Mr. Bad News

A profile of New York Times obituary writer Alden Whitman, first published by Esquire in 1966, reproduced by Longform:

He is thinking of the words he will use when these men, these problem makers, finally die. He is leaning forward behind his typewriter now, shoulders forward, thinking of the words that will, bit by bit, build the advance obituaries of Mao Tse-tung, of Harry S. Truman, of Picasso. He is also contemplating Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, Steichen and Haile Selassie. On one piece of paper, from a previous hour’s work, Whitman has typed: “… Mao Tse-tung, the son of an obscure rice farmer, died one of the world’s most powerful rulers. …” On another piece of paper: “… there was Picasso the painter, Picasso the faithful and faithless lover, Picasso the generous man, even Picasso the playwright. …” And, from an earlier day’s notes: “… As an actress, Mrs. Rudolph Sieber was nondescript, her legs were by no means as beautiful as Mistinguett’s, but Mrs. Sieber as Marlene Dietrich was for years an international symbol of sex and glamour. …”

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Mr. Bad News