Connections have proved important in doing what I do. I first got to know Pacino because he had read my conversation with Brando and agreed to be interviewed by “the guy who did Brando.” Robert De Niro agreed to be interviewed for Playboy’s 35th anniversary issue because Pacino had told him he could trust me (as it turned out, he wasn’t at all happy with what appeared, and let me know it at Pacino’s 50th birthday party). Patty Hearst gave me her first major interview after we spent a morning in Hugh Hefner’s grotto Jacuzzi, smoothly set up by Christie Hefner. Sandy Gallin, Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton’s manager, paid me by the hour to record his life story after he saw how I had handled Dolly, and then offered me a job to help develop the film branch of his company. Ava Gardner called me from London to ask if I’d help write her memoirs, because “If you’re good enough for John Huston, you’re good enough for me.” Huston had given me his address books and told all who knew him to “Just tell the truth” when I came to interview them for the biography I was writing of his family. The timing wasn’t right concerning Ava, but it was when Montel Williams asked me to work with him on his memoir of having to live with MS. James A. Michener agreed to a book-length interview because of the ones I had done with Capote and Brando. I don’t know why Jesse Ventura agreed to talk to me after he became governor of Minnesota or why Bob Knight let me fly to Indiana to interview him after he was fired as head basketball coach by the university, but they did. Ventura’s controversial remarks and Knight’s scary behavior garnered more media attention than anyone could have predicted…and I had stories that TV and radio talk show hosts wanted to hear.
What I discovered as I continued interviewing people was that while I was there to talk about their lives, what kept us talking were the stories we shared. Celebrities liked to hear stories about other celebrities, especially those who were even more famous than they were. So after I interviewed Marlon Brando I found myself telling Brando stories to Lily Tomlin, Katharine Hepburn, Luciano Pavarotti, Kim Basinger, Robert Evans, James Spader, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, and Oliver Stone. Saul Bellow was amused by stories about Jack Nicholson; Halle Berry and Joyce Carol Oates liked to hear about Al Pacino. Even Barbra Streisand liked to sit around a kitchen table and hear the latest stories about people she knew. So I would entertain them. I would tell the stories of my life, and stories of the lives of their peers. They would listen and respond with stories they had or heard. And I would go home and write about these stories in my journal, which began to grow like kudzu, a ground covering that multiplies rapidly. Over the years I found that I was writing more in my journal than I was for the books and journalism I was doing. People would often ask me why I’ve never written a book about my life. My first answer was always that although I’ve spent a good deal of my professional life around the rich and the famous, I’ve always been in the background. My second answer was that I was just too young. But I’m not that young anymore. So perhaps it’s time to tell my stories. The ones that got me from Brooklyn to Long Island to Los Angeles to Ghana and around the world, and the ones that found their way into my journal, which I didn’t start keeping until I met Barbra Streisand. I’ve worried about telling some of these stories, but I just keep remembering what Truman Capote said when I asked him about writing about the high society people he knew. “Who did they think I was anyway?” he asked. “I’m not a court jester. I’m a writer.”
I remember once sitting with Al Pacino in the backyard of his rented house in Beverly Hills. He was telling me that he’d turned down doing 60 Minutes because Mike Wallace was going to be the interviewer, and Al didn’t quite trust what Wallace might ask him.
“Couldn’t you ask for someone else?” I suggested.
“No, I wouldn’t do that; that would be insulting to Mike.”
“Brando thought Wallace was a sadist,” I said.
“Marlon thought a lot of people were. He thought that of Francis Coppola. He thought that of Charlie Chaplin. Here we are, talking about Brando as if he were still around. When he’s been gone for a while now.”
“We would never have become friends without him,” I said.
But that’s for later…another story. Always, another story.