REDISCOVERING HERMAN RAUCHER: THE LIFE, TIMES, AND RETURN OF A 70S POP PHENOMENON
Mention the name Herman Raucher to most people today, and they’ll probably respond with a blank stare—perhaps ask if he’s a politician, or a German philosopher, or maybe an athlete on a team you don’t follow in a sport that isn’t really your scene. That’s a shame—because forty years ago, in that fantastically turbulent era we’ve only ever been able to explain as “the seventies,” Herman Raucher was one of the names in popular entertainment. Few celebrities today can boast of the success he enjoyed—the 1971 film Summer of ’42, penned by Raucher and based on his own adolescence, became a cultural touchstone that won an Oscar and was the 6th highest grossing film of the year. His novelization was so popular that bookstores literally sold out of it—it had to be reprinted twenty-three times between ’71 and ’74 to keep up with demand. The remainder of the decade saw him hit the talk show circuit, publish four more novels, and pen four more screenplays. His books were subversive pop-lit at their best: Blackly comic rom-coms that went off the rails in the final chapters, sexy romps through the post-WWII entertainment scene, darkly introspective looks at social stigma and intolerance in the Deep South. Raucher never wrote the same story twice, and picking up his latest offering was to see whether this go-round was a trip to the heights of hilarity or the depths of despair—or, maybe, both at once.
And then, as suddenly as he had erupted into the popular consciousness, he was gone. Maybe it was the newfound culture of sincerity that proved inhospitable for Raucher’s edginess; maybe it was the sudden emphasis on family values and veneration of Rockwellian Americana that his works so often deconstructed; whatever it was, the 1980s ate him wholesale and never spit him back out, leaving behind only a legacy of paperbacks at your local used bookstore.
Which is where I found him, on sale at Half Price Books in the Summer of ‘05.
Back in college, my brother and I liked to kill time by writing letters to lesser-known celebrities, under the belief that, the less busy the schedule, the higher the possibility we might get a response. A clever enough idea, though most of the people we tried writing to either turned out to be too busy or too dead. While my brother didn’t share the same fascination with Raucher that I did, I figured I’d give it a shot, and sent him a letter telling him how much I’d enjoyed his books and asking him a few questions about him and his life. Much to my delight, he replied. The letter contained all of the wit and humor of his books, and he politely answered all of my questions. There was one particular line, though, that leaped off of the page, and which I’ve never forgotten: “Surely you know that there's a writer swimming around in your innards. Let him out.”
For a writer—let alone one whom I admired—to give me that sort of encouragement was a turning point in my vision of myself as a future author. It gave me the confidence and the drive to take a shot at something I thought might be sort of stupid at a time when I wasn’t sure whether to play it safe. Though I didn’t meditate upon those words when time got tough or return to it for more encouragement when I got rejection letters, it was the spark that started the fire. My work for 20/20 Magazine, Rue Morgue, Scream Magazine, The Optician’s Handbook, my short fiction—I can’t say that it wouldn’t have happened without reading those words, but, they sure as Hell helped.
Earlier this year, while researching another article, the idea randomly snapped into my head to Google Herman Raucher and see if he was still out there. I was happy to see that not only is he still alive and well, but that he’d launched his own website selling reissues of his old books. You can find it HERE.
For anyone who lived through the decade and enjoyed Raucher’s books in their first run—or, for those like me who found them later—it’s a sheer delight to log on and see new editions of his novels on sale (with new cover art!) for the first time in decades.
Yet, while Raucher’s stories are being told, his story never really has. While his books may make occasional intimations (and Summer of ’42 is a snapshot of one particular Summer in his life), Raucher lived a lifetime before his 70s heyday. He rose through the ranks of Mad Men-era Madison Avenue to become creative director of several agencies. He helped to advertise the launch of Disneyland. He worked with Anthony Perkins on Broadway. He wrote for television when that meant a twenty-minute play brought to you by Kraft Cheese.
At 88, Herman Raucher’s mind seems as sharp as it ever was, and if it’s dulled at all with age it must’ve been of ginzu quality back in the day. Funny and thoughtful, our conversation provoked floods of memories, and rather than attempt to interview him I let him reminisce on a given topic and allowed his train of thought to take us to whatever depot was next on the line. It seemed it’d be a shame to try and artificially change the course of things; better to preserve the mind, wit, and wisdom of the man.
When I asked Mr. Raucher if I could interview him for this site, I had two objectives in mind: One was to at last tell the story of one of pop culture’s quietest success stories. The other was to introduce him to a new generation of readers. Time, page clicks, and, I suppose, book sales will ultimately determine whether I succeed on either or both of those goals. But I’m just taking up space now. Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Herman Raucher…
Herman Raucher: My father was a war hero. World War I. Had a bayonet wound across his forehead. He was always traveling. My mother was a housewife. In those days we had an iceman, would come with a big block of ice, and that was your freezer. I was a Depression kid. I had an older sister who I never understood and who never understood me, and we got along fine. I grew up in the streets. We had our own versions of street wars, but we never had guns or knives. We had fights. I went to high school, won art awards. I started out writing in my apartment house in Brooklyn where I lived with my mother. I had no desk. I wrote on my bed with my knees side saddle to one side because I couldn’t fit them under. I did all those things. I got the rejection slips. At NYU I did cartooning for the school newspaper and magazine. Everyone thought I was gonna be an artist, but I wasn’t good enough there. Matter of fact I had my own comic book I did the writing for because you had six panels, and the artist got $8 and the writer got $6, and I figured “I can write thirty six-panel things in the time it took me to do one eight-panel cartoon.” I found my way. Went to Fox after I graduated college. First job was $38 a week. You’ll remember those things, I promise you. The lean years were very tough but things broke for me. I was always driven as a young man, and that served me well because you really had to go for it. You were rejected and turned down so many ways. Everything was a quirk. There’s an Irwin Shaw quote I remember from the Young Lions, there’s two soldiers talking, one says to the other, “Do you know what the equation of life is? Man plus his intentions equal accident.” And I think that is so true. And I think that a lot of—all of—our lives are influenced by accident. Some people call it luck. But I think accident more fully attacks the problem, or the subject. That’s my adventure into philosophy for today.
Preston Fassel: How to Succeed in Advertising Without Really Trying could tell the story of Herman Raucher, who enjoyed a meteoric rise in both the post-war advertising world and in the burgeoning new television market…
HR: I was an office boy at 20th Century Fox in New York. I’d studied advertising at NYU. I started to write plays—TV plays—on the side, when television was very new. We’re talking about the 50s. I couldn’t type, I didn’t have a typewriter, so I wrote copy in pencil. (laughs) What I remember is not auspicious. I moved up at Fox, spent two years in the army, uh, let me see. Went to Fox, got a call after the service from Walt Disney, they wanted me—I don’t know how they ever found out about me—but they wanted me for an advertising job in New York, and I ended up in New York and California, flying back and forth. We were establishing Disneyland. It was a very exciting time. I sold about six TV plays to shows like Studio One, one hour live dramas in the 50s that Paddy Chayefsky spearheaded, and a lot of us younger guys decided we’d try out. Because I was writing plays on the side they thought I was a very good ad man. They had nothing to do with one another, but it protected my career. Everybody thought it was interesting to have someone on their advertising campaigns who could write plays... (laughs) but I let them believe what they wanted to believe… I had some plays on Broadway. I wrote a play called Harold, with Tony Perkins. I let a lot of people do it who were not professional. The worst thing was, it was at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and all Broadway Shows died. We hardly got off the starting blocks and we closed in three weeks. [Then] I wrote a play called Sweet November which was never produced because some agent got hold of it and gave me a lot of money to sell it to Warner Bros…
PF: While Sweet November may sound familiar as the title of a mediocre Keanu Reeves/Charlize Theron movie, that film was in fact a remake of a much better, much more successful film starring Anthony Newley and Sandy Dennis. Coming out a time when societal dropouts and boho living were just beginning to catch on, the movie tells the story of a button-down, Madison Avenue nine-to-fiver who falls in with a proto-hippie from the village. Believing that Newley’s character is really a free-spirit at heart, Dennis proposes an awkward arrangement: He moved in with her for a month and gave her the opportunity to “fix” him. More lighthearted than the self-serious Reeves/Theron remake, the film’s sudden shift into tragedy in the final act was all the more jarring…
HR: When I was writing the screenplay, I didn’t want to redescribe the set, because it was very elaborate, so I just cut it out from my play script and pinned it into my movie script. I was surprised to see they built the script exactly the same way. (laughs) I had great faith in the movie technicians. They could do anything. I became great friends with Tony Newley, who played the lead opposite Sandy Dennis. Tony was the only actor I ever worked with who asked me to come by after he’d committed to do the movie, who asked me to come by and explain the script, specifically the lines he had to do. I never had an actor who had to do that. But Tony was an Englishman and he didn’t want to lose any of the humor. The most accomplished man, I think the most talented man I’ve ever known. We became great friends. My youngest daughter was his godchild… Sandy was a delight. And we were shooting Sweet November when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Virginia Woolf. She and Tony just knew how to do that script. They just knew it. And I stood along the sidelines trying not to trip over the wires. It was fabulous, watching how instinctively they knew how to read every line. They never rehearsed together. Tony liked to be in love with whoever his leading lady was, but Sandy was involved at that time with someone else, and wanted no part of that. But they still managed to do it. I’ve always tried to write stories where you come in one door and you go out the other. You come into what looks to be a comedy, then you suddenly realize—if we do it well—it suddenly segues, without any of the seams showing, into a drama. Sweet November was the first one, and I really loved that film… I don’t remember it being a great big hit until television took it on. It aired on Turner a couple of times and I still get fan mail on it.
PF: Sweet November proved to be an unexpected success. Coming out at the height of the Vietnam War, the tale struck a chord, and seeing the movie with their girlfriends, wives, or lovers became something of a bittersweet ritual for departing young soldiers. On the heels of the film’s success, Raucher and Newley set to work on “Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?” A sort of Terrence Malick-meets-LSD biopic of Anthony Newley’s life and loves, it took home an award from the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain for Best Screenplay, and has since become a cult memento of late 60s experimental filmmaking.
HR: That was Tony’s… he always wrote about the totems in his life. After Sweet November we struck up a partnership and I put together the screenplay with him, and we shot it on Malta for about $12. NOBODY knew what to make of that film, except we had a good time. It was kind of a marvelous film, but nobody knows what to do with it, when they talk about old films. It was very special because Tony wrote the music but could never read music. He wrote songs in his head and played them on a thing called a mellophone, which looked like a huge hero sandwich, and his partner would write the lyrics and he would sing the songs. It was a very brave effort. I think I won some British Writer’s Guild Award for best screenplay, but Tony was so gracious because he gave me full credit for it. We remained friends until his death. I miss him. He was funny and he was loyal and he was very gifted.
PF: At the dawn of the 70s, Raucher found himself working on a radically different project: The race relations movie Watermelon Man, about a casually bigoted suburbanite who wakes up one morning to find out that he’s become a black man overnight. The film introduced Melvin van Peebles to mainstream America and served as an awkward prelude to Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Raucher recalls that his experiences working on the movie—and with van Peebles—wasn’t quite what he expected.
HR: I wrote Watermelon Man as a screenplay first, as an original screenplay because I was involved in the black movement to some degree and I wanted to put my two cents in. This is ‘69, I think, and Columbia was afraid to make it without a black director, of whom there were not many. And they found Melvin van Peebles in Europe somewhere. He’d done a film called Story of a Three Day Pass. So Melvin was given the job of directing and it became, under his aegis, more of a black power film than I’d wanted. Melvin and I squared off a lot. I didn’t really care for the film as much as I do other things I have done. I wrote the novelization afterwards because, if I passed and didn’t want to write it, Melvin could write it, and I thought it would just be too flammable. So in an odd way I wrote the novel in self defense. Melvin went on to do other things that were more to his liking and we never were great friends, but he was gifted and he was driven. God bless him but, I didn’t want to work with him anymore…
I don’t know how close you are to that film, but, Estelle Parsons played Godfrey Cambridge’s wife. It was about a white man who turns black because he’s a bigot. And his wife was always liberal until he becomes black and is having trouble being black, and she becomes less supportive. And he says, “I thought you were liberal?” And she says, “I am… to a degree.” And that’s where I wanted to put my coin, because I thought that was the hypocrisy of many white people who were liberal to a degree, but they weren’t when the chips were down. Now that was a big slice of ego for me to try and put that into a film. The line is in there, but I don’t think the point I was trying to make ever surfaced. (laughs) I was up for black writer of the year. I had to call them and tell them I wasn’t black, but I would try out another time. (laughs) And they said goodbye to me.
PF: With two films in the can, Raucher found the stage set for what would prove to be his biggest success: The Summer of ’42. Though audiences didn’t realize it at the time, the story of a teenage boy and his friends carousing on the beach and falling in love with an older war widow was a roman a clef for Raucher’s own experiences on Nantucket Island in ’42. It was Raucher’s most personal project, and one he’d been trying to get made since the early 60s.
HR: We had something like 49 rejections over a seven year period. I wrote it for my friend Oscy [Oscar Seltzer], who was killed on my birthday in Korea. I was drafted in 1950 and served with great lack of distinction. And yet my friend Oscy… we were very close friends. He was a medic, and was killed, and given the Silver Star posthumously because he was tending to a wounded man when he was killed and the wounded man lived. I really wrote that screenplay for Oscy. It’s really so weird he was killed on my birthday. It was screaming for me to do for years. I’d wanted to write about that. And Dorothy got in the mix. And Mulligan rode it out. When I was given the academy award nomination, Bob sent me a really beautiful letter about, “first come the words,” and I’ve never forgotten it…
It got to be about an event that happened to me when I was 14. Warner Bros., when we made the film, said that’s too young, you’ve got to make it fifteen. I said, by the time you’re fifteen, you know everything. Anyway, it didn’t seem to bother people. Again, that was a piece that started out funny and ended up very serious. It bothered me a great deal because I never saw Dorothy again. People always ask about that film. When the picture was finished, it was shot, and it was in the can, and it took a year for postproduction- opticals, music, stuff like that. Somebody said, ‘why don’t you write a book to help publicize the film?’ So I just did this almost stream of consciousness and wrote the book in something like six or eight weeks, and as fate would have it, the book comes out and becomes a best seller. So when the movie is finally released, the ad line is ‘based on the national best seller.’ Which is absurd because the book was written after the movie! That’s when I knew that Hollywood was a pretty silly place for me, and you should not put too much hope in whatever you do, but just work as hard as you could, do the best you could, and stand by and watch because it seldom turns out the way you thought. Nobody thought Summer of ’42 would make a dollar, and we did very well with it… what happened was Warner Bros. had new management at the time, and they were looking for product, and it was low budget. We had sent the script to Bob Mulligan, who did To Kill a Mockingbird, and Bob fell in love with the screenplay, he did a budget, had it all under his arm. They asked how big a budget it was, he said a million dollars. They said go make it, they never read the script, they left us alone. It never rained. Bob took a fragile screenplay and some young people and did a hell of a job. He did a marvelous job, and as a matter of fact he never got a nomination from the Director’s Guild, let alone the Academy. I think one of the great oversights out there. A very, very gallant man, very gifted. We both came out of live television. It was pretty much flying by the seat of your pants in those days.
PF: Summer of ’42 turned Raucher into a bona fide success. The book sold out in droves and he had a high-profile appearance on the Mike Douglas show alongside Tennessee Williams. Readers across the US waited to see what an exciting new voice in popular literature would produce next. The result is arguably his best work. A Glimpse of Tiger tells the story of “Tiger,” a teenage girl from the Midwest who runs away from home and winds up in early 70s Greenwich Village. She falls in with an older ne’er do well named Luther, a trust-fund boy who pulls con jobs and lives on department store free samples just for the Hell of it. What begins as a wacky romantic comedy veers into more serious territory when Tiger realizes it’s time to settle down, leaves Luther, and gets a job as a secretary. It would be a disservice to the book to go into further detail, other than to say that the book undergoes a rapid genre shift in the final act that deconstructs the rom-com and leads to a cold-sweat sort of twist ending. The novel got the attention of Eliot Gould, himself a rising star, and it seemed as though Raucher was set for his second great success in as many years. What happened next is Hollywood lore…
HR: [Tiger] was very dark. It was a dark piece I wrote about some people I knew who were involved with drugs, and we had sold the screenplay—this is very complex—I sold the play to Eliot Gould who was very hot at the time, and Eliot hired [director] Tony Harvey, who had good credits. Eliot was to play the lead opposite Kim Darby, and Eliot just got messed up on the set with some other people who’ll remain nameless. Warner Bros. shut it down [after a week] and we never started shooting it again. I was told to come out and start rewriting Eliot’s part for Barbara Streisand. (laughs) So I said fellas, you’re gonna have a very loveable lesbian, this is a role for a man. So I started rewriting it, and worked with a couple of directors, and the next thing I knew the piece was taken away from me and it became What’s Up Doc with peter Bogdonavich. So that became a big lesson to me, although, I don’t know what I learned. So we never made that picture. We never started again. It just… disappeared. That’s the fate of many, many scripts… I have no idea [if the footage still exists]… It became a completely different film, even though Peter Bogdonavich announced in the trade papers it was Barbara Streisand and Ryan O’Neil in Herman Raucher’s A Glimpse of Tiger. But that never happened.
I was fascinated with Hollywood. I spent some time living out there but I’m an East Ender at heart. I suppose my career could’ve gone further had I lived out there but I had two young children and the drug society was very big at the time in LA, and I didn’t want to expose my family to that. So I stayed in the East and did pretty much what I wanted to do. I had a lot of trouble with people in Hollywood. When I had been an advertising executive I learned how to work with people and I found that a lot of them out there—I made a lot of money, so this sounds rather self serving—but I’m always prompted to remember a phrase by a French philosopher, I don’t know, who said, “It is not enough to succeed, one must see one’s best friend fail.” That kind of outlook kind of persisted out there. People rooted against their friends, not understanding that every picture that failed made it more difficult for you to make yours. I had learned to always root for my friends. I had a lot of writer friends out here and we all rooted for one another. I never got that feeling out there. Perhaps my fault or my shortcoming, I don’t know. But the few times I was out there I worked very hard and got home as fast as I could.
PF: After the Tiger debacle, Raucher returned East, oblivious that a song he’d heard on the radio would lead to his next project. Ode to Billie Joe was sweeping the charts, mystifying listeners with the cryptic tale of a young man’s apparently unmotivated suicide and his fellow townsfolk’s complete apathy to his death. It’s a testament to the song’s power that a decision was made to adapt it into a film, and the man responsible—Max Baer Jr.—had one person in mind to write the script...
HR: If you hold onto your chair, I’ll try to tell you about Billie Joe! I got a call from Max Baer Jr… He said I want you to write me Ode to Billie Joe. And I had no time for it. I really didn’t want to do it. I said, I love the song, but I don’t want to. He said, “What do I have to do to get you to write the screenplay?” I said, tell you what, Max, send me a check for $100,000 and I’ll write you a screenplay. He sent me a check for $100,000. I went out there and we met with Bobbie Gentry, who’s this delightful, very pretty girl, and I said “Tell me what the lyrics are about.” And she said, “It’s about nothing.” I said, “But you have characters, you talk about them.” She kept saying, it meant nothing. So I was left with the task of making it sound like a story. And in chatting with Bobbie she mentioned things like she had a doll named Benjamin when she was a little girl, and I started to put it together because I had to. I gravitated towards a homosexual thing because nobody was really writing movies about that as of yet to any great degree, and I went for it. So we cast a lot of people from Mississippi and we made the film. (laughs) I think I wrote the screenplay in ten days. And then I figured I was finished with it and Max would never get it made, but he took it to Warners, who had a warm place in their heart for me, and they said, yeah!
PF: Following Billie Joe, Raucher unexpectedly became a footnote in science-fiction history. Sidney Sheldon, one of Raucher’s literary contemporaries, was enjoying a tremendous success with his novel The Other Side of Midnight. Raucher was hired to adapt the novel into a film, which was projected to be 1977’s biggest box office draw. Such was the anticipation for Midnight’s release that the studio used it in order to force movie theaters wanting to exhibit the picture to show another film alongside it, a sci-fi b-movie that was expected to lose huge amounts of money unless it was attached to another, more profitable film. That b-movie was a little picture called Star Wars. History writes the rest; I asked Mr. Raucher if he had any reminisces about working on Midnight…
HR: Not any good ones. I wrote the screenplay, and I saw a rough cut when they finished shooting, and all I told [the producer] was, “cut it.” He said, “What do you mean?” I told him, “When you’re on thin ice, go fast.” Emmerson said that, and he meant it. And it got very bad reviews.
PF: Turning his pen back to original works, Raucher embarked on what would become his most ambitious novel. There Should Have Been Castles is an epic romp through the 1950s entertainment industry, told through the occasionally intersecting stories of two young artistic hopefuls: Ben, an aspiring writer, and Ginnie, an aspiring dancer. In addition to being Raucher’s longest work—the events of the book span several years and contains a cast of dozens—it’s also his most autobiographical besides Summer, drawing on his own experiences in Hollywood and also incorporating elements given to him by his wife, MK Raucher, a Broadway dancer.
HR: As I indicated earlier, I try and write a different book every time, or a different screenplay every time. And the whole world thought it was about my wife and me but it was not. The character of Ginnie was made up of a lot of dancers I knew because I knew them through my wife. I got anecdotal stories from all of them. I am mostly me. That is autobiographical to a very great degree. But the character of Ginnie is made up of a lot of different girls. My wife was not involved at all except helping me write it because she knew what dancers went through and told me so many things she had endured, and I just let the barrel roll. Because it was very sexy—I didn’t mean it to be—but I decided, I’m just gonna tell the truth about how people talk, and what they did, and a lot of the early TV stuff was true. I mention some people who were actors at the time who were in my TV plays. There was a conglomeration, or a milligan stew, of everything I knew or heard or had been force fed to me, and it evolved… we never got that one made [into a movie]. People were afraid of it. They thought it was too dirty. I said, “That’s the way it was, folks.” I mean, It’s what I remembered. I’ve never backed off of anything I started to write if it didn’t go well.
PF: 1979 saw the release of The Great Santini, a male-targeted tearjerker about a young man’s volatile relationship with his father, a heroic yet emotionally abusive US Marine. For years, Raucher has been credited with ghost-writing the screenplay, and a credit for him appears on both IMDB and Wikipedia.
HR: Not true. The man who wrote it was Louis John Carlino, who is a very nice man. What happened was, I was supposed to write a TV series of it. And I had written a couple of pieces and we had a big disagreement, and just nothing happened. But I did not write it. It’s Wikipedia. And I’ve told them that’s not my credit. I love it when people write and say “Of all your work, we love The Great Santini the best.”
PF: 1979 also saw the release of Maynard’s House, which would prove to be Raucher’s final published book. Radically breaking genre from his previous works, Maynard is a metaphysical horror story about a recently discharged soldier who learns that a deceased war buddy left him a house in his will. Going to claim the house, the soldier discovers the house is the domain of a coven of witches who have plans beyond his comprehension. The book was perhaps his least well received, though one that studios seemed particularly eager to adapt to the big screen—as recently as 2001, Studio Canal was trying to turn it into a supernatural thriller called “Ara/Froom.”
HR: When I got out of the army, a friend of mine let me have his house up in Maine at Mt. Katahdin, up in that area, where lumber companies wouldn’t even go, the woods were so tangled and difficult that it wasn’t even worth it to try and get lumber out of there. And I stayed in that house close to a month by myself. I had a Winchester, a .38, and a twelve-gauge shotgun, which I never needed. The mailman used to bring food and put it in the mailbox. I had a root cellar. I loved it, living alone, after having been in the army. And then I left it there. Years later, I went up to visit my kids in a summer camp in Maine, in that area, and on the way back my wife and I stopped off in Salem. And I said, why don’t I put together what I remember about that house I was in, and the witches. So almost thirty years after I had been in the house I superimposed the witch stuff on top of it, and out came Maynard’s House, which people don’t understand at all. It’s probably my fault, not trying to say what the witch succeeded in doing. But like everything else I’ve done it was a different kind of writing. I try not to use the same pen every time I go to work. That was a good book. I was very proud of it, because my research was there. And I remembered everything about the house, the sounds, what kind of animals were there because I could track them in the snow. And the world left me alone while I came up from down below.
PF: After Maynard’s House was released, Raucher continued working. However, he’d never have another book published, and aside from some adaptations of his work over the years, it seemed as if Hollywood was done with him as well…
HR: I tried to do other things that were not very well received, and then certain things were but never got to be… and I guess I had a reputation as being difficult. I kept turning down adaptations of other people’s works, but I wanted to do my own. And then I just got tired. I’d been working most of my life. So, I kinda stopped. I took joy in doing other things. We traveled. Summer of ’42 was supposed to be a musical, it didn’t make it for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was 9/11 happened. We were on the stage on Broadway and nobody went to the theater anymore for a long time and we had to close… and [after] Harold, years before, and the Bay of Pigs blew that one out of the water, I decided, I better stop writing for Broadway, because I’m gonna destroy the world. I’d love to do a play but it calls for too much effort, and I just don’t have the energy anymore.
It’s never just retiring. It’s working on things which intrigued me and not being able to feel as though I did them well enough to submit, and those I did submit other people didn’t want. I wrote a play called Ginger, about a man who fell in love with a bear, but nothing came of it because he was Catholic. (laughs) You have to stop for a moment. It was one of the best things I’ve ever written. It got bought by New Line, but they never made it for whatever reason, and they still own it. It was very funny and very touching, but, nothing came of it.
When you’ve had years, and your last book or movie was ten years ago, whether you like it or not you are looked upon as ‘over.’ And I had one lady, I forget who, at a publishing house, tell me “You still write well but you’re old fashioned.” I said, Oh God. Okay. So I’m considered old fashioned. And at this point I am. And I’m comfortable with it.
PF: Though the remake of Sweet November was the last of Raucher’s works to be adapted to the screen, he still retains the rights to the majority of his work—and would still like to see it finally adapted, albeit forty-some years too late.
HR: I’d like to see every one turned into films, but there aren’t that many for openers… the only thing I don’t own the rights to is Sweet November because, I always joke, when it surfaced and someone paid money for it I had just mortgaged Baltic Avenue. (laughs) If you remember your Monopoly. That’s how bad it was. And so I sold all the rights. The only thing is if it were to become a musical I would be able to write the book. Interestingly enough, Michel Legrand, who’s written the music to three of my movies, was desperate to produce it as a Broadway show. We knew how to do it but we got all tangled up in lawyers and I just lost interest in it. Michel and I are still friends. God, there’s a talent! He did Summer of ’42, he did a lot of the interim music on Billie Joe, he did Sweet November, he was, and still is, a great jazz pianist.
I don’t think I have the energy to say, “You guys gotta look at this again”. It’s now forty, forty-five years since they were in the daylight. I think they’re probably gonna rest. I get some lovely emails on books that I’ve written, that’re being purchased now because of my website, and a lot of people remind me they saw the movie all those years ago, read the book, that’s all very warming. That’s very nice to see and hear. But moviemaking is very difficult and it demands great energy and a lot of the ability to compromise, which was never my strong suit. If you disagreed with me you better be prepared to have a big argument because that’s what I offered.
PF: With our time winding down, and Raucher’s tales of adventures in writing at a close, I figured I’d leave things off there. Unusually, in a society built on regret, mourning for lost youth and desperate for either radical advancement into some blind tomorrow or a return to a yesterday that never was, I found a man at peace with himself and his legacy. He has his children, his grandchildren, happy memories, and a fine body of work—work which, hopefully, has yet to reach its’ full audience…
HR: I have no complaints about the life I’ve led. It’s been very good. I think I’ve been very lucky—accidents were very bad for me in the beginning but turned around for me in my favor. I think I’ve been honest to myself. I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly done anything bad to anyone. Most of my friends are gone now. My daughters and I are very, very close. One lives around the corner with my granddaughter. The other lives in New York, and she works in the business in a sense. And I’ve done everything that I’ve wanted to do, and I don’t cry to the Heavens in any way. So from that standpoint, I think I’ve done pretty well. And I hope I didn’t bore the hell out of you.