Dick Cavett hosted Little Richard, Erich Segal and critic John Simon all together one night in 1970. Little Richard was in the midst of one of his many splendid come-backs, and he sang Freedom Blues. Which was an almost. I kept wanting it to be better, but it was something. Then Eric Segal came out. Love Story was in the theaters, it was a huge hit, and he talked about classics, talked about the roots of Love Story being in Greek tragedy and such.
Then John Simon came out. Simon was not in a good mood. He tore into Segal with total abandon.
"What I want to know," he sneered, "is whether you're a fool or a knave. Whether you're an idiot who got lucky writing popular claptrap or are simply a very clever cynical man who makes money off of dead puppies. That, of course, is all Love Story is....dead puppies.”
Segal fumbled a bit, acted both weary and humiliated and above the fray and hapless and silly.
"People like it," he stammered. "They like it. That's all there is to it. It touched a popular nerve. I'm not saying I'm a genius…"
At which point Little Richard jumped back into the ring.
"Shut up," he cried. "Just shut up! I'm the only genius here. Who's talkin' bout genius? Me, I'm a genius, the Georgia peach, prettiest man in this room! Don't you know it?”
At which point he jumped onto John Simon's lap and cuddled him with a wild menace and contempt, the shock, surprise and terror on John Simon's face a thing of rare beauty, and all I remember hearing before they cut to a commercial was Little Richard howling once again, "The prettiest man in this room. And a genius! And a genius!"
Brian Cullman, Journal of the Plague Year Music Editor.
Note: Little Richard died today, May 9, 2020. Although the cause was cancer, Journal of the Plague Year is bending the rules on this one. Because he did. RIP, Richard Wayne Penniman. More at Rolling Stone.