Obituary: Michael Braun
Tuesday 01 April 1997
A Zelig of the counter- culture, Braun might have copyrighted the phrase "Been there, done that". Whilst he had lived everywhere and seemingly met, interviewed or cohabited with every famous figure of the late 20th century, he also had specific claims to fame.
The Beatles penned "Paperback Writer" about him, he was Roman Polanski's companion and comforter during the long evening when he was called from California to be told of Sharon Tate's murder, the producer Julia Phillips (author of You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again) considered him the most enigmatic, privately wealthy man in Hollywood, but he was also a homeless academic, penniless flaneur and eclectic expert on everything from international finance to 19th-century English literature.
Braun was born in New York City, the son of a lawyer (subsequently never his favoured breed), and may have attended the prestigious Walden School though a Bronx high school seems more probable. He had an affection for Ivy League education not necessarily dependent on his own attendance, for though he supposedly graduated from Harvard in 1958, that institution's records seem patchy on the point. Interviewing the Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver in his African exile, Braun made clear his belief in the Ivy League's redemptive potential, repeatedly exclaiming: "You don't have to do this, you could still get into Harvard." Likewise it is not clear whether his son attended Oxford, or exists.
What can be authenticated is that Braun first travelled the world as cabin boy and found himself in London in the early Sixties as assistant to Stanley Kubrick, who had moved there to make Lolita and Dr Strangelove. He then started to work as a journalist for the Sunday Times and the Observer at the height of their reputation, and in this capacity followed a new band called the Beatles on their first British tour. Braun became friendly with them and pub-lished the earliest Beatles book, the tour diary Love Me Do!, republished by Penguin in 1995.
Remaining part of the British music scene and attendant "Swinging London" phenomena, Braun started working for Roman Polanski, though as always his precise office remained undefined.
As a globetrotting writer Braun covered all the quintessential trouble spots of the era, from Vietnam to South Africa, Russia to Cuba, but hardly limited himself to war and revolution, becoming friendly with Borges and Nabokov as well as countless stars in the entertainment firmament. This led to his relocation in 1970s Los Angeles, a dangerous time and place for anyone genetically inclined to recreational narcotics. During that legendary coke decade Braun was busy, or not, with a quintessential project of the period, producing a film, The Secret Life of Plants (1975). Stevie Wonder's part in this was described as: "the most curious album in Wonder's career, ostensibly a soundtrack for a film few people saw, if indeed it was ever released".
Seventies Hollywood may now be the stuff of glamorous nostalgia but it was less constructive for those living there, and Braun's health - not to mention reputation - was probably permanently dented by this epoch. Braun returned to New York, living by all accounts in a homeless shelter whilst fraternising with some of the wealthiest American heirs and pursuing his endless intellectual interests, Proust reading groups, political activism or the structure and history of confidence tricks.
Braun had a strong attraction to those whose personal mythology was not limited by prosaic biographical fact. Jerzy Kosinski was a favourite, and some of his friends were, technically, blatant criminals. Leaving behind a tangled tagliatelle of contractual mysteries, including whether he was 55 or 60, Braun was buried in his ubiquitous sweat clothes surrounded by chanting Buddhist monks from his sister's ashram. Appropriately enough several fist fights broke out round the body of this arch manipulator, masterful provocateur and "unknown legend in his time".
Michael Braun, journalist and producer: born New York 28 April 1936; died New York 27 January 1997.
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