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ABOUT BENJAMIN
Premiering Thursday, January 12, 9:00 p.m.


Download this press release (MS Word document).


For Philadelphians, the year 2006 is all ABOUT BENJAMIN. In celebration of the Tercentenary of Philadelphia's icon and America's founding father — Benjamin Franklin — WHYY-TV will premiere ABOUT BENJAMIN on Thursday, January 12, 2006, at 9:00 p.m. This original, half-hour documentary explores the man behind countless achievements in the worlds of science, art, medicine, education and politics.


Sharing what they know "about Benjamin" are 16 regional historians, artists, curators, authors and architects. Topics range from Franklin's musical and artistic inventions, to his penchant for fine foods and spirits, to the nagging bladder stone he took to his grave. In every case, the documentary connects regional Tercentenary attractions with Franklin's story.


"Rather than another history of Franklin -- which has been thoroughly documented -- we wanted to get at who this man was, how he became great and how this region helps tell his story," said Kenneth Finkel, executive director of WHYY's Arts & Culture Service. "The outcome is a story about a great man and a great city, even when up against the realities of 18th century Philadelphia."


WHYY will host a free screening of ABOUT BENJAMIN on Tuesday, January 10, 2006, at 6 p.m. in the WHYY Technology Center, 150 North Sixth Street in Philadelphia. Following the preview, Finkel will moderate a discussion about Franklin with special guests (and ABOUT BENJAMIN interviewees) Page Talbott, chief curator, Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, and Kyle Farley, founder of Poor Richard's Walking Tours.


During ABOUT BENJAMIN, artist Brian Tolle -- whose artwork on exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art depicts Franklin's portrait using micro printing of his most famous writings --talks in detail about Franklin's currency printing innovations. "The way that he cornered the market was by creating a foolproof way of preventing counterfeiting at the time," said Tolle. "Franklin engraved or embossed an actual leaf onto a printing plate, and in doing so, created a unique print that couldn't be reproduced."


Lending insight into Franklin's early diplomatic dealings is Mark Bowden, former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter and author of the best-selling novel Black Hawk Down. Bowden tells the story behind "the Paxton Boys incident," in which Pennsylvania residents killed innocent Native Americans and then stormed Philadelphia, vowing to continue the murders. "The Paxton Boys incident may be seen as the beginning of Franklin's career as a diplomat, because he became the default person in this stand-off between the angry frontiersmen and the passive colonial government of Pennsylvania," he said. "Franklin -- who was the ultimate rational person -- managed to find a peaceful resolution in what was a potentially very bloody and violent clash."


Additionally, historian Michael W. Zuckerman of the University of Pennsylvania reveals Franklin's rocky relationship with the Penn family during the documentary. "[John] Penn truly thought that he was better than Franklin. Penn was noble, and Franklin was common," explained Zuckerman. "To have this guy, by an accident of birth, think that he was superior to Franklin was a kind of haughtiness that tore Franklin up. I think so much of his career is a vindication of the possibilities of commoners."


Much attention in ABOUT BENJAMIN is also paid to Franklin's former home on Third and Chestnut streets in Philadelphia, an area now referred to as Franklin Court. Architects Denise Scott-Brown and Robert Venturi, designers of the "Ghost Structure" of Franklin's house built for America's bicentennial in 1976, describe how they created the frame despite knowing little about what Franklin's residence actually looked like.


Lisa Gensel, curator of The Medical World of Ben Franklin at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia's Mütter Museum, describes Franklin's health problems, which included bouts of gout and the infamous bladder stone. "By the time Franklin's in the Continental Congress, he's in his 70s in a time period when the average lifespan is 37," said Gensel. "He's never morbid or upset about his diseases. He acknowledges: if this is the worst I have, I'm a lucky old guy."


Also sharing little-known facets of Franklin in the documentary are James N. Green, librarian, Library Company of Philadelphia; Judith Guston, curator, Rosenbach Museum & Library; Dr. Karen Moxon, Drexel University scientist; Stacey Peeples, chief curator, Pennsylvania Hospital; Kristy Pron and Christopher Redmann, digital media, Drexel University; Neil Ronk, Christ Church historian; and musician Carolinn Skyler.


In companion with the premiere of ABOUT BENJAMIN, WHYY-TV will broadcast seven shorter stories about Franklin's personality, work and life. Among the original stories: "The Franklinia," a plant named after Franklin that is cared for at Bartram's Garden; Franklin's musical invention, the glass armonica; and the Philadelphia Orchestra Association's commissioned work, "Ben," composed by Daniel Kellogg. These 2- to 3-minute interstitials will air throughout the WHYY TV12 schedule beginning Friday, January 13.


ABOUT BENJAMIN is produced by Michael O'Reilly. Executive producers are Trudi Brown and Kenneth Finkel.


Support for ABOUT BENJAMIN is provided in part by the Dietrich Foundation, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation .




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