On Cruise and his father, and Hitchcock and Kelly


The tabs have already skimmed the top off it anyway, so you don't have to read Kevin Sessum's obsequious profile of Tom Cruise in the October Vanity Fair beyond page 270, where he sympathetically quotes the actor as saying that a dinner between him and his estranged father never "eventuated."

Time is better spent perusing Robert Lacey's excerpt in the same issue from his book on the late actress Grace Kelly, whom director Alfred Hitchcock liked to compare to a "snow-covered volcano."

The article documents the director's apt metaphor, and it's probably not unreasonable to speculate that Kelly and Hitchcock, vital as they were, would have been mortified if they had been caught "eventuating" anything, at least verbally.

The art of the typewriter

In this month's issue of Johns Hopkins magazine on changes in our society, author/novelist/professor of fiction Stephen Dixon writes that a man named Mr. Calvieri on East 42nd Street in Manhattan is an inspiration who has kept him writing. Mr. Calvieri, evidently one of the last typewriter-repair specialists on the East Coast, fixes Mr. Dixon's Hermes standard manual typewriter, which is good for Mr. Dixon because he abhors word processors. They give writers "the delusion that things are going well," he writes.

"Good fiction writing -- serious literature -- cannot be written on word processors," he adds. "It can be done with a pen and transcribed onto a manual [typewriter], or done straight onto a manual and then redone a dozen times till the work, for the moment, is perfect."

Salaries, high and low

This week's New York magazine survey of how much some New Yorkers made last year provides a perfect snapshot of the structure of our present economy. Here are some examples:

Mohamed Abdelnabi, New York cab driver and medallion owner, $12,000; Andrea Andresakis, dancer/singer/actress, $5,000; J. Carter Bacot, chairman/CEO, Bank of New York, $3,109,500; Raymond Acezedo, Rikers Island inmate and porter, $8 a week; Bobby Bonilla, Mets third baseman, $5.7 million; Steven Boser, Lotto winner and dairy farmer, $24 million; Joe Caradonna, part-time apple farmer, Greenmarket vendor, $4,000; Macaulay Culkin, actor, $16 million; Luiz Desales, shoe-shine man, $15,000; Robert Fleisher, usher captain, orchestra level, Carnegie Hall, $14,100; Ivonne Fuentes, part-time sales associate, Macy's, $8,000; Dr. Spencer Gibbs, president, NYC Council of Churches, $0; Nelson Gonzales, Harvard Club dishwasher, $20,000; and James "Kizer" Gray, welfare recipient, $6,380.

Speaking of money, David Shenk's Ethics, Inc., column in the October Spy magazine, "Dumber Indemnity: Coming to Term," is a very funny guerrilla attack on life insurance telemarketers who say life insurance isn't just for dead people anymore; it's an investment vehicle giving you a return over 20 years "somewhere in the eights."

Writes Mr. Shenk, who posed as a prospective buyer: "Like most of the [salespeople he talked to] this one is having some fun with the truth. He has no idea of what my rate of return will be over 20 years."

In black and white

There's also some interesting reading this week about skin color and shades of color.

Karen Grigsby Bates' "The Color Thing" in this month's Essence begins with this "compliment" from a light-skinned male colleague to a Los Angeles director's female assistant: "You don't look like a typically dark-skinned woman -- you're attractive." Then there's light-skinned University of Colorado admissions counselor Donna Stewart, an African-American, who was questioned by people who, judging by her light skin color, "didn't feel I would represent Black issues."

The piece explores the issue of, as Ms. Stewart puts it, "How Black are you?" Ms. Bates says our color fixation, supposedly "killed off forever with the growing prominence of cultural nationalism" in the late '60s, has now become "merely the exchange of one set of prejudices for another."

And in a Q&A; with Robert Morales in this month's Vibe, Lani Guinier, the law professor whose nomination to the Justice Department was withdrawn by President Clinton, discusses quotas and why, despite being tarred with the "Quota Queen" label by the Wall Street Journal, she's opposed to them.

She says that her father was the victim of one. When he applied to Harvard in 1929 and was admitted, he was denied a scholarship on the grounds that the university had already given one to a black student from Cambridge and that that fulfilled its quota. He was told the reason he wasn't eligible for financial aid was that he hadn't sent in a picture with his application.

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