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Novelist Robert Kotlowitz discusses his book "The Boardwalk"

BROADCAST: Feb. 3, 1977 | DURATION: 00:51:29

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Novelist Robert Kotlowitz discusses his book "The Boardwalk;" reads passages from book.


Studs Terkel My guest is a novelist who happens to be the head of WNET, New York, that's the public television channel, as well as the vice president of the Public Broadcasting System. Primarily though, a novelist, and a very beautiful one. His most recent one called, "The Boardwalk". It's, it's the thoughts of someone, 14 years old, remembering a vacation, two weeks in Atlantic City, and in a sense a study of a growing awareness of a boy. And his previous one, which I haven't read, I understand is quite beautiful, "Somewhere Else". In a moment then, Robert Kotlowitz is my guest. And his novel, "The Boardwalk", after this message. [pause in recording]

Robert Kotlowitz [music playing] [reading] "Teddy acted as guide. It was his boardwalk. He had been in Atlantic City a week longer than Erich Kessler. He would force him to see it through his eyes. Teddy pointed out the hole in the wall in which the boardwalk's famous gypsy foretold all human events and solved every riddle. During the day she stood in the beaded doorway, Teddy said, and invited passersby in. She wore a purple dress down to her ankles, seductive gold earrings, smoked long blue cigarettes, her bare feet were always filthy and you could see the nipples of her breasts through her dress. They lingered then at a miniature golf course. Bought ice cream cones. Ate them in front of the colored fountain at the Claridge. Soft mauve and green lights rose higher and higher on the hotel's deep lawn. A spotlight wavered in the air. The water hissed noisily. The crowd sighed with pleasure. There was no sight quite like it in the whole city. No lawn so even, so perfect, so deep. A million visitors, two million, strolled in both directions. Wicker carriages roll by pushed by Negroes who charged their passengers by the hour. Candy stands lined the walk, peanut brittle, salt water taffy, sour balls, and popcorn like pebbles. The air reeked with it. On their left, the sea was invisible, but the sound of the breaking surf split the night air. Massive piers thrust into the ocean. Stars were everywhere overhead, dense, [cleamy?] galaxies that overlap without boundaries. Lovers below, husbands in for the weekend, tired children, and wan mothers. A dim moon offshore, and on their right, mammoth hotels styled to the vagaries of their builders. A hallucinatory Tudor, faithful, romantic, Gothic, Victorian, Edwardian, Moorish, 20s boom, the willfully eccentric, pridefully bizarre, turreted, towered with frosted stucco, minareted like Islam, open to the Sun, closed, timbered bricked, and some here and there mortared in honey colored stone".

Studs Terkel And thus it is a memory of a boy of 14 years, 1939, Teddy Lewin and his young friend who is a German-Jewish refugee are walking down. And this is the memory of this boy at a certain moment of his life, isn't it?

Robert Kotlowitz Yes.

Studs Terkel Bob Kotlowitz, my guest.

Robert Kotlowitz It is, Studs. A very real memory, [shuffling papers] in fact. I used to vacation in Atlantic City during the Depression as a child, when an entire family could go to a small hotel on a side street for $90 a week. Everyone sleeping in one room [shuffling papers] and having three meals a day, three gigantic.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Meals a day.

Studs Terkel This is a, it was a flamboyant place, wasn't it?

Robert Kotlowitz Full of vigor. Full of life.

Studs Terkel Yeah, and in this, it's a Jewish hotel.

Robert Kotlowitz It's a Jewish hotel.

Studs Terkel And by the way, there's a marvelous study in the book, isn't there, of what seems to be a caste system too. A difference between the German Jews, who a sense a little more elite, lording over Eastern-European and the resentment of Eastern European. That's there too. isn't it?

Robert Kotlowitz That's very much suggested, particularly.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz In these sections of the book that deal with Baltimore, which is where this family comes from.

Studs Terkel There are flashbacks, will keep this open reflecting, there are flashbacks and forth in time, Baltimore to Atlantic City. Who is Teddy Lewin? Now we come, who is Teddy?

Robert Kotlowitz Teddy Lewin is Bob Kotlowitz.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Robert Kotlowitz In fact. And probably the only really non-fictionalized character in the novel. Everybody else is really made up in--.

Studs Terkel But here's Teddy at a certain age. He's 14. By the way, this is my own comment, and we talked about this before [unintelligible]. He seems more innocent than a 14 year old in the year 1977. This is 1939.

Robert Kotlowitz Right. Right. I think 14 year olds today are probably the equivalent of our 16 year olds in those days. And I think this boy, while he's very bright and very curious, is probably more innocent than most 14 year olds.

Studs Terkel Because you know also, we heard the carousel in the beginning, the calliope of over the waves. That's the boardwalk, Atlantic City, into, fused into a passage of Rachmaninoff piano. So Teddy was also studying at the conservatory in Baltimore wasn't he, piano?

Robert Kotlowitz The character has serious aspirations as a pianist, unlike me. I studied at the Peabody as a child and much of the book, not much, but some segment of Teddy's head is always dealing with the limitations [shuffling papers] of his own talent. It's always being pointed out to him that he's a wonderful pianist in terms of Mozart, and Schubert, and Haydn, which requires a smaller scale technique, but Rachmaninoff, whom he really loves.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Is beyond his reach.

Studs Terkel Mmm, and so here and there through the book there are passages of music in Teddy's mind, but he also is observing something happening among the adult members of his family and those in this ho-, it's a certain hotel called Sloan's, nee Solomon's, hotel.

Robert Kotlowitz That's right. It's my feeling that while [shuffling papers] people state that they go away on vacation for escape that the fact of leaving one's [shuffling papers] ordinary life behind one when you go releases an inhibition and that real life becomes unmasked in vacation time. People are just looser, and what this boy witnesses at Sloan's hotel is the enactment by the adults of all their sexual intrigues, their sexual restlessness, the tension between mother and father that somehow gets absorbed into the daily life and home in Baltimore. But once in Atlantic City.

Studs Terkel Mmmhmm.

Robert Kotlowitz Given 14 days in which to act itself out really surfaces.

Studs Terkel And in a sense he's the observer, isn't he?

Robert Kotlowitz Yes.

Studs Terkel He's the observer. He knows something's going on that is, makes him a little unhappy, not quite certain what it is, but it's exciting at the same time.

Robert Kotlowitz It's, it's one of those periods when when we look at adult life and get a real sense of what it really is about without illusion and vacation time is, is a very clear period for that.

Studs Terkel He's there with his sister, he's 14, Marion.

Robert Kotlowitz Marion is 6, 7.

Studs Terkel And she's 6, and an older brother.

Robert Kotlowitz And a 19 year old brother who is a product of the depression and a smart ass young man who's just back from a summer in New York on his own and not willing to tell [any?] share with anybody.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz What happened to him there.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Praying for the defeat of capitalism.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz One of those late '30s breed.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Of leftist socialist.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Sour, bitter, but yet with a lot of charm of his own.

Studs Terkel Yeah yeah, and it's a very funny scene, by the way, a remarkable scene. It was very common one too, [chuckle] I mean with, in which his father, Jack, we'll come to him in a moment and certainly to Bea, his mother, who is a key figure in the mind and life of Teddy, but as a father gets a, they come to visit later, and he gets a bad case of sunburn, can't walk. And there's a black man who's pushing the carriage and the father wants a ride in the wheelchair. And, and [chuckle] of course, Ben, the 19 year old, [leftist?] objects. You can have the humiliation of--.

Robert Kotlowitz Right. You can't [get?] enough.

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] it's his work.

Robert Kotlowitz You can't, right.

Studs Terkel [You're gonna?] deprive him a couple of bucks.

Robert Kotlowitz [chuckle].

Studs Terkel So, why don't you to describe that scene. It's a very funny.

Robert Kotlowitz Well, the scene is, in which as Studs said, the father has been badly sunburned and his feet are swollen. And the father, Jack, and the boy, Teddy, and the older brother, Ben, are going to visit the rich segment of the family which is staying in a very posh hotel [shuffling papers] facing the boardwalk. And Jack cannot make the walk because of his feet, and he insists on riding in a wicker carriage with Teddy and Ben. And Ben takes this indignant stance that it is really humiliating to let yourself be pushed by another human being, which is what was going on in Atlantic City in 1939. And Jack, the father, takes the stance, well what what am I going to do if I don't ride in the carriage? I'll put this guy out of a job. And it's one of those father/son exchanges that we're all very familiar with in which all the political and, not all, but some of the political tone of that period is summed up [shuffling papers] and both generational attitudes pretty clearly stated [chuckle].

Studs Terkel It's a very funny piece of dialogue, by the way. If we could find it, we'll find it somewhere along the line.

Robert Kotlowitz OK.

Studs Terkel As we're talking. And the father now, Jack, here's a guy, American-born father. His father, his grandfather, Teddy's, came from Europe I take it, but.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Sort of, yankee, sort of.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel But the father has never quite been a success. He's rather handsome, a dapper guy, who's a little vain, isn't he?

Robert Kotlowitz The father is a vain, handsome, intelligent, and fairly weak man who is also a product of the Depression and the trauma it inflicted on so many American men of that generation. He, he goes to work for his wife's family, all of whom are big successes, hoping that by this connection he will in turn pick up that same success when actually he is victimized by his wife's brother, and used, and misused, but it is a job and it's a steady income. And part of him has grown to maybe not like it, but to become used to it in a way that's not at all unpleasant.

Studs Terkel Not at all unpleasant, and yet that aspect is [left?] underneath that aspect of humiliation. Of subtle humiliation, is still there. Is it not?

Robert Kotlowitz It's constant.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz It's a constant thing, which he feeds on and, which clearly, the family feeds on too.

Studs Terkel And of course we come to Teddy's mother, Bea, who's a very attractive woman in her early 40s. And we come to her friend too the young woman, lawyer, whose a [trumpet?]. Bea, Now how, we see her all the time. Bea.

Robert Kotlowitz Well, Bea is every boy's image of his mother. That is, very beautiful, very nourishing, and absolutely private property of the son. And Teddy, as the son, comes to Atlantic City and suddenly sees his mother in an entirely different light. They're away from their home. She is surrounded by men who are eager to flirt, and eager to take her out, and eager to talk to her, since the father has not yet come. And I think it is his first, and very brooding, case of sexual jealousy. He literally is sexually jealous of his mother, I think, in this particular sequence. Adores her and is unable to share her.

Studs Terkel Of course, things are happening that he suspects, he's not quite certain. Like she goes out at night to have a cup of coffee with some people, with her friend. She has a young, a younger friend, Charlotte.

Robert Kotlowitz Charlotte, right.

Studs Terkel We'll come to that marvelous sequence in a moment.

Robert Kotlowitz Ok.

Studs Terkel About the conflict on the boardwalk. But Charlotte, who is Teddy's. I was about to say your mother's friend. Teddy's mother's friend is a lawyer at a, back in those days women lawyers were very rare.

Robert Kotlowitz Very unusual. A lawyer who wears her hair down to her waist at a time when bobbed hair was the fashion. [shuffling papers] And a lawyer who was unable to pass the bar, and unable somehow to resolve any situation she was in with a man. And went from one household to another as the beautiful aunt who came to dinner on Monday night in one house and Tuesday night in another house. And is just too damn fastidious for real human contact. And she and the mother are the two most beautiful women at the hotel. Beautiful in very different ways. And Teddy is equally infatuated with both on a certain level and cannot even decide which one is more beautiful.

Studs Terkel But again his own fury, small boy fury, and humiliation because she is being pursued, perhaps 1, 2, we don't know, by this kind of rough guy, Jack, whose a lawyer too.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Kind of a bore.

Robert Kotlowitz Larry.

Studs Terkel Kind of an oaf.

Robert Kotlowitz Larry Barnard.

Studs Terkel Larry Barnard, is kind of an oaf.

Robert Kotlowitz Oaf. A powerful oaf of a kind we all know. A sort of, an ex-football player who has made it in part on the basis of his enormous size, and the resonance of his voice, and the degree of his aggressiveness, is a successful lawyer in Baltimore, has run for city council, and will undoubtedly run, run again. And goes around saying the most outrageous things, and people laugh, and have a wonderful time, and this is a shock to Teddy that you can really attract people by being that way.

Studs Terkel And of course, he's one of the hot shots at this resort.

Robert Kotlowitz That's right.

Studs Terkel And because it is that two week vacation from day to day reality, more outrageous, more. And so the women, particularly Charlotte whom Teddy has a feeling for, this fastidious, elegant, lawyer friend of his mother, kind of goes for this guy, lets herself be taken by the guy. So it's a small boy's feeling a fury again, isn't it?

Robert Kotlowitz Absolutely, which is repeated when his father arrives, and the whole pattern is transformed with his father being attracted by a woman who was basically not interesting, but full of vitality and full of some kind of sexual aura.

Studs Terkel Hmm.

Robert Kotlowitz That Teddy again gets, and is jealous of his father in some, some way [chuckle].

Studs Terkel So, he's seeing both his mother and father who are, there's a tension between them quite obviously. That he is the non-success who is, in a sense, being supported by her successful side.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel And her, his mother's, restlessness that he senses, and his father being drawn to this vital woman, who not quite as elegant of that, of that stratum of society as his mother's.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel And he's watching. So he's, it's as though he's at the doorway watching, isn't he?

Robert Kotlowitz And at the same time, [shuffling papers] this vital woman has two sons who have all, every aspect of her vitality, but a father who is growing rich on manufacturing uniforms for the draft [shuffling papers]. And they are a constant temptation to Teddy. They are trying to get him to the whorehouse section in Atlantic City. They drag him under the boardwalk and feed him on dirty books. And they are, they are two entirely physical boys.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz I mean of a kind we all have known all our lives.

Studs Terkel And so it's Teddy discovering aspects. He himself raised rather gently delicately, raised that way, playing piano at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. And a mother and father, who also are pretenders [unintelligible] part of it, has this raffish.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Group [unintelligible].

Robert Kotlowitz Who are right there.

Studs Terkel And in contrast, we come to the year 1939, and the most significance of that. War is breaking out, hear about that and Hitler. And he's walking down the boardwalk. You opened the program reading, with a kid named Erich Kessler, another aspect of life.

Robert Kotlowitz Well, I would like to just review a little bit of personal history with that. I grew up in a family, during the '30s, that was very involved in bringing young German, Jewish children over. And the city of Baltimore was in my eyes, my part of the city of Baltimore, was filled with them. They went into foster homes. They never talked about their own families. They never talked about Germany. It was as though they had emerged from the sea, you know, full grown at 14. And I had several as very, very close friends. My own home was European oriented, so I was very sympathetic to them. And I, their presence and the news that was coming out of Germany and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, Japanese going into Manchukuo. All of that, really worked on me very intensely as I was growing up and the war, which I consider my major life experience was approaching, and I was terrifically involved in all of that, at that age, just as, as Teddy is.

Studs Terkel As Teddy is.

Robert Kotlowitz Yes.

Studs Terkel This, this is, of course, we come to this moment, don't we. All this on him, of course you are. There's one spot [that?] Teddy, or Bob for that matter. It's a place where we've been having a good time. Food is very important, and we know this particularly Jewish resorts. Food is tremendously important. And Mrs. Sloan, she runs it. Her husband sort of trots behind her, as you say, puppy dog fashion, but she turns off the radio. Teddy is listening to the radio. And as Lowell Thomas on news dispatch coming through about Europe 1939, and it's turned off. And the others aren't too interested, are they? Or there are some who are.

Robert Kotlowitz Just a few.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz A few pick it up, but it's almost obsessive with Teddy. And I have a personal theory that the line, that line where external events, that is history, and personal life intersect is really what we call destiny. That's really what makes us. And I do think most people really don't have time, they're involved with personal concerns, to really look at the world. That, that other line of.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz External events. And the book is very much involved with that. I, I tried very hard to have both of those things.

Studs Terkel Mmmhmm.

Robert Kotlowitz Crossing it.

Studs Terkel You know, if I could say this very personal, why I'm moved by your book. I'm working on a memoir coming out, sort of, and part of it is a memory at a resort in in Michigan, called South Haven, as the 1924 presidential Democratic convention. I'm listening to that radio, and I'm the only one, the 103 ballot one, you know. And I remember the voices. I'm the only one except for one old man who was listening with me. And it's that memory.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Of the hot shots, you know, playing cards and Mahjong. and and-.

Robert Kotlowitz And how unbelievable it was that the adults.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Didn't care.

Studs Terkel No.

Robert Kotlowitz I mean that's really.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz What I couldn't believe. That nobody, that everybody didn't care the way I cared.

Studs Terkel But at resort, though, there are a couple of. There's Erich Kessler, the boy, and his father. Whom you describe, by the way, a German who's a refugee, quite fascinating in no certain way. A certain kind who's very polite, knows how to say the right things, your description.

Robert Kotlowitz Well, they were saying the right things because that's what experience demanded of them. And for them to have gotten out of Germany at that particular time demanded a lot of sophistication on how to smile, and acknowledge favors and ask for favors, and those habits, I think, were brought over to this country. And they were here, the mother was still in Germany, and the two of them were mirror images of each other, are mirror images of each other in the book. They're very dense, and reticent, and enclosed, and teutonic, and very vulnerable. Very vulnerable, and trying to become Americans.

Studs Terkel Yes, but always the politeness and the order of things is almost teutonic, in a sense [too?] Jewish, indeed.

Robert Kotlowitz Yes, yes.

Studs Terkel And you hounded by Hitler, at the same time.

Robert Kotlowitz Very German.

Studs Terkel That [touch?] of German.

Robert Kotlowitz In fact, not only very German, but there's a moment when the Germans invade Poland when there is a suspicion that the father admires, really admires, the success, the initial success of the German army in going into Poland, so you know, the blitzkrieg.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz He can hardly contain his own German feelings.

Studs Terkel Yeah, this is all happening to Teddy, by the way, at the age of 14, but the year is important too. A certain moment in history, and indeed in Teddy's, and might I suggest, Bob Kotlowitz's life.

Robert Kotlowitz All of our lives [chuckle].

Studs Terkel All of our lives. But, but in an aware sense, you know.

Robert Kotlowitz Yes, yes.

Studs Terkel All of our lives without our being aware of it. In your sense quite, you've pinpointed it, in a way. That particular year, isn't it. You didn't say, 1934, Atlantic City.

Robert Kotlowitz No, '39 to me is the single most important year in my life, in terms of that external world. And everything that has happened since has emerged from that watershed year, I think.

Studs Terkel Well, think of it now. What it is to our society too. Your life and yet our society. Thirty-nine, the depression was going on. And as we know Roosevelt did a great deal, the New Deal and the WPA, but the depression did not end.

Robert Kotlowitz Absolutely.

Studs Terkel Until the war. Until the Nazis invaded Poland, '39. When defense and military manufacturing began to be.

Robert Kotlowitz And that was 6 to 7 years of it, by then [shuffling papers]. And there was, I think, no sign of the depression lifting, if there hadn't been a war. So that transformed that particular problem in purely transient terms I think. We've had, you know, reattacks of the same sickness.

Studs Terkel Yes. This is the thing, the question that comes up, a big question. It's not [chuckle], your book is simply the descriptions of the vocative book. Memories come back, a boy's memory, indeed memories of many of us of a certain kind of place like Atlantic City. But a question is always there now, not in the book, but raised by you just now. I mean, think about. Is our society, as it is, viable unless there's always a war, hot or cold?

Robert Kotlowitz Well, it is a central question, Studs, and one that we deal with only from time to time, unfortunately. And I have less a sense of the answers today than I ever had. I, I do not know any more how I really feel about that. What do you feel? [laughter]

Studs Terkel Well, [laughter] I think we need something more than, we certainly need a the New Deal. We sure need that now, obviously. It doesn't seem to be forthcoming at the moment when there's talk about, let private sector do it. But I think we [can use?] more than that.

Robert Kotlowitz Yeah, I do too.

Studs Terkel There has to be a whole.

Robert Kotlowitz I do too.

Studs Terkel Reevaluation of what are, what is most valuable.

Robert Kotlowitz In fact.

Studs Terkel In our society.

Robert Kotlowitz I paid my first visit to Sweden, to get off the subject just briefly.

Studs Terkel No, that's ok.

Robert Kotlowitz Last year. And went really on official business, but and filled with all of the stereotypes that had been stuffed into my head about the country and found all of them untrue. I had no sense of any soporific quality. I had a sense of terrific energy and assurance on the part of every level of the population that I dealt with. There is no fear that you're going to wake up at 72, dead in some gutter, with no one to pay any attention to you. On the other hand there are many more rewards in that society than the enemies of that kind of socialist state would let anybody believe. I would like to go back for six months really [laughter].

Studs Terkel By the way, on that very point. I was there a couple of years ago and what you say is true. Just to add something further. When Olof Palme and the Social Democrats had been 40 years, were defeated by [writing on paper] the Centrist Party. The papers here were carrying, that's the end of that form of semi-socialism. By the way, it's not that socialist [chuckle]. Ninety-five percent is private enterprise.

Robert Kotlowitz Right. Right.

Studs Terkel Certain industry though. But the paper said that's the end of it. The fact is the state is maintained in almost every phase.

Robert Kotlowitz There. There.

Studs Terkel By the succeeding government.

Robert Kotlowitz There will be no change in the welfare aspect of that state.

Studs Terkel None. The candidate would not be the--.

Robert Kotlowitz There would be a change of administration. New faces will be governing for a while, and I think that's what the country needed. And there will be no changes that anybody will be able to feel at all [chuckle].

Studs Terkel I heard all sorts of talk about the taxation that is indeed heavy, but I remember the one woman, a middle class woman, was saying you know we do pay heavy, but you know something, I don't have to worry about my father.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel And a nursing home. I don't have to worry about him, him or our family and medical care. And it's true. But it's worth it. Others of course are for reasons that we all [know?], complain.

Robert Kotlowitz Don't we all pay heavy taxes, though, here and do we not have a sense that perhaps we're not getting the real return we should get?

Studs Terkel And of course, if I could wander just a bit more, we're trying to get novel.

Robert Kotlowitz [laughter].

Studs Terkel Which in a way is good because it evokes all these is that we hardly question the gargantuan, the monumental military budget, you know. Never. It's always "that woman", meaning of course black, or Chicano, or poor white. That woman and the kids who gets whatever pittance she gets, you know. And never that huge.

Robert Kotlowitz Sure.

Studs Terkel The huge, as someone said, those tremendous welfare bums at the Pentagon.

Robert Kotlowitz Right [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel You know. And Howard Hughes, by the way, Enterprise received $1,700,000 a day from the U.S. government.

Robert Kotlowitz As subsidy.

Studs Terkel As subsidy.

Robert Kotlowitz Yeah.

Studs Terkel That was the headline, by the way, in a non-radical paper, the Chicago Tribune, last, a couple of Novembers ago. But that's never questioned. For some reason we have been taught. I think the Cold War has played this role, hasn't it. In a way that's why your book to me evokes all this.

Robert Kotlowitz Of course.

Studs Terkel This was a hot war in which they were our allies at the time, but since '44 or '45 this aspect [unintelligible].

Robert Kotlowitz Yeah, no question.

Studs Terkel We may want to turn to the book [chuckle].

Robert Kotlowitz Ok [chuckle].

Studs Terkel By the way, this is, this hasn't wandered from "Boardwalk". We'll take a slight pause right now for a message. And my guest is Robert Kotlowitz, Bob Kotlowitz, and his quite moving novel of a boyhood memory of a couple of weeks in Atlantic City. "The Boardwalk" and Knopf's, the publishers. We'll return, un memento [pause in recording]. Returning again, Atlantic City, and by the way, Atlantic City that was a certain glory time for this particular.

Robert Kotlowitz It was the high moment.

Studs Terkel Vacation spot, wasn't it.

Robert Kotlowitz It was the high moment. The war, during the war the army took over those hotels and that was the beginning of the end, and then the middle class became very affluent after the war. Began to go to the Cape, and to Florida, and Europe was accessible, and the resort like that began to [clicked tongue] slide.

Studs Terkel And so it became a seedy little place. But now I understand it's become, it's going to be the casino again.

Robert Kotlowitz I went back two weekend, two weekends ago with my wife who used to go there as a child too. That's my wife on the cover, in fact.

Studs Terkel Oh.

Robert Kotlowitz And we stayed in one of those grand hotels that was inaccessible to me as a child and it was wonderful. But it's going to be a different place. It'll be very busy and very profitable, but it won't be--.

Studs Terkel Oh, you mean it's going to be kind of a Las Vegas.

Robert Kotlowitz Yeah.

Studs Terkel Out east.

Robert Kotlowitz Sure.

Studs Terkel A hot shot.

Robert Kotlowitz Sure.

Studs Terkel Slot machine.

Robert Kotlowitz Sure.

Studs Terkel Joint out east.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel But you remember, coming back to your memory, and we'll return to some of the characters in your book too, Teddy and the others he sees. In your mind's eye, or your memory, it was a very, what?

Robert Kotlowitz Well, in my memory it was glamour. I had, I loved the sea [shuffling papers]. That's number one. I love, really love to be at the sea. And I love to swim, so I had the beach and that all day long. Then we would have those endless meals at Sloan's hotel, which was like a play, a drama every night at one table or another. And then as soon as dinner was over we were off to the boardwalk to really walk it from, not quite from, one end to the other, but a long distance. [Aw?] diamond auctions on the boardwalk, [shuffling papers] salt water taffy. The whole world was there. It was a great metaphor for life. Everything was going on in Atlantic City.

Studs Terkel Yeah. But also that added aspect of something piquant, something titillating too.

Robert Kotlowitz Yes.

Studs Terkel That was happening because of the two weeks away from.

Robert Kotlowitz Oh! Away from ordinary life into what was an exotic setting.

Studs Terkel Coming back to, you said exotic, coming back to Teddy and his thoughts about, particularly, his mother. A couple of times she went out, you know, they'd go to bed early.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel With her friend Charlotte. And he's not quite sure, she was casual. You have some marvelous, oh, I lost that place we were gonna read.

Robert Kotlowitz Oh, I'll find it.

Studs Terkel Oh, here it is.

Robert Kotlowitz Ok.

Studs Terkel We'll come to that. And it was that casual way she said, take care [and?] coming back, and you have a feeling that Teddy, maybe there's an assignation, a rendezvous with somebody.

Robert Kotlowitz No question.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz And that's why he sets out in pursuit of her.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Both times. And really follows her to the hotel in which she has that date and then can't handle it once he's.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz In the hotel and flees.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Rather than to try to create a confrontation.

Studs Terkel And he doesn't want to know what's happened on that date.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel But [how?] mother returns you notice a slight disarray.

Robert Kotlowitz That's right.

Studs Terkel A very delicate disarray.

Robert Kotlowitz Yeah, it's true he doesn't want to know, but he knows.

Studs Terkel Yeah, now his brother, his older brother, who was hip to things says something's not quite right going on between the parents.

Robert Kotlowitz Oh, the brother is cynical.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz And knows it at all and-.

Studs Terkel Well, let's go with that brother then.

Robert Kotlowitz Ok.

Studs Terkel That scene, that boardwalk scene, suppose you read it. It's a very, or if you do the brother, no, you do both roles.

Robert Kotlowitz Ok, alright.

Studs Terkel You read that. Suppose you set the scene for that.

Robert Kotlowitz The scene is which the father and the two boys are going to visit the rich side of the family at a plush hotel down the boardwalk and the father has a bad case of sunburn and can't walk so he decides to take one of the wicker carriages. A few minutes later, the book says, "Jack and the boys stood on the boardwalk arguing feebly with each other. It was clear that the only way Jack could get to the Shelbourne was to hire a rolling chair and be wheeled there. His feet were too tender. He did not want to be bumped by the crowd. That was all right with Ben as long as Jack understood that he would have no part of it; would not ride in a rolling chair, hire another human to perambulate him in front of the whole world as long as he, Ben Lewin, had two good legs under him. No man should have to push another man in a chair, he said. That's their living, Jack snapped. It's beneath a man's dignity. What would they do if everybody felt the way you do? Other things, Ben said, like other men. You have a job for them? Do you really think they should be parading the boardwalk in Atlantic City like oxen? For God's sakes, Jack said, you'd take away a man's livelihood just so you could be right. Come on, Teddy said, he had begun to twitch. Dad can't walk and you know that. I am not going to ride in one of those things, Ben said. You can both do what you want. I'll meet you at the Shelbourne, and I'll be there before you will".

Studs Terkel Yeah, that's a very, because at the very funny scene. It's a telling scene too [shuffling papers]. Because it [unintelligible] something.

Robert Kotlowitz Actually, it was my father, in Atlantic City, who refused to ride in wicker carriages when I was there with him as a child. And that's where I picked that up. My own, my real father, and was enormously impressed, impressed by that, when I was, when we first went there. I think I must have been 8 years old. I thought my God really to respect those men with, that way and not ride in a wicker chair.

Studs Terkel It was your father. [From?] your father, was sort of aware and [everything?].

Robert Kotlowitz Oh very aware. My father was a young, Polish socialist who was the only member of his family to have come to this country, and a very active Zionist who fought in the Jewish Legion in Palestine in World War One. And so all those things were very real to him and that's what I, that's really was at the center of my own household.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz As a child.

Studs Terkel Come back to that year. By the way, there was a marvelous, [shuffling papers] again, I think you should read this, at least talk about it. The description, Ben, Teddy's older brother talks about the difference between Eastern European and German.

Robert Kotlowitz German.

Studs Terkel Jews.

Robert Kotlowitz Oh, yes. Early on--.

Studs Terkel It's marvelous. What do you think? It, this is, that's, by the way, this is something worth talking about. There always has been, I'm sure you find this among all ethnic groups. We know this, in Black society, light skinned Blacks and black Blacks has been a factor. In Big Bill Broonzy, the blues singer, an old friend of mine, said his grandmother, he could never go in his grandmother's church. We find this among Italians, North Italians, and Sicilian, and Calabrian people.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel A sort of lording over.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel And this may be in all societies, possibly, but certainly among Jews.

Robert Kotlowitz Well, this was very well defined and Baltimore, which had a particularly well defined Jewish community, literally had two country clubs. One for the Eastern European Jews, one for the German Jews, and there was no intermarriage in those days. And this is a scene at the dinner table in the hotel and they're talking about these two country clubs and the two kinds of Jews and Ben, the older brother, begins by saying, "Eastern European Jews, Ben said, mostly second generation, some first, still very hungry for everything still scared of the past. All Democrats politically with perhaps a half dozen exceptions for patronage reasons. Judges, that kind of thing. All Zionists. All on the make. Then Jack said, it's all verifiable about papa, you know that. It's true, Teddy added, all my aunts and uncles. And not yet quite at home, Ben went on, with a symphony or art museums or literature, but beginning to cast flirtatious looks in those directions. Beginning to get a crush on culture and other aspects of Anglo-Saxon life, in our Anglo-Saxon world. And also beginning to corner the money in town. Gus Levy looked impressed. And the other club he asked".

Studs Terkel Gus Levy is sort of the, he's the--.

Robert Kotlowitz He's the resident intellectual.

Studs Terkel He's the intellectual.

Robert Kotlowitz Yes.

Studs Terkel Of the resort, yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz "The other club, Charlotte said, Germans, Deutschen. Yes, Ben said, very sure of themselves, but as Jews full of self-hatred. Old mercantile money mostly, a couple of outstanding collections of contemporary art, one or two, some interesting eccentric, sexual and otherwise, and probably more family idiots than in-breeding and the law should allow. Mix politics, conservative practices, liberal instincts that go back to the 1848 revolution. In general, anti-Zionist and fiercely so. Terrified of being accused of double loyalties. Also terrified of the Eastern European country club, the Woodholme and that gang, which they see as the wave of the future, which it is, yet still a home to a small core group of outstanding families in the community and among themselves. And if one were to choose, Gus Levy says. One never chooses. One is not allowed to choose. One goes where one belongs. Gus Levy poked at the aspic on his plate, and you know where you belong. Don't listen to him, Jack said, he makes too much of it. Don't take it too seriously. You take it seriously enough, Pops, Ben said. Well, it's the way he says it, as Charlotte said. There's no way of getting away from it. Well, Jack said, two country clubs. Who cares? You care, Ben said. So do we. So does everybody else, despite themselves. The whole business says something about the fate of the Jews in this country. There you go again. It does. I can't help that. And since when are you so worried about the Jews. I thought it was capitalism that bothered you these days."

Studs Terkel And so it goes on, yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz [chuckle].

Studs Terkel So, here again you have in this resort the little boy, the young boy 14. Teddy is hearing all sorts, impressed by some and repelled by others at this place, isn't it?

Robert Kotlowitz It's, it was a wonderful way of, as I said Atlantic City does, did represent a kind of metaphor for all the good things in life when I was a child. Endless pleasure, and being served, and swimming, and sun, and piers on which there were all kinds of wonderful new things to see, and it was it was a real magic for me.

Studs Terkel And in, in your mind, [shuffling papers] or in the mind of the 14 year old Bob or Teddy, two things are going on there, you know. The world outside, which he is for some reason, your father in your case, but Teddy, interested, hooked on it and the non-caring or the cavalier attitude of the adults.

Robert Kotlowitz Yeah [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel That kind of throws him. The [snaps fingers] radio being snapped off [as he's?] hearing the news. So, there's a double theme here. And the music going on in his head as--.

Robert Kotlowitz When the war breaks out, Teddy is standing in the lobby of the hotel, [shuffling papers] and he, to him it's the beginning of the end of the world. And he looks around and there's a woman vacuuming the carpet, and Mrs. Sloan is ringing up the cash register, and this one is going about her normal business. And he can't believe that in the face.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Of this kind of momentous news the world goes on [shuffling papers] in the most ordinary way, ordinary, uncaring way.

Studs Terkel And of course, it's not uncaring. It's the fact that there's, there is a matter of just a daily life.

Robert Kotlowitz That's right.

Studs Terkel And Teddy at 14, and passionate, quietly passionate, and [romantic?] at that, there's life going on.

Robert Kotlowitz He writes off that.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz ordinary life. He doesn't accept it.

Studs Terkel By the way, there's a marvelous description of "Sunday Evening Hour" too, early in.

Robert Kotlowitz Oh.

Studs Terkel Baltimore. You're hearing, in your book are evoked, you know, memories of the one which everybody listened, "Sunday Evening Hour".

Robert Kotlowitz Did you used to listen to it?

Studs Terkel Yeah, with Cameron.

Robert Kotlowitz Right, right.

Studs Terkel And it's messages, you know. And that was very funny.

Robert Kotlowitz Absolutely.

Studs Terkel W.J. Cameron.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Who published Henry Ford's anti-Semitic, "Dearborn Independent".

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Would make his comments, but there was fine music [chuckle].

Robert Kotlowitz Great music. And he would come on for five minutes on Sunday night and my mother would turn the volume down.

Studs Terkel [laughter].

Robert Kotlowitz So that I wouldn't pick any of it up. As though I understood what he was talking about anyway [laughter].

Studs Terkel Very funny, and to hear it again, it's of a certain time. That's the time, 1939.

Robert Kotlowitz I tried, a lot of people who like to call the book nostalgic. I don't think it's nostalgic. For me nostalgia as a yearning for the past and that's not what the book is about at all. I don't believe the past was better. I just believe it was, and--.

Studs Terkel Yeah, in fact some might say, those bad old times.

Robert Kotlowitz Of course. You bet.

Studs Terkel But no, this is not, I didn't think of it as nostalgic either. I thought of it as a certain awakening and awareness of a, of a boy in a certain, as you said, watershed year, critical year, 1939.

Robert Kotlowitz And a very important to time.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Crucial time.

Studs Terkel Let's talked a little, this is, the book is, is "The Boardwalk", by Robert Kotlowitz, my guest, Knopf, the publishers. Let's put on your other hat now. You know, for me.

Robert Kotlowitz Oh, sure [chuckle].

Studs Terkel You're the head of WNET. It's Channel 13 in New York. [unintelligible] Channel 11 here, but you're also connect with the network.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel And a lot of it originates from NET. So, has there been a change since Nixon left as far as PBS. Remember the time there was, wasn't there--.

Robert Kotlowitz Certainly do.

Studs Terkel Wasn't he putting in someone named Clay Whitehead?

Robert Kotlowitz I.

Studs Terkel Let's talk a little about this.

Robert Kotlowitz I've only been in.

Studs Terkel From a guy who knows about this.

Robert Kotlowitz I've only been in television, in public television for five and a half years or so, and that was beginning when I first came in. And there was a real attempt from the White House to strangulate public television by paying public lip service to what its potentialities were, and actually trying to splinter it into 240 segments. Meaning 240 stations, each of which would be given a certain amount of money with which they would then operate locally and be unable to have any national clout. And this almost succeeded. Many things were saved by Watergate, including public television. I think there is a change in the sensibility in Washington about it mainly because public television has had a certain degree of success in the past few years. There is a great, greater public awareness and [we'd?] have a real constituency. We have memberships that politicians now pay serious attention to, and they will not fool around with public television in the old way. I think we will have our other battles in Washington, but they won't take that particular form, I believe, because in New York alone we have 330,000 voluntary, contributors to the station who join with us. It's a joint venture.

Studs Terkel Mmmhmm.

Robert Kotlowitz Between us.

Studs Terkel Mmmhmm.

Robert Kotlowitz And them, and that's how it operates.

Studs Terkel Well, this is a question, perhaps we could talk a little about this. Do you feel that PBS, are there pressures on public television today and if so, what sort?

Robert Kotlowitz Well, I believe that the main problem with public television, as the main problem with all television and communications, is that we do not deal enough with public affairs. And that is because it is very difficult to get money for public affairs. If Congress is going to [a?] vote appropriations for public television, they would be, in a way, slitting their own throats, if they said to us, you know, use that money any way you want. We don't care if you try to attack us or probe us. I mean, this is a constant chronic battle. And we took an enormous step forward this year by putting the MacNeil-Lehrer Report on nightly. Dealing with a single subject of topical interest and put together a very interesting mix of funders, including one commercial corporation, Exxon, which gives a certain amount of money to this program each year. And we are screened from any interference by having spread it like that.

Studs Terkel I have to ask this question, actually it's one that comes to mind, many think of it. Is this program sponsored, and you have Exxon or some of the BBC sponsored by Mobil, [grant?]. Now suppose a program comes up dealing with oil of multi-nationals. I mean a really strong one, say.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Based on Anthony Sampson's book.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Or a new one by John Blair, say.

Robert Kotlowitz I think MacNeil has probably done four programs on oil.

Studs Terkel [sniff].

Robert Kotlowitz And the great conglomerates and there has been not a word, nor would Exxon, I feel, in any way take a stance public or private. They're too vulnerable in those terms, however--.

Studs Terkel Or perhaps too invulnerable.

Robert Kotlowitz Well, maybe that's it. Maybe that's exactly the word. they're so strong.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz They don't have to care. Government agencies, however, which are always susceptible to the committees on the Hill, and have to go up there and answer all the time, have their own set of very special problems, which they then translate into problems for us. And I never go to Washington to do anything, but battle. That's all I do when I go to Washington. And it's one of those constant struggles that we must live with and must fight all the time. And we are.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz But not entirely successfully.

Studs Terkel I'm wondering something else, I'm thinking of PBS, of course, a lot of your, there are some good U.S. originated programs.

Robert Kotlowitz Oh, sure.

Studs Terkel But a great many are British, you know. Will the sensational success of "Roots" on a commercial network effect PBS, I mean in a salubrious way, in that perhaps it can go further in matters of the sort?

Robert Kotlowitz I certainly hope so.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz We did in New York alone, a series called "The Fight Against Slavery", which was produced in England, and it was about the slave trade in the Caribbean. And it was a brilliant series. We put it on late in November. We ran it. It just preceded roots. We had a huge audience. I certainly hope that.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz We'll be [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel I don't, more than just a matter of black and white, and race.

Robert Kotlowitz [sniff].

Studs Terkel I was thinking the whole idea.

Robert Kotlowitz Big scale productions.

Studs Terkel Of exploring something even more fully than has been, Because, is it possible--.

Robert Kotlowitz Well, let me tell you.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz We just took an option on Irving Howe's book, "World Of Our Fathers", for example, and we are going to put a proposal together, and I hope that we'll be able to do a 6, 8, 10 part, whatever it requires, series about that aspect of American life. Yeah, the success of "Roots" took everybody by absolute--.

Studs Terkel Now Irving Howe's book is a case in point, you can also deal, that's a book about Jewish life in America, "World Of Our Fathers", but also other peoples, as well.

Robert Kotlowitz Absolutely.

Studs Terkel But I'm thinking now, as you're implying, extendly because apparently now that, and for so long, we think of TV and as we hear news, 1 minute, 2 minutes, commercials, 1 minute, 2 minutes. The narrow span that is used. People are conditioned, you know, a narrow time span, whereas, it's obvious now that people can listen longer and more, and more in depth [to things?].

Robert Kotlowitz We did Marcel Ophuls', "The Sorrow And The Pity".

Studs Terkel Yes, of course.

Robert Kotlowitz Complete, intact, beginning at 8:00 one night with one single 5 minute break in the middle, so that people could go to the bathroom, or fix a sandwich, or what have you. And we had the same size audience at the end of that, I think it was three and a half hours, as we did at the beginning. That audience.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz Is far more serious than anybody gives them.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah, actually.

Robert Kotlowitz Far smarter than anybody gives them credit for.

Studs Terkel Bob, this, I think can't be emphasized too much. I feel this [unintelligible]--.

Robert Kotlowitz I'm not talking about education. I'm just talking about responsiveness, receptivity.

Studs Terkel Absolutely. I'm talking about an audience, a general audience.

Robert Kotlowitz I agree.

Studs Terkel [Absolutely?], has been put down. And [snaps fingers] the 1 minute, 2 minute, [news?] with a capsule, you know, capsulized, the outline approach. Not even that, just capsule approach.

Robert Kotlowitz Right.

Studs Terkel Whereas, I think people are just hungry, just hungry and [unintelligible].

Robert Kotlowitz In my own experience, the major experience in public television is that people are hungry for authenticity. They want something real. I don't mean realistic drama.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz I mean something that they know connects with life.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz And when we do it they respond.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz We really have proof of that now.

Studs Terkel So, these are just thoughts of Robert Kotlowitz, a V.P. of Public Broadcasting System, as well as head of WNET, New York, and author. The book is "Boardwalk", we return to the this again. And we opened with a piece of music. That carousel music, the calliope music over the waves that was always played on merry-go-rounds and carousels.

Robert Kotlowitz All the time.

Studs Terkel And a bit of the piano that, Do you still play piano?

Robert Kotlowitz I still play piano.

Studs Terkel Do you.

Robert Kotlowitz Yes, but Schubert and Mozart.

Studs Terkel Oh, yeah.

Robert Kotlowitz I still can't play Rachmaninoff.

Studs Terkel You can't.

Robert Kotlowitz It's too much for me.

Studs Terkel Yeah. Well, Schubert and Mozart ain't bad [chuckle].

Robert Kotlowitz No, that isn't bad. I'm not saying mine is so good, but-- [chuckle].

Studs Terkel [chuckle] The book is, I think, a very moving one, at least to me, and I'm sure to many readers. Just evoking a memory in a boy's life, but also awakening, awakening, a window opening. "The Boardwalk", and a marvelous picture of Atlantic City and of people there. Robert Kotlowitz, my guest, Knopt, the publishers. And we opened with a calliope and the piano, and we close with a calliope and the piano and a certain memory. Thank you very much.

Robert Kotlowitz Thank you, Studs, for having me. I enjoyed it. [music playing]