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San Francisco’s Barbary Coast is explored on KQED

Barbary Coast Trail MedallionBecoming an instant metropolis in 1849, it did not take long for San  Francisco to develop a rich history and  unique identity. Some of the  city’s more colorful roots are explored Tuesday evening at 9:30 pm when KQED  presents the 2008 documentary, “Sin, Fire & Gold! The Days of San  Francisco’s Barbary Coast.” Hosted by Greg Sherwood and featuring historian  Daniel Bacon, viewers are taken on a walking tour of the notorious Barbary Coast  district of San Francisco. The 3.8 mile journey, from the Old U.S. Mint to what  is now Aquatic Park, is filled with locations that have amazing stories much of  which has been forgotten, except, fortunately, by Mr. Bacon.

The original Barbary Coast district of San Francisco consisted of the nine  blocks bounded by Montgomery Street, Washington Street, Stockton Street and  Broadway. As fortune hunters from all over the world poured through San  Francisco on their way to the gold fields, the city grew to more than 20,000  inhabitants. Since the population consisted largely of sailors, miners and  sojourners, and almost all of them male, it figured that a section of town would  dedicate itself to the entertainment needs of its dwellers. By 1860, the Barbary  Coast hosted the majority of the town’s bars, prostitutes, pickpockets, pimps  and con men. Although San Francisco’s Barbary Coast became stuck with an  unsavory reputation, it actually reflected what was a vastly corrupt city  government, and it wasn’t until 1917 that the final vestiges of the area were  cleaned up.

Tuesday night’s 90 minute program is an outgrowth of Daniel Bacon’s book,  Walking On San Francisco’s Barbary Coast Trail, which traces the history of this  infamous part of San Francisco, and serves as a guide for those wishing to  explore it on their own. The “Barbary Coast Trail” is marked by 170 bronze  medallions embedded in the sidewalk, and highlighted by 20 historical sites and  five museums.

Dolley Madison profiled on ‘American Experience’

Dolley MadisonAlthough James Madison is our fourth U.S. President, many consider his wife,  Dolley Madison (1768-1849) as America’s first First Lady. Dolley’s remarkable  story is recalled on Monday, March 1st, when PBS presents “American Experience:  Dolley Madison” at 9 pm. This 60 minute documentary is narrated by David Ogden  Stiers, and includes interviews with several historians and a distinguished cast  of actors recreating the life and times of Dolley Madison (portrayed by Eve  Best).

A widow living in Philadelphia in 1794, Dolley Payne Todd was introduced to  43 year- old bachelor James Madison by Aaron Burr. Dolley married Madison after  a four-month courtship. Dolley accompanied him to his Virginia estate in 1797  when Madison retired from politics. In 1801, James Madison returned to  government, appointed by newly-elected President Thomas Jefferson to be his  Secretary of State. Jefferson, a widower, came to rely on Madison’s wife Dolley  to serve as hostess in the recently completed White House where she was  instrumental in developing it’s early décor. Upon James Madison’s victory in the  1808 presidential election, Dolley officially became First Lady on March 4th,  1809, hosting the first Inaugural Ball later that same day. Mrs. Madison was  soon a power player in Washington society, presiding over weekly parties,  organizing charity drives, and setting female fashion trends. But her defining  moment came during the War of 1812. On August 24th, 1814, as British troops were  advancing on Washington D.C., Dolley oversaw the evacuation of the White House’s  valuables, remembering to save a certain portrait of George Washington. After  the war, with much of Washington in ruins, there was talk of abandoning the city  and restoring Philadelphia as the nation’s seat of government. James and Dolley  Madison set up a temporary “White House” at Washington’s Octagon House, and by  continuing to conduct business as usual, Dolley was instrumental in helping  Washington D.C. remain the U.S. capital.

Leaving the White House in 1817, Dolley remained a significant figure in  Washington society for the rest of her life, and was celebrated, not just for  her accomplishments, but as one of the last links to the early days of the U.S.  government. At the time of her death in 1849, she could boast of being friends  with all 12 U.S. Presidents. Her lasting legacy is her contribution in defining  the role of the First lady, and making it a crucial element of the American  presidency.

Note: “American Experience: Dolley Madison” will air in the S.F. Bay Area on  KQED 9, on Wednesday, March 31st at 10 pm.


‘World War II in HD’ airs on The History Channel

Attack on Pearl HarborAlthough it took America’s armed forces four years to bring World War II to  a successful conclusion, viewers can experience World War II in a single day  when The History Channel airs all ten one-hour episodes of its mini-series “World War II in HD,” on Saturday, February 27th, starting at 1 pm. World War II  has been the subject of countless documentaries, but “World War II in HD” gives  it a fresh new look, using immersive high definition color and utilizing film  culled from thousands of hours of footage taken from historical archives and  private collections. The series, originally shown in November, 2009, is narrated  by Gary Sinese.

Accompanying the visual images of World War II are the true experiences of a  dozen different solders, whose diaries and war journals tell their personal war  stories. As the war’s larger events are chronicled, we’re introduced to  individuals such as an army nurse who served in the North African campaign  through to the liberation of the concentration camps, a young African American  man who became a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, and the son of Japanese  immigrants who ended up captured and imprisoned in Europe. The writings of these  12 veterans are brought to life by the voices of several Hollywood  personalities, including LL Cool J, Rob Lowe, Amy Smart and Rob Corddry.

The ten hours of “World War II in HD” moves from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima,  covers the European and Pacific theaters, and chronicles the major battles at  both land and sea. But the real star of this documentary is the color film,  which illuminates the wartime landscape, and makes World War II come alive like  never before. If nothing else, the footage gives viewers a much better  understanding of what kind of conditions U.S. soldiers had to live through day  after day…they were called “The Greatest Generation” for a  reason.

‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ airs on Turner Classic Movies

John Wayne and James Stewart in 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'Although four-time Academy Award winning director John Ford spent much of  his career glorifying the American West, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” shows he was more than willing to try a completely different approach. The 1962  film, airing Thursday, February 25th at 7 pm on Turner Classic Movies, is a  pessimistic but insightful look at the conflict between fact and legend, truth  and myth. John Wayne, James Stewart, Lee Marvin and Vera Miles head up a superb  cast

“Liberty Valance” begins with the arrival of an aging U.S. Senator, Ransom  Stoddard (Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Miles) in the former frontier town of  Shinbone to attend the funeral of an old friend, Tom Doniphon (Wayne). A  reporter is curious as to why a man of Stoddard’s stature would come all the way  from Washington to pay his respects to a man as obscure as Doniphon. Stoddard’s  story is then told in flashback. Heading west as a young attorney, Ransom  Stoddard is robbed and beaten by outlaws outside the rustic town of Shinbone.  Discovered by a local rancher, Tom Doniphon, Stoddard is taken into town and  nursed back to health by Hallie, a woman considered to be Doniphon’s girl.  Stoddard soon learns that his assailant was Liberty Valance(Marvin), a bullying  gunman who, in the absence of any effective resistance, does pretty much what he  pleases in Shinbone. It becomes Stoddard’s mission to bring law and order to  Shinbone, although Doniphin is skeptical it can be done without the use of guns.  Stoddard’s attempts to civilize Shinbone constantly puts him in Valance’s path,  until Stoddard is finally forced into a gunfight with the outlaw. Shockingly,  it’s Valance who is cut down, and his demise sets off a chain of events that  result in Ransom Stoddard becoming an instant hero, while Doniphon heads toward  a steady decline. When Stoddard reveals the real truth behind Valance’s  shooting, the reporter declines to use the story, explaining, “when legend  becomes fact, print the legend.”

The many solid performances delivered in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” more than offset the fact that the film was not an extravagant production. Most  of “Liberty Valance” was shot in black and white on a Paramount Studio  soundstage, and the picturesque landscapes associated with most John Ford  westerns were nowhere in evidence. Despite the low budget, the movie was a great  success, due to the quality of the story, and the box office appeal of it’s two  biggest stars, John Wayne and James Stewart.

Two additional notes: “Liberty Valance” is the film where John Wayne’s  character uses the term “Pilgrim” which he calls Stewart’s character 23 times.  Also, Gene Pitney’s recording of the song, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” was not used in the movie.


Amelia Earhart profiled on “American Experience”

Amelia Earhart - Oakland to Honolulu flightIt’s unfortunate that Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) is best remembered for the  mystery surrounding her final ill-fated flight, because she lived an  extraordinary life, full of accomplishment.. On Monday, February 22nd at 9:00  pm, PBS examines the story of America’s most celebrated female aviator on “American Experience: Amelia Earhart.” The 2009 documentary is written and  directed by Nancy Porter, and narrated by Academy Award winning actress Kathy  Bates.

While attending an air show in 1920, 23 year-old Amelia paid five dollars  for a ride on a biplane, an experience that convinced her that she had found her  life’s passion. Earhart started taking flying lessons at a Los Angeles airfield  and, after gaining her pilots license in December of 1921, worked a wide variety  of jobs to raise the funds to purchase her first plane, “The Canary.” She first  attracted national attention in 1928 when she was selected by publicist George  Putnam to join a crew on a cross Atlantic flight as a passenger, probably chosen  as much for her all-American looks and persona as for her experience as a flyer.  The success of the flight made Amelia world renown as the “first woman to fly  the Atlantic,” and Putnam, who became her manager as well as her husband,  promoted her as the “Lady Lindy,” an inevitable comparison to Charles Lindberg.  In May of 1932, Earhart completed her own solo Atlantic crossing, flying from  Newfoundland to Ireland, the first female to do so.

The next five years were busy ones for Amelia, as she became a popular  lecturer, a writer of books, and a avid advocate for commercial air travel while  continuing to set flying records, and aviation firsts, including a Oakland to  Honolulu solo trip that set a mark for speed. Throughout the middle 1930’s  Earhart was a familiar figure to movie-goers, as her photogenic looks and  engaging personality made her a favorite of the newsreels of the day. In 1937,  she embarked on her greatest challenge, attempting to fly around the world at  the equator, starting her west to east journey from Florida. Earhart, along with  her navigator Fred Noonan, completed 22,000 of the 29,000 mile journey, making  it to New Guinea, but on July 2, 1937, all radio contact with the pair was lost,  and Amelia Earhart was gone without a trace.

To this day, questions, speculations and even some urban legends continue to  surround Earhart’s disappearance, and although the real truth of her fate may  never be learned, her legacy as a promoter of commercial aviation and the  advancement of women is a lasting one.

‘2001: A Space Odyssey” presented on Turner Classic Movies

______________________________Although it’s been 42 years since it’s release, “2001: A Space Odyssey” still evokes a both a sense of awe and curiosity, as moviegoers continue to  speculate over the film’s meaning, as well as what is actually being  depicted on the screen. Bay Area viewers can see the 1968 science fiction  classic on Turner Classic Movies Saturday, February 20th at 12:15 pm. It was  director and co-screenwriter (along with Arthur Clarke) Stanley Kubrick’s  intention to provide a story that allowed audiences to decide for themselves  what they had just seen. Kubrick achieved this  by using visual effects, a  now legendary musical score and very little dialogue.

“2001: A Space Odyssey,” starring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, begins at  the dawn of civilization, where a herd of apes, after being in the presence of a  mysterious black monolith, experience a sudden advancement in their thinking and  reasoning abilities, and soon dominate their surroundings. The story then moves  to the year 2001, where scientists, working at a space station on the Moon, have  uncovered another black monolith that when exposed to the Sun, gives off an ear  shattering signal. Eighteen months later, a crew of five scientists are sent to  the planet Jupiter, unaware of the true nature of their mission, accompanied by  the film’s most celebrated character, a computer called HAL 9000. Hal’s ability  to speak makes him seem like the crew’s sixth member, and so it becomes quite  unsettling when it’s determined that Hal is either malfunctioning or has  his/it’s own devious agenda.

Despite four Academy Award nominations, including a win for Best Visual  Effects, “2001: A Space Odyssey” received mixed reviews upon it’s initial  release. Eventually, much of the public came to appreciate the unique qualities  of the film, and it’s willingness to address many philosophical questions, such  as evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and extraterrestrial life. In  1998, the American Film Institute’s “100 Years, 100 Movies” listed “2001: A  Space Odyssey” as the 22nd all time film, while in 2003, HAL 9000 was named the  13th greatest screen villain. One of the film’s greatest attributes is that it  doesn’t appear dated, more than forty years after it was made and nine years  after the film’s setting of 2001.


‘Blazing Saddles’ rides again on AMC

Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little in 'Blazing Saddles'The first few minutes of “Blazing Saddles” play out very much like a  conventional western. The film’s opening scene reveals a picturesque landscape,  which depicts an 1870’s railroad under construction, accompanied by the movie’s  stirring theme song, performed by Frankie Laine. But when a group of African  American laborers, commanded by their white foreman to sing, break into a highly  choreographed rendition of “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “Blazing Saddles” is off  and running in the opposite direction of any traditional cowboy flick. The 1974  Mel Brooks directed comedy, presented on AMC, Tuesday, February 16th at 6 pm  pst, stars Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Harvey Korman, plus,  Brooks himself, playing both a slightly nutty Governor, and a wise, benevolent,  and somehow unmistakably Jewish Indian chief.

“Blazing Saddles” uses the familiar plot of an unscrupulous businessman,  Hedly Lamarr (Korman), trying to acquire land that will soon become valuable due  to the coming railroad. On that land stands the town of Rockridge, so Lamarr  arranges the appointment of an African American sheriff, hoping this action will  outrage the citizens enough to encourage them to either move away, or lynch the  sheriff prompting government intervention. When Sheriff Bart is able to win the  town’s loyalty, Lamarr raises an outlaw army, figuring to take the town by  force. Film buffs will easily recognize some of the classic movies that are  parodied throughout “Blazing Saddles,” such as “High Noon” and “Once Upon A Time  In The West,” while Madeline Kahn’s “Lili Von Shtupp” is obviously inspired by  Marlene Dietrich’s character in “Destry Rides Again.”

Mel Brooks was by no means the first to spoof the Hollywood western. Laurel  and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Bob Hope and Jack Benny all took their turns  putting on cowboy hats for comic effect. But “Blazing Saddles” went much  further, using surrealism, some adult language and content, plus a constant  breaking down of the “fourth wall”. The film also is somewhat ground breaking as  the first western that deals with the issue of what usually happens after  several men are through eating beans. Although Brooks had to battle with studio  bosses and censors to keep his vision of “Blazing Saddles” intact, the film  ended up with three Academy Award nominations, and became only the tenth movie  as of that time to gross over $100 million dollars.

Note: Richard Prior was among the several writers who contributed to the  screenplay.


PBS airs ‘The Kennedys’

The Kennedy Family in Hyannis Port (1948)The 2009 death of Edward Kennedy was not so much the conclusion of a  remarkable 47 year career in the Senate, as it was the end of a chapter to a  story that goes back over 100 years. Monday, February 15th, PBS will re-air “American Experience : The Kennedys,” a three hour presentation to begin at 9  pm. First shown in 1992, this portrait of America’s most celebrated political  families provides great insight into how the Kennedys captured the imagination  of an entire country for several generations. “The Kennedys” utilizes film  archives, newsreel footage and private Kennedy home movies to help tell the  saga, as well using taped interviews with over 60 family members, personal  friends, historians, as well as political allies and adversaries. Actor Stacy  Keach provides the narration.

It was Joseph  Kennedy, born in 1888, who put into place the foundation of what would  eventually amount to a political dynasty. Joe Kennedy married Rose Fitzgerald in 1914, and started a family of nine  children in Brookline, Massachusetts. Kennedy rose in wealth and power,  conquering both Hollywood and Wall Street. Turning to politics in the late  1930’s, Joseph Kennedy began to dream of eventually becoming the first Roman  Catholic President, and that goal seemed within reach when he was appointed by  Franklin Roosevelt as the ambassador the Court of St James in 1938. Newsreel  footage of the day reflects Joseph Kennedy’s popularity, no doubt enhanced by  his large and rambunctious family. Unfortunately, his public relations savvy  abandoned him when he commented to a reporter, at the outset of World War II,  that democracy might be over in Great Britain. This isolationist view put him  out of step with the Roosevelt administration’s strong anti-fascist stance and  when the remarks were publicized, Joseph Kennedy’s political future was  over.

His presidential dreams shattered, Joseph Kennedy tried to live his ambition  through his sons, concentrating his efforts on second oldest son John after the  1942 death of the eldest, Joe Jr., who was killed while flying on a secret  mission for the U.S. Navy. With father Joe pulling the strings, John F. Kennedy  enjoyed one political success after another, culminating in his election in 1960  as the country’s 35th President. However, despite their father’s influence, the “The Kennedys” demonstrates that John F. Kennedy, (as well as brothers Robert  and Edward) had a mind of his own, and each brother carved out his own political  identity.

Although much of the Kennedy story, including the assassinations of both  John and Robert, is already well known to most Americans, this PBS documentary  goes well beyond familiar territory, giving us fresh perspective to a subject we  only thought we knew.


Jimmy Stewart profiled on KQED PBS

Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in 'It's a Wonderful Life'In the history of motion pictures it would be difficult to find any actor  more beloved by screen audiences, or an actor with a more impressive a body of  work, than Jimmy  Stewart (1908-1997). Jimmy Stewart is the subject of the 90 minute film, “James Stewart: A Wonderful Life,” that airs Friday, February 12th at 8:30pm on KQED 9. This  documentary was produced in 1987, and although several of the Hollywood notables  who appear in this tribute are, like Stewart himself, now deceased, this still  holds up as an excellent retrospective of the great star’s career. Johnny Carson serves as the program’s host, and included are  interviews with Carol Burnett, Clint Eastwood, Katharine Hepburn and Ronald  Reagan, as well as many film clips showing highlights from a 55 year movie  career.

After a moderately successful stage career in New York , Jimmy Stewart, at  the urging of fellow actor and best friend Henry Fonda, agreed to a screen test,  which earned him a spot as an MGM contract player in 1935. In 1938, Stewart  caught the eye of director Frank Capra, who saw in Stewart the everyman quality that  eventually would make him a screen legend. Capra used Stewart in “You Can’t Take  It With You” (1938) and again the following year in “Mr. Smith Goes To  Washington” (1939), which earned Stewart his first of five Best Actor Academy  Award nominations. In 1941, Jimmy Stewart won the Oscar for his role in “The  Philadelphia Story”(1940), beating out his old buddy Henry Fonda, who was  nominated for “Grapes Of Wrath.” Drafted in 1940, Stewart was originally turned  down by the military for being too light for a man of his height (6’4), but,  undeterred, he ate his way to the necessary weight, and entered the army in  March of 1941, the first major star to join the armed services in World war II.  Stewart flew as a member of the 445th Bombardment Group in several missions over Nazi-occupied  Europe , and was awarded numerous awards and medals, eventually rising to  Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve.

After a five year absence, Jimmy Stewart returned to the screen under the  direction of Frank Capra in one of his greatest roles, starring in the memorable “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946). Although nominated for an Academy Award for Best  Picture, the picture was not as popular as it would become in later years, where  it became classic film and a holiday favorite. Stewart’s performance as George  Bailey might be considered his signature work, if not for the many other  memorable parts he played throughout his career, including Elwood P. Dowd, his  role in “Harvey ” (1950).  During the 1950’s, Stewart showed his  versatility by staring in several westerns, teaming with director Anthony Mann  in such films as “Winchester ‘73” (1950), “Bend In The River” (1952), and “The  Man From Laramie”(1955). Also notable were the Alfred Hitchcock directed  classics “Rear Window”(1954), “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956), and “Vertigo”(1958).

Jimmy Stewart would continue to entertain audiences well into the 1970’s,  and in 1985, was presented an Academy Honorary Award. His legacy to films is  that of portraying common men, who, when necessary, can achieve extraordinary  things. It might be said that, while John Wayne was who we would like to be,  James Stewart was who we hoped we actually were.


Willie Mays interview on MLB Network

Willie MaysIf you always thought watching Willie Mays was a treat, then the upcoming Bob Costas interview with the “Say Hey Kid” should feel like  a full course meal. Mays sits down with Costas in a special two hour addition of “Studio 42” airing on Tuesday, February 9th, at 8pm pst on the MLB Network. The 78 year old Hall Of Fame centerfielder will  discuss his lengthy career in baseball, his legacy, and his personal take on  other baseball legends, such as Joe Dimaggio, and Mickey Mantle, plus, his thoughts on godson, Barry Bonds. The special will also include filmed footage  chronicling Willie’s 22 seasons in the majors.

Willie Mays was among the first generation of African American ballplayers  to come to the major leagues in the wake of Jackie Robinson, joining the New York Giants in 1951. After  being voted Rookie Of The Year, Mays entered the military in 1952, returning to  the Giants for the 1954 season, where he earned his first National League MVP  award, while leading the Giants to a pennant. It was in the 1954 World Series  that Willie made the most famous defensive play in Series history, making a  spectacular catch in the deepest part of the Polo Grounds outfield, robbing Cleveland Indians slugger Vic  Wertz of a game changing extra base hit, helping the Giants gain a four game  sweep of the Series. By the mid-fifties, Mays had established himself as  baseball’s most exciting and complete player. In 1958, the Giants moved to San  Francisco, and, within a few years, surrounded Willie with enough talent to  become perennial contenders in the National League. With the help of future Hall  Of Fame teammates Orlando  Cepeda, Willie  McCovey and Juan  Marichal, Mays’ Giants captured the 1962 pennant, and only barely missed a  World Series win. By the time Willie Mays won his second MVP award in 1965, he  had pretty much done it all in baseball, and spent much of the rest of his  career achieving milestones, such as hitting his 600th career home run in 1969,  and his 3000th hit in 1970. After being dealt to the Mets in 1972, Mays called  it quits the following year, his home run total finishing at 660.

Although Willie Mays compiled incredible career numbers and collected  numerous home run titles and All-Star Game starts, a mere reading of his  accomplishments does not do him justice. Just as it’s nearly impossible to  verbally describe the Grand Canyon or the Taj Mahal, the same could be same for  Mays. Those who were lucky enough to see Mays in his prime could understand  exactly what the late San Francisco sports writer Bob Stevens meant when, describing a triple Willie hit  during an All-Star Game, simply wrote, “the only man who could have caught it,  hit it”.

Mays’ has announced that he will use proceeds from his upcoming book, “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend” to benefit his numerous charitable  organizations.