John Updike, the literary titan who was praised and reviled in equal parts throughout his career, died today at 76. This makes me sad. I sort-of knew him a little bit, since my company represented him for speaking engagements (I was there from 2000 to 2003).
I’ll avoid getting too deep into the many controversies surrounding his literary worth, but here are a few things I can tell you about John Updike:
1. He hated talking on the phone and refused to email. At work we had to mail him letters, which he would respond to on typed 3×5 notecards. I still have one in which he doubts the wisdom of accepting a $25,000 speaking engagement for fear that he would not match the well-honed speechcraft of prior event speakers Stephen Jay Gould and Daniel Boorstin.
2. While Updike was nervous about accepting money for these things, he was also keenly aware of what others were receiving for their events. I remember being yelled at by his daughter over the phone because lesser talents like Salman Rushdie commanded more money. I don’t think he really cared about the dollar figure, but I do think he was very concerned about his place in the firmament of great literary people.
3. He was funny. After one lecture in Florida, a rich alum from a major university wrote us asking if we could obtain an autographed picture for his wife to remember Updike by, since he’d made such a good impression at the event. Updike sent us a signed picture of himself curling 10-pound dumbells in a tweed jacket and tie. The picture had clearly been developed at one of those one-hour photomat places. There was no explanation given for the dumbells.
John Updike, Author, Dies at 76 [NYT]
Actor Sam Bottoms died of a brain tumor yesterday. The name probably doesn’t ring a bell, but Bottoms had roles in some of my favorite all-time movies, including “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”
However, he will always be remembered as Lance Johnson, the surfing champion who finds himself ordered to hang 10 in the middle of a firefight in “Apocalypse Now.” Easily one of the coolest sequences ever filmed.
Sam Bottoms, Film and TV Actor, Dies at 53 [NYT]
Gale-force winds of death battered the continuance of Herbert Saffir, inventor of the hurricane warning scale, leaving a trail of existential destruction in their wake. He was 90.
Saffir was a structural engineer living in South Florida when he improved on the existing system for hurricane warnings. From the AP:
Before the scale, hurricanes were simply described as major or minor. Mr. Saffir’s innovation was ranking storm destruction by type, from Category 1, in which trees and unanchored mobile homes receive the primary damage, to Category 5, which involves the complete failure of roofs and some structures. The five descriptions of destruction were then matched with the sustained wind speeds that would produce the corresponding damage.
Left out of the AP’s obituary is Saffir’s invention of the Four Tops, the Five People you Meet in Heaven, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and the 50 Ways to Leave your Lover.
Also, the AP reports that the cause of death was “complications from surgery,” though Pax Arcana’s spies say Saffir died midway through the greatest round of his life, his 5-iron aloft, shouting “Rat farts!”
Herbert Saffir, 90, Dies; Created Hurricane Scale [AP]