Love him or hate him, Jimmy Breslin has always been a force of nature in the world of print journalism.
On November 3, 2004 after calling the election for Kerry, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and author announced he was leaving his thrice-weekly post as, arguably, New York’s most famous columnist and champion of “the little guy.” He hasn't stopped writing -- he’s working on at least three new books and is involved in a movie project based on his “The Church That Forgot Christ,” -- and he’ll contribute a column for Newsday “from time to time.” But that voice of moral outrage, from one the hardest working muckrakers in the newspaper business, no longer appears regularly in newsprint.
Jon Kalish, an independent radio producer and freelance newspaper writer based in New York, first met Breslin when Kalish was a young reporter, and over the years, he’s covered Breslin’s various headline making exploits. Kalish also learned a thing or two about reporting from Breslin, who taught him the importance of climbing tenement stairs.
In “Jimmy Breslin: The Art of Climbing Tenement Stairs,” a half-hour documentary commissioned by public radio station KCRW, Kalish talks to Breslin’s friends and nemeses, from pal Pete Hamill and the late investigative reporter Jack Newfield, to the former mayor of New York, Ed Koch. He’s along for the ride as Breslin sleeps on the streets with New York’s homeless, and talks to the columnist right after Breslin broke the story of the the city’s Parking Violations Bureau kickback scandal. There’s even an excerpt from Breslin’s 1986 hosting of "Saturday Night Live." Kalish also talks to Breslin’s second wife, Ronnie Eldridge, a former New York City councilwoman.
But most of all, it’s the hard-hitting, no-nonsense gritty voice of the irascible Jimmy Breslin that commands the attention of your ears, in the same way his columns grabbed the attention of readers for decades.
“The Art of Climbing Tenement Stairs” is produced and hosted by Jon Kalish.
It airs on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. on KFAI, 90.3 FM Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Associated Press)