Loretta Lynn? She's 50 years a grandma, 55 a star ... and still hard at work

The Loretta Lynn story has fascinated people for generations. Now it's back -- with a few revisions and lots of new steps. On Friday (March 4), she has a new album and a terrific PBS special; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Loretta Lynn carries
large chunks of human history.

She's been a
grandmother for almost 50 years, widowed for almost 20; she's been
cutting records for 55. You might expect her to slow down; on Friday,
however, she has a new PBS film and a new album.

“I work all the
time,” said Lynn, 83. “I couldn't sit down and quit working ....
If I go home and I sit down, I say, 'I can't wait until I get back on
the road.'” So she has:

-- Her first studio
album in a dozen years, with a mixture of traditional songs and Lynn
classics, plus duets with Elton John and – via separate track --
Willie Nelson. “I didn't even know he was on there,” she said. “I
was listening to it and here was Willie.”

-- An “American
Masters” profile, stuffed with old clips and new comments.
“Everybody wanted to participate,” said producer Elizabeth
Trojan. The result lets people see what's happened in the 36 years
since the movie “Coal Miner's Daughter” ... and adds some

Fans had memorized
the basics: Lynn was married at 13, a mother of four at 18, a
grandmother at 32. Except in recent years, her birth-certificate was
located; the real numbers are 15, 20 and 34.

At either age, it
was a sudden swirl for a kid from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky ...
especially when her husband landed work in the state of Washington.
“When we got out there,” Lynn said, “I really didn't like
Washington that well, because it rained so much.”

Then her husband
bought her a $17 guitar. In the PBS film, country historian Robert
Oermann says Washington was a blessing; homesick for her roots, Lynn
threw herself into the music of her childhood.

Soon, she said, “my
husband pushed me out onstage and made me sing.” She made $12 every
Saturday at his favorite bar. When she cut a single (“I'm a Honky
Tonk Girl”) in 1960, they drove all over the South, where the shy
country girl would show up at radio stations unannounced.

“I think some of
the disc jockeys thought I was crazy,” Lynn said. “They would say
they had played my record and I would ... say, 'No you didn't playit,
because it's down here in the garbage can.'”

Often enough, she
prevailed. “Me and my husband would be driving the car (and) hear
the record. And then we'd just pull over and stop unti it got through
playing. It was something; it was great.”

“Honky Tonk”
reached No. 14 on Billboard's country chart. Soon, Lynn had some key

When Patsy Cline was
hospitalized from a car accident, Lynn did a Cline song on a
Nashville radio show. “I sang 'I Fall to Pieces' for Patsy,” she
said, “Now, if I had any sense, I wouldn't have sung that song,
because ... it looks like she fell all to pieces, you know .... I
didn't have much sense at the time.”

Cline heard it and
sent her husband to fetch Lynn. Soon, she was Lynn's friend and

Another was producer
Owen Bradley, who walked out when she wanted to do a “Blueberry
Hill” cover. “He said I needed to be cutting something country
and something I wrote .... He said, 'Don't you come back in here
without your songs.'”

Fortunately, she was
a skillful writer whose husband kept inspiring her
drinking-and-cheating soings. “Every time I'd write a song and it
would be about him, he would look at me and grin, you know. He knew I
was writing it about him.”

It was a merger of
strong souls, their son says in the film. Once, she knocked out two
of her husband's teeth; another time, he passed out at the table ...
waking to find she'd dumped a pot of beans on him.

But when his health
crumbled (due to drinking, diabetes and heart problems), she slowed
her career for more than a decade. Since his death (1996, just shy of
70), she's resumed her career.

“I ain't going
nowhere for a long time,” Lynn said. “I feel good; I feel great
.... I've never drank or smoked, you known, never mistreated my body
in any way. So I'm in great shape.”

A 2004 album
produced by Jack White reached No. 2 on the country chart and won two
Grammies. This new one is produced by Johnny Cash's son (John) and
Lynn's daughter (Patsy). “(What) I found so amazing is the real
tight relationship she has with her children, ... especially Patsh,”
Trojan said.

That closeness
wasn't always available. In the film, Patsy and her twin (Peggy) talk
about months of being raised only by their dad, with their mom
working constantly.

Now the family
focuses on the town (Hurricane Mills, Tenn.) that it bought. It's a
tourist attraction – museum, former family home and more -- and the
site of an offbeat moment in the film:

The plan was to
schedule no visitors while interivews were being done in the house,
Trojan said, but there was a mix-up and a “bus full of tourists
burst in as we were filming. And what happened next was so
unpredictable: They sang 'Coal Miner's Daughter' to Loretta.”

-- “American
Masters: Loretta Lynn: Still a Mountain Girl,” 9-11 p.m. Friday
(March 4), PBS (check local listings)

-- Also, “Full
Circle” album will be released Friday, Legacy Recordings


At 18, Malala is changing the world

Trust me on this one: "He Named Me Malala" is a compelling documentary. It airs twice -- commercial-free, no less -- Monday on the National Georaphic Channel; here's the stoy I sent to papers:

(TV story about the
compellng “Malala,” which airs twice Monday, commercial-free.)

By Mike Hughes

This was a Pakistani
world where children – and women – were seen and not heard.

“When all the
people in the house (turn serious), they send the children away,”
Ziauddin Yousafai said. “I was different in the treatment of my

That sprang from his
own childhood, surrounded by a brother and five sisters. Now his
daughter, Malala, 18, is the youngest person ever to be a Nobel

“This is such an
important story .... of how powerful education is – and the power
of not having an education,” said Davis Guggenheim, whose
award-winning “He Named Me Mulala” airs twice, commercial-free,
Monday on the National Geographic Channel.

Malala grew up
savoring education, which was logical: Her father ran a chain of
schools; his father was a famous speaker.

Then the Taliban
flatly banned girls from going to school. She studied at home and, at
11 and 12, wrote a blog (anonymous, at first) about her life.

At 15, while getting
on a school bus, she was shot three times. She survived and kept
speaking out.

“There is an
authenticity to Malala,” said Laurie MacDonald, one of the film's
producers. “When you spend time with her, there's no difference
between that powerful speaker and a girl who is going to school and
has all the concerns that all girls do .... There's no artifice.”

Walter Parkes, who
produced the film with his wife MacDonald, saw a vivid example: He
was visiting the family when her father mentioned she'd done her
first draft of her speech before the United Nations:

“So Malala comes
down from upstairs with two pieces of printer paper, just like one's
kid would have had for a first draft of a term paper.

“She sits down and
starts reading ... and I hear, 'One student, one teacher, one book
and one pen can change the world.' And there she is, a 16-year- old
girl ... being that lyrical and concise and insightful.”

Malala – back at
school and not available for this interview – didn't pick this up
from her family, her dad said. “My father was a very good speaker,
(but) he used to have many digressions ....

“I had this
problem of stammering. And I speak for too long. Malala is much more
sophisticated, very short, concise.”

That make her ideal
for modern media. She co-wrote a book, visited “The Daily Show”
twice, did other talk shows and linked with top people for the
documentary. MacDonald and Parkes led Dreamworks when it had three
straight best-picture Oscar winners; Guggerheim has an Oscar for “An
Inconvenient Truth” and other wins. “Mulala” didn't get an
Oscar nomination, but won four festival prizes.

Now it gets another
springboard, via National Geographic. It's “going to be in 171
countries, 45 languages,” Guggenheim said. “It's our dream, when
we started this movie.”

-- “He Named Me
Malala,” 8 and 9:30 p.m. Monday (commercial-free), National

-- “I Am Malala,”
by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb (2013, Bay Back Books)


Big-tech harvests big data about you and me

Lots of words are zooming around the Internet and beyond -- including, of course, the words I'm writing now. But what happens when they're harvested by others and used for good, for bad or just for weird things? On Wednesday (Feb, 24), PBS' "The Human Face of Big Data" ponders thats; here's the story I sent to papers:


By Mike Hughes

Floating around the
atmosphere, it seems, are great globs of information about most of

This is harvested by
strangers – businesses and governments and more – a new PBS film
says. It's used for good or bad or in-between. Consider the:

-- Bad. “A young
programmer at a bank wrote an algorithm (that included) if you had
anything in yout social history that you listened to rap music,”
said Rick Smolan, the “Human Face of Big Data” writer-producer.
“If you did, his algorithm would lower your ability to get a loan.”

-- Good. “We
accept the fact that drugs only work in about 40 percent of the
people who take them,” said Linda Avey, who runs a high-tech
company. Now the odds can be improved with genetic information.
“We'll be able to target medications to the people they actually
work in.”

-- Or merely
strange, as one example points out in the “Big Data” film.

An irate customer
confronted a store manager. Why was Target suddenly sending coupons
for baby things to his house? Was it implying that his 17-year-old
daughter was pregnant?

The confused manager
apologized ... and called a few days later to apologize anew. Never
mind, the guy said sheepishly ... his daughter had just told him
she's pregnant.

Corporate computers,
it seems, can sense such things even with small changes in buying
habits. Someone who shifts to an unscented product, for instance, may
be pregnant. So coupons are sent.

That's part of the
information harvest that comes from social-media, Internet searches,
shopping habits and more. “If you live in a major city, you're
expected to use as much data in a single day as your 15th-century
ancestors encountered in their entire lifetime,” said Sandy
Smolan,who directed “Big Data.”

But who owns that
data? Rick Smolan (Sandy's brother) points to the example of Hugh
Campos, a scientist who has a pacemaker. A fitness buff, he decided
to study the information it generates, to see what it says about his
sleep, exercise and more; he asked the pacemaker company for a data

“There is this
long pause on the phone,” Rick Smolan said, “and the woman says,
'Well, I'm sorry sir, but that's our proprietary data.'

“He said, 'No, no,
no. This is my heart; I created the data. I want a copy of it.' So
he's suing them.”

In the right hands,
Avey said, information is a huge plus. She went from drug-company
work to starting tech firms (23andMe and Curious, Inc.) aimed at
helping people use their own information. “There are things that
you can do ... if you have a higher risk for things like Type II

And in the wrong?
Susan Karlin, a tech journalist, recalls interviewing Jonathan Nolan
about “Person of Interest,” his CBS series that included an
all-knowing computer. Two years later, Edward Snowden revealed how
much the government already knows. “Everythingthat he said sound
paranoid in the story, but turned out to be very prophetic.”

Still, all of that
data can also be helpful. Just by checking Internet searches, the
film says, the Centers for Disease Control can get a two-week jump on
regional flu outbreaks.

That's not limited
to high-tech countries, the film says. In Kenya, mobile phones help
spot malaria outbreaks. In Haiti, they located people trapped by an
earthquake. In Tunisia, they sparked a revolution.

And in the U.S.?
Uses can range from major health issues to Boston potholes.

Our GPS devices,
Rick Smolan said, send a signal if they're bumped. “If 40 people
bounce in the same place, it tells the city there must be a pothole
there, so someone goes and fixes it.”

-- “The Human Face
of Big Data,” 10 p.m. Wednesday, PBS (check local listings)

-- Also a book
(2012, Against All Odds Productions) by Rick Smolan and Jennifer


His world has room for blacklisting and black magic

At first glance, there's no connections between "Trumbo" -- a surprisngly vibrant tale of the 1950s -- and "The Magicians," filled with modern teen angst. Both, however, are from writer/producer John McNamara, who's gone easily from true-drama to fictional fantasy. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Even the best
college faculties, it seems, can't prepare you for everything that's

John McNamara didn't
meet a single wizard or magician or shaman. He did, however, meet
some blacklisted writers; that helped prepare him for part of his big
year, as writer and producer of:

-- “Trumbo.” HIs
script received a Writers Guild nomination; Bryan Cranston drew Oscar
and Golden Globe nominations for best actor.

-- Two TV series.
“Aquarius,” centering on Charles Manson, returns to NBC this
summer; “The Magicians” -- about a secret college that deals with
magic – is at a pivotal point in its first Syfy season.

That last one is new
turf for McNamara, who's had no wizard mentors. “I'm not a huge
fantasy fan,” he said. “I like it, but I'm not ... a true,
die-hard fan.”

Fortunately, he's
joined by Sera Gamble, who is. They're adapting three novels, filled
with what Gamble calls “emotionally sophisticated, complicated
stories about twenty-somethings.”

But “Trumbo”?
That's the one college prepared him for.

McNamara, 53, was a
lawyer's kid in Grand Rapids, Mich. “I grew up in a community that
was very safe and secure,” he said. Then came the University of
Michigan and New York University. “Kids are shot from a bubble ....
To me, it was like going to Oz.”

One of the NYU
writing teachers was Ian McLellan Hunter, who won an Academy Award
for “Roman Holiday” (1953) ... a movie he didn't write. Hunter
put his name on it, as a favor to blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.
Later, he was briefly blacklisted himself.

McNamara would also
meet the blacklisted Waldo Salt and Ring Lardner Jr. and the briefly
blacklisted Arthur Laurents. These are men who – when blacklisting
finally ended – would write “Midnight Cowboy” (1969), “MASH”
(1970) and “The Way We Were” (1973) respectively.

Clearly, there was a
movie here, centering on the vibrantly unstoppable Trumbo. “That
sat on my shelf for 20 years,” McNamara said.

He went on to
produce TV series, starting with the critically praised “Profit,”
in 1996. He's done two Tim Daly shows (“Eyes” and “The
Fugitive”), two female-cop shows (“In Plain Sight” and the
American version of “Prime Suspect”) and more.

Then David Duchovny
took an interest in his “Aquarius” script and Cranston wanted to
do “Trumbo.” The latter was produced by Michael London ... who
had been pushing a “Magicians” series. “(Novelist) Lev Grossman
and I were sort of licking our wounds from the experience of not
getting the show made,” London said. “And John said, 'I have a
friend who worships these books more than life itself.'”

That was Gamble –
already working on “Aquarius” and a fan of the Grossman novels.
“It was worth it,” she said, “for John and Michael and I to
basically spend our own money, buy an option and sit in John's garage
for hours and hours and hours and write it. It's the best feeling in
the world for a writer.”

At the core of
“Magicians” is a young recluse, just realizing his magical
powers. “Quentin is a gold mine of neuroses and fears and
aspirations,” Gamble said.

Then there's his
friend Julia. Rejected by the college, she turns to rogue magic. In
the novels, her story isn't really told until the second book, via
flashbacks; in the series, it's entwined from the start.

“I think everybody
wishes that they could acquire something magical in their life,
whether it's real or not,” said Stella Maeve, who plays her.

Except, of course,
that things rarely work that way. “Magic isn't going to fix
anything,” said Olivia Taylor Dudley, who plays Alice. “Just like
in life, there's no quick fix.”

Instead, the current
episode finds naked students – including Quentin and Alice --
forced to admit truths. “Magicians” -- like “Trumbo” and
“Aquarius” ends up being about the shaky human condition.

-- “The
Magicians,” 9 p.m. Mondays, rerunning at midnight, Syfy

-- The Feb. 22
episode also reruns at 10 p.m. Wednesday and at 4:30 and 6:30 a.m.

Emerging from El Sombrero -- the world's biggest creature?

The subject of dinosaurs seems to elicit an awe that doesn't wear out. You can sense that in kids ... or in Diego Pol, 41, paleontologist in chart of a mega-find ... or in David Attenborough, 89, who hosts a film Wednesday on PBS' "Nature." Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

This wasn't where
you'd expect global history to be made.

It was in Patagonia,
the most sparsely populated region of Argentina ... in the province
of Chubut ... near the town of El Sombrero. There, a worker found
“what we believe to be the largest dinosaur that ever lived,”
said Fred Kaufman, producer of PBS' “Nature,” which features it

What he found was
just part of a bone, sticking out of the rock. The ranch people then
called the museum in Trelew, a Chubut city of 100,000.

“We usually keep
our expectations low when we get these phone calls,” said Diego
Pol, the chief paleontologist. “We get phone calls quite

A few months later,
he and a team went there and began to dig – and dig some more.

“We started to
uncover a really, really large bone,” Pol said. “It was a femur,
the thigh bone. So it was after three days working there we realized
that this was probably the largest dinosaur bone ever found. That was
a very special moment; you have a fantastic fossil in front of you.”

That bone alone was
almost eight feet long, five times the size of a human femur. The
creature, a plant-eater, is estimated at about 121 feet long,
weighting about 77 tons.

“It weighed the
equivalent of 15 elephants,” Kaufman said. “If you've ever lifted
an elephant, you know just how heavy that could be.”

And there was more,
Pol said. “We kept finding more and more bones .... We realized we
didn't have one dinosaur, but we had six and later seven dinosaurs
that died there.”

News of the finding
caused a stir in England. “It opens horizons for children,” said
Charlotte Scott of the BBC. “If you've been brought up in the city
and all you've seen is high-rise buildings, suddenly there's a whole
world up there that involved monsters and dinosaurs and great
beasts.” Indeed, in modern times this creature would be capable of
peering through a seventh-story window.

The BBC filmed the
project. Soon, Sir David Attenborough, 89, was meeting Pol ... and
seeing a replica of the skeleton ... and (via special effect) seeing
an animated approximation of the creature.

For Attenborough –
whose big brother Richard, ironically, played the guy who brought
dinosaurs back to life in “Jurassic Park” -- this was easy duty.
“Every child knows perfectly well how exciting it is to think about
dinosaurs,” he said. “I certainly thought that when I was a boy,
and I still feel that.”

He did his first
nature TV show 61 years ago – which was 20 years before Pol was

“When I was 5, 6,
7, I was certainly interested in dinosaurs,” Pol said. “But not
only dinosaurs, also fossil mammals like the giant sloths and giant

His high school was
affiliated with Buenos Aires University and had paleontologists come
to the classrooms. At the college, he did his undergrad thesis on an
ancestor to modern crocodiles. In 1993, he began going on digs each
summer, usually to Patagonia, Argenina's southern-most region; in
'97, he had a first when he found a complete skeleton of the pre-croc
species he'd been studying.

Two years later, Pol
began working and studying in New York at the American Museum of
Natural History (the same place that now holds a cast of the new
creature's skeleton). He received a doctorate at Columbia and
returned to Argentina, a mother lode for dinosaurs.

The Argentinosaurus
– a member of the titanosaur group – had been considered the
biggest creature ever. The first bone was discovered by an Argentine
rancher in 1987 and wasn't identified as a dinosaur until '93. With
few bones available, it's been variously estimated at 72 to 98 feet.

But now comes this
discovery, bigger and more complete. When a scientific paper is
published, it will be given its official name.

How about
“Sirdavidsaurus''? Attenborough offered a different suggestion:
“No, Diegosaurus.”

-- “Nature,” 8
p.m. Wednesdays, PBS (check local listings)

-- “Raising the
Dinosaur Giant” is Feb. 17