Mistah Kurtz, He Mad — and We’re Not Talking Howie Here

By: E&P Staff

In case anyone thinks the influence of The New York Times is slipping these days, consider the impact of one little line in its Friday obituary on military hero/iconoclast Col. David Hackworth.

In some editions of the Times, published before the howler was caught, obit writer Douglas Martin alleged that Hackworth was the model for the “Apocalyse Now” character Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. That?s funny: A character of the same name appeared in Joseph Conrad?s classic “Heart of Darkness,” the template for the film.

But no, the Times had Hackworth, not Conrad, as the source for “Mister Kurtz.” The horror!

Surely others wouldn’t make the same mistake, or blindly follow The Times in this matter? Think again. Without much looking at all, we found the Kurtz-Hackworth link swallowed whole by Time magazine, NPR’s “Fresh Air” and “All Things Considered,” and London’s Sunday Mirror. It’s likely they all just cribbed from “the newspaper of record.” The Times obit, in other words, was deemed hackworthy.

The Times ran a correction today: ?In some copies the obituary … misidentified the character in the film ‘Apocalypse Now’ said to have been based on Colonel Hackworth. He was Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall — not Col. Walter E. Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando.”

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