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April 28, 1998|LARRY STEWART

What: "Ageless Heroes"

When: Wednesday, 9 p.m.

Where: PBS

Olympic filmmaker Bud Greenspan ventures into a different arena for this one-hour PBS special, but as usual with Greenspan, the end result is a well-produced, well-written, captivating film.

Backed by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Greenspan sought out heroes among the senior set, not necessarily only heroes in sports but heroes in life.

One of the first people interviewed was Penn State Coach Joe Paterno, who told Greenspan and his Cappy Productions crew: "I don't know how old I am. I thought I was 60. My wife tells me I was born in 1926, so that makes me over 70 [72 to be exact]. It never entered my mind I was past 70. I told my wife that the birth certificate must be wrong. It should have read 1936, not 1926."

Greenspan says, "The theme of 'Ageless Heroes' is basically: Where in the past, men and women retired to the inevitable aging process, today millions are staying young longer, living productive lives well past the age constraints that society had previously ordained them."

Why did Greenspan, who is 71, do a documentary outside his normal realm of the Olympics?

"The answer is a simple one," he said. "The Olympic Games celebrate the exploits of men and women with talent, pride, courage and the ability to endure. Can anyone question that these are not the same qualities that personify the millions of ageless heroes?"

One who is profiled in the film is former tennis pro Dodo Cheney of La Jolla, who was a winner at the Australian Open in 1938 and, along with her mother, May Sutton Bundy, and three sisters, were stars of their era. But she is even more dominating today at 81. Competing in 75-plus and 80-plus age groups, she is unbeatable.

Also featured are non-sports people such as singer/dancer/actress Eartha Kitt, longtime White House wire-service correspondent Helen Thomas, model Carmen, jazz musician Dr. Billy Taylor, civil rights activist and former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, and 65-year-old college student Iris Alford.

Nancy Beffa, 49, executive vice president of Cappy Productions and the executive producer of this film, said, "We wanted people from different disciplines. We wanted to find vibrant people, people who personify the way I want to be living my life when I reach 65."

Asked about doing a non-Olympic film, Beffa said: "Bud and I laugh about it. I was an art history major and he was a history major. People think that sports is all we have in our lives."

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