The late Alan Halpern was more than just a brilliant, groundbreaking editor.

He was an unlikely Godfather. Shy, gentle, witty, iconoclastic—Jewish—Alan Halpern C’47 appeared, on the surface, the anti-Don.

True, he carried a stiletto and wasn’t afraid to use it, but its blade was made of words—sharp, filigreed, wielded bluntly or with finesse, depending on the occasion. His edge could make you laugh or howl, sometimes at the same time—assuming you could understand what he was saying. Did I mention that he mumbled like Brando?

He built a big-city magazine racket out of nothing, at a time when no one had ever seen such a thing, because none existed. For nearly 30 years he oversaw (certainly never ruled) his ink-stained wise guys in the City of Brotherly Love. As the Numbers swelled and the praise and precious metals showered down, he became a legend. And when he forgot who made him, he was summarily unmade by the capo di tutti capi. Then, exiled, excommunicated, and defenestrated, he became a consigliere, imparting his mumbled wisdom into new rackets of words.

Though he described himself as “a hermit progressing to a recluse,” he was an oddly social hermit, and over the years he amassed a large and disorganized-crime family of writers and editors and wanna-be’s. They came to him for advice and affection and wisdom and stroking and jobs, not necessarily in that order. They never kissed his ring, but they gave him love and respect and gossip and parties, and that was plenty. When he made one of them an offer they couldn’t refuse, it was usually in the form of a chance—to edit or write for a terrific magazine or newspaper. In the end, their brains and their hearts and their signatures were inevitably on the page with his.

 

OK, so I’ve stretched things a little here. I feel fairly safe in saying that Alan—who died December 13 after several years of declining health—wouldn’t mind. After all, he made a career out of stretching things. What mattered was the story.

I only go back 20-some years with Alan, which makes me something of a Johnny-come-lately in the context of his Family. I never worked for him, but I worked with him on a couple of magazine proposals; more important, he steered me to the Gazette, gave me quiet support and encouragement, made me some offers I couldn’t refuse, and was an unusually agreeable lunch companion—even if I couldn’t always figure out what the hell he was saying.

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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 05/08/06

FEATURE:
Quiet Goes the Don
By Samuel Hughes

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Left, and following page: The Godfather in 1970, when the Gazette called Philadelphia "the best of city magazines."