James Lipton was so interested in telling everyone else's story that it never dawned on me that I didn't even know his own. In a world (now) filled with interview based programming, INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO stood alone. I've never seen anything like it. All of the pieces fit perfect, and that was largely in part to the man up on the stage behind a desk at a Pace University lecture hall. He let people tell their story without a morsel of judgement. I can't think of many, if any, others even remotely in his league when it comes to guiding his subjects to times in their lives - both good and bad - and granting them the feeling of safety to speak freely. Every interview, despite being recorded for a national audience, despite being in front of a physical, in-studio audience, felt like it was just him and the actor. It was more therapy session than interview. The meat of this show took place during a time when you'd only see these actors either on the silver screen or on a late night talk show where they'd get ten minutes to tell pre-planned stories before pitching their new project and leaving. They were still acting even when they weren't acting. INSIDE THE ACTOR'S STUDIO removed that persona, that guise, and allowed them to be humans. That has become more common now since the advent of social media and podcasting, but still - nothing quite like how Lipton conducted.
It was jarring to read that he was 93. I have no idea how old I thought James Lipton was, I think if you had asked me at any point over the last 20 years I would have said 67. And it was a long 93, and I say that with all due respect. Because it wasn't until I was talking to Tyler that I knew James Lipton was a literal pimp. Per Variety:
“It was only a few years after the war,” Lipton tells Parade about his experience in the 1950s. “Paris was different then, still poor. Men couldn’t get jobs and, in the male chauvinist Paris of that time, the women couldn’t get work at all. It was perfectly respectable for them to go into le milieu.”
Lipton speaks frankly, fondly, and idealistically about the women and he worked with in those days. “They were beautiful and young and extraordinary,” he recalls. “There was no opprobrium because it was completely regulated. Every week they had to be inspected medically. The great bordellos were still flourishing in those days before the sheriff of Paris, a woman, closed them down. It was a different time.”
Lipton explains that he became involved in the business out of necessity, not intrigue, when he ran out of money and a friend, who happened to be a prostitute, welcomed him into the industry. In addition to representing her, Lipton remembers that he represented “[a] whole bordello.” Modestly, he adds, “I did a roaring business, and I was able to live for a year. . . I was going through my rites of passage, no question about it. It was a great year of my life.”
This man was an actor, a dancer, a pilot, a prop for Conan O'Brien, and, among hundreds of other things, a Parisian pimp. You talk about a life lived to the fullest imaginable extent. I thought this man was a legend for his interview skills alone. Only to come to find out this man was underneath the Eiffel Tower selling Eiffel Towers for the low. Pee Wee Kirkland wasn't a legend in this many games.
Rest in peace to the legend James Lipton after 93 hard, good years of living.