Category Archives: Media

Remembering Chris Byron

Chris Byron — who attended Saugatuck Elementary School and Bedford Junior High in Westport, then returned after becoming a prize-winning investigative journalist and best-selling book author, with books about mental health and Martha Stewart — died last weekend. He was 72 years old.

Chris Byron

Chris Byron

He was particularly proud of his book Tales From Bluewater Hill, published in 2015. The memoir of growing up in the 1950s described the joys of boyhood near Compo Beach, in no-holds-barred terms.

Chris’ family — including his ex-wife Maria; his children Jana, Katy and Nick, and his  brother Kevin — said:

As many of you know, Chris had been ill for quite some time. We are relieved that his passing was peaceful and painless, and that he was afforded the grace to say goodbye to his family in the days preceding his death.

In true Chris form, he maintained his award-winning wit and humor until the very end. He will be greatly missed by those who knew and loved him as well as his many admirers and readers. He will not be missed by Donald Trump, or any of the other subjects of his countless exposés and investigations.

A wake will be held this Saturday (January 14, 12 to 3 p.m., at Collins Funeral, 92 East Ave., Norwalk), followed by a memorial service.

Flowers are welcome. Contributions may be sent to the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation on whose board Chris served; Yale University’s Journalism Initiative (his alma mater), or the Authors Guild.

(Hat tip: Pam Barkentin Ehrenberg)

Daphne Baker Gets Chopped!

Daphne Baker is an 8th grader at Bedford Middle School. A typical 13-year-old, she loves hanging with friends, shopping, playing field hockey — and cooking.

That latter activity makes her a bit atypical. Tomorrow (Tuesday, January 10, 8 pm EST), she appears on Food Network’s “Chopped Junior.”

Daphne Baker on the set of "Chopped Junior" ...

Daphne Baker on the set of “Chopped Junior” …

Her episode is called “Pinwheel Meals.” According to the website:

In the appetizer round, the young cooks get to find out if bok choy tastes better with bacon. An old-fashioned “pinwheel” protein stirs things up in the entree round. And cottage cheese for dessert? The junior chefs attempt to find a place for it in their final plates. Actress Maia Mitchell and chefs Marc Murphy and Luke Thomas serve as judges.

Yum!

A longtime fan of the show, Daphne went through an arduous audition process. She sent in photos and videos of her cooking, then went through a series of phone and Skype interviews.

Four months later, she was selected for taping at The Chelsea Market.

The experience was “tons of fun,” Daphne says. And though the show is a contest, she became good friends with her 3 competitors.

... and opening her box of ingredients.

… and opening her box of ingredients.

The show was also a great exercise in making quick decisions, and executing with focus under pressure. “The process was probably more stressful for me than for Daphne,” admits her mother, Roma Tretiak.

“But she went in there with a positive attitude, and left with it too — enriched by the experience.”

Of course, confidentiality agreements prevent Daphne from telling us how she did. You’ll just have to see for yourself.

Perhaps curled up in front of the TV, with some bok choy and cottage cheese.

Remembering Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff — the wide-ranging, free-thinking, controversial and passionate author, columnist, jazz critic and social bomb-thrower who died yesterday at age 91 — had a strong Westport connection.

Nat Hentoff

Nat Hentoff

A Boston native long associated with New York City — the AP describes him as “a bearded, scholarly figure, a kind of secular rabbi, as likely to write a column about fiddler Bob Wills as a dissection of the Patriot Act, to have his name appear in the liberal Village Voice as the far-right WorldNetDaily.com, where his column last appeared in August 2016,” and whose friends included Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Malcolm X and I.F. Stone — he had a Westport home for many years.

Hentoff appeared several times at the Westport Library, as a speaker. There he provoked local audiences, just as he did readers worldwide.

Once, in a talk on censorship — which he vehemently opposed — he startled the attendees by advocating firmly for the anti-abortion side of that volatile topic.

Hentoff’s sister, the poet Janet Krauss, was also a longtime Westport resident.

(Hat tip: Maxine Bleiweis)

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Former Westporter Looks Back On 2016

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It’s A Wonderful Life, Indeed!

Take out your earbuds. Move over, Spotify. You’re so old school, iTunes.

Staples students are embracing a cutting-edge new technology: radio.

But not just any radio: a 1940s-style radio drama.

WWPT_logoTomorrow (Thursday, December 22, 1 p..m.), Geno Heiter’s Audio Production class and David Roth’s Theater 3 Acting class collaborate on a radio broadcast of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

They’ll use the original 1946 script — including Lux toilet soap advertisements from that long-ago time.

Similar WWPT-FM productions have won top awards in the John Drury national high school radio competition. Check it out:

It’s a phenomenal event — and a great undertaking. High school students incorporate live drama skills, sound effects and radio production into an entertaining, uplifting performance.

You can hear it locally on 90.3 FM, or by clicking here for the livestream.

It is indeed a wonderful life!

PS: The 2016 Candlelight Concert is also available on WWPT-FM (and via livestream). It’s broadcast at random times — so keep listening!

It’s A Wonderful Bridge

Alert — and historic-minded — “06880” reader Wendy Crowther sent along this perfect holiday/Westport piece. She writes:

A few days ago, my TV remote dropped me into the last half of the 1946 holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. I entered the story just as George Bailey ran onto the Bedford Falls Bridge and contemplated suicide. Luckily George’s guardian angel, Clarence, showed up just in time to help George see the value of his life, and its impact on his town and loved ones.

Though I’ve seen the movie a bazillion times, this time I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. George Bailey’s bridge was very similar to our own Saugatuck swing bridge (the William F. Cribari Bridge).

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (1946).

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (1946).

Due to my involvement over the last year and a half in efforts to not only document the history of our 132-year old span, but also save it from the impending doom of the state Department of Transportation’s scrap heap, I’ve become  sensitized to old bridges in general — particularly truss bridges like ours (and George’s).

Seeing the movie from this new perspective, I became intrigued by the film’s use of the bridge as a symbol. Sixty years ago, when It’s a Wonderful Life was first released, plenty of small truss bridges still existed. Clearly, it was one of many elements used by the filmmakers to convey the quaint, homey feel of a small, American town — towns like Westport, and thousands of others across the country.

George Bailey’s bridge, set in fictional Bedford Falls, plays a pivotal role in the story. The 2 most transformative moments occur as George stands upon it:  the first as he prepares to jump from it, the second when he returns to the bridge and desperately pleads, “I want to live.”

It’s believed that the town of Seneca Falls, New York was director Frank Capra’s inspiration for It’s a Wonderful Life. He supposedly visited Seneca Falls during the time the screenplay was being developed. Seneca Falls has a real bridge that looks much like the one depicted in the movie.

It also looks a lot like our Saugatuck swing bridge.

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (left); the actual Seneca Falls bridge (right). (Photos/Ottawarewind.com)

George Bailey on the Bedford Falls bridge (left); the actual Seneca Falls bridge (right). (Photos/Ottawarewind.com)

Though the Seneca Falls bridge and Westport’s are similar in many ways, Seneca’s can’t hold a candle to our own.

Our bridge, built in 1884, is 132 years old — the oldest active bridge of its type in the nation.  Seneca’s, built in 1915, is a mere 101. Both are truss bridges, though ours is longer and made of iron; theirs is made of steel. Our bridge swings open for boat traffic; theirs doesn’t. The roads over both bridges are known as Bridge Street — but ours has the additional honor of being designated a State Scenic Road.

Our bridge crosses the Saugatuck River; theirs crosses the Seneca. Both bridges are still in use and open to traffic. Neither is tall enough to allow semi-tractor trailers to cross.

But here’s where Seneca’s bridge has it over ours. It was rehabilitated in 1997.  Ours may meet the wrecking ball within the next few years — if the State has its druthers. DOT wants to make room for big rigs.

Original plans for the 1884 Saugatuck River bridge. (Image courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

Original plans for the 1884 Saugatuck River bridge. (Image courtesy of Westport Historical Society)

In the fictional town of Bedford Falls, and in the real-life towns of Seneca Falls and Westport, bridges are iconic symbols that tell a story, provide a sense of place, and teach us about our history. They span rivers and time. They connect what separates us, and they can deter what we prefer to fend off.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, the critical moment occurs as George stands for the 2nd time on the Bedford Falls Bridge and begs to have his old life back again. Suddenly, snow begins to fall. He is transported from his alternate reality and returned to the present. His gratitude sends him jubilantly running through the streets of Bedford Falls, shouting greetings to all the buildings and friends he cherishes.

As the film ends, all is well in Bedford Falls. Goodness triumphs over selfishness and greed, bells ring and the angel Clarence gets his wings.

The William Cribari (Saugatuck River) Bridge, Christmas Eve 2015. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The William Cribari (Saugatuck River) Bridge, Christmas Eve 2015. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Having newly seen It’s a Wonderful Life from the bridge’s perspective, I realize that it offers Westporters valuable insights and inspiration.

Will we fight hard to keep what many of us cherish — our Saugatuck swing bridge? What powerful forces will try to overcome valiant efforts to keep it just the way it is? What changes to the bridge could transform (or devastate) portions of our community forever? If we lose it, will we wish we had better understood the wisdom of its ways?

The film ends with 4 important words. The entire cast sings “Auld Lang Syne.”  Loosely translated from Scottish, the phrase means “for the sake of old times.”  Let’s remember those words.

(Wendy is a founding member of the Westport Preservation Alliance. For more information about the history of the Saugatuck Swing Bridge and the efforts to save it, click here.)

Deb Sawch Teaches The World About Education

Chances are you won’t read Educating for the 21st Century: Perspectives, Policies and Practices from Around the World.

It’s a scholarly book, thick with macro and country-specific perspectives on teaching today, plus “granular/classroom based approaches to what it means to educate in our complex, technological, interconnected world.” Contributors hail from Japan, Singapore, Kuwait, China, Finland, South Korea, Australia and the US.

Fifty Shades of Grey it ain’t.

But if you curl up by the fire with this 490-page, $119 tome, you’ll find Chapter 10 fascinating.

deborah-sawch-book-coverTitled “Exploring the Transformative Potential of a Global Education Framework: A Case-Study of a School District in the United States,” it focuses on a place called “Westfield.”

That’s the thinly disguised alias of Westport.

Our district’s inclusion in the book is not happenstance. One reason is that one of the 4 editors is Deb Sawch. An independent education consultant and faculty member of Columbia University’s Teachers College, she spent 3 years as a Staples High School English instructor (after beginning her career in the private sector).

Sawch is married to Staples alumnus Chris Sawch. Their kids are Staples grads too.

The 2nd reason that Westfield Westport is featured in the book is that our school district is doing some pretty noteworthy stuff, 21st-century-education-wise.

Sawch knows all about it. Through Teachers College, she’s been involved with “Westport 2025.” The K-12 initiative — launched in 2010, with 65 teachers and administrators — aims to develop students’ critical thinking, creative, communication and problem-solving skills.

Non-cognitive (emotional) skills, including ethical thinking, have since been added to the program.

Deb Sawch

Deb Sawch

“Westport is a forward-thinking district,” Sawch explains. “Educators here really want to share ideas about what it means to be a fully engaged global citizen.”

Our town’s journey through that 2025 initiative is at the heart of Chapter 10.

Sawch’s book has taken several years to edit. Re-reading it today, she realizes the importance of the role of educated, interconnected citizens. “There’s no going back now,” she says.

Sawch recently returned from Singapore, where she gave a presentation about collaboration by international students.

On December 13 she gives another talk — this one at nearby Sacred Heart University.

All over the world — from Asia to Westfield Westport — Deb Sawch is educating all of us for the 21st century.

David Pogue Helps Us $ave Money, Basically

David Pogue can’t believe that Westporters still pay to get flat tires repaired. Town Fair and other chains fix flats for free — it generates goodwill.

Westport’s leading tech guru/TV personality/author also is surprised at how few folks know that E-Z Pass offers a carpool rate — a big one. If you’ve got at least 3 people in your car, it costs $6.50 — not $12.50 — each time you drive to or from New York. (You do have to go through a manned gate and say “Carpool.” And you need to sign up in advance.)

Pogue notes too that our new Starbucks — like the other squintillion of them — offers unlimited 50-cent refills of coffee or tea (hot or iced).

Also worth noting: The smallest Starbucks serving is called the Tall. But an even smaller one does not appear on the menu: the Short. It’s less expensive, of course — and perfect for a little zap of something. It even contains the same amount of espresso as a Tall.

David Pogue, thinking of ways to save money.

David Pogue, thinking of ways to save money.

Pogue is astonished that Americans leave money on the table every day. And we do it every time we use cash machines, book flights, buy insurance or shop for clothes.

Because Pogue is such a good guy — as well as a clever person, and excellent writer — he’s sharing 150 tips for saving money. They’re collected in his latest book: Pogue’s Basics: Money.

Here are a few:

  • You can get 5 percent off anything you ever buy on Amazon. Just sign up for the Amazon Prime Store Card, a virtual credit card good only for Amazon shopping. There’s no fee — and no downside.
  • If you have a gift card for a store you’ll never visit, sell it to Cardcash.com or Raise.com. They pay cash for gift cards — maybe 75% of face value.
  • Why rent your cable box for $235 a year? You can buy one for $100.
  • That sticker on your windshield says to change your oil every 3,000 miles. Modern cars require oil changes only every 7500 to 10,000 miles. The manual even says so.

Everyone knows that time is money. But time is limited. Pogue says, “Fortunately, information is money too. If you know certain things, you can get more money without spending time.”

david-pogues-basics-moneyHis Basic Money book saves time and money, handing you 150 secrets all in one place. If you use all 150 of them, he says, you’ll save $61,195 a year!

You’d think Pogue has given away enough. But here’s a special “06880” offer: free autographs.

Our neighbor will personally inscribe any copy of the book. It’s at Barnes & Noble (or you can get 5% off by using the Amazon Prime Store  Card online).

Email pogue@me.com to arrange an autograph session.

Thanks, David! Here’s to a merry — and frugal — holiday for us all!

Justin Paul, His Best Friend, And The New York Times

“06880” has covered the career of Justin Paul extensively. All of us in Westport are intensely proud of the Broadway songwriter, who — with his musical partner Benj Pasek — has been called the next Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Now the New York Times has taken note too.

A long — loooong — cover story in this coming Sunday’s Theater section by Michael Paulson is headlined “What It’s Like to Make It in Showbiz With Your Best Friend.”

Justin Paul (right) and Benj Pasek.

Justin Paul (right) and Benj Pasek.

It begins:

They met at 18, the worst dancers in a college ballet class, and sought refuge in a basement practice room, taking a first stab at songwriting with a tune about adolescents playing hooky and footsie at a suburban diner.

They went viral before going viral was a thing — their undergraduate years coincided with the birth of Facebook, and the first song cycle Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote, called “Edges,” was discovered, shared and performed by musical theater majors around the country.

Now, at the age of 31, after a decade of being touted as promising, up-and-coming, and ones-to-watch, Pasek and Paul have arrived.

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul, deep into their

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul a few years ago, deep into their “24-Hour Musical.” (Photo by Kerry Long)

There are ample shoutouts to Westport:

They are, on the surface, quite different from each other. Mr. Paul, who lives in Harlem, is a churchgoing Christian from Westport, Conn.; straight; married; and the father of a 7-month-old daughter. Mr. Pasek, who grew up in Ardmore, Pa., and now lives on the Upper West Side, is gay, Jewish and single.

But they both began as little boys who loved to sing.

Mr. Paul, a talented pianist, started early. At age 3, he was singing gospel music with his father, a pastor, in church. Later, he sang and danced at senior centers with Music Theater of Connecticut; and then, at Staples High School, he performed in “Into the Woods,” conducted the orchestra in “Hello, Dolly!” and spent his free time poring over Broadway “fake books,” which help pianists master melodies.

There’s much more, of course. For the full story — and photos — click here.

(Hat tip: Tommy Greenwald)

Jeff Pegues: “Black And Blue” In America Today

As justice/homeland security correspondent for CBS News, Jeff Pegues has special insight into the police/community relations crisis that’s dominated American headlines for the past couple of years.

As an African American man, he’s got a different — but very important — perspective too.

Which is why the 1988 Staples High School graduate’s new book — Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America — is such a crucial addition to this national debate.

Earlier this week — in the midst of tracking down sources for the still-developing Russian-presidential-campaign-hacking story — Pegues talked about his project. We had not spoken for 3 decades — I was his youth soccer coach, before he became a Staples football star, earned a scholarship to Miami University in Ohio and rose through the broadcast ranks to WABC-TV news, then 3 years ago CBS national news — but he was eager to chat.

Jerff Pegues, reporting for CBS News.

Jerff Pegues, reporting for CBS News.

His parents grew up in the Deep South — Montgomery and Birmingham — during the heart of the civil rights movement. He’s related on his mother’s side to Rosa Parks.

During his 25 years in the news business, Pegues worked on many law enforcement stories. He’s developed strong relationships with police officers, commanders and federal investigators.

As he covered a string of police shootings – from Ferguson through Tulsa, Charlotte and more — he realized he was in a unique position.

“It’s important to dispel myths, and get all sides of the story in one place,” Pegues says.

“With Twitter, Facebook and other social media, people get information from sources they agree with. They reinforce their opinion. They don’t question it.”

He admits, “I’m not Shakespeare. But I know how to interview people, and get honest answers. That way everyone can see the issues, study them and start to solve problems.”

jeff-pegues-bookSpeaking with hundreds of subjects — officers, police chiefs and union leaders, community activists, even FBI director (and fellow former Westporter) James Comey — Pegues offers an unbiased view from both sides of the cop-community divide.

Police speak about the pressure to enforce laws, involve themselves in social issues and work in neighborhoods that have been neglected for years. Black citizens talk about confrontations that have happened for decades; finally, they say, there is proof that they are being singled out, harassed, even killed.

A police chief remarks that officers feel there are targets on their backs. “I thought, ‘a lot of African Americans feel the same way,'” Pegues says. “But they can’t take that ‘uniform’ off.

“I want the truth out there,” he adds. “Folks in the black community need to understand stop-and-frisk. Cops need to talk about the disrespect they feel in some communities, as they try to help. There are good people on both sides.”

However, he adds, despite similar concerns about issues, “in this politically charged atmosphere, there’s not a lot of listening.”

Pegues plays it right down the middle. “I have friends and family on both sides,” he says.

Jeff Pegues

Jeff Pegues

Writing about a subject with new headlines nearly every week — though  the book will not be published until spring — is not easy. For example, Pegues says, earlier this week the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police apologized for historic mistreatment of minorities by police. That came too late to include in Black and Blue.

But stories like those will bring readers to his book. Once there, Pegues’ clear, coherent and constructive approach to cop/community relations will draw them in.

And — whether they are police officers, black activists or any other American — Jeff Pegues’ book will get us all thinking.


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