Lily Tomlin first became aware of writer-director Jane Wagner’s work when she caught this exquisite drama on television in 1969, starring Kevin Hooks—son of the fabled black actor Robert Hooks—as a young kid in Harlem who acts out at home and in the neighborhood, until he unofficially adopts and cares for a stray kitten who wouldn’t make it without him. J.T. was one of the first productions of its kind that did not condescend to its black subjects, and Wagner’s humanism is the guiding spirit of the show, along with her ability to inhabit her characters’ lives and actions. After it premiered, Tomlin tapped Wagner to help develop material for her knowing kid character Edith Ann, among others, for her 1972 Grammy-nominated album Modern Scream. Thus began one of the great collaborations in modern entertainment.
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