In 1963, two writers, Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir set out to write an action novel. It took them 8 years to finally sell their book but in 1971, Created: The Destroyer was released, introducing the world to Remo Williams and his mentor Chiun, the master of Sinanju. 42 years, 150 books, a comic book series, a TV pilot, and a theatrical film later, Remo Williams and Chiun are back, and bigger than ever. A new novella, a brand new spinoff series, and the 150th book in the Destroyer series are now available or will be soon, and a new theatrical film is also in the works.
Mania recently sat down with series co-creator Warren Murphy to discuss the state of the destroyer as Murphy pulls no punches in discussing our two favorite assassins.
Mania: Warren, first of all thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. How does it feel to return to The Destroyer? I understand there are several new projects in the works.
Warren Murphy: It's good to be back in the publishing world. Actually after four years of medical poking and prodding, it's good to be anywhere. And as long as my two sons who are my partners don't run out of work for me to do, there are many projects underway. For fans of the Destroyer and Remo Williams, we're taking some of the characters I created in various books of the original series — Remo's kids actually — and starting a new series with them called "Legacy" with the first adventure being "Forgotten Son." And we've started doing new novellas, and we've begun an e-pub business and the books are going to start coming from all over.
Mania: As you mentioned, one of the new projects is called Legacy and will feature Remo’s children as the main characters. Can you tell us more about this new series?
Murphy: I'm working on "Legacy" with a terrific young writer named Jerry Welch. Jerry's been a long time Destroyer reader and friend for a long time and for all that time, he's been pushing for this story about Remo's kid. He thought and I agree that it's a way to reboot the whole Destroyer concept for a whole new generation. The truth is that the Destroyers have been around for a long time…they are your Daddy's Oldsmobile… and they've been ripped off forever, but we always fought to keep them relevant and I think Remo's kids will help that along.
Mania: Will Remo and Chiun be a part of the Legacy series or do you want the series to stand on its own?
Murphy: No, Remo and Chiun won't disappear; these are Remo's kids after all, but they've got different attitudes, different problems, different ways of dealing with things than Remo because he is, as is Chiun, the deadliest two humans on the planet. Stone and Freya are different; they're only the third and fourth most deadly humans on the planet. So once in a while, I imagine they'll ask the old guys for advice…but this is going to be their series, not Remo and Chiun's. Honestly, it'd be perfectly appropriate if this series was double billed as an adventure and also as something fit for young adult readers. In truth we try always to write a clean book, so I'm never worried about something being over the edge for kids.
Mania: And there is also a new full-length Destroyer novel coming out which will be the 150th book in the series. Can you tell us more about this landmark book?
Murphy: That book, the End of the World, Destroyer number 150, was sort of a mistake. We hadn't planned to use it as a numbered book and instead wanted it to be the first book in a new format — Remo and Chiun's stories from the past, sort of "Tales from the Sacred Scrolls of the House of Sinanju." But somehow it got mixed up and came out as #150. Chiun has now written an introduction to that book, explaining why it should NOT be number 150 and why it is just another example of the stupidity of the "fat white drunks who produce this mess of bird droppings." That all said, the book is a good read with some uncredited help from Molly Cochran, a long ago Destroyer ghost, an Edgar award winner, and (dare I say it?) a lady who used to be Mrs. Warren Murphy…(before she wised up.)
Mania: Did you ever think that when you and Richard Sapir created the character of Remo Williams some fifty years ago that you would ever see 150 books in the series?
Murphy: This was 1971, remember, and we were more worried about next Tuesday and how are we going to feed Murphy's kids. Long term for us meant next Friday. I had just escaped from politics, one step ahead of the U.S. Attorney who wound up indicting a dozen of the politicians I worked with, and Dick was somewhat less than gainfully employed, so we were just trying to scratch out a living. Remember, it took us eight years to get published and it was our good luck that this all happened at just the right time. But it took us a couple of years to realize, "hey, we can make a living at this." Which was a hoot because that was all either of us, writers our entire lives, had ever wanted to do. The real marvel of more than 150 books is that we could do so many for so long. Remember, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote just a couple of dozen Sherlock Holmes short stories and got so sick of Holmes that he threw him over a waterfall to kill him off. Along the way, Dick and I each started to write other stuff and go off in our own directions and we had figured to end the Destroyer which had for many years just been humming around in the background like a base note, but then we both had young babies and then, goddammit, Dick died and I decided, between one thing and another, that I had to keep the series going.
Mania: The first Destroyer Novel was published in 1971. We’re obviously in a very different political climate today. How has Remo changed over 40 plus years and where do you feel he and Chiun fit in today?
Murphy: The real difference between today and when we started back in the long ago, was that back then we were the only people daring to do right wing stuff. Don't you remember? Everybody knew this and knew that and knew this and knew that, and all the things were they knew were crap and were wrong….Dick and I wouldn't sign on, so when the rest of the real Americans decided that they those ideas, from NBC and the NY Times and Walter Cronkite etc., were all crap, Dick and I were already in place, and we reaped some benefits from it. And today, now that we're back once more in the hands of the zanies, Remo and Chiun fit right in, as if nothing had ever changed. Guns to Mexicans, no budgets passed by the Senate in four years, a platinum trillion dollar coin honoring the latest imbecile…please, spare me again….
Mania: Likewise, CURE was born out the Kennedy Cold War era. How does CURE fit into today’s society and global terrorism?
Murphy: Remo and Chiun live in whatever society is alive in the United States at that time. They've been cold warriors, they've been battlers against racism, and more frequently fighters against left wing lunacy and I don't think they'll ever run out of balloons to bust. On a personal level, Remo has become more accepting of his fate and how he got shanghaied into being the avatar of an Eastern god and he just doesn't give a damn anymore; he just keeps being the Destroyer because that's who he is. (But he's never lost his youthful ability to get real ticked off at bad things and bad people and now he has the capacity to go deal with them.) Chiun meanwhile doesn't care about anything at all except his personal grandeur. To him, the United States is just a blip on the screen, and if it goes, so what? He's more interested in getting into show business and not long ago in a novella called Savage Song, he wound up playing drums for a Gagaesque musician.
Remo and Chiun were battling terrorism even before the U.S. government had a name for terrorism— (a name, by the way, that the current government no longer chooses to use.) But to Remo and Chiun, the real name for terrorism is stupid, because scratch a terrorist group and you find underneath the ignorant unwashed would-be warriors…you know, those brave ones who like to kill children, as long as the children are unarmed. Remember, we were writing about terrorists back in the early 70's, Destroyer book, number 10, i think it is, Terror Squad. Remo and Chiun's — and the authors — haven't changed since that time. People who'd rather screw goats than humans should not be taken seriously. The idiots used to, long ago, kind of pretend that Hitler was just a fun-loving Bavarian as long as he wasn't attacking Communist Russia. The idiots recently have tried to pretend that radical Islam is a religion of peace and luuuuuv, no matter that they behead cartoonists and that women are subjugated and treated as pieces of meat, and that there hasn't been an idea approved in the Muslim world since the eighth century….they are beneath contempt and we fit right in, us against the morons.
(You know this is maybe the longest interview of my life?)
Mania: When the Destroyer was first created, the series had a very different tone in the first two books and dramatically changed in the third book, Chinese Puzzle. What changed between the second and third books to develop Remo into the character we know today?
Murphy: You're right, but remember our timetable. We set off in 1962 to write a more or less typical adventure story. We even cast Chiun in a walk-on as a karate instructor because this was back in the days before anyone had ever heard of karate. (Except me.) But it took us eight years to get published and then when the publisher wanted another book, Dick and I found out we didn't really know what we were doing. We turned it out and it was okay but nothing special, so Dick and I conferred and figured out if the publisher ever asked for another copy, we had to do something different from the adventure books that were flooding the marketplace at the time. And thus came the mysticism, the myth, the history, the magic, in short the total brilliant lunatic package that the Destroyer grew into, and when the publisher said I want book three, we gave him Chinese Puzzle and we were off and running. Funny thing is the publisher hated Chinese Puzzle and wanted us to do Executioner ripoffs; we refused and almost quit, but fortunately cooler heads prevailed and we kept going and we're still here.
Mania: I’ve always felt that one of the great strengths of the Destroyer series is its colorful villains. There were androids, super-soldiers, intelligent computer programs, mad scientists, and of course the Anti-Chiun, Nuihc, to name just a few. As a longtime comic book fan I’ve always felt Remo and Chiun’s villains were “comic book-esque” in their appeal. Did comics have any influence on the creation of these villains?
Murphy: Dick and I weren't really comic book fans, but let's face it, Remo and Chiun are bigger than life. Chiun's the most dangerous man in the world and he weighs 85 pounds. But he can climb the side of a building and crush a golf ball into powder. So can Remo. We couldn't have them fighting some guy who's really good with a target pistol. That would close on Saturday night. So we had to invent great characters, great villains….and we did…and some of them wound up as big stars in other people's movies and we didn't get paid…but am I complaining? Naaaah. Hell, it got the Titanic found, didn't it?
Mania: HA! It did at that I guess! (Laughter)
Mania: Another highlight of the Destroyer books is the satire. It’s just not all action, there’s a lot of wonderful humor in there as well. What are some of your humor influences that go into the Destroyer books?
Murphy: We read the New York Times and watch MSNBC and then puke and then try to tell America what the real truth is. Those were two of the main influences — those and the liberals' political demands which are forgotten the day after election, witness the behavior of the nincompoop now in the White House. (I guess I shouldn't be political right? That'll chase readers away? Oh, the hell with it.)
Mania: Oh man, no comment on THAT one! (More laughter)
Mania: Can you describe how the writing process worked when you and Richard were co-authoring the series? I’ve heard that one would start the book and the other would finish. Is that true?
Murphy: Well, basically that's true — usually Dick would start a book and I would finish it. It took us forever to figure out that this was a good way for us to work. Dick was a problem creator and put together wonderful characters; I was a problem solver and could figure out what those wonderful characters should be doing in a book of ours. So we finally settled on Dick wrote first half; I wrote second half; then I rewrote the whole book to keep it in one voice. But sometimes we switched and had to individually write entire books and then we got real busy in our careers and we had to occasionally hire ghostwriters to help us. I was always lucky because I had a knack for finding ghosts with great skills and so everything our ghosts did was good — (so long as I was hiring them. There were some along the way who would turn your stomach.) Funny story, Dick and I were committed in the early days to that system: he writes half a book, I write second half, but one day we had been arguing about something — (rare event but it happened sometimes) and Dick was ticked at me so he sent me the first half of the book he was working on, and he stopped at half length, not just in the middle of the book, not just in the middle of a chapter, not in the middle of a paragraph, not in the middle of a sentence; he stopped in the middle of a word. Dick could be difficult. But I loved him.
Mania: What strengths do you feel that each of you brought to the stories?
Murphy: Richard Ben Sapir was a special writer; he was funny and satiric and creative and he was also far off the wall and had to be restrained from his worst instincts. Once he called me, many months after sending his usual half a book, and said "I've destroyed our future." I asked how and he said, "Because in the last book, I killed off Chiun." "Don't worry," I told him, "I changed it." Dead silence on the phone and then a whiny "without asking me?" Not high dudgeon, but at least medium dudgeon. Anyway, so I brought logic and some sense of realism to the books; Dick, brought a wild man's courage: we both brought writing skills, having made our livings for a long time, in other fields than fiction.
Mania: And what were the influences for Remo and Chiun?
Murphy: They're fictional. In his physicality, Remo resembles no one else; in his attitudes, he sounds like me. Chiun was, in Dick's mind, a Jewish mother. The only difference, Dick said, was that Chiun kills cleaner.
Mania: Loud Laughter!
Mania: I’ve heard that the new Destroyer novel will shed some light on Remo’s early life and upbringing. I don’t want you to play spoiler but after so many years and so many books, why do you feel now was the time to reveal more about Remo?
Murphy: Well, after more than 11 million words about a character like Remo, I thought it was maybe time to get up close and personal and pull up some stuff that you've never heard before. You never want to keep doing the same old thing; that puts people to sleep.
Mania: I’ve always been curious as to why CURE happened to choose Remo. Was it just good (or bad timing) or something about him specifically. Will we learn more about why CURE chose Remo?
Murphy: We just created a character who had physical skills, was a patriot, and had no family. He had all the attributes. The only thing we didn't expect was that Chiun was going to recognize him as an avatar of Shiva. Will you learn more? Maybe… if I can invent more.
Mania: Throughout this process I have been corresponding with your son, Devin. I know he’s been working with you on various aspects of all things Destroyer. What’s it like to be able to work with your son on these projects? Can you foresee handing off the reins to him eventually?
Murphy: Well, Devin is one of my two rotten sons. Both of them are hateful and useless but quite extraordinary in other ways. Dev is a poet and a musician. I don't see him writing Remos anytime soon. Brian is medical, the king of the emergency room, and ditto on his writing future. But it's funny the way things happen. They came into the process when I got very sick and now they've taken over the entire publishing work from start to finish and they keep me around like a dining table ornament and I can't get out of their clutches. Nor would I want to. They are both doing extraordinary work on behalf of a guy who should have retired and been sent to the dog track by now. They are also freeing me up to write my important books on gambling and golf and investing and the Kelly Criterion and the d'Alembert number system and anything else that amuses me.
Caption: Warren Murphy with sons Devin and Brian
Mania: I know that you and Richard were less than thrilled with the Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins film. Can you expand on that further?
Murphy: I talked about that earlier; great heroes need great villains; our movie villain was a guy selling cheap rifles to the government. We told them about that out there in Lala Land but of course they were all geniuses so nobody would listen to us. Too bad.
Mania: What did you think of the performances of Fred Ward as Remo and Joel Grey as Chiun?
Murphy: Joel Grey was great and if they make another movie, I'd get him again as Chiun. Hey, he's in shape; he's a dancer and they wouldn't have to use so much makeup. In passing, I get nuts when people say it's gotta to be a Korean actor. That's p.c. stupid. Can't you imagine some bonehead in H'wood saying "We're sorry, Mr. Olivier, you're just not right for Othello. We're got to wait until Wesley Snipes gets out of jail." Please, cut me a break. By the way, the TV pilot was better than the movie and the actor who played Chiun was marvelous too. That was Roddy McDowall, also a very great actor.
Mania: I completely agree with you there on both Joel Grey and Roddy McDowell. They were both fabulous. Talks of a new Destroyer film have been mentioned for a number of years now. Can you update us on what’s going on with that?
Murphy: Right now, the Destroyer books are under option to a Hollywood group which includes people who produced Batman Begins and the Transporter and they swear they're going to make the movie. But who knows? There's only one Clint Eastwood out there.
Mania: Do you have any actors in mind that you would like to see play the roles of Remo and Chiun? Obviously you mentioned Grey, anyone else?
Murphy: In one of the Assassin's Handbook reading guides to the Destroyer, Chiun, who is always bitching that Remo is fat, is asked that question about who should play Remo and he suggests Burl Ives or Orson Welles or Sydney Greenstreet. As for himself, Chiun is a giant ham and believes that he himself is the only one who can play Chiun correctly. And who's going to argue with him?
Mania: Any final words for the legion of Destroyer fans?
Murphy: Only these: thank you with all my heart. Dick and I always tried to give you the best work we had, and you rewarded us by loyalty and friendship and by contributing to our marching and chowder and vodka society. You'll get your reward in heaven for that.
Mania: Warren, once again thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to Mania’s readers and the fans of Remo Williams everywhere!