DATE May 5, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Artist, writer and designer Maurice Sendak discusses
his career, life and the children's opera "Brundibar"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
Several generations of children have grown up on the books of artist Maurice
Sendak, such as "Where the Wild Things Are" and "In the Night Kitchen." He's
won the top awards for children's books, but his work has quite an adult
following, too. Sendak has also designed sets for several operas. His work
for children has always had a dark edge but nothing quite like his latest
work. It's a collaboration with writer Tony Kushner, who's best known for his
play "Angels in America." They've adapted a children's opera that was
originally performed by children in the Nazi concentration camp Terezin. The
opera "Brundibar" is a parable about evil that was written in 1938 by a
composer who was killed in the gas chambers.
Here's the opening scene from a 1992 recording of "Brundibar" by the Disman
Radio Children's Ensemble in Prague.
(Soundbite of "Brundibar" in foreign language)
DAVIES: A new staging of Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak's "Brundibar"
premieres Sunday in New York. Terry spoke to Sendak in 2003 when the English
adaptation, with Kushner's libretto and Sendak's sets, was performed in
Chicago, and their book adaptation had just been published. Terry asked
Sendak why the children in the Nazi concentration camp performed the opera
Mr. MAURICE SENDAK: This opera was written by Hans Krasa, a very young Czech
composer, and it was written for Jewish children in an orphan asylum in Prague
to amuse them. There was a contest, who could write the prettiest opera for
the children. And Krasa wrote this and everybody loved it, and at that very
same point, the Nazis entered the country and the orphanage was emptied and
the children put into Terezin, the camp, and he was, too, as was the
librettist. And it became a show camp. It became known as Hitler's favorite
camp. He set it up in such a way and made a film of how well the Jews were
being treated and the Gypsies and the homosexuals. And this was to--because
rumors were getting out that were frightful. And so he set this up to prove
to the Red Cross and diplomats who were traveling the world to come by, see a
show and see how happy everybody was.
And it's in the film. You see the children singing in the last portion of the
opera. So they all sat there. It was performed 55 times; a huge success,
this little opera, which is about 45 minutes in length. That's the story.
Hans Krasa was murdered, too, as was the librettist, as was, well, mostly
everybody in the camp. It was an elitist camp. You had Bauhaus workers
there, you had artists, people teaching the children there, intellects. It
was a special camp, but it ended the same way for all of them.
TERRY GROSS, host:
So the performances were for visiting diplomats to show off the camp?
Mr. SENDAK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: Do you know if they fell for it?
Mr. SENDAK: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely they fell for it. The streets were
cleaned, trees were planted, all the children were given clean clothes, all
the inmates were given clean clothes. Everything was swept up. And they went
and they had quite an attractive pass, which I'd love to have an original of,
but I've used as an image in the book to get in to see "Brundibar."
GROSS: Tell us the story that's told in the opera...
Mr. SENDAK: OK.
GROSS: ...that you tell in the book.
Mr. SENDAK: This was directly written for children and the limitations of
children. They don't have singing voices. Some of them do, but that was by
accident. But mostly it's sort of like a singspiel, which is--like a Mozart
opera is a singspiel, where you talk over the music rather than actually sing.
And those who could sing, sang. And the music is astonishing. He was in his
30s, so you hear Janacek and you hear Weill and you hear Gershwin and you hear
Ravel. And just like all of us young artists steal like crazy until we make
ourselves up as artists, you hear all these wonderful sounds.
And the story is ultrasimple so the children could follow it and produce the
tale, which has to do with a little brother and sister whose mother is ill,
and the doctor says unless they get milk for her she won't last. So they go
out into the world, which is, in my case, Prague, into the city proper. And
`Please, somebody, give us money to buy milk for Mommy,' and nobody will. And
in the streets of Prague, on a specific corner, is Brundibar, who is an organ
grinder; mean, mean. In Czech, Brundibar means bee, like a bee sting. And
he's taken over the whole place and he sings and people throw money in his
hat, and the kids say, `Well, anybody could do that.' So they stand on the
other corner and they sing this dreadful song, and everyone just ignores them.
And they wonder why they can't do this.
And they stay all night in the street by themselves, and a cat and a bird and
a dog come to their assistance and say, `Look, let's pull this together,
'cause the two of you can't do this by yourselves. Let's get all the kids in
town. Let's get all the kids in town.' In the morning, there's this beautiful
music as children wake up and they're getting ready to go to school and comb
their hair and wash their shoes and such. And the animals convince them to
come and help these kids, so they all come to the town square, 300 of them,
and they say to Brundibar, `We want to sing, and we don't care about money.
We just want to sing.'
And Brundibar says, `No, no, get the hell out of here.' And the townspeople
say, `Oh, let the kids do it.' And they sing a lullaby, which is, like,
extraordinary to hear it. And people are captivated, and they fill their milk
can with coins. They've made it. They have enough money now. But Brundibar
sneaks in and grabs the can and rushes off and steals their money, and the
whole town chases Brundibar and they catch him and they beat him up, and the
kids get their money back and buy the milk, come home, triumphant, and save
their mama. And that's the story.
GROSS: But there's an epilogue to the story.
Mr. SENDAK: There's a...
GROSS: There's a little poem at the end. Could you read that for us?
Mr. SENDAK: Sure. Sure.
GROSS: And just, you know, a reminder: This is written while Hitler is
coming to power.
Mr. SENDAK: Exactly. And the fact that it is impossible for me to doubt
that the children knew what their fate was. Imagine standing up on the stage
and singing about brotherhood and `If we all hang together we're going to
succeed and the bully will not'--and knowing that as soon as this audience
left, kaput, their lives are finished. I can't even grasp that now. I've
been studying and working this for over three years. So in this--I wanted my
cake and eat it, too, because they do say to their mother, `But evil will
persist as the world goes on,' and they have to know that, whether their
parents like them to know it or not.
OK. So we're just turning the page on the big happy ending where everything
is wonderful and safe and mommy is alive, and then there's a little coda at
the end, which was written by Tony basically. It's not in the opera. And it
says--this is Brundibar talking--`They believe they've won the fight. They
believe I'm gone. Not quite. Nothing ever works out neatly. Bullies don't
give up completely. One departs, the next appears, and we shall meet again,
my dears. Though I go, I won't go far. I'll be back, love, Brundibar.'
GROSS: Yeah. That's kind of chilling.
Mr. SENDAK: Yeah, kind of chilling.
GROSS: Chilling epilogue.
Mr. SENDAK: Yeah.
GROSS: So Tony Kushner wrote that for the book.
Mr. SENDAK: He wrote that, yeah.
GROSS: How do you think the paintings and drawings that you did for the new
book, which is a kind of Holocaust fairy tale--how do those compare with the
classic books that you did, like "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Outside Over
Mr. SENDAK: This is strange to say more personal. "Where the Wild Things
Are" and "Outside Over There" and...
GROSS: "In The Night Kitchen."
Mr. SENDAK: Yeah, "In The Night Kitchen" are all books that came from my
original creative soul, self--whatever--that have no conscious connection to
events in my life. This, which takes the form almost of a Grimm fairy tale
actually--it's a little Hansel and Gretel story over and over and over again;
all those stories were for children--but this had such personal import. I've
been carrying this around since childhood and frankly wanting to rid myself of
it, the Holocaust, and memories of childhood and my parents suffering and no
childhood--there was no such thing as childhood, you know?
I think mostly the point of the marriage of our mother and father was that you
had to have a partnership and you're a young immigrant who spoke no English,
had just come over on the boat, and you got together as two partners. Whether
love was involved in it--maybe, if you were lucky, maybe not--but the point
was to pool your money and bring everybody over as fast as you can because
most of them knew what was going on and what was about to happen. So it began
with my mother's family, and she got her mother and she got two sisters and a
brother missing--the same amount of sisters and brothers--that she never got
over. My father got no one, because by the time they got to my father, it was
way too late to get anybody.
GROSS: I think you were in high school during World War II.
Mr. SENDAK: Yes.
GROSS: What was the first you actually heard of the death camps?
Mr. SENDAK: Early, because my father belonged to--it's called the Lubser
Branch. It was like a union. And this union kept track of what was going on
in Europe to the various villages and townships. They got their information,
I have no idea how. And they kept my father and his buddies informed as to
what was going on in their township, and they presented him after the war with
a book, which I treasure, of all the villages that were destroyed and the
names of the people in the villages, and his village was in the book and
photographs of the town square and the death of his whole family. And that
would have been before my bar mitzvah. I would have been between 10 and 12
when I knew what was going on and unhappily reminded endlessly of my good
fortune. And if I came up late for dinner, my mother howling from the window
and I'd hear about Leo and Benjamin and the other children who were my age who
could never come home for supper and were good to their mothers but now they
were dead, and I was lucky and...
Mr. SENDAK: Yeah.
GROSS: Rule out any pleasure in your life, yeah.
Mr. SENDAK: Uh-uh. You're in mourning all the time.
Mr. SENDAK: And the sad thing is that when you're a kid, your natural
impulses are not to be mourning and have fun. I hated them. I hated them
because they blighted my life.
GROSS: Well, hated who?
Mr. SENDAK: I hated them for dying...
Mr. SENDAK: ...because all they brought was violent scenes in the house
between my mother and father and her pulling hair out of her head, my father
diving on to the bed, and it's vivid memories.
DAVIES: Maurice Sendak, speaking with Terry Gross in 2003. We'll hear more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's 2003 interview with children's book author
and illustrator Maurice Sendak.
GROSS: What were the stories or the fairy tales that had the biggest effect
on you when you were young?
Mr. SENDAK: My father's stories. My father was a great storyteller.
GROSS: Did he tell you stories about his life, or...
Mr. SENDAK: Yes.
GROSS: ...fairy tales and classical stories?
Mr. SENDAK: No, not fairy tales. I mean, he told memory stories, which they
call me the dark man of children's--I guess I got it from him. But he would
tell us stories that would put us to sleep. My sister, brother and I shared
the same room, and he would sit cross-legged on the floor or bring a chair in
and he would tell us shtetl stories. These stories--You want an example of...
Mr. SENDAK: ...why I have been an insomniac all my life?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SENDAK: Here's a story, which was one of my favorites--I wanted to hear
it over and over again--how the children of his shtetl got together. And it
was a contest, just the boys, of who could run furthest into the cemetery in
the middle of the night. And how do you prove that you ran furthest? Because
you had a stick. And he puts the stick down and in the morning you found out
whose stick had gone furthest.
Well, he was doing this with his friend and they all ran a certain distance
and they couldn't see each other, and he heard this horrible screaming from
one of his friends, horrible screaming. And instead of going to help him,
they all ran home. And in the morning, they found him dead. And what he had
done--because they wore these long shifts. He put the stick in and it went
through his own shift. And it went in the ground and he thought the dead man
was pulling him in. Because his screams were all to do--`The dead man is
taking me in! The dead man is taking me in!' They thought he was just
hysterical. But he thought somebody had reached in and was pulling him into
Mr. SENDAK: That was one of his stories; my favorite, actually.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Oh, gosh. And then they can't reassure you and say, `But, honey, it's
just a story,' because it was true.
Mr. SENDAK: No, because it happened.
Mr. SENDAK: Because it happened. I'd much rather have known that it
happened. I was in the unfortunate position of causing a child's death when I
was a child.
GROSS: What happened?
Mr. SENDAK: And we lived in Brooklyn and there were these big, ugly houses,
and there were these narrow alleys between each apartment house where we
played ball, where the clotheslines hung. And I was playing with Lloydy--how
can I forget his name? His name was Lloyd, but we called him Lloydy. And we
were throwing a ball to each other. And I was at the far end and he was
facing the street. And I had this ball and I threw it very hard and it went
over his head, and he ran into the street and he chased it and the next, I saw
him flying, hit by a car. He was killed.
Mr. SENDAK: And I ran home and I stayed in the house, and I thought I would
never come out of the house because his mother would kill me and how could I
ever go on living. And my mother was very worried because I would not go out
of the house. And I don't know how it all came about, but they worked it out
that I was to come down into the street and sit on the stoop and Lloydy's
mother and his little sister would come and talk to me. And I wouldn't go
down unless she would forgive me somehow. And I remember sitting on the
stoop--I must have been six or seven, something like that--and I still see her
face and his little sister, and they came over to me and she put her hand on
my hand and she said that you--I don't remember what she said. She comforted
me, that this was an accident, that this was a terrible, terrible accident.
And it's bad enough to lose her little boy without me going down the drink.
So I knew that. I'd done that. I've never forgotten that I've done that. I
cost him his life. And yet, it was a normal accident. Kids playing in the
street, they're always hit by cars or whatever. But imagine doing that and
knowing that and being aware of those over there--that's a hell of a
GROSS: I know you feel very defined in some way by being Jewish.
Mr. SENDAK: Yes.
GROSS: Are you secular Jewish or are you observant?
Mr. SENDAK: Total secular.
GROSS: Total secular.
Mr. SENDAK: I love being Jewish.
Mr. SENDAK: I love the bits of it that--I love the candles. I especially
love the memory of the dead, the little yortsayt that you put out.
GROSS: The candles...
Mr. SENDAK: The candles that burn for 24 hours.
GROSS: ...the 24-hour candles.
Mr. SENDAK: Yeah. But other than that, nothing. I am not a religious
person, nor do I have any regrets. The war took care of that for me. You
know, I was brought up strictly kosher, but I--it made no sense to me. It
made no sense to me what was happening. So nothing of it means anything to
me. Nothing. Except these few little trivial things that are related to
GROSS: Do you ever wish that you had faith?
Mr. SENDAK: No.
GROSS: Why not?
Mr. SENDAK: Because I don't need it. I don't believe in that. Faith--do
you know who my gods are, who I believe in fervently?
Mr. SENDAK: Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson--she's probably the
top--Mozart, Shakespeare, Keats. These are wonderful gods who have gotten me
through the narrow straits of life.
GROSS: I'm going to end on a really trivial note.
Mr. SENDAK: OK. Is that all I deserve?
GROSS: No, but that is what I am going to end on, which is this. Your
paintings and illustrations and just, I mean, it's glorious colors.
Mr. SENDAK: Thank you.
GROSS: And you're wearing a gray sweater today. Do you like color on your
clothes, or like personal adornments of color? Is that, like, just totally
not relevant to you?
Mr. SENDAK: Totally. Well, I mean, everyone who knows me complains.
GROSS: Of what?
Mr. SENDAK: Of how drably I dress, how innocuously, stupidly and boringly.
I don't buy clothes. I don't buy clothes. I hate to buy clothes. Color on
me? Heavens forfend. No way. I mean, men wear pink shirts. I'm very
traditional. I'm very Brooklyn. I'm very middle class. I'm very embarrassed
about the way I look. And I think if I dress sloppy and gray like I am now
that I won't be noticed. Hey, I don't have a strong self-image. And when
kids say, `Oh, you look just like the wild things,' that doesn't help, just
doesn't make it for me. That's not trivial. That's heartbreaking.
GROSS: It's funny, too.
Mr. SENDAK: It's funny. Everything is funny, too.
GROSS: Maurice Sendak, thank you very, very much.
Mr. SENDAK: Oh, well, thank you. I so enjoyed being with you.
DAVIES: Maurice Sendak speaking with Terry Gross in 2003. A new staging of
his adaptation with Tony Kushner of the children's opera "Brundibar" premiers
Sunday in New York.
I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: Television writer Amy Sherman Palladino didn't like the way teenage
girls were portrayed on TV, so she created the WB show the "Gilmore Girls"
about a close bond between a single mother and her daughter. The popular show
is now in its sixth season.
Coming up we here from Palladino. She'll be leaving the show at the end of
this season. And David Edelstein reviews the latest installment in the
"Mission: Impossible" films starring Tom Cruise.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Amy Sherman Palladino discusses creating and producing
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
The WB series the "Gilmore Girls" is popular for its witty, fast paced
dialogue, its constant references to popular culture, and its portrayal of the
relationship between a single mother and her teenage daughter who are best
In FRESH AIR critic Ken Tucker's book about what he loves and hates on
television, he singles out the series as having one of the best mothers in TV
history. The mother, Lorelai Gilmore, got pregnant when she was 16 and
decided to have the baby. Although she's lucky to have a great relationship
with her daughter Rory, Lorelai's relationship with her own parents has always
been strained. They're wealthy and Lorelai thinks of them as snobbish and
selfish. But she's beholden to them for funding Rory's prep school education
and most of her education at Yale.
For years they've all met on and off for Friday night dinners in an effort to
repair their relationships. Here's a scene from this week's episode. Lorelai
is played by Lauren Graham; Rory is played by Alexis Bledel; and Richard and
Emily Gilmore are played by Edward Herrmann and Kelly Bishop.
(Soundbite of "Gilmore Girls")
Ms. LAUREN GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) Oh, how can you possibly say she looked
better with the dark hair?
Ms. ALEXIS BLEDEL: (As Rory) She did. The blonde just seemed like she was
trying to be her sister.
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) The dark hair makes it look like she's trying too
hard not to look like her sister. Plus, she does not have the nose for dark
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) What does that mean?
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) Dark hair is like a giant light up arrow pointing
to what is wrong with you. Blonde hair, it all sort of blends in in a haze of
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) Nuts. You're nuts.
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) You're double nuts.
Ms. KELLY BISHOP: (As Emily) Alright. That's it. No more spaghetti and
meatballs. Lucepa, come and get these plates.
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) Mom?
Ms. BISHOP: (As Emily) Every time we have spaghetti and meatballs, you
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) No. No, we're not fighting. We're just bonding.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) Grandma, I'm starving.
Ms. BISHOP: (As Emily) Take these away. Mr. Gilmore's also.
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) Mom, come on.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) We won't fight anymore.
Ms. BISHOP: (As Emily) No. Spaghetti and meatballs is just too much
Mr. EDWARD HERRMANN: (As Richard) I'm sorry about that. I left work early
today, and apparently that caused everyone's IQs to drop 60 points. Oh, my
food is gone.
Ms. BISHOP: (As Emily) The girls were fighting.
Mr. HERRMANN: (As Richard) I told you not to serve spaghetti and meatballs.
They always fight when we have spaghetti and meatballs.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) That's not true. We fight just as much when we have
(End of Soundbite)
DAVIES: The "Gilmore Girls" last episode of the season will air Tuesday. And
it will be the last episode produced by its creator Amy Sherman Palladino, an
executive producer who's also written many episodes. Sherman Palladino and
her husband, writer-director Dan Palladino, are leaving the show after six
Terry spoke to Amy Sherman Palladino last year. She started by asking her
about creating the characters of Lorelai and Rory.
Ms. AMY SHERMAN PALLADINO: At the time that I put "Gilmore" on the air,
teenage girls on television, in my view, were reflected in sort of two
categories. They were the pretty cheerleaders who were popular but secretly
anorexic, or they were the angry, dark-haired, Doc Marten-wearing
disenfranchised girls who hate the cheerleaders but secretly want to be the
cheerleaders. There didn't really seem to be any room in the middle. There
didn't seem to be any room for the girl who, you know, wasn't having sex at 12
1/2 and wasn't dressing like a whore and wasn't, you know, dying to be
popular, or there wasn't a girl who was sort of comfortable in her skin and
sort of had her life and didn't really belong to any group and was kind of OK
with that, and that books and reading and education and her future was the
most important thing, way more important than boys. It just felt like,
`Where's the other girls?'
So it was also a real chance for me to put that other kind of teenager on
television. So you almost work backwards from that. What kind of mother has
this kind of kid? And it obviously had to be a very smart woman, a very
bright woman. You wanted to get them close in age because that's how you sort
of bridge--you really bridge that gap. And, you know, she--Lorelai never felt
like her parents understood her. So she wanted to really make sure that this
kid felt understood, respected, nurtured and free to be whoever it was she was
going to be.
TERRY GROSS, host:
The "Gilmore Girls" is famous for its fast and witty dialogue. The dialogue
is so fast that from what I've read, there are many, many more pages per
episode of the "Gilmore Girls"...
Ms. PALLADINO: Yes.
GROSS: ...than for the average hourlong TV show. So why did you start
writing that way, you know, with an emphasis on fast, witty dialogue?
Ms. PALLADINO: When I'm with my friends, we almost talk over each other.
We, you know, and especially when there's a connection with somebody and you
know them, you can anticipate where they're going. And for somebody like, you
know, a mother-daughter, like Lorelai and Rory, they almost have the same
brain. They're going to finish each other's sentences. The speed of their
speech almost indicates a little bit--it tells me a little bit about who they
are and how close they are. I also personally believe that comedy works
better fast. I think that all of the comedy that I admire, you know--the
Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn--you know, there wasn't a space of air
between those people talking. And you just, you loved them and it felt
natural and it felt real and it moved and you were energized in an hour and a
half, you were, boom, you had some entertainment. You went out for a cup of
coffee. It was perfect. You know, the old Woody Allen movies, you know, was
the same way. You know, people just talked over each other. Sometimes the
camera couldn't even get to them before lines were off camera. I just
personally feel like comedy dies slow.
GROSS: Another thing that the "Gilmore Girls" is famous for is lots of
references to pop culture: books, movies, TV shows, recordings. Every
minute, there seems to be a reference to something. So let me just play an
example of that. This is from the first season, and Lorelai and her daughter
Rory are in the car together talking. Here we go.
(Soundbite of "Gilmore Girls")
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) Why didn't you mention the dance?
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) 'Cause I'm not going.
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) Oh. But why aren't you going?
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) Because I hate dances.
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) Good answer, except you've never actually been to a
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) So?
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) So you really have nothing to compare it to.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) No, but I can imagine it.
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) That's true. However, not really. Since you've
never actually been to one, you're basing all your dance opinions on one
midnight viewing of "Sixteen Candles."
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) So?
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) So you should have a decent reason for hating
something before you really decide you hate it.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) Trust me, I'll hate it. It'll be stuffy and boring,
and the music will suck. And since none of the kids at school like me, I'll
be standing in the back, listening to 98 Degrees, watching Tristan and Paris
argue over which one of them gets to make me miserable first.
Ms. GRAHAM: (As Lorelai) OK. Or it'll be all sparkly and exciting and
you'll be standing on the dance floor listening to Tom Waits with some
great-looking guy staring at you so hard that you don't even realize that
Paris and Tristan have just been eaten by bears.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) What guy?
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: OK, so we've got at least two different songs in there plus a movie.
And those are the more overt references. I mean, like in one episode that I
think you wrote, Lorelai is--I think she's at her parents', like, recommitment
ceremony, and there's a photographer coming and someone says, `Oh, the
photographer's coming,' and she says, `I am a camera,' a Christopher Isherwood
Ms. PALLADINO: Right.
GROSS: And then in a recent episode, Lorelai's boyfriend is changing his mind
about something and she says, `My mother, my daughter, my mother, my
daughter,' a reference to "Chinatown." So, you know, the references are
sometimes overt and sometimes, you know, they just go by and you don't even
know if it's a reference or not. So how did you start just kind of sticking
in so many--how did it become a thing?
Ms. PALLADINO: Well, you know, it became a thing accidentally. It wasn't,
you know, I didn't set out to say, `And we're going to be the pop culture
reference show. You know, here's my card.' It just sort of happened. It came
out of, you know, these are modern girls. You know, references are all around
them. They read a lot. They listen to a lot of music. They watch a lot of
movies. They watch a lot of television. And it's just, you know, it's going
to seep into their vocabulary. It's going to be part of their brain. I
personally talk like that a little bit.
And then it just got fun, you know. The most fun was when--'cause the studio
and the network have been so great about it, but they did once ask me to take
out an Oscar Levant reference 'cause they said, `No one here knows who Oscar
Levant is, and no one watching The WB's going to know who Oscar Levant is.'
And I said, `Maybe three kids are going to go back and find out who Oscar
Levant is.' They're going, `There's not three kids who are going to know who
Oscar Levant is.' And I was like, `I won't take it out!' And I fought so hard
for my Oscar Levant reference, and I won, and I felt so empowered that I just
figured, oh, now all bets are off. Now it's open season. And we just really
enjoy it. We don't even think about it. And sometimes we wind up taking
references out, 'cause by the time the scripts are done, it's like we--you
know, it's, `Holy moly, that's a lot of references.' So we wind up stripping
some of them out.
GROSS: One of Rory's friends, Lane, is a character who really loves music and
pop culture, and she kind of defines herself and other people by their taste
in pop culture. Can you talk a little bit about creating her?
Ms. PALLADINO: Well, she defines people definitely by their taste in music.
Lane is based on my best friend, Helen Pai, much to Helen's chagrin. Helen is
this adorable Korean girl who was raised in a very traditional Korean, very
strict Seventh-day Adventist home. And she was purely an American kid, rock
'n' roll, Duran Duran fetish, just really like as rock 'n' roll as they come,
but she was raised in a household that didn't allow rock music or dancing or
jewelry or, you know, very, very strict. And she had to sort of carve out a
secret life for herself. All of her posters were up in her closet 'cause she
couldn't put them out, 'cause she couldn't have her parents see them. And she
loves her parents very much and respects her parents very much, so this hiding
this music obsession was not about rebelling; it was about trying to be
respectful but still trying to have a little bit of her own self.
And I always loved that concept because Helen has one of the best
relationships with her parents of anyone I've ever met. She sees them all the
time. She just adores them. And I wanted to do something similar when I
created Lane. And then eventually, of course, she grew up so it all came out,
and now she's in a band. And, you know, Lane is one of those people that
really--music is her life and good music, quality music. That's basically
what Lane is, and Lane became our real music focus of the show to really get
sort of our music opinions out there in the world.
GROSS: My guest is Amy Sherman Palladino, creator of The WB series "Gilmore
Girls." Here's a scene from season two when the character Lane finds her
(Soundbite of "Gilmore Girls")
Ms. KEIKO AGENA: (As Lane Kim) I'm gonna be a drummer!
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) You're kidding.
Ms. AGENA: (As Lane) I went into that new music store today. I don't know
why I went in. I just had to. Something told me, `Lane Kim, there's
something in there that you need to see,' and there it was. And it was red
and shiny and--so excited I can't breathe.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) That's amazing.
Ms. AGENA: (As Lane) I know.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) So how you going to do this?
Ms. AGENA: (As Lane) I don't know.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) How are you going to buy a drum set?
Ms. AGENA: (As Lane) I don't know.
Ms. BLEDEL: (As Rory) And even if you do buy a drum set, where are you going
to play it?
Ms. AGENA: (As Lane) I don't know. I don't know any of this. But I will
figure something out because I am Keith Moon, I am Neil Peart, I am Rick Allen
with and without the arm, because I am rock 'n' roll, baby! I'll call you
DAVIES: That's a clip from the "Gilmore Girls." Terry spoke with the show's
creator Amy Sherman Palladino.
We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview last year with Amy Sherman
Palladino, creator of the WB series the "Gilmore Girls."
GROSS: We've been talking about the relationship of the mother and the
daughter on your series. What about your relationship with your mother? What
has that relationship been like?
Ms. PALLADINO: Oh, dear.
GROSS: Would you compare it to any of the characters on the show?
Ms. PALLADINO: My upbringing was very, very different. My father's a comic.
My mother was a musical comedy Broadway dancer who came out here and then had
a children's theater group and trained me a lot in that. And she's now got
her one-woman show, and she's back out there struttin' her stuff. So I grew
up in a much different sort of--a little bit more hippie sort of comic,
sitting around, you know. I didn't go to college, so education was not at all
stressed in my household at all. It was more about, you know, dance class and
get to auditions and drum a lot and things like that.
So I think that everybody has universal problems with their parents, and there
are times where I have found myself in a Lorelai-Emily situation with my
mother simply on the fact that we're having a conversation and we seem to be
talking at each other, not to each other. But it's just a completely
different situation. My parents are, you know, they're still in the same
house that I grew up in, and I just saw them last week, so we're cool.
GROSS: What are their names? Might we recognize their names?
Ms. PALLADINO: My dad's name is Don Sherman. My mom's name is Maven Hughes.
My dad is currently king of the cruise line. He's Mr. Saturday Night. He
does stand-up on the cruises, and he's gone, like, 110, you know, months out
of the year. It's astonishing to me. It's great. You know, they travel all
over the world. And he's a very, you know, my humor comes from my dad. It
comes flat-out from hanging around a house where comics hung out and made each
other laugh for a long time. You know, I grew up on this. So it was sort of,
you know, I have zero other skills. I have no other way to support myself.
So if this didn't pan out, I was in a lot of trouble.
GROSS: So did your father actually tell you how to tell a joke? Did he
actually, like, criticize you when you would tell a story or a joke and give
you suggestions about how to make it sharper?
Ms. PALLADINO: No. No, it's something you absorb. You listen, you, you
know, I grew up on, you know, "The 2,000-Year Old Man" albums, you know, Mel
Brooks and Carl Reiner, because my dad had them; you know, Lenny Bruce,
because my dad had him and, you know, Bob Newhart albums 'cause my dad had
them. And comics hanging out at my dad's house, and that sort of that Jewish
kind of New York rhythm, even though I was, you know, born and raised in the
San Fernando Valley. You know, it's something you sort of absorb and you
can't get rid of.
My dad, however, did teach me that in television, it's all about the pitch.
If you go into a room of executives and you make them think you know what the
hell you're talking about, even if you don't, you're done, you're golden. And
he's absolutely right. You talk a lot, you make them laugh, you leave; you
know, maybe they have no idea what you said, but you sure seemed sure of
yourself. It's worked very well for me.
GROSS: Is that how you got the "Gilmore Girls"?
Ms. PALLADINO: The "Gilmore Girls" was a complete freaky fluke, 'cause I
went into a pitch and I had, like, four ideas very well thought out, you know.
You know, and I'm pitching them and they're bored and their eyes are glazing
over and they're looking at their watches and they're thinking about their
lunch meetings. And then I said, `And I have this last idea. It's kind of
like, you know, it's like a mother and daughter, but they're more like friends
than mother and daughter.' And they're like, `That's what we want!' And that
was the pitch. That sold it. And I walked out of the room and I went, `I
have no idea what that is. I don't know what I sold. What does that mean?
Where do they live? What do they do?' And people were like, `I don't know,
you gotta come up with that.'
So I turned to my husband, who's a writer, and cried, and he said, `Well,
we're going away on vacation.' And we went away and we stayed in this
beautiful inn in Connecticut, the Mayflower, and it was like, `Oh, she should
work at an inn and she should live in Connecticut.' It just all sort of
happened on the trip. So it was a very unusual situation.
GROSS: So you were married to your husband, who was also an executive
producer on the "Gilmore Girls" before the "Gilmore Girls" got started?
Ms. PALLADINO: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I bagged him early, you know, 'cause
gotta bag 'em while your ass is still holding up, you know, 'cause as soon as
you get that show and you become a little chair-shaped down there, it's not as
hard to bag 'em. But, yeah, he was--he's just a genius writer. He was
actually on "Family Guy" at the time that I got "Gilmore Girls" on the air.
And I was so desperate to have some help because my writing style, it was just
very specific, and it was very--and I just saw these stories so clearly, and I
always wanted people to break girlfriend stories, not mother-daughter stories,
and that was very hard for the writers I had at the time to understand or
comprehend. There was a lot of morals being tacked on to the ends. It's
like, `No, no, no, no one needs to learn a lesson here. Let's just entertain
So I would call my husband over at "Family Guy" and I would say, `You know,
I'--you know? And I would, like, break stories with him over the phone while
he's working for another company and another show. And God love Fox; they
were very nice. They let him write a couple of scripts for me and, you know,
it was very hard that first year without having that help. And the second
year, I begged him to leave, and he did. He came over and he's been with me
ever since, and it's just been the greatest working experience of my life.
GROSS: Well, you're lucky, 'cause that's not always easy to work with a
Ms. PALLADINO: Well, you know, hourlong is very different from half-hour.
Half-hour, I think we would have killed each other with sledgehammers a long
time ago, because, you know, half-hour writers sit in this room for hours and
hours and hours, and the room smells bad and they eat in that room and it's
horrible. And in hourlong, it's a lot of solitary work. You break your
stories, but then you're writing or you're in an editing room or you're on
stage or you're in a sound mix. So it's a lot of--there's so much to do in
running the show that we can actually go, you know, days and we don't see each
other till dinner, you know, and our offices are right next to each other. So
it's perfect. It's the perfect working environment. It's absolutely
GROSS: Why is an hour show a more solitary experience for writers and
producers than a half-hour show?
Ms. PALLADINO: Well, because unfortunately--and I don't agree with this
trend and I think it's not a good trend--the trend on half-hours has become
get as many possible people together in a room, so there's like these enormous
staffs of people, and just have them constantly pitching jokes. And a lot of
the scripts one writer, you know, it used to be you'd break a story, one
writer would go off and write a script, and then that script, when it was
done, would come back to the room and everybody would sort of pitch jokes on
it to punch it up. And nowadays a lot of shows don't even have a writer go
off and write a script; they just sit in the room and they write the script
together in what's very charmingly called a gangbang. And it's just--it's a
lot of voices.
And the thing about comedy is, just 'cause you got 20 people in a room, it may
mean you have 20 extra jokes, but it doesn't mean that script's going to be
any better. If anything, it waters down the process. The more voices there
are to pick from, the less focused, I believe, stories and scripts are. And
if you look at some of the classic, classic shows--"Taxi," "Cheers," "Mary
Tyler Moore," "All in the Family"--they were smaller staffs, they were more
focused voices, and people wrote.
And so, you know, to me, when I got to hourlong, I got to write again. You
know, I got to really sit in the--when I was first on "Roseanne," it was the
old-fashioned traditional method of doing sitcom, and by the time I left
"Roseanne"--I was there for four years--they were gangbanging every script.
So it just--it's, to me,you know, so you're breaking a story, but then at the
end of the day, you get to go off by yourself, it's you and your computer and,
in my case, a lot of old "Buffy" DVDs, 'cause too much silence makes me crazy.
And I just write, and I just write a script by myself, and it's up to me.
It's scarier, but it's a lot more satisfying.
GROSS: Amy Sherman Palladino, thank you so much for talking with us.
Ms. PALLADINO: You're very welcome.
DAVIES: TV writer and producer Amy Sherman Palladino speaking with Terry
Gross last year. The season finale of The WB series she created the "Gilmore
Girls" airs Tuesday.
Coming up, David Edelstein on "Mission: Impossible III."
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Film critic David Edelstein gives opinion on "Mission:
DAVE DAVIES, host:
The TV series "Mission: Impossible" about shadowy government agents who use
high tech surveillance and disguises ran from 1966 until 1973. In 1996, Tom
Cruise relaunched "Mission: Impossible" as an action movie vehicle. The
third installment features Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman and is directed
by the well-known TV producer J.J. Abrams. Film critic David Edelstein has a
review of "Mission: Impossible III."
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: When Tom Cruise appropriated the old "Mission:
Impossible" TV series in the mid '90s, he worked the shows high concept. I'm
not claiming a work of art has been defaced. The series was one of TV's most
potent barbituates. Even the actors looked like they couldn't keep their eyes
open. But there was something satisfying about their poker faced teamwork.
Week after week, the government's Impossible Mission Force devised the perfect
con to make some crime lord or dictator blow his own operation sky high. Then
they piled into a car and left without, in some cases, the villain even
realizing what had happened.
Cruise, of course, needed to engineer "Mission: Impossible" around his own
Titanic movie star self. So there goes the ensemble vibe. And there goes the
con because at some point he has to shoot and kung fu the bad guys. Really,
if it weren't for the self destruct in five seconds gimmick and the irrestible
Lalo Schifrin theme, Cruise might as well have revived a "Mannix."
The directors of the first and second "Mission: Impossible" movies were Brian
De Palma and John Woo. And neither auteur was reportedly happy about the
star's control freaky ways. Cruise fits better with J.J. Abrams, the creator
of the TV shows "Alias" and "Lost." This is Abrams movie directorial debut,
and he doesn't have an established style to get in the way. What he does have
is smarts. He knows how to display and to fettish-ize his stars without
tipping into Sylvester Stallone like camp. He knows TV shorthand, how to cram
lots of plot into small units of time.
"Mission: Impossible III" might be a hack job's star vehicle, but it's smooth
and it's fast and it hits its marks.
The movie opens with a scene that is brutal and disorienting. Cruise's agent,
Ethan Hunt, is being tortured by arms merchant Owen Davian played by Philip
Seymour Hoffman. It turns out this is near the end of the storyline. Most of
the film is a flashback. And the scene speaks to my biggest question going
in, how the ultra serious Hoffman, fresh from his Oscar winning turn as Truman
Capote, would do as a super villain. Here's a scene from the middle of the
film in a cargo plane where Cruise's Ethan is doing the interrogating, and
Hoffman's Davian is giving non-responsive responses.
(Soundbite from movie "Mission: Impossible III")
Mr. TOM CRUISE: (As Ethan Hunt) And you're going to tell us everything,
every buyer you've worked with, every organization.
Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Owen Davian) What the hell is your name?
Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan) Names, contacts, inventory lists.
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen) You have a wife, a girlfriend?
Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan) It's up to you how this goes.
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen) Because you know what I'm going to do next? I'm
going to find her, whoever she is. I'm going to find her and I'm going to
Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan) You were apprehended carrying details of a location
something code named the "Rabbit's Foot."
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen) I'm going to make her bleed and cry and call out your
Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan) What is a Rabbit's Foot?
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen) I'm going to kill you right in front of her.
Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan) I'm going to ask you one more time.
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen) What's your name?
Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan) What is a Rabbit's Foot?
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen) Who are you?
Mr. CRUISE: (As Ethan) And who's the buyer?
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Owen) You don't have any idea what the hell is going on, do
(End of Soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: That's probably the scariest exchange in all of "Mission:
Impossible III," because you've seen in the opening where the movie is headed
and you know this guy is an icy sadist. Unfortunately, that's all he is.
Hoffman's lone failing as an actor is that he can settle into one key, and he
thinks it's a mark of integrity never to leave it. So he plays the villain as
lumbering, implacable, speaking purposely in a monotone. He's more fun to
watch, more limber, more alive, in one of those trade mark "Mission:
Impossible" rubber mask scenes in which the hero dons the mask of the bad guy,
and suddenly its Hoffman playing Cruise impersonating Hoffman.
I felt a twinge of disappointment when Ethan peeled off the Davian mask and
and there was Cruise again, still tiresomely proving himself. At bottom,
"Mission: Impossible III" is a multi-angled vanity mirror, built to magnify
its leading men's acting chops, energy, athleticism, willingness to stand up
to power, and infinite capacity for loyalty and love. Watch him emote over
the woman in his life, winningly played by Michelle Monaghan. The screenplay
goes through a senseless twist that's best not to dwell on for fear of short
circuiting one's synopses. But at least the big deal stunts keep coming. You
get Cruise scaling a Vatican wall and doing a swan dive off of blue lit
Shanghai skyscraper. You get the familiar slowed down shot of him leaping
over a crevice with all four limbs pumping furiously. He is a silly man, but
you have to respect his hustle.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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