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Remembering George V. Higgins.

We remember crime novelist George V. Higgins. He was found dead at his home on Saturday, apparently of natural causes. He was 59. He was best known for his best seller, "Friends of Eddie Coyle," published in 1972. (REBROADCAST from 9/30/1986)

18:44

Other segments from the episode on November 8, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 8, 1999: Interview with Marshall Herskovitz; Review of the Holy Modal Rounders' albums "Holy Modal Rounders 1" and "Holy Modal Rounders 2"; Obituary for George V…

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 08, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110801np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Interview with Marshall Herskovitz
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

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

KEN TUCKER, GUEST HOST: I'm Ken Tucker, critic at large for "Entertainment Weekly," sitting in for Terry Gross.

My guest, Marshall Herskovitz, along with his producing partner, Edward Zwick, have created such TV shows as "thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life." Now, Herskovitz and Zwick are attempting to do for divorce what "My So-Called Life" did for adolescence -- that is, deconstruct it in hyperarticulate, microscopic detail.

Their new show is called "Once and Again," and stars Sela Ward and Billy Campbell as suburban parents, one divorced, one separated, who meet cute in a car poor line at school, begin dating. The show covers the ups and downs of their relationship, including the insecurities they both have from their failed marriages.

In this scene, Ward's character, upset with Campbell's workaholic ways, is asking him why he works so hard.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "ONCE AND AGAIN")

BILLY CAMPBELL, ACTOR: See? See, this is what I don't understand about women. They want men to work, to be successful and commanding, and then when men work, they get upset because the men are not available.

SELA WARD, ACTRESS: You mean, I'm not the first person who ever said this?

It's not that you work, it's that -- it -- it's that you all get that man face, like you become somebody else, and you just can't turn it off.

CAMPBELL: You're right, I can't.

WARD: I just have to ask you, though, is this all my problem, or is there something else going on here that makes you pull away?

CAMPBELL: I keep feeling like someday I'll get to this place, you know, this safe place where I can slow down. You know, if I can just get the firm to a certain size, a few big clients, take on a new partner.

WARD: But are you ever going to get there?

CAMPBELL: Well, you're not worth much if you fail. I guess that's what I was taught.

WARD: But you're nowhere near failing.

CAMPBELL: Hah. A man is never more than five minutes from failing in his soul. Five seconds. Say something stupid, let somebody scare you, slip on a banana peel. It can all be taken away. Especially, especially when you presume to tell other people what to do.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TUCKER: Marshall Herskovitz, welcome to FRESH AIR.

MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ, "ONCE AND AGAIN": Thank you.

TUCKER: It seems, on the face of it, that this could have been -- it might easily have been like a two-hour feature film, you know, these two people meet, they encounter resistance from their children, their exes, their own instincts. And then they live happily ever after.

What made you think of it in terms of a TV series that could go on from week to week?

HERSKOVITZ: Well, actually, I take it as a compliment that you see this as potentially having been a film. I mean, you know, Ed and I have always seen ourselves as filmmakers first, and we tend to approach television as if it were a film.

TUCKER: This is your partner, Ed Zwick, that you're referring to.

HERSKOVITZ: Yes, yes. You know, a film that won't stop. We often view production that way, that somehow it just keeps going on and on. There -- that's obviously the downside. But the upside is that you don't have to solve the whole damn thing in two hours. You know, we just felt there was too much story to tell to really do justice to it in two hours, that every little twist and turn of this story -- you know, the feelings of everybody involved, all of the different connections that have to be made and broken, just, you know, cried out for a long-term exploration.

TUCKER: And how did you decide to use the idea of talking to the camera? For people who don't -- haven't seen the show, there are -- you'll see a scene, and then you'll cut to a black-and-white segment where one of the characters will talk about what has just gone on and sort of reveal what he or she may really have been thinking, which can completely contradict what's gone on in the scene before.

How did that idea occur to you, to use that as a device?

HERSKOVITZ: Well, this is one of the great strengths of Ed Zwick, that he thinks about story-telling in very conceptual terms. And after I had written the first act of the pilot, he felt that there was some way in which we were not getting inside the minds of these characters.

You know, it's interesting, one of my goals in writing this was to create people who were not as adept at talking about their emotions as the people (ph) in "thirtysomething" were. I was interested in, you know, the huge section of our population which finds it very difficult to explain how they feel and to, in some sense, enact that in their relationships.

And there was a way in which, in the first act, I had succeeded too well, and we didn't really feel what was going on behind these people's faces. And, you know, Ed suggested this as a technique, and I initially resisted it.

You know, it's a technique that really goes very far back. It goes back to the theater in the '20s. Ingmar Bergman has done it, Woody Allen's done it, Rob Reiner's done it. It's a form of narration, finally, you know, it's a form of first-person narrative. It's just it's using the camera, whereas we're used to hearing it and not seeing it. It's really very much the same as, you know, opening a book and having it say, "Call me Ishmael."

And I tried it and was instantly won over. It just gave us so many opportunities to go inside these people. And we found a way, using these interviews, to see -- to reveal how complicated a person's thought processes are even as they're in the midst of living and interacting with other people.

TUCKER: At what point in the life of a series do you and the writers start moving away from whatever initial ideas you had about the characters in theory and start writing for particular actors, as you begin to understand their strengths and limitations?

HERSKOVITZ: That's a really good question. You know, it is inevitable. It happens pretty early on, as I would -- as I see it. It's certainly happened already on our show. I think pretty much once you go into production. It doesn't really happen on the pilot. It happens once the series goes into production, and you are with the actors, you know, day after day, week after week, and influenced by them, not by what they say to you but by the work they do and by who they are.

You know, each of these actors has changed the characters in ways they never intended to, and we never foresaw. You know, some more than others. I would say that Julia Whelan, who plays Grace, the teenaged daughter of Sela Ward, has had an enormous impact on her character.

TUCKER: In what sense?

HERSKOVITZ: Well, you know, we wrote Grace as pretty dark character, you know, a very troubled girl who has a real problem with self-image, who, you know, has a lot of anxieties. And we intended for some real conflict to emerge with her mother and in her life based on that.

And we cast this young girl, who is such an astonishing actress, but who we discovered in life is so full of joy and life and connection, and there's just a light in her eyes that is so remarkable and unforgettable, that we just find ourselves, you know, sort of taking this slightly different path with Grace. She's still troubled, but she's got this humor and this energy that's slowly beginning to emerge.

Interestingly, you know, one of the criticisms, you know, that have been leveled at the show is that people are often annoyed by Grace. They say, you know, she whines too much, she -- you know, she's too negative, she's always angry. I think that was the original conception of the character. And I think had we not found Julia, that criticism might have been even stronger.

But I think as time goes by and you see the effects of how she has changed the character, I think those criticisms will diminish, because that's not who the girl is.

TUCKER: Talking about Julia Whelan, there's a scene in which the children are spending the weekend with their father, Sela Ward's ex, and she becomes very annoyed when suddenly a girlfriend of the father's shows up. Is that right?

HERSKOVITZ: Correct, yes.

TUCKER: I think it's what you're talking about, the way that character expresses her frustration, don't you think?

HERSKOVITZ: Yes, absolutely. I find those scenes to be very delicious. The woman who plays the girlfriend, whose name is Ever Carradine -- she's quite wonderful and very charming, and -- but also very young. And I think the kids are just a bit horrified at seeing their father with this beautiful young woman. And Grace, the character that Julia plays, is, I would say, pretty unstinting in her criticism of her father.

TUCKER: Let's hear a little bit from that.

(AUDIO CLIP, "ONCE AND AGAIN")

JULIA WHELAN, ACTRESS: I love small foods.

EVER CARRADINE, ACTRESS: Me too. Mmm, baby carrots, Tater Tots, those little teeny tiny corncobs. Shrimp.

So anyway, the radio station where I work is doing this big promotional thing on Sunday.

ACTRESS: Like a party?

CARRADINE: Oh, definite party. And we're giving out free T-shirts, you know, get people aware.

ACTRESS: Aware of what?

CARRADINE: So go listen to that station, like, bravery (ph).

WHELAN: Exactly.

ACTRESS: We used to listen to the radio on the way to school. But our mom won't let us any more. She said it's offensive.

CARRADINE: Oh, yes, mainstream radio's (inaudible) the whole morning show thing. It's fully out of hand.

WHELAN: But yet you work at a radio station.

CARRADINE: That's pretty hypocritical, huh?

ACTOR: Grace, don't (inaudible).

WHELAN: It's just miniature food.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TUCKER: That's a scene from "Once and Again." We're talking to the show's co-producer, Marshall Herskovitz. We'll be back after a short break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TUCKER: I'm talking with Marshall Herskovitz, co-creator and co-executive producer of "Once and Again."

Marshall Herskovitz, do you look at shows like "Felicity" and "Dawson's Creek" and know that they wouldn't exist without "My So-Called Life"?

HERSKOVITZ: (laughs) Oh, boy, you'd never get me to agree to a question like that.

TUCKER: Well, it...

HERSKOVITZ: The most I'll say is that, you know, a lot of people claim they were ahead of their time in various moments of their lives, and often that covers up the fact that they, you know, couldn't make something succeed. I think we do have some kind of proof objectively in the world that "My So-Called Life" was ahead of its time.

You know, I can remember a phone conversation with Bob Eiger we had when we were begging the network to pick up the show for a second season, where we actually said to him, Bob, you know, demographically the show doesn't serve you because the main audience for the show is teenaged girls, and that's of no interest to you economically.

But these people have no voice in the culture. And if you could see the letters and the e-mails we get from these people, you would see that we are really doing good work in the culture. And you're not losing money on the show. You should keep it on the air as corporate good works.

That's literally what we said to Bob Eiger, and this is only four years ago.

TUCKER: And what did he do, laugh in your face?

HERSKOVITZ: No, he was actually quite moved by that. I think that -- you know, the politics of that particular moment were very complicated, and I've -- you know, I've spoken about this openly before, it's not a secret, that Claire was very interested in moving on and doing other things in her life.

Remember that in order to do the first 19 episodes of "My So-Called Life," it took us almost two years. The network never supported the show. They would pick it up in dribs and drabs, you know, six episodes at a time.

And she was already 16 years old. She had started when she was 13. And, you know, she...

TUCKER: We're talking about Claire Danes.

HERSKOVITZ: Claire Danes, yes. And she wanted to move on with her life. And, you know, I didn't want to be in the position of filing suit against a 16-year-old to compel her to work on my show, and neither did the network.

So, you know, we'll never know. My guess is that the network would have reluctantly picked us up for another 13 episodes if Claire had not stated her desire to move on elsewhere. But I don't think the fate of the show would have been that different, because I think the network and the audiences at that time weren't quite ready yet. I think we were a year away from people being really interested in the inner life of a 15-year-old girl.

TUCKER: To go back to "Once and Again," how long can this courtship last? We see this kind of giddy romance taking shape. We're watching them date. We watched this kind of furtive liaisons that Billy Campbell and Sela Ward have. How long do you think, realistically, the audience will accept this kind of billing and cooing?

HERSKOVITZ: (laughs) Do I detect the most gently veiled criticism?

TUCKER: No, no, no, not at all. I'm interested in it from a kind of, you know, how you see the arc of the series going.

HERSKOVITZ: It's already changing. I mean, you know, maybe there was one episode's worth of wish fulfillment on the producer's part that we keep that billing and cooing going. You know, certainly people have said to us, you know, When are we going to learn more about the other characters? When are they going to stop, you know, sneaking around to have sex?

That's already changing. It's been changing in the last couple of weeks. And, you know, lots of stuff will happen, none of which can I speak about now in any real specific way. But I think we really wanted to lay the groundwork. We -- you know, there are many competing needs in telling stories like this. We want to do justice to this relationship between these two people and the development of it.

But we also want to do justice to the -- all the people around them. This is finally going to be an ensemble show, and we will have Eli stories and Grace stories and Karen stories. You know, it's not just going to always be the Rick and Lily show.

But we needed to lay that groundwork. And already it's beginning to spread out. Now we're beginning to have stories about the children and the ex-spouses. You know, it's going to be quite a large tapestry, finally, and we are slowly but very surely moving in that direction.

TUCKER: This seemed to me to summarize the kinds of criticism your shows have gotten over the years, and I sort of wanted you to respond to it. It's a piece that Grile Marcus (ph) wrote recently. I don't know if you saw, in "Interview." And it was about "thirtysomething."

HERSKOVITZ: No.

TUCKER: And he said, "The show featured the most irritating characters in the history of the medium, yet it was possible to tune in every week with empathy and fascination, wondering if the junior ad man could make even more of an ass of himself" -- parentheses, "Yes" -- "if his wife could be more superior" -- parentheses, "To be sure" -- "if the permanently tenured professor could be more self-ennobling" -- he says, "Yes" -- and he says, "but... " he says, "the whining remains the sign of authenticity, thus allowing viewers to see themselves as heroes."

And then he concludes by saying, "Hey, I never missed a week of this show."

HERSKOVITZ: (laughs)

TUCKER: I mean, is this typical of the kind of things you've heard over the years about your shows.

HERSKOVITZ: Oh, God, yes, totally.

TUCKER: That seemed to summarize the kind of reaction that people had. I mean, I knew people -- I know people who watch your shows who feel the same way, that they are at once irritated yet completely fascinated by them.

HERSKOVITZ: This has been the most mysterious part of the last 12 years, is why do people who hate our shows so much can't just not watch them? This has been very amusing to us, occasionally painful, but mostly just bemusing. We just don't quite know what to make of it.

TUCKER: Well, do you take it as a compliment that you're writing -- that the writing and the acting is so compelling that people feel, you know, they can't keep away from these characters?

HERSKOVITZ: You know, I'd like to say I take it as a compliment, but I -- you know, there's a part of me that says that, you know, if I did it really well, then they wouldn't find them annoying.

You know, I do believe, by the way, in my experience of life, everybody whines and complains. They just do it in private. They don't want to be seen as people who whine and complain. And I think that people -- the things people get most exercised about are usually so inconsequential, you know, in their lives, you know, who didn't call who back? Or, you know, or any number of things that people constantly worry about and get themselves all upset about that are not cosmic in nature.

It's just very painful and embarrassing for people to think that that's how they're going to be seen.

So I think that was part of the annoyance. But I think probably, you know, these characters were -- I think had a certain entitlement to talk about themselves that most people don't feel, at least in public, in their lives. And I think that was annoying. And, you know, I take responsibility for that.

TUCKER: Let's talk time periods.

HERSKOVITZ: Yes.

TUCKER: ABC put you in the "NYPD Blue" Tuesday nights at 10 spot to launch the show. And there's this big recent kafuffle when ABC said, Maybe we'll leave you there. And the way it was portrayed in the media, it looked as if Stephen Bochco went ballistic, got on the phone, talked to the media, got -- stirred up a lot of resentment among the public, who wanted to see their "NYPD Blue" back.

And you guys were kind of silent during all this. What was going on with you and Ed Zwick while Bochco was raising this protest?

HERSKOVITZ: The truth is, not a whole lot was going on. You know, we have had many, many discussions with the executives at ABC since they picked us up in May, and, you know, they wanted us to be reassured all along that they were going to take our show very seriously, and that there were many options available to them.

You know, Stephen is very ferocious in the defense of his shows, and, you know, I'm not going to criticize him for that. We didn't really have a beef with him, and he didn't have a beef with us. We both wanted the same time period. It wasn't really either of our decision. So he fought in the way he needed to fight for his show.

It's pretty clear to me that, you know, that going to the press and whipping up that frenzy didn't really have much to do with ABC's decision, because I was talking to them all during that time. You know, their main concern was, What's going to happen, you know, after we find places for all these shows? Are they going to do well, or are they not going to do well?

They weren't particularly concerned with the -- with, you know, how upset, you know, a bunch of journalists were at that point, because, you know, I don't think the audience really cared at all, frankly.

And I think they found a solution, and the solution is that we're going to stay on Tuesday nights at 10 until January, and then, because of a bunch of -- there's a bunch of programming upheavals in January anyway, so it was a convenient time...

TUCKER: When football ends.

HERSKOVITZ: Foot -- you know, what -- yes, there's a preemption early in January. So basically what will happen is, on January 11, "NYPD Blue" will come back Tuesday nights at 10 and take over that time period. We'll be off the air for a couple of weeks, and then on January -- I think it's the 24th, Monday, we will start Monday nights at 10:00, and that'll be our new time slot, at least until the end of the year.

TUCKER: Well, Marshall Herskovitz, I want to thank you very much for talking with me.

HERSKOVITZ: Thank you.

TUCKER: That's TV producer Marshall Herskovitz. His new show is called "Once and Again," seen Tuesdays at 10 on ABC.

I'm Ken Tucker, and this is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Ken Tucker, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Marshall Herskovitz
High: TV writer, director and producer Marshall Herskovitz discusses his co-creations "Thirtysomething," "My So-Called Life" and "Once and Again."
Spec: Radio And Television; Entertainment; "Once And Again"

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: Interview with Marshall Herskovitz

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 08, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110802NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Reviews of the Holy Modal Rounders
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

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

TUCKER: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Ken Tucker, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Fiddler and banjo player Peter Stampel and country blues guitarist Steve Weber met in New York in 1963 and immediately knew they were compatible souls who shared a sense of anarchic irreverence. Performing as the Holy Modal Rounders, they recorded two albums that have endured as cult classics.

Commentator Milo Miles talks about a definitive reissue of these two records and some new work by this most peculiar pair.

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS)

MILO MILES, CRITIC: Peter Stampel and Steve Weber are the original folk punks and have been for more than 35 years. In the early '60s folk boom, Stampel and Weber drew attention because their attitude toward old-time music was different. Well, really bizarre, but more in the tradition that people realized.

The Holy Modal Rounders were an insult to coffee house music that was pale, careful, and sentimental. The simpleminded part of the scene had an obsession with the bucolic noncommercial America, a sterile hybrid of Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell with Ban the Bomb signs thrown in.

The Holy Modal Rounders' raw technique and disregard for sensitivity evoked a rural United States that was violent, crude, equally drawn to cheap laughs and ragtag profundity.

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS)

MILES: Even more amazing, much of the Rounders' early records were covers of antique songs that backed up their attitude, many of them blues, mountain tunes, and religious numbers from Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music."

They didn't stop there, though. Stampel described his musical influences as "Grandpa Jones, Charlie Poole (ph), Little Richard, the New Lost City Ramblers, Robert Graves, Lenny Bruce, Donald Duck, various roots and herbs, and everything else."

Can you play postmodern in the key of early?

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS)

MILES: Stampel and Weber fit the folk prescription in one way. They were sure noncommercial. The albums "Holy Modal Rounders" and "Holy Modal Rounders II" were recorded close together in 1963 and 1964 and sold diddly.

That, and a tendency for livin' la vida all too loca, kept the Holy Modal Rounders from having anything like a normal career. Stampel and Weber recorded together very irregularly during the last 35 years, but have defied the odds by pulling off a whole new album called "Too Much Fun."

It's very much in the spirit of their early days, though they now draw on a much wider range of music. You've heard of unplugged? Well, this is unhinged.

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, HOLY MODAL ROUNDERS)

MILES: Many tracks offer more straightforward pleasure than that one. But "Too Much Fun" is best for the already converted.

However, absolutely anyone unfamiliar with these guys should pick up the "Holy Modal Rounders" one and two reissue. It's the best-sounding and best-sequenced version of their original two LPs.

Then hunt down a record by Michael Herlihy (ph) and the Unholy Modal Rounders called "Have Moicy." That's M-O-I-C-Y, moicy.

The adventurous should go on and tackle Harry Smith's big "Anthology of American Folk Music." Listen to all these a dozen times, and you'll be a stronger and wiser soul.

Trust me on this.

TUCKER: Milo Miles is music editor at Rock.com.

Later this week, I'll be talking to musicians Buddy and Julie Miller. Here's a bit from Buddy's new CD, "Cruel Moon."

(AUDIO CLIP, SONG EXCERPT, BUDDY MILLER, "CRUEL MOON")

TUCKER: That's Buddy Miller.

Coming up, we remember the writer George V. Higgins.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Ken Tucker, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Milo Miles
High: Critic Milo Miles reviews reissues of two cult favorites by the Holy Modal Rounders, "Holy Modal Rounders 1 and 2," and their new album "Too Much Fun."
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Holy Modal Rounders

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: Reviews of the Holy Modal Rounders

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 08, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 110803NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Remembering George V. Higgins
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:40

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

TUCKER: George V. Higgins died over the weekend. He was 59. A Boston attorney, he became a best-selling novelist with the publication of "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" in 1972.

Higgins covered crime on other beats for daily newspapers and the Associated Press, then attended law school and later worked in the Massachusetts attorney general's office, where he helped establish an organized crime division.

His novels were hailed for their hard-boiled atmospherics and use of terse dialogue to the near exclusion of descriptive prose, a style that would become his trademark.

Terry spoke with George V. Higgins in 1986 after the publication of his 13th novel, "Imposters." She asked how he went from journalism to law.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

GEORGE V. HIGGINS, CRIME NOVELIST: Well, my first job with the Associated Press was opening the Springfield bureau, Springfield, Massachusetts, bureau. And I was in direct competition with an established UP bureau. I had a geographical advantage in that I was directly across the common, or the park, from the courthouse. And in that summer, there was a special criminal sitting to dispose of what could be fairly called a number of organized crime cases.

To compete with the opposition, I went cantering back and forth that public park between sessions of the court, filing fresh copy at every opportunity. And I watched those lawyers. And they were absolutely perfect Mafia lawyers. They all dressed alike in silver silk suits. They all wore blue shirts with spread collars. They all wore black knit ties. They all wore the same kind of watches, the same kind of black loafers, and they all went to the same barber.

And I watched the prosecutor, who was an uncommonly effective trial lawyer. And those guys were having more fun than I was. Here I was, driving a brand-new black TR4 Triumph convertible, had a job that I was my own boss. Boston never called me, I had to call them. Nobody was supervising me. I was 24 years old, or 22 at the time, actually, 23.

And I was out on my own. And incredibly, to me, these guys in the courtroom were having more fun than I was. I was jealous. I went to law school purely because I wanted to try cases.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: So it was these Mafia lawyers that...

HIGGINS: And the prosecutors.

GROSS: ... that really inspired you?

HIGGINS: And the prosecutors. It was the give and take. It's a combat sport, there's no question about it. You stand up in a courtroom, and I don't care which side you're on, you stand up in that courtroom, and when -- the minute you hit your feet, you're saying, I'm smarter than you are, and now I'm going to beat you.

It's really fun.

GROSS: (inaudible) it's a way of having a kind of taste for blood but keeping it...

HIGGINS: It's the last...

GROSS: ... in -- in -- in -- in kind of language and facts and evidence instead of actually putting on boxing gloves or becoming a policeman or anything like that.

HIGGINS: Yes, it's the last officially sanctioned blood sport, because there is no blood. And that is the reason for all the elaborate courtesies and protocols and procedures in the courtroom, so that the participants will not come to blows. That's the reason for it.

GROSS: Well, as turned on as you might have been by that -- the blood lust of the courtroom, I'm sure going to law school might have been really boring, where you're actually learning about precedents and things like that. Were you interested in law school?

HIGGINS: I was bored to my eyeballs. I can't recall three years passing so slowly as the three I spent in law school. I went there for but one reason, to learn evidence and procedure. Unfortunately, they don't give you a law degree for just knowing evidence and procedure. They have this quaint notion that you should know how to acquire title to wild animals, which comes under the heading of property law.

They have this extremely odd idea that it's somehow useful for a trial lawyer to have a grand notion of corporate taxation, which is great if you're going to be trying corporate taxation cases, but I wasn't.

So my grades were predictable. I got good grades in evidence and procedure and I did mediocre in the other courses. And I really didn't like it. It takes a certain humility to be a student, you know, and very few newspapermen are humble.

GROSS: Why didn't you drop out? I mean, you didn't...

HIGGINS: Because I desperately wanted to be (inaudible)...

GROSS: You wanted it that badly.

HIGGINS: Mm-hm.

TUCKER: So you went to law school inspired by all these Mafia cases, by the give and take between the defense and the prosecution. When you got out, what kind of lawyer did you end up being?

HIGGINS: Well, I started out as a legal assistant in the office of Massachusetts Attorney General then Eliot Richardson, and I was drafting opinions of the attorney general on the constitutionality of proposed statutes.

Then Mr. Richardson decided that he would form -- it was new to the department then, an organized crime and racketeering section. And since I had already acquired a considerable body of information, I was a natural selection for that particular division. And I loved it. I had a wonderful time. Now I could do something about these fellows, and prosecute them myself. It was great.

GROSS: Did you get to meet them personally (inaudible)...

HIGGINS: Oh, yes. Yes, the way you make Mafia cases is by turning Mafia guys into witnesses. And the way you turn them into witnesses is to hook them, and then persuade them that their choice is between doing hard time and talking. The intelligent ones remain silent because that is not the choice, and they know it isn't. The choice is between doing hard time and having somebody shoot you.

But there are enough dumb ones around so we were able to make a few witnesses, and also some guys who had gotten involved with the Mafia and were not subject to the death penalty. And we had the Witness Protection Act. We could change your name and relocate you.

And so we were able to develop a modicum of cases. There weren't very many of them, but I probably tried 70 cases in the three years I was with the attorney general's office.

TUCKER: Did you try to save that aspect for yourself of trying to turn someone in the Mafia -- turn them into a witness?

HIGGINS: Oh, it's absolutely essentially...

TUCKER: You did that yourself, you wouldn't assign that to someone else to do?

HIGGINS: Well, the police would develop the witness, and they would tell him what nasty things this -- I can't use that word on the air, this illegitimate Higgins was going to do to them if they didn't cooperate. And they wouldn't believe the cops. And so they would -- the cops would bring the guy into my office, and we'd have a little chat. And I would not raise my voice, and neither would he.

But we would use a lot of language that would shock your maiden aunt.

TUCKER: Would you wear any special client kinds of clothes for a day where you knew you'd be doing that?

HIGGINS: Oh, no, as a matter of fact, I -- if I had any special kinds of clothes, which I didn't -- prosecutors didn't make much money in those days, particularly young ones. No, the more you look like a lawyer, the better it is for the position that you're making to a hoodlum. A hoodlum doesn't want you to -- he won't believe you if you sit there and try to impress (inaudible) hoodlum, because in the first place, you won't be very convincing.

GROSS: Because the lawyer part of you is trying to clean up crime and turn...

HIGGINS: No, the lawyer part of me was trying to make a deal.

GROSS: OK. (laughs) What about the novelist part of you? What -- was that like listening for -- like, great sentences from the mobster who you were trying to turn?

HIGGINS: No. No, the funny part of it was, "Eddie Coyle"'s the first book I ever wrote in dialogue, or mostly in dialogue. And I didn't do that on purpose. I had written a short story which definitely came out of stories I had heard. By came out, I mean it was the inspiration -- they were -- the story was inspired by stories I had heard. And it was called "Dylan Explained That He Was Frightened." And I sent it to a friend of mine on the West Coast who knew I had been working on a novel.

I was always working on a novel. That's like saying a squirrel is working on gathering nuts. That's what squirrels do. This is what I've always done. And he liked the story a lot, and wrote back to me and asked if it was part of the novel. Hadn't occurred to me that that was part of the novel. I thought it was just an interesting anecdote that made a good story.

So that night I went up to my study and began to see if "Dylan Explained" was, in fact, part of a novel, and it turned out to be Chapter 6 of "The Friends of Eddie Coyle."

GROSS: What was the story?

HIGGINS: "Jackie Brown at 26, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns." That was the first sentence, and I didn't know what it was about. I had to find out for myself, and while I was finding out, I told the story.

GROSS: No, you wrote that while you were...

HIGGINS: I had a grand jury running every day during the six weeks when I wrote that book.

GROSS: Was...

HIGGINS: Except Saturdays and Sundays and holy days of obligation.

GROSS: So was there a connection, and was it based on...

HIGGINS: No, it was a grand jury investigation that I had working. I was then a federal prosecutor. The grand jury investigation was about bank fraud. But I had tried a lot of gun control cases, and I knew about gun dealings and the traffic in them.

GROSS: You sound like you are really fascinated by the character and personality and speech patterns too of mobsters and criminals.

HIGGINS: I'm fascinated by the character, by the reaction of character and diction and stress in all characters. That's what I'm doing. The reason that people in my books begin to -- the way they begin to show stress -- I suppose I'm doing it now. The first thing to go is syntax and diction.

GROSS: (laughs)

HIGGINS: If you read a transcript -- if you think of yourself as a cultivated, educated person, and you read a transcript of the direct examination you've conducted in the courtroom, and note all the hesitations and the pauses and the ellipses, it's really quite humiliating. But that is the way people talk. And the first thing to go is diction, the first thing.

So that's how you can tell that my characters are upset, whether upset by fear or upset by sorrow, or upset by exhilaration. Their speech begins to crack. And I didn't know that until I found that out after I'd done it. I had no conscious intention of using dialogue to delineate character until after I had done it. It just seemed like the best way to tell the story.

GROSS: When your first novel, "Friends of Eddie Coyle," which is a best seller, started selling, were you still practicing law then?

HIGGINS: I was still an assistant U.S. attorney, and I remained one for another year.

GROSS: What did it do to your law career to have this high profile as a novelist?

HIGGINS: To my career as a prosecutor, it added only luster. To my career as a defense lawyer, it was fatal. You see, Boston is a town rich in lawyers, and I hesitate to make this statement because it may be grossly overly modest of me, but there are an awful lot of good lawyers in Boston, and some of them are very nearly as good as I am. Some may even be better.

And when I quit being a prosecutor and opened my own office, it was put out on the street, I strongly suspect by competitors of mine, that I had quit practicing law to write full time. And I had, but I didn't know it. It took me 10 years to figure it out. I wasn't getting the clients.

GROSS: Now, which -- you weren't getting clients to defend?

HIGGINS: That's right.

GROSS: Well, now, why?

HIGGINS: Well, partly because the Mafia does not trust Irish Americans. Now, that's in penance for Gerry Kennedy (ph). I put that in that book that came out in 1985. But there was a recent trial in Boston, the United States versus Angiullo (ph), in which extensive tapes of their discussions clearly established exactly what Gerry Kennedy's friend told him, the Mafia believes that all the Micks are cops, even when they're on the defense side.

Well, that eliminated an important source of revenue for your basic criminal lawyer, which was virtually my specialty.

The other problem that I had was that I had not been prominent in prosecuting drug cases, which meant that the drug importers were not interested in hiring me, figuring that I didn't have the contacts with the narcotics officers.

And that's another source of lucrative income for criminal defense lawyers.

Let's face it, you've got to gear yourself to your markets, and mine were missing.

GROSS: Did the Mafia maybe think too that their stories were going to end up...

HIGGINS: Yes.

GROSS: ... in your novel?

HIGGINS: Yes. At the time, I thought that was very unfair of them, because I have never used a story from a case I've tried, and I have never betrayed a confidence. If I did, I would be disbarred. And after all, the evidence wouldn't be hard to find, it would be right there on the pages of the book.

I do steal traits, personality traits, character quirks, and so forth, but the characters that I write about develop themselves. Still and all, if I were a hood, I can see why, looking at it from his point of view, he would be suspicious of me. After all, how does he know? The chances are the son of a gun has never even read a book, let alone one of mine.

GROSS: Well, I was thinking it might be the other way, that some of the people who you'd be defending might have actually become great fans of yours (inaudible)...

HIGGINS: No, but that was the case with a couple that I prosecuted.

GROSS: Really?

HIGGINS: One of them was extremely disappointed when I assured him that I didn't know he was on the earth when I wrote about Digger Dougherty. He thought he was the model for Digger.

GROSS: (laughs) Well, what about juries? Juries and judges, were they affected by your profile as a writer?

HIGGINS: Not that I could see. Most prosecutors, if they're any good, win somewhere between 90 and 90 (ph) percent of their cases. And that was about what I won before I was known as a writer, and that was about what I won after I was known as a writer.

As far as defense lawyers are concerned, I don't think celebrity makes any difference. As a matter of fact, I think it tends to work against your client, because the jury figures if he has to hire somebody with this kind of a reputation, he must really be as guilty as hell.

GROSS: Really, you think that's the way they think?

HIGGINS: I don't know that. I've never polled a jury on it. I've often wondered if that were true.

GROSS: I wonder if juries are suspicious of a certain amount of show business too that can enter into it once you've really become a celebrity.

HIGGINS: I don't think I ever was a flamboyant courtroom trial lawyer. I preferred to lie in wait and strike like a serpent. So I never made much noise in the courtroom until it seemed like the time to move.

GROSS: What did you prefer, defense or prosecution?

HIGGINS: I'm told that I was a better prosecutor than I was defense, but it wasn't subjectively clear to me that that was the case. I just loved trying cases. It didn't matter to me which side I was on. I knew my chances of winning were a heck of a lot better if I were a prosecutor.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

TUCKER: Writer George V. Higgins talking with Terry Gross.

We'll hear more of their conversation in a minute.

This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

TUCKER: Back with Terry Gross's 1986 interview with writer George V. Higgins.

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

GROSS: Having written about the legal system and worked in it, do you think that there are obvious deficiencies?

HIGGINS: Yes, it's part of the human condition. It goes back to original sin, I think. We have probably too many lawyers now. The lawyers that we have are too inaccessible to the middle class. If you get in trouble, whether it be civil or criminal trouble, if you have a dispute with your neighbor over a fence or a dispute with the police over a homicide, if you're poor, you will get a lawyer to defend you free.

And if you're rich, you'll get a lawyer that you have chosen and you will pay. But if you're middle class and your kid gets busted on a cocaine charge, it's going to ruin you for the next two years financially to pay the lawyer, a good lawyer who will give that kid good representation.

We have put access to the law out of the reach of the middle class.

GROSS: All of your novels, or at least most of them, are set in Boston. That's where you live, and we can tell from the way you speak, that's where you grew up.

HIGGINS: You have an acute ear.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: What makes that city interesting to you? Is it just that you know it intimately, or do you think it's like a perfect place to set your novels anyways?

HIGGINS: No, I steal all the time. There's a -- Kipling's dedication to "The Barrack Room Ballads," it's called, "When Homer's motives bloom in liar (ph)," and the whole thrust of the short little poem is that Homer stole what he thought he needed, and his audience knew he was doing it.

Well, I'm stealing technique from William Faulkner. I -- he can have his long convoluted sentences, but he had his (inaudible), you know, and I've got Boston. And I can take attractive land between Duxbury and Plymouth where there is no attractive land and put a big town in there, which is Waterford, and that's my privilege.

I also don't have to look it up in Boston, although I do look up street names and directions, because it would be very humiliating to make a mistake like that.

But it makes my life easier, that's all. I can concentrate on my characters and the story, because I know where they are, and I know what's there.

GROSS: Another Boston writer whose books are very popular now is Robert Parker, who writes the...

HIGGINS: Yes, he's the only other living member of the Coca-Cola Truck Drivers Famous Writers Group. I am the...

GROSS: Oh, you're the other member?

HIGGINS: I'm the second one. We have meetings with the board about every -- and we always have a quorum with just the two of us present.

He drove a Coke truck in Fall River, and I drove a Coke truck in Brockton.

GROSS: Oh. So you're friends?

HIGGINS: Oh, sure. Yes, we got to be friends when his first novel, "The Godwalf (ph) Manuscript," was sent to me for a plug. I didn't know him from a load of goats. I thought it was a wonderful book. And I was pleased to say so at the time. I had a column for "Boston" magazine, and I wrote a column about the book, and it bought me a good use of it. He sent it anonymously to "Time" magazine and provoked a review out of "Time" magazine.

Very shrewd fellow. I wouldn't have thought of doing that. But I didn't know him at all. We've since become good friends.

GROSS: I figured you'd either be good friends or not speak to each other, because there would also be the possibility of a rivalry between you...

HIGGINS: That's silliness.

GROSS: ... you know, that maybe regionalism means that there could be one well-known writer from...

HIGGINS: No, no.

GROSS: ... a city, but not two.

HIGGINS: We have Ernest Hemingway to thank for that silliness about rivalry among writers. There's implicit in his balderdash about how he could go 10 rounds with Turgenev and all that rot. It's the notion that writers are engaged in a zero-sum game, for me to win, you must lose, and vice versa. And that isn't so.

If I were trying to write detective stories aping Spenser, then Parker would have every reason to hate and fear me, and probably to despise me, because I couldn't do it anywhere near as well.

But we're not competing anyway, and if we were, there'd still be room for both of us. Now, I think that's silly. I don't think -- for example, to pick an icon of American literature, I don't think John Updike is competing with me because John Updike writes books that are set in New England.

I can't imagine why we both can't write books.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

TUCKER: Writer George V. Higgins, from a 1986 interview with Terry Gross. He died over the weekend at the age of 59.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced by Amy Sallett (ph), Naomi Person, Phyllis Meyers (ph), and Monique Nazareth, with Anne Marie Baldonado and Patty Leswing (ph). Bob Purdick is our engineer. Roberta Shorrock directs the show.

For Terry Gross, I'm Ken Tucker.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Ken Tucker, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: George V. Higgins
High: Crime novelist George V. Higgins was found dead at his home on Saturday. He was best known for his best seller, "Friends of Eddie Coyle," published in 1972. (Rebroadcast from 1986.)
Spec: Entertainment; "Friends Of Eddie Coyle"; Geroge V. Higgins; Death

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 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: Remembering George V. Higgins
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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