Thursday, October 25, 2007

Powel Crosley & the 20th Century Video

Those who live in the Cincinnati area may recall public television station WCET (Channel 48) showing the mini-documentary, Powel Crosley, Jr. and the 20th Century earlier in 2007. The video was produced in 1986 and first aired in 1988, and has the usual percentage of errors that you'll find in most magazine articles and other works about Crosley published before 2006. The folks who put this together seem to have relied on legends and things "everybody knows," rather than doing the necessary research.

Narrated by Bill Nimmo (himself a WLW announcer and local TV legend), the video is a decent summary of Powel's life. The documentary has been shown rarely over the past two decades, and the 2007 broadcast was inspired by the appearance of CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation.

The production values are local-TV grade, which is to say not the best. Producer Gene Walz, perhaps the best in Cincinnati at the time, apparently did the what he could with the equipment and probable small budget he had to work with.

Surprisingly, there is no video of Powel himself--only still shots. (Video footage of Powel Crosley, Jr. does exist.) But the interviews with his sister, Edythe, and grandson, Lewis L'Hommedeau Crosley, are really good, and shed quite a bit of light on Crosley's personality. Segments with Crosley friend, neighbor, appliance dealer, and collector Bill Angert add a lot to the production.

Two slightly overdone fantasy sequences show a slice of life in the 1890s and the origin of the song "Moon River." For the latter, actors and actresses were hired and placed in a shadowy barroom setting to play out a scene in which prostitutes were supposedly reduced to tears by the words to the song as a Crosley employee wrote them. It was a nice vignette, but, unfortunately, the story is a fabrication.

Still, the video is well is worth seeing. It's completely enjoyable. But it's not easy to find. Crosley Automobile Club members can borrow the Club's copy. A few libraries have copies, but nobody is selling it online, perhaps because WCET is the sole distributor and the video wasn't produced in large quantities. WCET itself doesn't appear to be offering Powel Crosley, Jr. and the 20th Century, but if you contact the station you can probably buy one. Last time I checked, the suggested donation was $60.
CREDITS: Producer: Gene Walz. Director: Taylor Feltner. Writer: Thomas Ashwell. Financed by a grant from the Crosley Foundation (now dissolved).
Copyright 2007, Michael A. Banks

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