Judy Blume needs no introduction, but here goes: one of the most famous authors of children's literature and a tireless crusader against censorship, Blume has written twenty-eight books that have sold in excess of eighty-two million copies. Beloved by generations of fans, Blume has written three novels for adults (Summer Sisters, Smart Women, and Wifey) but is best known for the kid-centric "Fudge Books"—Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Superfudge, Fudge-a-mania, and Double Fudge—the Middle Grade novels Blubber, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, and Deenie, and the young adult novels Forever and Tiger Eyes, with the Middle Grade and Young Adult books often causing controversy for their frankness about sexuality or liberal views on social issues. Tiger Eyes, published in 1981, has been adapted into a motion picture directed by Blume's son Lawrence and co-written by both Blumes. Lawrence Blume previously directed an ABC Weekend Special version of Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, scripted by his mother, and the feature-length comedy film Martin & Orloff, starring Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, Amy Pohler, Matt Besser, and H. Jon Benjamin. The Blumes came to San Franciso to bring Tiger Eyes to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival; we spoke at the Galleria Park Hotel.
Groucho: I very much enjoyed the film...it's very much the sort of film there aren't enough of. It really fills a need. And so it's just so rewarding to see that kind of a film.
Lawrence Blume: What's the need?
Groucho: I think it serves an underserved audience, don't you think, of girls that age?
Lawrence Blume: I'm actually—it's—I'm asking. I'm curious.
G: Oh, right. Yeah, yeah. To me, I definitely—
LB: Teenage girls. A serious film for teenage girls.
G: Yeah, yeah. There's just—there aren't—
G: (Laughs.) So it's so refreshing to see that. Anyway, Lawrence, you're on record as saying that Tiger Eyes is your mother's best book; that's your opinion.
(LB shakes his head.)
G: No? No, no?
G: Oh, okay. Well, what made you decide to make Tiger Eyes into a film, I guess, or the film of the moment?
LB: Some producers came to us, came to me, and wanted to do a Judy Blume adaptation. And they asked, "We want to do anything." But they had a limited budget.
G: I see, yeah.
LB: And I said, "Well, there are two that I've always wanted to do: Tiger Eyes and Summer Sisters, but we can't do Summer Sisters in this budget. It's too big; it'll take too long to put together. But we could do Tiger Eyes. Unless you want to do something else, and then I'll just put you guys in touch." And they said, "No, no, no, we want to do Tiger Eyes." And that's how it came to be. It’s just one of those things that sort of fell in our lap.
G: And so Summer Sisters: is that the one you consider your mother's best?
LB: I don’t want to say "best." There’s no "best." They're all different: you know, and they’re for different ages, and different—
Judy Blume: You know what quote I think you saw, maybe, is a quote that I say—
G: On your site, I think, yeah.
Judy Blume: That Tiger Eyes, at the time that I wrote this...that Tiger Eyes was both my son's and my husband's favorite. Or maybe my son and my husband think of it as my best book. That was at the time. And I—you know, I love them differently.
G: Sure. Like children, right?
JB: Yes. Like a mother loves her children, exactly. Each one is different.
G: Yeah. Though obliquely, there's a lot of Blume family history embedded in this book, isn't there? Taking inspiration from your life, or even having lived in New Mexico, right?
JB: We did live in New Mexico for seven years. We did live in Los Alamos for two very difficult years. My father did die suddenly when I was twenty-one. I never got to know him as an adult. He was my adored father, although I really don't think I was thinking of that when I wrote the book, but now when I see the movie, I know that it is so much of understanding of loss of the beloved parent before you ever get to connect as adults. It's so hard.
G: And it's funny the way the world speaks to us in symbols, but the whole thing about the bomb. It's specific and yet it becomes general. I mean, that's in that place, and yet it's this perfect metaphor for the devastation that can be visited on a family.
JB: I never thought of that, but that's very good.
G: I find that hard to believe. Really? You never thought of that?
JB: No, I did not.
LB: Judy is a wonderfully instinctual writer: not an analytical writer, not an intellectual writer. Writes—(to JB:) I'm not saying you're not an intellectual. She's a brilliant intellectual, but in the process isn't thinking, "Oh, I'll make this a symbol. And I'll structure it from here to here to here. It's just a natural talent and gift. So now maybe we're talking about "Oh, yeah, maybe I was writing about this or that," but when I read the book when I was so young, I didn't really think about it in that context. It was just familiar to me that we were living there. But in making the movie, there were certain things that visually I thought were important. I thought, as much as we could shed light on kind of the Los Alamos place where people built these highly destructive things, and these characters who are sort of distant and disconnected from the girl—I thought that was really important to show the scene of the bomb museum. We actually went to great effort to get that scene!
G: I can imagine, yeah.
JB: We didn't shoot it at the Los Alamos bomb museum. They wouldn't let us.
LB: I remember from growing up, and it was in the book, there was a Los Alamos Lab Museum, which had the original duplicates of Fat Man and Little Boy [Ed. Bradbury Science Museum—Los Alamos National Laboratory]. And so that was a big deal; those became it. When we went out there, they wouldn't give us permission to film there. And it was like: we had no budget to build them. I was like "Ohmigod, what are we gonna do?" And it turned out that not long before Sandia Laboratories had opened a Museum of Nuclear Science [Ed: The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History]. The Sandia Lab's right in Albuquerque, which also does a lot of nuclear weapons and whatnot. And they had the only other original duplicates of Fat Man and Little Boy, and they couldn't wait for us to come film there.
JB: They welcomed us. And it was a wonderful museum, because while we were in there all those hours filming, I got to walk around and see the whole thing. And it was really interesting.
G: Now, what about the process of adapting—you've done it before—but adapting your work for the screen. This novel would seem to lend itself, with its length and perhaps certain practical concerns, to the screen. But what sort of things were non-negotiable—"We really need to these on screen"—and what were other things that really had to be changed for it to work as a film?
LB: Well, it had to be shot in New Mexico. We had to have a fantastic girl to play Davey. We really didn't give up much, I don't think, because what was given up was essentially the first forty pages of the book, all the time the girl spends before she goes to New Mexico. We were like, "We've got to get to New Mexico quickly." And there were structural elements that I think had to be brought in to make the movie work. For example, the boy. My editor and I were always talking about, y'know, "We have to get to the boy by the end of the first reel." Technical talk, but the story really sets itself. And when you're watching a movie, you have to set yourself in the story, or the audience gets really—
LB: Restless. They go, "What is it about? Just tell me what story I'm about to see." We always felt like it didn't really set until she met the boy, so that had to come pretty quickly.
JB: And also, in the book, because it's first person, we lose Wolf. Wolf goes away, and she writes letters to him, and he never comes back, and I'm thinking, "It's so much better the way we've done it in the movie. What was I thinking not to bring them back together?" So we really don't lose him in the movie. he's very important, and he stays there. (Smiling, to LB:) You call him "the boy," but I don't think anybody else would call him a boy.
LB: Young man.
JB: He's a man. Yes, he's a man.
G: Talking of adaptation, too, I read a mention on your website about—there was this Fudge TV show for a while, and you described it as "bringing with it "disappointment, stress and unhappiness." And yet to take a little glimpse around the internet, it seems to have been pretty well received critically and even by, y'know, fans and such. To you—
JB: Really? I don’t know that. Well, here was the thing. My husband...said, "Okay, Judy, if you're really going to do this...we have to go for the DNE. That's what we're going for: the DNE. Does Not Embarrass.
JB: "Because, probably, you're not going to really be happy with it. As long as it does not embarrass." And it does not embarrass. But it is not what it could have been, what I wanted it to be. And it was a stressful experience for me. It was very tough.
G: Because you had to fight, at every step of the game...?
JB: Uh, I wasn't really even given the chance to fight. You know, I sold it. I had to trust the people who wanted it so badly, who courted me. Who said, "You have to be out here when we're shooting it because nobody else can write this dialogue. And so I was out there shooting the first whatever we called it—
JB: Pilot, Movie of the Week, whatever it turned out to be. But I was not welcomed. The actors were wonderful, but I was not a welcome person on that set. And none of them wanted to hear what I had to say. And in fact, I was referred to—oh, this is the most awful—my husband overheard this, walking by a room one day, where the director had a group of people around and referred to me as "the creator of the original material feels we should—but we don't agree, do we?" And they all knew my name, but I was "the creator." This making of Tiger Eyes was—
G: The polar opposite, right?
JB: It was so different. It was so wonderful. I loved it: every minute, I was happy. (Laughs.) All twenty-three days! I was there every second, and I loved it.
G: Y'know, I was going to ask about that, too. Some might say that it would be—they say things like "Don't go into business with family" or something like that. But what is it like to collaborate on something that is your baby with your baby, so to speak?
JB: Um, yes, the book is one of my babies, but the book and the movie are different. And in writing the screenplay together, I think we each brought our own strengths to it. Larry knows movie-making; I really don't. I'm not a screenwriter. And I know people. Not that he doesn't—you know people, too.
LB: Oh—I'm saying, I'm not a screenwriter either.
JB: Well, anyway, somehow, we knew that we were just going to get along, and it was going to be a good experience. We just made up our minds, I think. And once you do make up your mind to do that, I know who's king of the set. I know the director is number one, but nobody ever called me "the creator of the original material."
JB: I was Judy, and I think we have a lot of respect for each other's work. And it was just family. I mean, not just us but everybody. You know, Tatanka Means and Russell Means, are father and son—
G: Right, right.
JB: Playing father and son. And you have mother and son. And the crew was family, the cast—it was just a wonderful experience.
G: And you can feel that when you watch the film, I think. It doesn't feel like this assembly line product; it really feels like, y'know, made with care.
JB: It was made with love.
LB: That's true. It was something of a homecoming. For us to go back to New Mexico all these years later. I mean for me it was a big deal. To walk those canyons again. I knew the places; I'd been there as a kid, and the high school, all of it, y'know, it felt—and so there was I don't think we ever talked about it, but a desire to—there was something sacred, for lack of a better word, about doing this family story, doing it right, doing it with the two of us. The crew was fantastic, all New Mexico locals, who, I think, appreciated that it was—y'know, they had all just come off Cowboys and Aliens.
LB: Which was a big spectacle. And that we were making this tiny little low-budget thing. There was a feeling around the set of intimacy, that everybody, I think, felt. And they worked incredibly—I mean, they always work hard, but there was a sense of everybody wanting to respect the material and give these young actors space, and it was pretty...Of all my movies, that experience was the most magical.
JB: It was magical for me, as well.
LB: That's just the experience of making it; I mean, it may or may not relate to what's on screen. But I think there is something. It doesn't feel fake. It's an earnest—.
JB: I remember the day that we shot—and it was, like day one or day two, which was in the high school in Santa Fe—when Davey and Jane have the fight in the girls' room. And that's really almost at the very end of the movie. And these two girls had hardly worked together. And they did that scene, and I'm telling you, the crew was crying! (Laughs.) These big guys were all crying. And, well, we all were. I mean, they did just a wonderful job.
G: Lawrence, this is probably your least favorite question, but you inspired Fudge—and perhaps some other characters in certain ways, whatever—and I gather like a lot of children of writers and columnists and cartoonists, this may not have always been a source of pride for you. Was it ever difficult being known to be—?
LB: It's—I would say it's a source of pride. Mostly. And always sort of has been. I can tell, much more as an adult, when people are curious about me because of who my mother is: I'm sensitive to that. But it's been—I can't say there's any great negative outcome. It's not like I had a movie-star mother who was in the gossip columns every week or, y'know. It felt sort of like normal life, so.
JB: It was normal life. And also, I don't think people ever came up to him about the Fudge thing until he was pretty well grown. And then it was little kids looking up and saying, "Really, you were Fudge? You were Fudge?" We would have to say he was never Fudge, but things that Fudge did—I mean, things that Larry did, Fudge wound up doing.
G: My favorite comment on your website, Judy, is the one explaining Forever where you say, "My daughter Randy asked for a story about two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die."
JB: True. She did.
G: It's funny because it's true, right?
JB: She was fourteen years old, and she was reading books in—well, she was fourteen years old a long time ago, and she—she was a reader. She still is. She's the biggest, best reader I know. And she was reading a lot of books in which, if a girl succumbs, she will always be punished. She never could have any sexual feelings of her own; y'know, she was always pushed into doing this horrible thing, and grisly abortion, death, being shipped off to some faraway aunt's house, and I thought—"This is a terrible reason, by the way, for writing a book.
JB: But it’s the only time I ever did this. But I thought, "This is not a good thing. We want boys who have feelings—boys can be hurt; I had a son—girls, having sexual beings enjoy their sexuality and be responsible. Both boys and girls need to be responsible for their actions.
G: Lawrence, I also wanted to talk about Martin & Orloff just a little.
LB: Heh! Sure. Did you see that?
G: I haven't seen it, unfortunately. I really would love to see the film, but I was able to sample what's on YouTube, to get a sense. But it is proof that you're an eclectic filmmaker. (Laughs.)
G: And, boy, it has just the most beloved cult audience and all of that. But it's effectively a sort of an unofficial Upright Citizens Brigade movie as well. How did you get in with that crowd?
LB: When they first—the four founders—first moved to New York from Chicago, I had a friend who was studying improv and said, "You know, I just met these guys. You got to check 'em out." And I went to see their little—they were teaching classes. And they had a little Sunday-night free show. And the second I saw them, I was like their biggest fan, instantly. I just thought they were brilliant. And so I started going every Sunday. And I got to know a couple of them. And years later, one of them called me. Matt Walsh called me and said, "I'm doing a documentary." I was in the post-production business. Called me and said, "We're doing a documentary. We need an Avid editing system. Y'know, we have no money." And I jokingly said, "Well, I love you guys. I will give you an Avid for a month, in return for if you ever write a screenplay, I get the right of first refusal." Ha ha ha. And they did this little thing, and then another couple of years, we did a television show on Comedy Central, and we all stayed in touch sort of. And then basically one day I got a call from Walsh saying, "Well, Dan and I wrote a movie. We're ready to make a movie." And I read it, and it was really just a bunch of disconnected sketches, based on these two funny characters. And we just did it. So I guess an editing system got me that job, more or less.
G: Hey—it works.
JB: So funny.
G: Judy, young adult fiction has really seemingly only gotten to be bigger and bigger as the years have gone on.
JB: For a while, it died, but by the way, can I just—
JB: I just have to say here, I've never written young adult fiction. The only—there was no such thing when I wrote most of these books in the seventies. I mean, I've continued to write, but the books that we're talking about—Forever and Tiger Eyes—they didn't know what to do with Forever. There was no category like Young Adult Fiction. So they called it my first adult book; I almost killed them. I didn't even know that till the book came out, and it says there on the jacket, "Her First Adult Novel." It's like, "What?! This is not—" Most of my books are Pre-Teen. The characters are pre-teen. That's an age group that interests me very much. Although, strangely, I'm writing now a book that takes place in the fifties, in my hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. And—
G: And what level is that geared to? Oh, you haven't decided yet, right?
JB: Somewhere between— G: Teen to adults?
JB: Somewhere between "old YA" and Adult. I haven't done the second draft. My guess is it's going to get to be more adult. But the three main characters at the moment, the viewpoint characters, are teenagers. Which is funny, because I don't like writing about teenagers. But I am writing about them. So, yeah, but YA—YA came out; nobody knew what to do with it. I remember meetings with Barnes & Nobel: "We should have a section." "Let's call it—" "What should we call it?" "We need a name." "Well," I said, "for God's sake, not YA. Not Young Adult. That is so awful. It will turn kids off. Right? Cut to: twenty years later. And then there was the death of the YA novel or the teen novel. That was gone. You know, this whole thing is so cyclical. And now it's back. And it's so, so big. I have a lot of young friends who I Tweet with, and who I know personally, and who are YA writers. And it's just the hottest thing. I have zero interest in writing anything YA. Not because I don't love my friends, and some of their books are wonderful. But it's just not something I want to do.
G: Lawrence, just because I'm curious: I noticed on your credits, as well, that you were, I think, an assistant director on the miniseries On Wings of Eagles. Is that right?
LB: It is true.
G: I was just curious—
LB: Geez, how old are you? What?
G: (Laughs.) I watched that when it was first aired.
LB: Oh really?
G: I remember it well.
LB: I'm in it!
JB: Was that Mexico?
G: Were you in it? (Laughs.) I was curious—
JB: You were a kid!
G: Having worked with or around Burt Lancaster—
LB: Oh yeah!
G: What that might have been like, 'cause he was a man from another era, a star from another era.
LB: He was—y'know, I was pretty young when I worked on that. He was a legend, and he was fantastic. It was a gift to be able to be around him a little bit, watch him work. And actually played a scene with him that got cut out of the movie, where I played his son. And I wish I had it—I mean, who knows what—y'know, back in the day, we're shooting 35mm film, and things disappeared, and shows, but. He was great. And Richard Crenna was in the movie; he was a great actor.
G: Yeah, Richard Crenna, sure. He played the Ross Perot character.
LB: Played Ross Perot, which is kind of funny, because he doesn't look much—
G: Yeah. (Laughs.)
LB: Ross Perot allowed—Ken Follett had written the novel, but Ross sort of controlled it. And Ross allowed Edgar Scherick—this wonderful producer who I worked for; that's how I got that job—Ross allowed them to do the miniseries; all he wanted was approval over all the casting. And so "Yeah, that guy's fine." "He looks just like him." "No, that guy doesn't look like him." But when Richard Crenna was him, "Yeah, that's great..."
G: (Laughs.) Yeah, right.
JB: You went to Mexico—
LB: Yeah, we shot in Mexico.
JB: Right after the earthquake.
LB: Yes, 1985. JB: There was an earthquake.
JB: You were still in college?
LB: No, I'd graduated. It was right after I graduated.
JB: Oh, I remember I didn't want him to go because there'd just been this big earthquake. "Don't go!"
LB: I'd done another miniseries for Edgar, called Evergreen. When I was a junior in college—I had a semester off or something, in the summer. And then after I graduated, I called him. And he didn't have anything for me, but he called me out of the blue. He said, "I want you to go—"—he was an old mogul—"I want you to go to Mexico."
JB: It was great.
LB: And it was, like, the next day, there was an earthquake. And two days later, I was in Mexico. Yeah, it was a really interesting experience.
JB: And the accountant got typhoid.
LB: I don't remember that.
JB: Oh, I do!
(G and LB laugh.)
JB: The accountant got typhoid.
LB: Here we go. It was—
JB: I was a mother. See, I was worried.
LB: I learned a lot. It was a really interesting—big cast. Big budget, really, for those days. They really spent money on those things. A cast of—you know, we would have a war scene, we would have a thousand extras show up.
G: That would have been nice, for just a little change of pace—
JB: Tiger Eyes.
G: On Tiger Eyes, right? A cast of thousands. Cecil B. De Mille.
LB: So different. I mean, Tiger Eyes was literally like a—I mean, really, it's a handmade movie, literally a handmade movie. I mean, like from—I'm still, like, burning the DVDs and moving files around the Avid. I mean, its really—"it's a homemade" is what I mean to say—not "handmade." It's a homemade movie, really. A tiny little thing.
G: Well, it has been wonderful talking to both of you. Thank you so much.
JB: Thank you!
LB: Thank you. We appreciate it.
JB: For your good questions.