By BOB VICKREY
I’ve always tried to figure out how Chuck Morrell and I became such good friends.
I’m genuinely cynical by nature, while he was always an eternal optimist.
This gap reflected more than just the old adage of the glass half-full versus half-empty. My glass was traditionally half-empty, while his always seemed to be overflowing.
I think we each secretly waged a battle to convert the other to our way of thinking.
But it was a standoff. Fortunately, we found plenty of common ground to make it work.
I lost my friend in January, and ever since, I deeply miss his frequent phone calls and occasional visits.
Chuck and I were publishers’ reps for different companies.
He was the first rep I met after moving here from Texas more than 40 years ago. We both lived in Pacific Palisades, so we enjoyed hanging together often in those early days before he and his wife Carol moved to the desert and eventually settled in Orange County.
As you might guess, we approached our jobs with distinctly separate styles.
I once told Doug Dutton at his Brentwood bookstore that I hated reading one of our company’s new novels so much that I flung the bound galley across my living room after finishing it.
Knowing Chuck like I do, I envisioned him sitting in that very same chair in Doug’s office later that afternoon and passionately describing one of his company’s books as life-changing and transcendent.
Chuck often called me after he had seen a movie, and I could already guess what was coming next: “Bob, last night I saw one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. You’ve just got to go see it.”
Several weeks later, the phone would ring once again. “Bob, last night I saw one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. You’ve just got to go see it.”
I was always happy that he had chosen not to become an evangelist, although I’m sure he would have saved thousands of lost souls along the way—whether they wanted to be saved or not.
Speaking of separate styles, did I mention that he and Carol could also occasionally be on different pages?
Chuck and I often met in town for breakfast at Mort’s Deli, where we would compare notes on bookstores and discuss business. But one of those morning meetings was particularly memorable.
It didn’t take long for him to break out his filofax” (remember those?) and begin going over his summer itinerary plans. He proudly announced that he had just finished booking almost 100 appointments through August. He turned the planner toward me so I could fully appreciate his hard work.
He was as giddy as a fifth grader who had just finished his school project. I mockingly praised him, and told him I was going to buy him a big gold star to put on his refrigerator. (I’m sure he would have gladly accepted it.)
Chuck proceeded to show me some recent pictures of his children, Bob and Robin, then one of him and Carol at the beach on the North Shore of Hawaii—their favorite spot on earth.
He said sincerely, “I’m so lucky to have had this wonderful woman in my life all these years. I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without her. We’ve just grown closer and closer over the years.”
We left the deli and went our separate ways, as I headed to the post office a few blocks away, where to my surprise, I found Carol standing in line in front of me.
I told her I’d just had breakfast with her soul mate, and without any hesitation, she replied, “Would you please tell your buddy if he doesn’t stop following me around the house like a little puppy dog, I’m going back to India and continue pursuing my yoga training.”
Even though John Gray’s bestselling book “Men are From Mars and Women are From Venus” may have occasionally offered the playbook for Chuck and Carol’s long relationship, those two planets managed to align for almost 65 years to produce a loving, committed marriage that flourished for these two lovable earthlings.
So much for teasing my old pal. Chuck was a big warm-hearted person who was joyous and loving. He cherished his family and friends, and was always anxious to tell you stories about his grandkids. And yes, their pictures were also available for showing in his filofax.
Chuck received the enormous respect that he rightly earned in his profession during his long career—both in the bookselling community here in Southern California, as well as throughout the publishing business back in New York.
He was widely admired for his enthusiasm and dedication—and for that remarkable spirit he always brought to the job.
Upon his retirement from St. Martin’s Press, he became sales manager of Angel City Press in Santa Monica. Co-founder and publisher Paddy Calistro McAuley recently recalled his valuable contribution there.
“I keep thinking how he came to us and saved our company, and how we are called ‘Angel City Press’—and how appropriate it is now that Chuck is a full-fledged ‘Angel.’”
Our friend Sandy Pollack summed up the feelings of the book community toward Chuck when he said, “He was simply the best of us.”
We all can’t imagine living in a world without Chuck Morrell. But rest assured that his indomitable spirit will never be extinguished.
So, not to worry, you can count on Chuck’s vital energy staying with us while we’re all still here on Planet Earth, or maybe for some of you—even on Mars and Venus.
Bob Vickrey is a writer whose columns have appeared in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald, and was cited by the California Newspaper Publishing Association for column writing awards in 2016 and 2017. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.
Beautiful memories of Chuck – I remember him fondly from my days at St. Martin’s Press.
Thank you Mr. Vickery for this wonderful portrait of my Uncle Chuck. He was too much fun.
Your friend, Chuck, sounds like a very likeable and warm human being.
Great story Bob!
I, too, adored Chuck. When I was a fledgling book buyer with a tiny indie store he encouraged me, helped me, and brought the world of books to my door in the form of book jackets, plastic covered excerpts, and his own personal take on his favorite writers. Always laughing, often surprising me with a phone call when he’d read something good, telling me stories of authors he escorted to readings and never missing an opportunity to tell me he’d read about Changing Hands in the news and was so proud to know me and the store I’d created. I will miss those visits and those calls. Thanks, Bob, for the sweet memories.
Love this Bob, the love comes shining through.
Chuck was always such a kind, warm, knowledgeable and patient friend to me as a fledgling book buyer. He certainly will be missed and remembered with great fondness! Thank you for your tribute and memories, Bob. Cheers!
Really nice story, Bob.
Bob- what a beautiful tribute. That man had sunshine following him everywhere. I don’t there was a soul who didn’t gain something positive from him. He will be missed
Nice tribute, Bob.