Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My hero, f*cked over

So, I read a terrific biography of one of my personal heroes, Molly Ivins. I wish I could be cheesy and say she's the reason I'm in journalism, but that's truthfully more down to a weak economy, so I'll just say that anyone could do worse than attempt to be like her. I first heard of her when my mom got her first book, Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? for Christmas. I checked it out, of course, and her subsequent books were under the tree in my pile. My local paper started carrying her column, and that was awesome because I didn't have to wait.

She died shortly after I started this blog. I wrote a goodbye post to her here, but never really knew more of her life than she shared in her columns.

Molly Ivins: A rebel Life by Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith taught me a great deal, then. They interviewed friends, co-workers, family members, and people who knew her in a professional capacity to paint a surprising portrait of a contradictory woman. Her image was that of a frank-talking Texas liberal, but she also spoke fluent French and attended several Ivy League schools. Her father was a wealthy Texas oilman, president of a large oil concern. She struggled with alcoholism. She struggled with authority, getting fired from the New York Times for her use of the phrase "gang pluck" in a story about a chicken-killing contest.

She, famously, never married. I'd always believed that the love of her life was killed in Vietnam, based on a column she wrote. According to this book, though, the love of her life was killed in a motorcycle accident, while they were both in college. I wish the book had explained that column, though. Instead of a husband and children, she had a large family of friends that spent her last Thanksgiving with her, and she remained close to her siblings, even though her relationship with her father was always strained.

The biography is good, neither a love letter nor a posthumous savaging. There was one particular quote that came from her late suitor's sister that I thought was just inflammatory conjecture and should have been excluded ("I think they talked about a master race." Really? Were you there? Did anything come of it? No, huh? So why bring it up?).

But there was one aspect of it that pissed me off, that was glossed over near the end. When Molly Ivins became ill with breast cancer, she was working for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her wikipedia bio will tell you that she left there to become an independent journalist. According to the book, however, she did not leave voluntarily. She was let go, or her contract was not renewed, or however you want to put it. You see, no one has to cover the health insurance of an independent journalist who has cancer. It's a scary thought. If it happened to a New York Times best-selling author, who can't it happen to?

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