Ed Driscoll

Only Silver Could Go To China

In the New Nixon Blog, Frank Gannon writes, “When  I was named editor of Saturday Review in 1984, one of my first tasks was to liven up that distinguished [but] moribund institution”:

In my search for interesting and unusual reviewers and writers, I came across the information that Ron Silver spoke and read Chinese.

In fact, as I discovered when we met, he had majored in Chinese and Spanish at SUNY Binghamton, and then taken a Masters in Chinese at St. John’s, followed by a year on scholarship at the University of Taiwan. He spent almost half of that time backpacking through the Golden Triangle. Or, as I would put it to him, “backpacking”. He was too serious to be a tourist; and too smart to be on some Pineapple Express. What else was left but CIA? His reply to my questioning and teasing would always be one of those patented Silverian smiles, half way between smug and inscrutable. (He later told Cindy Adams that he was, in fact, working for the Company: ”I thought it was patriotic. But then time came that life, love and girls distracted me.” But I bet he said it with one of those same smiles.)

He wrote some reviews for us and, for the September 1986 issue, he interviewed China’s foremost female writer — the non-English speaking Zhang Jie. In several hundred words he sketched the history of feminism and popular literature under communism in China. He wrote with real insight and considerable style. (Not to mention that, despite the heavy demands of his day jobs, his print-ready copy was always delivered on time.)

* * *

Ron was already widely known and recognized as a young TV star (he was Valerie Harper’s swinging bachelor neighbor on Rhoda) and a journeyman movie actor before a breakthrough role in 1983’s Silkwood.

He was interested in politics and fascinated by RN, so we started meeting every so often —usually at Orso, but sometimes at home— for dinner. In those days Adam and Alexandra were toddlers, but his wife Lynne joined us whenever she could. He was a great and expansive raconteur with an observant eye, a lively wit, and, not surprisingly, the ability to supply dialog and dialects and shtick.

He was a hidebound Democrat, but his curiosity about RN —and particularly about the foreign policy and the way his mind worked— was as sincere as it was intense and challenging. I like to think that he put some of these conversations to use when he played Henry Kissinger (to Beau Bridges’ RN) in the 1995 TV movie Kissinger and Nixon.

Speaking Chinese and portraying Kissinger will be among the many topics that Roger L. Simon and Lionel Chetwynd discuss this weekend on PJTV’s Poliwood and on PJM Political on Sirius-XM (where Silver hosted his own radio program, also on the POTUS channel) in their glowing tribute to the actor both men worked with and befriended.