Saturday, April 28, 2007

In Memoriam: David Halberstam

Although I never met Halberstam himself, I had a strange coincidence concerning him when I stayed with a UN diplomat friend's apartment on Turtle Bay on the East Side back in 1979 while reading David H's book The Powers That Be, a bestseller at the time concerning how much the mass media had become influential in politics. It turns out that my UN diplomat buddy lived in the house owned by Blair Clark, whom I had met while I was on Gene McCarthy's national staff in his 1968 campaign and Clark himself was the national campaign manager. I talked with him during the famous Chicago Convention. Blair vaguely recalled me and we had lunch on the back veranda of his apartment, which overlooked a common backyard garden area where Katherine Hepburn, whose apartment was directly across the garden from Blair's, could be seen puttering from time to time.

As we reminisced about the '68 Campaign, I mentioned The Powers That Be to Clark, whose name appeared many times in the book because of his tenure as head of CBS News. I asked about the quotes Halberstam attributed to Blair in the book. Clark chuckled and said that when Halberstam conducted the interviews, Clark noticed that he was not taking notes and that he did not have a tape recorder either. Clark asked Halberstam how he remembered everything and DH responded that he had a perfect memory for conversations and never took notes nor made recordings.

Then I asked Clark again about the half-dozen quotes and their accuracy and he replied: "Every one of them was completely wrong, inaccurate, or off-base." or words to that effect. We switched to another topic of conversation and that was that.....

[Clark was a friend to the great and near-great, starting as JFK's roommate at Choate, I believe, and before that Robert Lowell's friend at St. Mark's School. I asked him where the family fortune came from, and I recall he said "buttons." Clark lived across the street from Kurt Vonnegut Jr., whom my wife once spotted going through the rubbish bin in front of his doorstep looking for writing materials, perhaps. Much later in Sag Harbor one summer, I buttonholed KV and we had a hilarious conversation fueled by gin on the rocks about his research techniques and other matters, including his novels. Quite a neighborhood BC lived in.]

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