Saturday, May 30, 2015

Masters of Sex Season 3: "We are the Sexual Revolution"

Only six weeks from Season 3 of Masters of Sex! Have you read the book, especially the chapters dealing with the mid-1960s? That's where the new season starts off.
I think this will be the best season yet, as Masters and Johnson become famous, the 1960s Sexual Revolution gets into high gear, and the relationship between Virginia and Bill becomes even more complicated with the introduction of a new character played by Josh Charles.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day Remembrance: The Costs of War: An Excerpt from WHEN LIONS ROAR

Since 1893, the Solomon Islands, an archipelago of nearly a thousand small swampy islands, had been a protectorate of the United Kingdom, though, by the time Jack Kennedy arrived, the British had mostly stopped protecting it. Only the British resident commissioner and a few others remained, hidden in the tropical jungle brush by local natives. They provided a coast-watching service, a crude local form of British intelligence that alerted American commanders to enemy ships nearby.
It would be up to U.S. forces to begin pushing back the Japanese assault in the Pacific, just as Britain had fought mostly alone against Germany and Italy in the early years of the war. Winston Churchill had convinced Roosevelt to prevail first in Europe—including the sweep through the Middle East known as Operation Torch—before America’s full attention returned to the Pacific. “Although we had little knowledge of American Pacific plans, we realised that an intense crisis had arisen in the Solomons,” Churchill recalled. “It was obvious that no [British] carriers could reach the scene for many weeks. I earnestly desired to help in this heroic struggle, but with the main naval responsibility for landing the Anglo-American Army in North-West Africa upon us we could make no immediate proposal.” Not until December 1942 did Churchill—now calling himself the “former naval person” in private notes to FDR—dare risk sending a handful of British ships to the Pacific. By the summer of 1943 they had joined an embattled fleet of American battleships, carriers, and small wooden craft known as PT (for “patrol torpedo”) boats, one of which would be commanded by twenty-six-year-old John F. Kennedy.
Back in the United States, Kennedy’s family worried greatly about his safety, especially with news of intense combat against the Japanese, seemingly determined to fight island by island. Rose enlisted nuns to pray for her son’s cause. Jack, with his own sense of grace under pressure, tried to make light of the very real prospect he’d soon be killed. “Kathleen reports that even a fortune-teller says that I’m coming back in one piece,” he wrote home. “I hope that it won’t be taken as a sign of lack of confidence in you all or the Church if I continue to duck.”
On August 2, Kennedy’s PT-109, with a crew of thirteen aboard, cruised quietly into the thick blackness of night. Without warning, a Japanese destroyer cut through their boat, slicing it in half with everyone hurled into the water. Two crewmates died within moments. “This is how it feels to be killed,” Jack thought to himself, as he later recalled. While some later blamed the crash on his inexperience or neglect, Kennedy’s actions immediately afterward were unquestionably heroic. Despite hurting his back, the ensign swam around the flaming debris. He helped pull his surviving crew members up onto the boat’s wreckage, still floating in the water. Knowing his band of survivors couldn’t stay, and risk capture by the Japanese, he convinced his crew to swim toward a small island three miles away. He gave the most injured sailor, who didn’t know how to swim, a large life preserver and towed him to safety. When the Japanese neared, the group moved again to another island.
Back at the PT base on Rendova Island, most believed Kennedy and his crew had been killed. The commander held a memorial service and didn’t send any boats looking for their bodies. “Jack Kennedy, Ambassador’s son, was on the same boat and lost his life,” one officer at the base wrote home. Eventually after three days of fear and brutal conditions, Kennedy and his crew discovered some local natives willing to carry a coconut back to the PT base. Jack carved a message on its greenish shell: “Nauro Isl . . . commander . . . native knows pos’it . . . He can pilot . . . 11 alive . . . need small boat . . . Kennedy.”
The coconut wound up in the hands of Reginald Evans, an Australian coast-watcher, the last remnants of the British Empire’s presence on the islands. Evans arranged for a group of natives to travel back to the island by canoe, carrying enough food to feed the Americans. Jack was handed a letter by the native group’s leader, Benjamin Kevu, who spoke the King’s English perfectly, with instructions on how to return to safety.
“You’ve got to hand it to the British,” Jack told one his crewmates, amazed at their good fortune.
Then Kennedy left his men and returned with the natives in their canoe, which had enough room for only one passenger. They covered this battered young American with palm fronds, to avoid detection as Japanese fighter planes flew overhead. Soon Kennedy met Evans at his secret hideaway, and two PT boats, alerted by the coast-watcher, left Rendova and picked up Jack. He showed them where to find his stranded crew.
When his surviving crew arrived at Rendova, Kennedy took the old gold coin from around his neck, the gift from Clare Boothe Luce, and gave it to the native scouts who’d carried the coconut with his message. He later thanked the congresswoman again for the “good-luck piece,” as he called it, which “did service above and beyond its routine duties during a rather busy period.”

For four days, Joe Kennedy knew his son was missing in action, but he chose not to tell Rose or anyone else in their family. He’d always feared one of his sons might be killed in this war—the conflict he never wanted, always dreaded, which had ruined his public reputation. Then, on a car ride home, while listening to the radio, Joe heard a news alert of Jack’s rescue. Overcome with emotion, he drove off the road and into a field. When he arrived back at the house, Rose fell into his arms and rejoiced. “He is really at home—the boy for whom you prayed so hard—at the mention of whose name your eyes would become dimmed—the youngster who you would think dead some nights & you wake up with sorrow clutching at your heart,” Rose later wrote in her diary. “What a sense of gratitude to God to have spared him.”
After witnessing death all around him in such brutal form, Jack found his carefree attitude chipped away. In seeing friends killed, he became more bitterly ironic about the pretense of war, and more philosophic about fate and mortality. He had come to the Pacific partly to show that he wasn’t a coward, wasn’t an appeaser, as they said about his family behind his back. His own instincts proved right—and quite ironic when his round-robin letter to his family, written obviously before the PT-109 disaster, was received at home on August 10, containing this assurance: “I myself am completely—and thoroughly convinced that nothing is going to happen to me.” His letter mentioned one of the two men lost on his boat, Andrew Kirksey—a married man with three children—who nearly got killed during a bombing shortly before the PT-109 accident. “He never really got over it, he always seemed to have the feeling that something was going to happen to him,” Jack recalled. “When a fellow gets the feeling that he’s in for it—the only thing to do is let him get off the boat—because strangely enough they always seem to be the ones that do get it. I don’t know if it’s coincidence or what.”
Jack was upset to find how quickly his Navy superiors had given up in their initial search for the PT-109’s crew. He worried his family may have heard of his presumed death. “This is a short note to tell you that I am alive—and not kicking—in spite of any reports that you may happen to hear,” he wrote home immediately after being rescued from the PT-109 debacle. “It was believed otherwise for a few days—so reports or rumors may have gotten back to you. Fortunately they misjudged the duration of a Kennedy.”
After the PT-109 incident, Jack Kennedy disdained politicians who embraced the rhetoric of war. “People get so used to talking about billions of dollars and millions of soldiers that thousands dead sounds like drops in the bucket,” he wrote to his parents. “But if those thousands want to live as much as the ten I saw—they should measure their words with great care.”

Friday, May 22, 2015

How would Churchill Handle the Middle East Today? My Visit to Detroit and the Churchill Society of Michigan

Some people asked how Churchill might have handled the Middle East today, at least in my estimation. Well, certainly Winston was an imperialist and, in his time, he was the leading defender of the British Empire and maintaining its interests around the world. But I'm not sure he would be a"neo-con" as we understand it here in the United States. 

Here's a fascinating new BBC documentary on Churchill. On the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill's death, Jeremy Paxman tells the story of the send-off which Britain gave to the man who led the country to victory in the Second World War. More than a million people came to line the streets of London on the freezing day in late January to pay their respects as his coffin was taken from the lying-in-state at Westminster to St Paul's Cathedral. Millions more watched the state funeral on television. Churchill was the only commoner in the twentieth century to receive the honour of such a magnificent ceremony.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

David Letterman and his No. 1 TV Moment -- Talks about "Masters of Sex" and Tells Lizzy Caplan That He Loves Her As an Actress

Just before the premiere of "MASTERS ON SEX", Lizzy Caplan appeared with David Letterman to explain everything about the show and to hear the TV host say how much he enjoys her acting.

Of course in this interview, there are A LOT of laughs! Too bad David won't be around for the July 12 Season Three premiere of Masters! But now he'll have plenty of time to read the book, Masters of Sex.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mad Men Moves Over (Finally) for Masters of Sex -- As The Finale Nears for One, Get Ready for Season 3 with the Other Drama.

"Mad Men" is gone, but the comparisons with "Masters of Sex" -- the Showtime series based on my biography of Masters and Johnson -- will linger. 
"Mad Men" is one television's all-time greats and for "Masters" to be in the same conversation with it is amazing. Showrunner Matthew Weiner's extraordinary talent for plot twists and deep characterizations remains the gold standard for all who follow "Mad Men". There are some obvious physical similarities between the two shows, particularly the 1960s costumes and time period for both dramas.

 But there are also some stark differences.

"Mad Men" always seemed obsessed with death -- selling cigarettes as death sticks to an unsuspecting American public and Don's overwhelming self-destructiveness -- while "Masters of Sex" is essentially about the mysteries of human intimacy and our search for love. Big, big difference there, my friends. I've always felt "Masters" does a far better job at portraying the subtle emotions between men and women than "Mad Men." 
Ironically, the comparisons to "Mad Men" began before "Masters of Sex" was even on the air. 
In the premiere episode of Season 5 in March 2012, "Mad Men" made a fleeting reference to Masters and Johnson. It's the same episode in which Don Draper's new wife Meghan heats up a party in their apartment by singing Gillian Hills' "Zou Bisou Bisou."
As Mark Maurer in New Jersey's Star-Ledger noted at that time: "Pete jokingly refers to Don and Megan as “Masters and Johnson,” pioneers of research on human sexuality and coincidentally the subject of a new Showtime pilot starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan."

This little tip-of-the-hat was thrilling to me, because I've always admired the television genius of Weiner, and because "Masters of Sex" would soon to make its debut on Showtime in fall 2013 (and was filming its pilot at that time). Since then, the comparisons between the two shows only increased. 
It's got all of the scandal, fashion, drama and depth of character that you love from "Mad Men." Just replace advertising with sex research and you have the perfect formula for your next favorite show.
Time Magazine was even blunter:
Now that male-centric dramas like Mad MenBreaking Bad and Dexter are coming to a close, and Masters has emerged as the most promising new show that aired this year, we’re hoping that television writers will start taking on the task of female drama. 
Some provided comparisons of Mad Men's Don Draper and Masters of Sex's Dr. William Masters:
Anyone who possesses even passing knowledge of Showtime's Masters of Sex and AMC's Mad Men will know that the two shows are similar-ish on the surface.But when you dig into the two male protagonists – Masters of Sex' Dr. Bill Masters (played by Michael Sheen) and Mad Men's Don Draper (Jon Hamm) – you'll see that they share many traits and circumstances that are not obvious to recognize at first. 
And in London, the Guardian compared how the two shows handled their females characters:
     Compare Masters' wife Libby with her Mad Men equivalent Betty Draper. Both are ice-cream blondes, impeccably turned out and concerned with presenting a perfect face to the world. Yet while Matthew Weiner frequently writes Betty as more caricature than character, a spoilt child with an immature view of the world, Michelle Ashford gives Libby both heart and soul. We feel for her when she loses her baby and we understand why she subsequently lies to her husband. Libby's actions ring true to us because she is written like an actual person and not a personification of "everything that was wrong with women in the 1960s".
"Mad Men" was a terrific series that expanded the creative boundaries of television and once again put the emphasis on the writer as the real star of the show. "Masters of Sex" hopefully has several more seasons to go with showrunner Michelle Ashford before it reaches a finale.

But I think there's one more more comparsion that can be made. Because "Masters of Sex" is based on a real-life story, I know that the narrative will become only more complex and richer for the audience. That story-telling quality will be particularly evident in this upcoming Season 3, as the working relationship between Masters and Johnson becomes more equal and their personal relationship becomes infinitely more complicated.
So say a fond bye-bye to Mad Men, but stay tuned for much more of Masters of Sex.
Teddy Sears, a star of Masters of Sex, in early episode of Mad Men