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Other segments from the episode on June 8, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 8, 1998: Interview with Armistead Maupin; Interview with Richard Bausch; Commentary on the television show "Texaco Star Theater."


Date: JUNE 08, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060801np.217
Head: More Tales of the City
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

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

Last night, Showtime presented the first installments in its TV adaptation of Armistead Maupin's "More Tales of the City." The final installments will be shown tonight.

Tales of the City is Maupin's humorous, but emotional story of a group of straight and gay people who have come to San Francisco in the mid-70s and have together created a makeshift family. In this scene, Mary Anne (ph) who is straight, has invited her best friend Michael, who is gay, on a cruise. Their friend Mona is driving them to the airport in a noisy Volkswagen Beetle.



ACTRESS AS MARY ANNE: You know what? This trip is going to work for me. I'm going to meet somebody. I know it. Not that you aren't the best company in the world, but ...

ACTOR AS MICHAEL: Look, you don't have to explain that one. Anyway, I've got this dynamite plan. I spot a guy, right, lounging out by the ship's pool maybe or whatever -- and I saunter up kind of casual like, with you on my arm, all tanned and gorgeous.


MICHAEL: And then I say in my very butchest voice: "hi, guy, I'm Michael Tolliver and this is Mary Anne Singleton. Which one of us would you like?"


ACTRESS AS MONA: What if he doesn't want either one of you?

MICHAEL: Then we push him off the first available cliff in Acapulco.


GROSS: Tales of the City originated as a daily serial in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. Then, it was adapted into a series of novels. In 1994, PBS broadcast a TV adaptation of the first novel. Although it got great ratings, it also evoked a hostile reaction from anti-gay groups. PBS withdrew from doing the sequel and later Showtime picked it up.

I asked Armistead Maupin what the most negative reaction was to the PBS miniseries.

ARMISTEAD MAUPIN, AUTHOR, "TALES OF THE CITY": Well, I suppose the bomb threat at the PBS station in Chattanooga, Tennessee was about as negative as you can get. And the Reverend Donald Wildmon (ph) of the American Family Association put together a sort of 12-minute bootleg videotape of what he considered to be the nasty bits of the show, which he distributed to every member of Congress, which must have provided a number of old gentlemen with late-night entertainment.

GROSS: What were the nasty bits?

MAUPIN: Mostly female breasts -- just long casual scenes of DeDe (ph) talking on the phone to a friend with her breasts exposed. The nudity in Tales of the City, as the nudity in More Tales of the City, is very -- is very ordinary. It's very natural. It almost -- it never -- almost never appears in the context of a sexual scene. It's just the way people walk around their rooms with no clothes on, often when there's no one there.

GROSS: I should mention that there were also I think two state legislatures that condemned Tales of the City when it was on PBS.

MAUPIN: Yes, Georgia and Oklahoma.

GROSS: And what did that lead to? Did those states play it?

MAUPIN: Well, yes they did. They actually, in both of those places I believe, they were played. There was a pixilated (ph) version also that American Playhouse put out to certain PBS stations that chose to use that. By that, I mean a sort of electronic pastie effect that went on to the end of the breasts in some scenes, which for my money, ended up being far more titillating and sexually provocative than the nudity itself would have been.

GROSS: Now what were the parameters, if any, that you had to work with on PBS and now on Showtime in terms of what you could show? Like say there were two gay characters kissing.

MAUPIN: There were no parameters. And those weren't -- that wasn't the doing of PBS, I must say. PBS has gotten a lot of the credit and a lot of the blame, of course, for the show and doesn't really deserve much of either. It was Channel Four in Great Britain that funded this project; came up with the $8 million that was made -- needed to make it. By that, I mean the first miniseries, Tales of the City.

And PBS came on board when we were well into the shooting. American Playhouse showed up on the set and said: "great, we'll take it." And as a consequence, we had a great deal of freedom. The folks at Channel Four in Britain, where the books are extremely popular, wanted to recreate them as closely as possible. There were actually moments when I would say: "well, we can lose that scene." I was having a bad day that day. I remember what it was like down at the Chronicle when I was writing that.

And they would say: "no, no, no -- the fans will be very upset if we don't have that particular scene." So, they created a template which we have followed in More Tales of the City that allowed the story to be told with all its idiosyncrasies exactly the way it is in the book.

So, I always feel a little uncomfortable when people ask me about the adaptations, because really the blame or the praise will end up being mine, because I'm not one of those authors who's in a position to complain about a lousy adaptation that's watered my material down. It is very, very faithful to the original books.

GROSS: Armistead Maupin is my guest -- the author of the Tales of the City series of novels. And More Tales of the City is currently being serialized on Showtime.

Look back over the past, I don't know, 10 or 20 years for us and tell us how you think -- the way TV handles homosexuality has changed. In other words, what can be said; what can be shown; what television still seems to be uncomfortable about.

MAUPIN: Well, in the first place television is still uncomfortable about any display of same-sex affection. There's still a flap whenever there's even a minor kiss between couples of the same sex on broadcast television.

That's one of the things I'm proudest of in More Tales of the City -- not that it's homoerotic, but that it is homo-romantic. It provides something that I grew up hungry for as a young queer, namely to see someone like me in a truly cinematic romantic scene that celebrated the love that I was beginning to feel.

And broadcast television still does not want to do that.

GROSS: Armistead, what's the capsule version of how Tales of the City got started?

MAUPIN: Well, initially, I was writing for a small Marin County newspaper called the Pacific Sun. And I wanted to write a non-fiction story about the fact that heterosexuals were -- I can't even say that word -- heterosexuals were cruising the local marina Safeway on Wednesday nights, if you please. They would go down there with their carts half-empty and move slowly through the aisles and try to pick each other up.

So, I went down there on a Wednesday night and saw this in fact was happening -- a lot of women in rhinestone-studded, brushed-denim pantsuits, with one item in the cart, chatting up guys over the vegetable bin. But I couldn't find anybody that would 'fess up; that would actually admit to doing this.

So, I went home very frustrated and made up a proto-typical "new girl in town" named Mary Anne Singleton. And I wrote a little fictional story about how she finally met the man of her dreams at the supermarket and he turned out to be there with the man of his dreams. And the story really struck a chord with a lot of people, especially single women who had found this to be their experience in San Francisco.

And, the Pacific Sun said: "why don't you follow her from week to week and follow the gay man she met and see what happens?" So I did that for about five weeks, until our particular edition of the paper folded. And it was a very, very popular feature, so that two years later I was able to take the idea to the San Francisco Chronicle and propose that I do it on a daily basis.

GROSS: Now, were you already out professionally when you were writing this -- when you started this?

MAUPIN: I was not. When I first arrived at the Chronicle, I was still being a good little boy 'cause I wanted the job really badly. And when they found out, or figured it out, about six weeks into it when the gay subject matter starting creeping in, this very avuncular old managing editor called me into his office and gave me a little speech about what a waste it was and what a fine young man I was and why didn't I like girls.


And then told me that he was happy to have gay characters in the story, but he didn't want them to overrun the story. So, he created a chart that he hung in his office...


... and one column said "homosexual" and the other one said "heterosexual." And whenever a new character was introduced into the serial, it would go into the appropriate column.

So I spent several weeks trying to figure out how I could "queer" this, for want of a better word, and came up with a plot line in which this alcoholic society matron has a brief impetuous affair with her great dane. This, incidentally, never ended up in the book.


But when I came in the next week, I made the editor put the dog in the heterosexual column.


And that was the end of that. He stopped doing it.

GROSS: So, what did you say when your editor called you in and started lecturing you about homosexuality?

MAUPIN: Well, I thanked him very much and said that's quite a compliment that you consider me a catch and that bolsters my -- my insecurity tremendously and maybe I'll get a chance of, you know, meeting a boyfriend.

I was very much the character Michael Tolliver when I was writing Tales of the City. I was this dewy-eyed young thing from the South who was so -- not -- so excited about being out of the closet and so excited that I was finally going to get my life in order. The problem was that I had not experienced any adolescent sexuality. This is true of a lot of gay men, even today. They really don't get it together until they're about 30 years old and confront their parents and their family and their employers.

And when they're finally free to live their lives the way they want to, they do all that "standing on the corner watching all the girls go by" stuff that straight boys do when they're 15 years old. And that was the case with me. I was alternately, you know, a horn dog and a person who believed in romanticism to a very high degree. And I think that mix is one of the things that makes Michael Tolliver appealing to gay people even today.

GROSS: Let me ask you this -- Michael thinks -- Michael reveals at one point that when he was 14, he was so worried about what would happen when he didn't get married that he had hoped to be paralyzed from the waist down by the time he was an adult, so no one would have to worry why he wasn't marrying a woman.

MAUPIN: That was me.

GROSS: Did you really want to be paralyzed?

MAUPIN: That's a terrible thing to say, but I thought: what could happen to me that would relieve me of the responsibility of having to marry and go through this charade? And that was the only thing I could think of. I give myself a certain amount of credit because a lot of people come to the conclusion that, well, you just find a girl friend. You know, you find a best friend and marry her and then she's not in a position to tell anybody else you're gay, especially not in the South in 1958.

But I liked my girl friends all too much -- the women that I knew who were part of my circle who were really close friends, and some of whom remain that way -- were too dear to me to cheat in that way. There was a -- in those days, it would be easy to put off that information, because you could still go around saying "well, I'm saving myself for after marriage." And nowadays, it would be harder. I mean, kids have a way of knowing these things because they're sexually active at a very early age.

GROSS: When you were writing the Tales of the City column and then the books, it was all very timely; it was all very in-the-moment, and you know, I think people are always really excited to see stories that reflect how they're living right now, or a kind of fantasy version of how they're living right now.

But now, it's kind of like a time capsule of the '70s. I mean even, like on page one, when Michael has all these Valentines Day resolutions, and one of them is: "I will stop expecting to meet Jan-Michael Vincent."


GROSS: "I will inhale poppers only through the mouth." I mean, these are such '70s kind of references.

MAUPIN: Hmm. Hmm. Yes, I was very aware at the time that I was writing about things that would be arcane one day. In fact, I've always had a sort of outsiders view on the moment, I think because I feel that I really should have lived sometime in 1910, and I've never really connected with any sort of modernity at any point.

But the odd thing is that the books now work on some other entirely different level, which I can only ascribe to the fact that I did try to write about the human condition: the people respond in ways that are pretty timeless. The books have just become very, very popular in France. I was over there two weeks ago sitting in the Virgin megastore on the Champs Elysee...


I only say that because I like the combination of those words. And people were coming to me and discussing the characters as if they were -- had been created yesterday, and were very angry or, you know, upset or in love with Michael or -- they treated them the same way that they were treating them in San Francisco 22 years ago. That was an amazing thing to see.

GROSS: My guest is Armistead Maupin. There's a new edition of his novel More Tales of the City, which Showtime is currently serializing. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Armistead Maupin. His novel More Tales of the City is currently being serialized on Showtime.

You know, one of the central relationships in the series is the relationship between Michael and Mary Anne. And you know, she's a straight woman; he's a gay man. Have you thought a lot about the kind of friendship that often develops between straight women and gay men?

MAUPIN: Oh, yes I have thought about it. In fact, I was acutely aware that I was one of the first people to record it. I wanted to celebrate it because so much of my life had been -- well, I had been rescued by straight women when I arrived in San Francisco, because I went out there all wide-eyed and stupid, trying to throw myself into, you know, every romance and falling in love with every person I met at the baths. And the only person I could really talk to would be my straight girl friend, who would come back and regale me with stories of what she had done the night before.

And in a way, we could both sit there and talk about men together in a way that didn't threaten each other. And I was fascinated by the dynamics of that. It's always been celebrated, but usually in a more oblique way.

I mean, that's what Christopher Isherwood was writing about when he created Sally Bowles; and then the next generation, Truman Capote, when he created Holly Golightly. Although both of those creations ended up being diluted when they got to some film form, so that the -- the full-fledged homosexuality of the male character was denied or blurred or left ambiguous.

And I wanted to be really clear about it -- that this was not about the potential for romance; that this was about true, loving, connecting friendship.

GROSS: But why do you think that the only person you could really confide in was a straight woman? Did you not have gay men who were friends?

MAUPIN: Not in the beginning, and I think that's reflected in Tales of the City. I had some, but mostly they were just tricks. You know, they were people I'd pick up overnight and then not connect with; or a romance that would break my heart after a week, so I'd go back to the women friends.

In a matter of years, I suppose a year and a half or so, I was beginning to learn that gift for making friends with gay men, and of course that was reflected in the Tales of the City novels. As the story goes on, you see those kinds of friendships; and those kinds of families building.

I think that's one of the great gifts of gay life. I've recently, well a couple of years ago actually, my partner Terry and I moved apart. We live in separate places now. And our relationship has opened up to a degree that we see other people.

But our love has reached some new plateau that is really quite extraordinary to me, and the comfort that I received in our relationship, knowing that there was another person in the world for me, is still very much there. And I think we were able to pull that off because we didn't, you know, adopt a scorched-earth policy after we broke up. We wanted very much to keep the love intact.

GROSS: Well, you mention family, you know, in Tales of the City, for instance, the characters -- most of the younger characters are -- are, for one reason or another, really alienated from their parents. And they think of "the family" as being the people who they live in the apartment house with and the people who they've become friends with in San Francisco.

And I assume it was kind of that way for you when you came to San Francisco, that the people who you became close to there became your family. I'm wondering how much of that new family actually stayed together? In other words, if you're still close with any of that family that you initially developed?

MAUPIN: Well, in the first place, the family at 28 Barbary (ph) Lane is really pieces of me. I can't say that anything like that actually happened in real life. All of those characters are different aspects of my own personality. And Mrs. Madrigal is the Olympian voice -- not to make a pun on our actress' name, who presides over it all.

So in some ways, Tales of the City was simply my shrink. But yes, many of the people that I have come to know and think of as family over the years are very much still a part of my life. And I cringe when people say that this is a utopian vision, because it's not. It really works this way.

GROSS: You know what I'm thinking must have been strange for you. You came to San Francisco knowing you were gay, but not really having had much in terms of relationships and experiences with relationships.

MAUPIN: Not really having had much -- yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, and then shortly after that, you know, you start writing Tales of the City and you become a kind of hero to a lot of gay people through these characters that you've created. So suddenly, you were kind of like the hero and the role model and you're just kind of figuring who you are yourself. It must have been a strange period for you.

MAUPIN: Well, it's -- that was wonderful to have the story to work all that out in. You can see my whole life in there. You can see the first flushes of romance with Terry when I realized that I'd found a life partner. You can see my reeling shock over AIDS when it arrived on the scene.

"Babycakes," the first -- the fourth novel in the series -- was the first fiction anywhere to deal with AIDS, and it was because I was writing in a daily newspaper and I had lost a young friend to it very suddenly -- to pneumocystis pneumonia. And I simply plugged it into the story in 1983.

So, I was able to use the story as a way of explaining my own life to myself, which is what so many writers of fiction will tell you. It's the way that you contain it and make it make sense to yourself.

GROSS: What are you working on now?

MAUPIN: I have a novel in the works, the name of which I change -- I seem to be changing every week now, so I won't bother to announce it because I'm sure it will change again. But it's a psychological suspense novel set in modern-day San Francisco. The central character bears a marked resemblance to me. He has a bookkeeper who's a 20-year-old Asian-American student whose name is Anna Halcyon Wilson (ph) who is the child that was born to DeDe Halcyon Day (ph) in More Tales of the City.

GROSS: Oh, great.


MAUPIN: In other words, I've now reached such a stage of writerly senility that I'm having my own characters talk to me in the next novel.

GROSS: I wish you good luck with that, and I really want to thank you a lot for talking with us.

MAUPIN: Thank you, Terry. I always enjoy it.

GROSS: Armistead Maupin's novel More Tales of the City has just been reprinted to coincide with its serialization on Showtime. The final installments will be shown tonight.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

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

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Armistead Maupin
High: Armistead Maupin is the author of "Tales of the City." It depicted San Francisco gay and straight lifestyles in the 1970's. In 1994 "Tales of the City" was adapted into a controversial PBS miniseries. His second novel from 1980 "More Tales of the City" has been adapted into a Showtime Channel miniseries that begins airing this month. Maupin has also written "Further Tales of the City," "Babycakes," "Significant Others," "Sure of You," and "Maybe the Moon." Maupin lives in San Francisco.
Spec: Homosexuality; Cities; San Francisco; Books; Authors
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: More Tales of the City
Date: JUNE 08, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060802np.217
Head: The Night Season
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

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

Sadistic violence enters the home of a mother and her young son in Richard Bausch's new novel "In the Night Season." Their home is invaded by men who will abuse and torture them until the men get the information they're after about the woman's late husband -- information she doesn't have.

The book's title is taken from a passage in Job -- "the days of affliction have taken hold upon me. My bones are pierced in me in the night season, and my sinews take no rest."

Richard Bausch is also the author of "Violence" and "Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America" and "All the Ships at Sea." His novel "The Last Good Kiss" was adapted into a film. Bausch has received the award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Bausch once said that his vital subjects are family, fear, love, and anything that is irrecoverable and missed. I told him I thought violence was a subject often left to movies and genre fiction. I asked him why he wanted to write about it.

RICHARD BAUSCH, AUTHOR, "THE NIGHT SEASON": I've been taken to task pretty heavily for it, too, already by some anonymous somebody in Kirkus Reviews, who said I ought to be ashamed of myself for, I don't know, I guess this person's idea is that I have some sort of priestly obligation to continue to write stories about people sitting in dentist's offices. I don't know.

But for me, it was just to see if I could write a scary story, and then, you know, they always take off and become their own thing. And that seems to me to be my perfect right as a writer to do that. So...

GROSS: There is a certain assumption, perhaps a middlebrow assumption, that people read literature to get away from that; to get away from "the violence" that so permeates the rest of the media.

BAUSCH: Yeah. I think that -- I think of literature and of serious writing as an escape into life. And so for me, that means all of it. And this is certainly going on in the world.

I also just, you know again, I had a feeling -- I'd been reading a lot of Charles Dickens, and I used to say very glibly to creative writing classes: in the really best fiction, everybody's right. But that's not really true.

I mean, there's some great villains in the world's literature and I think well, I'm going to have some exterior badness. You know, usually the tensions my characters suffer are interior and people feel it as the phrase "modern angst," whatever that is.


But for me, you know, that has always interested me and I thought I'm going to see if I can tackle it where there's a real palpable exterior something that is -- I mean, even in my earlier novel Violence, there are some bad guys who appear and do something. But the real conflict is interior, through most -- through all of that book, that it's really that young man's attempt to contend with what he's been through.

And in this case, I wanted my characters to be actually contented with the actual villains themselves -- bad people -- bad people with, you know, a particular appetite for violence.

GROSS: I wonder if you think that there's a difference between the way people react to seeing violence on television or in movies and reading about it on a page in fiction.

BAUSCH: Oh, I think there's -- you know, I'll tell you that I think that we're so inured to the TV and movie violence that we no longer even really see it as violence. It's just -- I have a habit of saying, sitting in a movie, and a character will come up whom you just know is going to be the next person who's killed for one reason or another, and I say aloud so people around me can hear it: "movie meat."



GROSS: Well, I'll bet you're popular in the theaters.

BAUSCH: Oh, yeah, they love to go to the movies with me, especially my children. But it's always true and I can pick it out -- you know, the gestures they make are all exactly the same in every instance. And I think that people -- it's so much a convention of modern, you know, films and I mean they've even now got, you know, movies that are so-called "dark comedies" where horrible, you know, mayhem happens to human beings, and it's supposed to be funny.

I just think that it's not -- movie violence isn't violence. And in a book, violence can be menacing. It can make you feel it the way -- you know, the way it really is. I mean, that's what I wanted to do with the book violence, was to actually, you know, have the reader be able to see what it really is, and it might have been a strategic mistake, but that's what I had in mind when I was doing it; that there is a reality about it.

And in this book, I want to hasten to say, there is a happy ending of sorts and...

GROSS: Why do you feel you need to say that?

BAUSCH: Oh, because I think people really these days don't want to buy books where they think they're going to be ambushed by something they don't want to think about. I really do. I mean, I think there's a large, large number of people who buy books really only for the hope of being somehow reassured or comforted in some way.

This is such a stressful time to be alive, I suppose. There's so many things happening and so many changes. We're at the end of a century. And I just have a feeling that, you know, that it's necessary for readers to understand that whatever kinds of harrowing things are in any book, that the real object of the book is to arrive at some form of light; at some sense of the worth -- you know, the worthiness of all of the things people do, to stay together and to love each other.

GROSS: Well, getting back to the difference between violence as it's depicted in television and film when you're seeing it, and violence when you're reading it, I first of all want to defend movies and say that I, you know, think there have been, you know, many fine films in which the violence really does hurt.

BAUSCH: Oh, yeah. There have.

GROSS: Although there's just so many films in it's all -- it's all so false and artificial and, as you say, obligatory. You say in this book "those obligatory scenes in movies where people were running or diving to get away from the exploding fire." But anyways, that said, I think, you know, I'm just really interested in your approach to it on the page.

I was wondering if you could choose a few lines that you wrote pertaining to the attack; to one of the attacks in here. And there are several people who are attacked. Choose a few lines from one of those attacks and read them and then talk with us about choosing the words.

BAUSCH: OK. The boy has escaped from -- this is his second escape from these bad people, and particularly from one bad person named Baggs (ph), who is a casual killer. And he's run away and is being pursued, and falls in the field, and then when he comes to again, he's being carried.

He was being carried head-down by the waist. He was the ground moving below, only inches from his eyes. This was Baggs carrying him and he would die soon. It would be death. He would find out what it was and he had the thought as if the dying were simply the next thing in his life. It raked through him that this was the thing itself happening, and there wouldn't be any time -- no person to look back on it and call it a name. His mind sped. Everything throbbed. He tried to look up, but his neck and shoulders cramped and then he seemed to drift again -- all the blood having rushed to his head.

It pounded in his ears and something lifted him so that he could see that his bleeding hand dangled before him; that it had struck the ground and was hurting again. He held it in front of his eyes and looked at it -- a bad flash across the palm and another bleeding cut on the back of the wrist. His head hurt. He was sick to his stomach.

And then he remembered with a surge of hopeless excitement that he had seen his father. He tried again to look up. "Dad?" he said; couldn't see. The ground went by his face and then became concrete. He saw drops of blood there. He was being let down. His feet came in contact with the ground. He tried to stand, but his legs gave way. His sprained ankle and the cut, too, now -- whoever it was held him up and carried him through a doorway into the kitchen of the unfinished house.

He was pulled to a chair and seated in it, and when he looked up again into the light from the windows, he saw his father: "Dad?" he said -- the face rearranged itself. Reuther (ph) -- Reuther clapped a hand brutally over the boy's mouth. It closed off his air. He sucked in, receiving the odor of the hand -- a sick, dirty human smell of sweat and skin and something like wet paper bags. He coughed. Something hot rose in his throat to his mouth. He leaned forward out of Reuther's grasp and spit onto the floor.

GROSS: Now talk to me about writing that scene -- about choosing the language; about how -- how painful, how graphic you wanted to make it.

BAUSCH: In writing it, what I'm really trying to do is trying to imagine how it feels to have all that happen. So, I'm trying to be in the boy's body and involve how that all feels; how it feels to be half-conscious and thinking about the fact that this is death; that this is going to be it, even though he's wrong about that.

And how the actual physical elements of it feel because it -- and again, it's not really just having to do with violence. It's having to do with everything that I write. I want to try to put the reader there physically; to involve the reader's senses because to me that's what it's really all about. Telling good stories is getting the reader involved in every way, not just in the -- with the -- I'm not writing to the reader's mind. I'm writing to the reader's nerve endings.

And I've always felt that way and I think all really good art is doing that, and I'm not saying mine is necessarily successful in doing it, but that's what I'm trying to do anyway.

GROSS: Well, I like your description of when Reuther claps his hand over the boy's mouth and the boy smells the human sweat and skin, and something like wet paper bags. I think that's -- we all know what they smell like. It's a good -- a good sense image.

BAUSCH: Yeah, and I don't know why I used it. I mean, I don't -- I don't have any direct experience. A lot of this I'm just making it up -- all of it I'm making up. I mean, especially this. I mean, the only thing about this that has any kind of relation to my life is that I set it in large meadow and a series of houses -- rural houses -- that's much like where I live.

My neighbors are making jokes about it. They're all locking their doors now having read the book.

GROSS: Against you.


BAUSCH: Probably.

GROSS: Richard Bausch is my guest. His new novel is called In the Night Season. Let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with writer Richard Bausch. His new novel is called In the Night Season.

You've said that one of your subjects is irrecoverable loss. Do you feel like you've had that kind of loss?

BAUSCH: Oh, yeah. But I think all of us feel that. I mean when, you know -- for instance, coming in to do this interview, I was on a street corner where I remember someone making a joke 38 years ago. And I was on that street. It hasn't really changed all that much. And the feeling of that time that's gone by -- it feels -- just feels so, I don't know, so instantaneous. It doesn't feel like it was time.

And for me, there was always an immediate sense of loss then, even though of course, you know, if you're ever presented, and I have been, you know, in fantasy -- what if you really could go back? -- I really wouldn't do it because then I would miss all the people I have now. You know, I'd miss my children and stuff. I wouldn't want to go back there.

But there is still a sense of loss.

GROSS: Who's missing from back then?

BAUSCH: Oh, just pals I had back then and folks, you know, my parents were both alive then; you know, my grandparents and my sister Barbara was alive. Those kinds of memories, you know, when everyone was -- I say, when we talk about it at home to Karen, that's my wife -- Karen and I talk about it, I say: at one point everyone was alive.

So yeah, I think all of us, as we go through life, experience that sense of -- to me, it feels like the world is an increment more quiet when someone you love is gone. And there is a quality to the silence that's different than it was before. And even though you can be standing in the middle of a busy street, there is a silence -- there's a "not" sound that's the voice of this person, you know, of this person's presence in the world.

So yeah, and that always fascinates me. "Fascinates me" is not quite the word for it because I'm not intellectually interested in it. I am branded by it as a person. So yeah, that's -- that's there.

GROSS: I know that you have a twin brother, also a writer, named Robert Bausch. And, are you identical twins?

BAUSCH: Yep. Yep, you couldn't tell the difference between us, Terry, if we were in a room.

GROSS: Do -- do you have the same beard and haircut and all?

BAUSCH: Absolutely. And his beard's slightly darker than mine. I've got a little more gray in mine than he has in his.

GROSS: How come you don't shave and look different?


BAUSCH: Well, he did for years, but then he grew to like the beard, so -- so he went ahead and grew it and he's made jokes about it for months. You know, he came to a reading of our friend George Garrett (ph) Halloween night at George Mason University, and he said: "I'm -- it's Halloween night, I've come as Dick."


And everybody got a huge kick out of it.

GROSS: When you were kids, did you feel like you were going through life as part of a couple?

BAUSCH: When I was a kid, it's funny -- our parents treated us individually. I mean, when we were in the Air Force, we got separate letters almost every day from our mother, with different news in it. And we -- they didn't dress us alike or do any of that stuff. At school they did it. We got an awful lot of it at school.

So at school, we took steps to identify ourselves; to stake out territory. We had different friends. We, you know, he dressed differently and wore his hair differently. You know, I got into basketball. He got into shooting pool. And we were just sort of intentionally sort of setting up dividing lines so these people would recognize that we were individual people.

GROSS: Could you look at him years ago and think: that's how I look to the world.

BAUSCH: No, I never could do that until I was separated from him for about a year and a half when I want to the University of Iowa and I was in my mother- and father-in-law, Jay and Betty Miller's house; I was in their extra bedroom working on a novella and there was a mirror to my right and I looked up from the typewriter and I saw my brother. And it was the first time I ever could realize that we actually do look alike.

I didn't -- never felt that way looking at him; never felt like he looked like me. But that was a really strange experience 'cause for a good, you know, three seconds, I thought I was looking at him. I almost spoke to it and it was my own reflection.

GROSS: So, did you see your brother differently after that?

BAUSCH: Not really. It's just -- I've reported it to him so it was really odd. He's like a dear friend. He's somebody extra I can be intimate with. I can tell him anything and, you know, he feels the same way.

GROSS: Well, did you start writing at about the same time?

BAUSCH: No, he started first. He was -- he wrote a long historical novel when he was in the eighth grade, and everybody was involved, OK. You know, my sister Barbara was typing it, and you know, I was drawing pictures and he was drawing -- he was really illustrating it, but I'd make suggestions and stuff. But everybody was sort of into it because, you know, he was just unscrolling. He was writing a Civil War novel.

And then, you know, years went by and then I started up and he had stopped. And then he started up again. And it was always just a thing, you know, that we did, like I don't know, shooting pool or something. We never thought of it as being a career or anything for a long time. It was just something we did.

GROSS: Now, do you get into the question with your brother of who owns stories that you both lived through? Who owns memories that you share? Who owns them as a writer? Who has the right to write those stories?

BAUSCH: Never use them. I've never used anything that ever really happened. I think that -- we do, and it's really interesting. We will argue about what something happened to just to tell it at a party or something. I'll say: "no, that was me." "No," -- you know, he remembers it clear that it was him. And I -- I, you know, I cannot be convinced that it wasn't me and we -- it's lost now because it all happened so long ago.

But we don't really -- at least so far -- I've never, for instance, written a story that had twins in it or a character who had a twin. It's just not -- it's not something that we -- it just doesn't enter into it. It's always something we're making up, spinning it out.

GROSS: I'm wondering if you've ever read a book or seen a movie or TV show that had a violent scene in it that you regret having in your mind now.

BAUSCH: Oh, what a question. Wow. Yeah, there is. There is. There's a gratuitously violent Stephen King story called "Apt Pupil," in which a kid kills a man -- knifes a homeless man in an alley. And King describes the knife making an artificial smile on his face. The man is stabbing him in the face. And I wish I had not read that.


BAUSCH: It's just -- it felt to me so excessively going the wrong way with -- the story's to me -- I don't want to criticize King because I think he can write, but that particular story, I thought he was going to tell me something really different and new about -- about the Holocaust.

But the apt pupil in the story, as I recall, and it's been about 12 years since I read it, but the apt pupil is a student -- is a kid who is convinced that an elderly man in his neighborhood is a war criminal, and before it's over, all that comes of the story is he learns how to kill. And he goes and gratuitously kills this poor helpless homeless man by knifing him to death.

And the knifing scenes just seem to me to be so appalling that I wished I hadn't read it; gave me nightmares. 'Course, that's exactly what he wants, so -- but it didn't make me want to go back and get the next thing he wrote either, and I'm sure there are some people who feel that way about stuff I've written.

GROSS: So, what's the difference between violence and gratuitous violence as far as you're concerned?

BAUSCH: You know, it's a little like trying to describe the difference, although I'm not saying the one is the other, but it's a little like describing the difference between pornography and eroticism. It's...

GROSS: Which is very subjective.

BAUSCH: Yeah. To me, it seems to me that the -- if you get the feeling that the -- everything else in the story is a pretext to arrive at the thing, that that's gratuitous.

In other words, if there -- if it isn't -- if it doesn't seem to be, and I admit it's very subjective, and I'm talking just as a reader. If -- if it doesn't arise out of the circumstance and is not, you know, necessitated by it in some way having to do with the story, and God knows the end of "Hamlet" is a bloodbath -- then -- then it feels to me gratuitous and it just felt that way in that case.

There are other stories of King's that I've found -- I mean, the story -- "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" I think is a very affecting story and quite well done. But that particular story, Apt Pupil, it just felt to me like everything in the story was just meant to arrive at this terrible description of this man being stabbed to death.

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

BAUSCH: My pleasure.

GROSS: Richard Bausch's new novel is called In the Night Season.

Coming up, David Bianculli celebrates a TV anniversary.

This is FRESH AIR.

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

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Richard Bausch
High: Novelist Richard Bausch newest book is "In the Night Season." Some of his books include: "Good Evening Mr. and Mrs America and All the Ships at Sea," "Rebel Powers," and "Violence." He is also known for his stories which have been published in "The Atlantic Monthly," "Esquire," "Harper's," "The New Yorker," "Playboy," and "The Southern Review." Bausch lives in rural Virginia.
Spec: Books; Authors; Culture; The South
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 Night Season
Date: JUNE 08, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060803np.217
Head: Milton Berle Anniversary
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: The golden age of television is now so old that shows from TV's infancy are beginning to celebrate their own golden anniversaries.

Today, TV critic David Bianculli notes one such occasion -- the golden anniversary of TV's first hit variety show.

DAVID BIANCULLI, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Fifty years ago today, NBC Radio star Milton Berle agreed to help out his sponsor by serving as the first guest host for a new summertime TV series called "Texaco Star Theater."

There were other guest hosts that summer, but when the show returned in the fall, Berle had a permanent job. He was an instant smash. So was the opening theme song -- a catchy musical commercial performed live by singers dressed in starched white Texaco uniforms.


CHORUS: Oh, we're the men of Texaco
We work from Maine to Mexico
There's nothing like this Texaco of ours

Our show tonight is powerful
We'll wow you with an hour-full
Of howls from a shower full of stars

We're the merry Texaco-men
Tonight we may be showmen
Tomorrow, we'll be servicing your cars

I wipe the pipe, I pump the gas
I rub the hub, I scrub the glass
I touch the clutch, I mop the top
I poke the choke, I sell the pop
I clear the gear, I block the knock
I jack the back, I set the clock
So join the ranks of those who know
And fill your tank with Texaco

Fire Chief, fill up with Fire Chief
And you will smile at the pile of new miles you will add
Fire Chief, fill up with Fire Chief
You'll find that Texaco's the finest brand your car has ever had.

BIANCULLI: Milton Berle on Texaco Star Theater changed the face of television. For a while in the late '40s and early '50s, he was the face of television -- and the name, too. One of his nicknames was "Uncle Miltie," but his other more telling nickname was "Mr. Television."

Berle packed his show with everything he had developed, learned or appropriated from vaudeville: musical acts, guest stars, fast-paced comedy, silly skits, and lots of joking with the audience. Each week for one hour, he mounted a live show that had a lot more life than anything else on the air back in network TV's earliest days.

Berle told me two years ago what his secret of success was when he started Texaco Star Theater. He said he treated his TV show like a live stage show, and played to the studio audience instead of the cameras. He encouraged his guests to follow his lead and improvise, and made sure to cash in on TV as a visual medium by opening each show dressed up in outrageous outfits. People would tune in just to see what Uncle Miltie would wear, and then they'd stay for the rest.

The day after Milton Berle premiered on TV, Variety gave him a rave review, calling him one of those naturals. The same reviewer with just as much accuracy as enthusiasm, proclaimed it, and I quote: "a performance that may well be remembered as a milestone in television."

By the end of 1948, Berle's show was seen each week by an estimated 80 percent of all TV owners. He was the primary reason many people purchased their first TV sets. Tuesday nights were his, and both Time and Newsweek put him on the cover in 1949 on the same week.

The first few years TV ratings were established, Berle's Texaco Star Theater topped them. And once he got on top, Berle stayed there, partly by showcasing new talent and partly by poking fun at himself and his king of the heap TV status.

Here he is doing both, in a 1951 skit featuring a young comic named Danny Thomas.


MILTON BERLE, COMEDIAN: Danny, all kidding aside, what can I do for you, Danny?

DANNY THOMAS, COMEDIAN: Milton, my sponsor insists that I go on every week like you do.

BERLE: On the radio?

THOMAS: Yeah, and I just can't do it. I mean, the way you do things. You've been such a big success, you go on every week. As a matter of fact...

BERLE: Yeah.

THOMAS: ... you're being on every week has helped sell millions of sets.

BERLE: Thank you very much.

THOMAS: I know because I sold my set. My brother sold his set.


And my sister...

BIANCULLI: After Berle paved the way, variety shows on television became all the rage. Within a year, Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town," Arthur Godfrey's "Talent Scouts," and Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca in "Admiral Comedy Review" all appeared in prime time.

The genre may be dead now, except for late night shows like "Saturday Night Live," but it'll return someday. On TV, everything always does.

Meanwhile, it's good to remember what Milton Berle did for television and for NBC 50 years ago today. And for NBC not to remember it with a primetime special -- especially since Berle is still alive and vital -- is a disgrace.

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

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

Dateline: David Bianculli, New York; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: TV critic David Bianculli on the 50th anniversary of Milton Berle's appearance on television.
Spec: Media; Television; Milton Berle; History
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: Milton Berle Anniversary
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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