From the editing room floor after our Thomas Mallon conversation, there’s a quick ramble here on Mallon’s awfully good ear for voices — and for sounds of region and rank that may never be heard again.
Mallon has the quotable crone Alice Roosevelt Longworth tuning in on her testy cousin Joe Alsop, the late Washington Post columnist, and wondering “why so many people in her own dying social class continued to speak in that maddening double slur of alcohol and lockjaw.”
In the Nixon Cabinet and in Mallon’s Watergate, Elliot Richardson speaks for the Boston branch of that aristocracy, in dry sherry tones of a bygone Brahmin erudition and social assurance. “First-rate, perfect,” Richardson said in praise of a Nixon speech. “Puffect,” he pronounced it, irritating Nixon,” Mallon writes.
Which reminded me of A.J. Liebling’s account in The Sweet Science of Rocky Marciano in training camp in the 1950s — Rocky Marciano from the shoe-manufacturing city of Brockton, Massachusetts — 25 or so miles and several social notches down the road from Elliot Richardson’s Brookline. And how was the Rock feeling, Liebling asked. “Peufict,” Marciano responded.