TIME Media

Read a Stunningly Frank 1948 TIME Letter On Truman Capote and Sexuality

Truman Capote With His Dog
Truman Capote with his dog in 1950 Mondadori / Getty Images

The author was unafraid of being frank about his homosexuality, but it made TIME uncomfortable

When Breakfast at Tiffany’s author Truman Capote died in 1984, TIME’s obituary remarked that he was famous “for his lyrical, funny and gothic” writing, and for being “as much a member of the glitterati as the literati.” When his posthumously published Answered Prayers came out in 1987, the magazine wrote that he had been “on his way to a spectacular best seller, an irresistible piece of malicious mischief.”

But this magazine wasn’t always so kind to Capote, who would have celebrated his 90th birthday this Sept. 30.

When Other Voices Other Rooms, the novel that made his name, was published in 1948, the review was skeptical of the publishing-world brouhaha that had surrounded its release, and somewhat harsh to its author. He was probably “safe from smothering in laurels,” wrote TIME’s critic, because the book was merely “a literary contrivance of unusual polish.” And the critic didn’t stop at that. The following letter, which shines a light on the magazine’s practices of the era, appeared in the Feb. 16, 1948, issue in response to that review:

Sir:

You seem to advocate tolerance for the customary things discriminated against: race, color, creed, religion, etc. However, I do not believe you have ever made a reference to homosexuality (a perfectly legitimate psychological condition) without going specially out of your way to make a vicious insinuation, caustic remark, or “dirty dig.”

Your review of Truman Capote‘s Other Voices Other Rooms (TIME, Jan. 26) concludes . . . : “For all his novel’s gifted invention and imagery, the distasteful trappings of its homosexual theme overhang it like Spanish moss.”

I have seen a great deal of Spanish moss in a lot of places . . . and I must confess that some of it is quite beautiful. . . .

R. E. BERG

San Francisco, Calif.

The editor’s response? “It gives TIME the creeps. — ED.”

The tone of that snarky retort, and of the review itself, has faded into history, as has that attitude toward homosexuality. TIME’s Letters section is now generally snark-free, the magazine’s review of a 1988 biography of Capote called Other Voices Other Rooms “well written and convincingly atmospheric, with no word out of place” — and recent TIME covers have featured prominent LGBTQ activists and issues.

Truman Capote is still noted as having been ahead of his time in his openness about his own sexuality. R.E. Berg, in his or her willingness to speak up for that openness, remains noteworthy too.

Read TIME’s original review of Breakfast at Tiffany’s here, in the archives: Bad Little Good Girl

TIME Books

The Politician America Really Needs: A Certain First Lady

Lady Bird Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson Bettmann/Corbis

Jonathan Darman is the author of Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of A New America, out this month.

Forget the LBJ fantasies—if we could have Lady Bird back, things might be different

In this dismal hour of American politics, there is no better way to strike just the right note of sober-minded weariness than to speak, wistfully and longingly, about the wonders of Lyndon Baines Johnson. What we wouldn’t give for the impresario of arm-twisting—the president who, in the mid-1960s, forced greatness out of Washington that transformed people’s lives. The steward of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The man who delivered Medicare. If only we had LBJ around, who could force even our do-nothing politicians to do something.

The sad truth is that today’s politics are probably too hopelessly polarized to make good use of a legislative wunderkind. What we need are politicians who are unafraid to go to the most difficult places, to look painful realities in the face. And for that, we don’t need LBJ. We need his wife.

This might seem strange, sure. In pictures from the 1960s, Lady Bird often looks like the ultimate example of a smiling, silent good wife. Throughout her long career in Washington, she was always guided by a simple question: how to serve her husband best. To serve Lyndon, a wild-tempered man of expansive appetites and unending need, that often meant suffering indignities that were shocking even in a pre-feminist era. Jackie Kennedy, who watched Lady Bird write down every one of Lyndon’s thoughts and wishes, thought Lady Bird looked “like a trained hunting dog.”

LANDSLIDE -- book jacket

But Lady Bird’s dutiful subservience obscured her strength: a rare willingness to see the world as it really was. Despite his modern reputation as a pragmatist, LBJ often struggled to look at the future realistically, preferring to alternate between fantasies of great glory or doom and gloom. At key moments in the Johnson presidency, when Lyndon would give in to paranoia about the future, Lady Bird was a lone voice of reason.

During the historic campaign of 1964, as delegates to the Democratic National Convention gathered in the late-summer heat of Atlantic City, a woe-begotten Lyndon, worried about the demands of the office, took to his White House bedroom, saying he might refuse the nomination and let the presidency go. Lady Bird wouldn’t have it. In a letter to her husband she was kind but clear: “To step out now would be wrong for your country, and I can see nothing but a lonely wasteland in your future. Your friends would be frozen in embarrassed silence and your enemies jeering.” Lyndon got on a plane to the convention and accepted his party’s nomination as planned.

In the fall, even as landslide victory began to look like a sure thing, Lady Bird worried about the South, where white Democrats were enraged over the Administration’s handling of Civil Rights. Though southern politicians said they could not guarantee her safety, she set off for the confederacy in a train dubbed the “Lady Bird Special” to make the case for her husband.

And trouble came. In Charleston, she was greeted by angry protesters and a crude sign calling her “BLACK BIRD.” In Columbia, South Carolina, her words were temporarily drowned out by a booing mob. It was enough to shake a seasoned politician but Lady Bird simply held her white-gloved hand in the air. “This is a country of many viewpoints,” she said. “I respect your right to express your own. Now it is my turn to express mine. Thank you.” And with that, her harassers hushed.

Just weeks before the election, the political world convulsed with the news that Walter Jenkins, the Johnsons’ closest aide, had been caught having sex with another man in the basement of a Washington YMCA. Lady Bird urged her husband to show public support and compassion for a man who had served their family for decades. When he refused, Lady Bird defied the advice of his counselors and released her own public statement: “My heart is aching today for someone who has reached the end point of exhaustion in service to his country.”

In the course of the ‘64 campaign, Lady Bird displayed a deep realism about human nature that is far more rare in a First Lady than we might think. President Obama, like his predecessors, promotes his wife as a source of real-talk, the one person who is unimpressed by his office and still gives it to him straight. But a First Lady, like any spouse, often feels the criticisms of her husband more acutely than does the president himself. A bunker of denial and recrimination can be an enticing escape for both partners in a political marriage. Hillary Clinton provided many assets to her husband during their time in the White House, but relief from paranoia and self-pity was not among them.

Even Lady Bird’s powers had their limits. As the Johnson presidency wore on, Vietnam overwhelmed everything, including Lady Bird’s ability to cut through the illusions in her husband’s head. It is tantalizing to imagine an alternate history of the Johnson presidency in which the First Lady was empowered to help her husband in Vietnam the way she helped him in other areas.

And it is tempting to imagine what would happen if more leaders today had Lady Bird’s spirit, her willingness to go to the unkind places, to face the fury of hostile crowds. Imagine how things might be different if our leaders had faith that when you look at the hard things plainly, they often to turn out to be far less frightening than they seem. And then imagine what would happen when a truly gifted leader broke that silence and spoke.

Jonathan Darman, a former political correspondent for Newsweek, is the author of Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of A New America, out this month.

 

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

Anne Helen Petersen on How to Build (and Bury) a Hollywood Scandal

9780142180679_ScandalsofCl-CVF.indd

The author and expert on all things scandalous talks to TIME about her new book

Everyone loves a scandal — and no one did scandal better than old Hollywood. In her new book, Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance and Drama From the Golden Age of American Cinema (out Sept. 30), writer Anne Helen Petersen delves deep into the back stories of some of old Hollywood’s most famous stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Mae West.

Yet Petersen doesn’t just dish the dirt; as a “Doctor of Celebrity Gossip,” with a PhD in media studies, Petersen also provides insightful historical and cultural context to stories behind the gossip. TIME spoke with Petersen about the nature of a scandal, how gossip repeats itself and how Hollywood has changed.

TIME: What defined a scandal in old Hollywood?

Anne Helen Petersen: The thing about scandals that I always say is that no action is de facto scandalous. It only becomes scandalous when it trespasses or transgresses the lines of the status quo. So something in the late ‘40s — like when Ingrid Bergman had an affair with her director and then had a child out of wedlock, she was denounced as an instrument of evil on the Senate floor. If you did that today, [the reaction would be different].

Right. And a lot of actors and actresses had affairs, the public just never heard about. How much of that secrecy was a factor of the old Hollywood system, where stars had contracts with studios that were in turn invested in keeping their images clean?

The studio system functioned in symbiosis with the gossip apparatus — so the gossip magazines, the gossip columnists, the people who were in charge of mediating the information about the stars. It was never down on paper, but it was understood that [the gossip media] toed the studio line and in exchange for that they received a constant stream of information— maybe not true information, it was often times very fabricated information — about the stars.

Elizabeth Taylor Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In a lot of your writing you connect certain scandals that took place in old Hollywood with the scandals that take place today. In particular, I know you’ve compared coverage of the Elizabeth Taylor/Eddie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds love triangle with the ongoing Jennifer Aniston and Brangelina tabloid saga. I’m wondering if scandals in Hollywood have actually changed at all since the golden era?

I think certain tropes of what we expect of a woman or of a man or of a relationship have shifted over the last 100 years, but we’re still very much engaged in policing those [expectations] as a society. So the reason it’s so easy to relate scandals that are happening now to scandals that have happened historically is that it’s the same sort of policing taking place. So while the specifics of the scandal may change, the actual ways that society and media treats it has not.

Were there any differences in the types of scandals that actors versus actresses faced?

In the book, some scandals aren’t scandals at all. With the story of the affair between Clark Gable and Carole Lombard or the relationship between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, it’s a story of how something didn’t become scandalous. Because if you were a white straight male, you could handle a scandal. Unless you were a white straight overweight male like Fatty Arbuckle.

Fatty Arbuckle Library of Congress

But the real tragedies of the book are all women. Today [it's not quite so bad]. When Kristen Stewart was caught cheating with a director, it was a scandal, but [not in the same way it was for] Ingrid Bergman, where it ruined her career.

What effect has the rise of entertainment media had on Hollywood?

Even in classic Hollywood there were always people who wanted to know the dirt and tried really hard to get it. But what happened with the demise of classic Hollywood — and you see this in my book in the last section about Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando and James Dean — is that there were these stars who weren’t on studio contracts and that allowed for all sorts of scandalous material to come out about them.

Marlon Brando Library of Congress

As I see it, there are the two modes of reporting on celebrities: you have the people who want to serve up stories that affirm that celebrities are exactly who we think they are. And then there is the mode that kind of tears down the celebrity. There are just more outlets on either side, whether they are bolstering or tearing down stars. So it makes it harder to have a really coherent image of a particular celebrity. I think that’s the reason that people really seem to like Jennifer Lawrence, because she’s just so on message.

‘On message’ is an interesting concept. Do celebrities have more control over their own image today because of things like social media or a more savvy awareness of branding?

Well, we think we have more access to the stars with social media, like there’s this real semblance of authenticity and that we somehow have a direct conduit to everything that a star is doing. But actually I think that it’s a way that they can control their brand message even tighter.

The way I think of the history of Hollywood is this cycle of control and rupture, control and rupture. So in old Hollywood everything is locked down, as with the studio system. And then there’s the rupture of the 1950s, [where actors were beginning to work without long-term contracts]. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, everything was very controlled and locked down again by these incredible publicists. Then, with the rise of digital technology, you have TMZ and gossip bloggers like Perez. The crazy gossip period of 2005 to 2008 is again this time where people are trying to reconfigure [celebrity]. Now, a star thinks, People can take a picture of me anywhere and I can connect with my fans directly through Twitter. How do we [make this work for] our message?

Scandals of Classic Hollywood is based on your popular column over at The Hairpin. What can your regular readers expect from the book?

It’s based on the same concept as the column but it’s all new content. My goal for the book — and really for all of the writing I do now — is to do this hybrid, where I take the ideas that I know from academia and then write them in a way that’s accessible to a wider audience.

Dorothy Dandridge Library of Congress

What’s next for you?

I think that my next book will take contemporary icons — people like Jennifer Lawrence or Kanye West or Beyonce — and look at their antecedents from, say, 20 years before. So I’ll look at Princess Diana in the 1980s and then I’ll look at Kate Middleton. Then there will be the tortured genius, so I’ll look at Michael Jackson and Kanye West. It will still use the historical context, but it won’t go as far back in history.

TIME Books

Saeed Jones: “No One Is Safe” In These Poems

Layout 1
Coffee House Press

A conversation with Jones about his debut collection, Prelude to Bruise, and whether poetry can ever go viral

When he’s not editing BuzzFeed’s LGBT vertical by day, Saeed Jones is also a poet. His debut collection, Prelude to Bruise, hit shelves earlier this month, and though listing its topics hardly does the critically acclaimed book justice — you’ll have to see the words arranged on the page yourself — the way these poems address violence, life in the south, race, sexuality and relationships makes for an engrossing read best consumed in as few sittings as possible.

TIME met up with Jones last week to talk about his work.

TIME: You live in New York now, but many of these poems are several years old and were written in the South, where you’re from originally — as well as during other travels. Is this book closing the chapter on that time in your life, or going back in to investigate it?

Saeed Jones: Yeah, it is [closing a chapter]. There’s a line in the very last poem in the book where I say, “I’m in the woods again.” That’s often how I felt working on the book. I would think I was finished, and then another door would open, and I’d be like, crap! I’m still here! When am I going to be done with this? It feels very good to have the book finished and out there.

Anything you write is filtered through your life, so even though I may not say in the poems, “I too am on a journey as a writer!” I like that that comes through and really shaped the physical shape of the poems — they start to look different as you move. It’s important that the speakers have revelations and a sense of age. By the end, the speakers certainly sound older, the dynamics of the relationships feel differently.

Talking about the book does bring things back, and you find yourself realizing things about yourself and the poems I maybe wasn’t really thinking about at the time. I realized I was trying to answer some questions. One of the questions was, how are we using other people and their bodies to understand who we are? And that’s in terms of sex, that’s in terms of relationships, that’s in terms of sexual orientation. It’s experimenting, right? Certainly your first few relationships, you’re kind of figuring this out, and that requires having another person to work with. That’s actually kind of weird! For me, one way that I know I’m clearly in a different point in my life is that I’m not in any way interested in experimenting with identity in the way that I was when I was in my teens and early 20s.

Yeah, I was going to ask about the powerful body imagery you have here — that seems like such a focus of the book.

Aside from mythologizing coming of age, the book is also about black men’s bodies. I was thinking a lot about the way black men are written about and described, how we become hooded figures and this very particular assumption of masculinity. Where does that leave queer black guys? Who are often just as nervous and human as anyone else? I’m not trying to steal anyone’s purse! I’m maybe looking over my own shoulder. Everyone’s in peril in these poems — no one is safe. No one is going to save you in these poems. Being deeply aware of your mortality, that there are bones and blood and how easily we can bleed and be cut, that is something I’m always thinking about. Hopefully it’s a way to remind us of the value of life, even if it’s someone who’s very, very different from you. I hope you don’t have to be a black gay guy from the South to understand the journey these speakers are on in the course of the book.

Also, Americans love sex, obviously. But we’re still very Victorian about sex, and that’s something that’s always irritated me. So why not just start there? Start in the bedroom! And it’s fun to write about. I remember reading a poem once where someone was writing about spreading jam on toast, and I was like, “I couldn’t write that!”

A lot of these poems deal with trying to move on from your past while still acknowledging the ways your past has shaped you.

Over the course of the book, everyone’s remembering, and kind of under siege by, their past and not doing the best job of moving on. Certainly as an LGBT news editor, I see that when I’m reading stories: LGBT people who have survived but maybe have not had the opportunity — because it is a certain kind of privilege — to process. And if you don’t process, I do think there’s a reliving, recreating circumstances.

Roxane Gay actually said this yesterday [at a BuzzFeed event]: it’s always helpful when you’re thinking about whatever your history is, whatever is true, one fact is certain — you’re not still there. I think that’s very helpful. As I was working through the book and reflecting, I started thinking about, well, okay, this character is struggling, I’m struggling, but we’re also alongside other people who are struggling. You in the present moment are surrounded by people who are also on a journey. That’s the question in the poem “Body & Kentucky Bourbon.” He’s been in this relationship with this man, and it’s ended, and only after it’s ended is he able to think about, wait, this guy had a past too that he was grappling with. I’m sure he would have liked to have been able to figure that out before.

As someone who’s very new to poetry, I’m still getting used to the ambiguity of it — what’s happening, who is speaking, is this real life? Is that as liberating for you as it is unsettling to a first-timer?

It’s amusing! I can see it sometimes when I’m talking to people. I can often see the flash of trying to understand. I do think it’s part of American book culture. We’re used to fiction and nonfiction, and we’re obsessing over a memoirist fictionalizing and a novelist drawing from biography. Poetry is, “We don’t know what to do with it!”

Often when people see an “I” in poetry, there’s an inclination to assume its autobiographical. Once I remember someone asking me what it’s like to be writing and dealing with being a survivor of child abuse, and I was like, “Oh! I am not a survivor of child abuse.” There are certainly shards of my life in the book. But it’s usually details. It’s usually setting. Like, I did have sex with a boyfriend in the woods, but it was at a party! We weren’t running away from home. My house obviously isn’t on fire. I’m sure there are some readers out there who are very worried about me.

Is there more of a risk in the poetry world of becoming “a black queer poet” versus a poet who happens to be black and queer and write about those things?

I’ve been to readings where I’ve been packaged as a Southern writer, and at other readings, it’s black writer, queer writer. It’s always being arranged. Typically it’s for the audience — it has nothing to do with me. I think about the 18-year-old gay kid that I once was in Texas. If I found out there was a reading and there was a gay poet and saw that in a bio, I would go! As long as my work is out there and able to get into peoples’ hands, and as long as the questions are thoughtful and in good faith, I’m fine.

Not that writing a book of poetry and writing for the Internet strike me as particularly at odds with each other, but has working for the social web changed anything about how you work and write?

It’s a good question, and it’s something I think about. I’ve been working on a memoir since I started at BuzzFeed, so I haven’t been writing a lot of poems. But it has to have an impact on my writing process. Because I’m online all day and am reading all day, it reminds me that readers, wonderfully, have so many options. Maybe that’s why it is an intense book and all the poems have their fingers curled. I don’t feel like wasting someone’s time with poems about the weather. There’s a sense of urgency that I’ve gotten from engaging in the social web. Looking at your TweetDeck, there’s so many things shouting urgency at you. What does that mean for literary writers? We have to be very honest with ourselves. Why am I writing this? Am I writing this because I want to write a poem? am I writing this because I want to publish a book? Only you know the answer to that question.

Do you hear from a lot of first-time poetry readers who try out the book because they know your other work?

Yeah. I think for any poet, certainly in America, that is a constant, and it is a wonderful compliment. Often the way we’re taught poetry when we’re educated here is we’re reading great poetry written centuries ago, if not decades ago. Shakespearean sonnets become all of poetry, though there is wonderful poetry being written all the time that’s narrative or whatever would make people feel more comfortable. This book, it does push you to read it in one sitting, because you’re like, what’s going to happen to this seemingly disaster-prone young man? His father is hunting him with a rifle! I want to turn the page and see what happened.

Binge-watching poetry! Though I guess that’s basically just reading a book.

Totally! That’s how I stumbled into what the book became. I was writing a lot of poems in the southern landscape, and it was three years before the Boy [a character in many of the poems] even appeared. I got curious about him. It started with the poems about the mother’s dresses, and I was like, why would he be so interested in his mother’s dresses? That process reads like a bit of a novel.

Does poetry have a capacity to go viral? You mentioned something just now about discovering all the poetry out there that could be up your alley, and I remember having that realization when I first came across Patricia Lockwood’s work. Her “Rape Joke” poem obviously hit a nerve on the Internet.

Patricia Lockwood certainly figured it out very successfully. I’m pretty stubborn with poetry. I like writing in so many different forms — if it’s an essay, I’m going to write an essay! I don’t know if one of my poems would ever be able to go viral, honestly. But there’s huge potential. If people can memorize entire sections of The Iliad, why not?

Part of the reason Patricia Lockwood’s poem worked so well was because it was so in line with the engine of the conversation we’re already having. It works as a beautifully written and structured poem as well as an essay. Prose poems in particular, that are straddling that, I think, are totally possible. Poetry emphasizes language, and obviously on the social web, outrage-driven stories, whether it’s something the police chief in Ferguson said, or Alessandra Stanley’s “Angry Black Woman” [article about Shonda Rhimes in the New York Times], so often the things that are driving these conversations online are about language. Poetry distills the focus and forces you to look at blue-black, boy, burning. You’re looking at words that can illuminate the way we look at everything else, because in general we have a more casual relationship with words.

So I would love to see more poems go viral. But in order for that to happen, it has to be in step with that conversation — and genuine! Oh my gosh, if people still writing poems with the intention of going viral? God help us.

TIME Books

Go the F-ck to Sleep Has a Sequel

You Have to F--king Eat Adam Mansbach
Akashic Books

It's called 'You Have to F-cking Eat'

The author of the bestselling humorous children’s book Go the F-ck to Sleep is back, and this time he’s tackling the treacherous minefield of kids’ insane eating habits.

Adam Mansbach’s new book, You Have to F-cking Eat is a “long-awaited sequel about the other great parental frustration: getting your little angel to eat something that even vaguely resembles a normal meal,” according to the publisher, Akashic books.

Go the F-ck to Sleep was marketed at frustrated parents trying to get their kids to sleep, and despite the profanities—or perhaps because of them—it debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide.

You Have to F-cking Eat, which is illustrated by Owen Brozman, will be available to purchase Nov. 12.

TIME Education

John Green’s Response to The Fault in Our Stars Being Banned Is Just Perfect

Penguin

The best-selling author responds to news that his book has been pulled from the shelves of a California middle school

Add The Fault in Our Stars to the list of amazing books that have been banned from schools.

John Green’s young-adult novel about a pair of star-crossed teenagers who are both dying from cancer is an international best-seller and spawned a summer hit movie, starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as the doomed Hazel and Augustus. But it has also now been banned from the Riverside Unified School District middle schools in California.

The district’s book reconsideration committee voted six-to-one last week to pull all copies of the book from library shelves at Frank Augustus Miller Middle School, the Press Enterprise reports. The committee voted after one parent, Karen Krueger, made the case against young people reading a book on death, illness and sex, saying, “I just didn’t think it was appropriate for an 11-, 12-, 13-year-old to read. I was really shocked it was in a middle school.” Other committee members worried that tweens would struggle with the book’s themes of mortality.

When a fan asked Green what he thought of the decision on his Tumblr, the author gave the following answer:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.

TIME Books

Here’s Your First Look at Marvel’s Female ‘Thor’ Cover Art

Thor No. 1
Marvel

Thor No. 1 is out this October

Like the mighty Thor himself (or herself, now), Marvel shocked the comic book world last July when it announced on The View that a woman would be picking up the avenging Asgardian’s hammer. TIME got a sneak peek at the cover art for the issue in which the passing of the hammer goes down, Thor #1, out October 1.

We also had a chat with the book’s writer, Jason Aaron, about the new female Thor and the strong mixed reactions that came from Marvel’s announcement. Many welcomed the news as a sign of a largely male-dominated culture making moves to appeal to female fans, but others saw it as either a cheap play in that direction — or seemingly couldn’t handle the idea of the most macho of Marvel’s muscled men becoming a woman (even though a female Thor makes total sense).

“It was pleasantly surprising that it’s become such a big story,” said Aaron. “I would be worried if I didn’t feel strongly about the story that we had, if it was all just about a press release and creating a lot of buzz beforehand. But I don’t feel nervous because everything that we’re doing started with the story, the story that I’ve been telling with Thor and this new story that I want to tell.”

The only “disappointing” thing for Aaron, he said, is that “there has been some grumbling that seems to mostly revolve around the fact that it’s a female character we’re replacing Thor with. I think if we just said somebody else is going to pick up the hammer of Thor — it’s just this other dude — I don’t think we would’ve gotten quite the same response.”

“But for me, that part’s a little washed out by the response on the flip side, where you’ve got tons of people who are excited about the idea of a female character at the head of this book, and who are excited to pick the book up who haven’t been reading it before.”

Marvel Thor #1

When asked if having a female Thor was an effort by Marvel to diversify its characters — and then, hopefully, its fanbase — Aaron said that while Marvel was “behind [the plan] from the get-go,” the initial idea to make the switch was his.

“That said, you can say that Marvel is more conscious of diversifying the lead characters in their books by way of diversifying its audience, then in turn diversifying the creators who work on that book,” Aaron added. “It’s generally something everybody is more aware of, it’s something that’s in the zeitgeist these days. But it’s not like the changes that we’re doing to Thor were motivated purely by that, that’s more the reason that Marvel got behind it in such a big way . . . it’s certainly more than just a press release or a sales gimmick.”

Aaron was clearly excited not just about the new female Thor he’s created, but also the story he’s building around her. And the first issue — no spoilers — is a doozy, leaving behind plenty more questions than it answers. We’ll say this, though: The way in which the transformation happens fits in perfectly with the mythos around Thor — and his hammer, Mjolnir.

“To me, it’s not just about the idea of ‘let’s change Thor into a woman and figure it out as we go,'” said Aaron. “It’s about who is that character underneath the mask and what’s her story. So that’s the part I’m excited by. If I didn’t have that part, this would be pretty hollow, and I’d be worried about where we were going. But everything started with that story, so really the surprise of this happening, the surprise of somebody else picking up the hammer and the mystery of who that person is underneath that mask, that’s really just the beginning, that’s really just the introduction. Once we find out who she really is, the real story begins.”

Want more? You can preorder Thor #1 here.

TIME Books

See Thor’s Various Incarnations Over The Years

From architect to alien, take a look back at those who were worthy to hold the hammer Mjolnir and wield the powers of Thor

TIME Media

Diane, Katie and Catfights: The Problem With Claws-Out Depictions of Women

News reporters Christiane Amanpour, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, and Diane Sawyer tape an interview at "Good Morning America" at the ABC Times Square Studios in New York City, Oct. 3, 2011.
News reporters Christiane Amanpour, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, and Diane Sawyer tape an interview at "Good Morning America" at the ABC Times Square Studios in New York City, Oct. 3, 2011. Ray Tamarra—Getty Images

Sheila Weller is the author of The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour—and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News, out next week.

Plenty of the anecdotes in The News Sorority deal with in-fighting among men. Why does everyone love to focus on battles between women?

Aggressive, talented opponents in intensely high-stakes jobs tend to get, well, competitive with one another. To take the passive road is both career suicide and company malpractice. Proof? TV news, the topic of my new book, The News Sorority. But when certain columnists plucked zippy items from the book about competition, in-fighting and high-stakes rivalries, they used only tidbits about squabbling women, including a snarky, obviously non-literal, mildly off-color quip Katie Couric made about Diane Sawyer when they were morning-show rivals, and an obviously hyperbolic eyewitness report of Sawyer and Barbara Walters trying to “literally wipe each other off the face of the earth.” The negative items went viral, appearing in outlets from the Drudge Report to Us Weekly. And the headlines often included the word “catfight.”

What about some so-called dogfights? Back in the 1990s, Dan Rather “wanted to kill Peter [Jennings] and Tom [Brokaw],” one of his fellow CBS newsmen told me. Figuratively, of course—and Brokaw and Jennings felt that way about him; the quality of their shows benefited from the rivalry. In the ’80s, when rising star Sawyer was Rather’s substitute anchor, Rather would cancel family vacations at zero hour just to keep Sawyer from displaying her talent in his anchor chair. Along with competitiveness goes self-regard and, sometimes, bombast. So it’s not surprising that Rather’s predecessor, the revered Walter Cronkite, possessed “an ego as big as an elephant,” his producer Sandy Socolow told me. Other sources for The News Sorority recalled how ABC news icons Ted Koppel and the late Jennings—despite being close friends—were “nasty and competitive with each other. Koppel would be wailing on Peter, putting him down,” said a producer. Even when the well-liked Bob Schieffer, currently host of CBS’s Face The Nation, was Dan Rather’s loyal #2 (so loyal, Schieffer was nicknamed “Deputy Dog”), “Bob took it upon himself to talk against Dan,” said an earwitness, while Rather was mired in his misreporting of George W. Bush’s National Guard service. Schieffer was thus poised to finally ascend to Rather’s chair. (And briefly did.) An ABC colleague remembered how anchor and morning-show host Charlie Gibson chose the all-hands-on-deck period of 9/11 to complain that his Good Morning, America co-host Sawyer was reading more cold opens than he was. (Gibson was duly appeased and awarded all the cold opens; Sawyer didn’t mind.)

And yet, none of these anecdotes about men—all reported in the book—made notice. Just the catfights.

The News Sorority, by Sheila Weller

I remember Erica Jong complaining about the catfight trope when she was in her Fear of Flying prime over 40 years ago. Not long after, Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman were propelled into a famous recent feud of letters when, on Dick Cavett’s TV show, McCarthy acidly opined that “every word [Hellman] writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” Hellman promptly sued McCarthy for $2.25 million dollars. Flash forward to present-day: entertainment websites scoring hundreds of thousands of clicks with news of catfights between Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, or Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow. (Stewart’s quote, “She just needs to be quiet… If she were confident in her acting, she wouldn’t be trying to be Martha Stewart,” was picked up by tabloids around the world.)

It’s odd and telling when a slang concept doesn’t quickly evaporate. Will we be straight-facing “selfie” year after next? Would any but the laziest writer still use “metrosexual” or “Valley Girl”? Yet the catfight—and the broader idea that women competing or disagreeing with each is more indicative of negative character than men doing so—has stubbornly endured.

In a 2013 experiment co-conducted by psychologist Leah Sheppard, Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, 152 participants were asked to give their opinion of three scripted workplace conflicts: male v. male; male v. female; female v. female. The participants judged the female v. female conflict as having more negative implications for the workplace than the other two. Ah, but! The three scripts were absolutely identical.

Even the way some management academics study top workplace women may betray a bias. There is the supposed Queen Bee Syndrome, by which some women at the top of male-dominated fields may designate themselves as unique “and don’t want to let other women in,” says Sheppard, now on the faculty of the University of Washington. “But,” Sheppard notes, “No one has done a study on a King Bee Syndrome. If you had a scenario where there were mainly women in a group and there was a lone man and he was therefore able to bring something unique to the table, I would be very shocked if the man didn’t show resistance to having another man hired.”

Women know that our assertiveness, competitiveness, and strong decisions are viewed negatively. We know the ethical bar is higher and the approval bar is lower. We’ve internalized the catfight and its wider connotations, and we may overcompensate with sisterhood scrutiny.

A female executive of an international corporation whom I interviewed recently chose, strictly on the merits (and after painful deliberation) to promote a male candidate over a female candidate for an important position. It was her duty to select the best candidate, and she did. The woman who was passed over felt hurt and betrayed, and made her feelings known to the executive. The executive felt anguish at the reaction. But a male executive would likely not have been seized by guilt that he’d betrayed his gender-mates.

And what b-school academics call a “leaky pipeline” ferries masses of superiorly-trained women to what turn out to be shockingly few top placements. Since 1982, more U.S. women have earned bachelors degrees than their male counterparts. Since 1987, more U.S. women have earned masters degrees than their male counterparts. And since 2006, more U.S. women have earned PhDs than men.

But women’s advances in competitive business careers don’t reflect these statistics. There’s been a less than 5% rise in female Fortune 500 company CEOs from 1990 (when that number was zero) to today, and a modest 7% rise in female Fortune 500 company board members since 1995. Only 51 women helm this year’s Fortune 1000 companies—that’s 5% total. The same disparity between training and top-level advancement exists in the media. In TV, women constitute 40% of the workforce, but only 20% of U.S. TV station general managers are women.

“Women are ‘easy to get along with’— that’s pre-scripted,” says Alice Eagley, Ph.D., professor of psychology and member of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “Being competitive, agentic, aggressive, self-promoting: when women do that in a definite, clear way, people get all uncomfortable. When men do it, people are okay with it.”

“Do women agonize about the burdens of competing with other women, when collaboration is historically our survival mechanism? I think yes, though not everyone is self-aware enough to call it that way,” says Gloria Feldt, who founded Take The Lead with the goal of helping women reach an equal share of leadership positions by 2025. “Women want to be liked, to be seen as ‘nice,’ which our mothers told us to be and is what we were rewarded for as girls.”

Case study in self-promotion: Katie Couric. When she—having singlehandedly rescued the Today show in 1991 and become TV’s biggest morning star—signed a record-breaking three-year contract in December 2001, she proudly let the details be known. It was not just an achievement for her but, she felt, an inspiration for other women in TV. Yet the revelation of that contract meant “it was over for her,” veteran executive producer Paul Friedman (who worked for Jennings, Sawyer and Couric) told me, in pointedly sexist language. “When people knew that she was going to make as much as $65 million, she was no longer the girl next door but a rich, recently bereaved, skirt-up-to-her-crotch, hair-changing woman. It can offend you all you want for me to put it that way, but it is a fact.”

Also dinged for being “self-promoting” was Christiane Amanpour: In 2007, when she returned to CNN New York after 15 years abroad as the most hardworking, courageous, conflict-zone reporter in TV history, she was taken aback that that resume did not earn her the premiere anchor position at the network she’d been with (and helped to put on the map) for 20 years. When, in frustration, she’d remind CNN executives, “You know, I’m the most well-known foreign correspondent in the world,” those factual words struck her bosses as arrogant and conceited. But if an identically credentialed man, similarly peeved at being undervalued, had uttered them, they would have elicited executives’ worry.

So when you take this prejudice against forceful, non-self-effacing women and multiply it by two, adding conflict or rivalry with another woman, you have situations destined to go viral. Still, in five years of researching highly determined women in TV news, I learned how female-on-female competition does not have to be (and actually rarely is) a negative cliché.

First of all, women can refuse to subscribe to the notion. When longtime Today co-host Jane Pauley was losing her job to newcomer Deborah Norville in 1989, their supposed “catfight” was splashed over all the tabloids. (“It’s not like there wasn’t any other news to cover; the Soviet Union was coming apart,” Pauley wryly reminded me.) The two women knew that the construction was false. “Debbie did not push herself in,” Pauley told me, resolutely. “Debbie was pushed in. It wasn’t Debbie’s fault.” Pauley and Norville rejected the catfight construct and stayed collegial throughout NBC’s disastrous replacement scenario.

It helps to use humor and collaboration. Legendary CBS producer Susan Zirinsky first worked with Sawyer when Sawyer, fresh from eight years with Nixon, had to prove herself against a highly skeptical DC press corps. Zirinsky and Sawyer pulled all-nighters over the bizarre People’s Temple mass suicides and other stories. Later, when Zirinsky was trying to get a very reluctant (and often drunk) Boris Yeltsin to agree to an exclusive interview with CBS, she used Diane’s attractiveness to seal the deal—”This is who is going to be interviewing you,” Zirinsky said, slapping Sawyer’s photo in the rising Soviet leader’s reddened face, whereupon his eyes widened and he quickly consented. It was a coup for Zirinsky and Sawyer—a one-two punch of self-serving sexism for two women’s mutual professional advantage. Some years after that, Sawyer, by then at ABC, called Zirinsky, still at CBS, and cheekily asked for Yeltsin’s private phone number for a piece she wanted to do. Zirinsky shot back, “F*ck, no!” Both women laughed.

When the person who is trying to keep a woman from succeeding happens to be another woman, the situation doesn’t have to ring a gendered alarm. When Christiane Amanpour came to CNN Atlanta in 1983, she was obstructed by her first boss, a female producer who clearly did not like her. Amanpour has spoken of this woman; several others told me about the tension. The two women argued, and people heard them. Yet—maybe because Amanpour could be, as a friend of hers says, so un-self-consciously “in your face” when she disagreed with someone (and almost giddily amused when that brazen tactic worked)—no one called it a catfight. Amanpour later decided to fully commit to war reporting after her time in Bosnia, when her mentor, the war-zone camerawoman Margaret Moth, was gravely injured and Christiane felt morally compelled to “do Margaret’s work for her.” An unpleasant experience with the early female boss did not keep Amanpour from respect- and trust-filled collaborations with other women.

So, in real work life, among the most professionally aggressive women, catfights do not fit their silly, played-out description. In the meantime, we might consider joining instead of clawing.

Sheila Weller is a contributor to Vanity Fair, The New York Times Book Review, and Glamour, and the author of the New York Times bestseller Girls Like Us. Her book, The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour—and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News, is out this month.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

R.L. Stine: Twitter Is “Really Good For My Ego”

St. Martin's Griffin

The prolific YA author known for scaring kids senseless throughout the '90s is back with a brand new 'Fear Street' novel: Party Games

It’s a safe bet that anyone who grew up in the ’90s has been frightened by R.L. Stine at one point or another. The mastermind behind the hugely successful Fear Street series, which sold more than 80 million copies during its run, as well as the iconic Goosebumps series, was responsible for introducing a generation of kids to horror novels.

Now, Stine is back and resurrecting the Fear Street franchise with an all new book Party Games (out Sept. 30), in order to scare a whole new generation of teens (as well as some now-grown long-time fans). TIME spoke with Stine about the original series, spending time on Twitter and why it’s okay for adults to read YA.

TIME: When you started writing Fear Street books back in 1989, what was your motivation for writing a horror series about teenagers?

R.L. Stine: I had been funny up until then. I never really planned to write horror. I had done one horror novel for teenagers called Blind Date and it was number one on Publisher’s Weekly best-seller list. I thought, Wait a minute, what’s going on here? Because I had never been close to that list before! I thought, Wait, I think I’ve stumbled onto something here that kids really like. And that’s when we decided we’d try to do a monthly series.

Horror has a lot of sub-genres. How would you classify Fear Street’s brand of horror?

It was teens in terror. And in the beginning, we didn’t even kill anyone. We started off kinda slow but then I discovered that everyone loves to see teenagers get killed. They love that!

But I would say about half the Fear Streets were supernatural. Or they would just be horrible dilemmas. One of the very early ones I remember was called Missing, [where] these two teenagers come home from school and their parents never come home. They’ve vanished. At first they think it’s great, but after a night or two they get really worried. And they call where their parents work and they’ve never heard of them their. So they realize something really bizarre is going on. There are a lot of stories like that.

And then there was this whole historical aspect of Fear Street. We did the first trilogy of the Fear Street saga — those were three of the best books, I think. They were the most popular. It went back in history, all the way back to the colonial days and how Fear Street became Fear Street, this cursed place. There were the two families, the Fears and the Goodes, and this horrible wicked feud they had over generation after generation. And so we had this real back-story.

Why did you stop the series? And what made you decide to bring Fear Street back?

Well, I thought I had killed off enough teenagers. I did about 80 of them and we had a spin-off series and the sagas. I just wanted to do something new. I’d sort of run out of stories. And now I see horror is popular again in many ways. I always think that in scary times horror becomes popular.

Why do you think that is?

I think it’s just a way that people [deal] with anxiety about the real world. I think now, well, it’s not a great time. There’s not a lot of good news. I think it’s led to the real resurgence in horror.

Also, I’m on Twitter and everyone on Twitter, they’re all in their twenties and thirties, and they’ve been begging me to bring Fear Street back.

What do they say?

Oh, “we loved your books when we were kids” or “I wouldn’t be a writer today if it wasn’t for you” — I mean, wonderful things! That’s why I’m there. It’s really good for my ego. And I had all these people asking me for Fear Street. So one night on I just decided to be honest and I said, “You know, I thank you for all your interest in Fear Street but after all this time I really don’t think any publisher would be interested.”

And then I got this tweet from Kat [Brzozowski] from [Thomas Dunne, an imprint of] St. Martin’s Press who said, “Well, I’d be interested. Why don’t we talk?” Like 10 minutes later! We had lunch and I said I would love to do a bunch of them. And now it’s happening — all because of Twitter.

Your new book Party Games has been described as Fear Street for the 21st century. What does that mean?

People aren’t walking around with Walkmans or something. I try to keep up with things, you know. [But] I think horror doesn’t change. I always say the fears don’t change at all. It’s just the technology changes and the way we talk to people changes. But the fears — being afraid of the dark, being afraid that someone is lurking under your bed or in the closet — those things never change. So in that way, it’s the same old Fear Street I think.

What kind of horror do you like to read? Who are your horror idols?

I think Stephen King is a great storyteller and I think he’s written a couple of horror novels that are just amazing. Pet Semetary is just a favorite of mine. I think I’ve stolen that plot at least four or five times! And Misery, that’s an amazing book, I think.

Then there’s a Ray Bradbury book that I always recommend to kids. I think it’s an amazingly underrated horror novel and it’s called Something Wicked This Way Comes. It’s very creepy. It’s about this boy in the Midwest — and I grew up in the Midwest, I’m from Ohio — and this boy sneaks out of his house late at night and goes down to this empty lot where a carnival is setting up. He’s just so excited to see this carnival being set up and he doesn’t realize it’s maybe the most evil place on Earth and he’s being drawn into it. It’s wonderful.

YA has also had a resurgence and a newfound popularity with adults. But then you have some naysayers who believe adults shouldn’t be reading books for teenagers. What do you think of that?

Well it started with Harry Potter, didn’t it? I think like 40% of the Harry Potter readers were adults and a huge percentage of the Twilight readers were adult women. I think it’s for a couple of reasons. They’re plot-driven and you get right into the story without all this extra stuff. I think a lot of adults don’t have a lot of time to read or don’t choose to spend a lot of time reading and these books get right to it. I think that’s a big part of it. I wouldn’t say don’t read them. I really don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a bad thing if kids aren’t reading them. But there are just a lot of talented people in YA fiction these days.

There’s also a tremendous urge not to grow up. It goes back to the world being a scary place. Most adults don’t want to be adults. It’s a way of prolonging childhood. This is very deep for me!

I like it! Do you ever get the feeling that by writing YA you can revel in youth?

In some ways. Writing is sort of a game for me. It’s a challenge to see how many surprises I can get into a book and, at this point, how I can do stories and not repeat myself. And every one of my chapters ends in a cliffhanger, so how to come up with new chapter endings that I haven’t done before.

So there will still be cliffhangers in the new books?

Yes. A lot of writers think it’s a cheap gimmick, but I think it’s a really good way to get kids to keep reading. That’s the whole point of these books — to get people to enjoy reading. That’s really all I care about. It’s all about just discovering how much fun reading can be.

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser