The Moment that Julia Child Became an American icon

Excerpts by Alex Prud’homme via The Boston Globe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering the BU Scholars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Negro and The American Promise” (1963)

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

From Fred Barzyk (7/20/2016):

Here are my memories of an important civil rights program produced by WGBH in 1963, “The Negro and The American Promise.”

640px-Henry_Morgenthau_IIII was assigned to direct, working with executive producer, Henry Morgenthau III, who also produced Prospects of Mankind with Eleanor Roosevelt (1959), Conversation with Svetlana Alliluyeva (1967), and many local WGBH shows such as Where to Get Off in Boston.

Henry and I go back a long way working together at WGBH, and this was our most memorable program.  (As of this writing, Henry is 99 years old. Congratulations, Henry!)

Henry’s guests featured then-new and controversial leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and writer James Baldwin.

One of his most brilliant choices was to bring in physiologist Dr. Kenneth Clark to do the interviews.

Clark’s soft, probing questions allowed each person a chance to create their own dynamic while still leaving room for their reflections and emotions.

Psychology professor at the City College of New York, Dr. Kenneth Clark, introduced the segment “The Negro and the American Promise” from Boston public television producer Henry Morgenthau III…

The program aired in a climate of racial conflict, just months after Alabama governor George Wallace’s defiant support of “segregation forever,” and before the March on Washington. [Source]

Here is Dr. Clark’s introduction from the program:

Introduction: Video

Dr. Kenneth Clark: James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X are, in different ways, symbols and spokesmen for the Negro crying out for his full rights as an American citizen. And now, if one dares to look for the common denominator of such seemingly different forms of Negro protest, one sees in each of these men a dramatic response to America’s attempt to deny to its Negro citizens the fulfillment of the American promise.

By all meaningful indices, the Negro is still, and unquestionably, the downtrodden, disparaged group, and for a long time was systematically deprived of his dignity as a human being. The major indictment of our democracy is that this is being done with the knowledge, and at times with the connivance, of responsible, moderate people who are not overtly bigots or segregationists.

We have now come to the point where there are only two ways that America can avoid continued racial explosions. One would be total oppression. The other, total equality. There is no compromise.

I believe, I hope, that we are on the threshold of a truly democratic America. It is not going to be easy to cross that threshold. But the achievement of the goals of justice, equality, and democracy for all American citizens involves the very destiny of our nation.

Here’s how this landmark program can to be.

Henry and I surveyed a small studio that operated by NET, across the street from the UN building used by diplomats and others for quickie news stories. The rental price was right and just large enough for our two-person interviews. We agreed to three interview dates.

I believe our first interview was with Martin Luther King, Jr. I had the studio crew set up black curtains and use a lot of backlight to separate participants from the dark background. There were the obligatory comfortable chairs and table, with water for each person.

The day arrived and Dr. King came to the studio with a few members of his cadre. He knew Dr. Clark and the atmosphere was friendly and professional. The interview was adequate but not filled with the kind of passion we had seen Dr. King give from the pulpit.

Dr. King spoke about his non-violent philosophy and talked about the politics of change.

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 4.46.22 PM

Here are a few excerpts from King’s interview:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: There’s a great deal of difference between non-resistance to evil and non-violent resistance. Non-resistance leaves you in a state of stagnant passivity and dead-end complacency. Wherein non-violent resistance means you do resist in a very strong and determined manner. And I think some of the criticisms of non-violence, or some of the critics, fail to realize that we are talking about something very strong, and they confuse non-resistance with non-violent resistance.

Next to be interviewed was Malcolm X. A tall, lean man, he arrived in the studio with several members of the Black Muslims. All were dressed in suits, white shirts and ties. They were silent and seemed to view us with suspicion. Dr. Clark was nonplussed and posed his questions with a soft intensity. Malcolm X was strong and passionate.

Hon. Malcolm X: "Negro and the American Promise."

From the transcript:

Malcolm X: History is not hatred. We are Muslims because we believe in the religion of Islam. We believe in one God. We believe in Muhammad as the apostle of God. We practice the principles of the religion of Islam, which mean prayer, charity, fasting, brotherhood.

And the Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us that since the Western society is deteriorating — it has become overrun with immorality — that God is going to judge it, and destroy it, and the only way black people who are in this society can be saved is to not integrate into this corrupt society but separate ourselves from it, reform ourselves, lift up our moral standards, and try and be godly, instead of trying… try and integrate with God, instead of trying to integrate with the white man, or try and imitate God, instead of trying to imitate the white man.

James_Baldwin_37_Allan_WarrenThen it was James Baldwin. He and Dr. Clark arrived very, very late for the interview. I knew something was really wrong. Baldwin looked terrible and Dr. Clark used every “psychiatric” tool to calm him down. Finally, he was able to get Baldwin to sit in our set. Baldwin lit up a cigarette and stared out into space, obviously angry and upset.

Later we learned why. Bobby Kennedy, then Attorney General, had called Baldwin a day earlier and asked him to gather a group of black friends to his luxury apartment in NYC to discuss the civil rights problem. Baldwin quickly gathered artist friends, actors, writers and a young man who had been beaten during one of the freedom rides.

This is how the meeting was recalled in Larry Tye’s new book, “Bobby Kennedy, The Making of a Liberal Icon” (Random House, 2016):

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 5.05.09 PMBlack novelist James Baldwin had pulled the group together, at Bobby’s request, to talk about why a volcano of rage was building up in the Northern ghetto and why mainstream civil right leaders couldn’t or wouldn’t quell it as summer approached…

Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t welcome, nor were the top people from the NAACP and the Urban league, because Bobby wanted a no-holds-barred critique of their leadership. He also hoped for a sober discussion of what the Kennedy administration should do, with Negroes who knew what it already was doing. Having a serious conversation without the serious players would have been difficult enough, but Bobby made it even harder: what he really wanted was gratitude, not candor. Baldwin did his best given those constraints and one day’s notice…

Kenneth Clark, the black America’s preeminent psychologist, came prepared to lay out studies and statistics to document that corrosive racial divide, but he never got the chance. Jerome Smith, a young activist who had held back as long as he could, suddenly shattered the calm, his stammer underlining his anger.

“Mr. Kennedy, I want you to understand I don’t care anything about you and your brother,” he began. “I don’t know what I’m doing here, listening to all this cocktail-party patter.” The real threat to white America wasn’t the Black Muslims, Smith insisted, it was when nonviolence advocates like him lost hope. The 24-year-old made his words resonate. He had suffered as many savage beatings as any civil rights protester of the era, including one for which he was now getting medical care in New York.

But his patience and his pacifism were wearing thin, he warned his rapt audience. If the police came at him with more guns, dogs, and hoses, he would answer with a weapon of his own. “When I pull a trigger,” he said, “kiss it good-bye.”…

Bobby was shocked, but Smith wasn’t through. Not only wouldn’t young blacks like him fight to protect their rights at home, he said, but they would refuse to fight for American in Cuba, Vietnam or any other places the Kennedys saw threats. “Never! Never! Never!” This was unfathomable to Bobby.

Others chimed in, demanding to know why the government couldn’t get tougher in taking on racist laws and ghetto blight….

Three hours into the evening the dialogue had become a brawl, with the tone set by Smith…. Bobby had heard enough. His tone let everyone know the welcome mat had been taken up. His flushed face showed how incensed he was.

This is what caused the delay and the desperation in both Dr. Clark and Baldwin. Somehow they did manage to conduct the very intense interview. It was an unbelievable moment as Baldwin, near tears, spews out his frustrations, despair and hopeless anguish.

James Baldwin

Henry knew we had filmed an important moment. He released the interview that night to a local commercial station in NYC. He could do that because WNET, based in New Jersey, did not have a New York City channel. The New York Times picked up the story and ran it on the front page the next morning. “Negro and the American Promise” was soon published as a book.

Henry had also carved out monies to shoot some film related to each of the guests. It was a way of bringing a visual aspect to a traditional talking head show. Staff cameraperson Stan Hirson and I plotted out the locations.

Stan Hirson started his professional career as a documentary filmmaker in Boston. He covered the civil rights movement in the South and made film portraits of James Baldwin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Hirson joined the documentarians Maysles brothers and was involved in films such as The Beatles in America, Gimme ShelterGrey Gardens and numerous other documentaries.

The budget was tight. All we had was a silent film 16-millimeter camera and limited reels of black and white film.

We decided to introduce Malcolm X by filming at and around the Black Muslim Mosque in Harlem. Then, we would travel to Martin Luther King’s church in Atlanta to capture his religious persona.

One other plan was hatched. Stan agreed to a special assignment, one that turned out to be dangerous for him.

James_L_Farmer_JrStan agreed to join the black civil rights group, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which was led by James Farmer. He would travel with them in a car traveling across Mississippi to capture footage.

“Although the United States Supreme Court… had ruled that segregated interstate bus travel was unconstitutional, such buses enforced segregation below the Mason–Dixon line in southern states. Gordon Carey proposed the idea of a second Journey of Reconciliation and Farmer jumped at the idea. This time the group planned to journey through the Deep South. Farmer coined a new name for the trip: the Freedom Ride. [From Wikipedia]

Stan flew to Mississippi to join the Freedom Rides. I had an agreement with CORE that their people would drive Stan back to King’s church in Atlanta to meet me for the next shoot.

It turned out to be his most frightening drive: one white guy with a camera and three African Americans in an old black car driving across America at night.

Stan was to meet me at our hotel in Atlanta by 8:00 pm on a Thursday. That afternoon, I flew from Boston to Atlanta and planned to check into one of Atlanta’s oldest and grand hotels, the Dinkler-Tutwiler Hotel.

Tutwiler_Hotel_1914As I walked from the plane to the terminal, an older man wearing a hat and long coat approached me.

“Are you from Educational Television”

“Yes, I am.”

I reached out my hand to this person who was welcoming me to Atlanta. He leaned in and whispered menacingly.

“Get back on that plane. We don’t want you here.”

I was taken aback, shocked, really. Then I thought it was a dumb joke. But he wasn’t kidding. I laughed, shaking my head in disbelief, shrugged my shoulders and headed on my way. I never did see him again.

I took a cab to the hotel and checked in. I asked if Stan Hirson had left a message for me. The clerk said there was no message. He pointed me to the elevators and handed me a key to the 7th floor. He said my luggage would be up shortly.

I walked to the elevator and the door opened. Inside was a young black girl in a quaint hotel costume. She ran the elevator. I stepped in, mentioned my floor and we took off.

On the way up, I asked her how long it would take to get to Dr. King’s church via cab. She moved closer to the elevator doors and said nothing. I got the message. She had to be careful and wanted no contact with hotel guests. Who knows what had happened in the past. I backed off right away.

I got off the elevator and headed to my room. It was nice, big and a bit old fashioned. There came a knock on the door. It was the bellboy with my bags. He was an older black man with a great smile. He put my bags down and I gave him a good tip. He asked if I wished to have any beverages brought to the room. So, being a kid from Milwaukee, I ordered two beers. He left and I unpacked, turning on the TV. Nothing special on the local station.

Soon, another knock at the door. It was the older gentleman bringing me my two beers and a frosty beer glass. I gave him another good tip. He turned to me and said:

“Your friend will be here in two hours.”

“What? How do you know that?”

He smiled and left. My God, this was the second person that knew I was in town. It seemed everybody knew what I was doing. It was clear that a series of networks had been created to survive the tribulations of the civil rights conflict. I sipped my beers … actually downed them pretty fast.

After an hour, I decided to get a bit of fresh air and do a walk around the hotel. I went to the elevator, rang the bell, and soon the doors opened. It was the same girl. I entered and moved way back in the elevator so as not to alarm her. As the elevator headed to the main lobby, she turned to me and smiled.

“It will take about an hour to get to Dr. King’s church”

“Oh … thanks.”

Stan finally arrived, safe and sound. He told me he had hidden on the floor of the car as he rode back from Mississippi in that car with the Freedom Riders. I bought him a couple of beers, too. We went to bed, wondering what the next day would bring.

Morning arrived and we headed out the front doors of the hotel to the cabstand. The driver got out and opened the trunk to house Stan’s equipment. He asked where we were going. When I said King’s church, he slammed the trunk shut and told us to use the cabs across the street. “They’ll take you there” he said, as he climbed into his cab.

Stunned, Stan and I went over to the “black” cabstand. No problem for the black driver when we mentioned were we wanted to go. As Stan and I drove to the church, we tried to process all that had happened over the last couple of days. It felt really unreal. I felt like a stranger in my own country. As I looked out the window to see the streets of Atlanta, I wondered how the people of city adjusted to the civil unrest.

Our cab came to a stop at a red light. A white, middle age woman drove up next to us in a large American sedan. She looked over at us; two white guys in the back seat of a black cab and gave us the most frightening hate glare I had ever encountered. We were nothing but despicable interlopers in her town.

That look has stayed with me my whole life. I will never forget it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it happened.

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

Pause on the other end.

Had I gone too far once again?

Finally … “Ok.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fred Barzyk’s Snapshots: Scene 3

This entry is part 16 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the third in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director.

barzyk

People! for NBC

In 1976, I received a call from a big time talent agent.

I hung up on him because I thought it was a joke. He called again and said that Lily Tomlin and Time magazine had proposed a TV show to NBC called People! Not only was it scheduled; Lily would like me to be the director. I still didn’t believe him and said no thanks.

Several days later I got a call from Jane Wagner. She explained that she and Lily worked together and that she, as the executive producer, wanted me to be the director. I asked why? I was just a TV producer/director working for WGBH in Boston. I had never done a commercial show. Jane told me she saw my “Medium is the Medium” segment on the Public Broadcasting Laboratory show and was impressed. That segment was the first time artists were given control of the TV equipment to create art. It was an important art event and was recognized by a lot of press.

But what did a lot of crazy video images have to do with a commercial TV show? Jane said the “way I thought” was just what she needed for the show. I finally understood that this was a real offer.

We agreed to meet in NYC. At the time, I was a member of the arts panel for the New York State Council on the Arts and it had a meeting a week later. We agreed to meet in a Chinese restaurant that was in the same building. I was still very skeptical. We met in this strange, dark Chinese restaurant and sipped tea. Jane was charming and very complimentary. Finally it sank in that I was going to do an NBC show with Lily Tomlin, a recognized talent. This was never in my plans, but what the hell. I said I would do it.

I did not belong to the directors union, DGA, but since it was being produced out of house by Time, it didn’t matter.

I called my dear friend and fellow producer, David Loxton, to join me in this adventure. He couldn’t believe it either but he joined as co-producer. And so we worked for several months with Jane and Lily.

Jane would arrive with this large bag and pull tons of articles clipped from newspapers and magazines. She and Lily would pick out the ideas that made them excited. David and I divided up the segments to produce. My first one was Loretta Lynn.

In 2015, I sent an e-mail to Lily and Jane describing a book idea. It would tell the history of WGBH, which many consider the best TV station in the country. In the e-mail, I also described the shoot with Loretta Lynn.

Dear Lily and Jane:

One of my pet projects is to somehow develop a WGBH History Book, collecting all the great stories of what many consider the finest TV/Radio station in the country. You were part of a big experiment trying to combine drama and video art. An Experiment that did not work.

But it taught me so many things that it was well worth the gamble. I am hoping you might take a few moments to write a short story about that time. My hope is to gather all these great stories that could one day become a testimony to the adventure that was WGBH. Thanks for considering helping.

But in turn, I owe you a story. I am not sure if I told you all that happened to me on the Loretta Lynn shoot for People. I first went out to meet her agent in Nashville. He took me to a very fancy French Restaurant. He wanted to know what the angle was to our story. I told him we wanted to celebrate her work and career. He agreed and we set a shoot date.

I never talked to Loretta, never met her until the night we were to begin shooting. I arrived at the Grand Old Opry (huge crowd), met my local film crew (husband and wife) and was informed that I could only film Loretta performance from backstage (unions). I still had not met her but was introduced to her dear friend, the Butcher Holler doctor who told her she was pregnant at age 13. A happy man who welcomed us all to the very special world of Loretta.

At the end of the performance, I met Loretta for the first time and she announced we were getting on her bus and heading to Butcher Holler for the shoot. She was “going home!” I turned to my crew and they agreed to the plan. On the bus, before we began the trip, Loretta had to read my palm. After looking at my hand for several minutes, she agreed. Whew!

The bus headed off into the night with Loretta, her agent, a female reporter from Rolling Stone, and her Butcher Holler doctor. Along the way Loretta came to the back of the bus and announced that she has just created a professional name for her sister: she was going to be called Crystal Gayle. Loretta said that was because her sister loved the hamburgers from the fast food restaurants named Crystal Hamburgers.

We traveled all night, making just one stop so the driver could get some biscuits and gravy. Conway Twitty’s bus pulled into the same parking lot. Loretta did not want to see him and sent her agent to say hello.

When we arrived in Butcher Holler it was early morning and none of us had any real sleep. The Doctor invited us to his place and gave us each a pillow. We all ended up on the floor, Loretta, my crew, the reporter from Rolling Stone, and me. As I squinted my eyes at our situation, everything just seemed surreal as we tried to get some shuteye.

Next morning, we headed out to visit the “shack” were Loretta was born and raised. Along the way we visited some of her relatives. Now, I want you to imagine the situation. Loretta had not been back there for many years and now she shows up with the group of strangers holding cameras. The welcome to Loretta by her family was rather cool. We finally made it to the “shack.” She went up alone first, and then allowed us to film inside.

The trip ended up at her mansion back in Tennessee in a small town that survives because of her presence. Her husband was off doing some kind of covered wagon adventure across country. As we drove up toward the mansion there was a burned-out auto sitting on the side of the road. We later found out that it was her son’s car. We filmed her diving into the Olympic size pool. And so ended my trip with Loretta.

The next segment was a live comedy performance by Lily at a university in Boston. Then I was off to California to videotape a conversation with Louise Lasser. Louise was starring in a comedy TV series called “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” The segment was going to take place on a beach with these two comedians. The conversation was all over the place in content and ended up with them talking about their shoes.

David and I both worked on the best segment in the show, a documentary segment that juxtaposed a glamorous model and a young blue-collar boxer. They both end up at disco clubs … the model in a chic club in Manhattan and the boxer at a seedy Brooklyn joint.

The night we were shooting at the chic club, Paul Simon wanders over to say hello to Lily. She asks him to be in the show. He agrees. We decide to have him, with Lily on his arm, try to get into this exclusive club. They won’t let him because he is too “short.” Paul is measured against a mark on the wall … but he is too short. Lily creates another plan to get into the club. A young man in a tux enters and he is OK’d to join the crowd. Lily saddles up to him and asks if he would escort her. He agrees and we watch poor Paul is left alone bemoan his fate.

David, Lily, Jane, and I put the show together with editor Dick Bartlett and submitted it to NBC. Lily announced that there were not enough “hugs” in the show. So I got a cameraperson and we ran thru the streets of New York hugging total strangers. What would NBC say?

The network’s man in charge, Dick Ebersol, made the final decision of which segments appeared in the hour show. People! aired in the same time slot as Saturday Night Live right after their first season ended. We only did one show and People! ceased to exist.

And now for the WGBH connection: Since I had befriended Lily and Jane, I offered them a chance to do an experimental drama for the WGBH New Television Workshop. The drama would involve video artists and a dance company. They agreed. Wow! And for minimums!

This wild experimental “thing” was called Collisions.

Collisions

My idea was based on an assumption that video artists, working on their own, would create personal visions around the “idea” of Collision. Then (somehow) we would put them into the drama to “enrich” the story. Jane would write the drama and Lily would be the main character.

I needed help with this project and so David Loxton joined our merry group. We combined our limited grant monies — David ran the TV Lab at WNET/13 in New York while I was the head of the WGBH New TV Workshop — to fund the project.

The artists were Stan Van Der Beek, Ron Hays, William Wegman, and the Louie Falco Dance Company. These artists were free to create whatever they wanted about collisions. It was up to David and me to figure out how to put them into the drama. This was a huge gamble. David was very dubious. And he was right.

Jane’s script arrived and it was a satiric Sci-Fi romp about an alien spirit (a pulsating light that bounced) arriving on Earth to figure out what life was like. The alien spirit takes over the body of a TV newscaster (Lily) and then sends back her findings to a group of big shot aliens on a planet somewhere in the galaxy. And whom did we cast for them?

Because it was Lily and Jane doing the show, we were able to gather some of the biggest names from NBC’s Saturday Night Live(As of 2016, that show is still on the air.) Dan Ackroyd and Gilda Radner agreed to appear in the show. I added another wild comic, a non-stop talker who spoke gibberish and eventually goes berserk, running all over the auditorium. His name: Professor Irwin Corey.

A great deal of the production took place in Studio A at WGBH. There was a giant blue screen in which we inserted nighttime stars. The big shot aliens (Ackroyd, Radner, Prof. Corey, and actor Charles White) were seated around a table, which also was a blue screen. Inserted in the table were images of Lily telling them what she found out about Earth people.

The next day’s production involved a typical local commercial news set. Lily was the news anchor, with Russ Morash as co-anchor. After the newscast, we see her body taken over by the alien spirit. This time she reports to the distant planet all the strange things she has found out.

We then took a film crew to shoot sequences around Boston where the alien spirit causes havoc. Then came the last big shoot, one that is very special to me.

Lily was all into the project, and she invited us to her mother’s hometown, Ashtabula, Kentucky, to film the last scenes. Inside her mother’s home, we filmed many of Lily’s relatives as she talks about her strange feelings of being not herself. The show ends with her lying down on a grave in a local graveyard. The story was done, and it was time to figure out how the artist’s works fit.

Needless to say, these artists’ visions were all special and not a natural fit.

  • The Louie Falco Dance Company did a dance in a deserted building in the Watertown armory. They used a Nina Simone song.
  • Ron Hays created the opening animation depicting the existence of a distant planet. This was the most comfortable fit to the drama.
  • William Wegman did a stand up wearing a pair of slinkys as eyeglasses. I am not even sure what it was about.
  • Van Der Beek gave us images that were abstract and used as B-roll enhancing the alien spirit taking over Lily’s body.

We edited for months, trying to make this all work. But alas, the show was a bust. Lily, Jane, David and I agreed that it would never air. Lily did allow a University Film Cooperative to play it on campuses across America.

Years later I was given an award from the French Video critics for my work with video artists. I traveled to France for the ceremony. They asked me to play one of my works for the crowd. I chose Collisions.

I warned them it was a total failure and proved a point: unless you are willing to have total failures you can never create meaningful breakthroughs. The crowd of 150 cleared out long before the show ended. Only one person was left and he told me that it was important that I had shown it. He said he understood my choice. And so ended Collisions.

From Bruce Bordett

Some pix I shot during production. As I recall a great time was had by all.

Collisions by Bruce Bordett

Collisions by Bruce Bordett

Collisions by Bruce Bordett

Fred Barzyk’s Snapshots: Scene 2

This entry is part 17 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the second in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director.

barzykAesthetic Influences

An excerpt from a letter to Brian O’Doherty (artist, doctor, National Endowment of the Arts Administrator) who was writing the major article for my Haggerty Museum exhibit catalogue.

June 1, 2001

Dear Brian,

This is the first time I have ever tried to explain my aesthetic influences to anyone. So forgive me if this gets too obtuse.

My work has always been tempered by two parts of my personality: boyish enthusiasm and quiet politics. This entails equal amounts of innocence and cunning. On one hand they would call me “Freddy berserk” while still admitting, “everyone likes to work with him.”

I tried to take advantage of both sides. Like Cristo, part of my art form was dealing with management and the egos of those involved in production. It was important for them to feel that whatever crazy thing I did it would not upset them … too much. It worked most of the time except when Michael Rice yanked one of my shows off the air. Even then I got around it. (Remind me to tell you the story.)

I also believe in the intelligence of the audience. No matter how confusing my TV shows might appear on first viewing, I always assume the viewer will understand the intent after reflecting on the content/form. It doesn’t always work, but I have never changed the basic assumption or approach.  In later works I have begun to give the audience a few more hints, a few handles to grasp the intent.

Juxtaposition became an important tool. Almost like a Rauschenberg, I would pile discreet content upon content hoping to create a new whole. Editing became a process that was not just functional but also emotional and educational. Here is where the Brecht theory comes in. Brecht called his theater “non-Aristotelian”: he deliberately did not want his audience to experience any kind of catharsis. He wanted them to see history, to educate the public about how society influences the characters. He was a poet/playwright who could also bring humor to his plays.

Hey, I was working in educational television. Maybe this approach could work for me!

My first TV drama was a Brecht style play with an anti war theme; “FIVE DAYS.” Here I used the Brechtian techniques in a TV drama. It took me years to learn how to apply the Brechtian concepts directly to the structure of non-dramatic TV program. That happened in the late 60’s.

The Double-Channel Experiment

I was asked to produce and direct a program for college kids during the summer of 1967. The series first started as 4 one-hour shows featuring a young Englishman who was lecturing at Tufts University. His name was David Silver and he looked a lot like Mick Jagger. This was the “Summer of Love, Love Ins, and Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30.”

I had been given Carte Blanc to do whatever might appeal to this particular age group. It was just what I needed to hone my personal vision quest. (I will write more about the Silver Show in a later Snapshot.)

The Rockefeller Foundation provided monies for a visiting artist program at WGBH. Michael Rice administered it. I asked Michael if I could invite Richard Schechner one of the people who most influenced me with his Drama magazine “The Tulane Drama Review.” Richard was always pushing the envelope and I thought his comments about our series with Silver could be explosive. It was.

What follows is the Wikipedia bio.

Richard Schechner is a University Professor and Professor of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and editor of TDR: The Drama Review.

Richard Schechner received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University in 1956, a Master’s degree from the University of Iowa two years later, and a Ph.D. from Tulane University in 1962. He edited The Drama Review, formerly the Tulane Drama Review, from 1962–1969; and again from 1986 to the present.

Schechner went on to become one of the founders of the Performance Studies department of the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He founded The Performance Group of New York in 1967 and was its artistic director until 1980, when TPG changed its name to The Wooster Group. The home of both TPG and TWG is the Performing Garage in New York’s SoHo district, a building acquired by Schechner in 1968. That year Schechner signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. In 1992, Schechner founded East Coast Artists, of which he was the artistic director until 2009. He additionally writes for journals worldwide.

Richard came to WGBH for a week of viewing and talking about TV, especially focusing on the David Silver show.

He was not complimentary.

As a matter of fact, he thought we were being lazy and not taking enough real chances at being controversial. He yelled at me about formats and attitudes, and then he challenged us all to do something unique.

He knew that we had two TV stations, Ch. 2 and a UHF station, Ch. 44. He said we should broadcast our show on both channels at once, so that the story and images would bounce off each other in a stereo viewing of the show. We took the challenge to heart and produced the very first 2-channel experience in broadcasting.

We asked the audience to take 2 TVs and place them 6 feet apart, tune one to Ch. 2 and the other to Ch. 44. We then created 2 shows that week. As David was talking to Schechner on Ch. 2 in a normal interview style, you could see on Channel 44 a man going into a Laundromat, stripping down to his shorts, and washing his clothes. We also used some random B roll shots available in our film bin.

It wasn’t a good show, but it did take us into new territory with more double channel shows; a drama by Mary Feldhouse Weber directed by Rick Hauser, and a major dance piece by Gus Solomon Jr., called “City/Motion/Space/Game”, directed by Peter Downey.

Then the WGBH NEW TV Workshop and WNET’s TV LAB  produced a double channel show in NYC. The show aired simultaneous on WNET and the local independent station, WNEW. My contribution to the hour show was a 15-minute piece that featured comedians Bob and Ray. One of the highlights was their endless search to find the right script, forcing them to walk back and forth between the two channels. The segment was called “The Yin and Yang of It”

What’s Happening Mr. Silver

“What’s Happening Mr. Silver?”, a docu-drama-performance art TV series, was the structure I needed. I was able to capture on film the “shocking” activities of 1968-69 college age kids …  you know, drugs, sex, rock and roll, and, “oh, my heavens”, long hair (!) and construct the confrontation as theoretical, historical, educating the public about how society influences the characters. How Brecht! The confrontation of society by these theatrical hippies, “flower children,” flaunting their antics in staid Boston helped push them and others across the county into a radical movement. Society’s actions were influencing the characters.

The TV format for “What’s Happening” used a dispassionate and cynical approach, filled with whimsy and self-deprecating humor. To some critics the series seemed politically radical and inappropriate for educational television, but to me it was a philosophical and theatrical hoot. The Boston Globe’s critic at the time, Gregory MacDonald (he later wrote the “Fletch” detective novels), proclaimed me, “an underground filmmaker secretly working at a TV station”. Fortunately, he was a fan and wrote some terrific articles about the show. These articles probably saved my ass. I should send him a thank you note.

Side note: I found out in the 80’s that Army Intelligence had sent a guy to infiltrate our What’s Happening Mr. Silver “groupies”, investigating us to see if we were anti-government subversive militants. They even tapped my phone. What nonsense!

At the end of this series, David Loxton and I convinced Jac Venza to let us do a drama using David Silver as our dramatic vehicle; a young Englishman travels around the US trying to understand America. It was called “America Inc.”

We shot the entire drama without a script. We just went to places and made up the story: a burned out church; a used book store; an ice cream parlor that created huge, obscene sundaes; the abandoned Ellis Island, and The March On Washington protesting the Vietnam War. Now the challenge was to get the Brechtian overview into the drama.  What could I do to show society’s pressures actually influencing the actions of this young man?

I created phony commercials; public service spots if you will, which appeared throughout the play. America Inc. turned out to be some monolithic do good organization that was trying to reassure Americans not to be upset about what was going on in the country. The commercials provided an address where you could order a free booklet, a self-help book that would answer your questions and allay your fears, a totally tongue in cheek act.

(We received over 10,000 requests for the non-existing book. Venza said legally we had to create one. So we wrote a four page handout and mailed it along with an “America Inc.” pin)

The final commercial finds David Silver in Washington to observe the anti-war march, where he is accidentally caught on film by America Inc. and featured as a typical American youth, learning to be at peace with himself and the angry protests around him; the ultimate usurping of one’s existence, and by a TV commercial. Great!

There still wasn’t enough societal observation and emotional separation from the characters. So I introduced a woman’s voice-over which interrupted the drama at various points, giving factual information about American life styles — i.e. while Silver and his companion are eating a ridiculously large ice cream sundae, the voice gives us statistics on the kind of ice cream Americans prefer; vanilla 62%, chocolate 28%, strawberry etc.

Still not enough.

So I brought humorist Jean Shepherd into the mix. Acting like a Greek Chorus, Shepherd would talk directly to the audience and reflect on what it is to be an American. Not on the story line, but on the very stuff that makes us Americans:

“Hi, my fellow Americans, fellow travelers on the yellow brick road of life. Do you sometimes feel that your life is the product of some really bad film editor? You know, while Gene Kelly is dancing and it’s Paris, you find yourself standing in line at the dry cleaners. It’s not easy being an American.”

In the final scene of the drama I had art students from the Mass. College of Art construct a huge sculpture on a snowy beach at Plum Island. They constructed huge cut outs of pop images from the story and began to mount them on a 20-foot steel scaffolding … a 10 foot sundae, 15 foot red lips, a 10 foot Statue of Liberty.  Then suddenly a cold gust of wind swept down the beach and blew the whole thing down. Fortunately, no one was hurt. I had ordered a helicopter for filming and when it arrived I asked everyone to grab a small American flag and march around the collapsed structure. So in the freezing cold, knee deep in snow, fifteen of us marched while being filmed from a circling copter.

Add a little Fellini music…..

The End.

Wood and Trees

Let’s leave Brecht and turn to my interest in challenging prevailing TV formats.

Here is an example from 1964. The Museum of Fine Arts wanted WGBH to do a program on the importance of “wood” and “trees” in art, both in the content and in the actual making of art.  I proposed a series of short videos (1 to 3 minutes), which would appear unannounced between programs for one solid week. No promos for upcoming programs, no fundraising, just little pieces about art, trees and wood. there would be no statement about their purpose or who produced them, and no mention of the MFA. Somehow I got this through WGBH and it ran for one week.

I’m afraid the audience was left confused. We finally ran it as a half hour program called ‘Trees”. One video featured a single tree both in full color and in reverse polarity all done to music. Another one used the “Bald Soprano” approach. Two people talked, argued, but their conversation made no sense. They talked in clichés and phrases that used wood and trees; “he’s a chip off the old block”, “you’re barking up the wrong tree” etc.

“And Now for Something Completely Different”

This snapshot is about my continuing search for a personal vision in broadcast television.

I tried to find it by experimenting with no traditional formats, and especially if it used new electronic equipment. I was fortunate to be at a TV station that allowed me to do just that. Here are a few “firsts” that gave me opportunities to pursue my vision. It also reveals a hell of a lot about management’s cooperation and generosity. I was truly lucky.

Ever since arriving at WGBH, I had serious questions about the coverage of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Couldn’t there be a more visual interpretation of the music, something besides the endless shots of the trombones, violins and flutes? I talked to many of the people directly involved in the production but they really didn’t want to hear my ranting. So I had to do something to prove my thesis.

I would need 3 camera people, a new TV director, and 3 engineers to help create 4 visual interpretations of short Jazz pieces in the studio AFTER THE STATION SHUT DOWN! This would have to be a clandestine production.

I convinced Bobby Hall, Larry Messenger, and Wil Morton not only to do video and audio, but also to videotape the 4 videos.  I asked Mark Stevens, Peter Hoving, Bill Cosel, and Bill Aucoin to create the visual interpretations. They agreed with enthusiasm.

Each would choose a Jazz piece and direct the shoot.

Dan Beach, who was head of traffic, somehow found an “old” 2-inch tape for us to record on. Remember, during this era, tape was very expensive and many regular shows were wiped so the station could use the same tape over and over.

The clandestine production was going to take 3 nights. In 1962, after the fire of 1961, WGBH’s main studio was in the basement of the Museum of Science. We usually shut down around 10:00 pm and no execs were around. This is when we went to work.

First up was Peter Hoving. He picked a Miles Davis piece and used layers of scrim, screens and a constantly moving candle for his visual tools. Using the focus changes of the fixed lens on the black and white camera, his images melted and flowed into each other, while the candle slowly danced to the sad music of Davis.

Mark Stevens picked a Sauter-Finnegan piece. His vision included a 50-cent kaleidoscope attached directly to the lens, a turntable with a mound of crumpled aluminum foil, and 3 lights, each hitting the foil from different directions.

Bill Cosel and I had seen the “Steve Allen Show” record a comic bit on videotape and then run it backwards. This was a major technical breakthrough for the industry. Bill planned to do the same for a Blossom Dearie song. Bill peeled a potato to the rhythm of her song and then he was to run it backwards, so the potato would magically add its peel. We never could get it to work. (It should be noted that Bill Cosel became the renowned producer/director of the Boston Symphony Pops in which he perfected the coverage of an orchestra via the traditional images.)

Bill Aucoin hung real instruments from the grid and moved the camera around them to the strains of a Jazz piece. It was the most traditional of what we called “Jazz Images”.

A French critic has hailed this clandestine experiment, labeled as “Jazz Images”, as one of the first “video art” pieces.  Merci!!!!!!

Incidentally, Bill Aucoin went on to NYC and soon created the rock group KISS. He later hired me to direct what may have been the first attempt at projecting CU shots of the musicians via an Eidofore projector live during the performance. The conclusion of my six-week tour was in Madison Square Garden in NY. By this time, I had 10 cameras covering the band. On the very first shot, the camera in the pit spun around and went to black. Some jackass in the crowd had thrown a beer bottle and hit my cameraman. He recovered and did the show without a hitch.

I also did a music video with the band in an armory in Bill’s hometown of Ayer. The shoot took place at night and employed vast amounts of fireworks. It took forever to setup the fireworks and we finally were ready to record at midnight.

I rolled tape and yelled out ”Stand By Fireworks!” The fireworks guy misunderstood and set off the entire load. It took him another 2 hours to set the new round. We finally finished at 2:00AM.

That was it for me. No more traveling with rock groups. No more KISS.

Fred Barzyk’s Snapshots: Scene 1

This entry is part 18 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the first in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director.

barzykGreek Columns in the Studio

In 1959, WGBH did a lot of piano shows. The Lowell Institute members provided the musicians and the only expense was for set decorations. One cheap way to create a proper classical feeling was to have Greek Columns framing the piano. This was done by using large carpet rolls painted as if marble.

In one memorable show, the director had the camera dolly back thru a column of carpet rolls, making the piano smaller and smaller as the piece came to an end. One problem, he forgot about the camera cable and as the camera dollied back the cable proceeded to topple each and every Column.

At the end of the half hour show you could see the stage manager running in trying to stop the columns from falling. They fell with a loud “bloop” sound that only carpet rolls could make.

Ed Scherer and Aldous Huxley

One of the great characters that came thru the doors of WGBH was a producer/director by the name of Ed Scherer.

Ed had made his mark while working at a Washington commercial TV station. He was assigned as TV director to cover a Senate hearing. It turned out to be the famous Joseph McCarthy Army hearing. Ed was 24 at the time. He then headed off to Cuba where he was to be the TV Executive Producer of Cuban Summer Baseball. However, Castro came to power and thru him out of the country.

Ed had met Dave Davis some years earlier and he called out to Dave for a job. Ed was brought in to do MIT Science Reporter. He was the highest paid director at the time, $150 a week.

Ed was charming, funny guy who always just stepped over the boundaries. I once asked him how he was going to shoot a MIT Science Reporter show that had so many stage walls and corridors filling all parts of Studio A. Ed said “Badly.”

On one of the shows he had an English guest by the name of Aldus Huxley. Mr. Huxley was nearly blind and had a female secretary accompany him for the shoot.

After a morning rehearsal, Ed invited Aldus and his secretary to his favorite lunch place. It was a neighborhood bar not frequented by MIT students or faculty. It was where Ed often disappeared to quench his thirst.

Mr. Huxley ordered hot tea with his sandwich. Ed spoke to his favorite bar tender for tea, which was a very strange request. The bartender asked, “Who is that guy anyway?” Ed responded, “Oh, he’s a writer. English.” The tea was eventually found and, as Ed was heading back to the table with his 2 bottles of beer, the bartender said, “Hey, make sure you keep bringing people like that to my place. I’m trying to upgrade the customers, you know. I need some writers.”

Ed left the station after couple of years, going on to NBC where he executive produced a national science show for young adults.

Window Designs to Video Wallpaper

I was assigned to do a lot of piano shows. Hundreds of piano shows. With a meager budget of $10 per show for set design I started to emulate store window designs.

I calculated where each element would go. I hung them from the grid so there would never be a problem with cables knocking over the set. I would take the subway down to Jordan Marsh and Filenes’s dept. stores and look at what they did for design in their windows. I would steal those ideas and bring them back to the studio.

Every once in awhile I was given a performance show, which entailed larger concert groups. One of the shows was a major breakthrough for me: it was a group of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons. However, it was a new piece of music and the orchestra had forgotten to send over a copy of the score so I could plan my shots, and there were no recordings since it was a new composition. So how should I plan to cover this piece?

WGBH in 1960 had 2 studios. Studio A was the big studio with three cameras and a mini crane. Studio B was small and had 2 cameras. My idea led to a new configuration. Since I didn’t know which instrument was going to play, I figured that if I had many cameras covering the performance it wouldn’t matter. I could dissolve between cameras to eventually find the right instrument.

So, I turned to the engineers and asked if they could extend the Studio B cables to reach Studio A. Somehow they agreed. I was informed that I would not have control of the switcher in Studio B. I would need to have a separate person at that switcher. So, now I had 5 cameras, 3 in A and 2 in B. I had 2 switchers and somehow I could super Studio B shots thru my Studio A switcher.

The musicians arrived, played a little for a sound check and I realized that the music was a moody, interlaced slow moving contemporary piece. I decided to do nothing but supers throughout the show. I had to give dissolve directions to two separate switchers. What happened on the air looked like video wallpaper, with long slow dissolves of 4 or 5 cameras at a time.

When the show was over, Bill Pierce, our booth announcer and the voice of the Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcast, walked over to me and announced, “You have gone too far this time, Freddy!” After that, and a few other incidents, my nickname became “Freddy Berserk.”

A Different Approach

Sometimes my approach to things was a little different than what management wanted.

I was assigned a show called European Imperialism, part of a Harvard Extension Course. It featured Prof. Albion, a Harvard Professor of History and a legend in the academic world. It was a simple talk show in which the Prof. lectured directly to camera and the few visuals were mostly pulled from books he brought from Harvard Library. These were produced in the temporary studio at the Museum of Science after the fire in 1962 or 1963.

My best memories: Prof. Albion taking a swig from his flask before he began and actually falling asleep during one of his own lectures.

Here is where I went awry:

I was asked to produce a promo for the show. I went out and bought a black and white chess set which featured the heads of Medieval characters (King /Queen/ Bishop, etc.) I put them on a turntable, up high, with the camera shooting up and played Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare to a Common Man.”

The Announcer and the copy sounded like something from an epic movie of Roman times. Greg Harney and Dave Davis took one look at the promo and pulled it. Dave Davis said “Hey, Fred! Remember this is only a talking head show!”  Whoops.

Julia Child finds a place on … Twitch!

From the Boston Globe

On Twitch Creative, artists get an audience

twitch-globeSince launching in 2011, Twitch, the massive live-streaming video platform acquired by Amazon for nearly a billion dollars in 2014, has primarily been understood (blame the tagline) as “social video for gamers” — that is, a place for gamers watching other gamers game. (And, skeptics, speaking as a man who’s spent a considerable micro-percentage of the past three decades happily watching people other than myself play “Zelda,” from my pre-Web adolescence all the way up to last week on the sofa with hubby, I can and will attest to the actual entertainment value in this.)

But a growing portion of Twitch’s 100 million-plus monthly viewers aren’t just logging on to watch the hordes battling through “League of Legends” or “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” They’re also quite into knitting and watercolors.

Last October, Twitch launched a new vertical, landing page, whatever — simply titled “Creative.” As the company observed more and more of its 1.7 million monthly broadcasters breaking terms and live-streaming non-gaming activities, the site’s Rules of Conduct were revised to permit such broadcasts, and the Creative page was created as a way to corral and showcase this growing sect of the usership.

Creative celebrated the launch by hosting an authorized series-long marathon of Bob Ross’s instructional PBS program “The Joy of Painting.” Similarly, last week, a marathon rebroadcast of Julia Child’s “The French Chef” marked the launch of twitch.com/food, a 24/7 platform for livestreamed cooking (a realm also under exploration by some YouTube vets with the newly launched Nom network).

Read more at the Boston Globe

Memorial Service for Bud Collins

DSC05474

From Anita Ruthling Klaussen:

Our family wants you to attend our memorial service for Bud, so please mark your calendars and make your reservations to arrive by boat, train, car, airplane, or barefoot to celebrate Bud’s magical life with us.

  • Friday, June 17 – Bud’s Birthday
  • 2:00PM
  • Trinity Church
  • Copley Square
  • Boston, Mass.

Contributions honoring Bud

I have had an absolutely overwhelming outpouring of love for Bud since his death. Thank you for that. Many of you have asked where to send contributions …. so here is the information:

BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME

HOWARD GOTLIEB ARCHIVAL RESEARCH CENTER

  • 771 Commonwealth Avenue, 5th floor
  • Boston, MA 02215
  • 617-353-2838
  • archives@bu.edu

SPORTSMEN’S TENNIS CLUB

Sincerely,

Anita Ruthling Klaussen

17 Edgehill Road
Brookline, MA 0244
617-731-363
AnitaRuthlingKlaussen.com
Twitter: @ARKlaussen
FaceBook: Anita Ruthling Klaussen

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.

60s Love In Festival: Love Revolution :: Short Documentary :: Whats happening Mr. Silver ?

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?