I Love Lucy Christmas Special Sweetens the Pot

Too many chocolates, too little time.  Lucy and Ethel tackle "Job Switching."  Photo courtesy CBS.

Too many chocolates, too little time. Lucy and Ethel aim to prove to their husbands that they can make a living in JOB SWITCHING. Photo courtesy CBS.

Even if you’ve never worked on an assembly line, you’ll empathize with Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz, as the two frazzled pals tackle the line in the Job Switching (aka Chocolate Factory) episode of the beloved 1950s’ I Love Lucy CBS-TV series.  This classic episode, now colorized, is paired with the similarly colorized I Love Lucy Christmas Episode, and is set to air on CBS tonight, Sunday, December 7 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT), as part of its annual I Love Lucy Christmas Special.

As an added bonus this year, the I Love Lucy Christmas Special not only piggybacks as holiday fare these two entertaining episodes from the landmark I Love Lucy CBS-TV series, but also includes original, never-before-broadcast footage from Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s costume and make-up tests filmed days before the first episode of the series went into production in 1951.

Rare footage  of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez's 1951 costume and makeup tests round out the 2014  I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL. Photo courtey CBS.

Rare footage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s 1951 costume and make-up tests is featured in the I LOVE LUCY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, circa 2014. Photo courtesy CBS.

As I discussed more extensively in my review of last year’s CBS-TV I Love Lucy Christmas Special http://judithtrojan.com/2013/12/20 I’ve never been a fan of colorization. But the sensible use of color in this case injects a pleasing, modern-day quality to I Love Lucy‘s original black and white episodes without sacrificing the vintage framing music, titles and commercial breaks.

I highly recommend that even the most stubborn foes of colorization continue to give the I Love Lucy Christmas Special a chance, especially since this year it not only reprises the rarely seen 1956 Christmas Episode but debuts the memorably zany 1952 Job Switching (Chocolate Factory) challenge.

The more the merrier in the Ricardo household. Photo courtesy CBS.

The more the merrier on Christmas Eve in the Ricardo household. Photo courtesy CBS.

Originally aired on CBS in December 1956 and thought to be “lost,” The Christmas Episode is a nostalgic Christmas eve visit to the Ricardos’ Manhattan apartment where Lucy and Ricky trim their tree and prep gifts to surprise Little Ricky, their Santa-obsessed five-year-old.

Fred and Ethel join the fun as Lucy and Ricky wistfully recall Lucy’s unexpected pregnancy announcement at Ricky’s club and Ricky, Fred and Ethel’s subsequent foiled effort, months later, to get Lucy to the delivery room on time.  Original black and white flashbacks are intercut from these classic episodes.  The latter, still hilarious after all these years, continues to serve as the classic benchmark for all the memorable, if derivative, sit-com “birthing” episodes that followed.

Finally, in a musical interlude, Lucy’s attempt to sing “Jingle Bells” reminds Ricky and the Mertzes of the time tone-deaf Lucy crashed their barbershop quartet with disastrous results.  A flashback of their sabotaged performance in original black and white is included.

In Job Switching (also known as the Chocolate Factory episode), Lucy raises Ricky’s hackles when she overdraws her checkbook.  In one of her most uproarious efforts to prove to Ricky that she can make a living, Lucy drags Ethel to an employment agency where they nab a gig at a chocolate factory.  After several failed attempts to master their assignments, they land on the assembly line where they’re faced with a boss and conveyor belt from Hell.

Meanwhile, as Lucy and Ethel corral the chocolates, their husbands, Ricky and Fred, take a stab at the housework. Their disastrous cracks at vacuuming, ironing, baking a cake and preparing a dinner of chicken and rice are similarly side-splitting.

While you may never have the seen Job Switching episode in color, you’ll surely remember this fan favorite in its original black and white. It should come as no surprise to learn that Lucy and Ethel’s futile effort to keep up with that speedy chocolate factory conveyor belt was selected in 2013 by the Paley Center for Media (in their “TV’s Funniest of the Funniest” poll) as the funniest TV moment of all time.

Photo courtesy CBS.

Photo courtesy CBS.

The Job Switching (aka Chocolate Factory) episode originally aired on CBS on September 15, 1952.  Now, 62 years later, Lucy’s hair is red, her crisp factory uniform is pink, the chocolates are brown and the Ricardos’ kitchen is a mid-century modern riot of color; and Lucy, Ethel, Ricky and Fred will still make you laugh out loud.

Do yourself a favor and tune in to the I Love Lucy Christmas Special on CBS tonight, Sunday, December 7 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT).  You’ll never take a box of chocolates for granted again.–Judith Trojan

 

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Legendary Costume Designer Profiled on CBS News Sunday Morning

Ann Roth accepts her 1996 Oscar.

Costume designer Ann Roth shares the spotlight with her Oscar for THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Photo © AMPAS.

“We have a uniform…simple, elegant, impeccable. Dress shabbily, they notice the dress.  Dress impeccably, they notice the woman.”–Sigourney Weaver to Melanie Griffith in the 1988 Mike Nichols’ film, Working Girl.

Weaver’s character–high-powered boss Catherine Parker–credits that spin to fashion designer Coco Chanel. But that notion could just as easily fit costume designer Ann Roth‘s body of work.  Her costumes for Working Girl and more than 200 other films, Broadway and regional plays; numerous TV/cable films, operas and ballets reinforce, but never overshadow the work the characters have to do.  A long overdue profile of Ann Roth will be broadcast this Sunday, November 16, during CBS News Sunday Morning‘s weekly telecast (9:00 a.m.-10:30 p.m. ET. After premiere airdate watch at http://www.cbsnews.com/sunday-morning/).  I encourage you not to miss it.

Ann Roth

Ann Roth.

 

I first met Ann Roth 17 years ago.  I was asked to profile her for a lengthy magazine piece. It may sound corny, but it’s true:  she “had me at ‘Hello’.”  I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have met, interviewed and worked with scores of incredibly talented artists, writers and filmmakers during my career as a journalist, publicist and Awards director.  Especially important to me were my associations with authors Brendan Gill, Frank McCourt, Mary Higgins Clark and David McCullough; children’s book editor/publisher Margaret K. McElderry; children’s authors Joan Bauer and Susan Cooper; puppeteer Caroll (Big Bird) Spinney; illustrator Hilary (Eloise) Knight; and the incomparable Fred Rogers; actors Carroll O’Connor and Ruby Dee; musician Judy Collins and dancer Jacques d’Amboise; and film and Mildred Pierce variousTV producers Ken Burns, Ismail Merchant, Al Maysles, Bill Jersey, Perry Miller Adato, Bob Brown and animator John Canemaker. But crossing paths with Ann Roth for the first time, for me, was akin to being struck by a bolt of lightning.

I grew up with dreams of becoming a fashion designer like Coco Chanel and admiring Oscar-winning costume designer Edith Head for her sense of style and chutzpah. I studied art, departed quickly from a post-grad stint at The Fashion Institute of Technology and happily found my proper niche in graduate film school at NYU, where I never remember hearing the words “costume designer.” The first thing I learned when I called Ann Roth to set up our first interview?… It’s best not to mention Edith Head.

“Edith Head dressed movie stars,” Roth told me, punctuating the moment with the deliciously throaty growl she uses to express impatience.  “She didn’t dress the elevator man, the mother-in-law or the secretary. She did the leading lady. I costume characters; I’m not dressing stars.”

The World of Henry Orient posterRoth’s career for stage and screen spans more than five decades. Coincidentally, her first solo film gig landed in one of the secret pleasures of my youth: The World of Henry Orient (1964). I wanted to live the lives of those girls, and I never forgot that mink coat. Roth told me she got it off the back of a truck.

Since then, Ann Roth has costumed every character no matter how minor, down to their nail polish, shoelaces and noses (The Hours).  Her oeuvre defies pigeonholing. There’s Miami Beach drag (The Birdcage); expansive period literary adaptations (The Day of the Locust, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain); social issue-driven classics (Midnight Cowboy, Klute, Silkwood and HBO’s Angels in America); aliens (Signs) and the alienated (Hair); big hair (Working Girl and Mamma Mia!); women in crisis (Doubt, The Reader, HBO’s Mildred Pierce and Margot at the Wedding) and burlesque (The Nance). She has received Academy Award nominations for Places in the Heart (1984), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), The Hours (2002) and The English Patient (1996).  She won her Oscar for the latter.

Nathan Lane in The Nance

Nathan Lane in the 2013 Broadway production of THE NANCE, a Tony Award winner for costume designer Ann Roth.

Roth’s TV and theatrical honors include innumerable Emmy, Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations.  She most recently won Drama Desk and Tony nominations for her inventive, off-the-chart designs for The Book of Mormon and a Tony Award for her glorious period designs for The Nance, starring Nathan Lane, one of Roth’s close friends and, admittedly, her muse.

Among her many industry lifetime achievement honors is a particular favorite, the 2000 Irene Sharaff Award for Lifetime Achievement, from the Theatre Development Fund (TDF), named for her early mentor, the renowned Hollywood and Broadway costume designer.

Roth’s lifelong fascination with all things dramatic, including the lives of the directors, writers and actors she admires, continues to propel her into grueling, overlapping film and theatre assignments, most with repeat talent.  To date, she has worked with her great friend, Mike Nichols, on 18 film and theatre projects.  At this writing, there are three Broadway shows costumed by Roth running on Broadway–The Book of Mormon (also in various venues on the road), This Is Our Youth and A Delicate Balance–and at least one other new play and film in the wings.

Ann Roth's costume sketches for THE BOOK OF MORMON.

Ann Roth’s costume sketches for THE BOOK OF MORMON.

She is also the subject of The Designs of Ann Roth (2014), the latest title in the USITT’s series of monographs on theatrical designers.  And she just turned 83!  I’ll be lucky if I can tie my shoelaces at 83.

To say that I’ve been fortunate to have been able to continue my relationship with her over the years is an understatement.  My time spent with Ann in her studio, the Costume Depot, in New York, and at her bucolic 18th century farm in rural PA, while preparing my original manuscript, are days I will never forget.  And the moments since then when we’ve connected, are precious to me–especially her concern and comforting words when my mom passed away–and very much appreciated given her exhausting work and travel schedule.

Little did I know when I received that fateful phone call from my editor 17 years ago asking me to interview a costume designer (not named Edith Head!) that a window would open for me that would not only turn my preconceived notions about costume design on their ear, but also…and more importantly…bring a feisty and captivating new friend into my life.

Photo:  Paul Schneck.

The way we were… Judith Trojan and Ann Roth, circa 1997. Photo: Paul Schneck.

Extraordinary talent, creative vision and an indomitable spirit got Roth where she wanted to be.  “I always wanted my life to be an adventure,” she told me.

Knowing Ann Roth has been one of my life’s great adventures.  I think you’ll see why when you watch Rita Braver’s interview with Ann Roth, this Sunday, November 16, during CBS News Sunday Morning (9:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. ET)  You can also view it in its entirety after it airs at http://www.cbsnews.com/sunday-morning/ –Judith Trojan

 

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Touching Take on Twin Sisters Debuts on PBS

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Mia Hansen and Alexandra Hauglum join hands in front of photos of their adoptive homelands. Photo: Moment Film.

It’s not every day that you get to see the work of a Norwegian documentary filmmaker on American TV, but tonight I encourage you to jump at the chance to catch the U.S. broadcast premiere of Twin Sisters on Independent Lens (PBS, Monday, October 20, 2014, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET. Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region).

This lovely film by Mona Friis Bertheussen is well worth an hour of your time and will not only touch your heart, but should also tap a special place in your soul no matter what your spiritual beliefs or affiliations.  In 2003, two baby girls were found abandoned in a cardboard box in China. They were separated by Chinese authorities and put up for adoption. The two girls melded into a larger population of orphaned children, and were adopted separately yet simultaneously by an American couple and a Norwegian couple, respectively.

Despite the geographic distance between them, the two couples faced remarkably similar issues and challenges that compelled them to adopt (age, second marriages, infertility). As the legal papers sealing the girls’ respective adoptions were about to be finalized, a twist of fate brought the two couples face to face.

The new moms had incredibly dressed their babies in identical red gingham dresses purchased at different times in different places. It was also impossible not to notice that the baby girls seemed to share the same facial features and birth dates.  But when the couples asked the Chinese authorities the obvious question, albeit nervously, they were assured that the girls were not twins.

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A fateful fleeting touch during the twins’ final days in China. Photo: Moment Film.

Torn between a sense of relief and unease, the girls’ adoptive parents exchanged contact information, took the girls home (Mia to Sacramento, California, and Alexandra to the remote Norwegian village of Fresvik) and raised them in loving homes. Subsequent DNA tests one year later proved that the girls were identical twins.

Twin Sisters follows their progression from infants to pre-teens, via the parents’ honest recollections and girls’ reflections, juxtaposed with profuse home movie footage that begins in China during the final fateful days of their adoption process and ends with the American family’s visit to Norway when the girls were eight. A major focus is on the sweet bonding process that envelopes the girls despite their huge cultural, language and geographic divide.

twin_sisters-press-06

Mia Hansen and Alexandra Hauglum share a quiet, heartfelt moment when they are reunited in Norway. Photo: Moment Film.

Mia has grown up as a protected but socially active girl enjoying all the benefits of an upper middle class lifestyle (soccer, Girl Scouts, sleep overs, violin lessons, lookalike American Girl dolls); while seemingly middle class Alexandra accepted her isolation in her breathtakingly beautiful village where she is safe to roam freely and enjoy her beloved animals and winter sports.  The film is a fascinating, often touching look at how these identical twins come to know and love each other and overcome the barriers that continue to keep them apart.  Although they’ve been raised on opposite sides of the planet and speak different languages, the twins share amazing personal behavior patterns that could only (as American mom Angela confirms) be genetic.

Hopefully, director/producer Mona Friis Bertheussen will be inspired by British director Michael Apted‘s award-winning UP series and continue to follow Mia and Alexandra into their teen, young adult and middle-aged years to see where life takes them.

Although Twin Sisters debuts at a rather late hour tonight on PBS (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET, check local listings for air times in your region), the film should have a long shelf life on DVD as a discussion starter with pre-teen and family audiences (not limited to groups of adoptees) in educational and Asian-American settings.  The spiritual elements of this story should also make this film a great programmer for audiences, ages 10 through 110, in churches and synagogues. Until then, you can join a discussion of the issues faced by adoptees like Mia and Alexandra at http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/twin-sisters/–Judith Trojan

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Bully Bows on PBS

Alex Libby of Sioux City, Iowa, is one of five youngsters featured in BULLY.  Photo: Michael Dwyer.

Alex Libby of Sioux City, Iowa, is one of five youngsters featured in BULLY. Photo: Michael Dwyer.

The statistics are staggering– “more than 13 million American kids will be bullied this year”–but not surprising, given the expanded reach available to perpetrators via social media.  I’m sure it took much soul-searching and courage on the part of the children, their parents and school administrators to agree to be featured in producer/director/cinematographer Lee Hirsch’s 2012 documentary, Bully.  If you haven’t seen this much honored film, you can catch its national PBS debut tonight as the season opener on Independent Lens (Monday, October 13, 2013, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET. Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region).

October is National Bullying Prevention Month; and, in light of the current shocking allegations against seven football players on the Sayreville (NJ) High School football team, tonight’s debut of Bully is a timely broadcast. The 90-minute documentary zeroes in on the brutality and humiliation faced by five bullied young people and the physical and emotional toll that such unrelenting abuse takes long-term on their well-being and that of their families.  Although a major focus falls on the 2009/2010 school year in their respective communities (the film was released theatrically in 2012), director Hirsch and his co-writer and producer Cynthia Lowen also make good use of past and present family home videos to drive home the point that while these kids managed, for the most part, to face each school day with courage and resilience, their torment could suddenly take a tragic turn.

School buses are often the site of brutal bullying.  From BULLY.  Photo:  Michael Dwyer.

School buses are often the site of the most brutal bullying. From BULLY, released theatrically by The Weinstein Company. Photo: Michael Dwyer.

After you see what befell Alex Libby (age 12, Sioux City, IA); Kelby Johnson (age 16, Tuttle, OK); Tyler Long (age 17, Murray County, GA); Ja’Meya Jackson (age 14, Yazoo County, MS); and Ty Smalley (Perkins, OK) in this powerful film, you’ll better understand, with little solace I’m afraid, the climate that incited the brutal offenses perpetrated in Sayreville, NJ.

It’s clear that kids suffer most especially when communication with their parents falls short and where school administrators are ill-equipped to face and deal with the problem of bullying. And while the parents here attempted to do the right thing and work through proper school and law enforcement channels to protect their kids, they were met with ignorance, shocking insensitivity and indifference at every turn.

As a result, several parents turned to community outreach, which is how this film and its supplemental educational materials and partnerships have subsequently been used to help educate at the school and grassroots level and inspire anti-bullying campaigns throughout the country.

For a real eye-opening look at what kids continue to face in school yards, hallways and buses across the country, be sure to watch Bully on Independent Lens tonight on PBS, Monday, October 13, 2014, 10:00 -11:30 p.m. ET (check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region).  And find out what has transpired in the lives of these kids, their families and other anti-bullying activists throughout the country since Bully was filmed and, most importantly, what you can do to make a difference at http://www.thebullyproject.com/ –Judith Trojan 

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Boomer or Bust?

AM BoomerList horizontal key art_FINAL2If you’ve read my blog, you know that I’m a huge fan of American Masters.  The Award-winning series was created and launched on PBS in 1986 by Executive Producer Susan Lacy, who, after decades at PBS/WNET, is now expanding her reach at HBO Documentary Films.  American Masters has consistently trumpeted the work of fascinating creative talent and provided a viable venue for many documentary filmmakers to ply their craft.

Tonight, American Masters premieres a somewhat unorthodox and uncharacteristically lazy addition to its canon with The Boomer List  (Tuesday, September 23, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET. Check local listings for air times in your region). Produced and directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, whose longtime gig as a professional still photographer informs the visual and visceral flavor of this film, The Boomer List aims to celebrate a generational milestone:  2014 marks the year that the youngest members of the Baby Boom generation (1946-1964) turn 50.

Greenfield-Sanders shot 19 notable Baby Boomers (predominantly media stars) who face the camera one by one and tell how their lives and careers were impacted by growing up in post-World War II America.  While roadblocks and watershed political, social and racial movements and events like the Vietnam War, the JFK assassination, feminism, AIDS, new technology, campus and race riots are touched upon in the Boomers’ recollections, their segments are essentially genial, self-promoting career bios that do little to get to the core of what our generation is all about.

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The legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, his wife Eleanor Roosevelt, and his cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, laid the groundwork for the world Baby Boomers were born into. From Ken Burns’ THE ROOSEVELTS: AN INTIMATE HISTORY. Photo courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.

Yes, I’m a Baby Boomer; and fellow Boomers and the generations that came before and after would do better to watch Ken Burns and Geoffrey C. Ward’s brilliant 14-hour The Roosevelts: An Intimate History to understand the hearts and great minds that set the stage on every level for the Baby Boom generation.  And Ken Burns’ upcoming series on the Vietnam War should take us another step closer to understanding the Boomer psyche. (Until then, see my September 14, 2014 post on The Roosevelts: an Intimate History for its continuing screening availability.)

If you can’t manage to hang on during 90 minutes of  The Boomer List’s interminable snapshot profiles, backed nonstop by an annoying music track, you might do better to check out filmmaker/photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ much more suitable incarnation of his film–the coffee table companion book due out from Luxury Press on October 1, and his photo exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., running from September 26, 2014 – June 30, 2015. American Masters: The Boomer List premieres tonight on PBS, Tuesday, September 23, 9-10:30 p.m. Check local listings in your region for air times and repeat broadcasts.

Or better yet, stick around on PBS tonight (Tuesday, September 23, 10:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m., ET. Check local listings.) for Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the acclaimed theatrically released documentary airing immediately after The Boomer List on American Masters.  PBS now has “exclusive broadcast rights” to the 2010 film by co-directors Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, who captured Joan–nips, tucks, warts and all–behind-the-scenes in her 76th year. American Masters is airing Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work as an “In Memoriam” tribute.  The film will stream for a limited time, post-broadcast, at  http://www.pbs.org/americanmasters

American Masters is feting Joan Rivers via the 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

The 2010 documentary, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK, celebrates Joan on the PBS series, AMERICAN MASTERS. Photo courtesy Charles Miller.

Joan Rivers may not have been a Baby Boomer. But she sure knew how to speak to our zeitgeist and make us laugh. She will be sorely missed. –Judith Trojan

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Teddy Toplines Episodes 1-3 of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

 

Theodore Roosevelt  thrived in the spotlight and the crowds loved him.  Photo courtesy Library of Congrress.

Theodore Roosevelt thrived in the spotlight, and the crowds loved him. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’re well aware that the first episode of Ken Burns’ monumental and much-ballyhooed seven-part series, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, debuts tonight on PBS (Sunday, September 14, 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET).  It goes without saying that I encourage you not to miss it.

I guarantee you will be hooked from the start.  You’ll marvel at the masterful way Burns and screenwriter/historian Geoffrey C. Ward interweave the complex biographies of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor and their extended families into the fabric of American history, literally from conception to grave.  And you’ll be gripped by the poignancy of their personal challenges and demons and the remarkable resilience and brilliance that drove this family into social, political and environmental reform at the highest and most noble level.

Their story is Shakespearean, the stuff of high drama, and it’s certainly not an easy one to tell.  After all, there was a Roosevelt in the White House for 19 of the first 45 years of the 20th century. But Ken Burns and his longtime collaborators, including and most especially Geoffrey C. Ward, bring the Roosevelts’ story to life in a way that will engross and inspire you.  Although bred within an insulated patrician New York family, Theodore, Eleanor and Franklin each had a gift for seeing the bigger picture, and a passion for tackling the “new deals” born of a new century: burgeoning industrialization, technology and militarism; human rights, economic and land management challenges; and global expansionism.

Burns fortifies this “web of ties” with his usual lush mix of extraordinary period footage and photos and commentary by subject specialists (Ward is joined by the likes of Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough and George Will, among other equally esteemed historians and Roosevelt scholars). Intimate and revelatory letters, diary entries, excerpts from the Roosevelts’ books and other writings and sensational news clips and political cartoons are read in voice over by noted actors.

TR, FDR and Eleanor are voiced throughout by actors Paul (“John Adams”) GiamattiEdward (“Eleanor and Franklin”) Herrmann and Meryl Streep, respectively.  Their readings are convincing and engaging.  In fact, Ms. Streep captures Eleanor’s voice so pitch perfectly that you’ll think Streep is actually channeling the now deceased stateswoman.

President Theodore Roosevelt's young, rambunctious family  energized the staid White House and  captured the hearts of Americans.  Photo courtesy Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.

President Theodore Roosevelt’s young, rambunctious family energized the staid White House and captured the hearts of Americans. Photo courtesy Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site.

Episode 1: Get Action (1858-1901), Episode 2: In the Arena (1901- 1910) and Episode 3: The Fire of Life (1910-1919), airing Sunday (9/14), Monday (9/15) and Tuesday (9/16), respectively, do not disappoint as they set the stage and flesh out the back story of the New York Roosevelt family tree (FDR was TR’s fifth cousin by birth and nephew by marriage; Eleanor was TR’s niece).  Eleanor’s marriage to FDR united, at least on paper, the Republican and Democratic branches of the Roosevelt family.

FDR and Eleanor’s early years, talents and travails and subsequent courtship and marriage dance around the predominant subject of the first three episodes: Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919).  A remarkable intellect, naturalist, adventurer, reader, writer, politician and media darling, he met the new century and rose to political power with unbridled chutzpah.

Theodore Roosevelt in his new buckskin suit, circa 1885.  Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Theodore Roosevelt in his new buckskin suit, circa 1885. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

TR’s life was made for the big screen before the big screen existed.  He was not expected to survive his early fragile start in life.  His exuberant adventures, international exploits and political and social reforms, contrast with his touching love for his wives and children evoked throughout his beautifully written prose and letters.  Although he was likened to a kid in a candy store or a bull in a china shop, he apparently did sit still long enough to read several books a day, write and publish critically acclaimed books and some 150,000 letters. He was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize; he kept talking for one full hour after he’d been shot by a would-be assassin at a political rally; and, flattened by a 104-degree fever,  he survived an Amazon expedition decimated by fire ants and cannibals.

TR knew how to play the media and when he got its attention, he corralled it long enough to win votes and the hearts and minds of  the American public.  When he made mistakes, they were, like everything else he did…big mistakes. He worked his way up the political ladder on his own terms, yet he seemed to be a remarkable mediator between disparate factions, both at home and abroad.

Theodore Roosevelt circa 1903.  Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

TR’s story unfolds in Episodes 1-3 of The Roosevelts like a great piece of adventure fiction. I was touched and saddened when he stepped away from his bully pulpit and died peacefully in his sleep at age 60.  I also couldn’t help but wonder how TR would’ve fared today.  Given TR’s versatility, intelligence and joie de vivre  and the heady challenges in uncharted territory that he faced at the dawn of the 20th century, it’s hard not to imagine that he would have fit in and flourished today.  As one police captain said upon TR’s passing:  “Oh, there was such fun in being led by him.”  What a pleasure that must have been!  And, oh, how we could use some of that “fun” today. –Judith Trojan

To be continued…

The first episode of The Roosevelts: An Intimate History premieres tonight, Sunday, September 14, on PBS, from 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., ET, and runs for seven consecutive nights. In addition, each episode will be repeated from 10:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m., ET, each night and will have a weekend, daytime marathon September 20 and 21.  An additional repeat is planned in Spring 2015.  Check local listings in your region for premiere and repeat broadcast times.  Beginning on Monday, September 15, the entire 14 hours will be available online to stream through PBS stations’ video sites, pbs.org/theroosevelts, and PBS station branded digital platforms, including ROKU, Apple TV and Xbox, and will be available for two weeks, through September 29, 2014.  DVDs and Blu-ray are earmarked for September 16.–JT

 

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Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning Debuts on PBS

Dorothea Lange in 1937.  Photo courtesy Rondal Partridge Archives.

Dorothea Lange circa 1937. Photo courtesy Rondal Partridge Archives.

If you’ve ever doubted the important role played by artists as catalysts for social change, I suggest you tune in to American Masters on PBS tonight  (9 p.m.- 11 p.m. ET, check local listings for air times in your region) and catch Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning.

This powerful and intimate look back at the life’s work of legendary documentary photographer Dorothea Lange will, by turns, enlighten you and break your heart.  Directed and narrated by Dyanna Taylor, the granddaughter of Dorothea Lange and social scientist/economist Paul Schuster Taylor, Grab a Hunk of Lightning is the realization of Dyanna’s extensive research and lifelong dream to tell her grandparents’ story.

Dorothea Lange's haunting portrait of a  Depression-era MIGRANT MOTHER, is just one of many Lange photographs that powerfully capture the desperation of poverty in America, circa 1936.  Photo: Dorothea Lange.

Dorothea Lange’s haunting portrait of a Depression-era MIGRANT MOTHER, is just one of many Lange photographs that powerfully capture the desperation of poverty in America. Photo: Dorothea Lange © 1936.

Many of us are familiar with Dorothea Lange’s iconic photos documenting the bread lines and weary unemployed during the Great Depression and the migration of destitute farm families fleeing the Dust Bowl. Yet, there are other photos of consequence to take into account, including her beautifully serene early Bay Area society portraiture, her Hopi Indian studies in the Southwest, and her heart-wrenching post-Pearl Harbor photos of Japanese-Americans stoically facing relocation to internment camps on the West Coast.

To see Lange’s photos reproduced beautifully in the telling of her life story will certainly be a revelation for students of her oeuvre.  But, for the rest of us, her work serves as a reminder of the struggles, resilience and hope that drove Americans to survive the worst of times. It puts many of our current Recession-era woes and ongoing economic challenges in perspective.

Born in 1895, Dorothea Lange grew up in Hoboken, NJ; but she found her destiny on the West Coast. Abandoned by her father and crippled by polio at age seven, she nevertheless dreamt of a career as a photographer even before she owned a camera.  A resourceful young woman, she eventually turned a trip to San Francisco that left her penniless thanks to a pickpocket into a mission to build her own business in the Bay Area as a portrait photographer.

Through the influence of the two men she subsequently married–the noted painter/illustrator of  Native Americans and cowboys of the Southwest, Maynard Dixon, and social scientist/economist Paul Taylor–she realized her best focus as a photographer.  While her journey to this end was fulfilling, her children and step-children often became collateral damage as she juggled the responsibilities of motherhood with her gruelling photographic journeys with her husbands and assignments for F.D.R.’s Farm Security Administration (FSA).

Dorothea Lange's granddaughter, Dyanna, grew up to become an award-winning cinematographer and the chronicler of her grandmother's life story. Photo:  Dorothea Lange © 1961.

Dorothea Lange’s granddaughter, Dyanna, grew up to become an award-winning cinematographer and the chronicler of her grandmother’s life story. Photo: Dorothea Lange © 1961.

Filmmaker and granddaughter Dyanna Taylor brings a lifetime of never-before-seen family footage and audio to this project, as well as the exquisite reproduction and incorporation of Lange’s photos and accompanying journal entries.

A highlight here is the wonderfully intimate black-and-white footage of Lange as she prepared for her ground-breaking, 1966 one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Despite suffering with a debilitating illness that would soon take her life, she meticulously sifted through her massive stash of negatives and conferred with her young assistant and with MoMA Photography Curator John Szarkowski. Her anecdotes and analysis of her work during that process are priceless and will insure the film’s evergreen status in all future studies of Lange’s photographs.

Japanese-Americans were tagged en route to internment camps in 1942.  Photo: Dorothea Lange © 1942.

Japanese-Americans were uprooted and shamefully tagged en route to internment camps after Pearl Harbor. Photo: Dorothea Lange © 1942.

Additional commentary comes throughout from that young (now white-haired) assistant, Richard Conrad, as well as former colleagues and friends, historians, her middle-aged children and step-children and, most especially, from Dyanna, who remembers how her grandmother challenged and changed her childhood perception of the world around her. That Dyanna grew up to be a Peabody and five-time Emmy Award-winning cinematographer is no accident.

This is a long film; but it is rich with images and recollections of life in early and mid-20th century America that, thanks to the resilience and talent of Dorothea Lange, we will never be allowed to forget.

Relevant also are her challenges as a woman plying her craft in a man’s world, as an artist whose childhood bout with polio made her adept at becoming an invisible and sensitive chronicler of the down-and-out, and as a working mother who so lost herself in her work that she alienated her children, yet won them back in the end.

While her catalytic first marriage to Maynard Dixon pointed her photography in a new direction, it was her longtime marriage to Paul Taylor that gave purpose to her artistic vision.  Dorothea Lange was of her time (May 26, 1895-October 11, 1965), yet her drive, her images and her values remain relevant today. –Judith Trojan

Dorothea Lange in her San Francisco Bay area home studio in 1964.  Photo courtesy Rondal Partridge Archives.

Dorothea Lange in her San Francisco Bay area home studio in 1964. Photo courtesy Rondal Partridge Archives.

American Masters–Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning debuts tonight, Friday, August 29, on PBS (9:00 – 11 p.m. ET). Check local listings for premiere and repeat broadcasts in your area.  The film will be out on DVD on October 21, 2014, from PBS Distribution. Its companion book, Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning (Chronicle Books) by Elizabeth Partridge, is currently available.

 

 

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