MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Two best-selling authors died in the past several days, and both of them are associated with one particular city: Cambridge, Massachusetts. Erich Segal was an accomplished classics scholar, but he's best known for the tearjerker "Love Story." And mystery writer Robert Parker was the man behind the Spenser series.
Commentator Mo Lotman reflects on their legacies, and the city that inspired their most popular works.
MO LOTMAN: If you live in or around Cambridge, Massachusetts, the news this week has marked the end of an era. And no, I'm not talking about the Scott Brown Senate victory. Two famous writers with local connections have passed away. One penned the novel and screenplay "Love Story," perhaps the most famous movie ever set here. The other lived in Harvard Square and put his most celebrated character in the alleys and bars of the neighborhood.
On the surface, it would seem the two men have little in common. OK, maybe it's not just on the surface. Erich Segal was a rabbi's son from Brooklyn who eventually moved to England. Robert Parker was born and bred in Massachusetts, served in Korea, and lived on Ash Street in Cambridge until his death.
Segal wrote one enormously successful work, and then largely faded from the spotlight. Parker churned out best-seller after best-seller, some of which were turned into television shows and films. Parker was a gruff but unpretentious family man who named a succession of dogs Pearl and hated academics. Segal was fluent in several languages and a professor at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Oxford.
To get an idea for the difference, just look at who played the leading men in the screen adaptations of their work. With Parker, it's Robert Urich, Tom Selleck and Ed Harris. With Segal, it's Ryan O'Neal.
But Cambridge is a funny place. Like "Love Story's" Oliver Barrett IV and Jenny Cavilleri, it's a marriage between Brahmin and working class - a mix that, like Jenny's owl glasses, shouldn't work, but does.
Harvard has turned out presidents, princes, senators and Supreme Court justices. But it also hired Timothy Leary. A whole generation of psychedelic wanderers have hung out in Harvard Square, as did the founders of Microsoft.
The Boston Bruins drank at the Oxford Grille, where bar brawls would spill out into the street every weekend. But 50 feet away, earnest guitarists sang to hushed audiences in the liquor-free folk club Passim. Jugglers hammed it up for summer strollers, while punks in studded collars lit up doobies on the subway plaza.
Even Parker's Spenser knew that brawn and street smarts was better leavened with a little sophistication. Sure, he was a tough detective and an ex-boxer, but he was also a gourmet who dated a psychologist.
Before he was famous, Robert Parker wrote manuals for Raytheon. A snippet of technical writing for a missile begins: To start, push to start button. Before he was famous, Segal wrote a 300-page essay on the comedy of Roman playwright Plautus.
SSomehow, both of these gentlemen represent Cambridge, Massachusetts, in all its contradictory glory. Here's hoping they're sharing a whiskey - or a lemon spritzer - in the great Harvard Square in the sky.
BLOCK: Commentator Mo Lotman, remembering the late writers Erich Segal and Robert Parker. Lotman is author of "Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950."
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