Celebrating the 4th with my Obit Collection

Posted July 3rd, 2010
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Its the 4th of July and I am still in the middle of a rewrite of this new book of essays.  I’ve been at it so long I am not sure if I am writing in English.

I was going through my notes and came to another piece that never made it out of the gate.  It was going to be about  my collection of obituaries.  I read them because I like seeing whole lives summed up in a couple of paragraphs.   Only about one in thirty has what it takes to get me to tear it out of the paper. But I just added one to the collection yesterday: Bill Aucoin, the one time manager of Kiss. In addition to his KISS legacy , he left behind this memorable  quote which he offered as advice to one of his other bands :”Well, you know you need to check what the wind is like if you’re gonna drop cereal from the helicopter because those Froot Loops could fly up into the propellers.” Seems like pretty good advice in general.

What I do, after I tear them out, is paste them in to a little book full of other obits I have saved. For instance: Thomas Soffron, the creator of Howard Johnson’s  ‘Clam Strips’ and James Jordan, the advertising man who coined the phrase “Zest-fully clean.” each have their own pages.  When I was in grade school, I used to contemplate that Zest commercial, which went “You’re not fully clean until you’re Zest-fully clean.” I spent a lot of time not feeling fully clean because of that guy.

Then there is the obituary of Joyce Carlson who wrote the song “It’s a small world after all” for the Disneyland ride of the same name. Her’s was a song that made me feverish, hysterical, afraid of being trapped forever in this motorized lagoon having to listen to those dolls clickety clacking up and down in place with their scary twilight zone dummy smiles for all eternity as I swam frantically from  my boat, searching for the exit but not finding it,  seeing only madness and agony ahead as I listened to yet another chorus of the song. .  But despite the effect her awful song had on me,  Joyce Carlson died artistically fulfilled. And I love that.

Then there’s  Wanda Toscanini Horowitz: daughter of world renown maestro Arturo Toscanini Horowitz and wife of legendary pianist Vladamir Horowitz.

Wanda T. had my favorite obit ever.  It opened as follows “Wanda Horowitz wore a permanent scowl and was famous for her fiery temper. Once she exploded at a reporter when he asked her about life with Toscanini and Horowitz, her legendary father and husband. She replied “Don’t talk to me about them.  My father made me neurotic and my husband made me crazy.”

Now that’s an obit to be reckoned with.

It goes on: “In an interview shortly before her husband’s death she said “ He was very difficult. For 12 years I heard ” I will never play again. I will never play again” but I kept my silence. I never said “Oh yes, you have to play.” I never prompted him to play.”

If that is what she says in her obituary, just imagine how it must have been in real life when she was probably thinking “So don’t play again. Just stop whining about it.” Oh, and also he was gay. But otherwise it was a perfect 55 year marriage. “Thank God he died before I went to prison for strangling him with my bare hands.”is what she forgot to tell the reporter .

But it gets more intense: “I have my own personality,” she is quoted as saying,” I wish I would have done something for me. I had a lovely small voice. I can act because I have a very severe face but I can be very funny. I have a great sense of humor. I was thinner then I am now and I used to dance very well. I was not bad looking. What more do you want? I could have done a little bit of dancing or singing to be, you know, an operetta singer.

If it hadn’t been for that damned legendary father of hers, Arturo Toscanini, who spooked her in to giving up hopes of being a performer even tho she was the most musically talented of the Toscanini family. “I remember I used to play an upright piano,” she recalls in her obituary, ” and on top of it there sat a photograph of my father. Young. Dark hair. Dark eyes. It made me so nervous I couldn’t look at him. I was afraid to practice when he was home. Every time I made a mistake it was like a stab in his stomach.”

Poor Wanda T.    I’m sorry she’s not around so I could go over to her house and film her performing her  operetta. Or at least  cheerlead her in to going to a few auditions. Talk about a cautionary tale.  I should write something about her. Although I guess I just did. Anyway, Happy Independence Day, whatever that means at this point.

love merrill