Perhaps to attain some measure of success as a writer, you have to be blessed with a guardian angel. If that's so, I was blessed beyond all counting. My guardian angel was short, bearded, with a twinkle in his eye, a Jeopardy-champ range of knowledge, a genuine belief in writers, the ability to recognize the best in a writer and develop it. His name was Bob Abel.
In 1963, a magazine called The Realist was starting to
reshape the definition of American humor. It was an irreverent,
unexpected breath of fresh air. Woody Allen wrote for it. So did Kurt
Vonnegut and Lenny Bruce. So did Terry Southern, the screenwriter of Dr. Strangelove. So did Avery Corman, author of Kramer vs. Kramer. The Realist
was the brainchild of eccentric comic genius Paul Krassner. The
masthead read "Paul Krassner, Editor and Ringleader, Bob Abel,
Featherbedder." Paul's was the name everyone knew, but it was but it was
Bob who held it together, got it out on time, and read unsolicited
Incuding mine. I was a young college professor in the midwest, a
graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, as stuffy as only a
young college professor could be, and as full of himself as only a
recent Iowa Workshop graduate could be. But I fell in love with The Realist's iconoclasm, and decided I could write for it.
I was valuing myself much too highly. The first piece I submitted to
them took on the televised state funeral for General MacArthur -- an
attempt, as I saw it, to cash in on the great ratings garnered by the
state funeral for President Kennedy. I expounded on this over seven
pages of pompous writing. I thought it was wonderful. It was awful.
Who reads a stuffy, dull manuscript from an obscure midwestern
college professor all the way through, is perceptive enough to find one
funny idea buried on the seventh page and generous enough to write the
author and encourage him to rewrite and resubmit the piece? How did he
know I had it in me to write something less stuffy?
The idea that struck Bob's fancy was a TV game show called "Celebrity
Funeral." And he was right. Nothing else in the essay was funny at all;
that had a chance to be. I rewrote the piece, resubmitted it, and it
began my career-of-sorts as a regular contributor to The Realist. You can find it now online at The Realist Archive Project
That all by itself would qualify someone for guardian angelship. But
it was just the beginning of Bob's benevolent influence on my career.