George Malko is an accomplished fiction and non-fiction author, journalist, documentarian and screenwriter whose life and career has been as adventurous, fascinating and eclectic as any of the stories he has had a hand in creating. George wrote or co-wrote ALIEN THUNDER (1974), with Donald Sutherland; Bernardo Bertolucci's controversial LA LUNA (1979), with Jill Clayburgh; and the war movie THE DOGS OF WAR (1980) with Christopher Walken.  In the final part of our two-part interview I spoke with George about his 1970 book 'Scientology: The Now Religion' and L. Ron Hubbard, interviewing Anthony Burgess, his disagreement with screenwriting guru Robert McKee and meeting CASABLANCA (1942) writer Julius Epstein, what he enjoys most out of teaching, and how his time as a reporter impacted upon his writing.   

Part one of the interview. 

Can you talk about the book you wrote entitled Scientology: The Now Religion? 
I was in Australia visiting family and relatives and working on a couple of articles, and I got a call from a Sydney newspaper. They asked me if I knew that I was being sued by the Church of Scientology. I said no. I joined a long list of illustrious people. I had written a magazine article in New York where I did freelance work and it was my first introduction to Scientology. I spent some time at one of the centers. They wrote me a letter thanking me for writing the article and they offered me a free Hubbard Dianetics Auditor Course. I thought ''Wow!'' It was almost like ''Where did I go wrong?'' On the basis of the article I got the book, which was well reviewed in The Times. Then they sued me, and that went on for three years. Eventually, the publisher quietly settled for suppression of the book without telling me. But the whole thing is online. Someone scanned the whole thing.

Did you see Alex Gibney's documentary GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (2015)? 
I never saw the film but I did read some extracts from the book by Lawrence Wright that it was based on. What is missing is how Hubbard started Scientology. There was a conference of science fiction writers, where people who want to write science fiction pay money to come and listen to the old voices of science fiction talk. L.Ron Hubbard spoke. He had been a successful science fiction writer. After he finished his talk, he walked off the stage and the next writer came on. Suddenly Hubbard came back and moved the writer to the side and said to the audience ''Forget everything I said. Do you want to make a million dollars? Start your own religion. '' This was about 65 years ago.

In my book I say that I plan to examine Scientology but I plan to move carefully because when you are messing with what is someone else's faith, you don't trample on it. I say that I am just going to look at what the elements of this faith are. What do the followers believe? Where did the religion come from? What does it ask of its believers? That was it. But it was enough for a lawsuit. It was an experience that I didn't think would continue through moments of my life but it has. I've never been approached for my comments about the film, and Lawrence Wright never called me. Although I am sure he read my book. Scientology isn't actually that big. It's just notorious. There are other substantive faiths which have more adherence. It projects itself as being big and it's important for it to do so. Hubbard used to issue directives, and I got hold of a copy of one from the very early years as part of my research. In it he said ''Go for celebrities. They'll bring other people in. '' Years ago I was staying at the home of a friend and he introduced me to his friend, the actor Stephen Boyd. Only later did I learn that he was a Scientologist. Up until then I just thought he was a sincere guy who when he shook your hand didn't gaze into your eyes, he stared into them and held that stare. Later in my research I learned that that was one of the elements of Scientology, a way to make solid contact. It wasn't off-putting but it was very intense.

Can you talk about your experience interviewing Anthony Burgess? 
I had read his novels and was a fan - Nothing Like the Sun (1964), The Doctor is Sick (1960), the Enderby books. I was a writer for Playboy but they weren't interested in him for an interview, so I approached Penthouse. Their English editor also thought no-one would be interested in reading about him. I told him ''Look, they're going to be making A CLOCKWORK ORANGE soon.'' They relented. I interviewed him for three days when he and Malcolm MacDowell were in New York for the movie. He was terrific. I've seen Malcolm a few times since and we always remember Anthony's excesses and flourishes of language. He was very theatrical and inventive, but not everything was quite accurate. I had had a movie optioned by Si Litvinoff and his partner Max Raab, who had made WALKABOUT (1971) and got executive producer credits on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971). When they optioned A Clockwork Orange (1962), they had also optioned one of his other books. Anthony loved to say that he had gotten ''the nugatory sum of 800 quid'' for the rights to both of the books. I called Max to fact check, and he told me they paid him 25, 000 pounds. When I called Burgess and told him this, he hung up!

He also loved to tell the story that A Clockwork Orange was based on something that had happened to his wife. He said that three American GI's had beaten her up and raped her. It never happened. The thing was that it was a fabulous story. He also claimed the government of Burma said he was dangerous to the liberation movement and concocted the results of brain tests to make him believe he had a brain tumour. During the course of the year he wrote several novels to, as he said, leave something for his family when he died. Then he took another test and he found he wasn't dying. ht. He was never less than absolutely engaging. A dear friend of mine was a writer named Steven Becker. He had met Burgess and they got along famously. At one point I told Steve about the anomalies in Burgess's proclamations and he said ''Yeah, but I have to let you know I got a letter from him the other day. It said 'Steven, you were well spoken of at the Pritchetts the other evening.' '' Steve said to me, ''What more can you ask for? To have your work brought up at the home of V.S. Pritchett and for someone to speak well of you? '' When I hear something like that I forgive Burgess everything. Because he made my friend happy. And I am sure it was true.

Julius Epstein
Have you ever interviewed or spent time with any other writers you admired? 
As a member of The Writers' Guild, I was a Trustee on the Guild's Health and Pension Fund on the East Coast. Early on, in the first couple of years, one of the trustees from the West Coast was Oscar Saul, who had adapted A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951). Another one of the West Coast trustees I sort of got to know was Julius Epstein, who wrote CASABLANCA. Some years ago I took the weekend intensive screenwriting course with Robert McKee and he ended with a frame by frame breakdown of CASABLANCA (1942). He starts off with the opening of people escaping and finally ending up in Casablanca, where as the script says they 'wait and wait and wait'. McKee stops the movie and he says that this business of exit visas and papers of transit is, in his words, ''horseshit. It's just a device that they made up to get everybody to that place. '' I raised my hand and I said ''It's not horseshit because if it weren't for transit papers and exit visas, I'd be dead. '' There was dead silence because McKee, is a gifted teacher of some things but also an arrogant son of a bitch. It's his way or the highway. He said ''What do you mean?'' I said ''WW2 had started. I was a small child. My parents were Russian, and we were travelling on Russian papers. We were in Copenhagen when the Germans invaded. We got exit papers and flew to Berlin, where we got transit papers and took a train to Genoa. We got one of the last ships leaving before war broke out. '' Afterwards, people came up to me and said ''Thank God you said something. He's such a pain in the ass about some things. '' I told Julius Epstein about it and he said ''Is that asshole still perpetuating that nonsense?'' We agreed that he gets mileage out of it. It makes a big impression on everybody that it was made up.

Meeting someone like Julius Epstein is terrific because you realise ''They influenced my thinking. '' He confirmed by the way that he and his brother didn't know what the ending to CASABLANCA was going to be. He confirmed that they didn't tell the cast until the end. He said he and his brother were driving, and they pulled over to the side and they looked at each other, trying to come up with the last line of the movie. Suddenly in unison they said ''Round up the usual suspects.'' You think, boy, I'd like to duplicate that, but it's difficult. The trick isn't to come up with the last line but to come up with the feeling that the last line evokes.

I teach Screen and Television Writing at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and what a lot of the students don't understand is that on the page they can't control the effects that their words are going to have on an audience. If you look at the scripts of people starting out, they are trying to direct on the page. They are trying to impose their conclusion on the way the actors are going to do it. It's because what they're looking for is the result but as I try to explain to them, you can't control an audience. 

What do you get the most out of teaching? 
I love it. What's interesting about the teaching is that you give advice or feedback to the students and you go back to your own stuff and you say ''Well, wait a second - if i just suggested to a student that maybe what they can do is such and such, then why am I not doing that to my own stuff?'' Teaching keeps me alert. I work in the Department of Dramatic Writing. I teach Television and Film. I do a workshop every spring for the grad students where we break everything down to its essentials, like changes in a scene because of dialogue. I try to push the one understanding that in a screenplay, everything is changing and that as a result of the change, something has to happen. It's consequences, consequences. The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, spoke at Tisch a few years ago and they did a presentation of how they break down their stories. They said that things have to happen ''because of' something. You can't just just have 'And then'... '' This is the kind of thinking that I have to bring back when I am working. Producers always say ''Gimme a scene where ...'', and it's those scenes that always end up on the cutting room floor.

I'm also writing. I finished the first draft of a new novel two days ago. I have a screenplay that's under option with one producer. I have a television series that is 'in conversations'. And I have a play that is going to be getting a staged reading here next month. I am able to do what many years ago I thought was too extravagant. 

Do you enjoy working in the different disciplines? 
I love it. When you shift from one to the other you need a few days to remind yourself of the rhythms and the expectations as you go from one to the other. The risk is that you might lessen the energy on one thing and as an excuse say ''I'd better go to the other thing. '' You have to stick to what you're doing. 

How did your time as a reporter impact upon your writing? 
It taught me how to research. It also taught me that you can find anything if you keep looking. Years ago when I was first working as a reporter, someone said ''Use the phone book. Everybody is in the phone book. '' I had never thought to do that. Nowadays everybody depends on the Internet and assumes that what they find on the Internet is always accurate. One of the most rewarding research experiences I ever had was in the main library in New York Public Library on 42nd Street/ 5th Avenue. I had gotten one chain letter too many. It was always the same thing. Some General had ignored the chain and he had apparently lost his wife or something. There was always the same typo. It said ''If you send this on to ten people you'll be happy forever. '' I decided to track down the origin of chain letters. Because of the card catalogue in the Library I ended up in the Slavic section, and I found a Polish journal of sociological and psychological behaviour. I read the one article that was in French. It was called The Legend of the Letter from Christ that Fell from Heaven. Apparently, in the 12th century someone appeared with a letter saying that it had fallen from Heaven and that it was from Christ, and that everyone had to make ten copies each and disseminate his word. That was the origin of chain letters. If anything was to convince me that sticking with research works that was it. I also figured out that if 11 people had sent a copy to another 11 people, by the 12th permutation, every person on Earth would have had a copy! 

I spoke to George by telephone on 21st October 2015 and would like to thank him for his time. 

Note from George:
'The decision to find, if possible, the source of chain letters was driven by my having sold it as an article idea. It was eventually published in the grandly designed journal Lithopinion, which had been created and published for many years by the Lithographers union. Boy, did they know how to put out a magazine. Bob Sherrill, who was an editor on The Nation, edited Lithopinion. When he bought a profile I had written of the great Blaze Starr, he asked if I could get an autographed picture for his wife. ''Miz Mary'll be tickled. '' Blaze was happy to oblige. By the way, when Ron Shelton was making BLAZE (1989) I sent him the profile. After the movie came out, my friend Ray Sawhill, who was at the time writing about movies and the arts for Newsweek and had seen my piece, said ''Ron should have paid more attention to what you wrote. '' Flattering. Which is a curious and prevalent fact of much of the writing one does and manages to get out into the world: flattery after the fact. ''      

George's website

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.

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