Mill Valley's Molarsky is still writing at 98
Now that we, as a nation, insist on making our 8-year-olds miserable, it is heartwarming to know that 98-year-olds can still be productive. . . and happy. Sit back, enjoy, and be inspired.
by Edward Guthmann
Osmond Molarsky has been writing all his life. He's written ad copy, radio documentaries, U.S. Navy training films and a series of children's books. But it wasn't until last year that the 98-year-old Mill Valley resident wrote his first novel, a contemporary political satire called "The Noah Hour."
So far, though, no takers. "I've sent query letters to publishers," Molarsky says. "I've tried agents, and they're all looking for 'chick lit.' A lot of them say that right on their resume."
Molarsky, who is tall and sharp-witted, isn't giving up. He says he wrote "The Noah Hour" in response to the collusion of politics, televangelism and the military-industrial complex that's grown during the George W. Bush administration.
His protagonist, Noah McCloud, is a celebrity prankster and talk-show host who preaches from an ark that he builds in an open field adjacent to Interstate 5. When Noah tells his listeners, "Send no money, God has deep pockets," the donations come pouring in.
Molarsky, whose second wife died five years ago, lives in the Redwoods, a Mill Valley retirement community. He's got a tiny room with a Murphy bed and takes his meals in a sunny dining room down the hall. Needless to say, the other retirees aren't as busy as he.
"I don't think many people my age have the energy to write," he says. "Even I don't have all that much. I seem to be able to summon it up, but it leaves me pooped."
Around the time he was finishing "The Noah Hour," Molarsky wrote to Isabel Allende, the Marin County novelist, and struck up a friendship after praising her writing as "torrential." Even though they've never met in person, Allende sends him cookies and handwritten notes. She once mailed him an alpaca scarf she brought back from her native Chile.
"We've been corresponding for almost a year," Molarsky says. "She's the one who interested me in writing a memoir."
He started the memoir, "My First One Hundred Years," right after the novel. A month ago, Allende urged her editor at HarperCollins to take a look at it. "Not many writers would take the time to do that," Molarsky says, although he's still waiting to hear from the editor.
Molarsky has another advocate in Regina O'Connell, a Mill Valley art gallery owner whom he met when he dialed her phone number by accident and left a message.
"I guess she liked my voice," he says. "She called me back. One thing led to another, and she found out I'd written a book. 'Oh, can I read it?' So I e-mailed 'The Noah Hour' to her and she got very excited and said, 'This has got to be published.' I don't know what's in it for her, but she just likes to get into things."
O'Connell says she loved the spirit of Molarsky's phone message. "It made me laugh," she says. "He went right past the fact that it was a wrong number. (Later) he said, 'Well, I believe in serendipity.' And I said, 'So do I.' "
Molarsky's hearing and memory are mostly intact. He walks unassisted, and apart from various aches and pains, he's in great shape for his age.
Molarsky was born on Nov. 17, 1909, and grew up in Nutley, N.J. His father, Abram, was a short Russian Jew who'd picked up a Cockney accent in England. His mother, Sarah, was a tall, blond Philadelphia Quaker who at one time was the women's fencing champion in Philadelphia. They met in Paris.
"My parents weren't very well matched, and there was a lot of conflict," he remembers.
Molarsky took to writing at an early age and, by the time he was in high school, he and his brother Delmar had developed Molarsky's Marionettes, a variety show they took on the road to East Coast resorts.
When Molarsky was a freshman at Swarthmore College in 1929, he met James Michener (1907-1997), the prolific author of "Hawaii" and "Centennial."
"Michener was a senior. He was getting out of college with nothing to do for the summer, and he proposed that he become my assistant in the marionette show.
"I was getting $135 a week, which was a lot of money in those days as a college freshman. So I hired Michener at $35 a week and I paid him $10 for extra material he wrote for the show. First money he ever made writing."
That story is in "My First One Hundred Years." At 26, Molarsky wrote a one-act play, "No, Not the Russians," which was a parody of his family. It had some modest success, got produced at several college campuses and community theaters, and gave him the entree to his first radio job writing for Cavalcade of America.
Molarsky never became a father. He married his first wife in the late 1940s, and moved from New York to San Francisco when the marriage went bust in 1960. That same year he published the first of 16 children's books. He hosted a late-night call-in radio program on San Francisco's KNEW, and moved to Ross in 1965 when he married his second wife, Margaret Heinz, the widow of a successful dredging contractor.
Molarsky says he hopes to write more. He's computer savvy, but says it's gotten harder to operate the keyboard. "I had a stroke two or three years ago, and it left my right hand in bad shape," he says. "Now I'm a one-handed typer. I type with my left and hunt and peck with my right. It's slow going."
Already, he's got an idea for his next book. "Allende wants me to write a love story," he says with a sly wink. "And I write very good - uh, what do we say? - explicit sex. Without being explicit."
San Francisco Chronicle
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