Justice Girl Press and Praise
New York Times [recommended]
"Fast-moving yarn...Lively reading...A great take on what it must have been like to be in the business during those formative years."
Publishers Weekly [review]
Immensely entertaining...fast-paced and emotionally vibrant...a treat for television buffs and general readers alike.
Midwest Book Review [review]
Memorable characters...deftly woven storyline. A solidly entertaining read from beginning to end. Very highly recommended.
Emmy Magazine [article]
This beautifully illustrated excerpt of Stone's novel ran in Emmy Magazine. Download a copy of the article here.
Kafka's Cage [review]
An utter joy to read and one of the biggest surprise packages of the year. Guaranteed to raise a grin. Highly recommended.
Kafka's Cage [interview]
We felt it only right that we find out more about this rather fantastic book. We hunted down author Julian David Stone to have a chat...
Stone's ability to master detail is spot on. This is a wonderful remembrance of the earliest days of the Information Age.
Girl of 1000 Wonders [review]
In 25 years of reading, I've never come across anything quite like it. Wonderful, thrilling read.
Twenty Four Frames [review]
A wild ride that is both frightening and funny. An impressive, fast paced moving novel...a spellbinding read.
The Motion Pictures [review]
Capture(s) the world of midcentury television quite well. I wish there was a whole prequel to this novel.
ABQ Arts [interview]
ABQ Arts & Entertainment publisher and editor Stephanie Hainsfurther interviews Julian David Stone.
by Neil Genzlinger (nytimes.com )
There's also Julian David Stone's fast-moving yarn "The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl," which came out in late 2013 but still makes lively reading in 2014. It's set in 1955, the early days of television, and involves a writer who comes up with a character who turns into a fad. The story has a great take on what it must have been like to be in the business during those formative years, when anything was possible and nothing yet seemed like an imitation of something that had come before.
Starred Review (publishersweekly.com )
The golden age of television comes to life in this scathingly critical and immensely entertaining novel from Stone. Set in 1950s New York, TV writer Jonny Dirby loses his job for refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the United States during the Red Scare. But when he seeks revenge by altering the dialogue of sketch parodying Superman before its broadcast, he inadvertently creates Justice Girl, a character that quickly grabs viewers' hearts. Jonny is quickly re-hired to create an entire show around Justice girl. The catch? Justice Girl is played by Felicity, a communist hunting fanatic determined to blacklist Johnny. Stone draws upon his career in entertainment to drive this lurid depiction of mass media's power in shaping our fantasies, values, ideals, and fears. The author ably captures the tension and excitement of live television, focusing on how quickly this medium made and destroyed both careers and lives. This modern fable of fame and failure emphasizes the political and economic agendas that molded the entertainment industry and a generation. This fast-paced and emotionally vibrant satire is a treat for television buffs and general readers alike.
by Midwest Book Review (MidwestBookReview.com )
Critique: It is standard advice for novice authors to "write what you know". In "The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl", award winning author Julian David Stone has done just that by drawing upon his twenty years in the entertainment business to deftly craft his memorable characters and his deftly woven storyline. A solidly entertaining read from beginning to end, "The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl" is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections.
Synopsis: The golden age of live television comes to vivid life with the memorable and entertaining tale of Jonny Dirby, who unintentionally captivates the imagination of America with his creation of the hit show Justice Girl. This fun, engrossing work of historical fiction transports readers back to a time when television shows were chaotic tightrope acts balancing the agendas of actors, studio executives, advertisers, and politicians, and all of it broadcast live to fifty million viewers without the security of a safety net. Set in 1955 in New York City, Julian David Stone's impressive novel follows Jonny from the writers' room of a steady network gig to a crisis of conscience when he decides to abandon his regular paycheck to claim the moral high ground against the spreading plague of McCarthyism. In a final act of defiance, Jonny alters the script of a Superman-inspired lampoon moments before it is broadcast live. What nobody can anticipate is that Jonny's accidental creation Justice Girl and her infectious catchphrase of "Justice is served!" are about to sweep the nation and win the hearts and minds of America. Add to the mix a highly driven actress trying to get Jonny blacklisted, along with a desperate network president willing to do anything he can to get compete control of the show, and the history of television will never be the same. The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl moves beyond the gags and gaffes of television's golden age to plumb the depths of the media's broader influence. Anyone interested in this time when television was a new phenomenon, with different factions fighting to use it to promote their varied agendas, will enjoy this riveting novel.
by Martyn Coppack (KafkasCage.com )
Set during the years following the birth of television when every home was just getting used to this new form of entertainment, The Strange Birth, Short Life and Sudden Death of Justice Girl is a wry take on the business in those formative years. Against the backdrop of the House of Un-American Activities trials, it is a novel which embodies the fear, paranoia and plain ridiculousness of those years. It is also a fantastic, almost comic like action story that is an utter joy to read and one of the biggest surprise packages of the year.
The story is of script writer Johnny Dirby who, in one last act of defiance against being branded a Communist by his television station, plays an elaborate hoax on the show that he was writing for by introducing a new character called Justice Girl. As this is live TV, no-one expects what happens but in the following days it is obvious that Justice Girl has struck a chord.
Enticed back to the studio, so begins the story of how Justice Girl lived it's very short life on television. An enormous ratings winner, it is the behind the scene shenanigans that really lift the story as the battle between Johnny and the head of the network, Hogart Daniels reaches fever pitch as they fight to control Justice Girl, the creation.
As mentioned before, the paranoid fight against communism is rife throughout this novel and it could be seen as a dig at those times. This is belittling the superb characterization that is taking place throughout though and we see the myriad characters growing in their own ways. None more so than Justice Girl herself, Felicity Kensington, who struggles with her loyalty towards her father's political ambitions and her own budding desire to be an actress. Indeed, it is through these strands that the book is elevated from its rather hyper-real beginnings to its rather dark second third.
Whilst Felicity may be discovering herself, Johnny is in the process of dealing with his past and reconciling everything that has happened to him. Without giving too much away as it will ruin the story, Johnny is faced with what will ultimately become a revenge mission. In almost Faustian proportions, he is offered fame and wealth but against that his integrity remains strong. How he goes about solving this is one of the most satisfying parts of an already excellent novel and one guaranteed to raise a grin.
The side characters all have their own story to tell too, enriching the novel beyond its base story. Providing light and dark, it is easy to see a nation overcome by not just fear of being branded a Communist but also fear of the bomb. Mix in television which offers a vital glimpse of the future and they are faced with the daunting task of changing their ways of working once again. Television is the big star here and we get some idea of what it must have been like in those early years as audiences suddenly found themselves with new heroes and heroines.
In Justice Girl, Julian David Stone has created a book which not only keeps you enraptured through its story but also provides that often missing ingredient of wanting to know more. It rattles along at a fair old pace and at times can leave you breathless. Stone's mastery at characterization lifts this above the norm though and in doing so brings a fully formed world to life. Yes, it has a comic book feel about it but that suits the mood of the story. You will laugh at the bits when Felicity is trying to become a better actor, you will cry when Johnny's past is revealed. It's that mix of light and dark which really brings the novel to life. Highly recommended.
by Martyn Coppack (KafkasCage.com )
Following on from our review of The Strange Birth, Short Life and Sudden Death of Justice Girl, we at Kafka's Cage felt it only right that we find out more about this rather fantastic book. We hunted down author Julian David Stone to have a chat about Justice Girl, television and the art of writing. In return we got Rod Serling, Frank Sinatra and news on Felicity Kensington. A fair swap and we hope you enjoy it…so over to you Julian…
How did the inspiration come about for Justice Girl?
I have always been fascinated by the early years of television. I came to this fascination by two different routes: Stories that my father told me about his dealings with Allen Dumont who was the creator of the Dumont Television Network that existed for about ten years in the 1940's and the 1950's. And from my love of The Twilight Zone tv show. Through watching this incredible show I discovered Rod Serling, and that led me to uncover his earlier work during the Golden Age of Television. He was the author of some of the most famous shows from this era and when I saw them, they had a profound effect on me.
With this era always on my mind, I began to think about what it would have been like to have been a writer during this time. From that I came up with the idea of doing a book about the inner workings and drama of doing a show from the era of Live Television.
What sort of research did you have to do before and during the writing of this book?
I have to admit, research is my favorite part of writing a novel. I love immersing myself in everything I can possible find on whatever the subject of my novel happens to be. And you never know where the research will take you. Though my story takes place in 1955, when I was doing my research, I kept coming across fascinating stories about the role of television, while still in it's infancy, played during World War II. I ended up incorporating a lot of this into my final story. I find the more research, the better. In the case of Justice Girl, this included not only interviewing people who had been part of the golden age of television, and lots of reading of magazines and newspapers from the period, but also a research trip to the east coast where I could see a lot of the actual places where I was placing the scenes from my book. Nothing beats having a real place to draw upon for inspiration when writing.
Where do the characters come from? Are they based on people you know? How do you go about planning their development?
I suppose every character I create is a mishmash of people I know including myself, and in the case of this book, some of my experiences in my own career writing in Hollywood.
What particular themes did you want to explore?
I wanted to write about an idealistic character faced with the challenge of sudden success and the inevitable compromises that come with it. Success is a powerful drug, and once achieved, even the most idealistic person can find the fear of losing it almost too much to bear.
How do you plan for the book to turn out? Is the idea there already or does it come as you are writing?
I definitely do an outline of the story, but this usually comes after several months of thinking about the story, doing research, and coming up with individual scenes. By waiting a while before outlining I allow myself to follow wherever the story goes. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, when I started writing Justice Girl I had no idea I would end-up with large parts of the story taking place on the American Homefront during World War II. But because I didn't lock myself into anything early on, when the story took me there, I was able to go.
Is there more to the story? What happens to Felicity? Are you conscious that there will be questions left and is this part of the joy of writing?
I would love to write more about these characters. So as to what happens to Felicity? You'll just have to read the sequel!
What do you have planned next? Do you have more stories waiting to be written or do you have to wait for the right one?
I am working on another novel, one that actually grows out of a part of this one. It's a very small part of this novel, but when I was writing that section, I thought "That's a great idea for a story" So that's what I'm doing next.
What is a typical day for an author? How does this tie in with your film work?
A typical day involves more procrastination that I'd like to admit. Followed by research, and hopefully writing, on whatever I am currently working on.
Tell us more about your film work…
I broke into the Hollywood about twenty years ago with a script about the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team. Though it never got made, it did get me a lot of work writing for the studios. I also made my own film, "Follow the Bitch" a comedy about a group of guys who have a weekly poker game that a women comes in and joins for the first time. Along with that, I've written and produced a play about Elvis Presley, as well as made two short documentaries about Frank Sinatra for the Frank Sinatra Estate.
Which authors and directors inspire you? What are your favourite books? What are you reading at the moment?
Ray Bradbury is a personal hero. I love Jonathan Franzen. I am currently reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.
Have you a message for readers of Kafka's Cage?
There's a lot of noise out there in the world. Don't ever stop taking the time to read books.
by Ed Bennett (IndieReader.com )
THE STRANGE BIRTH, SHORT LIFE AND SUDDEN DEATH OF JUSTICE GIRL is, on first glance, a history of the birth of live television in the mid-50s. Beneath this veneer, it is also the history of America dealing with World War II, Communism and the true meaning of justice in this new society. Despite these substantial topics, this is a humorous story of an accidental hit television show where the main characters' beliefs and life styles evolve with the times while they discover the power of a new technology.
Johnny Dirby is a disgruntled writer doing sketch comedy for a low rated show on the Regal Television Network in New York. After being fired by the show's producer, he writes a satirical scene and slips it into the script, thus bringing about the birth of Justice Girl. The scene is a hit and a new show is created around Justice Girl with Johnny as the producer. Felicity Kensington, the actress who portrays Justice Girl becomes a star overnight despite her true objective of ferreting out "hidden" Communists in the show's cast and writing staff. The interaction between Johnny's working class background and Felicity's society upbringing in this new milieu of live TV drives the story through some interesting plot twists resulting in a climactic ending. Author Julian David Stone uses flashback effectively to give the back-story of the main characters as well as the cultural upheavals going on at the time. Stone's ability to master detail is spot on, as with his description of how early televisions sets hummed when turned on to the disappearance of the image into a small disappearing white dot when it is turned off. It is this level of detail, along with effective dialog, that creates an amazing realism for the story.
IR Verdict: For those born into the digital age, THE STRANGE BIRTH, SHORT LIFE AND SUDDEN DEATH OF JUSTICE GIRL recounts the chaos and seat-of-the-pants productions that preceded broadband downloads. For those who were born in the black and white era of early TV, this is a wonderful remembrance of the earliest days of the Information Age.
by Charlie Anderson (Girl of 1000 Wonders )
This book is something different. It is set in a time period that is almost unimaginable today: the Era of McCarthyism, the Red Scare, blacklists…and live, on-air television.
Slithering over the entire entertainment industry like the oozing spill from an oil tanker, the blacklist had claimed the careers of thousands of actors, writers, directors, musicians, and stagehands.
Jonny Dirby is a man who grew up knowing the hard truths and ugly, covered up secrets to the war. He experienced them first-hand as a young teen, and now a young, single man scribbling off sketches for a popular show on one of the television networks. He works with several others writers…writers who have been blacklisted.
No one would admit that the list even existed.
Jonny is a good man, and a good friend. He knows how to get his sketches on live television, and he shares his paycheck with a few select writers, who he openly admits to not initially liking. It's a funny thing how long hours and close quarters can change opinions.
Then one day, Jonny gets the ax. In a flurry, he quickly makes some changes to that night's show, airing live. It's a last-ditch effort to stick it to the man, and oh does it set off fireworks, but not quite the kind he expected. Instead of blowing things up for Regal Television Network, it gets him an immediate appointment with the power greedy network president – and an entire new show based off of Justice Girl, a young female Superman living double lives with identities to be kept secret. It's an appeal to those of all ages, and creates such rile and evocative emotion and support from viewers, creating such a sensation that the network makes a few mistakes in getting the show underway.
While Jonny is dealing with his own battles with the network, rounding up the old blacklisted writing gang and sliding in his own personal political attacks into the episodes, Justice Girl's female star Felicity Kensington is undercover as a joe blow schlow while secretly collecting information to funnel back to her Congressional hopeful father. But somewhere between a one-time hit in the door of the entertainment world to dig in her talons, Felicity is thrown into a whole new world she can't handle..and she's about to lose her grip on the inside. Jonny's such a great guy, he comes to her rescue and gets her some acting help.
Like I said, it's a funny thing how long hours and close quarters can change opinions. Lines start to become blurred: the open-minded, honest lines binding the writers together, the lines between Felicity's real life and secret identity, the lines between Felicity's mission and her new-found passion, the lines between Jonny and the recent friendliness of his presidential back-pocket producer, and the lines between child and adult.
Everything eventually comes to a head as decisions are made and time runs out. Jonny experiences the bitter dosage of honesty, betrayal and pain, as does Felicity herself.
This novel is written in a way that in 25 years of reading, I've never come across anything quite like it. This novel follows several of the main players into their pasts that provide enlightenment of their backgrounds. It shows a stark contrast, yet similarity in motives of the main characters. They all struggle with their own internal battles, enhanced by external conflicts that are presented in such an intertwined way that it is so seamless and smooth. Jonny, and especially Felicity, experience such growth as individuals and characters in this novel, and it's all imploded by their professional realm: live television.
Jonny is such an intriguing character. He's the living, breathing reality of human nature: denying he tries to push confrontations (while enjoying the escalation!), the "acute confidence that he was always right," honest in his dislike of others. He is firmly grounded in who he is, what he is, what he believes and what he's willing to fight for. Felicity is a complete foil of Jonny's character; she has no sense of self or morality until her lines become blurred and her secret identity opens up her world.
Wonderful, thrilling read of an age of controversy, sensationalism, political agendas and one-shot chances. Will Jonny get his final chance, or will he blow it?
by John Greco (Twenty Four Frames )
The Hollywood Blacklist was at its height in the mid-50's. Writers, directors and actors were all scrutinized for any sign of "un-American" activity, real or imagined. It was a dark time when people could not talk freely, express a point of view, living in fear that they could lose their livelihood. Julian David Stone's new novel, "The Strange Birth, Short life and Sudden Death of Justice Girl" takes us back to those dark days in a wild ride that is both frightening and funny.
The time is 1955, live TV is the order of the day and the center of it all is in New York. TV writer Jonny Dirby is about to be fired by the network because he won't sign a loyalty oath and is quickly branded a commie. As a final act of revenge against the network he writes a last minute new character into the script that he believes will ruin the show he use to work on. But it backfires and instead ignites an explosion of audience excitement giving birth to super heroine Justice Girl, a sort of female version of Superman.
With Justice Girl sparking an immediate response from viewers, even creating a nationwide catch phrase "Justice is served," the head of the struggling network, Hobart Daniels, rehires Jonny to come up with a show featuring the world's newest superhero. It needs to be scripted, cast and ready to be aired live in one week and Jonny's is put completely in charge of production! Added to the mix, is Felicity Kessington the daughter of a pro McCarthy Congressional hopeful. Felicity auditioned and got the small role of Justice Girl in the original sketch in order to gather information on all the commies she knows are flooding the TV industry, including Jonny, to feed it back to her father. Suddenly she finds herself as the star of her own hit TV show. She now faces her own dilemma on how to continue her crusade to help her father's political ambitions, or become a TV star she now craves. Jonny meanwhile is caught between battling for control of the show with the network honcho Hobart and dealing with his own past. I won't say any more for fear of giving away too much.
One of the strongest elements of the novel, without a doubt, is the meticulous precision the author has recreated the dark era of the mid 1950's being transported back in time to those days of early television when the infant industry was struggling to discover itself and doing it live in America's living rooms.
One minor error though comes early in the novel when Jonny, and three blacklisted writer friends he is using to write the first "Justice Girl" script, meet at a restaurant hidden away among the boutiques and bars just off St. Marks Place in the East Village. In 1955 there was no East Village. St. Mark's Place was located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as that area was then called. The name 'East Village' did not come into use until the mid-1960's when artists and hippies began to move into the then ethnic neighborhood.
That said, with "Justice Girl" Julian David Stone has created an impressive, fast paced moving novel that is dark and comic. The characters are intriguing and you come to care about them all. Anyone interested in the early days of a television and the McCarthy witch hunt era will find this a spellbinding read.
by TheMotionPictures.net (The Motion Pictures )
The year is 1955. Jacob Drabinowitz, better known by his professional name of Jonny Dirby, is a writer for the sketch comedy program Hermie's Henhouse. He's dreamed of working as a writer of dramatic teleplays, but comedy work's not all bad. At least it gives him consistent employment.
Consistent employment, that is, until McCarthyism takes hold at the Regal Television Network. Jonny waits just a little too long to agree to sign a loyalty contract to the United States, denouncing communism and all artists who are even loosely affiliated with it. Because he has yet to sign the contract, he loses his job.
In a final act of defiance against the network that has fired him, Jonny rewrites the script of the next episode of Hermie's Henhouse, giving a prominent role to the character of "Justice Girl" — an attractive superhero who was originally meant to have no lines, and only appear at the end of the episode.
To everyone's surprise, the episode goes over incredibly well. And since the network is struggling in the ratings, head honcho Hogart Daniels has decided to take advantage of the character's appeal by creating a whole new series about her.
Denise Yarnell, the inexperienced actress who filled the role of "Justice Girl" in the Hermie's Henhouse episode, is pegged to carry the new series as lead actress. The problem? Denise isn't just an inexperienced actress. Her real name is Felicity Anders Kensington and she's undercover, trying to find evidence of Communist activities at the network in order to protect "endangered" American values and give a boost to her wealthy father's political career.
In the press release for The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl, author Julian David Stone explains, "There was this amazing art form – live television – that existed, and flourished for about ten years, before vanishing. The people involved were not in the least bit daunted by the inherent technical limitations of it. They found a way to pull off incredibly complex shows. [...] As stressful as it was knowing that what you were doing was being seen by 50 million viewers at the very same instant, the actors, writers, director and crew that worked in this unique environment thrived on the excitement and stress of it."
The novel explores the world of live television, from the daily experiences of the cast and crew to the growing influence and popularity of the medium, as well as political issues that influenced the entertainment industry in the midcentury.
Clocking in at exactly 400 pages, I suspected that Justice Girl would take me only a couple of days to finish. I try to read at least 50 pages of something every day, and I often exceed that goal by a great margin. In the end, Justice Girl took me about two weeks to finish… not because it was bad (It isn't!), but because I found that it was best digested in small chunks. The book rotates its focus between Jonny, Felicity and Hogart, so I would typically read one of these perspectives, put the book down for a while and come back to it later. When I read larger portions of the book I found myself more interested in Jonny's story than the other characters, so I wanted to zoom through the other sections in order to get back to his story. Rather than doing that, I decided to pace myself.
This decision paid off in the end, as I was able to find an appreciation for all of Stone's characters — even Felicity, who I utterly abhorred early on in the novel. (The fact that I disliked her so greatly is a testament to Stone's writing, as she's not intended to be a likable character in the beginning — she's a commie-hunter!) Felicity actually shows the most growth of any of the characters by the end, coming to many realizations about herself and about what she wants out of life, separate from the aspirations of her family.
In addition to the alternating focus between different characters, there is also a bit of time-hopping in this novel, in the form of flashbacks. Jonny's flashbacks were, without a doubt, my favorite part of the novel to read. I wish there was a whole prequel to this novel about his family's experiences during the war. War stories can sometimes be heavy-handed in their focus on the horrors of the situation, but Stone avoids this by portraying those horrors through side characters (Jonny's siblings) rather than placing them at the center of the story. In a way this is even more powerful than, say, a book focused directly on a World War II veteran's post-traumatic stress. Here we get to see what a great impact the war had not only on those who participated in it, but on everyone at the homefront.
Also working in Justice Girl's favor is the fact that it seems to capture the world of midcentury television quite well. I wasn't alive during this time and I've never worked in TV, so I can only speak to this aspect of the novel based on accounts I've read from others who worked in that environment during the time. Stone very nicely captures the frenzied nature of live television, and also the personalities of those involved in it, from the aloof agents to the anxious, numbers-obsessed executives.
Though The Strange Birth, Short Life and Sudden Death of Justice Girl took me longer to get through than novels of this length usually do, I enjoyed it a lot. I would recommend this book for fans of realistic historical fiction, or those interested in books about the entertainment industry.
by Stephanie Hainsfurther (ABQ Arts & Entertainment )
ABQ A&E: Live TV in the 1940s and 1950s is the setting for your novel. How did you catch fire on this subject?
I have always been fascinated by the early years of television. I came to this fascination by two different routes: Stories that my father told me about his dealings with Allen Dumont who was the creator of the Dumont Television Network, a fourth national network that existed along with ABC, CBS and NBC for about ten years in the 1940s and the 1950s. And from my love of The Twilight Zone TV show. Through watching this incredible show I discovered Rod Serling, and that led me to uncover his earlier work during the Golden Age of Television. He was the author of some of the most famous shows from this era and when I saw them, they had a profound effect on me.
With this era always on my mind, I began to think about what it would have been like to have been a writer during this time. From that I came up with the idea of doing a novel about the inner workings and drama of doing a show from the era of Live Television.
ABQ A&E: Can you tell us a few things about the methods that the actors (or crew) had to devise to do it all live?
One of the happy accidents of the first 10 years of television, the live era, was that it all started and flourished in New York City. In the beginning, the majority of big movie stars spurned working on the small screen so the networks in many cases turned to Broadway actors. It was a perfect fit. Because of the nature of doing Live television – shooting shows straight through with no breaks except for the occasional commercial, and no second takes – much like a Broadway show – the New York actors flourished in this environment. Besides their being more accustomed to the sequential nature of shooting live television, the intimacy and style of these early shows, often referred to as "Kitchen Sink Dramas" (small, intimate stories dealing with a small number of characters in an equally small number of locations), fit perfectly with the Method style of acting that was just exploding in popularity at the time. This style of acting with its premium on authenticity fit perfectly with the immediacy of television beaming directly into your home and the intimacy of a close-up human face right there in your living room. Many future movie stars who specialized in this style of acting got their first major roles on TV at this time: James Dean, Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, to name a few.
The work behind the camera was also uniquely suited to this New York aesthetic. Most of the early crews came from radio and Broadway, where working in a live environment was commonplace, and they were used to having to work in absolute silence. It is almost impossible to believe the complex things that were done behind the scenes by these crews during the era of live television – complicated camera moves, walls being moved out of the way, set changes, costume changes, weather effects, driving effects, etc. – and all of it done in absolute silence.
ABQ A&E: Who were some of the best TV writers at the time?
The best writers of this era, as is often the case, were products of their time and being young, and were able to quickly adapt to this new art form. To illustrate just how new television was, and how quickly it evolved, keep in mind that in 1946 there were only 6,000 television sets in the entire United States. But by 1951 that number had risen to over 12 million. Twelve million! Having a television in the home fit in perfectly with the desires of the returning G.I. to leave the war behind and settle into the domestic tranquility of a stable home life. In many cases, the television became the centerpiece of this new idyllic home, with the family gathering together to watch their favorite TV shows quickly becoming a nightly ritual.
And many of the returning G.I.s also found the new medium to be the perfect vehicle for them to express what they had seen and experienced. The greatest television writers of this time, Gore Vidal, Reginald Rose, Rod Serling and Paddy Chayefsky, were all World War II veterans, and all became very famous television writers in the early 1950s. While some wrote directly about their experiences in the war, others turned a mirror on America as a whole, deciding instead to critique the culture that was growing out of the post-war boom. Serling choose to expose the high pressure world of business in his classic "Patterns;" and in "Marty," Chayefsky examined the loneliness of those men who had failed to find a family and fit into the expected norms of the greater society.
As I mentioned earlier, the work they did for television in these early days came to be referred to as 'kitchen sink dramas," largely because of the stripped-down realism of portraying everyday characters in everyday settings. While some have interpreted this to mean the dramas were small in scope, perhaps linking the subject matters to the technical limitations of live television -- few locations, minimal sets – but in actuality, this is quite misleading. The best dramas of this era take their characters through profound events and changes that hold up with the best dramatic work of any medium at any time. Serling's work in particular leapt beyond the seeming smallness of the stories by having the protagonists fight an antagonist who not only represented an obstacle to what the character wanted, but also represented the ill in society that he or she was fighting against. Thus the protagonist had to overcome not only the person who was standing in his way, but had to defeat society as a whole in order to win. There was nothing small about these battles. The stakes couldn't have been higher, and the desired outcomes couldn't have been harder to achieve.
To further see just how powerful and strong this work was, one need only look to the influence they still have all these years later. "Mad Men" bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Serling's masterpiece "Patterns" (Mathew Weiner, the show's creator, has repeatedly mentioned Rod Serling as a huge influence) and any number of TV series and movies can look back to "Marty" as a starting off point.
ABQ A&E: Tell us a bit about your main character, and what "Justice Girl" is in the book.
Jonny Dirby is a young writer in this exciting and turbulent era, trying his best to preserve his dreams of writing "important" work against the reality of the commercial demands of being a TV writer. Much to his surprise, overnight he finds himself the toast of New York because of his hit creation, the TV show "Justice Girl." With fame and success coming faster than Jonny could ever have dreamed it would, the battle between his integrity and the demands of his new station in life as a well-known and highly successful TV writer become even more overwhelming and intense. But his integrity is not the only thing at stake. His increased notoriety comes with another grave danger: he becomes a fertile target for those who don't agree with a lot of his beliefs, and who decide to go after him for their own personal gain. And things get really interesting when the person leading the charge against him turns out to be none other than the lead actress on his show, "Justice Girl."
ABQ A&E: Was writing the book any different from writing your film "Follow the Bitch"?
Very different. And very freeing. Writing a screenplay is all about structure and having to hit certain plot points at certain times, and having to come in at a certain page length. A book, while structure is still important, is much more open. Though Justice Girl takes place in 1955, when I was doing my research, I kept coming across fascinating stories about the role [that] television, while still in its very early infancy, played during World War II. With those [stories] in mind, I ended up writing three major sections – one for each major character – that took place during World War II on the American Homefront. With a screenplay it would have been very hard to make a turn like that. You just don't have the pages.
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