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Sex, Power, Women And 'The Future Of the World'

Journalist Michelle Goldberg discusses the politics, ideology and history of reproductive rights around the world in her new book The Means of Reproduction.

29:24

Other segments from the episode on April 13, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 13, 2009: Interview with Michelle Goldberg; Obituary for Jack Wrangler; Interview with Margaret Whiting.

Transcript

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Sex, Power, Women And 'The Future Of the World'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. The culture wars have gone
international, and at the center of them is who controls women’s
fertility. That’s the premise of the new book, “The Means of
Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World,” by my guest,
Michelle Goldberg.

She says reproductive rights are the place where many of the crucial
forces shaping and changing women’s lives intersect: religious
authority, globalization, patriarchal tradition, international law,
feminism and American foreign policy.

One example of how American foreign policy can come into play is the so-
called gag rule that said the U.S. would not offer financial aid to
health and family-planning organizations around the world that performed
or promoted abortion.

The policy was begun under President Reagan, rescinded by President
Clinton, reinstated under President Bush and rescinded again by
President Obama.

Michelle Goldberg is a former senior writer for Salon.com, where she
wrote extensively about the Christian right. She’s now a senior
correspondent for the American Prospect. Her previous book was called
“Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.”

Michelle Goldberg, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Why, after writing a book
on Christian nationalism, did you want to focus on reproductive issues
around the world?

Ms. MICHELLE GOLDBERG (Author, “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power,
and the Future of the World”): I would say there are two reasons. The
first is that while I was, you know, working on this book about
religious fundamentalism in American politics, I really saw a lot of the
groups that I was writing about getting involved internationally.

Even though they disliked and distrusted the United Nations, they saw
the power it was wielding, and they started to organize within it. They
started building alliances with fundamentalist movements around the
world, including with some conservative Muslim groups.

So I was, you know, kind of fascinated in the globalization of the
phenomenon that I had first written about domestically. And at the same
time, after spending a year immersed in a world whose values were in
many ways very hostile to my own, even if the people were often quite
lovely, it was such a relief to spend time with women all around the
world who were fighting the very forces that I had written about in my
first book.

GROSS: Some of the history is so interesting. You write that during the
Cold War, Republicans saw birth control and family planning as a way to
strengthen capitalism around the world. What did they see as the
connection between family planning and strengthening capitalism?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Basically, at the time, overpopulation was an issue of
public concern, almost analogous to the way that global warming is now.
It was something that all educated people, you know, had heard about,
talked about. It was something that people believed was going to create
apocalyptic devastation in the very near future.

And a lot of Republicans were just kind of Cold War, national-security
types, thought that overpopulation was going to cause so much misery in
the developing world that it was going to lead a lot of these countries
to communist revolution.

GROSS: So you say a lot of this global family-planning infrastructure
was actually created by Republicans during the Cold War. Give us some
examples of that family-planning infrastructure created by Republicans.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Well, an obvious example would be George H.W. Bush, who
was absolutely obsessed with this issue, who saw family planning as
crucial to the future of world prosperity, American prosperity.

He presided over international family-planning conferences, where he
tried to convince other nations to adopt population-control measures.
You know, he was so concerned about this issue that people used to call
him Rubbers.

You also had Dwight Eisenhower, who not only, you know, wrote about this
issue, but was actually at one point a co-chairman of Planned
Parenthood, and even during the Nixon administration was seen in many
ways a golden age of family planning. And it was during the Nixon
administration that Americans first pushed for the creation of the
United Nations Population Fund, which today is really enemy number one
for many on the right.

GROSS: What does it do? What does it fund?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Well initially, it just funded population control, and it
did, you know, population-control research and funded contraception and
sterilization and that sort of thing.

Things have changed a lot since then, and now it’s much more involved in
a kind of global program of women’s empowerment. So it fights for
women’s education, against fistula, against female genital mutilation or
what some people call female circumcision. It’s involved in this much
broader kind of program of women’s health and rights, but it was really
founded as an agency of population control.

GROSS: So during the Cold War, when American political leaders saw
family planning as a weapon against communism, what was happening in the
communist countries with birth control? What were their, you know, birth
control and abortion policies like?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Well, this is something that’s so interesting because,
obviously, China today is the kind of apotheosis of coercion with the
one-child policy, and they’re absolutely obsessed with getting their
birth rate down. But at this time, their policy was, just as the kind of
Republican policy was the mirror image of what it is today, so was the
Chinese policy.

They believed that more people equaled more power, and that these
efforts by the developed world to reduce human numbers was just an
attempt to weaken them and, you know, was just a kind of another front
for imperialism.

GROSS: Okay, so you’re painting this picture where, you know, it’s
Republicans who are really pushing for family planning because they see
it as a weapon in the Cold War. Is there a line where that changes,
where positions change, and suddenly the Republican Party moves more
against family planning? Or you know, at least against birth control,
and on the far end of the right, maybe against contraception, too?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Yeah. I think that that kind of culminates with the rise
of the religious right and the kind of rise of Nixonian, you know,
silent-majority politics, the rise of kind of cultural populism.

I mean, and it wasn’t just Republicans. It was this – who was initially
pushing for family planning. It was this kind of Cold War consensus that
this was a huge issue that the United States had to tackle, so you know,
with Harry Truman and Eisenhower, who were co-chairmen of Planned
Parenthood.

What happened, I think, was that birth control and abortion became
associated in the American mind with the counterculture. You saw the
rise of the religious right in the 1970s. You saw this kind of attempt
by Nixon that’s been followed by all later Republicans to capture
working-class Catholics, and so it became just another issue in the
culture war.

GROSS: You write that in the ‘70s, a group of feminist-minded women who
came up through the ranks of the population-control movement decided to
take it over from within. And their goal was that women’s rights and
women’s health had to be ends in themselves, that population control
wasn’t the only goal. It was about women’s rights and women’s health. So
how did that change the movement?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Well, population control was often kind of quite callous
about the way women made decisions, about the kind of lives that they
wanted to live, about why they had so many children.

You know, it tended to think of them in these very coldly impersonal,
technocratic terms. And then it was the women who came up through the
movement who said the kind of things you’re talking about have no
relation to what we see of women’s lives and that you can’t just, you
know, kind of open sterilization camps or, you know, try to bribe people
into getting an IUD inserted.

You know, there are reasons that women have so many children, and you
need to kind of look at the entire of spectrum of their lives. You know,
so as I think, you know, many of us know now, one of the best ways both
to bring down family size and to increase the number of children who
survive and increase child health is to educate women.

You know, when you educate women, when they work, when they have more
power about the kind of decisions that they make within their own
households, you have a kind of much more holistic improvement in
children’s health that translates to lower population sizes.

GROSS: How successful were the feminists within the population-control
movement in defining the issues about women’s rights?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Well, by 1994, when there was this huge conference in
Cairo, you basically had kind of the feminists succeed in writing the
platform. So no longer was the language about population control. It was
about reproductive rights, reproductive health.

That’s the paradigm now, and that’s what shifted. And it can sound like
just kind of so much verbiage, or it can sound as if there’s, you know,
this is just a kind of new gloss put on a kind old, Malthusian program,
but it really has changed the way that these things operate on the
ground. And slowly, it’s also changed international law so that we now
have reproductive rights basically recognized in international law,
which is quite a new thing and I think hasn’t gotten the kind of
attention that it deserves.

GROSS: You know, a point that you’ve made is that the passage of Roe v.
Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States, turned reproductive
issues into larger issues about women’s rights, women’s reproductive
rights. It wasn’t just about family planning. And if you – can you
describe a little bit how you think that resonated around the world?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Sure. Well, it’s not even that it was just Roe versus Wade
that transformed the issue in that way. It was that Roe versus Wade,
first of all, you know, transformed the issue to one about local
sovereignty versus, you know, the kind of abstract and tyrannical power
of the federal courts.

And at the same time, it happened as the feminist movement was itself
kind of gaining steam, and so groups that had really not been that
concerned about abortion in the past - you know, most Evangelical groups
had not gotten unduly worked up about abortion. You know, they generally
saw that as a Catholic issue, and they saw the Catholics as their
theological enemies.

But because they emerged in response to, you know, the social chaos of
the ‘60s and ‘70s, as abortion became kind of synonymous with the
feminist movement, with the breakdown of the family, they reacted. And
so abortion has become the kind of symbol of everything that they feel
has gone wrong in American society since the 1950s.

And one of the things I think is fascinating is that it’s only usually
when abortion is understood in these terms that it becomes really
contentious. India legalized abortion at around the same time that the
United States did, and it’s never been an issue in that country. It’s
never - there’s no anti-abortion movement, save for a few kind of
Catholic groups. And part of the reason for that is that it was always
done under the kind of rubric of population control. It had nothing to
do with changes in gender roles, and thus it didn’t really seem to
threaten people.

You know, Japan is similar. I mean, Japan legalized abortion far before
we did. It was actually, I think, the first country to do so. But again,
when it was just presented in terms of population control, it didn’t
seem to upset people that much.

It’s the change in gender roles and the change in gender dynamics that
is this kind of symbol of the end of one order and the kind of on-
rushing of the modern world that always, in different ways in different
countries but over and over again, creates these big upheavals.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Michelle Goldberg, author of the new book,
“The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World.”
We’ll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Michelle Goldberg, and her
new book is called “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the
Future of the World.”

You write that although a lot of religious conservatives weren’t really
fans of the U.N. or of, you know, global political groups, they learned
from the success of the international women’s movement when it came to
reproductive issues and in many ways started to imitate the women’s
movement. Give me some examples of what you mean.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Well, basically, a lot of the stuff that the United
Nations does is kind of opaque, especially to Americans. It’s hard to
see how some of the decisions and statements that come out of these big
conferences actually affect people’s lives, but abroad, they really,
really do.

And so as kind of some of these conservative groups became more and more
aware of that, they got consultive status within the U.N., which gives
them the ability to attend all these meetings as NGOs and to put on
their own meetings, you know, to put on their own kind of sessions
during some of these global conferences.

They also just started organizing to stack the delegations so that, you
know, you have these delegations. They negotiate all of these seemingly
obscure decisions, but again, that have quite a lot of impact. So they
would start kind of lobbying to get their people on the delegation so
that, you know, instead of, say, having a professor of public health
from Columbia University, you started to have, you know, a kind of
famous televangelist or somebody from the Family Research Council or
something stacking a lot of these delegations.

And then they also started networking. There’s now something called the
World Congress of Families, which brings together religious
fundamentalists and religious conservatives from all around the world,
you know, in which they put aside their theological disputes and they
meet every two years and they try to form common cause against what they
see as the real enemy, which is, you know, feminists and secularists and
liberals.

GROSS: You say that the U.S. found support for its anti-abortion
policies in some of the more repressive quarters of the Middle East and
North Africa. And as an example, you give a U.N. family-planning
conference in 2002, where American delegates joined hands with delegates

from Iran and Sudan. Can you talk about that alliance at this
conference?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Well, this is, you know, this kind of amazing irony
because, right, this is after September 11th. This is at a time when the
United States is ostensibly at war with this axis of evil, and yet there
were - there’s always been people on the Christian right, although
obviously hostile to Islam on a theological level, who recognize that
their kind of real allies when it comes to social policy are Iran and
Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

And that would almost sound like a slander if it was just me saying it,
but, you know, in this book, you’ll see it’s often them saying it. And
so they realize that if you’re going to have a bloc at the United
Nations that’s going to fight improvements in the spread of reproductive
rights, if you’re going to fight, you know, any attempts to expand
women’s rights in international law, you’re going to need to form a bloc
to stand against the many countries that are seeking to expand women’s
rights at the global level.

So the natural allies – you know, you have, on the one hand, you have
France and Britain, Canada, all these – Japan, you know, are kind of
countries who should be our natural allies. But under Republican
leadership, you consistently saw the United States willing to put aside
all of its, you know – you know, it’s interesting.

The United States was refusing to talk to Iran about so many things, but
they were willing to talk to them and to cooperate with them when it
came to this, which in a way also shows what a serious threat they see
women’s rights and reproductive rights to be.

GROSS: For your book, you not only researched the shifting American
position on family planning, you also traveled to Africa, you traveled
to Latin American countries.

Now you say in Africa, there are countries in East Africa where botched
abortions are responsible for a third of maternal deaths. Give us just a
sense, just looking at this very big continent, how reproductive issues
affect larger health issues for women.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Well, it’s so profound, and I think I had read about some
of these numbers, but they don’t become real to you until you visit some
of these hospitals.

You know, I’ve been in hospitals in Ethiopia and in Nairobi in Kenya
where doctors who work in gynecological wards will tell you that that is
what they do all day. They clean up botched abortions all day long.

In the vast majority of sub-Saharan African countries, these laws
banning abortion are basically left over from colonial constitutions. So
the countries that gave them these laws, you know, England and France,
have long since left them behind, but they’ve remained in place in
almost all of Africa.

And I think, you know, we all know that maternal mortality in Africa is
a global scandal. One in every 26 women is going to die in childbirth in
Africa, and in some countries, it’s one in six women that’s going to die
in childbirth. And so you can’t solve maternal mortality by legalizing
abortion and providing safe abortions, but you also can’t cut maternal
mortality without doing that.

If you have, you know, unsafe abortion responsible for a third of

maternal deaths, it’s one of the easiest ways that you can start to
bring down some of these, you know, scandalously high numbers. And the
other piece of this, of course, is just the kind of shockingly
inadequate provision of contraception, right?

High abortion rates mean that there’s a really big failure of
contraception. And it’s interesting that in these countries where
abortion is illegal, abortion rates are shockingly high. They’re higher
than they are in the United States.

And so these laws are not, you know, protecting life, as abortion
opponents would have it. They are simply kind of driving women to these
kind of brutal and desperate measures to – and, you know, women know in
general when they can support a pregnancy and when they can’t, and it
takes a lot to get a woman to have a child when she doesn’t want to or
is not ready to.

GROSS: One of the places you went to for your research was Uganda and
where a domestic-reform bill had failed. What were the provisions of
this bill, of this failed bill?

Ms. GOLDBERG: You know, often when you get to some of these countries,
it’s kind of shocking how much we take for granted here in terms of
rights that are still completely out of reach for people, for women in
other countries.

And so this particular reform bill, it had a number of provisions, but
the one that proved the most contentious was the one that would have
banned spousal rape.

Men were outraged at the notion that they could be charged for raping
their wives. You actually had legislators arguing that the real violence
lay in women who refused to have sex with their husbands. And so, you
know, in a country where AIDS is a enormous problem, where marriage is a
primary risk factor, and where women have no ability, in many cases, to
you know, ask, much less force their husbands to use condoms - even what
seems to us like a relatively obvious reform had people marching in the
streets in kind of mocking opposition.

GROSS: Michelle Goldberg will be back in the second half of the show.
Her new book is called “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the
Future of the World.” I’m Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with journalist Michelle
Goldberg, author of the new book “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power
and The Future of the World”. It’s about how reproductive rights have
become the focal point of the global culture wars. Goldberg’s previous
book was about the rise of Christian nationalism in the U.S. She’s a
former senior writer for Salon.com and is now a senior correspondent for
the American Prospect. Your book opens with the story of a woman who
became the minister of health in Ghana. And it’s the story of how she
switched from being anti-abortion to pro-choice. Would you just tell us
a capsule version of her story?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Sure. Well she was the step daughter of an Anglican
minister. Had very conservative views, kind of the typical views of her
class, you know, a kind of upper middle class, educated woman living in
Ghana. And she told me about when she was in training, when she was a
resident, women who would come into the hospital with botched abortions
were put in something called the Chenard Ward, and they were essentially
kind of left on the floor until everyone else in the hospital had been
taken care of.

When everyone else in the hospital had been taken care of, they would be
kind of marched across the courtyard to have their evacuations done
without people really cleaning the operating rooms. I mean they were
just, you know, as she told me they treated them like the scum of this
earth. And what changed her mind was when a family that she was
treating, and she’d become very close to them, when their daughter who
she, you know, really loved came to her and asked her for something to
bring on a late period. This was a 14-year-old girl who didn’t really
understand what’s happening to her. And she sent her away angrily and
told her to send her mother. And then a few days…

GROSS: Because she opposed abortion at that point.

Ms. GOLDBERG: She opposed abortion and was kind of horrified that this
girl would even ask for something like that. So she sent her away and
then a few days later she heard noise. Well she’s heard some drumming
and heard noises while she was in her – while she was in her office and
a nurse told her that it was the funeral procession for this young girl,
Ameena, who - it turned to the older man who’d gotten her pregnant had -
after this doctor refused her - the older man had taken her to some kind
of traditional quack.

He had tried to do an abortion, it had killed her. And this doctor
described that to me as a kind of road to Damascus. She was really
devastated by that and had since become kind of one of the most – one of
the most important advocates for reproductive rights in all of Africa.

GROSS: What’s her name?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Her name is Dr. Eunice Brookman-Amissah.

GROSS: The people who got into positions of influence, internationally,
during the George W. Bush administration - and I’m referring here to
positions pertaining to, you know, birth control and abortion - what
happens now during the Obama administration? Do they - do new appointees
replace them?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Yes. The vast majority of those people who were appointees
who will now be replaced. I mean, you know, one really good example is
Mark Dybul who is the head of the president’s global AIDS program, which
is called PEPFAR. And Mark Dybul was not in many cases, you know, he
didn’t come from a conservative background but he proved very willing
to, kind of, hue to the conservative line since that was the way to get
Evangelicals invested into global AIDS programs, you know? So he was,
you know, would often side with him against contraception and against
various kind of woman’s reproductive health issues.

You know, one of the first things that happened when Hillary Clinton
became Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton is someone who has a long
history with the International Women’s Movement, who has been very
strong on these issues. And no sooner had she been appointed, or no
sooner had she – no sooner had she taken office then he was told, kind
of unceremoniously, to leave by the end of the day.

GROSS: So you think that will be happening with other people too?

Ms. GOLDBERG: Yeah absolutely. I think that, especially because so much
of – so many of the people who make important decisions in this area are
in the state department. The fact that there’s someone in the state
department who has made global women’s rights a priority, it just has a
kind of incalculable impact.

GROSS: Michelle Goldberg, thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. GOLDBERG: Oh thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Michelle Goldberg is the author of the new book, “The Means of
Reproduction: Sex, Power, And The Future of the World.”
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Remembering Gay Porn Icon Jack Wrangler

TERRY GROSS, host:

Coming up we’ll listen back to an interview with Jack Wrangler, a gay
porn star of the 70s who became a cabaret and theater producer. He died
last week at the age of 62. This is FRESH AIR.

We’re going to listen back to an interview with Jack Wrangler, who was a
gay porn icon in the 70s and early 80s. He died last week of emphysema
at the age of 62. Jack Stillman took the stage name Jack Wrangler when
he started stripping in a show in L.A. With the name Wrangler he helped
bring the macho gay image to pop culture. When clothed, his trade mark
was tight fitting jeans and a flannel shirt unbuttoned to reveal his
muscular physique.

In the late 70s he met the famous singer Margaret Whiting who was over
20 years older than him. They became close companions and in 1994 became
husband and wife. Whiting is the daughter of the songwriter Richard
Whiting, and Johnny Mercer was like an uncle to her. Jack Wrangler
produced a couple of Mercer tribute shows that she starred in. When I
spoke with Jack Wrangler in 1985, we’d an adult conversation about adult
films, a conversation that may not be appropriate for young children. I
asked him first about how he developed his stripping routine.

Mr. JACK WRANGLER (Gay Adult Film Star): I always figured that men
should really strip differently than women. Women are always the tease
thing and little off the shoulder stuff. And I never really thought of a
man doing it that way. I always thought them as more rugged and if it -
rip it off, or get up… So I walked on stage, first time, they’d had all
these little dancers on it - which I don’t knock - I can’t do it. But I
just walked on stage and smoked a cigarette and people thought that was
fascinating. I stood there and did that whole macho thing, you put it
between the thumb and the forefingers, right, and you squint. And I have
a sort of Scotch voice anyway, that I didn’t have to invent. I think it
seems to get lower every year. As you were saying, I live with Margaret
Whiting, her voice is as low as mine in the mornings – we sound exactly
alike. But – so I had that voice and so I started using that on stage
along with the cigarette, because I figured I couldn’t just stand and
smoke forever. And I started talking about how I got off on being
outdoors and that the ruggedness of the sun and the rocks and the trees,
and she’s getting hysterical during it. And – and as I was saying that,
it would get hot, and so of course the shirt would come off.

And it was all that kind of thing, but it was all – and they would play
this very kind of romantic music behind me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WRANGLER: I’m so glad you weren’t there, because you would have
started to laugh, and I would have started to laugh, and the whole thing
would have been over.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WRANGLER: I would have never had this wonderful career.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did you enjoy it, was it fun?

Mr. WRANGLER: No. I was scared to death. I didn’t enjoy it at all. I – I
thought what if I’ve gotten myself into. And I also thought, and my
parents had told me that I closed a lot of doors, you know, and that I

was not going exactly run back out and get into a soap. But remember one
hadn’t been offered to me either. I always make the joke about that I
was not offered the Brady Bunch and so I ended up doing this. But it is
true that I wasn’t going to wait around for somebody to make me a
personality, I wanted it then. And at that time the x-rated film
industry was coming into its own. That was new too. I seemed to have
carved a lot of new industries.

GROSS: What year are we talking about.

Mr. WRANGLER: That - it’s not so long ago. It was about 10 years ago,
about 1973, 74 - 74 I guess. We really didn’t have that. Pornography was
just started to be a big American thing. It did an European import for
all those years. And I remember that before we got so excited when we
saw those magazines with the girls playing volleyball, you know. That
was first stuff that came out that was considered x-rated and then we
got real sophisticated fast.

But I remember when I did it, it’s a very strange law. You weren’t – you
were allowed to make the films and I think you were allowed to own the
films, but you weren’t allowed to sell the films or distribute the films
or something like that. It was a postal law more than anything else. And
so when – when I did my first film, it was done as a male order loop. It
was a thing of me alone and it was a short thing that was on eight
millimeter film. And remember those days, and then everybody would put
those in their projectors and they’d go rattling off on the floor and
you’d be chasing around, hundreds of yards of film. I did one of those
and I was alone on a ranch, sitting on a fence.

GROSS: When you started stripping, were you already out? Were you
already officially gay?

Mr. WRANGLER: What is officially gay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I mean, had you decided for certain that – that at least for
then, you were gay?

Mr. WRANGLER: Oh, that I was attracted to guy?

GROSS: And did other people know that, you know…

Mr. WRANGLER: Well, I was fooling around, I remember. I really wasn’t
doing that much of anything at that time. I didn’t think that highly of
myself, physically. And I was more concerned in creating an image than

ah, living a lifestyle sexually, one way or another at that time. I was
getting close to being almost asexual, I think. I’d had a couple of
crumbing relationships and some very nice ones, I guess, with people. It
was more like, with me, it was more like the guys at summer camp or
going off on a fraternity binge or something. So I guess I didn’t
really, I thought if you’re a gay, you too had to be doing all kinds of
things that I didn’t even know about until I had to do them in a film.

GROSS: How did you develop your persona after that strip act, which you
had described? How did you go on to develop the persona that you would
have in subsequent movies and stage performances?

Mr. WRANGLER: Well part of it had to do with the manager that worked
with me at that time, named Bob Myer. And he helped package this whole
persona of Jack Wrangler, and I guess the – the, I don’t know where the
flannel shirt thing came in, but once it geared, I guess I did a couple
of photo essays and stuff with the flannel shirt and people, I – I got a
good response from it so I kept doing it. I remember that, Bob then
would push all these things down everybody’s throat. I mean you couldn’t
open a magazine without me advertising or endorsing something. I
endorsed insurance companies, I endorsed where they had me all tied up
in conduits, and saying something about don’t get all tied up for Jack
Wrangler – it was always Jack Wrangler says, so that they keep the name
in the face. There’s a Jack Wrangler bathing suit that Ah-Men(ph) put
out. We had a thing called Intermountain Logging Company that was Levis
and flannel shirts, that’s all they sold - and belt buckles, I think.
And all to keep this really not western image, as much as highly almost
– almost caricature of masculinity, which is very true.

And then in – in the gay x-rated films, its much more stereo type than
in the straight x-rated films. You have your construction worker and you
have your outdoorsman and you have the – the lineman, a telephone
lineman is big. I did a window washer once where they suspended me 17
stories over the Ansonia Hotel with a strange squeegee…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WRANGLER: …and I did, I’ve played cops, I’ve played wardens, I’ve
played, you know, all those very rough and tumble kind of characters
that have never seen in bed before in their lives.

GROSS: Someone once said that we fall in love with people who we want to
become ourselves but we’re incapable of becoming.

Mr. WRANGLER: Yeah.

GROSS: Did you feel like you kind of created a persona of yourself…

Mr. WRANGLER: Oh sure.

GROSS: that wasn’t like you at all, that…

Mr. WRANGLER: It was a Walter Mitty dream, it wasn’t anything like me
and I want that’s – that was exactly the guy I always wanted to be, you
know, some lumberjack kind of type. I’d always wanted to be like that.
And I felt, because of my upbringing and having an upbringing with
governesses and all that stuff, boy it really makes me feel emasculated.
I even had to hold my napkin a certain way and dab my mouth. I mean
we’re taught all that.

I was a highly mannered child, dressed for dinner and all that kind of
thing. And so, of course what I wanted to be was a rancher, that would
be the obvious thing. I want to get out of those little short pants and
Lord Fauntleroy outfits and get into some rugged stuff and be a real
man. And so that is - a lot of those over exaggerating characteristics
began to mellow after a few years. I think I got bored with them or I
started feeling more self confident. Which I did, I did gain a lot of
self confidence doing all of this. I was painfully shy before.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. WRANGLER: Yeah. I’m not anymore.

GROSS: And self conscious too.

Mr. WRANGLER: I’m very much so. I’m still self conscious but I’m not
painfully shy anymore.

GROSS: What would it be like, like if you met somebody who you were
going to have an affair with or something.

Mr. WRANGLER: It happens.

GROSS: And they expected you to be Jack Wrangler, I mean, who you are -
but, what I mean is I expected you to have that kind of outdoorsy
background…

Mr. WRANGLER: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: …sort of being brought up (unintelligible)…

Mr. WRANGLER: And to behave that way at home, you know? That happens a
lot. Somebody goes home with me and they know of me as Jack Wrangler,
then they’re going to expect to a certain - imagine certain things. I
can’t blame that on them. I blame it on me for creating something that’s
such an outrageous courage to begin with, that the worst thing is that
they expect other people to live up to that character.

And that’s - I feel awful when people say I broke up with my lover
because he didn’t think that I was as masculine as Jack Wrangler. And I
said, well, either am I.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WRANGLER: Who is?

GROSS: Well, you had said that you had fantasized about a character like
that when you were younger. You kind of became that character but
maintained some ironic distance from that character as well. Do you
still harbor any romantic fantasies about that kind of really macho,
outdoorsy guy, or has all of that been kind of erased in the knowledge
that you now have about…

Mr. WRANGLER: Well, I do get it, yeah.

GROSS: …that image that you created?

Mr. WRANGLER: Well, I got a lot of that out my system by doing it and
playing it on the screen. That was a nice release. But I think that I –
still am very attracted to the outdoors, and would love to have a Jeep
and a big dog and a ranch somewhere - that I would enjoy. But as long as
it was only 45 minutes from Saks, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

But sure, I still harbor that. And anytime I hear about somebody just
went off to become a forest ranger or a fireman or something - I think,
oh, they did the right thing. You know, they’re going to have a
wonderful life.

GROSS: How did you make the transition and why did you make the
transition from gay X-rated to straight X-rated movies?

Mr. WRANGLER: Well, for one thing, I figured if you’re going to be the
top of the X-rated industry, you better not limit yourself to just one
small part. I mean, why be a nurse when you can be a doctor?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WRANGLER: That would sort of apply here. It had always been my plan
to be both the top of the gay and the straight X-rated industry, and I
wanted to have that simultaneously, because - I don’t know. And also, I
want to be continuing as a legit director and writer as well, because I
want to prove only in America – Horatio Alger, right? - that could one
do all of that and be a wonderful guide for children everywhere. You too
could do this.

But it was really kind of the plan, where you’re going to become the top
- the gay first, because in the straight films at that time, you
couldn’t get your name over the title if you were a guy. Only the girls
got them over the title. That changed when I went into the straight
films.

My first one, I was over the title because I had been a name in the gay
thing, and they thought they might get a lot of those people to go over
and see the straight films, so they did it as a merchandizing gimmick.

And so it made sense for me to do, first the gay and then go into the
straight. But the first straight film I did was a thing called “Two
China Sisters,” and that was about two, believe it or not, China sisters
who were really not from China. One was from Santa Barbara, I think, and
one was from Sherman Oaks or something, with a lot of makeup.

Two girls that decided to take this gay boy and make him straight, which
they do by the end of the reel. And that was it.

GROSS: That was your initiation into…

Mr. WRANGLER: Yeah.

GROSS: …heterosexuality, wasn’t it?

Mr. WRANGLER: It was, as well. It’s a big red-letter day. I felt like
I’d been bar mitzvahed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It must have been very weird to have your first heterosexual
encounter in front of cameras…

Mr. WRANGLER: Yeah.

GROSS: …and crew.

Mr. WRANGLER: Yeah. It was - most of it was funny, because they were
really cheering me on, you know? This was really like, boy, the kid’s
really coming into his own today. My son, you are a man. And all these
people would - the crews always standing out the set with bagels and
things. You know, they’re always eating, those people. And standing
there with their bagels, they say, yay, Jack…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WRANGLER: …go to it.

GROSS: What’s the lifespan of - the working lifespan of someone in
pornography? Do you reach a certain age where people don’t want to see
you naked anymore because…

Mr. WRANGLER: Oh, I’m sure.

GROSS: …as far as they’re concerned you’re just too old.

Mr. WRANGLER: I don’t know whether it’s a numbers thing as much as it is
whether somebody starts to fall apart.

GROSS: But is this something that you worry about, you know, like
athletes when they start (unintelligible)…

Mr. WRANGLER: Every breathing moment of my life.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. WRANGLER: But I would worry about it anyway. I worry about it in my
personal life, too. If I don’t get to like I feel - this last three
weeks, I’ve been working on a project and haven’t been able to go to the
gym, and I’ve been traveling a lot. And I feel awful, ugly, terrible,
unwanted, unclean. I feel because I haven’t been pumping up and getting
everything exactly where it’s supposed to be - oh, yeah, I’m terrible
about all of that stuff.

Really, it’s become a phobia. Isn’t that a damn shame? Christopher
Reeves once said that he thought it was so stupid that people went to
gyms. And so he said, he only did it for “Superman.” And when he doesn’t
have to do that role, he cared less about going through all that
routine.

It is kind of dumb because you go to this gym and pump up these muscles
and they just go right back down again. I mean, they don’t stay there or
anything. So your whole life is spent locked in a gym. I think that
we’re much too overly concerned with - wasn’t it great in the old days
when not just anybody worked out? I thought that was terrific.

It’s like when not just anybody flew, you know, and stuff. Now everybody
goes to a gym. Everybody looks great. And it’s no big deal anymore.

GROSS: But as you get older, do you ever feel like you’re really, like,
too obsessed with youth and with…

Mr. WRANGLER: Oh, of course we are.

GROSS: …good looks and all that?

Mr. WRANGLER: Oh, we certainly are. Every year, I say that even with
stronger voice, that we’re much too obsessed with youth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WRANGLER: I think we should become obsessed with middle age.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. WRANGLER: Thank you, Terry. I had a wonderful time.

GROSS: Jack Wrangler, recorded in 1985. He died of emphysema last week
at the age of 62. After his gay porn career, he went on to produce
theater and cabaret, including music reviews starring Margaret Whiting,
who became his wife in 1994. We’ll hear her tell the story of how they
met after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.
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Margaret Whiting On Jazz — And Jack Wrangler

TERRY GROSS, host:

We’re remembering Jack Wrangler, who died last week at the age of 62.

People who didn’t know Jack Wrangler and Margaret Whiting were mystified
by their relationship - a former gay film icon married to a famous
singer more than 20 years older than him. But they were together for
decades, although they didn’t marry until 1994.

Margaret Whiting is the daughter of songwriter Richard Whiting. Johnny
Mercer was like an uncle to her. Jack Wrangler produced a couple of
Johnny Mercer tribute shows Margaret Whiting starred in.

In 1988, she told me how she met Wrangler back in 1976.

Ms. MARGARET WHITING (Singer): There’s a wonderful place in New York
where everybody would go in show business and everybody else called
Backstage. And there was a piano player there, and we would be
introduced by the owner, Ted Hook. And he had introduced this charming
gentleman that I was looking at across a table. But I thought I knew
him. And they said, his name was Jack Wrangler, and he was doing such
and such a picture - I wasn’t paying much attention.

Then, they introduced me, and I got up and took a bow, and then Jack
came over to the table. He said, I’ve loved your singing and I’m an
admirer, and I think you’re terrific.

I knew I knew him. Now, I had met him as Jack Stillman who was a
director in Chicago and doing all the top shows there. But he had gone
to a gym, and his body had changed and he’s changed his hairstyle. So, I
said I didn’t recognize him. I said, what are you doing here? And he
said, well, I’m doing my act.

So, I said, good, I love to see it. He said, well, you can come next
Wednesday night, I’ll have stage manager leave tickets. So, that was
that, and he left. And Ted Hook came over to me and said, you said you
were going to see his act, I suggest, he said, you know what he does.

I said, no. He said, well, he makes porn pictures. I said, you’re
kidding. He’s so charming. He says, he is charming. I said, Ted, I don’t
understand. A week ago, you introduced me to Jaime Gillis, who was going
with a gal that’s a wonderful food critic, and he’s in porn pictures.

I said, two weeks before, you introduced me to Harry Reems. What is
this? He said, well, they’re all great guys and they all come to the
restaurant. So, anyway, it was too late. I thought about it, and so a
girlfriend of mine and Ted Hook and somebody else went with me. We went
to the theater. Jack couldn’t have been nicer. He was very charming.

He got up. He talked about how he got into porn pictures, and some of
the funny things that had happened. And he introduced me. And I got up
and took a bow. And then he came to - out front and said, I’d love to
see you again. So we made a date for brunch and we sat at my house for
awhile and went downstairs to brunch, and I found out that he had the
same kind of background I did.

He came from Beverly Hills. He had been a kid star. He’d won an Emmy for
“Faith of Our Children.” And he’d been directing, and then suddenly I
don’t know he wanted to get out of that. He wanted to go back to
Hollywood and act and he couldn’t get a job - he tried. So he got a job
in a play and I guess, he took his shirt off and then he took his pants
off. He wasn’t nude, but somebody came to him and said, do you want to
do another play?

And some film man saw him and said, would you do this part of this
picture. And that’s how he got into it.

GROSS: He made his reputation in gay porn films…

Ms. WHITMAN: First, and then he went into heterosexual films.

GROSS: It must have been - it must’ve seen a potentially very
treacherous kind of relationship that you’re involved in.

Ms. WHITING: Yes. Yes. And I had no intention of getting involved. But
we had the same kind of background, we went to the same schools, years
apart, went to the same dancing school. And then - you’ve met Jack, and
you know the kind of person he is. He’s a very fine person. And I
realized that he’d gotten into this somehow and he didn’t know how to
get out.

But then, I talked to Jack and I said, look, you’re a very fine director
and you’re a good actor, you should come to New York where they’re far
more forgiving and understanding. And he realized that there was no
future in it, but he was stuck in it in a while. There was nothing else
he could do.

GROSS: There’s a 20-year age gap…

Ms. WHITING: Yes.

GROSS: …between you - 20 years older than he is. Now, what has, being in
a relationship like that, has made feel you older or younger?

Ms. WHITING: It’s made me feel just as I always feel. Age never meant an
important thing to me. And Jack and I have a terrific time. We’ve worked
together - he’ll do my act, he’ll direct my act, he’ll find me material.
I help him with what he’s doing. I listen to every scene that he writes.
I helped him with his book.

I mean, I read every chapter and made suggestions. And we’re very
helpful to each other, and as people we find there’s a need for each
other. And we never even worried about the age.

GROSS: Margaret Whiting, recorded in 1988. Jack Wrangler died last week.
We’ll close with Whiting singing the song with music by her father
Richard Whiting and lyrics by her mentor Johnny Mercer.

I’m Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of song, “Too Marvelous for Words”)

Ms. WHITING: (Singing) You're just too marvelous, too marvelous for
words.

Like glorious, glamorous and that old standby amorous.

It's all too wonderful, I'll never find the words.

That say enough, tell enough, I mean they just aren't swell enough.

You're much too much, and just too "very, very"

To ever be in Webster's Dictionary.

And so I'm borrowing a love song from the birds

To tell you that you're marvelous - too marvelous for words.
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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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