Why go to Yale? It’s true that there are in residence a significant representation of grade-grubbing conformists, but that lumpen student body is also leavened by the presence in some quantity of bright spirits and the unusually gifted.
Reading the alumni mag this month, I found its customary cesspool of odious self-congratulation and left-wing cant redeemed by the kind of obituary for a member of the Class of 1967 that makes one wish one had known the chap.
Lift a glass this evening to the memory of Mark Princi, Y ’67.
Mark Princi passed away on Thanksgiving Day, surrounded by loved ones, at his home in Boissise-la-Bertrand, France, after a minor surgical procedure. “He developed pneumonia after the surgery and went straight downhill,” says Steve Small. “He had been slowly losing ground for some months, and a good bit of that was Parkinson’s disease; but ultimately it seemed more like his body was being repeatedly hammered and finally gave up.”
“Every classmate’s death is the occasion for sadness to me, but Mark was ever so much larger than life,” says Charlie Carter. “His sartorial presence was unmistakable, as he always wore a cape that blew in the wind. In recent years our class discussion group was treated to his tireless daily reporting of each successive stage in the Tour de France, which were written as only he could do, with narrative interspersed with suspense and explanations of the sport for those of us who never had heard of a peloton. At Yale he palled around with Rock Brynner along separate paths from the rest of the class. I will miss him in proportion to his superhuman persona.”…
After graduation, Mark worked as a screen/dialog writer, dialog director, ad copywriter, location scout/producer, aide-de-camp to various jazz musicians in New Orleans and, as he put it in his essay for our 50th Reunion yearbook, “speechwriter for inarticulate celebrities.”
“He was also personal assistant to Rock’s dad, Yul Brynner, who was touring with his hit show, The King and I,” says Tom Devine. “Brynner wanted his dressing room painted dark brown because the theater managers wouldn’t pay for two coats, and one coat of brown covers anything. But he was having trouble getting the union workers to paint it. Mark said, ‘I’ll fix that.’ He went out and bought two bottles of good Scotch, Johnnie Walker Black, and went to the office of the union captains. ‘This is a present from Mr. Brynner,’ he said. The next day, the dressing room was painted to perfection. Afterward, the union captains said to Mark, ‘Here’s the key to this office. If that (bleep) gets on your nerves, know that you can always come down here and have a drink.’
Charlie resumes the narrative: “Mark finally settled down in a hippie community in a village called Le Mee on the river. The house they all shared is a highly idiosyncratic ramshackle that he and his wife, Michèle, eventually took over to raise their son, Julien. Michèle is without doubt the greatest, intuitively natural cook I’ve ever met. Anything she touched she transformed into something unique and spectacular, whether it was leg of lamb (perhaps her favorite), fresh fava beans, or fois gras. My family and I were treated several times to stories about his cinnamon farm in Sri Lanka. On another occasion we were invited to Le Mee for luncheon with Mark’s neighbors, who turned out to be from the House of Grimaldi: Princess Caroline of Hanover and her husband, Ernst. As with everything Princi, that turned out to be a unique and very pleasant surprise. Ernst is quite the playboy, and had brought what seemed like an early version of a helicopter drone, which he distributed among the guests, so that after lunch we went outside to try to fly them. And Princess Caroline turned out to be remarkably sharp and easy in conversation, in addition to being very beautiful.”
“Oh, that marvelous house!” says Randy Alfred. “Not ramshackle, but ancient of many eras lovingly stitched together. True, there might have been a loose or missing stitch here and there. And the garden, a wondrous work tended by Michèle, the very incarnation of a proletarian Marianne. And that kitchen with every bit of wall space occupied by the tools of cuisine or the emblems of folk culture, both historic and modern. And Michèle’s splendid cooking. And the conversation. I didn’t want to rise from that table.”
“But he took two things to the grave that I remain curious about,” adds Charlie. One was something he knew about John Kerry’s presidential campaign that could have changed the course of that election. The other was a screenplay commissioned by the Mossad that Mark was very proud of, about the destruction of a missile site deep in Iraq by an Israeli bomber. But it came much too close to the truth, so they paid him for writing the screenplay – and for assuring that it never became an actual TV show.”
Peter Petkas recalls, “Mark used to tell the story of being on a photo shoot with an actress somewhere in the Mediterranean when she lost a piece of jewelry in the water and refused to continue without it. He quickly recited a prayer to Saint Anthony, the patron of lost objects, then dove into the water and pulled up the piece. The shoot went on.”
Bill Howze adds, “Jeannette and I also spent a day or two at his ‘estate’ by the river. He picked us up at the airport and after a nap took us to the mostly Arab local market. The next day, he delegated his niece, who was studying art history, to help us find and settle into our hotel in Paris where Jeannette had meetings with her colleagues at several art museum libraries and with book dealers specializing in fine arts. What a generous, worldly, and down-to-earth friend!”
But I think Randy summed him up best: “From Day One at Yale right up to his last days, that man had style.”