June 5, 2015
Guy who people thought was Thomas Pynchon in P.T. Anderson’s Inherent Vice: “I am not Thomas Pynchon and also Thomas Pynchon was not in Inherent Vice.”
by Alex Shephard
Inherent Vice was probably the movie we spent the most time discussing in our office last year (in part because it came out while we were pulling all nighters putting together The Torture Report) and we’ve spent a lot of time pouring over important questions like “Was Joanna Newsom‘s character a figment of Doc’s imagination?”, “How high would Bigfoot get after eating all that weed given his weight, build, and metabolism?”, and “Was Martin Short reprising his role in Clifford?”
But we one question occupied the vast majority of our time: “Where was Thomas Pynchon?” He was supposed to be somewhere—last fall, Josh Brolin told The New York Times that the writer, oft-labeled a “recluse,” had a small cameo in the film: “’I don’t think anybody knew’ Mr. Pynchon was on the set, Mr. Brolin said, confirming the cameo. ‘He came on as the kind of mercurial iconoclast he is. He stayed in the corner.'” Although Paul Thomas Anderson, the film’s director, neither confirmed nor denied, he certainly seemed to suggest that there was a Pynchon cameo:
Told that other sources had confirmed a cameo, Mr. Anderson stared intently into his salad and poked around with his fork, either looking for an answer among the summer beets, fighting back a grin or both.
“I’m staying out of it!” Mr. Anderson said eventually. “No. No. I just — — .” He trailed off, running a hand through his shaggy, sandy blond hair, a pained look on his face. “Somebody spent a long time deciding not to have themselves out there. There’s a reason for that. So I’m just going to step out of that.”
The New York Times piece “confirming” the cameo was published in late September. Inherent Vice came out that December. It’s now June and no one has been able to locate Pynchon. So what happened?
For a while, the best candidate was the doctor sitting at the table below:
Bookforum, where the theory originated (I think), is right: the resemblance is uncanny. But, alas, that wasn’t Pynchon. It was Charley Morgan, the son of M*A*S*H actor Harry Morgan, who has had bit parts in Lincoln, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Anderson’s The Master. Attentive viewers went back to the drawing board. Last week, talking on the appropriately-named The Best Show (seriously, there is nothing better), Associate Producer Michael Lisk said that the most convincing theory floating around the web at the moment was that Pynchon appeared in a reflection—a far cry from the cameo many expected.
On Tuesday, after hearing about the Inherent Vice discussion from his daughter, Morgan called The Best Show and spoke to its host Tom Scharpling. The whole interview is delightful—if you’re looking for an introduction to The Best Show, look no further than Tuesday night’s episode, which features Yo La Tengo—but it was ultimately disappointing for those of us who have spent the past seven months searching for Pynchon. Morgan told Scharpling that not only was he not Thomas Pynchon, but that Thomas Pynchon wasn’t in Inherent Vice. Morgan, who described Anderson as a “friend” and told Scharpling that he had “discussed” the cameo with him, seems trustworthy, so I suppose that it’s time to finally call off the search.
But all is not lost. You can still listen to The Best Show, which will fill that Pynchon-shaped hole in your life and sign our petition asking President Obama to invite Thomas Pynchon to The White House.
(H/T The AV Club)
Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.