Best of Andy Rooney

Every once in a while, it amuses me to check into the number of newspapers that run this column. The last time I looked, there were about 110 of them, and I like that a lot, but I'd be kidding myself if I thought everyone who reads those papers reads the column. It would be in the millions, and that would make me nervous.

In my office, I get eight different newspapers every day. I look at all of them for stories that interest me, but I doubt if I read more than 10 percent of what's in all those papers. One paper I get is the Wall Street Journal. It's a great newspaper but I don't read a tenth of it.

There are columnists in those papers that I always read and columnists I never read. We all have to decide how to divide our time between stories and it involves cutting out a lot of what's in a newspaper. Editors must have a hard time because, like the rest of us, there are stories that don't interest them. However, they know enough readers are interested to include some stories on less-than-fascinating topics.

Many years ago, the most popular newspaper columnist of all time was Walter Winchell. I don't remember why but I hardly ever read him. A lot of people dismissed what he wrote as "gossip." Winchell's counterpart at the Hearst papers was Westbrook Pegler, who I did read sometimes. For serious reading about important issues, I read Walter Lippmann in the New York Herald Tribune.

I also drank at a bar in a building next door to the Tribune known as "Bleecks." I was an amateur drinker compared to some of the old timers there. My friend Bob Moora could down three martinis, then go back upstairs to the city room and edit several page one stories without missing a deadline or making a mistake. Walter Lippmann often stopped in for a drink after work and I talked to him several times.

It's a conceit, but I think of myself as a newspaperman rather than a broadcaster. I guess it's because that's what several of the people were who I've admired most, including Bob and my friend and co-author, Bud Hutton.

The most money I ever made wasn't from writing a newspaper column but from the book Hutton and I wrote in 1946 called "Air Gunner." MGM bought the rights for $55,000 and hired us to write the screenplay for an additional $1,500 a week. I thought money came easily.

W. Somerset Maugham was at MGM at the time and one of the highlights of my career was sitting at the same table with him in the MGM cafeteria at lunch. I forget whether I called him "Somerset" or "Mr. Maugham" -- probably just, "Hello there."

Working at MGM was a big deal. I was still in my 20s and earning very good money. I ate lunch in the cafeteria every day and there were always movie stars scattered around the room. Clark Gable often came in and sat with the writers. It's hard to believe I called him "Clark." He'd been in England with the Eighth Air Force when we were bombing Germany and we had our war experience in common.

My wife and I lived on Malibu Beach for a year. We stayed in a cottage, not a house, but it was on the beach and I'll never forget it. The trip down the Pacific Coast Highway from Malibu to MGM in Culver City was something like 18 miles and it was a pleasure to drive. The mountains were on the left going in and the Pacific Ocean was on the right. The beach stretched out in front of our house and we often waded out into the ocean and swam.

While we were there, we bought a used Lincoln Continental for $1,500, and it was one of the best cars we ever owned. It burned a lot of gas, but in those days gas cost only 30 cents a gallon.

Wouldn't it be nice to read a story in the paper about gas prices spiraling down that far again? Nobody would skip that one.

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