One of the clearest memories of my childhood is the fact that my parents went to a wedding out in California when I was in first grade, and it was the wedding of Bob Hope’s daughter to Nathaniel Lande, son of prominent Augusta doctor Robert Greenblatt, who happened to be a customer of my Dad’s at the bank. Mom wrote a blog about the wedding here. It was the trip of a lifetime.
When I was editing Mom’s post I Googled Nathaniel Lande just to see what had happened to him since that long-ago wedding. I found his website and read, fascinated by his life. He and Linda Hope have been divorced for years, but he had gone on to a fascinating and full life.
From his website: At CBS he began his career in the mailroom, and soon was selected by the legendary Michael Dann and William Paley, to work for the head of Programming. Then he joined the producing staff of PM East, hosted by Mike Wallace, with his good friend, Peter Lassally, (who would later become producer of the Tonight Show at NBC). By night, the young and enterprising producers searched for talent discovering Woody Allen at the Bon Soir, a small club in New York, and Barbra Streisand at One Fifth Avenue, and were the first to book them on national television.
On his website, there was a form email for folks wanting to contact him and I fired off an email and introduced myself. Much to my shock, he answered, fairly quickly. He remembered Dad very well, and spoke of him fondly.
Nat has lived an incredible life. He worked at CBS and NBC for twenty years. He was with Time Life for years and traveled the world. He has written numerous books. He planned events for the White House and knew two presidents. While still a student [at Oxford] he wrote a show that was very successful in London.
He’s also credited with inventing the first electronic book, and directed two award winning documentaries. He won an Academy Award for technology after he invented a type of camera lens.
I’ve gone far afield from my usual Twenty Questions format, just because Nat is such a fascinating interview. Talking to him over the course of two days was informative and delightful.
How long has it been since you visited Augusta? I haven’t been in Augusta -- maybe it’s gotta be 30 years or more. [We went on to reminisce about Augusta, a bit.]
I remember the Town Tavern restaurant – it had great steaks.
I grew up with Billy Morris [son of the newspaper editor and later of Morris Communications]. Billy and I used to ride horses every day. We were the best of friends.
You’re the only person I’ve interviewed that has homes in two different places. How much time do you spend in each place every year? I live in California. I rent out the New York apartment now. It’s overlooking the park. A very special place. It’s just one bedroom, but there’s an upstairs, and a very spacious living room/dining room. It’s a landmark building and every room overlooks the park. I’ve had it for 50 years. I was very lucky when the building became a condo I had the opportunity to buy. It’s just quadrupled in value 2 or 3 times. I have a great tenant who pays me a very good rate.
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You’ve met two presidents, Kennedy and Johnson. Tell me about that. Richard Atler used to produce a lot of shows for Kennedy and he recruited me as one of his assistants. When Johnson came along I was close to Bill Moyers and Liz Carpenter and they asked me to produce shows at the White House. The first one I did was a history of presidential campaign songs starting in 1800 and going up to Johnson; it was called Sing Along with Millard Fillmore. Walter Cronkite narrated – a soft-spoken gentleman, a lovely man.”
I did another show based on a narrative from Thomas Wolfe. It was a special event. I liked Lyndon Johnson a lot. I liked the whole family. One of my favorite stories in a book called The Cigar Connoisseur: An Illustrated History and Guide to the World's Finest Cigars [even tho I’m a nonsmoker] involves Johnson.
I attended a dinner at the White House. Each table was asked to have a designee get up and speak. When it came around to our table, I stood up and quoted a verse form Thomas Wolfe, “Look Pilgrim, look to the promise and the hope…” It was a lovely paragraph. After dinner, Bill Moyers said the president would like you to join him [in the White House]. I walked into his bedroom and there was Gregory Peck and Bill Moyers and Hubert Humphrey, and Joe Califano. The president was having a massage and was stark naked.
It was kind of hard to keep a straight face. As soon as anyone said anything remotely funny we just burst into laughter and the president looked at us skeptically. Finally he turned his attention to me and said “Those were some pretty nice words. Hubert, pull out some cufflinks, and give a pair to Nathaniel, and give a pair to Gregory.” The president gets off the table, and he presents me with the gold cufflinks. I just bowed politely and thanked him. He was naked. It didn’t bother him at all.
About a year later I’m in Paris, coming home from a dinner party, walking down Avenue Foch on the way back to the Bristol Hotel. Coming up the street I see Gregory Peck and we meet. Both of us laughed and said we’ll never forget that night. We both agreed nobody would ever believe it. We exchanged phone numbers so we could vouch for each other.
We were all smoking cigars and they were left over from Kennedy – and they were straight from Havana.
On President Kennedy: I was there when Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to him at Madison Square Garden. He loved it. Jackie didn’t think much of it. [Monroe was rumored to have had an affair with Kennedy.]
One source I found said you were friends with Ernest Hemingway. He was a large gruff man. He had a gravelly voice. He liked to think of himself as a man’s man, a sportsman. My father was a visiting professor of medicine in Cuba, pre-Castro, in the 40’s and 50’s and we used to go to Havana. It was my father who was first introduced and they became friends, and my dad was his doctor occasionally. Papa had a place outside Cuba and when he left he gave it to the nation. It’s been left intact. [You can see photos of the home here.] He and his wife Mary lived there. He was a very loving man and when I was 7 or 8 and we would go out on the Pilar, his boat, and fish, and go hunting on horseback. I have many many stories of time with him.
The last time I saw him, I was in Spain with a friend. We went down to have something to eat and there was this very provincial room, a tavern, and there were 3 people sitting in the next table and I said to my friend would you like to meet Hemingway? Of course. Hemingway said “Natty! My how you’ve grown.” He invited me to go to the bullfights the next day, and we went.
Your latest novel is The Life and Times of Homer Sincere. What inspired you to write that? How these characters come to you I don’t know but they arrive on your doorstep and you start living with them. They take you with them. It’s just a story about friendship and two friends and what they meant to each other. Neither could have been the person they became without the other. The things they experienced together… it’s glorious story of friendship.
When your son was growing up, did you do a lot of traveling? Did you take him along? When he was around 10 or 11 I was with Time/Life and I had written a speech for the head of TWA and he said how much do I owe you and I said I’m glad to do it. Next thing I know, there were two first class tickets to Paris on my desk. So I said to Andrew, are you still having trouble with that term paper on French history? He said yeah Dad. So we went to Paris. We checked into the Bristol Hotel and were sitting there having lunch and the waiters were serving us pomme soufflés, tarte tatin and crème brulees, paying a lot of attention to Andrew, and we had a great time. Finally I received the bill and it was quite extravagant, about $300. And Andrew looked at me and said Gee Dad I really love Paris! [he laughed at the memory]
[Note: Nat and his son went on to write, years later, a terrific travel book called The 10 Best of Everything, Third Edition: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers]
You are credited with inventing the electronic book in 1991. What brought that about? I didn’t invent it but I certainly pioneered it. I developed one of the first prototypes. There was a major article about it in Publishers Weekly in Sept. 1991. I’m afraid I was a little bit too early. They were more comfortable with the printed word on the printed page. I thought it would be great for textbooks, and an enormous saving on paper. We had a very nice prototype. Ours was in color. It was a long time coming. Ours at that time was using smart card technology which means you can hold maybe 50 titles. When Amazon came along and you could download it electronically that was a convenient way for distribution.
I loved your book Cricket. I know a lot of it was based on your own life. Was it therapeutic to write?
Most first novels are largely autobiographical. It seems endemic of first novels. They say write what you know. It was very honest, very straightforward. I got no flak about it. My father used to keep it in his office and it helped sell copies. He lived to see 2 or 3 of the books.
Tell me about your book Dispatches from the Front News Accounts of American Wars, 1776-1991
After a long history with Time Inc. and having covered the Vietnam War extensively, and when I was a professor of journalism, I got interested in some of the assignments. With a lot of help from my students doing research we crafted a nice book. I knew a lot of the correspondents from Time. I used to fly with Larry Burrows. He was shot down in Cambodia about 3 weeks after I flew with him. Paul Schutzer was another Life photographer. I brought his body back from the 6 day war.
What is your full name? I took my mother’s name, Lande. I reversed it. It was Nathaniel Lande Greenblatt, and I became Nathaniel Greenblatt Lande. I started writing under Nathaniel Lande. Dad encouraged it. He thought it was great. He thought Lande was much simpler.
Where would you live, if you could live anywhere in the world? London - I went to Oxford, and did my graduate work there. Still have a lot of friends there. I try to get over there for an extended time once a year. My second choice would be Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires has Recoleta, a section designed by the French and is more Parisian than France. The buildings, food, atmosphere -- very French. I also love to tango and play polo.
What is your favorite movie and why? There are so many… I remember a movie about 10 years ago called The Postman. It’s really hard to identify just one movie. I just saw Woody Allen’s film Magic in the Moonlight and I thought it was a hoot.
What was your least-favorite subject in school when you were a kid? Math. I was too young to really understand the concepts and the mathematical formulas to the universe. A lot of formulas and memorization and I couldn’t relate to it that well.
What was your nickname when you were a kid? Natty – my dad called me Natty boy.
Do you believe in God? I believe in God, but not in a formal sense. There is certainly a force. I also believe in nature and the scientific equations.
What sound or noise do you love? I guess I love the sounds of the ocean. We’re on a hillside, a mountainside, 10 minutes from the ocean.
If you could do anything other than what you do, as a profession, what would it be? I think perhaps directing more films, feature films, and also plays for Broadway. I would’ve slanted my career in that direction. Instead, I had to make a living so I started in the mailroom at CBS and worked my way up and never really returned to playwriting, which I loved. I loved playwriting and theater. [He wrote a successful play in England and it had a run in the West End.] I won the prize at Duke, and they had a musical playwriting contest and I won that in my junior year. Took my BA at Duke, graduated 1956, then went to Oxford. Years later I was a professor of journalism at Chapel Hill. I went back to Trinity College Dublin and earned my doctorate when I was in my 50’s.
If heaven exists, what do you think it is like? I would hope that it would be a little bit more peaceful, and easier, and without prejudice. Satisfying. Enjoyable. Filled with the things that you appreciate most.
Do you have siblings? I do, I have a brother who died a few years ago. I have a sister who lives in Atlanta.
What is your favorite memory of childhood [something specific]? A houseman we had named Andrew was the most delightful and colorful man I’ve ever known. He had all the attributes of wisdom and kindness. He looked after me, brought me up. I adored him.
If you had to choose between one week traveling around the USA by car, or one week traveling around Europe on a train, which would you choose and why? At this point in my life, having logged about 3 million miles in the last 5 years for National Geographic, I would say just hopping in a car and rediscover the US. I would like to see the national parks – Yellowstone, the Smokies, the Blue Ridge Highway from Virginia to North Carolina – it’s beautiful country.
What inspires you? Music. Great passions in a book. A good deed that’s carried out by someone else.
Which holiday do you prefer, Christmas or July 4th? Christmas. It’s a time of year of giving and it’s surrounded with so much tradition and color. It’s special to family and friends.
What project or idea are you most passionate about, right now? Well I am working on two new books, and so being a writer. I find that I have to force myself not to talk about it. I’d rather it come out as a written word rather than a spoken narrative. Until I see it published I try to keep it within me.
Do you know how to cook? I can cook maybe 5 or 6 special dishes. Sometimes I cook to impress my wife. I certainly cooked during my courtship. I’m not a great cook but I appreciate the great chefs. People seem to like the dishes. One is fettucine which I have a glorious and secret recipe for. The other is popovers. I make them on Sundays and we have them with butter and jam. It’s more traditional in New England, in the country.
What is your favorite thing to cook/eat? What I miss terribly is we had a cook who made southern fried chicken better than anyone in the world. She had an iron skillet which was 50 years old -- which my son inherited. She used to dip the chicken breasts in batter and fry them in Crisco. She also made chocolate brownies. I’ve never had a brownie as good.
If you could go on vacation anywhere in the world, for 2-4 weeks, all expenses paid, where would you go and why? I guess I would just hang out in London, for a month. From there I can fan out to Europe. Everything is reasonably close. It’s a good base.
How did you meet your wife?
My wife was a dancer with the Bolshoi. We met in New York. I was sitting in a café. It was a little French Bistro. She walked in with a friend of mine. I was introduced to her and I never looked back. That was 18 years ago.
What question has nobody ever asked you, but you wanted to answer? I would like to think I’m reasonably open and having enjoyed so much life experience and met so many people, I can’t think of a question that I never had an opportunity to answer.