Even though it’s pretty quiet as we head into the holiday, I thought it might be worth running down some recent stories from this month.
First, my interview with the former heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson, came out over at Kirkus Reviews today. I was quite surprised to land this interview, despite the fact that the author of the new memoir, Undisputed Truth, has basically appeared on every media outlet that has electricity by this point.
A lot of people have asked me what he was like, and the truth is that he’s well-spoken, polite and he seems genuinely regretful about many of the terrible things he’s both experienced and delivered onto others. I will say, for someone who was that famous, he was shockingly candid. I gave him my usual caution as we started that I wasn’t writing a gossip column and that if we hit something too uncomfortable, he could just let me know and we could move on. He immediately replied, saying, “No, no. You ask me anything you want and I’ll tell you. We’re professionals here.”
It’s easy to forget that as many violations as he’s committed—and there are some lascivious stories in this book, let me tell you—the man who became the warrior was once the boy who lived in fear every day of his life. This didn’t make it into the story, but Tyson gave me a little insight into the temper of his longtime trainer, Cus D’amato.
“You know, I didn’t really have an ego and I’ve never been jealous of anyone,” he said. “But then I met Cus and he explained these characteristics that I needed to be the best in the world at this particular art. You need the ambition, you need the jealousy. I said something complimentary about Larry Holmes one time when I was a teenager, and Cus just ripped into me, man. He ripped into me something fierce and he said, ‘This was supposed to be your title. They should strip this man of his title. He couldn’t beat you.’ And I never said another complimentary thing about anybody. It was all about me.”
I also thought it was a little sad that so many people are still after him, too. Tyson admitted in Undisputed Truth that he fought under the influence of marijuana and cocaine, so that’s brought the threat of lawsuits by promoters, while still others have accused him of pinching fighters for his new production company. I asked him if he thought there could ever come a time when there wasn’t somebody on his case, and he got real quiet. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “It’s my life. I just talk about my life. It happened to me.”
On a much lighter note, Tyson is a scream in this new commercial for Footlocker, so he has that going for him.
On an entirely different case, I’ve been covering the JFK assassination anniversary and the avalanche of new books that have come out. First up, I was asked to run down the “new” revelations in Phillip Shenon’s A Cruel and Shocking Act, which is a bit lurid but certainly should generate a fair amount of gossip from those on both sides of the conspiracy theory line. It was a more interesting exercise to interview Howard P. Willens, author of History Will Prove Us Right and the last surviving member of the three-person supervisor staff of the Warren Commission. I’ve done quite a number of interviews over the years with men and women who were primary witnesses to major historical events and it’s a bit tricky because memory is never a certain thing. I’m pleased to say that Howard is as sharp an attorney as he was 50 years ago and has a memory for details like a steel trap. This was a straight-up Q&A (albeit there were only five hours between the interview and its publication), so I don’t have too many details to add.
I did run across the most bizarre video online that accused Governor John Connally of shooting President Kennedy with a handgun. Howard hadn’t heard of that one, but he said he does occasionally get asked about the theory that Secret Service agent George Hickey shot the President by accident. As he said, the debate rages on.
I keep swearing that I’m going to leave the crime thing behind, but they keep pulling me back in. (I wrote a crime column at Bookslut for five full years and you can get your fill of any genre after that much time.) But when I got a press release from Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime letting me know that he was republishing eight (!) of Michael Crichton’s old John Lange novels, I decided it was time for us to catch up with a full interview. Even if Ardai’s lurid covers and pulp fiction isn’t for you, it’s an interesting look inside a truly unique indie publishing house, not to mention a hint of just how many of your favorite writers paid the bills writing naughty books on the side. (I’m looking at you, Lawrence Block).
I also always enjoy talking with Ardai about his detective work; he’s managed to find, discover and publish some seriously hidden manuscripts, like the last novel by James M. Cain and pseudonymous novels by guys like Block and the late Donald Westlake. This time, we talked about some of the wilder rumors. He’s right that there are copies of Charles Willeford’s Grimmhaven floating around out there, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be under lock and key in a museum in Fort Lauderdale. But still no word on a lost Travis McGee novel, sadly. Here’s a link to the Time Magazine story that launched the rumor.
Oh, hey—fun fact—the actress Rose McGowan was the cover model for this cover of The Twenty-Year Death by artist Chuck Pyle.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with a cipher. Twenty-two miles from here, in Olivet Cemetery, is buried one James McParland. This turn-of-the-century lawman is the subject of the new book by polar historian Beau Riffenburgh, Pinkerton’s Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland. McParland, probably the most famous of that age of Pinkerton detectives, is a pretty amazing story. He’s most famous for infiltrating and subsequently shutting down most of the criminal infrastructure of the Molly Maguires and was fictionalized by no less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the last Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear. But as thrilling as it all sounds, it turns out that McParland was incredibly secretive, known to take on different characters and serving as an obsessive destroyer of documentation, especially when it came to his own activities. But then again, life as an undercover cop can’t be easiest in the most civilized of times, let alone a century ago when gunslingers still strolled the streets of Denver.
That’s all for now. Everyone stay safe this week and I’ll see you on the other side for more fun and games next month.