Scarlet Fever

James Lipton shares his love for his beautiful wife.

April, spring ... and another blog.

Spring is my favorite time of year. I explain why in my book Inside Inside: I confess that I am hugely fond of beginnings and, by logical inference, averse to endings. I don't know whether this makes me an optimist or a pessimist, but I've long since reconciled myself to the fact that it's there and it's never going to go away.

April may be the cruelest month to Eliot, but to me it's the kindest, with its portents of spring, which is crammed with beginnings. Of holidays, I enjoy Memorial Day because it officially begins the pleasant summer season, and dislike Labor Day because it ends it. Thanksgiving is welcome because it begins the Christmas season, of which I confess to being inordinately fond, and I'm resistant to the compulsory joy of New Year's Eve, because it ends it.

This affection for beginnings has had a predictable effect on my preferences. Though I should know better than to invite comparison with my betters as I begin my own literary effort, I confess to unbridled admiration for the blunt simplicity of "Call me Ishmael"; the instant dramatic engagement of "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"; the authorial certainty of "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"; the ringing challenge of Donne's "Go and catch a falling star,/Get with child a mandrake root"; the quiet fury of Yeats' "Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;" the stately opening chords of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, which greet us not with the C-major tonic but with a submediant A minor chord, as if the boat had left the dock without us, and we had no choice but to jump in and swim after it; the ominous minor key (verbally and musically) of Irving Berlin's "There may be trouble ahead," before he shifts jubilantly to a major key for "Let's face the music and dance!"

As always, I'm grateful to all of you who have responded to my blog. Jennie Christian, you ask whether the fact that your answers to the Pivot Questionnaire change from time to time is "a bad thing." Not at all. My answers sometimes change, too. The Questionnaire is designed to reveal a current state of mind, so, of course, the answers change.I hope you continue to answer it. L Kelly, in answer to your wish, the Robin Williams Inside the Actors Studio DVD is about to burst upon the world -- with forty minutes more of never-before-seen-or-heard Robin. My wife's name is Kedakai, and Jenny has asked how it's pronounced. The first syllable, which is accented, rhymes with "bread," the second rhymes with "Uh," and the third rhymes with "sky." It means "noble" in Japanese, which I find entirely fitting.

In fact, Kedakai is half Japanese and half Irish, which may explain her extraordinary beauty. You don't have to take my word for it. There are photographs of her in Inside Inside that make the case far better than any words of mine.

One photo is of a famous nude portrait of Kedakai, painted for a Paris Review poster by the artist Paul Davis. As I say in the book:

The poster hangs in the Plimpton salon on East Seventy-second Street, and in our home, and on the wall at Elaine's Restaurant, next to a bust of George, in a memorial to our departed friend. Elaine usually seats my guests and me at the table under it, where I preside beneath my wife's graceful form with understandable pride. There is another photograph of Kedakai in Inside Inside that has occasioned as much comment as anything else in the book. It's a card from the famous board game Clue on which Miss Scarlet, holding a long cigarette holder, glances seductively at the bearer of the card. Miss Scarlet is in fact my wife, Kedakai. Literally. On the card and the cover of the Clue box. As I wrote in the caption under the card: How many men can claim to be the husband of Miss Scarlet? It's unnerving, however, to discover that your wife committed the murder in the library with the candlestick. There's a lot more about Kedakai in the book. Thanks, Jenny, for asking how to pronounce her name. It gave me this opportunity to brag about her again.

A Mad Mad Mad 'Mad Men'

James Lipton discusses the intense preparation he (gladly) underwent to interview the cast of 'Mad Men.'

The title of this blogs tells the story. On May 14th you'll see the largest cast ever assembled on our stage. Eight -- count 'em, eight -– members of the Mad Men cast arrayed in front of me and our students and you the viewers.

If you've been watching our show you know we've interviewed casts before -- The Simpsons, Law and Order, Will and Grace, Everybody Loves Raymond, Modern Family, Family Guy, Glee -- but this one breaks the population record: Jon Hamm, January Jones, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery, Jared Harris, Kiernan Shipka and the show's co-creator Matt Weiner, lined up and ready to go.

And bear in mind that when I have groups like this on stage, I prepare for each member of the group as if he or she were my only guest. Since it normally takes between seven and 14 days to prepare for a single guest, this show took. . .well, you can do the math. And you know what? I loved every minute of it. I normally watch everything a guest has put on film. In the cases of television series, I watch selected episodes from each season. In the case of Mad Men, I watched every frame of every episode, from their premiere to the night they walked on our stage -- 54 episodes. Not because I was obliged to do so, but quite simply because I was hooked.

In a little more than three years, Mad Men has won three Best Drama Emmys and three Best Drama Golden Globes, and for good reason. It's that good. The writing, the acting, the direction -- every element of the series is fresh, different, and constantly surprising.

Over the years, I've said on Inside the Actors Studio that nothing impresses me more than the ability of an actor -- or a dramatic work -- to stay ahead of the audience. What lay at the heart of Marlon Brando's great gift was the ingenuity and brilliance of his choices. You could never outguess him, never anticipate him. You simply surrendered to the utter unpredictability -– and ultimate inevitability -- of his choices.

For me, the collective creators of Mad Men possess that ability to first startle, then persuade us, drawing us deeper and deeper into the lives of the series' characters. And that's what Matt Weiner and his cast brought to our stage, laying bare their characters' -- and at moments -- their own souls for our students -- and you.

If you watch the episode you'll learn how alike Jon Hamm's and Don Draper's stories are. Look at the faces of his co-stars as he reveals the source of Don. Time and again the groups who've come to us have expressed their astonishment at how much they’re learned about each other on our stage, secrets they hadn't learned in years of intimate daily contact. This night was no exception.

There were lighter moments, too, as when Vincent Kartheiser revealed the similarities between himself and his character, Pete Campbell. Both, he lamented, "are creepy." Jared Harris described his stepfather Rex Harrison with a dry and revealing "He wasn't that fond of children." And Matt Weiner revealed -- to us and Jon Hamm -- that the reason Jon had to audition seven times for the role of Don was that someone at the network kept complaining he wasn't "sexy enough."

Twelve-year-old Kiernan Shipka revealed that she isn't allowed to watch any of the show's scenes but her own, for obvious reasons -- and for the same reason, she was confined to her dressing room with her mother as the cast and I discussed the events and storylines that would have made her presence on stage inappropriate. Since the cast, in their fervor, spent a generous six hours with our students, it was midnight before Kiernan was allowed to come to the stage to be interviewed -- whereupon she, in the words of Entertainment Weekly, stole the show -- by responding to my frequently expressed invitation to dance for our students with a balletic display that brought the house down.

There was more -- much more -- but you'll have to tune in on May 14th to see and hear it. Not exactly a hardship.