Erin & The Life and Times of Molly Ivans

May 14, 2020

The sun is shining and it is snowing heavily. Nothing to see here folks, just another snowy spring day in May during Covid 19. With typical escape mechanisms no longer working I am hoping to avoid the usual mental loops of politics, environmental doomsaying and fear by channeling the “pull up your britches and get on with it” attitude of my Texas ancestors. I am revisiting the documentary Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivans written and directed by Janice Engel; screened at The Hurleyville Performing Arts Centre November of 2019.

I grew up a vegetarian “bleeding heart liberal” in Texas but have lived my entire adult life in New York, so as a Texas “Yankee” I jumped on the opportunity to show “Raise Hell”. Luckily HPAC’s founder Janet Carrus (another powerful woman and mentor) agreed. I learned about the Molly Ivans film on the radio and cold called the director, who it turned out, had ties to Sullivan County. The director was happy to hear we were interested in her new release and was willing to participate in a post screening Q&A at HPAC facilitated by Sullivan County Historian John Conway. Below is an excerpt from a press release written by Jonathon Shimken for the Hurleyville Sentinel.

“A connoisseur of political lunacy” – that’s how Molly Ivins described herself, in 1991, on the David Letterman show. You can see the clip on YouTube; it also includes her quip about then-Vice-President Dan Quayle: “If you put that man’s brains in a bumblebee, it would fly backwards” – it’s funny and it stings! In this pair of quick strokes, Molly characterizes herself and her work concisely and aptly. Her voice registers as part of a distinct American tradition, that of a regional folksy perspective on national affairs – the tradition of Mark Twain and Will Rogers – laced with the acerbic wit of an H.L. Mencken.

Molly, in her 40-year career (she died in 2007) as a reporter, a nationally-syndicated political columnist, a speaker and writer, gave that regional voice a Texas accent and wielded it with great wit and humanity. It became a potent means of analyzing the nation’s public life, refuting cant, satirizing the smug and the hypocritical, and promoting her ideals. And she did so, says Janice Engle (award-winning documentary film-maker and director of the new film “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins”) with “a big heart. She was fiercely critical, but always with a glint in her eye. She was not malicious. She loved Texas, she loved people, she loved humanity. Molly was all heart.” When Molly called herself a “connoisseur,” she identified as someone who both understands and relishes their chosen subject, with an appreciation that is akin to love.
Read Mr. Shimkins article in full here .

With the rise of the Me Too movement, the Kavanaugh hearings and political polarization the film felt timely. We were of course concerned about contributing to that polarization and how the documentary would be received. The documentary moved at a relaxed but forward pace with a welcome balance of humor, history and Molly’s personal story. The film was both well attended and received; the Q & A between Ms. Engel and John Conway was engaging; leaving us wanting more. The event was a success all around.

Molly Ivans is not popular among many of my fellow Texans but even they laugh when they talk about her. Apparently I had a great aunt Merle that shared Molly’s love of a good challenge, foul language, cigarettes and alcohol. My family describes my great aunt as “funny as hell” and “a terrifying woman.” She was married 4 times to 3 men. One husband’s tenure ended when Aunt Merle infamously hurled an iron towards the back of his head – luckily the iron was plugged in and dropped before making contact. Her sister, my grandmother, was more gentil in nature – an artist, sweet and polite. They were both Texans from birth to death. Born just before the Bubonic Plague they lived through WWI, the Spanish Flu (that killed more people than the war), The Great Depression, and the tuberculosis epidemic all in quick succession. Then came WWII, the Polio Epidemic, The Korean War, another Polio epidemic and the Vietnam war. Through all of this my grandmother Virginia went to college and raised 4 children. One of whom is my father. Despite snow in May and COVID-19 I’m pretty grateful to be here.

Having a hard day? Look through that list, read some Molly Ivins Quotes, have a laugh and try to channel the strength of your ancestors. People have lived through a lot. We can too.

“The thing is this: You gotta have fun while you’re fighting for freedom. ‘Cause you don’t always win.” – Molly Ivans.

Snapshot of Janice Engle, Erin Dudley and Janet Carrus
I love my job. Me humbled and honored between Janice Engel and Janet Carrus

– Erin Dudley May 9th 2020
Executive Director The Hurleyville Performing Arts Centre