Molly Ivins was an American newspaper columnist, author, political commentator and humorist who lived out loud. Real loud.
A new documentary, RAISE HELL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS, does a fine job of helping us understand the Texas environment in which the three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee lived and worked, which informed so much of who she was, as well as her particularly unique voice. “Texas politics is the finest form of free entertainment ever invented,” she said.
Ivins grew up in a wealthy neighborhood; her father is described as a right-wing, autocratic oil industry executive. “I’ve had a teenage rebellion that’s lasted 35 years,” said the person who freely admits that she hated authority.
What she loved? The First Amendment, even when it proved messy. Equal rights. The Bill of Rights. The ACLU.
“It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”
Also: driving a pickup, drinking beer and hunting. “And I’m a liberal: So what?” she dares.
Ivins’ journey from a girl who grew up reading books in trees, to a student at two prestigious East Coast universities, to the New York Times, and then back to her beloved Texas, is well-told, accompanied by excellent visuals and music. Her impressive wit, great sense of humor and inability to suffer those she considered fools, especially George W. Bush (for whom she coined the moniker “Shrub”) and many other elected officials –of both parties– is on display. She’s been arrested, maced, and apparently drank many male journalists under the table.
One of the film’s best stories describes Ivins’ experience working at the New York Times. She entered the office with a Texas twang, a dog named “shit,” and barefoot, which did not make her particularly popular. But when Elvis died, her editor decided she was the only one who could write his obituary and cover his funeral. Those papers sold more copies than those published right after JFK’s assassination. The Times later exiled her to Denver, where she was frustrated when they consistently edited out her particular style. Example: her line “He squawked ‘like a two-dollar fiddle,’” was changed to “like an inexpensive musical instrument.” It was clearly time for Ivins to return to Texas. “Home is where you understand the sombitches,” she says. “They don’t need another liberal in Berkeley, for God’s sake.”
Her syndicated column later put her in the national spotlight; she ultimately ran in 300+ papers, and her books became bestsellers.
The documentary features many political and journalistic luminaries, including Rachel Maddow, fellow Texan Dan Rather, Texas Governor Ann Richards, as well as two locals: writer Anne Lamott, and former Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll.
Ivins’ personal issues are also covered, including her alcoholism, and her 7 -year battle with breast cancer that finally took her life in 2007, at the age of 62.
I found myself wondering what Ivins would think of our current political situation. What a field day she could have with Trump. And what would she think of Texas presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro?6 She is on record as saying “Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.”
And what of the pundits who suggest that Texas could actually “go blue” in 2020?
Sadly, we’ll never have the benefit of her Austin acuity on current events.
But she does leave us with a quote that summarizes both her politics, and her brilliant career: “What you need is sustained outrage.”
Award-winning filmmaker Janice Engel directed the film, and teaches at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
RAISE HELL: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF MOLLY IVINS is in cinemas around the U.S. in September and October.
Official Film Website with a lot of extra info and how to become active.
Film’s Facebook page
Women and Hollywood interview with director Janice Engel
Read a selection of Molly Ivins’ articles.
Molly Ivins bio on Wikipedia.
Paul Krugman’s “Missing Molly Evans.”
Books by Molly Ivins– We always urge you to support your local brick and mortar book stores but if that is not possible you can buy some of her books from independent bookstore via IndieBound and of course there is Amazon.
C.J. Hirschfield recently retired after 17 years as Executive Director of Children’s Fairyland, where she was charged with the overall operation the nation’s first storybook theme park. Prior to that, she served as an executive in the cable television industry and produced two series, ran San Francisco’s public access channel and has written a weekly column for the Piedmont Post for 13 years. She has also written for EatDrinkFilms. She holds a degree in Film and Broadcasting from Stanford University.
Hirschfield is former president and board member of the California Attractions and Parks Association, and also serves on the boards of Visit Oakland and the Lake Merritt/Uptown Business Improvement District and is on the programming team for the Appreciating Diversity Film series showing free monthly movies in Oakland and Piedmont. C.J. says, “Documentaries make me a better person.”