Lion of the Blogosphere

Rare interview of Frank McCourt at Stuyvesant in 1987

This was posted on YouTube with the following explanation:

In 1987 a documentary was made about my pal Moishe on the occasion of his going to grad school – since he was a graduate of NYC’s famed Stuyvesant HS, we went down to tape some teachers recollections of Moishe….we happened upon future pulitzer prize winning author of Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt (and one of Moishe’s teachers) and this never before footage was shot of Mr. McCourt musing about his former student – this was incidentally just before he retired from teaching to embark upon his second career as a famed writer….he was also my teacher as well and I have very fond memories of him….rest in peace, Frank.

This is the real Frank McCourt I remember as a high school teacher and not the older Frank McCourt who everyone respected as a famous author.

What was it like having him as a teacher? Well every day you got a dose of that dry acerbic wit. I found it very entertaining.

You will notice the following about this interview:

1. He remembers two things about Moishe: (a) that he was a “character” who wasn’t serious and found everything hilarious, and (b) that he was a “Queens type” and not a Manhattan type. Can you detect the subtle condescension of the outer boroughs?

2. When he learns that Moishe attended Queens College, I think I also detect more condescension about his choice of college.

3. The spiel at the end about how he wants to be at Moishe’s wedding is an example of McCourt saying stuff that you assume is a joke and not to be taken seriously, yet it’s not so outlandish that it’s impossible to discount that he might actually want to attend Moishe’s wedding. That was typical McCourt. I never knew when he was being serious and when he was BSing (although in this case it seems 95% likely that it’s BS). And that’s why I am sure that a lot of the stuff in his memoir is made up and he was secretly laughing over how everyone believed it.

4. He also manages to complain about his low salary as a teacher.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

March 6, 2017 at 11:10 pm

Posted in Books, Education

15 Responses

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  1. Yes, I’ve read his memoir and I’m convinced he was a total charlatan.

    A former theatre guy, he exaggerated a character of a disaffected Irish immigrant that appealed to Irish-American readers.


    March 6, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    • “Charlatan” is way too harsh. After teaching Creative Writing for so many years, I’m glad he finally became published.

      • Before stumbling into your world of proles and lesser proles, I realized outer borough residents in NYC were generally not as cosmopolitan.


        March 6, 2017 at 11:51 pm

  2. Love the accent. As they say at Uncouth Reflections, couldn’t do it today.


    March 6, 2017 at 11:56 pm

  3. I have McCourt’s book “Teacher Man” ( I think that’s the title.) Someone gave it to me a while back. Recently I was trying to trim down my book collection and thought of throwing this one out. Should I read it instead? You’ve got me curious now about his writing. Although from what I heard, that “Angela’s Ashes” made the Irish sound like vulgar trash. I started to read it and didn’t finish because as an Irish-American I found this offensive. But at least McCourt did what few thought possible – he got “Maryk” to defend her Irish heritage instead of her Italian heritage!


    March 7, 2017 at 12:16 am

  4. What happened to Moishe?


    March 7, 2017 at 12:16 am

    • That’s what I was thinking. Moishe must have been an interesting dude.


      March 7, 2017 at 5:39 pm

  5. I was going to ask you if you thought a lot of his memoir was made up before I read the rest of your post.

    Is it kind of like A Million Little Pieces?


    March 7, 2017 at 1:04 am

  6. I was stuck by similar things:

    a. apparently Stuyvesant grads think it is ok to use “famed” twice in the same sentence
    b. McCourt made the interview mostly about himself
    c. the information that it was Queens College definitely meshed for McCourt

    Lion o' the Turambar

    March 7, 2017 at 7:11 am

  7. OK, I’ve never read anything by McCourt so I had no preconceived impressions. The first thing you notice is that his head is too big for his body, and he has very narrow shoulders. In other words he’s the kind of guy who’d get his ass kicked outside of Manhattan, so that would account for the subtle condescension toward an outer burrough (to say nothing oif Texas!). The second thing is that he pretends to be unable to distinguish Moishe from “Winston.” This was a common gambit of high school teachers I knew in the ’70’s, especially English teachers: “oh, it’s all one big blob of humanity.” I liked the dig at “rabinnical studies.”


    March 7, 2017 at 10:04 am

  8. In Teacher Man, he talks a lot about doing wacky stuff like having kids sing recipes in class, and indicates he always felt he was destined to be a famous writer instead of an ordinary schlub; he seemed like he probably was a smart, appealing guy, but not necessarily a good “teacher.”


    March 7, 2017 at 10:07 am

  9. Did he ever mention value transference? HBD? Sexual market value? Hypergamy? The necessity of HYPS? If no, how good could he be?


    March 7, 2017 at 10:27 am

    • HYPS yes, but in a very subtle way, because he’d use an entirely different tone of voice to say “Harvard” than to say “Queens College.”

      I mean, Queens College is below even being a safety school. He could have at least gone to SUNY Binghampton if he couldn’t make HYP and his parents couldn’t afford NYU.

  10. I always enjoy your posts on Stuyvesant. I was a graduate in 1999. wanted to mention that recently I was at a wedding where I met a couple of Stuyvesant graduates that I had fallen out of touch with. The first thing they told me, after waxing some nostalgia about high school, was that they are really hoping their infant daughter will one day attend Stuyvesant. Although I didn’t disagree with them at the time, I was shocked a couple of well-to-do professionals would want their kids to go to a overcrowded public school with unmotivated teachers and which is now over 70% asian. There are a couple of good teachers like Mr McCourt but in my memory 70% of my teachers played videos instead of teaching and had absolutely no enthusiasm for their subjects. I remembered going to my first history class and having our teacher – an obese, clueless, half-asleep woman hand us a text book and telling us to read it in class instead of being lectured to. I remember she once deducted ten points from my essay based exam because I had skipped two lines instead of one between essays and she assumed since I had left a blank space I hadn’t finished the essay. I pointed out to her that the essay was finished – if she had only read it! She then meekly admitted she didn’t read it and she gave me back my points.

    I am really curious why any parent (barring any poor but intelligent immigrant parents with no choice in the matter) would want their children to have that kind of a high school experience.


    March 7, 2017 at 6:30 pm

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