Robert Altman had heart transplant surgery Dec. 3, 1995, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. I reported in my Daily Variety column on Dec.7, 1995, “Good wishes are out to director Robert Altman who underwent heart transplant surgery Sunday. Altman had known the surgery was necessary since last March, friends say.” I called to convey my good wishes to Altman.
Fade in to Feb.28 of this year when I reported a conversation with Altman in which I asked, “How’s the ticker — your heart?” To which he answered, “Why shouldn’t it (the heart) be great? It’s only 40 years old!”
So, you can imagine my surprise on reading in the N.Y. Daily News on Monday, the day after the Oscars where Altman “revealed” his transplant: “Kathryn recalled how they got USA Today to ‘correct’ a Variety story (mine) reporting the surgery.’We denied it like hell,’ she said. And sure as hell, next day, Dec.8, 1995, USA Today reported, “If you heard Robert Altman had a heart transplant, we happily report it’s untrue. He has heart problems, he’s fine. He’ll be fishing next week.”
I reached Altman in London, Thursday, after a performance of Arthur Miller’s “Resurrection Blues” which he directed at the Old Vic. I confronted him with the Daily News report of the Altmans’ call to USA asking them to deny my story. His answer: “You don’t believe what you read in the Daily News do you?” he asked. Why did you try to “correct” my story? I asked. “There was such a stigma associated with a heart transplant at that time,” Altman said. I did not ask if he reported his surgery when starting new movies.
More on this Oscar seg, Altman says he directed his Oscar presenting remarks by Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin who costar in his “Prairie Home Companion.” “Rather than alternating speeches, I had them interlock dialog. They were terrific.” They were indeed.
“We got killed in the reviews,” Altman said of reaction to Miller’s “Resurrection Blues” in London, “But we’re not dying — the advance is good and we’re doing as well as I expected.” He’ll leave London in a week to return to N.Y. to plan two more movies.