R. W. Apple has passed away, apparently after having planned out the menu for his funeral. Any discussion of Apple has to deal with a huge volume of material, in some cases, quite literally. In a 2003 profile of Johnny Apple, Calvin Trillin writes that Apple would start his day’s work “in one of the brightly striped nightshirts made for him by Harvie & Hudson, of Jermyn Street, … so that a house guest not yet fully recovered from a late night at the Apple table can be startled by the impression that a particularly festive party tent has somehow found its way indoors.”
Apple lived large, whatever the size of his nightshirts. The Times, his journalistic home for over 40 years explains that:
Mr. Apple enjoyed a career like no other in the modern era of The Times. He was the paper’s bureau chief in Albany, Lagos, Nairobi, Saigon, Moscow, London and Washington. He covered 10 presidential elections and more than 20 national nominating conventions. He led The Times’s coverage of the Vietnam war for two and a half years in the 1960’s and of the Persian Gulf war a generation later, chronicling the Iranian revolution in between.
He kept track and had visited 109 nations as of 2003, and had sampled the finest food available in all of them, while reporting encyclopedically on the events occurring and the history behind them.
Tom Brokaw told Trillin “At an early age [Apple] had a strong idea of what he wanted to be – an outsized romantic ideal – and he was able to fulfill it.” Trillin continued by reporting that “friends often mention, say, a piece on the Eugene McCarthy campaign which began with a quote from “Henry V” or a piece on Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall which tossed in an evaluation of Haydn’s place in Middle European music.”
It is that aspect of his writing that I most admire. R. W. Apple’s news analyses are thorough, informative, insightful, and written on tight deadlines. Trillin describes Apple’s ability to “worry about not only knitting together half a dozen disparate developments but also fend off editors in New York who would like all of those developments mentioned before the story jumps from the front page to the inside of the paper.” A. M. Rosenthal recalls assigning an analytical piece about the rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He called Apple at six, and Apple pointed out that his daughter’s dance recital was at 7:30. At 7, he filed an 1,171 word piece which surveyed treaties from SALT II to the Panama Canal, and the political tensions that scuttled the Treaty of Versailles.
People who knew Apple (and that seems to be a large crowd) seem inevitably to refer to him as Falstaffian. He claimed that his stay as London bureau chief was extended because the Times didn’t want to pay to move his wine cellar, and when his editor came to visit him, Apple insisted on picking up the check, insisting “You better let me take this. They’d never believe it coming from you.”
In a piece written about a series of 18 lunches he ate during a 16 hour day in Singapore, Apple wrote that “More gourmand than gourmet, I finished much of what was put before me.”
Readers whose intellectual appetites are similarly capacious will miss Apple.