Warren Murphy and James Mullaney: Building a Better Destroyer

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To protect the Constitution, it became necessary to break it. And so creators Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir came up with a man who could do what needed doing, accomplish the things which no one else was capable of. His name was Remo... but he became known as The Destroyer. A hero to many, a political nightmare to even more, the Destroyer novels have garnered a large and loyal fan following who have stuck with the character even through the lean years. He's a classic man of action in the school of such pulp heroes as Doc Savage -- except that where Doc was the head of his agency, Remo falls more at the bottom of CURE's food chain.

Recently, Tor/Forge took over the reins of the franchise from Gold Eagle, and much to the delight of fans everywhere, they have brought back original author Warren Murphy to co-helm the direction of the series with Jim Mullaney. For the benefit of a new generation of readers, The-Trades.com sat down with the writers to bring everyone up to speed on what they can expect out of The New Destroyer.


The-Trades: We're starting with a renumbering of the books, so let's fill in the new readers: Who is Remo Williams -- or, more to the point, why is Remo Williams?

WARREN MURPHY: Dick Sapir and I decided we wanted to do an adventure series starring an American hero. But we were just getting our feet wet for the first time -- neither of us had tried a book before -- and, believe it or not, Remo started out as a guy named Bernie, who was a crime-fighting psychiatrist in New York City. It didn't take us long to figure out that that this was just el stinko, so we splashed around and finally decided to do blue collar and cop, and the pieces came together and it turned out to be Remo.

JIM MULLANEY: I'd just add that Remo is Everyman. He doesn't own a tuxedo or drink martinis shaken, not stirred. He's a regular-guy Superman without tights or a cape.

The-Trades: Was there a specific impetus or inspiration for creating Remo Williams -- a person, a situation, maybe both?

WARREN MURPHY: Not to be pretentious, but Thomas Wolfe once said that "each of us is composed of all the sums he has not counted." Which is by way of explaining, I guess, that you use everything including the kitchen sink. When we started, a series like we wanted to do was kind of dead in the market, so we looked around at great series and asked, "Who's the most well known fictional hero of all time?" And it was Sherlock Holmes, so perfect he could be known by only one name. So we started there and found the name Remo in a world atlas. Ditto Sinanju, the place in Korea which is the ancient home of assassins. (We used it 'cause we liked the way the name sounded.) I knew something about martial arts, and so that all went into the mix too. And we used bits of people and things we knew and like a pearl oyster, kept adding layers and finally wound up with Remo and Chiun. In our first book, for instance, we wrote about a car crushing machine -- because they had just built the nation's first one in Jersey City, N.J., and it was new and unique, but eight years later when we finally got published, the whole concept was kind of old hat. But that's life and also how books are cobbled together.

The-Trades: The books have a decidedly conservative political leaning. Has it been a longstanding Destroyer tradition to create thinly-veiled parodies of liberal politicians and public figures?

JIM MULLANEY: The conservativism is one of the big things that attracted me to the series as a kid. It was tough being a conservative growing up in Massachusetts in the swinging seventies. Eric Cartman's basement wasn't big enough to store all the hippies. The Destroyer was unique in that it wasn't afraid to take on topics and real-world loonies that never got lampooned on Saturday Night Live.

And don't let Warren give you a song and dance about how kind and caring and sensitive he is these days. He doesn't think globally, nor does he act locally, and he absolutely does not want to buy the world a Coke.

WARREN MURPHY: I resemble that remark. Once, years ago, somebody asked Dick Sapir where I was and Dick said, "He's probably marching around a school somewhere, playing his guitar and singing 'We Shall Overcome.'" Which is by way of saying, I guess, that The Destroyer's "conservatism" is just sort of a thing that grew like Topsy. The first couple of books are basically political neuters, but as Dick and I got into the series, we kind of stumbled into a decision that we wanted it to be a laboratory for the study of lunacy as it infected American life.

Well, if you're going to plant a seed, it's best to find fertile soil and there was no more fertile soil in those days than the fever fields of the wacky liberal left. Remember, this was a time when there was no such thing as political correctness, because there was no political incorrectness to contrast it with.

The only conservatives in America when we first started were Barry Goldwater, who everybody "knew" wanted to blow up the world with nuclear weapons, and William F. Buckley Junior, who everyone "knew" was so nuts he should be locked in an attic. The major networks, the major newspapers, all moved in idiotic lefto lockstep. Walter Cronkite cost us the Vietnam War by telling us we lost. Everybody "knew" that using federal funds to buy police monitor radios for the Black Panthers was somehow going to win the war on poverty, because CBS and NBC and ABC and the New York Times told us so. Just like everybody "knew" that poverty caused crime and that Fidel Castro was not a Communist but just another Rooseveltian agrarian reformer and that grading kids on their school work would somehow destroy their self-esteem -- (and thus creating a generation of illiterate nitwits.) The mainstream left "knew" so many things that were just provably moronically wrong.

So we went where the ducks were, and the loony left was our main stomping ground. But not exclusively. We took off after Nixon and dogmatic conservatives and crooked cops and Ku Klux Klanners and racists of all stripes. Jim Mullaney says we tried to be an equal opportunity offender.

And I have to admit it was gratifying eventually to see Destroyers wind up as required reading in some college sociology classes.

But, hey, somebody had to do it. If not us, who?

The-Trades: Some of the original books are getting reissued in anthology form. Is there any talk of having the original tales reissued as e-books or in podcasts?

WARREN MURPHY: Many of the early Destroyers are now being sold as e-books through Ereads.com in a very successful marketing program. We're hoping that we can work with Tor to get the new books and also the anthologized reprints out in a number of different formats, including e-books and various kinds of audio and computer presentations. And of course the movie production people will surely have a hand in what else might happen in the future, just in the area of computer games, for instance. Anything else, ask my grandkids; they understand this stuff; I don't.

The-Trades: My own first exposure to Remo Williams was through the Fred Ward film, "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins." After that, I was one of the few who saw the television pilot. Did either of these live up to your expectations of seeing a realized Remo Williams and company?

WARREN MUPRHY: The movie was a near miss and the shame was that it was so easily correctible. You can't have a great hero without a great villain. James Bond has guys who want to blow up London or enslave the world or steal all the gold in Fort Knox, yet we wound up with a guy who was selling cheap rifles to the government. That's not going to drag people into the theaters. And, naturally I suppose for Hollywood, the real villain was the military-industrial complex which was an idiotic decision. Dick Sapir and I sometimes thought that the producers were more interested in getting on Jane Fonda's A-list for party invitations than in doing something that was faithful to the material in the books. And they also made a decision to downplay martial arts because "nobody does chopsaki." One wonders what they think now after the success of "The Matrix" and "Kill Bill" and "Crouching Tiger", etc. etc. and all the other "chopsaki" movies that are now showing stuff that Dick and I were writing a generation ago.

The TV pilot was better because it was based on a novella that Dick and I had written, and it got the basic point right in that it was about the growing father-son relationship between Remo and Chiun.

JIM MULLANEY: The movie was a shame because it should have been so much more. I saw it with a couple of friends, and we cheered when we saw Dick and Warren's names up on the screen. That was it for the cheering. The TV pilot was better but, as Warren said, that's because it used a lot of Dick and Warren's material. But I couldn't get past the hair on the guy who played Remo. I think he went to the same beauty parlor as the cast of Designing Women. For those whose only experience with The Destroyer is that ABC pilot, in the books Remo does not have Delta Burke's hair.

The-Trades: Is there hope of another movie? And if there is (or even if there isn't) how would you like to see it done, and with whom portraying the characters?

WARREN MURPHY: We've just finished negotiations on a new movie deal and, while it's too early to talk about it, I have hopes. After years of watching Destroyer rip-offs in films, I just hope the new producers don't start ripping off the rip-offs, but instead do something new. Give me "Field of Dreams". Give me "Singing in the Rain" or "Borat" or "Gunga Din" or something, just so long as it isn't a copy of somebody else's copy.

JIM MULLANEY: Yeah, I'd like to see it done like The Destroyer and not like "The Matrix". People seem to get fixated on a particular movie and insist that's how the Destroyer should be done. The Destroyer really is unlike anything else out there. It would be easy to take it too seriously and turn it into some gloomy, somber action film or go in the other direction and make it like a Roger Moore James Bond mess with airplanes flying out of a horse's rear end. The Destroyer is fun but it's not stupid. It really is tough to do and I don't envy the filmmakers who attempt it. Of course, if they want to hire me, their jobs would be a whole heck of a lot easier.

WARREN MURPHY: And I don't care who's in it as long as they can act. Amazing, I still get letters from people bent out of shape because Joel Grey -- an American -- played Chiun in the first Destroyer movie. Apparently, it's only politically correct to have a Korean play a Korean. Well, that is absolutely stupid. Joel Grey gave the only good performance in the first movie and if I had to choose between Sir Lawrence Olivier and Kim Jong Il to play Chiun, it's Olivier every time.

JIM MULLANEY: For the cast, Victor Buono as Remo, Sidney Toler as Chiun, Donald Rumsfeld as Smith, Wilford Brimley as Smith's wife, and introducing Kim Jong Il as himself. Hopefully this is only a joke.

The-Trades: The American readership is probably more keenly aware of terrorism now than at any other point in recent history. With that in mind, will that have any impact on future adventures?

JIM MULLANEY: The last four years of books at the old publisher apparently missed out including terrorists at all. I thought this was kind of weird. Think of all those movies, Three Stooges shorts and even cartoons during World War 2 that were smart enough to include Nazis, the great villains of that age. We've got that now with Islamofascists, the great villains of our age, and they've been let off the hook too long in The Destroyer. So, yeah, we're going fatwa on them real soon.

WARREN MURPHY: Ah, yes, the counterattack against the various religious, political and cultural proponents of "peace and love through beheading and stupidity" will start immediately.

The-Trades: We've seen a tiny sneak peek at "Choke Hold", thanks to the excerpt at the end of "Guardian Angel". How far out have you planned the current run, and what tidbits can you throw out at us, regarding any familiar villains Remo and the readers can expect to encounter?

JIM MULLANEY: The first contract covers three books and we've finished our work on them. As far as big familiar villains, we don't see any of them yet. Warren and I were both interested in getting back to the early roots of the series. More or less self-contained stories with one-off villains. There are hints of bigger stuff we're dropping in here and there, but the first three books stand alone as Warren and Dick's books did, and as mine did during the twenty-book run I had on the series a few years back.

WARREN MURPHY: Amazing. We haven't even published our first book with Tor yet, but already we've taken on immigration reform, big tobacco and the American "peace" movement. And the indefatigable Jim Mullaney and I are just getting warmed up; we haven't reached full nasty-mode yet. Film at eleven.