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Ed McClanahan

Ed McClanahan

Ed McClanahan, one of Kentucky’s most vibrant, outspoken, and humorous contributors to the world of modern literature, prefaces his major work, The Natural Man, with a quote from James Fennimore Cooper’s The Prairie

You are of the class, mammalian; order, primates;
genus, homo; species, Kentucky.

In the 1995 Signature Series profile of this notoriously wild man of letters, Kentuckian Ed McClanahan and friends share some time to reflect upon a life made electric through the writer’s enchanted vision, mind, memory, voice, and pen. The Signature program has been out of rights for several years, so Kentucky Muse is pleased to bring this story back to the airwaves as a Muse Encore Presentation.

The program begins in northeastern Kentucky, where it is quickly revealed how McClanahan’s childhood plots the course of much of his prose. Many characters in his stories hold a verifiable place in his memory, while his early years spent roaming the storefronts, pool-halls, and high school basketball courts of Brooksville and Maysville also helped to shape a mind that can quickly expose the magic hidden in even the most seemingly mundane and wandering soul. We follow McClanahan’s blossoming literary career and his post-university travels to California, where he had been awarded the prestigious Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University in 1962, and, perhaps even more importantly, fell madly for the emerging counter-cultural literary scene of the Bryant Street House. He forged new friendships with Ken Kesey, Gurney Norman, Vic Lovell, Robert Stone, and many other modern American literary legends while taking up his exclusive moniker—“Captain Kentucky”—as a member of Kesey’s Merry Pranksters.

All of these threads weave together in the main plotline of the program—the writing of McClanahan’s great opus—The Natural Man—the epic tale of Harry Eastep, Monk McHoring, and the impassioned drama that is Kentucky high school basketball. It took the author 22 years, from first draft to final edit, to publish the book, now likened to Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

The documentary was directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Paul Wagner (who most recently directed KET’s Thoroughbred) and first aired on KET in 1995. Wagner examines the development of McClanahan’s often biting but always compassionate voice. The camera candidly accompanies McClanahan on visits to old haunts with old friends and colleagues to share stories, while readings from his other works, including Famous People I Have Known, and interviews with several avid followers outline some basic facts: that McClanahan writes to perform his highly poetic prose in the reading of it, can find the humor hidden in almost any human weakness or lesser evil, and has created a life of bringing people together, simply and surely, through the finding and telling of the truth…if only slightly embellished here and there as any true Kentucky storyteller would.

Ed McClanahan currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife Hilda. In 2008, he published his latest book entitled O, The Clear Moment, called an “implied autobiography” by the author. KET director Tom Thurman, as a highlight to this program’s re-release, has also produced a follow-up interview to give viewers an update on some of McClanahan’s more recent works, projects, and hijinks.