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An Evening in the Nude With Gay Talese

One evening during a dinner in the Talese apartment, Gay said, "I want to get into my subject and I did. Getting head from an N.Y.U student is not going to threaten a marriage of fourteen years."

Nan said softly, "It was disturbing."

The massage parlors disturbed Nan. The whole sex book has disturbed her. She has been especially disturbed by the threat it poses to her own privacy, for Gay's project has made people embarrassingly curious about her.

One evening at a dinner party, which Nan gave for playwright Robert Anderson, the conversation was almost exclusively about Gay's book. Gay told of interviewing the New York Knicks' Walt Frazier; he had asked the player if he made love before games. Frazier had said yes, explaining that if he were tired at game time, he passed the ball more often. Gay went on to tell about asking Masters and Johnson how often they made love; they had refused to answer. Gay criticized the sex researchers for their lack of candor; Nan defended them. Gay said that he would have no objection to telling anyone how often he and Nan made love. Nan said that she would object to his telling or writing about her in bed. Gay argued for frankness, but Nan opposed it. He could not war her down. Nan was a velvet tank.

She told her guest, "There's been a lot of talk about sex around here lately."

Growing up in Rye, New York, the daughter of a banker-broker, Nan had not often heard sex discussed. When she was in her early teens, she had entered the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, hoping to become a nun. She says that what attracted her to a life in a nunnery was "the marvelous privacy, safety, and study." She felt the opposite of an outsider.

But at Manhattanville College, she began to see philosophical contradictions in the church. By the time Nan met Gay in 1957, she had given up on the nunnery and the safety of chastity.

Gay—who says, "Sure, I would have liked to screw my mother"—thought Nan looked like his mother and the resemblance helped draw him to her. They dated for two years before deciding to marry. Gay had gone to Rome for The New York Times to cover the making of Fellini's La Dolce Vita. He asked Nan to join him there. When she arrived, Gay told her that he did not want to marry in a church. It was the impulse of a defiant outsider. He was flaunting his position as a fallen Catholic in the Catholic City, marrying outside the church in Rome. Nan went along with the idea, but when her parents found out they were horrified, blamed Gay, and never completely forgave him.

Nan and Gay both had careers. Nan's Random House office, where she pursued her privacy and her study, took on something of the air of a cloister. Meanwhile, Gay had no office at all but simply a desk in the Times newsroom where a bedroom, opening off one of the editors' offices, gave the shop something of the air of a brothel. Gay says that if drink were the vice of The Herald Tribune, then sex was the vice of The New York Times. When it comes to bedrooms, Gay was no longer an outsider.

Gay's adventures even found their way into Lois Gould's novel, Such Good Friends, which was published by Nan's own Random House. Gay says that the character Timmy Spector was loosely based on him. Ms. Gould wrote of Timmy that he had "been sleeping around for years" but that he did not want a divorce because "he likes things this way, where he can come home when he's through playing." Nan says that she accepted Gay as he is years ago. Gay says that he would not mind his wife's doing as he does, but his friends remember a near fight when someone made a pass at Nan.

In the past, Gay's books have tended to draw him and his wife closer together. She would come home from her editing job and read whatever he had written that day aloud; then she would make suggestions. But the new book, the sex book, had been different. It has kept them apart. Gay told Nan at the beginning that, if she forced him to choose between his sex book and her, he would give up the book. But Nan says that she knew that if she precipitated such a showdown it would have broken up their marriage.


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