The BU Scholars program (1957-58)

From Vic Washkevich

From on high

The Boston Symphony Orchestra was one of the highlights of WGBH programming back in 1957–58. Hey, anything was better than Words, the one-camera show on which I earned my credit as a director.

If you recall, symphony rehearsal performances were open to the public. We shot that show with three cameras, #1 on the left, #3 on the right, and #2 at high center — the nose-bleed portion of the balcony.

The orchestra played, shots were rehearsed, and finally, the music stopped. As the #2 cameraman was shutting down his camera, he encountered an elderly gent sitting up there in the higher regions of the theater.

Being friendly, our cameraman asked the old man, “How’d you like the performance?”

“It was great,” the man shot back, “but where’s your beam of light.”

We had a more demanding audience back then.

(This incident really did happen, in Sanders Theatre at Harvard; but does anyone remember who the mystery cameraman was?)

… When I’m finished

Speaking of anecdotes, remember this.

One of the break-in shows for the new WGBH scholars was to work the Louis Lyons news show. He sat behind a desk, reading his commentary to a tabletop mike in his glass enclosed soundproof room (the FM studio, actually). The camera, outside the room, shot through a glass partition, but there was a “stage manager,” lying on the floor, out of camera range next to Louie to tell him when he was on the air.

Being neophytes, we did everything we were told. And on this particular night, when the director told the state manager to give Louie the sign to wrap up his news report, Louie turned to the trembling scholar and, in a testy voice said, “Young man, don’t tell me to get off the air. I’ll get off when I’m finished and not before, understand?” That one got a howl from everyone — except the kid on the floor, who wished for nothing more than to be able to tunnel his way out of the building.

Jazz contamination

A story from yore. One night we were rehearsing a violin and piano duo who frequently played the high classics on Performance. Fuchs and Balsam were a somewhat self-impressed pair who had become known fondly around the studio as ‘Screws and Hemlock.’

Joseph Fuchs and Artur Balsam with recital series host Jules Wolffers

After rehearsing their pieces, they and the crew took a break, about 20 minutes before going live. During the break, one of the crew (who’s name we can’t recall) sat down at the piano and played a few contemporary songs.

When the concert musicians returned from their break, Fuchs, the violin virtuoso, ran some cat gut across the strings without incident. And Balsam, the pianist, danced his fingers across the ivories to limber up. After a few seconds, though, Balsam rose from his bench, aghast, and declared, ashen faced…. ‘Someone has been playing jazz on my piano!’

Uncanny!

Murray Yeager, 75, Boston University professor and mentor

Don Hallock: Yeager was an inspiring teacher and mentor for BU/WGBH scholars.

Murray Yaeger, at 75; challenged students at BU

When Dr. Murray Yaeger invited colleagues to speak to his famous introductory communication course at Boston University, he made them rehearse. ”Otto, I don’t just want you to lecture. I want you to get something alive,” he told fellow professor Otto Lerbinger. Each week, Dr. Yaeger spent more than 25 hours preparing theatrical presentations for the hundreds of communications freshmen enrolled in the course.

For students, the intimidating and stimulating course was ”psychological boot camp” because Dr. Yaeger encouraged them to ”dig deep,” said Hollywood film director and former student Gary Fleder. Dr. Yaeger did not ”allow you to coast on your strengths. He cajoled you to recognize the things you had to prove in your art.”

Murray Yaeger – in memory

Former Professor of Broadcasting, Boston University; former liaison for student interns between Boston University and WGBH; directed World Affairs Council series.

From Murray Yaeger – 2/23/2000

My involvement with the station began in 1956 when I became a professor at what is now the College of Communications at Boston University. I served as a liaison with the station and Bob Moscone of WGBH in following the development of our graduate students enrolled in the ‘GBH Scholarship program. I also directed a World Affairs Council program for the station during the time Dave Davis took over as production head.

It was a great time for both institutions as evidenced by some of the accomplishments of many of its graduates. These included Bob Kerr, Phil Collyer, Bill Cosell, Dave Griffith, Fred Barzyk, Russ Morash, Sue Dietrich, Doug White and the late Bob Squier. As you probably know, Bob died only weeks ago and was reputedly one of the nation’s top political media consultants.

Others who worked in the studios in those days included Bill Lord, formerly vice-president if ABC and a professor at BU; John Henning, political commentator on Boston TV; Al Folsom, screen writer and very successful novelist; Stan Norton of the GBH staff; Thea Chalow who won an Emmy for her “NOVA” work, as well as others whom I cannot at this moment recall.

I now live in Kennebunkport. Just writing this letter brings back a flood of wonderful memories and associations with these former students. So, although I won’t be able to attend the celebration, please convey my fondest regards to any who might remember me. … I have kept in touch with a great many of my former students and should love to know of the present whereabouts of others. …

At this point, I have about seventy-five former students (not all ‘GBH) with whom I am in touch at least at Christmas when I paint a card to send to some 325 people on my mailing list. It’s a terrible job, but I do enjoy hearing back.

I am a partner in a bed and breakfast here in Maine. Been in business for fifteen years — starring Yaeger as the waiter with the PhD. See what you can aspire to with forty years of teaching and an advanced degree.

I retired from BU in 1989, kept a consultant business going and taught at the University of Southern Maine and University of New England for a few years after that. Oh, yes, had a second heart by-pass in 1990 to break the rhythm for a while.

In any case, I am ensconced in Kennebunkport with my Schnauzer, my paint brushes and attic studio, the innkeeper’s duties, theater in Boston and Portland, some travel, and a quiet assortment of friends. Not too bad a life at that. Emma, my dog, and I have the beach walks each morning and comparatively clean air to breathe.

From the Boston Globe (excerpts) – 10/20/2004

Murray Yaeger, at 75; challenged students at BU

When Dr. Murray Yaeger invited colleagues to speak to his famous introductory communication course at Boston University, he made them rehearse. ”Otto, I don’t just want you to lecture. I want you to get something alive,” he told fellow professor Otto Lerbinger. Each week, Dr. Yaeger spent more than 25 hours preparing theatrical presentations for the hundreds of communications freshmen enrolled in the course.

For students, the intimidating and stimulating course was ”psychological boot camp” because Dr. Yaeger encouraged them to ”dig deep,” said Hollywood film director and former student Gary Fleder. Dr. Yaeger did not ”allow you to coast on your strengths. He cajoled you to recognize the things you had to prove in your art.”

Dr. Yaeger, who is remembered for his feisty, conscientious, honest, and devoted teaching in the department of broadcasting and film, died June 13 from prostate cancer in Kennebunkport, Maine. He was 75.

As a dedicated member of the Boston University community, Dr. Yaeger supported faculty camaraderie, lobbying for a faculty lounge. An advocate for students, Dr. Yaeger also encouraged professors to write extended course descriptions so that students could know more about the classes they were choosing. Dr. Yaeger also mentored numerous students.

”You always saw a smile on his face whenever he talked about a specific student,” said Lerbinger.

Once, at a meeting on faculty bylaws at Dr. Yaeger’s home in Maine, Lerbinger said, he ”almost felt I was in Philadelphia writing the Constitution” because of Dr. Yaeger’s fiery resolve. Dr. Yaeger believed ”life is a theater and you’ve got to live up to the role you’re playing,” Lerbinger said.

Passionate about increasing instructors’ involvement in their own leadership, Dr. Yaeger ”was so involved in pursuing this goal that it became contagious, and he carried the rest of us along with his dream,” Lerbinger said.

Norman Noyes, a colleague at Boston University, described Dr. Yaeger as ”a dynamo going full blast all the time. He was either with students or lecturing or preparing for his lectures.”

Fleder, who has directed films including Kiss the Girls and ‘Runaway Jury, said that Dr. Yaeger was the first professor with whom he discussed his career aspirations.

“What was great was that he was skeptical,” Fleder said. ”I remember showing him some of my films when I was in film school. It was scary. His approval meant a lot. He was certainly somebody who could mix encouragement with criticism in a skillful way. If I were to describe the ultimate model of a professor, it would be Murray Yaeger.”

Dr. Yaeger grew up in El Paso, Texas, and graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso and the State University of Iowa. Dr. Yaeger moved east because of his interest in the theater and arts. In 1958, he joined the faculty at Boston University.

He traveled to Cairo to help teach the first generation of Egyptian television broadcasters; to Saudi Arabia to train weathermen; and to Frankfurt to coach Armed Forces Network television staff. He also spent a year studying at London University and at the British Broadcasting Corporation in London.

For a quarter-century, Dr. Yaeger took on consulting projects on the side, working to improve the image of school systems, government agencies, and companies, from the US Air Force and the Internal Revenue Service to New England Telephone, GTE, and the United Way of America.

In 1979, Boston University awarded Dr. Yaeger the Metcalf Prize for Excellence in Teaching, an accolade given to one teacher every year.

Dr. Yaeger worked overtime to show his commitment to education. Lerbinger said he often ”bumped into Murray at school in the evening setting up lights and cameras, getting everything ready.”

On a sabbatical from Boston University in December 1985, Dr. Yaeger and his partner, Mark Bachelder, bought Arundel Meadows Inn, a bed and breakfast in Maine. Dr. Yaeger retired to his home in Maine in 1989 to pursue innkeeping, oil painting, cooking, and taking morning beach walks with his schnauzer, Emma. His former BU students would often visit in Maine, and he taught part time at the University of Southern Maine and the University of New England.

At its 50th anniversary in 1997, the College of Communication at Boston University honored Dr. Yaeger as the faculty member with the greatest impact on his students.

Fleder said, ”When you go to college, if you can have one or two or three professors that really inspire you and provoke you to do better work, then you’re lucky. Murray Yaeger was one of those professors that many students would say that about.”

In addition to Bachelder, Dr. Yaeger leaves his brother, Lanny, of Westfield, Pa.

Dr. Yaeger requested that no funeral be held.