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Liz Smith

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David McCullough: In Defense of the Typewriter -- and American Authenticity

Posted: 11/06/2012 1:47 pm

"We have always had reason to believe we are a nation in decline. That's not new.

"What we want is somebody who will do something and do things that aren't popular!"
said the greatest historian in the United States, David McCullough, last Sunday night on 60 Minutes

  • Mr. McCullough was being interviewed by the one and only Morley Safer (television's own cultural historian) in a two-part series which will be completed next Sunday night.

    These two giants seized current times to philosophize about their forebears, the Revolutionary "giants" who first created this country in 1776. (Next Sunday, don't miss McCullough expounding on his latest book about how the colonists visited Paris early and late and got so much to bring back to the U.S. The book is titled The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris -- Simon & Schuster.)

    McCullough is seen working still on his trusty Royal typewriter, which seemed in keeping when so many about me on the Northeastern seaboard didn't have enough electricity to keep their cell phones, computers and Internet going. Even if you had some juice now and then, you were writing for a large audience that had other horrid things to worry about from hurricane "Sandy" and they couldn't read it!

    Author McCullough said, in defense of his Royal, "I work on it because I can't press a button and have it all disappear." He said the story of America's travails, triumphs and adversity is just that -- the vehicle of a story... like 'when in the course of human events'... What is important is (for men) to just talk straight. Authenticity is what works."

    We will maybe know tonight or tomorrow or sometime down the pike whether voters know authenticity if they see it.

    McCullough notes that American politics has always been rough and ready. "Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went at each other with fire tongs." He gives the second and third U.S. presidents both lots of credit but when asked who was the greatest president of them all, this is what he says:

    "George Washington was the greatest. He had no example to go by. He did everything right. I wish I could have been there." In reality, Mr. McCullough has all but made himself more than a spectator and historian. His book on Washington comes on apace.

    A charming part of this 60 Minutes outing is that reporter Safer and author McCullough are actually in Philadelphia and they visit Constitution Hall. Morley asks, "Do you ever get a funny feeling when you wander around Philly?"

    McCullough chuckles: "I don't believe in ghosts but at night, wandering around I feel that they are here! ... And they dreamed big, in this little room!"

    I congratulate CBS and 60 Minutes for keeping the authenticity and truth alive in giving Morley Safer his head as a reporter. They had this veteran correspondent close the show with remarks on how Mother Nature renders all else "irrelevant" because the mere human animal cannot exercise any real control of (the weather)!

  • Let me make a few corrections which I'll blame on "Sandy" because the last few days I have had to work on computers strange to me. (All computers and I are "strangers" to tell the truth.)

    The Billy Norwich article on etiquette's Tish Baldridge appeared in last Sunday's New York Times, not on Friday as we mis-stated.

    I wrote yesterday that Tommy Tune, the nine-time Tony winner, would be helping me out at the "Living Landmarks" gala this Thursday night in the Plaza Hotel Ballroom. Well, it's always a thrill to even mention my pal Tommy. But I won't have him after all. He called to say, "There's good news and bad news. The bad is that I have to go to L.A. for television but the good news is they don't need Liza Minnelli and she will be with you to be honored!"

    This theater paragon is briefly on the West Coast filming for the revival of the popular TV show Arrested Development. But what I want to add is that Tommy is opening with a new act at Feinstein's at the Regency with two shows a night, first on Nov. 18th and then again on the 25th and 26th.

    He'll be wearing his new Capezio-made alligator and suede shoes doing an offering called "Tap Tune and Tall Tales." Capezio gave Tommy a "Lifetime Achievement Award" recently; he's worn out a lot of tap shoes for them.

    If you can get a reservation, more power to you for these scarce seats, but the recorded voice at Feinstein's, 212-339-4095, had me baffled. (Couldn't we hire more human beings to handle these telephone requests?! That goes for all Internet agencies as well.)

  • To those who care, both of the women I depend upon -- Rachel Clark and Mary Jo McDonough -- showed up here on Monday morning like nothing bad had ever happened to them and helping me was paramount. It took them hours to get to my side.

    And my ace friend, Denis Ferrara, has fared bravely in Hoboken, New Jersey, and is going his merry way. He assures us all he is okay in comparison to many others who disaster struck.
    Denis will probably write a book that will be a best-seller about what to do when your streets are flooded, Governor Christie doesn't bother to come to call, and one is left to fend for himself.

 
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