Edmund Morris, when did you first think you wanted to write a biography on Ronald Reagan?
It sort of snuck up on me. I was preoccupied with Theodore Roosevelt at the time. But it was when Reagan was elected president in 1980 and became president in 1981. And he was given, I believe, a copy of my biography of Theodore Roosevelt, which he read during his first year. All presidents, as you can imagine, are very curious about their predecessors, so I guess that's why Reagan was interested in reading about T.R. But anyway, after he read it, I began to get subtle intimations from the White House that if I wanted to write his biography, the president wouldn't object, which is in retrospect a pretty clear invitation for me to start making advances. But, frankly, I didn't find him very interesting in those days. He was, obviously, attractive and popular. He had a large electoral victory. But I found him bland and rather boring. And plus I was involved in a second volume on Theodore Roosevelt describing T.R.'s presidency, and I was obsessed with, certainly preoccupied with, this enormously large personality, and I didn't have any room for Reagan's. So I didn't do anything about it, continued to write about T.R. It was only as time went by and the Reagan presidency got more and more dramatic and more and more important that I realized I'd missed a real historical opportunity. And it was in the year 1985 that the Reagan presidency got seriously dramatic -- in particular the Bitburg Crisis of the spring of 1985. And when Reagan was plunged for the first time in his presidency into a genuinely large political crisis, a moral crisis, indeed, that I realized that I was very sorry I hadn't become his biographer, because I would have loved to have been there at Bergen Belsen and seen Reagan confront the Holocaust as directly as he did. And it was then that I decided to make my belated pitch to become his biographer, and from then on, it was remarkably easy. They said yes, and I signed on.
Let me cut to a question that anybody following this wants to know. When will this book be published?
I don't know when it will be published. It will certainly be next year some time, because I have to deliver it pretty soon, which is to say by the end of the year.
Who's the publisher?
How large will it be?
Well, I'd like it to be 777 pages.
For what reason?
Well, the figure of 77 runs through Reagan's life. In particular, he save 77 lives as a young lifeguard. He worked seven summers, saved 77 lives. He was in his 77th year when he left the White House. And, anyway, I liked the idea of a book about 777 pages.
Will Random House go along with that?
I guess that's about the size they could handle, but they don't want it to be any longer or bigger than that.
What's a fellow from Nairobi, Kenya, doing living on Capitol Hill with a view of the Capitol writing a book about Ronald Reagan?
The view of the Capitol really does something to me whenever I see it, because I remember as a small boy I used to hang out in the United States Information Service Library in Nairobi and take out books on America. I remember that icon there, the shape of the Capitol floating above the trees. It always attracted me, even as a kid in Africa. I was very much drawn to America and wanted to come here. So when I see it now, when I sit at my desk looking at it, I feel very content. But why I should end up in America is quite simple. One comes here to be lucky, the usual immigrant's dream. And I did have a lot of hard times when I came here. You know, the life of a writer doesn't pay very well, and we had several years of excruciating worries about money. But we hacked it -- my wife and I. She's also a writer. And we finally lucked out, and now we're extremely happy to be Americans.
Which country's citizenship do you hold?
America -- the United States.
What year did you do that?
1975, I think. I became a citizen as soon as I could.
I understand that right behind you at that desk are trays of notes about Ronald Reagan.
Yes, it's his life building up in the form of cards. I just move chronologically. I have a card for everything that I found that sounded interesting, and if it happened to have a date in it, it sits next to the next card with the next date. And gradually the -- the days of his life build up. And the chronological sweep of a man's life is -- can be seen in these card systems. It's kind of interesting to see the totality of it. Small tabs protrude for each major period of his life. So if you look at the sweep of cards, you can see the early years are compressed and developmental, and then gradually the man begins to wax. He becomes important and substantial. And the cards become more and more spaced out. And then when he's president, of course, you've got about a yard of cards. And then at the end of the presidency, they diminish again. So it's life waxing and waning.
When was the ...
I once thought of showing it to him when he came here, but my wife learned that that's not a good idea. She's done exactly the same thing for Claire Boothe Luce, who lived 84 years. And she once made the mistake of showing Claire the complete sequence of her life with all these little tabs popping up. And I remember Mrs. Luce reacting with shock, and she turned away from it. She didn't like to see the physical totality of her life spaced out in cards. And when you think about it, you can understand why.
When was the first time you met Ronald Reagan?
I met him that first year he was president, 1981.
When's the first time you talked to him?
And that was the first time I talked to him. It was a state dinner for Anwar L. Sadat shortly before he was assassinated -- August of '81.
What's the most time you spent around him?
Reagan? Oh, I spent lots of time around him. When he was president, after I had become his, quote, "biographer," I used to go down to the White House, more or less, when I felt like it, whenever things were happening. And the only regular appointment I had with him was a monthly interview. I would see him in the Oval Office for half an hour every month and chat him up about what'd been happening recently. But apart from that, it was just sporadic. I would see him when -- on events. I'd follow him around, and used to see him after the presidency, too. So I can't calculate how much time we've spent together, but was plenty.
When was the last time you were with him?
Last time I was with him was November of the year before last, just about the time that he announced that he had Alzheimer's disease.
And you wrote a piece about that meeting in The New Yorker. Why did you do that?
Catharsis, I suppose. It was a wrenching experience seeing him confronting this disease, which so much of us have to confront. And as his biographer, I just felt a compulsive urge to write about it, to come to terms with it, so I did. And that's the last I want to say about him in his present condition.
Do you see him at all?
If we watched you today -- are you finished with the book yet?
No, I'm not. I'm still writing.
But if we watched you on a normal day do your work, where would we find you?
You'd probably find me at that desk staring into space, trying to figure out this or that phrase or downstairs at the computer trying to make a typed out version of what I write in longhand.
Do you worry about writing a book? I mean, it sounds like a dumb question, but do you sit there when you're writing -- I mean, working, worrying about a book that people will buy and making it different than, say, Lou Cannon's big book on Ronald Reagan? And how do you go about that?
I don't understand the question. How do I go about what?
How do you make it different?
How do I make it different?
In other words, do you worry about having the kind of -- you know, we watch books published all the time that have scandal in them and all that and you wonder whether or not that's put in there only to get people's attention. And do you worry about ways to get people's attention so they'll go out and buy this book?
It's the writer's perennial problem from the very first page: How do you get the reader's attention? And one does it, I guess, by presenting one's own take on the subject. I think that I see Ronald Reagan differently from the next man, simply because I am different from the next man. I'm certainly different from the next writer. He is a large person. And like most large persons, they can be described from many angles and many -- many takes, as we say. And I think my view of him in print is going to be quite challenging, simply because I see him from a literary point of view, whereas most people see him from a political point of view.
What's the value of a biography?
Examined lives. In examining the lives of other people, one examines one's own. A biographer is, in a sense, a doppelganger, a double goer; he becomes the shadow of his character. And an identity develops between the two, which may be loving, may be hypocritical. I think both these extremes are dangerous. If you love your subject, you end up writing soppy stuff. And if you hate your subject, it becomes unreadable for -- for obvious reasons. So I think the best relationship that a biographer can have with his subject is one of mild affection. The interest must be there. And one has to spend many years with this person so you'd better make sure, up front, that it's going to be a congenial relationship.
Is this a one volume biography? What's the status of your second and third on Theodore Roosevelt?
Volume 2, "Theodore Rex," I'm calling it, Henry James' phrase, is two thirds done. I had to put that aside when I took on Reagan. And the last volume, which will describe his post presidential life is still unwritten except for the last line, which I already have done.
Why did you -- you want to tell us what that is?
No. Absolutely not.
It's that final palm tree on the edge of the desert to which you are flogging your camel as glossy palm leaves in the distance. And I don't think one could negotiate the whole sandy stretch of desert unless one had the prospect of that final palm tree to rest and relax under.
So I'm keeping it to myself.
What year for the second volume and what year for the third volume?
Delivery you mean?
Yes. Or so that we can buy it; that's what I'm getting at.
If you're going to buy it, I'll hurry it out. I would think that Volume 2 will need another two years' work. So, in other words, I would deliver that in 1999.
This is a personal question that you're certainly welcome not to answer, but how does someone make a living doing what you do? Can you live in this nice townhouse here on Capitol Hill? I understand you still have a place in New York.
Yes. I have an apartment in New York.
How can you do that all by being a writer?
Well, a writer makes a living the same way a hedgehog makes love: very carefully. I was well paid for the Reagan book, which is why we are temporarily unafraid of our landlord. But insecurity always threatens a writer. We've had bad years. We may have more bad years, but at the moment, the mortgage gets paid. My wife is also a writer, and we live on her advance as well as mine.
Do you have children?
No. That helps, of course.
Why do you write?
I can't not. It's my nature.
Where did you start it. What was the first time you ever wrote anything worth reading?
I don't know if I've yet managed to write anything worth reading, but I certainly started young. As long ago as I can remember. I used to write novels and stuff when I was a small boy, as many small boys do -- science fiction and stuff. Around the age of 10, I remember completing -- I think that was when I wrote my first novel, "Rocketship X 50." I'm still trying to sell it.
What's the first book you ever sold?
That some publisher bought along the way here.
Really the first book I ever sold was the Roosevelt biography, although before that I had worked for Reader's Digest Books. They have a vast book division which not many people know about, but they put out sort of, you know, great exploits of the great explorers and the American Indian and books like that. So I contributed a lot of stuff to a few books of that nature. But "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" was my first and, to this moment, only book.
How well did that do?
Did pretty well.
I mean, do you remember how many outright...
It was best seller for a few weeks, but it was never a major blockbuster. It was a critical success.
Your early years in Nairobi, Kenya, were surrounded by what? What did your parents do?
My father was a pilot in East African Airways. And our life was pretty bourgeois. One would think living in Africa that life was very exciting, but it wasn't. It was like living in Nebraska. You know, I went to school and Daddy went off and flew planes around the place. But the trouble with Kenya is it's on the wrong side of the equator. And the trouble with Africa is there's no culture there. So growing up there, I hankered for the hemisphere where things happened, where writers lived and pianists played piano and culture thrived. And I longed for a civilization to attach myself to. Particular, I longed for a civilization in the United States. In an inarticulate way, I guess I longed to never live under the Constitution.
When did you leave Kenya and where'd you go?
Kenya, I left in 1960, I guess. I went to university in 1959 when I was 19 to South Africa for two years, and then gradually drifted toward England and ended up in London in 1964, and then came here shortly after that.
Have you ever been political?
Is there a way to define your political philosophy?
No. I'm really not particularly political. I'm certainly conservative by instinct; in a cultural sense, I'm conservative. I usually end up voting for conservatives, but I'm not very interested in the day to day material of politics. And so to answer your question, no, I'm not political.
Did Ronald Reagan care about your politics?
No. Ronald Reagan didn't care about anything personal.
So he never asked you what you thought? When you had those monthly meetings, what were they like, for 30 minutes?
Intensely interesting, you know. Obviously, it's intensely interesting to talk to the leader of a free world in his office about his life. But Reagan, like most presidents, I think -- at least the ones I know about -- had very little curiosity in the lives of ordinary, subsidiary human beings. He had large matters to concern himself with. So he was never particularly interested in me. He was very happy to have me write his biography, but if it had been someone else, he'd have been perfectly happy with that, too.
You kind of answered the question, but was he glad to see you every month when you'd show up in the -- in the Oval Office?
I think Reagan was always glad to see anybody. But he didn't much care who came through the door.
Did the staff care?
Did the staff care about me?
Yeah. Did they try to feed you during the time, try to direct you in a certain direction? Or did they just leave you alone?
On the whole, they left me alone. Naturally, my relationship with various administrations under Reagan -- the various chiefs of staffs, differed according to the personality of the chief of staff. Don Regan was extremely helpful and jovial and was very good to me. Howard Baker was a little more cagey. He didn't quite know who I was and what I was doing. Ken Duberstein was a very nice hail fellow well met personality. So life was quite easy under him.
What about now? Do you get people calling you, saying, "How's it going? Which way you headed?" -- you know, people that are interested in the image of Ronald Reagan?
Well, anyone writing a book gets the inquiry, they do. But one learns to deflect inquiries.
When people pick up the book eventually and read it, what will be the main sources of information that you went to to get the sense of Ronald Reagan?
They'll just have to look in the notes, won't they? See where I got stuff.
But I guess it's more -- I don't want specifics as much as will 25 percent of it be your personal relationship with him, and the rest come out of books or interviews with others? I mean, how far did you go with your search for who this person was beyond him and other books?
Yes, the material I work on is mostly primary. The interviews, of course, are a large part of it, but I've had to research the whole of his life, because this book's not just about Reagan's presidency. Therefore, I've had to go right back to his school days and lay my hands on whatever fragment of paper I could. The record is pretty good. There's a huge gubernatorial collection at Hoover, for example. And there's the immense resources of the Reagan Library. Plus whatever other interviews I conducted. So I'm not short of material.
Did you go to Tampico and Dixon, Illinois, and Omaha and...
I certainly did.
And when you went to those places, birthplaces, what did you do while you were there? How did you get some sense of what it was like?
Well, I'll tell you, by going to Tampico, I learned more about Ronald Reagan than I could have learned in a year of studying books -- just the physical environment he was born in. I walked out into the corn. It's a one horse town -- it's a one block town in the middle of the middle of America. And there's nothing there except one Main Street where he was born and then corn stretching in all directions -- flat, circular horizon, this great blue sky, a windmill or two lazily rotating. And I stood in the corn thinking, This is the environment that little Dutch Reagan was born into. His first consciousness developed here, even though they moved away quite soon. But the rest of the world, even now, is 1,000 -- a million miles away. And you think in 1911, '12, '13, '14, no radio, no television, no telephone, the remoteness of the rest of the world and the sense of peace and stability and silence and absolutely solidity, rock solid, Midwestern, American security is palpable. And when I looked around me, I sensed the birth of this unshakably solid personality.
What's the difference between writing and thinking about Theodore Roosevelt and writing and thinking about Ronald Reagan?
The difference between the living and the dead; the difference between an intellectual and a non intellectual, which not to say that Reagan wasn't very bright, but bright in a completely uncultured sense. Theodore Roosevelt was a bona fide intellectual. He read, he wrote; he was omnivorous and omniscient. Three books a day at times. And he was in search for and curious for knowledge, whereas Reagan was a very much more instinctual person. His principles and his beliefs were innate. They came out of him. Theodore Roosevelt absorbed everything from outside like a sponge. So totally contrasting personalities.
When did you first get interested in Theodore Roosevelt and why?
As a small boy in Kenya, as a matter of fact. I can't date it precisely. It was the year 1950 when I was 10, and that year happened to have been the 50th anniversary of Nairobi, the city. So the city put out a little centennial halfs -- semi centennial handbook of its history, and there on page 10 or so was this little blurry photograph of Theodore Roosevelt, the former president who'd come to Nairobi in 1910 after leaving the White House and having this famous safari, decimating the local wildlife. Now I remember looking at this picture. He had a pith helmet on and a smile and these teeth and the pince nez. And he's the sort of man a small boy wants to spend time with. I just liked the look of him. That's when the germ, I think, impregnated itself.
Did you go to the badlands and up to Oyster Bay and places like that in researching it?
I sure did. Yeah.
What did you see there with his life that was different than Ronald Reagan's early life?
There again, I saw human character and development. Theodore Roosevelt went to the badlands first in, I think, the fall of 1883 and came back to settle as a ranch man, as they used to call it in those days -- a ranch man -- in 1984 -- 1884. And he came as an East Coast dude, a four eyed effete, aristocratic New Yorker, a dude from New York. In fact, I called my screenplay about him "The Dude from New York" and was puzzled when thousands of black actors applied for the leading role. I didn't understand the new nuances of the word "dude." Anyway, the experience of coming West, settling down with cowboys, going out on the roundabout, dealing with weather and range cattle and the rough, tough life of the Dakota territory transformed T.R. amazingly. He was recovering from a bereavement. He'd lost his young wife in 198 -- in 1884 -- I must get my centuries right -- and had come out to repair his soul and tried to make something of his body. He was a very sickly young man. And in that space of two years, culminating on July 4th, 1886, in the space of those two years, he turned himself into the muscular, macho, outdoor personality we remember in national memory -- miraculous transformation. And at the end of those two years, he realized and said so that he was a potential president of the United States.
You know, I don't know what year it was, -- you lose track of time, but there was a time in the last five years where I've had more than one person -- and when you ask the question, "Where is Edmund Morris' book on Ronald Reagan," the rumor was around that you had a block -- a writer's block or a story block. What can you tell us about that in trying to get this book done?
Well, writers have blocks. Sure, I had a block. I've had blocks. One has many blocks. On a Tuesday morning, you cannot write. On Wednesday, it comes back. But my block with Reagan was not so much a writer's block as a necessary period of puzzling him out. He was overfamiliar. He was the recently departed president of the United States. Amply covered in many books -- I think something like 70 books came out of the Reagan administration within a year or two of his departure. And my problem as a writer was to be able to deal with him on the page in a way that would make him different and interesting, as you asked me just now. Plus, he was a mysterious person, very hard to figure out and, for that reason, very hard to write about.
Do you think you got him?
Well, I certainly got my take on him. I know how to write about him now. I don't think anybody will ever `get' Ronald Reagan as a totality because he's an aloof, mysterious and very substantial person.
And when the book comes out, will this be something that he cleared?
No, no. Never once, to his credit and certainly to Nancy's credit -- never once did they try to strongarm me, get any kind of approval, control what I did. If they had, I'd have checked out immediately, because that's a recipe for disaster. The authorized biography approved and controlled by the subject.
There's no contract that gives them any kind of approval.
Does -- Mrs. Reagan is known for being very involved in the library. Has she called you and do you talk to her very often about all this?
Oh, sure. We're buddies. We talk, but she's never tried to influence me in any way.
You said earlier one of the reasons you got into this business is to find out about yourself. Writing about others helps you learn about what you are. Have you learned much about yourself in this Ronald Reagan project or the Theodore Roosevelt project?
Put it this way, I've certainly learned the difference between the sedentary intellectual, which is what I am, and the political man of action, which is what Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt both were. Even though Theodore Roosevelt himself was an intellectual, he was by no means sedentary and early in life eschewed the life of an academic intellectual because he wanted to go out in the world and change things, the -- the usual motivation for a politician. "I want to change things." And for guys like me, who do not want to change things in the physical sense, we're very happy if our books influence the world around us in some way or other. But for me to sit and following these men through their active lives is extremely fascinating and makes me understand how necessary politicians are, men of action, to counterbalance the inactivity of us scholarly types.
What tools do you use -- what I'm getting at is when you go in to talk to Ronald Reagan or any source, do you write notes or you record it or how do you do that?
Yes, I used to record Reagan from time to time, but I found very quickly that certainly with most interviewees, that the tape recorder is inhibitory. Something about that little rotating spool makes people talk Latin; you know, they feel they're on record. And on the whole, I find it's more comforting to interviewees to just have me, the interviewer, scribbling away on some little pad somewhere. It makes things flow better. The interviewee becomes less self conscience. Reagan couldn't care less, of course. He was so used to being interviewed, he didn't care whether I had a notepad or 19 cameras. But the thing about interviewing people with a notebook is your information, which down on the page is much easier to retrieve afterwards -- one can quickly select what's important and what's not, whereas with a tape of a 45 minute interview, you have to sit down and listen to that 45 minutes again and try desperately to locate where there's an interesting sentence or other. It's very time consuming and laborious, and I can do without it.
What would you do with the notes and what kind of a pad would you write on? Was there a regular systematic way of doing it?
I found the smaller the pad, the more people talked, so I worked on ditsy little notepads -- microscopic handwriting.
What did you do with it then?
What did I do with them?
The information. Did you transfer it?
Well, then I would process it. I would process it into my card system. And if I'd been more computerized in those days, I guess I would have computerized it. But on the whole, I tended to sort out the goodies. If I got something from Reagan which was chronological -- he would tell me an anecdote about 1933 -- I would take that out and put it in my system for 1993. But if he told me something that was illustrative of his character, then I would put it into the cards which describe Reagan's personality; distribute stuff wherever I could.
So you take the notes, transfer them to cards, put them in your desk. And then what's the next step? How do you get the next process of -- the next -- you know, the words down on paper next? How do you do it? What's the next step?
Well, the raw material has been accumulated and sorted out, and I sit there at my desk. I've got these cards on either side of me, and I'm writing about the year 1933, so I plunge my hand into the 1933 section. I pull out everything I've got. I supplement it with books and other research material, spread it all around me, and try to put something on that blank sheet of paper.
Do you write it or type it?
I write by longhand. I like to see the words coming out of the pen. And once they distribute themselves, one has the stylistic struggle to try and turn that clumsy sentence on the page into something lucid. And that can take a long time. I remember spending once seven hours on one sentence -- seven hours. And I looked at it the next morning, it was a pretty banal sentence.
Is this on the Reagan book?
Yeah. But that's not because of Reagan. That's writing. Writing is a reduction to essentials, elimination, and that takes time.
The pen -- I hate to keep asking these little questions. What kind of pen do you use?
At the moment, I'm writing with an Eversharp fountain pen from the mid 1930s, a nice green -- I've got it somewhere. I'll pull it out if you want -- a nice green marbled fountain pen.
I said I hate to keep asking these questions. I don't at all. I like to ask these questions. I don't want the audience to think I was trying to cover. The kind of pad you use?
When I write the original rough, I just write -- Theodore Roosevelt, I wrote on very special paper. I came across a ream of -- it was called certificate bond, 11 inches by 17 -- huge, big sheets, so size. And it had a beautiful white marble texture to it, so it was sensuously pleasurable to write on. I colored it with handwriting. And I figured out that one of these large sheets of handwriting was equivalent to one page of book. So when I had 700 sheets of it, I knew I had a book of approximately 700 sheets. However, I no longer write on that paper. For Reagan I just write on a normal 8 1/2 by 11 paper, rough lined paper. And after I've bashed out the fair copy, I then type it into the computer and get a more objective look at it.
How often do you change?
In other words, once you've written it, how often do you go back and edit it yourself before you feel that you've got what you want?
It's not possible to count. I tried once to figure out how many times one writes the average sentence, but I -- what can I say? I would think that the manuscript of a book, the kind that I'm writing, every sentence would be done at least seven times.
And then does the editor at Random House have final say or do you?
Oh, sure. They have editorial power, but they're very civilized people. I haven't had any problems with Random. I've given them some stuff already. They'll come back with the occasional mark in the margin, "a point to discuss," but on a whole, they let what's on the page stand. I do remember with my last editor, on the Roosevelt book, sitting down with him at the end, when I had my huge manuscript of basic text, typescript, and he wanted the odd sentence out. And he had a little jar of Wite Out. And he'd be sitting there with my manuscript, slop, slop with this obscuring fluid. And I remember him saying to me, "Don't you just love Wite Out?" I could see he was an editor in action here. They love to obliterate. I said, "That's my words you're obliterating, fellow."
How much of your image of Ronald Reagan is from what you saw on television and how much of television do you ever watch?
I watch very little television, which is not to say that I'm not addicted to "Seinfeld" and programs of that nature, but with Reagan, I certainly had and still do look at the televised record very carefully, because he was so much the creature of the screen. I check out his movies. I've watched them frame by frame. I look at these great television appearances. For example, the 1976 Republican convention, which was drama of supreme kind and one of Reagan's great performances. So I watch that kind of stuff. It's very necessary with him to understand how he did things in the public arena.
What's the difference from watching him on television and then being around him as much as you were? Get a different feel about him?
In a way, what one saw was what one got, but he was larger and more comfortable on television, I think, than he was face to face. Because by nature he was an actor and a public person and guys of that kind feel more comfortable on stage than they do off. It goes with the territory. It's the animal. It's the actor as animal. They're more comfortable with lights and camera and action.
Based on what you know now and the sense you have of this book at this point, how do you think people would -- if they got a look at it right now -- would characterize it? How do you characterize it?
How do I characterize the book I've written?
What you've written already, yeah.
I don't want to answer that, because I can't. I don't know. When one writes a book, one is so intensely part of it, one cannot imagine how it's going to be perceived by others. So I'll let the words on the page speak for themselves.
This can't happen, so I probably shouldn't ask it. But if somebody said, "You've got a choice of having a dinner with Theodore Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan," which one would you pick? And an evening of conversation.
Well, naturally, I'd pick T.R., because I did not have the pleasure of dining with him, and I have had the pleasure of dining with Reagan. I would choose Theodore Roosevelt, because conversationally I think he would be -- in fact, I know from studying him, conversationally he was intoxicating. Like Reagan and like many presidents, he was a monologist; he never shut up. Jay Hay, who was secretary of state in his time and one of the great talkers of the 19th century, said that on an average evening spent in the president's company, he, John Hay, would get in one and a half minutes of conversation, and T.R. would monologue the rest. But as a talker, he was, by all accounts, quite irresistible -- irresistibly funny and spontaneous and very learned.
Over the years -- and we just have a couple minutes -- you've not spent a lot of time talking on television. Have you been averse to that?
Yes. I think writers should write, and talkers should talk. I don't much like talking, although I know I'm garrulous, because the luxury of being a writer is you can edit, you can go back. When I talk, I'm constantly wanting to take that sentence back and change its shape. With a writer, you can do that -- with writing, you can do that. When you're talking, the fugitive sentence has flown; you can't get it back.
Who in your life has had the greatest influence on you? What person or people? Maybe there's more than one.
I think all my really deep influences have been people I've not known, the people that I studied and identified with as an adolescent. I've always been very drawn to music, so musical figures like Franz Liszt, who has an overwhelming personality, and Beethoven, and my literary heroes, Charles Dickens and Evelyn Waugh and historians like Prescott. These are the people I think have influenced me. I certainly try to approach within striking distance of stylists like Evelyn Waugh. I would like to be as good a person as Franz Liszt was. I'd sure like to be able to play the piano like he did. So I guess those the people I've shaped myself to.
Edmund Morris, thank you.