Lunch with Ken Burns? Oh, Yeah.


As Channel 9’s PR person, some of my favorite on-the-job moments have come when my duties have compelled me to do something so cool and awesome that I think, “I can’t believe I get paid for doing this!” That thought came to me a few weeks ago when Ken Burns’ publicist Dave invited me along on two interviews he had set up in St. Louis while K.B. was in town to preview The War. Have lunch with Ken Burns? Oh, yeah.

So, fyi, Ken Burns is charming, cute and trim. Yes, he has great hair and gleaming teeth. I’m just saying that because everyone ALREADY knows that he’s brilliant, erudite and has a mind like a steel trap. At lunch (he ate a hearty salad) he convivially draped his arm over the back of the chair of the reporter seated next to him, fixed her with eyes so intense they seemed to be working with fiber optic technology, and he downloaded thoughtful, considered answers to her questions from his brain to her tiny tape recorder. I’m surprised the machine didn’t explode.

Then we went to the Post-Dispatch, where Burns was put under the spotlight in a small room filled with the newspaper’s editorial board and assorted other editors, writers, a videographer, a photographer, graphic artists and whoever else wanted to show up. Burns was unflappable, relaxed and self assured in the way an astrophysicist would be when questioned by the high school astronomy club. Among intellectuals and people whose interests extend beyond Paris Hilton, Burns is a rock star. He confidently alluded to mythology and ancient history, tossed out quotes by famous people and spoke not just in full sentences and paragraphs, but in fascinatingly worded essays. Hardball questions from the panel seemed to dissolve in Burns’ surety. He even quoted back to the group a statement by Post founder Joseph Pulitzer that Burns had just read in the lobby.

My one moment came at the restaurant, when someone asked how long I had worked at Channel 9. I replied that I have been here since Burns’ earliest documentary, Brooklyn Bridge. Burns’ smiled and leaped up to high-five me. It made me feel for a second as if we were in the same club. But I know better.


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