Category Archives: Uncategorized

The One in Which I Enjoy Being George Lucas’s Biographer

Last week, I had the great pleasure of speaking on George Lucas as part of the Great Lives lecture series at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.*  If you missed it . . . well, it doesn’t look like I had a LICK of fun, does it? (I call this Study in Big Gestures, Number 1483 in a Series).

And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that all these terrific photos were taken by the remarkable Karen Pearlman, who manages to make EVERYONE look good.

* Yeah, I’m Associate Director of the series now.  But I was asked to speak here LONG before I signed on for the AD gig. DON’T JUDGE ME.

Your Mountain Is Waiting…So Get on Your Way!

Who do those crinkling, smiling eyes belong to? Why, none other than Theodor Seuss Geisel — the good Dr. Seuss, whose birthday just happens to be today.

seuss-with-figuresI’m SO thrilled to be working on the life of yet another wonderful, creative, inspiring iconic subject — and I’m just as happy, too, that I’ll be working with the same terrific team at Little, Brown that helped put the George Lucas bio in your hands.

The Eyes Have It…

Who’s the subject of my next biography? Yesterday, over on Twitter, I let slip that it was yet another American pop culture icon.  That led to a number of good guesses: Walt Disney. Elvis. Stan Lee. Frank Oz. Johnny Carson.

All good guesses, but wrong.

Here’s another hint.

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Got it yet?

More later.

Four!

Pretty much every book talk biographers do ends with the inevitable question, “What are you working on now?” (As I always joke, the BIO conference and the AVN awards are the only two venues where people greet each other by asking, “Who are you doing next?”)  As I indicated in this article that ran in my local newspaper yesterday, I’ve been circling for several months now a really terrific subject for Book Four — and I’ll tell you more shortly.  Stay tuned.

Buried Treasure

At the beginning of December, after spending nearly fifteen years living in a little town in Maryland — we had taken care of our main task, namely ensuring that our daughter got out into the world safely and successfully — Barb and I sold our old farmhouse in Damascus and moved about 80 miles south to Fredericksburg, Virginia. As you can imagine, packing up fifteen years worth of stuff required digging through every nook and cranny and drawer and box.  Lots of stuff got thrown out — user manuals, old atlases, plenty of random cables that didn’t connect to anything any more — as we made our best effort to simplify and downsize.

That can be tough work for me — I’m notoriously sentimental about things, and I’ve been known to hold onto receipts, guidebooks or business cards for decades. But I vowed to try my best to carefully sort through the countless boxes, bins and files in my office and throw out anything I thought might be considered clutter. And I did pretty well, too — or so I thought.  Imagine my surprise, then, when my wife — who is famously non-sentimental about things — looked at my pile of stuff to go into the trash and said, “Don’t you think you might want to keep that?”

She reached into the pile and pulled out this:

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It was the pile of assorted drafts for Jim Henson: The Biography, going all the way back to my first handwritten notes and outlines from early 2010. It wasn’t everything, but it was some of the earlier versions I’d written, printed out, proofed, then filed away as I moved on to the next draft. I was trying hard to be remarkably stoic about them, but when Barb pulled them out of my pile, I have to admit it I very eagerly put them into a banker’s box, on the side of which I scrawled JIM HENSON in fat black Sharpie.

As a bookend to the story, while unpacking in Fredericksburg, I opened a small wooden box — one I hadn’t actually looked in while packing, and had instead just thrown it into a larger box with some other stuff — and discovered another little bit of buried treasure:

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Much of this predates those early drafts shown above, as this is actually the proposal for the Jim Henson biography, which I was calling at that time, Ridiculous Optimism: The Life of Jim Henson (a title I still like a lot, but I totally understand the need to give it the shorter, clearer title under which it was eventually published). You can see at the top corner I’ve written “March 2010 — Proposal and Chapters Pitched.” The sample chapters, in case you’re interested, were eventually massaged into the much more greatly expanded first two chapters of Jim Henson.

Now flash forward three years or so, and you’ll arrive at the roughly bound book sitting on top of the proposal: the first reading copy of Jim Henson, containing the first round of edits from Ryan Doherty, my editor at Ballantine. This version still had to go through another round of editing and a legal read, and there’s not a single photograph — we were still working through photo clearances with Disney. All of this, too, went into that same banker’s box with the early drafts, with Belloq’s admonition from Raiders of the Lost Ark ringing in my ears: “Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something.”

The People’s Princess

416_carrie_fisher_princess_leia_20thcenturyfox_1Back in 1978, when playing with our Star Wars action figures, even boys never seemed to complain if they had to ‘be’ Princess Leia when we played out our homemade Star Wars adventures. And that’s because Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia was such a spunky, smart-mouthed, tough-talking badass — much like Carrie Fisher was in real life.

leiacardconcept_0We were fans almost immediately, and we followed her wherever she went, whether she was corralling Munchkins alongside Chevy Chase in Under the Rainbow, harassing John Belushi’s Joliet Jake in The Blues Brothers, or, later, offering sage advice to Meg Ryan’s Sally in When Harry Met Sally.

Still, we knew her first as Princess Leia, and it was a mantle Fisher herself wore with both pride and some trepidation–after all, being an icon is no easy task.  As Fisher wrote in her 2016 memoir The Princess Diarist:

I had never been Princess Leia before and now I would be her forever. I would never not be Princess Leia. I had no idea how profoundly true that was and how long forever was.

And yet, did anyone ever look like they were having as much fun on a movie set as she did?

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carrie_fisher_2013But Fisher was more than an actress. She was a talented script doctor (she did uncredited work on movies like Hook and Sister Act) and a really terrific — and terrifically funny — writer. She also struggled for years with addiction and depression, and very publicly discussed those battles in hopes of de-stigmatizing them for others. Her novel Postcards From the Edge was both funny and personal, a thinly-fictionalized account of her own struggles with addiction, mental illness, and her lovingly complicated relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

Yesterday, George Lucas issued a statement in which he noted that Fisher had a “colorful personality that everyone loved.” Steven Spielberg has referred to her as “a force of nature.” Both descriptions are apt, but for the rest of us– and with all due respect to Diana — there really was only ever but one “People’s Princess.”

Thanks for being here, Carrie Fisher. We’ll miss you.

Father Christmas

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Who’s the original Father Christmas? Why, Washington Irving, of course, who beat Clement Clarke Moore to the punch by 11 years:

“…and lo, the good St. Nicholas came riding over the tops of the trees, in that self-same wagon wherein he brings yearly presents to children…And when St. Nicholas had smoked his pipe, he twisted it in his hat-band, and laying his finger beside his nose…he returned over the tree-tops and disappeared.”

Washington Irving, A History of New York (1812 edition)

Have a warm and safe and happy holiday, everyone!

Central Podcasting

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-7-56-35-amOne of the really great joys of being the biographer of Jim Henson was having the opportunity to know the legion of devoted Jim Henson/Muppet fans. And it’s exactly the same way with George Lucas. Whether it’s discussing the prequels, arguing whether Han shot first, exploring Lucas’s influences, or debating the merits of CGI, George Lucas has one of the most active, vocal — and, frankly, fun — fanbases. It’s been a true pleasure appearing on so many podcasts and having the chance to converse with so many well-informed fans on pretty much everything.

Here, then, are links to my appearances on Coffee With KenobiStar Wars 7×7, and Star Wars Underworld.  And my thanks to Dan Zehr, Allen Voivod, and Dominic Jones (and his gang) for having me on.

“Great, Kid! Don’t Get Cocky!”

GeoScreen Shot 2016-12-04 at 3.13.06 PM.pngrge Lucas: A Life finally comes out this Tuesday — and I can’t wait for this one to get into your hands and hear what you think. So far, those who’ve had an early look at it seem to like it.  Kirkus Reviews — as reported back here — gave it one of their coveted starred reviews, as did Booklist.  I was also thrilled to learn that Kirkus named it one of their Best Books of 2016 — you can see Lucas and Threepio anchoring the front cover of Kirkus‘s December issue over there at right. All in all, pretty nice.

Oh, and it’s also been nicely reviewed in The Washington Post and BookPage, selected as a Book of the Month by Amazon, spotlighted in USA Today, Parade, the San Francisco Chronicle, the London Daily Mail, and featured on websites like Bustle and Cultured Vultures. Thanks for the kind words, folks.

Lots more to follow in the coming days — I’ll be at the Louisville Free Library on December 13, and having fun on podcasts like Channel Star Wars, Star Wars 7×7, and Coffee With Kenobi, for instance — and I’ll do my best to keep you posted.  Thanks for your enthusiasm so far. I appreciate it.

Two Weeks To Go…

. . . until publication of George Lucas: A Life.  I got mine from my editor the other week (and it’s a beaut); there’s still plenty of time for you to pre-order yours. (Click here to order from the bookseller of your choice.)

Many Bothans died to bring you this message.

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