Jim over at the Travis McGee Reader made a good point a few days ago: both Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis died on this date 50 years ago, but it seems like they got lost in the shuffle. (Although, according to Wikipedia, “In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis will be honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.” Good.)
(If I was going to have a fantasy dinner party, I’d actually have two: one with C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton. I have a tremendous admiration for both men, and think it would be fascinating to sit and talk with them.)
(The other dinner party would be with Robert Ruark and Peter Hathaway Capstick. And maybe some other folks, too; I’d think I’d also invite Harry Selby and Tam. But I digress.)
And the day before, Robert Stroud passed away. I’d have to go back to the morning papers from the 22nd to see what kind of play Stroud’s death got, but if he got lost in the shuffle, I’d have to say “Good”.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell my readers (all of whom are strong, smart, and if they have children, their kids are all above average) this, but for those who may be coming here for the first time and don’t know: contrary to popular belief and “Birdman of Alcatraz” (both the book and movie), Robert Stroud was a nasty piece of work. Bill James offers a pretty pithy summary in Popular Crime:
Stroud, among his other charming qualities, liked to write violent pornography in which he fantasized about abducting, raping, and murdering small children. Alvin (Creepy) Karpis, a famous criminal from the 1930s who was confined with Stroud at Alcatraz, wrote in his account of life on Alcatraz that Stroud talked constantly about raping and killing children, and insisted that he wasn’t bluffing: if he had gotten a chance, he would have done it. This led to a Kafkaesque scene at a parole hearing for Stroud in 1962. Outside the building protestors marched, holding placards demanding the release of the kindly bird doctor portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the movie, while inside the hearing parole officials dealt with a distinctly disturbed old man who mumbled about getting out of prison soon because he had a long list of people he wanted to kill and not much time left to kill them.
(And, yes, Stroud may have been abused by the prison system. Even nasty pieces of work deserve humane treatment and the protection of the law. But between the book by Gaddis, which is basically hagiography, and Babyak’s Bird Man: The Many Faces of Robert Stroud, which I think has a different set of biases, it is hard to tell how much actual mistreatment Stroud suffered, and how much of it was inflated or even invented by Stroud and his fan club.)
Herbert Mitgang, reporter and editor for the NYT, and author of Dangerous Dossiers, has died.