The Old Gringo

Ambrose Bierce (June 24, 1842-1914?) was never my favorite writer. I grew up myself on Mike Royko at the old Chicago Daily News, and what I’ve read of Bierce’s newspaper work doesn’t impress me much. For short stories, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge has a memorable Twilight Zone twist (and I believe it was made into an episode) but I don’t class him with Bret Harte or Mark Twain for sheer entertainment. And although you can’t spend a career in newspapers and later PR without becoming either a cynic or an alcoholic – or both – I found the Devil’s Dictionary a little too relentless for my taste.
What makes Bierce memorable is his end. While it’s not uncommon for historical figures to sport a question mark beside their birth date (Nana is one of those) it’s comparatively rare to see a “?” marking a man’s demise. But Bierce just vanished like Amelia Earhart or Judge Crater, leaving behind an enduring mystery. Not a bad way to go.
“Good bye. If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease and falling down the stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico – ah, that is euthanasia!”
Gregory Peck did an interesting movie with Jane Fonda and Jimmy Smits based on Gringo Viejo, a novel by Carlos Fuentes, I haven’t read the book yet, but the movie is an excellent treatment both of the Mexican Revolution and Bierce.

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