From a panel discussion April 6 at the 92nd Street Y in New York previewing the broadcast on April 11, Holocaust Remembrance Day, of Masterpiece's The Diary of Anne Frank on PBS.
Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of Masterpiece, on her initial reluctance to broadcast the film, which was originally made for the BBC by Darlow-Simpson Productions, a British documentary film company:
Three things completely changed my mind. First was the absolute freshness of Ellie Kendrick's performance (Kendrick portrays Anne Frank). She plays a wonderfully annoying Anne Frank, absolutely, perfectly adolescent.
I realized in listening to it that there was something deeply authentic. The screenwriter was the first person ever to get permission from the Anne Frank Foundation, the estate to use actual quotes from Anne's diary. So the dialogue is, of course, imagined, but the narration is Anne Frank. So you are as close as you will be to Anne Frank.
Somebody (on my staff) came to me and said, "Do you know how many people, kids particularly, not only don't know The Diary of Anne Frank, they don't know who Anne Frank was, they don't know what the Holocaust was, and don't know who Adolf Hitler was?" And I thought this is the mission of public TV, there is a need there and we should do it. So we acquired the film, and since then I have completely drunk the Kool-aid about the need for a new Anne Frank for our generation.
Francine Prose, author of The Diary of Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, on Anne Frank's revision of her diary:
In March 1944, the (Frank) family heard a broadcast by the Dutch minister of culture in exile saying that after the war the ordinary documents of Dutch people should be saved and people should read them. Anne, who had been keeping a diary, said this is exactly what he's talking about. From that point on, she decided she wanted the diary to be read, she wanted the diary to be published. So she went back and changed, rewrote the entire diary.
Ellie Kendrick, on the diary:
I thought Anne Frank's diary might be kind of depressing and really hard to get through. I was amazed by how engaging, at times really funny, witty and moving she manages to make the tedium of what her life in the annex must have been. So that was something that really surprised me.
I went to Europe as an exchange with theater performers, and I stayed in Amsterdam across the street from the Anne Frank House. I felt I should go over there, when I was a kid, you had to read The Diary of Anne Frank, it was part of your reading experience, part of your experience about history, it was kind of like cursory. So I went and it changed my life actually. When I came back, I wanted to tell people what I had seen. (Anne Frank) was instrumental in my getting people to understand we are in fact in charge of our destinies. She's a huge influence on me.
Being Jewish for me is like being black, it just is, it's part of my life. Is it all of my life? No. I'm not religious, but I'm also Catholic, I'm all confused. I was raised to go everywhere and celebrate everything.
George Stevens, Jr., founding director of the American Film Institute, whose father, George Stevens, directed the 1959 film of The Diary of Anne Frankhttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052738/, and Robert Osborne, prime time host and anchor of Turner Classic Movies, discussed the diary and 1959 film at a benefit held last year by the Anne Frank Center USA http://www.annefrank.com/. A nonprofit organization that promotes tolerance, the center is participating in a Twitter conversation during the April 11 Masterpiece broadcast, and shortly will open an exhibit of contemporary diaries in its gallery in Manhattan.
George Stevens, Jr.:
My father asked me to be the associate producer (of the 1959 film). After shooting for six months on the Fox sound stage, he asked me to go to Amsterdam and direct the second unit. So I did all the exteriors for the film. One of my jobs was to organize the talent hunt to find the girl to play Anne Frank; it was worldwide. We had girls from Amsterdam, New York and Kansas. We came upon Millie Perkins (Anne Frank in the 1959 film); we saw her picture on the cover of Glamour magazine.
We went to Amsterdam and met Otto Frank (Anne Frank's father), who had lost both his daughters and his wife in the concentration camps. He had survived Auschwitz, barely. When we met him he was this upright, charming man who had experienced and seen such horror and devastation. He had this wonderful spirit, which I think was part of why she was so extraordinary. He had been an officer in the German army in the first world war, he stood erect like a military man, he had this kind of warmth. He showed us the diary, her original diary, and took us to the hiding place. He wanted to help my father understand it all so he could (make the film) with authenticity, and present it the way it happened.
The film captures the voice and the story of this extraordinary girl who wrote this diary that has fascinated people in 24 languages around the world. This film is able to project that to succeeding generations.
My father was very conscious of what he called the test of time. He had this sense that he wanted to make films that lasted, that would be seen by other generations, which was, if not unique, it was special at that time. He would be very pleased that this film has lasted in the way that it has.
(The film) is a true story that will never go out of style. It's so true that you can tell a story about millions of people being killed in an avalanche or something, and you can also tell that same story about one person that's (been) killed, that has so much more power. It hits you on all kinds of levels.
On Diane Baker, the actress who portrayed Margot Frank, Anne's sister, in the 1959 film: The reason I'm here is because Diane Baker is my house guest. I went with her to the (Anne Frank) premiere 50 years ago at the Egyptian Theater. It was her first movie, Millie's first movie; Joseph Schildkraut (who portrayed Otto Frank) was there. I'd never been to a premiere before and Diane hadn't either, it was very exciting to go to a major premiere, the searchlights, limousines, a big party afterwards.
I was an actor in California and I did a screen test with Diane, which was one of the things that helped her get the part in The Diary of Anne Frank. We met each other at Twentieth Century Fox studios, where we were both under a beginner's contract there. Diane did The Diary of Anne Frank and got the big contract there. I went over to Desilu. We always stayed in touch. The great thing about Diane, she was the same girl then that she is today. She laughed a lot, but she was very serious, she was always eager to do good things for people, to help improve the world. Fifty years later, she's just the same, done good deeds.