Tuesday, March 4, 2014

RIP: Justin Kaplan - Sept. 5, 1925 - March 2, 2014

Justin Kaplan's obituary was published in The New York Times today. He was famous mostly for his biographies of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, and as the editor of two editions of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.

I especially liked reading in the obituary about Kaplan's sense of humor:

In the late 1980s, Mr. Kaplan was recruited as the general editor of Bartlett’s. The job entailed vast learning and wide reading, both of which he had, as well as an immense circle of associates willing to scare up quotations, which he also had.

It also entailed unremitting lobbying from those associates, and from friends, family and all manner of strangers, to include well-loved quotations and exclude less-well-loved ones.

Mr. Kaplan read all 25,000 quotations in the book’s previous edition and took his shears to many of them.

“I don’t care for withered flowers of poesy,” he told Smithsonian magazine in 1991. I’m not tolerant of platitudes, empty pieties, self-evident propositions, commencement oratory and anything that sounds as though it might have come from the insides of a fortune cookie.”

The new Bartlett’s, published in 1992, reflected Mr. Kaplan’s desire for a cultural ecumenicalism that older editions seemed to lack. Under his stewardship, the volume incorporated quotations from Woody Allen (“It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens”); Kermit the Frog (“It’s not that easy bein’ green”); and an Englishman born Archie Leach (“Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant”).

The edition drew the ire of conservatives. Several commentators, among them the actor Charlton Heston, complained that Mr. Kaplan, a self-described liberal, had advanced his political agenda by including, for instance, only a few quotations from President Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Kaplan countered that in so doing, he had done Mr. Reagan a great kindness.
That Cary Grant quote, which I'd not heard before, is great.  So is Kaplan's stinging observation about Reagan. 

1 comment:

  1. ah...Ronald! "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes." (Said during a radio microphone test, 1984)

    This from an obit in The Big Story: The most notable quote may have been from Kaplan, not in the book, but in a newspaper interview, when he acknowledged, "I'm not going to disguise the fact that I despise Ronald Reagan." Conservatives complained the new Bartlett's, published in 1993, contained only three quotes from the former president and omitted his famous Cold War command, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."

    Kaplan later agreed he was "carried away by prejudice" and included more Reagan quotes in the next edition, released in 2003.