SIX MEN by Alistair Cooke
Kirkus Star


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In thirty-plus years of telling Britons about Americans, and vice versa, Alistair Cooke has made some notable contacts--six of whom are variously recaptured, assayed, and set in concrete here. ""The one and only Charlie Chaplin"" was at the height of his fame when, in 1933, he befriended ""a lean, black-haired twenty-four-year-old Englishman on a two-year fellowship at Yale""--and a summer writing assignment for the London Observer--who became confidante, sailing companion (along with ""my friend, Miss Goddard""), piano-duet partner, script collaborator (on a projected film about Napoleon on St. Helena). . . before Chaplin failed to appear as best man at Cooke's wedding. This is heady stuff--Chaplin sounding off against capitalism (and boasting that he beat out the Crash); re-enacting Edward VII at Sandringham, ""the huge patrician buffalo to the life""; explaining the blind girl/rich man/tramp foul-up in City Lights (""a slamming [limousine] door"")--untouched, in the main, by Cooke's occasional dig at Chaplin's not-so-""impressive"" intellect, his not-so-real radicalism. Edward VIII appears first, and disarmingly as the Crown Prince at a 1932 reception for Cooke and other US-bound students--where Edward, sporting an identical custom-made suit, hopes that theater-student Cooke will have a chance (""shocking suggestion"") to direct an American musical. There follows a lengthy reprise of what Mrs. Simpson wrought, the British press hushed up, and Edward never understood: the gathering constitutional crisis (""the genuine threat of a King's Party"") that mandated abdication. All of which Cooke reported posthaste for NBC. He had a special relation to H. L. Mencken too, as a fellow-connoisseur of American English, and the Baltimore bravo is kindly handled here. Reporting his last political conventions, he remarks to an apologetic liberal (with Mencken, it's pick-a-quote), ""The trouble with you liberals. . . is you get uneasy when people don't agree with you."" The three remaining subjects--Adlai Stevenson, Bertrand Russell, Humphrey Bogart--could fascinate in turn, but Cooke either didn't know them well (no personal bond is in evidence), knows nothing unusual about them, or has no particular feeling for them--so he shows us Stevenson the charming vacillator, Russell the moralizing windbag, and Bogart the existential anti-hero. Three and three, then--but the seventh man, Cooke himself, will put this in the winning column.

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 1977
Publisher: Knopf