Idea Of The Day

The Life of Pauline

Who says late starters don’t finish first? Those of you who went to university but saw your youthful ambition to become an established writer with a big-time magazine evaporate by the time you reached 35 (but at 45 retain a vague dream of seeing an article of yours appear in the pages of The New Yorker) will take some comfort in the life of Pauline Kael, the great movie critic who died yesterday. Kael never finished her degree at Berkeley; she began to write movie reviews in her mid-30s, and was almost 50 when the then-editor of The New Yorker, the legendary William Shawn, published her for the first time. “I never made a living at this until I was in my 40’s,” she once said. While Kael may inspire you to finish that long article of yours, don’t ape her style. Many people tried, but she detested such endeavors: “[I]t’s like a succubus. It’s awful to open something up hoping to read something and instead find your own thoughts being echoed.” You might also bear in mind that the life of the critic is not all glory, and that love can prove elusive. As Kael told the readers of Modern Maturity, a magazine published by the AARP: “I had trouble dating because I often disagreed about the quality of a movie. One boy was so upset at my laughing at Kentucky Moonshine, a Ritz Brothers movie, that we never went to another movie again. I also broke up with somebody after I wrote about West Side Story. It’s very difficult to disagree on a date.”