Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle Of 101 Remarkable Meetings is a collection of responsible gossip. British journalist Craig Brown curated these stories of 101 meetings between luminaries of the modern world, and ordered them domino-fashion, so Helen Keller’s meeting with Martha Graham is succeeded by Graham’s meeting with Madonna, which is succeeded by Madonna’s meeting with Michael Jackson. The description of each meeting is precisely 1,001 words long, so the book clocks in at precisely 101,101 words. These details don’t necessarily add to its literary merit, but they demonstrate the amount of care Brown put into compiling his book. Each tale has been fact-checked, cross-checked, and referenced. Still, the wealth of research doesn’t overshadow the fact that the stories are salacious, embarrassing, awkward, joyous, or moving in turn.
Although the subtitle might suggest chance encounters (such as the book’s opener, in which a member of the British aristocracy gives Adolf Hitler a disappointingly soft bump with his car in Munich), most of them are simply the first or most interesting encounter in a long relationship. Brown describes meetings between coworkers, heads of state, artists living in the same city, and on one occasion, a Duchess and her mother-in-law. From Brown’s description, it seems he could have written an entire book about the catty, volatile, occasionally nude meetings between Andy Warhol and Jackie Kennedy, although here, he highlights her 1978 Christmas party.
The book’s treasures are the chance meetings, or those where someone is out of their comfort zone. While Michael Jackson was a basket case at the White House, for example, A.N. Wilson thought the Queen Mother was on the dumb side, and Frank Lloyd Wright wound up in the middle of a marital squabble between Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller. During his stay at a bungalow resort, Harpo Marx’s harp practice was interrupted by a neighbor’s loud piano-playing. His anger was not softened by the revelation that the neighbor was Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Hello Goodbye Hello boasts a surprising amount of public urination. James Dean, Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Sinatra, Dominick Dunne, and Phil Spector all relieve themselves in its pages. In addition, Brown proves that a few things are eternal: People are often mean and spiteful when drunk. Celebrities often feel entitled to act and speak however they please; therefore, they’re especially mean and spiteful when drunk. The rare culmination of these elements—when a drunken celebrity publicly urinates out of spite—might as well be called the Full Sinatra.
Though the meetings themselves range from life-changing to coincidental, enriching to unfortunate, they can’t be said to add up to more than the sum of their parts. This long history of famous people running into each other—which spans the years from 1876 to 2007—teaches nothing more than that sometimes people find the appropriate thing to say, and sometimes they don’t. Although Hello Goodbye Hello doesn’t rise above whimsical anecdote, it might be the gold standard for bathroom reading.