Friday, 22 January 2010


My obituary of Erich Segal is in today's Independent, you can link to it here. It ran pretty much as I wrote it, except for a small digression I made, explaining Love Story's 'campus realism' in terms of its ice hockey scenes. I admired Segal for his willingness to continue the academic work he loved while writing the popular stuff he enjoyed--one shouldn't have to preclude the other. He was also a big sports fan, and he got the Harvard hockey absolutely right. As I remember the book, Oliver meets Jennnifer when Harvard beats Dartmouth, and Oliver peppers a goalie 'he had been terrorizing since he was at Mt Hermon'. Hockey was a preppie sport then, and Harvard got the best of the preps (as well as some local Boston lads). Then Harvard and Oliver get crushed by the French Canadian imports playing for Cornell, which serves as a sort of metaphor for his relationship with his working class Italian girlfriend, and a reality check about life in the 'real world' for the son of stuck-up upper class parents. Most of it, of course, was easy melodrama, but the hockey was aboslutely true; the coach at Cornell was Ned Harkness, he recruited heavily in Canada, though his bestCanadian recruit was the eminently Ivy-League pre-law goalie Ken Dryden, to went on to star with the Montreal Canadiens, and with whom I had this discussion when he worked with us at ABC Sports. Of course, it's not a discussion that would interest the Indy's readers (nor most of you, probably) but I thought I'd just write it up for the fun of it.

It also reminded me that I seem to remember giving the book a good review in the Wesleyan Argus, which would be incredibly embarrassing now were I to find a copy. But probably it was the hockey.

I eschewed opening by saying anything like 'What can you say about a 72 year old best-seller writer who died?', but perhaps I could have included the classic feminist response to that famous actual opening line: 'What can you say about a 26 year old girl who's died?', which of course was 'She's not a girl, she's a woman!'.

By the way, anyone who takes the Golden Globes seriously ought to recall that Ali McGraw and her famous flaring nostrils won a GG as best actress for Love Story. I remember going to see the film with Steve Berman and Mary Forsberg, soon after leaving college, and toward the end, as Steve was blubbing while Ali's in the hospital bed and says to Ryan 'hold me, Ollie' I said to Mary, 'I can't honey, the tubes are in the way', and a woman in the row behind us clobbered me in the head with her handbag. Really.


Francis said...

Erich Segal was essentially a classical scholar. The obituary does not get to grips with this and gives his classical work a cursory glance. I always find it astonishing that academics are assumed to be a bitter group, envious of popular success. I think that, like most people, we admire those with the rare talent to publish a work of fiction, of whatever sort, rather than comment on them. His last book was a notable achievement.

Michael Carlson said...

The reason his obit commanded so much space was his success in the popular world, and his academic career, while noteworthy, would not have been deemed as interesting to the general public. The question of tenure at Yale is a valid one; the negative response to his popular work by critics was not intended to be a slight at academe, since many if not most of those critics were not academics. For me the most interesting thing about Segal's career would be his success within the 'business' of show business...unusual for someone who continued workins as an academic--and perhaps I should have mentioned his jetting in, literally, from Europe to do his classes...

By coincidence, however, the day before I had written the obit of another professor turned popular novelist, Robert B Parker, who said
that he had seen some bad people while in the Army in Korea, but most of the worst people he had met were academics...and in one Spenser novel repeats the old joke about why academic politics is so vicious...because the stakes are so small...

BTW I thought my mention of Segal's last book WAS in a positive context, though I read quotes where he distanced himself from it in the sense that he conceded such changes in the comic zeitgeist were cyclical