Saturday, 19 May 2012

Part 2: 'What do you have against Lillian Hellman ?'



Let's talk about Chappaquiddick. 

I don't give a damn about what Senator Kennedy was doing with Mary Jo Kopechne. I don't find that reprehensible. It's what happened afterwards. It's the cover-up—all those distinguished Democrats getting together to figure out how to play it. The original thing could have happened to anybody, but what happened afterwards could happen chiefly to a politician, and a politician who put his career first. 

What about Pope John Paul II? 

I'm not really very sent by this Pope. To me, he looks too much like a football player. I don't see him as a spiritual man, like Pope John, whom I really did love. This new Pope has been taken in by the discovery of PR techniques. There are superman touches. He'll say anything depending on the audience. 

You say you're against jogging. In fact you compared it to masturbation, a word we would never have used as kids. 

I don't like the way people look when they jog. There's something very abstract about the idea. It's some terrible turning back on the self, I feel. It's like going for a walk wearing a pedometer, like our Uncle Meyers. The jogger isn't even really running; he's on some sort of treadmill. 

I can't imagine being as directly and openly critical of another actor as writers seem to be of each other. Why do writers have the long knives out? 

I would call it plain speaking. As a writer, you don't have to function as part of a group. With actors, there's getting the show on that night, and that requires a bit more closing ranks. 

In talking about Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, you objected to it because, you said, violence is the ultimate pornography. Is that a phrase you would go with? 

Yes. Now that sex isn't forbidden, violence is the only thing that gives people a thrill anymore. It's the only thing, generally, that's forbidden. 

You were quoted as saying, "I don't like John Updike anymore." True? 

I did say that, but before I had read his marvelous African book, The Coup. He's so gifted, but I think he should give his private life a long rest. 

Have you ever read James Michener? 



No, no. But as Jim Agee once said, reviewing Oklahoma! without having seen it, you don't have to have seen it played to know it's bad. 

What do you have against Lillian Hellman? 

Well, I've never liked what she writes. And there was a little episode back in 1948 when I was teaching at Sarah Lawrence. She was in a sun parlor telling the students that the novelist John Dos Passos had betrayed the Spanish Loyalists. She was defaming Dos! I couldn't stand this woman brain-feeding these utterly empty, innocent minds, and thinking she could get away with it. 

A young novelist, John Casey, said all Mary McCarthy's characters have feet of clef. Isn't the senator in your new book a thinly disguised Eugene McCarthy? 

There's no attempt at disguise; it's supposed to be an improvisation on the theme "Gene McCarthy." It was great fun to do! To be inside his mind, to be his voice. Reading it aloud the other night, it was right on target—right into the old catcher's mitt. You know the real Gene McCarthy is extremely funny, but extremely perverse. When anything is expected of him is when he will not deliver. 

You and the poet Elizabeth Bishop were at Vassar together, weren't you? 

Yes, she was a class ahead, but she doesn't figure in The Group. They were mostly high-C-average people. She was too bright and original. I think she was, along with Robert Lowell, our best poet. And now they are both gone! 

Can you ever get to the point where you let the activities of your mind rest and sort of drift and dream? 

Never! 

Thank you, Mary. 

Thank you, Kevin, my dear.