Here are some excerpts from Meroney's whirlwind interview. There is lots more from Meroney and Vidal if you follow the above link to The Atlantic.
You said earlier this month that you now wish you had supported Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries instead of Barack Obama. You said that she would make a better president.
Well, I was in a thoughtful mood.
Do you really wish you had supported Mrs. Clinton?
She would have been a wonderful president. As for my support for Obama, remember that I was brought up in Washington. It was an all-black city when I was a kid. And I’ve always been very pro-African-American – or whatever phrase we now use. I was curious to see what would happen when their time came. I was delighted when Obama appeared on the scene. But now it seems as though our original objection to him – that experience mattered – was well-founded.
The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy prompted a flood of coverage about him and his career. In 1969, you said in an interview, “By 1972, Kennedy will be just another politician whom we have seen too much of, no doubt useful in the Senate but nothing more. By 1976, Camelot will not only be forgot but unrestorable, if for no other reason than that Arthur’s heir will by then be – cruelest fate of all – unmistakably fat.”
I should think that’s rather well observed.
What is Ted Kennedy’s real legacy?
It’s nothing. But I predicted that at the beginning, when Jack started backing him for his U.S. Senate seat. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who was a loyal Kennedy courtier, agreed. But Jack was funny about it. He never took Arthur seriously. He always called him “the movie critic.” (Imitating JFK’s accent) “What does ‘the movie critic’ have to say about this issue?” He liked to tease Arthur.
What did Schlesinger say about Ted Kennedy?
On his own, he went to Jack and said, “It’s in the papers that you’re working behind the scenes to support Teddy. You can’t do that. You’re making an awful lot of trouble for yourself. You’re going to be accused of nepotism and worse for backing a boy who isn’t considered first-rate.” Teddy had been caught cheating at Harvard – and all the things that Republicans like to write about. I asked Arthur, “What did Jack say to that?” And he answered, (imitating JFK’s accent) “Teddy’s not running against George Washington.”
So where is President Kennedy’s place in the pantheon of liberalism?
Jack was not a liberal. Why does anyone want to pretend that he was? When it came to matters of race, he behaved pretty well. But he wasn’t terribly interested in it. When he famously rang up Mrs. Martin Luther King after Rev. King had been jailed – well, Harris Wofford thought that one up. It was all the work of others who were liberals.
They were his closest advisors.
I remember when he was putting together his cabinet, he said (imitating JFK’s accent), “Do you know anybody who’s suitable for Secretary of Agriculture?” I said, “No, I don’t. And I don’t want to know anybody who’s suitable for Secretary of Agriculture.” Jack said (imitating JFK’s accent), “Well, that’s my problem. I don’t know any people.”He came up with Dean Rusk. He said (imitating JFK accent), “Who the hell is Dean Rusk?” I said, “Well, he’s your Secretary of State, I’m told.” Jack said (imitating JFK’s accent), “Oh, yeah, that’s right. He is.” When Jack got bored, he would tap his front teeth with his index finger.
Shouldn’t this be a golden age for the Democrats? They finally control both houses of Congress and elected a president.
But they don’t have a reason.
Do you blame Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi? Isn’t she a good leader?
Well, I’m not in the House, so I can’t tell you. If one wants to know about running the United States House of Representatives, look at Henry Clay. He ran it. But he’s totally unknown now, of course. I think, “Dear God, if only Henry Clay were speaker.”
One question that has been repeatedly asked since the economic recession began is, What exactly got the country out of the Great Depression? Do you think President Roosevelt’s policies were responsible for fixing the economy?
It was mainly luck. By 1939, the Depression was back. Unemployment was huge. Roosevelt didn’t have any quick fix. Remember, the New Deal, Works Progress Administration, and Civilian Conservation Corps – all that happened years before. Roosevelt was riding a storm.
So what policies of Roosevelt do you most admire?
I had supper with Mrs. Roosevelt at Hyde Park, and she said (imitating Eleanor Roosevelt’s voice), “My Franklin and I were very impressed with something our son James did when he got back from serving in the war.” Mrs. Roosevelt said (imitating Eleanor Roosevelt’s voice), “You know, it was James who convinced the President to create the G.I. Bill of Rights.” That policy changed the whole class system in the United States. Before it, you had to be a doctor’s son to go to college. After that bill, everybody could go.
In one recent interview, you referred to FDR as a great man.
He was a very great man.
But you opposed his foreign policy.
Well, of course. FDR was damaging the Republic by his imperial ways.
You’re pictured in this book doing an imitation of FDR during World War II.
Yes, I was in Alaska, the ideal place. Roosevelt sent me there.
You and Ronald Reagan have at least one thing in common: he did an excellent imitation of FDR as well.
Mine is better.
In September, director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for leaving the U.S. in 1978 before being sentenced to prison for raping a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson’s house in Hollywood. During the time of the original incident, you were working in the industry, and you and Polanski had a common friend in theater critic and producer Kenneth Tynan. So what’s your take on Polanski, this many years later?
I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?
I’ve certainly never heard that take on the story before.
First, I was in the middle of all that. Back then, we all were. Everybody knew everybody else. There was a totally different story at the time that doesn’t resemble anything that we’re now being told.
What do you mean?
The media can’t get anything straight. Plus, there’s usually an anti-Semitic and anti-fag thing going on with the press – lots of crazy things. The idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew, Polacko – that’s what people were calling him – well, the story is totally different now from what it was then.What are “American values”?
Lying and cheating. There’s nothing better.
So you’re saying that a non-Jewish director wouldn’t have to worry about getting caught up in a sex crime scandal? Such a thing wouldn’t be an issue for Martin Scorsese?
Well, he’s an absolutely sexless director. Can you think of a sex scene that he ever shot?
You describe the New York Times as a newspaper “notorious for its dullness and hostility to excellence of any kind, other than thievery.” What do you mean by that?
Ask anyone who was a writer in the 1940s and 50s. If the ghost of Ernest Hemingway were here, he would explain it to you. The paper was a bunch of dull hacks.
During that period, the paper didn’t review any of your books. You’ve said this “blacklisting” was a blessing.
It was. My first book was in 1946. Eighteen years later, when I published the novel Julian, the paper caved in and finally reviewed me. Everybody told me that Julian, a very complex story about the apostate emperor of Rome, wouldn’t sell. But it was number one. The Times’ reviewer, Orville Prescott, came out of retirement to knock me. Now that’s dedication. I complimented him in public.
The Hearst newspapers wouldn’t review your books either. Is that ban what led you into writing for Hollywood?
Yes. You don’t think I wanted to write “Ben-Hur,” do you? I was stuck. One right-wing rumor about me, which I don’t appreciate, is that I came from an enormously rich family. I never inherited 50 cents from my family. They didn’t have it.
In a 1969 interview, you say that you’ve been on your own since you were 17.
Yes. That’s when I went into the Army. It saved me.
So Hollywood was a way to write and make a lot of money?
Well, you didn’t really come to Hollywood to make a lot of money. You could, however, make a living. But I had two hit plays on Broadway back-to-back. That seldom happens.
Did the process of writing a screenplay come naturally to you? Was it difficult?
I’m a writer. I write whatever I choose.
Who is the best leader in the Democratic Party right now?
Do you mean, Who can give the best speech? Who can raise the most money? Look, I’m not a sentimentalist. Nor am I a romantic. I don’t believe in the Great Man theory of history. Great men come along very seldom – and when they do, it’s pretty bloody. But, as Chancellor Bismarck once observed, God looks after alcoholics, little children, and the United States of America.