Photo: A 2003 Cadillac hearse listed on EBay, with bids starting at $18,900.
Queen of the Dead – dateline May 21, 2012
• Restaurateur (The Forge and The Glen in Tulsa), racecar driver, military historian and coffee heir (McLaughlin’s Coffee Company) Bill McLaughlin, 83, died on May 1. Bill was the son of dancer Irene Castle, which is how I met him—he was a marvelous help when I wrote my biography of Vernon and Irene Castle a few years ago. He was funny, smart, and both honest and fair about his mother, who could be a real handful (Irene was one of those energetic, forceful people who sometimes make you want to hide under the furniture and pretend you are not home). Bill’s father was the equally impressive Frederic McLaughlin, the first owner of the Chicago Black Hawks, a major in World War I, and the son of W.F. McLaughlin, who founded the family coffee company in 1852. Vernon and Irene would be pleased that Bill named his daughter Castle McLaughlin, and that he followed their lead in animal-rescue causes (Irene, as usual, went overboard and sometimes made PETA look sane and temperate).
• Umeko Shimomura died May 10.
Writing haiku was his claim to fame.
He lived to be 100.
• I officially love Mike McGrady (who died on May 13, at 78) after reading about his 1969 bodice-ripping novel Naked Came the Stranger. Seems McGrady, a Newsday staffer, was reading Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls (“which I couldn’t put down because I was asleep”) when he came up with the scathingly brilliant idea of doing a “serious” parody. He got his Newsday cohorts to contribute chapters, telling them, “There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex. Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion.” The book, of course, was a best-seller, the Village Voice noting that it was “of such perfectly realized awfulness that it will suck your soul right out of your brainpan and through your mouth, and you will happily let it go.” McGrady went on to write some actual books, none of which were as successful or as much fun. Me, I am going on bookfinder.com right now to find Naked Came the Stranger.
• And of course Donna Summer, who died on May 17, age 63. I was a total Disco Queen, and will not hear a word against it. It got people dressing up and going out dancing again, after the ghastly cultural desert of the early ‘70s. I myself wore enterprising 1940s frocks (bought at Veteran’s Warehouse, in one of the worst sections of Baltimore), and my friends Keith, David, Joy and Laura and I would hit the Hippo every night in our vintage finery. I suspect that when my generation is in the nursing home, the staff will screw with us by playing Donna’s “Last Dance” on the p.a. system and watch us all try to frantically write our phone numbers on cocktail napkins with lipstick.