Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Life and Career of Pauline Kael

My love affair with the movies began in earnest during the 1967-68 school year, when I was in graduate school at Purdue University. I used to make the long walk from West Lafayette across the Wabash River into downtown Lafayette at least once a week, to take in a movie at one of the grand movie theaters located downtown, movie palaces which since have all but disappeared from the American scene.

I soon became aware of the great  movie reviews written by Pauline Kael in The New Yorker, collections of which were published in book form every few years. It seemed to me that Kael had always been around. How surprisng, then, to read a biography of Kael recently by Brian Kellow, documenting that, following her dropping out of Berkeley after the 1939 Fall semester, she knocked around for almost 30 years before finally landing a steady job at The New Yorker (even then it wasn't really "steady", as she alternated with another critic for 6 months at a time out of each year).

The memoirs I've read of other titans of 20th-century journalism, including Joseph Alsop, Bob Considine, Ring Lardner, James Reston, George Seldes, and William Shirer, all contain accounts of the writer getting out of college and immediately going to work in journalism, and then working his way up steadily to a position of national prominence. To read about Kael's 29-year struggle was thus a real eye-opener for me. It is a testament to sticking with doing something you love, even through hard times.

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