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  "The Right Stuff" (Wolfe's book and Kaufman's film) (Page 1)

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Author Topic:   "The Right Stuff" (Wolfe's book and Kaufman's film)
Aztecdoug
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posted 08-24-2000 12:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Aztecdoug   Click Here to Email Aztecdoug     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have finished reading the Right Stuff again. It had been years since I read it, and it looked like a nice book to take on vacation.

I have a question about it though. During one of Gordon Cooper's book signings, somebody asked Gordo if they thought he was portrayed accurately by Tom Wolfe in the book. Gordo responded that he thought it was very close.

Gordo elaborated though and stated there were three basic mistakes in the book. I only remembered one. Gordo stated that Wolfe's representation of LBJ was inaccurate.

My question for discussion is what points in this book can be considered factual versus fictional?

Russ Still
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posted 08-24-2000 02:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Russ Still   Click Here to Email Russ Still     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was at a symposium several years ago with Shepard, Carpenter, Schirra, and Cooper. Shepard was very adamant that the book was hogwash and that Wolfe had not interviewed any of the Mercury 7 before writing it. Cooper on the other hand said that he thought it portrayed the "times" very well, although on a detailed level was not very accurate.

OPOS
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posted 08-25-2000 08:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for OPOS   Click Here to Email OPOS     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just finished Gordo's book and the one thing that stuck out concerning this topic was Gordo's unhappiness with Wolfe's portrayal of Gus Grissom. He made it clear that Gus was not a "bumbling oaf" in connection with his sub-orbital flight, something Wolfe implied (or said) in the book. Deke Slayton said the same in his book "Deke!", although indicated that otherwise the book was a good representation of the times.

WAWalsh
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posted 09-13-2000 03:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for WAWalsh   Click Here to Email WAWalsh     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My sense is that a majority of the "facts" in "The Right Stuff" are accurate, but I would not view the book as gospel. Schirra makes a couple of points in his book to correct factual errors (such as the impression that LBJ was left fuming outside the Glenn home and the term "Man in the can"). I cannot recall which astronaut commented that the book was reasonably on target, but the movie was far from the truth. Certainly, however, everyone seems to have disagreed sharply with the portrayal of Gus Grissom. The book read in context and with others (e.g. "Carrying the Fire", "Failure Is Not An Option") helps provide a full view of the program.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 06-11-2003 12:01 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On Tuesday, Warner Home Video (WHV) released "The Right Stuff" as a deluxe, feature-packed Two-Disc DVD Special Edition. You can read about some of the extras included with the film here.

On Monday night, WHV and The American Cinematheque hosted a Hollywood reception, screening and panel discussion with the cast and crew at The Egyptian Theater. My sister and I attended the 20th anniversary event, accompanying the winner's of Gordon Cooper's lot in the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation's Silent Auction.

The evening began outside the theater, where a red carpet and media line was set-up, complete with fans awaiting the arrival of the stars. Warner Bros. had on display a few of the props from the film, including the full scale Mercury capsule and minature Bell X-1 and X-1A:


Among the evening's attendees was none other than General Yeager himself, who served as the film's technical advisor and who played a small part as the bartender in Poncho's:


Prior to the public being allowed in (tickets were sold to the screening and panel discussion), an intimate VIP reception was held in the lobby of the theater. The food was themed to the movie -- all American staples such as mini hot dogs and roast beef sandwiches.

The reception was primarily attended by the celebrities and their guests, but all were very approachable and very friendly to the few (including ourselves) who had no direct connection to the film. Among the first people we met were Scott Paulin (Deke Slayton) and Charles Frank (Scott Carpenter):


We also had a chance to speak briefly with Lance Henriksen (Wally Schirra), producer Robert Chartoff, and Harry Shearer (who with Jeff Goldblum were the two NASA recruiters and comic relief for the picture). Shearer is seen here with my sister:


Inside the theater, after the public was allowed in and before the screening, Director Philip Kaufman and Chartoff introduced the special guests in attendance. In addition to those named above, also present were: Ed Harris (John Glenn), Barbara Hershey (Glennis Yeager), Veronica Cartwright (Betty Grissom), Pamela Reed (Trudy Cooper), Mary Jo Deschanel (Annie Glenn), Scott Wilson (Scott Crossfield), Kathy Baker (Louise Shepard), and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. Each of the stars were called from the sidelines, who ran to the front of the screen before taking their seats (seen here, Goldblum with Harris, Paulin, Frank, and Shearer in the background):


Watching the film was a personal treat, as I was too young to have seen it in the theaters. Though I have seen it projected on an IMAX screen, seeing it as it was intended, on a large movie screen with surround sound was quite impressive. Many of the cast and crew commented this was their first time seeing the picture in 20 years.

After the movie, the stars took the stage again, this time to answer questions from both a moderator and the audience. From left to right: the real Gordon Cooper, Chartoff, producer Irwin Winkler, Kaufman, Yeager, Caleb Deschanel, Barbara Hershey, Mary Jo Deschanel, Cartwright, Goldblum, Shearer, and Harris -


Some interesting comments from the Q&A:

- Cooper and Yeager were very happy with how they were portrayed and agreed the rivalry and competition portrayed between the test pilots and the astronauts (and within their own groups) was accurate.

- The actors approached researching their roles in different ways. Harris was given by Kaufman tapes of Glenn and NASA material to study. Frank knew Carpenter before the film and remains friends today. Cartwright was told specifically by Kaufman not to speak with Betty Grissom, as he wanted to portray her innocense and felt that Betty had "hardened" and would have tainted the performance.

- Shearer and Goldblum had no research -- they improvised most of their performance. Kaufman created their roles to act as a bridge between scenes and they often felt they were making their own little movie within a movie.

- The iconic shot of the seven astronauts walking down the hallway was never planned. The location where it was shot was near their offices and Caleb noticed how the sunlight had created the perfect shot. So they raced to get the guys in costume and quickly film the scene before the light dimished.

After the Q&A and given the hour (it was almost midnight by now), the stars were most gracious and signed and posed with fans as desired.


All-in-all, a very memorable evening and a very enjoyable film -- I highly recommend picking up the new DVD.

Russ Still
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posted 06-11-2003 01:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Russ Still   Click Here to Email Russ Still     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for those pics, Rob. Looks like it was a lot of fun. I have a few Right Stuff/Movie items. Would have been very good to have been in a situation like that with so many cast members present. Too bad Sam Shepard is a non-signer. I hit him up back in the late 80's to sign a Right Stuff piece but he declined.

Rizz
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posted 06-11-2003 02:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rizz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great event. Thanks for being our eyes and ears.

nojnj
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posted 06-11-2003 09:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nojnj   Click Here to Email nojnj     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you very much for the review. It is very exciting, being unable to attend most of the major events, to be able to experience them through you Robert. Thank you.

WayneS
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posted 06-12-2003 06:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for WayneS     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great report Robert, really enjoyed that. Thanks. Cool pics too. Wish we had an event like that in UK. Goldblum's been here in UK too recently by the way, saw him doing an interview. He gets around.

Particularly interesting that Shearer and Goldblum improvised lots of their scenes.

machbusterman
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posted 06-01-2005 03:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for machbusterman   Click Here to Email machbusterman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Today I received the 2004 hardback illustrated edition of Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff". I know this movie has its critics (I'm one of them) but the book was much better than the movie and now they've re-printed it in a coffee table sized format with hundreds of historical photographs from Muroc/Edwards and also of the Mercury astronauts and hardware.

heng44
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posted 06-17-2005 12:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for heng44   Click Here to Email heng44     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My copy arrived yesterday. It is great! Hundreds of photos, many of which I had never seen before (and I have seen a lot of photos!).

Gilbert
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posted 06-20-2005 02:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gilbert   Click Here to Email Gilbert     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I purchased the illustrated version of The Right Stuff over the past weekend. In my opinion this coffee table style book is a must have item.

Peter S
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posted 01-26-2006 09:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter S   Click Here to Email Peter S     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Just wanted to get a set of opinions on "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe. Some have said not to bother, as accuracy, is an issue. Others have said the opposite.

I liked the movie... but I know it was just that, a movie.

Any opinions would be welcome.

Matt T
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posted 01-26-2006 11:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Matt T   Click Here to Email Matt T     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well for what it's worth I loathed the movie and really like the book. Does that help at all?

If historical and/or technical exactness is your main interest then it isn't the best book about Mercury. In all other respects I think it's very hard to beat. It's very funny and above all insightful about the individual and collective motivations of the spacerace pioneers.

In my top five.

Rick Mulheirn
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posted 01-26-2006 11:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Mulheirn   Click Here to Email Rick Mulheirn     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'd agree with Matt about the book. It certainly does capture something of the pioneering spirit and gives a feel for the time...

randy
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posted 01-26-2006 11:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for randy   Click Here to Email randy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I liked both the movie and the book. Dr. Don Lind told me that the book was very accurate. So therefore, I would think the movie is also.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-26-2006 12:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Read it.

What many comments about the book miss is the fact that it is written by Tom Wolfe, who is one of the greatest living writers in America. He has an amazing mastery of words. In fact, you'll see that from the very first sentence of the very first page, when he starts out with a description that is odd, but somehow manages to hook you and pull you in.

Wolfe also managed to identify issues that many other writers never addressed, such as the fear the wives experienced whenever their husbands were flying, or how their social standing was inseparable from their husbands' military rank, or how Scott Carpenter was viewed with some disdain by the fighter jocks because he flew multi-engine airplanes, which were not considered macho. The Right Stuff remains one of the best books written about the space program, hands down. You must read it.

As for the movie, I've always thought that it was pretty good. I think that much of the criticism that it receives from space enthusiasts is shallow and stems primarily from their unhappiness at how it portrays their heroes. There is clearly a large segment of space enthusiasts who worship astronauts and will not allow any criticism of their character. Rather bizarrely, I've seen people identify with the most macho aspects of astronaut culture and as a result parrot their attitudes (criticism of Scott Carpenter or the scientist-astronauts, etc.). If you can separate out this bias and look at the movie objectively, it's pretty good, although a little long.

John K. Rochester
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posted 01-26-2006 01:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for John K. Rochester   Click Here to Email John K. Rochester     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
.....plus the soundtrack is awesome!!

ejectr
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posted 01-26-2006 02:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ejectr   Click Here to Email ejectr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I thought there wasn't any sound track due to a riff between Conti and the producers.

Or do you mean just the music throughout the movie?

There never was an actual "The Right Stuff Sound Track" recorded on CD... but I DO have one I made myself using all the original songs from the movie as they were used in order.

Gilbert
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posted 01-26-2006 02:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gilbert   Click Here to Email Gilbert     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In my opinion The Right Stuff is one of the best accounts of the earliest days of the space program ever written. My advice is to read it and make up your own mind. Even if you don't like it (unlikely) you will be entertained.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-26-2006 03:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by ejectr:
There never was an actual "The Right Stuff Sound Track" recorded on CD...
Actually, there was a commercial CD release: The Right Stuff (1983 Film) / North And South (1985 Television Mini-Series)

Peter S
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posted 01-26-2006 03:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter S   Click Here to Email Peter S     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the input guys. I'm amazed at the quality of the responses.

I think I'll give it a read... will let you know what I think!!

spacecraft films
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posted 01-26-2006 04:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spacecraft films   Click Here to Email spacecraft films     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Then if you want to experience the real material from Mercury... get our DVD set.

FFrench
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posted 01-26-2006 04:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dwayne Day:
As for the movie, I've always thought that it was pretty good. I think that much of the criticism that it receives from space enthusiasts is shallow and stems primarily from their unhappiness at how it portrays their heroes.
Interesting points of view, Dwayne. I see your points, agree with many but I am not sure I agree with all of them.

The book is marvelous, and a must-read. It is classic Wolfe, and should be taken from that point of view... he looks for characters to write about in a certain way, and what he looks for, he finds. If read as one perspective on Mercury and Yeager, rather than as some authoritative version, it's excellent, and most of the astronauts covered in it agree.

By the time you get to the movie, it is perhaps too many steps removed. That is, there is the true story, then there is the book, then there is the movie of the book... and by then it begins to lose touch with the truth. The moviemakers have looked to make the most entertaining movie, rather than the most accurate. Fair enough, but it is human nature to watch a movie based on real events and imagine it as some kind of documentary-recreation. The Right Stuff movie is not that - it's entertainment.

If anything, the macho, "heroes" side you mention, Dwayne, is hyped up too much in the movie, not downplayed. Wally Schirra, perhaps too jovial and lighthearted for the image the moviemakers were going for, was hardly mentioned in the movie at all. The real Gordo Cooper was not much like his movie portrayal at all: he probably never said the "best pilot you ever saw" line back in the 50s and 60s, and was a far quieter, more boyishly charming person whose sense of humor was more softspoken and outwardly innocent. Quaid gave an incredible, powerfully impressive onscreen performance, but it wasn't Gordo, who was far less one-dimensional than Quaid's cocky fighter jock. The trouble is, everyone who saw the movie and didn't know Gordo assumed that was what he was like in real life. The same thing happened to Yeager - far less of a square-jawed loner type than the movie would have you believe.

The thing that throws the movie down the dumpster for me regarding accuracy is how it portrays Gus Grissom. Wolfe is masterful in his language when it comes to the rumors swirling around Gus and the LB7 hatch incident. The movie takes those hints and puts them directly into the mouths of Gus and others. Most misleadingly, it shows Gus after splashdown in the spacecraft looking scared and panicky - strongly hinting then and later in the movie that he blew the hatch.

This kind of thing is always going to be a problem when filming a movie that goes for entertainment, yet deals with real events.

The makers of "A Perfect Storm" were sued by the family of one of the real-life characters. The Cameron "Titanic" movie was properly criticised for its portrayal of a historical character, the ship's First Officer William McMaster Murdoch. In his home town in Scotland there is a memorial to his heroism and a charitable prize has been established in his name. In the film he is portrayed as taking a bribe, shooting passengers dead and finally shooting himself. After much criticism, the studio eventually admitted they had no evidence that Murdoch did these things and contributed a substantial amount to the prize fund.

Gus's portayal, while not as nasty as Murdoch's, is inaccurate for probably the same reason - why let the facts get in the way of a good script? Luckily, there are those who care about Gus's legacy and historical accuracy, who want to ensure people know that the movie is misleading.

In its favor - the movie is beautifully shot, powerfully orchestrated, and contains a host of marvellous actors giving powerful performances. Facts that could have counted against the moviemakers - they had to use models to film much of the inflight rocket planes and jets - work in their favor, as it emphasizes the fragility of machines when faced with nature. Rather than going for an accurate view of Earth from space - using special effects which would probably look very dated 30 years later - the film instead chooses a deliberately surreal sense of "other" which powerfully highlights the inflight moments. In the tradition of classic movies of the 60s and 70s, it cleverly and daringly (for the Reagan era) walks a tightrope between patriotism and thumbing a nose at bureaucracy and stuffiness. As a piece of art, it's great movie-making. As an historical document - beware!!

ejectr
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posted 01-26-2006 05:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ejectr   Click Here to Email ejectr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
Actually, there was a commercial CD release
I remember seeing that. It only has 4 songs. ABC wouldn't release the tape or CD for some reason.

My CD has all the original songs on the play list:

Southwestern Waltz
Breaking the Sound Barrier
Far Away Places
Rocket in My Pocket
Wheel of Fortune
Tennessee Waltz
The Wayward Wind
Good Golly Miss Molly
La Bamba
I Only Have Eyes for You
MArs
Jupiter
Neptune
Theme from The White Dawn
Arctic Whale Hunt from the White Dawn
Claire de Lun
The Right Stuff Theme

spacecraft films
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posted 01-26-2006 05:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spacecraft films   Click Here to Email spacecraft films     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If you want the Right Stuff theme, it is essentially Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto in D."

Music from Holst's "The Planets" is also used extensively.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-29-2006 01:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by spacecraft films:
If you want the Right Stuff theme, it is essentially Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto in D."
Thanks for posting that. I was going to mention the similarity to Tchaikovsky, but I didn't have the specific reference.

Many years ago I walked into a room where that was playing on the stereo and said to the woman there that I was surprised that she had the soundtrack to "The Right Stuff." She looked at me like I was a dork and said that it was Tchaikovsky. So she was cultured and I was (still am) a geek.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-29-2006 01:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by FFrench:
By the time you get to the movie, it is perhaps too many steps removed. That is, there is the true story, then there is the book, then there is the movie of the book... and by then it begins to lose touch with the truth.
Agreed (further comments in a separate post). I think that the movie TRS is not a totally accurate portrayal of events.

There is a common defense in these cases that "it's only a movie" and therefore doesn't _have_ to be historically accurate. I accept that in some cases, but not in others, and I'll confess that my willingness to do so is not always logical.

I guess that in this case I simply don't have the emotional involvement to care all that much, perhaps because the historical "inaccuracies" are on the personal level rather than a bigger historical interpretation level--in other words, they are inaccurate about certain individuals if not the events themselves, and I don't have a personal emotional attachment to the astronauts that causes me to care.

There are other movies where I get more annoyed with historical liberties, and I bristle at the fact that many members of the public often take a movie's claim as the literal truth, even when they should know better. The ultimate example, of course, is the movie "JFK," about the Kennedy assassination. The bizarre thing about that case is that even within the JFK conspiracy community, the particular conspiracy that the movie endorses is considered to be a crackpot theory. In other words, even the kooks think that the Jim Garrison theory that the CIA did it is crazy. And yet, at least for a time after that movie premiered, public opinion polls showed that a vast majority of Americans believed the fundamental premise of the movie--that the CIA killed Kennedy, just like in the movie.

Overall, I think that the movie The Right Stuff did a pretty good job of capturing the flavor of the times and events.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-29-2006 01:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by FFrench:
If anything, the macho, "heroes" side you mention, Dwayne, is hyped up too much in the movie, not downplayed.
I should explain this a little more. Something that I've noticed while observing people posting on the Internet over the years is that there are certain communities of people who worship people in particular jobs that they consider exciting and brave, and they tend to become defensive about them. It's a weird behavior, but they sort of act like the sidekicks or personal spokespersons for the most successful/macho members of those groups and critical of the other members whom they think did not make the grade.

For years I noticed this about space enthusiasts. They identified most with the macho test pilots and were more derogatory toward the people that the macho test-pilots did not respect. So they would argue that Carpenter was a screw-up because Gus/Shepard/whoever thought so. And they didn't respect the scientist-astronauts because the test pilots didn't like them. I've seen bizarre cases where someone would sympathize with "poor Joe Engle," who didn't get to walk on the moon because NASA was forced (by evil members of Congress) to fly a scientist instead. It was an odd case, because nobody who became an Apollo astronaut was promised anything, and it was rather stupid for NASA to refuse to include scientists in the missions at a time when the science was much more important and the LM was essentially proven. But test pilots are macho and scientists are geeks, and the space enthusiasts identified with the pilots.

A couple of years ago I noticed that this phenomenon exists for other macho professions as well. I noticed that there are people who absolutely worship Navy SEALS, for instance. And there are certainly people who do the same for military pilots. It was always odd to see somebody clash on the net with a member of one of these groups and then watch the groupies jump all over that person--even on the (admittedly few) cases where the first person was right. They would often chime in with "Hey, buddy, you're not a [astronaut/pilot/SEAL/whatever] and therefore not even qualified to look at him funny." It's one thing when this attitude is expressed by a member of that profession, but another when it is expressed by a worshipful groupie.

That's the attitude that I was referring to.

On a slightly different note, I remember that sometime after The Right Stuff and Chuck Yeager's autobiography came out, a military test pilot published a memoir that was an attempt to refute the image of the macho test pilot portrayed in those books. I don't remember the details, but do remember reading that the guy argued that military test pilots were in many ways very methodical, careful engineers who considered themselves to be part of a team. It was a self-effacing argument that test pilots were not brave heroes, but merely a part of a much bigger group of people working collectively to build better airplanes.

albatron
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posted 01-29-2006 02:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for albatron   Click Here to Email albatron     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dwayne, you open up a can of worms here in regards to test pilots that I could use as a Doctoral thesis if I wanted but I won't go into that.

As for your comments about lack of emotional involvement, that is fine, but to denigrate a man as the movie did with Gus Grissom, and Slick Goodlin, was reprehensible. Purely and simply. This has nothing to do with hero worship - it has to do with honesty. Frances listed some examples of people who sued movies, for what Slick endured he would have had every justification to sue the movie but had more class.

The people who made the movie totally disrespected two men, for the sake of "artistic license". While this may appear harmless as "hey it's just a movie" these things are taken by the uneducated (in this area) as gospel.

For many years Gus's family had to defend his portrayal - basically it just was not true.

Further, Slick Goodlin even AFTER his death, had to suffer from this portrayal that took a very untrue and unfair portrayal as well.

As for the machosims portrayed in the movie, to a degree with yeager it was true. But the yeager portrayed in the movie is well away from the true man. His aviation feats are legendary, I am not taking that away.

But again - it's the life of their own, these stories take on - which is why you see people here get upset. NOT because it SHOW their hero's in a bad light - we are all mature enough to realize they may be hero's but are still "just a man" as well. But because it shows them in a totally UNFAIR and INNACURATE light.

Matt T
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posted 01-29-2006 03:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Matt T   Click Here to Email Matt T     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Reading this thread back, no one has actually mentioned having a problem with the film because it puts down their heroes. Does anyone here actually feel that way?

Personally I dislike it because it is a lame poorly scripted 'boys own adventure' B-movie that bears no resemblance to the book of the same name. None of Wolfe's cynicism, enthusiasm or insight survives, just the same sequence of events.

FFrench
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posted 01-29-2006 03:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dwayne, thanks for the clarification of your comments, which I am in agreement with. I know what you mean about the tendency for many with a passion for a certain subject to paint themselves into the corner that their personal idols can do no wrong. It happens a lot with astronaut history, occasionally on this site and frequently in other posting groups. I just wanted to ensure that in the context of this thread - people new to the story wanting to know the relative accuracy of the book and the movie - that these posters know what should not be taken as accurate history from the movie. As you correctly say, "many members of the public often take a movie's claim as the literal truth, even when they should know better." Some of it, like Gordo's personality, is relatively harmless. Other aspects, like Gus's abilities in a crisis, and Slick Goodlin's reputation, is more important.

Wolfe, in the book, is very clever in how he addresses some of the points you raise. He discusses the relative successes of Grissom and Carpenter, and the fact that, for whatever reason, Grissom's spacecraft was lost, Carpenter's (and Carpenter himself) was not. And yet, perhaps for the very clique-worship reasons you mention, Carpenter soon was bearing the brunt of the whispers, while Gus took a plum job for a test pilot - first flight of a new vehicle, Gemini. Wolfe writes about this subtly, laying out what happened without laying blame or trying to come to impossible conclusions. The movie takes a far more direct, brutal approach, turning whisps of rumors into supposed events. And once people see them on screen with their own eyes, they'll believe that's how it happened - just as you mention with the JFK movie.

So I agree with your points, but think that this movie is perhaps not the best example. As Al Hallonquist rightly points out, there is more than enough wrong with the movie from the point of view of verifiable history, that other theories of why people critique it are probably not necessary.

One point I'll query you on - while you mention the supporters of the Shepard / Grissom clique calling Carpenter a "screw-up" (something I have seen a lot), you also suggest that those astronauts themselves did the same. While they may have had all kinds of private thoughts and conversations, I don't recall them overtly criticizing Carpenter in this way. In fact, Shepard chose words such as "skilled aplomb" in the book he put his name on when writing about Carpenter's flight. The worst he says about his colleague in that book is that his retrofire was late "for undetermined reasons."

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-29-2006 04:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by FFrench:
Thanks for the clarification of your comments, which I am in agreement with. I know what you mean about the tendency for many with a passion for a certain subject to paint themselves into the corner that their personal idols can do no wrong. It happens a lot with astronaut history, occasionally on this site and frequently in other posting groups.
Actually, I would put a finer point on it--it is not that their heroes can do no wrong, but that they pick certain people whose faults they will defend, but decide that others who have faults are not worth defending. So the fact that Shepard was apparently a jerk (I met him, and have heard stories from people who met them, and am convinced he was a jerk) is okay. They'll defend the jerk. But they'll then pile on to some other astronaut who lacks the acclaimed skills of their hero.

There's another aspect of this hero worship that I've seen that may be related in a complex way--that's the way some space enthusiasts view Neil Armstrong. They will accept his skills, but they don't like him because they believe that he failed them by not becoming a spokesperson for a robust post-Apollo space program. Plus, they hate him because he doesn't sign autographs. The end result I think is similar to what I mentioned earlier. The linkage is the question of why people worship some heroes but not others, and what they demand of their heroes.

As an aside, last fall I was invited to speak at a space conference in the former East Germany where for the first time I was exposed to a different aspect of this, which is how people in former communist states still worship members of the original cosmonaut corps. People who worked with Gagarin are still placed on a pedestal there. It was somewhat eye-opening to me, as I have only witnessed this phenomenon in the United States.

eurospace
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posted 01-29-2006 05:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for eurospace   Click Here to Email eurospace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dwayne Day:
As an aside, last fall I was invited to speak at a space conference in the former East Germany where for the first time I was exposed to a different aspect of this, which is how people in former communist states still worship members of the original cosmonaut corps.
The Soviet cosmonauts were even much more idealized heroes than the Western astronauts in their context. An entire propaganda industry painted their actions in bright colors and made them adorable superheroes that demonstrate the superiority of the Socialist system. No personal or moral weekness was ever admitted. Thus, the "real" cosmonaut personnalities are still somewhat sketchy until the present day, at least for those who do not speak Russian and who do not know them closely. I have yet to find any book that would do human interest reporting on a persion in the way we do it.

FFrench
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posted 01-29-2006 06:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dwayne Day:
Actually, I would put a finer point on it--it is not that their heroes can do no wrong, but that they pick certain people whose faults they will defend, but decide that others who have faults are not worth defending.
I may be missing something here... but I am seeing somewhat of a paradox between your words about those who describe astronauts in purely critical or purely uncritical terms, and your summary of Shepard as a "jerk." Shepard did plenty of things that his colleagues did not admire and have rightfully criticized - but aren't you doing exactly what you are criticizing others for when you dismiss him with one harsh word?

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-30-2006 12:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by FFrench:
Shepard did plenty of things that his colleagues did not admire and have rightfully criticized - but aren't you doing exactly what you are critizing others for when you dismiss him with one harsh word?
No. I accept that people are complex and flawed, astronauts too. What I was discussing was the hero-worship attitude, where the worshippers identify with their heroes and _ignore_ their flaws, but then will harp on others who supposedly lack the moxie of their heroes.

In my job I occasionally have to work with astronauts (I was working with two last week, both of whom are somewhat familiar names to space geeks). I am impressed by them. But I don't worship them.

(As an aside on Shepard, I'll tell you one of the stories related to me by a friend--he was at some event where Shepard was appearing and some guy went up to Shepard with the famous photo of him being winched into the helicopter after his Mercury flight. The guy introduced himself as the _other person in the photograph,_ i.e. the Navy enlisted man who winched Shepard into the helicopter. You'd think that in such a circumstance, Shepard would be gregarious and want to shake the hand of the guy who pulled him out of the water. But he could not have cared less and just brushed the guy away.)

TrueNorth
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posted 01-30-2006 12:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for TrueNorth   Click Here to Email TrueNorth     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I liked both, but it really is too bad the facts were played with in the movie, sullying the reputation of these two gentlemen. Al, to be honest, until I read your earlier posts on collectSPACE I really had no idea about the inaccuracy of Slick's portrayal. It's shameful, really.

I found the movie exhilarating and I believe some of the Mercury 7 have stated that it really captures the spirit of the time. Some of the scenes are classic -- the whole Lovelace Clinic segment -- and particularly the sperm sample scene that to me is an all-time movie moment.

The introduction of the M7 to the press and public at the Dolly Madison House was also a great scene. When in Washington with my son last summer I made it a point to find that house and you would never know it was where this great moment occurred.

I always wondered about the Gordo character as he always seemed to be quite laid-back in real life. It was a great role for Dennis Quaid but didn't portray the real Gordo I guess.

When the subject of the movie came up at the autograph shows, it was definately a sore point. Jim Lewis in particular still seemed upset -- he told me Grissom was calm and professional when he saw him on the carrier, not at all like he was portrayed.

Strangely perhaps, aside from the LB7 spashdown, I really found the Grissom character quite endearing. Does anyone care to comment on that part if the portrayal -- was it close to the real Grissom?

One thing I didn't like was the fact that Schirra and Carpenter were barely seen in the movie. Surely a couple of Schirra's gotchas would have been a good fit.

Dee O'Hara confirmed to me that the girdle story from the book in fact did happen. Can you imagine?

In my opinion, love them or hate them, the movie and book are necessary pieces to any space junkie's collection.

FFrench
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posted 01-30-2006 07:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Sorry to hear about the brusque Shepard incident your friend witnessed. It's getting a little off-topic, but I guess I was fortunate to see another side of the guy. Another public event, and a woman there to hear him speak who, during the Q+A, could not get her head around the difference between the far side and the dark side of the moon. She essentially asked the same question 3-4 times, to the exasperation of the rest of the audience.

Shepard very patiently explained, over and over, what she was trying to understand. He didn't have to, but he made an effort, and I was impressed (and sympathetic). Of the 12 guys who walked on the moon (and I met them all), from what I witnessed, I'd say he was somewhere in the lower middle of the pack when it came to personal warmth at public events. I've certainly seen a lot worse.

Dwayne Day
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posted 01-31-2006 03:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dwayne Day   Click Here to Email Dwayne Day     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by FFrench:
Sorry to hear about the brusque Shepard incident your friend witnessed. It's getting a little off-topic, but I guess I was fortunate to see another side of the guy. Another public event, and a woman there to hear him speak who...

Yeah, off topic, but I only related one of my anecdotes about him. I met him myself at an autograph signing (confession: I'm not into collecting autographs, but he was signing and I thought it would be a neat thing to do--so far I have collected Aldrin, Shepard, Bean and Mattingly, all of whom I have proudly displayed in a filing cabinet somewhere). He was quite brusque there as well, although I was willing to accept that everybody has a bad day. But a woman I know who was in her mid-30s at the time said that one of her female friends had recently been rather crudely propositioned by the 70+ year old (and still married) Shepard. Only three anecdotes, I guess, but they are all consistent with his reputation.

In contrast, I saw Alan Bean speak and he was the nicest guy in the world. Amazingly gracious.

mjanovec
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posted 01-31-2006 05:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dwayne Day:
But a woman I know who was in her mid-30s at the time said that one of her female friends had recently been rather crudely propositioned by the 70+ year old (and still married) Shepard. Only three anecdotes, I guess, but they are all consistent with his reputation.

While I neither doubt or can support what you say, I think we should be careful about posting third hand (or fourth hand) accounts of events like this. Important details can be lost in translation when telling the story of a friend of a friend. One person's wink or off-color comment can be another person's "crude proposition." Not that I'm trying to cast doubt on what you report...it's just that we should be careful when reporting things like this in a public forum that thousands of people may eventually read. Posting an opinion about his temperment is one thing, but posting about possible adulterous behavior comes a little too close to gossip. Some things are perhaps left buried and forgotten. I mean this in a friendly way and am not trying to be overly critical of your posting.

I don't say this out of hero worship for Shepard either, since I have no worship for the man. I think he probably was one of the more "difficult" characters in NASA...and he famously could be in either a great mood or a very dark mood. People who saw him on one of the bad days will likely have a very different view than people who saw him on a good day. It sounds like you and your friends had really bad luck in meeting him on the bad days.


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