This is a great article from New York magazine in collaboration with the excellent ProPublica -- a deeply researched and detailed look at the utter emptiness of HUD under the direction of Ben Carson. (I was going to say, "under the leadership of..." but having read the article, I can't really use that phrase.
The author is Alec McGillis who spent months diving into HUD before Carson officially took over and a Trump official oversaw running things and also following Carson around, to the point of drawing the concern and disdain of his handlers.
It's very long, but immensely readable, told as much as an unfolding story as a piece of rich journalism.
You can find it here.
We're heading back to the Al Franken Well today, but no videos here. Instead, it's for a couple of wonderful first-person stories by my pal Mark Evanier about the two times he briefly met Franken before he was yet planning to run for the Senate. You can read it here.
USA Today has one of the best articles here that I've read about Vin Scully, who is retiring at the end of this season after broadcasting Dodgers baseball games for a stunning 67. Written by sportswriter Bob Nightengale, it's long, detailed, full of good stories and a link to the video of one of Scully's greatest calls, Kirk Gibson's famous game-willing home run. (It's far better in it's subtlety and eloquence than the call by Jack Buck that's often shown. Scully simply says, "She...is...gone!" Then, waits a minute in silence as the home crowd roars maniacally, and finally adds one of his greatest lines: "In a year that has been improbably, the impossible has happened.")
My only quibble with the piece is that although it mentions how Scully called Sandy Koufax's perfect game in 1965 (against the Chicago Cubs, no less -- when the Cubs pitcher Bob Hendley only gave up one hit himself), it leaves it at that, and omits that Scully's announcing of that entire 8-1/2 minute ninth inning is perhaps the greatest call in the history of baseball, and maybe the greatest in all sportscasting. How remarkable is it? I have a book of great sportswriting for baseball, and it includes a transcript of Scully's call -- without editing -- so remarkable in that it wasn't, of course, written, but entirely extemporaneous, yet it reads like it was crafted by an expert novelist. So, to correct that oversight, here's the full call --
That aside, the article is terrific, as Scully sat down for a two-hour interview, so the piece is more comprehensive than most. It includes, for instance, a wonderful story about Jackie Robinson -- timely, what with the PBS documentary... -- and how Scully once went ice skating with him, even though the ballplayer, who grew up in Southern California, had never been on skates before.
Unfortunately for Dodgers fans, there has been a battle between the team and local cable providers, so fans can only watch Scully's final season if they are able to subscribe to Time-Warner Cable. Happily, I do, so I can see and hear Vinnie. I wished I liked the team more, so that I could appreciate this last year on that level, but with Vin Scully, it's near impossible not to appreciate him at pretty much any level.
The other day, I wrote about the wonderful current issue of Written By, the magazine publication of the Writers Guild of America. They have a special issue centered around the "101 Funniest Screenplays" list that the Guild put together. I linked here to a terrific interview with Woody Allen, and this another very enjoyable piece on Mel Brooks, called "Where Did He Go Right?" (which is an anguished lament from the film, The Producers, when Max Bialystock tries to produce a disastrous flop and intentionally does everything wrong, but the musical turns out to be a smash hit.) The article, written by Lisa Rosen, began as a look about at all of Brooks's career, but though he does talk about a lot, it focuses far more on the history of The Producers.
What I particularly liked about the interview, and found most fascinating for two reasons, is that Brooks talks about the involvement of Alfa-Betty Olsen. That's the first fascinating thing, since it's something he rarely does (though has on occasion). It's always been "Mel Brooks's The Producers", indeed something he won the Oscar for, as Best Original Screenplay. So, it's intriguing to hear him address her participation, especially in the official publication of the Writers Guild.
The other reason is the "mystery" of what her actual participation was. There has been a certain group of thought that her work was significant, even to the point of coming up with the idea or writing much of the script. It's certainly possible, though I've always suspect it hasn't been significant to that level, since for a work this tremendous, her resume is deeply limited and seriously uninspiring. That alone isn't even close to "proof," since a lot of very talented writers have scant produced credits and just weren't able to get other projects off the ground for any number of reasons. But completely unrelated to his reference to Alfa-Betty Olsen is an earlier part of the interview where he talks about the history of The Producers. And that's something I've never heard him talk about, and it added other very important pieces of the puzzle.
For starters, Mel Brooks gives the name of the producer he worked for earlier in his career, which gave him the idea for the story. I've heard him talk about the man numerous times,but I've never once heard him give the name. Here he does -- Benjamin Kutcher.
From there, Brooks talks about writing it first as a novel, but the people he gave it to found it mostly dialogue, and suggest he turn it into a play. Which he does -- but the producer Kermit Bloomgarden (who did The Music Man) was concerned that it required far too many cast members and sets. And he suggested it be turned into a movie. And so Brooks wrote another version, this time as a film. And after that, that's when he brought in Alfa-Betty Olsen, largely (so he says) for her opinion on what worked and what didn't.
I have no idea if that's what her participation was, or if it was more. But given that Mel Brooks on his own wrote The Producers as a novel, a stage play and then a film script, it seems pretty clear to me that the story was absolutely his, as was the foundation and structure. This is not remotely meant to diminish Alfa-Betty Olsen's participation, but to put it in a more rounded perspective than I've ever seen it before, along with her own credits. She likely had a valuable part to play, given that Mel Brooks does bring her up. But it seems likely to me that Mel Brooks deserves his sole credit.
As I said, the article deals with more than just The Producers, and a wider spectrum of his career, and you can read here.
And here he is receiving his Oscar for Best Screenplay. It's presented by Frank Sinatra and Don Rickles -- the latter of whom decides to horn in on Mel Brooks's moment and almost mucks it up, but Brooks is able to politely not let him.
The Writers Guild has an extremely good in-house magazine, Written By, which is overseen by editor-in-chief Richard Stayton. Some issues admittedly grab my interest more than others, which is fair enough, but they're all well-done. This past month, though, was a particular gem. It largely dealt with the Guild's 101 funniest screenplays, and I read every article.
One especially stood out, the cover story on Woody Allen (which was done by Stayton himself). It caught my attention more because it's unlike any other interview I've read with Allen -- and that happened by accident, for a reason that Stayton describes in his editor's notes at the beginning of the issue.
In his front piece, he talks about the efforts to simply get the interview, and how much research he did preparing for it, re-watching all of Woody Allen's seven movies that were voted into the top 101, wanting to be as well-versed as possible when he finally got to sit down with Allen. But then, when arriving, finding out at the very beginning how much Woody Allen didn't care about awards and such lists. Stayton's tale of angst is very funny, as Allen goes on and on about his dislike of such things, and Stayton sits there in agonizing silence, realizing that all of his questions are useless, and he has nothing to ask. Out of almost sheer desperation, he pulls out the air a single question that a friend had told him to ask about craft. And from there, it turned into an absolutely wonderful, fascinating interview, unlike any I've ever come across with Woody Allen -- all about the process of writing.
You can read it here.
By the way, there's one oddity in the interview. At one point in the conversation, Woody Allen makes a comment about not revisiting his movies when they’re done, not watching them, not wanting to see a sequel, not wanting to do musical versions, nothing, all of which he repeated. Now, mind you, I have no reason not to believe him about that. It seems fairly consistent with his career Except – not only is there a musical adaptation of “Bullets Over Broadway”, which played on Broadway only last year and the touring company is currently playing in Los Angeles…but HE wrote the stage adaptation himself! I still believe what he said – people are entitled to make exceptions – but it was just so strange to read it and see him SO insistent, including specifically singling out not doing musical adaptations, and he didn’t even reference something so blatant, to explain why he made an exception that one time.
That oddity aside, it's a very good, extremely interesting interview and discussion of writing. Again, check it out here.
The Huffington Post has just posted the first part of a very long, in-depth blockbuster investigation of Johnson & Johnson surrounding their development of an anti-psychotic drug, Risperdal. Titled, "The Credo Company," the piece is described as --"Over The Course Of 20 Years, Johnson & Johnson Created A Powerful Drug, Promoted It Illegally To Children And The Elderly, Covered Up The Side Effects And Made Billions Of Dollars. This Is The Inside Story."
The story is written by Steven Brill, an acclaimed investigative reporter, and told in 15 parts. That's part of the fascinating aspect of this, creating a new form they're calling a DocuSerial. Let them explain what they mean --
The Johnson & Johnson Risperdal story is a complex, roller coaster tale. The details count. They are important in understanding the people and impulses behind the drugs we take. To tell that story in a way that is digestible but complete, The Huffington Post Highline and I are trying something new: a DocuSerial. It’s a reconstruction of an old story-telling genre that allows us to deploy the modern tools of digital communication to engage readers in old-fashioned, long-form feature journalism.
The form works very well. Though the project is very long, the first section was (while long itself) very accessible and didn't take all that much time to read. It's also wonderfully formatted with clear links to supporting documents (that are themselves highlighted for the appropriate passages) and videos, along with a timeline running down the side of the page that can be clicked on, as well. Often when clicking on links in a document you lose your place in it, but here, new tabs tend to open in your browser, and you hold your place to return to. There are also little sidebar links off to the right side, which give background information on important players in the story -- when you click on them, the material overlays on the main window, but a big "X" appears to let you easily click out of it.
That's the form. But most important is the content. And the first segment was extremely well done. Interesting, well-written and richly documented. I figure to stick around and see how it develops.
(It's worth noting to that the story makes clear -- and indeed says so specifically -- that at issue is not whether a drug is helpful to many, but causes problematic side-effects for a few, but rather the documented illegal efforts to get the drug on the market and to promote it to people for whom it was not intended or approved. That the company has paid $3 billion in lawsuits demonstrates that "illegal" is not subjective hyperbole.
You can find the first part here. If you do read it, be sure to check the Letter from the Editors -- it's a link right at the top, underneath the title, and does a nice job explaining a slight history of the project Also, at the very end, after all the reader comments is a place to sign up for email reminders when the next part has been published.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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