The Mouth Behind the Eye

Maybe Norma Nathan is just a nice little Jewish mother from the North Shore. After all, she says she only assaults people who assault her.  
By DAVE O'BRIAN  |  August 24, 2009

Norma_whitman_main
Photo: Bill Dickinson
Norma Nathan, March 31, 1977

This article was originally published in the August 21, 1979 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

Norma Nathan, who looks for all the world like a naïve and guileless suburban homemaker (and knows it), was down on Long Wharf a couple of weeks back, snooping around. She was checking out a rumor that Ed King, his Cabinet, a group of political supporters and a crowd of lobbyists were about to embark on a lavish Harbor cruise.

Sure enough, there was the boat and there were the lobbyists, whom Norma proceeded to interrogate in agonizing detail, as is her wont. Most wouldn't talk, and soon Norma was approached by a King-administration official who accused her of harassing the party guests. "Who, me? Harassing?" responded Norma in her practiced, and convincing, tone of utter innocence.

Bare minutes later, the selfsame Norma was on the phone to a rewrite man at the Herald America, where she is employed as a snoop of sorts. "I'm down here at the Waterfront," she is reported to have said, "and they're all looking at me like I'm a nice little Jewish mother who should be home chopping her liver. And what I'd really like to do is kick them in the fucking balls."

Indeed, if any of them had attempted a false move, the alternately sweet and profane, charitable and mean-tempered Norma Nathan just might have done precisely that. Instead, she went home to her husband, kids, dogs, cats, rabbits, and chickens. And the next morning, obviously delighted that there was not a word in the Globe about Ed King and his special-interest cruise, Norma was flitting about the Herald's newsroom, singing for all to hear, "On the good ship, Lobby-pop&ldots;."

This little story, Godawful pun and all, says a lot about Norma (somehow I can't bring myself to call a professional gossip "Nathan"), who has emerged as an undisputed if largely anonymous journalistic phenomenon in Boston ever since the powers-that-were at the Herald brought her aboard in the spring of 1977, to author that daily gossip column called "The Eye." The column is patterned after the Washington Star's "Ear" and anchors a full page of, well, People-magazine-style (at best) reportage, a page the Herald cleverly calls "The Page." Norma's contributions are not infrequently funny and revealing, mostly innocuous, and sometimes - as her critics long ago pointed out - downright sleazy. What the critics mostly say about the column is that it is outrageous. What they may not know is that the thing is not nearly as outrageous as Norma herself. Especially when crossed.

Item: shortly after the debut of the column, the Phoenix ran an unflattering photo of Norma taken by Bill Dickinson (then a Phoenix photographer, now a Boston police officer). The next time Dickinson encountered Norma Nathan, at the opening of Lulu White's, she blithely doused him with a drink. He returned the favor - and then Norma, always one to get in the last blow, did it again.

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  Topics: Flashbacks , Michael Dukakis, Norma Nathan, South Shore,  More more >
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