Saul Bellow, 84, last month fathered a child born to his fifth wife, age 41. As a result of this news, which trickled out last week, Bellow risks being remembered not as the brilliant Nobel-laureate author of Herzogand The Adventures of Augie March, but as a Weekly World Newscuriosity. Eighty-four is older than 77, the previous famous-guy-becomes-dad-at-advanced-age record set by Tony Randall. (Most, though obviously nowhere near all, men over 70 are infertile.) It's so old, in fact, that Chatterbox wondered whether Bellow was the world's oldest dad, period. The new Guinness World Records 2000: Millennium Edition, alas, doesn't say, though it does serve up as the "Oldest Mother" Arceli Keh, 63 when she gave birth (with a donated egg) in Los Angeles in 1996. (Incidentally, Chatterbox must second Luc Sante's opinion, expressed in the Jan. 16 New York Times Book Review, that the new Guinness is so glossied-up and dumbed-down--these days, it's mainly an appendage to a Guinness World Records: Primetime TV show--that it can no longer serve its hallowed function as settler of ale-fueled pub arguments. Two whole pages are devoted to world-record stats about supermodels; two more about "high fashion"; and two more about "street fashion." Has anyone ever argued in a pub about who the highest-paid supermodel is? Best arse maybe, but best-remunerated? The latter, if you must know, is Claudia Schiffer.)
The hunt for the world's oldest dad led Chatterbox to a bookmark-worthy Web site called "World Sexual Records," maintained by someone who identifies himself as J. Means and who appears to be affiliated with the University of Texas. (Means didn't answer Chatterbox's e-mail seeking more information about his bona fides, but the UT directory lists a senior in the engineering school named Jon Means with the same e-mail address.) On the site's "Conception" page, the world's oldest father is identified as Leslie Colley, a retired Australian mineworker who sired a son named Oswald in 1992. Colley was 92 at the time; his wife, who had married Colley two years earlier (he told her he was only 70) was 39. Colley died six years later, shortly before his 100th birthday. An April 1996 article in The Independent of London (not available online) says that yet another nonagenarian, "a bricklayer in his nineties," became a father in 1995, but it doesn't supply any details, so it's impossible to know whether he broke Colley's record. The Independent piece also points out that literal interpretation of the Bible requires the faithful to believe that Abraham begat Isaac at 100.
To summarize: We don't know who the oldest dad ever was, but it may have been Leslie Colley. It certainly wasn't Bellow. This means Bellow probably will be remembered mostly, if not exclusively, for his literary output. Caveat: Bellow may still be the oldest Nobel-laureatedad in history. Chatterbox awaits more information from Stockholm.