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New York The Way It Was: Greenwich Village

WLIW New York brings back a time when Peter and Paul met Mary, artists became activists, jazz met poetry, and a two-square mile area in the lower end of Manhattan exploded with an energy and attitude that was felt around the world in NEW YORK THE WAY IT WAS: GREENWICH VILLAGE. Actor Jerry Orbach, singers Mary Travers (Peter, Paul & Mary), Oscar Brand and Judy Collins, writers Nat Hentoff and Pete Hamill, La Mama’s Ellen Stewart, artist Larry Rivers, former New York Mayor Ed Koch and other hipsters, hellions and hepcats from the Village’s heyday explore its impact from the 1940s through the 1960s.
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NEW YORK THE WAY IT WAS: GREENWICH VILLAGE visits the people and places that characterized a way of life for generations of would-be actors, dancers, artists and activists who came to test the limits of freedom. Vintage film footage and photos, and interviews with Village “insiders” – those who worked and performed in the Village – and “outsiders” – those who became their audience – recall a place folksinger Oscar Brand describes as “unlike most of the city, unlike most of the country, unlike most of the world – practically all of the world,” where there was “freedom in the air.” A freedom Pete Hamill describes as “a triumph.”

The program celebrates Village institutions like La Mama repertory, The Living Theater and Circle in the Square, Judson Church, Limelight Cafe, the Village Vanguard and the Village Gate — these were places where future legends got their start and cultural phenomenons like the jazz poetry of the Beats took hold. The program also highlights the paper that recorded it all – The Village Voice , a neighborhood paper that truly was a voice for those it served – an accessible newspaper whose writers were untainted by journalist credentials and represented, in Pete Hamill’s words, a “psychic plaza” for its readers.

As those in the program tell it, Greenwich Village made its mark as a place where the young, broke and ambitious laid the groundwork for a cultural and social revolution that impacted far beyond the two-square miles of city blocks defined as “the Village,” a legacy that continues today. As Mary Travers explains, “the Village will always be the Village because of its landscape – it’s the only part of New York that has a big sky.” Above all, the Village was special because it was a place where, as Pete Hamill recalls, “the values of youth could be sustained.”

The film recalls the charm and appeal the neighborhood offered. For those who lived there, like Jerry Orbach who starred as “El Gallo” in the original 1960 cast of the Village staple “The Fantasticks,” it was “almost like living in a small town, the feeling that you could leave your doors unlocked — except on the weekend.” For those living in Long Island, Queens, New Jersey and the areas outside Manhattan, a trip by bus, train or tunnel offered an escape from their parents’ suburban homes. And then there was Washington Square Park, where the insiders and outsiders came together at the big circle to perform, read poetry or protest inequities.

NEW YORK THE WAY IT WAS: GREENWICH VILLAGE is the eighth program in WLIW New York’s acclaimed NEW YORK THE WAY IT WAS series. Executive Producer: Roy Hammond; Producer/Director: Roman Brygider; Associate Producer: Jeffrey Dubinsky. The program received a 1999 New York State Broadcasters Award in the historical documentary category.

NEW YORK THE WAY IT WAS: GREENWICH VILLAGE is distributed by American Public Television (formerly American Program Service), a major source of programming for the nation’s public television stations. Known for identifying innovative programs and developing creative distribution techniques, American Public Television provides stations with program choices that enable them to strengthen and customize their schedules. It also serves as an essential distribution and funding option for producers.

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