HBO Is Making a Ben Bradlee Documentary

Bradlee in 2010. Photograph by Flickr user Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin.

HBO is making a documentary about Ben Bradlee, the legendary Washington Post executive editor who died in 2014. A lot of interviews for the film have been shot already, says Sally Quinn, who was waiting for a flight to Texas when Washingtonian got her on the phone Monday afternoon. “It was my son, Quinn Bradlee, who suggested it.”

Quinn Bradlee contacted HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler, who greenlighted the idea and got Peter Kunhardt, who co-directed the recent HBO documentary Becoming Warren Buffett, on board as its producer. 

Longtime Bradlee friend and Washington Post reporter Richard Cohen is an executive producer on the as-yet-unnamed picture, which he and Quinn say should be ready for release this fall. (A spokesperson for HBO confirmed the project but said it was too early in the process to discuss.) John Maggio is directing.

Reached by phone, Cohen says he’s been helping set up interviews, and that the crew has interviewed about 15 people so far, including a five- or six-hour-long interview with Sally Quinn. Cohen has never before worked as an executive producer. “I’m the guy who knows the story,” he says. “So that’s essentially what I do. I tell them we oughta do this, we oughta do that; sometimes they listen to me, sometimes they don’t.” 

Cohen says he met Ben Bradlee when he came to the Post in 1968 and became friends with him through Sally Quinn. (The two differ on whether he was the inspiration for Harry in When Harry Met Sally but agree she was the model for Sally.) He calls Bradlee “one of my closest friends.” 

Quinn Bradlee is a co-producer. “They’ve interviewed a lot of interesting people,” Sally Quinn says. Cohen says he’s been present at most of the interviews, as has Quinn Bradlee, and Cohen says he’s helped Maggio with questions, and that the director is a very good interviewer. He’s having a good time: “It’s kind of a sin to be paid to do something that’s so much fun,” Cohen says. “But I’m gonna take the money anyway.” 

The film is taking a short break from interviews while Maggio and Kunhardt consider the vast amount of archival material on Bradlee. “After Watergate, Ben was interviewed by everybody with the possible exception of Soupy Sales, so all that material’s out there,” Cohen says. “He was on TV a lot.”

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