In Toots Shor: Bigger Than Life , Toots’s granddaughter, Kristi Jacobson, using interviews, film clips, video clips from TV shows, and still photographs, has created an endearing and invigorating portrait of the man whose restaurant defined an era. A salesman could rub elbows with America’s most famous athletes, from Joe DiMaggio to Frank Gifford to Joe Louis, and possibly bump into Frank Sinatra or Ernest Hemingway on the way to the restroom (and maybe have to step over Jackie Gleason to get there). How congenial was the atmosphere at Toots Shor’s on West Fifty-first Street? Frank Costello, the head of the New York mob, could tip a glass across the bar to Chief Justice Earl Warren.

We should have been there and, hearing about it from Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, Pete Hamill, and many others, you’ll feel as if you were.— Allen Barra

Historical Film

It’s time to see a movie we couldn’t bear to go to

The British filmmaker Paul Greengrass’s United 93, the best American movie of 2006, is that rarest of achievements, a work about politics that is entirely apolitical. Setting his film in real time, fusing documentary techniques with brilliant interpretive writing, and with a cast that seamlessly blends accomplished supporting players with amateurs, Greengrass imagines the 90-odd minutes in the flight of the airliner that was intended to crash into the U.S. Capitol on September 11, 2001. Many who couldn’t bring themselves to go to a theater for it will discover the brilliance of United 93 on cable and DVD.— Allen Barra

TV History

Exploring the Secret Capitol

For years, C-SPAN enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the U.S. Capitol, not only broadcasting gavel-to-gavel congressional proceedings but offering the omnipresent view of the Capitol dome outside its windows during live studio telecasts. Brian Lamb’s dome and the Capitol dome became inseparable.

In recent years, however, rival networks have horned in on the once-exclusive backdrop. So last season, C-SPAN went them one better, taking its HDTV cameras inside and under the iconic dome for an exhaustive, extraordinary, three-day, 10-hour-long national special that aired from November 23 to 25.

The Capitol proved as enthralling a history lesson as TV has ever offered—and a dazzling art and architecture survey into the bargain. Guiding viewers where tourists never tread, C-SPAN paid a dizzying, up-close visit to Constantino Brumidi’s fresco Apotheosis of Washington , high above the Rotunda, then burrowed deep underground for a tour of the long-abandoned Senate Baths. Here were ornate rooms reserved for the rare visits of the President and restored chambers where the Supreme Court once told Dred Scott he had no rights, where Senators Hayne and Webster debated, and where John Quincy Adams died of a stroke. In true C-SPAN fashion, not a corner was overlooked.

Congressional elders—Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, and Dennis Hastert among them —got to show off not only their handsome private offices but their considerable knowledge of the past too. Capitol historians led tours through private corridors and underground passageways, offering memorable anecdotes at every turn. So when Lamb stood high atop an off-limits outdoor balcony, the illuminated city at his back, it came as no surprise that caller after caller expressed awe and appreciation for this behind-the-scenes masterpiece. They were learning, and they were enraptured.

For those who missed one of the great history triumphs of 2006, the complete Mark Farkas–produced broadcast is available in a boxed DVD set from c-span.org . —Harold Holzer