The Almost-Forgotten Shows and People of WGBH – Part 1

A collection of “less remembered shows” and people who appeared on, or worked for, WGBH.

Leonard Bernstein’s Lectures at Harvard

leonard_bernstein_by_jack_mitchellRemembered by Fred Barzyk, Doug Smith, and Bruce Bordett

Bernstein’s lecture series was produced by Amberson Productions in conjunction with WGBH during 1972 and 1973.

In 1972, the composer Leonard Bernstein returned to Harvard, his alma mater, to serve as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, with “Poetry” being defined in the broadest sense. The position, first created in 1925, asks faculty members to live on campus, advise students, and most importantly, deliver a series of six public lectures. T.S. Eliot, Aaron Copland, W.H. Auden, e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, Jorge Luis Borges — they all previously took part in this tradition. And Bernstein did too.

The series is now available on YouTube.

The Unanswered Question 1973 1 Musical Phonology Bernstein with sound

Doug Smith was the producer for WGBH. Here are his notes.

Lenny’s brilliance, his fast-moving mind, and his perfectionism made for an intense production experience. The live lecture at the Harvard Square Theater was followed the next day by the taping at WGBH.

Sometimes the script would change between the live lecture and the taping, because he thought of a better way to make a point or a clearer illustration, and he was usually right.

At one point, dangerously close to one of the lectures, Lenny decided that a movement from a Mahler symphony that he had conducted with the Vienna Philharmonic would be the perfect illustration, only the film (yes, film, 35mm) was in Vienna. So Amberson sent someone to Vienna to bring it to Boston, just in the nick of time.

Before every lecture at the HS Theater, Lenny’s personal assistant would appear backstage for the pre-performance ritual: a couple of pills, a shot glass, and some eye drops from the “medicine box.” Lenny would kiss the cuff links he wore given him by Serge Koussevitsky and stride out onstage to captivate and educate the audience. Whatever it took to get to that point was worth it.

Bruce Bordett was the stage manager.

113082_300x300I recall being Lenny’s prompter operator. The old style prompters where scripts were prepared on a giant typewriter. (Often in duplicate or triplicate as each of the multiple cameras had a rig hung above the lens.) They all had to be run in sync, spooling their paper rolls through each reader.

The biggest challenge came as Lenny was fond of changing his script frequently. To add text, a new chunk of paper script had to be typed on the giant typewriter and spliced into, or sometimes removed from each mechanical reader. This needed a sprocketed editing block, sticky tape, and a razor blade to accomplish. It had to be done on each camera so that the readers would stay in sync.

No rush or pressure when musicians or audience waited as changes were made. It was lots of fun. Later, of course, this tech was replaced with video monitors fed from a wee camera shooting a paper script that was motor fed through the prompter base station.

Now there’s an app for that. You can run it from an iPhone.

Hoagy Carmichael and WGBH

Hoagy_Carmichael_-_1947Remembered by Fred Barzyk

Hoagy’s son, Hoagy Jr. worked at WGBH and produced a show featuring his father teaching music to the 21-inch Classroom viewers.

I remember Hoagy sitting at the piano with a mason jar of scotch hidden in the piano seat. But where is Hoagy Jr. now?

Here is what I found in an article from 2013.

A visit to Hoagy Bix Carmichael’s office on West 47th Street in New York City is a true adventure. His famous father, Hoagy Carmichael was a well known singer, composer, actor, and bandleader known for songs like “Georgia on my Mind,” “Stardust,” and “Heart and Soul.” Show business pictures and all sorts of memorabilia line the walls.

Carmichael said, “My father was an extremely creative person who wrote melodies and lyrics. He had his own television and radio shows. He performed in fourteen movies and wrote the music for many of them. He was a wonderful artist who was completely self-taught. He also wrote two books. How many people have that kind of talent?”

Carmichael has his own brand of creativity and took very different career paths than his father. He is an outgoing, yet a relaxed and welcoming individual. It’s easy to see why he has had so many opportunities. He came to New York in 1962 to work as a stock broker. He says that “I started reading a lot at that time in my life.” His many readings would launch new professional interests. He worked for four years at WGBH in Boston, produced shows for Time/Life, and he had the “honor” of producing the Mister Rogers Show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He said, “I loved Fred Rogers.” Carmichael is one of the founders of The American Tap Dance Foundation along with Gregory Hines.

And here is an additional piece by Hoagy Jr.

By the mid-1960s, my father’s career as a songwriter was essentially over. Rock and Roll was making music publishers rich overnight (can you remember what songs Fabian sang?), and Dad’s telephone, once alive with calls from artists and producers, was silent.

His diverse catalogue had a list of songs that he had written for children, and I thought it would be fun to work on something with him at WGBH that I felt could use some exposure. He was never easy to work with, ask Johnny Mercer or Howard Hawkes, but when studio time was available, and a few dollars dribbled in from the 21 Inch Classroom, I called him. He had plenty of time on his hands, and he quickly said he would do it.

My father, truth be told, didn’t care much for children. I honestly think I was the exception, but I knew getting him to warm to the three kids that we cast for the show, and they to him, was going was not going to be easy.

I rented a gray house on Brattle street for him, and we decided to have an ice cream party (Dad hated ice cream) at the house with the three kids and our producing staff. The piano was tuned and, after mounds of ice cream and toppings discreetly melded with the Persian carpets, two of the kids started playing the piano. Their choice, natch, was “Heart and Soul” which, no surprise to me, brought Dad into the room. After yet another run through, one of the kids asked him if he knew the song. After a well-timed pause he said, “I wrote it.” That was the moment that brought the two sides together. Chemistry forged by music…

Weeks before Dad set foot in Studio A, I asked to meet with David Ives, then the head of the station. David always looked like he could have been an FBI director in bow tie, so it was with no little trepidation that I climbed those stairs to his office to forge and understanding. I knew that the rule, no the law, was that no alcoholic beverages of any sort were allowed in the station. My father was a daytime drinker/sipper of 15 year old Highland Queen scotch, and I told David that he would have to “bend” the hallowed rule or Carmichael would stay home. We made a deal. Dad would disguise his toddy in a Mason jar and would hide it in the piano bench usually reserved for sheet music. I agreed that he would only reach for a “snoot” when the kids were out of the room – which he was pretty good about. It kept him on an even keel, although I am sure that David was glad to our set struck when the time came.

We had fifteen twenty-minute shows to produce and, after about ten of them, Dad got bored. He decided to meet a lady (a much younger lady) on Spain’s Costa del Sol, and he made it abundantly clear that he was taking ten days off for some, well, sunshine. I couldn’t talk him out of it, as we had schedules inked with Jack Caldwell’s office that I felt were iron clad. But Dad, having made up his mind, left me and our staff to juggle the dates to fit his return. It was diva stuff, but I loved the guy and did all I could to make it work. He did return, Mason jar in hand, and with no traces of a sun tan.

Dad was pleased and proud of the results of our work. He was gracious to all at the station employees, but I assure you that if he had an idea or an opinion he, like any other person of extraordinary talent, would fight for it. I had never seen that side of him, having never worked with him, and it was intimidating and, at times, difficult to watch. Straddling my love for him as my father, and the need to produce shows that had other talented people involved who understood the medium, was an experience that I was to never forget.

The shows, with Monty Stark’s musical approach, were unusual and we produced a two-record set called “Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop” under Ahmed Jamal’s label, the great jazz piano player from Pittsburgh. Today, on Ebay, those albums routinely sell for over $800.

Han Holzer, Ghost Hunter

Remembered by Fred Barzyk

It was Halloween, early 1960’s. Producer/Director Gene Nichols and I decided to do a ½ hour special on haunted houses around Boston. Somehow, we got it past Program Manager Bob Larson. We offered the on-camera hosting to Hans Holzer. Who?

hans_holzer_parapsychologistHans Holzer (26 January 1920 – 26 April 2009) was an American paranormal researcher and author. He wrote well over 100 books on supernatural and occult subjects for the popular market as well as several plays, musicals, films, and documentaries, and hosted a television show, “Ghost Hunter.”

We took the WGBH bus and videotaped a few places, which were supposedly “haunted.” Hans interviewed the people living there. Needless to say, Gene and I thought it was a funny concept for Halloween. Hans, as predicted, found every one of the places we visited haunted.

The critical noise came back loud and clear, not only from our viewers but also from some angry Boston academics. They did not see the humor and accused us of manipulating the public with utter nonsense.

Oops.

Needless to say, we never did another one.

Here’s an e-mail from Gene Nichols on Hans Holzer.

Thanks for the memory, Fred.  Yes, I remember that event well.  Wouldn’t change anything you have written about the Holzer experience.  I only recall that Bob Larsen assigned me to the production “to keep an eye on Fred” so that no one would regret the program’s end result (guess that didn’t work).

The subject of the program turned out to be a gardener who worked for a well-known Harvard professor who called Larsen the morning after airing. He was quite upset.  Don’t remember the professor’s name … but do recall that Larsen was not pleased.

In hindsight I recall Larsen assigned me to many of your “specials” … wonder why.

Denis O’Neil

denis-oneill-2Remembered by Fred Barzyk

Denis was a terrific writer for many WGBH projects. He was also a really good folk singer. I even have one of his original vinyl records. Denis moved to Hollywood and was the screenwriter for the film “The River Wild.”

Here is what’s on his home page:

Denis O’Neill worked on staff and as a free-lance writer/producer for Boston’s public television station, WGBH-TV — writing copy and host copy for such programs as Frontline, Mystery, Masterpiece Theatre, The National Ballroom Dancing Championships, Irish Treasure, and No Irish Need Apply.
He began publishing articles and short stories in Sports Illustrated, The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.

The Facts of Medicine

Remembered by Michael Ambrosino

csm_561_1468382927_f325854573In 1955, just as WGBH-TV had gone on the air, it created a forty-episode television series called “The Facts Of Medicine,” hosted by Parker Wheately, to inform the public about local and national health concerns and current research. On one of these programs, Dr. David Rutstein clearly stated the possible connection between smoking and cancer.

David Davis Rutstein (1909-1986) was a long-time faculty member at Harvard Medical School and an advocate for preventive medicine. He was one of the first physicians to use television as an outreach tool to inform the public about health concerns and research. Rutstein also played a national role in the organization of medical care in the United States, the integration of preventive medicine into patient care, and the measurement of medical outcomes.

TV series on Musical Instruments

Remembered by Boyd Estus

Bill and I made two films as part of a projected, but never completed, series on the various families of musical instruments with the BSO Chamber Players. We did “The Double Reed” on the oboe and bassoon with Ralph Gomberg and Sherman Walt, respectively.  The second film was “The Violin” with Joe Silverstein.  One or both won a newly established PBS award.

Series: Boston Symphony Chamber Players. Program: Double Reed, The. Series release date: 1971. Program Description: With Ralph Gomberg, Oboe and Sherman Walt, Bassoon, both principals of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, guest pianist Gilbert Kalish. This joint production of the Council for Massachusetts Humanities, Inc. and WGBH won the CPB award for excellence in local public television programming for 1971.

Abe Sacher on Harry Truman

From Fred Barzyk

trumanpicbsachar-presprojThis one half hour show was the culmination of Abe Sacher’s appearances on WGBH. He was the first president of Brandeis University and a very respected academic.

Dr. Sacher, sitting in a chair and talking directly to the camera, appeared in a weekly educational television lecture show, The Course of Our Times; his analyses of problems in contemporary history were later published in the book of the same title.

Sachar remained a working educator, historian, lecturer, and author until his death

Produced by Peggy MacLeod and directed by me, it was a remote lecture by Dr. Sacher set in the actual locations of Harry Truman’s life in Missouri.

Al Capp

Al_Capp_at_1966_Art_Festival_in_Florida
From Wikipedia 

Al Capp, creator of “Li’l Abner” comic strip, did a short series for WGBH in the early 1960’s at 125 Western Ave. Mr. Capp had a reputation for being ornery and outspoken. He lived in Cambridge.

Cartoonist Al Capp (1909-1979) created “Li’l Abner,” regarded by many as the greatest comic strip of all time… At 19, he became the youngest syndicated cartoonist in America, drawing “Colonel Gilfeather,” a daily panel for Associated Press. But, bored with the staid and formulaic Gilfeather, Capp left AP and soon was ghosting the popular boxing strip “Joe Palooka” for Ham Fisher… In 1934 Capp struck out on his own. He took his hillbilly idea to United Features Syndicate and “Li’l Abner was born.

“Vision for the 60’s, approx. 1961” was digitized as part of the AAPB project and can be seen onsite at WGBH.

Marcel Ophuls

The Harvard Film Archive was honoring Marcel Ophuls back in the 1970’s. Ophuls came to WGBH to videotape a conversation with someone from the Archive (whose name I can’t remember). It was staged in Studio B, shot very tight with lots of film roll-ins. Lighting was theatrical and moody. Marcel, ever the actor, brought a highly intense overview of his work while puffing on a cigarette. I assume the show is in the WGBH archives and at Harvard.

Marcel Ophuls (German, born November 1, 1927) is an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker and former actor, best known for his films The Sorrow and the Pity and Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie. 

Eastern Educational Network – Sampler, circa 1962

Promotional film made by WGBH to showcase its current and recent programming to other members of the Eastern Educational Network (EEN), circa 1962. Short 2-4 minute excerpts of the following appear:

  1. Boston Symphony Orchestra being conducted by Charles Munch
  2. Max Lerner from “The Age Of Overkill”
  3. Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy from “Prospects Of Mankind”
  4. Louis Lyons touting the importance of WGBH’s “Report From Moscow” on Louis Lyons and the News; cut to “Report” featuring: Jerome Wiesner, Walt Rostow; Richard Leghorn; and others.
  5. 21” Classroom: “Exploring Nature” series
  6. “Parlons Francais” featuring Madame Anne Slack
  7. Humorist Al Capp reviewing a recent election
  8. “Backgrounds:  Robert Frost” Robert Frost interviewed by Louis Lyons on the eve of John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Inauguration.
  9. “Main Street” documenting the destruction of Boston’s West End
  10. Pat McGuiness heatedly weighing in on the recent (1959) Colony Railway Line controversy involving its closure and anticipated economic impact on Boston South Shore communities.
  11. W.C.B. Joyce series “Metropolis”
  12. “Invitation To Art” with Brian O’Dougherty
  13. “Jazz with Father O’Connor”
  14. Norman Holland on “The Shakespearean Imagination” discussing portrayals of Shakespearian characters on stage and screen.
  15. “Filmmaker’s Showcase” program featuring director Robert Flaherty’s widow, Francis Flaherty.
  16. New England Conservatory Opera in-studio performance of Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnol
  17. “Marcel Marceau on Mime” Elliot Norton and Edwin Burr Pettet interview mime Marcel Marceau
  18. “A Time To Dance” clip featuring dancers Melissa Hayden and Jacques d’Amboise
  19. Boston Symphony Orchestra

All programs were produced by WGBH for the Eastern Educational Network.

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