Monday, May 14, 2012

Remembering Gordon Ernst

As fans of Robert Benchley and classic movies, we were saddened today to learn the news of the passing of our good friend Gordon Ernst. He was just 52. Gordon’s day job may have been as a research librarian at West Virginia University, but to many others he was a fountain of knowledge about classic films of the 1930s and 1940s.

Gordon had a dry sense of humor and an incredibly warm personality. I first met him in Manhattan several years ago, when the Robert Benchley Society and the Dorothy Parker Society had the first joint gathering at a former speakeasy. Gordon was matching jokes with us, as well as soaking up the atmosphere of being surrounded by friends who had the same passions as he did. Gordon resided in West Virginia, and he lived for making the trips to Boston and New York City for parties with the Benchley friends.

I was impressed by Gordon’s scholarship.  His book Robert Benchley: An Annotated Bibliography (Greenwood, 1995) remains the definitive comprehensive bibliography on the humorist, and is the only detailed book about Benchley’s writing and performing career. Gordon loved sharing his knowledge with others; he took to social media to broadcast little known trivia and inform us of late-night airings of Benchley films.

But it is the in-the-flesh Gordon I’ll miss the most. Sipping cocktails with us in humid Boston, on a walking tour of Manhattan, and chatting about films and directors. My most vivid, and lasting, memory of Gordon was the last time we were together. It was July 2010 and we were on a luxury boat, chartered by David and Mary Trumbull in Boston. The Robert Benchley Society was gathered for a fine meal and delicious drinks as the sun sank over the horizon. We were in perfect company and Gordon wrote later it was the highlight of his year.

For most of this year, he was battling his illness. He still wrote often online about classic films and appearances of his favorite stars on TV. Now that he is gone, it is rather easy to say he’s now having a highball with Robert Benchley and Humphrey Bogart. But I prefer to think of him still with us, having a laugh and smile.

Here’s a clip of one of Gordon’s favorite Benchley movies, How to Start the Day, from 1937. Watch this and think of our friend Gordon. We’ll miss you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for everything, Gordon.

Ed Tasca said...

Kevin, that's a great and gracious tribute.I'd just like to say that I wish I'd known Gordon better. I liked him a lot, like a long time friend, even though I'd only really met him twice. He was that kind of shy-yet-engaging, quiet-yet-agreeable, scholarly-yet-humorous man who just was easy and comfortable to be around - a Benchley quality. I suppose he knew that. But it's worth saying anyway.

RBS will miss him dearly.

Anonymous said...

A fine tribute to a very witty gentleman.

Rest in Peace Gordon


Jimmy Keck

LindaBlake said...

We are still in shock here at the West Virginia University Libraries. We can't believe Gordon is gone. You have so captured his personality in this post. Thank you.

LindaBlake said...

We are still reeling here at the West Virginia University Libraries at the loss of our colleague. What a great tribute to Gordon. Thank you.

Noel Kopriva said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Kevin. I loved hearing stories from the Society gatherings here in WV--he indeed lived for them, and loved to recount his adventures in detail upon return.~Noel Kopriva

Allison said...

This is a wonderful tribute to Gordon. I loved hearing him talk about RBS... always entertaining. Such a good guy -- what a loss.

Zazz said...

I shall always remember my last outdoor lunch with Gordon in DC for the 2011 RBS gathering. There we were Rose, Gordon, David and I at "Ted's Bulletin" -a brunch palace dedicated to writers. How appropo! As we sipped our spiked milkshakes (famous at Ted's) a humorous conversation ensued as usual!
I will miss Gordon's humor and sensitivity on Facebook.
Our memories must sustain us at this time.
Rest well dear friend.

Rose A. Valenta said...

I am very saddened by this news. As we sat together in DC at lunch, Gordon told us how much he missed his mother, who passed away last February. He was with her on Mother's Day.

Rest in Peace, Gordon.

PJS said...

Rest in peace, Gordon.

Robert Benchley Society

For more information about the Robert Benchley Society, local chapters near you, our annual Award for Humor, and our Annual Gathering, visit The RBS Website