Walter Kaylin, 95, a 52-year-resident of Old Lyme, died peacefully Feb. 15, 2017, at Apple Rehab in Guilford, Conn., after a long period of declining health. His two daughters were by his side. We published Mr. Kaylin’s obituary at this link. This column by Randall Beach, Walter Kaylin’s son-in-law, was first published March 11 in the New Haven Register and on the NHRegister.com at this link, “Randall Beach: The amazing Walter Kaylin, already a legend,” We are pleased to republish it here with the permission of the New Haven Register.
When I picked up the ashes of my father-in-law, Walter Kaylin, last Monday morning at the crematorium in Wallingford and drove back to New Haven with him beside me, I thought about his wonderful life and his never-ending stories.
Listen, you would have to expect vivid, funny stories from a guy whose wild tales were in anthologies entitled “He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos” and “Weasels Ripped My Flesh.”
Walter wrote those during the late 1950s and ‘60s for pulp magazines such as “For Men Only,” “True Action” and “Stag.”
He spun sagas of macho men on dangerous tropical islands rescuing damsels and plugging the bad guys. Many of them were war-related. Check out the title of his contribution to “Men” magazine, July 1966: “The Black Lace Blonde, the Yank Jungle Fighters and the Chicom Plot to Grab the Mid-Pacific.”
Walter’s colleagues in that New York City office were other tough-nut writers such as Mario Puzo, who would go on to write “The Godfather” and Joseph Heller, who later wrote “Catch-22.”
Bruce Jay Friedman, another of Walter’s peers, noted Walter was nothing like the characters he concocted.
“He looked like a divinity student, always buttoned up,” Friedman recalled on the backside of one of Walter’s anthologies. “Then the stories would come in. They were special — seamless and outrageous and wonderful. I think of him as a treasure.”
But Walter didn’t achieve the literary fame later accorded to those other writers. His two books, “The Power Forward” and “Another Time, Another Woman,” didn’t sell and quickly went out of print.
But at the age of 92, when he was living at Apple Rehab in Guilford, unable to walk, Walter saw those two anthologies get published, thanks to pulp fiction enthusiasts Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle.
“It means a lot to me,” Walter told me when I asked him how it felt to finally get such recognition.
But he never took himself too seriously. He added with a sly smile, “I was reading those stories in bed last night and I was shocked at how savage they were. I was thinking, ‘My God! Could this be me?’”
Walter got a lot of his source material during World War II, when he was a radio operator in the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army, stationed in the Philippines. He didn’t see much combat but he met a lot of unforgettable guys and “dames.” He recalled they were gorgeous, “all of them with mouthfuls of gold teeth.”
Because Walter grew up in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium, he watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in action. When Gehrig was mired in a batting slump, Walter wrote him a letter, telling him not to worry, the hits would soon start coming again. Gehrig wrote back, thanking him. I wish Walter had held onto that reply. But he certainly remembered it well.
Even when he was in his 90s, in a bed or his chair at the Guilford rehab center, he could still recall seeing those fabled Yankees and others of that era — Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays — playing for the local ball clubs. He also told us he saw Satchel Paige pitch after that star in the Negro leagues finally got a chance to play in the majors.
Walter and his wife, Peggy Kaylin, loved living in New York but they also enjoyed getting out of town with their young daughters, Jennifer and Lucy. In the late 1950s, they began spending weekends in a beach-side cottage in Old Lyme. Eventually, they got weary of the Sunday night drives back to the city and they moved to Old Lyme to live there year-round.
But Walter never stopped writing. Jennifer, the woman I married, recalls hearing him typing away in a room adjacent to the kitchen and later in his office upstairs, where he had an expansive view of the shoreline.
When he wanted to take a break from his writing, he walked into the sun room on the first floor, sat down at the piano and played in his unique style: a rolling, rollicking, free-wheeling boogie woogie outpouring that was delightful.
During his four years at Apple Rehab, he kept a succession of typewriters in his room and he was constantly thinking of story ideas, then getting them most of down on paper.
We have been sorting through his many correspondences and story fragments and came upon a letter he wrote to an editor at “The New Yorker” magazine.
“At age 90 I’m working on a highly unusual novel,” he wrote. “‘Hear the Chant of the Jungle’ centers on the relationship between 23-year-old Paulie Ohlbaum of the Bronx and a considerably older, incredibly tall Watusi woman, Roz, who emerged from Rwanda (Congo) to take care of him for the first two years of his life, then disappeared and has rematerialized 20 years later. By this time Paulie and his older brother, Luther, own and run a motel, Owl’s Eye, in Connecticut, on the Sound.”
Walter went on for a couple of pages, continuing to weave the imaginative scenario. He concluded the letter: “Does this interest you? If so, I’d be happy to send you the first section, which concludes with Roz getting set to meet Paulie for the first time in 20 years.”
We couldn’t find the editor’s response, if there was one. But it didn’t matter much to Walter. He kept writing anyway, up until the final week or two of his life. That’s an inspiration for all of us to keep going.
He also kept playing the piano. Apple Rehab has a community room where residents gather and there’s a piano in the corner. Walter spent a lot of time seated there in his wheelchair, entertaining everyone within earshot.
Over the last year or two, Walter would sometimes hold up the bent, arthritic fingers of his right hand and complain he couldn’t play piano as freely as he had in previous years. But that never stopped him.
He loved movies, especially the classics from his prime. A month or two ago, my wife and I went to Best Video and rented “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” for him. We watched it together at Apple. After it ended, Walter exclaimed, “That was some picture!” It would be the last one he ever saw.
We also supplied Walter with Heaven Hill, his favorite Bourbon whiskey. He always enjoyed a little glass of it just before dinner time.
That community room, and I’m sure all of Apple Rehab itself, is quieter now, some of the life gone out of it. There are many people, besides us, who miss hearing Walter play and miss his stories.
His four grandkids, who he was so proud of, also dearly miss him. My younger daughter Charlotte posted a message that ended: “Papa, the world is already a little less cool without you.”
He made it to 95. As he often told us in his final year, he had done enough. He was ready to go. His wife had died in 2010.
Walter had few regrets; he didn’t dwell on such stuff. He had enjoyed life. For many years, he had sat with Peggy on the beach, sipping cocktails while listening to his jazz records playing from inside their home. As he watched the sun slowly set over the water, Walter always said, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
One day this spring we will scatter his ashes in that idyllic playground where life couldn’t get any better.
Contact Randall Beach at email@example.com or 203-680-9345.