RIP, Molly.

I don’t have a personal Molly Ivins story, but I remember one from a magazine profile of her, long ago: She was a national correspondent for the New York Times, charged with roaming the western United States and filing those quirky sorts of stories they find so amusing in New York. One was about a chicken-slaughter in some dusty burg, and it was a turning point in her career. Oh, look — it made her NYT obituary:

Covering an annual chicken slaughter in New Mexico in 1980, she used a sexually suggestive phrase, which her editors deleted from the final article. But her effort to use it angered the executive editor, A. M. Rosenthal, who ordered her back to New York and assigned her to City Hall, where she covered routine matters with little flair.

The phrase was “gang pluck.” As I recall the anecdote, this sent Rosenthal into a towering rage, and the ensuing scolding was something to see. Rosenthal, trembling with anger, leaned across the table and thundered, “You were trying to make the readers of the NEW YORK TIMES think of the phrase gang fuck, weren’t you, Molly? Weren’t you? The readers of the NEW YORK TIMES?!?”

I don’t recall what Ivins said in reply, if she said anything; that’s the sort of thing you just have to endure. But in retrospect,it says something about both of them: Molly Ivins knew something that A.M. Rosenthal did not, i.e. how to turn a phrase. (Also, how to have a sense of humor.)

While the NYT has employed some fine writers, Ivins was never cut out to be one of them, so of course she didn’t really come into her own until she was back in Texas. Everyone talks about her regular skewering of the Shrub, i.e. the 43rd president, but I always thought her best work were her deadpan accounts of doin’s in the Texas legislature, a repository of crooks, weirdos, stuffed shirts, shitheads and others so strange it makes, say, the Indiana General Assembly look like the House of Lords. Reading her columns was like sitting with a great, funny friend in the observation gallery, while she pointed out people on the floor below and told you great stories about them.

I recall one vividly: The Texas legislator who had to attend a function in San Francisco in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. So terrified was he of catching something that he called the front desk of the hotel and asked for extra shower caps, which he wore on his feet. While showering.

I look at Ivins’ work then and I think: So ahead of her time. Note this paragraph from the Times obit:

But the (Dallas Times Herald), she said, promised to let her write whatever she wanted. When she declared of a congressman, “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day,” many readers were appalled, and several advertisers boycotted the paper. In her defense, her editors rented billboards that read: “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?” The slogan became the title of the first of her six books.

You wonder, looking at that phrase, what was so awful about it, other than it was rude and funny. This was in the mid-’80s, before right-wing talk radio and blowhard cable slugfests, when newspaper humor was Art Buchwald and Erma Bombeck and Andy Rooney, and political humor was Mark Russell and the dopey Capitol Steps, and the only people allowed to be rude and funny were the cast of “Saturday Night Live,” and that was mainly about doing impersonations and coining catch phrases.

You wonder why newspapers lost their audience? Because Molly Ivins was considered the outer limits. (Although, to be sure, the Dallas Times Herald went ahead and folded in 1991, with Ivins on staff. Ultimately, it comes down to this: I don’t know anything.)

If you haven’t read the comments from the previous thread, do so. Low down, LA Mary tells some stories about her time working for Ivins as an assistant. Lucky girl. Or read the WashPost obit, here. Better yet, read both.


I once knew a man who claimed to have been 13 pounds and change at birth, and judging from the size of him in adulthood, I believe him. But it gets better: His parents were so poor he was born at home, in a Chicago tenement. (I’ll bet that labor and delivery kept the neighbors up.) But he has nothing on Super Tonio, born in Cancun, weighing 14.5 pounds at birth. A moment of silence for his mother’s birth canal, please.

Kate went back to school today. Fingers crossed for no bounceback.

Posted at 11:06 am in Media |

34 responses to “RIP, Molly.”

  1. Casey said on February 1, 2007 at 11:42 am

    my favorite line from the Post obit: “Molly doesn’t sand down”

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  2. LA mary said on February 1, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    I noticed that her ability to switch accents from Texas to Ivy League is mentioned in the article, and it definitely was something I noticed. She didn’t sound all that Texan most of the time, just when she wanted to project a certain persona. I know that cut into her credibility with some people, even fellow reporters at the Times. If she needed me to hurry things up, she’d get very Texan and tell me to “get movin, daughter,” which sounded like, “dotter.”
    I didn’t know her father had shot himself, jeez. She did not get along with him at all. They weren’t speaking when I knew her.

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  3. MarkH said on February 1, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Nice post on Molly, Nance; you, too, mary.

    I didn’t always agree with her politically, but that didn’t keep me from reading her compulsively. I found I wouldn’t get irritated so much at her politically, as I would out of jealousy. She wrote so damn well; creative, witty, hit the nail so often (and so often with W). I just had to come to terms with envy and draw some inspiration from her. Turn a phrase, indeed; what an understatement.

    BTW, don’t worry so much about Tonio’s mom’s birth canal. I heard on MSNBC this morning that he was delivered cesarian (WHEW!).

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  4. LA mary said on February 1, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    When my younger son was born there was a Mexican baby in the nursery who had to be close to that size. My son was nine pounds eight ounces, 22 1/2 inches long, this kid looked considerably larger. He had a very full head of straight black hair that stood straight out too. Amazing. My neighbor had a baby the same week, five pounds six ounces, not a preemie or anything, just small. The contrast was striking.

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  5. Kirk said on February 1, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    i discovered ivins in the late ’70s when she was with the times. i found myself reading anything under her byline, regardless of the topic.

    i was always impressed by her talent for simultaneously outraging and amusing me, and for carrying it through the whole story.

    she cracked me up a couple of years ago in an appearance in a PBS mini-series about the American language. in discussing the Texas legislature, she said something along the lines of “People think that Boomhauer is just a cartoon character on ‘King of the Hill,’ but half the guys in the Texas statehouse talk just like him.”

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  6. deb said on February 1, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    i used to subscribe to “the nation” just because molly ivins and calvin trillin both occasionally appeared in it. i loved her for insisting that all those inside-baseball stories reporters save to share with their colleagues over drinks are the very tidbits that should be getting into the paper. she was so, so right.

    one of my favorite such quotes, from a texas legislator being feted for something or other: “i am filled with humidity.”

    you can’t make that stuff up.

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  7. Danny said on February 1, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    I was wondering how the conservatives might be remembering Ivins. Kathleen Parker writes a nice tribute:,_molly&ns=KathleenParker&dt=02/02/2007&page=full&comments=true

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  8. nancy said on February 1, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks for the link, Danny. I’ve received two e-mails on it in the last hour. First one:

    I guess it was respectful, but I couldn’t help but infer that parker thinks she’s in the same league as ivins. Afraid not, sweetie.

    Second one:

    Did you notice how Kathleen Parker sort of grouped herself in with Molly Ivins in the lovely tribute? I don’t think of them in the same league as writers.

    Yeah, me neither. But KP’s got the greatest glamour shots.

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  9. Danny said on February 1, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    Yeah, I’ve never really heard of Kathleen Parker. Wonder if Will, Safire (retired, so probably not), Buckley or Noonan will weigh in.

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  10. Terry said on February 1, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    It’s easy 25 years on to laugh about how a rube Texas legislator worried about catching AIDS. I worked as a virologist at the National Institutes of Health Laboratory of Pathology at the time, and people even wore baggies over their shoes, and many MD and PhD scientists would leave the shoes they wore to work in a box in their garage, rather than walk into their house wearing them. None of us at the time knew enough about AIDS transmission and viability to feel comfortable doing otherwise.

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  11. LA mary said on February 1, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Look at the little blurb about Kathleen at the bottom of her column:

    Kathleen Parker is a popular syndicated columnist and director of the School of Written Expression at the Buckley School of Public Speaking and Persuasion in Camden, South Carolina.

    She didn’t persuade me.

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  12. nancy said on February 1, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    Terry raises a good point, so I went Googling. (Some of my Google searches are a bit weird — “texas legislator ‘shower caps’ on feet” for instance.)

    Found another Molly column in which he’s mentioned:

    Scholars of Texas politics will recall (Tom) Loeffler’s immortal 1986 race for governor, notable chiefly for reports that he had worn shower caps on his feet during a visit to San Francisco so as not to get AIDS and for the most vapid campaign slogan in history: “Texas will always be Texas.” As though we were about to change our name to “Minnesota.” No one ever accused Loeffler of being bent over double with intellect, but he sure can raise money.

    I recall, by 1986 we knew AIDS was a blood-borne virus that you couldn’t catch in the shower.

    But Terry’s right; the early days were scary. No one knew anything.

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  13. Danny said on February 1, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    You know, the more I think about this, Nancy, between you and Mary and whoever it is who emailed you, it just kinda sounds all liberal elitist and petulant. Ms. Parker writes a nice enough tribute and all we get is a bunch of complaining about her writing abilities and credentials (I’ve never read her before today, have any of you?). Oh and, Nance, you started to go there with comments on her looks too. I thought that was Something That Ought Not Be Done.

    As Mary pointed out yesterday, she worked for Ivins when Ivins was not known. Who’s to say what will come of Ms. Parker’s career. At least she has reached some level of syndication.

    I’m just saying…

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  14. nancy said on February 1, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    A fair criticism. My only defense would be that KP seems to trade on her looks. Her website is down at the moment, but when it was first launched, she had posted a number of photos, all apparently from the same session, all making her look like a bombshell. I have no objection to pretty women being pretty, and she wasn’t dressed in her underwear or anything, but they had a definite aren’t-I-a-dish quality. And there were new ones on every damn page of the site, like she was Cindy Margolis and we were her fans.

    As for the rest of it, I admit the column was respectful. However, while she did get paired with Ivins on a lot of op-ed pages — conservative woman vs. liberal woman — she really isn’t in the same league. Actually, this raises another question — about the dull, unimaginative selection on today’s play-it-safe op-ed pages, but that’s for another day.

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  15. basset said on February 1, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    >>the Buckley School of Public Speaking and Persuasion in Camden, South Carolina

    well, a quick Google shows that this sideshow was set up by William F. Buckley’s younger brother, who apparently does mostly consulting and orator-in-residencing; links to the school’s webpage appear dead, but the reference on Google Maps says it offers 2 1/2-day courses which empower “even the most fearful and flummoxed” to realize their “potential to win audiences, write with elan, and otherwise organize their thoughts.”

    meanwhile, back to the discussion of people who can write, best turn of a phrase I’ve seen in several days comes from some pseudonymous Net-thread author who described in great detail how his roommate trashed their apartment.

    this guy would take a dump in the bathtub, throw newspapers on top of it, take another one over the mess and lather, rinse, repeat until it formed what our chronicler called a “foul lasagna”…

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  16. joodyb said on February 2, 2007 at 1:02 am

    you just gotta love the name of the school. sounds like something j. kennedy toole came up with. i can’t wait for the web site to be back up.

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  17. joodyb said on February 2, 2007 at 1:11 am

    OH, and keep a close eye on that girl of yours. flu is ‘widespread’ in MN as of today, the highest level of activity. an 8-yr-old died of complications from flu Weds.

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  18. vince said on February 2, 2007 at 1:26 am

    More fine tributes to Molly can be found at her alma mater, the Texas Observer, which writes, “she said with great sincerity that she would be proudest of all to die sober, and she did.”

    Plus, tributes from 19 fine folk are here:

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  19. Kirk said on February 2, 2007 at 9:29 am

    yes, danny, i’ve read parker lots of times. she runs in our paper. it has nothing to do with politics. she’s just not the writer that ivins was, but her tribute to ivins seemed to pretentiously paint them as equals. they’re not.

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  20. Marcia said on February 2, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Kirk, dude, locate your shift key, will you?

    Nancy, my sympathy on the Suite Life episodes. My 8-year-old records all of them on the DVR and watches them everyday during breakfast. The theme song gives a horrid earworm.

    Anyway. I love Kathleen Parker. This probably surprises no one.

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  21. Danny said on February 2, 2007 at 11:44 am

    Kirk, dude, locate your shift key, will you?


    And nothing against you Kirk, but I’ve noticed some of the folks around here who are in the journailism biz do eschew the tyranny of the shift-key. I think the first one I noticed was Nancy’s friend, Deb. But lately, I seen a few others too.

    My theory, Marcia: They do it to delay of onset of carpal tunnel or pain avoidance (if they already have CT).

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  22. Dorothy said on February 2, 2007 at 11:51 am

    I’d rather someone type in all lower case than all caps, which 95% of the world should know by now, is considered shouting!

    KP is carried in our newspaper, too, but honestly I can’t recall ever having read one of her articles. I probably will next time I see her, though, just for comparison purposes.

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  23. LA mary said on February 2, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Even when Molly wasn’t well known, she was a better writer than Ms Parker, trust me. If I were to put someone of the right wing persuasion in the same class as Molly it would probably be PJ O’Rourke. I can disagree with everything he says but still appreciate how he says it.

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  24. Kirk said on February 2, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    It’s just faster to type without hitting that shift key. I’ll use it for this post, at least. What bugs me are misspelled words, but I don’t complain about them.

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  25. MarkH said on February 2, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    HEY, FORT WAYNIANS (or Waynites, or, Waynigans, or whatever you’re called)!! —

    Get a copy of the latest Sports Illustrated and read Steve Rushin’s nice little homeage to your fair town. Somehow, I missed this, but it revolves around Colts coach Tony Dungy’s post-Patriots-thrashing TV interview, including his plea to screw Miami and “..they oughta hold the Super Bowl in Fort Wayne…”!

    More appropriate location, halfway between Indy and Chicago, the weather, etc. as reasons to stay in the region. Makes a lot of sense to me, and Rushin, a Fort native via his dad, speculates on the right venue. Anyway, he talks about the collective native shoutback to the tv when Dungy’s proclamation was made and includes a lot of fun facts about the town.

    No mention of Fawn Leibowitz being Fort Wayne’s favorite daughter, though.

    It’s not online, so you have to buy the mag. Enjoy.

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  26. brian stouder said on February 2, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    A few other faux famous Fort Waynians:

    Fawn Liebowitz (killed in a kiln explosion), Frank Burns (sniveling doctor at a MASH unit in Korea), Charlton Heston in The Planet of the Apes

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  27. basset said on February 2, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    damn, another post sinks without a trace. maybe if I could “write with elan” I could get a response once in awhile.

    meanwhile, I’m an ex-journalist (17 years of it) and have had carpal tunnel surgery on both wrists, so I’ll type in lower-case if I damn well please.

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  28. Danny said on February 3, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Basset, you do that. And I was not complaining and I don’t think Marcia was either. I just thought it was funny what she said and I had already theorized correctly about that carpal tunnel.

    And I definitely have no room to complain. My typing is atrocious. If you all could see it you would crack up. I use about three fingers on each hand, except the right thumb is for the space bar. Don’t know why I never took a typing class.

    Anyway, my unorthodox style leads to a lot of typos. Plus, posting in between work tasks, I’m always in a rush.

    About the “writing with elan,” I definitely rolled my eyes at that one. And then, seeing as how the “school” is in the south, I was thinking it might be more appropriately named “Buckey’s School of Jawin’ n Coaxin'”

    Hey, on another note, the music trading site I particpate in is celebrating it’s 4th anniversary by ratio-free downloads. I just got some great Roger Waters shows.

    1. Roger Waters 2006-07-12 Piazza Napoleone, Lucca, IT [FM] (This is the first show after Syd Barrett died and he dedicates it to “Syd, my friend,” as he does all subsequent show of the tour).

    2. Roger Waters 2006-10-08 Hollywood Bowl, Hollywood, CA [AUD] (A complete Dark Side in the second set..very cool).

    3. Roger Waters w/Eric Clapton 1984-07-31 The Forum, Montreal, QC, CA [AUD] (Great set list).

    And I also got soundboards of Thin Lizzy 1980, Gordon Lightfoot 1976, and The Byrds 1970. Haven’t listened to any of them yet, though.

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  29. basset said on February 3, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    I didn’t mean “damn well please” quite as emphatically as it sounded, should have thrown a in after it or something.

    Buckley’s school might be in the South, but he’s some kind of powdered-ass northeasterner. probably moved down there to shoot grouse and whip the hired help or something.

    I never quite understood how all that bit-torrent stuff works, someone sent me a CD full of Yes and Black Sabbath awhile back and I managed to get the Yes uncompressed and playing but the actual downloading of it is still beyond me.

    so who was in Waters’ band for that tour?

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  30. Danny said on February 3, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Basset, I was that someone 🙂

    As far as the Hollywood Bowl show, the band was as follows:

    * Roger Waters – Vocals, bass guitar and acoustic guitar
    * Andy Fairweather-Low – Guitar, bass and backing vocals
    * Snowy White – Guitar
    * Dave Kilminster – Guitar, vocals and additional bass
    * Jon Carin – Keyboards, lap steel guitar, guitar and vocals
    * Harry Waters – Hammond organ and keyboards
    * Ian Ritchie – Saxophone, EWI and additional bass
    * Graham Broad – Drums
    * Katie Kissoon – Backing vocals
    * P. P. Arnold – Backing vocals
    * Carol Kenyon – Backing vocals

    * Nick Mason – Drums for 2nd Set & Encore

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  31. Marcia said on February 3, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    Okay, Danny, when I first read the above reply I thought you meant you were the someone who was in Waters’ band, and I was like, oh, nuh-uh.

    basset-with-the-lower-case-b, you can format a comment as beautifully as you like, but if it contains something about defecating in a bathtub, chances are pretty slim that I’m going to respond to it. I mean, eww.

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  32. Danny said on February 3, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Okay, Danny, when I first read the above reply I thought you meant you were the someone who was in Waters’ band, and I was like, oh, nuh-uh.

    Hee hee. Yeah, I wish I had that kind of talent. Guess I’ll just keep the day job.

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  33. said on February 4, 2007 at 3:28 am

    OK, Danny, I’m technologically ignorant. Such is life, bear with me for awhile, or even longer.

    Meanwhile, I heard about someone who dropped a layer of tomato sauce, grilled hamburger and sausage mixed, and chopped onions into a baking pan, did the same thing again in seven days and learned valuable life skills. Kept everyone alive for a week and it kept a lot of ocean plant life going.

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  34. said on February 4, 2007 at 10:15 am

    which is to say, of course, it was a less foul lasagna

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