Monday, August 1, 2011



Notes:   This is the third installment from a taped interview with Joan and Clay Blair on Washington Island, WI, in February of 1994.   The general topic was of their lives as writers and the work they did.  In Part II, Joan met Clay when she had become his typist.  Soon, she was co-researcher and organizer of materials for Clay, and as a team they were able to tackle both topical subjects as well as long, detailed histories of WWII that required a great deal of leg work, interviews, and travel to sources.  Their book Silent Victory was the first of several definitive histories the two collaborated on.  

The tapes I have from several afternoons spent at the Blair home in 1994 are not complete, in that some of the material was inadvertently not successfully recorded. But, in the taped interview that remains, there is still a fair amount of material to give a full picture of what their lives and work were like.

Joan continues to live on Washington Island.  Clay died in 1998.  
-  DP


Q -  What about the book Survive! ?    You wrote that here in the States?

Clay  -  Yeah.  Well, see, this book (Silent Victory) was so long.  [It] was actually much longer than it is now.   (consults with Joan…about the copy editor…)
This book was actually about half again as long.   A third again, a quarter again as long.  Anyway, it took a year for this thing to make its way through the publishing process.  And it was so long, it would take months for them to copy edit and send it back to you.  

So, in the interim, in between one of those processes, we did Survive!     

Joan -  Well, we were reading the newspaper, and we were living in Key Biscayne in those days, and the Miami Herald covered South America, and one morning, Clay read in the paper this little paragraph about these people who came down from the Andes.  They’d been up in the mountains, crashed in an airplane.   They had been up there 72 days and they had “survived on moss, lichens.” 

That was a bunch of baloney, because there’s nothing up there to eat.  And he (Clay) said, they must have resorted to cannibalism.  

So he called our friend, Mark Chaffee at Bantam books, and said, “There’s something incredible going on down in Uruguay, and I’d love to go down there and do a quick thing on it.  Mark had read about it in the New York Times, and so about a month later, when this whole thing blew up down in Uruguay, it came out, and they had this big press conference.

Clay -  In the New York Times it had almost the whole front page.

Joan  -  The “Survivors” were auctioning off their rights, and all the New York publishers were getting together to put in their bid on this.

Clay -  Paper backs, hard backs, movie…  they were packaging offers, and...

Joan  -  Little Brown (Publishing) called up, and we said, “Yes.”  But they didn’t get it.

Clay  -  They dropped out at $2 million, or whatever.  And Lippencott got it, as a matter of fact.

Joan  - Then this guy, at Berkeley Books, he called up and said, “Would you be interested in going down and doing a quick rip-off book?”   

So we said, “Sure.”  We had just done Silent Victory, and we didn’t have anything to do.

Clay  - Plus, we could have been down there and been done by the time the news in the Times came out.   The auction (for rights)… and I was reenergized with the Little-Brown (offer)… and then they dropped off.   By this time I was really pissed off.  And I was ready to do a rip-off book.

Q -   “Rip-off”  meaning…

Clay  -   Meaning, unauthorized.

See, with a group like that (the surviving Uruguayan soccer players), when they’ve auctioned a package, they won’t talk to anybody else.  They just talk to people who were in their bid.  And so anybody else trying to do a story about it does not have access to them, and you’re in a rip-off spot.  

Q -  How do you get your information, then?

Clay  -  This guy, this editor, is Chevy Chase’s dad.  A real jerk.  He was with Berkeley.  

Joan  -  Who was that weird guy?  

Clay  - Anyhow, we went to Uruguay.  And what happened was, we went down.  And this was strictly journalism, now.   Topical. 

There were 65 people on the plane. 60.  Whatever.  A bunch of people.   66 people on the plane, and 16 came out.   And so …50 people were (maybe) eaten.   OK.    

Joan  -  Five were eaten.

Clay -  And mostly, it turns out, that in the weird arguments, the papers wrote us up: “The piradas are here” -  the pirates. 

We were the first to arrive.  We got there before their writers did.  We were the English novelists.
The papers wrote us up big, the “piradas.”  

And in the meantime, the 50 families of the dead who were eaten were not included in the “deal,” in the package deal, nor did the boys offer them a penny, a funeral, a memorial.   Nothing.  The families of the 50 people who were eaten - let’s say they were all eaten – obviously, I don’t think they all were - those people (the survivors) called them (families of the lost) “dissidents.”   

They ("dissidents") were pissed off at the survivors because they had offered them nothing, not even a memorial.  Nothing.  The boys had come out of there criticizing the Air Force, the Uruguayan Air Force, for incompetence and so forth, and so the Air Force was pissed off at them as well, and the Air Force conducted a total, huge, official government investigation of the thing.

And so, we worked with the “dissident families.”  They were very happy to see us, anything to cut the stripes of the boys.  And the Air Force was happy to see us, too.   So we got all the dope from the Air Force, all the stuff from the dissident families, then we went over to Chile.   

The way they were found was by rescue, by a mountaineer rescue team, a Chilean mountaineer rescue team.   And these guys parachuted or helicoptered in and got the bulk of the people out. They had also formed hostile opinions of the (surviving) kids.  They had been up there several days with them at the crash site, with all of this grisly and unbelievable stuff, and they had heard the whole story.  They had asked and been told the whole deal of this survival thing, the 60 or 70 days or whatever.  They were full of information.  

So we pumped them, flew back to Miami, and wrote the book - researched in four weeks and wrote it in four weeks.   Strictly a journalistic thing. 

Q -  I had that book in my possession around 1973.  The Navy shipped books to us, paperback reading material to each ship for the sailors, and that was one I had just happened to pick up.  

Clay  -  A funny thing happened.  This book was a best seller in Mexico, Latin America…all over the world.  (A German magazine) did the whole book in nine installments.  And one day, a contract and a check for $8000 arrived at my agent’s from a Mexican movie producer.   And we said, “What in the hell are we going to do?”   

And so the agent said, “Let’s see if the check clears, and if it does, I’ll send you a contract and you can sign it and send it back."   

And the check cleared, and, they made the movie.  They made the typical two-hour long, bloody, stupid, Mexican movie by a terrible production guy.  Everything about the movie was ‘schlop.’  Horrible.  One scene there’s snow everywhere;  the next scene its green.

This guy, a guy named Alan Carr – I don’t know if he means anything to you? – he was a Hollywood hustler first-class, and he happened to be a would-be movie producer who was in Mexico City.  He looked out the hotel window, and he saw people lined up at the movie theater, lined up all the way down the block, and he thought, “What in the hell is that?”  And it was Survive! 

And so, to make a huge, long story short, he bought the Mexican rights and brought the movie back to Hollywood.   He cut HeHe       He cut it, probably 2/3, put new music in it, new titles, reshot it through gauze and all the technical things they do in Hollywood, and reduced this thing to the essence.   A 92-minute movie!
Q -  We just saw the movie, maybe that’s it?  Its called,  “Alive”…

Clay  -  No, that’s a different movie.  That’s the authorized version.  I’ll get to that.

So, we’re sitting in Miami and the phone rings, and its Alan Carr, and he says, “I bought your movie.”
We said, “What movie?”  This was the first we ever heard of that movie.  And so he flew to Miami on this Lear jet and showed us this movie, and it was pretty awful, but God knows, compared to what it must have been originally…

His problem was, he had this movie, but he didn’t have any people.   The survivors wouldn’t tour, because they were working on their own movie.  He had no South American connection, except me.   So he asked if I would tour and promote the movie, and I said, “Yes.”    Meanwhile, we cranked up the paperback again to be re-released, now that there was a motion picture.  So I toured the United States in this Lear jet with champagne and caviar for two, three weeks.  Major talk shows.  I was on Merv Griffin, radio stations.

 Q -  Did the movie get a boost?

Clay  - It certainly did.  This movie sold like crazy.   

Joan  -  Its been on TV a number of times.   

Q -  I’ve seen your name afterward.  Screen play credit?

Joan  -  No.  ‘Based on the book by Clay Blair.’

Clay  -  I had nothing to do with it except when the guy showed up and said, “Do you want to tour for me?”  And, it gave us the opportunity to republish this paperback. And also, republished around the world, because this movie went everywhere. 

Then, Payne, Carr and Robert Stieglit (sp?) – Stieglit had the contract with the Beatles.   They made Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Band.   They made Grease, Saturday Night Live with Travolta, and some other movie.  They made all those movies from the money they made off this project.  So they made out like bandits!   We never got anything more than $8000.   

Joan -  Plus, we sold a few more books.  However, that was that.

Clay  -  That was that.  

Then we finished Silent Victory, and went looking for another project. 

END PART III  *****     

-  Dick Purinton

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