American Masters A series examining the lives, works, and creative processes of outstanding artists. Fri, 21 Nov 2014 16:11:04 +0000 en hourly 1 Mike Nichols: Mike Nichols on Theater, Film and Not Giving Up: An In Memoriam Tribute Fri, 21 Nov 2014 15:54:08 +0000 knightc View full post to see video)
In this web-exclusive outtake from American Masters: Inventing David Geffen (2012), Mike Nichols speaks about the ability to not give up and refers to those such as Geffen, who started his career in a mailroom.

Celebrated director Mike Nichols died on Wednesday, November 19, 2014, in Manhattan. He was 83 years old. As one of the few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award, Nichols is a canonical figure. His early career was the subject of an American Masters film.

American Masters: Nichols & May: Take Two recounts his time performing with Elaine May in an award-winning improv group in the 1950’s and 60’s. Nichols and May combined a knack for improvisation with inspired political and social satire, bringing innovation to a field that was dominated by standup comics.

In the world of drama, Nichols was prolific. He made his Broadway directorial debut with Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park in 1963, and the next year took home his first of many Tony Awards for directing. Over the next several decades, Nichols was a mainstay in the theater, earning recognition for works like Plaza Suite (1968), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1971), Chekov’s Uncle Vanya (1973), and more recently Spamalot (2005) and Betrayal (2013).

Nichols was perhaps most widely acclaimed for his achievements in film. He first directed an adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1966, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Direction. A year later he took home his first Oscar, for his second film, The Graduate (1967). A scathing social satire that anticipated the modern Hollywood anti-hero, The Graduate put a young and unknown Dustin Hoffman on the map, the first of many courageous casting decisions in Nichols’ career.

Nichols was known as an actor’s director, more recently casting the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last film, Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), and later in his Broadway production of Death of a Salesman (2012).

Mike Nichols on Directing

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In this web-exclusive outtake of his interview for American Masters: Inventing David Geffen (2012), Mike Nichols speaks about the role of the unconscious in film and theater.

Mike Nichols describes the great moment when an audience seated in the dark watching a drama comprehend that which is not spoken and not told, but sensed with the unconscious. A film director may have all details worked out down to the inch of a camera dolly, he says, but ultimately, the director’s, actors’ and audience’s unconscious must speak to each other in a scene.

“Plays and movies are not supposed to be answers to a thousand questions, but there’s supposed to be a few unanswered questions that you can’t get out of your head,” said Nichols.

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Bing Crosby: Performance: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin Thu, 20 Nov 2014 18:20:52 +0000 knightc View full post to see video)

America’s most famous crooners had an easy rapport with one another and enjoyed singing together. Watch Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin perform “The Oldest Established” song from the musical Guys and Dolls. This web-exclusive clip captures the three legendary singers in a televised performance that took place in 1964.

American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered premieres nationwide Tuesday, December 2 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), with a holiday encore on December 26 at 9 p.m.​

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Bing Crosby: Bing’s Charity and “Take Care of” List Thu, 20 Nov 2014 17:59:34 +0000 knightc View full post to see video)

Bing Crosby used his fame and wealth to help friends, acquaintances and strangers in ways both public and nearly invisible. In this web-exclusive outtake, jazz critic and Crosby biographer Gary Giddins describes how the entertainer used his influence in the film industry to provide work for those on his “take care of” list, and how Crosby generally did not draw attention to his charitable giving.

Some of the ground the full film American Masters: Bing Croby Rediscovered covers includes a charity golf tournament he founded in 1937. It was an opportunity for Crosby to play the game he loved, and also to raise money for charities. The tournament is now known as the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

The film also includes a famous celebrity on Crosby’s “take care of” list: Judy Garland. After the star had attempted suicide and was fired from the movie studio MGM in 1950, Crosby stuck by Garland’s side, literally, inviting her to perform on his hugely popular radio program.

See the official Bing Crosby estate site for more information on Crosby’s philanthropy, including his support of student-athlete scholarships, youth programs, and one of his earliest donations, to support the defense of the Scottsboro Boys in the infamous trial in Alabama in 1931.

American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered premieres nationwide Tuesday, December 2 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), with a holiday encore on December 26 at 9 p.m.​

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Bing Crosby: Michael Feinstein and Tony Bennett on Bing’s Intimate Style Mon, 17 Nov 2014 20:16:50 +0000 knightc View full post to see video)

Bing Crosby sang as if he were addressing only one person with his voice.

“What Bing created was the art of intimacy,” says singer Tony Bennett. “He sang very quiet and very understated …. You’re singing to someone’s eyes, you’re singing to someone’s ears, and you don’t have to push.”

In this film excerpt, entertainer Michael Feinstein uses the song “Moonlight Becomes You,” from the film Road to Morocco (1942), to illustrate how Bing would change a song’s phrasing and melody to make it more conversational. Bing’s knack for adding something different to a song was something that songwriters never complained about, says Feinstein.

“Moonlight Becomes You” was written by Jimmy Van Heusen (music) and Johnny Burke (lyrics).

American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered, premieres nationwide Tuesday, December 2 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), with a holiday encore on December 26 at 9 p.m.

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Bing Crosby: Bing Crosby Biography Wed, 05 Nov 2014 21:01:57 +0000 knightc
Photo courtesy of Bing Crosby Enterprises.

Photo courtesy of Bing Crosby Enterprises.

Essay by Gary Giddins, © 2007

To most Americans, he was the eternal Crooner: a much celebrated and beloved performer of unparalleled popularity. Yet Bing Crosby was far more than that: He was an architect of 20th century entertainment, a force in the development of three industries that barely existed when he came into the world: recordings, motion pictures, and broadcasting. As the most successful recording artist of all time; an abiding star of movies, radio, and television; and a firm believer in the wonders of technology, he helped to transform and define the cultural life not only of the United States, but of the world.

When Harry Lillis Crosby was born, on May 3, 1903, to a working-class, Catholic Irish-Anglo family with deep roots in the American Northwest, there was little reason to think he would amount to much. Though an obviously intelligent and conscientious student, his primary interests were sports (he won many swimming medals), school plays, and music–he played drums (not very well), sang, and whistled. At Gonzaga University, he decided to study law because he could think of nothing better at the time and it pleased his parents. He left law school two months before graduating.

Music lured him away. It had always been part of the Crosby household. His father, who played mandolin, led the family in song and bought one of the first phonographs in Spokane, Washington. Harry was the fourth of seven siblings. Nicknamed Bing for his love of a newspaper parody, “The Bingville Bugle,” he listened to everything; he attended the vaudeville shows that came through town, regaling his friends afterward with detailed accountings of each act. He landed a backstage job when the legendary Al Jolson performed in Spokane, and studied his every gesture from the wings.

A younger boy named Al Rinker sealed Bing’s fate, asking him to play drums in his five-piece dance band. When the other fellows in the group, the Musicaladers, heard him sing, they didn’t much care how he played the drums. Even at that age, Bing had a mellifluous, solid baritone with good range, a steady sense of time, and a casual charm. With his uncanny memory, Bing could learn songs after hearing them once, though he never learned to read music.

After the band broke up, Bing worked locally with Rinker, who accompanied him on piano. In 1925, Al suggested that they pool their funds and drive a broken-down flivver to Los Angeles, where his sister–the not-yet-celebrated jazz singer Mildred Bailey–might get them a job. She got them an audition, which was all they needed. Bing and Al toured in one vaudeville show after another, up and down the West Coast, until a couple of musicians from Paul Whiteman’s band chanced to hear them. Within a year after leaving Spokane, Crosby and Rinker were under contract to the most famous orchestra in the country. They were on their way to New York.

Despite a few setbacks and a too-eager embrace of big city temptations, Bing refined his style. He was inspired by his idol and lifelong friend, Louis Armstrong. Whiteman teamed Bing and Al with a pianist and songwriter, Harry Barris, calling them the Rhythm Boys: They became the first successful jazz vocal group. Yet it was Crosby’s way with a song that most impressed Whiteman’s arrangers and musicians, who lobbied for more Bing solos.

The word was out: Bing brought something new to American song: rhythmic excitement, virile authority, emotional candor. The best jazz musicians of the day accepted him as one of their own. He recorded with Bix Beiderbecke and Duke Ellington. Soon, every major American songwriter, among them Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, Jimmy Van Heusen, and Johnny Burke, were writing songs for him.

Within a few years, the Rhythm Boys left Whiteman. Then Bing left the Rhythm Boys. Working in nightclubs and headlining in theaters, Bing was the first vocalist to use the microphone as an instrument, enabling him to communicate subtle emotions and musical nuance. When he appeared at the Coconut Grove, the movie community flocked to hear him. Producer Mack Sennett hired him to make a series of comedy shorts. William Paley, of the fledgling CBS network, gave him a daily radio show. Paramount Pictures brought him to Hollywood to star in The Big Broadcast; the studio quickly signed him to a three-picture deal that grew into a 20-year association.

Photo courtesy of Bing Crosby Enterprises.

Photo courtesy of Bing Crosby Enterprises.

Meanwhile, record executive Jack Kapp, using Bing’s loyalty to him as a come-on, found backing to start his own company, Decca, which saved the then moribund industry by lowering the price of records. Kapp convinced Bing that he was more than a jazz or ballad singer, encouraging him to sing every kind of song and positioning him as the voice of America–home grown, unaffected, unassuming, and irresistible.

Bing’s popularity really took off a year later, when NBC asked him to take over its faltering program, The Kraft Music Hall. Bing turned it into the archetypal broadcast variety show, a template still in use today. The public and critics loved him. At a time when radio was dominated by schooled, oratorical voices, Bing sounded like the guy next door. People trusted him: Instead of pandering to the presumed tastes of the masses, Bing combined pop, jazz, opera, and classical music. He was as much admired for his unique brand of slang, offbeat sense of humor, and unruffled disposition as for his singing. In the dark days of the Depression, Bing was a beacon of optimism.

He became still more of a national force during World War II, touring at home and abroad, making a record number of V-Discs, selling a record number of war bonds, personally answering thousands of letters from servicemen and their families. Bing’s radio show regularly attracted an audience of 50 million–an unheard of number. He starred in the Road movies, with Bob Hope, one of the most durable, profitable, and imitated comedy series in film history. In 1944, Bing won an Academy Award for his performance as Father O’Malley in Leo McCarey’s Going My Way. At the end of the war, an Army poll declared him the individual who had done the most to boost wartime morale.

The postwar years represented the peak of Bing’s success. Between 1946 and 1948, he revolutionized the entertainment industry. Having recorded shows on transcription discs for soldiers, he now insisted on prerecording his radio show. In those days, all radio programs were broadcast live and NBC took him to court. Bing won and moved to ABC, an also-ran network that, thanks to Bing, became a major competitor to NBC and CBS. After he produced the first prerecorded radio series, other entertainers quickly followed suit. Billboard called Bing’s gamble the most important show business story since the invention of talking pictures.

But Bing realized that transcribed sound (recorded on large lacquered discs) was not as good as a live broadcast. When he heard about former Army engineer, John Mullin, who was experimenting with tape-based recording, Bing offered to sponsor him. Using the early tape machines, he converted his studio to tape, allowing him to record and edit his program. As he and his engineer experimented with the new medium, they introduced such broadcasting devices as canned laughter and applause. The entire business followed his lead in turning to tape, which remained the industry standard until the advent of digitalization nearly 35 years later.

Bing continued to make hit records and movies into the 1960s, at which time he began to slow down, reserving most of his work for television, including a series of variety specials, frequent appearances as host of The Hollywood Palace, television movies, and an annual Christmas show that became a national tradition. He spent more time on the golf course and at the race track – devoting himself to the two sports he helped pioneer by creating the first celebrity pro-am golf tournament and taking the lead in building the Del Mar race track.

Bing Crosby with his second wife Kathryn and their children Mary, Harry and Nathaniel.

Bing Crosby with his second wife Kathryn and their children Mary, Harry and Nathaniel.

Bing’s first wife, Dixie Lee, the mother of his first four sons, died in 1952. During the next few years, he was regularly gossiped about in newspaper columns as he romanced several of Hollywood’s most beautiful women. In 1957, he married Kathryn Grant, a young actress and singer he had met on the Paramount lot. Together they had two sons and a daughter. The Crosby family became the focus of his Christmas program, and of his historic return to the stage, in 1976, performing in Los Angeles, New York, London, Oslo, and elsewhere. When he died on a golf course in Madrid, on October 14, 1977, he was mourned the world over. On that day, Major League Baseball honored him by pausing for a moment of silence at the start of the World Series game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. No other entertainer has ever won the hearts of so many and held them for so long.


The new documentary American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered, premiering nationwide Tuesday, December 2 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) as the series’ Season 28 finale, explores the life and legend of this iconic performer, revealing a man far more complex than his public persona. The film is available December 2 on DVD from PBS Distribution. A holiday encore presentation airs Friday, December 26 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

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Juilliard: Marian Seldes on Teaching at Juilliard: An In Memoriam Tribute Tue, 14 Oct 2014 22:07:23 +0000 knightc Marian Seldes, a vital figure in New York theater, died October 6, 2014, in her Manhattan home. She was 86. Seldes was an enduring presence on the Broadway stage, notably performing in the works of Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, and Tennessee Williams. In a career that spanned decades, she became a regular in the plays of Edward Albee, which in part earned her a lifetime achievement award at the 2010 Tony Awards ceremony.

Seldes was also an influential teacher of her craft, serving on the faculty of the Drama Division at the Juilliard School from 1969 to 1991. She helped shape a generation of famed performers, including Kevin Spacey, Patti LuPone, and the late Robin Williams. American Masters explored this facet of her illustrious career in an exclusive interview for Juilliard (2003). Below are three outtakes from the film.

Marian Seldes on Her Devotion to Students

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Marian Seldes recounts when she was first hired by John Houseman, the founding director of the Drama Division at The Juilliard School. She passionately describes being overwhelmed with love for her students and her instinct to help people.

Marian Seldes on The Work and Fame

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Marian Seldes reflects on the idea of recognition and fame, and suggests that we are all defined by the work that we have accomplished, and not by name recognition by the public. She acknowledges that she never became a household name as an actor.

Marian Seldes on Empathy and Cruelty in Directing Actors

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Marian Seldes describes her personal connection to acting school through the different phases of her life, and how these experiences were formative to her style of teaching. Seldes stresses that she herself did not like to work in a situation that made her frightened, feel panic, or sense she was wasting someone else’s time. She is greatly opposed to being cruel while directing an actor.

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Bing Crosby: Film Preview: Bing Crosby Rediscovered Mon, 06 Oct 2014 22:01:28 +0000 knightc View full post to see video)

Bing Crosby (May 3, 1903-October 14, 1977) was, without doubt, the most popular and influential multi-media star of the first half of the 20th century. For more than three decades, through radio, film, television and records, he reigned supreme.

The new documentary American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered, premiering nationwide Tuesday, December 2 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) as the series’ Season 28 finale, explores the life and legend of this iconic performer, revealing a man far more complex than his public persona. The film is available December 2 on DVD from PBS Distribution. A holiday encore presentation airs Friday, December 26 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

Crosby’s estate, HLC Properties, Ltd., granted American Masters unprecedented access to the entertainer’s personal and professional archives, including never-before-seen home movies, Dictabelt recordings, photos and more. Narrated by Stanley Tucci, the film features new interviews with all surviving members of Crosby’s immediate family — wife Kathryn, daughter Mary and sons Harry and Nathaniel. The film reveals Crosby’s struggles with his first wife, Dixie Lee, and their sons Gary, Dennis, Phillip and Lindsay. Mary addresses accusations of abuse first published in Gary’s 1983 memoir, which tarnished their father’s legacy. Gary speaks candidly about both his and his mother’s alcoholism as well as his difficulties with his father in a never-before-seen 1987 interview. Other new interviews include singers Tony Bennett and Michael Feinstein, record producer Ken Barnes, biographer Gary Giddins, and writers Buz Kohan and Larry Grossman, who both share the story behind Crosby’s Christmas special duet with David Bowie.

American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered – The Soundtrack features songs heard in the documentary, including 16 previously unreleased recordings, and is available November 24, 2014, via Bing Crosby Archive and Universal Music Enterprises.

“I’ve never seen an entertainer more comfortable in his own skin, more certain of who he was,” says Emmy-winning director Robert Trachtenberg, whose past films for American Masters include Mel Brooks: Make a Noise, On Cukor, Gene Kelly: Anatomy of a Dancer and Cary Grant: A Class Apart. “With the new material I’ve found, I think the breadth, depth and candor of his story will hopefully allow people to see him in a new light.”

Thirty-seven years after his death, Bing Crosby remains the most recorded performer in history with nearly 400 hit singles, an achievement no one — not Sinatra, Elvis or the Beatles — has come close to matching. A brilliant entrepreneur, Crosby played an important role in the development of the postwar recording industry. As one of Hollywood’s most popular actors, he won the Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way and starred in the iconic “Road” films with Bob Hope.

“We naturally think of Bing at Christmastime, but with more No. 1 recordings than anyone, it is easy to overlook all of his other achievements. Thankfully, this film delves deeply into all of his remarkable work, and will surprise many viewers with a unique perspective on his private life,” says Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters.

Launched in 1986 by series creator Susan Lacy, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series since 1999 and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. Now in its 28th season on PBS, the series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations, and operator of NJTV. For more than 50 years, THIRTEEN has been a partner with the tri-state community, using its rich resources to inform and inspire the passionate people of New York and the world to better understand and address the issues that challenge our diverse communities.

American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’s American Masters for WNET. Robert Trachtenberg is writer, director and producer. Gillian McCarthy is editor. Junko Tsunashima is supervising producer. Julie Sacks is series producer. Susan Lacy and Michael Kantor are executive producers.

American Masters is made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, Anne Ray Charitable Trust, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers.

About WNET

As New York’s flagship public media provider and the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than 5 million viewers each week. WNET produces and presents such acclaimed PBS series as Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, Charlie Rose and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Oh Noah! and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through NYC-ARTS, Reel 13, NJTV News with Mike Schneider and MetroFocus, the multi-platform news magazine focusing on the New York region. WNET is also a leader in connecting with viewers on emerging platforms, including the THIRTEEN Explore iPad App where users can stream PBS content for free.

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