Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Reading

Remembering the Clutter Family — Truman Capote made his career and life with In Cold Blood, but the victims are often forgotten except by the family members who remember them 50 years later.

Sixteen-year-old Diana Selsor had just come back from a beach party and was home alone in Palatka, Fla., that Sunday afternoon. So it was she, not her parents, who opened the shocking note police had left with a neighbor.

“It said, ‘Four members of the Clutter family killed in Holcomb, Kansas.’ There was a number to call.”

Sunday marks 50 years since Selsor — now Diana Selsor Edwards — learned that her uncle Herbert, 48, aunt Bonnie, 45, and cousins Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15, had been slaughtered, hands tied behind their backs, in their farmhouse near Garden City.

It was a high-profile crime, the details splashed across front pages from coast to coast. Yet the murders might have been largely forgotten by now had it not been for Truman Capote’s groundbreaking book “In Cold Blood.”

And for that, Edwards and others in the normally private family remain eternally bitter.

“It has been, to me, a great injustice,” she said. “They were complex people, and (Capote) turned them into cardboard figures.”

Continued below the fold.

Anything He Can Do, She Can Do — Michael Winerip profiles Sarah Davis Buechner, who used to be David Buechner.

IN September 1998, David Buechner, then 39, a prominent classical pianist, came out as a transgender woman, explaining that from then on, she would live and perform as Sara Davis Buechner. The pianist had been accustomed to rave reviews (at 24, David, in his New York City concert debut, was called “an extraordinary young artist” by a New York Times critic). But the debut as Sara, reported in a Times magazine article, was not so well received, even by loved ones.

Elizabeth and Anthony Buechner, the parents, as well as Matthew, the older brother, all expressed their opposition. In a recent interview, Matthew Buechner, a professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas, said he had counseled David to remain a man publicly and cross-dress in private. “A lot of people live that kind of dichotomy,” Matthew said. “I saw the switch as something that would destroy a career. Classical audiences are very conservative.”

But Sara Buechner was determined to be. She said that from when she first took lessons at age 3, she knew she’d be a pianist, and not long after, realized she was meant to be a girl. (“On the playground, boys yelled ‘David’s a girl’ and I’d think, ‘You got that right.’ ”) She believed that bouts of heavy drinking and depression during her years as David stemmed from not being true to herself.

Still Shticking — the 2,000 Year-Old Man — and his sidekick — are still at it.

MEL BROOKS and Carl Reiner have been cracking each other up for nearly 60 years. The two met while working on Sid Caesar’s early television series “Your Show of Shows,” when they cooked up a routine in which Mr. Reiner played an earnest, unnamed TV interviewer, and Mr. Brooks, the 2,000 Year Old Man.

In a Yiddish accent, the old guy held forth on the questionable wisdom of an absurdly long life, touching on topics including parenthood (“I have over 42,000 children — and not one comes to visit me”), Shakespeare (“He was a dreadful writer.” “Every letter was cockeyed, he had the worst penmanship I ever saw in my life!”) and the Black Plague (“Too many rats, not enough cats”).

The shtick yielded five comedy albums, television appearances with Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen and a 1975 animated television special, all of which are included in Shout! Factory’s remastered 50th anniversary four-disc reissue (three CDs and one DVD), “The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete History,” in stores Nov. 24. Mr. Brooks and Mr. Reiner even won a Grammy in 1999 for the fifth album, “The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000.” Their wry satire of pop culture influenced a generation of comedians while it helped make Jewish humor American humor. There are hints in the albums of their own later work, like Mr. Brooks’s bits on the Spanish Inquisition in his 1981 movie “History of the World: Part One.”

Of course Mr. Brooks, 83, and Mr. Reiner, 87, have had long, rich, diverse careers beyond “The 2000 Year Old Man.” Mr. Brooks wrote, directed and starred in movies like “High Anxiety,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Silent Movie,” created the TV series “Get Smart” with Buck Henry and turned two of his movies, “The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein,” into Broadway musicals. Mr. Reiner created “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” directed the movies “Oh, God,” “The Jerk” and “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” and has published eight books.

But it’s their friendship — and the bond of the 2,000 Year Old Man routine — that has helped sustain the two men through the bad times (Mr. Brooks’ wife, the actress Anne Bancroft, star of “The Graduate,” died in 2005; Mr. Reiner’s wife, Estelle, best known for her one line in “When Harry Met Sally” — “I’ll have what she’s having” — died in October 2008) as well as the good. And they don’t seem to be slowing down.

Frank Rich on the bridge between Killeen and Kabul.

Perhaps those on the right are correct about Hasan, and he is just one cog in an apocalyptic jihadist plot that has infiltrated our armed forces. If so, then they have an obligation to explain how pouring more troops into Afghanistan would have stopped Hasan from plotting in Killeen. Don’t hold your breath. If we have learned anything concrete so far from the massacre at Fort Hood, it’s that our hawks, for all their certitude, are as utterly confused as the rest of us about who it is we’re fighting in Afghanistan and to what end.

Doonesbury — Moral capital.