Supporting The City Of Joy

Dominique Lapierre is a man who enjoys the good life in St. Tropez on the French Riviera. But each year the best-selling author also gives away half his royalties to help people thousands of miles away, in the slums of Calcutta.

Nearly 15 years ago, he released his best-selling book, The City of Joy. Since then he has given more than $5 million to help cure children with leprosy, to treat tuberculosis and to build schools. And as CBS News Sunday Morning Anchor Charles Osgood reports, half the royalties from his latest book, a memoir called A Thousand Suns, will also be used to improve the living conditions of IndiaÂ's most destitute people.

"I found in this piece of hell on earth, so much joy, so much capacity to share, to hope, to pray, to believe, that I said, 'This place is a city of joy,'" Lapierre says.

"I found thereÂ…the true heroes of our humanity. People who have nothing who are facing all the odds, the absence of water, the absence of all medical help. And yet they are models of humanity," Lapierre says.

Throughout his more-than-40-year career as a journalist, Lapierre has searched for the meaning of humanity. He started as a reporter for Paris Match, and then with Larry Collins, he began writing books that combined journalism and history.

Among them are O Jerusalem, about the founding of the state of Israel, and Or IÂ'll Dress You in Mourning, about the bullfighter El Cordobes, and Is Paris Burning?, an epic book and movie.

"My love is to be able to interview people," he says. "I will never write about the Middle Ages, but about history, which is very much contemporary. So I can still meet the protagonists, whether theyÂ're big, whether theyÂ're small."

Lapierre, the son of a French diplomat, grew up traveling around the world. He spent his teen-age years in New Orleans, and then, on a Fulbright scholarship, he went to Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

The work of Dominique Lapierre
One of his first major coups as a journalist was an interview with Caryl Chessman in 1960. Chessman had been convicted of kidnapping, robbery and sexual assault. He was sentenced to death even though he had not been accused of murder.

When Lapierre met him, Chessman had been on death row in California for 12 years and was the worldÂ's most famous prisoner.

"He ha become the greatest legal expert of California," Lapierre says. "And I was able to see him six times, three hours, in the last two weeks of his life."

"He wouldnÂ't receive American reporters, because they had been instrumental in having him condemned to death," he says. "But he had never been accused of having killed anybody. And yet he was executed."

As a journalist, Lapierre knows that sometimes being in the right place at the right time is what matters. ThatÂ's how he obtained an interview with gangster Lucky Luciano.

"One day as I was walking on an avenue in Naples, at a caféÂ…who do I see? Lucky Luciano," he explains.

"I spent four hours with him. I said to him,...Â'Mr. Luciano, if you had any advice to give today to a young man who would like to follow your traces, what would this advice be?Â'" Lapierre says.

"He looked at me and he said, 'Son, I would tell him that itÂ's much more difficult to earn one dishonest dollar than to earn an honest one,'" Lapierre adds.

And what is this skilled interviewer's secret?

"ItÂ's the power to establish a certain contact, to make people understand that youÂ're never out there to judge them; you are just out there to understand," he says.

Lapierre settled on the French Riviera almost 40 years ago as a fledgling reporter. He bought a modest house and had to promise the owner that he wouldnÂ't cut down the parasol pine on the property. As the parasol pine grew, so did the house.

"With each bestseller, I increased the size of the house," he says. "So here you have the Is Paris Burning dining room."

"There you have the bedroom, which is the O Jerusalem bedroom. And then you have the swimming pool, which is the Freedom at Midnight swimming pool," Lapierre says.

Freedom at Midnight is the story of Mahatma Gandhi and India's struggle for independence. Lapierre's love affair with India began when he was researching the book. He traveled throughout the country in his Silver Cloud Rolls Royce.

When Lapierre and Collins were in India, they were startled to hear that two individuals who had helped plan GandhiÂ's assassination were being released from prison.

"I chased them with Larry all throughout India and we found them," he remembers.

"And one day we said to them, Â'You must come back to New Delhi, the place where Gandhi was murdered. And you must reenact this crime.Â' And to my utter surprise, they accepted," he adds.

Lapierre recorded it on film. In the face of the new millennium, he says that Gandhi is the most important figure of this century.

"My candidate is certainly Mahatma Gandhi," Lapierre says. "Gandhi was one of the greatest politicians of all timeÂ….He really conducted one-fifth of humanity on the roads to freedom preaching love, preaching tolerance, preaching nonviolence."

But Lapierre knows that few people can walk n the footsteps of a Gandhi.

"Unfortunately IÂ'm not as holy as Gandhi," Lapierre says.

Maybe so, yet the house that Lapierre and his wife built, almost from scratch was sold as more money was needed in India. They subsequently moved to a smaller house on the property.

"Knowing that this sale has been able to [help] so many people get cured from tuberculosis, so many children to be cured from leprosy, and all that makes, in a sense, things easier," he explains.

In the new home, the Lapierres work tirelessly raising money for their City of Joy Foundation. And he is also in the process of completing a new book. While he wonÂ't say what it's about, most likely it's about the human condition.

And when confronted with the same question that he asked Luciano decades earlier, to give a young person advice, he has but one thing to say - to a prospective journalist.

"To cultivate curiosity. To be interested in anything. I never thought that there was a bad story. I only thought that we are bad journalists. Everything in this world is fantastic," he says.

And back in that corner of the world he cares so much about, in India, maybe thanks to Lapierre, there are thousands of kids who think it's "fantastic" indeed.