Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill’s brilliant, honest and courageous writing defined New York City journalism. For five decades, these colorful columnists and longtime friends spoke for ordinary people and brought passion, wit and literary merit to their reporting on their city and nation. Their writings probed issues of race, class and the practice of journalism that resonate powerfully today.
Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists explores the famed writers' intersecting lives and careers while celebrating New York’s grit and charm during the last great era of print journalism.
Born and raised in working-class New York City neighborhoods, Breslin and Hamill were products of fractured Irish-American families. They rose through the ranks of reporting without formal training or college degrees. Sometimes working on competing newspapers, and sometimes working on the same publication, they became good friends who challenged and inspired each other.
They were also swashbuckling, often controversial personalities whose TV appearances and comings-and-goings around town could be as entertaining as the stories they wrote. Among the landmark stories they covered were the Kennedy assassinations, the Bernhard Goetz and Son of Sam killings, the AIDS crisis, the Crown Heights and Central Park Jogger cases, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists draws on rare archival footage, family archives and interviews with Hamill and Breslin (who died in 2017). Offering insights are cultural figures, journalists, editors and those who knew them best, including: members of the Breslin and Hamill families, Tom Wolfe, Guy Talese, Gail Collins, Gloria Steinem, Spike Lee, Colin Quinn, Robert De Niro, Shirley MacLaine, Andrew Cuomo, Shane Smith, James Duff, Earl Caldwell, Richard Esposito, Mike Lupica, Sam Roberts, Charlie Carillo, Robert Krulwich and Garry Trudeau. Michael Rispoli (The Deuce) voices passages written by Breslin, while Hamill reads his own work.
Starting in the 1960s, Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill were household names, writing prolifically for the New York Herald Tribune, Daily News, Newsday, and the New York Post, among other papers. These friendly competitors pioneered a style of “New Journalism” that brought elements of literary storytelling to the news, as well as a commitment to viewing accounts of economic and racial injustice through the prism of the common man and woman.
Among the historic events they chronicled: the Bernhard Goetz “death wish” subway shootings (Breslin was a lone voice condemning Goetz for his vigilantism); the Vietnam War (Hamill covered the carnage and was attacked by Vice President Spiro Agnew); the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy (both were present when RFK was gunned down); the Son of Sam serial killings that held the city hostage in 1976 and 1977 (a letter from gunman David Berkowitz to Breslin was an integral part of the investigation); the racist Central Park Jogger arrests of five black teenagers in 1989 (Donald Trump’s “Bring Back the Death Penalty” ad in the Daily News drew a fierce rebuke from Hamill, and the accused were later exonerated by DNA evidence); and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Hamill, who was on the scene, wrote a piece published on September 12 that vividly recalled being separated from his wife amidst the dust, debris and chaos.
In addition to their triumphs, Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists recounts tragedies and personal setbacks, such as: Hamill’s clash with New York Post owner Abe Hirschfeld in 1993, when Hamill was fired and then rehired as editor; accusations of racial slander by Breslin co-worker Ji-Yeon Yuh, who had criticized one of his pieces; a period when Hamill was nearly incapacitated by drinking; and the emotional toll taken on Breslin by the deaths of his first wife, Rosemary, in 1981, and his daughters Rosemary in 2004 and Kelly in 2009.
Filled with the humor and gusto they both personified, the documentary is a poignant look at two literary giants who epitomized New York during its last and greatest period of print journalism, whose pioneering influence still reverberates today.
Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists is directed and produced by Jonathan Alter, John Block and Steve McCarthy; edited by Geof Bartz, A.C.E. and Angela Gandini; director of cinematography, Steve McCarthy; voice of Jimmy Breslin, Michael Rispoli; original music composed by Wendy Blackstone. For HBO Documentary Films: executive producer, Nancy Abraham.