A few years ago (around ‘06 or ‘07) I was working on a show for ESPN where we were trying to set up interviews with people who could speak on a wide range of influential American former college athletes. Basically we were trying to get people who could be knowledgeable about someone like Arthur Ashe, but also Dwight Eisenhower or Sally Ride.
Anyway, I thought about David Halberstam since he’s basically written books on every aspect of American sociology, and through an internet phone search, I ended up finding a publicly listed residential phone number! And I decided to call it, and he answered his home phone! Which I guess makes sense, but still seemed kinda crazy.
So anyway, I explained to him what we were doing, and he said “That sounds really interesting Tom, but I wonder what you mean by influence, as that word is open to several interpretations…” And basically we ended up talking for like 15 minutes about different types of influence. I don’t remember the particulars, but I can recall him being fixated on the fact that Jackie Robinson ran a coffee company after he retired from baseball, and what that transition must have been like to do a fairly mundane job after living life under a microscope for so long.
He told me at the end to call him back when we were setting up interviews, so I called him back a week later, and we talked again for like another 15-20 minutes about JFK being obsessed with the Army-Navy football game every year, and why John Wooden won so many games as a basketball coach, and that he had spoken to Madeline Albright about how she was a great swimmer/diver in college. It was weird. But he still wouldn’t agree to the interview, and told me to call him back on the day that we were shooting interviews. The right thing to do here would have been to urge him to commit to being present on the scheduled day/time, but I am not fully equipped when it comes to dealing with things like “being a professional.”
The day we were actually shooting the interviews, I called him and left a voicemail, and he called me back and said he couldn’t make it. My boss was not pleased that I dropped the ball on this, and I was disappointed that we couldn’t get Halberstam on the show, but I had already basically gotten my own private version of the show from him at that point, so I felt OK overall.