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September 13, 2007
Ken Burns in Sacramento: Risking writer's cramp

war book

It's 3:30 and, as far as I know, Ken Burns is still at The Avid Reader, signing books.

I wimped out and left at 3.

The man is indefatigable.

A crowd of about 40 Burns groupies showed up to hear the filmmaker talk about "The War" and answer questions. Then came the signing of the companion book for the series.

One woman - I kid you not - actually genuflected in front of Burns as he signed her book and then gushed, "I just wanted to thank you on a number of levels for your body of work."

Burns seemed slightly embarrasssed by that, but he is nothing if not gracious.

His fans are certainly hard-core. One, Joan Kruger, a professor at American River College and Delta College in Stockton, bought three books. She showed up early and says she's been a Burns fans since he produced "The Civil War" 17 years ago.

"He is incredible," she says. "The thoroughness of his research! And he's so blessed to have PBS give him the time to explore these subjects. Even if it's a subject you aren't really that interested in, he can hook you."

Dennis Wright of Sacramento, a Vietnam vet, brought a bunch of mementos from that war for Burns to sign.

"I just had to come down and be in his presence," Wright enthused. "It's a privilege to have a man of his status in Sacramento."

Another man in a three-piece suit handed over a book for signing and said to Burns: "Your work is like a diamond in an ocean of garbage."

What strikes me is Burns' patience. Scores of people wanted to chat him up about any number of things, and he obliged.

And when Pamela Henstell, the West Coast promotions director from his publisher Knopf, told Burns he had to sign another giant stack of books, he didn't bat an eye. This man is no diva.

"Hey," Burns told Henstell, "I heard on Monday night that the book is No. 4 on Amazon.com. And it isn't even published yet."

Next stop for Burns: The Creat Theatre at 7 p.m. for an invitation-only screening and talk.

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