When I heard him speak at UC Berkely back in the day, I was mesmerized. So was everyone else. We were in a big auditorium, and you could have heard a pin drop. He was that powerful. And judging from this recent interview with Oprah, he still is. The man has written 40 books and won the Nobel Peace Prize. But he has said that if he had been allowed to write only one book during his astonishing life, it would be Night. It sold poorly at first. As he says in the introduction to the new edition, some people complained that it was too morbid, and why reprise the suffering of the Jewish people during the holocaust anyway? Maybe his critics had a point. But there was another point they might have missed: it's not just the content but the way Wiesel frames the content that makes Night a great book. It's what he makes of his experience that brings a shiver to your spine. In this interview with Oprah, you can see how fortunate we are that he came to the planet on this day.
She's the award-winning author of Like Water for Chocolate, which has sold over four and a half million copies around the world in 35 languages, The Law of Love, and most recently, Between Two Fires. She is alive and well and living in Mexico City. Here's a clip from the movie version of that amazing first novel.
The trouble with fame, if you get it, is that it sometimes obscures the thing that made you famous. Truman Capote was a physically small man with an enormous personality, famous enough to spawn a play and at least two movies about his life. His appearances on late-night talk shows are legend. But if you think the icon you can still see in Internet TV clips is the real Truman Capote, you are mistaken. The real Tru is in Other Voices, Other Rooms; Breakfast at Tiffany's; and of course, In Cold Blood. The following two clips show him at his best, before drugs and alcohol and disappointment turned him into a caricature. The first is the Firing Line interview conducted by William Buckley about the death penalty. The second is from an appearance on the Dick Cavett Show. Grouch Marx is also in this clip, and you will see that he interrupts Capote at times when we most want him to keep speaking. The exchanges show what late-night TV used to be, or more particularly, what Dick Cavett's show used to be. This is a conversation, and at times it gets testy, if not downright nasty. Nevertheless, it's worth watching, not only for what Capote has to say about writing, but for Cavett's amazing ability to handle the tension between Marx and Capote - and as an example of what has been lost. Happy Birthday, Truman Capote.