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.