DATE August 21, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Former Major League umpire Ken Kaiser discusses his
book and his career
DAVY DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in this week for Terry Gross.
In baseball, everybody loves to yell at the umpire. And in his new book,
former Major League umpire Ken Kaiser doesn't mind yelling back. Kaiser's
book with author David Fisher is "Planet of the Umps," a colorful collection
of baseball tales revealing what gets said in those screaming arguments on the
field and what umpires are thinking when everybody in the park is sure they've
just blown a call.
Kaiser went to umpire school at age 18 and spent a lifetime calling games,
including 23 years in the big leagues. He filled out off seasons during his
minor league career working as a bar bouncer and professional wrestler. His
philosophy on managers who argue would make Johnnie Cochran smile: When in
doubt, throw 'em out. Kaiser's career ended in 1999 when umpires resigned as
a labor-negotiating strategy. He has a pending lawsuit against major league
baseball over severance pay and pension benefits. I asked him about one of
baseball's great traditions, when a team's manager gets into the umpire's face
to dispute a call.
Anybody who's gone to a ball game has seen arguments and wondered, what are
they saying to each other? What are managers doing? I mean, are they trying
to get thrown out sometimes?
Mr. KEN KAISER (Former Umpire): Yeah, sometimes, they'll come up, you know,
I've had managers come up and say to me, `Kenny, hey, things just aren't going
good here. You gotta toss me tonight, man.' And if I know the guy well, you
know, I'll try and oblige him, try to help him out, 'cause they think for some
reason that that sets a fire underneath these players. And as far as I'm
concerned, all it does is make them laugh. But, you know, like Tony LaRussa,
I've done it with him. And there's been several umpire--or several managers
that I have been friends with that I'll give them the heave if they ask me to.
But, on the whole, when you see those guys come out there, they're not coming
out there for that, they're coming out to argue.
DAVIES: Now you'll let them argue a bit, right? I mean, what is it they have
to do before they get tossed? Is it swearing, is it insulting you personally?
Mr. KAISER: Well, that's hard--well, swearing's automatic, it's easy.
Unless they start talking about your mother or your family heritage and stuff
like that, that'll get them going quick, too. But sometimes it's just the
length of the discussion. They won't let it go. They just won't leave.
There's a lot of premise for excommunication from that field. And believe me,
we use them all.
DAVIES: Is it true you once tossed out two guys on one pitch, the first
pitch of the game?
Mr. KAISER: Yeah, the manager and the--that was a spring training game and
that was Tommy Lasorda. I had just gotten off the plane. Matter of fact, I
ran from the plane to get my rent-a-car to the ball park. I got there just
before the "National Anthem," got my gear and I ran to the field.
So I get to the field, they're warming up, and the first hitter is Steve Sax.
First pitch comes in and I call a strike. He starts yelling. I said, `What
are you yelling at?' He says, `That ball's outside.' I said, `We just got
here. Would you mind spending a little time in this game?' He says, `Well,
I'm not gonna put up with this.' I says, `You're right, get outta here.'
So here comes Lasorda. He says, `What's going on?' I said, `I called one
pitch, this guy's complaining, I ran him.' I said, `Put him on the bus.' I
said, `Matter of fact, you go with him. You shouldn't be out here either.'
DAVIES: So you're throwing the manager out now, too.
Mr. KAISER: I've thrown out Tommy Lasorda and I've thrown out Steve Sax. I
said, `You guys get on the bus.' He says, `I'm not getting on the bus.' I
said, `I tell you what, if you don't get on the bus, we're leaving.' He says,
`You wouldn't do that.' I said, `Why don't you try me?' They went on the bus.
DAVIES: There was a time when Billy Martin came out to question a call he
thought he might have been right.
Mr. KAISER: Yeah, I had a play at second base, and I don't know what I did,
I turned the wrong way or I must have been thinking about a fight I had with
the ex-wife or--who knows what my reason was. I called one of his players
out, and he was safe from you to me. And Billy comes coming out to me. And I
got--like I told you, I get along well with Bill Martin. He comes out and he
looks at me and he's got a smile on his face and he says, `Is that right?' I
said, `Well, Billy, it may not be right, but that's the way it is.' So he
understood what I meant and he walked away.
DAVIES: And Billy Martin, of course, is...
Mr. KAISER: Yeah, Billy Martin was the manager of the New York Yankees.
DAVIES: Now sometimes players will be jawing at an umpire from the dugout.
And if you're calling from behind the plate, you gotta stay pretty focused on
the pitches and what's happening in the game and the count. You can't even
necessarily tell who's yelling at you, can you? How do you handle that?
Mr. KAISER: Oh, that's easy. Just tell the guy at first base, he'll pick up
who it is. He stands over there watching 'em. Soon as they start yelling, he
tells me, I throw 'em. That is something that is unacceptable. You're not
gonna sit there and start yelling from the dugout. Who--I'll tell you a guy
that was big at that was Eddie Murray. Eddie Murray liked to yell from the
dugout. I tossed him many times in my career 'cause we kinda pretty much
hated each other. There's a word where hate come in. And I tossed him one
time for never saying nothing. I tossed him for ...(unintelligible) me. I
was standing at first base, I folded my arms, he folded his. I took a step
back, he took a step back. Took a step forward, he took a step forward,
started smiling. I said, `I'm gonna put my hands on my knees. If you put
your hands on your knees, I'm throwing you out.' He looks at me and smiles. I
put my hands on my knees, he put his hands on his knees, I tossed him. He
couldn't believe I threw him. He says, `I didn't say nothing.' I says,
`Actions speaks louder than words. Get out of here.'
DAVIES: Now these are big-league ballplayers and they make a lot of money.
Did you ever get in trouble for--I mean, you know people aren't coming to the
ball park to watch Ken Kaiser, they're coming to watch Eddie Murray hit.
Mr. KAISER: Well, they're coming to watch a baseball game to be played
professionally. They're not coming for some jock to mock people or think
he's arrogant, to show up--they're not coming to see me, I grant it. I'm not
there for them to come and see me, but I'm also there to run the game in a
professional way. And once you break those rules--I always said one thing,
I'm like a landlord. You're renting from me. As soon as you stop paying the
rent, it's time to leave.
DAVIES: My guest is former Major League umpire Ken Kaiser. His book is
"Planet of the Umps."
Let's talk about getting calls right. Working the plate in a major league
ball game has to be hard. I mean, you're back there and you look at, God, 300
pitches from guys that can throw a ball 90 miles an hour. Do you ever grade
yourself? I mean, do you ever go back and look at tapes? I mean, when I
watch ball games, there are always a few pitchers that I think, `Gosh, that's
eight inches outside the plate. I mean, do you ever look back at tapes and
say, `Yeah, yeah, I missed that one'?
Mr. KAISER: No, I really don't. And I'll tell you why. Because I make so
many calls during the seasons, I call so many pitches. You're not gonna get
everything right, it's just a given. I figure if I'm not gonna get 'em right,
they're gonna get somebody in there that's better than me, which they didn't
do for 24 years. No, I mean, I knew that I was getting everything right, but
I knew they didn't have anybody that could get anymore right than I could.
So, hey, you're just a victim of the system. I mean, like you said, you call
300 pitches; if you get 297 of 'em right, who's gonna do better?
DAVIES: Another thing we see in baseball is the bench-clearing brawl. Can
you tell when that's gonna happen? Can you do anything about it?
Mr. KAISER: Well, you try and get to that before it's happened. I've never
had a real--I had one in the minor leagues, the worst I ever seen, but in the
big leagues I never had one where it was a down--I stopped 'em before, and I
used to grab a hold of the catcher and the hitter, whoever the combatants might
be, by their belts. And I was, you know, I could bench-press 400 pounds when
I was a kid. I was a pretty strong guy at one time. Not that I am anymore,
believe me. And I'd grab a hold of their belts and they couldn't go anywhere.
I prevented a lot of battles that way.
And matter of fact, my supervisor, Marty Springstead, kept saying to me, and
Bill Haller, `You're gonna get hurt, you're trying to stop those fights, you
let 'em go.' The theory is to let 'em go and let them finish it off and let
'em break 'em up. But I always use the theory that I could stop it before it
started. And it worked good for me. But I wouldn't tell a young umpire to
handle it that way. Haller and Springstead were totally right.
DAVIES: So an umpire--when a batter drops the bat, starts to head to the
mound, you're out in front of the plate holding onto the ...(unintelligible).
Mr. KAISER: Oh, no, they're gonna do a lot of talking before that happens.
They don't just strap and run. You know, it's, `What'd you say?' You know,
`I'll kick your--butt.' You know what's gonna happen. And a lot of guys wanna
be held before it happens. I mean, they're not looking to fight, they're just
putting a show on. You know they're acting' like they're tough guys for the
rest of the club. But they're not so tough. I've only met a few real
legitimate tough ballplayers in my life.
DAVIES: When you were out on the bases, did you get bored? I mean, it's not
like being behind the plate where you're in on every play.
Mr. KAISER: I never got bored at first and third 'cause I usually walked
over and talked to the fans. I'd go over and have Coke with 'em and I'd talk
to 'em. You know, people forget that the big word in this is game. You think
people now what the word game means? I know they're trying to turn it into a
business, but it's still a baseball game. People like to talk to you, talk
about families, where you grew up. And I would do things like that to keep it
from being boring.
Then there's certain--but that's all situational. I mean, if you're in the
ninth inning and it's a one-nothin' game and--you're not gonna go over and
start talking to the fans, either. I mean, it's all situational. But you
got an open game, you can talk to the people, shake hands, and put your hat
on the kids and--you know what I mean? I enjoyed that. And people liked to
see that when I did it.
DAVIES: Did you talk to players on the field?
Mr. KAISER: Well, you know, if you talk to 'em, I mean, what do you say? I
mean, `Where you hiding' your millions?' I mean, I--there's no real--you know,
a lot of 'em you talk to because you've known 'em for so long.
DAVIES: But I would think you'd talk about the things that everybody talks
about when they're watching a ball game, like, man, that was a heck of a line
drive you just hit or that was a great backhand play you made at third. You
Mr. KAISER: Oh, no, never. Never. Never give 'em credit. It may come back
and bite you. Never talk about 'em striking out, either. No, you talked
about everything but the game. You talked about the news, you talk about
Iraq. Never talk--there's no--you know, you talk about other people's games,
like, gee, did you see what happened last night in Chicago or something like
that. But you never discuss a game on the field.
DAVIES: All right. When you blow a call, do you ever give a team a makeup
Mr. KAISER: You like that blow-a-call term, don't you? You're big on that
blow a call. You never say about the ones you got right, you know.
DAVIES: You're like the bus driver. Every time he arrives back at the
terminal safely, it's not news. It's when he has an accident that it's news.
Mr. KAISER: All right, what's your question, Dave?
DAVIES: Are there makeup calls? You hear announcers say, `Well, so-and-so
missed the call in the first inning and now he's giving him a makeup call.'
Mr. KAISER: That is, by far, and you can quote me, no matter who it is--the
stupidest statement an announcer, a colored man, or anybody in the booth could
possibly make. I'm gonna blame the other team for a mistake that I made? So
I'm gonna give it back where it might mean a ball game? How ignorant and
dumb--you know, and I heard that in basketball, I've heard that in hockey. I
can't even imagine those sports doing it either, where it's less to make a
difference. Our game, you give a guy a pitch, it could mean six runs. You
don't give anybody anything. If you make a mistake, you live and die with it.
That's the nature of the profession. I'm not gonna blame St. Louis for a
play I missed on Pittsburgh, so I'm gonna take one away from St. Louis. You
know, I get the biggest kick out that, Dave, and I hear that a lot. But all
that tells me is how much ignorance there is in the game.
DAVIES: Sammy Sosa was recently caught corking his bat. It's enough for
umpires to try and keep track of what happens on the field, but some players
will look for an edge in equipment, they may try and grease the ball. How do
you keep track of that? Do you think players are--do they cheat out there?
Mr. KAISER: I'm sure there's a lot of cheating going on, but that's not my
job to be a policeman. My job is to call the game. Now if I see something,
or like in the Sosa situation where, you know, it broke and the stuff's all
over the field, I mean, that's an obvious situation, it's a different handle.
But to go out there, sneak behind a guy and wipe his butt to see if he's got
grease on it, I'll pass. No, it's--you know, I know who cheats, who doesn't
cheat. But you don't know how much they cheat. I mean, you know, I used that
Gaylord Perry cheated...
DAVIES: Well, what do you mean by that? How do you know if somebody cheats?
Mr. KAISER: Well, he used to throw a thing called a puff ball. He would
take the rosin bag and put it on his palm, then he'd throw a pitch. And when
he'd release the ball, all the smoke would come out, you couldn't see the
pitch. So I used to tell him--I said, `I'll tell you what, Gaylord. I'm not
going to throw you out for this, but I'll tell you what. Every time you do
that, I'm going to call it a ball, every time. I don't care if bases are
loaded, the winning run and you throw it right down the middle. I'm calling
it a ball.' He tried me three times, and three times I called it a ball. He
stepped out, he walked to me and he says, `I'll never do it again.' I said,
`You got it.'
DAVIES: Your knee was injured in a game. What happened there?
Mr. KAISER: Well, I've been hurt several times in my career. I mean, I had
a neck injury that was worse than my knee injury. I caught a foul tip that
hit me in the side of the mask and the neck, and between C6 and 7--I mean,
it's never been right yet. I had a pinched nerve put me out for like over
three and a half months, and I still have it to this day. Matter of fact,
I've been getting treatment on it lately, and it's caused by baseball. And I
can't even get medical insurance for it.
Yeah, I hurt my knee several times. I got hit with foul tips. I've had
catchers turn the wrong way and hit me, knocking me out. I mean, if you look
at the game today, I guess today they got eight players out now, that are
regular umpires, for injuries. So we're just like players; we get hurt, too.
DAVIES: Let me come back to that. You're bending over a catcher
concentrating on getting a call right from a ball that could be coming at you
at 90 miles an hour. Batter swings, goes off his bat, catcher can't get it.
It hits you in the neck, the shoulder maybe. How do you then ignore the pain,
get back in there and try and concentrate on the next pitch?
Mr. KAISER: Well, I'm glad you brought that up, Dave, because the people
don't realize the pain and stuff that goes with it. It's just you got to do
it. I mean, if you don't--you know, the old theory is if I go down and
somebody else has to come in and finish my game, well, you know, you have that
macho ego-type thing, `Well, darn it, I'm hurt, but I'm going to finish that
game.' I've seen guys work--I saw one kid work in the minor leagues. Guy
broke the bat off, and it stuck in his shoulder--went right through the chest
protector. In those days they had real terrible chest protectors, those thin
ones. It was the National League protector.
DAVIES: Impaled him?
Mr. KAISER: It stuck right in his shoulder like an arrow. And they pulled it
out, and he finished the game, which I thought he was totally nuts.
DAVIES: Now after you catch one of these foul tips and you manage to finish
the game, you go home and your shoulder swells up; you ice it. I mean, don't
you wonder, `Gosh, do I ever want to get back in front of the plate again?'
When you get back next time it's your time to call the balls and strikes at
the plate, do you think, `I don't really want to be here'?
Mr. KAISER: Well, you also think of your daughter going to college; you've
got to pay that next tuition payment. So it makes that pain ease a little bit
better. Yeah, you don't really say you don't want to do this, but you know
you--it seems like when you get hit once, you're going to get hit again, or
you might go 25 games and nothing will happen. It's just like a time machine;
you know, sooner or later this thing's going to go off. It's going to get
DAVIES: Well, Ken Kaiser, thanks a lot for talking with us.
Mr. KAISER: Hey, Dave, thanks for having me. Boy, I appreciate it.
DAVIES: Former major league umpire Ken Kaiser. His story of a life calling
games and throwing out managers is "Planet of the Umps."
Coming up, we meet filmmaker Helen Stickler, whose new documentary tells the
story of a star skateboarder whose journey took him to fame, wealth, emotional
decline and eventually murder.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Helen Stickler and Ken Park on the career and eventual
jailing of Mark Regowski for murder
DAVE DAVIES, host:
I'm Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross.
Skateboarding is an everyday passion for many American teens. Though some
adults regard street skaters as public nuisances, the nation's top skaters
tour professionally, making good livings and achieving celebrity among a
devoted following. A powerful documentary film opening in New York this week
chronicles the rise of commercial skateboard in the 1980s through the tragic
story of its most marketable star. Mark Rogowski, known in the skating world
as Gator, combined athletic talent and showmanship to become a giant of
skateboarding but fell apart emotionally when the industry changed. His
psychological decline ended in homicidal rage when Rogowski sadistically raped
and murdered a woman in his apartment. He's currently serving a prison term
for the murder of Jessica Bergsten. The documentary about Rogowski is called
"Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator."
Early in the film we hear this segment of a telephone prison call from
(Soundbite of "Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator")
Mr. MARK ROGOWSKI: It's been hard over these 10 years to understand how I
could have become so weak, you know, so affected that I ended up hurting
Jessica Bergsten. I was a coward emotionally and mentally. I hate what I did
and I hated myself, my life and my past. Even any good I did before seems to
pale in comparison, like wiped out by my crime.
DAVIES: My guests are Helen Stickler, who produced and directed "Stoke," and
Ken Park, a former professional skater and a friend of Mark Rogowski's who's
interviewed in the film. Park eventually left skateboard for college and a
business career and is now president of a New York-based technology firm.
Helen Stickler is an Emmy-nominated writer, producer and director of
documentary films and commercials. Her best-known documentary short is "Andre
the Giant Has a Posse."
I asked Stickler how Mark Rogowski became a star.
Ms. HELEN STICKLER (Producer/Director, "Stoked: The Rise and Fall of
Gator"): He was a star of a skate video called "Skate Visions," which was
produced by Vision Skateboards. Through his sponsorship with Vision, he
received royalties on skateboard decks, which had his graphics on it and,
later, through a clothing line, which also had his graphic, which was a kind
of descending spiral. It was an op-art design, which they used for a number
of years, and it was a top graphic in the '80s. And the graphic and the image
that was created for him, that vision, really served to brand him. He, I
think you could say, was one of the first skateboarders to really, really
understand and utilize the concept of branding, and a lot of that was because
of Brad Dorfman, who ran Vision Street Wear.
Mr. KEN PARK (Former Professional Skater): When you saw someone like Mark,
who--and I said this so many times--way before the fame and way before the
sponsorship even, you would be at the skate park with seven, eight other
people in this, you know, tremendously large skateboard park. And all of a
sudden, out of nowhere, Mark would appear. He'd never make a grand entrance,
but he'd start consistently or it was systematically going from one of the
areas to the next in the skate park. And I'm talking about areas in the skate
park that nobody rode because they were either just incredibly non-rideable,
as the skateboard terrain goes, or it just--everyone focused on this one area
near the front of the park that had what we called the keyhole, which was one
of the pools.
But, you know, here's a guy that would go out and, literally, every time he
showed up to the park, he would skate every inch of that skate park. And he
would do it with such style and such flair and such confidence that whether
you liked the person wasn't really that important because you couldn't help
but respect the guy. He was just so gifted for this sport.
DAVIES: One of the things that established the image of Mark Rogowski, Helen
Stickler, you note in your documentary, was the events at Virginia Beach in
1986. What did Mark do there that had such an impact?
Ms. STICKLER: The Mt. Trashmore event was a skateboard contest that
happened every year in Virginia Beach. In 1986, Mark went out there, and he
got into a little bit of trouble with the law. The contest was really, really
big. The local authorities had doubled up the number of police and security
guards just as a way to have crowd control. And what I was told is that Mark
went out to either his hotel or went out to get some fast food; he just took
off in his car to run an errand during the body of the contest. And when he
came back, he pulled into the wrong parking lot or the wrong parking spot, or
he didn't want to stop and get checked. So what he thought was a security
guard had followed him over to the car and jumped up and, you know, ran up to
the car window to get him. And he thought he was a security guard, and he
punched him. And it was an actual state trooper or local, you know,
So they arrested him, took him down to jail right in the middle of the
contest. And three of the top industry people at the time went down there and
bailed him out. I think Brad Dorfman told me it was something like 400 bucks.
And they took him back to the contest, and he skated that day. It was an
event for, you know, thousands and thousands of kids that were there, and they
didn't really like the high police security presence that was there either.
There was a lot of tension going on, and he just manifested it. And either by
coincidence or design, the next month's magazines--he got more coverage
between ads, editorial and photo opportunities than he did at any other time
in his career. I think, in his mind, being on top of the world and then
getting away with something like that, it just solidified, you know, his kind
of bad boy image for himself as well as everyone else.
DAVIES: My guests are Helen Stickler, who produced and directed the film
"Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator," and former professional skateboarder
Ken Parks. He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Coming up, classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz highlights the work
of the late American composer Jerome Moross. This month is the centenary of
his birth. His score for "The Big Country" was nominated for an Oscar.
And we continue our conversation with filmmaker Helen Stickler and former
skateboarder Kenneth Park.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross.
Let's continue out interview with documentary filmmaker Helen Stickler and
former professional skateboarder Kenneth Park. Stickler's new documentary
film "Stoked" chronicles the career of star skateboarder Mark "Gator"
Rogowski. He rode his board to wealth and fame in the 1980s but is now
serving a prison term for rape and murder.
When we left off we were talking the bad boy image Rogowski was cultivating at
the height of his celebrity. Here's a clip from the film which illustrates
(Soundbite from "Stoked")
Mr. ROGOWSKI: Well, I think I need to be interviewed not only because I'm
one of the most elite and dynamic, talented, bigheaded and versatile skaters
on the circuit, but also because I'm one of the most blatant and outspoken
jerks in the industry. It's really easy to say what you want--what's on your
mind--and get away with it when you work for a company like Vision. It's
really easy. There's no problems. You can always have a bad write-up in the
local gossip column of Thrasher or Trends and receive some kind of promotion
or exposure from it. It's great. I love getting arrested. I think I'm one
of the most illegal skaters in the circuit too.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Looking back on it, I mean, is this the beginning of the, kind of,
undoing of Mark Rogowski? Is this the criminal that we later see or is this
just a guy who enjoys a rebel image?
Ms. STICKLER: Yeah. I think he--the thing about it, I wouldn't want to take
that out of context, 'cause that piece of video was an outtake and he was
joking around. I mean he was definitely kind of teasing with his interviewer
at that moment. You know, he was being asked some kind of like mundane
skateboard video questions, you know, like `why do you think you should be
interviewed,' was the question. Not such a great question, you know. And so
he came up with an answer that was a joke. But there's a lot of the, you
know, the grain of a part of his personality is in there.
DAVIES: There was a change in skateboarding in the late '80s which really
hurt Mark Rogowski's image and his commercial potential. What was that all
Ms. STICKLER: Well, towards the end of the '80s the vertical, back air ramp
scene and the skatepark scene, which was also mostly a vertical skating scene,
was starting to die out for a number of reasons. A lot of the skateparks
closed and a lot of the backyard ramps were falling apart, and they were kind
of expensive to maintain. And there was also the issue of liability at that
time. If, you know, you were definitely liable if a kid was on your ramp
while you weren't there and got hurt. So parents weren't supporting them as
Also because skateboarding had become so popular worldwide you had kids who
were in urban areas or, you know, over in Europe or wherever where they
weren't going to necessarily have access to backyard ramps who wanted to
skate. So they started to skate on other terrain. They started to just skate
on the streets. And they started to use park benches and handrails and, you
know, all kinds of ledges and things that you can find in urban centers as
obstacles to skate on. And Mark, you know, definitely came from a suburban
background. He was still very focused on vert skating. And he was also, at
that time, when this started happening in the late '80s, he was really focused
on his career at that time.
And so this transition was happening. And Mark was getting a little older, he
was getting more into the business end of things, and the younger kids coming
up were doing a different style of skating. You know, a change happened that
he wasn't exactly a part of.
DAVIES: So this street skating phenomenon arose and he didn't have the moves
and the skills for it, right? I mean...
Ms. STICKLER: Yeah...
DAVIES: ...some of the most compelling video you have is him attempting to
learn some street skating moves and flinging his skateboard to the pavement in
frustration. It's pretty interesting stuff.
Ms. STICKLER: Yeah. That particular clip is another outtake from a
skateboard video that was shot in the very late '80s, and a couple of things
are going on. Like Mark is trying to do vert moves on the curb and I don't,
you know, I think he was trying to innovate, but what I see in that shot is
that he's under pressure 'cause he, you know, a camera's pointed at him and
they're like, `OK, Mark, be a star, do some street skating. We need street
skating 'cause that's what we're promoting now.' And it wasn't his thing.
So when he's reacting in anger it's a combination of things going on in his
head. Like, he doesn't really have the moves 'cause it isn't his thing, he's
under all kinds of pressure, you know, he's failing to himself and in front
of, you know, the camera, which means the eyes of all his public. So you can
really see his frustration coming out. Like all this anger. And, you know,
he yells, `I suck!' You know, he's just upset with himself.
You know, later on he did, you know, he did master the handrail and, you know,
he did get to do some more street skating, but it was too little too late for
him at that point. And I also kind of feel like maybe he wasn't as hungry for
it anymore. Like he'd had his moment in the sun, he was ready to move on to
other things. But he still wasn't quite ready to let it go. And I think
there's a lot of conflict there, you know, for him. 'Cause he could have
gotten good at it if he had wanted to practice it as, you know, as hard as you
need to practice to get good. I don't know if he had that bookdrive in him
Mr. PARK: If I can add one aspect of street skating, you have to understand,
when you watch someone skate a pool or you watch someone skate a vert ramp
it's the series of tricks that makes that so exciting and so enthralling to be
a part of. You're literally doing eight to 16 tricks, one after another,
gaining more and more speed every single step along that ride. So because the
kids that had now grown so attached to this sport might not have been able to
even perform on a vertical ramp--on one of the backyard ramps--what they end
up doing is going down to the school yard and street skating evolved as more
of a one trick type of progression. You would try one thing over and over and
over again. So for someone that had grown up in pools and someone that had
grown up on the backyard ramps where it was the continuity of your run that
gave you the thrill, trying one trick and missing it 30 times in a row so that
you could make it on the 31st attempt was the furthest thing from enjoyable.
And so here's this massively popular uprising in skateboarding taking place
and I think that the typical skater that had been in the pro circuit and had
been skating the vertical ramps and that had been skating the pools just
really had a hard time embracing an activity that was so dramatically
different from what they had grown up doing.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Helen Stickler, she is a documentary producer.
And her newest film is "Stoked: The Rise and Fall of Gator," about the career
of professional skater Mark Rogowski. Also with us, former professional
skater Ken Park. We'll talk more after a short break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Our guests are documentary filmmaker Helen Stickler and former
professional skateboarder Kenneth Park. Stickler's new documentary film is
"Stoked," about star skateboarder Mark Rogowski.
Rogowski's career declined in the 1980s as trends in skateboarding changed.
His friends worried about his mental health. He'd been a heavy drinker, and
they were surprised when he became a born-again Christian.
Ken Park, what did you observe of Mark during this period when his fortunes
Mr. PARK: Well, I think that the first thing I noticed is that before his
financial fortunes had fallen the notoriety and attention and respect had
fallen first. And I think he had a much harder time, to a certain extent,
with that aspect of what he was losing then even making the adaptation to the
loss of finances. Because he had been, you know, in a situation in his life
where he didn't have much money, and, yes, now he had gone from having a lot
to maybe not having as much. But the loss of attention, the loss of respect,
the loss of notoriety, it changed his personality dramatically.
And, in fact, one specific occurrence, I approached him at a party at his
house in Fallbrook, which is shown in the movie, and I pulled him aside, and I
looked him in the eye as a friend to a friend, not as a skater to a skater.
And I said, `Mark, I think you're losing sight of who it is that you are, and
I think you're losing sight of how in the scope of things the skateboarding
part of our lives is just one small aspect and it's gonna be fleeting and it's
gonna be transitional. And you're pushing people away from you, and if it
doesn't stop you're gonna lose us.' And he looked me right back in the eye and
said, `Then I'll lose you.'
And literally that was the finality of our really close relationship, all
summed up with one statement. And I remember being pained by that moment
because we had grown like two brothers very fond and very supportive of each
other even though we were very different people.
DAVIES: This is the period in which he ends up committing the crime that got
him in prison. How did he end up coming into contact with Jessica Bergston?
Ms. STICKLER: The victim of his crime had been his girlfriend's best friend
when they were younger. And Mark had only met Jessica a few times in his
life, and she was not even living in California. What happened is Mark and
Brandy split up. And, because they'd had such an off-and-on relationship
throughout their whole time together, in the past, when he pushed her away,
she would always be brokenhearted and crying and he was always able to get her
back pretty easily.
And what happened this final time, because he had just become--I think she'd
come to the end of her attraction with him, I think that they were still
attracted--but what happened the final time that he pushed her away is that
she found someone else. And this just didn't bode well. Mark started to
follow her, he broke into her mother's house where she was living and he took
back everything he'd ever given her. She told me that later he took back a
car that he'd bought her--just like a used Volkswagen car that he'd gotten
her. Later she told me that the cops found the car with all of her stuff in
it burnt to a shell in the desert.
She was really frightened. And he would call and leave threatening messages
on her answering machine, quoting from the Bible, and using the Bible as a way
to justify his anger towards her and prove that she was a sinner and that, you
know, she needed to change her ways and on and on and on.
And so, you know, she was ready to get out of the relationship. And,
coincidentally, at the time she had gotten an opportunity to move to New York
which is something she'd always wanted to do. Mark was really pressuring her
to become a born-again Christian and settle down and lead a quiet life. He
was ready to put, you know, skating behind him, I think, because as Ken
mentioned, earlier skating had already made that decision for him. Brandy was
20-years-old and she just wanted to explore life and have adventures. She was
definitely not on the same track.
So Brandy moved to New York and then her friend moved to San Diego right
around the same time, and her friend gave Gator a call. And it was just the
wrong place at the wrong time.
DAVIES: What happened?
Ms. STICKLER: Well, Mark had a lot of unresolved anger in his life. And it
goes way deep, you know. It wasn't just skating, it wasn't just his
girlfriend leaving him, it was, you know, his family situation. I think there
was just abandonment issues that he had that were unresolved. He had a
drinking problem that just made the whole thing worse. And he was an
undiagnosed bipolar manic depressive.
So he had been going into a deep spiral of depression and not dealing with it
at all and this young lady came along and he just took out all of his rage and
anger upon her. I don't think it was, you know, I think it was just a shock
to everybody, including himself.
DAVIES: So he meets her for lunch, that's right? Is that right? And then
brings her back to his apartment?
Ms. STICKLER: Yeah. She had called him and he'd called her back and they'd
gone back and forth talking on the phone for a while. She'd literally only
been in town for a number of days. And they made a date to meet for lunch.
He had some meetings in the morning with his manager--actually he called her
from Bill Silva's office to, you know, confirm the date. Went and picked her
up in Pacific Beach where she lived, which was kind of a really youth
centered, kind of hip, you know, sort of place in San Diego. Picked her up,
took her to La Jolla, they had lunch, and then it just became an extended day.
They decided to go back to his place, they picked up some wine along the way,
some videos. He had not been drinking for a while because he'd been trying to
clean up his act and lead a Christian life. And I think during the course of
that day, you know, there was a lot of back and forth about his decisions to,
you know, become a Christian and to walk the path with Jesus. And that became
a source of, you know, conversation and debate between the two of them.
The day stretched on very long. Sometime that night, you know, he beat her
and raped her and in the morning put her into a surfboard bag and zipped it up
and she died.
DAVIES: So her body was found, right?
Ms. STICKLER: Yeah. Her body, her remains, were found by some campers out
in the desert. They were found several weeks after she was left there. And
it was identified--that her body was identified as a Jane Doe. And at the
time that this was going on there was something like 30 women in the southern
California area that were missing that fit her description so there weren't a
lot of leads to go on. Mark was questioned because the phone records show
that they had had conversations and he denied having ever seen her.
And some months later he confessed. He went to his religious mentor and he
told him what he had done, they discussed it. They, in the early morning
hours, went down to San Diego to the police station and said, you know, he
said I've committed murder and I wanna' confess and they said where did it
happen, where do you live, he said Oceanside, they said you need to go up to
the Vista County police. So he had to go to another police station and, you
know. I mean, they just said `go up there, you're at the wrong station,' so
he went uptown and he confessed there and they were like, `OK.'
They didn't even have anything on him. I mean, they had the missing person on
file but they didn't have this listed as a possible homicide, so they just
basically advised him of his rights, which he waived, and he gave a full
confession. You know, very lucid, full confession. And then he led them to
where he had left the body and they called the local authorities there who
confirmed that they had found a Jane Doe in that area some weeks earlier.
DAVIES: You know, the last 10 minutes of your film is not easy you watch, as
you go through the details of this crime. And as a storyteller, I mean, I
wonder if you felt that you had to keep that from the audience for most of the
film in order to prevent that film from just being too dark. I mean it is
such a savage crime.
Ms. STICKLER: Yeah. Yeah. Actually, we spent a lot of time--that was the
toughest thing. You know, documentaries are put together in the editing room.
You know, you know the story going in but you don't have a script, you don't
have a blueprint when you start to put it together. So we did experiment with
a lot of different structures for the narrative. And I even had some kind of
work in progress shows for, you know, colleges and for lots of groups of
people trying to figure out what was the best way to present this story.
There was so much going on in the story. It covers 10 years, it's only 80
minutes long, and, you know, it's working on all these different levels. It's
about an individual story, it's about skateboarding culture, it's about pop
culture and it has to combine this really--all the innocence, all the
commercialism of the years and then this horrible crime, and balance all that
out. And then also somehow have some semblance of a resolution at the end.
So we do tip people off at the beginning that a crime has been committed but
it's not until later that you find out all the details. And I felt like I
didn't want to hold back on what he had done, just as I didn't hold back on
how great he was in the beginning. You know, I let everything be in there,
all extremes, because that was the truth of the matter.
DAVIES: Documentary filmmaker Helen Stickler and former professional
skateboarder Kenneth Park. Stickler's film "Stoked," about 1980's skating
star Mark Rogowski, opens in New York this week.
Coming up, Lloyd Schwartz on the music of American composer Jerome Moross.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz profiles the
musical career of composer Jerome Moross
DAVE DAVIES, host:
The music of some composers is often more familiar than the name of the person
who wrote it. People who recognize the music from the Western "The Big
Country," or the cabaret standard "Lazy Afternoon," might not know they were
both composed by Jerome Moross, who died in 1983 and was born 100 years ago
this month. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has this tribute.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. LLOYD SCHWARTZ (classical music critic): Jerome Moross was a prodigy. A
disciple of Aaron Copland, Charles Ives and Henry Cowell. A high school
friend of the legendary film composer Bernard Herrmann and an assistant to
He was part of a movement of composers who were breaking the way from European
traditions and bringing American idioms--folk music, ragtime, blues, fox trots
and one-steps to theater, ballet, opera, the concert hall and film. He was
nominated for an Academy Award for what many people consider the best music
ever composed for a movie Western: William Wyler's "The Big Country,"
starring Gregory Peck and Burl Ives, who won a best supporting actor Oscar.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. SCHWARTZ: The first time I saw Jerome Moross' name was on my original
cast album of "The Golden Apple," an experimental off-Broadway musical that
won the New York drama critic's award as best musical of the 1953/54 season,
and the first show to go from off-Broadway to Broadway.
It was a daring enterprise. Really an opera, but disguised as a musical
comedy with no spoken dialogue. It had a huge influence, especially on
Leonard Bernstein. "The Golden Apple" moved Greek myth from Mount Olympus in
Greece to Mt. Olympus in Washington State, just after the Spanish-American
war. Kaye Ballard played an American Helen of Troy and introduced the song
that has become a standard for nightclub and cabaret singers: The seductive
"Lazy Afternoon." Here she is on the cast album.
(Soundbite of "Lazy Afternoon")
Ms. KAYE BALLARD (Actress): (singing) It's a lazy afternoon and the beetle
bugs are zoomin' and the tulip trees are bloomin' and there's not another
human in view but us two. It's a lazy afternoon and the farmer leaves his
reapin' and the meadow cows are sleepin' and the speckled trouts are leapin'
upstream as we dream. A fat pink cloud hangs over the hill unfolded like a
rose. If you hold my hand and sit real still you can hear the grass as it
grows. It's a lazy afternoon...
SCHWARTZ: The lyrics to "Lazy Afternoon" are by John La Touche who
collaborated with Moross on another ingenious work, four short dance operas
called "Ballet Ballads." Moross also uses American mythology brilliantly in
his 1945 ballet score "Frankie and Johnny," which transforms the theme of that
raunchy old song in highly dramatic and surprising ways. This excerpt is with
the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by JoAnne Falletta.
(Soundbite of "Frankie and Johnny")
NEW ZEALAND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: (singing) Frankie and Johnny were lovers. Oh
Lord, and how they could love. They swore they'd be true to each other, true
as the stars up above. ...(unintelligible)'
SCHWARTZ: Moross' first work in Hollywood was orchestrating scores by other
composers. For example, Aaron Copland's theme music for the movie version of
"Our Town." Later he got to do his own original scores. Besides "The Big
Country," some of his better know films are "The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn," "Five Finger Exercise," "Rachel, Rachel," Paul Newman's first
directorial stint--and Otto Preminger's "The Cardinal."
His most famous composition was probably the theme music for the popular '50's
TV western "Wagon Train." But Moross was also a classical musician of
distinction. The premier of his first symphony was conducted by no less a
musical eminence then Sir Thomas Beecham.
Jerome Moross refused to get stuck in a single groove. He wrote music that
both the most and least sophisticated listeners could enjoy. He deserves and
rewards serious attention. He shouldn't be forgotten.
DAVIES: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music critic for the Boston Phoenix.
Jerome Moross composed the music for "The Big Country," which is now out on
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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