I had been awarded a scholarship to get a master degree in Communication at Boston University. I would receive a $600 stipend to live on for a year. Also, I had to work three days a week at a small educational TV station, WGBH, Channel 2. I had hoped to go to Yale Drama school but I had no money and this gave me a chance to stop living at home and explore a new city. I felt lucky.
Then the unbelievable happened. A fellow grad from my class at Marquette University had also been given the same scholarship! This was very unusual. I am not sure one school had two members of the program. I suspect that our friend Bill Heitz, who had received the scholarship the year before, had done some heavy lobbying. Tom and I celebrated, excited and not without some fears.
How were we going to get to Boston? That could chip away at our stipend. This is where Dave Nohling comes to the rescue. Dave had graduated from Wisconsin University in Madison Wisconsin and also received the scholarship!
Even more importantly, he had a CAR! We would drive to Boston and share the expenses! Yea!
Tom and I waited on that summer day surrounded by our luggage. We told Dave to pick us up on Highway 41, in Milwaukee, near Leon’s Custard Stand. And there he came with his great old black car! We climbed in and off we went.
We drove into the vast Midwest, planning and talking about our future. We planned to drive straight thru and save the cost of a motel. We decided to room together sharing the costs. This was going to be some year!
Somewhere in Indiana, Dave said he always wanted to see NY city. Me too. And Tom lets go for it. With a whoop and holler the old Ford plowed thru the night towards the Big Apple.
I knew a number of would-be-actors living in the city. This is a place where we can crash. It was Mattresses Place, since the only furniture were mattresses. There were many living there, each working as waiters at local restaurants.
I knew they would let us crash.
Dave’s car rumbled on as we belted out the song New York, New York!
We bought a couple of quarts of beer in the city and presented to the Marquette gang as a thank you for letting us crash at their pad.
The next morning we headed off to Boston when Dave said we had to see Grand Central Station! The old Ford weaved its way thru the traffic and there it was. Where the hell do we park? Dave pulled over into a no parking area, got out of the car, lifted the hood and looked like he was trying to fix the engine. He told Tom and myself to go take a quick look, come back and stare at the engine, while he runs inside to grab a look. Dave made this trip an amazing adventure.
When Tom and I arrived inside Grand Central Station, we could not believe our eyes! There he was. One of the great movie directors, sitting in a director chair in the middle of Grand Central Station. There were lights, cameras, and actors…it was Alfred Hitchcock. Directing North by North West. There was Cary Grant … Eva Marie Saint. This was the frosting on the cake.
Tom and I ran back to Dave, told him what was going on inside, he yelled in pleasure as he ran off to see Hitchcock. Tom and I looked at the engine hoping that no policeman would tell us to move on. Dave came back with the biggest smile I ever saw. We got in the car and headed to Boston. We didn’t say much this time. Just drove and kind of realized that our lives had really changed.
And then there it was, Boston.
Dave turned on his radio and searched the dial. And there it was … classical music on the AM dial! Can you believe it? The only classical music station in Milwaukee was on FM and wattage so low hardly anyone could hear it. I had left behind Milwaukee’s three B’s: Beer, Baseball and Bowling. And now I was in Boston with its three B’s: Brahms, Beethoven and Bach. This was going to be some kind of year. Thanks Dave for the ride I will never forget.
Purple Panda on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’
By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer – November 28, 2002
It was David L. Nohling’s elevated sense of humor that set him apart, not the bulky, purple, quilted costume that he wore on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Mr. Nohling, who originated the role of Purple Panda, died Sunday at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was 65.
Born in Kenosha, Wis., he followed a five-year stint in the Air Force with a job at a Boston public television station. He moved to Pittsburgh in 1968 to work off-camera at WQED, where he served as a producer/director, associate director of School Services programs, and executive assistant. His jovial nature led him on-camera. Mr. Nohling was a popular fixture on WQED’s benefit auctions.
“He was always willing to wear a costume and act funny,” said Fran Nohling, 66, his wife of 42 years. “Our children would turn on the auction and there was their father in a tutu wearing a wig. One day at the station at lunch, Fred Rogers said, ‘You have a great face for a puppet.'”
During the 1970s, Mr. Nohling originated the role of the gregarious Purple Panda with the robotic voice.
“Many people have worn the Purple Panda costume through the years,” said Rogers, “but David Nohling … set the stage and the tone for what this character would be. Through his voice and his actions, he was able to create a character that, even though he was very big, children were never afraid of it. One of the reasons was that David had an advanced sense of whimsy.”
While in Pittsburgh, Mr. Nohling taught broadcast communication at Robert Morris College, Carlow College and the University of Pittsburgh. He left WQED in 1981 and relocated his family to a town outside Chicago, where he produced corporate videos for Arthur Anderson and assisted the United Way.
“He always brought humor into his presentation style and he was just like that at home, too,” said Fran Nohling. “He was a man who liked to have fun and spread it around.”
Ward Chamberlin Jr., a leading architect of the nation’s public broadcasting system who revitalized PBS stations in New York and Washington and nurtured the career of the documentarian Ken Burns, died on Thursday in Bedford, Mass. He was 95.
The cause was complications of dementia, his daughter Carolyn Chamberlin said.
Ward B. Chamberlin Jr., left, then WNET’s executive vice president and managing director, with Tamara E. Robinson, vice president for national programming and William F. Baker, president, in 1996.Mr. Chamberlin’s four-decade television career began circuitously. A corporate lawyer at the time, he was working for the nonprofit International Executive Service Corps, where Frank Pace, a former Army secretary, was the president.
The two men were close: Mr. Pace had earlier been chairman of General Dynamics, the military contractor, and Mr. Chamberlin had worked for him there. They were also squash partners.
When Mr. Pace was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be the first chairman of the newly minted Corporation for Public Broadcasting early in 1968, he recruited Mr. Chamberlin to join him as chief operating officer.
Mr. Pace promptly asked Mr. Chamberlin to determine what challenges and opportunities public broadcasting presented and gave him the latitude to meet them. Mr. Chamberlin proceeded to pioneer an enduring decentralized network model of independent public stations.
He remained chief operating officer until he retired in 2003. He was also senior vice president of the Public Broadcasting Service, executive vice president and managing director of WNET in New York and president of WETA in Washington, which he transformed into the third most prolific producer of original programming after WNET and WGBH in Boston.
PBS was created in 1969 to connect local public television stations and to distribute programming. National Public Radio (now just NPR) was formed the next year under the corporation’s umbrella.
From 1975 to 1989, under Mr. Chamberlin, WETA introduced programs like “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report” and “Washington Week in Review.” At WNET, he was responsible for many of the station’s signature cultural productions and other original programming, including the series “The Secret Life of the Brain.” He extricated both stations from financial distress.
Mr. Burns was seeking financial support for his third documentary film, about Huey Long, the Louisiana governor and presidential candidate, when he arranged to meet Mr. Chamberlin to pitch it.
Mr. Burns recalled in a phone interview on Monday that he had been stunned to leave Mr. Chamberlin’s office with a check for $25,000. “They never did that before,” he said.
He was even more surprised by Mr. Chamberlin’s response years later when he learned that Mr. Burns’s series on the Civil War had grown longer than the originally projected five hours.
“Seven, eight?” Mr. Chamberlin inquired, as Mr. Burns recalled.
“I said 11½, 12,” Mr. Burns replied.
To which all Mr. Chamberlin asked was, “Is it good?”
The series, called simply “The Civil War,” was broadcast in nine episodes in September 1990 and watched by about 40 million viewers, setting a PBS ratings record.
“Ward never sought to take the limelight, as opposed to many of us who gravitate to it,” Mr. Burns said. “He was flabbergastingly generous and courageous and indispensable to my professional life.”
Ward was a giant in our industry and a special person to me, having taken me under his wing, so to speak, early in my career at WGBH. We all owe a great deal to him for the wisdom and energy with which he helped shape CPB, PBS, WNET and WETA.
I will always consider him as one of my key mentors in public media. He was one of the few people in the industry who understood our unique challenges in creating a culture where creative people could work and thrive. There were only a handful of places where that was achieved and Ward was responsible for at least two of them! Our views of our mission and values were closely aligned.
“Nova,” PBS’s science series produced by WGBH, has launched its first crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a sequel to its popular 2012 special “Hunting the Elements.”
The “Nova” Kickstarter campaign, announced Tuesday, has a base goal of $1 million, which would support the production of “Beyond the Elements,” a follow-up to “Hunting the Elements,” which explored the periodic table and molecules. If the campaign raises $250,000 more, “Nova” will provide free educational support materials for teachers to use in classrooms, including ideas about activities and experiments.
If $1.5 million is raised, “Nova” will create its first virtual reality experience to allow viewers to “go inside of the world of molecules.” Additional donations beyond $1.5 million will help “Nova” send DVDs of “Hunting the Elements” and “Beyond the Elements” to public high schools across the United States.
A collection of “less remembered shows” and people who appeared on, or worked for, WGBH.
Leonard Bernstein’s Lectures at Harvard
Remembered by Fred Barzyk, Doug Smith, and Bruce Bordett
Bernstein’s lecture series was produced by Amberson Productions in conjunction with WGBH during 1972 and 1973.
In 1972, the composer Leonard Bernstein returned to Harvard, his alma mater, to serve as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, with “Poetry” being defined in the broadest sense. The position, first created in 1925, asks faculty members to live on campus, advise students, and most importantly, deliver a series of six public lectures. T.S. Eliot, Aaron Copland, W.H. Auden, e.e. cummings, Robert Frost, Jorge Luis Borges — they all previously took part in this tradition. And Bernstein did too.
The series is now available on YouTube.
The Unanswered Question 1973 1 Musical Phonology Bernstein with sound
Doug Smith was the producer for WGBH. Here are his notes.
Lenny’s brilliance, his fast-moving mind, and his perfectionism made for an intense production experience. The live lecture at the Harvard Square Theater was followed the next day by the taping at WGBH.
Sometimes the script would change between the live lecture and the taping, because he thought of a better way to make a point or a clearer illustration, and he was usually right.
At one point, dangerously close to one of the lectures, Lenny decided that a movement from a Mahler symphony that he had conducted with the Vienna Philharmonic would be the perfect illustration, only the film (yes, film, 35mm) was in Vienna. So Amberson sent someone to Vienna to bring it to Boston, just in the nick of time.
Before every lecture at the HS Theater, Lenny’s personal assistant would appear backstage for the pre-performance ritual: a couple of pills, a shot glass, and some eye drops from the “medicine box.” Lenny would kiss the cuff links he wore given him by Serge Koussevitsky and stride out onstage to captivate and educate the audience. Whatever it took to get to that point was worth it.
Bruce Bordett was the stage manager.
I recall being Lenny’s prompter operator. The old style prompters where scripts were prepared on a giant typewriter. (Often in duplicate or triplicate as each of the multiple cameras had a rig hung above the lens.) They all had to be run in sync, spooling their paper rolls through each reader.
The biggest challenge came as Lenny was fond of changing his script frequently. To add text, a new chunk of paper script had to be typed on the giant typewriter and spliced into, or sometimes removed from each mechanical reader. This needed a sprocketed editing block, sticky tape, and a razor blade to accomplish. It had to be done on each camera so that the readers would stay in sync.
No rush or pressure when musicians or audience waited as changes were made. It was lots of fun. Later, of course, this tech was replaced with video monitors fed from a wee camera shooting a paper script that was motor fed through the prompter base station.
Now there’s an app for that. You can run it from an iPhone.
Hoagy Carmichael and WGBH
Remembered by Fred Barzyk
Hoagy’s son, Hoagy Jr. worked at WGBH and produced a show featuring his father teaching music to the 21-inch Classroom viewers.
I remember Hoagy sitting at the piano with a mason jar of scotch hidden in the piano seat. But where is Hoagy Jr. now?
Here is what I found in an article from 2013.
A visit to Hoagy Bix Carmichael’s office on West 47th Street in New York City is a true adventure. His famous father, Hoagy Carmichael was a well known singer, composer, actor, and bandleader known for songs like “Georgia on my Mind,” “Stardust,” and “Heart and Soul.” Show business pictures and all sorts of memorabilia line the walls.
Carmichael said, “My father was an extremely creative person who wrote melodies and lyrics. He had his own television and radio shows. He performed in fourteen movies and wrote the music for many of them. He was a wonderful artist who was completely self-taught. He also wrote two books. How many people have that kind of talent?”
Carmichael has his own brand of creativity and took very different career paths than his father. He is an outgoing, yet a relaxed and welcoming individual. It’s easy to see why he has had so many opportunities. He came to New York in 1962 to work as a stock broker. He says that “I started reading a lot at that time in my life.” His many readings would launch new professional interests. He worked for four years at WGBH in Boston, produced shows for Time/Life, and he had the “honor” of producing the Mister Rogers Show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He said, “I loved Fred Rogers.” Carmichael is one of the founders of The American Tap Dance Foundation along with Gregory Hines.
And here is an additional piece by Hoagy Jr.
By the mid-1960s, my father’s career as a songwriter was essentially over. Rock and Roll was making music publishers rich overnight (can you remember what songs Fabian sang?), and Dad’s telephone, once alive with calls from artists and producers, was silent.
His diverse catalogue had a list of songs that he had written for children, and I thought it would be fun to work on something with him at WGBH that I felt could use some exposure. He was never easy to work with, ask Johnny Mercer or Howard Hawkes, but when studio time was available, and a few dollars dribbled in from the 21 Inch Classroom, I called him. He had plenty of time on his hands, and he quickly said he would do it.
My father, truth be told, didn’t care much for children. I honestly think I was the exception, but I knew getting him to warm to the three kids that we cast for the show, and they to him, was going was not going to be easy.
I rented a gray house on Brattle street for him, and we decided to have an ice cream party (Dad hated ice cream) at the house with the three kids and our producing staff. The piano was tuned and, after mounds of ice cream and toppings discreetly melded with the Persian carpets, two of the kids started playing the piano. Their choice, natch, was “Heart and Soul” which, no surprise to me, brought Dad into the room. After yet another run through, one of the kids asked him if he knew the song. After a well-timed pause he said, “I wrote it.” That was the moment that brought the two sides together. Chemistry forged by music…
Weeks before Dad set foot in Studio A, I asked to meet with David Ives, then the head of the station. David always looked like he could have been an FBI director in bow tie, so it was with no little trepidation that I climbed those stairs to his office to forge and understanding. I knew that the rule, no the law, was that no alcoholic beverages of any sort were allowed in the station. My father was a daytime drinker/sipper of 15 year old Highland Queen scotch, and I told David that he would have to “bend” the hallowed rule or Carmichael would stay home. We made a deal. Dad would disguise his toddy in a Mason jar and would hide it in the piano bench usually reserved for sheet music. I agreed that he would only reach for a “snoot” when the kids were out of the room – which he was pretty good about. It kept him on an even keel, although I am sure that David was glad to our set struck when the time came.
We had fifteen twenty-minute shows to produce and, after about ten of them, Dad got bored. He decided to meet a lady (a much younger lady) on Spain’s Costa del Sol, and he made it abundantly clear that he was taking ten days off for some, well, sunshine. I couldn’t talk him out of it, as we had schedules inked with Jack Caldwell’s office that I felt were iron clad. But Dad, having made up his mind, left me and our staff to juggle the dates to fit his return. It was diva stuff, but I loved the guy and did all I could to make it work. He did return, Mason jar in hand, and with no traces of a sun tan.
Dad was pleased and proud of the results of our work. He was gracious to all at the station employees, but I assure you that if he had an idea or an opinion he, like any other person of extraordinary talent, would fight for it. I had never seen that side of him, having never worked with him, and it was intimidating and, at times, difficult to watch. Straddling my love for him as my father, and the need to produce shows that had other talented people involved who understood the medium, was an experience that I was to never forget.
The shows, with Monty Stark’s musical approach, were unusual and we produced a two-record set called “Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop” under Ahmed Jamal’s label, the great jazz piano player from Pittsburgh. Today, on Ebay, those albums routinely sell for over $800.
Han Holzer, Ghost Hunter
Remembered by Fred Barzyk
It was Halloween, early 1960’s. Producer/Director Gene Nichols and I decided to do a ½ hour special on haunted houses around Boston. Somehow, we got it past Program Manager Bob Larson. We offered the on-camera hosting to Hans Holzer. Who?
Hans Holzer (26 January 1920 – 26 April 2009) was an American paranormal researcher and author. He wrote well over 100 books on supernatural and occult subjects for the popular market as well as several plays, musicals, films, and documentaries, and hosted a television show, “Ghost Hunter.”
We took the WGBH bus and videotaped a few places, which were supposedly “haunted.” Hans interviewed the people living there. Needless to say, Gene and I thought it was a funny concept for Halloween. Hans, as predicted, found every one of the places we visited haunted.
The critical noise came back loud and clear, not only from our viewers but also from some angry Boston academics. They did not see the humor and accused us of manipulating the public with utter nonsense.
Needless to say, we never did another one.
Here’s an e-mail from Gene Nichols on Hans Holzer.
Thanks for the memory, Fred. Yes, I remember that event well. Wouldn’t change anything you have written about the Holzer experience. I only recall that Bob Larsen assigned me to the production “to keep an eye on Fred” so that no one would regret the program’s end result (guess that didn’t work).
The subject of the program turned out to be a gardener who worked for a well-known Harvard professor who called Larsen the morning after airing. He was quite upset. Don’t remember the professor’s name … but do recall that Larsen was not pleased.
In hindsight I recall Larsen assigned me to many of your “specials” … wonder why.
Remembered by Fred Barzyk
Denis was a terrific writer for many WGBH projects. He was also a really good folk singer. I even have one of his original vinyl records. Denis moved to Hollywood and was the screenwriter for the film “The River Wild.”
Here is what’s on his home page:
Denis O’Neill worked on staff and as a free-lance writer/producer for Boston’s public television station, WGBH-TV — writing copy and host copy for such programs as Frontline, Mystery, Masterpiece Theatre, The National Ballroom Dancing Championships, Irish Treasure, and No Irish Need Apply.
He began publishing articles and short stories in Sports Illustrated, The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.
The Facts of Medicine
Remembered by Michael Ambrosino
In 1955, just as WGBH-TV had gone on the air, it created a forty-episode television series called “The Facts Of Medicine,” hosted by Parker Wheately, to inform the public about local and national health concerns and current research. On one of these programs, Dr. David Rutstein clearly stated the possible connection between smoking and cancer.
David Davis Rutstein (1909-1986) was a long-time faculty member at Harvard Medical School and an advocate for preventive medicine. He was one of the first physicians to use television as an outreach tool to inform the public about health concerns and research. Rutstein also played a national role in the organization of medical care in the United States, the integration of preventive medicine into patient care, and the measurement of medical outcomes.
TV series on Musical Instruments
Remembered by Boyd Estus
Bill and I made two films as part of a projected, but never completed, series on the various families of musical instruments with the BSO Chamber Players. We did “The Double Reed” on the oboe and bassoon with Ralph Gomberg and Sherman Walt, respectively. The second film was “The Violin” with Joe Silverstein. One or both won a newly established PBS award.
Series: Boston Symphony Chamber Players. Program: Double Reed, The. Series release date: 1971. Program Description: With Ralph Gomberg, Oboe and Sherman Walt, Bassoon, both principals of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, guest pianist Gilbert Kalish. This joint production of the Council for Massachusetts Humanities, Inc. and WGBH won the CPB award for excellence in local public television programming for 1971.
Abe Sacher on Harry Truman
From Fred Barzyk
This one half hour show was the culmination of Abe Sacher’s appearances on WGBH. He was the first president of Brandeis University and a very respected academic.
Dr. Sacher, sitting in a chair and talking directly to the camera, appeared in a weekly educational television lecture show, The Course of Our Times; his analyses of problems in contemporary history were later published in the book of the same title.
Sachar remained a working educator, historian, lecturer, and author until his death
Produced by Peggy MacLeod and directed by me, it was a remote lecture by Dr. Sacher set in the actual locations of Harry Truman’s life in Missouri.
Al Capp, creator of “Li’l Abner” comic strip, did a short series for WGBH in the early 1960’s at 125 Western Ave. Mr. Capp had a reputation for being ornery and outspoken. He lived in Cambridge.
Cartoonist Al Capp (1909-1979) created “Li’l Abner,” regarded by many as the greatest comic strip of all time… At 19, he became the youngest syndicated cartoonist in America, drawing “Colonel Gilfeather,” a daily panel for Associated Press. But, bored with the staid and formulaic Gilfeather, Capp left AP and soon was ghosting the popular boxing strip “Joe Palooka” for Ham Fisher… In 1934 Capp struck out on his own. He took his hillbilly idea to United Features Syndicate and “Li’l Abner was born.
“Vision for the 60’s, approx. 1961” was digitized as part of the AAPB project and can be seen onsite at WGBH.
The Harvard Film Archive was honoring Marcel Ophuls back in the 1970’s. Ophuls came to WGBH to videotape a conversation with someone from the Archive (whose name I can’t remember). It was staged in Studio B, shot very tight with lots of film roll-ins. Lighting was theatrical and moody. Marcel, ever the actor, brought a highly intense overview of his work while puffing on a cigarette. I assume the show is in the WGBH archives and at Harvard.
Marcel Ophuls (German, born November 1, 1927) is an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker and former actor, best known for his films The Sorrow and the Pity and Hôtel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie.
Eastern Educational Network – Sampler, circa 1962
Promotional film made by WGBH to showcase its current and recent programming to other members of the Eastern Educational Network (EEN), circa 1962. Short 2-4 minute excerpts of the following appear:
Boston Symphony Orchestra being conducted by Charles Munch
Max Lerner from “The Age Of Overkill”
Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy from “Prospects Of Mankind”
Louis Lyons touting the importance of WGBH’s “Report From Moscow” on Louis Lyons and the News; cut to “Report” featuring: Jerome Wiesner, Walt Rostow; Richard Leghorn; and others.
21” Classroom: “Exploring Nature” series
“Parlons Francais” featuring Madame Anne Slack
Humorist Al Capp reviewing a recent election
“Backgrounds: Robert Frost” Robert Frost interviewed by Louis Lyons on the eve of John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Inauguration.
“Main Street” documenting the destruction of Boston’s West End
Pat McGuiness heatedly weighing in on the recent (1959) Colony Railway Line controversy involving its closure and anticipated economic impact on Boston South Shore communities.
W.C.B. Joyce series “Metropolis”
“Invitation To Art” with Brian O’Dougherty
“Jazz with Father O’Connor”
Norman Holland on “The Shakespearean Imagination” discussing portrayals of Shakespearian characters on stage and screen.
“Filmmaker’s Showcase” program featuring director Robert Flaherty’s widow, Francis Flaherty.
New England Conservatory Opera in-studio performance of Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnol
“Marcel Marceau on Mime” Elliot Norton and Edwin Burr Pettet interview mime Marcel Marceau
“A Time To Dance” clip featuring dancers Melissa Hayden and Jacques d’Amboise
Boston Symphony Orchestra
All programs were produced by WGBH for the Eastern Educational Network.
Though she did not own a TV set, Julia had been bitten by the television bug from the moment she set foot on a studio set. She and her coauthor and best friend, Simone “Simca” Beck, had appeared on NBC’s Today show to promote Mastering , and afterward Julia wrote: “TV was certainly an impressive new medium.” (She would soon buy her first television with the proceeds from book sales.) By then, she had been teaching cooking for nine years and was on a mission to spread the gospel of “le gout francais” — the very essence of French taste — which she fervently believed could be reproduced by American cooks in their home kitchens. All that was needed, Julia said, were a set of clear instructions, the right tools and ingredients, and a little encouragement..
In April 1962, shortly after appearing on I’ve Been Reading, Julia typed a memo to WGBH in which she laid out a vision for “an interesting, adult series of half-hour TV programs on French cooking addressed to an intelligent, reasonably sophisticated audience which likes good food and cooking.”
Each program, Julia suggested, should focus on just a few recipes, and her cooking demonstration — “informal, easy, conversational, yet timed to the minute” — should lead to a discussion of broader culinary matters, such as “a significant book on cooking or wine, an interesting piece of equipment, or a special product.” Julia suggested that other experts, such as a pastry chef or a sommelier, appear as guests, and that well-known chefs — such as James Beard or Joseph Donon (a master French cuisinier) — cook side by side with her on the show.
WGBH had never produced a cooking program, had a small audience, was largely run by volunteers, and operated on a shoestring budget. But encouraged by the public’s strong response to Julia on I’ve Been Reading, the station arranged for her to shoot three trial episodes of a televised cookery show.
On June 18, 1962, the Childs arrived at a borrowed “studio” in downtown Boston — actually, the demonstration kitchen of the Boston Gas Co. — to shoot the initial pilot episode, “The French Omelette.” (Julia preferred the French spelling of that word.) Julia brought her own frying pan, spatula, butter, and eggs. The lights flicked on, and the show’s producer, 28-year-old Russell “Russ” Morash, directed two stationary cameras. Because videotape was so dear, the show was essentially shot “live” in one continuous half-hour take. “I careened around the stove for the allotted twenty-eight minutes, flashing whisks and bowls and pans, and panting a bit under the hot lights,” she recalled. “The omelette came out just fine. And with that, WGBH-TV had lurched into educational television’s first cooking program.”
The second and third pilot episodes, “Coq au Vin” and “Souffles,” were both shot on June 25. This time, Julia had rehearsed the shows at home. Paul built a replica of the set in their kitchen, labeled utensils, made sure the ingredients were measured beforehand, and coached Julia with a stopwatch. Though she continued to gasp and misplace things, she grew more self-assured with each performance.
Julia’s special sauce — her ability to blend deep knowledge, broad experience, precise technique, self-deprecating humor, and infectious enthusiasm — won the public’s heart. There was simply no one quite like her on TV. Julia loved this “high-wire act,” but admitted that she was “a complete amateur” and had no idea how she came across on TV. The answer was simple: The camera, and the audience, loved her.
In response to the “Coq au Vin” show, a viewer named Irene McHogue wrote: “Not only did I get a wonderfully refreshing new approach to the preparation and cooking of said poultry, but really and truly one of the most surprisingly entertaining half hours I have ever spent before the TV in many a moon. I love the way she projected over the camera directly to me the watcher. Loved watching her catch the frying pan as it almost went off the counter; loved her looking for the cover of the casserole.”
Encouraged, WGBH signed Julia up for a 26-episode series. Ruth Lockwood, the assistant producer, scrounged up a track of bouncy French theme music. Unable to decide on a name for the program, Julia called it The French Chef — though she was neither French nor a professional chef (she called herself “a cook”) — until she could invent a better title.
In the first episode, a slightly nervous, fresh-faced Julia demonstrated how to make boeuf bourguignon, the venerable beef stew that would run as a leitmotif through her career. At the end of the show, she tucked a dish towel into her apron, and spontaneously said: “This is Julia Child. Bon appetit!”
When The French Chef hit the Boston airwaves in 1963, WGBH shared copies of the tapes with sister stations, allowing viewers in New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, and parts of New York to watch Julia a week after she aired in Boston. It would start being distributed nationally the next year.
The audience responded viscerally. You are a delight! wrote housewives, hippies, taxi drivers, MIT scientists, and Wall Streeters. The French Chef was “educational TV’s answer to underground movie and pop/op cults,” Joan Barthel wrote in The New York Times Magazine. “The program can be campier than ‘Batman,’ farther-out than ‘Lost in Space,’ and more penetrating than ‘Meet the Press’ as it probes the question: Can a Society be Great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?”
A big part of Julia’s allure was her natural ease on TV. Her combination of grace and awkwardness built a sense of trust and intimacy with the audience, which was reinforced by her deep knowledge and sure technique. She used humor to keep her viewers engaged, but because she was so technically adept, she (usually) managed to triumph over adversity.
She would start making a quiche, misplace her glasses or lose her train of thought, find them again, and carry on. She would rapidly and expertly dice a pile of mushrooms, fillet a trout, and demonstrate how to encase poached eggs in a delicate consomme gelatin (oeufs en gelee). But in the next instant, a spoon would go flying off-screen, an Apple Charlotte would collapse and she’d mash it back together with her fingers (“It will taste even better this way”), or she’d incinerate the croutons atop a French onion soup into charcoal briquettes (“That’s beautiful! There you are. I think that possibly that browned a little bit too much. But I don’t know. It gives a very good effect.”)
Confronted by a mishap, Julia would look momentarily befuddled and cuss under her breath or just tilt her head back and laugh….
Julia liked to point the TV camera straight down into a pot of softly bubbling boeuf bourguignon to show what it should look like as it cooked. It was instructive, but it also activated your taste buds and tempted you to dive right through the screen to dig into a heaping bowl of that succulent comfort food. “To do that is not easy,” observed the chef Jacques Pepin. “She had a very rare quality.”…
Though she disliked “tooting my own horn,” Julia had a messianic zeal for spreading culinary knowledge. In championing the pleasure of shopping, cooking, eating, and even of cleaning the dishes, she became a role model for people of all genders, races, ages, and creeds. For her, kitchen work was not “domestic drudgery,” it was “such fun!” With the battle cry “Bon appetit!” she reinvented what it meant to be a television chef and brought a growing audience of American home cooks along for the ride.
After 3 years as a physics major at Northeastern I dropped out (sort of) and started taking night courses at Harvard Extension. In those days that was a very advanced major essentially only prep for graduate school – there were only 12 freshman physics majors which became 4 in my rotation by Sophomore year. (NU was and is a co-op school where upper classes are divided into two schedules.)
I found that my high school hadn’t prepared me well enough to be a productive physicist (at 19 I was already too old to start serious work) so, even with fine grades, I had to move on. I decided to take courses which interested me rather than those which would earn a degree.
My girlfriend from NU was working at WGBH during her co-op semesters and she introduced me to the new HR person (who had recently started the department) so I began work in Traffic, picking up the mail each a.m. and even delivering donations downtown to the bank once a week, along with hauling show tapes around.
Her name is Mary Lou Finnegan and one time Ron Della Chiesa took both of us to the Opera. She was quite popular and I hadn’t grown into my reporter’s cynicism and become the curmudgeon 40 years of journalism has made me. When I heard Ron was writing his book I sent him an email and he either did remember me or was kind enough to pretend he did in his reply.
I must say Ron was (and probably still is) a wonderful person as were about 99% of those there.
I did have to stand up to 10 minutes of cursing and berating by one person who yelled at me because one day his newspaper wasn’t in the rack in the hall outside Traffic. The fact that I didn’t handle the papers and had no idea who got which one, nor was I able to see them from where I worked, nor did I have any slight involvement with them didn’t seem to matter, he just went on and on. That was about the only sour note of my entire time there.
I lost that traffic job in part because of him and because I didn’t have a big enough car but was immediately taken on by Buildings and Grounds.
Things were a lot looser in those days and one day I came in to find an old man who looked familiar sitting in the outer lobby. I asked and he said he was waiting to visit someone, so I took Hoagy Carmichael in past reception, I just couldn’t walk away leaving him sitting all alone in the outer reception area. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty certain his son or stepson was working at WGBH.
Another time I also found a door guard sleeping – he was added security from an outside contractor during one auction. After reporting this to my boss, I was threatened by the head of the security company which I also immediately reported. I only mention that because years later I worked for the same security company but the head didn’t recognize me.
I’ll tell the story of one bright and stormy night at an Auction in a separate posting.
It was Bright with the promise of an ongoing successful auction, and Bright in flashes from the lightning storm passing across the Massachusetts Bay.
As a low-level employee, I got lots of odd jobs from on camera clothes horse during an Auction segment to running the lights for a time.
I also had free time when I wandered around looking for interesting things I could help out with, especially during Auction time when I worked a regular shift and then stayed on to volunteer.
Over the years several times I was called in to Hartford Gunn’s office, but not for something I did wrong. Somehow it got around that I was a car buff and more than once he actually asked me questions and for advice.
That led to even more odd jobs no matter what my actual job description was. The most unusual were during Auctions.
And so, back to the Auction.
The grip at that time was also a welder. He normally set up the lighting and then ran the board when a show was being taped or especially during live broadcasts.
But during one Auction someone picked up a piece of practice welding had made and deemed it a sculpture which sold well.
Since there was lots of scrap metal around he instantly turned from lights to an artist and began turning out more items.
To do so, he left studio control and turned all the lights up full on in all the working studios and went off to make more “sculptures” to auction off.
But there are always unintended consequences.
It was hot and muggy that evening and the heat load from all those studio lights being on all the time was threatening to trigger a systems failure, possibly putting us off the air.
I worked in Building and Grounds at the time and since we were responsible for the AC system my boss came up with the idea that I should sit in studio control and run the lights, keeping them off in the standby studios and thus letting the AC systems cope with all the heat.
I did this for hours on end — it is a simple enough job — I just had to pay attention to when the director (sorry, can’t recall which one) was about to switch studios and bring the lights up in that studio in plenty of time. After the switch I turned down the lights in the last studio.
All was going well and the director had hardly noticed me.
Then, just after Dave Garroway finished showing viewers how to make a tool which would show them how to determine if a skyscraper (or tree) would hit them if it were to fall in their direction*, disaster struck.
We were in the middle of a fun entertainment segment with one of the pioneers of television.
The director was about to change studios and I had anticipated it by bringing up the lights … but just then all the monitors blacked out.
I instantly shoved all the lights up to full on everyplace since I had no idea what had happened and also no idea where the director would want to switch to.
But the director thought I had done something wrong and ordered me out (I didn’t blame him, directing an Auction can be extremely stressful – no time to realize that it wasn’t low light in the studio which completely blanked the control room monitors..)
Of course it wasn’t anything I had done, lightning had hit nearby tripping the breakers on all those expensive Marconi cameras.
But the storm hit, the evening had cooled off, and hours of keeping the heat load down by dimming the lights in unused studios had let the AC system recover so I wasn’t needed.
I treasure my time at WGBH but when a “real” job more in my area came along I joined Wang Labs as a purchasing agent and mainframe supervisor (and in charge of traffic and B&G) at a service bureau in Arlington where we ran one of the largest IBM systems on the East Coast.
I left TV with no regrets but still, many decades later, when I had my animal sanctuary in central PA — after decades as an author and political/science/medical/technology reporter — I did a live cooking segment at WQED in Pittsburgh where I demonstrated my Emu Chili recipe. I mostly did it because a neighbor who helped out at the sanctuary wanted to become a TV news reader so her mother and I secretly planned to get her on-air time as my assistant.
She was thrilled to discover that although his program had ended, Fred Rogers Neighborhood set was still there and when I was being miked she was a bit stunned to find she was getting wired also but she did great and I felt that even at 14 she was going to do well in TV.
Kimmy went on to become Homecoming Queen at Penn State but after a year or two doing occasional standups she met and married a soldier and turned her back on TV.
That cooking show segment with Chris Fennimore around 2005 was only my second time on TV in a studio. I just had no interest in on air work. I was and am a print journalist – that way I can skip makeup and leave my hair long.
I did end up on some news segments locally because of my Emergency Management work and twice on the local news because of the gas well fracking on my property – the wells weren’t the problem, the trouble was the well tenders who kept leaving my ranch gates open so the miniature horses and rare St. Jacob Sheep got out.
Using my knowledge of TV I got news crews out and raised public opinion among other ranchers and farmers against the gas company involved.
BTW, I now live in Groundhog Central, Punxsutawney, PA., am semi-retired, contributing to a professional Science Fiction magazine, an Australia-based international news organization, and the British branch of a Switzerland-based online news service. In my copious free time raising two St. Weiler pups (puppybyday.blogspot.com), I also publish Kindle books and maintain a critical medical news blog where I try to get vital new developments (such as how to tell if a comatose patient is likely to ever wake up) to doctors and patients (criticalmedicalnews.blogspot.com/).
I’m working on my next book right now, a mixture of the latest science and my life with 24 dogs (over 4 decades, not all at once.)
When it is published (probably November 15) I’ll be happy to send a free copy of the Kindle book to any alumnus who requests it. It’s called “Everywhere I Turn There’s A Wet Nose.”
* (Hint, you fold a piece of typing paper you can sight along to see if you are too close.)
In the early 1960s, a young producer joined the small WGBH staff. David Sloss had graduated from Harvard and was searching to find a career that fulfilled his interest in performance and music. He was soon asked to produce Folk Music, USA, a local Channel 2 show featuring performances of live folk music.
David booked all the great folk musicians who appeared in Boston; José Felcicano, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, Doc Watson, Eric Von Schmidt, Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band, Tom Rush, Charles River Valley Boys, and many others.
After several years of producing programs at WGBH, David moved to San Francisco where he became a conductor of the Fremont Symphony Orchestra, 1980 to 2012.
While at WGBH, David composed this station break. Here is what he wrote about the piece:
I wrote this song for the WGBH auction, and I’m pretty sure it was for the first auction we did, so there are probably a number of WGBH old-timers who could pinpoint the year. We performed it live on the air during the auction. I think I remember Mike Ambrosino or David Ives introducing it on camera: “Usually when we take a station break, there isn’t much we need say about it. But on this occasion, I have to introduce ____ and ____ on tenor, David Sloss on baritone, Dave Davis on bass, and Newton Wayland on piano!” (I can’t remember who the tenors were.)
And now, Fred Barzyk has re-created it in 2016.
You’ve got to say goodbye to that vast wasteland
You’ve got to say hello to that good-taste land
Culture and art can be really grand
On WGBH Boston
This version is performed by singer Roy Early and pianist Brian Snow.
By Vic Washkevich, in the Boston University alumni magazine, May, 2015
Way back in the summer of 1957, 10 new scholars arrived at BU’s Graduate School of Communications with the mission to attend school by day and become the arms and legs of WGBH-TV by night. Our scholarships were made possible trough the generosity of the Lowell Foundation.
Back then, WGBH-TV was on air from 6 until 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. The station was on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, directly across from MIT and one floor above a luncheonette, in a space that once housed a roller skating rink.
It was the TV equivalent of a garage band. The cameras were atop wooden fixed tripods that we prodded across floors furrowed by time and neglect, directing our tired picture tubes, rescued from the WBZ-TV dumpster, at luminaries from Harvard and MIT who discussed things esoteric. Surely, it was then and there that the phrase “talking heads” was coined and became part of the English lexicon.
In our youth, nothing seemed insurmountable. We approached every challenge with the old Mickey Rooney “Let’s put on a show!” enthusiasm.
All programming was live, back-to-back, and broadcast from a single studio. We raced from the director’s booth to man a camera, then to pull a cable, then to operate a boom mike every night for a year.
And so, with our primitive, fragile equipment, we aired the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Arts Festival, Father Norman J. O’Connor (known as The Jazz Priest), and much more.
Several of us made it through the entire year, became fast friends, and have remained close over the years via reunions at regular intervals, including John Fusilli (COM ’59), Stew White (COM ’58), Paul Noble (COM ’58), Bob Moscone (DGE ’49), and Don Mallinson (DGE ’56, COM ’57).