Radio Dupree: How did you get the job as Frank's secretary?
Pauline Butcher: I got the job as Frank’s secretary because I was working in London for a secretarial agency that supplied secretaries to businessmen staying at hotels. In those days, there was no internet and no e-mails, so when on business trips, businessmen were forced to write their reports and send them back to head office by land-mail. To do this they hired us. We went along to the hotel, took the stuff down in shorthand and typed it up on portable typewriters.
On this particular day, The Royal Garden Hotel phoned at 6pm saying a Mr Zappa required a secretary for two hours. As I tended to work odd hours (for reasons explained in the book) I went along expecting a sugar merchant, short and bald. When he opened the door, I said, I’m sorry I’ve come to the wrong room.
He needed the lyrics typed out from Absolutely Free, which I did. There are five chapters related to three subsequent meetings – another in London and two in New York. On my second visit to his flat in New York, he told me he was going to work on a book for Stein and Day and asked me to go to California to help him work on it.
Radio Dupree: How did you come up with the idea to write the book?
Pauline Butcher: I have always wanted to be a writer. After my son went to university, I realised it was ‘now or never’. I began writing plays for BBC Radio 4 as they broadcast a play every afternoon. I came very close and had encouragement from BBC producers. One of them said, your best bet to break in is to write something that no one else can write, and I thought, the only story that no one else can write is my experiences working and living with Frank Zappa in Hollywood. It started as a fictional idea, but then got transferred to fact, on the producer’s advice.
While I was working on this in dramatic form, Germaine Greer, who’d met Frank once, got the idea to do her own programme and since she was famous she got commissioned. I had to finish the work before it would be looked at. The BBC would not do two programs in one year on the same topic. I was so mad I wrote off to every publisher and asked them if they’d be interested. Twelve wrote back and said yes. I hadn’t written anything then. That was 2006. It took nine months to type up all my diary entries and letters I sent to people and those I received. This was the data on which I drew.
Radio Dupree: You have said that the book will be based upon your original diary entries and letters. Diaries and letters can be quite private. Have you had any reservations about publishing certain details?
Pauline Butcher: I have reservations only about Ruth Underwood. I tried to contact her while I was writing the book but without success. Now Art Tripp has located her for me and it’s too late, the book is written and I am a little concerned that what I’ve written about her might hurt her feelings because she is I believe the kindest and most genuine of people.
With everyone else the same applies except that I believe I am balanced, showing the good points and the not-so-good which occcur in us all. I await the verdict of readers on this.
Radio Dupree: Do you think your book will give us a new view of Frank Zappa?
Pauline Butcher: I believe the book reveals the weaker side of Frank in some respects and I was concerned about this. It reveals stuff about him not seen before only as it relates to me. This is very much a personal account.
You may want to check out Pauline on Facebook where she delivers teasers from her diaries.