A Kate McLeod, E.L. Doctorow, Ken Burns Story

by Kate McLeod



When I was with Time Magazine, I was doing a special section on the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island anniversary. I wrote to E.L. Doctorow and a few other luminaries and finally asked E. L. (Edgar) to write the piece for me.


Kate McLeod
Kate McLeod

We had lunch and I talked about how I saw the essay. We left the lunch in agreement. I had about a month to put the piece to bed, but a week after I’d met with E.L. he called me. He’d read something in the paper about Lee Iacocca’s involvement in the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Foundation, (Iacocca, who was running Chrylser a the time, raised money and the awareness of that project.) which completely set him off. He told me he was changing the essay so as to rail against corporate interests and Iacocca in particular.


“That’s not what we had in mind here at Time,” I said. “What we want is a celebration of how immigration made America great.” But he was determined to rail. So we came to an impasse. Now I’m thinking, I have three weeks and I am in a complete panic—heart-racing-panic.


My husband, Jerry Flint, after listening to my tale of woe, said, “You know I saw this film on PBS and it seems to me that film includes all of the stuff you want for the essay.”


E. L. Doctorow
E. L. Doctorow

“Great,” I said, “But it’s a film on PBS. What’s that going do for me?”


Jerry said, “I’ll get a copy of it and we’ll watch it.”


We did. It was a film by some guy named Ken Burns who was from New Hampshire. I called Florentine Films in Walpole, NH and I got Ken on the phone and told him that I would like to take his film, put it into essay form and publish it in Time Magazine. He was coming to New York the next week so we agreed to get together and have dinner. Ken, Jerry and I had dinner and talked about it. Ken said go ahead; he agreed to make an essay.


Ken Burns
Ken Burns

With two weeks before my deadline, Jerry, an award-winning journalist for Forbes Magazine, sat down at the computer and made an incredibly beautiful essay out of Ken’s film, for which he wouldn’t take a dime. In those days we paid writers and artists real money in my department so I gave the money to Florentine Films and I took Jerry to dinner at Lutece, where its much celebrated owner, Andre Soltner, came to the table to visit.


It was quite a project. The essay was very beautiful, everything I had hoped it would be for the readers. And we even obtained historic photos from a stock photo company, which I think became the now very well known supplier of photos, Corbis. I always felt bad about parting company with Doctorow but, other than that, it was a wonderful project and a great experience.


  1. Very interesting piece coming on the heels of E.L.’s passing. Thank you for sharing it.

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