Russell Baker - We Will Miss You
Russell Baker was one of my favorite columnists and humorists. He died last week at the age of 93. I will miss him, but I do know, although Mr. Baker had been out of the newspaper column business for a number of years, his insight and humor live on in his work.
Here’s a little about Russell.
Russell Baker was an American journalist, narrator, writer of Pulitzer Prize-winning satirical commentary and self-critical prose, and author of Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography Growing Up (1982). He was a columnist for The New York Times from 1962 to 1998, and hosted the PBS show Masterpiece Theatre from 1992 to 2004. The Forbes Media Guide tells us, "Baker, thanks to his singular gift of treating serious, even tragic events and trends with gentle humor, has become an American institution."
I thought it would be fun to gather some of Russell’s pithy quotes to celebrate his long life as a journalist, memoirist, and commentator. I hope you enjoy his humorous, yet dead serious, take on things.
Like all young reporters - brilliant or hopelessly incompetent - I dreamed of the glamorous life of the foreign correspondent: prowling Vienna in a Burberry trench coat, speaking a dozen languages to dangerous women, narrowly escaping Sardinian bandits - the usual stuff that newspaper dreams are made of.
It takes great self-confidence to write a newspaper column. Some might say it takes arrogance. Be that as it may, my willingness to pronounce on a great many matters of which I have little or no knowledge is one of my prime qualifications for this trade.
Journalist: A person with nothing on his mind and the power to express it.
There are good reasons why everybody should heed politicians' advise not to believe the media. One of the best is that the media report what politicians say.
A group of politicians deciding to dump a President because his morals are bad is like the Mafia getting together to bump off the Godfather for not going to church on Sunday.
An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious - just dead wrong.
So there he is at last. Man on the moon. The poor magnificent bungler! He can't even get to the office without undergoing the agonies of the damned, but give him a little metal, a few chemicals, some wire and twenty or thirty billion dollars and vroom! there he is, up on a rock a quarter of a million miles up in the sky.
The best advice I can give anybody about going out into the world is this: Don't do it. I have been out there. It is a mess....
What the New Yorker calls home would seem like a couple of closets to most Americans, yet he manages not only to live there but also to grow trees and cockroaches right on the premises.
Grass is the least rewarding of all status symbols... The grass does nothing but drink money, exhaust energies, crush spirits, destroy sleep, create tensions and interfere with the watching of baseball games, and sprout insolent signs ordering humans to keep off it.
One of my favorite Russell columns is, “Francs and Beans,” a satire on the Craig Claiborne historic $4000 meal in Paris on the same day.
And, of course, a must-read is Baker’s memoir, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Growing Up.
Here is a wonderful documentary on Russell Baker’s life and thoughts from 2010. He shows us around his vintage home in Virginia and then expounds on times past and times present - a real history lesson.
Thank you, blog friends, for indulging me in one of my more overbearing hero worships. Next week, Elvis. No. Just kidding.