Greats Gone By | Newberry

Greats Gone By

There was a football game yesterday, with its usual burden of a halftime show and deeply meaningful or cheerfully absurd commercials. But we must, as always, look ahead. It is time to move on toward the next Great American Mania: those Academy Awards coming out next Sunday.

You may discuss its hostless nature, or argue about what was and what was not nominated, but the part of the show I personally look forward to each year is the Necrology: that segment everyone else hates where they pause to look back over what greats died in the previous year, and walk into a hundred tweets of “Why did you leave out Ladislas Brosniky?”

I realize that, at its best, this segment is just a sentimental mixture of “Who’s that?” and “I didn’t even know she was still alive”, but I like it. My moviegoing habits are such that these are often the only people all night I HAVE heard of before.

This, plus the announcement that Mary Higgins Clark, a standard Book fair author, has just died at 92, has provoked a look back at some of the people who have added a lot to the bulk of our offerings and died in the past twelve months or so.

The best thing I know about Mary Higgins Clark, whose many, many bestsellers can be found in the Mystery section, is that Stephen King was in awe of the answer to a magazine which asked a number of authors to describe the Scariest Sound in the World. Her choice: you’ve locked up for night and you’re alone in your house, and just as you climb into bed, you hear the toilet flush.

I would like to salute Ernest J. Gaines and Robert K. Massie together. Robert Massie, in particular, with books like Dreadnought, which is a honking huge tome, has added a great deal to the History and Military History sections. But what he will always mean to ME in a Book Fair connection, is how everyone took his book about the doomed tsar and tsarina, Nicholas and Alexandra, and put it in Fiction “because they made a movie out of it”. If I’d thought of it, I could have answered with Ernest J. Gaines, who used to be in Fiction but moved to Literature a few years ago. “Yeah,” I should’ve said, “But you keep putting the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” in Biography, and they made a movie of THAT.” (It’s a novel.)

Herman Wouk died at the age of 103; he also wrote bigger and longer books as he went on, but what he means to ME goes back to his Pulitzer winner, The Caine Mutiny. See, if you guys would just cooperatre, you could help him make the Book Fair much richer. The Caine Mutiny of course became a major Broadway play, The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, and a great movie, with Humphrey Bogart. The movie soundtrack was all set to be released when Herman Wouk put a stop to it. Side 2 of the record had the big climax of the show (Bogart’s big speech as Captain Queeg), which gave away the ending, so people would stop coming to the play. Only a dozen or so copies got out, and I have a standing offer from a record collector of six thousand dollars if it just comes in in a record donation. Now neither Bogart nor Wouk is around to sign it, but I could get by.

I can’t go through the whole list, but other major Book Fair stalwarts passed on recently: Marion Chesney, who can be found in at least two different categories under six or seven names (she was also M.C. Beaton, Jennie Tremaine, etc.), Rachel; Ingalls, whose Mrs. Caliban can be found in quantity in Fiction, Toni Morison in Literature and her opposite number, Harold Bloom, who is all over Education and Books and Authors. Judith Krantz could have a couple shelves of her own in romance (and maybe in videocassettes, if someone wants to let go of Lace), while Anne Rivers Siddons and Rosamund Pilcher are each responsible for a shelf of books, sometimes in Romance and sometimes in Fiction.

But perhaps the Book Fair Necrology Award needs to go to Russell Baker, who will be found, depending on who’s sorting, in Biography, Books and Authors, Fiction, Humor, Essays, and probably Gardening, for all I can tell. At least his books aren’t as LONG as Herman Wouk’s, or we’d have to give him his own book fair.

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