Abstraction and Utopia

Hilton Kramer's exploration of abstract art's early ties to utopian ...


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Kubrick, Bobby Fischer and the Attraction of Chess

by Jeremy Bernstein

Mostly He Won: Kubrick, Bobby Fischer, and the Attractions of Chess


I spent the academic year of 1971–1972 at Oxford University. I had won a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship that entitled me to go anywhere, and I chose the physics department at Oxford. In the spring of 1972 the coal miners went on strike in England. Our offices were freezing, and I sat in mine wearing a ski parka and gloves.

I was surprised one morning by a long-distance call from Chicago. The caller wanted to know if I was the same Jeremy Bernstein who had written the New Yorker profile of Stanley Kubrick. I said I was that very individual. He then identified himself as the features editor at Playboy magazine. I refrained from saying that this was like identifying oneself as the world’s tallest midget. In any event, he explained that in light of the forthcoming world championship chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, to be held in Reykjavik, Iceland, Hugh Heffner had decided that Playboy should cover the event and that I was the perfect writer for the task. I should explain that my profile for the New Yorker revolved around a twenty-five-game match that Kubrick and I had played while he was filming 2001. Anyway, it was then explained to me that not only would Playboy cover my expenses but I would have at my disposal my own grand master, Larry Evans.

It was an incredible proposition, but there was a problem. I was, and would still be that summer, under the auspices of the National Science Foundation. I did not think they would begrudge me a little vacation time, but using it to write for Playboy was a different matter. Not to worry, I was told by the editor, you can use an assumed name. Actually, when I had begun writing for the New Yorker I wanted to use the assumed name Jay Amber, “bernstein” being the German for “amber.” Only much later did I learn that Leonard Bernstein signed his very first compositions “L. Amber.” In the event, I used my own name at the New Yorker, so that this nom de plume was still available. I agreed to Playboy’s terms, and in early July I found myself in Reykjavik.

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