July 05, 2016

Gay Talese

Gay Talese

Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, his publishers, agents, and editors were under no obligation to encourage, let alone print, Talese’s “€œinvestigations”€ into “€œthe nature of truth”€ or “€œhuman sexuality in late 20th century America”€ or whatever he told himself, and them, he was working on, like some kind of Pilate-cum-Kinsey.

(And Kinsey’s name pops up frequently throughout this mess, unsurprisingly. What’s disheartening is that not once is it accompanied by what should be at this late date an obligatory parenthetical, à la “€œwhose “€˜research“€™ has since been largely debunked as unscientific, as well as criminal.”€)

Yet why would those gatekeepers even think to object? Talese’s editor wife, Nan, endured an hour in the nationally televised stocks, shamed by no less than Oprah Winfrey for her role in publishing a mega-selling “€œmemoir”€ that turned out to be even more fictional than most”€”and emerged with job and reputation intact.

And, of course, The New Yorker is where both Fatal Vision and In Cold Blood debuted. (Although, in fairness, their fact-checking of Capote’s now-contested “€œtrue”€-crime saga exceeded the standards of the day, if perhaps not our own, and is exhausting, if fascinating, just to read about.)

But come on: This is the magazine that brought us (and brought us and brought us) Joseph Mitchell and Joe Gould. Whatever its other virtues (including a laudable willingness to acknowledge its own flawed history), The New Yorker‘s weakness for these “€œepic”€ “€œrevealing”€ “€œchronicles”€ of American weirdness (and worse) is seemingly woven into its connective tissue.

As for Gay Talese, whose magazine work is still studied in J-schools with awe, it seems inevitable now that, perhaps after his death (he’s 84), we”€™ll learn things we should have found out during his lifetime, and our own. If we”€™d been told that, no, he hadn”€™t really run a massage parlor or visited a nudist colony, could we have been spared even a ravage or two of the Sexual Revolution he legitimized, accidentally or not?

Although I admit to preferring ignorance about one key matter:

Please don”€™t tell me Frank Sinatra didn”€™t really have a cold.


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