INNOCENTS ABROAD

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Don Cook died. He was 74 and his home was in Philadelphia, which was unexpected for a guy who was for years a foreign correspondent, and one of the good ones, first for the long-defunct but great New York Herald Tribune and then later for the Los Angeles Times.

Don retired in '88 and according to the obits among the stories he covered were, and get this!

The liberation of Paris, creation of NATO, the Berlin crisis and a couple of summit meetings. On the side he wrote books about Charles de Gaulle and about NATO and has a new one coming out posthumously from Atlantic/Grove Press on the Fourth of July called "The Long Fuse; How England Lost the American Colonies."

He was a good fellow, slightly jowly and with a 5 o'clock shadow that refused to bend to Gillette or anyone else, and he was a professional foreign correspondent in the grand tradition.

I knew him a bit in London and then for four years in Paris in the early '60s, which was, I guess, about as good a time to be a foreign correspondent in the great European capitals as there ever had been. Everything was cheap, wartime austerity was over, we were being paid in dollars and people still liked America. Or most of them did.

I don't know when I first decided that I wanted to become a foreign correspondent. Maybe it was when Hitchcock made a film by that title with Joel McCrae. I don't remember much about the movie except that it had windmills and McCrae wore a trenchcoat and a slouch hat and the heroine was Madeleine Carroll or someone who looked like her.

But my true preparation for becoming a foreign correspondent was a novel called "The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway.

The entire book makes being a foreign correspondent sound pretty good because the hero, who is Jake Barnes, lives in Paris, has a beautiful girlfriend named Brett who is also Lady Ashley, gets to drink a lot, goes to the bullfights, plays tennis on the clay courts, goes swimming at San Sebastian, goes to the fights, eats hard-boiled eggs at The New York bar, writes letters on Crillon stationery and so on.

But the real charm of being a foreign correspondent is contained in a few lines in chapter two of the novel.

Robert Cohn drops by Jake's office in Paris and is hanging around being a pest so Jake says:

"Come on downstairs and have a drink."

"Aren't you working?"

"`No,' I said. We went downstairs to the cafe on the ground floor. I had discovered that was the best way to get rid of friends. Once you had a drink all you had to say was: `Well, I've got to get back and get off some cables,' and it was done. It is very important to discover graceful exits like that in the newspaper business where it is such an important part of the ethics that you should never seem to be working."

Now if that paragraph wasn't enough to send a promising young lad's blood racing, he's in the wrong business.

When I got to Paris on the first of September 1960, I couldn't wait for friends to come up to the office and start hanging around so I could take them downstairs to the cafe, which since we were located at 39 rue Cambon was the small bar of the Ritz hotel where Hemingway not only actually drank but had the horses handicapped for him by Bertin the bartender. Who now, of course, became my best friend and we went to rugby games together after huge lunches.

Don Cook was working in Paris and so was Drew Middleton of the Times and Art Buchwald and Don Shannon of the L.A. Times (with whom I played tennis on courts in Neuilly down by the Seine). The Fleet Street boys like Sam White hung out at the Crillon. And interviewed one another.

My predecessor in the Paris office, and my boss, was John Fairchild. He'd been there five years and spoke good French and knew everybody and then he was back to New York to become publisher and I took over. And John took me aside and warned me firmly against hanging out with the other foreign correspondents because he was convinced none of them ever did any original reporting or actually chased a story but just rewrote the French papers and sent off cables about what the French reporters had found out.

Besides that, Mr. Fairchild warned, I would end up drinking and spending time in dives and might meet the wrong sort of women. And for the first year or so, while I learned French, I sort of took John's advice.

His predecessor in the Paris job, B.J. Perkins, lived and worked in Paris for decades both before and after World War II, and he had a single slogan:

"Never spoke a word of French and never will."

So on the reasonable grounds that John Fairchild didn't take Mr. Perkins' advice and spoke French all the time, I decided in the end not to take John's advice either, and I did a little discreet hanging around with other foreign correspondents and got myself a slouch hat and a Bur-berry trenchcoat complete with D-rings (and if you have to ask what D-rings are for, you are not in the running for either Richard Harding Davis or Hemingway) and ate the hard-boiled eggs at Harrys New York Bar and spent a lot of time at the Ritz bar and although I never wrote a letter on Crillon stationery, I occasionally enjoyed a cocktail on the premises.

I even got to San Sebastian but not Pamplona and once Pete Oldham and I saw Sugar Ray Robinson win a 10-rounder over a French tomato can at the Cirque d'Hiver where Parisienne women threw their panties into the ring and cheered for Ray Robinson.

That was all a long time ago when we were young and I thought of it the other day when I read about Don Cook. He's gone now and I guess so is Drew but Buchwald's down in Washington. Sam White, of Fleet Street, may for all I know still be at the bar of the Crillon. I hope so. Someone ought to keep the faith.

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