Friday, September 25, 2015

John Norris's "Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism"

John Norris is the author of Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of the new book:
The folks over at Word & Film make a strong case for making a Mary McGrory biopic, and I am certainly not one to argue. What’s not to like about the story of a trailblazing woman journalist barnstorming around the country and mixing it up with everyone from JFK to George W. Bush? But perhaps even more than fiction, the casting of the lead is crucial in non-fiction. In Mary’s case, we need someone who is convincingly tough enough to play a woman who made it is an almost exclusively male industry in the 1950s and 60s, but who is also graced with a bit of mischief and flirtation. An actress who can carry off the role of one of the most important liberal voices in the second half of the 20th century, but who was distinctly proper, and sometimes almost Victorian, in her mannerisms. A woman who loved a cigarette and a good stiff drink but who, literally, helped out at the local orphanage on weekends.

There were certainly times when I was writing or interviewing people for the book that a young Katherine Hepburn leapt to my mind, and Mary was every bit as proud, independent and strong-willed as the characters that Hepburn brought so memorably to life. Mary never gave an inch when bantering back and forth with politicians or fellow reporters, and she was as comfortable quoting Yeats from memory as she was debating the merits of candidates with local ward bosses. As Bobby Kennedy once observed, “Mary is so gentle until she gets behind a typewriter.”

But casting someone from the silver age seems almost like cheating, as does every author’s answer that Meryl Streep should play their female lead. So what modern actresses could best fill Mary’s shoes? Kate Winslet has some real appeal, and her real life experience with mega-stardom and its discontents after Titanic seem to have given her a certain toughness and a wisdom that has not yet given way to cynicism. She looks like someone who has seen a lot of the world but not succumbed to it. Cate Blanchett would also be a wonderful fit, and she feels like she would be someone who could absolutely inhabit the role. I remember seeing Blanchett in A Streetcar Named Desire here at the Kennedy Center several years back and she delivered just a devastatingly strong emotional performance.

Politicians, who play a large part in the narrative, are equally tricky to cast, in large part because so many movies lean hard on their accents and affects without actually getting the essence of the person right. I love Edward Norton as Eugene McCarthy, with whom Mary had a complicated and stormy relationship, and he brings just enough of the Irish rogue to the role. Vincent D’Onofrio would make a fascinating Lyndon Johnson. Both are big men, and I think D’Onofrio could deliver the physicality the part demands (no disrespect to Bryan Cranston.) Let’s give Tom Hiddleston a shot at Bobby Kennedy. The last key bit of casting: Blair Clark, Mary’s most important and often heartbreaking love interest. He is far less well known publicly than the politicians Mary covered, but Clark who hailed from an old money family, was handsome, witty, and often indecisive: I think Jon Hamm would be a nice post-Mad Men fit.
Learn more about the book and author at John Norris's Facebook page, Twitter perch, and website.

--Marshal Zeringue