Burton B. Roberts, the judge who served as the model for Tom Wolfe’s Myron Kovitsky, the adjudicator in Bonfire of the Vanities, passed away yesterday at age 88.
The Times has the authoritative obituary on Justice Roberts, and says that in the courtroom, only he was allowed to be “flamboyant.” He was close with Mr. Wolfe, who dedicated the book to him and inscribed Justice Roberts’ copy with the sentence, ”No words ever written are the equal of the gospel according to Burt.” In the film version, the judge’s name was changed to Leonard White, and he was played by Morgan Freeman.
On the occasion of Justice Roberts’ retirement in 1998, The Times rankled him by referencing a public falling out he’d had with the Daily News. From their farewell article (“Court Curmudgeon Bids a Typical Goodbye“):
”That’s what you do, pull out a story that’s 20 years old?” Justice Roberts is yelling, in a voice that has been described by one Bronx courthouse regular as a couple of decibels below the roar of an airplane engine, and that is when he is not angry. ”The Times is true to form! God forbid you write a nice story about me as I go bye-bye.”