Overdrive: A Personal Documentary
It should be stated at the outset that I have known William F. Buckley, Jr., for twenty-three years, that he published the first free-lance piece I ever wrote (about growing up Irish Catholic in Hartford, Connecticut), that my impending marriage, in 1964, was announced not in The New York Times but in the editor’s notes column in the National Review. In the nineteen years since I last laid eyes on him, we have corresponded fitfully. I count seventeen communiqués from him in my files, many scribbled in haste in red ink (“Pots of love” being his usual valedictory in the 1960s), others typed with the somehow unnerving notation “Dictated in Switzerland, transcribed in New York.”
The communications usually arrived with books of his or contained comments on books of mine. Sometimes the comments were trenchant (“Stirring… and altogether orthodox,” he noted about an admiring book I had written about Cesar Chavez), sometimes generous (adding to his benediction the information that he had recommended the book to someone important like Sol Linowitz), sometimes cagey; he detested the motion picture made from a novel of mine, but with his voracious generosity of spirit tried to exempt the screenplay, which I wrote, from his good-hearted condemnation of the rest of the exercise.
The last time I saw Mr. Buckley was in 1964 at a Goldwater rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden shortly before the Republicans anointed the senator as their presidential candidate against Lyndon Johnson. With various members of his family and functionaries from the National Review, Mr. Buckley sat in the $1,000 royal box, conservatism’s viceroy regnant, lavishing his dazzling smile on the 18,000 courtiers gathered in the Garden, all of whom, with the possible exception of Senator Goldwater, seemed prepared to kiss the hems of his trousers. It was an idolatry that Mr. Buckley gave no sign of thinking either unjust or untoward.
The rally was standard right-wing guff, the level of humor peaking when the late congressman John Ashbrook referred to Walter Lippmann as “Walter Looselippmann.” After the rally, there was a party given for the Buckleys and their satraps, one of whom was a genial excommunist who could not keep his hands off AWOL servicemen, a condition made unexpectedly poignant by the repeated droll allegations in the Garden that liberals were double-gaited, limp-wristed, and generally light on their feet. The gentleman in question had stashed his latest find, a youthful marine, in a back bedroom along with the attaché cases, but the gyrene, under the mistaken impression that he was meant to be included in the revelry, kept popping up among the aristocracy of the American right like a stripper out of a birthday cake.
This is the sort of incident for which one will search in vain in Overdrive, the latest installment of the long-run Happy Hour that is Mr. Buckley’s version of his life. As with Cruising Speed, his 1971 excursion along the Buckley Expressway, he sets down the events of a single week,…
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