JOHN HUFF: First things first: What drew you into freelance writing, B.C.-- before Crawdaddy Magazine?

NANCY NAGLIN: I wanted to do one thing and one thing only--write. After graduating McGill University in '71 in Montreal, I lived in Toronto where I harangued The Toronto Star into letting me write book reviews. That led to writing--and reading on air--book reviews for CBC Radio and writing for a host of Canadian mags. I was always going back to the Star, begging for a job.

In those days you could look around the entire newsroom and there was one woman entertainment writer--her desk was always empty, I guess she was out on assignment--and so that was it--the slot was taken. It was particularly galling to see copy boys--yes, they were still running copy around by hand--moving up, getting reporting jobs. None of them had any university; they were all related to the existing workforce. That was another thing that was changing then: the professionalism of journalism. There was real resistance by the "old boys" who sneered at a journalism degree..

McGill University 1971
I grew up in Boston. I knew it was time to migrate to New York when I couldn't get any more assignments from the CBC. Sheepishly, I was told that there had been objections to my Boston accent. Canada, at the time was going through an intense period of nationalism: fights about "Canadian content" and safeguarding Canadian culture from being overpowered by American influences.

JH: How does one emerge to the point of being accepted as a freelancer interviewing the likes of Carly Simon, Jane Fonda and others?

NN: Through a friend in Canada, I met someone in New York who worked at Crawdaddy. I immediately went up to the offices, trying to get an assignment. Coincidently, the editors were looking to run an interview with Gordon Lightfoot, and I told them they had the right person. I got right back on a plane, met with Lightfoot. They really liked my piece. Thereafter, I was pestering them.

First thing I did landing in New York--go to a newsstand and buy every mag in sight. I started calling up the editors, trying to get them to see me so I could pitch an article. I ended up writing for Country Music Magazine, in-flight mags, food magazines. I didn't like the women's mags--it was too girly-girl, the stuff they wanted you to write was nuts. I went to Cosmopolitan and they actually had a book of article ideas they asked you to leaf through: all made-up neurotic nonsense (why for example, a woman can't live alone or why, on the other hand, she should). At the same time, Crawdaddy was calling on me for interviews.

In those days, women editors were rare. Male editors generally liked to assign women women subjects; men wanted to interview and hang with the heavy-hitting rock stars themselves. So they were sending me to interview Carly Simon and Jane Fonda. For some reason they did send me to interview Timothy Leary. After the Simon piece ran, the Crawdaddy editor took me out to lunch and told me I was their "star woman writer." He didn't get it that talent is gender blind. Neither did any of the New York newspapers. I went up to the New York Post, thinking how I would love to work the police blotter, look at corpses on the sidewalk at night--do anything to get a foot in the door. They just laughed me out of the office.

A decade later, the world had turned. Computerization had happened and these guys, desperate to hang onto their jobs, some of them working for recent journalism grads, all women in their late 20s, early 30s, weren't laughing anymore.

JH: What happened before, during and after your nonfiction book, Seducing Dali?

NN: I always had in mind to write books. A tremendous scandal had grown up surrounding the art fraud connected with the sale of fraudulent prints by Dali, Chagall, Miro and others. I got a contract to write the book and had a marvelous time meeting a fabulous cast of characters.

JH: Tell us about The Pool Player

NN: Fiction is what I want to write. The Pool Player is literary epic spanning several continents and decades of love, gambling, physical survival, sexual identity and the dignity of the human heart. It's set in pre-World War II Poland and the main character, sexualized early and not by choice, spends his childhood in China, is returned to Poland, then flees to the Soviet Union.

JH: You must have been a path breaker as a woman writer in your field. The changing reception and landscape for the woman writer, underground and overground, must be always apparent to you. What advice do you share with the startup woman writer?

Max's Kansas City 1970s
NN: The '70's were a period of great change when recent women grads--there were millions of us, all educated and expecting more than to be secretarial support--were beginning to infiltrate every aspect of American business, including journalism. At first we were a trickle--a few oddballs applying for a "man's position." We were objects of derision. They treated us like a few grasshoppers coming in through the window--and we got smacked around. Soon, it was a deluge.

The world--and the challenges--are completely different today. The barriers my generation of women knew are historical--and that is our contribution. Then, now, always, merit carries the talented forward. But there has to be something else. Whether male or female, someone coming up, trying to make their wish a reality, has to want it more than anything else, be bold in trying to get to the place or person they think will give them a chance--and if that fails, be ready to go it alone. Learn the
Location of former "The Bells Of Hell"
electronic tools of the trade--and start posting. No matter how it turns out, you'll meet incredible people, see incredible things, learn what the world's about and have a marvelous time.

Then I came home to the States, New York for me was like an intoxicant: I loved the city, love it still; it was immediately home. At the time, the written word was king. Everybody wanted to write and to write well was taken seriously. Naturally, I gravitated to other writers. But truly, I was looking for any scene--I just wanted to soak everything up. Then as now there were people making music, film; and a lot of people were just going out to be seen. I went to Max's Kansas City, hoping to catch a glimmer of the Warhol crowd, but the scene was dead. Later, I did do some writing for Interview--and was paid abysmally.
Lester Bangs

I connected with Nick Tosches-- I bought Country Music Magazine; his name was on the masthead, so I called him up. He was a drinking man; his water-hole the now famous and long gone writers' hang-out, The Bells Of Hell, in the Village. You walked into the gloom and you picked up everybody there wanted to be somebody: namely, a bigger writer. Lester Bangs occupied a bar stool, ready to take anybody on, wear them down and usually win any argument simply because he outlasted them. Writers came in crowing they'd written "a think piece;" others showed off an article in Penthouse. Mating and dating were not the focus of the bar (probably why it went out of business in '82); boasting, put-downs, drunken analysis and braggadocio were the currency. There weren't a lot of women. If they had things to say, they were usually ignored. I had zingers a plenty and chirped them out. Who cared? This was boy-on-boy, the clubhouse. Nonetheless, it's my favorite bar. I miss it still...

JH: In Phanmedia's VideoScope Magazine, you work in advertising and management but express yourself regularly in Nancy Naglin's Art House Video column. The term "art house" is a negative in marketing circles. I know. I've been told by people with hundred dollar haircuts. You give the term credibility. What movements in international film art do you find most interesting these days?

NN: Anything from Japan, China and Korea. South American film is vibrant, edgy. French fare lately has been a little insipid, like Gallic Hollywood; I like the hard-nosed Brit films. Nobody does low-class like the Brits. Very interesting stuff is coming from Iran. With the Arab spring underway, I predict we'll see some great releases.

JH: Thank you.


...the way she describes her early years in the NY literati and journalist hang-outs, I feel infected with the "Subterranean Homesick Blues." I imagine a dark bar, the lights fogged by cigarette smoke, with heated discussions going on about the remnants of the Vietnam War, the new world post Civil Rights movement, Watergate, and the adventures of psychedelic drugs--men and women in a shift of mindset, starting to realize, that: "Yes, women can do it, too." It took almost 30 years after Rosie the Riveter flexed her muscle for women to join the blue-collar workforce, for women to enter the white-collar, white male domain of journalism and write about topics that were not about dresses and domestic bliss.

So, yes, I envy Nancy, because she was a player, a pioneer in those times, trailblazing along the road not to be travelled. I wasn't in N.Y. at the time, I wasn't even on this continent. I trailed ten years behind in the old world, in Hamburg, getting inspired by the books of Joan Didion, a pioneer even to Nancy. I wanted to follow in their wake and studied journalism, a field belittled still in my time. I made it to America as a writer in public relations and for a German movie magazine. I also realized there are no boundaries except for those you set for yourself. As times change and challenges evolve, it is just as necessary today as it was in the 70's, or the 80's, to battle for a woman's voice to be counted as equal, to be bold, and if necessary to go it alone.

Marion Philadelphia

Marion is a professor at the University of Southern California and author of "Der Gaukler der Koenige" (Random House / Blanvalet), a biographical novel about her ancestor, the 18th century magician Jacob Philadelphia.


  • VideoScope Magazine
  • Seducing Dali, Scribner
  • The Pool Player, to be published soon
  • The Carpenters Go Country?'' in Yesterday Once More : Memories of the Carpenters and Their Music by Randy Schmidt (Editor), Tiny Ripple Books, 2000
  • and many, many articles in magazines and news papers