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Synopsis

"I am convinced that the only way we ever really learn anything is by doing it."

In this intimate, informal portrait of an artist as a historian, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough welcomes viewers into his public and private world, exhibiting the infectious curiosity, humor and humanity that have defined his work and life. Director Mark Herzog travels with the celebrated writer as he delivers a speech to rapt legislators; climbs the same Philadelphia church's steeple tower as did John Adams two centuries earlier; returns to the Massachusetts Historical Society to again study an original Adams letter written to his wife Abigail a day before July 4, 1776; visits his old Brooklyn neighborhood and makes his annual trek across the Brooklyn Bridge; sings songs, paints pictures, and reflects on his undiminished enthusiasm for writing while sitting in his tiny "world headquarters" (shed-like though not a shed, he insists) on the grounds of his home. Accompanied in most of these journeys by wife Rosalee (whom he met the summer before college), McCullough provides an insightful, anecdotal look into his life and career, while displaying a refreshing approachability and genuine interest in people he meets along the way.

McCullough's keen interest in people and their stories is on full display in this documentary, which underscores the author's hands- on method of writing. As much as any contemporary writer, McCullough is known for throwing himself into the research of his subjects: traveling roads they walked, reading books they read, poring over letters they wrote, getting to know them as if they were members of his own family. McCullough's diligence pays off in detailed and engaging narratives that humanize his subjects while inspiring readers to emulate their excellence. In receiving an honorary degree from Yale, McCullough was awarded this citation: "As an historian, he paints with words, giving us pictures of the American people that live, breath, and above all, confront the fundamental issues of courage, achievement, and moral character."

A native of Pittsburgh, PA, David McCullough attended Yale (he often ate lunch with playwright/novelist Thornton Wilder) before moving to New York, where he worked at Time-Life before taking to heart John F. Kennedy's inaugural call to action ("...ask what you can do for your country") and relocating to Washington. He got a job at the U.S. Information Agency, and found his calling after a chance Library of Congress encounter with a rare collection of photographs depicting the catastrophic Johnstown Flood of 1889, which became the subject of his first book (published in 1968). McCullough's subsequent literary efforts include 1972's The Great Bridge (Brooklyn, of course), 1977's The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 (National Book Award Winner), 1981's Mornings on Horseback (Nat. Book Award Winner), 1991's Brave Companions: Portraits in History, 1992's Truman (Pulitzer Prize Winner, adapted into a 1995 HBO Film), 2001's John Adams (Pulitzer Prize winner), and 2005's 1776.

McCullough has enjoyed a high television profile, hosting two PBS series: Smithsonian World (1984-7) and The American Experience (1988-2000). He has also narrated many acclaimed documentaries, including Ken Burns' The Civil War, Brooklyn Bridge and The Statue of Liberty; David Grubin's FDR and Abraham and Mary Lincoln: A House Divided; Charles Guggenheim's D-Day; Ric Burns's The Donner Party; and Carl Charlson's NOVA: A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama. He also narrated portions of the 2003 film Seabiscuit.

Credits: Directed by Mark Herzog; Producers: Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman; Executive Producers: Mark Herzog and Mark Cowen; Co-Producers: Kirk Saduski and Christopher G. Cowen; Editor: John Campbell; Cinematographers: Jack Kney, Byron Shah and Shana Hagan; Original Music by Blake Neely.

David McCullough: Painting With Words