Dave Nohling to the Rescue

A memory from Fred Barzyk

It was the summer of 1958 when I got the news.

I had been awarded a scholarship to get a master degree in Communication at Boston University. I would receive a $600 stipend to live on for a year. Also, I had to work three days a week at a small educational TV station, WGBH, Channel 2. I had hoped to go to Yale Drama school but I had no money and this gave me a chance to stop living at home and explore a new city. I felt lucky.

Then the unbelievable happened. A fellow grad from my class at Marquette University had also been given the same scholarship! This was very unusual. I am not sure one school had two members of the program. I suspect that our friend Bill Heitz, who had received the scholarship the year before, had done some heavy lobbying. Tom and I celebrated, excited and not without some fears.

How were we going to get to Boston? That could chip away at our stipend. This is where Dave Nohling comes to the rescue. Dave had graduated from Wisconsin University in Madison Wisconsin and also received the scholarship!

Even more importantly, he had a CAR! We would drive to Boston and share the expenses! Yea!

Tom and I waited on that summer day surrounded by our luggage. We told Dave to pick us up on Highway 41, in Milwaukee,  near Leon’s Custard Stand. And there he came with his great old black car! We climbed in and off we went.

We drove into the vast Midwest, planning and talking about our future. We planned to drive straight thru and save the cost of a motel. We decided to room together sharing the costs. This was going to be some year!

Somewhere in Indiana, Dave said he always wanted to see NY city. Me too. And Tom lets go for it. With a whoop and holler the old Ford plowed thru the night towards the Big Apple.

I knew a number of would-be-actors living in the city. This is a place where we can crash. It was Mattresses Place, since the only furniture were mattresses. There were many living there, each working as waiters at local restaurants.

I knew they would let us crash.

Dave’s car rumbled on as we belted out the song New York, New York!

We bought a couple of quarts of beer in the city and presented to the Marquette gang as a thank you for letting us crash at their pad.

The next morning we headed off to Boston when Dave said we had to see Grand Central Station! The old Ford weaved its way thru the traffic and there it was. Where the hell do we park? Dave pulled over into a no parking area, got out of the car, lifted the hood and looked like he was trying to fix the engine. He told Tom and myself to go take a quick look, come back and stare at the engine, while he runs inside to grab a look. Dave made this trip an amazing adventure.

When Tom and I arrived inside Grand Central Station, we could not believe our eyes! There he was. One of the great movie directors, sitting in a director chair in the middle of Grand Central Station. There were lights, cameras, and actors…it was Alfred Hitchcock.  Directing North by North West. There was Cary Grant … Eva Marie Saint. This was the frosting on the cake.

Tom and I ran back to Dave, told him what was going on inside, he yelled in pleasure as he ran off to see Hitchcock. Tom and I looked at the engine hoping that no policeman would tell us to move on. Dave came back with the biggest smile I ever saw. We got in the car and headed to Boston. We didn’t say much this time. Just drove and kind of realized that our lives had really changed.

And then there it was, Boston.

Dave turned on his radio and searched the dial. And there it was … classical music on the AM dial! Can you believe it? The only classical music station in Milwaukee was on FM and wattage so low hardly anyone could hear it. I had left behind Milwaukee’s three B’s: Beer, Baseball and Bowling. And now I was in Boston with its three B’s: Brahms, Beethoven and Bach. This was going to be some kind of year. Thanks Dave for the ride I will never forget.

Purple Panda on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer – November 28, 2002

It was David L. Nohling’s elevated sense of humor that set him apart, not the bulky, purple, quilted costume that he wore on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Mr. Nohling, who originated the role of Purple Panda, died Sunday at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was 65.

Born in Kenosha, Wis., he followed a five-year stint in the Air Force with a job at a Boston public television station. He moved to Pittsburgh in 1968 to work off-camera at WQED, where he served as a producer/director, associate director of School Services programs, and executive assistant. His jovial nature led him on-camera. Mr. Nohling was a popular fixture on WQED’s benefit auctions.

“He was always willing to wear a costume and act funny,” said Fran Nohling, 66, his wife of 42 years. “Our children would turn on the auction and there was their father in a tutu wearing a wig. One day at the station at lunch, Fred Rogers said, ‘You have a great face for a puppet.'”

During the 1970s, Mr. Nohling originated the role of the gregarious Purple Panda with the robotic voice.

“Many people have worn the Purple Panda costume through the years,” said Rogers, “but David Nohling … set the stage and the tone for what this character would be. Through his voice and his actions, he was able to create a character that, even though he was very big, children were never afraid of it. One of the reasons was that David had an advanced sense of whimsy.”

While in Pittsburgh, Mr. Nohling taught broadcast communication at Robert Morris College, Carlow College and the University of Pittsburgh. He left WQED in 1981 and relocated his family to a town outside Chicago, where he produced corporate videos for Arthur Anderson and assisted the United Way.

“He always brought humor into his presentation style and he was just like that at home, too,” said Fran Nohling. “He was a man who liked to have fun and spread it around.”

Ward Chamberlin, 95, Public Television Architect

Excerpts from the New York Times

Ward Chamberlin Jr., a leading architect of the nation’s public broadcasting system who revitalized PBS stations in New York and Washington and nurtured the career of the documentarian Ken Burns, died on Thursday in Bedford, Mass. He was 95.

The cause was complications of dementia, his daughter Carolyn Chamberlin said.

Ward B. Chamberlin Jr., left, then WNET’s executive vice president and managing director, with Tamara E. Robinson, vice president for national programming and William F. Baker, president, in 1996.Mr. Chamberlin’s four-decade television career began circuitously. A corporate lawyer at the time, he was working for the nonprofit International Executive Service Corps, where Frank Pace, a former Army secretary, was the president.

The two men were close: Mr. Pace had earlier been chairman of General Dynamics, the military contractor, and Mr. Chamberlin had worked for him there. They were also squash partners.

When Mr. Pace was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be the first chairman of the newly minted Corporation for Public Broadcasting early in 1968, he recruited Mr. Chamberlin to join him as chief operating officer.

Mr. Pace promptly asked Mr. Chamberlin to determine what challenges and opportunities public broadcasting presented and gave him the latitude to meet them. Mr. Chamberlin proceeded to pioneer an enduring decentralized network model of independent public stations.

He remained chief operating officer until he retired in 2003. He was also senior vice president of the Public Broadcasting Service, executive vice president and managing director of WNET in New York and president of WETA in Washington, which he transformed into the third most prolific producer of original programming after WNET and WGBH in Boston.

PBS was created in 1969 to connect local public television stations and to distribute programming. National Public Radio (now just NPR) was formed the next year under the corporation’s umbrella.

From 1975 to 1989, under Mr. Chamberlin, WETA introduced programs like “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report” and “Washington Week in Review.” At WNET, he was responsible for many of the station’s signature cultural productions and other original programming, including the series “The Secret Life of the Brain.” He extricated both stations from financial distress.

Mr. Burns was seeking financial support for his third documentary film, about Huey Long, the Louisiana governor and presidential candidate, when he arranged to meet Mr. Chamberlin to pitch it.

Mr. Burns recalled in a phone interview on Monday that he had been stunned to leave Mr. Chamberlin’s office with a check for $25,000. “They never did that before,” he said.

He was even more surprised by Mr. Chamberlin’s response years later when he learned that Mr. Burns’s series on the Civil War had grown longer than the originally projected five hours.

“Seven, eight?” Mr. Chamberlin inquired, as Mr. Burns recalled.

“I said 11½, 12,” Mr. Burns replied.

To which all Mr. Chamberlin asked was, “Is it good?”

The series, called simply “The Civil War,” was broadcast in nine episodes in September 1990 and watched by about 40 million viewers, setting a PBS ratings record.

“Ward never sought to take the limelight, as opposed to many of us who gravitate to it,” Mr. Burns said. “He was flabbergastingly generous and courageous and indispensable to my professional life.”

From Henry Becton

Ward was a giant in our industry and a special person to me, having taken me under his wing, so to speak, early in my career at WGBH.  We all owe a great deal to him for the wisdom and energy with which he helped shape CPB, PBS, WNET and WETA. 

I will always consider him as one of my key mentors in public media.  He was one of the few people in the industry who understood our unique challenges in creating a culture where creative people could work and thrive.  There were only a handful of places where that was achieved and Ward was responsible for at least two of them!  Our views of our mission and values were closely aligned. 

The Moment that Julia Child Became an American icon

Excerpts by Alex Prud’homme via The Boston Globe

Though she did not own a TV set, Julia had been bitten by the television bug from the moment she set foot on a studio set. She and her coauthor and best friend, Simone “Simca” Beck, had appeared on NBC’s Today show to promote Mastering , and afterward Julia wrote: “TV was certainly an impressive new medium.” (She would soon buy her first television with the proceeds from book sales.) By then, she had been teaching cooking for nine years and was on a mission to spread the gospel of “le gout francais” — the very essence of French taste — which she fervently believed could be reproduced by American cooks in their home kitchens. All that was needed, Julia said, were a set of clear instructions, the right tools and ingredients, and a little encouragement..

Child and members of WGBH’s production staff goof around on set. Photo by Paul Child. Credit line: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
Child and members of WGBH’s production staff goof around on set. Photo by Paul Child. Credit: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

In April 1962, shortly after appearing on I’ve Been Reading, Julia typed a memo to WGBH in which she laid out a vision for “an interesting, adult series of half-hour TV programs on French cooking addressed to an intelligent, reasonably sophisticated audience which likes good food and cooking.”

Each program, Julia suggested, should focus on just a few recipes, and her cooking demonstration — “informal, easy, conversational, yet timed to the minute” — should lead to a discussion of broader culinary matters, such as “a significant book on cooking or wine, an interesting piece of equipment, or a special product.” Julia suggested that other experts, such as a pastry chef or a sommelier, appear as guests, and that well-known chefs — such as James Beard or Joseph Donon (a master French cuisinier) — cook side by side with her on the show.

WGBH had never produced a cooking program, had a small audience, was largely run by volunteers, and operated on a shoestring budget. But encouraged by the public’s strong response to Julia on I’ve Been Reading, the station arranged for her to shoot three trial episodes of a televised cookery show.

On June 18, 1962, the Childs arrived at a borrowed “studio” in downtown Boston — actually, the demonstration kitchen of the Boston Gas Co. — to shoot the initial pilot episode, “The French Omelette.” (Julia preferred the French spelling of that word.) Julia brought her own frying pan, spatula, butter, and eggs. The lights flicked on, and the show’s producer, 28-year-old Russell “Russ” Morash, directed two stationary cameras. Because videotape was so dear, the show was essentially shot “live” in one continuous half-hour take. “I careened around the stove for the allotted twenty-eight minutes, flashing whisks and bowls and pans, and panting a bit under the hot lights,” she recalled. “The omelette came out just fine. And with that, WGBH-TV had lurched into educational television’s first cooking program.”

The second and third pilot episodes, “Coq au Vin” and “Souffles,” were both shot on June 25. This time, Julia had rehearsed the shows at home. Paul built a replica of the set in their kitchen, labeled utensils, made sure the ingredients were measured beforehand, and coached Julia with a stopwatch. Though she continued to gasp and misplace things, she grew more self-assured with each performance.

Julia’s special sauce — her ability to blend deep knowledge, broad experience, precise technique, self-deprecating humor, and infectious enthusiasm — won the public’s heart. There was simply no one quite like her on TV. Julia loved this “high-wire act,” but admitted that she was “a complete amateur” and had no idea how she came across on TV. The answer was simple: The camera, and the audience, loved her.

In response to the “Coq au Vin” show, a viewer named Irene McHogue wrote: “Not only did I get a wonderfully refreshing new approach to the preparation and cooking of said poultry, but really and truly one of the most surprisingly entertaining half hours I have ever spent before the TV in many a moon. I love the way she projected over the camera directly to me the watcher. Loved watching her catch the frying pan as it almost went off the counter; loved her looking for the cover of the casserole.”

Encouraged, WGBH signed Julia up for a 26-episode series. Ruth Lockwood, the assistant producer, scrounged up a track of bouncy French theme music. Unable to decide on a name for the program, Julia called it The French Chef — though she was neither French nor a professional chef (she called herself “a cook”) — until she could invent a better title.

In the first episode, a slightly nervous, fresh-faced Julia demonstrated how to make boeuf bourguignon, the venerable beef stew that would run as a leitmotif through her career. At the end of the show, she tucked a dish towel into her apron, and spontaneously said: “This is Julia Child. Bon appetit!”

When The French Chef hit the Boston airwaves in 1963, WGBH shared copies of the tapes with sister stations, allowing viewers in New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, and parts of New York to watch Julia a week after she aired in Boston. It would start being distributed nationally the next year.

The audience responded viscerally. You are a delight! wrote housewives, hippies, taxi drivers, MIT scientists, and Wall Streeters. The French Chef was “educational TV’s answer to underground movie and pop/op cults,” Joan Barthel wrote in The New York Times Magazine. “The program can be campier than ‘Batman,’ farther-out than ‘Lost in Space,’ and more penetrating than ‘Meet the Press’ as it probes the question: Can a Society be Great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”

A big part of Julia’s allure was her natural ease on TV. Her combination of grace and awkwardness built a sense of trust and intimacy with the audience, which was reinforced by her deep knowledge and sure technique. She used humor to keep her viewers engaged, but because she was so technically adept, she (usually) managed to triumph over adversity.

She would start making a quiche, misplace her glasses or lose her train of thought, find them again, and carry on. She would rapidly and expertly dice a pile of mushrooms, fillet a trout, and demonstrate how to encase poached eggs in a delicate consomme gelatin (oeufs en gelee). But in the next instant, a spoon would go flying off-screen, an Apple Charlotte would collapse and she’d mash it back together with her fingers (“It will taste even better this way”), or she’d incinerate the croutons atop a French onion soup into charcoal briquettes (“That’s beautiful! There you are. I think that possibly that browned a little bit too much. But I don’t know. It gives a very good effect.”)

Confronted by a mishap, Julia would look momentarily befuddled and cuss under her breath or just tilt her head back and laugh….

Julia liked to point the TV camera straight down into a pot of softly bubbling boeuf bourguignon to show what it should look like as it cooked. It was instructive, but it also activated your taste buds and tempted you to dive right through the screen to dig into a heaping bowl of that succulent comfort food. “To do that is not easy,” observed the chef Jacques Pepin. “She had a very rare quality.”…

Though she disliked “tooting my own horn,” Julia had a messianic zeal for spreading culinary knowledge. In championing the pleasure of shopping, cooking, eating, and even of cleaning the dishes, she became a role model for people of all genders, races, ages, and creeds. For her, kitchen work was not “domestic drudgery,” it was “such fun!” With the battle cry “Bon appetit!” she reinvented what it meant to be a television chef and brought a growing audience of American home cooks along for the ride.

1962 WGBH Station Break

From Fred Barzyk

In the early 1960s, a young producer joined the small WGBH staff. David Sloss had graduated from Harvard and was searching to find a career that fulfilled his interest in performance and music. He was soon asked to produce Folk Music, USA, a local Channel 2 show featuring performances of live folk music.

David booked all the great folk musicians who appeared in Boston; José Felcicano, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, Doc Watson, Eric Von Schmidt, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, Tom Rush, Charles River Valley Boys, and many others.

After several years of producing programs at WGBH, David moved to San Francisco where he became a conductor of the Fremont Symphony Orchestra, 1980 to 2012. 

While at WGBH, David composed this station break. Here is what he wrote about the piece:

I wrote this song for the WGBH auction, and I’m pretty sure it was for the first auction we did, so there are probably a number of WGBH old-timers who could pinpoint the year.  We performed it live on the air during the auction.  I think I remember Mike Ambrosino or David Ives introducing it on camera: “Usually when we take a station break, there isn’t much we need say about it.  But on this occasion, I have to introduce ____ and ____ on tenor, David Sloss on baritone, Dave Davis on bass, and Newton Wayland on piano!”  (I can’t remember who the tenors were.)   

And now, Fred Barzyk has re-created it in 2016.

You’ve got to say goodbye to that vast wasteland
You’ve got to say hello to that good-taste land
Culture and art can be really grand
On WGBH Boston

This version is performed by singer Roy Early and pianist Brian Snow.

WGBH Station Break 1962

Remembering the BU Scholars

By Vic Washkevich, in the Boston University alumni magazine, May, 2015

Way back in the summer of 1957, 10 new scholars arrived at BU’s Graduate School of Communications with the mission to attend school by day and become the arms and legs of WGBH-TV by night. Our scholarships were made possible trough the generosity of the Lowell Foundation.

bu-scholars-classpic2
BU Scholars in 1985: Back – Left to Right: Bob Moscone, Bill Heitz, Don Mallinson and Bob Hall (guest visitor). Front – Left to Right: Vic Washkevich, John Musilli, Stew White, Jean Brady (now Jolly), Paul Noble, Ed Donlon.

Back then, WGBH-TV was on air from 6 until 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. The station was on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, directly across from MIT and one floor above a luncheonette, in a space that once housed a roller skating rink.

It was the TV equivalent of a garage band. The cameras were atop wooden fixed tripods that we prodded across floors furrowed by time and neglect, directing our tired picture tubes, rescued from the WBZ-TV dumpster, at luminaries from Harvard and MIT who discussed things esoteric. Surely, it was then and there that the phrase “talking heads” was coined and became part of the English lexicon.

In our youth, nothing seemed insurmountable. We approached every challenge with the old Mickey Rooney “Let’s put on a show!” enthusiasm.

All programming was live, back-to-back, and broadcast from a single studio. We raced from the director’s booth to man a camera, then to pull a cable, then to operate a boom mike every night for a year.

And so, with our primitive, fragile equipment, we aired the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Arts Festival, Father Norman J. O’Connor (known as The Jazz Priest), and much more.

Several of us made it through the entire year, became fast friends, and have remained close over the years via reunions at regular intervals, including John Fusilli (COM ’59), Stew White (COM ’58), Paul Noble (COM ’58), Bob Moscone (DGE ’49), and Don Mallinson (DGE ’56, COM ’57).

October 14, 1961: That Fateful Day

By Alan W. Potter (WGBH: 1955-85)

Imagine

It’s October 13th 1961. About 11:00 p.m. Work is over for the day. But, before we can leave, we have to finish what remains of our daily cleanup: sweep and mop the studio floors. Cleanup the studio and the control room. Shut down all electronics. Pull the cameras back into their corral and neatly figure eight all camera cables. Then – Days end! Lights out! Head home!

By 11:30 p.m. give or take a few minutes, I am in my car on the way home, except for one quick stop at the Zebra Lounge, the favorite end of the day nightly stop. Shortly after one a.m. (closing time), I am heading down Storrow Drive. By 2:00 a.m. I am placing my ear gently against the pillow looking forward to a peaceful end of the week and then sleep.

Reality

Little did I know, nor could I have ever imagined the events that were about to unfold and how my life was about to change. About three hours into my reverie, I was unmercifully poked awake. Someone was yelling in my ear: “Wake up, wake up!” “Channel two is on fire and has just burnt to the ground.” I really didn’t want to face the day at 7:00 a.m.

I struggled to bring myself out of sleep. I was trying hard to find my way out of that middle distance between asleep and awake when nothing that is going on around you makes any sense. The radio was turned up and I began to focus on the news through the remaining haze of sleep. As I focused, I heard, “Early this morning at approximately 4:30 a.m. a devastating fire occurred at the Channel Two Studios on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The building is a total loss. More news about this fire in our next newscast in fifteen minutes.”

As I sat on the edge of my bed trying to clear my head, I was really hoping that sleep would come again. The haze lifted. I pulled on the clothes I’d left the station just a short three hours ago as all sorts of things raced through my mind: was it a carelessly discarded cigarette, arson, bad electrical wiring, a forgotten soldering iron that wasn’t unplugged, a discontent listener reacting to a program? What the hell happened? Was it something I did!? What?

Little did I know, nor could I have ever imagined that the three hours of sleep I got that morning of October 14th 1961 would be the longest hours I spent in bed for months – maybe years!

The aftermath

I lurched out of bed dressed just enough to be decent, but not shaved or showered as I usually did at the start of the day, and not dressed in my usual clean starched blue oxford button down shirt and chinos. I was too preoccupied with the morning news and still reacting to the news broadcast I heard while still in “the middle distance.” Body moving – mind trying to catch up – running on automatic.

As I opened the car door and turned the ignition key, the only thought I had was to get to the station to see for myself that this was no joke!

The trip that morning is a blur. I was almost at the intersection of Mem. Drive and Mass. Ave. when I saw a parking spot. What luck! I started running the remaining few feet to Mass. Ave. and turned facing the burning remains that were Channel Two. What a shock!

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 8.24.54 AM

I kept running. I passed the steps at the front entrance of MIT, which was directly opposite the Channel Two Studio building. After turning onto Mass. Ave., my legs went into overdrive. If I had been running the Boston Marathon I would be on record pace! I heard applause. But even though I was pretty jacked-up and still a little hazy from my rude awakening, the applause brought me finally into reality mode.

They were all there, and they had all arrived before I did. Who? The whole gang. Bob Moscone dressed to the nines as usual. Ken Anderson, Jack Kean – smoking his.5¢ cigar. Bob Hall. Fran Abramowicz and others including my pal Al Hinderstein, Hindy, who joined me for lunch on those step from time to time when the weather was just right.

They had been watching the Cambridge Fire Department for a while and observing the progress of extinguishing the fire so they all knew the status of things. I ran up the steps – raised my hands in wonder and managed to let out a question: “So?” Silence.

The building was still smoldering. The fire department continued to pump water into the second and third floors of the building to completely douse the fire. It took a while. But, when they were satisfied that the fire was completely out, we were allowed to go into certain parts of the building which were deemed to be safe. The building had been a lot of things over the years before the Channel Two Studios were located there. (The exact location of the building has been memorialized with a plaque, which can be seen by visiting the space once occupied by WGBH at that time.)

The fire gutted the middle of the building. And destroyed the West end. The West end was the most flammable: scenery, wood, and sawdust accumulated in the scene shop. There was also an antique freight elevator. This area was also badly destroyed in the fire.

Fortunately, the East end of the building was spared total destruction and it was from the technical areas there that we were able to salvage some valuable technical equipment, which was stored at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium located on MIT property behind the Channel Two Studio building. Between the building and the Kresge Auditorium there was an alley: our parking area, if you got lucky and arrived early. At the time the fire struck, we were converting an old Greyhound Bus to a TV Mobile Unit to handle location production demand which was growing by leaps and bounds. Between the salvaged and repaired equipment rescued from the fire and generous donations from many other sources to numerous to mention, the “new” mobile unit was operable within weeks.

The most memorable vision I often recall that occurred during the few days that surrounded the conflagration that took our studios on that fateful night was of a Cambridge Firefighter during the cleanup of the remains of the fire.

It was on the day of or the day after the fire when we were told it was safe enough to enter the East end of the building to start saving whatever we could. I was working breaking down equipment in the Telecine area and the Studio “A” control Room, disconnecting miles and miles of wiring and moving salvageable gear to the storage location at Kresge Auditorium.

These areas (Telecine and the Studio A control room) were separated from the studio by glass walls so we were able to look out into the studio and see, by eye, the physical action taking place there during studio production.

I had already made several trips in and out of the building. I had just climbed the rear fire escape – again, to start more salvage – and as I cautiously prepared to remove more electronics from the telecine room, I happened to look out into the remains of the Studio and there in the middle of this burned and blackened void was a lone Firefighter standing almost up to his knees in water and other detritus left over from when the fire was at its worst. In his grasp: a huge hand auger – standard fire truck gear. Twisting it a half a turn at a time in an effort to drill a drain hole to let the heavy water collected in the second level of the building to drain out to avoid the possibility of a building collapse seemed to me to be a herculean task.

Little did he know, nor would he ever have imagined that a roller skating rink occupied that space years before and the floor was under laid with cork making a more gentle floor for falling roller skaters. When he pulled the auger, the hole closed up the way a wine cork closes around a cork screw. I couldn’t help but chuckle. He didn’t know, but I thought I had found a kindred soul.

We were both engaged in hopeless tasks. I was engaged in salvaging soaked, blackened electronics, which I could not imagine would ever work again. He too, was attempting the seemingly impossible. Years later after we had been long out of the Mass. Ave. Building, I would find water stained, blackened pieces of electronics that I was sure I personally salvaged from the fire and I would think of that Fireman. I have no idea whether he ever managed to drill through that studio floor. The building eventually had to be destroyed. All that is left now is a pleasant grassy, green patch along Massachusetts Avenue opposite the Main Entrance of MIT. And a plaque.

The lesson of the day: you have to keep trying no matter how impossible a task my seem, and I am glad I learned that lesson that day. Years later, I was still working at Channel Two. Who would have ever thought it? I often thought back to that Fireman’s hopeless effort whenever I was faced with a seemingly hopeless task of my own.

What was next?

I was not the only one who wondered about the future of WGBH TV.

Did we dare think that like the beautiful Phoenix Bird, it would rise again from its ashes to become more wondrous than ever before. Would Channel Two emerge from the disastrous fire that destroyed it to become even more extraordinary than it had been since its beginning just a few years earlier. The answer already exists in WGBH’s illustrious history.

Mystery is a wonderful motivator. What next? That was the question on everyone’s mind back then. Channel Two had auspicious beginnings. All of the member institutions were great success stories themselves going back many, many years. The staff at that time (1961) were all goal driven, well educated, and focused on accomplishment and becoming pioneers in television broadcasting. Television was still in its very early years. After the fire, I don’t know of a single staff member who threw in the towel and walked away to find another future.

Imagine: as I write this it is now July of 2016, 55 years and 5 months after that fateful day: October 14, 1961.

Or, was it a fateful day? I suppose any day one looses his place of business – where you have a job and income doing things you love to do with people you love to work with — can be called a fateful day. But this was a different fateful day.

Looking back over the last 55 plus years, it’s easy to relive moments, circumstances, people, places, activities and the many, many challenges that have been cast before me and how that contributed to my personal and professional growth. That fateful day placed many WGBHers on a path to accomplishment and success. There weren’t many of those original WGBH staff and those who followed shortly after the fire, who didn’t make Channel Two a career.

The spirit of those early staffers seemed to become imbued in others as they joined our ranks. The spirit was infectious. The prospects of a future now etched in history.

There is no doubt that Channel Two’s history plays one of the most significant roles in the Public Television Story. I am certain that all those who lived through the destruction of the Station in 1961 stayed on and others came because there was something magical about working here and it was patently clear that as our programming evolved, television technology improved and our ability to experiment was encouraged. The opportunity for personal growth was boundless.

Who could have ever imagined?

“You Can’t Sell an Ocelot on TV!”

From David Sloss:

1168px-Ocelot_(Jaguatirica)_Zoo_Itatiba
Image from Wikipedia

As preparations were underway for the first WGBH auction, the planners received an extraordinary offer from a pet dealer in the Boston area.  

This gentleman was in the business of importing ocelots from South America, and selling them as pets.  (An ocelot is a stunningly beautiful wild cat, about twice the size of a domestic tabby.)  The dealer offered to donate an ocelot kitten to the auction.  

Everyone was delighted.  The PR people did lots of publicity around the live ocelot to be sold at the auction.  

Then one day, they got a phone call from a lady who said, “You can’t sell a live ocelot on television!  They are dangerous wild animals!”

“How do you know this?” asked the PR people.

“I know because we had an ocelot, and it bit off my husband’s nose!” said the lady.

So the PR people called the pet dealer, and told him about the lady’s complaint. “Oh, don’t pay any attention to that,” said the dealer. “It’s just sour grapes because I sold her the ocelot that bit off her husband’s nose!”

In the end, we did sell the ocelot at the auction, but only after reading on the air a statement drafted by the lawyers, and requiring the buyer to sign an ironclad release also specially drafted for the purpose.

Former Executive Producer Henry Morgenthau Releases New Book

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 3.16.22 PMPassager Books, a not-for-profit press dedicated to publishing the work of older writers, has just released A Sunday in Purgatory, a book of poems by 99-year old Henry Morgenthau III (he’ll be 100 next January).

Henry was a WGBH staffer from 1955 to 1977.  During that time he executive produced a variety of series and documentaries, including “The Negro and the American Promise” (1963) with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, and others; Focus on Metropolis; and Eleanor Roosevelt: Prospects of Mankind (1959-62).  His work won him and WGBH national acclaim, including Emmy, Peabody, UPI, and other awards and nominations. 

Henry’s father, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was FDR’s Treasury Secretary and played a major role in shaping the New Deal and America’s post WWII policies toward Germany; his grandfather, Henry Morgenthau, was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during WWI and the most prominent American to speak out against the Armenian genocide. 

Photo_of_Henry_Morgenthau_IIIAfter a long and impressive career as a producer and as an author, Henry III began writing poetry in his 90s.

The poems in A Sunday in Purgatory combine memoir (his father “steadying the trembling hand [of FDR] as he mixed Bourbon Old Fashioneds and nibbled caviar, a gift from the Soviet ambassador,” for example), reflections on aging (“Anticipation of death is like looking for a new job”), and wrestling with the tension that exists between being part of a famous American family and yet knowing that he’s an individual, separate from his family history:       

I need to be the person
my friends and family believe me to be…
I can’t be the person I am,
but can’t push him out.
Perhaps he will be stillborn
After I die… 

2016 Pulitzer Prize winner Peter Balakian said, “Henry Morgenthau’s poems are crisp, elegant forays into memory both personal and cultural… His surgical examinations of self and his unflinching stare into mortality define the unique and honest voice of this remarkable first book of poems.”

Addenda

1/12/2017

From Paul Noble: Last night in Washington DC,  35 relatives and friends came together to celebrate Henry’s 100th birthday. Henry read one of his poems, entertained with his usual wit.

1/13/17

WGBH alum Henry Morgenthau III is scheduled to be interviewed tomorrow morning (Sat, 1/14) by Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. 

Henry turned 100 on Wednesday and just published his first book of poetry, A Sunday in Purgatory (Passager Books).

Happy Birthday, Henry.

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.

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.