Margalit Fox, Bruce Weber, and more

The immediate impetus for this posting is a “Fresh Air” piece on NPR on the 27th, “For ‘New York Times’ Obit Writers, ‘Death Is Never Solicitous Of A Deadline'”, in which NYT writers Margalit Fox and Bruce Weber were interviewed in connection with the appearance of the documentary Obit (released on 4/15/16) in theaters:


Bruce Weber and Margalit Fox have written obituaries for thousands of people, ranging from heads of state to the inventor of the Etch-a-Sketch. They are featured in the new documentary Obit.

The site has a link to a recording of the full show. On the 29th, NPR had a follow-up story by Neda Ulaby (who does the obit beat for NPR). Meanwhile, in connection with the showing of the documentary at Lincoln Plaza Cinema in NYC, there were several Q&A sessions there involving Margalit Fox and others associated with the film.

Of course the NYT itself reviewed the film, on the 25th: “Review: ‘Obit’ Follows the Team That Writes Death Notices for The Times” by Gene Seymour (with a link to the trailer for the documentary). From that review:


The veteran obituary writer Bruce Weber in Obit (photo: Ben Wolf/Kino Lorber)

The range of what The Times considers interesting enough for an obituary accounts for what has made those pages so captivating every day. Mr. Weber, Mr. Vitello and fellow obit writers Margalit Fox, William Grimes and Douglas Martin are as amusing about as they are amused by some of their subjects, whether it was Manson Whitlock, one of the last typewriter repairmen, who died at 96 in 2013, or Meadowlark Lemon, the seemingly indestructible clown prince of the Harlem Globetrotters, who died at 83 in 2015. Usually, the writers are prepared for these passings with obits prepared in advance. But there are times, Michael Jackson’s sudden death in 2009 being one example, when they’re not as prepared and both the stakes and the pressure are ramped up.

Whoever the deceased are and at whatever time they go, writers and editors at The Times will always have a morgue to rely on, a vast archive of articles clipped from past issues of the newspaper. Its custodian, Jeff Roth, comes across in “Obit” as a droll, mildly frantic version of a Jorge Luis Borges character holding inscrutable dominion over a vast, seemingly impenetrable labyrinth of arcana. One comes away somehow trusting Mr. Roth and his compacted resources far more than the internet. And one comes away from “Obit” grateful that the paper has at its disposal a team of humane, gifted people who make commemorating the dead a lively, lasting art.

Back a year for a group portrait:


Documentary subjects William McDonald, Margalit Fox, Bruce Weber, and William Grimes from Obit pose at the Tribeca Film Festival on 4/17/16 in NYC

I’ve posted a great many NYT obits on this blog, especially those by Fox and Weber.

On Fox: my 11/21/14 posting “Lives well lived” has a section about her, and I’ve done a series of postings about Fox’s Facebook notices of “demented p.r. pitches”.

As for Weber, we have to start by disentangling him from other, non-reportorial, Bruce Webers. From Bruce Weber the basketball coach, and especially from Bruce Weber the fashion photographer. The latter man has been covered in this blog. From the 1/25/13 posting “Bruce Weber”:

On AZBlogX, a posting about photographer Bruce Weber, the man who (among other things) made homoeroticism a central feature of men’s clothing ads.

The NYT reporter doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, but a Google search tells us that he was born on 12/29/51 (so is now 65) and has published four books, on wildly different topics:

You Can YoYo! Twenty-five Tricks to Try (1998), Cartier I Love You [about the jewelry house] (2009), As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of [baseball] Umpires (2009), Life Is a Wheel: Love, Death Etc. and a Bike Ride Across America (2014)

And then from a Women’s Wear Daily interview by Alexandra Stelgrad on 8/18/16, “Ex-New York Times Obit Writer Bruce Weber Reflects on Career and Life After The Gray Lady”:

Weber chatted with WWD about taking a buyout from The Times, his career writing obituaries and his thoughts on the print media landscape… [He] joined The Times as a staff editor for the Sunday magazine section in 1986…

Bruce Weber: I ended up in obits because I had gone off to write a book about baseball umpires. When I came back — the paper had promised to hold a job for me, but they didn’t tell me what the job was going to be — there were two or three possibilities, and obits seemed like the most interesting one. Before that I had been theater critic and a theater columnist. I’d covered re-creation. I was the paper’s national cultural correspondent between 1997 and 1999. I was on the metro desk. Before that, I wrote the On Stage and Off column in the early Nineties.

So, like others before him, he pretty much stumbled into becoming an obituarist.

Weber has gone on to other things, but Fox is still writing obituaries, though she’s moved out of the enormous intensity of daily obit-writing (summing up someone’s life evocatively in a few hours of work) and into preparing obits of still-living celebrities, for future use; meanwhile, this material is stashed in the paper’s morgue (the reference and archive section of the paper).

2 Responses to “Margalit Fox, Bruce Weber, and more”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    Margalit Fox wrote Jim McCawley’s NYT obit on short notice, and it is a gem, as Andy Rogers put it at the time, “an obituary to die for”. Particularly memorable is the clause “his pigs’ ears in garlic sauce remains etched in colleagues’ memories” .

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