Transcript

 

Rozie Yeghiazarian
Interviewer

Larry Shaw
Interviewee

May 15, 2012
At the Shaw Residency

 

Rozie Yeghiazarian  -RY
Larry Shaw   -LS

 

Rozie Yeghiazarian: Hello and Welcome! We have mister. . .

Larry Shaw: Larry Shaw

RY: Please to have you. If we could just have some initial biographical information: where were you born, where were you raised, and your environment. . .

LS: Okay, I was born in 1959 in Salt Lake City, Utah. I lived there as a child for five years. My family moved to Houston, Texas in 1965. So we lived five years in Houston, in a small town named Sharsptown. My father worked for a big accounting firm. After five years, we moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I lived there for another five years, or maybe four years. There I finished grade school, and went to middle school. After that, I moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where I lived for about four years, into high school. I was in New Orleans for all of high school. I graduated in 1977 from high school there. Then I went to college at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City, until 1982. I have since moved to Los Angeles, and I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 1982. I am a television director in town and I’ve raised my family here.

RY: Alright, so, what sort of culture did you gown up with? The morals of your society. .. What did they instill in you that still stay strong now?

LS: Well, I was born in a Mormon family in Salt Lake City. So, my initial environment was a very traditional Mormon upbringing, as a child in Salt Lake. As we moved around different cities, you know, as I got older, I sort of drifted away from that, and my parents split up. One wanted the relationship, and the one didn’t. So, Houston was a great school.

When I lived in Baton Rouge, there was an enormous Baptist influence in the community there. Most of my friends were Baptist, and all the kids in that neighborhood were Baptist. Most of the social events we did together, me and the other kids, were . . . that was the kind of the religious culture of that area. We also played tons of games. You know, monopoly, play music, and all that stuff.

In New Orleans, it was quite a bit more urban, bigger city. Much more party life style, Mardi Gras. Drinking age was, you know, ten. By then, that environment was a bigger city. Then I went back to school in Utah, and then eventually moved here, so you know, that was kind of my environment.

RY: Did you ever find yourself getting caught up in any social movements?

LS: Not really. I mean, I remember in college, being upset about Nicaragua. Nicaragua was a [pause] I think they were called the Sandiness’s, and they were oppressing their people. It was a very right winged leftist Marxists sort of thing. I remember being kind of [unclear]. We very all internationally kind of upset about that, but you know, not terribly. I remember when I was quite young, in the sixties; I was very sympathetic to the student movement. I thought that all the cool students were right, and were being oppressed. I really identified that as a child, with these cool students. Uh, that is all I could really think of about on a social or political spectrum, where I was involved in something.

RY: Did you first hand have any experiences with college protests?

LS: I did not. I mean, by the time I was in college, the protest movements in the sixties had ended. Uh…and you know, college life was fairly [unclear]. There wasn’t a lot of activity or social protests or anything else. There was [pause] you know…in a large way. At least where I was.

RY: Were there any particular race relation issues or anything as you were growing up in Louisiana?

LS: In Louisiana, absolutely; In Baton Rouge, absolutely. You know, the races were still very defined. It didn’t mean that there weren’t uh,…you know what I really from that area . . . is is the issue of busing. Um, and I don’t remember exactly what year was it. I want to say sixty eight, sixty nine, seventy, seventy one, somewhere in there where the nation was really upset about the busing issue. I think the Supreme Court had decided that the schools had to be integrated. They were busing children out of their neighborhoods to different schools so that they can mix the races together, in the south. I remember people being really upset about that and really being a really big deal to the adults. [Unclear sentence].

My parents had a pretty progressive viewpoint and didn’t allow any bias, of any kind. There was no talking bad about any race, or any religion, or any ethnic group. At least that’s what they were intending to instill in us. I remember, among that group of friends . . . It was all white friends . . . we were a white neighborhood. It wasn’t a mixed neighborhood at all, it was middle class. We were talking about the races, and one of my friends sitting on the bicycle . . . [pause for the plane] I said, well I don’t have any bias, I don’t believe in racism. My  friend, said to me, “Okay, well let me ask you this question: Would you drink after a black person? If a black person drank from a glass, would you drink after him?” I mean it was as simple as that…That was the level it was on . . . and, you know, again, it wasn’t called a black person either. I don’t think it was called a Negro either . . . and these were not heavily racist, angry kids or anything. These were just normal, middle of the road, white kids, who were not heavily racist at all. But that’s kind of how deep it was. You know what, I sat there and went, I don’t know . . . As I said before, that was the kind of the level it was on.

 I was in late grade school, um and . . . there were, there were jokes about black people. As jokes were told . . . they were in the group of jokes. There’s no doubt about it. They were jokes that you would not tell now, because it wasn’t abnormal or bizarre or mean. It was just what it was. I remember as a kid somebody saying, “Would you play the would you this or that game?” You know, would you rather this or rather that. This obviously got quoted, and I’ll go ahead and say it, “Would you rather slide down a razor blade into a pool of iodine, or suck a nigger’s nose ‘til his head collapses?” Honest to God. I remember as a kid, that . . . eenie meeney . . . catch a tiger by the toe. Well in the South it wasn’t a tiger that was caught by the toe. You know what I mean? I kind of remember a moment somewhere along the way, where someone said that we were not going to say that, they were going to say tiger. From my mother, she straightened that out. But so, yeah, it was . . . not mean . . . this wasn’t among mean people or anything. This was just kind of in there.

 Now when I grew a little older, and I moved to New Orleans. New Orleans was much more heavily delineated, between blacks and whites. There were areas like the ninth ward, where you, as a white person, could not walk at night. You would be killed. There were areas where you wouldn’t do it.

You know in my family, my mother and father didn’t go for any of it. And, they taught us, you know…they were very quite progressive. If you ask if it existed, if I was aware of it, well that was my experience of race relations. You know, in the early to middle seventies, in the South, in the Louisiana.

RY: Did any particular change stand out, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Junior?

LS: I was aware of those sorts of things kind of only through school. You know, sixty eight . . . I am still quite young. In sixty eight, I am still living in Houston. By the time I am in Baton Rouge, I had a black fifth grade teacher, Mr. Gerum. There was quite a bit of discussion about the races there. My understanding of it, on the social level, I don’t think I was old enough. I don’t remember Martin Luther King being killed. As I told you before, I don’t remember it. I remember Bobby Kennedy being killed, because . . .  my mother was very upset. She showed me the stuff. And I remember my mother said something…I remember this all my lie, my mother said…they’ve done it again. And all my life I’ve gone through, thinking, who is they? And what is it? . . . So anyways, I do remember that event.

RY: Um…could you elaborate on that quote?

LS: Well, only from an adult perspective who studied history, etc. etc. The Kennedy’s somehow rubbed some level of establishment so wrong, that they were killed for it. Now whether that is true or not, no one really knows in the end. Certainly, my liberal thought now, was . . . somebody had it in for the Kennedys, and would not allow Bobby Kennedy to be elected. Now, whether or not that’s true or not, who knows? [Unclear] was in a kitchen that he wasn’t planning to go through. I mean, there seems that there was a lot of happen stance there, and everything could have gone a completely different way. Was Bobby Kennedy killed after Martin Luther King? Do we know? Oh, he was killed after.

So my mothers quote, “they’ve done it again” . . . now that I am thinking about it, may not have done with the other Kennedy at all. You could imagine how upset everybody was about the assassinations in this country. Politicians and leaders were being murdered, and they had just killed Martin Luther King. Now, somebody had shot Bobby Kennedy and her comment may have been a lot more, we are loosing our mind. The country is absolutely loosing its mind. I do recall the protest and the beating of students, and all that. I do remember seeing all that at times. So, it may have been . . . my parents were quite conservative. So ,I think it may have been a comment really about, the country’s people are losing their minds. The country is going insane.

RY: With a lot of the violence going on around the time, what do you know caused it particularly? . . . The primary driving force of the violence.

LS: Violence in the sixties?

RY: Uh, yes.

LS: Uh, social uh, evolution…really. I mean, um, I tend to think that the decades change a little bit more on the second of third year of the decade, rather then right on the number. That era, again, kind of more from an adult perspective back, I kind of perceive the end of the fifties to really be around the time the Kennedy assassination took place. I think that sent a good bit of the world into a spin. The end of the sixties were about 1972, seventy three, where Watergate kind of happened. That big transition . . . in the decade.

The real impetus, for all the violence, more than anything else, was Vietnam. That was, the centerpiece, of what was so upsetting to everybody. Now as a kid, all I knew was that there was a war, and people were fighting about it and people were upset. We would see news reels, and the dead town at night. Then they would show the protests and the students . . . it would all come together. I remember . . . during that time, in the late sixties, and very early seventies, I had a map of Vietnam on my door as a kid. There was a large change from what we would call the “fifties sort of mentality about the world” where the fifties beat people . . . Jack Kerouac, and some of those other people, were still so sub culture. Uh, to Watergate, where radicalism and upturning authority, and questioning everything, had become the norm.

That is what I mean by social evolution. Is the fight for liberalism and exploration by the young people on the art scene, politically, morally, religiously, ultimately geo-politically in case of Vietnam. So those two things, Vietnam and those social changes. I mean, you think about the differences from right before Kennedy was killed to Watergate. I mean the people who were the beats, were now the hippies. They had all the way grown through, and the idea of liberal thinking in society was the “norm.” Not, this vial thing on the side, so that changed. Then, the catalyst of the war, that, everybody that I knew, and almost all media, at the time, felt were misguided, in some way. Historically, when we look back, we know. I don’t know if you guys saw, but Robert McNamara, do his interview about admitting he was wrong. He was one of the architects in driving the war. Anyways, that’s what I think was driving the violence.

RY: Did you notice a lot of people finding faults in the government or were they seeking perfection in the government?

LS: No, no…finding faults, not seeking perfection. I mean, you would not have lived it, but the police were called pigs. As I have told you in the sixties, pigs. In the idea that they were these, you know, big, unthinking, by the book animals, who would just mess up everything. I mean, kind of, unfair. But, certainly because of the war, yes, everybody was really upset about the government. There were still enough McCarthy era people still there that it became a big fight about were you for America, or not America? Rather than the real fundamentals of the war.

RY: So you noticed disillusionment become a common theme?

LS: Yes! Even among kids as young as me. I think I mentioned before, you know, I identified with these easily a generation older kids than me, without even fully understanding all the issues. I just knew that they were right. You know, this was a kid’s perspective.

RY: What particularly stood out from your kid’s perspective, as a driving force for the entire community’s opinions on the government . . . you mentioned the war, but anything specific?

LS: Sure! There were two or three things that I remember pretty clearly. The My Lai Massacre happened in Vietnam. Do any of you guys know what that is? Um, in Vietnam, you know, a bunch of soldiers came, went crazy, and massacred a village. That became a really, really big deal. Um . . . from all kinds of different points of view, the war was bad, we were performing badly, we were not the good guys, and our young men were being perverted and ruined by participating in this.

There was a real sense that the government was hiding the fact that the war couldn’t be won, and that they were pressing it on Ron Haeberle.

My Lai was a real big thing. The Ken State shootings, I think they happened before My Lai, when two students were killed at Ken State. It was a big deal. We had everyone really, you know, going real nuts.

There was another thing, I think in the early seventies, was the release of the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg somehow got a big report by the Pentagon, which basically said that the war of Vietnam was unwinnable . . . They had known that for years. This was kind of a giant confirmation of the fact that the government had been lying to everybody that the war was winnable and was worth pursing. Blah, blah, blah. They had essentially and internally known, for quite a long time, that the war was not winnable. It was not going to work out, but the government was continuing to pursue it and escalate it.

Another thing I remember very clearly, was Nixon’s decision to bomb Cambodia. Again, I don’t know if you guys know anything about this, but after he took office, Nixon had promised to end the war. He was elected in sixty eight, you know, with some degree of that promise. He secretly escalated the war. What was happening is, the northern fighters were crossing the Ho Chi Minh trail into Cambodia; Getting out of where the states could find them, and bomb them. So, Nixon secretly decided to bomb that area of Cambodia. The Vets found out, and they were lying again, and blah blah blah. You know, conscientiously, just as you watch history play out, it led to the fall of the Cambodian government and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. If you remember, the Khmer Rouge was these crazy motherfuckers, who did a genocide, and killed, I think, three and a half million people.

Have you ever seen the movie, The Killing Fields? You should. So, essentially, the government bombed this international country, to stabilize its government. It turned into something, you know, really on a holocaust level bad, after that. All that coming out was really . . . a really interesting connection to Daniel Ellsberg, who released these papers . . . it was his office that the Watergate burglars were breaking into. Well, they were breaking into . . . but, they had broken into Daniel Ellsberg’s office too. So, all these weird things were connected. Watergate is connected through all this stuff. Watergate was kind of the culmination of this sense of dissatisfaction, and this sense of anger and being lied to by the government. I mean think about it in today’s date.

 I don’t know if you guys remember Bill Clinton being impeached. Do you remember that? Bill Clinton was impeached, or . . . did he go all the way to impeachment? Did they just talk about it, because he lied about having sex in the oval office? Which is really nothing at all, its silly. In 1973 and four, uh, the country was going to impeach the president, because the government had lied…had, had lied about this entire Vietnam thing. They had something where Nixon’s people had lied, and done this break in, and then covered it up. That was the culmination of the anger and violence and dissatisfaction, as it played out politically, was Nixon’s resignation.

RY: What particular aftermath did you personally notice? As in, what did this result in, movement wise . . . on the masses?

LS: Which state?

RY: Uh, the discontent with the government.

LS: Well, what I just said. What did it result in? It resulted in impeaching . . . almost impeaching the president and making it go, and changing the whole structure of government.

RY: I mean more along the lines of movement, social movements . . . the people.

LS: Well, I mean, what kind of grows through and out of it. I mean feminism, and the women’s movement, and, you know….as you live further along there is an enormous amount of stuff about returning veterans from Vietnam. About how they were treated, and at the time, they were really disdained. People would spit on . . . returning veterans from the Vietnam War. I mean it was really, really decisive. What movements? I don’t really know. As I have said, I don’t really know . . . I don’t have a good answer for that.

RY: This reaction to the returning veterans, what else would you see?

LS: Well, veterans were fairly well hidden. You know, there was no pride in it, people didn’t wear their uniforms, people kind of, and they . . . [distraction]

 

Okay. You know, again, my recollection is mostly history based now. Returning veterans were basically ignored and considered losers. Or worse, evil people who would often do something they shouldn’t have done. So, I guess you can say, to some degree . . .  the counter reaction to that, as we have come forward from that is you know, making sure that you look what is happening now, with the retuning veterans right now. There is an enormous national movement to hire them, to recognize them as “experienced” and assets. I think ABC’s got a program called “Got Your Six,” which is all about welcoming back these veterans . . . in the right way. I mean, it’s a long way out of the seventies, but certainly is an absolute reaction to the damage that was done, to not only the veterans, but their families and kind of ourselves, by treating the veterans so badly when they came back from Vietnam.

RY: Was there an increase in crime?

LS: Beats me! In the seventies, late seventies, you know, as I remember, the only place I thought about of crime, was what I saw about New York City. New York City was this giant bad crime place, and Times Square was this big bad crime place. New York City was rough, and if I recall, it was in that period when New York City was going to go bankrupt, or did go bankrupt. This great American city was collapsing. It was just a disaster. There were always reports of the level of crime there. I have no idea if that was connected to any of the social movements, or anything like that. No, because I didn’t experience it.

RY: Were there any technological advancement that were really advertised and promoted and talked about commonly?

LS: [Slight laugh] Well, I mean I can remember when the microwave oven came on. I don’t remember exactly what year it was. Probably very early seventies maybe even as the late sixties, they were starting to play those out. In the seventies, the technology that was really popping were things like eight track tapes. Um, or if you know what those things are. Eight track tapes were a big deal, when I was like in middle school. As I have said, they were a big deal. Then shortly there after, the C B Radio. Everybody got a C B Radio. Yet, you kind of had to learn the sort of trucker language. I’ve driven around the countries roads, and called truckers. So, those things I remember pretty clearly. I mean color T.V. was already here. TV’s were pretty much TV’s. I don’t have any questions about the arts but . . . theatre at the time it was a real golden age of American cinema in the middle, late seventies. Francis Coppola was doing his best work. And all these kids who leaned cinema . . . from the fifties new wave, sort of way of thinking about our tours, were now in their prime, making film in the states. There are all sorts of fabulous films from the seventies.

RY: What about music? Any highlights?

LS: Yes! Well obviously, you know. I remember really, really, really, definitely Beatles’ music. When I was living in Houston, I became Beatle aware, probably the time their white album came out. This is sixty seven, sixty eight, maybe a hair before, and went back, and collected it all. As the Beatles went on, I was incredibly aware and . . . there was hardly anything quite as colossal, as the Beatles. When the Beatles broke up, it was a gigantic deal . . . I’ve had probably five or six different full Beatles collection over my life. My first one, were these little cassette tapes of stuff. I had babysitters who were probably girl teenagers at the time, and they got me into it. I’ll tell you a funny story. I had a babysitter, this was before I was ten, and probably I was probably eight years old, nine years old, who had a friend call, and pretend she was uh, what was it Pattie Boyd? Harrison’s wife at the time? Um, uh, and got me on the phone to listen, like she was talking to Pattie Boyd. [Laughter] Um, so, I remember that music quite clearly.
As I got a bit older, you know, into the earlier seventies I listened to a lot of American music. You know things like that, kind of folkie. I was in the South, so I listened to some Southern, blue type of stuff.

As I graduated high school, it was the disco time! Disco started. I actually lived in a suburb of New Orleans called Fat City. It basically had a big club area that was all disco text. “Saturday Night Live”, I think was in the later seventies when it came out. The dancing was very, very big and I was very aware of it. I had a leisure suit. [Gestures the clothing] Leisure suits were these quite tacky, simple, cheap sorts of suits that you could wear out clubbing with an open shirt. That was the kind of cool night go out wear. Shoes had heels . . . for men, this high [Gestures how high the heels are]. These high, big dancing shoes. You’ve seen these pictures. So I remember that scene very, very clearly. That was a big deal in New Orleans, the disco scene.

RY: Do you know anything about the art of the time? Andy Warhol?

LS: Only kind of looking back, I wasn’t quite sophisticated to know about someone like Andy Warhol, the art scene, or things like that. It really wasn’t something that I was exposed to. So, you know, really all I can of tell you, is what I might know as an adult, which I don’t think is it.

RY: Did anything stand out…

LS: Well you know, I’ll let you consider . . . well let’s go back. Obviously, I’ve talked about the cinema. The cinema really changed in the seventies, probably . . . the advent of these young film makers, who were studio kids, you know people, who had kind of followed these filmmakers from the French New Wave. And pair that with the fact that they started to make cameras, small enough, to take out into the world. So, that they didn’t have to be on the stage, here in Hollywood to make a film. So people . . . these young filmmakers started taking uh, these tiny cameras out into the world. This is where we get “Easy Rider.” These counter country films, about these hippies who ride around the country, on a motorcycle, these were profoundly influential films at the time. So there was a very large change from the idea that you had to be really in a structured studio situation, to people starting to tell personal, small, [Unclear] based stories. Again, you know, COUPOL kind of went from big to small? He’s an arrangement of those sort of things.

RY: Goodness! Do you see this as a particular influence to your interest in film?

LS: I became interested in the late seventies in making films. And yes, you know, I’ve met [Unclear]? A couple of times, it was a big . . . after I saw a couple of his films, I said, I wanted to do that. I had a picture of him on my little work table. Absolutely. I . . . absolutely started that.

RY: Did you see any common themes in art. Maybe, you said the counter culture, maybe . . . coming up?

LS: Well, the common theme is the questioning of previous rules. That is always what art has done. I mean, you move from realism, to expressionism, to you know, Dadaism, and, and cubism. People like artists, like that are always breaking up what came before, and trying to remake it into something. It was a fertile . . . re-imagined what things can be. Television was the same thing.

You went from a world of Mother Knows Best, Leave it to Beaver, Gunsmoke to Laughin’. Have you guys ever seen a Laughin’?You know Laughin was a far out, trippin’, hippy, cool… show. The Smother Brothers? Do you know anything about the Smother Brothers? Well, the Smother Brothers were a duo comedy team, a variety show, but they were politically outspoken, and very liberal. They were constantly . . . it was a great story, about being constantly in conflict with the networks.  About the material, and what they did. If you look at it today, it’s very tame.

Anybody questioning the norm, in the structure of things, is hard, and that is what was really rolling over. All in the Family brought up race relations. There were a couple of shows with city pointier as the lead, as a black actor. There was a women black actor in a lead. Women started having their stories told. The Mary Tyler Moore Show. All these shows were really radical because it broke the role. You went from Ms. Cleever to Roda. Which again, you probably don't know what that is but it was second or third generation of a show where women are the protagonist and are working through issues of equality,equal pay, and reproductive rights. There was a show called Mod, which was very controversial in the 70s. That was absolutely unbelievable. Same thing was happening in music. Take a look at the Beatles collection from 1962 or 3 or 4 to the star of the music in 1969. You can see how far the exploration of breaking the rules, talking about subjects you weren't suppose to be talking about, questioning authority, questioning the norm, was being taken. Bob Dylan, same thing. He would sing political songs about how everything was fucked up. And you know, 10 years before he would have been someone who would have weighed margin lines and he became the, you know, spokesperson for an entire generation. So, yes, I see those things were definitely going on.

RY: Can you look at any of these to your own career now? I mean . . .

LS: Well certainly, yes. I mean I became interested in the arts because of this stuff and you know nobody in my family was an artist. As I have said before, I come from a family of accountants, but the spirit of exploration and breaking- not being tied down by previous convention and I came from, actually, quite a very, which you would consider, a very strict upbringing, Mormonism. This was even more kind of more conservative than normal conservative, in its own way.  To some degree this idea that you can break out of all of that was appealing. It was appealing. It was exciting. You know in the middle or later 70s I had actually studied to be an accountant and I had taken business classes. I wasn't happy with it and I decided to do something different. I went to start looking at the liberal arts, and looking at arts, and started taking photos, and eventually made a film or two and went “Oh, I can do that!” But the people I was interested in where these film makers. You know, that had grown up in the late 70s. So yes, I mean absolutely, I probably would not be an artist at all . . . now. Certainly not as a living. Um, had I grown up 10 years before I probably would have been, could have been, more Mad, men.

RY: What key memories stick with you right now, from the past, from the sixties the seventies and . . . ?

LS: We've talked about key memories from the sixties and seventies that are not just personal or kind of, you know . . .

RY: Even personal. I mean both.

LS: As I have said before, I can't quite get you to the 80s. God, what happened in 77s? Well, you know, I’ll tell you quite frankly. Obviously, the moon landing was a big deal. I was very aware of the moon landing, it was . . . it was . . . 1969. In the neighborhood we lived in . . . I think we had a colored TV and the parents of some of my friends did not, and the night that they were showing. The day that they were showing, the moon landing I was probably eight, invited this other family to watch it. We all sat and watched it on the TV. I remember that really clearly. I remember Watergate really clearly. I remember hours ago, I think I mentioned Bobby Kennedy's assassination. I remember George Wallace s attempted assassination which came I think in seventy two. You know, I remember, I’m just trying to think of, you know, big news item things. Anyways [pause]

RY: Did you see a content with the government or any change with us winning the space race?

LS: I wasn't really sophisticated enough to really interpret it as a space race, so much. It was just this wildly exciting cool thing. Sure, I think everybody was totally jazzed. You got to understand it was happening right in the middle of all the other things. So, did it significantly change the momentum of the social discontent of the things we already discussed? No, I don't think it did. Was there this kind of wild great moment? Really I think was a planetary moment because I think it was broadcast all over the planet. I think there was a short period of time where everyone went “Wow!” We were very proud of ourselves. We were very proud that we did this.  The whole world kind of did it . . . you know . . . kind of saw it together. It was a really, really, really big thing. I remember a big famous headline saying you know, “Man Walks on Moon!” Think now we kind of get it but man when it happened it was big.

RY: Was communism still seen as a great threat?

LS: Oh yeah, communism was ever present. I grew up with communism. Funny we hadn't mentioned it yet. Absolutely. I, you know, I would dream about nuclear bombs and when I was in grade school, early grade school, we were still doing duck and cover. You know you've seen the films of this. They would teach us to get under our desks and, you know, wrap our heads in a certain way and duck and cover. They were regular drills when I was very young in school. Those have actually faded away; I guess when they realized it wasn't going to work. [Laugh]

It was a very big deal and I was not cognitive of the Cuban Missile Crisis when it happened. Later years, as the missile crisis heated up, everyone was aware of it. It was always something happening. It's a little out of your seventies but I remember when the wall fell in eighty nine. I was working in Universal, as a young director, and I couldn't believe that it happened in my lifetime. I absolutely . . . it was so set in stone, this division of east and west and good and bad. You know, it was so part of regular life that to imagine a world without it was inconceivable. I was so blown away when . . . it all came down in the change. The fact that there is Germans being unified, just blows my mind because as I grow up . . . not in a million years. The world was so structured that way. It was just what it was all about.

RY: Did the community really  . . . discuss what was going on; I mean, with communism and that fear, that ever growing fear?

LS: It was always involved in something. Any attempt . . . All of the liberal young people or anyone who questioned authority was accused of being communism. If you go back a few years after the war the McCarthy stuff, which I’m sure you guys have studied, right? Well, you know those people really do exist and go on. You know, Nixon was on the McCarthy committee. You got to start there. You know even by the time . . . in the late sixties what these students were doing it was this communism plot! These kids were being manipulated by the Soviet Union . . . by communist. This social upheaval was the communist trying to destabilize us. That was absolutely what the government was saying, especially, the Nixon government. The Nixon government was a wack job. All these kinds in the street, anybody who didn't think that the war was right were being manipulated by the communist.

RY:  Do you have any personal experiences?

LS: No, other than. . just kind of living in that reality. I wasn't old enough to be noticed as a communist, really. [Laugh] I was real aware of what it was. I was real aware of what socialism was. You know, It was taught.
 
RY: What was a greater problem, communism or the whole problem with disillusionment and discontent with the government? Which one stood out more?

LS: Well, during the sixties up to the mid seventies with all these riots, it was that! It was the disillusionment with the government, it was the Vietnam war, and it was the perception that communism was being used as a front for the government to do whatever they want. It's hard to answer that straight because the thought was that we were always kind of on the edge of everything getting destroyed. As an adult looking we now know that the communist block was never as powerful or as organized or as well armed or . . . uh . . . as big a threat as we were always led to believe by the government. I mean after the Cuban Missile crises, which was a gigantic close calls I mean just frightening after we just learned what we learned, truth it . . . we out missiled these guys a jillion to one for many years.

Me personally, I think was just, we were let down a primrose path so that people who would make those weapons, could make the money and we could be kept scared. I mean, young people be aware, governments will often always have to have a bad guy to keep us always on the alert to protect us from . . . if you read the George Orwell Stories. I mean, and to some degree it's always true. Not all completely but,  the Vietnam War was a joke but they made us buy it because they said it was the communist taking over the world. You know, the domino theory. If Vietnam fell then Laos would fall then [Unclear] You know then the whole thing would go. Which is considered a joke now but that was how they sold the Vietnam War to us. So, they're inseparable . . .  those things. Looking back from a jillion years, you know, I mean the social unrest was real un-present. It was happening. Kids were being killed on our campuses. As I have said before, students were being taken. It was just happening here right there. The world wide communist threat was out there, and could be manipulated to be bigger or smaller depending on what the government wanted from us. Be aware, the great terrorist threat that we live with now, that will go on for the rest our lives. We will always to be vigilant; we will always have to spend money to bla bla bla. This goes on now. Doesn't mean that it isn't real we don't have to . . .  but trust me the government will always have somebody that we need to be afraid of because, you know,  this is me talking personally, because that's the way they want us. That's the way they keep cold and get to do the things they want to do. 

RY: Well, we'll split it up. How would you categorize the sixties and then how would you categorize the seventies?

LS: Well, yeah, I'm going to go from sixty three to, you know, well we'll talk about . . . well the sixties was actually a naïve angry exploration out of a very structured, you know, post war era where the search for the middle class didn't have meaning to a new generation. They were much more interested in seeing what the mind could do else where and different way to live, and different things to do. It was a heavily politically evolved era. The youth of that time was politically aware and immensely active compared to now. Just immensely. It was idealistic and to strange degree was very, very hopeful. It was a real sense that I understood, even as a child, the world wanted to be changed to be better. I mean Lenin, you know, his deal was peace. There was a real thing about peace. You know there was a big war and everyone was going “No! Peace.” I mean it was as simple as that and it was very idealistic and very powerful and you know went along with everything else to bring about these really enormous changes in thinking and behavior.

What was it sixty one or sixty two, the pill came? You know, I mean the belief for women to have sex when they wanted. You know, it rearranged everything about the way kids hooked up. It just changed everything.

Then, I would say towards the very late sixties and early seventies we would have this [Unclear]. Suddenly now everybody is taking too many and they’re getting harder and harder and people are suddenly actually starting to get killed and die. Watergate happens and the whole thing dissolves.

The seventies then really became a very wasteful blasé piss all era. After Watergate to [makes weird noise while thinking] . . .  to right after Reagan. Do you recall the [unclear] era and the use of the word malaise. Do you know what the word malaise means? Sometimes malaise means un-weird or not productivity and no energy. That is what our economy was. The economy sucks. Interest rates were very high. There was high inflation. The ideal of the sixties had died off and given away to . . . straight hedonism. I mean, sex was absolutely wild and rampant in the seventies up until the late seventies. AIDS was just starting in the late seventies and became very aware of it in the early eighties. Through the seventies the sexual mores had gone from “peace and love” to “let's just fuck.” The club scenes were debouched and it was about dancing and looking good. People were not politically interested. That generation grew up to be Wall Streeters of the eighties. They were selfish, more so. So, you know, the seventies is not looked back on by many people as much of anything but a big turd in some of these ways.

Oh! We haven't even talked about the Iranian hostages deal! We had installed the [Unclear] and Iran [Unclear] The Islamic Muslims threw out the [unclear] and made a religious based government and they took 104 . . . I can't remember . . . american hostages. I think most of them out of the US embassy, and held them for almost two years. So, all of presidents Carter last half was dominated by this hostage crises. How this greatest nation on earth was powerless to effect in this situation and was being humiliated by these Iranian students. That's who they were, radical Iranian students. They held these hostages for almost two years I think. And they purposefully held them until the day Reagan was inaugurated, I believe. They humiliated Carter as long as they could. The Iranian hostage thing was a huge deal.

You know, that was the era in the seventies when the  Palestinians would high jack airplanes too. Airplane high jacking started happening. The idea of  [airquotes] these “terrorist” things have really hit home now. We kind of seem to begin that in the public system. There were two or three  very big plane high jacking.

During that time, you may know or not know, during the hostage crisis. Carter basically sent in the seal team to rescue them. They sent in helicopters and it was a horribly failed mission where the helicopters crashed in the middle of the desert. The Iranians ended up displaying the dead bodies of the American soldiers and pilots. It was this international embarrassment for the united states. There's been these news article about what Obama just did in sending in the seals to get Osama Bin Laden. As they were figuring to do this everybody had what happened to Carter in their mind. In the seventies, they had sent this American force that had utterly failed in Iran to save those guys. They eventually negotiated something but they wouldn’t release him until Reagan came in. The end of the seventies really is the beginning of Reaganism in the early eighties. If you recall Reagan [unclear]  of a shiny new city on the hills. What he saw was a return of our greatness. That was what Reagan was elected on. That is why he is a great orator and actor. Really did a great job of selling and he had a specific image of our country as a shining city on a hill. That for me was really the end of the seventies.

RY: Today the date is . . . May 15, 2012. Do you ever find yourself looking back, not on a day to day bases, but occasionally to the sixties and seventies in particular? And if so, what do you linger to?

LS: I look back historically as we've been discussing. The Obama thing, I thought quite heavily about this failed thing . . . Mostly when I think back, I think of things I did as a child. You know, the friends I had. Recently I googled a friend I had in middle school. It's that sort of thing. I'm fifty two. Some of the friends I know have already died. So, when I think back I think mostly about family, stuff I did as a kid, high school, or the beginning of college. It's so long ago now. I don't think about it as much.  It seems like a million years ago.

Did you know the penetration of the VCR in 1982 in households? How many households in America had a VCR in 1982? . . . 3 percent . . . Can you imagine a world where a VCR is that rare? It's unbelievable. I do remember there was a computer in my high school it was one of those four tram computers it's a bunch of cards and stuff. I had no idea what it was about. There were like three people who seemed to be somehow involved in it. I had no idea why anyone would be interested at all. I still used a slide rule. Even in the middle seventies we still used a slide rule. I remember the first calculator I saw. Probably 1975 or six had four functions: add, subtract, multiply, or divide. It cost $300 in 1970. It's probably a 1,000 to 1,200 dollars now. You know, I say this sometimes, if in 1976 somebody had said, “You know, you're going to have something in your pocket that will hold every song you've ever heard, though about, or want, will do all these other things, and is connected to every piece of information on the planet instantly.” What do you think we would have said? It's Star Trek! [RY laughs] I mean think about it. It's like having a tricorder in your pocket or something. Honest to god think about you have a phone away from your house. When I was young, close to your age, I had to ask permission to use the phone in my house. Can you imagine, having to ask permission to use the phone? It was a . . . treat. It was a luxury. It was not a right. Now, we carry these devices again that can locate . . . I mean, think about what these phones can do. Think of what an iPhone can do. It's mind boggling.

RY: Well, thank you very much Mr. Shaw. It's been a pleasure!

LS: You're welcome. [slight laugh]

 

Up to Top