A Farewell to Art

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[Entertainment Today, Feb. 18, 2000]

Many people have waxed poetic about the Internet’s advantages. Each day when I log on, and the Yahoo! page comes up, I am greeted with the news of who has died.

Is it me or is there something wrong with the word “Yahoo!” in bright, happy red letters followed by who is recently dead?

Thus, my mornings often start with involuntary, stunned grunts. Recently, there has been a flurry of funny person necrology.

I laughed the very first time I saw rubber-faced Jim Varney on a TV commercial. Now, he’s gone.

I grew up with the comic strip “Peanuts” and now, Charles Schulz is gone.

But the Yahoo! announcement that really hit me hardest was the loss of Art Hoppe.

For those who do not read the San Francisco Chronicle or the other 100 or so papers which ran his syndicated column, Arthur Hoppe was smart without being pompous, humorous without being tasteless, passionate without being strident.

His characters were gently confused. Like redneck Joe Sikspak, put-upon Private Oliver Drab and a presidential candidate named Nobody. His better known targets included White House denizens like Nick Dixon, Ronald of Holyrude and Jiminy Beaver.

I am in year four of “Development Hell.” When Hoppe passed on to that big Copy Desk in the Sky, February 1, at the age of 74, he had been writing his column for more than forty years.

When I was editor of my high school newspaper in Northern California, the Burlingame B, my advisor, Mr. Christensen, fondly referred to me as “the poor man’s Art Hoppe.” I never considered it anything but the highest compliment.

I once attended a celebrity book sale in San Francisco, because Art Hoppe was supposed to be among those in attendance. I got there first, figuring I was in for a long wait. Art Hoppe was second.

When I told him of Mr. Christensen’s nickname for me, I received the best possible reply. A deep, resonant, honest laugh.

Hoppe was much more than a satirist. His impeccable style and journalistic acuity enabled him to report on any story, be it heartfelt or outlandish.

One of his best known columns voiced feelings so perfectly, yet so simply. During the Viet Nam war, he wrote: “The radio this morning said the Allied invasion of Laos had bogged down. Without thinking, I nodded and said, ‘Good.” And having said it, I realized the bitter truth: Now I root against my own country.”

And in response to inevitable, angry letters, Hoppe would often reply with one sentence:

“The cookbook you have ordered will arrive under separate cover.”

Hoppe once spent a week living undercover as a homeless man. He traveled to Europe to explain to readers the foreign policies of Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Andorra.

Who else but Hoppe, during the tensions of the “space race,” would sojourn to the African nation of Zambia to describe how astronauts were being trained by being rolled downhill in barrels?

He wrote two plays and eight books and despite lukewarm sales of the latter, Hoppe’s son Nick said he was still amused:

“Dad always said that some people collect rare books and that he writes them.”

But his books will never be as rare as Art Hoppe himself.

I can summarize his impact on me with one word.

Yahoo!

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