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June 12, 1976 - Image 7

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-06-12

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Saturday, June 12, 1976

-THE MICHIGAN-DAILY

rage Seven

Saturday, June 12, 1976 THE MICHIGAN DAILY page Seven

nly uprising

SMART ALECK:
Nostalgic glance
at Woollcott's past

tp frr, small v e say, lost height. As the
two of is sat an easy thousand feet over
int hber, he recounted the adventure
whicortly a i-tonth ago made him the
firs hu ran being to sit on the rim of a
balooi more thar seven miles above the
ear:h.
" .JE I TO'K off at Louisville (Ky.),"
Jeff began. By the time he reached
h maximum height he was right over
Lexington (Ky.), there was Lexington
right below me, A hile Louisville was sev-
enty t:ve miles away. And you know that
these nit towns looked like they were both
right onler me It seemed like I could
spc o either one of them."

Cnden'otion on he red-hot burners ac-
coated for a number of supernatural ef-
ficts straight out cf a science fiction mo-
vie. "I turned into a snowman so every-
time I reached for a burner there was
all Ihs cracking and crunching because I
Sas all covered with ice," he said.
Meanwhile, toe balloon donned its own
f'ggy cest at 23,O0s feet. What's more it
left its von cosmic contrail of vapor trail-
i,g Lehird - isibte to the ground crew
all the while.
ThouGl HE HASN'T finished his re-
search paper en the first high alti-
tuide proiect Jeff is already thinking about
the possioilities of attempting 50 or 60
thousand feet. Bui he's not thinking too
.hrd yet.
"We (lie and several close ballooning
cotmmerede's) are going to take the sum-
ner off from all of these crazy ideas and
do some fun Flying," the balloonist said
wi±h a boyish -rin spreading across his
young - looking face. Jeff's fun includes
free-flying and sanctioned competition
which is the rage at county fairs. In fact,
Jeff and a number of balloonists from this
area, a virtual balloon capital, are gear-
ing up for a 3-day event to be held in a
pinprick of a town called Pinckney.
While '-he sky above Pinckney will look
like a Jacksor. Pollack painting: splatter-
eJ with colorful balloons, its a far cry
from the Nationals where the city of Ken-
tucky gains a rainbowed-nylon ceiling of
balltons.
"A" the firs: US National there were
eight balloons and at the 1975 one there
were 1i0," Jeff said pausing to let the
figures make their impact. "If you could
no+ this into context, he went on, "the first
one was in 196P . . . that was only seven
yccrs ago so l'e sport has obviously mush-
ronmed."
"UTi lET'S FACE it, ballooning isn't the
pasttine tof the masses at $6000 a craft
See HOT, Page 10
Sue Ai.s is a D frly night editor.

SMART ALECK by Howard Teich-
mann. New York: William Morrow &
Corpany Inc., $10.95
By JEFFREY SELBST
ALEXANDER WOOLLCOTT, t h e
noted drama critic spent his
life in the middle of a glittering
crowd, because he chose it t h a t
way. He orchestrated his actions,
his friends, his words, and indeed,
his life around the theatrical, and
reaped the rewards in reputation.
One problem with that, of
course, is that his two previous
biographers, Samuel Hopkins
Adams and Edwin Hoyt, were scar-
ed away from the subject of his
sexual peculiarities and his cruel-
ty, in their awe of his stature.
Woolcotts new biographer, H o w-
ard Teichmann, swears up and
down that he will cut to the heart
of the matter, in Smart Aleck, that
he will not write fluff. Hmmm.
The fact of the matter is, that
Teichmann is scarcely less ador-
ing. His previous bio was of George
Kaufman, a Woollcott friend, and
like Woollcott, a Round Tabler, a
select group of Broadway luminar-
ies who gathered at the Algonquin
Hotel. That previous book was pep-
pered with both men's witty re-
marks, but traveled lightly over the
terrain of heir lives -- with some
focus on Kaufman.
Woollcott's life is given the same
sort of treatment herein. And
granted, there is a bit of a cult
that has formed about the heyday
of the Round Table, and certainly
around its other stars Dorothy
Parker, Harpo Marx, Robert Bench-
ley et. al., yet this seems to me
flimsy excuse for such an unscath-
ing glance at what might have been
America's most famous (for a time)
and most strange man.
Too, large sections of the book
are lifted whole from the Kaufman
tome, especially the parts dealing
with the humorous remarks and
viperish good-fellowship of t h e
Round Table.
Yet the wit is left intact. The
wit that characterized his enor-
mous man and his counerparts is
stil as fresh and clever as ever. And
in fact, the very presence of Wooll--
cott encouraged cleverness e v e n
from the mouths of those not par-
ticularly well-suited for that type
of thinking.
THOSE DAYS, the early days of
New York's dominance in the
media, the days of the Round
Table and the multitudes of maga-
zines, could properly be termed
helcyon, and now they have be-
come the subject of much nostal-
gia. One reason is perhaps that it
is no longer easy for a group of
talented friends to dominate t h e
country's tastes and thoughts so
completely, another reason is that
perhaps there is not so much com-
ing out to review.

In any case, some of the elan of
the times can never be recaptured,
and Teichmann writes about that
as a little boy with his nose pres-
sed up against the window of a
bakery shop. But Teichmann him-
self can be excused, for he colla-
borated with Kaufman on the last
of the tatter's hits, The Solid Gold
Cadillac. Teichman tasted the last
of a glittering group, and is now
understandably sorry to see those
days go. This might mean that we
can expect upcoming bios from
him on the rest of the group, and
this is fervently hoped not to be
the case. Rehashing of their stories,
as inertwined as they are, and by
the same writer, could only be hack
work.
YET ONE GETS the distinct im-
pression from this book that
the life and times of Alexander
Woollcott weren't nearly so jolly
as Teichmann himself would like
us to believe. Oh, he plays for the
standard pathos content when he
recounts how Woollcott confessed
to Anita Loos that he'd always
wanted to be a mother, and that
was why he behaved as he did, yet
these deviations are not unexpect-
ed, and not terribly downcasting.
What is depressing is the picture
of the self-imposed exile, living out
his days increasingly on Neshobe
Island in Lake Bomoseen, Vermont,
where he shipped his friends up for
visits at his convenience and char-
ged them for the privilege. Wooll-
cott's life was going fast. In t h e
last few years before his death in
1943, he had been getting weaker,
and was undoubtedly aware that
his time was near.
Yet Woollcott, practically t h e
first of the group to fail, must too
have had a feeling that they were
all slipping by him. For all his pro-
digious cruelty with words, he was
still beloved by his friends. As The
New Yorker put it in his obituary,
"We were glad we knew him well,
for he was a most uncomfortable
man to know slightly."
There will never be another like
him, and though cliched, that holds
true because the times that nur-
tured his talent will never be seen
again. That is perhaps his mysti-
que. In an honest appraisal of his
talents, Dorothy Parker said she
thought little of a man who could
say that "reading Marcel Proust is
like lying in someone else's dirty
bath water" and then wax rhapso-
dic over something called "Valiant
is the word for Carrie".
Yet it was this prodigal foolish-
ness, as well as the incisive under-
standing, not his theatrical person
or his fabled wit, that made the
man and the legend around him.
The man is gone, and Smart
Aleck can but stoke the legend.
Jeff Selbs/ is the Daily Arts editor.

Fv5n though he remembers the weather
"lcisnstairs" as being quite hazy, Jeff
said, ' Nhere I was it was crystal clear.
"Timre wore ne clouds, no anything." But
no anything a'so meant no breathable air
not to mention the lack of such ameneties
as earthsly heat. Breathing, even with a
tt, required cs much concentration as a
rcalls problen and warmth was some-
tig gotten from the "bestest ever arc-
t'c expiration gear' in Jeff's words. "Now
I knew it was cold and it (the suit) was
sPisei to be go'd to minus 80 and boy
wa5 it, cause the stuff was toasty warm
ed I couldn't believe it because it was
a Mot 75 outside."

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