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ROAR: An Oral Biography of a Fictional Life

Satirist Bruce Wagner has written a provocative new novel.


Every once in a while, a book comes along that’s so unique, it stops you in your tracks. ROAR is one such book. Written by Bruce Wagner, who’s been called Hollywood’s "master of satire”, ROAR profiles the life of a fictional man. Roger Orr’s story begins with his 1940 birth in Nashville and spans his astonishing (and entirely made-up) career as an artist, entertainer, and doctor, as well as his personal journey to locate his birth mother, discover his true heritage, and transition genders to become a woman.

To tell Roger’s story, Wagner has “compiled” oral testimony from a wide range of sources—family members, critics, historians, and celebrities both living and dead. The result is a mind-bending metafictional novel that captures the zeitgeist, without holding back in its hilarious lampooning of Hollywood.

Read a passage from ROAR below, then download the book!




ROAR: American Master, The Oral Biography of Roger Orr

By Bruce Wagner

TYLER PERRY (actor, director, producer) I called him once for advice. There’s no better consigliere than Roger Orr. I was developing Diary of A Mad Black Woman with one of the studios. Hell, this is almost twenty years after Roar gave me my first job—in Hallelujah Boogie. I said I was in a bit of a tussle about directing Diary myself; they were giving me push- back. And there were some other things like script notes that I was begin- ning to compromise on. I downplayed it and told him I’d power through. You know, that I was strong but would win in the end. How all in all, they’d been pretty good allies—that kind of bullshit. Roar said, “In the end, I think it’s good to have a nice little house on the plantation.” That night, I decided I was going to raise the budget money myself—and build a movie studio of my own. . . . There’s that story about Steve Jobs wanting to poach the president of Pepsi. Jobs said to the guy, “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”

For me, Roar was my Steve Jobs. And with all he’d been through? He was Job too. Steve Job.

SCOTT DISICK (reality show personality) He was a big fan of pop culture, believe it or not. We first met in Vegas when I was having a tough time. I sobered up long enough to have a drink with him. He’d say, “You need to beam yourself up, Scottie.” I thought he was making a Jim Beam joke but he was talking about rehab. I knew who he was and couldn’t believe he was even interested. He said, “Are you going to be a toy poodle on that ladies’ show forever? [Keeping Up With the Kardashians] Is that the major plan? Are you going to jump into bed with one amazing, anorexic eighteen-year-old after another? Forever?”

That night, I decided that was exactly what I wanted to do. Forever.

LAUGHLIN ORR (sister) He was just a baby when our family took him in. I was already seven years old. When I asked where he came from, my mother said, “He’s a gift from God.” I didn’t believe her. Now I do.

STEVEN SPIELBERG He was the one who planted the seed for E.T. All of his films are about aliens—“the other.” Especially Gift from God. You know, the little boy who thinks he’s an alien and goes searching for his father. Every Roger Orr movie is a false flag metaphor for that.

MEGHAN MARKLE (activist) The other day, Archie was watching Gift from God—just glued to the set, totally focused. Harry told me his mum loved it too and I couldn’t believe it! I said, “Archie, are you watching Grammy’s favorite movie? Is that what you’re doing? Watching Grammy’s favorite?” He didn’t turn to look at me at all.

MICHELLE OBAMA (author) Roar saw all sides of a story. That’s what made him a great director, a great storyteller. He was developing something for Barack and me when he died. An adaptation of a book of Toni Morrison’s for Netflix.

He had such compassion. Apparently, his biological father was a very charming man. They met in prison. He was in jail for murder. He raped Roar’s mother and killed a bunch of Black folk—white people too. But Roar got along with everyone, even unapologetic racists. Folks would ask, “How can you even speak to Nazi sympathizers?” He’d smile and say, “Easy. I get that from Dad; he had the gift of gab.” Always funny but with a dark, dark edge.

WOODY HARRELSON (actor) We bonded over our fathers being in prison together. That’s a true story. Only for a few days—a prison in Georgia. Roar would do both their voices and it was Lenny Bruce meets Richard Pryor. Chappelle and I were at the Paradise Cove house and he did twenty minutes. The routine was like one of those comets you’ll never see again in your lifetime. Dave went insane. Out of his mind. Dave laughs a lot but I never saw him go that hard.

DOLLY PARTON (singer-songwriter) We met at the Grammys in 1972. He’d written “Try A Little Tenderness” ten years before—when he was twenty-one! And written songs for his films, and some for singer-friends, “as a lark.” That’s how he put it. If you want to call “Storming Heaven” and “Catapult” larks. Lord, I’d give my left t*ttie for a lark like them. Give both t*tties—well, almost. [laughs] We became fast friends. I was working on “I Will Always Love You” and sang it for him in his brownstone in New York. He kinda knew it was my goodbye song to Porter [Wagoner]. I was having trouble with a lyric, which is rare, ’cause most the time it just flows. He grabbed a scrap of paper and scribbled something. “We both know I’m not what you need.” And it was so . . . right. He was shaking. I was too. He had tears in his eyes. I realized that for him, my song was about everyone he’d ever loved and lost. He thought he was a freak—all geniuses think that, and it’s true. God’s freaks. That’s a heavy weight to carry ’cause you’re always leaving folks behind. Turning your head to say “I’ll always love you” but by the time you get the words out, they’re gone.

I wanted to give him a record credit for giving me that lyric, no big thing. “A special thanks to Mr. Orr” in the liner notes. He wouldn’t hear of it.

ELON MUSK He was an angel investor in Zip2, in ’95—that’s when we met, through a professor of mine at Stanford. Roger had a breakdown a few years later—not the first!—and did a lot of ketamine. Said the ketamine savedhim....

We were in Maui, talking about our fathers and mothers. He had two sets of parents; it’s hard enough having one. By then, even though it’d been a long time since he found out about Bird, he still hadn’t processed his shame. He hid that pretty well from the world. Not the shame that she was Black—no no no!—but the shame of how he reacted to finding out that he was adopted. When Roger discovered he wasn’t who he thought he was, he literally lost his mind. Do you remember? They had to hospitalize him. As sophisticated as he was—knowing spiritually and intellectually that identity is merely a construct—it was a horror to him that he couldn’t accept his fate. A fate with grandeur, with magnificence. Instead of embracing the weirdness of it, the religiousness of it, he went into the fetal position, and that he responded in such a way filled him with self-contempt. People who don’t know him got it all wrong. They still say, “It was racial shame.” Roger hated that sort of gossip—that he was ashamed of Bird, ashamed to have a Black mother. Hated it. Which couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Yet what should have been a joyous revelation, a liberating one, sunk him into a profound existential despair. See, the major thing about Roger Orr, the major trait was that he was always in control of the narrative. Complete control. That’s why he was such a great director; he did narrative for breakfast. In one of his jour- nals he said the sudden appearance of his new origin story was “the bull in the china shop of bourgeois complacency.” He never forgave himself for the primal timidities—his phrase—that he considered to be a fatal flaw of char- acter. Roger was a radical artist but when he found out where he came from, he woke up worse than an emperor with no clothes. He was an emperor run- ning naked through the streets in a nightmare, chased by a mob of alternate selves. It was a wound that never closed.

AMANDA GORMAN Toni Morrison’s my total hero. And there they are on YouTube when she won the Nobel in Stockholm! She insisted Roar be onstage when they gave her the award. No one had ever done that, and I don’t think the Swedes were happy, but what could they do? Of all the people on this blue-green Earth that Toni could have chosen . . . I know they were collaborating on a musical of Othello. He’d already written some of the songs. And was working on a film adaptation of her last book, God Help the Child, that the Obamas were going to produce. He was working on it till the end, they both were, and died within a few months of each other.

That’s how I’d like to go. With my poetry boots on.

ELON MUSK When we had our baby [X Æ A-XII], he called and said, “You should have just gone with ‘Roko’—so much easier to pronounce.” Then he whispered, “Every child needs to kill his parents for the greater good.”

Want to keep reading? Download ROAR today!