‘Call Me Bill’
A winter spent skiing with Buckley in Switzerland, and being his assistant and protégé.


The winter after my senior year in college, Bill Buckley invited me to Gstaad, Switzerland, to help him on a novel called Spytime: The Undoing of James Jesus Angleton. Our program there followed much of what he had been doing each year. For a little over a month, he and his wife Pat and a small staff took over a chalet in the ski area, in a village called Rougemont. Somewhere in Switzerland, Bill had stored a crate of old dictionaries, videocassettes of Brideshead Revisited, abstract paintings, and leopard-print throws. In the days before his arrival, the staff used these items to convert the chalet into another Buckley office and home. And each year, Bill brought along a young college graduate to be his writing assistant. He put us up in an inn just down the hill.

I first got to know Bill, a bit, as the undergraduate editor of The Dartmouth Review. Jeffrey Hart showed him a piece I had written — I think it was a review of the movie Kids — and Bill wrote back approvingly. That translated into an internship at NR, then an editorial job. But I had really met him only a handful of times when he called me into his office and asked me if I liked to ski. I said, “Yes, Mr. Buckley, I do.” He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Call me Bill.” The invitation to Switzerland came the next day.

“There is never a good time for a busy man to take a vacation,” Bill once said. “And since there is never a good time, he might as well take it whenever he wants.” But Bill never vacationed, even on vacation. He never took weekends off, most likely because his greatest fear was boredom.

So Bill gave himself the assignment of writing a book each year during his stay in Gstaad. The winter I was there, it wasn’t one of his Blackford Oakes novels, but it was a Cold War thriller. The book was a fictionalized first-person story as told by James Angleton, the real-life head of U.S. counterintelligence. Angleton’s archenemy, in our book as in real life, was Kim Philby, the famous double agent from the British secret service. Philby had been recruited by the Communists as one of the Cambridge Five and defected in 1963 to the Soviet Union, where he was awarded the Order of Lenin. For Angleton, Philby was the spy who got away, and our novel hinted that it drove Angleton insane.

So in Gstaad, while everyone else went on holiday, we made a novel. Bill woke up at 4:30 every morning. I drove up to the chalet, overlooking the mountain face of the Videmanette, at 7:30. Bill always lent his four-wheel-drive Peugeot to his young assistants. He handed me the keys our first day at the top of the hill and gave me a quiz about the route to get his morning newspaper. I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t drive stick. So I learned on the road from my hotel to the chalet, and promptly burned out the clutch.

We worked for several hours together every morning, our desks catty-corner to each other. The Goldberg Variations — the Glenn Gould recordings — played in the background as Bill typed. If Bill wanted to set a scene in Beirut in the 1960s, he’d ask me to come up with the details. Then we went to lunch in one of the hamlets dotting the resort, or in the private restaurant atop the Wasserngrat called the Eagle Club. Here we’d discuss what should happen next in the plot. How about we hide a gun in the camera? Let’s kill off so-and-so. He had very little sense of where his book would go. Then we would ski for a few hours. Then we would return for the afternoon session.

Buckley had it in him to write 1,500 words a day — after a month, you have a novel. But those 1,500 words needed a second pair of eyes, and that’s where I came in. In his first drafts, character names changed. Dates were all wrong. I helped fix those in the afternoon sessions. Then at 7 p.m., Julian, his cook, brought in a kir — white wine with a drop of crème de cassis — for each of us. We’d pull out the Dutch cigars and discuss the day’s progress.

Remembering WFB
National Review's founding father and longtime editor, William F. Buckley Jr., was a prolific author and syndicated columnist; the frequently imitated but inimitable host of Firing Line; an indefatigable public speaker; and sailor, skier, and joyous friend to uncounted numbers of people. Herewith, a selection of photos chronicling a fraction of his activities over 58 years. -- Linda Bridges
WFB on the lawn at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, with the Long Island Sound in the background, c. 1985. An interviewer once asked: If you could live anywhere in the world that you wanted, where would you live? And he answered: “Where I live.”
A typical Firing Line dilemma: Which error shall I nail first?
On WFB’s wedding day, July 6, 1950, with WFB Sr.
Some five years later, with his son, Christopher
Bill with seven of his nine siblings, and spouses, c. 1958, in the patio at the Buckley family home, Great Elm, in Sharon, Connecticut.
At sister Priscilla’s 40th birthday party, in 1961, at the Unon League Club in New York. Left to right: Pat, National Review associate publisher Jim McFadden, Bill, sister Maureen (who had been an NR staffer in the early days), conservative impresario Marvin Liebman
Bill and Pat at the maisonette on 73rd Street, c. 1970. See Lawrence Perelman’s article “In WFB's Footsteps” for more on the Bösendorfer piano. The dog is a Pekinese, Horrible Foo.
Touch football at Great Elm, Thanksgiving weekend, c. 1971. Bill and Priscilla with numerous nieces and nephews
With Christopher on Cyrano, c. 1976
Skiing with friends in Gstaad, Switzerland, during the annual book-writing sojourn, c. 1980
More skiing buddies: With Lawry Chickering and Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman at Alta, Utah, c. 1979
With skiing buddy and political adversary John Kenneth Galbraith in Gstaad, c. 1984
Celebrating an early jape at National Review, in the first, cramped offices on 37th Street, 1957.  Left to right:  Priscilla, managing editor Suzanne LaFollette, senior editor James Burnham, Arthur the donkey, senior editor Willmoore Kendall, Bill
A bright idea has just struck! WFB in his office at 150 East 35th Street, c. 1969, in front of the wall of photos, fan mail, and hate mail
One way of getting to work: WFB riding down Park Avenue on his beloved Honda, c. 1970
A more conventional way of travelling: In the limousine, with Rowley, the Buckleys' first of many Cavalier King Charles spaniels, on his favorite perch in back, c. 1975
Editorial conference, Tuesday morning, c. 1973, in the conference room; WFB flanked by Jim Burnham and Priscilla
Editorial Wednesday is heating up at 150 East 35th, c. 1975.  Note Royal typewriter (pre computers), and, to right, a gift from a fan: a flag-waving device called the triple bifurcated chauvinator
Sometimes the press of work gets out of hand, c. 1976
But usually there's time to greet a visitor, c. 1980
A characteristic pose while breaking for a phone call, c. 1977
Dinner on an editorial-Tuesday evening, c. 1989, with Jim McFadden and new editor John O’Sullivan, at WFB's favorite restaurant, Nicola Paone (of blessed memory)
A debate during WFB’s “paradigmatic” mayoral race, 1965. He is less than thrilled by the debating style of his opponents, Democrat Abe Beame and liberal Republican John Lindsay.
A more festive campaign picture
The famous (infamous?) debate with Gore Vidal during the 1968 presidential campaign
At a Hollywood political event c. 1975, laughing with Hollywood maverick Morrie Ryskind, one of the magazine’s early backers and a contributor to the very first issue of the magazine.
With Ronald Reagan and National Review publisher Bill Rusher before NR’s 20th-anniversary dinner at the Plaza Hotel in New York, November 17, 1975
The famous Firing Line Panama Canal debate, January 13, 1978, in Columbia, S.C. As Bill later put it, "I won the debate, Ronald Reagan won the presidency."
Greeting Pope John Paul II, with David Niven and Malcolm Muggeridge, 1980.
El Presidente greets his old friend after toasting the magazine at a party celebrating the opening of NR’s new Washington office, March 20, 1983. In background, left to right: Rick Brookhiser, Priscilla Buckley, Joe Sobran, Jeff Hart
At NR's 30th-anniversary party, October 22, 1985, again at the Plaza; principal speaker: President Reagan. Left to right: George Will, Nancy Reagan, Norman Podhoretz, and WFB
Receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Bush, with Barbara Bush looking on, November 18, 1991.
On the ketch Sealestial, in mid-Atlantic, 1980
Ave atque vale
Updated: Nov. 24, 2013