Over the past five years, WGBH’s audience has grown more than any other major NPR news station in the country, says Ken Mills, a Minneapolis broadcast consultant who writes about noncommercial radio. Its weekly listeners have nearly doubled since the spring of 2012, rising from 235,200 to 445,200, according to Nielsen data aggregated by Mills. By that measure, WGBH now ranks 10th in the country among NPR news stations…
Perhaps the most remarkable part of WGBH’s ascent is that it largely spared its chief rival, steadily building a base without damaging WBUR, or even swiping their monogrammed umbrellas…
Their simultaneous success says something telling about Boston, which may well be more devoted to the decorous purr of public radio than any other American metropolis.
If the audience shares of the two stations were combined, it would create the No. 1 radio station in Greater Boston, according to Nielsen audience estimates. Taken together, WGBH and WBUR command a bigger local market share than San Francisco’s KQED, the public radio station with the most weekly listeners in the country, according to Mills and Nielsen.
In the realm of public radio, the Boston situation — close quarters combat between well-off rivals — is extremely rare.
Steve Schwartz began his last radio show like he had so many others, cuing up pianist Horace Parlan’s “Wadin” — the song’s bass line striding purposefully out of the speakers, backed by the subtle swish of brushes on cymbals. “Good evening and welcome to jazz on WGBH,” he said as the song’s last notes faded.
For jazz fans throughout Greater Boston and beyond, there was a hint of sadness in every tune he played during “Jazz from Studio Four” on July 6, 2012, as he edged closer to signing off a couple of minutes past midnight.
“As you may or may not have heard, this is my last program for WGBH radio — starting here back in 1985 and working my way towards bringing you jazz on a Friday night. And this will wind it up,” Mr. Schwartz said, before turning to the business at hand: more than three hours of carefully chosen music.
“The gentleness of his voice made his show easy to listen to, but he wasn’t just a great voice. He was knowledgeable about the music, too,” said Eric Jackson, a longtime colleague and host of WGBH-FM’s “Eric in the Evening” jazz show. “He knew the music. There are some announcers I’ve heard who I thought were abrasive, arrogant. Steve was this warm presence who invited you in when he was on the air with the sound of his voice and the music he played.”
Mr. Schwartz, whose tastes in jazz were first shaped by an interlude he spent in California as a teenager, died in Seasons Hospice in Milton March 25 of multiple myeloma. He was 74 and had lived in Jamaica Plain.
“My father wanted to make a change, so when I was 15 we moved to Los Angeles,” Mr. Schwartz said in an interview published on The Arts Fuse website. “It was there that I first heard jazz on the radio, and I was hooked.”
During those years, Mr. Schwartz “heard different musicians, Charlie Mingus, Chet Baker — people who really moved him,” said his wife, Constance Bigony.
Indeed, when Mr. Schwartz began hosting jazz radio programs after returning to Boston, “he advertised his show, especially in the earlier years, as ‘acoustic jazz,’ which says a lot about his musical tastes,” Jackson said.
“In later years, he would surprise me when I’d hear something with a little electric piano in it,” Jackson added with a laugh. “I’d think, ‘Wow, he’s playing that.’ ”
In 2012, WGBH eliminated Mr. Schwartz’s Friday show. Jackson, who had been on weeknights, is now on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
After the public radio station announced the changes to make room for more news and information programming, jazz fans were so upset that they protested and held a jazz funeral.
“It wasn’t a total surprise, but it is a loss,” Mr. Schwartz told the Globe a couple of weeks before his final show. Boston’s jazz community, he added, “is losing an important venue for musicians to promote their events.”
In a February 2014 video interview that is posted on YouTube, Mr. Schwartz said that “to me the best part of doing radio was being able to promote the local jazz scene: Who’s coming into Scullers? Who’s coming into the Regattabar? Who’s got a new CD out? Local talent, playing here and there. Online, you know, it’s — I hate to say the word — just jazz.”
Of all the perks of hosting a radio show for nearly three decades, he added, “I just want to say that promoting the local jazz scene one night a week was most, most gratifying.”…
WGBH hired Mr. Schwartz to run the equipment for a taped overnight blues show. Then he suggested launching a jazz show to fill the time between the end of the blues program and the beginning of Robert J. Lurtsema’s “Morning pro musica.” Mr. Schwartz eventually was hired as program manager, and also was the engineer for live jazz broadcasts at WGBH…
For Mr. Schwartz’s many fans, his last show was a eulogy of sorts — played out in favorite jazz tunes — though no one could have guessed he would be diagnosed with multiple myeloma only a few months later. He ended with a set of songs sung by Karrin Allyson. Ever the professional, he signed off as if it were any show, not his last.
“Thank you for your phone calls earlier tonight. They do mean a lot to me and it’s great to hear from you,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Have a good weekend. Thank you for listening.”
Friday night, as I was noting Day 30 of a cold virus, my friend Steve Schwartz was admitted to Seasons Hospice in Milton, Mass.
Yesterday morning, while driving east for lunch with my niece in Beverly and afternoon drop-ins at bluesman Peter Ward‘s 60th birthday gig in Cambridge and a visit with Jack Woker at Stereo Jack’s, I checked my messages during a routine stop at Natick Plaza on the Pike. There were several, but only one that mattered, the one with word that Steve died around four o’clock Saturday morning, one month shy of his 75th birthday, and several years into combating cancer and other grave health matters.
I last spoke with Steve two weeks ago. He was fairly upbeat with the latest on his wife Constance Bigony’s art work, reports on his three kids, Eric, Peter, and Jamie, and his grandchildren, and curious to hear more about our grandsons Bisbee and Atlas. It ended, as most calls did with Steve in recent years, with the hope that we’d be off gallivanting sometime soon.
Alas, today I know that Steve’s been released from a great deal of pain, and those of us who knew him have lost a good, kind, warm-hearted man.
I knew Steve for about 25 years. Before we met at a Joe Lovano concert that he emceed at the DeCordova Museum around 1990, I would hear him on WGBH where he hosted Jazz from Studio Four. I spent many Sunday nights returning from the Cape with Steve guiding the way, always with his mellow, down-home theme song, Horace Parlan’s “Wadin’,” kicking things off at 7 p.m., and often with the word that he’d returned from the Cape a few hours earlier.
Perhaps more than any other experience I’ve had as a listener to radio, it’s the memory of Steve’s references to Fisher Beach in Truro and the details of a meal he’d had in P-Town that give me a sense of why I needn’t be surprised when listeners tell me about some seemingly trivial bit of personal material that I’ve shared while hosting Jazz a la Mode. “Oh yeah, but how about the night when I played those rare 1941 airchecks by Lester Young?” Alas, it’s usually a personal anecdote that resonates most.
Steve and I shared a love of jazz, movies, fresh seafood, and bike rides. He’d owned a bike shop in Mattapan before his radio career began. He was a great fan of Preston Sturges films, especially Sullivan’s Travels, which he relished sharing with friends.
He grew up in Dorchester and spent a few years in Los Angeles during his mid- to late-teens. That’s where his love of jazz took root, and he was fond of recalling the day when Gerry Mulligan walked by as he was listening to a new Mulligan LP in the listening booth of a Santa Monica record store.
During his Boston youth, he sang in a street corner doo-wop group, and maintained friendships with his harmonizing homies Jeffrey and Hal. Like a true Bostonian, he didn’t know my hometown of Worcester at all before we met, but he was eager for a tour, and we finally got that done a few years ago. I got to show him the Valley too, and in recent years, we would meet halfway in Sturbridge for lunch.
Steve was the best kind of friend, one who was eager to hang on the next unscheduled day on the calendar. His opening line was often, “Two Jews sitting on a bench;” his favorite tag was, “News at 11;” and in notes, he borrowed from Thelonious Monk for his closing salutation, “Always know.”
While courting Meg fifteen years ago, I had occasion to spend dozens of weekends with her near Boston, and during that time Steve and I got together frequently to hear jazz and to ride bikes. In addition to negotiating the city’s busy streets, we took trails to Lexington and Concord; rode the East Bay trail south of East Providence; the Emerald Necklace of Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, and Brookline.
We ate all over too: Belle Isle in East Boston, Mac’s Shack in Wellfleet, Red Wing in Walpole, Summer Shack in Cambridge, Twin Seafood in West Concord, always in pursuit of great seafood at establishments hospitable to bike shorts. Steve had a bead on every pop-up lunch spot in Boston, and while attending jazz conferences and festivals, we maxed-out per diems in New York, New Orleans, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Toronto, and Montreal.
Steve was a gourmand of informal dining spots here, there, and everywhere. When word came down that Uglisich’s, a no-frills purveyor of alligator stew and oysters by the dozen was closing, Steve and his beloved Connie flew down to New Orleans for one last hurrah.
Steve’s was one of the great voices of Boston jazz radio. In that capacity, he also engineered and produced scores of concert broadcasts for WGBH and for Jazz Set, Jazz Alive, and other series on NPR. He engineered the Jazz Decades with Ray Smith, which for years preceded Jazz From Studio Four. He produced state-of-the-art profiles on such New England-based jazz greats as George Russell, Jackie McLean, Gunther Schuller, Archie Shepp, Steve Lacy, and Yusef Lateef. And he conducted several highly memorable panels at IAJE, including interviews with Dan Morgenstern and Nat Hentoff. Steve knew and was known by everyone in the business.
I’ll miss Steve more than I can say at this sad hour for I’m grateful to have enjoyed such an agreeable friendship with this truest of true friends. Rest in Peace, my man.
From Josie Patterson
For the 5 years or so that I was the business and marketing head of ‘GBH radio, Steve was a major presence at the station beyond his show, Now’s the Time. He, Eric Jackson, Ron Gill, Mai Cramer, Holly Harris, and Ron Della Chiesa pushed for jazz and the blues to be recognized as the amazing and genuinely American art forms that they are.
Steve and Margot Stage recorded Jazz Portraits, which Margot said were amongst some of the best of her work. Steve produced an Ellington concert at Berklee featuring Danilo Perez on piano; today Danilo heads the jazz department at the school. He guided the recording of the New Orleans annual Jazz Festival and other important jazz concerts. All of this was under the guidance of Marita Rivero, now the director of Boston’s African American Meeting House, and, I believe, the only female person of color to reach the Vice President level at WGBH.
I liked working at WGBH, on both the documentary and the radio side, and always felt it was a 12 year graduate program. The local public radio station was the part of the foundation where for awhile people could and did experiment with different art forms based on their own cultural traditions. Radio productions are less expensive to produce than film, and radio is an intimate medium that distinguishes it to this day from other kinds of media. I can only hope that ‘GBH Radio will once again embrace music from many cultures. People love music!
WGBH, the public media organization, will receive $218.7 million in exchange for moving the over-the-air signals of its WGBH and WGBY stations from frequencies on the UHF band to the VHF band. The two stations broadcast from Boston and Springfield respectively…
For public broadcasters, the payday comes as President Trump has threatened to massively cut federal funding to their industry. The $218.7 million that the WGBH Educational Foundation will get equals about one year of the nonprofit company’s current operating budget.
“We felt the spectrum auction was a unique opportunity, knowing we could continue to provide all of our public media services to viewers, and simultaneously support and strengthen this valued organization,” Richard Burnes, chair of WGBH’s board of trustees, said.
WGBH officials said they intend to put the money into its endowment with the aim of funding a larger portion of its annual expenses from investment proceeds. That will help the broadcaster “expand its educational services to children and students, further its in-depth journalism, and strengthen its modest endowment,” WGBH said in a statement.
A third station owned by the foundation, WGBX 44 in Boston, wasn’t sold in the auction, but will probably need to change its signal anyway, as the FCC wants to relocate remaining UHF channels into lower frequencies to free up even more spectrum.
WGBH and other broadcasters that are changing frequencies can draw from a federal fund to pay for new equipment and labor needed to make the switch.
Whether producing documentaries or sailing to a country he had never visited, Zvi Dor-Ner was always searching for an adventure.
As an executive producer at WGBH-TV, he made it his mission to tell stories of daring, and among his career highlights was a 1992 documentary about Christopher Columbus, whose spirit of discovery paralleled Mr. Dor-Ner’s in many ways.
Despite the subjects he chose, though, Mr. Dor-Ner never overdramatized the stories and lives he portrayed in documentaries, said Peter McGhee, his former boss at WGBH.
“Television has great temptations for a producer because you can make things so exciting by manipulating images and sound,” said McGhee, a former vice president for national programming. “Zvi would never cheat. He would look for hard truths and look hard for the truth, but he was utterly faithful in his discoveries.”
Mr. Dor-Ner, an award-winning executive producer at WGBH for about 30 years who as a child lost most of his family in the Holocaust, died April 6 in his Brookline home of pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
There were other echoes of Columbus in Mr. Dor-Ner’s life, in addition to his documentary and his love for sailing. He named his last boat the Nina, after one of the three ships Columbus used on his trip across the Atlantic. Mr. Dor-Ner also had business cards printed with his title when he was aboard his sailboat: Captain of the Nina.
His adventurous spirit was contagious, family and friends said, and he was adamant about encouraging those around him to share his sense of curiosity…
Zvi Richard Dor-Ner was born in 1941 in what was then Lvov, Poland, the only child of Nathan Dor-Ner and the former Joanna Berl. Soon after Mr. Dor-Ner’s birth, German forces occupied Lvov, and many of his relatives were killed during the war.
His father died in Lublin Castle, a medieval castle in a city to the north where the Nazis had created a ghetto. Many thousands of Jews were imprisoned in Lublin before being sent to extermination camps.
Mr. Dor-Ner and his mother survived the war and moved to Israel when he was about 8. He served in the Israeli Intelligence Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, and also worked as a cameraman for a television network in Jerusalem.
He studied at Boston University, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications…
Mr. Dor-Ner, who was a Nieman fellow after college, worked as a producer at WGBH for about three decades before retiring in 2009.
Producing documentaries, he chose topics that interested him, which was the case with “Columbus and the Age of Discovery.” That series “doubled the average PBS prime-time audience with its premiere,” according to Mr. Dor-Ner’s biography on the PBS website. Mr. Dor-Ner also wrote the companion book for the series.
Over the course of his career, his work took home honors including Emmy Awards, for work such as the series “Enterprise”; George Foster Peabody awards for “People’s Century” and “Shattered Dreams of Peace – The Road from Oslo”; and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for the series “Arabs and Israelis.”
“Zvi’s impressive portfolio includes some of WGBH’s proudest moments and reflects his wide-ranging curiosity and intellect,” Henry Becton, former president of WGBH and vice chairman of its board, said in a statement. “He was a master storyteller, and masterful at choreographing the complex international production partnerships that enabled such sweep and range.”
Mr. Dor-Ner’s credits also included “Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back,” the series “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” and “The Longest Hatred,” which examined anti-Semitism….
Regardless of where he lived, Mr. Dor-Ner was always in search of an adventure. His daughter Anna said she didn’t understand when she was younger why he frequently left to travel, but realized as she got older it was something he had to do.
“That has always been his passion. It was like his love,” she said. “He wasn’t as happy as he could be if he wasn’t sailing.”
Read the story at the Boston Globe
From WGBH QuickNooz
The WGBH community mourns with sadness the passing of Zvi Dor-Ner, former WGBH Exec Producer. Zvi died yesterday morning at age 75. He had been doing what he loved—skippering his beloved boat around the world—when in late January he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Zvi began his distinguished career in 1966 as a WGBH news cameraman. He returned in 1979 after working in television in his native Israel and honing his journalistic skill as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Before his 2009 departure from WGBH, Zvi executive-produced such milestone productions as the duPont-Columbia Award-winning series ARABS AND ISRAELIS; the International Emmy and George Foster Peabody Award-winning PEOPLE’S CENTURY; COLUMBUS AND THE AGE OF DISCOVERY, which doubled the average PBS prime-time audience with its premiere and for which he authored the series companion book; WAR AND PEACE IN THE NUCLEAR AGE; APOLLO 13: TO THE EDGE AND BACK; the Emmy Award-winning business series ENTERPRISE; and more than a dozen films for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, FRONTLINE, and NOVA.
“Zvi’s impressive portfolio includes some of WGBH’s proudest moments and reflects his wide-ranging curiosity and intellect,” says WGBH Vice Chair and former President Henry Becton. “He was a master storyteller, and masterful at choreographing the complex international production partnerships that enabled such sweep and range.”
“Zvi was WGBH’s own Columbus,” recalls former VP for National Programming Peter McGhee. “He was resourceful, daring, and creative…a generous and loving man and loyal friend. His body of work is an enduring monument to and measure of the man.”
A service in Zvi’s memory will take place Tues, 4/11, 12 noon at Mount Auburn Cemetery’s Story Chapel. Rest in peace.
Zvi Dor-Ner, a longtime WGBH executive producer and NF ’77, died April 6 at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts from pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
Dor-Ner spent 30 years at WGBH, Boston’s PBS affiliate, starting as a cameraman and going on to produce several award-winning series and historical documentaries. He worked on celebrated programs such as “Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back,” “People’s Centruy,” “Columbus and the Age of Discovery,” “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” and “Arabs and Israelis,” along with more than a dozen films for “Nova,” “Frontline,” and “American Experience.” Throughout his career, Dor-Ner and the programs he produced won awards including a duPont-Columbia award and multiple Emmys and George Foster Peabody awards.
Born in Poland shortly before the Germans took the city in 1941, Dor-Ner and his mother escaped to Israel; his father and most of his immediate family members were killed by the Nazis. After serving in the Israeli army, Dor-Ner began his career in 1966 as a news cameraman at WGBH while earning a degree in communications at Boston University. Following his graduation, he returned to Israel to work as a camera operator, producer, and director for various entertainment and documentary programs for several years. After his Nieman Fellowship in 1976-77, he rejoined WGBH and stayed there until his retirement in 2009.
Preceded in death by his wife Alexandra Dane, who died in 1991, Dor-Ner is survived by his girlfriend, three daughters, and four grandsons.
Zvi Richard Dor-Ner, 75, died Thursday, April 6, 2017, at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Zvi was born on July 13, 1941 in Lvov, Poland just weeks before the Germans took the city. His father Nathan and most of his immediate family were killed by the Nazis. Zvi and his mother Joanna (nee Berl) escaped to Israel where Zvi attended school, served in the army and began his career as a cameraman for Israeli television.
Zvi was a journalist and an exceptional story-teller. After graduating from Boston University and spending a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Zvi spent 30 years as an executive producer for WGBH, the Boston PBS affiliate. The historical documentaries he produced won many awards including a duPont-Columbia award, as well as multiple Emmys and George Foster Peabody awards. Zvi chose topics that were fascinating, complicated and often controversial. He transformed them into vivid and compelling stories– he had a natural gift for narrative which he honed, over decades, into a science.
Zvi loved sailing. He built his first boat at the age 12 and launched it from the beach in Bat Yam. As an adult he captained his ketch ‘Nina’ across the Atlantic several times exploring the Northeast, Caribbean and Mediterranean. He made a thorough study of dockside fish restaurants, maritime museums, cockpit sunsets and cold-water swims. Every year after his retirement in 2009, his friends looked forward to a letter from the ‘Meandering Navigator’ that would describe his anticipated four month itinerary and invite them along for two weeks at a time.
Even at home, he was everybody’s port in a storm. His guest room and kitchen were almost always inhabited by the recently heartbroken, the newly arrived, or the otherwise lost. He offered warmth and optimism but also clear-eyed perspective to all of them.
Zvi was married for 23 years to Alexandra Dane. Together they traveled all over the world, lived in Boston and Paris and Jerusalem and had two daughters: Daphne and Tamar. When Ali died in 1991, Zvi raised his 12 and 13 year old daughters alone. In 1997, Zvi had his third daughter, Anna, with his then-partner Win Lenihan. From the beginning, Tamar, Daphne and Anna have enjoyed and adored each other.
Zvi was an exceptional and unusual father. He had high expectations when it came to academics but never missed a chance to take his daughters out of school to travel the world. He cultivated their skepticism and their independence – even when it came at the expense of their alignment to his point of view.
As a father of three daughters, Zvi was delighted by his four grandsons and they were delighted by him.
He is missed by friends all over the world, in Israel, Poland, Paris, Portugal, London and beyond. In addition to his three daughters, he is survived by his four grandsons, Henry, Felix, Gideon, and Abe, and his girlfriend Pesya Altman.
A service for Zvi will be held at noon on Tuesday, April 11th at the Story Chapel in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Nieman Foundation (to promote and elevate the standards of journalism, nieman.harvard.edu) or to Etgarim (empowerment and social integration of people with disabilities, etgarim.org).
Since Zvi paid a lot of attention to historical facts, I would like to correct some points mentioned in the obituary:
Zvi was actually born two weeks before German troops took Lvov. His mother did not have a chance to escape to Israel as Israel did not exist yet. It was by chance that he was born in Lvov; they were actually living in Lublin at the time.
His father, with a “Jewish” appearance, had to hide in surrounding villages while his blond-haired mother was working as a nurse in Lublin hospital having little dyed-hair Rysio (Zvi’s given name) with her. His father and an uncle were taken by Germans and later shot in Lublin Castle.
Just before withdrawing in 1944, the Nazis massacred its remaining 300 prisoners and Zvi’s father and uncle were among them. It was a very important fact for Zvi. The names of the father and uncle were put on a monument in Lublin just recently and Zvi was planning to go there in July to participate in an anniversary of the massacre.
After the father had been arrested Joanna escaped from Lublin and, after long voyages, was hidden with little Rysio by a Polish railwayman in Lowicz where they stayed until the end of the war under a fake name Bialozorski.
They lived in Cracow after the war and went to Israel in 1949 where Rysio was placed in a boarding school while his mother went to live in Paris, and this influenced his future emotional life. In Israel, Rysio Dorner (Bialozorski at that time) became Zvi Richard Dor-Ner.
I met Richard when he was already retired and wanted to spend more time sailing; he always had discoverers in mind. Richard, who had sailed all his life, bought his current boat in 1993. With American flag S.V. NINA, he sailed extensively on the US east coast and with which he has crossed the Atlantic in 2000. Since then he criss-crossed the Mediterranean from West to East and from North to South, often more then once. I belonged to that part of his life. We crossed on the Nina East to West in 2013.
This is what Zvi wrote about himself on his sailing profile:
I have sailed since childhood. When I did not sail, I was a TV producer of documentaries on historical subjects. I have done it for many years and as a result know something about documentaries and history. I have published two books: one about Columbus and the age of Discovery and one an Emergency Action Guide for Sail and Motor Yachts. This in addition to more then 300 documentaries. I am qualified as Yachtmaster offshore by RYA and have a 100-ton license from the USCG. I crossed the Atlantic back and forth. I sailed extensively in Europe and the Mediterranean. Now I sail in the Caribbean and central America.
We cruise for several months every year. The boat is left in a different port when I don’t sail then I pick it up with a crew of friends and sail for 5-6 months. While I stay on board all the time, most of the crew changes every 3-4 weeks. I like to have a crew that knows sailing and something else very well. For each segment I like to assemble a crew of 2 or 3 that is diverse and interesting with a mix of talents, skills, knowledge and experience. Most of the times it works extremely well.”
Richard’s wrote this after crossing the Atlantic in 2013 (12/27/2013):
Today, in the morning, Nina entered the “Galleon Passage” between Trinidad and Tobago. It is only thirty miles wide, but we see neither of the two islands. It is disappointing to pass, what is an important marker on our trip without seeing it. One way or another, on the basis of GPS the Atlantic Crossing is over. It did not change, the Atlantic. It is still just the same as it has been for the last few days, gray, overcast, with occasional rain and, as we still sail with wind and swell just astern, very very rolling. We have another seventy miles before we drop anchor or dock.
This is the fifteen and last day of our passage. For a cruising boat our size it was a very fast transit indeed, all of it under sail. In fact, for the whole trip we have been flying just one sail, our large 140 percent Genua. It is rigged with its working sheet lead through a snatch block attached to the end of the main boom which is extended, with a boom vang, to all the way out to port or starboard depending if the trade are blowing from slightly North or slightly South of East.
The only sailing maneuver we carried out was to jibe occasionally and furl and unfurl the sail frequently, almost akin to changing gears while driving.
We have been lucky with trade winds. A very high pressure era above Bermuda and the Azores provided those. We seldom had wind of less then twenty knots, frequently for days and nights at a time, we where powered by 35 knots of wind.
Our speed log registered speeds it has never seen before, of 10, 12 and 13 knots as we surfed down 16-foot waves. This was a blessing, but there was also a punishment. The strong winds produced a huge massy swell coupled with another distinctive wave train from slightly different direction combining in a distracting, disorganized, yet powerful sea that hived and shook us in many uncomfortable ways.
The swell rolled Nina terribly, often from gunwale to gunwale, in the first days inducing semi-seasickness and limiting all of us to only the most basic and necessary actions. Eventually it became just a nuisance requiring a lot of energy and planing for the simplest action, making a sandwich for example.
Sixty feet up from the deck, the top of the mast will move violently through such rolls, inscribing a very large arc. Frequently this would force the air out of the sail which will then snap violently as it refills with wind on its swings back to the other side. The sound of this routine was like a gun shot and as wrenching. You kind of know that the sail can’t take this kind of punishment forever, sometime it will have to give in and tear itself to shreds, or destroy its fittings…It did not do that, but the possibility was constantly on my mind and it was it scary…
We had equipment failure on small and large scale. Often, I was able to deal with problems then and there, while other remain waiting. The Genset, which creates electricity to charge batteries and toys, died on the second day. A sunny, happy Spanish mechanic fixed the atomizer of its little diesel just before departure; he changed the two bolts holding the injector down and one of those tore. We had to charge batteries by running the main engine two hours a day and face the fact that this was our only way to generate electricity.
Our automatic pilot worked great in the worst conditions but gave up eventually, now we mostly have to stear manually. Steering manually in a following wind and great swell requires a total concentration and doing it for six hours a day is just tough.
However it sounds, none of it was grim, it was not even hard, even if often tiring. We had great time. For me there was the added tension of being in charge, and having, presumably, have answers to every contingency. I did not, and often there are no good answer beside endurance.
Now it is all over, the Atlantic is smaller. The experience of dealing with it in such an intensive way will sink in eventually and be digested on another level than the nuts and bolts, both actual and figurative.
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.
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.