Cosby, Capp and Blake

December 9th, 2014 by Max Allan Collins
Hickey & Boggs

A few days ago I received in the mail a long-ago pre-ordered blu-ray of HICKEY & BOGGS (1972), one of my favorite private eye movies; it’s an early script by Walter Hill and stars its director, Robert Culp, reunited with his I, SPY co-star, Bill Cosby. A few years before his death, Culp was at the San Diego Con and I was able to chat with him briefly and tell him how much I loved his movie; he seemed very pleased, and would be no doubt be thrilled by the availability of the film. I haven’t watched the disc yet, but I wonder if it’s going to be hard to get past Cosby’s presence in the light of the media storm around him.

I am frankly still trying to sort out my feelings about the Cosby scandal. Based on the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire theory, he seems to be a sexual sociopath; but the common aspects of the stories his alleged victims tell are so public, making up a new one wouldn’t be that tough. Public figures are easy targets, and I have to wonder how many famous actors and rock musicians who caroused their way through the Swinging Sixties and the sexual revolution of the Seventies aren’t just a little bit nervous right now. Do you really imagine every groupie Mick Jagger partied with was of legal age?

The best that can be said for Cosby is that he has been a hypocrite, spouting family values and peddling wholesome kiddie entertainment and telling young black men how to behave. You can’t be a pudding pitchman and America’s favorite TV dad and also hang out at the Playboy Mansion (as a married man) and not come up smelling like Brut.

It shouldn’t be necessary to say it, but women are correct that no means no, and that dressing provocatively is not an invitation to dine. At the same time, if I were the father of a gorgeous teenage daughter heading out to a party at Caligula’s place, I just might advise her that she’s putting herself in harm’s way.

Rich and powerful men – and show biz figures are often regular folks who rose (from poverty, in many cases) to dizzying heights – often think decadence is a privilege. But even if Cosby is the monster he’s being made out to be, should the court of public opinion pass the ultimate verdict? I’m just asking. When the journalistic landscape is blurred with blogs, and even Rolling Stone messes up on this very same issue of sexual misconduct (on campus), aren’t we being urged to listen to our basest instincts? Cosby has never been criminally charged. Allegations of misconduct many decades old are as unreliable as memories of that vintage.

My favorite comic strip is Li’l Abner, and I consider Al Capp a genius – a great writer, satirist, artist. But I have long struggled with the sexual misbehavior of Capp’s last years (concurrent with a shrill swing to the right in his comic strip, lessening its impact and its legacy). I dealt with this in my novel STRIP FOR MURDER, for which I’ve taken some heat as a Capp basher. I am anything but a Capp basher – he probably has few bigger fans. But he seems, tragically, to have fallen prey either to mental illness or his worst demons. Or perhaps it’s as easy (and hard) as this – a bad human being can also be a great artist.

The Capp conundrum has never stopped me from enjoying Li’l Abner. On the other hand, I can’t watch a NAKED GUN movie without squirming when O.J. is on screen. And Robert Blake was once a favorite of mine, but since the murder of his wife, I can’t watch anything he’s in. Will I react the same way to HICKEY & BOGGS? Don’t know yet.

Jackson Pollock killed a young woman and injured another when, in a deep drunken depression, he crashed his car. He killed himself, which is an artist’s privilege, but what the hell business did he have endangering one woman and murdering another? Does that make his art invalid? Does it put the splatter into his splatter paintings? I honestly don’t know.

Artists – and I include writers and film people and painters and our entire sorry breed – are all, to some degree, messed up. My wife Barb, in her wisdom, says that all an artist owes us is the art. God knows what Sinatra did behind closed doors, but oh when he was at the microphone. Bing Crosby beat up his boys, and two or three of ‘em killed themselves; but what would Christmas be without Der Bingle?

I would like to think that I will have no trouble watching HICKEY & BOGGS or episodes of I, SPY (I’ve never seen an episode of Cosby’s famous sitcom). But I’m not sure. I seem to be selective about who I forgive. Still, I come away with two things: Barb’s notion that artists only owe us their art; and my notion that the Internet is not the place to go for a fair trial.

* * *

ASK NOT did not win the Nero, an award I very much covet because (among other reasons) it is so damn cool looking. The winner was my friend David Morrell. Read all about it here.

Check out this nice review of THE GIRL HUNTERS blu-ray.

This is a lovely write-up about the Shamus Awards banquet at the recent Bouchercon.

Here’s a great review of the Nate Heller novel, MAJIC MAN.

What do you know? Some kind words about my BATMAN work, specifically the short story “Sound of One Hand Clapping.”

Finally, here’s a very interesting look at Warren Beatty’s half-hour “sequel” to the DICK TRACY film, co-starring my pal Leonard Maltin.


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5 Responses to “Cosby, Capp and Blake”

  1. Dana King says:

    A difficult issue, well put. I’ve been a Cosby fan since his early comedy albums, and these accusations came as a shock. As you said, there are no formal charges, no real proof has been shown, but there’s a LOT of smoke here. For now, I’m stepping back.

    Barbara’s point is well made, and taken, up to a point: there are lines that can’t be crossed. My personal example is the music of Richard Wagner. All evidence shows it’s not likely a more detestable human being ever walked the earth, yet I love his music. We he alive today, I would do nothing that might enrich him in any way. Lucky for me, he’s been dead over 100 years, so I can easily separate the music from the man.

    Thanks for the mention of the Shamus write-up. I had a ball that evening, and look forward to next year in Raleigh.

  2. Tom zappe says:

    Thanks for weighing in on Bill Cosby, an issue that will not soon go away. It has been said that with all the sadness in his later years that the main reason Mark Twain did not commit suicide was his concern for his legacy. Mr. Cosby’s legacy would now seem to be in serious peril.

    On a more cheerful note, what is your take on the CIA report and all it’s trappings?

  3. Max Allan Collins says:

    Dana, I seem to have a sliding scale on this. In a related issue, I find that if I meet an author or actor who is a jerk to me, I can’t read or watch their work anymore.

    Tom, I wouldn’t bet two cents on Cosby’s legacy right now. How many Fatty Arbuckle silents are revered today? The CIA report is an overdue necessity. To those defending the torture tactics, I will give this much: the country went through a nervous breakdown post-9/11, and we were tossing away our rights and beliefs like so much used tissue paper.

  4. Tom zappe says:

    I also feel the need to compliment you on your comprehensive and concise summation of the Cosby situation. That is, of course, what first rate writing is all about.

  5. Mike Doran says:

    I’ve been stewing over this whole business for as long as it’s been going on.
    I don’t enjoy feeding frenzies, and we’re now in the middle of the ghoul’s banquet season.
    What I find most revolting is how ongoing criminal investigations have been turned into sporting events by the cabloids and the antisocial media, turning every story into a screamfest and guaranteeing that no true resolution will ever be found.
    Unanswered questions, and damage that will last a lifetime.
    The temptation is attractive; I give in to it in private all the time (I’ve got a stone beauty about the Lena Dunham business that I won’t pass on here, because I don’t want either one of us sued).

    I’ve put myself into a corner here, so I’ll back off on this, but I have a little sidebar here that I’d like to pass on, for what it might be worth.

    Not long ago, on an impulse, I bought a copy of Robert Blake’s book (Amazon, at a discount – I think).
    “Tales Of A Rascal” is quite a piece of work – in all senses of that term.
    Blake maintains his innocence in his wife’s murder, placing all blame on the cops, one of the judges, his own lawyers, family and friends – and himself, for believing and trusting all the wrong people.
    But most of the book is a very loose memoir, in which Blake lionizes his friends and demonizes his foes.
    Blake apparently saved every photo that was ever taken of him, and they’re all here in this book.
    It’s actually sort of a coffee-table book; that’s why I’m not sure of the original price (it seems to be self-published, but looks way better than such books usually do).
    Should you ever come across the Blake book, I would call your attention to the chapter about the making of ELECTRA-GLIDE IN BLUE.
    Regardless of your feelings about Robert Blake, then. now, or ever, it’s fascinating reading – especially if you hear Blake’s voice in your head as you read (I’m guessing that Blake actually talked this book, as opposed to writing it, but that’s OK).
    Anyhoo, that’s TALES OF A RASCAL by Robert Blake – and that’s the name of that tune (or book … whatever).

    So, Max, Barb, Good Old Reliable Nathan, Dear Abby, happy rest-of-2014.
    Till the next wave of books …