Remembering Robert Stone: Phyllis Rose
"He had a kind of x-ray vision into human systems"
Like many extraordinary people, Bob was unusually kind. You never heard him say a nasty word about anyone, and when you spoke to him, whatever came out of your mouth, he nodded and smiled encouragingly. Thus reassured, you began to make sense. You always felt better—smarter and a better person—in his presence. Also more knowledgeable, because he seemed to be able, when he got talking, to let you in on the secrets of the universe. He knew everything about everything—how capitalism works, how governments work, and on down to how a shrimp boat works and what the shrimpers do to relax. He had a kind of x-ray vision into human systems. Most of all—and this was the source of his kindness, I think—he never prided himself on his own brilliance but bore it lightly and worked hard to keep it from alienating him from the less gifted, that is to say, most of us.
I photographed him once for a book jacket and to distract him from the camera, asked him to recite something. He began at the very beginning of King Lear: “I thought the king had more affected the Duke of Cornwall than Albany.” I thought this was the mark of a supreme artist, who saw the work of art as a whole and not just a series of great speeches, and, if I’m not stretching it too much, of a good-hearted, democratic man who, much as he sympathized with Lear (and he went on movingly to speak “Never, never, never, never, never”), realized there were many other actors on the stage. It was also, of course, the mark of someone who had acted in King Lear and greatly enjoyed the experience. I think it was Gloucester he played.
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