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'The Beaver': Redemption For Mel Gibson?

David Edelstein's friends all say they just won't see a Mel Gibson movie. But Edelstein says the actor's new film The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster, might be worth a look -- if only for a certain cameo appearance.

04:55

Other segments from the episode on May 6, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 6, 2011: Review of the Beastie Boys' album "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two"; Interview with the Beastie Boys; Review of the film "The Beaver"; Obituary for Arthur…

Transcript

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The Beastie Boys: Hip-Hop With A Dash Of 'Hot Sauce'

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

It's been almost 25 years since The Beastie Boys released their album "License
to Ill" for Def Jam Records, the company started by Rick Rubin and Russell
Simmons. "License to Ill" became the first hip-hop album to reach number one on
the pop chart. In the decades since, the group has earned critical acclaim for
their albums, and in 2007, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame.

We'll listen back to an interview Terry did with the Beastie Boys - Adam Yauch,
Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond - in a moment. But first, rock critic Ken
Tucker reviews "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two," the first Beastie Boys album
since their 2007 all instrumental collection, "The Mix-Up."

"Hot Sauce's" release was postponed a number of times as the trio dealt with
the health problems of Adam Yauch, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Yauch is
now healthy enough to have completed this new album. Ken says it's fresh and
vital by sounding old-fashioned and defiant.

(Soundbite of music)

THE BEASTIE BOYS (Music Group): (Singing) (Unintelligible).

KEN TUCKER: The Beastie Boys are all about noise. Their beats are big and
booming. Their production style is intentionally fuzzy, frequently distorted.
Their lyrics are the dense, articulate yammerings of wiseguys who will not get
out of your face.

As has been true since they began as a joyfully crude punk band more than 30
years ago, The Beastie Boys make virtues out of what, from most other people,
would be annoyances.

Listen to the groove they develop on "Funky Donkey," which contains one of my
favorite couplets on the album: I don't wear crocs, and I don't wear sandals.
The pump don't work because the vandals took the handles.

(Soundbite of song, "Funky Donkey")

THE BEASTIE BOYS: (Singing) (Unintelligible). I don't wear crocs, and I don't
wear sandals. The pump don't work because the vandals took the handles.
(Unintelligible).

TUCKER: The theme of "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two," in case you haven't
guessed by now, is aging: Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz, Mike "Mike D" Diamond and
Adam "MCA" Yauch embody the phrase old-school in a number of ways, and not just
because Ad-Rock refers to himself as a grandpa who's been rapping since '83.

The album has almost no use for hip-hop as it has evolved over the past decade
other than to ask a friend, such as the rapper Nas, to put in a cameo on one
track.

Indeed, the Beasties are pre-hardcore hip-hop; they're rappers. What's the
distinction? Their interest, as was true of virtually all first-wave rap from
the late '70s and early '80s, is in verbal content set to rhythms filched from
R&B, soul, disco and pop records.

Their artistic alliances remain with rap performers such as Spoonie G and
Grandmaster Flash, as well as with pop-punk-disco acts of an earlier era, such
as the "Heart of Glass"-era Debbie Harry.

Here's a good example: the bass- and drum-heavy "Lee Majors Come Again." It's a
return to their punk-rock roots, with a driving tempo and a chorus that insists
over and over that you, quote, "take a look around you."

(Soundbite of song, "Lee Majors Come Again")

THE BEASTIE BOYS: (Singing) (Unintelligible) take a look around you
(Unintelligible).

TUCKER: One of the best songs on a generally superb album is "Nonstop Disco
Powerpack," whose opening I find touching even as the Boys steamroll over the
emotion.

It begins with each member asking the other: How you feeling? In context, it's
an intro, a way to rev up. On another level, however, I can't help but think
it's an implicit checking-in with MCA about the state of his health after a
battle with cancer. Either way, the vibrant life of the music, its disco
powerpack, to use a typically cartoonish Beastie phrase, is exhilarating.

(Soundbite of song, "Nonstop Disco Powerpack")

THE BEASTIE BOYS: (Singing) Well how you feeling (Unintelligible)? Well, I'm
feeling well. (Unintelligible). Well, how you feeling, Mike D? Well, I feel all
good. (Unintelligible). Well, how you feeling, MCA? Well, I feel right
(Unintelligible). Well, if you're feeling good and you're feeling right,
somebody step off and grab the mics. (Unintelligible) microphone again. I
(Unintelligible) just don't care. (Unintelligible) strainer. (Unintelligible).

TUCKER: On another track here, "Long Burn the Fire," The Beastie Boys speak of
an ideal rapper, quote, "a soothsayer, not a player."

The music on this album is deceptively off-hand. It's a sustained piece of art-
collage with a unifying sensibility, anarchy expressed through technical
discipline. As one fan wrote on a Beastie Boys comments board I read online,
this stuff is vintage but new. Long burn their fire, indeed.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly.
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The Fresh Air Interview: The Beastie Boys

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Terry spoke to the Beastie Boys in 2006, when they released a concert filmed
called "Awesome; I... Shot That!" Adam Yauch directed the film using footage
from cameras that were distributed to fans in the audience of one of their New
York concerts.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Now, the movie was shot in Madison Square Garden. The first time you performed
there, you opened for Madonna. Now, I understand on that tour, her fans booed
you just about in every performance.

Mr. MIKE DIAMOND (Musician): Oh, they did a lot more than that.

GROSS: What did they do?

Mr. DIAMOND: Some audience members were crying, actually, yeah. It was touching
but actually...

Mr. ADAM YAUCH (Musician): We also got - I remember getting yelled at by a
parent because we were cursing, and they were like: How could you do that when
I'm here with my child, young child?

GROSS: What was it like early in your - relatively early in your career to be
booed so frequently on, you know, on somebody else's tour?

Mr. DIAMOND: We got up for it, really.

Mr. YAUCH: You get kind of like into pro-wrestler mode, where you kind of get
into for a while. It's kind of funny.

Unidentified Band Member: Come on, come on, come on.

Mr. DIAMOND: That's where the whole king of paramount came in.

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, we got into - actually, we got into a mode for a while where
we'd come out, and they wouldn't boo, and then we'd try and do things to get
them to boo.

Like they would be applauding, and we'd just say: You know, it's really hard to
get up here, and you should...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. YAUCH: We need to be appreciated by you people.

GROSS: What's it like now to sing things that you wrote, you know, 20, 25 years
ago, when you were much younger? You've changed a lot over the years. Do the
lyrics still fit you?

Unidentified Band Member: It's a little awkward at times.

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, some of them are dumb. But yeah, it's just fun. You know, it's
- sometimes it's fun to just play the old songs anyway, no matter how stupid
they are.

GROSS: Have you revised any lyrics that you're no longer comfortable with,
lyrics from...

Mr. ADAM HOROWITZ (Musician): Yeah, we - I mean, I know I do, personally. Some
of the stuff that I say on "License to Ill," I say some real dumb stuff. And
so, you know, I like the song, and the song's important to, you know, people
that like us or listen to us. And so it's important. And so if that's what
people want, you know, we should - you know, why not play the songs? But
definitely, there's some things I don't like to say.

GROSS: Can you give us an example of something you've changed?

Mr. HOROWITZ: I can't think of anything off the top of my head but just some
dumb things about, like - I don't even know.

Mr. YAUCH: It's usually the more sexist ones.

Mr. HOROWITZ: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. DIAMOND: I do have one that I'm particularly proud of, and I'm not sure
even who it came from, but in "No Sleep Til Brooklyn," I say: And Yauch's in
the back at the Mahjong board. And I'm not even sure what is the original...

Unidentified Band Member: I don't even know if we could say it on the air.

Mr. DIAMOND: Yeah, I don't even know what, yeah, if we could. But I just
particularly like that because it kind of really reflects where we're at now.

GROSS: Your first hit was "Fight For Your Right," and Adam Yauch, in the liner
notes of a best-of collection, you write that the song began as a goof and that
it started as a satire of "I Wanna Rock" kind of songs. So what did you have in
mind when you wrote that?

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, basically that. I think you saw - it was just kind of like,
just one of those, like, "Smokin' In the Boys Room" type things, just thought
it was kind of funny.

But I don't think we realized that it was going to be the sort of the main
focus of the album, that it was going to - like I think the way we were looking
at it, we were just kind of making this dumb song that would sit somewhere on
the album. But I think that CBS and Rick saw it as being able to be something
much larger than what we imagined, and they kind of made it the main focus of
the album.

GROSS: Let me play the record, and then we'll talk about it a little bit more.

Mr. DIAMOND: Oh, okay.

Unidentified Band Member: Fantastic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And this is The Beastie Boys, "Fight For Your Right."

(Soundbite of song, "Fight For Your Right")

THE BEASTIE BOYS (Music Group): (Singing) Kick It. You wake up late for school,
man you don't wanna go. You ask your mom, please, but she still says no. You
miss two classes and no homework, but your teacher preaches class like you're
some kind of jerk.

You gotta fight for your right to party.

Your pops caught you smokin', and he said no way...

GROSS: So, okay, so this is like your first big single, really big hit, and
you're saying it started out kind of as a goof. So did your fans misunderstand
who you were?

Mr. YAUCH: I think maybe we just ended up with a different bunch of fans than
we expected. I mean, like, I think if we could have picked at the time - like
if I could have known, like, how much that record would have, that song
would've informed everyone about the album, to use Mike's word informed, I
probably - my choice would have been more to pick, like, a different song to be
the main single, like "Hold It Now" or "Slow and Low" or "Posse In Effect" or
one of the other cuts.

But anyway, that song was the one that informed everyone, and so the next thing
you knew, we would go out and play shows and look, and the whole place would
just be full of, like, frat boys, like drunken frat boys. And so it was - and
so there we were.

GROSS: Yeah, we were talking earlier about going from punk to hip-hop. So I
don't imagine you had a big, you know, frat-boy audience for your band when you
were playing punk.

Mr. DIAMOND: We never did when we were punk and then also when we were playing
hip-hop. Like, what we came out of by hooking up with Russell, we actually, we
had - we got like a really good education in terms of going on tour and opening
up for Run-DMC. Like, we were on a tour opening for Run-DMC, Whodini, LL Cool
J. So that was like a completely hip-hop audience.

So to then all of a sudden go into this world of, like, kind of like, I don't
know, I guess a more pop audience and, like, kind of college kids wanting to
party and drink beer and go see a Beastie Boys show, that was completely
foreign to us and beyond anything we ever imagined.

GROSS: Adam, in those liner notes, you write: By drinking so much beer and
acting like sexist, macho jerks, we actually became just that. So did you feel
like...

Mr. YAUCH: I never said that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did you feel like you were becoming the image that you created?

Mr. YAUCH: I think so, yeah. I think in a way, you know, it's almost like we
started out kind of like goofing on it but then just sort of became it, in a
way.

Mr. HOROWITZ: It's the become-what-you-hate syndrome. It happens.

Mr. DIAMOND: So you set out with an agenda of parody, and then a certain amount
of time goes by, and you kind of cross that line.

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, like you parody something enough, you know...

Mr. HOROWITZ: It's kind of like when you go to England, and you do a British
accent the whole time, and then you come home and you have a fake British
accent.

GROSS: So was there a point where...?

Mr. HOROWITZ: Do you know what I mean?

GROSS: Yeah, was there a point where - no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Was there a point where you said to yourselves: We crossed the line,
we've become our own parody?

Mr. DIAMOND: Definitely, but I don't - I think the point - that point almost
came, like we had to kind of get off of tour and almost have a second away from
that to sort of assess and realize, look at where everything was at.

GROSS: And so what changed when you had that realization?

Mr. DIAMOND: We switched to weed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Band Member: And then we made "Paul's Boutique."

GROSS: Which was very different from the - which I think some fans loved and
some fans felt disappointed because it was a departure. What was different
about it?

Mr. YAUCH: Well, weed is a good word. It weeded out some fans, too, and that
was okay.

Mr. HOROWITZ: And found some fans that were weeded out.

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, and the fans that got - that moved on, moved on to U2 or
Scritti Politti or I don't know.

Mr. DIAMOND: I'm having - like with "Paul's Boutique," you had two things going
on. You had, like, people who probably expected, like, "Fight For Your Right to
Party Part Two," and they were very disappointed and were like this isn't what
I want at all.

Mr. YAUCH: And they got weeded out.

Mr. DIAMOND: And they got weeded out. And then there were the fans that were,
like: Wow, this is whatever. This is something I'm really into. And they got
weeded out, too.

Mr. YAUCH: They got weeded out.

Mr. DIAMOND: They got in a different meaning of the word.

DAVIES: The Beastie Boys, speaking with Terry Gross. More after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, "Groove Holmes")

DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's 2006 interview with The Beastie Boys:
Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz and Adam Yauch. Their new album is called "Hot
Sauce Committee Part Two."

GROSS: You each come from families with pretty interesting artistic
backgrounds. So if we could go around, and if you could each talk a little bit
about how, if at all, your parents' kind of artistic inclinations affected you
when you were coming of age and developing your own artistic sensibility.

Adam Horovitz, let's start with you. I mean, your father's a pretty well-known
playwright, Israel Horovitz.

Mr. HOROVITZ: Yeah. I grew up - my dad, every time I was with my dad, he was
always - not always, but he wrote. He's a writer. So he was always in his
office writing. He made a plan and, like, a point of: This is my work. I'm
going to do this every day for these amount of hours. So I think that's where I
got, like, a work sort of ethic.

That's why we - like, we work - so many hours we spend in the studio, and it
just seemed kind of natural because of just watching my dad, how many hours he
just spends in his office just writing and writing, even when he doesn't have
any particular story he's writing. You know what I mean? He'll just go in, and
just these are the hours he's got to do it.

So, you know, it was definitely influential to me just in terms of, like, a
work ethic, just create whatever. You know, whatever you do, create something.
And that was kind of the impression I got.

And definitely from - my mom was a very, very artistic person. And I got
creativity from my mother.

GROSS: Michael Diamond, your parents were in interior design. Do I have that
right?

Mr. DIAMOND: Well, my dad was actually involved with the art world. He was an
art dealer.

GROSS: Okay.

Mr. DIAMOND: So, yeah, I don't know. For me, I'd just say my influences - I had
two things. One was I was - the biggest thing for me, I was the youngest of
three brothers. So growing up here in Manhattan and New York City at the time
we grew up, like in the '70s and the '80s, it was such an influential time of
so much music happening, you know, kind of like everywhere. And, you know, this
is a time before the Internet.

You know, you really had to have local access to things, and it was just like
you had hip-hop, you had reggae, you had punk rock. I don't know how I - what
my entrance to all this kind of music would have been if I wasn't the youngest
of three kids because it was kind of like whatever my oldest brothers were
going through, I wanted to do the same thing at the same time.

So even though I was like 12 or 13, whatever they were doing when they were 16,
I had to be involved with it.

GROSS: So what were they listening to that you loved?

Mr. DIAMOND: I mean, whatever, that transition. I mean, it went from, like,
stealing my brother's, you know, Steve Miller "Fly Like an Eagle" album to
then, like, discovering Elvis Costello through him to then, you know, getting
turned on to hip-hop from my friends or stealing, you know, one of my brothers'
Bob Marley records.

Yeah, I don't know. And then from my parents, I'm trying to think. I think,
like, the biggest influence I got from my parents was just being exposed all
the time to - like, they were really good about, especially since we grew up
here in Manhattan, it wasn't like they would go to events, and we'd stay at
home. It's like all the time, we'd be going to art-type functions.

Mr. HOROWITZ: Galas?

Mr. DIAMOND: We'd be going to - no, I don't know. Gala events, I think the kids
got left at home for gala events.

Mr. HOROWITZ: Right, right, right. I'd leave the kids at home for a gala event.

Mr. DIAMOND: But, you know, if you're going to, like, an opening or - you know,
all the time they were, like, you'd have, like, whatever, creative people kind
of coming in and out. And I think, like, I learned as much from the kind of
creative people around the periphery of, like, my parents as I did from going
to school in a lot of ways.

GROSS: Adam Yauch, your father's an architect. Do I have that right?

Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, but he's actually more of a painter. He went to art school for
painting for a long time, and then he switched over to architecture, and he was
- he did that for a while, and now he's gone back to painting, and I think
he's...

Mr. HOROWITZ: Google him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What influence has that had on you?

Mr. YAUCH: Well, you know, I went to college for a couple years, and I
remember, like, I was mostly signing up for, like, music classes and, like, art
classes and all kinds of things. And I remember my mom kind of being like: What
are you doing? Like, if you're going to go to school, you've got to take some
more academics. This is ridiculous.

And my dad just kind of said to me, like: Do whatever you want. If you want to
take art classes, just take art classes. I wouldn't worry about it.

GROSS: Did you ever expect that the Beastie Boys would be together for 25
years?

Mr. HOROWITZ: No. We didn't know - I mean, it's not like we - we didn't have no
idea it was going to be for 25 days.

Mr. DIAMOND: Yeah, I mean, I remember when we started the band, there - maybe
I'm speaking for myself here. There was no, like, big ambition. It was kind of
like, you know, that was a time when we were going to see bands all the time. A
lot of our friends were in bands. So it just seemed like the natural thing.
Like, okay, let's start a band and have fun, you know...

Mr. HOROWITZ: Play a couple of gigs and whatever.

Mr. DIAMOND: Yeah. We were in high school. It wasn't like: Okay, we're going to
take over the world and do this for our whole lifetimes. I mean, I do think -
I'd say about the last three to five years, my mom has finally realized that
I'm not going to get a day job.

Mr. YAUCH: You know, I think if we knew that the band was going to be around
for this long, we probably would've thought of a better name.

Mr. HOROWITZ: Yeah, that's true.

GROSS: How did you think of the name?

Mr. HOROWITZ: I had nothing to do with it. This is Adam Horowitz.

Mr. YAUCH: It just seemed like it was a funny idea at the time. It was
literally like we thought we were probably just going to play a handful of
gigs. You know, all our friends were in bands. Everybody was in bands. You
just, like, used to throw together a band and like write a couple songs, play a
couple shows, and you're done.

Mr. DIAMOND: I mean, also part of the fun of being in a band was coming up with
the stupidest name you could think of.

Mr. HOROWITZ: Like my band New Wave Old Hat.

Mr. DIAMOND: That's a big one.

Mr. YAUCH: Angry Samoans is a good name.

GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us. Thanks.

Mr. HOROWITZ: Well, thanks for having us.

Mr. YAUCH: Okay.

Mr. DIAMOND: Thank you.

DAVIES: The Beastie Boys, recorded in 2006. Their new album, "Hot Sauce
Committee Part Two," was released earlier this week. The extended video for the
first single, "Make Some Noise," was directed by Adam Yauch. Also known as
"Fight For Your Right Revisited," the video features Will Ferrell, Jack Black,
John C. Reilly, Seth Rogen and others playing the Beastie Boys young and old.
You can find a link to the video on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm Dave
Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
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'The Beaver': Redemption For Mel Gibson?

(Soundbite of music)

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. Mel Gibson's behavior
has made him something of a pariah in Hollywood. But Jodie Foster, who
costarred with him in the 1994 film "Maverick," cast him in the starring role
of her new movie, "The Beaver." Gibson plays a depressed man who talks to
others only through a hand puppet. Foster plays his wife, in addition to
directing the film.

David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Every single person to whom I've mentioned "The Beaver" has
announced that he or she has no intention of seeing another movie starring Mel
Gibson - even if he's playing a nut job like they think he is in life.

But I couldn't wait. I think Gibson is a fascinating actor, and he was
especially good playing crazy in the 1997 thriller "Conspiracy Theory," a
welcome change from the usual Make Mel Mad template where he's driven to take
vengeance on those who kill or kidnapped his wife or lover or child or dog.

In "The Beaver," Gibson plays Walter Black, a near-catatonically despondent
business owner who finds a beaver puppet in a dumpster and begins to talk
through it using a blunt Cockney accent. Although Walter plainly manipulates
the puppet and makes no ventriloquist-like attempt to conceal the movement of
his own lips, the Beaver claims to be alive and speaking on Walter's behalf. To
engage Walter, you must literally talk to the hand.

Walter even gives a letter of introduction to Meredith, his stricken wife,
played by director Jodie Foster.

DAVIES: We're having some technical problems bringing you that David Edelstein
review of the new Mel Gibson film "The Beaver." It's directed by Jodie Foster.

EDELSTEIN: Despite its bizarre trappings, Kyle Killen's script for "The Beaver"
is rather tidy: It's a problem drama on the theme of defense mechanisms.
Walter, through the Beaver, explains that instead of living in misery, he has
wiped the slate clean and become someone else. In contrast, the movie presents
his high-school son, Porter, played by Anton Yelchin, who seeks to confront his
own demons - most of them having to do with his father - and purge them in a
way more conventionally psychotherapeutic.

He’s also made it his mission to force the girl he has a crush on - played by
Jennifer Lawrence - to acknowledge the death of her older brother instead of
repressing it. That doesn't prove to be the fastest way to a girl's heart - but
neither, at the other extreme, is his father's planting a kiss on his wife's
lips with a hand puppet.

It's too bad that the Beaver itself isn't much to look at, being an ordinary
hand puppet with anatomically correct small eyes. Worse, what comes out of its
mouth - or Walter's - isn't especially witty. You never see how Walter, in the
short term, could be liberated by giving in to his aggressive and confident
side, how he could actually have fun being madcap and filthy-minded. Gibson
bites his lower lip as if chagrined and makes his face into a blank, so that
you register only his wounded blue eyes and sagging features. He abstracts
himself.

My guess is that Jodie Foster was so afraid of trivializing Walter's mental
illness that she forgot she was an artist and not a social worker. Her pacing
is so glum that the movie could have been directed by her character, Walter's
troubled wife - a Meredith Black film.

In the later scenes, Gibson begins to rebel against the Beaver, which starts
making like the demonic ventriloquist dummy in the old Anthony Hopkins thriller
"Magic." But even their grisly final confrontation doesn't liven the movie up
much. I swear, the biggest laugh is when Walter makes the rounds of talk shows
and ends up on FRESH AIR opposite Terry Gross.

I won't spoil her joke. I guess to hear it, you might have to be one of those
people who goes to a Mel Gibson movie.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

Coming up, we remember playwright, screenwriter and director Arthur Laurents
who died yesterday at the age of 93.

This is FRESH AIR.
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Broadway Playwright Arthur Laurents Dies At 93

(Soundbite of music)

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Playwright, screenwriter, novelist and director Arthur Laurents died yesterday
at his home in Manhattan. He was 93. Laurents wrote the books for the landmark
Broadway musicals "Gypsy" and "West Side Story," and he wrote the novel and
screenplay for the Hollywood hit "The Way We Were," starring Barbra Streisand
and Robert Redford. Laurents grew up in Brooklyn. He wrote plays and
screenplays in the 40s, but his career was interrupted when he was blacklisted
for several years, because he’d worked for civil rights causes and joined a
Marxist study group. Laurents collaborated with Leonard Bernstein and a young
Stephen Sondheim on "West Side Story," which opened up on Broadway in 1957.
Soon after, he worked with Sondheim and Jule Styne on "Gypsy," which starred
Ethel Merman as Rose.

Here’s one of the big numbers from the original cast recording.

(Soundbite of song, "Some People")

Ms. ETHEL MERMAN (Actress; Singer) (Singing) Some people can get a thrill
knitting sweaters and sitting still. That's okay for some people who don't know
they're alive.

Some people can thrive and bloom, living life in the living room. That's
perfect for some people of 105. But I at least gotta try, when I think of all
the sights that I gotta see and all the places I gotta play, all the things
that I gotta be at. And come on, papa, what do you say?

Some people can be content playing bingo and paying rent. That's peachy for
some people, for some hum-drum people to be, but some people ain't me.

DAVIES: Terry spoke to Arthur Laurents in 1990, as he was directing a revival
of "Gypsy," starring Tyne Daly as Rose. Laurents felt this new production could
include elements from the book that were left out of the original production -
as they were considered a little too dark for Broadway.

Mr. ARTHUR LAURENTS (Playwright, screenwriter, novelist, director): The
production was rather sweet. It laid off a lot of things that, it being 1989, I
was able to do. It's very different from the other productions. It goes much
more deeply into the relationships, into what I would call the dark side of it.

GROSS: What’s an example of something that was too unpleasant for the original
production that you could go into now?

Mr. LAURENTS: Well, it still is. I mean mother is still sacrosanct in America
and they don't like - a lot of people don't like seeing this mother who is not
the most pleasant mother in the world. But also there is the relationship
between Rose and Herbie the agent is extremely sexual now. It has elements of
romance but it's distinctly a man-woman relationship. That was never played
before.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now in the original production Ethel Merman starred as Rose.

Mr. LAURENTS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Now from what I've read about the original production, you weren't
really satisfied with her performance.

Mr. LAURENTS: You didn't read that any place.

GROSS: Well, what I read was that you - that you refer to her as an opening
night performance, someone who gave her all on opening night...

Mr. LAURENTS: Yeah, she gave her all but...

GROSS: But then after that it kind of diminished a little bit.

Mr. LAURENTS: That’s true. That’s true. I'm very grateful to Merman because I
don't think they would have done the show without her...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAURENTS: ...even though she was on the skids, as it were, at that time.
She had had a flop or two. And as a matter of fact, the show opened with almost
no advance. And if we hadn't gotten good reviews, David Merrick, the producer,
told me we'd play six weeks and that was it. So she did us a great service and
for that time, she was terrific, but it was never what I felt the performance
should be.

GROSS: Well, I read that one night you had a talk with her in front of the
whole cast about her performance - about her not giving her all. What did you
say to her?

Mr. LAURENTS: I don't know where you read that.

GROSS: I think it was in "Sondheim & Company."

Mr. LAURENTS: Well, it's only semi-true.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAURENTS: What it was, I don't think she really – she wasn't really an
actress. She didn’t know that she had taken to walking through the show. But
what I called her on was that she and Jack Klugman, who was - played opposite
her, the show had been running six months and they were breaking up on stage
telling each other jokes, which I think is insulting to an audience. The
audience comes, make them laugh. Don’t - not each other. And I called her on
that.

GROSS: What was her reaction?

Mr. LAURENTS: Oh, as though she were a naughty little child who'd been spanked.
She took it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAURENTS: Went right on doing it again.

GROSS: Now you directed the 1973 London production...

Mr. LAURENTS: Yes I did. Yeah.

GROSS: ...of "Gypsy" with Angela Lansbury.

Mr. LAURENTS: Right.

GROSS: And I just know this production through the cast recording, which I
think is wonderful. Tell me about casting Angela Lansbury in the part and
directing her in the role of Rose.

Mr. LAURENTS: That again, was totally different. She's a very fine actress and
they wanted to do the show in London. It’d never been played in London, because
when it originally opened, Merman was going to do it in London and then some
agent unwisely convinced her, and she unwisely let herself be convinced, that
she was so terrific that she should go on a concert tour of the United States.
So she refused to do it in London. They would have no substitutes and her
concert tour did not do well, which is the understatement of this interview.

So, it had never been done in London, they wanted to see it. And the producers
wanted Angie. I knew her, I’d worked with her before and we did it in London.
And again, it was different from this production because the emphasis was more
on the comedic quality. She's a really terrific comedienne, Angela, and Rose
was quite a reach for her. There's a kind of earthiness, a, if you will,
trashiness about Rose that was that's very difficult for Angie to get. But in
her own terms, she was terrific. There was no relationship between her again,
and the agent.

GROSS: There were wonderful songs in "Gypsy." Now I've heard Stephen Sondheim,
who wrote the lyrics for "Gypsy," say that he sometimes likes to incorporate
lines from the script right into a song, so that the lyric is really speaking
the mind of the librettist, the person who wrote the book. Did that happen in
"Gypsy?"

Mr. LAURENTS: It happened a lot. Steve is wonderful to collaborate with and he
thinks I am, because I say, go ahead, raid the dialogue. For example, the first
line of "Mr. Goldstone" - have an egg roll, Mr. Goldstone - was taken from the
dialogue. But he means really more than that. He is one of the few, very few,
too few, lyricists who knows that each character speaks differently and sings
differently. They have a different diction. So he waits or he waited, in the
case of "Gypsy," for example, till I could write the characters. He would see
how they would speak. That affected what lyrics he wrote for them. Their
language is different.

GROSS: Do you ever feel that the librettist gets the least credit in a musical?
You know, in a musical you always hear so much more sometimes about the
songwriters.

Every librettist feels that, and it's accurate. No musical is ever referred to
as the work of the librettist. It’s only referred to in terms of the composer
and - if the lyricist is as famous as Stephen Sondheim - the lyricist. I think
it goes back to opera where you don't know who wrote the libretto for the
operas.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAURENTS: You only know the composer. And I think one of the reasons we
don’t have more and better playwrights writing musicals is that everybody has a
need for recognition, which is, by the way, what "Gypsy" is really about. And
it is so frustrating not to get any recognition for what one has done in
creating a musical that a lot of playwrights simply won't try. And you get the
people write letters to the Times and the critics say oh yes, and then for two
minutes they recognize the librettist and then they don't. It's simply a given.
The reason I do it is I just love musical theater and I love writing them. I'm
stuck.

GROSS: When you are writing the book for musical, do you have a sense in your
mind of where the songs belong and what the transition into the song is going
to be like?

Mr. LAURENTS: Total. That's the way I write. I plan for that.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAURENTS: And I do as much as possible to write into the music, let the
music take over, lift the characters to the point where they can't do anything
else but sing.

GROSS: Can you give us an example?

Mr. LAURENTS: Yes. At the end of the first act of "Gypsy" there’s a song called
"Everything’s Coming Up Roses," which if you haven't seen the show, you think
as a kind of happy, jazzy Broadway tune. What happens with that song is one of
the reasons why I don't want it and we all don't want it to be made into a
movie again. What is done with that song you can only do on the stage. You
can't do it in the movies because are too literal. What happens is a woman
literally goes off her rocker and bursts into that song. This is a woman who
suddenly has an enormous disappointment, she’s furious, she’s angry, she rages,
and she rages until she can't anymore and it comes out musically. It's against
the emotion. It's all of this ridiculous and insane optimism that this woman
has and it's done in music.

GROSS: Well, tell you what, why don’t we listen to "Everything’s Coming Up
Roses," Angela Lansbury singing. This is from the London production that you
directed in 1973.

Mr. LAURENTS: And just remember that listening to her...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAURENTS: ...are her daughter and her lover and they are terrified and
stunned by this woman's madness.

(Soundbite of song, "Everything’s Coming Up Roses")

Ms. ANGELA LANSBURY (Actress; Singer): (Singing) I had a dream, a dream about
you, baby. It's gonna come true, baby. They think that we're through, but baby,
you'll be swell. You'll be great. Gonna have the whole world on the plate.
Starting here, starting now, honey, everything's coming up roses.

Clear the decks. Clear the tracks. You've got nothing to do but relax. Blow a
kiss. Take a bow. Honey, everything's coming up roses. Now's your inning. Stand
the world on it's ear. Set it spinning. That will be just the beginning.

Curtain up. Light the lights.

DAVIES: Angela Lansbury from the London production of "Gypsy." We'll hear more
of Terry's 1990 interview with Arthur Laurents after a break. Laurents died
yesterday at the age of 93.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's 1990 interview with playwright, screenwriter
and director Arthur Laurents, who died yesterday at the age of 93. Before we
get back to their conversation, let's hear the "Jet Song" from the original
Broadway production of "West Side Story."

(Soundbite of the "Jet Song")

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way from
your first cigarette to your last dyin' day. When you're a Jet, if the spit
hits the fan, you got brothers around, you're a family man.

Unidentified Singers: ((Singing) You're never alone, you're never disconnected.
You're home with your own. When company's expected, you're well protected. Then
you are set with a capital J, which you'll never forget till they cart you
away. When you're a Jet, you stay a Jet.

Unidentified Actor #1: I know Tony like I know me. And I guarantee you can
count him in. In, out, let's get crackin'.

Unidentified Actor #2: Where you gonna find Bernardo?

Unidentified Actor #3: At the dance tonight at the gym.

Unidentified Actor #2: But the gym's neutral territory.

Unidentified Actor #3: I'm gonna make nice there with him. I'm only gonna
challenge him.

Unidentified Actor #1: Great, Daddy-O.

Unidentified Actor #3: So everybody dress up sweet and sharp. Meet Tony and me
at 10. and walk tall.

Unidentified Actor #1: We always walk tall.

Unidentified Actor #2: We're Jets. The greatest.

Unidentified Singers: (Singing) When you're a Jet, you're the top cat in town.
You're the gold medal kid with the heavyweight crown. When you're a Jet, you're
the swingin'est thing.

GROSS: Let me ask you about the book that you wrote for "West Side Story." I
believe the idea for a musical based on "Romeo and Juliet" was the
choreographer Jerome Robbins.

Mr. LAURENTS: That’s right.

GROSS: How did he originally pitch it to you? What was the initial idea he
proposed?

Mr. LAURENTS: The initial idea was quite different from what it was. It was
about a Jewish girl and a Catholic boy in New York over Easter and Passover.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAURENTS: And I thought that was "Abie’s Iris Rose" and I wanted no part of
it. And then several years passed and I happened to be in California and Lenny
Bernstein was in California. By that time, juvenile delinquent gangs had come
into being. And on the coast it was a great deal, great problems with Chicanos
which in New York was Puerto Ricans. That's where the idea came from - the
front page. And that’s what the – and then Lenny and I called Jerry and said,
we're ready to go.

GROSS: Did you have any reservations about singing and dancing gangs?

Mr. LAURENTS: On the stage, no. in the movie, yes.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAURENTS: On the stage right, the stage is total illusion. You come into a
box and you see this proscenia and then people hop on and hop off, there’s an
orchestra in the pit. But people have imagination. The theater makes you use it
and you will accept almost anything. But movies to me are either, the nature of
the medium is such that movies are either realistic, by that I mean
naturalistic or surrealistic. To me, the movie of "West Side Story" I know was
a great hit, but when those boys came tour jeteing down the street I didn't
believe it for a minute.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAURENTS: I still don’t.

GROSS: Now you didn’t write the screenplay for either "Gypsy" or "West Side
Story."

Mr. LAURENTS: No.

GROSS: Did you want to?

Mr. LAURENTS: I wasn't asked to write the screenplay for "West Side Story" and
I wanted to. I was asked to write the screenplay for "Gypsy" and I was going to
till they told me they cast Rosalind Russell and the director was Mervyn Le
Roy, and I bowed out. We had wanted Judy Garland. They didn't because they said
she had a weight problem. But, of course, with the path of time, "Gypsy" covers
15 years. Even if she had a weight problem, weight went up and down. It
wouldn't mattered.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. What did you think of the movie?

Mr. LAURENTS: Of "Gypsy?"

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. LAURENTS: Oh, I think it's a candidate for one of the worst movies I ever
saw.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, you know, a lot of...

Mr. LAURENTS: It’s ridiculous. It's ridiculous. The only good thing in the
movie was Natalie Wood. RIP.

GROSS: Well, just give me a sense of what you hated about the film.

Mr. LAURENTS: Well, Rosalind Russell was very busy being Rosalind Russell.
Again, she was wonderful in "Wonderful Town." She's wonderful when she played
this what they used to call a dame, this hard-driving executive, smart
cracking, certainly middle class, if not upper-middle-class woman. This is
nothing from this blowsy, vulgar, common, trashy Rose. I mean she wore chic
clothes. I remember her black-and-white high-heels in the train station. It was
just all off.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LAURENTS: I remember we used to check up on them and in the immortal words
of George Kaufman, remove the improvements.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You’ve written for movies and for the stage.

Mr. LAURENTS: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What are some of the primary differences between writing for the two
forms?

Mr. LAURENTS: The other day there was a movie I was considering writing. Oliver
Stone was going to produce it and he called me up and said why don't you want
to do it? I said because the day I finish the script I'm out on my ass. I wrote
my first movie in, I think, 1948. This is now 1990. There's a lot of talk but
essentially, the attitude is not changed. The writer is the low man on the
totem pole. Well, they'll woo you and they'll pursue you. You are the least
paid, comparatively, of the actors and the directors. And the great god and
Hollywood as in this country is money. That determines respect. And once they
have the script, as it says in "Gypsy," so long Rose. Don't slam the door as
you leave. You’re out. And they do, not only do they cast and play it as they
want, they rewrite it as they want.

GROSS: Now one of your screenplays is "The Way We Were," which you also wrote a
novel of the same name.

Mr. LAURENTS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: There’s blacklisting in that, you know, in Hollywood.

Mr. LAURENTS: Right.

GROSS: Were you ever blacklisted yourself?

Mr. LAURENTS: Absolutely. In the witch hunt. And there’s an example of what
they do. The climactic scene in that story, in that movie was shot and neatly
cut out.

GROSS: What was the scene?

Mr. LAURENTS: The scene was where the Barbra Streisand character says to the
Robert Redford character - he says to her the studio says I have a subversive
wife and they will fire me unless you go and become an informer. And he wants
her to inform to save his butt. And she says well, there's a very simple
solution, willy-nilly circumstances forced you into this. I will get a divorce.
You won't have a subversive wife. What they kept was willy-nilly circumstances
forced you into a solution. I will get a divorce. The whole business about
informing and subversion, which was what the picture was basically about, they
cut out. They said the public doesn't want it. They want a romance. How did
they know? I don't know. Maybe they were looking in a crystal ball. But it's so
unsatisfied.

The picture was a great success. But what I wanted to say in the picture, what
the picture was about, gets thrown out with the garbage. So it's not very
interesting, exciting, fulfilling - I could go on with the words - for me to
work in movies. The theater with all its handicaps is exciting and a bigger
challenge and you can do more and you have more fun.

GROSS: Thank you so much Arthur Laurents for talking with us.

Mr. LAURENTS: Thank you.

DAVIES: Arthur Laurents speaking with Terry Gross in 1990. Laurents died
yesterday at the age of 93.

For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(Soundbite of song, "Something’s Coming")

Unidentified Singer: (Singing) Could be? Who knows? There’s something due any
day. I will know right away. Soon as it shows.

It may come cannon-ballin’ down from the sky. Gleam in its eye. Bright as a
rose. Who knows?

It’s only just out of reach. Down a block, on the beach. Under a tree. I got a
feeling there’s a miracle due, gonna come through, coming to me.

Could it be? Yes it could. Something’s coming. Something good. If I can wait.
Something’s coming. I don't know what it is. But it is gonna to be great.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
136053844

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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