Laurence Leamer ’64 is a best-selling
author and journalist. A former Ford Fellow in International Development at the
University of Oregon and a former International Fellow at Columbia University,
he is the author of The Kennedy Men, The Kennedy Women and Sons of
Camelot, and has written a biography of Johnny Carson, King of the Night.
In his most recent book, Madness Under the Royal Palms, Leamer looks at the way
wealth makes its own rules and how it creates a culture of privilege. Leamer's
searing look into the "haves" of Palm Beach has gotten him rave
reviews, as well as death threats.
What brought you to Antioch College? What was your major? My father was a professor and knew Antioch's reputation. I never visited beforehand and knew nothing about it. I arrived in September 1959 in my Robert Hall suit and my girlfriend from Vestal, New York, with her parents, her mom who had a tattoo on her arm and her big Russian father. We were the weirdest thing Yellow Springs had ever seen.
Was there a professor that made a huge impact on your life? Louis Filler was an American historian. He was a serious man who expected the best of his students. He was tough and he was truly a great teacher. The other major name in the department, Roger Williams, was a terrible snob and a fine teacher too. I was sitting in Williams class in 19th century European civilization on the first day of class when a freshman knocked on the door and asked, "Is this American civilization?" "Yes, it is," Williams said. "But I think you want Professor Filler across the hall."
What's your favorite memory of being at Antioch? Not one thing, just this incredible, often terrifying sense of freedom.
Any stirring words of wisdom about the independence of Antioch College? I have great admiration for the people who have worked so hard to bring the college back. I was far more cynical.
If you could bring one thing to the future of Antioch College, what would it be? A couple weeks ago I spent about 15 minutes talking to Judge Anthony Scalia at a social event. I was astounded at how right wing he was and how opinionated. He talked about his son who went to West Point and is fighting in Afghanistan. He said, "West Point is the only college in America that is morally serious." I don't know about that, but I do know it's easier to be morally serious if you're conservative and have a bunch of precepts to go by. It's far harder if you're progressive and see liberty as something that must constantly expand. I would bring that "morally serious" [attitude] to the school because if it has that everything else follows. It means students will work hard the way Stephen Jay Gould did when I was there. It means professors will teach hard the way Louis Filler did when I was there. It won't be easy, but let me tell you, nothing of any value is.
About Madness Under the Royal Palms: I was down in Palm Beach for the first time in 1991 when I was researching The Kennedy Women. I've lived all over the world, but I found the island the strangest place I'd ever visited. I decided to buy a place there, integrate myself into the community as best I could, and write a book. The result was so controversial that the police said I should hire security and my car was run off the road.