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AN UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTER

The other day a person said: "You have mentioned the U.S. presidents you have met and all the military, movie and sports celebrities you have known. Which one impressed you the most?"

No, the person who asked that question was not a scout for the Reader's Digest "My Most Unforgettable Character" series.

Anyway, the answer, given after some thought, was: "Each impressed me in a different way. And there is no way I will say who impressed me most. However, I will say that a local lady named Janet Taylor Caldwell rates among the five most impressive people."

For the sake of those who came in late, I will say that when Taylor Caldwell first entered the publishing field, women were not welcome. Hence the name "Taylor Caldwell." Here I will note that her intimates knew her as Janet.

Later she would explain that as a housewife with two children, she wrote stories that kept the wolf from the table. And the feeling here is that some analysts would argue on both sides that this was the reason she disliked most women.

As I wrote that last sentence, I had to think of one night when the people at Channel 4 wanted to interview her because her book "Captains and the Kings" would be serialized by the CBS-TV network.

The person who did the interviewing showed up in slacks and got monosyllabic answers. Afterward a station executive asked me about that situation. "She doesn't like women in slacks," I said. "Have the same person appear in a dress and see what happens."

That was done and the resultant interview went smoothly.

On another occasion she was dedicating a library at a college and said, "There has never been a female genius." All the nuns running the college seemed to agree.

Then there was the time the officials at St. Bonaventure University asked her to be the commencement speaker and gave her an honorary degree. She didn't make the speech -- I did, and that's another story -- but accepted the degree.

Then she refused to make a donation to the university because the student association had invited Jane Fonda to speak on the campus. I pointed out that it was the student association, not the officials, who invited Ms. Fonda, but Janet was adamant.

Then there was the day a female staff writer for the New York Times called to say she was on her way to interview Ms. Caldwell. I gave some details of what that might bring, but the Times writer persisted. Later that writer told me how nice Ms. Caldwell had been.

Go figure. My take was that Janet always had the impression that she was the proverbial "prophet without honor in her own land" and thus was happy about the Times exposure.

Friday night some of us were reminiscing about Janet and there was mention made of Everett Stancell, "who got Janet away from Western New York though she loved it here."

Though I knew the name was incorrect, I couldn't come up with the right one. Then it hit me the next day, and I recalled the name of Stancell, who was Janet's third husband.

It was Robert Prestie, Janet's fourth and final husband, who moved her to Greenwich, Conn. And yes, I went to the wedding of Janet and Prestie at St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Eggertsville.

Come to think of it, I was also on the scene for the Stancell wedding. But that doesn't explain why one of Janet's books is dedicated to Everett Stancell and me.

Now I found myself wondering if Reader's Digest has a series called "One of My Most Unforgettable Characters."

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