December 13, 1999
JIM LEHRER: He had the rare distinction of coining a phrase that became part of American language and culture: "Catch-22," the title of his 1961 novel. There was a 1970 film made of the book. And Alan Arkin played Heller's character, Yossarian, the man struggling to understand the ways of war. Here is an excerpt.
ALAN ARKIN: Aug, I don't want to fly anymore.
ALAN ARKIN: It's dangerous.
ACTOR: Listen, I told you. Let's get out of here, huh?
ALAN ARKIN: I've flown 35 missions, for Christ's sake.
ACTOR: Take it easy.
ALAN ARKIN: Now that sadistic nut has raised the number up to 50. In any other outfit, I would have been rotated after 25. Doc, you got to help me out.
ACTOR: Look, I'm due for rotation myself in a couple of months if, if I don't cause any trouble, or break any rules. And one of the rules says I can't ground anyone just because he asks me to.
ALAN ARKIN: Can you ground somebody who's crazy?
ACTOR: Of course. I have to. There's a rule that says I have to ground anyone who's crazy.
ALAN ARKIN: I'm crazy!
ACTOR: Who says so?
ALAN ARKIN: Ask anybody. Ask Nately, Dobbs. Hey, Orr! Orr, tell him.
SECOND ACTOR: Tell him what?
ALAN ARKIN: Am I crazy?
SECOND ACTOR: He's crazy, doc. He won't fly with me. I take good care of him, but he won't. He's crazy, all right.
ALAN ARKIN: That's proof, isn't it. They all say I'm crazy.
ACTOR: They're crazy.
ALAN ARKIN: Why don't you ground them?
ACTOR: Why don't they ask me to ground them?
ALAN ARKIN: Because they're crazy.
ACTOR: Of course they're crazy. I just told you that. You can't let crazy people decide whether you're crazy or not, can you?
ALAN ARKIN: Is he crazy?
ACTOR: Of course he is; he has to be if he keeps flying after all the close calls he's had.
ALAN ARKIN: Why can't you ground him.
ACTOR: He has to ask me.
ALAN ARKIN: That's all he's got to do to be grounded.
ALAN ARKIN: Then you can ground him?
ACTOR: No, then I cannot ground him. There's a catch.
ALAN ARKIN: A catch.
ACTOR: Sure, catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat isn't really crazy, so I can't ground him.
ALAN ARKIN: Okay. Let me see if I got this straight. In order to be grounded I've got to be crazy. And I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded that means I'm not crazy anymore and I have to keep flying.
ACTOR: Of you got it. That's catch-22.
ALAN ARKIN: That's some catch, that catch-22.
JIM LEHRER: Last year, Joseph Heller talked to Charlie Rose about the war and his writing.
JOSEPH HELLER: My military experience was beneficial and enjoyable, almost entirely. Even those last missions when I was scared stiff became a rich experience because they were suspense. It was not boring.
CHARLIE ROSE: "Catch-22" was not an immediate critical and commercial success, was it?
JOSEPH HELLER: No, no.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yet I've often wondered about you, if you have been running against yourself throughout your life, i.e., every time you go out of the block, you're running against Joe Heller yourself, competing with Joe Heller, competing with "Catch-22".
JOSEPH HELLER: If I were a competitive person, that might be true. I'm not a competitive person. If I am, I redress it. I don't feel competitive. With other novelists or anything. "Catch-22," by the time I was doing my second novel, "Catch-22" had become a recognized success, and my second novel was deliberately very much different from "Catch-22." In the minds of many people, something happened in "Catch-22," as different as they are equal in accomplishment. And as I go into... as I slip into my golden years...
CHARLIE ROSE: About to enter your golden years.
JOSEPH HELLER: I'm very complacent. I'm very content with the knowledge that I did write "Catch-22" and something happened. I didn't have to beat myself, and when I wrote novel, I didn't want to beat other novelists, as well. I stuck to novel writing as opposed to other writing I did, screen writing and television writing because it's very intense and very personal.
JIM LEHRER: Joseph Heller died last night at age 76.