(If that title's good enough for Wallace Stevens and Charles Osgood, I'll use it.)

Copyright 2000 Burrelle's Information Services
CBS News Transcripts
March 12, 2000, Sunday
TYPE: Profile
LENGTH: 1823 words





Announcer: It's SUNDAY MORNING on CBS, and here again is Charles Osgood.


For this latest installment in his Fine Print series, our Anthony Mason traveled to Boston to go a few rounds with a mystery writer, who's an undisputed champion.

Mr. ROBERT PARKER (Novelist): Up to speed.

Unidentified Man #1: Up to speed.

Mr. PARKER: We have speed.

Unidentified Man #1: We have speed.

Mr. PARKER: We're on speed.

Unidentified Man #1: Action.

Unidentified Man #2: ...(Unintelligible). And...

(Footage of movie set)

ANTHONY MASON reporting:

(Voiceover) The scene is supposed to be a Boston gym. And one of America's most famous private eyes is about to swing into action.

(Excerpt from movie; movie set)

MASON: (Voiceover) They're filming the best-selling novel "Thin Air," and the author is on the set.

Mr. PARKER: And, yes, you love my work.

Mr. JOE MANTEGNA (Actor): Oh, God. Your name is?

(Footage of Parker)

MASON: (Voiceover) His name is Robert B. Parker and if you're not acquainted with his work, you've probably heard of his fictional hero...

(Excerpt from movie)

MASON: ...the 1980's TV series "Spenser: for Hire" made him a household name.

You've never had objections as some writers do to having your character become, in effect, an actor?

Mr. PARKER: No. No. I mean, that's their character. You know?

MASON: Yeah.

Mr. PARKER: Mine's in the book, you know.

MASON: Right.

Mr. PARKER: So it's--the book is the book, the movie is the movie, the money is the money, and--you know?

MASON: And the money's good.

Mr. PARKER: And the money's good.

(Footage of book-signing)

MASON: (Voiceover) But success has never been a problem...

Unidentified Woman #1: Thank you.

Mr. PARKER: Thank you.

MASON: (Voiceover) ...for Robert Parker who has created what is probably the most popular private eye in contemporary crime fiction.

Unidentified Man #3: My mother is 83. You are her favorite author.

(Footage of Parker's books)

MASON: (Voiceover) And over nearly three dozen novels, he's never received a single rejection slip, not even with his first manuscript.

Mr. PARKER: I just sent a one-line cover letter, 'Would you care to publish this? Sincerely, Robert B. Parker.'

And--so, it's been easy. You know? I--I wish it weren't so I could have a better story to tell. But it's all been easy.

MASON: Would you like to apologize to all of the struggling writers out there who are--want to kill you?

Mr. PARKER: Nyah, nyah. (Thumbs his nose)

(Footage of building)

MASON: (Voiceover) Tell me about this building.

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) I used to work there. It used to be the northeastern headquarters for Prudential Insurance Company of America.

(Footage of Mason and Parker)

MASON: (Voiceover) In a way, Parker's writing career really began at the Prudential Insurance Company in downtown Boston.

What was that like? Yeah?

Mr. PARKER: It was silly, you know.

(Footage of Boston)

MASON: (Voiceover) He worked in the public relations department where they coined some of the company's snappy sales pitches, like...

Mr. PARKER: 'If you should, God forbid, sir, step out of the picture, is your family covered?' I used to write some of that crap...

MASON: You did an excellent...

Mr. PARKER: ...for--you know, it's all a phrase. 'If--if you should, God forbid, sir, step out of the picture,' you know. It all goes together.

MASON: You never actually had to deliver it, though, right?

Mr. PARKER: I didn't have to say it. I just had to write it. It was painful enough.

(Footage of Mason and Parker)

MASON: (Voiceover) Parker lasted three years.

Mr. PARKER: My resignation letter was, 'I hereby resign from Prudential Insurance Company of America. As I look back over my years with the company, I note there have been three of them.' That was one of my early--one of my best early efforts.

MASON: (Voiceover) So he went back to school, and with a PhD, became a professor at Northeastern University.

What kind of teacher were you?

Mr. PARKER: I was entertaining and not punitive. I was not rigid about things like attendance, or I didn't flunk a lot of people. My office hours were midnight to one, you know. But feel free to drop in, kids.

(Footage of Parker's house)

MASON: (Voiceover) But teaching gave Parker the time to write. He was 42 when he finally began "The Godwulf Manuscript," the novel that gave birth to Spenser.

(Footage of "The Godwulf Manuscript")

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) 'The phone woke me again. I squinted across the brutal bright sunlight and answered, "Spenser?" "Yeah." "Spenser, this is Roland Orchard." He paused as if waiting for applause. I said, "How nice for you." "I'm also senior partner of Orchard, Bonner and Blanch." "Swell," I said. "I buy all your records."'

(Excerpt from movie)

MASON: (Voiceover) In the new film for A&E, with Joe Mantegna in the lead role, Parker has been able to take back some control of his character's screen image, by serving as both screenwriter and a partner in the production.

Mr. PARKER: Ooh. Am I going to get a manicure, too? Yi!

Unidentified Woman #2: Would you like one?

Mr. PARKER: She's making up my hands, ladies and gentlemen.

(Footage of Parker)

MASON: (Voiceover) He even has a small role.

Unidentified Man #4: Do you know if you're wearing a hat in this?

MASON: (Voiceover) Parker plays a police officer.

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) The original part was described as a fat cop asleep at the front desk.

MASON: (Voiceover) But being the screenwriter, of course, he could rewrite it.

(Excerpt from movie)

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) So it's now a handsome cop asleep at the front desk.

MASON: (Voiceover) But look quickly. That's all there is.

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) Well, let's just say American cinema has changed course since my performance.

(Vintage photographs of Parker)

MASON: (Voiceover) Right from the beginning, Bob Parker was a bit of a bad actor.

Mr. PARKER: That's my mother and myself.

(Voiceover) That would have been--What?--maybe 1934. I was probably about two years old.

MASON: (Voiceover) As an only child growing up in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, he always had attitude.

What's with the hat?

Mr. PARKER: The hat's an old Spanky McFarlane hat. You know, you cut off the rim and the--you cut little jagged edges on the--the--the f--rim of it.

MASON: (Voiceover) You had a Spanky McFarlane hat?

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) Yes. That's...

MASON: (Voiceover) That's one of the dark secrets we didn't know about you.

Mr. PARKER: Yes, well, you don't--well, this isn't on television, is it?

MASON: (Voiceover) It took a woman to bring him to his knees.

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) Here's Joan and me at a--at a party--a picnic at Colby College in the early '50s. We were probably 18 or 19 years old.

MASON: (Voiceover) Joan and Bob had first met as infants, through their fathers, who both worked for the phone company.

Mr. PARKER: Then we met again freshman year, freshman dance, the first--'Hi, my name's Bob,' you know--at Colby College. And I asked her to dance. And however sappy it sounds, swear that I fell in love with her the moment I danced with her.

(Photograph of Parkers)

MASON: (Voiceover) At first, the feeling wasn't mutual.

(Photograph and footage of Parkers)

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) She found me intolerable. But she got to know me, and I wore her down.

You're looking lovely today, my dear.

(Footage of Parkers)

MASON: (Voiceover) Half a century later, after two sons, a couple of dogs...

Mrs. JOAN PARKER: Give Daddy a kiss.

Mr. PARKER: Kiss? Kiss? Please?

(Footage of Parkers; book-signing)

MASON: (Voiceover) ...and even a brief two-year separation, they're still a couple. Most of Parker's novels are dedicated to Joan, including his last, "Family Honor," which introduced a female private eye.

Mr. PARKER: Yes, Sunny Randall is a woman, and this sensitive devil on the back is the guy who created her.

(Footage of "Family Honor")

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) 'One of the good things about being a woman in my profession is that there's not many of us, so there's a lot of work available.'

'One of the bad things is figuring out where to carry the gun. When I started as a cop, I simply carried the department-issue 9mm on my gun belt like everyone else.'

(Voiceover) 'But when I was promoted to detective second-grade and was working plainclothes, my problems began.'

MASON: Do you have any trouble getting cranked up to write another Spenser book?

Mr. PARKER: No, I like to. I mean, I used to work, you know.

(Footage of "Hugger Mugger")

MASON: (Voiceover) His latest novel, "Hugger Mugger," out this month, will bring back Spenser.

(Footage of Parker)

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) It's a lot like lifting weights. I love it when I don't have to lift weights. But if I don't do it long enough, then I miss it. You know, I get edgy.

MASON: (Voiceover) At 68, Parker still writes.

Mr. PARKER: (Voiceover) Five pages a day, five days a week, unless I'm hanging around with people from CBS.

MASON: (Voiceover) Sorry.

So you're just going to keep going?

Mr. PARKER: Yes, I certainly hope so, considering the alternative.

MASON: Well, I don't know. You could go to the beach.

Mr. PARKER: I hate the beach.

MASON: (Voiceover) But should Robert Parker, God forbid, step out of the picture...

Mr. PARKER: After my best side again, aren't you?

MASON: (Voiceover) ...he'll go without regrets.

Mr. PARKER: I married the girl of my dreams. I had my sons. I wrote my books. I found a way to live the life that I wanted to live, and I'm doing good.

MASON: A postscript: In January, after we shot our interview, Robert Parker nearly did step out of the picture. During a scheduled operation to remove a pancreatic cyst, complications developed, a vein ruptured, and in Parker's own words, 'They almost lost me.' After two weeks in the hospital, eight days in intensive care, the author is home again in Cambridge and on the mend, and we wish him the best.

I spoke to him on Friday, Charlie. He said he'd lost 35 pounds, and accused the man we just saw in the piece of being, and I quote, "a fat impostor."

OSGOOD: Oh, my gosh.

MASON: So I think he's recovering well.

OSGOOD: Sounds as if he is. I hope so.

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