Like most state senators running for re-election, Will Haskell has a corps of helpful volunteers.
They knock on doors. They make calls.
On Friday though, they turned from campaigning to community service.
Over 40 people — of all ages — headed to Westport’s Goodwill. The organization often gets more book donations than they can use. Haskell’s crew plowed through 16 bins, finding over 8,000 appropriate for elementary school children in Bridgeport.
I’ll resist the urge to make a pun like “Good, Will!” (Hat tip: Jeff Wieser)
Sorting through books at Goodwill.
The death of Chadwick Boseman on Friday at age 43 saddened his many fans. It also brought renewed attention to his starring role as Thurgood Marshall — America’s first Black Supreme Court justice.
The 2017 movie “Marshall” was written by Westporter Michael Koskoff — a noted civil rights attorney — and his son Jacob, a Staples High School graduate who is now a screenwriter.
The film takes place in 1941, when a young Marshall defended a black chauffeur against his wealthy socialite employer in a sexual assault and attempted murder trial. Marshall was partnered with Sam Friedman, a young Jewish lawyer in Bridgeport who had never tried a case. Click here for the amazing back story. (Hat tip: Mary Gai)
Chadwick Boseman at the premiere of “Marshall” with Mike Koskoff’s wife Roz and grandson Eli. (Photo courtesy of Darcy Hicks)
Aspetuck Land Trust is staying true to its roots. The non-profit announces its first-ever fall native plant sale. All are grown at Planter’s Choice in Newtown.
The goal is to encourage biodiversity, as all offerings — from perennials to trees — attract pollinators and wildlife.
All come with plans, kits and instructions for all locations, levels of sun and soil conditions. Four landscape partners are also available to help (click here for details).
They can be picked up at Earthplace, or delivered to your home. 50% of each purchase is tax-deductible.
Online orders are open while supplies last, or until September 17. The spring sale sold out quickly. Click here for all offerings.
Westport artist Michael Chait offers an outdoor exhibit today, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the courtyard outside 11 Riverside Avenue.
He’ll show his “fun and kooky experimental videos” on vintage television sets. He pays homage to television’s beginning, and explores where it may be going.
He calls it “Video Paradisio,” and it plays on a continuous 10-minute loop. The public is invited.
Thurgood Marshall’s life is well known: respected attorney, NAACP stalwart, 1st African American Supreme Court justice.
Less noted was his role in a 1940 case. Greenwich socialite Eleanor Strubing told a harrowing tale of being raped by her black chauffeur, Joseph Spell.
Thurgood Marshall, as a young man.
Only 32 years old, Marshall had already argued before the Supreme Court. The NAACP sent him to help. The case was a defining moment for the young attorney — who, prevented from arguing before the bench, had to find other ways to influence his white co-counsel and jury.
It took place in Bridgeport. And — thanks to a pair of Westporters — it’s now the subject of a movie earning notice across the country.
“Marshall” was written by longtime local attorney Mike Koskoff and his son Jake, a 1992 Staples High School graduate now living, and screenwriting, in Los Angeles.
It’s not easy to write (and sell) a courtroom film these days — especially a period piece, with an African-American protagonist. Even if he’s played by Chadwick Boseman.
But Thurgood Marshall was “a legal genius,” Jake Koskoff says. The story is compelling, and father and son gave the script everything they had.
The response has been “wonderful,” says Jake. Since its world premiere at Howard University last month, and its American release a couple of weeks ago, reviews have been strong. Critics say it’s “gripping.”
Rolling Stone called it an “electrifying glimpse of a great man in the making.” Rotten Tomatoes’s positive rating was 83%. The Los Angeles Times and RogerEbert.com were particularly praiseworthy.
“Bloggers have been inspired to write about the film,” Jake notes. “And they don’t have to.”
Michael and Jake Koskoff.
He and his father are gratified to hear that some moviegoers have been inspired to donate to the NAACP and ACLU. “Marshall” inspired others to consider applying to law school
Thurgood Marshall’s son John said the film brought his father “back to life.” The justice’s former clerks praised it for getting Marshall’s story “right.” Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor met Mike Koskoff at a screening, and told him she loved it.
On a personal level, working with his father — “as an adult” — is an added bonus for Jake.
“It’s difficult to write with anyone. And the father-son relationship can be fraught,” he says. “But it worked out well.”
When he was 19, Mike Koskoff’s family moved to Westport. He’s 74 now, still here, working at his “day job”: trial lawyer. Clients have included the Black Panthers, black police officers and firefighters in Bridgeport, and Michael Jackson’s family.
His son Josh is a partner in the firm. Right now, he’s handling the Sandy Hook suit against gun manufacturers.
Seven years ago, before he died, Jack Zeldes — a Bridgeport attorney and legal historian — asked Mike if he knew there had a been a trial in that city involving Thurgood Marshall.
Mike did not. Apparently, no one else remembered it either.
More than 2 decades before he became a Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall handled an explosive case in Bridgeport.
Mike presented the idea to 2 of his other children, Jake and Sarah. Both are screenwriters. Neither had the time — or the interest.
But 7 years earlier, on Mike’s 60th birthday, Sarah had given him a book on screenwriting. Zeldes suggested Mike try writing something about Marshall himself.
Mike’s 1st draft focused on the courtroom drama. The case began in 1940. Greenwich socialite Eleanor Strubing was found near the Kensico Reservoir. She told a harrowing story of being raped by her black chauffeur, Joseph Spell.
Police quickly arrested the man. It was front-page news.
Frightened white people across the country began firing their domestic workers. The NAACP — despite its own dire financial straits — hired Bridgeport attorney Sam Friedman.
And they sent Thurgood Marshall to help.
“The image we have of Marshall today is chubby, jowly, good-natured,” Mike Koskoff says.
“But in 1941 he was 6-2, and extremely handsome. He drank bourbon at nightclubs, and hung out in Harlem with Langston Hughes and Joe Louis.”
Only 32, Marshall was a formidable attorney. He’d traveled around the South — alone — defending blacks in redneck towns. And he had already argued before the Supreme Court.
Thurgood Marshall, as a young man.
Koskoff’s script centered around the 2 men — Jewish Friedman, and black Marshall — joining forces to defend Spell. With the backdrop of the growing war in Europe, he had plenty of material.
The screenplay took a while to finish. Eventually Koskoff took it to his friend (and fellow attorney) Alan Neigher.
To Koskoff’s amazement, Neigher said that his father — a noted journalist named Harry — had covered that trial for the Bridgeport Herald.
And — after law school — Alan even shared office space with Friedman.
Neigher showed the script to Friedman’s family. Sam’s daughter Lauren — a therapist in New York, who had studied acting at Carnegie Mellon — passed it along to a producer friend in Los Angeles.
The friend liked it, and wanted to make it into a movie. Koskoff told his son Jake the news.
When Mike mentioned the producer’s name — Paula Wagner — Jake was stunned. “She’s the biggest female producer in Hollywood!” he said. She worked with Tom Cruise, producing the “Mission: Impossible” series, and Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.”
Wagner loved the script. But, she said, it needed better character development.
Koskoff realized he was in over his head. He called Jake. This time, his son was ready to help.
Mike and Jake Koskoff.
For the past 4 years, father and son have collaborated on new drafts. They’ve been helped by one of Wagner’s friends: Reginald Hudlin. A Harvard grad, producer of this year’s Oscars show and an African American, he’s been a lifelong admirer of Thurgood Marshall.
He loved the script too. But, he said — there’s always a “but” — there was just one thing. The 1st biopic about the 1st black Supreme Court justice could not be a “buddy film” about 1 Jewish and 1 black lawyer collaborating. Marshall had to be front and center.
It turned out to be an easy rewrite. “Thurgood was always there,” Koskoff says. “He was just waiting to jump out.”
Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in “42,” James Brown in “Get On Up”) signed on as the star. Filming began before Christmas, but was interrupted by Hudlin’s Oscars gig. It resumes next month.
Koskoff hoped it would be shot in Bridgeport. But the Connecticut Film Office has a moratorium on tax credits, so shooting takes place in Buffalo.
“Marshall” is the right movie at the right time, Koskoff says.
“Five years ago, we were told no one would finance a ‘black’ movie because there were no overseas sales. But then came ‘The Butler,’ ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘Selma.'”
Koskoff adds, “Now we’ve got Black Lives Matter, police abuses, and a focus on blacks and the criminal justice system — along with the Oscars controversy about black actors.”
Throw in, for good measure, the current national focus on a Supreme Court vacancy. The stars have aligned for “Marshall.”
Release is scheduled for the end of this year. That seems like a long way off. Odds are though — without a 9th justice — the Supreme Court will still be in the news.
(For a Jewish Ledger interview with Mike Koskoff, click here. Hat tips: David Roth and Darcy Hicks)
Mike Koskoff (right) with Sam Friedman’s daughter Lauren, and Thurgood Marshall’s son John.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)