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Harvey Kurtzman: The Comics World's 'Mad Genius'

Critic Milo Miles reviews The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics. It's Dennis Kitchen and Paul Buhle's illustrated biography of influential artist and writer Harvey Kurtzman, the inventor of MAD Magazine.


Other segments from the episode on July 24, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 24, 2009: Interview with Anita O'Day; Review of a new illustrated biography “The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics;” Interview with Zooey Deschanel…


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Anita O'Day: Revisiting A Classic Voice


This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli of, sitting
in for Terry Gross.

Back when she was very young, one of Anita O’Day’s first auditions as a
jazz singer was with the Benny Goodman Band. Goodman rejected her,
saying that she didn’t sing the melody, but that was one of her gifts:
to improvise on the melody and to swing.

She first became known in 1941, when she joined the Gene Krupa Band. She
later sang with Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman and many small groups. Anita
O’Day died in 2006 of a heart attack at age 87. A documentary about her
called “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer” has been making the
rounds at film festivals and theaters for the last several months.

It was directed by Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden and has just come
out on DVD. Here’s an excerpt from the documentary. You’ll hear the
voices of Anita O’Day, of jazz pianist and educator Billy Taylor, and of
jazz critic Bill Friedwald(ph), who speaks first.

(Soundbite of movie, “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer”)

Mr. BILL FRIEDWALD (Jazz Critic): Famous story about Anita, that even
back in the ‘40s, when she was still a band singer, that band singers
were always these really glamorous creatures that wore these big,
flowing evening gowns, and it was very difficult, you know, for these
four girls to manage this while they were on the road.

Ms. ANITA O’DAY (Jazz Singer): You gotta be pretty, and you gotta wear a
dress, but they don’t move.

(Singing) Love is a many splendored things.

Mr. BILLY TAYLOR (Jazz Pianist): She looks gorgeous. She don’t move.

Mr. FRIEDWALD: And Anita was the first one to insist on just wearing a
regulation band uniform and a skirt, you know, not to do the full
glamour route.

Ms. O’DAY: When Gene was doing it very well at the Paramount Theater, he
hired a tailor to give them an outfit, two outfits - one for on the road
with green slacks and a checkered jacket and everything, and I just
asked him if I could have a skirt and jacket made, and I set that trend,
played it like one of the guys.

Mr. FRIEDWALD: This is like one of the guys in the band because that was
her training, and she knew how to handle all those kind of situations
where she was the only woman or whatever, but she was fun.

Ms. O’DAY: I got to be one of the guys so much, I used to have the girls
waiting for me…

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: In her 1981 autobiography, “High Times, Hard Times,” O’Day
explained that her last name was Colton(ph), but she changed it to O’Day
because in pig Latin, O’Day meant dough, and she hoped to make plenty of
it. Unfortunately, most of the money she did make from her records and
concerts went into her arm.

She had always been a hard drinker, but in 1954, she started using
heroin. It wasn’t until 15 years later that she kicked that habit.

“Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer” includes excerpts from a number
of radio and television interviews with her, including one she recorded
with Terry Gross, which we’re about to hear.

It was in 1987, during our first year as a national daily show on NPR.
At the time, O’Day was 68 years old and appearing at a club in San
Francisco. Before we hear that interview, here’s Anita O’Day in 1959
with a band led by Jimmy Giuffre.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. O’DAY: (Singing) Some day, when I’m awfully low, and the world is
cold, I will feel a glow just thinking of you, just the way you look


Lovely, with your smile so warm and your cheeks so soft. There is
nothing for me but to love you just the way you look tonight. With each
word your tenderness grows, tearing my fears apart, and the smile that
wrinkles your nose touches my foolish heart.

Lovely, never, never change. Keep that breathless charm. Won’t you
please arrange it for I love you just the way you look tonight.


Anita O’Day, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. O’DAY: Oh, good morning. It is morning where you are? Well, it’s
morning somewhere, right?

GROSS: It’s morning somewhere, that’s right.

Ms. O’DAY: That’s right because I just got come back from Europe, and it
takes, like, days for you to get used to, like, the 10-hour difference.

GROSS: You know, throughout your career, you’ve always not wanted to be
the, quote, “girl singer,” the person who’s accompanied by the band,
accompanied by the orchestra. You’ve always said you wanted your voice
to be part of the band.

Ms. O’DAY: Right.

GROSS: Would you explain some of the things that you did and didn’t want
as a singer with a band?

Ms. O’DAY: Well, the things I did want was to be there because you learn
and you earn while you learn, nothing wrong with that one. The band work
is really very simple work. It’s called pattern work, and you mostly
sing quarter notes, and the band fills with patterns.

(Singing) Pleasure, you’re about…

(Speaking) The band goes doo-wah, doo-wah. You know what I’m talking
about? So it’s called pattern work, and then, well, after Gene Krupa
orchestra for five years, and Stan Kenton for one year, this was a few
years back. I decided that I would like to try for a school group, which
is different kind of work.

GROSS: You have a very unique voice, and physically one of the reasons
for part of the uniqueness of your singing is that you don’t have a
uvula, which is that…

Ms. O’DAY: Oh, you read my book…

GROSS: I did read your book. Can you tell us about how you lost your
uvula? And I should say that that’s the little fleshy overhang in the
back of your mouth.

Ms. O’DAY: That looks like it hangs down in the back of the throat when
you see the cartoons, and it shows her singing, and that little is going
laaaaaaaa – well, that’s gone.

I was in the hospital for just a regular - tonsils or something, I
think. I was seven years old, and my mother said, years later – I said,
you know, I want to be a singer, and I’ve really got a problem. I can’t
get any vibration going. I have to make a different type, and that’s
when she told me about this uvula having been – it was a slip of the

GROSS: During the tonsillectomy.

Ms. O’DAY: Yeah, during the – like, you know, tonsillectomy, right.
That’s how that went down.

GROSS: How did that change you singing?

Ms. O’DAY: Well, not knowing about it from seven years old and not
knowing I was going to be singing at 20 and still singing at 68 years
old, it didn’t make much different, I mean, because you find a way to do
it because where there’s a will, you know.

GROSS: Before you even sang professionally, you picked up some money in
walk-a-thons and dance marathons…

Ms. O’DAY: That’s right.

GROSS: …during the Depression.

Ms. O’DAY: Oh yes.

GROSS: Did you have an endurance record? Do you remember what your
record was for number of hours danced or walked?

Ms. O’DAY: Well, I was in six contests, and I came in four out of six
contests, and the longest one I was in that I can remember, Red Skelton
was the night MC, and June Haver was in the show, and Frankie Laine was
in the show, and we were all in the show, whatever, but we were still in
the show, 2,328 hours.

GROSS: That’s a lot. Do you think this is good practice for being on the

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O’DAY: Well, you gotta learn something from it. I hope I did.

GROSS: Anita O’Day is my guest. When you were singing with big bands,
you were usually the only woman in the band, and I think it was always a
source of pride for you that you could, you know, keep up with the men
in every way.

In your book you wrote that you were proud that you carried your own
bags, you paid your own checks when you were with the Krupa Band.

Ms. O’DAY: Yes, uh-huh. Yeah, I sort of became one of the guys because
that was the only way to play it, you know? I mean, I guess you could
play it girl, but I haven’t played girl yet. Let’s see, I’m 68. I’m
going to play girl next year because I’m always too busy.

GROSS: What does playing girl mean to you?

Ms. O’DAY: Just that. You know, you wear a girl’s clothes and you don’t
pick up your own bags. I’ve been wearing slacks since 1932.

GROSS: Well, actually, you mentioned in your autobiography that because
you sometimes, when you were on the road, wore a real simple outfit, a
band jacket and just a simple skirt, that some people figured you must
be a lesbian because you weren’t wearing a gown.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O’DAY: Well, how about I was wearing the jacket of the band, and the
skirt idea was like and idea I had, and Gene went for it, you know? The
next thing you know, the Modernaires were doing the same thing. It’s a
matter of convenience, which is what life is all about. Where I work it

GROSS: You used to sing duets with trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Was there any
resistance at that time, and this is the early 1940s, to having a black
performer and a white performer singing duets on the same stage?

Ms. O’DAY: Well, I think there was something going on out there. It
didn’t bother me. I’m from Chicago. I went to colored schools, you know.
That didn’t bother me. When we played the South, it was really
horrendous at that time, right.

GROSS: There were negative reactions from the audience or from the club
owners? Who caused the problem?

Ms. O’DAY: In the South it was just the people for him to get into the
theater, let alone perform, you know. In New York City there was no

GROSS: I want to play the first really big hit that you have, play an
excerpt of it. This was – you recorded this in 1941, with Roy Eldridge.

Ms. O’DAY: With Roy, yeah, I do it every night. I call it my nostalgia
portion (unintelligible).

GROSS: What’s the story behind the record? How did you get to do a duet
on this?

Ms. O’DAY: Oh, I have no idea. Gene bought it from somebody, who made
the arrangement and taught us how to do it. It belonged to Gene. It was
in his books.

GROSS: The record sold, I think, a million and a half copies.

Ms. O’DAY: That’s the one. Gene bought a house in Yonkers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O’DAY: Yeah, that’s right.

GROSS: Let’s play an excerpt of it. This is my guest, Anita O’Day, as
recorded in 1941.

Ms. O’DAY: Right.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. O’DAY: Hey Joe.

Mr. JOE ROY: What do you mean, Joe? My name’s Roy.

Ms. O’DAY: Well, coming here, Roy, and get groovy. You’ve been uptown?

Mr. ROY: No, I ain’t been uptown, but I’ve been around.

Ms. O’DAY: You mean to say you ain’t been uptown?

Mr. ROY: No, I ain’t been uptown. What’s uptown?

Ms. O’DAY: (Singing) If it’s pleasure you’re about, and you feel like
stepping out, oh you’ve got to shout it, let me off uptown. If it’s
rhythm that you feel, then it's nothing to conceal. Oh, you've got to
spiel it. Let me off uptown. Rib joints, juke joints, hep joints. Where
could a fella go to top it?

If you want to pitch a ball, and you can't afford a hall, all you've got
to call is let me off uptown.

Mr. ROY: (Singing) Anita, oh Anita – (Speaking) say, I feel somethin'.

Ms. O’DAY: Whatcha feel Roy, the heat?

Mr. ROY: No it must be that uptown rhythm. I feel like blowin'.

Ms. O’DAY: Well, blow Roy, blow.

(Soundbite of trumpet)

GROSS: Anita O’Day, how did that record change your life?

Ms. O’DAY: Well, it didn’t change it too quickly because at that time
there was no union for girl singers. I made $7.50.

GROSS: From a million-and-a-half-selling record?

Ms. O’DAY: That’s right. He built a house in Yonkers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: My goodness. You played with several other big band leaders in
addition to Krupa. You performed briefly with Benny Goodman, and you
described him as a bandleader who always tried to distract attention
from the performer so that – why, so that they wouldn’t take attention
away from him?

Ms. O’DAY: Yeah, well, that was just his style. I don’t think he did it
maliciously. That, you know, that was just his way.

GROSS: How would he do it?

Ms. O’DAY: Well, first, if I’m scheduled to do four tunes, and the
people are giving me too much attention, he would just automatically go
into “Sing, Sing, Sing,” which is his tune, and I’d have to leave the
stage waving goodbye.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You describe Stan Kenton as being incapable of swinging.

Ms. O’DAY: Yeah, Stan couldn’t swing. I mean, I love Stan, and I love
his upbeats, and he was the artistry and rhythm, and that’s funny
because when I was with the band, I was there for a year, I sat on the
stage like the Gene Krupa Orchestra, and at the end of these
extravaganzas, Stan would go: Da, da-duh, whatever. The band is holding
this note, and he’d look over at me like, when do I cut it off, you

If he did it on his own, he’d cut it off at six and seven-eighths, I
never heard of it, but I’d get him to cut it off on four. So I did that
for a year, you know, just trying to be helpful.

BIANCULLI: Jazz singer Anita O’Day, speaking to Terry Gross in 1987.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: We’re listening to Terry’s 1987 interview with jazz singer
Anita O’Day, who died three years ago at age 87. A documentary on her
life and music, called “Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer,” has
just been released on DVD. Here’s O’Day in a recording from 1960.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. O’DAY: (Singing) I saw you last night and got that old feeling. When
you came in sight, I got that old feeling. The moment that you danced
by, I felt a thrill, and when you caught my eye, my heart stood still.

Once again, I seem to feel that old yearning, and I knew the spark of
love was still burning. There’ll be no new romance for me, it’s foolish
to start, for that old feeling is still in my heart.

I saw you last night, got that old feeling. When you came in sight…

BIANCULLI: Let’s get back to Terry’s conversation with Anita O’Day,
recorded in 1987.

GROSS: You’ve had a lot of hard drinking in your time, and you’ve also
done a lot of drugs in your time. Do you think that your involvement
with alcohol and drugs had anything to do with wanting to keep up with
the men, as we were talking about before, and wanting to be at the top,
as it were?

Ms. O’DAY: That’s a good question. I never thought about it that way.
No, I do it because I enjoy it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O’DAY: You know, everybody has their things, and that’s what I do.
You know, I didn’t want to have a family. I didn’t want to sit at home.
I didn’t want to be a housewife and own property, and I didn’t want to
work in an office from 9:00 to 5:00, and so I was just out there looking
to find something that I could, like, go along with and maybe contribute
to the people in world.

GROSS: You started smoking grass when you were 12 or 13 years old, and
that was…

Ms. O’DAY: It wasn’t against the law then, Terry.

GROSS: That’s the amazing thing. You know, it’s hard for me to think of
a time before marijuana was illegal.

Ms. O’DAY: It’s not against the law, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. O’DAY: Yeah. Well, I didn’t look for it, just the people that were
going my way, that’s what they were doing, you know.

GROSS: There was a period of, I guess, close to 15 years when you were
using heroin and still performing most of that time.

Ms. O’DAY: True.

GROSS: Did the musicians who were users stick together and all know who
each other were?

Ms. O’DAY: More or less, yes.

GROSS: Why was it important to stick together?

Ms. O’DAY: Well, to see who had the newest connection. What else? Come
on, Terry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I guess it was hard to find contacts when you’re on the road, as
you always are when you’re a musician.

Ms. O’DAY: Whatever. That’s one of them, yeah. That’s not my problem
anymore, so I really could care less, you know.

GROSS: When - you were convicted several times on drug charges. How
difficult did that make it for you to get bookings in certain cities
that had…

Ms. O’DAY: That helped. That’s show biz.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Seriously, it helped? I can’t tell if you’re kidding or not.

Ms. O’DAY: No, I’m not kidding. That’s show biz. It does. It helps. They
come to look at the girl that went to jail for smoking dope. I don’t say
that happens today, because it’s too popular today, and the kids grew,
and they say, well, that’s a scam, you know. But at that time, that was
part of it. Man, I’d work a club, and they’d be standing out down the
street, around the corner, getting in to see the girl just got out of
jail, yeah.

GROSS: Did that make you pretty angry?

Ms. O’DAY: It didn’t make me angry. Business was great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O’DAY: Come on, where are you?

GROSS: How did you finally kick after…

Ms. O’DAY: Oh, I went to Hawaii. I went to Hawaii, and I didn’t know
anybody in Hawaii, and when you get the chills, I just laid in the hot
sun, and when you get the sweats, I’d jump in the water. I did it for
five months, cool, cold, and straight ever since.

GROSS: Did you have to almost relearn how to sing straight after you’d
been performing high for so many years?

Ms. O’DAY: Yeah. You kind of have to work around it, right. That’s why I
went back to this nostalgia thing because I’d been doing be-bop and
whatever else, and so I went back to before that time, and that’s what
I’m doing now.

GROSS: I recently had the opportunity to see a movie that I suspect a
lot of listeners have seen, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” which was a
performance at the Newport Jazz Festival.

Ms. O’DAY: Oh, I was feeling no pain that day.

GROSS: Really?

Ms. O’DAY: I was on “60 Minutes,” and Harry Reasoner asked me the same
thing. He says that day, when you were on “Jazz on a Summer’s Day,” and
you were out there in that big-picture hat, and the breeze was blowing
those real ostrich feathers on top of it, he says to me: Were you high?
And I looked at him, and I looked back at the little film they were
showing me, and I says: I would say yes. That was “60 Minutes.”

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, you know what I really wanted to know was how you – you
were wearing these great white gloves in it, these like (unintelligible)
wrist-high white gloves, and it’s very sharp looking. I don’t know how
many women were actually wearing those gloves back in 1958, but how did
you decide to wear them? I think it almost became a trademark…

Ms. O’DAY: Well, I went to George Wean(ph), who was the promoter of the
whole thing, and I said what night am I on, because it was Thursday,
Friday, Saturday, Sunday night, and he says to me, oh, you’re on Sunday
afternoon, and I said, oh, thanks a lot, you know. What am I going to
wear on a Sunday afternoon? I’m not going to wear a frock to the floor,
and I’m not going to wear it off the shoulder. So I got to thinking.

So I lied prone and I kind of, like, thought what would you wear? I was
due at 5:00 o’clock. So I wore a cocktail, afternoon cocktail-party
dress with the black sheath and the white peplum and little glass
slippers and little white gloves and this black hat with the ostrich
feathers, and it worked out apropos for the time O’Day – that’s a joke,
O’Day. Terry, hello? Terry, are you there?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. O’DAY: Yeah, that’s what happened, love. Yup, that was it.

GROSS: Okay, well, I want to thank you very much.

Ms. O’DAY: Well, I want to thank you for even considering me. It’s very
nice of you to bring me forward to all the listening fans of your age,
and I appreciate it. Thank you, Terry, and my best to FRESH AIR. Is that
what it’s called?


Ms. O’DAY: Let’s have some FRESH AIR, and I’m with you, babe. I’m with
you, babe. Check it out.

BIANCULLI: Jazz singer Anita O’Day, speaking to Terry Gross in 1987
during our first year as a national daily show on NPR. The singer died
in 2006 at age 87. A documentary about her, “Anita O’Day: The Life of a
Jazz Singer,” has just been released on DVD. I’m David Bianculli, and
this is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Harvey Kurtzman: The Comics World's 'Mad Genius'


This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

As a cartoonist and writer, Harvey Kurtzman was a key influence on
modern adult comic books and, some would say, on satiric humor in
general. He created the comic book Mad, which later would become Mad
Magazine. Music critic Milo Miles says that the span of Kurtzman's work
has been brought into focus with a richly illustrated new biography
called "The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics."

MILO MILES: Since I grew up as comics fanatic, Harvey Kurtzman should've
been a natural hero to me. He invented Mad Magazine. His satiric stories
and pictures inspired superb underground comic artists like Robert
Crumb, Art Spiegelman, and Gilbert Shelton. But when I was a teenager in
the late ‘60s it was hard for me to find Kurtzman's best work.

The early issues of Mad that he oversaw were long gone, to say nothing
of the groundbreaking realistic war stories he'd done earlier for EC
Comics. Kurtzman's current work at that time was done with his favorite
artist, collaborator Will Elder, namely "Little Annie Fanny" in Playboy
magazine, a strip he did for 26 years. It was the most gorgeous looking
few pages of comics imaginable. But it wasn't exactly slashing, burning

I couldn't know that Kurtzman had a much more cynical sardonic view of
sexuality than big boss Hugh Hefner, but that one was not allowed to
dissent from the Playboy philosophy within the magazine itself. Kurtzman
passed away in 1993, just five years after the end of "Little Annie
Fanny" and it was easy for an uninformed person of my age to think,
maybe the guy's overrated.

Authors Dennis Kitchen and Paul Buhle have done invaluable service to
the man's legacy with "The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of
Comics." Anyone should come away convinced by their argument that
Kurtzman is as important as anyone who ever worked in the field. Kitchen
is an outstanding cartoonist himself and I credit him with selecting the
definitive showcase of Kurtzman's art from all phases of his career.
This means not only masterpieces from the war comic Two-Fisted Tales and
Mad, but vibrant devil may care obscurities like a satire of Archie
Comics from 1949 that looks like a page from Mad, years before Mad

"The Art of Harvey Kurtzman" even includes one of the finest "Little
Annie Fanny" strips, "The Origin Story" which has never been published
before. Kitchen and Buhle also do an exemplary job laying out Kurtzman's
jagged years after he left Mad in 1956 and before he started "Little
Annie Fanny" in 1962.

Kurtzman's three publications during this period were Trump, a lavish
comic sponsored by Playboy that folded after two issues, Humbug, a comic
magazine put out by an artist collective that soon crashed and burned,
and "Help," a satire magazine that was not primarily comics.

All these magazines are made more talked about than seen for decades.
Fantagraphics Books has remedied that situation in part by publishing a
glorious collection of Humbug. This two-volume slip cased edition
corrects the major problem with the original publication. Namely, that
it was badly printed on incredibly trashy paper. This new Humbug offers
teasing hints of what Mad might've become if Kurtzman had stayed on,
more political, more adult, more outright brainy. Humbug probably went
right over many folks heads but it seems half the folks who loved it as
kids became influential cartoonists.

Humbug's failure to thrive is typical. There's a persistent pang of
sadness that runs through Kitchen and Buhle's narrative. Harvey Kurtzman
was a hopeless businessman who tried to run businesses. He was a
perfectionist who scorned deadlines trapped in an industry that demanded
work banged out on time. Ultimately, he was a man who needed a manager
but would never accept anyone capable of doing the job.

Kurtzman's fundamental conviction was that cartoons should use satire to
cut through fantasies rather than promote them. During his apex years in
the ‘50s and ‘60s he was a powerhouse who used both his words and
pictures to show a world in which the search for goodness and truth was
met by nothing but liars, hustlers, bullies and fools. All of them
caught up in a wickedly funny dance of delusions. No one was safe, no
storytelling conventions were sacred.

Kurtzman put it best in his classic Mad satire, "Super Duper Man," where
love object, Lois Pain lays it on the lines of the arrogant hero, hands
off. So you're Super Duper Man instead of Clark Bent, big deal. You're
still a creep. Every puffed up hot shot in the world forever needs a
dose of Harvey Kurtzman.

BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR music critic Milo Miles lives in Boston. He
reviewed "The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics" by Denis
Kitchen and Paul Buhle.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Zooey Deschanel, From Actress To Indie Rocker


For a few years now, Zooey Deschanel has done double duty as an actress
and as a musician. She’s appeared in such films as "Almost Famous" and
"Elf" and more recently, she’s performed and recorded as half of the
music group called She and Him. She is she. Him is indie rock musician
Matt Ward, who goes by the name M. Ward. Zooey Deschanel's new movie is
called "(500) Days of Summer," a romantic comedy in which she plays a
woman name Summer. Her costar, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Tom, a man who
spends more than a year getting to know her and having such freewheeling
conversations as how their relationship compares to that ill-fated punk
figures Sid and Nancy.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Summer) We've been like Sid and Nancy
for months now.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (Actor): (as Tom): Summer, Sid stabs Nancy
seven times with a kitchen knife. I mean, we’ve had civil disagreements
but I hardly think I'm Sid Vicious.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Summer) No. I'm Sid.

Mr. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT (Actor): (as Tom): Oh so I'm Nancy?

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Summer) Let's just eat and then we'll
talk about it later. Mm. That is good. I'm really glad we did this. I
love these pancakes. What? Tom, don't go. You're still my best friend.

BIANCULLI: When Zooey Deschanel isn't on screen, she’s likely to be in
the studio. Her introductory CD, "She And Him, Volume One,” features her
original songs and a couple of covers. The arrangements are by M. Ward
who is also featured on guitar. Terry Gross spoke with Zooey Deschanel
in 2008. Here's one of Deschanel's original composition's "Change Is

(Soundbite of song, "Change Is Hard")

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL: (Singing) I’m all outta luck but what else could I
be? I know he’s yours and he'll never belong to me again. I did him
wrong. So don’t brag, keep it to yourself. I did him wrong. I was never
no, never no, never enough, but I can try, I can try to toughen up. I
listened when they told me if he burns you, let him go. Change is hard,
I should know. I should know. I should know. Oh, I should know.

GROSS: Zooey Deschanel, welcome to FRESH AIR.

When I hear your album, here's one of the things I think about that
makes me think that you really love music and have a fairly - a diverse
record collection, and that you love country music, and you love jazz,
and you love girl groups, and the Beach Boys, and somehow, like all of
this is reflected in the songs that you write and sing. The song that we
opened with, "Change Is Hard" has a country-ish sound to it.

Ms. DESCHANEL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And would you talk a little bit about what you were thinking
about when wrote it? What you were thinking about musically? Or do songs
just kind of come to you?

Ms. DESCHANEL: I don't know, I guess I have certain sort of chord
progressions that I'm attracted to. I don’t usually come at it from the
point of view that I, you know, I'm trying to be in certain genre which
is probably why it sort of spans a lot of genres because I do have a
diverse music collection and my taste is kind of eclectic, so I’ll just
go right into it and sort of start writing. It's sort of a spontaneous
thing and sometimes things come out that I'm surprised, I didn't know
that I had that impulse in me and then it just sort of comes out.

GROSS: I think a lot of people were introduced to you as a singer
through the movie "Elf" in which you sang a complete song and a couple
of excerpts...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...including "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." So here's what I'd
like to do. I'd like to first play the scene where you and Will Ferrell
meet. And Will Ferrell, of course, is a human being who was adopted
elves in Santa Land in the North Pole, and he goes to New York to find
his birth father. And there he works in a department store Santa Land
where he meets you, who wrap gifts there. And in this scene you're in
the department store and here is you and Will Ferrell.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Are you enjoying the view?

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) You are very good at decorating
that tree.

(Soundbite of song, "Santa Baby")

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Why you messing with me? Did
grandpa put you up to this?

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) I'm not messing with you. It's just
nice to meet another human who shares my affinity for elf culture.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) I'm just trying to get through
the holiday.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) Get through? Christmas is the
greatest day in the whole wide world.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Please stop talking to me.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) Uh-oh. Sounds like someone needs to
sing a Christmas carol.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Go away.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) The best way to spread Christmas
cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Thanks but I don't sing.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) Oh it's easy. It's just like
talking except louder and longer and you move your voice up and down.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) I can sing but I just choose
not to sing. Especially in front of other people.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) Well, if you sing alone you can
sing in front of other people. There's no difference.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) Actually there's a big

GROSS: Well, that's Zooey Deschanel and Will Ferrell in "Elf" and a
little later you are, you think, alone...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...and singing. You're in the shower singing in the ladies room
and unbeknownst to you, Will Ferrell is in the ladies room sitting on a
sink dueting with you quietly and the sound of the shower water is
drowning him out so you don't realize he's in there and singing with you
until the end, so let's give that a listen.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) So really I better
scurry. Well maybe just a half a drink more.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) The neighbors might

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) Baby it's bad out there.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) Say, what's in this

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) No cabs to be had out

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) I wish I knew how...

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) Baby it's bad out there.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) break the

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) I'll take your hat, your
hair looks swell.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) I ought to say no,
no, no, sir.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) Mind if I move in closer?

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) At least I'm gonna
say that I tried.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) What's the sense of
hurting my pride?

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL (Actress): (as Jovie) (Singing) I really can't stay.
Ahh, but it's cold outside.

Mr. WILL FERRELL (Actor): (as Buddy) (Singing) Baby it's cold outside.

(Soundbite of whistle)

GROSS: And then you turn off the show because you're pretty alarmed...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ... knowing that he's in there. It's such a really delightful
scene. Now you got your first movie role when you were still in high
school, and I think you left high school the last month of your senior
year to shoot the movie...


GROSS: "Mumford."

Ms. DESCHANEL: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What did you like or not like about that experience? I mean,
obviously you decided to stay in that world as a movie actress.

Ms. DESCHANEL: Well, I had an amazing experience and I was still - I was
finishing school. I was just - I had finished high school on set and
then I just - I mean, it was a perfect first experience because every
day we'd shoot, I mean we'd shoot, you know, 14 or 16 hours and I’d be
like, I love this. I never want to go home. I would get, like, I would
get sad when they would, they'd be like, okay, you're done for the day.
And I would be like, really? Already? And it was so much fun that I
didn't want to go home. So that was a great experience.

And then I went to Northwestern University for a year and part way
through the year I auditioned for Cameron Crowe on my spring break and
they were casting this movie "Almost Famous" and somebody had fallen out
of the - they had a cast but the lead actress decided not to do it and
then Kate Hudson was supposed to play the part of the kid sister and
then she - he bumped her up to the lead role and then there was this
empty role and they were about to shoot and I auditioned for it. And I
found out I, you know, booked the job, and I shipped all my stuff home
and so on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DESCHANEL: And on a just sort of a impulse.

GROSS: Well you did good. Let's hear your first scene in "Almost
Famous." You're walking in the door. You're still living with your
mother. You're 18. Your mother's played by Frances McDormand. As you
walk in, you're wearing this like big coat and you're kind of holding it
shut as if you're covering something up. So you walk in, your mother
greets you at the door, and your little brother... xxx

…again, you’re wearing just like big coat and you’re kind of holding it
shut as if you’re covering something up. So, you walk in, your mother
greets you at the door and your little brother who ends up growing up
and writing for Rolling Stone is standing in the room also listening.

(Soundbite of movie, “Almost Famous”)

Ms. FRANCES MCDORMAND (Actor): (as Elaine Miller) You’ve been kissing!

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) No, I haven’t.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Yes, you have.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) No, I haven’t.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Yes, you have. I can tell.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) You can’t tell.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Not only can I tell, I know who it is.
It’s Darryl. What you got under your coat?

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) It’s unfair that we can’t listen to our

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Because it is about drugs and
promiscuous sex.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) Simon and Garfunkel is poetry.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Yes it’s poetry. It is the poetry of
drugs and promiscuous sex. Honey, they’re on pot.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) First, it was butter then it was sugar
and white flour, bacon, eggs, bologna, rock ‘n roll, motorcycles. Then,
it was celebrating Christmas on a day in September when you knew it
wouldn’t be commercialized. What else are you going to ban?

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Honey, you want to rebel against
knowledge. I’m trying to give you the Cliff Notes on how to live life in
this world.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) We’re like nobody else I know.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) I’m a college professor. Why can’t I
teach my own kids? Use me.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) Darryl says that you use knowledge to
keep me down. He says I’m a yes person and you are trying to raise us in
a no environment.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Well, clearly no is a word Darryl
doesn’t hear much.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) I can’t live here. I hate you. Even
William hates you.

Mr. MICHAEL ANGARANO (Actor): (as Young William) I don’t hate her.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) You do hate her. You don’t even know
the truth.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Sweetheart, don’t be a drama queen.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) (bleep) you.

Ms. MCDORMAND: (as Elaine Miller) Hey.

Ms. DESCHANEL: (as Anita Miller) This is a house of lies.

(Soundbite of door closing)

GROSS: That’s Zooey Deschanel and Frances McDormand in a scene from
“Almost Famous,” which was Zooey Deschanel’s second movie. So, you know,
here’s something odd that I read, you know, you were supposed to play
Janis Joplin in a movie directed by Penelope Spheeris, who’s made a
bunch of movies about punk rock. And I thought, wow, that seem so wrong
to me. You’ve such a kind of clear, pure voice and she had so much kind
of growl in hers, and your body types are completely different like,
what were you thinking, what were they thinking?

Ms. DESCHANEL: I think that it was – they were looking for somebody who
was an actress, who also could sing and I was thinking that it would be,
you know, a really fun challenge to try to portray this person. I mean
our voices, yes, are very different. And we were actually supposed to go
like a year and a half ago. We were all set to make it and then it fell
through due to a lot of, sort of, logistical things that I don’t think I
quite understand at this point. But, it was a lot, a lot of work. I
worked for like six months. I mean, it’s definitely very different from
who I am, but I really found her to be an interesting person once I sort
of started looking into who she was.

GROSS: So, I have to ask you about your name. You were named Zooey after
“Franny and Zooey,” the famous J.D. Salinger story, which so many people
have read. How old were you when you read the story, and did you like it
well enough to feel good about being named after…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …after the character, because probably throughout your life,
people have been saying, oh, you named after “Franny and Zooey.” So…


GROSS: …so, how old were you when you read the story and do you like it?

Ms. DESCHANEL: I was – I actually waited a really long time to read it
because I was – I had read all of J.D. Salinger’s other works and I was
sort of terrified that I wouldn’t like it and that I would be living
with this, you know, identity of a person who doesn’t like their
namesake. But, fortunately I loved it when I read it. And I was 18 when
I read it. I read it the summer after I graduated from high school. My
older sister was named after Emily Dickinson and Emily Bronte and they
wanted me to have a literary name too. And I think they liked the name
Zooey and they just decided to spell it that way as - you know, they
loved J.D. Salinger and they loved that book. So, I think that’s why.

GROSS: Well, they certainly chose a different period and different form
of writing than your sister.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DESCHANEL: That’s true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, Zooey Deschanel, thanks so much for talking with us. And…

Ms. DESCHANEL: Thank you.

GROSS: Yeah, thank you again.

Ms. DESCHANEL: It was really nice talking to you. Thank you.

BIANCULLI: Zooey Deschanel speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. Her new
movie is called “(500) Days of Summer,” and her most recent CD is called
“She and Him: Volume One.” Coming up, film critic David Edelstein
reviews a new British political satire, “In the Loop.” This is FRESH
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Foul Mouths And A Penetrating Farce In 'The Loop'


“In the Loop,” is a British political satire that takes place during the
lead up to the current war in Iraq. It’s a comedic, behind-the-scenes
look at how the American and British governments prepared for war. It’s
from the writers and director of a British TV comedy called “In the
Thick of It,” and features, among many others, James Gandolfini as an
American general. It opens today in limited release and can be seen on
pay-per-view cable beginning next week. Film critic David Edelstein has
this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: With its wild machinations, the riotously potty-mouthed
British political satire “In the Loop” seems totally outlandish. But
according to some reports, it’s more or less what happened in the days
leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Brits were indeed drafted
to supply intelligence to help the administration make its case to the
U.N. Security Council. And, according to a leaked Downing Street memo,
intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. Inspired by
that memo, director Armando Ianucci has concocted a rollicking,
transcontinental farce, a policy-wonk version of the front page, with
characters flying back and forth between London and Washington and
enough four-letter scatological invective to make David Mamet say, whoa,
that's a tad excessive.

You'll be laughing so hard you might not notice the undercurrent of
horror creeping in. The movie uses characters from Ianucci's Brit TV
comedy “In the Thick of It,” starring the Scottish Peter Capaldi as a
relentlessly abusive government press secretary named Malcolm Tucker and
based on Alastair Campbell, who did the job for Tony Blair. As the film
opens, he's listening to a radio interview with a minor government
minister named Simon Foster, played by Tom Hollander. And Simon stammers
something about the war in the Middle East being, quote,
"unforeseeable." And as harmless as that locution seems, it drives the
Prime Minister, who goes unnamed, and his executioner, Malcolm, into
obscenity-laced fits of apoplexy.

Here’s Malcolm with Hollander’s Simon and Gina McKee as his Press
Secretary, and a new young spin doctor Toby, played by Chris Addison.

(Soundbite of movie, “In the Loop”)

Mr. PETER CAPALDI (Actor): (as Malcolm) Are you saying I’m now no longer
allowed to make media appearances?

Mr. TOM HOLLANDER (Actor): (as Simon) Correct, not until we can trust
you to keep the line.

Mr. CAPALDI: (as Malcolm) Hmm. I was going to keep to the line. I was
going to say, I don’t think war is unforeseeable.

Mr. HOLLANDER: (as Simon) What is it then?

Mr. CAPALDI: (as Malcolm) I don’t know. Foreseeable?

Mr. HOLLANDER: (as Simon) No.

Mr. CAPALDI: (as Malcolm) No. Not foreseeable that’s (bleep) declaring
war. You want to (bleep) declare war? I’m the cabinet minister. Yeah, I
didn’t get here by screwing up every media appearance I ever had.

Mr. CHRIS ADDISON (Actor): (as Toby) Write this down: It’s neither
foreseeable nor unforeseeable.

Mr. HOLLANDER: (as Simon) Right. So, not inevitable, but not…

Mr. CAPALDI: (as Malcolm) You better work on this (bleep) line,

Mr. ADDISON: (as Toby) You, hey…

Mr. CAPALDI: (as Malcolm) Put the snifter out there. The BBC ambushes
our minister with another surprise question about the war, I’ll drop a
bomb on them.

Ms. GINA MCKEE (Actor): (as Judy) Well, I can’t do that, can I?

Mr. CAPALDI: (as Malcolm) Oh, does that not, does that not fit within
your purview, Marie Antoinette? Well, listen, why don’t you just scuttle
off back (bleep) Cranford and play around with your tea and you’re
cakes and you’re (bleep) horsecocks. Let them eat cock. Hey you, Ron
Weasley, you do it.

EDELSTEIN: You'd hardly recognize Capaldi from his most famous movie
role as Peter Riegert's lovelorn Scottish assistant in the sublime 1983
comedy “Local Hero.” The cords in his neck stand out as he roars, and he
shows up everywhere, fulminating, threatening, blackballing,
blackmailing. Against him, idealists don't stand a chance, and neither
does Simon, who tries to back-peddle from that unforeseeable line but
who does like the attention. He gets drafted as an ally by the dovish
U.S. Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy Karen Clarke, played by Mimi
Kennedy, who's locked in a battle with the hawkish State department
official Linton Barwick, based on top Cheney aide David Addington, and
played with delicious smug pomposity, by David Rasche.

The movie is crammed with characters and details, the actors playing it
straight but at farcical speeds, leaping back and forth from the
minutiae of protocol, to problems with their teeth, to one-night stands,
to leaking documents or plugging leaks. “In the Loop's” loopy ensemble
includes the pert Anna Chlumsky as Clark's policy aide, who drafts a
highly inconvenient paper on the prospect of war in which the cons far
outweigh the pros, and James Gandolfini as an alpha-male general, who's
nonetheless dead-set against war - he's the only one who’s seen
soldiers die.

They're all stupendous, but it's Mimi Kennedy, best known as Dharma's
mom on the sitcom “Dharma and Greg,” who blew me away. She has the
doggedness of a true political animal, she has ideals but she knows how
the game must be played.

Some critics have suggested that “In the Loop” is too cynical, too
committed to the idea that politicians and policymakers are either
hopelessly ineffectual or downright venal. But I would submit that the
lead-in to the war in Iraq was an extraordinary case, a moment when
almost no one in retrospect looks good. And the filmmakers don't depict
the principle architects or even mention Blair, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld
or Colin Powell by name. Instead, we see their minions in a kind of
kabuki ritual, going through the motions, the conclusion predetermined.
“In the Loop” demonstrates how penetrating farce can be: madcap on the
surface, brutally sane beneath.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. For
Terry Gross, I’m David Bianculli.
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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