New radio documentary tomorrow on famed NYC columnist and muckraker Jimmy Breslin, on KCRW, NPR’s flagship station for Southern California:
- “JIMMY BRESLIN: THE ART OF CLIMBING TENEMENT STAIRS”
Documentary produced for KCRW
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 30 at 2:30pm (PT) — A “Politics of Culture” Special Program
Love him or hate him, Jimmy Breslin has been a force of nature in the world of print journalism.
On November 3, after calling the election for Kerry, the headline on his New York Newsday column read: “I’m right — again. So I quit. Beautiful.”
He wasn’t right — he called the election for Kerry — but that doesn’t matter. The real news was that the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and author announced he was leaving his thrice-weekly post as, arguably, New York’s most famous columnist and champion of “the little guy.” He won’t stop writing — he’s working on at least three new books and is involved in a movie project based on his “The Church That Forgot Christ,” in which he’ll also appear — and he’ll contribute a column “from time to time.” But that voice of moral outrage, from one the hardest working muckrakers in the newspaper business, will no longer appear regularly in newsprint.
Jon Kalish, an independent radio producer and freelance newspaper reporter based in New York, first met Breslin when Kalish was a young reporter, and over the years, he’s covered Breslin’s various headline making exploits. Kalish also learned a thing or two about reporting from Breslin, who taught him the importance of climbing tenement stairs.
In “The Art of Climbing Tenement Stairs,” … Kalish talks to Breslin’s friends and nemeses, from pal Pete Hamill and investigative reporter Jack Newfield, to the former mayor of New York, Ed Koch. He’s along for the ride as Breslin sleeps on the streets with New York’s homeless, and talks to the columnist right after Breslin broke the story of the city’s Parking Violations Bureau kickback scandal. There’s even an excerpt from Breslin’s 1986 appearance on Saturday Night Live, in which Breslin tells the story about baseball coach Casey Stengel. Kalish also talks to Breslin’s second wife, Ronnie Eldridge, a former NYC council member.
But most of all, it’s the hard-hitting, no-nonsense gritty voice of the irascible Jimmy Breslin that commands the attention of your ears, in the same way his columns grabbed the attention of readers for decades.
KCRW-FM serves Los Angeles and Orange Counties at 89.9 FM (Ventura County at 89.1 FM on KCRU, the greater Palm Springs area at 89.3 FM on KCRI/Indio-Palm Springs, Kern and Northern LA Counties at 88.1 FM on KCRY/Mojave/Antelope Valley, Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley areas at 90.7 FM, Gorman at 89.7 FM, Banning at 90.9 FM, the Ridgecrest area at 107.1 FM, the Santa Paula, Moorpark, and Fillmore areas at 102.3 FM, Ojai at 102.1 FM, and Lemon Grove/Spring Valley in San Diego County at 89.9 FM).
Here’s a nice short bio on Breslin from the Village Voice:
- For 40 years, however, James Breslin has been the standout player in this league, bar none. Breslin himself will gladly tell you this, but the record is there and, as he would say, you can look it up: In November 1963 he famously interviewed the men digging JFK’s grave; in the ’70s he found the heroes of Watergate and publicly corresponded with the Son of Sam; in the ’80s he helped bring the house crashing down on the municipal corruption schemes of his pals on Queens Boulevard. In the ’90s he filed a column by telephone, commas and paragraphs in place, after being beaten in Crown Heights during a riot. Yet he refused to let this sour him. When so many others were silent, he kept up a drumbeat against the anti-poor and anti-minority attitudes at Rudy Giuliani’s City Hall.
He won a Pulitzer along the way, but the greatest tribute was the full-page ads the patrolmen’s union bought in his own newspaper to protest his relentless columns on police misbehavior.
….The secret of this success is not the bluster and the blarney or the Irish newspaperman act that so easily lends itself to poseurs. It is instead a rock-hard sympathy with people of all colors in pursuit of simple things: job, love, school, home. Combined with a sense of history, a sense of humor, and an angry impatience with those swollen with power and self-importance, this has made him the city’s steadiest and most accurate chronicler.
The NY Times has the first two chapters of Breslin’s ’02 look at the world of NYC illegal immigrant labor, The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutiérrez, here.