On Tuesday night at the Waverly Inn, Gay Talese was as impossible to reach as Frank Sinatra. But unlike Ol’ Blue Eyes, who notoriously eluded the journalist for three months between 1965 and 1966—resulting in the magazine profile heard around the world, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”—Talese was game to talk. In fact, he started the evening by asking whether there was a microphone so he could say a few words and introduce some people. (There wasn’t.)
For the entire night, he was surrounded by a crush of well-wishers who were invited by AIR MAIL’s Co-Editors, Graydon Carter and Alessandra Stanley, to celebrate Talese’s latest book, the journalistic memoir Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener.
Alongside his pearl-bedecked wife, the book editor Nan Talese—who served as the inspiration for Kay, Michael Corleone’s refined, WASP-y wife in The Godfather—and daughters, Pamela and Catherine, Talese made up for the lack of a public-address system with hand-to-hand conversation, greeting old friends such as the painter Frank Stella; the actor Joel Grey; the writer David Margolick; Tom Wolfe’s widow, Sheila; and the singer Judy Collins.
If you wondered whether the 91-year-old writer could still get the literary and media mafia away from their desks for an evening, you didn’t have to look further than Talese’s agent, Lynn Nesbit, New Yorker editor David Remnick, Grove Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin, former Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated editor Terry McDonell, New Yorker articles editor Susan Morrison, and the Emerson Collective’s managing director, Peter Lattman.
Such affairs are always laden with symbolism, and it was poignant when a young staffer had to ask the unmistakable Tony Danza for his name at the door, and when another pointed to a character who was conspicuous for his Cheshire-cat grin and asked, “Who’s that guy?” It was Neil Leifer, who shot two of the most well-known photographs of Muhammad Ali ever taken.
Perhaps more telling than anything, though, was the number of young bucks who showed up to catch a glimpse of New Journalism’s éminence grise. Among them were the New York Times writer Michael Grynbaum—who might’ve been there to ask the Kingdom and the Power author for some tips on how to tackle his upcoming book about Condé Nast—his wife, the writer Juli Weiner; New York magazine’s Shawn McCreesh; the New York Times reporter Jacob Bernstein; the author Josh Duboff; and the Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright.
Sometime near the end of the party, the room still packed, the triumphant Talese, his wife, and his cousin Nick Pileggi—who wrote Goodfellas with Martin Scorsese and was married to Nora Ephron—slipped into the next room for dinner. He had made the point he’s made so many times before: when Gay Talese has something to say, nothing’s going to stop him.
Nathan King is a Deputy Editor at AIR MAIL