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THE MARTIN DEUTSCH READER
By Joe Brancatelli
April 7, 2011 -- Here's something you won't read in Martin B. Deutsch's column: He turns 80 today.
Martin hates celebrating his birthday. And I get that since I hate celebrating my birthday, too. Besides, the last time I "celebrated" a Deutsch birthday was in 1991 and it was not a happy affair.
A whole bunch of Martin's employees--he was running the OAG Travel Magazines then and I was his executive editor at Frequent Flyer--had gathered in a conference room to wish him a happy 60th. There was a birthday cake in the shape of a Frequent Flyer cover with his picture on it. I came late and, one by one, had to pull my staffers out of the party and gather them in another conference room.
While the rest of the company was celebrating with Martin, I had to tell my team about the death of one of our associate editors, a lovely man who had chosen to end his own life rather than die by the piece due to a corrosive disease. And it was no fun having to find Martin after his party and tell him about the death of a guy who'd been with Frequent Flyer since Martin founded it more than a decade before.
So, you know, generally, I'm okay with Martin's preference to keep his birthdays out of sight and out of mind. I know he'll be going to dinner with his wife and his daughter tomorrow, but that's as much about him reviewing a new restaurant in another new Manhattan hotel as an actual celebration. That's pretty much how it's been for Martin during his whole time in travel journalism, which dates back to 1955.
"It's been a crazy career," Martin told me when I asked about his 80th birthday. He always prefers to talk about the work.
In that spirit, let me tell you about people like Martin and just about everyone else who pushes a noun against a verb for a living. This isn't just our work. It's who we are. We sweat the small details and push back against the jerks who'd use the written word to lie to you. We agonize over every mistake we make and every nuance we miss. And every time we cobble something together, usually against a deadline, we're convinced it's never good enough.
When I told Martin I'd like to do a "Martin Deutsch Reader" to help JoeSentMe members celebrate his 80th, I also asked him to think about some of his favorite columns.
"I don't have any favorites. They're all mediocre," was his succinct reply. "None of them were as good as I wanted them to be."
Martin's wrong, of course. If you look over his work--we've got hundreds of his columns dating back to 1962 in the archives--you can see that all of them are good. And many are great.
By acclamation, a column called Whatta Guy! that he wrote in 1989 for Frequent Flyer is one of the greats. Even Martin will grudgingly admit that. I was freelancing for the magazine then and, when my copy arrived in the mail, I remember laughing out loud at "the reveal." And it's still hilarious more than two decades later.
A couple of years earlier, in 1987, Martin wrote a Frequent Flyer column called A Weekend at the Opera. Twenty-five years later, I still want to be so sophisticated that I jet off to Milan to catch an opera.
One thing I learned from Martin over the decades--his then-managing editor on Frequent Flyer, Coleman Lollar, brought me to the magazine in 1983--is that fares trump everything. Martin should know, as you can tell from his 2008 column called Rome, 1966: A Fare War to Remember. As he notes, fare wars were different 45 years ago. But the concern of travelers is always about what it costs--and why it costs what it costs.
As you know by reading his columns, Martin loves a good meal, a good opera, a good Mets team (yeah, well…) and a good book. He will tell you that he enjoyed recounting his tales of visiting Soviet-era Moscow in a 2007 column called Good Company for Life on the Road. It was a spy novel that reminded him of his own real-life experiences so many years ago.
When he hasn't been flying around the world on business, Martin enjoys cruising and writing about cruising. Consider his 2002 column called The Deutsch Cure for Stress. He's also been big on the safari thing.
I never had any trouble seeing Martin on a cruise. Besides, when I was running Frequent Flyer, I used to get calls from him on a cruise ship somewhere in the world and he'd always start by saying: "I'm paying 17 bucks a minute for this effing call, so what do I need to know?"
Safari? Not so much. Still, he loves them, as you can see by this 1966 column from Argosy magazine. He also wrote about East Africa in back-to-back columns in 1968. (You can read those columns here and here.) He constantly cites those trips as his favorites of all time. He revisited the region in 1999, when he was columnizing for Travel Agent magazine. (You can read those columns here and here.) He also spent some telephone time in 1999 with Richard Leakey, the world's most visible spokesman for animal rights.
But as Martin wrote in his 1980 editorial in the first issue of Frequent Flyer, business travel isn't about "entertainment or escapism or sophistication." He understood that as far back as 1967, when he found himself in Israel just after the Six-Day War. (He covered this trip in his Argosy column a few months later.) He was also one of the few contemporary observers who understood that airline deregulation was risky for business travelers. (Here is his 1981 column talking deregulation and John Kenneth Galbraith.)
A decade later, in a column called A Better Mousetrap, Martin explained how he was throwing what turned out to be good money after bad in an attempt to reinvent Frequent Flyer after the business-travel upheavals caused by the 1991 Gulf War. Of course, maybe he just turned to the wrong guy to help him, an inflexible pain in the ass named Brancatelli. Let's leave it at this: We created a magazine that business travelers loved, other journalists admired and advertisers avoided like the plague. Fun times for two competitive guys who thought they could speak truth to power and then convince power to underwrite the whole effort.
But enough of this. Martin's own words really do speak best for him. I highly recommend that you visit his two-part mini-memoir of a life on the road. Part One talks about BOAC Comets and interviews with Battisa before be was driven out of Cuba. Part Two talks about Concorde, airline deregulation and much more. And there's this from 2002, a column simply called I Still Like Being on the Road.
Hey, Martin, Happy 80th Birthday. When are you filing your next column?
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2011 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.