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On Island Profile: William Borchert


Jan. 2, 2005 — Author William Borchert's visit to St. Croix this holiday season is about being with his daughter, Angela; granddaughter, Hannah; and his son-in-law, Gary Johnson.
He has thoughts about swimming and other tourist activities on his mind, but after a conversation with him last Wednesday at the Henry Rohlsen Airport, one would not be wrong to guess he is also thinking a lot about his books — the one published in October, the one he finished just last month and the one he is about to start.
Borchert has been making appearances throughout the states to promote the recently published book, The Lois Wilson Story. The press conference at the airport focused on that book, and he held a book signing Friday at Undercover Books in Gallows Bay, which about 30 people attended.
He isn't shy about promoting his book. He said at the airport, "This is a big, big story."
The book had its genesis in the late '80s when Borchert was working on the Warner Brothers/Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, My Name Is Bill W. The writing of that movie, which starred James Garner and James Woods, earned him an Emmy nomination.
The movie is based on the life of Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and the man credited with helping millions of people worldwide find sobriety. The film can be seen as a vehicle carrying Bill W.'s mission on, as Borchert said that practically every rehab center in the states has a copy on VHS.
However, there is one famous alcoholic for whom it did no good: Borchert recounted passing the video on to Truman Capote, the author of In Cold Blood. Capote, whose reliance on drugs and alcohol are public knowledge, had just gotten out of a rehab center, and he told Borchert that he had seen the movie and that Borchert had done a real good job on it. When Borchert asked Capote whether the movie helped him, Capote responded that he did not have a problem with alcohol.
At the airport, Borchert frowned and shook his head as he recounted that story. "Alcoholism is known as the disease of denial for a reason," he said.
The route from the movie to the book about the founder of Al-Anon, The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough, was not direct.
Founded to support the family of alcoholics, Al-Anon (like AA) has a strict tradition about keeping anonymity. Borchert met Lois through his wife, Bernadette, who is also on St. Croix this week. The families just lived a few miles apart in New York. Bernadette told her husband there was a story there. He listened, and the first story he did was the screenplay for the movie.
Then in 2003, shortly after moving into a home he and Bernadette had built in Little River, S.C., Borchert was unpacking boxes and discovered audio tapes he had made while interviewing Lois for the movie.
According to the Web site promoting the book, Borchert, after listening to the tapes, realized that little of what Lois had shared with him about her experiences with her husband's ordeal with alcoholism had been used in the film. Moreover, the scenes filmed concerning her experiences were left on the cutting room floor.
As he had become a close friend of Lois, the writer knew her story was moving and powerful and believed that people needed to hear it. Also, there had been five biographies written about her husband, Bill, but not one about her. He felt the telling of her story was long overdue.
It was not until her death in 1988 that her name was released as the co-founder of Al-Anon. But nearly two decades after her death, according to Borchert, little is known about the woman who birthed one of the most important movements of the 20th century.
Her story includes her struggles as the wife of an alcoholic, as well as the good years as the wife of the man who found sobriety and started an important organization.
Borchert, however, is not all seriousness. He joked about his early years as a reporter for one of New York City's largest daily newspapers, when competition was tough. He said the real good reporters would stoop to dismantling telephones so competitors could not file stories (nor would they be shy about stealing a crime victim's photo off the family piano).
He said the writers he most admires are Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Although both writers had intensely different styles, he said both had the ability to make the reader experience what the writer was writing about.
Both of those writers, if they took the 10-question quiz, "Am I An Alcoholic," would probably earn the label.
Borchert said that he did not believe alcoholism was actually a trait of the trade of being a writer, but that writers often become victims of a lifestyle they are asked to live.
Borchert has also worked at a major wire service, a national magazine and created syndicated radio shows.
He became a partner at Artists Entertainment Complex, which produced a number of box office hits: Kansas City Bomber, starring Raquel Welch, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon, both starring Al Pacino.
He said the experience of reading scripts brought him to the conclusion that he could do better.
Son-in-law Gary Johnson, who works in construction on St. Croix, said Saturday that Borchert has been busy promoting the books, going out to dinner and visiting Christiansted. Gary added that his four-year-old daughter, Hannah, was making sure her grandfather was getting in a lot of swimming.
Borchert is probably always pretty busy with things besides his books. He and Bernadette have nine children and 23 grandchildren. They split their time between New York and South Carolina when they are not on St. Croix.

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