Bright Ideas


I was intrigued to learn, in associate editor Susan Frith’s cover story, “Now Playing on the Big Screen,” that—but for the offended sensibilities of one shortsighted professor—the University might have included among its list of “firsts” being the venue for the earliest narrative film made in America.

The immediate motivation for Susan’s story was the recent establishment of a cinema-studies major at Penn, but the article also traces the University’s involvement with motion pictures over the years. This has not been all a matter of missed opportunities, but there is some debate over whether a continuing suspicion of film as being worthy of study postponed its inclusion in the pantheon of major programs until the present.

Whatever the reason for delay, its time has certainly come. As program director Tim Corrigan, professor of English and cinema studies, notes, “[W]e’re talking about what is at the center, for better or worse, of most people’s lives, that is the media.” And cinema studies seems a more-than-natural subject for Penn to undertake—in its combination of imagination, technology, and economics (they don’t call it an industry for nothing), film has all the Franklinian bases covered.

This issue’s other feature articles highlight alumni who also combine creative vision and practical savvy.

As president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Judy Vredenburgh CW’70—a mixture of “motherly warmth and executive steel” as senior editor Samuel Hughes puts it, in “The Biggest Sister”— is taking the skills she learned in two decades in the business world to make the organization more efficient and expand it to reach many more troubled kids across the country.

In his profile of John Legend C’99, “Making a Legend,” freelancer Nate Chinen C’98 (who knew him back at Penn when he was John Stephens) notes that the singer-songwriter’s managers call him “Artist Executive,” a reference to the fact that Legend, whose non-musical background includes a stint with the Boston Consulting Group after graduation, is prone to involving himself in the business aspect of his career.

That career appears to be on the verge of taking off. Legend has been touring with hip-hop favorite Kanye West, and his first solo album, Get Lifted, was released on December 28. As Nate tagged along through a day of promotional events, Legend talked about his musical influences—which range from the “classic” American songbook through gospel to the worlds of soul, R&B, and hip-hop—as well as his possible need to move to a doorman building from his current apartment.

David Borgenicht C’90 and Joshua Piven C’93 are the creative team behind the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook and the series of artfully produced, cleverly written, and thoroughly researched volumes that have succeeded it, on topics including Travel, Golf, Dating & Sex, Parenting, and College (the inspiration for the photo by Bill Cramer that accompanies our story). Since the first handbook appeared in late 1999, timed to catch the wave of Y2K worry, several million copies and related products have been sold. Five years on, the series is still going strong.

Finally, “Remember the Reunion” pays tribute to the bright ideas, more than 50 years apart, of Henry A. Pope W’43 and Brett Danko C’90. Sidelined from service in World War II for medical reasons, Pope conceived the idea of a newsletter, The Delta Pen, to keep his fraternity brothers in touch with each other, and published it through the war years, ending each issue with the call to “Remember the reunion. First and second Cornell games after the war.” Danko had the idea of making the hundreds of letters written to Pope from soldiers serving on three continents into a book, which was recently released from Polyglot Press, Inc.

(Sounds like it might be the basis for a good movie.)

—John Prendergast C’80


©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 01/05/05

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