By Bob Krauss
A mystery has bugged me for decades. How did Cobey Black quote Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry Fonda word-for-word in paragraph after paragraph of her columns? Did she have a tape recorder hidden in her bra? Did she make it all up?
None of the above. Cobey Black confessed to me last week that she had aural recall. Her mind was like a tape recorder. She could do the entire interview without taking notes, then go back and write down exactly what her celebrity said.
"But only if I immediately wrote the interview," she said. "Since then, I've lost a lot of it."
I finally screwed up the courage to ask because the Pacific & Asian Affairs Council is honoring Black tomorrow night, which gave me an excuse to interview her the way she once interviewed about 1,500 world-famous celebrities for both the Star-Bulletin and The Advertiser.
She said she went to Bill Ewing, editor of the Star-Bulletin in the 1950s, and asked why nobody interviewed celebrities.
"We can't find them!" he answered. So Cobey made up her mind to find the celebrities who come to Hawai'i. She found recluse Henry Fonda in a canvas chair on the set of "Mister Roberts," in Kane'ohe.
"How did you get in here?" he asked.
"I walked in to get an interview," she said.
"I can't talk to you now. Come to my hotel."
Fonda's hotel was The Palms on the Ala Wai, an out-of-the-way place with beaded curtains screening the living room.
Cobey said, "Mr. Fonda, I love the soliloquy you did in 'Grapes of Wrath' for your mother." Fonda said, "I like it, too. Let me do it for you."
So he went through the beaded curtains, brought back a straight-backed chair and straddled it with his hands on the backrest, his chin on his hands, and did the soliloquy.
Cobey said her shortest interview was with Elizabeth Taylor. This was on a tour boat in New York Harbor while Taylor was married to movie producer Mike Todd. The interview went like this:
Taylor Are you a b----?
Black Are you?
Black So long.
Cobey found Red Skelton on the sand by the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. As a girl, she had seen him in a vaudeville skit with partner Sam Gore. So she called out, "Has anybody seen Sam Gore?" Skelton called back, "Who said that?" Cobey got her interview.
She's interviewed all the U.S. presidents in her lifetime except the first (FDR) and the last (George W. Bush). She said the most quotable people were Truman Capote and Clare Boothe Luce. The most difficult to interview were intellectuals.
When she called the Star-Bulletin to suggest information from one of her columns for an obituary, the young editor on the line didn't know who Cobey Black was.
"Sic transit gloria," Cobey commented. "Young lady, that doesn't mean Gloria threw up on the bus."
Reach Bob Krauss at 525-8073.