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Essays and Writings of Interest
Washington, Toronto, London, Paris, Brussels and Cyprus reporting
IT WAS ONE OF THOSE GREAT epiphanies, showing the way the world works, at least the world inside the New York Times. Maybe I'd been too naive not to realize it before. Maybe I'd had it too easy.
About halfway through thirty-five years with the Times, I'd been struggling with a long piece for the Sunday magazine. even for the staffers, the magazine was—is—notoriously ornery. After rejection of the zillionth rewrite, one of my more frustrated colleagues took scissors to his text, sliced it up sentence by sentence, dumped the slivers into a big envelope, which he returned with the notation: NEW YORK TIMES DO-IT-YOURSELF MAGAZINE KIT.
I'd had rejections, too, and a few acceptances, including a memoir about rapprochement with a son after a divorce, and profiles of chancellor Helmut Schmidt, written in Bonn, and United States Trade Representative Bill Brock, in Washington. I'd been struggling with a profile of John C. Danforth, a senator and Episcopal clergyman (Yale Divinity School), which had been accepted, but not scheduled.
The problem was shoehorning it into a timely space. For months the magazine had set it aside for other fare deemed more compelling. I feared it would die stillborn.
After listening to my grousing, Bob Stock, an editor and an old friend, said, "Clyde, get your guru to do something." Guru? Having spent more than half my career abroad and 90 percent of the balance in Washington, I wasn't sure of the New York sense. "Someone high up to pull a few strings," Bob explained. "Everybody has a guru."
I believed it was your skill as a writer and the interest of the subject that were critical. The epiphany was that invisibles weighed, too—as I guess they must in every walk of life. So I acted, made calls, tried to get someone to pull strings—and, abracadabra, one Sunday, Danforth came forth.
Thinking about it now, I must have had pretty remarkable gurus to draw all those great years in London, Brussels, Paris, Washington, and Toronto—writing (and, yes, publishing) altogether 5,000 to 6,000 stories for the world's greatest newspaper.
First was my dad, Clyde A. Farnsworth, formerly of the Cleveland News, AP and the Chicago Tribune, who gave me pointers and helped me with my second book, Out of this Nettle (Times Books), a history of postwar Europe.
Dad's colleague on the prewar AP foreign desk, Clifton Daniel, was the Times' executive editor when it invited me from the New York Herald Tribune in 1962. He was chiefly responsible for getting me abroad in the first place. My immediate editor, Bob Bedingfield, wore a thin smile as he relayed to me," Clifton told me he wants someone like Farnsworth in London."
That was the beginning. Soon afterwards, I was dodging Turkish napalm in Cyprus; scoping out John Profumo, Christine Keeler, and the Beatles in "swinging London", and trying to keep the pound afloat. Several years later, along with Henry Kamm and Tad Szulc, I was sidestepping Warsaw Pact armor during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. The three of us were later runners-up for a Pulitzer.
A lot of files, a lot of work, a lot of fun, even time out for international thriller, Shadow Wars (Viking-Penguin) but as Barbara, my former spouse, acknowledged, hell on family life.