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Interview with Richard Hatch

Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince of an actor named Richard Hatch. The year was 1970 and he was cast in a new ABC soap opera called All My Children. He went on to co-star in two other distinctive ABC series (The Streets of San Francisco and Battlestar Galactica) which would define his career and shape his views on art and life.

During a recent interview in which we discussed his performances in plays, television programs and motion pictures, he talked at great length about his journey from an abusive childhood to publishing Battlestar Galactica stories and delivering self-improvement seminars. I had watched Richard Hatch on television – apprehending criminals as a policeman and saving the human race as Captain Apollo – in my youth, and I recall thinking that his characters were both heroic and handsome. With passion for science fiction, as well as for teaching self-help for the damaged, I found that he really is.

Though best known for work that appeared in short bursts, like Farrah Fawcett in her single season on Charlie’s Angels (as Farrah Fawcett-Majors), Richard Hatch made a strong and lasting impression. After talking with him about New York, Hollywood and what it means to be true to oneself, it isn’t difficult to see why.

Scott Holleran: Where have you done your best acting?

Richard Hatch: It’s not in a single role. There are individual scenes in various projects. I did some great work in a movie called InAlienable, a science fiction movie written by Walter Koenig [Chekov in the original NBC series Star Trek] with some dramatic scenes that I’m proud of but there’s never been one whole project. My best work is in scenes. I did a [1978] television movie called Deadman’s Curve about the singers Jan and Dean and there are scenes with Bruce Davison that I’m proud of. I haven’t done a movie that, from beginning to end, is definitive as my best.

Scott Holleran: You have co-starred in soap opera, crime and science fiction. Which is your favorite genre?

Richard Hatch: I don’t look at it like that. I like great drama and profound stories with complex, multilayered characters where I connect with the core of the character. I played a young retarded man on Medical Center. Most sci-fi isn’t even sci-fi to me—people think it’s all weird noses and eyes—it’s about exploring themes and what’s possible. In Battlestar Galactica, we never [consciously] thought of it as science fiction. We thought of it as dealing with life.

All My Children and The Streets of San Francisco

Scott Holleran: Your early career is defined by two fictional characters leaving popular television series on ABC. Your All My Children character Philip Brent was drafted into the Vietnam War and your Streets of San Francisco character Dan Robbins replaced Inspector Steve Keller when Michael Douglas left the series in the fifth and final season. Did the transition strengthen your resolve in the revolving door business of television—did it toughen you up for TV?

Richard Hatch: All My Children was an amazing experience. We created this world of Pine Valley and I got to relive my youth. That was one of my favorite experiences. New York was an incredible shift and change from the California surfer lifestyle. I went from wanting to be an architect and studying classical piano and wanting to play the guitar to being in New York on the original cast of All My Children. The whole experience of auditioning and getting parts on TV shows like The Waltons and Barnaby Jones was such an exciting, fun adventure—like going to [Las] Vegas and putting your coins in the slot machines and not knowing what would happen. So, in New York, the whole artistic journey became more interesting to me than being a star. When I got the part of Dan Robbins, I was terrified going into a primetime show [ABC’s Streets of San Francisco] with Karl Malden and I felt this intense pressure—it was terrifying—and I was struggling to remember my lines. [Executive Producer] Quinn Martin eventually came and complimented me and said ‘I think you’re going to do really well’. And I did. But in the beginning I was shaky. By the seventh episode, he encouraged me and even Karl Malden was positive, so I felt more relaxed. It was hard because Michael Douglas was like a second son to Karl Malden, who was respectful to me, but never warm and welcoming like Lorne Greene on Battlestar Galactica. Even my girlfriend at the time liked Michael Douglas and missed the Steve Keller character. I loved living in San Francisco and the experience taught me a lot about myself. I went to new roles after that and learned that I was always a character actor at heart. So, it did toughen me up.

Scott Holleran: You’ve described your character’s storyline on All My Children as an old-fashioned romance with poetry and holding hands. Was romanticism central to All My Children’s early success?

Richard Hatch: Yes. Pine Valley was a kind of bastion of an earlier time when love was more innocent. I loved that old-fashioned romanticism of the original show. Obviously, they had to go with the times. But there was something very sweet to All My Children in the beginning. It was shot in black and white when we started. It was an early time in television.

Scott Holleran: Did you watch All My Children?

Richard Hatch: Not after I left [the show]. It was hard to watch. The only reason I left was that I had lots of family in L.A. and I wanted to see what I could do in Hollywood. I felt that I had challenged myself in All My Children. I had also been in an off-Broadway rock musical. I almost wish I had stayed in New York. I was one of the original cast members and I felt an embrace on All My Children, like it was home. I have very fond memories. Part of me knew it was a great place to start – a warm, loving environment.

Scott Holleran: Your character, Philip Brent, was drafted into the Vietnam War. Did you hear from parents of war veterans or vets themselves?

Richard Hatch: At the time, I was getting thousands of fan letters and I don’t remember much of that happening. Me and [the character] Tara were married in a church alone before I left for Vietnam. I don’t remember soldiers’ parents or vets coming up to me. It was a very confusing time in the country.

Scott Holleran: What was the final outcome of your Philip Brent character on All My Children?

Richard Hatch: I don’t know what happened to him.

Scott Holleran: When asked during an appearance with you on a reunion show why she hired you as one of the original children, All My Children creator Agnes Nixon turned to you and answered: “I saw your face.” Is physical beauty—in particular male physical beauty—less a factor in casting than it was in 1970?

Richard Hatch: Yes. The so-called good-looking leading man was more in demand back then. Now, they look for more quirky characteristics in leading men.

Scott Holleran: Did good looks hurt you in Hollywood?

Richard Hatch: [Pauses] I think so. I had to prove myself over and over. There was always a doubt because I was being labeled and put in a compartment. These days, it’s easier because actors go from TV to the Internet, so there’s not much of a stigma. Most of my guest roles were [more] interesting. I remember when they were casting for the lead in The Graduate and I was one of many actors to read for the role. When Dustin Hoffman was cast we were all like, ‘that’s what they were looking for’? When you’re good-looking, you struggle to prove that you can act. It’s as though they dirty you up to take you seriously.

Battlestar Galactica

Scott Holleran: You appeared with Star Wars’ Mark Hamill on Streets of San Francisco in an episode that aired on February 24, 1977. Did he encourage you to go into science fiction—and give you tips on waging dogfights in outer space?

Richard Hatch: [Laughs] No, because he wasn’t in science fiction. Star Wars wasn’t a big movie—it was a little movie. I had asked him about Star Wars—we had met numerous times during our television work and we would talk—and he told me it was ‘this little film’, which is what he called it. Until the special effects and music were put in, that’s what it was. I know he was a huge comics fan.

Scott Holleran: Will you be seeing Star WarsPhantom Menace in its 3D theatrical release this month?

Richard Hatch: I love the original movies. I’m not a fan of the newer ones. George Lucas had an opportunity to do something extraordinary. He could have brought people in to create something wonderful – it’s his story – but I just read that he says he’s never making another Star Wars because of the critics. Why not listen to the criticism? It doesn’t mean you can’t do it your way, or that critics are right about everything, but why not get some feedback? We all need to be objective. He’s an amazing producer and I just hope he doesn’t stop—I hope he brings outside creative people together. Fans are not stupid and they do have important things to say. Take it in, listen and take what’s a value. Weave that into the work.

Scott Holleran: You’ve been getting fan feedback—not all of it positive—for years about your work on various Battlestar Galactica incarnations and, since co-starring on the original series, you have written seven Battlestar Galactica novels. Do you have any more Battlestar Galactica books planned for publication?

Richard Hatch: Our publisher died, so they lost the license. Universal has been sort of confused about licensing. Then apparently you have [director] Bryan Singer creating a feature film. I don’t know if Universal has a problem [with the novels]. Paramount never did [with Star Trek] so hopefully we’ll get new life and continue the Battlestar books. For plot continuation, there needs to be an eighth book.

Scott Holleran: How do you approach writing as a process?

Richard Hatch: I essentially get an idea for a story and start writing. I let the characters lead me—I write a mini-novel, 50 or 60 pages and that becomes my outline. Then, I go back through the arcs, the throughline and B stories. It has to illuminate some aspect of the Battlestar universe. I like to put characters in life and death circumstances. Then we have to find a creative way to organically get them out with no gimmicks. I let the characters deal with the circumstances, which leads me to a conclusion. I have a general idea before I sit down to write. You have a race of humans mandated to be chased across the universe by a race of Cylons. We are following the 13th tribe and looking for remnants of that human civilization and we’re always searching for resources and looking at the logistics of [outer] space. So we don’t know where the journey is going to go. Each step illuminates the journey and what makes us who we are. My quest as a writer is to enrich. When I start writing, I love to get into the work—work is my passion—I just write, write, write. It’s no different than anything else you get immersed in. It’s the world we want to live in—when you connect on the deepest level—I drink from the well. It’s a nourishing foundation for life.

Scott Holleran: Please explain the origins of how Captain Apollo, your character in Battlestar Galactica (1978), got his name.

Richard Hatch: I honestly have no clue. In the original script, my character’s name was Skyler. When [20th Century] Fox sued [those who made Battlestar Galactica], it was changed to Apollo to avoid confusion with Luke Skywalker from [Fox’s] Star Wars. I liked the name Skyler. Apollo was not my favorite name. We did use mythical names like Athena and Apollo.

Scott Holleran: Do you see your Battlestar Galactica co-star Dirk Benedict, who portrayed Starbuck?

Richard Hatch: I run into him every once in a while. I see his kids. He still lives in Montana, but he comes back to L.A.

Scott Holleran: The pilot episode of Battlestar Galactica was interrupted by ABC News for an hour to cover the so-called Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. Did the lengthy interruption stunt its start and hurt the show?

Richard Hatch: What hurt the show was that they had to rush it into production, so they were behind schedule and cost overruns were exorbitant—it was a hugely expensive show—though it was in the top 20 or top 10. Had we been on any other network than ABC—which already had so many successful shows—we might have survived. ABC replaced us with Mork and Mindy, which didn’t do as well in the ratings. Even with the news interruption, we had 65 million people watching. Today, if a show gets 29 million viewers, it’s in the top five.

Scott Holleran: Should Battlestar Galactica have been a miniseries, not a series?

Richard Hatch: It was a miniseries when we did it. Then, ABC changed it to a series. They didn’t have scripts written. We suffered because we weren’t ready to go with a show on that scale for a weekly series. To go from enormous success to having the budget pulled back just goes to show that they didn’t understand the value of the show in merchandising and moneymaking possibilities. They didn’t see the larger picture. They didn’t get it. Paramount did. They put together a mega-franchise with Star Trek. But ABC wasn’t alone—look at Fox, which I think gave all the merchandising rights for Star Wars to George Lucas.

Scott Holleran: Did Battlestar Galactica’s time slot—against 60 Minutes—hurt?

Richard Hatch: Again, we were rushed. Our shots became redundant and we had some weak mid-season stories—most shows don’t hit their stride until the second or third season. It’s very hard to get through that gauntlet of too many cooks in the kitchen. Star Trek would never have come back had it not been in syndication in an era when syndication was not yet saturated. They were able to relaunch a show that had never been successful in its first run.

Scott Holleran: Were there also content restrictions against violence?

Richard Hatch: That’s one of the reasons Streets of San Francisco went off the air. There were these [Puritanical pressure] groups and they scored points for violence. The same people that want to tell us what we should all watch—and mandate what we should see—are the same people who claim they don’t want government intervention in our lives. If you don’t want to watch, don’t watch. But, if one person complains about something happening on TV, [network executives] are more apt to change it. That amazes me. So, yes, there was a particular type of crackdown in the 1970s and 1980s.

Scott Holleran: You turned down the opportunity to co-star in Galactica 1980. Why?

Richard Hatch: Battlestar was about the journey—Galactica 1980 was about coming to Earth. I had also turned down auditions for the original Battlestar Galactica. I was very idealistic and I had read sci-fi since I was eight, though I thought that most of what was on TV was cheesy. [Creator] Glen Larson took me to dinner and, after I read the script with the Ralph McQuarrie artwork in it, I was still reticent. I turned it down. What ultimately sold me was McQuarrie’s artwork – the little boy in me was absolutely enthralled – because I’ve always been visual.

Scott Holleran: Tell me about your own Battlestar Galactica mock trailer?

Richard Hatch: We got amazing reviews. I set out to make a presentation to Universal. That was the whole thing. Ultimately, I found several production companies that were ready but Universal couldn’t quite believe there were enough fans out there. We showed statistics of how many people watched the show and—even then there were several companies making toys and merchandise—for a show that had been on the air for one year. I ultimately spent too much money. I ended up having to remortgage my home.

Scott Holleran: Were you asked to appear in the pilot for Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome?

Richard Hatch: No. I heard that they filmed the pilot but it has yet to air. The Syfy Channel [formerly Sci Fi Channel] is a business. Blood and Chrome was shot with a lot of green screen but I hear it’s good. I’m hoping to see it soon. I love the Battlestar universe. For whatever reason, Battlestar has never found a home with a studio that really supports it—and we don’t really see space shows anymore. They like sci-fi shows where people look like they’re grounded in today because it doesn’t cost as much in costumes, etc.

Scott Holleran: What in your opinion lies at the core of Battlestar Galactica’s sustained interest—the post-apocalyptic search for safety, characters’ friendships, familial ties, or is it rooted in pure sci-fi escapism?

Richard Hatch: No. Like Lord of the Rings, it’s a journey, and there’s something metaphorical about it—because we’re all on a journey and it’s got a story that people can identify with. Battlestar Galactica is like life on a larger scale: we grow up, leave home, wander and try to find our way, we meet someone, create a homeland, we find the challenge of space and under those conditions we bond – as we did after 9/11, when we all bonded – and Battlestar taps into all those areas. We see the best and worst of humanity and, again, the insights of the human condition are profound, so those that love substance are drawn to it. The greatest light lies within the greatest darkness and it gives us hope and insight but in a realistic way. There are real epiphanies and breakthroughs and the worst in us sometimes becomes the best of us. The struggle to find a home is heroic and all those things touch us and nourish us. So you feel like you have to come back next week. I have to say that Ron Moore and company [in making the 21st century TV series] were brilliant in making you want more.

Scott Holleran: Regarding your Tom Zarek role in Moore’s remade Battlestar Galactica (2004), you said in an interview that you “liked that he was an idealist that turns darker because of the change in the world and government around him”. Explain what you mean.

Richard Hatch: If you read history, and watch the movie Braveheart, there are those who challenge the powers that be and start out looking at the world with rose-colored glasses but discover that there’s injustice and their innocence is destroyed and violated. While most accept the injustice, some rebel and challenge it and stand up against it. That’s what Tom Zarek did—he realized that the world lost its way and he stood for human rights. In the past, men were burned at the stake and thrown in dungeons. Tom went to prison for 25 years.

Scott Holleran: You’ve talked about learning to be objective about new versions of Battlestar Galactica. How do you approach being objective about a work?

Richard Hatch: I’ve lived long enough to know myself. We all have certain biases and levels of what I call programming. We buy into all these ideas. I’m more aware of myself and how we limit our objectivity. I’m more forgiving of flaws and imperfections. We either grow towards being more open or towards being more closed. For me, life has always been more of a spiritual journey. So, I’m able to be more objective. I could see that Ron Moore had an original vision—he wasn’t just copying—he understood the elements of the original Battlestar Galactica.

Scott Holleran: Are you more like Tom Zarek or Captain Apollo?

Richard Hatch: Tom Zarek. I love Apollo—he’s amazing—but they weren’t challenging him enough. He’s the true blue hero and the good guy never gets his due. So again, with Tom Zarek, he was courageous and he was punished. He lost faith and trust in government and I just found him to be a wounded, damaged idealist. Tom Zarek’s closer to the real me. I see people refusing to see the big picture. That’s why I teach. I love to empower people to stop being abused and claim their rights.

Creators, Partners and Castmates

Scott Holleran: I want to get your impressions of artists with whom you’ve worked during your 50-year career. Did you meet Waltons creator Earl Hamner when you played Wade Walton?

Richard Hatch: Yes and he’s a wonderful man. I love the world of The Waltons. It was like being in Pine Valley, where life is about family. I love that old-fashioned world. Earl Hamner embodies that—as a creator, producer and writer. I love the world he created. He was very gracious to me, open to feedback. I felt honored to be part of that show.

Scott Holleran: Jack Lord, with whom you appeared on Hawaii Five-O?

Richard Hatch: He was kind and supportive. I’d met him on the set of his cowboy series, Stoney Burke (1962-1963). I know people say they had their differences with him but, with me, when I was on Hawaii Five-O, he came out and sat down next to me and he just talked with me when I was a nobody. He was kind and he was mentoring and I came on every season. He brought me to Hawaii and put me up in these nice hotels and I got to feel like a human being.

Scott Holleran: Michael Douglas, whom you replaced on Streets of San Francisco?

Richard Hatch: He had a lovely way about him. He took me to lunch while we were working on Streets of San Francisco and he made me feel much better.

Scott Holleran: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who guest starred on Streets of San Francisco?

Richard Hatch: He was this big little boy—he had a childlike quality of openness—like this big kid. He was happy to be on the set. I remember that we had a great conversation.

Scott Holleran: Quinn Martin, who produced Streets of San Francisco?

Richard Hatch: The quintessential producer [Cannon, The Fugitive, Barnaby Jones, The Untouchables, Twelve O’Clock High, Most Wanted, The FBI]. Gracious and always kind. The pressure got to me because I was terrified of replacing Michael Douglas and terrified of being replaced and [Quinn Martin] brought me down from San Francisco and made me feel like it was going to be OK. He was kind, never critical. He was businesslike, generous. And intelligent.

Scott Holleran: Patty Duke?

Richard Hatch: With her, it’s all about the work. I worked with her on a [1989] film adaptation of a Eudora Welty short story—The Hitch-Hiker—and she was a very smart woman, very direct, no nonsense.

Scott Holleran: Aaron Spelling?

Richard Hatch: I did get to know Aaron Spelling because he was always calling me. He was relentless. I said No to way too many things for all the wrong reasons, because I was an idealistic actor. But he was always very nice and he kept calling and asking. He treated his guest stars like stars, he was amazing in terms of his appreciation for actors.

Scott Holleran: You have talked about being shy and withdrawn before you became an actor. How did JFK’s assassination move you and draw you out?

Richard Hatch: I felt a kind of cosmic connection because our president had tapped into this spirit and we all needed that; he called out and touched us and exemplified idealism. It was the loss of innocence in America. I was a student and what I had read about his assassination made me cry. When I started to read it in class, I forgot myself—I forgot my shyness and insecurities and I felt this connection to something deeper. It took me out of being frightened and scared.

Scott Holleran: You played against type when you portrayed a frustrated writer who turns the tables on a criminal in an Obie award-winning, two-man stage play, P.S. Your Cat is Dead

Richard Hatch: —My character is a down and out playwright and he takes out all his frustrations and anger when he catches this bisexual burglar named Vito. Then, he opens my mind and challenges me to step out of the box and stop being uptight. I could totally identify with the part, though the Vito character gets all the funny lines. Vito is the provocateur. The comedy comes out of the repartee.

Scott Holleran: Did you enjoy doing Dynasty?

Richard Hatch: Yes and no. That’s not really my kind of thing—I was playing another handsome art dealer type—but I loved working with Pamela Bellwood [as Claudia] again [she had previously appeared with Hatch in Deadman’s Curve].

Success and Self-Improvement

Scott Holleran: As a former gymnast and pole-vaulter who surfed, worked as a lifeguard and still plays basketball, how important is physical fitness to your artistic success?

Richard Hatch: I had studied ballet for three years in Beverly Hills, sleeping in the ballet studio’s back room—I was gifted in gymnastics, so they gave me a scholarship—and while I was always athletic, I always had a love for ballet, admiring [Mikhail] Baryshnikov and [Rudolph] Nureyev, amazed at how they could leap across the stage. During that time, I only dated ballet girls. Later, I studied the biology of the body and its proper nutrition, and I realized that everything in life is about building energy and vitality. So, I knew that if I wanted to maximize my life, I had to nourish myself. It’s like a plant; if you don’t take care of it, it dies. While I’m here for this time on the planet, I want to maximize my life. As for it being part of my success, my self-valuing was low when I started becoming successful, so I had to start with mental health. Having the house in Beverly Hills didn’t feel authentic. I felt like a fraud. I crashed and burned after Battlestar Galactica. People I’d been working with had drained my bank account. I had to go back into a deep journey into my soul and I knew I was feeling depressed. When your life as an actor gets magnified into stardom, with all the adulation, it’s so beyond reality that, when it goes away, you feel withdrawal. All the people taking your calls and meetings and everyone saying they love you is like a drug. Being famous is like being high all the time. You lose that and it taps into your abandonment issues—it pours acid on old wounds. I’m still learning to love myself unconditionally—overcoming guilt and shame from childhood has been a struggle for me—and I’m dealing with my issues. That’s why I do these seminars. I get joy from teaching.

Scott Holleran: Are you left-handed?

Richard Hatch: I’m ambidextrous; I write, play tennis and eat with my left hand. I bat, golf and play guitar with my right hand.

Scott Holleran: You talk openly during your self-help work about struggling with your issues. How did you pull through?

Richard Hatch: I’ve been through every form of therapy—Gestalt, Freudian, you name it. I grew up with abusive stepfathers who hated me, so I was basically medicating myself with food and carbohydrates. I was never into drugs and, though I like an occasional shot of Tequila, I never could drink very much. I would feel a deep sadness and disconnection, feeling rejected and not belonging and through studying philosophy and religions, reading the Bible, studying Buddhism and reading Tony Robbins or Marianne Williamson, I learned that there’s a deeper truth—that each one of us is supposed to connect with life. For me, acting is like a religion.

Scott Holleran: What are you working on now?

Richard Hatch: I just directed an episode for a series of shorts called Silicon Assassins, a quirky sci-fi series for the Web with a sort of libertarian political bent in which I also star and I just filmed a pilot called Mindbenders. It’s similar to The Twilight Zone. I play a Catholic priest in a film called Dead by Friday and a park ranger in a movie called The Pod—I think that’s supposed to be coming out soon. I am also preparing a new social media site for Battlestar Galactica fans. And I do my seminars and a Web-based reality series called Who the Frak. We’re taking the series on an excursion to Mexico in May.

Scott Holleran: Do you consider yourself a nerd, a geek—or an individualist?

Richard Hatch: I was a nerd. I was an athlete but I liked hanging out with kids studying physics. I was interested in science fiction and philosophy and understanding the world on a deeper level—I have a very inquisitive mind. It’s hard for me to understand that there are people who don’t. Am I an individualist? It depends on what you mean. I think we are all interconnected on a deeper level, part of something greater. I don’t think being an individualist and being interconnected are mutually exclusive.

Scott Holleran: In your motivational seminars, you talk about not basing self-esteem on the opinions of others and you tell audiences that people should love themselves. Are you advocating self-interest?

Richard Hatch: Yes. The biggest problem in the world is that most of us are trying to deal with a fractured self. What a child needs is the sense that he’s worth something—that he’s valuable. You have to really love yourself and people who are egotistical don’t really love themselves. Real self-worth comes from loving yourself.

Interview: Mary Steenburgen and Melissa Manchester

The unique experience of interviewing two of my favorite artists, Grammy-winning singer Melissa Manchester (“Don’t Cry Out Loud”) and Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) about their collaboration in motion picture songwriting was an early Christmas present. The three of us talked about their mutual work and careers in a lively and earnest conversation. I can attest that the ladies, who let me address them informally, are as lovely as they seem on screen and on record. This is an edited transcript.

New York-born Manchester, daughter of a Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musician and clothing entrepreneur, has studied under Paul Simon, performed as a solo artist in Greenwich Village, played Carnegie Hall and headlined at Radio City Music Hall. Her hit singles include “Midnight Blue”, “Whenever I Call You Friend”, which she co-wrote with Kenny Loggins, “Through The Eyes Of Love” and “You Should Hear How She Talks About You.” In 2010, Ms. Manchester co-created and starred in the ballroom dance spectacular Fascinating Rhythms, and her song “I Know Who I Am” was recorded by Leona Lewis for Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls.

Nine of her songs are highlighted in Dirty Girl, including the original theme song “Rainbird” which she recorded and co-wrote with the movie’s co-star, the widely known and popular Mary Steenburgen, most recently seen in The Help and The Proposal. Ms. Steenburgen (Philadelphia, Back to the Future III, Melvin and Howard, Life as a House) is represented by Universal Music and has been working as a songwriter for the last five years. Dirty Girl is the story of a reputedly “dirty” schoolgirl in an Oklahoma town, circa 1987, who is paired with someone who is secretly gay. Together, they flee to California, and discover each other and themselves. Though the Weinstein Company gave Dirty Girl a brief theatrical release last year, it’s available this Tuesday on DVD. The soundtrack is available on Lakeshore Records.

Scott Holleran: Had you known one another before your collaboration on “Rainbird” for Dirty Girl?

Mary Steenburgen: We had only just met shortly before Dirty Girl. We actually started with another song that had nothing to do with the movie, which didn’t exist yet. I completely idolized Melissa. She narrated many moments of my life—we actually even look a tiny bit alike—including this one day on a bus, when someone thought I was Melissa Manchester. So, everyone that knew me knew I adored her and that her music resonated with me. When I first found out that I might write with her, I was like a little kid. What was so strange about the movie was that she was already on my mind. I had made my list of what I needed to do. The script had been sent to me and I was a little behind in my reading. I started reading the script and it was like a love poem to Melissa—and I thought it was the most beautiful coincidence.

Scott Holleran: Melissa, are you part of the picture’s plot?

Melissa Manchester: Yes. It’s not a spoiler to say that—my work is sort of a muse for one of the characters.

Scott Holleran: Mary, were you moved by the script?

Mary Steenburgen: Yes, and while the press was just catching up with the issue of people being bullied for being gay, it resonated with me on many levels. It’s also funny and quirky and original. I loved the character I was playing.

Melissa Manchester: It’s about this lost young gay guy—[writer and director] Abe Sylvia refers to this film as a vulgar valentine—but it isn’t preachy.

Scott Holleran: The main character is a girl who’s perceived as dirty—?

Mary Steenburgen: —She’s the girl who’s got a bad reputation. Like many of those girls, she’s complicated. It doesn’t ruin anything to say they get thrown together in a parenting class. My character is married to a character played by Dwight Yoakam, with whom I worked in Four Christmases. We’re both terrible gigglers, so we enjoy working together.

Scott Holleran: Is it the girl’s story or the boy’s story?

Mary Steenburgen: It’s even-handed. To me, the film centers on both characters.

Scott Holleran: Melissa, what it means to be female and the art of being feminine is a career theme. Do you see your work as a journey of self-expression?

Melissa Manchester: Oh, yes. My job is totally about the art and craftsmanship of self-expression. I started writing and walking my track of being a singer-songwriter at the height of that [1970s self-help] movement. That’s what we did and I inadvertently became a passing communicator of the women’s [liberation] movement. The unexpected gift is that, when you perform, your work becomes the listener’s version. It’s always a gift.

Scott Holleran: Mary, different points in time are a recurrent theme in your career, from your first film, a Western, to Dirty Girl, which takes place in the 1980s, and the time travel movies. Does this contribute to the perception of you as a versatile actress with a timeless persona?

Mary Steenburgen: I don’t think about how people perceive me. I think it would confuse me and put a pressure on me that I don’t want to have. I’ve never had a game plan. I literally read the things that make me laugh or cry and, if it does, then I want to do that film. Or if [a script] intrigues me or makes me scared that means I will probably do it—it’s like what Melissa said about her music; the receiver takes the work and makes it their own. For every artist, you put your work out there and someone makes it their own. I recently had someone come up to me on a plane. She was a very conservative-looking woman who was a flight attendant and she asked if I would talk with her. She told me her brother was gay and, she said, ‘to be honest, we were not comfortable with that and we kind of banned him from my family—and he was banned from family gatherings and was no longer welcome.’ She said he later became diagnosed with AIDS. In its later stages, she said, he came to them and finally said, ‘I won’t bother you again, please just watch this movie, Philadelphia‘ [1993]. She said they did watch it. After they saw the movie, they saw how the family rallied behind the Tom Hanks character and the family did the same. She told me that it wouldn’t have happened without that movie.

Melissa Manchester: —that is a prime example of what art can do—

Mary Steenburgen: —I lost one of my best friends to AIDS two days before that movie. [Pauses]. Peter.

Scott Holleran: I’m sorry to hear that, Mary. [Pause]. Were you thinking about losing him when you delivered that powerful line, “God I hate this case”?

Mary Steenburgen: Yes. I had just lost him. I was such a wreck when I got there—I was overemoting in every scene and I was struggling so much. When we shot the first scene, I wasn’t good in it. By the time we got to that scene where [my attorney character is] holding the mirror up to [the AIDS patient’s Kaposi’s sarcoma] lesion, [director] Jonathan [Demme] said ‘I think we should add this line’. So, we did. [Pauses]. Philadelphia is really not about AIDS. It’s about justice.

Scott Holleran: It’s interesting and both the lawyer character in Philadelphia and the mother character in Dirty Girl play against the stereotype that the straight woman is the ally of the gay male—

Melissa Manchester: —Right. As with any fear that’s based on ignorance, any time we demonize others, we eventually become the others. The only way to bridge that gap is to humanize them. For example, I work with women in prison. They are largely there for having killed their abusers. When I work with them, the layers are peeled away to reveal their humanity. What’s there is the compassion.

Scott Holleran: What is the musical theme of Dirty Girl and does it match or complement the film’s dramatic theme?

Melissa Manchester: Abe Sylvia comes from the world of musical theater so he understands that, in the world of film, music is an afterthought—and there’s a sort of Greek chorus in Dirty Girl. It’s a whole other texture. It’s a story where music is integral.

Mary Steenburgen: To your question, I can talk about Melissa easier than she can. Just as her music was very personal to me, she is this boy’s muse but she’s kind of more than that. I recently read about this kid who wrote a letter to Lady Gaga about bullying. This boy’s world is not safe, so he related to Lady Gaga—I did this, too [as a youth], by the way, creating a magic world, only mine was in books—and this boy’s world [in Dirty Girl] is not safe and beautiful, so he appreciates beauty and drama and music. He finds all those things in the music of Melissa Manchester. So, his safe place is in his room, with his gigantic headphones, listening to her [songs] and trying to be [like] her and connect with her. In those moments, he can be fully alive. And that’s part of his connection to this girl. So Melissa’s music is the heart of the movie. When you get around to “Rainbird”, for me, it was almost as though Melissa Manchester was speaking in her beautiful, caring, all-knowing voice, saying that it gets better. That is what we are trying to say.

Melissa Manchester: In the end, the heart yearns for the resonance of melodies—it’s what stills that swirling anxiety—and then they can move mountains. Melodies can move kids away from that ledge. The currency of the song can be life-changing and that is no hooey. Mary’s performance occupies as small a space as possible. It left me breathless. The trajectory of her character, who finds her voice and finds a way out, is fantastic.

Scott Holleran: Do you appear in the film, Melissa?

Melissa Manchester: Yes. Mine is a sweet little cameo.

Mary Steenburgen: It’s a wonderful moment.

Scott Holleran: You have something else in common—you both worked on projects with Kelsey Grammer.

Mary Steenburgen: Well, I just did a voice for a call-in on one of the Frasier episodes. And of course [my husband] Ted [Danson] worked with him for so many years [on Cheers and Frasier].

Melissa Manchester: I had a spectacular time working with Kelsey on Sweeney Todd. It was unbelievable working with Stephen Sondheim, who was there, while I played Beggarwoman, so that was thrilling. Working with Kelsey was great but he was still filming Frasier, so it was a bit of a challenge. He is tremendously talented.

Scott Holleran: Mary, how was working with Lasse Hallstrom on What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Mary Steenburgen: I adored that experience. I would be an idiot to say that I didn’t enjoy spending a large part of my day kissing Johnny Depp and I was huge fan of Lasse’s since My Life as a Dog—and of [writer] Peter Hedges, whose book I had read. I wanted to play Betty Carver. I would love to work with Lasse again—he hasn’t asked me. It would be amazing.

Scott Holleran: As established artists, do either of you encounter sexism?

Mary Steenburgen: [after a long pause] Sure, though I feel very blessed and things are getting better. I love seeing so many women crew members. But I just saw some statistics on women writers, what women are paid and the number of women CEOs specific to [the entertainment] business and I was shocked at how far we have yet to come. When I started, sexual harassment wasn’t even discussed as a subject, so it has gotten better. I’m a proud feminist, but I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. If there’s anything that makes me sad, it’s that some women find the word feminist worrisome or objectionable. To me, it means that I want every woman—just as I want every man—to be the best they can be.

Melissa Manchester: I’m with Mary. There are more roadies that are women and life on the road is a very singular experience. There are certainly more bands made of women. The thing that saddens me is that there’s a sense of entitlement among some women and groups of artists.

Scott Holleran: Your collaboration for Dirty Girl is the bittersweet song, “Rainbird”, which combines a sense of melancholy with an upward arc. Any thoughts on the tune in the context of the motion picture?

Mary Steenburgen: I’ve written a number of songs and the experience of writing that song in particular had a sort of alchemy to it. I’m proud of what the song says as a song and in the movie.

Melissa Manchester: Me, too. I really appreciate that Abe got the point of the song for this moment in the movie—it’s a rare opportunity to be given a song to write after everything’s finished. This song is serving such a special purpose.

Scott Holleran: Why do you think Dirty Girl didn’t do well in theatrical release?

Melissa Manchester: I went with Abe on several [promotional press] junkets to gay pride [events] and people were screaming ‘I love this film!’—but in reviews it was just getting its heart broken. Critics didn’t seem to get it.

Mary Steenburgen: I don’t read reviews, with all due respect, and especially the good ones are bad for me. So I didn’t read a single review. I do know that the movie was very successful at the Toronto Film Festival, one of only two films that the Weinstein Company bought there—they currently have The Artist, The Iron Lady and My Week with Marilyn—and I don’t know if they eclipsed Dirty Girl. With some films, they get lost. Europeans tell me that they don’t know how Melvin and Howard [1980] was dumped for distribution and every time I go to Europe, people ask me why it was never released. They couldn’t figure out how to sell this movie that in their minds was about a loser. I think with this film that may have happened, too. I watched it with my family. They loved it.

Melissa Manchester: I watched it with my daughter. I know there’s always an astounding reaction to Dirty Girl. But, sometimes, it takes a whole lot of people to push something up the mountain.

Interview: Jon Winokur

Jon Winokur (pronounced winne-kuhr) is a writer’s writer and the author of numerous books on writing and other topics, including The Portable Curmudgeon, Advice to Writers and his newest book, The Garner Files: A Memoir, written with 83-year old actor James Garner. We talked about his books during a recent conversation.

Scott Holleran: How did you approach James Garner as a subject?

Jon Winokur: As the subject, he is there, bigger than life—the subject approaches you. You know that guy up there on the screen and you think he’s a nice guy. Well, he’s even better—and that’s after taking two years of researching his life. He was there. He writes the book for you. Much of The Garner Files writes itself.

Scott Holleran: Is it mostly based on interviews?

Jon Winokur: Yes, with him and with friends and colleagues and quite a few interviews with family members. It’s a wonderful clan, by the way; there’s a certain dignity and honesty about them.

Scott Holleran: So you created the narrative?

Jon Winokur: Yes. It was easy to do because I’ve known him for 25 years. With a lot of famous people, you think you know them and you don’t. But Jim pans out.

Scott Holleran: That’s impressive. You’ve got his tone down just right—

Jon Winokur: —sometimes, I’d find myself putting down a word and saying, ‘oh, no, that’s not a Garner word.’

Scott Holleran: Did you have an outline?

Jon Winokur: Yes, because I had put together an outline for the book proposal, which I had to tweak a little bit. But this is a departure [for me]. I’d never done a memoir or anything biographical. There’s autobiography, there’s biography and there’s memoir. The distinction I make is that autobiography has to cover all the details and a memoir is from the subject’s perspective. A memoir is subjective—and an autobiography strives to be objective.

Scott Holleran: Did you have a theme?

Jon Winokur: I think the theme emerged. I don’t think it’s helpful to say ‘insert scene here’; [the theme] will be organic. A couple of themes emerged. One is his sympathy for the underdog, which informs his work, his personal relationships and his politics. It’s probably unavoidable to point to his being abused as the source of at least some of that empathy.

Scott Holleran: How did you get the job?

Jon Winokur: I published The Portable Curmudgeon in 1987—it was a tiny first printing—and it came out and was doing OK. At that time, someone had suggested that I get an unlisted telephone number because sometimes a writer get some bizarre responses. So I said, ‘why? I’m lonely. Let them call me,’ and one day I got a call and heard, ‘this is Jim Garner. I’m an actor.’ And of course I knew who he was. Then he said, ‘What kind of a curmudgeon has a listed telephone number?’ Apparently, he had been in the hospital and he had been depressed. [Comedians] Bob Newhart and Dick Martin had sent him my book and he said he wanted to thank me because the book had cheered him up. That was that, until about a month later. The phone rings at 9 o’clock at night and a friend told me that [Mr. Garner] was reading from my book on The Tonight Show. It put my book on the map and sales shot through the roof. It in effect gave me a career. He and I kept in touch—he would send wine from his vineyard for Christmas—and about two years ago we were having lunch and I heard myself asking ‘how come you’ve never written a book?’ And he said because he thought no one would want to read it. I thought and thought about it and I wrote this letter and brought out all guns for writing a memoir. His manager called and said OK. I guess he felt safe with me.

Scott Holleran: What’s your favorite line in the book?

Jon Winokur: There’s a line he quotes from Murphy’s Romance, something like, ‘When I’m pushed, I shove.” He doesn’t go looking for a fight. But, by golly, if you wrong him…

Scott Holleran: How did you primarily relate to Mr. Garner—as his friend, observer, partner?

Jon Winokur: As the most extraordinary human I’ve encountered. The things he’s done anonymously for countless people—the endless goodwill—comes up whenever I mention his name. I always get the same response: “Oh, I love him.” In one of the TVQ categories [a measurement of a celebrity’s cultural influence] he’s still in the top ten. He’s wonderfully skilled. He could have been a pro golfer or a pro race car driver, and he has a great intelligence that I don’t think always comes through. Jim’s really good at whatever he chooses to do—the Grand Prix drivers [working on the movie] say he could have raced and beat some of the pro drivers. He’s just an amazingly quick study. He could sit in the makeup chair and learn the script right there. He learned how to memorize lines from his first acting job in [the stage production of] the Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. He played a judge and he had no lines but he was paid by the producer to run lines with Lloyd Nolan and Henry Fonda and he told me that he learned to use the lines as building blocks—building one line on top of the other—and he said the trick is that you don’t go from one to the next without learning the first line. ‘You don’t learn lines,’ he told me, ‘you learn thoughts’. He’s the most easygoing person I’ve ever worked with—he applies his work ethic—and he was always there. The only negative thing he ever said in our two years was when I brought him the [book jacket] cover. He didn’t say anything and, finally, he said, ‘I don’t like it.’ I asked why and he said ‘your name is too small.’ So they made it bigger.

Scott Holleran: Maverick or Rockford Files?

Jon Winokur: Maverick. Because I’m that old—I was ten [years old] when it came on. There was Mad magazine and there was Maverick.

Scott Holleran: What’s your favorite James Garner movie?

Jon Winokur: I’m going to agree with him—The Americanization of Emily [1964]. I love [screenwriter] Paddy Chayefsky’s work. The script and the way Garner handles it is amazing. But the role was a huge departure for him.

Scott Holleran: Did you watch any of the movies together?

Jon Winokur: Yes. We watched a few, such as Skin Game. He likes to watch Grand Prix for the racing. We were watching Support Your Local Sheriff and that’s when he told me he was imitating Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine when he was sitting with his feet propped up.

Scott Holleran: Are you surprised by the media’s emphasis on the book’s salacious aspects?

Jon Winokur: No. [Pauses] Maybe a little bit.

Scott Holleran: Does it surprise you that Mr. Garner adores The Notebook?

Jon Winokur: Not at all. Because it’s his best work and I think he thinks so. He loved working with [director] Nick Cassavettes and Gena Rowlands and I think it was one of those shoots where everything fell into place. He cried in that movie; it’s one of the few movies he cries in, the others are The Children’s Hour and Promise. He hadn’t planned to do it. He said he was going to take his cue from [Ms. Rowlands]. I think he was a little out of control and it turned out OK.

Scott Holleran: Did you co-write the memoir’s “outtakes”, too?

Jon Winokur: Yes. Those are based on interviews, basically edited versions.

Scott Holleran: Did you meet and interview Doris Day?

Jon Winokur: I talked to her on the telephone. She was amazing. The most amazing was Lauren Bacall.

Scott Holleran: Do you have any other memoirs planned?

Jon Winokur: I have had some nice feedback from people in the [entertainment] industry, and from Simon and Schuster.

Scott Holleran: What is the impetus for Advice to Writers?

Jon Winokur: My first [non-self] published book, Writers on Writing, was a collection I had been amassing since I was 13. Advice to Writers [stems from] my attempt to try to figure out how to write.

Scott Holleran: Any new works in progress?

Jon Winokur: I don’t like to talk about it because when you talk about it, you discharge the energy. I am working on a pre-proposal. I can say it’s non-fiction.

Scott Holleran: Who are your favorite writers?

Jon Winokur: George Orwell. I like the essays on politics and the English language mostly and the short stories, especially Shooting an Elephant. He was on the right side of the Spanish Civil War [against the fascists] but he wasn’t taken in by [their enemies] the Communists. He was right about poverty and capitalism and he lived by his principles—he renounced his modest inheritance, which may be part of the reason he died at age 45. I also like Christopher Hitchens, Joan Didion—just her Zen-like brevity—Kurt Vonnegut, who’s the most magical, whimsical writer. Also Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac.

Scott Holleran: Any curmudgeonly thoughts on the late Andy Rooney?

Jon Winokur: I tried to interview him for one of the Curmudgeon books—and he refused, thereby verifying his curmudgeonliness. He served a great purpose—he was a gadfly and he was certainly a curmudgeon. He was 92. I’m sorry to see him go.

Scott Holleran: What’s the difference between a curmudgeon and a cynic?

Jon Winokur: That’s a good question. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that a cynic knows the price of everything—and the value of nothing. A curmudgeon knows the value of everything. Curmudgeons are offended by the lack of value—they’re fighting the good fight for truth, justice and the American way; their crankiness comes from being disappointed from the lack of quality around them. They are hurt easily—they’re very fragile and they need the misanthropy to protect themselves. In [The Garner Files], Jim calls himself a Tootsie Pop. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside.

Work Cited

An essay in The Galaxy Is Rated G: Essays on Children’s Science Fiction Film and Television (2011, edited by R. C. Neighbors, Sandy Rankin) on the underrated animated Warner Bros. feature, The Iron Giant (1999) cites my October, 2003 interview with the film’s screenwriter, Tim McCanlies, who spoke with me from his ranch in central Texas. McCanlies also wrote Secondhand Lions with Michael Caine and Robert Duvall and Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81, which was also his feature directorial debut. It’s one of my early film interviews for Box Office Mojo, currently not indexed here, and we discussed everything from sneaking into studio offices to put his scripts on directors’ desks to his service as a Dallas, Texas, police officer and why Hollywood depicts the U.S. military as bad. I asked McCanlies, who described the theme of The Iron Giant as “Choose who you want to be,” if free will was a conscious philosophy in his work. His answer: “Yes, absolutely…there are deciding moments when we pick who we want to be and that plays out for the rest of your life.”

Interview with John David Lewis

The goal of a war is to defeat an enemy’s will to fight. So argues the author of Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History (Princeton University Press, 2010), who makes the case that a strong military offense can win a war and establish lasting peace while playing defense often leads to destruction. This study of six major wars, from the Second Punic War to World War 2, by historian John David Lewis, contrasts the use of overwhelming force, such as the Greek victory over Xerxes’ army and navy, with a lack of reason, purpose, and commitment to fight. On the eve of the 10th year since the worst attack in American history, I turned to my friend John Lewis, a visiting associate professor of philosophy, politics, and economics at Duke University and teacher at Objectivist Conferences (OCON), to discuss today’s war from a historical perspective. Dr. Lewis is the author of Solon the Thinker: Political Thought in Archaic Athens and Early Greek Lawgivers.

Scott Holleran: What is the theme of Nothing Less Than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History?

John David Lewis: That wars are driven and caused by people’s decisions to fight and that those decisions are based on the ideas they hold. This has enormous implications for what victory means, because it means discrediting the ideas we’re trying to defeat. For example, one could never explain Germany’s massive attacks [against other countries] or Japan’s massive attack on America, in which they launched into intercontinental warfare, without understanding the ideals that they held. The theme of Nothing Less Than Victory is that one must defeat the enemy by discrediting his ideas.

Scott Holleran: How was Nothing Less Than Victory suggested by your students?

John David Lewis: I was teaching a class on ancient and modern warfare and it became clear that a comparative history would be useful. My students posed good questions.

Scott Holleran: While writing about the rise of the Nazis, did The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America by Leonard Peikoff help your understanding?

John David Lewis: Yes, because it’s the only book I know of that places philosophical ideas as the lesson of history. It’s not only an explanation of Nazi Germany in terms of ideas but, much more deeply and widely, it demonstrates how ideas move history.

Scott Holleran: The current administration supports military involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, as well as other underreported incursions in nations such as Yemen and Pakistan, with something other than, or less than, a purpose let alone a victory. The Oxford English Dictionary defines warmonger as “a person who seeks to bring about or promote war.” As a commander-in-chief who supports and initiates militarism with no purpose or end, is President Obama a warmonger?

John David Lewis: I think he’s incompetent but I don’t think Obama is a warmonger. He inherited those wars but he’s simply unable to bring those wars to a decisive end. His main goal is to bring about a fundamental restructuring of the relationship of every American to the government, which is why ObamaCare was among his top three initiatives, because there’s no better way to define that relationship than through health care. So, his major initiative is to change us from the inside out and I think foreign policy is a distraction to him. It’s a symptom of his incompetence, not warmongering. One other aspect of this is that, unlike Bush, with regard to rules of engagement, he generally lets the generals do as they want but this slight improvement [over Bush] is not because Obama is driven to victory.

Scott Holleran: Are the U.S. military interventions in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan properly described as wars?

John David Lewis: When you have combatants you have a war. As Ayn Rand said about the Vietnam War, and I’m paraphrasing, when foreign soldiers are killing Americans, it’s a war and nothing but a war. Certainly, these are wars, but they’re wars in which one side knows it’s fighting a war and the other side is desperately avoiding using that term.

Scott Holleran: You have publicly discussed your cancer diagnosis with regard to domestic health policy and compared your battle against cancer with the themes in Nothing Less Than Victory. Has your condition affected your thoughts on war?

John David Lewis: It has sharpened something—that my battle against cancer is a metaphor, not a war. There’s intelligence gathering in the first stage, nuclear warfare—chemicals and radiation—in the second stage and then we send in the Marines—with doctors and nurses. In a war, you’re dealing with other human beings, who have free will. With cancer, the disease does not have a mind of its own; beating it is a matter of biological causality.

Scott Holleran: Are you primarily a teacher, a writer or an historian?

John David Lewis: It depends on what day it is. Tomorrow, I start teaching two courses at Duke, so tomorrow I’m a teacher. I don’t see any kind of exclusivity—I think they’re mutually supportive. I would not want to be only a historian or writer, because I need the stimulation of teaching.

Scott Holleran: If the U.S. continues to deteriorate, with, for example, an economic collapse or major Islamic terrorist attack, historically speaking, which is more likely: anarchy, civil war, or religious dictatorship?

John David Lewis: Probably some form of religious dictatorship. The two events you name, economic collapse from inside and an attack from outside, are very different. In the case of an attack, I think the American people would look for a leader to unite them and the chances are much greater that they’ll look to a religious leader and we’ll end up with a fascist dictatorship. It depends on the attack, too; obviously, if there are 20 nuclear bombs detonated at once, we may lose our infrastructure and descend into some form of anarchy, but I think we’re more likely to have a single nuclear attack. With an economic collapse, the public would [be more likely to] look for a leader who would seek centralization of power. The infrastructure—the command structure—the equipment—for a police state is already in place at our airports with the TSA. The American people are already habituated to accept it.

Scott Holleran: What is your most controversial point in Nothing Less Than Victory?

John David Lewis: That ideas drive history. Two things are necessary in war; the capacity to fight and the will to fight. During the so-called Cold War, the two great powers were the Soviet Union and the United States, but a third power with capacity was England—and no one went after them because they posed no threat. So, in fact, the most controversial idea is the most obvious; that ideas are the drivers of history. Among readers, the most controversial idea is my point that it was moral to drop the atom bomb on Japan.

Scott Holleran: We now know that the Soviets had infiltrated the United States government and U.S. industries, including motion pictures, and society. Is jihadist Moslem infiltration—including takeover—of the U.S. government possible?

John David Lewis: I don’t think takeover was the kind of thing the Communists were after. What they were going to do is [try to] elect people who would be sympathetic to the Soviet cause. I think that, in a certain sense, there’s a strong parallel, because those who want a radical Islamic war culminating in a one-world government are just as overt in pursuing their goals as were the Communists. But the Soviets were less interested in a one-world government [than jihadists]. The Iranians may be less focused on one-world government than the Saudis. The Iranians act more like the Soviets—they want to have nukes to play like the big boys, whereas the Saudis are more like the Trotskyites. They want this worldwide evolution [toward Islamic statism] and are more patient about infiltrating [Western civilization]. The Saudis have built thousands of mosques and [radical Islamic group] CAIR has directly said that Sharia law imposed over the United States will come. To actually take over the U.S. government in the sense that they impose Sharia law? We’re a long way from that. But if you mean creating sympathies and bringing about a radical Islamic-influenced government…

Scott Holleran: Certain presidential candidates have recently been linked to campaign donors who may be connected, directly or indirectly, to groups that support Islamic jihadist aims. Are you concerned that the enemy could shape and influence American government through a Manchurian candidate?

John David Lewis: Yes. It’s part of the insidiousness of these groups. Today, any candidate knows that accepting money from jihadist groups for influence would kill the campaign—you can’t keep that kind of thing a secret. So that would be less likely than the threat of covert multiculturalist ideas being spread and accepted throughout the culture.

Scott Holleran: What is the central lesson of each war discussed in Nothing Less Than Victory as it relates to today’s war?

John David Lewis: The need to name the enemy, identify him as an enemy and develop a strategy that defeats him at his center—an elusive concept—or close to a center of gravity of economic, social, political support for the [jihadist] war [against the West]. [Carl von] Clausewitz writes about this—that Americans have a strong moral center, so that, by attacking our moral center, the enemy imposes guilt. We saw this in the Vietnam War when we were criticized for distinguishing between [Communist] North and [non-Communist] South Vietnam. After the war ended, one of our generals went to a former North Vietnamese military general and said, “you never defeated us in the battlefield.” And his North Vietnamese counterpart said that was irrelevant. You need to be right in what you’re doing and you need to know that you’re right in what you’re doing.

Scott Holleran: You write about the citizens of ancient Carthage and those in South Carolina and Georgia during the Civil War not facing the consequences of war. Are today’s Americans disconnected from war?

John David Lewis: Yes. In a certain sense, they’re very disconnected from the war because they’re not facing an attack on their soil right now, so I don’t think they know what’s going on. When I talk to soldiers, I get a very different sense about what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan than what I see in the media. But, in another sense, we are more connected because we live in the age of technology, and people can get news from the battlefield. What would Americans at home have said had images from Iwo Jima been sent back home?

Scott Holleran: You write about Union General Sherman’s remarkably low casualties during the Civil War. Why is that fact not widely taught or known?

John David Lewis: Because people today are caught up in the myth of Sherman as the Attila from the North. Southerners created that myth.

Scott Holleran: How did the myth become so widely accepted in the North?

John David Lewis: That’s a good question. The intellectuals, historians and the press are all complicit in this—it strikes their morality that Sherman specifically targeted civilians—and once they accept that that’s what Sherman did, they move on rather than examine the facts of what happened. Why are Hiroshima and Nagasaki held up as moral evils while failing to consider what alternatives the United States had? Facts are forgotten and subordinated for moral reasons.

Scott Holleran: You also write about Confederates hiding behind civilians like today’s Moslem jihadists. Are there other examples in history of using civilians as covers for combatants during war?

John David Lewis: That happens all the time in war. Any time an army backs up into a city and defends against its walls, the civilians are being held hostage in some way. So there’s certainly a precedent in history. I don’t think the Confederates were necessarily worse even than the Union. Palestinian snipers look for Israeli troops where they are facing civilians and what they want is to get the Israelis to return gunfire against civilians to get publicity—they want the enemy to kill civilians as a pretext. That’s worse.

Scott Holleran: Is the mass death of freed slaves at Ebeneezer Creek in any way indicative that the Union army was racist, too, and does the tragedy diminish the moral righteousness of the Union cause?

John David Lewis: Racist? Of course. Everyone was a racist back then. Does it diminish the moral status of the Union’s cause? Absolutely not! Many freed slaves wanted to be with Sherman’s army. As Union armies were moving ahead under Union General Jefferson C. Davis’s command, freed slaves followed. Coming to the creek, with Confederates behind them, Davis ordered pontoons brought up, leaving the freed slaves behind, and then they were attacked by Southern armies. Davis may have been racist but who caused the dangers to the freed slaves? It was the Southern army. Davis is given moral criticism for failing to rescue blacks from Southerners. But it’s the Southerners that were to blame. They were the ones attacking. They were ones who’d enslaved them.

Scott Holleran: Coming to the 20th century wars, you write that President Woodrow Wilson sought “peace without victors.” Who is the last president who didn’t?

John David Lewis: Franklin Roosevelt.

Scott Holleran: You trace President Wilson’s ideals to philosopher Thomas Hobbes and, centrally, to philosopher Immanuel Kant. Is Wilson America’s first Kantian president?

John David Lewis: I don’t know enough about the intellectual history of American presidents to say whether he’s the first but he’s heavily influenced by Kant because the basis of his education was German. It’s Kant’s 1795 essay on Perpetual Peace that calls for the establishment of a worldwide state. Kant calls for “a league of nations”. Kant directly influenced the League of Nations. People forget that Kant said that all nations of the world should be republics and he rejected democracy—but he blanked out the fact that all nations in the world are not republics. The influence of Kant in education that was German-based clearly influenced Woodrow Wilson.

Scott Holleran: Why do liberals condemn Nazi Germany but drop the context of the Nazis’ government-controlled economics?

John David Lewis: I don’t know. I think the inference takes them down a road that they don’t want to go. They don’t want to face the fact that being an advocate of a government-controlled economy makes them tyrannical. It’s forgotten that these fascist states were woefully inefficient. I have evidence that Mussolini did not make the trains run on time, yet this notion that fascism is efficient persists. Last night, I saw a Star Trek episode in which Spock tells Kirk that Nazi Germany was the world’s most efficient society. That’s not true.

Scott Holleran: You report that the media aided and abetted the rise of the Nazis. Is today’s press complicit in aiding the rise of fascism, too?

John David Lewis: Oh, sure, though they wouldn’t say it that way. The press itself is almost always solidly on the side of greater and bigger government programs, except for the Wall Street Journal and some conservative outlets. They don’t want to call themselves fascists but in effect that is what they are supporting.

Scott Holleran: Did the West drive Italian dictator Benito Mussolini into an alliance with Nazi Germany?

John David Lewis: I don’t know—I don’t have a good answer for that. If it’s true that Mussolini was afraid of Nazi Germany, there certainly were times, especially when the Germans moved into the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia, when all offers and opportunities might have stopped the Nazi flood. I think the West was instrumental—and complicit—in driving Mussolini into an alliance with Nazi Germany in the same way we did with [Cuban dictator] Fidel Castro and the Soviet Union, but I would never place primary blame or cause on the West because both probably would have happened anyway. They shared a basic philosophy.

Scott Holleran: Was Imperial Japan as racist as Nazi Germany?

John David Lewis: In its own way, yes. The more I read about Japan, the more I realize what a truly foreign nation it is—in their morals, in their writing, you see now that, when something goes wrong in a company, the executives have to bow down and apologize. Japan was as racist as Germany in the sense that they saw themselves as racially superior and destined to rule Asia.

Scott Holleran: Is General Douglas MacArthur underestimated as leader and thinker in occupied Japan?

John David Lewis: Yes. In terms of the occupation of Japan, which MacArthur was put in charge of, it resulted in zero deaths and there were no insurrections. What he did was a monumental task and it went as benevolently and well as any occupation in history. He is greatly underestimated.

Scott Holleran: Is it possible for the U.S. public to come to worship a leader, such as Texas Governor Perry, Minnesota Congresswoman Bachmann, or President Obama, as a deity as people did in Japan?

John David Lewis: We’re a long way from that, especially the way it was done in Japan. But the way people treat Barack Obama—as if he’s the divine one, his word is oracle and he can do everything—has parallels.

Scott Holleran: There are a number of war movies in recent years, from 300 and The Alamo remake to recent war-themed pictures such as Stop-Loss, Jarhead and The Lucky Ones—even The King’s Speech hinges upon an understanding of what’s at stake in war. Do you recommend any movies as effective dramatizations of war and/or a proper historical perspective?

John David Lewis: I don’t have a recommendation. I did see one war movie recently—Escape from Sobibor [British made for television, which aired on CBS in 1987] with Alan Arkin. It’s about a German concentration camp—a death camp—in Poland. Like all these camps, there were some prisoners who were not killed; they were out in barracks. Sobibor was where the only full-scale revolt by camp prisoners took place. They ran into the woods and escaped—it’s the one case where everyone, especially the Jews but also the Poles, fought back. They killed the Germans, and then they rushed the main gate and hundreds escaped. That’s worth seeing. I stopped seeing a lot of modern war movies. I have not seen 300. I’ve got the graphic novel and it looks awful. A much better movie about the historic battle is The 300 Spartans [starring Richard Egan, 1962].

Scott Holleran: Any other classic movie recommendations?

John David Lewis: I still like to see Battle of the Bulge [starring Robert Shaw, 1965], which is about reversing the wills to fight. In the beginning, the Americans are demoralized and the Germans are motivated. In the end it’s the opposite. There are some good classic war movies set in World War 2. Even a movie like A Bridge Too Far [1977] has a certain point to it.

Scott Holleran: You write that President Franklin Roosevelt wrote about “the destruction of a philosophy” in achieving victory in World War 2. Does the planned construction of an Islamic mosque near where the Twin Towers once stood—before Islamic jihadists destroyed them on 9/11—represent a victory to the enemy?

John David Lewis: I think it does. It’s not because the people who want to build the mosque are on the side of those who want to destroy the U.S. but they chose to build it near the World Trade Center site for sympathetic reasons and those reasons—for building a $100 million cultural center—are the same reasons that make me want to oppose it. In the plans, there are separate places for men and women, so it’s clearly a place to enforce certain political ideas, which are not consistent with the ideals of the United States. That they choose to build it there is why I oppose building it there.

Scott Holleran: You contrast the Japanese with the Americans in terms of motive, demonstrating that the Japanese, like today’s jihadists, were motivated by death while the Americans fighting in World War 2 were motivated by life. We have been fighting and appeasing jihadists for over 10 years with thousands of U.S. casualties and no progress toward victory. Are Americans losing the will to live?

John David Lewis: That’s a difficult question. If one sees an enemy as out to destroy you and does not act against him, and instead builds bridges to him, then certainly Americans are losing the will to live. Certainly, if we don’t demand a nation that defends itself, that’s true.

Scott Holleran: You write about dropping napalm and atom bombs, not food, on civilians during war. What is the primary reason why we drop food packages not bombs on our enemy?

John David Lewis: On one level, we don’t want to destroy and kill people that way—Americans are very benevolent—and we fail to make the connection between dropping bombs and saving our lives. American intelligence in Japan looked at what was happening inside the country of Japan—inside the houses. When they found out that civilians were being trained to kill Americans, they realized that within those houses were weapons and that civilians were an active part of the war effort and an American intelligence officer made a direct connection; he reported there were no civilians in Japan as far as the war effort was concerned. Recently, we saw a Navy SEAL team come across a group of shepherds that were hostile to the U.S.—and they let them go, knowing the shepherds would turn them over to the enemy if given a chance. It goes back to your question about the will to live, and, in that sense, it’s gone.

Scott Holleran: Which is the greater threat to the United States—Iran, which openly declares its intent to destroy America—or Saudi Arabia, which sponsors Islamic jihadism while claiming to do otherwise?

John David Lewis: They’re both threats. I can’t elevate one above the other.

Scott Holleran: The Nazis were appeased by the West and swept into power, exterminating millions of Jews. The Soviets were allied with and appeased by the West and subsequently conquered much of the civilized world, exterminating millions of people, enslaving tens of millions and fighting a proxy war with the U.S. that funded the forces that created jihadist Islam. Islamic jihadists, too, were allied with and appeased by the West and are fighting a proxy war with the U.S. through subversive terrorism. What horror awaits civilization should jihadists prevail?

John David Lewis: The first thing we would see is the entire Middle East given to Islamic government and all-out war—we would see Islamic rule in the south of France, Spain, and Indonesia, and the predominantly Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union. I do not think that we would see a single caliphate against the United States. I think we would see Iran and Syria against Saudi Arabia and Egypt and whatever would come out of that would push out against the West. European nations are already failing by internal rot. But how far are we from France becoming an Islamic state? Probably far off. The war would spread like a plague through Africa and South America, where they would come to regret the alliance that [Venezuelan dictator] Hugo Chavez made with Iran. And if Iran gets nuclear weapons—and then the Saudis do, too—that would be very bad for the rest of the world.

Scott Holleran: Is America’s current predicament with regard to the unacknowledged war with jihadist Islam fundamentally comparable to either the 300 Spartans or the Alamo?

John David Lewis: [Pauses] No. I don’t think so. In neither Greece nor the Alamo was it denied that there was a problem. Today, we are evading the fact that there’s a problem—that this politicized Islam [jihad, which means holy war] is what motivates the enemy. In that sense, it’s not comparable. The Greeks made a stand against the Persians and it became a rallying cry—the men at the Alamo made a stand against the Mexicans and it became a rallying cry—but when the passengers of United [Air Lines flight] 93 made a stand against the radical Moslems, there should have been a rallying cry, and there wasn’t. Throughout history, we’ve heard “Remember the 300 [Spartans]!” “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember the Maine!” No one cries “Let’s Roll” to remember United 93.

Scott Holleran: What’s your favorite war memorial?

John David Lewis: It makes me sad to think of that. [Pauses] There is one that comes to mind, though I haven’t been there—the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The [sunken] ship [destroyed with her 1,777 crewmen by the Japanese] was left there and a memorial was built over it. Some of the Confederate war memorials, such as the memorial at Shiloh, are very moving. But the one that seems most moving to me is the Arizona memorial. [Pauses] I do not think it’s time to build a memorial to the victims of 9/11. There’s a line about building a war memorial during a war that may be attributable to, of all people, Eleanor Roosevelt: We’ll win the war—then we’ll have a memorial.

Scott Holleran: What one idea, more than any other idea, must be accepted in our culture for the West to achieve victory over jihadist Islam?

John David Lewis: Knowledge of our own good. Most of all, we must realize that we stand for the values of freedom, the sanctity of the individual, and reason.