BBC Dialogues: Steve Jobs Movie – Lisa’s Mother Speaks Out For Single Moms

BBC Dialogues: Steve Jobs Movie – Lisa’s Mother Speaks Out For Single Moms

This week, Steve Jobs, the movie directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, will be released. How will it impact Jobs’ legacy?

Several Steve Jobs allies say the movie portrays him as cruel and inhumane and tried to stop its production. Chrisann Brennan, the mother of Lisa, his first child, witnessed that cruelty. She was marginalized and neglected by Jobs for many years. Last month, she joined me for an intimate Fresh Dialogues interview to share her perspective.

Despite the hardships she endured, Brennan has enormous respect and even forgiveness for Jobs. She says her memoir’s universal message is about the plight of single women and she’d like to see the business world be more family-friendly.

On September 11, I was interviewed by the BBC about my interview with Brennan, who describes herself like this:
“I’m a modern Mary Magdalenethe truth of who I am was blacked out. Steve fancied himself a Christ figure, but hated women.” Chrisann Brennan
Here’s my conversation with Fergus Nicoll, host of the BBC’s Business Matters. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
.

Fergus Nicoll: Whenever a biopic comes out, especially when its subject is not long gone, you better believe there is going to be a noise from those screaming about “Mount Rushmore scale hype” and a counter noise from those complaining that a genius has been traduced. So get ready everybody for Jobs, the Dannie Boyle movie with Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs, scheduled for November (US release is Oct 9th).

I’ll toss the ball to Alison, because I know you’ve been talking to somebody with a personal interest in this story – that’s an understatement. Tell us first about expectations for the movie.

van Diggelen: It was shown at the Telluride Film Festival to rave reviews. But I did read a Guardian review that said that you have to be an Apple fan to really enjoy it. So take the reviews with a pinch of salt.

I had the opportunity to interview Chrisann Brennan, Steve Jobs’ first love and the mother of his child Lisa Brennan Jobs…they met in high school in 1972 and they had a very passionate affair. She got pregnant and he denied the paternity and she had a very rough life. He was very miserly about looking after her. She talked to me at length about this very painful time in her life and how he treated her, and yet she does respect him in her way.

Clip airs from Fresh Dialogues interview 

Chrisann Brennan: I was interviewed for five hours, they told me I was the emotional heart of that movie.  I don’t want to judge Steve because he did what he did, it was fabulous… I like the fact that the (movie) spectrum shows we are different people now. We value different things. We will expose these things because we want to have a dialogue in the world about the whole picture…not just the ‘Mount Rushmore picture’ of people who do well.

Alison van Diggelen: So you can contribute that fully faceted perspective?

Chrisann Brennan: Yes, I do feel that.

Alison van Diggelen: You said “I don’t want to paint me as the victim, and Steve as the villain.” Is there an alternate way you’d like to frame it?

Chrisann Brennan: That will continue to evolve. I survived it…I have more than survived it…I survived him…

Alison van Diggelen: And do you feel that is a victory right there?

Chrisann Brennan: I feel it says if you hold onto the truth, it actually starts to amount to something.

Alison van Diggelen: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

Chrisann Brennan: Oh, yeah…but I couldn’t have. When I was living with Steve and he was showing me his poetry, I really wish I’d taken it to heart more deeply.

Alison van Diggelen: Was this his Bob Dylan poetry?

Bite in the Apple - Chrisann Brennan and daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs -- Steve Jobs - from book from PR/author

Chrisann Brennan: Mm hmm. When I grew up enough to be an adult and understand that 17-year-old, I felt oh. There’s just so much. If we had a chance to talk now, it’d be great…

Alison van Diggelen: What would you ask him?

Chrisann Brennan: I think I would just express some kind of love…

Alison van Diggelen: You would tell him you loved him?

Chrisann Brennan: In some form…

Alison van Diggelen: That’s beautiful…

One last question: what do you feel was Steve’s greatest legacy?

Chrisann Brennan:  Yes, he made a technological device that freed people up…but mainly the message is to be who you are. Now a lot of people are running around trying to be like Steve Jobs. They miss the point…it is to individuate enough, to understand what you need to go out and do. He was just a fabulous example of it in so many ways.

Fergus Nicoll: Well that seems, Alison, like an amazingly forgiving person… From what I’ve seen of the movie, this is very much part of the story of the movie. There are some explosive scenes related to this. But it’s always difficult…there have been massive tomes about Steve Jobs, some have been less revelatory than some hoped for, but (Jobs is) a man who appears to tower over Silicon Valley, even in his absence?

Alison van Diggelen: He’s absolutely idolized here and around the world, and in fact a documentary just came out here in the United States: Alex Gibney’s documentary Steve Jobs, the Man in the Machine. Chrisann was interviewed for five hours for that and she talks at length about just how cruel he was to her and yet, she is incredibly forgiving. She has respect for what he’s done, his visionary powers, but she does describe herself as “a modern day Mary Magdalene…Steve saw himself as a Christ figure,” that’s what she wrote to me this week.

Mary Magdalene Christ sculpture by Rodin

Fergus Nicoll: That’s a pretty powerful image…I’m always amazed that we expect the visionary leaders in tech, in industry, in politics to be good guys. Why should that be necessary?

Alison van Diggelen: Well, I think that’s the ideal. What concerns me about the idolization, almost canonization of Steve Jobs, is the fact that young people might think of him as the perfect role model…i.e. the more “jerk-like” they are, the better. And I think that’s a very dangerous role model. I think it’s important that people like Chrisann Brennan speak up to show the contradictions in his life. She wants to get out this universal message about the plight of single mothers and how Steve Jobs made her peripheral, almost invisible and it plays into this bigger question of business attitudes to families and what are our values?

Fergus Nicoll: Alison, who’s the equivalent now…And are there woman poised to achieve such dominance in Silicon Valley?

Alison van Diggelen: The first person who comes to mind is Elon Musk…Females that I would cite are Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg.

And of course there’s Bill Gates. He’s probably going to be canonized for the second half of his career as a philanthropist, not a tech guy.

Fergus Nicoll: There’s a parallel there with Jimmy Carter, the most famous ex-president probably because of what he’s done…and Bill Gates has done the same: an extraordinary first career and then this amazing philanthropic career with his wife Malinda and their many campaigns….

Do you buy that Silicon Valley is a counterpoint to Wall Street (making giving money away popular)?

Alison van Diggelen: I’m delighted to hear that the message is getting out about the generosity of people in Silicon Valley. It’s so easy to point fingers and say that the wealth isn’t being shared. It is, but I’d say, probably not enough.

On the question of behavior of CEOs, there is growing transparency, thanks to social media, 24/7 news coverage. CEOs can’t get away with what they used to. Steve Jobs, if he was doing what he did to Chrisann Brennan today – denying paternity and saying 10% of the (male) US population could be the father of this child – he just wouldn’t get away with that today. The evidence would be there.

Fergus Nicoll: Alison, thanks so much for bringing in the interview for us on the Steve Jobs story.

Alison van Diggelen: My pleasure indeed. Thank you.

Steve Jobs’ First Love: Why The Whole Truth Matters

Steve Jobs’ First Love: Why The Whole Truth Matters

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Chrisann Brennan has been described as the “emotional heart” of Alex Gibney’s new film, Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine. She came to the Fresh Dialogues studio for an intimate conversation about her relationship with Steve Jobs and their child, Lisa Brennan-Jobs. In this video clip, we discuss why, despite being burned by other journalists, she chose to take part in Alex Gibney’s documentary. She also shares her unique perspective on why the whole truth matters. As Andrew Ross Sorkin explores, Steve Jobs can be both hero and villain.

Here’s the transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

Alison van Diggelen: What are you hoping to achieve by contributing so fully in the documentary (Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine)?

Chrisann Brennan: When they first approached me, they said Alex Gibney did not manipulate content and in the spirit of what I intended, he would uphold that. I’ve had a lot of experience, because of Steve, where people…run on their own agenda…but I found that Alex Gibney did uphold what I said.

Alison van Diggelen: What message are you hoping to get over?

Chrisann Brennan: I don’t want to judge Steve because he did what he did, it was fabulous…but I like the fact that the (movie) spectrum shows we are different people now. We value different things. We will expose these things because we want to have a dialogue in the world about the whole picture…not just the ‘Mount Rushmore picture’ of people who do well.

Alison van Diggelen: So you can contribute that fully faceted perspective?

 Chrisann Brennan: Yes, I do feel that.

Alison van Diggelen: You said “I don’t want to paint me as the victim, and Steve as the villain.” Is there an alternate way you’d like to frame it?

Chrisann Brennan: That will continue to evolve. I survived it…I have more than survived it…I survived him…

Alison van Diggelen: And do you feel that is a victory right there?

Chrisann Brennan: I feel it says if you hold onto the truth, it actually starts to amount to something. This was twisted love…we would have done better if we could have.

Alison van Diggelen: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

Chrisann Brennan: Oh, yeah…but I couldn’t have. When I was living with Steve and he was showing me his poetry, I really wish I’d taken it to heart more deeply.

Alison van Diggelen: Was this his Bob Dylan poetry?

Bite in the Apple - Chrisann Brennan and daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs -- Steve Jobs - from book from PR/author

Bite in the Apple – Chrisann Brennan and daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs — Steve Jobs – from book from PR/author

Chrisann Brennan: Mm hmm. When I grew up enough to be an adult and understand that 17-year-old, I felt ohhhh. There’s just so much. If we had a chance to talk now, it’d be great…

Alison van Diggelen: What would you ask him?

Chrisann Brennan: I think I would just express some kind of love…

Alison van Diggelen: You would tell him you loved him?

Chrisann Brennan: In some form…

Alison van Diggelen: That’s beautiful…Now I want to find that passage…(that shows) the side of Steve that is not well known: this goofiness.

Chrisann Brennan: (Reading from her memoir, The Bite in the Apple) Running into the kitchen one day, he took the phone off the hook, pressed the # key and told me he’d just blown up the world! (laughter)

Alison van Diggelen: It’s very powerful…

One last question: what do you feel was Steve’s greatest legacy?

Chrisann Brennan: He showed people how to free themselves up…how to be who they were. Yes, he made a technological device…but mainly the message is to be who you are. Now a lot of people are running around trying to be like Steve Jobs. They miss the point…it is to individuate, to understand what you need to go out and do. He was such a fabulous example of it in so many ways.

Alison van Diggelen: Chrisann Brennan, thank you so much.

***

Read more at Fresh Dialogues about Brennan’s perspective: “I am a modern Mary Magdalene, the truth of who I am was blacked out. Steve fancied himself a Christ figure…” 

Check back soon for more video highlights at Fresh Dialogues:

On the profound gift Steve Jobs gave her when they first met

On their experiments with LSD; and what made him wildly fearful

Oh how he changed from the deeply in love teenager to the ruthless businessman who “lost his humanity.”

On their daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs and how Jobs was “wowed” by her, yet denied paternity for many years

Brennan says the universal message in her book “The Bite In The Apple” is the plight of single mothers and why things need to change

Steve Jobs’ First Love & Her Untold Story

Steve Jobs’ First Love & Her Untold Story

I am a modern Mary Magdalene, the truth of who I am was blacked out. Steve fancied himself a Christ figure, but hated women,  was a delusional contemporary business, religious fundamentalist who spread a culture of reality distortion”, Chrisann Brennan 

Brennan and I recently spent a day together in an intimate conversation about her relationship with Steve Jobs. Her story is the least known part of the Apple saga. I will be sharing video highlights of that remarkable dialogue in the next few days. Meantime, if the name Chrisann Brennan doesn’t ring a bell for you, here’s some background.

Story by Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Who is Chrisann Brennan?

Brennan was Steve Jobs’ first love. They met at Homestead High School, Cupertino when they were 17; and had a tumultuous relationship through their college years and the early days of Apple. In 1978, Brennan told Jobs she was pregnant.  He initially denied paternity, aggressively and forcefully. Despite going to meet his daughter when she was three days old, and helping Brennan choose the name Lisa, it was only after a DNA test that he finally acknowledged, and helped support his daughter and her mother. For many years, Brennan was forced to wait tables and clean houses to keep a roof over their heads. You may remember that Lisa was the name of one of Apple’s first computer products, though for some time, Steve Jobs maintained that it stood for “Local Integrated Software Architecture.”

During our conversation, Brennan describes how she first met Jobs and he gave her the profound lyrics of a Bob Dylan song; their experiments with LSD; and his biggest fears. After a lifetime of reflection, she shares her insights on why she thinks he changed from the painfully shy and goofy teenager who was deeply in love, to the ruthless businessman who “lost his humanity.” Brennan says that the universal message in her book “The Bite In The Apple” is about the plight of single mothers.

“There are so many women who’ve gone through what I’ve gone through…The bite out of the apple, it’s a blame on the feminine, the collective unconscious that we live in. Who cares about a woman and a child? I felt so guilty…he (Jobs) tapped into people’s weakest, deepest self doubt and played on it…made me invisible,” Chrisann Brennan.

Bite in the Apple - Chrisann Brennan and daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs -- Steve Jobs - from book from PR/author

Bite in the Apple – Chrisann Brennan and daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs — Steve Jobs – from book from PR/author

Fear Is Not An Option

Fear Is Not An Option

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Diane von Furstenberg says that the greatest gift she’s ever been given was the lesson that fear is not an option.

With 2015 off to a fearful start in Paris and its impact reverberating globally, especially within Jewish communities, it’s a lesson worth exploring.

I sat down with von Furstenberg, Queen of the Wrap Dress and the DVF brand, and found a down-to-earth woman with a powerful story that resonates far beyond the world of fashion.

As a small child, von Furstenberg learned her lesson in a rather brutal way from her mother, a Holocaust survivor.

“She’d lock me in a closet and wait til I stopped being afraid,” says von Furstenberg.

Her mother experienced atrocities at Auschwitz and her challenging life shaped von Furstenberg’s to this day.

“Fear is not an option is everything: fear of flying, living, confronting the truth…fear of anything,” says von Furstenberg, who has made some courageous choices in her personal and business life, as chronicled in her new book “The Woman I Wanted To Be.”

She recounts the many periods of self doubt and challenges she faced as her career soared then flopped, rose again from the ashes, battled to stay relevant and then triumphed in China and globally, ensuring DVF a place in the design history books. She’s done it all: married (and divorced) a prince, been painted by Andy Warhol, made front page of Newsweek, survived cancer, faced bankruptcy and become a doting grandmother.

In a conversation with Maria Shriver the day before our interview, she urged women to be hard on themselves. I asked her what she meant by that. Although some journalists claim she’s impossible to interview, DVF answered my question directly.

“The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself,” says von Furstenberg. “See yourself for what you really are…for the good and the bad, whatever. Once you have accepted that, then you can also begin to like yourself.”

Along with Tina Brown and Sally Field, von Furstenberg is part of Vital Voices, a network that supports female community and business leaders around the world, both politically and financially.

 

The interview took place at The Foreign Cinema in San Francisco on November 20, 2014. Many thanks to Julian Guthrie and Martin Muller for the invitation.

Check out our archives of Fresh Dialogues interviews with inspiring women like Meryl Streep, Maureen Dowd and Belva Davis.

Susan Sarandon, Will.i.am on Green Design

Susan Sarandon, Will.i.am on Green Design

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Susan Sarandon and Will.i.am shared tributes to Green Design guru Bill McDonough at the Cradle to Cradle Design Innovation Event this month in San Francisco.

“We are a community of change agents,” said Sarandon. “Bringing about the world we want for our children.”

In a video tribute at the Bently Reserve, Will.i.am enthused about healthy design being a human right, and thanked Bill McDonough for inspiring him. “It’s my mission…to create products that after we use them have a new beginning,” said the popular singer songwriter, and quipped, pointing first at himself then at Bill McDonough: “Will.i.am…Bill.i.am.”

The newly crowned “Bill.i.am” came on stage  to great applause and was obviously amused by his tributes. He announced his upcoming book, “The Upcycle” (a tome on upcycling to be released in 2013)  and what he called “his baby,”  a Bill Clinton inspired solution to homelessness in Haiti and beyond.

“What if we could design a house that could be built by children and their parents in a day without tools?” said McDonough, who is well known for his visionary zeal. He showed the audience a model of a simple one room home, made of ‘upcycled’ plastic no doubt. He dreams that these homes could be shipped in flatpacks to earthquake and storm damaged areas, wherever there is a need around the world.

“What if we could do (for building) what Muhammad Yunus did for banking?” said McDonough, alluding to the microfinance guru who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work alleviating poverty in Bangladesh.

Perhaps McDonough has a similar award in mind? He’s won many awards in the green design field (including three Presidential Awards for Sustainable Development and Design), and has taken some criticism, but one thing is for certain, he’s never been short on grand vision. Witness the 6-hour long Monticello Dialogues.

He may yet succeed in taking Cradle to Cradle mainstream and making the world a healthier and greener place. With allies like Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Will.i.am who can doubt him?

Click here to see highlights of Fresh Dialogues exclusive interview with Meryl Streep at the event.

The video was recorded at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Gala, the Bently Reserve, San Francisco on Wednesday November 14, 2012.

 

Meryl Streep: Green Inspiration

Meryl Streep: Green Inspiration

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

The first thing that strikes you about Meryl Streep is her grace and poise. Like a true royal, she glided into the throng of green designers and architects gathered at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Gala in San Francisco this week, completely unruffled by the crush of fans; the flash of cameras and smart phones; and the fierce security guards. Yet instantly, like a chameleon, Streep can switch from serene queen of the movies to cozy confidante.  I found myself standing next to her and shook her hand. As you know, she’s renowned for her authentic accents in every exotic role she’s played, so I asked her, “Can you do a good Scottish accent?” She immediately leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I love the way they say murdererrrr!” Rolling those r’s as only a lass from Scotland – or Meryl Streep – can do. Then she laughed with that infectious burst of effervescence. Now that would make even The Iron Lady melt a wee bit.

But enough trivia. The best part is, I found her later that evening and she agreed to a Fresh Dialogues interview. We had a lively conversation about her green design guru and close friend William McDonough; and why she’s become an activist for the environment. Enjoy her hilarious tribute to McDonough below and check out the highlights of her interview…

Interview highlights

Why should we care for the environment?

We’re all part of the ecosystem. We’re all connected. You can’t go around in a bubble…

On why Bill McDonough inspires her

Unlike so many environmental messages which are negative: “don’t this…don’t that!”  Bill approaches things in a positive, restorative, beneficial way…with a focus on abundance. His mantra is a beautiful thing: “Designing a safe, healthy and delightful world for the love of all children, for all species, for all time.”

He’s a fervent optimist. His cup is never half empty or even half full. It’s always full of water and air. We were both profoundly affected by similar things: Silent Spring (the book by Rachel Carson) and concern for the impact of toxins on children. He’s the consummate multi-tasker. He leaves me breathless.

On the roots of her environmental consciousness

It all goes back to being a mother. That’s the most invested relationship. You pay attention, perhaps for the first time. What is going in your child’s mouth? What’s her environment like? What will the future be?

In 1989 Streep cofounded “Mothers and Others” to raise awareness of toxic pesticides used in food production.

On how playing acclaimed chef, Julia Child influenced her green journey

We need to think about the provenance of our food. Where does it come from? Is it produced locally and with concern for the environment?

During her hilarious speech in San Francisco, Streep praised the work being done by Brad Pitt, William McDonough and Tom Darden through the Make it Right Foundation in New Orleans and beyond. The group began building green-designed houses for low income families displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2008.

Does Streep consider herself a green activist?

In an interview with USA Today, she said, “We are all activists every day that we make a purchase. We vote daily with our credit cards; we demonstrate with our dollars.”

Today Streep helps raise awareness of toxins in food and the environment by supporting the work of the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition and is known to shop at Whole Foods and prefer locally produced goods. Her home in Connecticut is fueled by geothermal power.

The interview took place at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Gala at the Bently Reserve, San Francisco on Wednesday November 14, 2012. The institute also announced a $250,000 Product Innovation Challenge to stimulate eco product designs for the affordable housing market; and the incoporation of its C2C certification as part of the new LEED Building Standards.