Fred Barzyk’s Snapshots: Scene 6 – The Waiting Room

This entry is part 21 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

barzykThis is the sixth in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director. Watch The Waiting Room, below.

Ah, yes … The Waiting Room. This was my last TV drama production. After almost 60 years of trying to create situations where I could direct dramas, it finally comes to an end. This half-hour show was the only way for me to say “goodbye” to all my actors.

I love actors. I love how they are willing to give of themselves, to be vulnerable to critics, to wrap themselves in personas not their own, and how they love what they do.

It has always been my style to support their work. My job as a director was to protect them from outside noise, let them practice their craft surrounded by people who appreciate what they are doing. I, as the director, would always stand next to the camera and act as their “audience.” I would stifle a laugh when they said a funny line, or get depressed when things were going wrong for the character. I hoped this helped. I tried my best.

The Waiting Room is the most personal drama I have ever done. It came to me in the middle of the night, the whole thing just popped into my head. I got up from bed and wrote the script at 2:00 in the morning. It’s probably why the whole story is a little murky.

With that murky premise, I think I have to give you a little back-story so you can maybe understand the motivations behind the script.

I was this kid on the South Side of Milwaukee, growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood. I was an only child, spoiled rotten. My Dad worked at International Harvester. He worked there for 50 years and was proud of it. He was also proud that he graduated from High School. He was devoted to doing crossword puzzles. His mother had died of Spanish influenza. He and his sister were placed in an orphanage for several years. His father remarried and they joined Grandma Barzyk in her little grocery store.

My Mom ran away from home when she was 13. Her mother died young, her father remarried and soon there were 4 other girls. She never got over the loss of her mother or the entrance of so many other girls in the family! So she ran away in the middle of the night, boarded a train in Clinton, Indiana, and went to an aunt who lived in Milwaukee. Soon she was a “live-in” nanny at a Jewish family’s big house on the East side of Milwaukee. She lied to the family that she was 16; not her real age of 14. That lasted a few years until the boys got measles and she had to leave.

She ended up as a nurse’s aide at Milwaukee Children’s Hospital, feeding kids in the contagious disease ward. During WW2 she worked the night shift at a factory making artillery shells. I can still remember her smelling of copper filings and oil. But her longest job was a sales clerk at Gimbel’s Department Store, downtown Milwaukee. She worked in the men’s dept. but she liked to say she worked in men’s underwear.

My appreciation for the aesthetic seemed to develop around the age of 6. We were renters, the bottom floor of a two-family house. We had concrete walkways to the front porch and alongside the house to the back porch. From the sidewalk you would have to climb up 2 concrete steps. Each of them (like all the others in the neighborhood) were neat, with sharp corners. For some reason, I thought they would look better if they were rounded. So I got a hammer from the basement and attempted to round them off. It wasn’t pretty. My Mom said I had gone too far. The landlord never complained. I went back to see the house a few years ago and the ragged corners are still there.

And then there was my piano playing. For some reason, I thought I could be this great piano player. Hell, my Mom’s cousin had the most popular swing band in Milwaukee. My aunt Frances was a friend with a famous Milwaukee Pianist: Liberace. So I took lessons. I was really bad. Very bad. My father kept saying it must be the teacher so I kept going to other piano teachers.

One time, as I was waiting for my lesson to begin, I heard this kid in one of the rooms reciting a monologue. I wanted to do that instead, and so I began elocution lessons. I even ended up in a play a “walk-on” role with no lines at age 10. But the real moment of truth happened at one of those horrible piano recitals. We kids would sit in the back room, all-nervous, dressed to the nines. And then I realized that if I made some goofy sound I would break the tension. So I did.

Did it ever break the tension. They started to giggle, trying to hold back. I did it again and again, till I had them laughing out loud. This was it. This is what I wanted to do. Entertain a crowd. The teacher came in and yelled at us. She pointed at me and said “Freddy Barzyk, you cut that nonsense out. You are going just too far, do you understand?” Boy, did I ever.

I went to Marquette University in Milwaukee because that is what my parents could afford. I lived at home and the tuition was only $250 per semester. I thought maybe I would be a sports announcer. Soon as I took my first acting class, I was hooked. I realized I wanted to be a stage director.

I mean so many things were happening in the theater. Guthrie had established his regional theater in Minnesota, and then other regional theater started popping up all over the country.

Then there were the plays! My Fair Lady, Long Days Journey into Night, West Side Story … all on Broadway. Off Broadway was happening too. European playwrights were being celebrated: Bertolt Brecht’s “Three Penny Opera,” Eugene Ionesco’s “Bald Soprano,” Luigi Pirandello’s “6 Characters in Search of an Author.”

The theater was happening. And I wanted to be a part of it.

I planned to go to Yale Drama School. The problem was that I had no money. A dear friend of mine insisted that I apply for a scholarship to Boston University for a master’s degree in Communication. The deal was you had to work 3 days a week at a little educational TV station, WGBH. I got in. BU was disappointing. Channel 2 was great. I spent all my time there.

After the scholar year was over, my boss, Greg Harney, offered me a 3-month directing gig to cover for one of the full- timer directors who went off to Saudi Arabia on a special assignment. That happened two more times. Greg knew I still wanted to go to Yale Drama School. He had another plan for me.

I found myself back in Milwaukee, trying to figure out how to raise monies for Yale. I would take strange little jobs. One day, I was working at a Polish Newspaper, “The Novini Polski.” I would do cold calls. I would take the big newspaper in town, use their “Apartments for Rent” section and then pitch the owners to place an ad in “The Polski.” You know, these Polaks are reliable, clean, and would pay their rent on time.

Suddenly the boss yells out to me, “You got a phone call.” Who the hell could have found me here? My mother must have given them the phone number. I was shocked. It was Greg Harney.

“Ok, Fred, this is it. I am offering you a full-time TV director job. $85 a week … but no more talk of Yale and the theater. You have to commit.”

And then it happened.

I paused, looked back at the room full of callers trying to convince people to put an ad in a Polish newspaper, and finally said … “Ok, but you have to let me do a TV drama on my vacation. I would need 4 days in the studio.”

Pause on the other end.

Had I gone too far once again?

Finally … “Ok.”

I was now a TV director who would be allowed to do dramas. It turned out to be the best of both worlds. I had not gone too far.

First thing I did was go to every community theater production I could squeeze in, constantly looking for actors who would volunteer for my plays. My volunteer assistant was Sally Dennison who went on to cast Antonini’s “Zabriski Point.” She also helped cast “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I now had an actors group of 20 people.

I was given $10 for the rights to a play I selected, “Five Days.” I had use of the art department, scenic, and TV crew. All props, costumes, any out-of-pocket costs would have to been picked up by me. It worked. Elliot Norton, famed Boston theater critic, agreed to introduce the play. It was a Brechtian anti-war play, done “live on videotape” with black and white cameras. The management liked it. I was given permission to do another.

There was a teacher at MIT who was an aspiring playwright. I took his play and paired it with a French farce and called the show “2 for Laughs.” (WGBH is on Channel 2). Pete Gurney was the playwrights name. Pete has gone on to have a very successful career in the theater. He is now known as A.R. Gurney, author of “Love Letters,” one of the most often performed contemporary plays across America. His TV play was lost in a fire that destroyed WGBH back in 1961. As luck would have it my first TV play survived and is now in the WGBH Archives.

In the new WGBH building, I did an outrageous play called “The Pit.” This time WGBH picked up all the costs. “The Pit” was a surreal play featuring a little girl who has fallen into a pit and an older man, a Good Samaritan, who tries to get her out. Of course, he never does and is finally hauled off to prison as a “subversive.” It didn’t have a lot of good reviews. Except for the one that really mattered. Kurt Vonnegut saw it and laughed.

My dear friend, David Loxton, who worked at WNET, New York’s Public TV station, suggested we approach Vonnegut and see if we could do an original TV movie based on his work. For some reason, he agreed!

It was called “Between Time and Timbuktu.” This time I hired real pro actors but filled out the rest of the bit parts with my coterie of local actors. This was it! The beginning of my long career working with actors.

Here are some of the names I have been fortunate to work with:

  • Lily Tomlin
  • Dan Ackroyd (Collisions)
  • Gilda Radner (Collisions)
  • Jane Alexander (Letters of Calamity Jane for CBS Cable)
  • Matt Dillon (Great American 4th of July & Other Disasters for PBS)
  • Christian Slater (Secrets for Hearst Network)
  • Barbara Feldon (Secrets; she was Agent 99 on Get Smart)
  • Christopher Reeve (Last Ferry Home for Hearst)
  • Ashley Judd (Ryan Interview by Arthur Miller for Kentucky Public TV)
  • Eddie Bracken (Ryan Interview; stage actor and movie star 1940’s)
  • Bob and Ray (Between Time and Timbuktu for PBS, + Double Channel show)
  • Kevin McCarthy (Between Time and Timbuktu for PBS)
  • Bruce Davison (Lathe of Heaven for PBS)
  • Kevin Conway (Lathe of Heaven)
  • Morgan Freeman (Charlie Smith; started on Sesame street, became a huge Hollywood movie star)
  • John Amos (Listen Up for PBS)
  • William Conrad (Great Whodunit!; star of Gunsmoke)
  • Gene Barry (Great Whodunit!; radio, TV stage star, was great in the musical La Cage aux Folles)
  • Tammy Grimes (“She wanted to me to be her “director” …nope)
  • Geraldine Fitzgerald (Great Whodunit!)
  • Tyne Daly (No Room for Opal for Hearst Network; one of the few actors who had trouble with me as director)
  • Claire Dane (Opal; has become a movie/TV star)
  • Theresa Wright (featured in a lot of movies, worked with Alfred Hitchcock)
  • Ben Vereen (song and dance actor; was in Jenny’s Song for Westinghouse Network)
  • Jean Stapleton (Tender Places; famous for Edith in All in the Family TV series)
  • Jerry O’Connell (Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss; fresh off film Stand By Me, now in several TV series and movies)
  • Rosie Perez (Poof! for PBS; made splash in Spike Lee’s first movie)
  • Ed Asner (Listen Up; lead in The Mary Tyler Moore TV series)
  • Richard Kiley (Madhouser; star of Broadway musical, Man of La Mancha)
  • John Goodman (Flashback for HBO; gone on to be Hollywood movie star)
  • John Houseman (Cable Arts, in many films, worked with Orson Wells)
  • James Wood (Andrew Silver drama, went to Hollywood and did well)
  • ,Jane Curtin (Pretzels for HBO, original SNL cast )

And now, here in Chelmsford, I returned to my roots. I found great volunteer actors, had the latest video equipment and a dedicated volunteer crew, which allowed me to continue this long love affair I have with actors and my little dramas.

We raised the money for this production by the use of Kickstarter, an Internet fundraiser. We raised over $4,000 to support this production.

Well, we did it. Former WGBH professionals who also volunteered their time and talent joined my trusty group of Chelmsford Volunteers, some in their 70s: Bill Charette, John Osborne, Bob Burns, Debbie Dorsey, and Marcia Hully. God Bless them all.

In many ways, this little movie was a final tribute to the many actors who graced my pictures with their amazing talents. It’s still hard to believe that a kid from Milwaukee actually worked with all these wonderful actors. I must have died and gone to Heaven.

Fred Barzyk’s Snapshots: Scene 5 – Opera, Film, and a Dream

This entry is part 20 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

barzykThis is the fifth in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director. Don Hallock has been kind enough to add his notes [in brackets].

“While memory can be unreliable, it is always meaningful. The WGBH story will not be taken seriously until it is printed.”

Opera and WGBH

When I came to WGBH in 1958, the station had a contract for a major kinescope series on dance.

The series was a big deal and WGBH ventured further into large-scale shows. None more so than our efforts with Opera.

Greg Harney was the catalyst for this effort, forging working relationships with the local universities and music departments. The big production break through was the use of a live orchestra. A full 100-piece orchestra was setup in Studio B. Full audio was piped live into Studio A with the singers responding live to the music. The conductor watched from a close circuit camera and was able to control the orchestra to the action happening on screen. All of this was aired LIVE and it worked wonderfully. I do not remember how many operas we did, but one of them was assigned to me.

I knew nothing about opera. I had seen one on TV as a kid growing up in Milwaukee. It was a CBS production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute.” The opera I was to direct was “Trouble in Tahiti” by Leonard Bernstein. The New England Conservatory staged the production. My job: to cover the action. I was way out of my field, but I did the best I could. No major goofs.

Later, Harney joined forces with Sarah Caldwell and the Opera Group she headed. WGBH did a number of operas with her.

I worked on one of the operas. It was Luigi Nono’s “Intollerzana,” a contemporary opera that was very controversial because of its Communist sympathies.

NET provided the funds for the coverage of the live stage performance. The staging had various people holding up white posters and then images were projected on to the posters.

When Greg directed the show from the Opera house, the cameras could not read the posters. The projector’s light was not strong enough to let the TV cameras see them. I was asked to re stage these parts of the Opera in Studio A. This would allow us to use a stronger projector and make sure the audience could read the graphics. All of this had to be OK’d by Sarah.

Sarah was quite a strong and demanding artistic director. No one crossed her without getting sued. I had a pretty good relationship with her and all seemed to be going just fine. The studio had been booked, actors hired, all graphics in place.

Then Sarah decided she needed more time to think thru what we were doing. The cost would be enormous if I had to cancel, so Greg and I decided to go ahead with the fixes. On the day of the production, I received a stop and desist order from Sarah delivered by a policeman.

I looked at Greg, he looked at me, and we said what the hell, lets do it. We did edit the pieces in, and eventually Sarah said it was OK. It was aired on NET to mixed results.

I believe we never did another opera again.

The (temporary) end of film

Because of a serious film production problem in the early days of WGBH, the use of film was outlawed. Here’s what happened.

In 1957-58, WGBH had a contract to do a major film on the “International Geophysical Year.” The project was to make films about scientific research, as it was happening, which is the most expensive and dangerous way to make a film.

After completing one, leaving several unfinished, the film department was closed. People were fired. The project shifted to Louis de Rochemont Films and lots of finger pointing and paying money back to the National Science Foundation.

It was announced that no film was ever to be used in a WGBH show.

Fast forward to the 80’s. WGBH was creating so many shows on film, that we had 35 Steinbecks working on projects. We had run out of rooms at our studios, and had to rent motel rooms at the Ramada Inn down the street.

Finding the film

I don’t know if this story was ever supposed to get out. I believe it is true, since the person who was involved in the incident told it to me.

Here is the situation. NOVA asked archives for a very specific piece of video. The staff searched the archives and could not find it. The person from NOVA, who requested the video, knew it existed because he/she had been the producer who shot it. The research staff went back again into the vault and after many days they still could not find it. And here is what happened next.

NOVA, our flagship Science show, hired a Dowser from California to come to WGBH and find the video. This Dowser arrived with an assistant and they spent 3 days in the archives vault. After 3 days, using their own system of investigation, they found the missing video. Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction.

A dream not realized

In 1962 I met Joe Raposo, a Harvard student who was a musical genius. He later went on to write most of the great songs for “Sesame Street.” Frank Sinatra called him one of America’s best songwriters.

From Wikipedia: Sinatra recorded four of Raposo’s songs on his 1973 album Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back. Sinatra insisted the album be composed entirely of Raposo’s compositions, but the record label balked and prevailed over Sinatra, limiting him to four. Jonathan Schwartz reports that Sinatra idolized and popularized Raposo and his music, frequently attending Raposo’s parties at his and first wife Susan’s New York apartment during the 1960s with glamorous friends and several cronies, including Leo Durocher. More…

I hired Joe to write a musical intro to a kids show I was doing called “All About You,” for WGBH’s 21 Inch Classroom.

But Joe and I had bigger plans. I always dreamed of doing an original TV musical. As a kid in Milwaukee, I had watched a TV musical on CBS. It was called “Love and Marriage” starring Frank Sinatra. It was “Our Town” adapted into a musical. Its lead song “Love and Marriage” became a hit.

Joe tuned into the idea.

He felt comfortable writing the music but needed someone to do the lyrics. He introduced me to his friend, Tom Lehrer.

I couldn’t believe it. Tom was a legend.

From Wikipedia: Thomas Andrew (Tom) Lehrer  is an American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician. He has lectured on mathematics and musical theater. He is best known for the pithy, humorous songs he recorded in the 1950s and ’60s. More…

Raposo and Lehrer were willing to work on the musical for no money, in hopes we could produce it on WGBH. What we needed was a play. I had seen an obscure play done at Harvard that year. It was a British drama about a grisly subject. I had my wife type up the script and after an initial read it was agreed that this would be the story. Tom wanted Jerry Colonna to be the lead character.

From Wikipedia: Gerardo Luigi “Jerry” Colonna (September 17, 1904 – November 21, 1986) was an American comedian, singer, songwriter, and trombonist best remembered as the zaniest of Bob Hope’s sidekicks in Hope’s popular radio shows and films of the 1940s and 1950s. More…

Tom Lehrer said that he had the largest collection of Colonna records ever assembled. And the name of the play?

“Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

(You can imagine how different this version of Sweeney Todd would have been from Sondheim’s!)

We did write the opening 3 songs but soon other projects got in the way. Tom Lehrer says he still has those songs in his basement. I never did get to do an original TV musical.

“What’s going on here?” – Louis Lyons and the News

From David Sloss

Louis Lyons used to do a 15-minute newscast every night. Louis was a salty old New Englander who said whatever was on his mind. His show was as simple as could be – just one camera on Louis. All the director had to do was cue the opening slide and announcer, and then dissolve to the camera on Louis. Novice directors were given the show as a first assignment.

05-P-P-Louis-Lyons-1One night a newbie was directing for the first time. Everything was ready to go; camera 2 was set up on Louis. Then, just before they went on the air, the engineers decided something wasn’t right with camera 2, and substituted camera 3. The director didn’t notice the change, and said, “dissolve to 2”. The switcher dutifully did as he was told, and what went on the air was a lens cap.

Louis started to talk, and then he noticed that the little red light on his camera wasn’t on. He knew very little about the technical stuff, but he knew that wasn’t right. He stopped in mid-sentence, not sure if he was on the air or not. In the control room, people are screaming “Three! Three!” at the novice director, who’s paralyzed. Finally someone reaches over and punches the button for 3. Louis appears on the air, just as he’s saying, “What the hell is going on here?”

Two days later we got a note from a viewer, who said “Thanks for the refreshing start to the news. I’m a farmer. We’ve been asking that question for years!”

Tom McGrath, 80

From Tributes.com:

Thomas McGrath was born on February 1, 1936 and passed away on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. Thomas was a resident of New Paltz, New York at the time of his passing.

He earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Marquette University in Wisconsin Tom received a scholarship for graduate studies at Boston College via WGBH TV.

From Paul Noble:

Tom was a colleague at WGBH-TV in the early days of public TV. Great worker with a fine sense of humor.

From Dick McCullough:

Tom was  a wonderful guy (and ever-timeless partner in MBM Productions and it’s fabulous Milwaukee film “The Music Box”). Will always have great memories of him and wife Bobby, who departed much too early.

From Don Hallock:

Here are two photos from A Time To Dance showing Tom McGrath.

In number 1, Tom is seated on the right. Left to right: Don Hallock – camera, Al Kelman – crane operator, and Tom – dolly man.

A Time To Dance 1

In number 2 left to right: Geoffrey Holder – dancer, Al Kelman – crane operator, Don Hallock – camera, and Tom – dolly man. Both photos by Brooks Leffler. (Note Kelman seems still to be active as a producer)

A Time To Dance 2

Sorry to hear the news. Tom was, in no uncertain terms, a hale-fellow-well-met. A fine person.

From the 2000 WGBH Reunion:

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Dinner with the 1959 crew at Legal Seafood.

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Ruth Barzyk and Fred with former “roomie” Tom McGrath.

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Tom and Don Hallock with Ruth Barzyk

Bud Collins memorial service a celebration of his extraordinary life

From the Boston Globe

In words, music, songs, prayers and above all, glorious smiles, the family and friends of legendary tennis journalist Bud Collins gathered inside Trinity Church at Copley Square Friday afternoon for a two-hour memorial service to celebrate his life.

wiggs_Collins_702285-10028
Tennis great Chris Evert spoke at Friday’s services for late Globe sports columnist Bud Collins.

Much like Collins, who died in March at age 86, the ceremony was witty and smart and touching, as elegant and flawless as Wimbledon’s emerald lawn. Some of the biggest names in the game — Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and others — came from far and wide to speak fondly of a man who was their loyal friend, their trusted confidant, and the singular authority of the sport he so dearly loved.

They shared stories of Collins’s clever turns of phrase, his trademark crazy wardrobe, his passion for everything about the game and everyone who played it.

“Bud will be remembered most of all for his wonderful, unique sense of humor,’’ noted Evert, one of five speakers to offer remembrances during the ceremony. “But what I admired about him, more than anything, was his extraordinary kindness, his decency and his sensitivity.

“Bud was one of the finest and tennis will never be the same. He will be the lasting imprint on our sport, and on our souls.’’

King, long ago dubbed “Mother Freedom’’ by the moniker-loving Collins, wore a shocking pink jacket to the ceremony. Because pink was “Bud’s favorite color,’’ she said, and this was a day, what would have been his 87th birthday, to give him everything he wanted.

King, whose courage boosted the women’s game to new heights in the 1970s, particularly when she thumped loudmouth huckster Bobby Riggs in a ballyhooed matchup, regaled the gathering of some 2,000 with stories dating to the first time she met Collins more than a half-century ago….

Both Evert and King noted how they trusted Collins.

“He was trustworthy and compassionate,’’ said Evert, noting how she was comforted by Collins immediately after losses in seven Wimbledon finals. “I knew at that moment Bud Collins would take care of me.’’

“I just loved him from that moment,’’ said King, thinking back to the first day she met Collins. “I felt safe.’’…

The choirs of Trinity Church accompanied a handful of soloists, including singers and instrumentalists, helping to make the celebration a dynamic presentation. The man who wrote about triumph and loss, legends and hackers, was sent off with rich readings (“To everything there is a season . . . ’’) and magnificent song (“Amazing Grace’’; “Ave Maria’’)….

Following the ceremony, many in the gathering made their way slightly west for a reception at Boston University, where many of Collins’s works have been preserved at the Howard Gottlieb Memorial Gallery. Collins earned his undergraduate degree at Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio, then moved to Boston in the late 1950s to pursue a master’s degree in communication at BU. He quickly caught the news bug.

“What keeps you going?’’ King recalled asking Collins in more recent years. “He’d say, ‘Billie, it’s the story . . . it’s the story.’ ’’

Late WCVB photographer honored by Cambridge with dedication ceremony

From WCVB

 A former WCVB photographer was honored Saturday by having a corner of Cambridge dedicated to him.

Bob-Wilson-Square-JPG

The city of Cambridge renamed the corner of Copley and Fayweather streets the Robert N. Wilson Square in honor of the late Robert Wilson who passed away in 2014.

wilson2Wilson worked at WCVB for 22 years. While working as a television photographer, he received many honors, including being recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for outstanding achievement as a pioneer African-American news videographer and recognition by the Boston Association of Black Journalists for his achievements.

Wilson got his start in television at WGBH, where he progressed from a stagehand to a television photographer. Wilson was also a U.S. Army veteran and served during the Vietnam War.

“It is people like Bob Wilson that made a difference in this community,” City Councilor David Maher said. “He was a celebrated newsman and contributed to the change in the culture of news in Boston over a 30-year period.”

Wilson’s family was on hand for the unveiling.

Vonnegut and Barzyk: Between Time and Tibuktu

This entry is part 19 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the fourth in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director. Watch the entire video, Between Time and Timbuktu, below.

posterFrom Fred Barzyk

“Between Time and Timbuktu or Prometheus-5: A Space Fantasy by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.” was an idea hatched by David Loxton who was working for NET Playhouse, led by Jac Venza. This is how the 1974 TV show happened.

I had just produced my third local drama for WGBH called “The Pit.” This time, WGBH gave me a budget to cover the costs of the production, unlike the earlier two: ”Five Days” and ”2 for Laughs.” It was a crazy play about a little old guy who tried to save a little girl who had fallen into a large pit. Of course, the old guy can’t get her out and is misunderstood by everyone. He is accused of all kinds of things, including a Senator declaring him to be un-American. Eventually, the police carry his limp body off the set. The girl never did get out of the Pit.

David predicted the scene Kurt would love is when the old man is seated on the pit trying to convince himself that things could be worse. He starts naming off all the diseases that one could get. It goes on and on, on and on, getting funnier and funnier. David was absolutely sure Vonnegut would get the humor and let us produce a drama with him.

Vonnegut lived in Western Mass, an hour drive to WGBH. Jac Venza and WGBH invited him to WGBH studios to view “The Pit” and talk to him about doing a drama for NET Playhouse. He thought the scene was funny and amazingly agreed to let us take all of his works, put them into a blender, and come up with something new. I was speechless.

vonnegut

Kurt was commissioned to be an advisor on and contributor to the script. David O’Dell did the first draft of the script. Everyone then added their contributions. Kurt looked for an idea that would create an over-arching plot line. He was amused by America’s endless fascination with space travel. He proposed that a poet had entered a jingle contest and won a space trip to the “Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulium.” He insisted that the actor playing Stoney Stevenson had to be William Hickey.

Kurt had first met Bill Hickey at the filming of his novel “Slaughter House-Five.”

Slaughterhouse-Five is a 1972 anti-war/sci fi film based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel of the same name about a writer who tells a story in random order of how he was a soldier in WW2 and was abducted by aliens. The screenplay is by Stephen Geller and the film was directed by George Roy Hill. It stars Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, and Valerie Perrine, and features Eugene Roche, Sharon Gans, Holly Near, and Perry King. The scenes set in Dresden were filmed in Prague. The other scenes were filmed in Minnesota.

Vonnegut wrote about the film soon after its release, in his preface to Between Time and Timbuktu:

“I love George Roy Hill and Universal Pictures, who made a flawless translation of my novel Slaughterhouse-Five to the silver screen … I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book.”

man-croppedHickey had a small role in Slaughterhouse-Five. One day Bill Hickey invited Kurt to his trailer. Kurt was dumbfounded that his trailer had no chairs or tables, just an empty hull. When he asked why Hickey didn’t have chairs or tables, Bill said he didn’t want to bother anyone. He had lived this way for 2 weeks, just sitting on the floor. Vonnegut loved this guy. And we did too.

This was an NET production (they funded most of the production) co-produced with WGBH (who paid for the rest) Most of this was shot in Boston by cinematographer Boyd Estus. Here is what Wikipedia has to say.

Between Time and Timbuktu is a television film directed by Fred Barzyk and based on a number of works by Kurt Vonnegut. Produced by National Educational Television and WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts, it was telecast March 13, 1972 as a NET Playhouse special. The television script was also published in 1972, illustrated with photographs by Jill Krementz and stills from the television production.

The script was primarily written by David Odell, with contributions from Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, and the film’s director. Vonnegut himself served as an “advisor and contributor to the script.”

Where to begin? I asked Kurt what he really wanted to write about. He really wanted to write humor bits for Bob and Ray. I said I know them and I am sure they will do your TV movie.

Bob and Ray was an American comedy duo whose career spanned five decades. Composed of comedians Bob Elliott (1923–2016[1]) and Ray Goulding (1922–1990), the duo’s format was typically to satirize the medium in which they were performing, such as conducting radio or television interviews, with off-the-wall dialogue presented in a generally deadpan style as though it was a serious broadcast.

The duo did more television in the latter part of their career, beginning with key roles of Bud Williams, Jr. (Elliott) and Walter Gesunheit (Goulding) in Kurt Vonnegut‘s Hugo-nominated Between Time and Timbuktu: A Space Fantasy (1972), adapted from several Vonnegut novels and stories. (Vonnegut had once submitted comedy material to Bob and Ray.) Fred Barzyk directed this WGBH/PBS production, a science-fiction comedy about an astronaut-poet’s journey through the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum. This teleplay was first published in an edition that featured numerous screenshots of Bob and Ray and other cast members.

In 1973, Bob and Ray created an historic television program that was broadcast on two channels: one half of the studio was broadcast on the New York PBS affiliate WNET, and the other half of the studio was broadcast on independent station WNEW. Four sketches were performed, including a tug of war that served as an allegory about nuclear war. The two parts of the program are available for viewing at the Museum of Television & Radio.

(I will eventually write about the double channel show that was also broadcast by WGBH Channels 2 and 44. I wrote and directed the Bob and Ray segment called “The Yin and Yang of It.” I also directed the first HBO Entertainment Special which was the Bob and Ray’s Broadway Show: “The Two and Only,” 1970. It was a co- production between WGBH & HBO and shot in Studio A with an audience. More on that later.)

Now, back to Between Time and Timbuktu.

brucieThe writer, David O’Dell, laid out a first draft of the script and that was passed on to Vonnegut for revisions. Kurt added a terrific opening scene in which an announcer (“Juicy Brucie” the number one DJ on NYC radio at the time) surprised Stony and his Mother at their home declaring him the winner of the Tang Grand Prize of a trip into outer Space.

David and I searched for locations in Boston: the ancient operating room in Mass General Hospital; a large freezer in a Waltham warehouse; a park outside Boston with pond and massive trees; exterior streets and buildings in the city.

We secured the studios of Catholic TV in Watertown and built a set housing Space Central control. It had a window overlooking the set for the TV hosts, Bob and Ray.

I gathered all my local non-union actors for the massive crowds needed. The Old Man from the original “The Pit” drama, (Ashley Westcott) now appeared in the operating room, completing the loop. Studio A at WGBH served as the stage for the handicapped Ballet. It was truly a grab-bag experience. But it was a crazy lot of fun.

This was the most organized directing job I ever had done.

man-girl-croppedWe were on a tight budget with no room for mistakes. There was one scene in which Stony was to be enclosed in a padded cell. Since he was whipped back and forth from Space to Earth and talked about it, he was considered insane. It was a Saturday and Hickey was to have taken the train to Boston for the shoot. He was “under the weather.” His Mom had to accompany him. I shot the damn scene in every possible direction but it never really worked. We had to abandon the scene.

Special moments

  • Stony finds himself on a dark street in Watertown looking for a pay phone to call into Control. He finds a pay phone (a prop we set up) and he tries to explain to the people in Control he is not out in Space but in Schenectady. Control tells to get back into Space but before he can do it the windows start to freeze up. Cans of fake snow were used. Finally, he is totally covered up and disappears into the Freezer scene. The crew loads up the gear and when I look over to the phone booth… a car stops, a guy jumps out and goes into the phone booth, tries to make a call, and when it doesn’t work, he crashes out swearing like hell. He never noticed the police, the flashing squad cars or our lighting gear and trucks. I guess he believed in miracles.
  • We could not afford any film Special Effects, so we resorted to video where we could superimpose, etc. Then we transferred them to kine for inclusion into the show. The most elaborate ones were the handicapped ballet and Stony’s dance with several other dancing images of himself.
  • bob-ray-croppedBob and Ray did a one-day shoot at Control Center. They followed the O’Dell script with add-ons from Kurt. At the lunch break, I felt that some of the bits weren’t giving them a chance to free form and improvise. I sat over my sandwich trying to come up with an idea that would give them some leeway. And then it hit: “One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind” The gimmick? They can’t remember the exact wording. They just went on and on, getting more outrageous and silly. I was watching Kurt who was standing just outside the set. He was laughing his guts out (his words). Bob and Ray said they received more phone calls from friends about how terrific they were in this movie. That was really nice.

And then the big day came. David had secured permission to shoot in the abandoned World Fair Grounds outside New York City. It had a major open arena and a large globe of Earth standing in the ruins of a once grand concourse. David arranged for schools to bus in hundreds of kids, a large marching band, and a fire truck to bring Stony to our vision of heaven. (Kurt always said it was out version, not necessarily his.)

In this scene Stony stands up to his worst nightmare, Hitler. The O’Dell scene was quite short and not really developed. Then, just as we arrived at the location that morning, Kurt shows up with a whole new scene: a fight scene between Hitler and Stony. It was spectacular. He had stayed up all night writing it and we scrambled to make it happen. We were in awe of Kurt’s generosity allowing us to create something so important.

His new conceit for the scene? Stony could overcome the worst nightmare of his life, Hitler and his reign of death, by using his “imagination.”

It was imagination over Death.

The fight between Hitler and Stony was an imaginary battle that Kurt felt deeply. Each tries to make the other disappear, causing pain and anguish. Our meager Special Effects never reached the intensity that Kurt had written, but we tried. And then: Stony, battered and spent, wins. Hitler disappears. And then, Kurt in a moment of filmic inspiration, he has Stony use his “imagination” to make the marching band appear and disappear.

(In my estimation, this is one of the clearest explanation of what drove Kurt’s imagination. His experience in the war had left him devastated. His novel “Slaughter House Five” was one way to expel the demons. This was another chance to clear the air.)

And so it goes, as Vonnegut has said many a time.

Ed Joyce, 71, Animation Photographer

From the Family

ed-joyce-2-500X500Filmmaker Ken Burns gave this observation . . . “Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means, ‘God in us’.”

In his seventy-one years Ed Joyce never lost his enthusiasm . . . for life . . . for his family . . . for his work. As an expert animation photographer he worked with Burns on epics such as The Civil War, Baseball and Jazz, important works that not only taught us about our past but who we are as part of the American experience.

Ed’s career in filmmaking began with a company called Education Development Center in Watertown, a company that created educational films. When that closed he opened his own shop on Los Angeles Street in the Nonantum section of Newton called Frame Shop. It was there his career took on a new dimension in the very specialized field of animation photography . . . the ability to create something new and exciting and alive. Other films that he worked on were A Brief History of Time, Mark Twain, New York: A Documentary Film, Eyes on the Prize, Race to the Moon, Chicago: City of the Century, Einstein Revealed, The Congress, as well as work for television and commercials.

He was a longtime member of Local 481 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

EdwardT. Joyce died Thursday, May 12, 2016 at his Waltham home. He was 71. He was born in Brighton on October 4, 1944, the son of the late Thomas and Helen (Kelly) Joyce. He was raised in Watertown and was a graduate of Watertown High School.

The best part of his life began on September 10th, 1967 when he married his sweetheart, Watertown native Frances M. Maffucci, in Saint Patrick’s Church. The couple lived in Watertown for a time before moving to Framingham where they lived for more than thirty years. They have been Waltham residents since 2001.

In addition to his wife of forty-nine years, Fran, he leaves his children, Thomas E. Joyce of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Robyn L. Joyce-Morrison of Worcester and Matthew G. Joyce of Waltham; his grandchildren, Ryan Angelico, Christina and Anthony Joyce, Payton and Dylan Morrison; his sisters, Ellen Joyce of Louisville, Kentucky, Patricia Connors of Waltham, Mary Joyce of Aurora, Colorado and Kathleen Joyce of Yorktown Heights, New York and many nieces and nephews.

Family and friends will honor and remember Ed’s life by gathering for calling hours in The Joyce Funeral Home, 245 Main Street (Rte. 20), Waltham on Monday, May 16th from 4 to 8 p.m. and again at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning before leaving in procession to Saint Patrick’s Church, 212 Main Street, Watertown where his Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. Burial will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to Dana Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215.

Point Taken: New WGBH show encourages input via social media

From the Boston Globe

Is college worth the money? Is the American dream dead? These are the kind of provocative questions debated on “Point Taken,” a new show on WGBH hosted by Carlos Watson. Unusually, the audience can participate via social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The genesis came from executive producer Denise Dilanni, who says broadcast outlets need to expand their digital reach.

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Get involved early, before the broadcast. For the show, viewers can follow “Point Taken” on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat (@PointTakenPBS) and can join the debate by sharing the topics, or posting the Twitter poll and explainer video. During the taping, the show hosts a “Facebook Live” segment from the set with Carlos and panelists, giving Facebook fans a chance to directly ask questions or weigh in with their own points.

Producers monitor tweets live and insert the most salient and compelling points into the broadcast itself. This broadcast integration adds texture and depth to the debate and gives those joining the conversation on Twitter a national platform for their thoughts and comments.