Dick Vinocur, Long-Time Printing Industry Publisher and Columnist, Passes
The post "RIP Dick Vinocur, Journalist, Sports Fan and Babe Magnet" was originally published by Katherine O'Brien on LinkedIn.
I'm sorry to report that Dick Vinocur, my long-time commercial printing industry colleague, died January 17, 2020, at the age of 85. Services were held in Hackensack, N.J., on Jan. 21; details are here.
Dick was the longest-tenured columnist at American Printer. When I joined that publication in the late 1990s as an associate editor, one of my first assignments was to call him to request his overdue copy. Within minutes of picking up the phone, Dick was screaming at me. The gist of his remarks can be summed up as: WHERE IS MY MONEY? I HAVEN'T BEEN PAID FOR THE LAST COLUMN I WROTE. WHEN I GET PAID, YOU'LL GET YOUR COLUMN, YOU FOOL. GOODBYE!"
Fortunately, by this time, I was a seasoned veteran of the trade publishing world. Many people routinely yelled at me, largely for things I had nothing to do with. I arrived at some solution, Dick submitted his copy and all was well.
Some weeks or months later, I met Dick in person at a Linotype-Hell users' conference (LHUG, yes, really). He immediately began grilling me. What did I think of the Heidelberg acquisition? I was honest. I told him I was new and I was still learning about the industry but at the coffee break I had spoken to some attendees. I shared their feedback and again said I was still figuring things out.
With that, I had passed Dick's test — had I tried to bluff my way out of his questions or tried to pass off others' insights as my own, he would have been merciless in his scorn.
Dick was a man of many talents, with smoking, drinking and gambling topping the list. (I wish I could take credit for that, but those are his own words.) He loved his family and the Cleveland Indians, hopefully in that order. I think Dick once told me had invested in some Broadway play — it wouldn't have surprised me!
One of the last times I saw Dick in person was here in Chicago at one of the printing conferences. Dick was using a cane then and somehow I became his escort as we made the rounds to the various evening receptions. I recall taking his arm and helping him up a short flight of stairs, (amazingly) finding a cigarette vending machine that stocked Dick's beloved Lucky Strikes and (of course) getting stuck with every single cab fare. It was like hanging out with one of Nathan Detroit's friends from "Guys and Dolls."
Dick liked to portray himself as a sort of Tevye, the humble dairyman who narrates "Fiddler on the Roof" and serves as the sounding board and mouthpiece of his community. Indeed, Dick's late colleague and friend, Harris DeWese, a long-time columnist for Printing Impressions, called him the conscious of the industry: "He knows no fear when inquiring into the real story...I always shudder when I see Vinocur sitting in the front row (always right in front of the podium) because I know he's going to ask me some hard questions."
Harris was among Dick's best friends and himself an industry expert. And even HE trembled to see Dick out in the audience. Some journalists ask softball questions. With Dick, you could expect a Bob Feller fastball screaming right at you. At least in baseball, the batter can retire after three strikes. With Dick, you just had to stand in there and take it.
During a trip to Las Vegas, Harris also bore witness to the veracity of one of Dick Vinocur's proudest and unlikely claims: babe magnet. "I saw two gorgeous 30ish to 40ish women sidle up to the 70ish raconteur, who was leaning on his cane and rakishly winking," DeWese reported. "These were not 'ladies of the night or the afternoon,' since it was about 4 p.m. I'm guessing they were Civics teachers on holiday from the Dubuque school system. The great Vinocur brain—his intellectual 'magnetism,' instantly and magically wooed them. The man just looks flat smart and exudes the perception that his waters run deep."
To paraphrase another ballplayer, Dizzy Dean, "It ain't bragging if it's true."
Dick also bore considerable resemblance to another "Fiddler on the Roof" character. I refer of course to the matchmaker, Yente. Dick knew everybody and everything. If things were going well in your professional and personal life, you could call Dick and hear the latest dish. If things were going poorly, he would call YOU. He was the Rona Barett of the rotogravure set.
Probably a lot of Dick's hustle came from his childhood. He grew up poor. As I am sure his children and grandchildren often heard him say, "We were so poor, I didn't have a sunburn until I was 17." He never traveled outside of his native Ohio until he was a sophomore in college. But how did Dick get to college?
There is yet another "Fiddler on the Roof" connection. Dick, too, had his roots in the dairy industry. I am not making this up. If memory serves, Dick went to Ohio State on some kind of Dairy Association scholarship. Which is ironic, because as we all know, his expertise was not in lady cows but in their paramours...he was an expert bullshitter.
The dairy industry's loss was journalism's gain. Dick loved writing for The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper. His would have loved to have become a sportswriter, but financial realities intervened. (Trivia note: Did you know the late TV newsman Sandor Vanocur, was Dick's cousin? He slightly altered the spelling of their family name.)
Dick got his start selling ad space for a Vance publication called Modern Salon. Dick spent 20 years with Vance, working his way up the ladder. He claimed a disagreement with the publisher led to his dismissal, but let's face it, after 20 years, Dick could not have had a whole lot of hair left, meaning perhaps he wasn't the most effective pitchman for a beauty parlor magazine. (Dick's entertaining chronicle of his career can be found here.)
Most people in commercial printing knew probably knew Dick either from his Graphic Arts Monthly days or from his newsletter/conference/consultancy, "Footprint Communications." (Here's a great account of Dick and GAM technical editor Earl Wilken seeing Steve Jobs demonstrate Apple's Lisa computer.)
Dr. Joe Webb contributed this video to Dick's 2004 roast. Check out the vintage Vinocur picture!
In 2004, I joined industry guru Frank Romano and others in roasting Dick upon the occasion of his semi-retirement. "Vinocur taught me everything I know," said the late Dick Gorelick, a friend and fellow columnist/consultant. "I still have that index card."
Many concurred with Joe Truncale, then president and CEO of NAPL who said words were inadequate to capture the essence of Dick Vinocur. "He's like a hangover. You can't describe it, you can only experience it."
While best known for his bluster, Dick was a sensitive guy. In November 2008, Dick and his wife were involved in a terrible car accident — the victims of a drunk driver. Dick faced a long and painful recovery. At one point he found himself in a deep depression. Sports again proved to be his salvation...he chanced upon a replay of Jim Valvano's 1993 ESPY Awards speech. The terminally ill coach encouraged people to to laugh, think, and cry each day, and "don't give up ... don't ever give up." Dick cried as he watched the video and he often sought it out.
For many years, Dick published a newsletter "Footprints," which his friend Harris called a "hard-hitting, incisive, concise survey of the real news in the printing industry." Every issue concluded with Dick's motto: Make some money, have some fun and leave some footprints.
Mission accomplished, Merv.
My condolences to Dick's family and friends.