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tv   QA Ron Chernow Alexander Hamilton  CSPAN  July 3, 2020 2:28am-3:28am EDT

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lin-manuel, with your dedication, we are armed and ready. we cannot give up, we will not give in. more than ever before, we need your art to continue to be the wind beneath our wings. again, i congratulate you. thank you. i salute you again for this honor. [cheers and applause]
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>> this concludes our program. i would like for you to join with me in one final applause in recognition for our honoree tonight who brings us great honor with his presence, great honor with his work, and great honor how he helps the next generation of americans. thank you. ♪ [applause] ♪ ♪ this week on "q&a," historian
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ron chernow. area he talks about hamilton and the consulting work he did on it. lin-manuel miranda based the musical on mr. chernow's biography of alexander hamilton. brian: ron chernow, when did hamilton, alexander hamilton first get on your radar screen? first get on your radar screen? ron: well, i started writing it back in 1998, brian. it seems rather comical because the reason that i chose to do alexander hamilton, aside from the fact that it was the most extraordinary personal story among the founding fathers, was that he seemed to be fading into obscurity. people were coming to regard him as a sort of second-tier founding father. most americans knew he was on the $10 bill, maybe that he had died in a duel with aaron burr, but that was about it. it seems comical that i was, felt as if i was lifting him out of obscurity. now his name is on the marquee of a broadway show. brian: where were you at the time? what were you doing? ron: i just finished writing my biography of john d. rockefeller, "titan," and what happened -- i had done a series of books about moguls of the gilded age, and i found that
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when i would go out to give lectures, people in the audience would start shouting out, "do vanderbilt next. do carnegie next," and i really felt that i was becoming terribly stereotyped as this biographer of gilded age tycoons, and i decided that i wanted to switch periods. and so, alexander hamilton was the perfect exit strategy because i knew there would be a lot of financial and economic history, but it would also expose me not only to a new era, but of foreign affairs, constitutional law, you know, military history, on and on and on, plus the most amazing story that i have ever written. brian: you probably don't like this question, i asked it before not of you, but of others, is there someone today that would come closest to the way alexander hamilton thought about government? ron: thought about government, that's a very difficult question, brian. i will say this, that alexander hamilton was the most verbal politician in our history. if he felt strongly about an
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issue, he would sit down and he would write a series of 25 essays over the course of a few weeks about it, and i think that hamilton would fit very uncomfortably into an era of tweets and sound-bites. he was very rational, deeply intellectual and principled. and i can't think of anyone stylistically, certainly, who reminds me of alexander hamilton today. brian: 2014, your book comes out, it's number one on the paperback bestseller list and on the combined "new york times" list, it's in the top 15 all of these years later. ron: actually, as we talk, six months on the paperback bestseller list and five straight weeks at number one for an 800-page book that was published in 2004. i think it is safe to say that that is unprecedented. it's really quite extraordinary. brian: what's it done to your life? ron: well, it's had a profound
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effect. this has been very much a through the looking glass experience for me. the greatest thrill, of course, has been having lin-manuel miranda take this biography and translate it into a very vivid three-dimensional life on the stage, but it's also been deeply touching to me the way that i have been completely embraced and incorporated into the world of the show, not only the creative team, but the cast members, and because i had never been involved with the show before and maybe never will be again, i decided that i wanted to have every experience i could possibly go with a broadway show. i was at every workshop and theatre festival and rehearsal. i sat it on the recording of the cast album. i sat in one performance with the orchestra in this kind of black grotto under the stage, and i had been a lifelong theater goer. i never imagined that i would be on the other side of the footlights. so it's just been an absolutely enchanting experience. brian: as you watched it up close be made, what was the most difficult part of it?
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ron: the most difficult part -- well, you know, in my book, i have hundreds of characters. one thing that i immediately realized was that history is long, messy, and complicated. broadway shows have to be very short, coherent, and tightly constructed, and there is a conflict between that in a broadway musical. you have to have eight or 10 principal characters. everything has to happen to them, by them, through them. you have to establish them early, keep on developing them. and so, there are certain places in the show where things happen accurately, but actually were done by or two other people. for instance, there's a scene in the show where jefferson -- burr and madison confront hamilton with the reynolds scandal. he actually was confronted by three jeffersonians, but not those three individuals. so lin, what i loved working
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with him is in those cases where he felt obliged to use dramatic license, he would always try to incorporate as many authentic elements into the scene as he could, even if he had changed something. brian: if you get on the website today, first of all, you can't buy tickets. they're sold out for -- how far are they sold out? ron: sold out -- as we talk, through january 2017. brian: so all of this year and then january of next year. ron: yeah. brian: but if you get on and get on these resale websites, $1000 might get you a ticket. ron: yeah, i mean, and people have been scalping tickets for $1500 to $2000, $2500 a ticket. they are certainly routinely scalping for $1000 or $1500 a ticket. brian: what do you think of that? ron: well, you know, it's been frustrating for us because we didn't create this show exclusively for hedge fund managers and private equity people, and we have been doing
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what is within our power to try to offset that. for instance, there's a lottery every night where the entire first row, people get tickets for $10 a piece if they win the lottery. we also have, starting in april every wednesday, there's going to be a matinee for new york city school children, actually 11th graders who are in so called title i schools, free lunch schools, so they would be mostly black and white teen -- and latino audience, 1300 kids, wednesday matinees, will be sitting there for $10 a piece, and not only will they see this extraordinary show where it is impossible to get tickets, they're going to have a q&a with the cast afterwards. their teachers have been supplied with curriculum materials so that the teachers can use the show actually as a vehicle for teaching more about american history. so we're trying to broaden out the audience. we are well aware of this problem. it's a nice problem to have, but
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it is a problem. brian: you've got the washington prize for which book? ron: i got the washington prize for alexander hamilton. brian: and so did lin? ron: 10 years later, right. and they asked me to get up there and pay tribute to him at the awards ceremony, which was -- brian: hold on. i want show you a piece of tape right now from that award ceremony. ron: ok. brian: here's ron chernow. [video clip] ron: i know that you are all expecting me to stand up here and start snapping my fingers and breaking into rhymed couplets, but i'm afraid i'm going to disappoint you. although, i have to say one side of me is dying to do exactly that, and i'm going to do it. [laughter] ♪ how does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgo-- ♪
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no, i'm not going there, lin. i'm not going there. i'm not going there. [laughter] [applause] in the caribbean by providence impoverished in squalor grow up to be a hero and a scholar? ♪ someone save me. [laughter] no, i've told kind of like adam, i've had this fantasy about going on the stage, and i've told lin that i'd like to go on and just do the opening number. they could then pull me off with a hook afterwards, but for some mysterious reason, lin has decided not to throw on my unique theatrical talents. [video clip ends] brian: how hard was that to do? ron: i've never seen lin laugh as hard. he and his family were sitting in the table right in front of the podium, and he just doubled over with laughter, and when he got up on the stage to receive the award, he said, "i can't believe it. we have ron chernow rapping on c-span." so it's been a quandary that i actually did it, but that has been a fantasy of mine to go on for the opening number. brian: as you know, it's a two-hour and 55-minute show. ron: yes. brian: and the music, you can buy all the music. how much of this can you do by memory? ron: oh, i can do most of the first song. i know lots of different portions of the show.
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i mean, brian, i have seen the show about 50 times, and of course, i was very intimately involved over a six or seven-year period with the creation of the show. in fact, when i first started working with lin, as he wrote each song, he would send it to me via email. i would just hear lin at the keyboard singing, and he would send them with these kind of psychedelic screams as i heard him singing and i was absolutely astonished. in fact, he came over and he sang the opening number. he came over to my apartment and started snapping his fingers. he was sitting on my living room couch, and he started singing, "how does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore," and when he was finished doing it, he said, "what do you think?" this was my first exposure to it, and i said, "i think that's the most extraordinary thing. you've taken the first 40 minutes of my -- first 40 pages of my book and condensed them accurately into a 4.5 minute song." what i didn't say to lin, but i was thinking it, saying, "boy, i
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write very tight and very long." and so it was a little embarrassing that he had distilled the 40 pages down to a 4.5 minute song and had done it so accurately. brian: we had a photo of lin-manuel miranda with your book in hand, and he is in the water. is that when he first got this book? ron: yes. what happened, when i met lin in november 2008, he was still starring in his first show, "in the heights." he invited me to a sunday matinee, and i went backstage, and i had heard from a mutual friend that he had read the book on vacation and made enormous impression. and he said to me, "ron, i was reading your book on vacation in mexico, and as i was reading it, hip-hop songs started rising off the page." and i said, "really?" and then he started telling me, he said, "you know, hamilton's life has a classic hip-hop narrative," and i was thinking, "what on earth is this guy talking about?" i think that lin quickly picked
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up the fact that he had a world-class ignoramus about hip-hop on his hands. and he said to me on the spot, because my first question to him was, "can hip-hop be the vehicle for telling this kind of, you know, very large and complex story?" and he said, "ron, i'm going to educate you about hip-hop." and he did on the spot. he started pointing out that hip-hop, you can pack more information into the lyrics than any other form because it's very, very dense and rapid. he started talking about the fact that hip-hop not only has rhymed endings, it has internal rhyme, it has word play. he started educating me in all of these different devices that are very, very important to the success of the show. so i'm not a complete ignoramus about hip-hop anymore. just mostly. brian: is there anything in the show that you directly had an impact on?
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ron: oh, absolutely. in terms of the relationship between hamilton and washington, for instance. i was having lunch with lin one day, and he said to me, he was trying to figure out what's the dramatic essence of that relationship, which is very central to the show, and he said to me, "would washington, when he met hamilton during the revolutionary war -- would washington have seen hamilton as a younger version of himself?" and i said, "absolutely," because washington, when he meets hamilton, hamilton is 22. well, when washington was 23, he was the head of all the armed forces in virginia. led his men into a terrible massacre in a place called fort necessity, and in fact, there's this beautiful song in the show where washington sings, "let me tell you what i wish i had known when i was young and dreamed of
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glory." well, that was very thrilling to me when we had that discussion, and then the next time, i saw a new version of the show to see that scene and that song and realized that it came directly out of it. but even, brian, you know, very late in the game for instance, even when it was at the public theater where it originated off broadway, i said to lin one day, i said, "you know, there's one big policy point that is missing from the show, which is that when hamilton became treasury secretary, the country was bankrupt, and by the time he left five years later, we were as credit worthy as any other country in the world." an amazing feat. and so what he has in the closing scene of the show, madison comes out and says, "he took us from bankruptcy to prosperity," and you know, for that, we'll forever be in his debt, and he doesn't get enough credit for all the credit that he gave us. well, that was a direct response to what i had said, and that was actually pretty late in the off
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broadway run of the show. so, it was great. i mean, the beautiful thing about working with lin is that he's always prepared to listen. he was very good at filtering out whatever ridiculous or asinine things that i would say, he had very good instincts. if i said something that really hit home to him, he was always fully open to it, and he was diplomatic, because if i said something that he thought was completely absurd, he wouldn't disagree. he would simply stare at me wordless, and then i would realize that i had goofed. brian: you were born where? ron: i was born in brooklyn. brian: and mr. miranda was born where? ron: lin was born in new york, i assume, on the upper west side. brian: and alexander hamilton was born where and where was he raised? ron: hamilton was born on the island of nevis in the caribbean. he spent his adolescence on st.
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croix, one of the virgin islands, and around the age of 17, a killer hurricane hit the island. he wrote this very brilliant letter that was published in the island newspaper describing in almost shakespearean terms this hurricane. he was an illegitimate, you know, orphaned, impoverished clerk at that point. the local merchants suddenly recognized that they had this young genius in their midst, and they took up a collection to send him to the north american colonies to be educated. he came armed with a fuel that is of introduction, but he didn't know the soul. so hamilton is not only the original immigrant, but a completely self-made, really self-invented figure. you know, all the other founding fathers, they were either virginia printers or boston lawyers. they were all born in the original 13 colonies. hamilton was the outsider and
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started out life with as many disadvantages as most of those figures had advantages. it's an amazing story. brian: we can only use obviously a little bit of the music, but here's about 20 seconds, and it's alexander hamilton. the tune is "stay alive," and the reason i run this is it shows about his relationship with general eisenhower at the time. at the time he was an aide to general eisenhower, how would he have been? ron: talking about general washington. brian: yeah. general eisenhower. [laughter] brian: one of your next books down the road somewhere. ron: well, hamilton is 22 when he meets washington. washington would have been 45 at that point. brian: let's just listen to a little bit so we can get a flavor. [video clip] >> ♪ i have never seen the general so despondent i have taken over writing all his correspondence congress writes, "george, attack the british forces" i shoot back, we should have resorted to eating our horses local merchants deny us equipment, assistance they only take british money, so
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sing a song of sixpence" ♪ [video clip ends] brian: that's it for the moment, but what do you think? ron: accurate, in fact, because all of these farmers, this was the valley forge winter there. the continental army was actually sitting there amidst plenty. the problem was not the availability of food. the problem was that the farmers were selling the food to the british forces in philadelphia. and i remember lin had actually sent me very beautiful, sad, mournful music for valley forge, and you can hear the words of thomas paine over the music, and those were the only words that survived from that original draft of that scene. but lin is extraordinary in terms of, you know, plucking out exactly what he needs for a scene. he is self-critical, and he is a very disciplined writer.
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it's always very hard for a writer to strike out a beautiful line that he has written. lin has the ability to do it. i'm not sure i do, but he does. [laughter] brian: he is about what age right now? ron: lin is 36. brian: and when the constitutional convention was held, and alexander hamilton was there and james madison, they were what? 30? 36? ron: let's see -- because hamilton was born -- by my count, 1755. so he would have been 32 and then 34 when he became treasury secretary. brian: so all of this is -- except for your case -- had been done by really young people. ron: yeah, and this is actually a very interesting point, brian, because i think that so much of the attention about the show has concentrated on the fact that it's this black and latino eurasian and bi-racial cast, and of course that's a great novelty for a show about the founding fathers, one that startled me at the beginning. but i think that the thing that has not been sufficiently emphasized is how young the actors are. you know, i grew up with the musical, i am sure you did, "1776," and it was a bunch of
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late-middle-aged white actors and wigs and buckle shoes. here, there are very few people in the cast who are over 40, and so i think in the same way that this black and latino cast enables the audience to enter into this experience. it provides a kind of bridge for the audience between the sensibility of today and the sensibility of then. but i think that the fact that the show reminds us that the american revolution, like revolutions throughout history, are made by young people, and i think that that's very exciting, and it really hasn't been talked about. brian: as you know, at that ceremony when lin miranda got the washington award, the gilded room folks said they were going to fund 20,000 young people seeing it. ron: actually, we got a grant from the rockefeller foundation, so we will have one wednesday matinee a month, we'll have 11th graders. brian: why 11th graders?
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ron: because they are studying american history. they are studying this period in their classrooms. that's, i think, really how it -- brian: how far has that gone nationwide? ron: well, you know, we have now in the works three, maybe another four productions, and so there will be a chicago production opening in september, october. that's going to be in l.a. next year for five months, san francisco for five months. there will be one, maybe two national touring companies, and so, i'm hoping that -- and then it is going to be in london in the fall of 2017. so i'm hoping that as the show goes to other cities, that, if not the rockefeller foundation, that another local philanthropy will do exactly what we're doing in new york, again, for reasons stated earlier. this is our single most important audience out there. and thank god, from the time the cast album came out last october, the last figure i saw, it had already sold 252,000 copies. it's the complete show.
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it's almost every word of the show. it's two cd's. it has the complete libretto inside. and so i think that the cast album as much as the show has enabled the "hamilton" musical to really enter into american popular culture and political culture in a way that i have never seen with a broadway show. i'm getting every day -- i get an email from some friends saying, "you know, my six-year-old is driving me crazy. she sits in a room all day listening to the cast album again and again," and i write back and say, "you know, there are worse problems for a parent than a having a child who only wants to talk about the founding fathers, you know? whoever thought that would be a problem? brian: this what the libretto looks like inside the cd's that you get, and if you haven't been to the show, you have to read this as you go to know who is talking. ron: exactly, and you know, the wonderful thing is, brian, we really have two audiences of the show. we have the audience inside the
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theater, and that's 1321 people every night, so maybe, what, about 10,000 people a week. but i feel as if we actually have a much, much larger audience across the country in people who are listening to the cast album, who are reading the libretto, and "newsweek" online really recently did an issue that teachers across the country are already using the show and using the cast album as an educational tool. then there will be a certain moment, i don't know how far down the road this will be, where the producers will allow schools to start to license the show, that is to actually perform the show, and i think we all feel and all hope that this is going to be the single most widely produced musical in american schools for many, many years. i'm sure it will be. brian: here's lin miranda outside of the richard rodgers theater back in august of 2015, when he would come out and entertain the folks that are waiting in their line. let's watch it.
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[video clip] lin-manuel: i'm concerned with -- that we got you tickets for an opening night of the show. so thank you for making that possible. i wish all the luck. i wish we could get you all in there, but i hope you all come see the show. thanks to you, i think we're going to run a nice, long time. in the early 1850's, two pedestrians strolling past the house on h street in washington near the white house realized that the ancient widow seated by the window, knitting and arranging flowers, was the last surviving link to the glory days of the early republic. 50 years earlier, on a rocky secluded ledge overlooking the hudson river in weehawken, new jersey, aaron burr, the vice president of the united states, had fired a mortal shot at her husband, alexander hamilton, in a misbegotten effort to remove the man burr regarded as the main impediment to the advancement of his career. [video clip ends] ron: that was actually opening night on broadway. lin came out about two hours before the show started, and he
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read the opening paragraphs of my book, and i was very startled when i saw the clip because there were a couple of moments where he is almost on the edge of tears as he is reading it, and as powerful as i know his emotional response had been to the book, when i saw that, i learned something new about just how deeply he had felt, and we were both -- we both fell in love with eliza hamilton, who had been a completely unknown figure to the american public before then. i think we really have changed that. brian: here is lin miranda at the same ceremony where you did the rap, so people can see a little bit more -- he's speaking -- what he is like. [video clip] lin: and ron's version of hamilton is what made me fall in love. the first two chapters of ron's book out-dickens dickens in terms of the hardship hamilton faces and the incredible odds he overcame to come to this country and help shape it.
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and it's been an incredible journey working with ron and learning about this history, and i think the secret sauce of the show is i am learning the stuff just a chapter ahead of you. i am falling in love with these characters, and i'm falling in love with the fact that they are not the people i grew up learning about in a.p. u.s. history. they are flawed and they are messy. burr came alive to me when i realized he was dating theodosia prevost when she was still married to that guy who was a general down at bermuda. and i said, "oh, this is a guy who waits for what he wants." and that unlocked burr for me. [video clip ends] brian: explain more about aaron burr and what he's talking about. ron: yeah, the way that lin presents the hamilton-burr conflict, not just at the very end of hamilton's life, but throughout was that they were rivals, and he presents them as
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having very, very contrasting personalities, which i think is true. that hamilton is a very aggressive and self-confident person who is not afraid to grab what he wants. burr plays everything close to the vest. burr was a much more cautious and kind of crafty individual, and he would hang back. during the war, burr fell in love with the wife of a british officer. and there is a scene in the show where hamilton says to him, "if you love this woman, why don't you go get her?" and it's meant really to point out the difference in personality between the two men as time goes on, of course, the difference in politics and ideology will become even that much more important. so that is what lin is referring to. brian: as long as we're on this affair thing between burr and theodosia, you mentioned this earlier, and we've got some -- a little excerpt from the program
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about the reynolds pamphlet, which you write about in your book, obviously, but you can also find it on the internet, the whole pamphlet. this pamphlet, before we run this, was written when? ron: 1797. brian: and what was the reason? ron: well, what happened was, when hamilton was treasury secretary, one day, a very beautiful 23-year-old woman named maria reynolds came to his door. she spilled out this woeful tale that she had been abandoned by her husband, james reynolds, and that she was in need of money, and hamilton, believe it or not, hamilton was then the most powerful and controversial man in the american government. that night, hamilton slipped out of the house, went to her rooming house, said that he had found maria reynolds at the top of the staircase. she said -- she then ushered him into a bedroom, and then he wrote his famous line, and she then made it clear that other, then pecuniary consolation would be acceptable. that was the start of an affair that went on for a year, but after about a month or so, mr.
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reynolds suddenly appeared, and instead of stopping the affair, he decided it would be much more fun to charge hamilton for the pleasure of his wife's company in bed. hamilton reckless of to have entered into -- she had been a prostitute, reynolds. it was so reckless and so destructiv of him to enter the affair to begin with, but suddenly he was paying hush when all the jeffersonian press was circling around him, trying to get some dirt on him, and here hamilton is giving him the biggest story that they will get. brian: is there a difference between the broadway show and what actually happened? ron: yes. aat happened in actuality was journalist named james the
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charges published these had paidthat hamilton to them and they had been engaging in trade securities together. and that hamilton says, no, i was paying money to james reynolds, hamilton then publishes this pamphlet saying, "oh no, no. i was paying money to james reynolds, but it was for the favor of his wife's company." and actually, i said to lin, i thought that it was a little confusing to the audience because in the show, it seemed as if hamilton was preemptively publishing this pamphlet after jefferson, madison, and burr told him that they know about these payments because lin did not have the pamphlet that provoked hamilton's pamphlet. so lin added a line at the end of that scene with burr, jefferson and madison were burr says, "alexander, rumors only
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grow," and that line came out of my thing to lin, "i'm afraid the audience is going to wonder why he preemptively published this pamphlet." brian: it's 20 seconds and thomas jefferson, james madison and angelica is in this along with aaron burr and hamilton. let's just listen a little bit so you can get the flavor of it. [video clip] >> have you read this? alexander hamilton had a torrid affair. and he wrote it down right there. highlights. "the charge against me is in connection with one james reynolds. for purposes of improper speculation, my real crime is an amorous connection with his wife for a considerable time with his knowing consent. damn." with all of the success you had with alexander hamilton back in 2004, are you finding people that are learning a lot more about alexander hamilton and these founders now that this thing has become.
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ron: every single time i am at the theater and i'm there fairly often, at least one person comes up to me and says, "you know, ron, i love the show and as i was watching the show, i was embarrassed to realize how little i know about the history of my own country and i'm determined to change that." very nice that a lot of them are then going out and reading the book or reading other books about the founding heroes. so i said to lin at that awards ceremony that you showed before, i said to him afterwards, i said, "you know, lin, i don't know what your next show is going to be," i said, "you have had an impact in terms of stimulating an interest in american history of sorts that i have never seen." and i said to him, "i just hope that periodically in your career, keep circling back to american history." because i think, brian, you know, probably every biographers that you've interviewed over the
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years, all of them, would say the same thing that we really didn't feel that we were reaching the young people. i find that when i go out and do a lecture or a book signing, typically the audience is about 35 -- 40 years old and up. sometimes, 60 70, you know, 80. whereas lin seems to have this magical connection with people of all ages. believe it or not, a friend even told me that she took her three-year-old to see the show and the little girl was sort of bouncing and swaying in her seat. i have also seen the show with people in their late 80s who were as starry eyed, you know, as that child. and so, that this is -- lin is worth his weight in gold in terms of stimulating young people to read about american history. brian: how important to the success of this show was his appearance back in 2009 at the white house in front of the first lady and the president? ron: well, it was -- i have to say, from a personal standpoint, it was very, very helpful because you have to understand that for the six or seven years we were working on this, before people actually saw the show, i
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would say, "you know, i'm involved in this show. it's going to be a musical -- a hip hop musical about the founding fathers," and they would look at me like i was crazy. it was a little bit like the show or the movie, the producers where they are trying to come up with the single worst idea of all time for a musical and they come up with "spring time for hitler." i mean, it was a little bit like -- i was saying, "i'm in this wonderful -- involved with this wonderful musical. it's called spring time for hitler." i mean that was how people were reacting to the idea of a musical, a hip hop musical about the founding fathers. right before the show opened downtown at the public theater, i was walking near the theater one day and i passed these two young women on the street and i heard one say to the other, "and it's a musical about alexander hamilton," and then they both started laughing and then the woman said, "and it's in hip hop." and they just were standing there in the sidewalk roaring with laughter. well, the wonderful thing about that white house clip is that when people would start laughing at me, i would say, "well, watch that clip from the white house.
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that was 2009. so watch the clip and let me know what you think," and everyone who saw the clip then would call me up and say, "oh my god. that was quite extraordinary." brian: let's watch 40 seconds of it now. ron: yeah. [video clip] lin manuel-miranda: i'm thrilled the white house called me tonight because i'm actually working on a hip hop album. it's a concept album about the life of someone i think embodies hip hop, treasury secretary alexander hamilton. you laugh. but it's true. he was born a penniless orphan in st. croix, illegitimate birth became george washington's right hand man. because treasury secretary, caught beef with every other founding father and all on the strength of his writing. i think he embodies the words ability to make a difference." [end of video] brian: what has happened to lin miranda in all of these? what success meant to him and
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how long can he keep starring in this every night? ron: well, i think that he has already said that he is going to stay in the show through july. that is the announcement in the beginning that he was going to stay in the show for a year for the simple reason, i think he would like to be on to his next show and they are doing eight performances a week. it's very difficult for him to kind of clear his mind for the next show. in fact, he -- i recently heard him say in an interview that when he took my book down on vacation to mexico, it was actually the first break that he had had from in the heights where he can sort open his mind to another story, but i think the show has made him a superstar. people were running after him with every conceivable offer. but i think that -- if there's one thing that i've learned about lin, he's the original multitasker because the years that he was sending me the hamilton songs and there would be sporadic rehearsals, he always maintained psychological continuity with the show.
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so i think that lin probably has, you know, these exciting 10 wonderful musicals in him and i hope that some of them revolve around american history. brian: i know it's private, but i'll ask you the question anyway. from a financial standpoint for yourself, did they have to buy your services? did they have to buy the rights? ron: lin optioned the book, but the interesting thing is, brian, that the book came out in 2004 and the book was auctioned three times in hollywood for a feature film and as it often happens when a book is an option, disappears into a kind of black hole and hollywood, i guess couldn't figure out what to do with the story and i kept saying to my agent here and the agent -- my agent in l.a., i said, "i don't get it. here's a story of this illegitimate orphan kid, comes out of nowhere, sets the world on fire. you want sex, there's a sex scandal. you want violence, there's a
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duel on and it has all of the ingredients one could possibly want and hollywood couldn't figure out what to do with it." lin manuel-miranda, at the end of the second chapter knew exactly what he wanted to do with it. brian: in your book, in the back, in the acknowledgements, you say that there was a study underway to try to find out whether alexander hamilton was a black. ron: right. brian: and you said, the information is going to come later. what happened? ron: right. well, what happened was this, i discovered from geneticists that if i had direct male hamilton descendants, that is descendants who were guys who had the hamilton name, i had them swabbing at their mouths and then sending the swabs off to a lab for genetic testing. and the results were inconclusive. i was thinking to myself frankly, wouldn't it be great
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for race relations in this country if we suddenly had a bi-racial founding father, but doing it was very inspective for me because it made me realize that race, which we in america tend to think of as something very precise and distinct becomes very nebulous on the genetic level. it turns out we have the so-called racists have much more in common with each other than differences, so to kind of look at the genetic material from someone and try to determine what race they were was very difficult. but you know, when hamilton came to north america, he was illegitimate and he always said, you know, my birth has been the
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subject of the most humiliating criticisms. he was always stung be references to his illegitimacy, but there was also in the press, john adams called him the croix bastard. there were a lot of different references to his racial makeup for the simple reason that very often, when young people came from the caribbean in those years, it could be in islands where sugar and cotton slave plantations. it was not unusual for them to be the product of a union between a white master and a female slave. but hamilton, we have a lot of paintings of him. his coloring was very kind of ruddy and scottish, so not apparent from first looking at the pictures of him that he would have been bi-racial and so, i think that as i tell in the book, his father may not have been james hamilton, it may have been a man named thomas stevens as opposed to hamilton as many people remark in later years. hamilton is a best friend from boyhood. he was someone named ned stevens who became a very imminent doctor and everyone who knew hamilton who then suddenly had
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the chance to meet ned stevens was bowled over the resemblance and said that they looked like brothers, which makes me think that they probably were. i think that later in the show, the sight of that -- that was probably one complication too many and decided not to deal with that, which would have been difficult to deal with because he starts the show 1776 and that opening song, he tells us everything that you need to know up until that point in hamilton's life and that would have been quite a bombshell to drop in to that first song. brian: here is some more video from that event that you were all in attendance in 2015 to get the washington award. by the way, what was that? $50,000? ron: i think so. brian: you got it. ron: i think so. yeah, i think that's right. brian: let's watch. [video clip] i'm past patiently waiting.
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i'm passionately smashin' every expectation, every action's an act of creation. i'm laughin' in the face of casualties and sorrow. for the first time i'm thinkin' past tomorrow. and i am not throwin' away my shot. i am not throwin' away my shot. hey, yo, i'm just like my country, i'm young, scrappy, and hungry, and i'm not throwin' away my shot. i am not throwing away my shot. (woah woah woah). i am not throwing away my shot. hey yo, i'm just like my country. i'm young, scrappy, and hungry. (woah, woah, yeah). and i'm not throwing away my shot. i am not throwing away my shot. (woah woah woah). i am not throwing away my shot. hey yo, i'm just like my country. i'm young, scrappy, and hungry. (woah, woah, yeah). and i'm not throwing away my shot. ♪ [end of video] brian: that's actually the trailer from the show that they used to publicize it. you were saying off camera that
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that's your family now. ron: i'm running, this is a very hip cool crowd now, you know, brian. it's kind of changed my life. certainly, it has changed my image around town and it has just been so moving for me that they have invited me into their world. brian: any chance for me to see you on stage at some point? ron: no, although, i am hoping that june 12, tony night, i am hoping that i will be up on the stage if we do win for best musical, which i think we have a reasonable chance of doing, but i don't think i will be up on the stage at the richard rodgers theater. although, i keep mentioning it as a possibility. i can't figure out why they want to have me in the show. brian: alexander hamilton -- this (dictum) of -- the main things that he did and well, he died at 49 and i think you say in your book. ron: yeah, the people would say 47, but okay, i mean, the revolution war, there were three main acts. the first act -- winning the revolution where hamilton was washington's aide, the camp chief of staff and a battlefield hero at yorktown.
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the second act, the constitutional convention. it was hamilton who personally issued the plea for the constitutional convention to be made in philadelphia in may 1787. he was the sole new york delegate that signed it. he then originated and wrote 51 of the 85 essays of the federal's papers, considered the classic gloss on the constitution, became the third act -- creation of the federal government. he becomes the first treasury secretary at age 34. he creates the treasury department, which means he creates the first tax system, first accounting system, first fiscal system, first monetary system, first central bank, first coast guard, first customs service on and on and on and on. remember that that hamilton was the architect of the federal government. brian: did you like alexander hamilton after you lived with him for so long? ron: well, you know, in one hand hamilton was very -- he was very charming. he was very witty. he was very charismatic. it was very easy to like that side of him, but he was also
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brash and headstrong and dangerously sure of himself and often self-destructive and bad judgment and so, i had tremendous admiration for what hamilton had accomplished. i often say to people the wonderful thing about this story is that hamilton's accomplishments were so monumental that you could admire him, but his flaws were so serious that we can all identify with him, you know so that he is both -- once very human and superhuman depending upon the moment. so it's a fascinating story that someone who was as brilliant as hamilton was as flawed and fallible as he is and it's interesting because when we were creating the show, there's always this notion than the broadway musical, the central character should be sympathetic. you know, you should be rooting for that central character. and hamilton with the reynolds pamphlet, i mean, the other things that happened in the second act.
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hamilton just constantly testing the sympathy of the audience and it's been very interesting that people walk out of the theater not only with tremendous admiration, but affection for him and i realized the reason is because he became real to them. you know, this is the big mistake i think that we make in our schools in terms of teaching history. we think that in order to instill love of historical figures, to install love of american history that we should present a series of saints and the students are very bored and the figure seem completely unreal. if you can kind of capture them accurately, they will love these characters. brian: where did you go to high school? ron: i went to forest hills high school in queens and then i did two degrees in english literature, one at yale and one at cambridge, so i never studied history in school. brian: but when you look back at school, you must have had some history classes? ron: something strained -- brian: you remember them at all?
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ron: you know, history should be the most exciting subject and so often, it's reduced to a wrought memorization and i don't remember having exciting history classes and i think that i, like a lot of people out there discover -- some people were lucky enough to have fantastic history teachers. i don't mean to denigrate all history teachers, but i think that my story, like a lot of other people i have met, they are suddenly in their 30s and 40s and one day, they're kind of on their own, pick up a piece of history or biography and they start reading and they say, "oh my god. this is fascinating. how come i never felt that before?" and we're having that sensation constantly with the show that people are coming and saying, "how come no teacher -- how passionate and brilliant and argumentative and fascinating these characters were."
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brian: last time we visited was for your washington book. a book as big as the alexander hamilton book. ron: even a little bigger, yeah. brian: and now what are you doing? ron: i'm doing ulysses s. grant. brian: but you're right in the middle of this trying to live in these different centuries. how hard is it? ron: extremely hard because mornings and afternoons during the week, i'm in the civil war in reconstruction, so i'm in the 19th century. then nights and weekends with the show back in the 18th century. occasionally, when i come up for air, i'm in the early 21st century, but only occasionally, and i find usually because my books are very long and they are packed with information that when i finish a book, brian, usually, there's a delete button in my mind that just wipes out the whole book. it's like my mind is tired of having sustained all of these information, whereas i have not only had to keep the entire ulysses s. grant book suspended
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in my mind, but because of the show of hamilton and even washington, so sometimes, i feel like my brain is bursting with these books that my mind is crying for release. brian: when will you finish the grant book and when will it be released to the public? ron: i'm hoping to finish the book this year and that it will come out next year. i've just had so many distractions with the show, pleasant distractions with the show, but still distractions that every time i think that the interest in the show was going to start to subside, it actually intensifies. so i would love that if grant comes out next year. i'm not positive it will. brian: what do you think of him? ron: well, you know, i always look in terms of searching for topics. i always look for people whom i think were misunderstood. with hamilton, hamilton had been very demonized when i was
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growing up. the veer of that era was that jefferson was this pure and virtuous man. he was the tribune of the common people and hamilton was this villainous figure and he was a tool of the plutocrats and i tried to show that hamilton was really a much more liberal figure than he had been portrayed and jefferson may be less so. and you know, similarly with grant, i always try to start out with some of the myths that have hardened around someone. grant the butcher as a general. well, he was actually strategic genius militarily where grant the drunkard, well that turns out to be a very complicated story. grant the president whose presidency was riddled with corruption and nepotism. well, that was there but hardly the whole story. i mean, reconstruction was the
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big story of his presidency. so i feel that there is so much that has been forgotten by ulysses s. grant that i'm hoping that when the book comes out, it will be as surprising to most people as the hamilton book or the other books have been that they are just going to see some of the more dimensions to this figure. brian: you've got to pick one. if you were able to interview george washington, alexander hamilton or ulysses grant, or throw in john d. rockefeller in that which you wrote -- ron: jp morgan. brian: jp morgan. who would you choose? ron: i would choose george washington just because i feel all the figures that i've written about, he was the most important and the most mysterious and just to kind of be able to stare at him and study him. i mean, if i wanted someone who was just going to dazzle me with his intellect, clearly, alexander hamilton.
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but i think that washington as james t. flexner said 90 years ago was the indispensable man who made everything else happen. but i think that in writing about hamilton, i certainly came to the feel that his achievements were up there with washington. brian: we found some video that lin miranda put on youtube when he was a young boy and i just wondered -- i don't know if you have seen this or not, we'll go ahead and roll it and i want to know if there's any video of you anywhere that would exhibit this kind of talent. [video clip] ♪ ♪
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[end of video clip] brian: this is before hip hop, i suspect and i'll add -- anything like that with you? ron: i think it's safe to say, brian that no such video exists in the chernow family archives of sort of bouncing off the wall, dancing around on my bed. i was probably out playing stick ball or doing something else. brian: has anybody shown any interest in doing a broadway show on washington? ron: there's been a lot of interest in doing dramatizations of washington both in terms of television and in terms of film, so i am hoping that that will happen at some point. you know, i have to tell you, when lin first told me that hamilton's life was a classic hip hop saga and that hip hop had this perfect fit with hamilton, i didn't understand what he was talking about, but i understand now. because there's something -- particularly the way that lin presents him in the show, hamilton is presented as this
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very, very intense driven, almost frenetic character and here you have this very kind of dense rapid hip hop music and there is something about that personality and that musical style that perfectly mesh. so it took me time to see what must have come to lin and just one great blinding flash that this life and this music would match. brian: last question, we are almost out of time. has there been anybody that didn't like the show that wrote about it? ron: a review that i could remember that was at all critical was in the new yorker by hilton als, but otherwise, we have had hundreds upon hundreds of ecstatic reviews of the show, so i think it's inevitable that someone would come along when you have everyone saying this is the greatest show they have ever seen. somebody will inevitably come along and say, "i don't think it's so great."
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brian: did you know that this was going to happen when you headed into the show? ron: no, although you know, what happened, i remember that back in january 2012, lin did a performance about maybe 10 or 12 of the songs at jazz at lincoln center and i went and the audience was full of people in their 20s and 30s. and they weren't even staged really and he caught up with some of the other cast members and sang these songs and i could remember that at the end, all of this young people in their 20s and 30s were on their feet cheering, screaming, stomping and i looked around said, "oh my god. is this a preview of the future?" and anytime that the material was tested out in front of an audience. the response was extraordinary. i mean, i remember we went to a summer theater festival at vassar powerhouse theater festival and the place was crawling with producers from new york.
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that just the first act and it was done in concert style, every producer in the room, not only wanted to invest in that, but everybody was just saying, "this is like the greatest thing i have ever seen." so we had intimations that it might happen, but i think -- what we couldn't have predicted was that it would be quite such a sensation or that it would be not only a theatrical phenomenon but a political and culture phenomenon. we were all at the white house a couple of weeks ago. i don't think there's ever been a sitting president of the united states who came twice to see the show, first lady who has come to see the show twice, you know, so we have had the obamas. we've had the clintons. we have had the chaneys. we have had every hollywood and broadway star that you could imagine there. it's just been a nightly who's who parade passing through. that's something that none of us could have imagined that it would be quite this kind of sensation. brian: ron chernow. author of hamilton, which is now a successful broadway show. thank you very much for joining us.
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ron: always a pleasure, brian. thank you. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] >> for free transcripts or to give us your comments, visit us & the programs are also available as c-span podcasts. >> sunday night, the u.s. response to the covid-19 pandemic and the medical science being used to combat it. >> i have not seen a level of collaborative spirit within the scientific community of this ilk
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or stature in my life. that is very encouraging. things have moved as fast as they could possibly move. we will have hopefully by the end of this month two to three to maybe four potential drugs, including antibodies, that will attack the virus. i can't comment on whether they work or not or what settings they work on and we will also have about four or five or six new modalities to treat the inflammatory phase of the virus. >> watch sunday night at 8:00 eastern. has toptv on c-span2 nonfiction books and authors every weekend. coming up this july 4 weekend, saturday at 11:00 p.m. eastern, joni ernst talks about her journey from growing up in iowa to being the first female combat veteran in the u.s. senate in


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