As preparations were underway for the first WGBH auction, the planners received an extraordinary offer from a pet dealer in the Boston area.
This gentleman was in the business of importing ocelots from South America, and selling them as pets. (An ocelot is a stunningly beautiful wild cat, about twice the size of a domestic tabby.) The dealer offered to donate an ocelot kitten to the auction.
Everyone was delighted. The PR people did lots of publicity around the live ocelot to be sold at the auction.
Then one day, they got a phone call from a lady who said, “You can’t sell a live ocelot on television! They are dangerous wild animals!”
“How do you know this?” asked the PR people.
“I know because we had an ocelot, and it bit off my husband’s nose!” said the lady.
So the PR people called the pet dealer, and told him about the lady’s complaint. “Oh, don’t pay any attention to that,” said the dealer. “It’s just sour grapes because I sold her the ocelot that bit off her husband’s nose!”
In the end, we did sell the ocelot at the auction, but only after reading on the air a statement drafted by the lawyers, and requiring the buyer to sign an ironclad release also specially drafted for the purpose.
Louis Lyons used to do a 15-minute newscast every night. Louis was a salty old New Englander who said whatever was on his mind. His show was as simple as could be – just one camera on Louis. All the director had to do was cue the opening slide and announcer, and then dissolve to the camera on Louis. Novice directors were given the show as a first assignment.
One night a newbie was directing for the first time. Everything was ready to go; camera 2 was set up on Louis. Then, just before they went on the air, the engineers decided something wasn’t right with camera 2, and substituted camera 3. The director didn’t notice the change, and said, “dissolve to 2”. The switcher dutifully did as he was told, and what went on the air was a lens cap.
Louis started to talk, and then he noticed that the little red light on his camera wasn’t on. He knew very little about the technical stuff, but he knew that wasn’t right. He stopped in mid-sentence, not sure if he was on the air or not. In the control room, people are screaming “Three! Three!” at the novice director, who’s paralyzed. Finally someone reaches over and punches the button for 3. Louis appears on the air, just as he’s saying, “What the hell is going on here?”
Two days later we got a note from a viewer, who said “Thanks for the refreshing start to the news. I’m a farmer. We’ve been asking that question for years!”
Supreme Court decides blacks do have a right to vote
World War II changed the order of world power; the United States and the USSR become super powers
Cold War begins
Now that the War was over, my Uncle Ed would come home from Germany. My Aunt Frances was going to be so, so happy.
She had this colicky little baby, Edward, and she needed some help. He would cry and cry. You could hear it all over the neighborhood. He was my cousin and I felt sorry for the little kid. For my Aunt, too.
They lived across the street from us. Good old South 7th Street, that was where we lived. We were renters.
On one side of our rented house lived the Getarec’s. Their son, Lawrence, had just formed a Polka band; his friends would come over on weekends to rehearse. They were terrible. Three weeks later, they disbanded. Larry never got to do one of those weddings gigs he wanted to do so badly. Poor Larry.
On the other side of us lived the Nowicki’s. One of their clan was a hunter. Bow and arrow. He and a friend actually took down a 500 lb. Black Bear. They strung it up in their garage. The Milwaukee Journal came and took a picture. He was famous in our neighborhood.
Two young girls lived there, too. Joan and Barbara.
Barbara, lived next door, upstairs.
little kids, we played, making mud pies
under back porches,
digging dirt, all tiny pails and shovels.
Her sister, Joan, older by 4 years, taunted us
“Look! Boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Angrily we denied,
not understanding what it meant anyway,
but knowing nothing good
could come from being
We played movies,
acting out all the parts
in grassy backyards
and concrete alleys
of the Polish South Side.
We had a secret hideout
dark dense bushes
one street over.
Here we could hide.
no one else allowed.
She to Catholic, I to Public. We saw each other
but all was changing
We, evolving, living new adventures,
far from secret hideouts,
mud pies under back porches.
Becoming new people,
Why do we have to grow anew?
Left then with only distant memories
Of a little girl who lived next door,
My Mom had this vision for me. She thought it would be wonderful if I could be in show business.
I mean, her very own cousin, Johnny Davis, had a big dance band that played all the big venues in Milwaukee. His band looked something like this.
She was very proud to be his cousin. Johnny’s band had these two young guys, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson. They went to Hollywood and became movie stars! One of their movies was called “Two Guys from Milwaukee.” Movie critic, Leonard Maltin, gave it 2 and half stars. Not bad.
And my Aunt Frances, well, she was very good friends with a Polish musician from the South Side of Milwaukee. He played piano at all the fancy dinner restaurants in town. His name was Liberace.
My family was just surrounded by all these talented people.
My mother thought, “Why Not Freddy?”
So, when I was seven, she signed me up for dance lessons.
I think she imagined me to be in a show, dressed in costumes, applauded by the masses.
THE LESSONS (1943)
We climbed 101 wooden steps up
Up, to the very tip top
of the 5th Street viaduct,
Mom and I, my tiny tap shoes in hand.
We paid a nickel each and rode the Hinky Dinky,
Milwaukee’s super small streetcar.
Rattling across the South Side,
past smoke stacks,
heady smells from the yeast factory,
we emerged from the rackety ride
and hurried down Wisconsin Avenue
to the School of Dance!
We climbed 31 wooden steps up
Up, to the very tip top
of the old brick building
Mom and I, my tiny tap shoes in hand.
In the hot, sweaty dance studio,
crammed tight with little kids
tap, tap, tap dancing,
steel cleats clanging wooden floors.
the tall thin dance teacher
trying to train little feet
Click, tap. tap, pat, click. click
Mom, sat, silently, secretly,
Dreams of Show Business,
Dreams through me.
Click, tap, pat, pat, click, click
My feet stomped, banged, kicked,
Hoping to create
Click, tap. Tap, tap, pat, click
Me, a 7 year old kid,
who bought his clothes in
the Sears husky department
Click, pat, tap, click, click, click
those tap shoes took a beating.
Click, pat, tap, click.
After the fourth tap dance lesson,
riding back on the
Jiggling, clankingly, Hinky Dinky,
Breakfast, lunch, snacks
all made a nasty return.
over the hard train seats.
Mom knew the dream was gone.
She put away the tiny tap shoes
way back, in a dark hall closet,
Never to be worn again.
No more click, clack, tap.
Not for those tiny tap shoes.
For that is how dreams die… sometimes.
Without a click or tap,
But I didn’t give up on her dream. I announced that I would become a piano player! Only problem was we didn’t have a piano.
I started taking lessons practicing on a piece of fold out cardboard designed to look like piano keys. They knew eventually, I would need a real piano. I don’t think they could afford one, but somehow they managed to buy a small spinet piano. I still have it today.
I really never could play the piano, even after years of lessons. However, it was known in my neighborhood that I had a piano. This fact alone brought me face to face with a dilemma.
I had forgotten about this incident until I started writing this personal history. I learned a lesson that day: Do not judge a book by its cover.
“I can’t even remember his name”
Like a lingering shadow in my memory bank
Hanging there in the void, frozen, pale, fragile —
Almost brushed aside by other fading images
His freckled face —
His sandy hair —
His wet hazel eyes —
His grimy glasses —
So often I ignored him, thinking nothing of him
And now, I can’t even remember his name
It was the end of summer, hot and dry
He came to my porch and knocked on the door
He had never come to my house before
My God, we hardly even talked
But there he stood —
How could I have ignored him, thinking nothing of him?
And now, I can’t even remember his name
He heard that I played the piano, that I knew music
He was just a 14 year old Polish kid from the South Side
Not polished or trained in music, awkward and shy
He told me his dream and thrust the papers into my hands
Can you play it?
I wrote it myself.
I can’t play the piano, you know —
Can you play my concerto?
He stood, waiting, hoping
And I can’t even remember his name.
Where did he get the blank music paper?
How did he know about D minor?
I stared hard at his hand written notes, bewildered —
How could this be?
But there it was
It looked real,
way too difficult —
I stuttered, swallowed hard, and admitted my failings
It’s too tough,
I’ve only begun to play the piano
Maybe someone else —
He said nothing, smiled and nodded his head
took his papers back, and left
I watched as he walked away down my street
We saw each other on the playground near St. Helen’s
We played basketball and hung around a little
Summers are like that
He never mentioned our meeting
Neither did I
My piano lessons went on and on
Never mounting to much
I stopped thinking of him
I wonder if he ever heard his concerto?
I hope so.
So sad that I can’t even remember his name.
Just a lingering shadow in my memory bank
Ohio Street playground.
Concrete, stark, a battle field where kids become ensnared in the thoughts of winning and losing, fighting through fears and hoping to win, you know, throwing in the winning basket just before the final bell goes off! It doesn’t usually work out that way.
WGBH was to launch a new (live, of course) science show, and was looking for an opening that was a bit more dramatic than a 35mm slide of Madame Curie. It was decided that we would place a globe over a pan of water (you can’t make this stuff up, folks) and insert some “dry ice” into the water to create great spumes of “smoke” that would swirl like clouds around the “earth.”
After hours of intense rehearsal trying to get the right amount of ice into the right amount of water to produce the exact amount of “smoke,” we succeeded.
A moment before air time, the stage manager’s hand spun the orb. We all watched in awe as it became engulfed in “atmospheric matter.” What a shot! What an opening! There were cheers and pats on the back all ’round.
The next day the station got a call from the wizards at MIT informing us that the show was great, but that the globe had been turning in the wrong direction.
This tape was shot in the temporary studio at the Boston Museum of Science. It was intended as an in-house training tool, primarily for new BU student interns. It puroprted to be a catalog of many of the most frequently perpetrated production errors portrayed in comic relief. Response at the April reunion suggested that it was at least moderately successful in the humor department.
Original sin: Title cards are off center.
Now the titles are centered, but the super is too weak so that Ginny Kassel’s credit is almost invisible….
….and so is MINE!
The dissolve to camera 2 is successful — but the floor manager is standing way off camera right. Poor Russel has to crane his neck to see his cue, and for a long moment we wonder what on earth he is looking at.
Russel begins, but with plenty of studio background noise (headset conversations and hand jewelry on pedestal rings). He is soon slowing down, speeding up and generally stumbling over his lines due to a deficit in the Teleprompter operator’s attention-span.
And what’s this? Is Russel sporting a split lip? The rumor around the studio was a highly unlikely story about his having gotten into a bar room brawl. The other, more credible, explanation was that he had slipped in the snow and landed on his face.
At last, we’re in the groove. But no. There’s too much head-room, a serious light flare in the upper right corner and Russel has “gone soft” again.
Here’s the classic case of being in sharp focus — on the scenery.
Compounding the indignity of a slide badly mounted and scratched, a ghostly and enigmatic figure passess between the Cellomatic projector and the rear screen.
And….ooops! The boom operator was asleep at the wheel. Russel and George Spelvin (who was he really?) rise and nearly collide with the mic.
The unkindest — and funniest — cut of all dosen’t show clearly on the tape. The sound track, however, betrays the stage manager scurrying to get out of the way as Russel and George move camera right to examine a priceless piece of sculpture. In his rush, stage manager, Steve Gilford, upsets it’s pedestal, sending the porcelain ducky crashing to the floor. As much of a hoot as this was, the spoof proved precognitive, as some years later, at the Museum of Fine Arts, a genuine, ancient, Egyptian marble statue was similarly atomized by poor Greg McDonald’s otherwise impeccable camera craftsmanship.
The inquisitorial voice of someone we think is Bill Lenz, impersonating “the director,” takes each crew member to task for their errors, and elicits explanations for, and solutions to, the mistakes.
A thoroughly humiliated Steve Gilford cops a guilty plea to every production crime from bad cueing to visible spike-marks and camera cables, going off headsets, misplacing furniture and destroying priceless objects of art. He promises better conduct in the take.
Teleprompter operator, Frank Brady, graciously accepts responsibility for rendering Russell’s script unreadable. Frank was always a sweet kid.
Camera 1, Mark Stevens, catches hell for excessive headroom, jerky dollies (caused by yet another stage manager screw-up — Gilford standing on the camera cable), on-air lens-flips and shooting off the set as a result of running into the boom wheel while dollying back. More promises. (Catch the aluminum foil viewfinder shade.)
The Cellomatic projectionist (who we can’t identify just now) acknowledges slides left over from other shows, a picture which probably fell on the floor and got stepped on and not stopping crew members from crossing behind the rear screen — on the air.
Our unnamed boom operator apologizes for locking down the boom and then relaxing on a stool. He asks for a monitor so that he can check his microphone height. And the “director” encourages better workmanship in the dress rehearsal.
The closing credits bore the names of a few other friends who didn’t show up in the tape.
And finally, Russel reads from the gloomy reminiscence of Michelangelo Buonarroti. The famous renaissance artist sounds as if he may have been reflecting on a life spent in broadcasting studios. More likely, however, is that the master’s words simply put voice to Russel’s feelings about years of almost endless emotional stress, writing and performing the weekly MFA television program.
I think it’s time to tell the story of who filled 125 Western Avenue with the smell of cooked bacon that got trapped in the air condition system during the summer of 1970.
Yes friends, it was me.
It happened while working on a show with Ralph Nader, a show to demonstrate facts about suspect-chemical-additives in various food products such as MSG in baby food, that sort of thing.
And so there I was with my animation camera & lights, holed up in some remote, dark corner of the building, surrounded by a mountain-high assortment of packaged foods and preparing for the next sequence, an expose’ about BACON.
I put several pounds of the fatty-stuff in an electric frying pan and proceeded to time-lapse the cooking of it for the best part of an hour. The visual result, as the mound of bacon cooked to a seared crisp, was spectacular.
But meanwhile, I’d not realized the air conditioning system had sucked in the bacon-fumes and was pumping them generously throughout the building. The smell lingered for several days. It was only later I learned of the mass nausea it had caused.
So there you have it; the cat is out of the bag; or the pig is out of the package, or something like that!
The Boston Symphony Orchestra was one of the highlights of WGBH programming back in 1957–58. Hey, anything was better than Words, the one-camera show on which I earned my credit as a director.
If you recall, symphony rehearsal performances were open to the public. We shot that show with three cameras, #1 on the left, #3 on the right, and #2 at high center — the nose-bleed portion of the balcony.
The orchestra played, shots were rehearsed, and finally, the music stopped. As the #2 cameraman was shutting down his camera, he encountered an elderly gent sitting up there in the higher regions of the theater.
Being friendly, our cameraman asked the old man, “How’d you like the performance?”
“It was great,” the man shot back, “but where’s your beam of light.”
We had a more demanding audience back then.
(This incident really did happen, in Sanders Theatre at Harvard; but does anyone remember who the mystery cameraman was?)
… When I’m finished
Speaking of anecdotes, remember this.
One of the break-in shows for the new WGBH scholars was to work the Louis Lyons news show. He sat behind a desk, reading his commentary to a tabletop mike in his glass enclosed soundproof room (the FM studio, actually). The camera, outside the room, shot through a glass partition, but there was a “stage manager,” lying on the floor, out of camera range next to Louie to tell him when he was on the air.
Being neophytes, we did everything we were told. And on this particular night, when the director told the state manager to give Louie the sign to wrap up his news report, Louie turned to the trembling scholar and, in a testy voice said, “Young man, don’t tell me to get off the air. I’ll get off when I’m finished and not before, understand?” That one got a howl from everyone — except the kid on the floor, who wished for nothing more than to be able to tunnel his way out of the building.
A story from yore. One night we were rehearsing a violin and piano duo who frequently played the high classics on Performance. Fuchs and Balsam were a somewhat self-impressed pair who had become known fondly around the studio as ‘Screws and Hemlock.’
After rehearsing their pieces, they and the crew took a break, about 20 minutes before going live. During the break, one of the crew (who’s name we can’t recall) sat down at the piano and played a few contemporary songs.
When the concert musicians returned from their break, Fuchs, the violin virtuoso, ran some cat gut across the strings without incident. And Balsam, the pianist, danced his fingers across the ivories to limber up. After a few seconds, though, Balsam rose from his bench, aghast, and declared, ashen faced…. ‘Someone has been playing jazz on my piano!’
One of the first things Dave Davis undertook when he came from the University of North Carolina in 1956 as production manager, was to begin revamping our rather sloppy production procedures. Dave was a man who (to put it mildly) valued precision.
Irritating as it seemed at the time to us (relative neophytes), his efforts were all to the good — even, in fact, critical to much of the eventual success of WGBH as a production organization. The standard-setting quality of the Boston Symphony broadcasts, and WGBH’s other music programming, was a direct result of Dave’s efforts.
A pet concern of his was the way directors called shots to their switchers. In order to plant a cut exactly where it ought to go, Dave instructed directors to word their command to cut to camera 1 as, "one….one….one….take!" The switcher was thereby warned of the next camera number, and that the transition was to be a cut and not a dissolve.
The word "take" determined exactly where the cut was to happen. In the case of a dissolve (the only other transition we could accomplish in those days) the command was "Ready one….d-i-s-s-o-l-v-e one" (usually accompanied with a wave of the hand to describe to the switcher the relative speed of the change). Onerous to remember at first, but highly effective.
Now, there was a Boston University intern who, for our purpses will remain nameless. The fellow was known for his waggish and quirky sense of humor (he would, for instance, leave a ladder in the corner of the studio, as he described it, "idling").
On one particular evening, during the process of shooting a fairly complex music show live on three cameras, the director became a bit flustered. Having lost his place in the score, and stuck with a shot of a musician who whas no longer playing, he had no idea what to do next. In his growing anxiety he bagan to bark commands.
What came out was, "Where the hell are we? Oh, God damn! Three . . . two . . . . one . . . . . . . . . . . Take!"
Yoeman to the end, our student followed his instructions to the letter. His index finger stabbed the buttons for cameras 3, 2 and 1, in quick succession.
No one in the control room could quite believe their eyes and ears. The director — who had begun, and now completed, his journey on camera 1 — was in just as deep trouble as before. And the home audience probably thought we had suddenly gone avante garde.
John Musilli was one of the original ten in the Scholars ’58 crew arriving in Boston in June, 1957. Fresh from graduation at Seton Hall University, this Paterson, New Jersey, native was one of the best-prepared and most-talented production people ever to climb the stairs at 84 Massachusetts Avenue.
John was in love with his childhood sweetheart Linda Antonucci. He raced to his Ford coupe every Friday night after signoff at 10:30 or so. He headed straight home, making New Jersey, he claimed, in three hours and forty-five minutes, smoking his trademark Luckies all the way. Those were the days when the Mass Pike was brand new and relatively empty. John was back in class or studio early Monday. When had he slept?
John and I were roommates at 414 Beacon Street in the boarding house of Mrs. Molz, heavily populated by MIT grad students. I remember watching the first Sputnik one night from the roof of the house along with the techies.
I recall John’s projects while at BU, including a 16mm commercial he produced about TIME Magazine. His master’s degree was delayed a year, because he couldn’t get to his thesis. Paperwork wasn’t his passion. His mother begged me to convince him to complete it. John found a topic that really appealed to him. He came through with an analysis of the CBS Color System, which at that time was in direct competition for government approval with the NBC system. NBC eventually won out, but John declared up until his death that the CBS system would have been better!
At WGBH, John’s special weekly project was to produce and direct “The Film Critic” with Professor Norman Holland of MIT. John always found a unique way for Norman to introduce that week’s film. For example, for the submarine movie “Run Silent, Run Deep,” John submerged (via superimposition) Norman in a fish tank.
When John left Boston in the summer of 1958, he moved right into a production assistant job at WCBS-TV, channel 2 in New York, quickly becoming indispensable as a director there, doing everything from news to sports and cultural programming. He worked for years with football star Frank Gifford, who anchored the nightly sports review program.
His major achievement at WCBS-TV was the weekly production and direction of perhaps the most distinguished local cultural program ever produced, “Camera Three.” This half-hour show lasted from the fifties through the eighties, focusing on all the arts including jazz, classical music, ballet, film, and theater. John and his partner, writer-producer Stephan Chodorov, saved the entire library of shows when the series ended in the early 80’s, bought and preserved the tapes, and continued the tradition for public television in the form of series and specials. All of the shows still exist, and that library is a great repository for television and film producers everywhere.
After CBS, John and Stephan first had offices in the former Met Life building on Madison Square. When I eat at the new restaurants Tabla or Eleven Mad Park now installed in the building’s art deco lobby and bank offices, I think of John’s spirit directly above. In the final years of the company, John and Stephan moved their offices to Greenwich, Connecticut.
John did free-lance work, too, and once directed a pilot I was producing hosted by then Mets star pitcher Tom Seaver and his wife Nancy.
John and Stephan’s “In Performance at the White House” specials and other programs used during fund-raising pledge weeks in public television were brilliant and set the standards for similar shows to follow.
One of the most intriguing specials they ever did was a biography of Mario Lanza, with its unusual outlook on the circumstances of the great tenor’s bizarre death.
When Paulette and I were married in 1988, John and Linda provided a special celebration for us, dinner and dancing at the Rainbow Room, one of John’s favorite spots, atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It was a wonderful evening, and especially memorable because of John’s generosity and affection.
After John’s passing (of esophageal cancer in 1991), Bill Heitz summed it up for us in a letter. “John liked to laugh and make people laugh. He wanted to make good, quality television. He married Linda, whom he loved, and was proud of, and they produced their son Paul, whom he loved and was proud of.”
I last saw John and Linda at their Florida winter home in Vero Beach in the summer of 1991. We ate pastrami sandwiches and drank pina coladas that long warm afternoon, talking about our halcyon days. He was so cheerful for a man who knew his days were numbered.
I know that Vic Washevich and I miss those occasional New York lunches we shared with John, and the phone conversations which inevitably began “You fool!” And all of us from Scholars ’58 — Jean Brady Moscone Jolly, Don Mallinson, Stew White, Ed Donlon, Bill and Vic -— recall him with fondness and admiration.
Once upon a time, as I recall, the Educational Television station in an eastern city called Boston produced a daily late-afternoon children’s program.
That program was known as “Ruth Ann’s Camp.” And in the “camp,” each day, Miss Ruth Ann would bravely lead eight grammar school children through an hour of “fun and games” … activities designed to challenge and improve young minds.
Miss Ruth Ann was a blond, bouncy, take-charge kind of small female person, who was, in the off-camera world, known to get a little testy from time to time. The young visitors to the camp never saw this side of Miss Ruth Ann.
Now, on one particular afternoon, such usual camp activities as making oobleck and tooth brushing lessons had been put aside so that the children could spend time with a new visitor, namely a darling, adolescent chimpanzee.
For the purpose of the broadcast, the chimp had been put completely in Miss Ruth Ann’s care. Carrying him like a baby, astride her hip, Miss Ruth Ann introduced the animal to the kids, and vice versa. The chimp grimaced and hooted, curled it’s lip and coyly traded toys with the delighted children.
Approaching the end of the broadcast Miss Ruth Ann rose and stepped forward, with the kids in tow, to deliver some final words to the children at home about animals and what wonderful friends they can be.
At some point, early in the monologue, the studio crew became aware that something was going very wrong. The stage manager motioned to the cameraman, calling his attention to the situation. Responding, the cameraman quickly dollied forward a tiny bit to a tight waist shot, just eliminating the nether end of the chimpanzee and everything south of that.
Unfortunately for Miss Ruth Ann, the diaper the chimp was wearing had slipped aside just enough for a huge, rather liquid, simian dump to surge onto her shorts, ooze its way down her bare leg, over and into her clean white sneaker and outward to pool around her feet on the studio floor.
The stage manager, dutifully following instructions from a control room blissfully unaware of the dire dilemma their star was in, signaled her to stretch, being as how there was still two and one half minutes to go before closing credits. All the audience could see was the scene-stealing monkey adoringly hugging Miss Ruth Ann like his own mommy, and his prisoner-of-love desperately trying to ad lib her way out of an eternity of deep doodoo!
To her credit, the audience never did discover her plight. Somehow, Miss Ruth Ann managed to sound rational for the remainder of the program, accompanied by a helpless studio crew strangling in their desperate attempts not to guffaw out loud, and a newly aware, and incredulous, control room convulsed in laughter.
At long last, the stage-manager slit his own throat with his index finger, signifying to poor Ruth Ann that the show was off the air. There was a moment of silence … and then a single, descriptive expletive echoed through the studio. The children surrounding Miss Ruth Ann looked up at her, somewhat shocked and mystified. They all dispersed into the conference room where their unknowing parents waited. The well-meaning chimp was express-mailed into it’s trainer’s arms. Miss Ruth Ann disappeared post-haste to the lav to do we know not what. And, by order of “The King,” the crew set to with buckets and mops to clean up the awful mess.
The event took place on a Friday, thank God. On Monday, Ruth Ann’s camp would go on the air with a fresh group of children. And the incident was, I believe, never spoken of again.