E. Duke Vincent grew up in New York and New Jersey. A TV writer and producer, he joined Aaron Spelling in 1977 at Spelling Television, where he is currently executive producer and vice chairman. His credits include the series Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Dynasty, Hotel, Vega$, Charmed, 7th Heaven, and Clubhouse. His TV movies include the Emmy award-winning Day One and And the Band Payed On.
Author biography courtesy of Bloomsbury USA.
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Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Vincent:
"The first thing I did when I left the Navy was buy a small restaurant/cocktail lounge in New Jersey to support my family while I got my start writing. I loved it, and actually owned it for nine years."
"I married the star of one of the TV shows I produced: Pamela Hensley of Matt Houston."
"I still love to fly and am a trustee of the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida."
"I fly my own airplane -- a Beech King Air 300 turboprop -- and will use it on my book tour. At the moment: Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles."
"I'm a fly-fisherman and golfer with a ridiculously high handicap."
"Aaron Spelling and I have been together for 28 years, and in my 40-year career I've written or produced over 2,300 hours of television, including 1,600 hours of prime time and over 750 hours of daytime television. My current titles are executive producer and vice chairman of Spelling Television. It's been one helluva run... but this is my first novel."
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In the spring of 2005, E. Duke Vincent took some time out to talk to us about some of his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
A kid I met on a fire escape had introduced me to the world of books in the summer of 1950. His name was Sidney Butcher, and he is the subject of my novel, Mafia Summer -- but in spite of the hundreds of books I read through the years, and although I became a television writer in 1965, I never considered writing a novel until 1969, when I read Mario Puzo's The Godfather. His brilliant blend of a loving family juxtaposed with the violent world of organized crime totally engrossed me. I got it. I was mesmerized. I knew these people. I related to it because I had grown up around them for most of my early life in New York and New Jersey. Certainly not on as grand a scale -- but all the elements: the loves, the hates, the relationships, the unforgettable characters, and the story -- I identified with everything the man wrote. But I had no idea that it would be another 34 years before I would actually sit down and type the title Mafia Summer on a blank page one.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
The books I gravitate toward tend to fall into three categories. History and historical fiction, mystery, and action adventure -- and all tend to be "light reading." Through the years I've read classics from Aristotle's Rhetoric to Joyce's Ulysses, but I can't say that I remember enjoying them.
In the history and historical fiction category: Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra -- although they are Shakespeare's plays, I originally read them in book form. Why? What's not to like about the brilliance of the author, who was exquisitely exploring the lives of real people who lived in real times? However, what hooked me was the relationship between Julius and Marc Antony, and the fact that they were both in love with the woman who would ultimately be their downfall.
Another book about the same two men that remains a favorite is: Emperor, Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden. It explores Caesar and Antony's youth, and once again even though you know where the story will ultimately lead, the journey is fascinating.
Tolstoy's War and Peace puts you dead center in the middle of two periods that changed history and is packed with unforgettable characters. Here, although the history is true and the main characters are fictional, I never had that feeling. To me it was real -- even though I knew it wasn't. That's one helluva writer.
History again...Bruce' Catton's The Coming Fury is an incredibly detailed study of the Civil War. Here both the history and characters are real and you are there. These things actually happened and the people actually lived. They are part of our history, and when you read it you find yourself saying, "How could this happen? These were brilliant and honorable men!" To me it bears out the saying that "truth is stranger than fiction."
In the Mystery category: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear because they introduced us to Sherlock Holmes, who, I believe is one of the most -- if not the most -- unforgettable character in fiction. The elegance and style with which he leads us through intrigue, murder, and plot twists spiced with incredibly diabolical villains is priceless. And, once again, we have a unique relationship: Holmes and Watson's friendship at the heart of the mysteries, which I believe makes the books personal and relatable to the average reader.
In the action adventure category, I tend to agree with the general public since all of my choices have been bestsellers. Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October was one of my favorite page-turners. I thought the characters and relationships were excellent, but it was the cross-cutting between the Soviet submarine and its American counterpart that held me riveted. The moves and counter-moves of the antagonists... in other words, to me, it was the story that was the driving force of the novel. Even though the captains of the opposing submarines developed an unusual relationship and ultimately a great respect for each other, to me it was the story that was primary.
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. It combines mystery and intrigue with subject matter that I had never come across. Here again, I thought that the characters and relationships were excellent, but the heart of what held me was a unique story told as if it were an unstoppable train roaring ever closer to its final destiny. The brilliance of the novel lies in the feeling that everything that is described in the novel could be true. Whether it is or not is beside the point: it gets you thinking -- and wanting to know more.
Robert B. Parker's novels -- all 50 of them, but especially the Spenser series. I do not believe anyone weaves a better "yarn" than Robert Parker. But his style and his humor -- especially his humor -- are what make him tower over fellow authors who write in the same genre. It's matchless. The dialogue between all of his characters sings with one-liners and quips, but the scenes between Spenser and Hawk are priceless. Again, at the heart of the novel is a unique relationship. Everything else revolves around it -- and that to me is ultimately what makes for the best reading, fiction or nonfiction.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Number one would have to be Lawrence of Arabia. Few films match it for sheer scope, spectacle, and magnificent score, but what David Lean did to captivate the audience was develop a relationship between two vastly different men from immensely disparate cultures. He introduces them as adversaries and leads us through distrust, friendship, and ultimately to brothers who become legend. Against the backdrop of war, and imbued with characters who are larger than life in real life, he paints stunning pictures with his camera -- but once again, at the heart of the story are two very unlikely friends. Am I beginning to sound like a broken record? Yes? Then I will go in the completely opposite direction for my second favorite film.
A Guy Named Joe -- This film is as small as Lawrence is large. Not two men; but a man and a woman. Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne directed by Victor Fleming (The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind) in a love story about two pilots during World War II. The story is so simple that it defies the result. They love each other, but are not married. At the moment there's a war on and it's too complicated. He worries about her flying. She worries about his dying. In scene after scene of brilliant performances and overlapping dialogue the two lovers completely captivate the audience with their love story. One of the more intriguing twists in the film is that Tracy is killed, but in spite of all that the audience has invested in the Tracy/Dunne love story, a new relationship -- with Tracy's spiritual blessings -- evolves, and brings the film to a happy ending. A side note: The incomparable Steven Spielberg remade this film. It was called Always. For me, it failed. Why? The two main characters lacked the chemistry that disguised the frailty of the very simple story.
The Godfather Parts I, II and III -- For all the reasons that I stated earlier, but with the added element of superb casting and brilliant direction. It's impossible to conceive of a way that it could have been made better. Puzo and Coppola have an intriguing story to tell, but there have been many Mafia stories. Here I believe the story takes a backseat to the characters and their relationships. The actors in their roles fairly leap off the screen, making it impossible to visualize any one else playing the parts.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
My mother played the organ in silent movie houses before she was married, and my father loved Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo, and literally all the Italian operas. Our home was filled with classical music as I grew up. Almost every Sunday afternoon, relatives and friends would gather for multi-course Italian dinners, after which they would all gather around the piano and sing opera. I loved it as much as I loved the food. My tastes expanded when I became a teenager and began to worship the Big Bands. It was the "Swing Era" -- Dorsey, James, Goodman, Barnett, Kenton, Ellington, Basie, and Shaw, to name a few. The singers were Sinatra, Eckstine, Fitzgerald, Vaughan, Day, and Shore, to name just a few. My tastes have remained the same, although I added some rock and a lot of disco to my listening -- but nothing when I write.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
Probably a mix of the classics and popular fiction. Even though Joyce, Gibbon, and Aristotle can be difficult, I think it's important that you are exposed to them as well as to "escapist fare."
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I love to receive beautifully illustrated "coffee table books" because I'd never think of buying them for myself. Everything from Winslow Homer to Fra Angelico -- from The World Encyclopedia of Cars to Earth from Above. I was given a large volume called Sinatra Treasures -- intimate photos, mementos, and music from the Sinatra family collection. It's fabulous. I give them for the same reason I like to get them.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
My desktop is pretty normal. A leather blotter set and a few family and pet photos. The only ritual I have is to never stop writing after I have completed a scene. I always stop before I've completed the scene so that I have a running start the next time I sit down to write. I find that once you build a little momentum, it's much easier to be "off and running."
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I was a naval aviator and I flew the 1960-61 seasons with the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels. In 1960, NBC bought a half-hour TV series called The Blue Angels. Although actors played our parts, we did the actual flying for the show. That was where I got my first taste of writing: It was with an ex-Blue Angel who was out of the Navy and writing scripts for the show. I loved it, and when I resigned my commission in 1963, I returned to New York to look for work.
At the time, the 7 Arts Studio wanted to make a documentary TV series called Man in Space. I told them I knew the space program like the proverbial back of my hand, and that I knew all the astronauts. It wasn't true. I knew as much as any military pilot knew about Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, but I had only met one astronaut -- Wally Shirra. They bought my story, I got the job, and I wrote five very successful documentary hours. The last of them brought me to JPL in Pasadena, and the producer of the series asked me if I'd like to see a taping of the old Dick Van Dyke Show, since two of his friends were the head writers. I said sure, and we went. I met the writers as well as the producers: Carl Reiner and Sheldon Leonard. I told them all that I thought I could write comedy and they said, "Fine -- go home and write a script." So I did -- and did -- and did -- until they finally said they liked what I was doing and I moved to Hollywood.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Never stop writing. You never know when you'll catch lightning in a bottle. The great news about writing is that no one has to hire you. In film or TV, if you're an actor, producer, director, or whatever -- someone has to hire you so that you can display your talents. Not so if you're a writer. You can just sit down and write. No one can stop you. Even though it's true that you have to be "read" to be discovered by an agent or publisher, the fact of the matter is that something concrete exists after you've finished. If you're good, the chances that it will happen are infinitely better if you never stop than if you give up. Never stop writing.
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