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The Last Gentleman

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Trow and Jamaica Kincaid at a Warner Bros. party, 1974.  

And then, a few classes behind Trow, was one of his best friends and fellow geniuses, Doug Kenney. Kenney (along with Henry Beard, class of ’67) became enormously successful spinning off the Harvard Lampoon to create the magazine National Lampoon, to which Trow was a frequent contributor. Kenney ultimately moved to Hollywood, where he wrote Caddyshack and Animal House, which brought in more money than any comedy had before it and helped fuel both his cocaine habit and his friendship with John Belushi. “They were a triumvirate; they were the three Harvard guys,” says Kathryn Walker of Kenney and Trow and Tim Mayer. Walker, an actress, was Kenney’s girlfriend, and later married James Taylor. (Trow wrote a “Talk of the Town” piece called “Kathryn and James” when they were courting: “James Taylor appeared at Radio City without an opening act. This, we feel, is the opening act: Kathryn Walker in front of a gold mirror.”) “George was the one who called Doug ‘the Marilyn Monroe of humor,’ because he was fetching,” Walker says. “George had great taste for what he called ‘natural aristocrats.’ I mean, he was obsessed with genealogies and all that sort of thing, but also taste and style.”

Though Kenney was Irish and used to say that at the Lampoon, the Catholics were “taking comedy back from the Jews,” Tim Mayer once told a reporter that when he first met Kenney at Harvard “I thought he was the most perfect Wasp I had ever encountered. He was flawless.” Like Trow, Kenney was fascinated by his fantasy of a clubby old world of crisp haircuts and close shaves that was rapidly succumbing to a culturewide toga party. They were both a little in love with the idea of a society being sunk, the romance of what falls away. And neither was ever entirely sure what he wanted to do more: go back in time or explode what little authority remained.

Trow was not the only member of the triumvirate to die early or mysteriously. In 1980, at 33, Kenney was found dead at the bottom of Hanapepe cliff in Hawaii after a vacation with Walker and Chevy Chase. (Kenney left a note in his hotel room that read, “These are the happiest days I’ve ever ignored.”) Mayer, who had first battled lung cancer at Harvard, died from it after years of hard drinking, smoking, and coke-snorting in 1988. After Mayer died, Trow essentially adopted his live-in girlfriend; they were roommates for about a year. Brackman describes her as a “lower-class hash slinger … It was strange enough that Tim was with her, but when George took up with her?”

But then Trow had always had a soft spot for the troubled and the criminal—the flip side of his attraction to the top of the heap was his interest in the bottom of the barrel. Though many of his closest friends never met a lover or boyfriend of Trow’s, the one several recall was a man named Gerald who was in and out of Rikers Island. “He delighted in trying to shock me with stories about this outlaw boyfriend, this almost thug of a black guy,” says Ken Kleinpeter, who met Trow upstate shortly after Mayer died, when Kleinpeter had just left a career as a musician in Manhattan to become a farmer.

“George didn’t like guys who were like him; he liked rough trade,” says Brackman. “He had a completely other life, which was his homosexual life, which was the Anvil and Rikers Island characters that he never brought around. When we were at Harvard, nobody was out of the closet. George, even twenty years out of Harvard, still wasn’t talking about it.”

T row was in the Coast Guard after Harvard, but in many ways his adult life began when he was hired at The New Yorker. Trow started out writing “casuals” and “Talk of the Town” pieces, and in doing so he met—and charmed—some of the most interesting people of his era. Once he was at a party at Katharine Graham’s house and she said, “Go ask Jackie to dance. No one ever does.” Trow danced with Jacqueline Kennedy, and they remained friends until her death.

“It was such fun, I can’t tell you,” says Jamaica Kincaid of her early days in New York City, when Trow was her mentor and social guide. Trow would take her to the parties and events he covered in “Talk of the Town,” and he found Kincaid so amusing he decided that she too should write for The New Yorker. “George took me to lunch with Mr. Shawn at the Algonquin. I was always hungry, I had no job, and I didn’t know when I would eat again, so I ordered the most wonderful, expensive thing on the menu. Mr. Shawn ordered a slice of toasted pound cake and I thought, Oh, gosh, I’ve spent all his money; I’ve reduced him to toasted pound cake,” she says. “I went to the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn and I made some notes and gave them to George, and I thought he would rewrite them and make them into something proper. George gave them to Mr. Shawn and he printed it just as it was written.”


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