I first met Doug at The Soho Weekly News office in June 1981 where he was an editor and I was proposing an article. I was greeted by a portly man with a baby face that I later learned masked maturity. He made a wry comment followed by a warm, half-smile. “Barkis is willing,” he said.
Doug became a part of the mosaic of my cherished past. He introduced me to people who became life-long friends, including Ariel Dorfman, the Chilean author and his wife Angelica and their two sons; Eric Nadler with whom I co-authored articles and co-directed a feature length documentary film; and Christian, Francois, and Jerome Bompard, a French family to whom my wife and I stayed close until their deaths.
Doug rarely discussed his childhood or the polio he suffered. Despite the differences in our religious and economic upbringings and in our sexuality, Doug and I were very fond of each other. To me and to our mutual friends, he was always called “Dougie.”
In 1982, he brought me into the Institute for Policy Studies and he was the inspiration for the book commemorating the institute’s 20th anniversary. He asked me to take it on and the book became First Harvest: The Institute for Policy Studies, 1963-1983.
Perhaps because of the unintended spaces that time creates between friends, we drifted apart, remaining in occasional contact by email and phone. In the last few years, he would send me his columns, and at the annual Nation Institute dinners, Russ Hemenway, of the National Committee for an Effective Congress, always found a quiet corner to give me the latest news about Dougie.
Dougie was a larger than life personality who reminded me of Oscar Wilde. He was an iconoclast who was a trenchant commentator. In a column he wrote after the last election, he observed: “As to Mitt Romney, a finger-in-the-wind political panderer to the forces of darkness in the primaries who led one of the most base, racist, and hate-mongering Republican general election campaigns ever, one may paraphrase Shakespeare and say that nothing so became his political life like his leaving of it.”
At the 50th anniversary celebration of the Institute for Policy Studies a few weeks ago, I asked several institute old timers if they had heard recently from Dougie. No one had. I decided to call him immediately but the days slipped by and then it was too late.
Dougie’s passing causes a profound emptiness or in the words of W.H. Auden:
“Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky.”
John S. Friedman is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and professor of American Studies at SUNY Old Westbury.