Author Archives: Brett Tomlinson

Tiger of the Week: Sitcom Star Ellie Kemper ’02

Ellie Kemper ’02 (Josephine Sittenfeld ’02)

Ellie Kemper ’02 (Josephine Sittenfeld ’02)

Six years ago, we checked in with Ellie Kemper ’02 just after the young comedian and actress landed a role on NBC’s The Office. “I am a huge fan of the show,” she told PAW. “Being on set with them is like being in a dream, except the dream is real and I can reach out and touch them. Except I am trying not to touch them too much, because I was raised right.”

That earnest charm and humor came through in her character, receptionist Erin Hannon, and Kemper found a niche on the show for its final five seasons. She also built a career in movies, with credits that include Bridesmaids and 21 Jump Street.

Beginning next week, Kemper will take on a new role as the star of the Netflix sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Kemper plays a woman who is freed from a doomsday cult and decides to start fresh in New York City — a notable challenge for someone who has been locked away from the world in an underground bunker.

Fey told Dave Itzkoff ’98 of The New York Times that she and Carlock developed the show for Kemper, who has a history of playing roles that project “sunniness, but also strength.” Kemper added that the Kimmy character is “resourceful and crafty and incredibly tough” — which should give the actress a chance to show more of her own range. As author and friend Curtis Sittenfeld wrote in a January Vanity Fair profile, “she has an edge, of the good variety.”

Below, watch a trailer for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, courtesy of Netflix. Continue reading

Names in the News: Princeton’s Oscar Ties, the Scheide Collection, and More

Kip Thorne *65 (Courtesy Keenan Pepper, via Wikipedia)

Kip Thorne *65 (Courtesy Keenan Pepper, via Wikipedia)

At the Academy Awards ceremony, Interstellar visual effects supervisor Andrew Lockley, who accepted the Oscar for visual effects, praised alumnus KIP THORNE *65 as “one of the smartest people on Earth.” Thorne, a physicist at Caltech, served as the scientific consultant (and an executive producer) for the film, which was featured in the inaugural PAW Goes to the Movies column. Thorne’s involvement with the film began eight years ago, when he and producer Lynda Obst started working on a treatment in which “all the wild speculation would spring from science, not just the fertile mind of a screenwriter,” according to

Oscar Best Picture nominee The Imitation Game highlights ALAN TURING *38 and his contributions as a World War II codebreaker. But Freeman Dyson tells Joel Achenbach ’82 of The Washington Post that the film overlooks Turing’s greatest contribution: “He invented the idea of software, essentially.”

Last week, Princeton received an extraordinary collection of rare books and manuscripts from the late WILLAM H. SCHEIDE ’36, who died in November 2014. Valued at nearly $300 million, the collection includes a Gutenberg Bible, an original printing of the Declaration of Independence, and notable musical manuscripts by Bach and Beethoven. The New York Times article about the gift cited a 2009 PAW story in which Scheide talked about smelling his books as “one way of getting acquainted.”

Former Massachusetts state treasurer STEVE GROSSMAN ’67 and Harvard Business School professor MICHAEL PORTER ’69 are teaming up at a nonprofit that aims to address income inequality by helping urban businesses grow, The Boston Globe reports. Grossman said he decided to take the new job at the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City because “this is where you can change people’s lives.”

Tiger of the Week: Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki ’85

Andrew Jarecki ’85, left, with Robert Durst, the subject of Jarecki’s new documentary series. (Courtesy HBO)

Andrew Jarecki ’85, left, with Robert Durst, the subject of Jarecki’s new documentary series. (Courtesy HBO)

Andrew Jarecki ’85 has devoted much of his filmmaking career to stories of crime and deception, with credits that include the 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary Capturing the Friedmans and the 2010 fictional drama All Good Things. The latter was inspired by the story of accused murderer and real-estate scion Robert Durst, who takes center stage in Jarecki’s new project, The Jinx, a six-part documentary series that debuted on HBO earlier this month. hailed the documentary’s complexity and Jarecki’s technique of “gently withering away our self-certain narratives.” The Wall Street Journal called the series “an unusual hybrid” — an extensive investigative reporting project and a deep character study that humanizes Durst, who sat for 20 hours of interviews with Jarecki. And Esquire summarized its take with a question about the filmmaker: “Why does this man keep making us relate to psychopaths?”

That was actually the title of the Esquire Q&A, not a question in the piece. But Jarecki did provide an answer of sorts. “I’m always skeptical when somebody says that another person is evil,” he told the magazine. “I think it’s an excuse to separate ourselves and to say, ‘Well, I can’t even conceive of the possibility that I could be capable of such things, because that person is “evil.”’ But the truth is all people do strange things.”

Jarecki will be on campus for a Feb. 20 event that includes a screening of the first two episodes of The Jinx and a conversation with the director and producer. Continue reading

#ThrowbackThursday: George Washington, Princeton Parent

The Washington Family, by Edward Savage, part of the Mellon Collection at the National Gallery of Art, shows the first president with wife Martha, her granddaughter Eleanor, and grandson George Washington Parke Custis, then 10 years old.

The Washington Family, by Edward Savage, part of the Mellon Collection at the National Gallery of Art, shows the first president with wife Martha, her granddaughter Eleanor, and grandson George Washington Parke Custis, then 10 years old.

Princeton’s connections to U.S. presidents run deep. There are the obvious ones: James Madison 1771 and Woodrow Wilson 1879 were alumni of the University. A handful of others were awarded honorary degrees — including Abraham Lincoln (1864), William Howard Taft (1912), and Bill Clinton (1996). And of course, the White House’s current occupant, Barack Obama, is “s’85” (spouse, Class of 1985, in Class Notes-speak).

History buffs may know about future President George Washington’s role at the Battle of Princeton (described in detail in this excellent piece from and depicted in the famous painting in Nassau Hall’s Faculty Room). PAW readers also may recall that Washington visited the College of New Jersey’s 1783 Commencement exercises.

But less prominent in the Washington mythology is his role as a Princeton parent (or step-grandparent, to be precise). In the following story from PAW’s archives, Virginia Kays Cressy recounts how George Washington Parke Custis 1799 gave his stepgrandfather fits during an abbreviated stay at Old Nassau. Continue reading

Tigers of the Week: Nonprofit Entrepreneurs Mark Smith ’09 and James Burgess ’09

Mark Smith ’09, left, and James Burgess ’09. (Carolyn Edelstein ’10/OpenBiome)

Mark Smith ’09, left, and James Burgess ’09. (Carolyn Edelstein ’10/OpenBiome)

Clostridium difficile colitis, commonly known as C. diff, infects some 500,000 people per year in the United States, with sometimes deadly effects, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. But Mark Smith ’09 and James Burgess ’09 have a safe and effective solution to fight the intestinal bug — and it uses material that normally gets flushed down the toilet.

Smith and Burgess are cofounders of OpenBiome, a nonprofit organization in Massachusetts that provides stool samples used in a procedure called fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), which introduces microbes from healthy stool to fight C. diff. If you think it sounds a little weird, you’re not alone. Smith, a microbiologist, said he had the same reaction when he first heard about FMT.

As a graduate student at MIT, Smith studied the human microbiome, the collection of microbes that live in or on the human body. After reading about FMT and its effectiveness, he asked Burgess if there might be a business opportunity for a stool bank, to provide the specimens needed for the transplant. But with the procedure’s intellectual property largely in the public domain, Burgess did not see much potential for profit.

The idea remained dormant until a friend’s relative contracted a persistent C. diff infection and struggled to find a medical facility that would provide the FMT treatment. (He eventually received a successful fecal transplant, after a year and a half of recurring infections.)

Smith and Burgess returned to their plans and decided to try launching a nonprofit. They researched the relevant regulations and developed protocols for screening donors and processing samples. Continue reading

#ThrowbackThursday: Princeton’s Longest Winning Streak

Last weekend, Princeton women’s basketball improved to 19-0 this season — an unprecedented start in the annals of Tiger hoops history.

Women’s swimming coach Susan Teeter in 2003. (Beverly Schaefer)

Women’s swimming coach Susan Teeter in 2003. (Beverly Schaefer)

The University has seen its share of impressive winning streaks: Men’s basketball won 20 in a row during the 1997-98 season; football won 24 straight between 1949 and 1952; and men’s tennis won 43 consecutive matches in a six-year span that began in 1975. But the owners of Princeton’s longest winning streak resided in DeNunzio Pool. From 1998 to 2004, the women’s swimming and diving team won a mind-boggling 47 dual meets in a row, spanning seven seasons.

The streak ended with a loss to Pittsburgh in January 2004, and afterward, head coach Susan Teeter told PAW, “I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that when they come back for their 50th reunions, this record will still be standing.”

Teeter also said her team was anxious to start winning again — the loss came just before Princeton’s January exam break. After finals, the Tigers won their four remaining meets and finished the season with a first-place finish in the Ivy League Championships.