MAKE MINE EXTRA DRY, PLEASE: Blame on the pre-and-post dinner open bars, or the crowd’s thirst for a George Plimpton-worthy good time, but The Paris Review’s Spring Revel lived up to its billing once again Tuesday night.
As the literary pub’s editors Lorin Stein, Louis Begley, Mona Simpson, Richard Ford, Katie Roiphe, Gary Shteyngart, Kurt Anderson, Tao Lin, Emma Cline and other scribes worked the room, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld recalled shooting the breeze decades ago with Plimpton and Hunter S. Thompson during the magazine’s 62 White Street days. “George and I shared an affinity for three-cushion billiards,” he said with a laugh. “Hunter admired my style because he thought I was more of a dissolute than I really was.
“When I was 17, I worked in Paris near the Place Vendôme. We all lived in Paris and lived and died for that,” he said somewhat wistfully.
Then fellow Harvard Hasty Pudding performer Sharon Hoge buzzed by for a quick hello and to remind him of his collegiate cross-dressing days singing, “Career girls are independent” on stage. Weld explained, “So my preparation for my career in politics was prancing around on stage wearing women’s clothes and high heels.”
“And a huge brassiere,” she continued. “I used to sit in his dressing room wearing his bra reading Greek.”
Weld said, “I was writing my thesis about Propertius, who was an obscure elegiac poet from the first century B.C. but I wrote the thesis in three days during the prom of the Hasting Pudding Show so all total I had about three hours to write it.”
With three novels long published and two half-baked ones in the works, Weld said he has also written a 475-page memoir that was thought to be too dry by two people I showed it to. They said this is wonderful, I love this stuff, but it’s also said it was completely unpublishable with the death of print. You should make it more didactic. But I don’t want to. I want to make it funny, dry so that it can stand up like a pit bull in publishing,” he said. “But I also practice law seven days a week.
His wife Leslie Marshall is also polishing up a new novel based on the premise that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s character Daisy Buchanan was pregnant when Jay Gatsby was found dead in a swimming pool.
Gay Talese said, “I behold the Paris Review and we knew there was a lot of partying going in the background of George Plimpton’s prom, where there is still a lot of partying going on. There are a lot of people here who have to work to meet their advances, otherwise publishers will take away their house and their brand new sports car so there are a lot of working people here.
Tonight they’re getting a little relief from the free booze and gossip, but this is a real party. It started on East 72nd Street by the river in the 1950s when George would have these parties.”
As for the state of magazine writing, Talese is not impressed. “The tape recorder ruined everything. It brought the article [down] to a celebrity talking to a stenographer,” he said, seemingly gracious about the Olympus one he was speaking into.
Asked about the Rolling Stone-University of Virginia controversy, Talese said, “Awful — there’s where you have a loss of standard through the grievance of pride. I hate anonymous sources. I don’t use them. That is so dangerous to do that because people advocating one thing or the other can control the agenda of a story. That’s what happened. People were appalled by what they reputed to be a rape on campus. They made that into a whole charade that wasn’t journalism — terrible.”
As for whether heads will roll, Talese said, “Unfortunately they won’t. They should, but they won’t.”
During the gala, glasses were raised for The Paris Review’s former publisher Antonio Weiss, who trooped off to The Beltway earlier this year to serve as the counselor to the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury (a post that kept him away from Tuesday’s festivities.) Norman Rush was honored with the Hadada Award and Mark Leyner went home with the Terry Southern Prize for Humor. And when Atticus Lish picked up the Plimpton Prize for Fiction, he told the crowd, “I am extremely fortunate to receive this award, as is anyone who receives recognition in any field. Few people get much of a gold star no matter what they do in life.”
That was a message that his presenter and Wolf Hall author Hilary Mantel could relate to. In New York for this week’s U.S. opening of “Wolf Hall Part One” on Broadway, Mantel was also stateside for the April 5 debut of the PBS adaptation of her book with Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis. As for her work’s appeal with the masses, she chalked that up to “the character of Thomas Cromwell, who is very much a hero, as an antihero. He is a man who is equivocal, ambiguous in his style and dealings, and yet fundamentally, he is trying, amid tremendous pressure he is trying to do what he thinks is right. But above, all he is trying to survive.”