If it weren’t for the fact that it’s a true story, Roots might well be the Great American Novel. In the months since its publication, it has been compared to both Moby Dick and War and Peace, and at least one reviewer called it “among the most important books of the century.” Doubleday, its publisher, ordered the largest print run ever for a hardcover book (200,000), which sold out in a matter of weeks, and there are indications it may become the first book in history to sell over 1,000,000 copies in hardback — even before Dell brings out the paperback version.
Its author, Alex Haley, will undoubtedly become a household name later this month, when ABC-TV broadcasts the first episode of a 12-hour series based on Roots, making it the longest and most expensive ($6,000,000) dramatic television production ever aired.
We at Playboy take a special pleasure in featuring Haley as our holiday interview subject. In 1962, when he was a free-lance writer and journalist, we assigned him to conduct a long question-and-answer session with Miles Davis, which became the first “Playboy Interview.” Besides interviewing a number of personalities for Playboy, ranging from American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell to entertainer Johnny Carson, Haley conducted our interviews with the two most significant black leaders of the Sixties — Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. (One result of the “Playboy Interview” with Malcolm X was the bestselling Autobiography, which Haley wrote.) It seems especially fitting to us that Haley be on the other side of the tape recorder this month, since he seems destined to be one of the most significant black figures of the Seventies. Continue reading