Courtesy of Steven Latham

Celebrating Extraordinary Lives

Steven Latham was intrigued with the idea that there were people alive today who’d gone from the horse-and-buggy days to seeing the Pathfinder land on Mars. That was the impetus for the television series he created, The Living Century: The Extraordinary Lives of Ordinary People (
      The series, which runs on PBS through 2002, profiles people 100 years of age and older who still lead active lives, and features one centenarian per 30-minute episode. “These are people who have either touched history or made history,” Latham says. “They were born before plastic, before Communism, before zippers. Amazingly, each centenarian we’ve met never thought about aging.”
      Latham, who received a public relations degree from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, created the series after a long apprenticeship in various facets of the West Coast entertainment industry. He accumulated experience by working in public relations, advertising, feature films, television and theater production, and producing an Academy Award-winning short documentary, Dolphins: Minds in the Water. “After 10 years of working for studios, I wanted to develop projects I was passionate about,” he says. “I began thinking about what’s important.”
      Realizing there are more than 70,000 people in the United States who are at least 100 years old, he located some and began talking with them. “I was absolutely amazed at their humor, their agelessness,” he marvels. “They’re old only in body. In spirit and mind, they’re magnificent and incredibly young.”
      He and his producing partner, co-presidents of Reverie Productions, interested filmmakers Barbra Streisand and Cis Corman of Barwood Films in producing the project with them. With Latham as creative director, they put together their first two programs, each a carefully crafted mix of interviews, archival photographs, historians’ perspectives, home movies, and original music of the time.
      The first two programs, hosted by Jack Lemmon, featured 107-year-old Rose Freedman, who was the last remaining survivor of the infamous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City that killed 146 women; and 100-year-old farmer Ray Crist, who helped develop the first atomic bomb.
      “The critical and public response has been overwhelming,” Latham says. “This project and others that we are producing have been indescribably rewarding. For me, work and life are inseparable. We do this as our work, our fun, our everything.”

—Carol North Schmuckler

Joe Lawton

Late Night Buffoonery

It may not have been an auspicious beginning, but growing up in Chappaqua, New York, Eric Stangel and his brother Justin fancied themselves as filmmakers with their father’s Super 8 camera. “The movies would be a mess, but they were interesting and fun to do,” Stangel says.
      The two still have fun collaborating—and now they get paid for it. They are the head writers for The Late Show with David Letterman on CBS. “People always ask if we write the Top 10 lists,” Stangel says. “We have 12 staff writers and they hand in maybe 40 jokes each for a Top 10. That’s just to get 10 jokes.”
      Comedy was far from Stangel’s mind when he came to the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications for the broadcast journalism program. “I wanted to be Bob Costas,” he says. “On my first day there, I was in a roomful of other people who wanted to be Bob Costas, but they seemed to know every single statistic. I thought, ‘Maybe I don’t want to be a sportscaster.’”
      Shortly after graduation, Stangel and his brother created their own stage show, Big City Comedy, in Manhattan. That led to work for Fox Television, Saturday Night Live, and USA Network. At USA they created comedy shorts to air between shows. Using a series of Chinese martial arts films in a manner reminiscent of their childhood efforts, the Stangels re-edited the footage and added humorous voice-overs.
      Their next assignment for USA—creating “day-in-the-life” video pieces for a comedian who would take a different job each week—helped get them hired as staff writers for The Late Show in 1997. Soon they were doing similar pieces with Letterman. The brothers traveled worldwide on these assignments, including a three-week stay in Nagano, Japan, to cover the Winter Olympics with Letterman’s mom. “That’s the best part of the job,” Stangel says. “You constantly find yourself in situations where you can’t imagine how you got there.”

—Gary Pallassino

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