Percy Saltzman Interview: Marshall Mcluhan, His Global Village, and Me (The Village Idiot)

Marshall Mcluhan, His Global Village, and Me (The Village Idiot)

Marshall McLuhan and I crossed words, and swords, several times, twice on TV, the rest in hospitals.

I no more understood Mr. M. then, than did anyone else. He was the master of the vocal, the verbose, the totally obscure.

I told him this, right to his face, right there on the boob tube, in public. He barely blinked, then babbled on, unchecked, as if I'd never hiccupped.

Famous as the originator of such phraseologies as: "the global village", "the medium is the message", "TV is cool, print is hot", and sundry other such cabalisticisms, his bafflegab boggled the mind.

Yet he was a highly sought-after, highly paid, prater, in the forums of the mighty, court jester in the temples of Mammon, and the Church.

He moved his vowels so flawlessly, so mellifluously, so fluently and fluidly, without cease or surcease, that he beguiled the mind. He was the master of the orotund and the oratorical, of puns and puntification, in extenso.

No one quite like him, no one quite liked him.

But, strangely, I did. I admired his guts, his gall, his galvanic wit, his bravado, his entire persona and personality. He was a mesmerizer, a droll troll, par excellence.

Lest I give the impression I'm totally anti- M. McL., that's totally untrue. I liked the guy. Admired him immensely.

For instance, once on CBC-TV I interviewed him about the then current dance craze, "The Twist". He was totally relaxed, totally communicative, light and breezy, friendly and smiley, with his usual flawlessly worded but slightly askew and akimbo take on the Twist.

The only regret now is that I didn't inveigle him into demonstrating live on camera the Twist which he averred he had done. I would have gladly partnered him, on camera to boot.

Then came disaster. He suffered a malignant brain tumor, underwent open-skull surgery, yet he recovered. But only for a short time.

Then once again, disaster. A severe stroke rendered him totally speechless, globally aphasic. No read, no write, no spell, no speak.

What irony! From the most gabby to the most mute - and at a stroke! A Jovian thunderbolt!

Exactly like my wife, Rose (1911-1988). She too suffered a massive stroke at age 66 (1977). Not only was she paralyzed on her right side, with little or no use of her right hand, right arm, right leg, but also with all sensation along the right side of her whole body gone numb.

She had to carry her right arm in a sling, else it would swing helplessly, to and fro, like a pendulum, at great risk of injury, or burn. No sense, no feeling.

But Rose was a fighter. Man, did she fight! Used her left hand with great skill. Closed her thighs to clasp things, in lieu of her right hand.

And as I took her everywhere, vainly seeking salvation and cure, inevitably our paths crossed with McLuhan.

Suddenly, there he was, larger as usual, than life, all those years after we had tangled on television, now reduced to his sad smile and his meaningless mumbo-jumbo. It broke my heart.

But for my dear stricken wife, who had never met him before in the flesh, in a flash he became a comrade-in-arms, a fellow victim. And yet all they could do was exchange smiles, such sweet smiles, as they looked at each other, in silent sympathy. Suddenly there was a whole flood of understanding between them.

The difference was - sadly - that all my wife had for support was measly little me, whereas Marshall was escorted everywhere by his customary cloud of devoted disciples, fluttering around him, hoping to help. No sign of his wife, who was famously and superciliously, so nose-proud of her connection with the Great One, that she was unable to come to terms with his tragic fall from grace.

Rose died (1988), eleven years after her stroke, aged 77.

Marshall died 1980, age 69.

Death is such a waste.

I hope they're both in heaven now, sitting side by side, near the Golden Throne, gabbing like crazy, as of yore and yesteryear.

Salud, amigos! May your voices ring forever down the corridors of time, mute no more.