Arts

Robert Caro Relaxes by Listening to People Drum in Central Park

When the filmmaker Lizzie Gottlieb approached Robert Caro about a documentary on the relationship between him and his editor, Robert Gottlieb, Caro didn’t want to do it. He nonetheless found it insulting when Robert, Lizzie’s father, didn’t want to do it either.

That’s just the nature of their relationship.

But she persisted. And eventually Caro, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and her father opened their inner sanctum for “Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb,” about the dynamic, contentious half-century collaboration behind “The Power Broker,” the Zoom-bookshelf must-have about the urban planner Robert Moses, and “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” whose fifth volume Caro has been working on for about a decade.

“Why was I reluctant?” Caro, 87, asked in a video call from his orderly West 69th Street office.

“We’ve worked out a way of working together,” he said. “It’s two people who are, I suppose, both determined that they stand behind their ideals so firmly that they didn’t want the public to see what that was like.”

What indeed. There was the “terrible situation” when Gottlieb, now 91, insisted that 350,000 words be excised from “The Power Broker,” including the chapter that Caro still thinks is about the best he’s written. The quarrels about semicolons that Gottlieb wanted removed and Caro felt should stay, that made Caro wonder, “Why am I doing this?” The editorial comments, so offensive to Caro, that in another age would have warranted a duel.

“At the same time, I know that he’s going to support things that maybe nobody else would support,” Caro said, like allowing a three-book series to expand to five and finding him financing through the lean years. “To say that’s invaluable is to slight how wonderful it is to have someone like that behind you.”

The Projectionist Chronicles a New Awards Season

The Oscars aren’t until March, but the campaigns have begun. Kyle Buchanan is covering the films, personalities and events along the way.

  • Best-Actress Battle Royal: A banner crop of leading ladies, including Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett, rule the Oscars’ deepest and most dynamic race.
  • Golden Globe Nominations: Here are some of the most eyebrow-raising snubs and surprises from this year’s list of nominees.
  • Gotham Awards: At the first official show of the season, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” won big.
  • Governors Awards: Stars like Jamie Lee Curtis and Brendan Fraser worked a room full of academy voters at the event, which is considered a barometer of film industry enthusiasm.

From their initial meeting through their arguments, there was always this: “At the end, we’re both talking about the writing on the same level,” Caro said of the editor he now considers a friend. “That’s the reason I picked him in the first place.”

Caro, in writing, expanded on his 10 cultural necessities, which include Trollope, typewriter ribbons and the Knicks. And the Giants. These are edited excerpts.

1. The Photograph of the Very Moment My Wife and I Met For reasons too complicated to explain here, a photographer was following me around taking pictures of me at a dance at Princeton in 1956. Ina, whom I had never met, came dancing by with her date. “Let’s take a picture of me with her,”I told the photographer, and cut in on her. The photograph was taken, and it sits on a bookshelf in our apartment to this day. It is a bit cracked and fragile, but it is so precious to me that I am afraid to take it out of its frame so it can be restored.

2. My Typewriters I write my books not on a computer but on a Smith Corona Electra 210. They stopped manufacturing them about 30 years ago, but I have accumulated some. You need spares because when a part breaks on the one you’re using, you have to cannibalize the part from another one. When I have a book coming out, and newspaper profiles mention that I use them, people send me their old ones that were stored away years ago. Thanks to this generosity, I had 14 of them three years ago. I’m down to 11 already.

3. My Typewriter Ribbons Harder and harder to get. And I like cotton ribbons, not the customary nylon, very heavily inked. That way, the words you’re typing are bolder and blacker. When you’ve typed the same page over many times, the words stop having an impact, and having them bold and black helps.

4. My Shack In the woods behind my house on Long Island — maybe 70 yards in — is a 15 by 20 foot garden shed with a high pointed roof. It sits on a foundation of cinder blocks. That is where I write in the summer. The walls and ceiling are bare unpainted wood, and there is nothing in the shed but my desk, a filing cabinet, two little bookshelves, an air-conditioner, and, of course, nailed to one wall, a corkboard. I bought it 23 years ago. When we arrive at the house at the beginning of each summer, I run over to the shack to see if there has been a leak in the roof during the winter, and there never has. Unless there is a special reason, I don’t bring my cellphone there. I pin the pages of my outline to the corkboard, and I’m ready to go. It is my favorite place on earth.

5. The New York Giants Despite everything.

6. The New York Knicks Despite everything.

7. Zoom Sessions With Horace Mann Classmates For some years we did it in person, in a restaurant, but now one of us has moved to another city, so we Zoom. We do it every four or five weeks. We’ve known each other since we were 11 or 12. We’re older now.

8. My First Edition of Trollope My publisher, Sonny Mehta, gave this to me as a gift to celebrate the occasion of my having been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. It’s a set of Trollope’s novels called the “Chronicles of Barsetshire.” I love Trollope and particularly those novels, as Sonny knew, and this set is the first collected edition of those works, published in 1887.

9. My Bound Volumes of the Captain Hornblower Series When I was a boy, I was in the spell of those seven books. I would take them out of the public library branch at Broadway and 99th Street and sit down on the steps outside and start reading; I couldn’t wait until I got home. One year, Ina got me the perfect present. She had them bound in a naval blue binding with anchors and naval devices in gold on the spines. Every time I glance at my bookshelf and see them, I start remembering favorite scenes, sometimes finding to my surprise that I am reciting the scene, without having opened the book.

10. Sundays in Central Park In the afternoons, after work, Ina and I walk in at the 69th Street entrance. Pedaling or jogging along the drive are human beings of every race and color. To the right is the Sheep Meadow, a vast space, really: 15 acres. And on summer Sundays, it seems like every square foot of those acres contains people — families, touch footballers, picnickers, etc., etc. To the left are people in immaculate white outfits. English lawn bowlers. Keep going: roller skaters gyrating gracefully or wildly to disco music. Keep going: seated on a bench, a line of drummers, generally 10 or 11 of them. Their drumming almost hypnotizes me; I can sit there for an hour listening to them. Somehow it drums the tension from writing right out of me.

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