There is likely not an American of a certain age who does not remember where he was on November 22, 1963 — the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
That event is at the center of “Parkland,” the exciting new film from writer/director Peter Landesman. “Parkland” is the hospital where Kennedy was taken after being shot. The movie offers a different view of the incident, from the perspective of people surrounding the tragedy: the doctors and nurses at the hospital, an FBI agent who knew of Lee Harvey Oswald’s threats of violence, and even Abraham Zapruder, who famously filmed it.
For a first-time director with a limited (by Hollywood standards) $10 million budget, Landesman attracted an amazing cast, including Paul Giamatti, Jacki Weaver, Billy Bob Thornton and Marcia Gay Harden, among others. He spoke to The Arty Semite about how he got the job, what he discovered in his research and the different reactions he’s seen from older and younger audiences.
Curt Schleier: You’re only 48 years old — born two years before the tragedy. What did you know about it?
Peter Landesman: I was an investigative journalist for The New York Times, so you can say I was a student of history. I’m especially a student of history of the truth beneath the headlines, beneath the gloss. I’m always interested in the real personalities, the human element. Usually you end up reading about Kennedy, who is all warts. That’s uninteresting to me, as is the Camelot mythology. I don’t have time for that in the same way I don’t have time for the conspiracy theories.
Is it a coincidence that Parkland is coming out on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination?
No, we planned it that way. It makes sense to give voice to this story when everyone is already thinking about it. To be honest, I was also very frustrated by the lack of appreciation for what it was like.
How was the film developed?
I had written a movie for Tom [Hanks] about Watergate’s Deep Throat, Mark Felt, with a very similar kind of take to this. Bill Paxton gave Tom a copy of Vince Bugliosi’s “Four Days in November” and that became a launching point for telling a very familiar story in personal terms. It became an investigation of loss from the view of the people intimately involved, people covered by the President’s blood.
The Bugliosi book was your starting point. Did you do any additional research?
I spent four days with Jim Hosty, the FBI agent [who knew about Oswald]. I spoke to the surviving doctors and nurses who worked in the hospital. Those who died left a treasure trove of material. A lot of the doctors were required to sit down and write out what they did. There was an enormous amount of information, an embarrassment of riches.
Were the reactions of younger and older audiences different?
For older audiences, I felt like they were tenderized, it was very emotional; younger audiences intellectualized the experience. They said “I had no idea that happened.”
There was a lot in the film that I was unaware of: that Kennedy had a heart beat when he got to the hospital; that Oswald was brought there, too; that the FBI had a bead on the assassin and an agent was ordered to destroy that file.
Yes, there were parallels to 9/11. It’s all very, very stark.
You are basically a writer by profession. You’ve written a couple of novels, worked as a journalist and written some screenplays. What made you think you could direct?
I’m a painter. I’ve always worked in a visual medium. I’ve always operated best in collaboration with other artists. Directing was a very natural transition for me. I didn’t go to school for it. I didn’t speak to other directors.
A lot of people must have believed in you, because you got an unbelievably great cast.
Everybody who signed up for this movie really wanted to do it. We all kind of locked arms and were “missionized” by the power of the story. No one made money. No one got rich. It was all about telling a story that needed to be told and they wanted to be part of it. They read the script and felt compelled by the vision and by the way I wanted to tell this story.
What about your personal background?
I grew up in New York. Taught in Africa a couple of years in the Peace Corps. Became a painter and novelist. Got caught by the journalism bug and then transitioned to film. I’m Jewish. Very heavily Jewish. I married a Russian Israeli and am very connected to Israel. Weirdly enough, for a variety of reasons, just short of my own bar mitzvah. But my son will have a bar mitzvah and I may have one with him.
Watch the trailer for ‘Parkland’:
From the celebrated to the marginalized, from the heat of a summer antiwar protest to the searing cold of a Windy City winter, Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has been capturing unique, often strikingly ironic images for more than six decades. Thirty two of them, including pictures of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Saul Bellow, James Baldwin and Marlon Brando, are currently in display in an exhibit titled “That Was Then” at Chicago’s Thomas Masters Gallery through December 23.
There’s a picture of writer Nelson Algren — who Shay photographed over a 10-year period — waiting for a bus on a rainy Chicago street in 1949. (A Shay photo of Algren graces the jacket of his 1956 novel “A Walk on the Wild Side,” and Shay’s famous shot of Algren’s lover, Simone de Beauvoir, fresh out of a bath, is the subject of a book to be published in Paris next year.)
A characteristically confident Cassius Clay is shown in Louisville, Ky., in 1961 — three years before changing his name to Muhammad Ali — in his locker room the night of his bout with Alex Miteff. (Clay won by a knockout.) There’s a group of welders on a GATX railcar assembly line, blowtorches alight, looking like so many fiery elves at work in a Tolkien fantasy.
At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, the wire-meshed windows of a paddy wagon frame the faces of screaming demonstrators as a gaggle of passersby looks on. And there’s a photo of former Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan in 2010, taken from a three-year series he commissioned after admiring Shay’s book “Chicago’s Nelson Algren,” yukking it up with girlfriend and fellow musician Jessica Origliasso, who smiles beatifically as Corgan holds a tambourine halo-like above his shaved head.
Originally from the Bronx, Shay served as lead navigator aboard a B-24 Liberator in World War II, flying 52 missions over Europe. In San Francisco in 1948, at age 26, he became Life magazine’s youngest bureau chief; he relocated to Life’s Chicago bureau later that year.
The author of more than 50 books, many for children, Shay has taken thousands of photos on assignment for Life, Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and other publications. His work is in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and other institutions.
“Art Shay can’t be pigeonholed into this or that type of photographer,” said Erica DeGlopper, Shay’s archivist. “He doesn’t come with an approach to find a prefigured story: He finds the story. His genius is always on assignment.”
Last August, during President Obama’s visit to Martha’s Vineyard, a protest erupted over a T-shirt being sold at the SunStations shop in Oak Bluffs that portrayed Obama as Moe, Vice President Joe Biden as Larry, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Curly. The caption read: “The REAL Stooges.”
The storeowner said no malice was intended, and pointed to other shirts in the shop that praise the President. For us, however, there was no need to explain, as we see the comparison as complimentary. After all, the Three Stooges, who are being honored on December 13 at the Three Stooges Film Festival in Albany, as well as in a forthcoming Three Stooges Movie, were pioneering geniuses of comedy.
Despite his violent made-for-TV antics and persona, Moe, according to his daughter Joan Howard Maurer of Los Angeles, was a devoted family man, married to Helen Schonberger for 49 years. She told The Arty Semite that after her Aunt Fanny warned Schonberger “if you marry an actor, especially in vaudeville, you’ll never have a home,” Moe saw to it that his wife, daughter and son Paul lived in a beautiful English Manor and had a stable family life.
Maurer, whose late husband, artist and producer Norman Albert Maurer illustrated Three Stooges comic books, has written “The Three Stooges Book of Scripts” and “Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge.” She has also co-authored several others, including “Moe Howard and the 3 Stooges,” written by Moe and compiled by Joan after his death at age 77 in 1975.
Moe was born Moses Horwitz, son of tailor Solomon Horwitz, in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. Moe’s brothers Curly (Jerome) and Shemp (Samuel) completed the act, as did Larry Fine (Louis Fienberg).
In addition to their success in the early days of television and film comedy, the Three Stooges were unafraid to confront political issues. Their 1940 short “You Nazty Spy,” was the first Hollywood film to spoof Hitler (it was released nine months before Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”), and Moe was the first American actor to portray him. The film, directed and produced by Jules White and written by Felix Adler, featured Moe as Dictator Moe Hailstone, Curly as Field Marshall Gallstone, and Larry as Minister of Propaganda Pebble. The trio, who ruled Moronica, resembled Hitler, Göring and a mix of Göebbels and Joachim von Ribbentrop in a period when the United States was still officially neutral. The spoof was made possible because although the Hays Code restricted political content in films, shorts were not as tightly regulated.
The Stooges remembered their Jewish roots, and Yiddish often made it into their repartee. 1941’s sequel, “I’ll Never Heil Again,” included frequent use of the Yiddish word “beblach” (beans). Maurer tells a tale in her upcoming book, “Stooge Kids,” about a lobster claw that was actually made of sugar, because Moe wanted to remain faithful to the dictates of Judaism.
“Dad had this dislike for most shellfish,” Maurer recalled. “It stemmed from my grandmother’s kosher dietary rules: no crab, no lobster, no shrimp,” she said. “One day, on the set in a scene in a Stooge comedy, Dad’s role was to discard the meat from a lobster claw and eat the claw.” But she said that the thought of putting that claw in his mouth made Moe ill. “To solve this problem, the special effects man on the film had to fashion one out of rock candy,” she said.
Maurer also cast a positive spin on the Stooges T-shirt bearing the faces of Obama, Biden and Pelosi. “Other presidents received this same honor in the past,” she said, citing Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy as two American leaders linked to the Stooges. If anything, the comparison proves how popular and funny the Three Stooges still are.
Listen to an interview with Moe Howard from the 1970s:
In Poland and Hungary, one of the largest cases of Nazi art theft remains unresolved.
Jason Schwartzman loves being “Bored to Death.”
Garry Shandling’s pioneering HBO sitcom “The Larry Sanders Show” is getting a revival on DVD.
Al Pacino brings Shylock from Central Park to Broadway.
Read a history of Israel’s modern dance movement.
Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany, author of “The Yacoubian Building,” has objected to having his work translated into Hebrew.
Israeli writer Etgar Keret and artist Michal Rovner have been awarded the French Order of Arts and Letters.
Read an excerpt from Adam Levin’s enormous new novel, “The Instructions.”
Gary Shteyngart gives a tour of his alma mater, Stuyvesant High School.
Dutch novelist Harry Mulisch (the son of a Jewish mother and a Nazi collaborator), Kennedy adviser and self-described “Danish Russian Jewish Unitarian” Theodore Sorensen, and leading Israeli archeologist Ehud Netzer have died.
This article has been sent!Close