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'West Wing' Uncensored

An oral history of the beloved political series:

Aaron Sorkin: Kivi knew about the meeting and said, “Hey, you know what would make a good series? That.” He was pointing at the poster for The American President. “But this time you’d focus on the staffers.” I told him I wasn’t going to be doing a series and that I was meeting with John to meet John — I wanted to hear stories about China Beach and ER, and I especially wanted to hear about his years as stage manager for A Chorus Line. The next day I showed up for the lunch, and John was flanked by executives from Warner Bros. and agents from CAA. John got down to business and said, “What do you want to do?” And instead of saying, “I’m sorry, there’s been a misunderstanding. I don’t have anything to pitch,” I said, “I’d like to do a series about staffers at the White House.” And John said, “We’ve got a deal.”

PUBLISHED: May 13, 2014
LENGTH: 27 minutes (6858 words)

'Heathers': An Oral History

Looking back at the classic 1989 dark comedy. Featuring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, and many questions about why everyone seemed to have a problem with Shannen Doherty:

RYDER Shannen had problems with the swearing. There’s a moment when we’re in the hallway and she’s just shown me the petition, and then she walks away and you can notice that I put my hand through my hair but I stop and look at her. She was supposed to say, “F— me gently with a chain saw.” But she refused to say it.

DOHERTY It could’ve been any of the lines. “Why are you pulling my [pauses] d - - -?” I still have a hard time saying that!

RYDER In her defense, she had come off of, like, Little House on the Prairie. That was how she was raised.

PUBLISHED: April 5, 2014
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3953 words)

An Oral History of 'Ghostbusters'

The making of a comedy classic, first published in Premiere Magazine:

HAROLD RAMIS: We very quickly came up with a model: Dan was the heart of the Ghostbusters, I was the brains, and Bill was the mouth.

I found my character on the front page of an abstract architectural journal. There was a picture of a guy and an article about his work. I didn’t understand a word, but his image was great. He was wearing a retro three-piece tweed suit, wire-rim glasses, and his hair was standing way up. I thought, “That could be my guy.” I took the name Egon from a Hungarian refugee I went to grammar school with, and Spengler was from [noted historian] Oswald Spengler.

PUBLISHED: Feb. 26, 2014
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3562 words)

How to Do Oral History the Right Way: Remembering the Baltimore Stallions, Our College Pick

Every week, Syracuse University professor Aileen Gallagher helps Longreads highlight the best of college journalism. Here’s this week’s pick.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 5, 2014

Street Fighter 2: An Oral History

Twenty former Capcom employees and business partners look back on the creation and massive success of the game that 'helped revolutionize the industry': Street Fighter 2.

So I remember being down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and we're launching the game down there. And I didn't even have the earnings back yet. I mean, they were coming in — we had one unit in Sunnyvale Golfland; the other one was in Milpitas. So I had my testers go out there and I said, "Hey man, I've gotta have some kind of idea what's in there." So they said, "Well we opened the cash box up. We haven't even hit the weekend yet, just been cruising through the week." And ... I think it was like $650 that was in there. I go, "That's not bad. That's not bad." So I said, "Well, let me just do a little surmising. Eh, it'll probably end up doing about 800. That's a really good report." So I'm down in Florida basically telling my distribution network, "I think it's gonna be about an $800 a week game, based on testing in Milpitas." And then seven days came up after my distributor meeting, and the thing made $1,300.

So one of the things that we quickly found was, Golfland says, "We're having problems with the players, because everybody's backed up on the unit. Can we get another one?" "Yes, you can get another one." We bring another one out. Now I'm afraid if I put a second one in there I'm gonna cannibalize it. I'm gonna have two doing $600. Not the case at all. They both do 14. So now we know we've got a juggernaut on our hands. Sunnyvale Golfland and Milpitas, I believe at the peak, were probably operating up to 15 units inside there. And you know, the game went through the ceiling.

AUTHOR:Matt Leone
PUBLISHED: Feb. 3, 2014
LENGTH: 76 minutes (19037 words)

Rocked: An Oral History of the 1989 World Series Earthquake

Former players, broadcasters, fans and city officials look back on the Giants-A’s series and the devastating 6.9 quake that rocked Candlestick Park and the Bay Area:

"McGwire: We thought the whole place was burning up like in 1906.

"George Thurlow, fan, upper deck: The mood of the crowd was jubilant and excited and Wow, that was cool until the first radio announcements began. The first one that I have written down was, ‘The Bay Bridge is down.’

"Dolich: They didn’t say a piece collapsed. It was, ‘The Bay Bridge collapsed.’ You can only think, Oh my god, this is a horror movie coming true.

PUBLISHED: Oct. 25, 2013
LENGTH: 47 minutes (11754 words)

Keep the Things You Forgot: An Elliott Smith Oral History

Ten years after the singer-songwriter’s death, friends and bandmates tell the story of his life and career:

“I had a copy of the finished cassette on me all the time and I was listening to it all the time. I had a lot of friends at Sub Pop and Matador and Cavity Search and all these record labels, and I was hanging out with them because I was promoting [Heatmiser], and I needed these labels to put their bands on tour with my band, but I didn’t burst into Cavity Search Records like, ‘You have to play this! It’s the best thing you’ve ever heard and you need to release it right now.’ I was probably just like, ‘I’ve got this solo cassette by Elliott.’ ‘What? Elliott does solo stuff?’ I put it on and their jaws dropped. They released it without changing a thing. That’s Roman Candle.”

PUBLISHED: Oct. 21, 2013
LENGTH: 84 minutes (21189 words)

'The pivotal year was 1972, and the place was Austin.'

On Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and an oral history of the "outlaw country" movement that coalesced in Austin as a reaction to the polished "countrypolitan gloss" in Nashville, led by RCA executive Chet Atkins:

"Liquor by the drink had finally become legal in Texas, which prompted the folkies to migrate from coffeehouses to bars, turning their music into something you drank to. Songwriters moved to town, like Michael Murphey, a good-looking Dallas kid who’d written for performers such as the Monkees and Kenny Rogers in L.A. He was soon joined by Jerry Jeff Walker, a folkie from New York who’d had a radio hit when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band covered his song 'Mr. Bojangles.' In March, Willie played a three-day country festival outside town, the Dripping Springs Reunion, that would grow into his Fourth of July Picnics. Then he too moved to Austin and started building an audience that didn’t look like or care about any Nashville ideal. By the time the scene started to wind down, in 1976, Willie and Austin were known worldwide."
AUTHOR:John Spong
PUBLISHED: Oct. 13, 2013
LENGTH: 45 minutes (11438 words)

The Sad State of America's Aging Nuns

The population of nuns in the United States has dwindled to less than 60,000, and just 12% of them are under the age of 60. With convents closing down, sisters are left to fend for themselves: The Catholic Church covers retirement funds for priests, "the sisters have no such safety net. When their orders run out of money, that’s it."

"'Why would you want to be a nun if the archdiocese is going to treat you like they do?' Ann Frey at the Wartburg said. 'Their whole lives they’ve been obedient and done what they were asked to do, and now nobody is helping them?'"

"Neil Burke, a 24-year-old who spends a lot of time with the sisters at the nursing home, feels the same indignation. He could be volunteering with priests, but he doesn't like them much. 'If they need anything, they ask and just get it,' he said. Instead, he’s compiling an oral history of the sisters at the Wartburg that will hopefully be completed by 2016. He can list the ways women are mistreated by the church off the top of his head: 'They can’t give homilies, celebrate mass, consecrate the host, or become priests.'"
PUBLISHED: July 23, 2013
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2741 words)