12/07/1987 at 01:00 AM EST
Veteran writer Brad Darrach may not be entirely unflappable, but he does not flap easily. Fly to Rome to report a story on Marcello Mastroianni (page 98)? No problem. Cope calmly with the star's temperamental outbursts? Certainly. Conduct the interview in Italian? But of course. "It was easier for Marcello," says Darrach. "His English is unsteady, and he doesn't like to use it."
If Mastroianni had preferred Spanish, Darrach would have complied. Ditto German or French, which he spoke when he interviewed Yves Montand for a forthcoming PEOPLE story. During his 42-year association with Time Inc., Darrach has taught his editors not to be surprised by what he does next. "Brad always astonishes," says PEOPLE Managing Editor Jim Gaines. "He can talk to subjects who have been interviewed a million times and get something wholly new from them. The secret, I think, is his eyes. I'm told Barbra Streisand does a great Brad imitation that relies mainly on intense eye contact. He just seduces you with that intensity." Assistant Managing Editor Jesse Birnbaum, noting that Darrach once described an Esther Williams film as "so much water over the dame," calls him the "Bradivarius of prose."
Hollywood's grandest dames and most notorious dudes, from Streisand to Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, have sat for Darrach portraits published in TIME, LIFE and PEOPLE. Marilyn Monroe lay down for hers—Darrach interviewed her in bed for a 1956 TIME cover. "She was tired," he says.
Born in Philadelphia to an English mother and a municipal court officer who traced his ancestry to a long line of Scottish bards, Darrach attended public schools and studied languages and literature at the University of Pennsylvania. He joined TIME in 1945 after reporting for the Providence Journal and the Baltimore Sun, where his study of waterfront slang won him a dinner invitation from H.L. Mencken, who was preparing a new edition of The American Language. In 1951 Darrach succeeded friend James Agee ("a magical being") as TIME'S film critic. Since 1968 he has worked as a freelance journalist and scriptwriter. His advice to novice interviewers? "Do your homework." And then? "Listen hard to what's being said. And harder to what's not being said."