Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Esther Cohen is a writer, teacher, and activist. We could speak with Esther about a multitude of topics, including the work she does with Bread and Roses, the country’s premiere labor union cultural program. We will have to get her back for that interview. But today we’re going to speak with her about her writing, specifically her poetry. Besides her novel, Book Doctor, and her nonfiction books, she’s published two books of poetry. Her poems have appeared in literary journals like Alimentum and First Word, in the New York Times, and on the NPR radio show “On Being.” Esther is constantly writing and she posts a poem a day on her website. I
We publish poems in our Poet’s Corner on Woman Around Town and we have had the honor of publishing several of Esther’s poems in that space. Maybe you’re thought about writing poetry but have no idea how to get started. Or maybe you have a journal somewhere where you are indeed writing poems, but wonder if you could ever get them published. Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti talks about all of that with Esther.
Timing is everything, and Steven Spielberg’s The Post could not have come out at a more ideal time. While there are those who would attack the Washington Post and other news organizations with pejorative terms like “fake news,” the film dramatizes why our country needs a free and unfettered press. While the New York Times proclaims on its front page “All the news that’s fit to print,” the Washington Post doesn’t pull punches with its declaration that “Democracy dies in darkness.”
Risking everything to publish stories based on the purloined Pentagon Papers – the publisher, editors, and reporters could have been charged and jailed – the Washington Post claimed it’s rightful place as a national newspaper. Katharine Graham, who became publisher after her husband, Philip, committed suicide, allowed the paper to print, even though her board of directors warned that she could jeopardize the paper’s financial future. In making the decision to go ahead, Graham finally asserts her authority and makes the paper truly her own.
Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, and Tom Hanks
Coming on the heels of The Vietnam War, Ken Burns’ exhaustive series for PBS, the film underscores that four presidents, from Truman through Johnson, continually misled the public about U.S. operations in Vietnam. In fact, while the government insisted that the war was being won, behind the scenes those in charge had declared the war unwinnable. President Nixon, who didn’t want to be humiliated losing a war, kept up the deception.
The film opens in 1969, in the jungles of Vietnam. The war is still raging, claiming both American and Vietnamese lives. Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), a former Marine working as a military analyst at the Rand Corporation, is sent to Vietnam as an observer and sees firsthand that things are not going well. While flying back to Washington on a government plane, Ellsberg is asked for his opinion by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). If Ellsberg is surprised when McNamara agrees with his assessment, he’s even more surprised when McNamara faces the press after the flight and delivers an upbeat assessment that the war is being won.
Ellsburg, already disillusioned, makes the decision to photocopy 7,000 pages of confidential documents that reveal what the government has been hiding for more than four decades about the war. After failing to generate any interest from the members of Congress, Ellsberg, in 1971, contacts Neil Sheehan, who had been covering the war for the New York Times. Sheehan and his editors recognized the importance of the papers immediately. A team was put together, and for three months they holed up in a hotel, poring over the papers and deciding how best to tell the story.
Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee
The absence of Sheehan’s byline for several months does not go unnoticed by Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). Hanks plays Bradlee as the quintessential newspaper man and a fierce competitor. Even though the Times was recognized as the only truly national newspaper in the country, and one whose journalistic credentials far outweighed the Post’s, Bradlee is not about to play second fiddle. He gives an intern $40 with instructions to hop a train to New York and attempt to find out what Sheehan is working on. While the intern doesn’t learn the whole story, he does see a mock-up of the next day’s Times with practically the entire front page blocked out for Sheehan’s story. Bradlee knows the Times has something big and braces for the scoop.
Meanwhile, Katharine Graham is about to face a group of bankers, a first step in her quest to take the paper public to raise much needed cash. Meryl Streep does what she does best: transforming herself into the character, in this case a middle-aged woman plagued with self doubt who is about to take her place on the national stage. Although Graham has rehearsed with Fritz Beebe (Tracy Letts), the Post’s chairman, she’s tongue-tied when before the bankers. Streep manages to capture Graham’s insecurities in subtle ways, with facial expressions and hand gestures. During the meeting, she actually seems to shrink in size. Despite her lackluster presentation, the offering succeeds and the company will have the cash it needs to go forward.
Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee), David Cross (Howard Simons), John Rue (Gene Patterson), Bob Odenkirk (Ben Bagdikian), Jessie Mueller (Judith Martin), and Philip Casnoff (Chalmers Roberts)
On June 13, 1971, Bradlee’s fears are realized when the Times comes out with its first story about the Pentagon Papers, making the Post’s front page feature of Tricia Nixon’s wedding seem trivial. Three days later, however, the Nixon administration, citing national security, asks a federal court for an injunction preventing the Times from publishing any further stories. Although the injunction is granted, other newspapers jump in, trying to gain access to the documents.
One of the Post’s writers, Ben Bagdikian (a terrific Bob Odenkirk), has a hunch the papers came from Ellsberg, whom he once worked with at the Rand Corporation. Ellsberg, hiding out in a Boston motel, agrees to give the papers to Bagdikian. The reporter flies back to D.C., and the team gathers at Bradlee’s Georgetown home for some heavy reading.
The Times had more than three months to digest the papers. The Post’s team has far less time. The Herculean effort results in a story, but elation is short-lived when one of the newspaper’s attorneys says that the injunction could be a big problem if the Post’s source was also the Times’ source. If the paper defies the injunction and publishes, the risk would be great. Besides possible jail time for Graham, Bradlee, and others, board member Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), warns that the newspaper’s recent public offering could be in danger. This is the turning point for Kay Graham, and Streep handles this scene beautifully, allowing us first to see her hesitation, but then her determination to do the right thing.
Howard Simons (David Cross), Frederick “Fritz” Beebe (Tracy Letts), Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), Arthur Parsons (Bradley Whitford), Chalmers Roberts (Philip Casnoff), Paul Ignatius (Brent Langdon), Meg Greenfield (Carrie Coon, seated).
The Post’s first story runs on June 18. Unlike in the Times’ case, the Justice Department’s request for an injunction is turned down by a federal judge in D.C. Before the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, several other newspapers, including the Boston Globe and the Chicago Sun-Times, also publish stories. In a 6-3 decision on June 30, the court reverses the injunction. In the decision, Justice Hugo Black writes: “In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.”
Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham
Graham is transformed by the experience. Not only has she firmly grasped the reins as the newspaper’s publisher, but she understands that she cannot allow her responsibility to be affected by the personal friendships she once enjoyed with those in power. (After reading the Pentagon Papers, she confronts McNamara about his deception regarding the war, reminding him that her son is still in Vietnam fighting.)
Graham and Bradlee are now a team. While Graham expresses the hope that the battle is now behind them, we know that an even greater challenge is ahead, one that will bring down a president.
Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Looking around during a preview of The Last Jedi, I had a startling thought: most of the press people in the audience hadn’t yet been born when the first Star Wars film premiered 40 years ago. Soon after that film hit screens, I stood in line on East 86th Street in New York to see what critics were already calling a cultural phenomenon. The young lead actors (Carrie Fisher was only 19), suddenly found themselves thrust into the public eye, part of a juggernaut whose full impact had yet to be felt. Even today, enthusiasm for the Star Wars films continues, bringing in new generations of theater goers. During a time when other sequels fail, this new trilogy (forget about those disappointing prequels) not only meets, but exceeds expectations.
In a May 25, 1977 review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby, then the paper’s chief film critic, said about the first Star Wars film: “Actually, I may have to see it again.” That was the same comment made to me by the guest I brought to the preview of The Last Jedi. Repeat business is what makes studio executives happy, and those at Disney will certainly seize on this moment as the best holiday gift possible.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
Like the first film in this new trilogy, The Force Awakens,The Last Jedi features characters from the past alongside a new youthful contingent. Mark Hamill, no longer the fresh-faced Luke Skywalker, is now a brooding and dark presence, holed up on a remote mountain, determined to avoid future battles. While the mountain is void of people, the non-human inhabitants are a delight to behold. These include: the adorable chirpy Porgs that resemble puffins; slug-like creatures large as dinosaurs; and servants with fish heads dressed like nuns who seem to perform the island’s daily chores. Luke’s sister, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, whose appearance is bittersweet), still hopes Luke will return to help the rebels, now called the Resistance. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the other member of the original trio, was killed off in The Force Awakens.
Oscar Isaac as Poe
The new trio consists of Rey (Daisy Ripley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Rather than joining together in the fight, however, each is on a separate mission. The film opens with Poe, one of the Resistance’s top pilots, leading an offensive against the First Order (formerly The Empire), which doesn’t end well.
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose and John Boyega as Finn
Finn, who has just recovered from injuries, is soon sent on a mission, along with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), to find a code breaker on a distant planet that bears a striking resemblance to Las Vegas. (Those customers gathered around the gaming tables remind us of the creatures Luke and Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi once encountered in a seedy intergalactic bar.) Daisy has perhaps the most difficult assigment: convincing a reluctant Luke to train her and then leave his retreat to help the Resistance.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
Among all the allied fighters, Rey, whose parentage is in question, seems to be aligned with The Force, that mystical power possessed by the Jedi. While on the mountain, she keeps seeing images of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is connected to The Force since his parents are Han Solo and Princess Leia, but has gone over to the dark side. In these dream-like sequences, Kylo tries to entice Rey to join him, disparaging his uncle, Luke, who once was his mentor. This tug of war plays out through the film, teasing us with the question of who will be turned, Rey or Kylo.
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo
The First Order is now led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, doing his computer-generated thing, turning this villain into something truly reprehensible), and General Hux, (Domhnall Gleeson), whose postering is less threatening than it is humorous. A welcome new face among the rebels is Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. Then, of course, there are the favorite droids, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee), along with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), truly going “solo” this time around.
Rian Johnson picks up the director’s job from J.J. Abrams, who is now executive producer. Rian, who had a cameo appearance in last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, makes the leap to directing big time with this film and succeeds on all fronts. From the over-the-top battles (a Star Wars trademark), to the more intimate scenes between the characters, we feel we are in capable hands. Once again, John Williams’ score soars over the action, triggering our auditory memory of Star Wars films long, long ago.
The battle between good and evil is never really over, something the Star Wars films underscore. And it’s hard not to think of our current political climate when watching The Last Jedi. Particularly unsettling are those marching storm troopers that bring to mind Kim Jong-un’s robotic army, as well as those leaders of the First Order whose black uniforms resemble those worn by the Nazis. As the second film of this trilogy, The Last Jedi closes some plot lines, but leaves many more unresolved, sure to build the anticipation for that third installment.
Photos courtesy of Disney Studios Top: Daisy Ridley as Rey and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
In 2002, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson was sent to the the African nation of Niger to assess whether Iraq was buying uranium ore to build nuclear weapons. Wilson’s investigation found no such evidence, but in the 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Four months after, the U.S. invaded Iraq, basing that military operation on the erroneous information that Saddam had “weapons of mass destruction.” Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times titled, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” basically accusing the Bush Administration of lying to justify the war.
Retaliation against Wilson zeroed in on his wife, Valerie Plame, a career CIA operative whose identity was leaked to the press by members of the Bush Administration and first published in the Washington Post by conservative columnist Robert Novak. Plame’s outing effectively ended her career and also placed any assets she had worked with in danger. Although Plame did not send her husband to Niger, she also was held responsible for that decision, bringing about charges of nepotism.
Hannah Yelland and Aakhu Tuahnera Freeman
Jacqueline E. Lawton’s aptly titled Intelligence, now playing at Arena Stage, purports to tell Plame’s story. First commissioned in 2015 as part of Arena’s Power Play initiative, Lawton’s work is well-timed. Intelligence leaks are in the news, but as Intelligence shows, those leaks are not new. In a tight and tense 90-minutes, Intelligence imagines Plame’s double life – on one hand, an undercover CIA operative, and on the other, a wife to Wilson and mother to their three-year old twins.
In Playwright’s Notes included in the program, Lawton said that she writes “out of a deep frustration for the lack of strong, complex and engaging roles for women in the American theater.” She was drawn to Plame’s story about a woman “fighting to ensure the national security of the United States.” Intelligence is directed by Daniella Topol, artistic director of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in New York.
In Arena’s Kogod Cradle, Misha Kachman’s set design, dominated by dark gray moveable walls, creates the perfect backdrop for clandestine activities. On the left side of the stage, couches and a coffee table represent the more intimate and comfortable Wilson/Plame living room. The columns also work as screens where video scenes from 9/11 are played, along with snippets of speeches made by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Ethan Hova, Nora Achrati, and Hannah Yelland
Working for the CIA’s counter-proliferation division, Plame (a passionate performance by Hannah Yelland, who also resembles Plame) is investigating whether Iraq is amassing weapons. The importance of her mission cannot be understated. Not only will her findings produce valuable evidence that may or may not result in the U.S. attacking Iraq, but any assets who provide that information might be targeted for death. Intelligence is a fictionalized account of what might have transpired as Plame went about her duties.
Dr. Malik Nazari (a searing performance by Ethan Hova), representing one of Plame’s assets, is an Iraqi who once tested chemical weapons for Saddam’s regime. Often the most unpleasant part of a CIA agent’s job is pressuring, even blackmailing, those who are innocent. Leyla Nazari (Nora Achrati) Malik’s niece, is a dress designer who makes frequent trips to Jordan. Plame coming to Leyla’s shop, ostensibly to pick up a scarf, threatens to turn over information about those trips to the government unless Leyla convinces her uncle to meet with her.
Nazari agrees to the meeting, in the coffee shop he now runs. Now out of Iraq, he’s still wracked with guilt over testing chemical weapons on prisoners and others who were unable to defend themselves. He agrees to go back to Iraq to gather information, not for Plame or the U.S., but for his people, he tells her. Plame promises to go with him to Iraq, but is ordered not to do so by her supervisor, Elaine Matthews (Aakhu Tuahnera Freeman). That won’t be the only promise Plame is forced to break. After she’s outed, she’s barred from the CIA (on her next visit, she’s given a visitor pass), and is unable to contact or protect Nazari or Leyla.
Hannah Yelland and Lawrence Redmond
Plame’s situation takes a toll on her at home, too. While her husband (Lawrence Redmond) is depicted here as being less than supportive about her job, complaining when she has to work late or travel (she’s a CIA operative!), he also doesn’t stop to think about what effect his Times column might have on her career. Seeing her name in print in Novak’s story, Plame lashes out at him, pointing out that he has placed her and the children in danger. (In real life, Plame and Wilson eventually relocated from Washington, D.C. to New Mexico, after receiving death threats.)
Never before has gathering intelligence been more important. And never before have these dedicated people who place their lives on the line every day to perform these duties come under such unrelenting attack. Intelligence is a cautionary tale that we have to do better, recruiting the best and brightest for these challenging assignments and then giving them the tools and the support they need to succeed in their missions to keep America safe.
Photos by C. Stanley Photography
Intelligence Written by Jacqueline E. Lawton Directed by Daniella Topol Kogod Cradle Arena Stage Extended through April 9, 2017
How responsible has the media been for the success of Donald Trump’s candidacy? Is the “rigged media” now being unfair to him as the candidate suggests? Was the press unfairly critical of Hillary Clinton at the start of the race only to be supportive of her candidacy now?
These questions, and many others, will be addressed this Saturday, October 29, as members of the press provide an honest assessment of how well the media has covered the election. Members of the press from Democracy Now!, Fox News, Huffington Post, The Hill and the National Review will participate in a panel discussion on The Press and the 2016 Presidential Election at the New York Press Club Foundation’s 24th Annual Conference on Journalism. The conference takes place at NYU’s Kimmel Center, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
In addition to the panel about the press and the election, several breakout sessions throughout the morning will cover many topics that are important to journalists and those interested in how media work to bring us the news.
Millennials and the Media will look at how millennials get their news. Jon Stewart was once the main source of news for the next generation. With Stewart’s retirement, news outlets like mic.com, Vice, even Snapchat for News have arisen to fill the void. How serious and accurate are these media outlets? Is this the end of “mainstream media”? Come to the panel and find out.
Keynote speaker Elizabeth Vargas
A recent article in the Boston Globe suggests that Americans are not getting accurate information about what is happening in Syria. The Globe blames media outlets for drastically reducing the number of foreign correspondents. However, some incredibly brave journalists do put their lives at risk to find the truth and enlighten the world about what goes on in war torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan. Reporters who cover conflict areas on the ground will be at the conference on Saturday to participate in the War and Conflict Reporting panel. Come find out how these astonishing reporters cut through the fog of war, keep safe, and uncover the facts in this not to be missed panel discussion.
If food is your thing, a more light-hearted panel on Food Journalism will be of interest. New York Magazine food writer, Adam Platt, will moderate a panel of food experts and writers, including the former New York Times’ food critic, Mimi Sheraton.
Other panels will include Sports Reporting, Digital Media-Keeping it Legal, and The Podcast Boom, all staffed by experts in their fields of journalism.
Lunch will be served during the Keynote address by Elizabeth Vargas of ABC’s 20/20, whowill participate in a Q and A with Press Club President, Steve Scott. Vargas, who has chronicled her career and struggle with alcoholism in a recent book, will answer questions about the election, her career and how she is dealing with her addiction.
For more information about the New York Press Club Foundation’s Conference on Journalism and to buy tickets, visit the website.
With Oliver Stone’s Snowden in theaters (read our review), now seems like a good time to remember some other cinematic entries about other people who chose to blow the whistle on their employers-no matter the cost.
Serpico (1973) Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network) and starring Al Pacino in the title role, it tells the true story of how NYPD officer Frank Serpico went undercover to expose corruption in the police force. It covers twelve years; 1960-1972. It was successful commercially and artistically receiving Academy Awards for Best Actor for Pacino and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also routinely comes up on lists of the best crime movies AND best movies of the 20th century period, as well as being considered a high mark to Lumet and Pacino’s careers.
The Insider (1999) Directed by Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral) and based on Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” 60 Minutes did a segment on Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe in one of his best performances) a whistleblower in the tobacco industry. His efforts to come forward were championed by CBS producer Lowell Bergman (played by Al Pacino) despite efforts by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company to silence and discredit Wigand. It wasn’t a big hit commercially but highly lauded by critics and was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor.
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009) Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith directed this documentary following Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, which detailed the military’s secret history in Vietnam. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary. It won prizes at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Boulder International Film Festival, the Sidney Film Festival, as well as snagging a Peabody Award.
The Whistleblower (2010) Directed by Larysa Kondracki (The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul) and starring Rachel Weisz as Kathryn Bolkovac an American police officer recruited by the United Nations to be a peacekeeper for DynCorp International in post-war Bosnia in 1999. Bolkovac discovered a sex trafficking ring that catered to and was facilitated by DynCorp employees while UN peacekeeping forces looked the other way. Bolkovac went public. It was nominated for three Genie Awards and won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at both the Whistler Film Festival and Palm Springs International Film Festival. Warning – because of the subject matter, this one is extremely violent, graphic, and incredibly dark.
War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State (2013) Directed by Robert Greenwald and Brave New Foundation it clocks it at just 66 minutes. War on Whistleblowers highlights several cases where government employees and contractors took cases of fraud and abuse to the media. All of them were penalized for it professionally and personally. It has a fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes with Variety magazine calling it “a sobering picture of a national security state.”
“The Hannah boat is skippered by a Colby College grad named Linda Greenlaw. Not only is Greenlaw one of the only women in the business, she’s one of the best captains period on the entire East Coast; year after year, trip after trip, she makes more money than anyone. When the Hannah Boden unloads her catch in Gloucester, swordfish prices plummet halfway around the world.” The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger
Linda Greenlaw is fond of saying that she worked as a commercial swordfish fisherman to pay her way through college. “Fishing for tuition,” she says with a laugh. After graduating from college with a major in English, Linda surprised her parents by announcing that she was going back to commercial fishing.
“My parents were not happy,” she says. “I heard `fishing is no place for an educated young person; you’re wasting your education.’”
Linda, however, fell in love with commercial swordfish fishing when she was a child and knew by age 19 that she would spend her life on boats. Yet, along the way, Linda’s life on the sea led her in some unexpected directions. She has now penned nine books, many of them landing on the New York Times bestsellers list, and appeared in a TV show on the Discovery Channel, Swords: Life on the Line. On August 21, a luncheon was held at The Hamilton, part of the Clyde’s group of restaurants, to showcase Linda Greenlaw’s branded swordfish being marketed in partnership with Great Oceans and now a permanent menu offering at Clyde’s restaurants. (The version presented at the luncheon, prepared by Clyde’s chefs, was served on a bed of spicy succotash and did Linda’s swordfish proud.)
“I had come to know it’s impossible to waste your education,” she says. “I like to think that I use my education every single day, fishing or writing, book touring, or just sitting around with my friends.” Certainly good news to all those recent graduates paying back loans and wondering if they made a bad investment.
Linda’s rise to fame was a combination of skill and luck. In 1991 she was captain of the Hannah Boden and the last person to speak with the captain of a companion boat, the Andrea Gail, whose tragic loss was the centerpiece of Sebastian Junger’s bestseller and a subsequent film starting George Clooney as the Andrea Gail’s captain, Billy Tyne Jr. Not only was Linda praised for her expertise in Junger’s book, she was portrayed in the film by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (above).
With Junger’s book dominating the bestseller lists, Linda began to receive calls from publishers asking her to write her own book. “To have this opportunity land in my lap, I was very fortunate,” she says. “I wrote my first book, The Hungry Ocean, thinking that it would be a one shot deal. No one was more surprised than I was when that book ended up on the New York Times bestsellers list. I’m still pinching myself because I never expected to write anything. My life has taken some strange turns.”
One book led to another and Linda has just returned from a nationwide tour to promote her latest book, Lifesaving Lessons: Notes from an Accidental Mother. Unlike her previous books that dealt with fishing, Linda’s new book is about her becoming the legal guardian of a troubled 15 year-old girl. “It’s a horror story with a happy ending,” she says. Isle au Haut, a small island off the coast of Maine where Linda lives, has 50 year round residents. “This is an abused kid who had been on the island since the age of ten with someone that we thought was her uncle,” Linda explains. “Unbeknownst to us, everything is not fine. Her former guardian is currently in federal prison which is a good place for him.”
Not only has Linda become a parent later in life, last September she got married. “I used to say that my lifestyle, being away for 30 days, being on a boat is not conducive to finding a guy—thanks for dinner see you in 30 days,” she says with a laugh. “I delivered a boat to his boatyard to have some work done. I put the boat on a mooring and he road me to shore. I can’t say it was love at first sight but it was definitely infatuation at first sight and we started to see a lot of each other. It happened very quickly. When I told my family that I was getting married, they said, isn’t this kind of sudden? And I’m like, I’m 51! How long do you want me to wait?”
While Linda’s life these days seems charmed, she has certainly paid her dues. “I worked very hard, I got very good at it, and, as luck would have it, I’ve been acknowledged,” she says.
Linda worked as a consultant during the filming of The Perfect Storm. “I was thrilled because I thought they are really trying to get it right,” she says. “I had the opportunity to read a draft of the script and make comments with a letter that went through my literary agent to Warner Brothers, Wolfgang Petersen (the film’s director) actually.” Although the film was a commercial and critical success, the disclaimer that it was “based on a true story” did little to answer critics who seized on factual errors. Linda herself admits that the romance between Clooney’s and Mastrantonio’s characters shown in the film, never happened in real life. Still, the film managed to capture the thrills and hazards of commercial fishing.
Linda knows those dangers well. “It’s 1,000 miles to the fishing grounds and so we take trips and we unload in Newfoundland,” she says. Being such a long distance from shore means that when bad weather happens, help is rarely on the way quickly.
How bad was the perfect storm, also known as the Halloween Nor’easter of 1991? “It was not the worst weather I’ve seen in my life; people are usually a little disappointed with my answer,” says Linda. “While the film shows George Clooney and [Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio] yelling back and forth, screaming over the radio, that never happened. No one was aware that the Andrea Gail was in any kind of trouble until we couldn’t get them on the radio.”
Linda says she did have the last conversation with Tyne when he asked her about the weather, but there was no indication that the Andrea Gail was in trouble. The following day, conversations about bad weather dominated the radio waves. “These are guys I have fished around all my life who are really accustomed to riding out storms,” she says. “They didn’t say they were scared, but I could tell from their voices, from the things they were saying, that they were frightened.”
After the storm passed, no one had spoken to the Andrea Gail. “That was more scary than the storm,” she says. Without a mayday call, Linda says, the U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t start searching for a boat until it’s five days overdue. “If these guys are really in trouble, what are the chances that they could last eight days?” During the storm, 100-foot seas were recorded. “With a 70-foot boat, whatever happened to the Andrea Gail happened very quickly,” she says. “They went down without a trace.”
Junger’s book and Petersen’s film launched what would become a widespread fascination with commercial fishing and the seas. For three years, Linda appeared on the Discovery Channel’s Swords: Life on the Line. “It’s nice that people are taking an interest in commercial fishing that for years nobody cared about,” she says, singling out the popularity of another Discovery Channel show, The Deadliest Catch. “The Perfect Storm started all that. It snowballed.” And the term, “the perfect storm,” has entered our vocabulary as a way of describing the coming together of circumstances to produce an unexpected result.
Linda keeps a busy speaking schedule talking to young children, high school and college students, as well as adults. “Little kids always want to know what’s the biggest fish I’ve ever caught,” says Linda. For the record: a 635 lb. swordfish. “They want to know about sharks and about storms. They want the drama.” While men inquire about the technical side of fishing, women often ask about being a female working in a male dominated environment. “Gender has not been an issue in my life; I haven’t made it one,” she says.
She often fields questions about the sustainability of swordfish and other species. “Customers want to know where the fish comes from; they want to feel good about what they’re eating,” she says. Circle hooks, used by nearly all the boats Linda’s group is sourcing fish from, have been a valuable tool for keeping fisheries healthy. Circle hooks are rarely swallowed, decreasing the mortality rate. Fish are more likely to ingest a J-hook and come up on the line dead. “There’s nothing you can do with a small fish that’s dead,” Linda explains. “You’re not allowed to have it on the boat. You throw it back and it does nothing for sustainability.”
Being at sea is like “balancing on a giant medicine ball for 30 days,” she says. “I’d be sitting at my mother’s kitchen table for dinner and I’d hold my drink and I would cradle my plate in my arm and shovel the food in,” she says with a laugh. “My mother would say, `let go of the plate; it’s not going to land on the deck. You can have more than five seconds to eat this meal.’” While Linda says she’s not a chef, she enjoys food and cooking. She and her mother, Martha Greenlaw, have collaborated on two cookbooks, most recently, The Maine Summers Cookbook: Recipes for Delicious Sun-Filled Days.
Another habit that sticks with Linda when she hits dry land? Walking down the street, she expects people to pass her on the left. “The rule of the road at sea is that you pass port to port. It really bothers me when people want to pass me on my right side. I will go out in the middle of the street to try to force someone to my port side. It’s habit.”