LG: Yes, that was a mistake on my part. We spent three or four hours together one day at his house in Malibu and he gave me a couple of his drawings and I left. He got along with me and he didn’t get along with many white people. He had a lot of very racist feelings he used to say, ‘I don’t like how people make me feel bad because I make so many people feel good with my music.’ He called me that night for a minute and we talked. I didn’t say, hey Miles I think we should do a book. I was just thrilled to have met him and had such a great time talking to him and I had such a great respect for his music and what he meant to the history of jazz, he was a huge figure. I thought about it later and wished I had done it. Someone else did a book about him and when that came out I was like, why didn’t I jump on it? I never jump on these things. I never ask people, do you want to do a book? I should because it would be great. I always feel like I’m there for a purpose and that’s why they’ve accepted me there and I should not show my ambition too much and say let’s do something more with it. Miles Davis would have been great. I wish I would have done that book with him.
You once turned down an interview with Stephen King for Playboy?
LG: Yeah well I turned down Playboy to do it not Stephen King. They asked me to do Clint Eastwood at one time and then Stephen King at another. I said I’ll pass you should give it to someone else. The reason is this: I was never a big fan of Stephen King’s work. I think he is a wonderful writer for what he is. People told me to read The Stand and told me how great that book was. I read 400 pages of The Stand and I stopped reading it, it’s an 800 page book so I stopped reading right in the middle. If I was going to interview Stephen King I would have to read ten of his books probably before I went to see him. Did I want to spend time reading ten books that I didn’t care for? I didn’t want to read King’s. The Clint Eastwood interview was offered before he became a director. I had read an interview with him in the New York Sunday Times and he just sounded so conservative and so different to how I thought about politics and whatever so I thought why bother? I was getting assignments a lot then so I could pick and choose. Now days you don’t get as many assignments so you say ‘yes’ to anything.
Interviewing Henry Moore was a real thrill for you, why?
LG: Now that was a thrill because my wife Hiromi (she wasn’t my wife yet at the time though) is an artist and she wasn’t getting criticism the way that she should. Everyone loved her work, she’s a Japanese artist, she was going to UCLA and was a teaching assistant. Everybody just kept saying how great she was and I said, with everyone complimenting you, you’re not getting any feedback, you’re not really advancing. You need to talk to someone that can really see what you’re doing and they can give you good feedback. I said let’s go to Henry Moore, let’s talk to him. She looked at me like I was nuts. I said let me see if I can interview him and you can come with me. Newsday agreed. We flew to Forte Dei Marmi in Italy. We went to his house first in England but he wasn’t there and then we went down to Italy and there he was in his backyard. I talked to him for two days. I really prepared because I just love the idea of talking to artists. At the end I said, Mr Moore could you take a look at some of Hiromi’s work. He said, ‘Oh no, no, I don’t criticise students.’ I said she’s not a student she’s a teaching assistant. So he looked at her work and was like, ‘Yes, yes I see what you are doing here and yes this is interesting.’ They started having this conversation which I was taping (I wrote an article about it later on). That’s the reason I went to see Henry Moore so she could get some feedback on her work [laughs].
I’ve read you comment that interviewing Marlon Brando was one of the most challenging interviews for you?
LG: Well Brando was challenging because first of all, he is our greatest actor. When you’re an interviewer you’re also an actor, a chameleon in a certain way, you melt into the person you’re going to be interviewing, you have to act a little here and there and you’ll say you know something when you don’t know something because you want to encourage the person to talk. I felt with Brando that he would know; he has a great shit detector. He’ll know when I’m bullshitting him. I looked at it as if you’re going up against the best. I love that. I love going up against Richard Feynman the Nobel Peace Prize winner in quantum physics or Linus Pauling who won two prizes. I’m not as smart as these guys I know that but I go in there feeling what a challenge this will be, to be able to hold my own with people like this. I have to motivate myself and I have to feel like I can do it and Brando was one of those people, like Miles Davis.
Is there anything in particular that attracts you to your interview subjects?
LG: No, I just like people that have achieved or who are the best or among the best in their field, that way you’re getting something that you are learning from.
Do you think that’s part of why people love to read interviews with successful people?
LG: Yes. I do. Sometimes you don’t like somebody and you’re just looking for someone to pick them apart. Why do we read an interview with Marlon Brando and find it more interesting than an interview with Richard Dreyfuss? Dreyfuss is a good actor but you don’t really see him around that much anymore. Brando there’s some fascination about why. There’s something about the things that he did that taught you something about what it’s like to be a man let’s say. You only have to look at On The Waterfront or look at A Streetcar Named Desire, there’s something there that registered to me that said something about the human condition and so maybe I’ll read about it because I’ll learn something more.
Is there any topics other than money that you’ve found hard to broach in your interviews with subjects?
LG: No, I mean sometimes sex is something but no not really. Maybe sickness or illness. I don’t find it hard to talk about if someone has suffered from a stroke or from cancer. If they’re alive and survived it they’ll talk about it. There are certain things people want to avoid talking about, like the skeletons in ones closet. Usually it’s about money; usually it’s about avoiding taxes. If you read that this person had to pay 1.7 million dollars in taxes then that’s a question you want to talk about but people don’t like talking about it because they’re probably still not paying the tax man all that they should and they don’t want to put that out there. That’s usually the question that bothers people most.
I know that when you interviewed the Huston family for a book there were things you found out that you didn’t include in the book. I thought that was pretty cool of you because I know for myself I’ve done interviews with people and they’ve told me really full on stuff but my gut instinct has kicked in and told me not to print it. It’s like I get a sense of that doesn’t really need to be out there, if you know what I mean?
LG: Yeah well again that’s an individual choice. There were a few very scandalous things I found out about during the course of doing a book like that and I just felt one would hurt Danny Huston, one of his sons and one definitely would have hurt Angelic Huston and one would have hurt Tony the other son. It was three different things that I actually said, if I put this in the book it will get more attention, I’ll get a little more publicity and it will sell more books maybe but, these people have to live their lives. They’ve given me a lot of time, they’ve opened up their archives and do I need to be that through? Do I need to hurt them by printing what I’m hearing? So I said, you know what, I’ll just leave it out. I’ve never talked about it. That was a decision I made on my own, I didn’t talk to anyone about that.
For you is it important to use your intuition on these things?
LG: Of course you’re a writer you have to use your sensibility.
You have a memoir that’s ready to go?
LG: Yeah I do. Do you want to publish it?
I would in a heartbeat if I had the means to do so! Seriously. I cannot wait to read it.
LG: It’s one of those books that I’ll put out as an e-book I think. It’s done. It ends after my time with Brando, so it ends in 1980. Just when I’m about to go see Al Pacino is when the book ends. Part two will be about 1980 until today which will be all about these celebrities I’ve been with. The only real celebrities that I write about in the first part are Streisand, Dolly Parton, I guess Henry Winker would have been in there, Elliot Gould, Brando and Jon Voight. The early ones like Lucille Ball and Mae West too. There’s one full chapter on Brando there’s one full chapter on Streisand, its twelve chapters long.
Do you feel like there’s a difference between interviewing a male or female subject?
LG: I don’t. I think I get along better with women sometimes but no. It can be different though. Sometimes the sexual tension, in my case it would be with a female. I know that when Warren Beatty was in his heyday he loved being interviewed by women because then he would sleep with them [laughs]. He slept with a lot of women journalists and they loved it, that was part of it. That didn’t happen with me and Warren we just talked [laughs]. I don’t find one more difficult than the other I think sometimes just the dynamics are different if it’s a different sex.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
LG: I’ve written a screenplay based on my Brando book its optioned by an Australian company. I have a book that I want to write called 120 Lessons Learned From Interviewing. I’ve written a number of them but that’s a yearlong piece of writing if I can find a publisher for it. If not I guess I’ll do it on my own. I’ve started a novel about Africa, I’ve written about 60 pages of that. I wrote a novel called Begin Again Finnegan which I really like, again can’t find anyone to read it but I really like it and think it should be a movie. I want to write a screenplay for that so I’ll probably get into that. There you go that’s four projects. None which may give me any money but if I can afford to do it I’ll take off time to just work on those and see where it leads.
Wow! I just find it so amazing that you have trouble finding people to release/publish your work.
LG: Isn’t it amazing [laughs]. See this is the problem, as you get older the people that you dealt with you when you were younger are probably a little older than you were so they’re retired or they left and now you’re dealing with new people. If I talk to a young person, let’s say an editor that’s thirty-five years old and he asks, what have you done? I say, I’ve been with Marlon Brando, Henry Fonda, Truman Capote, Lucille Ball, Richard Feynman—what do all those people have in common? They’re all dead. I date myself, no matter how big the person is. They want to know if you’ve been with Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt? Yeah I’ve done Christina Ricci, Sarah Jessica Parker, Angelina Jolie… I’ve done seven cover stories in the last eight months for this magazine in Poland: Jack Nicholson, Tom Waits, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, Robert De Niro and one or two others. I’ve done these feature stories that are 7,000 words long and I love that they are letting me write that long but it is phenomenal to me that I can’t find publishers to look at my stuff at the moment or agents. Like I’ve said, the nature of the business has just changed.
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