Margalit Fox

You are currently browsing articles tagged Margalit Fox.

Came across a TV report on Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy when I was a child, and it scared the hell out of me. Watching adults, doubled over in emotional pain, screaming and crying as shamelessly as newborns, was more than I could process.

Of course, getting the hell out of people was what psychiatrist Arthur Janov, who just passed away, made his goal after stumbling onto the method during a session in the 1960s. He believed patients regressing to trace the trail of tears back to the womb could free them of the burdens they shouldered. It would likely have been just one more barely noticed fringe therapy, a lot of hokum, were Janov’s book on the treatment not published in 1970, a moment when American culture had cracked open.

The volume was rightfully met with skepticism by book reviewers and medical professionals alike, but it resonated with certain high-profile actors and musicians, especially appealing to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were in the midst of their walkabout through the counterculture. Their recordings based on Primal Scream, particularly Lennon’s searing “Mother,” which sounds like a nursery song sung to a crib covered in blood, were aided by the method even more than Bob Dylan’s singing had been by the Buddhist breath control taught to him by Allen Ginsberg. “You’re so astounded by what you find out about yourself,” Lennon said initially, but he almost immediately worried about encouraging others to see Janov as a guru, especially since the doctor was not shy about self-aggrandizement.

In retrospect, Janov’s shocking method tells us very little about human psychiatry, but it does remind that once people have fulfilled the basics of food and water and shelter, they have the time to notice the well of disenchantment inside them, and that can be a positive thing or it can be manipulated into something menacing.

Two excerpts follow.


From Margaralit Fox’s New York Times obituary of Janov:

Arthur Janov, a California psychotherapist variously called a messiah and a mountebank for his development of primal scream therapy — a treatment he maintained could cure ailments from depression and alcoholism to ulcers, epilepsy and asthma, not to mention bring about world peace — died on Sunday at his home in Malibu, Calif. He was 93.

The office manager of his organization, the Janov Primal Center in Santa Monica, Calif., confirmed the death.

A clinical psychologist, Dr. Janov conceived primal therapy, as his method is formally known, after an epiphany in the late 1960s. He introduced it to the world with his first book, “The Primal Scream,” published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in 1970. The book attracted wide attention in newspapers and magazines and made a celebrity of Dr. Janov, who became a ubiquitous presence on the talk-show circuit.

Primal therapy became a touchstone of ’70s culture, especially after it drew a stream of luminary devotees to Dr. Janov’s Los Angeles treatment center, the Primal Institute, among them John Lennon, Yoko Ono, James Earl Jones and the pianist Roger Williams.
“Few treatments have been more dramatic, more highly touted or quicker to catch on than primal therapy,” The Los Angeles Times wrote in 1971.

Mr. Williams, the article continued, had publicly counted Dr. Janov “as one of history’s five greatest men (along with Socrates, Galileo, Freud and Darwin).”

Dr. Janov appeared to concur. Primal therapy, he told an interviewer in 1971, was “the most important discovery of the 20th century.”

Reporting in 1971 on a visit to the Primal Institute, which Dr. Janov had established three years before, The Boston Globe wrote:

“He has equipped his therapy chambers with an array of nursery props — teddy bears, cribs, playpens, dolls, football helmets, baby rattles, security blankets — all to help adults turn the clock back.”

The primal scream that could result from these sessions (“It sounds,” Dr. Janov told People magazine in 1978, “like what you might hear from a person about to be murdered”) was not the objective of the therapy per se. It was rather, he said, a sonic barometer of its liberating effects.•

· · ·

The opening of Eleanor Hoover’s People piece in 1978:

Since psychologist Arthur Janov published his book The Primal Scream in 1970, more than 3,000 people—including John Lennon, actors Robert Mandan (Soap) and James Earl Jones and UCLA anthropologist Bernard Campbell—have undergone the regression-to-birth therapy he advocates. Janov’s original clinic in Los Angeles is flourishing, and he recently opened a New York branch. He has written four follow-up books, and three more are in progress.

All are aimed at an understanding of what he insists is a global crisis. “The world,” says Janov, 53, “is having a nervous breakdown, and Valium is the only glue that holds it together.” Critics disagree with Janov’s cosmic fears and especially his claim that his treatment of neurosis is the only one that works. “He’s good at taking people apart,” says one L.A. psychologist, “but not so good at putting them back together.”

In Janov’s view, the repressed pain of traumatic childhood experiences eventually produces an emotionally damaged adult. These experiences include not only obvious physical and psychological injuries, but also subtle slights like parents’ failure to comfort a child. Janov’s “cure,” Primal Therapy (a trademarked term), involves reliving the trauma in cataclysmic, emotional outbursts called “primals.” Through them patients exorcise the pain and alleviate such psychosomatic ailments as colitis, asthma, etc., caused by its repression.

“Our research,” Janov declares, “shows that patients after eight months of treatment have a permanent lowering of such vital signs as pulse, blood pressure and core body temperature. This has real implications for the prevention of hypertension and heart disease.”

The therapy costs $6,600 and lasts for at least a year. It begins with 24 hours of total isolation followed by an intense three weeks of daily one-to-one sessions. After that the patient attends primal groups once or twice a week, and some may continue with occasional private sessions.

Janov, son of a Los Angeles butcher, is a UCLA alumnus with a psychology doctorate from the Claremont Graduate School and had a conventional practice until 1967. He stumbled upon the basic idea for Primal Therapy when a patient told him of his fascination with a comedian who wandered around the stage dressed in a diaper shouting “Mommy! Daddy!” Janov persuaded the young man to dredge up memories of his own parents, and the patient began to sob. Finally an ear-shattering scream welled up and convulsed his whole body; then he became calm and said again and again, “I made it. I made it.”

The scream is crucial to the therapy. “It sounds,” says Janov, “like what you might hear from a person about to be murdered.” Some critics have suggested that patients scream because they are expected to. Janov answers: “It comes from a person’s depths and cannot be fabricated.”•

Tags: , ,

When salesmen began traveling by airwaves rather than highways, Philip Kives was the king of the road.

The Canadian-born wheeler and dealer’s company, K-Telhad a knack for making and marketing products you didn’t really need but wanted nonetheless: Veg-O-Matics, Bonsai Knives, Sno-Bloc Makers. They were designed well, packaged handsomely, priced fairly and they sold, oh how they sold. Perhaps just as impressive as the plastic and metal pieces themselves was the tagline on the ubiquitous ads, “As Seen on TV,” which ingeniously seemed to confer some status upon the odd items while feeding our psychological need for viral, communal participation long before the Internet made instant the gratification of that urge. 

The excellent New York Times writer Margalit Fox penned a postmortem of Kives, who just died. An excerpt:

If K-tel’s rhetoric seemed sprung from the lips of an old-time midway barker, there was a reason: As a young man, Mr. Kives had plied that trade, hawking cookware and other goods at county fairs and on the boardwalk of Atlantic City.

By all accounts as skilled a salesman in person as he was en masse, he was one of the last living links between the “Step right up!” pitchman of the early 20th century and his expansive electronic-age heir.

Philip Kives was all but born scrappy, in a Jewish agricultural colony near Oungre, Saskatchewan, on Feb. 12, 1929. His parents, Kiva and the former Lily Weiner, had met and married in Turkey, where they had been settled by the Jewish Colonization Association to avoid persecution in their native Eastern Europe.

In 1926, the organization resettled the Kives family once more — to a farm on the Canadian prairie with neither electricity nor running water.

Amid the Depression, they battled drought, crop failure and insect infestations that seemed to rival the biblical plagues, living for many years on welfare. Philip grew up milking cows, hauling drinking water and earning money by trapping weasels and selling their fur.

In 1957, the young Mr. Kives left the farm for Winnipeg, where he worked as a cabby and a short-order cook. He began selling sewing machines and vacuum cleaners door to door, following the wires strung over newly electrified parts of town to find and court his customers.

He soon became a Paganini of pitchmen, hawking products at fairs throughout Canada and the United States.•

When music was as much held as listened to, the Record Selector and Tape Selector came in handy.

Tags: ,

journalistcar (1)

Here are 50 ungated pieces of wonderful journalism from 2015, alphabetized by author name, which made me consider something new or reconsider old beliefs or just delighted me. (Some selections are from gated publications that allow a number of free articles per month.) If your excellent work isn’t on the list, that’s more my fault than yours.

  • Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans?” (David Amsden, The New York Times Magazine) As private and public sector missions increasingly overlap, here’s an engaging look at the privatization of some policing in the French Quarter.
  • In the Beginning” (Ross Andersen, Aeon) A bold and epic essay about the elusive search for the origins of the universe.
  • Ask Me Anything (Anonymous, Reddit) A 92-year-old German woman who was born into Nazism (and participated in it) sadly absolves herself of all blame while answering questions about that horrible time.
  • Rethinking Extinction” (Stewart Brand, Aeon) The Whole Earth Catalog founder thinks the chance of climate-change catastrophe overrated, arguing we should utilize biotech to repopulate dwindling species.
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Don Lemon” (Taffy Brodesser-Akner, GQ) A deeply entertaining look into the perplexing facehole of Jeff Zucker’s most gormless word-sayer and, by extension, the larger cable-news zeitgeist.
  • How Social Media Is Ruining Politics(Nicholas Carr, Politico) A lament that our shiny new tools have provided provocative trolls far more credibility than a centralized media ever allowed for.
  • Clans of the Cathode” (Tom Carson, The Baffler) One of our best culture critics looks at the meaning of various American sitcom families through the medium’s history.
  • The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic) The author examines the tragedy of the African-American community being turned into a penal colony, explaining the origins of the catastrophic policy failure.
  • Perfect Genetic Knowledge” (Dawn Field, Aeon) The essayist thinks about a future in which we’ve achieved “perfect knowledge” of whole-planet genetics.
  • A Strangely Funny Russian Genius” (Ian Frazier, The New York Review of Books) Daniil Kharms was a very funny writer, if you appreciate slapstick that ends in a body count.
  • Tomorrow’s Advance Man” (Tad Friend, The New Yorker) Profile of Silicon Valley strongman Marc Andreessen and his milieu, an enchanted land in which adults dream of riding unicorns.
  • Build-a-Brain” (Michael Graziano, Aeon) The neuroscientist’s ambitious thought experiment about machine intelligence is a piece I thought about continuously throughout the year.
  • Ask Me Anything (Stephen Hawking, Reddit) Among other things, the physicist warns that the real threat of superintelligent machines isn’t malice but relentless competence.
  • Engineering Humans for War” (Annie Jacobsen, The Atlantic) War is inhuman, it’s been said, and the Pentagon wants to make it more so by employing bleeding-edge biology and technology to create super soldiers.
  • The Wrong Head” (Mike Jay, London Review of Books) A look at insanity in 1840s France, which demonstrates that mental illness is often expressed in terms of the era in which it’s experienced.
  • Death Is Optional” (Daniel Kahneman and Noah Yuval Harari, Edge) Two of my favorite big thinkers discuss the road ahead, a highly automated tomorrow in which medicine, even mortality, may not be an egalitarian affair.
  • Where the Bodies Are Buried,” (Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker) Ceasefires, even treaties, don’t completely conclude wars, as evidenced by this haunting revisitation of the heartbreaking IRA era.
  • Porntopia” (Molly Lambert, Grantland) The annual Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas, the Oscars of oral, allows the writer to look into a funhouse-mirror reflection of America.
  • The Robots Are Coming” (John Lanchester, London Review of Books) A remarkably lucid explanation of how quickly AI may remake our lives and labor in the coming decades.
  • Last Girl in Larchmont” (Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker) The great TV critic provides a postmortem of Joan Rivers and her singular (and sometimes disquieting) brand of feminism.
  • “President Obama & Marilynne Robinson: A Conversation, Part 1 & Part 2” (Barack Obama and Marilynne Robinson, New York Review of Books) Two monumental Americans discuss the state of the novel and the state of the union.
  • Ask Me Anything (Elizabeth Parrish, Reddit) The CEO of BioViva announces she’s patient zero for the company’s experimental age-reversing gene therapies. Strangest thing I read all year.
  • Why Alien Life Will Be Robotic” (Sir Martin Rees, Nautilus) The astronomer argues that ETs in our inhospitable universe have likely already transitioned into conscious machines.
  • Ask Me Anything (Anders Sandberg, Reddit) Heady conversation about existential risks, Transhumanism, economics, space travel and future technologies conducted by the Oxford researcher. 
  • Alien Rights” (Lizzie Wade, Aeon) Manifest Destiny will, sooner or later, became a space odyssey. What ethics should govern exploration of the final frontier?
  • Peeling Back the Layers of a Born Salesman’s Life” (Michael Wilson, The New York Times) The paper’s gifted crime writer pens a posthumous profile of a protean con man, a Zelig on the make who crossed paths with Abbie Hoffman, Otto Preminger and Annie Leibovitz, among others.
  • The Pop Star and the Prophet” (Sam York, BBC Magazine) Philosopher Jacques Attali, who predicted, back in the ’70s, the downfall of the music business, tells the writer he now foresees similar turbulence for manufacturing.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ll guess that the New York Times’ wonderful obituarist Margalit Fox does not spend most of her waking hours focused on mid-20th-century professional wrestling, yet she’s written a brilliant postmortem about the recently deceased Verne Gagne, a star DuMont TV wrestler in the 1950s who ultimately ran his own Midwest promotion. That’s what an excellent reporter can do: They come to an unfamiliar topic, gather information and process it, and then quickly turn out something that seems to have been written by a longtime expert on the subject. Much easier said than done.

Here’s the only thing I know about Gagne: He happened upon the young Andre the Giant (not yet so nicknamed) in Japan 45 years ago and wanted to turn him into a “Great White Hope” boxer to take on the likes of Ali and Frazier. Not quite how it turned out.

From Fox:

A saloonkeeper’s son, LaVerne Clarence Gagne was born on Feb. 26, 1926, in Corcoran, Minn., near Minneapolis, and reared on a farm there. His mother died when he was 11; three years later, determined to wrestle despite his father’s insistence that he work in the saloon instead, he left home. Verne finished high school, where he wrestled and played football and baseball while living with an aunt and uncle.

At the University of Minnesota, he became a four-time heavyweight champion of the Big Nine, as the Big Ten Conference was then known, and an N.C.A.A. national champion. He also played football. Near the end of World War II he served stateside with the Marines, tapped by virtue of his wrestling skills to teach the men hand-to-hand combat.

In 1947 Gagne was a 16th-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears; he was later courted by the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. But there was little money in pro football then, and he chose to earn his keep on the canvas.

In his first professional match, in 1949 in Minneapolis, Gagne defeated Abe Kashey, known as King Kong, and in the decades that followed Gagne traversed the country. Crowds waited eagerly for him to dispatch his foes with his trademark sleeper hold, which entailed grabbing an opponent’s head and pressing on his carotid artery so that he passed out — or at least gave a convincing impression of passing out.

In 1960, Gagne helped found the American Wrestling Association. Based in Minneapolis, the association promoted matches throughout the Midwest, Far West and Canada. Gagne, who later became the association’s sole owner, held the A.W.A. championship belt 10 times.

But in the 1980s, with the ascent of cable TV and its lucre, many of the nation’s star wrestlers, including Hogan and Ventura, were lured from their regional stables to the World Wrestling Federation, now a national behemoth known as World Wrestling Entertainment. The A.W.A. ceased operations in 1991; Gagne filed for personal bankruptcy in 1993.•


Tags: ,

Most of us do not get what we deserve in life, and struggling adman Gary Dahl did not merit wealth because he boozily dreamed up a novelty that ever so briefly became a national sensation. His Pet Rock was a gag that went large for a few months in the mid-’70s and minted him a millionaire. You could have thought of the Pet Rock, but you didn’t. Dahl did. Read what you will about Me Decade zeitgeist into the popularity of the packaged “domesticated” Mexican beach stones, but the joke about “pets” that need no affection nor could offer any was funny. Well, for about five minutes. And that was long enough for Dahl to cash in.

The huckster-ish marketer recently passed away. The New York Times obituary desk writer Margalit Fox, who has been for years–along with the dearly departed David Carr–my favorite stylist at the publication, penned Dahl’s post-mortem. An excerpt from Fox follows another from a 1975 People magazine piece which bemoaned the rocky story.


From People:

It is, apparently, an idea whose moment is regrettably here. Like the Hula Hoops, mink-lined shoehorns and giant paper clips of yore, Pet Rocks are the new national mania, selling like crazy in stores ranging from I. Magnin in San Francisco to Neiman-Marcus in Dallas. Says Dennis Hamel, gift buyer at New York’s Bloomingdale’s: “It’s unbelievable. We’re selling 400 a day.”

They are not, of course, prosaic pebbles, but egg-shaped Mexican beach stones, nestled on a bed of excelsior and packaged in a little doggy carrying case, equipped with breathing holes. The kit, selling for $4, is the concoction of Gary Dahl, a 38-year-old advertising copywriter from Los Gatos, Calif., who claims he hit on the idea while boozing with pals. He attributes its success to the fact that “people are so damn bored, tired of all their problems. This takes them on a fantasy trip—you might say we’ve packaged a sense of humor.”•


From Fox:

Gary Dahl, the man behind that scheme — described variously as a marketing genius and a genial mountebank — died on March 23 at 78. A down-at-the-heels advertising copywriter when he hit on the idea, he originally meant it as a joke. But the concept of a “pet” that required no actual work and no real commitment resonated with the self-indulgent ’70s, and before long a cultural phenomenon was born. 

A modern incarnation of “Stone Soup” as stirred by P. T. Barnum, Pet Rocks made Mr. Dahl a millionaire practically overnight. Though the fad ran its course long ago, the phrase “pet rock” endures in the American lexicon, denoting (depending on whether it is uttered with contempt or admiration) a useless entity or a meteoric success.

But despite the boon Pet Rocks brought him, Mr. Dahl came to regret the brainstorm that gave rise to them in the first place.

Mr. Dahl’s brainstorm began, as many do, in a bar.

One night in the mid-’70s, he was having a drink in Los Gatos, the Northern California town where he lived for many years. At the time, he was a freelance copywriter (“that’s another word for being broke,” he later said), living in a small cabin as a self-described “quasi dropout.”

The bar talk turned to pets, and to the onus of feeding, walking and cleaning up after them.

His pet, Mr. Dahl announced in a flash of bibulous inspiration, caused him no such trouble. The reason?

“I have a pet rock,” he explained.•

Tags: ,

A neurophysiological researcher at Yale, Colleen McCullough turned to writing at 37 as a second career and made it her first, producing with The Thorn Birds, a book about illicit love between a married woman and a priest, a career-defining success. Where did a story of such forbidden passion come from? Well, she was the daughter of a bigamist who had at least three wives at the same time. Listen, as an author she wasn’t Carson McCullers, but she didn’t need to be: Her heart was its own kind of lonely hunter. From her New York Times obituary, penned by the excellent Margalit Fox:

On a typical day, Ms. McCullough said, she might produce 15,000 words; on a very good day, 30,000. Her facility was all the more noteworthy in that she continued to use an electric typewriter well into the computer age.

“I spell perfectly,” she told The Inquirer in the 1996 article. “My grammar’s very good. My sentence construction is excellent. So I don’t have a lot of mistakes.” …

As a girl, Ms. McCullough dreamed of becoming a doctor. She entered medical school at the University of Sydney but was forced to abandon her studies after she developed a severe allergy to the soap widely used in Australian hospitals. She trained instead in neurophysiology, which is concerned with testing for and diagnosing neuromuscular diseases.

In the late 1960s, after working at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, Ms. McCullough accepted a position as a neurophysiological research assistant at the Yale School of Medicine. Discovering that she was being paid less than her male colleagues there, she cast about for another source of income.

“I loved being a neurophysiologist, but I didn’t want to be a 70-year old spinster in a cold-water walk-up flat with one 60-watt light bulb, which is what I could see as my future,” she told The California Literary Review in 2007.

Interested in writing since girlhood, she took to her typewriter.•

Tags: ,

That excellent Margalit Fox at the New York Times penned a postmortem for a Romanian academic who became an unlikely literary superstar when his story intersected with that of one of the world’s most feared figures. An excerpt: 

“The first of his many books on the subject, In Search of Dracula, published in 1972 and written with Raymond T. McNally, helped spur the revival of interest in Stoker’s vampirical nobleman that continues to this day.

‘It has changed my life,’ Professor Florescu told The New York Times in 1975. ‘I used to write books that nobody read.’

Radu Nicolae Florescu was born in Bucharest on Oct. 23, 1925. As he would learn in the course of his research, he had a family connection to Vlad, who was known familiarly if not quite fondly as Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler: A Florescu ancestor was said to have married Vlad’s brother, felicitously named Radu the Handsome.

At 13, as war loomed, Radu left home for London, where his father was serving as Romania’s acting ambassador to Britain. (The elder Mr. Florescu resigned his post after the dictator Ion Antonescu, a Nazi ally, became Romania’s prime minister in 1940.)

The younger Mr. Florescu earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford, followed by a Ph.D. in history from Indiana University. He joined the Boston College faculty in 1953.

In the late 1960s, Professor McNally, a colleague in the history department, grew intrigued by affinities between events in Stoker’s novel, published in 1897, and the actual history of the region. He enlisted Professor Florescu, and together they scoured archives throughout Eastern Europe in an attempt to trace Count Dracula to a flesh-and-blood source.”

Tags: , ,

David Foster Wallace wrote a great description of the nicotine-and-sandpaper comedian Bobby Slayton, who once descended on Las Vegas to host the Adult Film Awards, the Oscars of oral: “A gravelly-voiced Dice Clay knockoff who kept introducing every female performer as ‘the woman I’m going to cut my dick off for,’ and who astounded all the marginal print journalists in attendance with both his unfunniness and his resemblance to every apartment-complex coke dealer we’d ever met.”

As disreputable as Slayton may have seemed, he was one-upped by the toilet-mouthed ventriloquist act, Otto and George, when it headlined the grindhouse gala, actually managing to upset a roomful of people best known for performing deep throats and double penetrations. Otto Petersen, the fleshy half of the act, just passed away. His New York Times obituary was written by Margalit Fox, whose copy is steadfastly one of the great joys of reading the publication. An excerpt:

Popular with audiences and widely admired by other comics, Mr. Petersen was often described as soft-spoken in private life. But he was no match, he often said, for the strong-willed, forked-tongue George, whose caustic, profanity-laced outbursts rained down on a spate of targets, not least of all Mr. Petersen himself.

No subject was sacred, and George’s myriad observations could range over matters sexual, scatological, urological, gastroenterological, racial, bestial, theological and homicidal. None will be quoted here.

Mr. Petersen’s act was so scurrilous that it once proved too much for a historically thick-skinned crowd.

“They were told they had managed to offend the audience at the annual adult-film awards — the porno-world equivalent to the Academy Awards — in Las Vegas,” The Montreal Gazette reported in 2010. “Otto and George had twice served as hosts, but weren’t asked back by the insulted and suddenly squeamish organizers.•

Tags: , , ,

Language is a funny thing, and there’s no way that Walter H. Stern could have guessed that a phrase he came up with 56 years ago would be the lead of his obituary in 2013. From Margalit Fox in the New York Times:

“In fact, the first known print citation, the O.E.D. goes on to say, appeared more than half a century ago, on Oct. 20, 1957, on the front page of The Times.

‘To the prospective home owner wondering whether the purchase of a given house will push him over the fiscal cliff,’ the article begins, ‘probably the most difficult item to estimate is his future property tax.’

The man who wrote that article — and in so doing gave life to a phrase that has lately poured from the lips of pundits, politicians and the public worldwide — was Walter H. Stern, a former real estate writer for The Times who died last Saturday at 88.

Mr. Stern was associated with The Times from 1942 until 1961, when he left to pursue a career in public relations. What he could scarcely have known that day in 1957 was that in the course of writing an analytical article about taxation, he built a small but powerful lexicographic time bomb.

‘Fiscal cliff’ lay largely dormant for decades, cropping up in The Times on only seven more occasions through the end of 2011.

Then it exploded.”

Tags: ,

From another great obituary in the New York Times by Margalit Fox, this one about a nonagenarian typewriter repairman who triumphed in a small way over time itself:

“Mr. [Manson] Whitlock was often described as America’s oldest typewriter repairman. He was inarguably one of the country’s longest-serving.

Over time he fixed more than 300,000 machines, tending manuals lovingly, electrics grudgingly and computers never.

“I don’t even know what a computer is,’ Mr. Whitlock told The Yale Daily News, the student paper, in 2010. ‘I’ve heard about them a lot, but I don’t own one, and I don’t want one to own me.’

Whitlock’s Typewriter Shop once supported six technicians, who ministered to patients with familiar names like Royal, Underwood, Smith and Corona, and curious ones like Hammonia and Blickensderfer.

The shop, near the Yale campus, attracted a tide of students and faculty members; the Pulitzer Prize-winning writers Robert Penn Warren, Archibald MacLeish and John Hersey; the Yale classicist Erich Segal, who wrote the best-selling novel Love Story on a Royal he bought there; and, on at least one occasion, President Gerald R. Ford.

In recent years, however, until he closed the shop in June, Mr. Whitlock was its entire staff, working with only a bust of Mark Twain for company.”


More typewriter-related posts:


If you missed Margalit Fox’s great New York Times obituary about Garry Davis, a U.S. WWII veteran who renounced his American citizenship to become a citizen of the world, check it out. An excerpt:

“Garry Davis, a longtime peace advocate, former Broadway song-and-dance man and self-declared World Citizen No. 1, who is widely regarded as the dean of the One World movement, a quest to erase national boundaries that today has nearly a million adherents worldwide, died on Wednesday in Williston, Vt. He was 91, and though in recent years he had largely ceased his wanderings and settled in South Burlington, Vt., he continued to occupy the singular limbo between citizen and alien that he had cheerfully inhabited for 65 years.

‘I am not a man without a country,” Mr. Davis told Newsweek in 1978, ‘merely a man without nationality.’

Mr. Davis was not the first person to declare himself a world citizen, but he was inarguably the most visible, most vocal and most indefatigable.

The One World model has had its share of prominent adherents, among them Albert Schweitzer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Einstein and E. B. White.

But where most advocates have been content to write and lecture, Mr. Davis was no armchair theorist: 60 years ago, he established the World Government of World Citizens, a self-proclaimed international governmental body that has issued documents — passports, identity cards, birth and marriage certificates — and occasional postage stamps and currency.

He periodically ran for president of the world, always unopposed.”

Tags: ,

The Olivier of oral, Harry Reems, the porn star born Herbert Streicher to two very proud and well-hung parents, just passed away. In all seriousness, his work on the landmark 1972 skin-flick Deep Throat led to years of prosecution on obscenity charges. Reems ultimately was victorious, and converted to Christianity in later life. Margalit Fox, who writes lively copy about dead people, penned his obituary in the New York Times. An excerpt:

Mr. Reems, who began his career in the 1960s as a struggling stage actor, had already made dozens of pornographic films when he starred opposite Ms. Lovelace in Deep Throat.

But where his previous movies were mostly the obscure, short, grainy, plotless stag films known as loops, Deep Throat, which had set design, occasional costumes, dialogue punctuated by borscht-belt humor and an actual plot of sorts, was Cinema.

Mr. Reems played Dr. Young, a physician whose diagnostic brilliance — he locates the rare anatomical quirk that makes Ms. Lovelace’s character vastly prefer oral sex to intercourse — is matched by his capacity for tireless ministration.

“I was always the doctor,” he told New York magazine in 2005, “because I was the one that had an acting background. I would say: ‘You’re having trouble with oral sex? Well, here’s how to do it.’ Cut to a 20-minute oral-sex scene.'”•

William F. Buckley “welcomes” Reems and a wild-haired Alan Dershowitz:

Tags: , , ,

From an obituary of John Karlin by the excellent New York Times writer Margalit Fox, a passage about the psychologist who brought behavioral sciences to product design during his tenure at Bell Labs:

“By all accounts a modest man despite his variegated accomplishments (he had a doctorate in mathematical psychology, was trained in electrical engineering and had been a professional violinist), Mr. Karlin, who died on Jan. 28, at 94, was virtually unknown to the general public.

But his research, along with that of his subordinates, quietly yet emphatically defined the experience of using the telephone in the mid-20th century and afterward, from ushering in all-digit dialing to casting the shape of the keypad on touch-tone phones. And that keypad, in turn, would inform the design of a spate of other everyday objects.

It is not so much that Mr. Karlin trained midcentury Americans how to use the telephone. It is, rather, that by studying the psychological capabilities and limitations of ordinary people, he trained the telephone, then a rapidly proliferating but still fairly novel technology, to assume optimal form for use by midcentury Americans.

‘He was the one who introduced the notion that behavioral sciences could answer some questions about telephone design,’ Ed Israelski, an engineer who worked under Mr. Karlin at Bell Labs in the 1970s, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.”

Tags: ,

Catskills maître d’hôtel Irving Cohen was a matchless matchmaker, and Margalit Fox of the New York Times is a dynamite writer. So it’s no surprise that the passing of the former turned into a great obituary in the care of the latter. An excerpt:

“By all accounts the borscht belt’s longest-serving maître d’hôtel, Mr. Cohen worked at the Concord, in Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., from his early 20s until he was in his early 80s. He would have worked there longer, he said, had the hotel not closed in 1998.

Officially, Mr. Cohen presided over three meals a day in the vast kosher empire that was the Concord dining room, helping thousands of patrons navigate its towering shoals of gefilte fish, pot roast, potato pudding and a great deal else.

Unofficially (though only just), he was the matchmaker for a horde of hopefuls, who flocked to the Catskills ostensibly for shuffleboard and Sammy Davis Jr. but in actuality to eat, drink, marry and be fruitful and multiply, generally in that order.

Thanks to Mr. Cohen, many did. In the 1940s, he paired the Concord’s original clientele. In the ’60s, he paired their children. And in the ’80s, he paired their children’s children. It is no exaggeration, Bob Cohen said Tuesday, to say that thousands of marriages resulted from his father’s sharp-eyed ministrations.

And thus, simply by doing his job — which combined Holmesian deductive skill with Postian etiquette and a touch of cryptographic cloak and dagger — Mr. Cohen single-handedly helped perpetuate a branch of American Jewry.”

Tags: ,

Mike McGrady, an ink-stained wretch from an era when it seemed like newsprint would flow forever, just passed away. More than his journalistic career, McGrady, to his horror, was best known for Naked Came the Stranger, a trashy 1969 hoax novel that he co-wrote with a couple dozen other Newsday reporters and editors. Meant as a satire of Jacqueline Susann and similar popular writers of the day, it was initially published earnestly under a nom de plume and sold quite well. From Margalit Fox’s New York Times obituary of the late scribe:

“Intended to be a work of no redeeming social value and even less literary value, Naked Came the Stranger by all appearances succeeded estimably on both counts.

Originally issued by Lyle Stuart, an independent publisher known for subversive titles, the novel was a no-holds-barred chronicle of a suburban woman’s sexual liaisons, with each chapter recounting a different escapade:

She has sex with a mobster and sex with a rabbi. She has sex with a hippie and sex with at least one accountant. There is a scene involving a tollbooth, another involving ice cubes and still another featuring a Shetland pony.

The book’s cover — a nude woman seen from behind — left little to the imagination, as, in its way, did its prose:

‘Ernie found what Cervantes and Milton had only sought. He thought the fillings in his teeth would melt.’

The purported author was Penelope Ashe, who as the jacket copy told it was a ‘demure Long Island housewife.’ In reality, Mr. McGrady had dreamed up the book as ironic commentary on the public’s appetite for Jacqueline Susann and her ilk.”


A 1975 adaptation from the director of The Opening of Misty Beethoven:

Tags: , , ,

The opening of a New York Times obituary by Margalit Fox about Swami Bhaktipada, formerly Keith Gordon Ham of Peekskill, New York, who led one wacky life:

“Swami Bhaktipada, a former leader of the American Hare Krishna movement who built a sprawling golden paradise for his followers in the hills of Appalachia but who later pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges that included conspiracy to commit the murders-for-hire of two devotees, died on Monday in a hospital near Mumbai, India. He was 74.

The cause was kidney failure, his brother, Gerald Ham, said.

Mr. Bhaktipada, who was released from prison in 2004 after serving eight years of a 12-year sentence, moved to India in 2008.

The son of a Baptist preacher, Mr. Bhaktipada was one of the first Hare Krishna disciples in the United States. He founded, in 1968, what became the largest Hare Krishna community in the country and presided over it until 1994, despite having been excommunicated by the movement’s governing body.”


Krishnas get cold shoulder at Hippie Fest in Cincinnati, 1970:

Tags: , , ,