Sharon Stone strips.
Leno and Letterman duel.
In twenty years of raw and raucous celebrity profiles
Irreverently bold journalist Bill Zehme has long been celebrated for his ability to get under the skins of our most elusive icons, from the evasive Warren Beatty to the ever-unpredictable Madonna to the much misunderstood Barry Manilow. Now his most provocative work is collected for the first time, with over twenty-five landmark profiles, including Frank Sinatra, Tom Hanks, Jerry Seinfeld, Liberace, Howard Stern, Eddie Murphy, and Woody Allen.
Zehme witnesses Hugh Hefner withstanding the single blow that never entered into an adolescent boy's dreams--losing his fantasy woman. He gets a nude massage with Sharon Stone, and an earful about men, sex, and the shotgun she keeps under her bed. Included, too, is Zehme's exclusive firsthand coverage of David Letterman and Jay Leno, before and throughout their late-night feud. Here is entertainment history through the eyes of a man the Chicago Tribune called "one of the most successful and prolific magazine writers in the country."
Hilarious, endearing, and wickedly insightful, Intimate Strangers captures the business of celebrity for what it is: a big, lusty, star-crossed love affair between our icons and ourselves.
"I do not believe in celebrity," declares Zehme at the beginning of this rousing collection from the last two decades. It's an odd statement coming from the man who more or less perfected the Art of the Celebrity Profile, but it's also the key to Zehme's success. As these pieces show, Zehme has a knack for humanizing demigods like Madonna and Frank Sinatra, luring them down from Olympus (i.e., Beverly Hills) to eat lunch and go shopping just like real people. Thus readers learn that Sharon Stone enjoys bacon and guns; Woody Allen likes wearing hats even though they don't suit him; and Jerry Seinfeld consumes monstrous portions of Cheerios. The stars apparently like Zehme's warts-and-all approach; after all, he notes wryly, publicists keep returning his calls, even after he decimates a celebrity in print (as he did with his mocking Rolling Stone profile of Arnold Schwarzenegger, filled with choppy, intentionally banal sentences like "Arnold drives a Humvee" and "Arnold shames all men."). Zehme here proves himself a master of his craft; his 1990 article on Warren Beatty, the "ultimate Impossible Interview," should be taught in journalism schools as a textbook way to overcome a difficult subject. Similarly, aspiring infotainment writers should read Zehme's Heather Graham interview, in which he self-loathingly deconstructs celebrity journalism. Obviously, trading scatological jokes with Howard Stern isn't rocket science; Zehme freely admits that his profession is "both essential and ridiculous." Nevertheless, the American public has a seemingly insatiable appetite for this kind of work, and as this collection demonstrates, Zehme does it better than anybody.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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November 25, 2002
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Excerpt from Intimate Strangers by Bill Zehme
And Then There Was One: Sinatra Bequeaths His Rules of Order Esquire, March 1996 In black tie, Dean sleeps forever. He lounges in his marble vault, behind the bank in Westwood, draped in midnight attire, in the uniform, crimson hanky peeking from breast pocket. He was the beautiful one. Always did know how to dress. The Leader liked that. Sam was another story. He was the youngest, the wild card. Onstage, 1963: "What are you doing in that cockamamie street suit!" Frank admonished, emerging godlike from the wings of the Sands, Dean by his side. "And what is this, with the tie down and the collar open? Where the hell did you learn that? Now, go up to your room and get yourself into a little ol' tuxedo!" This happened nightly. Sam: "What're you, Esquire magazine? Let's get one thing straight, Frank! I'm thirty-seven years old! I will change my clothes when I get good and ready!" Frank: "Are you ready?" Sam: "Yes, Frank." Sam was a pussycat in his tiny tux, Frank always said. Right now he's up on that Forest Lawn hilltop, wearing one of his English toy suits--over a red shirt. (Red--the color of Bojangles's eyes!) On his wrist is the enormous gold Cartier watch he so treasured. "Laid on me by my man, Francis," he'd tell those who asked, before the end. "It goes with me." Frank gave it to him on the reunion tour, the last time the three of them tried to do it all over again. Recapture the old mothery gas--that, of course, was Frank's idea. Dean told him, "Why don't we find a good bar instead." Wrecked, the Leader sat amid the leftover antipasti Christmas night. Dag was dead since before dawn. They called each other Dag (pronounced daig), for no one else could, would dare. He was not surprised by the bad news, but the sorrow was pounding him in slow waves. "Don't worry," he said softly to a few intimates, "I'm not going anyplace for a long time." And he picked at his food. The mantle of style would now be his alone, although of course it always had been. It was just nice to have some company, their company, those two bums in particular. He embodied the code to which all freethinking men aspired, but only two truly understood how it was done, no lessons needed, sang and swung to boot. Thirty-five years after it started--all that rehearsed spontaneity in the Copa Room at the Sands Hotel--only the oldest survives; the freshly minted octogenarian, he persists. His force wanes not at all, keeping younger men of close acquaintance up all hours while he belts his Jack Daniel's and explains history as he knows it. He does not let go. "You've got to love livin', baby! Because dyin' is a pain in the ass!" That was what he always told them, never stopped telling them. Sam paid heed until he couldn't anymore. Dean didn't, hadn't for years. His gorgeous indifference, which Frank quietly revered, finally withered him, which Frank detested witnessing. "How can you eat that motherfucking shit?" Frank goaded him from across the table last June. Together, they sat at Dean's booth, next to the bar, at Da Vinci in Beverly Hills. It was the final Summit. Dean had just turned seventy-eight, and Frank never missed a birthday. Frank missed nothing, never has, even now. So he saw what he saw and his heart broke and, hating it, he fought. ("Fight, fight, fight!" he whispers inside his head every day, staving off that rat-bastard, Time.) He wanted a rise out of gentle Dag, so he poked at the pasta and needled like a hero. He tore off bread and pelted his frail paisan, a ritual of theirs since always. Dean only smiled. Frank stayed feisty. They sipped their separate amber and talked as best they could. After an hour or so, Frank got up to leave, said he had to go to New York tomorrow. "Good," Dean said. "Don't come back." Such was the love between the largest of men. <