When I came to New Orleans in 1958 to work for The States-Item, one of my favorite newsroom characters was police reporter Jack Dempsey, who followed his name on the stories he turned in with the letters ALIHOT. That meant “A Legend In His Own Time.” He’s the only man I ever knew who could carry that off.
But the numerous women featured in my high-school classmate’s campaign could. Peter Rogers, who went from college to the advertising world in New York, was the brain behind the Blackgama Mink series, “What becomes a legend most?” He served up photos of the likes of writer Lillian Helman and movie stars Liz Taylor and Claudette Colbert wrapped in the furs.
I got to thinking about legends and icons and classics and golden eras the other day after reading a newspaper notice of the death of 82-year-old Charles Foley, inventor of the game “Twister,” which is played on a mat on the floor, using a spinner to direct players to put their hands and feet on different colored circles. “It became a naughty sensation in living rooms across America because of the way it put men and women in compromising positions,” reported the article, adding the information that Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor played it on the “Tonight” show in 1966.
I remember “Twister,” but I never played it, and didn’t know anybody who did. And I sort of winced at the headline describing it as an “iconic party game.” But then I’m a former newspaper section editor and not allowing the headlines on PR releases to get into the paper was part of my job description.
Googling “iconic,” I found that aside from religious art and those little pictures and symbols on your computer screen it can “represent something very famous or popular, especially when considered as relating to particular opinions or a particular time.”
But I still think anything should be much more generally known to be described as “iconic,” and am taken aback by the hyperbole used in defining something that’s merely interesting or kinda good and fun. (The board game “Monopoly” may be an exception because of the fact of its longevity and that there can’t be many people who’ve never played it.)
And I was surprised to hear that the recent and untimely death of James Gandolfini, star of “The Sopranos,” marked the end of a “golden age” of television. Never having seen the show — we don’t get HBO — I’m unqualified to judge its merits, but still — aren’t golden ages made up of more than a single series? I’m thinking the era of “The Twilight Zone” and Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” (and guess what, I just got nostalgic for Sid, took time out from writing this column, clicked on the Amazon “icon” on my desktop, and ordered for myself a collection of DVDs of his show! I can‘t wait).
But iconic games and golden eras of television don’t irritate me half so much as seeing a new movie described in an ad as “an instant classic.” That can’t be. “Gone With the Wind” is a classic and that process has been going on for 73 years. “High Noon” is a classic, as are “The Maltese Falcon” and many others, not including any made in the last two years and released in November just in time to be considered for an Oscar.
A classic, like me, is always time-worn. ALIHOT.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at email@example.com.