Tag Archives: Esquire

Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

Forty-five years ago, Gay Talese redefined essay writing.

I came across this yesterday – hadn’t seen it in years – when I was writing about Harlan Ellison. Ellison plays a small role in the story, a then lesser-known writer who just happened to be sharing a poolroom with Frank Sinatra when Frank was in one of those moods. It’s a scene in a film-length story about Talese trying to get access to Sinatra for an article assignment from Esquire. Sinatra declined to be interviewed. So Talese wrote around him.

I don’t know if it lives up to its reputation as one of the greatest article ever written, but it is damned good, with a pulse and cadence that combines humor, pathos and even a bit of suspense here and there.

Read the article here.

On a much smaller level I had to do the same thing once, when assigned to cover The Hives on their first tour. Although a band member did pick up the phone, they were so disinterested in participating, every question was answered with two or three words. No comebacks. No tangents. No plugs for new material. In fact the only time there was any exchange was when I asked them about their fictitious Svengali, who they purported wrote all their material and choreographed their every move. But even after that two sentence retort, there was nothing. So I tossed it and wrote around them, angling the piece as if I were a paparazzi eavesdropping on “a day in the life”.

Another favorite, although there was probably no interview scheduled, was Joe Queenan’s toxic Mickey Rourke For A Day. Now I’m as big a Rourke fan as you’ll find – never abandoning him even through the really bad days – but I could appreciate the observance of a train wreck from Queenan’s perspective.

Talese is correct – our media culture today is a machine that gobbles up rumor and gossip and innuendo and regurgitates it as news and fact, only retracting and apologizing when they need to. Society is fascinated with observances of the rich and famous, especially when they falter. That appetite has always been there, but the line between fact and fiction is now murky. Most blur the line purposefully, because they are sensationalists.

Gay Talese did it artfully, because he has talent.

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And R.I.P. Jeff Conaway, dead at 60 from pneumonia and bacterial infections after being comatose for over two weeks.  He played Kenickie in Grease but was more famous as the struggling actor and part-time cabbie Bobby Wheeler in Taxi. He left the show after three years – in fairness, they had run out of things to do with his character – and never really landed anything else of significance. That void led to depression and substance abuse, as it does for many who lose the limelight.

I abhor reality shows, and the lowest in the slime pit are celebrity rehab shows; they are sad and parasitical events that prey on desperate subjects for the entertainment of worthless people. Conaway had been a regular face on shows like these. I prefer to remember him from the glory days, when I was watching the man’s craft, not his public evisceration.

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Filed under Editorials, Film/TV, Reviews

Dinner with Roger Ebert

The heart and mind are fine, thank you.

I’m no Esquire reader. 

I abhor the very concept of a “men’s magazine” almost as much as their subliminal reel-you-in tactic of branding articles with the plural possessive (“Women We Love“, boasts one sidebar ad at their site). Nor do I give a rat’s ass who the “Seventy-Five Best Dressed Men of All Time” are, whether I’m on there or not. I gave up on Playboy when I was old enough to try real women. I don’t want to frequent any magazine presumptuous to claim that they speak for me, as if I’m some vanilla bean in…well, a bag full of vanilla beans, I guess. 

Just write well and publish the damned thing, and either I’ll find it myself or someone will tip me off that I should check something out. It’s faster these days, a link in an email rather than a photocopy in a number ten envelope. 

So today I did read Esquire, and I want you to read this too, because the feature interview with Roger Ebert will both inspire you and break your heart. Part of that is due to the subject himself, who has lost the ability to speak, eat and drink because cancer has claimed his lower jaw. It’s also because of the skill of Chris Jones, the writer, to whom I tip my hat and raise my pint glass…and since I had to put a hat on just to do that, know that it’s high praise. 

Click here to read the interview. 

I’ve written before about the incredible blog that Roger Ebert writes and hosts, and for God’s sake, if you haven’t made it a regular stop on the Ether Highway, please do so now. Somehow he has managed to attract and corral an incredible global community that avoids name-calling, basement bravado and…well, general stupidity among its members and their posts. It’s been said that the comments section of his blog is better material than most websites’ primary content, and although that’s immeasurable, I’d bet on it if forced. 

A recent post of his centered upon the his loss – and the Esquire article – and Ebert discussed his feelings about the matter, including a poignant and humorous recall of old meals and flavors that he would no longer be able to enjoy except by sense memory. But more so than the food itself, his biggest loss was the conversation that accompanies a good dinner. 

And then he wrote this

“So that’s what’s sad about not eating. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. It may be personal, but for, unless I’m alone, it doesn’t involve dinner if it doesn’t involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, “Remember that time?” I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to break out in a poetry recitation at any time. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it’s sad. Maybe that’s why I enjoy this blog. You don’t realize it, but we’re at dinner right now.” 

Wow. 

Please join me for dinner with Roger whenever you can. 

And there's always a seat for Gene, too.

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Filed under Features and Interviews, Film/TV, Reviews