tv Tavis Smiley PBS May 31, 2012 12:00am-12:30am EDT
tavis: good evening from los angeles. i am tavis smiley. a conversation with three-time tony winner frank langella. he has a new memoir about his life in show business, called "dropped names." with some of the biggest names in show business. i am glad you joined us. a conversation with actor frank langella starts now. >> every community has an m. l.k. boulevard, where wal-mart stands with your community. make every day better. >> and by contributions to your
pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ tavis: always pleased to have frank langella on the program. he was here in 2009 for his oscar-nominated roll in "frost/nixon." he has a memoir of the people he's met and worked with. the book is called "dropped names." famous men and women as i knew them. >> travis, great to see you. tavis: when you were here last, you were doing media rounds for "frost/nixon."
wyou weryou were here. when our guests leave, we give them a mug. it has our show logo. frank langella leaves here. we gave that and some parting gifts. he goes to his hotel room. a bungalow you were staying at. you go and take our mug with you. "new york times" magazine does a photoshoot of the nominees, a great spread of yourself and other nominees. neil calls me at home and says, "have you seen new york times magazine/" ?" he said, "weir're in it." i open it up. he says, "turn the the page
featuring frank langella." there's a picture of you in your room, and my mug is in the shot. >> do you know how unimportant it is. tavis: but you know how important it is to me. i looked a >> i looked at it a dozen times and never saw your mug. i was looking at my mug. tavis: i want you to recognize my mug. you have to recognize. >> it's a good actor story. an actor can die next to you. people say, how sad. and you say -- tavis: thank you for taking the mug. >> i will go look. tavis: we made "new york times" magazine.
i love the photo. where is this? who shot this? >> this is in puerto rico, a year and a half ago. it was shot by my daughter. she said, "look up, dad." i thought it was a nice, relaxed cover. i didn't want a serious author picture. i wanted it inside the book. tavis: the first thing i noticed aside from the title. on the table of contents, it had cast of characters in order of disappearance. >> as it says, it begins with the passing away of marilyn monroe. i couldn't figure a way to order the book. it is 66 people.
males, females, actors, politicians? what should i do? i should do it in the order they left the planet. tavis: all i have to do is throw names at you. before i get to the fun part -- let me ask about the decision to tell us your life story through relationships with others? >> my life story is more interesting told that way. i'm a supporting player. when i try to do a biography, i feell asleep. i said, "i was in this play, didn't win this award. i had difficulty with the role." i was not interested. i'd lived through it myself. when an extraordinary person
walked into the rehearsal hall, or any number of ways i interracted with these people. i couldn't stop writing about them. c.as interested in gerogorge scott or jackie o. i wanted to communicate what they were like. tavis: it was fascinating for me. it goes to the joke you told earlier, about your own mug. it is the notion, stars are narcissistic and it is about ego. we are who we are because someone loved us. and encouters we'vnters. >> and we are hwwho we are because someone didn't love us. tavis: and your story is about
bouncing through people in your life. a fascinating way to tell the story. i want to have some fun. i want to throw names at you. we will cover some of them. we mentioned marilyn monroe. born in i15 years old, new jersey. i wanted to do something different than what my background was laying down. i felt something brewing in me. i saved money and went to new york. looked around not knowing what i was looking for. i wanted to be told, at 15, "yes, my son." it didn't happen. iwas o was on my way back. a limo pulled up. the driver put up his hand.
when you are 15, and out of a limo comes this beautiful woman who, nobody ahhas come near. herstopped and araged heranged fox coat and looked at me and said, "hi." one little sign there was someone outside my little world who had doene something different. i knew it meant i could go somewhere in my life. remember when you were 15, and how much you yearned for something. tavis: this is marilyn monroe, and you're trying to move in this field. >> i wanted a better life for myself. one thing i learned in writing was how extraordinary
happenstance is. had iturne i turned the corner0 seconds later, if the limo was stopped by a light, nothini wo't have that encounter. many of these people -- so many were happenstance. rita hayworth, robert mitchum. the girl i was going with were running a horse in england. suddenly, i was in the queen's private box. those are happenstance. tavis: rita hayworth -- before i get to her and the beautiful women you've met. jaqueline onnasis. marilyn monroe -- nobody has come close to her since. do you mean asthetically?
you had relationships with beautiful women. >> i met her at 15. but i watched her movies. i watched them recently. she was innocent and sexual, the greatest combination. she was lusciously beautiful and sexual, but her demeanor, no actress has done that. rita had straightforward eroticism as an actress. she could -- she was a better actress than people gave her credit for her. we were making a terrible movie with mitchum. it was called "the wrath of god."i it was god's vengeance. not that he cares for actors.
when people say they want to thank god. as if he's sitting there. it was 1972. rita was going to play my mother, robert was my priest. we were making a terrible movie. everyone went to their own rooms and locked themselves in. it was an unhappy cast. we found each other and began a relationship that was many things. the sadness of watching someone begin to lose her mind from alzheimers. after that, she would be gone. >tavis: what did you take away from that part of the experience, being that close? >> i took away something i didn't know. i took away how important the
lack of parenting is and how much it effects thsoe we envy, the rich and successful. their images -- she was as far from her image as any famous person, as anyone i've known. she wasn't parented. many people weren't. by that, i mean that moment when you get -- a baby should be put on the brother's chest immediately, and looked into the eyes. but most of us don't. that thing about the cub that never got licked and cuddled, so it went into show business. so many people in show business are damaged. a great many give in to the
damage they were trying to cover. with their image or looks or sex appeal. all of thsoe toys -- become important. and one day, as is natural, the light fades from you and goes to the next beautiful thing. most people are lost out in this jungle. this wilderness of "who am i?" you see so many incredibly talented people with mug shots. you say, "how could that actor do that? all the success in the world." he doesn't know who he is. tavis: what is the link between the damage and the gift? >> none. tavis: there has to be. if so many great actors end up damaged, not parented, they
obviously. >> we know about them. they got famous for being beautiful or talented. tehre arhere are people watchine will never know about. it is a myth, the more damaged you are, or the more gifted, you need to be damaged. you need to be strong, healthy, sensible. you can't act on your neurosis, and have to get healthier as you get older. it is romantic to think you should drink too much or smoking a lot of dope. the healthier you are, the better an artist you are. >> coming back to these persons. businessve been in the long enough to be around these
people, and the distractiosn of ns of drugs, alcohol, and narcissism. you appear to be as healthy as you are -- how did you survive? >> i don't hold myself higher or lower than anyone on the planet. i don't know. i am as vain and narcissistic and self-destructive as the next actor or the next person. what, i think, there is some core of strength i didn't know i had. i somehow survived the worst ones by going in and hibernating. i didn't go out and act things out. i stayed away from as many bad
experiments. i made a minimal amount of terrible movies and tv shows and tried to stay in the theater, and survive my own self- destructive behavior, and not blaming anyone for it. that's the answer to your question. whatever happens in my life, whatever is going to happen to me, i am responsible for it. whatever sitting in this chair -- it is up to me, and up to me not to blame anyone. if only my father hadn't -- people do it all the time. they look for something outside themselves so the yary are comfortable in the failure. tavis: not for the rules you did take, but the ones you didn't --
>> i am defined as much by what i didn't do as what i did. when i had highlights, i noticed other actors with long periods of being parched dry, they got a hit, and then they were everywhere, commercials, whatever they could. they were so anxious to be loved and validated. then they used up that wonderful moment. i thought, okay. this is a high. acula was a high, "frost/nixon" was a high, this book is a high. don't let me go to the candy store. let me have some sense of discernment about how i conduct this.
>tavis: when you have your moment, you have to go to the candy store. >> people who represent you think this. most people have people who powder therir nose -- they have an army to support. i have one person to support. it goes back to being responsible for yourself. tavis: lest the audience think the yare aly are actors -- a--ctoractors do some politicians do some acting. >> really? [laughter] was not a headwails of hair or politically correct.
he would show hubris and opinion. he said what he thought. he said, he met clinton and said he'd be a president. the senior bush was a man who thought the presidency was deserved. he told me at a table waiting to go on a movie, "dave." i loved that guy. like a bunch of those men -- tip johnson., lyndon they were interesting, ugly in the best sense of the word, men. great-looking guys, politicians who had to dissemble. there was something statesmanlike about them. tavis: our culture puts a premium on anyone being on
television, being asthetically pleasing. romney and obama are not unpleasing. others -- i wonder in our politics, if that has crept in il,we can't see a tip o'neail and we wouldn't have a lyndon johnson. >> our culture changed when jfk was shot. this nation lost its innocense. we have grown more vulgar, bitter, and more angry a nation. less discerning in the art forms. any of the great shows of the 60's or 70's, when a great singer got up to sing, judy garland. she shanang it as written and te
camera never left her. the audience applauds a high note. we become a country where the audience has a s much a right to perform as the performer. we can't just sit back and be quiet. there is a conspiracy against silence. you get into a taxi, someone sells you something. the stewardess does co mmercials for the airline. it is all about selling. i suppose it always was. but the days of a limit, or some sense -- iyou just don't go there. commercials are violence. people throwing each other off
bridges. what do kids thing when they see that? >> you give me a wonderful takeaway. a conspiracy against silence. i may giv you attribution. >> that is two things you opwe me. i got your mug. tavis: you mentioned jfk. there were a few encounters with jackie kennedy-onnasis. >> in 1961 i was a young boy in cape cod, seeing a young lady. several young ladies. that's what you did at 23. and one of them invited me home. the lunch guests were john kennedy, jackie. adele estaire.
i spent four hours with that group of people, watching coard ward sing to the president of the u.s. dancing on a coffeetable. incredible thing for a 23- year-old. youis: some in this book, weren't their biggest fans. >> no. tavis: paul newman was one. >> i loved paul. but it's interesting. people who accuse me of trashing trash for a living. in each encounter, there were people in whom i saw flaws. flaws isai saw in myself. people who suffered from all the human failings. i wrote about them. i was determined -- i was not
going to write a darling sweetie book. aren't we all wonderful and isn't everybody perfect? i decided if i'd do that, i'd say, here's when i wasn't fun to be around. i point out the drawbacks as i see them. it doesn't mean they'd be that way with someone else. >> i take your correction. maybe i overstated it. >> with paul you did. but others, i am very mean. tavis: we have a lot of time. >> unfortunately for them, the yare dead. tavis: we dcacan read the text. it is a book that -- he is getting great reviews. i have not seen a bad one. everyone loves this book.
i think you will, too. "dropped names: famous men and women as i knew them." >> i'm holding up this mug one more time. this is a two-shot. tavis: i will give that to you. wherever you go next to be photographed, put it on the table. >> every time i come see you, we'll get a mug. don't die on me. [laughter] tavis: don't go anywhere, either. that's our show for tonight. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. >> join me next time for equal pay advocate, lilly ledbetter and a memoir, "a remarkable