More people have won the Nobel Prize for Literature than had an audience at home with the elderly Waverley Root. He looked like Santa Claus, with one of those great white beards and wonderfully smiling eyes, but wrote much better than Old Saint Nick. Or, for that matter, most people.
Whenever he appeared on the back page, it was always a gem. Often it was something charmingly obscure about food, like why no one in France grew lime. But then there was his masterpiece. “I Never Knew Hemingway,” a perfect essay about being the only journalist in Paris during the 1920s who was honest enough to admit that.
The back page, where Mary and Waverley and I wrote, was prime real estate. In the middle of the page, there was a box, 850 to 900 words long, about anything and everything. This was center stage at Carnegie Hall.
Below the fold were the IHT’s not-to-be-missed classified ads—Americans selling dodgy cars, Americans with overpriced apartments for rent, and hookers looking for dates.
Above the fold, there was the gossipy People Column on the right side, and a humor column on the left side. That’s where Art Buchwald was and where every Thanksgiving they reran his classic “Le Jour de Merci Donnant“—his translation of thanks and giving—and why, for one day a year, Americans eat better than the French.
From the time I moved to the south of France in late 1970, I’d been writing 650-word features for the Christian Science Monitor. In those days, the CSM was one of the five papers read in the Oval Office, with news bureaux all over Europe. I had my first front-page byline with them, chasing Henry Kissinger all over Paris during the Vietnam War peace talks. They paid me $35 per story, and added $5 for a photo. My rent, with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, was $72 a month.
Then along came the IHT, offering $75 a pop. It was a no-brainer. Not just because of the money, but because it was the IHT.
Over the next 10 years, I wrote hundreds of back-page features for them, and developed my own form, using quotes the way television does, without the usual “he said” attribution. Now it’s done all the time. I probably didn’t invent it, but I made it mine. I also, eventually, got my rate all the way up to $100.
My byline appeared from all over Europe, from various places in North America and from as far afield as Australia and Tahiti. I wrote about artists, pickpockets, addicted gamblers, world-championship Monopoly players, a woman who once posed for Modigliani, and the jazz great Earl “Fatha” Hines. I interviewed Richard Boone (he was fantastic), Graham Greene (he was lonely), Anthony Burgess (delightfully nuts), Andy Warhol (he took pictures of me taking pictures of him), Carmen McRae, Lino Ventura, Bobby Short and Walter Cronkite. (I told Walter that his retirement from the CBS Evening News meant the world would never be the same, and when I bumped into him in New York shortly before he died, I reminded him of that and he said, “You were right.”)
I wrote about counterfeit stamps, hidden wine cellars, obscure museums where the public wasn’t welcome, and Italian train bandits. I interviewed Elaine Stritch, Natalie Cole, Art Carney, Carl Reiner, Henry Moore, and Cary Grant (I asked him if he got laid a lot and he assured me he did). I even got to have lunch with Richard Burton, and when I asked him what he wanted to drink, he said, “Anything, sweetheart, as long it floats an ice cube.”
And then, one day, it ended.
No one said goodbye. There was no handshake. I’m not sure if anyone even noticed. It was 1982. I left France for England to write books. By then, the IHT was desperate to become a serious business newspaper, to do battle with the newly arrived Wall Street Journal European Edition.
No one there today remembers me, or what the IHT and I shared. Waverley is gone. Mary has moved on. Mike and Hebe and Buddy are gone. So is Dick.
Intellectually, I understand why the NYT has turned off the life support machine. But I will never forgive them for doing that.
They’re going to bury my newspaper.
The International Herald Tribune is dead.
So what if I was just another one of her suitors?
Mon amour, we’ll always have the rue de Berri.
Correction posted May 3, 2013: The story was amended to note that Murray Weiss began his career at the New York Herald Tribune, not the IHT.