Falcon Heights author highlights life and mysterious death of activist
By David Blomquist
American entertainer and activist Dean Reed wasn't the typical celebrity. He lived most of his adult years in South America and East Germany, speaking out against injustices with a left-leaning perspective. Reed even publicly defended the construction of the Berlin wall, much to the dismay of many Americans who labeled him a traitor.
Reed's unique life caught the eye of Chuck Laszewski, a Falcon Heights resident and former Pioneer Press reporter, in 1978, when Reed showed one of his films at the University of Minnesota. Laszewski said that day sparked a decades-long fascination with Reed, leading Laszewski to write a biography on Reed's life called "Rock 'n' Roll Radical: The Life & Mysterious Death of Dean Reed."
Laszewski didn't attend the event in 1978 at the University, but he read about it in the Minnesota Daily, a newspaper he wrote for at the time.
"I didn't understand why any American would want to go see Dean Reed," Laszewski said.
For eight years, Laszewski kept an eye out for magazine and news stories about Reed, until 1986 when he saw a four paragraph story about Reed's death in the Pioneer Press. Reed was found lifeless, floating in an East German lake. German officials said the death was accidental.
"I didn't believe that for a minute," Laszewski said. "But there was nothing I could do about it at the time."
With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Laszewski renewed his interest in Reed's life and death. He tried to obtain documents about Reed collected by the Stasi, the German secret police under communist rule. Laszewski hit a road block. The government would only release the files to immediate family, scientists and historians.
"In East Germany, everybody was spying on everybody [under Communist rule]," Laszewski said. "If they'd release these Stasi files, there would be fist fights in the streets."
From German to English
With the help of Reed's mother, Laszewski finally obtained the documents - but then he had more than 400 pages of files written in German, a language he couldn't translate.
He asked his former German teacher from Alexander Ramsey High School, Gayle Carlson, if she was interested in translating some of the documents. She said yes.
"I had an interest in it because I knew it would be a challenge and an opportunity to read documents that no one had translated before," she said.
After working off-and-on for about a year, Carlson had translated every page into English.
"It was very hard for me to put down the documents because I wanted to see what was on the next page," Carlson said. "It was almost like reading a novel."
With the Stasi files and U.S. files about Reed obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Laszewski wrote a story about Reed for the Pioneer Press in 1996.
Shortly after the story was printed, Laszewski interviewed Reed's first wife, Patricia Reed Wilson over the phone. Two years later, he interviewed her again at her home in Los Angeles. She had boxes of photographs, news stories and memorabilia of Reed, which she let Laszewski rummage through.
"There was so much stuff it was like a Dean Reed museum," Laszewski said.
At this point, Laszewski said he knew he had enough information about Reed to write a book, and he thought it would make an interesting story.
By 1998, he had written the book and he started to send it to publishers.
"The publishers all told me, 'Nobody knows who he is; we won't be able to sell it,'" Laszewski said. "I put the book away. I figured that was fun, but it's not going anywhere."
Finally, in 2005, after seven years of shopping the book to different publishers, a small publishing company based in Edina, Beaver's Pond Press, agreed to print the book.
"The story was different and unique, and we knew it could take off and be a success," publisher Milt Adams said, who takes pride in giving chances to stories other companies are afraid to publish. "As a former reporter, Chuck is also well qualified and has a great writing style."
Since the book went to press in Oct. 2005, Laszewski has kept himself busy promoting his book.
"You need the author to be able to market their own book," Adams said. "Chuck has that ability to talk before groups and promote his book. Without that, no author is successful. People don't knock on the door and ask for your book. You have to give it to them."
Laszweski said he has had fun promoting the book, but it hasn't been as easy as he expected.
"The problem is I picked someone to write about that nobody's heard of. I'm now finding the publishing companies were right. It can be a problem."
But he is gratified with the positive response he has received from those who have read the book.
"Reed's life story is bigger than life," Laszewski said. "You don't hear stories this good that are true all that often."