Julian David Stone is an award-winning director and writer. He grew-up in the San Francisco bay area before relocating to Los Angeles after spending his college years at the California Institute of the Arts. For the next few years he wrote screenplays for Disney and Paramount, as well as several other studios and producers around town. With two decades of experience working in the entertainment business, Stone brings to his work an insider’s knowledge of the industry, augmented for this book [The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl] by the personal stories and anecdotal history shared by those who were actually present in the 1950s when the story is set.
Thank you for your interview. Can you tell readers a little about yourself?
I grew-up in the San Francisco bay area before relocating to Los Angeles after spending my college years at the California Institute of the Arts. After a few years, I began to get work as a screenwriter, working for Disney and Paramount, as well as several other studios and producers around town. Among other writing I’ve done is the full-length play, The Elvis Test, as well as directed a couple of documentaries on Frank Sinatra. My notable screenplays include the Brooklyn Dodgers-focused comedy, Duke Snider Eats Here Free, and the music industry satire, I Want Kandee. I am also the writer and director of Follow the Bitch, a cult film comedy that has played to packed houses all around the country and received numerous awards. You can learn more about these projects and as well as others at my website: www.juliandavidstone.com.
You have a long history with Hollywood. How did you get started? What inspired you to become a writer?
After graduating college where I was mostly involved with film directing, I quickly discovered that no one was going to hand me a film to direct. I started to write, and after two years and seven screenplays, I finally tried a comedy and my eighth one, “Duke Snider Eats Here Free”, changed everything for me. Within a few months of my agent putting it out on the marked, I was hired for my first professional writing job, writing a screenplay for Walt Disney Pictures.
What inspired you to write this novel, about a dark time in our history, after so many years?
I have always been fascinated by the era of Live Television from 1946 – 1956. I feel it is a largely forgotten period where in essence you had an art form that flourished for ten years before, almost overnight with the advent of videotape, disappearing virtually forever. It’s interesting to note that just his last week NBC did a live broadcast of The Sound of Music and how much of their promotion was touting that it was going to be performed live. Back in the golden age of television they rarely used the word live – because it was all live.
As to the darkness of the era, as I began to formulate the story, it became obvious that you could not write about this era, particularly if you were dealing with the entertainment industry, without dealing with the blacklist. So I went where the story took me.
Could you tell us a little about your main character, Jonny?
Jonny is a young writer in this exciting and turbulent era, trying his best to preserve his dreams of writing “important” work against the reality of the commercial demands of being a writer. Much to his surprise, overnight, he finds himself the toast of New York because of his hit creation Justice Girl. With fame and success coming faster than Jonny could ever have dreamed it would, the battle between his integrity and the demands of his new station in life as a well-known and highly successful tv writer become even more overwhelming and intense. But his integrity is not the only thing at stake. His increased notoriety comes with another grave danger, he becomes a fertile target for those who don’t agree with a lot of his beliefs, and decide to go after him for their own personal gain. And things get really interesting when the person leading the charge turns out to be none other than the lead actress on his show, Justice Girl.
Do any of the characters in your novel represent anyone you knew personally from the 1950s? Or just a generalization of that time?
I read a lot of interviews with people who were there, as well as spoke to a lot of them in person, and the characters are an amalgam of all of this. They are also based on bits and pieces of people that I have encountered in the course of my career.
What was life like for you in the entertainment world during the period of time in which your book is set?
I wish I could tell you, but I wasn’t born yet.
Who are a few of your favorite authors?
Ray Bradbury, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jonathan Franzen
What are a few of your favorite books?
Fahrenheit 451, The Pat Hobby Stories, The Corrections
Where do you like to write? Which do you prefer: longhand or laptop?
I usually write in my living room or my office with a laptop perched atop the arm of a sofa. I also wrote a fair amount of Justice Girl at the dog park while my dog Archie ran around.
Do you have any other books in the works?
Yes. I am actually working on something now that grew out of this novel. It was just mentioned in an offhand way in one part of the story and as I was writing it, I thought, “That’s a great idea for a story”. So that’s what I’m working on now.
What are your future goals as a writer?
To keep writing, and to hopefully grow an audience of readers who like my work.
What do you want readers to take away from The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl?
To discover the excitement, fun and chaos of a largely forgotten art form which was the world of Live TV from 1946-1956. Television was never so fun or so dangerous.
Keep your eyes peeled for my review of Julian’s book, The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl, later this week. Read his guest post here.
The golden age of live television comes to vivid life with the memorable and entertaining tale of Jonny Dirby, who unintentionally captivates the imagination of America with his creation of the hit show Justice Girl. This fun, engrossing work of historical fiction transports readers back to a time when television shows were chaotic tightrope acts balancing the agendas of actors, studio executives, advertisers, and politicians, and all of it broadcast live to fifty million viewers without the security of a safety net.
Set in 1955 in New York City, Julian David Stone’s impressive novel follows Jonny from the writers’ room of a steady network gig to a crisis of conscience when he decides to abandon his regular paycheck to claim the moral high ground against the spreading plague of McCarthyism. In a final act of defiance, Jonny alters the script of a Superman-inspired lampoon moments before it is broadcast live. What nobody can anticipate is that Jonny’s accidental creation Justice Girl and her infectious catchphrase of “Justice is served!” are about to sweep the nation and win the hearts and minds of America. Add to the mix a highly driven actress trying to get Jonny blacklisted, along with a desperate network president willing to do anything he can to get compete control of the show, and the history of television will never be the same.
The Strange Birth, Short Life, and Sudden Death of Justice Girl moves beyond the gags and gaffes of television’s golden age to plumb the depths of the media’s broader influence. Anyone interested in this time when television was a new phenomenon, with different factions fighting to use it to promote their varied agendas, will enjoy this riveting novel. Stone is an award-winning writer and director whose twenty years in the entertainment business informs his work with an insider’s perspective.
Find out more about the novel: Background