Of Elvis, Condoms, Walnuts and Arnold

We ran across this in an online column by Jeff Dvorkin, the ombudsman for NPR. A listener wrote Dvorkin concerning the origin of a phrase Dan Rather used at a recent Democratic debate. Rather had questioned whether Sen. John Kerry has “enough Elvis” in him to get elected, and NPR had cited the phrase as one example of Rather’s penchant for country-boyisms.

The listener wrote Dvorkin: “The actual originator of this is Molly Ivins, who wrote an entire column about the field of Democratic candidates some months ago, and whether any of them had any Elvis. Dan Rather just pilfered the idea… Don’t your news writers keep up on what is out there?”

This piqued our curiosity, so we called Ivins. She confirmed for Campaign Desk that she had indeed noted Kerry’s lack of “Elvis” in a January column, and that she had applied the Elvis test to numerous presidential candidates before that (including — a little research revealed — another New England senator, Paul Tsongas, who fared no better on it than Kerry, and one Bill Clinton, who passed with flying colors). “As far as I know,” Ivins said, the Elvis test was her own original creation.

So was she “all shook up” about the fact that Rather had failed to credit her in front of a national audience? Ivins is a generous sort, and she assured us she seeks no credit when someone takes a line of hers and runs with it. She herself, she told us, had recently had to apologize for writing that Arnold Schwarzenegger resembles “a condom stuffed with walnuts” - a description she had unconsciously appropriated from the Australian journalist Clive James. Ivins didn’t mention this, but in fact, James had also lifted the line, perhaps also unconsciously, from Leonardo Da Vinci, who once described Michelangelo’s overly-muscled figures as looking “like a bag of nuts.”

Who knew?


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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.