DATE October 5, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Robert Satloff, author of "Among the Righteous: Lost
Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach inato Arab Lands," talks
about Arabs protecting and helping Jews during World War II
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.
The Ken Burns documentary series about World War II, "The War," has drawn the
largest audience for a PBS program in seven years. But even Ken Burns admits
his account is anything but complete. And today we examine a part of World
War II history that is lesser known.
Our guest, Robert Satloff, has written a book about the reach of the Holocaust
into Arab lands and the fate of Jews in northern Africa. It's called "Among
the Righteous" and it's now out in paperback. "Among the Righteous" tells the
story of how the German Nazis, Italian fascists and French Vichyists applied
some of the same anti-Semitic methods in North Africa that were used against
Jews in Europe. The book also tells the lost stories of Arabs who protected
and rescued Jews.
Satloff is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy. Terry spoke with Robert Satloff last December.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Robert Satloff, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Is Holocaust denial part of your reason for writing your new book?
Mr. ROBERT SATLOFF: It's actually the principal reason why I first started
writing my book, which was a recognition that Holocaust denial is really the
tip of the iceberg which separates the great cultural divide between many
aspects of Arab and Muslim culture and our own. And I tried to come up with a
way to access, a way for Arabs to access this so that they wouldn't be subject
to the horrible spewing of the deniers. Most Arabs, I find, actually are not
deniers as much as ignorant of the events of World War II, of the Holocaust.
And so I wrote this book to try to find a way for them to access it in a
language and in a history and a context which would make sense.
GROSS: Part of what you wanted to do with your research was to find stories
of Arabs who helped save Jews during the Holocaust. Why was that your angle?
Mr. SATLOFF: Well, I very early tried to come up with a hopeful and positive
and constructive way to talk with Arabs of goodwill about the Holocaust. And
the first conclusion I reached is that I should try to make it an Arab story.
And not just an Arab story, but perhaps a story about which Arabs could
identify, an Arab who saved a Jew. If you accept and celebrate the heroism of
an Arab who saved a Jew, then you have to accept the context, that there was
something to save that Jew from. And so in some way I hoped that I could use
this as a way to lance the boil, as it were, of some of the denial that exists
in these societies.
GROSS: Before we get to some of the stories you uncovered, let's just look at
the map of Northern Africa during World War II. Which parts of Northern
Africa were controlled by fascists, Nazis or the Vichy government of France,
which was collaborating with Germany after the invasion of France?
Mr. SATLOFF: Well, the first observation is that most Arab countries were
under European domination, under European colonialism. You had, in North
Africa, for example, France governing Algeria as a colony and governing
Morocco and Tunisia as protectorates. They had their own titular
monarchs--the sultan in Morocco and the bey in Tunis--but they were under
French control. Libya was an Italian colony. Then Germany came to these
lands directly, in terms of their own occupation, only in one Arab country,
and that's Tunisia for a very important six-month period in '42 and '43.
Other Arab countries had their touch with European Axis powers. Syria and
Lebanon, for example, were under Vichy control but only for a brief period of
time. When one speaks principally about the Holocaust's long reach into this
lands, into Arab lands, one is speaking mainly about the North African
experience where Germany, Vichy France and the Italian fascists were in
control from summer of 1940 until the spring, until May, certainly in Tunisia,
until spring of 1943.
GROSS: There were no death camps in Northern Africa, but there were labor
Mr. SATLOFF: Yes.
GROSS: What did you learn about those labor camps?
Mr. SATLOFF: Yes. This is just one aspect of the story that, you know, I
had no idea existed. There were over 100 slave and forced labor camps in Arab
lands. One hundred spread out from Morocco on the west through Libya on the
east. Now, these were called concentration camps by the French and by the
Germans who established them. And, matter of fact, what we tend to forget is
the first concentration camps ever liberated by the Allies were these, the
ones in Arab lands in 1942.
There were torture camps, what the French themselves called "punishment
camps." Sometimes these were for Jews in local Arab lands, the ones in Tunisia
especially and in Libya and in some parts of Algeria. Sometimes thousands of
Jews were deported from Europe to serve in slave labor camps in the Sahara, in
Arab lands. So there's a mix of Jews, European Jews, Jews from Arab lands who
suffered, but the total number is over 100 that have now been recognized by
the German government.
One of the small measures of pride--actually, it's a great measure of pride;
my contribution was modest. One of the great measures of pride for my
research was to help contribute to this effort through some of my findings
that convinced the German government to provide compensation to some of the
Jewish survivors of these camps.
GROSS: You know, you point out that there were labor camps in Northern
Africa, even though they were not death camps. I was not aware of that. At
the same time, I've seen the movie "Casablanca" a lot. You point out a scene
in "Casablanca" in which labor camps are referred to that I have to say went
right past my attention every time I've seen it.
Mr. SATLOFF: It went past...
GROSS: You want to describe that scene?
Mr. SATLOFF: Yeah. It went past my attention the first dozen times I saw
the movie, too, until it finally dawned on me, as I was watching it for the
umpteenth time, that Major Strasser warns Ilsa that it would be better for her
husband to give himself up and go back to Paris, or else, he says, `I will put
him in a concentration camp here.' And the critical word is "here." He meant a
concentration camp in Morocco. And, I mean, there's a lot of technical flaws
in "Casablanca," but that one was absolutely right. And one has to remember,
"Casablanca" actually came out in December '42, only one month after the
Allied invasion of North Africa. And they knew it and they understood it, and
this was well known at the time. And that's really, really why I subtitle my
book "Lost Stories," not "Unknown Stories," because there was a time when
people knew about these and talked about them.
GROSS: Now, you described some of the laws that were put into effect in North
African countries during World War II that limited the rights of Jews,
stripped some Jews of their citizenship. You say that a lot of Jews in that
part of the world were already second-class citizens?
Mr. SATLOFF: Well, I think it's very important to understand the
relationship between Jews and Arabs in Arab countries historically. It is
absolutely true that you were better off being a Jew living in an Arab or
Muslim land, historically, than being a Jew being born in a Christian land.
Jews of Christian lands suffered the Inquisition, being burnt at the stake,
the pogroms, the massacre of York. One never had any of that in Arab lands, a
very different experience. So, relatively, you were better off in Arab and
Objectively speaking, life for Jews in Arab lands wasn't itself a rose garden.
You were a "vinly." You were--which is--a "vinly" is a Muslim religious terms
which referred to non-Muslim people of the book, non-Muslim believers who had
a different rank, a different status in society than Muslims themselves. You
paid special taxes, you were subject to special laws, special restrictions on
where you could live, what you could do as an occupation. It was difficult,
sometimes very difficult. So, relative to the Jews of Christendom, you were
much better off. Of course, you didn't know that if you only grew up and
lived in these countries.
BIANCULLI: Robert Satloff, speaking to Terry Gross last year. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2006 interview with Robert Satloff. His
book about the reach of the Holocaust into Arab lands, "Among the Righteous,"
is now out in paperback.
GROSS: Let's get to some of the stories that you uncovered about Arabs who
helped protect or save Jews during World War II in Arab lands. First of all,
you say that there were Arab guards in camps who intentionally disobeyed
orders to help protect Jews.
Mr. SATLOFF: Well, there are some testimonies from some Jewish survivors of
these camps that at times the torture or the orders coming from the fascist
commandants, usually French Legionnaires, were so egregious, so inhumane, that
some of them did what they could to undermine the orders or not implement
them. There is one example of a testimony where Arab guards willfully shot
their weapons away from Jews who they were ordered to shoot on. Or sometimes
there were Arab guards who were especially kind to Jews who were suffering at
the hands of torture. And the torture there, in some cases, rivalled the
torture of some of the camps in Europe. So we do have these testimonies from
some of the Jewish survivors.
GROSS: You describe Algiers as being the setting for one of the war's most
remarkable episodes of Arab solidarity with Jews. What happened there?
Mr. SATLOFF: Vichy France tried to win as much support among the local Arab
population for its policies as it could, and it tried to bribe local Arabs.
And one way it tried to bribe them was to invite Arabs to serve as custodians
of Jewish property, confiscated property--shops, stores, factories--that Vichy
took from Jewish property owners, and they offered Arabs the opportunity to
run these. And it was--make quite a nice, tidy profit.
Then one Friday in 1941, all of the mosque preachers in Algiers issued a
"hutpah," a mosque speech, on the same Friday, in which they said it was
forbidden for any believer to take the bribe from Vichy. And the remarkable
thing isn't just that the mosque preachers, the imams, all issued that order,
the really remarkable thing is that not a single Arab took the bribe, not a
single one broke with the edict.
And the Jews of Algiers remembered this. The leaders of the Jewish community
said, you know, it wasn't their battle, but still they understood and were
fraternal, and they remembered. And I think that is a great story of
solidarity at a time of war.
GROSS: Another story from Algiers is about a Muslim leader who resisted and
urged people to resist any efforts to create a Jewish pogrom.
Mr. SATLOFF: Yes. There were Muslim religious leaders in Algiers in the
early 1940s, late 1930s, who, although the Vichy and Nazi anti-Semitism was
targeted first towards Jews, they understood that Arabs were only slightly
lower on the ladder of peoples that would be the object of that persecution.
And if, you know, first the Jews went, targeting the Arabs wouldn't be too far
behind. This wasn't widely accepted. There were some Arabs who did welcome
the coming of the fascists. But especially among a group of liberal Muslim
religious leaders and part of the Algerian nationalist movement, they said,
`No, we shouldn't let this happen to Jews, because first go the Jews and then
go the Arabs.'
GROSS: You also visited the home of Mohammed Chenik, who was the prime
minister of Tunis during the German occupation. What did you find out there?
Mr. SATLOFF: Well, Mohammed Chenik was a philo-Semite. Many of his business
partners were Jews. Many of his friends were Jews. And there's some really
compelling stories that he did what he could to help save Jews during the
German occupation. And so I, at one point, I wanted to find out more about
him, and so I gathered together his family, his children, grandchildren,
nieces, nephews, etc. They all met at the family home, and I went to see them
to see if they could provide me more stories, more evidence. And while they
were very polite and welcoming, this was the first experience of mine where I
found that they were really not interested in learning about the wonderful
deeds that their father and grandfather had performed. And I guess I was a
bit naive. I had thought that these sorts of exploits, these great
humanitarian exploits, would be welcome to learn about. They were very, as I
said, very polite, but I'm quite sure that they were pleased when I left, and
they were very happy to show me the door.
GROSS: You think that they weren't that enthusiastic about the idea that
their father and grandfather had helped rescue Jews?
Mr. SATLOFF: Well, one of the phenomenon that I've witnessed in the last
couple of years as I've gone around talking to various children and
grandchildren of these rescuers is a very mixed reaction. And sometimes
they're very honest. You know, sometimes children and grandchildren will say,
`What my grandfather or father did half a century ago was wonderful then, but
politics makes it very difficult for me to touch the story now.' And this has
to do with this very sad reality that somehow over the last 50 years in many
parts of the Middle East, many parts of Arab societies, it became toxic to
celebrate stories of Arabs who saved Jews. And even though, you know, the
politics--this is before the state of Israel. There's certainly no political
implication here, but still the politics has become so toxic that for many of
them it's very difficult to embrace, at least in a public way.
GROSS: Now, one of the really interesting documents you found you actually
got in France from a mosque there. And this is a document that showed that a
mosque had provided certificates of Muslim identity to Jews so that Jews could
pass as Muslims and not be in danger.
Mr. SATLOFF: Yes. This is a fascinating story because it occurred right in
the heart of Europe, right under the German occupation, when Vichy is
controlling, when the Germans are in Paris. And the story concerns the Great
Mosque of Paris, the foremost Muslim institution in all of Europe. Its head
was an Algerian by birth named Si Kaddour Benghabrit. And there is compelling
evidence that Si Kaddour Benghabrit saved up to 100 Jews in a very clever
fashion by providing them with certificates of Muslim identity, false identity
papers: birth certificates, marriage certificates saying that this person is
Muslim. And with that, they could evade arrest and deportation.
He even went so far in one episode to help save a certain famous Jewish
singer, a man by the name of Simone Hallali, by inscribing the name of
Hallali's grandfather on a tombstone in the Muslim cemetery outside Paris, so
that when the Germans came for Hallali, he was able to say, `But wait a
minute, look at my grandfather's name on that tombstone. I'm really a
Muslim.' Hallali just died a couple of years ago, and that anecdote was
mentioned in all of his obituaries.
And when I was in Paris a little more than a year ago, the current rector of
the mosque handed me a document from French archives which showed that the
Germans had even brought in his predecessor, Benghabrit, and scolded him and
warned him, `Stop providing the assistance that helps so many Jews.' So I
thought that was pretty compelling evidence.
GROSS: Now, you write about two trends in Holocaust denial. One is the trend
of like `It never happened, it's just a lie.' Or, you know, `It's just a lie
to justify the creation of Israel.' But then there's what you describe as
Holocaust minimization. `Well, just an exaggeration, not six million. You
know, maybe some Jews died, but it certainly wasn't six million.' Can you talk
a little bit about Holocaust minimization as a trend?
Mr. SATLOFF: Yeah. Actually, Terry, I think there's three different
Mr. SATLOFF: And on one end of the spectrum there's denial. `It's a myth,
it didn't happen.' At the far other end of the spectrum, there's not denial,
but there's celebration. Yes, it happened, and it was good. And the only bad
thing about is that Hitler didn't finish the job. You also see this written
in some regrettably mainstream newspapers in Arab countries. But the vast
amount of people, I think, have the third view, which is relativism or
minimization, which is, `Well, it was nothing special. We don't know actually
how many died. Was it 80,000? Six hundred thousand? Six million?' This is
almost exactly what the president of Syria told Charlie Rose several months
ago. `I don't know how many died, and it doesn't really matter.' This is what
the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, wrote his doctoral
dissertation on 30 years ago in the Soviet Union when he said the numbers are
open to dispute.
All of this is really an effort to delegitimize Israel where, if there's
nothing uniquely special, if this wasn't the most effective effort to
exterminate an entire people in human history, if there's nothing uniquely
special about this, then there's no need for a unique remedy, which is how
many Arabs view the creation of Israel. And I think that's why Holocaust
relativism, the idea that, `No, we don't need a special word. Genocide, a
special word that was created just for the Holocaust. We don't need these
special words because, OK, bad things happen over time. They've happened
before and they'll happen again.' But, in fact, the world recognizes that the
Holocaust was a uniquely depraved moment in human history for which we had to
create new words to describe the enormity of the depravity.
GROSS: Robert Satloff, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. SATLOFF: It's a pleasure. Thank you.
BIANCULLI: Robert Satloff, speaking with Terry Gross in 2006. Satloff is
executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. His book
about the reach of the Holocaust into Arab lands, "Among the Righteous," is
now out in paperback.
Last January, a Tunisian named Khaled Abdelwahhab, was formally nominated by
Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust War Memorial as the first Arab to be recognized
for saving Jews during the war. The nomination is presently under final
I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Ken Tucker on Doyle Bramhall's first solo album, "Is It
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.
Doyle Bramhall has been making Texas blues and rock 'n' roll since the '60s.
His band, the Chessman, once opened for Jimi Hendrix. Later, Bramhall was a
drummer in Stevie Ray Vaughan's band, and the two wrote hits for Vaughan that
included "The House Is Rockin'" and "Tightrope." Now Bramhall has released his
first solo album of original material called "Is It News" Rock critic Ken
Tucker has a review. Here's the title track.
(Soundbite of "Is It News")
Mr. DOYLE BRAMHALL: (Singing) Is it news
When you say you've got something to say?
Well, I've heard it already today
I don't think so
It ain't news
Is it true
When you say you're all by yourself
My eyes saw you with someone else
I don't think so
You ain't true
(End of soundbite)
KEN TUCKER reporting:
Maybe it's because Doyle Bramhall is a drummer, a position in any band that,
by helping to provide backbone rhythm, frequently instills in the musician a
comfortable discretion, a willingness to remain part of the ensemble. There
are exceptions, of course, ranging from Buddy Rich to Keith Moon, but as a
frontman, Doyle Bramhall is definitely and disarmingly a team player. The
closest he gets to showboating is on the song called "Big," in which his drums
boom thunderously and his hoarse yowl takes on a boastful assertion.
(Soundbite of "Big")
Mr. BRAMHALL: (Singing) It's gonna be big for someone
That somebody might believe
It's gonna be big for someone
It's gonna be big for someone
And that somebody might believe
It's gonna be big for someone
Big is beautiful
Big is bad
Why don't you give me some of that
What I ain't never had
Big for someone...
TUCKER: More often, however, Bramhall mines the unhappiness of the blues for
his best music. Born in Dallas, coming of musical age in the Texas bohemia of
Austin, Bramhall is open to all sorts of music, including the New Orleans
shuffle he applies to "Tortured Soul." It's an elegantly trenchant summation
of what it feels like to verge on, and to resist, despair.
(Soundbite of "Tortured Soul")
Mr. BRAMHALL: (Singing) Walking down this lonely street
All I have is a tortured soul
Been standing 'round like my pants are full of gold
But what I've got is pockets with a hole
Just like moss trying to grab a rolling stone
It ain't going to stick 'cause it's rolling, rolling, gone gone
But I'm tired of living this way
Ain't held on long enough to my way
Tired of those days
(End of soundbite)
TUCKER: Yes, it's when Bramhall embraces the loneliness in himself and others
and constructs melodies that require the sharp snap of his drums to cut off
near-self-pity, and a willingness to believe that others can be as miserable
as he can be that he achieves his best music.
(Soundbite of Cryin')
Mr. BRAMHALL: (Singing) I saw my baby crying,
Crying, crying, crying
I saw my baby crying over you
I held her close in my arms
Her lips were sweet and so warm
And she turned around and walked back to you
And then I saw my baby crying,
Crying, crying, crying
I saw my baby crying over you...
(End of soundbite)
TUCKER: I don't usually have much use for white blues, even out of Bramhall's
former employer and collaborator Steve Ray Vaughan. That's probably because
two many white bluesmen emulate the superiority of the black masters of their
genre to such an extent that their own identities become blurry. This is not
true of Bramhall, who pounds his drums with a propulsive melancholy, who sings
with plaintiveness, his decades of music making giving him both gravity and a
fleet assurance that anyone he loves, whether it's a woman or his audience, is
in good, strong, calloused hands.
BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He
reviewed "Is It News" from Doyle Bramhall.
Coming up, George Clooney. This is FRESH AIR.
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Interview: George Clooney talks about his life and career
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Our next guest, George Clooney, has a new movie out today, "Michael Clayton,"
in which he plays an attorney at a high-priced, low-ethics law firm. Clooney
rose to stardom in the TV series "ER." His father, Nick Clooney, was a TV
newsman, which helped provide some of the inspiration for his son's film "Good
Night and Good Luck," the story of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow. Clooney's
aunt, Rosemary Clooney, was a famous singer of standards and popular tunes.
Terry spoke with George Clooney in 2005 and asked what his aunt's music meant
TERRY GROSS, host:
What did her music mean to you when you were growing up? It was not your
Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY: No, but I was one of those weird kids, you know. I was
GROSS: It wasn't my generation, either.
Mr. CLOONEY: No, that's right. Well, I was listening to Led Zeppelin, and I
was listening to Nat Cole. You know, I had a very varied growing up because I
was on the road with, you know, with them a lot. Or I was always exposed...
GROSS: Were you on the road with Rosemary Clooney?
Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah...
GROSS: No, I mean, with Led Zeppelin? Wait. Who were you on the road with?
Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, yeah. Right, with Led Zeppelin. No, I was on the
road--when I was 20 I was Rosemary's driver, you know.
GROSS: Oh, you were--right. I see. Yeah, yeah.
Mr. CLOONEY: So I spent--I was around that kind of music a lot.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Mr. CLOONEY: So I got to appreciate Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer.
GROSS: I see. Yeah.
Mr. CLOONEY: And I had a real appreciation of those guys--Sinatra and, you
know, Nat "King" Cole especially and Rosemary. And Rosemary was having
(clears throat)--excuse me--she was having her comeback at that point. And
her comeback was something rather spectacular, because she became the singer's
singer. Singers adored her and would show up. So there was a great pride in
being around her. So I was really exposed to that kind of music.
I remember asking Rosemary why she's a better singer at 70 than she was at 21,
because she couldn't hold the notes the way she could. She couldn't hit the
notes the way--and she said, `because I don't have to prove I can sing
anymore.' And I thought that was a good acting lesson, you know, was not
having to show off anymore.
GROSS: I know exactly what she was talking about, too, because her voice was
Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...in the last couple of recordings she made but her phrasing was so
beautiful, and the emotion was so beautifully conveyed in it. But...
Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, when you see her taking songs that are normally sort of
up-tempoed, like "Don't Fence Me In" or--and bringing it down to, like, a
quarter of the speed and singing, you know, "Straighten Up and Fly Right.'
GROSS: You stayed with your aunt when you first got to Hollywood...
Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...and it sounds like she threw you out after a while.
Mr. CLOONEY: Pretty much, yeah. I understand that. I would have thrown me
GROSS: How come?
Mr. CLOONEY: Well, I think at some point you don't need a 22-year-old kid
hanging around in your house anymore. I'm sure I was a pain, you know. At
some point, I'm sure, you know, the idea of offering your nephew to come out
and live with you is a nice gesture, but I think it comes back to haunt you
after about a year, you know.
GROSS: Yeah. Did you think you were talented when you started working?
Mr. CLOONEY: I did...
GROSS: Did you think you actually had something?
Mr. CLOONEY: I didn't really know whether I had any talent or not. I knew
that I was, for the first time in my life, engaged. I was 20 years old, 21
years old and didn't really have any great objectives. I wasn't going to be a
great news man. I'd studied journalism. I'd done a few news pieces, but I
wasn't bright enough or curious enough to do news, especially on the level
that my father was doing it, and I was certainly going to be compared to my
And then I found acting, and I thought, well, this is something that, at the
very least, I'm not going to be bored by. And I got into an acting class
pretty quickly, and I started working with working actors. And, you know,
there's an assumption, before you actually become part of the acting
community, that people who work are good actors and people who don't are bad
actors. It's just sort of an assumption. And what you realized was--and
you'd be doing a scene, and you'd be holding your own with someone who's
making a very good living acting--you realize that there's a possibility that
you can actually do this for a living. So it was a long process of figuring
out whether or not I was any good at it, and then it's still a long process of
figuring that out.
GROSS: Well, "ER"--when you got "ER," that certainly must have changed your
life a lot.
Mr. CLOONEY: Sure.
GROSS: I mean, suddenly you were a star and people become so close to you
when you're on TV every week.
Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah.
GROSS: There's this kind of bonding that I think people go through.
Mr. CLOONEY: Well, it's an unusual experience because it's not like being a
movie star. You haven't paid 10 bucks and you're 30 feet high and you've made
it a date. You've been in their homes every Thursday. So, you know, the
truth is, I'm a product of a great amount of luck. I create some of that
luck, because, you know, I did 13 pilots and I did eight television series
before that. But the simple truth is, had I done that exact same show and
that exact same role and we were on Friday night instead of Thursday night at
10, I don't have a film career and I'm not sitting here with you. It requires
that kind of luck. The show would never have been as popular on a Friday
night as it was on a Thursday night.
GROSS: You knew something about fame. You know, your father was on TV.
Rosemary Clooney, your aunt, was incredibly famous.
Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: But what surprised you most when it happened to you? What were you
Mr. CLOONEY: Well, it's a funny thing. There is no real "fame" school that
you can go to and learn, you know. I had--probably if there was
anybody--there's--I haven't met many people better prepared for it, because I
had the great vision of watching, especially with Rosemary, how big you can
get and how quickly it can be taken away.
Mr. CLOONEY: And it's not like Rosemary became less of a singer in that
period of time, which showed me that it has very little to do with you. And
you still have that--I still have the idea that that goes away at some point,
as it does, sooner or later. When it does, that's why you direct and you
write and try to have other coals in the fire.
But the things that you aren't prepared for are the trade-offs. No one wants
to hear you complain about them, so you don't complain about them. But I
would say that the significant loss of privacy is interesting.
GROSS: One of the things you've done was try to take on one of the tabloid
news shows, "Hard Copy."
Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: What provoked you to take a stand and try to tone done the
aggressiveness with which the tabloid shows were coming after stars?
Mr. CLOONEY: Well, I thought it was--you know, I've always dealt with things
because I'm the son of a journalist. I thought I had a journalistic argument,
which I did, which was that if--you know, it all started in sort of a silly
moment. I was sitting, eating dinner with a girl and somebody had a video
camera on the table next to us, and they propped it up on a cork and
videotaped it. And the next night that conversation that I was having with
this girl in private at a restaurant was on "Hard Copy." I said, `OK, fair
enough. I'm going to say you're allowed to do that, even though I think it is
an infringement of privacy. Let's just say I'm a public figure, so fair
enough; everything's fair game.' However, somebody took that video and "Hard
Copy" bought it. And "Hard Copy" was owned by Paramount, who also owned...
GROSS: "Entertainment Tonight."
Mr. CLOONEY: ..."Entertainment Tonight." So I called up "Entertainment
Tonight," and I said, `Listen, I'm not going to have to do any more of your
shows, which--you use me to make money, and then you use that money to buy
these videos from these guys.' That seems like a fair argument. And a guy
named Frank Kelly, who was running the place at the time, said, `I'll make you
a deal.' I said, `What's the deal?' And he said, `The deal is you'll never
appear on "Hard Copy" if you just drop this right now.' And I said, `Put it in
writing.' And he did, on Paramount letterhead.
Now, this was right when they were putting the ratings on TV, and they thought
it was going to be a big deal, you know, TV-PG and stuff like that. They
thought it was actually going to be much bigger than it was, and everyone was
trying to get a news rating, which meant there was a no rating. And "Hard
Copy" was battling heavily to be a news show--which, of course, it isn't; it
wasn't; it was an entertainment show. Battling, you know, with "Inside
Edition" with Bill O'Reilly, in fact, "A Current Affair," "Hard Copy,"
"American Journal." Those shows were all sort of entertainment shows. So I
had this piece of paper that said, `We agree that you will never appear on our
news show "Hard Copy."'
About six months later there was this innocuous story--because it couldn't
have been--if it was an explosive story, it would have just been me trying to
defend myself for the story. It had to be an innocuous story. It was just a
shot of me walking down the street with my girlfriend, but it was on "Hard
Copy." So I called--I sent the letter around and I said, `First of all, you
broke your promise, but more important than that is, I'm not sure you're
allowed to call yourself a news organization and make this promise. I'm
fairly sure you can't, in fact.' And it ended up on the front page of a lot of
newspapers, and they called it a smoking gun, and it ended up being sort of a
fun fight. It was all a journalistic fight.
GROSS: When you were, I think, around 13--tell me if I'm wrong with the
age--you got for about a year something called Bell's palsy.
Mr. CLOONEY: Yes.
GROSS: And you could describe what it is for a second.
Mr. CLOONEY: Well, Bell's--it's a--they're not quite sure what causes it.
They think it's an inner ear virus. It's certainly something you catch. Most
people--when you're kids, it usually takes about six months to go away.
Sometimes people have it when they're older, and it doesn't last quite as
long. About 90 percent of the time it gets better, but it's complete
paralysis in half of your face. Numb, complete--you know, eye patch, the
GROSS: So you were that way for about a year?
Mr. CLOONEY: About nine months, yeah.
Mr. CLOONEY: Well, when it first happened--because I'd just seen the movie
"Pride of the Yankees" with Lou Gehrig, and he'd had Lou Gehrig's disease, you
know, he came down at the end of the movie. And I remember sitting in church
with my mom and dad, and my tongue was numb and the side of my face was numb.
I was just starting high school, you know. It's not a great time for that
anyway. And we went to Frisch's Big Boy, which is where you go to--you know,
like Bob's Big Boy, it's one of those fast-food restaurants where we would go
after church. And I was drinking, and the milk was pouring out of the side of
my mouth. And then I thought, `Oh, I've got Lou Gehrig's disease, and I'm
going to die.' And you realize fairly quickly that it was Bell's palsy after
I'd gotten to a doctor.
GROSS: And that naturally goes away on its own?
Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah, there's nothing you can do about it.
GROSS: Well, the reason why I ask is, I've noticed that a lot of artists,
writers, actors were disabled and sidelined during a part of their childhood
by some kind of, you know, illness or another and that they were forced to
kind of stop doing certain activities and spend more time alone in their
bedroom doing whatever you do when you're a kid alone in your room. Did the
Bell's palsy put you through a period like that, and did it change you at all?
Did it make you...
Mr. CLOONEY: Sure. Well, what it does is--it's a funny thing, but, you
know, you've got to remember that, up until I was 13 years old, we moved. I
went to five different grade schools. We moved a lot because my dad had a lot
of different jobs. So going from, you know--you actually develop either a
good personality about being around people or--my sister had a tougher time
with it. You're either comfortable or you're not about being around people.
It makes it much more difficult when suddenly half your face is paralyzed and
you're going into high school.
Mr. CLOONEY: So what you become is the joker. It's probably a great thing
that it happened to me, because it forced me to engage in a series of making
fun of myself. And I think that's an important part of being famous, by the
way, which is, you know, you got to get yourself first. You have to, you
know, the practical jokes have to be aimed at you. You have to be able to
make fun of yourself a lot. I think that that's been one of the issues with
some of the liberal bend. Some of my friends even, at times, that take up the
fight against Bush is that they lack some humor, and because of that it comes
off as preaching. And I think that there's other ways of doing it.
You know, the traitor issue is a perfect example. I'll give you--the best
example is there was this magazine cover, and it had, you know, Sean Penn and
Michael Moore and myself and Barbara Streisand and Susan Sarandon and Tim
Robinson, and it had the pictures of--not the Globe, but it was one of those
magazines. It said: Traitor across our chest. And I got a call from one of
these actors--not one of them, but another actor who I--will remain
nameless--but called me and said--who was also on the cover, and he called up
and said, `We have to hold a press conference and say that this is
McCarthyism. This is--you know, you can't do this.' And I said, `Look, you
can't be talking about freedom of speech, which is what we're talking about,
being allowed to say what we want, and then say, "But don't say bad things
about me." You got to take your hits.' I said, `Let me handle it. Let me do
one.' And he said, `OK.'
So I took that same cover of the magazine with the same pictures of us on it,
and I found other people who were speaking about the war--the pope, Pat
Buchanan, Bob Novak, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter--I put them also on that,
with traitor right across the pope's chest. And I put it--sent it to 800 news
outlets anonymously with a thing underneath it that said: Paid for by the
Citizens for a Free Iraq. You know, I'm for a free Iraq. Folded it up and
sent it out anonymously and waited. And CBS and "Entertainment Tonight"
eventually picked it up. And they called and said, `Have you seen this flyer
that's going around?' And I was waiting for that.
GROSS: Was your name on it? Did they know it was from you?
Mr. CLOONEY: No, no, it was completely anonymous.
Mr. CLOONEY: So when they sent it out, my quote--"Entertainment Tonight"
called and said, `Have you seen this flyer that's going around?' And my quote
was, `The pope and I can take it, but don't pick on Pat Buchanan.' And the
trick was to me--the idea was you got to do this with some humor. I mean, I
remember Michael Moore called me up and he said, `Have you seen this flyer
that's going around?' And I said, `That's me, Michael, I did that.' And he
goes, `Oh, OK. Good.' So the trick to me was there had to be some humor to
this, because we got to sort of--and you got to take the hits yourself a
GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, it was fun.
BIANCULLI: George Clooney speaking to Terry Gross in 2005. His new movie,
"Michael Clayton," opens today.
Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the film. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: David Edelstein reviews the film "Michael Clayton"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
George Clooney's character in his new film "Michael Clayton" describes himself
as a janitor. He's a high-priced New York lawyer who's paid to clean up other
people's messes. Film critic David Edelstein says that "Michael Clayton" is
an entertaining film that's also a morality tale centering on the hero's
conscience. Here's his review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:
The level of secrecy in the current administration has helped create the
ripest environment for paranoid conspiracy movies since the Watergate era, and
the genre's mascot is surely George Clooney. "Syriana" put international
terrorism in a Noam Chomsky-ite context as revenge to the West's economic
exploitation. In promoting "Good Night and Good Luck," Clooney's drew
comparisons between the...(unintelligible)...McCarthy hearings and the present
climate for dissent. Even "The Good German," set in the '40s, centered on
dark US government machinations under the movie's glamor.
Clooney's new movie, "Michael Clayton," is set in a world where multinational
corporations retain high-priced lobbyists and law firms to ensure they have
zero government oversight and where the last line of defense is the conscience
of the individual. It's a conversion melodrama, and in its outlines, routine.
But it's sensationally well done. Clooney's Michael Clayton is an attorney
who's kept in the shadows of a huge law firm where he works as a fixer, the
guy who, behind the scenes, cleans up messes for the biggest clients. After a
confusing prologue with multiple lines of action, and an exploding car so you
know it's all going to turn deadly--the movie flashes back three days.
Clayton is massively in debt from a failed restaurant venture and can't afford
to turn down an unsavory new assignment: to muzzle his friend Arthur, one of
the firm's partners. Arthur is normally an attack dog, but has gone off his
meds and cracked under the strain of doing bad things for bad people, in this
case for a vast agri-business fighting a multibillion-dollar class action
suit, charging it with knowingly marketing a carcinogenic weed killer.
Tom Wilkinson plays Arthur, and while it's hard to imagine him as a Doberman
in court, he's a phenomenal basket case, prodigiously twitchy. In a holding
cell, after he melted down at a deposition, he explains to Clayton his
commitment to a young female plaintiff.
(Soundbite of "Michael Clayton")
Mr. TOM WILKINSON: (As Arthur) They killed them, Michael. Those small
farms, family farms. Did you--did you--did you meet Anna?
Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY: (As Michael Clayton) No.
Mr. WILKINSON: (As Arthur) Oh, you got to see her. You got to talk to her.
She's--she's a miracle, Michael. She's God's perfect little creature. And
for $50 million dollars in fees I have spent 12 percent of my life destroying
perfect Anna and her dead parents and her dying brother.
Mr. CLOONEY: (As Michael Clayton) When was the last time you took one of
Mr. WILKINSON: (As Arthur) No, no. I'm not losing this. Everything is now
finally significant. The world is a beautiful and radiant place.
Mr. CLOONEY: (As Michael Clayton) If it's real, the pill won't kill her.
Mr. WILKINSON: (As Arthur) I have blood on my hands!
Mr. CLOONEY: (As Michael Clayton) You are the senior litigating partner of
one of the largest, most respected law firms in the world! You are a legend!
Mr. WILKINSON: (As Arthur) I'm an accomplice!
Mr. CLOONEY: (As Michael Clayton) You're a manic depressive.
Mr. WILKINSON: (As Arthur) I am Shiva, the god of death.
Mr. CLOONEY: (As Michael Clayton) Let's get out here. We'll walk you and
talk about it.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: What keeps Arthur's righteous speeches and the movie from
seeming sanctimonious is that they're quite gibberish and that he totes around
bizarre props, like a bag with more than a dozen large baguettes. He can also
reel off statutes, hilariously, to keep from being involuntarily committed.
But the movie turns serious when the agri-business' new chief legal counsel,
played by Tilda Swinton, decides to go beyond Michael Clayton's gentle
treatment of Arthur. I know people who find Swinton's character a problem in
a feminist backlash way. An ambitious woman, attempting to pattern herself on
ruthless male bosses. But I found her fascinating. Early on, the film cuts
between her anxious rehearsal before the mirror of her first presentation to
company executives and the smooth presentation itself, back and forth, so that
you're sensitized to the tremulousness under her crisp efficiency. You know
she's human and not an automaton, which is why her moral dilemma is so
The writer and director of "Michael Clayton" is Tony Gilroy, who wrote all
three of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne films. But this is not one of those
jittery motion-sickness pictures that accelerate around every narrative curve.
It holds to a measured beat to the point where you feel a growing
impatience--a good impatience, the kind that keeps you riveted. Maybe that's
why the climax, a dialogue in which no voice is raised, is so smashingly
cathartic; and why the denouement that follows, the last shot of the film, is
so hauntingly strange and sad.
Clooney is as good as he's ever been. He uses his glamor as a mask,
internalizing everything. Only a faint touch of glibness clues you in to
Clayton's disgust with what he does and the people with whom he does it. The
real hook of "Michael Clayton" is watching it dawn on him that, while
whistle-blowing can mean death, being a cog in an infernal machine is not a
design for living.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
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.