From the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress and Boston public broadcaster WGBH will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 with a series of panels featuring pioneers and experts in public broadcasting Friday, Nov. 3, 2 –6 p.m.
The symposium — “Preserving Public Broadcasting at 50 Years” — will be held in the Montpelier room on the sixth floor of the Library’s James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave., SE, Washington, D.C.
The event is free, but tickets are required and there may be special restrictions. To secure tickets, visit this event-ticketing site: preservingat50.eventbrite.com.
Signed by President Lyndon Johnson, the act established public broadcasting as it is organized today and also authorized the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to establish and maintain a library and archives of non-commercial educational television and radio programs. CPB established the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) in 2009 and, in 2013, the Library of Congress and WGBH assumed responsibility of AAPB, coordinating a national effort to preserve and make accessible significant at-risk public media.
A Library report on television and video preservation in 1997 cited the importance of public broadcasting: “[I]t is still not easy to overstate the immense cultural value of this unique audiovisual legacy, whose loss would symbolize one of the great conflagrations of our age, tantamount to the burning of Alexandria’s library in the age of antiquity.”
The initial AAPB archive, donated by more than 100 public broadcasting stations, contained more than 40,000 hours of content from the early 1950s to the present. The full collection, now more than 50,000 hours of preserved content, is available on-site to researchers at the Library in Washington, D.C., and WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts. Nearly a third of the files, however, are now available online for research, educational and informational purposes at americanarchive.org.
During the symposium, panelists will examine the history of public broadcasting, the origins of its news and public affairs programming, the importance of preservation and the educational uses of public broadcasting programs for K-12 and college education, scholarship and adult education. Also highlighted will be some of AAPB’s most significant collections, such as the “PBS NewsHour” and its predecessors, which are currently being digitized for online access, and full interviews conducted for “Eyes on the Prize” and “American Experience” documentaries.
- Read more at the Library of Congress
The Library of Congress and WGBH invite you to the symposium “Preserving Public Broadcasting at 50 Years” in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and the formation of The American Archive of Public Broadcasting.
- Friday, November 3, 2:00pm – 6:00 pm
- The Library of Congress Montpelier Room
- James Madison Memorial Building
- 101 Independence Avenue, SE
- Washington, DC
- Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden
- U.S. Senator Edward Markey
- Corporation for Public Broadcasting President Patricia Harrison
- WGBH President Jon Abbott
Four Panels Highlighting the Legislation, Early Days, Public Affairs, Documentaries and Educational Contributions Featuring Special Guests:
- Paula Apsell
- Clayborne Carson
- Dick Cavett
- Margaret Drain
- David Fanning
- Stephen Gong
- Jennifer Lawson
- Jim Lehrer
- Nicholas Johnson
- Newton Minow
- Hugo Morales
- Lloyd Morrisett
- Cokie Roberts
- Sharon Percy Rockefeller
- Bill Siemering
- Judy Woodruff
For more information and to register: preservingat50.eventbrite.com
Excerpts from the Boston Globe
Whether producing documentaries or sailing to a country he had never visited, Zvi Dor-Ner was always searching for an adventure.
As an executive producer at WGBH-TV, he made it his mission to tell stories of daring, and among his career highlights was a 1992 documentary about Christopher Columbus, whose spirit of discovery paralleled Mr. Dor-Ner’s in many ways.
Despite the subjects he chose, though, Mr. Dor-Ner never overdramatized the stories and lives he portrayed in documentaries, said Peter McGhee, his former boss at WGBH.
“Television has great temptations for a producer because you can make things so exciting by manipulating images and sound,” said McGhee, a former vice president for national programming. “Zvi would never cheat. He would look for hard truths and look hard for the truth, but he was utterly faithful in his discoveries.”
Mr. Dor-Ner, an award-winning executive producer at WGBH for about 30 years who as a child lost most of his family in the Holocaust, died April 6 in his Brookline home of pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
There were other echoes of Columbus in Mr. Dor-Ner’s life, in addition to his documentary and his love for sailing. He named his last boat the Nina, after one of the three ships Columbus used on his trip across the Atlantic. Mr. Dor-Ner also had business cards printed with his title when he was aboard his sailboat: Captain of the Nina.
His adventurous spirit was contagious, family and friends said, and he was adamant about encouraging those around him to share his sense of curiosity…
Zvi Richard Dor-Ner was born in 1941 in what was then Lvov, Poland, the only child of Nathan Dor-Ner and the former Joanna Berl. Soon after Mr. Dor-Ner’s birth, German forces occupied Lvov, and many of his relatives were killed during the war.
His father died in Lublin Castle, a medieval castle in a city to the north where the Nazis had created a ghetto. Many thousands of Jews were imprisoned in Lublin before being sent to extermination camps.
Mr. Dor-Ner and his mother survived the war and moved to Israel when he was about 8. He served in the Israeli Intelligence Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, and also worked as a cameraman for a television network in Jerusalem.
He studied at Boston University, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications…
Mr. Dor-Ner, who was a Nieman fellow after college, worked as a producer at WGBH for about three decades before retiring in 2009.
Producing documentaries, he chose topics that interested him, which was the case with “Columbus and the Age of Discovery.” That series “doubled the average PBS prime-time audience with its premiere,” according to Mr. Dor-Ner’s biography on the PBS website. Mr. Dor-Ner also wrote the companion book for the series.
Over the course of his career, his work took home honors including Emmy Awards, for work such as the series “Enterprise”; George Foster Peabody awards for “People’s Century” and “Shattered Dreams of Peace – The Road from Oslo”; and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for the series “Arabs and Israelis.”
“Zvi’s impressive portfolio includes some of WGBH’s proudest moments and reflects his wide-ranging curiosity and intellect,” Henry Becton, former president of WGBH and vice chairman of its board, said in a statement. “He was a master storyteller, and masterful at choreographing the complex international production partnerships that enabled such sweep and range.”
Mr. Dor-Ner’s credits also included “Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back,” the series “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” and “The Longest Hatred,” which examined anti-Semitism….
Regardless of where he lived, Mr. Dor-Ner was always in search of an adventure. His daughter Anna said she didn’t understand when she was younger why he frequently left to travel, but realized as she got older it was something he had to do.
“That has always been his passion. It was like his love,” she said. “He wasn’t as happy as he could be if he wasn’t sailing.”
- Read the story at the Boston Globe
From WGBH QuickNooz
The WGBH community mourns with sadness the passing of Zvi Dor-Ner, former WGBH Exec Producer. Zvi died yesterday morning at age 75. He had been doing what he loved—skippering his beloved boat around the world—when in late January he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Zvi began his distinguished career in 1966 as a WGBH news cameraman. He returned in 1979 after working in television in his native Israel and honing his journalistic skill as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Before his 2009 departure from WGBH, Zvi executive-produced such milestone productions as the duPont-Columbia Award-winning series ARABS AND ISRAELIS; the International Emmy and George Foster Peabody Award-winning PEOPLE’S CENTURY; COLUMBUS AND THE AGE OF DISCOVERY, which doubled the average PBS prime-time audience with its premiere and for which he authored the series companion book; WAR AND PEACE IN THE NUCLEAR AGE; APOLLO 13: TO THE EDGE AND BACK; the Emmy Award-winning business series ENTERPRISE; and more than a dozen films for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, FRONTLINE, and NOVA.
“Zvi’s impressive portfolio includes some of WGBH’s proudest moments and reflects his wide-ranging curiosity and intellect,” says WGBH Vice Chair and former President Henry Becton. “He was a master storyteller, and masterful at choreographing the complex international production partnerships that enabled such sweep and range.”
“Zvi was WGBH’s own Columbus,” recalls former VP for National Programming Peter McGhee. “He was resourceful, daring, and creative…a generous and loving man and loyal friend. His body of work is an enduring monument to and measure of the man.”
A service in Zvi’s memory will take place Tues, 4/11, 12 noon at Mount Auburn Cemetery’s Story Chapel. Rest in peace.
From the Nieman Foundation
Zvi Dor-Ner, a longtime WGBH executive producer and NF ’77, died April 6 at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts from pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
Dor-Ner spent 30 years at WGBH, Boston’s PBS affiliate, starting as a cameraman and going on to produce several award-winning series and historical documentaries. He worked on celebrated programs such as “Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back,” “People’s Centruy,” “Columbus and the Age of Discovery,” “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” and “Arabs and Israelis,” along with more than a dozen films for “Nova,” “Frontline,” and “American Experience.” Throughout his career, Dor-Ner and the programs he produced won awards including a duPont-Columbia award and multiple Emmys and George Foster Peabody awards.
Born in Poland shortly before the Germans took the city in 1941, Dor-Ner and his mother escaped to Israel; his father and most of his immediate family members were killed by the Nazis. After serving in the Israeli army, Dor-Ner began his career in 1966 as a news cameraman at WGBH while earning a degree in communications at Boston University. Following his graduation, he returned to Israel to work as a camera operator, producer, and director for various entertainment and documentary programs for several years. After his Nieman Fellowship in 1976-77, he rejoined WGBH and stayed there until his retirement in 2009.
Preceded in death by his wife Alexandra Dane, who died in 1991, Dor-Ner is survived by his girlfriend, three daughters, and four grandsons.
Zvi Richard Dor-Ner, 75, died Thursday, April 6, 2017, at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Zvi was born on July 13, 1941 in Lvov, Poland just weeks before the Germans took the city. His father Nathan and most of his immediate family were killed by the Nazis. Zvi and his mother Joanna (nee Berl) escaped to Israel where Zvi attended school, served in the army and began his career as a cameraman for Israeli television.
Zvi was a journalist and an exceptional story-teller. After graduating from Boston University and spending a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Zvi spent 30 years as an executive producer for WGBH, the Boston PBS affiliate. The historical documentaries he produced won many awards including a duPont-Columbia award, as well as multiple Emmys and George Foster Peabody awards. Zvi chose topics that were fascinating, complicated and often controversial. He transformed them into vivid and compelling stories– he had a natural gift for narrative which he honed, over decades, into a science.
Zvi loved sailing. He built his first boat at the age 12 and launched it from the beach in Bat Yam. As an adult he captained his ketch ‘Nina’ across the Atlantic several times exploring the Northeast, Caribbean and Mediterranean. He made a thorough study of dockside fish restaurants, maritime museums, cockpit sunsets and cold-water swims. Every year after his retirement in 2009, his friends looked forward to a letter from the ‘Meandering Navigator’ that would describe his anticipated four month itinerary and invite them along for two weeks at a time.
Even at home, he was everybody’s port in a storm. His guest room and kitchen were almost always inhabited by the recently heartbroken, the newly arrived, or the otherwise lost. He offered warmth and optimism but also clear-eyed perspective to all of them.
Zvi was married for 23 years to Alexandra Dane. Together they traveled all over the world, lived in Boston and Paris and Jerusalem and had two daughters: Daphne and Tamar. When Ali died in 1991, Zvi raised his 12 and 13 year old daughters alone. In 1997, Zvi had his third daughter, Anna, with his then-partner Win Lenihan. From the beginning, Tamar, Daphne and Anna have enjoyed and adored each other.
Zvi was an exceptional and unusual father. He had high expectations when it came to academics but never missed a chance to take his daughters out of school to travel the world. He cultivated their skepticism and their independence – even when it came at the expense of their alignment to his point of view.
As a father of three daughters, Zvi was delighted by his four grandsons and they were delighted by him.
He is missed by friends all over the world, in Israel, Poland, Paris, Portugal, London and beyond. In addition to his three daughters, he is survived by his four grandsons, Henry, Felix, Gideon, and Abe, and his girlfriend Pesya Altman.
A service for Zvi will be held at noon on Tuesday, April 11th at the Story Chapel in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Nieman Foundation (to promote and elevate the standards of journalism, nieman.harvard.edu) or to Etgarim (empowerment and social integration of people with disabilities, etgarim.org).
From Hanna Golebiewska
Hanna Golebiewska sailed with Zvi between 2011 and 2014.
Since Zvi paid a lot of attention to historical facts, I would like to correct some points mentioned in the obituary:
Zvi was actually born two weeks before German troops took Lvov. His mother did not have a chance to escape to Israel as Israel did not exist yet. It was by chance that he was born in Lvov; they were actually living in Lublin at the time.
His father, with a “Jewish” appearance, had to hide in surrounding villages while his blond-haired mother was working as a nurse in Lublin hospital having little dyed-hair Rysio (Zvi’s given name) with her. His father and an uncle were taken by Germans and later shot in Lublin Castle.
Just before withdrawing in 1944, the Nazis massacred its remaining 300 prisoners and Zvi’s father and uncle were among them. It was a very important fact for Zvi. The names of the father and uncle were put on a monument in Lublin just recently and Zvi was planning to go there in July to participate in an anniversary of the massacre.
After the father had been arrested Joanna escaped from Lublin and, after long voyages, was hidden with little Rysio by a Polish railwayman in Lowicz where they stayed until the end of the war under a fake name Bialozorski.
They lived in Cracow after the war and went to Israel in 1949 where Rysio was placed in a boarding school while his mother went to live in Paris, and this influenced his future emotional life. In Israel, Rysio Dorner (Bialozorski at that time) became Zvi Richard Dor-Ner.
I met Richard when he was already retired and wanted to spend more time sailing; he always had discoverers in mind. Richard, who had sailed all his life, bought his current boat in 1993. With American flag S.V. NINA, he sailed extensively on the US east coast and with which he has crossed the Atlantic in 2000. Since then he criss-crossed the Mediterranean from West to East and from North to South, often more then once. I belonged to that part of his life. We crossed on the Nina East to West in 2013.
This is what Zvi wrote about himself on his sailing profile:
I have sailed since childhood. When I did not sail, I was a TV producer of documentaries on historical subjects. I have done it for many years and as a result know something about documentaries and history. I have published two books: one about Columbus and the age of Discovery and one an Emergency Action Guide for Sail and Motor Yachts. This in addition to more then 300 documentaries. I am qualified as Yachtmaster offshore by RYA and have a 100-ton license from the USCG. I crossed the Atlantic back and forth. I sailed extensively in Europe and the Mediterranean. Now I sail in the Caribbean and central America.
We cruise for several months every year. The boat is left in a different port when I don’t sail then I pick it up with a crew of friends and sail for 5-6 months. While I stay on board all the time, most of the crew changes every 3-4 weeks. I like to have a crew that knows sailing and something else very well. For each segment I like to assemble a crew of 2 or 3 that is diverse and interesting with a mix of talents, skills, knowledge and experience. Most of the times it works extremely well.”
Richard’s wrote this after crossing the Atlantic in 2013 (12/27/2013):
Today, in the morning, Nina entered the “Galleon Passage” between Trinidad and Tobago. It is only thirty miles wide, but we see neither of the two islands. It is disappointing to pass, what is an important marker on our trip without seeing it. One way or another, on the basis of GPS the Atlantic Crossing is over. It did not change, the Atlantic. It is still just the same as it has been for the last few days, gray, overcast, with occasional rain and, as we still sail with wind and swell just astern, very very rolling. We have another seventy miles before we drop anchor or dock.
This is the fifteen and last day of our passage. For a cruising boat our size it was a very fast transit indeed, all of it under sail. In fact, for the whole trip we have been flying just one sail, our large 140 percent Genua. It is rigged with its working sheet lead through a snatch block attached to the end of the main boom which is extended, with a boom vang, to all the way out to port or starboard depending if the trade are blowing from slightly North or slightly South of East.
The only sailing maneuver we carried out was to jibe occasionally and furl and unfurl the sail frequently, almost akin to changing gears while driving.
We have been lucky with trade winds. A very high pressure era above Bermuda and the Azores provided those. We seldom had wind of less then twenty knots, frequently for days and nights at a time, we where powered by 35 knots of wind.
Our speed log registered speeds it has never seen before, of 10, 12 and 13 knots as we surfed down 16-foot waves. This was a blessing, but there was also a punishment. The strong winds produced a huge massy swell coupled with another distinctive wave train from slightly different direction combining in a distracting, disorganized, yet powerful sea that hived and shook us in many uncomfortable ways.
The swell rolled Nina terribly, often from gunwale to gunwale, in the first days inducing semi-seasickness and limiting all of us to only the most basic and necessary actions. Eventually it became just a nuisance requiring a lot of energy and planing for the simplest action, making a sandwich for example.
Sixty feet up from the deck, the top of the mast will move violently through such rolls, inscribing a very large arc. Frequently this would force the air out of the sail which will then snap violently as it refills with wind on its swings back to the other side. The sound of this routine was like a gun shot and as wrenching. You kind of know that the sail can’t take this kind of punishment forever, sometime it will have to give in and tear itself to shreds, or destroy its fittings…It did not do that, but the possibility was constantly on my mind and it was it scary…
We had equipment failure on small and large scale. Often, I was able to deal with problems then and there, while other remain waiting. The Genset, which creates electricity to charge batteries and toys, died on the second day. A sunny, happy Spanish mechanic fixed the atomizer of its little diesel just before departure; he changed the two bolts holding the injector down and one of those tore. We had to charge batteries by running the main engine two hours a day and face the fact that this was our only way to generate electricity.
Our automatic pilot worked great in the worst conditions but gave up eventually, now we mostly have to stear manually. Steering manually in a following wind and great swell requires a total concentration and doing it for six hours a day is just tough.
However it sounds, none of it was grim, it was not even hard, even if often tiring. We had great time. For me there was the added tension of being in charge, and having, presumably, have answers to every contingency. I did not, and often there are no good answer beside endurance.
Now it is all over, the Atlantic is smaller. The experience of dealing with it in such an intensive way will sink in eventually and be digested on another level than the nuts and bolts, both actual and figurative.
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.”
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.
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..
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.
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.
By Alan W. Potter (WGBH: 1955-85)
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.
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!
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!
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.)
- See also: The WGBH Fire by Don Hallock
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?
From David Sloss:
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.
Passager 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.
After 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.”
Poems by Henry Morgenthau
“A Sunday in Purgatory” is a collection of poems filled with mystery, humor and the confessional style of Robert Lowell. Available on Amazon. Read the reviews!
YOU’LL CATCH YOUR DEATH
“You’ll catch your death of cold,” Mother would say
if I went outside without my jacket, cap and mittens.
When I was older, plagued with an infected tooth,
the dentist numbed my nerve with Laughing Gas.
I felt the pain from his drilling but laughed as if
it were hurting someone else, not me.
Then, at Deerfield, my best friend swallowed
a corrosive base in chemistry lab to end his life,
but recovered to graduate. Next year at Dartmouth,
he lay down across the tracks to wait for the train.
Now death has begun to catch up with me.
I’ve lived too long. Merely standing up
and breathing in and out is a serious challenge.
At Ingleside, our retirement home, we progress
from canes, to walkers, to wheelchairs.
In vain we try to push back looming shadows
as frequent announcements of memorial services
are posted where they can’t be mixed:
advertisements luring us to that final vacation.
Can the unseen
Can bad taste
Is a misfit
Hurrying to get there,
what is there?
If you think you will slip,
don’t take a trip.
Stay home, take another sip.
If life could extend
with no foreseeable end,
let boredom spirit you
around the bend.
January 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.
- Read about Henry’s book, A Sunday in Purgatory
January 14, 2017
A Century-Old Poet Looks Back — And Fearlessly Forward — In ‘Purgatory’
Interview with Scott Simon, NPR
Henry Morgenthau III was in his 90s when he started to write poetry.
Morgenthau has had an extraordinarily full life. He’s produced award-winning television documentaries, raised children, written a memoir — and yes, his father was the Henry Morgenthau Jr. who was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary.
Now, at age 100, he’s promoting his first book of poetry, called A Sunday in Purgatory. He tells NPR’s Scott Simon that he started writing poetry first because he wanted to establish his own identity, not simply to be a member of a distinguished family. “At the same time, I wanted to recall some of the events that I was privileged to observe … like my poem ‘A Terrific Headache,’ which has to do with my father having dinner with Roosevelt the night before he died.”
On knowing FDR
My father’s whole life was tied up with Roosevelt, and I remember that he would come to our house for dinner, and I remember leaning over the banisters from upstairs and hearing him talk and tell stories. He was always a larger than life person.
On what a poem can do
Poems, most poems, my poems, are really metaphor. They are also song. The poetry of the Western world began in ancient Greece — a poet would recite his poem with an instrumental accompaniment. And that goes on to this day, and into a world actually that I’m not familiar with, of hip hop, where they do just that. I think hip hop is doing a lot to make poetry accessible and popular with a much wider audience.
On writing about death
I do think about death. I live in a community where people are … kind of in a purgatory, a waiting place for the end, people passing away just about every week. So I think about it, but I’ve had more than my time. And it’s not something that frightens me. And actually getting it out on paper is a relief.
February 12, 2017
Scion of prominent Jewish American family publishes first book of poetry at the age of 100
Last month, retired television producer Henry Morgenthau III turned 100, and he celebrated by publishing his first book of poetry.
“A Sunday in Purgatory,” published by Passager Books at the University of Baltimore, draws from his life as a scion of a prominent Jewish American family that includes his grandfather, Henry Morgenthau, who immigrated to New York from Germany in 1866 and served as ambassador to Turkey, and his father, Henry Morgenthau Jr., treasury secretary under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A younger brother, Robert, served as U.S. district attorney in New York.
The collection also reflects Morgenthau’s recent life in Washington, where he moved from Boston seven years ago to be near family. Sitting in his apartment at the retirement community Ingleside at Rock Creek as snow swirled outside, he spoke of how the city had changed since he lived here in the 1930s…
As a documentarian, he spent extensive time with poets and writers, including Robert Lowell. Footage from his 1963 interview with James Baldwin appears in the newly released film, “I Am Not Your Negro.” In 1991 he wrote “Mostly Morgenthaus,” a book about his famous family. But aside from a brief foray in the fifth grade, he did not begin writing poetry until he participated in a couple of writing workshops in his 90s.
August 4, 2017
The Atlantic: Poem of the Week
This year, in honor of National Poetry Month, we compiled some of the best poems published throughout The Atlantic’s 160-year history… and we didn’t want to stop. Come back every week to read another poem from our archives, and go here to check out our month of poetry recommendations from staff and readers.
Editor’s note: Henry Morgenthau III is a 100-year-old poet. He published his first collection in 2016 at the age of 99. Before that, he was a writer and a documentary filmmaker at WGBH in Boston, working with subjects from James Baldwin to Eleanor Roosevelt. He’s also a memoirist, and the son of the former U.S. treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr., but his family connections don’t define his poems—as he told us, “One of the reasons I started writing poetry was to free myself from all that.”
For Morgenthau, freedom comes with humor and insight, in his own distinctive voice. And in his poem “A Sunday in Purgatory,” he finds this freedom even within the would-be confines of his age. It’s the title poem of his book, and we’re delighted to share it below.
A Sunday in Purgatory, by Henry Morgenthau III
A voluntary inmate immured
in a last resort for seniors,
there are constant reminders,
the reaper is lurking around that corner.
I am at home, very much at home,
here at Ingleside at Rock Creek.
Distant three miles from my caring daughter.
At Ingleside, a faith-based community
for vintage Presbyterians, I am an old Jew.
But that’s another story.
I’m not complaining with so much I want to do,
doing it at my pace, slowly.
Anticipation of death is like looking for a new job.
Then suddenly on a Sunday,
talking recklessly while eating brunch,
a gristly piece of meat lodges in my throat.
I struggle for breath, too annoyed to be scared.
Someone pounds my back to no avail.
Out of nowhere, an alert pint-sized waiter
performs the Heimlich maneuver.
I don’t believe it will work.
It does! Uncorked, I am freed.
Looking up I see the concerned visage and
reversed collar of a retired Navy chaplain,
pinch hitting as God’s messenger for the day.
Had he come to perform the last rites,
to ease my passage from this world to the hereafter?
Don’t jump to dark conclusions.
In World War II on active duty,
he learned the Heimlich as well as the himmlisch.
Knowing it is best administered
to a standing victim,
he rushed to intervene.
On this day I am twice blessed
with the kindness of strangers.