When the Worlds of Ken Burns Collide

An exclusive guest blog from Eric T. Rosenthal

Last night as I was covering the flagship screening of Ken Burns Presents CANCER: The EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES, a film by Barak Goodman at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Hall, I introduced myself to the elegant woman and distinguished gentleman seated to my left.

“What connection do you have to the film?” I asked, always curious what brings people to cancer-related events.

“Well, Ken has been involved in a documentary about my husband,” she replied, saying she was Rachel Robinson, the widow of baseball great Jackie Robinson, who was attending the screening with her and Jackie’s son, David Robinson.


Director Ken Burns with Rachel Robinson, widow of baseball great Jackie Robinson.

I then mentioned that earlier in the day I had written about the EMPEROR Science Award Program, which was to be announced later that evening by Sherry Lansing, a co-founder of Stand Up To Cancer, chair of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, and founder of the Sherry Lansing Foundation.

I explained that the award was a complementary effort to the three-part 6- hour documentary–scheduled to air on PBS stations March 30, 31, and April 1—intended to inspire disadvantaged high school student to pursue careers in medical research with a focus on cancer research.

Mrs. Robinson then spoke with great pride of the Jackie Robinson Foundation that she founded in 1973, a year following her husband’s death, with the similar goal of providing scholarships to minority students for higher education.

And later when she saw me stand up after Lansing asked members of the Emperor of All Maladies Education Subcommittee, which she chaired, to rise and be recognized, Mrs. Robinson gently touched my sleeve and said softly, “that’s so nice.”

Admittedly it was a great thrill, only to be enhanced later at dinner when I mentioned to Ken Burns who my seatmates had been, and he smiled widely upon learning of our encounter.  Burns’ documentary about Jackie Robinson is scheduled to air on PBS at a future date.


Eric T. Rosenthal is special correspondent with MedPage Today. He also serves as the journalist member of CANCER: The Emperor of All Maladies Education Subcommittee.

Photo licensed under Creative Commons from the US Library of Congress and Cowles Communication.

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