NPF: THIS CAT HAS CLAWS

You know how much I love a sharp, pithy, and even rude negative review of something that really deserves it. Back in 2010 I did an NPF of a few of my favorite sick burns over the years: Matt Taibbi's review of Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, Mencken's obituary of William Jennings Bryan, and the New York Times obituary of John C. Breckenridge during the Civil War. Recently I've come upon another.

In 1959, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited the U.S. with his family on a whirlwind 10-day tour ably chronicled in the excellent K Blows Top, which is rumored to be turned into a miniseries with Paul Giamatti as Nikita. While I can't summarize the entire crazy tale here, suffice it to say that President Eisenhower and much of the American establishment were eager to extend a polite welcome to the first Soviet or Russian leader to visit the U.S. since…ever. Given Khrushchev's thin skin and short temper, the trip planners went out of their way to discourage elected officials and ordinary Americans from attacking or insulting the quasi-dictator. Most people respected the wishes of the State Department and, while critical of Soviet policy, were welcoming to "K" and his family.

Dorothy Kilgallen, a celebrity gossip columnist syndicated throughout the Hearst newspaper empire, decided to critique the fashion choices of Khrushchev's wife Nina at length and with no concept of restraint. Part of Soviet ideology was that lavish clothes, cosmetics, jewelry, and the like were decadent symbols of capitalist imperialism, hence Soviet women tended to appear rather plain. Being older as well as the wife of a national figurehead, style was not #1 on Mrs. Khrushchev's list of priorities. Kilgallen took offense to the oversight, as her editorial showed. An excerpt:

Admittedly, (Mrs. Khrushchev) has shown, so far, no chinks in the armor of blatant Communist dowdiness. But she is female. It is hard to believe, deep beneath that facade, there is not a female yearning that would respond to a couple of hours in a sumptuous Gotham beauty salon. And lord knows how (stylists) must be yearning to get their hands on her. Her figure is hopeless but she has a sweet, sympathetic face with an attractive if not aristocratic turned-up nose when viewed in profile.

Wonders might be achieved if she would consent to experiment with eyebrow pencil, some powder to contradict the impression that she has just turned away from a session over a hot stove, and the modern miracle known as lipstick…(but) any woman who would travel thousands of miles to wear the same old dress two days in a row is not here to pick up pointers on fashion.

And then, the kill shot: "It would be difficult to find clothes comparable to hers in the waiting room of a New York agency for domestic help."

There is no note of which burn unit Mrs. Khrushchev was rushed to, but apparently she survived this third-degree scalding. In fact she survived much better than Dorothy Kilgallen. While Kilgallen was half of a celebrity power couple with actor and radio star Richard Kollmar, unfortunately they were both raging alcoholics, pill poppers, and serial philanderers. Kilgallen died at age 52 of the classic booze-barbiturate overdose in 1965. Dumpy old Nina Khrushchev died 19 years later, aged 84.

"I spit on your grave, capitalist shrew" were not her last words, but I like to pretend they were.

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33 Responses to “NPF: THIS CAT HAS CLAWS”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    Bitches be hard CORE, yo.

  2. Mackeyser Says:

    That Taibbi burn on Friedman was legen—waitforit—-dary.

    Actually, Matty T's on a DiMaggio-esque streak with respect to Friedman. He just can't seem to miss with his slams.

    As for Mrs. Khruschev, I don't blame her for dressing down. Would you really want to "hottie up" for Mr. K? I mean, what's the goal there? If she's successful, she has sex with him.

    If that's not enough of a reason to dress down…I don't know what is.

  3. wetcasements Says:

    Another good one — Pankaj Mishra on Niall Ferguson:

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n21/pankaj-mishra/watch-this-man

  4. Elle Says:

    Hard lines for Nina Khrushcheva having to stand next to Jackie Kennedy, who must stand as the undisputed style champion of all the First Ladies.

  5. FMguru Says:

    Hunter S. Thompson's obituary for Richard Nixon was pretty much the greatest thing ever.

    " If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

    These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern — but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.

    Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man — evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him — except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship."

    Hmmm, why not tell us what you really felt about the man, Hunter?

  6. Weird Old Tip Says:

    I liked Mencken's imaginary depiction of Bryan's
    corpse 'shining & stinking like a dead mackerel in the moonlight',
    as I recall. HST on RMNixon also good, as was Christopher
    Hitchens' remarks about Jerry Falwell after Rev. Falwell's demise.
    "If you removed all the bullshit,
    he could have been buried in a matchbox."
    & a few people my age will always cherish the Creem
    review of Chicago at Carnegie Hall, one of the first
    rock 'n' roll boxed sets, for sheer mean-spirited snarkitude, before
    there was such a word as 'snark'.

  7. middle seaman Says:

    It's almost impossible to add to the orgy of comments above. Give people meanness and they will dance forever.

    So pill popper and a drunk occupies a high shelf than an overweight woman. A serial offender with a cult following (Friedman too had a cult following until he went flat) calls the president who opened the door to China a dupe.

    Tequila please.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    You could also turn to the great TBogg's burns of McArgleBargle, and Charles Pierce's of Bobo and Douthat.

    And, of course, our very own host's classic "FJM" burn unit!

  9. Arslan Says:

    If only she knew that in a matter of decades, practically a whole generation of loser American men would be clamoring for heavily made up Russian women, losing either their money, their balls, or both in the process.

  10. burnyoself Says:

    Wow, a racist, classist and sexist trifecta: "old fat chick dresses worse than a negro maid" motivated by McCarthy style nationalism, and you celebrate it as a sick burn rather than something ugly. Man dude, your young conservative roots are showing.

  11. grendelkhan Says:

    Tim Kreider's commentary on the comic he ran when Reagan died:

    Even at age twelve I could tell that Jimmy Carter was an honest man trying to address complicated issues and Ronald Reagan was a brilcreemed salesman telling people what they wanted to hear. I secretly wept on the stairs the night he was elected President, because I understood that the kind of shitheads I had to listen to in the cafeteria grew up to become voters, and won. I spent the eight years he was in office living in one of those science-fiction movies where everyone is taken over by aliens—I was appalled by how stupid and mean-spirited and repulsive the world was becoming while everyone else in America seemed to agree that things were finally exactly as they should be. The Washington Press corps was so enamored of his down-to-earth charm that they never checked his facts, but if you watched his face when it was at rest, when he wasn’t performing for anyone, you could see him for what he really was—a black-eyed, slit-mouthed, lizard-faced old son-of-a-bitch. He was a bad actor, an informer for McCarthy, and a hired front man for a gang of Texas oilmen, fundamentalist dingbats, and right-wing psychotics out of Dr. Strangelove. He put a genial face on chauvinism, callousness, and greed, and made people feel good about being bigots again. He likened Central American death squads to our founding fathers and called the Taliban “freedom fighters.” His legacy includes the dismantling of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the final dirty win of Management over Labor, the outsourcing of America’s manufacturing base, the embezzlement of almost all the country's wealth by 1% of its citizens, the scapegoating of the poor and black, the War on Drugs, the eviction of schizophrenics into the streets, AIDS, acid rain, Iran-Contra, and, let’s not forget, the corpses of two hundred forty United States Marines. He moved the center of political discourse in this country to somewhere in between Richard Nixon and Augusto Pinochet. He believed in astrology and Armageddon and didn't know the difference between history and movies; his stories were lies and his jokes were scripted. He was the triumph of image over truth, paving the way for even more vapid spokesmodels like George W. Bush. He was, as everyone agrees, exactly what he appeared to be—nothing. He made me ashamed to be an American. If there was any justice in this world his Presidential Library would contain nothing but boys' adventure books and bad cowboy movies, and the only things named after him would be shopping malls and Potter's Fields. Let the earth where he is buried be seeded with salt.

  12. Dillon Says:

    I'm with burnyoself, I don't really get this.
    Nina was the spouse of a political figure rather than being politically relevant herself.
    Her offense was that she doesn't wear makeup, and wore the same dress two days in a row (like practically every other Soviet woman at the time).
    It's quite possible she was told what to wear on the trip, and didn't have any say in the matter.
    Kilgallen isn't exactly speaking truth to power here, she's just a Mean Girl.

  13. Marc Says:

    And the joke is on Kilgallen, which apparently whooshed straight over some of the audience…

  14. Robert Says:

    I vaguely remember an anecdote regarding a meeting between Nixon and Brezhnev. Nixon, attempting to make a point about differences in the political culture of their two nations, challenged Brezhnev, "What would have happened if Khrushchev had been assassinated in 1963, instead of Kennedy?" Brezhnev replied, "Well, I am almost certain Onassis would not have married Mrs. Khrushchev."

  15. ladiesbane Says:

    I don't know that it's a burn to mock the style deficiencies of a Real Soviet Housewife of the Cold War Era. It's disgraceful if you fail and commonplace if you succeed. Mrs. K. was probably wearing a steel wedding ring, melted from the cannons at Somethinggrad. The most she had in common with Kilgallen is that they were both Party girls.

  16. Mo Says:

    Tnx, grendelkhan. Have bookmarked that one for whenever I need a hit.

  17. Mr. Prosser Says:

    I was 12 years old when Khrushchev visited (they wouldn't let him go to Disneyland). I remember thinking then, "Gee, his wife looks just like Grandma." The only thing I remember re: Kilgallen was she was on a dumb guessing game show called "What's My Line?"

  18. mjt Says:

    Perfunctory link to episode of "What's My Line?" filmed the night Kilgallen died: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfjkQE-l2Ho

    Of course we all know that she was murdered considering she was about blow the real story of JFK's assassination wide open.

    Also, Sinatra supposedly did his own sick burn on Kilgallen calling her that "chinless wonder". I mean, he had a point.

  19. Susan of Texas Says:

    Car 54 (a late 50s/early 60s tv cop comedy) did a nifty little episode based on that event in which an important group of Soviets visited the Bronx and were swept away by capitalist pig culture. The rabid Commie became a capitalist when offered a share in a factory, the KGB spy defected to go to baseball games, and the female general decided to show the effete American males what Soviet superiority looked like by spending all day at a spa and vamping her police guard.

  20. ladiesbane Says:

    Mr. Prosser (Oofy Prosser?), "What's My Line?" was awesome, back in the Arlene Francis days. Bennett Cerf, Steve Allen, Bud Collyer, are you kidding me? That's the good stuff, along with "To Tell the Truth" and "I've Got a Secret". Not to get too Pleasantville, but if I have a fairy godmother, it's Kitty Carlisle.

    My favorite spoof of the Big K is just a little moment in the movie "One, Two, Three." When one of the Russian trade delegates takes off his shoe to pound the table at a party, the picture of Khrushchev drops out of the frame to reveal a picture of Stalin. The whole movie is like Hogan's Heroes of Soviet Communism.

    And it also has Arlene Francis.

  21. Barry Says:

    I have some vague recollection that Ms. Killagllen was one one of the hundreds who met an untimely death and who also was about to reveal the truth behind the assassination of JFK.

  22. Mr. Prosser Says:

    @ ladiesbane: Actually not Oofy, the tubby little bureaucrat in H2G2 assigned to tear down Arthur's house. Frankly didn't care for the game shows back then, just Maverick and Twilight Zone.

  23. ladiesbane Says:

    Oh, Mr. L. Prosser — excellent. Oofy Prosser is actually from P.G. Wodehouse, highly Adams-compatible if not perfectly congruent. Carry on.

  24. jazzbumpa Says:

    The link to Tiabbi's Friedman review seems to be dead. Fortunately, Delong reblogged it.

    http://delong.typepad.com/egregious_moderation/2009/01/matt-taibbi-flathead-the-peculiar-genius-of-thomas-l-friedman.html

    Cheers!
    JzB

  25. Anonymouse Says:

    @grendelkhan: OMG, that is the best synopsis of Reagan I've ever read.

  26. Death Panel Truck Says:

    "Of course we all know that she was murdered considering she was about blow the real story of JFK's assassination wide open."

    Bullshit. The fucking lush probably choked on her own vomit after a bender.

  27. Big dog Says:

    Burnyoself and dillon are on the right side of this. Ed, what is your reasoning to imply that Mrs K deserved this sort of snot. If you think so, shame on you.

  28. Rosalux Says:

    Best literary takedown of all time. Clive James reviewing Brezhnev's biography:

    http://www.clivejames.com/pieces/shadows/brezhnev

  29. Brian M Says:

    Given that the essay ends like this:

    There is no note of which burn unit Mrs. Khrushchev was rushed to, but apparently she survived this third-degree scalding. In fact she survived much better than Dorothy Kilgallen. While Kilgallen was half of a celebrity power couple with actor and radio star Richard Kollmar, unfortunately they were both raging alcoholics, pill poppers, and serial philanderers. Kilgallen died at age 52 of the classic booze-barbiturate overdose in 1965. Dumpy old Nina Khrushchev died 19 years later, aged 84.

    I think you guys are being too harsh on Ed. He is if anything celebrating the irony of the future of this catty fraud.

  30. fidelio Says:

    Weird Old Tip, Mencken may have said that but John Randolph got in with it first, nearly a hundred years previously. Randolph described Edward Livingston, a politcian from Louisiana (by way of New York) as brlliant but corrupt, like a rotten mackerel, he stinks and shines by moonlight.

  31. Noel Barrett Says:

    As I recall this incident Ms. Kilgallon was quoted as remarking that Ms. K had " fat ankels" – I think it was Frank Sinatra who resonded tha everyone knew Kilgallon had no chin but no one felt it necessary to point that out –

  32. Bitter Scribe Says:

    If it hadn't been for the sacrifices made by Nina Khrushchev and millions of other Russians, Kilgallen might have been writing her oh-so-clever critiques in German.

  33. Patimo Says:

    Well, if you are a fan of that type of skewering review or assessment, you might be interested in Laura Ward's book, "Bad Press: The Worst Critical Reviews Ever!", published by Barron's Educational Series, Inc., in 1 2002. It contains the pithy excerpts of bad reviews of movies, literature, television and radio, music, and food and drink. Enjoy. I know I did.