THE SIXTIES Diaries, Volume Two: 1960-1969
By Christopher Isherwood Edited by Katherine Bucknell Harper. 756 pp. $39.99
Not for nothing did Christopher Isherwood coin the line “I am a camera.” In this, the second volume of the British expat novelist and screenwriter’s diaries, he takes the reader to the funeral of movie producer David (“Gone With the Wind”) Selznick, at which Katharine Hepburn read Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.” As Isherwood tells it, “When she got to the last line, she turned toward the coffin and said, ‘. . . You’ll be a Man, my son!’ I later heard that George Cukor thought this a supreme touch of artistry. I thought it farcical.” Elsewhere, Don Bachardy, Isherwood’s lover, lists which of their friends he finds it “fun to be with,” the first three being Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Tony Richardson — two writers and a film director, all of such brilliance that it makes you wonder how Bachardy and Isherwood put up with ordinary mortals.
Isherwood’s unflinching perceptiveness extends even to inanimate objects, as when he takes a hard look at the Watts Towers, those pieces of junk architecture that have become a Los Angeles landmark. He reminds us that the assembler, Simon Rodia, wasn’t just a throwaway-item aesthete. It was fame he was after. “I had in mind to do something big,” Isherwood quotes him as saying, “and I did.”