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Stanley Kauffmann Tribute: Conversations Over Apple Juice

Among the duties that new Back of the Book assistant editors find on their roster when they first arrive at The New Republic: Go to New York—particularly, the penthouse of a West Village apartment building. It was there that Stanley Kauffmann lived for many years, and where he would welcome, every few years or so, the culture pages’ newest recruit, serving slightly warm apple juice and candied pecans, or, if the hour had passed a certain, sliding point in the afternoon, white wine. These appetizers were nothing, though, compared to what he had to offer in conversation. Stanley had a remarkable ability to elide the decades—more than six, in my case—that separated him from his young visitors. He talked with you—not down to you or about you, as is sometimes the case with benevolently interested, but ultimately disconnected grandfatherly types—fully engaged and attentive. It wasn’t his age—late eighties when we first met—but his supremely gentlemanly manner that made his acuity so surprising. It was somehow hard to fathom that a man so gentle could posses such precise and nimble perception. But this is what Stanley combined: humanity and intellect, in perfect proportion. It was easy to respect his intellect and the extraordinary breadth of his career. (If his stories about foreign directors of whom I’d never heard ever seemed a little dusty, he would lean in and remind me that Marilyn Monroe had once kept him waiting in the lobby of the Waldorf Towers. See his wonderful memoir, Albums of a Life, for the full story.) But it was his humanity that I loved. Whenever I visited, he never failed to remind me that his wife, Laura, was his best friend, seamlessly inserting this simple iteration into the conversation like a touchstone or a mantra. When I brought my then-boyfriend, now husband to meet him for the first time, I introduced him as my best friend, and Stanley, with a knowing, wise glance, caught my eye as if to say that he understood everything.  

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