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NEW YORK — In a send-off that was true to the multihyphenated life he led, Peter Kaplan was remembered Tuesday as a father, editor, mentor, prankster and confidante.
An American cultural savant, who valued a simple walk to the river as much as anything else, Kaplan was celebrated for chasing knowledge as much as fun. Kaplan, editorial director of WWD’s parent Fairchild Fashion Media, died Nov. 29 at age 59.
This story first appeared in the December 4, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Among those attending his funeral at the Larchmont Temple in Larchmont, N.Y., were Kaplan’s Harvard buddy Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Charlie Rose, Jill Abramson, Glenn Close, Millard “Mickey” Drexler, Tom Wallace, Adam Moss, Deborah Needleman and her husband Jacob Weisberg, Lynn Hirschberg, Roberta Myers, Stuart Emmrich, David Carr, Rick Stengel, Ken Aretsky and Maurie Perl. Staffers past and present from The New York Observer, which Kaplan helmed for 15 years, turned out in force including Candace Bushnell, Alex Kuczynski, George Gurley, Choire Sicha, Jared Kushner and Ken Kurson.
Kaplan never lost his wit, according to his older brother James, who described the recent “heart-wrenching” hospital scene when he told his family there were no other medical options. “Then Peter grinned a tiny bit,” recalled James. “‘Feel free to use this as material,’ he said.”
In paying tribute to his brother, James had plenty of material to work with. Recalling a chance Gene Kelly sighting in Midtown 30 years ago, when the brothers were working as Warner Bros. screenwriters, James said, “It is exactly as if Gene Kelly had been materialized out of the ether specifically for Peter Kaplan’s benefit. ‘Mr. Kelly!’ he called. ‘Hiya!’ ‘Hi!’ said Gene Kelly with that lopsided Gene Kelly grin. Things like this had a way of happening around Peter.”
While bussing tables one summer at Don’s Drive-In, Kaplan championed a reverse sex discrimination suit against the burger joint for allowing women, not him, to wait tables. As a high school exchange student in Japan, he trekked up Mount Fuji one afternoon, got stranded at the summit and had to be led back down by Japanese monks bearing torches. Kaplan (who was known to be a prankster well into his 20s) was kicked out of his Tokyo high school, but not before the schoolmaster told him, ‘You are [sic] worst experience of my life,’” his brother recounted.
During a Harvard campus visit, Kaplan — a talented cartoonist — happened to visit the school newspaper’s office while John Updike was being interviewed. As Kaplan listened in, he sketched a drawing of the author with a “big honker of a nose and all,” James continued. “‘This looks like me I’m afraid,’ Updike wrote.”
Later in the program, Peter Kaplan’s three adult children, Peter, Caroline and Charles, took to the podium. (He also has a son David with his widow Lisa Chase.) Remembering the mystery rides his father took them on that offered “no tour down Madison Avenue, no sweeping view of the Emerald City,” his son Peter said, “Anyone who has ever been in a car with my dad, on a train or on a walk from The Observer to the Viand even can attest that the trip carried the utmost importance.”
To honor her music-loving father, Caroline sang a cappella Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do,” which they agreed was the best song ever written. Once she was done, several dabbed their eyes and one of Kaplan’s friends offered his own military salute. The crowd then made its way outdoors and down to the banks of the river to have a long look at one of his favorite views.