Philip Roth – Part 1

An excellent two-part BBC documentary from 2014, for which I provided some commentary. From 57:15 to 59:55 in Part 2 we discuss the biography per se, and I always feel a pang at the shots of my late beagle, Ruby (aptly yawning at one point).

Philip Roth – Part 2


ABOUT WRITING – with Ben Cheever

I discuss my memoir, The Splendid Things We Planned, with Ben Cheever.



The Lost Weekend—the novel—was hailed by the New York Times as a “masterpiece” and sold almost half a million copies within five years. In this video, I discuss why its fame was all but entirely supplanted by Billy Wilder’s classic film adaptation.



Charles Jackson and his gorgeous brother Fred (“Boom”) were both essentially gay and raised in the same homophobic small town: the ironically named Arcadia. Why, then, was Charlie so conflicted about his sexuality, and Fred so serenely at ease with it? (Watch out for the stunning George Platt Lynes portrait of the nude Boom at the 1:27 mark.)


Seinfeld Clip — “The Jacket”

My first two biographical subjects, Richard Yates and John Cheever, have a lot in common: both wrote about the suburbs, both were ruinous alcoholics, and both were the subject of Seinfeld episodes.

It’s a little known fact that the character Elaine Benes in Seinfeld was actually based on Yates’s daughter Monica, who dated Larry David in the 1980s.  In perhaps the greatest show of the second season, 1990, Jerry and George meet Elaine’s terrifying father, Alton, a great but neglected and very crotchety novelist.  As Larry David explains in this clip, the episode was based on a disastrous real-life meeting between him and Yates; he also explains why such a promising character as Alton Benes never recurred on the show (hint: the actor who played him—the notoriously unbalanced Lawrence Tierney, known for his gangster roles—stole a knife from the set).


Seinfeld Clip — “The Cheever Letters”

It’s now widely known that John Cheever was secretly bisexual, as he was outed again and again after his death in 1982: first by his daughter Susan’s memoir, Home Before Dark (1984); then by The Letters of John Cheever (1988), edited by his son Ben; and finally, exhaustively, by a selection from his own journals, published in 1991.  Perhaps the apotheosis of this process occurred the following year with “The Cheever Letters,” an episode from the legendary fourth season of Seinfeld. Explaining why he chose Cheever as the lover of Susan’s father, Larry David told me simply, “Because he was a well-known writer who was gay.”