Alex Haley: The Man Behind The Roots

Alex Haley: The Man Behind The Roots (1977)
Duration: 00:30:07

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Themes: Literature and Language |

Guests: Alex Haley
Host : Ron Scott
Producer : Tony Mottley
Associate Producer : Deborah Ray

Summary: This special broadcast from 1977 features an extended interview with Alex Haley, author of Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The program, hosted by Ron Scott, followed shortly after the ABC network aired an eight-part miniseries based on the book, Roots. The miniseries became a national sensation and was one of the most-watched television programs ever.

In the interview, Haley discusses the public reaction to Roots as well as his work on that book and the Malcolm X autobiography. He also talks about his future plans and his desire to get back to writing.

The public's fascination with Roots, he says, was overwhelming.

"You spend years in a room with a typewriter, kind of hibernating, writing a book, and all of a sudden you discover that in effect, the world turns upside down," he says. "The biggest problem, ultimately, comes down to one of just sheer physical energy and time."

At one point during the book tour, he says, he collapsed from exhaustion backstage while waiting to appear on a television show. On doctor's orders, he cancelled a number of appearances, which angered some people.

"The public will love you if they choose to love you for something, but if you don't do something they expect you to do, they'll turn on you very quickly," Haley says. "I hate like everything to disappoint people who are expecting that I will be there, and on the other hand, I would sort of like to live."

Overall, he says, he was very pleased with the television adaptation of his book, although some of the production compromises -- such as eliminating much of the material on Kunta Kinte's early life in Africa -- were disappointing. And the public response had been overwhelmingly positive, from whites as well as blacks. One appearance in South Carolina, for example, attracted an overflow crowd; it was sponsored by a black college but a majority of the audience was white.

The biggest problem with the tremendous success, he says, is that the demand for public appearances -- he had more than 820 pending requests -- makes it hard for him to return to the writing that he loves.

"I couldn't imagine anything I could enjoy more than what I do," Haley says. "I just know I want to keep doing what I do best, I think, is write. … There is a great, great thrill to put the right words on those clean sheets of paper and see it read around the world and see films made of it, things like that. I just don't know anything that tops it."