For six years and a bit I would see Bob several times a month, and sometimes several times a week, staying often at the homes he and Kathy Keeton created, both in Manhattan and Rhinebeck, dining with them equally often, often on Bob's pasta.
They were my employers, of course, during the years I edited OMNI, but away from the offices they were more than cordial friends, generous in conversation and eager to laugh. The many kindnesses they extended to me and especially to my wife had far less to do with business than with their natures.
Bob will be remembered always and inevitably — and of course accurately — as the man who reinvented and in many ways re-directed the course of adult magazines, built a great fortune and lost it, indulged his desire for both fine art and fine, in their own way, gaucheries, equally exuberant about both.
He was, I believe, a shy man in many ways. Not a hermit or recluse as he was sometimes portrayed. He simply had the resources (and how!) to create for himself environments in which he was so comfortable that there was rarely reason for him to leave.
One memorable night, though, I persuaded him to join me, my brother, Harlan Ellison, and Ellen Datlow for a meal in Chinatown. Hong Fat's, I cannot imagine, ever had a livelier table or a more wide-ranging conversation. I believe Bob enjoyed himself as much as anyone there.
He enjoyed as well, our back-and-forths over the magazine and its direction. OMNI was in so many ways Kathy Keeton's province that Bob's contributions to it, other than the magazine's at the time innovative design, have tended to be overlooked. But he was always interested in what was being covered and the covers themselves were his domain. The insides of the magazine he left to those of us who worked to assemble it every month. He and Kathy would set directions they wanted to see explored, make requests that a topic be covered (often in depth)
Even as his and Kathy's enthusiasm — and credulousness — for UFOs and their (they believed) occupants' purposes in visiting (they believed) Earth grew during the last few years of OMNI's print existence, they never once interfered with so much as a single skeptical sentence inside the publication.
Of course, Bob's less skeptical nature made for occasional schizophrenia when the covers and the cover lines occasionally expressed an enthusiasm for the possibility of "aliens among us" that OMNI's writers and researchers — and certainly not its editor — failed to share. Not the first time a publisher's packaging was designed to sell editorial material that didn't quite (to say the least) match his beliefs. It is to Bob and Kathy's credit that they understood this, and understood as well the need for the magazine to follow a more rational course when exploring phenomena. We laughed about it sometimes, and they stood always behind our editorial policies, whatever they personally believed.
Over the years after the magazine closed I remained in touch with Kathy, and had a long visit with her not long before her own death. I saw Bob around the time I departed from the company, and was touched by the appreciation he expressed for my years with OMNI and General Media, and his enjoyment of them. I felt the same way.
Bob would have been 80 in a couple of months, and while his last years saw him dealing with both health and financial challenges, they also saw him happily remarried and able, I understand, to devote more time to his own painting, which had been his lifelong ambition.
I will always see him in that fine kitchen on 67th Street, testing the pasta and his sauce, signaling that both were ready, inviting us to adjourn to the table where who-knows-what would be discussed.
Very nice Keith...
I was hoping you would take us inside that altogether welcoming and warm household. Time for a bio, don't you think? Hef's life has been 50% autobiography, but Bob's life was a mystery even to the people who worked with him.
Keith Ferrell said...
Thanks, guys — it's interesting to see across the Web how very many fond memories of OMNI there are.
Lovely requiem, Keith.
Keith, you wrote a very moving remembrance of Bob. You certainly revealed a side of him that most of us never had a chance to experience. I know he thought highly of you, and I can tell he made an impact on you, too, giving you some rare editorial opportunities. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Brings back my own fond memories. Thanks, Keith
Pete Krull said...
Thanks Keith, well-written!
rrlane said... You make me pause and reconsider opinions that I held fast to yet gave very little thought about as I was forming them. You give fitting and warm tribute.
Caroline Dark Hare said...
Excellent remembrance Keith.