DATE July 16, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam discuss their new book
"Grand New Party," how they became conservatives and the new
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guests are two young conservative writers whose new book is getting a lot
of attention. Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam are the authors of "Grand New
Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American
Dream." They say the Republican Party should be more oriented around the
interests of the common man, and they sketch out what they describe as a
vision of an ideologically innovative conservativism. New York Times
columnist David Brooks writes, "You can discount my praise because of my
friendship with the authors, but this is the best single road map of where the
party should and is likely to head."
Ross Douthat is a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine. Reihan Salam is an
associate editor at The Atlantic and a fellow at The New America Foundation.
Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, welcome to FRESH AIR. The group of voters that
you're focused on in your new book is what you describe as Sam's Club voters.
Who are they?
Mr. ROSS DOUTHAT: They're the working class, and there are a lot of debates
about who should be described as working class in American politics. And the
definition we use, which we think is the best definition, or we wouldn't use
it, is voters without a college degree, specifically without a four-year
college education. We think that the lines of class in American life cut more
on educational lines than they do on income lines. And so we're talking about
a pool that's actually a majority of the population, voters with either no
high school, a high school degree, or an increasingly large category of voters
with some college, either community college or a couple of years at a
GROSS: Why are you defining them not by income but by education?
Mr. DOUTHAT: Because to a large extent, this goes to a lot of what we're
talking about in the book, which is the importance of cultural capital in
American life, and the extent to which increasingly--and this is true not just
in the US but across the developing world--that social and cultural capital
that flows from a four-year college education is probably the most important
determinate of success across your career path. And what this means is that,
you know, someone who's technically only making 35,000, $25,000 a year a
couple of years out of college, but who went to--I mean, to be extreme about
it--an Ivy League school, is an enormously different position socially and
economically than somebody who's making $45,000 a year but doesn't have a
college degree. So as to avoid that kind of--it's basically to avoid counting
someone who's, you know, doing Teach for America after going to Harvard as
being working class, that you shift to education from income.
GROSS: Let me quote something that you write in your book, "Grand New Party."
You say, "Having turned class politics to its advantage on cultural matters by
highlighting the gulf between middle American values and the mores of the
liberal overclass, the conservative movement has missed opportunity after
opportunity to do the same on the economic front by confusing being pro-market
with being pro-business, by failing to distinguish between spending that
fosters dependency and spending that fosters independence and upward
mobility." So you're saying that conservatives haven't really represented the
working class in a good way. You're saying that the economic policies have
been better for business than working class people.
Mr. DOUTHAT: Well, one big thing that we talk about in the book is the idea
of family friendly tax reform, and really a broader constellation of
pro-family policies, of which tax reform is the biggest. I think for a long
time Republicans have viewed cutting taxes on investment as a central
conservative plank, and we think that they're right, it should be central to
conservativism, the idea that you want taxes lowest on entrepreneurial
Americans, Americans making investments in the future, the kind of investments
that expand the economy and make it grow and so forth. But we also think that
a pro-family party should recognize that raising children is one of the
biggest investments that Americans make, and for a lot of working class
Americans, especially, it's one of the most costly investments that people
make. And the tax code should be more weighted than it already is, we think,
towards families with children, especially in the years when children are
young. And that ties into a broader array of policies that we sort of sketch
out without going into too much detail, which would make it easier for either
mothers or fathers, frankly, to take a little more time off and have more
flexible work schedules when their children are young.
GROSS: I'd like you to give a very short overview, if you wouldn't mind,
about what shape you think your party is in right now.
Mr. REIHAN SALAM: I think the Republican Party is in pretty grim shape in a
broad, long term sense. I think that it's entirely possible that John McCain
will win in 2008, but I think that doesn't change the fact that when you look
at the demographic basis of this coalition, it's shrinking. You're talking
about a party that's pretty male, you're talking about a party that, you know,
rests on the votes of a lot of married white women, a party that draws very
heavily on super majorities of the white working class. The white working
class is shrinking as a slice of the population. The party has lost ground
with Latinos and with black Americans. And the party just seems to always be
changing the subject from what Americans really want to talk about. They want
to talk about health care, education and jobs, and the Republican Party
insists on talking about national security and terrorism, which increasingly
look like they're two last strengths with the public. And that's--it's very
worrying to people who care about the future of the Republican Party.
Mr. DOUTHAT: Yeah, I mean, the biggest challenge--and it's one we try and
tackle in our book--is that the Republican Party has become a working class
party, but it's become, as Reihan says, largely a white working class party,
and the challenge for Republican politicians demographically over the next 20
to 30 years is to persuade Hispanic and also black American working class
voters to vote the way white working class voters do right now, and that's a
challenge I'm not sure the Republican Party is prepared to meet.
GROSS: I'm wondering, you are both in your 20s and are considered kind of
like rising stars of the young intellectual part of the Republican Party.
Mr. DOUTHAT: I might not go that far.
GROSS: Andrew Sullivan, who is a friend and colleague of yours, has described
you both as part of the first generation of American intellectuals to have
emerged from the blogosphere. So I wonder how you'll react when you hear John
McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, say, `I am learning to get online
Mr. SALAM: I think that John McCain is an incredibly charming person. I
also think that he absolutely doesn't represent the future of the Republican
Party. I think that this is a highly unusual election in a lot of ways, but
when you look at that demographic composition of the Republican Party and
where the party needs to go in order to build a majority, I think it really
needs to look to figures like Sarah Palan, who is a mother of five, yet
someone who's also the mayor of a fast-growing suburban town, someone who
Mr. DOUTHAT: She's now the governor of Alaska.
Mr. SALAM: Now the governor of Alaska. I think that, you know, it's figures
like that who don't come from that tight, narrow demographic box of aging,
cranky white man that has been a rich source of Republican politicians for,
you know, a really long time now. So I think that, you know, that is not
entirely encouraging, but at the same time, the mere fact that he's not, you
know, as Web savvy as, say, you know, Ross or I, that, you know, doesn't mean
that he doesn't have the right skills to lead the country.
Mr. DOUTHAT: Maybe. I mean, I--look, to--let's be fair here. It's not a
good sign, either for the Republicans or for John McCain's candidacy, that he
doesn't know how to use the Internet and uses terms like "the Google" and so
on. There's no question about that. I mean, I think the danger for the
Republicans with McCain is that he ends up being, if he wins the election, he
ends up being a figure a little bit like John Major was in Britain, coming
after the Thatcher years and winning the election maybe he shouldn't have,
that ended up setting the conservatives in Britain back more than it helped
them. I think something similar happened with Jimmy Carter in the 1970s,
where he effectively just became the last Democratic president of a long
Democratic era instead of building bridges to the future of the party. And I
think, you know, the challenge for McCain is that the Republicans need a new
direction, and he's sort of running as the last of the Reagan conservatives,
which isn't what the party needs right now.
GROSS: So who do you think is going to win, and how do you think that's going
to affect the future of the Republican Party?
Mr. DOUTHAT: I think Obama's going to win. I think he's probably going to
win by a narrow margin, probably the margin that he has in the polls right
now, with 3 or 4 percentage points. I think that Obama, you know, has so many
things going for him and there's so many things going for the Democratic Party
right now with the economy and so forth that it's hard to see how he doesn't
win. But I think he's also a weak enough figure in certain ways that he's not
going to achieve a total landslide victory.
And I think then the Republican Party, you know, then the fights can really
begin. You know, I think it'll be good for the GOP. I think the GOP is in
the same position in a way that the Democrats were in in the early 1970s, sort
of facing the end of a long era of dominance and trying to adjust to new
realities. And one problem for the Democrats was they never got completely
beaten. You know, Reagan won in a landslide in 1980, but the Democrats still
held the House and so on, and like they kept being able to tell themselves
that they were still America's natural majority party even when they weren't.
And, you know, I'm rooting for John McCain to win in November, but I can also
see a way in which, you know, having Republicans wake up and realize that, you
know, they're in real trouble wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
GROSS: You know, I'm wondering, I've never been to one of Grover Norquist's
famous Wednesday meetings, but my understanding...
Mr. DOUTHAT: Neither have we.
GROSS: My understanding of those meetings is that the people participating
included people who represented very kind of diverse agendas within the
Republican Party, from...
Mr. DOUTHAT: Absolutely.
GROSS: ...religious right to the anti-tax groups, the gun rights groups, the
anti-abortion groups, the business group, the anti-regulation groups. And so
they'd all come together once a week and figure out how to get on the same
page. Is that still being effective? You think that kind of alliance is
still holding as strongly as it was a few years ago?
Mr. SALAM: I don't think so, because I think that when you're looking at a
lot of, for example, very big corporations, they have the sense, you know, `Ay
yi yi. What are we going to do with these health care costs?' If you look at
Detroit and their anxieties, if you look at Wal-Mart and its concerns about
how they're going to provide benefits for their employees and yet still remain
a viable business, I think that there's increasingly, you know, business
leaders who believe that a more heavily-regulated economy is going to work to
their advantage. And of course there have always been business leaders who
believe that, and that's the problem with having a pro-business as opposed to
a pro-market, pro-competition party. It's that you're always going to have
people who are going to try to give themselves advantages through the
But I also think that there are, you know, real, genuine problems that the
idea of a "leave us alone" coalition doesn't really speak to. And I think
that that's one reason why Norquist is frankly a fading figure on the
Mr. DOUTHAT: Yeah, I mean, I think that Norquist, you know, what his
breakfasts represent are the model that brought the current Republican
majority to party, which is essentially assemble a coalition of interest
groups who are united because they have some grievance with the existing
liberal establishment. The problem is, you know, what happens when you become
the establishment and then you're united only by your grievances, how do you
go about governing? I think that that's been a big problem for the
Republicans over the last four to eight years.
I think part of what we're talking about in our book, frankly, is trying to
move conservatism beyond this kind of interest group approach to politics
which, you know, you saw it from the Democrats with Bill Clinton, where you
sort of, you know, narrowly targeting different constituencies, and you saw it
in the Bush administration where, you know, you'd say, `OK, we're going to
win, you know, blue-collar workers in Ohio and Pennsylvania with steel
tariffs, and then we're going to win values voters with a gay marriage appeal
and so on.' And that's a good way to get to 51 percent in a hotly contested
election. It's not a good way to build an enduring majority party, I think.
GROSS: My guests are Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, authors of the new book,
"Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the
American Dream." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Ross Douthat and Reihan
Salam, authors of the new book, "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the
Working Class and Save the American Dream."
Now, in your book, "Grand New Party," you write that you both grew up in the
heart of blue America, even though you're conservative. What was blue about
it? Where did you grow up?
Mr. DOUTHAT: Reihan?
Mr. SALAM: I grew up in a couple of neighborhoods in Brooklyn. I grew up in
Borough Park until I was nine years old.
Mr. SALAM: And then I grew up in a neighborhood in greater Flatbush, that's
on the fringe of Kensington and Ditmas Park, a very diverse neighborhood. It
was the best place to grow up, in my view. I have incredibly romantic
memories of, you know, riding my little tricycle around on concrete and eating
lead paint and asbestos chips and just having a generally grand old time
around lots of nontraditional families. I had friends of different
backgrounds. It was a wonderful place, and that's part of why I have no
hostility towards blue America. It was a great place to grow up. But I was
also always a natural contrarian, so I think that, you know, partly
contributed to my--didn't even meet a Republican until I was, I think, 16
years old. But, yeah, that's the world I'm from.
GROSS: And Ross?
Mr. DOUTHAT: Yeah, I'm from--and I grew up in suburban New Haven, and my
parents were both, you know, sort of '70s liberals, I guess, in a fairly
conventional way. When I was growing up, my earliest political memory is my
mother dragging us out to a polling station and saying, `I need to grab every
woman by the lapels and tell them to vote for Geraldine Ferraro.' This was the
1984 election. And then I remember, you know, putting together the pieces of
the map, we had a puzzle map of the states, and we put them together as
Clinton won in 1992. So I think--and I had a similar experience to Reihan.
It was sort of a, you know, I was a contrarian growing up in, you know,
suburban Connecticut, which is a fairly liberal environment, not probably as
liberal as Brooklyn, but still fairly liberal. But in our case, we also
became religious and eventually converted to Catholicism, and more so than
Reihan, I think, a lot of my conservatism does grow out of sort of socially
conservative convictions that are rooted in religious belief.
GROSS: You're saying your family became religious, or you personally
Mr. DOUTHAT: My family. I mean, we were--you know, I was raised initially
Episcopalian, but we had sort of, I guess you could say deeper religious
experiences when I was a kid and temporarily became actually Pentecostals and
moved sort of in the evangelical world, and then my mother converted to
Catholicism when I was 16, and I converted to Catholicism when I was 17. So
it took me another year to sort that out. But...
GROSS: I'd like you to each mention a cultural or political turning point in
your life that helps explain how you became a conservative growing up in a
more liberal environment.
Mr. DOUTHAT: Well, this is a minor thing, but I do think it's illustrative.
I think that the world that I grew up in, this sort of liberal suburbia and
going to a fairly liberal private school in the 1990s, was a little bit frozen
in time. It sort of, you know, it had been deeply hostile to Ronald Reagan
and it sort of had been hostile to conservative ideas. And so I, I think, was
sort of like the neoconservatives of the 1970s, who were liberals who sort of
became conservatives. I just had their experience by reading books about that
era and sort of coming to it late.
But I remember one moment when I was assigned to do a project about global
population, and I was, you know, a big, you know, at that point, I was sort of
a conventional liberal 14-year-old, and, you know, we'd been taught that
overpopulation was the dominant problem in human societies worldwide. And I
went and read, you know, Paul Ehrlich's famous book, "The Population Bomb,"
about how the overpopulation was going to destroy the world. And then it's
like, well, you know, that book was written in 1972, I think, or the late
'60s, and none of that has panned out. And then I started reading more, and
it became clear that, well, actually, you know, overpopulation is a problem in
some places, but actually it's sort of the birth dearth and underpopulation
potentially is a bigger problem in Western society, and, you know, it was a
small moment of questioning the orthodoxy of my liberal upbringing, but I
think it was--you know, it was repeated on a lot of different issues.
GROSS: And Reihan?
Mr. SALAM: I think for me, I just--very late, I just looked back and
reflected on my childhood and just found that I had very unconventional ideas
about inequality. A lot of my dear friends were just very panicked about
economic inequality per se, and I just felt like my family had been downwardly
mobile. After they came to this country, they were very, very poor for a long
period of time. Then they were...(unintelligible)...
GROSS: They came here from Bangladesh?
Mr. SALAM: They came here from Bangladesh, exactly. And they had a lot of
struggles, and they later encountered a Bengali-speaking community. But just
being steeped in that world and being in a world where I know that my parents
made me feel very comfortable made me feel very confident, like I could talk
to anyone. And I have two older sisters who had a big effect on me as well.
But I just felt like money didn't seem to be the essential thing that really
drove me forward. It was really just having two parents and seeing other
folks, other friends of mine who didn't, and seeing incredibly miserable rich
people later in my life when I got to be a part of the wider world; just
really made me think that the kind of materialistic, economistic, narrow view
of inequality and how it affects people's lives was wrong. Not that
inequality doesn't matter, because I emphatically believe that it does, but
just that an inequality of relationships and care is something that really
And again, my parents are, you know, left of center, and God bless them, I
hope they always will be charmingly so. But I just think that that sense
that, you know, even though we didn't have a lot of money, we just had this
very full, rich life, I just think has made me a little skeptical about what I
see as the dominant strain in contemporary liberalism.
GROSS: You both have blogs, OK? Compare for me the left and the right's
presence in the blogosphere. Who do you think does a better job?
Mr. DOUTHAT: Well, I mean, I think--I think that what the left...
GROSS: And do you think that the left and the right use the blogosphere any
Mr. DOUTHAT: I think if you look back to 2003 and 2004, the dominant voices
in the blogosphere were right wing. And I think that, you know, the right
seemed to have sort of stolen the march on the left in that respect. But I
think the mistake that the right made is, you know, conservatives had always
dominated sort of alternative media, right? They dominated in talk radio,
they dominated in direct mail advertising. You know, and so they tried to use
the Internet sort of in the same way that they'd used talk radio, basically
just as a way to critique the mainstream media and basically to say, `Oh, you
know, look what the New York Times said today. Like, you know, here's the
truth.' Or to critique--to sort of try and win specific political victories,
like when the Power Line bloggers figured out that the memos that Dan Rather
had that supposedly related to Bush's National Guard service were fake, that
was a big coup for the right wing blogosphere.
What the left figured out is that the way to use the blogosphere is as a
social networking device and as a way, you know, as sort of quasi-Facebook
sort of organizational tool that lets you, you know, build infrastructure and
raise enormous amounts of money. And having figured that out, they've
basically just raced way ahead of the right.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.
Mr. DOUTHAT: Thank you so much for having us, Terry.
Mr. SALAM: Thanks very much, Terry.
GROSS: Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam are the authors of the new book "Grand
New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American
Dream." Douthat is a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine. Salam is an
associate editor at The Atlantic and a fellow at The New America Foundation.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Bill Berloni talks about his new book "Broadway Tails"
and his work rescuing and training dogs for Broadway roles
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Several Broadway stars have been discovered in animal shelters. The man who
found and trained those dogs is our guest, Bill Berloni. Among the scene
stealers he can take credit for are the dog who originated the role of Sandy
in the Broadway hit "Annie," the Chihuahua and bulldog in the Broadway
adaptation of "Legally Blonde," and the lamb in the revival of "Gypsy" that
starred Bernadette Peters. He also trained the first dog to dance with the
New York City Ballet. He's been in doggy show biz for 30 years, and is also
now a behavior consultant to the Humane Society of New York. Our TV critic,
David Bianculli, can often be found in Broadway theaters when he's not seated
in front of his televisions. He spoke with Bill Berloni.
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Bill Berloni, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. BILL BERLONI: Thank you. Thank you for having us.
BIANCULLI: Let's talk about "Annie," since that's how you started your career
and your habit of using shelter dogs. How did you back into this career as an
Mr. BERLONI: When I graduated from high school, I wanted to be an actor and
I lived near a very famous summer stock theater called The Goodspeed Opera
House in East Haddam, Connecticut, and they're known for reviving American
musicals and introducing new musicals. And I volunteered there as a young kid
to build scenery for free to be around real actors, professional actors. And
my second season there as a set building apprentice they were doing a new
show, and I remember being called into the producer's office, and he offered
me a chance to be in Actor's Equity, which is the actors union, and a part on
stage. And I was bowled over. I thought he recognized my acting abilities by
the way I'd moved scenery for two years.
And the second part of the equation in my euphoria was, `All you have to do is
find and train a dog for us for the new show.' And I left his office accepting
the offer and it took me like a day or two to realize that what I had agreed
to. The new show was "Annie" and they couldn't afford a professional dog
trainer. And everybody on the paid staff had threatened to quit if they had
to do it so he was looking for a sucker. So I was that wide-eyed kid who'd
said, `Sure, I could try anything.' Someone said, `Oh, well, they have cheap
dogs at the dog pound.' Well, being 19 years old, I'd never been to a dog
pound so I took the truck and a Polaroid camera and went casting.
And I remember being profoundly moved. I'd had dogs growing up. I was a dog
lover. And profoundly moved by the situation of these animals in cages who,
many of which were slated to be euthanized. And, well, I did find the
original Sandy the day before he was going to be put to sleep, and I paid $7
for him. And I trained him as I trained my other pets. You know, I knew they
could do repetitive behaviors or, you know, I knew they loved the people they
worked with and lived with. So I thought if I can make the theater his home
and the actors his family he might do what we asked him to. And that positive
reinforcement method of training was somewhat revolutionary. It was the first
time that a dog had played a character on stage.
"Annie" opened at The Goodspeed and bombed. It was--got terrible reviews.
The producers said to me, `What are you going to do with the dog?' I said,
`well, I'm moving to New York City. If I'm going to be a starving actor I
might as well have a starving dog.' And I enrolled at NYU, and in the fall of
1976 Mike Nichols office called, the famous director. He said, `We're
producing "Annie" for Broadway with the original company, would you be
interested?' And I said, a chance to work with Mike Nichols? Of course I'll
be a dog trainer and went into rehearsal. We opened at the Kennedy Center,
and in April of 1977 at the age of 20 "Annie" became a hit and I became a
famous animal trainer.
BIANCULLI: According to your book, the original Sandy got run over two weeks
before opening night and went on. I mean, it's one of the best trooper
stories I've ever heard. And I was wondering if you embellished that at all?
Mr. BERLONI: Actually I did, you know, I was actually kinder to the
situation. I mean, because it was purely accidental. Just so our listeners
know, you know, in that summer we used to build scenery in a big barn,
literally a big barn. And Sandy would come to the set with us every--or to
the shop with us every day, and he would hang out and then he would come to
the theater with us every night while we were doing other shows. And as the
opening night got closer, they started laying down the scenery they had built
on the floor to paint it.
Mr. BERLONI: And I was off doing something else in another part of the shop
and he stepped on a piece of scenery that was wet and so, you know, the
painter said, `Well, we've got to move him to out back.' So they took him and
they tied him to a tree out back where there was some shade, but he decided to
go under one of the delivery trucks to lay in the sand. And the delivery
person came to take the truck, not thinking to look for the dog, and heard
this squeal and accidentally ran him over. The accident dislocated his leg.
And the vet we took him to thought it would take a month for him to heal and
he had to be rested, you know. And, of course, the producer was noticeably
upset. You know, he was like, `Now what are we going to do? We've got to
find another dog,' you know, `If this dog doesn't make it to opening night I'm
firing everybody who was involved.' And so all of a sudden my colleagues' jobs
were at risk. And, you know, we would never force an animal to perform.
And as Sandy was so enamored by what his life had become that he would get
agitated when he didn't come to the shop, or when he didn't come to the
theater as we were looking for other dogs. And then, you know, the director,
Martin Charnin, saw the bandages on his leg and said, `Let's use it. It's
great. He'll, you know.'
BIANCULLI: I don't know...
Mr. BERLONI: And so that's what we did.
BIANCULLI: I don't know if that's cold or warm.
Mr. BERLONI: Oh, well, you know, he was able to walk on stage. And there's
a behavior in "Annie" where at a certain point he jumps up and puts his paws
on his shoulders and we had--I told Andrea McArdle, who was the original
Annie, not to do that cue and give him the hand signal, but at that moment he
did it anyways, which was just the look, the love.
BIANCULLI: It must have been very powerful dramatically if people believed
Mr. BERLONI: But nobody in the audience knew about the injury. But
certainly for all of us in that theater last, you know, that night, it was
like, the power and the loyalty of animals was just, you know, right there in
front of us. And I feel blessed to be in their company every day, you know,
because they're creatures with the absence of malice, you know. All they want
to do is please. And so it's a wonderful life to have and to see that sort of
loyalty and compassion.
BIANCULLI: Was "Annie" the show for which you developed, I don't know whether
it's called `the Berloni drop' or `the bologna drop'?
Mr. BERLONI: Yes. Initially in "Annie" Annie and Sandy meet and then
they're separated, and halfway through the first act they wrote in a scene
after the show had become successful before we went to Broadway where they
wanted him wandering the streets of New York looking for her. And they needed
him to sit center stage, look right, look left and then exit. And dogs have
very poor eyesight. They don't see clearly at, you know, 20 feet. And so
while Sandy would come to me, I couldn't get him to stop center stage because
he would come about 10 feet, five feet to the wings where he could see me
clearly and then he'd see his hand signal and sit. So I needed to devise a
way to get him to stop center stage. And so, you know, as I clumsily was
rehearsing I've noticed that every time I dropped a treat he would stop what
he was doing and pick it up. And so that--aha, the aha moment.
Mr. BERLONI: So I thought if I could drop a piece of food. And so we tried
treats and then the tap dancers would step on them and they'd crunch all over
the place. And being somewhat young and poor, about the only thing I had in
my refrigerator in 1977 was bologna. So we thought, there you go, it'll stick
right to the deck and tasty, and so that's somehow how that came up.
BIANCULLI: So the tap dancers had to dance over bologna?
Mr. BERLONI: Yes, yes. And if they got it on their foot it wouldn't like
crunch and fall into the tracks, you know. And it's one of those ironic
twists that, you know, my last name is Berloni, so from the time I was in
grade school everybody called me `Billy Bologna.' And so that's probably the
reason I went into show business, all that teasing. So to have a famous move
named after me is a homage at this point.
BIANCULLI: You've said that the original Sandy acted in "Annie" for seven
Mr. BERLONI: Mm-hmm.
BIANCULLI: What happened to that original Sandy after, you know, retirement
from the stage?
Mr. BERLONI: After the dogs are done with their shows, whether they last one
night or seven years, they're mine forever. And he went into semi-retirement
and, you know, did appearances around the country. And then as he became
older and frailer, you know, I took care of him until he passed away in his
sleep. And it was just so moving to me, you know. He died when he was 16
years old. And what I thought was somewhat of a trivial addition to the
entertainment field, they did an obituary for him in The New York Times with
his picture, and it wasn't a joke. It was very serious, you know, because one
of the things we'd do, and we continue to do, is raise awareness for the
plight of homeless animals. And Sandy became that poster child.
Mr. BERLONI: You know, he was really the first dog to, you know, become
famous and say that he was from an animal shelter and not bred from a line of
Lassies or, you know, Benjis or something like that. So I was quite moved
that the entertainment industry got it.
BIANCULLI: You've trained 30 or 40 different Sandys over the decades, which
means, I guess, you've also trained 30 or 40 Annies, including Andrea McArdle,
Sarah Jessica Parker, Alyssa Milano. Which of them took to the dogs and your
training the best?
Mr. BERLONI: You know, they all were wonderful. And I was blessed in that
my first charge at training a dog was working with a dog and a child. And
animals love being loved. And so, you know, most performers are on stage to
be stars or to fulfill their careers. Working with children you're really
working with the essence of innocence.
Mr. BERLONI: So to take a child into a studio and say, you know, `We're
going to play with Sandy so that he gets to love you.' And they go `OK.' And
it's real and it's genuine, and I think it's one of the things that makes
"Annie" so popular. When you see the kid on stage with one of my dogs, you're
really seeing a love affair, you know, not just onstage but offstage. So the
kids have always been great. I love working with kids because even if they
were afraid of dogs, in two or three sessions I can let their youthful
innocence come through and they could have a great time.
Andrea McArdle will always be special, you know, because she was the one who
taught me that. But Sarah Jessica Parker, Sarah and I are still friends, and
initially she had never had a dog. Her family had cats, you know, but she was
enough of a professional to go, `OK, I'll try this.' And Sarah was just as
good with Sandy as Andrea and the other girls were. So working with children,
I never have a problem with. In fact, I enjoy it the most. Getting adults to
forget who they are and what they're doing and enjoy working with the dogs is
a little harder.
GROSS: Our guest is Bill Berloni, author of the new book "Broadway Tails."
He's speaking with FRESH AIR contributor David Bianculli. They'll talk more
about rescuing dogs and training them to be Broadway stars after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Bill Berloni, the author of the
new book "Broadway Tails." It's about his work rescuing dogs from shelters and
training them for roles on Broadway. He spoke with our contributor David
BIANCULLI: How many dogs do you have at home?
Mr. BERLONI: What day is today? As of today we have 20. And 15 to 20 seems
to be my magic Broadway number. Today we have 20.
BIANCULLI: Twenty? And you have a young daughter, don't you? So...
Mr. BERLONI: Yes.
BIANCULLI: ...how does she relate to all of these animals?
Mr. BERLONI: I dedicate my--the opening of the book to my wife and my
daughter and, you know, I believe having an animal in a child's life is very
important because it teaches them altruism, it teaches them that they're not
the center of the universe, that there are other creatures that need care and
respect. And so if I give nothing else to my daughter, she seems to be very
well centered in that, you know, she lives with creatures, she has to help,
she has to interact with, she has to share her home with, she has to share
this world with. And so there are times where, if she becomes forgetful and
doesn't pick up her toys or stuff, they get destroyed. So there are many
valuable lessons to be learned by having animals. And certainly, you know, in
her 10 years she's probably seen 10 or 12 creatures that she's lived and loved
with passed away. So I mean, many issues we talk about, and so I think she's
BIANCULLI: What pets did you have as a kid, and what lessons did they teach
Mr. BERLONI: I had an unusual situation. My dad was a horticulturist for a
municipality in Connecticut, so we lived on a farm that had greenhouses. I
was an only child. And although we came from a big Italian family, my mom
stayed home and took care of me. And I had a collie, a cat and a rabbit. And
we were in an isolated area in Connecticut, a rural area, so there were no
kids around. So until I went to kindergarten those were my companions. And
when I did get to kindergarten, I was horribly shy. I didn't know how to
interact with other kids because I had grown up with these animals.
And so somewhere in that developmental phase I must have learned how to
communicate nonverbally with other creatures, which ultimately would come to
serve me in my career. And so, you know, it took me a while to--I was always
shy and I was drawn to the stage because I could be a part of the drama club,
you know, and be the only boy with like 10 or 12 girls. And it was a good
deal. I wasn't big enough to be a football player.
Mr. BERLONI: But I could be on stage and people could listen to me and I
didn't have to talk to people. So my development, both in being raised with
these animals on a farm, I think, led to my career.
BIANCULLI: Do theater audiences react differently to animals onstage? I
mean, is there something about the live aspect of theater that makes it
special to them to witness?
Mr. BERLONI: Absolutely. I mean, you go to live theater to experience the
moment, to experience the energy and the joy of watching live performers. And
over the years, you know, I've come to realize that we are most--you know, you
walk into a theater, pay your money and you suspend disbelief. You know that
the actors onstage are acting and that it's a made up story. But with
animals, everyone knows animals don't act. And so people will say to me, will
go to the edge of their seats because they're waiting for the dog to make a
mistake or waiting for it to go out of control. And so what's exciting is, I
believe, an audience member comes and sees and animal and go, `Oh my god, it's
really happening.' You know, the reality to the animal is so real. It's the
ultimate acting challenge.
Mr. BERLONI: You know, it's like watching two lovers onstage do a love scene
who in real life we know are husband and wife. You know that it's a real
relationship. And so, you know, watching an animal onstage brings the
audience to the edge of its seats because they know that you really can't
control an animal. So it brings a heightened reality to the experience. And
I think, again, watching a little girl sing "Tomorrow" to a dog she loves, you
Mr. BERLONI: ...is much more exciting, I think, in a certain way, you know,
than watching two actors trying to do a love scene who, you know, are
BIANCULLI: In addition to "Annie" and "Legally Blonde: The Musical" in
between are a couple of dozen other credits, stage and elsewhere. One that
really surprised me, I would have never expected to find your name popping up
associated with this, it's that famous Richard Avedon photo of Nastassja
Kinski where she's naked except for a giant python wrapped around her body.
Mr. BERLONI: Mm-hmm.
BIANCULLI: So where were you, and why were you there?
Mr. BERLONI: When "Annie" opened on Broadway, Richard Avedon shot the
characters from "Annie" for Vogue magazine. And I was 20 years old and went
to the studio, and for whatever reason he was particularly impressed with this
kid who had this dog. He got my number from the press agent and he called me
and he said, `I have this idea for a photo shoot with a snake. Do you train
snakes?' So I'm thinking, `oh my goodness. I've got a chance to work with
this world famous photographer.' So, `Sure I train snakes. So what do we have
to do?' `Well, we just have to drape it on a model.' I said, `OK.' And he
said, `how much?' And I'm thinking, do I have to pay him? Until I realize he
was asking me how much I would charge him. So back in 1977 I went--I thought
of the highest amount of money I could think of, which was $250. He went
So I called a friend of mine at the ASPCA here in New York who was the exotic
animal consultant, and she knew a snake guy in Brooklyn. So I called the
snake guy and he said, `Sure, I got a, you know, boa.' And so I said, `Look,
I'll split the fee with you. I'll give you $125. We'll work for an hour, you
know, easy money.' Agreed. So the day of the shoot, I'd never met him. We
arrive at Mr. Avedon's studio, and this guy comes in with a chest, an ice
cooler. And he's got sort of long hair and straggly beard and he looks kind
of rough around the edges. And, you know, Mr. Avedon comes in with
Nastassja, who's a teenager, wrapped in a blanket and he said, you know,
`We're going to drape the snake on her.'
And so it was a very sort of, certainly out of world experience for me. And
she whispers something in his ear and he comes over to me and he goes, you
know, `She doesn't feel comfortable with that gentleman. Do you mind handling
the snake?' And it was one of those defining moments where I went, `oh my God,
I am terrified of snakes.' So do I admit to this world famous photographer
that I'm afraid of snakes or do I suck it up and do it? And I went `OK.' So I
go over, and the reason you put reptiles on ice is to lower their body
temperature so they become less mobile. So I pick up the snake, and it is
cold, and in my mind slimy, but I pick it up and I turn and look at the table
and there is a naked woman lying on it. Now, I'm 19 and a half years old. I
had not seen many naked women in my life. So there I am with the snake in my
hands and a naked woman in front of me and I didn't know which frightened me
more, especially when I had to start draping it over her body near her private
parts. I was a mess. But somehow I got them there and we stepped back and he
And after about 10 minutes the snake warmed up and we had to put it back on
ice. Well, after 30 minutes I was a seasoned snake handler. I was like all
over this thing. And, you know, the next thing I know this becomes an iconic
photograph that has been seen around the world.
GROSS: Our guest is Bill Berloni, the author of the new book "Broadway
Tails," about rescuing animals and training them for Broadway. He's speaking
with FRESH AIR contributor David Bianculli. They'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Let's get back to the interview our contributor David Bianculli
recorded with Bill Berloni, the author of "Broadway Tails." It's about
Berloni's work rescuing dogs from shelters and training them for roles on
BIANCULLI: In "Gypsy," not the current Broadway revival but the previous one
with Bernadette Peters, you used a lamb. How do you train a lamb, and how
often do you have to replace lambs?
Mr. BERLONI: Mm-hmm. In "Gypsy" the family, the Hovick family, of which
June Hovick and Gypsy were part of--and Mama Rose--loved animals. They were
vaudevillians who had all sorts of animals. And so that was written into the
script, their love of animals. And how and why a baby lamb was chosen, I'll
never know. But, you know, when Bernadette was leading this revival she
wanted me to work on it because she knew that I would make sure that the
animals weren't ever hurt. And whether it's a baby pig or a baby lamb, you
know, you get these creatures when they're five to seven days old because they
grow so quickly. And when you're handling any infant, creature of that age,
you have to be very careful about their stress level, feeding, all that sort
of stuff. And how do you train, you know, those animals? Basically, the lamb
had to be carried on and be quiet for a lullaby.
BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm, and be sung to, and be sung to.
Mr. BERLONI: And I had learned to--and be sung to. And from having recently
had a baby a few years before, I remembered, you know, when I gave my daughter
her bottle there would be this milk buzz, there would be this euphoric `ah, my
belly's filled with warm milk, I'll just lay here.' And I thought, well, maybe
that works for lambs, too. And it's exact--it does. You know, it's amazing
what a little warm milk will do for you. So each night before the lamb went
on stage, we would give her, you know, her formula and she'd go onstage
sucking her little lips, eyes half open, digesting her milk, and then 10
minutes later she'd be up and awake and ready to play. So her feeding
schedules were tied around the performances at the Shubert Theatre every day.
And they would last 21 days. By the time the lambs were 21 days old, we would
be into the next lamb. I would go up to a farm in upstate New York, get a
baby lamb, bring it back, wash it, diaper it, and we'd switch it out. And we
ended up going through, I think, 23 or 24 lambs over the run of "Gypsy."
BIANCULLI: Are lambs always available?
Mr. BERLONI: No. That was the other thing. I talked to one of the original
stagehands who worked on the Ethel Merman production, and they used to go to
the meat market--this was in the 1950s--get baby lambs, use them and then
barbecue them after the show was over, when they got too large, which in the
'50s was an accepted practice for meat animals. Certainly we weren't going to
do that on the current production. And they only--lambs only have babies once
a year and it's in the spring. So I was not only charged with finding lambs
all year 'round, but what do we do with them afterwards. And I found a--there
is a farm, world famous farm that produces sheep milk cheese. It's one of the
gourmet places. It's in upstate New York, and it's all organic. And they
artificially inseminate sheep all year 'round so that they're continually
lactating, and they keep the female sheep and they send the boys to the meat
markets. So we went--I found this place, and they generously loaned me baby
lambs because I would bring them back, you know, clean and healthy. So I
could say to Bernadette and the theatrical community, if you want to see any
of our lambs, go up to the farm and they're grazing up on some beautiful
BIANCULLI: Throughout your entire career, is there one onstage animal moment
that you remember as either the most surprising or the most embarrassing just
that really stands out, or even the most touching?
Mr. BERLONI: You know, surprising, embarrassing, two totally different
things. I'm so glad as an interviewer you didn't ask me if they went to the
bathroom on stage. That's a big one. Embarrassing? A lot of times, you
know, the animals will get confused. And when they get confused they look for
dad. So in the middle of a song, if somebody drops a line or doesn't give
them a cue, they will look offstage at me as if to say, `What do I do now?'
That usually gets a big laugh.
Probably the most embarrassing--again, knock on wood, and I don't want to
knock on wood here in the studio--I've never had an animal eliminate on stage.
But I tell a story where, when "Legally Blonde" premiered in San Francisco
that the bulldog character was in one scene and it got a huge response, so
they came back to New York and said, `Bill, we want to write her into a second
scene.' Her name is Chloe.
Mr. BERLONI: I said, `OK.' So in the second act she returns, you know, with
the UPS guy who's falling in love with one of the characters. And they devise
this simple thing where she would run onstage and get her toy. The UPS guy
carries a toy on. And bulldogs have sort of sensitive digestive systems. And
our opening night preview in New York, she was so happy to run onstage for her
toy, she ran onstage to the characters and vomited, which in bulldog language
is the ultimate, you know, `I am so happy I'm going to chuck my lunch up,' you
know. And so on the one hand I was like `oh, at least she's happy,' and on
the other hand, you know, the performers are like `oh, great.' So, you know,
they had to use this toy to clean up the vomit before the production number.
And she never did it again. So that was probably, again, the only time I've
ever had an animal throw up onstage, but out of shear joy.
BIANCULLI: Well, Bill Berloni, thanks very much for being here on FRESH AIR.
Mr. BERLONI: My pleasure.
GROSS: Bill Berloni is the author of the new book "Broadway Tails." He spoke
with FRESH AIR's TV critic, David Bianculli.
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Here's Sandra Church singing "Little Lamb" from the original cast recording of
(Soundbite of "Little Lamb")
Ms. SANDRA CHURCH: (Singing) Little lamb, little lamb
My birthday is here at last
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