Apr 12

Noah Wyle and Steve Jobs’ moment of truth

Writing my book Insanely Simple (coming April 26th) stirred up quite a few memories for me — not all of which fit the theme of the book. So I’m sharing some of those here. (They show up a little earlier over at my Facebook page — just click on “Insanely Secret.” In fact a new one is going up today…)

It’s getting to be ancient history now, but some of you may remember the 1999 TBS production called Pirates of Silicon Valley. The movie was about the early days of Apple and Microsoft, and the evolution of the relationship between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Excellent subject matter, but clearly “made for TV” quality.

When the project got the green light, Steve was clearly excited. He shared the news with us at one of our regular agency meetings. He was especially thrilled that the role of himself was going to be played by Noah Wyle. At the time, Noah was flying high as part of the cast of the hit show ER.

As one might expect, the movie didn’t make Steve out to be the world’s nicest guy. One particularly bad moment was based on a story that’s floated around for years. The scene took place one day when Steve walked into a room where a job candidate was being interviewed. Steve immediately pegged hinm as an IBM-type and then, for whatever reason, blindsided him with the question “Are you a virgin?” Even worse, he kept pounding away at it, making the candidate more and more uncomfortable. At least this was the way it played out in the movie.

Some months later, preparations were underway for the next Macworld show, which was to be held in the NY Javits Center. One night, Steve called and told me he had a great idea for a way to open the show. He was going to get Noah Wyle to walk on stage and pretend to be him.

Steve had the physical part all figured out — he’d give Noah the black turtleneck, gray New Balances, even duplicate glasses from his personal eyeglass-maker. What he wanted from me was a script. What exactly should Noah say when he walks onstage? How would Steve join in?

I sent a script to Steve the following day. He liked it all, but he was especially fond of the ending. In the script, Steve would thank Noah for coming to Macworld, Noah would walk off stage to applause, but then stop as if he were suddenly remembering something. He’d then turn back to Steve to ask one final question: “Oh, Steve. Are you still a virgin?”

Steve didn’t make a single change to the script, but he did have one question: should it be “Are you a virgin” or “Are you still a virgin”?

“Hey, I don’t know,” I replied. “You’re the one who said it! What exactly did you say?”

Steve’s response surprised me. “No, that’s just it. I never said anything. This never happened — it’s all made up.”

So there you have it. It was all a lie. Granted, Steve wasn’t exactly under oath when he offered this testimony, but he did deny it emphatically. Maybe one day we’ll get a rebuttal from an eyewitness to the event.

Epilogue: We ended up going with “Are you still a virgin,” even though it didn’t exactly match the movie version. And one thing we learned by watching Steve’s performance — although the man was a genuine visionary, his acting skills left a bit to be desired.

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