"HE was the beau ideal of the public intellectual!" said Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter at the memorial for writer Christopher Hitchens last Friday afternoon.
Hitchens was the world's best-known and voluble atheist. And a group where many loved, disapproved of and envied gathered to say goodbye.
The historic Cooper Union hasn't rung with the presence of such a group of haut intellectuals in the many years since Abraham Lincoln spoke there in 1860.
And it was the voice of Christopher Hitchens, in his own words, that pierced the hall as over 35 luminaries in the writing, poetry, friendship and family game re-quoted and stimulated us with excerpts from his writings and sayings. And reminded us of who he really was.
There wasn't a prayer, bowed head, overly sentimental word said for over two-and-a-half hours. The audience was vast and some of it was famous itself. VIPs abounded, summoned by Vanity Fair. It seemed there wasn't an empty seat in the house except for those inexplicitly set years ago behind giant pillars rising to the ceiling in this grand old place.
My personal favorites among the readers were editor Carter...Christopher Buckley...Stephen Fry...Aimee Bell...and Salman Rushdie. Just before the end, Hitch's most well-known friend Martin Amis made a few quite adorable remarks about Hitch's use of the third person.
My Texas ear couldn't catch all of his muted British words but it made me like the Amis/Hitchens friendship all the more.
There was a wonderful Alex Gibney film of Hitch in all of of his unexpurgated charm and fury at the end. This reminded one of the early impact of this brilliant writer, Hitch as well as his devastatingly courageous last years. There were three screens showing photos throughout. Actor-activist Sean Penn referred to "the real monsters McNamara and Kissinger." James Fenton read a poem that gave Hitch 'An honored place in our memory." Lawrence Krauss said of him: "he had the courage to accept the world the way it is.' He added Hitchens' plea for skepticism, saying, "The universe is much more imaginative than we think." Michael Zilkha read Hitchens' praise for Dickens from his last writing: ''whatever you do, hang on to your childhood."
One of the best moments was Fry's on Hitchens' ode to the Parthenon where he says that triangulation from this glorious ruin, matched to the temple at Sounion and then to a third temple not far away, represents an artistic triumph of algebraic perfection. And all the columns of the three temples are canted slightly inward so that if continued up in the sky they would all meet.
Another rare moment occurred in Salman Rushdie's humorous reading from "A Short Digression on the Pig." (Mr. Rushdie is the man Hitch stoutly defended when some writers failed to fight against the fatwa demanding his assassination from Islamic terrorists. )
This incredibly affecting long goodbye to Christopher Hitchens was an inspiration , with wit and deep comprehensive thought behind most of his quotes and the heroic belief in reality and science to his credit. Thank you to Graydon Carter for its planning and the fact that so many talents with so much to say held to the limits of time.
- I HATE to segue to silly show biz musings. Few things in life (or death) are as glorious as writing about and recalling Mr. Hitchens. But we must move on, if not up.
So--Memo to Chelsea Handler. Ask your "best friend" Jennifer Aniston, if she appreciates your continued trashing of Angelina Jolie? Get over it, Miss Handler. Brad didn't leave you. You say you don't think Angelina's a "girl's girl"--that she's not the kind of girl you'd have as a friend.
Maybe not. Maybe Angelina has better things to do than sit and dish? She has six children to tend to. And a man.
Chelsea, you're a funny woman, a great big star on E!, a best-selling author and clearly a pal to Aniston. But Jennifer doesn't need your defense of her. She needs people to stop talking about Brad and Jen as if any of it means anything to her anymore.
- SPEAKING of Jolie/Pitt there's intense speculation as to whether the couple will keep their wedding photos private? I doubt it. As this column speculated last week, given the pair's charity endeavors it would be far more likely they'll sell to the highest bidder and donate the money.
One of the first stars to do this was Elizabeth Taylor. She essentially turned her 1991 wedding to Larry Fortensky into an AIDS benefit. The photos of the bride, groom and Michael Jackson, as well as the accompanying story, written by somebody named Liz Smith, raised lots of cash for Elizabeth's newly formed AIDS Foundation.
I have a feeling Angelina and Brad will be equally unselfish.
- NOBODY was more convincing as a gladiator-on-a-mission than Russell Crowe. He received an Oscar for avenging--as Maximus Decimus Meridius--the deaths of his wife and child.
Russell will be a chilling, relentless Inspector Javert in the coming "Les Miserables." And he plays Superman's father, Jor-El, in the 2013 reboot of that franchise, "Man of Steel." The burly Aussie who disdains the fripperies of show biz is always working. (Yes, he was born in New
Zealand, but he self-identifies as an Australian.)
So, what will this talented actor do with the role of Noah, in Darren Aronofsky's Biblical take on the guy who builds the Ark and saves human and animal-kind? Indeed, what will this "Noah" be like, in Aronofsky's hands? The director is known for his dark, intense and sometimes creepy films--"Requiem for a Dream," "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan." Cecil B. DeMille he ain't.
Well, end of the world stories are always intense, so Mr. Aronofsky might be on solid ground, before it rains, anyway.
Crowe will be an interesting Noah. The Ark-builder is often portrayed as foolish and a heavy drinker.
Nothing foolish about Mr. Crowe's persona.