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Making The Case For Intellectuals

Public intellectual George Scialabba contemplates the role of great — and not so great — thinkers in his new collection of essays, What Are Intellectuals Good For? Critic Maureen Corrigan calls it "a pleasure to read."

06:09

Other segments from the episode on April 28, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 28, 2009: interview with Kathy Marks; Obituary for Bea Arthur; Review of George Scialabba "What are intellectuals good for?"

Transcript

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'Lost Paradise': The Dark Secrets Of Pitcairn Island

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross.

The mutiny on the ship, the Bounty, is a tale told in several movies, but many
people don’t realize that the story is based on a real event and that Fletcher
Christian and his fellow mutineers fled with some Tahitian women to a remote
island in the South Pacific. They never left, and the descendents of Christian
and his mates still live on Pitcairn Island, which has come to be regarded by
many as a tropical paradise.

But my guest, journalist Kathy Marks, said there was a dark and sinister side
to the Pitcairn community. In 2000, allegations surfaced that men on the island
had been sexually abusing young girls there, perhaps for generations.

The sensational accusations touched most of the families on Pitcairn and led to
trials on the island, which previously had never even had a jail. Among those
accused was Steve Christian, the mayor of Pitcairn and a descendent of Fletcher
Christian.

Marks, a correspondent for the London-based Independent newspaper, was one of
only six journalists who covered the trials. In her book, “Lost Paradise,”
Marks tells the story of the extraordinary case and considers what the
disturbing events in the isolated community tell us about human nature. She
spoke to FRESH AIR contributor, Dave Davies.

DAVE DAVIES: Well Kathy Marks, welcome to FRESH AIR. You described Pitcairn
Island, at one point in the book, as the remotest inhabited place on earth.
Describe this island and its isolation.

Ms. KATHY MARKS (Journalist, the Independent): It is an incredibly isolated
place. I think what brings that home to you, first of all, is the difficulty in
getting there. Pitcairn, in 2009, still has no airstrip, not even a safe
harbor. I traveled there from Australia. It took about a week to get there.

DAVIES: A week.

Ms. MARKS: A series of flights from Australia, followed by a very rough, 30-
hour boat voyage from a distant corner of French Polynesia. Now, having made
that rather grueling journey, you then anchor about a mile off Pitcairn and
wait for the island’s men to bring out the longboat. That’s the only way of
getting on and off the island still - is the traditional boats that the men
steer.

What I found curious when I first arrived in 2004 to report on the first trials
of Pitcairn men, the islanders brought out their longboats - it drew up
alongside us and I quite astonished. I looked out and saw that the two men who
were driving the longboat were two of the men who were about to go on trial for
very serious child-sex offenses. And I thought gosh, this is going to be quite
an unusual assignment, and this is quite an unusual place.

DAVIES: And the population is what, around 50 or so?

Ms. MARKS: It is just over 50 I believe. Yes, it ebbs and flows, but it’s
around 50.

DAVIES: Now the inhabitants of the island, many of them are descendents from
the mutiny on the Bounty, which of course was a mythic tale on the high seas,
which is memorialized in several Hollywood films, and probably a lot of people
don’t realize that it’s actually based on a real story.

Briefly recount the story of the mutiny on the Bounty and its connection to the
inhabitants of Pitcairn Island.

Ms. MARKS: Well, William Bligh - Captain William Bligh, of the Royal Navy, had
been given a command by the then-king of England to go and collect breadfruit
from Tahiti. He took a ship full of men on HMS Bounty, and William Bligh’s crew
got quite friendly with the local women and loved the place and the beautiful
environment, beautiful women and so on.

After they left, the men, a number of the men mutinied, let by Fletcher
Christian, overthrew William Bligh, put him out in a small boat and
commandeered the Bounty. Now, the mutineers then went back to Tahiti and
actually kidnapped some of the local women, a dozen or so, and took off with
them on their journey, on their quest for a hiding place.

DAVIES: After Fletcher Christian and the other shipmates, you know, took the
vessel, the Bounty, from Captain Bligh, they were, in effect, fugitives on the
high seas. And so they find this tiny, little, uninhabited island, Pitcairn,
which was very, very, small - they ditched the Bounty and burn it, right? Right
there in the harbor?

Ms. MARKS: That’s right. They burnt the Bounty off the coast of Pitcairn in
order to cover their tracks completely. Of course, that meant that they were
then marooned on the island. There was no way they were ever going to get off.
So that was their choice, that they were going to be forever outlaws, and they
were going to start a new life, a new society, truly in the middle of nowhere,
truly away from the outside world.

DAVIES: And so you had a handful of English men, Fletcher Christian and his
fellow mutineers, and some Polynesian women, and as the story unfolds, in the
years afterwards, they fell into fighting amongst themselves, right?

Ms. MARKS: That’s right. There were nine mutineers led by Fletcher Christian.
There were also half-a-dozen Polynesian men that they took with them, and there
were a dozen Polynesian women, whom the Englishmen took with to be their so-
called wives.

Now there weren’t enough women to go around, so the early history of Pitcairn
is actually very violent. Within 10 years of these people settling on the
island, all but one of the men was dead, and the vast majority were killed in
fights over women - who was going to have which woman and so on.

So you’ve got that very violent early history. That was then followed by a
period when Pitcairn seemed to become a very Christian society, led by John
Adams, the one surviving male who was one of the mutineers.

He claimed that he’d converted to Christianity, having found a Bible in the
wreck of the Bounty, and he was so moved by what he read inside the Bible that
he then converted and persuaded everyone else on the island to follow suit. And
when the island was finally then rediscovered by visitors, by a series of
ships, captains who passed by and chanced to cross the island, they found and
then later described to the outside world this incredibly Christian, pious
society where the morals were of the highest order and so on.

So that was how Pitcairn was seen, really, for a couple of centuries, until you
know, the recent stories came out that then gave a very different image of the
place.

DAVIES: So you had this place that for 200 years has been inhabited by the
descendents of Fletcher Christian and his co-mutineers and these Polynesian
women, right? Now, tell us a little bit about – it is an incredibly isolated
place. What do the people on the island do for a living, and do they have
electricity and television and alcohol and cigarettes and other things that you
see in Western society?

Ms. MARKS: Well, they have quite a few of the trappings of Western society in
terms of ovens and beautiful kitchen equipment and stereos and DVD players and
so on. Until recently, electricity was an issue, though they had diesel
generators, and they only had electricity for 10 hours a day. That is still the
case. In fact, electricity is rationed.

Until recently, and certainly when I was there in 2004, there was no
television. There were no telephones. You could barely get shortwave radio. I
mean, if you wanted hot water, you’d have to make a fire. There’s only one shop
on Pitcairn, which opens very intermittently, about three times a week for just

an hour.

So everything comes in by ship. It goes into this little shop, and over the
course of the next weeks and months, the supplies run down until the next ship
arrives. So in some ways, life is quite basic.

On the other hand, the Pitcairners do make quite a good living from various
sources. Now, the main one is, because there’s such a lot of interest in
Pitcairn around the world - and that’s because of the very romantic stories
that we’ve been talking about, the mutiny on the Bounty, the fact that the
island is still populated, to a large extent, by descendents of the mutineers -
Pitcairn souvenirs, T-shirts, the stamps are always very highly sought after,
the Pitcairners make wooden carvings - all these things they used to sell by
mail-order and now over the Internet. And they also sell them - cruise ships
come to Pitcairn in the summer and people come ashore and buy things.

And the last thing is that people on Pitcairn - it’s an incredibly fertile
place, it’s a volcanic island - you can grow just about anything there, and
people do.

DAVIES: Well Kathy Marks, let’s talk about this child-sexual-abuse case, which
rocked the island and got such international attention and which you covered.
First of all, let’s just clarify - who governed the island? What was its
connection to British law?

Ms. MARKS: Well, Pitcairn, for about 150 years, had been a British colony. So
it was a sort of long-distance British governing. The governor or one of his
officials would visit the island very occasionally, and the islanders would
smile and behave nicely, and the governor would give them some kind of gift,
like a piece of furniture, and then everyone would say goodbye, and that would
be that for sometimes a few years, sometimes 10 years. Early in the 20th
century, I think a good 20 years or more went by without anyone visiting.

DAVIES: But in effect, you have a British possession, which is really isolated
and which is run by the islanders themselves, really, isn’t it?

Ms. MARKS: That’s correct. The islanders did run their own affairs through an
island council. They elected their own magistrates, police officers and so on.
These people were not trained. They were obviously related to just about
everyone else on the island. So law and order was not exactly as we know it in
other parts of the world.

DAVIES: Right. So you have an isolated island, which essentially governs itself
in this small community. How did the sexual abuse first come to the attention
of outside authorities?

Ms. MARKS: Well, there were things that were known about for many, many years
and decades, but it was not until 1999 that it kind of burst into the open, as
it were. Now what happened then was, an English policewoman was posted to the
island on a short-term posting for a few months to do some training with the
locals. And while she was there, the policewoman, Gail Cox, was confided in by
a 15-year-old school girl who I’ve called Belinda(ph) in my book. That’s
obviously a pseudonym.

What Belinda told Gail Cox was that when she was 10, she’d been raped by two
local men and that a number of other instances of abuse and assault had also
taken place, starting when she was about five or seven years old.

Now Belinda was the first person ever to speak to someone involved with the law
or police service, and these were obviously incredibly serious allegations. So
they were reported to the British authorities. The British authorities brought
in detectives who began to investigate, and pretty soon they found out that
this – unfortunately, this Belinda was not the only alleged victim.

There were dozens and dozens of victims who were now living all around the
world because they’d grown up on Pitcairn, but they’d left the island. They
were living in New Zealand, Australia, the U.K. One was in Los Angeles.

DAVIES: There’s a fascinating moment in the narrative at which it’s clear that
there’s a wider problem here. And you describe this as - there are these two
detectives, Peter George and Robert Vinson, who go to talk to one of the men
accused of having assaulted one of these young women, Sean Christian, and they
say well, they had underage sex with another woman, who you call Catherine(ph).
They go and talk to Catherine, and what does Catherine tell the detectives?

Ms. MARKS: Well, what she said was I can’t help you with what you’re
investigating, as in those specific allegations made by Belinda, but what I can
tell you is that when I was a child growing up on Pitcairn, I was raped by
Belinda’s father. And she went on to tell the detectives basically, this is the
norm, this is the way of life and that you won’t get a girl on Pitcairn who
reaches the age of 12 or 13 who’s still a virgin, and everyone knows about it,
but no one does anything about it because that’s just the way life is on
Pitcairn. So at that point, these two British police officers realized that
there was a wider problem that needed to be looked at.

DAVIES: We’re speaking with Kathy Marks. Her book is “Lost Paradise.” We’ll
talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you’re just joining us, our guest is journalist Kathy Marks. Her
book, “Lost Paradise,” tells the story of the remote South Pacific island of
Pitcairn Island, where the inhabitants of Fletcher Christian and other
descendents of the mutiny on the Bounty have lived for 200 years, and which a
few years ago, where it was revealed a few years ago that there was widespread
child sexual abuse. She covered the trial and the case.

Now when you arrived in 2004 to cover this incredible trial of Pitcairn men for
child sexual abuse, you were one of six reporters who were there to cover the
case, and you arrive, and as you say, you have to – the ship has to dock
offshore, and a longboat from the island is rowed out to the – I guess it’s
motorized now, but it comes out to the ship and fetches you and brings you
ashore.

And the first day, you were invited to meet with some of the women on the
island, you and the other reporters there to cover the trial. What was their
purpose?

Ms. MARKS: Well, it was a very, very bizarre experience. You’re right. We were
invited to a meeting of the island’s women at Big Fence, which was the house of
Steve Christian, the island’s mayor and also one of the defendants who was
about to go on trial.

DAVIES: And a descendant of Fletcher Christian, right?

Ms. MARKS: And the descendant of Fletcher Christian. Now when we got to Big
Fence, we found pretty much all of the women on the island gathered there to
speak to us, and what they wanted to tell us was, with these trials of seven
men just about to start, it was all a load of rubbish. No one had ever been
abused on Pitcairn. No child had been raped. No girl had been abused.

They told us the whole thing had been made up by the British government, that
there was a hidden agenda, which they believed was that Britain wanted to close
down the island. It was a drain on the British purse. Britain could no longer
be bothered maintaining this very remote and expensive colony.

We asked them, you know, what about these girls who were claiming that they had
been very seriously abused by the men when they were growing up over the course
of years and decades, going back in the history of the island?

Well, we were told, the girls had all made up their stories. Yes, there was
underage sex on the island, but that was an island custom. It was just like the
rest of Polynesia, they said, and the girls or the women who were about to give
evidence had all been bribed to make up their stories.

These were women, some of whose daughters had spoken to police. They said that
the girls had led the men on, you know, that it was all the girls’ fault. They
were promiscuous, and that’s the way Pitcairn girls are.

But you know, they had just - even during that meeting things didn’t add up.
There was a woman sitting near me, Carole Warren(ph), and she said to me at one
point, you know, someone tried it with me, and you know, I knew it was wrong,
and I just ran away. And then in the next breath, she was saying to me, oh the
girls have all made it up, you know, and my own daughter, you know, she’s a
silly idiot. I don’t know why she spoke to the police, and she’s just, you
know, she’s so forward, that girl. She led the men on.

So I thought well, you know, this doesn’t quite add up. Here’s a woman telling
me that she was abused or she was the victim of an attempted assault as a girl
herself. I think she said she was about seven or eight. And the next breath,
she’s saying that it’s all nonsense. No one’s ever been abused on Pitcairn. No
one’s ever been raped.

DAVIES: Apart from the content, what they were telling you, I’m wondering. What
kind of impression did you have of these women, I mean, just their general
affect and demeanor? Did they seem any different from women that you would meet
in Australia or New Zealand?

Ms. MARKS: They were pretty feisty women, which you know, makes you think as
well. Because if these are Pitcairn women, then you know, why have they
allegedly spent generations being abused by men? Pretty feisty, quite funny.
You know, they’re love-lusting and sort of quite crude, you know, a lot of sort
of sexual talk and laughter about sex.

The thing that struck me most, I remember, was that I felt that no one looked
me in the eye directly. It was like they were sort of wearing – almost like
they were wearing masks, you know. I felt that there was a real barrier and
that no one was really speaking directly.

DAVIES: Now as the accusations emerged and the charges were filed and the trial
approached, there became an energetic campaign on the island and around the
world to paint the accused molesters as the victims. And of course, part of the
argument was that there’s this Polynesian culture of promiscuity and early
sexual activity. But when you read these cases, it’s not like these are close
cases. I mean, these are children who were held and raped by much older men and
clearly very, very traumatized by it.

It raises the question of what about their parents? I mean surely their parents
must have known that this was happening. I mean, how did they react to these
accusations, and I mean, were they shocked? Were they outraged? These were,
after all, their friends and neighbors who had molested their children.

Ms. MARKS: Well, their parents did know it was happening, and I believe that
when the allegations emerged formally a few years ago, they were no surprise to
anyone. Everyone who lived on Pitcairn over the years, over the generations,
knew exactly what was going on. You’ve got a tiny community where you’ve got
just about every man in that community who’s offending.

Now their wives know what’s going on, but what are you going to do? If you’re
the mother of a girl that’s being abused, what can you do that… You can’t –
there’s no one to complain to - the people in authority are doing it, as well.
Your own husband or brother is doing it. If you complain about someone else
doing it to your daughter, then the whole place will collapse because Pitcairn
depends, for its survival, on male muscle-power.

It’s a place where physical work is absolutely essential, or the place just
cannot function. So this is a male-dominated society, where men were doing
exactly what they pleased. The women knew what was going on. They’d been
victims themselves as kids. And incredible though it seems, with literally one
or two exceptions, they did not raise a voice in protest.

DAVIES: You know, we should say that a lot of people from the island, over
time, did emigrate, did leave and lived in New Zealand in particular. So there
were women who fled and made lives elsewhere.

We should move the story along and tell people about the trial. I mean, there
was – this was a trial before judges, not a jury, and was essentially a matter
of the victim’s word against the accusers, and the initial trial on Pitcairn
Island was, I guess, what, seven defendants?

Ms. MARKS: Yeah, it was actually seven separate trials that were sort of
running concurrently. So there was one case going on, but it was seven discrete
trials, with the victims giving evidence, not in person, but over a video link
from New Zealand.

In fact, nearly all the girls who grew up on Pitcairn did emigrate. You know,
they left there as teenagers to go to school, to finish their schooling, and
they never went back - not surprisingly.

DAVIES: So this must be a trial unlike any other. I mean, these terrible
accusations in this tiny place. Give us a feel for what it was like.

Ms. MARKS: Yeah, I mean, I think it would be fair to say that it was probably
one of the most unusual trials in British criminal history, perhaps the most
unusual.

The trials that were held in a rather ramshackle community hall, which had in
the past doubled as a courthouse but hadn’t been used for that purpose for a
good 30 years or so. Now what you have is a very incongruous sight of every
day, the lawyers and judges traipsing through the very rough, unsealed roads in
their long, black gowns, very formal British court attire, in contrast with the
defendants, who basically arrived in their usual gear, which was shorts and T-
shirts and often barefoot, now having these very harrowing allegations by video
link by the victims in New Zealand. But I mean, apart from the men, who
obviously had to be in court, none of the islanders were there to hear them.

I mean, that was something that struck me day after day was that the public
seating in the court was empty. It was almost like the people of Pitcairn were
pretending that the trials were not happening.

GROSS: Kathy Marks, speaking with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Their
interview will continue in the second half of the show. Marks is the author of
the new book, “Lost Paradise.” Dave is a senior writer for the Philadelphia
Daily News. I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. We’re talking about the story of the
descendants of Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers who rebelled against
the tyrannical captain Bligh on the ship the Bounty, in 1789. After the mutiny,
these men fled with some Tahitian women to a remote island in the South
Pacific, Pitcairn Island. In 2000 allegations surfaced that men on the island
had been sexually abusing girls and that the abuse have been going on for
generations. Journalist Kathy Marks covered the resulting trials and has
written a book about the story called “Lost Paradise.” When we left off, she
was telling FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies about the trials.

DAVIES: So – so the women tell their stories in this trial, and then in a
subsequent one in New Zealand that involved men who had been on Pitcairn but
who are living abroad. What kind of verdicts were rendered and what kind of
punishment was imposed?

Ms. MARKS: Yes, seven men went to trial on Pitcairn and these were men who
actually lived there. Six of them were found guilty. Subsequently, there were
three trials that took place in New Zealand, of men - Pitcairn men who lived in
New Zealand or Australia. And of those three, two were found guilty and one
pleaded guilty. So in the end, you’ve got ten men who’ve been through the court
system, nine guilty. Six of those men were given prison sentences. One was
quite old, he was about - he was in his like 70s and he was allowed to serve
his sentence at home.

The other five went to prison on Pitcairn. And I should mention that the
sentences that were handed down were extremely lenient, some people would say.
Normally that kind of offending would – would result in 10 to 15 years in
prison. These guys received a maximum of five or six years. And on to the
probation system, they were allowed to apply for parole after a third of that
time, and for home detention earlier than that. The result of all this was that
two years on, that prison is –is now occupied by only one remaining inmate,
Bryan Young(ph) and he is about to have a parole hearing and by the time you go
to air, he may actually be out of prison. So no one’s - no one’s been behind
bars for more than two years. That’s (unintelligible) lenient sentences.

DAVIES: And that’s for multiple child rapes.

Ms. MARKS: (Unintelligible) child rapes. I mean Steve Christian, for instance,
he was convicted of five rapes, Bryan Young numerous rapes of two girls who are
aged under 10. You know, we’re talking very serious criminal offending here.

DAVIES: As you said, several members sentenced to prison terms but they ended
up not serving very long. And they are now released and the island goes on. How
have the scandal and the trials changed Pitcairn Island?

Ms. MARKS: In some ways, a great deal, mainly because the emergence of the
scandal, I think, shamed the British Government into realizing that they have
neglected this place for two centuries and that they better do something about
it now. In a material sense, firstly the lovely infrastructure has been
upgraded, that the roads - one of the roads has been sealed and they’ve got a
rebuilt jetty and – and - and so on. So that side of things, plus
communications - they have now got television, including CNN.

They’ve now got telephones, so they’re not quite so isolated. And I think the
British Government is trying to sort of create a sort of tourism or eco-tourism
industry focused on Pitcairn to sort of try and make the place self sufficient
economically. On the other hand, I would say that things have not changed that
much because there is still a very strong sense of communal denial about the
crimes that we know did take place there. The men who served the rather
ludicrously short sentences still maintain, to this day, that they did nothing
wrong. And the rest of the community, at least publicly, backs that up and
says, you know, that the trial was a travesty of justice and, you know, a
terrible episode in Pitcairn’s history, but, you know, they’re - they’re sort
of putting it past and now getting on with their lives. So you don’t get any
sense that this very, you know, these momentous events of, you know, holding
this trials - because, you know, there was a - there were years of preparation,
you know, the whole process took nearly 10 years - you don’t feel that things
have changed significantly. On the other hand, you know, my standing is that
privately some of the women in particular, some of the older women who were
present at that meeting we talked about earlier in the conversation, you know,
are starting to admit, look this did happen to me. Look it was wrong. Children
shouldn’t be treated like that. I have been affected and so on. But I - you
know, I think that probably in a very small way things are changing below the
surface.

DAVIES: Do you think the abuse continues or has it stopped?

Ms. MARKS: I don’t think that these continues right now, because once it came –
once the allegations were first made a few years back, the first thing that
Britain did was to send police officers to the island, and social workers, and
also a government representative. So the for the past 10 years, there has been
quite a number of outsiders on the island and I don’t believe that any of the
men there would be so silly as to engage in that kind of behavior when they are
being supervised so closely. However, I also believe that if those outsiders
were to go away tomorrow, that the (unintelligible) would start again straight
away because it’s ingrained in the mentality of the men of Pitcairn, that this
is – this is an okay thing to do, you know. There’s – there’s nothing wrong
with it and, you know, that’s what you do if you can.

DAVIES: Steve Christian, who was one of the defendants, now out of jail is – is
he the leader of the island again?

Ms. MARKS: That’s right. I mean Steve is the one who I think is in about his
middle late 50s now, he’s been the community leader pretty much since he was in
his teens. He is a classic alpha male, you know, he is a little bit more savvy,
I’d say, more self-confident than some of the islanders. None of them are
terribly well educated, but I would say that Steve has just got a little more
(unintelligible) than most. And, you know, for the – for the past, let’s say 40
years or so, he’s really been looked up to by everyone else in the community.
He’s is the person who keeps the place going. He knows how to get things done.
He’s got incredibly good practical skills. He – he was the chief supervising
engineer. And, you know, he can mend or do just about anything with his hands.

I was told one story about the islanders who were coming back in - from
visiting a ship and a long boat – very rough seas - and at one point Steve
realized that – that the boat’s rope had got caught in a propeller - quite
dangerous situation. Evidently he’d jumped off the boat, cut the rope, and was
back in the long boat before most people have even realized anything was amiss.
So that’s a kind of bloke he is. Smart, self-confident, and I think with
enormous sense of entitlement. Steve, I think, you know, during the trials, I
could see Steve Christian couldn’t quite believe this was happening. This was
his rock, his island, his little empire, you know. All these outsiders were
coming in and everything was out of his control for the first time in his life.

And I mean he almost sort of cracked up in front of us, as the weeks went by,
in a gradual way. So that was just sort of interesting thing to observe, I
guess. You know, someone who would always had their own way and done what they
wanted, taken what they wanted, and very much sort of benefited from the – the
fruits of the island and – and, you know, the interest of outsiders - where
suddenly not in control, was on trial and, you know, did eventually go to
prison. Having said that, he’s now out and, you know, although he is not
allowed hold a public position again for a while, you know, he will be able to
soon. And there’s no question that he will be reelected mayor or whatever, you
know, the community leadership position becomes empty.

DAVIES: Well, Kathy Marks, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. MARKS: Thank you Dave.

GROSS: Kathy Marks spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Marks is the
author of “Lost Paradise.” Dave is a senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News.
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Bea Arthur's Memories Of Stage And Screen

TERRY GROSS, host:

Bea Arthur died of cancer, Saturday, at the age of 86. We’re going to listen
back to an interview with her. In the New York Times obituary, Bruce Weber
described her as having used her husky voice, commanding stature and flair for
the comic jab to create two of the most endearing battle-axes in TV history,
Maude Findlay and the groundbreaking sitcom “Maude” and Dorothy in “The Golden
Girls.” She won Emmys for both portrayals. Bea Arthur got her first big break
as Lucy Brown in the first American production of “The Threepenny Opera.” I
spoke with her two years ago after the DVD release of “Maude.” So we started
with a clip from it.

“Maude” was often topical, dealing with race, the war in Vietnam, and most
famously, abortion. This scene is from the double episode in which the 47 year
old Maude is shocked to learn that she is pregnant. She doesn’t want to have
the baby. It’s too late in her life and too medically risky. But she assumes
her husband Walter does want the baby because he has never fathered a child.
She is considering having the baby for his sake. Walter tells Maude that he is
going to have a vasectomy so they can avoid getting into this predicament
again. It turns out, he can’t go through with a vasectomy but he doesn’t have
the courage to tell her. In this scene, they are in bed playing cards. She has
just told him she’s worried that if something ever happened to her, he wouldn’t
be able to father a baby because of the vasectomy.

(Soundbite of TV show, “Maude”)

Mr. BILL MACY (Actor): (As Walter) Wait a second, Maude. Were you having the
baby because you thought I wanted it?

Ms. BEATRICE ARTHUR (Actress): (As Maude) Well you do, don’t you?

Mr. MACY: (As Walter) Sweetheart, would it disappoint you too much to learn
that becoming a father was never one of my life’s ambitions? I – I don’t know
why. For years I used to feel guilty about it. For years, people told me I was
nuts, or selfish. How can I not love kids? Well, I do love kids but they don’t
have to be mine. That’s probably the worse confession I’ll ever make. Do you
hate me?

Ms. ARTHUR: (As Maude) Of course, not darling. I love you. I love you and I
love my life.

Mr. MACY: (As Walter) Gin.

Ms. ARTHUR: (As Maude) I take it all back. What are you trying to do to me? I
don’t even have time to sort my cards and you’re ginning out on me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MACY: (As Walter) Forget the cards, Maude, we have something much more
important to talk about.

Ms. ARTHUR: (As Maude) What? You finally decided you do want a pickle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MACY: (As Walter) Maude, I want you to have whatever it is you want. Does
that include the baby?

Ms. ARTHUR: (As Maude) Well it did - well I thought you wanted it.

Mr. MACY: (As Walter) Well Maude, I think it would be wrong to have a child at
our age.

Ms. ARTHUR: (As Maude) Oh so do I, Walter. Oh Walter, so do I.

Mr. MACY: (As Walter) We’d make awful parents.

Ms. ARTHUR: (As Maude) Oh, impatient, irascible.

Mr. MACY: (As Walter) Awful, (Unintelligible).

Ms. ARTHUR: (As Maude) Oh, for other people it might be fine, but for us, I
don’t think it would be fair to anybody. Oh Walter, hold me closer.

Mr. MACY: (As Walter) Are you frightened Maude, about the operation, I mean.

Ms. ARTHUR: (As Maude) Oh don’t be ridiculous, darling. Why should I be
frightened? Were you frightened of the vasectomy?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARTHUR: (As Maude) I said, were you frightened about the vasectomy?

GROSS: That’s an episode from “Maude” was my guest Bea Arthur and William Macy.
And this was a 1972 when abortion…

Ms. ARTHUR: Yeah, 45 years ago, yes.

GROSS: Yeah, you know, abortion was legal in New York, but the Supreme Court
had not yet ruled on Roe V. Wade. “Maude” was the first TV character to have an
abortion. Bea Arthur what was your reaction when you read the script?

Ms. ARTHUR: Well, I tell you. When I first read the script I wasn’t – I wasn’t
that involved with the – the politics of the – topic. I mean, I just read it
and thought my God, what a brilliant script. I just thought it was beautiful.
I’m sitting here, and as I heard that scene again, I really got a little teary.
It was beautiful. It was funny but it was so beautiful.

GROSS: So what kind of reactions did you get to this, both as a program and
personally, from people who you knew or met?

Ms. ARTHUR: Well, I tell you, the mail was enormous. But I was never shown what
we call hate mail. What I had seen was very intelligent, caring people who
voiced their displeasure and explained why. And I think it was the first time I
had ever even thought about it, because I came from a very small town on the
eastern shore of Maryland, and when anybody got pregnant, the thing was to have
an abortion. Of course it was not legal, but that’s what everybody did. I mean
I’d never had an abortion, but I certainly thought of why it’s very painful.

GROSS: I want to play a scene from the “The Golden Girls,” and in case anybody
doesn’t know what that series was, you were in your 50s for this series and
lived in Miami, in a house with your mother, who was in her mid 80s, and your
two other single women friends. And in this scene, you’ve just ended your
therapy with your ex, Stan, and you’ve agreed not to see each other for a
couple of years. So you are back at home with your women friends, telling them
how happy you are to be done with Stan. Here is the scene.

(Soundbite of TV show, “The Golden Girls”)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEATRICE ARTHUR (Actor): (As Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak) I’ll tell you I’m
still stunned. I mean I just can’t get over that Stan is gone forever. I’m
finally free.

Ms. BETTY WHITE (Actress): (As Rose Nylund) Really, oh.

Ms. ARTHUR: (as Dorothy) And I feel great. As a matter of fact a toast.

Ms. WHITE: (as Rose) Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARTHUR: (as Dorothy) To finality and closure, to husbands being out of our
lives and gone forever.

Ms. MCLANAHAN: (as Blanche) Oh, Dorothy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARTHUR: (as Dorothy) No wait, wait. This is good, I mean, don’t cry. Why
are you crying?

Ms. WHITE: (as Rose) Our husbands are dead, you monster.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARTHUR: (as Dorothy) I’m sorry. I mean, I didn’t mean it that way. Oh, come
on now, let’s celebrate.

Ms. MCLANAHAN: (as Blanche) Celebrate? You don’t know what it’s like to have a
husband die and leave you with nothing, just a closet full of suits that you
spend the rest of your lonely life trying to get rid of. What are you anyway, a
42 regular?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARTHUR: (as Dorothy) Look, I’m sorry if I seemed insensitive. But in every
relationship, there are always times when you don’t want to be with each other.
I mean Stan and I went through a period where we had no marital relations at
all. I totally cut off his sex.

Ms. WHITE: (as Rose) You mean it grows back?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That’s an episode of “The Golden Girls,” with my guest, Bea Arthur,
along with Rue McClanahan and Betty White. Were you able to get away with a lot
of sex jokes on “The Golden Girls” because it was about older women?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARTHUR: I guess so, I guess so. Yes, the first time you saw women – I hate
that expression – of a certain age well-groomed and having active sex lives and
great earrings, I remember.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ARTHUR: And yeah, the reason I stumble when asked that question is because
when I first read the first script, I thought it was one of the funniest, most
adult, intelligent scripts I’d ever read. I never even stopped to think, hey
these are older women. It just seemed very funny to me.

GROSS: Let’s go back to the very start of your career. You were in the famous
1954 production of the “The Threepenny Opera,” which was the first…

Ms. ARTHUR: Oh yes.

GROSS: English production of the Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht musical translated
by Mark Blitzstein.

Ms. ARTHUR: No, it was the first U.S. production.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. I want to play, like, a fantastic duet from this 1954 cast
recording with you and Joe Sullivan, who later became Jo Sullivan Loesser…

Ms. ARTHUR: Yes, yes.

GROSS: …when she married the songwriter Frank Loesser…

Ms. ARTHUR: Yes, yes.

GROSS: …and this is just a fantastic recording and you sound great in it. Let’s
hear it.

(Soundbite of “The Threepenny Opera”)

Ms. ARTHUR:(Singing)(as Lucy) Come on out, you got a lily you, show your leg
and let’s all be called pretty, I’m always glad to admire beauty, where the
(unintelligible) in the city. You thought you could make a big impression on my
Mackie.

Ms. SULLIVAN: (Singing) (as Polly) Yes I, yes I.

Ms. ARTHUR: (Singing) Yes, you have met his old friend Jackie.

Ms. SULLIVAN: (Singing) Yes I, yes I.

Ms. ARTHUR: (Singing)Well you kind of make me laugh.

Ms. SULLIVAN: (Singing) Oh, I kind of make you laugh.

Ms. ARTHUR: (Singing) Who would want a stupid cat?

Ms. SULLIVAN: (Singing) Who would want one stupid cat?

Ms. ARTHUR: (Singing) How now there’s the leg for you so Mackie needs to beg
for you.

Ms. SULLIVAN: (Singing) Well you better ask him.

Ms. ARTHUR: (Singing) Yes you better ask him.

Ms. SULLIVAN: (Singing) You better I think.

Ms. ARTHUR: You better I think. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha-ah-h-a-a-a-a-h-h-h.

Ms. ARTHUR and Ms. SULLIVAN: Mackie, I need, I always knew you’d choose me.
Mackie, I need, indeed you’ll never lose me, he’s not in any danger, and
(unintelligible), he’ll leave me for a stranger.

Ms. ARTHUR and Ms. SULLIVAN: Laughable.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SULLIVAN: Yes they call me beauty of the town…

GROSS: That’s my guest Bea Arthur along with Jo Sullivan, now Jo Sullivan
Loesser, from the 1954 cast recording of “The Threepenny Opera.” Bea Arthur,
what’s your favorite memory of performing in that show in 1954?

Ms. ARTHUR: It was very - to this day the most exciting moment of my life. I
walked into stage left and I started singing and my first lyrics were: I used
to believe in the days I was pure. And the audience started laughing. And I
thought, why the hell are you laughing at me? And then my next line was: and I
was pure, like you used to be. And they laughed again. And I suddenly thought,
hey that’s what comedy is. It’s being true to what you’re playing and you must
never show people that you’re trying to be funny.

You just - there’s a reality and an honesty. And it made my life. Because prior
to that, I had never attempted comedy. I always pictured myself as - not as a
tragedian, but certainly as a very tall, very young leading woman.

GROSS: Well Bea Arthur, thank you so much.

Ms. ARTHUR: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Bea Arthur recorded in 2007. She died of cancer Saturday, at the age of
86.
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Making The Case For Intellectuals

TERRY GROSS, host:

The book jacket of George Scialabba's new collection of essays and reviews,
identifies him as a book columnist for the Boston Globe and as a freelance
critic whose work is admired by a small circle of discerning readers. Book
critic Maureen Corrigan thinks it’s time that circle got bigger. Here’s a
review of Scialabba's book, which is called, “What Are Intellectuals Good
For?.”

Ms. MAUREEN CORRIGAN (Book critic): Some years ago, when, at last, I'd finished
my belabored dissertation and got my PhD in literature, a relative of mine
congratulated me by asking, so, are you finally making any money now? It's that
kind of attitude, the all-American pragmatism that needs to attach a bottom
line value even to ideas, that prompts the title question of George Scialabba's
new collection of essays and reviews called “What Are Intellectuals Good For?”
The national tendency to equate the term intellectual with ineffectual hits
Scialabba, where he lives.

Scialabba is one of the last of the free-range eggheads, a nearly extinct breed
of public intellectual not affiliated with think tanks or ivory towers.
Granted, he graduated from and has long been employed by Harvard, but as a
clerical worker, not a faculty member. In his free time, Scialabba writes,
acutely, about literature and politics and ethics. I first came upon his byline
in the Village Voice in the 1980s, and once you read one of his lively and
learned review essays you were always looking for more. These days you’ll find
him in the Nation or the Boston Review or in those little avante garde journals
like N + 1 that celebrity public intellectuals like Christopher Hitchens have
left behind for the greener pastures of Vanity Fair and “Hardball.”

This new Scialabba collection, “What Are Intellectuals Good For?,” has been
published in a beautiful paperback edition by the tiny Pressed Wafer Press. No
one could expect it to be a stealth bestseller. But if you’re at all interested
in 20th century thinkers like Noam Chomsky, Dwight MacDonald, William F.
Buckley, Ellen Willis and Christopher Lasch to name a few, and in the larger
question of whether the world would be poorer if they’d never written a word,
then you’ll find Scialabba’s ruminations here invigorating. In fact, just
reading Scialabba’s collection will make you feel smarter — even if it’s not
clear if those kinds of smarts have any direct social utility.

Scialabba tries to get a handle on just what intellectuals do for civilization
by delving into the work of great and allegedly great minds. In that latter
category, critic Edward Said comes in for an especially droll and scornful
attack because of what Scialabba sees as the damaging legacy of his writing.
That is, inspiring this current generation of academics into deluding
themselves that they’re carrying out political work by teaching, say, post-
colonialist critiques of “Paradise Lost.” If intellectual work matters,
Scialabba implies, it has to matter in ways that run deeper than delusionary
self-puffery.

Lionel Trilling is one such thinker whom Scialabba prizes for something beyond
the obvious. In his shimmering appreciation of Trilling, entitled “The Liberal
Intelligence” Scialabba says, though nearly everything Trilling wrote had an
ultimate political relevance, almost nothing he wrote had an immediate
political reference. Later in the essay, Scialabba tries to clarify what he
means by that riddling statement by linking Trilling with the great Victorian
culture critic Matthew Arnold and demonstrating how both men saw literature
primarily in its moral aspect, as an agent for teaching discrimination,
receptiveness, patience, magnanimity. That pronouncement surely serves as part
of Scialabba’s answer to what intellectuals — or at least some of them — are
good for.

But that pronouncement wouldn’t carry much weight with my bottom line only
relative and his millions of fellow citizens. Truth to tell, the audience for
writers like Scialabba and the journalists and thinkers he admires here was
always relatively small. Even in their post-World War II golden age, the New
York intellectuals — Irving Howe, Mary McCarthy, Dwight MacDonald and the rest
of that crowd — weren’t speaking to a fraction of the audience who was tuning
into “I Love Lucy.” That’s why it’s something of a miracle that an independent
public intellectual like Scialabba has managed to hang on.

If you’re one of the fit-though-few whose brain doesn’t go into automatic
snooze mode at the mention of the word intellectual, his pieces here are a
pleasure to read: supple, accessible, and wide-ranging. Writing
enthusiastically about the work of journalists Alexander Coburn, and I.F.
Stone, Scialabba says that while they didn’t create monuments of unaging
intellect, they hemmed in everyday barbarism a little. That’s a fine way to sum
up Scialabba’s own achievement: He’s not a household name, his essays and
reviews won’t rock the world, and I doubt that they’re making him a whole lot
of money, but to those of us who follow his lonely patrols around the
perimeter, his work hems in the everyday barbarism of mental laziness and moral
evasion, just a little.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed “What Are Intellectuals Good For?” by George Scialabba. You can
download Podcasts of our show on our Web site freshair.npr.org.
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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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