A Boy from Milwaukee

This entry is part 12 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

Rambling Reflections on Life by a 74-year-old TV director
By Fred Barzyk

Part 1: The Early Years

You see, I was this kid growing up on the South Side of Milwaukee. The Polish South Side.

It was the 1940s and things were going just great. I mean, we had just won a War.

My Mom and Dad took me to downtown Milwaukee to celebrate. It was either VE or VJ Day.

Anyway, the people were goin’ crazy, dancing, singing, jumpin’ around. One woman kissed me. That was way too much.


America in the 1940s

  • Population: 132,122,000
  • Unemployed in 1940: 8,120,000
  • National Debt: $43 Billion
  • Average Salary: $1,299. Teacher’s salary: $1,441
  • Minimum Wage: $.43 per hour
  • 55% of U.S. homes have indoor plumbing
  • Antarctica is discovered to be a continent
  • Life expectancy: 68.2 female, 60.8 male
  • Auto deaths: 34,500
  • Supreme Court decides blacks do have a right to vote
  • World War II changed the order of world power; the United States and the USSR become super powers
  • Cold War begins

Now that the War was over, my Uncle Ed would come home from Germany. My Aunt Frances was going to be so, so happy.

She had this colicky little baby, Edward, and she needed some help. He would cry and cry. You could hear it all over the neighborhood. He was my cousin and I felt sorry for the little kid. For my Aunt, too.

Our neighborhood

They lived across the street from us. Good old South 7th Street, that was where we lived. We were renters.

On one side of our rented house lived the Getarec’s. Their son, Lawrence, had just formed a Polka band; his friends would come over on weekends to rehearse. They were terrible. Three weeks later, they disbanded. Larry never got to do one of those weddings gigs he wanted to do so badly. Poor Larry.

On the other side of us lived the Nowicki’s. One of their clan was a hunter. Bow and arrow. He and a friend actually took down a 500 lb. Black Bear. They strung it up in their garage. The Milwaukee Journal came and took a picture. He was famous in our neighborhood.

Two young girls lived there, too. Joan and Barbara.


BARBARA  (1938-1941)

Barbara, lived next door, upstairs.
little kids, we played, making mud pies
under back porches,
digging dirt, all tiny pails and shovels.
Her sister, Joan, older by 4 years, taunted us
“Look! Boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Angrily we denied,
not understanding what it meant anyway,
but knowing nothing good
could come from being
boyfriend
girlfriend.

We played movies,
acting out all the parts
in grassy backyards
and concrete alleys
of the Polish South Side.
We had a secret hideout
dark dense bushes
one street over.
Here we could hide.
ours,
no one else allowed.

Then suddenly,
grade school.
She to Catholic, I to Public.
We saw each other
everyday,
but all was changing
We, evolving, living new adventures,
far from secret hideouts,
mud pies under back porches.
Becoming new people,
Wiser, distant.
Why do we have to grow anew?

Left then with only distant memories
Of a little girl who lived next door,
upstairs?


Show business

My Mom had this vision for me. She thought it would be wonderful if I could be in show business.

I mean, her very own cousin, Johnny Davis, had a big dance band that played all the big venues in Milwaukee. His band looked something like this.

She was very proud to be his cousin. Johnny’s band had these two young guys, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson. They went to Hollywood and became movie stars! One of their movies was called “Two Guys from Milwaukee.” Movie critic, Leonard Maltin, gave it 2 and half stars. Not bad.

Two Guys From Milwaukee Trailer

And my Aunt Frances, well, she was very good friends with a Polish musician from the South Side of Milwaukee. He played piano at all the fancy dinner restaurants in town. His name was Liberace.

My family was just surrounded by all these talented people.

My mother thought, “Why Not Freddy?”

Dance lessons

So, when I was seven, she signed me up for dance lessons.

I think she imagined me to be in a show, dressed in costumes, applauded by the masses.


THE LESSONS (1943)

We climbed 101 wooden steps up
Up, to the very tip top
of the 5th Street viaduct,
Mom and I, my tiny tap shoes in hand.

We paid a nickel each and rode the Hinky Dinky,
Milwaukee’s super small streetcar.
Rattling across the South Side,
past smoke stacks,
heady smells from the yeast factory,
we emerged from the rackety ride
and hurried down Wisconsin Avenue
to the School of Dance!

We climbed 31 wooden steps up
Up, to the very tip top
of the old brick building
Mom and I, my tiny tap shoes in hand.

In the hot, sweaty dance studio,
crammed tight with little kids
tap, tap, tap dancing,
steel cleats clanging wooden floors.
the tall thin dance teacher
trying to train little feet
Click, tap. tap, pat, click. click

Mom, sat, silently, secretly,
dreaming Dreams,
Dreams of Show Business,
Dreams through me.
Click, tap, pat, pat, click, click
My feet stomped, banged, kicked,
Hoping to create
rhythm grace
energy  Beauty!

Click, tap. Tap, tap, pat, click
Me, a 7 year old kid,
who bought his clothes in
the Sears husky department

Click, pat, tap, click, click, click
those tap shoes took a beating.
Me, too.
Click, pat, tap, click.

After the fourth tap dance lesson,
riding back on the
Jiggling, clankingly, Hinky Dinky,
it happened.
Breakfast, lunch, snacks
all made a nasty return.
Raining everywhere,
over the hard train seats.

Mom knew the dream was gone.
She put away the tiny tap shoes
way back, in a dark hall closet,
Never to be worn again.
No more click, clack, tap.
Not for those tiny tap shoes.
For that is how dreams die… sometimes.
Without a click or tap,
tap,
tap.


But I didn’t give up on her dream. I announced that I would become a piano player! Only problem was we didn’t have a piano.

Piano lessons

I started taking lessons practicing on a piece of fold out cardboard designed to look like piano keys. They knew eventually, I would need a real piano. I don’t think they could afford one, but somehow they managed to buy a small spinet piano. I still have it today.

I really never could play the piano, even after years of lessons. However, it was known in my neighborhood that I had a piano. This fact alone brought me face to face with a dilemma.

I had forgotten about this incident until I started writing this personal history. I learned a lesson that day: Do not judge a book by its cover.


POEM (1948)
“I can’t even remember his name”

Like a lingering shadow in my memory bank
Hanging there in the void, frozen, pale, fragile —
Almost brushed aside by other fading images
His freckled face —
His sandy hair —
His wet hazel eyes —
His grimy glasses —
So often I ignored him, thinking nothing of him
And now, I can’t even remember his name

It was the end of summer, hot and dry
He came to my porch and knocked on the door
He had never come to my house before
My God, we hardly even talked
But there he stood —
clutching papers,
hoping
How could I have ignored him, thinking nothing of him?
And now, I can’t even remember his name

He heard that I played the piano, that I knew music
He was just a 14 year old Polish kid from the South Side
Not polished or trained in music, awkward and shy
He told me his dream and thrust the papers into my hands
Can you play it?
I wrote it myself.
I can’t play the piano, you know —
Can you play my concerto?
He stood, waiting, hoping
And I can’t even remember his name.

Where did he get the blank music paper?
How did he know about D minor?
Allegro molto?
Andante?
I stared hard at his hand written notes, bewildered —
How could this be?

But there it was
It looked real,
Musically correct
difficult,
way too difficult —
I stuttered, swallowed hard, and admitted my failings
It’s too tough,
I’ve only begun to play the piano
Maybe someone else —
He said nothing, smiled and nodded his head
took his papers back, and left
I watched as he walked away down my street

We saw each other on the playground near St. Helen’s
We played basketball and hung around a little
Summers are like that
He never mentioned our meeting
Neither did I
My piano lessons went on and on
Never mounting to much
I stopped thinking of him
until now.
I wonder if he ever heard his concerto?
I hope so.
So sad that I can’t even remember his name.
Just a lingering shadow in my memory bank


The playground

Ohio Street playground.

Concrete, stark, a battle field where kids become ensnared in the thoughts of winning and losing, fighting through fears and hoping to win, you know, throwing in the winning basket just before the final bell goes off!  It doesn’t usually work out that way.

Fred's Playground

“Yes Is For a Very Young Man”

This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

Dan Beach just rediscovered this image from a play by Gertrude Stein, “Yes Is For a Very Young Man.”  It was shot at 125 Western Ave., and that’s me on the right. (It was while was living in New York, and was hired to come back to Boston for a  few shows, so I’d guess at about 1965 or ’66.)

Gertrude Stein's "Yes Is For a Very Young Man" (1965 or '66)

Manosky’s memories

During the late 1960s at Channel 2, we were fortunate to have Connie White and his camera to chronicle the backstage workings and the people who made those great shows. Here are a few that I was fortunate to be in.

Left to right: Christopher Sarson and Bob Manosky, on camera, in Studio A.

This shows Bob Manosky giving, I think Frank Lane, a look after a bumpy dolly-in.

This is Bob Manosky in limbo driving the Chapman Crane in Studio.

Bob Manosky with “Two Ton” Tony Galento Heavyweight Contender at a table in 1966 or 1967.

These three photos show Bob Manosky wearing a grass skirt selling a tropical vacation on Auction 1966 or 1967.

The attached is a photo I took on a Friday at sunset from the scene dock. It shows the Greyhound mobile unit in in ’66 or ’67.

Producing and recording “Favorite Themes for Masterpiece Theatre”

In 1980, shortly after departing WGBH to seek fame (and possibly fortune) as an independent producer, I approached Joan Wilson with a proposal to issue a record album of “Favorite Themes from Masterpiece Theatre.” Joan went for the idea immediately and asked Henry Becton and Sam Tyler for their endorsements. We got a budget and were ready to rock.

Alice Kossoff was our legal beagle at WGBH, and she was great! At the outset, the hardest part of the whole project was negotiating and collecting the executed contracts back from Britain. These were the days of the FAX and/or teletype, but no e-mail, and unless I phoned or until I actually presented myself in person at their door, the Brits seemed content to just ‘muddle along’ until the eleventh hour. One had to wait for weeks for confirmation from mysterious and slow-moving institutions like Clarabella Music, Limited and The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society.

Most of the music rights were held by the BBC, London Weekend, EMI, Thames TV, British Decca, and Pushbike Music in London. The copyright to the main theme, “Rondeau” by J.J. Mouret, was held by an obscure and hard-to-locate company, Vogue Music, somewhere in France.

Since two of the selctions were not quite long enough for a record album, I commissioned Kenyon Emrys-Roberts and Wilfred Josephs, the composers of “Poldark” and “I, Claudius,” respectively, to extend their music specifically for the LP. Both were happy to do so and luckily, I got permission to record these extensions with an orchestra of top-flight players at a BBC music studio in Maida Vale, just outside London.

Having previously produced an album for RCA London was, I suppose, useful in opening some otherwise sticky doors but looking back, I must acknowledge that Joan’s unflagging support, a decent budget, and Lady Luck were with me all the way.

Setting up at Maida Vale on a gray Saturday morning, while waiting for all the musicians to arrive, I was stunned to learn from my studio producer that a musical legend would be joining the band that morning: Alan Civil had been contracted to play French horn. Holy Cow! Alan was Dennis Brain’s successor at the Philharmonia, and had played in the Beatles’ albums “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Holy Cow!

Mixing down at Maida Vale 6 (Kenyon Emrys-Roberts rear doorway)

Our band was superb; most everything was completed in just two takes. Some of my fondest memories include meeting and chatting with the composers of “Poldark” and “I, Claudius” and afterwards, enjoying Shepherd’s Pie and a pint for lunch with the crew a local pub following the sessions.

I corresponded with Emrys-Roberts and his wife for years, and was once a guest for dinner in their beautiful home in Sussex. It was a different world, recording in England, and I have often yearned for one more trip, one more tune … just one more take.

Press and People

This entry is part 8 of 12 in the series The Don Hallock Collection

Here, dear friends, is a small collection of images from a series of programs which few will remember, though it was, indeed, quite memorable. WGBH produced Press and People for what was then NET (National Educational Television) in what I believe was 1959 or ’60.

I found this episode — a kinescope recording of the interview with Edward R. Murrow — on You Tube some years ago, and grabbed stills from the salient parts. The video seems to have been taken down since.

The program featured Louis M. Lyons — distinguished journalist, WGBH-TV’s nightly newscaster, and curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard — talking with important print and photo-journalists of the time about their work and philosophies. The guest list was truly impressive.

This series was decidedly over-produced, using the entire of studio A for a simple one-on-one interview format.

Extreme camera angles and distances were employed, and boom microphones purposely hung in the shots, all for dramatic effect. A rear projection screen can be seen behind Louis, which I don’t remember ever seeing used (and I ran Louis’ camera). In fact, as I recall, it was placed so close to the studio wall that there would have been no room for a projector behind it. A steno-typist, as you can also see, was included in the background of the wider shots of Louis — why? Only for more drama.

Louis was seated about 35 feet away from his guest, necessitating the practice of voicing his questions at what was for Louis an unusual volume. The guests also had to project their answers, which gave a somewhat artificial feel to the proceedings.

Furthermore, Louis and guest were never seen in juxtaposition; there were no two-shots from either direction. They might as well have been as far apart as Boston and New York. Empty drama.

This was the era in which we were trying anything and everything to make our shows interesting, and some of it, such as this approach, simply didn’t make much sense. (It should be said that the director was not one of ours. He was imported from Canadian Broadcasting, and was possibly trying to make an impression.)

At the close of the show, the program title was shown with “and 30,” “-30-” (or, in this case, just “30-“), an expression traditionally used by journalists to indicate the end of a story. The camera then a dollied in through the “0” of “thirty” (a hokey technique used before we had keying known as a “gobo shot”) to a card showing the steno-typist once again, and the address where one could write for a printed copy of the interview. The repeated typist would have been for emphasis, no doubt. A transcript could much more easily have been struck from the audio tapes we were quite capable of making — even then.

This slightly irreverent commemoration demonstrates how primitive even our national productions could be, and is further intended to redress, however modestly, the relative scarcity of images of Louis who was, in himself, a WGBH-TV institution.

Oh, yes, those are old fashioned, hot-pressed flip cards you see in the credits. And they are clearly crooked, as was so often the case in those days.

Press and People

Click any image to view slideshow.

Remembering Robert Koff

In the mid-1970’s, I produced a six-part series for WGBH Radio on the Haydn Quartets with violinist Robert Koff at Brandeis University.

A founding member of the Juilliard String Quartet, Robert was chairman of the Brandeis music department from 1969-76, and retired from the university’s faculty in 1983. He also taught at Tel Aviv University and Harvard. Robert’s other activities included lecturing on music in a 40-part series for WGBH-TV. Robert passed away in 1985 at the age of 86.

Reviewing the Haydn Quartets series in FM Sub-master control (click to enlarge).

Robert Koff (left) and NSJ editing the Haydn Quartets (click to enlarge).