I loved watching Saturday Night Live growing up and actually remember the original cast. John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Steve Martin will always hold a special place in my heart. Gilda Radner married my favorite genius comedian Gene Wilder and later made a huge mark on Pittsburgh when Gilda’s Club opened in 1999. Gilda’s Club is a warm and welcoming place where anyone diagnosed with cancer can go for social, emotional and informational support. Membership is totally free.
But the biggest link Pittsburgh has to Saturday Night Live is Don Roy King. He attended Monroeville Junior High to become the four-time Emmy Award winning director of Saturday Night Live. He owes his auspicious start to his eighth grade teacher Anne Boden who took him and his classmates to Broadway where he met legendary Mary Martin starring in Sound of Music. It turns out she went to Monroeville Junior High too. If you have talented kids you may want to point them in that direction.
Kings credits Pittsburgh for influencing him in many ways growing up. He describes our city as a good, strong, hardworking blue collar town where ambition and dreams aren’t squelched. He showed initiative when the director unexpectedly quit at the PBS station he had just started working at in an entry level position. Don’t you love his confidence! He learned everything he could 30 seconds before the broadcast and managed to pull it off. He was a director two weeks into his career. I can see why he is so successful directing a live show where anything can happen and there are no second takes.
Don found himself back Pittsburgh a few years later for a dream job producing Pirates baseball. Soon after he was offered a chance to direct the pioneering Mike Douglas talk show. This gave him the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in show biz including fellow Pittsburgher Gene Kelly, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Lewis and Fred Astaire.
It has been almost a decade since Don was recommended for an open slot of director at Saturday Night Live and immediately impressed creator Lorne Michaels. Don has never forgotten his roots and will be returning to Pittsburgh for a LIVE performance on February 5th at The Frick Fine Arts Building. You can reserve your seat through Steeltown Entertainment and tickets are only $15.00. This famous citizen makes us hometown proud and is one speaker you don’t want to miss.
Anyone who can survive a Pittsburgh winter and the subsequent bad drivers can handle pretty much anything. The people from this region are just naturally hardy and like to live life to the extreme. A shining example of this is Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski. He grew up in Irwin and ended up with the most dangerous job in the country. Really, it has been tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wild Bill must have craved the sea after traveling three rivers and headed out to the last frontier of Alaska to make his mark. He worked his way up on a crab processing ship by developing a tough skin and resilient spirit.
True talent stands out like a sore thumb and it wasn’t long before Bill was made captain of a huge seagoing crab catching man bashing vessel. Captain Bill spent 20 years fishing the Bering Sea before being captured by the Discovery Channel for their reality series Deadliest Catch. You won’t find more swashbuckling, high end adventure fun anywhere outside of a pirate movie. I doubt you will ever look at crab the same way again either. The show highlights Bill’s notorious behavior and his potentially intimidating reputation. But I think you have to be pretty tough to put up with perilous conditions at sea coupled with all the other risks inherent in his profession. Not to mention the challenge of keeping a garrulous crew in check. Remember Moby Dick! Even though he has been known to use unconventional methods to keep his crew going strong, he is a really smart guy. He has extensive experience as a naval engineer, boat electrician, and every aspect of being a commercial fisherman.
Discovery Channel producers first approached Bill to join Deadliest Catch right out of the gate but he declined. He had semi-retired leading high-end fishing expeditions but was lured back crabbing by their tempting offer. It was an excellent decision since the show has turned into an award winning hit. It is heading into it’s tenth year and now includes Bill’s son Zack Larson. It is as addictive as a soap opera with no dull moments. And under his tough exterior Bill is a really nice guy who puts as much energy into his nonprofit projects and charities as he does taming the high seas. Don’t believe everything you see on TV.
You may want to watch from season one on Netflix or have a dinner and a reality show party with crab as the main course. It is a great way to escape the rigors of your own job and rethink any complaints you have about your own hard demands.
The Steeltown Entertainment Project was co-founded in 2003 by Hollywood heavy hitters with a soft spot for Pittsburgh and a vision to put us on the entertainment industry map. The collaboration was inspired by an op-ed Carl Kurlander wrote called Pittsburgh’s Next Industrial Revolution: Entertainment that caught the attention of Ellen Weiss Kander and Maxine Lapiduss. Their vision has confirmed the fact that Pittsburgh has what it takes to be a world-class player in the entertainment industry. They are an incubator for innovative productions that invest in nurturing talent and creativity along with telling great stories.
As this exciting year winds down it is with great pride that I announce a string of awards for the Steeltown team. The documentary A Shot To Save The World has won a prestigious CINE Golden Eagle Award. The film tells the story of how Jonas Salk and his team at the University of Pittsburgh developed the first polio vaccine. It continues to play on the Smithsonian Channel reminding the world of what is possible when we all work together.
You will also want to tune in on January 20 for the premiere of PBS’s Independent Lens spotlight on Blood Brother about Pittsburgher Rocky Braat who moved to India to make a difference in the lives of young orphans with HIV. The film is directed by Pittsburgher Steve Hoover and produced by Danny Yourd and longtime Steeltown Film Factory advisers Michael Killen and Kathy Dziubek of Animal. It won the IDA Humanitas Award this month and the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance last year.
Sundance had a few other Pittsburgh connections this year that include an intriguing new documentary about Pittsburgh Pirate Dock Ellis who claimed to pitch a no-hitter on LSD called No, No, A Dokumentary. The film explores Dock’s story well beyond baseball to explore who he was while dealing with issues of civil rights and addiction. You can learn more about the film and contribute to its tax-deductible crowdfunding campaign here. The crime drama Cold In July starring Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall will also make its premiere at Sundance and was edited by Pitt alumnus and longtime Steeltown friend John Paul Horstmann. Carnegie Mellon will also be representing Pittsburgh at Sundance by hosting a New Frontier Party.
Steeltown Spotlight Series Lauren Morelli is nominated for the WGA Award for her Best Comedy Series and Best New Series for work on Orange Is The New Black. CMU alumnus Sean Hiader is also nominated for her “Orange” script as well as longtime Steeltown friend Jenji Kohan who created and is the showrunner of the series. On February 5 they will kick off the 2014 Spotlight Series by welcoming Saturday Night Live director Don Roy King who won his third Emmy this year for a career inspired by a trip he took from Monroeville to Broadway in eighth grade.
The list of Pittsburgh/Hollywood connections is long and impressive. Look twice when you cross that next street corner since you may be inches away from a famous encounter.