It all started in May. Wired: The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi, by Bob Woodward, was officially published on June 4th, 1984, two years after the comedian died of an overdose of cocaine and heroin. Judy Jacklin Belushi, and the friends who circle around her like satellites, had received advance copies of the book, and the entire situation was a mess from the start. There had been such a sense of expectation about — not only had John Belushi’s widow initiated the project, but she had also read her diaries to Woodward and persuaded her friends to talk— even the famous ones, like Dan Aykroyd and John Landis. She had, above all else, hoped for a sympathetic biography. Instead, she got 432 pages of cold facts, the majority of them drug related and ugly. “The man in Wired is not the man I knew,” Jacklin said. And with that began the controversy.
She had already had misgivings. “There were innumerable problems with Bob getting the manuscript to me,” Jacklin said later. “It was, ‘Oh, your sister is supposed to send you a copy…. No, it was Federal Expressed to you.’ That went on for two weeks.” Yet when she finally did receive Wired, she didn’t read it immediately — she was working on another project Two days later, Jacklin read a part of the book (“It’s very long, you know”), and although she had been warned by her sister, Pam Jacklin, who had been involved with Wired from its inception, to expect the worst, Judy was “hopeful for the rest of the book. It didn’t seem terribly negative. But two days later, I read more. By then, it was pretty disturbing.”
It wasn’t a fair portrait of John, she said. There was no joy in the book, no balance. “I loved John because he was warm,” Jacklin said. “He was a very likable person. He had a terrific presence, and Woodward missed all that.” Wired, Jacklin claimed, was only about drugs and madness, and it wasn’t even accurate. “People claim it’s all facts,” she said. “It’s not all facts. It’s a bunch of people’s opinions and memories put forth as facts. And when someone like Bob Woodward, who everyone thinks of as an ace reporter, uses these people as expert sources, it becomes very frightening. He’ll quote someone like, say, Carrie Fisher, who was on the Blues Brothers set maybe ten days, saying, ‘Well, it looked like he was doing four grams a day.’ Well, we’re talking about my life here. I was there. He may have it that way in his notes, but it’s wrong.”
In the beginning of June, Jacklin put forth her arguments in People magazine, and later on the Today Show and Good Morning America. She often sounded confused, but her friends were less conflicted.
“Trash,” proclaimed Dan Aykroyd in the June 7th Philadelphia Inquirer, while on the road to promote Ghostbusters. “Exploitation, pulp trash…. I think to delve into that sordid, tragic story in the way [Woodward] did was unforgivable. None of us knew what he was really up to…. Initially, I was against doing a book of any kind. But it was Bob Woodward, you know, and I thought, hey, this might actually turn out to be a class act.”
“The man is a ghoul,” claimed Jack Nicholson later in Interview magazine, “and an exploiter of emotionally disturbed widows…. Here’s a guy who has a reputation, right? I’ve obviously seen this kind of work before — it’s the lowest… This guy is actually finished. I believe that.”
The hue and cry was heard even from celebrities not in the book (Taxi‘s Tony Danza: “What I didn’t like about the Bob Woodward book is that it didn’t show what a great guy John was”) and those who were only marginal characters (comedian Richard Belzer: “He betrayed Judy’s trust; she went to him because he’s so respected, so John’s life would not be sensationalized, and now that’s what happened”).
Shortly after Aykroyd’s interview in Philadelphia, he stopped talking to print journalists. He refused an interview with People, reportedly complaining that the magazine had portrayed Jacklin as a “whining, hysterical widow,” even though her byline had appeared on the story. Aykroyd clearly wanted out of the picture and stayed away from Wired in subsequent TV interviews.
In the meantime, Bob Woodward was busily expressing shock and surprise over what could now be officially termed the Wired Controversy. By early June, he was out promoting the book, which had been excerpted in Playboy and serialized in about fifty newspapers (including, of course, the Washington Post, Woodward’s mother ship). Wired was receiving mostly negative reviews — the New York Times book-review section attacked Woodward’s “magnifying-glass-on-credit-card-receipt approach” as extremely ineffectual; Kirkus Reviews called Wired a “pointless docudrama”; and Time slashed away, claiming, “The entire book is basically an exercise in casting: get the country’s star investigative reporter to tackle ‘the unanswered questions’ about the grubby death of America’s favorite counterculture comedian…. But Wired, so full of details, is so short on insight that Belushi never becomes any larger or more understandable than a gifted guy who pigged out on success.” The slagging only fueled the ruckus — and increased sales. Wired, it appeared, had a powerful allure. After an original print run of 175,000 copies, Simon and Schuster, Wired‘s publisher, rushed another 100,000 into print.
By this point, Jacklin was suing Woodward and Simon and Schuster (she lost) over their supposedly unauthorized use of a photograph, and celebrities like Penny Marshall and Bill Murray were still denouncing Wired to the press. Woodward remained stoic, maintaining over and over again that his book was true, that Judy would see that someday and that, yes, drugs were everywhere, especially in Hollywood. Over and over, he would say that Wired simply held a mirror up to Hollywood, but Hollywood was unable to look. Hence, the outcry.
Under the pressure, Woodward seemed to lose his reserve. He attacked Aykroyd, accusing him of “adopting the Nixonian style of dealing with reality,” and told Diane Sawyer on the CBS Morning News that “a number of people have said to me…there are probably forty people at the Washington Post who use cocaine regularly. I don’t know any of them.” Donald E. Graham, publisher of the Post, reacted quickly (“I don’t know what Bob is talking about”), and someone at the Post reportedly began circulating buttons that said, I GOT MINE FROM WOODWARD.
While Woodward was making minor public slips, Judy Jacklin was repeatedly undercutting her better points (e.g.: “I think [Woodward] took a very complicated story and made it very simple”) with foolish arguments (e.g.: “He doesn’t tell the story that drugs can be fun”). Generally, Woodward seemed cool and thoughtful, but Jacklin, as one friend said, came across as “a professional widow.”
By mid-June, on the advice of friends, Jacklin stopped talking to the press. In her absence, Woodward talked for her. While he was eloquently explaining on talk show after talk show how he still liked her and how his book was honest and how Judy would see that someday, Jacklin herself was off fuming in Martha’s Vineyard. “I went around for days talking to myself,” she now says, months later. “I was very depressed. I had expected the sadness in the book, but I thought it should be balanced by joy, the joy John had and the joy he brought others. I learned that Bob is a very joyless man, and I don’t think that he could ever see what made John happy. I also don’t think he could see our relationship. He’s had two divorces, and he’s the kind of guy who shares more with someone at the office than with his wife. I don’t think he believed we really loved each other. I also don’t think he believed I really knew John.”
It was two years ago today,” Judy Jacklin is saying from her dining-room table in the house she and Belushi lived in on Martha’s Vineyard, “that I had my first meeting here with Bob Woodward.” She shakes her head, nervously picking at nonexistent lint on her shirt Jacklin, who is thirty-three, thin and boyish, doesn’t look much like her photographs, and she looks different in each one. She has been up in the Vineyard all summer, part of the time working with two of her friends, comedy writers Anne Beatts and Deanne Stillman, on Titters 101, a humorous introduction to women’s literature. Her house is comfortable, overlooking miles of beautiful beach. It seems the house of a very rich teenager: children’s books, a drum kit and a large telescope decorate the living room.
Jacklin says she’s nervous. She moves quickly, anxiously. She’s more comfortable around Beatts or her other friends — she is funnier, more at ease. When they’re not around, she speaks in sentenceless bursts, and she wants to tape our conversation. “I look at what’s been published,” she says, “and I think I sound crazy.
“For the first month or two after John’s death,” Jacklin begins, “I was in a state of shock, and I don’t remember much. I tried to make it look like I knew what I was doing, but mainly, I was in shock. There were strange things going on. I was trying to find out what had happened with John. There was so much confusion about his death. They were talking about heroin, which was not a drug he used, and the police wouldn’t give us good answers. Then I started getting calls. One person said that he’d heard a tape of Cathy Smith saying she had shot him up. [Smith was with Belushi before he died and later admitted having injected him with drugs.] An investigator from the LAPD told Pam he believed it was suicide. There were rumors that Cathy Smith was a police informant. It was very odd. It led me to fear that Cathy Smith [and some of her friends] were police informants. The point then being that my husband, who did have a drug problem, got involved with some people who perhaps the police wanted him to get involved with. Or maybe the police wanted John to get involved with these people to reach some other show-business people. Because of their influence, he became involved with heroin and died.
“I didn’t know enough about this, so I approached Bob Woodward. He was my idea. John had read All the President’s Men, and he had talked about it. I think he even read parts to me, and I just had this feeling Woodward was someone John would have liked. I was interested in the truth. Reporters who have been friends of John’s only had nice things to write, and those that didn’t know him attacked him. And I thought, ‘There must be someone you can trust.’ And I thought, Bob Woodward.”
Pam Jacklin, who acts as Judy’s attorney, was the one who contacted Woodward. “I look at it now,” Pam Jacklin says, “and I think, how could I have been so dumb? But after we’d hired a private investigator to find out about John’s death, we realized that in show-business or governmental worlds, no investigator would get that far. I thought one might get better answers if one had a name himself, and Bob Woodward seemed perfect.”
After dismissing others’ opinions that Woodward was a bad writer (Pam Jacklin: “I thought people always like to carp at greatness”) and quizzing a colleague who had been interviewed by Woodward for his book on the U.S. Supreme Court, The Brethren, Jacklin phoned him at the Washington Post. She asked if he’d be interested in writing what she and her sister then saw as a series of newspaper articles about Belushi’s death.
Woodward met with Judy Jacklin in Manhattan on July 15th, 1982 — four months after Belushi’s death. She liked him. He was familiar — Jacklin, Belushi and Woodward were all from the same small town, Wheaton, Illinois. There was an immediate frame of reference, and when Woodward told Jacklin he was interested in more than just Belushi’s death, that he wanted to write about the man himself, she wanted to help. When Woodward asked for complete editorial control, she agreed. She thought he understood. “But I should have had some doubts.”
Jacklin pauses, now wiping nonexistent particles off the table in front of her. “Woodward gives you that ‘trust me, trust me’ feeling. The ‘yes, I understand’ type of thing, and I believed him. He seemed so honest. He would say over and over, ‘John was a wonderful man. We must tell his story.’ He lied to me, and I trusted him. I was like a Pavlovian dog. I was calling him up whenever anyone said anything weird about him or John or the story, and he would reassure me. He’d kinda laugh and say, ‘It’s like the game “telephone.” When you hear something that bothers you, you should phone me.’ I was completely under his influence. I was being honest and open, so I thought he was being the same, but that wasn’t Bob at all. I have no problems calling Bob Woodward a liar.”
Jacklin first became alarmed about Woodward’s intentions when the subject of the book’s title came up (it’s unclear when the newspaper project turned into a book). She says Woodward had let her believe that the title would be something along the lines of Portrait of an American Artist, and when she heard the title was to be Wired, she flew into a rage. And a panic: Wired focused on the negative — drugs.
“Woodward tried to explain,” recalls Pam Jacklin. “He had a triple-entendre theory that ‘wired’ meant (a) vibrant and alive, (b) successful and plugged into the system and (c) drugs.” She laughs. “He denied the audience would take it as a drug term.” The Jacklins, Woodward and Alice Mayhew, Woodward’s editor at Simon and Schuster, set up a lunch to discuss the title. “They told us, ‘When you see the book, that will make it okay,’ ” Pam Jacklin recalls. “But clearly, Judy had said, if that’s the title, she wants to be disassociated from the book, and Woodward said, ‘We can make all this better by not having you read it in advance. That way you won’t feel responsible for everything you can’t change.’
“But the truth is,” she continues, the title was “not my bitch with the book. The bigger problem is that the book missed the man. You could change a million drug scenes, and Woodward still would have missed the man.”
“It’s funny,” Judy Jacklin says. “I wanted the system to work. I wanted someone to take a realistic look at John, and that’s why I chose Woodward, but the whole time I believed his image totally. You know, Watergate and Robert Redford. I was trying to say that John Belushi was a person, but I got someone to help me who I only knew as an image. I never knew what Bob Woodward was really like.”
She looks embarrassed, but then toughens, remembering her anger and the tape recorder. “But that doesn’t excuse Woodward,” she says. “He manipulated me. He essentially raped my memories. My mental image of John — which was very strong — was stolen and used as the main character in Bob Woodward’s novel.”
Bob Woodward is going through his files. “These are just a small part of my files,” he says, from somewhere beneath the bookshelves in his Washington Post office, which looks exactly the way a newspaper office should: paper-covered messy desk, cluttered bookshelves. And Woodward looks the way a newspaper reporter should: slightly rumpled, basically preppy. He’s dressed in blue: rolled-up shirt sleeves, slacks, slightly loosened tie.
Woodward is still rummaging and finally finds what he’s looking for. “Okay,” he says, smiling, “here it is.” He hands over yet another piece of paper to make yet another point. “When you’re trying to determine credibility, proof is always a good thing.”
Woodward likes to stick to the facts — he has been producing documents for the last hour. It’s so much cleaner than sorting through emotions. His documents, notes and transcripts will neatly bear him out, point by point, every time. Woodward has always loved facts: the facts guarantee him control over any situation. Emotions can be so unclear, and as a child, growing up in Wheaton, Woodward perhaps learned to steel himself against psychological pain after his parents’ messy divorce. “You protect yourself,’ he has said. “You do your schoolwork. You have your friends. You have your activities. You don’t have an emotional life.”
Woodward attended Yale on an ROTC scholarship, and after graduation, in 1965, he spent four years in the navy. In 1970, although already accepted at Harvard Law School, Woodward applied for a job at the Washington Post. He failed his two-week tryout but landed a job on a Maryland weekly. By 1971, the Post had hired him permanently. In 1972, he and Carl Bernstein broke the first Watergate story. The rest is history, both real and cinematic: Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate stories helped bring down a president and made them stars. When the movie version of All the President’s Men was released, Bob Woodward was, in the minds of millions, transformed into Bob Redford.
This transition from reporter to celebrity affected Bernstein more than Woodward. After the pair finished The Final Days in 1976, Bernstein went to work for ABC. Woodward, reportedly, felt that Bernstein hadn’t pulled his weight on The Final Days, that he was having problems with his sudden fame. In the years after Watergate, Bernstein spent money wildly, had a scandalous affair while married to writer Nora Ephron and was arrested for drunk driving. Woodward, meanwhile, was hard at work (with boyhood friend and Post reporter Scott Armstrong) on The Brethren. Although controversial because of its gossipy nature, reconstructed conversations and anonymous sources, The Brethren was another best seller. Woodward seemed infallible until, in 1979, the Washington Post made him editor of its metropolitan section.
“He’s not a good editor,” says one of his former reporters, who, typically, wishes to remain anonymous on the subject of Bob Woodward (“It doesn’t pay to get either the Post or Woodward angry with you”). “Bob is cold. He works all the time, and he doesn’t understand people who aren’t the same. He doesn’t have too much capacity for compassion. He was sort of learning to be compassionate toward the end, but then that’s the point. He’s mechanical. He has to work at being human.”
“The end” came when Janet Cooke, who was one of Woodward’s star reporters, confessed that her Pulitzer Prize-winning story about an eight-year-old heroin addict had been fabricated. “It was my fault more than anyone else’s,” he says. One Post staffer says the incident undid Woodward: “Bob just fell apart, physically and in every other way. I think he was wondering if he even had a career left.”
After a grace period, Woodward was put in charge of the “SWAT team,” the Post‘s investigative unit. “When Bob realized he wasn’t going to one day be Ben Bradlee [executive editor of the Washington Post],” says a friend, “I think he got scared. He told me at one point, ‘I have to do books. Books get remembered.’ “
But a book on John Belushi hardly seemed like a Woodward project. It was entertainment and L.A., not politics and D.C. One theory was that Woodward’s interest in Belushi was sparked by his friendship with Bernstein, whose self-destructive tendencies are public knowledge. “I doubt that,” says Alice Mayhew, who knows both men and has edited all of Woodward’s books. “If Bob had thought anyone would make that connection, he never would have written the book in the first place.”
Another associate has a different theory: “I suspect Bob saw the Belushi book as a challenge. I think he was intrigued by the idea of exploring the dark side of somebody else’s soul, but there’s a problem: Bob isn’t all that introspective. He’s a wonderful machine for gathering facts. He’s not good at insight, and in this case, he wanted to go beyond the facts, and he just couldn’t He couldn’t see — the gray areas were too immense — and the facts about Belushi became his only refuge.”
Woodward wouldn’t completely disagree. He was fascinated by the failure of success in Belushi’s case, and facts, in Woodward’s opinion, simply get you the farthest distance the fastest. “I think the facts loom so large in this book,” he says, “that they outweigh any analytical comments I might have made. The facts told a tremendous amount. And that’s part of what this controversy is about: seeing and accepting those facts.”
Woodward stops to look for another document. He’s like a kid searching for a toy. There is something childlike about him — he has very bright eyes and an open face — and during the last hour he’s been fidgeting like a ten-year-old, playing with a penknife, tapping his desk rhythmically with a ruler. This all belies the fact that Woodward is quite serious. His mind is uncannily focused.
“Look,” he says, pulling a letter from its envelope. “This is from Judy, sent sometime in ’83. The letter says at the end, ‘I know you are under no obligation to me, but I know you will weigh what I have to say.’ Well, there it is. In her writing. That’s exactly what I did. I always made it clear to them. I told them I’m not one of the pocket people. Not one of the hanger-on journalists who really aren’t journalists. Not one of the people who are part of the club, part of the entourage. I said, ‘Look. I’m in charge.’ ” Woodward pauses. “The problem here is that I can’t argue against their hope. I can argue the facts — who said what or who didn’t say what — but I can’t argue with their hope for this book. And what I didn’t understand at the time, particularly with Judy, was how angry she was with John for dying. For not including her. Everyone who was close to John was wrestling with that issue of for whom the bell tolls — to what extent are you involved in somebody else’s life, and what could you have done? And all these people were wrestling this issue out with themselves on my wrestling mat, which is my notebook and so forth, so I put it in.”
Woodward stares a second, collecting his thoughts. “John Belushi died of drugs. And it’s awful and it’s sad and it was preventable. All but the ending was written. Judy said it many times. But she didn’t see the ending or know when the ending would come. And when it did come, she wasn’t there.” Woodward pauses again. “I showed Judy the ending. And that’s what this is all about. I showed Judy the ending. It’s that simple and that complicated.”
It’s June 18th, and Tim Kazurinsky, just back from seeing Jacklin in Martha’s Vineyard, is nearly screaming. “I would spit in Bob Woodward’s eye if I saw him,” he says, punctuating the statement with a drag on his cigarette. “I mean, there were some sleazy motherfuckers who ripped John off when he was alive, but Bob Woodward’s the only bastard low enough to pick his bones.” Kazurinsky takes another puff. “And people will believe this book, too. After all, Bob Woodward wrote it. He’s God. He’s…Watergate.”
Kazurinsky, who starred on and wrote for Saturday Night Live during the last three years, is barely in Wired (“We had more stuff from him,” says John Anderson, Woodward’s research assistant on the book, “but it was more about Tim Kazurinsky than John Belushi”). Belushi got Kazurinsky his job on SNL. “I never knew anyone stronger,” Kazurinsky says. “He protected his family and friends and the people he loved. He said to his family, ‘Give me five years and I’ll take care of you for life.’ He had such a magnetic personality. I miss him a lot.”
Kazurinsky has remained close to Jacklin. She called him after the book’s publication, and he flew up to the Vineyard at once. “We went to John’s grave,” Kazurinsky says, “and Judy kept saying, ‘They can’t hurt him anymore. But they can hurt his memory.’ ” Kazurinsky stamps out his cigarette. “This book is just not what John’s life was about.”
Take the Noble Rot stuff at the end, he says. Noble Rot was a movie Don Novello and Belushi had written before John died. According to Wired, Paramount (and almost everyone else) hated the script and coerced Belushi into considering another movie, The Joy of Sex. Woodward told Jacklin that Paramount was the bad guy, Kazurinsky says, yet she believes he wrote the incident from Paramount’s point of view. “Judy has a theory,” Kazurinsky explains. “She thinks Woodward may have been swayed by the fact that both Paramount and Simon and Schuster are owned by Gulf and Western.” Yet even Kazurinsky seems to doubt the plausibility of this argument, and Woodward thinks “it’s more than absurd” to suggest it.
Aside from any conspiracy, Jacklin believes that Wired is, really, the Bob Woodward Story. “I think he told his own story,” she says. “He just used John to do it. He told his own story in the guise of social comment on the drug culture. Bob said a strange thing at our first meeting. He said, ‘Yes, yes, it’s so amazing: Wheaton and the whole thing. I know what it’s like to have early fame. And I hate to say it, but it’s almost like you’re already dead.’ “
In early June, Jacklin decided she wanted a forum to express her own views, and she phoned up a friend, Rolling Stone contributing editor David Felton. Felton was part of the Saturday Night Live scene: he had met John while writing a story on Steve Martin and had also written for Square Pegs, Anne Beatts’ short-lived comedy series about high school.
Woodward has maintained that most of the interviewees in Wired couldn’t stay away from the subject of John Belushi and drugs, and Felton turns out to be a perfect example. Within the first five minutes of our conversation, Felton related a long anecdote about doing drugs with Belushi in his SNL dressing room. (“Belushi said, ‘You weren’t here. I wasn’t here. This never happened.’ “) Felton had his opinions on Jacklin. “Judy called me when I was in L.A.,” Felton recalls, “and she asked me if I would go up to Martha’s Vineyard and get her side of things. I was working on a script, but I said, ‘Let me read the book, and I’ll call you back.’ I read the book, and I thought it was terrible but probably not as damaging as Judy thinks. Her life is so wrapped up in John, she can’t see much else. She impressed me as an obsessed woman.”
Bob Woodward is on Donahue, fielding questions about Cathy Smith, the woman the Los Angeles Police Department let go even though they found a syringe and a spoon in her purse. “You would think,” Phil Donahue is saying in that way only Donahue can, “that Woodward would be the guy that would tell us why the Los Angeles police were so inept…and why Cathy Smith was cavalierly released to go to Canada. And we don’t hear from Mr. Woodward. Why?”
“The answer is,” Mr. Woodward says, “and this is the horror of this story — it’s all over Hollywood…. It’s everywhere. And [the police] sort of say, ‘Oh. A syringe and a spoon. Well, we see those all the time. A little cocaine …some white powder on the dresser. We’ll just sort of brush it off.’ ” Donahue looks surprised. “It’s hard to believe,” he says, “given the superstardom and the fame of the body they found in that bed.” Woodward just shrugs and offers a nonanswer: “What more can I say?”
The best tools Woodward brought to the Belushi story were his investigative skills — but he was unable to dig up the answer to one of its biggest questions: was Cathy Smith an informer for the LAPD? And if there was any reason that Judy Jacklin wanted Woodward to investigate her husband’s death, it was to get that answer.
“I’ll tell you,” Woodward is saying in his Post office. “I pushed so hard with that. I had serious allegations that Smith was working for the LAPD. But they weren’t true, as best as I can tell. I spent a lot of time chasing down that stuff. It was one of the things I believed at first, and in the course of asking questions, and in reporting it out, as best I can tell, the allegations aren’t true.
“I wouldn’t rule out a connection, but the idea of publishing something like that in a book — no way. It’s just one of those rumors running around. I wanted to find the connection, because it’s suspicious — very, very suspicious — but I couldn’t find any concrete proof.”
At one point, Woodward told Jacklin he had heard there were phone records linking Cathy Smith to an L.A. police officer. Jacklin wrote in her diary, “I know that the one piece of evidence he said that he had was the phone record from the hotel in St. Louis (Cincinnati?) where Cathy Smith went to dry out after John died.” Woodward now says the number that supposedly belonged to the policeman didn’t; it was just the number of one of Cathy’s friends. “I’m still working on this, though,” he says. “Last month, someone gave me some more information, more names. I don’t know that you ever give up on this kind of story. You try to be smart, and you don’t give up.”
The Cathy Smith issue is only part of what upsets Jacklin. She’s also troubled by a scene from Wired in which John Landis, the director of National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers, punches John Belushi after he finds the actor coked to the gills in his trailer on the set of The Blues Brothers. Jacklin claims she was there at the time, and that Landis never hit Belushi. “Judy is very concerned,” says Pam Jacklin, “because Landis is up on an involuntary-manslaughter charge for Twilight Zone, and this incident paints him to be a violent man.”
Woodward is incredulous at hearing this version of the Landis story; he heads to his trusty files. “Okay. Here. November 17th, 1982. Landis’ place: Westbury Hotel, Sixty-ninth and Madison, $62 cash dinner, paid by me.” The Landis record, like all of Woodward’s records, is typed single-spaced from handwritten notes he took during the interview. He types all his notes after an interview, then hands the material over to his assistant (in this case, John Anderson), who cuts and pastes the quotes under appropriate subject headings. “Okay,” Woodward continues, flipping until he finds the right section, “this is Landis talking: ‘He came in a rage at me. I hit him in the face, and he fell down. We were both surprised….’ That’s Landis’ account of what happened. And there were other people from The Blues Brothers who knew about it, and they told me. Judy had said words to the effect of, ‘I knew something had happened. John was very upset. I got there late.’ That was all in her diary, which she read me. I’ve also never heard from Landis that this isn’t true.”
Jacklin would argue that Woodward’s notes are plain wrong. “The notes thing drives me crazy,” she says. “Just because it’s in his notes doesn’t make it true.” Says Woodward: “Don’t you see what’s happened? Someone gets an impression that something happened a certain way, whether it’s true or not, and that’s the way they remember it. But that’s not the way it was. I talked to the witnesses. I asked more than one person. I reported this story thoroughly.”
You can’t fight Woodward on the facts. But this hardly seems the point. Or the problem. The supposed discrepancies are just easier for all parties to fight about. There are much trickier issues involved, issues that can’t be resolved by pulling a file and finding a fact.
There is, for instance, the issue of betrayal, of integrity. Judy Jacklin clearly feels double-crossed by Woodward. She feels he let her believe what she wanted to believe, that he nodded his head at all the right moments and then went off and wrote his story. Which is what most journalists do.
But didn’t he experience some pangs, some sense that, to paraphrase Joan Didion, his presence ran counter to their best interests? Didn’t he realize that Wired wasn’t the book Judy Jacklin Belushi had wanted? No. This is, after all, a reporter who, when once asked where compassion ranked on a list of ten qualities of journalism, replied that even though “it gets factored in every time,” it might not make the list. “Or it might be number ten.”
Woodward values, above all else, what he perceives as the truth, and when it came to writing this book, he stuck to the facts and did his job. But the facts, and what Woodward perceives as his job, are not enough. The facts do not make a man.
“I’m sad and hurt that she’s so upset,” Woodward says. “It pains me. But I didn’t go to her as a friend. I went as a journalist. And I have to wrestle with that. It’s hard to fit your personal life and your friendships in with being a journalist. And you make decisions. You jump one way or the other, but you clearly define those decisions.
“Look. Judy said to me once, ‘John was creating a fantasy for people, and the less they knew about the reality the better.’ She told me that. That’s perfect, and it’s at the root of what’s going on. They kept reporters out of their house, and she let me in. My job was not to write about John’s fantasy. I was supposed to write about John’s reality, and I think they’re arguing about what happened in the story more than how I reported it. I think they wish John hadn’t died. I think they wish I had created a portrait of someone who was larger than life, larger than he was, and that, somehow, this portrait would all come out different. But that’s a fantasy, not journalism.”
Woodward stops a second, picking up a copy of Rolling Stone‘s John Belushi memorial issue. “Does it even say in here that John Belushi died of a drug overdose? No, it doesn’t. Everyone probably liked the issue, but Rolling Stone, who covered John Belushi more than any other magazine, never told the truth about him. They wrote a lot of good stuff about Saturday Night Live — and we used some things from this issue in the book. There’s a problem journalists have: how do you let a celebrity have his own self-portrait? In Belushi’s case, it certainly wasn’t the whole story. I used to have a rubber stamp that said FANTASY, and it would go right across the front of this magazine. Fantasy. This just isn’t journalism.” Woodward pauses. “And fantasy is not my job.”
There’s no star fucker,” Anne Beatts is saying, “like a celebrity.” She laughs nervously. “When Bob Woodward called, my secretary thought it was Robert Redford on the phone. Woodward was so charming, such a good listener, and we were so impressed meeting him. It was like, would Robert Redford lie to you? This man is a white knight, a good guy. How could he possibly be an exploitative scum-monger?”
Beatts is not alone. Wired has elicited an angry echo of protest all along the Hollywood-New York entertainment-world axis. Clearly, this world greeted Woodward as visiting royalty. Not only was he rich and famous, he was part of the East Coast journalistic establishment (a distinction that impresses the film community), and he was, indirectly, a movie star. When Woodward phoned, doors normally closed to the press swung open. But those who talked weren’t prepared for the results.
There was Steven Spielberg: “Woodward is beguiling. He seemed like a good egg, so I’m surprised by what I’ve heard.” (He hasn’t read the book.) And Kathleen Kennedy, who helps run Spielberg’s production company: “Woodward is beguiling, all right. From what I heard, he made buddy-buddy with everybody and then stabbed them in the back.” And Bernie Brillstein, Belushi’s manager: “I wonder if Richard Nixon is innocent I just wish this book would go away.” And Penny Marshall, who in Wired flushed Belushi’s heroin down the toilet: “I had thought, ‘What a neat guy,’ when I met Bob. But in retrospect, I feel manipulated. If he had said he was writing a book about John Belushi and drugs, no one would have talked to him. What would have been the point? John had bad habits. He died.” Marshall pauses. “I guess I wouldn’t pick a journalist to do my life story.”
And so it goes. Don Novello (a.k.a. Father Guido Sarducci) was reticent about being interviewed for this article until his agent asked for a list of who else was being interviewed, and then, suddenly, he was eager to talk. Multiply that apparent need to be in with the in crowd by 100 and you have some sense of how people in show business must have felt about appearing in Bob Woodward’s book. It was the place to be.
“I haven’t read it,” says Lorne Michaels, who produced the original Saturday Night Live and comes off as an intelligent, somewhat distant observer in Wired, “but what surprises me about this book is that my generation was so willing to testify against one another. People’s need to be in the spotlight, to brag and tell on each other, to confess their sins, did them in. But then, none of this should have taken place at all. People not familiar with the way we live came in with the moral zeal of a beginner. And show business is, after all, a life.” Michaels pauses. “But then, I haven’t read the book yet.”
“You better believe Lorne Michaels has read this book,” John Anderson is saying. He is sitting in the coffee shop of the Madison Hotel, located directly across the street from the Washington Post, and he is nearly laughing. “He’s read it. He was probably out there trying to get advance copies. While we were doing the book, the main thing Lorne was concerned about was how he was coming out. He kept asking, ‘How do I look? I don’t look really bad, do I? I’m so worried.’ It didn’t faze him in the least what he said, what NBC documents he gave to us, as long as we painted a glowing portrait of him.”
Anderson laughs. Now a twenty-seven-year-old metropolitan reporter at the Post, Anderson played an integral part in Wired. “I heard that Dan Aykroyd thought that Woodward had somehow flipped out and I had to write the second part of the book. But I looked at that like a schoolboy prank. When we started writing in January of ’83, I was pretty much a novice. Bob writes ten pages a day, and if he finishes his ten pages after two hours, then he’s done for the day, but he doesn’t stop until he’s finished. I’d walk in at nine o’clock in the morning, and there he’d be, on the third floor of his house, typing away, Beethoven screeching in the background. Day after day after day.”
Anderson did write the rough drafts of several sections of Wired, and he did many of the interviews. Unlike Woodward, he doesn’t seem particularly surprised by the negative reaction to the book, but he is disappointed — and defensive. “Most of these people have to answer to their peers,” he says. “Or their audience. And these people have now gotten their lawyers and managers together and have revved up the PR machine and are now spewing out this line about how Woodward betrayed them. It’s just incorrect. There was no trickery involved. These are people, really famous people, who have been through hundreds of interviews. They knew what they were doing.
“And as far as the book not containing the ‘good’ side of John Belushi, well, it was not for lack of trying. When we discovered that we didn’t have enough of Belushi and were jumping from one drug story to another, we went and reinterviewed a bunch of people. We said, ‘Tell me about the man. We’ve heard about the bad times — now what were the good times?’ And they would come out with these extremely lame answers like, ‘I don’t know. One time I went and had a really great dinner with John, but let me tell you about the time he dumped a gram of cocaine in my hand.’ You could not get these people away from it.”
Woodward has said repeatedly that he tried to get Jacklin and others to “talk about the good times,” but that anecdotes were not forthcoming. “I called up Judy and said, ‘Got a problem,’ ” Woodward recalls. “So she started reading her diaries to me, but we had to slash out whole months because they were too terrible.” Woodward dismissed other glowing stories — like many in the Rolling Stone memorial issue — as self-serving or not revealing of Belushi’s character.
“I think if you did a careful read,” he says, “Wired would stand the test of proportionality. Because I tested it.
“When you do something like this,” he continues, “you have to learn that people can’t see reality, especially in Hollywood. If I were rewriting the book now, I’d make another round of interviews and say, ‘You gotta give me a better picture of why you loved this man,’ because I think there’s some of the warmth that Belushi had that I didn’t capture. Too many people say that they don’t see it there. I would have liked to have more people who knew him saying things like, ‘That’s the John I knew.'”
Wired could have also benefited from some analysis — why was Belushi in a tailspin? why wasn’t fame the answer? why was he such a mess? — but the notion scared Woodward. “And scared is the right word,” he says. “I wrote a chapter of analysis. It was going to be at the front or the back of the book. I was trying to say what this all meant to me. But I didn’t know what it meant to me. I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s uncertain ground. People used to say during Watergate that I’d hide behind the facts. That I’d never go the next step and say, ‘Oh, this means the following.’ I don’t trust my ability to do that, and I’ll tell you something that sort of reflects that. Probably a couple of weeks before Nixon resigned, I was reading documents and tapes and said, ‘My God. Maybe he’s innocent. Maybe he didn’t do it.’ And I was really working it through, and I thought, maybe I should write a piece about technical innocence. I quickly discarded the idea, but it always taught me how stupid that article would have been. It was drawing a conclusion beyond the facts.”
Woodward leans back in his chair. He looks sad. “I want to talk to Judy,” he says. “I want to say I’m sorry she’s upset. She really loved John, and his death was a very sad thing. I’m sorry. But I did my job, and I can look her in the eye.” Woodward stares off into space. “This is so hard to talk about,” he says. “I just don’t know what the ending is yet.”
The ending may be created when Wired, the movie, is written. All of Hollywood is hot for this property. Columnist Marilyn Beck reported that bidding for film rights to the book was up to $2 million. Woodward won’t discuss details (“The movie is just … there,” he says, “and I can’t get much vaguer than that”), but he will say that “the film will probably begin with one of the reporters who wrote All the President’s Men.”
The irony is not lost on Woodward. Show business, the industry that has labeled him the enemy, is planning to mythologize him yet again. “I think the theme of this film should be self-knowledge,” Woodward says. “Just how much self-knowledge do people, including myself, depart the stage with after the drama unfolds, after the ending is clear. That should be the moral of Wired: What can this teach you?”
Judy Jacklin is now writing her own book, something she probably should have done from the start. Don’t Look Back in Anger is about “my widowhood. And since Bob Woodward was a big part of my widowhood, it’s also about Bob Woodward.” Jacklin also plans to begin lecturing about Belushi and Wired.
She doesn’t think she’ll ever talk to Woodward again (“I’d jump him if I saw him”), although at one time she was planning to bid on an item offered by Katharine Graham, board chairman of the Washington Post, at a Vineyard auction this summer. The item was a conversation with Katharine Graham and a tour through the Washington Post. Jacklin imagines their talk: “I’d like to say, ‘Well, Katharine. What do you think about Bob Woodward?’ “
Jacklin laughs nervously. She says she hates Woodward. She says her biggest mistake was in “trusting the truth,” but that wasn’t the problem at all. Jacklin’s biggest error was in expecting the impossible. The John Belushi only she knew could not be resurrected by any other person.
“It’s funny,” Jacklin says. “The last thing I said to Woodward was ‘Bye, Brad. Nice knowing you.’ We were joking about how you can spend a lot of time with a person and not know them at all.” She pauses. “But, then again, I guess you can’t ever really know another person, now can you.”