A LETTER TO THE NY TIMES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I had a letter to the editor published in the NY Times Sunday Magazine Section in around 1970. Except that no one knew that I had written it except for me and my parents. It was published under my father’s name.

This situation came about in an unusual way. The NY Times Sunday Magazine Section had a cover story about a hippie dippy psychologist named R.D. Laing. His views ran counter to most psychiatric thinking of the time. I don’t remember the specifics. But my father, Abram Kardiner, who well-known psychiatrist, was furious about the pro-Laing slant of the article.

Dad ranted to a friend about the Lang piece. That friend was a lawyer who happened to represent the NY Times. The friend called the Times and they said that they would love to publish a letter to the editor about the Laing piece by someone as prominent and well-respected in the field as my dad.

My Dad, around 1970

So my dad sat down to write his response to the article. Dad was not a popular or commercial writer. He was used to writing in-depth, analytical, academic books and articles aimed at the highest level of professionals in his field. He could not write for the general public. At all.

Dad’s letter was abstruse, convoluted and way too academic. It had none of the punch or clarity that a short letter to the editor should have. My mom and I tried to work with him on editing the piece. We tried to convince him to scrap his draft and start over with a different tone and perspective. Dad got angry and dug his heels in. It was this or nothing. At this point, Mom and I felt that nothing would be better than the garbled mess he wanted published under his name. If the Times would even publish it.

I got disgusted and grabbed Dad’s draft and stormed off into my room. I was 21 and in college at the time, but I had been helping my mom edit my dad’s writing since I was fifteen. I felt that I could express my dad’s views in a way that was understandable and persuasive. I came up with something in plain, non-academic English that my mother loved.

Me, around 1970

But Mom was afraid to tell Dad that I had rewritten his letter. So she sent it to the contact at the NY Times without telling him. The letter was obviously submitted under the name Abram Kardiner. The Times loved it and agreed to publish it. They would never have published the letter if they had known that Kardiner’s 21 year old daughter had written it.

The letter was published. Dad found out about it and had a major meltdown. Then the congratulatory calls started coming in. Lots of people, including colleagues, called him and complimented him on the clear and concise letter he had written. The praise was universal.

Then a strange thing happened. Dad started to enjoy the accolades. His anger dissipated. Suddenly he was basking in the glory of a job well done. He quickly forgot, or ignored the fact, that he was not the one who had actually done the job in the first place.

Dad never thanked me or even acknowledged that I had been the one to write the letter. I think he was embarrassed that his 21-year-old had been able to do a better job explaining his views than he had. He was a titan in his field and I was a college student.

I was deeply hurt. But I also felt a great sense of accomplishment. I had written something that was worthy of the NY Times! Not only that, but what I wrote was universally accepted as the writing of a well-known, published psychoanalyst.

I got over my funk at my dad and felt proud of myself. My mother, the only other person who knew the true authorship of the letter, was effusive in her praise for me. So this became our little secret. I couldn’t brag to anyone about this episode, but I still felt really good about it. I knew that I was published in the NY Times, even if no one else did!

18 thoughts on “A LETTER TO THE NY TIMES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. While my first husband was in Vietnam, I was living with my mom and awaiting our first child. Bored, I offered to write a paper for my elder brother, who was attending college full-time and holding down a full-time job and going through an agonizing divorce. I wrote the paper. The subject: Mont San Michel.
    Received with acclaim, the paper was published in that year’s statewide journal of exemplary student work. Naturally the professor insisted my brother read it aloud to the class….
    Red-faced and trembling, stumbling over words he had never before spoken aloud, he read it — and swore off, forever, asking his nerdy little sister to write papers for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, you had an old-school father as did I. Your dad was strong and proud, and that pride would not allow him to acknowledge that his daughter had supplanted his work and garnered praise for her efforts–work that saved him from possible embarrassment. Even though he neither offered his thanks nor directed praise toward you, I would like to think that at some inner level there was a father overcome by the knowledge that his little girl had become a writer in her own right. It was, perhaps, when dad finally realized you weren’t a delicate thing of pig-tails and Buster Browns anymore, but a woman. Then again, I could be completely off-base here. Regardless, you stepped forward to help a man with whom there was no Norman Rockwell family imagery, and that alone shows who the bigger person was. Kudos, Ms. Curley.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like to think that Dad was really proud of me. But part of me thinks he just buried the fact that I had written it and dealt with the letter as if it had been his. I know he was proud of me in general, but I don’t know if he could have felt the pride in this situation. I think his pride got in the way.

      Like

  3. My first “publication” was a fake letter to one of those newspaper columnists who give advice to people. I do not remember who it was, but I pretended to be the person my mother was sure I was going to become. Wouldn’t you know, she showed up with the article in her hand saying “You see? She sounds just like YOU!”

    I screamed “OH WOW! That IS me.”

    My mother was pissed at me for weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

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