Premiering Thursday, January 12,
this press release (MS Word document).
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
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.
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."
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.
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."
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."
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."
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
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."
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.
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
is produced by Michael O'Reilly. Executive producers
are Trudi Brown and Kenneth Finkel.
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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