A Brief Encounter With Robert Altman

Ten days before he died, I met Robert Altman at a party in New York for his friend Gore Vidal’s new book. I was on a couch and he was in an armchair when a friend started telling him how much Nashville had meant, how it had defined the spirit of that era. Altman looked at her and nodded once, but didn’t want to play. He was too wise, or ironical. He wanted to talk about real stuff now, about having to go to the doctor 15 times a week and about the big problem with old age being to figure out what to do with yourself. When I said he could chase girls, he said, “Oh you can do that, but the only problem is what if you catch one.”

He had a wry smile and I got to teasing him. “How often have you gone to a party and met someone and said, ‘I really like that guy’s energy, I got to have him in my next film?’”

“Never.”

“Come on Bob, work with me. Where do you want the sideburns? Here or here?”

He laughed. “I got something for you—you can be a driver.”

Now when I read the obits I see the guy I met that night, someone natural and warm and sly, who didn’t take himself too seriously.