Russ Banham

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Photo by Jake Gravbrot.

Russ Banham (born September 20, 1954),[1] an American writer and reporter formerly with The Journal of Commerce and later a freelance journalist writing for The Wall Street Journal, CFO, Forbes, The Economist, Euromoney, Financial Times, Chief Executive and several other business publications. Banham is the author of 23 books, including The Ford Century, an international bestseller translated into 13 languages. He also is a Seattle-based theatre director and playwright.[2]

Education and early life[edit]

He graduated from St. John's University in New York, where he studied Speech and Theatre. He later earned a Master of Arts in Drama Theory and Criticism from the University of Montana. On a prestigious Jacob K. Javits Fellowship[3] at the university, he also earned a Master of Fine Arts in Directing and Playwriting, while teaching classes in drama for three years.

Early career[edit]

Banham early on had hoped to become a playwright or theatre director. Instead, he fell into acting after college, making his Broadway debut in The Merchant, which starred Zero Mostel[4] as Shylock, and was directed by two-time Tony award-winning director John Dexter. Mostel died upstage right after the first public performance of the play in Philadelphia. Banham also appeared in several Off- and Off-off-Broadway plays, and co-starred in the ninth biggest movie of 1979, Meatballs,[5] directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Bill Murray in his first film role. That year he was cast as Brad Hopkins in producer Norman Lear's short-lived television situation comedy, Joe's World,[6] opposite Christopher Knight from The Brady Bunch. The series ran for 12 episodes on NBC before it was cancelled.

With prospects as an actor quickly dimming, Banham tried his hand at producing plays. He produced the world premiere of Oliver Hailey’s Kith and Kin[7] at the Dallas Theatre Center and later at the White Barn Theatre in Greenwich, Connecticut, the latter directed by Tom O'Horgan, Tony-award nominee for the original production of Hair. He also produced the Off Broadway premiere of Hailey’s Red Rover, Red Rover,[8] with Tony-award winners Phyllis Newman and Helen Gallagher, at the Park Royal Theatre. Both received mixed reviews and failed commercially.

At the same time, he began his career in financial journalism, writing articles for The Journal of Commerce. The daily business newspaper, then owned by Knight-Ridder, asked him to join its staff in 1983 as a reporter and editor covering insurance and risk management. Banham left the paper in 1987 to pursue work as a freelance journalist. He quickly found a niche writing for numerous trade and business periodicals. Early stories covered insurance and risk, but he soon added finance, technology, global trade and investing to his reporting subjects.

Enron[edit]

Banham’s CFO magazine profile of Andrew Fastow, one year before the Enron debacle came to light, was cited by writer Kurt Eichenwald in his book, Conspiracy of Fools. “Banham … captured everything pretty well: asset securitization, special-purpose entities, the reduction of balance-sheet debt,” Eichenwald wrote.[9]

U.S. Embassy[edit]

Banham was submitted by The Journal of Commerce for the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism. The nomination recognized his series of investigative stories on the bugged U.S. Embassy in Moscow. His articles disputed the presence of the eavesdropping devices, which he contended were covered financially by a secret insurance policy underwritten by American International Group, Inc., and reinsured by Ingosstrakh, the Russian state insurer. In effect, the Soviet Union would be on the hook financially for the damage to the building. The articles were cited in the Congressional Review. The Cold War ended before the alleged eavesdropping devices were ever ascertained.

Corporate Histories and Biographies[edit]

In 1996 Banham was approached to write his first book, a 100-year history of USF&G, a major national insurance company. He followed it up with similar chronicles of Coors Brewing Company, Conoco, Guardian Life, Dover Corporation and Appleton Paper Company, among others. The Coors book, Rocky Mountain Legend, reached number four on the Denver Post’s regional bestseller list.

Banham also wrote three authorized biographies: on discount brokerage magnate Ernest Jacob Olde, Houston developer Kenneth Schnitzer, and Gary Milgard, founder of Milgard Manufacturing, the third largest producer of windows in the U.S.

Banham is currently working on his next book, the centennial history of The Boeing Company.[2]

The Ford Century[edit]

In 2003, Banham was asked to write the official 100-year history of Ford Motor Company. He obtained vital access to Ford family artifacts and company archives, culminating in The Ford Century. The book received favorable reviews in the New York Times and other publications.[10] "A tale that churns through every decade of the 20th century makes for a rich pictorial bath, all the more so since somebody got at Ford's inner archives and has made imaginative use of them." New York Times Book Review - Bruce McCall (12/08/2002). The book recently was selected as one of the five best books ever written about Detroit.[11] More than 750,000 copies of the book are in print around the world.

Banham also is the author of Wanderlust,[12] which profiles his journey in an Airstream travel trailer to meet and interview so-called Airstreamers at rallies and conventions. The book also evaluates the design impact of the Silver Bullet trailer and its historical relevance.

His newest book is The Fight for Fairfax,[13] a post-World War II political and economic history of Fairfax County, Virginia, published by George Mason University Press.

Theatre[edit]

Banham has kept his hand in the professional theatre as a playwright and director in Seattle, his home base. In January 2012, BroadwayWorld.com named him the city's Best Director, for his production of Superior Donuts, produced by Seattle Public Theatre. Superior Donuts was also named Best Play. Banham is a veteran director in the city’s professional theatre community, directing Othello, Macbeth, Henry V, Twelfth Night, and A Doll's House for Seattle Shakespeare Company; Merchant of Venice for Wooden O Theatre; Of Mice and Men, Mauritius and Superior Donuts for Seattle Public Theatre; Crooked for Theater Schmeater; and three of his own plays, adaptations of Ethan Frome, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (with Jennifer Sue Johnson) and Romance with a Double Bass (based on four short stories by Anton Chekhov), all for Book-It Repertory Theatre. He is a recipient of six Seattle Times Footlight Awards as the city's Best Director.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Past Meatballs of the Month: Russ Banham - (AKA Crockett)". MeatballsOnline.com. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "About". Russ Banham. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  3. ^ Jacon K. Javits Fellowship Program ed.gov
  4. ^ Birth of Shylock & the Death of Zero Mostel Amazon.com
  5. ^ Meatballs Rotten Tomatoes
  6. ^ Joe's World ctva.biz
  7. ^ Kith and Kin books.google.com
  8. ^ Red Rover, Red Rover The New Yorker
  9. ^ Conspiracy of Fools books.google.com
  10. ^ The Ford Century januarymagazine.com
  11. ^ Best Books About Detroit detroit.cbslocal.com
  12. ^ Wanderlust Airstream at 75 amazon.com
  13. ^ The Fight for Fairfax: A Struggle for a Great American County amazon.com