Jan 28, 2021

Smile My Ass

Candid Camera is one of the most original – and one of the most mischievous – TV shows of all time.  Admirers hailed its creator Allen Funt as a poet of the everyday. Critics denounced him as a Peeping Tom.  Funt sought to capture people at their most unguarded, their most spontaneous, their most natural.  And he did. But as the show succeeded, it started to change the way we thought not only of reality television, but also of reality itself.  Looking back at the show now, a half century later, it’s hard NOT to see so many of our preoccupations – privacy, propriety, publicity, authenticity – through a funhouse mirror, darkly.

This episode was reported by Latif Nasser and produced by Matt Kielty. 

Special Thanks to: Bertram van Munster, Fred Nadis, Alexa Conway, the Eastern Airlines Employee Association and Eastern Airlines Radio, Rebecca Lemov, Anna McCarthy, Jill Lepore, Cullie Bogacki Willis III, Barbara Titus and the Funt family. 

Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.    

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Jad:

Wait, you're listening...

 

Speaker 2:

Okay.

 

Jad:

All right.

 

Speaker 2:

Okay.

 

Jad:

All right. You are listening to radio lab radio lab. W. N Y. C. all right. Latif, if you can rewind your mind back to a time when your life wasn't dominated by Allen Funt in Candid Camera. How did this start?

 

Latif:

So I first, unlike a lot of people, I did not grow up watching candid camera. I had never heard of candid camera when I was a kid.

 

Jad:

You never heard of candid camera?

 

Robert:

You've never heard of candid camera?

 

Latif:

No.

 

Jad:

Wait. How...

 

Robert:

Have you heard of the Declaration of Independence, that ringing the bell?

 

Latif:

Did Allen Funt write that?

 

Robert:

No, but it's sort of, he's up there with it. It's very noticeable.

 

Latif:

Okay, cool.

 

Jad:

He is actually, no BS, a founding father in a way.

 

Robert:

Of a different story.

 

Jad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad:

This is radio lab...

 

Robert:

When you least expect it, you're addicted, you're the one today.

 

Jad:

Okay, just to set that up. So there used to be a time in our media history where like the line between show and life was really clear.

 

Jad:

Then along came a guy named Allen Funt who muddied that line in a way that was fascinating and would bite him in the butt. In fact, spiritually speaking, I think those bite marks are on all of our butts. So check your tush and listen to this story from our producer Latif Nasser.

 

Latif:

So I first heard about candid camera a few years ago and when I did, I just dove in deep. I just binged all of, I watched every single clip I could get my hands on. And then that's around the time when I found out that it started as a radio show, which was even more interesting to me because I was like a radio show. I was like, how does that even make sense? What does that even, what would that be? So I called up one of the few people who have studied this.

 

Jacob:

That's right. So I'm Jacob Smith.

 

Latif:

An associate professor at Northwestern university school of communication,

 

Jacob:

And the director of Northwestern's master's and sound arts and industries.

 

Latif:

And it turns out there's this kind of wonderful, kind of creepy backstory. Do you just want to start with world war two?

 

Jacob:

Yeah, so during world war two, Allen Funt was working in the Signal Corps.

 

Audio:

Signal Corps is known as the nerves of the army.

 

Jacob:

The kind of communications arm for the armed forces at the time.

 

Latif:

So Funt, he's a few years out of college by this point. He is stationed in Oklahoma at camp Gruber. And his job there is to make radio shows.

 

Jacob:

For the armed forces radio.

 

Latif:

One of these shows, it's called the gripe booth.

 

Jad:

The gripe? G-r-i-p-e?

 

Latif:

The gripe booth.

 

Jad:

Yeah.

 

Latif:

Basically the show worked like this. Funt, would get told, you're stationed at the camp to come into his studio.

 

Jacob:

And talk about their gripes.

 

Latif:

About their barracks and about the food and about their girlfriend is cheating on them back home or whatever.

 

Jacob:

Things that were bothering them.

 

Jad:

That's not a very good idea for morale.

 

Robert:

Oh, I think it's a great idea for morale.

 

Jad:

Really? I would imagine it bring the soldiers down.

 

Latif:

It would bring them down, but maybe it would bring them together.

 

Jad:

Fair enough.

 

Latif:

Anyhow, so he's bringing these soldiers into his little recording studio.

 

Jacob:

And one of the things that he found was that as soon as the red light would go on to indicate that recording was going on. They'd clam up.

 

Latif:

They would get.

 

Jacob:

Tongue tied.

 

Latif:

This idea was actually called mic fright.

 

Jad:

Mic fright?

 

Latif:

Mic fright.

 

Jacob:

And he tells these stories about how it was amazing to see these soldiers who would go out into battle without maybe blinking an eye but break into a cold sweat at the thought of sitting in front of a microphone.

 

Robert:

So what does he do?

 

Jacob:

Well, so his solution was to disconnect the red light and record them secretly.

 

Latif:

So basically he'd bring them in and say, okay, let's just do a practice round. Let's just talk over the kinds of things you will talk about. It's just for practice. And then, when then finally they were ready to start, he'd be like, no, no, I already got it.

 

Jacob:

He would get better material when they didn't know they were being recorded.

 

Robert:

Would they be okay with that?

 

Latif:

Well he would get permission afterwards.

 

Jad:

So is that a lie? No, I don't think it's the lie anymore.

 

Latif:

It's a sort of truth deferred you might say.

 

Latif:

But according to Jacob Smith, Funt was like, this is a great trick.

 

Jacob:

Yes. You know the red light goes off in the gripe booth, but a red light goes on in Funt's mind. And so after the war, he pitches this idea as candid microphone.

 

Audio:

The candid microphone,

 

Jacob:

Which goes on the air on ABC in 1947.

 

Audio:

The program that brings you the secretly recorded conversations of all kinds of people as they react in real life to all kinds of situations. No one ever knows when he's talking into the candid microphone.

 

Sonny:

Me, me, me, me, me, me, me. Mm. No. Oh.

 

Latif:

All right. So this is Sonny Fox and he was one of the original guys to work with Allen on candid microphone. And it just so happened when he came into our studio, we managed to catch him on our candid microphone. Can you hear me?

 

Sonny:

I can. That is tepid water.

 

Latif:

Tepid water? I'm sorry the water's not...

 

Sonny:

Not to my liking.

 

Latif:

Up to snuff.

 

Sonny:

Yeah. And my standards. Why is my throat so tight?

 

Latif:

That's the tepid water, now all of a sudden it's not so...

 

Sonny:

Bourbon would've helped.

 

Latif:

All right. Okay. We're here to talk about much more exciting things I think.

 

Latif:

So when you were working with Allen on candid microphone, what was he like? How did you see him?

 

Sonny:

Allen was a very able, very bright young guy, he had a face of an every man.

 

Latif:

These big chipmunk cheeks.

 

Sonny:

Rather short and a little plump, probably was about five, ten. And he could charm you when he wanted to, charm you right out of your shoes or he could be this wildly maniacal, overwrought person. I mean, he had this huge temper.

 

Latif:

Sonny says when they were just starting to show, sometimes Allen would get so mad.

 

Sonny:

That he would throw things sometimes.

 

Latif:

Like, fling pencils at other producers.

 

Sonny:

Well, there were only four of us and the secretary. That was it. That was the core of what we did. And we all had to do everything. I mean Allen,

 

Audio:

The man with the hidden microphone might even get around to you someday.

 

Latif:

That man was Allen.

 

Sonny:

Allen was the auditor obviously of whether we did something or didn't do something.

 

Latif:

So, what was the goal for the show?

 

Sonny:

The goal was to reflect people as they are in their unguarded moments.

 

Audio:

We tried to bring you the real McCoy on candid microphone.

 

Latif:

That's what fascinated Funt. The beauty of everyday conversation.

 

Audio:

We go out of the studio into the world.

 

Latif:

Everyday life.

 

Audio:

Capture our candid glimpses of people like you.

 

Latif:

What the sociologist Erving Goffman calls bugging the backstage, right.

 

Sonny:

So what we would do is...

 

Latif:

Every day Sonny and crew would go to their office in Manhattan.

 

Sonny:

This two room office.

 

Latif:

Sit down at their desks.

 

Sonny:

And think up ideas separately, scratching our heads and say to Allen what about this...

 

Audio:

I got to shave every day. If I don't shave, my wife gets right after me.

 

Latif:

Like what if we bugged a barbershop or a magazine stand?

 

Sonny:

Oh, maybe that's something we could...

 

Audio:

Did you see those green shoes?

 

Sonny:

Or...

 

Audio:

Green!

 

Sonny:

Restaurant or shoe store.

 

Audio:

I don't know where she gets her taste.

 

Latif:

So what they do is they'd take this big,

 

Jacob:

Clunky,

 

Latif:

Portable recorder.

 

Jacob:

It was like a suitcase.

 

Sonny:

It weighed I think maybe 60 pounds, but they put a handle on top and said it's portable.

 

Latif:

He says that they would lug around this massive suitcase to wherever it was they were recording and they'd try to hide it so that no one would see it so they could record this tape, which they did in all these different locations, including the women's bathroom.

 

Audio:

I don't know what to say to him, I really don't...

 

Latif:

But by and large, the tape they gathered,

 

Jacob:

Funt was disappointed to discover that it was the most uninteresting garbage you could imagine.

 

Sonny:

Yeah. It was frustrating.

 

Jacob:

It doesn't have, the nice shape, the rise and fall, the climax that is going to keep listeners hooked.

 

Sonny:

Now, that presented us with a neat problem.

 

Latif:

They had a half hour show,

 

Sonny:

Prime time,

 

Latif:

That they needed to fill.

 

Sonny:

Here's how desperate I was. I was having a date. My first date with a young woman. I bugged my car and try to see how she would sound on a first date. She found out about that, was not amused. And that was the last day.

 

Latif:

How did it go though?

 

Sonny:

It was not very interesting. You got to that point where anything was, you were so desperate to get stuff that you did unlikely things like that.

 

Latif:

So here they had this show, that was supposed to be about real people, real talk.

 

Jacob:

Everyday conversation.

 

Latif:

But turned out that sucked. So then the question became.

 

Jacob:

How can we mix it up? How can we stir it up? How can we change this into something more spectacular?

 

Latif:

And that's when Allen Funt added a little wrinkle. It's something that Jacob Smith is called,

 

Jacob:

I was calling it the rial.

 

Latif:

So the basic idea of the rial is that instead of just letting people yammer on, which didn't seem to work, you got to get in there, you got to juice the action to get that right shape.

 

Audio:

The man with a hidden mic had a good one. When he dropped into a tailor shop.

 

Latif:

What'd you start to hear in candidate mic is these strange situation. He would go into a tailor shop with a microphone up his sleeve and he would ask the guy,

 

Audio:

I have to have a suit of clothes made up for kangaroo. Kangaroo? That's right. Oh, you can handle that?

 

Latif:

Here's another one.

 

Sonny:

Play the moaning Trump.

 

Latif:

This is Sonny's favorite. He says that one day they called a mover to come over to their office to move this trunk.

 

Audio:

Be real careful with it now.

 

Latif:

And inside the trunk. The mover didn't know this, was a guy.

 

Sonny:

And his job was to sound eerie,

 

Latif:

To basically moan every time the mover tried to move that trunk.

 

Audio:

Just be very gentle with it, will you? Oh. What is it? Nevermind. Just take it. But it makes that noise. No, that's nothing. Just forget about it.

 

Latif:

I'm laughing now.

 

Audio:

We've been trying to get rid of this thing since last night. I didn't know how to day. Never mind delivered to 180. Give us a slip. What do you mean a slip? I want to have a sickness and I delivered there. I want to have sickness. Sign for that. Make goddess. Look man.

 

Sonny:

Phil got off such great moans. The classic format that worked for Alan, which is getting people into situations.

 

Audio:

Tell us what it is.

 

Sonny:

Where they were frustrated.

 

Audio:

No, it's none of your business what's in my trunk. But it makes kind of noise? There's no noise. You don't hear anything. What do you mean I don't hear anything? Come on thought. We've been waiting since last night. Let's get this thing out of here...

 

Jacob:

And it just keeps going and going and going.

 

Audio:

It's giving me the creeps just handling it because I don't know what it is. Come on. Don't be silly. Nevermind what it is.

 

Jacob:

Just driving them nuts.

 

Audio:

What's in the trunk?

 

Jacob:

Until finally,

 

Audio:

Here's your $20. They look fun out at Troutman.

 

Jacob:

They lose their temper and we get, cue the music. And that's the climax. That's the closure.

 

Latif:

Now the whole thing has a shape. It starts slow and then crescendo, crescendo, crescendo, boom.

 

Jacob:

He's inventing this new kind of new format of entertainment.

 

Latif:

It sounds totally obvious, but this is basically like reality TV in a nutshell. This is one of the first times where you have that familiar hybrid of this highly artificial and constructed situation. But then inside of it,

 

Sonny:

A snippet of life, we've all been there, situations where we've been frustrated, where we don't understand what's going on, situations where we'd bewildered.

 

Latif:

So Funt would start pushing this format,

 

Jacob:

Tweaking it, changing it,

 

Latif:

Trying out new permutations.

 

Jacob:

And sometimes it's very much like a fly on the wall. These kind of poignant segments of listening to,

 

Audio:

Tom? Tom, it's time to get up.

 

Jacob:

A wife trying to wake up her husband.

 

Audio:

Ah. Darling, the clock rang 15 minutes ago. All right, honey. I'll be right up.

 

Jad:

Yeah, that one's kind of beautiful.

 

Jacob:

Pretty [inaudible 00:12:00] guilty.

 

Jad:

So intimate is what's so incredible.

 

Jacob:

Right.

 

Audio:

You've got a lot to do today. You're supposed to be in early.

 

Latif:

And this one, Funt got the wife to be in on the gag.

 

Audio:

Come on darling, you can't keep this up, don't stall anymore. All right, I'm up, I'm up. Well if you're up why are you... All right, listen, I'll be up, just leave me alone, will you? Would you please get up? Please go away. Tom. I think if you take a shower you'll feel good. I think if you go get lost, I'll feel better. I don't like you talking to me that way, once and for all I insist that you get up out of this bed. All right then, I'm up. I'm awake. Well let's see you move, it's very late. It's nine o'clock. Nine o'clock?

 

Jacob:

So you know, you get this beautiful backstage glimpse of everyday life, but where do we stop? And obviously it did prompts letters.

 

Audio:

A few hisses and cat calls.

 

Jacob:

Have you heard the one where, I was just listening to it the other day, where a listener writes in to complain about that one?

 

Jad:

Yeah. Yeah. That was actually really cool. Yeah.

 

Latif:

Tell us, tell us, tell us about it.

 

Jacob:

Well, so...

 

Audio:

One lady took us at our word and wrote us a few well chosen ones that really made our ears burn.

 

Jacob:

She's writing into complain that this was crossing the line.

 

Latif:

So what Funt does is he goes up to her door to talk to her, but he goes with a hidden mic.

 

Audio:

I'm with the American broadcasting company and I wonder if I could have just a couple of minutes of your time. Is that all right? Yeah. You wrote us a letter the other day about one of our programs called the candid microphone and I gathered from your letter that you don't like it very much. No, I don't. Well, why? What are some of the things you find objectionable about it? I don't like it because I think it's snooping. I don't know anything

 

Latif:

Out notes snooping.

 

Audio:

Is that right? In your letter you said it a little more strongly. You said you thought were a bunch of dirty sneaking spies. Well, I suppose at the time when. I was listening to the program, I felt that way. You get these people in their homes extemporaneously. I had that one program about the... What was it? You went into the man bedroom? Oh, you mean the one where the wife awakened the husband? Awakened the husband and there was the poor fellow. He didn't know who he was talking for. Speaking for the public. They sort of put him in a bad light. Don't you think? You might have something there, but don't you think it's funny that the man makes money awakened? Yes. That's funny. But there are only for him though and his own bedroom and I'm sure he doesn't enjoy having the whole world know about it. Did you? Would you? Don't you think most people are nervous and self conscious in front of a microphone? Not anymore. I think most people take to a microphone very nicely.

 

Audio:

Do you feel you talked about this the same way if you knew you were talking to no microphone right now, it'd be no different whatsoever. No different. Well now let me show you. This is a microphone and what you've just said is it's ready to go out from coast to coast. Does that make any difference then?

 

Audio:

It's fine. Thanks. Via line are coming in here and talking to you this way. Do you think we took an unfair advantage of you? I think so. At the moment, this conversation may not be worse than nickel, but would you like to have it on the air? Yeah. You would? Of course I would because I want the whole world to know my opinion on this present.

 

Jad:

Oh my God, that's amazing. She just switched.

 

Latif:

Exactly. And you can hear in her voice this weird tension, right? I have this one advisor, her name is Jill Porsche. She has this idea, I'm bastardizing it. But to put it crudely, like we all kind of have these two drives, one drive for privacy. We don't want people in our bedrooms listening to us. That is the height of creepiness. And then on the other hand, we have this drive for publicity. It's exciting to be the star and it's exciting to have people pay attention to you. And these two drives to drive for privacy and the drive for publicity are sort of competing in us.

 

Jacob:

So coming up that tension,

 

Sonny:

Well it just takes off.

 

Latif:

Literally. Actually, literally, it takes off.

 

Jad:

Yes. And it gets super interesting. Yeah. That's after the break. I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad:

Stay with us.

 

Josh:

This is Joshua Rush calling from Los Angeles. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P Sloan foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org

 

Commercial:

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Jad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad:

This is Radiolab. Let's get back to our story from a producer Latif Nasser about Allen Funt, the man with the hidden microphone. Where we left off, he had just made a radio show called candid mic.

 

Robert:

Well, did in fact people like this program. Was it a hit?

 

Jad:

Oh yeah.

 

Latif:

Yeah. It moves pretty quickly to television.

 

Audio:

Candid camera, with Allen Funt.

 

Latif:

In the spring of 1949, the show premiers on NBC.

 

Audio:

Welcome to the candid camera program.

 

Latif:

And the show, it's the exact same premise, set up weird or frustrating situations, try and catch people's reactions. But when the show goes out on TV according to Jacob Smith, it just doesn't catch on.

 

Jacob:

A lot of viewers think that it's mean-spirited, that the subjects are being somehow mistreated.

 

Latif:

There were critics who were very unnerved and upset by it. There were people certainly...

 

Jad:

But what did the critics say?

 

Latif:

Oh man, I made a list here of a whole bunch of the criticisms from the 40s and 50s and they're great. There are so sweeping. So, okay, so there was this one guy in the new Yorker, this is in 1950, who said, and I love this, I love this. For my money, candid camera is sadistic, poisonous, anti human and sneaky. Wait, there was another, hold on. There was another kind of great string of adjectives. Let me just find it. There's so many of these. Here. Another guy, different guy from the new Yorker, he found Allen Funt course, nagging, suspicious and misanthropic and to make matters worst zestfully so.

 

Robert:

Wow.

 

Jad:

But I mean I think that becomes kind of a PR problem that he has to fix.

 

Latif:

And according to Jacob Smith, it was not a small problem.

 

Jacob:

No.

 

Latif:

When it first aired and even all through the 50s, the show...

 

Jacob:

It's on and off.

 

Latif:

Doesn't really get its audience.

 

Jacob:

It moves around different networks.

 

Latif:

And all the while...

 

Jacob:

He's tweaking it and changing it, adapting it.

 

Latif:

And in the early sixties he hits on something. A second little tweak that would make all the difference.

 

Jacob:

Funt's term was the reveal, the reveal.

 

Latif:

Now he'd done it here and there, but by 1962, he locks it in. You start to see this thing happen over and over at the end of segments. It's so commonplace now that it seems crazy someone even had to invent it. Classic reveal is let's say, the gag is in a diner and they're serving this guy a tiny little tea cup.

 

Audio:

Hey, what is this? Get me a big cup of coffee, will you?

 

Latif:

And he wanted a big coffee mug and they serve him this tiny little tea cup.

 

Audio:

Ah, come on.

 

Latif:

And he's like, what? What's going on?

 

Audio:

This your idea of a cup of coffee?

 

Latif:

So this guy gets pissed off and previously, Funt would have let that keep going. But now, right as the guy is about to blow, Funt either walks out himself or he sends someone out and they kind of grab the guy and they're like...

 

Audio:

See the camera in there?

 

Latif:

They show him the hidden camera on camera. And as he's looking at that hidden camera and he's like, huh, the camera zooms in on his face. And Jacob Smith says sometimes Funt would even actually have to hold people in place for that moment.

 

Jacob:

Because one of their first reactions are to turn away or to cover their face. So he would sometimes have to physically restrain them and turning them towards the camera so that they can capture that one fleeting moment.

 

Latif:

And in that moment, you see so much on their face. They're angry, they're embarrassed, they're ashamed, they're confused, they don't know how to feel. And then right at that moment, Funt says the magic words. Smile. You're on candid camera.

 

Audio:

Smile. You're on candid camera.

 

Latif:

And it's all, everything's absolved all of a sudden.

 

Jacob:

Everything is made okay in that moment.

 

Latif:

Everything is made okay.

 

Sonny:

And then the chorus goes, but what you least expect it, you're the star today. Smile. You're on candid camera.

 

Latif:

Yeah.

 

Audio:

Here I am on television.

 

Latif:

Something, something. Hocus Pocus. You're in focus. Yes. It's your lucky day.

 

Sonny:

It's your lucky day.

 

Latif:

That's interesting. So it went from being like, Ooh, you're, you've been creeping on.

 

Robert:

I hate you, Allen Funt!

 

Latif:

To like, Oh, thank you Allen Funt.

 

Robert:

And this works much better. I take it.

 

Latif:

Yeah, it was hugely successful. It was one of the top ranked shows from basically all of the early 1960s. Millions, if not tens of millions of people watched it. And I think part of the reason why was that without that sort of meanness, they'd bled out the meanness and people could now sort of freely see it as what it really was, which were these kind of little peepholes into human nature. The first one I ever saw was the elevator sketch. Do you know the elevator sketch?

 

Jad:

No, walk me through it.

 

Latif:

Oh, the elevator sketch. It's just really simple. It's really simple and it's so beautiful.

 

Audio:

The gentleman in the elevator now is a candid star.

 

Latif:

Basic setup is guy walks into an elevator, there's a hidden camera. He doesn't know it.

 

Audio:

Here's a fellow with his hat on in the elevator.

 

Latif:

He is like everybody else wearing his overcoat and a hat and he stands in the middle of the elevator and then all of the other people in the elevator, who we later learn are Confederates, they...

 

Audio:

They take off their hats...

 

Latif:

Take off their hats and.

 

Sonny:

One by one by one, one hat off, two hats off, five hats off.

 

Latif:

You're watching him through the open elevator door and he's just sort of standing there awkwardly and then he'd just sort of...

 

Audio:

Little by little.

 

Latif:

Hesitantly just takes off his hat and then holds it in front of his chest.

 

Audio:

And now, do you think we could reverse the procedure? Watch.

 

Latif:

Then all of the people around him, they put their hats back on. Then he sort of is looking around and it's almost, it's happening at this, it's somewhere between conscious and subconscious level and then he sort of just puts his hat back on. It's really funny. It's really, really funny.

 

Jad:

And this guy wasn't in on it?

 

Robert:

No.

 

Latif:

He was not in it, he clearly just was trying to fit in in this weird way.

 

Jad:

It's interestingly though, I never watched the TV show when I was young, but it's weird. When I was seven, we still, we would say all the time, smile, you're on candid camera. Even though I'd never seen the show. So it was like the idea of the show was in a way, way bigger than the actual show.

 

Latif:

Yeah. It kind of became a meme, but it was less about kind of investigating human behavior and more about vanity in this weird way. It was like this idea that this tiny sliver of your private life could be excised and then broadcast to the world. And that idea, that idea would get away from Allen Funt and it would go all over the world and then it would come right back and bite them in the butt in this really funny and strange way.

 

Jad:

What happened?

 

Latif:

Well, okay. It starts like this.

 

Audio:

Hi. Hi. How are you? Good. Come on in.

 

Latif:

We'll start this story with this woman.

 

Marilyn:

Oh, we on now?

 

Latif:

Marilyn Funt.

 

Marilyn:

The X, Y for Valen fund. And we're on, do you want me to start where we're on the plane? Okay.

 

Latif:

So it's February 3rd, 1969.

 

Juliet:

New York airport.

 

Latif:

That's Maryland Funt's daughter, Allen Funt's daughter, Juliet Funt.

 

Juliet:

My mom, my dad, my baby brother and I are on a flight.

 

Marilyn:

Straight flight to Miami.

 

Juliet:

And I'm about one and a half. So me, I don't have any personal recollection of it.

 

Latif:

But she says she knows this story because it's family law.

 

Juliet:

So,

 

Marilyn:

We were in first class and we were on the flight.

 

Juliet:

a largely uneventful flight for about the first 20 minutes.

 

Latif:

Maybe an hour. Who knows? They're about a hundred miles or so off shore and they get their meals and go to the bathroom .

 

Juliet:

And...

 

Marilyn:

All of a sudden...

 

Juliet:

A man stood up in the back of the flight and he took out a knife and he put it to the throat of the one of the flight attendants and he walked her all the way down the center aisle and into the cockpit, passing every passenger on the flight.

 

Fred:

I did hear noise that were a little bit different in the back.

 

Latif:

That's Fred Weaver.

 

Fred:

Retired Eastern airlines pilot.

 

Latif:

He was one of the flight crew and next to him.

 

Lowell:

Yes, sir.

 

Latif:

Copilot, Lowell Miller. They were expecting breakfast.

 

Lowell:

I hear the knock on the door and I just opened the door.

 

Fred:

And I turned around to see who it was.

 

Lowell:

There she is.

 

Fred:

The flight attendant.

 

Lowell:

With the Hijacker behind her with the knife up against her throat.

 

Fred:

He was agitated saying Cuba, Cuba. He also was saying that his friend had a bomb in the back of the airplane.

 

Lowell:

I knew, right then I said, uh oh, here we go.

 

Jim:

The stewardess was walking around talking with all the passengers, asking them if anybody knew how to speak Spanish.

 

Latif:

That's Jim Zack. He was back in coach. He was 11 years old at the time.

 

Jim:

I didn't think much of it until the announcement came on the loudspeaker.

 

Marilyn:

The pilot gets on and says,

 

Juliet:

Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen,

 

Jim:

We have some gentlemen up here that want to go to Cuba. So we're going to Ivana.

 

Juliet:

And then came the part of the story that I've been told was the waiting, the frozen silent, staring at each other waiting portion. But then this one woman,

 

Latif:

A few rows away,

 

Juliet:

Began to recognize my father and she began to look and look back and forth to other folks and point a little bit and there was a slow building of her certainty. And then...

 

Latif:

All of a sudden she bolted up,

 

Juliet:

And said,

 

Latif:

Wait a second,

 

Juliet:

We are not being hijacked. It's a candid camera stunt.

 

Latif:

I'm quoting him. The plane went absolutely crazy.

 

Marilyn:

Everyone started laughing.

 

Latif:

People began cheering.

 

Marilyn:

Oh, and look who's here. He's pulling one of his stunts.

 

Latif:

Stamping their feet.

 

Juliet:

And attention dripped off of them.

 

Latif:

People were so relieved.

 

Juliet:

People were lined up with their air sickness bags to get autographs from my father.

 

Marilyn:

So then they relaxed.

 

Juliet:

And through all of this, my dad is begging,

 

Marilyn:

No, no, it's not me. I'm not involved. We are being hijacked. And they said, come on Allen, we know it's you.

 

Latif:

So Alan Funt is trying to persuade people. He's not getting any purchase. He sees, behind him, he sees a priest.

 

Juliet:

Right?

 

Latif:

He runs over to the priest,

 

Juliet:

And said, father, will you please help me convince these people?

 

Latif:

Tell them, this is no joke,

 

Juliet:

This is not a stunt.

 

Latif:

That maniac is for real.

 

Jad:

And what does the guy say?

 

Juliet:

You can't get me, Allen Funt.

 

Latif:

Oh no, you don't.

 

Robert:

I always wanted to see a guy with a cleric, with a little collar and everything. Oh no, you don't, Allen Funt.

 

Latif:

Right, right.

 

Jad:

Meanwhile, where is the hijack?

 

Juliet:

Terrifying people up in the cockpit.

 

Lowell:

Oh yeah. He stayed in the cockpit.

 

Latif:

But eventually, at some point, he hears this kind of commotion from first class,

 

Juliet:

And so he does open the door,

 

Latif:

And he pokes his head out,

 

Juliet:

And everybody begins to applaud and applaud and applaud.

 

Latif:

We're not totally sure about that last detail. It might be an embellishment, but what seems clear is that around this time Allen Funt is starting to feel kind of trapped.

 

Latif:

He'd been so successful at bugging the backstage, at mussing up the line between private and public and real life and show biz that he couldn't, when he needed to, he couldn't reassert that clear line.

 

Marilyn:

I was worried that he was going to come up with some idea to try to mitigate the situation and deal with it.

 

Latif:

Actually, what she says ended up happening was he got so frustrated that he decided to just deal with the hijackers himself.

 

Juliet:

Yes.

 

Latif:

So, he starts formulating a plan,

 

Juliet:

To grab the guy and knock him to the floor and my mother's saying...

 

Marilyn:

Don't you do anything.

 

Juliet:

You idiot. I have two babies on this plane.

 

Marilyn:

Leave it alone.

 

Juliet:

Sit down.

 

Robert:

Oh, so he's going to be Zorro?

 

Juliet:

Yes.

 

Latif:

Apparently the flight attendants had to tell him to sit down.

 

Robert:

What happens now? Well, you took it to the point where now the plane is landing in what I guess the people in the plane think is Florida.

 

Juliet:

In Cuba.

 

Robert:

So the people in the front of the plane know it's Cuba.

 

Juliet:

Cuba, correct.

 

Fred:

When we taxied into the terminal,

 

Juliet:

We're greeted as the plane is opened by Cuban military officers.

 

Jim:

I saw a Cuban soldier. He had a gun in his hand, and he had bandoliers, with lots of bullets on it.

 

Fred:

And they'd been circling the airplane.

 

Latif:

And it seems at this point everyone on the plane from maybe the first time was like, Oh.

 

Juliet:

Everybody really got it. That it was a hijacking.

 

Latif:

That was finally the reveal just really late. And the story goes when they're getting off the plane, when these Cuban soldiers are escorting them off the plane, he was standing at his seat,

 

Juliet:

And through a twisty aspect of human psychology,

 

Latif:

All the passengers were filing down the aisle past him.

 

Juliet:

They began to take their feelings out on him and they became angry at him.

 

Latif:

And each one of them had sort of their own grab bag of curses for him,

 

Juliet:

As if he had tricked them, as if he had set them up in some way.

 

Latif:

And the last person in that line,

 

Juliet:

Turned to my father,

 

Latif:

And said,

 

Juliet:

Smile my ass.

 

Marilyn:

That did happen. Smile my ass was the closing remark on the whole business.

 

Latif:

Smile my ass.

 

Robert:

To me, the meaning of this scene is that, here's a man who he has helped create a situation where people in some kind of peril don't know that they're in peril, that they've been blinded by the device that he created. It's suggests that's the beginning of something blurry which didn't use to be as much.

 

Jad:

You know it's funny like when I hear that plane scene it's like I'm almost nostalgic for that kind of confusion because what we have now is actually way more confusing I think.

 

Latif:

Yeah. Because we all have these cameras so we're always taking these candid pictures of ourselves. But obviously, in theory they're candid but they're not really candid because we've taken four of them and the one we choose, we put a filter on and...

 

Matt:

I think it's interesting nowadays is what Jacob Smith talks about as being interesting, which is that...

 

Latif:

That's producer Matt Kielty again, he was sort of off mic as we were hashing this out.

 

Matt:

Now, what becomes fun to look at isn't looking for people in their, the faces they make when they find out that they're on camera. It's poking and pulling apart people who know that know that they know that they're on camera. What I do, and I read people's Facebook pages and Twitter is I'm trying to figure out what they were thinking when they crafted that sentence and how they were trying to represent themselves and present themselves to the world.

 

Latif:

You're trying to figure out what part of that post is real.

 

Matt:

Yeah, exactly.

 

Robert:

Well, what he's really saying is that everyone who becomes an Allen Funt and the people on the plane, the confusion is very basic. If you're going to go on Facebook, then you are a little bit of an Allen Funt. If you're going to go on Twitter, if you're going to do that, then you're producing these shows. Then if you're actually trying to figure out how the other people are reacting to you or how you read them or how they're reading you.

 

Jad:

Yeah. Then you're a little bit like you're stuck on the plane because you don't know what's real and what show.

 

Robert:

Yeah. In a way if you split Allen Funt in half as opposed to the showman and the audience. Now everyone is in the showman and the audience. I could both part.

 

Jad:

Yeah. It's like I think we're Allen Funting ourselves.

 

Audio:

You're the star today. Smile, you're on candid camera.

 

Robert:

Enormous thanks to our producer, Latif Nasser.

 

Jad:

Also co-producer, Matt Kielty and a special thanks to.

 

Robert:

The Funt family. They couldn't have been more accommodating and more generous.

 

Jad:

Also Jim Zack and the Eastern airlines employee association. I just want to close by wishing our producer Lynn Levy a heartfelt thanks and good luck as she walks down the hall to work with our colleagues at studio 360. We love you, Lynn and that's it. I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad:

Thanks for listening.

 

Audio:

Start of message. Hey, this is Juliet Funt reading the credit. Hello, this is Jacob Smith from Northwestern university. Hi, my name is Jim Zack and I was asked to read you the credits sticks. So here we go. Radiolab is produced by Jad Abumrad, our staff includes Brenna Farrell, David Gable, Dylan Keefe, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Andy Mills, Latif Nasser, Kelsey Paget, Arianne Wack, Molly Webster, Soren Wheeler, and Jamie York with help from Simon Adler, Alexandra Lee Young, Abigail Keel, and Alexandra Brennan. Our fact checkers are Eva Dasher and Michelle Harris. That's it. Okay. Smile. You're on radio lab. End of message.

 

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