You Can’t Take It With You

Howard H. Scott 1920 to two weeks ago Saturday
Steve Jobs singlehandedly undid this man’s life work. In 1948 Mr. Scott invented Long Playing vinyl record.  LPs–which could hold 22 minutes of music on each side–replaced the 78s that could only hold four.  He took us from the world of singles into the world of high-fidelity albums.  Then Jobs and his iPod took us back to the 1940s by force-feeding us lo-fi singles.  Still, without Scott there’s no Dark Side of the Moon or Abbey Road.  He even won a grammy for his recording of Charles Ives Symphony #1.

Lois Smith 1928 to Sunday
Ms. Smith “was at the birth of Marilyn Monroe’s kittens.”  She was the last of the classy generation of publicists.  In exchange for overlooking drug abuse and divorces she would grant access to her clientele–among their ranks, Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Ms. Monroe–to “smart and stimulating writers.”  She left the biz out of frustration with invasive “cellphone cameras and celebrity Internet Blogs.”  With her departs the last vestiges of privacy and dignity that movie stars enjoyed.

Nguyen Chi Thien 1939 to last Tuesday
Mr. Thien spent 27 years in Vietnamese prison and labor camps for teaching in a high school that atomic bombs rather than the Soviet threat forced Japan’s WWII surrender.  Though chained naked in summer’s blistering heat, legs infected from rusty shackles, stomach doubled over in hunger, he maintained that his greatest suffering was deprivation of simple pencil and paper.  He was a great poet of the Vietnamese resistance to Communism.  He left this behind:

My poetry’s not mere poetry, no,
but it’s the sound of sobbing from a life,
the din of doors in a dark jail,
the wheeze of two poor wasted lungs,
the thud of earth tossed to bury dreams,
the clash of teeth all chattering from cold,
the cry of hunger from a stomach wrenching wild,
the helpless voice before so many wrecks.
All sounds of life half lived,
of death half died — no poetry, no.

Dr. Thomas Szasz 1920 to five weeks ago Saturday
Szasz challenged accepted medical wisdom.   He had few friends, and understandably so.  Though a psychiatrist himself, he considered his discipline “in the company of alchemy and astrology.”  One commentator summarized his complaint thus: “People get designated as ill, labeled and then shafted out of society and preyed on by an industry dominated by drugs.” His work forced medical practitioners to reflect on just whom their work was benefitting, reflection that is still important today.

Irving Cohen 1917 to last Monday
King Cupid of the Catskills puts Yenta to shame.  He was for sixty years the man who sat the nice Jewish boy next to just the right nice Jewish girl as maître d’hôtel in the Catskill’s Concord Hotel.  By arranging literally thousands of marriages (seriously, his son said so), he singlehandedly helped perpetuate three whole generations of the Sammy-Davis-Jr.-and-shuffleboard-loving branch of American Jewry.  Mazel Tov!

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