Discovery (1955-56)

Don Hallock: Thanks to “Rocky” Coe’s persistence in weeding through his collections of old slides, here are some of the best images we have from the first year or two in studio A at 84 Massachusetts Avenue.

We believe they’re from Discovery‘s 1955-56 season, and seem to revolve around pine trees. A Christmas show, perhaps?

Mary Lela Grimes (Sherburne) appears in them all, as well as Rocky Coe himself and Bob Moscone.

Mary Lela and Rocky Coe conspire.

That’s Bob Moscone on the ladder.

Discovery “Water World” — Mary Lela Grimes

Don Hallock: We strongly suspect the cameraman at the left wearing glasses to be David Dunlap. Dave was a BU scholar and a talented camera operator, who died tragically shortly after leaving WGBH.

Discovery “Water World” — Mary Lela Grimes at easel (Nov. 11, 1955)

Discovery “Life in a Bog” — Mary Lela Grimes

Discovery “Life in a Bog” — Mary Lela Grimes

Discovery “Life in a Bog” — Charles W. with close up lens

Discovery “Life in a Bog” — Charles W. with close up of plant

Science Experiments Gone Wrong (1957)


From Peter Hollander

It must have been in 1957 that we did a science series hosted by Mary Lela Grimes.

It was in the wonderful days of live TV and Mary Leila had gotten the world’s leading expert on the behavior of bats to appear on her show. He was either from Harvard or MIT but from the moment he walked in the studio with his cages of live bats his wild-eyed demeanor should have alerted us.

He set up a window with two dangling sticks just slightly wider than the wings of his bats. If anything hit either stick a bell would go off. He showed us that he could release a bat through that window and blind as they were they would never hit either of those two sticks.

He did it, one at a time, with two or three bats but then the fire lit up in his eyes. "Isn’t that wonderful?" he said, "Let’s try another one!" And another one. And the studio was soon full of swarming bats.

There was no stopping him but soon the time came for the slide projector to show the three slides that indicated to viewers of WGBH-TV that one show was over. Meanwhile the camera crew wheeled the two cameras around to the opposite corner of our only studio where Louis Lyons was ready to do his daily news report.

What the viewers didn’t see was the whole free crew and anyone available in the vicinity racing around the studio with brooms and makeshift bat catching apparatus. But then the inevitable happened — a bat flew right in front of Louis… on camera!

Lyons looked up, puzzled, but didn’t miss a beat of the news item he was reading.

Note: The wild-eyed bat enthusiast was actually Charles Walcott.

Discovering Discovery (1956)

From Don Hallock

This 1956 film about the making of Mary Lela Grimes (Sherburne’s) kinescoped NET series on science for children was resurrected for the reunion. It is a show within a film, showcasing the 84 Massachusetts Avenue facility and many of our best remembered WGBH friends.

A teleprompter mounted on the front of Frank Vento’s camera bears the film’s opening titles.

And here is Bill Pierce announcing a dummy close for the program “Discovery,” followed by Bill Cavness narrating the opening of the film “Discovering Discovery.”

“Discovery” director, Bob Larsen, and production assistant, Patty Hurley, are shown assembling the srcipt for the upcoming progam.

And this is, of course, the day of the manual typewriter and the mimeograph machine.

Mary Lela and an (as of this writing) unidentified film maker shoot and srceen nature footage for the program.

Then, film editor, Jean Higgins, matches negative to work-print, using rewinds, a synchronizing block and the old hot-splicer.

Graphic artist, Betty Sears, who learned the craft of producing visuals for television “on the job” with “Discovery,” generates semi-animated illustrations, which will ultimately be shot and manipulated “live” in the studio. In the days before computer graphics, these cumbersome, hand-made, cardboard devices used cutouts, sliding inserts and magnets to create the illusion of developmental movement.

Titles, in that era, were laboriously hand printed on cards, and then either shot with a studio camera, or photographed and transformed into 35mm slides which could be transmitted through a “film chain” in the projection room. Here, station graphic artist, Ed Lovell, sets each line of the title, letter by letter, using metal type. The type is then mounted in the “hot press” and the text pressure-transferred to the card through a thermal film bearing the pigment.

He then shoots the slide film with a still camera on an animation stand, and finally develops and mounts the slide for use in the projection room. The projectionist — in this case Bob Hall — places the slides in the slide projector which feeds into the same optical multiplexer as the 16 mm motion picture projector.

Sets and larger visual displays were designed and built in the station’s scene shop (originally an office-sized room located between the reception room and the record library, and just across the hall from FM). Here, staging director, Peter Prodan, and assistant, Don Hallock, do the work.

In the studio….

….Whitney Thompson impersonates a lighting director.

On the left is, Bob Moscone, the real lighting director and official Prince of Darkness, with Bob Larsen, right, running a lighting check.

Frank Vento (the station’s first full-time cameraman), is one of the program’s camera crew.

In this clip Bill Cavness narrates a quick course in the shooting of a television program. Bob Larsen directs the show, while the voice of audio engineer, Bill Busiek, can be heard advising the boom operator to move in closer.

Bob Larsen and switcher, Ted Steinke, execute the program.

Bill Busiek mans the audio board, while an unidentified video engineer rides shading on the camera images.

Mary Lela rehearses the close-ups. (Notice that 12″ lens, which would never have been used for an ECU.)

Mary Lela takes a short break before air time.

In this clip, Bill Cavness desrcibes the conclusion of dress rehearsal, Bob Larsen initiates the actual kinescoping and Bill Pierce announces the show’s opening.

The End