Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Boston Globe obituarist "could bring the dead to life."

Don't worry. Tom Long, longtime Boston Globe obituary writer, is not dead.

But he is gone from that New England newspaper. And Brian McGrory, a Globe columnist, wrote what could eventually be used as part of Long's obituary in the Dec. 23, 2005, edition of the paper.

McGrory writes: To hear Long on the phone with a recent widow was like hearing a virtuoso perform in Carnegie Hall: ''I'm so sorry to bother you. . .. I want readers to feel as if they knew him. . . . He sounds like an incredible man." Countless times, his pitch-perfect obituaries were clipped from the newspaper by the relatives of the deceased, tucked inside family Bibles and albums, and preserved for generations to come.

I know, I know. My fellow obit writers are thinking, "So? That could be said for any of us."

The point of the column is to comment on a reduction in the work force at the Globe. Long is one of 33 editorial staffers to take a voluntary buyout package and thus decrease the surplus population at the newspaper, to paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge.

Writes McGrory: Wall Street has decided that the best way to make newspapers more attractive to readers and advertisers is to cut them. If this fails to make sense, then maybe it doesn't.

I think it's neat that McGrory used the obit writer - instead of Tom Oliphant (op-ed columnist and occasional TV politics commentator) or any of the other possibly more famous editorial folks - as the springboard for his column.

I'll always remember Tom Long as the author of one of my all-time favorite obits: Craig Johnstone Kingsbury, who lost his head in the Steven Spielberg thriller, "Jaws." (Carolyn Gilbert has the obit posted at www.obitpage.com.)

Long wrote in the Sept. 4, 2002, obit: Most people probably hadn't met Craig Johnstone Kingsbury, but his face was familiar. He played the role of old salt Ben Gardner in the movie "Jaws." When know-it-all marine biologist Richard Dreyfuss donned scuba gear to examine a shark-ravaged fishing boat and found Gardner's severed head floating in the flooded hull, it was one of the most frightening moments in the film.

Kingsbury originally was hired as a dialect coach to help British actor Robert Shaw sound like a crusty New England fisherman. A production assistant recorded Kingsbury's conversations with Shaw about sharks and such.

Some of Kingsbury's banter - such as the line that killing a great white is "not like chasin' no tommy cod or bluegill in a pond" - and Kingsbury himself ended up in the 1975 film.

Long also included the nifty fact that Kingsbury was known for going shoeless - even in winter. His daughter apparently told Long that her dad "had size 13 feet and said he couldn't get shoes to fit him, but I think it was also a way of being different."

Instead of a traditional funeral service, his passing was observed with "a barefoot celebration of his life." What a neat guy! What a cool obit!


Anonymous said...

I agree that Tom Long is the best, and his obituary of Craig Kingsbury is a nonpareil of the craft. A shame that the Boston Globe treated such a treasure (Long) so shabbily.
Anyone interested in more about Craig Kingsbury and his colorful life (including eulogies from his barefoot celebration), is invited to check out a book about him on Amazon (Craig Kingsbury Talkin').

Alana Baranick said...

Thanks, Kristen. I didn't know about the book about Kingsbury. I look forward to reading it.