Amid California beauty, Jackie Robinson found racism and triumph


Sure, we kind of assume that a Ken Burns documentary will be richly crafted, with depth, intelligence and emotion. But Burns' latest -- "Jackie Robinson," Monday and Tuesday (April 11-12) on PBS -- is particularly good. Burns, 62, and Rachel Robinson (Jackie's widow), 93, talked to reporters about it; here's the story I sent to papers:

(Very interesting TV
story on the “Jackie Robinson” PBS mini-series, Monday and
Tuesday)

By Mike Hughes

For Ken Burns, this
was familiar turf: At a classy hotel in upscale Pasadena, Cal., he
was discussing his latest documentary.

But for this film –
a biography of baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson -- there was an
irony: Pasadena, a far different place back in 1920, is really where
the story begins.

When Robinson was 1,
his mother took her five kids and moved from rural Georgia to
California. She would work as a housekeeper and soon buy a small
house.

Nowadays, Pasadena
is a cheery place where Burns was grand marshal at this year's
Tournament of Roses parade. But in '20, he said, the Robinsons met “a
different kind of ... Northern racism.”

At times, Burns
said, it reached extremes. “There were crosses burned on the yard.
The neighbors called the police whenever Jackie and his brothers and
sister rollerskated ....

“The pool in this
apparently enlightened community was segregated. But once a week,
they had 'international day,' when the black and Mexican and Asian
kids were allowed to swim.” Before whites-only swimming could begin
the next day, the pool was drained and refilled.

Mack Robinson,
Jackie's brother, later became “a beloved figure here” as a
mentor, Burns said. But after winning a silver medal in the 1936
Olympics, trailing only Jesse Owens, he couldn't find work.

“He ended up as a
street-sweeper,” Burns said, “and would often wear his Olympic
medal and jacket as he swept the streets of Pasadena.”

Jackie starred at
UCLA in baseball, football, track (the national broad-jump champion)
and basketball. And in his senior year, he met the freshman who
would become his wife.

“I had heard ...
he was 'big man on campus,'” recalled Rachel Robinson, 93. “And I
thought, 'Oh, that's terrible. (He'll be) egotistical ....

“I was all set up
for this bad man. And when he approached me, he had the most
beautiful smile .... His manner was so quiet and respectful and
supportive of me and himself in that conversation, that I think I
fell in love with him on that first day.”

They married five
years later, in 1946, a year before Robinson would break the color
barrier in Major League baseball. His widow describes him as calm at
home, but strident when confronting racism. After confronting a bus
idriver in Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson faced a court-martial and was
acquitted.

But Branch Rickey,
the Brooklyn Dodgers general manger, insisted that Robinson simply
turn the other cheek for the first three years. “His personality
was one of being strong and being vocal,” Rachel Robinson said. “It
was very hard on him and I worried about it having an effect on his
health.”

Robinson did face
long-term heart and diabetes problems. He died at 53 in 1972.

By then, however, he
had become a sports icon. He was rookie-of-the-year in 1947, most
valuable player in '49, an all-star six times. His number was retired
by all Major League teams ... except on

Jackie Robinson Day
(April 15), when every player wears No. 42.

His widow went on to
be an assistant professor at the Yale School of Nursing and to start
the Jackie Robinson Foundation. One son, who had drug troubles, died
early, but another son and daughter are active in American education
and in an African coffee cooperative, she said.

Family links are
also important to Burns. When he introduced the 1990 “Civil War,”
his daughter Sarah was an elementary-school kid, handing out press
releases. She went on to create the award-winning “Central Park
Five.”

Now she and her
husband, David McMahon, have written and co-directed “Jackie
Robinson.” Her dad also co-directed and sees it as continuing thei
story that started with “Civil War.” It tells, he said, of “the
grandson of a slave, making the statement in the largest and most
popular sport.”

-- “Jackie
Robinson,” 9-11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (April 11-12), PBS

 

Gloria and Anderson resist all the rich-kid stereotypes


Gloria Vanderbilt's life -- wrapping through nine decades (so far) of big money, big headlines and big-name romances -- has been a classic story. And the ideal person to tell it is her son, Anderson Cooper. Now they've combined on a memoir -- her SIXTH one -- and a documentary. Here's the story I sent to papers.

By Mike Hughes

At first, the story
seems terribly familiar.

There's a poor
little rich girl, growing up with lots of money and little family
warth. There are court fights and tugs for her money. She grasps for
affection.

But for Gloria
Vanderbilt, the story is surprisingly upbeat. “She does have this
incredibly optimistic way of looking at things,” said her son
Anderson Cooper, who linked with her for a book and an HBO
documentary. “She really understands that the next great love is
right around the corner.”

It always has been.
Vanderbilt dated Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Errol Flynn and more.
“My mom dated Howard Hughes when he was hot ... when he was, like
35, and my mom was 17,” Cooper said.

She married greats
in conducting (Leopold Stokowski) and film-directing (Sidney Lumet),
plus agent Pat DiCicco and author Wyatt Cooper (Anderson's father),
then had a long relationship with master photographer Gordon Parks.

And through
everything – three divorces, the deaths of Wyatt Cooper and Parks,
the suicide of Anderson's brother – she has remained optimistic. “I
think one is born with it (or) one is not,” Vanderbilt said. “And
it also has to do with determination.”

In her case, it came
despite the forces around her.

“My mom has been
in the public eye really longer than anybody else alive .... Her
birth made headlines,” Cooper said. “When she was 10, she was the
subject of a really extraordinary custody battle. It was called 'the
trial of the century.' Her entire life has played out on a very
brightly lit stage.”

She was an heiress
to part of the Vanderbilt railroad fortune and to troubles. She was 1
when her father died of cirrhosis of the liver, 10 when her aunt won
custody, alleging that her mother had mishandled Gloria and the
money. And she was 17 when she began to frolic in Hollywood.

In the years that
followed, she thrived in business – a successful fashion line,
particularly her designer jeans – and in writing. She's had three
novels; the new book is her sixth memoir.

Cooper seems to have
inherited his mother's just-do-it approach, long before joining CNN.
“I borrowed a homevideo camera,” he said. “I started going to
wars by myself.”

He also was coming
of age at the right time. During that 1934 custody trial, accusations
that Vanderbilt's mother was a lesbian had brought shock.

“I always kind of
felt maybe that would color the way my mom thought about me (being
gay),” Cooper said. “But I grew up with so many gay friends of my
mom's in our house, growing up. I knew she would be fine with it ...

“I came out in
high school to my friends; I came out in college to my mom. And, you
know, she's been cool with it from the get-go.”

She's been cool with
many things, during 92 brightly lit years.

-- “Nothing Left
Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper,” 9-11 p.m. Saturday,
HBO.

-- Reruns often,
including 1:40 p.m. Sunday, 7:10 p.m. Wednesday (April 13), 11:20
p.m. April 20.

-- “The Rainbow
Comes and Goes,” memoir by Cooper and Vanderbilt, HarperCollins,
$27.99.

 

A sex-symbol, crime-solving vicar? It's a new world for PBS


You really don't expect many sex symbols on PBS' "Masterpiece." The "Downton Abbey" guys kept their shirts on ... and their undershirts ... and their topcoats ... and ...

But now comes "Grantchester," opening its season on Easter Sunday. It has a hot young hunk, plus an older hunk and some pretty good mysteries. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

The PBS mysteries
aren't usually into sex symbols, you know. Few people have lusted
over Miss Marple or Horace Rumpole or Hercule Poirot or Lord Peter
Wimsey.

But now comes the
grand exception. “Grantchester” links two generations of hero
hunks.

There's James
Norton, 30, whom “Masterpiece” producer Rebecca Eaton has
proclaimed as “gorgeous.” And Robson Green, 51. He's been a PBS
leading man, from “Reckless” to “Touching Evil” and “Wire
in the Blood” ... but doing a swimming scene alongside Norton was
imposing.

“I was in the gym
six days a week, three times a day ... Competing with that is
amazing,” Green said.

The “that” is
Norton, who is 6-foot-1, with wavy hair and a statue-worthy torso
... a fact that he discusses sheepishly. “This new time (has) a lot
of attention to the male physique,” he said.

Norton stars as a
crimesolving vicar in 1950s England ... and insists he's the one who
was starstruck over Green, who plays his friend, a cop. “I grew up
knowing 'Robson & Jerome' and all his TV shows.”

“Robson &
Jerome”? For Green – a miner's son who often plays strong-silent
types, that was a detour.

In an episode of a
British series, Green and Jerome Flynn were playing soldiers who sang
“Unchained Melody.” Young record producer Simon Cowell – yes,
later the infamous “American Idol” Simon – kept trying to sign
them; they kept trying to ignore him.

“I kept calling,
once a day, twice a day, 10 times a day,” Cowell wrote in “I
Don't Mean to Be Rude, But ...” (Broadway Books, 2003). “I just
went mental. I wouldn't give up.”

Eventually, Green
did. He and Flynn recorded the song; it was No. 1 in Britain for
seven weeks and No. 1 for all of 1995, selling 1.8 million records.
Two other singles -- “I Believe” and “Up On the Roof” --
reached No. 1; so did both of their albums.

And then, Cowell
wrote, they turned down a fortune -- $3 million apiece – for a
third album and ended their music careers. “Robson and Jerome were
a class act.”

For Norton, who was
10 at the time, they were memorable. It all came back to him when the
“Grantchester” characters had to climb to a crime scene on a
Cambridge roof.

Soon, Norton said,
actors and crew people were humming “Up On the Roof.” Green told
them to stop; they didn't. “I took this speaker system up and when
they called 'Cut,' I played 'Up On the Roof' up on the roof. And to
his credit, (when) everyone burst into song, Robson stood in the
middle of the roof, hands in the air, and sang the whole song and
danced. It was really cool.”

Neither man grew up
near show business. Green was near Newcastle, where his dad worked a
coal mine. He tried other things – boxing, air force, rock band,
draftsman – before being an actor. Norton – the son of teachers
-- was in North Yorkshire, in a hamlet even smaller than the
fictional Grantchester.

“It was totally
idyllic .... I could just roam the countryside,” he said. But “when
I was 13, I suddenly realized that there was a party going on in the
cities and I wasn't invited, and it got really frustrating.”

He went to a
Catholic boarding school and then to Cambridge. He was cast as
upper-crust types in many things – “Death Comes to Pemberly,”
TV versions of “War & Peace” and “Lady Chatterly's Lover”
-- but also played a vicious killer in “Happy Valley,” drawing
praise and fear.

One night at a rock
club, Norton said, he turned to talk. “There was a girl who was
sort of in between me and my friend. She was dancing and she looked
up in my face and just let out this huge scream.”

Fortunately, he's
back to playing a good guy now, a subject he understands. He wasn't
Catholic, but in school enjoyed long talks with a Benedictine monk;
his family wasn't particularly religious, but attended church
“because it was the moment every week when the village would
congregate.”

He saw how important
vicars can be ... even the ones who don't solve crimes.

-- “Grantchester,”
9 p.m. Sundays, PBS, for a six-week run

-- Opens its season
March 27; so does “Mr. Selfridge,” with a nine-week run at 10
p.m.

-- Both are under
the “Masterpiece” banner; check local listings

 

Her life has a pulsating heartbeat


The make-believe character we see on NBC's "Heartbeat" is bigger than life. She's blonde and beautiful, ready to perform a heart transplant, intimidate a donor and juggle two romances, an ex-husband and two kids. And the real-life doctor she's based on? Kathy Magliato is a forceful figure who's not that different from the person Melissa George plays on TV ... except for skipping the multiple romances. Here's the story I sent to papers:

 

By Mike Hughes

Today's life-lesson
is basic:

At a dinner party,
pay attention to what other people are saying. They might have
something interesting ... which might make you a TV producer.

At least, it worked
that way for NBC's new “Heartbeat.” At the home of Ron Meyer, who
ran the Universal movie studio for 20 years, a dinner guest was Dr.
Kathy Magliato; she described the time she had to perform surgery on
an airplane.

“I remember
driving away and thinking, 'That woman is a TV show,'” Amy
Brenneman said.

And Brenneman wanted
to make the show. She'd already produced “Judging Amy” (which she
starred in); her husband, Brad Silbering, has produced “Reign,”
the “Jane the Virgin” pilot and more. They would combine on this
one, with Jill Gordon as the show-runner.

Pioneers fascinate
Brenneman, whose mom was the third woman to be a judge in
Connecticut. Now here was one of the world's first female
cardiothoracic surgeons, complete with a strong personality.

“I do think
there's a time to be fierce as a surgeon,” Magliato said, “and a
time to be tough .... I think being an aggressive surgeon is
important when the chips are down.”

Still, she says, the
flip side is important. “There's also a time to be compassionate. I
think sometimes in medicine we miss that .... It's taken me a
lifetime to learn that balance.”

She grew up on a
farm, in the apple country of New York's Hudson Valley. There were no
medical people in the family, she said, so this idea was all her own.
“As cliche as this might sound, I honestly wanted to be a doctor so
I could help people.”

That would take a
while, including 17 years of college and residency. Along the way,
she assisted a key mentor. “I'm holding the human heart,”
Magliato said. “It's like walking on the moon .... I said to this
surgeon, 'Wait. Do you get to do this every day?'”

That mentor is very
similar to a “Heartbeat” character played by Don Hany. The
difference in the show is that the main character (Melissa George) is
still sort of in love with him ... and with the surgeon she's living
with (Dave Annable); she also has an ex-husband (Joshua Leonard)
who's a gay rock star.

Maglioto said her
own romance isn't nearly that complicated. “I asked my husband (Dr.
Nick Nissen, a liver-transplant surgeon) about a love triangle,”
she joked. “He just won't go for it. Kind of an old-school guy.”
But mostly, she said, the show is “pretty authentic, pretty true to
life.”

It was originally
called “Heartbreakers” and set for the fall schedule. Instead, it
had what George calls a “pregnant pause”; on Nov. 3, her
10-pound son was born.

The break was also
helpful for Annable. He and his wife (actress Odette Annable) had a
daughter Sept. 7, he said. “I was able to be home and be with my
family for three months ... I could never ask for anything more.”

It also gave
producers a chance to change the title (often) and hone the scripts.
Usually “you have infinite time to write a pilot and then all of a
sudden you're in production,” Annable said. “You're boom boom,
boom .... The quality sort of leaks off.”

But “Heartbeat”
had extra months to get ready. It could try to capture the
semi-chaotic life of someone a lot like Kathy Magliato.

-- “Heartbeat,”
8 p.m. Wednesdays, NBC, beginning March 23

-- Show debuts,
however, at 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, before moving to its regular
night

"The Passion" propels a passionate surge of live music events


One of the brightest spots of this TV season was Fox's live "Grease." A so-so musical was transformed into a vibrant TV event, with a few flaws and a lot of joy. That will be rerun on Easter Sunday, but first Fox tries another ambitious event -- "The Passion," live on Palm Sunday. Here's the story I sent to papers:

 

By Mike Hughes

The TV world has had
a sudden surge of live musical events.
This season has brought
“Grease” and “The Wiz” and now a Palm Sunday production of
“The Passion.” Next season has “Hairspray” and (not live)
“Dirty Dancing” and “Rocky Horror Show.”

The trend is all
very new ... or not. “I think it's a throwback to years gone by,”
said Tyler Perry, who will host Sunday's “Passion,” which will be
stuffed with pop stars and songs.

In its glory days,
Hollywood thrived on musicals; in its early days, TV tried live,
musical versions of everything from “Peter Pan” and “Cinderella”
to “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”

The TV events,
however, were basic and confined; so was NBC's “Sound of Music,”
which started this revival. By comparison, Fox's “Grease” used
multiple locations, complete with an audience; its “Passion” will
do the same, sprawling across New Orleans.

The main stage will
be at Woldenberg Park, alongside the Mississippi River, said producer
Mark Bracco. Other scenes will range “from the French Quarter to
Jackson Square to Audubon Park.” And a procession, with a 20-foot
illuminated cross “will start outside of the Superdome and make its
way through all the iconic locations.”

Jacco Doornbo came
up with the idea nine years ago in his native Holland. He says he'd
just “learned that only 25 percent of the Dutch population was
still aware of what the story of Easter was about.”

That's far from the
New Orleans experience. “Growing up in church, (music) was there
every Sunday,” said Perry, 46. “We could hear it through the
walls, from all the churches in the neighborhood.”

Doornbos' plan was
to use biblical text, pop songs and modern dress. The annual event
has kept growing, he said; last year, it drew 46.2 per cent of Dutch
TV viewership.

Now producer Adam
Anders has worked on connecting English-language stars and songs. For
instance:

-- “My Love is
Your Love” will be sung by Trisha Yearwood, as Mary. It's “one of
my favorite Whitney (Houston) songs (and Yearwood is) one of the
greatest voices of all time,” he said.

-- When Judas (Chris
Daughtry) kisses Jesus (Jencarlos Canela, a telenovela star), the
song is “Demons,” by Imagine Dragons. “You would think it was
written for the scene,” Anders said. “Think of the lyrics: 'Don't
get too close/It's dark inside/It's where my demons hide/We are all
made of greed/This is my kingdom come.' It's incredible.”

-- Other pop stars
include Seal as Pilate, Prince Royce as Peter and Shane Harper as a
disciple. The cast also has Christian music stars Michael W. Smith
and Yolanda Adams and Internet star Gabriel Conte.

The story is almost
2,000 years old, but the sound will be modern. So will the look,
Bracco said. “It's cop cars pulling up and the police arresting
Jesus. And when Jesus is brought on stage for his trial, he's in the
orange jumpsuit.”

This will be rain or
shine, Doornbo said. “The fifth year (in Holland), it was stormy,
rainy .... It turned out to be great, even more emotional when it
rains.”

It will all work
out, Perry said. “This is New Orleans, which handles Mardi Gras
every year. I think they've got it covered.”

-- “The Passion,”
8-10 p.m. Sunday, Fox; live in Eastern time zones