Degrees of Separation

11 Aug

A Chance Meeting by Rachel Cohen

One of my favorite books is a grossly overlooked literary history, A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists (1854-1967) by Rachel Cohen.Cohen writes vignettes of 30 intertwined lives in 36 chapters, beginning with Henry James and Matthew Brady’s encounter in 1854 and running up to Norman Mailer and Robert Lowell’s in the late ‘60s. In between, we meet William Dean Howells, Annie Adams Fields, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant, W.E.B. DuBois, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather and others.

Hello, Goodbye, Hello by Craig Brown

Private Eye columnist Craig Brown’s Hello Goodbye Hello (Simon & Schuster)unlike Cohen’s focus is an amusing exhibition of serendipitous intersections of world-famous people— connecting the strangest couplings—101 to be exact (and for some inexplicable reason each rendered in exactly 1001 words). From Harpo Marx and George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling and Helen Keller, Frank Lloyd Wright and Nikita Khrushchev, Groucho Marx and T. S. Eliot, Elvis Presley met Richard M. Nixon Martha Graham, and Madonna, James Joyce and Marcel Proust, as Ms Kakutani opines,”… weaves together dozens of such encounters into a glittering daisy chain that reads like a mathematical proof of the theory of six degrees of separation.” Here’s an excerpt that appears in Vanity Fair
featuring Frank Sinatra and Dominick Dunne:

On a normal day, Frank Sinatra is not slow to take umbrage, nor to accompany it with the promise of revenge, a promise he enjoys keeping. “Make yourself comfortable, Frank! Hit somebody!” the fearless comedian Don Rickles once greeted Sinatra as he strode into Rickles’s cabaret lounge.

The TV producer Dominick Dunne has never been able to fathom why Sinatra has taken against him. “I wish I knew, but he took a major dislike to my wife and me.” One moment, he was part of Sinatra’s wider circle, the next the object of abuse. “You’re a no-talent hack,” Sinatra says to Dunne as he passes him at a party; whenever Sinatra sees Dunne’s wife, Lenny, he tells her she married a loser. Why this change of heart? Dunne can only imagine that Sinatra bears him some sort of grudge for a TV show on which they worked together some years ago.

Sinatra’s ire appears to increase with their every encounter. Last year, Dunne was having dinner at the Bistro in Los Angeles when Sinatra, clearly drunk, abused him loudly from a neighboring table. Sinatra then turned his venom on Lenny, before continuing around the table, going for Lauren Bacall, Maureen O’Sullivan, and Swifty Lazar in rapid succession. Finally, he grabbed the tablecloth and pulled it from beneath all their plates and glasses, threw a plate of food over Lazar, and stomped out.

This year, Sinatra has been involved in any number of fights. In June, for instance, a businessman called Frank Weissman asked him and his party in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel if they wouldn’t mind piping down. Weissman ended the night in a coma at the hospital…

Amusing and readable—which works for me

Currently Reading And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)

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