Dave Barry comes to town

[In 1980 your editor got a letter from Peter Menkin of the Features Associates syndicate saying that their columnist – a guy named Schwimmer – was no longer writing but that they had a new offering he thought I would like. I wrote back wondering if there were a backlog of Schwimmer columns we could draw upon and the following leisurely correspondence ensued. – Sam Smith]

MARCH 20, 1980 – Dear Mr. Smith: My records show that you have more than enough Schwimmer to last a year. Schwimmer, code named “The Mad Bomber,” has disappeared. Not that we don’t know where he is, for that we do. Schwimmer vacated Manhattan for the Bronx. Next thing we heard, he’d gone legitimate. . . Phone calls won’t prod him to write his column, and for some reason we’ve decided it’s to no avail. We grant that we have some columns of his that you haven’t seen. But phoning New York to get Schwimmer to write isn’t worth the trouble. Not that he isn’t worth the trouble, just that it isn’t worth all the trouble when we now have David Barry.

Who might this be? You ask. Barry is living in Pennsylvania. What effect it has on his mind, we don’t know. The choice is yours: keep using Schwimmer, and ask for some columns you haven’t seen, or take someone alive, like the Pennsylvania fellow Barry. We haven’t code named him yet, but Mad Bomber doesn’t fit. We leave that honor to Schwimmer. – Regards, Peter

UNDATED – Dear Peter: What makes you think I saved the old Schwimmer columns? I thought he would go on forever and was careless enough to shitcan the unused ones. How about sending me the Schwimmer back file?. . . And how about some samples of David Barry? Frankly, I think you’re Schwimmer and decided to change your name. – Peace, Sam

APRIL 28, 1980 – Dear Sam: There is a real Schwimmer, hard as it may be to believe. . . We’ve dropped him, sad to say, but happy to report Dave Barry is the new man and he may not be a mad bomber but as a humorist he is. . . As for back copies of Schwimmer, if you want me to send those, we have. But I prefer not to, since Barry is the new man. – Best, Pete

[Menkin enclosed a Barry column in which it was alleged that “astrologers believe our lives are influenced by bodies far removed from us, such as the Federal Reserve Board. . . I think astrologers are too chicken to tell us what they really mean. . . When they say: ‘Attend to financial matters’ they mean: ‘Your son has stolen the police chief’s band-new Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and run down a pregnant neurosurgeon.'”. . . There followed a lengthy silence, during which I was apparently still mourning Schwimmer, broken many months later by Menkin]

OCTOBER 15, 1981 – Dear Sam: Here’s a backlog of Barry’s ‘Life and Related Subjects’ which we syndicate each week. As before, let’s go with $3.00 a week plus 50 cents postage and handling. That’s a grand total of $3.50 per week. . . That should fit your tiny budget. . . Do what you can to give him top display. He’s tops with us. . . With good regards, Peter

UNDATED – Dear Peter; The price is right, the column funny, so away we go. Keep the faith, Sam

[Which is how readers in Washington DC were finally introduced to Dave Barry. Barry would go on to be  widely syndicated columnist, win a Pulitzer Prize and write a number of books. Schwimmer is still missing.]


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