UPDATE: Former PR guy Dan Klores has spent the last decade making documentaries on New York-centric subjects. So, natch, he’ll next focus his camera on Gotham’s Jimmy Breslin. Klores will begin work in September on Breslin: The Great One, which will simultaneously chronicle the rise of Breslin and the heyday of newspapers. It will also explore their struggle to stay relevant in the digital age and why no one has replaced Breslin as NYC’s dominant columnist. “He created the idea of a columnist who followed the news and personalized it, and his career expanded as newspapers did,” Klores said. “Now, he’s a man without a newspaper column, at a time when the role of newspapers has radically disintegrated in our culture.”
Klores’ previous NY-centric docus include Winning Time: Reggie Miller Vs. The Knicks, Crazy Love and The Boys of 2nd Street Park. He planned to stop and focus on plays and features. (His Little Doc is set for a June 17 premiere at the off-Broadway Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. And he is signed to direct the rom-com movie Dance to the Music for Greenestreet.) But Klores changed his mind after attending a Breslin tribute thrown by newspaper vets Pete Hamill and Sam Roberts. Klores is aiming for a 2012 Sundance Film Festival premiere.
Amazing as it may seem, younger generations don’t know Breslin. Brash and controversial, the quintessential born and bred New Yorker became a columnist at the New York Herald Tribune at a time when 11 metropolitan dailies competed for readers. Breslin exposed corruption, championed underdogs, and covered big stories by focusing on unlikely subjects. In one of his most famous columns, he marked JFK’s death by writing about the gravediggers who buried the slain president. Outing crooked cops, pols and mobsters brought him fame but also pain — he once took a vicious beating at the hands of Jimmy “The Gent” Burke, the model for Robert De Niro’s Goodfellas character. Breslin wrote books, became the pitchman for Piel’s Beer, even ran for City Council president on a ticket with mayoral aspirant Norman Mailer (Breslin got 88,000 votes, Mailer about half that many). He also became the target of journalism’s slings and arrows over accuracy and embellishment.
Breslin’s story is New York’s story, including Tammany Hall, the original Mets, the civil rights and anti-war movements. n New York. The Son of Sam sent his letters to Breslin. He was with Bobby Kennedy when he was shot and at the church when Malcolm X was slain. At the Crown Heights riots, he was beaten — but he found a phone booth and made his deadline. Love him or hate him, there was nobody like him, “and you just don’t find anyone working in newspapers with a voice like that anymore,” Klores says.