Two of many gems:
On Safire's long-running "On Language" series:
There were columns on blogosphere blargon, tarnation-heck euphemisms, dastardly subjunctives and even Barack and Michelle Obama's fist bumps. And there were Safire "rules for writers:" Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. And don't overuse exclamation points!!
On Safire, the man:
He was hardly the image of a button-down Times man: The shoes needed a shine, the gray hair a trim. Back in the days of suits, his jacket was rumpled, the shirt collar open, the tie askew. He was tall but bent — a man walking into the wind. He slouched and banged a keyboard, talked as fast as any newyawka and looked a bit gloomy, like a man with a toothache coming on.
Whatever you thought of his politics, you have to love his obituary.
But this post isn't about Safire. This is about the obituary that was buried below the fold and beneath Safire.
This Is Why I Read Obituaries
I'd never heard of Edward Gelsthorpe until I read his obituary yesterday: "Edward Gelsthorpe, 88, Master Marketer."
Gelsthorpe — after death, he is no longer "Mr. Gelsthorpe," Safire would remind us — was truly a master marketer, the ingenious thrust behind so many enormous marketing successes: Roll-on deodorant. Cran-apple juice. Manwich Sloppy Joe.
Each story is a moment of brilliance fully executed. Enviable. And the photograph of his haircut (see above) is worth the price of the day's newspaper.
(I've long wanted to teach a course on Dead Marketers, with all readings taken from the Times obituaries.)
The concluding paragraph on Gelsthorpe's life? William Grimes, the writer of the obituary, expertly closes with:
“Very aggressive marketers make fashion,” he told The New York Times in 1973. “They don’t wait for the groundswell. They build a consumer desire.”
Marketers Are Modern-Day Royalty?
Methinks that Gelsthorpe studied his Shakespeare.
His comment on "making fashion" and "They don't wait..." harkens back to Henry V.
We now return you to the stunning conclusion (Act V, scene ii), where Henry is trying to convince demurring Kate to kiss him. The warrior king has just met the princess, having conquered her father's country. He seeks to claim her as his booty, if you will.
Consider Gelsthorpe, especially where I have underscored the text.
KING HENRY V (King of England, new conqueror of France)
Then I will kiss your lips, Kate.
KATHARINE (Princess of France)
Les dames et demoiselles pour etre baisees devant
leur noces, il n'est pas la coutume de France.
KING HENRY V
Madam my interpreter, what says she?
ALICE (handmaiden to the Princess)
Dat it is not be de fashion pour les ladies of
France,--I cannot tell vat is "baiser" en Anglish.
KING HENRY V
Your majesty entendre bettre que moi.
KING HENRY V
It is not a fashion for the maids in France to kiss
before they are married, would she say?
KING HENRY V
O Kate, nice customs curtsy to great kings. Dear
Kate, you and I cannot be confined within the weak
list of a country's fashion: we are the makers of
manners, Kate; and the liberty that follows our
places stops the mouth of all find-faults; as I will
do yours, for upholding the nice fashion of your
country in denying me a kiss: therefore, patiently
This all reminds me of a strange deal that my wife and I have long held.
If Kenneth Branagh (who so memorably portrayed Hank 5) comes to the door, my wife is entitled to run off with him. I get the same deal with his then-wife, Emma Thompson.
Please don't argue about our choices for planned infidelity. (Did someone say "infidelity"?)
There's no accounting for taste.