Chicago-based entertainment writer Bill Zehme (pronounced ZAY-mee) has been cranking out interesting and colorful celebrity profiles for 20 years, mostly for such magazines as Esquire, Playboy, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. Few journalists have managed to produce such a steady body of quality work interviews at once entertaining and informative, focusing on media icons and written in an incisive, yet edgy, style.
Intimate Strangers, an engrossing collection of Zehme's notable stories from the past two decades, showcases the author's sometimes quirky but always fascinating approaches to the minds of such legendary figures as Hugh Hefner, Tom Hanks, Cameron Diaz, the Seinfeld gang, Johnny Depp and Eddie Murphy.
Zehme doesn't merely ask a series of prepared questions; he'll often spend days with his interviewees, keeping his tape recorder on, sharing their lives and gaining the necessary trust to elicit offbeat, ultimately revealing responses. The fact that these pieces date back to the early 80s ensures a curiously welcome historical perspective on popular culture. We hear Woody Allen's pained remarks during the aftermath of the still-simmering Soon-Yi scandal; glimpse notorious ladies' man Warren Beatty in the days before he settles down into wedded bliss; and listen to Madonna during her peak as a pop tart talking about Catholicism and the importance of her father in her life.
The book concludes with an insightful series of alternating, point-counterpoint interviews that Zehme published through the 90s with David Letterman and Jay Leno, during the era of Johnny Carson's impending retirement. With Zehme just recently launching a new cable interview show on the Bravo channel, the timing is perfect for the release of this hip collection, which exhibits his skills as pop journalist to maximum effect. Filmmaker Cameron Crowe provides the introduction.