Into the Red, White, and Blue Twilight

By John KayeJanuary 3, 2024

Into the Red, White, and Blue Twilight
On the occasion of Tom Smothers’s death, John Kaye reflects on words unsaid, questions unasked, avenues unpursued:

The infamous TV personality Tommy Smothers died on December 26 at the age of 86 after a long battle with cancer. In 2012, Los Angeles–based novelist and screenwriter John Kaye, who had worked in program practices for CBS, wrote this three-part autobiographical story about the censorship battles that the famed actor and musician had with the network. At the time of its release, Julie Cline, John’s editor at LARB, wrote that “it’s a tale of ‘love, drugs, madness, betrayal, self-deception, and youthful ambition.’ ‘Smothered’ is both an intensely private story and an invaluable contribution to Los Angeles history. It’s an honor to release it here.”

We are once again honored to have this piece to release as a tribute to Tom, accompanied by John’s sincere reaction to the news: “When I heard the news of Tom Smothers’s death, I felt a weird commingling of nostalgia, anger, and sadness. But mostly I felt regret. Why? Because many times over the years, both before and after I wrote these essays, I wanted to reach out to Tom and see if together we could spin our memory wheels backward to that moment in 1967 when our lives collided, a moment in America that was both electrically intoxicating and deeply alienating: a red, white, and blue twilight zone haunted by Vietnam, addled by drugs, desperate with hope (and rage), and eager to kill. I wanted Tom and I to be partners in a common effort: to understand what really happened between us, to ‘chop it up’ as the kids say, to clear the air, but we never did, and that’s something for which I will always be sorry.”

LARB Contributor

John Kaye is the author of two novels, Stars Screaming and The Dead Circus. He has also written numerous screenplays, including American Hot Wax, Where the Buffalo Roam, Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins, and Forever Lulu, which he also directed. He is currently finishing a new novel.


Did you know LARB is a reader-supported nonprofit?

LARB publishes daily without a paywall as part of our mission to make rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts freely accessible to the public. Help us continue this work with your tax-deductible donation today!