Monday, September 29, 2008

Pageant & Helene Pleasants

Sunday's Times Book Review ran a threadbare article fulsomely praising the copyeditor Helene Pleasants--who was the chief copyeditor at Pageant magazine at one time, and I worked under her.

The author of the article trashes Pageant--unjustifiably. It was a lively magazine, edited by Howard Cohn, and it ran many fine pieces by fine writers. For Pageant I wrote an article finally identifying who Falconetti was--the actress who starred in The Passion of Joan of Arc. I wrote another piece, Why Blondes Really Have More Fun, giving sensible reasons why blondes seem more attractive to men. (Eg, their blonde hair narrows the iris, so people see fewer imperfections.)

Later, after consulting some issues of Pageant, I'll give other examples of good articles. James Conniff, Arthur Whitman, and Sam Blum were regular contributors--they were leading freelance writers.

As for Pleasants, she made my life a nightmare. Why didn't I make this change, or that change? She expected me to edit exactly as she would have. And she had a Procrustean bed of changes--"trivial" doesn't do them justice. "More than" instead of "over." She never added a lively, colorful word; never made a lumpy article more sprightly.

Once, to get her out of my hair, I offered to check-mark every single word in any ms I edited--indicating that I had checked the spelling.

She challenged me on one word.

I brought the enormous dictionary to her desk and showed her the word. DON'T YOU SEE IT? I shouted at her. I am normally a timid, Milquetoasty person, but I had had it. A vein throbbed in my head--I felt it as I shouted at her. DON'T YOU SEE IT?

She finally began treating me with respect.

Mark Twain once had a ms edited by a professional copyeditor. He rejected all of her changes. He called her a schoolmarm.

If Helene Pleasants had edited Mark Twain, he would have come out sounding like a chemistry textbook.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

National Enquirer

Good article in current Newsweek about the National Enquirer--that tabloid that sometimes breaks good stories.

I met a smart young woman--this was 40-50 years ago--who had worked for the Enquirer as a reporter.

She said that when she was hired, she was told: Never lie. Never make anything up. Be totally honest.

But, the editors also told her,

if they send you out on a story, you had damn well come back with that story.

Or, as I like to tell it, if they send you out to do a story on a woman who gave birth to kittens, you had damn well come back with a story about a woman who gave birth to kittens.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Notes on a Forgotten Hero

Titta Ruffo. 1877-1953.
Born Ruffo Titta.
Named Ruffo after the family dog, which had just died.
Ruffo discovered that he had a powerful baritone voice. A rival said it wasn't a voice--it was a miracle.
The Voice of the Lion.
At Covent Garden, he was scheduled to sing with Nellie Melba, the wicked witch from Australia.
Nellie, apparently worried after hearing him sing that she would be outshone by him, told the manager: He's too young.
Eight years later, when Ruffo was the most famous baritone in the world, she invited him to sing with her. He sent back a message, instructing the messenger not to change a word: Signor Titta believes she is too old to sing with him.
But later he did sing with her.

In 1916, when he was making a fortune singing all over the world, he joined the Italian army! Stopped singing--except at benefits for wounded soldiers. Returning to opera years later.

Didn't suck up to Mussolini, the way other singers (Gigli and Lauri-Volpi) did.

Got assaulted in France before a performance by Mussolini's thugs--went on with his performance.

A leading Socialist in Italy defied Mussolini. He was Ruffo's brother in law. The man disappeared. Ruffo canceled his operatic appearances. The man was found dead. Ruffo went to the funeral. Arrested by Mussolini, spent a few days in jail before international protests led to his release.

His recording of the Oath Aria from Otello, with Caruso, is considered by some critics to be the best recording of any operatic aria ever. (He and Caruso seemed to be rivals--they made few recordings together.)

You can listen to the Voice of the Lion on YouTube.


Saturday, September 13, 2008


The chances of our having a nuclear war in the near future were high enough with McCain as possibly president. Now with this nutcase Palin as a possible president, the chances are even higher.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Delciious meal at Cucina, a new restaurant in Woodstock, NY. Appetizer (a beet dish), main course (salmon), dessert (chocolate).

Eager to return there the next weekend.

Appetizer: squid (too soft--and the sauce was unusually sweet), the main course (chicken dish) tough and tasteless. Skipped dessert. A shock, a disappointment.

Even good restaurants, I know, screw up occasionally. But the drop-off in quality was startling. May never return there. (Service was excellent, though.)

Sometimes a restaurant goes downhill, I suspect, because--to economize--the chef takes shortcuts. I remember eating a chicken dish at a restaurant in Hackensack that was in trouble-and I couldn't taste any chicken! The same restaurant surreptitiously charged an automatic tip on our group--of just four people!

Just got an email from Miss Lucy's Kitchen, a restaurant in Saugerties--I had written about leaving when my meal finally arrived, to see a movie that was just starting. After telling the waiter I was in a hurry--and paying the check in advance. That's happened before. Why do some restaurants ignore you when you say you're in a hurry? And how come, sometimes, other diners--who camne in later--are served before you are, although you ordered a simple dish?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Depressing thought

The idea that McCain might win depresses me--I think we might have a world war if that simple-minded, short-tempered, pugnacious moron becomes president. I'm reminded of what HL Mencken said: no one ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American public.