Johnny Apple's Service, in the Best of Taste
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
R.W. "Johnny" Apple Jr. of the New York Times planned his own memorial service, but died without knowing its venue. Yesterday the event he wished for unfolded with appropriate grandeur at the Kennedy Center, whose Eisenhower Theater barely held the crowd of celebrating mourners, and whose North Terrace accommodated a post-service buffet to remember. Apple would have savored the spread laid on by 21 of the Washington area's best restaurants, and lubricated by the wines of 20 American vineyards. Apple apparently knew the proprietors of all 41 -- and of course had sampled their production, in all likelihood prodigiously. Had he been able to partake, Apple would have particularly liked the huge fresh oysters flavored with generous dollops of real Russian caviar provided by Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington.
It wasn't a state funeral, exactly: no pomp, no men in uniform. Perhaps you could call it an estate funeral -- fourth estate. This isn't a known category, it couldn't be -- to the best of your correspondent's knowledge, there has never been an analogous event, and there will never be another. Like Raymond Walter Apple Jr., the memorial service was sui generis. How many great political writers were also great food writers? How many reporters became famous, really famous, for the immensity of their expense accounts?
Luckily for the 750 or so in the crowd, everyone knew Apple, so they could laugh at Apple stories told by 13 eulogists while images of the vast man himself danced in their imaginations. Viewers who watch the event on C-SPAN in the days ahead may be more puzzled, because Apple was one of those originals who elude attempts to describe him in mere words -- even by some pretty good writers who gave it a shot yesterday.
What exactly is charisma? We know it when we see it, but it does not lend itself to dissection. C-SPAN viewers will see a slide show of Apple's life, shown midway through the eulogies, in which he grows from an adorable little boy with a huge head to an enormous old man with a huge everything. But mere photographs don't capture charisma either.
Apple's came from a combination of intelligence, extensive learning on many subjects, a great love of people (especially his pals), wonderful journalistic skills, an unnatural energy and a literally insatiable appetite for life. Those qualities were all mentioned in the eulogies, but no speaker managed to put the package together and make it whole.
Apple's protege Todd Purdum, until recently a political writer for the Times, got things off on the right foot with what he called "The Apple Box Score":
· 43 years at the New York Times.
· 73 front-page bylines--in his first year.
· Coverage from 109 countries, 10 presidential elections, 20 nominating conventions, two big wars, a revolution and a smattering of smaller conflicts in between.
· 81 career appearances on "Meet the Press."
· 29 on "Charlie Rose."
· 185 pounds.