unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

What He Didn’t Say On Camera

Recently, we had a Chicago Tonight guest I particularly enjoyed.  Actor Alan Cumming is the host of Masterpiece Mystery and is having a stellar career in film, television and on Broadway.  He was on to talk about his new book, Not My Father’s Son, a riveting book about growing up with a brute of a dad who abused Cumming physically and emotionally.  Cumming is a charismatic and compelling guest and the interview went well.

But he said two things off-camera which I wish we’d had time for:  one had to do with his (surprising to me!) friendship with Monica Lewinsky.  They have been friends for years and she was even in Cumming’s wedding party.  He says her main fault was that she was a 22-year-old woman who fell in love with her boss, the most powerful man in the world, and that the country owes her an apology for how she was pilloried in public.

The other thing he said that was of particular interest to this former wannabee actor had to do with why Brits do American accents so well (and not always the other way around.)  He said that much of what’s shown on British television comes from the states so that British kids grow up listening to American accents.  Actors, especially, use this to their benefit and–with a good ear–can emulate a fairly convincing American accent based on their countless hours watching American television shows as children.

Not so we Americans.  Most of us hear British accents in adult fare like Downton Abbey.  And it makes sense; I mean, how many of us watched Scottish Saturday morning cartoons growing up?

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Watch the Ponce Men Tonight on “My Chicago!”


In case you haven’t watched it yet, there’s a new show on WTTW called My Chicago.  It’s kind of a talk show on wheels.  The host does the driving and interviews the guest while they drive around parts of Chicago that have meaning for the guest.  It’s a little bit like HBO’s Taxicab Confessions except the guests know that they are on camera.

The show is now in its third week and tonight my sons and I are the passengers being interviewed.  (We taped it about a month ago when there was still snow on the ground.)

I haven’t been given a sneak preview, so I will be watching it fresh tonight along with everyone else.  I hope you can check it out tonight at 830pm on WTTW!



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When A Nurse Gets Breast Cancer


We had a remarkable guest on the show recently, Hollye Jacobs, the author of The Silver Lining: A Supportive and Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer.

Jacobs is an RN and also has an MS and MSW degrees.  Among other experiences in her medical career, she has been a hospice nurse treating adults and children who were dying from cancer.

She exercised, was a vegetarian and had no history of cancer in her family.  Thus, it came as a shock when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The book engagingly tells the story of the emotional and medical journey she took toward recovery — all from the perspective of someone who was used to being “on the other side of the bed.”

Jacobs says her goal was to write a book that was a smart, sensitive and medically informed resource for other people facing breast cancer.  Each chapter includes spiritual and emotional insights and easy-to-understand, point-by-point, no-nonsense medical advice regarding questions to ask and what to expect at different stages of surgery and treatment.  The book is a compelling mixture of head and heart — two atttributes Jacobs is blessed with and which she generously shares with her readers.

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A Big Birthday for Chicago Tonight!


30 years ago tonight, on April 24, 1984, Chicago Tonight went on the air for the very first time.

The host was someone who later became my friend and mentor, the late John Callaway.  The first guest was none other than Mayor Harold Washington.

Those of you who were around will remember that this was the time of “Council Wars” and the “Vrdolyak 29″ when Chicago’s internal political strife made the city “Beirut-on-the-lake.”  Chicago was hungry for context and analysis of what was unfolding in the city council.  That’s how the idea for Chicago Tonight germinated.

Since then Chicago Tonight has aired 7,800 shows.

We have many people to thank for this record, a diverse group of people whose support has been crucial.  But it’s you, the viewer, to whom we are most grateful.  If you didn’t watch, care about and support this program, too, we would have no reason for being.  And for that, all of us at Chicago Tonight extend to you our heartfelt thanks!

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The Sound of Music

If you are a viewer of a certain age, you probably remember when a major movie could be a national cultural event.  In my mind The Sound of Music was one of them.

Lyric Opera is currently mounting what appears to be a top-tier  production of The Sound of Music.  The other night the singer who plays the Mother Abess, Christine Brewer, performed the song Climb Every Mountain on our show.  I thought it was a stunning performance.  Check out the clip below.

And by the way, I was somewhat irritated when I saw an interview with Christopher Plummer, who played Captain Von Trapp in the movie, when he dismissively referred to the movie as The Sound of Mucous.  Really, Christopher?



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The Kennedys and J.Crew

The clothing company J.Crew was once known for its preppy Nantucket origins and it still has an upper crust nautical patina as part of its branding.

Interestingly, the Kennedy family was very aware of branding and what a nautical image could do for its political fortunes.  That’s according to James Graham, author of a new book, Victura: The Kennedys, a Sailboat, and the Sea.  One of the points Graham makes is that the Kennedys knew that images of them sailing would accomplish several things:  make them look outdoorsy, full of “vigor,” and give them a touch of elegance and Madison Avenue appeal.  In other words, images of Kennedys sailing would enhance their brand.

But more important than the public relations value of pictures of the Kennedys in a sailboat, the author says sailing underscored the family’s unity and competitive spirit — traits that served them well; it was a metaphor for the challenges the family faced.  That little sailboat, Graham writes, accomplished a lot more than just memorable photos of a beautiful couple.

Even so, those pictures of JFK and Jackie on that sailboat are singular pieces of iconography that few ad agencies can possibly match.  Here’s a link to the interview with Graham, which includes many of those famous images.

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Why Does Jeff Garlin Walk Around In His Underwear?

I first got to know about Jeff Garlin through his work on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.  I find him hilarious playing Larry David’s morally challenged agent — who pays for his ethical shortcomings by being married to the most foul-mouthed Gorgon in television history.

Jeff was born in Chicago and was raised in Morton Grove.  His career is going great guns, and he currently stars as the dad in the TV sitcom The Goldbergs.

He’s in town to hone his standup routine for a fall special, and to do something that seems counterintuitive:  promoting a film he helped produce on the recently discovered, increasingly acclaimed (but now deceased) street photographer, Vivian Maier.  The film is drawing rave reviews and premieres in Chicago this weekend.

He acknowledged that he got the idea for the documentary by watching Jay Shefsky’s piece about Maier several years ago on Chicago Tonight!

I asked him about his Goldbergs’ character’s habit of walking around in his tighty-whities at home.  And I was surprised to hear it’s something Garlin actually does in real life. Catch up with Garlin (and hear why he sheds his pants at home) by watching this clip!

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Whatever Happened to Channel 2′s Jeannie Morris?

I worked alongside Jeannie Morris back in the day when both of us were at Channel 2 during the Don Craig/Walter Jacobson/Bill Kurtis days.

She worked in sports alongside then-husband, Johnny Morris, and I was a general assignment street reporter, thus our paths didn’t cross very often.

We did have one “joint assignment” and it was a fun one.  In August 1986, the Bears played the Cowboys in London’s Wembley Stadium, the first-ever so-called “American Bowl.”  It was sponsored by the NFL to attract fans in other countries.  Jeannie was assigned to cover the sports angle; I was assigned to do sidebars, including features on Chicagoans living in London.

Sharing a crew and coordinating schedules for about a week gave me the chance to confirm what I already thought about her:  she was smart, great at her job, and had a natural elegance and likability.

But Jeannie left Channel 2 in 1990 and I lost track of her.  So it was a real kick to have her on the show the other night.  She was back in town to receive the prestigious Ring Lardner award for sports reporting –the first woman to be so honored.  If you, too, were a fan of her work, here’s a clip that brings you up to date on a person whose work was so widely admired and respected.

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An Englishman Abroad

As the late Mayor Harold Washington used to say, “Politics ain’t beanbag.”  And he was right.  Here in Illinois, it can be a blood sport; nationally too.

But most of the time family members are on the same side:  the Daleys back a Daley, the Madigans back a Madigan, a Berrios backs a Berrios (not always successfully, in that case.)

Imagine, though, if you had reached one of the highest levels of national government and you were on your way to becoming the top political dog in the country.  The very highest.  Then, all of a sudden you are challenged and displaced by your younger brother!

Would Bill have ever challenged Richie?  Would Bobby have ever challenged Jack?  Would Anthony ever challenge Dan???!!!

But that’s exactly what happened to a guest we had on last night.  And things got so awkward for him, he had to leave the country.  If you missed it, check out the Cain and Abel story involving former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.  It’s fascinating.

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Doctors and the Anti-Vaccination Movement

The anti-vaccination movement  came back into the news recently when Jay Cutler’s pregnant wife, reality star Kristin Cavallari, said she and her husband had decided not to vaccinate their son (and their son-to-be).  Cavallari’s viewpoint echoes that of former Playboy bunny, Jenny McCarthy, who has been a prominent and outspoken opponent of vaccinations.

We had two doctors on the show last night who made the following points:

  • The 1998 British article linking vaccinations to autism has been universally refuted.
  • Subsequent studies since then show no such linkage.
  • Parents who choose not to vaccinate not only risk their children’s health, but the health of other children too young for a vaccination.
  • Recent upticks in cases of measles show that the dangers of non-vaccination are not just theoretical.
  • Children actually die without vaccinations.

After the segment, I spoke briefly with the doctors who acknowledged this issue is intensely emotional and that emotions can get in the way of rational discussion.  A committed anti-vaxxer would probably not be persuaded by the above points.  Check out the segment and see what you think, and read thoughts from moms on the topic here.

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