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ABOUT THIS EPISODE

An early morning raid, a house-full of Nazis, the world’s greatest harmonica player, and a dashingly handsome undercover spy. What could possibly go wrong?
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TRANSCRIPT

00:00:05revisionist history is brought to you by ziprecruiter hiring hasn't always been an exact science you can easily end up in a room interviewing someone without the right qualifications or worse hiring them ziprecruiter revolutionized hiring to make sure that doesn't happen and now you can try them for free
00:00:24at ziprecruiter dot com slash Gladwell stay tuned to later in this episode to hear about how the Roman Empire could have benefited from a service like ziprecruiter I always flatter myself I think I'm gonna be able to play that fast and I actually can't so take it from
00:00:50your introduction again after the three calls a little slower if you ever want to treat yourself to something wonderful type in the name Adler in the word harmonica on you too this is from an Australian program called four corners in nineteen sixty one a hundred videos like this
00:01:17the question I do have some robin well %HESITATION ingrown millions writes for the mouth open he's not doing this for a joke my name is Malcolm Gladwell your listing to revisionist history my podcast about things overlooked and misunderstood this is the first of two episodes about memory about
00:01:48the myths we hold about it and the games are members play this one is about an argument between two old friends over what supposedly happened or did not happen during a raid on a house supposedly full of **** in July nineteen forty five or maybe April nineteen forty
00:02:08six I have no idea this is an interview with Larry Adler by Dorothy Horowitz on February the fifth nineteen eighty six hand up Larry Adler is the virtuoso hand organ player is that correct title his hand over a mouth organ because the handover to grow from monkey like
00:02:43you by the time Larry Adler sat down to tell his life story to historian with the American Jewish committee his reputation was well known no no no no no no no mouth organ player at what harmonic life as it is now you use the word mouth open but
00:03:00the people who manufacture that Colorado not and %HESITATION I might add a rap kind to par excellence and we hope you're going to indulge in a lot of that because we're going to want to know all about you of course you know the direct content is a very
00:03:16polite way to live reckon tour is a very polite word for liar that could easily be on Larry Adler's tombstone there was the greatest harmonica player in the world you grandparents would know exactly who he was I have to admit I'd never heard of them until I was
00:03:39rooting around one day in the oral history archives at the New York Public Library I ran across his interview listen to it for a few moments and was about to give up when Adler began to tell the story of his affair with Ingrid Bergman back when she was
00:03:54considered the most beautiful actress in the they met while Adler was on tour at the end of the second World War entertaining the troops in Europe late one night he's in a bar in Augsburg Germany playing the and she came into the room where I was playing like
00:04:13when I was playing asked me what it was that it was something I made up and she said have you written down I said no I can't write music his in your very smuggling you not only ignorant you're proud of you that's how I met Ingrid Bergman Xander
00:04:29tells his interviewer that he just recently read a biography of burden in which Bergman's husband claimed that he Larry Adler had come to him and confess their affair I knew I wouldn't have done such a thing because I wouldn't have done that the English I wouldn't have named
00:04:46what would happen to her however it is in the book and I can't deny that he said that to the author of the book but as I say I know I can see me doing it is against my nature and my friends just to be clear Larry Adler
00:05:01was having an affair with one of the most famous actresses in the world and the actresses husband says handler confessed to you would think that would be a memorable event but Adler's responses maybe I guess it could have happened by the way war and peace and I'm paraphrasing
00:05:20of course because you you can't remember constantly learn who would is it sink ones where a young man who's been in a battle I think the battle of already know is in Moscow in a drawing room telling these very attractive young ladies about his war experiences but he
00:05:34was behind the lines he didn't see action he only heard about action from up the soldiers but he saw that he was losing his audience because he couldn't get the many tales of battle action so he began to use the stories of the other soldiers had told him
00:05:50but making it personal as if he had experience that action and then tells story has a line very much like this and he realized as he spoke that the truth was slipping away from him and soon he would no longer know what the truth was I think that
00:06:06applies very much to anybody telling any story about anything the officer in Tolstoy's war and peace tells a story that isn't true and from then on forgets that it isn't true now reenter doesn't call the officer a liar we say he shouldn't make things up matter says masterly
00:06:27memories work they're up for grabs in fact throughout the oral history handler keeps summoning memories and simultaneously discounting until he has completely convinced you that's the way we all of do you do you culminates in the story of the raid on the Munich boarding house full of ****
00:06:50with his old friend the dashing handsome spy named Hans Werner A. K. A. John white's but we're getting ahead of ourselves Larry Adler was born in Baltimore in nineteen fourteen to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine Jack was a plumber at the age of two he wandered away from home
00:07:14and was later found at a local bar standing on top of a pool table and singing I've got the profiteering blues to wild applause he was a prodigy fourteen took his harmonica on the train to New York City and talked his way into performing on Broadway I passed
00:07:32the paramount theatre and Rudy Vallee names on the marquee Rudy Vallee was basically the JZ of the nineteen twenties so I got off the street sneak past the stage door men found many that started to play for him and he interrupted me look I'm just a master ceremony
00:07:49here again I'm not an agent valley put him on that very night he was obvious even then that Adler was something special perfect pitch an astounding musical memory you could make the harmonica saying in a way that no one else has ever done if you watch any of
00:08:05those old videos of that are on you too he's mesmerizing slender long thin fingers huge forehead oversized eyes there's a wonderful story about him in The New Yorker in nineteen forty two which describes him as resembling a very young and slightly sinister once when he's living in Beverly
00:08:27hills advocates a call from Charlie Chaplin Chapman says please come over make a fourth for tennis because bill Tilden can't make it bill Tilden arguably the greatest tennis player of all time after Roger Federer had a goes over is a woman there with badly combed hair black sneakers
00:08:44and a man with a weird mustache they have for awhile and he realizes of the woman is Greta Garbo and the man with the weird mustache Salvador Dali children Garbo telling this kind of thing happens to answer all the time he wanted to subtitle is autobiography name drops
00:09:06keep falling on my head friends of the legendary composer Frank Loesser but he hated Lester's wife whom he called wait for the evil of two lesser I mean how much do you love this guy prince Philip wrote me a wonderful letter when my father died %HESITATION from Buckingham
00:09:24Palace and said you know how close they were that's Peter Adler Larry son prince Phillip of course is the queen's husband when they were both members of an infamous club called the Thursday club and I think there were any thirteen members and they would meet every other Thursday
00:09:42at we just restaurant and will get very drunken driving tell tales and I but whatever they did and we were living in Grosvenor square at the time and in the middle of the afternoon my father arrives without warning totally drunk with prince Phillip they come straight from the
00:09:58Thursday club lunch and and the fact that my father never given my mother any warning he was arriving with which you couldn't breath did you forgave him but the greatest Larry Adler story comes earlier Adler's in Germany entertaining the American troops he's touring with Jack Benny one of
00:10:19the most famous entertainers of the day and Ingrid Bergman who is just met the piano bar in Augsburg is possibly already sleeping and the story is Jack Benny Ingrid Bergman and I were in Munich July nineteen forty five and we met this young man John White who is
00:10:40the commander of an OSS unit John white's the second old friend in this story from the nineteen sixties to the nineteen eighties John white's was a successful high end men's fashion designer he made the kind of clothes you would put it in an overnight bag before jumping on
00:10:59the Concorde to make a lunch date at the Savoy in London insurance whites favored what was known as the European cut which as a fashion critic once wrote disqualified anyone with a perfectly flat stomach whites the six foot two insanely handsome ray sports because in the mall and
00:11:18see print road bestselling thrillers in scholarly biographies educated in exclusive English boarding schools Harris to credit bearing married to a stunning actress Susan Connor he was basically James Bond the world the your father was father mother inhabited in the sixties and seventies New York I was a pretty
00:11:44%HESITATION you know kind of beautiful people sat that's John White to send Chris he and his brother Palmer both filmmakers in Los Angeles there's actually the book called the beautiful people English right hand Sir featured along with the rest of the bunch you've probably seen some of the
00:12:01whites but as films about a boy the exquisite in good company American pie if you wondering the father was a big fan of American pie but it's yeah and and it was all Congress %HESITATION yeah said I remember him saying that he was in a coffee shop and
00:12:23some old guy said them well sarcastically and a really proud of your kids for many horrible film and he's where you came up with this but he said haven't you ever **** in your life John white's was German born in Berlin in nineteen twenty three is Hans Werner
00:12:42white who's also Jewish another class of wealthy assimilated German Jews for whom those two identities were not a contradiction his father Robert and fought for Germany in the first World War and won an Iron Cross Asians in the north of Germany and %HESITATION kind of a beautiful life
00:13:03then he took power what's his family fled in nineteen thirty eight then on to Shanghai where he waited for his American visa and played rugby on the side and finally to America in nineteen forty one John white's joins the US army gets recruited by the legendary wartime spy
00:13:21master Wild Bill Donovan into the OSS the forerunner of today's CIA then he sent back into occupied Europe as an undercover spy because of course he doesn't have to pretend to be German is actually German he's dropped into France makes contact with the resistance he's part of the
00:13:38group that liberated one of the most infamous concentration camps Dhaka he told me about a %HESITATION when he was in Dachau saying a a gas chamber and there is a a little window where by the operator to tell whether the people inside were were dead or not and
00:13:57next to it was a %HESITATION a picture of of his a little child it is being the way that you know taxi driver would have the picture of his family and children %HESITATION tapes to the dashboard but they released after the war tacos turned into a holding pen
00:14:18for prisoners of war whites was sent into the camp to spy on the captured German soldiers to impersonate a German POW some German soldiers after the war ended would burn off the rest as tattoos with the end of a cigarette whites got a tattoo and then burned himself
00:14:35as well to make the impersonation real now you'd say he had PTSD actually but nobody talked about it in that way so he he was %HESITATION you know at okay drinker not a sloppy one but someone who sort of regularly %HESITATION and until he suddenly cut off cold
00:14:54Turkey at some point are counted he didn't sleep well she %HESITATION woke up very early in the morning he had incredibly regular habits born of the army of %HESITATION kind of keeping things in order he was %HESITATION if he was %HESITATION crossed by a stranger some was read
00:15:15to him or impolite he would be very scary and dangerous he definitely seemed from the war someone who had no physical fear of other people and that was really scare the child to to watch whites told his sons that he didn't know whether he could ever be a
00:15:36good father the war had changed him too much Chris and I used to talk about holidays in growing up in a behind the Iron Curtain thing you had to have sort of surreptitious mo of self expression and humorous that was it and the aspect that only the fact
00:15:54that we working together is partly because we sort of developed a shared sense of humor and was kind of like a Sam is that method of maintaining our %HESITATION autonomy with the very sort of dominate %HESITATION dad who was always ready for things to lapse into complete access
00:16:15yeah yeah and dad was always ready for things to lapse into catastrophe back to Munich the war has just ended whites is now running an undercover operation against the German guerrilla group called where wolf it's made up of ex **** soldiers who are causing trouble across liberated Europe
00:16:38aware will sell had holed up in a Munich rooming house not far from the door to theater John white's has infiltrated the group under the name Hans Werner then work comes in from the allied brass round up the web of members and just as the order is issued
00:16:55whites runs into Larry Adler Ingrid Bergman and Jack Benny and he said that they had found a house where they knew there were a German soldiers on the war was over there for the soldiers had neither surrendered or been captured John and his oasis unit we're going to
00:17:15read them and would Jack Ingrid and I like to come along with Jack in England refused they were terrified of the idea I loved it now let's just pause here while I point out the obvious a twenty something John white's the dashing only handsome undercover spy runs into
00:17:34respectively America's most famous actress America's most famous comedian and the world's greatest harmonica player presumably at a night club any invites all three of them to join him in reading a house full of **** guerrillas and one of them the skinny harmonica player from Baltimore says yes the
00:17:53whites brothers disciples of Hollywood do not find this as odd as I did this is one of the many weird things of this story is the notion that you are I know SS officer in Munich you're going to do this class and you bring along a famous harmonica
00:18:09player with with strange about that it is a testament to the power of celebrity %HESITATION is to look right along you know Kevin Hart most you so Larry Adler prepares for his mission I'm guessing he's lying the arms of the world's most beautiful actress gets up puts on
00:18:33a helmet goes off to capture some **** so I met these OSS minute for thirty in the morning we got into the jeep went to this house according to John the OSS men burst into the house to the Germans fired back at them and were killed the other
00:18:50six were captured key phrase according to John John white's remembers a gun fight but rather remember something completely different my story is when we got into the house there were two old ladies there was no firing no one was hurt in any way and so there are these
00:19:09two diametrically opposed stories back to people who were there in John wants his memory house full of **** a nasty battle death drama in Larry adders memory of the same night nothing no **** no gun fight no one dies they burst in and all they find is a
00:19:29room full of harmless old women presumably native but wait there's another version same characters same set up only it's supposed to take place almost a year later in April of nineteen forty six I tell this story to a group of publishers in London when I made a speech
00:19:51and one of the publishers told me after a missed rather did you know at the rate you're talking about is mentioned in another book and John white's is mentioned but not by name he's called vendor that was his name as an agent to infiltrate the German lines John
00:20:08under the name of better is leading the rate you are with him and now there are eighteen not see so the house is surrounded by armored carriers and flood lights and I still remember two old ladies so the question is who is right exactly who's right the rest
00:20:29of their days pattern lights when argue about it a rare Larry bring up the story needle and and might I add that I am the funny thing is on the phone could be very very forgiving and friendly with people he said crossed him for some reason he had
00:20:48a soft spot for for Larry everyone had a soft spot what I heard a lunch was you were rounding up these not these and all I saw was old women Larry there were some shot another champagne and now a brief word from our sponsor ziprecruiter like many of
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00:22:45Gladwell that's zip recruiter dot com slash Gladwell there's a very specific idea about memory embedded in the story Larry Adler tells from war and peace the story about the soldier entertaining a group of young ladies in Moscow and the battle of Borodino the officer wants to impress the
00:23:08people around him so he moves himself to the front lines and once he makes an improvement on the truth in the service of his own ego what actually happened slips away he becomes the victim of his own self deception that's the theory had are believed to %HESITATION he
00:23:27tells another story about the time he was in Newfoundland during the war entertaining troops he needs to get back to Gander airport because he has a nightclub appearance scheduled in New York he finds an airman who was a cargo plane which is going to be telling a glider
00:23:41he says to Adler you can ride in the glider I was in the glider captain within the front plate and how exciting it was for me being in the latter being towed and now the most exciting part came when we were over Gander airport and he cut the
00:23:55glider lose by release mechanism and we floated down in this heavenly fanning I had escaped that I never wanted the land Adam tells that story for years well my daughter found the diary and covered my ticket in Finland I wasn't in the glider I was in the front
00:24:13plain now you see how that took over it's a better story being in the glider it makes it if you say to somebody I was in the first from playing that we were telling a glider that's no story yeah I was in the glider and that was very
00:24:27exciting has more of the story so that after a while the wish to be in the diner took over and became fat and put me in a glider and the truth is that I've never been in a glider in my life that's what I mean by self deception
00:24:45how do we knew he had a big ego any simply assumed that his ego was out in the world rewriting history on his behalf which seems to make sense Adler is the compulsive storyteller write the name dropper in his New Yorker profile there's this line the most casual
00:25:01request for information from a newspaper reporter or interviewer will often bring in reply a twelve or fifteen typewritten single spaced narrative composed and typed by Larry in person and containing dialogue and anecdotes I think that whenever we run across someone telling the full story we assume that this
00:25:23is what's happening but the line is driven by ego in the next episode I'm gonna talk about an instant the chill almost certainly remember a modern version of Adler's glider story somebody famous was caught saying in effect that they were in the glider when they were actually in
00:25:41the plane pulling the glider and the overwhelming assumption was that the storyteller change the details of what happened because he wanted to look better for older but here's my question why do we always have to frame memory disagreements and errors in terms of character what we always do
00:26:01the culprit because I'm not sure Adler can be explained away as an egotist there are all kinds of ways in which he was anything but at what point should I know life became somewhat complicated here Adler was part of a group that went to Washington in the middle
00:26:20of the McCarthy era to protest the anti communist hysteria sweeping through Hollywood then he got accused of being a communist he went bankrupt fighting McCarthyism at the height of his career he was blacklisted lost everything then Roy Cohen who was it McCarthy's adviser offered me a deal he
00:26:42had arranged that I would give testimony secretly before the McCarthy internal security committee and he said well we're gonna do is I prepared a list of names for you all of these people have been named by others they've already been named we know their names who just read
00:26:58their names all and you're not hurting anybody in the middle of a national hysteria one that would end up ruining countless lives Adler is offered a get out of jail free card he won't take it letter Mister Khan what the hell's a sense of meaning me reading a
00:27:14list of names that you already know so he looked out of the window and he spread his hands and he says go fight city hall we're all trying to get you back to work Larry you're not helping us so that was that I I would have given the
00:27:27name of an enemy I just am against the principle of the informer I always have been I still am Adler ended up moving his whole family to London he gave up their house in Beverly hills the beach house in Malibu the tennis matches with the stars started over
00:27:45Chris Weitz says his father like Adler not just because of his musical genius or his hilarious stories but because he had and I'm quoting a major set of balls here's Peter Adler again he would really take huge risks on principle he was a very very principled man and
00:28:04%HESITATION I remember him doing that which terrified me he did a public reading of the satanic verses with various other artists at the time that Salman Rushdie had to fight to a on him you have simply to protest against this kind of nonsense and he he would do
00:28:22a lot of things like that and he wasn't he wasn't doing it for publicity he's doing it because he really cared about it so maybe when the young John white's asks Larry Adler if he wants to do a ride along on that rate in Munich it's not a
00:28:38lark maybe he's maybe after volunteered because it was important remember he's a Jew in Munich the birthplace of the **** party if it's all a lark then the grandmother version is funny it's the kind of punch line you can imagine landing well at a Hollywood dinner party Larry
00:28:59Adler the compulsive storyteller wins over another crown but if he's serious about the raid then the grandmothers are funny do not a punch line they're sad awkward and my story is dollar when we're not debating tell such a story I would tell that only because that is my
00:29:20memory of the he's right but then consider his companion John whites would go on to write many books among them friends in high places thriller with a really complicated core the main character is somebody who is %HESITATION in the auto industry and was joining the **** party in
00:29:41order to get ahead in his career and he sell about himself that he had them in Jewish maybe there but for the grace of god %HESITATION would go his moral center when John white's turned to writing serious historical biographies his subjects were Germans from the same class he'd
00:30:01come from wealthy cosmopolitan intellectuals who ended up serving Hitler you don't have to be a psychoanalyst to make sense of the stories they're whites is attempt to sort through the conflict between his love of his native Germany and his devastation about what his Germany had done it is
00:30:23it is on the go now I know but tell will I was young and I could I could wear all sorts of clothes and make them look real in nineteen ninety seven whites with on the Charlie Rose show he and rose talked happily about whites his new biography
00:30:38until row started to ask whites about whites his own experience during the war go into Germany I was in Germany has yet went after one pull this out of you John but journalist yes whites doesn't want to talk about it I started in France %HESITATION %HESITATION during the
00:30:58general time of the invasion plans plants yes they can run you by parachute into no I don't know or never had you get in a row you have many ways of being delivered but not five pairs of causing so you kind of have to have you get over
00:31:11you can go and buy both how did you buy a small plane I did get it up who will buy buy my small era plan smaller planes that landed a move there were many beaches of small plane landed on if you fly no the vote that state because
00:31:27this goes on and on any trips did you make in and out of France the non aligned and up up up up up can no problem no no no lesser known or much less less than one less than four are they here lord of reading the journal finally
00:31:48rose just gets exasperated tell me why you're so at this late stage so what is the code that keeps you from being more forthcoming will John Donovan issued a memorable down yes our boss head of the list which said for as long as there are people alive I
00:32:08spoke to one the day before yesterday on the phone an eighty nine year old ex colonel of sounds as of armed forces knights cross wearable was a resistance officer loans are people alive you'd be amazed at how many Germans in stupid ones would still be angry at somebody
00:32:31who brought some form of resistance this is nineteen ninety seven the war has been over for more than half a century and whites refuses to give anything more than the barest details of his experience because of a memo written by his former boss who by the way has
00:32:52been dead for decades white spin Adler are principled man it's just that their principles take different forms on matters of emotional significance one men shrouds his memories in a blanket of chatter and whimsy the other fall silent and retreats when we encounter conflicts in memory we want to
00:33:14label one party as a liar you wanna make a judgment this strategy is authentic this strategy is dubious Adler is the egotistical one white says the evasive one but why I can't we just accept that all of us deal with the uncertainty of our experiences in different ways
00:33:33memory does not reveal character that's a mistake in the early nineteen nineties John white's talk to historian named Perry bisco who is working on a book about the werewolf movement this confound whites his name in the phone book and called him out of the blue this time whites
00:33:55told yet another version of the rate in this version there was no shooting no resistance no one died the members of where will for all punks too young to have fought in the war full of false bravado whites and his team of allied soldiers surrounded the housing complex
00:34:14with the werewolf lived and arrested them then and I'm quoting now from business comes notes the scene was invaded by four lone mothers and grandmothers each insisting that her lad was really a good boy and could not possibly be mixed up in this where wolf nastiness do you
00:34:35see what whites did he took his version and combined it with very Adler's version there were arrests and they were grandmothers I have no idea what it was conscious or not for the end of his life whites decided that friendship was more important than memory decided not to
00:34:54be a memory fundamentalist Larry Adler for his part gave his last concert in may of two thousand and one at the Royal Albert Hall it was prince Phillips eightieth birthday and the Duke wanted his old friend play for had learned near the end his son Peter knew he
00:35:24wasn't well that he was he was ill he was in hospital and he much to my horror %HESITATION had himself checked out and he he was wheeled onto the stage at the Royal Albert Hall by a nurse in a wheelchair if the past is hazy and uncertain then
00:35:42all you have is the present that's what propelled Larry Adler to seek his fortune on Broadway as a kid to give the harmonic it's due to risk it all fighting McCarthy to leave in good burden in the early morning hours to go round up some **** even at
00:35:57the very end of his life he wasn't going to stay in the hospital was he privileged experience over and he played the harmonica from from the wheelchair and blue every other rushes to stay in touch and he was wheeled off to a standing ovation who's looking straight into
00:36:20common I'm short me thank you do not tell me what to do died a few days later I checked he actually died two and a half months later somewhere Larry Adler is laughing and religious history is a panoply production the senior producer is meal a battle with Jacob
00:36:51Smith and Camille Baptiste our editor is Julie apart flown Williams is our engineer fact checking by Beth Johnson original music by Louis scarab special thanks to Andy Bowers and Jacob Weisberg I'm I tell a story about getting to these to Israel just after the six day war special
00:37:23service officer met me at the airport I even remember his name majors are freer and he told me that an Israeli soldier had written a song Sharm el Sheik so I learned it was damn good tune I played it first elevation the Sinai and there were about two
00:37:41hundred tanks about two thousand so you general Rabin who was then chief of staff he was there I play and the audience went mad the applause went on and on I played it again he made me play it six times I then said my friends I haven't got
00:37:55the vocabulary to describe the emotional experience of this moment I'll never forget it but there are other artists who've come down to the Sinai there waiting to entertain you I don't know that the show please don't ask me to play Sharm el Sheik again an Israeli soldier calls
00:38:10out you'll play it till you get it right now is that a great story us which is not true it's an opera story these the tenor singing Pagliacci all the details that I told you made yourself where the Sharm el Sheik playing into della Reese that's all true
00:38:27but believe me I only played it once however twisting that opera story around makes it a much better story I agree before you go I recently sat down with one of my producers Jacob Smith for a behind the scenes look at how we tell our stories here on
00:38:44the podcast we recorded the conversation as part of a bonus episode for another penalty podcast Jacob produces called family ghosts Michelle I think revisionist history fans will love on every episode of family goes someone investigates the truth behind a figure from their families past the person whose legend
00:39:04they feel hunted by you meet grandmothers who was secretly international jul smugglers grifter grandfather's charismatic cult leaders long lost uncles hiding in forests and a wide variety of other characters these stories are in simple profiles of people from the past what sets family goes to part is the
00:39:25way considers the weight of legacy and how we try and fail to choose what we inherit is like revisionist history but on a more personal intimate scale find the first season of family goes including my conversation with Jacob in apple podcasts or wherever you like to listen

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