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Author Neal Gabler on Starring in "Life: The Movie"

Gabler's newest book is "Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality" (Knopf). His previous books are "Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity" and "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood."

16:15

Other segments from the episode on November 9, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 9, 1998: Interview with Neal Gabler; Review of Tom Wolfe's novel "A Man in Full"; Interview with Kathleen Chalfant; Review of Greg Osby's album "Zero."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110901np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Neal Gabler
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

KEN TUCKER, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Ken Tucker, pop music critic for FRESH AIR and critic at large for "Entertainment Weekly." I'm sitting in for Terry Gross.

My guest, Neal Gabler, has just published a book called "Life: the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality." The subtitle explains much of Gabler's idea; that the entertainment business
has seeped into much of our political, social and private lives.

And in the book, he explores what he views as the good and bad effects of this. Gabler is the author of "Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood," and a highly praised biography of the gossip columnist Walter Winchell.

Neal Gabler, welcome to FRESH AIR.

NEAL GABLER, AUTHOR "LIFE: THE MOVIE: HOW ENTERTAINMENT CONQUERED REALITY": Thank you very much, Ken.

TUCKER: Early on in your book you use a striking metaphor for the in
sidious effects of entertainment that I'd like you to expand on a little here. You write: "acting like an Ebola virus, entertainment has even invaded organisms no one would ever have imagined could provide entertainment."

And examples of this that you cite are Timothy Leary's Internet Web page for his own death, O.J. Simpson's murder trial, and the media coverage of Princess Diana. I wondered in what way you think entertainment is like a virus?

GABLER: Well, it's like a virus in the fact that it is -- ther
e is no resistance to it. It is irresistible and inexorable; it moves from place to place, and infects virtually every organism it touches.

Now, I'm not -- having said that although I think it's, clearly, this is weighted as being a very very negative thing -- I'm really meaning this in a more descriptive fashion. That descriptively speaking, analytically speaking, entertainment cannot be stopped. There is no cure for it if one wants to find a cure for it.

TUCKER: You coin a term in this book: "a lifey."

LAUGHTER

Tell us what you mean by that. What is a lifey?

GABLER: Well, the thing was that, I mean, we're all familiar -- obviously, we live in this culture, we're all familiar with the O.J. Simpson trial, and Monica Lewinsky, and Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn, and Joey Buttafuoco, and Timothy McVeigh, and one can go on and on and on and on with these real life melodramas that, you know, inundate us on a daily basis.

But there was no term that described these things, and so I decided that I would
have to coin a term for a melodrama that was written in the medium of life. It was half life, and it was half a movie. So, I coined this portmanteau word "the lifey."

O.J. Simpson trial is a lifey; the Monica Lewinsky affair is a lifey; almost every day, as I say, we get another lifey.

TUCKER: Yeah, well, how do -- take, specifically, the Monica Lewinsky situation. I mean, how has entertainment affected politics and trickled down into that situation?

GABLER: Well, in that particular situation I think
we've seen something very interesting. And something which the press has had a very difficult time acknowledging; they've had a difficult time reconciling the fact that on the one hand, the public says: you know, they're sick and tired of the Monica Lewinsky affair, they don't want it anymore, they want the impeachment proceedings to end.

And yet, on the other hand, if you look at ratings of cable networks particularly; MSNBC, and CNN, and others that deal heavily with the Monica Lewinsky scandal you're finding
that ratings are soaring. Now, how does one reconcile these two things? And I think the way -- the only way really that one can reconcile them is that the public understands that the Monica Lewinsky case has -- is not a situation of great national importance, no matter how much political journalists tell them it is.

In fact, what political journalists are really doing is they're trying to justify their coverage. On the other hand, what the public is saying by they're viewing of MSNBC, and CNBC, and these othe
r programs is that they love it as an entertainment spectacle. And they're making a very clear demarcation between the scandal as entertainment which is, you know, a very rich entertainment, an - a lot of fun - and the consequences of the scandal politically which they believe are virtually nil.

And it really is something of a travesty to watch correspondent after correspondent after correspondent talk about the grave national importance of this situation; again and again and again. When the public is really te
lling them, you know, you're full of it. What we're tired of it is your pontifications; we're not tired of the scandal, we're tired of your pontificating about it.

TUCKER: You make what is probably the first known comparison I'm aware of to Joseph Campbell and Bruce Willis.

LAUGHTER

What do the author of "The Hero with a Thousand Faces," and the star of "Die Hard" have in common?

GABLER: Well, what they have in common is this: Joseph Campbell in "Hero with a Thousand Faces" was obviously trying t
o find a way of uniting minutes across culture. And, what he did was identified stages of cross-cultural myths. Namely, that the hero arrives -- whether a myth is a Greek myth or an African myth or an Asian myth or a European myth -- in virtually all of these myths a hero arrives on the scene, usually coming from ordinary everyday reality.

In the second stage that Campbell identifies, the hero enters this wondrous world, encounters obstacles which he has to overcome. And in the third stage, having overcome t
hese obstacles, the hero returns to -- from whence he came and bears the kind of gift of his experience to ordinary people.

Now, Bruce Willis in an interview with Jay McInerney in "Esquire" magazine talks about the stages of celebrity. Essentially, you arrive, you peak, you bond, and you return. He interpolated one extra stage that Joseph Campbell didn't have in his schema, but in point of fact, I mean Willis is really onto something here.

I mean, what he's onto is that there is a real similarity between
the myths and a mythic structure that Campbell identifies and the structure of celebrity lives and celebrity profiles. And if you read enough celebrity profiles and -- you know, I hate to say it but I've read thousands of them -- you find that they really do conform to the schema.

I mean, given the stage of the celebrity's career you find that in "Vanity Fair," and in "People," and wherever the celebrity is arriving or he's peaked or he's bombed, or he's now having experienced all these things, and come back t
o tell us what he's learned from his life experience.

TUCKER: It's also, I think, amusing in your example of fact that Bruce Willis is using the novelist Jay McInerney as an intermediary, you know, McInerney himself having also undergone all these stages in his own career.

GABLER: The blind leading the blind, perhaps, in this case.

TUCKER: That's right. You say, at one point, that Elizabeth Taylor is "as close to a theorist of the life movie as there ever has been."

LAUGHTER

Which I think mi
ght come as much of a surprise to her as it did to me. What do you mean by that?

GABLER: Well, you skip over Zsa Zsa Gabor, who is a one of the trail blazers in this process.

TUCKER: Yes, you also talk about Zsa Zsa as somebody who is famous for being known as being famous.

GABLER: Yes well, I devise in this book what I call the "Zsa Zsa factor." And what the "Zsa Zsa factor" is this -- it's really the kind of the highest expression of celebrity. Zsa Zsa Gabor, when she arrived on the seen in her
life movie, was neither an actress nor a singer, nor a dancer, nor performer of any sort.

She simply happened to be the wife of actor George Sanders, and while Sanders was away making a picture in England, Zsa Zsa was recruited by a friend to appear on a television program in 1951 called "Bachelor's Haven" in which she was a panelist dispensing off-handed advice to lovelorn viewers.

And she was so funny at doing this, just being herself, that she became virtually an overnight sensation. And from there, from
Zsa Zsa being Zsa Zsa she was recruited into the movies. Now, Zsa Zsa Gabor hasn't made a movie in God knows how many years, and it's nearly 50 years since she made her appearance on "Bachelor's Haven," but what's interesting is that though virtually everyone in America knows the name Zsa Zsa Gabor, almost no one can tell you what it is she does.

And, that to me, is the "Zsa Zsa factor." It's kind of the highest aspiration of a celebrity -- someone who is known by everyone for having done absolutely nothing.

Now, Elizabeth Taylor ... yeah, I didn't want to interrupt.

TUCKER: No, no, no. I was going to say Elizabeth Taylor, who did do things early on in her career, but I would imagine in your formulation went on to become, in a sense, somebody who is famous for being famous.

GABLER: Well, the interesting thing about Elizabeth Taylor, and the reason I call her a theorist, is what Elizabeth Taylor understood is that once her career effectively ended as an actress she could continue her celebrity by playing ou
t her life. And in fact, at one point, she said: I am my own commodity.

And what I think she meant by that is that she learned to commodify her life -- her divorces, her illnesses, her addictions, her recoveries. All of those things were now her movie; her movies were no longer being made, but her movie now was her life.

TUCKER: And this is an example of what you would call a "lifey," someone's life movie.

GABLER: That is Elizabeth Taylor's lifey. Elizabeth Taylor's lifey is, you know, the soap opera
of her life, and it plays in the conventional media. I mean, to take -- to extend this metaphor, I mean, these lifeys play in the multiplexes of the conventional media. Be they television, or magazines, or radio, or whatever.

TUCKER: And, I never heard that quote from Elizabeth Taylor before, but the fact that she could conceive of herself as a commodity, it makes me think -- make the leap to Madonna who is certainly in our time someone who commodifies herself brilliantly. Do you also see that as, the exampl
e of Madonna, as someone -- an example of this?

GABLER: I explicitly discussed Madonna in the book as the third stage in this Zsa Zsa to Elizabeth Taylor to Madonna trioca, if you will. Because what Madonna does it is -- I mean Madonna puts a postmodernist spin on Elizabeth Taylor.

Elizabeth Taylor literally, you know, lives out her life as a movie. What Madonna has done is she said: I'm going to take the stages of my life and make my manipulation of those stages my movie. So, this is the kind of a puren
delian twist on Elizabeth Taylor.

Everyone knows that I'm very self-consciously creating a movie out of my life, and it's the self-consciousness of it that you respond to as a viewer.

TUCKER: My guest is Neal Gabler, his new book is called "Life: the Movie." We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

TUCKER: My guest is Neal Gabler, he's written a new book called "Life: the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality."

When I got to the end, and you say that: "If life is ser
ved only as a way to bring excitement to the otherwise dull routines and patterns of our own lives, they may perform an invaluable psychological service."

To me, this almost contradicts a lot of what you said about this sort of pointless overstimulation and emphasis on momentary novelty of entertainment. Did I miss understand that in a way?

GABLER: No, I don't think you misunderstood it. I think that we -- again we -- I think we reflexively respond to entertainment as a negative thing. But then when one l
ooks at it on a personal level -- when one looks at the psychological impact of how entertainment can infiltrate our own lives, and in the context of that comment that you mention.

The context is that we have turned our own lives into entertainment, not only public lives have become entertainment, but at a very personal level we have learned to turn our own lives into entertainment. And in so doing, we come -- we more closely approximate the vision of the good life that we want to have.

TUCKER: I did notice
that one point where you kind of abandon that sort of note of optimism or objectivity is in the area of TV news. I think you reserve some strong criticism of TV news -- the blurring of lines between reporting and celebrity mongering.

You referred to Diane Sawyer at one point, for example, as "a celebrity who purported to be a journalist." How do you think TV journalism is bad, and is there any end that you can see to this tendency?

GABLER: TV journalism, to me, is bad because it -- there is not that what
I earlier referred to as this kind of apportionment between serious informational news and entertainment news. Now, entertainment news may not be any worse than informational news -- the traditional press may not be any better than the tabloid press.

I think they serve very different functions. What bothers me is that we are increasingly getting only one function. We're not getting an informational press, we're getting an entertainment press, and it dresses itself up to be an informational press: we have to te
ll you these things because, you know, you have to be informed.

But it informs us about things that, you know, we do want to know about as entertainment, but we don't need to be informed about it in any other way. And I think that it's a kind of Gresham's law, again, that money dries out the good. You know, entertainment dries out, you know, serious informational journalism, and in that I think, you know, it's -- that is something I fear.

Because, again, I'm a pluralist; I want a world that allows me the op
portunity to read serious analysis as well as, you know, tabloid entertainment, and I'm not sure that television news is serving that former function.

TUCKER: And can you see a time when it ever would? Is there any reason for it ever to, in its, you know, ceaseless demand for profits and a bottom line -- what should ever make television news change?

GABLER: Oh, nothing will make it change unless there is some kind of moral revelation, and I don't suspect that's going to happen. I mean, in a world where B
arbara Walters, and Tim Russert, and Diane Sawyer are honored journalists we're not going to get serious journalism.

I mean, I hold Barbara Walters in the book culpable in some respect because she is the one who really smuggled celebrity past the journalistic guard dogs on television, and gave us an interview with the president of the United States and with some, soap opera hunk. You know, side by side as if the two were equivalent.

I mean, this is something that -- I think that level of equivalency is somet
hing that, you know, television does -- television news does all the time. And Barbara Walters is kind of the signpost of it.

TUCKER: That's Neal Gabler, the author of "Life: the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality."

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Ken Tucker, Washington, DC
Guest: Neal Gabler
High: Author NEAL GABLER (GAY-blur). His newest book is "Life: The
Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality" (Knopf). His previous books are "Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity" and "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood."
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Movie Industry

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from t
he materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Neal Gabler

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110902NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Tom Wolfe
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:25

KEN TUCKER, HOST: Just as his "Bonfire of the Vanities" surveyed the New York City of the 1980s, Tom Wolfe's new novel "A Man in Full" surveys 1990s Atlanta.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan says Wolfe's novel may be the most scathing treatment of Atlanta since the burning of the city during the Civil War.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: A couple of years
after he published his first novel, "The Bonfire of the Vanities," Tom Wolfe wrote a much talked-about essay for "Harper's" magazine called "Stocking the Billion-Footed Beast," a literary manifesto for the new social novel.

In it, Wolfe lamented the invalid-like narcissism of contemporary American fiction which, he claimed, has dodged the challenge of trying to capture the chaos and absurdity of life in our great cities. Wolfe said: young writers are constantly told "write about what you know."

There's noth
ing wrong with that rule as a starting point, but it seems to get quickly magnified into an unspoken maxim: the only valid experience is personal experience. Like "Bonfire," Wolfe's new novel "A Man in Full," represents a big shouldered heave-ho to autobiographical fiction.

It's intricately plotted and realistic, the kind of book that Dickens, Balzac, Tolstoy, and all those other 19 century potentates of the pen used to write. You've got to have a lot of upper-body strength to hoist up "A Man in Full." Again,
like "Bonfire," "A Man in Full" weighs in at over 700 pages -- and dig that muscular title.

Manhood, virility, cajones is the prevailing concern of "A Man in Full." In it, Wolfe escorts us through the glass office towers of downtown Atlanta, the charred slums of South Atlanta, the segregated green breasted suburban enclaves, and the isolated bustle of Atlanta's edge cities.

We tour the rap music fueled bacchanalian of freakniks, and the opulent charity balls replete with tuxedos, jewels, and what he describe
s as boiling teeth. And, just as his mentor, Dickens in "Bleak House," united all the disparate districts of London with the metaphor of all-pervasive fog, so Wolfe in "A Man in Full" unites sprawling Atlanta with the all-pervasive smell of musk.

Wolfe's hero, the dubious man in full of the title, is Charlie Croker a 60ish real estate developer of Trumpian proportions. Charlie possesses what he still thinks of as an alpha lion body, a nubile second wife, and a 29,000 acre plantation that makes Tara look like a
Kentucky Fried Chicken joint.

As Atlanta's boom has gone bust, Charlie has also amassed a half billion in debt. When the novel begins, he's being subjected to what's called a workout session at the bank that lent him most of his capital. Sadistic doesn't even begin to describe the screw-turning tactics employed by the SWAT team of bankers.

In a protracted attempt to save his own hide, Charlie becomes involved with what seems like a cast of thousands here. Foremost among them is a surly black football star
who is accused of raping a white socialite, a young working class white guy who's escaped from prison, and a black lawyer who sees Charlie as his winning ticket to a political jackpot.

Most amazing thing about "A Man in Full" isn't it's multilayered looping story line which, impressive as it is, starts to sag by novel's end. Nor does Wolfe's talent lie in characterization, Wolfe has always been more of an elegant allegorist even though here he did get me to feel some sympathy for Charlie, that big slab of testo
sterone-injected beef.

No, it's in the big set pieces about place where Wolfe's wit and discernment, and even grandeur as a writer are displayed to their fullest. I'd need to read you about a 10 page excerpt from "A Man in Full" to do the spectacularly paced and crafted passages about place justice.

But, oh well, here's a small section of a riff one character does on lower middle class suburbia which he suggests re-designating "7-Eleven Land."

"It was now one vast goulash of condominiums, and other new c
heap housing. The only way you could tell you were leaving one community and entering another was when the franchises started repeating, and you spotted another 7-Eleven, another Wendy's, another Costco, another Home Depot.

"The new landmarks were not office towers, or monuments, or city halls, or libraries, or museums, but 7-Eleven stores. In giving directions, people would say: "You take the service road down past the 7-Eleven and then..." You can imagine the rest."

Especially given all the applause for
John Glenn over the past few weeks, it's great to see that glands equally white haired chronicler, Tom Wolfe, still has the right stuff too.

TUCKER: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed Tom Wolfe's new novel "A Man in Full."

I'm Ken Tucker, and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Ken Tucker, Washington, DC
Guest: M
aureen Corrigan
High: Just as his "Bonfire of the Vanities" surveyed the New York City of the 1980s, Tom Wolfe's new novel "A Man in Full" surveys 1990s Atlanta.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Books; Tom Wolfe

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herei
n may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Tom Wolfe

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110903NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: "Wit"
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

KEN TUCKER, GUEST HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Ken Tucker affiliate in for Terry Gross.

My guest, Kathleen Chalfont, is currently starring off-Broadway at Manhattan's and MCC theater in a new play called "Wit" by Margaret Edson (ph). It's about a middle-aged professor of English and expert in the sonnets of 17th century poet John Donne, who finds she has adv
anced ovarian cancer.

This character, Vivian Bering (ph), is a proud but solitary woman for whom her work has been her life. Now, she finds that life about to end, and she is surrounded in the hospital in which the play takes place by medical staff mostly unaware of her achievements as a scholar. And she's reduced to the anonymous, often humiliating status as a weak patient who must depend on people for virtually the first time in her life.

Which is not to say there aren't life moments here. Early on in th
e play she turns to the audience and says: "This play contains elements of humor. I think I die at the end."

Kathleen Chalfont is perhaps best known for her works in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Angels in America" for which she received a Tony nomination.

Of her work in "Wit," "The New York Times" said of her performance that it is: "as intelligent and uncompromising as you're likely to come across on a New York stage."

I asked her what drew her to this play.

KATHLEEN CHALFONT, ACTRESS, "WIT": I
first -- I mean I realized that it was wonderful writing, and as it happened, at the time that the play came to me my brother who has been my mentor, and who died just after Easter this year, had been recently diagnosed with cancer, and was planning to come to live with us in New York which he subsequently did.

And he was visiting, so I gave him the play because I wanted to know whether it was true to his experience at least as far as he had had that experience. And, he read it and said two things: one, that it
was entirely true, and the other that if anyone ever asked me to do this play I must do it.

TUCKER: Really?

CHALFONT: Yes.

TUCKER: What did your brother do?

CHALFONT: My brother had been in the restaurant business most of his life in San Francisco, and at the time of his death had just retired as the development director for the Hearing Society in San Francisco. And he did a variety of things including organizing a large San Francisco charity event called "Dinner at Eight."

TUCKER: Did you
spend a lot of time with him during the time that he was suffering from this?

CHALFONT: Yes, he came to live with us and lived with us for nearly the last two years of his life.

TUCKER: I wondered how you prepared for this role which seems to take you into two extremes. First, there are those long long speeches about John Donne that are really -- lectures really that explain this professor's love of language. Were these long speeches difficult to memorize to kind of keep things straight -- all of the Donn
e's word play?

CHALFONT: They actually weren't difficult to memorize because they are so well written, and the lecture on Donne is so carefully reasoned that it follows, and I think, anyone who acts would agree that the better written the material is the easier it is to learn. It seems inevitable after a while.

TUCKER: I wonder if I could ask you to just give me an example of how Vivian speaks of John Donne because it's done in such an evocative way.

CHALFONT: OK, I'll do the beginning of Vivian's lec
ture.

TUCKER: Great. Thank you.

CHALFONT: "The poetry of the early 17th century, what has been called the metaphysical school, considers an intractable mental puzzle by exercising the outstanding human faculty of the era. Namely, wit, the greatest wit. The greatest English poet, some would say, was John Donne.

"In the holy sonnets, Donne applied his capacious, agile wit to the larger aspects of the human experience: life, death, and God."

TUCKER: That's really terrific, thank you. Then there
's the other extreme in the situation that your character is in undergoing this intensive, even brutal cancer treatment. I understand that you visited the Yale New Haven University Hospital.

CHALFONT: Yes.

TUCKER: Was that in the way of research?

CHALFONT: Yes, so we didn't visit patients at the hospital, we visited with an oncological gynecologist, and with oncology nurses who were wonderful. And who were very forthcoming about the kinds of things that happen in the hospital, and they came back over
and over to the play to kind of vet our -- the technical part of the play.

TUCKER: I think that anyone who's had any experience with hospitals can identify with her -- the characters annoyance with these kind of forced mechanical cheeriness of the doctors and nurses. This kind of insincere interest, everyone's always asking Vivian how she's feeling, and she's always supposed to say very heartily, fine, even when she's feeling very awful.

Do you find that this is something audiences respond to -- that the
y identify with?

CHALFONT: Yes, audiences respond immediately, and to give the medical professionals their due, it's very difficult what they do. And a lot of these peculiar ways of speaking are their defenses against terror of the job that they've been set to do.

In the fact that quite often there isn't anything to do, and they are trained, particularly physicians, are trained to do something. I found this out when I was helping with my brother at the end of his life, even when it was clear that it was th
e end of his life, the doctors felt it necessary to do something rather than to just let him float away, though when it was made clear that it was his choice to go I -- they agreed.

TUCKER: How did that experience with your brother inform your own interpretation of this role?

CHALFONT: Well, when I first did the play, Allen was ill and he came to see the play twice, and had some very important things to say about it. And the second time he came he thought we were getting it right, he was very moved by it.
When I came back to it a couple of months ago I had had the experience of my brother's dying, and it was his last gift to me.

And so, I know something about the end of the play that I didn't know before. That I couldn't have known, and I think it's better.

And I do also want to say that when people write about the play it seems like there's always just one character in the play, but it's a play with nine actors and this company is an astounding company of actors who give, I think, the play its force and t
exture so that we're all very much doing this together, and we -- most of us -- have had the luxury of having a second go at the play.

TUCKER: Yes, I was going to say that your character, Vivian Bering, is surrounded by this hospital staff that, except for a very kind nurse, deals with you almost as a lab experiment. In particular there's this young researcher who, in a very nice irony, took Vivian's class in metaphysical poetry, and so, he's a man who has ideas about how to cure cancer, one of the most practic
al goals in the world.

And I think that the tragedy of the play, it seems to me, is that he doesn't seem to make the connection that his own passion for medical research is the same as Vivian's passion for literary scholarship. It seems to me that she gets that, but he doesn't. Did you think of this character as providing kind of the conflict in the play with your character?

CHALFONT: He provides -- yes, he provides both conflict and identification because in many ways Jason and Vivian are very much alike,
and it's a parallel that Vivian draws in the play. And it should also be remembered that this character, Jason -- Dr. Jason Posner who is played by Alec Phoenix, did not choose to do clinical work.

He means to be a researcher, and in a way -- in a larger sense the play is, I think, more an indictment of -- sort of medical training programs that puts people without any interest in clinical work in charge of living breathing human beings.

TUCKER: Did your brother experience any of that? Or you witness to
any of that kind of behavior between the patient and doctor?

CHALFONT: Not to the same extent because my brother wasn't in a research facility as Vivian is -- Vivian has joined a research protocol. What I did experience was a kind of endless, and in some ways unrealistic cheerfulness in the face of what was clearly death.

So that it made it difficult to sort out how to live the last few months of my brothers life. The doctors kept insisting that he was either stable or, perhaps, getting better. And it was
clear to all the people who were his caretakers, and to himself, that that wasn't true. It was a complicated situation.

TUCKER: And how did that -- what response did that provoke in him? Was he angry about that? Was he frustrated?

CHALFONT: He was frustrated because he was a lay person, and they were physicians. He wasn't sure that he was right. He thought that he had failed in some way, you know, that he wasn't trying hard enough to get well. And his last few months were not as peaceful as they coul
d have been.

TUCKER: I'm talking to Kathleen Chalfont, who starred in the off-Broadway play "Wit." We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

TUCKER: My guest is the actress Kathleen Chalfont. She stars in the off-Broadway play "Wit."

I found the brief descriptions that I read of your own background. Your parents ran a boarding house in Oakland, California.

CHALFONT: Yes, they did.

TUCKER: For, what, fifty people and serve meals, and what was that experience like?
Did you work with your parents growing up?

CHALFONT: I did. My parents bought the boarding house at the beginning -- I can't remember how old I was, but at the beginning of six grade -- you know the way we all tell time by school -- at the beginning of six grade, and we stayed there until I graduated from college.

And I worked in the summers in the dining room waiting on tables, and I helped a little bit, you know, with maintenance and things -- painting and all. My mother worked harder than anyone I know,
and we had five employees, and I think maybe two months a year were there ever all five of them there at one time, and my mother leapt into whatever breach was left.

TUCKER: What sort of people would be staying there? How big was this place?

CHALFONT: It had 50 rooms, it had been a small hotel for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and it was working people for the most part. And it was an old-fashioned boarding house, we served breakfast and dinner to 50 people -- sit-down meals both of them. And then you
could order lunch if you wanted to, you know, sandwiches.

TUCKER: So, how did you get interested in acting?

CHALFONT: Well, I had always been interested in acting. I got interested in acting because my grandmother, when I was younger -- when my parents owned a motel in Sacramento, used to take me to movies on Sunday when I was little, and I was -- my brother is 14 years older than I so I grew of most of the time as an only child, and he would be a third parent.

So, Wade (ph) come home from the movies a
nd I'd be alone and act out all the parts in the movies, especially Westerns which I liked quite a lot. I think I wanted to be Lyle Waggoner for some reason because I liked the way he smiled, and ride horses.

In the boarding house, I continued that interest and there was -- one of the women who lived in the boarding house, Florence Lonegan (ph), was associated with the little theater in Alameda which was the next town over from Oakland. And, she took me there first, I guess, when I was about 14 and I began to w
ork as an indentured servant as people do in the theater.

My father used to come and take me out of the theater and take me home, and I wasn't acting much. Mostly, I was painting or, you know, helping out around the place. And that was my first experience in the theater, and I took over for somebody singing "Shine on Harvest Moon."

And I don't sing, I didn't sing then and I still don't sing. But it was not, perhaps, an auspicious beginning.

TUCKER: And did you study, did you go to New York to study?
Or...

CHALFONT: No, I meant to study acting, but I went to Stanford which had a wonderful theater department then. But I ended up studying classical Greek.

TUCKER: Really?

CHALFONT: It was very complicated, but had as much to do with my boyfriend as anything else. I'm sorry to say that, but that's true.

TUCKER: Well, that's the way it is for a lot of people.

CHALFONT: And I got a degree in classical Greek and had -- was beginning graduate school in Greek at Stanford and I went away with my
new boyfriend who is now my husband. We went to Mexico, and we were driving back for Mexico and I said: "You know, I don't think I want to do this."

And he said: "What you want to do?

And I said: "Well, I always wanted to be an actress." And he said: "Why don't you do that?"

TUCKER: Good for him.

CHALFONT: And so I came back and dropped out of school, and did that. I began to study with someone from San Francisco sort of by hook or by crook in the long way, finally ended up in New York when I
was 28. And I began to study with Wynn Hammond (ph), and I -- we were married when I was 21 and went to live in Europe for about four years and I studied in Italy with a man named Alessandro Farci (ph) in Rome.

And then we went to live in Woodstock for a little while, and had our second child and then moved to New York. And I interviewed with Wynn Hammond on my 28th birthday.

TUCKER: I usually do rock music reviews for the show so I would be remiss if I didn't say I was very interested to see that your son
David is the bass player in a very good band called the Nields.

CHALFONT: Yes, it is isn't it?

TUCKER: Yes. How do you feel about him -- how did you feel when he first became involved in rock and roll and performing this way?

CHALFONT: Well, sense I grew of -- I was born in 1945 so I'm a '60s kid. I grew up with rock and roll, and David has played the guitar since he was seven with the full approval of all members of his family. Henry, my husband, used to sing him to sleep playing guitar music and
David, from the age of I think seven -- the first thing he saw when he woke up every morning was a huge poster of Jimi Hendrix.

And he wrote -- he was actually not allowed to write a junior high school paper on Keith Richards. He was asked to write a biography of a person who had been important in his life, and he said Keith Richards. And a teacher said: that's not serious.

We all went to school and said: are you kidding?

TUCKER: Good for you.

CHALFONT: It's as serious as can be.

TUCKER: The
other thing that I was wondering about is that your resume is full of this very rich varied roles that you played in the theater. You don't seem to have done too much in film. I wonder how you maintain that kind of career in the theater and finding roles that are challenging and -- to sustain a career like that?

CHALFONT: I've been immensely lucky in the writers who have found me. My first sort of big job in New York was "Jules Pfeiffer." Then I was in "Sister Mary," "Christopher Durang," I did Larry Kramer'
s "Just Say No," I've done a number of plays by Romulus Wenny (ph), Ellen McLaughlin, and now Margaret Edson.

So, I've been immensely fortunate, and it seems -- it seems to be better for me now that I'm over 50 than it was before. So, again fortunate.

TUCKER: Yes, I guess that cliche of in the movie industry, and to a certain extent in television the roles are for young women primarily; there's a much wider range of roles for middle-aged women in theater. Would you agree?

CHALFONT: Well, it seems to be
so because I've been working pretty steadily actually since I was 40. I do think that as the demographics, as they say, change in the world they're going to be more and more roles for people older and older. I think that's beginning to happen.

TUCKER: Kathleen Chalfont, star of the off-Broadway play "Wit."

Coming up, a review of Greg Osby's new CD.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEAS
E CALL 888-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Ken Tucker, Washington, DC
Guest: Kathleen Chalfont
High: Actress KATHLEEN CHALFONT. She's starring in the highly acclaimed Off Broadway play "Wit," about a scholar of John Donne undergoing grueling treatments for terminal cancer.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Theater

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatti
ng copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: "Wit"

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110904NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Greg Osby
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

KEN TUCKER, GUEST HOST: In the 1980s, alto saxophonist Greg Osby began making a name for himself playing with drummer Jack Digenet (ph) and pianist Andrew Hill, and is a member of the M days (ph) cooperative of young forward-looking jazz players.

The music he's recorded under his own name dips into everything from Japanese-flavored jazz to street level hi
p-hop to tender versions of classic ballads. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Osby is one of the more creative jazz musicians under 40. Kevin reviews his new CD.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- JAZZ SAXOPHONIST GREG OSBY PERFORMING)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, JAZZ CRITIC: Some ambitious jazz liberals declare their intention to push the music forward. Wanting to and doing it are two different things of course, but 38 year old Greg Osby is one musician who plays a good game as well as talking one.

In the 80's, Osby crossed
paths with two other saxophonists, Steve Coleman and Gary Thomas, who like him, were looking for new ways to improvise over chord changes. By hanging out, studying, and playing together Osby and his pals involved the distinctive slippery approach to constructing solos where they might sneak up on the chords or the rhythm from any possible angle.

The sound was fresh, even if it had far-flung precedents. You could hear traces of players as diverse as the controversial "Out Cat" (ph) Anthony Braxton and commerci
al saxophonist Michael Brecker. Here's Greg Osby.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- JAZZ SAXOPHONIST GREG OSBY PERFORMING)

WHITEHEAD: Greg Osby on his new CD "Zero" on Blue Note. Osby has made the reasonable claim that jazz should reflect the popular music of this time by which he means hip-hop. Now, jazz has largely resisted successful fusions with rap music maybe because they can seem opposed to each other rhythmically.

To get slightly technical, in jazz the accent is usually on the second and fourth beat of the
bar -- the back beat. Hip-hop loves the back beat to, but when a rapper starts rhyming at double speed the accent can sound like it's falling heavily on the third beat, in the cracks between the jazz beats you might say.

Greg Osby will sometimes mediate between those two approaches, shifting his accents back and forth from one beat to the other.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- JAZZ SAXOPHONIST GREG OSBY PERFORMING)

WHITEHEAD: That's Duane Burno (ph) on bass and Rodney Green on drums. For some jazz fans, musician
s who turn the beat around on purpose like that will always sound like amateur jazz musicians who do it by mistake. That, by the way, is what Greg Osby has in common with Anthony Braxton -- he also likes to play sax on some "wrong beats."

In the past, Osby has made rap records and jazz records. Jazz fans might want to check out his recent CDs "Art Forum," and "Further Ado." But his new CD, "Zero" brings together lessons he learned in both worlds as he incorporates the rhythms of hip-hop into a jazz context.

You can hear a rapper's speech cadences in Osby's instrumental "Concepticus in C."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- JAZZ SAXOPHONIST GREG OSBY PERFORMING "CONCEPTICUS IN C")

WHITEHEAD: By now, Greg Osby has cultivated a circle of musicians who can follow him down any rabbit hole he jumps into. Some of the players here have had a lot of practice. Guitarist Kevin McNeil and bassist Lonnie Flaxico (ph) were on Osby's debut album 11 years ago.

His new CD has its bald patches, but Greg Osby has been at it long enough
to show some real progress. If his music doesn't thrust jazz into the 21st century, at least he inches the tradition forward a little bit.

In these cautious times, that's about as good is it gets.

TUCKER: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing." He reviewed "Zero," the new release by great Osby on Blue Note.

In for Terry Gross, I am Ken Tucker.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 8
88-NPR-NEWS

Dateline: Ken Tucker, Washington, DC
Guest: Kevin Whitehead
High: Jazz critic KEVIN WHITEHEAD reviews "Zero" (Blue Note) the new release by jazz saxophonist Greg Osby.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Music Industry

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the ma
terials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Greg Osby
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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