The Common Scold

The Common Scold is named after a cause of action that originated in Pilgrim days, when meddlesome, argumentative, opinionated women who displeased the Puritan elders were punished by a brisk dunk in the local pond. Believe it or not, the tort lasted until 1972, when State v. Palendrano, 120 N.J. Super. 336, 293 A.2d 747 (N.J.Super.L., Jul 13, 1972) pretty much put it to rest. But the thought of those feisty women, not afraid of a little cold water, has always cheered me up and inspired me. I first used the moniker as the name of my humor column at the University of San Francisco School of Law many moons ago, and revive it now for this blawg!

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Wasserstein Yesterday, Wendy Wasserstein left us.  Just 55, she had quietly battled lymphoma, and quiet is a word rarely used to describe the vibrant, radiant Wendy Wasserstein.

I did not know Wendy Wasserstein in person -- we had never met -- but she touched me like few other women on the planet. I was new to NYC, and on Valentine's Day, 1999, feeling just a bit lonely in a big new city, I decided to overcome my VD blues and treat myself to a film course run by Richard Brown. (There are three days that are very difficult for single, unattached women: New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day and our birthdays).

Anyway, Richard Brown "class" involved showing an about-to-be-released movie, and then interviewing someone involved with the movie (the producer, director, star, etc). Occasionally, he brought in a guest who had nothing to do with the movie being shown, and one of those guests was Wendy Wasserstein.

She all but skipped down the aisle, personality jumping outta her skin, and I was hooked with her first sentence. Of course, as a card-carrying feminist I knew of her trademark plays: The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Heidi Chronicles was all but required reading for female baby boomers. But that hadn't prepared me for the sheer exuberance and exhilaration of listening to Wendy Wasserstein talk for an hour.

She regaled the audience with tales of her career, and her challenges -- everything from her passion to introducing children to Broadway theater, the ups and downs of her love life, her struggles and joys of her relationship with her mother, and her difficulties with weight and living in a non-model-thin body. I was stunned and overjoyed. Someone else was facing the exact same issues as I was dealing with. I wanted to run to the stage, give her a huge hug, and tell her how grateful I was to find my long-lost twin sister.

Ah, Wendy. You gave us all hope, in such a challenging world. Your laugh, your spirit, your indefeatable wit, your optimism on the darkest days. You are a salve on our quiet wounds; encouragement that we, too, are not alone; that we, too, can find the joy and passion as imperfect human beings in this wild and wonderful world.

Ah Wendy. I never had the pleasure of sharing an illicit peppermint ice cream with you, or a 3 a.m. cry, or sharing the joy of a success. I didn't have a chance to listen to you glow about your young daughter. But you are truly part of my being, my spirit, and I will sorely, sorely, miss you.

Yesterday, the lights of Broadway dimmed in your memory, but your light will remain fierce in our hearts.

Go sweetly, sweetly, into the night, dear Wendy.


Gail Collin's appreciation here. Reuters here. Bibliography here.


January 31, 2006 | Permalink


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Tracked on Feb 1, 2006 1:10:40 PM



thank you so very much for your lovely remembrance of wendy wasserstein.

every now and then i return to your blog because: i love and relate to its name and intention. though not a lawyer i'm an elderblogger-wannabe and reading you expands my world.

Posted by: naomi | Jan 31, 2006 11:47:31 AM

You spoke for me also.
Wendy Joy Wasserstein was someone who gave me hope in a thousand struggles. I am a Kean University adjuct history professor. She took the time to meet, me a disabled student, and made me feel in 5 mins, like I had found my worth and my hope. When the struggles of that and so much else became hard, I would read her work, and find the strength, almost as if she were there.
She gave voice to women, who are trying to make sense of the
world, and like Allen drury before her showed behind the glitz.
So, Wendy second mother, and soothing presence know that kid
you met once, is better person and awaits to see you, in the presence of God

Posted by: Seandineen | Feb 7, 2006 4:46:23 PM

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