I just finished Oriana Fallaci’s hugely entertaining The Egotists, interviews with 16 prominent people in the 1960s, from Nguyen Cao Ky (Prime Minister of South Vietnam for 2 years) to Alfred Hitchcock. Weird book, obviously. You have to be able to go from Dean Martin to H. Rap Brown and not feel weird about the segue. But then Fallaci is weird. I love her and miss her voice. These are interviews with famous people but since her questions are listed out as well, the interviews read like scripts. It’s all “she said/he said”. There are no editorial comments interjected from Fallaci (although each interview has an introduction). So she emerges as a personality well as her subject. And what a personality. Federico Fellino calls her a “nasty bitch” at one point. The interviews are pretty raw. She can be relentless, obnoxious, she is not afraid to tell her subject what she thinks of him/her. But boy, does she get them to talk. Either defensively or openly. Whatever: They TALK.
Some of these interviews are so widely quoted in other venues (biographies of the subjects, or obituaries) that it is good to remember who the hell got them to speak that way in the first place. For instance, the Dean Martin interview. I’m a huge Dino fan, and have read a lot about him. The quotes from his interview with Oriana Fallaci are widely known. You may not even know where they were first said, but now you know.
The interviews in the book are as follows:
Norman Mailer, Sean Connery, H. Rap Brown, Ingrid Bergman, Nguyen Cao Ky, Geraldine Chaplin, Anna Magnani, Hugh Hefner, Jeanne Moreau, Mary Hemingway, Dean Martin, Duchess of Alba, Federico Fellini, El Cordobes, Sammy Davis, Jr., Alfred Hitchcock
You won’t find it in bookstores, unless it’s a second-hand one. My copy is a battered paperback that looks like it is directly from 1968 with tabloid letters on the front above the title:
The frankest, most intimate and revealing portraits of international celebrities ever published
Many times, the interview seems to be more “revealing” about Fallaci than about her subject, but that’s interesting too. She was friends with some of these people, enemies to others. Many said “No” to her request for an interview for months, sometimes years. Others said “Yes” right away with a promptness that made Fallaci suspicious.
She and Sean Connery were friends. The interview with him took place in Paris in 1965. He was a blinding star by that point. He was happy about Bond, but was sick of talking about Bond all the time. Here are some excerpts from their interview. It will become immediately apparent why I ate up every single word of this book, and read it so quickly that I already need to read it again. Italics are Fallaci’s questions, regular text is Connery.
Among the thousand pieces of advice that I was given was never to mention James Bond. You’d think he was your worst enemy instead of the character who’s brought you fame and fortune. But they say that at the very sound of the name James Bond you become angry and get up and go. Well then? Aren’t you angry?
Angry? Why should I be?
Because I’ve said James Bond. 007. Bond.
O.K. O.K.! Bond. 007. Bond. They must have told you wrong. I get angry when they ask me if I’d like to be James Bond, if I’m like James Bond, if they should call me Connery or Bond, when they plague me with idiocies of that kind, not when they make me talk about Bond. Why should I? I’m not in the least ashamed of the Bond movies. They’re amusing, intelligent, each one is more exacting than the last, each one is of better quality than the last. And quality isn’t to be found only in the Old Vic. Old Vic or Old Smith, the hell with it! What does it matter? Above all, I certainly don’t have the snobbishness or the bad taste to spit on something that gives me success and money, and anyway in my job there’s room for every kind of acting. For me, playing James Bond is like playing Macbeth in the theater. I’ll say more: if I hadn’t acted Shakespeare, Pirandello, Euripides, in short, what is classed as serious theater, I should never have managed to play James Bond. It’s not so easy, that role. It’s a role for a professional. It requires movement, for example. And to know how to move well you need to have been on the stage. I’d been on the stage for four years when I made my first appearance, in Anna Karenina, playing opposite Claire Bloom. I’d been another four years in movies when they offered me Bond and …
And you didn’t hesitate, you didn’t waver, before saying yes? Leaving aside Old Vic or Old Smith, it was a bit like taking up tap dancing after dancing Swan Lake. Eight movies about the same character are a lot. It was only to be expected that the character would eventually dog your footsteps. “Would you like to be Bond, are you like Bond …?”
It was luck, my dear, and luck only knocks once. And when it knocks, you have to grab it quick and then hang on tight. Would they identify me with Bond? Would that make me angry? Too bad. For an actor, for a writer, there’s always the danger of being identified with his character. Look how many people still write to Sherlock Holmes although they know quite well he doesn’t exist and never has existed. Look, I didn’t hesitate for an instant, particularly as the contract was so very amenable: it arranged that I would make a Bond every fourteen months, which left me time to devote to the theater, to other movies. And I’ve used it. In the break between From Russia with Love and Goldfinger I made Marnie with Hitchcock. In the break between Goldfinger and Thunderball I made The Hill with Sidney Lumet: a war film, in black and white, with an all-male cast. After Thunderball I’m going to make a movie in Australia with my wife. And then the character of Bond was amusing, certain to appeal. And lastly it suited me physically. You see, I’ve never had a handsome face, an acceptable face. I’ve always had this difficult face, adult, lined; it was like this even when I was sixteen. When I was sixteen I already looked thirty, and without a handsome face it’s far from easy to break in. So, honestly, I was careful not to make too much fuss. The only thing I said to the producers was that the character had one defect, there was no humor about him; to get him accepted, they’d have to let me play him tongue-in-cheek, so people could laugh. They agreed, and there you are: today Bond is accepted to such an extent that even philosophers take the trouble to analyze him, even intellectuals enjoy defending him or attacking him. And even while they’re laughing at him, people take him terribly seriously.
And how about you, Mr. Connery? Do you take him seriously or do you laugh at him?
Laugh at him? If I laughed at him, I’d be laughing at myself, at my work, and where would be the sense in that? And then being egotistical, as I said before, and ambitious, as I said before, I have to believe that what I am doing is important. Therefore, Bond is important: this invincible superman that every man would like to copy, that every woman would like to conquer, this dream we all have of survival. And then one can’t help liking him. Don’t you like him?
I don’t know, I wouldn’t like to say. As the symbol of our dreams I find him, when all’s said and done, a rather sad one: this man who always wins, without morals, or ideals, or friends, rather ignorant, too, except about explosives, cards and drinking. Forgive me, won’t you? Don’t be offended.
Immoral? I’ve never seen him steal anyone’s wife, anyone else’s woman, or betray his own; he doesn’t have one. He likes women all right, but he never rapes them; it’s they who worm their way into his bed. He kills people, he has to; if he doesn’t, they’ll kill him. He abides by no laws, but nor is he protected by the laws that protect others; society does nothing to defend him, he isn’t known to society. He’s rather ignorant, O.K., but he doesn’t exactly have the time for reading Joyce. His struggle for survival obliges him to be practical, functional, to reduce everything to the verbs sniff, look, listen, taste, think. His safety depends on this and not on Joyce. He doesn’t fight for old people and children, but who said he couldn’t? Have you any proof? Your accusations wouldn’t be valid in any court of law. Yes, sure, it would be interesting if I spoke badly of Bond. But I’ve got nothing at all against Mr. Bond, and I’m only too sorry he has to die.
Die? Is he ill?
I don’t know, I’m not sure yet, but I’m afraid so.
The entire interview ends with Connery saying to Fallaci, “And now let’s go have a beer.”