Independent Lens: “Maggie Growls”

November 18, 2002

(San Francisco, CA) – MAGGIE GROWLS is a portrait of the amazing, canny, lusty, charming and unstoppable Maggie Kuhn (1905-1995), who founded the Gray Panthers in 1970 after being forced to retire from a job she loved at the age of 65. Her outrage and determination fueled a political chain reaction that forever changed the lives of older Americans, repealing mandatory retirement laws and proving that “old” is not a dirty word.

Out of what Ralph Nader called “the most significant retirement in modern American history,” Maggie created one of the most potent social movements of the century-one that was committed to justice, peace and fairness to all, regardless of age. Produced and directed by the award-winning team of Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater, MAGGIE GROWLS will air nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, on February 4, 2003 at 10 P.M. (check local listings).

Maggie Kuhn was never afraid to march to her own beat and fight for what she believed in. Born in Buffalo in 1905, Maggie was a passionate social activist right from the start. She entered the workplace in 1926, with a job at the YWCA in Cleveland, organizing poor and working women. In 1950, she began a twenty-year stint in the Social Education and Action Office of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. It was a job she adored, one that kept her in the forefront of the social activist movement for decades. When she turned 65 and was forced to give up the career she loved, Maggie decided that she would not fade away quietly. Saying “don’t agonize, organize,” and reminding them that they had nothing to lose, she galvanized a group of friends and colleagues who had also been put prematurely out to pasture and launched the career for which she is renowned: as founder and leader of the Gray Panthers.

In an era replete with “movements,” the media quickly latched onto Maggie. Looking exactly like the stereotypical sweet little old lady, when Maggie spoke, people listened. With a disarming mixture of humor, shock value and common sense, Maggie deftly used her high visibility to combat media stereotypes that denigrated the elderly and went on to champion universal health care, nursing home reform, shared housing and consumer protection. MAGGIE GROWLS looks at the forces that shaped the movement as well as its leader, using Maggie’s life as a lens through which to examine the intertwined issues of social reform and aging in America.

We see Maggie’s second career unfold in television appearances with Johnny Carson; on Capitol Hill, chiding senators and congressmen; and on the picket line, fighting injustice for all people, wherever she could. We also see her very human, womanly side as she speaks fondly of her many love affairs and close friendships. Maggie’s insistence on talking publicly about sex, which often made her listeners squirm, leads to a serious re-thinking about what growing old was all about. As Maggie said, “sex and learning end only when rigor mortis sets in. “Interspersed are interviews with friends and colleagues including Ralph Nader and Studs Terkel and animated sequences by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger. As we learn in the film, Kuhn, who continued to play a role in the Gray Panthers until her death at age 89, is widely acknowledged as having started nothing less than a contemporary

cultural revolution, both in terms of redefining the meaning of age and through her insistence on “young and old together.” Her defiant “Panther growl” and dramatic slogan “Do something outrageous every day” set the tone for a documentary as memorable and inspiring as the woman herself.


Producers/Directors Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater

Animators Paul and Sandra Fierlinger

Editor Kathleen Soulliere

Cinematographer Peter Brownscombe

Music Composition and Sound Design John Avarese

Associate producers Patricia McLaughlin & Shannon Kane Meddock

Featured Interviewees, in order of appearance:

Abe Bloom, Maryland Gray Panther

John Steinbach, Maryland Gray Panther

Louise Ramirez, Maryland Gray Panther

Ralph Nader, consumer advocate

Christina Long, biographer

Studs Terkel, oral historian

Gretchen Killinger, Maggie’s cousin

Clarice Herbert, Germantown YMCA, Philadelphia

Thelma Adair, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Karen Hessel, National Council of Churches

Fernando Torres-Gil, Gerontologist, UCLA

Edith Giese, former Gray Panthers Executive Director

Steve McConnell, Alzheimer’s Association

George Gerbner, Annenberg School of Communications

Harun Fox, member of the Gray Panthers chapter at the State

Correctional Institute in Graterford

Louis Thomas, member of the Gray Panthers chapter at the State

Correctional Institute in Graterford

Sue Leary, Maggie’s personal assistant

About the Filmmakers

Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater (Producers / Directors) Philadelphia filmmakers Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater have collaborated on documentaries focusing on women’s lives for over a decade. Their most recent award-winning collaborations, Landowska: Uncommon Visionary (1997) and I Witness: Shot Down in Pensacola (2000), have been widely screened and publicly praised. In 1999, Attie, with Martha Lubell, produced and directed Daring to Resist: Three Women Face the Holocaust. Other documentaries produced by Attie and Goldwater include Motherless: A Legacy of Loss from Illegal Abortion; Legal But Out of Reach: Six Women’s Abortion Stories; and If It’s Not a Piano, What is It?

Paul and Sandra Fierlinger (Animators)

Paul Fierlinger was Czechoslovakia’s first independent producer of animated films, before coming to the U.S. in 1968. In 1971, Fierlinger and his wife Sandra formed the animation house AR&T Associates, which has produced over 700 films. Their animation has received over 100 awards, including an Academy Award nomination for It’s So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House. In 2000, the Fierlingers completed Drawn From Life, a series of two-minute films for Oxygen. In 2001, their ITVS-funded Still Life with Animated Dogs was broadcast nationally on PBS.

About Independent Lens

Independent Lens is a groundbreaking weekly primetime PBS series that airs on Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. and presents American and international documentaries and a limited number of dramas. Each week Independent Lens bursts onto the screen and presents a unique individual, community or moment in history to bring viewers gripping stories that inspire, engage, provoke and delight. From pioneering women surfers to brilliant composers to brave resistance fighters, Independent Lens introduces people whose stories are unforgettable. Independent Lens is for curious viewers of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds; all that’s required is a TV and an inquiring mind. The Executive Producer of Independent Lens is Sally Jo Fifer, ITVS Executive Director. Independent Lens is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), with additional funding provided by PBS.

About ITVS

Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10 P.M on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by the vision of media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. Contact ITVS at or

visit ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public

Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People.


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