S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership today on Studio 360 if it can be live.
S2: It must be why Mark Morris wishes that pretty much all dance performances had live musicians.
S3: Well I don’t want to watch dead dancers either and I don’t want a dead audience. I’ve been in situations sometimes where the orchestra is so terrible I wish they’d just put on a record. The famous choreographer Mark Morris on dance music and his new memoir. Plus.
S4: Finding resonance in unexpected places.
S5: This episode started playing and then I stopped what I was doing and I couldn’t look away and I couldn’t do anything else. How the writer Carmen Maria Machado found surprisingly personal meaning. In Star Trek. And I kept thinking like it’s just so on the nose like I I’m working on this memoir. This episode just happens to be in the queue. That and more is ahead on Studio 360 right after this.
S6: This is Studio 360. I’m Colonel And I’m sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial first level of guard. This was Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden. I’d like to have the roasted chicken piece. Very well done. Editing is all about timing. I try to get a little bit away from the actual subject get second place right.
S7: Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen Hello. Oh hi it’s a lot of you. Hi Mark. Hi. What are you getting a room tone already. Oh great.
S2: I recently went with a couple of my Studio 360 producers to visit Mark Morris one of the most famous living choreographers. His apartment turned out to be small which surprised me. And when we got there he was whistling and blasting classical music which didn’t surprise me. Mark Morris has always made music in the study of music central to the dances he creates which he explained to me candid and impolitic as ever is not the case with a lot of choreographers.
S8: There’s a very common ignorance on the topic of music from a lot of choreographers.
S3: Certainly a lot of dancers but also a lot of choreographers and sadly a lot of artistic directors of companies even using something like the unbelievable Tchaikovsky scores. Swan Lake Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker without a comprehension of how the tempos relate to each other and the key signature and continuity how a rhythm of the whole piece of music that’s intended for a ballet like those were how they relate and why things are important to have the repeat or not or to do this as fast or as slow as the composer intended. If you choose music it’s your responsibility to know something about it. And of course you can do whatever the hell you want. It’s just that my particular strictness is with a very deep respect for the musical sources that I work with.
S2: In his new memoir outloud his respect for the music he uses for his dances is clear. The book goes from his childhood dance classes in Seattle in the 60s to his formation of the Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980 which is still going strong to his adventures all over the world. It’s about dance of course but it’s just as much about music creating a Mark Morris Dance begins with him listening to music on repeat often through the sound system in his apartment. And there we were in his apartment so I decided to focus our conversation on the relationship between his dances and music like why he says he makes dance to trick audiences into hearing music better.
S9: I’m revealing the structure of the music content and the music the design of the music the composer’s manipulations of melodic material thematic material.
S10: That’s what I do. In a parallel way. Because of how my work is derived from music directly which isn’t the same as the music tells you right left right. You know I decide that but I think that if you’re going to choreograph with music which I always do you should know what the hell you’re talking about. Do
S11: you have a sense in general like what makes a piece of music good for you to make a dance around.
S10: I tried to surprise myself.
S9: I sometimes am attracted to music that is impossible to imagine choreographing because I want I want the challenge of that. And you know a lot of music that’s purpose built for dancing is very often sort of you know logic to sort of nursery rhyme ish and you said that you’ll only work with live music you don’t want recordings if that’s all there is and it’s a particular reason that I want to. Absolutely. But if it can be live it must be because well I don’t want to watch dead dancers either and I don’t want a dead audience. I don’t want synthetic nothing. So what I want most fondly is the audience is alive and alert and so are the players and so are the dancers you know and I’m not forbidding anybody from doing anything but if I’m gonna go see a show and I know it’s recorded music something everybody knows I’m less likely to do that although I’ve been in situations sometimes where the orchestra is so terrible I wish they’d just put on a record it would be a relief for me.
S12: So you pick out a piece of music. I want to make a dance around this. What what what happens next.
S9: I listen think read read research read the score read the score without listening listen without reading. Yeah I do that and I build the material the moves and the ideas and the geometry from just starting. I just start even if it’s going to turn out to be a solo or I think it’s going to be I start working with everybody. Everybody in my company which is around 18 to 20 people so that everyone knows the basic sort of movement vocabulary. And then I can make quite complex compositions for the dance that look impossible but are very much based in the material that’s provided by me and the other music.
S11: So we asked you to create a playlist of music that you love and has been important to in one way or another. First piece we’re going to talk about is by the 20th century American composer who is hard to pigeonhole or describe because he was like no one else named Harry Park ya.
S9: So first of all tell the people who Harry Park was Harry Park was a most of the terms used to describe him are insulting. He was queer. He was a drunk. He was a hobo. He rode the rails. He was that awful American term a maverick. I would say that Harry Park was an original genius.
S11: That’s what I would say this piece on your list is Barstow eight hitchhiker inscriptions from a highway railing at Barstow California. Number one.
S13: It’s January 26. I’m. Fitzgerald age 19 by Harry Park.
S3: Found these inscriptions when he was hitchhiking written on a railing. Graffiti yeah basically graffiti and probably some dirty pictures.
S14: And he took I think I don’t know eight or so of those and set them to music with what he called his intoned voice. To Boston Massachusetts.
S15: Is 4:00 p.m. and I’m hungry and burro. I wish I was dead.
S16: And by the way Barstow California is way in the middle of nowhere in the desert.
S17: Yeah right. Exactly. So it’s about being alone waiting for a car waiting for a trip home. That’s that’s the text of it. I’m going to Boston to.
S10: Actually it is the very first dance I made up. That’s good. And I was 16 or 17 when I made up a dance to this music.
S18: There’s this kid who had already you’re already figured you wanted to do dance. We’re doing that.
S9: I was dancing. Yeah I started dancing when I was about eight or nine in Seattle. Yes.
S18: How and when did you first encounter Harry park.
S10: I was probably 15 or 16 and I got a bonus record of super avant garde music of the time including Harry Park. So that was a real sort of emergency that happened to me musically. It was like wow I love this. You’d never and you never heard music. No I never had. No. And so what struck you about Harry Potter Harry March 15. It was kind of dirty and funny but the real thing about his music is that he decided to go back to what he could find of ancient tunings. You know he also made all of his own instruments so they could play in the Keys that he was coming up with. So what we would call the you know 12 pitches of the scale parched divided into forty three increments. There was this girl on my Cromwell podium and adapted Reed Arden. So it sounds very rubbery it sounds crazy to people perch.
S19: Really staged a one man revolution against European musical.
S11: The next piece on your on your playlist is also by an American from the southwest.
S20: George Jones say it’s not you which he recorded in 68. What made you love that.
S3: Have you heard it. Yes. Well done. Same reason you love it.
S21: Darling. There’s Tom. Mauser. Who spread.
S3: A worshipped song. GEORGE JONES Let me tell you that I also choreographed this long ago I did three pieces of music country songs country songs.
S10: One was a CB radio song. So there was a solo for a little remote controlled truck that drove around to this beautiful sad sad song. And then there was a piece sung by TI Texas Tyler and that was danced by a woman dressed as a male soldier. So it was a letter home from war. And then I did a dance as a woman and that was to George Jones song say it’s not you meaning there’s rumors about you being drunk and sleeping with other men.
S22: Darling say it’s not you which is the terrible heartbreaking idea each night. Jill. I’m praying that you. Tell me a lie. But.
S23: Say it’s not true. Da. Say.
S22: You I very strongly affirm that George Jones is one of the very greatest American singers ever in any category.
S9: I think he’s just an unbelievable genius of a singer.
S18: A couple of years ago I interviewed the film composer Carter Burwell who introduced me to this term in film composing called Mickey Mousing which is where the music too literally goes with the words like Mickey Mouse and I’m familiar with Mr. Mouse’s work. Yes yes. And you try. If you’re a serious composer and film you try to avoid Mickey Mouse bing bing too literally on the nose with this move goes with this piece of music when you’re using music with words. Is that a thing you avoid like being too with the words in terms of the moves you’re you’re doing.
S10: Well first of all it’s not limited to to music with text. I’ve been accused many times of Mickey Mouse saying that term is exactly the same term when people are deriding your choreography because it’s obvious. My notion on that my position on that is the animators who worked consistently directly with the composers and the compilers of the music for those cartoons are genius. An example of Mickey Mouse sing would be Fred Flintstone bolero.
S24: Keep your eye on the ball Barney boy and has that high xylophone Tinker tent tank with him on his toes.
S10: That’s great. That’s not an accident that somebody put those two together. That’s brilliant right. So the term Mickey Mousing comes from an incredible alliance of visual artists and sound artists. So I think it’s a great compliment.
S18: The next piece on your playlist. Oh you an Indian singer M.S. Sabu Lakshmi. Who is she.
S25: Oh my God. M s civil ops me is pretty much the greatest singer that South India has ever produced so much so that she was revered all over India the first time I heard this music was on a trip to India in maybe 1980 81 and they heard her voice m s civil action. She had the purest most astounding voice and so I heard this music is like I have to come back to India. I’ve been going every two years for the last 25 30 years. I heard this music like oh that’s a.
S26: God help me.
S25: Again she had a brief movie career when she was a gorgeous young woman very young and then she became very very famous as a devotional singer and the rigors of classical Indian music. It’s so incredibly sophisticated. It’s very old. For one thing it’s an ancient system.
S16: And there are many many scales and modes and by far beyond 1000 2000. Yeah.
S25: Yes. Right. The number that we’re hearing is sung in the language of Telugu. It’s a devotional piece and it’s in five beat phrases which is a little bit unusual.
S26: Room she died finally in her 80s.
S10: I landed in India for a trip and she had died the night before or something and she was so revered that every newspaper there was a picture of her lying in state with everyone during prime time around her above the fold on the front page of every newspaper. That doesn’t happen here.
S11: The next piece.
S27: Yankee Doodle Blues by perhaps the most familiar composer we’re talking about today George Gershwin.
S28: The word I want.
S29: Yankee Doodle Blues is a very early song of George Gershwin. And in the recording that I love which is super scratchy it’s done as a duet. And it has a little bit of sort of patter in a little bit of double speak but the song itself is just a fabulous kind of patriotic without being maudlin and repulsive. It’s kind of fun. It’s a little bit jingoistic but it’s the 20s so it’s has this wonderful swing to it and it’s a beautiful number.
S28: I love Gershwin write up and here I am coming moving east and down your list.
S11: Yeah. To E.J. Hardy Jr. yes.
S30: The song is called Tom get it.
S31: Tom get it.
S32: This song is a particularly famous popular song from the late 80s I think the singer is injured danger and it’s a form of music called Jay pong.
S17: It’s sung in Sudanese Western Java. The Fabulous. I was there like 80 81 something like this. And we went to a club a nightclub after work sort of club like the hostess bar coroners in outside of Jakarta. And it was a Jay pong club. We went with some people from the U.N. or something or you know and they took us there and it was like a dime a dance kind of thing it wasn’t a full on brothel but there were suggestions of that.
S14: So you know the men sat on one side the women sat on the other side together and you would get together in two lines facing each other and do this incredible dancing. The men sort of martial artsy and the women incredibly fabulous Phil agreed beautiful. Javanese dancing and the music was.
S17: Fabulous may longish you know. So it’s kind of rock pop. Soon Denise traditional one young person’s music is a female singer electric bass drum kit. I don’t know maybe a saxophone sometimes there was and then some gamblin instruments some gongs and bells and drums. It was like What a night it was the most thrilling music I ever heard. A lot of them are just like sad lonely love songs you know love gone bad surprise. Country music. Yeah. Yeah exactly. And so although I’ve I’ve never choreographed this music. It’s something I listen to a lot but the music is always just thrilling.
S12: And finally to England Henry personal sixteen A.D.. Yes. An aria called Belinda from. Yeah. This is opera which you did choreograph.
S34: I choreographed this unbelievably great opera this beautiful condensation of Dido from the need as a dance to opera. So it’s all live music. And the singers and dancers are playing the same characters. So when I did it I danced the role of Dido and the sorceress. This particular recording I chose because it was one of my first dildos. Lorraine Hunt who then married and became Lorraine Hunt Lieberman when we did it together. I was Dido and she was Dido simultaneously. She was a very close friend of mine and a very great artist who died. So I want people to remember her voice. It’s very very brave and moving performance like everyone that she gave.
S10: Data was a young gorgeous widow who basically owned Carthage and all the courts are trying to get her to give in and admit her love for Aeneas who just showed up from nowhere and seduced her and she gave into it.
S30: And so she’s saying to her sister ah Belinda I’m pressed with torment because she’s falling in love with this guy. Against her better judgment. Also he’s a cad. I just want to let everybody know in advance it’s a mistake and there are some Troy Carthage problem doesn’t turn out well. That’s right. So she’s saying shall I do it. And they’re encouraging her to stop grieving and to accept the promise of love from somebody and she does and it’s a disaster.
S35: So she says I’m impressed with dormant peace and I are strangers grown she’s so upset by this I’m sort of crying talking about it.
S36: You in. In your memoir you write about this piece which you did in the 1980s being you imagined it to be your swan song. Yes. Well I just figured I would die of AIDS because why not.
S30: I just assumed I had all of the qualifications to to die. I was also scared out of my wits. So I thought that was my last dance and it was melodramatic in retrospect that operatic even. But it was real. Yeah. And so. My first idea was to do it entirely as a solo performance the whole hour of this music. And then I thought Are you out of your mind.
S10: Not only would it be really hard but it would be maybe comical accidentally if I like have sex with myself and then kill myself. It’s like now I don’t know. So anyway I turned it into a very formal dance for for a dozen or so people and we still do it to this day. I didn’t die.
S11: You didn’t die. Here we are 30 odd years later. But you are thinking about when that moment comes and are thinking about your plans for how to keep your work alive. Yeah. Doable. Yeah. Talk about that. What what are your what are you doing this.
S10: Like why are you doing silly do what most people do when they don’t consider the fact that they’re not going to live forever which is you just hope everything’s going to be fine and you no longer choreograph and your dancers live off the fumes of your work for as long as they can handle it. I mean it’s done and that’s worked but very often there’s a very rapid decay in the work and then some people are just surprised say oh now we don’t have any new work so I’m making up dancers I’ve done one and I’ve started a second one that are completely choreographed on my dancers designed you know design meaning lights costumes sets if needed music is done. So the dancers will be complete and then released as needed when I’m no longer choreographic either I’m dead or can’t do it anymore. And then they’ll be maybe a dance every year or so. That’s a world premiere. Hurray.
S18: So so they’re going to be kept in the vault until until the time comes.
S12: I love this idea that you’re doing. Yeah me too. Some people think it’s horribly morbid and it gets kind of thrilling. Total. And what I know I’m not going to see it. Yeah. Good luck everybody. It’s just such a great way of being prolific which is to say prolific beyond. Yeah. I prefer prolific to incontinent there. There is a slogan but I figured this would be fun. Mark Morris and it was. Thank you so much. Thank you.
S16: Mark Morris’s new memoir out loud is out now and his production of or fail and you’re gonna see the Gluck opera is on stage right now at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It stars the mezzo soprano Jamie Barton and by the way you can find an interview with her in our podcast.
S37: When I was a kid I watched Star Trek The Next Generation which is like the second iteration of Star Trek.
S38: It’s really only one I’ve ever watched it like guessing the whole thing. Many times over. I remember watching it with my parents and really loving it.
S2: For Carmen Maria Machado Star Trek The Next Generation was her comfort food. The crew of the Starship Enterprise led of course by Captain John Luc Picard felt to her like family. Literally.
S39: Actually to imagine that I was Picard’s daughter on this ship. It was like a fantasy I had. These characters in particular just flick really speak to me and there’s something very comforting about it. When I watch I feel like I’m a kid because of some older time and some more optimistic time.
S40: Marciano’s new book a memoir called in the dream house is about a less optimistic time in her life. It’s about domestic abuse.
S1: So I was at gateau which is this residency in upstate New York in Saratoga Springs in autumn 2016 and it was a really intense time because I was picking away at this memoir in the dream house which goes through my relationship with an abusive ex-girlfriend and so I want to have a show on the background so that was comforting and familiar. Space.
S41: The final frontier. You know I watched the next generation pretty frequently and I remember this episode started playing chain of command part two and I was intrigued by it and then I stopped what I was doing and I couldn’t like look away and I couldn’t do anything else.
S42: So in this episode Picard is captured by the Cardassian which is this of alien race that is at war with the Federation.
S43: So you concocted an elaborate ruse to bring me here. Why. In this room you do not ask a question. I ask them you answer.
S41: If I am not satisfied with your answers you will die and go Madrid as a Cardassian interrogator who has taken Picard and is trying to get information out of him regarding the defense plans for this other planet. But they’re thinking about invading even though he knows and we know that Picard has nothing to say to him.
S44: You’ve injected me with drugs.
S45: Surely you must realize that I already answered truthfully every question you put to me and then go Madrid switches tactics and tells Picard showed a way out of the incision in your chest while you were under the influence of drugs you were implanted with a small device. Sorry Mark but infection by entering commands in this pad I can produce pain in any part of your body and through demonstrates that. You know the heart buckles and is writhing.
S1: Throughout this episode which is this like prolonged scene of torture. And this is like Battle of the worlds these two men and I just like sitting in my chair like staring at my computer getting increasingly sudden stressed out and sad. I mean like immobilized by it. And I think I kept thinking like this saw on the nose like I was I’m working on this memoir. This episode just happens to be in the queue. So I met this person when I was in grad school. And you know it started off really amazing and passionate and fantastic. There was some weird little in retrospect giant red flags but like I didn’t buzz at the time were like there was a lot sort of jealousy and manipulation and things just got worse and worse and worse and really scary. There were these incidents where she like threw things at me and chased me and I had to like lock myself in a room to get away. And I really felt helpless and I felt very lost and I felt crazy.
S42: Madrid says OK. So now now that you know what I can do. And it turns on some lights over his head look for the spotlights and he says how many lies do you see.
S44: And Picard’s like well there’s four C4 lights no there are five.
S42: He is trying to get Picard to tell him that there are five lights and Picard refuses to do it. There are four light.
S46: Five blocks. How many do you see now.
S1: This is not about defense plans it is not about the Cardassian homeworld or the war or anything. This is about control and exerting control over another person to Lake State some need in you my ex-girlfriend we would play these like bizarre possessive games and if I talked about anyone or looked anyone in any way she would accuse me of went to sleep with them. You know she would call me only me voicemail so I didn’t pick up right away and be like you know who is living with like what are you doing. Where have you been. Why pick the phone up and I can’t believe it like I was really a problem. There’s this sort of illusion of reason and I think for me ostensibly for example like there was like jealousy though still ostensibly it was something that I would do or wouldn’t do. But really it’s not about that. And I think it took me a while to figure out that it actually wasn’t about any of those things like it was about this I need to exert control.
S44: At some point go Madrid tells the story of his childhood 6 years old living on the streets a black cat. Was a band of children for 5 6 years old constantly hungry always cold desperately tried to survive and the cards sort of called him out and is like you hurt people because people hurt you are super rewarding to you hoped to repay others for all those years of misery. Whenever I. Look. Up to you now. I. See a powerful Cardassian. While I was here 6 year old boy. Who is powerless to protect himself.
S1: The quiet in that moment it’s like Picard understands and which is like just chilling you know one else feels unfair. There’s a sense of unfairness that comes with the idea like you must feel compassion for this person who is causing him great pain and I think one of the surgeons working on this book was sort of having to acknowledge that like this person who had hurt me terribly was also a human being who had like needs and desires which I think is sort of mirrored in this episode.
S47: Exposure of all you have done to me. I find you a pitiable man.
S42: So then ends with this final scene of this encounter between the two of them.
S44: Comedy I dislike like I’ve just received word the enterprise is burning in space.
S42: Everyone you know his dad knows everything to come look for you. That’s a lie. I mean we know it’s a lie like he’s about to be freed.
S45: You do however have a choice you can devote to a life in misery held here subject to my whims or you can live in comfort with good food and warm clothing.
S42: Women as you desire them you could live your life in comfort but must I.
S45: Nothing really. Tell me how many lives you see.
S42: So you realize that it still is just about him trying to leverage the sense of control over a card he needs for card to tell him this before her card is taken away from him. How many Patrick Stewart is a wonderful actor is it like his face to sort of contorts and you can see this negotiation happening behind his eyes where he’s trying to figure out what to say or what to do. How many lines.
S48: Says you’re trapped. That’s coming.
S42: Up in full. And then as it’s going on the other Cardassian offers come in and like he told me he would be ready to go. A ship is waiting to take him back to the enterprise and McHarg then sort of seems to realize like a wait I’m free. And then as he’s sort of being pulled away he screams I don’t want to do it cause it’s like I feel like I can’t do it justice but he screams like.
S1: And it’s like awful. And I remember like when I watch the episode look at that residency. This was the heart of the scene that really broke me like it’s awful to watch. And it’s not like triumphant. It’s just sad and heartbreaking and horrible.
S49: And then. So once the cards back on the Enterprise.
S42: I don’t know where to begin. He’s speaking to Counselor Troy. She basically like the ship’s therapist. I read your report and he says Yeah but the thing I didn’t write is that before they came and got me I was about to tell him that there were five flights I was literally about to say it but I was going to. I just. Don’t. Get. Anything.
S50: Worse than that. I believe that I could see. Five light and so in this final scene.
S1: He sort of admits that like even though he didn’t give more trouble he wanted goldenrod had also did actually achieve this sort of psychological manipulation like he did the thing he intended to do. I mean obviously I’m talking on this in the context of this like memoir that I wrote and it was like a weird comparison to make because it loops about physical torture which is like I mean I was not physically tortured but on the other hand I think it is this sense that there’s something else happening underneath. And one of the hardest things about also writing this book was like realizing how little healing not how little healing I had done because I help a lot. But I think realizing that there are like these traces left and like sometimes I find myself like getting high and not turned by the fact that like there are still like instincts that she’s sort of trained into me that I still have and they cope in very strange unexpected ways. And I think acknowledging that there was like that the damage was done because I don’t want to believe that I want to believe like I got out of this thing. I’m really lucky. And so that’s what it is about the ending is like he’s acknowledging that the damage was done. You know contrary to this like scream he does at the end was like there are four lights where he’s like insisting that he does know and he hasn’t been damaged within the turn at the end is like he was I saw myself in the sense that I it just reminds me like feeling as if she had one like it feels like there was a battle of wills and even though I’m now safe and happy I’m living my life that there is this slight tremendous loss and that sense of like permanent loss. Carmen Maria Machado is memoir In the dream house is out now and that story was produced by Studio 360 Zoe Saunders.
S51: Robert Miller says that Russia did try to intervene in the American elections and that Russia is attempting to do the same in the German election for 2020.
S2: That’s the journalist cure Simmons of NBC News recently moderating a panel in Moscow.
S51: He asked Vladimir Putin a question is Russia as Robert Miller alleged attempting to influence the 2020 elections in the United States. Basically it was him.
S46: I’ll tell you in a secret Yes we will definitely to the seat.
S52: Crazy city so that everybody can laugh off and so we go big but don’t tell anyone please.
S2: Like a lot of jokes. That seems like half joking. Not only did the Russian government interfere in our 2016 election on behalf of Donald Trump the U.S. intelligence community expects it’ll happen again. Are the Russians still trying to interfere in our election system. The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections. That’s FBI director Christopher Ray. During his Senate testimony this past summer the last time Americans felt this much specific anxiety about the Kremlin was probably the cold war at its terrifying height in the early 1960s.
S53: The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.
S2: But happily and in retrospect a little bizarrely there was a TV show that helped Americans get through it was a cartoon that premiered exactly 60 years ago. It was very smart and had plots dealing with the arms race and the space race with these two Soviet spies as main characters. It made the big scary Cold War funny and thus a little bit less scary. It was called The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.
S54: Gentlemen I I’m Rocky the Flying Squirrel by Bullwinkle the moose. How we’re both from frostbite Falls Minnesota.
S40: Julia Weatherall has the story.
S55: If you need someone to do the Bullwinkle voice I mean really do the Bullwinkle voice call up Keith Scott.
S56: Oh he hits. Could he really watch me pull a rabbit out of my head. Luther with deep breath though.
S55: He’s not just a fan. He took over as the official voice over guy in the early 90s and unofficially he’s the closest thing to a Bullwinkle historian. He’s the author of The Mouse That Roared. A book that tells the saga of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
S57: You could almost say it was like the Simpsons of its time but the trouble is the Simpsons came at the right time Rocky and Bullwinkle was 30 years too early.
S58: You know all of the competing cartoons were mice and cats chasing each other and Yogi Bear stealing a pie off a window. Suddenly these this little cartoon series of Rocky and Bullwinkle came along and it was making jokes about Congress and communism army intelligence that mean anything to you you know sounds like a contradiction in terms for TV audiences in the early 60s.
S59: That was a big leap from the recycled gags of shows like The Flintstones in Episode 1 Bullwinkle sets up an international incident when a pie he’s making turns out to be the recipe for a super powerful jet fuel.
S60: Oh my God you’re going to be a famous scientist. Have the role I am a graduate of there by the booth Institute of podium thing. Unfortunately I which naturally attracts the attention of super spy Boris baron of.
S57: His idiot Muslims good again.
S55: Yep. Keith also does Boris in real life. The Doomsday Clock may have been edging towards midnight but on Saturday mornings and frostbite falls Minnesota. It boiled down to Boris and Natasha coming up with their fiendish plots to kill moves on squirrel.
S61: Does it not dash it. Come on we going together in a bomb.
S62: You know what I mean certainly a bomb is what some people call our program. I don’t think that’s so funny. Today. Apparently.
S63: You have you know the Eastern Block presented as these completely sinister agents. You know spies.
S59: That’s David Bushman. He’s curator for television at the Paley Center for Media in New York.
S63: What’s subversive is that instead of being the dangerous communist agents who are out to infiltrate our country they’re being portrayed as completely incompetent and really not something to be scared of because they’re so miserable at what they do.
S1: A lot of that had to do with the show’s co creator cartoon producer Jay Ward. He was legendary in the world of cartoon producers.
S64: I really grew up on the lower of Rocky and Bullwinkle because that was the one cartoon we were. But I loved it.
S55: That’s Tiffany his daughter.
S65: My dad was famous for doing very funny unusual things as surprises. He’d take us writers he’d have contests.
S64: He had a mustache going contest once. Whoever grew the best mustache in six months won a trip to Hawaii. He put in the first ice cream parlor a researcher full of candy bars soda machines popcorn machines snow cone machines. So he put that in 1959 and then everybody got so heavy eating all that all the time that he then put in the first gym in his studio in 1959 so people could work out for Jay Ward working on a show should be as fun as watching it.
S55: But he really brought out the party when it came to promoting Rocky and Bullwinkle and in the fall of 1962 he broke new ground in publicity stunts. He decided to petition for a new state and name it move Sylvania so you watch that’s where Bullwinkle went on vacation.
S61: Sylvania is the way soggy as dreary as place on earth. You forgot. Useless useless to the U.S. insists it’s part of Canada and Canada insists it’s part of the U.S..
S59: So Jay Ward actually manages to make muscle Virginia a real place. He gets a lease on a tiny island way up in northern Minnesota in a lake along the Canadian border. And then he hits the road on this crazy publicity tour.
S66: In the last week of October without the rain You must be insane to live in most surveys.
S67: There’s a lot of stuff my dad and his publicity agent a wonderful man named Howard Brandy who has also passed on.
S57: They got a like a a big band Big Sound truck called the Bullwinkle special gang it had a little cherubs and very very colorful braid and painting all over it.
S67: And it said statehood the Musil Lamia and dad mounted a circus Calliope a very large circus Calliope.
S66: It’s like a big crazy ice cream truck handing out pins and stickers and maps of muscle mania and blasting these anthems celebrating 50 seconds stakes so maybe you always find a song. Know we.
S68: So maybe they bear a lot of California heading for New York stopping at the NBC affiliates along the way and they hold these bizarre press conferences.
S57: Lucille then you would qualify permanently as a disaster area and thereby be permanently entitled to government funds. No school integration problem. In fact no schools. One of those stops along the way of course was the nation’s capital in Washington D.C..
S59: Now this is when things start to feel like an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Remember this is the end of October 1962. American planes had just spotted nuclear missile bases on Cuba on October 22nd. The military had gone into DEFCON 3 and President Kennedy had addressed the nation to prepare Americans for the worst and in the middle of all this.
S55: J were determined to get the president to say yes to move Sylvania.
S57: They took this truck right up onto the White House driveway with the banners waving and this little Calliope blaring these silly songs. They said that the league could hear them across the Potomac. Suddenly they were turned away by a very grim faced God.
S59: Howard Brandy Ward’s publicist who was along with him on the tour talked about it in 1990 in a PBS interview.
S69: We got to the White House gate and the man said What are you doing. And he said turn off the music and Jay-Z said well you know we to see President Kennedy one state of the Sylvania. And I said turn around and get out of here. And Jay said you know you could be civil I mean I said Jay turned around. He said No I don’t like that etude and cause the guy then start to unbuckle his revolver.
S70: I panicked. I mean I just say let’s get out of here. And Jay didn’t like his egg and he said well I will but I mean the man’s absolutely rude and we turned around and left.
S71: The guards were very friendly to my dad and he ended up calling us at home and saying they don’t have a sense of humor in Washington but they don’t give up their Howard brandy snaps a couple of pictures of the Bullwinkle mobile parked outside the White House and brings them over to the guy at the local AP office said to me look we tried to get to the White House.
S69: They wouldn’t let us. I thought he had a sense of humor and all that kind of stuff. He should come let me show you something. He took me over and showed me the photographs. Of the Russian ships with the missiles covered going forward Cuba. And we had arrived at the White House on the day of the Cuban missile crisis.
S70: So nobody paid any attention to us even though we were very funny. And at. That end of the tour then we drove back home. Never did get sent home from the Sylvania area.
S61: No way. Never having stayed good.
S68: In the end. Fingers were lifted from buttons and the world returned from the brink of doom.
S55: Moose and Squirrel went on to averting threats from nefarious agents to save the economy of their evil homeland. Boris and Natasha steel disaster rations from Lucille Dania and that’s their undoing.
S57: Boris and Natasha then steal all of these goodies and hit across the lake but they raft sinks they sink into the sunset and Rocky and Bullwinkle wave goodbye.
S55: And that is the end of the whole Rocky and Bullwinkle saga and into reruns it went through the 60s and 70s through Vietnam and disco and the Reagan administration.
S72: J Ward died in 1989 around the same time we discovered that the Soviets really were more bungling and incompetent than we’d believed.
S55: Did you get blown up by your own grenade again and by the time I was a kid watching my dad’s VHS tapes of Rocky and Bullwinkle the Soviet Union had vanished from the map. What you have is basically a strong ringing endorsement of the American way of life and a strong portrayal of America as this plucky squirrel. And this completely innocent childlike. Charmed moose. Plucky and innocent. That doesn’t really describe America during the Cold War let alone America today. But J Ward tapped into the things we most want to believe about ourselves as a nation. And maybe that means that we all live in a country that doesn’t exist.
S56: How were things in Mosul being you. Does that fitted swarm still fist to the. Does it still give off the pungent smell of Muscatine and sweaty grizzly Boo. How are things in Luthor danger. These 13. The pretty good Holbrooke. I think we got an album.
S73: That story was produced by Julia Weatherall Tiffany Ward is now the executive producer for The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle reboot on Amazon. And that’s it for this week’s show Studio 360 is a production of PR in association with Slate.
S37: Our production team is Jocelyn Gonzalez into Adam Nieman Sam Lopez once and Evan Chung Lauren Hansen Sam Kim Zoe Saunders Tommy area Morgan Flannery and I am Kurt Andersen have contests he had a mustache going contest one thank you very much for listening. Are. Public Radio.
S40: International. Next time on Studio 360. Ruben Blades and Willie cologne took salsa from the streets of New York to the world.
S74: The album became a smash. I mean the Beatles size type of success abroad.
S4: Studio 360 is new series New York icons. First up siempre.
S42: This was like Shakespearean poetry on wax. Next time on Studio 360.