“OK RCA, if you build a stereo television transmitter and TV sets, we will prove to you that you need to.”
I can take no credit for this. Credit goes to Hartford Gunn, the visionary in whose shadow many of us have built our careers.
He believed, and I concurred, that, back in the late 1960’s, the absence of stereo sound for television was not a feature WGBH management, staff, listeners, or viewers would wish to endure for a very long time. Indeed, WGBH-FM was already attracting listeners who cared about the quality of sound. Why just radio? Why not television?
“Why not” became a buzzphrase that Hartford passed on to me … and I have embraced it ever since.
Back then, all TV sets had mono sound.
All TV transmitters transmitted mono sound.
TV set makers and transmitter manufacturers pointed fingers at each other. If the transmitters only delivered mono sound, why build TV sets that could deliver stereo … and vice versa?
So, Hartford, with me in tow, went to Hollywood to observe and learn — in a few days — how the recording of stereo was being accomplished in the film and LP recording businesses. (I did my thesis research on AMPEX — another story of how the video recorder came into being)
When we returned to Boston, I reorganized part of our engineering department to create a sound department. Bill Busick, engineering leader for WGBH FM was a reluctant player in this new undefined pursuit to establish WGBH as the leader in sound production for any media. Tom Keller was the EIC (Engineer-in-Charge) and welcomed the challenge.
Why wait to follow? Get out and forge new ground. That was WGBH. That is WGBH. We had two TV stations, a film department, and a radio station. Where would this pursuit of stereo sound for television take us? We didn’t know. We had bright people on staff, and Boston was rich with talented new companies that were focused on sound. KLH was founded by Henry Kloss in the late 1950’s. He came in to help. As did others.
I came to WGBH from Ann Arbor where the-then NET (National Educational Television network) had the largest videotape duplication center in the world. I managed the national distribution to all public (then educational TV stations) of all kinescope, film and videotapes. And I managed the duplication of all film and kinescopes.
There were various processes to put sound on film products. And key producers of video programs would often come to Ann Arbor to edit sound and pictures. So, I had some background in putting sound with pictures for television distribution. But I was not the engineer/tech guru. That was Howard Town. He and I were the two VPs of NET, based in New York, that oversaw the Ann Arbor based duplication and distribution center. (On any given day we had 10,000 program units bicycling through the system)
Shortly after I left to join WGBH, my old buddy and colleague Howard Town left NET for AMPEX. (Back then, an AMPEX quarter inch tape recorder was the best there was.) Howard’s assignment was to develop a 24-track audio recorder using two-inch tape. All the “mechanics” for the VCR were in place. Why not use the concept for audio — where multiple tracks could be edited down to mono, stereo and four-track composites for the recording industry?
Naturally, Tom Keller, WGBH chief engineer, Howard Town, and myself (and Bill Busick, I think) started a conversation about syncing the AMPEX device (finally, I believe, named an MM1000) with a two-inch VCR. That took us to New York to talk to the folks who used the Selsyn Interlock system for syncing sound and pictures for motion pictures. Was there something we could learn?
While the technology development was underway, the creation of program material — and ultimate delivery of same — was front and center. The Boston Pops quickly became the lead contender for the experiment.
With all of “players” working as a team, we reached out to England to purchase a Neve audio board. We bought a truck to house it as a mobile sound recording facility. And we arranged with Howard Town at AMPEX to acquire an early MM1000. Serial number two, I believe, and that, too, went into the truck with the Neve board.
Someone, probably Bill Cosel and Hartford, worked with the Pops, Fiedler, the union and stage hands, et. al., to allow us to put cameras and lights and staging on the stage of the Pops. I remember Fran Mahard creating flats that would help us with the sound and the pictures. Back then, the lights were bright and hot. We needed the musicians to wear blue tucks instead of black, and we had to dig up the street in front of Symphony Hall to put in special transformers to handle the power we needed for lighting.
Yes, we had our big mobile television truck already in hand. Think Tennis.
A genius gentleman — Bill Pierce — produced the mix. We saved a track for mono TV, two tracks for stereo, a rehearsal track or two, and the rest of the 24 tracks were dedicated to the various sections of the orchestra. I’m sure Bill Cosel has a lot of memory and details to fill in.
After a concert by the Pops, the video came back separately (with a mono track) and the sound came back to WGBH in the sound truck. In post production, even a single note could be corrected — and was. The sound was edited to perfection. Then the video was edited to match. Now, remember, back then, editing video was done with a razor blade and a very expensive “splicer” where the cut two-inch tape was joined with aluminum adhesive tape. And the splice mark pulse was revealed by applying stainless steel “dust” in an alcohol base to the tape. (That’s another story!)
With some trial and error, we learned that we could place the video tape on machine A and the take up reel on machine B — some 20 feet or so to the right — in order to get the MM1000 and the VCR in sync. I don’t remember what it was we developed to sync the VCR and MM1000. It was a “black box.”
The broadcast, finally, was mono to channel 2 and stereo to WGBH FM. Viewers were taught to put their stereo speakers on each side of their TV set, turn off the TV sound and turn up their stereo FM amps. And the press in Boston was encouraged to watch and listen. They did … and they liked it. The new clippings were then delivered to RCA — who made both TV sets and transmitters. They “got it.” And, you know the rest of the story.
Hartford Gunn was the one who dreamed about what isn’t happening — and could or should be — and then made it happen. And that took a team of folks who had no experience of failure. Indeed, all we had was the thrill of inventing a then better “tomorrow” in the evolution of our chosen career of television.
Among the manny lessons taught to me by Hartford — from almost my first day at WGBH — was a critically important message on leadership. The first principle was, without reservation, to have no interest in WGBH being a follower or a second place player. Then, secure the most advanced technology the world has to offer, let the world know you have it, and the most talented will beat down your door to gain access to it. Hire the most creative who come forth, give them objectives and goals to be met, give them the necessary financial resources, give them encouragement and mentoring, — and get the hell out of the way!
Why is WGBH what it is today? Look around WGBH, then and now, and consider pioneering stories like this one. That’s why.
Robert Warren Davis, Emmy Award winning Lighting Designer died peacefully of natural causes on December 25. He was 94 years old.
Mr. Davis began his lighting career while working with Jean Rosenthal at the New York City Center. He joined NBC as a Lighting Director in 1951 for a temporary seven weeks as his primary goal was to be a leading operatic tenor. The temporary position with few breaks led to a thirty- two year career and association with NBC.
He retired from NBC in 1983 recognized as one of television’s leading Lighting Designers. In October of 1999 he was so recognized by the New York Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with a life time achievement award – The Silver Circle Award – for his contribution to the industry and community.
Robert Davis was born in Philadelphia on February 6, 1918. In 1937 at the age of nineteen he was awarded a scholarship to the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and in 1940 a scholarship to Tanglewood. Although the country was not yet at war the Army Air Corp denied his request for an eight week deferment.
After basic training he was stationed in Selma, Alabama and in 1941 joined the elite 50 voice chorus (conducted by Leonard de Paur) in Moss Hart’s “Winged Victory.”
Following the war Mr. Davis returned to the Academy of Vocal Arts to continue his studies. While studying he performed with the Philadelphia Opera Company. He also appeared with the St. Louis Municipal Opera and toured with the Charles Wagner Opera Company. In New York he was part of the original company of “Carousel” both on Broadway and on tour.
After “Carousel” he returned to New York to continue his studies and began working at the City Center. Among his many credits are “ Robert Montgomery Presents”, Dwight David Eisenhower’s Presidential Campaign, the first “Opening Night Gala from the Metropolitan Opera” (closed circuited to 28 cities), “Peter Pan” with Mary Martin, the “Ford 50th Anniversary Special with Mary Martin and Ethel Merman,” “Coliseum” (circus series), “Miss America Pageant” (both the stage and television show), “Bob Hope Birthday Special” aboard the Iwo Jima anchored in New York Harbor and “Live from 8H” (series of 4 music and dance specials), and “Horowitz Live” for which he won his Emmy.
He was able to work with some of the greatest opera stars of the time as they appeared on “The Bell Telephone Hour,” “The Voice of Firestone” and “NBC Opera.”
During his career Mr. Davis with NBC’s approval was Consultant to many educational television stations both for the Carnegie Commission and the Ford Foundation. In 1969–1970 he served as Lighting Consultant at WGBH, Boston. While there he was also the Lighting Designer for the first “Evening at Symphony” and “Evening at Pops” and two operas produced for NET Opera Theatre. Beginning in 1976 and for 15 seasons he was Lighting Designer and Consultant to the New Jersey State Opera- lighting over 25 operas including a world a world premier “Frederick Douglass.”
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, of 45 years, a niece Ann Shewman of Naples, Florida two great nieces and a great nephew of Philadelphia. In lieu of flowers contributions may be made to The Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-6685. His funeral will be held at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue. Details will be announced.
It all began on a hot summer’s day. The two of us waited, standing on the corner, staring hard at the passing cars. We were searching for our ride.
We waited, not quite sure of our new adventure. Not that one, not that one. Tom McGrath and I waited there for what seemed hours, our overstuffed suitcases surrounding us on the hot pavement.
It was 27th street and Oklahoma Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just up the street from Leon’s Frozen Custard Stand, an icon of all things dairy in America’s Dairy Land, and right across from Pulaski High School. I had graduated from Pulaski just four years ago. You could tell by its name that this was the South Side, and very Polish. My Aunt Jenny had a sausage shop just a few miles down Oklahoma Avenue; she had all kinds of Polish delights in her white gleaming glass cases. Kiszka, Headcheese, Mettwurst, Kielbasa, and of course, Blood Sausage.
“Hi, guys. Nice to meet you.” As we loaded the suitcases into the car, I wondered if it could actually make it all the way to the East Coast.
A big old black car pulled up and out stepped our fellow traveler, David Nohling. “Hi, guys. Nice to meet you.” As we loaded the suitcases into the car, I wondered if it could actually make it all the way to the East Coast.
Tom sat in front and I in the back, shoved in with everyone’s belongings. We were all to bear the cost of the drive — gas, tolls, etc. — we were all to take turns driving, thus avoiding the cost of having to stop at motels, just drive right on through to Boston. It was going to take 16 plus hours.
And then it hit me. This was a standard shift car! I could only drive automatics! They were kind to me. Don’t worry, we can do all the driving, they reassured me. I felt like a jerk.
On the road
The car lumbered down 27th street toward Chicago. Soon we were on the interstate heading East. Dave had figured out that if we drove at night, the car would be a hell of a lot cooler than it would be driving during the day. His car did not have air conditioning. Dave was a good planner.
Dave had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was a Communication major, very knowledgeable. Tom and I had just graduated from Marquette University, with degrees in Speech. Yup, that was what they called it.
Why us? God works in mysterious ways. I could understand why Tom was chosen. He had already worked part time at a local commercial TV station, he had experience. I had no experience. I mean, Marquette didn’t even have real TV cameras: we used wooden mock up cameras, faking TV shows. But as I huddled in the back seat, I knew the only reason I was here was because of Bill Heitz.
Bill was finishing up being a BU/WGBH scholar that summer. He had graduated from Marquette the year before. He insisted that I try to get into this scholarship program; he said it was absolutely great. You studied for your graduate degree in communication at Boston University and worked three days a week at the Educational Television station. Free tuition and you got $600 to live on for the year in Boston! Bill said this program would change my life. He was right.
I slept a lot during the trip. Darkness came and went, and we drove on and on. Then Dave gave us his real surprise. He had never been to New York City. Neither had we. He was a good planner.
It was late morning when we drove into the heart of NYC, the big enchilada. We drove through the traffic, staring up at the tall buildings. And then Dave pulled over into a no parking zone, got out of the car, opened the hood and peered at the engine as if the car was having trouble. He told Tom and I to go in first. He had stopped outside Grand Central Station. Tom and I moved though the crowd and into the giant train station.
And there he was.
Just sitting in a chair while the rest of the film crew moved around the cameras and lights. Someone came to him and asked a question. He responded, but never left his chair. Tom said “It is Alfred Hitchcock!”
We had stumbled into the filming of “North by Northwest.” There was Gary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. They were walking towards one of the train tracks.
While they were acting inside the station, Dave was doing a wonderful acting job outside. Tom and I came back and now we stared into the engine while Dave rushed into have a look.
We couldn’t believe our luck as the car headed off toward Boston.
Boston at last
I had left behind Milwaukee’s three B’s: Beer, Baseball and Bowling. And now I was in Boston with its three B’s: Brahms, Beethoven and Bach.
Several hours later, tired, sweaty, thirsty, we drove into the Boston area. We had made it, and it took just over 18 hours.
Dave turned on his radio and searched the dial. And there it was… classical music on the AM dial! Can you believe it? The only classical music station in Milwaukee was on FM and wattage so low hardly anyone could hear it. I had left behind Milwaukee’s three B’s: Beer, Baseball and Bowling. And now I was in Boston with its three B’s: Brahms, Beethoven and Bach. This was going to be some kind of year.
Heitz opened his apartment to us. We showered, had some beers, told about our trip, and went to sleep. The next day Bill took us to what he thought would be the perfect place for us to rent. It was just down the block from Massachusetts Ave., right on Marlboro street.
The 3 scholars from Wisconsin rang the doorbell and the landlady opened the door. Mrs. Gautraux. Her hair was frizzed, her elderly eyes had that crazy look after all these years of renting to college kids. She led us to the basement, to a two-room apartment fashioned around steam pipes and the furnace. “$80 bucks a month.” We took it.
She gave us the key and said we should use the backdoor for coming and going. She opened the door, which led directly to the alley. The alley. What can I say? Here among the garbage cans, cars parked in little spaces, lived some of the largest rats in Boston. Bill told us this was known as Rat Alley. Ah, yes and now it was our home.
That night Bill took us to see the latest WGBH remote. There was a huge arts festival happening in a park called the Boston Public Garden. The three of us stood besides a pond in the middle of the Garden and watched as members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra drifted by in a Swan Boat playing Handel’s Water Music. And our little TV station was broadcasting it live! Wow!
That night as bedtime approached, Tom and I acted like freshman who had just moved into a dorm. Both Tom and I had lived at home while going to Marquette. This was real freedom. Alone at last in our own space. We giggled on about Rat Alley, you know, “Snow White and Seven Rats,” that kind of thing. Stupid stuff.
The big day arrived. The 1958/59 scholars were to assemble at WGBH.We walked down Massachusetts Avenue, over the bridge into Cambridge.
Then the big day. The 1958/59 scholars were to assemble at WGBH.We walked down Massachusetts Avenue, over the bridge into Cambridge. On the bridge were strange markings, Smoots, based on a man named Smoot who was placed end to end in the ’40s by his MIT fraternity.
Finally, we arrived at the address. And there it was, right in the middle of the MIT complex of buildings. It was in a low-slung three story building. It appeared to have some non descript businesses, a drug store that served lunch, not much else. In the middle of the building was a plaque on a pillar announcing that this was the home of the WGBH Educational Foundation.
We climbed the wooden stairs leading us up to the reception area. There sat Rose Buresh, receptionist, the one person who really knew what was going on at WGBH. We were ushered into the studio. It was huge. It was once an old roller skating rink. Its wooden floor proved to be problematical when moving the TV cameras. If you went straight forward, going with the floorboards, you got a pretty smooth ride. But going across the grain, led to some very bumpy dollies. We all took notes.
We met our leader, Bob Moscone: from then on to be known as the King. Bob was once an Arthur Murray Dance teacher; a slender attractive Italian man who carried a little note card on which he kept track of what was going on at the studio. And he also controlled when we were to work at WGBH. He was the man in charge. He was the King.
His second in command was Kenny Anderson. Kenny was a young slender guy with a terrific Boston accent, full of energy. I found out later he was a true lover of women, all women. The King asked him to show us on how to hang and focus a light. Kenny climbed the ladder, moved the light and then to show off, slid down the ladder. The scholars gasped. The King smiled. He hoped we should all be able to do the same in a few days.
Our audio man was Wil Morton. He seemed to be very young but with a keen sense of professionalism. He showed us the mikes, the cables, the endless cables. Eventually we met the TV directors and producers. Jean Brady (The Queen) a sweet, lovely woman with a wonderful southern accent; Gene Nichols (the Court Jester) a quiet man with a great smile; Ted Steinke, a big smiley guy from the mid west; Lou Barlow, who seemed to smoke whenever he directed. I don’t remember him smiling much.
And then there was Paul Noble, who had been a BU scholar in Bill Heitz’s group and had just been hired as a producer/director. It is important to note here that Paul and his crew really set the culture of WGBH scholars. It was family, fun, and camaraderie. His team bonded like no other, still meeting yearly, nearly 55 years later. Paul and his team created a WGBH yellow journalism news rag, The Ille Novi. (Latin for “Here’s the News,” which were the words used by Louis Lyons each night when he opened his news program. Copies of it are in the WGBH archives.) This mimeographed tabloid told all the “real news” for the scholars. Paul once told me his greatest talent was reading memos upside down as they sat on the executives desk. Long live yellow journalism.
There was Whit Thompson, who seemed to do all the music shows. His dad was Randall Thompson, composer of symphonies and other pieces, who taught at Harvard; Lenny Bernstein was one of his students. Whit wore glasses and was very erudite. And then there was Cabot Lyford who had a nasty habit of kicking the wall every once in awhile. He was the director of the Museum of Fine Arts show “Invitation to Art,” a big remote production from one of the country’s great museums. (Not many people know that the museum was internally wired with TV cables in expectation that the MFA and WGBH would be doing shows for a long time. I wonder if they are still there.) The host was Brian O’Doherty, a visiting Doctor from Ireland who had come to Boston to study heart related illness at Harvard University.
Brian became a dear friend. Years later, Brian became head of the National Endowment for the Arts Media Panel. His panels awarded many grant dollars to WGBH. Brian was also the fine arts commentator for NBC’s Today show for 9 years and is a celebrated artist painting under the name Patrick Ireland.
Brian would occasionally invite me to have lunch at Ken’s deli restaurant in Copley Square. I mean, we never even did a show together, but he had somehow become interested in what I thought about TV and art. That was really hard to imagine. I was just a kid from the South Side of Milwaukee. It was very unexpected but complimentary. I really enjoyed the talk and the food.
An aside: the culinary arts
Tom and I existed on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pasta and cheap canned tomato sauce, and every once in awhile, a piece of meat.
Yes, the food. Food was a constant concern at our apartment in Rat Alley. Tom and I existed on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pasta and cheap canned tomato sauce, and every once in awhile, a piece of meat. Milk, when we felt really rich.
I remember one day, I traded my jelly sandwich with cameraman Don Hallock for his tongue sandwich. Tongue! I wasn’t sure about eating tongue but what the hell, it was meat. After all, I had eaten a lot of weird things in my mother’s Polish kitchen. Czarnina, a black duck blood soup with prunes and raisins; boiled chicken hearts and gizzards over mashed potatoes. I sort of liked the tongue sandwich, even though it was kinda chewy.
Brian, I can still taste those big Reuben sandwiches at Kens. Thanks. It meant a lot. More than you ever knew.
Back to introductions
Russ Morash, who would soon become one the most important producer/directors at WGBH, had just married. He and his wife took an extended honeymoon in France that summer. Russ eventually returned to direct a French Language show for kids called “Parlons Francais.” He had studied acting at BU and his wife had graduated with a degree in set design from BU, fellow theater artists. I ended up using Russ in a number of dramas that I did for PBS. The most memorable is when I cast him as a fellow TV newscaster with actress Lily Tomlin. They were perfect together.
There was also Bob Squier. Talk about energy. He was the quickest, the most animated of our directors. He took more shots in one show than most of us ever thought about. Bob soon moved on to become an independent producer and eventually became the Democrat’s PR spokesman. He appeared often with Roger Ailes, the Republican counterpart (now head of Fox Cable News). Bob passed away a few years ago. Sad.
A reflection: As I now look back at the staff of WGBH in those days, it dawns on me how young we all were. I mean, the average age of the camera people, lighting, audio was 23. Even the engineers were young; Bobby Hall, blond, happy guy; Jerry Adler, FM engineer, the only practicing Jew with a Southern accent I had ever met; Andy Ferguson, the only African American on staff, were all in their late 20’s. And the staff camera people, Don Hallock, a true artist and one of the greatest TV camera operators I have ever known, was not even 20. Bob Valtz, a recent Harvard grad who wore his tie flung over his shoulder while running camera, was 23. Frank Vento, a dark haired, intense camera/lighting person was probably near 30. Even the executives were only in their thirties.
The Executives. The visionaries who helped make WGBH so special. There was Dave Davis,manager of the station. He was a former trumpet player and lover of jazz and good music. In addition to his duties as station manger, he also directed the Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts. His was a tightly run production, which created the most sophisticated music/camera shot list ever.
It was amazing that he could take a bunch of BU Scholars along with this young staff, and make the broadcast seamless and professional. (The BSO and WGBH have paired up to release some of these early TV concerts on DVD, to be released in 2011.)
It is fair to say that Dave was the paternal figure in the organization. He didn’t say much and it was expected of you to present your questions in an exact and quick manner. He would then give a quick answer back.
Dave appreciated hard work and creativity. Once, after a music show that I did, he called and complemented the staff and me. It was really a big moment for us. That didn’t happen too often. We celebrated by going out and having a few beers at the Zebra Lounge.
Aside: The Zebra Lounge
The Zebra Lounge on the corner of Mass Ave. and Beacon Street. The home away from home. (Now, called The Crossroads.) The corner booth covered over with fake Zebra cloth. Our corner booth. A place for the young scholars to relive the day, laugh at what we did and did not do.
Our BU Scholar group broke into three groups. First, there were those who had come back from the war and were going for their master degrees. They were older, married, some with kids. Second, there were the serious scholars who wanted their degree. They studied hard, did their WGBH work and acted like adults. And then there were the rest of us.
We thought all of this was fun and games. A great time to learn, try new things, drink beer, laugh, what me worry? Not many of us finished the degree. We went to class and were responsible students, but spent most of our time at WGBH. I mean, we used to go to the studio after closing hours, crank out the big boom mike into the middle of the studio, and play volleyball. This was fun. The whole thing was fun.
Young ladies came into Tom and my lives. Tom hooked up with a sparkly woman, Peggy. I met Ruth Smith casually at the Zebra lounge. She was from Revere, graduated from Chandlers, and now was a special assistant to some big wig at Bank Boston. After a few dates, we became a number. As a matter of fact I ended up marrying her. As she likes to remind me, we will be married 50 years next March. How time files.
Back to the executives
Three important executives who influenced my life were Mike Ambrosino, Greg Harney, and Bob Larson. Bob was program manager. He had graduated from Harvard and was a practicing Christian Scientist. It was Bob who saw the potential of a TV series for a tall Cambridge woman who had appeared on our weekly book show: her name was Julia Child.
Bob thought I could only be a director since he questioned the kind of education I might have gotten at Marquette. I accepted his opinion then and said, “I will show him that there is more to me than he thinks.” He was my challenge. Years later he accepted me as someone who could become a producer. Bob passed away from stomach cancer, much too young. His religion, which he cherished, did not allow him to see a doctor. His prayers were not answered. Sad.
Mike Ambrosino, though an executive, also produced and directed a number of shows. He was in charge of creating the Eastern Educational Television Network. He also created the 21 Inch Classroom, a coordinated program between WGBH and 35 independent school systems to see if TV could be used in the classroom to enrich the teaching experience. We did a lot of 15 minute shows directed to grade school kids.
Mike did a lot of science shows, especially with Gene Gray, a teacher from Newton. It was during one of Gene’s shows that he poured some acid into a plastic cup only to see it dissolve the cup. (This is still in the archives.)Not much you could do because the show was live. Gene did a great job making the disaster into a teaching moment. Ambrosino later went on to create one of the great staples of PBS: NOVA.
Greg Harney. What can I say? He had arrived from CBS at about the same time as our crew. He was one of the best lighting directors at CBS. However, Greg was ambitious and took the job as production manager at WGBH to expand his choices. He took a hefty pay cut and supplemented his WGBH salary by teaching a grad course at BU,Lighting and Production. This was a class that all of the BU scholars took. His style of directing, lighting and program style was gleaned from his days at CBS and it was soon our style, too.
Greg and I always had an “interesting” relationship. Greg liked to call you into his office after one of your shows and critique your performance. A dear fellow director, Ed Scherer, told me how to handle these sessions. Agree and then go do what you normally do. I did this many times. Many.
Finally, one day Harney confronted me in the hallway, and accused me of not really listening to him. He had me caught. What to do? I blurted out that he was probably right. I should really listen to him. He looked relieved. Of course, I just went back to what I was doing anyway.
Greg was pushing me to be the best I could. Many years later, he said that he had tried to hire me as a director when our scholar year ended. But there wasn’t any money. He kept after me, bringing me back three times to WGBH for short stints as a director.
Then one day, when I was back in Milwaukee doing a silly job working for a Polish Newspaper, he offered me a permanent TV directing job. Somehow, he had found me at this little office where I was doing blind calls for a Polish newspaper, Novini Polski. I would call up people who were trying to rent apartments and suggest that they should rent to good Polish people who were clean and reliable payers of rent. All they had to do is place an ad with the Polish newspaper.
Greg’s offer was exactly what I was needed. I walked up to the office manager and quit. It wasn’t even 10:30.
So, for the next 50 years I did at least one show a year for WGBH. Sometimes, I did as many as 100 TV shows in a year. It became my professional and spiritual home. As I often said to the present executives, this is my station.
I haven’t said much about Hartford Gunn. He was the head of the whole thing. He was the brains behind the operation and soon left to create the whole PBS system. Hartford was there, but we didn’t interact with him on a daily basis. He was gracious to us all as he bustled about his business.
Years later, Hartford and I had an interesting confrontation. In those days, I wore white shirts and ties. Hartford grabbed me by the tie and pushed me up against the wall.
Why? My fellow producer/director Dave Sloss and I had written an internal memo criticizing David Ives for not being adventurous, as we wanted him to be.
The musician’s union had complained about our local folk music show because we didn’t pay anything. David felt we were in danger of being blackballed by the union and we should cancel the show. He said we always get in trouble when we do entertainment. Our memo took Ives to task for this position, in rather brutal language.
Hartford wanted to make a point to me while holding me by tie and up against the wall, that he too wanted the station to venture into entertainment. He warned me that we had to be careful. Go slow. I agreed with him. The folk music show continued. It was my most intimate moment with Hartford.
Fact: Our personal history is not made up by remembering specific days, but by remembering the special moments. There were three special moments during this period.
First, was my birthday party. I turned 22 in October and the gang gathered at our apartment in Rat Alley. Beer flowed, laugher filled the small apartment, there was even food that somebody brought.
And then, Hallock and Vento paraded into the packed place carrying a birthday cake. The crowd sang Happy Birthday. Then they plugged the cake into a wall socket and the whole thing exploded. BOOM! The room filled with smoke. At first, everyone cringed but then, realizing it was a joke, broke into loud laughter. In she came.
In her bathrobe.
She yelled and screamed.
The place cleared out fast.
What a birthday!
Second was Halloween. It had been decided by our crew that Educational Television was dead. It would go nowhere. ETV is dead. It was even chalked on the side of the building in Rat Alley. (I think that was me who did it.)
Anyway, it was decided that WGBH scholars, along with the staff, would join in a Halloween parade that was planned for Boston. Don Hallock, God Bless him, built a wooden coffin. They dressed Nohling up as a cadaver and placed him in the coffin and drove around the city in a convertible. A banner declared that ETV was dead. Probably no one in the crowds ever knew what it meant.
The driver of the convertible had a little too much to drink and I guess it was a pretty harrowing drive. The WGBH crowd ended up at some apartment on the seedy side of Beacon Hill. The next day, Don Hallock and I carried the coffin across town to my apartment. And there the coffin stood, propped up against our wall, open and empty. It stayed that way until I moved out months later.
Picnic in Rat Alley
And finally, the last week in the apartment, we had a picnic in the alley. Everyone brought whatever booze they had and we poured into one of our old pots. We called it a wassel bowl. English phrase I guess. As I sat there thinking about the last days in Boston, I looked over to our open apartment door. A rat quietly walked out of the apartment and into a garbage can next to the building. It was the end. The end of my scholar days. The end of a great year.
Wait! Not yet. I haven’t talked about Henry Morgenthau III.
Henry was a producer at WGBH. He was rumored to be wealthy. I know that he had a man, someone to drive him around, cook his meals. I guess you would call him a butler. But Henry was one of us. He laughed and played just like the rest of us.
But one important fact: Henry knew Eleanor Roosevelt. He convinced her to be part of one of WGBH early important shows, “http://wgbhalumni.org/2007/01/01/prospects-of-mankind-1959%e2%80%9361/Prospect of Mankind.[/intlink]” (This program is also in the archives.) Everyone was on that show; John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, you name it. And it was all because of Henry.
Henry’s father was Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury, signer of all the nations currency. And here he was, one of our producers. Henry was great. Fun and creative. He and I ended up doing a whole ton of shows together, none more important than “Negro and the American Promise.” (Also is in the archives.)
My Dad was very impressed that I knew a Morgenthau. My Dad was a lifelong Democrat. He was very pleased that I was in good company, especially the son of the man who signed all the nations money.
My Dad always said “follow the money and you’ll find the truth.” All I know is we never had enough of it in those days.
Tom and I had each derived ways of making ends meet. Some of them were not very pretty. Fortunately, Greg Harney and Henry Morgenthau were bringing in big budgeted shows that were shot on weekends. That meant the crew was paid overtime. Tom became one of the regular paid crew members. That money really helped him
However, in some kind of desperation, Tom signed up to be a medical guinea pig. He went to the Mass. General Hospital and was injected with a blood thinner. Then they took out some blood and tested to see how thin it really was. I guess it was pretty thin because of what happened next.
Tom walked home. The Doctor told him not to get hit by a car or he might bleed to death. Ha, ha, I guess this is Doctor humor. Tom told me all about it as he combed his hair in our little bathroom.
In some kind of desperation, Tom signed up to be a medical guinea pig. Tom’s payment … 15 bucks
All of a sudden, the bandage came off and he started squirting blood all over the place. I mean pumping, squirting blood. He held his arm over the tub to catch the blood. I went crazy. I handed him a towel, got the name of the Doctor, raced upstairs to the pay phone in the hallway, dialed MGH and asked for the Tom’s Doctor. As I waited, I wondered if I should have called 911.
The operator came back on and said there was no such Doctor at the hospital. Egads! I rushed downstairs to see if Tom could make it to the street where I could call an ambulance. Fortunately, he had applied enough pressure to the wound that the blood had started to coagulate. Whew! Disaster avoided. Tom’s payment for all this … 15 bucks.
My money problems were solved in other ways. Bill Heitz had told me to try and get the Sunday master control job.
The local CBS station would not carry the networks Sunday morning shows, so WGBH, as a service to its audience, worked out a deal with CBS for Ch. 2 to air the programs from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The station needed an engineer, a booth announcer and a master control operator.
I got the job. My pay was $10 for each Sunday worked. That took care of the rent.
My buddies during these Sunday stints were (usually) engineer Bobby Hall, booth announcer Bob Jones, and Jerry Adler who was right next door to master control running WGBH-FM from a small control room. We were a quiet group, sometimes fighting off hangovers, planning what we would do with the rest of Sunday.
There were talk shows, and then there was Camera Three. Camera Three had been a cultural godsend to me when living at home in Milwaukee. It did segments on the fine arts, the theater, dance, photography. It was up to speed with the NYC art scene and exposed me to ideas and concepts that were beyond my wildest dreams. It helped determine my style and approach to TV.
An aside: Camera Three and Nam June Paik
Many years later I was asked to be a guest producer for Camera Three. And to show what a small world it really is, one of the executive producers was a former BU Scholar from Bill Heitz’ group. I choose video artist Nam June Paik as the star of my Camera Three.
That meant bringing into the CBS union studio all his broken down TV’s, Charlotte Mormon, who would play her cello while wearing Paiks’ Video Bra, an upright piano which Paik would destroy, and lots of his small non-broadcast electronic gear.
It probably was the first time that this kind of electronic equipment had been brought into a studio of CBS. I think every engineer in CBS found some reason to walk through the studio on their way to wherever. And every last one of them had to stop and gaze at what Paik had created.
The show was called “The Strange Music of Nam June Paik.”
CBS never asked me back to do another show. As a matter of fact, this turned out to be their last season, Camera Three was no more.
Still, it was wonderful to see the cycle completed. From an avid viewer as a college kid to a full-fledged TV producer creating something for a show that meant so much to me. Special.
And then, my money problems were solved.
Late in that first summer, I walked across Mass Ave. heading from WGBH to MIT’s indoor pool. We were going to do some kind of remote. As I crossed the street, I was hit by a car. Not really hit, more like bumped.
The problem was that, in those days, cars had hood ornaments. This was a Pontiac, which carried a shiny Indian-face ornament. This sharp little piece of metal pierced my left side, causing a rather deep wound.
Moscone took charge. Somehow, I was in a car racing to Boston City Hospital. They took me to the emergency room. The King kept telling them it was not a knife wound. I don’t know if they ever really believed him. Anyway, they washed out my wound, stitched it up, bandaged it and told me not to lift anything heavy for six weeks. I went home and rested and healed rather quickly.
Bob Moscone took me to see a lawyer … I went to his office and with great fanfare, he presented me the insurance company’s settlement. A check for $600.
But Bob Moscone, being the King, went a step further. He took me to see a lawyer. The lawyer’s office was situated in a back room of a walkup in a seedy part of Boston. The lawyer listened, got the name of the person who hit me, and said he would get back in touch. I didn’t hear from him for over 4 months.
Then I got a message from Moscone. The lawyer wanted to see me right away. I went to his office and with great fanfare, he presented me the insurance company’s settlement. A check for $600.
This money changed my lifestyle. Since I’d dreamed of making the professional theater my career choice, I spent a lot of the money going to plays, Wednesday matinees, in Boston’s theater district. Yes, in those days, there were still plays up and running in one theater or another. It seemed like there was a new one every couple of weeks.
I became a regular in the balcony section. I shared the spot with a group of ladies who were also weekly attendees. We became great friends. They started bringing me sandwiches. They were great. I saw Carol Burnett, Tom Bosley, Tommy Tune, so many great stars. It was heaven.
I decided to celebrate my new wealth by taking Ruth out on a real date. We went to a little French restaurant, which existed on Mass. Ave. (and is no longer there). We had Duck a l’Orange and a glass of wine.
Then we took a bus to Harvard Square and went to see a New Wave French film at the Brattle Theater. The Brattle, whose theater history I knew and appreciated, was not built in the faux-Oriental style that I was used to in Milwaukee. No, the Brattle was a basic box theater with little international flags on the wall, tight hard seats, and a back screen projection system.
It was clear the audience was young, college kids, most likely, intellectuals. Probably Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Brandeis, BU.
As Ruth and I settled into our seats, it was clear the audience was young, college kids, most likely, intellectuals. Probably Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Brandeis, BU. We were early and so sat back to wait for the beginning of the film.
And that’s when it happened. Like a flash of bright white light, the truth bopped me on the head. This was the Eureka moment!
Somewhere in the theater, somebody had turned on some music to keep the customers entertained until the movie began. It was a scratchy, LP record. The audio was slowly turned up until you could finally hear it. It was a harpsichord. Oh no, it was a Scarlatti Sonata.
And right then, at that very exact moment, I knew I was a hopeless stranger in a wildly exotic land. It was as if I had been plunged into some distant planet, a planet filled with flying things, a planet so different from where I had come from that it left me speechless. Clueless. Sitting, watching, not believing — right there in the Brattle Theater!
The recorded music grew more intense, filling the cavernous room with harpsichord music. The young couple in front of us moved closer together. Tighter and tighter.
She looked up at him, lovingly.
“They are playing our song.”
“I know, I know.”
And then they kissed.
About Fred Barzyk
From IMDB: Fred Barzyk is a longtime producer/director at WGBH, the public television station in Boston, Massachusetts. His credits include: Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss (1988), The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski (1983), The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters (1982), The Lathe of Heaven (1980), and Between Time and Timbuktu (1972).
It may surprise you to know how many places the station has called home.
A converted skating rink on the second floor of this building, and the office spaces on the third, were the home of WGBH from 1955 to 1961. The television operation was launched here and, because of that, many have thought of 84 Mass. Ave. as the place of WGBH’s origins….
….but the adventure actually began here, less than a block uptown of the Boston Public Garden.
The Lowell Institute
The first offices of the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council (LICBC) were housed in small, cluttered rooms on the top floor at 28 Newbury St. The FM station had not yet materialized. LICBC educational radio programming, originated and taped here, was broadcast on various commercial stations in the Greater Boston area.
A couple of years after the LICBC vacated 28 Newbury Street, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (who’s brass lettering still tops the doorway), sold the building to Elizabeth Arden. Today , it is occupied by a Banana Republic store.
With the launching of WGBH-FM, the LICBC offices were moved to Symphony Hall at the corner of Massachusetts and Huntington Avenues. The station’s first radio studio was built here, and WGBH went on the air in 1951 with an evening broadcast of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s season opener.
The facade on Huntington Avenue.
The marquee and box offices on Massachusetts Avenue (looking toward Cambridge).
The north side (or rear) of the building facing on Westland Avenue.
“The station’s new quarters were in the northwest corner of Symphony Hall . Two utility rooms in the basement under the musicians’ room were Parker’s office and the business office… Hartford’s executive desk was a door and two iron-rod saw-horses…
“Two floors up, over the musicians’ room, the orchestra’s museum was vacated and turned over to the station. In one corner of the old museum space, a small studio big enough for , a seldom used spinet, a couple of chairs, and a mike boom, together with a cramped control room and a minuscule announcer’s booth, had been built.”
84 Mass. Ave.
This is one of the few existing photos of the 84 Massachusetts Avenue building. It was taken in 1958 by Brooks Leffler with his trusty Leica, from just across the street on the sidewalk in front of the steps of MIT.
Today the 84 Massachusetts Avenue lot is a grassy park occupying almost exactly the former building footprint. It might be read, by some, as a kind of unintended memorial.
The alley which ran behind 84 Mass. — and on which we all struggled daily to find parking— is a cement walkway. Hardly a trace of the old building can be found — unless you know where to look, and what to look for….
Our serious young guide points to “where we are”….
….and to the airy space which studio A once occupied.
Kresge Auditorium, behind the old WGBH building, and from which the first BSO telecasts originated, still stands, little having changed but the roof — newly copper clad (in response, no doubt, to the chronic leakiness of the old cement one).
The notorious Frank Lloyd Wright lecture, Handel’s Messiah, and Menotti’s The Gorgon, The Unicorn And the Manticore were televised from here as well.
And the MIT Chapel (round brick building on the right) is there as well. This view looks back toward 84 Mass. from Kresge Auditorium.
And here it is — the original alleyway, replete with sunken curb stones….
….the very ones over which one used to drive to the the Robert Moscone “Executive” Parking Space (up on the sidewalk), in which no one else dared park (except Al Hinderstien, when he was young and brash).
From the Official History of WGBH
October 14, 1961: A fire in the early morning at 84 Massachusetts Avenue completely destroys WGBH facilities. Channel 2 is off the air for all of Sunday, October 15, but, by dint of herculean efforts by staff, and superb cooperation from the community, manages to sign on at the regular time on Monday the 16th.
Emergency control room is set up in Catholic Television Center (WIHS), which also lends use of its limited studio space.
For the next seven months WGBH-TV functions as the “diffuse organization:” control rooms at Catholic Center, large-studio facilities provided late at night and on weekends by WHDH-TV on Morrissey Boulevard, films and tapes (some of which have been salvaged from the fire) originated, via network, at Channel 11 in Durham, as well as other Boston stations.
Scenic department finds home at Northeastern, arts department at B.U., programming and production offices at Kendall Square, Cambridge. Full schedule of programs maintained.
Dawn first broke on “the new WGBH” in this imposing example of textile-mill architecture bordering the west edge of Kendall Square in Cambridge.
As part of a series of lightning moves to recover our footing as quickly as possible, Rose Buresh and a new telephone switchboard had been installed within days in a vacant fourth floor office space, along with dozens of very obviously pre-owned desks, chairs, filing cabinets and typewriters.
FM was given space on the fifth floor (and was the last department to leave the location, ultimately moving directly from here into the new building at 125 Western Avenue).
Life was extremely hectic and work, frustratingly difficult to organize, but the time was characterized by a heady sense of the heroic. Until its next move, to the Museum of Science, the entire station was administered from these offices, and programming originated from a maddening patchwork of disparate locations.
The fire refugees take hold in their new digs.
“Kendall” today, viewed from either end of Kendall square.
As seen from the rear of the building, the offices of WGBH were behind the circled windows.
Bay State Road at Kenmore Square (WIHS)
In a decidedly somber old home on the corner of Grabby Street and Bay State Road, just off Kenmore Square, and not far from the Zebra Lounge, the Archdiocese of Boston maintained a 3 camera, black and white television facility to create Catholic religious programming.
It bore the call-letters WIHS (In Hoc Signum), even though it included no transmitter, and therefore had no broadcast presence. WIHS made itself visible to the community, much as WGBH had in the early years, through local commercial stations.
Following the fire, use of their “studio A,” a large, second floor, mahogany paneled, living room with a tiny music room connected, was immediately given over to WGBH during the weekdays. A small, walled-in yard in the rear of the building was roofed and turned into a master control, tape and telecine room.
At the outset, most WGBH programming originated here, while a deal was soon struck with WHDH-TV to use their large and well equipped South Boston color studios on weekends and evenings for large-scale production work.
According to a recent contribution [1/06] from Phil Luttrell, WIHS/Granby Street was itself consumed by fire in the early 1970s. The building burned to the ground. The Catholic Television Center is now located in Newton.
Clearly, “Granby” is no longer standing, but the spot on which Al Hinderstein stands in the photo would have been just between the white post and the park bench. (Al Hinderstein in the control room at Granby Street: courtesy of Al Hinderstein.)
Here Norm Gagnon (GGN Information Systems) has once again come to the rescue. His apparently voluminous archives contained materials showing Granby Street in its heyday, which he has very generously forwarded to us.
So, here it is. The Granby Street headquarters building of WIHS as it looked in what appears to be the early spring of 1956. Our back is to Kenmore Square, and we are facing the Charles River.
From RCA Broadcast News we have a photo of Sunday Mass as televised from inside the WIHS studio. That may well be Cardinal Richard Cuushing celebrating. WGBH-TV used that same space and equipment for several months until the facility at WHDH and our own remote truck became available. (RCA Broadcast News pictures of the WIHS television facility were made available by Norm Gagnon; GGN Information Systems.)
And here’s the plan of the second floor. If you’re like me, you may remember it differently. Either the actual construction didn’t match this drawing – or my memory may be faulty.
Morrissey Boulevard (WHDH)
The cars roar by here, even in the late afternoon, headed south from the Route 93 off-ramp. We’re standing beside Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, just opposite the former location of the WHDH-TV studios.
Amazingly (to me at least) the building has been torn down and replaced by a bank and insurance company offices. It had been a very expensive facility, and could not have been in use for long as it hadn’t been occupied for many years before the fire, when WGBH began to use it for larger scale, taped productions. Few people in the neighborhood even remember it.
The WHDH building housed two color-equipped studios, probably the largest in New England at the time. The cameras were RCA’s first color models (TK-41), and will be remembered as about the size, and weight, of a baby grand piano.
At first we used WHDH’s mobile unit which was equipped with black and white cameras. As soon as possible, WGBH completed and pressed into service it’s own half-constructed Greyhound bus mobile unit using three nearly retired black and white field cameras obtained from CBS in New York. They had just come back from the Olympics in Europe. All the labels had been covered over with tape, and the names were written in German.
We were the “back door gang,” parking the bus behind the building, entering and exiting through the loading doors, rehearsing and taping on weekends and often far into the night. Orchestral and choral programs; Music for White Alice, a series on film-scoring with Daniel Pinkham; Tony Saletan’s first NET children’s music series, Sing, Children, Sing; the Dynamics of Leadership series; Epitaph for Jim Crow, a series with Tom Pettigrew on the history of segregation, and quite a few other productions were shot there.
We have no pictures of the building’s exterior. This, however, is a shot typifying the (familiar to us oldsters) programming use WHDH made of it. (Photo from RCA Broadcast News of April 1961; Courtesy of Norm Gagnon, GGN)
Now here, in lieu of the WHDH building itself, we have some photos from a little film clip of mysterious origin. Conversations with Al Hinderstein suggest that these are scenes from several productions shot at WHDH studios soon after the fire.
That’s Frank Vento in picture number one (above) setting up a camera bearing their call letters. Hindy remembers: “When we first went to WHDH we used their B&W mobile unit. The series with Daniel Pinkham was shot using the mobile unit except for one show that was done in color so could chroma key the film clips behind . I remember the title of the program was Music for White Alice. It was the first time Bill Harri
s and I ran the RCA TK 41s.”
Picture number two (above) includes Al Hinderstein, an unnamed Boston University student (background), a foreground man who we still cannot identify, Bob Hall, probably Ginny Kassel, Greg Harney and, in the background, Bill “Woozy” Harris. The production is unknown, but could (Hindy thinks) be Epitaph for Jim Crow.
The last four shots are, according to Hindy, from The Dynamics of Leadership series directed by Russ Morash. The host was Malcolm Knowles from Boston University.
The photo above may show Ken Anderson doing lighting, and the same unidentified BU student. And who’s that running prompter?
Please, if you have any more information on these photos, help us with our research by sending the information to us so that it can be entered here.
Public Garden — Boston Arts
Here, it’s comparatively quiet, even though we’re in the middle of Boston at the Public Garden. For many years WGBH camped out on this location for about two weeks each spring to televise the Boston Arts Festival.
Though the weather could occasionally be chilly and rainy, the talent and presentations were world-class and hugely exciting to shoot (with little to no rehearsal). For the largely studio-confined WGBH crew, the Arts Festival was a sweet ritual of renewal in more ways than one.
From the stage (constructed each year completely from scratch), ballet, opera, orchestral and jazz music was broadcast. The open-air theater sat here, straddling the walkway, right next to the Swan Boat pond. The audience area trailed back behind us into the grassy areas shown in the pictures above.
Museum of Science
In May, 1962 — 7 months after the fire, and countless cab rides and automobile expense sheets later — a consolidation of operations and a semi-permanent home was arranged in an agreement with the Boston Museum of Science. The win-win arrangement had WGBH-TV functioning both as itself, and as one of the museum’s exhibits.
A sizable space was allotted on the bottom floor in the rear of the museum building (which was, at that time, only about a third of its present size). A well traveled hallway ran along side the studio space, and large windows were cut in the studio and control room walls so that visitors to the museum could watch the station’s ongoing operations.
The staff eventually got used to working “in a zoo,” and things went on this way for 2 years and 3 months.
Offices were located refreshingly close to the studio, in what was known as the “Red Frame Building.” This wooden, one story structure had been used as office and workshop space during construction of the museum itself.
Cool enough in the summer, but frigid-windy in the winter, it was located by the Charles River just across a parking lot (now obliterated by expansion of the museum itself). Memory suggests that the “Red Frame” may actually have occupied a pier, similar to the one shown, as it seemed that going to work each day required walking on (or at least over) water.
The station’s new studios had been in planning during this whole time and anticipation became reality in August 29, 1964 (2 months short of 3 years after the fire).
125 Western Avenue
The station’s present home , 125 Western Avenue, was a daring, one-and-one-quarter million dollar project made possible through the imagination and persistence of station management and impressive community, academic and corporate support.
And it was here that the potential, generated by the creativity, drive and resilience of the early staff, took hold, in the form of a very fine production plant, and making of WGBH possibly the most successful Public Broadcasting enterprise in the history of the medium.
Having begun in tiny offices on Newbury Street, and in Symphony Hall, the station has, in recent years, vastly extended its domain, occupying extensive real estate in the neighborhood around “125.”
A huge and labarynthine extension to its space, has been built and connected to the main building by an elevated walkway over Western Avenue.
Having begun in 1946 with a staff of less than a dozen and, in the “84 Mass. Ave.” era, expanded to something under 100, the present operation reputedly employs about 1,500 staff and boasts turn-of-the-century annual budgeting roughly 100 times greater than its 1960 level of $450,000.
Unfortunately, we have no pictures just now showing other locations more-or-less regularly used by the station.
We refer here to places like The Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Museum Open House), Sanders Theater (BSO concerts), the showroom of the Boston Gas Company (The French Chef) and the Northeastern University Scene Shop.
Perhaps these omissions can be remedied in the future.