Category Archives: Media

Matt Storch Gets Chopped

Matt Storch is a hometown hero.

The 1995 Staples High School graduate has won raves from area diners with restaurants like Match in South Norwalk, and Saugatuck’s new Match Burger Lobster.

Now the rest of the country can see the chef’s magic too.

This Tuesday (April 24), he’s featured on the Food Network’s Chopped. The battle begins at 10 p.m.

But you don’t have to watch it alone, curled up with a gallon of ice cream in front of the TV.

Match in SoNo is hosting a viewing party. A late-night happy hour begins at 9 p.m. At 10, they’ll show the show on a big-screen TV.

The show was taped a while ago. Of course, Matt is not allowed to tell anyone how he did.

But win or lose, Westport knows the rest of the country is no match for Matt Storch.

Matt Storch is ready to rumble.

Tim Jackson’s “Chappaquiddick”

Tim Jackson is a man of many talents. And many stories.

He sat behind the Nixon daughters when the Beatles appeared on “Ed Sullivan” in 1964 — an event that launched his musical career.

He got kicked out of the Staples High School orchestra for “not being serious.” His band, The Loved Ones, opened for the Rascals at Staples.

Jackson majored in drama at Ithaca College. He went on to play drums in several bands (and open for Bruce Springsteen).

He toured with Tom Rush and LaVern Baker, and recorded often. His ’60s band — The Band That Time Forgot — has performed for over 30 years.

Jackson earned a master’s in education, and taught film history and production. He’s making a film about Westport poet and author Joan Walsh Anglund.

Joan Walsh Anglund and Tim Jackson. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

He’s acted in enough plays, films and commercials to get — and keep — his SAG and AFTRA cards. “I’ve been in nothing you’ve ever heard of,” he says.

But you’ve heard of his latest gig. “Chappaquiddick” opened a couple of days ago. The movie explores the 1969 story of Ted Kennedy. The Massachusetts senator drove his car off a narrow bridge on an island off Martha’s Vineyard, killing Mary Jo Kopechne, a 28-year-old former campaign worker of his slain brother Bobby, with whom he had been partying all night.

Jackson plays Kopechne’s father, Joe. He’s seen at her funeral; dismissing Kennedy’s cousin and confidante Joe Gargan, in order to talk to the senator; and watching Kennedy’s nationally televised speech a few days after the accident.

Tim Jackson (center) and his screen wife at their daughter Mary Jo Kopechne’s funeral, in “Chappaquiddick.” He says he got the role because of his “mournful countenance.” (Photo courtesy of Dennis Jackson)

“I spent all day watching a fake TV, looking depressed with the woman who plays my wife,” Jackson says about that scene.

All afternoon he puffed on a cigarette that emitted plenty of smoke (but had no tobacco). He prepared by channeling his mother, a chain smoker. The cameraman wore a gas mask.

Director John Curran’s former art teacher was cast as Kopechne’s neighbor. He and his screen “wife” deliver a casserole to the Kopechnes, who shoo them away. The teacher was nervous, but Jackson — a longtime drama teacher — reassured him: “Don’t act. Just be the neighbors.”

Tim Jackson (2nd from right), and (right) his movie wife, Gwen Kopechne. The couple on the left play the Kopechnes’ neighbors in “Chappaquiddick.”

Jackson calls the film “a dark comedy of manners. It’s not absolutely accusatory about Kennedy’s criminal act. It just shows him in a situation that raises a lot of questions, in a family with a lot of questionable dealings. It doesn’t go for the jugular. It’s ambivalent.”

One of Jackson’s previous roles was in “Unsolved Mysteries.”

Sounds like a perfect description of “Chappaquiddick” — the movie, and the real life story.

(Jackson shares many more insights about the film on the Arts Fuse blog. Hat tip: Peter Gambaccini)

Eric Roberts, Sandy Dennis, And Westport’s Cat House

Vanity Fair recently ran a long story on Eric Roberts. In a career spanning over 40 years, he’s amassed more than 400 credits. No wonder the magazine calls him “the hardest-working man in Hollywood.”

Back in the day, he worked pretty hard in Westport too. The article describes what happened in 1966 when Sandy Dennis — nearly 20 years his senior — first saw him. She thought he could be the Next Big Thing. 

Vanity Fair says: 

What first impressed Eric when he walked into Sandy Dennis’s house in Westport, Connecticut, was her 2,500-book library. Even when he was a boy, disappearing into books was one way Eric handled his social isolation.

Eric Roberts (Photo/Sam Jones for Vanity Fair)

“So I go over to Sandy’s house and we start talking about books. After about a month, I’m over there in the afternoon, just me and her in the house, and we’re having a talk about cats. How many cats on this property? She goes, Probably 30. And her house had 12 rooms, so you didn’t feel cats were an issue. So I was fine with it. And I’m a cat person anyway. . . . The next thing I know we were rolling around together.”

They began “this little book affair,” which turned into a 4-year relationship, from 1980 to 1983. It almost ended, Eric says, after he had a brief relationship with another actress while Dennis was on the road doing a play. Sandy found out and forgave him, but there was another problem: “Too many cats. By now there’s a hundred cats. Not 30, there’s 100,” Eric recalls.

Sandy Dennis

He offered to start an animal shelter if she would agree to keep just 10 or 12, but Sandy refused. Neither would budge, so Eric asked for his engagement ring back. Over the years he had bought her an antique jewelry box and a lot of jewelry, but he wanted her to return only the ring.

“Sandy went upstairs and stood at the top of the winding staircase,” Eric recalls. “Here’s your engagement ring,” she said as she hurled the jewelry box and it crashed to the floor, smashing into pieces.

He never saw her again. (She died in 1992.)

In fact, she died right here in Westport, of complications from ovarian cancer. She was just 54.

(To read the full Vanity Fair story, click here. Hat tip: Susan Iseman)

 

 

Trey Ellis And Martin Luther King: In The Wilderness

Fifty years ago today, a bullet ended Martin Luther King’s life — and changed the course of American history.

Two nights ago, HBO aired “King in the Wilderness.” The 2-hour documentary showed a side of the civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner that’s seldom discussed today: a conflicted leader who, at the time of his death, was assailed by critics on both the left and right.

Trey Ellis

Westporter Trey Ellis served as executive producer. He’s accomplished plenty in his life. He’s written movies, books, TV shows and a play about the Tuskegee Airmen. He’s been a political pundit, social critic and Huffington Post contributor; won a Peabody and been nominated for an Emmy.

He teaches at Columbia University, was a non-resident fellow at Harvard, and taught or lectured at Yale, NYU, and in Brazil and France.

But this project was special. Ellis spent a year crisscrossing the country, interviewing 17 men and women who lived, breathed and molded the civil rights movement.

John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Marian Wright Edelman, Joan Baez — all spoke with candor and insight about Martin Luther King. Ellis also interviewed unsung heroes of the movement, like Diane Nash.

A special camera allowed Ellis and his subjects to look directly into each other’s eyes as they talked. Each 2-hour interview was thrilling.

“It was a very collaborative effort,” Ellis says of the film. He worked closely with director Peter Kunhardt (a 6-time Emmy winner) and co-executive producer Taylor Branch (who wrote the landmark trilogy “America in the King Years”).

In the midst of so many gauzy, hagiographic 50th-anniversary retrospectives, this documentary is different.

“When most people think of Martin Luther King, it’s ‘I have a dream,'” Ellis says.

“He was 25 years old when he first worked on the Montgomery bus boycott. He was 39 in 1968. His great successes were behind him. But he still kept working for social justice. He loved humanity.”

In the last year of his life, King was criticized by some whites for speaking out against the Vietnam War — and by some African Americans for his insistence on non-violence. His embrace of economic inequality issues also drew criticism.

Ellis’ film examines all of that, unflinchingly.

“He wasn’t perfect. He was human,” the executive producer says. “He was funny, irreverent, and at the end of his life he was depressed.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

“King in the Wilderness” premiered in January at Sundance. It was was shown at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History, and at New York’s Riverside Church, where on this day in 1967 — exactly a year before he was murdered — Dr. King preached a fiery sermon that denounced not just Vietnam, but America’s entire foreign and domestic policy.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Ellis says of the past year.

His adventure continues. Today he’s in Montgomery, Alabama — the city where King first preached, and helped organize the year-long bus boycott.

Ellis is there working on his next project: an HBO documentary on the history of racial violence in America.

That’s a subject as important today as it was 100 years ago.

And on April 4, 1968.

(For more information on HBO’s “King in the Wilderness” — including viewing options — click here. For an interview with Trey Ellis and Peter Kunhardt about the film, click below.)

Michael Martins’ College: The Last Frontier

Parents, teachers and counselors always tell teenagers: “Don’t worry. There’s a college for everyone. You’ll do fine.”

It’s true. Just ask Michael Martins.

You can find him at the University of Alaska.

At Staples High School, he served on the WWPT-FM board. For his Eagle Scout project he worked with alumni, bands and DJs to make the radio station’s 40th anniversary fundraiser a success.

But during his college search — ranging from upstate New York to the far west — there was no place he truly wanted to go.

“I love learning,” Michael says. ” I wanted to do college the right way.”

After graduating in 2016, he did not go directly to school. He kept searching, and found the Fairbanks campus online.

He’d never been to Alaska. He knew no one in the entire vast state. It was isolated, different and a challenge. Michael liked that.

The nation’s “northernmost land, sea and space grant university and international research center” is a global leader in studying climate change. Michael could use his math skills in Arctic research — in the Arctic itself.

And because his mother is a veteran, tuition in that military-friendly state is less than what he’d pay at the University of Connecticut, Michael says.

He’d seen photos of UAF online. But when he stepped off the plane, it finally hit him. “I’m in Alaska!” Michael thought.

Friends and family members have many misperceptions. They picture tundra and igloos. They ask if he has Wi-Fi.

Sure, the temperature reaches 40 below. But in many ways, UAF is a normal college campus.

Michael Martins on campus. “If it’s snowing, it can’t be that cold,” he says.

It has normal college problems. Like not enough pianos.

Michael has played for 3 years. He doesn’t take music courses — he’s a math major, and French minor — so he couldn’t just play whenever he wanted to.

He picked his residence — Bartlett Hall — because it was the only one with a piano. But the instrument was in an out-of-the-way place, and not well tuned.

So one of the first things Michael did after arriving was organize a piano fundraiser. He brought the piano into a common area. He asked musicians to play for an hour each night — with a tip jar. He set up online donations too.

Michael Martins, at the Bartlett Hall piano.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner picked up the story. Immediately, 6 people in Fairbanks — a city of 32,000 — called to donate pianos to residence halls.

The goal was $300. Michael raised twice that amount. The extra funds will go toward appraising, tuning and transporting the pianos.

But that’s not the only way Michael has reached out to others. For spring break he decided to help people he didn’t know, in (another) place he didn’t know.

So he spent a week in Houston, helping victims of Hurricane Harvey rebuild their lives. It was far from Alaska — and far from the wild spring break experiences of some college students.

Michael Martins doing mold prevention work in Houston.

Michael loved Houston. He was also glad to get back to Fairbanks.

“I’m thriving here,” he reports. “There’s a great attitude of ‘let’s make it happen.’ And tons of support.”

He calls himself lucky: to have gone to Staples, to have had the idea to apply to the University of Alaska, and now to go there. “I love where I am,” he says.

He has a message to Staples students: “There are a lot of places where you can feel important, and make a difference.”

It’s something parents, teachers and counselors say all the time here to teenagers.

Perhaps it will have impact coming from someone else who knows Westport well, now thriving thousands of miles away.

Michael Martins, in front of typical Inuit art. Over 20% of the more than 8,000 graduates are of Alaska Native or American Indian descent.

Toby Burns: Westport’s Al Jazeera Connection

At Staples High School, Toby Burns was a Renaissance Man.

He captained the 2002 baseball team (and the year before, helped them win a state championship). He starred in Players’ “Music Man,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Into the Woods.” He sang with Orphenians.

At Harvard he studied Latin and Greek literature, and performed with Hasty Pudding and the Krokodiloes. Burns imagined himself getting a Ph.D., and becoming an academician.

But his artistic impulse was strong. He spent a couple of years after college pursuing Broadway.

Burns missed studying languages though, and headed to the Monterey Institute to learn Arabic.

He also began considering a career in journalism. He calls the field “a combination of what I love. There’s the creative side of telling stories, but it involves a lot of serious research.”

His parents were journalists — his father Eric Burns is a television commentator and author; his mother Dianne Wildman is a producer/reporter/editorialist — but it took a while before Burns realized that all those dinner discussions about current events, and how to cover them with balance, had made an impact.

Toby Burns

He went to Medill School of Journalism, where he focused on international relations, military affairs and diplomacy. He had no formal background in those areas, or even writing. But, Burns says, “I learned a ton about journalism, and how the world operates.”

He landed a job with TheStreet, reporting on oil, energy and cybersecurity. He worked for a production company in Los Angeles, then joined the Hollywood Reporter as a staff writer.

“I did the least sexy stuff there: labor and taxes,” he says.

His friends were in the entertainment world. He was learning about Hollywood from many angles. Still, Burns wanted to use his Arabic skills — and get back into the international arena.

He heard of an opening for assignment editor with Al Jazeera. He interviewed by Skype. They liked him, despite his lack of TV experience.

Which is how Toby Burns is now living and working in Qatar, for one of the largest news organizations in the world.

The learning curve was steep, he admits. For 6 months, he thought he would get fired every day.

He helps run 10 hours of broadcasts a day. He has plenty of resources: Al Jazeera has 80 news bureaus around the globe, and sends teams deep in the field. “This is not like a cable channel that has panels of talking heads,” Burns notes.

“We strive to be a prestige product. We do pure, hard news. We have no sponsors, so we don’t worry about ratings. That’s a real luxury. We just focus on stories with international relevance.”

That’s everything from wars in Syria and Yemen, to Brexit, to secessionist movements like Catalonia, to turmoil in the Trump White House.

To keep up, Burns reads 20 newspapers a day. They include the New York Times, Washington Post, and the leading ones in France, Germany, Russia, South Korea, India, South America — all over the world. He follows the wires for breaking news, and talks with correspondents everywhere.

The day we spoke, he planned coverage for a major water conference in Brazil. It’s a huge issue — and Al Jazeera was sending a crew to quickly shrinking Lake Chad to illustrate it. But it’s not, Burns notes, a story the American press would cover.

The Qatar newsroom mirrors the network’s reach. It’s filled with men and women from the US, Britain, Africa, Asia, and of course the Mideast.

The Al Jazeera newsroom.

It’s extremely exciting — and challenging. “We have to be very sensitive to cultural differences,” Burns explains. “This has reset my objectivity button back to a new level.”

That objectivity means too that a story on foreign meddling in US elections will include Russian voices. “We have to represent the entire globe,” he says.

The biggest story he’s worked on is the Syrian war. “It’s massive. A whole generation has been devastated.” It involves not just Syrians, Americans and Russians, but Turks, Kurds and many other groups.

The geopolitical and military complexities are “staggeringly large,” says Burns. “I’m finally starting to see how to build a comprehensive narrative.”

A scene in central Doha, Qatar.

Each night when Burns leaves the newsroom, his mind races. “There’s a real intellectual high. It’s so stimulating to hear so many different perspectives,” he says.

Plus, of course, “there’s the basic journalistic reward of being first to the story, or getting an angle no one else has.”

Burns knows that the Middle East is “massively misunderstood. There are so many misperceptions and stereotypes in the US.” In Qatar and his travels throughout the region, he’s come to appreciate that “the tapestry of Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions is so much richer than we often appreciate.”

A Christmas tree in the lobby of a Doha luxury hotel. Qatar is more religiously tolerant than many Americans imagine, Toby Burns says.

But Burns gives plenty of credit to his hometown.

“Westport is an incredibly international place,” he says. “There’s a UN Day, with flags. There are wildly diverse people there. At Staples, I saw many different cultures.

“I view this job as an extension of the values I got there. I’m very proud of the international side of the town. I’m honored to have grown up there.”

But although Burns spends much of his time working on geopolitics, the arts — another foundation of his youth in Westport — are never far from his mind.

Soon after arriving in Doha, Burns joined the Qatar Concert Choir. The high-quality group performs classic, contemporary and original music.

Toby Burns is indeed a Renaissance Man.

Spectators watching a military parade, on Qatar National Day.

 

 

Staples Tuition Grants: 75 Years In 8 Minutes

Staples Tuition Grants turns 75 years old this year.

To celebrate, the organization — which last year provided over $300,000 in scholarships to 115 Staples High School seniors and graduates with financial need — threw a fundraising party this month.

The event met its goal: over $75,000 in donations. (For 75 years — get it?).

One of the night’s highlights was a video. Produced by talented Westport filmmaker (and Staples grad) Doug Tirola, it featured well-known residents and SHS alums like Christopher Jones, Justin Paul, Ned Batlin, Linda Bruce, Jessica Branson, Miggs Burroughs, Anne Hardy, Dan Donovan and Maggie Mudd. They offered insights into their own scholarships and those named for loved ones, plus thoughts on the importance of college and life.

The video — filled joy and heartache, humor and love — is well worth the 8 minutes. Enjoy!

(For more information on Staples Tuition Grants, or to donate, click here.)

Beloved Shoe Repair Shop To Close

M&M Shoe Repair is not on Main Street.

The owner is not leaving because of high rents or lack of business.

But the closing of a small Riverside Avenue shop has caused a big ripple in town.

M&M Shoe Repair is at 265 Riverside Avenue — right next to Jr’s Hot Dog Stand.

The last day is April 14. Owner Rick Masone is moving to Georgia, to be closer to his kids.

“Oh noooo!” one person posted on Facebook’s Westport/Fairfield Community Board page.

“So sad,” another added.

Other customers chimed in:

  • “He provides top notch service, and is a great guy.”
  • “He always did a wonderful job.”
  • “He is the most honest person.”
  • “A huge loss to our community.”

It’s one thing to lose Chico’s, or Jack Wills.

It’s another thing entirely to say goodbye to a good — no, great — hard-working, honest and very talented shoe repair man.

Marching? Send Photos!

This Saturday (March 24), Westporters will join millions of other Americans, in rallies against gun violence (and the politicians who enable it).

There are “March For Our Lives” marches of every size, and nearly every location.

Westporters will gather at 6:30 p.m. in the Bartaco parking lot, then head over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge to Main Street.

The biggest event is in Washington, DC. Others in New York and Hartford will draw area residents too.

The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport meets the world.” If you’re marching anywhere, please send photos to dwoog@optonline.net. Include caption information, and any other details.

And if you’re going to the Ruger demonstration — or will be part of a counter-demonstration there — we’d like to see those images too.

In 2012, protesters on the Post Road bridge raised the issue of gun violence. This Saturday, they’ll cross it — for the same reason.

Hurricane Irma, Long After The Storm: A Westport Native Reports

“News of St. John” is a blog about St. John, in the US Virgin Islands. Sort of an “06880” for 00830.

Since September — when Hurricane Irma devastated much of the Caribbean — “News of St. John” has had plenty to blog about.

So when blogmaster Jenn Manes described “A Very Powerful Story About Hurricane Irma and St. John” as “the most powerful article” she has read about the disaster, readers took notice.

Writer Devin O’Neil watched from a distance as 200-mile-an-hour winds battered the island where he grew up.

But O’Neil also has Westport ties. He writes:

My fraternal twin brother Sean and I were 5 years old when our mom Christie decided she was tired of commuting from Westport, Connecticut, to New York City. So in December 1985 she and her boyfriend bought a 41-foot sailboat named Yahoo. We packed everything we owned into 19 duffel bags, and headed south.

St. John, half of which is covered by Virgin Islands National Park, offered singular beauty—and plenty of places to anchor our new floating home. Mom took a job as a landscaper in Fish Bay and eventually got her real estate license.

Devon O’Neil (right) with his brother Sean and mom Christie. (Photo/Steve Simonsen Photography)

Sean and I fell in with a rat pack of kids who congregated after school to play tackle football, catch tarantulas and lizards, and crawl under barroom floors in search of quarters. We grew up boogie boarding and surfing on the south shore. One day we took turns reeling in a 350-pound shark, next door in the British Virgin Islands.

Fish Bay sounds nothing like Compo Beach.

Devon writes lovingly of his carefree childhood, and movingly of the storm: the frightening fear of living through it, and what he saw when he returned 2 months later. (Spoiler alert: Richard Branson compared the damage to a nuclear strike.)

It’s a long piece. But — long after Hurricane Irma has faded from our mainland consciousness — this strong story by a Westport native is well worth reading. Click here for the full link.

(O’Neil’s story was originally printed in Outside Magazine. Extremely alert “06880” reader Regina Masterson spotted it on “News of St. John.”)

One small part of Hurricane Irma’s impact on St. John, US Virgin Islands.