LOS ANGELES–Distinguished film and television star Mike Connors ("Mannix") and multiple-award-winning comedian Andrea Martin ("SCTV") will participate in the broadcast of "The Armenian Americans," appearing live from KCET studios on Thursday–June 22 from 8 to 10 p.m. (repeating from 10 p.m. to midnight) during membership breaks in the program. The two entertainers–who are Armenian American–are also featured in the documentary.
Connors–best known for his starring role as the television detective "Mannix," is one of the most recognizable Armenian Americans in the world. He was born Krekor Ohanian and grew up facing discrimination in Fresno–California. The World War II air force veteran and former UCLA basketball scholar made his feature film debut in 1952 in the RKO release "Sudden Fear," using the name Touch Connors. He has appeared in numerous motion pictures–including the John Wayne film "Island in the Sky" in 1953–the 1956 version of "The Ten Commandmen’s," the Bing Crobsy/Ann-Margaret remake of "Stagecoach" (1996)–and on the small screen–"War and Remembrance" (1989) and "Too Scared to Scream" (1985)–the latter which he also produced.
The hit series "Mannix" originally aired from 1967 to 1975 — garnering Connors a Golden Globe award fro Best Actor in a Drama Series — and can now be seen on the Nickelodeon Channel. he recently reprised his role as Mannix in "Diagnosis Murder," and he has guest starred on "Murder–She wrote" and "Walker–Texas Ranger." His voice can be heard as the character of "Chipocles" in Disney’s animated series "Hercules."
Andrea Martin was the star of the critically acclaimed series "SCTV," which garnered her two Emmys for Best Writing of a Comedy and a nomination for Best Actress. Her additional television credits include starring roles in the Fox series "Damon" and the NBC series "The Martin Short Show." She also co-starred in the television movies "Harrison Bergenon" and "Gypsy" and made guest appearances in "Mad T.V.,"Norm,"The Tracy Ullman Show,"Deep Space Nine." She won the Best Actress award at the International Horror Film Festival for her role in "Cannibal Girls," and her other feature film credits include "Wag the Dog,"Go Stepping Out," Too Much Sun" and :Club Paradise." Next month–she begins shooting john Cameron Mitchell’s film "Hedwig and the angry Inch."
Martin got her start with the Second City Theatre in Toronto–Canada. She was nominated for the Tony award for her supporting role in "Candide" and received a Tony–Drama Desk and Theatre World award for her role in "My Favorite Year" at the Lincoln Center. Her traveling one-woman’show–"Nude Nude Totally Nude" garnered her another Drama Desk nomination–and she recently performed "The Vagina Monologues" off Broadway with Alanis Morrissette and Shirley Knight. For the past 10 years–her voice has been heard on "Sesame Street" and–more recently–in the animated series "George and Martha" for HBO–Committed–and "The Simpsons" on Fox. Her animated film work includes "Anastasia,"The Rugrats" and "Bartok the Magnificent."
The Armenian Americans captures the spirit of an amazing culture and its legacy of inspiration–achievement–perseverance–and survival in an emotional hour viewers of any ethnicity can appreciate.
The first television program to celebrate this unique American experience features personal recollections from three generations of proud Armenia’s–including tennis champion Andre Agassi–author Peter Balakian–actor Mike Connors (`Mannix’)–actor/writer Eric Bogosian–actress/writer Andrea Martin (`SCTV’)–Carnegie Foundation President Dr. Vartan Gregorian–MGM Chairman and CEO Alex Yemenidjian–NCAA basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian–historians–musicians–politicians–religious leaders–and corporate executives. The program pays warm tribute to a cultural identity that has survived even near annihilation to arrive at a modern revitalization. As author Peter Balakian proclaims in the program–`there has never been a better time to be Armenian if you’re living in the United States.’
Long at the crossroads of conflicting empires and until recently without a recognized homeland–the Armenian culture has–as described in the program–risen time and again–like out of the ashes–the Phoenix. The Armenian Americans hears voices from a generation invigorated by Armenia’s independent status speak with unprecedented candor about the 1915 Genocide that scattered survivors around the world and the ways in which Armenian American families have tethered this cultural identity for generations to come. Bonded by their distinct alphabet–language–foods and the church that is the worldwide repository of Armenian identity–this cultural consciousness originally preserved out of necessity is now maintained with an unspoken passing of responsibility that resonates in each of the interviews featured.
Many in the program fondly recall extended families and communities knit as tightly as the intricately loomed rugs that were for so long the only mainstream representation of the culture–a bond most obviously evident in the -ian or -yan surname suffixes that mean `of’ or `from.’ This inherent connection linked Armenian American communities from Worcester–Massachusetts to Fresno–California–achieving within a generation a level of success that belied their numbers.
The Armenian Americans radiates with an insistent pride and determination–and demonstrates a universal commitment to cultural persistence. Although many in the program relate the difficulties of fitting in with classmates who attended a different church or brought less exotic lunches to school–or discrimination in communities where they first settled their families–at home being Armenian was a badge of honor–instilled in the younger generation at large extended family gatherings. To this effect–actor/writer Eric Bogosian remembers his grandfather teaching him that `everyone was Armenian… even Cary Grant.’ In his and stories like this–the program illuminates a fascinating history as a very personal nostalgic family album.
The program also highlights Armenia’s’ contributions to American culture–from Sarkis Colombosian’s widespread introduction of yogurt to American palates and Zildjian cymbals–to famous mainstream descendants including Cher–actresses Adrienne Barbeau and Arlene Francis–`The Chipmunks’ creator Ross Bagasarian–and the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan–featured in a rare audio recording of his work.