Register Thursday | March 22 | 2018

Some More Remarkable Men

What's in a name?

Someone once said - was it Gide? - that authentic fame is being known by fifty people so long as they are the fifty whose opinions make all the difference.
- James Lord, Some Remarkable Men: Further Memoirs

Frederick P. Odell

A swimming champion from Princeton, Freddy was extraordinarily attractive to men and women alike. He himself was attracted to anything that smelled of chlorine, and thus passed much of his time with swimmers and later in life, laundresses.

Once on a lark Freddy dog-paddled around the Ile de la Cite, scandalizing not only his wealthy Philadelphia family, but the Philadelphia ornithological community as well, of which he was a prominent member. Roger Tory Peterson tried to intervene and bring Odell back into the Pennsylvania birding fold, but apparently the wound was too great.

It was to be the defining tragedy of Fredericks life, one from which even his buoyant nature could not recover. One wonders how anyone deals with such loss.

With his great wealth, Freddy was able to effect some good on behalf of our feathered friends - a campaign to teach them the importance of regular bathing was perhaps his most ambitious and controversial project - but he never swam again. He once told me recently that even sprinklers made him melancholy.

Francis Willow

Francis was one of those rare tree surgeons with the ability to transform a yard with a few deft snips of his pruning shears. Yards in the Ohio town in which I was raised became more artful and less prone to Dutch Elm disease because of his wizardry.

If Francis had a weakness it was for wisteria, which he refused to cut back. It eventually cost him his livelihood, and soon after, his sanity.

He now works as a Roto-Rooter man in the Greater Cleveland area.

Randolph Little-Johns Chicks

It was in Paris after the war that I first met Randolph. His discernment for art of the highest order was unerring, but he was poor and had to make do with collecting back issues of Stars & Stripes. He hoped that it would lead to something greater, perhaps even back issues of Horizon Magazine (the last issue of which published a short story of mine, a great honor but alas one that pushed the magazines value even farther from Randy's grasp).

Today Randolph has assembled the definitive  collection of The Sporting News from the early 1980s. He's put on a bit of weight over the years, forcing him to forgo his one sartorial flourish, Sansabelt trousers.

Iain Densk

Iain used to make ham and cheese sandwiches for Giacometti. Alberto wouldn't let anyone else prepare his lunch, not even on weekends. At first this created no small amount of consternation at the Parisian restaurants Alberto frequented, but eventually they took it in stride, eager as they were for the great artist's custom.

Little did I suspect when I first met Iain that he would play such a vital role in the preparation of not only my lunches but my biography of Alberto. It was Iain who informed my entire chapter on the 1952 rift between Alberto and his brother Diego, a rift that was formed over Alberto's inexplicable fondness for pre-packaged Muenster cheese.

After that Diego would say to me (always in private) that in order to understand Alberto's work, one first had to understand what he valued in a baguette.

Fergus St. James

Fergus was extraordinary in his ordinariness. He dressed as did most everyone else in his social sphere. He married the girl next door. He vacationed in Finland.

Yet Fergus had a secret, and that secret was Louis Rukheyser. You see, it was Fergus who provided Louis entre to a world of wavy, beautiful hair, by recommending a conditioner and mousse treatment during a chance encounter on Boulevard St. Michel. Ratings for "Wall Street Week" skyrocketed. Sadly, Rukheyser recently altered his toilette and was almost immediately let go from PBS.

Arnold Voisinet

A taxi driver by trade, Arnold once drove me from the Excelsior in Nice where I was staying while visiting Dora Marr, to a restaurant somewhere on the outskirts of the city. I remember that Arnold wore a hat unlike any I had seen, with a large feather extending rakishly from the hatband. I asked him what kind of feather it was, and he replied to me that he did not really know.

I never saw him again.