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Paul V. Coates -- Confidential File, May 29, 1959

May 29, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Confidential File

Bounty on Adjectives Viewed With Alarm

Paul CoatesIt is my studied opinion that Fidel Castro has flipped.

Not irreparably, I hope.

A few weeks of intensive psychotherapy, or perhaps just a good fatherly talking to by a more mature man he can trust -- like Errol Flynn -- might bring him around.

At present, however, he has taken one giant step beyond the borders of reality.

According to an Associated Press dispatch, Fidel and his revolutionary government are drafting a new tax schedule which, among other things, will slap a levy on newspapers of $1 for each adjective used in the society columns.

There is a mark of paranoia in a move like that.

Any rational, well-adjusted politician knows that you shouldn't take on the press. And above all, you should never mess with the society editor. She's got friends in high places.

May 29, 1959, Lynching Actually, Fidel's edict wouldn't disturb me if I thought that its effect would be felt only by society editors in Havana.

But I know in my heart that his berserk idea will appeal to some perverse mind in our own Internal Revenue Department.

(I know what you're saying. You're saying it couldn't happen here. There are no perverse minds in our Internal Revenue Department. If that's what you're saying, you're sicker than Castro.)

So we might just as well face up to an embarrassing possibility. Any moment now Mirror News Society Editor Wanda Henderson might be stripped bare of her adjectives.

This, in our business, is as drastic as filching the green celluloid eye shade from the beaten brow of an overnight copy reader.

Suddenly, brides won't be (in print, at least) "blushing." At a buck an adjective, who can afford to let them be coy? Hostesses wont' be "charming."Loper gowns won't be "decollete," and soirees won't be "lavish."

To test the havoc this adjective tax would wreak, I rummaged through my scrapbook of Wanda's old columns the other day. (I started collecting them after my doctor told me that it was healthy for a man to have a hobby.)

In her column of last Tuesday, Wanda was aboard an 80-foot yacht on a cocktail cruise. Among others present were Beverly Hills Mayor George Davis and his wife, and the FrankSlagels.

May 19, 1959, Lynching There was a "refreshment-toting" steward, "knee-deep" carpeting, "mahogany paneled, handsomely appointed, luxury" staterooms. And, beside Alice's bunk (Alice was Jack's wife) was a "fluffy blue wool" octopus.

You can see what Wanda's up against. In one paragraph, she blew eight bucks on adjectives.

 Later in her account, she refers to the aforementioned Slagel as "a jaunty sea dog." An economy-minded editor would blue-pencil "jaunty" and "sea." But if it were up to me, in this instance, I'd spend the two bucks.

There are limitless pitfalls in skimping on adjectives. For example, Joan Winchell, the social butterfly on The Times, carried the terse bit of information yesterday:

"Anita Ekberg is wearing rhinestone clips in her widow's peak."

Without expensive adjectives the item would read: "Anita Ekberg is wearing clips in her peak."

I'm sorry for what this adjective ban will do to Miss Henderson and Miss Winchell, and for what it has already done to Miss Ekberg.

So Let's Brood About Me

But I must confess that my concern goes deeper than that. I'm worried about myself.

I know how those bureaucrats in Washington work. They start taxing society columnists. Nest thing you know, they'll be after common people's columnists like me.

I say it isn't fair. I only know 11 adjectives, which I use over and over again in the same column. At least, I should be entitled to a rate.