Almost no one had ever heard of John Hinckley Jr. before he tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan over a twisted obsession with Jodie Foster as a prostituted child in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but Paul Schrader had. In the latest episode of The Originals podcast, the legendary screenwriter of the 1976 film reveals to host Andrew Goldman that he’d been contacted by Hinckley before the assassination attempt.
Promoting his upcoming gambling drama, The Card Counter, Schrader—who also penned Raging Bull and City Hall and is the writer/director of American Gigolo and Affliction, among many others—tells host Andrew Goldman that he was in a cab in New Orleans when he heard on the radio that Reagan had been shot.
“I told the driver, ‘It’s one of the Taxi Driver kids! Oh my God!’ I just felt it in my bones. And then I got back to the hotel, and the FBI was waiting. They wanted to know if this person, Hinckley, had been in touch with me. But what they were really wanting to know was, were there any other persons involved?”
According to Schrader, the “Taxi Driver kids,” were fans who’d become transfixed by the tale of lonely vet and cabbie Travis Bickle slowly going insane while he develops a deadly infatuation with Foster’s character, Iris. In fact, before the assassination attempt, Schrader says another young, male Taxi Driver enthusiast showed up at his Columbia Pictures office demanding, “I want to know how you found out about me. Who told you about me?”
While Schrader was able to satisfy that person with a studio tour, the would-be murderer of the leader of the free world was a different matter.
“When I got back to the hotel, the FBI was there and they wanted to know if there were any contacts,” he continues.
“I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut, but I immediately called my secretary, because we had been getting mail from this guy from Colorado [where Hinckley was living with his family in 1976, after an unsuccessful attempt at a music career in L.A.], who wanted to get in touch with Jodie, who had a fascination with Jodie. So, I spoke to my secretary. I said, ‘What did you do with those letters?’ I remember telling her, ‘Throw them away.’ She said, “You told me to throw them away. I threw them away.” And I said, ‘OK, then they don’t exist. We will never admit they ever existed.’”
Schrader admits he lied to the Feds about his Hinckley connection, but he reasons that the situation left him no choice.
“Just the questions would never end,” he says. “If I had told the FBI that John Hinckley had been writing me, I would have been nine levels of jurisdictional hell for the rest of my life.”
Schrader says he has no feeling that his work inspired any violence in real life, explaining, “No, those guys were out there. They were out there. I didn’t create them.”
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