Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam was back on BPR for his regular Open Mic segment. In his latest column, Beam talked about the late Harvard professor John Mack, who achieved both fame and infamy through his interviews with self-identified "alien abductees."
For full audio from the interview, scroll down. Alex Beam is the author of the new book American Crucifixion. Beam will do a reading at Harvard Book Store on Tuesday, May 20th. You can follow him on Twitter, and read more at his site.
Interview questions have been edited and condensed. Beam's responses were edited where noted (...).
Yet again you've talked about somebody nobody's ever heared of. Who was Dr. Mack, and, how did he meet his untimely end?
I was excoriated for likening his death to that of Thomas Merton. (...)
An electric fan went into the bathtub and killed Merton. He was so young!
He was in Bangkok at a Buddhism conference. I said this in print, 'Two geniuses suffered the stupidest deaths in the world.' The beautiful neo-Catholic thinker Thomas Merton dies when a fan comes into his bathtub, and Dr. John Mack — Harvard professor of psychiatry, Pulitzer Prize-winner for a semi-questionable biography of T.E. Lawrence, champion of UFO abductees all over North America — unbelievably, is in London in the prime of life, puts one foot over the curb, bang!, he's a dead man because he looked left and in London the traffic comes from the right.
Remember how the owner of the Segway company died? Driving a Segway off a cliff.
That's three fantastic deaths.
People will be making jokes at your funeral! It's terrible.
I hope they make jokes at my funeral.
The reason you wrote about Dr. Mack was because of what he believed in, which was quite controversial.
I've always been interested in Mack. I have a number of super-dubious scoops to my credit. Mack was [a] mesmerizingly brilliant and fascinating [professor] who started taking these crazy stories, you know: '[Aliens] came to me while I was asleep, they put a probe in my rear end, and then they took me into the spaceship.' He took all that stuff seriously. He went on Oprah, he had a best-selling book.
I broke the story about this secret Harvard investigation into his activities, which was pretty interesting. (...) Harvard Medical School convened a secret committee — they had hoped it was going to remain secret. However, Mack's lawyer was Eric MacLeish, the great litigator.
He was the one who helped break the story about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
He's an assertive guy. That inquiry should never have been secret, [and] it didn't remain secret. In any case, I always found Mack (...) spell-binding. I found his whole story kind of compelling. The reason I did the column is that [Denise David Williams] thinks she's going to do a big feature film about John Mack. She was supposedly talking to Robert Redford for 14 months. He passed. (...) Redford's production house wasn't going to treat Mack with 'kid gloves.'
Why is it when spaceships come and get people, they're always beamed up, and probed? Why always those two?
You know what I love, people who go on the radio like, 'That's a good question, Margery!'
I thought maybe you'd thought about that a little.
You would need a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry to give you the straight answer on that.
Have you ever done a column purely on the series of unfortunate deaths?
No, I've never done a column like that. I got really negative feedback for making fun of Merton. But it's terrible!
To hear Beam's entire interview, including his thoughts on the firing of former The New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, as well as the university commencement speaking circuit, click below.