The Brownstone of Nero Wolfe: Death of a Doxy – And Koufax or Mays?
We haven’t been to the Brownstone since April of last year. Pfui! So here we have the forty-third Nero Wolfe post at Black Gate. The Wolfe stories are my favorite private eye series. Which, given my Solar Pons, and Sherlock Holmes, credentials, is saying something. I am pretty much always re-reading or listening yet again to Michael Prichard’s terrific audiobooks. I never tire of Wolfe’s World.
Rex Stout was a baseball fan, keeping score at Mets’ games (and possibly NY Giants’ ones as well). Archie uses some baseball terms, and even (briefly) watches a Mets game on TV, with actual players mentioned. And of course, there’s Ron Seaver. “Three Men Out” is set at game seven of a World Series game between Boston and the Giants, though all of the characters are entirely fictional in that one.
I’ve written some baseball snippets for inclusion in future stories, including Archie annoying Wolfe by talking about the Rocky Colavito – Harvey Kuenn trade; and Archie recounting attending Willie Mays’ last World Series, against the A’s. Archie and baseball go together.
Which leads us to talking about Death of A Doxy today. This may well be my favorite Wolfe novel. And I think that A&E did a terrific episode of it. It’s got a neat little baseball reference, which I’ll tease out for this essay. But first, let’s talk about something that should be banned by law – The Epithon!
In Death of a Doxy, Archie is at Lily Rowan’s penthouse, listening to a poet read a self‐dubbed ‘Epithon.’ It is called such because it was epic, and took hours to read. Add in that the man wrote it himself, and you’ve got the idea. ‘Pfui’ isn’t strong enough.
The book does not include any of lines the Epithon, but A&E’s excellent double-length adaptation does, to good effect. John Richings – who is one of the most ‘not-handsome’ actors I’ve ever seen – is Stout’s ‘long-faced’ poet. It’s very good casting. He’s one of the repertory regulars in the series, and the emphasis he adds to his reading really drives home what a terrible experience it was for those in attendance.
The scene conveys that the reading goes on for a long time, but here are the snippets that I could pick up. They’re not ‘in a row,’ adding to the idea it’s an excruciating event.
“Parched, hollow-cheeked, shriveling dry;
On the voyage of the soul;
Work, and philosophies;
A false oasis in the sand;
All gritty spittle licking sand;
My soul is questing, god and love. Work and philosophies I run gasping air, dry, and all gritty spittle licking sand. My soul is questing, questing, shriveled, dry;
To drink and end all gritty spittle licking sand.”
We flash to Archie walking into Wolfe’s office, where lawyer Nathaniel Parker is waiting. Parker is one of the roles played by George Plimpton in the series. Plimpton (perhaps best known as the sportswriter who very briefly became a Detroit Lion; Paper Lion is a fun movie, with Alan Alda in the lead role), was a treat every time he appeared on the show. He was in ten episodes, including a pair of two-parters.
Kari Matchett appeared in 12 stories (credited with 17 episodes, as five were two-parters) of the A&E series. While Lily Rowan is a major character in the Corpus, she’s not really one in the show. She has a very minor part. She is dancing with Archie in the beginning of two episodes, and she’s quickly done in those.
Here in Death of a Doxy, she hosts the Epithon, and sports an unflattering hair-style. She’s just in the one scene, with no spoken lines. But Death of a Doxy is the only episode where she plays two parts! And she totally nails Julie Jacquette. Julie is one of my favorite females in the Corpus, and Matchett does a fantastic job with the part.
KOUFAX OR MAYS?
So, Archie was rescued by a phone call from Wolfe, and when the call came, he had been leaning back with his eyes closed, the Epithon ‘background noise.’ Archie was debating on whether he would choose Sandy Koufax or Willie Mays. Which is a good question.
He continued pondering the dilemma and by the time he dropped the car off at the garage, he had decided on Mays because “Koufax’s arm was too much of a gamble.”
The book was published in August of 1966. That was Koufax’ amazing final year, in which he went 27‐9 with a 1.73 ERA, 27 complete games and 317 strikeouts. He won the Pitcher’s Triple Crown that year. He had just completed a four-year run which is likely to never be seen again.
That same year, Mays made his last run at an MVP award (he finished third), batting .288 with 37 homers and 103 RBIs. Those were down numbers for Mays, and he wouldn’t match
them in the remaining seven years of his career. He did win the tenth of his twelve consecutive Gold Gloves.
So, which one?
Archie was right: Koufax, not wishing to risk permanent damage to his elbow, stunned the baseball world by unexpectedly retiring after the 1966 World Series: leaving as the best pitcher on the planet and nicknamed ‘The Left Arm of God.’
For Mays, after 1966, 23 homers, and 79 RBIs (in separate seasons) would be the most he would muster. And he only managed to bat as high as .291 once. Unlike Koufax, he played on, but it was the last star season for the Say Hey Kid.
So, you could say that neither man contributed to his Hall of Fame resume after Archie made his call. However, both were in their prime from 1962 through 1966, so it’s more fun to think that the story actually took place during that period and it was a more legitimate question. Especially since Mays was 5 years older than Koufax in 1966.
And while Koufax (pitcher) and Mays (player) remain two of the ‘all‐time greatest’ candidates, Koufax’s arm was certainly a concern, and it ended his career just as Archie thought it might.
Satisfactory – “I can’t believe that Babe Ruth was a better player than Willie Mays. Ruth is probably to baseball what Arnold Palmer is to golf. He got the game moving. But I can’t believe he could run as well as Mays, and I can’t believe he was any better as an outfielder.” – Sandy Koufax
As I mentioned, I love Death of a Doxy. There’s another neat element around the Epithon. When Wolfe comes down to the office at 11 Am, he finds Archie annoying, and says “I thought you had an engagement.” Which is a way of trying to get rid of him. Archie talks unenthusiastically about the Epithon and says that he might not go.
Wolfe is amused, which is indicated because a corner of his mouth went up an eighth of an inch as he says, “Serves you right.” When Archie says that he may not go, Wolfe dismissively says, “You will.” And he’s right.
The A&E episode has the scene take place in the kitchen, and it conveys Wolfe’s keen assessment of the situation: Lily wants Archie there and – even though Archie does NOT want to attend – he will go. It’s a nice Brownstone scene.
If you’re a baseball fan, you might this little bit of real-world detective work I did regarding the Mets’ lineup in a Corpus story.
“I can’t believe that Babe Ruth was a better player than Willie Mays. Ruth is probably to baseball what Arnold Palmer is to golf. He got the game moving. But I can’t believe he could run as well as Mays, and I can’t believe he was any better as an outfielder.” – Sandy Koufax.
LEARNING FROM THE CORPUS
I have used words that I learned by reading the Corpus. And I know who Thales of Miletus is, because of this book. He was one of the first Greek philosophers, and he used geometry for astronomy and the measuring of objects. The discussion between Wolfe and Avery Ballou does a good job of discussing him.
Between philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy, historians tell us that Thales was an influential, important person. I was into my forties before I’d ever heard of him – and that was from Wolfe.
Maybe I’ll do a ‘Things I Learned from Nero Wolfe’ essay some day.
Stay at Home
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 1 and 2
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 3 and 4
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 5, 6, and 7
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 8, 9, and 10
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home- Days 11, 12, and 13
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home Days 14 and 15
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home Days 16 and 17
Nero Wolfe’s Browsnstone: Stay at Home – Days 18 and 19
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 20 and 21
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 22 and 23
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 24 and 25
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 26
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 27
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 28 and 29
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 30
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 31
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 32 and 33
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 34 and 35
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 36
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 37
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 38
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 39
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 40 & 41
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 42 & 43
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 45 & 46
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Days 50 and 52
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: Stay at Home – Day 55
Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone
Meet Nero Wolfe
The R-Rated Nero Wolfe
Radio & Screen Wolfe
A&E’s ‘A Nero Wolfe Mystery’
The Lost 1959 Pilot
The Mets in “Please Pass the Guilt”
A Matter of Identity (original story)
3 Good Reasons
3 Good Reasons – ‘Not Quite Dead Enough’
3 Good Reasons – ‘Murder is Corny’
3 Good Reasons – ‘Immune to Murder’
3 Good Reason – ‘Booby Trap’
The Greenstreet Chronicles (Pastiches based on the Radio Show)
The Careworn Cuff – Part One
The Careworn Cuff – Part Two
The Careworn Cuff – Part Three
Bob Byrne’s ‘A (Black) Gat in the Hand’ made its Black Gate debut in 2018 and has returned every summer since.
His ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column ran every Monday morning at Black Gate from March, 2014 through March, 2017. And he irregularly posts on Rex Stout’s gargantuan detective in ‘Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone.’ He is a member of the Praed Street Irregulars, founded www.SolarPons.com (the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’) and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He organized Black Gate’s award-nominated ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ series, as well as the award-winning ‘Hither Came Conan’ series.
He has contributed stories to The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories – Parts III, IV, V, VI and XXI.
He has written introductions for Steeger Books, and appeared in several magazines, including Black Mask, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, The Strand Magazine, and Sherlock Magazine.