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Oscar Treiman Helps Decide Who's in 'who's Who' and Who Isn't—including All of the Above

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It’s the most important arbiter of reputation this side of St. Peter’s gate. So when the new 41st edition of Who’s Who appeared this month, the riffling of the 3,754 pages was heard from the boardrooms of Wall Street to the cabanas of Malibu. Though the two-volume update was almost as weighty (15 lbs.) as the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the excluded could find some solace. The editors themselves fell short of infallibility. Notables as diverse as Wilt Chamberlain and Patty Hearst are conspicuous among the missing. Brooke Shields may have been too young and Roger Maris too old—but then, why were Tatum O’Neal and Mickey Mantle included? “We try to keep abreast of trends,” says WW associate publisher Oscar Treiman. “You could say we’ve gone from being very stuffy to less stuffy.”

To be among the 73,500 elect, one must have done “something constructive that will enhance our lives,” says Treiman (who doesn’t have a listing of his own). That automatically includes members of Congress, federal judges, ambassadors, bishops, two-star generals, heads of “major” universities—and, for some reason, virtually the entire cast of Dallas. But why was Garry Marshall, creator of Happy Days, Laverne and Mork, omitted while his kid sister, Penny, made it?

Who’s Who sends out some 20,000 data forms to newcomers judged worthy for the biennial revision, and while the lazy or the modest can get as many as five follow-up letters, some still never respond. If they have high visibility, WW usually fills out the forms for them; if they don’t, they are dropped. Also, if someone passes his prime or breaks the law, he may lose his mention, as did Maryland ex-Gov. Marvin Mandel. Occasionally the selectors discover someone curiously late in the game: The 65-year-old Lone Ranger Clayton Moore, Beatle George Harrison, conductor Herbert von Karajan and explorer Thor Heyerdahl made their debuts in this edition.

If the reference work is a judge of stature, it is no tribune of the truth. WW checks the veracity of entries only sporadically—especially on the question of age. “That’s a very sensitive area,” admits Treiman. “People get younger all the time.” Historian Henry Adams and Sen. Joseph McCarthy were unabashed fib tellers about their ages. But it’s never too late to repent. Back in Volume 19 (1936-37), Shirley Temple’s birthdate was listed as April 23, 1929. Six years later she became the only woman in Who’s Who history to admit the untruth: It was 1928, she meant to say—and this time she did so.