After reading an article about the profane comedian’s legal troubles in the 1960′s she wrote him a check and became his “part time amanuensis, helping him with his legal research,” according to The Times.
An amanuensis is a scribe or writer’s assistant “employed by an individual to write from his or her dictation or to copy manuscripts” (from Encarta World English Dictionary) – exactly what I came to be with my camera for Dr. Hunter S. Thompson over a very long period of time. Writing was never easy for Hunter. I don’t think it is for anyone, no matter how successful they are. But, Hunter took the task to extreme levels of frustration and exasperation, as you can see in my latest film Animals, Whores & Dialogue.
When the going got too tough to actually get the words directly from his brain onto a piece of paper, Hunter would fall back on a device he discovered early in his career – a tape recorder. Perhaps that’s why he described a Gonzo journalist as having the “eye and mind of a camera.” If you could just record events and your interaction with them, then there would be no need for the pain of writing.
When we were working on Kingdom of Fear, the pain and frustration levels were extremely high. Hunter would recall, almost proudly, how blocked he became trying to finish Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972. Holed up in San Francisco’s Seal Rock Inn after the campaign, Hunter simply could not write the conclusion to his bi-weekly reports from the Presidential race that had been serialized in Rolling Stone. In desperation, his editor recorded his conversations with Hunter and then transcribed and edited them into their final form.
Those who might think less of Hunter as a writer for relying on this method, might consider the case of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, who often worked in exactly the same way, especially towards the end of his life. In a review of the Autobiography of Mark Twain, the first volume of which is coming out this November, Larry Rohter reported in The New York Times that
Twain dictated most of it to a stenographer in the four years before his death at 74 on April 21, 1910. He argued that speaking his recollections and opinions, rather than writing them down, allowed him to adopt a more natural, colloquial and frank tone, and Twain scholars who have seen the manuscript agree.
Kingdom of Fear was as close to an autobiography as anything Hunter ever wrote, even though much of it was pulled together out of the basement from existing published and unpublished material. Given the eclectic nature of those pieces, we were desperate for some sort of thread to tie the book together, just as I use the scene of Hunter writing a column for ESPN over one long night as the glue that holds together Animals, Whores & Dialogue.