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Film Director and Former PA Sarah Kelly

Kelly made her directorial debut with the documentary "Full Tilt Boogie," a comedy about the making of the Quentin Tarantino action vampire film, "From Dusk Till Dawn." Kelly previously worked on Tarantino's production team for the films "Killing Zoe" and "Pulp Fiction."




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Other segments from the episode on August 6, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 6, 1998: Interview with Carl Sferrazza Anthony; Interview with Sarah Kelly; Review of Robert Hellenga's novel "The Fall of a Sparrow."


Date: AUGUST 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080601np.217
Head: First Ladies
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane in for Terry Gross.

First Ladies have played many roles through history, from presidential helpmate to outspoken activist. My guest Carl Sferrazza Anthony says that recent activist First Ladies such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton owe a debt to Florence Harding, whom he considers the first modern First Lady.

He details her accomplishments in his new book "Florence Harding: The First Lady, the Jazz Age, and the Death of America's Most Scandalous President." She was married to Warren G. Harding, whose administration was plagued with corruption, cronyism, and an oil leasing scandal which came to be known as Teapot Dome. Harding is now considered one of the worst presidents in this country's history.

I asked Anthony why it's taken so long for history to recognize the contributions of Florence Harding.

CARL SFERRAZZA ANTHONY, AUTHOR, "FLORENCE HARDING: THE First Lady, THE JAZZ AGE, AND THE DEATH OF AMERICA'S MOST SCANDALOUS PRESIDENT": Well, I think there's a few reasons why she was forgotten. Number one, she -- a lot of history, good history is unfortunately good public relations. And if you have people of a particular political persuasion writing that history, and you're not around to counteract it, sometimes your reputation just, you know, goes down the tubes.

And Florence died 15 months after the president. A lot of her friends were in the thick of the really horrific scandals of the Harding Administration. And I think because she had an interest in astrology, in the supernatural; because she was married to this man who was the worst -- been consistently rated the worst president, she's never been given any serious consideration on her own. She's always just been sort of this hatchet-faced caricature.

And then contrasted with these young and very attractive sort of flappers who were Harding's assorted mistresses, Mrs. Harding, in her Marcel (ph) wave and pinched-nose glasses seems like a visually grim contrast.

MOSS-COANE: You call Florence Harding, really, the first modern First Lady. And reading about here accomplishments and reading about her interest in turning this office of First Lady into something more than just -- just cosmetics, I was very surprised, frankly, to read about what she brought to this office. Give us a sense for the various "firsts" associated with her.

ANTHONY: I'm so happy you touch on that because it's -- it is fascinating. She really saw an opportunity to use this position and turn it sort of back towards the people who had put here there.

First of all, she was very grateful for the opportunity. And in a way, becoming First Lady opened her heart and she -- she very consciously wanted to make both herself, in a real and physical way, as well as a symbol, and the mansion itself, more accessible to the public. So that meant literally opening the gates, which had been closed during the Wilson years; allowing streams of tourists to come in. The house and the grounds were used -- though the grounds were used as a public park. The house was open to the tourists again. She often led tours. She actually touched people with her hands. She didn't wear white gloves and hold herself back with a little bouquet. She back-slapped. She hugged. She clasped people's hands.

And she asked them what was on their mind. She asked them about problems they were facing in their community. And -- and she had from the get-go announced her commitment as an activist to the disabled veterans of the First World War.

MOSS-COANE: Was she a popular First Lady because of this?

ANTHONY: She was an extraordinarily popular First Lady. And this is what's really fascinating because here you have just a few years before, Edith Wilson being derided on the floor of Congress for running a "petticoat government" as she managed, in a sense, the presidency rather secretly and furtively while her husband, President Wilson, suffered from his stroke. And then just two years later, you have Florence Harding talking publicly about how she was going to see to it that women were appointed to high federal position; how she was going to lead a national boycott of women against the high price of sugar; how she was going to lobby Congress for the first federal reformatory prison exclusively for women; and how she was going to act as an investigator on behalf of hundreds of cases of veterans who had sort of fallen through the cracks of the system.

And editorials praise her, and people praise her, and she's -- and she is said to symbolize the new woman. And this, of course, is the spirit of the post-suffrage era.

MOSS-COANE: She had a lot of power, as I understand it. She had the power and oftentimes made suggestions for appointments. She edited her husband's state of the union addresses and other speeches that he gave. She even made decisions on which prisoners got paroled. This seems like an extraordinary amount of power for a First Lady.

ANTHONY: It does, but it gets back to that timeless issue of, you know, the boss' wife. And we've gone through it in varying degrees and varying generations with Eleanor Roosevelt and Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton and Rosalyn Carter, and even a little bit with Abigail Adams publicly, and Mary Todd Lincoln. And we'll probably continue to go through it, and we'll go through it when we have our first "First Gentleman."

MOSS-COANE: She acquired the services, or actually hired on an astrologer -- someone who would help her, I guess -- what? -- consult with her; read the future for her. She believed in the supernatural?

ANTHONY: Absolutely believed in it. And I think when one thinks about -- when one considers the fact that she lived with death very closely every day. She had a chronic kidney ailment which although it did not leave her an invalid, certainly made her condition, her health, rather precarious because at a moment's notice if this condition flared up, her kidney could block and her system fill with uremic poisoning.

I think this had a great effect on her wanting to have a sense of control over the uncontrollable. And ever since her childhood, when her father used to take her out to sort of the bucolic countryside of -- outside of Marion, Ohio where he would collect rents from the old German tenant farmers on his property, she would see the hex signs on their barns or the witch's ball in the kitchen window to keep evil spirits away.

And so it was a lifelong fascination.

MOSS-COANE: Did this astrologer have a lot of power in the White House?

ANTHONY: The astrologer's name was Madame Marsha (ph), and she -- and it was reported at the time, and in fact letters from Mrs. Harding to the reporter were printed, and Mrs. Harding didn't seek to deny that she consulted Marsha. The -- the astrologer advised the First Lady on appearances that the president should or should not make; good days to meet with different kinds of people. And then as the political scandals of Teapot Dome and the Veterans Bureau began to break, the First Lady then gave her the readings to be done rather belatedly on cabinet members and advisers and whether they could be trusted.

MOSS-COANE: Hmmm. Well, I'll tell you what, let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more. And our guest today on FRESH AIR is Carl Sferrazza Anthony, and we're talking about his new book. It's a biography of Florence Harding.

This is FRESH AIR.


My guest is Carl Sferrazza Anthony, and his new book is a biography of Florence Harding, the wife of President Warren G. Harding.

When she married Warren G. Harding, she knew about his reputation as a womanizer, and he certainly didn't do anything to curtail his interest and his activities, which continued into the White House. How much was this public knowledge?

ANTHONY: Well, many members of the opposition party, the Democrats, knew it. And several reporters knew it. Specifically, they knew about Grace Cross (ph), who was his Senate secretary. And they knew about his long-term relationship with Carrie Fulton Phillips (ph) back in Marion, Ohio. Most people -- I found no evidence that anyone really knew much about Nan Britton (ph), the more famous of his mistresses at the time he was in the White House.

MOSS-COANE: And Nan Britton claimed to have had a child with Warren Harding. She wrote a book about it, I believe, shortly after he died, called "The Presidential Daughter." What evidence is there that this child is indeed the child of Warren G. Harding?

ANTHONY: Well, there's various forms of corroborative evidence that I have found that -- and the Harding papers themselves, actually, that give credence to Nan Britton's general story. A letter, for example, by a young woman by the name of Louise Biederhouse (ph) who wrote to Harding saying: "Oh, I'm so happy to vote for you. I don't know if you remember, but we met at the typing class a the YWCA through our mutual friend Nan Britton." And Nan, of course, had written about this in her book -- this meeting or -- that taking him to the typing class.

George Christian (ph), President Harding's secretary, also told people privately that Nan Britton was telling the truth; that this was a relationship. And George would know because he kept the letters and the photographs carefully separated from other materials in the president's desk.

So this -- so there's confirmation on the general outlines of Nan's relationship with Harding.

Now, the fathering of the child -- no DNA testing ...


ANTHONY: ... we don't know.

MOSS-COANE: You don't know.

ANTHONY: We don't know.

MOSS-COANE: Were their Oval Office trysts?

ANTHONY: There was, according to Nan Britton, a regular meeting with the president in a small closet in which an old leather couch would fit, which was connected to the Oval Office. This was corroborated by Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who learned about this incident from Ike Hoover, who was the chief usher of the White House. But some people still feel that Nan was not telling the truth and don't want to believe her, but there are various memoirs of White House staff people that confirm it.

MOSS-COANE: What did the Republican Party and its officials do to deal with Harding's womanizing? And I know some of these women really tried to blackmail him and use their relationship with him to get money for themselves.

ANTHONY: Yes, it's interesting. You know, a lot of these women were very demanding on Harding. I mean, for money and gifts and things. And it seems to be a pattern with him. Carrie Phillips was the most incessant and the most successful. She demanded $25,000, and in this book published for the first time, is Harding's capitulation letter to her demands for blackmail. He says he cannot personally raise that amount and he asks her to hold off a little bit -- and he writes this in April, 1920 -- until the convention, knowing, as did Florence, that if he's nominated as the Republican national candidate for president that the Republican National Committee can raise the blackmail, and that is indeed what is done under the auspices of its chairman, Albert Lasker (ph).

MOSS-COANE: Well, it's certainly interesting to read about these scandals associated with the Harding White House, and compare them to the accusations today aimed at the Clinton White House. What parallels do you see?

ANTHONY: Well, I have to be very honest with you, and I know this is a disappointing answer for some people in the press. I don't see a lot of the parallels because looking at it from the point of view of today, with Harding we have some real documentation. We have affidavits that were prepared for Grace Cross. We have Harding's capitulation letters to Carrie Phillips and secret code. We have reports from others who were keeping tabs on her. And we have the recollections of reporter Bertha Martin. And Evelyn McLean (ph), a good friend of the Hardings, who really spilled the beans.

We don't have that right now in the case of President Clinton. We have a lot of very detailed allegations. Now, I do see a comparison between Florence Harding and Hillary Clinton in that I see them both as part of a continuum with Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosalyn Carter, to a certain degree Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan as well -- women who had the courage to either publicly speak up on issues that were important to them, despite whatever criticism might ensue; or -- and/or women who behind the scenes were taking a very active role in the presidency.

MOSS-COANE: But it is interesting to read about Harding and to read about these -- these stories about his own personal life and to compare that to the stories, whether true or not, that are coming out day by day associated with the Clinton White House, that what's in the history books, which oftentimes gets muted over time, seems much more scandalous when it's in the current-day news.

ANTHONY: Well, I'll tell you what's -- what to me is the most interesting thing about this is that with Harding, again a Republican, the Democrats knew -- I mean, people -- the top leaders of the Democratic National Committee, including also President Wilson and his cabinet, knew for example about Grace Cross. And one of them, former Wilson Attorney General Mitchell Palmer, used the FBI to harass this woman, Grace, out of Washington during the campaign, blunting her effort to also blackmail then-presidential candidate Warren Harding.

And then later, after Harding is elected, these Democratic officials come to the president to ask that a prosecution be dropped against in this case Mitchell Palmer, based on the fact that they had gotten rid of Grace Cross. And Harding complies. And some of the reporters knew about it.

So it's -- you have the press, the Democrats, and the Republicans all in cahoots with each other.

MOSS-COANE: Well let's complete the life of Florence and Warren G. Harding. He died on a -- sort of under mysterious circumstances on a trip to Alaska. And this is back in 1923 -- died suddenly and with some degree of mystery. What were the circumstances?

ANTHONY: Well, it's exactly 75 years ago right now. He died on August 2 and for the week after that, the whole country was focused on this funeral train that was coming slowly back from San Francisco to Washington, DC. Tens of thousands of Americans lining the train tracks and waiting for hours to get a glimpse of this.

And by that point, the rumors had already started that Florence had poisoned the president. And what in fact had happened was -- was that he had a very serious heart condition. He then took some -- had some crabs and had a touch of ptomaine poisoning, as did several others in the party traveling with him. They, however, recovered within a few days. Harding continued to complain of what he called indigestion.

This -- this Rasputin-like figure to the First Lady -- a little homeopath by the name of Doc Sawyer (ph), who had literally pulled her from what was a near-death experience, in even the words of 1922, just several months before that -- Mrs. Harding gives her tacit and complete support and approval of everything Dr. Sawyer does. And Sawyer begins treating Harding with heavy dosages of purgatives to flush these perceived poisons out of his system.

Harding continues to complain of indigestion. The number two doctor, Naval physician Joel Boone (ph), keeping very assiduous notes on all this, is alarmed when he, without Sawyer's knowledge, examines the president's heart and finds it alarmingly enlarged. On the night of August 2, in the Palace Hotel, Sawyer gives Harding one more purgative while Boone is out of the room. Harding expires, collapses. Florence is in the room alone with him, thinking he's just fainted. Sawyer runs out to get what's called a restorative. Florence is alone in the room and realizes he's dead; comes out in the hall and screams for the other doctor and Boone -- the genesis of this legend that she was in cahoots with Doc Sawyer and that she killed the president.

MOSS-COANE: Was there any effort at a coverup, considering some of the murky circumstances of his death?

ANTHONY: There was an extraordinary coverup. Not only was the First Lady an unwitting accomplice to a negligent homicide, she was part of their very careful and conscious conspiracy to cover up the details of his death -- the medical incompetence which would have not only embarrassed Sawyer, but some of the other consulting physicians as well as the First Lady herself, who publicly would introduce this man as "the man who can keep me alive."

She refused to permit an autopsy. He refused to sign -- Doc Sawyer -- the death certificate. And she had the body brought back to Washington. And she said a lot of strange things, you know, at the time of his death. She would bring people over to the corpse and say: "He was magnificent in life. He was in beautiful in life, but he is more magnificent still in death." And when at two o'clock in the morning, heavily veiled, wearing her diamond, along with Evelyn McLean in the East Room on this hot muggy night, with all these flowers, this cloying smell of flowers in the East Room, she raised the top of the coffin and she began this two hour monologue with the president.

And she ended by saying: "The trip hasn't hurt you a bit. No one can hurt you now, Warren." And then turned to Evelyn and said: "Now that it's all over, I'm beginning to think it was all for the best."



MOSS-COANE: Pretty provocative.

ANTHONY: Very provocative.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I thank you very much for joining us today on FRESH AIR.

ANTHONY: Thank you very much. Thank you.

MOSS-COANE: Carl Anthony Sferrazza is the author of Florence Harding: The First Lady, the Jazz Age, and the Death of America's Most Scandalous President.

I'm Marty Moss-Coane and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Washington, DC
Guest: Carl Sferrazza Anthony
High: CARL SFERRAZZA ANTHONY is an authority on First Ladies, and the author of a new biography of the determined and unconventional Florence Harding, wife of Warren G. Harding. She was raised in Ohio by an abusive father who wanted a boy so much he raised Florence as one. While still a teenager, she became pregnant by a neighbor. Later she met and married Harding while working for a weekly newspaper. It was she that pushed him to the presidency, and then endured his many adulteries. Her husband died only two years in office, but came to be known as the most "scandalous president." After his mysterious death, there was speculation that Florence had a hand in his death. ANTHONY's new book is "Florence Harding: The First Lady, the Jazz Age, and the Death of America's Most Scandalous President."
Spec: Politics; Women; Government
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: First Ladies
Date: AUGUST 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080602NP.217
Head: Full Tilt Boogie
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane in for Terry Gross.

Every production assistant on a movie set has fantasies about being a director; about taking all that accumulated knowledge and experience and putting it to work; about being the person who is served coffee instead of making it.

That was Sarah Kelly's dream, and in 1995 it came true. Actor-director Quentin Tarantino asked her to make a documentary about the making of the Robert Rodriguez vampire western "From Dusk Till Dawn." Tarantino was the screenwriter, executive producer and starred in the film, along with George Clooney, Juliette Lewis, and Harvey Keitel. Kelly knew Tarantino, having worked as a production assistant on "Pulp Fiction."

What was going to be a film about a threatened union strike became a funny and revealing look at the life of a film crew. "Full Tilt Boogie" is about the gossip and the gripes and the aspirations of the people who worked endless hours behind the scenes on a movie set. Sarah Kelly has worked on several other films, including "Gettysburg," "Killing Zoe," and "Sleep With Me."

I asked her what she learned from watching directors work.

SARAH KELLY, FILM DIRECTOR, "FULL TILT BOOGIE": Well, you know, working with Quentin, I worked as a production assistant on "Pulp Fiction." And he really makes it look easy. It's sort of like you learn almost from the directors that aren't as savvy -- what not to do.

But in terms of watching Quentin, he is so amazing and he -- he -- his energy and his inspiration, it sort of trickles down to the crew. And he really -- he inspires people. And the way he works with actors, I learned a lot with because he -- he -- he spends a lot of time with them and I've notice some directors sort of sit in their chair and look at the monitor. And Quentin doesn't even have a monitor on his sets. He -- he is very one-on-one with the actors and takes a lot of time with them.

MOSS-COANE: And you were looking to do the same -- to create that same kind of relationship?

KELLY: Yes. You know, I think he really -- he pulls out things from within them and he takes the time to give them back story, and to really get into the characters with the actors. And I think that unfortunately that is rare with directors. I've talked to a lot of actors. I used to ask them what they thought made a good director, and they all said, you know, someone who will spend a lot of time with you, just one-on-one.

MOSS-COANE: This, of course, is a documentary so you're really documenting events as they unfold. That's a different kind of responsibility for a director.

KELLY: It is, yeah. Well, it's hard because there's no script.


KELLY: And there's no rehearsal time and there's no take-backs. You know, you either get it or you don't get it. And so it was tricky and you know, we just had to, again, keep our eyes and ears perked for something good that was going to happen, or some terrible disaster that we could capture and roll away.

MOSS-COANE: Were there certain things you did to prepare yourself for that first day as director?

KELLY: Oh ...


MOSS-COANE: Eat a good breakfast, for instance.

KELLY: ... yeah, had a good breakfast; said a lot of prayers. No, you know, I mean I had sort of been gearing up for it, really, for years. And I had been mouthing off about the fact that I was going to be a director. And so it happened quickly, but it also -- I had been dreaming of it for so long and sort of mentally preparing myself. And when it happened, I was just actually a little bit numb.

MOSS-COANE: Did you have to learn how to give orders?

KELLY: Yeah, actually, that was probably the hardest thing in the beginning, was because I was so used to following orders that giving orders actually was a whole new ball game. And my crew was mainly male, and so I learned ways in which to communicate to the boys what I wanted.

MOSS-COANE: Such as?

KELLY: Well, I used to say in the beginning, things like "Do you think maybe we could like go set up at George Clooney's trailer?" And they would just, like, sort of grunt and not listen and then keep eating their lunch. And then I would sort of rephrase it, take a deep breath and say: "After lunch, we are setting up at George Clooney's trailer." And they go "Oh, OK."

MOSS-COANE: A statement, not a question.

KELLY: Right. Yeah. And you have to learn that fine line between, you know, being bossy and actually just saying "No, I'm the director and I have to lead these people."

MOSS-COANE: Were there questions, issues about you being a woman leading a group of men? Was that something you had to struggle with?

KELLY: No, not really. I mean, I think just in terms of -- of being aggressive enough to communicate what I wanted. In terms of being a woman, I -- I've actually run into less obstacles than you would think. And I think a lot of it just has to do with whether or not you believe enough in yourself. And I do, and so for me, you know, all the -- all the -- my mentors were mainly men and they really took me under their wing and it was never an issue with them.

MOSS-COANE: How about being young? You're in your mid-20s. Was that an issue?

KELLY: "Young" was more of an issue actually than being a woman. And so -- sometimes combining that "young" and a woman definitely, you sort of have a lot to prove. But young -- young was more of an issue because people think, well, you know, how -- you don't have all these years of experience under your belt, and what are you doing -- you're a kid.

So especially when you're known as a production assistant for years, that was kind of a challenge -- to kind of step up and prove that I had graduated.

MOSS-COANE: I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look in this film. And you get a feel for the crew that of course never get the face-time in a film. And when you see the credits on the screen, they go by so quickly you can't really digest who they are. But they -- the whole group of people that gravitates towards filmmaking -- is there something distinctive about this group?

KELLY: You know, I think that a lot of times these people love -- I think basically they have common grounds, which is they don't want to work in the corporate world. They don't want to work nine to five. They're very creative and they love storytelling, especially in independent film. And I think that they sort of crave this crazy, weird, circus-like atmosphere and I think that even the grips, and in "Full Tilt Boogie," you can see that they are in it also for the creative aspect of it.

So I think it's people who sort of crave that sort of a little bit more exciting life.

MOSS-COANE: There seems like there's a lot of down-time on a set, at least from an outsider; a lot of waiting; a lot of setting up; things in a holding pattern waiting for the sun or the wind to cooperate.

KELLY: Right.

MOSS-COANE: Does it feel like down-time when you're on the set?

KELLY: Oh, yes.


They have a saying in the film business called "hurry up and wait."


KELLY: And there are two states: you're either panicking and hurrying to get something or you're waiting around for hours. And that's where a lot of extracurricular activities develop. So, you know, you get to know people and you, you know, play weird games and you just kind of -- you know, there are hours and hours and hours where you're not doing too much. So a lot of relationships form and there's -- that's also a lot of -- a lot where people end up talking and sharing ideas and there's a lot of sort of creative time that happens there, too.

MOSS-COANE: What are some of those "extracurricular activities" you just referred to?

KELLY: Well, you know, you can see some of them in "Full Tilt Boogie." It's everything from, you know, doing spit-takes to talking about who's cute on the set, to you know, a lot of games develop. But you always have to be ready to drop whatever you're doing and get back to work.

MOSS-COANE: Were you good at that as a production assistant? That hurry up and wait business?

KELLY: At hurry up and wait? Yes, well you know, you're -- during the waiting time, that's when I kind of used -- I used that time to kind of be a sponge and to sort of look around and listen and ask questions and hang out with people that were inspiring. And so that, to me, was the time that I really tried to learn as much as I could.

MOSS-COANE: A lot of time seems to be spent on coffee, food, iced-mochas -- that that's really important in the set; that people are well fed and well watered.

KELLY: It is, yeah. And I mean, the first rule you learn if you're doing even a film school project or a really low-budget is feed your crew. If you don't pay them, you have to feed them. That's -- it's more important than money at that -- on a film set. And of course, there's also beer involved after shooting.

MOSS-COANE: Right. A lot of beer. right.

KELLY: Especially on location, and that's important too -- after, of course after shooting, but yes, it really is. It means more to you at the time than money does.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I would assume on every set there are disasters. There are things that happen. There are things that can't be anticipated and...

KELLY: Right.

MOSS-COANE: ... in this -- the making of this film, as you document in your own film, a number of things happen, from union problems to a set that practically burns down. Is that something...

KELLY: Right.

MOSS-COANE: ... you just, you know is going to happen; things are going to happen on a set.

KELLY: Right. Well, I used to -- you know, we used to actually hope that something bad would happen because in the beginning, it just seemed like this was such a wonderful set and everything was so smooth that we would have to have birds chirping in the background, and no one would really believe it or be interested.

But you know, I knew that there was going to be union problems, so I sort of anticipated that. And you can't anticipate the set burning down or the dust storm...


KELLY: ... blowing through. So that was kind of exciting and I was glad that we were able to capture that.

MOSS-COANE: The union targeted this film. Why?

KELLY: Why? Because it was a very large budget to have been an independent film. And I think that because it was happening in their backyard, it was an $18 million film -- I think that they just felt that that was uncalled for and that it was sending a bad message and that they figured if they had $18 million that they should be spending some of that on health benefits and on union wages.

So that was their reason. And I'm -- you know, I also do agree with -- with Quentin and Elizabeth Avellan and Lawrence Bender (ph) and the people I interviewed that are the producers of the film, is that they were also going directly after Quentin and Robert Rodriguez because they are these hot-shot independents that made it big. And they came up, you know, from a $7,000 film to an $18 million film -- that's what Robert did. And he still likes to work as if he's an independent.

MOSS-COANE: Even if he has $18 million?

KELLY: Yes. In other words, he likes to edit his films. He likes to operate the steady cam. He likes to operate the camera. He -- he sort of does all these things that -- that normally on a union set there would be filled by different people; the positions would be filled by different people.

And I think that they -- they wanted an atmosphere that was creatively free, and that wouldn't have been the case if the unions -- if it had been a union show. And so they tried to just pay comparable wages, and then they ended up giving healthcare in the end, which was good because that was the main issue, I think, that people were really missing out.

MOSS-COANE: So in a sense, the union forced them then to -- to pay good wages and provide for the crew?

KELLY: Well actually, they didn't get forced. I mean, they -- when they started, when they struck the deals with everybody that signed on to work on the movie, the wages were comparable from the beginning. They were comparable anyway. They were -- and basically, you know, as Quentin says in the movie, you shouldn't -- unions should not come down and strike a set just for the hell of it. You should sort of hear that there's a problem and then investigate the problem and then come down and strike a set.

But this was a happy environment of people who wanted to be there, who had been part of the Robert and Quentin family for, you know, for four or five films before. And so this was kind of a group of people that had worked together before. They all wanted to be there and they knew that it was going to remain independent.

But in terms of giving health care, I think that the producers went around and said to the crew: "If we remain independent, what's the one thing that you really -- or what's the most important issue to you?" And everybody said "health care." So they had to listen to that and they were able to provide it.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I want to talk some more, but first we're going to take a very short break. And our guest today on FRESH AIR is director Sarah Kelly, and we're talking about a documentary she just did called "Full Tilt Boogie." And it's about the set of a Robert Rodriguez film called "From Dusk Till Dawn," a look at what happened in front of the camera and behind it.

We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


My guest is filmmaker Sarah Kelly, and we're talking about her film "Full Tilt Boogie," which is a documentary on the making of a Robert Rodriguez film called "From Dusk Till Dawn."

How many movie romances blossom on the set of a film? Is that pretty common?

KELLY: It is. You know, it is common. And I don't know about necessarily full-blown romances, but definitely crushes develop. And they develop in very strange people. I think because you're working these very long hours and the outside world virtually doesn't exist when you're on a movie set. And so you have all this extra time to sort of think about people and you definitely -- there's a lot of crushes going on.

MOSS-COANE: There's actually a great scene of a number of the crew sitting around talking about crushes and fantasies and who's doing what with whom. I mean, it sort of just tantalizes us. It doesn't give us a lot of hardcore information. Do you think they were being very circumspect because you were filming them?

KELLY: I think so, yeah. And I think that -- that actually, you know, I -- I certainly wasn't out to ruin anybody's life, so I didn't want too much dirt. But I, you know, I also think that a lot of it is just talk and hot air, and that basically it just -- it stays at the crush level.

MOSS-COANE: And it kind of helps to pass the time, right? To talk about this stuff.

KELLY: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean, you definitely -- you pretty much identify in the first week who -- who's cute and it starts to...


KELLY: ... circulate, and it just -- it really does help pass the time.

MOSS-COANE: Were there times when making this documentary that certain people didn't want to be interviewed? Didn't want to be filmed?

KELLY: Oh, yeah. And one of those examples is Harvey Keitel, who really didn't want anything to do with "Full Tilt Boogie." And we respected that and sort of avoided him on the set as much as we could. And then he finally did allow us to interview him. He allowed Quentin to interview him -- his last day of shooting. So that was one example.

But there were a lot of people who, for whatever reason -- some of the reasons being the union issues, just really didn't want to be involved; didn't want to be on camera. And we really tried to respect that and just tried to sort of avoid shooting them.

MOSS-COANE: Why didn't Harvey Keitel want to be involved and included in this documentary?

KELLY: You know, I think -- I think that the basic -- the most basic reason is that he is a very serious method actor and he was really there to be involved in "From Dusk Till Dawn." And so he didn't want to waste any of his sort of energies involved in "Full Tilt Boogie." And at the time, he wasn't really sure what it was or what it would end up being, and I think that he just decided he'd rather stay away from it. But you know, then on the other hand, we had George Clooney and Juliette who were very willing to be a part of both movies.

MOSS-COANE: Were very much hams, I would say.

KELLY: Yes, they were great.

MOSS-COANE: Playing to the camera.

KELLY: Right.

MOSS-COANE: When the film is over, does a crew get depressed? You put a lot of time and energy into putting a film together.

KELLY: Yes. I think that there's a huge amount of depression that happens, especially the very next day, because you've been -- you've been working with these people for hours and hours and hours and weeks on end. And that's really your whole existence. And then one day, all of a sudden, that's a wrap and it's over.

So it's very hard to get used to, and you have to sort of -- you think that you can toughen up your skin, but every time it's happened, I know I've gotten depressed. And it's just very weird 'cause you wake up and you have nothing to do the next day.

MOSS-COANE: How did you get interested in making films in the first place?

KELLY: Well I was raised going to films from the time I was six. And so my parents kind of, you know, always took us to movies and movies were a big part of my life growing up. But I never -- it didn't occur to me until the end of college when I just -- I took a very -- I took a short film class and kind of said "Oh, this -- hey, I didn't know this was an option." And then I actually stumbled into a matinee showing of a film called "Slacker" directed by Richard Linkletter.

And when the movie was over, I walked out into Santa Cruz and realized the movie was still going on and that he had really done an amazing job of capturing life, kind of just as it is. And so I, right then I decided that that's kind of what I wanted to do.

MOSS-COANE: Well I would think a lot of people say that, but what did you do next to make that happen?

KELLY: Well there was a man who was a producer, Mark D'Zuma Esparza (ph), who was coming to speak to the film class. And I found out where he was staying and sort of marched into his room and handed him a speech that I had written for graduation, and told him to hire me. I actually told him to hire me. And he did. He was, I think, impressed with that confidence. And I told him I could make coffee really well.


And I have no experience, but that I would be willing to work hard. So -- and that's -- that was the beginning of my career as a coffee maker.

MOSS-COANE: What was that speech about?

KELLY: You know, it -- I look at it now, and it was very -- it was a very college graduation speech. But it really was talking about taking what you've learned and bringing it out into the world and trying not to forget sort of where you came from. And I talked about making films and painting pictures and you know, curing diseases and things like that -- just sort of trying to take what you've learned and go out into the world and do something with it.

And that's what I really wanted to do.

MOSS-COANE: So all that -- all those high-falutin' ideas plus the ability to make coffee -- that was ...


MOSS-COANE: ... what opened the doors for you?

KELLY: Very important. Yes. And you know, it's actually what -- it's funny because you can just make coffee or you can kind of take it to another level and make coffee, but at the same time also really be a sponge and try and learn as much as you can. And that's really what I tried to do. And I also really loved making coffee. I mean, I knew I wouldn't do it forever, but I -- at the time really felt privileged and happy to be doing it.

MOSS-COANE: And you make a good cup of coffee?

KELLY: And I do.


MOSS-COANE: Well Sarah Kelly, thank you very much for joining us today on FRESH AIR and good luck to you.

KELLY: Well thanks a lot. Thanks for having me.

MOSS-COANE: Sarah Kelly is director of "Full Tilt Boogie," which opened last weekend in New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Dallas, Houston, and Seattle.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Washington, DC
Guest: Sarah Kelly
High: Film director SARAH KELLY. She's making her debut with the documentary "Full Tilt Boogie" a comedy about the making of the Quentin Tarantino action vampire film, "From Dusk Till Dark." KELLY previously worked on Tarantino's production team for the films "Killing Zoe" and "Pulp Fiction."
Spec: Movie Industry; Entertainment; Art
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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: Full Tilt Boogie
Date: AUGUST 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080603NP.217
Head: The Fall of the Sparrow
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: Robert Hellenga's acclaimed first novel, "The Sixteen Pleasures," described the life-altering adventures of an art restorer in Florence, Italy. Hellenga's new novel, "The Fall of a Sparrow," has just been published, and book critic Maureen Corrigan says it surely qualifies as a seventeenth pleasure.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Towards the end of Robert Hellenga's magnificent new novel, The Fall of a Sparrow, the main character finds himself in Rome staring down at the Coliseum and thinking of how Freud used the city in "Civilization and Its Discontents" to represent the secretive depths of the human mind.

It's too bad Freud so definitely staked his claim on Rome as metaphor because the city, with its layers upon layers of history, of stories, would also be the perfect symbol for this rich and elusive novel. In The Fall of the Sparrow, Hellenga has pulled off perhaps the most difficult writer's trick of all. He set down the ungraspable. Hellenga wields a magical language that's not so cryptic as to baffle the reader and not so plain that it flattens out the essential mystery of the emotions and experiences he's describing.

"The Fall of a Sparrow" is a novel about loss and slow, rending transformation. Our hero, Alan Woodhull, nicknamed "Woody," is a classics professor at a small Midwestern college. He and his wife Hannah had three daughters, but seven years before the story proper begins, the oldest daughter, Cookie, is killed when a terrorist group bombs the train station she happens to be sitting in in Bologna, Italy.

Afterwards, Hannah retreats into religion, eventually divorcing Woody and entering a cloistered convent. Woody turns to his beloved classical authors for solace. The "terror of coincidence" is the phrase he invokes from "Oedipus Rex" to try to comprehend Cookie's death. He also turns to Schopenhauer (ph) and Plato, but we're told he soon realized that they didn't know anything more about death than the authors of self-help books, and they didn't have any practical advice.

With the passing of time, Woody has recovered his sense of humor and a degree of happiness. But he's only half alive -- a man who doesn't want anymore adventures; a man who thought that life had already taught him all the lessons he needed to learn.

If I tell you that "The Fall of a Sparrow" charts how Woody, like Homer's Ulysses, stumbles into those unwanted adventures, quests for adequate words to express his grief, and finally sails home to a measured peace, you might get the wrong impression. You might think that this is one of those ennobling stories that celebrate the inevitable triumph of the human spirit, or some such rubbish.

No, I mean for that "Ulysses" allusion to be taken seriously, for "The Fall of a Sparrow" really is like a classical epic in its vastness of tone. There's plenty of tragedy and comedy here, as well as frisky passages that describe Woody's affair with an Iranian graduate student, luscious descriptions of Italian banquets, and directions on how to play authentic steel guitar blues. Woody's middle daughter, Sarah (ph), occasionally takes over the narrative, and in her rueful, funny voice tells us about working as a waitress in Chicago after college and watching helplessly as her father voyages out of her reach.

As you'd expect in this classically-inflected tale, there's also a decisive confrontation here with a monster. After years of delays, the terrorists responsible for Cookie's death are brought to trial. Woody abandons his teaching job to go to Rome and confront the young female zealot who planted the bomb. Their face-to-face meeting in her jail cell is as harrowing as any of Ulysses' deadly rendezvous' with Homer's chorus line of she-demons.

You don't need to be an oracle -- one of Homer's other stock characters -- to see that end-of-the-century fever is upon us. We're being deluged with lists of, among other things, the greatest novels of the 20th century. The bias of these lists is usually conservative. By that, I mean they implicitly suggest that the best has been; that as we've been hearing for some time now, the novel is dead.

Hah. Every time a great new novel, like "The Fall of a Sparrow" appears, it renews the form and it's hardy true voice drowns out the smug mewlings of the literary doomsayers.

MOSS-COANE: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "The Fall of a Sparrow" by Robert Hellenga.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Washington, DC
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "The fall of the Sparrow," a new novel by Robert Hellenga ("HELL-en-ge").
Spec: Entertainment; Art; Novel
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 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 Fall of the Sparrow

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