“If you asked me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.” —Emile Zola
No one lived more out loud, with more spirit and verve, than Molly.
If anything could surpass Molly’s genius, it was her irreverent wit. The one-two punch of this combined talent produced the best and most sparkling commentary for several decades in American journalism. Her style made total strangers across the land feel like she was their best friend.
And for those of us who had the great honor of being one of those friends, knowing Molly brought rare love and laughter and brilliant insight into our lives. I will never forget the time we were on a panel on women in journalism when a sweet young thing burbled that “I owe my career to these two ‘pioneer’ women.” Molly and I said in unison that “we left our covered wagons outside,” then proceeded to talk about the days when women reporters were hardly seen, let alone heard. I thought I was being halfway funny—but then Molly took over, and laughter erupted as she related her first meeting as a reporter with the intellectually and vertically challenged little men in the Texas Legislature. For anyone who doesn’t know, Molly was 6 feet tall in her bare feet. One of the legislators stood on tiptoes, reached way up, and barely managed to touch Molly’s shoulder, then drawled, “Hah honey, what’s a sweet little thang like yew doin’ in a business like this?”
Perhaps the worst marriage ever in journalism was when The New York Times hired Molly. Whatever prompted this career choice, Molly should have received the Purple Heart of journalism. The first indication that life was not going to be just swell in the corporate headquarters of the ever-so-beige Times was when she was rebuked for taking her shoes off, the better to concentrate on her prose.
As Molly always told it, she had endured such copy changes as “bosoms and buttocks” for her phrase “tits and ass” (even then the acceptable-to-everyone-but-The-New-York-Times title of a song in A Chorus Line). Like many of us who wrote for the Times, tears could fall at the breakfast table when we read for the first time the published results of an editor’s scalpel. On one such occasion, Molly saw her phrase “beer gut” changed to “protuberant abdomen.”
The great Times writer Warren Weaver once wrote a political opinion piece in which he was able to refer to a politician who had just changed course as a “political transvestite.” I asked him how in the hell that had ever passed inspection. He said he had followed the “rule for getting a good line in The New York Times.” It involved building a story carefully. “You write,” he said, “four paragraphs you know they will think are outrageous and that they will cut. By the time they get to the fifth they say, ‘Oh, hell, let’s give him one.'”
Molly bypassed such labors and went straight to the chase. She was covering a Colorado event that happened to be a chicken-plucking contest. As she said, “Something just came over me, and I couldn’t resist.” There, smack in the pages of The New York Times, was the phrase: “gang pluck.”
The ever-excitable editor Abe Rosenthal shouted at Molly, “We know what you were trying to say! We know what you were trying to do to The New York Times!”
Molly said ever so dryly, “Oh Abe, you are one smart man.”
Exit Molly Ivins.
It has been an everlasting disgrace that establishment, mainstream venues like The New York Times and The Washington Post so often overlooked the greatness of Ivins’ prose to settle for canned and cautious commentary.
Molly could be tough, but she was also one of the kindest and most generous of friends. In the 36 years that I have known her, she has been Aunt Moll to countless children, including mine, a surpassingly funny friend who was kind enough to laugh at your attempts with head thrown back and that brilliant smile, the first to call when you are in trouble and, for many years, the last to keep going until the saloon’s last call.
When I think of Molly, I think of this comment by someone who remains anonymous about how one should live one’s life: “Alas for those who cannot sing, but die with all their music in them.” Molly sang out strong. And she also did the following in spades: “Let us treasure the time we have and resolve to use it well, counting each moment precious—a chance to apprehend some truth, to experience some beauty, to conquer some evil, to relieve some suffering, to love and be loved, to achieve something of lasting worth.”
We will always, always love you, Molly.
Journalist and author Myra MacPherson has written several books, most recently All Governments Lie!: the Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stone.