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Life Story Club Contributor

April 29, 2021

Hi, everyone. So, are you aware today, 1899 in Washington DC was born, the one and only master pianist, awesome bandleader, and the finest composer jazz has ever known, Edward Kennedy Duke Ellington. So happy birthday, Duke Ellington, wherever you are. I know you’re swinging in Brooklyn today. Your Spirit is alive and well. And indeed, if anybody wants to enjoy until 11:59 tonight, the majesty of Duke Ellington’s legacy, please feel free to tune in to 89.9 WKCR-FM, and or, Columbia University’s radio station. So on with the show, lights, camera, action, Brooklyn, 1971 September, my sister and I, Eileen, have come peeping and screaming to the Flatbush. And what’s going on? An absolutely incredible apartment building we’re moving into with high gargoyles, majesty, magic, and mystery. And we unpack it as we are literally painting the walls, bright red, black, orange, red.

Yes, it’s 1971. It’s a half-century ago, this year. And what’s happening beyond Brooklyn, what everybody in Brooklyn is talking about? Attica, the prison riots, the uprising of the inmates at Attica, seeking to have their humanity recognized as a matter of law, as a matter of justice, and as a matter of societal good. So as I’m painting away, I’ve got one hand in the bucket, and both ears on the radio, because Attica is where it’s at. As the weekend progresses, we sadly learn of more and more tragedy unfolding in Attica. Ultimately, many of the remarkable changes that were made, and more that still need to be made rest in the sacrifice of those who dared, and those who dreamed to be perhaps bigger than the moment. And for all of those, all of those who lost their lives, may they rest in peace.

And now back to Brooklyn. In that building, we came to learn there were the secrets that many today in Brooklyn, alive and well, do not know that Brooklyn in the ’20s and the ’30s was indeed a set, a set where films were being made. Many think that a story, yes, 100 years ago, was Hollywood East. But there was a lot going on down the road from where my sister and I settled in at the corner of Beverly Road and Ocean Avenue, 726 Ocean Avenue, to be precise.

There was a ton of filmmaking going on there. And why? Because a man by the name of Douglas Fairbanks, Senior, he felt imprisoned by the big studio system. And as much as he loved Mary Pickwick and all of her progeny, and he persuaded his fellow artists, not all but some, to create United Artists. Ultimately, many of them migrated to Brooklyn, and they needed a place to live. And where oh where did Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Senior ultimately reside? In the property that my sister and I moved into during the weekend of the Attica uprising. What a history is in that building. Think of all the parties. Think of all the ghosts. Think Brooklyn. When you think Brooklyn, think big set. Think fact, think fiction, think imagination, think of dreams coming true.

And as we painted our way forward into Brooklyn, I discovered more and more about the incredible backlot that Brooklyn became. Inspired by that, we decided to throw, in honor of our first New Year’s Eve in Brooklyn, a New Year’s Eve party, like none other. We got people from all around the world to come, and they partied on the fire escape, partied in the halls, joined the neighbors, joined the colors on the wall, and rejoiced at the memory of all of those who had once partied hearty two, three, four decades beyond. And ironically, in August of 1974 on a hot summer day, you might call it a dog day afternoon, there I was in Brooklyn. And right down the road on Flatbush Avenue, who was there but Al Pacino, filming “Dog Day Afternoon.”

Not may I say in an Apple Bank because he was portraying a bank robber and any smart bank robber if there are any. You can’t be too smart to rob a bank, can you? But just in case, never rob an Apple Bank. Please, never. They’ll take a bite out of you, long-term. And there was Al Pacino on the street, bringing back all those ghosts of Mary Pickford and all those great silent films that were recorded just a stone’s throw away. From there, they were lensing Dog Day Afternoon. There was Al and all the crew. And in the middle of that movie, what does Al, who portrays a small-time miscreant, what does he scream out? “Attica, Attica, Attica.” Ladies and gentlemen, justice for all, in Brooklyn. It’s where we call home. Thank you.

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