Friday, November 7, 2014
Investigative Reporting Involved with "WHEN LIONS ROAR: The Churchills and the Kennedys" -- Interview with International Consortium of Investigative Journalists As Part of Churchill A-Bomb Excerpt
Thomas Maier is an award-winning investigative journalist at Newsday. He has written five books, including Masters of Sex - the basis for the Showtime series - and the newly-published When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys, of which his publisher, Random House’s Crown, says “never before has there been a sweeping study of the complex and long-standing relationship that existed between these two families—and the profound effects of that association on history.”ICIJ member
What sparked your interest in this particular topic?
America in our times has been the focus of all my biographies, including this one about the Anglo-American “special relationship” between the Churchills and the Kennedys. Generally, I choose individuals or families who I hope will fascinate readers but also provide a deeper understanding about the times we live in and what they mean.
After finishing Masters of Sex—with its detailing of the intricate personal lives of Masters and Johnson—I wanted to write a big historical saga, the sort that you might find in Tolstoy (or for the TV crowd, George R. R. Martin) with family dynasties, wars, wealth, passion, and politics. Joseph P. Kennedy and Winston Churchill were born into a world vastly different than that of their sons, and what’s more, the Kennedy and Churchill families were instrumental in changing it on both sides of the Atlantic.
As an investigative historian, I seek out new information that other historians have yet to uncover. InWhen Lions Roar, there are ground-breaking disclosures about the many overlapping relationships between the families and friends of British prime minister Winston Churchill and U.S. president John F. Kennedy. Some of the best stories hide in plain sight for years. I was surprised to realize no one had ever put together all these connections into a larger dramatic narrative.
How did you go about writing this book, and what sort of research was involved?
For more than 30 years, I’ve worked as an investigative reporter so this work has taught me to let documents be my guide to history. I have accumulated files that overflow with letters, diary notes, financial statements, old photos, and transcripts of oral histories.
For this book, I put together a writing outline in my computer that totaled some 230,000 words—about the size of the finished text. Yes, investigative reporters tend to turn over every rock in researching a story, but this training has proved invaluable in seeking out new information about two families as extraordinarily well-known as the Churchills and the Kennedys.
That was certainly the case in finding and examining the documents that reveal the previously unknown aspects of the liquor deal involving the Kennedys, the Churchills, and President Roosevelt’s son. What my book shows for the first time is that Winston Churchill obtained a lucrative amount of stock in two U.S. companies associated with Joseph P. Kennedy in an apparent “pay to play” arrangement, around the same time Kennedy received British approval to ship Scotch whiskey and other liquor to America as Prohibition was ending. A 1933 London trip by Kennedy and James Roosevelt, the son of FDR, helped secure the liquor contracts and involved a meeting with the financially troubled Churchill at his estate, Chartwell Manor. Using previously unreleased documents, my book shows how both Kennedy and Churchill benefitted from this arrangement and how President Roosevelt became alarmed when he learned that his son James was involved in this secret deal.
In another example from my research, FBI records showed Churchill favored dropping the atom bomb on Soviet Union in the early days of Cold War. Shortly after World War II ended with devastating atomic bomb explosions in Japan that killed more than 100,000 people, the former British Prime Minister suggested, privately, that the U.S. strike first against the Soviet Union before the Communist-run government developed the nuclear weapon. According to these FBI records, Churchill urged Sen. Styles Bridges, a conservative Republican active in foreign affairs, to push for a preemptive and devastating A-bomb attack on Moscow, a recent ally during the war.
Many documents about the Kennedys and Churchills have become available only in the past decade or so, and this book benefitted greatly from these new revelations.
Why do you think this book is important, and what surprises can readers expect?
In large measure, When Lions Roar re-writes history. The conventional wisdom portrays the Churchills and Kennedys as antagonists due to their opposed views on Allied engagement in World War II. For many months, British prime minister Winston Churchill attempted to enlist the U.S. in his battle against Hitler, while U.S. ambassador Joe Kennedy in London tried to keep isolationist America out of the conflict for fear of seeing his young sons killed.
For reasons that I explain in the book, the friendly connections in the mid-1930s between the two families weren’t known beyond a handful of associates, mainly to avoid potential political embarrassment and scandal. In my book, I describe the very important relationships that both families, and generations, had with press magnate Lord Beaverbrook, wealthy financier Bernard Baruch, writer Clare Boothe Luce, Greek tycoon Aristotle Onassis, and the little-known Kay Halle, and a slew of other significant figures of the 20th century.
The stage for this drama is played out over two wars, several presidential campaigns, and across the White House, Parliament, and the inner sanctum of the Vatican. Add to that fateful battles in the South Pacific, North Africa, and the D-Day shores of Normandy and you have a sense of the terrain.
However, the small, intimate discoveries about the two families found in their personal letters were often the most memorable to me. For instance, people don’t know much about JFK’s 1958 visit with Winston Churchill aboard Aristotle Onassis’s yacht in the Mediterranean—a meeting that would be the first time Ari met Jackie Kennedy. I think readers will be surprised to learn JFK’s sister Kick was best friends with Pamela Churchill, the prime minister’s daughter-in-law, who was nearly killed in the same fatal plane crash that took Kick’s life in 1948. I certainly didn’t know much about the World War II spy case that haunted the Kennedys for years afterward or Winston Churchill’s provocative view about atomic warfare at the start of the Cold War.
Though rancor still existed between the two families because of World War II, it slowly dissipated as JFK became president in 1960, assuming many of the global challenges that Churchill had tried to manage with the fading British Empire. I found a surprising amount of friendly interaction between this next generation—Winston’s son Randolph and Jackie and Bobby Kennedy—though it was generally kept out of the public eye, not unlike the families’ initial relationship. I was also surprised when I learned Bobby Kennedy wanted Randolph Churchill, the prime minister’s son, to become JFK’s biographer after Randolph finished writing a biography of his father. When Lions Roar explains how Randolph became friends with Jackie after JFK’s assassination, and how Randolph gave a gift to JFK Jr., the deceased president’s son, that would connect the two dynasties forever in history.
Churchill, the atom bomb, and the Iron Curtain - an excerpt from Thomas Maier's When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys
Six-Degrees of WHEN LIONS ROAR: The Richard Burton Connection with Churchill, JFK and Michael Sheen of Masters of Sex
|Richard Burton as Winston Churchill|
|Richard Burton in Camelot,|
Inspiring the Kennedy Legacy
|Richard Burton in Hamlet|
Watch "WHEN LIONS ROAR: The Churchills and the Kennedys" -- Short Video about the Book and An Interview With Author Thomas Maier
Also, here's Thomas Maier on MSNBC chatting about "WHEN LIONS ROAR: The Churchills and the Kennedys."
What if "WHEN LIONS ROAR" Became a TV Series? Casting Kennedy and Churchill with the 'Masters of Sex' Writer
Casting Kennedy and Churchill with the 'Masters of Sex' Writer
by Thomas Maier
This is from an essay that appeared in WORD & FILM, published by Random House:
Editor's Note: Thomas Maier is the author of five books, including The Kennedys: America's Emerald Kings and Masters of Sex, the basis for the Showtime series, as well as his latest, When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys. We asked Thomas to set to dream casting When Lions Roar, and here's what he came up with.
In casting "Masters of Sex" - the Showtime television series based on my biography of Masters and Johnson - the producers sent me a long list of possible actors and actresses to play the lead roles. It reminded me of a conversation I had with the real-life Virginia Johnson years before, when I asked her if she ever wondered who could play the two sex researchers in a movie.
For the role of Dr. Masters, Virginia had suggested Ed Harris, Robert Duvall, and maybe Kevin Spacey.
And for herself? "Joanne Newman," she said, with a Hollywood insider-like voice. After a moment, I realized she meant Joanne Woodward, the wife of actor Paul Newman.
It's a fun parlor game for authors with visions of seeing their latest work turned into a Hollywood extravaganza, either on the big screen or in the current "Golden Age" of premium television.
In writing my new book, When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys, I recalled some of the thespians who in the past played members of these two famous families. And of course, I fantasized who might play them in the future if my new tome became a film or TV drama. Here's some of my "wish list" casting, past and future:
Winston Churchill: Lots of actors have played the famous British Prime Minister, including Richard Burton, Albert Finney, Orson Welles, Timothy Spall ("The King's Speech"), and Julian Fellowes, now the mastermind of TV's "Downton Abbey." My pick today? Anthony Hopkins or Kenneth Branagh.
John F. Kennedy: The actors who have played the thirty-fifth president include Martin Sheen, Greg Kinnear, William Devane, Cliff Robertson, and Rob Lowe. My pick? Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, or maybe Bradley Cooper.
Jacqueline Kennedy: The legendary First Lady has been portrayed by actresses Jaclyn Smith, Blair Brown, and Katie Holmes. My choice? Charlize Theron or Keira Knightley.
Randolph Churchill: Winston's once brilliant golden-haired son who became a fallen star hasn't been portrayed in the past, but my pick is Leonardo DiCaprio.
Clementine Churchill: In the past, Janet McTeer and Siân Phillips have portrayed Winston's Iron Lady wife, but who better now than Meryl Streep or Cate Blanchett?
Pamela Churchill Harriman: In WWII, Winston's daughter-in-law had an affair with Averell Harriman, a top American envoy to London, while her husband Randolph was away at war. Actress Ann-Margret once played Pamela, but my choice today is Kate Winslet or Carey Mulligan.
Lord Beaverbrook: This crafty millionaire helped Winston save England from Nazi attack but was also a pal of much-hated Joe Kennedy (actor Matt Letscher currently plays JFK's father in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"). No one's ever played Beaverbrook, the conniving fixer, but who now? Hugh Laurie or Ralph Fiennes, I'd say.
Kick Kennedy: JFK's little-known sister was BFF with Pamela Churchill and broke her Irish Catholic mother's heart by marrying British royalty during the war. Actresses Tracy Pollan and Shannen Doherty once played her, but today I'd like to see Emma Stone or Jennifer Lawrence.
Aristotle Onassis: He married Jackie after JFK's death, but the Greek tycoon was also friends with Winston and Randolph Churchill, who sailed several times on his yacht. Actor Raúl Juliá once played Onassis; but for now, how about Joaquin Phoenix or Javier Bardem?
Of course, this "wish list" of talent would be too costly all together for any movie or television series. But things can always change, as I learned from experience. On that long list of potential stars for "Masters of Sex," two names didn't appear: Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan - and yet they ultimately got the parts of Masters and Johnson!
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