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July 8, 2013

Ben Affleck’s and George Clooney’s favorite (Jewish) journalist

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/ben_afflecks_and_george_clooneys_favorite_jewish_journalist/

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Journalist Joshuah Bearman

Joshuah Bearman, the audacious and meticulous journalist behind the story that became "Argo" has just published his latest piece for GQ, about a bunch of twentysomething surfers from Southern California who transformed themselves into drug lords. 

And rumor has it: George Clooney is interested in the film rights.

Now available in the July issue of the magazine, “Coronado High” tells of a group of young SoCal surfers and their high school Spanish teacher who haphazardly coalesced to create one of the most efficient drug smuggling operations in the country. An excerpt from GQ:

As the boss of an ever growing empire, Lou had long since traded his VW bus for a black Ferrari 246 GTS. In the trunk, he'd carry a valise full of "fun tickets": C-notes to satisfy any whim. The idealism of the '60s had given way to the excesses of the '70s. Lou and Ed collected a fleet of Mercedeses and Ferraris between them and bought palatial homes. Lou spent fifteen grand on a fake passport using the name "Peter Grant," bought a Mercedes as "James Benson," shopped at Wilkes Bashford as "Richard Malone."

Sometimes Lou's story was that he was a trust funder. Sometimes he was the son of a Texas wildcatter. Once he was mistaken for a member of KISS, and he didn't deny it. Whoever he was, Lou owned it. "I'm in oil," he'd say. "And if you ask any more questions, I'll ask you to leave."

Like “Argo” the story of Coronado occurred decades ago, but Bearman has proven himself deft at unearthing history.  “I get a lot of my stories through tips,” Bearman told me during a recent interview. “I keep a huge list of story ideas. Some are crazy things," he added, "like I read somewhere that Stalin directed his zoological faculty at the Academy of Science to try and breed monkeys with people to create ape warriors.”

Though Bearman said that story seems un-reportable (“because everybody’s dead”), he explained that it is the wild, uncanny and unbelievable narratives that most interest him. An editor at Harper’s once described his journalism as “Dude, no way! stories.” 

“I’m always looking for narrative but I’ll often look for something that’s surprising or unusual or complicated,” Bearman said.

In his first published piece for McSweeney’s, in the winter of 2000, the Minnesota-born, Pasadena-raised writer interviewed his physicist father about his work with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

An excerpt:

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN FATHER AND SON,
PHYSICIST AND STUDENT

ME: Hello?
DAD: Joshuah?
ME: Yes.
DAD: You need to change your answering machine. Immediately.
ME: Why? What's
DAD: I called you last night and left a message. It is childish and unprofessional.
ME: But it's my home number.
DAD: It doesn't matter. It's absurd. What if some diplomat or whatever returns
your call for an interview and gets the machine?
ME: Honestly, I don't even remember what it says. And I can't figure out how to
change it. Something happened to the manual for the phone, and
DAD: There's no defense. Find the manual and change it.
ME: Listen, I'll change it, but can we get to the interview?

The rest of the article, about “imaging spectroscopy to read parts of the [Dead Sea] Scrolls that were illegible” is quite fascinating (Bearman’s father joined a team of researchers in Jerusalem after an initial examination of the Scrolls revealed the words K'tav M'lay Noah -- “He wrote the words of Noah”). You can read the full interview here.

Bearman wrote another amusing piece for Playboy Magazine, billed as a “true-life 1970s Hollywood epic” about a cocaine-snorting Jewish producer (Bert Schneider) who helped smuggle a prominent leader of the Black Panther movement (Huey Newton) to Cuba. You can read that one here.

But if you want to read the story that Clooney is reportedly hot to direct, you’ll have to head to a newsstand; the full “Coronado High” won’t be available on the Web until September. In the meantime, keep on the lookout for a profile of Bearman coming soon...

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