Actor and Director Lee Grant, Lindon Beckford, and more...
A conversation with actor and director Lee Grant and the Coolidge Corner Theater’s virtual film series of her work, “20th Century Woman: The Documentary Films of Lee Grant,” then Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center patient transporter Lindon Beckford brings comfort and positivity to patients with his singing. Plus, an original coin press from 1869 at Nevada State Museum and more.
>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,
WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture
from around the region and the nation.
I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,
Lee Grant, a fresh look at the Oscar-winning actress's
>> Who leaves Hollywood to make films about
the trans underground and, like, Reagan's America?
Nobody does that! But she did.
>> BOWEN: Then the frontline healthcare worker
treating patients to song.
>> ♪ It must have been cold there in my shadow ♪
♪ To never have sunlight on your face. ♪
>> BOWEN: And making sense of coins.
>> We have coins in our pocket
but do we really know the background and the history
of how they're made?
>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.
>> I really think you would be a good investment.
>> Wouldn't tell Lester if I didn't think so.
>> Do you really mean it?
>> I mean it.
I mean it or I wouldn't say it.
>> BOWEN: That was Lee Grant in her Oscar-winning role
in the filmShampoo.
Right after that, though, she shifted focus,
becoming a documentarian,
leading to another Oscar for her 1986 film
Down and Out in America,
about the country's devastating poverty
in the wake of Reaganomics.
>> My father brought me up, and that's...
I think that's the thing that makes him angriest, you know.
And he said,
"Do a good day's work and be honest," and what did it get me?
Out the door.
>> BOWEN: Now, you can stream Grant's films
via a virtual film series
presented by the Coolidge Corner Theater.
We'll speak to Grant in a moment,
but first, I recently spoke with her longtime friend
Taylor Purdee, who assembled the films,
which range from examinations of equal rights
to one of the first looks at transgender people.
Taylor Purdee, thank you so much for joining us today.
>> Yeah, thanks, man. It's cool to be here.
>> BOWEN: A lot of people I think will know Lee Grant
from her film work, her Oscar-winning film work,
but tell us who she was as a documentarian,
who she continues to be as a documentarian.
>> So, she tells this great story about going up
to get her Oscar forShampoo--
it was her third nomination, first win--
um, and as she's walking up to the podium,
just realizing like, "This, this is it.
"I can't go any higher than this.
"And they're not gonna give me any more roles.
"I'm already older than I should be
"to be this successful in Hollywood.
And I-I need to do something else."
And within a few months,
she had joined the A.F.I.,
in a like a women's filmmaker program,
and it kind of spiraled from there.
And the first film she makes is one calledThe Willmar 8,
that follows this group of women,
who were called the Willmar 8,
who were a group of bank workers who were striking
in Willmar, Minnesota, in the dead of winter
for, like, equal pay in 1977.
>> What is your opinion
of the women's strike at Citizen's National?
>> Are you taking my picture? >> Yes.
>> We just want your opinion.
>> I don't want to be in that. >> No?
>> No. >> No comment?
>> I won't give you any and you wouldn't want it.
>> It's totally not Hollywood.
It's like 16 millimeter, dead of winter, totally verité.
Eventually she, of course, wins the Oscar
forDown and Out in America in like '86, '87, um...
which was the first Oscar that HBO had ever won.
>> These are the down and out,
familiar images of displaced people on our streets,
far removed from our lives.
Most of us feel we could never end up like this.
Yet some of us do.
>> BOWEN: What have you gleaned about why she had
such a knack for this that she could make
that transition seemingly so easily?
>> The thread through both of them is what we would call,
on like a normal film set, being an actor's director.
She is great with these people, and she'll always say
that the first step in the documentaries was casting.
>> Were you one of the five daughters
who was trying to protect your mother?
>> What did you see?
>> I saw him started to stab her.
So I tried to stop him but I couldn't.
>> Casts of real life people that could really,
you know, reach through the screen and pull you into
their strange corner of the world.
And then getting them to trust her.
That's sort of like, we're playing the scene together.
>> BOWEN: How did you come to her films?
>> So I've known Lee my whole life.
My mom was one of her producers on a lot of these,
but a couple of years ago, I was over...
I think we were filming an interview for something random,
and I was going through a closet,
and I found these one-inch tapes of...
it wasWhat Sex Am I? andBattered.
>> I knew that I was supposed to have been a woman
and something went wrong.
I feel like I was born with a birth defect.
I finally got it straightened out.
>> This person is a transsexual.
>> And it was right around the time that Caitlyn Jenner
And I was like, "Oh, you were talking about
this movie the other day."
And Lee said, "Oh, you know,
I'd love to put a clip of that on YouTube."
And we looked it up and it turned out
there was a clip of it on YouTube.
And it had hundreds of thousands of hits.
None of us knew about this.
It picked up enough steam that...
I-I said, like,
"Hey, like, where are the rest of these films?"
And I found a couple more in the closet.
Who leaves Hollywood to make films about
the trans underground and, like, Reagan's America?
Nobody does that! But she did.
It's the the like the third film ever made
about the trans experience-- third documentary film.
>> BOWEN: How well do these films hold up?
>>What Sex Am I? I think is probably the most interesting
test case in that because...
well, the first time we kind of showed it
to people in the modern era, it was like 2015 maybe,
just like a private showing.
And everybody came away from it like, "Oh my God,
that was so powerful," because it is almost word for word
the way we talk about the issues today.
It felt so... so millennial.
>> I didn't even know that the sex change operation existed.
I knew they were doing research in the direction,
but I wasn't sure how far it had gone.
>> But they're always really balanced between
feeling so modern
and being a great encapsulation of the moment.
But I can't help but feel like this sort of, like, activist,
one of the, like, early female directors corner of her legacy
is going to become way more part of the story as time goes on.
As people see the films, and as we get used to the idea
that there were women tearing up the system,
like... like Lee, and like
so many of her contemporaries before Lena Dunham made it cool.
>> BOWEN: Well, in her 90s and still working,
Lee Grant recently spoke with me by phone
from her New York apartment.
>> Hey, hey, Jared.
>> BOWEN: Hi. So nice to speak with you.
(Lee chuckles) >> So nice to be asked.
>> BOWEN: There could have been any attempt to sensationalize
some of these stories or, or beef them up
for an entertainment value.
But I noticed how your storytelling has a great deal
of matter-of-factness to it.
>> Well, thank you.
Thank you, I really, I really appreciate that.
You know, the reason I was doing it
was to hold the mirror up to whatever was happening.
And it, it took me to places
that I never thought I would go to.
And, and I had such reverence
for all of those people.
>> BOWEN: As you look back, of... we're all taking a look
at your collective work now,
what's the biggest difference that you feel
you're able to make in telling these stories?
>> Well, I... I think the fact...
that I'm a method actor, you know.
And I... and I-I really enter
into the lives.
I am lost in the lives.
And, and I taught for so long.
And, and I think that the relationship you have
with a student-- you know what I mean, Jared?
>> BOWEN: Yep, yep.
>> Of, of entering into the student's world.
And going where they go as actors is something
that's served me really well on the documentaries.
>> BOWEN: I know it's been described as such,
how does it feel to have this "Grant-aisance" at this point
where people are so enthusiastic about the work that you did
quite some time ago now?
>> Oh, my, I'm through the roof.
You know what I mean?
I mean, these are my babies.
Uh, these are the dearest people in them.
You know, I don't think of them as works.
I think of all of them...
You know, when I looked at Down and Out in America,
you know, I start to choke up when I think about it,
the... when the people were fired from their factories
in the Midwest.
>> BOWEN: And striking that you can watch that film today
and it feels like you made it a couple of months ago.
>> Oh, absolutely.
There's no question about it.
I mean, all of that, that stuff of the banks
taking the farmer's fields away from them?
I mean, it's shocking.
And there's no recourse.
>> BOWEN: Well, it has been such a pleasure
to have the opportunity to speak with you.
I'm glad that we were able to talk by phone.
I know that we weren't able to do Zoom,
but I am so grateful for this opportunity.
>> Oh, me too, Jared.
Believe me, I mean, these are my babies.
You're taking them, you're putting them out there,
and, and they're going to have the light of day.
And people are gonna see them and say,
"Oh, my God. Oh, my God."
>> BOWEN: Throughout this pandemic,
we've been looking at the power of music to soothe people.
>> BOTH: ♪ I believe.
>> BOWEN: Lindon Beckford has been singing to the sick
ever since starting work as a patient transporter
at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in the 1980s.
Wheeling patients through the hospital
all throughout the coronavirus crisis,
he says he's spent his whole life preparing for this moment.
Although he might prefer a little less of this moment.
>> ♪ We are in this battle to save human life ♪
♪ You can do your part by just staying home ♪
♪ We are fighting for you
>> BOWEN: Lindon Beckford, thank you so much for joining us.
I understand you just got off your shift.
Tell us about what your days in the hospital are like right now.
>> It's really hectic, but, you know,
on a day to day going, I have to learn to manage
and do what I have to do just to make things much easier
on the patients that I'm transporting.
>> BOWEN: What is it like to be singing music right now
with this pandemic, with what's happening in hospitals?
>> Knowing the difficulty that each patient is going through
day by day, whether they have the virus, yes or no,
nervousness about, you know, being in a place...
you know, at the hospital where you could easily contract that.
You know, it's tough.
So you you have to just, you know, try and
work your way through the day and see what you can do
to help others feel much better.
>> BOWEN: Well, of course, anybody who is
in a hospital is always in some state of anxiety,
I would imagine.
And... but does it feel different now
when people are there because of the coronavirus?
>> It feels different because it's a constant thing.
You can't get away from it.
And you see so many things that are only... that reminds you
that, you know, it's a troubled time.
>> BOWEN: Well, I would imagine that you're wearing a mask
or more than a mask right now.
How does that affect your singing abilities?
>> You know, when you have your double mask on and your stuff,
It's very hard because it's hard for you to breathe through them.
>> BOWEN: But you're still finding a way, obviously..
(Linden laughs) >> Finding a way to do it.
>> BOWEN: Are you a belter in the hallway?
Are you allowed to be a big belter?
>> No, no, you've got to take that somewhere,
make it your own where you can sing it without making
a lot of noise or disturb, you know, other patients
and people on the way.
>> BOWEN: And before we get into how you're singing
to the patients,
this has been your background.
You sang in nightclubs, I understand,
in the early part of your life.
What place has music always had with you?
>> Music is a big part of my life.
And, you know, as the year goes by,
I used to do it for just myself
because I have trouble with anxiety.
So I used to sing just to comfort myself,
but after a while it's getting better,
and find out that it was helping the patients.
So there were requests for me to sing for them.
Or sometimes the nurse would tell me, you know,
like a patient is having a bad day today
and they could use a song.
So I'll go along and sing with them.
>> What do you sing?
What do you feel most comfortable singing?
>> Anything to do with love, you know?
Or God, or, you know, just anything.
>> BOWEN: I heard you're also
very fond of country music.
>> I really love country music. (chuckles)
>> BOWEN: Is there anything that you're...
that you consider a favorite, or that you're known for,
that that you are on demand for at this point?
>> I really love to do the "Wind Beneath My Wings."
I'd really love to do that, you know?
>> BOWEN: What is it about that song in particular?
>> Ah... it's deep. (laughs)
And I could almost imagine, you know,
everybody have somebody who they could really
sing that song, too, so...
>> BOWEN: There's been a lot written about
what music does for people.
Scientists and researchers are now proving
that music does help, is that something...
how do you look at what you've seen that research reveal
over the last few years?
>> I could have told them that a long time ago
if they did ask me, but they didn't.
>> BOWEN: And finally, before I leave you...
how do you see us getting through this pandemic
and how it's hitting the hospitals right now
and medical professionals such as yourself?
>> For me, it doesn't bother me too much because I'm,
you know, prepared for things like this during the day.
You know, whatever time we go around and see
patients with different infections.
You prepare for it.
So it's just like a firefighter going out
and prepare for, you know, anything.
You don't know what a fire is going to look like
when you get there, but you're already prepared for it
from a long time, so when you get there and see it,
then you know how to maneuver yourself
onto whatever thing is going on.
But I'm feeling more sorrowful for people like the nurses
or the doctors who are in close contact with a patient
day in and day out,
knowing that when they leave to go home...
it still follow them because they are seeing it on the news,
they're hearing it from their family members.
So, for me, I think somewhere along the line,
a lot of folks are going to have PTSD over this.
>> BOWEN: What about you, do you have a...
is there a level of fear that you have
as you go into work each day now?
>> No, no, you know, I'm a frontline person.
I am prepared for this.
>> BOWEN: And you are going to sing
"Wind Beneath My Wings" for us.
Again, this is a song that you,
it sounds like you explained earlier why you love it,
but this is your go-to song.
Lindon Beckford, thank you so much for joining us.
>> All right, here we go.
♪ It must have been cold there in my shadow ♪
♪ To never have sunlight on your face ♪
♪ You were content to let me shine ♪
♪ That's your way
♪ And you always walk a step behind ♪
♪ I was the one with all the glory ♪
♪ And you were the one with all the strength ♪
♪ A beautiful face without a name for so long ♪
♪ A beautiful smile to hide the pain ♪
♪ Oh, oh...
♪ Did you ever know that you're my hero ♪
♪ And everything I'd like to be? ♪
♪ I can fly higher than an eagle, yeah... ♪
♪ When you are the wind beneath my wings ♪
♪ It may have seemed to go unnoticed ♪
♪ But I've got it all here in my heart ♪
♪ I want you to know I know the truth ♪
♪ Yes, I do
♪ That I would be nothing without you ♪
♪ Oh, oh, oh...
♪ Did you ever know that you're my hero? ♪
♪ And everything I'd like to be ♪
(cheers and applause)
♪ 'Cause I can fly higher than an eagle ♪
♪ When you are the wind beneath my wings ♪
>> BOWEN: The Nevada State Museum is home
to the original coin press of the Carson City Mint.
Built in 1869, Coin Press No. 1 continues to mint
uniquely designed coins that also pay off as works of art.
>> The Nevada State Museum is located in Carson City.
The main building was originally the Carson City Branch Mint.
This is the beautiful sandstone building you see
facing Carson Street.
And so what you see today
is a complex that has grown up to hold
the many stories that are part on Nevada's history.
One of the most amazing artifacts in the State Museum
is Coin Press No. 1.
>> Coin Press No. 1, boy, it is such
a special part of this museum.
A continuation of the great history of the U.S. Mint.
>> Coin Press No. 1 was the first coin press
in the Carson City Mint.
Coin Press No. 1 was also the only coin press
for the first five years of the mint's operation.
Eventually there were three presses here.
>> When this coin press was brand new,
it could do from 80 to 100 silver dollars a minute,
and smaller denominational coins, it could do even more.
>> Today, we don't have the equipment
that automated the activity.
So we mint each one by hand.
We operate it where we make maybe one per minute.
The first step
in minting the planchet is to put it into the collar.
So a planchet is another word for a coin blank.
It's simply a piece of metal that's ready
to be put into the coin press, ready to be minted.
So I put it on the table of the coin press
and I slide it into the opening and it drops into the collar
and then I step back and push the two run buttons.
Now they make you use two hands,
so the buttons are quite separated.
And that's purposeful so your hands are separated
so you don't end up leaving
a finger in under the coin press
and losing part of it, so you have to use two hands
to start the press, it's a six-ton machine.
We operate Coin Press No. 1 at about 110 tons of pressure
to make the half-dollar-sized medallions.
So coins or medallions are made from dies.
The dies are what make the impression on the coins.
We have a bottom die, which has the reverse image,
a top die that has the obverse image,
and then there's a collar, which inside has reeding,
and those are those edges that you see
on the edges of your quarters and half-dollars and dollars
and so that's inside the collar, so when that wedge comes down
and pushes those dies together,
all of that happens in one action.
So, that complete coin is made... in a second.
We've had the pleasure of working with Tom Rogers,
a former sculptor and engraver for the United States Mint.
He's done several of the dies for us.
We work with people who actually used to work for the mint
so we're getting absolutely the most professional experience
we can to make the dies for Coin Press No. 1.
>> When they're designing these, and these are original works of,
really art, that's what coin collectors are excited about,
is the designs and the quality of those,
and that's where the sculpting comes in,
and it works hand-in-hand.
>> It really is history in action.
Here you are, standing in the original
mint building and you're working with the actual coin press
and it's still operating, the very first one
that was here at the museum.
And we're minting, uh, silver blanks, silver planchets,
just like they did back in the 1870s and '80s.
>> There's many people out there, many collectors,
they just focus on the Carson City medallions
that have been done on historic Coin Press No. 1.
>> Museums are all about connections.
Connecting people with stories
so that they not only understand,
but they feel a real link to the time.
And so Coin Press No. 1
is a perfect example of how that works.
>> BOWEN: Now a little music before we go
from internationally known jazz man Lafayette Gilchrist.
(jazz music playing)
>> Stories of how I got into jazz... you know,
I don't think I chose it so much as it chose me.
(jazz music continues)
When it's working, and when it all comes together,
it is a transcendent experience.
(jazz song continues)
(improvisational jazz playing)
Trying to function as a composer...
in improvisational music,
that's always been an interesting process
for me to see, because when you play
without a set of chord changes or a time signature...
When you are playing what we call in the big room...
completely open, then you're responsible
individually for handling
all elements of music,
spiritual feeling, you know, and energy.
That all happens in real time, you know,
while we're playing.
(improvisational jazz continues)
(improvisational jazz playing)
The future of jazz is something that we have to hash out.
And do enough human beings want that?
And to have it in its fullest expression.
And that's ever changing.
Something that, that we
all have to decide is important.
We have to decide if we can live with it or live without it.
(jazz song continues)
>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.
Next week, artful interpretations at home.
>> Can we not have people interpreting
works of art from the Worcester Art Museum
in baked goods?
>> BOWEN: Plus, Liars & Believers,
the theater company that's now serving as a virtual studio
pumping out puppet shows, radio plays,
and serialized Shakespeare.
>> Oh, grim-looked night!
Oh, night with hue so black.
Oh, night, which ever art when day is not.
>> BOWEN: We'll have that and more next week.
Until then, I'm Jared Bowen, thanks for joining us.
And as always, you can follow us online
And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,
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