My mother is Polish, which meant that during the holidays when I was a kid, we broke out the polka records and kielbasa for special occasion meals from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Certainly, nostalgia for those belch-y festivities of yore led me to A Grain of Truth by Zygmunt Miloszewski, a Polish mystery novel that unexpectedly turns out to be as hard-boiled as the skin around a circlet of that ubiquitous holiday kielbasa.
Soul and gospel singer Fontella Bass, whose 1965 hit "Rescue Me" endures as one of the most recognizable soul records of the '60s, died last week on the day after Christmas. She was 72 years old. Despite the success of "Rescue Me," it was the number one R&B single for four weeks, it took years of litigation before Bass could claim her share of songwriting credit and royalties. In 1993, she sued American Express for using the song in a commercial and received what she said was a significant settlement.
This past spring, Islamic extremists allied with al-Qaida took control of northern Mali after a coup destabilized the country. Adam Nossiter, the West Africa bureau chief for The New York Times, has been reporting on the Islamist takeover in the north — but has had to do so by telephone. The kidnapping threat for reporters covering the conflict is virtually 100 percent, he says.
Downton Abbey, the drama series about the residents and servants at a grand estate in early 20th-century England, has done for PBS what the commercial broadcast networks couldn't achieve last year. It generated a hit show — one with an audience that increased over its run and left fans hungry for more. And that's a lot of hunger because when the second season was televised here in the states, it averaged 7 million viewers, more than most TV shows on any network, cable or broadcast.
We'll listen back to a 1989 interview with actor Harry Carey Jr., who died Dec. 27. Carey co-starred with John Wayne in the classic Westerns She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers and 3 Godfathers. He talked to Fresh Air about filming epic cavalry-versus-Indian scenes — and his most challenging stunts.
Quentin Tarantino's film Django Unchained is a spaghetti western-inspired revenge film set in the antebellum South; it's about a former slave who teams up with a bounty hunter to target the plantation owner who owns his wife.
The cinematic violence that has come to characterize Tarantino's work as a screenwriter and director — from Reservoir Dogs at the start of his career in 1992 to 2009's Inglourious Basterds -- is front and center again in Django. And he's making no apologies.
This interview was originally broadcast on April 23, 2012.
Actor Jack Black is best known for his comedic performances in films like Nacho Libre and School of Rock. In his film Bernie, Black goes to a darker place: He plays a serious small-town funeral director who murders his live-in companion, a wealthy widow played by Shirley MacLaine.
This show was originally broadcast on September 13, 2012.
Before comic W. Kamau Bell became host of the weekly political humor show Totally Biased, which mixes standup, sketches and interviews,he had a one-man show called The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour.
This show was originally broadcast on May 11, 2012.
Friday, May 11, 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the day Fresh Air became a daily national NPR program. Before that, the show was broadcast only on WHYY in Philadelphia. How long ago was May 11, 1987? On Fresh Air's first edition, TV critic David Bianculli reviewed the finale of the TV series Hill Street Blues.