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Jerry Weinstraub – the man who tamed Kubrick


Bright people aren’t always the most tactful
Frederic Raphael Writer
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I've known a lot of bright people and I've walked away from a lot of them for one reason and another. George Steiner was perhaps the most famous. I was kind of proud to know George Steiner when I first met him, actually at Michael Ayrton's house. And George was perfectly friendly and he wrote me very effusive, rather continental letters in which told me of all the famous people who had solicited his lectures and attendance at theirs and so on. And he used to end up with rather effusive statements like, 'I am aching to see you'. I can't say I ever ached to see George, but I did go through the motions of aching, I suppose, or something like that. Beetle did not like him on sight. And when Beetle doesn't like somebody on sight, she doesn't often take a second look. So I used to see George in a slightly furtive way – go over to Cambridge to his house and so on. And then one day, I dedicated a book to him and it had an illustrations by Sarah in it. I wasn't going to tell this story, but I damn well am. And I... it was dedicated to him in print and I sent him the book. When he wrote back he said not: I really enjoyed your book, or how clever of you to have done all these different versions of Greek myths in various styles from cinema to acrostics and all the rest of it. He said: what a shame that Sarah did those dire – D I R E – paintings. Wouldn't it have been wonderful if Michael was still alive? Now, what would drive anybody to be as honest as that?

When I say that I'm not afraid of saying whatever I want to say, I can also add that courtesy is part of the irony which I enjoy. And since, if somebody dedicates a book to you, the correct thing to do is to thank them for it, you can choose the terms in which you do the thanking with some care and somebody outside the loop might spot the fact that saying: this is one of the most interesting books I've ever read, means it isn't the most interesting, meaning you didn't like it all that much, or whatever. But you do not, when a book is dedicated to you, have the right to write anything except : this is one of the greatest treasures that I shall ever have in my library and I cannot tell you how much it means to me that you have done that. That's the number that you're supposed to do. You can play it however you like in waltz time or rumba, but you have to do it. And he didn't. And I wrote back to George and said, I know exactly how you will defend what you have said. You will allude to the etymology of the word 'dire' in dirus the Latin, as I know you know, for something which is dangerous, dark, has something to do with the underworld, a sort of godly quality, but you don't mean it. What you mean is: I dare you now to say that you will never speak to me again rather than defend your daughter. And the answer is, 'Goodbye, George.' I've never spoken to him since.

They did write when Sarah died and they did send their love, and, God help me, in the state that we were then in – and we answered all the letters, which people often don't, by the way, very odd that – I replied, 'love.' But I wrote 'love' in the Oxford style, which is more or less the same as 'yours faithfully' or unfaithfully. I've never spoken to George since and I have not missed him. He does a lot of that. He is, in many ways, what Charlie Broad, one of my Cambridge philosopher professors would call, 'a silly clever'. There's always something he does which mucks it up. For instance, in his book about the Antigones, Sophocles' Antigone and the versions which then followed it, he says that the Greek choruses were composed in iambics. Well, they're not. It doesn't really matter. Who, as they say, is counting? But the answer is I am. And if you're going to be a smartass, you'd better be a very smartass. I mean, John Carey, who has been the lead reviewer or the chief reviewer of the Sunday Times for as long as I can remember – and I don't read his stuff with any great zeal – wrote in a book of his, deploring the intellectuals and their pretensions in the world, happened in the same book to refer to Ida as a Greek god. Well, Ida is a mountain in Crete. Does it matter? Who's counting? I'm counting. If you're going to tell me that I'm a smartass, but you're an even smarter-ass, you better be one. That's the game we play, isn't it?

Chess, you know, is one of the games that intellectuals play. And it's a very, very murderous, by proxy, kind of a game. I think chess players, in their sort of interior monologues are extremely militant and aggressive. Much it matters.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: George Steiner, Sarah Raphael

Duration: 5 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014