To Bloom Again

Quiet, intellectual John Bloom transformed himself through his alter ego, Joe Bob Briggs, into a drive-in-movie critic on TV. Now a new character is emerging: John Bloom himself.

Bloom claims that film writing was difficult for him: "It was a struggle to find an expressive visual imagery." In late 1981, he contacted Vicki Eisenberg, who had an advertising agency that handled B-movie companies and would eventually become his literary agent. Roger Corman, legendary trash auteur, was among her clients. John said he wanted to set up screenings for the kind of movies that these producers went to great effort not to screen in advance. She recalls him saying, "Tell them I'll have a pseudonym. Tell them that I'll like these movies."

Joe Bob Briggs's column, complete with his now-legendary blood, breast and dead-body counts, debuted in January 1982 with an essay by John Bloom introducing Briggs, a 19-year-old truck-driving movie fan who had already been married five times (Bloom, who has confessed before he has a "weakness for women," has been married three times but is currently single). Shortly afterward, formerly reluctant trash-film companies now lined up to beg for a review by Briggs. Eisenberg credits a Wall Street Journal cover story about Briggs, heralding him as "the aficionado of trash," as the seminal event that brought Joe Bob into the national consciousness. Syndication offers poured in, but it was two years before reluctant Times Herald editors would approve any deal. This, in turn, led to live appearances on Carson and Letterman and paperback collections of Joe Bob's best columns.

Nearly two and a half years after Joe Bob Briggs was birthed, a quieter, more measured, but equally sensational voice began to appear in the Times Herald "Metro" section three times a week: John Bloom. At this point, Bloom had dropped his own byline as a Friday "Living" section film critic and devoted himself to the columns of Bloom and Briggs. From June 1984 to April 1985, John Bloom became what Dallas Morning News "Metro" columnist Steve Blow has called "the greatest columnist Dallas will ever have." Bloom's beat seemingly was the whole world, outer space and, most importantly, his own intensely reflective inner space. He wrote political commentary, personal remembrance, satirical letters and dialogue, angry rants and compassionate laments. His subjects included the difference between grace and graciousness; Dallas's "New Bigotry," in which the first question in every singles'-bar conversation is "What do you do?"; a poignant visit with the washed-up lead singer of the Platters, singing to empty chairs at a late-night Dallas dive; a paean to a black shoeshiner who was robbed and stabbed repeatedly, only to have his attackers flee the city before apathetic police began an investigation; and a pre-McMartin-trial outrage piece over the assumption that children are incapable of lying when the subject is molestation. All were crafted with a sense of quiet drama and carefully chosen literary, artistic and historical allusions, not unlike the open-ended rants about the criminal-justice system or little white lies with which Joe Bob begins each MonsterVision segment. With his columns, however, the drive-in-movie critic persona didn't get in the way.

John Bloom may have been crafting prose inside the ephemeral world of journalism, but it was Joe Bob Briggs that people wanted: "I'd get phone calls asking me for freelance pieces. I'd say, 'Do you want Joe Bob Briggs or John Bloom?' " Bloom recalls. "They'd say, 'Who's John Bloom?' "

The safari jacket of testosterone that Joe Bob Briggs pulled on for his forays into sniggering at blacks, Hispanics, women and gays is woven with two philosophical threads: no exceptions and no mercy. John Bloom explains the Joe Bob Briggs attitude: "Joe Bob is like a machine gun on a swivel. He swings and fires and hits this target and this target and this target at random until, finally, one of the targets screams. When a target screams, you've found the sacred cow. Then you go back and shoot it 20 more times. You identify the sacred cow, and then you set out to destroy it. Joe Bob hates everything."

On April 11, 1985, the sacred cows, wounded but undeterred, stampeded and nearly killed Joe Bob Briggs. The story is legendary in Dallas media circles: On that day, the drive-in-movie critic had written a Times Herald column lampooning the superstar starvation benefit single "We Are the World." Joe Bob called it "We Are the Weird" and included references to the grossness of dying Africans' stomachs and the idea that the problem could be solved by serving them a baked goat's head, since the "Meskins" eat that. Proceeds from the single would go to the United Negro College Fund, dedicated to educating "stupid Negroes." Since Bloom had been disparaging practically every group on the planet, he saw no reason to spare African-Americans.

DJ Willis Johnson, however, read the column aloud on his KKDA show, and future Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price stepped in to help organize call-in protests and live demonstrations. The latter culminated in an April 16 meeting that Times Herald editor Will Jarrett had with Price, Johnson and hundreds of black protesters in which Jarrett, with trembling hands, repeated the paper's front-page apology and announced: "As of this moment, Joe Bob Briggs is dead." All parties agree on two points: Bloom was asked to stay on and continue his "Metro" essays, but he resigned in protest, outraged that he received little support for a column that had, after all, passed through the editorial checkpoints.

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