sailor.

“Not exactly,” Buenzle said. “I wished to know if I would be refused. I wished to know if there was any discrimination, whether it was against me personally, for any personal disqualification, or whether it was against the uniform.”

“But you expected it, and you wanted to find that out. Answer my question. You expected to be refused admission, didn’t you?”

“I wasn’t sure. I heard the men were discriminated against for the blue blouse and the shirt sleeves, but I didn’t expect to be refused admission.”

“You did not.”

“I didn’t expect to be refused admission in a white shirt and a collar and tie, as any citizen, with only the difference of a rating badge and brass buttons.”

The court threw out Buenzle’s claim, stating that it was the “settled rule of law for many years, that a ticket of admission to a race-track, a theatre, a concert, or any such entertainment is a mere license, revocable at the will of the party issuing the same.” He was, however, entitled to get his 25 cents back.

That view was upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court of Rhode Island in February 1908. The higher court stated that “military and naval uniforms are not intended as a badge of social equality, but on the contrary they are evidences of rank and distinction…” Thus, Buenzle was entitled to a refund but not to damages for emotional distress.

The court added, though, that if “such discrimination is deemed to be a matter of grave public consequence, it rests with the law-making power to afford a proper remedy.”

Precisely. And what Clarke and company didn’t seem to realize is that Buenzle had the ear of his superiors, right up to President Theodore Roosevelt (who sent a check), and that he was a talented writer, well equipped for publicizing this controversy.

Roosevelt said: “I feel that it is the duty of every good citizen to endeavor in every shape and way to make it plain that he regards the uniform of the United States Navy…as a badge of honor, an therefore entitling the wear to honor so long as he behaves correctly.”

The Uniform Act was passed a short time later. And Buenzle was able to write that the greatest fight of his life ended with the flagrant signs being taken down and “shelved with other anachronisms.”

Part V: Home Is the Sailor

What could Buenzle do to top that? Write a book. He prospered as officer-in-charge of the Yeoman School, and in 1909, left Newport for sea duty. After retiring from the Navy in 1919, he settled in Palo Alto, California., where he opened a Naval history museum, and spent the rest of his time writing Bluejacket, which appeared in 1939. He lived in a small cottage, the grounds of which were landscaped with high-arched bridges, pads, ferns, cherry trees, and a small lagoon—all in the style of Japan and China, according to Captain Felix Riesenberg, who visited Bunezle in 1939 and wrote the introduction to Bluejacket. The home, filled with mementoes of the old sailing days, offered this sign for the visitor: “Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea.”

Fred Buenzle died in 1946.

In my time, there was one man around who actually had known Buenzle: William E. Ragsdale, a retired Newporter and former officer-in-charge of the Yeoman School, who joined the Navy in 1907 and eventually made the rank of Lieutenant.

“There was no doubt about it, Buenzle was a great man,” he said in 1967. “When you spoke to him, he seemed to be lost in another world. He was preoccupied with his writing, and he was a very good writer. He was always writing something.

“I know of no man throughout my entire career who enjoyed the respect and worship of all the enlisted men, as Buenzle did. He as intelligent, and a gentleman all the way. He never did or said anything harsh or offensive.

“I was a student of the school when he was in charge, and I can tell you we all idolized him. He was the height for an enlisted man.”

An old man, deaf, but holding beautiful memories inside him, Buenzle said to Captain Riesenberg in 1939 of a model sailing ship he had built: “I have built her into the youth of one lifetime, the glories of liberties after long detentions over deep water She spells something now irrevocably gone!”

Fred Buenzle: A figure of the past but a voice for today.

Heartbreak Hotel

By Ray Schultz

The literary world rejoiced in November 1978 when The New Yorker published its first short story by Jean Stafford in a decade: An Influx of Poets. It meant Stafford was back. But it wasn’t what it seemed to be. The author, age 63, was in ill health, and had only four months to live. The story had been extracted by editor Robert Giroux from Stafford’s unfinished novel, The Parliament of Women.

So ended the career of one of the premier fiction writers of 20th Century America. Today, you can’t even find most of Stafford’s books in print, and it’s unlikely that she’s taught much in college. But she left a magnificent body of work. And An Influx of Poets was a great one to go out on.

Though she resembled an Eastern intellectual and had the wit to go with it, Jean Stafford grew up in a dysfunctional family in the West, first in California, and later in Colorado. Her father wrote Western stories under the name Jack Wonder.

Stafford, unhappy young brainiac that she was, wanted out. She graduated from the University of Colorado, but not before a friend named Lucy McKee shot herself in the head right in front of her. “I am almost ready to write about it, although I have really written about nothing else ever,” Stafford later admitted, according to Mary Davidson Mcconahay. Stafford’s next stop was Nazi-era Heidelberg, where she studied philology for several months.

Returning to the States, Stafford hooked up with Robert Lowell, the mentally unbalanced Boston poet. One drunken night, he smashed his car into a retaining wall, and Stafford was badly injured, her beautiful face damaged for life. She got little sympathy from Lowell or his wealthy family.

Despite that poor start, Stafford married Lowell in 1940, and commenced her life as “the subservient spouse of an obsessive artist,” as Bruce Bawer put it. First, she had to support Lowell emotionally when he was jailed for conscientious objection during World War II. Then she had to deal with his mental illness and religious obsession.

Yet Stafford was a serious artist in her own right. Her first novel, Boston Adventure (circa 1944), about her experiences with the Boston Brahmins, was a best-seller, and with the money she earned she bought a house in Maine for Lowell and herself. That turned into a nightmare, too, though, as you can tell from the gorgeous opening paragraph of An Influx of Poets.

THAT AWFUL SUMMER! Every poet in America came to stay with us. It was the first summer after the war, when people once again had gasoline and could go where they liked, and all those poets came to our house in Maine and stayed for weeks at a stretch, bringing wives or mistresses with whom they quarreled, and complaining so vividly about the wives and mistresses they’d left, or had been left by, that the discards were real presences, swelling the ranks, stretching the house, my house (my very own, my first and very own), to its seams. At night, after supper, they’d read from their own works until four o’clock in the morning, drinking Cuba Libres. They never listened to one another; they were preoccupied with waiting for their turn. And I’d have to stay up and clear out the living room after they went soddenly to bed—sodden but not too far gone to lose their conceit. And then all day I’d cook and wash the dishes and chop the ice and weed the garden and type my husband’s poems and quarrel with him.

The year 1947 was a big one for both members of this duo. Lowell published Lord Weary’s Castle, the Pulitzer-prize winning poetry collection that made his reputation. And Stafford came out with her second novel, The Mountain Lion (published while she was in the Payne Whitney clinic, according to her biographer ). While not as big a seller as Boston Adventure, The Mountain Lion is her best.

It tells the story of Ralph and Molly, siblings brought up in a stultifying atmosphere in California. Both children suffer from nosebleeds, the result of scarlet fever, and both are weird. The adults in this book are insufferable, including their widowed mother Mrs. Fawcett, and the preacher Mr. Follansbee. Ralph and Molly have a habit of rattling these authority figures by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

In one encounter, Ralph suggests that his mother has murdered her father, Grandfather Bonney, who even in death is an intolerable personality to the children.

But suddenly a mocking bird, in this broad daylight, began to sing. Mrs. Fawcett clasped her hands together and said “Oh!” as if the sound hurt her. Her large diamond ring, in the gesture, came into a ray of sunlight and two green needles shot out from the stone. Then Mr. Follansbee was across the room in one stride, shaking Ralph’s shoulder. “You little cad,” he said between his teeth, “you get down on your knees and beg your mother’s pardon. On your knees.”

For a moment he defied the minister by remaining motionless, but the long bony hand on his shoulder propelled him off the hassock and at last he knelt, not feeling sorry, feeling nothing but rage, as painful as a deep cut. He could not utter a word, though this delay was agonizing, and they were all watching him and they were all waiting. He could hear Mr. Follansbee breathing heavily. Then Molly, half under her breath said “I wish you were a fairy, Mr. Follansbee.” Rachel giggled, but Mr. Folansbee did not think this was funny and he snarled, “Why do you wish I were a fairy, young lady?” And Molly whispered with deadly hatred, ‘So you’d vanish.’

They end up in Colorado, staying with a half-uncle, growing stranger and more apart by the day.

Critics have compared The Mountain Lion to The Catcher in the Rye. Dare I say it, I think it’s even stronger. For one thing, it portrays two young people, male and female, with their different inner lives and their very complex relationship, a far more daunting task. For another, it is funnier, less whiny, more of a novel and less of a tour de force. “The Mountain Lion is written more in the vernacular mode of Mark Twain than the Jamesian mode that Stafford had adopted for her first novel,” Charlotte Margolis Goodman observes in her biography: “Jean Stafford: The Savage Heart.”

But this triumph was lost in personal turmoil. Stafford and Lowell went through a bitter divorce, and Stafford hated him for years. Later, though, Lowell offered this hint of reconciliation, according to Goodman:

Poor ghost, old love, speak

With your old voice

Of flaming insight

That kept us awake all night.

In one bed and apart…

Children Are Bored On Sunday

Having gone through two marriages, Stafford spent much of the 1950s living in small apartments in Westport, Conn., dreadfully isolated and poverty stricken. She was hospitalized often, her physical and psychiatric ailments exacerbated by her alcoholism.

But she heroically pushed on. After a modest reaction to her third novel, The Catherine Wheel, she came out with a collection of short fiction: Children Are Bored on Sunday. A sensation in literary circles, it showed that Stafford was a master of the short story. She had long since become a regular in The New Yorker, working with the legendary fiction editor Katherine White. It was the era of O’Hara and Cheever, and Stafford ranked with any of them.

The title story, her first in The New Yorker, is an unusually happy one for Stafford. A female intellectual, recovering from an illness and a loss of confidence, visits the Metropolitan Museum of Art alone one Sunday. There she spies Alfred Eisenburg, an arrogant male intellectual of whom she is wary.

She feared that seeing him might very well divert her from the pictures, not only because she was reminded of her ignorance of painting by the presence of someone who was (she assumed) versed in it but because her eyesight was now bound to be impaired by memory and conjecture, by the irrelevant mind-portraits of innumerable people who belonged to Eisenburg’s milieu. And almost at once, as she had predicted, the air separating her from the schoolboys below was populated with the images of composers, of painters, of writers who pronounced judgments in their individual argot, on Hindemith, Ernst, Sartre, on Beethoven, Rubens, Baudelaire, on Stalin and Freud and Kierkegaard, on Toynbee, Frazer, Thoreau, Franco, Salazar, Roosevelt, Maimonides, Racine, Wallace, Picasso, Henry Luce, Monsignor Sheen, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the movie industry. And she saw herself moving, shaking with apprehensions and martinis, and with the belligerence of a child who feels himself laughed at, through the apartments of Alfred Eisenburg’s friends, where the shelves were filled with everyone from Aristophanes to Ring Lardner where the walls were hung with reproductions of Seurat, Titian, Vermeer, and Klee, and where the record cabinets began with Palestrina and ended with Copland.

Oh, what prose. But she then realizes that Eisenburg himself is a reduced figure, and that he, too, has seen some hard times. They connect, go out for drinks and decide that they can help each other. To mingle their pain, their handshake seemed to promise them, was to produce a separate entity, like a child that could shift for itself, and they scrambled hastily toward this profound and pastoral experience.

That last phrase always gets me.

Of course, few of Stafford’s stories were that positive (or pastoral). Take the harrowing piece titled A Summer Day. Jim, an eight year-old Native American growing up in Missouri, finds himself abandoned when his “grandmother,” the woman caring for him, dies. He is sent without ceremony to an orphanage in Oklahoma because Mr. Wilkins, the preacher, had said it would be nice out here with other Indian boys and girls.

He makes the long train journey barefoot. And there is nobody waiting for him when he arrives. At the orphanage, where many children are sick, the administrators try to engage him, if only to get him registered. Granted, the names given to these functionaries are regrettable, although one may infer that they are the names assigned them by the children.

Miss Dreadfulwater asked some more questions—whether his tonsils were out, who Mr. Wilkins was, whether Jim thought he was a full-blood or half-breed or what. She finished finally and put the card back in the drawer, and then Miss Hornet said to Jim, “What would you like to do now? You’re free to do whatever you like till suppertime. It’s perfectly clear that you have no unpacking to do.”

 “Did he come just like this?” said Miss Dreadfulwater, astonished. “Really?”

 Miss Hornet ignored her and said, “What would you like to do?

 “I don’t know,” Jm said.

 “Of course you do,” she said sharply. “Do you want to play on the slide? Or the swings? None of the other children are out, but I should think a boy of eight could find plenty of ways to amuse himself.”

“I can,” he said. “I’ll go outside.”

 “He ought to go to bed,” said Miss Dreadfulwater. “You ought to put him to bed right now if you don’t want him to come down with it.”

Ask yourself: How can a discarded child amuse himself or go to bed when he has lost every shred of comfort and dignity he ever had? Other readers may choose different Stafford stories as their favorites. But A Summer Day is one of mine.

‘The New Yorker Married Us’

Stafford’s output faltered as the ‘50s went on, and she had the occasional rejection from The New Yorker. But she had one piece of good fortune: At loose ends in London, she took Katherine White’s advice to seek out A.J. Liebling, the rotund New Yorker staff journalist, who had left the States to lessen his tax burden.

White could not have foreseen what she had unleashed, as Goodman wrote. Soon Stafford was traveling to horse races with Liebling in chauffeured Rolls Royce’s while guzzling champagne, and he was having tweed suits made for her by his Saville Row tailor.

The pair soon became an item. And when work by both of them appeared in the same issue of the New Yorker. Liebling wrote to her, “The New Yorker married us.”

Yes, it did, although the formal wedding didn’t take place until April 1959. Stafford joked that Liebling was her first “entirely Jewish” husband, Lowell having had only a slight Jewish line in his family.

The literary couple moved into a dream apartment at 11th St. and Fifth Ave. in Greenwich Village, in what’s now called the Gold Coast. Stafford performed a signal service: Her tales about Earl Long, the governor of Louisiana and brother of the late Huey Long (she had spent considerable time in Louisiana with Lowell), inspired Liebling and New Yorker editor William Shawn. It led to one of Lieblng’s best books: The Earl of Louisiana.

Stafford’s writing dried up totally at this point. (Liebling’s output declined, too). But she had a reason, as quoted by Goodman: “Perhaps it’s too simple an explanation, but I was happy for the first time in my life.”

Why wouldn’t she be? Liebling could be moody, but he was benign and considerate. But this period of felicity lasted only four years. Liebling, a chronic overeater and drinker, died in 1963 at age 59, muttering in French in his final delirium. The devastated Stafford was on her own again.

There was one bit of solace: Liebling had left her his farm in the Springs of East Hampton. Later, when ill, she was able to sell some of the acreage, yet keep the house.

Sadly, Stafford couldn’t finish her fourth novel, and her short story output slowed. Perhaps emulating Liebling, she wrote A Mother in History, a non-fiction book on Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother. It sold well, but drew mixed notices. She also wrote children’s books and book reviews. But money was tight.

Stafford became cranky, and intolerant of the hippie generation. In 1969, though, she published The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford, and dedicated it to her now-retired mentor Katherine White. The book drew rave reviews. And early in 1970, Stafford learned that it had won her the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Riding a wave of acclaim, she was offered speaking engagements and guest professorships, and recovered financially.

It was one of several grand moments Stafford had during her long career. But this, too, did not last long. Illness caught up with her, and her final decade was one of grinding struggle. In 1976, she had the stroke she’d always feared. One wonders what doctors thought when they saw this sickly woman in the emergency room: Could they have known what she had achieved?

Such is the life of a great writer. Only the strong and very talented need try it.

Gay Talese Has a Cold

By Ray Schultz

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Haven’t the Twitter twits got anything better to do than beat up on 84 year-old Gay Talese?

Talese got himself in trouble last week by saying, in effect, that he was not, as a young journalist, inspired by any female reporters—an admission that created a firestorm in social media.

He made the remarks during a panel at Boston University. And he was promptly given a failing grade.

Jerks, fools, classroom-bound jackasses…get a life.

Here’s what happened. You tell me if our nonfiction master deserves to be pilloried.

As reported by Sridhar Pappu in The New York Times, the poet Verandah Porche put Talese on the spot by asking, “In addition to Nora Ephron, who were the women who write who were most, who have inspired you most?”

Pappu continues, using transcripts provided by Boston University:

“‘Did I hear you say what women have inspired me most?’ Mr. Talese said.

“‘As writers.

“‘As writers,’ Mr. Talese said. ‘Uh, I’d say Mary McCarthy was one. I would, um, [pause] think [pause] of my generation [pause] um, none. I’ll tell you why. I’m not sure it’s true, it probably isn’t true anymore, but my — when I was young, maybe 30 or so, and always interested in exploratory journalism, long-form, we would call it, women tended not, even good writers, women tended not to do that. Because being, I think, educated women, writerly women, don’t want to, or do not feel comfortable dealing with strangers or people that I’m attracted to, sort of the offbeat characters, not reliable.”

It was a classic “gotcha” moment, almost as if Trump or Hillary had been caught in a gaffe. Talese, who does not own a cell phone, found out that he was infamous from a redcap at Penn Station, and then from his wife Nan, a prominent writer and book editor.

He tried to clarify his remarks in an interview with Pappu , mentioning that he once wanted to write like Carson McCullers. (A very high bar to set). But the flap was only beginning.

Roxanne Gay tweeted, “I hope no one expected Talese, who doesn’t wear jeans, to think well of women.” (Huh?) There were wildly inaccurate headlines saying that Talese admires no female writers at all. Some self-publicists have charged that he hates women.

Let’s step back for a minute. What I think Talese was trying to say in Boston was that there weren’t many women journalists around when he was young, especially any doing long-form literary journalism. And if so, he was right, particularly on the paper he worked on, that Gray Lady, The New York Times.

Granted, there were a few women in the business. In those days, if the folklore is correct, the stereotypical female reporter was a wizened person who smoked cigarettes as she hunched over a typewriter.

On some papers, female writers were called “sob sisters,” because they were given human-interest stories to cover, and had free reign to write emotion-charged copy. Thus, the best writing in newspapers was not on the front page, but in the women’s section and the sports columns.

I’d argue that Talese, while he clearly transcended it, came right out of that sob-sister tradition: Although a fine reporter, he distinguished himself more as a writer than a scoop artist. And I have a confession to make: As a teenager, when I knew him only by his byline, I thought Talese was a woman. Who else would have a name like Gay, and who else could write these deeply sensitive portraits of people?

Then I learned that Gay is short for Gaetano, and that he happens to be a man. And, yes, he has tended to write about men—Sinatra, DiMaggio, Floyd Patterson, the heads of the so-called Bonanno crime family. And nobody has done it better.

As for his performance in Boston. I suspect that Talese is uncomfortable on stage: He’s too much the reporter. Asked a tough question, he floundered for a moment.

If he had been prepared for that query, which I bet was designed to cause the exact effect that it did, he could have named Janet Malcolm, Lillian Ross, Janet Flanner or Joan Didion, whether or not he had read them. And he would have gotten away with it, given the superficial level of this discussion.

But he was set up—and caught. And now a deadly academic sensibility is creeping into it. Every time you turn around, someone is naming yet another female writer Talese should have read when he was climbing out on girders to report on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. Why not Scheherazade, as one wag suggested?

It has turned into a feeding storm. It’s so easy for these coddled literary poseurs to attack a man formed in another era. They are, as author Katie Roiphe implied to ABC News, trying to police people’s inspirational influences.

Let’s not forget that Talese still writes deeply sensitive profiles that younger writers should emulate, and that his critics can learn something from him about accuracy.

For more about Gay Talese, click here.

When Yussel Went Nazi

By Ray Schultz

Sure, life imitates art—in grim ways, at times.

In 1933, the Marx Brothers came out with the movie Duck Soup. In an early scene, the President of Freedonia (Groucho), arrives late for his own reception, and inadvertently lines up with the honor guard (“Expecting someone?”) When they extend their swords, he lifts his cigar.

Funny, no? But that scene was replicated in Nazi Germany in 1935, and I’ll leave it to you to decide if it was amusing.

Joe Jacobs, a Jewish-American boxing manager who worked in the corner of the ex-heavyweight champ Max Schmeling, was in the ring when the German audience rose and gave the Nazi salute. What was he to do? He lifted his cigar.

The Nazis saw this action by a Jew as an insult to Hitler. And American Jews were horrified. One New York tabloid summed it up with the headline: “When Yussel went Nazi” (Joe’s nickname was Yussel the Muscle).

This is not some apocryphal tale—there are photos of Jacobs holding the cigar aloft.

So who was Joe Jacobs? Unrelated to the promoter Mike Jacobs, he was a Runyonesque character who typically emerged for breakfast at dusk (except when training a fighter), and was perpetually short of money.

He grew up in the largely Irish neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen in New York, where his father had a tailor shop. In that setting, he learned the rudiments of the fight game at an early age, as A.J. Liebling put it in in a small, unsigned profile of Jacobs that he co-authored with Russell Maloney for the New Yorker in 1936.

Liebling, himself Jewish, used standard stereotypical language to describe Jacobs (“a pointy faced little man”). Or maybe Maloney added that touch. But they went on to explain Joe’s odd relationship with Schmeling.

“The Joe-and-Max combination has intrigued lots of people, because Max is a Reich sports idol and fights frequently in Germany, while Joe is spectacularly non-Aryan,” Liebling and Maloney wrote. “The two get along fine, though; Schmeling has admired the Jacobs brains ever since Joe won the heavyweight championship title for him by keeping him flat on his back. That was in 1930, when he was fighting Jack Sharkey. Sharkey had dropped Schmeling with a low blow. The German, although outpointed in the earlier, and legitimate, boxing, was about to rise when Joe yelled at him to stay down. He was awarded the championship on a foul, whereas if he had got up, technicalities would probably have been forgotten and the slaughter would have gone on. Max thinks Joe is a genius, and so does Joe.”

Schmeling defended the title once, against Young Stribling, and lost it by a disputed decision to Sharkey in 1932.

Then the Nazis came in. Goebbels demanded that Max dump Jacobs, but that would have been a commercial disaster in the U.S., where Jewish fans made up a large portion of the boxing audience. So Schmeling, who brought back vast amounts of currency to Germany, walked a fine line.

But back to the infamous episode.

“Another example of Jacobs diplomacy is the fact that Schmeling is now in training at the Naponich Country Club, a Jewish summer hotel offsets any possible anti-Nazi sentiment among the customers,” Liebling and Maloney continued. “The Nazi question doesn’t bother Joe much. He’s in and out of Germany all the time and says he even gets a special rate at the Hotel Bristol, in Berlin. Last year, when Schmeling fought and defeated Steve Hamas, at Hamburg, the band broke into the Horst Wessel song while Joe was in the ring with the fighters and officials. Everybody raised his hand in the Nazi salute, and so did Joe. ‘What the hell would you do?’ he asked us. “

Six days after that profile came out, the supposedly washed-up Schmeling knocked out Joe Louis in the greatest victory of his career, with Jacobs in his corner. Having beaten the African-American prodigy, feeding Nazi claims of racial superiority, he returned a hero of the Reich, and was feted by Hitler. But his status in Germany plummeted when Louis kayoed him in a single round in the 1938 rematch.

Schmeling was drafted into the German Army and served as a paratrooper during World War II. Joe Jacobs died in 1940.

Was Schmeling a Nazi? That’s unclear even now. Third-party testimony revealed that he shielded the children of a Jewish friend in his hotel room during Kristallnacht in 1938 (a claim he never made for himself), and he seemed ambivalent about the regime, and never joined the Nazi party. But he was an opportunist who enjoyed vast popularity in Germany and was not afraid to ask Hitler for favors. And he did favors in return, assuring the Olympic committee in 1936 that Germany could responsibly manage that year’s games. Strapped for cash after the war, he fought a few bouts, then became a wealthy Coca-Cola magnate.

Liebling had yet to attain his full stylistic maturity when he co-wrote the Jacobs profile. As for Jacobs, one can see his bizarre salute as a piece of Groucho-style impertinence (there’s no evidence he ever saw Duck Soup). or as an irrelevant sideshow to the horror that was about to occur.

The Capote Papers

By  Ray Schultz

It’s hard to believe that a half century has passed since the appearance of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. But today is the 50th anniversary of Newsweek magazine’s cover story on Capote and his “non-fiction novel.”

That article revealed that Capote had already taken in $500,000 for the paperback rights, $500,000 for the movie rights and another million in royalties. Newsweek, which was published by Katherine Graham (the honoree at Capote’s Black and White Ball that autumn), called it “an extraordinary book by an extraordinary man.”

Given this milestone, it seems like a good time to revisit Truman Capote. Was he an overrated fraud whose main genius was for self-promotion, or a truly innovative author?

He certainly remains a famous one. His chronological peers, Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, wrote dozens of books apiece. Yet a recent survey of Millennials shows that only a minority can identify these authors, whereas Capote, who had a much thinner output, is known because of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s onscreen portrayal of him.

And that’s part of the problem. The tiny Capote was an outsized celebrity and substance abuser. His work seemed to take a back seat at times.

So just how good was he?

Let’s start at the beginning: in 1948. Capote’s first published novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms is a dense account of how Joel, a boy like Truman, finds his identity in the Deep South. The prose is elegant, if slightly overdone in spots, but full of merciless insights like this one:

For long periods each day he studied his face in a hand mirror: a disappointing exercise, on the whole, for nothing he saw concretely affirmed his suspicions of emerging manhood, though about his face there were certain changes: baby-fat had given way to a true shape, the softness of his eyes had hardened: it was a face with a look of innocence but none of its charm, an alarming face, really, too shrewd for a child, too beautiful for a boy.

This moving and funny work  was followed by another fine childhood novel: The Grass Harp.  For me, though, Capote’s big leap forward  came in 1958, with his novella: Breakfast at Tiffany’s. From the Hamburg Heaven on Madison, to Joe Bell’s bar on Lexington, to the tiny studio apartment with its sofa and stuffed chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a train, Capote captured the Upper East Side of New York, and the people who lived there in 1943.

As others have observed, Holly Golightly, a sort of American geisha, is Capote’s version of Isherwood’s Sally Bowles. In some scenes, she talks candidly about lesbianism and her sex life; in others she dances around the pillars of the Third Ave. El with Australian Army officers. There’s a new sharpness to the prose: One character discovers that he’d feel safer in diapers than he would in a skirt, and another that gin to artifice bears the same relation as tears to mascara. Norman Mailer praised the writing. And Edward Albee, who unsuccessfully rewrote the script of a musical stage version, called it a “tough little book.”

Youth Meets Age

Capote also evoked that Upper East Side neighborhood in the sketch he was writing the day before he died in 1984: about an encounter at age 19 with an older woman dressed in a sable coat outside the Society Library on East 79th St.. He offers to escort her home in a snowstorm, and they stop in Longchamps. She orders tea, he requests a double martini.

Whereupon I told her all about myself, he recalled. My age. The fact I was born in New Orleans, and that I was an aspiring writer.

Really? What writers did I admire? (Obviously she was not a New Yorker: she had a Western accent.) ‘Flaubert. Turgenev. Proust. Charles Dickens. E. M. Forster. Conan Doyle. Maupassant—‘

She laughed. ‘Well. You certainly are varied. Except. Aren’t there any American writers you care for?’

 “Like who?”

 She didn’t hesitate. “Sarah Orne Jewett. Edith Wharton—”

“Miss Jewett wrote one good book: The Country of the Pointed Firs. And Edith Wharton wrote one good book: The House of Mirth. But. I like Henry James. Mark Twain. Melville. And I love Willa Cather. My Antonia. Death Comes for the Archbishop. Have you ever read her two marvelous novellas—A Lost Lady and My Mortal Enemy?”

“Yes.” She sipped her tea, and put the cup down with a slightly nervous gesture. She seemed to be turning something over in her mind. “I ought to tell you—” She paused; then, in a rushing voice, more or less whispered: “I wrote those books.”

It never fails to get me, this meeting between Cather, an American master who powerfully depicted life on the Great Plains, and the young urbanite Capote.

Was it true as written? That’s besides the point. The teenage litterateur may well have known who Cather was on sight. But I prefer this charming version, which ends just as Capote is about to go to a dinner party at Cather’s Park Ave. apartment. Sadly, that’s as far as he got with this piece before he died.

Have I Said Something Wrong?

For me, some of Capote’s best writing was in his vicious unfinished novel Answered Prayers. The narrator and protagonist, P.B. Jones, is a failed writer and “Hershey Bar Whore” who can service both men and women. That book may suffer now because the notables portrayed in it are forgotten. Will a Millennial appreciate the interplay between Dorothy Parker and Tallulah Bankhead about Montgomery Clift, the tortured actor who has passed out at a dinner party?

…Miss Parker did something so curious it attracted everyone’s attention; it even silenced Miss Bankhead. With tears in her eyes, Miss Parker was touching Clift’s hypnotized face, her stubby fingers tenderly brushing his brow, his cheekbones, his lips, chin.

Miss Bankhead said: “Damn it, Dottie. Who do you think you are? Helen Keller?”

“He’s so beautiful,” murmured Miss Parker. “Sensitive. So firmly made. The most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.” She used a crude expression to denote that Clift was off limits to women.

Then, sweetly wide-eyed wide eyed with little girl naiveté, she said: “Oh. Oh dear. Have I said something wrong?”

And while the import seems clear, what will the PC Generations make of this line? Both Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton had, in effect, paid a million dollars to find out if other ladies were lying when they praised that kinky-haired piece of trade His Excellency the Dominican Ambassador Porfirio Rubirosa…

Of course, the most infamous chapter was Le Cote Basque (1965). As they lunch on Cristal champagne and Souffle Furstenberg, a spinach-cheese-poached egg concoction, at the famed restaurant,  a 40ish swan named Lady Ida Coolbirth (Slim Keith, maybe?) tells Jonesy about a gross and mortifying sexual encounter between the magnate Sydney Dillon (William Paley?) and the governor’s wife who is sitting a few tables away (Happy Rockefeller?). “Dill’s in his sixties now; he could have any woman he wants, yet for years he yearned after yonder porco.”

Capote reportedly published these chapters because he believed they proved he could still write. But one thinly disguised character committed suicide after it came out. And his society friends dumped him, including the most beloved one of all: the dying swan Babe Paley, whose husband supposedly was the subject of the central anecdote of Le Cote Basque. This contributed to Capote’s unraveling.

Truman Capote bashers gleefully point to the fact that he never finished the novel, although he took his first advance for it in 1966. All we have are the three sections published in Esquire in 1975 and 1976 (and later collected in book form). Still missing, perhaps never written, is the chapter titled Father Flanagan’s All-Night Nigger Queen Kosher Café. It’s not a café, but a state, “the cool, green, restful as the grave rock bottom,” a character says in Unspoiled Monsters.

But Capote had obviously had written more. The first chapter published in Esquire, Mojave, was later moved out of Answered Prayers and included as a short story in his uneven 1980 collection Music for Chameleons. In effect, he had completed at least four chapters by 1976. And a fifth, less robust section turned up a few years ago: Of Yachts and Things, about a cruise with a woman who resembles Katherine Graham. First, they meet the captain, attired in  a crisply tailored white uniform. He was a handsome man but his wind-weathered face was solemn, for he had solemn news to report. Alas, there had been a sudden death in the family of our host, and the family was in mourning: our host regretted so much his inability to forewarn us in time.

“Oh, dear, sighed Mrs. Williams. “First Adlai. Now this. Perhaps they ought to rechristen this ship The Bewitchedcraft.”

And my heart sank as well, for of course we assumed the cruise had been cancelled. But not at all! The captain’s orders were to continue the cruise as planned.

“Now that,” said Mrs. Williams, “is what I call class.”

It’s enough to go on. The opening chapters, Unspoiled Monsters and Kate McCloud, together add up to 136 pages, more than Breakfast at Tiffany’s in its entirety, as Gerald Clarke has noted. Le Cote Basque (1965) brings the total to 180 pages.

Maybe it isn’t Proust (Capote had originally hoped to write a modern Remembrance of Things Past). And it suffers by being incomplete. For example, what happened to Kate McCloud after all the hints of the disaster that loomed for her and J.B.? But it’s savagely funny, far more vivid than Dominick Dunne’s clunky writings about the same social class (including at least one episode featured by Capote). And it holds up 40 years later.

One thread that runs through these books is how much fun it was being an author. In the apartment described in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the narrator has books and “jars of pencils to sharpen, everything I needed, so I felt, to be the writer I wanted to be.” His perfect evening is sitting up in bed with a glass of bourbon and the new Simenon. In Unspoiled Monsters, P.B. Jones describes living in Europe on his “various swindles and savings.” In Venice, he writes every day until 3 p.m., then goes out to walk in the winter mist. Towards evening, he shows up at Harry’s Bar and spends “$9 or $10 for martinis and shrimp sandwiches and heaping bowls of green noodles with sauce Bolognese.”

True Crime

For all that, Capote’s reputation may rest on his two crime novels: In Cold Blood and Handcarved Coffins.

In Cold Blood, about the murder of an entire Kansas family, contains some of the best prose Capote ever wrote. (“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there,’” it starts). Here is how he describes one of the killers: Perry Smith:

Sitting, he had seemed a more than normal-sized man, a powerful man, with the shoulders, the arms, the thick, crouching torso of a weight lifter. Weight lifting was, in fact, his hobby. But some sections of him were not in proportion to others. His tiny feet, encased in short black boots with steel buckles, would have neatly fitted into a delicate lady’s dancing slippers; when he stood up, he was no taller than a twelve-year-old child, and suddenly looked, strutting on stunted legs that seemed grotesquely inadequate to the grown-up bulk they supported, not like a well-built truck driver but like a retired jockey, overblown and muscle-bound.

Pretty damned good. But critics charge that Capote overplayed the role of detective Alvin Dewey, one of many alleged inaccuracies, and that he withheld the details of the crime until later in the book to drive suspense.

None of that diminishes In Cold Blood, in my view. Sure, Capote focused on Alvin Dewey. He had access to him, and Dewey helped him. I hate to disillusion anyone, but that’s how it’s often done in journalism. Many non-fiction books have that sort of skew. Why should Capote be singled out? Nor was there anything untoward about his friendship and identification with the killer Perry Smith. Capote functions strictly as an anonymous narrator in this book—he never mentions himself. But he did bring his obsessions to the story, producing an idiosyncratic classic.

Maybe Newsweek had it right, when it called the book “super contemporary,” and likened it to the work of the French anti-novelists of that time.

Finally, there’s the charge that Capote made up a scene—the last one at the cemetery. That’s a no-no these days. But it was hardly unknown in journalism at that time. Think of Joe Mitchell’s composite characters, or of A.J. Liebling’s purported embellishment of Colonel John R. Stingo’s personality.

We live in a time when even memoirs are expected to be 100% factual, without the “stretchers” resorted to by Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken. But I believe there’s room for a less stringent standard for some types of material—as long as you call it what it is.

An Open Coffin

That question is especially pertinent when it comes to Capote’s Handcarved Coffins. A mass killer murders several people in unusual ways—in one instance, by placing amphetamine-maddened rattlesnakes in their car. But before he kills them, he sends his victims photos of themselves and miniature hand-carved coffins.

A probe by journalists revealed that there was no such case, although a couple of elements had popped up—in some form—in other investigations. Capote apparently turned the detective Dewey into a fictional character, and inserted himself as a reporter. And if you believe him, he met and played chess with the suspected killer. Again, none of this ever happened.

Author Ron Rosenbaum, whose opinion I respect, says that the only problem with this work was in the labeling: It actually was an important Capote piece of fiction.

Yes. But I’d add that Capote should have published it separately as a novella, instead of burying it in Music for Chameleons. Made up of transcripts, daily updates and fast-moving episodes, it’s a stunning performance by a man who had only a few years left to live. He could have filled out the book with a few of the better pieces from Music for Chameleons—say, Mojave, the title story and Dazzle, in which the young boy Capote tells a fortune teller that he wants to be a girl. Breakfast for Tiffany’s had a similar format.

The prose style in Handcarved Coffins is more minimal than the one usually displayed by Capote. But there was a high polish to all of it. Take his description of the purported murderer, a wealthy ranch owner:

He sported expensive high-heel boots, but even without them the man measured over six feet, and if he had stood straight, instead of assuming a stooped, slope-shouldered posture, he would have presented a full fine figure. He had long simianlike arms, the hands dangled to his knees, and the fingers were long, capable, aristocratic. I recalled a Rachmaninoff concert. Rachmaninoff’s hands were like Quinn’s.

So how do I rate Truman Capote? Like many people, I, too, got tired of him at times. For years, he pontificated on talk shows on crime and capital punishment, and he seemed to support the latter despite having seen two men hanged. (I didn’t agree with that then, and I don’t now). And they were constantly recycling his holiday memories for TV specials and print edition (not that there was anything wrong with the stories themselves).

In the end, I see him as one of our best writers. He educated himself, and will never be mistaken for the more experimental authors of his generation (despite his labeling of In Cold Blood as the world’s first nonfiction novel). But he had his own niche: In various stories and formats, he plumbed the world of “Father Flanagan and his outcast of Thousands, him and all the other yids, nigs, spiks, fags, dykes, dope fiends and commies.”

In that sense, all his books are of a piece, even the Christmas stories. We come away understanding poverty, sex, cruelty and what it’s like to be the Other. And they’re wrapped in an exquisite style.

Indeed, you can enjoy Capote as I sometimes do, late at night, as literary comfort food. In that way, he’s on a par with F. Scott Fitzgerald: you sometimes want to read him only for the tone.

I suspect that Truman Capote would be perfectly happy with that.

The Presidential Crapshoot

By Ray Schultz

The 2016 election year is off to a roaring start. Will we end up with Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Cruz, Bush, or maybe Michael Bloomberg?

Take heart, doubters, the republic will survive. Consider another turbulent election year: 1952, when the U.S. was bogged down in Korea. Who could best deal with that problem and others?

Here’s what Time magazine said in a direct mail letter sent at exactly this time of year. It’s identified in a handwritten note as “White House ’52.” The top of the piece is adorned with a line drawing of the White House, and cameo shots of several contenders.

Dear American:

As a landlord, you have a pretty big decision to make!

Between now and November, you have to award that longterm lease on one of your most important pieces of property: The place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

You have to decide “who gets the key to the place”—and you’d better start thinking about it now.

For the prospective tenants are lining up already. Right now, they’re all on their best behavior – but you’re going to learn a lot more about them from now on.

When the Conventions are over in July the list will be down to the two main contenders – and the rest will be up to you!

For the next seven months will see the hottest political battles ever fought! The issues will cover the full fabric of domestic and foreign affairs – the air will be filled with claim and counter-claim, rumor and propaganda. You’ll have to weigh the facts yourself – judge the issues and put your vote (and American’s hopes) on the winner. S

And it’s not going to be easy to see the real facts in perspective – about the political jockeying going on here at home…about the dangerous derby being run on the international scene…about taxes and inflation, scandal and security, war and peace – all issues that are important to you, your family and your future.

So I’d like to suggest that you take TIME, The Weekly Newsmagazine – a proven source of such news information. More people are reading TIME now than ever before in TIME’s history. And I think you, too, will find that TIME will bring you more of the news you want to know faster and more accurately and more interestingly than you can get it anywhere else.

TIME will gather and wave this news into one clear, coherent story – not only of the dramatic events on our own political scene – but all the other aspects of the world news that you will want to have at your mental fingertips. TIME will bring you news of Foreign Affairs, of the War in Asia, of Business, Science, Medicine, and of Art, Religion, Sports and Education…

…organized into 25 departments for your convenience and understanding – a bright, vivid, hard-to-forget weekly presentation of the whole world’s news and the U.S. attitude toward that news.

So I hope you will let TIME clarify and verify the news for you –

For the next 27 weeks for only $1.97!

–a special trial rate which brings you TIME for just about one cent a day.

No need to send any money now – we’ll gladly bill you later. But, this special saving is available for a limited time only. So please sign the enclosed card and mail it back to me at our expense today.

Cordially, Bernhard M. Auer

Circulation Manager

TIME – to get it Straight!

Who were the contenders? Time described them, although not by name, in another letter, sent on Feb. 23. This one uses a horse race analogy, and the copy is overlaid on a photo of a milling crowd. It was identified as “TIME Election Letter keyed BMA/DN.”

Dear American:

The big race is on!

The purse is the Presidency; the course is forty-eight states long: the track is fast, but slippery.

Watch them closely as they found the first turn. Watch for signs of unexpected speed or early fatigue. By summer, the race will narrow down to two – can you pick them?

Will one of them be the Ohio Senator who seldom loses?

Or the crime-bustin’ Tennessean with the coonskin cap?…the likable liberal from the West Coast…the genial General who may outdistance them all in the “stretch?”…or the affable Galahad who’s now Governor of Illinois?…the wandering prexy from Pennsylvania…or some dark horse coming up fast on the outside?

And let’s not scratch that controversial man from Missouri!

The rest of the copy mirrors that of the White House letter. And the offer is the same.

Come to think of it, this might also be a good year for subscribing to Time.





Catholic, Misanthrope or Both?

By Ray Schultz

I’m usually wary when I open books by religious converts. Will they be sentimental or dogmatic, or worse, will they attempt to proselytize me? This is especially trying in the case of Evelyn Waugh. It’s clear from ferocious novels like Scoop, Black Mischief and Decline and Fall. that he did not like the human race.

Waugh became a Roman Catholic as a young man, but there was little sign of it in his work until he reached middle age, and started writing Catholic-themed novels like Brideshead Revisited and Helena. They are fine books, but the Catholic angle is most vivid for me in Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy, which follows a middle-aged man named Guy Grouchback through World War II.

Crouchback is a born Catholic, not a convert. Yet Waugh does not portray a joyous religion. Mostly, it seems to consist of obligations that outsiders might find hard to understand. He throws in some history of Catholicism in England (not a happy story). Then there’s this theme, which comes right out of the great Rabbinic teachings: That a single deed or mitzvah can redeem even the worst of us.

Guy’s wife Virginia has cuckolded and divorced him. This divorce, of course, is not recognized by the church, so Crouchback is unable to remarry. It’s a heavy burden, but he obeys. Years later, as the war draws to a close, the ex-wife returns, pregnant with another man’s child. Guy has lost all feeling for her. But he agrees to remarry her, and to say that the child is his. He names the boy Gervase, after his father. The boy will inherit the Crouchback estate. And he will be a Catholic.

A mutual friend who has soured on Virginia confronts Guy when he is recovering from an injury. “Oh, come off it, Guy. You’re forty years old. Can’t you see how ridiculous you will look playing the knight-errant? Ian thinks you are insane, literally. Can you tell me any sane reason for doing this thing?

Guy regarded Kerstie from his bed. The question she asked was not new to him. He had posed it and answered it some days ago. “Knights-errant,” he said, “used to go out looking for noble deeds. I don’t think I’ve ever in my life done a single positively unselfish action. I certainly haven’t gone out of my way to find opportunities. Here was something most unwelcome, put into my hands; something which I believe the Americans describe as ‘beyond the call of duty’; not the normal behavior of an officer and a gentleman; something they’ll laugh about in Bellamy’s.  

“Of course Virginia is tough. She would have survived somehow. I shant’t be changing her by what I’m doing. I know all that. But you see there’s another”—and he was going to say “soul”; then realized that this word would mean little to Kerstie for all her granite propriety – “there’s another life to consider. What sort of life do you think her child would have, born unwanted in 1944?”

“It’s no business of yours.”

“It was made my business by being offered.”  

“My dear Guy, the world is full of unwanted children. Half the population of Europe are homeless—refugees and prisoners. What is one child more or less in all the misery?”

“I can’t do anything about all these others. This is just one case where I can help. And only I, really. I was Virginia’s last resort. So I couldn’t do anything else. Don’t you see?”

She doesn’t. Nor might she understand his effort to help the Jews of Yugoslavia as the war winds down. The man has a sense of responsibility.

Don’t think that these matters take up all of the trilogy. There are tales of heroism, cowardice, bureaucracy and madness in war theaters like Crete, that are perhaps not so familiar to American readers.

It has fantastic Characters like Jumbo Trotter, a retired Colonel who simply returns to barracks when war is declared and tries to make himself useful, when not sleeping or eating, the crazed Brigadier Richie-Hook,  and Gervase, Guy’s noble father. And, as in the Waugh novels of old, there are savage portraits of characters like the Scottish Laird who owns the Isle of Mugg.

The books are not likely to convert anyone to Catholicism or anything else. But Waugh, a great artist, found a way to explain some challenging ideas, and to integrate them into the story of a man’s daily life—probably the greatest service he could have performed for the reader or the church to which he belonged.

The Grace of Gay Talese

By Ray Schultz

Corry. John Corry. A name easily remembered, easily forgotten.

Forgive me if I’ve gotten a single word of that wrong, but I read it decades ago. It’s the opening of a profile of John Corry, a New York Times reporter who covered the Kennedy-William Manchester book affair in 1967, by America’s nonfiction master: Gay Talese.

At that time, I could quote many such leads by Gay Talese, and I suspect I wasn’t the only one who could. He developed a flowing narrative style that resembled fiction but wasn’t, and left a permanent imprint on journalism.

Take his 1964 book, The Bridge, about the building of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge in New York. It was reissued last year. Far from being an engineering treatise, The Bridge is a classic about the men who built the structure: Courageous, hard-drinking itinerants known as boomers.

Talese follows them everywhere. In one chapter, Danny Montour races up the New York State Thruway at 90 miles an hour on a Friday night, on his way to a Native American reservation near Montreal. He’s sipping gin, and has already had several drinks in a bar. Talese presents this in a style similar to cinema verite. If he has any fear in the car, he does not reveal it, for he is there as an observer, not as a character in the story.

In another chapter, Talese gives a heart-rending account of Gerald McKee’s fall into the Narrows. My family distantly knew the McKees, and was horrified as I read this passage aloud. As Talese writes of the boomers, “All have seen death.” Yet he also captures the poetry and romance of the boomer’s life:

The boomer’s child might live in forty states and attend a dozen high schools before he graduates, if he graduates, and though the father swears he wants no boomer for a son, he usually gets one. He gets one, possibly, because he really wanted one, and maybe that is why boomers brag so much at home on weekends, creating a wondrous world with whiskey words, a world no son can resist because this world seems to have everything: adventure, big cars, big money and gambling on rainy days when the bridge is slippery, and booming around the country with Indians who are sure-footed as spiders, with Newfoundlanders as shifty as the sea they come from, with roaming Rebel riveters escaping the poverty of their small Southern towns, all of them building something big and permanent, something that can be revisited years later and pointed to and said of: “See that bridge over, there, son—well one day, when I was younger, I drove twelve hundred rivets into that goddamned thing. “

Talese wrote that while still a reporter at The New York Times, but he soon left to write profiles for Esquire, like his famous 1966 piece: Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.

Talese never interviewed Sinatra, but he managed to reconstruct the period in the singer’s life when he was turning 50. He observed Sinatra filming, recording, taping a TV show with a cold, cavorting in Vegas with the Rat Pack and confronting the writer Harlan Ellison over his attire in a private club.

But Talese also witnessed the effect of Sinatra’s work on people, as in this scene in which Sinatra’s record, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, is playing on the stereo in the club:

It is a lovely ballad that he first recorded ten years ago, and it now inspired many young couples who had been sitting, tired of twisting, to get up and move slowly around the dance floor, holding one another very close. Sinatra’s intonation, precisely clipped, yet full and flowing, gave a deeper meaning to the simple lyrics – “In the wee small hours of the morning/while the whole wide world is fast asleep/you lie awake, and think about the girl….” — it was like so many of his classics, a song that evoked loneliness and sensuality, and when blended with the dim light and the alcohol and nicotine and late-night needs, it became a kind of airy aphrodisiac.

That is justly ranked as one of the best magazine articles ever written. But it wasn’t easy getting so much on a reluctant subject like Sinatra. To do it, Talese had to hang out, spend time with people and conduct saturation reporting, habits that are in short supply these days, he complained in an interview with Dan Rather:

“When you go into a newspaper now, everybody’s behind a screen,” he said.“ And too much of their reporting is obtained through the communications, they can Google their way through the day almost, these people. And they’re not getting outdoors enough. They’re relying too much on the vantage point of the world that is the parameters of the laptop screen.”

Rather observed that Talese was of the school that depended on the telephone and shoe leather.

“… The phone? In the early 1950s when I came out of college and got a job [at the Times], the phone was the new technology, and those old timers said, ‘Never use the phone. You have to go there, you have to be there, you have see these people, you have to look at their faces, study their expression, their gestures, it’ll tell you more than just what comes out of their mouth.’ I believe there’s truth in that to this day, and I have adhered to that.”

Yes, he has, especially for books like The Kingdom and the Power, Honor Thy Father, and Thy Neighbor’s Wife. But he broadened his approach with his 1992 masterpiece, Unto the Sons, adding scholarship and family memory to his literary skill set. To call this work a memoir is to trivialize it. It’s a history of Italy, from ancient times through the Risorgimento and the two world wars, and in it we encounter figures from Garibaldi to Mussolini, and a raft of Taleses who live in the Calabrian town of Maida.

Some of these family members escape their lives in Southern Italy. Talese’s father Joseph joins a cousin in Paris, works with him as a tailor, then relocates to America and takes over a tailor’s shop in Ocean City, New Jersey. where he starts a family.

Talese, whose humor has always been subtle at best, pokes fun at himself here to great comedic effect. In one scene, he describes his clumsiness as an altar boy, in another his botching of a test in school. And there are more laughs when his father tries to get him to wind spaghetti on a fork without using a spoon (and Gay gets validation in his own mind from an unexpected source).

But this is a serious book, written with a rare depth and grace. We end up caring very much about the Talese family, and understanding things that could not have been easy for Talese to express—for example, his father’s complex feelings toward Mussolini. While not a Fascist, Joseph takes Il Duce’s side in late-night arguments with a cousin in Brooklyn, when the children are drowsing and the younger wives are washing dishes.

What could Joseph possibly see in Mussolini, a Northern Italian who was reviled in the south of Italy?

 …Pride and defensiveness about his Italian origins made him resentful of those who debunked Italy—which, at long last, was now trying to rise above its reputation as an unmilitaristic nation of bad soldiers, retreaters, and imboscati shirkers. What a relief to have an Italian leader who invaded other nations for a change, as opposed to remaining at home and hiding in the hills waiting to surrender to yet another conqueror of Italian soil.

Young Gay Talese was more Americanized, and there is a shocking scene between father and son after the Allied bombing of Monte Cassino in Southern Italy. It’s the climax of this powerful book.

How is Gay Talese holding up in his 80s? Pretty well, judging by his articles in the New Yorker. He captures Tony Bennett recording with Lady Gaga, and describes how faith helped fuel the baseball career of New York Yankee manager Joe Girardi.

In his Sinatra profile, Talese observed, “Many Italo-American boys of his generation were then shooting for the same star — they were strong with song, weak with words, not a big novelist among them: no O’Hara, no Bellow, no Cheever, nor Shaw; yet they could communicate bel canto.”

That’s the only thing on which I’ve ever disagreed with Gay Talese. What about Mario Puzo, whose pre-Godfather novel, The Fortunate Pilgrim, has been compared to Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep? What about John Fante?

For that matter, what about Gay Talese? True, he’s of a younger generation, and has specialized in nonfiction, but for me, he’s in the same rarefied class as Cheever and O’Hara. How fitting that he found his way to The New Yorker.


Sex, Lies and Edward Albee

By Ray Schultz

In 1967, I bought a hardcover copy of Edward Albee’s play, A Delicate Balance in Boston, and with great anticipation started reading it on a train to Rhode Island. Unfortunately, my copy was misprinted and several pages transposed. I had to jump from page 4 to 48, double back to 16 and then move forward to page 28. But I did, and formed a lifelong admiration for the prose and humor. So what if it took a little work?

I mention this because A Delicate Balance is enjoying a revival on Broadway, featuring Glenn Close in the role of the matriarch Agnes. The play itself has gotten mostly good reviews, despite some misgivings about the production.

In 1966, critic Walter Kerr panned the play, complaining that hollowness is “offered to us on an elegantly lacquered empty platter the moment the curtain goes up.” Harry and Edna, best friends of the Agnes and Tobias, show up on their doorstep, suffering from an undefined terror: Kerr found it an unconvincing device. He was also put off by the ornate language.

But Kerr missed the comedy in the situation. Agnes’ and Tobias’ 36 year-old daughter also returns from her fourth marital debacle. People are crowding like they do in the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera. How will the seemingly dominant Agnes and the ineffectual Tobias maintain their control (or balance, if you will)?

Yes, it’s talky, but the talk is bathed in acid. At one point, Tobias asks Agnes if she should apologize to her alcoholic sister Claire (who also lives there) for something she said to her.


 I have spent my adult life apologizing for her; I will not double my humiliation by apologizing to her.

Moments later, it’s Claire who seems contrite.


 I must apologize, Agnes; I’m…very sorry.


 But what are you sorry for, Claire?


 I apologize that my nature is such to bring out in you the full force of your brutality.

In the end, the play examines the rights and obligations of friends and family. And it is truly moving as the wealthy but clueless Wasp couple grapples with these issues and others.

Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1967, A Delicate Balance never got its critical due until it was revived on Broadway in 1996 with Rosemary Harris, George Grizzard and Elaine Stritch, and ran longer than it had in 1966-67. And this was all too typical for Albee.

Which is why I’ve long thought that the narrative of Albee’s career should be altered. Conventional wisdom has it that he lost his way after the early success of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, that ferocious drama, and that his writing became self-conscious. Flop followed flop, until he couldn’t get arrested on Broadway. Then, as the story goes, he came back in his 60s with Three Tall Women, about his adoptive mother. It opened in Vienna, then snuck into New York for a long run. Honors were heaped on him, including his third Pulitzer.

It’s a nice myth, but based too much on box office success. In his heyday, Albee was dismissed by critics, and savaged by homophobes who argued that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, perhaps his most famous play, was written about four gay men, not two heterosexual couples.

Yet Albee was a protean author, coming out with roughly a play a year, maybe more. He wrote experimental plays like Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, chamber pieces like Counting the Ways, adaptations like The Ballad of the Sad Café (from the novel by Carson McCullers), and major dramas that should have been more celebrated in their time—and later were.

Take All Over, which lasted for only 40 performances in 1971 A powerful man is dying, and the family holds a death watch. The wife and the mistress establish a strange rapport, even as the wife spurns her son and daughter.


 You’ve neither of you had children, thank God, children that I’ve known of.

 I hope you never marry…either of you!

 Let the line end where it is…at its zenith.

Then there’s The Lady from Dubuque, an even more powerful look at the end of life, that ran for 12 performances in 1980. As Jo nears her demise from cancer, we realize what an impossible position her husband Sam is in, especially when Elizabeth, the Lady from Dubuque (the Angel of Death?) arrives to ease Jo’s way out.


Do you want this? Hunh?

 Is this what you want!? Yes!?

 …Because if this is what you want, I’m not any part of it; you’ve locked me out. I…don’t exist. I…I don’t exist. Just…just tell me.

As you can see, I’ve long been a member of the Edward Albee fan club. It started at age 17 when I read his first play, The Zoo Story, in The Evergreen Review, and was stunned without really comprehending it.

Adopted when he was 18 days old by a rich but cold Larchmont family (“They bought me. They paid $113.33”), Albee left home at 18 and found his calling in Greenwich Village. He didn’t see his adoptive mother for 17 years.

That indeed led to one of his best and most personal plays: Three Tall Women. Critic Linda Winer called it “a devastating look at a certain kind of woman’s life to the end.”

In the second act, as the 92 year-old woman lays there dying, three versions of her younger self compare the stages of life. The youngest, C, age 26, learns more than she wants about her future. I’ll never become you—either of you. But she will. And she will find that Prince Charming has the morals of a sewer rat, and that their son has quit the family: He packed up his attitudes and he left! At some point, C. and B. discuss what they think are the happiest moments. A., the eldest, brings them up short.

You’re both such children. The happiest moment of all? Really? The happiest moment? Coming to the end of it, I think, when all the waves cause the greatest woes to subside, leaving breathing space, time to concentrate on the greatest woe of all—that blessed one—the end of it.

Yes, that’s the happiest moment: When it’s all done. When we stop. When we can stop.

Not that Edward Albee has: He’s still writing at 86.