Talking to Himself

By JENNY HALPER  |  September 7, 2007

Because people think of you a certain way?
Yeah. Everybody gets a stereotype about them partly based on something that is true about them. What makes a good nickname sticks.

Is writing a memoir a way of saying, “this is who I am as a three dimensional human being?”
If it is, it’s a way of saying it to myself but not to other people. It’s not really worth the time to try to straighten out a public image.

The book isn’t chronologically linear, but you’re able to connect things I never would have put together. Like Thomas Jefferson and a trip to China.
My experience improvising taught me [to] mix things that don’t go together. But also there’s this thing I have of scaring myself all the time. I was giving talks where if I was smart I would stay away. It’s not my field. I accept because I know I’ll have to work really hard to come up with something and I know it’ll feel good if I can actually pull it off. In my desperation to try and figure out what to say about Jefferson ― I had thought about it for seven or eight months and had come up with nothing ― I said “OK, I’ll find out about Jefferson in China.” And the funny thing was, I did.

How did you write these books so quickly? You started the first one, I think, in 2004.
I find it takes me about three weeks to focus my mind on what I want to work on. And when it’s ready I don’t know what’s going on around me, but I do know that the stuff is coming out. This thing of sitting down everyday to write at the same time doesn’t apply to me. I’ll get up in the middle of the night and write for two hours.

Didn’t you write a monologue on M*A*S*H that way? When you thought your house was being robbed one night?
Yeah, and it was the best thing in the piece. And I went away in a borrowed house to write Four Seasons. I wrote almost the whole screenplay in about ten days because I was just doing nothing but that. But it was ready by that point. I spent six weeks ―

― tearing your hair out.
Yeah, line by line. I only had about sixteen pages. But when I went away and gave myself the time to let the new stuff be recorded, it was amazing. Eighty percent of what was worth putting on the screen came from those ten days.

You lost three friends in 2005 ― Peter Jennings, Anne Bancroft, and Ossie Davis. Was this part of the impetus for writing a second memoir?
I didn’t have them in the book for a while. And then I realized it would be interesting to see what these friends who had very prominent public lives ― what I did I say about them? I didn’t talk about their public lives. What I was left with was these very personal moments with them. If all you can say is “he ran the biggest company in America,” what kind of life has he lived?

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