Without [S.J.] Perelman, no Woody Allen fiction. In fact, without Perelman there is no modern, short comic essay, period. Mark Leyner's minor masterpiece, Einstein on the Phone - purported FBI wiretap transcripts of conversations between Albert Einstein and actress Mary Astor (they're lovers and he's jealous of her affair with playwright George S. Kaufman), who complains that she's not getting the credit she deserves for key aspects of his work, and Einstein and Meyer Lansky discussing gambling, odds, relativity, whether the universe is a crap-shoot and God is really playing dice - would never have been written without Perelman's lead. Too many others to note here. Suffice it to say, anyone writing humor pieces today owes a debt of gratitude to Perelman. It's unavoidable. - Huffington Post

Albert Einstein wiretaps

Source: Mark Leyner, Einstein calling; A genius brought down to earth, The New Republic, 21 Nov 1994, 211(21).

We live in an era of rampant debunking and giddy tabloid iconoclasm. And so, with the guillotine of egalite beheading icon after icon, it should come as no surprise that Albert Einstein, that paragon of genius and intellectual heroism, would finally be ushered from the pantheon and carted off in a tumbrel to the delirious approbation of sans culottes everywhere.

Three recent books – Abraham Pais’s Einstein Lived Here, Michael White and John Gribbon’s Einstein and Roger Highfield and Paul Carter’s The Private Lives of Albert Einstein – show us that the abstrusely brilliant man of gentle humility and moral courage, the wise and generous middle European with the doleful eyes and sibylline nimbus of white hair, the visionary who reshaped our fundamental conception of the cosmos was in fact a deeply flawed individual governed by a murky ethic and driven by the basest of impulses.

I, for one, accept the veracity of this bracing revision. In fact, I decided to dig a little deeper. And, despite having girded myself for the worst, I was appalled at what I discovered when I availed myself of the Freedom of Information Act and reviewed transcripts of numerous tapped phone conversations Einstein had with actress Mary Astor and with organized crime potentate Meyer Lansky. These tapes, made in the 1930s with an electronic bug placed in the Princeton phone booth from which Einstein did all his “extracurricular” business, reveal an Einstein who was tyrannical, sadistic and venal, a cutthroat, ferociously vindictive intellectual parasite who blithely stole credit for the work of others.

Imagine my shock, for instance, when I perused the following transcribed exchange between Einstein and Astor. (Einstein – whose first marriage to Meleva Maric ended in divorce in 1919, and who later that year married his second cousin Elsa – met the celebrated Hollywood character actress in 1931 when he was Visiting Professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Einstein’s relationship with Astor apparently coincided with Astor’s extramarital affair with dramatists George S. Kaufman.)

file number: 2876C-983
location: Phone booth on the corner of Nassau Street and Murray Place in Princeton, New Jersey.
time: September 26, 1935, 8:45 p.m.
participants: Albert Einstein, Mary Astor

Einstein: When are you going to be finished with the new proposal for circumventing Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle?

Astor: Albert (inaudible). I just started shooting a new picture for Mr. Thalberg. How do you expect me . . .

Einstein: Mary, I don’t care about Irving Thalberg. I don’t care about his picture. I have a symposium in Zurich in two weeks and they expect a proposal! You know these guys, these nudniks – Planck, Bohr, Schrodinger – these (inaudible), these guys are (inaudible). C’mon here.

Astor: Y’know, I don’t like this whole arrangement. I conceptualize the warping of time by gravitation, you get the credit. I develop the principle of general covariance, you get the credit. I derive the gravitational field equations that govern the space time curvature, you get the credit. It’s no good Albert. It’s no good.

Einstein: Where are we going here, huh? You want to think about our careers here for a second? (inaudible) Your boss (inaudible) Thalberg – that guy’s not stupid. You think Thalberg wants Mary Astor, physicist? ... You think prestige within the scientific community fills seats in a movie house? If that were true, Thalberg and his fat friend Louie Mayer would sign Madame Curie to a contract. Am I right? (inaudible) I’m just saying that I care about you, O.K.? I love you. You know that.

Astor: (Sighs) Let me see if I can squeeze in a little time between takes and I’ll . . . (male voice is heard in background) Einstein: Who’s that, Mary? Is the schmuck visiting? Is (coughs) schmuck Kaufman paying a little visit, Mary? Is it that piece of garbage Kaufamn? Is it, Mary?

Astor: Albert . . .

Einstein: Is he over, Mary? That bum . . . Astor: Albert, calm down. Yes, George Kaufman is visiting. And he’s not a bum. He won a Pulitzer Prize, you know. (inaudible) For Of Thee I Sing.

Einstein: A Pulitzer? That’s funny, Mary. That’s hilarious. This imbecile won a Pulitzer Prize, huh? Liebchen, I won the Nobel Prize in physics, O.K.? (inaudible) You want to compare a Pulitzer for a puppet show or whatever he won it for – you want to compare that to the Nobel Prize in physics? Fine, go ahead.

Astor: I’m not comparing, Albert. Anyway, I don’t see why you’re getting so agitated. George just stopped by to help me rehearse.

Einstein: You think I’m that stupid, Mary? You tell your rehearsal partner to be careful. I’ve got a friend – an astrophysicist from Bern. You know what an astrophysicist can to do someone’s face, Mary? It isn’t pretty.

In the following excerpt, we again find Albert Einstein shamelessly exploiting the intellectual toil of his associates. We’re also privy to Einstein’s eagerness to fritter away the precious resources of the Institute for Advanced Study on the felonious gambling enterprises of Meyer Lansky and his cohorts. And finally, we get a fascinating glimpse of the great, culminating project on which Einstein labored for the last quarter century of his life: the Unified Field Theory.

Lansky, renowned as the Mafia’s one man think tank and the academic eminence grise of the syndicate’s gambling empire, began his illustrious criminal career bootlegging with Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel. A numerical wizard who did computational puzzles as a form of recreation, he allocated the spoils from smuggling liquor shipments, keeping all the figures in his head. Lansky, according to gangland folklore, was also the inventor of money laundering.

file number: 2951B 992
location: Phone booth on the corner of Nassau Street and Murray Place in Princeton, New Jersey.
time: November 3, 1935, 10:15 a.m.
participants: Albert Einstein, Meyer Lansky

Einstein: Meyer, did you finish proofing the calculations demonstrating that Maxwell’s equations on electromagnetism satisfy the principles of relativity?

Lansky: They’re (inaudible) screwed up. Ah . . .

Einstein: They’re all screwed up?

Lansky: I’m redoing the whole thing. Don’t worry about it.

Einstein: You know what the problem is? (Coughs) I’ve been distracted by this other theory I’ve been working on. Meyer, listen to this: “The heartbeat of a person traveling with a velocity close to that of light would be relatively slowed, along with his respiration and all other physiological processes. He would not notice this retardation because his watch would slow down by the same degree. But judged by a stationary timekeeper he would grow old less rapidly.” Do you understand?

Lansky: He’d get younger?

Einstein: Yeah. But do you understand the ramifications?

Lansky: Ah, no.

Einstein: If we can build airplanes that can travel close to the speed of light, then – let’s say, Meyer, you’re traveling from Vegas to Havana and then back, O.K.? When you get back, you’re going to be younger, and that delicious cigarette girl at the Flamingo is going to be a little older. So now it’s not going to be “Mr. Lansky, you remind me so much of my father,” it’s going to be more like, “Mr. Lansky, I get off in half an hour.” Do you know what I’m saying, Meyer?

Lansky: It’s mind boggling.* You really think such a thing is possible?

Einstein: (Inaudible)

Lansky: Albert, you know Charlie, right?

Einstein: Charlie?

Lansky: Charlie Luciano – my business partner.

Einstein: Oh, Charlie Luciano, yeah.

Lansky: Well, Charlie and I were wondering if, given the fact that you were able to predict precise deviations in the perihelion motion of Mercury, you might be able to help us out with the Belmont Stakes.

Einstein: Uh . . . sure . . . yeah. I’ll need some information and (inaudible) work up a calculation pretty quickly.

Lansky: It’s 3 year olds, Albert. They go a mile and a half. Charlie and I feel very strongly about a horse by the name of Omaha – he already took the Derby and the Preakness and . . .

Einstein: All I need is the mass of the horses and the jockeys, O.K.?

Lansky: The mass? You mean the weight? I think Omaha’s carrying about 126 pounds. The weight, right?

Einstein: The mass, Meyer, the mass. It’s a measure of an object’s inertia, its degree of resistance to being accelerated by a force . . . (inaudible) it’s a measure of the object’s gravitational effect. Do you understand what I’m talking about?

Lansky: The mass of the horses and the jockey’s – yeah, sure. What about baseball, Albert? The Series. (inaudible) And Charlie’s curious about the Oscars.

Einstein: Baseball I can do, Meyer, but it’s much more complicated. Horses, you got mass and velocity – it’s simple. Baseball, elections, Academy Awards – it’s a lot more complex. You have more variables. Maybe you have pitcher who throws a heavy sinker ball, you’ve got a pull hitter at the plate, men on base – you have to modify all the measurements of time and distance according to the velocity of each system of reference, you have to consider the alignment of any massive gravitational bodies, etc. etc. (inaudible) Academy Awards – you’ve got all sorts of quantum potentia. The quantum world consists of tendencies, not actualities. A nominated actress’s measured attributes may be determined by events in other galaxies, events from the future . . .

Lansky: So what you’re trying to say is that the universe is too complex to make a book on?

Einstein: No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. Look – the universe is like a craps game, O.K., except instead of a Euclidean three dimensional table, you got a four dimensional space time curvature.

Lansky: I thought you said: “Gott wurfelt nicht,” – God doesn’t play dice.

Einstein: No, Meyer. I said: “God plays dice, it’s just that the dice are loaded.” You know what I’m saying? The fix is in. That’s the Unified Field Theory in a nutshell, my friend.

Lansky: So this things . . . (inaudible) This thing of ours . . . it’s gonna last forever?

Einstein: Oh yes, Meyer. Gott crap out nicht.

* Imagine a musician giving a live broadcast from…London to…New York on a Wednesday. He then travels faster than light from London to New York, where he arrives on the previous Tuesday, listens to his own broadcast on Wednesday, dislikes its quality intensely, and travels back faster than light to London in time to talk himself out of giving the broadcast in the first place. – David Gerrold, Battle for the Planet of the Apes (New York: Award Books, 1973), p. 16.