They had names that came from the 400, I thought: Bosley Crowther, Brooks Atkinson, Allison Danzig, Orville Prescott, Drew Middleton.
The New York Times was majesterial to me, a 20-ish guy from a ghetto in Brooklyn called East New York. And, yes, I had gone to City College of New York, a public college while I imagined all those arch names had gone to the Ivies. Back in 1959, there still was a quota at the Columbia’s and Yale’s, and I saw myself as not quite in their league.
After a while I came to realize we actually had some Abe’s on the paper—although you wouldn’t know it from the byline. There was A.M Rosenthal, ace foreign correspondent, and there was A.H. Weiler, movie editor and critic. I guess, in a way, Gerald fit in. But not my friend Mike Katz.
Mike, one of the best newspapermen I have ever come across, was Michael Katz if he ever wanted to see his name in The New York Times. (When he crossed over to the Daily News, his name morphed to Mike.) So Irv Spiegel was Irving and Manny Perlmutter was Emanuel and Lucky Perrin was Forrest.
And then there were those middle initials that seemed to imbue more class to the sportswriters—our racing-car writer, Frank M. Blunk, and Lincoln A. Werden, and my good friend Robert M. Lipsyte, and Gordon S. White Jr., and Joseph C. Nichols (born Giuseppe Carmine Fappiano, he supposedly read Britannica from A to Z during his years on rewrite).
Ah, how Times have changed. First, and foremost, there was Jennifer 8. Lee (I suppose if you’re a Harvard grad, you can give yourself a Chinese good-luck number for a middle initial, which she did as a teen-ager). Now, I see names redolent of the Middle East (Azam Ahmed) and street-corner guys (Steve Eder, Manny Fernandez, Matt Flegenheimer).
But even the guys and, now, gals we write about these days have lost their aura. When Ryan Braun was cited recently on Page One as having violated baseball’s antidoping policy, he was known, simply, as “Braun” in second references. But back in 1957, when the starchily named McCandlish Phillips wrote a story about Yankee ballplayers involved in a drunken brawl at the Copacabana, Yogi Berra became “Mr. Berra,” and Whitey Ford was “Mr. Ford” in second references. The reason? The stories were not about their doings on the field of friendly strife, but as public citizens. So Mickey Mantle, of all people, got the “Mr. Mantle” treatment.
We had some other issues with names. Muhammad Ali was not Muhammad Ali for a long time in The Times, even after he announced he wanted his new moniker the day after he won the heavyweight crown. Lipsyte (Bob? Mr. Lipsyte?) would go along with Ali’s wishes, but the desk invariably changed “Ali” back to “Clay.” And our venerable sports columnist Arthur Daley, a creature of habit (when I was a copy boy I brought him a ham and cheese on rye every day, except on meatless Fridays), took years before he went along with the prevailing winds of change and called him “Ali.”
If you were an elected or appointed official, you could hold a title—such as Governor Hugh Carey. But if you were, say, the middleweight champion, you were not Middleweight Champion Sugar Ray Robinson. Instead, you were the middleweight champion, Sugar Ray Robinson. Or you were—in case you didn’t know it—the Giants’ centerfielder, Willie Mays, and not Giants’ centerfielder Willie Mays.
I have fun these days looking over the bylines, and even the ads. Once upon a time the paper wouldn’t even consider accepting ads for S. Klein, the now-defunct giant discount store, because its ads had big black type, more suited to the tabloids. One ad that invariably makes me smile these days is for a company called “Big-Ass Fans.” Unthinkable.