“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 5 – Opera, Film, and a Dream

This entry is part 20 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

barzykThis is the fifth in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director. Don Hallock has been kind enough to add his notes [in brackets].

“While memory can be unreliable, it is always meaningful. The WGBH story will not be taken seriously until it is printed.”

Opera and WGBH

When I came to WGBH in 1958, the station had a contract for a major kinescope series on dance.

The series was a big deal and WGBH ventured further into large-scale shows. None more so than our efforts with Opera.

Greg Harney was the catalyst for this effort, forging working relationships with the local universities and music departments. The big production break through was the use of a live orchestra. A full 100-piece orchestra was setup in Studio B. Full audio was piped live into Studio A with the singers responding live to the music. The conductor watched from a close circuit camera and was able to control the orchestra to the action happening on screen. All of this was aired LIVE and it worked wonderfully. I do not remember how many operas we did, but one of them was assigned to me.

I knew nothing about opera. I had seen one on TV as a kid growing up in Milwaukee. It was a CBS production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute.” The opera I was to direct was “Trouble in Tahiti” by Leonard Bernstein. The New England Conservatory staged the production. My job: to cover the action. I was way out of my field, but I did the best I could. No major goofs.

Later, Harney joined forces with Sarah Caldwell and the Opera Group she headed. WGBH did a number of operas with her.

I worked on one of the operas. It was Luigi Nono’s “Intollerzana,” a contemporary opera that was very controversial because of its Communist sympathies.

NET provided the funds for the coverage of the live stage performance. The staging had various people holding up white posters and then images were projected on to the posters.

When Greg directed the show from the Opera house, the cameras could not read the posters. The projector’s light was not strong enough to let the TV cameras see them. I was asked to re stage these parts of the Opera in Studio A. This would allow us to use a stronger projector and make sure the audience could read the graphics. All of this had to be OK’d by Sarah.

Sarah was quite a strong and demanding artistic director. No one crossed her without getting sued. I had a pretty good relationship with her and all seemed to be going just fine. The studio had been booked, actors hired, all graphics in place.

Then Sarah decided she needed more time to think thru what we were doing. The cost would be enormous if I had to cancel, so Greg and I decided to go ahead with the fixes. On the day of the production, I received a stop and desist order from Sarah delivered by a policeman.

I looked at Greg, he looked at me, and we said what the hell, lets do it. We did edit the pieces in, and eventually Sarah said it was OK. It was aired on NET to mixed results.

I believe we never did another opera again.

The (temporary) end of film

Because of a serious film production problem in the early days of WGBH, the use of film was outlawed. Here’s what happened.

In 1957-58, WGBH had a contract to do a major film on the “International Geophysical Year.” The project was to make films about scientific research, as it was happening, which is the most expensive and dangerous way to make a film.

After completing one, leaving several unfinished, the film department was closed. People were fired. The project shifted to Louis de Rochemont Films and lots of finger pointing and paying money back to the National Science Foundation.

It was announced that no film was ever to be used in a WGBH show.

Fast forward to the 80’s. WGBH was creating so many shows on film, that we had 35 Steinbecks working on projects. We had run out of rooms at our studios, and had to rent motel rooms at the Ramada Inn down the street.

Finding the film

I don’t know if this story was ever supposed to get out. I believe it is true, since the person who was involved in the incident told it to me.

Here is the situation. NOVA asked archives for a very specific piece of video. The staff searched the archives and could not find it. The person from NOVA, who requested the video, knew it existed because he/she had been the producer who shot it. The research staff went back again into the vault and after many days they still could not find it. And here is what happened next.

NOVA, our flagship Science show, hired a Dowser from California to come to WGBH and find the video. This Dowser arrived with an assistant and they spent 3 days in the archives vault. After 3 days, using their own system of investigation, they found the missing video. Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction.

A dream not realized

In 1962 I met Joe Raposo, a Harvard student who was a musical genius. He later went on to write most of the great songs for “Sesame Street.” Frank Sinatra called him one of America’s best songwriters.

From Wikipedia: Sinatra recorded four of Raposo’s songs on his 1973 album Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back. Sinatra insisted the album be composed entirely of Raposo’s compositions, but the record label balked and prevailed over Sinatra, limiting him to four. Jonathan Schwartz reports that Sinatra idolized and popularized Raposo and his music, frequently attending Raposo’s parties at his and first wife Susan’s New York apartment during the 1960s with glamorous friends and several cronies, including Leo Durocher. More…

I hired Joe to write a musical intro to a kids show I was doing called “All About You,” for WGBH’s 21 Inch Classroom.

But Joe and I had bigger plans. I always dreamed of doing an original TV musical. As a kid in Milwaukee, I had watched a TV musical on CBS. It was called “Love and Marriage” starring Frank Sinatra. It was “Our Town” adapted into a musical. Its lead song “Love and Marriage” became a hit.

Joe tuned into the idea.

He felt comfortable writing the music but needed someone to do the lyrics. He introduced me to his friend, Tom Lehrer.

I couldn’t believe it. Tom was a legend.

From Wikipedia: Thomas Andrew (Tom) Lehrer  is an American singer-songwriter, satirist, pianist, and mathematician. He has lectured on mathematics and musical theater. He is best known for the pithy, humorous songs he recorded in the 1950s and ’60s. More…

Tom Lehrer Full Copenhagen Performance

Raposo and Lehrer were willing to work on the musical for no money, in hopes we could produce it on WGBH. What we needed was a play. I had seen an obscure play done at Harvard that year. It was a British drama about a grisly subject. I had my wife type up the script and after an initial read it was agreed that this would be the story. Tom wanted Jerry Colonna to be the lead character.

From Wikipedia: Gerardo Luigi “Jerry” Colonna (September 17, 1904 – November 21, 1986) was an American comedian, singer, songwriter, and trombonist best remembered as the zaniest of Bob Hope’s sidekicks in Hope’s popular radio shows and films of the 1940s and 1950s. More…

Tom Lehrer said that he had the largest collection of Colonna records ever assembled. And the name of the play?

“Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

(You can imagine how different this version of Sweeney Todd would have been from Sondheim’s!)

We did write the opening 3 songs but soon other projects got in the way. Tom Lehrer says he still has those songs in his basement. I never did get to do an original TV musical.

Vonnegut and Barzyk: Between Time and Tibuktu

This entry is part 19 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the fourth in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director. Watch the entire video, Between Time and Timbuktu, below.

posterFrom Fred Barzyk

“Between Time and Timbuktu or Prometheus-5: A Space Fantasy by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.” was an idea hatched by David Loxton who was working for NET Playhouse, led by Jac Venza. This is how the 1974 TV show happened.

I had just produced my third local drama for WGBH called “The Pit.” This time, WGBH gave me a budget to cover the costs of the production, unlike the earlier two: ”Five Days” and ”2 for Laughs.” It was a crazy play about a little old guy who tried to save a little girl who had fallen into a large pit. Of course, the old guy can’t get her out and is misunderstood by everyone. He is accused of all kinds of things, including a Senator declaring him to be un-American. Eventually, the police carry his limp body off the set. The girl never did get out of the Pit.

David predicted the scene Kurt would love is when the old man is seated on the pit trying to convince himself that things could be worse. He starts naming off all the diseases that one could get. It goes on and on, on and on, getting funnier and funnier. David was absolutely sure Vonnegut would get the humor and let us produce a drama with him.

Vonnegut lived in Western Mass, an hour drive to WGBH. Jac Venza and WGBH invited him to WGBH studios to view “The Pit” and talk to him about doing a drama for NET Playhouse. He thought the scene was funny and amazingly agreed to let us take all of his works, put them into a blender, and come up with something new. I was speechless.

vonnegut

Kurt was commissioned to be an advisor on and contributor to the script. David O’Dell did the first draft of the script. Everyone then added their contributions. Kurt looked for an idea that would create an over-arching plot line. He was amused by America’s endless fascination with space travel. He proposed that a poet had entered a jingle contest and won a space trip to the “Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulium.” He insisted that the actor playing Stoney Stevenson had to be William Hickey.

Kurt had first met Bill Hickey at the filming of his novel “Slaughter House-Five.”

Slaughterhouse-Five is a 1972 anti-war/sci fi film based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel of the same name about a writer who tells a story in random order of how he was a soldier in WW2 and was abducted by aliens. The screenplay is by Stephen Geller and the film was directed by George Roy Hill. It stars Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, and Valerie Perrine, and features Eugene Roche, Sharon Gans, Holly Near, and Perry King. The scenes set in Dresden were filmed in Prague. The other scenes were filmed in Minnesota.

Vonnegut wrote about the film soon after its release, in his preface to Between Time and Timbuktu:

“I love George Roy Hill and Universal Pictures, who made a flawless translation of my novel Slaughterhouse-Five to the silver screen … I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book.”

man-croppedHickey had a small role in Slaughterhouse-Five. One day Bill Hickey invited Kurt to his trailer. Kurt was dumbfounded that his trailer had no chairs or tables, just an empty hull. When he asked why Hickey didn’t have chairs or tables, Bill said he didn’t want to bother anyone. He had lived this way for 2 weeks, just sitting on the floor. Vonnegut loved this guy. And we did too.

This was an NET production (they funded most of the production) co-produced with WGBH (who paid for the rest) Most of this was shot in Boston by cinematographer Boyd Estus. Here is what Wikipedia has to say.

Between Time and Timbuktu is a television film directed by Fred Barzyk and based on a number of works by Kurt Vonnegut. Produced by National Educational Television and WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts, it was telecast March 13, 1972 as a NET Playhouse special. The television script was also published in 1972, illustrated with photographs by Jill Krementz and stills from the television production.

The script was primarily written by David Odell, with contributions from Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, and the film’s director. Vonnegut himself served as an “advisor and contributor to the script.”

Where to begin? I asked Kurt what he really wanted to write about. He really wanted to write humor bits for Bob and Ray. I said I know them and I am sure they will do your TV movie.

Bob and Ray was an American comedy duo whose career spanned five decades. Composed of comedians Bob Elliott (1923–2016[1]) and Ray Goulding (1922–1990), the duo’s format was typically to satirize the medium in which they were performing, such as conducting radio or television interviews, with off-the-wall dialogue presented in a generally deadpan style as though it was a serious broadcast.

The duo did more television in the latter part of their career, beginning with key roles of Bud Williams, Jr. (Elliott) and Walter Gesunheit (Goulding) in Kurt Vonnegut‘s Hugo-nominated Between Time and Timbuktu: A Space Fantasy (1972), adapted from several Vonnegut novels and stories. (Vonnegut had once submitted comedy material to Bob and Ray.) Fred Barzyk directed this WGBH/PBS production, a science-fiction comedy about an astronaut-poet’s journey through the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum. This teleplay was first published in an edition that featured numerous screenshots of Bob and Ray and other cast members.

In 1973, Bob and Ray created an historic television program that was broadcast on two channels: one half of the studio was broadcast on the New York PBS affiliate WNET, and the other half of the studio was broadcast on independent station WNEW. Four sketches were performed, including a tug of war that served as an allegory about nuclear war. The two parts of the program are available for viewing at the Museum of Television & Radio.

(I will eventually write about the double channel show that was also broadcast by WGBH Channels 2 and 44. I wrote and directed the Bob and Ray segment called “The Yin and Yang of It.” I also directed the first HBO Entertainment Special which was the Bob and Ray’s Broadway Show: “The Two and Only,” 1970. It was a co- production between WGBH & HBO and shot in Studio A with an audience. More on that later.)

Now, back to Between Time and Timbuktu.

brucieThe writer, David O’Dell, laid out a first draft of the script and that was passed on to Vonnegut for revisions. Kurt added a terrific opening scene in which an announcer (“Juicy Brucie” the number one DJ on NYC radio at the time) surprised Stony and his Mother at their home declaring him the winner of the Tang Grand Prize of a trip into outer Space.

David and I searched for locations in Boston: the ancient operating room in Mass General Hospital; a large freezer in a Waltham warehouse; a park outside Boston with pond and massive trees; exterior streets and buildings in the city.

We secured the studios of Catholic TV in Watertown and built a set housing Space Central control. It had a window overlooking the set for the TV hosts, Bob and Ray.

I gathered all my local non-union actors for the massive crowds needed. The Old Man from the original “The Pit” drama, (Ashley Westcott) now appeared in the operating room, completing the loop. Studio A at WGBH served as the stage for the handicapped Ballet. It was truly a grab-bag experience. But it was a crazy lot of fun.

This was the most organized directing job I ever had done.

man-girl-croppedWe were on a tight budget with no room for mistakes. There was one scene in which Stony was to be enclosed in a padded cell. Since he was whipped back and forth from Space to Earth and talked about it, he was considered insane. It was a Saturday and Hickey was to have taken the train to Boston for the shoot. He was “under the weather.” His Mom had to accompany him. I shot the damn scene in every possible direction but it never really worked. We had to abandon the scene.

Special moments

  • Stony finds himself on a dark street in Watertown looking for a pay phone to call into Control. He finds a pay phone (a prop we set up) and he tries to explain to the people in Control he is not out in Space but in Schenectady. Control tells to get back into Space but before he can do it the windows start to freeze up. Cans of fake snow were used. Finally, he is totally covered up and disappears into the Freezer scene. The crew loads up the gear and when I look over to the phone booth… a car stops, a guy jumps out and goes into the phone booth, tries to make a call, and when it doesn’t work, he crashes out swearing like hell. He never noticed the police, the flashing squad cars or our lighting gear and trucks. I guess he believed in miracles.
  • We could not afford any film Special Effects, so we resorted to video where we could superimpose, etc. Then we transferred them to kine for inclusion into the show. The most elaborate ones were the handicapped ballet and Stony’s dance with several other dancing images of himself.
  • bob-ray-croppedBob and Ray did a one-day shoot at Control Center. They followed the O’Dell script with add-ons from Kurt. At the lunch break, I felt that some of the bits weren’t giving them a chance to free form and improvise. I sat over my sandwich trying to come up with an idea that would give them some leeway. And then it hit: “One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind” The gimmick? They can’t remember the exact wording. They just went on and on, getting more outrageous and silly. I was watching Kurt who was standing just outside the set. He was laughing his guts out (his words). Bob and Ray said they received more phone calls from friends about how terrific they were in this movie. That was really nice.

And then the big day came. David had secured permission to shoot in the abandoned World Fair Grounds outside New York City. It had a major open arena and a large globe of Earth standing in the ruins of a once grand concourse. David arranged for schools to bus in hundreds of kids, a large marching band, and a fire truck to bring Stony to our vision of heaven. (Kurt always said it was out version, not necessarily his.)

In this scene Stony stands up to his worst nightmare, Hitler. The O’Dell scene was quite short and not really developed. Then, just as we arrived at the location that morning, Kurt shows up with a whole new scene: a fight scene between Hitler and Stony. It was spectacular. He had stayed up all night writing it and we scrambled to make it happen. We were in awe of Kurt’s generosity allowing us to create something so important.

His new conceit for the scene? Stony could overcome the worst nightmare of his life, Hitler and his reign of death, by using his “imagination.”

It was imagination over Death.

The fight between Hitler and Stony was an imaginary battle that Kurt felt deeply. Each tries to make the other disappear, causing pain and anguish. Our meager Special Effects never reached the intensity that Kurt had written, but we tried. And then: Stony, battered and spent, wins. Hitler disappears. And then, Kurt in a moment of filmic inspiration, he has Stony use his “imagination” to make the marching band appear and disappear.

(In my estimation, this is one of the clearest explanation of what drove Kurt’s imagination. His experience in the war had left him devastated. His novel “Slaughter House Five” was one way to expel the demons. This was another chance to clear the air.)

And so it goes, as Vonnegut has said many a time.

Between Time and Timbuktu 1972

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.

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 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

The Making of “The Lathe of Heaven”

This entry is part 15 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

By Fred Barzyk — 12/2015

FredIt is still amazing to me how many people of a certain age remember watching this TV movie. I mean it was 1979 when it aired! It was on PBS, whose ratings were nowhere near the networks audience numbers. That’s a long time for a TV movie to stick in someone’s memory bank. It is very gratifying and wondrous. A tribute to Ursula Le Guin and David Loxton.

Let me begin at the beginning. David Loxton, an ambitious young Englishman was working for Jac Venza at WNET New York. Jac was head of cultural programs and David was one of his main assistants. I was working at WGBH Boston doing a show called “What’s Happening, Mr Silver?” David Silver, also a young Englishman, was teaching literature at Tufts University in Boston. Silver and I got together to create an experimental show, “What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?”

mrsilverThe year? 1968. The summer of The Love Revolution! Hippies! Drugs! Don’t trust anyone over 30! Free Love! Love-ins! I was asked to produce and direct a series reflecting the Cultural Revolution and David Silver became the on camera host. He was in his early 20’s, English and looked a lot like Mick Jagger. And he was teaching at a University! Perfect for our audience. The two Davids knew each other from school in England. David Loxton came to watch one of our productions. He couldn’t believe what we were doing. Sometimes we couldn’t either. I almost got fired … twice.

The show lasted almost a year and tested the very boundaries of television. We were the first to do a double TV broadcast. The show asked the audience to take two TV sets and place them six feet apart, turn one TV to Ch. 2 and the other to Ch. 44 (both owned and operated by WGBH). The audience was presented a show that was in stereo, both in picture and sound. The images and sounds were different on each channel. They were responding to each other while the audience tried to relate the happenings on the two screens.

loxton-crop2David Loxton and I became partners in doing television shows together. We produced “People” for NBC starring Lily Tomlin; “American Pie” for ABC with Joe Namath; “Flashback” hosted by Eric Severeid and “Countdown to Looking Glass” for HBO; “Phantom of the Open Hearth” a drama by Jean Shepherd for PBS; “Between Time and Timbuktu” a crazy mix of the writings of Kurt Vonnegut for PBS.

I was also instrumental in getting David the directorship of WNET’s TV Lab, an experimental project similar to the WGBH New Television Workshop that I ran for 10 years. Each of us had different strengths but usually assumed a shared producer/director credit. In practice, David was the producer and I was the director. We ended up doing many shows for HBO, a special for NBC with Lily Tomlin, and many dramas for PBS.

leguinDavid had a vision for doing sci-fi dramas for PBS. However, the label of “sci-fi” sounded a little too pedestrian for PBS. So David began calling his proposed dramas “speculative fiction.” He raised enough money to do one drama and he selected the novel “Lathe of Heaven” by Ursula Le Guin.
He traveled to Portland, Oregon and convinced her that he could do a creditable interpretation of her book. She agreed and David went out and cobbled together a budget of $750,000. (To be honest, David and I both used cash from our respective Experimental Labs to defray over-run costs)

A description of The Lathe of Heaven from its DVD release in 2000:

For George Orr, sleep is not a respite.
For Dr. William Haber, dreams are tools.
For sci-fi fans, the wait is over.

dvd2Praised as ‘rare and powerful’ by The New York Times, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven is one of the most celebrated science fiction novels ever written. This innovative adaptation-never before released on DVD-brings the towering vision of Le Guin’s masterpiece to life.

George Orr is haunted by dreams that become reality. In a world where pollution has destroyed the ice caps and plagues rage unchecked, a psychiatrist sees Orr’s power as a way for humanity to escape its bleak fate. But as each attempt to direct Orr’s dreaming ends in failure, the doctor’s obsession with playing God grows stronger… a chilling fable of power uncontrolled and uncontrollable.

And so we began.

David was the Executive Producer and we shared the Director credit. David hired a writer, Roger Swaybill, to write the treatment. His work was adequate but it lacked a special vision that we wanted. David, myself and a young writer, Diane English, holed up in a New York office for 4 weeks rewriting the script. (Diane went on to Hollywood and became a star producer, creating a hit TV series “Murphy Brown. She and her husband helped fund the Broadcast Museum in NYC.)

The most difficult part of the script to realize was when the lead character, George Orr, has an “effective dream” in which he dreams up the plague reducing the world population by millions of people. How the hell do we create such a disaster, and especially before computer magic as we know it today? And with as little cash as possible? I turned to two influences. First, the British film, Great Expectations. It was the scene of the scorned bride who still sits in her dust filled castle room, now old and wrinkled, left only with her dreams that gave me the emotional foundation. The other was a video artist, Peter Campus, who created a video art piece where he wraps plastic wrap around his face, over and over again. My vision took all of George Orr’s friends and relatives, sat them at a large banquet table, lit large English style candelabra’s and had the camera truck around the table over and over again. Each time it went around, the people’s heads became covered with dark scrim, until they slowly slumped into the table. Geroge Orr, Dr. Haber and the woman psychologist watched but did not expire.

Cobwebs, dust, and darkened lighting of the scene culminated when George stands and gives an inhuman scream, while a door opens, again and again, the constantly dolling in of the camera revealing a blazing white screen.

The white screen became the sky outside Haber’s lab finding George Orr standing in the window, devastated by what he had just witnessed.

The first order of business was to find the right actors. David and I viewed a number of films that our casting director asked us to watch. We were impressed with Bruce Davidson’s work in “Short Eyes”. He had the vulnerability and soft demeanor, but with a flash of anger and combativeness that was needed for the part of George Orr. We made him and offer and he accepted.

haber2Kevin Conway had appeared in a WGBH production of “Scarlet Letter.” David and I went to see him in a New York stage performance and were impressed. He had a crispness of speech, the breath of deep and grand voice, a smaller man who could embody the Napoleon complex of Dr. Haber.

We offered him the role and he accepted.

The role of the psychiatrist went to Margaret Avery. Her bio includes the following:

heather-crop“Avery scored a major success with her role as the sultry and spirited blues singer, Shug Avery, in Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985) opposite Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover. Her performance in this screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s prize-winning novel of the same title earned Avery an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.”

The production was shot in Texas, with a few exterior cutaways in Portland and a scene on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. It was the first time that we had worked with a Hollywood based Director of Photography, Robbie Greenberg. He brought his people along and they did a professional job. Our audio person was Dennis Maitland, one of the best audio people I have worked with on a film shoot.

An example: during one of the opening scene, I had George Orr walk through a crowded hallway. I asked that as he passed by groups of people, we could hear their conversations. I set up the camera dolly and tried the move a couple of times. In a very short time, we were ready to shoot. However, I didn’t see Dennis or his boom person setup for the shot. I asked if he heard the various groups as Orr walked past.

“Oh, yes” he said.

“Really?”

“Heard them all”

“How’s that possible with no boom mic?”

“I have a wireless mic on every group.”

I never saw him do it. He never once asked for a rehearsal. He just did these quick and perfect setups, time and time again. It was amazing. Dennis has retired but his son has followed in his footsteps.

The costume person, Laura Crow, created magic working closely with David. Especially her design for the “future” costumes the characters wore. Not too far out, and yet somehow special and reflective of a dysfunctional world. And when the world turns “grey” and all characters, black or white, became grey, she outdid herself in look and budget. No small feat.

all-gray

I want to take this moment to express my great respect to the set designer, John Wright Stevens, and his staff for their ability to work with the smallest budget ever, to create such unbelievable locations and settings.

He helped us find the great locations: Haber’s most expansive lab at the new City Hall in Dallas, Texas (the mayor had not even moved in at the time of our shooting!) and the glass exterior of Haber’s final lab at the Hyatt hotel in Dallas. We used both the inside and interior with the complete cooperation of the hotel management.

future-set3

John found great locations in Fort Worth: the Tandy Center and its mirrored elevator, the abandoned Oil Company building, and the bombed out exterior of the opening scene. He even convinced city officials to let us set off special effects — fire, coloring the fountain red and bubbling with dry ice, a 30-foot explosion on the base of the memorial site — in one of its prized monument plazas. Explosion, fire, smoke and the city let us do it. Thanks Ft. Worth!

Small back-story: As we setting up for the big scene which had to happen at night, the local police told us to move out for a while. When asked why, they said a drunken cowboy was walking down the street toward us, shooting as he walked along. We moved out for about a half hour and then the police said the coast was clear. That’s shooting in Texas in more ways than one.

One of the most difficult of all was trying to create special effects with a limited budget. Since David and I both had been working with video artists in our respective labs, we knew people who could create some effects for little money. Ed Emschwiller, a prolific video artist who also created works for sci-fi magazines helped with several difficult images, including flying saucers.

laserThe most inspired effect was a laser creation as the two leads fight out in the cosmos. David had located a laser company and we descended on them with our two lead actors and no knowledge of how to make this work. The owners of the company showed us what smoke and sprayed water looks like when added to the laser beams. What followed was a total free for all as we improvised actions that we thought might help the movie. It worked way beyond what we had hoped for. A fitting look for a sci-fi movie with a very low budget.

Now comes time for the biggest thanks. The editor, Dick Bartlett, a long time collaborator on my projects, created a marvelous product. The cameraperson hated it because the editor did what he does, mix and match. The DP wanted his long and complicated shots. But Dick was right. He spent along time in NYC working with David. The most daring part of the show was the opening 2 minutes, were nothing happens at all. Just shots of a peaceful world, until the bomb. That kind of opening would never have made it through a commercial network. Only on PBS could that of happened.

It made the show special right at the beginning. Today, cable networks would accept this as normal, but those were different times.

Only three times in my professional career did I ever have original music.

Lathe was one of them. Michael Small and an orchestra of 20 created a wonderful musical score. Michael worked for scale because he liked the project. We were very lucky.

“Michael Small (May 30, 1939 – November 24, 2003) was an American film score composer best known for his scores to thriller movies such as The Parallax View, Marathon Man, and The Star Chamber. Relatively few of his scores are available on compact disc. Michael Small died at the age of 64.”

The TV movie was released on PBS nation wide. Its reviews were good.

More importantly, Ursula liked what we did. The buzz lasted for a while and then died away. That was until a group of sci-fi groupies started pestering WNET to release the show on DVD. The cost of step up fees to actors, writers, musicians, etc. was considered too costly. But the noise reached new levels as sci-fi writers started writing articles about the lost masterpiece. Against many objections, WNET did finally break out the cash for a DVD release. WNET said they have never had as many requests for a DVD of one of their shows ever. I thank them for their commitment.

People still tell me how important that film was to them when growing up.

Some are real fanatics, able to recall scenes, shots, even dialogue. This has never happened to any other show I have ever created. It is a tribute to all who made this happen, no one more important than David Loxton.


New York Times, 1989

loxtonDavid R. Loxton, a producer of documentaries and other programs for public television, died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday morning at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. He was 46 years old and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Loxton joined the production staff of WNET, the major New York public-television affiliate, in 1966. In 1972, he created the Television Lab, which presented the work of independent film makers like Nam June Paik and of the choreographer Twyla Tharp, who has worked with video.

In addition to serving as the director of the Television Lab from 1972 through 1984, Mr. Loxton developed the Nonfiction TV series, which presented such works as ”Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang,” ”I Remember Harlem” and ”The Times of Harvey Milk.” Mr. Loxton was the executive producer of Nonfiction TV from 1978 through 1983.

Mr. Loxton was the executive producer of programs for the ”Great Performances,” ”NET Playhouse” and ”American Playhouse” series.

He received many honors, including an Academy Award for ”The Times of Harvey Milk” (1985), Emmy Awards for that documentary as well as for ”The Police Tapes” (1977), ”Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang” (1979) and ”Third Avenue: Only the Strong Survive” (1980), and Du Pont/Columbia Awards for ”Lord of the Universe” (1974), ”The Police Tapes” (1977), ”I Remember Harlem” (1982) and ”Pesticide and Pills” (1982).

In 1985, he won an ACE. award, cable television’s equivalent of an Emmy, for best original drama, for ”Countdown to Looking Glass,” about a United States-Soviet confrontation in the Middle East. He was co-executive producer, with Frederick Barzyk, of the program.

”It’s very hard to put together projects in public television, and he had the resources and drive to put them together and the skill to produce them,” Arnold Labaton, a senior vice president of WNET and director of the station’s production center, said yesterday. ”He also had a great talent for working with others. He did it with immense tact and judgment.”

Most recently, Mr. Loxton was director of drama for the ”Great Performances” series and senior executive producer for specials, both at WNET. He was executive producer of ”Tales From the Hollywood Hills,” a critically acclaimed series shown under the auspices of ”Great Performances.” When he became ill, he had just begun production of ”Childhood,” a six-part documentary for the Public Broadcasting Service.

Mr. Loxton, a British citizen, was born in Kingston, Ontario, and grew up in England. He is survived by his wife, Pamela, and two sons William and Charles, all of Manhattan; his father, William, of Ruscombe, Berkshire, and a brother, Peter, of London.

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

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

The Waiting RoomFrom FredBarzyk.com

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

The Waiting Room

Fred Barzyk: A Life in Television

From Fred to Kickstarter supporters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A soft cold hand soothes, smoothes, smothers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Actors/comics/narrators I have worked with

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

Hope you enjoy the show.

Best, Fred

 

 

Fred Barzyk Aims to Kickstart Drama

This entry is part 13 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

Director Fred Barzyk began his career at Boston’s WGBH, experimenting with television and the emerging form of video.

He produced dramas for iconic series NET Playhouse and American Playhouse, as well as a cult-hit sci-fi thriller for PBS, The Lathe of Heaven. From there, his cutting-edge documentaries, dramas and educational programs ran on HBO, NBC, ABC and CBS. He directed an array of stars the likes of Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Dan Aykroyd, Rosie Perez, Matt Dillon, Claire Danes and Lily Tomlin.

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Fred Barzyk, left, directs the volunteer cast of Treasure Hunt, the second scripted drama in a trilogy he created for Chelmsford TeleMedia, a public access channel in Massachusetts. (Photo: Courtesy of Stephen Mann)

Now, the director who won Peabody and Venice Film awards is asking for $4,000 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to produce the final short film of his drama trilogy on death. It’s set to air on a far different outlet than those that previously showed the works of his professional career: Chelmsford TeleMedia, the public access channel in a Massachusetts town about 25 miles northwest of Boston.

Barzyk, who says he never retired from WGBH, he just lost interest in its slate of productions, is having fun — a lot of fun.

He brags that he persuaded TeleMedia’s programmers to run the opening installment of the trilogy, The Journey, his 2011 tribute to Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame, one Saturday in May, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Or, as he says, “over and over and over and over.”

The Kickstarter campaign backs filming of The Waiting Room, a tale of seven fictional characters who come to realize that they don’t actually exist. As with the two previous films, everyone involved in the production — the cast, crew, composer, musicians, technicians, prop wranglers, set dressers — are volunteers, many retirees. The first two installments had been funded by the Chelmsford Cultural Council, TeleMedia and Barzyk himself, but new backing was needed to green-light the closing drama.

If the Kickstarter campaign meets its goal, Barzyk says, part of the funding will allow him to stage a dramatic closing shot involving the release of “1,000 black balloons filled with helium” at the Nashua Municipal Airport in nearby New Hampshire.

But the biggest budget items cover the cost of gas to transport the actors to town, and food for everyone participating in the production.

“He feeds us well,” says Stephen Mann, the cameraman on Barzyk’s first two films. It was Mann who helped Barzyk set up the Kickstarter campaign; Barzyk had never heard of the crowd-funding site until Mann suggested that he try it.

As he writes in an email, Barzyk views the project with a sense of nostalgia: “An Old Timer tries to create the Early Days of ETV!!!!!”

Freedom to experiment

He began working for the Boston pubcaster in 1958, just three years after it went on the air; a massive fire there in 1961 destroyed some of his early pieces. By 1968 he was heading up the station’s experimental unit, later called the New Television Workshop.

The workshop created video art before the genre even existed, and its projects were fueled by “the freedom to do what could be done only by a TV station just finding out what it could really do,” he says. Among his innovative productions was “the first double-channel broadcast,” which presented a single story through simultaneous broadcasts on both of WGBH’s TV channels. One showed comedians Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding appearing to walk between TV sets tuned to channels 2 and 44, trying to find their scripts.

In 1979, he directed The Lathe of Heaven for WNET’s Television Laboratory, a critically acclaimed, surrealistic science fiction film that drew a 10 rating in New York and an 8 in Chicago, according to Nielsen. Twenty years later, its still-rabid fan base persuaded WNET to digitally remaster and repackage the film with additional material for rebroadcast on pubTV stations (Current, May 1, 2000). “I can’t tell you how many people tell me how important that film was to them when they watched as teenagers,” Barzyk says.

Even Barzyk’s mainstream work embodied that early, edgy spirit of public television: He executive-produced Puzzlemania, a live, two-hour, interactive children’s program from New York’s WNYC-TV in 1987 and ’88. He was executive producer and director of Destinos, a 56-episode drama-based Spanish language telecourse that ran on PBS from 1988–92, receiving six academic and production awards; it remains a top-selling Annenberg Media learning series. In 1994, he produced and directed Breast Care Test, hosted by Jane Pauley, which showed women how to examine their bodies for cancer. And The Ryan Interview, an Arthur Miller play starring Ashley Judd that he directed, was the first high-definition drama to run on PBS, in August 2000.

Retrospectives of his work ran in 1997 at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass., and in 2000 at the Haggerty Museum of Art at his alma mater, Marquette University, in his hometown of Milwaukee.

Barzyk remained active with WGBH until 2001. “I didn’t really retire,” he says, “I just wasn’t interested in the shows they were doing anymore.”

“Hell, I want to do drama”

Although Barzyk had lived in Chelmsford since 1971, town leaders “didn’t know who I was,” he says, “and I liked that.”

But by 2004, they discovered that a television pioneer lived in their midst and approached Barzyk about working at their public access television station, located in the basement of Parker Middle School. “I walked up to the school, rang the bell, signed in and had to work my way through all these kids to get to the studio.”

Fred Barzyk, left, with cameraman Stephen Mann, a former pubcaster at KTEH in San Jose, Calif., now part of KQED. "I learn something every time I work with him," Mann says of Barzyk. (Photo: Courtesy Stephen Mann)
Fred Barzyk, left, with cameraman Stephen Mann, a former pubcaster at KTEH in San Jose, Calif., now part of KQED. “I learn something every time I work with him,” Mann says of Barzyk. (Photo: Courtesy Stephen Mann)

He discovered a subterranean treasure trove of TV gear. “High-def equipment, Final Cut Pro — I could do more shows than at WGBH.” Barzyk started out by producing a behind-the-scenes documentary on the town’s big Independence Day parade. He shot features on the senior center and restaurants. “Finally, I said, ‘Hell, I want to do drama.’”

And so he did. Treasure Hunt, the second short film in the series, premiered in May at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts. In it a soldier returns from World War II and gives local kids a treasure map that leads them to toys. “He disappears, and then they discover he’s already dead,” Barzyk says. “That one was written by a guy across the street from me.”

That’s the magic behind Barzyk’s work with TeleMedia, says Mann, his cameraman. “It’s all pretty much just people from town. Out in the field, it’s not unusual to see 12 or 18 of them, with more behind the scenes.”

Mann says Barzyk’s deep belief that art belongs to the people springs from his many years in public broadcasting. “Nobody actually owns the piece,” Mann says. “Fred grew up professionally at PBS, and ‘public’ is their main emphasis.”

Mann also worked in the system, at KTEH in San Jose, Calif., now part of KQED, some 20 years ago. He runs his own company, MannMade Digital Video, from the nearby town of Westford.

Collaborating with Barzyk “is certainly not what I thought it would be,” Mann adds. “For somebody with his resume, I expected a no-nonsense attitude, someone who wouldn’t tolerate mistakes. It’s exactly the opposite. I’m constantly amazed at how he overlooks screw-ups by the crew — and that happens often, with all the untrained volunteers.”

As Pete Pedulla, a staff producer at TeleMedia, says, “Most volunteers we have to train, but here was one who could train us, in a way.”

Barzyk loves the creative process. “What I have is total freedom,” he says. “And I have all the equipment I need. Most of the volunteers are retired, so I have to make sure they don’t have heart attacks — I can’t push them too hard. And volunteer actors, just like when I started at WGBH.”

Barzyk, Mann and all the volunteers plan to shoot The Waiting Room one weekend in September. The characters “are coming to the end of their fictional lives. They’re all in a waiting room. They all realize they’re not people; they only exist as characters. They eventually go out to catch a plane to God knows where.”

Matthew Scott, general manager of TeleMedia, says the film will most likely premiere on the big screen at the arts center; several hundred townfolk turned out for debuts of the previous installments.

Barzyk is already excited about the trilogy’s closing scene. “Steve built a helicopter camera, and it will take off and fly up into the clouds” as the cast and crew and the volunteers, all dressed in black, release the black helium balloons, he says.

That shot is characteristic of Barzyk’s style, Mann notes. “He loves to end movies with the whole crew in the picture.”

“I have fun,” Barzyk says. “Why do anything, if not for fun?”