Category Archives: Books

HOW I MET THE RECLUSIVE GEORGIA O’KEEFFE ·

(Roxana Robinson’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 10/1; Photograh: Georgia O’Keeffe lived in a small village in rural New Mexico and rarely gave interviews. Seclusion and withholding were part of her persona.Photograph by Allan Grant / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty.)

The story of two encounters—one in life, the other on the page.

I once met Georgia O’Keeffe. This was not easy to do, and I considered it an achievement.

It was in the early nineteen-seventies, when I was in my early twenties. I was working at Sotheby’s, in New York, in the American paintings department. One of the things I did there was catalogue the works that we sold. I held each picture in my hands, felt its shape and weight. I measured and described it, recording the medium, condition, signature. The date. The provenance and exhibition history. I came to know the works very well.

During this time I had begun to write about American art. I was particularly interested in the modernists, those early-twentieth-century artists who were part of the rising tide of abstraction. I wrote about different members of this group—Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove. I wanted to write about O’Keeffe, but this was difficult. She held the copyright to many of her paintings, so it was necessary to ask permission from her in order to reproduce them. This was one reason that relatively little scholarship had appeared on her: How could you write a book about art without using images? Another reason was the confusion that permeated critical response to her work until well into the sixties. All those flowers! Was she a great artist or a cheap sentimentalist? The work was so easy to like—could it be important? She was scorned by the guys, and, if you wanted to be taken seriously as a scholar, it seemed risky to write about her.

Another reason for the paucity of writing about O’Keeffe was her own inaccessibility. She lived in a small village in rural New Mexico and rarely gave interviews. Seclusion and withholding were part of her persona. She was not interested in publicity, and it is said that she once refused a request for a one-person show at the Louvre. Here was a paradox: the work, so intimate and engaging, even accessible, and the artist, so remote and self-controlled, clothed in severe black and white. The mystery gave O’Keeffe a kind of charged glamour. A sighting was a significant event.

That season, Sotheby’s had received an O’Keeffe painting of Canadian barns. It had been done in the early nineteen-thirties: two dark gray buildings in a wintry landscape. I catalogued it, and asked Doris Bry—O’Keeffe’s private agent, who had once been the assistant to Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s former husband—for information on it. Later she called me.

“Mrs. Alger,” she said (for that was my name then), “this is Doris Bry.” Of course I knew who it was. She had a dry, gravelly voice, very distinctive, with a Waspy drawl. “I’m calling about the painting of Canadian barns.”

“Yes, Miss Bry.” I used my formal, fluty, professional tone. “How may I help you?”

“I’d like to have the painting brought over to my apartment.”

Doris Bry lived in an apartment in the Pulitzer mansion. This was a grand Beaux-Arts building, only a few blocks away from our offices on Madison Avenue. But it didn’t matter how close she was. “I’m so sorry, Miss Bry,” I said, “but our insurance policies don’t permit the works to leave the premises until they have legally changed hands. If you’d like to bring someone in to see the painting, I’ll be happy to have it brought out to the viewing room and put up on the easel. But I can’t allow the painting to leave our property.”

“Mrs. Alger,” Miss Bry said, “the artist is here. She would like to see the painting.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” I said, in my normal voice.

I called storage to have the painting brought out. I had it under my arm and was walking down the hall on my way to the front door when I ran into my boss.

“What are you carrying?” he asked.

“Canadian barns,” I said, putting a hand over the frame protectively.

“Where are you going?” he asked. “It can’t leave the premises.”

“The artist wants to see it,” I said.

My boss put out his hand. “I’ll take it.”

“I answered the phone,” I said. “I’m taking it.”

With the painting under my arm, I walked down Madison Avenue to the Pulitzer mansion. Doris Bry ushered me into her apartment. She was a tall, stately woman, rather ponderous. She had dark eyes, pale, lightless skin, and a mass of short gray curls. She brought me into the living room, where there were three other people—two lawyers in dark suits and an older woman. Bry introduced me.

“This is Mrs. Alger, from Sotheby’s.” The woman nodded pleasantly but said nothing. She was much smaller than I, which surprised me. She had a lined face, dark, hooded eyes, and long silvery hair coiled into a low bun. She wore a gray cotton housedress with a white collar and a narrow self-belt. On her feet, she wore flat black Chinese slippers, with straps across the insteps.

Everyone watched as I carried the painting across the room and set it on the easel. The small woman came with me, but Bry and the lawyers stood at the back of the room, talking. Georgia O’Keeffe and I stood in front of the painting. She looked quietly at the canvas, as though it were part of her, as if she were alone with it.

I stood silently beside her. But that wasn’t enough. When people meet someone famous, often they want to inflect themselves upon the moment, to impose their own identities upon that of the famous person. They say, “I grew up in your town,” or, “I have that same scarf,” or, “I met you once in a train station.” It’s a hopeless venture.

“I hope you like the frame,” I said. I had ordered it myself. It was a simple silver half clamshell, the kind that Arthur Dove had used. I knew O’Keeffe had liked Dove and had admired his work. I knew she’d like the frame. She’d be grateful. This was my moment.

She answered without turning. “I like them best without frames.”

I said nothing more. She stood looking at the painting, calm and utterly self-possessed. I think she was wearing a black sweater, a thin little cardigan, not buttoned up.

She’d have been in her early eighties then.

Nearly twenty years later, in the spring of 1986, I was living in northern Westchester County. We had moved there ten years earlier, my family and I. We were out in the country, in an old farmhouse with a big barn and some fields. Living with us were four or five horses, two or three dogs, and some large cats. My daughter was fourteen. I had left the art world.

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AN AMERICAN WRITER FOR AN AGE OF DIVISION ·

(Alexandra Schwartz’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 9/14.  Photograph by Cole Barash for The New Yorker.) 

Ayad Akhtar’s autofictional novel cunningly entwines outrage and ambivalence.

The playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar has never been afraid of provoking audiences. His latest work explores the origins of Trump’s toxicity, the tensions of Muslim identity, and the splintering of a family and a country.

Ayear after Donald Trump assumed office, Ayad Akhtar was at the American Academy in Rome, contemplating populism, the degradation of democracy, and ruinous civil strife. He had been mulling over the idea of a play about the brothers Gracchus, plebeian politicians in the century before Caesar whose defiance of the senatorial élite and championship of the poor led to an unhappy end. Akhtar wasn’t alone in consulting Roman history to gain perspective on the present. From his window, he could look out at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, whose husband, Newt, was studying Augustus, rumor had it, for pointers on how to counsel a President who fancied himself an emperor.

Akhtar, who is forty-nine, is an obsessive autodidact, with a mind like a grappling hook for any subject that attracts his interest. There are many. As a kid growing up in the Milwaukee suburbs, he studied the Quran with a rigor that flummoxed his secular Pakistani parents. As a theatre major at Brown, he taught himself French, attaining enough fluency in a year to direct his own translations of Genet and Bernard-Marie Koltès. When he was in his twenties, working in New York as an assistant to the director Andre Gregory, he spent his free time analyzing the prosody of Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene” and poring over Freud, which led to a years-long study of Jung, then Lacan, then Winnicott. Although he lost his faith in his teens, religion of all kinds continues to fascinate him. “He’s the only American I know who has read Meister Eckhart,” the German writer Daniel Kehlmann, a good friend of Akhtar’s, told me, referring to the medieval Christian theologian and mystic.

Success arrived late, but Akhtar has made up for lost time. His first novel, “American Dervish,” about the coming of age of an innocent Pakistani-American boy, was published in January, 2012, when he was forty-one, the same month that his first play, “Disgraced,” about the unravelling of a jaded Pakistani-American lawyer, premièred, in Chicago. After a buzzy run at Lincoln Center, where tickets were scalped for fifteen hundred dollars apiece, “Disgraced” won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, then moved to a sold-out run in London, and to the Lyceum Theatre, on Broadway.

In short order, Akhtar had three more plays première, including “The Invisible Hand,” a thriller about an American hostage in Pakistan who, to pay his ransom, teaches his fundamentalist captors how to manipulate financial markets, and “Junk,” another Broadway hit, which transformed the dry subject of high-yield bonds in the nineteen-eighties into unexpectedly riveting drama. “Ayad’s particular brilliance is that he makes systems kinetic,” Josh Stern, a producer who is working with Akhtar to develop a television show, told me. “He’s able to take this huge, complicated infrastructure and distill it down to visceral character drama in a way that is unique.” As arcane as his intellectual tastes can be, Akhtar is determined to appeal to a broad public. “Proust meets Jerry Springer” is how he described his work to me when I met him, earlier this summer.

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13 ESSENTIAL BOOKS FOR THEATRE STUDENTS ·

(Dan Meyer’s article Appeared on Playbill, 9/3.)

Check out these reads before heading to class this semester.

Now that the school year is here, it’s time for students to put down their summer beach reads and get back into their academic reading lists. To help narrow down the many choices for incoming theatre majors, Playbill has selected thirteen books essential for any budding artist.

Head to the (virtual) book store or library with these titles below, arranged in alphabetical order.

An Actor Prepares
By Constantin Stanislavsky
Originally written in the 1930s, this is the one of the first modern day books on performance, and it remains crucial for students to this day. Using a system the performer-director developed on his own, Stanislavsky provides a primer on training, preparation, and technique. Republished in 2011 by Read Books.

The Art and Craft of Playwriting
By Jeffrey Hatcher
Featuring interviews with American playwrights Lee Blessing, Marsha Norman, and José Rivera, Hatcher examines what it takes to make a well-written story in the theatre today from character development and setting up a scene to building suspense and getting a character across the stage. Republished in 2000 from Writer’s Digest Books.

The Director’s Craft: A Handbook for the Theatre
By Katie Mitchell
A step-by-step guide on directing perfect for beginners or those looking for a refresher, Mitchell explains how to helm stage works with a steady hand. In addition, the book looks at challenges directors often face and provides some solutions. Published in 2008 by Routledge.

A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre
By Anne Bogart
In this look at theatre directing, Bogart presents seven aspects of storytelling that can be considered both a partner and an obstacle to success: violence, memory, terror, eroticism, stereotype, embarrassment, and resistance. Published in 2001 by Routledge.

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LINN ULLMANN ON HER FATHER, INGMAR BERGMAN: ‘IT WAS AS IF ALL THE WINDOWS OF HIS MIND HAD OPENED’ ·

(Alex Clark’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/29; Ingmar Bergman with his daughter Linn Ullmann during the filming of Autumn Sonata (1978). Photograph: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri.)

When Linn Ullmann’s father was well into his 80s, he began to refer to the life that he was now experiencing as “the epilogue”. Lying in bed in the mornings, he would tot up his ailments, allowing himself one per decade: if there were fewer than eight, he would get up; if there were more, he would stay put. But these strategies denoted realism rather than appeasement, and his determination to continue work remained largely unshaken.

Ullmann’s father was the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, and the work that he fixed on in his last years was a collaboration with his daughter, a book that would capture something of his life and thoughts as he approached the end. Recalling the beginnings of the project as she talks to me from Oslo, Ullmann emphasises the centrality of the creative process to Bergman’s life. “When it’s work, you know, then we know what we do. We’re working: good. We had so much fun discussing when we were going to write the book, how, what form it would take.” His preferred title, he joked, was “Laid & Slayed in Eldorado Valley”, a phrase that he’d always hoped to use for the name of a film.

Instead, what emerged, over a decade after his death in 2007, was Ullmann’s sixth novel, Unquiet, a powerful and unsettling hybrid of memoir, fiction and meditation, braided together in a fragmentary structure that reflects, among other things, Bergman’s love of Bach’s Cello Suites.

It is, she tells me, a work built on “the ruins of a book that I didn’t write”. As father and daughter delightedly planned their project in numerous letters, phone calls and meetings, Bergman “kept getting older”. By the time work began in earnest, in the spring and summer before his death, physical frailty had been joined by something else: “Things had changed very much; just in a few months, his language had changed, the memory loss was now very obvious to him and to me. It was as if all the windows of his mind had opened up so that things that were real and things that were imaginary or dreamlike – he didn’t always have the capacity to see the difference.”

The six conversations between them, recorded at Hammars, Bergman’s home on the Swedish island of Fårö, form a vital strand of Unquiet but for many years Ullmann didn’t even listen to them, believing them to be part of the “huge fiasco” that the unfinished project had become: “It was physically painful, almost, to listen to those tapes. So I just put away the tape recorder … I mean, I should have started earlier, I should have insisted that we do it earlier, I should have asked different questions when we sat there, I should have had a better tape recorder because the tape recorder was lousy. I shouldn’t have been so high pitched.” It was her husband, the writer Niels Fredrik Dahl, who prodded her into retrieving the recorder from the attic: “Don’t you want to just listen to it now that you’re writing this book? And then I listened to it. And I transcribed it. And I translated it from Swedish to Norwegian. And it was just delightful.”

These initial feelings, of course, are an acute form of the regrets that so often accompany death; the conviction that had we acted differently, we might somehow have mitigated our bereavement, or preserved something more tangible of our loved one. But in Ullmann’s case, there is a sense of something particularly heightened – almost primal – about the experience.

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Read the Stage Voices review of the book, 2/20/19

 

PINKERTON: THAT TIME WHEN DEMOCRATS’ VETTING OF A FEMALE VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WENT AWRY (REVIEW OF ‘REAGAN’S COWBOYS’, BY JOHN B. ROBERTS II) ·

(James P. Pinkerton’s article appeared on Breitbart, 8/12; Photo: Warren K. Leffler/Library of Congress.)

Male Democrat presidential nominees don’t always do a good job of vetting their female vice presidential choices. Admittedly, there’s only been one such instance in the past, back in 1984, when Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate—and she didn’t work out so well.

So to put that history in baseball terms, the Democrats’ historic record is no hits, one error—or .000.  

Today, of course, in 2020, Joe Biden has just picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, and so we’ll see how the Democrats do in their second outing with a lady at bat.

Yet in the meantime, we might gain some insight into the proper vetting of a running mate, or lack thereof, from a new book by John B. Roberts, Reagan’s Cowboys: Inside the 1984 Re-election Campaign’s Secret Operation Against Geraldine Ferraro. 

Roberts knows—because he was there. Beginning in the late 70s, Roberts had worked for Ronald Reagan; his immediate boss, however, was Lyn Nofziger, the hardboiled D-Day-veteran-turned-reporter who had served as press secretary in the Gipper’s very first campaign, his successful 1966 bid for the governorship of California.  

Roberts gets right to the point: “During the 1984 presidential campaign, I and a colleague were put in charge of a secret investigation of Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate.” That colleague was Art Teele, Republican lawyer who had earlier served in Reagan’s sub-cabinet.   

Roberts continues, “This book is my political memoir of how the White House and Reagan-Bush ’84, the president’s reelection committee, handled the unprecedented challenge posed by a female vice-presidential contender.” And he adds, “The details of how our opposition research operation was run and why it was so effective have been kept secret for decades.” 

As Roberts relates, he was first persuaded not to reveal any of his activities at the request of Stuart K. Spencer, who had been Reagan’s top political adviser for nearly a quarter-century. And yet, Roberts adds, the recent flap over Christopher Steele, the peddler of the now-discredited “Russia dossier” on Donald Trump, got him thinking that people should have a better understanding of how opposition research should function in a campaign.  

Thirty-six years later, Roberts obviously believes that the details of his work—in contrast to the Steele dossier—can withstand scrutiny. The Steele document, which was so widely spread by an over-eager MSM in 2016-7, then provoked Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation, which haunted the Trump administration for more than two years. And yet, Roberts writes, the Steele dossier “is more appropriately thought of as a product of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.”  

How the dodgy Steele dossier metastasized into a run-amok inquiry will be the subject, of course, of many books. And yet in the meantime, we have Reagan’s Cowboys to show us how legitimate opposition research can be collected, assembled and utilized. So the Trump campaign might take note.  

For his part, Roberts was well-qualified for the role. He has, shall we say, hovered around the federal intelligence community for the entirety of his career, and so the ideas of discretion and compartmentalization came naturally to him; of all the people working on the Ferraro case, only he and Teele knew all the details. 

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ERNEST HEMINGWAY’S PUBLISHED WORKS LITTERED WITH ERRORS, STUDY CLAIMS ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/2; Photo:  The Guardian.)

Experts find hundreds of errors in the writer’s works, mostly made by editors and typesetters

Ernest Hemingway’s published writings are riddled with hundreds of errors and little has been done to correct them, according to a forthcoming study of the legendary writer’s texts.

Robert W Trogdon, a leading scholar of 20th-century American literature, told the Guardian that Hemingway’s novels and short stories were crying out for editions that are “as accurate to what he wrote as possible” because the number of mistakes “ranges in the hundreds”. Although many are slight, he said, they were nevertheless mistakes, made primarily by editors and typesetters.

The majority of Hemingway’s manuscripts are held at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, where Trogdon has pored over the originals.

He singled out, for example, the 1933 short story A Way You’ll Never Be, which mistakenly features the word “bat” rather than “hat” when the character Nick Adams is explaining catching grasshoppers to the confused Italian soldiers. Hemingway originally wrote: “But I must insist that you will never gather a sufficient supply of these insects for a day’s fishing by pursuing them with your hands or trying to hit them with a hat.”

Misspellings in one edition of The Sun Also Rises, his 1926 novel about disillusioned expatriates in postwar France and Spain, include the bullfighter “Marcial Lalanda” appearing as “Marcial Salanda”, an easy mistake to make because of the similarity of the author’s handwritten “L” and “S”, Trogdon observed. There is also a restaurant called “Ciqoque” when Hemingway meant the real-life Paris eatery Cigogne, again an easy mistake for someone unaccustomed to distinguishing the author’s “q” and “g”.

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THE 40 BEST IRISH FICTIONAL CHARACTERS – IN ORDER ·

(Chosen by Rosita BolandDonald ClarkePeter CrawleyMartin Doyle, and Hilary Fannin for the Irish Times, 8/1; Photo: The Irish Times.)

FROM NIDGE AND CONNELL WALDRON TO GRETTA CONROY, RASHERS TIERNEY AND PEGEEN MIKE, ALL OF THESE PEOPLE EMERGED FROM ACTS OF IMAGINATION – BUT ARE SO DEFTLY CREATED THAT THEY ARE AS REAL TO US AS ANY LIVING PERSON

40. BESSIE BURGESS

From The Plough and the Stars
Play, 1926
It befits an unsentimental classic like The Plough and the Stars that its heart resides in such an unlikely place. Bessie Burgess, the cantankerous, self-demolishing, crowing unionist (“Oh, youse are all rightly shanghaied now!” she spits at her revolutionary neighbours) is ultimately the spine of compassion, quiet heroism and genuine sacrifice amid all the posture and chaos of Seán O’Casey’s street-level view of the 1916 Rising.

39. AISLING

From Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling
Book, 2017
For a modest, sensible twentysomething from Ballygobbard, Aisling has taken Ireland by storm. The first three books featuring her, written by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, are the bestselling Irish fiction titles this century. Compared to “an Irish Bridget Jones”, Aisling is as much in the tradition of a Maeve Binchy or Marian Keyes heroine as she is a rival to Helen Fielding’s creation.

38. CONNELL WALDRON

From Normal People
Book, 2018; TV drama, 2020
Despite being a young man both studying literature and writing it, Connell’s trademark characteristic is an inability to be articulate, especially with Marianne, his love. What Sally Rooney’s creation doesn’t, or can’t, say to her during their school and college years together is partly what makes his character so realistic, frustrating and engaging.

37. CATHERINE MCKENNA

From Grace Notes
Book, 1997
In Scotland, Catherine, a composer, is trying to literally compose her life. She is a new mother, but her partner is abusive. She is estranged from her family back in Northern Ireland. Music and her career-changing composing commission both ground her, Bernard MacLaverty’s novel, and then lift her onwards from where she has been in a paralysis.

36. SADIE JACKSON

From The Twelfth Day of July
Book, 1970
Sadie, a Protestant teenager, is sassy and feisty. As we follow her love-across-the-divide relationship with Kevin, a Catholic, over five books, we grow with them. Joan Lingard’s young-adult-fiction series brought the Troubles home to generations of young people elsewhere and brought fiction home to young people in Northern Ireland.

35 CATHLEEN NI HOULIHAN

From Cathleen Ni Houlihan
Play, 1902
“Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?” WB Yeats wondered about Cathleen Ni Houlihan. If so, they must have been as naive as the question. In 1798, a mysterious old lady disturbs a family dinner to sing of blood sacrifice, tell of her stolen “four beautiful green fields”, and lure a young man to join the Rebellion. Thus appeased, she transforms into a girl with “the walk of a queen” and struts away into several more Irish dramas.

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READ ‘REAGAN’S COWBOYS’ ALONG WITH MAUREEN DOWD ARTICLE IN NY TIMES, 8/8 ·

MOB RULE:  JOHN B. ROBERTS II ON THE 1984 REELECTION CAMPAIGN’S SECRET OPERATION AGAINST GERALDINE FERRARO, THINKING OUTSIDE THE BALLOT BOX, AND HIS NEW BOOK  ON MORNING IN AMERICA:  “REAGAN’S COWBOYS”

In the run-up to the 2020 election, Reagan Political Strategist John B. Roberts II looks back at 1984—only  to find a highly controversial president, a terrible economy, and mass protests in the streets.  The parallels go on . . .

Interview with Bob Shuman, Stage Voices

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is an issue from the 1984 Reagan campaign that is also important to a millennial–and why?

The economy. Until 1983, America had a terrible economy for a decade. It began with an oil embargo and gas shortages. We waited in long lines to try to fill our cars, at prices that spiked more than 150 percent.  I was a college graduate in 1973.  Jobs were impossible to find, and when you did find them, wages couldn’t keep up with double-digit inflation.  I vividly remember how hard it was to land a job and how it seemed impossible to ever buy a home.  It was really dismal, a lot like it has been for millennials.

Reagan was a highly controversial president, it should be recalled.  There were mass protests in the streets, a difficult economy, Russian interference in elections; the parallels go and on.  For those who do not remember that time, this look backward may reveal that no matter how bad things seem, they can turn around for the better.

Why hasn’t the story of the 1984 reelection campaign’s secret operation against Geraldine Ferraro been told before–and do you think reasons had to do with protecting participants?

By design, only a handful of us knew the full extent of the operation, even when it was happening.  We had lots of people working on the investigations, but they didn’t know everyone who was involved or what people outside of their cluster were doing.  It was a compartmented operation and only I, my colleague Art Teele, and the Reagans’ closest advisor, Stu Spencer, knew the complete story.  In late 1984, an editor at Knopf told me he was interested in publishing a book about the press coverage of the campaigns, which would have included the Ferraro operation.  Stu Spencer asked me not to write it because he thought it might embarrass the Reagans, especially Nancy. So we kept silent for decades.

 

Besides yourself, name the first Reagan Cowboy to come to mind–and who was he or she?

Mac Baldrige.  He was Reagan’s Commerce Secretary and although he was an Ivy Leaguer and successful businessman, he grew up on a ranch and had been a professional roper, a real rodeo cowboy.  In 1988 he was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame.  He and Reagan shared a love of horses and often went riding together.  Baldrige died from injuries in a freak riding accident.  Of course, the second name that comes to mind is Colonel Oliver North, who was a principal in the Iran-Contra affair. He was one of Reagan’s cowboys, whether they went horseback riding or not.   

 

Why was it worth staying with the campaign as you found yourself involved with organized crime?

That’s a really good question.  My mortgage was definitely a factor. But the main thing that kept me on the job was that Reagan declared war on organized crime in 1983.  Attorney General William French Smith ordered U.S. attorneys and the FBI to make the Mafia and other crime groups a top priority.  At the same time Reagan created a high-profile presidential commission to publicly spotlight the dangers.  One question Art Teele and I could never answer was this: was it just a coincidence that a relatively unknown politician with extensive connections to organized crime was picked to run for vice president? Or was the Mafia trying to put someone they could coerce into doing their bidding into the White House?  Because we couldn’t discount that possibility, we stuck with our investigations until the Mondale-Ferraro ticket was defeated.      

 

What do you see as major differences in opposition research then and now?

The dossier of derogatory information British former spy Christopher Steele developed on Trump in 2016 embodies the differences.  Even though the FBI and CIA could not verify the chief allegations in Steele’s dossier, it was used to justify secret surveillance.  The report became part of a counter-intelligence investigation of the Trump campaign and was shared with the press, senior officials in the intelligence community, and in the Justice Department. Each and every one of those actions would never have happened in 1984, at least not on my watch or on Art Teele’s watch.  They violate every important principle of a democratic election, from abuse of executive authority to potentially introducing Russian propaganda into a presidential campaign.    

We verified the information we uncovered about Geraldine Ferraro before we disclosed it to anyone.  We then required the main news organizations we worked with to independently verify our leads, as a condition of our sharing the information.  We refused to involve Executive Branch agencies in our investigative work, and the one time we found out someone, on our side, had tried to do so, we shut him down.  Without subpoena powers, without court warrants, without FISA court approved eavesdropping, we nonetheless uncovered politically damaging information.  Some of that information led to a congressional investigation, unanimously approved by every Republican and Democrat on the House Ethics Committee, into Geraldine Ferraro’s compliance with the law.  Unlike in recent years, where the Steele dossier’s allegations remain unproven and investigations into Russian collusion have come up empty-handed, the 1984 investigation into Ferraro found numerous violations of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978

The second part of the Stage Voices interview with John B. Roberts II will appear next Tuesday.

Reagan’s Cowboys by John B. Roberts II, available now from McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers 

View on Amazon

Visit the Web site of John B. Roberts II

Read Part 2 of this interview

Photos: North, Guardian; Steele, Business Insider

Interview (c) 2020 by John B. Roberts II and Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

MAUREEN DOWD NY TIMES ARTICLE, 8/8

No Wrist Corsages, Please

Has America grown since 1984, or will the knives still be out for Biden’s running mate?

Has America grown since 1984, or will the knives still be out for Biden’s running mate?

By Maureen Dowd

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — On the cusp of Joe Biden teaming up with a woman, I am casting back to my time covering the first woman who was a serious contender for veep.

The feminist fairy tale — which began with women crying and popping champagne on the convention floor in San Francisco in 1984 — had a sad ending. Cinderella with ashes in her mouth.

It’s hard to fathom, but it took another 36 years for a man to choose to put a woman on the Democratic ticket with him. To use Geraldine Ferraro’s favorite expression, “Gimme a break!”

After Walter Mondale picked Ferraro, a Queens congresswoman, the first man and woman to share a ticket had to consider all sorts of things: Could he kiss her on the cheek? (No.) Could he call her “dear” or “honey”? (No.) Could they hug? (No.) Could they tell jokes, as Johnny Carson did, about how angry Joan Mondale would be when her husband kept coming home late and saying he had been in private sessions with the vice president? (No.)

They wanted to be seen as peers, more TV anchor team than suburban couple. Mondale could not seem paternal or patronizing or use phrases like “a ticket with broad appeal.” Ferraro, who walked faster, had to stop bounding ahead of her running mate.

They knew that the way they conducted themselves would forever recast the perception of men and women in politics. So they were wary in the beginning.

As one Democratic consultant put it at the time, “He looked like a teenager on the first date with that ‘How in the world do you pin the corsage on her?’ problem.’’

Before a fund-raiser in New York once, a Democratic official presented Ferraro with a wrist corsage. She refused to put it on. “That I will not do,’’ she told the man politely.

Sometimes, the introductory music for the petite blonde was the 1925 ditty, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue.” One magazine hailed her as “America’s Bride.”

When the ticket headed South, Jim Buck Ross, Mississippi’s 70-year-old commissioner of agriculture, called the 48-year-old Ferraro “young lady” and asked if she could bake blueberry muffins.

Ferraro’s historic campaign was full of images never before seen on the presidential trail. As she went onstage, Gerry, as she was universally known, would hand off her pocketbook to an aide. Her charming press spokesman, Francis O’Brien, sometimes ironed her dresses — as her main foreign affairs adviser, Madeleine Albright, looked on.

It was fascinating to see age-old customs through the eyes of a woman candidate.

“People hand me their babies,’’ Ferraro marveled. “As a mother, my instinctive reaction is how do you give your baby to someone who’s a total stranger to kiss, especially with so many colds going around? And especially when the woman is wearing lipstick?”

It was the first time a candidate running for the White House had talked about abortion using the phrase, “If I were pregnant,” and about foreign policy with the phrase, “As the mother of a draft-age son.” The “smartass white boys” around Mondale, as many feminists called them privately, got nervous when she talked about being a mother. How could she be tough and a mother, they wondered, not seeing the obvious: Mothers are tougher than anyone. Fearing white male backlash, they tried to control her bouncy Queens persona.

Ferraro walked the same tightrope that tripped up Hillary Clinton when she wondered if she should wheel around in that debate and tell the creeping Donald Trump to scram.

If she got angry, would she seem shrill, that dread word, and turn off voters? The Mondale inner circle wanted Ferraro to play the traditional running-mate role of hatchet man. But Gloria Steinem warned, “Nothing makes men more anxious than for a woman to be masculine.”

George H.W. Bush excitedly proclaimed after his debate with Ferraro that he had tried to “kick a little ass”; his press aide called Ferraro “bitchy”; and Barbara Bush said Ferraro was a word that “rhymes with rich.”

What started as a goose bump blind date with history curdled, as Ferraro got dragged into a financial mess involving her husband’s real estate business.

Right after the Reagan landslide, Democrats began muttering about returning to white Anglo-Saxon men on the ticket and not having any more “feminized” tickets that didn’t appeal to them.

I called women across the country for a magazine autopsy I was writing and was shocked to hear how ambivalent women still were about a woman running the country.

A 36-year-old mother of three from Bristol, Tenn., told me: “I put myself in her shoes. Could I sit down and logically make decisions for everybody without cracking up? I think women in general are weak. I know that sounds awful. But we women know we have our faults.’’

The next year, Ferraro put out a memoir talking about how depressed and paranoid she got, and how much she cried, admitting that she was not “prepared for the depth of the fury, the bigotry, and the sexism my candidacy would unleash.”

She said that Mondale’s male aides were so condescending that she instructed them to “pretend every time they talk to me or even look at me that I’m a gray-haired Southern gentleman, a senator from Texas.” (In her memoir, Sarah Palin aimed her sharpest barbs at John McCain’s aides.)

We don’t know whom Biden will choose but we do know the sort of hell she will endure at the hands of Team Trump. Even after the #MeToo revolution, even with women deciding this election, have the undercurrents of sexism in America changed so much? Hollywood, after all, only just began forking over major budgets to women directors, after years of absurdly stereotyping them.

Kimberly Guilfoyle, Kellyanne Conway, Kayleigh McEnany, Lara Trump and Jeanine Pirro — the Fox Force Five of retrograde Trumpworld — will have the knives out. Conservatives will undermine the veep candidate with stereotypes. She’s bitchy. She’s a nag. She’s aggressive. She’s ambitious. Who’s wearing the pants here, anyhow?

I asked Francis O’Brien if he thought, three and a half decades after he watched the sandstorm of sexism around Ferraro, whether her successor would have an easier time.

“I think it’s the same, in many ways,” he said. “This is a white Anglo-Saxon country founded by white Anglo-Saxon men for white Anglo-Saxon men. Sexism is like race. It’ll pop out. It’s in our DNA. We’re one of the few Western countries where women have never made it to the top.”

But on the bright side, when Chuck Schumer wanted to call Nancy Pelosi a lioness on Friday, referring to her negotiations with Republicans on the relief bill, he checked with her first to see if she would prefer lion.

The Speaker chose lioness.

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Credit…Diana Walker/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

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JOHN B. ROBERTS II: ‘REAGAN’S COWBOYS: INSIDE THE 1984 REELECTION CAMPAIGN’S SECRET OPERATION AGAINST GERALDINE FERRARO’ BY JOHN B. ROBERTS II ·

A Presidential Election Year Is Like the Wild West . . .

When rumors about Geraldine Ferraro–the first woman vice-presidential nominee by a major party in U.S history–reached First Lady Nancy Reagan during the 1984 presidential election, a secret operation was launched to investigate her. It revealed Ferraro’s familial ties to organized crime and the extent to which she would have been subject to pressure or blackmail by the Mafia if elected.

Written by an insider responsible for running the investigation, this never-before-told story goes behind the scenes as an incumbent president’s campaign works to expose a political opponent’s mob connections. Part detective story, part political thriller, the narrative features all the major players in the Reagan White House and 1984 reelection committee, with revealing anecdotes about Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Reagan’s Cowboys – McFarland

View Reagan’s Cowboys on Amazon

John B. Roberts II got his start as an author with a play that he wrote and directed for a school performance in the fourth grade. His first professional work as a writer came when he and a college buddy scraped by through a dreary English winter to launch a magazine in London. When State Department exams required him to go back to America, he wrote magazine and newspaper articles for the airfare home. To get the money back to London, he took a temporary job on a presidential campaign. Sixteen years later, after two terms in the White House and a decade as an international political consultant, he made a mid-career switch back to writing fulltime.

For the last two years, he has been criss-crossing America’s backroads towing a retro-mod Bowlus Road Chief travel trailer while exploring America’s “fly over” country for a travel book.
His latest novel, “Stripping Lolita,” is in revision.

“Reagan’s Cowboys” is a true account of the 1984 Reagan-Bush reelection campaign’s secret operation against Geraldine Ferraro, America’s first female candidate for vice president on a major party ticket. It will be the first book to expose the hardball political tactics used at the pinnacle of American politics.

Roberts was The Mclaughlin Group’s senior producer and creative collaborator with television host John McLaughlin until his death in 2016. He has written thousands of shows and interviews for world leaders, celebrities, experts, politicians, and authors. In 1998, he launched CNCB’s top-rated talk show, “The McLaughlin Special Report.” As a freelance producer, he works on assignment around the world, from exotic locales such as a remote atoll in Tahiti to world capitals like London and Madrid.

When he isn’t writing books, articles, or TV shows, he can be found drawing and painting, or wandering remote byways in his 1984 CJ7 Jeep.

LIVING THROUGH THE PLAGUE TIMES – EXCERPT: ‘DEATH BY SHAKESPEARE’ BY KATHRYN HARKUP ·

(Harkup’s excerpt appeared in Shakespeare & Beyond, 5/5; via Pam Green.)

View book on Amazon.

What would it have been like to live through the plague outbreaks of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries? And what insight does that give us into the mentions of plague in Shakespeare’s plays?

Kathryn Harkup has looked at the science behind literature from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the mystery novels of Agatha Christie, and she turns her attention now to Shakespeare with a new book, Death By Shakespeare: Snakebites, Stabbings, and Broken Hearts. In it, she devotes a chapter to the plague, excerpted here.

There were at least five major outbreaks of bubonic plague in London during Shakespeare’s lifetime and though these outbreaks didn’t reach the devastation of the Black Death, they all had a major impact on the population, particularly in towns and more populated areas. Wealthier Londoners often took Chaucer’s advice, written during the Black Death, to ‘run fast and run far’. At that time there were few uninfected corners of Europe that you could run to. At least a quarter of Europe’s 75 million population died in the mid-fourteenth century.1 The plagues of the Renaissance were a different matter. Escaping the city during the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century outbreaks would have significantly improved a person’s chances of survival. Shakespeare was fortunate to have a house and family in Stratford that he could retreat to when plague appeared in London.

There was some recognition that plague was contagious, even if the mechanism was far from understood. Some suspected it was brought to London by foreigners. Others tried to blame outbreaks on an unusual alignment of the planets. The 1593 plague was blamed on the position of Saturn in the night sky ‘passing through the uttermost parts of Cancer and the beginning of Leo’ as it had done 30 years earlier when there had been another terrible outbreak. Shakespeare was certainly aware of the planetary theory, as in Timon of Athens the playwright has Timon urge Alcibiades to take revenge on Athens: ‘Be as a planetary plague, when Jove / Will o’er some high-viced city hang his poison / In the sick air’.

The mention of vice in the same passage acknowledges that many saw plague as punishment from God. It was just reward for the licentious living for which city dwellers were renowned. This position was difficult to maintain when priests, expected to visit the sick and dying and therefore especially susceptible to infection, suffered particularly high mortality rates from the disease. What was clear was that when one person died of plague others closely associated with the sick often became ill themselves.

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