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Max Lerner on:
Charles Lindbergh

Max Lerner Q: Who was Charles Lindbergh?

ML: Well he was a hero. He was an American hero. And he flew from Saint Louis to Paris. And I was excited about it. We were all excited about it. He was a very flawed hero. And you have to see his life as a kind of a drama in four acts...sort of Greek tragedy in four acts.

Q: What are those acts?

ML: The first act, of course, was the flight. And the heroic part came in the kind of qualities that he showed in that flight. The vision to conceive of it. The will to sustain it, to map out his flight, to the stamina to carry it off. And with all of that, he had the sense of equipoise --the sense of ease, a lonely flyer in the air.

The second act, which was a kind of a transitional one, was the kidnapping part, where he had a different kind of exposure. He had had this intense exposure to the public after his flight. But now came a very different kind. And this time, he was not the hero. He was the victim. And he no longer was at home the way he was in the air. He felt very much ill at ease.

Q: In a way, the hero had been tragically struck down, hadn't he?

ML: Yes, that's right. I saw that as the pathos of what happens to a hero in human circumstances, in a social context that he didn't really understand very well. And that's what came through, as I say, was the pathos of a victim.

There was a third act. And the third act was truly tragic. It had to do with the Germans...with the Nazi's, with Goering. He became a kind of ambassador, in a sense, to the German strength in the air, their skill, their virtuosity. He became an ambassador from another nation. And we felt badly. I felt very badly about what he had done. I could understand it. He came out of an isolationist west. He felt there was a danger to America in the war. And he was doing what he thought he had to do to avert it.

Q: And the fourth?

ML: There was a fourth act. And that was he had lost his way, with the whole German episode. And the fourth act, he found his way again. And he found his way back to where he felt at home. And that was in the air. Flying, mapping out the regions below, trying to do something about man's environment--trying to do something ecological that really would be healing.

Q: The family talks a lot about balance, and about the idea of things being in balance.

ML: Yes, he had equipoise in the air. And I think he had a sense in his whole life of trying to create the balance when it wasn't there. He was very off balance in two episodes, the kidnapping episode and the isolationist episode.

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