"Of all the documentaries that have been made about John, this is the one he would have loved."
~ Yoko Ono~
An increasingly unpopular war and a restive public …
A presidential administration engaged in secret surveillance and wiretapping…
A world-famous musician who speaks out in protest … and comes under fire
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Before Iraq, before the Bush Administration, before the Dixie Chicks, Bruce Springsteen, and Pearl Jam … there was John Lennon, the celebrated musical artist who used his fame and his fortune to protest the Vietnam War and advocate for world peace. In the new Lionsgate and VH1 documentary, THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON, filmmakers David Leaf and John Scheinfeld trace Lennon’s metamorphosis from lovable “Moptop” to anti-war activist to inspirational icon as they reveal the true story of how and why the U.S. government tried to silence him.
Primarily focusing on the decade from 1966-1976, THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON places Lennon’s activism - and the socio-political upheaval it represented - in the context of the times. It was one of the most fractious periods of American history, dominated by the Vietnam War; the rise of antiwar, civil rights, New Left and other political movements challenging the status quo; the Nixon presidency; revelations of government deception, surveillance and harassment; and Watergate. The film features a large and diverse array of the era’s notable figures, men and women who bear immediate and authoritative witness to specific events as well as to the prevailing climate. Among them: African-American political activists Angela Davis and Bobby Seale; journalists Carl Bernstein and Walter Cronkite; Nixon Administration officials G. Gordon Liddy and John Dean; Vietnam veteran and antiwar activist Ron Kovic; the eminent American historian/novelist Gore Vidal; former New York Governor Mario Cuomo; and three-term Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern.
But it is John Lennon himself who is the documentary’s preeminent voice and galvanizing central presence. With Lennon’s own music providing subtly incisive narration, the film captures a public and private Lennon that many viewers may not know: a principled, funny, and extraordinarily charismatic young man who refused to be silent in the face of injustice. Yoko Ono, Lennon’s wife, creative collaborator and partner in their campaign for peace, has given the filmmakers unprecedented access to the Lennon-Ono archives, enabling them to draw upon never-before seen or heard audiovisual materials in telling their story. And in a series of in-depth interviews, Ono shares her personal memories, evoking as no one else can the realities of the couple’s daily lives; their hopes and happiness; and their long ordeal at the hands of the U.S. government.
Scrupulously researched and vividly illustrated, THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON illuminates a little-known chapter of modern history, when a president and his administration used the machinery of government to wage a covert war against the world’s most popular musician. Exploring an era roiled by many of the same issues confronting us today, THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON delivers a tale that speaks powerfully to our own unsettled times.
THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON is produced, directed and written by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld. Executive producers Kevin Beggs, Sandra Stern, Tom Ortenberg, Nick Meyer, Steve Rothenberg, Erik Nelson, Michael Hirschorn, Brad Abramson, and Lauren Lazin.
JOHN LENNON TIMELINE OF RELEVANT EVENTS
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February 9, 1964 - The Beatles make their first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
August 7, 1964 – At the request of the Johnson administration, Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing U.S. armed forces to repel armed attacks. Based on the Johnson’s administration’s claim that North Vietnamese soldiers had attacked a U.S. gunboat – a claim that has largely been discredited - the Resolution effectively allows the U.S. to send forces to Vietnam.
April 17, 1965 – 25,000 people participate in an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Washington D.C., the largest antiwar protest the capitol had yet seen.
July 28, 1965 – President Lyndon Johnson announces plans to send 44 more battalions to Vietnam, increasing the number of military personnel to 125,000. Monthly draft call-ups are doubled.
October 1966 –Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale found the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, CA. Founded on principles of black nationalism and self-determination, the party goes on to work with an array of leftist groups, including the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Youth International Party (Yippies), the Puerto Rican Young Lords of New York, and the Peace and Freedom Party of California.
June 1, 1967 – Vietnam veteran Jan Crumb and six fellow veterans found the antiwar group Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
October 22, 1967 – Over 100,000 people participate in the March on the Pentagon to demand an end to the Vietnam War. Among them are future Yippies Abbie Hoffman, Stew Albert and Jerry Rubin, who introduce some humor to the earnest gathering with an absurdist attempt to levitate the Pentagon.
December 31, 1967 – Paul Krassner comes up with a name for the merry band of political provocateurs consisting of himself, Abbie Hoffman, Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Stew Albert, among others: the Yippies. Anita Hoffman suggests an official-sounding name for the group: the Youth International Party.
January 30, 1968 – North Vietnam launches the Tet Offensive, targeting cities held by the U.S. and South Vietnam.
March 31, 1968 – President Lyndon Johnson, his popularity faltering due to the Vietnam War, announces he will not seek re-election.
August 28, 1968 – Violence erupts at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as police attack antiwar demonstrators, bystanders and news reporters in full view of national news cameras.
November 5, 1968 – Former Vice President Richard Nixon is elected president, narrowly defeating Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.
March 20, 1969 – John Lennon and Yoko Ono are married in Gibraltar.
November 12, 1969 – Investigative reporter Seymour Hersch publishes the first newspaper story about the March 1968 My Lai Massacre, during which an Army infantry murdered approximately 500 South Vietnamese civilians, mostly women, children, babies and the elderly. Support for the war erodes even further.
November 15, 1969 – Between 250,000-600,000 protestors participate in the Washington “Moratorium,” the largest single antiwar demonstration in U.S. history.
May 4, 1970 – Four college students are gunned down and nine others are wounded by the Ohio National Guard on the Kent State University campus. The students were demonstrating against the American invasion of Cambodia which President Richard Nixon launched on April 25, and announced in a television address five days later.
June 13, 1971 – The New York Times begins publishing excerpts from the “Pentagon Papers,” the top-secret 47-volume government study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam commissioned by Robert McNamara in 1967 and completed in 1969. The excerpts, which exposed deceptive practices by the government, increase public anger about the war. President Nixon’s Justice Department seeks a court injunction to prevent further publication, a move that is ultimately rejected by the Supreme Court.
June 17, 1972 – Five men are arrested at the office complex of the Watergate Hotel for attempting to break into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. The burglary is later traced back to the Nixon White House and the Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP), revealing a scheme to sabotage the Democratic presidential campaign.
November 7, 1972 – President Nixon is reelected to a second term, defeating Democratic nominee George McGovern in a landslide.
January 27, 1973 – The Paris Peace Accords are signed, clearing the way for U.S. military forces to leave Vietnam.
May 17, 1973 – The Senate Watergate Committee convenes its investigation into the Watergate break-in and the ensuing cover-up. The hearings are televised through August 7th.
July 27, 1974 – Congress recommends the first of three articles of impeachment, for obstruction of justice, against President Nixon.
August 8, 1974 – In a nationally televised speech, President Nixon announces his resignation, effective at noon the following day.
May 1, 1975 – The South Vietnamese government in Saigon falls to the North.
July 27, 1976 – John Lennon receives his green card in New York City.
December 8, 1980 – John Lennon is shot and killed outside his home, the Dakota, in New York City.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
“This is a film we’ve wanted to make for a long time,” says David Leaf of THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON, his and John Scheinfeld’s account of the United States government’s efforts to deport John Lennon in the early 1970s. “It’s definitely a forgotten story. The vast majority of the people who lived through that period and knew something about the Lennon case haven’t thought about it in a really long time. For anyone born since then, it’s a probably an unknown story. For the most part, what people under 40 know about John Lennon is that he was in the Beatles; he wrote “Imagine,” which they sang in a choir in school; and he was murdered. Other than that, I don’t think people really have a sense as to the courage with which he lived his life and his and Yoko’s willingness to put everything on the line for what they believed in.”
Early attempts to get the film off the ground in the 1990s were unsuccessful. But the filmmakers found themselves returning to the subject of Lennon’s travails in the wake of 9/11, the Iraq War, and the furor that erupted when entertainment figures spoke out in protest. Recalls Leaf, “We saw what happened when Bill Maher, the Dixie Chicks and other celebrities voiced their opinions regarding the war or the president. We thought by telling this story that took place 35 years ago, we could make a film that was relevant to the dialogue in America today.”
The events of 35-40 years ago were critical to the filmmakers’ conception of THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON. Says Scheinfeld, “This film had to be about the social, political and cultural landscape of America during this period, and what Lennon was stepping into when he took the stance that he did.”
Securing the cooperation of Yoko Ono was key, a matter of both cinematic necessity and principle. “We don’t do anything that’s not authorized,” notes Leaf. “In order to make a film with all the elements we needed – never-before-seen footage, John Lennon’s music, Yoko Ono’s memory, comments and observations on what happened to them – we had to go to Yoko and tell her, ‘Here’s what we want to do.’”
In thirteen years as production partners, Leaf and Scheinfeld have worked closely with great performers and their estates to make comprehensive biographical portraits that highlight the creative processes. Ono was familiar with the team’s work, having sat for an interview with Scheinfeld for his recent documentary about singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson, one of Lennon’s favorite artists and a close friend (Lennon produced Nilsson’s album “Pussy Cats”).
With a thorough understanding of the film Leaf and Scheinfeld had in mind, Ono agreed to participate. They began seeking a production partner and distributor, and approached Lionsgate, which was expanding deeper into feature documentaries with the production of Werner Herzog’s acclaimed GRIZZLY MAN and Lian Lunson’s LEONARD COHEN I’M YOUR MAN. They met with Kevin Beggs, President, Programming and Production for Lionsgate Television and head of the company’s documentary feature development and production arm. Though Beggs is a fan of the Beatles and Lennon, he knew little about Lennon’s deportation fight and was fascinated to learn about the shadowy machinations behind it. Beggs remarks, “The story John and David told was both compelling and relevant. We thought, ‘Wow. What a great follow up to not only GRIZZLY MAN but also to LEONARD COHEN.’”
Lionsgate President Tom Ortenberg agreed. “I thought it was an important story, and I knew David and John would make an informative, provocative and broadly entertaining film. You couldn’t ask for a more charismatic and intriguing subject than John Lennon.”
Beggs notes that the project’s topical nature was a natural fit for the studio that released not only FAHRENHEIT 9/11, but also CRASH and SECRETARY. “We’re committed to supporting controversial, provocative works that challenge the mainstream,” he affirms. “And nobody, now or then, embodies that spirit more than John Lennon.”
Kevin Beggs came to VH1 looking for a production and distribution partner and the cable channel signed on as a co-producer. VH1 will air the film commercial free after its theatrical and DVD release as part of its “Rock Docs” franchise, a series of feature length documentaries all revealing an untold story in the history of rock and hip-hop music, combining never-before-seen footage with a unique and unconventional narrative approach.
“This film is a natural addition to our Rock Docs franchise as we’re committed to providing our viewers with a visual history of some of the most important artists and movements in music. John Lennon was the voice of his generation and his stance against war and the challenges he faced in spreading a message of peace are proving to be a story that’s relevant today and is important to be told,” said Michael Hirschorn, Executive Vice President, Original Production and Programming, VH1.
THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON depicts an era of ongoing challenges to the mainstream as it follows Lennon’s journey from 1966, when he had his first significant brush with controversy in the U.S., to 1976, when he received his green card granting him permanent resident status. The narrative presents both the microcosm of Lennon’s personal experience and the macrocosm of the world in which it took place.
In tackling the larger historic landscape, Leaf and Scheinfeld sought to interview a broad range of notables whose lives were bound up in the era’s events. Leaf describes their criteria simply: “Who speaks with authority and credibility to what happened? Not somebody who was at a remove from it, not somebody who’s studied it, but somebody who was in the thick of it. We wanted the entire spectrum of participants, from the Nixon administration all the way to the far end of the radical left.”
The filmmakers had already begun work on the film in April 2005 with an interview of John Sinclair, whose 1969 sentencing on marijuana charges led to the benefit concert that would ultimately changed Lennon’s life. By July 2005, Leaf and Scheinfeld were well into production, and they conducted a remarkable series of interviews into the winter of 2006. The roster includes radical leaders who were targeted by the FBI (Professor Angela Davis, Black Panther founder Bobby Seale, Yippie Stew Albert), as well as two former FBI agents who participated in the bureau’s surveillance operations; former Nixon White House staffers G. Gordon Liddy and John Dean, as well George S. McGovern, Nixon’s Democratic opponent in the 1972 election; Walter Cronkite, the CBS News anchor voted “the most trusted man in America”; and Geraldo Rivera, whose legal representation of the New York Puerto Rican activist group the Young Lords jump-started his journalism career at WABC-Television in 1970.
Leaf and Scheinfeld wanted very much to interview former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who began his legal career in 1958 and served as New York’s Secretary of State from 1975-1978. As it happens, Ortenberg had come to know Cuomo when Lionsgate released the documentary FAHRENHEIT 9/11 in 2002. “I was fortunate enough to become friends with Governor Cuomo through our distribution of FAHRENHEIT 9/11, and we’ve remained good friends to this day,” says Ortenberg. “When this project came to us, I immediately thought of the Governor, who would likely have some very important things to say about that time in American history.”
Ortenberg phoned Cuomo about appearing in the film, and one day the Governor telephoned Leaf and Scheinfeld. Cuomo had concerns; he hadn’t known Lennon and admitted he wouldn’t necessarily know one Beatles song from another. Recalls Leaf, “He said, ‘Why do you want me?’ I said, ‘We want you to be our Cicero. We want you to talk about the Constitutional issues.’”
Interviews would sometimes take surprising turns. Leaf cites their session with Vietnam veteran/antiwar activist Ron Kovic, the subject of the film BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. “When Ron Kovic came for his interview, we had no idea how passionate he was about John Lennon,” Leaf notes. “But we knew who he was and what he had been through, and he brings a moral authority to the story because he actually went to Vietnam and lost the use of half his body because of the experience. He turned out to be, to us, one of the most important people in the movie because he makes such an emotional, visceral connection between the Vietnam War and what happened to John.”
But the closest perspective on Lennon’s private life comes from Yoko Ono, his partner before, during and after their campaign for peace. Ono sat with Leaf for extended interviews on three separate occasions, the most recent of which took place in March 2006. Comments Scheinfeld, “She really came to trust David and opened up. She is the one person who not only can speak to what happened, but why it happened and what their motivations were, what pressures they felt. Part of the subtext here is a great love story between John and Yoko, and she speaks to that as well.”
Ono granted the filmmakers unprecedented access to the Lennon estate’s archives, which yielded a tremendous amount of never-before-seen audiovisual materials. THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON reveals a couple very much in love, with a playful rapport and a shared dedication to ideals of peace. Notes Scheinfeld, “From almost the time John and Yoko got together officially as a couple, they had cameras around. We had access to a number of unfinished films; finished but unreleased films; home movies; and private wedding photographs. These materials give an idea of what their daily life was like. One of the things you see in this film is the journey that they took together.”
Beyond Ono’s archives, Leaf and Scheinfeld scoured archives, libraries and private collections all over the world searching for unique audiovisual materials to illustrate the film. They turned up pieces of footage from an outtake reel in Vienna, and local news clips that had not been seen since their initial broadcast more than 30 years ago. They unearthed revealing moments featuring Presidents Johnson and Nixon and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. They acquired footage depicting the film’s various interview subjects in the 1960s and 1970s, and then interwove those archival sequences with the guests’ contemporary interviews. Some searches took months on end, as was the case with the footage of Lennon receiving his green card.
Lennon himself is the film’s paramount witness, seen and heard in its footage and on the soundtrack. The vast majority of the film’s songs – 37 out of 40 – are culled from his post-Beatles career, and serve to advance the narrative and offer commentary. Comments Leaf, “The songs allow John to speak musically to how he was feeling and what he was thinking at a specific time.” Ono also allowed the filmmakers to use Lennon’s music, stripped of vocals, as underscore.
By the time they completed the film, Leaf and Scheinfeld had discovered new wrinkles in a saga dating back several decades. Says Leaf, “When we started, we knew what had happened, but we didn’t know exactly why. Why had the U.S. government targeted John Lennon? Why did they see him as such as threat? What was so dangerous about what he was saying? What can we learn from what happened to John Lennon? This movie is an adventure story about what happened to the most famous person in the world when he decided to use his fame to launch a worldwide campaign for peace.”
If John Lennon had only been one of the four members of the Beatles, his artistic immortality would already have been assured. The so-called "smart Beatle," he brought a penetrating intelligence and a stinging wit both to the band's music and its self-presentation. But in such songs as "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "Rain" and "In My Life," he also marshaled gorgeous melodies to evoke a sophisticated, dreamlike world-weariness well beyond his years. Such work suggested not merely a profound musical and literary sensibility - a genius, in short -- but a vision of life that was simultaneously reflective, utopian and poignantly realistic.
While in the Beatles, Lennon displayed an outspokenness that immersed the band in controversy and helped redefine the rules of acceptable behavior for rock stars. He famously remarked in 1965 that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus" - a statement that was more an observation than a boast, but that resulted in the band's records being burned and removed from radio station playlists in the U.S. He criticized America's involvement in Vietnam, and, as the Sixties progressed, he became an increasingly important symbol of the burgeoning counterculture.
But it was only after the breakup of the Beatles in 1970 that the figure the world now recognizes as "John Lennon" truly came into being. Whether he was engaging in social activism; giving long, passionate interviews that, once again, broadened the nature of public discourse for artists; defining a new life as a self-described "househusband;" or writing and recording songs, Lennon came to view his life as a work of art in which every act shimmered with potential meaning for the world at large. It was a Messianic attitude, to be sure, but one that was tempered by an innate inclusiveness and generosity. If he saw himself as larger than life, he also yearned for a world in which his ego managed at once to absorb everyone else and dissolve all differences among people, leaving a Zen-like tranquility and calm. "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one," he sang in "Imagine," which has become his best-known song and an international anthem of peace. "I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one."
Such imagery, coupled with the tragedy of his murder in 1980, has often led to Lennon's being sentimentalized as a gentle prince of peace gazing off into the distance at an Eden only he could see. In fact, he was a far more complex and difficult person, which, in part, accounts for the world's endless fascination with him. Plastic Ono Band (1970), the first solo album he made after leaving the Beatles, alternates songs that are so emotionally raw that to this day they are difficult to listen to with songs of extraordinary beauty and simplicity. Gripped by his immersion in primal-scream therapy, which encouraged its practitioners to re-experience their most profound psychic injuries, Lennon sought in such songs as "Mother" and "God" to confront and strip away the traumas that had afflicted his life since childhood.
And those traumas were considerable. Lennon's mother, Julia, drifted in and out of his life during his childhood in Liverpool - he was raised by Julia's sister Mimi and Mimi's husband, George - and then died in a car accident when Lennon was seventeen. His father was similarly absent, essentially walking out on the family when John was an infant. He disappeared for good when Lennon was five, only to return after his son had become famous as a member of the Beatles. Consequently, Lennon struggled with fears of abandonment his entire life. When he repeatedly cries, "Mama, don't go/Daddy come home," in "Mother," it's less a performance than a scarifying brand of therapeutic performance art. And in that regard, as well as many others, it revealed the influence of Yoko Ono, whom Lennon had married in 1969, leaving his first wife, Cynthia, and their son Julian in order to do so.
The minimalist sound of Plastic Ono Band was significant too. Lennon had come to associate the elaborate musical arrangements of much of the Beatles' later work with Paul McCartney and George Martin, and he consciously set out to purge those elements from his own work. Co-producing with Ono and the legendary Phil Spector, he built a sonic environment that could not have been more basic - guitar, bass, drums, the occasional piano -- whatever was essential and absolutely nothing more. Lyrically, he turned away from the psychedelic flights and Joycean wordplay of such songs as "I Am the Walrus" and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" - as well as his books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works -- and toward a style in which unadorned, elemental speech gathered poetic force through its very directness.
On his next album, Imagine (1971), Lennon felt confident enough to reintroduce some melodic elements reminiscent of the Beatles into his songs. Working again with Ono and Spector, he retains the eloquent plainspokenness of Plastic Ono Band, but allows textural elements such as strings, to create more of a sense of beauty. The album's title track alone ensured its historical importance; it is a call to idealism that has provided solace and inspiration at every moment of social and humanitarian crisis since it was written.
From there Lennon turned to a style that was a sort of journalistic agit-prop. Sometime In New York City (1972) is as outward-looking and blunt as Imagine was, for the most part, soft-focused and otherworldly. As its title suggests, the album reflects Lennon's immersion in the drama and noise of the city to which he had moved with Yoko Ono. And as its cover art suggests, the album is something like a newspaper - a report from the radical frontlines on the political upheavals of the day. His activism would create enormous problems for Lennon, however. The Nixon administration, paranoid about the possibility that a former Beatle might become a potent leader and recruiting tool of the anti-war movement, attempted to have Lennon deported. Years of legal battles ensued before Lennon finally was awarded his green card in 1976.
Lennon's political struggles unfortunately found their match in his personal life. He and Ono split up in the fall of 1973, shortly before the release of his album, Mind Games. He moved to Los Angeles and later described the eighteen months he spent separated from Ono as his "lost weekend," a period of wild indulgence and artistic drift. Like Mind Games, the albums he made during this period, Walls and Bridges (1974) and Rock N Roll (1975), are the expressions of a major artist seeking, with mixed results, to recover his voice. None of them lack charm, and their high points include the lovely title track of Mind Games; Walls and Bridges' "Whatever Gets You Through the Night," a rollicking duet with Elton John that gave Lennon his first number-one single as a solo artist; and the sweet nostalgia of Rock N Roll, a covers album that was Lennon's tribute to the musical pioneers of his youth. But none of those albums rank among his greatest work.
In 1975, Lennon reunited with Ono, and their son Sean was born later that year. For the next five years, Lennon withdrew from public life, and his family became his focus. Then, in 1980, he and Ono returned to the studio to work on Double Fantasy, a hymn to their life together with Sean. The couple was plotting a full-fledged comeback - doing major interviews to support the album's release, recording new songs for a follow-up, planning a tour. Then, shockingly, Lennon was shot to death outside the apartment building where he and Ono lived on the night of December 8, 1980.
Lennon's death broke hearts around the world. In the U.S., it recalled nothing so much as the assassination of John Kennedy in 1963, an event for which, ironically, the arrival of the Beatles a few months later had provided a welcome tonic. In the twenty-five years since, Lennon's influence and symbolic importance have only grown. His music, of course, will live forever. But he has survived primarily as a restless voice of change and independent thought. He is an enemy of the status quo, a bundle of contradictions who insisted on a world in which all the various elements of his personality could find free, untrammelled _expression. Innumerable times since his death Lennon has been sorely missed. And just as many times and more he has been present - evoked by all of us who find ourselves and each other in the music he made and the vision that he articulated and tried to make real.
- Anthony DeCurtis
THE US VS JOHN LENNON
(in alphabetical order)
Stew Albert – Stewart “Stew” Albert was a member of the Yippies (Youth International Party) in the 1970s and co-author of “The Sixties Papers” anthology with his wife, Judy Gumbo Albert. His memoir, Who the Hell is Stew Albert?, was published by Red Hen Press in 2005. He ran the Yippie Reading Room until he died of liver cancer in January 2006.
Tariq Ali –Tariq Ali is a political activist, author, editor, filmmaker, and historian. As a college student in his native Pakistan, he organized rallies against the country’s military dictatorship. Moving to England, he studied at Oxford and became a nationally renowned antiwar activist, publicly debating Henry Kissinger and British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart. A longtime member of the editorial board of The New Left Review, Ali contributes regularly to The Guardian, Counterpunch and The London Review of Books. His publications include Clash of Fundamentalisms, The Nehrus and the Gandhis: An Indian Dynasty, Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties, and the satiric play Ugly Rumors.
Carl Bernstein – Carl Bernstein was an investigative reporter at The Washington Post when he and his fellow journalist Bob Woodward were assigned to follow up on a break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel; their historic reporting exposed abuses of power at the highest levels of government and led to the resignation of Richard M. Nixon. Since leaving the Post in 1977, Bernstein has worked for ABC News, and has also written for Time, Newsweek, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Der Speigel.
Robin Blackburn – Robin Blackburn is an academic and historical sociologist whose books include Ideology in Social Science (1972), The Making of New World Slavery: from the Baroque to the Modern 1492-1800 (1997), The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848 (1988), and ‘Banking and Death, or Investing in Life (2002). He has been a member of the editorial committee of New Left Review since 1962 and Editor (1981-99); consulting editor of Verso since 1970.
Chris Charlesworth – Chris Charlesworth has been writing about rock 'n' roll since 1968, and spent seven years at leading British music paper Melody Maker, first as News Editor in London and then as U.S. Editor based in New York. He has written biographies of the Who, David Bowie, Deep Purple, Slade and Cat Stevens. In 1983 he became Editor at Omnibus Press, whose editorial fortunes he has guided ever since.
Noam Chomsky - Avram Noam Chomsky is the Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky’s theories of transformational grammar (also called generator grammar) revolutionized the study of language in the 20th Century. Chomsky is best known for his political activism, and is considered a key intellectual figure in left wing politics. His books include American Power and the New Mandarins, Manufacturing Consent, and 9-11.
Walter Cronkite – During his more than 68 years of journalism, Walter Cronkite has covered virtually every major news event of the twentieth century, beginning win WWII. In 1954 he pioneered the first evening news broadcast as Anchorman and, later, Managing Editor, for “The CBS Evening News.” He stepped down from the Anchor desk in 1981 to assume his current role as Special Correspondent for CBS News. He is the author of six books, including his autobiography, A Reporter’s Life, and most recently wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column for more than 186 newspapers around the country.
Gov. Mario M. Cuomo – Mario M. Cuomo was elected New York State’s 52nd Governor in 1982 and won re-election in both 1986 and 1990. He practiced law from 1958 to 1975, when he was appointed by Governor Hugh Carey as New York’s Secretary of State. In 1978, he was elected Lieutenant Governor, a position he held until winning the governorship in 1982. He has authored several books on public policy, the most recent of which is Why Lincoln Matters, Today More Than Ever.
Angela Davis - Angela Y. Davis is a faculty member at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Over the years she has been active as a student, teacher, writer, scholar, and activist/organizer. She came to national attention in 1969 when she was removed from her teaching position in the Philosophy Department at UCLA as a result of her social activism and her membership in the Communist Party, USA. In 1970 she was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List on false charges, and was the subject of an intense police search that drove her underground and culminated in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history.
John Dean - John Dean III White House Counsel to President Richard Nixon from July 1970 to April, 1973. He was deeply involved in the Watergate cover-up, and became a key witness before the House and Senate committees investigating the scandal. For his role in the cover-up, Dean was convicted of obstruction of justice and served 127 days in jail. He is the author of several books including the Watergate memoir Blind Ambition and the recent Conservatives Without Conscience.
Felix Dennis – One of Britain’s best known entrepreneurs, Felix Dennis is the founder of Dennis Publishing Company, a pioneer in personal computing magazines. In 1971, Dennis was imprisoned by the British government as a co-editor of OZ magazine at the culmination of the longest conspiracy trial in English history. Dennis recorded a single with John Lennon to raise money for a legal defense fund.
David Fenton - David Fenton founded Fenton Communications in 1982 to create issue-oriented public relations campaigns focusing on the environment, public health and human rights. Over the course of two decades, he has pioneered the use of professional P.R. and advertising techniques by nonprofit public interest groups in the United States and around the world. He has been named as “One of the 100 most influential P.R. people of the 20th Century” by PR Week magazine,
Bob Gruen - Bob Gruen is one of the most well-known and respected photographers in rock 'n' roll. He has worked with virtually every major artist of the past 40 years, capturing the music scene in photographs that have gained worldwide recognition. He became John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s personal photographer shortly after the couple moved to New York in 1971.
Ron Kovic – Ron Kovic is a Vietnam veteran, former Marine Corps sergeant and author of the autobiography Born on the 4th of July. Kovic served two tours of duty as a U.S. Marine in the Vietnam War and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. In combat on Jan. 20, 1968, he suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. He became one of the best-known peace activists among the veterans of the war. With Oliver Stone, he co-wrote the Golden Globe-winning screenplay BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY, the Academy Award®-winning motion picture based on his autobiography.
Paul Krassner – A self-described “investigative satirist,” Paul Krassner has been using humor to skewer the powerful and their policies for five decades. From 1958-1974, he published the seminal underground magazine The Realist, and later revived the magazine as a newsletter from 1985-1991. He covered the antiwar movement in the 1960s and was a co-founder of the Yippies, the counterculture antiwar movement. His books include his autobiography Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counter-Culture, and his articles have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Rolling Stone, Playboy, The Nation, New York, Utne Reader, The Village Voice, and The Los Angeles Times.
G. Gordon Liddy – G. Gordon Liddy served several positions in the first Nixon Administration and became General Counsel of the 1972 Republican presidential campaign and the campaign finance committee, with additional duties as campaign political intelligence director. Along with E. Howard Hunt, Liddy oversaw the 1971 break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex. For his role in Watergate and the subsequent cover-up, Liddy was convicted of conspiracy, burglary and illegal wiretapping; after serving 4½ years of a 20-year prison term, his sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter Liddy. Liddy is the author of several bestselling books, including his autobiography, Will. For the past 14 years, he has hosted “The G. Gordon Liddy Show,” a nationally syndicated radio program.
Sen. George McGovern – South Dakota’s George McGovern was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972. A decorated veteran of World War II, he served 22 years in Congress, including two terms in the House of Representatives, and three terms as Senator. He served as the president of the Middle East Policy Council from 1991 to 1998, when President Clinton appointed him ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. In 2001 he was appointed the first United Nations global ambassador on hunger. In 2000, President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor.
Elliot Mintz – Elliot Mintz serves as a "media consultant" to a variety of entertainment figures and corporate clients. He began a close and enduring friendship with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1971, when he was working as a radio host in Los Angeles. After Lennon's death in 1980, Ono asked Mintz to represent the Estate as a spokesman, and he has served in that capacity ever since.
Yoko Ono - Since the beginning of her prolific career, Yoko Ono has consistently been a pioneer in developing new art forms, moving freely beyond and between genres, from the Avant-garde to Pop. Her profoundly social art aims to involve the viewer as an active participant and to break down longstanding distinctions between art and everyday life. She has been credited as one of the originators of Conceptual Art, and during the 1960s was a key participant in the New York, Tokyo, and London vanguards that laid the groundwork for major artistic developments in the latter part of the century. During their 1969 honeymoon, she and John Lennon launched a campaign for world peace, a theme that suffused many of the collaborative pieces they later created. From the 1980s to the present, Ono’s artwork has been shown internationally in one-woman shows and retrospectives.
David Peel - David Peel is a street musician and political activist from New York City’s Lower East Side. Peel began his recording career in 1968, when he and friends recording as Lower East Side released Have a Marijuana. Peel was mentioned by John Lennon in the song “New York City,” and John Lennon and Yoko Ono subsequently produced Peel’s third album, The Pope Smokes Dope. Peel has performed at venues with artists including Chuck Berry, the Plastic Ono Band, the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges, Rod Stewart and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. He continues to live and perform in New York City.
Dan Richter - Dan Richter toured the United States in the early 1960s as a lead performer with the American Mime Theater. In 1966, Stanley Kubrick hired him to choreograph and star in “The Dawn of Man” sequence in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY; he chronicled the experience in his book Moonwatcher’s Memoir: A Diary of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Later, Richter spent four years working with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on such film and music projects as “Imagine,” the subject of his upcoming memoir.
Geraldo Rivera – Geraldo Rivera was a lawyer for the Puerto Rican activist group the Young Lords when he was recruited to join the local ABC news program in New York. Rivera was subsequently a reporter WABC TV’s “Eyewitness News” from 1970-1975. His award-winning series about the deplorable conditions at the Willowbrook State School for the mentally ill led to a government investigation and the eventual closing of the institution. Rivera has received more than 170 awards for journalism, including the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award, three national and seven local Emmys, two Columbia-Dupont and two additional Scripps Howard Journalism Awards. He is currently a reporter and program host for Fox News.
John C. “Jack” Ryan – John C. “Jack” Ryan was a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1966 to 1987. For most of his career, he specialized in organized crime investigations. He also worked general criminal and applicant cases, and near the end of his career he specialized in Foreign Counterintelligence & Terrorist cases. He was fired from the FBI on Oct 11, 1987 for refusing a direct order to investigate non-violent peace groups as saboteurs/terrorists.
Bobby Seale - Bobby Seale is an American civil rights activist who, along with Huey P. Newton, co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966; Seale was then a student at Merritt College in Oakland, CA. Seale was one of the original Chicago Eight defendants charged with conspiracy and inciting to riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In 1978, he published his autobiography A Lonely Rage.
John Sinclair –John Sinclair is a poet and onetime manager for the legendary Detroit rock band The MC5. He was Chairman of the White Panther Party from November 1968-July 1969. He was jailed during 1969 over the sale of two joints to undercover narcotics officers. His case received international attention when John Lennon performed at a benefit concert on his behalf.
Tom Smothers – Tom Smothers has made show business history with his brother Dick as the groundbreaking musical/comedy duo Smothers Brothers, the longest-running comedy team ever. Their influential CBS television series “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” (1967-1969) introduced irreverent topical humor and new musical artists to the staid comedy/variety format of the 1960s. The show attracted a new, younger generation of viewers with their frank treatment of subjects like racism, the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration, but that same frankness led to conflicts with censors, pressure from President Nixon and early cancellation. “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” is now studied in universities across the country as an important factor in the revolutionary changes undergone in the U. S. during the 1960’s. The Smothers Brothers tour regularly and have released 12 top-selling albums.
Wesley Swearingen - M. Wesley Swearingen was an FBI Agent for 25 years and is the author of the memoir FBI Secrets: An Agent’s Expose. Since his retirement he has been instrumental in documenting FBI harassment against political dissidents. He collaborated on the books Agents of Repression and The COINTELPRO Papers.
Joe Treen - Joe Treen was already an established journalist in 1974 when his articles in Rolling Stone showed how the INS was going after John Lennon. As a staff reporter for Newsday, he had covered the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, the Watergate-related trial of Nixon henchmen John Mitchell and Maurice Stans, and Evel Knievel’s attempt to jump the Snake River on a steam-driven rocket. Treen went on to a career at Newsweek as a writer and at People where he rose through the ranks to become executive editor. Most recently he was editor at large at Discover
Gore Vidal – Gore Vidal has been called America's “greatest living man of letters” by the Boston Globe. He has written more than a dozen prize-winning and best-selling novels, including Washington D.C., 1876, Lincoln, Myra Breckinridge, Creation, and The Golden Age, the last of his “narratives of empire.” Vidal has authored two successful Broadway plays (The Best Man and Visit to a Small Planet), several Hollywood screenplays (including Suddenly, Last Summer), and countless essays. In 2003 Vidal was the subject of a 2-hour long American Masters documentary on PBS, “The Education of Gore Vidal.”
Jon Weiner – Jon Weiner is a professor of history at the University of California, Irvin and the author of Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files. He is a contributing editor to The Nation, and hosts a program on Los Angeles radio station KPFK. In 2005, he published Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory Tower
Leon Wildes – Leon Wildes is the founder of Wildes & Weinberg P.C. and has practiced immigration law for 45 years. Awarded the Edith Lowenstein Memorial Award for Outstanding Contributions to the field of Immigration Law, he is best known for his successful representation of former Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono in deportation proceedings spanning a five year period.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
DAVID LEAF (Writer/Producer/Director)
Best known for his award-winning work on acclaimed documentaries, music specials and pop culture retrospectives, David Leaf most recently earned his second Grammy nomination for writing & directing Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson & The Story of SMiLE (Showtime).
Perhaps most notably, his credits include being one of the Emmy®-nominated (and Peabody Award-winning) writers on the landmark all-network telethon America: A Tribute To Heroes, five years as a profile producer-director for Disney’s Salute To The American Teacher and writing and directing the filmed segments for “Christopher Reeve: A Celebration of Hope” (ABC), helping the program earn an Emmy® nomination for Best Variety Special.
Other major music credits: producing the Emmy-nominated “Billy Joel: In His Own Words” (A&E), Carnegie Hall Salutes The Jazz Masters (PBS), Farm Aid (CMT), Elvis: The Tribute (ABC), “The Songwriters Hall of Fame (Bravo), The Score (Trio), The Bee Gees: This Is Where I Came In” (A&E) and You Can't Do That: The Making Of ‘A Hard Day's Night.’ (Disney) and An All Star Tribute To Brian Wilson (TNT). For three years, he was consulting producer for A&E's “Live By Request” series and for nine years, a writer on The Billboard Awards (Fox). Leaf has also written such network specials as “The Kennedy Center Honors” (CBS) for which he won a WGAW award.
Among his comedy credits are Gilda Radner (ABC), Martin & Lewis: Their Golden Age of Comedy & The Unknown Marx Brothers (The Disney Channel), Jonathan Winters: On The Loose (PBS) and for two seasons was a staff writer on the sitcom, "The New Leave It To Beaver" (TBS Superstation).
Leaf is a native of New Rochelle, NY and a graduate of The George Washington University.
JOHN SCHEINFELD (Writer/Producer/Director)
John Scheinfeld is a respected writer, producer and director of documentaries, bringing a broad spectrum of experiences and interests to pop culture, music, historical and spiritual projects for broadcast, cable and theatrical exhibition.
Most recently, Scheinfeld wrote and directed (and with David Leaf produced) the feature-length documentary WHO IS HARRY NILSSON (AND WHY IS EVERYBODY TALKIN' ABOUT HIM)? The film had its world premiere at the 2006 Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and was also an official selection of the 2006 Seattle Film Festival and 2006 Mods and Rockers Film Festival.
Among Scheinfeld's credits are critically acclaimed programs on such iconic figures as Frank Sinatra, Peter Sellers, Nat 'King' Cole, Bob Hope, Bette Midler and the Bee Gees. Grammy-nominee Scheinfeld has also written dramatic pilot scripts for ABC, FBC, NBC, UPN and first-run syndication.
Before going out on his own, Scheinfeld was an executive with both Paramount Pictures Television and MTM Enterprises where he developed and supervised the production of pilots and new network series. Originally from Milwaukee, he received a B.A. in Communications and Sociology from Oberlin College. Scheinfeld also holds an M.F.A. in Radio/Television/Film from Northwestern University -- the first such degree ever awarded by the school.
PETER S. LYNCH II (Editor and Co-Producer)
"The U.S. Vs. John Lennon" is Peter S. Lynch II's third feature documentary . In 2004, he edited the Showtime original film, Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and The Story of SMiLE and in 2005, Peter served as both editor and co-producer of Who Is Harry Nilsson... And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him? which recently had its World Premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
Lynch has worked in the documentary field since 2000, editing numerous Leaf/Scheinfeld productions for PBS on such iconic figures as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Jack Paar, Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, and Ricky Nelson. In 2002, he served as associate producer of In The Name Of Heaven, a one-hour Easter special, for The National Geographic Channel. Lynch also has edited two-hour installments of A&E’s famed Biography series on both Bette Midler and Andy Williams. In 2004, he lent his editing talents to Bravo’s critically acclaimed 5-part series, The 100 Greatest TV Characters."
Peter is a native of Howell, New Jersey and received his bachelor's degree in Cinema and Photography from Ithaca College.
THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON
WRITTEN and DIRECTED BY
David Leaf & John Scheinfeld
LISTEN: Historian Jon Wiener was a consultant on the new documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which opens in limited release Friday. Wiener spent 14 years fighting to gain access to the FBI's secret files on the former Beatle. This interview originally aired on Jan. 25, 2000.