Five Things You Didn't Know About Maurice Sendak
Monday night I was in reader heaven: listening to one of my favorite authors talk about another of my favorite authors over dinner. It was after the ceremony for the Whiting Writers' Awards, given annually to writers at the beginning of their careers. The speaker was Tony Kushner, whose play "Angels in America" I'm obsessed with--both as a book and as an HBO miniseries. (Al Pacino's performance will break your heart into tiny little pieces.) Kushner joked about the irony that after he wrote last year's "Lincoln," a movie bursting at the seams with inspiring speeches, it was the first time in 18 years he hadn't been invited to give a commencement address. So, he had many inspiring words stored up for the Whiting honorees (of which he was one in 1990, years before "Angels").
But, the real treat for me was listening to Kushner talk afterwards about his decades-long friendship with Maurice Sendak--whose "Where the Wild Things Are" was my childhood bible. Some of what Kushner said about Sendak blew my mind--and were too good not to share. Here are five highlights:
1) Millions loved seeing Maurice Sendak appear as a guest on "The Colbert Report." When Sendak got the call, he'd never heard of Colbert--but he enjoyed being on the show so much that he asked to be a regular guest. He wanted to be Colbert's movie critic, with one stipulation: He would only review movies he hadn't seen. Colbert loved the idea. (Unfortunately Sendak's health declined before they could make it so.)
2) Sendak was a brilliant artist. But, in the 1940s and '50s when he was starting out, abstract art was all the rage--Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, etc.--and Sendak preferred to paint and draw recognizable humans and objects. He became an illustrator of children's books so that he could be paid for his art.
3) Sendak was an avid collector, obsessed in particular with Herman Melville, William Blake and Mozart. He owned a first-edition copy of "Moby-Dick" inscribed by Melville to his sister and dozens of rare Blake engravings, including one of "Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience" that had been embroidered by Blake's wife (she signed it "Mrs. Blake").
4) Sendak owned the second-largest Mickey Mouse paraphernalia collection in the world--but nothing that originated after 1940, when Mickey's looked changed in a way that Sendak hated.
5) In the early 1990s, long before Sendak was publicly "out," Kushner hosted a book party for him in Chelsea--unfamiliar territory to Sendak--to celebrate his book "Pierre." The packed crowd of lesbians and gay men gave Sendak a standing ovation and touted him as their hero.