Skip to main content

Cable Saves Summer.

TV Critic David Bianculli reviews two shows appearing on cable tv this weekend. "George Wallace" on TNT and "Snow White" which stars Sigourney Weaver on Showtime.


Other segments from the episode on August 21, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 21, 1997: Interview with Dan Carter; Review of the television programs "George Wallace" and "Snow White"; Review of the film "The Art of Singing: Golden Voices of…


Date: AUGUST 21, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082101np.217
Head: The Politics of Rage
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

A new two-part mini-series based on the life of George Wallace begins this Sunday on TNT with Gary Sinise as Wallace. The movie takes liberties with the story by adding fictional characters and scenes. We're going to hear about Wallace's life from Dan Carter, the author of a 1996 biography called "The Politics of Rage."

At the peak of the civil rights era in the early '60s, Alabama Governor George Wallace built his career on opposing integration. Carter writes that Wallace also laid the foundation for the conservative counter-revolution of the '70s and '80s. His approach combined fears about race and communism with anti-Washington feelings, cultural nostalgia, and conservative economics.

Wallace served four terms as governor of Alabama beginning in 1963, and he campaigned for the presidency four times. An assassination attempt during his final run left him paralyzed. Now in his late 70s, he's deaf, bedridden, and living in Montgomery.

Dan Carter is a professor of history at Emory University and the author of a previous book on the Scottsboro boys. I spoke with Carter last year when The Politics of Rage was published. He told me that Wallace anticipated the themes of the conservative groundswell which began in the '70s.

DAN T. CARTER, HISTORIAN, AUTHOR, "THE POLITICS OF RAGE: GEORGE WALLACE, THE ORIGINS OF THE NEW CONSERVATISM, AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICAN POLITICS": If you look at the issues that made Wallace a national figure, you begin with race, of course, but the fact is after the 1964, Wallace may have used coded language to talk about race, but those weren't his main themes. His main themes were the disintegration of American culture and values, although he would never have used those words.

He talked about the way in which Americans were under siege. And he put his finger on that growing sense of unease that I think reaches its culmination in the '80s and '90s in which middle class, working class Americans feel like the country's off track.

And Wallace is not -- I mean, he -- what he does is he finds those issues, those social issues as they came to be called, that excite the electorate in a way that they become the themes of the politics of the 19 -- late '60s, '70s, and into the '80s.

GROSS: I think it would be interesting to have you read a couple of excerpts of his inaugural speech the first time he was elected governor of Alabama. And which year is this?

CARTER: This is 1963. He's -- January, 1963, he was elected the previous year. He's now taking office.

GROSS: Read an excerpt of that address for us.

CARTER: It begins not with the reference specifically to race that comes and that everyone remembers from the inaugural address. It begins with a general kind of discussion about the role of the white South -- of the south, and he associated the white South with the South, as a besieged region. And let me just read here a short section.

There were no government handouts after the Civil War -- no Marshall Plan aid, no coddling to make sure that our people would not suffer. Instead, the South was set upon by the vulturous carpetbagger and federal troops. There was no money, no food, no hope of either. But our grandfathers bent their knee only in church and bowed their heads only to God.

GROSS: What's the significance of his reference there to federal troops? What's he referring to?

CARTER: Well, he's referring to the post-Civil War period when for a brief period of time during the so-called Reconstruction period after the American Civil War, federal troops were stationed in the South to protect the right of the emancipated slave to vote, and to prevent a kind of violent counter-revolution by white Southerners.

But of course, it assumes a kind of mythology by the end of the 19th and early 20th century in which white Southerners, I mean in a sense, they're the ultimate victims in American society -- at least they see themselves as such. They've been oppressed. They've been oppressed by the federal government during the Reconstruction. And they see this long tradition of outsiders even before the Civil War -- abolitionists, Yankees -- who were trying to change their way of life.

GROSS: But that theme is even continuing into the civil rights movement. I think it's referring to that, too.

CARTER: Absolutely. And he sees this, having a kind of historical tradition. And I should say, he sees this. He's actually reading here a speech, of course, which was written by his speechwriter, a man named named Asa Carter (ph), who was a Ku Klux Klan organizer and a rather brilliant polemicist for the segregationist South.

But he agreed with it. Even though the words weren't his own, he certainly agreed with them.

GROSS: So when Wallace starts ringing this theme of, you know, we only bow our heads to God in church and, you know, not to the federal troops that the government sends down -- what's he referring to in the civil rights movement?

CARTER: Well, of course, he's talking about the increasing importance of the role of the federal government -- first, the courts and then tentatively in the Kennedy administration and then even more so in the Johnson administration, the commitment of the national government to protecting the rights of black citizens in the South.

It -- to him and to many white Southerners, it's simply one more in the long train of these actions by the federal government that are attempting to change our Southern way of life, as it would have been called in the 1940s and 1950s. And it has a clear racial context as he's speaking in 1963.

GROSS: I'm going to ask you to read another excerpt of that 1963 inaugural address which contains -- an excerpt that contains the most famous line from that address.

CARTER: Well, in fact it's the only line -- this is the only line that George Wallace -- that he uttered -- that ends up in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. I'm not sure that's the one he would have preferred, but here it is. After talking about the way in which the white South, he says, has been oppressed, or the South, which he always identifies with the white South, he issues what he calls his call to arms:

Today I've stood where once Jefferson Davis stood and took an oath to my people. It is very appropriate, then, that from this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, we sound the drum for freedom. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this Earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny. And I say: segregation now; segregation tomorrow; segregation forever.

GROSS: And that's "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" -- that's the phrase that made it into Bartlett's.

CARTER: That's it. And it's -- it, in effect, amounts to a kind of Faustian bargain with -- for Wallace, because he's now at the very beginning of his career. He's so closely and intimately associated himself with the defense of segregation -- racism -- that he'll never be able to completely get rid of that albatross around his neck. But he eventually does, because he does broaden.

Originally, his attacks on the federal government were dismissed by individuals -- by most observers, commentators -- as simply a reflection of this white Southern paranoia in the South. And the genius of Wallace is that he manages to break out of that mold that has kept white Southern segregationist politicians like Orville Faubus and Ross Barnett and Strom Thurmond and others in a kind of exclusive Southern box.

So that by the time he moves into these campaigns for the presidency in '64 and '68 and '72 and '76, he -- the overtones, the racial overtones are still there, but he takes that Southern racial stand against the federal government and broadens it and makes it much more than just as racial issue.

GROSS: What does he make it into?

CARTER: Well, he makes it in -- he convinces -- he had no trouble convincing white Southerners in 1963 that the federal government was their enemy, or at least most white Southerners who saw -- didn't want to change race relations in the South. The federal government was trying to change them; it was their enemy.

But what he succeeds in doing, and it takes years of constant agitation if you will -- he develops a kind of ear for the way in which other Americans, not just white Southerners, see the federal government as their enemy. He begins with race.

But think about the things that happened during the 1960s -- the sense of social dislocation; the rise in crime; the turmoil in the streets that come with the anti-war movement; the way in which Americans sense that they've lost their moral bearings; rise of pornography; the Supreme Court decisions outlawing school prayer.

All of these things Wallace very, very astutely blames upon the federal government. If we're having a rise in crime, it's because you've got federal judges -- the Supreme Court and other federal judges -- who are essentially turning criminals loose on the street. If you've got a problem of a loss of moral bearings in American society, it's because we banned God from the classroom.

And who is it that have done these things? It's the -- it's the institutions -- courts; the president; even the Congress who have committed these crimes against the American people.

GROSS: Is there anything new about this theme when Wallace starts playing it?

CARTER: It's not so much new. I mean, you can find echoes of both the style and the issues. And in some ways, it's a very traditional kind of paranoid anti-intellectualism that Richard Hofstadter talked about 40, 50 years ago -- a style that you see in American politics going back into the 19th century.

But what Wallace anticipates as early as the early 1960s -- I mean, think about it -- this is the heyday of the civil rights movement; the hey-day of American liberalism. The election of 1964 seems to be a referendum in which Lyndon Johnson has captured the crest of this wave of liberalism that is finally triumphant. It's the kind of culmination of everything that's taken place in American politics since the 1930s.

And what Wallace senses as early as '63 and '64 is that it's more than just a handful of cranks; more than just a bunch of white segregationists -- who are uneasy, resistant, to the triumphal federal state. And he senses that, because he has this kind of sixth sense about politics. And he begins hammering away at these anti-federal themes and gradually he moves away from this very narrow Southern base and moves -- in fact, rather quickly I think -- into a national constituency.

GROSS: Actually, that's another theme of your book -- that when he moves away from the politics of race and talks about other issues that he feels affect a lot of other people in the South, that he changes the role of the South in American politics.

CARTER: Well, I -- it would be too much to say that George Wallace is responsible for the "Southernization of American politics," as one writer called it. But he clearly -- despite his own limitations, and they were -- he had serious limitations as a national communicator, particularly in the age of television -- nevertheless, he does succeed in, as I said, ending the kind of isolation of the political voice of the South -- the conservative political voice of the South.

In the election -- the presidential campaigns of '64 and '68 -- particularly 1968, I think -- there's a kind of -- this is -- this is -- seems a kind of frivolous kind of issue. But as late as 1968, when Richard Nixon and Hubert -- running as a Republican candidate -- Hubert Humphrey as a Democrat; Wallace is the independent third party candidate. Nixon was extremely reluctant to do anything that might be seen as appealing to the Wallace constituency, at least overtly.

Even in matters of style, this -- as I said, Terry, this sounds trivial, but some of the -- some of his aides who were more familiar with that, I think what was happening in America -- for example, wanted him to use country music jingles; wanted them to use these in his campaigns. And Nixon's advisers said no, this is not dignified.

Well, when Wallace captured 15 percent of the vote and at one time he had almost about 25 percent of the American people who said they were going to vote for him -- then all of a sudden it may not have been dignified anymore, but it became more mainstream. That is, in a sense, the Southern aspects of Wallace that seemed to mark him outside the mainstream more and more make him part of that central flow of American politics.

GROSS: How did George Wallace use religion in his political campaigns?

CARTER: Well, that's an interesting question because in his actual campaigns himself, a lot of secular reporters and news people who covered him sort of tried not to laugh as they were describing it, but it seemed so, so 1920s. It just didn't seem very modern and up to date. All his campaign rallies would begin with "God Bless America" and some patriotic songs, and then a prayer -- often a very long and impassioned evangelical prayer.

And when he started this in the 1960s, particularly in some of his tours around the West Coast and the upper Midwest and the Northeast -- it seemed so Southern and so out of step with modern American society. Well, in many ways of course, Wallace's campaigns -- what he was picking up on was the resurgence which was going on and almost undetected by the news media -- of the rise of a conservative religious right, which was taking place before our eyes. We just didn't see it in the 1960s.

GROSS: My guest is Dan Carter, author of a biography of George Wallace called The Politics of Rage. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Dan Carter, author of a biography of George Wallace.

Now, Wallace is most famous for being a racist. But you say that he didn't start his political career on race issues.

CARTER: No, and one of -- I understand that everyone's interested in the long-term implications of Wallace, and I am too. But when I tried to write this book, I was also trying to write about a time and a place which was not our own. And Wallace grew up in that time and place -- the deep South of the 1920s and 1930s.

And in a sense, it's not our own time. You can't exactly compare it to -- in terms of racial attitudes or anything else. But it's clear that by the standards of the 1930s and the 1940s, George Wallace was a moderate. One might even call him a moderate liberal on race.

Probably the most influential political figure in his career was Big Jim Folsom of Alabama -- a kind of -- almost a unique figure in Southern politics who avoided racism and in fact treated his black constituents fairly and refused to use racism. That was the early Wallace, not the one that we came to know.

GROSS: What changed him?

CARTER: Well, it's ambition. George Wallace had certain feelings about -- he didn't feel -- he wasn't strongly racist, perhaps. But the thing that he really wanted was power. He used to say this to his -- members of his family; that he was -- there are only two things important in life: money and power. He was never going to have money, but he was going to have power.

And that meant that in the late 1950s when he made his first campaign for the governorship in Alabama, he encountered the fact -- the dilemma that in order to be elected, you had to be an extremist on race. There were no black voters in Alabama. Emotions were inflamed after Little Rock, and the race issue was foremost.

He tried to be a moderate in 1958, and he lost. He lost to a hardline segregationist named John Patterson. And when he did, that was it. He did an about-face, or at least if not 180 degrees, about 90 degrees, and embraced the politics of race.

GROSS: Excuse my language here, but what he said after he lost to Patterson was "no one will out-nigger me again."

CARTER: That was his -- the night that he lost, when he was extremely bitter over what he felt like was Patterson's successful use of the race issue. And yes, that's what he told his friends. And he later denied that he had made the statement, but at least one individual who was there that night insists that -- he was emphatic, this is what he said -- Starsmith (ph), who was a newsman at the time.

And in the years that followed, he said essentially the same thing to other people; that like it or not, that he -- you were going to have to play the race issue.

GROSS: Of course, a lot of the civil rights struggles were played out in Alabama. I think the most famous image of George Wallace is when he stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama and attempted to prevent the university's desegregation. And of course, the federal government was insisting that African-American students be allowed to attend.

Tell us a little bit about his -- what you know of his thinking behind that move.

CARTER: I've sometimes quoted the proverb -- supposedly it's a Middle Eastern proverb -- that a man -- a man is made powerful by having powerful enemies. And in 1963, George Wallace understood that John Kennedy and the Kennedy administration was well on its way to being the most hated president in the white South since the days of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

And so he deliberately -- he courted a confrontation with the Kennedy administration, and went out of his way to set it up. I don't think George Wallace ever had any illusions. In the back of his mind, he knew that he was going to have to back down, but he wanted to set it up so that he could become the defender of the white South; the defender of traditional values at that point, of the white South -- that is, the defense of segregation.

And so he -- I must say, and I have a great deal of sympathy for the Kennedy administration -- but he played the Kennedy administration like a superb angler: keeping him on the hook at all times; never letting them know what he was going to do; holding out at least a threat of violence, which had occurred the previous year when the administration tried to integrate the University of Mississippi.

And as a result, he was essentially able to lay out the groundwork for a kind of confrontation. It was a mock confrontation. I think it's wonderful that it ends up in Forrest Gump's film -- the film "Forrest Gump," because that what it really was -- a kind of theatrical confrontation.

But it did succeed -- it did succeed in placing, as you say, Wallace into this position where there is this very vivid image of him standing up to the Assistant Attorney General of the United States Nicholas Katzenbach and, through Katzenbach, with the Kennedy administration.

And from that moment on, as I said, that's part of the albatross of race that's gonna be around his neck later on. But it gives him extraordinary kind of national attention and a national reputation. One of the most interesting things about that stand in the schoolhouse door was the fact -- and I think this even surprised George Wallace -- was the outpouring of letters, financial contributions, which began pouring in not from the South, which he anticipated, but from all over the country.

And that's when he -- that's when he really began to grasp the extent of the racial white backlash that was taking place and the extent to which there was a national constituency for his racial ideas and later his other ideas as well.

GROSS: Dan Carter's biography of George Wallace is called The Politics of Rage. We'll hear more from Carter in the second half of our show.

Gary Sinise will star as George Wallace in the TNT mini-series that begins Sunday.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with more of our interview about George Wallace, the four-time governor of Alabama and four-time presidential hopeful. This Sunday, TNT begins a two-part movie biography of Wallace starring Gary Sinise.

Dan Carter is the author of a biography of Wallace called The Politics of Rage, in which he traces how Wallace set the stage for the new conservatism that transformed American politics.

Wallace built his early career on his opposition to integration in the '60s. Our interview was recorded last year when the biography was published.

What was George Wallace's approach to dealing with civil rights demonstrators?

CARTER: Well, in the early 1960s, it was "leave no heads uncracked." He -- from the very beginning of his administration, I think it shows -- I tried to be fair to the life of George Wallace and to treat it as a whole, but I think the -- particularly in 1963, '64, and '65, you can see Governor Wallace at his most -- his most reckless.

In terms of the appointments he makes -- Al Lingo (ph), I won't say a homicidal, but certainly a psychologically unstable man appointed to be head of the state troop -- so-called state troopers. His support for people like Bull Connor in Birmingham. His close associations -- as I describe in the book, despite his attempt to cover them up -- his close associations with members of the Ku Klux Klan; with -- even with a Nazi group that he used -- manipulated. He never let them control him, but he used them, cooperated with them, in a way that even considering the passions of the 1960s, it's a pretty dark story, I think.

GROSS: George Wallace made several runs for the presidency, and during those runs, he insisted he wasn't a racist, which was, I think, pretty difficult to insist given his record. How did he change his position and change his rhetoric?

CARTER: Well, he first -- he changed his rhetoric before he changed his position. I mean, in the campaign of 1964, he ran against -- he ran in the Democratic primaries against stand-ins for Lyndon Johnson. And he -- his only real issue in 1964 was the pending Civil Rights Act that had been proposed by Kennedy and was pushed through by Johnson.

But he never used the word -- never used the "n" word certainly. And he never even talked explicitly about race. He learned very early on that you could use code words -- you could use coded language to talk about race, without actually appearing to talk about race.

GROSS: What was his code?

CARTER: His code was "the sanctity of the neighborhood;" "the sanctity of your union seniority rights" -- any point that the federal government -- the autonomy of local communities. So that, for example, when the federal government is trying to do something about the blatant discrimination -- voting discrimination -- that takes place in the South, he says that, you know, that traditionally under the doctrine of state's rights, the states have a right to decide voting requirements. And this is none of the federal government's business.

You got a case -- case after case involving civil rights workers in which white juries -- all-white juries, whipped up by the passion of the time -- acquit men who are clearly guilty of mayhem and murder. And when individuals throughout the country react with righteous indignation, then he treats it as an attack upon the jury system.

In other words, never mention the word "race," but talk about issues in a con -- and actually talk about them in a context with which most Americans agree. That is, most people do celebrate the importance of community and family and local institutions. There's a long tradition of this.

But in -- at least in the early stages, no one had -- I don't think most people had any illusions about what he was really talking about when he talked about the right of local self-government, he was talking about the right of local self-government to oppress black people.

GROSS: Do you think that he believed he would ever get elected president?

CARTER: No. I mean, he may have in a moment of fantasy. But I think toward the end of his political career, in talking to some of his friends, he confided that he had always been born at, he said, at the wrong time. And there was a certain -- I think there was a certain truth about that.

Jimmy Carter in some ways was lucky to have come along a little bit later -- a Southerner who wasn't caught up in all the passions of the '50s in the same way that George Was. He did things, said things that meant he would never be elected president. And I think George Wallace was smart enough to understand that.

GROSS: So you think that Wallace through his coded language was able to exploit the fears of some Northerners as well as Southerners.

CARTER: Yes. I mean...

GROSS: Who -- who do you think took -- who do you think benefited from those inroads that he made?

CARTER: Well, Wallace's -- I don't want to always try to back off -- anyone who does a biography thinks their biographical subject is the most important figure since...

GROSS: Right. Yes.

CARTER: ... since Abraham Lincoln.

GROSS: Right.

CARTER: And I'm not trying to argue that. But Wallace more than any other single political figure in the 1960s was the one who played a critical role in breaking loose important parts of the old Democratic coalition, particularly working class whites, young white males -- the so-called "Reagan Democrats" of the 1980s -- are the Wallace Democrats, who first turned and supported Wallace in 1968 and '72, and then tended to go toward Richard Nixon early on, and then finally come home to Ronald Reagan.

I mean, if you look at the -- look at the contour of the Wallace vote in the -- among independent voters in 1968, you find an interesting kind of profile. They tend to be young, male -- individuals who were probably leaning toward the Democratic Party but saw themselves as independents; a new generation of voters who were not tied in the same way that their parents were.

Well, this was exactly the group that Kevin Phillips and other Republican strategists saw in the 1960s as essential to recovering from the Goldwater debacle of 1964. We've got to get these people in the Democratic -- I mean the Republican Party.

And Wallace was the figure who, in a sense, cut them loose from the Democratic Party; aroused their anger toward the Democratic Party. And after the election of 1968, there was a cottage industry of Republican strategists led by Kevin Phillips, but included others as well, who looked at the Wallace vote; analyzed and re-analyzed it; and saw it as the key to unlocking this 35-year-old Democratic majority.

GROSS: In 1972, Wallace was shot three times by Arthur Bremer. Wallace survived, although he was paralyzed from the waist down. Why was Wallace the target?

CARTER: Well, it's -- Governor Wallace himself and many of his former advisers -- I just talked to one within the last, on the telephone, within the last few months -- believed that there was someone in the Nixon administration who set up Arthur Bremer; either persuaded him to do the shooting or in some way encouraged it. This is -- I guess, conspiracy theories flow everywhere.

And it was something -- I certainly didn't begin with that assumption, but it was something I wanted to keep an open mind about when I started the research. And I was very fortunate to -- because of a third party -- to locate a large missing section of Arthur Bremer's diary. He had a secret diary he kept, parts of which were recovered after the shooting. But the critical first parts were not.

And in some ways I guess it have made a bestseller if I could prove that there was a secret hand of Richard Nixon or his administration behind it. But in fact, Arthur Bremer was the classic American political assassin; someone who is estranged from society; deeply mentally ill is the best way to describe him -- who is interested not in politics. He doesn't -- his first target was Richard Nixon. He wanted to shoot Richard Nixon. He mainly wants to make a place for himself in American society, and the only way he knows to do that is to shoot a political figure. He's not the first one to -- as we know, to fit that profile.

GROSS: I think a lot of biographers fall in love with their subjects. What do you feel emotionally toward your subject, George Wallace?

CARTER: I didn't fall in love with George Wallace -- I think a certain sadness. I do feel, and I share -- I grew up in the deep rural South, and even though I rejected the kind of racial attitudes that George Wallace had, I can empathize with his sense that -- of alienation; his sense that white Southerners, and they really do share more than they realize, I think, with black Southerners and other marginal groups in American society -- being on the outside.

And so in that sense, I have a kind of empathy for George Wallace. And I have a sadness that someone so capable; so intelligent; so -- with such drive and such ambition -- should in the end allow his, that ambition, to lead him to do -- it sounds so preacherish -- but such horrible things, for which I think he is living with the consequences of today.

So in the sense, it's a kind of sadness about someone like Wallace.

GROSS: Did you meet George Wallace ever?

CARTER: Many years ago, but not when I was working on the book.

GROSS: And was it a significant meeting?

CARTER: No. No, not at all. I heard him speak twice. Now that was actually more important in terms of my long-time fascination with Wallace. I heard him speak in 1964 when I was a graduate student in the University of Wisconsin.

And I saw him come there to a hostile, liberal student body, and show a side of George Wallace that I also talk about in the book, and that's a very charming side of George Wallace. He -- I won't say he -- they came to scoff and stayed to pray, but by the end of the hour, he had them -- at least the majority of them, laughing in his -- and kind of liking him.

Then I heard him again in 1968 in Maryland. And listening to him -- watching him -- was what actually led to this long-time fascination with him.

GROSS: What did he say on the college campus that turned some of the listeners around?

CARTER: Well, he -- in the first place, I think he had the enormous advantage that in -- particularly in 1964 -- that the students really expected a kind of monster. You know, most people didn't read that closely, and they thought he was going to get up and talk -- use racist language as -- Ross Barnett had been there two weeks before, and he was this pathetic figure out of the 19th century talking about the negroes this and the negroes that -- and people began laughing at him.

Well, Wallace got up and even though -- even though the students may have thought that it was simply a kind of facade, he gave actually a pretty thoughtful kind of talk about the constitutional issues involved in expanding the power of the federal government. And then when the question and answer period came, and people would shout these hostile, angry questions, he had a whole series of one-liners.

People would heckle him. He had a whole series of one-liners that he had developed over the years, which he would give in these -- this ingratiating kind of "I'm just a not terribly bright country boy from Alabama" kind of way, that kind of won over his audience by the end of the time.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

CARTER: Thank you very much, Terry.

GROSS: Dan Carter's biography of George Wallace is called The Politics of Rage. Our interview was recorded last year after the book's publication.

Gary Sinise will star as Wallace in a two-part telemovie that begins Sunday evening on TNT.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Dan T. Carter
High: On the next Fresh Air: George Wallace and the politics of rage. Terry Gross speaks with historian Dan T. Carter about Wallace and his impact on contemporary conservative politics. A new film, starring Gary Sinise as George Wallace, will be shown this weekend on the TNT cable channel.
Spec: History; Media; Television; George Wallace; TNT
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Politics of Rage
Date: AUGUST 21, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082102NP.217
Head: Cable Reviews
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:45

TERRY GROSS, HOST: TV critic David Bianculli has a preview of this weekend's two most interesting new offerings, and he isn't surprised that they're both on cable.

DAVID BIANCULLI, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Do you know how long it's been since one of the broadcast networks presenting anything outside of sports or news that was worth watching? I do, because I just looked it up. It was three months ago, at the end of May, when NBC showed the birth of the baby on "Mad About You" and ABC burned off its final episodes of "Murder One."

Since then, the only things shown on broadcast TV other than reruns and news magazines, have been fresh episodes of ABC's "Spy Game," which the network already had canceled; and Fox shows like "The Ruby Wax Show" (ph) and "Roar" which were just as doomed.

It wasn't always this way. "Seinfeld" started as a summer series and so did "Northern Exposure." And not too many summers ago, viewers could turn to the networks and watch original episodes of "Due South" and "TV Nation" -- intelligent, entertaining shows.

But now we get squat, and the networks wonder why their audience base continues to erode.

Over on cable, though, summer is a major season. We've got the intense drama series "OZ" on HBO and the outrageous "Southpark" (ph) adult cartoon on Comedy Central. And in the last two months, while the broadcast networks have been hibernating, cable has given us some truly outstanding telemovies: the docudrama "Hostile Waters;" the docu-comedy "Elvis Meets Nixon;" and a remake of the golden-age TV drama "Twelve Angry Men."

Sunday night, two more quality efforts join that bunch. TNT presents a four-hour mini-series biography called "George Wallace" with Gary Sinise in the title role; and Showtime gives us a mature and scary spin on a classic fairy tale with "Snow White: A Tale of Terror," starring Sigourney Weaver as the wicked stepmother.

Sinise, who already played Harry Truman for another cable biography, is excellent as George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama. And so are the acting and direction across the board. However, the drama has two drawbacks.

It's a bit cavalier with distinguishing between fact and fiction. It even presents a hypothetical murder attempt on Wallace's life by a made-up character. And the music is so overblown that it threatens to destroy the mood even as Sinise creates it, as in this speech scene where Wallace makes clear his racist intentions as a politician.



ACTOR GARY SINISE AS GOVERNOR GEORGE WALLACE: From this cradle of the Confederacy, this very heart of the great Anglo-Saxon Southland, today we sound the drum of freedom. Let us rise to the call of the freedom-loving blood that is in us. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this Earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say: segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.


BIANCULLI: "Snow White" has no such flaws, but just as good a performance. Sigourney Weaver plays her part not as a camp Cruella DeVil, but more like a tragic figure from Shakespeare. This is the Brothers Grimm at its most grim, and when this wicked stepmother looks in the mirror, she sees and talks to a lovelier version of herself, making her seem as much delusional as magical.


Why does she live?

While your child lies cold and still.


WEAVER/MIRROR: Take back the child, and give him life.


WEAVER/MIRROR: Steal the father's seed. Bathe the child in the father's blood.

WEAVER/STEPMOTHER: Friedrich's life for his.

BIANCULLI: George Wallace is the more serious topic, and Snow White is the better overall drama. But either of them beats anything the networks are showing these days. And that's the point, even though it's a point the networks just don't seem to get.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

Dateline: David Bianculli, New York; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: TV Critic David Bianculli reviews two shows appearing on cable TV this weekend. "George Wallace" on TNT and "Snow White" which stars Sigourney Weaver on Showtime.
Spec: Media; Television; George Wallace; Snow White
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Cable Reviews
Date: AUGUST 21, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082103NP.217
Head: The Art of Singing
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:53

TERRY GROSS, HOST: There's a new home video in the stores that music critic Lloyd Schwartz (ph) thinks every opera lover will want to see. It's called "The Art of Singing: Golden Voices of the Century" and includes film clips and kinescopes of many of this century's greatest singers.

Here's Lloyd's review.


LLOYD SCHWARTZ, FRESH AIR MUSIC COMMENTATOR: Enrico Caruso died before sound came to film, but the tenor was so popular he actually made a silent movie. So now in this new home video, The Art of Singing, you can also see him in "Pagliacci."

There's also a poignant vignette filmed in 1932 of the Italian coloratura Louisa Tetrazini (ph), after whom "chicken Tetrazini" was named. She was then 61, and well past her vocal prime. We watch her listening to a phonograph recording of her old partner Caruso, and she begins to sing along with him.

This video cornucopia shows us what many of the greatest opera singers looked like when they sang, or at least lip-synched. Metropolitan Opera mezzo soprano Rize Stevens talks about how in the movie of "The Chocolate Soldier," after she recorded her music, MGM made her sing an octave lower when she did the synchronization, so that her face would appear less distorted.

There are some interesting cross-references. Feodor Chaliapin, the great Russian basso whose most famous role is "Boris Godunov" (ph) sings a "Jacque Heber" (ph) song from a 1933 French movie version of "Don Quixote," directed by G.W. Pabst. Later, Ezio Pinza, who's probably best known for singing "Some Enchanted Evening" in the original Broadway production of "South Pacific," is shown in a clip from the movie "Deep In My Heart" in which he plays Chaliapin singing the coronation scene from "Boris."

One standout is the brilliant Spanish coloratura mezzo soprano Conchita Supervia, who plays a glamorous opera singer named Baba L'Etoile in a British film called "Evensong." She sings "Musetta's Waltz," and her face is as captivating and animated as her voice.


SCHWARTZ: Another remarkable selection is the screen test that the great Italian American soprano Rosa Ponselle did for MGM. As "Carmen," a role she'd sung at the Met, she looks like a movie star. I guess MGM didn't think so. Her spoken comments afterwards are also delightful.


UNIDENTIFIED INTERVIEWER: Which is your favorite opera?

PONSELLE: Right now, Carmen, of course.

INTERVIEWER: Why do you like Carmen better than any other?

PONSELLE: Oh, I suppose because she's barbaric, and I love to be wild, where I can hold a stiletto between my teeth and let you have it when you when you deserve it.

SCHWARTZ: There are 27 opera stars in all on this video. Some of them, like baritone Guiseppe De Luca, who sings "Figaro" in a 1929 Vitaphone short; and Lawrence Tibbett (ph), a dashing toreador, are surprisingly vivid actors.

Some hardly act at all, like tenors Tito Scipa (ph) or Beniamino Gigli or Leontyne Price as "Aida" or Renata Tebaldi and Jussi Bjurling who are shown in a rare TV appearance. They're introduced by Charles Laughton. They're embarrassingly mature for Puccini's reckless young lovers in "La Boheme," yet their voices carry all the conviction they need.

Maria Callas aficionados will want to see the two brief, recently-discovered clips from her famous Lisbon "Traviata." Unfortunately, you can barely make out her face. But even a glimpse of her slumping posture says a lot about how she acted what some people think was her greatest role. And it's part of a good sequence in which conductor Nicola Reschino (ph) talks about her attitude toward this role.

NICOLA RESCHINO, OPERA CONDUCTOR: I remember once we were I think at the Covent Garden. We were doing Traviata. And at the end of -- da, da, da, re, da, dee, da, da, da, ree, da, dee, da, da, ree, da, da, ta (IN ITALIAN), she would attack this note very soft, and she'd crack it every night. And I'd go backstage and I'd say: oh, Maria. Come on -- attack it a little bit louder, more forte. And then when you have the note, then you can diminish it and get your effect.

And this kept going night after night after night, and I said, finally I said: well, you know, you're a Greek and no use talking to you. She said: Nicola, I won't compromise. I'll crack every night, but I'm dying and that's the way it's going to be.



SCHWARTZ: This partly-frustrating find is followed by what's arguably the most powerful operatic performance on film. Callas in the second act of "Tosca," with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia, filmed live at Covent Garden in 1964. If you already know opera, you'll be thrilled with what's likely to be a first look at some of these singers. If you don't, this is a good way to hear and see some of the past greats.

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music critic for the Boston Phoenix. He reviewed a new home video called The Art of Singing: Golden Voices of the Century on the NVC Arts label.

Dateline: Lloyd Schwartz, Boston; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Lloyd Schwartz reviews a new home video called The Art of Singing: Golden Voices of the Century" on the NVC Arts label.
Spec: Music Industry; Opera; The Art of Singing
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Art of Singing
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.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Did the Trump camp help far-right militia groups plan the Jan. 6 attack?

New York Times journalist Alan Feuer says some members of Trump's inner circle have close ties to the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, whose leaders have been charged with seditious conspiracy.


Real life or satire? Novelist Mat Johnson says it can be hard to tell the difference

Novelist Mat Johnson believes that America has its own unique "flavor" of apocalypse. "It's hard not seeing the possible end of things in a variety of different ways," he says. Johnson's new satirical novel, Invisible Things, serves up one of those apocalyptic flavors.


A novelist's time in the MMA cage informed his book on memory loss and identity

"Really, the heart of the story is about misplaced loyalty and what we can do with memory and how fluid and malleable memory can be when we ... use it to fit the narrative that we've created in our mind," says novelist John Vercher.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue