Memories

 

 Dinner for Stew Alsop

 

 By Amanda Zimmerman

 

Editors note:  Stewart Alsop with his brother Joe were two of the half dozen most prominent columnists in Washington for a quarter century after World War II.

 

   I was interviewed in 1967 by Stewart Alsop at the Saturday Evening Post.  "Did he frighten you?" his secretary asked afterwards.

   I said, "No, he did not.  Was he supposed to?"

   She replied that he had scared everyone else he’d interviewed.  To this day I cannot imagine why.  His reputation was huge, but Alsop was a kind and gentle man.  I got the job as her replacement.

   About a year later Alsop said, "Amanda, I'm going to go to Newsweek, where I'll have the back page."  I instantly blurted out:  "We are a package deal."  He chuckled, but said he would do his best.  And he did.

    Turnabout: Stew, who wrote his column until 1974, had access to the nation's capital, no matter who, what or where. He wrote brilliantly and well, often quoting the Bible or Shakespeare--his two favorite readings.  He trusted and liked me, introducing me to many of Washington’s socialites and heavy hitters.   One night I planned to return the favor.

   His wife, Tish, was in Gibraltar visiting her mother. I asked Stew, Polly Wisner, and Clayton Fritchey for dinner and bridge.  Both were big names then.  Stew had developed leukemia and was out getting yet another transfusion at the National Institutes of Health a day before my party.  His office phone rang.

   "Dr. Kissinger would like to know if Mr. Alsop can join him for dinner tomorrow night."

   Too Bad: "I'm sorry," I replied.  "Mr. Alsop is coming to my house for dinner."

   She was flabbergasted.  NOBODY ever turned down Kissinger.  Then I jumped in and said: "If Dr. Kissinger would like to come to my house, he's more than welcome."  She said politely she would tell him.

   I had an hour or so before Stew dragged himself into his office.  I waited till he was seated (transfusions to him were exhausting).   For the first time ever, I thought my career was on the line. I told him what had transpired. He didn't look joyful, to say the least.  But he said: "Well, let's see what happens."

   Whew! The next morning Kissinger’s secretary called back.  "I told Dr. Kissinger of your invitation, and he would love to accept. Can he bring a guest?"

   It was my turn to panic.  "How many?” I asked.

   Just one.  I said fine.

   Of course, we gave up the bridge game.  His guest was Diane Sawyer, whom I had already met in the press office.  Kissinger had been testifying all week on the Hill, and his tiredness showed, but he seemed in no hurry to leave.

   The next morning, Alsop said, “Last night was just what Kissinger needed. It was terrific.”

   Wow!  A couple of hours later another well-known columnist, Rowland Evans, dropped by to see Stew. “That Sonofabitch Kissinger, stood me up for dinner last night,” Evans said.

   Could anyone top that?

   Stew died a year later, but he had started me on a career at Newsweek that lasted 26 years.

 

 Amanda Zimmerman joined Newsweek as Alsop’s secretary in 1968, became assistant to bureau chief Mel Elfin in 1974 and photo editor in the bureau in 1977, leaving in 1994