Tag Archives: Bennett Cerf

Karl Decker’s Famous Schools

Staples High School English instructor Karl Decker retired in 1999. Generations of students had been inspired by his stories. A recent “06880” post about Max Shulman inspired Decker to add his own memories of the famed humor writer and Westport resident. Karl recalls:

It was my 1961 summer job after my first year teaching at Staples. I was a “famous” reader of student assignments at the Famous Writers School in Westport. How I got the job I happen to forget, but there I was in a row of offices overlooking the inspiring Saugatuck River along with Mignon Eberhardt (mystery writer), Phil Reavis (Yachting Magazine), and next door to me Westport’s frisky humorist Parke Cummings.

Al Dorne, Famous Schools founder (and illustrator), called a meeting  of us all to think up some creative ideas for other schools that could become Famous too. Al Dorne sat at the head of the big table. There was Gordon Carroll (sometime editor at Reader’s Digest), Lloyd Fangel (I think he had a daughter at Staples), Mignon,  Phil and some I did not know. One other man who seemed in a rather sullen mood sat off to one side. Bennett Cerf had called to say he’d be late.

Random House founder Bennett Cerf, in a famous ad for his famous school.

Random House founder Bennett Cerf, in a famous ad for his famous school.

With very straight faces, Parke and I had just submitted our  proposal for the Famous Sculptors School. Everyone nodded politely as we described it.

Finally Mr. Dorne said, “This is the kind of creative  thinking I like to see around here. The only thing  that bothers me about this plan is that we’d have to build a railroad siding from the mainline so the students could send in their granite homework on flatbed cars.”

Parke and I expressed our thanks and said we are working now on a Famous Dancers School. Our plan for mail-in lessons was outrageous, but that’s for another time.

At some point however, I think it was Lloyd Fangel who saw the sullen fellow and said, “Max, you don’t look too happy today. Something wrong?” And then I realized this was Max Shulman.

Max replied, “Yes. My wife threw away my writing  pants. Said they were disreputable, dirty, tattered. I don’t think I’ll ever write again.”

The meeting ended. Parke and I took our sandwiches to eat on the banks of  the Saugatuck River, and work on our proposal for the Famous Symphony Conductors School.

Karl Decker, today

Karl Decker, today