“The most amazing thing happened—when I walked in the door, I saw a copy of my galley, which was brand new, on the desk," says Straub on a call from her book tour.
"And then Land Arnold, one of the owners, looked up at me and said, ‘We were just talking about you!’ It was a surreal experience, but it endeared me to Flyleaf forever.”
Lamont , which has earned widespread acclaim since its publication last month, chronicles the life and times of an old-school Hollywood movie star over the course of half a century.
"I have always loved movies, but it’s sort of a coincidence that I wrote a book about movies," Straub says.
"It came a couple years ago when I read the obituary of the actress Jennifer Jones. I hadn't seen any of her movies, but I kept going back to her obituary, because it seemed so rich and so much like a novel. I was working on something else at the time, but I kept coming back to this obituary. When I plotted the novel out, I stayed away from Jennifer Jones’ life, and the movie stuff became secondary—it’s sort of the sweet stuff on top that entices people, but to me it’s about this one woman’s life, the choices she goes through, and the changes she’s forced to make, and it just happens to dovetail with that Hollywood story."
Though the book chronicles the pressures and tumult of the old studio system, Straub says that when compared to modern-day Hollywood, "I think that the potentially sad answer is that it’s not as different as you think."
"In the period of the studio system where Laura Lamont became a star, people were signed to contracts were under an incredible amount of control, and couldn't choose their own roles," Straub says.
"But today, you’re still locked into roles. You’re trailed by paparazzi, pictures are posted on every website, God forbid you want to go topless on your honeymoon. It seems like a very unpleasant way to live.
"You know about these people, you know about their lives, you see pictures of them looking beautiful, and if you have an active imagination, you find yourself imagining their interior lives, and what they’re doing when the cameras aren't on them. I find that irresistible."
Though Straub was careful to make her fictional movie stars unique characters unto themselves, she found real Hollywood creeping in to her narrative.
"One of Laura’s best friends is a woman named Ginger Hedges, who was inspired by Lucille Ball, and I didn't mean for that to happen!" Straub says with a laugh.
"That was one of the things that came out of my research, because I learned all these things about Lucille Ball that I didn't know before, mainly that she was in charge in a way that women of the time usually weren't—she and Desi Arnaz actually controlled the production company, and when they got divorced, she took it over herself. And Laura’s second husband, Irving Green, is based on (producer) Irving Thalberg—I read so much about him that I just fell in love with him, so why shouldn't she?"
When it comes right down to it, Joe Rogan will always be a stand-up.
He may have served as a electrician of the '90s cult sitcom Newsradio, a replacement host for The Man Show, a UFC commentator and, most infamously, the host of the extreme reality show Fear Factor. But the man still takes pleasure performing his wild-eyed, button-pushing brand of stand-up. And when he isn't standing up riffing and ranting, he's sitting down, still riffing and ranting, as host of the podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience.
Rogan, 45, talked to the Indy about his career, his infamous stint as a "joke thief crusader" and what him decide to do hosting duties for the recent (and recently canceled) Fear Factor reboot.
INDY: It looks like you've been doing a lot more theaters now, including the Memorial Auditorium tonight. How has that been from going to the clubs to hitting the theaters?
ROGAN: It’s been great. Well, the transition has slowly taken place from my last Spike TV comedy special that also aired on Comedy Central. From then on, I started moving into theaters. I did a lot more theaters from then on. And, then, the podcast started happening. And, because of the podcast, I’ve been able to do much, much larger venues because the podcast has done really well. It’s better than any radio show that I’ve ever been on or anything else that I’ve ever used to promote things. The podcast has been much more successful at getting through to people.
How did the podcast start?
Well, it was never a conscious thought. It just happened. It was one of those things where we were screwing around with Ustream, just on a laptop, and we, you know, would let people ask questions and we would just talk and we just did it for fun. And, then, we said, “Alright, we’re gonna do this every week. Every Monday, we’ll see you guys here and we’ll do this, little Ustream thing.” And, then, it built up and, then, we started putting it on iTunes. And, then, from then, it just became this snowball that we were not just pushing, but we became a part of the snowball. And we became caught up in the momentum of it all. And that’s kind of where we find ourselves right now.
@ Durham Performing Arts Center
Even if you’ve never heard of Brian Regan, the minute you see him perform, you immediately fall in love with the guy.
A 30-year veteran of the stand-up scene, the Miami-born, Vegas-based comic is well-known for his clean but still utterly uproarious stand-up. His humor has definitely given him not just fans but famous fans, like Jerry Seinfeld (who drove him around during an episode of his Web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee) and Marc Maron (who had him as a guest on his WTF with Marc Maron podcast).
The Indy asked 54-year-old Regan, who’ll be performing at Durham Performing Arts Center on Saturday, a few questions about what it’s like being one of the funniest, most reliable working comics out there.
INDY: How long have you been doing stand-up?
REGAN: Oh, wow—about 31. [laughs] That sounds like forever. But I started in 1981, down in Ft. Lauderdale, at a comedy club.
How does it feel knowing that you make guys like Jerry Seinfeld and Marc Maron laugh?
Well, you get to write a lot of checks, man. I gotta write checks out to Jerry Seinfeld and Marc Maron and all these people for these kind words. [laughs] No, it means a lot to me, you know. Making audiences laugh is certainly a big thing for me, but knowing that other comedians like what I do—at least some of them—that means the world to me, you know. It’s a high compliment when people who do what you do like what you do. So, it’s a great feeling.
One of the things that’s great about your comedy is how you’re very physical, contorting your face and body in various, cartoonish ways. Sometimes, you get a sense of balletic gracefulness in your stand-up.
Well, first of all, I appreciate the compliment. I guess the reason why my comedy is physical is because, basically, they’re little vignettes, you know. A lot of my jokes, if you will, they’re like these little, tiny plays, with me and another character or me and an inanimate object. So, it’s me and the eye doctor or it’s me and a flight attendant or it’s me and an ironing board or it’s me and a microwave oven. And the only way for the joke to work is for me to act it out. So, there’s where the physicality comes in. I’m just trying to live the joke out as truthfully as possible when I’m onstage. And, if I don’t, it doesn’t pop nearly as well.
You’ve often talked about how amateurish you were back in the day, relying on props and what not. Today, you’re a comic that appeals to all ages. How would you explain getting audiences on your side as a comedian these days?
Well, for me, I try not to figure out what my audience would like or what they’re looking for, because it’s too hard for me to know what everybody in the world is thinking, you know. So, I just try to figure what I wanna say and what I wanna do and, you know, I like to do clean comedy and observational comedy and everyday kinda stuff, just because it’s what interests me. It’s what makes me laugh. And, you know, the fact that audiences seem to like it as well certainly is a big thing for me. It’s like, wow, now I can make a nice career with this. But, to me, it’s sort of, um, I’m lucky, in that what I like to do anyway is what people seem to respond to. So, I’m just fortunate.
Those who complain about the proliferation of these types may consider themselves lucky that they never encountered 30-year-old paperboy Chris Peterson.
Chris, the alter ego of actor Chris Elliott, was the star of the late, great Fox sitcom Get a Life, which ran from 1990-92 and has finally been released in its entirety on DVD as Get a Life: The Complete Series from Shout! Factory (previously, only a few scattered episodes were available on now out-of-print discs due to music rights issues).
But instead of lying around a filthy apartment with a bong or coming up with slang terms for the female anatomy, Chris’ path was far more whimsical and destructive. Over the course of the 35 episodes of Get a Life, he nearly drowns in his shower after assembling a mini-sub he ordered from a comic as a child, violently crashes a fashion show, inadvertently drives his childhood friend away from his family and reverts to savagery after eating hallucinogenic berries on a camping trip.
By the end of the series’ run, he’s also engaged in mind-switching, temporarily developed psychic powers, encountered a pudding-spewing space alien, traveled through time with the help of self-mixed “Time Juice,” and won a series of international spelling bees with toxic waste-enhanced intelligence. Most of these adventures end with him shot, stabbed, poisoned or blown to pieces, but by the next episode, he’s up for more disasters.
Get a Life ran during the early days of Fox, where the network distinguished itself with such left-of-center comedies as Married… with Children, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, In Living Color and of course The Simpsons. It managed to somehow be stranger than any of those shows, shot like an old-fashioned sitcom with a laugh track, then twisting stock sitcom plots into surreal, sometimes disturbing pretzels. Viewers might have gotten a clue from the opening credits, set to R.E.M.’s “Stand,” where the innocent image of a paperboy on his route gave way to reveal Elliott’s flabby, bearded form hurling papers from his tiny bike.
Rather than the endless pop-cultural riffing and shock-oriented humor of such Seth MacFarlane series as Family Guy that have come to dominate Fox’s airwaves, Get a Life allowed its weirdness to speak for itself. Chris’ parents were played by Elliott’s real-life father Bob Elliott, who’d developed his own surreal comedy as part of the Bob and Ray comedy team, and Elinor Donahue from Father Knows Best, as deadpan, indifferent figures always seen in their bathrobes at the kitchen table.
By the second season, Chris moves out (his parents then fill his old room with concrete) and moves into the garage of a gruff ex-cop played by Brian Doyle-Murray, who introduces him to such vices as the lucrative world of corrupt health inspectors. According to series co-creator David Mirkin in a call from his office in Los Angeles, had a third season been produced, Chris would have become a homeless drifter, “and every week he would have touched someone else’s life, and made it a little bit worse”.
The abbreviated second season saw a writing staff that included Bob Odenkirk (later of Mr. Show and Breaking Bad) and future Oscar winner Charlie Kaufman (appropriately for the Being John Malkovich scribe, the real Malkovich was a Get a Life fan, according to Mirkin).
Their warped chops are apparent on their scripts (Kaufman wrote the “Time Juice” episode), but a rewatch of the episodes reveals the show’s dark, bizarre tone is present from the very beginning—it simply gets even darker and more bizarre as it goes on. By the end of the second episode, Chris’ deluded efforts to become a male model (don’t ask) have ended in him crashing a runway show, which he narrates in a rapturous voiceover while shoes are flung at his head and police cart him away. “To him, that’s a triumph,” Mirkin says. “We originally thought of him as an adult Dennis the Menace.”
From the show: Chris, as male model "Sparkles," is horribly exploited when he's expected to pose topless.
Steampunk, for those not in the know, is a branch of science fiction that postulates what would have happened if modern or futuristic technology had been created in the past, using the technology and materials available at that time, e.g. steam engines, zeppelins and the like. It’s become a particularly popular subset of science fiction fandom, with many fans creating steampunk-themed outfits and crafts sold online and at shows.
Priest has become one of the most popular authors of steampunk in her “Clockwork Century” series, which began in her award-winning bestseller Boneshaker, about how a massive steam-powered drill unleashes a zombie plague in Civil War-era Seattle.
Priest says that steampunk’s appeal comes from a “perfect storm of pop culture” where people embrace the sense of design and functionality in the old-fashioned technology, as opposed to the sleek, compact style found in Apple-style products. “In that school of design, everything is this sort of pristine, inscrutable box where if you don’t know where to touch it or how to react to it, it might as well be a brick,” Priest says.
“The Victorians, God bless ‘em, thought their technology should be beautiful as well as functional. And we seem to have lost that in the streamlining efforts to make everything look futuristic. I think in one regard, Steampunk is a reaction to that, a way of saying, ‘No, we don’t want something that looks like what everybody else has, that’s flat and inscrutable.’"
So are the fans wearing homemade goggles and railroad pocket watches giving the finger to the iPad?
“I’ll put it this way: If the Victorians made a giant death-ray killing machine, it would look like a giant death-ray killing machine,” Priest says. “It would fill an entire room and have gears and brass and engraving, and would be this enormous, powerful, beautiful-looking thing. If Apple made a giant death ray killing machine, it would look like a button. And I think there’s a sense that something has been lost, and steampunk’s trying to reclaim that a bit.”
In February of this year, Regan retired after 39 years with the North Carolina Arts Council—36 of them as its executive director. On March 2, just days after her retirement, she and I sat down for a different sort of exit interview in a Morrisville cafe. As lunching office workers came and went (and a cool rain came and stayed), we took an hour and a half for a conversation that was largely about distance: How far the arts have come in North Carolina since her start in 1972; how they’ve managed to come that far, despite the economic turmoil of the past decade and the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and how far they’ve yet to go.
Regan was as graceful and candid as I’ve known her to be throughout our own long conversation over the years. And this time, she was able to go a bit further on the record.
The remarks below are excerpted from that conversation.
INDEPENDENT: Let’s go back to the beginning of your term. Where was the North Carolina Arts Council when you found it?
MARY REGAN: (laughs) In offices in the Heart of Raleigh Motel, which was over on Edenton Street. There was something of an “entertainment house” right across the street, where we saw ladies coming and going. And men. All of the time. (laughs) That was very interesting.
I don’t even remember what our budget was—maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
I took the job just because I needed a job; I didn’t have a clue what it was about or what I would do. I intended to leave in a year and go back and work on Nick Galifianakis’ campaign [a Democratic congressman who lost to Jesse Helms in 1972]. But after a year came, I had really gotten hooked on it. I knew it was a great job.
Is there a moment you can remember as a turning point, or the moment you realized you had to stick around?
Not really. I think I could have been torn away, but because of the things going on at the time, I thought this was a good place to be.
Edgar Marston [Executive Director of the Arts Council from 1968-1973, and director of the NC Division of the Arts, 1973-1978] was such a visionary. Everything was very experimental then. We’ve tried to remain experimental through the years, but back then, there was no mold; everything we did we kind of invented.
We carved out for North Carolina a role as a leading arts council, as far as doing community development, working out in the communities. Some arts councils started off just funding major organizations in the cities. But the early leadership understood: If they were going to be able to make it within state government, they had to be serving the whole state.
All of our programs were public value programs. In the last 10 years, that’s become a popular term, almost as if were some new thing discovered to do. We were into public value from the very beginning; we just didn’t know to call it that. We wanted to be at the table (in state government) with the rest of the sectors in the state. Public value was our hook.
With their assistance, Gethard has done awesome (and awesomely weird) episodes like “Night of Zero Laughs” (where Gethard and company tries not to laugh during the whole show), “Monologues Only” (an entire episode where Gethard does late-night talk show-style monologue jokes) and “The Dominatrix Show” (whatever you’re thinking of, yes, that was the show).
This weekly dose of usually off-the-cuff nuttiness is something Gethard, who is both a regular of New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and an author who has dabble in weird, strange things (along with writing for the Weird U.S. travel-guide books, he has just released his own book, A Bad Idea I’m About to Do: True Tales of Seriously Poor Judgment and Stunningly Awkward Adventure).
Luckily, he’s bringing this show to the Cat’s Cradle on Friday, as part of the N.C. Comedy Arts Festival, which comes to a close on Saturday. We spoke to the 31-year-old, Queens-based Jersey boy about his show and why he prefers the company of weirdos like himself.
ARTERY:An easy place to start would be where the hell did The Chris Gethard Show come from?
GETHARD: I've been doing comedy in New York for 12 years and have done all the traditional types—improv is my base, I do storytelling, stand up, pretty much anything. But, along the way, I also got a reputation for staging some sort of out-of-the-box, stunt-driven stuff. Eventually the UCB Theatre gave me one night a month as a home just for those bigger, weirder ideas. A lot of it was spurred by the time I rented a bus to take people all over New Jersey showing them where my stories took place. That event's high point was taking 60 strangers into the basement where I lost my virginity. It was weird, but people dug it. That led to a lot of momentum that lead to my very weird show.
You seem to be a person who has built a bit of a rep for basically capturing general weirdness, whether it’s on your show or your work with Weird U.S. Where did that desire to unearth weird stuff come from?
I think being from New Jersey helps a lot with it. New Jersey makes people really appreciate odd stuff and out-of-the-box stuff, and also sort of puts a chip on peoples' shoulders. In my case, that meant growing up to be the type of person who likes to see stuff up close, likes to deal with things head-on. I just have always had a very curious side and a lot of willingness to take things slightly farther than they probably should have been taken.
However, he’s still very much an integral, behind-the-scenes member of his pride and joy, the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, which began yesterday with shows at the DSI Comedy Theater. We spoke to Ward about what to expect at this year’s festival, as well as what’s going on comedy-wise over in his new Boston home.
Independent:So, Zach, you're up in Boston now. How long have you been there and what made you decide to move there?
Zach Ward: My first day as managing director of ImprovBoston was June 13, 2011. I was actively recruited by ImprovBoston, a 30-year-old comedy theater in Cambridge. I felt confident in both my company in Carrboro and the DSI leadership, so I was excited to take a pretty exciting professional step for my own comedy career. Paula Pazderka assumed my role as artistic director two weeks before I left for Boston and she has done exceptional work over the last seven months.
What made you decide to make the move up to Boston, and how different is the comedy scene over there as it is in the Triangle?
ImprovBoston as a theater and comedy school is very similar in many respects. However, the scope of my work has increased exponentially just given the metro market and what it takes to operate an arts organization in the city. The comedy scene and community are much larger—which has obvious benefits and unique challenges.
Was it difficult rounding up talent for the festival since you're in Beantown?
Not at all. NCCAF grows each year and we continue to see more and more unique acts to register, in addition to the veteran acts who have become festival favorites. I've been exposed to even more acts by traveling outside of North Carolina and, with our festival jury reviewing online submissions, NCCAF was able to curate one of the best line-ups we have ever had for the festival.
I see there is no film section this year. Why is there no more of that?
We really seek to provide the best line-up possible. NCCAF will bring film back when we can provide the strongest line-up possible with the ability to also bring the artists involved to the festival. For the past few years we have had specialized weeks, but we are considering introducing NCCAF Film into the other weeks for 2013 as a way to highlight projects by acts who may be performing live in standup, sketch or improv.
Mike Birbiglia is one of the headliners this year. He's lately been getting a lot of buzz for his movie, Sleepwalk with Me, which just played Sundance. You couldn't get him to play that flick at NCCAF?
Mike is part of our partnership with the Carolina Theatre—that is new this year. As we understand it, Mike was working on the film right up until the festival. Maybe next year. For 2012, Mike will be in town for the show and that's about it. But even that is awesome for comedy in the Triangle and great for the festival.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: I'm going to be blunt. A copy of your book arrived just this morning, and I finished it, and it’s a very gray and rainy day in Raleigh and this book did not help things.
DANIEL HANDLER: I’m sorry to hear that. I can only think of your suffering.
Well, I mean it as a compliment—the book captured for me the verisimilitude of a first romance and break-up. I’m curious about the roots of the story, and what inspired you to try to capture such heartache.
Well, it was Maira’s idea, I guess. We had worked together on a picture book (13 Words, written as Lemony Snicket), and she wanted to do another book, and she said yes. And I asked her what she wanted to paint, and she wanted to paint small objects, and I tried to think of a way that small, ordinary objects might seem magical. And it seemed to me that it would take a romantic imagination to transform such objects, and I began to imagine small objects returned to an ex-boyfriend by a sentimental-yet-enraged young woman like so many women I know.
Did Maira think of the objects, or did you?
Something you’ve done with this book is get other writers to talk about their own worst break-up stories. When you were going back and putting yourself in the mindset of Min, what was the hardest part—or even the easiest part—of capturing the outsize emotions of a teenager?
I didn’t find it particularly hard to capture the voice. I take public transportation every day, and I’m surrounded by young people conversing, and I listen in to as much as I can without being called out as a creep. I guess maybe one of the more strenuous parts is I wrote the entire thing longhand—seeing as the entire book is one long letter, I thought it was only fair that I write a letter of my own. I wrote it all in cafés, basically, on legal pads, and by the end of writing my hand was roughly some sort of subhuman claw. The easiest part was having Maira doing all these paintings and have people talk about the spell the book casts, when so much of it comes from her drawings.
That’s oddly reminiscent of Jack Kerouac writing things out on a continuous scroll of paper, though on the one hand you’re talking about a fictional teenage girl and the other a drugged-out beatnik. But there’s a spontaneous feel to both.
I guess so. I’m kind of a careful writer, so a lot of what looks spontaneous in the book is actually several drafts old. It’s like what Dolly Parton used to say: “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” So I haven’t experienced much of the Jack Kerouac method, which to my knowledge involves lots of cocaine and beating women. That hasn’t been my preferred strategy in writing fiction.
You can only abuse women if they’re fictional.
I don’t think that’s a line Jack Kerouac drew. Though I spent a weekend at Jack Keuorac’s cabin once, and it was very beautiful. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, and you can understand he might be prone to fits of despair, as it’s very isolated, but also in an unbelievably beautiful location.
The book’s a first-person narrative, but there’s a certain unreliable quality to Min in that she’s not completely aware of herself and how the romance is really playing out. And what I thought was relevant about the story was that Ed’s not an evil character—his great crime is that he’s a teenage boy who doesn’t see the big moments or hurtful moments the same way Min does. Do you find that’s a common flaw in first relationships, or relationships in general?
I think romance itself is constructing a beautiful story from the very ordinary things that you are surrounded by, be they objects or people. So I think Min had a long narrative in her head informed by movies that she liked that didn’t in fact always fit the narrative that was going on. So sure, I think she’s unreliable, in the way that everyone is a little unreliable in their memory.
And it gets into the idea of how you can define yourself by a relationship, even without realizing it, and how that’s fundamentally unhealthy, which is something that got to me as a reader.
That’s the idea. I think that the entire point of a romance is to get as memorable as possible for as long as possible, and you have to allow someone to get a certain kind of significance in your head. And when it’s over, you’re angry at yourself for allowing them to get to you.
Love is strange, as Mickey & Sylvia said.
And tainted, as Soft Cell said.
I thought that was a remake of an older one.
It is, but I don’t remember the original, and I think that two-note synthesizer riff feels like the pierce of heartbreak.
What, in your mind, are the great romances, be they film, literature or real life?
Well, I guess it depends on the kind of romance you like. My favorite novel is Lolita, which is a great romance, though if it were happening in real life it would be less of a romance and more of a monstrosity.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the book is that Min has these fictional touchstones she refers to throughout the book—films and music that don’t exist in the real world. I read elsewhere that you did this in part to not tie the book to any specific time period. How’d you come up with these—do you think of titles in your spare time or things like that?
I think the problem with these things when they’re referred to in a novel is that they don’t mean the same things to the same people. So if you say something like, “Going out with this person makes me feel like I’m starring in When Harry Met Sally,” some people are going to say, “Oh, he means the most romantic movie of all time!” and others are going to say, “Oh, he means two hours of nails on a chalkboard, having an unbelievably grating time.” And if you have negative views about some movie, and the reader doesn’t like it, it’s a strange and alienating thing. So when Min describes movies that didn’t happen, it’s easier to imagine them as something beautiful in your head than if she’d described an actual film.
Nor was it the stroke, the brain aneurysm, the killer virus, the breast cancer or the traumatic repressed memories that had resulted in her developing seven personalities and forgetting about giving birth to not one but two daughters (one of whom developed a split personality of her own before dying of lupus). No, for all her resilience, what finally killed Viki and her fellow residents of the fictional Llanview, Penn., was a diet show.
Llanview, setting of the 43-year-old ABC soap opera One Life to Live is just the latest fictional small town to disappear from TV screens in the last few years, in a wave of cancellations that have also seen Guiding Light, As the World Turns, Passions and All My Children leave the air.
“In a way, it was inevitable — not just to One Life, but to a genre that had a very good long run,” says Duke University English professor Michael Malone, who served as One Life’s head writer from 1991-1996 and 2003-2004.
“I’ll always say the fiction of Llanview lasted longer than Shakespeare’s Globe. These were very long-lived shows—30 years, 40 years, Guiding Light was 70 years. That’s a lot of stability in a very fast-moving medium like television. And it taught other parts of television how to make serials.”
Malone, a Durham native who resides in Hillsborough, says it’ll be “too painful” for him to watch on Friday, Jan. 13 when Viki and the others say goodbye, with a few cliffhangers and Viki taking yet a third round-trip to heaven before giving way to the new self-improvement talk show The Revolution with Ty Pennington and Tim Gunn. But he remembers his time in Llanview fondly, and maintains a deep and abiding respect for daytime soap operas, a genre of TV that seems on the verge of extinction.
Malone cites declining audiences for network programming for the soaps’ demise, along with the fact that “there became so many other ways to see this stuff,” citing shows such as Gray’s Anatomy and Six Feet Under as examples of programming that co-opted the soaps’ style of open-ended long-form serialized storytelling.
“It’s not that (audiences) don’t want story, it’s just that they have so many more ways to get it,” Malone says.
His tenure in Llanview was one of the show’s most influential periods, with many of the characters he created still playing major roles on the canvass as One Life to Live reaches its end. It was also one of the most unlikely pairings in television—a Southern literary novelist with no television-writing experience and a soap that by the time he arrived, had eschewed its roots as a spotlight for social issues in exchange for stories about time travel, lost underground cities and the aforementioned trips to heaven (in fairness, a storyline about a soap-within-a-soap had shot some exterior scenes on Duke University’s campus).
1993: Malone won an Emmy for this episode, which guest-starred Marsha Mason as a priestess who marries reformed bad boy Max and “North Carolina goddess-worshipping feminist” Luna.
Dirty Dancing producer Linda Gottlieb, who’d been brought on the save the program, recruited Malone as headwriter based on his experience as “someone who wrote capacious novels” such as Time’s Witness and Handling Sin.
“In a way, our complete ignorance of (daytime’s) traditions gave us complete freedom to do adventuresome things,” Malone says.
Those “adventuresome things” included tackling issues that even prime-time TV was shying away from in the 1990s. One of Malone’s first major storylines cast a 17-year-old Ryan Phillippe as a gay teenager struggling to come out; the story climaxed with the AIDS quilt being brought to Llanview, with the names of actual AIDS victims read on a location shoot.
For Malone, the story represented an opportunity to allow viewers to relate to the issue through characters they had come to know through years of viewing.
“To have Viki carry the AIDS quilt into the church and lay it on the altar was to say to the audience of One Life who had spent so many years with Viki and trusted her judgment that ‘It can’t be all bad to be accepting and understanding,’” Malone says. “For all its conservatism, daytime expands tolerance.
It also allowed him a broader audience than his literary work.
“There was no way ever on God’s green earth that five million people a week would be reading my novels, but they might see Viki carrying that AIDS quilt to that altar.”
1992: A CBS This Morning segment and the final scenes from Malone’s gay teen/AIDS storyline.
Malone’s greatest acclaim came the following year with a large story where town bad girl Marty Saybrooke (named for his daughter Margaret), was brutally gang-raped and brought her attackers to trial. The story won Emmys for many of the actors involved (and Malone himself received an Emmy for his work on the show that year), but ran into trouble when Roger Howarth, who played lead rapist Todd Manning, became so popular that the character had to be kept on the show.