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.