John Kerr: From TV Producer to Yellowstone Ranger

John Kerr traded in his job as a TV producer for the brimmed hat of a Yellowstone National Park Ranger. Now he spends his time managing the delicate balance between Yellowstone’s human visitors and its megafauna residents. Some Call It Home is a short documentary series about our last wild places and those who call them home.

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.

David Silver on Bud Collins, Julia Child, Fred Barzyk, and more

By David Silver

silverI always looked forward to hanging with Bud Collins. He genuinely liked our show, “What’s Happening Mr. Silver?” and told me so. Bud’s passion, his camaraderie, his warmth and wit were irresistible to me, and I was ecstatic that he enjoyed what we were doing.

Obviously, I savored spending any time with him. One day he called me and told me that his guest in the upcoming taping was Muhammed Ali. This in itself was exciting to me, and everybody else. But the cream in the coffee for me was that Bud asked me if I’d like to meet the amazing champion. After the taping, I went on to the studio floor and Bud introduced me to Ali. I distinctly remember the size of the legend’s hand, when we shook hands. It utterly enveloped mine and yet somehow expressed goodwill to me in its firmness and enthusiasm.

We talked for about twenty minutes, and it was quite clear to me how much respect and liking Ali had for Bud. Who didn’t, truthfully? Bud’s effervescent energy is unique and very pleasing to be around.

Another example for me of the great “casting” taste of the station was the bright crew of TV personalities, from Bud to Julia Child, all having enough brio and TV feel to change the quality of how to be on television.

Julia often did her show in Studio B when we were doing “What’s Happening Mr. Silver?” in Studio A. One of my fondest (and most delicious) memories is of eating leftovers from her show along with our two studio crews.

Question: What could be more wonderful than that? The answer: Well, it’s having dinner cooked by her at the Child house and eating with Julia and Paul, her gentle, witty, knowledgeable husband, not only dining on the obviously supremely tasty food, but hearing from the two of them a series of juicy, hysterical anecdotes about their learning curve on French cooking early in their marriage.

As a 23 year old on-camera TV neophyte, watching Julia’s completely honest and wonderfully natural television presentations, actually helped me in my own slightly panicky weekly approach to hosting a television show.

Conspiracy/televisual anarchy without anger or agenda. That was basically the underlying urge in the work we did on “What’s Happening Mr. Silver?” way back in 1967 and 1968. Fred Barzyk’s vision was never static, never ideological, never even self-consciously artistic. He consistently utilized and manifested his muscular mischievous side as a way of creating TV. This irreverence was effortlessly coupled with a remarkably liberated intellectual and visceral vision of what TV could be.

Everyone working on our show thoroughly enjoyed production meetings, shoots, and post. Fred fused a little Ernie Kovacs into a Boston-imaged Fellini-esque caricature and then threw in the already ongoing madcap everyday gestalt of the later sixties and voila – you had television without the usual and sometimes tedious cadences of both spoken word and visual presentation.

I remember with glee the repeated trick of shooting the live show on a Thursday night, usually with me more or less alone in the studio, while multiple film chains, often controlled by the brilliant mind of David Atwood, sort of spluttered into the ongoing show, be that an interview or a monologue or a purely visual piece of madness.

The mix of absurdist stock footage and locally-captured 16mm weirdness never allowed the show, or the staff, to settle. So I never knew what was about to happen, which made for an attack on the clichés of broadcast television. It didn’t always work, but it pushed the media envelope, when almost all the other envelopes were being relentlessly pushed by the wild spirit of those days – in politics, music, civil rights, protest, movies, fashion, culture, design, etc.

Fred and Olivia Tappan and David Atwood et. al. dropped the conventional wisdom plan of attack, as it were, and came up with a very potent, if eccentric, TV display of total spontaneity, in a sixties zeitgeist, and did it trusting all the participants to be somehow revolutionary and, simply put, different.

The two 16mm cameramen on our show were Peter Hoving and Boyd Estus. How magically fortuitous was that? It was a constant source of humor and skill, in entirely different ways, from both of them. It simply made their film inserts in the show an art form all unto itself.

I was always magnetized during filming (occasionally in obscenely early morning hours) because of the wonderfully lethal mix of Fred’s endless creativity and their usually spontaneous expansion upon that. And I was amazed that we always had access to these two highly dexterous professionals working a couple of times a week usually on a myriad of remote films for us.

They had completely different personalities and attitudes towards the art of Arriflex/Éclair/Aaton shooting: Boyd, the consummately calm camera operator, quietly taking in every detail of a scene (whether it was a head shop in Cambridge or a political be-in on the Common) while, in marked contrast, Peter Hoving hovering intensely over all he surveyed, guiding his lens rapidly to the expected shots that we basically needed for any given show, and also to the unexpected and explosive.

These days, all is video it seems, but I maintain that the texture and visual resonance of 16mm film added a very special feel to the show we did, where the audience was triggered by the film segments to sense yet another dimension to the Barzykian vision. But even more than that, I have to say, the sheer fun of working with these two totally WGBH-level-of-excellence operators was a once-in-a-career gift to me as well as a consistent delight for our viewers.

Thalassa Cruso was my English pal and compatriot at WGBH. Her gardening show “Making Things Grow” was almost a sister show of Julia’s. Thalassa was equally idiosyncratic, yet, just like Mrs. Child, was a clear and no-BS articulator/teacher.

WGBH presented three women-hosted TV series in just a few years, with three groundbreaking female TV hosts. Thalassa’s show along with “The French Chef” and, just a bit later, Maggie Lettvin’s “Maggie and the Beautiful Machine” put WGBH-TV years ahead of the Food Channel and workout videos.

Thalassa could be quite pugnacious, always audacious and horticulturally very sagacious! Maggie was married to the late, lamented MIT scion, Jerome Lettvin (also a terrific guest on “What’s Happening Mr. Silver?”) Her verve and brio and knowledge was a joy to watch and she was and is a joy to be around.

We once did a “What’s Happening Mr. Silver?” show when we invited soldiers (who were still in uniform and had been in Vietnam) to a Studio A party where the other invitees were draft resisters and antiwar activists.

Fred had the studio decorated with military objects – guns, swords, footlockers, medals, and I was frankly kind of anxious that when these two diametrically opposing groups came together, a mini-war might ensue!

Well, we lubricated everyone with beer and spirits and before long, a remarkable confluence occurred, rather easily. Everyone started talking together, and there was a completely counter-intuitive thing happening. Everyone got along famously. There were disagreements obviously, given the roles of the men in the studio, but there was almost no anger.

I wafted around chatting ad lib with everyone, and I remember vividly the good vibes generated and a subtle truth emerging quietly. Civility prevailed, cordiality grew and even though there was the crucial element of the demon alcohol in the mix, it was a truly lovely evening.

Unfortunately, this show was wiped. Two-inch high band videotape was very expensive and it didn’t even seem weird at the tine that this show amongst quite a few others from the series had to go bye-bye. After all, NBC wiped many tapes of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, so who am I to complain?

Barzyk’s new film, The Waiting Room, now online

This entry is part 14 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

The Waiting RoomFrom FredBarzyk.com

Fred Barzyk’s TV drama, The Waiting Room, explores the lives of seven characters who find themselves at the end of their dramatic lives. Based on Fred’s constant fear of loosing the ability to continue creating TV drama because of old age, this drama slowly dissects the dramatic conflicts he has faced in 40 years of directing TV dramas. It is also a thank you to all the great actors who have graced his movies.

The Waiting Room

Fred Barzyk: A Life in Television

From Fred to Kickstarter supporters

Well, we did it. The trusty group of Chelmsford Volunteers, some in their 70’s and others between jobs, were joined by former WGBH professionals who also volunteered their time and talent. Bill Charette, John Osborne, Bob Burns, Debbie Dorsey, and Marcia Hully. God Bless them all.

In many ways, this little movie is a final tribute to the many actors who graced my pictures with their amazing talents. I include at the end of this letter a list of some actors I worked with.

Yes, the Man in the show really did work in the criminal justice system; Woman #1 works at National Grid; the Conductor (Frank Dolan) and I have been working together since 1961. The Girl is someone I found in the Chelmsford school system. And Woman #2 works at the Kennedy Library as a researcher. And the Producer really is a volunteer who used to be an optometrist. The Doctor, who really was my podiatrist, told me he wanted to be an actor so I put him in 2 of my dramas. Since then he has sold his practice and has started his own Voice Over career, known as Doctor Voice Over.

This is probably the most personal drama I have ever made. I hope it will translate to others. Since I began my career, theater was very important. So I had to include Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. I have always been told that I go too far, too wild, too off the wall. Those words find their way into the drama once again: “Sometimes you just go too far, Fred.”

In my professional life, I have only had 4 occasions where I had music composed for one of my dramas. They were great moments, especially Michael Small’s music for Lathe of Heaven. But the cost!!!! Unbelievable!! And now, working in the little town of Chelmsford, I have had the fortune to have my last three dramas scored with original music. Composed by the Town’s Community Band leader, Paul Berler, who had never scored a movie before. We gathered friends, students and created some pretty remarkable music. The cost… lunch and $1 each. I include a docu of one of those recordings. The Waiting Room had 30 singers and 30 musicians.

I don’t want to bore you with my musings, however, something struck me as I worked on this project that had never raised its head before. I am hung up on death. Yes, and on loss and never being. How could I go all these years without realizing it? But I did.

Fact: While in college and studying the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins and his use of alliteration, I wrote poem.

A soft cold hand soothes, smoothes, smothers.

That was 56 years ago. And when I did my first local access drama, that poem was the dramatic thrust of The Journey. (Included on DVD)

Fact: First film done in senior year of college, The Music Box, starred a theatrical character that looked like a dirty version of Charlie Chaplin and a young boy. In this silent film the Character disappears on a foggy beach and the boy runs for his life thru the dense fog, lost.

Fact: My first TV movie was 5 Days, produced live on tape at WGBH’s 84 Mass Ave. studio in 1961. All the actors were volunteers and the plays rights cost me $10. The story… two soldiers have to travel back from the front, one a prisoner and other the guard. By the end of the 5th day, the war has changed hands. And now the prisoner was the guard. And their side didn’t keep prisoners. He had to shoot the soldier who he had bonded with during that treacherous 5 day march. (2” tape in the Archives)

Fact: Two of my major movies are based on the idea that the lead character is dead. In Kurt Vonnegut’s “Between Time and Timbuktu” the lead character is a poet, Stony Stevenson, who wins a jingle contest and is shot into the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum  (outer space). Stony eventually finds himself in Heaven (abandoned NY World Fair grounds)  face to face with his greatest fear, Adolph Hitler. He and Hitler fight it out, with Stony winning because he uses his secret weapon. His imagination. It was Vonnegut’s clearest voicing of his art, “imagination over death

Lathe of Heaven is the same. The lead character, George Orr, is seen at the beginning of the drama, struggling, injured by an atomic bomb. He falls to the ground and utters the word Antwerp. For next hour and a half he lives and dreams his way through a series of adventures, until finally, in the last scene, George realizes he has created all this, his imagination, to protect him from his own death.

Thanks again for your help. I am humbled by your generosity.

Some Actors/comics/narrators I have worked with

  • Lily Tomlin  (Collisions for PBS)
  • Professor Irwin Corey (Collisions)
  • Dan Ackroyd (Collisions)
  • Gilda Radner (Collisions)
  • Jane Alexander (Letters of Calamity Jane for CBS Cable)
  • Matt Dillon ( Great American 4th of July, & Other Disasters, PBS)
  • Christian Slater (Secrets for Hearst Network)
  •  Barbara Feldon (Secrets-  was Agent 99 on Get Smart)
  • Christopher Reeve (Last Ferry Home for Hearst)
  • Ashley Judd (Ryan Interview by Arthur Miller; Kentucky Public TV)
  • Eddie Bracken (Ryan Interview  stage actor and movie star 1940’s))
  • Bob and Ray (Between Time and Timbuktu, PBS)           
  • Kevin McCarthy (Between Time and Timbuktu, PBS)
  • Bill Hickey (Between Time and Timbuktu, PBS)
  • Bruce “Juicy Bruce” Morrow (big time DJ NYC radio)
  • Morgan Freeman (Charlie Smith)
  • John Amos (Listen Up for PBS)
  • William Conrad (Great Whodunit! for PBS)
  • Gene Barry (Great Whodunit!  Radio, TV stage, was great in  the Broadway musical La Cage aux Folles)
  • Tammy Grimes
  • Geraldine Fitzgerald
  • Howard Duff ( was radio star Sam Spade detective)
  • Loretta Switt (Matter of Principal for Hearst Network – TV’s Mash)
  • Tyne Daly (No Room for Opal for Hearst Network)
  • Daniel J. Travanti, Jr. ( star of TV series Hill Street Blues)
  • Claire Dane
  • Ben Vereen (Jenny’s Song for Westinghouse Network)
  • Jean Stapleton (Tender Places-was Edith in All in the Family ) series)
  • James Broderick (Phantom of the Open Hearth for PBS- father of Mathew Broderick)
  • Barbara Bolton (Phantom  wife of composer Norman Dello Rio)
  • Roberta Wallach (Phantom, – daughter of the actor Eli Wallach)
  • Jerry O’Connell (Ollie – fresh off film Stand By Me)
  • Rosie Perez (Poof! For PBS )
  • Geoffrey Holder (What If I Am Home Alone for PBS great dancer)
  • Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“ was star on TV Home Improvements and voice of Lion King in Disney movie)
  • Ed Asner (Listen Up… lead in TV Mary Tyler Moore TV series)
  • Jason Robards, Jr. (Madhousers for Westinghouse)
  • Richard Kiley (Madhouser star of Broadway musical, Man of La Mancha)
  • John Goodman (Flashback for HBO)
  • Eric Severeid (Countdown to Looking Glass, HBO
  • Newt Gingrich (Countdown – used as Congressman, which he is was, Led the Republican take over of Congress in the 90’s)
  • John Houseman (Cable Arts, worked with Orson Wells)
  • James Wood (Andrew Silver drama, went to Hollywood and did well)
  • Mary Kay Place (People, Mary Hartman TV series)
  • Jane Curtin (Pretzels for HBO, original SNL cast )
  • Paul Simon
  • And many others……..

Hope you enjoy the show.

Best, Fred

 

 

Smithsonian celebrates Nam June Paik

Korean-born visual artist Nam June Paik, considered the father of video art, coined the phrase “electronic superhighway” in 1974 while creating works that pushed the boundaries of television.

Nam June Paik

Paik’s work, which has been put on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, envisioned a future where the transmission of piles of data could happen instantaneously.

Paik, who died in 2006, was the first artist to experiment with the platform of television, seeing it as an open canvas on which many more artists would one day construct their works.

The artwork and ideas of Nam June Paik were a major influence on late 20th-century art and continue to inspire a new generation of artists.

“Nam June Paik: Global Visionary” offers an unprecedented view into the artist’s creative method by featuring key artworks that convey Paik’s extraordinary accomplishments as a major international artist as well as material drawn from the Nam June Paik Archive, which was acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum from the artist’s estate in 2009….

“Nam June Paik: Global Visionary” is on view at the museum’s main building in Washington, D.C., from Dec. 13 through Aug. 11, 2013. John G. Hanhardt, senior curator of film and media arts and the leading expert on Paik and his global influence, organized the exhibition with the assistance of Michael Mansfield, associate curator of film and media arts.

In protest, jazz-style funeral for Eric Jackson’s show

From the Boston Globe7/6/2012

Eric Jackson hosted his last weeknight show on WGBH-FM (89.7) Thursday night, and thanks to local saxophonist Ken Field, he went out with a funeral.

Field, who hosts a show on WMBR-FM (88.1), led a New Orleans-style funeral outside the WGBH building in Brighton to protest the station’s recent cuts in jazz coverage.

Jackson, a jazz radio host in Boston for 30 years, will now be on the air on weekends only. WGBH cut Steve Schwartz’s Friday program from the schedule altogether.

From YouTube

Steve Jobs, unedited

Steve Jobs (1990)
Steve Jobs (1990)

WGBH Open Vault has posted 50 minutes of raw footage from a series called The Machine That Changed The World from 1990.

Thanks to Elizabeth Deane for the tip!

From WGBH News

With the loss of Steve Jobs, we have our own remembrance of him, in a superb WGBH interview from 1990. It’s from a series called The Machine That Changed The World. In it, Jobs talks about how that revolutionary device, the Macintosh personal computer, came to be and the particular gifts of the people who made it.

Steve Jobs: “I think the Macintosh was created by a group of people who felt that there wasn’t a strict division between science and art. Or in other words, that mathematics is really a liberal art if you look at it from a slightly different point of view. And why can’t we interject typography into computers. Why can’t we have computers talking to us in English language? And looking back, five years later, this seems like a trivial observation. But at the time it was cataclysmic in its consequences. And the battles that were fought to push this point of view out the door were very large…”

Jobs: “My observation is that the doers are the major thinkers. The people that really create the things that change this industry are both the ‘thinker-doer’ in one person. And if we really go back and we examine, did Leonardo [da Vinci] have a guy off to the side that was thinking five years out in the future what he would paint or the technology he would use to paint it? Of course not. Leonardo was the artist but he also mixed all his own paints. He also was a fairly good chemist. He knew about pigments, knew about human anatomy. And combining all of those skills together, the art and the science, the thinking and the doing, was the exceptional result.”

WGBH builds Boston TV news archive

Digital library project will place 40 hours of Hub TV newscasts from 1959-2000 at your fingertips

Boston Local TV News Project
Boston Local TV News Project

Poring through the tapes and films stored in the archives vault at WGBH is like taking a tour of Boston history as it was captured on TV news broadcasts: Fidel Castro visits Boston in 1959; Martin Luther King Jr. marches in Roxbury in 1965; Barack Obama protests outside Harvard University in 1990….

Films and tapes deteriorate over time, so WGBH officials have begun ambitiously digitizing not only former newscasts from their Channel 2, but historical news footage from other local TV stations. … The result will be the Boston TV News Digital Library, the first online repository of Boston television news from 1959 to 2000….

Boston Local TV News Project
Boston Local TV News Project

WCVB’s Natalie Jacobson, the first female anchor of an evening newscast in Boston … is glad these records will be made public. “For young people who are studying the history of New England and everything that goes with it, this is a great gift,’’ said Jacobson, who added that it also important to see how differently news was reported in years past….

Steven Cohen, a lecturer who teaches an education class at Tufts University, started incorporating the available video clips in his classes when students studied desegregation in Boston in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Having these archives digitized and having the students look at them online is literally eye-opening,’’ said Cohen. “It really does make the history accessible.’’