thereís any shortcoming to "American
Heiress," Jeffrey Toobinís remarkable book about
"the kidnapping, crimes and trial of Patty
Hearst," itís that the central figure in the
story said no to an interview.
tried many times to arrange a sit-down with Hearst,
granddaughter of newspaper magnate William Randolph
Hearst, the woman who became news in the 1970s as a
regret that she chose not to participate," says
Toobin. "I certainly would have liked to have
spoken to her."
what, really, would he have gained by doing so?
CNNís senior legal analyst and author of "The Run
of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson," did an
extraordinary amount of research to get inside Hearstís
head during her years with the Symbionese Liberation
Army, the inept group of domestic terrorists that
pored through the testimony from Hearstís 1976 trial
and from various grand jury investigations.
reviewed thousands of pages of transcripts from her
interviews with FBI agents, attorneys and members of the
not only read her revisionist 1981 memoir, "Every
Secret Thing," but he also went through rough
drafts and outlines in search of telling outtakes.
even got his hands on never-before-published letters
("in her looping private girlsí school
handwriting"), which she wrote while in jail when
she still answered to her SLA name of Tania. These
letters, he writes, "represent unmediated and
undisputed insight into Ö the real Patricia."
Hearst was released from prison in 1979, she set out to
rewrite her story ó insisting that she never willingly
became a member of the SLA, that she merely went along
with the bank robberies, bombings and hiding out because
she feared for her life (a claim that surviving SLA
January 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed a
commutation of the rest of Hearstís prison sentence.
In January 2001, on his last day in office, President
Bill Clinton gave her a full pardon.
who turns 62 on Aug. 20, leads a very different life in
her "dowager years," doting on her
granddaughters and on her Westminster Kennel Club
prize-winning Shih Tzu.
could therefore be argued that this is not the woman
Toobin wanted to interview.
person he wanted to question was the frightened hostage,
the possible Stockholm Syndrome sufferer who had
romances with fellow gang members, the gun-toting
radical who, once arrested, gave her occupation to
police as "urban guerrilla." Those versions of
Patty Hearst no longer exist.
take your point that she is a very different person
today, but all those facts notwithstanding, thereís no
doubt that I would have preferred to speak to her,"
Toobin says. "Itís always better, in my
experience, to get the interview than not. If itís
helpful, itís helpful. If itís not, itís not.
you canít know until you talk to someone."
ó whose 1996 book about the O.J. Simpson trial
inspired the acclaimed FX series "The People v. O.J.
Simpson" ó turned his attention to the Hearst-SLA
story after an editor suggested it.
said, ĎThere must be a million books about Patty
Hearst,í and he said, ĎWell, go look.í And I found
that nothing really has been written about the case in
more than 30 years."
is a strange story from beginning to end and it contains
a little of everything. Itís a riveting crime and
courtroom drama. Itís a fascinating look back at a
very different chapter in our history. And it has
interesting things to say about wealth, privilege, fame,
celebrity and media in America.
combines my interest in a lot of different subjects,
whether itís the courtroom or politics or the
media," Toobin says. "It had elements of all
also has an eclectic catch-all cast of characters. They
include the Rev. Jim Jones (a few years prior to the
Peopleís Temple mass murder-suicide in Guyana), failed
presidential assassin Sara Jane Moore (who kept the
books for a feed-the-poor program that Pattyís father,
Randy Hearst, started in response to an SLA hostage
demand) and John Wayne (an unlikely supporter for
clemency for Hearst).
got a great kick out of the strange cameos that you find
in this story," Toobin says.
he didnít get a kick out of, however, was the fact
that Patricia Hearst used her connections to get a
lighter sentence, an early release and a presidential
pardon ó special treatment that the poor could never
hope to receive. Toobin makes it quite clear in the book
that he found this galling.
went into this story with no preconceived notions about
Patricia Hearst or about the SLA," he says.
"But once I started doing my reporting, I certainly
did reach some conclusions about her and the story and
thatís what I put in the book."
a story that would make a great follow-up to FXís O.J.
Simpson series, although thatís not likely to happen.
"There is already a screenplay in the works, but itís
for a feature film, not a TV series," he says.
"Weíll see whether it gets made."
the meantime, Toobin is hunting for the next epic crime
and courtroom story idea. He knows itís out there. It
might even be hiding in plain sight.
years, nobody wanted to make a movie or a TV series
about O.J.," Toobin notes. "The thinking was
that everyone knew everything there was to know and that
people were sick of the story.
we discovered that this is absolutely not true. When it
is a genuinely great story, people always will be