What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing it?
I found things in his life that I didn’t know about: his heroics in World War II, pioneering the polar route with guys who were in the Royal Air Force Ferry Command. Five hundred of these ferry pilots didn’t come back, and he was risking everything. He also had a boxing career, as “Rifle Right Kerkorian.” How many of our present moguls and tycoons could you picture in the ring? He spent 20 years building up a charter airline, 20 years becoming an overnight success.
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
The estate had protected Kerkorian’s privacy for so many years in life, and they were continuing to protect his privacy right into the grave. So I wasn’t going to have the official cooperation of the Kerkorian estate, which made it a greater challenge. My investigative reporting background came immediately into play. Defeating that privacy to find so much about him was the kind of challenge reporters like. I was able to get people who were very close to Kirk to trust me. His story is incredibly inspiring, and the people who loved him and knew him really well wanted to share that inspiration. His lawyers, his fitness guru, the range is wonderful. I talked to a lot of people who didn’t want their names used, and they’re not in the book but their stories are.
It’s the same thing in my investigative reporting career; it’s mostly about getting in front of people and being able to convey sincerity and competence and the ability to adequately tell their stories. It goes back to my father, who was a door-to-door vacuum salesman. Some of those skills, getting people to trust you and let you in, I probably inherited.
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
I’m a movie fan, and one of the things I’ve learned from my watching is how really great filmmakers, like David Lean, have the image in every frame of their movies carefully constructed, like a complete photograph. Filmmakers like Lean have given me ideas for how to tell stories with images. Even a word guy can learn from that. Part of my goal is to write cinematically.
Persuade someone to read “The Gambler” in 50 words or less.
This is one of those inspirational all-American tales of a poor immigrant’s son going from rags to riches with good old-fashioned hard work and sheer daring. In this era of anti-immigrant rhetoric, it’s a reminder of how important immigrants have been to all aspects of this country.