Paul Zindel – Orin Lehman – in converstion with Casper Citron – June 1, 1971 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
When people talk about cultural upheavals in the 1960s the conversation generally stays around Film, Fashion and Music.
But it seems that every facet of the creative experience was influenced by this period of rampant experimentation and discovery to one degree or another. Maybe there was no direct line from The Beatles or Truffaut to the creative experience, those footsteps certainly freed things up and maybe it was just in the air. I vote for the air.
Broadway was not immune. But then, Broadway and off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway were always testing grounds for social barometers – and if you look back at some of the groundbreaking films of the late 1920s to 1940s, Broadway was the big influencer in what got audiences thinking and tastes changing.
Paul Zindel was one of the bright and promising figures on the Broadway scene during the 1960s and 70s. In 1964, he wrote The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, his first and most successful play. The play ran off-Broadway in 1970, and on Broadway in 1971, and he received the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work. However, this play also received criticism for being too elliptical or too difficult to understand. Still, it was also made into a 1972 movie by 20th Century Fox, directed by Paul Newman and starring his wife Joanne Woodward. Soon thereafter, Charlotte Zolotow, a vice-president at Harper & Row, contacted him about writing for her book label.
Zindel wrote a total of 53 books, all but one of them aimed at children or teens. Many were set in his home town of Staten Island. They tended to be semi-autobiographical, focusing on teenage misfits with abusive or neglectful parents. Zindel himself grew up in a single-parent household; his mother worked at various occupations: hat check girl, shipyard worker, dog breeder, hot dog vendor, and finally licensed practical nurse, often boarding terminally ill patients at home. They moved frequently, and his mother often engaged in “get-rich-quick” schemes that did not succeed. His father abandoned them. This upbringing was most closely depicted in Confessions of a Teenage Baboon.
Despite the often dark subject matter of his books, which deal with loneliness, loss, and the effects of abuse, they are also filled with humor. Many of his novels have zany titles, such as My Darling, My Hamburger, Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball! or Confessions of a Teenage Baboon.
“My Darling, My Hamburger” specifically deals with teen sexuality, abuse with the home, teen pregnancy, and abortion.
The Pigman, first published in 1968, deals with love and finding friends in odd places. It is widely taught in American schools and made it on to the list of most frequently banned books in America in the 1990s; for example, Plano, Texas parents complained of offensive language and sexual themes. Zindel stated that “I ignore critics usually. I believe the perfect story is a dream.”
Zindel received the annual Margaret A. Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 2002, recognizing his cumulative “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature”. The jury cited five works said to be published 1968 to 1993: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds; My Darling, My Hamburger; and the Pigman trilogy. The citation called The Pigman “one of the first authentic young adult novels” and the panel chair observed that “Paul Zindel knows and understands the reality young adults deal with day-to-day … He has the ability to depict young adults in an honest and realistic way. The characters he developed nearly 40 years ago still speak to today’s teens.”
Beginning with Loch in 1994, Zindel wrote numerous speculative fiction novels for children or young adults, mainly in the horror genre.
Zindel also worked in Hollywood, writing the screenplays for, among other titles, Up the Sandbox and Mame.
In this interview, part of his weekly radio series, Casper Citron chats with Zindel, along with Marigold’s producer Orin Lehman on June 1, 1971 – the day the movie rights were optioned by Paul Newman for the film version which came out a year later, starring Joanne Woodward and Nell Potts. 1971 was also the year Zindel also won the Pulitzer Prize for Marigolds. An auspicious year all around and an insightful interview to boot.