James Lipton

The host of Inside gives his insight on the show's 15th season.

on Sep 23, 2008

In the beginning, I guess I was meant to be a writer. If not, why could I read (uncomprehendingly, to be sure) when I was one and a half? That claim is usually met with derision (with which there's a good chance it's being met at this moment), but I can only report what my mother told me. She was a teacher and my father was a poet, and my assumption has always been that he just couldn't wait for me to be able to read his poetry, so the reading lessons began in the nursery. I suppose, with enough effort and patience, you can teach an infant to do practically anything, as you'd teach tricks to a dog or an organ-grinder's monkey. My mother wasn't given to what Mark Twain called "stretchers," and when I, as an adult, joined the doubters about my precocity, she offered two proofs. The first concerned a trip to the pediatrician that, according to my mother, nearly cost me my life as it was barely beginning. Since my father was a professional poet, we were always a little short of the ready, to put it bluntly--and mildly. Therefore, when a pediatric visit was scheduled, my mother, who had to be at school at the appointed hour, called upon her brother, who owned a car (which we decidedly didn't), to drive me there, wait at the doctor's office and, on his return, deliver me to the doorman of our apartment building, who would take me up to our apartment, where Mother would by this time be waiting. Mother reported that her brother rolled down the window on the passenger side and handed me through it, an infant in swaddling, to the doorman. This was one of Mother's proofs, confirmed by my uncle: a package small enough to pass through a car window couldn't be older than a year and a half. In Mother's account, I looked up at the doorman and read the name on his cap, "Lee Plaza," and the doorman dropped me (with, I think, arguable justification. Kids bounce: I was delivered to Mother only a little the worse for wear. The doorman may have taken longer to recover. At three, I was "writing" poetry, in the bardic, oral tradition, every awful lay faithfully transcribed by my father. Fortunately, none survive. At five, when I entered kindergarten, my mother received a call informing her with regret that her son appeared to be mentally impaired. When Mother arrived at the school in a state of alarm, she was offered a vantage point from which, unobserved, she could watch me in the classroom. "See?" the kindergarten teacher said. What Mother saw was her son, wandering from one group of children to another as they applied crayons to coloring books, or constructed houses from blocks, or built sand castles. I would watch listlessly, my hands behind my back, then move on, in an unchanging cycle of indifference. "He won't even sit down," the teacher said. Mother breathed a sigh of relief. "Give him a book," she said. "He'll sit down." They did, I did, and Mother went off to her school.

I wish all our Actors Studio students, and all students everywhere, a happy, productive school year.