His friends, and many in the entertainment business, still call him Woody. And while he has penned some well-known films, and lived on the West Coast for several years, Heywood Gould is a true New Yorker and back in the city where he belongs. After all, he was born in the Bronx and raised in Brooklyn and started his writing career as a reporter for the NY Post when, he says, “it was still known as a pinko rag.”
Gould has written fourteen books and nine screenplays, among them “Boys From Brazil,” “Fort Apache, the Bronx,” “Cocktail,” and “Rolling Thunder.” Now, “Drafted: a Memoir of the ‘60s,” has just been released. The book takes us back to that tumultuous time, when men of a certain age were awaiting those notices from the draft board, or listening with fear that their numbers would come up, and devising creative ways of avoidance.
“It is really a story about what it was like in the ‘60s, especially for a whole group whose lives were changed by having to deal with the draft,” Gould told me. “Some went into professions, some got married, some left the country.” He quotes one young man in the book who says, “my friend did the Queer act, put a little polish on his nails.” Gould vividly describes “the endless column of diseases, on countless forms, as possible draft deterrents. (”I checked a few of the mental ones,” he writes.)
His personal tale is a wild ride of sorts — no spoilers here, but it does end on hopping on a bus — beginning in 1966, “even before we knew that little war over there was brewing.” His resistance did not have to do with Vietnam, perhaps, but it was still a gutsy decision, especially knowing his own family history.
“My whole family had served in wars,” he says, “even my aunts had been WACS. And here I was dodging the draft. And we were Jewish, my family had been refugees, so emotions were complicated. (“Will I be betraying them by defying the country they love”? he writes. “My father felt he had the prove his courage against the accusation that Jews were cowards and slackers.”) Ultimately, that generation gap was healed, and Gould went on to a writing career, starting with the Post.
Move to Screenwriting
“It was a great time there,” he says, “working alongside people like Nora Ephron, Pete Hamill, Max Lerner and other liberal icons. “But ultimately, I felt restrained by having only to tell the facts. I always knew there was so much more to the stories.”
But journalism taught him to write on deadline, which served him well when he moved to screenwriting. “I could turn over scripts really quickly,” he says, ”including all the rewriting you’re constantly asked to do.” That career probably brought him the most attention, (not to mention money) but it was not without controversy and headaches. “Every movie was a struggle, with arguments and recriminations,” he recalls. “Fort Apache: The Bronx,” in particular, created a lot of unwanted attention and fears from that community. “Even while we were shooting it, people were saying we were racist and at times I was being chased down the street,” he says. “Locals were afraid they’d be portrayed in a bad light and it all came down on the writer, as in me.”
He admired the star of that film, Paul Newman, as he did most of the big names he worked with. “I felt the same about Gregory Peck,” he says, “the old pros were always prepared and knew what they wanted to do.” (Not so much Laurence Olivier, whom he calls “arrogant and a gossip.”) One of the young ones he worked with also gets good notices from Gould. “Tom Cruise (who starred in “Cocktail”) was a great guy and hard worker, especially being dyslexic. And even though his first words to me were, ‘Paul (Newman) says you’re crazy,’ we got along great and played basketball together.”
Gould and his family never felt “home” until they returned to New York. Now, he is loving the personal role of grandpa, and the professional emphasis is on “Drafted,” hoping it will find wide appeal. “Originally I wrote it for people of my generation who understand what that period was like,” Gould says. “But I am finding young people today are really interested in that period. Honest, I never try to imagine who my audience will be. On this one, I just wanted to get my feelings all out there.”
Those feelings changed, along with the times. Didn’t Bob Dylan write a song about that?