Talk about dynamite!
It's time for the Nobel Prizes.
Time to elucidate, prognosticate and otherwise contemplate the cash awards endowed 90 years ago by a generous Swede named Alfred Nobel, inventor of the Nobel Igniter -- "certainly the greatest discovery ever made," according to one scholarly study, "in both the principle and practice of explosives."
For the lucky winners, it's a million Swedish kroner ($225,000 at current exhange rates) and instant immortality in a pantheon that includes William Faulkner (Literature, 1949) and Halldo'r Laxness (Literature, 1955); Martin Luther King Jr. (Peace, 1964) and the International Labour Organisation, Geneva (Peace, 1969) along with that continual favorite, Not Awarded (Literature, 1914, 1918, 1935, 1940-43; and Peace, 1914-16, 1918, 1923-24, 1928, 1932, 1939-43, 1948, 1955-56, 1966-67, 1972).
The wave of announcements starts up tomorrow morning in Oslo, when the Norwegian Nobel Committee names the Peace prize winner, and rolls inexorably into next Thursday in Stockholm, when the Swedish Academy is expected to pick the Literature recipient.
The question of the moment is a resounding who? Pope John Paul II for Peace? Graham Greene for Literature? Leaving aside Medicine, Chemistry and Physics (which hardly anyone understands) and Economics (which absolutely no one understands), the line on this year's crop of Nobel hopefuls is, resoundingly, who can tell? Peace
"How could anybody really make odds on the Nobel prizes?" asks celebrity bettor Jimmy the Greek Snyder. "It's probably one of the most secretive situations in the world. You don't know who the teams are, or who they're playing."
Nevertheless, Snyder said he likes Ronald Reagan for Peace as a 2 to 1 favorite, and encouraged this reporter to place a $1 bet. "No American president ever won the goddam thing," he said, forgetting Theodore Roosevelt's 1906 award for helping end the Russo-Japanese War. "If I'm right, you send me a $1 bill, and I'll stick it on my wall along with all the other $1 bills. If I'm wrong, I'll pay you $2. By check." He added that he can't offer those daring odds to the public at large -- "that would be against the law."
Top Las Vegas odds-maker Bob Martin gave the following impromptu assessments yesterday: President Reagan, 20 to 1. Mikhail Gorbachev, 100 to 1. Billy Martin, 1,000 to 1 ("he's playing hurt"). Syrian President Hafez al-Assad 1,000 to 1. Argentine President Raul Alfonsin 20 to 1. New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange 5 to 1. Walter Mondale, 100 to 1 ("though he might have an advantage with the committee in Oslo because he's Norwegian"). Other contenders (unrated) include Norwegian missionary Olav Hodne, Brazilian Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns and the International Olympic Committee.
Irving ("The Prize") Wallace, whose 1962 best seller about the seamy side of the prize got him seriously in Dutch with the Swedes, so much so that they banned all his books until he recently patched things up, said he likes Austrian Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Literature
In the movie version of "The Prize," Paul Newman grabbed it, but Wallace said he prefers Graham Greene this year. "I really think he deserves it," Wallace said of the English octogenarian.
"It won't be Graham Greene," said the respected Swedish literary critic Gabi Gleichmann, reached at his home in Stockholm.
And why not?
"Because the Swedish Academy has read him."
Gleichmann's short list features American novelists Bernard Malamud and Joyce Carol Oates ("One member of the academy is a forceful supporter of hers"), Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, French novelist Claude Simon and -- because "I have a feeling it will be someone from the third world" -- Nigerian poet and playwright Wole Soyinka.
He cautions, however, that "the academy likes to surprise people. Very likely, we'll be hearing about someone we haven't heard about before."
Joyce Carol Oates, meanwhile, professed to be nonplused by the whole affair -- even though emissaries from Sweden have sat in on her classes at Princeton, and a few years back she barnstormed through Scandinavia, giving readings and lectures.
"Oh I can't really say," said Oates, when asked if she got to know any of the academy. "All I know is I met a lot of Swedes."