Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Writer Susan Orlean Plays Not My Job

Susan Orlean is a staff writer for the New Yorker and has contributed articles to Vogue, Rolling Stone and Esquire. She is the author of several books, including The Orchid Thief. i i
Gasper Tringale
Susan Orlean is a staff writer for the New Yorker and has contributed articles to Vogue, Rolling Stone and Esquire. She is the author of several books, including The Orchid Thief.
Gasper Tringale

Susan Orlean, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has just written a book about the life and legend of America's beloved canine icon, Rin Tin Tin. So we've invited her to play a game called "Rin Tin Tin is just the be gin gin ginning." Rin Tin Tin made us think of the Tintin comics ... and that sounds like Tauntaun from Star Wars ... which is sort of like TomTom, the GPS system. So, we came up with a quiz based on three things that sound like things that sound like the title of Orlean's book.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now, the game where we ask interesting people about things that do not interest them at all.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Susan Orlean is one of the most successful nonfiction authors in America. Her books and New Yorker articles were turned into the movies "Blue Crush" and "Adaptation," in which she, herself, was played by a naked Meryl Streep. Her latest book, titled, "Rin Tin Tin" is about - well, I don't want to spoil the surprise.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Susan Orlean, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

SUSAN ORLEAN: Oh, it's great to be here. Thanks.

SAGAL: Well, it's great to have you, Susan, it's great to have you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So you wrote this book, "The Orchid Thief" that got made into a movie called "Adaptation," which weirdly enough is not so much about the story of your book, although it includes it, it is about the writer trying to adapt your book "The Orchid Thief." And you are in it, or rather you are portrayed in it by Meryl Streep.

ORLEAN: Right.

SAGAL: Before I get any further, how was that for you?

LUKE BURBANK: It's got to be cool.

ORLEAN: Well, pretty kooky, as you can imagine.

SAGAL: I can imagine. I mean, I often fantasize about being played by Meryl Streep, but it seems unlikely.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: Yeah, well don't give up.

SAGAL: And it happened to you. All right, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: It was, I would say, probably as close to an out of body experience as anyone could ever imagine.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MO ROCCA TELEVISION PERSONALITY: I have a question. When Meryl Streep plays you in a movie, does she, like, come over to your house and follow you around the kitchen, like, to try to, like, act like you?

ORLEAN: Well, this is terribly embarrassing, but I will tell you what happened. I was very excited when I heard that Meryl Streep was going to play me. So I would come into my office at the New Yorker and I would just very casually say to my colleagues, "Oh, could you guys tidy up? I think Meryl Streep might be coming by today just to study me"

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yes.

ORLEAN: You know, and then she wouldn't come by. And then another week would roll around and I'd again say to people, you know, could you kind of clean up in here, guys, I mean I think Meryl Streep's probably going to come and, you know, study me. Well then, at one point, I said to the producer, so look, I mean is Meryl Streep going to come? And they said, oh, we already shot her scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: She really just wanted to create the character kind of on her own and didn't want to study you. And then, so I was eating a lot of humble pie at the office.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So let's talk about "Rin Tin Tin" a little. I want to say that I picked up your book with a sense of heavy obligation. In that I wanted to read the book because you were going to be our guest, but I totally uninterested in dogs, only had the vaguest idea who Rin Tin Tin was, and ended up just loving it. So, I mean, it's a book for everybody who thinks they hate dogs.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: Right. That's right. It's actually a book for dog haters.

SAGAL: Dog haters, exactly. There's so much in that book I did not know. For example, that Rin Tin Tin was not a character but a real dog.

ORLEAN: And that is exactly what drew me into the story. Because having grown up at the very tail end of "Rin Tin Tin" having been a TV star and knowing him just as a character in television, it completely astonished me to learn that he was a real dog, born in 1918.

SAGAL: Right.

ORLEAN: And a dog who had had a huge career and a sort of global acclaim in the 1920s.

SAGAL: So summarize very briefly, Rin Tin Tin was found in a battlefield in World War I by a soldier named Lee Duncan, who brought him home to America and got into the movies and he became one of the biggest movie stars in the world.

ORLEAN: Yeah, in the 1920s, he was probably the top box office earner for many years. He was known all over the world. I mean, in the 20s, when Rin Tin Tin was in a movie, he was the name above the title.

PERSONALITY: Geez.

ORLEAN: He was the big deal.

SAGAL: Really?

ORLEAN: Such a big star that when he died in 1932, the news interrupted broadcasting all over the country.

SAGAL: Yeah. I love the fact that, as you write, like the gossip magazines used to write about him like a movie star.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: They'd say he lived in a hotel suite with his wife Nanette, right?

ORLEAN: Right. Actually, my favorite report was where they presumably interviewed his wife Nanette.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: Who said she was putting aside her career for the time being because of the demands of motherhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PERSONALITY: Was he fixed?

ORLEAN: Definitely not.

PERSONALITY: Okay, good, so he could enjoy his celebrity.

ORLEAN: He really enjoyed his celebrity.

BURBANK: He could run for president now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: If you see one of the silent films, you will know quite immediately that he was not fixed.

SAGAL: Right.

ORLEAN: And he had 44 puppies.

PERSONALITY: Wow.

SAGAL: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROXANNE ROBERTS: For the newcomer to this, what are the essential differences between Rin Tin Tin and Lassie?

ORLEAN: Oh my god, I was hoping you wouldn't ask me that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: I'm very sensitive on the subject.

SAGAL: Really, why?

ORLEAN: Well, you know, it's very funny because the rivalry, it's sort of a Rolling Stones/Beatles rivalry.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: It just doesn't go away. I mean, seriously. The essential difference and it's a real difference, which is there's no story about Lassie. Lassie was a fictional character who became a television character, but there was no story behind it.

Rin Tin Tin was a real dog with this amazing life story of having been found on a battlefield, brought back to the U.S., because through, you know, kind of luck and chance, an actor, a star, and then became a character. So his story was much more complicated and...

SAGAL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, you're Timmy, you're in a well, who do you call?

ORLEAN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: That's the question.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Hey, I understand that you're quite an animal person at home. You wrote about this, raising chickens, in the New Yorker, you have this sort of farm in upstate New York.

ORLEAN: Yeah, we have a lot of critters. We have chickens and turkeys and ducks and cattle and cats and...

SAGAL: Wait a minute, you have cattle?

ORLEAN: Yeah, they're - I mean they're not house pets.

SAGAL: No, clearly not.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: They're living outside. But, you know...

SAGAL: I understand. Do you have dogs?

ORLEAN: I have a dog.

SAGAL: Since researching Rin Tin Tin for ten years, are you terribly disappointed in your dog?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: We have a lot of talks where I kind of say, look, you know, Rin Tin Tin supported his master for years.

SAGAL: Right.

ORLEAN: What have you done for me lately?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And he doesn't, like, rescue you from Indians or anything like that.

ORLEAN: No, but you know what, I will say, every time I've fallen in a well, he does pull me out.

SAGAL: That's good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Can I say, by the way, and I say this to you as someone who's written a book about a famous performing dog, that I did not get a dog until I was a freshman in high school. I was 14 years old.

And by that time, I was so ruined by fictional dogs, ranging from all the movie dogs to the TV dogs to Snoopy. And then you get a real, finally after a lifetime, a kid's lifetime of wanting one, you get a dog and it's just a dog.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It doesn't talk to you. It doesn't like run errands for you, bring you - it doesn't even bring my slippers. It just kind of panted and ran around and occasionally would poop outside. That was it.

ORLEAN: Right.

PERSONALITY: But isn't that what marriage is like too?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: Where you poop outside?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, Susan Orlean, we have invited you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL, HOST:

Rin Tin Tin is just the Be Gin Gin Ginning.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: Uh-oh.

SAGAL: So we were talking about Rin Tin Tin and somebody said that sounds like the Tintin comics and that sounded like Taun Tauns from "Star Wars" and we sort of got carried away. So, we're going to ask you three questions based on three things that sound like the title of your book.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: Oh good. I'm probably guaranteed to flunk all of these.

SAGAL: That's the plan.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But if you answer two out of these three questions correctly, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners. Carl, who is author Susan Orlean playing for?

KASELL: Susan is playing for David Gayes of Oak Park, Illinois.

SAGAL: Ready to play?

ORLEAN: I am.

SAGAL: All right. Tin Tin is, of course, a famous Belgian comic book hero, and he's the basis for the new Stephen Spielberg movie. His BFF Captain Haddock is known for his elaborate curses. Which of these is a genuine Captain Haddock expletive?

A: Blue-Blistering Bell-Bottomed Balderdash? B: Filibustering French Fried Frankincense? Or C: Hairy Hedgehogs on a Stick?

ORLEAN: Whoa.

SAGAL: Yes.

ORLEAN: I'll say number one.

SAGAL: Blue-blistering Bell-bottomed Balderdash?

ORLEAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: You're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The idea, Captain Haddock is a sailor and the author wants him to swear like a sailor but not actually swear. So that's good. So that was Tin Tin. Next up, Taun Taun. As all "Star Wars" fans know, they are the beasts on the ice planet Hoth, famous for that bit where Hans Solo cuts one open to make a nice warm hot pocket for the injured Luke Skywalker.

What is the latest Taun Taun themed Star Wars merchandise? A: the Craftsman Star Wars edition chainsaw, which is quote, "tough enough to open a Taun Taun."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B: A sleeping bag that looks like a Taun Taun; you unzip and get to keep yourself warm by climbing in.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C: a loaf shaped to look like a Taun Taun, to be enjoyed on a Star Wars nerd holiday called Life Day.

ORLEAN: I'm going for B.

SAGAL: You're going to go for B, the sleeping bag?

ORLEAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: You're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ORLEAN: Oh my god.

SAGAL: The TaunTaun sleeping bag.

ORLEAN: I don't believe it.

SAGAL: What's great is that this, the TaunTaun shaped sleeping, which you could cut open and then crawl inside yourself, was actually an April Fool's joke on a website called Think Geek. But the response to it was so overwhelming that they just actually started manufacturing them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, we've had Tin Tin, Taun Taun, how about Tom Tom, the GPS system that uses celebrity voices to give directions. Which of these is a real celebrity instruction you can get on your Tom Tom GPS? Is it A: Snoop Dogg saying "Jeeza Freeza Put Your Keeza in the Ignition"?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B: Kim Kardashian saying "If you turn left at the next light, I'll marry you"?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or C: Cormac McCarthy saying "The road is long, hungry, cold, find food or die. Yes, that is the way of it"?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: Oh my god. Oh, god, well I know which one I would buy, but my guess is that it's number one.

SAGAL: Snoop Dogg?

ORLEAN: Yep.

SAGAL: You're right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Very good.

ORLEAN: Oh.

SAGAL: Here is a sample of Snoop Dogg helping you find your way.

(SOUNDBITE OF GPS)

SAGAL: There you go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Ready to go. Carl, how did Susan Orlean do on our quiz?

KASELL: Susan, you had a great game. Three correct answers, so you win for David Gayes.

SAGAL: Well done.

ORLEAN: Oh my god.

PERSONALITY: Brava.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ORLEAN: I am so proud.

SAGAL: You should be.

ORLEAN: I really am. I'm really proud.

BURBANK: You know what, Susan, you get a bacon treat.

SAGAL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ORLEAN: Wow.

SAGAL: Susan Orlean is the author of the new book, "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend." It's out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Susan, thank you so much.

ORLEAN: Thank you, Peter. Thanks everyone.

SAGAL: Bye-bye. Susan.

PERSONALITY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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