In 1974, French aerialist Philippe Petit threw a tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Center and spent an hour walking, dancing, and performing high-wire tricks a quarter mile in the sky. Mordicai Gerstein’s Caldecott Medal–winning picture book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, captures the poetry and magic of the event with a poetry of its own: lyrical words and lovely paintings that present the detail, daring, and—in two dramatic foldout spreads—the vertiginous drama of Petit's performance.
Petit’s incredible story has recently been adapted for the screen. The Walk, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, opens in IMAX and premium large screen engagements September 30, and in theaters everywhere October 9. Read on to learn why Mordicai Gerstein was inspired to write about Petit’s famous stunt. And see stills from the movie.
I was in midtown Manhattan when I first learned of Philippe's feat from the front pages of the New York Times and the New York Post, the day he did it. I immediately knew who he was; the city was full of marvelous street performers of all kinds and for me he was the best. He didn't speak a word, but used the audience as props and foils for his comedy. He got them to form a circle on the sidewalk by zooming round and round on a unicycle till everyone’s toes were just kissed by the tire. He would then look at the crowd and rearrange people from here to there and take a hat from this one and exchange it for that one until he was satisfied. Then he would put slack rope between a lamppost and a tree and dance on it while juggling fiery torches
He was hilarious and astonishing. Reading of what he had done changed my idea of what a human being was and what one was capable of: anything. I read a profile of Philippe in the New Yorker several years later, saved it, and spent years trying unsuccessfully to make a book about a kid who bicycles a tightrope to the moon.