tv Biography Media Political History CSPAN August 22, 2019 6:02pm-7:37pm EDT
, bringing you unfiltered content from congress and beyond. and today the big idea is more relevant than ever on television and online c-span is you unfiltered view of government so you can make up your own mind. but you by your cable or satellite provider . >> this conference continues now with biographers looking at political history. this talk was part of a two-day conference called remaking american political history. this is an hour and a half. >> welcome, thank you for attending our session on this beautiful friday afternoon i will have to compete with the outdoors and hopefully we can convince you that you made the right choice hanging out with us to talk about media and biography in political history. between the four of us we've written at least 17 biographies , it might be more than that guy was losing count because
randy roberts has written so many, he's written more than half of our total number, i think. so, we have a lot of experience in the genre and we've been drawn to it and we have an affinity for it in some way or another. let me introduce the panelists, i will introduce each of you, if you could spend a minute or two telling the audience what was it that drew you to biography and what is it you love about this genre . >> we have larry who is a professor of the graduate acting program at school of the arts in new york in the musical writing program. he's particularly interested in the music of broadway and has written biographies of richard rogers and playwrights and in addition to several other books. his most recent biographical
work is the documentary film, sammy davis junior, i gotta be me. so, larry, tell us what drew you to this . >> hi. i may be a little different from the rest of the panel. my venue is really entertainment. so, obviously, in entertainment you are dealing with a public persona of performers, but they sang, danced and acted and then of course what happens offstage or behind the curtain is equally fascinating as you try to make sense out of what a performer did publicly with what were his or her motivations in the context of the time, what changed in american entertainment to make them in favor or out-of-favor, so i guess i've always been interested in that dialectic between on stage and off stage and we talk more about sammy davis junior that's particularly persuasive . >> john reger is a professor of the history department at the university of missouri,
columbia. he's interested in religious history, particularly methodism and he was also on my committee when i took my dissertation. i am asking you the questions this time. he's written biographies on francis asbury and ptl, the rise and fall of jim and tammy bakker's evangelical empire. so john, could you tell us a little about your -- >> thank you emily and take you for organizing this and putting it all together. thank you, i don't really think of myself as a biographer, i've never really thought of it that way. in my mind they don't research or write differently than when i'm doing biographies versus anything else in historical nonfiction.
i think the advantage that biography has is it lends itself to a good story well told. you can reach a broad audience with an engaging story that has a lot of human drama and it and that is not a bad thing. that is sort of what drew me to writing what turns out to be biographies. emily said i wrote a book a few years ago and i found what i think is endlessly fascinating, it was a big, dense book and nobody read it. and, i sat back after doing that and i thought, this is a lot of work. if i'm going to do this i'm gonna write about topics that i care about that i think are important and that will draw in an audience enough is when i did the jim and tammy buck doubleãbook .
>> do i need to start over and do this all over again [ laughter ] >> thank you. >> thank you. randy roberts is a professor in the history department at purdue university and is particularly interested in african-american in sports history. randy has written biographies of mike tyson, john wayne, charles lindbergh, joe lewis, jack dempsey, jack johnson, and a teen biography of the pittsburgh steelers. his most recent biographical works are blood brothers, the fatal friendship of malcolm x and mahomet ali and, season in the sun, the rise of mickey mantle. so, randy could you tell us a little about your interest in this? >> yes.
this fits perfectly for me, the political history and biography , popular culture, i've always seen myself as working at the intersection between political history and political culture and popular culture. so, i write about performers, like you, actors athletes, but writing about an athlete who is just an actor. and they have to engage in a wider political culture, they clearly became iconic and you can tell a person's politics if i talk to someone about john wayne and they will usually tell me a great deal about the politics or their attitudes to do the same thing. i brought a quote in here, how
can i tie these things together? how can i type politics, political conference, with popular culture so i did find a boxing quote that i wanted to read to you. it was 210 tony, the sage of new jersey. i don't know if anyone has heard of galindo who was a roly- poly boxer who fought joe lewis and before that he thought a guy named abe feldman on george washington's birthday. so, he's trying to build up the fight a little bit and he also wants to say something about american history, say something about american politics, engage the crucial questions of the day. so supposedly this quote is true , but it came from a journalist, so we will see. is trying to say something about george washington and
build up the fight at the same time and he said, it's high time that the south came to know and love washington as we know and love him north of the equator. why can't we forget the civil war in its petty grudges. washington may have freed the slaves but he also invented the lightning rod. let the north and south class the hand of friendship to try to get there early. so, anyone who can complete george washington, abraham lincoln, andrew jackson and benjamin franklin, is truly the sage of orange new jersey. i have more on biography but maybe we could get to it as we go along . >> i am emily raymond and i'm a professor at virginia commonwealth university, my area of focus up until now is shifting a little bit but it's been hollywood in politics i've written biographies on charleston heston and most
recently, a group biography about black celebrities in the civil rights movement called stars for freedom. and i didn't really think of myself as going into that biography genre either, i really wanted to write about charleston heston because this is my dissertation topic and its when he was the president of the national rifle association that i also knew that he had been involved in democratic administrations and in a civil rights movement before he came to a gun cause to support republican candidates. i was really fascinated his evolution and what that said about american political culture. so, i started with that and then my next book i had no intention of being a biographies it was going to just it very generally be about celebrities in the civil rights movement. but, the more that i looked at it the more it became clear
that there were about six who were really leading figures and they deserve to be recognized. the earliest, most consistent and most effective celebrity supporter. so, then i decided to turn it into a group biography and now, my next book will be a dual biography. i've come to really use this is genre because it such a great way to look at these fascinating people in american political culture and the dynamic they bring to making change in particular. so, that's sort of my spiel on biography, i suppose but one thing to point out is that biography has a lot more variety than most people think, a lot of people think biography is a book about one person.
then this biography about jim and tammy faye, it doesn't just have to be about one person and what i wanted to ask you all is what other way can there be more variety than what my first meet the eye? >> two quick things, muscle a documentarian, so half of my work is been nonfiction and half of my work is been film. and you have a whole different canvas to work on that you can use performances in juxtaposition to other
performances as a way of creating some sort of tension, and the other thing is i worked on a companion book to a six- hour documentary series i did for pbs called made them laugh, the funny business of america, and essentially it was american comedy from chaplin to sarah silverman the most recent person we use. and, the director and i realize that if you were gonna do a film, a companion book and documentary episodes, but if you were going to go okay here's american comedy, let's start in 1906, that, the first hour would be entirely silent in black and white and people would stop watching, so that really forced us to rethink about how we wanted to know what kind of taxonomy we wanted to create in terms of gaining biographical figures together. so, we went to it and we realize that in america there
were six great comedic archetypes, situation comedies, geeks and nerds, wiseguys, political satire, physical comedians, and each generation seemed to turn out their own version of that in a way that reflected the demographics of america, the changing demographics of america. but the wiseguys episode is groucho but not the marx brothers but then, red fox who took on the tradition eddie murphy and freddy prince and so on and so forth, so there was a way of rethinking certain categories in group biography that would give it more spark and, rather than simply doing things chronologically, but within a different rubric and that was really exciting to work on for us . >> it's a really interesting way to bring variety to the genre
expect any other thoughts? >> what was the question? >> there is more variety to biography than first meets the eye, people tend to think of it is one person and they chronologically go through their life and that's it. that is the formula that, what other formulas have you tried that have worked in that you like? >> i think a dual biography is an interesting approach and certainly the one i use with mohammed ali and malcolm maddox in the book i wrote with johnny smith on blood brothers. the number of the books i've done have not been a full biography but looking at a person at a particular time, a crucial time in their life. i know i have done the full biography and if you do like john wayne, a person's life is
not interesting all the time, it's just fact and it's not crucial at one time. so, to take one segment of and what you feel may be a way to dig deeper and tell the story of the full beginning to end biography . >> mickey mantle is in that variety >> yes, the rise of mickey mantle. >> it ends in 56 . >> he lives many more years . >> mickey mantle before 1956, he was kind of a failure to if he could've been a failure of failure in terms of expectations, he came up to the yankees in spring training, he was hitting the ball over the moon when they were playing during the daytime but casey
coach will be the next dimaggio. he's gonna be the next babe ruth and is going to be the next to lou gehrig so everyone expected him to perform immediately like they did five, mickey would show signs of brilliance and greatness, but then he would get injured, he wouldn't hit in the clutch and by 55 they were booing him and he tended to be sultry, he got mad and wouldn't talk and was uncommunicative and then and 56 he has an enormous breakout season worry when the triple crown and then he becomes the mickey mantle of legends . >> that's where you and the book . >> so to the extent, i think what i've done as biographies, i think of them as group
biographies. and, the reason to do biography in that sense is to pull the interesting people out when they are interesting. there are certain times when jim and tammy are the most interesting people in the room so to speak. but, there are times when they are not so other people come to the fore in the story and i think the one advantage of biography is, it allows you to weave a narrative that's coherent, that people can follow and that is interesting but it's not just to tell the story of someone's life, it's to make larger points to draw out a story that transcends them even if they are at the center of it for large part of the time. >> one of the most common critiques i've heard about biography, it's just one guy are just one person, so, from that standpoint, people feel
that perhaps it doesn't have the same intellectual have to is perhaps the study of voting patterns from a certain time period so how would you respond to the critique that it's just one person? >> it's tough to make that generic statement because people become interesting in time at different times and we look back on people, certainly in the theater when we did the broadway documentary, there were people who are fascinating in their time and he lost to history, ethel waters is a great african-american performer, a highly paid performer in new york city or mae west he was arrested and sent to rikers for violating decency acts. they faded away and then all of a sudden the world changes in the stories become interesting again because they have, a
little bit of what you're saying, i think it has what i call velcro, that you can kind of move forward and it will pick up a person's life in a way. when we worked on the sammy davis junior documentary, it was shocking to me as someone who knew me my hope whole life, he was then diagram and a man who knew on one level, ethel waters and michael jackson, john f. kennedy, martin luther king, archie bunker and eddie cantor, just his intersection of lives was tremendous. so his life was revelatory of the times in which he lived and i think that's what you look for . >> and yes, sammy davis junior was one of the most challenging subjects i've ever come across because he was contradictory and he was just someone i had to wrestle with to try to
figure out how to characterize him. the way that you do it in the song is by giving him different categories, activists, i forget what the other is . >> activists, singer, impressionist, hipster, we did try to categorize the chronology of his life in the guys that he took on our felt that he had to take on or society thrust upon him in his life. again, entertainment is a little like sports but if you're an entertainer you are choosing what songs you are singing or what plays you are going to act and with tremendous external circumstances, rather hit the ball at the ballpark or you don't, you are again looking at those things going off simultaneously. in terms of a performer, you are always looking at the choices that they make, what are they choosing to portray? what are they choosing to be
about because it's such a vacuum of the times in which they live and looking back on it, we have footage and i hope you come see the screening of the footage of sammy davis when he was five days old and we have footage of him three months before he died tap dancing. within that bracket you can accomplish a whole lot if you, but i you put this together. >> then john, the jim and tammy faye baker book is not just about jim and tammy faye, right cracks >> know it's about the whole entire organization and event. to the weightiness of biography, if your sources are good i don't see where it suffers in comparison to any other kind of nonfiction writing. >> you can tell a good history if your sources are good .
>> biographies history is individual not aggregate, but there is an excitement to biography, there is a joy, if i could tell one story of biographer a guy by the name of richard holmes, has anyone ever heard of richard holmes in here click richard holmes is in english biographer of the romantic period, a big thick book, a two-volume biography but, in 1964 when he was about 19 years old, he read a book, travel with the donkey by robert louis stevenson. this is robert louis stevenson before he became famous with kidnapped, dr. jekyll and all those books. so, he read the book and took
this trip through france, and appellation region, he was intrigued by the book and the biography of robert louis stevenson and he was moving towards his mid-to-late 20s, he hadn't written anything great, he had scottish got really strict calvinist parents, like when you gonna get a job and maybe richard holmes felt the same way and what is he gonna do, is there a life in poetry. and and they have a relationship problem but he decided to reproduce this trip, no donkey but a wide rim, very stylish hat, floppy chat so, he
starts off any sleeping under the stars and what have you and he crosses over bridge into a place named langone, a small little village. and it's around dusk, shops or closing up he can smell crushed fruit, children are coming out and playing and people are taking walks, and he has this overwhelming urge to premonition he will meet robert louis stevenson. he's looking in the saloons and hotels, looking for them in the
river by the bridge and then he looks down stream he sees another bridge, it's a bridge that is crumbled, iv colors, it doesn't span the river anymore, it's washed out and he realizes that the bridge that robert louis stevenson came into langone you through it acts as a metaphor for what we do is a biographer. were going to reach the subjects and talk with the subjects, it becomes a non- consuming conversation with people, something has happened,
there is some document that shows up and they seem to stumble across something and it seems like it shouldn't happen but it does happen so i'm convinced there may be a two- way conversation . >> well, yes, so, one of the things about sammy davis junior, in particular, when talking about sources, when he died in 1989, he left -- he owed more money to the irs than any individual up to that point, meaning that all his stuff was locked up and so finally his adoptive son said he had to storage units in
berkeley will be there in six hours, don't go anywhere sandy who was a packrat, no pun intended, he kept everything, you had all this stuff that was like el dorado and, we were doing all of that in the next day we were flying to las vegas to interview jerry lewis. i'm sure you all know this but if you're going through any kind of scrapbook it leaves the detritus on the ground. after two days in the storage lockers with fluorescent lighting and drinking endless cups of coffee it was time to backup. there was so much of this detritus on the floor, then all of the sudden i was picking stuff up and there was a card and it said cros on it, a big nightclub where sammy made his big breakthrough with jerry
lewis in the audience. it was the kind of thing you find on a table, these were jerry lewis notes, the night he saw sammy davis junior saying, you talk and a fake dish accent, does it make any sense, you treat your father and your uncle like they are props and they aren't and this is the way you should address the audience in the next day we took it and we were able to say to jerry lewis, you should see this, and that allowed him to talk about this, i remember it like it was yesterday. then we found a film and he said jerry came to see me and gave me advice and it changed my life. so the golden ticket was largely just lying there on the floor showing us the way to go forward . >> maybe sammy make it happen with the two-way conversation . >> another thing that we wanted to talk about is the use of
media material and does evidence. but the kind of media you consulted and what insights they gave you. >> sure, one of the fun things about doing the project is i got to talk to living people will i've never done that before in my career. sometimes you find out that the living are less cooperative than the dead in what they will and will not tell you. but, the other fun thing was the range of sources, news resources, trial transcripts, i learned that a good trial transcript, a good prosecutor does have your work for you, more than half because they can compel people to say under oath things they do not want to say.
trial transcripts and video, in this case jim and tammy live their life on the screen and, similar to your story, very early in this project, over 20,000 hours of the television show was in the hands of a private collector i started trying to find this and at one point, the guy called me up and offered to sell me 20,000 hours of videotape he had in like four tractor-trailers and he ended up coming to the assemblies of god archive in springfield and i got to use it there which is a better home for it but, i'm not quite sure how this addresses the question but the range of sources and a lot of them were media. again, it was one of the great things about working on this, you work with people who live their life in the public eye, they leave a big footprint and a lot of sources to work with .
>> did you watch out 20,000 hours? >> i couldn't, it's probably a good thing and it several years but most of it was from the 70s and 80s and some of it from the 60s on a variety of different film mediums including 2 inch quadro plex tape. it had to be digitized to be useful and, in fact a lot of machines to digitize that kind of stuff are 40 years old themselves. so, the archive could only afford to digitize a few hundred hours at a time. so, i think i only ended up with three or 400 hours in the end. they let me select what to digitize out of the collection, as far as we could tell by, the vast majority of his slowly decomposing, one of your blood brothers book, talk about how
mohammed ali and malcolm x had strong relationships and it was underappreciated. >> it was or it wasn't in the public eye, here we have mohammed ali, before he was mohammed ali he was cassius clay, his goal was to become heavyweight champion of the world and, he meets malcolm x. and is influenced by malcolm x. and is already starting to embrace the nation of islam but, yet, if the word gets out that he's a black muslim and a member of the nation of islam, he's probably never gonna get a chance to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, he will be toxic at that time. boxing is going through a period with all sorts of problems,
they don't need a champion that is identified in the early 1960s with the movement that's considered a hate movement. it wasn't but it was for american theater at the time. so we were able to find an incredible amount of material on malcolm giving speeches and giving talks and one of the things they would do is watch and malcolm say something that he would give a speech and use a metaphor and then shortly afterwards you would see mohammed ali use the same story in the same metaphor in the same example in the great thing about mohammed ali that he was a wonderful person, if you told him something, if you told him a story, the next day he would tell the story and tell it again and pretty soon you would think he was the origin of the
story and he would tell it better than everybody else, he was great at telling the story, so using that media was good and john wayne interviews with 200 films roughly that he made and you could see him progress, his art progress, his character progress to that individual, the iconic individual, how it evolved over time . >> i have one more story, it's an interview story on a john wayne book and in one of these serendipitous moments. i tried to get an interview with the woman by the name of mary st. john who was john wayne's personal secretary his entire career and she'd never been interviewed by anybody. i called her while she was living in kansas city right outside of kansas city and she
said oh i don't know, i don't know anything more than anybody else knows, okay, can we come out and talk to you. okay come. show up at 9 am in the morning, early and i started asking questions and she said, no, i don't want to answer questions, let me just talk let me just tell you this. okay. so, tell us a story. but it was like there be. she just started, clearly she was in love with john wayne. not romantic, she just admired the guy, nothing salacious. she was on every set with him, she was a personal secretary and she went on every set. basically every person on the set, you have actors performing in the movies and then you have people behind the set, hairdressers and makeup people who have nothing to do all day long except gossip. so all the gossip, who was
sleeping with who and what was going on, it was incredible. so we went to lunch and kept talking and literally the first interview lasted close to 17 hours and it was all material and allowed me to see john wayne in a different way, i'm rambling, i'm sorry . >> i want to post this to the rest of the panelists. i've interviewed people who work with people we've interviewed jerry lewis, billy crystal, they open for him for many years so they had backstage knowledge but i also find that the people that you interview, it's important to go in there knowing that you may know more about them than they do and not necessarily just to
say this is real, this is the horses mouth as it were so i will hear everything unfiltered or undistinguished. you actually get more interesting stuff out of them . >> you find that sometimes the best people are people not used to being interviewed. you ask a question and i asked a question of jack dempsey it would remind him of another question and it would give me a stock answer and they are used to protecting their persona. whereas if you're interviewing a makeup artist, they're not used to being interviewed so sometimes you get better stories, did you find that? >> i think it's great, sometimes but i also find it's true as far as documentation i did american masters on richard rogers who had two daughters
who were very successful in his own right and he had written some in his autobiography that said, if i keep working with larry hard into the 40s i would wind up going crazy for being an alcoholic or both. in fact we know he was both. i read the quote to his daughter and said what you make of him writing that and of course he did become bold and was able to compartmentalize it. the fact that he could write that he wasn't when he was and had to put him into word drink tank and when he was about to open a big show but i think sometimes if you have stuff, something they said earlier i wrote earlier and it could pose this junction and she wants to create some sort of improvisation because that's when the best stuff comes out. but the key is is when you interview someone do your homework and know what you're looking for . >> but just seeing what they
think about it and what they remember and i find it's been useful and not arguing with you, -- >> but also peoples whose perceptions have changed and his experiences would be perceived differently now, they will tell a different story than what they told previously, what i had in mind, one of the best i had with jessica hahn, jessica told her story in the late 80s and early 90s, this was a way different time in away her experience would get look that post me too movement. then, talking to her more recently, i offered an entirely
different take from all the evidence and the video of her and interviews that i had for 30 years, it was wonderful to dive back into the story 30 years later. someone who had lived thinking about this for 30 years and his thinking about had changed . >> another thing that all of our subjects have in common is that they all seem to bring something new to the media landscape. there is something exciting or something different or revolutionary and could you talk a little about what that is ? >>. we were talking to emily who is modest about it who appears wonderfully in our documentary and able to contextualize sammy's
contribution in a way that harry belafonte and sidney poitier pushed him out of the spotlight in the years after sammy died for their own complex reasons. harry wouldn't speak to us . >> i tried . >> yeah but, you know, again if you doing sammy davis junior and you're talking about someone for whom the spotlight was breakfast, lunch and dinner, so 20,000 hours of videotape, we had almost too much material. but, in a visual documentary, which hopefully you will get to see, if you know you have something in the bag that we had some performances that we did not know we had them and we would have to do something else, so you don't want jesse
jackson's or whoever to say there was this night in chicago in 1972, never forget and sammy will get up and will do that and we happen to have that footage. so, we have the footage of the performance from all in the family and were be able to build interviews back from that . but, again, were talking about documentary biography which is a visual and auditory medium. this sammy davis junior thing and certainly mom and ali, there's an embarrassment of riches and the question is what to leave on the cutting room floor whether it's a book or documentary . >> it is, it's harder when you're writing about a performance than what you can just show it but, as far as media material for me and then how sammy davis junior brought something new to the media landscape, the most valuable thing for me is his appearance,
individual results found that exciting and they are just kind of in and out but he, in the 1950s was on at least 47 different variety show appearances. but seeing a number of them, i was able to realize that he brought something really new to television, most network programming was very stereotypical in the way that it showed african-americans on television programs sitcoms but on friday shows he could come out and be himself and joke around and have a familiar relationship and a semi- intimate relationship with the white people on the show which showed an integration that you
weren't seeing on network programming, and that's how most americans got to know sammy davis junior, most people didn't get a nightclub and most people saw him on tv and he became so familiar and beloved that that was one of the reasons that he could be a really effective civil rights activist. so without this constant variety show presence, then got i think it would've been a lot different . >> it's so interesting you say that because there's a corollary to that which is and you will see it in the documentary him being embraced by white performers literally was i hand reaching out to an entire community and based on knowing that we have that footage that we then interviewed a number of black critics who grew up during that time and they said to me some of the most revelatory things to me, you have no idea if you
are an african american family in detroit or atlanta for these people grew up, you would call each other up on the phone and say oh my god lena horne is on ed sullivan and everyone in the community would gather round because it was so rare in the 50s to see a black individual, let alone a black major individual on a network television show. so when you find the media things it's important to stretch the canvas and say, i like his performance and he sings really well, i wonder what lack audiences felt about that in 1954, make sure you get that context in as well . >> to just know that he's on is not enough, you really have to see it. >> so what about jim and tammy,
what did he bring that was new to media in the late 70s and 80s? >> one way to describe this is the story has at least three layers to it. so, most people's entry point to the story is the sex and money scandal in the late 80s. but why did anyone care at that point and why were they celebrities and they had three innovations quickly, the first one in the 60s and 70s is they created a new kind of christian talk show. and he and tammy were smalltime pentecostal evangelist and they would unwind at night by watching johnny carson, the height of cultural cool in the 60s and baker would say why can't somebody do that, do a christian version of that and up until then most christian
television was a church service on tv, more or less as of the first big innovation was creating a new format that looked initially like the tonight show and later like oprah, and it was innovative and something new . >> the second was in the late 70s they figured out because the small station they were on casting from was owned by ted turner and they watched him put his station up on satellite and they created the first private satellite television network, a year before espn went on the air, it was innovative and dramatically expanded their audience and also produced a tremendous amount of money and that led to the third innovation.
that all of these innovations. and a lot of them revolved around media. they revolved around the talkshow in the satellite network. this is what built them up to the point where the sex and money scandal matters. that was the entry point for most people. the service you can do is pulling it back and telling that story that leads up to that. i think the third layer is to further step back and say why does this matter? why does any of this matter? what does it say about american culture and american religion. inspected other evangelicals pattern themselves after him? with the satellite network and the television shows?
>> yes , they did. actually he was with pat robertson before he launched his own ministry. he helped create the 700 club, he was in southern california and helped create the trinity broadcasting network. there were many competitors, and people doing more or less the same thing. as it is developing , they are one of the people at the center of the story. and they are just fun. tammy is endlessly engaging. and everybody loved tammy that is what i found doing the book she was just someone that everyone loved her. and she continues to have this enduring following in presence. >> they keep trying to do a broadway musical about your . >> kristin chen with has one. larger than life. >> i just add, i got pulled into doing an abc 20/20 special that aired earlier this year.
and it ended up being the best rated program in a year. the episode that pulled in the most of years . >> because of you. >> of course because of me. >> or maybe because of tammy? but that was probably more likely . >> and don't you say in your book that they sort of created the first reality show? because they were on tv so much? suspect they did. their show was originally two hours a day. they did it unscripted, jim refused to script anything. the production people, i talked to many of them.
they never knew it was going to happen next. and viewers tuned in because they loved that. sometimes it was sloppy and ridiculous. it was always unpredictable and fun. people tune in just to see what would happen next. but that was part of his undoing as well. the unscripted nature. how we started selling shares to heritage usa in a way that no one had approved in the organization . >> yes , exactly. j everything and anything on television and we finally went to trial. the prosecutors were able to pull out the pieces that they wanted. they were things he had said. they were inappropriate, fraudulent. he had said just about everything. if you wanted to find him to say anything on any topic, you could find it. but because he was on for hours on end, unscripted. but what about mohammed ali? what did he bring new to the media landscape? >> before him there was a stereo topical stereotype type of athlete. mickey mantle type.
few words, noncontroversial, you don't deal with politics. you stay away from anything controversial. mohammed ali was controversial. he announces that his name is no longer cassius clay, he's a member of the nation of m's long he was political. he was ahead of his generation. he came out against vietnam before was popular. he completely changed the landscape for an athlete. he creates the landscape for athletes today to take political positions. >> i think that is interesting.
what we are talking about. i'm going to judicially lob tammy faye into the entertainment category. we worked for a long time on a documentary that we couldn't get may pair called actors in america. the offstage history of actors in america. edwin booth in april 1865 with the most famous actor in america. he was doing repertory in boston we finished that show, frederick marshall said what you know about what happened at ford's theater? what your brother did? he was escorted by federal marshals from boston to new york. and he retired from the stage for about five years. the most important years. he was an entertainer, and all this in the political world
spilled one of the gravest methods in american history onto his lap and there was no precedent how to toggle between those two things. we also live in a world with athletes and the post mohammed ali were athletes are comfortable and expected to be political. it was to be avoided at all cost. and sammy davis junior said look , i don't have any providence to make statements. and until harry belafonte said you have to come down to selma. and sammy davis junior who was born in new york had never gone south of the mason dixon, and he had to be dragged kicking and screaming down to selma.
there were aspects of politics where we live in and e.r.a. e.r.a. where they gravitate towards a political stance. but that is not the history of this country. laser were lines you did not cross. i think one of the things that muhammad ali did as caches clay. and he was fabulously aware of the camera he would read poetry till the bitter end he was very interested in musical
entertainment. he wanted to get into life magazine. he knew that sports illustrated was good, but how do you get into life magazine. a photographer was taking pictures of him for sports illustrated. and this photographer had had life magazine pictures. and muhammad ali knew he had done in underwater spread for life magazine. so cassius clay said you know i work out. i have this new workout regiment that's underwater. it develops tension and then punching. you should take pictures of it. so the guy comes down with his underwater camera, and scuba diving gear, he got trails of bottled water coming up and he
took some great shots sitting up in life magazine. cassius clay had never worked out underwater his life. he could not swim. he knew that this was a way to get a new audience. the camera was important to getting a new audience. and to spreading his name. but i think that that is another thing. all of these topics have in common. the relationship with the press, and how sometimes it can be adversarial, sometimes it could be the celebrity playing the press , and other times it can be more the opposite , where the press is playing them. with muhammad ali and with mickey mantle. you talk a lot about sportswriters and what they saw and what they viewed as their role in terms of their subject.
but that was all media too. used to be in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, all the way up to the 1960s. the sportswriters job was supposed to say what happened at the event. it was to build up the athlete. the athletic godlike. yet people etched against the bluegray, against the october sky, all that type of thing. by the 1960s you have a new group of journalists. they call themselves chipmunks. what they do is realize that people are seeing on television the fights. the fight is all across america. the events are happening all across america. they need to get into the locker room, they need to tell more. not just building them up as athletes, but showing what they are really like. we have a new form of journalism. it was kind of exposi
journalism. the landscape is changing , and muhammad ali comes into the world when that landscape is changing. and he is perfect. the chipmunks love him. there is a great story, he's interviewing muhammad ali, it's in miami before he wins the championship. and it's a spectacular. he's talking a mile minute , he's giving the reporters everything they want. and and joe lewis shows up joe lewis virtually said nothing. it was a very quiet guy. but all of the old sportswriters. jimmy cannon , the old sportswriters go to talk to joe lewis. and says where you guys going? the story is here. and the sportswriters that you don't understand. you should've seen him when. that was the hero of their you
think this was a new generation . >> it's fascinating because that is what i grew up with the complicity of the performer , and athlete. that have a more real estate in the media. you can show the fights now. so they don't had to be done on the microphone. was always fascinated by the complicity between howard cosell and muhammad ali. and then you have the mutual advantage of their relationship. >> no question about it. they both understood that the other was helpful to their career. that was creating a larger thing. of course, muhammad ali was probably more important to howard cosell then howard cosell was to muhammad ali. they were an act. it was always an act. and they use the same routines over and over. your hair looks like a horses tail , or something like that to talk about howard cosell's
to pay. they see an analogy between that and the rat pack between sinatra and sammy davis. there were public events that were magnified private events. obviously sammy davis idolized sinatra. in many ways sinatra was better for sammy davis, then sammy davis was for sinatra. they had something that went on behind closed doors , they were able to metamorphosis it into something that was a double act in american entertainment. >> i listen to sinatra on the radio station. and sometimes they'll play vegas and the rat pack. it in on the unbelievable condescending way that dean martin and sinatra treated sammy davis . >> there's 20 minutes in the documentary about that.
i think it's unresolvable. oddly enough. to fill you in if you do not know. the rat pack work to italians, a ju , and an african-american the converted to judaism. and the son-in-law of the president. a lot of their humor was very hard hitting. and not only because sammy was black , but he was the youngest of the group. and he was physically short. he was picked on a lot, dean martin used to pick him up and say want to thank the naacp forgive me this tremendous award. the documentary and really does not come down on any side. because with whoopi goldberg and billy crystal, who are sensitive to that. they would say in the entertainment business that was the way it was. what we do not remember because we don't see them. were the clips of dean martin being told he was a drunk, or
anti-telling jokes about sinatra, or jokes about joey bishop. but in the world we live in the sammy stuff bubble to the surface. it is interesting. with howard cosell and muhammad ali. it's a bit of a devil's bargain. sammy new that this was the biggest platform in america. playing with the sinatra and getting access to all that was a golden ticket to his career. and they genuinely loved each other. but the world spins around , i sure with all sorts of things that are racially sensitive in our history , they are looked at one way when they happen one way 30 years later, and then another way 30 years after that. you have to be cognizant aware that ball is bouncing all the time. >> speaking of a relationship with the press. how would you describe jim and tammy faye bakker's relationship with the press? did they cultivate the press?
>> before the scandal their biggest contact point was the charlotte observer. that was a hostile relationship on both sides. it was the kind of relationship that i do not think could happen today. with that kind of local newspaper and this enormous ministry. a christian ministry and a theme park right in their back door. right outside of charlotte. everything changes when the scandal happens in 1987.
the highlight of this , they go on nightline with ted koppel which was enormously influential at the time. it was the highest rated episode of ted koppel's career. and he was criticized afterwards for being too soft on them. one reporter wrote that he had all the ferocity of an overweight house cat. by the way, in abc thing that aired earlier ted koppel was on there quite a bit. and they really treat him gently. they do not bring up any of that at all. he gets to reinterpret his interaction with jim and tammy. it proved that if nothing else, even though people did not know them, ted koppel did not know them , what to make of them, how to handle the they new media. they had spent their entire career on television. and they knew how to handle television. and they pretty much ate them alive that night. 's but one thing you talk about as bad refers we always have to grapple with the public versus the private and how much in
these interviews they are really telling us about their private lives? we could tell how stressed tammy faye was based on her makeup. >> yes , her makeup. it was really a mask that she wore to distance yourself from the public. all of the staff said that we could tell what kind of mood tammy was in every day. the thicker the makeup the worse her mood. >> you could almost use that as a source . >> sure. >> you can cross check what is going on in her life to see what kind of make up she was wearing that day. >> you actually could. if she is wearing her natural short hair later in her career , or one of the bigwigs that she often more. the bigwig was not a good day. >> sort of stressful . >> exactly. >> another thing that our
subjects have in common, they were only somewhat interested in politics , or sometimes not interested in politics at all. but they still came to play an important role in political culture in the postwar e.r.a. so that is kind of my concluding theme before we turn it over to audience questions. >> yes , you hit the nail on the head. that's the major trajectory of telling his life. he grew up as a self segregated as you could be in america. not only was the black , he was an entertainer. when he managed to hit hitch his wagon to the magic of the rat pack. the rat pack through all of
their weight behind john f. kennedy. and we had some wonderful commentary about how the rat pack represented a group of ethnic people coming together to support a young president. as we know, once the inauguration ball happen. sammy was actively disinvited by the white house, because kennedy did not want to incur the wrath of them southern democrats that he had dragged on board reluctantly. sammy was totally disillusioned. he was dragged, kicking and screaming into the civil rights movement. towards the end, certainly by the time martin luther king's assassination , he is out on the front lines.and thanks to emilie, she uncovered information that he properly in- kind or out of his pocket contributed more to the civil rights movement than any other celebrity. and then of course this guy, nixon comes along and starts to dangle bright, shiny things in
front of him. an ambassadorship, speaking on behalf of the black population. would you like and the white house? would you like to stay overnight in the lincoln bedroom? and a sammy says, sounds good to me and throws himself quite forcefully behind the nixon administration in 1972 and 1973. it goes to visit vietnam on the ministrations behalf. and is essentially so tone deaf to his own community that the reverberations were felt for the rest of his life. that's when the documentary started. performers are not excellent barometers of political taste or political action. and frequently find themselves thrown into the wind, back and forth on the boat depending on the shifting tides of popular opinion of the day. in a way, sammy story is kind of a a bit of a warning story
about what happens when people who are frankly out of their league politically embraced causes that they may not know the deep consequences of. >> yes , he was a drawn up more through personal connections then political ideology. but we'll put >> after being totally shunned by the kennedy administration you can see how he developed a relationship with nixon. and he would be comfortable pushing for him. you had such a devastating impact on his reputation as an activist. >> and his reputation as an actor . >> i felt until i came along and listed some of his civil rights work early in the 1950s. that it undermined his
historical reputation. it was one of those situations where he was not interested in politics. politics came to him. and then he played an important role in the racial and lyrical culture. the same way with the bakers. they were not interested in politics, but they were on the front lines of this evangelical political culture. but this is one way in which the story can be useful today. throughout most of their careers. jim and tammy were very politically naove. they do not start with much of a political agenda at all. and then by the late 1970s they have a big following, and they become attractive to politicians because they control a big audience. so baker goes to the carter white house , he rides in air
force one with jimmy carter, ee interviews ronald reagan on camera when he is running in 1980. in one sense you could say well they are politically important. the problem is, if you start there and say these people are primarily political actors , then you misunderstand them entirely. they are not political actors primarily. the politics were a secondary thing. the thing that baker loved about politics was a celebrity value of it, right? who doesn't want to ride on air force one, or be photographed in the white house shaking hands with the president or having lunch with the first lady? that was their primary interest. the reason i say that, i think it's informative today, when a lot of people look at the religious right and evangelicals. they say these are political organizations. let's start there. if you start there , you misunderstand them. sure they may have a political involvement or political footprint. you will never understand them if you start there and say this is all about politics.
certainly in this case, it was not all about politics but the politics were secondary but did their scandal, the sexual and financials candles did those scandals hurt the religious right politically? >> that's a pretty broad category. it certainly hurt television evangelists. they were not the only ones. jimmy swaggart, oral roberts , they had their own meltdowns in spectacular fashion. it changed the way in the case of evangelicals the way that they interact with politics. it did not really reshape the context. they were not
primarily political organizations. their demise so to speak as an organization did not have any effect on that. that was not what they were primarily about. >> randy one things i learned from your book, that the nation of islam discouraged politics. discouraged voting, >> while it was a separatist movement. they're not trying to reform america. they're trying to separate from it. oddly enough, going back to the 19th century, to marcus garvey, going back to a nationalist organizer. at the time when cassius clay is coming into the picture. malcolm x is beginning to tire that. he is a look we got to do something in the civil rights movement. we talk a good game , but we are not doing anything. he started become more controversial.
famously after john f. kennedy was assassinated. he still says nothing. the preachers of the nation of islam were told to not make a comment on the assassination of this reverted man. of course moxham malcolm x. a dead. he said that as a country boy this is just chickens coming home to roost. that doesn't make me sad, this makes me glad. and then of course he's officially silenced by the nation of islam. now cassius clay is confused as to who he should follow. does he follow the nation of islam , the conservatives separatist movement, or malcolm x. being pushed out of the nation of islam is going to form his own organizations going be more orthodox in terms of civil rights movement became
a very difficult situation. he is actively political, there is no question about. he was a boxer before anything else. he was a like john wayne. john wayne did not serve during world war ii. he becomes the image of the american soldier, sailor, flyer in world war ii. but he never enlisted, and never served in world war ii. after the war his interest in politics to generalize was to think. he becomes cold war hero. most americans adopted the cold war position. and number two , he cannot stand america's taxation policy. the world war ii taxation policy , taking i % of your income. he wanted that to change a move from a democrat to being a republican. if you talked to john wayne , he didn't talk about politics, he talked about movies. you get that image of john wayne that's attached to western iconography and you throat into the republican party and it's pretty heavy brew.
>> it's interesting, johnny mathis actually said during birmingham. he said do not ask me about that. i just an entertainer. i am wondering whether those four words certainly in this generation were a meaningless paradox? i think in the 1950s or 1960s you could get away with saying that it's a meaningless thing to say post muhammad ali, host to sammy davis, post a lot of people. but there was a time in american history where that was the position you could take. now i think that's just not possible. >> politics and political culture just affects the men . >> it's the media. everything in our poll politics in athletics has changed post muhammad ali. and i know nothing about sports, mind you. i only know entertainment. but these platforms are so
large, and they meet so many people, and they meet you , in john wayne's year you could control the media, you could control when you're on camera. you are interviewed , you would say something, but now somebody pick something up backstage in the locker room and you lose control of your narrative. but the most ironic i think is sidney poitier. he had three huge movies, "guess who's coming to dinner", "from russia with love", he went from being the greatest hero to passi . >> i think is a good time to open this to audience questions. if anyone has something that they would like to ask? we can bring you the microphone.
but this is a fascinating panel. i greatly admire this a genre. i teach at purdue. it strikes me, it's a very challenging genre. how do you reconcile telling the story someone's life with the necessity of making an argument that intervenes with a scholarly debate it would reveal something new? how do you do that? is it explicit , an implicit? how do you waive argument and analysis with narrative when you're telling the story of an individual's life? >> okay. go ahead. that is a biggie. >> it is a biggie. >> to tell the story of a person's life, to tell john wayne's life. he made a 200 films as i said before.
you cannot just go one film at a time. he did this and that. you have to search for a larger meaning in that life. why was he important? why was he iconic? why were these political focal point in american the 1960s and the 1970s. if you're telling the full story. with sammy davis , to tell his story without telling the story of race in america it would make no sense. you would just be telling and entertainment story. you have to engage. they all meet at that point that i said earlier, where the political culture and popular culture meet. you're telling the life and the meaning of the life. into me that contextualizes it, and brings it to the issues that culture historians are interested in. >> i think you have to be
passionate about your subject. you do not have to love them all the time he had to be passionate about what they went through. you're spending a lot of time with that person or persons. only thing i would say in terms of documentary work that i have done. it's always about heavy lifting or double duty. there has to be something being made. it's the search, the green beret , or with a sammy davis "i got to be me" or ethel merman singing "summertime". us onward about leaching it
interacts with a large metaphorical value. otherwise you'd have to be utterly subjective. you get to decide that the song is more important in sammy davis's life and that's on. because it said more to me personally in 2015 and something else. spoke as if history is not subjective . >> right. >> it is all subjective . >> i agree with my fellow panelists. you have to have a larger point you want to make. there must be a reason why you want to write the story? in that sense, every account is selective. you cannot throw in apsley everything you know in a nondescript hodgepodge. i think it is the reason that you can have more than one interesting biography about the same person. people , different interest , they come with a different basic point that they want to make and certainly pull together the evidence that ms. that story long.
>> an earlier book that i wrote and was on jack johnson. the first black heavyweight champion america. he won the title 1908. i had a larger point that i was interested in. i was interested in his life , but he was a heavyweight champion during the progressive e.r.a. this was the progressive e.r.a. co-where the highest lynchings in america were where there was a larger question that i was asking. was there progressivism for black americans? what was life like for a black american during the progressive e.r.a.? so with historical question of the time . >> i think things change. one of the things that made sammy attract to us, the title the documentary, "i got be me".
points that you wanted to make? and then you start to work on hollow fits together? >> >> when i was eight years old i saw sammy davis on lafon. he was goofy, like adjuster. he did all of these goofy things. and then two years later he went to the public library and i looked in the original cast album section. and there was a record called " golden boy", it was in alvin about the civil rights movement. and it was the same sammy davis thing about being a black man in love with a white woman in the 1960s. it was alpha and the omega. before i was 11 years old. i was like how can that be the
same person? how can that be? i would say that was the question that was always in the back of my mind for five decades until i had a chance to reconcile that person's life, you're always trying to grapple with finding a good question that persons life , i know thinking about jackie gleason as a compelling subject. how could this lovable guy be such a monster to everyone he worked with. you have to find something that you want to wrestle with , and then it flows naturally from that. >> i begin with immersion, you just have to immerse yourself in their life. when robert started to do a multi volume biography of lyndon johnson. he went out to austin to work in research. he would work for
5.5 days, it was closed on sunday. they were only open on half-day on saturday. every day after he worked he would go to the hill country. which was about are from austin. and he go and interview somebody who knew johnson from that area. and on saturday and sundays maybe he would interview two people. he said i don't understand these people. is that i don't get them. he's going to the hill country which was extraordinary poor, where he been brought up a century before. and he was from new york city. he said to his wife , we've got to move to the hill country. i've got to live in that land, i need to understand these people? i will never understand johnson unless i understand the people. his wife who was a french
historian said can't you write a biography on robert mueller again or napoleon? so we can go immerse ourselves in paris. he went until he felt that he read all the other biographies on johnson. and said nobody understands him , what makes him tick? it had to be going to the hill country, living in the hill country. suddenly he was living there and people would talk to they would tell him things that they would not tell him before. when he was just dropping in and asking questions. you started immersing yourself with sammy davis. i was interested in boxers when i was young. there's a personal interest in that factors into this. but i think you need to start with some big compelling reason that you want to do this. a compelling question that you want to answer. after that, it
all evolves together. i think an interesting exercise if you could ever get authors to show it to you, would be the first proposal for any book. and never looks anything like the final book. your ideas change, and that's a good thing. as you get into the sources it does start with the central question and then it develops together. >> i think our time is up. thank you for the excellent questions, and thank you to the panelists . >> glad to be here. >> sammy davis is playing it 3:30 pm down the hallway if you want to come and he that. >> thank you. but this week we are featuring american history tv programs is a preview is what is available
50 years ago there were 500,000 military personnel in south vietnam. on may 14, 1969 a few months after his inauguration, pres. nixon made his first address to the nation on the vietnam war outlining a proposal on withdrawal. if the north vietnam troops would agree. here's a look at the president's comments