NEW YORK -- Five giants of American modern art, their work and their exotic and often tragic lives, are spotlighted this month in PBS's 'Strokes of Genius,' a lavish 4-part series hosted by Dustin Hoffman.
Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, sculptor David Smith and Willem de Kooning, whose work in the 1930s and 1940s helped move the focus of the art world from Paris to lower Manhattan, are the stars of this look at the human element behind American Abstract Expressionism.
Only the 80-year-old de Kooning is alive and the still handsome and vigorous artist is interviewed in the episode 'de Kooning on de Kooning,' which will be aired May 22 10-11 p.m. EDT (consult local listings).
Steven Spielberg directs Hoffman in the host segments of the production, which co-producer Karen Lindsay said took five years to make from conception through research to post-production editing.
Ms. Lindsay said that when the filming was finished it was decided that the production would work best with a host.
'The subject matter -- abstract art -- has sort of traditionally been intimidating for the general public and we thought having a host would make it more accessible or invite viewers who might not necessarily tune in.'
Steven Spielberg, a personal friend of executive producer Courtney Sale Ross, said he'd be happy to direct the host segments, Ms. Lindsay said. 'He'd never worked with Hoffman before and they were both looking foreward to working with each other and also meeting Bill de Kooning.'
Besides studying the artists' work -- much filmed at major exhibits around the country -- the series presents portraits of the men and their time through interviews with wives, mistresses and former colleagues - some of whom still are struggling in lower Manhattan lofts.
Pollock's widow, artist Lee Krasner, recalls the drunken rages which ulimately led to her husband's death at the age of 44.
Elaine de Kooning talks about pouring loads of sugar into a cup of drugstore coffee for a day's nutrition. She also regretfully recalls deciding against having children -- two starving artists could make it, but with a third, it would mean one of them giving up painting.
Tavern owner Frank Minetta Sieveri recalls the days when the amiable Kline used to wander over from the his Hudson Street studio to Minetta's, where he could buy a meal with a caricature.
Smith, whose ex-wives talk about his working late at night on his sculptures was included in a series with painters for several reasons.
'The focus of that group of artists has always been the painters, but David Smith was certainly a part of that group,' Ms. Lindsay said. 'He was a member of the Artists Club in the Village and he had a dialogue with them.'
She said she agreed with one artist who remarked that Smith constructed his sculptures like brush strokes going off into the air.
Tracking down his interviewees wasn't easy after all the years.
'Gorky's wife was in a little town in Spain, without a telephone or a mailbox. We had to cable the local cafe and when she went to town they'd give her the message.'
But the work was rewarding.
Ms. Lindsay recalled an interview with John Cage, a member of the Village community, though not an artist himself.
'He felt a great a nostalgia for the old days,' Ms. Lindsay said. 'The sense of community then, the sense of shared endeavor agains the odds, no money, there was a real camaraderie.
'It just doesn't exist now. It's much more competitive. Much more materialistic. The galleries have sort of taken control.' NBC has renewed 'Hill Street Blues' for the Fall TV season, the 13th prime time series to date to be rescheduled for 1984-85 by the No. 3 network.
The other series that will return to NBC next season are 'The A-Team,' 'Cheers,' 'Diff'rent Strokes,' 'Facts of Life,' 'Family Ties,' 'Gimme A Break,' 'Knight Rider,' 'Remington Steele,' 'Riptide,' 'Silver Spoons,' 'St. Elsewhere' and 'TV Bloopers.'
The network will announce its complete Fall lineup on Thursday.