I first met Marshall Frady in the Sinai desert during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when we shared the back seat of a Russian-made Egyptian Army jeep. Four months later we met again in Mexico City, this time as partners. We had successfully pitched Playboy magazine a long interview with Fidel Castro, and the editors sent us to the Mexican capital to negotiate with the Cuban Embassy.
At 23 years old, a decade less than Marshall, I was very much the junior partner. I was just barely breaking into journalism. Marshall, however–born in Augusta, Georgia, and educated at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina–had already made his bones having turned out stirring, street-level chronicles of the civil rights movement for Newsweek and The Saturday Evening Post. His 1968 biography of George Wallace had been an instant classic. And a short, stormy stint as a staff writer at Harper’s Magazine had established Marshall as one of America’s most gifted and mesmerizing practitioners of literary journalism.
Clearly echoing the dramatic, emotive Sunday morning oratory that he was constantly exposed to as the son of a Southern preacher, Marshall’s writing rang with almost biblical authority, crackling with insight, sparkling with wit and often overwhelming the reader with the sheer depth of character he was able to evoke.
Planning to be in Mexico only three days, I brought along my wife. Indeed, Patricia–whom I had met in Chile the year before–had arrived in the United States on a fiancée visa a few weeks before. We were going to get married at some point. But an hour before boarding the plane to Mexico we signed the papers so she could re-enter the United States as a resident.
This stolen honeymoon à trois–my wife and I and Marshall in the room next door in the Hotel Geneve–stretched into an amazing fifty-seven days. By day we would sit waiting for the Cubans to give us the go-ahead to Havana. By night, the three of us would dine, drink, dance and drink some more–all on Playboy‘s generous tab. Marshall would regale us with his reporter’s war stories and we would sit gimlet-eyed (so to speak).
“Cooper,” Marshall announced one day (his Southern pronunciation making it sound more like “Cupper”), “time to get serious. Time to write some books.” Without my knowing it, Marshall had rented us two IBM Selectric typewriters. The plan, he also announced, was for him to write a proposal for his next book–a bio of Billy Graham. My task, he told me, was to write a proposal for a book about my experiences in Chile as translator to President Salvador Allende.
I had no idea how to proceed. But Marshall had his own special discipline. The afternoon the typewriters arrived he went to the pharmacy next door to the hotel and bought–as you could back then–a roll of amphetamine tablets. Then he bought a fifth of J&B and, at sunset, locked himself in his room.