Podcast Transcript

Buzz Knight 00:00:01

 Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s so nice to see you.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:00:08

I’m so glad to be with you. This is fun. What a beautiful night. It’s perfect for this.


Buzz Knight 00:00:14

And you are? Are now a repeat guest on the Taking a Walk podcast. You’re the first repeat guest.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:00:19

Well, that’s an honor. I’m very glad to know.


Buzz Knight 00:00:22

I went back into the records and you were on episode six, and now I’ve lost track. I don’t know, 50 plus.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:00:30

Pretty amazing. Good for you.


Buzz Knight 00:00:32

Yeah. Well, thank you for being always a supporter and certainly a supporter of this Taking a Walk podcast, which I’m so enjoying doing. I get to meet new people along the way. But that’s fun. But the reconnecting with my old friends through the podcast is also one of the real joys of it.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:00:57

No question. The older you get, the more the old friends matter.


Buzz Knight 00:01:00

Yeah, it really is special. So what do you been up to that’s fun?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:01:07

Well, a couple of things. I’ve gotten into the film world now. I think it partly started with the experience of working with Steven Spielberg on Lincoln. Before that, my husband was involved in the quiz show Movie with Robert Redford. So I formed a partnership with my great friend Beth Laski, and we’ve been executive producing a series of docu dramas on the History Channel. So the first one was on George Washington, which was in 2020. And then there was one on Lincoln and then one on Teddy Roosevelt. Now we’re doing FDR and then hopefully Eisenhower after that. And what’s great about them is that they are a mixture of a real film they’re filmed in Cape Town. So half of it is an actual actor’s, drama, cinematography, and the other half is the historians providing context for it. So it’s a great combination. They’ve been filming all these in Cape Town, and if it hadn’t been Covid, I would have gone down there. It’s a wonderful place, evidently, for films, because they have not only a tax credit, but a lot of different scenery that you can have because it could be the Badlands for Teddy or could be the Tenement House next breath. And they have a lot of actors that can be the sort of extra actors who can speak English. So that’s been really fun. It’s another world now. I’ve got involved in a potential film with Amazon, and so that’s been a new part of a career in a certain sense, at an older age. But I’m still writing. I’m still writing and lecturing, which is the core of what I do during the day.


Buzz Knight 00:02:35

So, writing, how do you discipline yourself to set up a day to get your writing done?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:02:43

The huge thing for me, all the years when I lived in Concord, when my husband was alive, is that I would wake up every morning at 530 and he didn’t really get up until 08:00 or so. I had that time between 530 and eight, no emails, just to be able to just start writing. Then we’d have breakfast, and then he’d go to his study, I’d go to mine. Then we’d have lunch and then break again, and he might read in the afternoon so I could go back to work. And then, as you know, because I used to see you all the time, we’d always go out to dinner at night to the various bars and Concord, and that was the end of the night. So I never tried to work at night. And we get to bed usually by 1030, to be able to get up at 530. What happened when I first moved into Boston after Dick died is I didn’t keep to that schedule. I was staying up late at night and not getting up as early in the morning. And finally, about five months ago, I said, I have to stop doing this. So I’m back to going to bed at 1030 or eleven, except for some nights, of course, but waking up at 530, and that’s the only way I can do it, because then if I’m doing these other things, the movies or lectures, I don’t do any of them until afternoon at least, so that the morning is totally the writing that I’m doing. And then you just force yourself. You can’t escape it. You have to do it.


Buzz Knight 00:03:55

I feel bad I’m taking you out clubbing tonight in Boston.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:03:58

No, it’s okay. It’s nice you’re saying it’s okay.


Buzz Knight 00:04:02

We’re going to the Quinn. But we’ll talk about that. We’ll talk about that. I’m just fascinated on the process. So do you set a goal of how much you write, or is it just to sit down and take on the task of writing?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:04:16

It’s really just to sit down and take it on. I mean, I know there are certain writers that say they have to write three pages, or I remember hearing some of them, they wouldn’t smoke a cigarette until they got a certain number of pages on, or they wouldn’t have a drink until that. Sometimes, though, I do sort of set a deadline for when I want to finish a chapter to send in to my editors. And that at least helps me, because even if I don’t make the actual deadline, at least it’s close. Like now I’m working on chapter four of the new book, and I promised myself by the end of July I’d get it done. Now, the end of July is creeping up very soon, but I will be close. I will, because I set that deadline. So it matters to have these little deadlines.


Buzz Knight 00:04:56

What sort of perfection are you aiming at with these initial writings?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:05:02

That’s really interesting to ask because I think people are very different. There are some writers who can just write really rough drafts and then edit them, and they’re great editors. They might go over them four or five, six times. I can’t really finish a chapter unless it’s almost done, so that if there’s something missing and there’s some piece of research I need to do, I have to do it. It’s not the greatest way to do it, but it’s the only way I can do it. So at least I know when I get these chapters done that they’ll need copy editing, they’ll need my editors to comment on them as I do it. But I’ve got my best foot forward. That’s just the way I try and do it.


Buzz Knight 00:05:37

And can you talk about what you’re in general writing about?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:05:41

Yeah, it’s really been an extraordinary and hard and emotional and good process. Dick left 350 cartons of materials that he had saved over the years. He kept everything. It was just a pack rat. So he’s almost like the Forest Gump of the 1960s, because he’s everywhere you want to be in the 60s. So these papers of him start with hundreds of letters to his wife, not to his wife, and hundreds of letters to his mother and his best friend when he’s in college at Tufts and then goes to Harvard Law School. And then in the 60s. We’ve got him going to work for John Kennedy as an aide in the campaign and then being on the White House staff and then going to work for LBJ and writing all the civil rights speeches and then going against the war in Vietnam and then being in the McCarthy campaign. Then leaving that to go with his best friend Bobby Kennedy and with him when he died. So it’s really a time capsule of the 60s, but with all the primary documents that are there memorabilia from the inauguration, letters from Jackie Kennedy, memos to Bobby, memos to the President,  everything. So we started going through the boxes in those last years before he died, and I’m writing about that process. I’m going through the boxes with him.


Buzz Knight 00:06:58

And it must have been like every place that you turn, just some new surprise about, right?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:07:04

No question. There are things that I had never seen before. And when you’re an historian, it’s the most exciting thing, is to be holding an actual document. And here it was. Not that I’m studying FDR or Lincoln or the papers of Teddy. It’s my husband’s papers. And he was really at the center of so much stuff and was a great writer. And a lot of the drafts of his speeches are now icons that We shall overcome speech. The Howard University Speech Force concession speech was just mentioned on the January 6 hearings the other day as such a contrast to the lack of peaceful transition.


Buzz Knight 00:07:39

 so I know you made a trip to France that we want to talk about, which kind of ties into maybe a little bit of the way the world is. Do you want to talk about your trip and what you experienced there?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:07:53

Yeah, I just went with a group of people to Normandy, where I had never been before. I can’t imagine why my husband and I didn’t go there, because it was the most powerful place I’ve been in a long period of time. And just being able to see those beaches. We went to Utah Beach and Omaha Beach and imagine how those soldiers were able to get out of those landing crafts, go into that water. People were killed in the water. They have to swim to the shore and then they have to climb up those hills and there’s machine guns raining on them. And they kept doing it and doing it, and not only the courage it took, but the sense of wanting to do this for their buddies and wanting to do this for the nation. It was just such an emotional experience. And then you see the cemetery there. It’s so beautiful. Just these very simple white stones, crosses and Jewish stars that row after row after row of all these young people that gave their lives for the country. And it just was such a contrast to come back to what we’re feeling right now, which is the lack of a collective sense of a nation lack, perhaps, of sacrifice for the greater good and a lack of leadership. When we were there, I had to give lectures on Eisenhower and Churchill and FDR. What a great three leaders. How lucky we were that all three were there together at the same time. And where are they now? Come back.


Buzz Knight 00:09:12

Right. And when you really reflect on it, though, do you still believe democracy will be intact?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:09:23

I think we have to believe it. If we don’t have that belief that it’s possible that we can make things better, then it’s not going to happen. I think FDR once said, problems created by man can be solved by man. We’ve created these problems for ourselves. We haven’t had enough empathy toward other people who are feeling different from ourselves. The parties have divided along rural and city lines, along west and east lines and Midwest lines, and campaign financing is out of whack. And nothing is done in Washington across party lines like it used to be. But all those things were different at one point, so they can be slowly made better again. But creating a sort of a more healthy democracy, I think, is the challenge for this generation. And it’s going to take a lot it’s going to take a lot of changes in our political structure. It’s almost like a political revolution. I think we need to make that possible.


Buzz Knight 00:10:15

And as long as I’ve known you through not as challenging times as now, but certainly through other challenging times, you have always held, based on your view of history, that sense of optimism.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:10:28

I think history does really provide that for you, because it’s just a reminder that we’ve been through really hard times before, that when you think about the early days of the revolution when it was not at all clear that the nation would be born. When Washington is at Valley Forge without supplies, and it looks like it might be over. You think of the early days of the Civil War when the country is literally split apart and when Lincoln worries that democracy is in peril. He said that in some ways, the central issue of the war at the very beginning was, can you have a country? If the people who lose the election, as the south did, can decide to secede from the Union, then democracy proves itself impossible. And it took a Civil War to answer that question, but it finally got answered, and the country was stronger with the Emancipation Proclamation. And then you have the Great Depression, where we’re at rock bottom when FDR comes in. And yet somehow he was able, with his leadership and that inaugural speech that changed the move of the country to get us through the Depression. And then finally the early days of World War II when Hitler conquered almost all of Europe and we were only 18th in military power. Incredible. We only became 17th when Holland surrendered. We let the military establishment go during the Depression, and yet the Allies won that war. So looking back at history, it does provide a sense of perspective and hope, because you see that really tough times. And the people I’ve said this, I keep saying this because I think it’s important for people to understand this. People didn’t know at the time how it was going to end. We know it ended well, all those things. We know that the war was won. We know that the Allies won that the Civil War ended. Right. But they didn’t know that. Just like we don’t know where our next chapter is going to be written. So we just have to fight for it. And I think we will. I mean, I think we are doing that right now in many ways. There are people in local government, people in movements, people in the January 6 hearings that are making points that I think will be felt by people.


Buzz Knight 00:12:27

Do you ever just wonder how difficult it is for someone to want to run for an elected office?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:12:34

I think you’ve hit on the exact problem we don’t have right now the great incentives for people to want to be in public life. They look at what’s happening in Washington. How can they feel they’re going to really make a difference? And yet you have to raise all that money you’re indebted to the people to whom you raise the money from. Your private life is going to be exposed, and you’re not really necessarily feeling like I’m doing something that matters. It’s worth it all if you can feel like you’re making a difference, because that’s what politics does. I mean, Teddy Roosevelt once said when he first got in, he didn’t really know that he was doing it for a purpose. He just thought it might be fun. But then he realized that he could really change things for people, and it made him feel a sense of fulfillment. And that’s what you’re hoping for in any profession you choose, any vocation and politics allows you to do that. It allows you to see other people’s ways of life. If you do it right, you’re experiencing a lot of different kind of work experience with a lot of different people at different stages of your life. But until we get that sense back that a younger generation wants to get into public life and change the rules of public life, it’s going to be hard.


Buzz Knight 00:13:42

Well, you did it again. You gave me some hope, as I was necessarily not as hopeful before.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:13:48

I got to be hopeful. You got to have hope. Damn Yankees.


Buzz Knight 00:13:56

You’ve done it again, Doris. I really appreciate it. So I mentioned earlier the Quinn. So we are situated for taking a walk on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston in the Back Bay, which is a glorious area. And this is, I guess, the mall area that we’re on, and we’re across the street from this amazing building. Can you talk about the special place that you’re taking me to?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:14:26

I am. Well, indeed. So what happened is there was a club in Boston called the Old Algonquin Club. The Algonquin Club was a stuffy male club for years. I remember when I was teaching at Harvard, I went to it once just to give a lecture, but then it was all men. So finally it opened to women. But it was sort of too late to not appear like an old guy’s club. So these people from Maine, the Edgerton, took it over two years ago and they renovated the entire it’s a beautiful old building. It’s six floors. And they made it a club for younger people as well as older people in Boston. So if you’re a young person so the average age looks to me like it’s 35 or 40. I thought I’d come here when I joined and I meet my 80 year old guys. I’ll meet some guy there. Now, the average age is probably 40 or something, but it is very diverse. If you’re a nonprofit or you’re younger, you pay less dues than another person might pay. And they’ve attracted an enormous group of interesting people. So they’ve got like five different places you can eat. There’s a cafe downstairs with really good food. Then there’s a fancy restaurant on the third floor. Then there’s a pub where all the games are shown, and there’s billiard tables. Then there’s a champagne bar, and then there’s a little bar. And so you can choose where you want. Then there’s a roof deck where you can eat or just go and have a drink. And they kept the artwork from the old Algonquinn club. So they’ve got all these old portraits of these 19th century guys, along with modern art that the people have really put together here. So it’s really been fun. I found it a place well, you know, from Concord. The great thing about Concord was going to the same places regularly. You know the people, you know the waiters, you know the food that’s going to be there. They know what drinks to serve you. So for me, in Boston, this place has become that.


Buzz Knight 00:16:12

That’s awesome. Now, was the original Algonquin was one of the original founders of the Boston Globe associated with that?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:16:21

I don’t know. I should know. In fact, the interesting thing is the founders there’s a Founders Club, so there are certain people who are involved, but they have a special room that they go to here. We’ll have to ask them when we get in there, who was the original founder? It could well be.


Buzz Knight 00:16:35

What a spectacular space. The Quinn.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:16:38

The Quinn. Instead of the Algonquin, it’s the Quinn. All right, so that was a good idea. So no, it’s really they have lectures here. They have these two big living rooms that people who belong can work in during the day. So they’re big couches, and they have this in a music studio where when you become a member I haven’t yet done it you get a record made of whatever your favorite record is, and then you can go in and it’s soundproof and just play it with your friends. And it’s a champagne bar that’s dancing, so it’s really something. And then there’s rooms for private functions and weddings and things like that. It’s just a really sense of whimsy. There’s a closet you can open, and inside comes candy that comes floating down. And you’ll see, when I take you inside, there’s a lot of stuff that just is fun. They made it not at all the opposite of stuffy.


Buzz Knight 00:17:26

I love it. I can’t wait. So, last question. So have you been out doing speeches?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:17:31

Yes. A lot of the lectures that were either put virtually or canceled in 2021 are now back. So I’m floating around again, and it’s great to be able to a lot of these organizations that I’m speaking to, it’s the first time they will have gotten together in two years. So there’s still nothing to equal that. Personal networking. I mean, virtual lectures can work. Maybe you can have even more people watching than you would in a real lecture. But I’m going to DC next week, and I went on this lecture to Normandy, and then there’s a whole bunch of them in the fall, and I’m really glad they’re back. I enjoy meeting people from different trade associations, different businesses or educational associations or colleges, and each time you’re in a different place and you just are learning something about whatever group it is you’re with.


Buzz Knight 00:18:21

Well, when we did that last episode six, Taking a Walk, you had just started going back and you were talking about the electricity has it really elevated even further, the electricity?


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:18:35

Yeah, I think so. I think people are less nervous now, rightly or wrongly, and there’s a sense that they feel a sense of life returning. And part of it is to have these meetings where they’re meeting their fellow doctors or lawyers or anesthesiologists or whoever it is I’m talking to, and then they’ll have a whole bunch of workshops, and then I’m talking about leadership or entertaining them, hopefully a long way.


Buzz Knight 00:18:59

I’m sure you’re doing both.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:19:01

Thank you.


Buzz Knight 00:19:03

I know you are doing both, and it’s so great to see you, and.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:19:06

Thanks for I’m glad we could do that. It’s a perfect night for this. Look at this. We could be in the 19th century here. There’d be horses coming down the street right now instead of cars.


Buzz Knight 00:19:19

I love it. Thanks, Doris.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:19:20

You’re very welcome.


Buzz Knight 00:19:21

Thank you.


Doris Kearns Goodwin 00:19:22

You too.


Buzz Knight 00:19:24

Taking a Walk with Buzz Knight is available on Spotify, apple podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.


About The Author

Buzz Knight

Buzz Knight is an established media executive with a long history of content creation and multi-platform distribution.

After a successful career as a Radio Executive, he formed Buzz Knight Media which focuses on strategic guidance and the development of new original content.