|In the early 1960s, in a satirical fable, Leo Szilard wrote, "Americans are free to say what they think, because they do not think what they are not free to say." And a decade later, 12-year-old Peter Cook was reprimanded for writing what he wasn't supposed to think in a play entitled "Hope Takes a Holiday." This short drama angered his teacher, and confused his classmates, by mocking the cartoon character Bert the Turtle for urging Americans to "duck and cover" under their desks in case of a nuclear attack.
In his own way, William Lanouette was skewering U.S. and Soviet "civil defense" campaigns as a journalist in the 1970s. His fascination with the Atomic Age and its sometimes absurdist politics led him to write a biography of Szilard, who more than anyone lived both sides of the arms race, working first to prevent, then to hasten, and finally to outlaw nuclear weapons.
By the late 1990s, Cook made Lanouette's acquaintance when he read and enjoyed the Szilard biography and called the author to say so. Tentatively, Cook asked Lanouette to look at a film script about the people who created the Atomic Age. It needed lots of work, but prompted the two to focus on a fateful meeting, in May 1945, when Szilard and Jimmy Byrnes personified the struggle with the nuclear genie. A writing partnership evolved across three time zones and a generation -- mostly by telephony, sometimes by telepathy. After three year's collaboration, they finally met face-to-face at the first staged reading of Uranium + Peaches in New York City in November 2002.