When I read the article “Legacy of a ‘Dionysian’ figure: Legendary reporter’s widow to auction his valuable collection of vino,” again after many years, I thought back to the time I met Johnny Apple. I met him in person once-in October 2005, and visited with him via e-mail several times before his death in 2006.
Besty Wade, a mutual friend of Apple’s and mine, arranged for Johnny to visit Kansas State University to do research on Clementine Paddleford.
“How will I recognize him,” I asked Betsy.
“Oh, you will know,” she said. “He will come into town like a L. Frank Baum tornado.”
The day he arrived, Johnny was late. I waited and waited.
Finally, a telephone call, “I’ll be there in a few minutes,” he touted. “I just passed the airport.”
Why was he passing the airport? One does not pass the Manhattan, Kansas airport driving from Kansas City. Not unless, that is, you happened to miss the first interstate exit and had to take the second one.
I met Johnny in the parking lot and showed him where to park. He had a reserved parking space for the day.
While walking into the building via the staff entrance, I asked, “Why did you take the second exit and not the first from the interstate?”
“I know now why Clem loved this area. I was so captivated by the scenery of the gentle rolling Flint Hills that I bypassed the exit. The GPS in the vehicle told me I could take the next one, so I enjoyed the view.”
I kept wondering when the ‘tornado’ portion was going to show. Another question for Johnny, “Why haven’t you retired?”
“I don’t play golf,” he said. “And besides, where else could I work that would let me go where I wanted to go, do what I wanted to do, write about what I want to, and get paid for it.”
Exactly like Clementine Paddleford. Johnny was doing in the last years of his life what Clementine did for 30 years of hers. Clem worked for the New York Herald Tribune (1936-1966) and This Week Magazine (1936-1967). Her work with This Week allowed her to call the shots. She could go where she wanted to, write about what she wanted, submit the expenses and get paid.
Clementine Paddleford and R. W. “Johnny” Apple, Jr. were two peas in a pod during different eras.
Johnny sat for a few hours browsing through Clem’s papers then decided enough was enough and it was lunch time. We went to what was then The Gold Fork restaurant and the lunch crowd had already disappeared.
Being interviewed by Johnny Apple was not as scary as I thought it would be. Instead, it was fun.
Yet, that ‘tornado’ never reared its head and I knew then that Johnny Apple was ill. How ill, I would not know for another couple of months.
Ironically, Johnny was ill with throat cancer. Clementine had surgery for throat cancer in 1931 and lived for additional 36 years. Johnny found out he had throat cancer and died the next year.
These two people, Clementine Paddleford and Johnny Apple, were bigger than life. They blazed trails in journalism that only few can ever hope to follow.
I have no 1945 Chateau Lafite or a rare Bordeaux to lift in your honor Johnny. Yet, I believe I know you and Clem well enough to know that you are sitting at some table, comparing tales of travel….”Did you get to see the Queen,” Johnny might ask Clem. “No, did you?” Clem would reply. “Oh yes,” Johnny would smile, “she asked me to instruct her butler on how to make the proper martini.”
To Clem and Johnny, may you b0th rest in peace.