Q: Who are some of the disappointing people you’ve interviewed?
GROBEL: Thankfully there aren’t that many. Some people are disappointing because they aren’t able to articulate what they think, like Robert De Niro. But the most insensitive celebrity I ever had to deal with was Robert Mitchum. He was just a nasty man.
Q: What did he do to you?
GROBEL: It was what he didn’t do: which was talk. I was asked by his publicist to go meet him while he was on the set of That Championship Season. So I went and followed him into his trailer, where he proceeded to eat his lunch, drink, and ignore all my attempts at conversation. I kept trying, he kept resisting. Finally I said to him, “Mr. Mitchum, I’m just here trying to do my job.” And he said, “That’s what Eichmann said.”
And I said, “Are you trying to compare doing an interview with what Adolph Eichmann did to the Jews?” And he said, “It’s the same thing.” At which point I got up, thanked him for his time, and left. That’s the only time I ever walked out on anyone.
Q: Has anyone ever asked you to leave?
GROBEL: Well, Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight asked me to get out of his car and hitchhike back to my motel, but I ignored him. He was just a hot-tempered guy who was very self-destructive.
Q: How often was a person not like what you expected?
GROBEL: All the time. In fact, I learned early on not to have any preconceptions of what a person might be like. They’re never like their public personas, so you have to clear your mind of all expectations and just be ready for anything.
Q: Are there any interviews you’ve done which you’ve never published?
GROBEL: There are two that are worthy, and both are interesting stories. When I was writing my book on the Huston family I went to London to interview Ava Gardner. She was notorious for never giving interviews. She was also one of the most fascinating women alive at the time. She was considered to be a true femme fatale. Besides marriages to Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra and Artie Shaw, she drove men like Howard Hughes and George C. Scott completely mad over her. Both Hughes and Scott were very jealous and possessive men and they treated her badly when they realized they couldn’t have her. When I met her in London she told me how frightened she was about the tape recorder. I had to put it under the table so she wouldn’t see it. Some months later, after I returned to Los Angeles, she called me and asked if I would be interested in working with her on her memoirs. I asked her why she chose me and she said, “If you’re good enough for John Huston, you’re good enough for me.” So we arranged to meet when she came to L.A. and we wound up spending six weekends taping her story. But while I was doing this I was also working on my Huston book, and after Ava went back to London, I just couldn’t follow until I finished my book. During that time her business manager negotiated a contract with me that I found unacceptable, and I withdrew from the project. Ava died in 1990, and my interviews with her are still in a box.
Q: Who is the other unpublished interview with?