I'm mapping this biography job out almost as thoroughly as a real grown-up writer would do. I've got a couple of dozen books on order--I will soon own everything Claiborne ever published. And I'm making a list of the interviews I need to do, and putting the names in order of priority. I leave for New York a week from tomorrow--November 14--and will be there for eight days, seeing as many people as I possibly can.
The most important interview of all, with Arthur Gelb, is already scheduled. Gelb was for many years managing editor of the New York Times, and he was Craig Claiborne's protector and defender par excellence. Apparently CC sort of didn't have a real boss--he was an independent power center at the Times--and that unique position was due to Gelb's indulgence. I don't want to spoil the story, but in later years Gelb played a critical role in what amounted to a plunge into darkness on CC's part. Gelb is a classic old newspaperman, with a growly voice and a get-it-done hurriedness. I'm reading his memoir now, "City Room," of the days when the newsroom was full of smoke and noise and characters.
I hope also to see Diane Franey out in East Hampton, Long Island, where CC lived for many years. Diane's father, Pierre, was considered probably the most brilliant chef in America when he resigned from the best French restaurant in America, Le Pavillon, and began to work with Craig Claiborne at the Times. Their partnership was extraordinary, and CC had a hard time getting Franey's contribution recognized by the paper. In fact he had to quit to persuade them. When he came back, thenceforward the byline would be "by Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey." It drove them both nuts that a lot of people thought they were a gay couple. CC was gay, and Franey was not. His daughter inherited a ton of memorabilia from their work together, and she remembers both of them vividly, so that's going to be an important interview too. Diane is expecting a grandchild, however, precisely on the day our interview is scheduled, and if that baby's not late, then we're going to have to get together later on in the winter. It looks as if I'm going to be in and out of New York a lot.
Because New York still feels more like home to me than any other place on earth, and because I have so many wonderful friends there, and because I just love that city and its people, I am very happy at the prospect of going there often over the coming months.
Friday, November 6, 2009
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