Perhaps that’s a bad take on the “most interesting man in the world,” but Barry Farber has earned the distinction. The legendary talk show host has so many great stories from his years as a journalist and on radio that one gets the feeling he’s done more on a Saturday afternoon in 1967 than some of us have done in our entire lives.
Now he has gifted us average Joes with a collection of stories that will keep you turning pages and then leave you saddened that you’ve come to the end of … “Cocktails with Molotov.”
Over 80 stories (these would probably have only filled six months or so for him) range from an encounter with Alfred Hitchcock to Buzz Aldrin.
Add to the mix the fact that Farber is also a language specialist of sorts – he speaks a variety of tongues – this is one interesting cat!
“Cocktails with Molotov” is the perfect therapy for a bad day. Curl up with this book, read a few stories here and there, and I guarantee you’ll feel better. Any book with a chapter titled, “The Man Who Married and Divorced Six Jewish Women Within Eighteen Months” cannot be ignored.
(Farber’s back cover photo bears a striking resemblance to the late music icon, Levon Helm. That has nothing to do with anything, although Farber would no doubt make a story from it.)
It helps, of course, that Farber is one superb storyteller. Having great stories is only half the battle. He is able to put you into the stories, such as his meeting with Hitchcock.
“Hitch” was preparing to release “Psycho” and agreed to meet the relatively unknown young radio host at his suite in New York’s St. Regis Hotel.
As Hitch extended his hand, Farber’s foot caught in the carpet and he went sprawling, eventually knocking over a vase of flowers. The iconic director was as laconic in his response as he was to the public: “Very impressive indeed.”
(You’ll have to get the book to learn of Farber’s question-and-answer with Hitchcock. Believe me, it’s more than worth it.)
Farber’s storytelling, which translates superbly to the written word, is on display on every page of “Cocktails with Molotov.”
Here’s a sampling, from Farber’s dinner invitation to the embassy of Indonesia; the occasion was a celebration of the country’s independence: The evening before, Farber had heard a guitarist play a particular song that struck him. At the conclusion of the dinner the next evening, after the group had been regaled with song, he blurted out that he’d like to hear that “crocodile” song.
I’ll let Farber take it from there: “A chill swept across the room. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong, but I knew I’d done something wrong. Finally, Wees leaned over and said quietly, ‘We don’t sing that song anymore.’”
“‘Why not?’ I asked, maybe a bit too aggressively.
“‘Because,’ she said, ‘it’s become the national anthem of Malaysia!’”
His impressions from a bygone era are wonderful, as well. He recalls going to the movies with family on Sept. 1, 1939 — a fateful day in world history. Once home, Farber and family huddled by the radio to listen to Hitler rant about Polish provocations.
Farber’s grandmother, from Eastern Europe, picked up subtleties in Hitler’s tone, and Farber was fascinated by her reaction: “Suddenly she exploded back. She started arguing with Hitler, shrieking every bit as loud as he was, at the radio set, virtually karate-chopping it for emphasis. And all of this on South Mendenhall Street in Greensboro, North Carolina.”
Another story, “The Ant,” illustrates Farber’s eye for detail, and lessons that can be drawn from it. Again, I won’t relate the whole story, but it involves guests at a dinner party mesmerized by the struggles of a single ant carrying a matchstick.
I found each of Farber’s short chapter stories wonderful, some of them profound, some hilarious. “Cocktails with Molotov” is a book I’m very glad to have, and I’ll read it again and again.