Reflections on the challenges and triumphs of masculinity in changing times

Conservative publisher and media mogul Andrew James Breitbart (1069-2012) was among the men profiled by Steve Oney

Conservative publisher and media mogul Andrew James Breitbart (1069-2012) was amongst the men profiled by Steve Oney

EDITOR’S NOTE: Authentic profiles are among the most rewarding, difficult and essential of journalistic artwork varieties, requiring an alchemy of relationship, grit and magnificence. Probably the most profitable typically involve a bit of self-reflection, as a writer peers into the life of another to see glimpses of himself. That’s what award-winning writer and journal writer Steve Oney did over a 40-year career to convey forth immersive profiles of 20 men — from the well-known to the forgotten — as a solution to explore the specific ways in which trendy males face the challenges of success and failure. Oney’s guide “A Man’s World,” revealed in Might 2017, was launched this week in paperback. For many who missed it, we reprise an interview Oney did in July 2017 with former Nieman Storyboard editor Kari Howard.


In right now’s America, the phrase “masculinity” is nearly a Rorschach check. Once you take a look at it, do you see a patrimony that’s raging, raging towards the dying of the mild? Or do you see an assault on the idea of traditional male roles?

“Maybe I read too much Ernest Hemingway in college, but regardless of all the societal transformations, I think men’s lives basically revolve around the concerns he examined in ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ Life is hard. You do what you can. You pray for happiness. Then it’s over.”

The last election exposed the divisions in the nation over the word and the existential things it signifies. So it’s both very provocative or very canny to return out with a guide referred to as “A Man’s World,” as the author Steve Oney has just accomplished.

The guide is a set of Oney’s articles over his 40-year career as a journalist and consists of profiles of characters as numerous as Gregg Allman and Nick Nolte, Robert Penn Warren and an old-time cops reporter in L.A.

He divided the guide into four sections: Fighters, Creators, Actors and Desperadoes, and the first of these themes is a leitmotif all through the whole guide.

“I’m interested in success, but I’m really interested in struggle,” he says. “I’m impressed by people who don’t quit. With me it’s a daily battle, and in my writing I’m drawn to people for whom it’s the same.”

I talked with Steve by way of e-mail about how he chose the theme of the guide, how concepts of masculinity have changed in his many years masking males, and how he predicted the rise of Breitbart America.

I assumed I’d start with a bit of sweep: Why did you select this theme, and what does it say about both your career and what you assume it means to be a man?

A pair years in the past, I had a dialog with Beth Vesel, my agent, about publishing a set of my magazine tales. During my 40 years in the business, I’ve written some 150 full-length items. I’m talking about ones of no less than three,000 words. Many are about the South, the place I was raised. Many are about California, where I moved fairly early in my career. I’ve dealt with all types of subjects – the rituals of small-town life in Georgia, the impression of the Charles Manson murders on Los Angeles, the Hollywood left’s infatuation with Nicaragua’s Sandinistas – however I’ve specialized in profiles, and a majority of my subjects have been men. “There’s your collection,” Beth stated, then asked me to select my greatest and write an introduction that gave shape to the alternatives and laid out the recurring themes. As I looked at my work, I noticed I’ve principally been in four sorts of guys – Fighters, Creators, Actors and Desperadoes – and I organized the guide around 20 who fit kind of into these classes.

The duvet of the newly launched paperback version of “A Man’s World,” a set of profiles by award-winning writer and journal author Steve Oney

The tales vary from the begin of your career, in 1977, to 2011. Males’s roles have changed so much in these years. Did you need to seize that, or as an alternative present how in many ways the struggles – the battle, you call it – have remained the similar?

Definitely, ideas of masculinity have changed since 1977. Gender itself has been reconsidered as something extra fluid. But to borrow from the unforgettable theme of “Casablanca,” the elementary issues nonetheless apply. Males battle – typically in battle, more typically in a figurative sense. They create, whether or not in the arts or whereas fixing work issues. They act – that’s they present themselves in public. And occasionally they discard the script to confront an inside demon or do one thing outrageous, which may result in greatness or spoil. Perhaps I read an excessive amount of Ernest Hemingway in school, however regardless of all the societal transformations, I feel men’s lives principally revolve around the considerations he examined in “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” Life is tough. You do what you possibly can. You pray for happiness. Then it’s over.

The inscription reads: “To the memory of my father, Robert Oscar Oney,” and you close your introduction with reminiscences of him and what he gave you. Does the father-son position play an enormous half in your life and in the broader theme of “a man’s world?” One of the items, “The Casualty of War,” explores that quite movingly.

My father was a particularly moral man. He tried to go away individuals higher than he found them. He spoke typically of truthful play, and he wouldn’t tolerate dishonesty. He was Previous Testament. He imbued me with those traits, and I’m thankful he did. He was additionally, nevertheless, a toddler of the Melancholy, and he typically seemed crippled by a ensuing fatalism. To some extent I battled towards that. I assumed that if I fought arduous sufficient, trusted my imagination and took some possibilities I might break away. That was the push-pull of our relationship, and that’s definitely a central drama of “The Casualty of War,” which I wrote for Los Angeles magazine during the Iraq conflict. The piece is about revolt, reconciliation and loss. I take a look at the father-son relationship in many of the other stories in the e-book as nicely.  Incidentally, my dad died five years ago of congestive coronary heart illness. I stored his last voicemail message. He stated he beloved me. That’s an enormous deal for a son regardless of his age.

Because I’m a music fan, I have to ask a query about the title. I’m guessing it’s from the James Brown hit, right? An excellent track that has nonetheless all the time made me a bit queasy, because it’s a very old style view of the world (never mind his use of the word “girl,” though that should have been for the rhyme). However the music also says that men can be misplaced with out ladies. Are you able to speak about why you chose that title? And how does it resonate by way of the articles? I’m struck by how ladies are enjoying this position in many of them, particularly the Herb Alpert, Jake Jacoby and Robert Penn Warren profiles: They’re robust, however at the similar time, they’re enjoying supporting roles. The lads have the major stage.

Yes, the music “It’s a Man’s World” instructed my title. I selected it as a result of all of the guide’s subjects are males – and it’s provocative. It’s plainly not a man’s world anymore, and it hasn’t been for a while. However I’m all for stirring issues up. And yes, there are quite a bit of robust ladies in the guide. Eleanor Clark, Robert Penn Warren’s spouse, was an outstanding author who gained the National Guide Award in nonfiction for “The Oysters of Locmariaquer.” It’s about oyster harvesting in Brittany. Lani Corridor, Herb Alpert’s spouse, was the lead singer for Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66. These two and several others pop up in my work. True enough, they’re secondary, but not as a result of they’re subservient. They aren’t the focus. I’ve written many profiles of ladies – among them Tracey Ullman for GQ and Arianna Huffington for Los Angeles – and in these, males assume the supporting positions. So it depends on the task.

Steve Oney

Steve Oney
Raymond McCrea Jones

So much of this collection revolves round id. You say in your introduction, “When people tell you you’re not defined by what you do, they’re wrong. You are what you do – action is character.” Can you speak about this theme a bit extra?

Now we’re back to Hemingway. Whilst a kid I by no means subscribed to the notion that you could simply be. The marching orders from my mom have been: Make something of yourself. I figured that a good life, like good writing, is a product of lively verbs. That stated, I do assume that is really a philosophical query. Perhaps an examined life is more worthwhile than an lively life. Perhaps our strivings are futile workouts. But I don’t consider so. I’m interested in success, however I’m really in wrestle. I’m impressed by individuals who don’t give up. With me it’s a every day battle, and in my writing I’m drawn to individuals for whom it’s the similar. Rise up off the mat and show me what you’re made of.

One other theme is the artifice of our lives, the faces we present to the world. “It may be said that our lives are our supreme fiction,” you quote Robert Penn Warren as saying. If you hunt down profiles, is that a acutely aware thread you’re pursuing in all of them, or does the story develop and you find you’ve returned to it?

I’ve all the time been in creativity. Ever since the University of Georgia, where I went to undergraduate faculty, I’ve been mad for Robert Penn Warren. In 1973, I read “All the King’s Men,” his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, for an English class. In 1977, after a pair years working for small day by day newspapers in South Carolina, I lucked into a job as a employees writer at The Atlanta Journal & Constitution Magazine. Warren, who would quickly turn out to be America’s first poet laureate, was at that time publishing great new poems a few times a month in The New Yorker – in reality, he gained the 1979 Pulitzer for poetry. I wrote him proposing a story, and he invited me to spend every week with him in Vermont where he had a summer time residence. The Atlanta papers have been in high cotton at the time – Jimmy Carter was president, and they have been rolling in dough. In order that they flew me up and gave me a month to do the piece. I noticed as I used to be working on it that Warren – Mr. Warren to me – was by example and in his observations advancing the concept that creativeness supplies the path by way of life. To place it in extra simplistic terms: If we dream massive, it’d happen. Since then I’ve sought out individuals to write down about who comply with that credo. In fact, simply because you conjure one thing in your thoughts doesn’t imply will probably be good. It could be awful. You may be wildly untalented. Otherwise you is perhaps a sociopath and do harm. However I noticed early on that until you could have an ideal notion, you’ll never achieve very a lot. That was Mr. Warren’s present to me. I’ve tried to put it in apply in my very own profession, and I’m fascinated once I see it in others.

I really liked the Warren interview. (A mark of that’s how many turned-down pages I had for it.) I might ask so many questions on it, but one thing I beloved was him talking about tale-telling, and how Southern writers “have a goddamned honed tale sense.” And that he and his spouse (the writer Eleanor Clark) don’t have a TV because they don’t need to lose their innate means. Do you assume it’s more durable to be a storyteller in nowadays of countless distractions?

Like most everyone else, I’m addicted to social media. In contrast to most everybody else, I hate it. Positive, I take pleasure in seeing what my pals are up to, and I respect the business makes use of. I’m a self-employed writer. Facebook is where I promote my work. In each different approach, nevertheless, social media is a sewer choking with the flotsam and jetsam of ill-informed opinion – or pet movies. It’s CB radio for the digital age. However that’s our age. Robert Penn Warren and Eleanor Clark have been from a unique age. For them, Herman Melville’s poetry and Theodore Dreiser’s novels delivered not simply pleasure however the information. They have been extra attuned to the bards of oral tradition than they might be to Instagram. Nonetheless, I feel there’s a deep longing for the sort of storytelling Warren and Clark championed and embodied. Nice books – and the better podcasts – feed that starvation, and that’s why they maintain getting revealed and made. I stay and die for them. If I’m not in the center of a novel – and I all the time attempt to be – I’m going a bit loopy. Fiction and longform nonfiction order my world and hone my mind. The remaining – until it’s the weather report – is often just noise.

One of my favorite articles is the one on Jake Jacoby, the ultimate L.A. cop reporter. Once you wrote it in 1986, he had been a cop reporter for 50 years and was nonetheless at it. It’s so energetic, and the ending is the strongest in the assortment, I feel. What about Jake appealed to you?

Jake Jacoby was the last of the old-time police reporters. He was as a lot cop as journalist, and he believed that newspapers ought to assist clear up crimes. In 1985, while working for a feisty LA wire service, he broke elements of the infamous Night time Stalker case that led to the arrest and conviction of Richard Ramirez. I wrote that piece for GQ. Eliot Kaplan, my editor there, mailed me a clip from the L.A. Times reporting that the LAPD was naming its press room for Jacoby. In an hooked up observe, Eliot stated, “This is a great story.” (That’s how editors used to do it.) What initially attracted me to Jake was that he was an anachronism – a guy from the age of Tommy Dorsey functioning in the age of Sid Vicious. But after spending time with him, I noticed there was extra – Jake was guided by an ethical code. At the prime of the piece, I quote him saying that his job is to “sweep back the waves” of felony outrage. He was saying that he noticed reporting as a sort of noble witness bearing. By writing the news, a journalist stems the tide of wrongdoing. Now, Jake was not all admirable. He’d spent a number of years as a McCarthy-era propagandist. He was proper of Attila the Hun. But he was finally on the aspect of the angels, and that’s what appealed to me. By getting up and doing his job every day, he forged mild into the darkness. That was his battle. The story seems in the Fighters section of “A Man’s World.”

His recommendation to young journalists beginning out on his path right now: “Get a job at a medium-sized daily newspaper whose managing editor believes that the best way to win new subscribers is with great storytelling. Then let this editor work you like a dog. That may be easier said than done, but I read local papers when I’m traveling, and I’m impressed by many of them.”

It’s of course fascinating reading the Andrew Breitbart piece seven years after the reality, now that it’s such an element of the firmament in the Trump White Home. You say in the piece, “Breitbart perceives himself as a new-media David out to slay old-media Goliaths.” And you’ve got him saying, “I want it to be in the history books that I took down the institutional left, and I think that’s gonna happen.” Are you a bit spooked by how prescient you have been in the piece?

Thanks – I feel – for calling me prescient on this. I wrote that piece for Time in 2010 shortly after Breitbart posted the James O’Keefe Acorn/prostitution video that made all involved infamous. I’d recognized him casually for several years. He and I belonged to a gaggle of writers and producers that met month-to-month at the pretty previous Hollywood restaurant Yamashiro to discuss politics and current events. However till I started reporting the story, I didn’t have a bead on him. Throughout our time collectively he indeed predicted the demise of the mainstream media and the Democratic Celebration. He stated there was an enormous group of People who felt that elites in the press and in Obama’s White House patronized them, and he stated would turn into their digital salon in the similar approach that the Huffington Publish – which he additionally helped to start out; go determine – had develop into the left’s salon. I was incredulous, however I took it all down, and wrote it up and, as you say, virtually every thing he predicted came true. Andrew was raised in Brentwood, LA’s most progressive neighborhood, but he went to school at Tulane during the heyday of multiculturalism on campuses and deconstruction in liberal arts lecture rooms. He chafed towards both. In the early days of the net, he fell beneath the spell of Matt Drudge and turned a flame-thrower. It’s no accident that my story on him is in the Desperadoes section of my e-book.

Nick Nolte is another topic of a profile in “A Man’s World.”
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

A associated question: The guide seems to faucet into the Trumpian wave of male discontent. Men indignant that their roles have modified. Was that a acutely aware move?

Apart from some proofreading and a number of selections about cover artwork, I was accomplished with “A Man’s World” earlier than the election. Like many, I was stunned by Donald Trump’s victory. So if the ebook taps right into a Trumpian wave of male discontent, it is going to be accidentally, though I’ll be joyful if it happens. There haven’t been many books in current years that take a look at manhood straight up. There are educational studies of masculinity and treatises on gender. However “A Man’s World” is 20 portraits of guys, love ‘em or hate ‘em. It’s not prescriptive. It’s not ideologically driven. By the method, my agent thinks more ladies will read the e-book than men. She thinks that it solutions the query: What do men need? We shall see.

I haven’t requested much about the craft of your storytelling. Are you able to speak just a little about the way you strategy the writing of the stories? What’s your course of, if there’s a continuing in how you write?

I sometimes let the story dictate my strategy. Until I’ve completed some reporting, I don’t know what I’m going to put in writing or how I’m going to write down it. By and giant, I’m simple in relation to construction. Nevertheless, I’m prepared to take possibilities. In “The Casualty of War,” as an example, I reveal close to the beginning that its subject, Chris Leon, is lifeless. The story nonetheless has more than 7,000 phrases to go. That was a danger. I banked on being in such command of the material that I might make you retain studying regardless that you understand how the piece ends. In “That Championship Season,” a profile of Brandon Tartikoff, the legendary president of NBC television, I present Tartikoff’s bio as if it’s taken from a TV program information. His childhood is a sitcom. A bout with most cancers is a movie of the week. I feel that was efficient, and it enabled me to keep away from what I call the tyranny of info. Reporters typically assume that in the event that they accumulate a bunch of details and hit you with them abruptly they’ve made a character come alive. More typically, they’ve written one thing that is dense and poorly organized. I all the time search for methods to make particulars serve the narrative. I also goal for comedian aid. One of my favorite items in “A Man’s World” is a profile of the architect John Portman I wrote for Esquire. I start the piece with a lengthy description of Portman’s wild comb-over, which is each defensive and outrageous. I feel that is humorous. Extra essential, I feel it’s apt – his buildings are both defensive and outrageous.

For those who needed to decide one, which of these interviews left the most lasting impression on you? Both with the course of itself, or what you discovered, or what you ended up writing.

“Talese is a master of writing about defeat. This is the school of journalism that says that after the big game, you often get the best story if you go to the loser’s locker room. There’s truth to that, and I’m always surprised that more reporters don’t do it.”

All of them had a huge impact on me. I don’t undertake stories calmly. That’s a curse and a blessing. They get beneath my pores and skin: none more so than one on the late baseball star Bo Belinsky.  Bo performed for the Los Angeles Angels. Everybody thinks Sandy Koufax pitched the first Main League no-hitter in California. Not true. It was Bo. Bo had every little thing – talent, attractiveness and lovely girlfriends. However he threw it all away. First there was alcoholism, then cocaine habit. Finally he shot his wife. Bo ended up promoting used automobiles in Las Vegas. Not lengthy after his demise, a good friend of his gave me a bunch of cassette tapes Bo recorded at the finish. In a way I obtained an interview from beyond the grave. That story, which is known as “Fallen Angel” and which I wrote for Los Angeles, addresses why Bo stated no to life and how he lied to himself. Those have been onerous things to ponder, and it took a toll. Incidentally, that piece and a number of others in “A Man’s World” – a profile of Gregg Allman that I wrote for Esquire when Gregg was in hassle, a story about the crazed novelist Harry Crews I wrote early on for The Atlanta Journal & Structure Journal – owe so much to Gay Talese. Talese is a master of writing about defeat. That is the faculty of journalism that says that after the massive recreation, you typically get the greatest story in case you go to the loser’s locker room. There’s fact to that, and I’m all the time stunned that extra reporters don’t do it.

And is there a profile I haven’t mentioned that you simply need to speak about, both the writing or the reporting? I’m guessing some have been quite wild.

Probably the most formidable piece in “A Man’s World” is “The Talented Mr. Raywood.” It’s a few high-end conman who bilked wealthy individuals in New York and Los Angeles out of tens of millions. An interior designer, Craig Raywood relied on finesse and allure to bamboozle his shoppers. I labored on the story for 9 months – fortunately, I was on employees at Los Angeles at the time – and virtually nobody concerned needed to speak with me. Raywood was on the run, and the victims have been mortified. Moreover, the case was nonetheless underneath investigation. There had been no arrest. The rationale crime tales are virtually all the time written after the reality is that previous to conviction, a reporter has no authorized cowl. All information are in dispute. I was ahead of the police on this piece, but fortunately I had two nice editors – the journal’s editor in chief, Package Rachlis, and Richard E. Meyer, a legendary former editor at the Los Angeles Times who’d just come to Los Angeles to shepherd this type of work. They stored me on level, and I feel I ended up writing a robust story that claims as a lot about status and cash because it does about the actual cons. Nevertheless it was a problem.

Finally, what’s your recommendation to young writers beginning out on this path at present?

Get a job at a medium-sized every day newspaper whose managing editor believes that the greatest approach to win new subscribers is with great storytelling. Then let this editor work you want a dog. That could be easier stated than achieved, however I learn local papers once I’m traveling, and I’m impressed by many of them. Lots of good writing nonetheless appears day by day in America’s papers.

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