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“New York in the Fifties” Made by Hoosiers!

It wasn’t until the documentary based on my book New York in the Fifties was shown Tuesday night to a full house at The Jazz Kitchen that I realized the film was basically an Indiana production! It all started on the night of the premiere here of “Going All the Way,” based on my novel of the same name, when Tom Griswold invited me to dinner with his then wife Betsy Blankenbaker. Tom had come to some of my readings at bookstores here in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and identified himself as a fellow graduate of Columbia College in New York City. At our dinner on the night of the “Going All The Way” premiere, Blankenbaker told me “I had always wanted to make a movie of Going All The Way, but now that’s been done, how about a movie of New York in the Fifties?”

No one had ever thought of that before, including me. The idea of a documentary, though, of that great era of writing and the arts in New York, while most of the people I wrote about were still alive, seemed like a great idea. Griswold and Blankenbaker co-financed the production and Blankenbaker assembled the crew and talent and acted as director as well as producer. We premiered it in New York and Indianapolis, and it was selected to be shown at film festivals in Denver, Santa Barbara and other venues.

Although I knew all the Hoosiers who had helped make it happen, it never occurred to me how many there were and what key parts they played, until many of them showed up for the screening at The Jazz Kitchen. My life-long friend from Shortridge and room-mate for three years in the Village, Ted Steeg, was a key film-maker on the team (he also later worked with Blankenbaker on her classic film of the great Crispus Attucks two-time state basketball champions, “Something to Cheer About.”) Sadly, Steeg (who was the inspiration for the character “Gunner” in Going All The Way), died a few years ago after a  fine career as a film maker of documentaries and business films for his company in New York City, Steeg Productions, and he lived his whole life in Greenwich Village. Happily, he is one of the frequent on-screen commentators in the film.

For Tuesday night’s screening, I invited Steve Allee, who composed the music for the film (and did a terrific “New York in the Fifties” CD with his band), to come and play some ‘fifties songs with our great saxophonist Sophie Faught after the movie. It was especially appropriate since Steve is the father of David Allee, owner of The Jazz Kitchen. Steve Allee and Sophie Faught played some of the classics of the ‘Fifties including “This Will Be My Shining Hour,” and “I Should Care.

Just before the screening began, a tall familiar-looking man tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that he was Steve Marra, the film editor who had edited the documentary here in his studio in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, Betsy could not be here from her present home in California, and is always hard to find due to her world travel and commitments, which include an orphanage in Zimbabwe. (She promises to be here in the fall to promote her latest book, Beyond Orgasm.)

The other Hoosier involved in the making of the film was me, who wrote the book and spoke of matters both proudly public and painfully personal in the documentary. It was all received graciously by a full house on this memorable night at The Jazz Kitchen.

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Policy/Apology Note: A comment was made from the stage concerning a political figure. In this era of divisiveness, Uncle Dan hopes to deal with issues we feel are important, as we have in the past, but not to speak ill of personalities or assume that all good people hold the same opinions.


Coming up January 30 – Film, Talk, Music!

Uncle Dan's Movie Night

New York in the Fifties, the documentary film based on Dan Wakefield’s memoir and produced by Betsy Blankenbaker, will be shown at The Jazz Kitchen Tuesday, Jan. 30. The film features Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Gay Talese, David Amram, William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer – and Wakefield, who will be there to answer questions after the screening.

Steve Allee, the jazz pianist/composer who wrote the music for the film, will be there in person to play songs from the ‘fifties, along with star saxophonist Sophie Faught after the movie.

Get tickets to this event now


Our Hidden Hoosier Treasures

When I was a boy growing up in Indianapolis in the 1940s I loved listening to “The Ink Spots” on the radio. They were a pop vocal group who became internationally famous in the 1930s and 1940s, and in 1939 their hit song “If I Didn’t Care” sold nineteen million copies; in 1989 they were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

I had no idea they were from Indianapolis. I had no idea that one of their original members, Jerry Daniels, once taught music at Crispus Attucks – nor did I realize the music department of that high school was as highly regarded as their Oscar Robertson team that twice won the state basketball championship.

I knew that guitarist Wes Montgomery and trombonist J.J. Johnson were from Indianapolis, though I didn’t know that they got their start on Indiana Avenue, nor did I know that Indiana Avenue had once been the seedbed and performance center of some of the great jazz musicians in this country – Indianapolis natives who were ventolin evohaler online known throughout the world, though not by the white population of their hometown. Such are the fruits of segregation.

I learned about this from Aleta Hodge, a former fellow writer on The Shortridge Daily Echo, who is writing what promises to be an important book called Indiana Avenue: Life Along and Near the Avenue and a Musical Journey from 1915 to 2015 (Ragtime, Blues, Jazz, Spiritual, Bebop, Doo Wop, Motown, Opera and Hip Hop.)

Aleta is a guest on “The Uncle Dan Story Hour” that will air on WFYI (90.1 FM) on Monday night, August 14 at 9PM. Be sure to tune in on this, the last of our nine shows scheduled by WFYI. Other guests are poet Tasha Jones, Cindy Booth of Child Advocates, and Pam Blivens-Hinkle of Spirit and Place.

This may be our finest hour. (Our time slot will be taken over in the fall by Andrew Luck.)

Tune out with your mental memory of our star saxophonist Sophie Faught playing her plaintive rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield