Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years, a new special from WNET.ORG, looks at John Lindsay’s turbulent two terms as New York mayor from 1966 – 1973. It also looks at his unsuccessful bid for President during the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination.
THIRTEEN spoke with executive producer Tom Casciato.
THIRTEEN: Why a film about John Lindsay right now?
Tom Casciato: As a filmmaker I can say that this is the perfect time for a documentary about Lindsay because on the one hand his mayoral era (1966-73) was long enough ago that we could go for a real historical feel for the film, with extraordinary film footage of Lindsay and generous doses of the great music of that era, but on the other hand, his era is recent enough that the young people who worked for and with him are still in their prime, and able to give great firsthand accounts of their memories of the Lindsay years. A couple of notable folks giving testimony in the film are Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of Dreamworks, was a teenaged volunteer for Lindsay in the ’60s (he gave us an extraordinary photo of himself with the mayor, which we use in the film), and Eleanor Holmes Norton, who currently repreesents Washington, DC in Congress, but was NYC’s human rights commissioner during the latter part of the Lindsay years. (We use a great old still photo of her, too, but I’m not going to tell you about it because I don’t want to give away one of the best lines in the film.)
13: The program describes the “Fun City” moniker as true for some and ironic for others. What does the term mean, or what did it mean for different people?
TC: During the transit strike that greeted him on his first day as mayor — and pretty much crippled the city’s functioning, Lindsay remarked that despite it all, New York was still a “fun city.” The press siezed on the term, but often used it ironically because, as our film shows, these were particularly turbulent times, and a lot of New Yorkers weren’t having a lot of fun.
13: The program touches briefly upon the idea that the seeds of the Lindsay years’ turmoil had been sown during the Wagner administration, when city planners aggressively encouraged white flight and the destruction of middle class and minority neighborhoods. Do you think Lindsay’s critics judge his failures too harshly in light of the economic forces set in motion prior to his inauguration?
TC: FUN CITY REVISITED is decidedly not an attempt to judge either Lindsay or his critics, harshly or otherwise. Rather it is a film that seeks to evoke an extraordinary time and place, both for those older folks who remember it, for whom Lindsay and the passion he evoked is still very much alive, and for those younger ones for whom Lindsay is a figure out of an American past they never knew, as distant as FDR or Ulysses S. Grant.
13: Many of John Lindsay’s young aides joined the administration as progressive idealists intent on improving the lives of New Yorkers across the social and economic spectrum, and yet their administration’s time in City Hall is remembered mostly as a failure. What regrets, if any, did the former aides you interviewed for the film express?
TC: These people don’t strike me as regretful. Rather, they are still passionate believers in the ideals Lindsay represented. He is the one who brought them into politics, and the ones I talked to are carrying the same torch they carried back in the day.
13: What do you think John Lindsay would think of NYC today?
TC: I have no way of knowing, but from what I know of him I think he’d take a look at it and try and figure out how to make it better.
13: There’s been a huge response to “Share Your Story” on the program’s website. Why do you think people feel so strongly about this time in NYC history?
TC: The best answer to that question is found, I think, by watching the film.
Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years, airs Thursday, May 6 at 8:00 p.m. on THIRTEEN and Wednesday, May 12 at 10p.m. on WLIW21.