Sterling Hayden, a Wiltonian whom I came to know in the late ’70s, was a fascinating, hungry, obviously vulnerable fellow, insecure and ridden with guilt about naming names in the ’50s, jolly or surly depending on the time of day, very singular, a great contentious bear of a man, always the thinker, certainly a poet or a man trying all the time to be one, a man of the sea and a boy in some ways.
And his legendary interviews with Tom Snyder around this late Carter period (when Hayden was 63 or 64) conveyed this. Watch this ten-minute clip and try to resist him — you can’t. So charmingly unsettled, so spirited and twitchy, speaking in his own special idiosyncratic shorthand. He really knew how to tell a story his way.
There are the rote facts of life, the plain material truth of things, and then there are the currents within. The singing angels, the demons, the fireflies, the banshees, the echoes, the dreams…the vague sense of a continuing infinite scheme and how we fit into that.
We all define our lives as a constant mixing of these two aspects, but the charm and final value of a person, for me, is about how much he/she seems to be dealing with the interior world, and how much he/she comments and refers to those currents and laughs about them, and basically lives on the flow of that realm.
Some go there more frequently or deeply than others, and some are just matter-of-fact types who let their spiritual side leak out in small little droplets from time to time, but Hayden, by my sights, was almost entirely about those currents.
He never just said, “I’d like a little sugar in my coffee” and let it go at that. Well, he would…but if you asked him to expand upon that notion he would just take off and you’d just sit back and marvel. Hayden knew various coffees and coffee growers and had walked through coffee plantations in the Caribbean at dawn and he knew all about how sugar was refined and would speak metaphorically about the sweetness of sugar being the enticement but coffee being the reality of it all, the bean from the earth, the bean that needed to turn brown and then be ground down and prepared just so, and then he’d be off on some tangent that took the coffee-vs.-sugar metaphor and ran with it, or took it and jumped off a cliff as it were.
We were once speaking about his role as the farmer in Bernardo Bertolucci‘s 1900 and he started to talk about his final line in the film, which he wrote, and I said it before he did — “I’ve always loved the wind” — and he loved that. He chuckled and patted my knee and said “God love ya.” (Originally posted on 11.14.10.)