Modern Culture19 Jul 2010 11:28 am
In many artistic media — from painting to sculpture to film and beyond — aesthetic advances are made possible by technical innovations. The invention of oil paints, the creation of new methods of casting bronze, the syncing of sound and image in “talkies”—all of these scientific advances made certain artistic advances possible. Perhaps the exception to the rule is the art of writing. The technology never changes; it only has to occur to somebody to try something new. This happened (among hundreds of other times) in 1925, when Harold Ross, editor of a new magazine called “The New Yorker”, decided that his writers should start “profiling” people.
In a recent collection of profiles from “The New Yorker,” David Remnick, the magazine’s current editor, defined profiles as “a concise rendering of a life through anecdote, incident, interview and description (or some ineffable combination thereof).” He granted that something like this form goes back to the first-century Roman writer Plutarch, but Ross was definitely looking for something new. After a rough start with a piece on Giulio Gatti-Casazza, then the Metropolitan Opera’s manager, Ross’ writers (and then his successor William Shawn’s) created a brilliant new form, one of the great contributions of American journalism.
A pinnacle of that form was Truman Capote’s 1957 profile of Marlon Brando, “The Duke in His Domain.” (The entire piece is available for free on “The New Yorker” website.) It is a touching and adoring look at the actor, and also a prescient — and extremely funny — look at his impending decline from Stanley Kowalski to morbid obesity. Here, for instance, is Capote describing Brando ordering room service in a Tokyo hotel:
The maid had reëntered the star’s room, and Murray, on his way out, almost tripped over the train of her kimono. She put down a bowl of ice and, with a glow, a giggle, an elation that made her little feet, hooflike in their split-toed white socks, lift and lower like a prancing pony’s, announced, “Appapie! Tonight on menu appapie.”
Brando groaned. “Apple pie. That’s all I need.” He stretched out on the floor and unbuckled his belt, which dug too deeply into the swell of his stomach. “I’m supposed to be on a diet. But the only things I want to eat are apple pie and stuff like that.” Six weeks earlier, in California, Logan had told him he must trim off ten pounds for his role in “Sayonara,” and before arriving in Kyoto he had managed to get rid of seven. Since reaching Japan, however, abetted not only by American-type apple pie but by the Japanese cuisine, with its delicious emphasis on the sweetened, the starchy, the fried, he’d regained, then doubled this poundage. Now, loosening his belt still more and thoughtfully massaging his midriff, he scanned the menu, which offered, in English, a wide choice of Western-style dishes, and, after reminding himself “I’ve got to lose weight,” ordered soup, beefsteak with French-fried potatoes, three supplementary vegetables, a side dish of spaghetti, rolls and butter, a bottle of sake, salad, and cheese and crackers.
“And appapie, Marron?”
He sighed. “With ice cream, honey.”
Capote’s profile is a great companion to today’s entry on Brando in the Modern Culture edition. Take a look!
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