American Masters

Amy Tan finds joy amid deep despair

Amy Tan was 15 when her world disintegrated.
“My brother was dying and then my father was dying,” she told the Television Critics Association . “My mother became a little unbalanced … . She and I had many arguments.”
In a six-month stretch, she lost two people to brain cancer; she was soon whisked from California to Switzerland by her mother, who had known previous depths of despair.
Tan, 69, has told versions of these stories often – in “The Joy Luck Club,” which became a best-seller when she was 36 (shown here) in other novels and in non-fiction. Now they’re in an intriguing PBS documemtary Monday (May 3). But alongside all the agony, there’s also a surprising layer of fun. Read more…

Twyla Tharp: 80 years of artful movement

Twyla Tharp’s life has covered much of the dance universe.
It’s involved Broadway and ballet, Beethoven and Baryshnikov and the Beach Boys. It’s included one movie (“Hair,” shown here) that rippled with dance and another (“I’ll Do Anything”) that cut every dance scene.
“It’s a wildly, wildly diverse, unbelievable career,” Steven Cantor, whose “American Masters” profile airs at 9 p.m. Friday (March 26) on PBS, told the Television Critics Association. Read more…

Laura Ingalls Wilder led three fascinating lives

The three lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder continue to fascinate us.
There was young-Laura, growing up in little houses on prairies. Many girls — familiar with the slightly fictional version in ovels and on TV (shown here) — try to replicate that life.
“They are dressed in their little gingham outfits,” Mary McDonagh Murphy, producer of a new “American Master” portrait at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 29) on PBS, told the Television Critics Association. “They come on these pilgrimages, because they feel they know her.”
And there was old-Laura, who was 65 when her first novel was published. Seven more followed and she had 25 years of fame. “Wilder transformed her frontier childhood into the best-selling ‘Little House’ series and helped shape American ideas,” said “Masters” producer Michael Kantor.
But what about middle-Laura? What about the first 47 years after she married Almanzo Wilder? Read more…

Raul Julia’s life was a passionate party

Raul Julia reached New York in 1964, a time when people made easy assumptions.
He was an actor from Puerto Rico; surely, that meant lots of street-smart roles. One talk-show host said she’d heard he didn’t speak English when he got there.
“Of course he spoke English,” theater director Oskar Eustis said. “He spoke beautiful English.”
Julia (shown here) – the subject of a PBS profile Friday — grew up around English-speaking teachers. He was college-educated, Shakespeare-trained. “He was very well-educated …. Latinos don’t (only) come under stressful conditions,” actor Esai Morales said. “We are not always struggling to survive.” Read more…