For those who like to see their name in print, the Hiltons and Kardashians of this world, make sure that, when the man in the white suit visits you, you’re the only one he’s dropping in on. In fact, even if the white-suited gent visits you within a day or two of having called upon someone more famous, your goose is cooked. Newspapers, television, radio, and the horrid internet have become so celebrity minded, the demise of such nonentities I mentioned above would take precedence over the death of the pope.
By now some of you may be wondering what I’m talking about. I don’t blame you. Let’s take it from the top. On March 5, 1953, I woke up early and rather nervous. My prep school, Blair Academy, was wrestling against my old prep, Lawrenceville, a school that had kicked me out for being recalcitrant and sneaking out of campus at night. I had wrestled for Lawrenceville and it was imperative for me to beat the school that had treated me—I thought—rather shabbily. During classes the news came in that the greatest criminal of all time (Mao’s slaughters had not become known as yet) Joseph Stalin had croaked that morning in Moscow. I forgot all about the wrestling and spent the rest of the day on gossamer wings. I hated Stalin and the commies more than the everyday Joe, as they had burned my father’s factories to the ground in Athens and had murdered many of our workers. Oh, yes—I almost forgot. Blair’s head of music, Mr. Ewing, had recently introduced a Russian composer by the name of Sergei Prokofiev, whose two famous works were Peter and the Wolf and Romeo and Juliet. I thought them crappy because they were atonal, but I actually bought an LP of his called The Love for Three Oranges. Just for the title and the bright oranges on the vinyl.
Switch to ten years later and a late-night discussion in a Parisian café. I am attacking atonal music and announcing that if I could I would shoot the best of that rotten lot, Sergei Prokofiev. “Shows how little you know about the subject,” harrumphed a chain-smoking frog. “Prokofiev died back in ’53.” And sure enough he had, but even his champion, Mr. Ewing, never heard about it because he died on March 5, 1953.
Or take the case of poor Michael Crichton, creator of Jurassic Park and other thrillers, who died much too early in life, on November 4, 2008. No one bothered to read his obituary because they were too busy hailing the first African-American to be elected president. The one case that made me laugh was that of Jeffrey Bernard, who used to write the Low Life column to my High Life for the Spectator. Bernard was such an infamous boozer that a play based on him starring Peter O’Toole ran in London’s West End for years. Bernard, who had cancer, liver disease, severe diabetes, and acute alcoholism, planned his departure from this world like a general. He personally told me that he wanted to go on a Friday evening, too late for the Saturday papers, leaving it to the numerous British Sundays to write about him at length. He told me this when I went to say goodbye to him during the last week of his life, after he stopped dialysis. The trouble was that he succumbed to kidney failure four nights after a certain blonde by the name of Diana, accompanied by a ridiculous towelhead called Dodi Fayed, crashed in a Parisian underpass. Hardly a word about poor Jeffrey appeared anywhere, and I only heard about it when I next visited the Spectator a month later.
My uncle by marriage, Groucho Marx—I’m being serious; my sister-in-law, Princess Victoria Schoenburg, is married to Groucho’s nephew—was one of the world’s funniest men, and a very learned one also, but his death went almost unreported because he died on August 19, 1977; the King—Elvis Presley—had died three days earlier, so the hacks hardly reported the Marx demise. Ditto for Farrah Fawcett, who died the same day as the child-molesting opposite to Rachel Dolezal, Michael Jackson, bought the farm.
The worst case of all, however, is that of two great men, Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis. Both men were prominent members of the British literati, and both had published classic works that will endure most likely forever. But upon their death within ten minutes of each other in merry old England, obituary writers were busy on a far bigger story that had taken place earlier in the day in faraway Texas. It was November 22, 1963, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy had just been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. Now the death of a young U.S. president has to be the biggest story ever, so I’m sure C.S. and Aldous understood, but what about poor Mother Teresa, a woman who spent her life giving comfort to the poor but was totally ignored by the celebrity-mad media because she had the bad luck to die on September 5, 1997, five days after Princess Diana.
So, if you like that sort of thing, make sure the man in the white suit visits you and you alone.