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5 Craziest Talk Show Appearances by Writers

Watch Normal Mailer bully Gore Vidal, Jack Kerouac giggle with William F. Buckley Jr., Truman Capote trade quips with Groucho Marx, and a few other small-screen train wrecks.

Philip Roth surprised many book and TV fans recently when—despite his stated plan to retire from public life—he announced that he would grant a final interview on The Colbert Report in July. If all goes well, when Roth inevitably butts heads with Stephen Colbert, he will join a long tradition of fiery talk-show appearances by major writers. Here are five examples worth YouTubing immediately.

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1. Norman Mailer Feuds with Gore Vidal on The Dick Cavett Show (1971)
You could spend hours watching Norman Mailer getting surly, but this infamous set-to, in which the pugnacious Mailer alienated not only his fellow guests (writers Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner) and host Dick Cavett, but the entire studio audience. A drunken Mailer had reportedly headbutted Vidal minutes before the segment was filmed, and the tension is palpable. Even the normally unflappable Dick Cavett loses his temper, and invites Mailer to take his question sheet, "fold it five ways, and put it where the moon don't shine."

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2. James Ellroy Astounds Dave Chappelle on Late Night with Conan O'Brien (1999)
The notoriously confrontational author of L.A. Confidential didn't waste a moment with the usual make-nice talk-show chitchat, announcing within seconds of his entrance that he has it on good authority that then-president Bill Clinton is "hung like a cashew." He continues to endear himself to viewers by saying he'll never have children ("my wife and I hate the little [expletives]"), inviting fellow guest Dave Chappelle to be the Grand Dragon of his new "equal-opportunity Ku Klux Klan," and sympathizing with O'Brien over his alleged affliction with the "Irish curse." As a delighted Chappelle puts it, "This is like the most awesome experience of my career."

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3. Jack Kerouac Loses It with William F. Buckley Jr. on Firing Line (1968)
The Beat idol—author of the seminal On the Road—succumbed to a sad, alcohol-drenched decline during his final few years. In this clip, you can watch an apparently intoxicated Kerouac slur his speech, giggle and guffaw at inopportune moments, and spout outlandish political theories ("I think that the Vietnamese war is nothing but a plot between the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese—who are cousins—to get Jeeps in the country.").

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4. Truman Capote Trades Quips with Groucho Marx on The Dick Cavett Show (1971)
At first Marx and Capote don't seem particularly sympatico (Marx to Capote: "You're pretty shifty, aren't you?"), but after they discuss their shared experiences dropping out of school and their mutual admiration for Ring Lardner, things get more pleasant. After Capote laments that the IRS is taking all of his money, Groucho slyly recommends that the closeted writer get married in order to split the income taxes. Capote somewhat irritably replies, "Who do you suggest I get married to?" and Groucho responds, "I'd marry you in a minute if you'd write another hit book like you did about Kansas!"

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5. Maurice Sendak Hating on Kids on The Colbert Report (2012)
The irascible children's author shows rare comic timing here, admitting that he likes children "as few and far between" as he does adults ("Maybe a bit more, because I do not like adults at all practically"), and agreeing with Stephen Colbert that it's fine to interpret the wild rumpus from Where the Wild Things Are as sex: "The whole bed going up and down. Yes. Your mother screaming. Your father saying, 'Shut up!'"

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Also on Details.com:
The Details Guide To Summer Reading 2014
5 Hot Summer Books . . . In 10 Words Or Less
A Sneak Peek at the First Major Biography of John Updike

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