More Information

Roy Newquist was my grandfather. He was known for his interviews with 1960s stars.

Bri McKenna
Counterpoint Radio Program WQXR New York

Last summer, I found Roy's interview tapes at UCLA Library Special Collections during a chance search. This summer, I came back to unravel who Roy Newquist was.

Roy lied. A lot. To his family, to his friends, to his interviewees. In books, on tapes, on resumes.

What can't be lied about are the items in the collection. They're physical proof. But of what?

What happens when a primary source isn't reliable?‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎

A simple question becomes complicated.

For example:

When and where was Roy born?

  • Roy's resume (ca. 1985) says he was born July 14, 1929 in Quebec, Canada.
  • His professional listing (1975) says he was born July 25, 1925 in Ashland, Wisconsin.
  • The UCLA Library finding aid (ca. 2010) also says he was born in 1925.
  • The birth certificate of one of his children (July 1962) says that he was born in Ashland, Wisconsin, and that he was 38 at the time of birth. He had to have been born before the birthdate in 1924.
  • A list from the Ondossagon High School Class of 1942 reunion (1990) shows Roy's birthdate as July 14th with no year.

My family has always believed Roy was born on July 14th, 1924 in Wisconsin. None of the publicly available information supports that, and very few of the family records have exact dates.

A Brief Biography of Roy Newquist

Le Roy A. Newquist Class of 1942

LeRoy Newquist was born in Ashland, Wisconsin on July 14, 1924 [1].(Or on July 25, 1925, if you believe his professional listing [2]. Or in Quebec on July 15, 1929, if you had asked his late partner. [3]

His mother remarried when he was young, and his stepfather bullied him for his bookish nature [1] . He always wanted to be a writer, and he studied journalism at Marquette University [2,3]. (Or was it the University of Wisconsin? [4]) He never completed the program [5]. (Or did he complete his bachelor's degree and go on to get his master's? [2,3])

Roy's bout with polio at 18 kept him home during World War II [6], and he met his future wife, Ruth Strasen, while working in a munitions factory [1]. (Or did he work as a jazz singer, where he met his first wife, Myrtle? [6])

Newquist interview cassettes and reels

His only marriage was to Ruth in 1948 [2]. (Or was she his second wife? [7,8]) His first child was born in 1953 [1]. (Or did he have a child out of wedlock with Myrtle in 1946? [6] Or was Myrtle his wife, and the baby came after they married? [7,8])

Roy worked in advertising before finally breaking into the literary world as a book critic in the early 1960s [2,3,6]. He reviewed books and hosted a radio show interviewing writers about their craft [2]. He later published the interviews in articles and compilation books [2,3]. Then, in 1968, he left the Midwest, and his wife and three children, to live with his newly-discovered son Chuck in Los Angeles [6]. (Or was Chuck Roy's lover? [1])

He continued his writing career in L.A. He mostly published interview and travel pieces, but he never stopped working to sell his own great American novel or hit screenplay. From the mid-1970s until his death in 1997, he lived with his partner Ken LaPointe [1,9]. (But he insisted he was straight in writings and recordings [6,10].)

Child Support Check from Roy to Ruth Newquist
Child Support Check from Roy to Ruth Newquist

Roy Newquist was a complicated person. He was an alcoholic, and he lied constantly (pathologically?). He promised money he never had and borrowed money he could never repay. He was a charismatic interviewer who worked with some of the most influential people in Hollywood during the 1960s. He was gay at a time when that secret could have cost him everything he had worked for.

I learned a lot about Roy this summer. Most importantly, I learned that we'll never know for sure what was true. Join me as we take a journey through some of Roy's most incredible truths and lies.

References: [1] Family belief. [2] Contemporary Authors volume 013-016, 1975 first revision. [3] Roy Newquist’s resume, Newquist family papers. [4] Tape 115, Rosanne Klass, Newquist family papers. [5] Ruth Newquist’s notes on Roy’s resume, Newquist family papers. [6] Sterland, Carl [Roy Newquist]. Chuck: An Experience. Doubleday, 1969. [7] Tape 126, “Psych-Kraus and ?”, Newquist family papers. [8] Tape 117, “May Rubin, Crawford/Coleman,” Newquist family papers. [9] Note from Larry Folgo, Newquist family papers. [10] Interview with Matthew Carroll, Newquist family papers.

There's no person I'd rather live with. Or be with... I love you. I admire you. I feel like a complete person when I'm with you, and I miss you like hell when you're not around. (2)

Carl Sterland aka Roy Newquist speaking to his "son" Chuck

The Chuck Experience

One dreary day in October 1967, Roy's life was changed forever. That's when he gets a call telling him that his adult son, Chuck, is in trouble in Los Angeles.

The problem with that? Roy never knew he had an adult son.

Nevertheless, Roy agrees to check on Chuck the next time he traveled to L.A. for work. He finds Chuck struggling to leave an abusive relationship and make it as an actor.

Roy becomes convinced that Chuck is his son and begins to forge a relationship with him (without telling Chuck what he knows). Roy proceeds to smuggle heroin with Chuck, cheat on his wife at a brothel with Chuck, get dosed with LSD with Chuck, and almost get arrested for marijuana possession with Chuck. In the end, Roy saves Chuck from death at the hands of his abuser and Chuck realizes Roy is his father.

All of this comes from Roy's own telling, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. Roy published the (supposedly true) story as the memoir Chuck: An Experience (1969), under the pseudonym Carl Sterland. He used a pseudonym for the sake of my grandmother, but it couldn't save their marriage.

Some elements were certainly true. Chuck was a real person, and a very controversial figure in my family. We'll probably never be able to prove that Roy was Chuck's father, but they told people it was true. One or both of them may have believed it.

Other parts of the book are verifiably false. There are tapes at UCLA Library in which Roy and Chuck are discussing the book and whether certain elements, like the first phone call, are believable. In the book, Chuck's abuser is an older woman. On tape, he admits that his abuser was a man [1].

Knowing that Chuck's abuser was a man puts certain aspects of the book in a new light. A lot of the dialogue, especially from Chuck, already reads romantically. But if Chuck is trying to escape from an abusive relationship with a man and sees another older man taking interest in him, what would he think?

Roy hoped that Chuck would be his breakout authorial debut, but it wasn't. It was, quite frankly, awful. His friend Rod McKuen was set to make it into a movie starring Rock Hudson and Chuck himself, but the deal fell through.

References: [1 ] Box 11, Case 146. Ephraim Sales collection of tapes and transcripts of interviews by Roy Newquist (Collection 1494)(opens in a new tab). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library. [2] Sterland, Carl. Chuck. Bantam Books, 1970. p 206.

Roy "Follow the Bouncing Check" Newquist

One of Roy's downfalls was his chronic money problems. He was constantly promising money to people—his wife, his friends, his professional contacts. It strained his marriage before Chuck did, and it burned bridges throughout his career.

One unfortunate saga can be traced through the Stanley Kramer papers(opens in a new tab) held in UCLA Library Special Collections. In 1968, Roy traveled to Italy to chronicle the making of The Secret of Santa Vittoria. The production company agreed to pay $2,000 for the trip, or $17,500 in 2023. However, Roy managed to run out of money (maybe because he brought Chuck as an assistant for a one-person job). He asked for a loan of $600 ($5,000 in 2023), with the promise that he'd pay it back when he had access to his American bank account.

Of course, the money never came. Over the course of 18 months, Roy had every reason for why the checks were bouncing and he couldn't send more. It was his publicist's fault, it was the postal service's fault, it was because the account had been closed while he was away, it was because the book deal hadn't gone through yet. He would get them the money when the contract was signed, when the article sold, when he returned from Europe, when he returned from New York.

The movie executives saw through him quickly. In September 1969, George Glass of Columbia Pictures and Roy's (former) friend described it as the "Roy Newquist 'follow the bouncing check' situation" [1].

To top it all off, Roy was three months late getting them the finished manuscript on the making of the movie, probably because he was too busy writing Chuck. Unfortunately, Chuck didn't pan out like he hoped it would, and neither did his career as a movie documentarian. Was he surprised?

References: [1] Roy Newquist Project. Box 213, 87. Stanley Kramer papers (Collection 161)(opens in a new tab). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles. | Photo: Programs & Invitations. Box 216, 113. Stanley Kramer papers (Collection 161).

"Gay in L.A."

Roy never admitted that he was gay, either to interviewees or to my family. However, he lived the last two decades of his life with his partner Ken, and their friends and family knew they were a couple. That said, he conducted his interviews as a straight man.

One of his later (unfinished) projects was a look into being gay in Los Angeles in the 1970s, a time when the police were running a widespread entrapment campaign aimed at gay people and prostitutes. By his telling, he didn't come to this project directly: it was a spin-off of his other, also unfinished, project on victimless crime.

Roy interviewed people through the Los Angeles Gay Community Service Center, now the Los Angeles LGBT Center. In the mid-1970s, it was only five years old and largely focused on criminal justice and medical help [1].

His interviews reveal a profound vulnerability. In this vulnerability there was also a repeated narrative: a gay young man arrives in L.A. looking for a new life. He finds it much harder to make ends meet than expected. He's in a vulnerable position and an older man offers to make it easier. In exchange for being kept, the young man gets his needs met. It seemed like an easier life than prostitution or selling drugs, other common recourses.

Some of these stories ended in tragedy. Joe, college friend of interviewee Matthew Carroll, was murdered by his partner during a domestic dispute. Joe had been disowned by his family for being gay. He was forced to quit school and move somewhere where he would be accepted [2]. Other stories, like Chuck's, work out in the end. What would have happened to Chuck if he hadn't met Roy?

The narrative was echoed in fiction as well. Gore Vidal's City and the Pillar (1948) describes a positive relationship in which a young man is kept by a movie star in Los Angeles in the early 1940s [3]. The pattern was enduring: Joe's story was 10 years later, and Chuck's 20 years after that. Still 30 years later, a male prostitute interviewed by Roy expressed hope that finding a person who wanted to keep him would lead to a better life [4].

Roy and Chuck could never have told this story in Chuck. It was considered shameful, and that made people like Chuck all the more vulnerable. When people's existence is criminalized, they get pushed to the margins of society. Then that same society punishes them when they try to survive in the only ways they're allowed to.

References: [1] Newquist family papers, interview with Bob Sirico. [2] Newquist family papers, interview with Matthew Carroll. [3] Vidal, Gore. City and the Pillar. E.P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1948. [4] Newquist family papers, interview with Keith Anderson.

Conversations with "Joan Crawford"

We already played "guess the birthdate." We could play the same game with the publication dates of his books. These are the publication dates as recorded in Roy's 1975 professional listing, his resume circa 1985, and the books themselves.

    • Counterpoint, his first interview book: 1965 or 1964?
    • Showcase, his second interview book: 1965 or 1966?
    • Conversations, his third interview book: 1968 or 1967?
    • A Special Kind of Magic, on the making of the film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner: 1972, 1973, or 1967?
    • Chuck: An Experience, his pseudonymous memoir: 1972 or 1969?
    • Conversations with Joan Crawford: 1980.

It may look like Roy finally started being honest by his last book, but the book itself may hide a bigger lie. There's good evidence that Roy never spoke with Joan Crawford before publishing a book exclusively composed of interviews with her.

My grandmother never knew of them talking. There are no tapes of Roy interviewing Crawford. Roy's address book doesn't have Crawford's information [1], and Crawford's doesn't have Roy's [2]. While people familiar with Crawford say that Roy nailed her voice in the supposed interviews [3], none of the information in the book is anything that couldn't be found elsewhere at the time of its publication.

The book comes close after the controversial 1978 memoir of an abusive childhood by Crawford's daughter. Roy may have seen an opportunity to capitalize on the interest in Crawford and seized it.

References: [1] Newquist family papers, Roy Newquist's address book. [2] in a new tab) [3] The Films of Crawford, retrieved April 20, 2010.

"Everybody I Know is Dead"

List of celebrities who have passed away

In the 1980s and early 90s, Roy worked on a retrospective compilation of the best and funniest anecdotes from his career, titled Everybody I Know Is Dead. Compared to the usual polished published material, these stories were morbid, raunchy and unflattering. They dealt with death, sex and sexuality, suicide, drugs and disillusionment. The problem is that, like the Joan Crawford book, these anecdotes can't be verified to have happened.

I've only been able to prove that he met about half the people he claims to have anecdotes about. A lot of tapes have been lost or recorded over, so it's not conclusive in the slightest. But even the people that he verifiably met often have the wrong year or decade for the meeting in these vignettes.

Roy was writing in a time before the internet. It meant he couldn't fact-check himself, so some errors in dates and chronology are understandable. It also meant others couldn't fact-check him. Some of the things that look like ridiculous, obvious lies would have been nearly impossible to disprove in the 1980s.

If they're lies, he was smart about it. The stories build on each other to create a greater sense of credibility. For example, Roy recounts a meeting with Rudolf Nureyev in 1965, and then a chance encounter a week later, despite the fact that I can't find record of even the first meeting. He also talks about a lunch he shared with Myrna Loy and Joan Crawford, whom he describes as his good friends. Roy did in fact interview Loy several times, while his relationship with Crawford, as you already know, may be complete fiction.

Some of the anecdotes read like fanfiction. There's a story, supposedly from 1976, in which John Wayne is cooking them both chili in his home. He takes a break to use the bathroom without washing his hands, and the chili oils burn his penis. He orders Roy to bring a glass of milk, which Roy then holds while Wayne soothes the burning. Roy claims that the tape of the encounter is at UCLA, and while there is a John Wayne interview, it's from the 1960s and makes no mention of chili or an unfortunate penis incident.

Other stories could be true, but seem unlikely. For example, Roy claims to have been with Orson Welles the night before he died, but Welles was verifiably interviewing with someone else. Could he have seen Roy after? Certainly. But did he? Roy also has a story about Elvis Presley but he openly despised rock and roll.

Still other information is verifiably false. Roy claims Anna Magnani died shortly after he left the filming of "The Secret of Santa Vittoria" but she lived five more years. He also describes a conversation he had with Rose and Ben Hecht in which they say their daughter is already dead, but she died after Ben did. Roy uses the anecdote to paint Rose as irrational and controlling, the supposed reason he never finished the Ben Hecht biography he was contracted to write. He certainly had motivation to lie on this one.

Roy's papers contain several brainstorming lists of people and events for the book. If everything was entirely made up, then what use would a shortlist of vignettes be? The list must have been designed to jog his memory, which wouldn't work if they were completely fake. Some notable lines are "Janet Flanner (lesbian)," "Truman Capote (gay)," and "John Wayne (penis)." Janet Flanner was lesbian, and Truman Capote was gay, so maybe my grandfather really did see John Wayne's penis.

Reference: Newquist family papers, memoir folder.

Making Peace with Not Knowing

Photos and interviews with Maya Angelou and Paul de Feu at their home in Sonoma, California
Photos and interviews with Maya Angelou and Paul de Feu at their home in Sonoma, California

The material that we have from Roy is likely only a fraction of what he worked on, and it's scattered all across the United States. Roy's tapes are held at UCLA Library Special Collections, University of Wyoming American Heritage Center and WNYC Radio Archives. After Roy died, his partner shipped boxes of papers and tapes to my grandma in Chicago. After she died, my mom wound up with the five remaining boxes. Anything else is gone.

At the same time, what we have is far more than I could analyze in a single summer. The tapes alone clock in at over 500 hours of content on topics ranging from entertainment to writing to politics to social justice. I've only scratched the surface of what they contain, both in my time this summer and with what I've covered in this article.

Audiocassette with title Gay Married

Other notable finds:

  • An interview conducted in Polish with a man who was both a Soviet and German prisoner during World War II.
  • An interview with an early member of Synanon, the sobriety program infamous for becoming a cult and committing acts of terrorism.
  • A recording of a class taken by Chuck that claimed to teach you to send fully formed messages with your eyes.
  • Interviews with eyewitnesses to the Kent State shooting and the Attica Prison uprising.
  • A fragment of the Chuck script acted by Chuck and an unknown woman. (It's bad.)
  • Photos and interviews with Maya Angelou and Paul de Feu at their home in Sonoma, California.

Roy Newquist's writings and recordings show all his numerous inconsistencies and contradictions. Although it's frustrating, it's also a fuller view of his life than it's possible to reach for most people. Every document you look at puts his birth in a different year. Every tape you listen to gives him a different number of children and ex-wives. In every encounter with Roy, he put forth the version of himself he wanted you to see. Roy was a writer, an interviewer, a gay man, a family man, an alcoholic, a liar, a friend of Hollywood. He was always in debt, always late, always almost done, always almost famous. He was all these things, and he was none of them. It depended on the day.

LeRoy A. Newquist Highschool graduation announcement