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Larry L. King, author of numerous essays, memoirs, and political narratives for Harper’s Magazine between 1965 and 1971, passed away on December 20 at the age of 83. King was a contributing editor for the magazine during Willie Morris’s tenure as editor-in-chief; he also wrote for Texas Monthly and many other publications, and was perhaps best known as the author of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which began as a reported story for Playboy and eventually became a Broadway musical.
The New York Times’s obituary identified some of the hallmarks of King’s writing:
Mr. King had a big personality suffused with humor, characteristics evident in his work. Critics often noted his affinity for the wordplay, wry attitude and joy in the existence of scalawags that were hallmarks of Mark Twain. Nor was he, like Twain, loath to cast aspersions on the dull, the self-righteous and the oafish.
The Times also singles out King’s “The Old Man,” which was published in the April 1971 issue of Harper’s. The memoir places King’s wry sensibility in the service of a sincere and tender exploration of his relationship with his father, a farmer and blacksmith whose time stretched “from five years before men on horseback rushed to homestead the Cherokee Strip to a year beyond man’s first walk on the moon”:
Old Man, I thought, what is the secret? What keeps you interested, laughing, loving each breath? I remembered his enthusiastic voice on the telephone when I told him I had given my son his middle name: “I’m puttin’ a five-dollar bill in the mail to buy him his first pair of long pants. Put it up and keep it. I want that exact five-dollar bill to pay for my namesake’s first long pants.” Grand satisfactions had visited his face earlier on our Austin trip when my son brought him a gigantic three-dollar pocket watch. The boy had shoved it at him — “Here, Grand Dad, this is for you, I bought it out of my allowance” — and then had moved quickly away from the dangers of sentimental thanks and unmanly hugs.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”