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Adler And Doonan: Like Father, Like Son ... Sort Of

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Adler And Doonan: Like Father, Like Son ... Sort Of

Adler And Doonan: Like Father, Like Son ... Sort Of

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Hey, we're starting a new series on MORNING EDITION today that we are calling Open Mic, you know, like Open Mic Night in a music club or a comedy club. We're bringing in writers, composers, actors, other creative people. Who knows, maybe somebody will sing karaoke before we're done. We've made a simple offer. Take over the airwaves for a few minutes of MORNING EDITION and tell us a story you are burning to tell.

Open Mic begins today with Jonathan Adler, head judge on the TV series "Top Design."

(Soundbite of TV show, "Top Design")

Mr. JONATHAN ADLER (Judge, "Top Design"): Your window was incredible. It was creative, it was confident, it was surprising, and it was beautiful.

INSKEEP: Jonathan Adler is about to step up to the open mic with his husband, Simon Doonan, who's a writer, a columnist for the New York Observer, creative director of Barney's Department store. We're going to start with Jonathan at the microphone in our New York bureau. Welcome to the program.

Mr. ADLER: Hi. Thank you. It's great to be here.

INSKEEP: It seems appropriate that we're hearing your stories right before Father's Day.

Mr. ADLER: Well, that's exactly right. We thought Father's Day is coming up and Simon and I both have odd, creative lives. You know, I'm a potter and a decorator and a retailer and do all kinds of weird stuff. And Simon and I both have lost our fathers and we thought it was a great opportunity to reflect on what they meant to us, and especially what they meant to us in terms of creativity and being gay and all that stuff.

INSKEEP: We should mention that Simon Doonan wrote a memoir called "Beautiful People," which became a BBC sitcom and we have a little clip of the character that is based on Simon's father.

(Soundbite of sitcom, "Beautiful People")

Unidentified Man (Actor): (as Terry Doonan) To the best mother in the world. Well, a few years ago, before she went schizo, after that she was pure evil. To mother.

Unidentified Woman (Actress): (as character) To mother.

INSKEEP: A toast by the character based on Simon's dad. Was he really like that?

Mr. ADLER: Simon's dad was pretty great. He was, you know, born poor and had just had an unconventional life himself marked largely by the fact that he had a schizophrenic mother and a schizophrenic brother and they all lived with Simon in one crazy house.

INSKEEP: Okay. So the series is Open Mic. Let's here you two asking about your dads.

Mr. SIMON DOONAN (Writer, "Beautiful People"): Jonathan, what do you think went through your dad's mind when he met moi, myself?

Mr. ADLER: I don't think that every father dreams that his son will bring home a 42-year-old window dresser, but he kind of rolled with it. My parents were not ecstatic about my being gay, but I think they loved you regardless of your stats as a window dresser, which again is not - wasn't the sort of Jewish intellectual dream for their son. Slimon…

Mr. DOONAN: They can't have you calling me Slimon. Somebody's going to think it's - they're all going to think it's horrible.

Mr. ADLER: Sorry. I can never remember not to.

Mr. DOONAN: Don't you think?

Mr. ADLER: Anyway, you are all about creativity, and we never talk about your dad Terry's creativity, because I don't think he was ever allowed to have any, 'cause he such a sort of grim life. So my question is - what do you think he would have done if he had had the luxury of being creative?

Mr. DOONAN: Well, my dad did have a very difficult life. You know, his father committed suicide, his mother had mental health problems, and I think given other circumstances he could have developed a real creative side to him. He would make furniture out of orange crates that would be bedside tables and whatever, stuff to put stuff on. He was extremely resourceful. And he was a bit of an aesthete. You know, he loved opera, he loved fine wines, or even crappy wines.

Mr. ADLER: Crappy wines I think is more like it.

Mr. DOONAN: Yeah, absolutely. Jonathan, other than a love of baked goods, what are the traits which you share with your dad?

Mr. ADLER: Unfortunately, a little bit of Jewish schnozz. I think the most noteworthy thing about my dad and the most direct legacy from him to me was his passion for art. My dad was a lawyer by training, but he spent every spare moment of his life making art, drawing and painting and sculpting.

Growing up, I think I used to think, God, he's such an idiot, he should have made a career as an artist. And I thought that that was a cop-out and possibly even a failure. And now as an adult I see it the exact opposite way. His approach to being an artiste was so much purer and more brilliant than it would have been if he had made art a career.

So whenever I'm slogging away in the middle of some corporate meeting, I always try to remember my dad and think about his pure passion for art and creativity and try to channel that into my own work.

All right, your memoir, "Beautiful People," about growing up in your house filled with lunatics, is now a TV series, and your dad got to read the book on which it's based, but he didn't see the TV series. How do you think he would have felt about it?

Mr. DOONAN: I would think he would have felt it was a completely unnecessary exercise in disclosure. You know, in our street where we lived, we were the oddities. We had all the crazy relatives, the blind auntie, we were like a circus act in our street, which fueled my creativity, which gave me an unconventional worldview, and I celebrated that. But I think it was very hard for them to make that leap. They just really felt criticized, so that was hard for them.

And then I had to come to terms with not being told, oh, you're great, this is funny, da, da, da, you know, with that silence and that withholding of commentary which is a very powerful thing and can be quite painful, especially from your parents and…

Mr. ADLER: I've got to say, though, as someone who knew your dad when he was old and witnessed your interaction after you had become a writer, I think you are wrong. I think that he might not have said it as explicitly as he might have wished, but I could tell that he completely dug what you did and always had such an appreciation for your sense of humor.

Mr. DOONAN: Yeah, but I have to feel if I…

Mr. ADLER: He totally did.

Mr. DOONAN: …if I had a son and they wrote a newspaper column for 10 years, I would read every single column.

Mr. ADLER: Well, it would be particular odd since our son is a Norwich Terrier, so if he wrote a newspaper column it would be amazing.

Mr. DOONAN: No, I don't want to sound whiney or victimy, but I've had to sort of understand why he was unable to do that and forgive him and move on and understand it, and I have, Jonathan.

Mr. ADLER: (Unintelligible) it's getting really heated here at the NPR studio. If he had been the kind of guy who was explicitly complimentary to you, you wouldn't be who you are and you'd probably - you'd probably be pretty unbearable, actually, so I think it's all for the best. It really worked out.

INSKEEP: Jonathan Adler and Simon Doonan, the first guests for our series Open Mic. And Jonathan Adler is still with us for some post-game analysis.

I'd like to ask if the two of you, if you learned anything from that conversation that you didn't know?

Mr. ADLER: Yeah, I think so. I think Father's Day is always an odd time for people whose dads have died. So it was a great celebration for us.

INSKEEP: Mr. Adler, thanks very much.

Mr. ADLER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's Jonathan Adler, who kicked off our series Open Mic with Simon Doonan. And the series continues next week with Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who investigates the mystery of how songs are written.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And you can see some photos of the two designers' creations at our Web site, npr.org.

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