Bill Kaufman wrote with ease and expertise about all manner of subjects for Newsday, from the Hollywood stars he knew to civil rights leaders to the victims of Sept. 11, 2001.
“He did everything right, he was very funny and very witty and he was the kindest person you ever wanted to know, there was never a word out of his mouth that wasn’t very sweet,” said his wife, Sue Kaufman.
Kaufman, whose Newsday career spanned more than 35 years, not only wrote many 9/11 obituaries, he also made sure the families all got copies, she said.
The Babylon resident, who died Thursday at 84 of natural causes, got his start representing stars.
His clients included Barbara Eden, the “I Dream of Jeannie” sitcom actress who magically nodded troubles away, and Shelley Fabares, who recorded the hit “Johnny Angel” and co-starred with Elvis Presley in three movies.
Kaufman also represented Chubby Checker, who made everyone want to dance the Twist, and he popularized the Twister game, which risked turning players into contortionists as they stood or knelt on colored circles on a mat.
But the Brooklyn native always wanted to write, and Newsday hired him in the mid-1960s because he knew the entertainment world inside and out.
“He just had a real flair about him, about what he was doing, and how he did it,” said Peter Goodman of Syosset, who covered the arts for Newsday. “He got great interviews,” which hit the mark, he added.
Interviewing Mickey Rooney, Kaufman describes Judy Garland’s co-star in eight movies as “the paunchy, pint-sized old trouper” who admits to Kaufman that he is weary — but not bored.
An article about the Hempstead mayor campaigning with the sole African-American elected to a Long Island village board notes their real opponent is apathy.
Some of Kaufman’s early stories portray a world that seems as innocent as it is distant: advertising men who put up posters where they were not allowed said they called themselves “snipers.”
Howard Schneider, a former top Newsday editor and founding dean of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, said by email that Kaufman also stood out for his calm — and enthusiasm: “I never recall him raising his voice or complaining about an assignment, (a rarity in a talented newsroom that had its share of healthy egos!). He contributed every day.”
Kaufman’s survivors include his son, Eric of Seattle; daughter, Diane of Bethlehem, Connecticut; and stepdaughter, Dawn Hahn of upstate Oxford.
His memorial services will be private.