Sunday, November 22, 2015

Talking Out of Turn #39 (Podcast): Doris Kearns Goodwin (1987)

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin at her home in Concord, Massachusetts in 2014. (Photo: Steven Senne/AP)

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts at CJRT-FM in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to artists from all fields. In 1994, after I had gone to CBC, I had an idea to collate an interview anthology from some of the more interesting discussions I'd had with guests from that period. Since they all took place during the Eighties, I thought I could edit the collection into an oral history of the decade from some of its most outspoken participants. The book was assembled from interview transcripts and organized thematically. I titled it Talking Out of Turn: Revisiting the '80s. With financial help from the Canada Council, I shaped the individual pieces into a number of pertinent themes relevant to the decade. By the time I began to contact publishers, though, the industry was starting to change. At one time, editorial controlled marketing. Now the reverse was taking place. Acquisition editors, who once responded to an interesting idea for a book, were soon following marketing divisions concerned with whether the person doing it was hot enough to sell it.

Tom Fulton, host and producer of On the Arts.
For a few years, I flogged the proposal to various publishers but many were worried that there were too many people from different backgrounds (i.e. Margaret Atwood sitting alongside Oliver Stone). Another publisher curiously chose to reject it because, to them, it appeared to be a book about me promoting my interviews (as if I was trying to be a low-rent Larry King) rather than seeing it as a commentary on the decade through the eyes of the guests. All told, the book soon faded away and I turned to other projects. However, when recently uncovering the original proposal and sample interviews, I felt that maybe some of them could find a new life on Critics at Large.

In the chapter Icons Revisited, I included a number of writers who re-examined past iconic figures whose personalities still continued to overshadow the decade. Some of the writers included historian John Malcolm Brinnin on Truman Capote, Heather Robertson's fictionalized biographies on former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, former leftist activist (now neo-conservative) David Horowitz who, along with Peter Collier, wrote a riveting and complex study of the Ford family empire, and Barbara Branden on the controversial author Ayn Rand. In 1987, I sat down with Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is an American historian and biographer who first came into prominence in 1977 with her illuminating study, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, written ten years after she served as an intern in LBJ's office despite her opposition to his war policy in Vietnam. Goodwin would later follow with books on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (No Ordinary Time in 1994) and Abraham Lincoln (2005's Team of Rivals, which would serve as a source for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln).

Although today actually commemorates the assassination of JFK in Dallas in 1963, we thought we'd use the anniversary instead to examine the political mystique of the Kennedy family which Goodwin outlined in her 1987 book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga. The conversation also took place some fifteen years before the book would come under scrutiny by The Weekly Standard for issues of citation plagiarism which, although proven valid, don't colour the content of the interview itself.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1987.

Kevin Courrier is a freelance writer/broadcaster, film critic and author (Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of Zappa, Randy Newman's American Dreams33 1/3 Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask ReplicaArtificial Paradise: The Dark Side of The Beatles Utopian Dream). Courrier teaches part-time film courses to seniors through the LIFE Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto and other venues. His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism.  

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