The Maligned Art Of Namedropping
By Jim Tuck
Try to remember the last time you heard someone favorably referred to as a name-dropper. It’s a melancholy fact that on any scale of social approval the term ranks somewhere between “pickpocket” and “con man.”
Attempting to cast light where heat has so long prevailed, allow me to play devil’s advocate. Who, after all, is a name-dropper? Answer: almost everybody. From the coolie on the Ganges who titillates peers with knowing references to his overseer to the literary climber who speaks familiarly of Updike and Vidal, this is a planet of name-droppers.
The only exceptions are those Olympian figures who are such names themselves that name-dropping is virtually impossible. (Picture somebody saying: “That phony Einstein –always dropping Oppenheimer’s name.”
My central thesis is that while most phonies are name-droppers, not all name-droppers are phonies. On the theory that there’s no substitute for an “eyeball-to-eyeball” encounter, I’d like to resurrect two now defunct figures whom I met in New York during that golden era when Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney were au courant entertainers rather than the theme park figures they later became.
Alan Nottingham (pseudonym) was a glib men’s fashion editor whose favorite name-dropping gambit might be called the “friendly conspiracy.” (“Three of my crazy friends played the most hilarious joke on me.”) The madcaps invariably turned out to be people with names like Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Fred Astaire. Nottingham’s downfall came at a cocktail party when a listener became deeply suspicious of his claim to having stayed with Noel Coward in Jamaica. Following an inquiry, Nottingham’s nemesis gleefully spread the word that “Noel wouldn’t know him if he stepped on him.”
Playing counterpoint to Nottingham was “Lucas Bullard,” a florid bon vivant who was such a devotee of the maligned art that his own children referred to him as “the MND,” an acronym for Master Name-dropper. Where Nottingham’s name-dropping resembled a burst of machine gun fire, Bullard’s had the calculated recklessness of a kamikaze attack. Many fall but some get through. You might miss the name of the Texas oilman honored at his last dinner party but you’d learn that among the guests were Cardinal Spellman and the Windsors. Bullard’s great offense was matched by a daunting defense.
Try dropping one on him, as did a callow rival who let fall the name of a famous painter. “Not only have I known him for years,” riposted Bullard, “but I introduced him to...” As the would-be interloper stood dumbfounded, a volley of names pelted him like hailstones.
Speaking of a political rival noted for getting himself arrested in subway toilets, Winston Churchill remarked: “That man would give sodomy a bad name.” Applying the analogy to name-dropping, for every Nottingham who brings the maligned art into disrepute, there’s a Bullard to redeem it.