I don’t get much of a chance to practice these days, but one of my favorite forms of writing was creating long-form historical profiles of distinguished individuals based on personal interviews. Here are a few of my favorites.
The Outspoken American: Aviator, Senator and Humanitarian George McGovern (Airport Journals)
It was absolutely my pleasure to carry out one of the last truly extensive, career-spanning interviews with Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. We talked about his career flying bombers during World War II, his nearly lifelong sparring session with President Richard Nixon, and his friendship with gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. He was funny, and brilliant, and compassionate. This piece got quoted a lot when the Senator passed away in 2012.
I was very proud when he wrote into the letters column after the feature ran: “I just wanted to tell you that your article in Airport Journals in the May issue by Clayton Moore was one of the most comprehensive and well-written accounts of my life I’ve ever read. I’ve had a few done over the years, but none of them has been better than this one. It was just superb. Eleanor was also delighted with it, and I’m going to send it around to some of my friends.” Thanks, George.
I have met and interviewed astronauts, test pilots and special forces operators, and I have never met anyone as brave as Carlotta Walls LaNier. She was the youngest of the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School, escorted by federal troops during that violent fall of 1957. I also grew up in Arkansas, so I felt something of a connection to her story, but the civil rights activist is also notoriously shy. To really make this story shine, I took the time to go down to the Tattered Cover, where the author was giving a short presentation and a book signing, so I could introduce myself personally so she would know who I was when we did our telephone interview the next day. What I remember so clearly about that night is that Mrs. LaNier came around and introduced herself personally to every single person in the audience before her talk, to thank them for coming to hear her story. Just an amazing person and one of the highlights of that year.
And here are a few more favorites that can tell their own stories.
Chronicle of Repression (Rocky Mountain News) A reflection on Anna Politkovskaya’s A Russian Diary
Bobby Darin: Singing His Heart Out (Retrospective)