Murry Frymer found life after Newsday as an award-winning West Coast columnist when he released his satiric, inner “grumpy old man” on all sorts of topics, from presidents to the price of pizza.
“My very first job in this business was in high school, when as a part-time copyboy I went to homes of soldiers killed in the Korean War to get photos to run in the paper,” Frymer wrote in his 1999 retirement column for the San Jose Mercury News in California. “I sat with mothers fingering photo albums, and we wept together. I couldn’t do much, but I thought that newspapers really could ... Now I’ve had my chance, and I’m grateful.”
The former Fort Salonga resident died at age 82 on Dec. 13 in California after battling encephalitis and a stroke.
Born in Canada to David and Sylvia Frymer, Jewish refugees who fled Poland, the newsman grew up in Cleveland, graduated from the University of Michigan, then spent a two-year stint in the Army, where he wrote and directed plays for the troops. He went back to studying, at Columbia University and New York University where he received a master of arts degree, and for much of that time, he tried but failed at writing hit songs for Broadway.
Frymer had always tried for success as a Broadway playwright, songwriter and author of a great American novel, never quite believing that he had huge newspaper success. However, San Jose’s mayor declared May 18, 1999, “Murry Frymer Day” upon his retirement from the Mercury News, where he began working in 1979.
“He was an entertainer,” said son Paul Frymer of Princeton, New Jersey. “He liked to always tell stories, and he liked to make people laugh.”
When a “brat” kicked Frymer’s plane seat, the columnist wrote, he lectured the mother about responsibility. When he ate a cheap slice at Pizza Hut in 1994, he opined, it was courtesy of workers without health insurance, a hospital and welfare toll that led him to conclude that “cheap pizza is expensive.” When a U.S. labor secretary touted job growth, Frymer noted that the new jobs paid less, that executives who led companies to financial disaster got multimillion-dollar raises but that the public deemed the unions greedy.
“Murry was never superficial,” said longtime friend Leo Seligsohn, who met Frymer at Newsday. “He liked to write a column because he could get his gripes off his chest, using humor to make a point.”
Frymer’s family and the absurdities in relationships were his muses, from teaching his father to drive to waxing nostalgic over ditching the first mattress that he and his wife bought. In fact, “They’re Coming for My Mattress: And Other Tales of Life” was the title of a book of his columns.
“A lot of people identified with what he was writing about,” said his wife Barbara, 78, of San Jose. “Everything he was writing about was something someone could say, ‘Oh yeah.’ ”
But a “substitute” writer — family cat Hershey — was behind some of the newsman’s most popular columns. Frymer got more than 1,000 objections in three days after sharing that his old, barf-prone cat had been banished to the garage because the family got new carpet.
“Barb told me the only way I could resume my career was to have Hershey publicly forgive me,” Frymer wrote, taking the hit for his wife’s banishment idea. “And so his column was born and, I admit, was a lot better than mine.”
Frymer worked as an editor or writer for at least seven other publications, including Newsday from 1964 to 1972 as theater critic and viewpoints editor under Bill Moyers and as assistant managing editor for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
He was named best columnist in 1993 by the California Newspaper Publishers Association and from 2004 to 2007 by the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club. A most treasured award, his son said, was the University of Michigan’s Hopwood creative writing prize that he won for a play as a student.
Besides his wife and son, Frymer is survived by another son, Ben, of Sonoma, California; daughter Carrie, of Los Angeles; and sister Barbara Lurie of Beachwood, Ohio.
Frymer was buried at Shalom Gardens Cemetery in San Jose.