FAREWELL AND GOOD NIGHT: For an indomitable editor who was never at a loss for words — either written or spoken — it was fitting that a few hundred friends and former colleagues were all ears at Thursday night’s celebration of Peter Kaplan’s life, a year following his death.
Kaplan’s four children and his widow, Lisa Chase, were joined by a slew of New York media types that included Tom Wallace, Peter Stevenson, David Michaelis and Ken Auletta, as well as Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cheryl Hines and other Kaplan fans at The Great Hall at Cooper Union. The crowd laughed often and knowingly throughout the colorful program, which included a short film by Nancy Steiner, with cameos by Jill Abramson, Henry Griggs and Charlie Rose, among others. Kennedy, Kaplan’s freshman roommate at Harvard, regaled guests with madcap memories of their time together. Wallace, Stevenson, Michaelis, and Rob and Charlie Kaplan were also on the roster of speakers.
Tom Wallace, who first sat deskside with Kaplan at The New York Times before the two teamed again for Kaplan’s first stint at Condé Nast Traveler, recalled Kaplan’s exit from the latter to the New York Observer. By chance, Kaplan’s planned departure coincided with Condé Nast cost-cutting prompted by “Persian Gulf One.” So rather than target the most vulnerable staffers, youngsters just starting their careers, “armed with Peter’s secret,” Wallace argued S.I. Newhouse that they “should bite the big bullet and cut from the top. Si was impressed. Now I’m not sure if he thought this unusually efficient or sufficiently coldhearted. Either way, I always believed Peter’s career switch became my career boost,” Wallace said.
Kennedy said, “Peter and I expected that I would be the one that would go first, and he was supposed to give my eulogy. We’d talk about it a lot. I was counting on it because he was really good at words and explaining stuff. There was a lot of stuff that needed explaining. I made him take notes.”
Cluing in guests to how Kaplan kept a picture of Lillian Hellman in their college dorm, Kennedy said, “I figured out at one point the reason he loved that picture was because he looked kind of like Lillian Hellman….He was the only young person I ever met whose central ambition was to be really old. His favorite occupation was watching movies and waiting to grow old.”
In addition to being with Kaplan “the first four times he dislocated his arm,” Kennedy said he was also with him “the first time he rode a horse, which was also the last time he rode a horse. It was just outside of Alexander City, Alabama. We were several miles in the woods, and he actually rode through a spider Web and a large spider crawled across his face and then somewhere else. He dropped those reins and the horse ran away with him and back into its stable, which was several miles away….When I finally got back there and found him, he was walking around this farm in kind of a daze, asking strangers for The New York Times. It was like a comfort blanket for him. We later determined that at that time, which was about ’77 or ’79, there were only two copies of The New York Times delivered to the entire state of Alabama.”