With prose that was savagely funny, deceptively simple and poorly imitated, Mr. Breslin created his own distinct rhythm in the hurly-burly music of newspapers. Here, for example, is how he described Clifton Pollard, the man who dug President John F. Kennedy’s grave, in a celebrated Herald Tribune column from 1963 that sent legions of journalists to find their “gravedigger”:This is me, in 1970, sitting under a Mailer/Breslin poster:
“Pollard is forty-two. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.”
And here is how he described what motivated Breslin the writer: “Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Cohen.
The NYT obit makes no mention of the political frolic with Mailer, but here's an earlier article, from when Mailer died (2007), "Mailer’s Nonfiction Legacy: His 1969 Race for Mayor":
His running mate for City Council president was the columnist Jimmy Breslin, who suspected the worst from the very beginning: that Mr. Mailer was serious....I love the random resonances of blogging: Ezra Pound just came up 2 days ago. Poets. Poetry. I love it all. Even the "lofty oratorical perch." Reminds me of that famous Samuel Johnson line: "Sir, a fish's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."
Mr. Breslin recently recalled Mr. Mailer’s arguing brilliantly at Brooklyn College that the minds of white and black children would grow best if they were together in the same classrooms. One student interrupted: “We had a lot of snow in Queens last year and it didn’t get removed,” he said. “What would you do about it?” To which Mr. Mailer, abruptly dislodged from his lofty oratorical perch, replied that he would melt the snow by urinating on it.
Mr. Mailer’s political nadir was a campaign rally at the Village Gate nightclub where he vilified his own supporters as “spoiled pigs.” Mr. Breslin left the rally early. He later told a friend, “I found out I was running with Ezra Pound.” Mr. Breslin was referring not to Pound’s poetry, but to his insanity.
Mr. Mailer’s “left-conservative” platform called for a monorail, a ban on private cars in Manhattan and a monthly “Sweet Sunday” on which vehicles would be barred from city streets, rails or airspace altogether. He championed self-determination — the city itself would secede and become the 51st state. Individual neighborhoods would be empowered to govern according to their own prerogatives, which could range from compulsory free love to mandatory church attendance.
And I love that poster.
New York City — the 51st State. Makes me think of that old song:
As easy it was to tell black from whiteBut it's all lost to the distant past. I'm not 19 anymore. Norman's gone. Jimmy's gone. The is-he-insane blustery assemblage of masculinity isn't a satirical mayoral candidate but President of the United States. And there's no newspaper columnist to give a damn about.
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right....
How many a year has passed and gone
And many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a friend
And each one I’ve never seen again
I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again....