The "longest trial marriage in the history of Washington" came to an end Saturday night, I.F. Stone told a gathering of friends and relatives. He and his wife, Esther, had decided they would make a go of it.
A fitting bulletin, it would seem on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversay. Stone's kid sister, Judy Stone, who was a 5-year-old flower girl at the 1929 wedding, joked that for such longevity, some sort of Purple Heart should be in order for Ester.
Not so, says Esther Stone. "When you live with a man who slides down the bannister to get the news and can't wait for his first corny joke of the day, you have an experience."
Esther Stone is slim, small and lively at 70. "You know, my daughter (Celia Gilbert, a poet whose collection "Queen of Darkness" was published by Viking) feels very strongly that I gave up something of my own talent. I simply don't care. I am completely fulfilled in Izzy's life. His energies a enthusiasms and excitments are just so great."
A pride of wits and wisemen from Washington's political and journalistic circles, such as Marcus Raskin, codirector of the Institute for Policy Studies, former senator James Abourezk, Elizabeth Drew of The New Yorker and columinist Mary McGrory mingled in the couple's garden with the Stones' nephews, nieces, grandchildren, children, brothers and sisters. But few wisecracks were forthcoming; everyone seemed too much in awe of the rather spectacular five-decade rationale for the occasion.
Stone, 71, the iconoclastic journalist who for 19 years published I. F. Stone's Weekly, has been called many things in his windmill-tilting career, some of them printable. His fans call him a "radical prophet," an "incorrigible monument to opinionation," who railed against the Vietnam War and J. Edgar Hoover and Richard M. Nixon and the military-industrial complex long before it was fashionable.
Through it all, Ester Stone listened. How Stone is celebrating retirement by becoming a "recycled freshman," teaching himself classical Greek, and she still listens.
"It's very lonesome to do things like Greek and it's wonderful to have a wife who won't get bored," says Stone. "She listened to the goddamnedest collection of recondite subjects. She's had 'courses' on the most dumb, farout subjects. When I first met her I was writing anti-big-business exposes. I would go on and on. Any normal girl would have screamed.
"Esther is so much more understanding than I am. Within five minutes, people are stretched out on an imaginary couch telling her all kinds of intimate things. She's never malicious. She has a green thumb with people; she knows how to say a healing word. I tell her she's just a goddamn Florence Nightingale going around binding people's wounds."
The Stone's home in northwest Washington is a monument to the written word. Ancient, musty tomes in Greek, Latin, German are lovingly wrapped in plastic. Every room has its rows upon rows of books, and bedroom nightstands hold favorites such as Stone's heavily annotated collection of Homer. A puckish little man with thick glasses who has to hold the volumes close to read, Stone never stops in his enthusiasm: "This is a tremendous French translation . . . I bought it in 1926. . . . here are all the books by my friend Bertrand Russell. . . Virgil here and all the books of the Bible there. . . . I know just enough bibical Hebrew . . . here's Ovid. . . here's my Horace collection. . . ."
Stone fingers his collection of poems by the ancient Roman satirst. "I've been on a Horace binge lately. Memorized five or six poems in the last two weeks. Horace was such a great artist. I'm just in love with him. I wake up at night and do some Horace in my head. It's like fingering a string of pearls." And Stone is off on a Horace ode, first in Latin, then in English, savoring the Music of the Latin."
". . . Alas, Posthumous, Posthumous, the fleeting years slip away and even the most righteous life cannot put a stop to wrinkles and advancing age and uncoquerable death. . . ."
For many years, I.F. Stone's Weekly was a mom-and-pop operation, with Esther Stone keeping the books and handling the mail. The weekly subscribers grew from 5,300 to 70,000 when Stone retired in 1971 after developing heart trouble. "now in retirement herself, Esther Stone is as much the reader as her husband -- Galsworthy, Dostoevski, Tolstoy, Henry James, Nabokov.
"I reread a great deal -- and always find something new," she says.
Stone adds: "She's read a tremendous amount of Freud, but she instinctively knew everything Freud taught."
Although Esther Stone will volunteer that "sex is madly important in a good marriage," she declines to talk about raising children today and feels it is much harder than when her three were young. In addition to their daughter, the Stones have two sons, Christopher, who teaches law at the University of Southern California, and Jeremy, who is director of the Federation of American Scientists.
When the Stones get away from their consummate reading binges they walk a lot (he wals five miles roundtrip daily to an office at American University) and go disco dancing. "It's so marvelous, so free," says Izzy Stone.
"Retirement is terrible. It's a vestibule to death. Unless you have something new, such as my Greek studies. (He is also writing a book on freedom of thought). It's fun to feel that you're staring again. I've had enough journalism to last me. I feel I've earned the right to try to be a scholar. It's so much more fun to feel that you're staring -- than to feel that you've arrived."
Their daughter, Celia Gibert, says her parents' contagion for living made their home a "really loving household. We grew up in difficult times. We were surrounded by people who thought father was a Communist. . . But none of that ever disturbed their tranquility."
The Stones met on a blind date when she was 18 and he was 19, and married two years later. "It was just a nice damn fool lucky break," recalls Izzy Stone, who was in the process of dripping out of college at the time.
He was also simply Isidor Feinstein then. "I adopted Stone as a pen name in 1938 and then legalized it. It was just about the time of our third baby and I thought in part that if he had a neutral sounding name maybe it would save him some trouble."
Stone started his first newspaper The Progress, at age 14, "Very idealistic and very radical." His father, who owned a country store in the small town of Haddonfield, N.J., made him stop when Stone spent so much time on the paper that he nearly flunked high school.
Stone feels he was born a liberal, and for the underdog.
"And when you grow up a short little Jew, funny looking, with those funny looking glasses and you adore these 6-foot WASP beauties who won't look at you. . ." Stone lets out a hearty laugh at the memory. "Personally I felt I was Galahad, but I was Isidor. Who calls anybody Isidor?" Stone was an outsider not so much because of anti-Semitism as antiintellectualism. Being a bookworm hardly assured him of instant popularity.
Before he could read, Stone would sit in a trolley car with a book in front of him and move his lips as if he were reading Then came the thrills he now recalls -- reading Keats and Shelley and Wordswoth and Plato and Aristotle in the woods near his home. Stone graduated third from last in a class of 52: "I wasn't dumb, I just didn't do any schoolwork."
A few years ago Stone was honored as a distinguished dropout of the University of Pennsylvania. He left in 1927 because "school interfered with my reading I felt very romantic after I left school. I'd go to the library and read two books on Lucretius in Latin and French, a poem of Sappho and have a wonderful time. It was a choice of staying in school and becoming a philosophy teacher or going into newspaper work. I decided I liked the smell of newspaper officers better than academe."
Stone was a brash kid who quit the Camden (N.J.) Courier after he wasn't assigned to the trial of Sacco-Vanzetti, the celebrated case which ended in their execution as anarchists. Stone went on his own anyway -- only to find that the trial had been postponed for two weeks. ("I kept thinking, what would my grandchildren think if I didn't prostest that trial?").
He then got a job on the Philadelphia Inquirer by waltzing up to "this Napolenic pipsqueak of a boss and saying: 'How would you like a good man?' He said: I could use a half dozen of them' I said: 'Well you're looking at one.' He hired me."
When Stone married Esther he was making $40 a week, asked for a $5-a-week raise and got it A stint with the Nation was followed by a job in Washington with the New York Daily Compass, which folded in 1952. When Stone could't get his old Nation Job back, he started his weekly (which later became biweekly). At times, Stone had a number of eager, liberal, dedicated journalists who wrote for him "for pennies," as one said.
"He fostered the idea that he wanted to groom someone to take over for him but Izzy never really allowed anyone to get that close to his baby," said another.
Unlike many Washington columnists who rely on high-placed sources or leaks from disgruntled bureaucrats, Stone relentlessly burrowed into the fine print of thick manuscripts combing the public record for deception and contradiction by Congress and governent officials, to make his case.
Such secutiny brought him many admires in the press, but critics as well. One reviewer of his book "The Hidden History of the Korean War" wrote that Stone Adds up two apples and two oranges, in the traditional French Left manner and gets 1,000 grapefruit."
And not all who worked for him remained admirers. Author Robert Sherrill, who wrote some articles for Stone, dedicated his book "The Drug Store Liberal" to Stone "along with my dead cat" because "I was a goddamn sentimental fool." Stone knocked the book in print in a manner, claims Sherrill, that showed he hadn't read the book.
"Izzy has a hangup. He does't think he can prove his honesty and objectivity unless he guts a firend," grumps Sherrill." It's great to be a professional underdog."
Stone managed to enrage both the right and the left through the years. Then-Vice President Spiro Agnew called the paper "another strident voice of illiberalism." ("A mere flea bite," scoffs Stone today). David El-enhower, Nixon's son-in-law, refused to attend his Amherst graduation because Stone was the commencement speaker.
On the other hand, Stone lost 400 subscribers in 1956 when the visited Russia and wrote of it: "This is not a good society and it is not led by honest men." More enemies developed when he supported the Palestinian position on a homeland.
Being attacked by Jews was "just about the only thing that hurt my feelings all those years," says Stone.
His fans included everyone from Marilyn Monroe -- "such a lost soul" to Albert Einstein. a framed $5,00 check from Einstein, a charter subscriber to the Weekly, hangs in his study, along with a fan letter from Einstein "I called his secretary and asked if zI could frame the check and she let out a groan. Everyone framed checks from Einstein and it really screwed up the bookeeping."
There was a time when Stone first spoke out on the Vietnam war and was shunned by senators, and powerful bureaucrats and journalists as some scruffy nag. Later, he arrived -- to the point of becoming immortalized in New "yorker cartoons. "You know, the truth is, I used to walk across the lawn at the Capitol and I would think, 'screw you, you sons of bitches. I may be just a goldamn Jew Red to you, but I'm keeping Jefferson alive!'"
Although Esther Stone is a "Republican at heart," she has as Stone says, "never, ever interfered with my right to be a radical."
She smiles in complete agreement. a separate career would never have been for her, she says. "Some people need complete attention and Izzy is is one. Complete attention, complete devotion, a complete feeling of being the creative person. I thought his talents were much better than I had. His life so fascinated me. It was as though I was hypnotized." CAPTION: Picture 1, Ester Stone; Picture 2, the Stones flanked by their best man, Chester Roberts, and their flower girl, Judy Stone, on their 50th wedding universary, by Linda Wheeler -- The Washington Post; Picture 3, I.F. Stone