Project Description


(1982) (RT 2:00)
(Produced and Directed by Perry Miller Adato)
We are all familiar with the white-haired, avuncular Carl Sandburg in his 60’s and 70’s – famous Pulitzer prize-winning poet, novelist, biographer, historian, journalist and musician, reciting his poetry and strumming his guitar throughout America.  But the story that the makers of this film have chosen to tell is that of the young rebel Carl Sandberg, son of Swedish immigrants, daring reporter, labor organizer, young soldier in the Spanish-American war and above all, the poet of the people.  His early poems smashed traditional rules of rhymed poetry with bold, innovative use of slang and the lingo of the “common man.”

Sandburg had a subject—and the subject was belief in man and a celebration of man’s spirit. You find it everywhere in his vast body of work. His first book Chicago Poems , sets the tone. Opening with his celebrated paean to Chicago: “Stormy, husky, brawling/ City of the Big Shoulders” Sandburg goes on to give voice to the voiceless: the stockyard worker sweeping blood off the floor, the Pullman porter, the child laboring in the textile mill. Numerous poems are movingly illustrated by great photographers of the period notably, Lewis Hine.

Carl Sandburg: Echoes and Silences , was Perry Miller Adato’s first attempt to combine documentary techniques with dramatic re-enactment.  The film uses actor John Cullum both as himself and to play the young Sandburg in short dramatic sequences.  In search of Sandburg, Cullum travels to the poet’s native home, Galesburg, Illinois speaking with close friends and family of the writer. Through a remarkable recently discovered trove of period photographs of Galesburg, the small-town America of Sandburg’s childhood – the horse carriages, the ice-man delivering ice, a Fourth of July celebration – is revived in vivid detail.

At the family goat farm in North Carolina, Cullum interviews Sandburg’s daughter, the writer Helga Sandburg. The film’s distinguished commentators include famed poet Archibald MacLeish, and the Civil-War historian David Herbert Donald who discusses his and Sandburg’s common fervor for President Lincoln. The film culminates with John Cullum‘s re-enactment of Sandburg speaking, reading his poems and singing American folk songs before a live student audience at Bryn Mawr College.

“What Sandburg knew and said was what America knew from the beginning and said from the beginning and has not yet, no matter what is believed of her, forgotten how to say: that those who are credulous about

the destiny of man, who believe more than what they can prove of the future human race, will make that future, shape that destiny.” Archibald MacLeish.


“Ms. Perry Miller Adato has done it again.  The producer/director of one of the best TV personality documentaries of the decade (“Picasso – A Painter’s Diary” has succeeded once more in presenting a vivid, unforgettable portrait of an artist in a thoroughly entertaining, informative and innovative way.

As in the case of the Picasso documentary, Carl Sandburg: Echoes and Silences , is much more than a film about a creative person.  It is also about the times in which he lived and impact of his talent and humanity upon the world around him…

Echoes and Silences utilizes a form in which the director, writer Paul Shyre, and leading actor, John Cullum search on camera for a “handle” for the documentary.  What made this poet and historian the mythical character he is believed to be?

This unique blend of drama and documentary take the viewers back to Galesburg, III, where he was born, and to his farm in rural North Carolina.  Through conversations with friends, neighbors, family, with the aid of snapshots, home movies, old prints and photos and d historical movie footage of his vagabonding days, Ms. Adato has re-created the essence of the man

Interwoven with the documentary aspect of the film is the one-man show about Sandburg which actor John Cullum takes on tour. With superb style, avoiding simplistic mimicry, he presents viewers with authentic samples of Sandburg’s poems, idiosyncrasies, attitudes and remarks.

Carl Sandburg: Echoes and Silences is a landmark biography as well as landmark documentary.”

–Arthur Unger, The Christian Science Monitor

“A poem can tell the history of a man, says John Cullum, in the role of poet troubadour Carl Sandburg on PBS’ “American Playhouse”…So too, can a first rate docu-drama, which Carl Sandburg: Echoes and Silences unquestionably is. Produced by Perry Miller Adato, who gave us the brilliant Picasso documentary, it cleverly and innovatively captures this multifaceted man – writer, historian, folk singer, socialist, husband and father-and brings him sensitively and vividly to life…If one “hears America singing” with Walt Whitman one feels America Singing with Carl Sandburg.”

–Kay Gardella, Daily News

“Why, anyone can be a poet…” Carl Sandburg once observed…Some more than others, though, as we are reminded tonite by Perry Miller Adato’s perceptive and invigorating jewel of a film profiling Sandburg…In Carl Sandburg: Echoes and Silences , producer/ director Adato and writer Paul Shyre have shaped elements of documentary and drama into a firm, clear portrait of an epic American, a philosopher, biographer and writer of poems that his wife-to be Lilian Steichen, once noted “demand to be read and wrestled with.”

–Howard Rosenberg, Los Angeles Times


Director: Perry Miller Adato
Producer: Perry Miller Adato
Written by Paul Shyre

Cast of dramatic sequences:
John Cullum (Carl Sandburg)
Michael Higgins (Father and Hobo)
Frances Conroy (Mother and Lilian Steichen)
Peter Michael Goetz (Salesman)
Voice: James Green, Larry Keith, Martin Silbersher

Associate Producer: Megan Marks
Special consultant: Lucy Kroll
Film editor: Sara Fishko
Original Music: Scott Kuney
Music Supervisor: John Adams
Assistant: Rosemary Fishel
Documentary Camera: Jeff Wayman,
Director of Photography for Drama: Michael Davis
Second Camera: Tom Hoppe
Camera Animation: Henry Lykes
Titles: Christopher Kogler, Marc Rosenberg
Assistant Film Editor: Sara Bolder
Second Recording: Eric Taylor, Morning Pastorok
Consultant: Penelope Niven Mc Junkin
Research and Picture Research: Melissa Sutphen, Ellen Schecter
Assistant Camera: Mike Edwards, Madelyn Most, Kevin Lombard
Gaffers: Tad Page, Ken Newman
Grips: Richard Galante, Steven Morelli
Makeup: Deborah Kiser
Costumes: Margaret Fruchter
Props: Maati Ashman, People’s Light & Theatre Co.
Casting Bonnie Timmerman
Production Controller: Don Sussman
Production Assistant: Lisa Korn
Production Interns: Lori Ayre, Carice Witte, Amy Rubin, Barbara Zane

Prof. David Herbert Donald
Prof. Bernard Duffey
Prof. Frederick I Olson
Prof. Louis D. Rubin, Jr.
Prof. David Thelen
Prof. Robert W. Johannsen

John Cullum, interviewer
Helga Sandburg, author, Sandburg daughter
Paula Steichen Polega, Author, Grand-daughter
Martin Sandburg Jr., nephew
Archibald MacLeish, poet

Edward Steichen
Lewis Hine
Allen Green
Russell Lee
Dorothea Lange
Walker Evans
Jack Delano
John Vachon
Arthur Rothstein
Marjory Collins
Carl Mydans
Patricia Duncan
Dana Steichen
Kay Bell
Frederic B. Knoop

Special Production Assistance
Drawings of Abraham Lincoln: James Dougherty
Kansas Prarie scenes: David Owen
State Bank of Stanley
Archival Railroad footage; Richard H. Nadel
Sandburg correspondence; Herbert Mitgang

Special Acknowledgements
Sandburg Family Trust
Carl Sandburg Trusts
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
Margaret Sandburg
Janet Sandburg
Helga Sandburg
Bryn Mawr College

Our thanks to:
Carl Sandburg Home, NHS (Connemara)
National Park Service
Carl Sandburg Birthplace
Illinois State Historical Library
Knox College Archives
University of Illinois Library at Urbana –Champaign
Berea College and the Doris Ulmann Foundation
Chicago Historical Society
George Eastman House
Galesburg Public Library
Library of Congress
Edward L. Bafford Photography Collection University Library
University of Maryland, Baltimore Country
Jane Matthews
Milwaukee County Historical Society
National Archives
Nebraska State Historical Society
Steichen Archives
Museum of Modern Art
US Military Academy Archives
Walt Whitman House and Museum
Archives of Labor & Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Wisconsin State Historical Society

Executive Producer: Jac Venza
A Production of WNET/ THIRTEEN
© 1982 Educational Broadcasting Corporation