Among the pictures posted by William Schulz’s family on the funeral parlor’s website last week, one went straight to my heart: a young, smiling, shaggy-haired Bill Schulz sitting on my family’s back porch in Carmel, New York. In his lap is the scruffy family dog named Lady Muttley.
Who but Bill Schulz, with his sometimes wicked imagination, would conceive of such a perfect name for a diverse canine concoction like Lady Muttley? It was as good an appellation as some of those Bill bestowed upon friends and colleagues — names like “Hankers” and “Mouse,” or “Mister Magoo” and so many others.
Bill died last week at the age of 80. He and I were friends for more than 60 years — many of those years as he rode herd on the Washington Bureau of Reader’s Digest Magazine. My work on the magazine began in 1971 as an editor at the Pleasantville, New York, headquarters and then morphed into writing books and stories from a base in my old stomping grounds in the Southside Virginia. What Bill and I had most in common was our mutual pride in Reader’s Digest as a force for good the world over. More than a job, ours was a mission to tell the stories of good and evil among governments and their people in every way those stories could be told. The power and reach of Reader’s Digest in its heyday are hard to fathom in terms of today’s media.
The magazine’s paid circulation of 50 million U.S. readers (100 million around the world) overshadows modern-day viewership numbers for cable and networks combined. While network news shows exceed 20 million viewers, the cantankerous cable news shows have a total audience of fewer than 5 million — nothing when compared to our magazine.
But the serious pride that we as editors and writers and researchers took in the mission of our magazine never quenched the spirit for mischief. Bill, always a fierce protector of the magazine’s conservative voice, was a master of sophisticated hijinks. With his deep voice and imperious style, his quick wit could easily open doors and win allies to his cause — political or otherwise.
Once, when enthusiastic staffers in Pleasantville decided to create a company cookbook, Bill’s cunning went into overdrive. The earnest sponsors of the enterprise were seeking contributions from employees at our 49 editions in many languages across 70 countries. They sought recipes reflecting our magazine’s great diversity in customs and tastes. It was to be a homey little offering that would be fun and useful and make us all better colleagues.
To be honest, Bill was not much into homey little offerings of any sort. For example, during that year he spent working at the Pleasantville headquarters, he so looked down his nose at the chatty company cafeteria, that he claimed he never graced its door or even knew where in the building it was located. (The Palm? Now, that’s more like it.)
But in spite of his disdain for the cookbook effort, Bill sensed an opportunity. Some months later, as many good employees were chortling over the handsome little company cookbook with everyone’s favorite recipes, a big stink began to waft through the halls of headquarters. Someone had corrupted the integrity of the cookbook.
Right there, in the section on favorite delicacies, was the “Hurt Family Recipe for Bourbon Balls, submitted by Henry Hurt.” (You can be sure I had not submitted it.) The detailed recipe was standard until you got to the part that was supposed to call for one-half cup of bourbon. Instead, this “Hurt recipe” called for a quart of bourbon.
The halls were filled with the buzz-buzz, dither-dither of those irritated over someone playing games with their worthy endeavor. Others, delighted over the caper, concocted their own tales about following the recipe to its natural conclusion. Soon enough, the crafty hand of Bill became the main suspect.
In thinking about my glimpses into the world of Bill Schulz, I go to October of 1977 when he and I and our forever friend Ken Tomlinson, now departed, were at Yankee Stadium for Game Six of the World Series — or, as Bill called it, the World Serious. Bill had snagged the Reader’s Digest box, and we were enthralled watching the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Dodgers for the world championship.
It was a thrilling game in which Reggie Jackson hit three home runs to give the Yankees an 8-4 victory. At the moment the game ended, the packed stadium exploded in joy as a victorious Jackson fought his way to the dugout through the fans pouring onto the field. Soon enough, Bill, Ken and I had made our way into the melee on the field to marvel at the crowd and to feel the stadium from the vantage point of the giants who had played there.
Then, tearing toward us was a hippie-type fellow with long hair and a sort of wild look about him. He was speeding for the exits. Under his arm was a premier souvenir of the game: a base bag he had wrenched from one of the base paths.
Bill’s long arm shot out and grabbed the fellow, jerking him to a stop and yelling at him, berating him as a thief and demanding that he relinquish the stolen property. For all I know, the poor guy thought Bill was the baseball commissioner, or at least some police bigshot. He meekly gave up the base bag and fled into the crowd. While I have no memory of what Bill did with the base, I am certain it did not leave Yankee Stadium that night.
But the moment lingers as I see Bill, standing tall in his raincoat, holding the base and beginning to chuckle about the audacity of the thwarted miscreant. There in the infield of Yankee Stadium, the stage for so many majestic moments, this was a very small moment. But for me, it was a moment that lives on.
• Henry Hurt is retired as Reader’s Digest Editor-at-Large and lives in Chatham, Virginia. He is the father of Times Opinion Editor Charles Hurt.