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Bronxvillian Jeff Cooney Is the Brains Behind Current Television Series 'Genius' PDF Print Email


By Margaret Fuller Hayden

May 3, 2017:  According to '76 Bronxville grad Jeff Cooney, he excelled as an athlete but was a "terrible" high school student. Cooney is now bringing a longtime aspiration to life as an executive producer of the National Geographic series Genius, working alongside Academy Award winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, with Geoffrey Rush playing (the older) Albert Einstein. For someone who claims he once wouldn't have known the difference between E=mcand the Bronxville zip code, he has come a long way. Cooney said that the show actually makes this equation "easy for kids and adults who snoozed through physics to finally understand."

The ten-part series premiered on Tuesday, April 25, on the National Geographic channel. The longer format allows the viewer to "delve pretty deeply into the dramas and relationships," said Cooney, and facilitates taking a nonlinear narrative approach to Einstein's life, set against two world wars, the rise of Nazism, and the Red Scare. "In a movie, you don't have that luxury; you have two and a half hours. You're missing essential parts of his life that only a television format like this can give you." Cooney said that in the making of the series, he and writer Noah Pink had in the back of their minds what is happening in Europe today. "It is a cautionary tale," said Cooney.

Cooney's involvement in the production business goes back to the Mad Men era, as he describes it. Growing up in Bronxville, he was an actor in television commercials at age seven, along with his three siblings. (One of them, Chris, is also an executive producer of Genius.) Their mother, Cynthia, "effectively managed us, taught us how to be pros. All the while, my dad, George, was in production of commercials [found] in the advertising hall of fame." These include the Keep America Beautiful commercial featuring a Native American and the I Love NY commercial featuring the casts of Cats.

At Holy Cross, where he lettered in football as a receiver and majored in English, Cooney started directing local political ads and proceeded to direct commercials for the next 30 years. "It was wonderful and I loved it. I shot everything from Coca-Cola to UPS. But as TV was entering a new gilded age, it was time to move on."

In the midst of devoting his talents to commercial production, Cooney discovered a subject for which he had tremendous passion. It was also something he described as his "way to exit the 60-second storytelling discipline and move to long form." That subject? Albert Einstein.

"There was a book called Einstein's Dreams written from the stream-of-consciousness point of view of what Einstein might have been thinking as he was developing his theories and living in Switzerland. The person next to Einstein thinks he's gazing at the Alps, but he's really looking to space." 

Thus began what Cooney characterized as a Homeric process, which involved acquiring the rights to former Bronxvillian Walter Isaacson's biographical book Einstein: His Life and Universe, upon which Genius is based. The project was ten years in the making. 

Jeff and his brother Chris set about creating an indie boutique studio, "a company that creates premium shows designed to support the artist's vision." Chris went on to run the commercial company EUE/Screengems with their father, while Jeff, along with Noah Pink, partnered with fellow producer Sam Sokolow on EUE/Sokolow Entertainment, which developed the script that would become Genius.  When they took the script to Imagine Entertainment, Ron Howard loved it and wanted to move on it right away. ("He just flipped," Jeff recalled.) Ron's partner, Brian Grazer, thought of the series format, and National Geographic swiftly jumped on board.

All ten episodes were shot in Prague, using set extensions and computer graphics to get around "cheating" Prague for Berlin or Zurich or Munich, Cooney explained. His admiration for Ron Howard couldn't be stronger: "The show will explain everything through dazzling special effects that he's so good at. He is the maestro, an amazing storyteller. His camera placement is uncanny, as well as his ability to work with a huge cast."


In addition to Geoffrey Rush as (the older) Einstein, the credits boast Emily Watson as Elsa Einstein and Michael McElhatton as German physicist Philipp LenardJohnny Flynn portrays the younger Einstein, which is likely a breakthrough role for the musician/actor. Click here to see actor Johnny Flynn talking about his role in the film.

Although the final two episodes are still in post-production, Cooney can rest on his laurels, at least for a little while. "Genius is the culmination of tremendous energy and hard work. It's gratifying that the reviews have been so very positive."

It will be a tough act to follow, but the next challenge already looms: The series has been renewed for a second season, featuring a different genius to be disclosed in time. 

Pictured here:  Top: Jeff Cooney (L) and Ron Howard on the set of Genius in Prague (photo by Anja Cooney); in text: advertisement for the series Genius (photo courtesy Jeff Cooney).



Hemingway-Themed Benefit for Bronxville Library a Sold-Out Affair

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By Irena Choi Stern, Co-Vice President, Friends of the Bronxville Public Library Mar. 13, 2019:  Raise a Glass to Hemingway, the benefit for the Bronxville Public Library held on...

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Books & the Arts Directory

Art Restoration and Framing

Fine Arts Gallery of Bronxville

The Fine Arts Gallery is a beautiful gallery in the heart of our village. It sells original art and specializes in local artists from Bronxville past and present. It provides high end custom framing, art consulting, restoration and appraisals. Appointments are available upon request. It also sells the Historical Conservancy Journals which include a history of the village as well as the artists who have lived here and are presenting living here ($20/copy).

99 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, New York 10708

The O'Silas Gallery at Concordia College

171 White Plains Road
Bronxville, NY 10708


Books & Culture

Bronxville Public Library

The Bronxville Public Library traces its origins back to 1875, when it was a small lending library housed in a room attached to the “Bronxville Model School.” The Library was officially chartered in 1906 and moved into the Village Hall Building. The needs of the library grew with the town and, in 1942, a new standalone building was erected, which is where the Library is today. Over the years, the Library was renovated and expanded to meet the needs of the community.

The Library has wonderful resources for adults and children and offers a comfortable and relaxing environment. The Library also houses a fine art collection, consisting principally of Bronxville painters and sculptors.

The Library offers special events, art exhibitions, and programs for adults, young adults and children.  All events are open to the public, unless otherwise indicated.

The Bronxville Public Library
201 Pondfield Road (Midland Avenue & Pondfield Road)

Womrath Bookshop

Womrath Bookshop is a located in the heart of Bronxville village. In addition to selling books, the store also sell children's toys and holds readings both at the store and elsewhere in the community, such as at the Library.

76 Pondfield Road, Bronxville

(914) 337-0199

Music & Performing Arts Schools



Concordia Conservatory

Concordia Conservatory, a preeminent center for music education in Westchester County, is a welcoming community where children and adults find lifelong inspiration and joy through learning, performing, listening to, and participating with others in music. Concordia Conservatory, a community outreach division of Concordia College, offers top quality music programs for early childhood, youth, adults and seniors. The Conservatory's vision is to enrich the lives of the people in our community through music.

Executive Director: Kathleen Suss

Concordia Conservatory of Music & Art

Concordia College-New York

Phone: 914-395-4507

Crestwood Music Education Center

Crestwood Music Education Center, founded in 1987, has established itself as one of the most reputable and premier music schools in Westchester County with well over 800 students studying piano, guitar voice, Suzuki and much more. Their philosophy is to create a very positive, stimulating environment that gives each student the chance for creative self-expression. They believe in the importance of having a world-class faculty with extensive education as well as the teaching and performing experience that can only found in America's finest music schools.

453 White Plains Road
Eastchester, New York 10709


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