Below, theater critic and writer Kenneth Tynan reaches out to New Yorker editor William Shawn, regarding potential pieces on Paul McCartney, Harold Pinter, and Czech writer Antonin J. Liehm. Tynan had been a regular contributor to the New Yorker in the late 1950s, and continued to write sporadically for the magazine thereafter.
January, 1970, London
Dear Mr Shawn,
I’m saddened to have to tell you that Paul McCartney doesn’t want to be written about at the moment—at least, not by me. I gather that for some time now the Beatles have been moving more and more in separate directions. Paul went to a recording session for a new single last Sunday which was apparently the first Beatles activity in which he’d engaged for nearly nine months. He doesn’t know quite where his future lies, and above all he doesn’t want to be under observation while he decides. I quite understand how he feels, but, coming on top of the Pinter turndown, it’s a bit of a blow.
May I propose another idea? I was lunching the other day with an exiled Czech writer who used to edit the literary magazine that was the cultural spearhead of the Dubcek reforms. He has the advantage of speaking enough foreign languages to be able to work outside Czechoslovakia; but he told me that most Czech artists were nowadays feeling terribly isolated and abandoned. They are trying in small ways to continue their work under pressure, and nobody outside Czechoslovakia is paying any attention. ‘If you get the chance,’ my friend said, ‘do write something to show them that they’re not completely forgotten.’ I know these people well, and I too have been guilty of blotting them out of my mind since the new régime imposed itself. Would you consider letting me do a piece, on Prague Revisited, to find out what remains—if anything—of that brutally dismantled artistic renaissance? I don’t mean a series of reviews of plays, films, etc., but an attempt to understand the atmosphere in which these men are working. I do not imagine that it could be other than a fairly melancholy piece. Do let me know if this idea has any appeal for the magazine.