of String Theory
The article on string theory in
Columbia College Today was great. I was surprised, however,
that you did not give credit to the origin of string theory: The
Fates. As you recall, Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis
determines its length, and Atropos cuts it off. I think this
completes your theory, since now you know what was before
Greg Pauxtis '77, M.D.
Getting Together After All These
Recently I had an extremely pleasant
reunion with a fellow Columbian whom I hadn't seen since he left
the campus back in 1931, a year before my own Commencement. I think
the circumstances of our meeting may be of interest.
It was suggested to me that I might
wish to write to some of my Columbia contemporaries to tell them
about the new Center for Jewish Student Life which is being built
on 115th Street. Among those I solicited was Dan Lipsky '31. Dan
was a sophomore when I entered the College back in 1928, and he
rushed me to join his fraternity, Beta Sigma Rho. As time went on,
he was elected to the position of Chancellor to lead the
fraternity, and I in turn was chosen as his successor. So ours was
an unusually close and warm relationship. But once we left the
campus, we entered upon different careers and lived in different
communities, and so lost track of each other.
How pleased I was, therefore, when
Dan immediately responded to my appeal on behalf of the Center for
Jewish Student Life with a very substantial donation which he
generously inscribed in my honor.
And now we have renewed our
relationship over a reminiscence-filled lunch on campus, along with
Rabbi Charles Scheer, Columbia's Jewish chaplain of many years'
standing, and Joanne Ben-Avi, director of development for the Kraft
Center and the Jewish Student Life Fund. Together we proudly
visited the site of the Center and looked forward to the day it
would provide a splendidly appropriate milieu for generations of
Jewish students at Columbia and Barnard to celebrate their
centuries-old heritage, at least partly as a result of our efforts
and those of many other alumni who have given their support to this
important endeavor. And it also brought me together again with a
dear old friend.
Lloyd Seidman '32
On Charles Van
I was particularly taken with the
letter you published from Michael Messer '59 in the September
issue. Not just because it was well written, but also because I was
the alumnus responsible for persuading Charles Van Doren to accept
our class invitation. I too put some thoughts on the event on
paper, and I am attaching a copy:
Sic Transit Gloria - Sometimes It's
Morningside Heights. 40th Reunion of Columbia College Class of '59.
After an absence of 40 years, Charles Van Doren - a teacher almost
everyone in the audience had studied under during our undergraduate
days - accepted our invitation to speak to our alumni group on this
particular occasion. He opened his comments by explaining that he
agreed to talk to us this morning because he felt in many ways it
was his 40th reunion as well. He starting teaching at the College
when we entered in 1955 and left in 1959. He also received his Ph.D
from Columbia in 1959 and his revered father, Mark Van Doren,
retired from Columbia in 1959.
He then proceeded to deliver a
profound lecture that was dazzling in both style and content. It
was as intellectually stimulating a 25 minutes as anyone in the
audience had ever heard - whether in college or out. He picked up
where he left off 40 years ago. Clarifying for us the genius of
such philosophers as Aristotle and Socrates. Showing us how to
apply their wisdom in order to improve our daily lives and
effectively plan for our futures. When he finished his prepared
remarks, the entire audience rose to their feet as if they were one
person and gave him a thunderous ovation. The audience's response
brought tears to Charles Van Doren's eyes. Both the audience and he
quickly settled down and the session was opened to questions. For
the next 45 minutes he answered question after question about some
of the observations and suggestions he had made. Interestingly,
there was not one question - not one - that might have been
considered tastelessly personal. The tone he had established was
too elegant, the lessons he was trying to teach us too
In trying to understand his tears, I
began to realize the magnitude of the lost opportunities to so many
that had been caused by Charles Van Doren's fame. His fame stemmed
from being one of the first truly national television celebrities
as well as one of the first of those celebrities who faked out most
of America. He broke no laws, he just broke our innocence - and for
this he was banished for life from academia. The losers were the
thousands and thousands of students who were deprived of his wisdom
and inspirational capabilities. As well as, of course, Charles Van
Doren, who was moved to tears, I think, because he knew how great a
teacher he could have been had it not been for his
In this day and age of frenzied
celebrity worship and wide acceptance of seeking fame for its own
sake, the example of Charles Van Doren is more relevant than ever.
The wrong kind of fame - no matter how benign - can be a curse that
only its fleeting away can cure. In fact, perhaps the coiners of
the phrase, "How fleeting is fame," were trying to say that the
fleetingness of fame is the good news - not the bad news, as most
contemporaries consider it to be.
Clive Chajet '59
NEW YORK CITY
Charles Van Doren (CCT,
September 1999) had indicated that "...myths are stories that are
so true they can never happen." In other words, a myth is as good
as a mile.
John C. DiJohn, M.D. '48, '53
As usual I enjoyed the CCT I
just received. What thrilled me most was to read about my old prof,
Dr. Van Doren. When the movie about him came out a few years ago, I
was moved to write the enclosed letter to the editor of the
Washington Post. As the letter to the paper [printed October 7,
1994] indicated, he was a great teacher, ranking in my book with
Sommers (CC), Gross (propulsion), Friedman (aerodynamics), and
Castelli (fluid mechanics). You should conduct a poll on great
teachers and welcome reminiscences from your readers.
One of the Best Teachers
Joe Queenan's "The Gauge of Innocence" made light of the downfall
of Charles Van Doren (subject of the new movie Quiz Show) by
pretending to search for the date when America lost its innocence
(Outlook, Sept. 18).
I know when I lost my innocence:
when Mr. Van Doren was disgraced. I went to Columbia College, where
Mr. Van Doren taught. During the two or three years between his
rise and fall, he was my professor for humanities, a required
course in the Great Books. He was one of the best teachers I ever
had. He conducted his class in Socratic style, teaching us by
asking the right questions and guiding us to learn on our own.
Gentle, incisive, witty, enormously well-read, he was a giant among
One Van Doren incident I will never
forget. He called each student Mr. So-and-so (Columbia was all-male
then) and kept a formal, even stiff posture. Nevertheless, when he
spoke at my high school in Philadelphia about a year after my
undistinguished presence in his class, he noticed me in the
audience and referred to me by my nickname, not my first name or my
last name. Evidently, he had heard the other students call me that
and remembered it. To make the moment magic, I was accompanied by
high school friends who had gone to other colleges. They had not
believed my claim that Mr. Van Doren was my teacher. How sweet it
I won't be seeing the
Marshal Greenblatt '61, '62E
Editor's Note: Marshal Greenblatt
offers an excellent suggestion regarding recollections of faculty
members, so consider yourselves polled. Any alumnus/alumna with
thoughts about a favorite professor and his/her influence over the
years is encouraged to submit a brief reminiscence to: Columbia
College Today, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 917, New York, NY 10115.
We look forward to reading your responses, and while we may not be
able to print all of them, we look forward to printing a
representative sample in future issues.
Another Teacher Who Struck A
Now and again over the years since
my undergraduate days, I have idly wondered what some of the superb
junior faculty who taught a number of my classes went on to do in
later life. I was delighted to see, browsing Class Notes as I
always do, a reference to Abe Loft '42.
Abram Loft was my Music Humanities
teacher in the Spring of 1947, and though I already knew quite a
bit about serious music and had begun to develop some degree of
taste, it was his enthusiastic performance at the front of the room
that gave me the beginnings of the breadth and depth of
understanding that have made the love of music a most important
element of my life. He was truly a performer, both as a teacher and
a violist, as was clear from the start. With a little help from the
texts - From Madrigal to Modern Music and Music in Western
Civilization, both of which I still treasure - he spoke seemingly
extemporaneously with enthusiasm and structure in such a way as to
pass along his own love for the subject, and he often brought his
viola and used it to illustrate one or more points far more
effectively than any recording could do. He also introduced me to
William Primrose's performance of Berlioz's intense and brooding
Harold in Italy, with which I have pestered my wife lo these many
He was young then, but I had no idea
at the time that he was so recent a graduate, not that much older
than many of us in the class. It is indeed a pleasure to learn that
he went on to quite a distinguished career at the Eastman School
and with the Fine Arts Quartet, but I'm truly sorry that I have
not, since that Humanities B section, heard him play again. I hope
he continues to enjoy good health and good music in his well-earned
Joseph B. Russell '49
NEW YORK CITY
Some Notes of
Congratulations on the "new look." I
like, also, your editorial efforts. Thank you.
John J. Keville '33
The tribute you wrote to my father
(Clifton Fadiman '25: An Erudite Guide to the Wisdom of Others,
September 1999) is one of the best things anyone has ever written
about him. I will keep and treasure it. Thank you.
NEW YORK CITY
Editor's note: The writer,
Clifton Fadiman's daughter, is editor of The American
I'm thrilled with your beautiful
page about my watercolors (The small, quiet worlds of Donald Holden
'51, September 1999)! The reproductions are surprisingly good, far
better than any magazine that's published my work in the past. The
text is an excellent condensation of the essentials - right on
target. And the layout of the page is elegant. You've done a superb
My thanks and my best
Donald Holden '51
Boris Todrin '37, summed up in your
Spring '99 obituary column as "retired advertising executive," was
much more than that. He published six books of poetry and four
novels in his lifetime.
Boris Todrin's first book of poems
appeared when he was 17, and he won a poetry scholarship to
Columbia, where he edited The Columbia Review. After earning his BA
and MA here, with high honors, Boris became a reporter and feature
writer for PM and Middle East war correspondent for its successor,
the New York Star. His second novel, Paradise Walk, was recommended
for the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger by Andre Gide, and he was
sponsored for a Guggenheim by such other minor writers as Somerset
Maugham, John Dos Passos, and Thornton Wilder. He was also a
four-time fellow at the Macdowell Colony.
When his fourth novel, Aphrodite and
the Old Dude (the title sounds like an obit for our surviving
classmates), and his sixth book of poetry, Light on the Porch, were
published simultaneously in England in 1994, Anthony Burgess
remarked that he knew of no other instance when "a truly major
novel and book of poetry by the same author appeared at the same
Boris Tudrin, who is survived by his
wife Vivien, his daughter Edwina Jenckes and two grandchildren, is
remembered by his classmates as a fine poet and writer, not just a
"retired advertising executive."
Editor's Note: The writer served
for many years as Class of '37 correspondent for
The Oxford Oath
Am I the only one who remembers the
Oxford Oath (refusal to go to war under any circumstances)? When
questioned, nobody my age seems to remember it.
A little research shows that on
April 12, 1935, 60,000 students took part in a nationwide strike
for peace. At Columbia, 3,000 students took the Oxford Oath that
day at a rally featuring Roger Baldwin, Reinhold Niebuhr and James
Wechsler '35 as speakers.
My time at Columbia began Sept.
1935, but I seem to remember a rally with the Osford Oath in my
freshman year. Is there a record of that?
Of course, almost all renounced the
pledge as soon as World War II began.
Saul Ricklin '39
BRISTOL, RHODE ISLAND
Editor's note: Alumni who can
shed light on this are invited to write to
A Columbia Connection To the
Early in the American Revolutionary
War things were going badly. Gen. Washington was unable to get the
individual colonies to send enough men or money to sustain the
fight. At this critical juncture the French King Louis XVI agreed
to assist the Colonials. He sent his best fighting units, the Walsh
and Dillon companies of the "Irish Brigade." Can anyone disprove
that these famed "Colonial Boys" who turned the tide in the
American Revolution were the relatives of Edward "Bud" Dillon and
John "Bub" Walsh of the fine Class of '43? And, not surprisingly,
both showed their fighting prowess on the Baker Field baseball
diamond.... "You could look it up."
Joe Kelly '43
Some Verse for A
Can you use the attached lines for
Bob Lax? He relished, or did, such stories about Mark Van Doren as
this glimpse of the referential fault lines between even happily
How great to have your news of Lax! He'll savor this, and you may,
day, back from the war,
a buck instructor,
I dropped in on Mark Van Doren's
house in Cornwall,
and his son Charles
pointed out where
his father was at work.
"Will he mind this?" I asked.
"You'd know that," he said,
"better than I."
I went there, greeting Mark
through an open window,
and was let in -
his eye rolling
to the wordhoard
I'd pulled him from.
Quite soon he found an action
that would take him back.
"You've met my wife?
No? Oh, you must."
And led the way
to the main house.
On the stoop he scooped up
and lodged beside his head a cat
and took me to his wife.
"This," he said, "is Mr . Grant Keener
of Columbia University."
With a half-smile
she worried this, studying him
with not a glance at me.
He stared at her, nonplussed.
The tableau froze.
We could've been there yet,
had I not seen
my tee shirt and chinos
were like her son's,
who was my build and coloring.
What was this cat by poet's head
she saw she should recall,
her son in on the joke?
I rescued her:
"I'm Grant Keener," I said,
startling her by who I wasn't.
And all made clear, I came away.
Grant Keener '41
Editor, Jester '41