In the 1970s, Paul Williams was a star, penning chart-topping songs such as “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Evergreen” and “Rainbow Connection.” But Williams and his fame burned out, and six years ago he was selling CDs in the lobby of a casino. Now filmmaker Stephen Kessler has written and directed “Paul Williams Still Alive” a documentary tribute to the Grammy and Academy Award-winning actor and singer-songwriter. The film opens in New York June 8, Los Angeles June 22, Boston and Chicago June 29, and around the country in July.
Kessler grew up down the block from a Knish Nosh restaurant in the Forest Hills section of Queens, New York. After high school he enrolled in a writing program at Stanford University, and then went into the advertising business, first as a copywriter and later as a director of commercials, including the famous series featuring Wendy the Snapple Lady. He co-wrote and directed “Birch Street Gym,” a short film that was nominated for an Academy Award, and directed a couple of features, including “Vegas Vacation,” starring Chevy Chase.
Then, one day, Kessler decided to purchase a CD by Williams, one of his favorite childhood singers, and was inspired to find out if he was even still alive. Kessler spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about rainy days, being an overweight kid, and what he learned from filming Paul Williams.
Curt Schleier: Why Paul Williams?