Phantom at the Opera
Here are five things you might not know about John Edwards:
¶He never saw a single episode of “The Sopranos.”
¶He doesn’t like the opera, but his favorite musical is “Phantom of the Opera.”
¶His first date with Elizabeth was dancing at the Holiday Inn in Durham or Chapel Hill — he can’t remember which — sometime after which she made an ironclad rule that politicians should never dance.
¶He became a lawyer because as a kid he loved watching “Perry Mason,” “The Defenders” and “The Fugitive.” (Richard Kimble really needed a lawyer.)
¶His top sex symbol is a fellow North Carolinian, Andie MacDowell.
John Edwards has not written soulful poetry, like his old running mate John Kerry or his current rivals Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich. And he says that “if I have a Saturday off, I’m not going to the ballet.”
His approach to culture tends to be geographic — lots of Southerners, especially North Carolinians — and thematic, embracing subjects that dovetail nicely with the campaign trope of Two Americas.
After Mr. Edwards told George Stephanopoulos that “The Trial of Socrates” by I. F. Stone was “a wonderful book,” Bob Novak jumped on him, claiming that he had chosen a book by a “radical” journalist “identified as a covert Soviet agent.”
I tell the Democrat that Poppy Bush drolly told the story about his ’64 Texas Senate race, when a John Birch Society pamphlet suggested that Barbara Bush’s father, the president of McCall Publishing, put out a Communist manifesto called Redbook.
He laughs and says of Bob Novak, “Wait till he finds out I also like Langston Hughes.”
“There was a really beautiful piece about African-Americans and rivers,” Mr. Edwards says. “And another one that starts something like, ‘My old man is a white old man, my mother’s black.’ I thought it was really well done.” Those are from Hughes’s poems “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Cross.”
Though he’s often compared to a Southern lawyer out of John Grisham, and he says he used to “blow through” Grisham novels, Mr. Edwards doesn’t read him much anymore. The literary character he is “inspired” to identify with is, of course, Atticus Finch.
He likes Kaye Gibbons’s novel “A Virtuous Woman.” “She’s from North Carolina,” he says. And he enjoyed “Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier, another North Carolinian. “That was set in North Carolina,” he says. Right now he’s reading nonfiction, “The Race Beat,” by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, a chronicle of civil rights press coverage in the South.
He says the paintings in his house are by Southern artists, including North Carolinians named Joe Cave and James Kerr.
Asked about his Hollywood dream girl, natch, she’s a North Carolinian. “She’s in those skin commercials,” he says. “She was in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral.’ ” And his favorite actress is Glenn Close, who had to dub Andie MacDowell’s lines in her first big part, “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan,” because her Southern accent was so thick.
Fave actors? Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. (Don’t tell Bob Novak.)
He doesn’t watch much TV, he says, except when his son Jack gets him to watch “Jimmy Neutron,” or Elizabeth gets him to watch “Boston Legal” and “Brothers & Sisters” (a show he likes).
He loves Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who once defended the right of rich pols like him to talk about poor people. He says he’s seen his fellow Southern lawyer Fred Thompson on “Law & Order” a time or two when flipping channels to get to sports. “I’m a huge Tar Heels fan,” he says. “I know way too much about basketball and football.”
Movies? “ ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ ” he says. “I loved ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ‘Schindler’s List.’ And on a much lighter note, ‘Old School.’ ”
He may look like Bobby Sherman, but as a teen he liked the Allman Brothers, the Doors and the Stones. Now he plays U2, Springsteen and Dave Matthews on his iPod, “mostly compilations.” He says he’s not particularly fond of Celine Dion, whose “You and I” is Hillary’s insipid jingle.
Recalling his first date with Elizabeth, in law school, he says: “I was such a classy guy, I took her to the Holiday Inn to dance. It was loud. Elizabeth made fun of me for weeks for taking her there. Elizabeth thinks the two rules you always use in politics are: Don’t dance. And don’t wear hats.”
Especially not if you’ve got such a fabulous haircut to show off.