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I Had No Alternative

How Bob Tyrrell got me going at $40 a pop.

By 10.18.07

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One night in 1973, I was sitting in an old armchair my parents had cast off in a little tiny house I was renting in Georgetown, D.C. Maybe I shouldn't say "cast off." They generously gave it to me. I lived in that little house with my girlfriend Pat. We had very little money and lived very modestly. But Pat had gone to bed and I was up reading John Gregory Dunne's great novel, Vegas: A Memoir of a Dark Season. Or maybe it's a memoir and not a novel, but I think it's a novel.

But anyway, the phone rang. It was Bob Tyrrell. He wanted me to write for The Alternative. I had never heard of it. He wanted me to write movie reviews. He said he had read my op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal and the N.Y. Times and liked them. But he also said he thought that since my mother and father were so smart, I would probably be smart, too.

My recollection is that he offered to pay me $40 per column. I accepted.

Now, it is 34 years later. I have been with The Alternative, now called The American Spectator, all of that time.

The Spectator and Bob have been incredibly good to me. They published my diary for the last twenty years or so. They put Wlady in my life, an astounding gift. Wlady has been the author of some of the best advice I have ever gotten. In 1994, I asked him if I should fly coach or first class to Ireland to be an expert witness in a trial. "What kind of expert witness flies coach?" he asked, and from then on it was always first class to Ireland.

When my mother died in April of 1997, we buried her in the Jewish Cemetery in Falls Church, Virginia. By Jewish custom, all of the mourners throw a spadeful of dirt on the lowered coffin. Bob Tyrrell did not just do it symbolically but pitched spadeful after spadeful of dirt on Mom's coffin, sobbing as he did it. I can still recall his strong back as he honored my mother thus. An Irish subway construction man, with a brain, but still that strong Irish back.

I have been the host of many a Spectator dinner. I can't make the 40th anniversary one this year. By total coincidence, I am speaking at Indiana University, where Bob founded the Spectator years ago on that night.

But I will be thinking of the Spectator. How they gave me the best party of my life when I turned 50, how they publish my whining and my boasting and my fixations. How they never backed down when faced with high office. I won't ever forget the Spectator, and when my turn comes to join my parents at the Jewish cemetery in Falls Church, I hope and pray Bob will be there to throw on the first and the last spadefuls of dirt, and Wlady is there to offer wisdom and counsel, and then to meet me on The Other Side.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.