Connecticut Voices; Interview with Evan Hunter
Hello and welcome to Connecticut voices a production of the Connecticut Center for the book in partnership with the Hartford Current north east magazine. I'm Nancy Cobb. My guest is novelist and screenwriter Evan Hunter Evan Hunter published his first novel in 1954 the Blackboard Jungle hunters insightful story of one teacher's struggle to reach inner city students was seen by New York City politicos as an indictment of their school system. The book became an instantaneous bestseller and was made into a movie starring Glen Ford and Sidney Poitier. In all Hunter's credits include 21 novels as well as several plays and screenplays among them. Alfred Hitchcock's macabre thriller The Byrds Hunter's most recent novel is criminal conversation and erotic suspense tale of crime and corruption. Evan Hunter also has written more than 60 books under the pseudonym Ed McBain. Meg Baines Eighty seventh precinct series is considered classic copy genre the Mystery Writers of America awarded him the coveted grandmaster award in 1989.
His books are consistent bestsellers with sales reaching more than 250 million worldwide. Ed McMahon's latest book there was a little girl is his eleventh novel about Matthew hope the Florida attorney and McBain aka Evan Hunter is here to talk with us about it. Welcome to Connecticut voices. Thank you it's nice to be here. You mentioned on New York politicos and their reaction to the book. I was a very young man at the time. This is the Blackboard Jungle at your school yes the Blackboard Jungle. And. It was the high school with teachers who became enraged. And they got a delegation up to go to Hollywood to go to MGM Studios to ask them not to release the film. Now can you imagine that scene here in in an office with the Hollywood sharks circling. This delegation of three high school teachers from New York saying please don't release the film it was already in the can and they had spent I don't know how many millions of
dollars to do it. And I can imagine that person listening and saying Oh yes yes. Very interesting and we will certainly give it some grave consideration. Now it's true that the reason the reason you did this book is because you were a teacher in the system where where for a short time before you left because people were cracking each other over the head with bats is that right. Yeah. And you were down you left evidently with three thousand dollars in your bank account and you were down to 300 is this apocryphal or none of this is true where you were down to three hundred dollars and you sold in fact your first chapter or piece of Blackboard Jungle a magazine you know called discovery at the time and it bailed you out I didn't I didn't save the three thousand bucks from teaching school I taught school very briefly and threw up my hands in despair you know I felt I truly felt as if I were tossing gold coins in the air and no one was picking them up you know. I said go home at the end of the day just absolutely ravaged. And I got a job working for a literary agency after I quit teaching. And
determine when I had saved $3000 for me from writing on the side. I would quit and write full time. And I got down to I guess I had about. 400 dollars left of that 3000. And I said I don't care I'm going to write a serious level because I was reading detective stuff and Westerns are alive. And so I wrote the first chapter in 92 I wrote 90 pages of the Blackboard Jungle and an outline of the remainder. And we saw that now had you done much writing before that oh you know from the time you were a kid. No no no no I want to be an artist. I heard my whole direction was art in high school I was not the literary editor of The School Magazine I was the art at. I didn't write a column for the newspaper I do cartoons for the news. It was my my orientation was exact absolutely toward art which explains the many visual details in your book I mean they're very visual. I always have that in the back of my mind paint the picture for the reader to see you know with
words. And I'm always hopeful that the words will disappear from the page. It's an odd thing I'm always suspicious of any any review that starts by saying this writer isn't it. A serene stylist. Because for me the style is what should disappear from the book you shouldn't be aware that you're reading a book and should your mind should be exploding with images and words and sounds. You should see it all. So when I write the word is designed to disappear. You have a social consciousness that permeates the work that you do. And it started with with Blackboard Jungle clearly. Did you grow up in a in a household that was politically active aware. I know you grew up in New York City was there with there a kind of consciousness there how did that develop in you just from growing up in New York City I can remember of my parents being particularly politically aware. I remember going to have Republican My father was a Republican I remember going to Republican Party
picnics you know I didn't even weigh ham sandwiches and soda pops. Up. There was no emphasis on politics and in our house. Let's let's talk for a minute about what we're going to get to the book eventually but I want to talk about this. Evan Hunter turning into Ed McBain. That was interesting in a sense. I was contacted by one pocketbooks and co-operated did the Blackboard Jungle in paperback. They released it at the time of the movie. And I think it sold something like five million copies in a week. Wow. Because the movie was such a spectacular success and everybody wanted to read the book and I don't think it was a teenager in America who did not have a copy of the black wood jungle stuffed into the back pocket of his or her jeans. There was a novel I had written that had not sold a mystery novel. And my agent offered it to Pocket Books Inc. And it was a pseudonym on it. Not Ed McBain another soon. I still write under a lot of
pseudonyms because I would sometimes have four or five short stories in the same issue of the magazine on the different name I don't think they'd be 30 or out circulate Yeah. And. The editor was a very sharp guy and he called my agent and said Is this our friend Evan Hunter and he said yeah and he said I didn't know he wrote mysteries he said yeah he's written quite a few of them. I had published by now and I guess three mystery novels under pseudonyms. And about 100 short stories. And. Under various pseudonyms. I had lunch with him and the whole gist of the conversation was that Earle Stanley Gardner was getting old and might die soon and he was the mainstay of Pocket Books Inc. And you know I had an idea for any series character. It occurs to me that some added to maybe sitting in New York talking with some young turk now saying Ed McMahon is getting only having ideas for serious character. Never. So I went home and I thought about it and I decided that the only
valid people. And this sounds like a contradiction because certainly Matthew Hope is not a cop but the only valid people to be investigating murders are policemen. Right and I came up with the notion of doing a realistic series about cops and their wives and husbands and lovers and what have you and the eighty second precinct 87 precinct came to being police per se but they said that it would be damaging to my career as a as a straight novelist as a so-called serious novelist with the Blackboard Jungle of my then my second novel had been published. If it were known that that I was writing mysteries. So they suggested that I that I invent a pseudonym and I came up with Ed McBain had to come up with that Macbean What is that absolutely out of the blue I had finished the first novel in the series copied it was cool. And I went out into the kitchen where my then wife was feeding my infant twin son. Shoveling the spoon from mouth to mouth. And I said how does that make things sound.
And she said Good. Ed McBain was born that nickname is me and I went back into the room and typed by Ed McBain on the title page. Now there I'm very curious about this how you how you not only switch hats between Evan Hunter and McBain but under the name of Ed McBain. You not only do the precinct books but you do Matthew Hope who Matthew Hope is this attorney who has a social consciousness and keeps getting himself into interesting situations now it seems to me that the court room in the in the police precinct are two very different places from which to operate is that like. Well Matthew Hope was an accident. The 87 precinct was was absolutely carefully calculated I knew the cast of characters before I started the first book I knew the make up of the squad room. I knew that I was going to do a city that was not quite New York I knew everything about it before I started it and there have been new characters who've come in over the years. But for the most part the nucleus of the squad room has
remained so I with Matthew Hope on the other hand. I I had just been through a divorce and I want to write another not a novel about divorce and remarriage. The concept being that divorce is a kind of killing and a lot of innocent people suffer in the fallout of a divorce. And so I wanted to tell the story in terms of a brutal murder that takes place in the second marriage. And Matthew Hope was the lawyer who comes in and because he handled some stuff for the good guy whose wife is killed. The original title of this novel was to be the scene of the crime. The divorce being the scene of the crime and as well as the crime that happens in the book. And I wrote the book and it turned out to be not a very good book it was neither fish nor fowl it wasn't a straight novel and it wasn't a mystery either. And my publishers rightfully turned it
down. Interesting. And I don't like to waste things because I put a lot of energy into researching a book and. So I decided if I strengthen the mystery elements. And change the title because the scene of the crime somehow has a literary ring to it. And I could simply change the title to Goldilocks which was the nickname that the kids of the first marriage give to the new wife. And it was published as my Ed McBain and to little fanfare I must say you know nobody. In fact the. One would have thought it hadn't been published at all just sort of disappeared in the night. But my British publishers suggested that it was too bad I didn't have another series like the 87 precinct that they could publish. And I said why don't we do a series about Matthew Hope. And we give them all fairy tale or nursery rhyme titles and time together that way there is no hidden
deeper meaning to the fairy tales. I'm sure there are but but not in my books because I just give them a meaning that I want to give not so they're a throughline they're connected in a way the army of disparate or seemingly it was the public good. The critical reaction and the public reaction when they recognise that Matthew Hope was going to be a series. Was rather strange. Tell me then. It was almost as if I had taken a second wife or a mistress or something where the critics were saying You better stick to the 87 precinct. And the readers were writing me letters saying does this mean you're not going to write the 87 precinct thing. Interesting it's like being typecast as an actor in a way. And then once you are locked into something people don't want you to change. Absolute resistance to the character and to the fact that change of locale you know Florida instead of the big bad city. And I couldn't understand why. Why the cause I was writing them as well as I knew how to
write them and I couldn't understand why this reaction and I kept plugging away at it. But whereas the 87 precinct had everybody in place to begin with. The hero and the supporting I have had to build those over the years they're all in place now for her. So perversely I have Matthew Hope get shot at the beginning of the book. He's almost out of the action throughout in this book and I'm wondering in there was a little girl I'm talking with with Ed McBain nay Evan Hunter. About his new book which is like a nine thousand book you've written since 1954 his hero now this is very brave and this is going to be I am assuming because your you have activists fans that you're going to get a lot of letters now here. Not only did you stray from the precinct and start a series about an attorney but now your attorney is shot and in a coma for the entire book and you leave us in this book on a cliffhanger we don't know if this guy's going to get better or not that's true. You know it's interesting when you're writing mysteries for example Matthew Hope as a
teenage daughter who's inching her way through puberty. And. At one time I called my agent and I said you know this kid is beginning to give me a pain in the neck I think I'll kill her off. And she. No don't kill him off just send her away to school. Which is a wonderful way to handle it you know because she knows she's in the action only period you know not right and I think maybe I was beginning to. Feel a Matthew hope when he's going to catch up and become a best I constantly hear well Matty hope's not a bestseller and the 87 precinct is an AI so why am I beating a dead horse. Why don't I just let it go so I figured I'd shoot him in the first chapter in this one and leave him still in a coma or at the end of the book so that I have the option. Now even though Matthew is in a coma. You have a very interesting device which is allowing him to talk in the first person almost in the form of flashback. Was that
difficult for you to do and how did you come up with that particular device to keep his voice alive. The hardest thing to do in this book was to keep the timeframes straight in my own mind because. Matthew's investigation takes place the week prior to his getting shot it all leads up to the first. So his his investigation took place during that time and the subsequent investigation by his friends and police. It is really retracing his steps trying to figure out what he discovered that got him shot right. But in addition there are two of the timeframes in the book. A murder that takes place three years earlier and prior to that day an incident that takes place five years earlier I think you read about a man a juggling juggling all these time frames was incredible and making it clear to the reader you know and making it not seem like flashback flashback. You know the old axiom crash back is das. Right. Stay away from flash. So it had to be it had to wall scene fresh and first as if it were
happening in the moment and all of it I'm talking delighted to be with Ed McBain whose whose whose real name is Evan Hunter and under Ed McBain he has a new Matthew Hope book out which has gotten wonderful reviews and it's called there was a little girl and I should say that all the Matthew help books are titled after nursery rhymes from Goldie Locks to Cinderella to you name it. That is you know speaking of Cinderella. Prior to sin the row I had all the books were told in the first person singular. Matthew hope with the narrator. I went downtown and I saw this it's up. In Cinderella. I switched to third person. Matthew Hope walked into the grocery store and bought a bluffer bread. No one noticed. Why did you do that. Because I felt it would open the series up. It would allow me to go into other people's heads. When you're writing in the first person then Everything from other people has to be told to him or he
has to find out about it later you got to do some some kind of juggling of your own in that instance. But this way I was and I could go into the heads of murderers and into the heads of thieves or prostitutes or what have you and it made it more exciting for me. So you busted it open it seems to me like you never allow yourself to get stuck that just as soon as it might be feeling like you've got a form of formula you know you know you don't even go there you are like you know you'd be boring yeah so you keep you keep challenging yourself. It's what I do that's meant to ask you know. Is it true you know some I just have to tell you that one of your fans call me when they found out they even tracked the interview with them try to call me to say would you just ask them please. Is it true that he writes a book a month and I thought how do you know. That you write a book and like I said he's very proud and I wish. That I'd be nice to know I 10 pages a day. I do about a book yet 10 pages a day and I've read that I read that that's true. Well what it gets down to now is I do about 40 pages a week to take Wednesday off and like dentists. And you don't like all the you know I
can see you're playing golf. We go to New York City and hang around and have fun. Yeah so I get about 40 pages a week. Have you ever had a block. No. I've had. I've had instances where I've abandoned books but that only happened twice I. I was writing I started a new Evan Hunter novel that was premised on. My relationship with a director like Alfred Hitchcock. Well my real relationship with Hitchcock and in the book was fictional account of what happened during the filming over. A modern day version of Hamlet but I got about 90 100 pages into it and I just felt it wasn't working and I put it aside. This was just recently. All right I'm going to have you read I also want to talk about Hitchcock and a million other things that's very hard for me to stop this and let you read but I'm going to because I want our. Listeners to know that you're reading from Matthew hopes Matthew Hope's point of view and Matthew Hope has been shot in the beginning and there was a little girl and Ed McBain has given him a
voice in his coma in spite of his coma. You know he wasn't dead because he kept remembering things. You couldn't remember anything when you were dead could you. He didn't think so. He kept seeing things flashing yellow and Jagat across the blackness in his head but he remembered things to all the conversations he'd had all the things they'd told him. Snatches of talk floated in the darkness whispers secrets things they'd said things he'd been piecing together bit by bit. A flash of yellow and then another and another. And he was forming. He remembered everything. The circus grounds are bustling with activity on this Tuesday afternoon Stedman behaving like the Lord of the manna as he led Matthew through performance greening him interrupting their rehearsal so chat there was still a sense of tentativeness here they would not be moving out until the second day of April which meant the performers still had almost two weeks in which to perfect their routines. So they approached their separate acts and indeed each other like old friends who would
nonetheless take some getting used to. The Rollerball girls fell from their moving perches far too often. The jugglers missed far too many on lighted torches and here under the big tent where Steadman puffing on a cigar sat beside Mathew 10 performers known collectively as the toy acrobatic troupe. Practice their entrance over and over again. The opening stunt was visual as well as physical. The youngest of the chans a pint size little girl rehearsing in leotards and tights came bursting through a pair of hanging red silken curtains hit the ground running and went into a series of somersaults that took her to the opposite side of the ring as she popped to her feet again arms opening wide to the top of the tent. The second of the chans came running through the parted curtains. This one was a few inches taller than her younger sister. She hit the ground they did the same series of somersaults and was followed by a slightly taller Chan coming through the curtains each of the
family escalating in size until at last the three oldest Chen brothers came bouncing out in succession followed by Papa chan. Tallest of the lot. All of them somersaulting to the end of the line. The tiniest chant up front. The tallest Chen bringing up the rear. The trick. Stedman explained was to keep a sense of momentum going so that it almost seemed the same performer was coming through those curtains each time having grown a few inches each time. Timing was essential here as it was in every circus act. The new tumbler popping from those curtains and leaving his feet the instant the preceding performer rolled out of the last somersault and jumped to his feet. Matthew suddenly realized why you didn't like circuses. He didn't like them because they were boring. Watching the Chen family repeat its opening sequence God knew how many times over and over again until it seemed that not ten but ten thousand Chinese of graduating sizes what tumbling out in numbing succession from between those
parted red curtains repeatedly somersaulting across the tent incessantly popping on to their feet snapping ceaselessly skyward grins magically appearing on ten beaming Oriental faces. Papa Chan snapping his fingers and flipping his hand palm upward to initiate the next thought. But no. The next stunt was to be delayed yet another time while all the chancellor longed once again behind the secret so can curtain some secret by now and prepared to perform one more time. Matthew hoped an opening he had now seen at least a dozen times. This time the band was here already for the band he thought and this time there was a snare drum flourish and then a brassy trumpet blast as the first of the chans that tiny three or four or five year old oring popped through the curtains with a ROM Zion introduction and leapt immediately into the first of those damn somersaults cascading across the tent as a snare drum rolled once twice three times four times five times
and bingo up onto a feet with the trumpets red blare just as the neck slightly taller Chien overlapping only pop through the curtains with a grin that said Hi folks I'm here. Surprise. Matthew could almost do it himself by now. He was reminded of the old joke about the stranger in New York stopping a man on the street and asking how do I get to Carnegie Hall. Practice. The man replies. My guest is is Evan Hunter who you just heard reading as Ed McBain from his latest Matthew Hope book called. There was a little girl. An anecdote about Ed McBain and Evan Hunter that I've heard has to do with registering in a London hotel I don't know the names. Could you share that with me that was. I was on a book tour in London and the one I checked in. I informed the desk that there might be journalists coming by who would ask for Ed McBain as well so could they please put both names on the register Evan Hunter and Ed McBain and they said oh
sure we did. We will. And then I had to change the room because they were doing some construction work and some interviews would be done in the room as well so they moved my room and the man later came up in a striped striped trousers and a morning coat in the end he said. I opened the door and he said Mr. Hunter. And I said yes he said I have your new key for you sir. I said Oh thank you very much. And he wouldnt these plastic keys you know the cards. And he held up another one he said. And I also have a key for Mr. McVeigh. So I said will I Mr. McVeigh. And you looked at me and he said in that case so would you. Would you give this key to Mr. Holmes. So I say well I Mr. Hunter and Mr. McVeigh. And he looked at me very curious and he backed away a pace and he said. So how many keys do you think you will need.
It's a great story and well tell true story too. You know you do an incredible amount of research for these books. I I felt like you must've when I read this I thought well he must've grown up around the circus I lived in Sarasota for many many winters collusive Florida is a loose reconstruction of Sarasota Fla. and the circus winters in Venice Florida which is a hop skip and a jump away. And I used to play poker with some circus performance. And when I knew that I was going to use a circus background for there was a little girl. I went down to Florida and interviewed people who had been you know active participants in Ringling and other and mud shows. And some would show a mud show as a little small circus that they call in the mud because they set up they used to set up on empty lots that were very often very muddy in the spring. But I talked to all the people
who had done things in circuses and slowly pieced together a routine of of a traveling circus which which the circus in this is of course. It's not a big circus like Ringling but neither is it a tiny little MUCH OH is Matthew a character who's close to your heart. I mean is there somebody who embodies more of. Ed McBain slash Evan Hunter than than anybody else. It's very hard to write about you know I mean I once said to my my my new publishers I said you know Matthew's very hard to write about I'm not a lawyer. And they were silent for a moment and I said well you know a copy of this. And I don't know why it's easy to write about cops than it is to to write about a lawyer I guess because I I have to do it. I don't do as much research anymore for the 87 precinct that I try to keep up with the scientific changes. You know the police like DNA for example as the police rely on. But with hope things come up on every page where I have to know what a lawyer would do and so I have to
keep in touch with like three lawyers constantly one news of who's a former judge another who used to be a D.A. and now is in private practice. And also regular DA's. So. It's difficult and it's a very different sort of novel than the 87 precinct the 87 precinct is set in the big bad city. The Matthew Hope novels are set in Florida with the sunshine and White's palm trees and you know sort of don't expect murder in the sun you know it's like Blue Velvet It's right there but exactly. So. I enjoy Matthew hope so. Also a much more upscale carriage. Yeah he's someone who can who can come back from a vacation in Paris or London. The cops of the 87 precinct would never dream of that. You know maybe Bridgeport and maybe he he can eat in expensive restaurants the cops in the 87 precinct grab a
hamburger and. You know a bottle of coke. Right. So it's very different. And the only thing that is similar. In the 87 precinct and in in the Matthew Hope losses that my heroes Matthew Hope is the star of course in a nearly seven precinct the squadron is the star. My heroes are decent men. Yes and women doing their jobs. You know the best way they know how. That's the only link between. You said somewhere that you thought that you. You certainly said you didn't invent the place novel but you said that you humanized the policeman in a way that hadn't been done before. Is that I mean that's an evolved from something that I read is that a fair.
I think I don't I. I became interested very early on in the relationships of these cops with the other people in their lives so that. The books weren't so much who done that's the fun of the book was the ride along the way. What we learned about Corella and his wife or cling cling and his various girlfriends and wives as you go along. It was in many respects respects the precursor of floral Hill Street Blues. Although the SoCal creator of Hill Street Blues confesses that he's never read a mystery in his life. You know Burt Kling is a running character in the 87 piece and he sort of has difficulties with women and keeping the relationships going with women. And I was in a bookshop in Dallas Texas and there was like an informal gathering of
10 or 20 women and then the question game is Burt Kling is that pool boy playing ever going to find happiness with a good woman. And I said well I don't know. I was thinking maybe of having him start an affair with corellas wife. You would have thought I dropped a bomb in that shop. I think the collective gasp went up. You know an impossible thought. You know how could cling and Teddy Corella ever have an effect. And of course I was joking. Why because I would get shot. Yes. What you've done though in creating it in a way I suppose it's like that demo tape of certain television certainly daytime. Series soap operas and a lot of the evening shows have a very loyal following because you have very loyal fans who have certain expectations and begin to step over the line of fiction
and to fact and become so involved with the characters do you find that when you're talking to your fans what happens is that in each of the novels including The Matthew Hope novels there is a mystery to be solved and there is also a personal problem that that is ongoing. So that. A character or characters in the novel will carry this person the mystery will be solved by the end of the book. But the personal problem may not be it may be left open ended so that it can be continued in the next novel and in the reader in this way becomes very much involved with the characters themselves I've had so many people telling me that. They feel the at least the characters in the 87 precint thought part of their own family. You know this is odd. And they really are concerned that they I really do believe I wrote a book called Ghosts one time wherein Corella is using the services of a psychic
to get in touch with what happened was she volunteers of services. And at one point because he was the last one she says who handle the government do something. She pulls up to him and kisses him. And corellas later explains this through his wife that you know I was standing and this woman kissed me and I got a letter. A lot of letters but this one exemplified the attitude out there. It's a I don't care what Teddy accepted as his explanation. But it takes two to tango and you better not ever do it again. Stern reprimand So get the message loud and clear. So my guest is. Evan Hunter whose latest book under the name of Ed McBain is called there was a little girl the murder victim in there was a little girl really was a
little I mean there there had a double entendre and Triple Entente And this notion of a little girl. I wonder if you could read a little bit. Oh sure. The point describing our our victim Matthew was talking to. Maria who is. A will's daughter and will is are is is the WILL WE WILL WE WILL No Winky we will and when I say who is no longer what was we carried a home in a coffin and buried her here in Colusa. The newspapers were full of it. There were headlines all over America. I'll show you Maria said and reached for the grey box beside her. Matthew tried to remember where they been in the month of May three years ago not to have seen headlines about the suicide of a well-known circus performer especially here in a circus town like a looser. But no they never said Performa. Both
Stedman and Maria kept referring to Willa Torrance as an entertainer. However they that may have defied from someone who trained elephants to stand on their heads. While those elephants in fact performers or entertainers. Matthew hadn't the faintest idea. He knew only that he could not remember any headlines announcing the suicide of one to Torrance. Had he been away at the time. Was that the year he'd gone to Spain for his vacation or perhaps it was the name Torrance that was throwing him. Stedman had mentioned her Circus name but he couldn't quite record now when Will was it will Wendell Wagner Willow Wagner. No that wasn't it either. Winkler. Mr. Stedman mentioned your mother's circus name he said but I've Winky she said. Yes that was it. Thank you. Maria nodded and smiled. And then lifted the gray box on to her lap. She removed the lid and took from the box a framed photograph of a little girl of three or four wearing a short pleated skirt a white blouse and black patent leather tap shoes. The little girl
was beaming at the camera and a smile very much like Maria's own. Little girl was standing alongside a cane wooden chair. That gave scale to the picture. She could not have been taller than two and a half feet. In the photo the little girl's hair appeared light in the Marias she could have been a strawberry blonde. Matthew wondered if Maria was showing him a picture of herself as a child. We will a winkie Maria said. That's how they build them is the hope. Matthew looked again. At the little girl in the photo. Had a mature face and eyes. The lipstick the mouth. The knowing smile of a woman. The little girl in the photograph. Had the firm breasts full hips. And shapely legs of a woman. Matthew was looking at willa Torrance. He was looking at. We will Winky. My mother was one of the little people Maria said. My mother. Was a midget. All of the a bitchy whereis and feature stories reported Willis ages 37 at the time of her
death her height as 33 inches and her weight as 29 pounds. Only one of the articles went into detail about the condition that had caused her diminutive size. The fact that she had stopped growing at the age of six was attributed to a malfunction of the pituitary gland which produces the growth hormone. The clinical term for this condition was hypo pituitary dwarfism a definition that distinguished well as a type of dwarfism from the other ninety nine types in the United States. Many of these and tailed some sort of bone disorder that resulted in disproportionately short people with large heads and smaller limbs. Others involved painful spinal irregularities in common speech as opposed to medical terminology. Well I was a midget. A mature adult who looked like a tiny woman. A proportion similar to those of any normal fully grown female.
The article went on to say that not very many midgets were currently in evidence because some my weekly injections of a growth hormone could result in a normal growth pattern. If the treatment was maintained over a period of 10 years. The article had been written three years ago at the time of Willis death. It explained that such treatment was now readily available throughout the United States. But as late as 1979 when we would have been 25 only a handful of research programs were offering the treatment and by then she would have been well past the age when treatment should have been started. Where did this character come from. From the title which came first the chicken or the egg and the title I normally start with the title most most of the mystery novels and even the last 700 novel criminal conversation started with the title but it's a departure to hypo pituitary Dorcas and it's amazing that well the little girl
I thought and in the story I knew I wanted to do a novel about the circus. And why did you want to do a novel about the circus. Because Sarasota is a circus town and Ringling has its winter quarters in L.A. and that and it just seemed a logical thing for Matthew hope to get involved in a circus plot. I don't know what the plot would be. But then when I hit upon the title there was a little girl because I go rifling through these nursery rhymes and. Fairy tale looking for titles for her that will trigger something and I thought. Well it's obvious that the that the victim. I did the victim or the murderer has to be a midget and I decided to make her a victim. How does the form of the screenplay work for you. For instance. Starting with THAT WAS THE BYRDS your first screenplay no adaptation.
No no no. I've done strangers when we meet before the birth of her and when I was based on my own novel Kim Novak and Kirk Douglas. Do you like that form screenplay. I enjoy it except that other people come into it and into the final product and it's never what you really visualize you know when you were writing it. It never comes out as you're moving. It's always somebody else's movie between script doctors and actors and directors and you know acts that were wrecked. Yeah. Is that the bad apple isn't the villain. Was that your experience with Hitchcock. Hitch did a lot of peculiar things and I remember I was on the set by accident. Normally they don't like the writer on the set directives. And for good reason. Because if the writer is there on the set. And the actor has a question about a scene or a speech they're not going to go to the director and ask him what did you mean here. They're going to go to the right of
the say what is what is the intention here and I don't have a handle on it I'm not sure why she's saying these things to the balance of power is disturbed sure. And as direct as a form of saying that can only be one captain of a ship. They would be direct as would be contempt if the writer would just drop the script on the front porch and go home vanish. And this often happens as this is the rule rather than the exception. But with Hitchcock I was working on another film I was working on Morny. And so I went up to San Francisco where they were shooting the birds and the Degas ballet to discuss Marnie with him not to consult on the birds which was on the way. But I remember one day I I was on the set and Rod Taylor who's a star with Tippi Hedren. Came over to me and said Evan did you write the scene. And he showed me a scene and I read it. And I said no I didn't.
He said well we're shooting it today. I said we are. And he said yes I was shooting you this morning. So I went over the hedge and I said Hitch excuse me I just read the scene that I understand you shooting today I said and I didn't write it. And it's a terrible scene and I don't know who wrote it and I wish you wouldn't shoot it and it said I'm going to trust me or to Backtalk. The end there yeah that story they shot it it's in the movie it's terrible terrible see what's the thing. It's a scene where just prior to the rim of the Berkeley party Kathy's birthday plans actually I do Veronica Cartwright wonderful actors going to full grown up actors now. They go to the top of the hill and he magically pulls Martini's out of his pockets or something. And they're drinking martinis on the hilltop and it's a scene that
tries to justify this. Airhead society person is prone to playing practical jokes and jumping into fountains. Trying to give us some body solidity and does charity work or whatever she does it's an absurd scene that doesn't work and it should have been a movie. And in addition Hitch did not shoot the last 10 pages of my script. You know my script goes on from when. If you recall a film. At the end of the film they get into the car and they start driving away and the screen is just full of gibbering birds. And a lot of jabbering lobster a lot a bird sitting on the fence and the wires and everything over. This was a moment Taj that took hitch I don't know how long to put together all these birds. And every time I saw the movie in a public place I heard everyone around me saying that it was not the end.
More just at the end I don't know how or rest please be quiet. I think I maybe more coming but I wasn't so that upset me that he didn't shoot the end of the film. So could you tell us the end of the film. Yeah the way I wrote it. And I must you know in Hitchens defense I must say that I think he was he was very tired by the and I don't think he knew what problems he was going to have with this film. We didn't have the Star Wars technology we have today. And I remember when when we we were starting our early discussions on the picture. I said How far can I go. And he said you write whatever you want to write and let me worry about filming it about getting it on film what was this turned out to be you know who. More easily said than done. There were a lot of problems with with birds and with animation and with puppets and mechanical birds and all that. But if you recall the air head heiress to loose paper chain
Dr. Sue out the film a convertible. When she's going up to but I go by the top is down and. And at the end of the film in that Tippi Hedren to be air there top is up her and it's a canvas top. And it's for a reason I mean she's driving a car with a careless stop for a reason instead of a hard top car. And the way I had the story end. They get into the car so that you've got a back seat with the mother's arm around her. And Jessica tanned his arms around. And the bandage around her head because he's been hurt and the little girl is up front and the. Put the lovebirds in the trunk of the car and they're driving along. And they leave all those crows sitting on the fence and they now come through town and we see all the devastation that the birds have wreaked in the turnaround so we know this was
not an isolated incident and that the form that this was a real massive bird attack we see overturned school buses and people with shotguns lying in windows all pecked to death. And they come to a place in the road as they come into the outskirts of town. And. There's a barricade all covered with birds. And on one side he sort of eases the bear he gets out of the car and very carefully uses the barricade. Saw the birds flutter up you know but they don't seem aggressive authorities of the side gets back in the car and I start driving away not this part of California and the mountains are very wearing gas. And of course thoughts winding along the roads going out of turn as soon as the car moves out which all the birds go up that awful screeching and head for the car. The car's a target. But the car is going on these winding roads and the birds are coming on a straight line and the way birds are wont to do.
And suddenly we're inside the car and we're looking up at the canvas top and we see the beaks. We see the beaks tearing the canvas top of the car. And then all at once because it's now untied as it was back and there are all these birds hovering over the car over the top of the car. And at that instant the road hits the street he jams the pedal and. The car goes away and the birds just keep it like falling back forming back forming back forming back on the straightaway. And he's driving in and the little girl says match and he says Yeah. She says Do you think the birds will be in San Francisco when we get there and he says I don't know. And that's the end of the film. Why didn't he do that. Well I know why. Because it would have required. That technique two months technical Virt you want to begin in terms of attacking and to ruin this stuff
without car that showing a bird's going overhead through the overhead shot of the car going one way and the birds coming two months of filming to just get that that hard and powerful ending even if you tell it. I thought so yeah very powerful. It's a little it's another cliffhanger. It's like when the little girl I'll go yeah and it would be scary you know. It would be like I don't know if you do have to see the thing from outer space that little science fiction movie the first version of the thing. Now I didn't know at the end of it the guys giving the report on a human he says just keep watching the skies. You know so we don't know why when it's going to come again. Almost as scary as the as the birds were to me are the vapid airheads society dames which I have a particular dislike for I've encountered too many of them in my life and I feel that your kindred spirit in that camp were what. Where have you found where have you encountered these women in kissed for instance you used
a real sort of a typical yuppie type and yuppies now an anachronism I suppose but who works in New York and steps over the homeless people and I'm so completely unconscious. Did that give you as much satisfaction or right as it gave me to read. Oh yeah she was an interesting character. Yeah there are things other than as we learn. Her indifference and the seeming. Involvement with herself and herself alone for her. And that was when I would try to in care so I tried to combine a new R novel with the classic police procedural So that investigation is going on while a sort of one was thing is happening with this bogus private eye and this woman. Do you take one woman blonde woman out I want to talk to you about it when I talk to Evan about this before but I wanted to mention being a brunette myself that there were about thirty seven blondes and there was a little and 1 token brunette. What's this about.
You know I noticed when I always thought that blondes with the exception to the rule you know that that they would be the red thing was the blonde that most people would brunette. But my wife and I were in North Carolina recently. And we were now to a performance we had a show I don't know this Indian thing. And almost every woman and girl in the audience was blonde. And I pointed this out to my wife and said Look on me everybody here is blown and your wife if she said I'm not sure. All right she's a brunette see that my campground. She she actually I read manages your career now she was she is she was a novelist she's pretty much of all that what she's reading a new novel now which makes me very happy but she was rather disappointing you know I was I was kind of lucky in that the Blackboard Jungle. Was my first novel I was very I was 28 years old and I and I hit it big with the Blackboard Jungle it was a Syrian Ladies Home Journal who was a bestselling
novel and a hit movie. And that's a lot to ask for. She wrote a book that sold moderately well very good novel so moderately well mauled sassafras by Mary Van hunter and it had a modest paperback set. And then she wrote a second novel and it was a much better book. But she couldn't get it published. And then she kept writing. You know she kept writing several other novels and could not get published again and this is very. It's heartening demolished you know experience you know. I had I had come up to the Blackboard Jungle by writing a lot of short stories and several inept mystery novels. A couple of science fiction novels. So like I was ready for the Blackboard Jungle. Training had been different ways she used to write poetry that she sold to little magazines and it was devastating
experience for her. So she's just now getting over and starting another novel that I think is very good. In the meantime before she started she just voted itself exclusively to my career. And she's you know a tough businesswoman and. She virtually demanded from publishers that we get what we want in terms of support for a novel it's not just going to marketing and the I have to carry him out there when it's not enough to write good books and we don't have had to have the reviewer say gee this is wonderful now then what you need and you need a really active campaign. So you're collaborators in a sense you know we work in the same studio. She has her office I have mine and we pop in and out. I share faxes that come in and look at this only jacket will come in for a book is this what do you think great. Like that I think it's a good marriage yeah. And we leave it. We lock the studio door at night and we go home. As Evan Hunter criminal conversation in me. Latest Evan Hunter book
what's happening here tell us about it. I met a woman on a plane coming down from Boston I was doing a book too and I was flying back to New York and she was an attorney and we began talking about Matthew Hope because all of the terms in law are very they they derive from British law and they sound so outdated You know like now comes the point if. Things like that you know you can just imagine someone banging a stick on the floor in front of the King. And she said you know the expression criminal conversation. And I said No I don't what is it. And she said it means adultery. Her and it was a tort in British law and in American law also where. The husband could sue the wife's seducer for lots of money very often hundreds of thousands of pounds. And in
America millions of dollars for having seduced the guy's wife. Could the wife you know said yeah there's a lot of that imbalance isn't it. Yeah that was interesting the wife could not do that. You cannot sue another hasn't it to seduce her as it were. Yeah. So I thought that's an interesting title you know for a novel about a love affair about an adulterous love affair. And then I thought again I very often start with titles. I thought I want to be interesting if the if the woman involved for the love of the criminal her and their conversation becomes important and then I thought. Wouldn't it be interesting if the conversation was being overheard by law enforcement people who are trying to get this criminal. And want to be further interesting if one of the law enforcement people is her husband. And there I had it all you know and I had the whole thing before I began writing it. It's amazing how these come
to you. Yeah. I loved writing that book very sexy sexy book you know. Well it's about a love affair I guess if there's no sex and you wouldn't be having a love affair with now is it. Do you like to write sexy scenes. They're hard to do. They why. Just because Ed. There's so much freedom now you know when I first began writing you you had to really lower the curtain on a sex scene. You had to get them to the point of going to bed and then bring the curtain down to do it so poetically that. They could just as easily have been having tea. It was veiled. Yeah. And now a days you can write whatever you want to write of course but this doesn't give you a license to kill. It's there's a difference between writing a good sex scene and writing pornography right. I'm really a real dude even if even if the sexiness very exciting to the reader you know and I've had a lot of readers I was out it was a some steamy scenes. Which they were intended to be of course these are two people having a passionate
affair. But in order to write a good sex scene it would be stimulating to the reader and not be pornography you have to tread a very careful line and not step over a particular line or you you lose you lose them and I in the book I'm writing now there there are some it's again about an affair but it's very different from criminal conversation. And. I'm carefully treading my way through the sex scenes. A reader will be turned off if he thinks oh this is just about this is only about sex that has to be much more driving the plot. Just a couple of scenes you know between people making love to her I think. Do you think you're a moral person. Yes. Why. Because there are the good guys and the bad guys and I don't want to be one of the bad guys I think that. Civilization is premised on
a body of law a pact we've made with each other to protect ourselves not only against others but against ourselves because we recognize the nature of the beast This is why we have laws. And I prefer to be on the side of the the people who obey the law and uphold the law and respect the law and feel that the civilization will endure. I'd like to be one of those guys and the bad guys. That's why I model. My guest has been Evan Hunter who also writes under the name of Ed McBain. His most recent book is Ed McBain is called there was a little girl it's available in your bookstores and your libraries and we look forward to your next Matthew Hope book to see if he makes it out of that coma. Thanks again Evan. Thank you. We had production assistance from Eugene Truda Paul Brown composed and performed our theme music. Our series producer is Phyllis Joffrey and I'm Nancy Cobb. Join me again next week at this time for Connecticut voices.
- Connecticut Voices
- Interview with Evan Hunter
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- Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network
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- Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network (Hartford, Connecticut)
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- Novelist and screenwriter Evan Hunter, a.k.a. Ed McBain, joins Nancy Cobb to read from and discuss his new novel, "There Was a Little Girl." He talks about about his experiences using pseudonyms, writing mystery series, and working with Alfred Hitchcock on "The Birds."
- Connecticut Voices is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations with authors.
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Guest: Hunter, Evan
Host: Cobb, Nancy
Producer: Jaffe, Phyllis
Producing Organization: Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network
Publisher: Connecticut Center for the Book
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Connecticut Public Broadcasting
Identifier: A21872 (Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Connecticut Voices; Interview with Evan Hunter,” 1994-10-22, Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 9, 2020, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-398-01bk3nkf.
- MLA: “Connecticut Voices; Interview with Evan Hunter.” 1994-10-22. Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 9, 2020. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-398-01bk3nkf>.
- APA: Connecticut Voices; Interview with Evan Hunter. Boston, MA: Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-398-01bk3nkf