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Dusty Springfield's Manager/Biographer Describes Singer's Dance With 'Demons'

The late British singer had a number of hits in the '60s, many of which are included in a new Atlantic Records anthology. We listen back to a 2002 interview with Springfield's friend Vicki Wickham.

29:42

Other segments from the episode on February 5, 2021

Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, in for Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WISHIN' AND HOPIN'")

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin', plannin' and dreamin' each night of his charms. That won't get you into his arms. So if you're lookin' to find love you can share...

BIANCULLI: Some critics consider Dusty Springfield the best British female rock singer of the '60s. She had many hits in England and America, including "Wishin' And Hopin'," "I Only Want To Be With You" and "The Look Of Love." Springfield died of cancer in 1999, just before her 60th birthday. A new anthology collects her recordings for Atlantic Records from 1968 to 1971. Her hit, "Son Of A Preacher Man," comes from those sessions.

Today, we listen to Terry's 2002 interview with Dusty Springfield's longtime friend and manager Vicki Wickham, who wrote an authorized biography of Springfield called "Dancing With Demons." It describes the personal life that few of her fans knew about, including that Springfield was a lesbian. Wickham also co-wrote one of Springfield's hits, "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me." Vicki Wickham first met Dusty Springfield when Springfield made a guest appearance on "Ready Steady Go!," the British pop music program which Wickham co-produced.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

VICKI WICKHAM: It was a chaotic show which went out every week on Associated-Rediffusion television, which was the independent channel, and it was subtitled The Weekend Starts Here. And we were a mixture of music, fashion, the celebrities of the time, pop art. And you have to remember, this was 1963. It was The Who, The Beatles, later Jimi Hendrix, The Animals, and we started bringing in American artists - Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, Otis Redding. And it was live. It started off as a mimed show, but within a year went live. And every single week we never quite got it right. It was a live, in-studio with an audience. And the cameras, I mean, literally would go between dances, between the audience. And it just caught people's imagination, and kids would literally run home from school to see the show.

TERRY GROSS: Yeah, it was kind of like "American Bandstand," but with fashion and more interviews and things like that (laughter).

WICKHAM: Yes, exactly. That's exactly what it was.

GROSS: I mean, it's amazing. Like, in the early days of "Ready Steady Go!," you know, The Beatles would come on, and then Ringo would dance in the audience with the other dancers.

WICKHAM: Yeah, exactly, which, you know, was amazing because they were huge at the time.

GROSS: Right. Dusty Springfield is really an extraordinary singer. And, you know, I grew up listening to her records, and, you know, I always liked her. But it was as an adult that I could really appreciate what a truly good singer she is. What struck you about her singing when you were auditioning people for "Ready Steady Go!"?

WICKHAM: She had a sound. And there are very few people that have a real sound to their voice. And Dusty's just one of those lucky ones that, you know, she's recognizable anywhere. She had an impeccable choice of material. She knew exactly what was right for her voice.

GROSS: Her first hit, "I Only Want To Be With You," came out in 1964 and debuted on "Ready Steady Go!," and this was while you were producing the program. What did you think of the record then? Did you think that was the right choice for her?

WICKHAM: Yes, absolutely. It was a wonderful song and a great way to launch her.

GROSS: Why don't we hear it?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I ONLY WANT TO BE WITH YOU")

SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) I don't know what it is that makes me love you so. I only know I never want to let you go. 'Cause you started something. Can't you see that ever since we met you've had a hold on me? It happens to be true; I only want to be with you. It doesn't matter where you go or what you do. I want to spend each moment of the day with you. Look what has happened with just one kiss. I never knew that I could be in love like this. It's crazy, but it's true; I only want to be with you. You stopped and smiled at me, asked me if I'd care to dance...

GROSS: That's Dusty Springfield's first hit, "I Only Want To Be With You." My guest is Vicki Wickham, who co-wrote "Dancing With Demons: The Authorized Biography Of Dusty Springfield."

You actually co-wrote one of Dusty Springfield's songs, "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," which was released in 1966. How did you come to co-write the song? And tell us if there's a story behind it.

WICKHAM: Well, there is. Dusty had been at the Sanremo Song Festival and came back with an Italian song. But each time she was going to record, she'd say, I must write lyrics to it. She never did, so she never recorded it. And it came to the time in '64 where she said, I really need to record this song. And I, like a big mouth, said, well, any fool can write lyrics. So she said, well, OK, any fool can write lyrics. Go and write lyrics.

And luckily, I was having dinner that night with a friend of mine. Actually, I was having dinner with him every night because we used to see each other all the time - Simon Napier-Bell, who was a musician. And I said to Simon, before we go to dinner, we have to do these lyrics for Dusty because she's recording tomorrow. So he said, OK, you know, play me the song. So we sat and played. And, of course, we sat and argued about what it should be and what it shouldn't. But it really - in about 30 minutes, we'd got the basis of it and then finished it off in the taxi.

And the next day when I was typing them up for Dusty, I called Simon, and I said, these are horrible. I cannot give these to Dusty. And he said, well, what are you going to do? So I said, I suppose give them to Dusty because there's no choice. So I sent them through or sent them over to Dusty or dropped them off or something. And she said, these are really bad. And I said, I know. We know that. Anyway, she recorded it. And, of course, it went to No. 1.

GROSS: Why did you think they were so bad, the lyrics?

WICKHAM: They're really inane. And if you look at the lyrics, I think the word left is in there about six times. Although, you know, when you become familiar with them, you think, OK, they're not - perhaps not so bad.

GROSS: So - well, why don't we hear the song, and we'll let everybody judge what they think of the lyrics? (Laughter).

WICKHAM: OK (laughter).

GROSS: It certainly did well for her and for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU DON'T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME"

SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) You don't have to say you love me, just be close at hand. You don't have to stay forever, I will understand. Believe me, believe me, I can't help but love you. But believe me, I'll never tie you down. Left alone with just a memory, life seems dead and so unreal. All that's left is loneliness. There's nothing left to feel. You don't have to say you love me, just be close at hand. You don't have to stay forever, I will understand. Believe me, believe me. You don't have to say you love me, just be close at hand...

GROSS: That's "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," a 1966 hit by Dusty Springfield. My guest, Vicki Wickham, co-wrote the lyrics. She also co-wrote Dusty Springfield's biography called "Dancing With Demons."

Now, as you were getting to know Dusty Springfield, something that you learned about her was that she was a lesbian. And this was at a time when virtually no performers were really out of the closet, certainly not in pop music. How did you find out about that?

WICKHAM: Well, because we were friends. So we were hanging out together. We, you know, had some of the same friends. We need to have our own friends. And, you know, obviously, you know, you know what your friends are doing.

GROSS: And are you gay, too?

WICKHAM: Yes. Absolutely.

GROSS: Did you have to keep each other's secrets? Did it need to be as big a secret for you as it was for her because you weren't a performer and could, maybe, afford to be a little more open?

WICKHAM: Well, exactly. For me, it was never a problem because I wasn't in the public eye. And, you know, I was always openly gay. And it was absolutely fine. But for somebody like Dusty, it did matter. I mean, it was absolutely unheard of in '63, in the early '60s. And I really do think it would have harmed her at the time had people really known. You have to remember, too, the press in England - it's got worse over the years - but they're very intrusive. I mean, there are a lot of tabloids, as you know. We have about six or seven daily papers and then all the Sunday papers. So they need something to write about. And the more sensational it is, the better. The bigger name you are, obviously, the bigger story. And it was a real worry that, you know, the papers would start splashing it across.

GROSS: Dusty Springfield was from a Catholic family. She went to convent school. Did she feel guilty about her own sexual orientation?

WICKHAM: Yes, she did. She felt guilty about a lot of things. And I think that, you know, the Catholic faith, throughout her entire life, always was a burden to her. And that was a large part of what the big problem was.

GROSS: As a producer of "Ready, Steady, Go!" were you ever concerned that if she was outed, it would be a problem for the program?

WICKHAM: No, not remotely. And I don't think it would have been. The only problem we ever had with "Ready, Steady" was when Donovan was busted for pot. And there was a whole discussion about whether we should have him on.

GROSS: (Laughter).

WICKHAM: I mean, how inane that sounds now. But that was the biggest problem we ever had.

BIANCULLI: Vicki Wickham, co-author of "Dancing With Demons," a biography of singer Dusty Springfield, speaking to Terry Gross in 2002. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I HAD A TALK WITH MY MAN LAST NIGHT")

SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) I had a talk with my man last night.

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2002 interview with Vicki Wickham, the longtime friend and manager, as well as biographer, of singer Dusty Springfield. A new anthology collects Springfield songs recorded for Atlantic Records from 1968 to 1971.

GROSS: Dusty Springfield really had a look in the '60s when she became a star. Why don't you describe the kind of fashion she wore, how she did her eyes, her hairdos?

WICKHAM: Dusty had this huge bouffant hairdo, which required a lot of back combing and a lot of spray, which we would sometimes laugh and say that she was responsible alone for the ozone layer. She also wore a lot of makeup. She looked at the fashion magazines and the film magazines at the time and would look at people like Monica Vitti, I suppose, like a Bardot, that type of thing. And she followed their eye makeup, which was a lot of black, like a panda makeup, with a lot of heavy eyeliner above the lid, as well as below. And dress wise, she was what in those days was called a mod. You had mods and rockers. And Dusty was a mod with short skirts and skimpy, little tops. I mean, she was very fashionable. You know, kids would emulate her.

GROSS: Dusty Springfield recorded several Burt Bacharach, Hal David songs, such as "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself," "Wishin' And Hopin'," "The Look Of Love." How did she start to do Bacharach?

WICKHAM: Dusty used to listen to a lot of demos from America. Publishers would send her demos. And, of course, she was going backwards and forwards to America to appear on shows, package shows, like the ones at the Brooklyn Fox, where she would be on with Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, the Searchers, the Animals, Dusty. So she was very conscious of American music. And she and I and Vic Billings, her manager at the time, went to Paris and at the Olympia in Paris went to see Dionne Warwick, the Shirelles, little Stevie Wonder, who was singing "Fingertips" at the time. And she met Dionne Warwick. And we came back with heaps of records. So inevitably, a lot of those, of course, were Bacharach and David. In fact, all of them were Bacharach and David.

GROSS: And she liked the songs and wanted to start recording them herself?

WICKHAM: Loved the songs, yes.

GROSS: So did she get in touch with Bacharach?

WICKHAM: Yes. And I think that Burt, I mean, feels that her version of "Look Of Love" is still the ultimate.

GROSS: What do you think of her recording of that?

WICKHAM: I think it's wonderful. I think it captures every essence of the song. It's beautiful.

GROSS: Why don't we hear it?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LOOK OF LOVE")

SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) The look of love is in your eyes, the look your heart can't disguise. The look of love is saying so much more than just words could ever say. And what my heart has heard, well, it takes my breath away. I can hardly wait to hold you, feel my arms around you. How long I have waited, waited just to love you. Now that I have found you, you've got the look of love. It's on your face, a look that time can't erase. Be mine tonight. Let this be just the start of so many nights like this. Let's take a lovers' vow and then seal it with a kiss. I can hardly wait to hold you, feel my arms around you. How long I have waited, waited just to love you. Now that I have found you, don't ever go.

GROSS: That's Dusty Springfield singing "The Look Of Love," which was from the film "Casino Royale" and was another big hit for her. The song was by Bacharach and David. In the new authorized biography of Dusty Springfield, you write about her depressions. You say she was diagnosed as manic depressive. And her depressions were sometimes very severe. What was she like on either end of her mood swings?

WICKHAM: She could go into the blackest moods ever and very irrational in terms of nothing was right, nothing was good enough, including herself - just really deep depressions, which would last sometimes for minutes. And it usually resulted in damaging some innate object of some sort, never a danger to anybody else or, at that point, herself. And then on the other end, you know, when she'd come out of them, she was the most intelligent, wonderful, funny, interesting, up person imaginable. I mean, it's hard - when she was how - when she was her normal self, it was hard to imagine that she could possibly be any other way.

GROSS: She also mutilated herself. She cut on her arms and legs. I think much more is known about that kind of self-mutilation now than was known then. It seems other more common or at least more publicly discussed. How did she and her doctors deal with it? And I don't know whether this was mostly in the 1960s or '70s.

WICKHAM: It was both. At the time, you're right, I mean, not that much was known about it. And the biggest thing that I think was a mistake - and, I mean, she felt the same way - she never found any help for it, meaning a shrink, a therapist. You know, we're - the British are very anti that type of thing, especially in the '60s and '70s. I mean, we all felt that a good cup of tea would solve everything rather than going to talk to somebody. And, of course, now we know better, that, you know, it does help to have some professional advice and professional help. And at the time, nobody was really doing that even in terms of medication. None of the doctors were really prescribing anything, which nowadays - I don't know if it's Prozac or what they would give you. But they would give you something to help you get through it. At the time, nobody was doing that. So it became an occurrence which would happen far too frequently. And, you know, like with anything like that, it's a cry for help. And nobody was helping.

GROSS: Would the scars or the cuts show when she wore the kind of clothes she liked to wear?

WICKHAM: She'd always wear...

GROSS: You know, in other words, was she in risk of performing with cuts and scars showing?

WICKHAM: Yes. Absolutely. And if you notice, she almost always, in fact, always would wear long sleeves.

GROSS: And that's why?

WICKHAM: Yes.

GROSS: Would the depression go away when she was onstage?

WICKHAM: It's interesting you should say that. Absolutely. Dusty, as much as she hated getting onstage, was scared stiff about it, once she got onstage was, A, the true professional, was absolutely wonderful and thoroughly enjoyed herself.

GROSS: Did you ever have to convince her to get onstage?

WICKHAM: Constantly. It was always an uphill battle. I mean, as a manager, it really was very depressing sometimes that you'd have these wonderful offers. And I'd call her up. And I'd say, OK, you know, this is what somebody wants you to do. Here are the pros. Here are the cons. This is what the money is. This is what I, you know, should be. Let's talk about it. And it would always be, no. Then I would get a call sort of 15 minutes later or 20 minutes later - OK, you know, tell me more. What about - what if - and she would always come up - she was wonderful, actually. She'd come up with a huge list of, we should ask them this, that and the other, which is, you know, absolutely the right thing to do. And we would ask them this, that and the other. And we'd go backwards and forwards. And then, it would always be, I don't think I'm ready to do it at the moment. Let's think about it next time. And so during the time I was managing her, she did very, very few performances - a few, you know, televisions recording, but not live performances.

GROSS: Do you think that she would forget how much she enjoyed being onstage?

WICKHAM: Yes, I do. I think the effort to get onstage outweighed the pleasures or the remembrance of the pleasures when she was on. Having to put on the makeup, having to put on, you know, the clothes, the hair, having to be scrutinized, it just became too much effort. And I, actually, do understand it. I think that she should have overcome it. And we all tried to help her overcome it and make it as pleasurable as possible. And when she was doing a television, there would be a team. You know, Debbie Dannell, who did her makeup, whoever was doing her hair, Pat, myself, I mean, a whole group of us would, you know, be around so that we could have some fun. We could have a giggle. We could make the - you know, it as light and easy as possible. But at the end of the day, it was still Dusty that had to get herself together.

BIANCULLI: Vicki Wickham, singer Dusty Springfield's friend, manager and biographer, speaking to Terry Gross in 2002. A new collection of Springfield's recordings on the Atlantic Records label, covering the years 1968 to 1971, has just been released. After a break, we'll hear more of Terry's conversation with Vicki Wickham. Also, we remember actor Hal Holbrook, who died last month at age 95. And Justin Chang reviews two films which are contenders for an Oscar for Best International Feature. I'm David Bianculli. And this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST A LITTLE LOVIN'")

SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Just a little loving early in the morning beats a cup of coffee for starting off the day. Just a little loving when the world is yawning makes you wake up feeling good things are coming your way. This old world wouldn't be half as bad, it wouldn't be half as sad...

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTY SPRINGFIELD'S "THE LOOK OF LOVE")

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross, back with more of Terry's 2002 interview with Vicki Wickham. She was the longtime friend of singer Dusty Springfield, as well as her manager and co-author of Dusty Springfield's authorized biography "Dancing With Demons."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: When did Dusty Springfield find out that she had cancer?

WICKHAM: She called me up one day and said - the end of the conversation, sort of very casually said, did I tell you that I found a lump in my breast? Which I said, no, and what did your doctor say? To which she said, you know, I don't really have a doctor. I haven't been to see anybody. I said, Dust, get off the phone. Let me make you an appointment with mine. I'll call you right back. So I called my doctor, called her right back. Two days later, we were in my doctor's office. And the doctor said, basically, to all of us, yes, there is a lump. I want you to go and see Ian Smith at the Marsden.

And we came out, and of course, there was the usual crowd of us, and we went and had our usual cup of tea and said, well, it could be worse. At least, you know, they know the lump's there. Perhaps they can do something. They're sending you to a great specialist. And we were all trying to be, you know, incredibly optimistic. But, of course, when she went to the Marsden, they said, yes, it is cancer. We need to shrink the lump, which they did. And then they took - they do what they call - it's a lumpectomy, which they take the actual lump out. And that stage, it hadn't spread into the glands or anything - did chemo, did some radiation. And we thought she was clear, which was magnificent.

So the record came out, did all the promotion, which must have been grueling for her, but, you know, thinking that she was absolutely OK. And then she went for a holiday in Ireland and started - strange - having some sort of cough. And when she came back, went back to check and they said, yep, you know, it's come back, and we need to be more aggressive this time around.

GROSS: And so she took more aggressive chemo after that?

WICKHAM: They - she did. And also, Dusty was a very well-informed person, and what she didn't know, she certainly would find out. She went to every possible source on the, you know, Internet, friends, etc., etc., to find out what treatment was effective, what could be done, what America was doing, called several people in America and in hospitals and stuff and said, this is what, you know, I'm doing at the Marsden. Is there anything you would recommend? Just was really well informed. And to their credit, the Marsden were wonderful and tried a couple of things that hadn't been approved in England. They actually went to the association and got approval to use the drugs on Dusty, which was, you know, very brave and good of them because I do think it's your choice what you want, but unfortunately, none of them did the trick.

GROSS: How did she handle the news that the cancer had come back?

WICKHAM: Scared as hell, as we all would be, but absolutely determined that she would beat it. I mean, she felt that she'd beaten it before. She felt that she'd, basically, in life, had many close brushes with her life that'd she'd always beaten it. She felt she was in great shape, emotionally, just in her life in general and that she would beat it.

GROSS: Did she ever, by the way, come out as a lesbian?

WICKHAM: No.

GROSS: Even when she knew she was dying?

WICKHAM: No. There was no - you know, in a way, there was sort of no interest in her from that point of view at that stage. The papers were interested in the cancer, and it never really cropped up.

GROSS: Did she wish, do you think, that she could have been more honest about herself?

WICKHAM: Yes, because she was a very outgoing person. She - I mean, she wasn't a secretive person at all. I'm quite sure that she wished she could have been.

GROSS: You were at her funeral when she died?

WICKHAM: Yes.

GROSS: What was the funeral like? And was there any of her music that was played there?

WICKHAM: Yes. I put it together with Simon Bell, the two of us. And I just said to Simon, you know, Dust was such a star and artist; we have to just have a very grand funeral. And as you know, the body was put in an open horse-drawn carriage, which stopped the traffic in Henley. And yes, it was all her music we played, "Goin' Back," which is very apt, the Goffin and King song. And the coffin actually went out to "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me." And as it came out of the church, the crowd outside - I'm only laughing because she would have loved it - broke into applause. And Elton said, it's the only funeral I've ever heard of (laughter) that the coffin gets the applause. She would have definitely been chuffed and had a giggle.

GROSS: It must have been hard for you to produce her funeral after having worked with her for so many years.

WICKHAM: It was bizarre, but it kind of completed the cycle for me. I mean, in a way, I just didn't believe that she was dead. And by doing the funeral and going through that, it actually closed the book, which was wonderful.

BIANCULLI: Vicki Wickham, co-author of the Dusty Springfield biography "Dancing With Demons," speaking to Terry Gross in 2002. Wickham also was the singer's longtime friend and manager. A new collection of Dusty Springfield recordings on the Atlantic Records label from 1968 to 1971 has just been released.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SON OF A PREACHER MAN")

SPRINGFIELD: (Singing) Billy Ray was a preacher's son, and when his daddy would visit, he'd come along. When they gathered around and started talking, that's when Billy would take me walking, out through the backyard we'd go walking. Then he'd look into my eyes. Lord knows, to my surprise - the only one who could ever reach me was the son of a preacher man. The only boy who could ever teach me was the son of a preacher man. Yes, he was. He was. Ooh, yes, he was.

BIANCULLI: After a break, we remember actor Hal Holbrook, who died last month at age 95. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Hal Holbrook, the stage and screen actor most famous for portraying Deep Throat in the movie "All The President's Men" and for his Tony-winning one-man stage show as Mark Twain, died on January 23. He was 95 years old. In the movies and on television, Holbrook had a very impressive and very long resume. In the '70s alone, his landmark TV roles included playing an idealistic senator in "The Bold Ones" and a divorced father embarking on a gay relationship in "That Certain Summer." He won five Emmys in all, and he also earned an Oscar nomination for his supporting actor work in the 2007 film "Into The Wild."

Near the end of his career, Holbrook did memorable TV guest spots on such shows as "The West Wing," playing an assistant secretary of state, and in 2006, "The Sopranos." He played a scientist who was a patient in the same hospital ward as Tony Soprano, watching a boxing match on TV with Tony, Paulie Walnuts and some other patients and visitors. They're all watching the same fight, but Holbrook's character sees what's happening between the two boxers in his own unique way.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SOPRANOS")

JAMES GONDOLFINI: (As Tony Soprano) You were saying.

HAL HOLBROOK: (As John Schwinn) Well, think of the two boxers as ocean waves or currents of air - two tornadoes, say. They appear to be two things, right? Two separate things. But they're not. See - tornadoes is just wind, the wind stirred up in different directions. The fact is, nothing is separate. Everything is connected.

LORD JAMAR: (As Da Lux) Everything is everything. I'm down with that.

GONDOLFINI: (As Tony Soprano) Get the [expletive] out of here.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLBROOK: (As John Schwinn) The universe is just a big soup of molecules bumping up against one another. The shapes we see exist only in our own consciousness.

JAMAR: (As Da Lux) Keshawn, don't make me come over there.

TONY SIRICO: (As Paulie Gualtieri) If you're so [expletive] smart, fix that TV.

(LAUGHTER)

BIANCULLI: Yet Hal Holbrook's most impressive achievement as an actor by far was portraying Mark Twain on stage. With a script based entirely on the letters of Samuel Clemens and the stories and essays published under his pen name of Mark Twain, Holbrook played Twain at age 70. Holbrook performed "Mark Twain Tonight!" more than 2,000 times before retiring in 2017, when he was 92. Holbrook kept changing the material and reshaping the show to fit the times as he traveled the country. He brought "Mark Twain Tonight!" to Broadway three times, winning a Tony Award for his portrayal in 1966. Here are some moments which capture Twain's wit.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "MARK TWAIN TONIGHT!")

HOLBROOK: (As Mark Twain) I'm not lying to you. I don't tell lies. I differ from George Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLBROOK: (As Mark Twain) I have a higher and grander standard of principle. George could not tell a lie. I can, but I won't.

(APPLAUSE)

HOLBROOK: (As Mark Twain) When I was a boy of 14, my father was so stupid, I could scarcely stand to have the old man around.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLBROOK: (As Mark Twain) And by the time I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in the last seven years.

(APPLAUSE)

BIANCULLI: I interviewed Hal Holbrook in 2009, when his movie "That Evening Sun" was in theaters. One of his co-stars in that film was his wife, Dixie Carter, who died the following year. In "That Evening Sun," Holbrook plays Abner Meecham, a crusty old Tennessee farmer who slips away from his nursing home and returns to the farm he used to run with his late wife. Abner's son has rented the farm to his father's old enemy, and Abner wants it back. In this scene, Abner's son - played by Walton Goggins from "Justified" - is basically telling Abner that his life is over and he should just give up the farm.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THAT EVENING SUN")

WALTON GOGGINS: (As Paul Meecham) There's nothing out there for you anymore, Dad. Things change. Life goes on, and you got to go on with it. There ain't any more to it than that.

HOLBROOK: (As Abner Meecham) Life goes on, huh?

GOGGINS: (As Paul) For those who let it.

HOLBROOK: (As Abner) I'm an 80-year-old man with a bum hip and a weak heart. How much life you think I got left to go on with? I'm no fool, Paul. The road ahead ain't long, and it ain't winding. It's short and straight as a goddamned poisoned arrow. But it's all I got, and I deserve to do with it as I please. And what makes me so angry is that I cut and scraped and did without so that you could go to an expensive school and learn a trade, which you now seem intent on using to do me out of what has taken me a lifetime to accumulate. This must be God's finest joke.

GOGGINS: (As Paul) So you're angry at me for getting an education.

HOLBROOK: (As Abner) I'm angry at you for not caring about the only thing left that matters to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BIANCULLI: Hal Holbrook, welcome to FRESH AIR.

HOLBROOK: Thank you. Thank you. Good to be with you, David.

BIANCULLI: I have to ask you about one sequence in "That Evening Sun." It's flashbacks of you with your late wife in the movie, who's played by your real-life wife, Dixie Carter. And it's just scenes of you two, you know, embracing each other, caressing each other, looking at each other.

HOLBROOK: Dancing. Dancing, yeah.

BIANCULLI: And dancing. And it just seems so tender and so intimate. What was the camera actually capturing there?

HOLBROOK: They were just capturing me and Dixie (laughter). We weren't acting. We weren't acting at all. We were just enjoying - we were just loving each other's presence and face and eyes and everything. That's all.

BIANCULLI: Your most famous film role, I think, is a very small one, but so indelible and so iconic. I'm talking about your playing Deep Throat in the 1976 movie version of "All The President's Men." You're only in a few scenes, but boy, you know, what scenes. I'm going to play one. Here you are meeting Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, played by Robert Redford, in an underground parking garage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN")

HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) Forget the myths the media's created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.

ROBERT REDFORD: (As Bob Woodward) Hunt's come in from the cold. Supposedly, he's got a lawyer with $25,000 in a brown paper bag.

HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) Follow the money.

REDFORD: (As Bob Woodward) What do you mean? Where?

HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) Oh, I can't tell you that.

REDFORD: (As Bob Woodward) But you could tell me that.

HOLBROOK: (As Deep Throat) No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I'll confirm. I'll keep you in the right direction if I can. But that's all. Just follow the money.

BIANCULLI: That's Hal Holbrook and Robert Redford in "All The President's Men." Now, what are your memories, first of all, of filming that?

HOLBROOK: Well, I'll tell you a story that - before the filming started up, I was offered this role, and I turned it down because it was so small.

BIANCULLI: (Laughter).

HOLBROOK: I thought, oh, this is nothing. It's nothing. And the guy's in the dark. I mean, what the heck? So I turned it down. And I knew Bob Redford very well. We were good friends. And so Bob come over to the house. And he said, Hal, I want to promise you that this role will be remembered more than anything in the film. And I said, come on; you got to be - are you kidding? (Laughter) There's nothing to it. He said Hal, believe me. Believe me. So I said, well, OK, Bob. If you feel that way, OK. OK, I'll do it. So that was another gift (laughter) from a friend of mine because he was right.

BIANCULLI: Now, did either Robert Redford or Bob Woodward, who was visiting the set from time to time, give you any clues about how to play Deep Throat?

HOLBROOK: What was important about this character to me - I visualized somebody different from Mr. Felt, who turned out to be the man later.

BIANCULLI: Yeah, Mark Felt, the former FBI deputy director.

HOLBROOK: Yeah, I visualized - yeah, Mark Felt. I visualized someone more like of a sophisticated type of - you know, like Clark Clifford, an elder statesman who had served several presidents of either party. In other words, he was not tied down to serving a president of the Republican Party. He had an experience in government. And now he was faced with an extraordinary choice between his allegiance to his president and his allegiance to his country.

BIANCULLI: My favorite thing that I think you have done in your career is playing Mark Twain for more than 50 years onstage and once, quite memorably, on television. Next year, 2010, is the 100th anniversary of Twain's death. What does that say to you that you can still find so much about Mark Twain to say about today's times?

HOLBROOK: He never has ceased to astound me. And astound is the only word I can come up with. He had a bead on the corruption that went on late in his lifetime in this country. I mean, the corruption is so similar to what's going on today.

You know, I'll give you an - see if I can remember it. It's been - I'm just trying to learn it. But it's from "What Is Man? And Other Essays." And he says, it's a strange panic we're in. It's like a blight that has fallen upon us, as if a mighty machine had slipped its belt and was still running and accomplishing nothing. An atmosphere of fear has spread around the land. The phrase laying off has become common. The laying off of a thousand, two and 3,000 men has become familiar. But there is a more disastrous laying off going on all over America - the discharging of one out of every three employee in every humble small shop and industry from one end of the United States to the other.

BIANCULLI: Hal, there's two things that stunned me about that. One is that - just it's so fresh after so many years that it's so vital to today. The other one, I imagine how much work it takes for you as the shaper and the actor in "Mark Twain Tonight" to constantly go back to his material, constantly revise what you're presenting onstage and to memorize it. How do you do all that?

HOLBROOK: (Laughter) I stay up late. I am driven to do it. I enjoy it. It's hard work. I have to lose a lot of sleep. I cannot give up. I cannot stop worrying about what's going on with our country and the world because I think that this country we live in is now at a far more crucial and critical moment in its history than it has ever been in.

BIANCULLI: Hal Holbrook, I just want to thank you so much for being on FRESH AIR today. Thank you.

HOLBROOK: Thank you, David. I really enjoyed talking with you.

BIANCULLI: Actor Hal Holbrook, recorded in 2009. The Emmy and Tony-winning actor died January 23 at the age of 95. After a break, our film critic Justin Chang reviews two new European movies competing for best international film at this year's Oscars. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIS SCLAVIS' "DANS LA NUIT")

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Our film critic Justin Chang recommends two new movies from Europe, the French drama "Two Of Us," available beginning today in virtual cinemas, and a mystery movie from Hungary also streaming in virtual cinemas. It's called "Preparations To Be Together For An Unknown Period Of Time." Both films will represent their countries in this year's Oscar race for best international feature. Here is Justin's review.

JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: While it remains to be seen what this year's COVID-impacted Academy Awards ceremony will look like. My guess is that there will be an Oscar winner for Best International Feature, the category that, until recently, was known as Best Foreign Language Film. I haven't come close to seeing the 93 films that have been accepted, a record for the academy. But I'm happy to recommend two of them, both dramatic thrillers that demonstrate the power and persistence of love.

The Hungarian submission has one of the best titles I've heard in years. It's called "Preparations To Be Together For An Unknown Period Of Time." The movie itself is pretty terrific, too, a dizzying film noir that never heads where you expect it to. Natasa Stork plays Marta, a brilliant, Hungarian-born neurosurgeon who has been living and working in New Jersey. A month earlier, she met a doctor there named Janos at a medical conference. They spent a night together and agreed to meet again soon in Budapest. But when she arrives at their agreed upon meeting point, Janos isn't there. And when she tracks him down, he claims not to recognize her. Marta almost heads home, but then abruptly changes her mind.

She begins to engage in what seems like extreme obsessive behavior, renting an apartment in Budapest and getting a job at the hospital where Janos works. Is Janos lying? Or did she somehow dream up their original, brief encounter? What makes the riddle so fascinating is that Marta seems driven not just by desire, but also by scientific curiosity. The movie is founded on a delightfully strange paradox. It's about an expert on the human brain questioning the limits of her own knowledge. And the writer-director Lili Horvat deepens the mystery with odd camera angles and intense colors in what feels like an homage to Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," the ultimate film about romantic obsession and mistaken identity.

But if "Vertigo" was all about a man's urge to mold and shape the woman of his dreams, "Preparations To Be Together" is about a woman trying to figure out if the man of her dreams even exists. By telling the story from Marta's perspective, the movie takes the film noir trope of the femme fatale and slyly turns it on its head. It's mesmerizing to watch her pursue Janos, who then slowly begins to pursue her back. Natasa Stork gives an extraordinary performance as Marta, her piercing, intelligent gaze sometimes shot in wordless close-up. Her eyes aren't just windows to her soul. They reveal the inner workings of a genuinely beautiful mind.

The French Oscar submission, "Two Of Us," also concerns a powerful bond that is initially shrouded in secrecy. It follows two retired women who live in the same apartment building and for years have been carrying on a loving, passionate relationship. Barbara Sukowa plays the bold, free-spirited Nina, who longs for their commitment to be made public. But the quieter, shyer Madeleine, played by Martine Chevallier, is reluctant to break the truth to her two grown children, whom she fears will never understand.

Tension slips into tragedy when Madeleine suffers a severe stroke and her children hire a nurse, played by Lea Drucker, to take care of her. Nina, desperate to be with and look after the woman she loves, is left out in the cold. And because Madeleine can no longer move or speak, their relationship feels like more of a secret than ever. What follows is an escalating power struggle between Nina and the nurse, who turns out to be both a negligent caretaker and a malicious rival.

"Two Of Us" touches on a number of issues not often seen in movies, including LGBT couples' rights and elder abuse and neglect. But it does so within the framework of a crafty, domestic thriller that turns a cozy apartment into an emotional war zone. "Two Of Us" was mainly shot in the southern French city of Montpellier. And the director, Filippo Meneghetti, does a great job of cranking up the suspense in close quarters. With each new twist, he deepens our investment in Nina and Madeleine's relationship, which burns all the brighter as others threaten to snuff it out.

Because Madeleine has been robbed of speech and movement, Chevallier must act almost entirely with her eyes. It's wrenching to see her try and cling to Nina even when she can no longer hug, only be hugged. And Sukowa, a German actress known for her collaborations with the great director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is electrifying as a woman who refuses to let sickness or bigotry stand in her way. She makes it hard not to root for Nina even when her desperate machinations lead her into a kind of madness. Love can do that to you in any language.

BIANCULLI: Justin Chang is film critic for the LA Times. Monday on FRESH AIR, gender, race and violence in policing - a talk with filmmaker Deirdre Fishel about her new PBS documentary "Women In Blue," which focuses on the Minneapolis police department. The film begins three years ago and ends with the killing of George Floyd. We also hear from Sergeant Alice White, who is African American and one of the women officers in the film who is committed to changing the culture of policing. Hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIKE FAHIE JAZZ ORCHESTRA, AARON IRWIN AND NICK GRINDER'S "SYMPHONY NO. 6, II. ALLEGRO CON GRAZIA")

BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIKE FAHIE JAZZ ORCHESTRA, AARON IRWIN AND NICK GRINDER'S "SYMPHONY NO. 6, II. ALLEGRO CON GRAZIA")

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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