Monday, October 27, 2014

Washington Social Diary

Ben Bradlee: smart, charismatic, handsome, driven to publish the toughest stories.
by Carol Joynt

Many eloquent words have been written and said about Ben Bradlee this past week after his death at his Georgetown home at the age of 93. He’d likely agree that’s a nice long life, but for the rest of us the loss still hurts. Even with a long, full life, when someone is that smart, charismatic, and splendidly willful, not to mention so sincerely beloved, death feels too soon, too young.

The most resonant eulogies came from the people who knew him, such as Robert Kaiser for The Washington Post, writing the paper’s lead obit. David Carr’s take in The New York Times was also shiny and bright, showing what it means to be a great editor. I repeat, a great editor, not just an editor. The mandate for great editors is fading in an ever more corporate journalism culture that favors partnership and compliance with the business side of things. Also, increasingly there are editors who make it about themselves rather the reporters they are shepherding. That’s the TV influence, of course, an influence Bradlee seemed pretty much able to take or leave. He understood it, but he didn’t seem to need it.
Last year, President Obama awarded Bradlee the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bradlee was not unmindful of the business side of things, but he knew his role as editor was to have his reporters dog the truth, unrelentingly, while publisher Katharine Graham handled the business, and thankfully the two respected each others’ roles, found common ground and we all benefited. Bradlee’s disciples and protégés are everywhere. They will keep the legacy going.

This may be taken for granted, but if you haven’t seen Jason Robards portrayal of Bradlee in “All The President’s Men,” do see it. It’s uncanny. I second the observation made by Rick Hertzberg of The New Yorker: “’All the President’s Men’ is a rarity: a movie in which an actor playing an actual person has less star power than the person the actor is playing. Jason Robards, Jr., was a movie star, too. He had the swagger down pat, along with the rough grace, the easy confidence, and the gravelly voice.
Jason Robards as Bradlee in “All The President’s Men."
But Bradlee is—was, I mean, alas—taller than Robards, broader in the chest and shoulders, less delicate and more leonine in the face. He was altogether more physically imposing and, potentially, intimidating. His gravelly voice was more gravelly, his fierceness more fierce, his deployment of profanity more thrilling.” He added, “The only person who could have played Ben Bradlee better—who did play Ben Bradlee better—was Ben Bradlee.
Sally Quinn, Ben Bradlee, Quinn Bradlee and CJ at Nathans for The Q&A Care in April 2009.
Family dynamic - the Bradlees with CJ on The Q&A Cafe
This was probably an expression that Bradlee had around the house from time to time.
As you can tell, when Ben Bradlee smiled at you the whole thing seemed right.
This came up in a radio interview last week, but Bradlee did actually almost play Ben Bradlee once, and it’s a good item for your next trivia dinner. The question: in which major motion picture did Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn actually act, portraying a Washington socialite couple? Answer: the remake of “Born Yesterday,” starring Don Johnson, John Goodman and Melanie Griffith. Ben and Sally are 6th and 7th in the cast list on IMDB, as “Secretary of the Navy Alex Duffee” and “Beatrice Duffee,” listed above Fred Thompson, who plays as “Sen. Hedges.”
A Watergate era Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward.
Bradlee and Woodward, after they entered the "legendary" years.
Bradlee didn’t seem to be one for the splashy social scene, preferring to party with close friends, but when I did see him socially – at George and Liz Stevens, at his own Georgetown home, or a Washington Post event – he was approachable, friendly and talkative. At a cocktail party he seemed to find a corner and stand there. He wasn’t in need of circulating. On the occasions when we talked at parties he usually mentioned Nathans, the Georgetown corner bar my family owned for 40 years.  He appeared twice for an interview on my show, The Q&A Café, first with Bob Woodward, and then a second time with Sally and their son, Quinn Bradlee. This second, 45-minute interview is a rare glimpse into the family dynamic and worth a watch.
Jeff Himmelman’s “personal portrait” of Bradlee, “Yours In Truth,” was considered a betrayal by Bradlee’s nearest and dearest, but it’s a good read and a lot of what’s in the book makes Bradlee actually more impressive because of the added bits of flesh and bone. Not always pretty but real and good. The New York Times liked it, too, calling it a work about “seduction and mythology.” 

Note: The funeral service for Ben Bradlee will be held on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral. It begins at 11 a.m. and is open to the public.
Ben, Sally, Pari, and Quinn.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt