Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Josh's Lost New York

Astronaut of the Elevator: Up, up and away, at the Eldorado, 300 CPW.

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, March 29, 2010


My editors at Backbeat Books asked me to do this for a weekly “Living with Music” series. Each week, musically-illiterate writers contribute their own Top Ten. Mine was summarily rejected. Since there is a constant soundtrack in my mind, my playlist of the week might include a few records most folks don’t know about:

1. Borsalino, Claude Bolling (Paramount, 1968)
Soundtrack to the Jean-Paul Belmondo/Alain Delon gangster film of the same name. French composer Claude Bolling’s upright jangly piano delivers the best take on American jazz to ever come out of France. I was instantly struck by the record when I entered an art house movie theater as a boy, where it jauntily played over the P.A.

2. “Theme From A Summer Place” and “Mr. Lucky”
The two greatest muzak singles ever produced do a lot more than enhance elevator travel. Both instantly transport me back to Bonwit Teller in 1960, holding my mother’s hand as she leads me through ladies’ haberdashery. “A Summer Place,” composed by Max Steiner, recorded by Percy Faith, far transcended the inferior movie of same. Henry Mancini’s “Mr. Lucky,” now categorized under “crime jazz,” contains such high-calorie orchestration and Hammond B-3, it feels like a mainline shot of dope.

3. Climbing!, Mountain (Windfall, 1970)
The second album from Mountain, featuring Leslie West, Felix Pappalardi and Corky Laing. You know “Mississippi Queen,” but every track is brilliant. West’s Les Paul Jr. tone and vibrato was the best live sound I ever heard. The late Pappalardi, who produced Cream and The Youngbloods (“Get Together”), constitutes the most glaring omission from The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (along with Al Kooper). My all-time favorite hard-rock album since the moment it arrived.

4. Ahead Rings Out, Blodwyn Pig (A&M, 1969)
The best hard rock of the era is left out of the highly restricted classic-rock radio canon (which covers less than 500 songs). Guitarist Mick Abrahams left the original Jethro Tull to form this unique sax ’n’ guitar onslaught. And never did sax and guitar groove so forcefully in this jazzy direction, before or since.

5. Monkey Beat!, Ronnie Dawson (No Hit Records (UK), 1994)
The late Ronnie Dawson, from Dallas, wrote contemporary rockabilly material that sounded like it really was written in the ’50s. Virtually all other such songs sound like takes on the ’50s, and I can usually pinpoint the difference. Besides, Dawson was there, an authentic 16-year-old rockabilly, scoring heavy Texas airplay in the ’50s.

6. Reflections, Chet Atkins & Doc Watson (RCA, 1980)
Both guitarists grew up on opposite sides of the Great Smoky Mountains. It took one day to knock out this effortless masterpiece, adapting rags, waltzes and folk songs of their youth. Chet’s nylon-string runs enhance Doc’s flatpicking, and both sound like angels playing harps of gold.

7. The Best of Marshall Crenshaw (Warner/Rhino, 2000)
We’ll never know what melodies Buddy Holly might have written, had he lived beyond the age of 22. But I suspect Crenshaw comes close, synchronicity-wise, to dreaming up something Holly might have. One of a few original melodic songwriters left on earth, Crenshaw has written a dozen woulda-been hits, had he recorded two decades earlier.

8. Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack (Clean Cuts, 1981)
The first in a two-part series, here is the history of stride, barrelhouse and boogie-woogie piano, performed with the mightiest left-hand rhythm I’ve ever heard.

9. Mommy, Gimme a Drinka Water, Danny Kaye (Capitol, 1959)
The only record I wore out, before Meet The Beatles (which I wore out twice). Music & lyrics by Milton Schafer (who followed with two short-lived Broadway musicals, Drat! The Cat! and Bravo Giovanni) and orchestrations by Gordon Jenkins. Possibly the greatest children’s album ever produced; criminally out of print for decades.

10. Second Winter, Johnny Winter (Columbia, 1969)
My all-time favorite blues-rock album, which pushed blues into a whole new envelope in 1969. The only three-sided album ever released (side 4 was left blank), during the brief period when Johnny Winter was a genius. Another example of the best being left out of the classic rock radio canon.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Josh's Lost New York

My old pal, John, finest elevator man in the biz. Shortly after this picture was taken in 1983, he was cold-cocked by a crazed delivery guy, and died the next day.

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, March 22, 2010

Signed copies of BLACK CRACKER available NOW!

AT LAST! Buy your copy of Josh Alan Friedman's long-awaited autobiographical novel BLACK CRACKER in paperback, signed by Josh. Order your copy here.

Makes a lovely gift for all occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, marches, back-to-school, integration rallies...

Click here to order.

Magazine Management (Part VII): Walter Wager

Walter Wager

The last in my series on Magazine Management is a short 1984 interview with spy-thriller novelist Walter Wager (1924-2004). Wager’s career took him from being a Fulbright Fellow at the Sorbonne in Paris to becoming diplomatic adviser to Israel’s Director of Civil Aviation. He was also editor-in-chief of Broadway’s Playbill in the ’60s, and public relations director for ASCAP. Walter Wager wrote some 30 novels, a number of which became films, like Die Hard 2 (from his 58 Minutes) and Telefon. He sometimes wrote under the pseudonym John Tiger at Mag. Management.

Question: What year did you join the club?

WAGER: I never worked there, I was a writer for them and wrote about a hundred pieces. In 1952 I started doing research memos for other writers to use for articles in their little news magazine, Focus. Then the memos got good enough for them to run. It was the beginning of a brilliant career writing fake true adventure stories. Later on, when I was working with Bruce [Jay Friedman], a whole genre of stories developed in which Allied pilots or spies, in various parts of the world, were hidden by the underground in secret headquarters, which were always brothels, cathouses. Bruce said they were doing so well, let’s do another. I said, “For God's sake, Bruce, we’ve done everything except an underwater cathouse.”

He said, “I love it, do that.”

Someone else ended up writing it: an underwater whorehouse which was used to train Italian scuba divers.

Q. Was this in a submarine?

WAGER: An underwater building. The Allies infiltrated the whorehouse and wiped out the scuba divers.

Q. Your staple was the spy-espionage story?

WAGER: Yes. I went to work at the United Nations as an editor for two years. When I came back in ’56, I continued doing stuff for Magazine Management. I did some genteel sex stories, also. You found out what part of each city was the red light district, then you wrote a vigorously indignant article about the hookers. The first article I did for Swank in ’56 was called “Build a Better Monster”—a picture story on Hollywood monsters which advised readers on how to get ahead in life by building one. Swank had a sense of humor. Then I did a piece of fiction for Swank which was later reprinted in an Australian magazine, so Swank was obviously being read around the world.

Q. Did you get paid for the reprint?

WAGER: I got a big $25 from the Australians. I would do an article every week for Bruce. I would bring it in on Thursday and have a check in my mailbox Saturday. The most attractive thing about Swank was the sort of freewheeling atmosphere there. But it was a time of very cautious wring about sex. Swank was the baby of all the men’s magazines there.

Q. How do you mean?

WAGER: It never got as big as the others and it didn't live as long. [Swank ceased publication several times.] It was always an experimental venture. Martin Goodman’s effort to compete with Esquire, but a little saucier. It had the advantage of working on a modest budget, so it needed an inventive editor.

Q. Do you recall a favorite story you wrote for Swank?

A piece of fiction that preceded The Stepford Wives. A story about an engineer whose wife dies, and he builds a new wife [“The Second Mrs. Gilbert,” Aug. 1956]. Every night was perfect, he’d come home, she’d be waiting with martinis, she never bothered him to have a baby. Then he comes home one evening and can’t find her. He goes down to the basement and there she is in his workshop building a perfect new husband.

Q. Were any of your Mag Management stories developed later into novels?

WAGER: Oh, yes! I did a double-length piece of fiction for Men which developed into the novel Viper Three, very successful here and abroad, and later became the film Twilight's Last Gleaming [starring Burt Lancaster]. You wanna hear something funny? Not only did it first appear in a Magazine Management book, but after the novel was successful and the paperback came out years later, Chip Goodman [heir to Martin Goodman’s empire] didn’t know it had come from an original story in his father’s company—he bought the condensation rights again.

© 1984, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Josh's Lost New York

Lindy's, seen two blocks below Birdland, approx. 1960.

(photo by William Claxton)

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Josh on KNON 89.3 Dallas TONIGHT

Hear Josh talk Black Cracker on KNON 89.3 Dallas TONIGHT!

Listen online to Texas Blues with Sonny Boy Mark, 6-8 pm CDT

Click here to visit KNON and listen in from wherever you are...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Magazine Management (Part VI): John Bowers

John Bowers

At Magazine Management in the early ’60s, novelist John Bowers specialized in what now seems like such an innocent brand of sin. His civil war books, Stonewall Jackson and Chickamauga/Chattanooga, defined the genre before it became trendy in the Ken Burns era. His new coming-of-age book, Love in Tennessee, is a sure bet to reside in the grand canon of Southern Lit. Other novels include The Colony and No More Reunions; non-fiction books include In the Land of NYX: Night and Its Inhabitants and The Golden Bowers. This interview is also from 1984.

John Bowers in the Mag. Management era

Question: How does Magazine Management stick to your bones?

BOWERS: If you worked there even a year, you were inoculated for life. You were doing free-lance stuff later, you knew people who went on to other magazines where you got assignments, or you gave them work. Symbiotic relationships. Nine-to-five, I worked there only two years.

Q. What titles did you write for?

BOWERS: Male, Men, True Action and all the specials we did.

Q. Wasn’t your specialty in the romantic vein?

BOWERS: Well, that’s putting it gently. I did the “Rock Around Dolls of New Orleans,” the “Promiscuous Women of D.C.,” I did the hotsie-totsies in all their forms.

Q. Hotsie-totsies?

BOWERS: Girlie copy.

Q. Did you write copy for the models?

BOWERS: We didn’t do that so much then. But I did everything, as we all did—blurbs, captions, picture selections, book cutting. I did at least one original article each month. And if I had to pay for a suit or if a girlfriend cost me a lot of money, I could always get another assignment.

Q. Since you were restricted to phrases like “dark triangle” and “heaving chest,” did you feel held back?

BOWERS: No, in a way it was an art form. It was like Kabuki theater—you had a certain ritual, a certain type of lead, certain characters, you meshed them into a beginning, middle and end, and it worked. I couldn’t have done it if I’d used my full range of imagination. It was suggestive, and women were vehicles for pleasure, they weren’t full-rounded characters. They were always ready, gripping, sexed-up. It’d wear you down if this were in actuality, you’d be fucking morning, noon and night.

Q. How did you come by this formula?

BOWERS: I may have invented it. Bruce had a genius for figuring out where guys’ talents went, what their interests were, how they would operate best. He figured out that Mario was an adventurer, he could spin a yarn and was partial to Moby Dick or War and Peace. He knew I was interested in women and the things that make sexy copy. I came from a fairly repressed, puritanical background, that’s always been a breeding ground for lurid writing.

Q. Where are you from?

BOWERS: I grew up in Tennessee. I worked in the State Department previous to Magazine Management. I jumped from a buttoned-down world—which was far crazier than the ostensibly wild and woolly Magazine Management—into working at the magazine. It was the only place I ever felt total simpatico with everyone, no one seemed like an out-and-out boss. We were all writing novels or screenplays, and had our sights on something else.

Q. Did you improve at writing while working there?

BOWERS: Oh, yeah. I learned how to cut copy, which is the main thing to learn as a professional—least copy makes the best copy, and don’t overwrite, learn to cut out adjectives. At Magazine Management we learned to make things move, action, a terrific lesson. That’s why The Godfather and Gorky Park [by MM alums Mario Puzo and Martin Cruz Smith, respectively] worked so well. They have characters that are involved in action, they’re not cerebral people wondering whether they’re going to have a cup of tea for 20 chapters, like in Henry James.

Q. Does any piece you wrote stand out best?

BOWERS: You know, they all sort of mesh together. The first one I remember was on the women of Washington. I’d throw in little touches of my own to keep it fun.

Q. For instance?

BOWERS: An in-joke, like giving the name of my old high school coach for a villain.

A representative scene from the Bowers canon

Q. How specific, in the early ’60s, could you write about sex in Male? Could you list the address of a whorehouse?

BOWERS: You’d just say these women were available and leave it to the readers—you could find them in government offices, bars, on the street, horny and ready to go. Here was what happened at a diplomatic party, and it never came out in the press.

Q. How factual was this?

BOWERS: It was total entertainment, we made everything up. The funny thing was, a lot of people out there believed us. We’d make up a battle in World War II where they had a counter-attack on roller skates against a giant tank armada. Readers who I met in Tennessee, where a lot of copies sold at train and bus stations, said what they liked about the magazines was they were real, factual.

Q. Any particular sources of inspiration for your hotsie-totsie stories?

BOWERS: Just my own natural horniness. You had to be a little horny, you had to like women. I was not married, I was gallivanting around, the ’60s were made for me.

Q. Did you go to model shoots back then?

BOWERS: Yeah. It was exciting, I’d never seen anything like it. The guy that shot the pictures did work for Magazine Management, but in this case he wasn’t.

Q. You mean they were shooting real nudity for Nugget, as opposed to the bikini pix of Swank?

BOWERS: Yeah, he never knew, he would take a set and hustle them as a freelancer, same as today.

Q. What do you recall about out an early ’60s photo shoot, compared to today? What's the difference between a nude model of 1962 and one from 1984?

BOWERS: The women were dolled up, their hair lacquered, even though nude, and you wouldn’t recognize them off the set. The women were narcissistic, and after they appeared they lost interest in it. They were exhibitionists and they wanted people to look, but once they’d done it, the thrill was gone, they went on to other ways of being narcissistic. It’s taken more for granted now, there’s no inhibition, everyone connected with it now is more self-assured. Back than it was done sneakily, and as a result, it was more exciting, because it was hidden and outrageous.

Q. What was your reaction the first time seeing a naked broad on a set?

BOWERS: Nearly fainting. I almost keeled over. To introduce myself, the photographer let me hold a camera to pretend I was part of the team, not just a voyeur.

Q. How do you see the men’s magazine fantasy machine differing from that time to now, having stayed close to the business?

BOWERS: It always fits in with the climate of the times. Back then, we skirted around the issue, but it was a more puritanical society. Bruce always said, and he said he heard it from Jim Bryans, give them Big Emotions. If someone steals money in a story, don’t have them steal $15 off a cab driver, have him steal millions off a company. If someone parachutes out of a plane, don't have them do it from a Piper Cub at 500 feet, have him parachute out of a supersonic jet 30,000 miles in space. And that’s what today’s magazines do, they try to go the limit. Given the culture of the time, Magazine Management went to the limit.

Q. Where is the progression of men’s magazines headed?

BOWERS: We may now be seeing the last of girlie magazines. How many nude women can you see? This era will die, and all you’ll have to do is go to some back issues of Screw or Playboy, which we’ll have as a record, just as Victorian porn is always available. Magazine Management was not an outgrowth of Playboy at all, they were never true girlie magazines. They were in the tradition of the old pulps. Yarns and stories, heroes people could identify with. It was so wonderful that other things don’t quite live up to it. Like your first girl who was perfect, but you left her, then you keep romanticizing her. Some guys are still lost back there, expecting a rebirth, not able to move forward. They’re still writing about the Second World War, locked in that time warp. I think the world for the pulps died, and when it did, Magazine Management folded.

© 1984, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Visit John Bowers online here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Manly Thoughts on Josh's Magazine Management Series

- Men's Adventure Magazines talks Magazine Management with Josh here.
- Writer/comics icon Mark Evanier on the MM series here.
- The Comics Reporter weighs in here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Josh's Lost New York

And dig the ticket prices.

(photo by Amalie R. Rothschild)

More on the Fillmore here.

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Monday, March 8, 2010

Magazine Management (Part V): Mel Shestack Lives!

Mel Shestack

Mel Shestack's self-designed resume

Melvin B. Shestack, “master of the gentle con,” spent a lifetime in magazines. There were specific fellows in the industry who were like modern-day Talmudic scholars. They spent decades behind typewriters with sheaths of clippings and papers, instead of scrolls. They moved beyond questions of faith, immersed in the study of subjects ranging from sex to The Three Stooges.

Shestack, who passed away in 2005, was a witty cartoonist, and editor extraordinaire at dozens of publications. There’s no telling how many potboilers Shestack may have been involved in. But he was the author of
Encyclopedia of Country Music, How’m My Doing: the Wit and Wisdom of Ed Koch, and a generic book title that must have appeared thousands of times: Secrets of Success. My interview was conducted in 1984. Question: What was your specialty at Magazine Management?

SHESTACK: The Adventure Jobs [features chronicling dangerous lines of work]. I made them all up. That was a real problem because people used to call and ask, “Where do I get a job milking snakes?” There was big money, you got $50 every snake you milked the venom out of in Ocala, Florida. I came up with another great job: keeping the whores in good shape in Las Vegas by being their masseur. The best one of all was a job where you make $50,000 marrying hookers to save them, through a foundation out West that I made up.

Q. Did readers call in on that one?

SHESTACK: One day there was a man, nine feet tall, all neck, hands big as tennis rackets—a California State Trooper. He said, “I wanna marry one of them hoores.” He had the clipping. He said, “You G. G. Burke?” We all had pseudonyms, that was mine. He said, “I’m ready, I don't even care about the money. Fella I know married a hoore and she’s a great wife.”

I looked at him and said, off the top of my head: “God, ya know, hundreds and hundreds of men have called—you're late, when did you read the issue? Our office has been besieged, I’m here weekends lining them up and we’ve run out of whores.” I said, “Give me your address, there’s a list of 326 guys before you. When your name comes, believe me, I'll call.”

Q. And he fell for it?

SHESTACK: Yeah, of course he fell for it, they’re dorks.

Q. Did the publisher, Martin Goodman, know these were fake jobs?

SHESTACK: I assume he did not.

Q. In which mag were the fake jobs described?

SHESTACK: True Action. It was my favorite. It was a magazine of phenomenal unimportance, that’s what I liked about it. Nobody would ever check facts. Bruce [Jay Friedman] eventually turned it over to me entirely.

Q. So the nature of your articles was to con the readership? Did that carry over to the staff?

SHESTACK: I would say to some extent.

Q. Could you recall a few? How about the time you had [Mario] Puzo waiting on some dock at 3 a.m. for a shipment of silk shirts for 50 cents?

SHESTACK: About 80 percent of the time I came through. I had an uncle in the shirt business. It started out real, like all of them, and then something happened in the middle—I either can't do it, or it doesn't work.

Q. But you never warned the recipient once the deal fell through?

SHESTACK: No. . . I can’t for the life of me remember things I did, but I only did it to people I had a great affection for. People who should really be angry still invite me to dinner. Everybody was so damned tolerant. It was a company of flawed geniuses. Everybody had his idiosyncratic behavior, yet it worked together like a team. Everybody liked his fellows for what they were and didn’t dislike them for what they were not. A great deal of affection.

Shestack, left (far right: Bruce Jay Friedman)

Q. How was the money there?

SHESTACK: Our salaries were low, but you could make a hell of a lot freelancing. You got paid for everything you wrote, above your salary. It doesn’t happen anywhere like that today. That’s why everyone was so happy there. You learned to write fast. We went out to great restaurants on Fridays. I remember I wanted to go to Montreal for a weekend—I knew if I stayed up that night and wrote some stupid story—I said, Bruce, I need a story. He knew what I could do and said you take this one. In the morning I’d turn it in, he’d look at it, write $350. Friday I’d have $350, which was more than enough in 1962 to take a plane to Montreal and have money left over. You could plan your life. It was magnificent.

Q. This was no Mary Tyler Moore newsroom, it was a large organization.

SHESTACK: There were about 60 people. And then a constant stream of artists and writers and schleps and friends came through. Gloria Steinem used to come up, she thought it was quite wonderful. It was in the pre-liberation days, maybe ’63, she was new people. I think she wanted to write for it; she also looked outasight. Wallace Markfield came up to do a story on Magazine Management for some literary-type magazine. Markfield loved it so much, he stayed a second week. It was Good Friday and I remember him saying, “God, we’ll be off tomorrow,” as if he became part of the thing.

Q. Do you recall Fellini’s visit?

SHESTACK: One day Fellini came into the office with, I believe, Mr. Rizzoli [Rizzoli Books and Films], to see Marvel Comics. There was a secretary who worked for Stan Lee named Fabulous Flo Steinberg. She said, “Stan, there’s a Mr. Fellini on the phone, you wanna talk to him?”

Stan said, “Who’s he with?”

She said, “Rizzoli Films, can he come up, he’s a comic book fan?” There stood [actor] Alain Cluny, Mr. Rizzoli and Fellini, wearing white socks, his shirt was open. Whoever was at the front desk wouldn’t let them in. I remember walking out and saying, “Don't you know who this is?”

Fellini said, “I’m just a guy who likes comic books.”

He used to do fumetti and I think Mr. Goodman sat down with him and made some kind of deal to distribute magazines from Italy. It was the height of Fellini’s fame. He met with Stan Lee for a few minutes, but he got more interested in us—he spent some time with us because we were more interesting. We were living comic books, those were just on paper.

a Shestack cartoon from a personal letter

Q. What kind of photo sessions did you arrange for True Action?

SHESTACK: I never was involved with girlie pictures, not once. I set up pictures of people robbing, pick pocketing, breaking into apartments. They were all posed by friends. Once [Playboy Executive Editor] Arthur Kretchmer posed breaking into my Mercury in a parking lot for a Beware-of-Guys-Who-Break-Into-Cars story.

I was into making the impossible believable. One minute, we’d be dealing with World War II, then we’d be doing T.S. Eliot imitations. These were very witty guys, well educated, and everybody had great ambitions. Ernest Tidyman, who won an Oscar for The French Connection, Martin Cruz Smith did Gorky Park, George Penty, who wrote the first book on the Kennedys in the ’50s, he edited For Men Only, and of course, Bruce and Mario.

Q. Even Mickey Spillane and Elizabeth Hardwick were nine-to-fivers at Mag Management in a previous era. Would you like to see the old team back together again?

SHESTACK: I don’t think it ever could happen. Hollywood, maybe. They were looking for Bruce to go into The Saturday Evening Post as editor-in-chief, but he never wanted to be an editor—if he had brought us, the magazine would not have died. It was the best group of imaginative minds that I have ever seen. Mario once told me—or maybe I just think he told me—if you want to write about Eskimos, study the customs of the Samoan islanders, then say it’s what Eskimos do, it works. It’s credibility, not reality, credibility. He was the C.B. DeMille of men’s mags. I think he was the only one there who’d really been in World War II, but it didn't matter, it became Mario’s World War II. He could take his imagination and make it credible. My God, I think he created the mafia, I don’t think the mafia was ever like that, but it is today. because he did it. The Dirty Dozen and The A-Team are absolute direct rip-offs of Mario’s Magazine Management stuff, everything they do, the way they carry their guns. . . .

Glenn Infield wrote great stories about aircraft that were created specially to be used in World War II—these planes could pick cotton and blow your nose. George Fox had Nazis boiled in chocolate, they’d fall in a vat and go down eating to their death.

Q. Men’s adventure mags were a large genre by the early ’60s, before Vietnam spoiled our enjoyment of war. How did yours rate in the pantheon?

SHESTACK: Ours were the best, the diamonds, the platinum. We had these wonderful illustrations of women in the Aleutians, and there’d be Japs in heavy furs with icicles coming out of their nose. But she’d be wearing a new mini-skirt with high heels, carrying a sub-machine gun, her parka open with no brassiere, popping out. And yet it seemed real, you believed that it happened. There’d be a ragtag band of guerrillas in the fiction, and there was always a sergeant or a mechanic who ran things, never an officer. He’d meet the boss’s daughter who was visiting from Vassar and she’d be a real bitch. He’d screw her in the back of a car, always in a garage where the car’d be on a lift, and she’d get no pleasure out of it.

Q. Always written in symbolic, not graphic language?

SHESTACK: Oh, yeah. She found a real man, and boy, her life changed, then she went off her way.

Q. You loved everything you read?

SHESTACK: I edited that stuff, I read it all. I went from that to The Saturday Evening Post. The very first day at the Post I edited a piece by John O’Hara and Hannah Arendt. She said, “Come on, vat are you doink?”

I said, “You’re okay Arendt, but you’re no Walter Kaylin.”

Mel Shestack (left), Bruce Jay Friedman in 1966

© 1984, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Friday, March 5, 2010

Josh's Breakdown

Live at the Winedale Tavern, Dallas 2006

(Studio version on the album Famous & Poor; available on CD here.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Josh's Lost New York

The greatest house of music there ever was.

(photo by Amalie R. Rothschild)

More on the Fillmore here.

© 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Happy Birthday, Doc Watson

From the editor:

Today, March 3, is the 87th birthday of the great Doc Watson. Back in 1996, Doc was the subject of one of Josh's most moving profiles for the Dallas Observer:

“...He said, ‘Dad, what do you think about goin’ commercial?’ And I said, ‘You want an honest answer, son?’ He said, ‘Yeah, and I hope it’s the way I feel about it.’ I said, ‘I don't want no part of that rat race. Let’s do what we’re doin’ and try to stay alive in the business.’ He said, ‘Them’s my thoughts, exactly.’”

Happy Birthday to Doc Watson: a true American original, a continuing inspiration, and a class act to boot.

Click here to read "The Circle Unbroken: Doc Watson" by Josh Alan Friedman.

Click here for Josh Alan's 2007 performance of "Black Mountain Rag," from Doc's arrangement.

Chet Atkins, Doc Watson, Leo Kottke, Josh Alan, Nashville 1988

"Deep River Blues," one of Doc's signature songs, is available on Josh Alan's album Famous & Poor. Buy it here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Magazine Management (Part IV): Mario Puzo

Mario Puzo

The entire genre of the Mafia in books, movies and its countless cultural spinoffs, from video games to pizza chains, originated from the powerful imagination of Mario Puzo. Puzo (1920-1999) gave few interviews, preferring to represent himself from behind the typewriter. A World War II vet, M.P.’s novels include The Dark Arena, The Fortunate Pilgrim, The Godfather and Fools Die; non-fiction books include The Godfather Papers, Inside Las Vegas; screenplays include the three Godfather films, Earthquake and Superman. The following interview was done for this series in 1984.

Question: When did you arrive and which titles did you work on?

PUZO: When I got to Magazine Management, I think it was ’60. I worked on Male and Men.

Q. Did you save any of your issues?

PUZO: I had some, but I don’t know where the hell they are now.

Q. Did you ever meet any authentic readers of the magazines back then?

PUZO: Naw. But I got letters, the magazines got letters. They would correct factual details, which was very funny, ’cause the whole piece was usually made up.

Q. How did it feel when you ran out of real battles and started making up new World War II battles?

PUZO: Oh, it was a lot of fun. I wrote “A Bridge Too Far,” that story of the Arnhem invasion. After you got through reading my story, you thought the Allies won the battle, not the Germans.

Q. Weren’t there any letters doubting this version?

PUZO: Never. I got the airborne division wrong and received a letter about that. The funniest time was when the FBI came up to investigate us on a story made up about Russia. We printed some photos from Russia of people on the beach, and identified them as a group from the underground, or one of those bullshit things, and the FBI came up to ask us to really identify them. They talked mostly to [associate editor] Bernie Garfinkel, but he wouldn’t spill the beans. Finally, just to get rid of them, he told ’em, hey, the story was all made up.

Q. Did you use any of your own World War II experiences in those stories?

PUZO: I used to love to do research—like when I wrote an adventure story about the Arctic, I would read all the Arctic books. I became an expert on the Arctic. Then I did an article on sharks, which was fascinating. It never occurred to me that sharks would make a novel or a movie. Doing research, I came across the story of The Sting in an old book, which I remember because it was such a good scam. But again, it never occurred to me it would make a movie.

You used to have a lot of books around your desk.

PUZO: Yeah, well remember, I had to turn out three stories a month, and by doing all that research, it wasn’t that hard. I’ll tell ya, sometimes I would read 10 or 20 books to do one article. I’d go to the library and get ’em. I loved to read and I’m a very fast reader. I could read two books a day, so I just used to eat ’em up. I used to read them on company time and at home. We were always looking for stuff we could take off on, so part of our job was reading a lot.

Q. In recent years they’ve been digging out your old Mag Management stories and making what seem to be illegitimate movies out of them.

PUZO: Yeah, well the book bonuses, which were long stories, were very much like movie scripts. When I came to do movie scripts, essentially what I did was write a book bonus, which was broken up into dialog and description of scenes. You had to be economical, you had to cram as much action and plot as possible into a short space.

Mario's piece on sharks appeared in this issue

Q. Did you sense 25 years ago that it was so close to writing a movie script?

PUZO: No, because at that time, I was never interested in writing for the movies. It never occurred to me that someday I would be a guy who wrote movies. I didn’t think of those stories in movie terms.

Q. I remember a paperback with the “Mario Cleri” pseudonym.

PUZO: That was called “Seven Graves to Munich” in the magazine. Then I wrote it as a movie script, Seven Graves for Rogen. I made a lot of money on it, because I had it optioned about four times, and then finally it was made into a terrible movie. I had my name taken off the screenplay, but I got credit, you know, story by Mario Puzo.

Q. Don’t you have to keep a close eye on that today, if producers go scouring through old magazines for stories with your pen name?

PUZO: Yeah, but they’re so similar. Like, The A-Team on TV today. I wrote a story called “The Lorch Team.” I turned that into a movie script that’s been optioned. But they got the idea, I think, from that story I wrote.

Q. When did these stories start to get optioned?

PUZO: After The Godfather.

Q. Did you ever write a story at Magazine Management which was a direct predecessor to The Godfather?

PUZO: The funny thing is, I don't think I ever wrote anything about gangsters. They were usually pure adventure stories dealing with the war or some exotic locale. The magazines didn’t print gangster stuff, that wasn’t part of our repertoire, as they say.

Q. Did you ever write a story on Vietnam?

PUZO: Yeah, I did one or two, but they were absolute poison. The readers didn’t like to read about it. That was very early on in Vietnam. We used to emphasize that Vietnam only had poison sticks. How the Poison Stick Army Beat America’s Ultra-Modern Weapons, shit like that.

Q. But it never went over?

PUZO: Nah, they hated it. Also we weren’t the heroes. Just like the Korean War—we used to call that The No Fun War. World War II was The Fun War. And you could get some mileage out of the Civil War and World War I. World War II was a bonanza. But Korea and Vietnam were losers.

Q. Did you ever write a story about animals nibbling people apart?

PUZO: No, that wasn’t part of my repertoire. Just a shark story. We had specialists. I was the big specialist for adventure and war stories. John Bowers was the specialist on hot love stories, another guy was a factual reporter.

Q. How about the legendary, though untraceable, Walter Kaylin?

PUZO: He was great! He wrote these great adventures, but he couldn’t turn them out that fast. He was outrageous, he just carried it off. He’d have this one guy killing a thousand other guys. Then they beat him into the ground, you think he’s dead, but he rises up again and kills another thousand guys.

Q. Remember the illustrations of huge armies that accompanied your stories?

PUZO: Bruce used to scare me to death and say we got the illos, and I hadn’t even started the story yet. Sometimes you had to write a story because they had a good illustration, you’d build a story around it. You’d stray off a bit, but you wrote a scene that would correspond exactly with the action in the illo.

Q. They never ran abstract illustrations?

PUZO: They were literal. Bruce showed me an illo of American paratroopers dropping on the roof of a German prison camp. I wrote that scene, and worked the rest of the story around it.

Q. How many pages of a book bonus could you write in a typical day?

PUZO: I used to do a book bonus on the weekends, which was at least 60 pages. I never could write in the office, I had to work at home. When I was working on The Godfather, I was doing three stories a month, I was writing book reviews for The New York Times, Book World, Time magazine, and I wrote a children’s book [The Runaway Summer of Davie Shaw]. All at one time. And I was publishing other articles. I had four years where I must have knocked out millions of words.

I tell ya, it’s absolutely the best training a writer could get, to work on those magazines. You did everything.

Q: There's no equivalent today.

PUZO: It’s a shame. If I had a son who wanted to be a writer, I wouldn’t even bother to send him to college. I’d get him a job up there as an assistant editor, leave him there for five years and he’d know everything. You’ve got to turn out a lot of copy.

Q. Now that men’s magazines have all gone the route of pornography, when you look back, do the Magazine Management books seem more special?

PUZO: They were innocent in a funny kind of way. We had cheesecake and the stories themselves were innocent. They were like Doc Savage and The Shadow brought up to date.

Q. Like comic books for grown-ups?

PUZO: Right. . . Walter Kaylin, come back!

Mario Puzo, Bruce Jay Friedman, 1966

© 1984, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman