Speed Vogel, the caretaker of Joseph Heller who co-wrote No Laughing Matter, was a born and bred New York City character. He was a textile business owner, Chelsea-based sculptor, rock club regular, roommate to Mel Brooks and herring taster at Zabar’s at different points in his life. He was a charter member of the Gourmet Club, which schmoozed and dined around the city’s ethnic restaurants during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Mr. Vogel, Mr. Heller, Mario Puzo, Zero Mostel, Carl Reiner and Mr. Brooks would discuss philosophy, Jewish humor and gluttony during their meals, according to the New York Times.
“What is important?” Mr. Vogel asked at one meeting.
“My soup,” Mr. Heller replied.
More from the New York Times after the jump.
Irving Vogel, who got his nickname as a boy at summer camp who took a long time to tie his shoes, was born on March 3, 1918, in New York City, the fourth of five children. His father, Julius, was a builder. After attending West Virginia University, he took pre-med classes at New York University before going to work as a shipbuilder during World War II. He started a textile business, Ria Herlinger Fabrics, with his first wife. But he would discover he had other priorities.
In 1982, Mr. Vogel had been a friend of Mr. Heller for two decades — they had been introduced on the beach in Easthampton, N.Y., on a day Mr. Vogel was reading Mr. Heller’s new book, “Catch-22” — when Mr. Heller fell ill with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a nervous-system disorder that causes severe muscle weakness. Mr. Vogel moved in with his friend to help care for him during the year of Mr. Heller’s recovery.
The two subsequently wrote “No Laughing Matter” (Putnam, 1986) about Mr. Heller’s ordeal and Mr. Vogel’s part in it. The book, in which they wrote alternating chapters, was on the New York Times best-seller list for four weeks. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, writing in The Times, called it a “curiously uplifting story of suffering.”