Budd Davisson, with Don Typond in the backseat, gearing up for an air-to-air mission.
I hate repeating myself in print, but I got an email last week on which the subject line simply said, “Don Typond.” I didn’t have to open it to know what it was. After you’ve reached a certain age, when you get an email with a friend’s name in the title, you know that the news is never good. And it wasn’t. Don was gone, which considering I hadn’t communicated with him since sometime in the late-’70s, hit me harder than I’d have expected. That’s because he was one of those people in life to whom you desperately want to give a wholehearted “thanks,” but always seem to wait too long. My very first few minutes with him are the reason I happen to be sitting at a keyboard this very minute talking to you, and have been for 46 years. Don Typond is the reason I write for magazines.
Don is also the reason I paid absolutely zero dues when breaking into the magazine business. Actually, I didn’t “break” in. I more or less sauntered in the front door, sat down and started typing. This is important because getting into the magazine business isn’t unlike breaking into any other form of “entertainment.” Whether movies, radio, TV, whatever, it’s a given that every single person goes through a painful period where they bang on doors. Do auditions. Get so many rejection notices that they use them to paper their tiny bathroom, in their tiny, leaky, drafty studio apartment that they share with a soccer team from Ubuttitstan. From person to person, the getting-into-the-game tale is disgustingly similar. It’s the “boy/girl from a small town in Nebraska trying to make it in the big city but is rebuffed at every turn” cliché. And I’m that cliché. But only the first half.
Yes, I was a kid from a small town in Nebraska and went to New York with dreams of writing for a magazine, but from that point on, my story is radically different than most. For one thing, the reason I went to NYC was because I had accidentally run into auto/car writer Robert Cumberford (now design editor for Automobile magazine and a close friend) during a sales call. I recognized him as a writer I read often and asked him how to get into the aviation magazine business. His response was to pick up the phone and call Don Typond, a friend who was editor of Air Progress magazine, and set up a lunch for me with him for the next day.
I was living across the river in N.J. at the time, so it was a simple trip through the Lincoln Tunnel and up Lexington Avenue a few blocks, and there I was. I had only been living in the East a few months, so for a country boy, driving into the Big Apple was still an eye-watering experience. I’ve done it a thousand times since and still hate it.
Then I was in the Condé Nast building riding the elevator up with a half dozen of the most beautiful women I had ever seen in my entire life: I didn’t know that Condé Nast, the publisher of Air Progress, was also the longtime publisher of Vogue magazine. So, models were continually running up and down in the elevators for photo shoots. An upbringing in Seward, Neb., (population around 4,000 at the time) hadn’t prepared me for that. I’m positive the degree to which I was intimidated showed in my face. Or would have, if I had looked anywhere but down at my boots. I couldn’t bring myself to look them in the face.
So, I walked down marble halls to the oak-framed glass doors saying, “Air Progress Magazine,” wondering what the living hell I was doing here. Don was as affable as he could have been and, because we were both modelers, the conversation immediately took off on tangents neither of us had planned. Lunch went pretty much the same way. The upshot of the conversations (some of which touched on the fact that I was a fairly longtime instructor and actively teaching aerobatics in Citabrias) was me receiving an assignment to write a monthly column for the magazine!
I was flabbergasted. Looking back at it from this point in time, I’m still flabbergasted. He hadn’t seen a single sentence I had written, and he had no idea if I even knew how to type. Forty-six years after the fact, it’s as amazing that the page you’re reading right now is the very column he asked me to write (it has gone through several minor mutations and three magazines).
Don lived in N.J., not NYC, so we became close friends and bashed around for quite a few years. He was a modeling professional and designed, built and flew every kind of model airplane, but condescended to flying U-control stunt with me. I killed many, many good airplanes during those episodes. Then I’d take him into my world and we’d play with Citabrias and such.
One day, shortly after we met, I saw a Globe Swift landing and commented, “I’ve often wondered how those things fly.”
His response was, “Well, go fly one and write me a pilot report.” That was the first of hundreds of pireps I’d eventually do.
Then, a few weeks later, I found an incredible example of a Travel Air D4D and was doing a story on it. He said, “I can’t send a photographer, so you’ll have to shoot it yourself,” him having no idea if I even owned a camera. And I didn’t. Not a good one anyway. My dad had been a serious amateur photographer, and I had spent many happy hours in his darkroom, so I knew the fundamentals of photography, but this would be my first attempt at seriously shooting photos of something.
My first roll of color film through my old 2 ¼x2 ¼ Rollicord netted me my first cover. The first of over 300.
After Don left the magazine, we still flew models and flopped around in Citabrias. But, then he got married, and we somehow managed to lose contact with each other. Then last week, I got the email. And I had never gotten the chance to thank him for all he had done for me. Neither of us had the slightest idea what kind of effect that first lunch would have.
So, thanks, Don. Considering your skill at designing and constructing models, I’m assuming they’ve put you to work doing detail work on the angel’s wings. Regardless, I know you’re having a great time. Good on ya! And thanks.