Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (2021) Movie Script

[projector clicking]
[clicking, whirring]
[cat meowing]
[Kurt Vonnegut]
[explosions, rapid gunfire]
[water splashing]
[wind blowing]
Kurt Vonnegut told me once...
we don't understand
the first thing about time.
Before Dresden happened,
he said he was walking in
the forest,
put his head against
the trunk of a tree,
and he saw everything
that happened.
[heart beating]
[man] He really saw it all
before it happened.
And he wasn't kidding, and he
wasn't speaking metaphorically.
This is how he experienced...
his life.
[Charlie Gibson]
Kurt Vonnegut,
the author who became an oracle
for the baby boomer generation,
has died.
In the end, it was a head injury
that killed Kurt Vonnegut.
He was 84.
And now, back in 1970 with
electronic television,
our last item tonight...
[man] ...is an interview
with a very funny
and a very remarkable
Kurt Vonnegut.
[man] I can't think of a single
other American author
even of half Vonnegut's age,
who has all of his books
in print.
[Harry Reasoner]
Young people snap up his books
as fast as they are re-issued.
He is suddenly a star,
a luminary,
a guru to youth.
Time has come today
[man] One of the pre-imminent
and I would say,
philosophers of our time,
Kurt Vonnegut.
Do you really know
the answers to everything?
I haven't been stumped
very often.
What would you like to know?
-Well, | -- I--
-[audience laughs]
[Kurt Vonnegut] Now,
what are my book about?
I have written again and again
about ordinary people
who have tried to behave
in an indecent society.
Vonnegut has been the most
profound influence in my life.
I think he's
the funniest person alive.
You know, that's why George Bush
hates the Arabs
-is they invented Algebra.
[Harry Reasoner] What do you
think it is that does make you
so highly respected
by young people?
I'm screamingly funny.
You know, I really am
in the books.
I think so.
He is both incredibly funny
and also dark and brooding
at the same time.
My books are jokes,
mosaics of jokes,
about serious matters,
about death, about disease,
about war and
that sort of thing.
He made literature fun.
that was huge.
Now the time has come
There's no place to run
He'll be read to understand
the 20th century
the way you have to read
Mark Twain
to understand
the 19th century.
[man] Vonnegut was a prisoner
of war in Germany
and he's been getting ready to
write a book about it.
Now he's done it.
[woman] Kurt Vonnegut's
was an instant hit;
an anti war novel that was
searing, satirical,
strange and darkly funny.
[man] The protagonist of
Billy Pilgrim,
bounces around
from time to time
in his life.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"Billy Pilgrim has come
unstuck in time.
"Billy has gone to sleep
a senile widower
"and awakened on
his wedding day.
"He's walked through
a door in 1955
"and come out another one
in 1941.
"He's gone back through
that door
"to find himself in 1963.
"He's seen his birth and
his death may times, he says,
"and pays random visits to
all the events in between,
and the trips aren't
necessarily fun."
[man] Unstuck in time is
Billy Pilgrim's status
in the novel
But it's also
Kurt Vonnegut's status
as the writer.
I'd say you and I are about
equally unstuck in time.
[indistinct dialog]
Can you believe we're really
gonna do this again?
What is this, the fourth,
fifth time?
I think the fifth.
I know the first interview
was in 2014.
Then, about a year later, was
the stripey-shirt interview.
That's the one where I cry.
Then there was, what,
the editing room interview?
Then the light blue shirt,
I think, was 2017.
Every time, I thought it was
gonna be the last time.
I didn't even want to be in
this film in the first place.
This was gonna be a conventional
author documentary
with interviews with Kurt,
his family,
you know, biographers
and scholars,
but not me.
I don't even like documentaries
where the filmmaker
has to put himself
in the film.
I mean, who cares?
But when you take almost
40 years to make a film,
you owe some kind of
an explanation.
Full disclosure.
I was 23 when
I first approached him
about making this film.
And I remember he was
just about to turn 60,
and I would refer to him as
the old man.
And a couple months ago,
I turned 60.
How fucked up is that?
It all started for me at
the same time as it started for
almost every Vonnegut reader
I've met,
which is in high school.
In my case,
Sunny Hills High School,
Fullerton, California.
[Kurt Vonnegut] How many
of you have had the teacher
at any level of your education
who made you more excited
to be alive,
prouder to be alive,
than you had previously believed
Hold up your hands, please.
There's a door behind which
my life would sort of change
when I was 16 years old.
[Kurt Vonnegut] Please
say the name of that teacher
to someone sitting
next to you, please.
[Bob Weide] Valerie Stevenson
was the name of the teacher
who first led me to Vonnegut.
I assigned a book to
the students to read, um,
Breakfast Of Champions
by Kurt Vonnegut.
This is the actual copy
that I, uh, read.
Looking back now as an educator
of many years,
I'm just sort of horrified
that I did it.
It's a pretty edgy book,
and iconoclastic.
"To give an idea of
the maturity
"of my illustrations for
this book,
here is my picture of
an asshole:"
Questioning authority--
"...teachers of children in
the United States of America
"wrote this date on blackboards
again and again,
"and asked the children to...
[Kurt Vonnegut] "...memorize
it with pride and joy:
"The teachers told the children
that this was when
"their continent was discovered
by human beings.
"Actually, millions of human
beings were already living
"full and imaginative lives
on the continent in 1492.
"That was simply the year
in which sea pirates
began to cheat and rob
and kill them."
What high school kid isn't gonna
gobble this up and say,
"I've found my author"?
Nothing was the same after that.
I jut became
somewhat obsessed.
I just so connected to
his philosophies,
and these serious issues being
handled in this comedic way.
He was the guy
who made me think
he thinks what I think
about the world.
He came in at the beginning of
his senior year
and proposed that he teach
a course in Vonnegut,
and didn't seem to think that
that was an unusual thing.
[chuckles] It was but
he set up his course
very seriously,
Professor Weide,
[Bob Weide] I had probably a
dozen students in the class,
and I graded them all
and gave assignments,
and we all read his books.
It was like having a very cool
Vonnegut reading club.
But, um, that was
the beginning of it.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"If you find your life
"tangled up with
somebody else's life
"for no very logical reasons,
writes Bokonon,
"that person may be
a member of your karass."
Okay, here's the first one.
This is the one that got me
into all this trouble.
"June 29, 1982.
"Dear Mr. Vonnegut,
"Earlier this year,
I produced
the above-named documentary
for PBS.
"The Marx Brothers now have
their definitive documentary.
"How about allowing Kurt
Vonnegut, Jr., to have his?
"If the documentary had your
I'm confident that I could
arrange for financing immediately."
I remind you,
I wrote that letter in 1982.
So, I wrote him this letter,
and days turned into weeks,
and I didn't hear back
and I thought,
well, all right, that's that,
I gave it a shot.
And then the day came
and there was a letter
with that familiar handwriting
on it that you see in
Breakfast Of Champions.
I thought,
"Holy crap!"
"it's him!"
"Dear Robert Weide,
"I've been out of town
for most of this summer,
"and so read your friendly
letter of a month ago
"only this morning.
"It turns out I that
"I already know something
of your work.
"I saw the Marx Brothers
tribute and liked it a lot.
"Who wouldn't?
"I am honored by your interest
in my work,
"and I will talk to you some,
if you like,
"about making some sort of film
based on it.
"But there is sure no great
footage to start with.
"Anything that is any good
of mine
"is on a printed page,
not film.
"Maybe you have some ideas
as to what to do about that.
"I don't.
"Anyway, give me a ring
if you like.
Kurt Vonnegut."
[Bob Weide]
Oh, I'm guessing this--
Doesn't have a label on it.
[Bob Weide]
Doesn't have a label?
Where's the-- Oh.
So this is '94.
-Ninety-four. Right.
-This is the later stuff.
That's the more
recent stuff, '94.
We want the old stuff.
-Eighty-eight. That's it.
-Okay. We'll go with this one.
That's should be it.
Yeah, that's it.
[keyboard clacking]
Here we go.
Drop it.
So, we're okay
from there, Bob.
[Bob Weide] This is the
very first stuff we shot
on the first day
in, uh, 1988.
There's Kurt.
[indistinct dialog]
There he is, laughing and
smiling and chatting away.
Like he's still here.
-We'd gotten together
quite a few times, uh,
since that initial letter.
[Bob Weide] But that day sitting
on the train across from him
with the camera next to me,
finally hit me that...
my God, this film is
really gonna happen.
-Are we going?
-[Bob Weide] Yeah.
Yeah. My books are about
and about people being driven
out of the Garden of Eden
one way or another.
The world's full of
lonesome old people
and when trouble comes,
they call either the police
or fire department.
Lonesome? Have no friends?
Dial 911.
Uh, and that's not much of
a solution.
And I say get
an extended family.
[Bob Weide] We were going to
Buffalo, New York.
Kurt had
a speaking engagement there
at a Unitarian church.
Kurt was an agnostic,
and a humanist,
but to the extent that he
affiliated with any religion,
it was Unitarianism,
which is really more
community based than God based.
[shouting] Perfectly capable of
projecting in a room this size.
This was the first of many
public appearances I would film,
but the audiences were always
out the door, in the aisle,
and they always ate out of
the palm of his hand.
We are taught to be
to pretend we know
what the good news is.
Just think, here you are
two years old,
and mommy
and daddy come up to you,
they're all excited.
Guess what's goin' on?
It's your birthday!
[Kurt Vonnegut]
But-- [laughs]
What the hell's a birthday?
Why should it be
such good news?
And so we pretend
all these enthusiasms.
Uh... you know,
the Buffalo Bills made it to
the Super Bowl.
We are so grateful any time
anybody tells
the truth about life
and the basic truth
about life is,
we don't know what
the good news is
and what the bad news is,
and one reason we would like
to go to Heaven
is to ask somebody,
"Hey, what was the good news,
and what was the bad news?"
-[man] Like this.
[indistinct chatter]
[tape fast forwarding]
[Bob Weide] I was always filming
on and off with him over the years,
just thinking, you know,
I'll figure this out later.
[Bob Weide]
Now we're havin' fun.
[Bob Weide] In 1994,
we went to Indianapolis.
It would be terrible if
I don't even recognize
the house anymore.
That's here Mr. Herman lived,
he was very mean.
Oh, this is--
this is it.
[Kurt Vonnegut] "I took him to
the Indianapolis of my childhood.
"I got out of my rented car,
I did it noisily.
I slammed the door firmly.
Oh, yeah, that's Kurt Vonnegut
and that's Edith Vonnegut.
And, of course, the house
was built in 1923
when I was
one year old.
Yeah. This is my room
all right.
[Bob Weide]
Kurt, in your writing,
there's much talk of
extended family.
Where does this notion
come from?
Well, I used to have one.
There must have been
30 Vonneguts,
all prosperous.
In the phone book here.
[man] Kurt always said he
trusted his writing best
when he sounded like a person
from Indianapolis, Indiana,
which is what he was.
His father and grandfather
were architects.
Other relatives were, uh,
symphony conductors,
and, uh, heads of libraries
who had basically created
And it's got Vonnegut
written all over it.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
The family was built around
the Vonnegut Hardware Company,
which was a very successful
hardware store chain.
One of my ancestors invented
the panic bar on doors.
But if there is a fire,
and you are jammed up
against the door,
by a crowd-- Ahhh.
Flies open.
And it must have saved
a hell of a lot of lives.
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
Vonnegut was growing up
in this beautiful house
designed by his
architect father.
People have very kindly
left this here all this time,
and that's me,
my hand was pressed here,
including a little bit of
my sweater.
My sister, Alice,
who's no longer among
the living.
And this is my brother, Bernard,
who is nearly 80;
atmospheric physicist who knows
more about tornadoes
than anybody on Earth.
And this is my mother.
And this is my father.
Doesn't make me sad at all,
'cause it was such a happy time
in the lives of
all these people.
[Bob Weide] After spending
so much time with Kurt,
I got fairly close with
his brother, Bernie.
-Hi, uh, Bob,
uh, this is
Bernie Vonnegut calling.
In a closet,
he had some old
16mm home movies
of the Vonnegut family.
I found the film,
or at least,
uh, some of it.
And I, uh, hope, uh,
you received it.
[Bob Weide] I took it down to
a post production facility
had the stuff cleaned,
and put it up to transfer it
to video tape.
I couldn't believe
what I was seeing.
[projector whirring]
[Bob Weide] It was amazing,
crystal clear,
black and white
home movies.
The family dynamic
is on full display.
Kurt's the baby brother,
of course,
always demanding attention.
He's either laughing or crying
or running around.
And, uh...
a lot of dancing.
[Kurt Vonnegut] The
youngest member of each family
is the family comedian,
'cause it's the only way
the youngest one
can get attention.
And so I would make a joke,
and everybody would look,
"Did he say that?"
you know,
and did he mean it
and all that,
and so I became
specialized that way.
[Bob Weide] Bernard is
nine years older.
It's funny,
when I knew Bernie,
he was this rather serious,
retired academic,
who was a world renowned
atmospheric scientist,
uh, and rather stiff
on camera.
This is an instant of which
I have no memory,
but, uh, I was, uh,
very young.
But here he is,
hamming it up,
and, uh, quite
the snappy dresser.
To Vonnegut readers,
his sister, Alice-- Allie--
Is almost a mythical figure,
very important
in Kurt's life.
He always writes about
how funny she is,
and you see it.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
Same jokes amused us both.
So maybe she taught me
what was funny.
This is my sister,
Allie's, room.
The sleeping porch there
where, with her permission,
we could sleep out on hot nights
in the summer time.
She grew up to be six feet tall,
was a very beautiful blonde...
uh, with terrible posture,
because she was so embarrassed
about being tall.
Yeah, and I really miss her
as we were extremely close.
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
Allie Vonnegut was
a constant presence
in his life.
She substituted for
Kurt's mother.
I think she gave him the love
and the nurturing
that he was not given.
Kurt's mother was
society bred,
as his mother was distant,
and really had her own
mental problems to deal with.
His father was not the warmest,
fuzziest guy in the world.
He was a good father,
but he was, uh,
a serious architect.
[Kurt Vonnegut] I wish my parents
had been happier than they were.
And I think it was largely my
mother's unhappiness
that, uh, made the depression
harder for all of us.
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
He grows up in
a very traditional,
supportive family.
He has a happy childhood.
Uh, but then,
all the money
for it disappears
during the Great Depression.
Now, of course,
everybody in Indianapolis
was quite depressed.
Uh, nothing was being built,
and so father finally
had to come home.
But there was virtually
no work.
Oh, I think he was
deeply embarrassed,
and mother always felt that
there must be some way
he could go out there
and get some money.
Yeah. "Get out of her and
get me some money too.
Why don't you do right
like some other men do?"
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
They lost their family home,
and had to go into
a rental property.
[Kurt Vonnegut] We moved out
of here when I was ten years old,
and I really didn't give a damn.
You know, I thought life was
pretty interesting wherever--
Wherever we were
gonna live next.
Young Kurt was
taken out of, uh,
private school,
put into public schools,
and it took him out of
the bubble.
He read comic books,
he was immersed in
popular culture,
and what it was like
to be a person
not living in
a world of privilege.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
When I was a child,
and there were many
serious things going on,
such as the Great Depression
and all that,
it was Laurel and Hardy
who gave me permission
not to take life seriously.
And it turned out that
it as okay to, uh,
laugh your head off.
Life was a very serious
and it inspired me to try
and write funny books,
that this was a good thing to do
with a life is to be funny.
[Gregory Sumner] One of the
luckiest breaks for Kurt Vonnegut
is that he went to
Shortridge High School,
one of the finest high schools
in the country.
[Kurt Vonnegut] It was an
extraordinary high school,
it was better than any
university I ever went to.
This is where I got my
foundation in chemistry,
in ancient history,
and this place had
a daily paper,
The Shortridge Echo.
My parents worked on it,
so that's how long Shortridge
had had a daily newspaper.
I learned to write for peers,
as I would write something
in the paper,
and the next day,
my fellow students would
tell me what the hell
they thought about it.
It was a swell experience
for me,
because I learned to write
journalistic style;
which was to be clear
and don't bluff,
and also to say
as much as possible
as quickly as possible.
And my books are
essentially that way.
I give away the big secrets in
the first page
and tell people
what's going to happen.
Yeah, I suppose I knew about
one person in ten
on this list of people
who died--
Classmates who died in, uh,
Second World War.
close friend of mine was
Hal Plummer,
and he was just on
a training mission,
he cracked up a plane
in San Francisco.
Art Gipe.
Yeah, he died of
spinal meningitis
during basic training.
Had one fraternity brother
at Cornell...
uh, who was so excited upon
hearing that
Pearl Harbor
had been bombed,
he was taking a bath
and he somehow
banged his head on a faucet
and died.
I [jazz]
[indistinct chatter]
[Kurt Vonnegut] Marge Murray
was my prom date,
senior prom date.
Wonderful dancer.
Had blond, curly hair, too.
[Bob Weide]
It was really interesting
seeing Kurt interact with his
high school classmates.
Many of them, I assume,
hadn't seen each other
since they were 18,
which I'm sure, for them,
didn't seem that long ago.
[man] Yeah, well, my girlfriend
had me doin' this.
You're too old to have
a girlfriend,
don't bullshit me.
[Bob Weide]
This was the class of 1940.
They had no idea what was
waiting just around the corner.
I didn't know what the hell
they were talking about.
You went through the ringer,
for or yin' out loud.
What happened to you?
I was in North Africa and they
sent me to China, Burma, India,
and that's where it happened.
-They really used you, didn't they?
-They used me. Yeah.
No, I couldn't
-They have--
-I know.
-They have no right to do that.
-I know.
You're a real good guy,
I really like you.
-Mustard gas? Where?
-Yeah. Well, we were...
[Kurt Vonnegut] Second World
War was fought by children.
The movies give
the impression that
war is fought by
middle-aged men.
No, it's startling
how young soldiers are.
[school bell rings]
[Kurt Vonnegut] Anybody
who's been in the ground forces
and been on the front lines...
hates war.
[explosions, rockets firing]
[Kurt Vonnegut]
And I was involved in
the biggest defeat of
American arms,
which was the
Battle of the Bulge
'Cause the Germans caught us
totally by surprise.
They were all dressed in white,
we were dressed in uniforms
the color of dog shit,
and there was snow
all over the place.
And my whole division got
captured or wiped out.
And after it was over,
as far as you could see
going down the road,
were American kids with
their hands up like this,
'cause if you took your
hands down, you'd get shot.
[Kurt Vonnegut] What there
is to see is so nauseating
so horrifying...
you don't want to
hear about it anymore,
you don't want to
talk about it.
[train clacking]
[bell clanging]
[train whistle blows]
[Kurt Vonnegut] So all the
captured Americans, prisoners of war,
were loaded on those trains
and taken to the interior
of Germany.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"The skyline was intricate
"and voluptuous and
enchanted and absurd.
"It looked like a Sunday school
picture of Heaven
"to Billy Pilgrim.
"Somebody behind him
in the box car said Oz.
"That was I.
That was me.
The only other city I'd seen
was Indianapolis, Indiana."
"The slaughterhouse wasn't
a busy place anymore.
"The prisoners were taken to
the fifth building
"inside the gate.
"It had been built as
a shelter for pigs
"about to be butchered.
"Now it was going to serve as
a home away from home
"for 100 American
prisoners of war.
"The address was this:
schlachthaus funf."
[Bob Weide] Uh, how was your
division put to work in Dresden
when you first got there?
[Kurt Vonnegut]
Privates, my division,
uh, were put to work
in small factories.
The Germans all explained to us
this is an old city,
'cause it had a very long
art history,
and many people
all over the world
were sentimental
about Dresden,
and so they never
expected to get hit.
[engines roaring]
[siren blaring]
[engines roaring]
[Kurt Vonnegut] "Billy Pilgrim
was down in a meat locker
"on the night that Dresden
was destroyed.
"There were sounds like
giant footsteps above.
"Those were sticks of
high explosive bombs.
The giants
walked and walked."
[wind blowing]
[metal clanking]
[Kurt Vonnegut]
We all came out
and we all looked around
at the same time.
And the city was gone.
[Kurt Vonnegut] "Dresden
was like the moon now,
"nothing but minerals.
"The stones were hot.
"Everybody else in
the neighborhood was dead.
"So it goes.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
What really destroyed the city
were the thousands of
very small fire bombs,
and started so many fires
they couldn't begin to
deal with them all.
It created one big column
of flame,
uh, roughly the same diameter
as the city.
It generated tornadoes,
and consumed
everything organic.
Only prisoners of war
were allowed in there
to, uh, start digging out
and that's what we did.
I know what it's like to carry
the bodies of civilians
while the Germans
watched silently.
I didn't feel, uh,
particularly badly
when I did it.
I didn't feel much of anything.
[train clacking]
[Bob Weide] I think in the past
you've sort of downplayed
that being like a major, pivotal
moment of your life.
What-- What is
the truth as to
living through
something like that?
It was a great adventure
of my life
and certainly something
to talk about.
Indeed, I was there.
The neighborhood dogs,
when I grew up,
uh, had far greater--
Influence on what I am today
than-- than, uh,
the mere firebombing
of Dresden.
[Edie Vonnegut] I think
Kurt-- Yeah, he's full of it.
He's seen too much,
you know, and he's--
Just living through
and his sister dying
and all his friends,
and seen too much anyway.
No, I don't--
Did he really say that?
You should see when he laughs at
the most inappropriate times,
but it-- it seems right
Definitely his way of
What, "so it goes?"
[Bob Weide] Yeah,
let's talk about that.
[typewriter clacking]
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"On an average,
"324,000 new babies
are born into the world
"every day.
"10,000 persons,
on an average,
will have starved
to death
or died from
-[bell dings]
-"So it goes.
"They were all being killed
with their families.
"So it goes.
He tore himself to pieces...
"...throwing up
and throwing up.
"So it goes.
...and every day,
"my government gives me
a count of corpses...
"So it goes.
...tried and shot...
"So it goes.
...the champagne was dead,
"So it goes.
So it goes.
"So it goes.
So it goes."
[Jerome Klinkowitz] It's
intoned 100 times in the novel.
Vonnegut did it to
make it iconic.
Death is so common,
so inevitable,
we can't go to pieces
every time there's a death
or we ourselves will just be
incapable of living.
So you have to just sort of
shrug your shoulders
-and say--
-"So it goes."
I think it's a mantra
in his head.
I think that's how he--
he copes.
Through that book.
He didn't talk about it.
Yeah, that--
I found out about it...
Horrible descriptions of
what was happening
or going on around him.
And it was very light, you know,
the way he wrote it.
[Kurt Vonnegut] Laughter
was a-- was a great relief
day after day,
and it would have been
embarrassing to cry--
Cry day after day.
I've said that it-- it--
I prefer laughter to crying
because there's less cleaning up
to do afterward.
Also, you can
shut it down faster.
This business of the stuff
that happened to me in Dresden
really had no impact
is the same person who is
completely traumatized by it.
It all went very fast,
you know,
once I was able to see
in such a short time,
and I wouldn't have missed it
for anything.
[Nanny Vonnegut] It is painful
for him to remember things.
Memory is painful.
I think he's doing lots of
artwork now, that helps.
[slide projector clicking]
Bob, this is
Kurt Vonnegut.
I just wanted to tell you
I sent via Federal Express
a whole bunch of pictures
I made
for an art show of mine
back in 1980.
I thought you might be able
to use them
some way in the film.
If not, send them
right back to me. Bye.
[Bob Weide]
How would you describe
the artwork of
Kurt Vonnegut?
[Kurt Vonnegut]
God, I don't know.
I think-- I think, uh,
what's such--
such a relief about it
is that I don't have to say
what it's about.
A friend of mine said,
"You're the only author
who's paintings, uh,
look just like what you write."
My books...
are aggressively unreal.
They make the reader
accept a premise,
and unreasonable premise,
and then keep going.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"Billy Pilgrim could not sleep
"on his daughter's
wedding night,
"though he knew there was
a flying saucer
"from Tralfamadore
up there.
He would see it soon enough
inside and out.
And he would see, too,
where it came from
soon enough."
[Bob Weide]
In '94, we made a trip to
Lake Maxinkuckee
in northern Indiana
where the whole extended
Vonnegut family
all had cottages.
Just seeing these places
brought it home
in a way that, uh...
that really humanized him
for me.
He was opening up about
his experience in Dresden,
his childhood,
seeing the place where he
actually came up with
the idea of Tralfamadore.
I had never read about it
in any book,
he'd never written about it,
but... he, um...
he showed me
where it happened.
This platform here is--
My father designed it
and had it built,
and the family would
gather out here,
particularly at night.
And one night,
cousin Richard
was naming the different stars
and constellations,
and nobody knew whether he was
telling the truth or not.
And he would say,
"Oh, there is Arcturus and there
is Andromeda and so forth.
And so there was a lull
in the conversation,
and I must have been about
ten years old, I think,
and so I all of a sudden
pointed up to the sky
and said,
"There is Tralfamadore.
[Kurt Vonnegut] "It was a
flying saucer from Tralfamadore.
"The saucer was
100 feet in diameter
"with portholes
around its rim.
"It came down to
hover over Billy,
"and to enclose him
in a cylinder
of pulsing purple life."
Where am I?
[man] Welcome to the planet
Tralfamadore, Mr. Pilgrim.
Oh, Finland.
-[man] Tralfamadore.
How did I get here?
There is no "how,"
Mr. Pilgrim.
There is no "why."
The moment simply is.
[Kurt Vonnegut] I experimented
with the science fiction idea
using it for relief...
is to get some distance from
an atrocity of this sort
to see how much it really
matters in the long view,
and, uh, the science fiction
thing seemed to work.
And it seemed to be amusing,
and it seemed to lighten
the whole enterprise,
so I kept it in.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"Later in life,
"the Tralfamadoreans
would advise Billy
"to concentrate on
the happy moments of his life,
"and to ignore
the unhappy ones;
"to stare only at
pretty things
as eternity
failed to go by."
[Bob Weide] Most authors
impart life lessons to
the readers
in their books.
Kurt gave me life lessons
in his living room.
We would talk about
almost anything.
Kurt was very interested
in my dating life.
He'd ask me about what kind of
girls I was meeting,
and he loved living vicariously
through a younger person
who was still in
the open market.
I met Linda in '94,
which was the same year
that Kurt and I were in
it was later that year.
Vonnegut adored Linda.
[narrator] "Dear Romeo: and
believe me that is some Juliet!
Go for it! That redhead
is a keeper."
'Cause he'd say to me,
"When are you gonna get married?
When are you gonna
marry that girl?"
I said, uh,
"Well, I don't know.
"I kind of feel I'm ready but,
you know,
I think if we get married,
I'm probably ruling out kids."
I was in my late 30s.
Now, Linda's age is
a state secret.
I can't say, but she's got
a few years on me.
If we wanted kids, we would have
had to get on that right away.
And Kurt said,
But I could see him
working on it,
you know, like--
like a math problem.
Thought about if for a while and
then he looked at me and he said,
"You don't need kids."
I said, "Oh, okay.
Well, that's sorted."
[man] This ceremony calls you
a lot of different names,
man and woman...
husband and wife,
bride and groom,
but the most beautiful words are
the ones I recited in Hebrew
which refer to both of you
as lovers and friends.
[no audible dialog]
"Dear Linda and Bob,
"I've just FedExed
your wedding present.
"It is a pair of
Victorian candlesticks
"They are identical with a pair
I inherited from my father.
"I have since given their like
to each of my children.
"They have become
our family totem.
Be happy. Kurt."
[door creaking]
[Kurt Vonnegut] "Our
cottage was sold to a stranger
"at the end of
World War ll.
"The buyer put off taking
possession for a week
"in order that I,
"just married after being
discharged from the army,
might take my bride there
for a honeymoon."
"My bride, who's
name was Jane Cox,
"had me read
The Brothers Karamazov
"during our honeymoon.
"She considered it the greatest
of all novels.
"Jane was a writer too,
by the way.
[Edie Vonnegut] Kurt and Jane
were big book lovers.
He would give her a book and
she would give him a book
it would be inscribed
on the day,
and that was the anchor
in their relationship,
it's a love of literature.
I mean, I know it was,
I've read their love letters.
[narrator] "To Jane, whom I
love and shall love all my life.
[continues reading]
"Presented when we were too
young to even be engaged.
[Nanny Vonnegut] My
image of them is very sweet
'cause she's very
round and small,
and he's very tall and--
and they loved each other.
He was very, very romantic.
She loved that.
I remember her,
when I was little,
there's no other voice,
nobody who can talk
like this man.
Really encouraged him to write,
and said, you have to do this.
"from your loving me,
"I've drawn
a measure of courage
"that never would have
come to me otherwise.
"You've given me the courage
to be a writer.
"That much of my life
has been decided.
"Regardless of my epitaph,
to be a writer will have been
my personal, ultimate goal."
Kurt and Jane's first son
was born.
He was named for Mark Twain,
and things became
quite different for Kurt.
He needed a job.
And here's where his
older brother, Bernard,
came to the rescue.
[Jerome Klinkowitz] Bernard was
already a world famous physicist
working in the research
laboratory at General Electric.
[Ginger Strand]
At GE labs,
Bernard and his colleagues
a new way
of seeding clouds
with the chemical,
silver iodide,
in order to make
rain or snow.
He was as big a celebrity
in his own field
as his little brother
would become later.
Bernard heard that the GE
News Bureau was looking for
men to write, uh, publicity,
and Kurt took it.
Kurt and Jane moved to
Alplaus, New York.
Most of the people
who lived in Alplaus
worked for General Electric.
GE was a world unto itself.
It had not only a huge factory,
but the extensive research lab
that Bernard worked in.
[Kurt Vonnegut] It was
one hell of a good company.
It was the United States
at its best.
[Ginger Strand]
Kurt's job was to
go around the company
and learn about all these
fantastic scientific advances
that the company was making.
So he really was seeing
the future.
Although he kept it a secret,
he had a desk at home
and was working very hard
to compose stories on evenings
and weekends.
He and Jane studied
magazines together
to try to figure out what
editors might want to buy.
[man] He was writing,
writing, writing,
and finally he had
something to write about.
You'll get a kick out of this.
It shows step-by-step
[Kurt Vonnegut] My father and
my brother were both technocrats,
and thought that engineers could
straighten out the world,
and I believed that
for a long time.
General Electric showed me
a milling machine
which was being run
by punch cards
that could do it better than
a man could.
But they were ashamed.
They were worried about
what they'd done
and they felt guilt
about it,
and the whole emphasis now is
throwing people out of work.
I was so optimistic about
during the Great Depression
that I almost believed that,
uh, by 1945,
we would have cornered God,
taken a color photograph of him,
and printed it on the cover of
Popular Mechanics.
-And, uh, instead, of course,
we-- we dropped a bomb
on Hiroshima.
After seeing what
scientific truth could do,
I lost interest in truths,
and I've been trying to think up
neat lies ever since.
[tyepewriter clacking]
[Ginger Strand] Kurt had had
the idea for a novel
about a GE like company.
He began working on what would
become Player Piano,
which he saw as the novel
that would make his
literary reputation.
It's about a future
in which machines
have entirely replaced
human beings.
[Jerome Klinkowitz] People, by
not having meaningful work to do,
begin to think their lives
are not meaningful.
But he realized he could
never hope to publish this novel
and continue working at GE.
The work he had to do was,
you know,
sitting in a cubicle
typing up public relations.
[Ginger Strand] GE very much
wanted to tell you how to think,
so as he worked there,
he grew more and more
with the job of
company man.
And it was, in fact,
Jane who convinced him
to take himself seriously
as a writer.
Kurt's advance for
Player Piano
was $2500.
It as a good pay out,
but a novel takes
a year to write.
It was a much better living
to write short stories,
which he could crank out
in a couple of weeks.
He set himself this goal
of selling five
before he would allow himself
to quit his job.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
Writing for the magazines
they told me an awful lot about
how to tell a story.
[typewriter clacking]
I would mail off a story,
and then wait for
the money to come
and the money
wouldn't come.
The story would come back
and they would tell me
what was wrong with it.
[Nanny Vonnegut]
And it was slow going.
You wouldn't believe the piles
of rejection letters,
piles, I mean, this thick.
[Ginger Strand]
His father never thought
he would have it in him
to make a living as a writer.
He probably needed to prove it
to himself
that he would, in fact,
be able to support his family.
In spite of the rejection
letters that piled up,
Jane was
incredibly encouraging.
[Edie Vonnegut]
She's writing to editors,
please read this,
it's my husband,
and no one knows it now,
but he's very gifted.
[Nanny Vonnegut] They were
very passionate, long letters,
like, you don't even know
what you gave up.
She was fierce, just saying
this man is a genius.
[Mark Vonnegut] I mean,
she believed in him
in a way I don't think he did.
He would have given up
without her.
[Ginger Strand] One day, while
he was still working at GE,
he came home and there
sitting on the piano
where Jane had put it
was a check for
the first short story
that he ever sold
Report on the Barnhouse Effect
for Collier's.
[Bob Weide] Why don't
you explain what that is.
Yeah. Well, this is a letter
dated October 28, 1949.
And I wrote it to my father.
"I think I'm on my way.
[continues reading]
"I will then quit this
goddamn nightmare job,
"and never take another one
so long as I live,
"so help me God.
[continues reading]
"Love, K," which is
my family nickname.
And father glued this to
a piece of Masonite
and varnished it,
and on the back of
this plaque, uh,
he has this Shakespearean
"An oath, an oath,
I have an oath in Heaven:
Shall I lay perjury on my soul?"
[Kurt Vonnegut] There was
an enormous magazine industry,
which paid very high prices
for stories,
and they needed lots of them.
They paid tons of money
for them.
[Ginger Strand] Short stories
were popular entertainment.
They really were
the television of the era.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
I had money piled up.
I'd never been this rich.
In a period of a few months,
I had made more money than
General Electric was prepared
to pay me all year.
[Ginger Strand]
It quickly became apparent
that they really had no reason
to stay in Schenectady.
At the end of 1950,
he handed in his notice to GE
and decided that he was
going to be a writer full time.
[birds chirping]
"Dear Bob,
"Have Edie show you
the underpass on route 6-A
"where she has painted angels.
"And the stone garage
in West Barnstable
"where I sold Saabs and
wrote Rosewater.
"And the Barnstable
Comedy Club
of which
I was once president
"and which inspired
Who Am I This Time?
"And the Madonna in
St. Mary's Church
"which I gave to the church
in memory of my sister
after our father died."
[Bob Weide] Why don't we
start by getting us orientated
and just telling us
what is--
What is the significance of
where we are?
[Nanny Vonnegut]
This is Barnstable.
Sweet little town of
This is where they
started their life.
[Edie Vonnegut] Barnstable
was a great place to write
and he could get to
New York easily,
and meet editors.
But he didn't have
a job, really.
He cut all his safety nets by
quitting General Electric
and coming here.
He was probably
the only writer in town.
[Bob Weide]
Edie still lives in Cape Cod
in the house that the
Vonnegut family grew up in
in West Barnstable.
To me, it was thrilling just to
go and-- and film these sites,
to be able to look at the house
where Kurt Vonnegut lived.
If someone had told
the high school me
that someday I'd spend
several nights in the room where
Kurt Vonnegut
wrote all those books,
I think my head
would have exploded.
There'd be hair everywhere.
This is Kurt's studio.
And when he couldn't write,
he would paint doors.
I remember it being just a mess,
papers everywhere,
and toxic with smoke.
He would play the worst music
on the radio.
Muzak. Elevator music.
-Do you remember that?
-[chuckles] Yeah.
-Horrible, annoying music.
-[Edie Vonnegut] It was hideous.
[Edie Vonnegut] He carved
these words, which are Thoreau's,
and it says,
"Beware of all enterprises
that require new clothes,"
which led all of us children
to think
we never had to get a job,
-don't you think?
Kurt would write, like,
all stooped over
on this low table.
Your posture's too good,
you know,
-it's gotta be really bent there.
-Okay, and--
-And his knees were up here.
-His knees were up here,
and it was beautiful.
Also, he'd have
his ankles crossed,
he had really long legs,
and so he would be
all hunched over.
It had a-- a music to it,
it would stop and...
go fast and then stop
and... like that.
[typewriter clacking]
[Nanny Vonnegut]
He was funny
and we was always trying
to teach us stuff, too.
He was very smart.
He took a break once
and wanted to sit me down
and give me a little lesson
about life.
And he said, "As soon as you
think life is turning up roses,
it gonna turn to shit.
We're being racked up
by technology.
The magazines got
knocked out,
not by any
spiritual change
but by the invention of
practical television.
[Jerome Klinkowitz] TV is now
controlling the entertainment industry,
and that's how Vonnegut
starts losing
his short story markets.
As he put it,
television came
and my cash cows all died.
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
Vonnegut realizes
he's gonna have to write novels
to make money.
The problem was, he could get
an advance for a novel,
2500 bucks, 3,000 tops,
that would take him
two years to write.
[Ginger Strand] Player
Piano was published in 1952.
It pretty quickly disappeared
from the literary scene.
And then he spends 17 years
writing every day
and striving for
a literary reputation.
It wasn't practical at all
to be a writer.
Everyone else's fathers
had jobs.
I think Kurt and Jane
felt like bumpkins.
There weren't that many people
that Dad could talk to.
So he was
a little lonesome here.
Ultimately, I think it was
good for him.
I think he wrote
his best books here
because he didn't have
any distractions.
[Nanny Vonnegut] He just
always had a story in his head.
You could tell. He was always
talking about it, an idea.
Just seeing what my--
the chapters in his life,
what he'd
already been through,
what he had survived at 20--
prisoner of war--
And then his--
his losing his sister.
[indistinct dialog]
[Kurt Vonnegut] The way to
achieve artistic wholeness...
is to create for
one person... in mind.
And I thought about it
and realized
that I write with
my sister in mind.
[Edie Vonnegut]
The situation was
that Kurt's sister, Allie,
had cancer.
So a tragedy was coming,
it was inevitable,
she had terminal cancer,
she had it everywhere.
And she was going to die.
She had four sons,
and her husband, Jim, was gonna
take care of the boys.
And the horrible thing
that happened
was he would commute on
a train to Manhattan,
and his train went over
an open drawbridge.
And he drowned.
But Allie was in the hospital.
She wasn't supposed to die
for another month or
maybe two months.
And the nurse gave her
the newspaper.
And she knew that Jim
was on that train.
She died two days later.
[Nanny Vonnegut] I don't
think he can, even now,
get his arms around it.
I think Allie's death was
the biggest loss of his life.
[Kurt Vonnegut] Sadness is
an interesting emotion.
You really don't know how
anything's gonna hit you.
And I can't bear to look at
photo albums,
'cause they just make me
terribly sad.
I-- I think of all that's gone
and will never come back.
[Nanny Vonnegut]
If you look at the films,
she's very protective
of him,
and is hovering over him
and just adored him.
I mean, that was just the purest
type of love there is.
[Edie Vonnegut]
Kurt had to drive up there
and see Allie
before she died.
And she was able to say,
"Keep my boys together."
The gesture that Kurt made
to take all four of us,
was really extraordinary.
I can't imagine anybody else
doing it.
He really did it.
[Mark Vonnegut]
He came back with the kids,
two dogs
and a pet rabbit.
And, uh, changed
everybody's life.
[Edie Vonnegut] And it
seems like destiny now.
Over night, our house
went from being
a quiet place with three
well behaved kids,
to seven kids out of control.
There was a lot of
running around,
playfulness and activity
and horrible practical joking.
[Jim Adams] It wasn't long
after we moved over there
when I started raising hell.
We'd break into houses,
we'd break windows,
we'd make bombs and blow up
doors in mailboxes.
I thought it was terrific fun.
We were
one-stop shopping for
the Barnstable
police department.
They would just pull into
the driveway
and try to figure out
which kid had done it.
All the other kids
loved it over there
because it was just like
[Nanny Vonnegut]
It was just total chaos
from my point of view,
and it was just great chaos.
We were running wild.
And he was writing
through all this.
[Edie Vonnegut] Kurt's studio
was off the end of the house.
And he would come out
and just, "Shut up!"
"Shut up.
Shut up."
"All you kids, shut up!"
[Kurt Adams]
He was moody.
-[Steve Adams] He was scary.
-[Kurt Adams] Scary moody.
He'd come storming out of
his study and, ooh.
You never knew what
you were gonna get.
You had to be
sort of on guard
so as not to get his wrath.
[Bob Weide] ls there any way
that you would describe him as
-cuddly or...
I don't think he wanted too much
cuddling. [chuckles]
He cuddled with the dog.
[Edie Vonnegut] Kurt would roll
around with Sandy on the kitchen floor,
and I remember always being
a little jealous.
Why doesn't he wrestle with me
like that? [chuckles]
[Mark Vonnegut]
He said to us sometimes,
"Please let me off
the father hook,"
which is not a good thing
to say to your children,
but... [laughs]
Nobody's perfect.
[Nanny Vonnegut] It was so
intense what he was doing.
As family, you learn how to
stay clear.
My mother was a huge force.
She was his gatekeeper
and guarded that door.
She sort of
trapped him in there
and said,
"You have to do this."
Really encouraged him to write.
[Jim Adams] Jane was always
washing clothes,
vacuuming, sweeping.
Kurt was not a sharer of
domestic duties.
Kurt didn't do anything.
He'd come out,
he'd make a sandwich,
or he'd go on walks,
chew on paper,
and be scary,
really scary,
and-- and Jane was
scared of him, too.
Everybody was scared of him.
[Edie Vonnegut] I could tell when he
was having a good day and a bad day.
Definitely. 'Cause he just
wouldn't talk to you.
And he would be smoking
and, you know,
his head coming through
that door.
You just didn't mess with him
'cause it wouldn't be fun.
I mean, there were times when
he would be just incredibly fun.
[Nanny Vonnegut] Oh, when
he had a good writing day,
he'd be really happy, it was
kind of a manic lifestyle.
And we'd have these
wonderful music times
where we'd all be pounding on
music and singing.
-He'd be doing poetry and--
-He'd be right there,
right there.
[Jim Adams] The next day,
it'd just all turn to shit,
and he's back in his study
and he doesn't want to have
anything to do with
anybody and...
[typewriter clacking]
[Steve Adams] Kurt may not
have been an attentive father
or father figure,
but I do understand it.
He was-- He was a writer,
and that's what he was.
And he had all this crap
going on in his head.
And therefore, when he's going
from the study to the kitchen,
what's going on in his mind
are the books that
everybody's loving.
[typewriter clacking]
[Edie Vonnegut] I had no
sense of who he was at all,
I don't think,
until I read something.
And it just amazed me that
this man lived downstairs.
I just loved it.
It's pretty remarkable that
by the mid 1960s,
he'd written
Sirens of Titan,
a mind-blowing
space opera,
that made a lot of people wonder
what drugs he was on.
Mother Night,
great morality tale.
Cat's Cradle,
which made him
a cult figure on
college campuses.
This is all pre
You know, Slaughterhouse-Five
is okay for me.
But Cat's Cradle
and Sirens of Titan
today remain my
favorite books.
He really emerged as a writer
and I have to think it was
because there were no prospects.
Who cares?
None of this stuff is--
Is being published as
paperback originals.
It's disappearing before it
even hits the stands,
you know, so why not
just go for it?
It had never occurred to me that
someone could write a comedy
about the end of the world.
[Kurt Vonnegut reading]
I loved him for being fantastic
and creating religions
and talking about
God's travel plans.
[Nanny Vonnegut] My mother
was so excited about those.
I mean, she could not believe
how great these were,
and it was slow going.
[Mark Vonnegut] Jane would
do anything to help Kurt along,
to the point of
going to bookstores
and under a fake name
ordering his books.
You could tell that these were
not big financial boons
because he had to accept,
like, a sexy cover
for Sirens of Titan when
there's no sex in the book,
so here you would
write a novel
and you would get
less than $1,000.
When I was 12, he sincerely
and utterly came to me
and asked if he could
borrow $100
that I had saved up from
my paper route.
I had money and he didn't.
The normal answer, uh,
for most people
would have been to get
a good paying job.
My favorite one is where he got
a job for Sports Illustrated.
He wouldn't do the job.
He would be given a chore
to talk about a horse race.
[Mark Vonnegut] And he was given
the assignment of writing about
this horse that broke away,
and Kurt sat there all morning,
and then he typed out...
[Edie reading]
And then leave.
Did you hear that story?
His attempts to work
regular jobs
didn't go well.
[Kurt Vonnegut] When I
went broke as a writer,
I got an automobile dealership,
you know.
It was one of the first Saab
dealers in the United States.
[Edie Vonnegut] We had
a red one and he used to
put my mother on the hood
and take pictures of her.
People wouldn't
pay for their cars
and he'd have to go
and repossess them.
I don't think he was
a really good car salesman.
How'd you hold the line?
-We screwed them on the radio.
We, uh--
[Mark Vonnegut]
I don't think
he could have stayed
employed if he had wanted to
at Sports Illustrated,
GE or any other job.
He was meant to be
a writer and, I think,
for his own mental health,
he had to write.
[typewriter clacking]
Well, he was not
selling Saabs at all
'cause no one came in.
He took his typewriter
down there and he wrote
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
in that building.
[Jerome Klinkowitz] God Bless You,
Mr. Rosewater was written when Kurt
was at the low point
of his career.
And the book is just
money obsessed.
[narrator reading]
It's like if a book were written
by a starving man,
what would the subject be?
Food. [chuckles]
[Gregory Sumner] One thing that's
interesting and important about
God Bless You,
Mr. Rosewater,
is the introduction of
the character Kilgore Trout.
[narrator] "Trout, the
author of 87 paperback books.
"Was a very poor man,
and unknown outside
the science fiction field."
Who is Kilgore Trout?
That's a--
That's a big one.
He does appear
and reappear
in many of Vonnegut's books.
Kilgore Trout is different
in every book.
So he's not a very
consistent character
but he is consistently
a science fiction writer.
[Gregory Sumner]
Trout was based on
an actual science fiction writer
named Theodore Sturgeon.
You can get the pun there.
Vonnegut met him when he was
down on his luck
up at the Cape writing for
a penny a word.
So he admired Sturgeon
but he also saw--
look at the life he's living.
[Kurt Vonnegut] "Trout's
employer and co-workers
"had no idea
that he was a writer.
[continues reading]
I think, psychologically,
Kilgore Trout
is what I thought
I might become.
One woman said that Kilgore
in the different books
represents my
psychological state.
I think it's pretty clear that
he's an alter ego of Kurt's.
He's a doppelganger,
a dark twin.
[Kurt Vonnegut] I don't mind
people calling me Kilgore.
Most authors will say that,
you know,
laymen are so stupid
to think that
I'm talking about
my own life.
My position is it's all I have
to talk about,
and, uh-- uh--
I'll take full responsibility
for having experienced
every event in any book.
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
In 1965,
when even
the novels weren't selling,
he had to submit to
the worst humiliation
any human being can suffer.
He had to come to Iowa
to teach college.
-[cow bells clanking]
[man] If you're not
making enough money
to support yourself
as a writer,
and you need to have
a teaching job,
a job in Iowa
is a really good one.
Most of the other MFA students,
they hadn't read him.
They had written him off on
the basis of his reputation
or lack thereof,
and I thought he was
It was very compelling to me
to be in the presence of
someone who said,
"It's not just all right
to be an entertainer
and a serious writer,
but if you're going to be
you better also be entertaining.
[Nanny Vonnegut] And we had a
crummy little house we rented,
and Andre Debus was
one house next to us.
For the first time,
he met other writers,
uh, of his stature.
Nelson Algren,
Richard Gates,
Vance Bourjaily.
He suddenly felt like, oh,
he was part of
the writing community.
[Jerome Klinkowitz] It became two
of the happiest years of his life.
It led to the breakthrough of
him discovering
how to use his own voice
in fiction.
Hanging around these other
creative people,
they gave him some ideas about
how you can tell
a rather untellable story.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"I taught in the afternoon.
"In the mornings,
I wrote.
"I was not to be disturbed.
I was working on my famous book
about Dresden."
[typewriter clacking]
"Billy Pilgrim has come...
[typewriter clacking]
[Bob Weide] When it
came time to sit down
and write your book
on Dresden,
didn't you find some difficulty
in recalling?
[Kurt Vonnegut] "When I got
home from the Second World War,
"23 years ago,
"I thought it would be easy
for me to write about
"the destruction
of Dresden,
"since all I would have to do
would be to
"report what I had seen.
"And I thought, too, that it
would be a masterpiece
"or at least make me
a lot of money.
"But not many words about
Dresden came from my mind then.
"And not many words
come now, either,
"when I've become an old fart
with his memories
and his Pall Malls."
[Bob Weide] He was always
working his way up to
and he just couldn't find
the key.
[Kurt Vonnegut] "When
I was somewhat younger
"working on my famous
Dresden book,
"I asked an old war buddy
named Bernard V. O'Hare
if I could come to see him."
[David Ulin] O'Hare's
wife, Mary, she says,
"You're gonna write a book
that is going to glorify war,
"and people are going to
read it and think
it's fine to send all
these kids off to war."
And it's an eye-opening moment
for Vonnegut.
The war in Vietnam is not like
these other wars.
[Lyndon Johnson]
Yet war is always the same.
It is young men dying in
the fullness of their promise.
[David Ulin] Mary O'Hare,
she shamed him and said,
"Write about what
really happened.
You were babies."
[Kurt Vonnegut]
I would hate to tell you
what this lousy little book
cost me,
in money and anxiety
and time.
When you go through
all the various drafts
and iterations of
Slaughterhouse-Five through the years,
you become very aware of
Vonnegut's struggle
and his perseverance.
He's trying everything
to get it right.
Some drafts are written
first person,
sometimes it's Vonnegut's
point of view,
sometimes it's a made up name.
Sometimes the narrator
is already dead,
and narrating from the grave.
Billy Pilgrim's name
keeps changing.
The title of the book
keeps changing.
He's constantly auditioning
different openings for the book,
different prefaces
and forwards.
He's often doodling and
drawing on the pages
as if to clear his head.
At one point, he gives up
trying to write it
as a novel altogether,
and he tries to write it
as a play.
In-- In one version, uh,
middle-age Billy Pilgrim
receives a crank phone call
from a drunken Vonnegut
who taunts Billy
by telling him
he's a fictional character in
a book Vonnegut is writing.
And remember, this is, you know,
in the days before computers,
so he's not
cutting and pasting.
Every new attempt is
a page one rewrite.
Sometimes he's
halfway through the novel
before he starts
all over again.
Sometimes he changes course
after an opening paragraph.
But he just won't give up.
You just see him persevering
and rewriting again and again,
and he just can't
crack the code.
It's like he's not just trying
to get a bead on the book;
it's almost like he's
trying to purge
the whole Dresden experience
from his soul
once and for all.
And just when you think
is about to claim yet
one more victim...
he nails it.
[Edie Vonnegut] In 1969 when
Slaughterhouse-Five came out,
that was the big kaboom.
The current idol of
the country's
sensitive and
intelligent young people,
is 47 years old.
was the breakthrough
because it was the right place
at the right time.
It was in the ugliest phase of
the Vietnam War
in the ugliest phase of our
domestic crises at home.
[Harry Reasoner]
His gentle fantasies of peace
and his dark humor are
as current among the young
as was J.D. Sa | inger's work
in the 1950s.
[Edie Vonnegut]
Fans would come to the door,
and wanting to know if
he lived here,
and they would end up
coming in,
and sometimes they'd stay
for three or four days.
[Nanny Vonnegut]
The sudden money coming in
was a total shock.
And he just couldn't
believe it.
I remember at the dinner table,
he said,
I have money coming out of
my ears. [laughs]
It was, like, fun and new,
like he had arrived.
[Edie Vonnegut] All of our friends
wanting to come over and visit,
'cause Life magazine
was here.
This is the biggest thing that
came to this town.
And then when that
article came out
there was these big pictures
of our kitchen,
and our father
getting a haircut and...
me standing there with
a paintbrush.
It was just extraordinary.
[Nanny Vonnegut] And I was getting
attention, Edie was getting attention,
everybody loved us because
we were with this doofus,
our father.
[Jim Adams] Norman Mailer
came to the house
and Jane was
excited about that.
I'll never forget, she came into
the kitchen and,
"Jimmy, you got any pot?"
[Nanny Vonnegut]
Peter Fonda,
he wanted to buy
the rights to Cat's Cradle,
so he made a pilgrimage.
We couldn't believe it.
It was just after
Easy Rider,
and I had a girlfriend that
didn't really think I was that great.
But I told her,
"Hey, listen,
Peter Fonda's gonna be
over at our house.
She says, "Really? Okay."
And we-- we all came back,
and we all sat around and we're
talking with Peter Fonda,
and it-- it did the trick.
Thanks, Kurt.
[man] Do you mind being
[Kurt Vonnegut] Yes, I mind.
I think a terrible mistake
has been made somehow.
I suspect that I'm
21 years old,
that I've been
or time has slipped.
[Jerome Klinkowitz] When he paperback
of Slaughterhouse-Five came out,
all the previous novels were
reissued in a uniform edition.
It was just making it clear that
did not exist in a vacuum.
This spoke for 20 years of
a writing career,
and a coherent, very interesting
human being behind them.
[Harry Reasoner] Vonnegut
spends most of his time
in he tranquility of
Cape Cod where he lives.
But now he can be found
in New York
in a theater in
Greenwich Village
agonizing over his new play,
Happy Birthday,
Wanda June.
[Nanny Vonnegut] That was a big
family excitement going to that opening,
to be in New York City and
getting all dressed up.
Oh, my mother was so proud.
It was just very exciting.
I knew he would be great,
but I never envisioned,
like, that kind of movie star
type of thing,
people wanting to take
your pictures.
That was fun.
That was a lot of fun.
But it wasn't
a lot of fun when--
When he didn't want to
come home.
[Edie Vonnegut] There was
a woman photographing him
and they started
a relationship.
And she was a lot younger
than my mother.
[camera shutter clicking]
And he stayed with her.
And eventually married her.
And left my mother here
on the Cape.
[man on P.A.] ...for Toronto
now boarding flight one.
[indistinct dialog]
[Kurt Vonnegut] Big problem has
probably been noticed in this church.
A lot of people are
getting divorced.
What's the trouble?
Well, the people who are getting
divorced don't know why.
I don't know, I really--
I love you a lot.
'Cause I love you more than
when we were married.
But something's wrong.
[Kurt Vonnegut] I like
the house, I like the kids,
and it's gonna be
a terrible strain on the kids,
but I'm sorry.
I just can't go on this way.
I can't describe
what's wrong,
all I know is
something's wrong.
[Nanny Vonnegut] He always
keeps repeating to me,
watch out for
the empty nest syndrome.
It's devastating when
all the kids are gone.
And I think he couldn't handle
the quiet around here.
[Kurt Adams] It was pretty
clear that Kurt's famous now,
and he's left his drab life
behind on Cape Cod.
And now he's living
the celebrity life
in the fast lane
of Manhattan.
[Edie Vonnegut] It must have
been a very heady time for him.
His books selling,
movies being made,
It must have just been
incredibly seductive.
[Mark Vonnegut] I wish it didn't
hurt him in the way it hurt him,
but, um,
I think fame is
a horrible destructive thing
to do to people.
[Jim Adams] It wasn't until he
died that I stopped doing this,
but I thought that
I hated him.
I hated the way
he treated Jane.
Jane supported him
and loved him,
and did everything in her power
to back him up,
and, uh...
he threw it all away.
[Nanny Vonnegut] My parents
were partners in this for 20 years,
and I don't think my mother
ever expected that
she wouldn't
always be part of it.
She was the kind of woman who
wanted to meet everybody.
You know, she wanted to meet
John Updike,
and Doctorow and
George Plimpton,
she would have been perfect at
all those cocktail parties.
Here they had finally
worked to this point,
and she was waiting to,
you know,
enjoy the benefits, too.
The beauty of Jane is
she was not devastated.
She thought this would
all end fine,
and, uh, to a certain extent,
she was right.
[Edie Vonnegut]
In the end,
she found
a wonderful man to live with.
[Nanny Vonnegut]
She was not bitter at all,
and always, uh,
believed in him as a writer,
was so proud of him
every time he came out with
a new book
when they weren't married.
She'd be laughing, you know,
sitting in the backyard
and just shaking her head,
like, guy's still got it.
He's so funny.
They were in touch
to the end.
But this chapter
being on the Cape
as a whole family...
was over just like that.
[woman] I want you to tell me
that you loved me once.
Oh, for Christ's sake.
I mean it. I must have that
and so must Paul.
Tell him that
he was conceived in love
even if you hate me now.
Tell us both that
somewhere in our lives
was love.
[Bob Weide]
In 2001,
my wife, Linda, and I were
on the phone with Kurt.
I remember Linda
saying to Kurt,
"What do we gotta do
to get you out here?"
Kurt said,
"Well, I'll come out if
"Bob directs Happy Birthday,
Wanda June,
and if you play Penelope."
Stay or go,
talk or sulk,
laugh or cry as you wish,
do whatever seems
called for.
My mind is gone.
[Bob Weide] Linda was
sensational in it, of course.
But we hit a bit of a snag
a few weeks before we opened,
in the middle of rehearsal,
came September 11, 2001.
And so he apologetically said
that he wasn't gonna make it up.
Yeah, after 9/11, he wasn't
a big fan of flying,
so usually when we
got together
it was in New York,
which was fine with me.
There were a lot of lunches,
a lot of walks on the east side.
And fans would always
recognize him,
and come up to him and say,
"Oh, Mr. Vonnegut,
I've read all your books,"
or "Your work has
saved my life."
And I'd be with him
"Why am I with him?"
I should be that guy.
And he would always
engage them,
he would always ask their name
and where they're from.
He was sort of
the anti Salinger writer.
But by this time, he was
something of a New York landmark.
He had lived in the city
longer than he had in
Indianapolis or Cape Cod.
Ever since he moved there
in 1970
when his first marriage
went bust.
Yeah, this is
a mean old world
Baby, to live in
by yourself
[Gregory Sumner] The '70s
were a tough time for him.
sudden celebrity,
sudden fame and wealth.
He's sort of almost having
a nervous breakdown
in a culture that is having
a nervous breakdown.
Someday, someday,
I'll be six feet
in my bed
[man on TV]
Bruce Jenner.
Wheaties is
the breakfast of champions.
He didn't quite know
where he was going
after Slaughterhouse-Five.
It has been proved
that if a writer is blocked,
is unable to write,
the psychological consequences
are terrible.
nervous breakdowns.
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
Everybody was hanging on
every word he was writing.
No matter what he wrote,
it was gonna go to number one
on The New York Times
best seller list.
And all of a sudden,
having this responsibility
locked him up.
He thought he could have
Breakfast of Champions written
in a year and a half.
It took him four years.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"This is a tale of...
[continues reading]
[Gregory Sumner] It's such a
relentless interrogation of our
junk history and our junk
culture in the early '70s.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"We Americans require
"symbols which are
richly colored
"and three dimensional
and juicy,
"which have not been
poisoned by great sins
"our nation has committed,
"such as slavery and genocide,
and criminal neglect,
or by tin-horned
commercial greed and cunning."
[Gregory Sumner] He tells
you right at the beginning
I'm trying to get the junk
out of my mind
the debased language and
the lies and the racism.
All the poisons that
I've taken in,
I want to get rid of them.
[Kurt Vonnegut singing ditty]
For me, the real effect of
Breakfast Of Champions was
the use of the art,
the use of the drawings.
[Kurt Vonnegut] "Kilgore Trout's
nation was by far the richest
"and the most powerful country
on the planet,
"and it disciplined
other countries
"by threatening to shoot
big rockets at them
"or to drop things on them
from airplanes,
"and still the people went on
fucking all the time.
Fucking was how babies
were made."
[David Ulin]
He was blurring lines,
but he was doing it in ways
that were funny,
that were accessible.
Thinking beyond what
one would assume
could be done on the page.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
In my new book,
I confront Kilgore Trout.
I finally acknowledge
that I did invent him,
and he had imagination enough
to know that
maybe he was somebody
in somebody else's book.
[Kurt Vonnegut reading]
Since anything I say in writing
happens to him,
because he is my creation,
and I give him his freedom,
and this is, uh--
I will never use him
in a book again.
[Kurt Vonnegut] "I'm
approaching my 50th birthday,
Mr. Trout," I said.
"I'm cleansing and
renewing myself
"for the very different sorts
of years to come.
"I'm going to set at liberty
all the literary characters
"who have served me so loyally
during my writing career.
"You are the only one
I am telling.
"Arise, Mr. Trout,
you are free.
You're free."
[David Ulin] I mean,
it's a remarkable moment
He as the, kind of,
creator of those stories
was as important to the stories
as the characters
he was writing about.
[Kurt Vonnegut reading]
"You're afraid you'll
kill yourself
the way your mother did,
I said."
[typewriter clacking]
"I know, I said."
[birds chirping]
Would have been 1943,
I guess.
She died in this house.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
It was Mother's Day.
My sister and I,
uh, found her.
It was upstairs.
Indeed, she was dead.
It was a Marilyn Monroe thing,
it was a combination of
pills and alcohol.
A lot of pills.
Suicide is supposedly
a disgrace,
and whenever I've said that
my mother killed herself,
other relatives would say,
no, no, it didn't happen.
It was a family secret.
She never recovered from
profound unhappiness.
And it was too damn bad.
[Bob Weide] What then
became of your father
after your mother's death?
[Kurt Vonnegut] He didn't
like life very much after that.
Certainly, the starch went
out of him pretty much.
As it should have,
I mean, you know,
people can stand so much
and no more.
To have you wife
dislike life that much,
you know, he-- he was
principle maker of her life.
He wound up all alone here.
It's too bad that one of us
couldn't have stayed with him.
That's about it.
[Kurt Vonnegut] "Arise,
Mr. Trout, you are free.
"You're free.
"His voice was
my fathers' voice.
"I heard my father
and I saw my mother.
"My mother stayed
far, far away,
"because she had left me
a legacy of suicide.
"Here was what Kilgore Trout
cried out to me
"in my father's voice:
"'Make me young.'
"'Make me young.'
'Make me young.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
A writer is very fortunate
in that he can cure himself
every day.
Uh, if he is able to write
every day,
he has done himself some sort of
great psychological favor.
"Dear Robert,
I'll be going to England
for two weeks,
to hustle
Dead eye Dick.
[bell dings]
"Dear Bob,
I hack away at a new novel
called Galapagos.
-[bell dings]
-"Dear Whyaduck,
"Yes, I've finished
another book,
Hocus Focus.
"I don't know if
I like it or not.
"At least it isn't about
World War Two.
"That's an improvement.
[bell dings]
-[man] You gonna read--
I don't think anybody else is,
I might as well,
God, it's so boring,
there's so much--
A lot of people got off the
Kurt Vonnegut band wagon,
I don't think they read him
as much after
Breakfast Of Champions.
I can see his latter novels
as a reflection of
what's happening in
Kurt Vonnegut's life.
The books become
more personal.
He has this dream of
extended family
as the thing we'd most lost.
And the thing we most need
to re-create.
Some of it worked,
some of it didn't.
When he sort of stumbled a bit
in some of his '70s work,
they were so happy
to crush him.
He as so hurt by it.
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
Kurt Vonnegut said,
"Enduring the critical
reception to Slapstick
"he felt like he was
sleeping on his feet
in a boxcar in Germany
They took that book as
the occasion to attack
all of his work, to say,
We were right all along.
He's a bad writer
from start to finish."
I read a number of reviews,
and have watched
the critics turn.
We live decade by decade now,
and, uh, people write books
about this decade
and then the next decade,
and I belong to the '60s,
I guess, and not the '70s.
People dismissed him,
or wrote about him as
an easy writer.
As anyone who's tried to write
it's not easy to be
easy to read.
[Gregory Sumner]
The accessibility of his style,
which I think is a strength,
it's become a badge of shame.
Just because
a junior in high school
can read Cat's Cradle
and enjoy it
and get something out of it
that doesn't make it not
Vonnegut was championed by
the people,
not by the critics.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Mr. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
[cheering, applause]
[David Ulin] As the novels
maybe became less fulfilling
in a certain sense,
he was able to move into writing
those speeches,
and addressing the material
that way.
The most sensible and
constructive thought
we can hold on this day,
is that we are not members of
different generations.
We are also close together
in time
that we should
think of ourselves
as brothers and sisters.
Whenever my children complain
about the planet to me,
I say, "Shut up,
I just got here myself."
[laughter, applause]
[Jerome Klinkowitz] He
wanted to keep himself current
to let people know
he was still there
standing behind his ideas.
The two experiences
that will try you most
are loneliness and boredom.
We are all so lonesome
so much of the time
because we were meant to live
in extended families,
to have dozens or even hundreds
of relatives near by.
Do what you can to get
yourselves extended families
no matter how arbitrary
they may be.
We all need more people
in our lives,
and they do not have to be
high grade people, either.
They can be imbeciles
'cause what matters--
-ls numbers.
Good lord, I certainly
wish you well.
As my generation of critics
sort of came up,
I think Vonnegut began to be
taken much more seriously,
and I think that's probably true
in academia as well,
that, you know,
he began to be taught,
he began to be
sort of regarded as
a kind of touchstone
in a certain way
because we all
grew up with him.
[Kurt Vonnegut] As I told
you, I studied anthropology,
and I had to give it up.
I just couldn't stand
primitive people,
they were so stupid.
[Nanny Vonnegut]
If go | -- see him speak,
and I see the--
the auditorium is packed,
and out the doors,
it-- it staggers me,
but I really do have to
share him with the whole world.
[Nanny Vonnegut] He invited
me on a trip to Indianapolis
to have a family outing.
You know, I thought it was
gonna be the two of us.
And then at the last minute,
he said,
"Oh, by the way, they're
shooting a documentary.
I was so angry.
I actually wouldn't have gone on
that trip if I had known that.
But turned out,
it was... all right.
[Nanny Vonnegut] I had
never seen him so at ease.
They had found each other as
the subject and the filmmaker.
It felt like a friendship.
I was happy to see my father
enjoying himself.
-[man 1] Mark.
-[man 2] Marker.
...and said,
"There is Tralfamadore."
[Bob Weide] Can you just
do that line one more time.
-Up your ass. What the--
[steady tone]
[Kurt Vonnegut] "She had me
read The Brothers Karamazov
during our honeymoon."
[Bob Weide] Would you go
back to, "She had me read"?
-[Kurt Vonnegut] Oh, shut up.
[Bob Weide] You know,
when you're a Vonnegut fan,
you run into so many other
people who love Vonnegut,
who've read all of his works,
but I find that for the masses
who haven't read his books,
that Kurt eventually became
so much a part of
our culture
uh, pop culture,
that there are these people who
know him for these odd things,
like there were a series of
commercials done for coffee
It's called
The Coffee Achievers.
[man] You are the new
American society.
The movers and the shakers.
Hold on tight
to your dreams
And then there's what,
in some ways,
the most memorable thing
that Vonnegut's ever done.
You've got a major paper
comin' up on Kurt Vonnegut.
You haven't even read
any of the books.
[sighs] I tried.
I don't understand
a word of it.
So how you gonna write
the paper then, huh?
Hi. I'm Kurt Vonnegut.
I'm looking for
Thornton Melon.
Uh, wanna come in?
When I was in high school
and making my way through
Vonnegut's canon,
eventually, I read
Mother Night,
and I remember
closing that book,
and decided right then and there
in high school
that I wanted to make a movie
out of this book.
And I did, 20 years later.
Kurt gave me the rights to
the book on a handshake,
and I wrote the screenplay to
Mother Night on spec.
Took five years
'til we got it made.
The director of the film
was my best friend,
Keith Gordon.
Coincidentally, Keith had his
own connection with Vonnegut
because Keith used to be
an actor.
And Keith played
Rodney Dangerfield's son
in Back To School.
Hey, Keith.
Sorry we're late.
Thank you for doing this.
-Thank you.
-I appreciate it.
[Bob Weide] Kurt came up to
Montreal to visit the set one day.
We were trying to figure out
a way to use him.
[man] it wasn't the fear of
death that froze me.
I had taught myself to
think of death as a friend.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
we're honored to have had
anything to do with it.
[Bob Weide] Of course,
it didn't make a dime.
Nobody went to see it.
I remember Kurt said to me,
"Well, maybe you just wrote
a lousy script."
And I said, "Well, you know
what they say:
Garbage in, garbage out."
Throughout all of this,
I always had other jobs.
I mean,
I had bills to pay.
After the Marx Brothers film,
I did several more
Mainly on comedians
that I loved.
Every time I took
another gig,
there's always
a tinge of guilt
that I wasn't finishing
my Vonnegut film.
One day in 1998,
I got a call from my friend,
Larry David.
[I Curb Your Enthusiasm theme]
Get in the car.
-Are you my Caucasian?
-I'm your fuckin' Caucasian.
-All right!
-Here, watch this.
-Ow! [groans]
Bob, this is Kurt.
I thought you were a failure.
How wrong I was.
[Bob Weide]
I had no idea at the time
that that would then
lead to a series
Curb Your Enthusiasm.
After every season,
I kept saying, that's it,
I'm leaving, I'm leaving,
I'm leaving.
Okay, now
the Vonnegut documentary.
"Dearest Whyaduck,
"Where indeed is your
"Have you considered
cutting off an ear
and sending it to
a prostitute?
These things take time.
[Bob Weide] This is all stuff
that he sent me over the years.
Whenever he would do, like,
a speech at a college,
or anything on TV,
he would always have them make
a VHS tape and send it to me.
He started to think of me
as his archivist.
Hi, Bob, this is Kurt.
I just want to make sure
the address is still right.
There's videotape
I'd like to send you.
We are here on Earth
to fart around.
And don't let anybody
tell you any different.
[laughter, applause]
It's like Harpo Marx's coat,
it's just bottomless.
Uh, How To Get
A Job Like Mine,
Distinguished Speakers
Series, 2003.
If you really want to
hurt your parents,
and you don't have nerve enough
to become a homosexual...
...the least you can do is go
into the arts.
[laughter, applause]
[Bob Weide] I didn't want
to do a bait and switch.
I didn't want him to think
that I had said,
"Hey, I'm a big a fan of yours,
I'd like to make
a film on you,"
and then we'd become friends,
and then that I would just
ditch the film.
But no matter how much time
I'd put in,
I never seem to get any closer
to the finish line.
I should say I'm not
the only one
who was stuck in the mud
on a long term project.
Well, this--
this very morning,
I mailed off the last 30 pages
of a book.
[woman] ls there a title for
your new book yet?
Yeah, it's called, uh,
And, uh...
But that's pretty good,
I'm-- I'm 73 years old
and, uh...
I didn't think I'd last
this long, you know?
[David Ulin] Timequake was
a struggle for him to write
because he had said
it was gonna be his last book
that he was gonna retire,
so I think he didn't want to
end his career on a kind of
half-assed resign note.
the Timequake is at--
In 2001 there is a timequake
which is a kind of earthquake
in the time continuum.
Where the universe resets
ten years,
and everything goes back
to 1991,
and everyone has to go through
the ten years again.
I remember him telling me
back in the, uh, early '90s
that he was working on
this book,
and then I'd say,
"How's the book coming?"
And he says, "Oh, I don't think
it's ever gonna get finished.
I'm not really blocked.
I'm, uh, writing stuff
I don't like.
I had a book scheduled
to be published,
I just didn't like it.
[David Ulin]
He had finished
a conventional version
of the novel,
he had fulfilled
the contract,
and then he said
he didn't want to go out
like Mick Jagger--
playing Satisfaction,
you know, for
the eight millionth time.
So he went in and,
you know, he had a better idea
and he went in and
changed the whole book.
[Bob Weide] And when he
finally sat down and wrote
the final version of
it was a book about him
trying to write this novel.
So you'd have a passage from
the body of the story
and then you'd have a passage
of Kurt telling you
the difficulty he was having
in writing this book.
[Gregory Sumner] Vonnegut
finished Timequake,
turned it in sheepishly
to the publisher,
and said it's a disaster,
it didn't work.
Nobody's gonna
want to read it.
They had an opening at
the Borders flagship store.
The line was around the block.
Very interesting to me how he
continually kind of thought
they're not gonna like
what I'm doing,
and then they have, like,
a record crowd turned out,
and people still love Vonnegut.
I actually have an idea for
one more book.
-But I--
It's about my
homosexual relationship
-with O.J. Simpson.
Mr. Vonnegut,
I drove from Cincinnati
to meet you--
[Kurt Vonnegut] Oh, I
heard about you people.
I was wondering if I could get
a picture with you?
-[Kurt Vonnegut] Of course.
-[camera shutter clicks]
Oh, thank you so much.
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
Vonnegut shows that
it's not the final book
that's the point,
it's the struggle
to write the book,
and that's the text.
The point is not the end,
it's the journey.
[Bob Weide] I think most critics
and scholars agree that
the best thing about
is that I'm in it.
[narrator reading]
[Bob Weide]
Vonnegut write about
a farewell clambake
for Kilgore Trout,
and he mentions all the people
in attendance.
And they're all his friends.
[narrator reading]
[Bob Weide]
And there I am.
"They were Robert Weide,
"who in the summer of 1996
is making a movie of
Mother Night."
I remember sending Kurt
a fax the next day
thanking him for including me
in the book.
I-- I think I took it all
in stride.
Yeah, finding myself in
a Vonnegut book
was a pretty happy thing.
The sad thing about
is that Kurt suffered
another loss
right before he
finished the book.
[answering machine beeps]
[Kurt Vonnegut] Hi, Bob,
it's, uh, Friday morning.
Uh, Bernie died at 10:00
Eastern Standard Time here,
it's utterly peaceful.
I thought you'd like to know.
Uh, his ashes are going to be
scattered over Mount Greylock
where the first
cloud seeding experiment
with dry ice
was performed.
He loved that idea.
[narrator] "I was
the baby of the family.
[narrator reading]
[Bob Weide]
After Timequake,
I found myself with a question
which sounds rhetorical,
but I was wondering about
a literal answer.
What happens when
a writer stops writing?
[waves crashing]
[seagulls squawking]
[John Irving] When I was
a neighbor to Kurt
in Sagaponack
in Long island,
he frequently came to visit.
And often when I would
get up in the morning,
and I get up early,
Kurt would be there.
He'd be on the porch.
Um... waiting for somebody
to get up.
Waiting to come in
and have a cup of coffee.
Uh, and another Pall Mall.
When I asked, "How long
have you been here?"
"Oh, I've just had a butt
or two," he would say,
or I just-- I just got here.
There were enough butts
out there,
so you had to believe...
he'd arrived
when it was still dark.
[man] Mr. Vonnegut,
thanks for coming by.
Oh, my pleasure.
How's life?
Well, it's practically over,
thank God, I'm--
-Heaven's sakes.
I'm practically 83.
There won't be
that much more of--
For me to put up with,
I don't t think.
[Morley Safer] When Kurt
got older and more cranky
and falling apart,
which I'm going through myself
right now,
he used to say
we live too long.
We really live too long.
Some of you may know about
my class action suit.
Against Brown Williamson.
It's uh-- They're manufacturers
of Pall Mall cigarettes
in Louisville.
And-- [clears throat] I have
been chain smoking these
since I was 14 years old.
And on their package,
they promised to kill me.
And I'm about to turn 83.
[laughter, applause]
[man] He had a totally
fulfilled career.
Totally fulfilled life.
That's why it's haunting.
You know, you've done what
you're gonna do,
and now you're just
hangin' around
to find out what
specialist you see next week.
So there he is,
he's not working
on a major book,
he was quite lonely.
And he would reach out.
It was almost like
somebody, um,
in a prison cell
in a funny way.
You know, he would send
these faxes.
Anything he wanted to write
he could have gotten published,
but these were just
little things for his friends.
Oh, here's a favorite one
of mine.
That's from a Martian Visitor.
Look at this.
Look at this one.
Here's a simple one.
[Bob Weide] The things that
were depressing him
were no secret.
There was his
domestic situation,
as he referred to it.
We had a lot of conversations,
and there were a lot of faxes
about his second marriage,
which was not exactly playing
out happily ever after.
He was also outraged
about how we were
poisoning the environment,
and the inevitable
consequences of that.
But there was one other thing.
The last thing I ever wanted...
was to be alive...
when the three most important,
most powerful people on
the face of the Earth...
were named Bush,
Dick and Colin.
[Bob Weide] He was not a big
fan of the Bush administration.
Either one, actually.
Um, and especially
the war with Iraq.
Either one.
[Mark Vonnegut] He truly
believed in the American dream.
He believed, uh, that
this could be wonderful
and I do think it was
the invasion of Iraq
that he said... it's over.
I don't' think there's
any question
but that experiencing war
had a profound effect.
And there's a certain resolution
in saying I've said it all.
You're testing yourself
to say it.
There wasn't any way he would
ever stop writing.
What he did,
which is very unusual for
a world famous writer to do,
he started writing
occasional essays
for a little magazine called
In These Times.
[keyboard clacking]
My relationship
with Kurt began,
I, uh, asked him to do
an interview
for In These Times.
It was about Bush
and the war in Iraq.
In that, uh, first interview,
he used the phrase
"psychopathic personality."
[narrator reading]
"They cannot care
because they are nuts."
He was angry as
an American.
He was angry as a vet.
His own good name as an American
was being trashed.
When I saw a photograph
of the Iraqi kids,
with their hands up like this
having been shelled and bombed
until they were half-witted,
I said, those are
my brothers there.
And I didn't think it was
amusing or wonderful at all
to see kids in that situation.
[Joe Bleifuss]
He wanted to speak out,
and so within a month of his
first interview,
he was sending me
things to publish.
He wrote about things that were
important to him,
but with every essay,
it would always bring in
a variety of things,
So sometimes Kilgore Trout
would just appear.
[Jerome Klinkowitz]
I doubt if he was paid for it,
and he just wrote
what was on his mind.
Turned out,
they were so good
that a small press,
Seven Stories Press
in New York collected them.
We canceled, at his request,
that book twice,
because he was afraid that what
if he did this little
kind of off-hand book at
the end of his life
that included criticizing
his government,
criticizing his country.
I mean, he really
thought about that,
and he was very
concerned about that.
The book hit the best seller
list immediately,
and we sold a quarter of a
million copies very, very quickly,
we could barely keep up with it.
This was Kurt's
first best seller
in about 10, 15 years.
All of a sudden, he's all over
the back page of
the New York Times
Book Review,
which had never been
his biggest fan,
saying this is just amazing.
As an adolescent,
he made my life bearable.
His latest is
A Man Without A Country
Please welcome to the show
Kurt Vonnegut.
[cheering, applause]
You know, I-- I always felt
in your writing
that you were admiring of man,
but disappointed in him.
Yes, well, I-- I think
we are terrible animals.
-And I think--
-[person laughs]
I think our planet's
immune system
is trying to get rid of us
and should.
You know, Mr. Vonnegut,
if I may,
it's sad for me to see you
lose your edge.
It was an opportunity for
people far and wide
to let him know how much
they loved him.
I don't think anybody realized
he was our greatest
living writer.
-Kurt Vonnegut.
-[cheering, applause]
[projector clicking]
Kurt was gonna be spending
the summer
at his summer place in Sagaponack
in Long Island, New York,
he'd get out of the city
every year,
and asked me if I wanted to
come and hang out.
I said, "Yeah, you bet."
And I remember
my initial instinct was,
hey, this is great, I'll get
a small camera crew
and it'd be great
to see Kurt
sort of walking around
and going to the post office
to get his mail every day,
and this' | | be great for
the documentary.
And then soon after,
I realized
I-- I don't want to do that.
This is time for us to hang out.
I don't know if he's gonna feel
it's intrusive
to have a cameraman there to be
filming for the documentary
but suddenly I felt
it was intrusive.
It was kind of
a turning point for me
in the making of this film,
because prior to that,
I'd always been concerned that
the friendship might, um,
infringe on the film.
This was the first time
I realized that
things had flipped
so entirely now
that I was worried about
the film infringing on
the friendship.
And, um, that was
a realization for me
that I was maybe in trouble.
Because part of me had...
almost given up on the film
at that time.
And the Emmy goes to...
uh, Robert Weide, uh,
Curb Your Enthusiasm.
[Bob Weide] Hey, Ma, this
is for you and for Dad.
And for, uh, my wife, Linda,
to whom I just lost
a $100 bet.
[answering machine beeps]
Hi, Linda, this is Kurt,
just thinking about how happy
you guys must be.
My goodness,
and how deservedly happy.
Wow, when somebody's happy,
I-- [chuckles]
Makes me happy too.
So crazy about you two,
I hope you love each other
as much as
I love both of you.
[Bob Weide]
In 2018,
Linda was diagnosed with
progressive supranuclear palsy,
or PSP.
Touch your nose,
go back and forth.
The other side.
Neither of us had heard of it
but that's because
it's very rare.
It's sort of a cousin
to Parkinson's,
but very aggressive
and very fast moving.
Her speech, her balance,
her walking
have all taken a hit.
Um, there's no known cure.
But she's participating in
some clinical trials
which hopefully will provide
some relief.
We never saw this coming.
But, you know...
what'd you ever see coming?
Fate happens.
[Kurt Vonnegut]
"Why me?
"That is a very earthling
question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim.
"Why you?
Why us, for that matter?
"Why anything?
"Because this moment
simply is.
"Have you ever seen bugs
trapped in amber?
"Well, here we are,
Mr. Pilgrim,
"trapped in the amber
of this moment.
There is no why."
[answering machine beeps]
Hi, Bob, this is Kurt
and, uh,
so exciting to know that
you are probably in this town
right now.
I look forward to seeing you
on Thursday if not before.
Anyway, do not play
Three-card Monte.
The people who conduct
these games are criminals,
and, uh, there's no way
you can win.
[Bob Weide] We had a dinner
just like any other dinner.
I had a little digital camera
with me,
and jut for fun, I took
a little-- [clicks tongue]
Picture of him sitting at
the table.
And then we walked back to
his place on 48th Street.
So we said goodbye and I said,
"Oh, wait a minute.
Hold on.
Let me take a picture."
And I took a picture of him at
the bottom of the steps
looking at me.
And I don't know what
compelled me to do this,
because it wasn't anything did
on a regular basis.
To this day, it's not something
I do that often,
to say to another guy,
I love you,
but that's what came out of
my mouth.
I said, I love you, and
I probably added man.
I love you, man,
which takes the edge off of
the corniness.
Hey, love you, man.
Something like that.
Anyway, I said, I love you.
And he said,
"Love you, too."
Oh, isn't that nice.
That was the last time
I saw him alive.
[Nanny Vonnegut] My brother called
to tell me that Dad had fallen.
He hit his head and it--
it's really bad.
That day that he fell,
he called me,
we had a conversation.
And, um...
Oh, my God.
He called because there was
always among us
the worry about, you know,
cancer, breast cancer, whatever.
He said, "Darling--
[clears throat]
Um... sorry if I can
remember this right.
"Are your boobs okay?"
"Are your boobs okay?"
"Yes, Dad,
my boobs are fine."
"Okay, I love you."
[reporter] Author Kurt Vonnegut
has died.
He was one of the most
influential writers
of the 20th century.
He wrote classics such as
and Cat's Cradle.
He was know for his
satirical commentary,
and he took aim at culture,
society and institutions.
Kurt Vonnegut was
84 years old.
[Kurt Vonnegut] This is what I
would like to be read at my funeral
and I think maybe some of you
would like this to be read
at yours.
"I have finished my course.
"I have ceased to enjoy
and suffer.
"Please transfer your love
and your benevolence
"to your living fellow men.
"The memory of the one
as well as of the other
is appreciated and honored."
[Bob Weide]
I keep above my desk
the Webster's Ninth New
Collegiate Dictionary.
And Kurt's name
is included in it.
And I love the fact that
it said,
"Kurt Vonnegut,
1922 to blank."
Here was empirical evidence,
here was verification that
he was still with us.
'Cause that second year
wasn't filled in yet.
Maybe by finishing this film,
it acknowledges that...
he's gone.
But I feel like I owe him this.
Hi, Bob, this is Kurt.
So grateful for
the documentary.
I wanted to thank you for
your friendship.
Love you.
[Bob Weide]
Are you gonna buy Pall Malls?
-You gotta by Pall Malls.
-[Nanny Vonnegut] Yeah.
Do you have Pall Mall?
I'm doing this
just to amuse you.
I know--
I haven't smoked since...
third grade.
[Kurt Vonnegut] When things
are going sweetly and peacefully,
please pause a moment
and then say out loud,
"If this isn't nice,
what is?"
That feeling that you get
when she's around,
when she's in the room,
when she's with you,
I'm the lucky guy who now
gets to feel that
for the rest of my life.
[applause, cheering]
[Kurt Vonnegut]
It's the impermanence...
of life.
I mean, this day is
as real as any day
we're going to live,
and yet we have an idea that
we're headed for other days,
even better days.
[cheering applause]
[Kurt Vonnegut]
And this is it.
This is all there is.
[Bob Weide]
Vonnegut writes,
"The British mathematician,
Stephen Hawking,
"found it tantalizing
"that we could not remember
the future.
"But remembering the future...
"...is child's play for me now.
"I know what will become of
my helpless, trusting babies
"because they are
grown ups now.
"I know how my closest friends
will end up
"because so many of them
are retired or dead now.
"I say, be patient.
"Your future will soon
come to you
"and lie down at your feet,
"like a dog who knows
and loves you
"no matter what you are.
"And the dog of my future
lying at my feet
is snoring now."
[Kurt Vonnegut]
Should I myself die,
God forbid--
I hope you'll say...
he's up in Heaven now.
That's my favorite joke.
[bird chirping]
[Kurt Vonnegut] I do
believe time repeats itself.
Our lives are somewhat
like pendulums
that we, uh, start at birth
and swing to death.
And back and forth
throughout all eternity.
And that would suit me if
I got the cycles of my life
through all eternity.
I don't want to die
and go away entirely,
I'd like to come back and
come back and come back
on almost any terms.
Oh, Jesus!
Oh, what a thing to say
in church.
Do it again.