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The History of Greenwich Village.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews “American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century” by Christine Stansell.

05:20

Other segments from the episode on April 13, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 13, 2000: Interview with Daniel Gross; Interview with Barry Blaustein; Review of Christine Stansell's book "American Moderns."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 13, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 041302NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Barry Blaustein Discusses `Beyond the Mat'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

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

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Coming up, a new documentary about wrestling called "Beyond the Mat." We talk with director Barry Blaustein, who used to write for Eddie Murphy on "Saturday Night Live" and now co-writes movies for Murphy.

Also, Maureen Corrigan reviews a new book about the history of New York's Greenwich Village.

(BREAK)

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

Wrestling, the spectacle, the business, the fake drama, the often real pain and injury, and the performers' lives in and out of the ring is the subject of the new documentary "Beyond the Mat." My guest is the director, Barry Blaustein. He's a lifelong wrestling fan who is best known as a comedy writer. He's a former head writer for "Saturday Night Live" and co-created several of Eddie Murphy's characters. He also co-wrote several of Murphy's movies.

In "Beyond the Mat," Blaustein takes us behind the scenes of the most successful wrestling organization, the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation. He shows how the characters are created and how the matches are scripted. In this scene, he takes us into the office of the WWF's owner, Vince McMahon, as McMahon meets with a newcomer to the WWF, Darren Drosdof (ph). McMahon is telling Drosdof that the WWF has created a character for Drosdof that exploits his unusual ability to vomit on cue.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "BEYOND THE MAT")

VINCE MCMAHON, OWNER, WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION: Quite frankly, what we've come up with is, since you are able to regurgitate, you know, on command, it just seems to me that it's pretty logical that you should be Puke, you know. Puke has a nice connotation to it, you know, I mean, it's like you got Animal, you got Hawk, you got Puke, you know.

And it shouldn't be just plain Puke, it should be PUKE, you know.

So after you've regurgitated on one of your opponents or on the referee itself, then, of course, the ring announcer would, you know, then say your name. And then again, it's like, since you've got the fundamentals and so forth, and I think you're ready to go with it, I think that, you know, Puke is -- Puke is good. Puke is nice.

DARREN DROSDOF, WRESTLER: (inaudible) never heard that, that's great.

MCMAHON: That's right, you know.

DROSDOF: Everybody (inaudible) at it, that's good.

MCMAHON: Yes. It's -- it fits the WWF attitude.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Barry Blaustein, how far did Darren Drosdof get with the Puke persona?

BARRY BLAUSTEIN, "BEYOND THE MAT": The Puke persona never caught on, because -- and I was -- didn't think it would ever get over, because Darren could not really puke on cue. He needed about 10, 15 minutes. And so he couldn't turn it on and off like a faucet. So he never was able to throw up on a opponents at will, which is, I think, his opponents are grateful, and as a wrestling fan, I'm grateful.

Darren then started to make it. Unfortunately, what happened about three weeks after I finished the movie last of course, Darren was involved in a wrestling match for the WWF in Nassau Coliseum, and either one of the other wrestlers slipped or Darren tucked his head the correct way, and Darren was injured. He is paralyzed now. He is paraplegic. And doctors hope that one day he might be able to walk again.

So it just shows even casual moves, if not done right, there can be severe injury.

GROSS: The big money and muscle behind wrestling is the WWF, the World Wrestling Federation. And you describe it as being worth more now than the New York Rangers, the Knicks, and the Mets combined. The WWF has been in the McMahon family for how many generations?

BLAUSTEIN: Four generations.

GROSS: How did Vince McMahon change the WWF after he took it over from his father?

BLAUSTEIN: Well, previous to Vince McMahon taking on the WWF, wrestling in the United States was run by separate families. And it's much like "The Godfather," different families ran different regions. So one family ran the Northeast, one family ran the Southeast, one family ran the West, and so on and so forth. And within each individual state, you were given -- the families would say, OK, now, you can run this promotion in this town, or in this part of the state.

Once Vince took over -- there are different theories. One is that the other promoters were going to try to take over Vince's territory, which was the very profitable Northeast territory, the other that Vince saw the advent of cable and realized wrestling could go national.

So Vince went in into these small territories, took the talent, closed down these smaller promoters, and thus made -- took wrestling from being a regional business to a national and then international business.

GROSS: You have a short scene in your documentary in which there's a staff writer talking to one of the wrestlers, and he's basically telling her that she has to act like her back really hurts. And he says, "Sell the back to the point that we don't feel that you'll be able to compete."

BLAUSTEIN: Right.

GROSS: How much of the story lines are actually scripted by the writers before the matches?

BLAUSTEIN: Oh, the story lines are totally scripted before the matches. The (inaudible) -- by writers. By writers and some wrestlers are able to go in there and improvise and add to the story line. It's much like a director and an actor. Sometimes the wrestler adds a whole bunch of different movements and nuances to it. But the story line is determined before they go in there.

GROSS: You know, there are so many fake injuries in wrestling and fake pain in wrestling that it's, I think, sometimes hard for fans to tell when there's a real accident that has happened and someone -- when someone is genuinely seriously hurt. I suppose that the people who are wrestling, like the opponents and the referees and all that can tell the difference right away?

BLAUSTEIN: Yes, they know right away. They'll say to somebody, "I'm hurt," or "Just roll over me," or "Just pin me right now, I can't go any further."

You know, if you are really up close in a wrestling match, when there's a really violent move and those two guys lock, invariably one will say to the other, "Are you OK? Are you OK?" So they're always checking out for each other's health.

GROSS: And, and they're miked in a way so that the mikes don't pick that up?

BLAUSTEIN: Right. Well, they're not miked at all. If they were miked, it would ruin wrestling.

GROSS: Because they wouldn't be able to give these messages to each other?

BLAUSTEIN: They wouldn't be able -- they're constantly talking with each other in the ring. When they get in a headlock or what they call a wrist hold, they're talking to each other what the next couple moves they're going to do.

GROSS: What are the health benefits like for wrestlers now?

BLAUSTEIN: Wrestlers have no health benefits whatsoever. They have no pension plans. It's very, very hard for them to get any sort of medical insurance.

GROSS: And this is in all the wrestling groups?

BLAUSTEIN: All the wrestling groups. If a wrestler is injured in the ring, generally, for example, Don Drosdof, Vince McMahon's paying for everything. And if a wrestler's injured while in the ring, Vince will usually pay for it.

GROSS: You spent a considerable amount of time in your wrestling documentary with Mick Foley, who's, you know, one of today's best-known wrestlers, and he's had a book that's been on the best-seller list for quite a while. Why did you choose him as one of the centers of the movie? What does he represent to you?

BLAUSTEIN: Well, to me, Mick is very atypical of a lot of wrestlers. He's the most articulate of the wrestlers. He's probably one of the most intelligent of them. A college professor of his told me, who is now head of the media department at Syracuse University, told me that in 25 years of teaching, Mick is one of the two brightest people he's ever met.

And Mick is able -- what interests me about Mick is, Mick plays a very violent, sadistic character in the ring. Outside the ring, he's extremely peaceful. And he's someone who's able to leave his character in the ring. And what also interests me very much about Mick is that he's very much a family man, and he's trying to keep his family together and raise his two children. He's very devoted to them.

And I thought that was an interesting dichotomy. I mean, I would speak to Mick on the phone, and this is when his children were very young, and he had this big, bruising guy, and he would just be on the phone, and he would be calling to his son, "Dewey, Dewey, that's a time out, that's a time out."

And so it really -- that dichotomy interests me tremendously.

GROSS: What's his specialty in the ring?

BLAUSTEIN: Specialty is taking punishment. There's never been anyone in the history of wrestling who's got -- who's received more punishment than Mick.

GROSS: Now, does his family always know which punishment is scripted and when he's hurt for real?

BLAUSTEIN: He'll tell his children, he'll tell his family, you know, "Daddy's really not going to get hurt." His children no longer believe him, because they get terrified when they see it. That's one of the reasons Mick is thinking of quitting, because I don't think -- he thinks physically he can't do it any more, emotionally he can't do it any more. And I think he wonders about the effect of it on his family. And he has -- he doesn't -- he wants to put that to an end.

GROSS: He had a serious accident which you document in your movie. Why don't you describe it?

BLAUSTEIN: Well, what happened is, Mick was in a match called Hell in the Cell, and there was -- which is where two wrestlers climb on top of about a 20-foot cage. And there was a spot where Mick jumped off the cage onto a table, and as horrendous as that is, that was actually a planned thing. Then Mick got back on top of the cage, and another wrestler threw him down on top of the cage. And the cage accidentally broke open, and it sent Mick about 20 feet sprawling right onto his back, which is a miracle did not kill Mick.

GROSS: What did happen?

BLAUSTEIN: What did happen? He lied there unconscious for a while, and he got up, and then he wrestled again. The other wrestler told me, "I thought I had actually killed him." And Mick got up, you look at the film, you see he has a total dazed look in his eye. The other wrestler says, "This is ending now."

And they ended the match. And he had some fairly severe broken bones from it. But it's just a miracle and a tribute to his body structure that he's not a paraplegic or dead now.

GROSS: And he's been wrestling since that?

BLAUSTEIN: He's been wrestling since then. He took a -- he took about a week off and started wrestling again. These guys have no off season. These aren't like other athletes or performers. They wrestle 250 nights a year. So that's one of the things, they're never home.

GROSS: Now, the WWF went public last year. They're now a publicly held company in the stock market. How did that affect money and operations in the organization?

BLAUSTEIN: It would be hard to say. I know it made Vince McMahon a lot richer man than he was the day before it went public. So I don't know, I -- there was more influx of money into the company. But it's a -- even without the public offering -- I think, you know, I think Vince knows wrestling is at its peak popularity, and it was, you know, a wise business decision.

GROSS: While we're talking about money and merchandising, I know that the WWF won't let you advertise your movie within their wrestling programs. What reason do they give you for that?

BLAUSTEIN: Well, because I wouldn't sell it, the movie, to the WWF. When I approached the WWF about filming there, they offered to triple my budget. I turned them down. When they -- I was making the movie, they offered to buy it, invest in it. When I showed them the movie, they wanted to buy the film.

And the reason I did not want them to buy the film or invest in the film was because, as a documentarian, you have to keep a certain amount of independence. And you can't have the subject matter be an investor in the film. So I turned them down, and that -- Vince McMahon operates in a world where he very rarely hears the word "No." And he's used to bulling people around. Unfortunately, I'm not one of his wrestlers and I have a life outside of wrestling, thank God.

And I just wouldn't acquiesce to Vince's demands. The scary part of it is this. Vince also put pressure on USA, UPN, and KrisKraft (ph) Station Group not to advertise the movie on any show on their networks. So I'm not -- I was not only restricted from advertising on the wrestling shows, I was restricted from advertising on any show on their networks. And, you know, it very much hurt us our first week.

An analogy might be, the NFL was not very happy with the Oliver Stone movie "On Any Given Sunday." Yet they did not put pressure on CBS and Fox not to run ads for the movie.

GROSS: Barry Blaustein is my guest. He directed the new wrestling documentary "Beyond the Mat." He's also former head writer and supervising producer for "Saturday Night Live." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Barry Blaustein. He directed the new documentary about wrestling called "Beyond the Mat."

I want to get to a different part of your career.

BLAUSTEIN: Sure.

GROSS: You were for -- well, you could tell me how many years that you were...

BLAUSTEIN: About three years for "Saturday Night Live."

GROSS: As head writer?

BLAUSTEIN: Yes. Well, I wasn't hired as a head writer, but my partner and I, David Sheffield (ph), became head writers and supervising producers of the show.

GROSS: And I know you worked a lot with Eddie Murphy. What characters did you create for him?

BLAUSTEIN: We created with Eddie Buckwheat, Mr. Robinson, Gumby, Velvet Jones, whole bunch of other stuff.

GROSS: Mr. Robinson was "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood"?

BLAUSTEIN: Yes. "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." Yes, "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood."

GROSS: Right, based on Mr. Rogers. (inaudible) (laughs) Describe the character.

BLAUSTEIN: Well, it's just basically Eddie's version of Mr. Rogers. And I have to say, one of the bizarrest things to ever happen, Mr. Rogers actually came up to the offices one day. And he actually talks like Mr. Rogers. And the sweater. And he's basically saying, You've had your fun, now stop doing the sketches. (laughs)

GROSS: Did he really say that?

BLAUSTEIN: Yes.

GROSS: (laughs)

BLAUSTEIN: We were tired of doing them anyway. And I said -- I -- you know, we were trying to get him to come on and actually say, Can you say the word "lawsuit"? And he wouldn't do it.

GROSS: (laughs) Describe the character a little more for our listeners who have either forgotten (inaudible)...

BLAUSTEIN: Well, it was an inner-city version of Mr. Rogers, and how Mr. Rogers deals with certain things in his neighborhood, Mr. Robinson dealt with things in the inner-city neighborhood.

GROSS: For example?

BLAUSTEIN: Not paying his rent, drug dealing, crime, being held up, those sort of things.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

(SOUNDS OF RIOTING, LOOTING)

EDDIE MURPHY (singing): It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighbor -- Would you be my, won't you be my, won't you be my neighbor?

Hello, boys and girls. You know, Christmas is a special time in Mr. Robinson's neighborhood. It's a time for giving. Look what Mr. Landlord gave me. It's an eviction notice. Well, that's why Mr. Robinson have to wear this Santa Claus suit to sneak in and out of his building. But (inaudible), boys and girls, because when I add this little (inaudible) here, and when I add this little bell, it becomes a small business.

Yes, Christmas is a season for giving and for taking. And with this little operation, I figure I'll be taking in about $300 or $400 a day.

Oh, why, oh, why, must Christmas come but once a year?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GROSS: Was, was it ever an issue with Eddie Murphy or with other people on the show that white writers were helping to create these black characters for him, characters that were assumed to express his point of view as a black man?

BLAUSTEIN: I -- when I write for Eddie, when Dave and I write for Eddie, and we're both proud white men, that -- we're just writing these characters. These characters, I'm not writing them, This is the Black Experience I'm writing. I'm writing these characters' experience. And I don't ever say I'm writing the whole black experience.

But Eddie's never had a problem with it whatsoever.

GROSS: Now, I, I, I read a long time ago, I think, that Eddie Murphy grew up in a part of Long Island that had a large Jewish community, so that he was exposed to a lot of Jewish people when he was growing up. And I remember -- you can tell me if this is true or not -- but I remember one character that he did was this elderly, cranky Jewish guy who'd go, like, Oy, I'll eat it anyways! (laughs)

BLAUSTEIN: Right. He could do that. (inaudible) show business, he got a -- that exposure. Eddie grew up in Roosevelt, which is a actually mostly black community.

GROSS: I see.

BLAUSTEIN: And I grew up about 15 miles away from Eddie, and Eddie used to always say, We used to come to your town and steal bicycles. And I had my bike stolen as a kid, so I've always accused him of having my bike.

GROSS: (laughs)

BLAUSTEIN: But no, Eddie's -- Eddie can do Jews incredibly well, you know, so...

GROSS: Did you work on that elderly cranky guy with him?

BLAUSTEIN: Yes, we did. You know, we -- in "Coming to America" he did an old elderly Jew in the barber shop, so, yes, I did a little of that. But it was really strange, I was writing that, Dave and I were writing that, and we were writing in "Coming to America" a bunch of elderly black barbers, and there's an elderly Jewish customer in there too. And it was very easy to write -- maybe because we've been around Eddie (inaudible) to write that dialogue.

When it came to actually write any of the line that the elderly Jew would say, I called up my father, who's an elderly Jew, and asked him, what would he say (inaudible), what would somebody say here at this point? And which was strange, because I'm Jewish, so it's -- I should know this better. But I don't.

GROSS: Give us a sense of what the process was like for writing sketches when you were working with him on "Saturday Night Live."

BLAUSTEIN: Well, you were up real late, you know. Most of the stuff was done about 3 in the mornings. You'd be sitting around, and invariably the best way of coming up with comedy, you're forever stuck if you sit around going, Now what would be funny? What would be funny? Because you're never going to come up with something. You just talk about life experiences and things that happened to you, and you ever meet this kind of person?

And then, you know, then you'll go off from there and you'll hit on something that's humorous. Sometimes it'll be stuff in the news, you know, the -- Jesse Jackson did in (ph) Hymietown, that was obviously -- I read that and I thought, well, this is, you know, ripe for satire.

GROSS: Did, did you work on any of the Stevie Wonder impressions with...

BLAUSTEIN: Oh, yes, sure, we did them all, yes. We did Ebony and Ivory, where he sang with Frank Sinatra, and I think the first one we did was Stevie Wonder as Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof."

GROSS: Oh, I think I saw that.

BLAUSTEIN: (inaudible), oh, yes, it was so -- I think it was the first time he did it on the air. It was a time when they were having, like, different people, you know, be Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof." And so he came out and did, "If I Was a Rich Man." It was pretty funny.

GROSS: Now...

BLAUSTEIN: So we've done, we've done a lot of the Stevie Wonder stuff. And we worked with Stevie Wonder.

GROSS: Right. (inaudible)...

BLAUSTEIN: That was the -- that was the best part, that was my favorite week on "Saturday Night Live," because, you know, you tend -- I tend not to be star-struck, especially had -- you meet most stars, and you just have extreme disappointment. But I remember Stevie Wonder coming in, and we're talking about sitting down with him about two, three hours in the office, and he's very loose, he's very funny. And we actually were making fun of other blind performers.

And we were saying, Let's do something where Jose Feliciano can really see, and other people. And we're sitting around talking, and he leaves -- he left the room, and suddenly it hit me, it was, like, Wow, I was just talking with Stevie Wonder for three hours. So there's something (inaudible) -- when people describe Stevie Wonder, they always go, It's -- he's very spiritual and all that. And I was, like, Come on, give me a break. And I called my wife up and I go, I was just with Stevie Wonder.

And she goes, What's it like -- what's he like? And I go, You know, he's very spiritual. (laughs) You get this feeling. So (inaudible), he (inaudible), he's very spiritual.

GROSS: Do you have a favorite of the sketches you worked on with Eddie Murphy in the "Saturday Night Live" era?

BLAUSTEIN: I think my favorite is when we killed Buckwheat, because that turned into a three-part thing, and each one was sort of a takeoff on media coverage of the news. One was off sort of a -- first one was sort of pointing at the media for the coverage of the Reagan assassination, which had just happened recently, the assassination attempt. And the other one had to deal with Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. And the last one had to deal with the, you know, eyewitnesses coming out of nowhere, people coming -- the National Inquirization of the news.

GROSS: Right.

BLAUSTEIN: So that were -- those were my favorites. I liked when Eddie did Jesse Jackson, and he sang a song called "Hymietown" right after...

GROSS: Right.

BLAUSTEIN: ... right after Jesse Jackson said that. And that got -- we got a call from Jesse Jackson asking to write for him.

GROSS: The -- the -- that you should write for Jesse Jackson?

BLAUSTEIN: Yes.

GROSS: Did you?

BLAUSTEIN: No. (laughs)

GROSS: Why not? Was it tempting at all?

BLAUSTEIN: It was kind of tempting. I don't know, I -- there's a lot I admire about Jesse Jackson, there's a lot I -- I stay away from politicians, something about them I don't trust.

GROSS: What, do you not want to be used for their political (inaudible)?

BLAUSTEIN: No, I don't want -- yes, I don't want to be used at all. I once was approached to write for somebody whose -- I won't mention who it is, but it's from a famous political family. And they said -- I said, Well, what is they stand -- what do they stand for? What does this particular person stand for? And they said, Oh, don't worry, he stands for everything you stand for.

I'm going, Wait a second, I don't even know what I stand for. (laughs)

GROSS: (laughs)

BLAUSTEIN: So I think it's -- you know, I think it's real dangerous. You know, I -- if I'm going to write for somebody -- there are politicians I would write for, but they have to be somebody that I totally agree with, or agree with on most things.

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

BLAUSTEIN: Ah, thank you.

GROSS: Barry Blaustein directed the new wrestling documentary, "Beyond the Mat." He's former head writer for "Saturday Night Live."

Coming up, a new book about the history of New York's Greenwich Village.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Barry Blaustein
High: Director Barry Blaustein is making his directorial debut with the new documentary film "Beyond the Mat." The movie takes a look at the personal lives of the stars of the World Wrestling Federation, men with names like "Mankind" and "Jake the Snake." Blaustein previously was head writer and supervising producer at "Saturday Night Live" and he co-wrote many of Eddie Murphy's best-loved characters, like "Buckwheat," "Velvet Jones," "Gumby," and "Mr. Robinson."
Spec: Entertainment; Sports; Violence; Television and Radio; Backgrounders

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 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: Barry Blaustein Discusses `Beyond the Mat'

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: APRIL 13, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 041303NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Book Critic Maureen Corrigan Discusses `American Moderns'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

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

TERRY GROSS, HOST: The popular image of New York City's Greenwich Village in the early years of the 20th century is that of a bohemian Brigadoon, where free love and fervent debates about politics and art flourished for a time.

But in her new book, "American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century," cultural historian Christine Stansell says that those giddy bohemians did more than just establish Greenwich Village as a tourist attraction.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Historian Christine Stansell's new book on Greenwich Village from 1890 to the end of the First World War is called "American Moderns," and it's loaded with great coming-to-New York stories. But nobody's is more blissful than that of the anarchist Emma Goldman.

Lured away from a deadening marriage in Rochester, New York, by tales of feminist new women who were staking out independent lives in Manhattan, Goldman landed in the city, where she knew no one, on a Sunday in 1889. That first day she walked into a Lower East Side cafe, where she met Alexander Berkman (ph), best-known as the failed assassin of industrialist Henry Clay Frick.

Berkman would become Goldman's lover and her lifelong comrade, and that evening he took her to a meeting of leading anarchists. Goldman was home.

Of course, the beginnings of Goldman's public life in New York have been well chronicled. So have the lives of her fellow Greenwich Village bohemians, people like the radical writer John Reid (ph), glamorous patron of the arts Mabel Dodge, birth control activist Margaret Sanger, and the educational reformer Randolph Born (ph).

In "American Moderns," however, Stansell wants to combat some charming but distorting tourist-trade myths that have twined around these bohemians, their comrades, and Greenwich Village itself. There's the prevailing assumption that the Village, somewhere around 1910, just began attracting artists and revolutionaries who all independently somehow stumbled into the great gravitational pull of its winding streets, exotic restaurants, and cheap apartments.

But as the Goldman odyssey suggests, and Stansell vividly documents, there exists a prehistory to the heyday of the Village in the Lower East Side. During the turn of the century, intellectually curious American-born young people, eager to escape a late Victorian atmosphere of ennui, began leaping over the class divide and patronizing tea rooms filled with Jewish immigrants.

Everyone would get drunk on heady arguments about politics and literature. Gradually, these college-educated visitors began moving downtown to the Village to be closer to what they saw as a more authentic life.

Interesting, but it's the second myth about Greenwich Village and its inhabitants that Stansell dismantles that makes her book appealing to more than just a readership of us New York City history buffs.

As colorful as the Village bohemians were, and I mean that literally, since they favored decorating combinations like acid yellow and purple, they've always seemed sort of inconsequential, their sexual and political daring rendered quaint by the roaring '20s and the radical 1930s.

Through careful and inspired research, however, Stansell shows how the Village bohemians helped shove America into the modern age. She discusses most ingeniously their elastic style of conversation, how the bohemians decided to talk their way into the future by opening up all topics for discussion.

A weekly lineup of lectures at the Liberal Club in the Village, Stansell says, might have included a talk on the tango followed by others on the Wobblies, the slit skirt, nudism, and the music of Richard Strauss.

And as Stansell demonstrates, those emancipated 1920s flappers would have been unimaginable were it not for the bohemians and their messy private experiments in free love as well as their more public avowals of sexual equality for women.

"American Moderns" is substantive, scholarly, and spicy. Though it's much less ambitious, it also serves as a wonderful preamble to "Terrible Honesty," Ann Douglas' (ph) groundbreaking cultural history of New York City in the 1920s. And like Douglas's book, "American Moderns" is unintentionally but inevitably wistful.

How could it be otherwise? Reading about these fervent young bohemians, I thought about a poster advertising some political rally that I saw on my own college campus last week. "Care about something!" it implored student passers-by.

That poster would have been incomprehensible to the Greenwich Village bohemians in the first decades of this century. They seemed to care passionately and sometimes foolishly about everything.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century."

FRESH AIR's senior producer today was Roberta Shorrock. Our program was directed by Sue Spolen (ph).

I'm Terry Gross.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, Maureen Corrigan
Guest:
High: The popular image of New York City's Greenwich Village in the early years of the 20th century is that of a bohemian Brigadoon, where free love and fervent debates about politics and art flourished for a time. But in her new book, "American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century," cultural historian Christine Stansell says that those giddy bohemians did more than just establish Greenwich Village as a tourist attraction.
Spec: New York City; Cities; Entertainment

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 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: Book Critic Maureen Corrigan Discusses `American Moderns'
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