Vonnegut and Barzyk: Between Time and Tibuktu

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

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

posterFrom Fred Barzyk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, back to Between Time and Timbuktu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special moments

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

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

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

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

It was imagination over Death.

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

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

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

Between Time and Timbuktu 1972

Ed Joyce, 71, Animation Photographer

From the Family

ed-joyce-2-500X500Filmmaker Ken Burns gave this observation . . . “Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means, ‘God in us’.”

In his seventy-one years Ed Joyce never lost his enthusiasm . . . for life . . . for his family . . . for his work. As an expert animation photographer he worked with Burns on epics such as The Civil War, Baseball and Jazz, important works that not only taught us about our past but who we are as part of the American experience.

Ed’s career in filmmaking began with a company called Education Development Center in Watertown, a company that created educational films. When that closed he opened his own shop on Los Angeles Street in the Nonantum section of Newton called Frame Shop. It was there his career took on a new dimension in the very specialized field of animation photography . . . the ability to create something new and exciting and alive. Other films that he worked on were A Brief History of Time, Mark Twain, New York: A Documentary Film, Eyes on the Prize, Race to the Moon, Chicago: City of the Century, Einstein Revealed, The Congress, as well as work for television and commercials.

He was a longtime member of Local 481 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

EdwardT. Joyce died Thursday, May 12, 2016 at his Waltham home. He was 71. He was born in Brighton on October 4, 1944, the son of the late Thomas and Helen (Kelly) Joyce. He was raised in Watertown and was a graduate of Watertown High School.

The best part of his life began on September 10th, 1967 when he married his sweetheart, Watertown native Frances M. Maffucci, in Saint Patrick’s Church. The couple lived in Watertown for a time before moving to Framingham where they lived for more than thirty years. They have been Waltham residents since 2001.

In addition to his wife of forty-nine years, Fran, he leaves his children, Thomas E. Joyce of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Robyn L. Joyce-Morrison of Worcester and Matthew G. Joyce of Waltham; his grandchildren, Ryan Angelico, Christina and Anthony Joyce, Payton and Dylan Morrison; his sisters, Ellen Joyce of Louisville, Kentucky, Patricia Connors of Waltham, Mary Joyce of Aurora, Colorado and Kathleen Joyce of Yorktown Heights, New York and many nieces and nephews.

Family and friends will honor and remember Ed’s life by gathering for calling hours in The Joyce Funeral Home, 245 Main Street (Rte. 20), Waltham on Monday, May 16th from 4 to 8 p.m. and again at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning before leaving in procession to Saint Patrick’s Church, 212 Main Street, Watertown where his Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. Burial will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to Dana Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215.

Point Taken: New WGBH show encourages input via social media

From the Boston Globe

Is college worth the money? Is the American dream dead? These are the kind of provocative questions debated on “Point Taken,” a new show on WGBH hosted by Carlos Watson. Unusually, the audience can participate via social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The genesis came from executive producer Denise Dilanni, who says broadcast outlets need to expand their digital reach.

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Get involved early, before the broadcast. For the show, viewers can follow “Point Taken” on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat (@PointTakenPBS) and can join the debate by sharing the topics, or posting the Twitter poll and explainer video. During the taping, the show hosts a “Facebook Live” segment from the set with Carlos and panelists, giving Facebook fans a chance to directly ask questions or weigh in with their own points.

Producers monitor tweets live and insert the most salient and compelling points into the broadcast itself. This broadcast integration adds texture and depth to the debate and gives those joining the conversation on Twitter a national platform for their thoughts and comments.

 

William Grant, 72, Producer and Editor

From Current

grant-500x500William Grant, an influential producer at both WNET and WGBH, died Sunday in Atlanta of complications from pneumonia. He was 72.

During his long career Grant won 13 Emmys and eight Peabody Awards.At WGBH in Boston, Grant was executive editor of Nova from 1985–95 and managing editor of Frontline from 1983–85. He joined WNET in New York City in 1997 and spent 16 years there as executive director of science, natural history and features, bringing such groundbreaking shows as Frontier House and African-American Lives to air.

Fred Kaufman, executive producer of Nature, worked with Grant for years. “I have so many fond memories of sitting with Bill in some nondescript convention hotel, sipping martinis and solving all the world’s problems,” Kaufman told Current. “He was my boss for many years but he never acted like one. He was a friend first and foremost.”

In 1991, Grant helped found the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, considered the Oscars of documentary conservation and nature film. Grant was chairman emeritus of the festival board at the time of his death.

“His impact was indelible and his leadership was very much a reflection of what he was as a human — insightful, wry, intelligent and always a true Southern gentleman,” said Lisa Samford, executive director of the festival.

He was born July 5, 1943, in Winchester, Ky. Grant attended the University of Kentucky and in 1965 became the school’s first student to earn a master’s degree in mass communication. He was named to the University of Kentucky’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2005.

Grant retired in 2011 and moved from New York to Atlanta to be near family.

He is survived by his wife, Ellen; two sons, Mitchell and Rees; daughter Elizabeth Mitchell Grant; brother Walter; two sisters, Anne Grant Holloway and Mary Grant Anderson; and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be 6–8:30 p.m. Friday at H.M. Patterson & Son Funeral Home in Sandy Springs, Ga. Funeral services will be 2 p.m. Saturday, with reception to follow, at Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta.

His family suggests donations to the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, P.O. Box 3940, Jackson, WY 83014.

Samford also asks friends and colleagues to share their memories of Grant for a book to be presented to his family. Email her at lisa@jhfestival.org.

From the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival

William R. Grant, an award-winning producer of some of public television’s most successful programs, died May 15 in Atlanta of complications from pneumonia. He was 72.

Mr. Grant, who in 2001 was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, spent 28 years working in television after 18 years as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Kentucky, Michigan and California.

He won numerous awards over the course of his career, including 13 Emmys and eight Peabody Awards. He was executive editor of the PBS science show “NOVA” and managing editor of the public affairs program “Frontline.” He was executive director of science, natural history and features for WNET, the New York City flagship of public television. He produced many of PBS’s most popular and critically acclaimed series, including “The American President” and “Stephen Hawking’s Universe.”

His work in print journalism, specializing in reporting on educational issues, also was frequently lauded. He won five awards from the National Council for the Advancement of Education Writing, two Charles Stewart Mott education writing awards and the American Bar Association Silver Gavel. Mr. Grant also was a Nieman Fellow in the prestigious program at Harvard University from 1979 to 1980.

In addition, Mr. Grant was one of the founding board members who launched the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in 1991. He became chairman of the board in 2002, a role he maintained for a decade, when the board agreed to let him retire only if he remained on the executive committee and maintained his position as chairman emeritus. “Under Bill’s leadership, the Festival grew to become the most prestigious event of its genre,” said Lisa Samford, executive director of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, where winning an award is considered the “Oscars” of conservation and nature film. “His impact was indelible and his leadership was very much a reflection of what he was as a human – insightful, wry, intelligent and always a true Southern gentleman.”

But Mr. Grant’s proudest achievements came closer to home. In a 2007 interview with WildFilmNews, Mr. Grant said there were only a few things he couldn’t live without. “My children and grandchildren are the joy of my life,” he said, adding wryly, “That, and my big screen HD television.”

Mr. Grant was born on July 5, 1943, in Winchester, Ky. He attended the University of Kentucky, initially planning to become a lawyer before he got the journalism bug, and became editor of the student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. In 1965, he became the school’s first student to earn a master’s degree in mass communication. He was named to the University of Kentucky’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2005.

He started his career during a golden age for print journalism. He worked for The Courier-Journal of Louisville, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Detroit Free Press and the San Francisco Chronicle. The reporting and storytelling skills he honed there held him in good stead when he switched to television, working at WGBH, the Boston affiliate of public television, for two years as managing editor of “Frontline” and 10 years as executive editor of “NOVA.” He joined WNET in 1997, where he was executive producer for important and well-received public television series and specials, including “Savage Skies,” “America on Wheels” and “Knife to the Heart.”

“He knew all the J-school stuff, and how to drill down,” said Tamara E. Robinson, vice president of programs at WNET and Mr. Grant’s boss during his years there. “He was very good writer. Coupled with that, he knew his craft as a television producer.”

Robinson described Mr. Grant as a perfectionist and a voracious reader of history. On the rare occasions when he did not already know a lot about a subject she assigned him to produce a program on, he quickly mastered it and figured out not only the best experts to talk to but the best person to help frame a proposal for a grant.

“He was, bottom line, an absolute joy to work with,” she said. “His staff adored him, and would kill for him. He gave them enough space to be innovative and creative. He also had the most generous heart in the world. If someone was in trouble or needed money, he would quietly try to find out how to help that person, and never seek credit. There is much to admire with Bill Grant.”

When Mr. Grant retired in 2011 and moved from New York to Atlanta, where many of his relatives live, he received an accolade more dear to his heart than any of his professional awards. His older son, Mitchell, noted his dad’s retirement on his Facebook page, and concluded, “If I can have a career half as successful as him, I will retire an extremely happy man.”

Mr. Grant is survived by his wife, Ellen G. Grant of Alpharetta, Ga.; two sons, Mitchell Grant of Boston, Mass., and Rees Grant of Columbus, Miss.; a daughter, Elizabeth Mitchell Grant of Athens, Ga., and two grandchildren, Owen Grant Shalin and Theodore Henry Shalin, both of Marietta, Ga.; a brother, Walter M. Grant of Atlanta, Ga.; two sisters, Anne Grant Holloway and Mary Grant Anderson, both of Lilburn, Ga. Bill was preceded in death by his parents, R. Russell Grant and Mary Mitchell Rees Grant of Winchester, Ky.; a daughter, Katie Grant Shalin of Marietta, Ga.; and a brother, R. Michael Grant of Winchester, Ky.

His family requests in lieu of flowers that donations be made to the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, P.O. Box 3940, Jackson, WY 83014.

Fred Barzyk’s Snapshots: Scene 3

This entry is part 16 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the third in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director.

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People! for NBC

In 1976, I received a call from a big time talent agent.

I hung up on him because I thought it was a joke. He called again and said that Lily Tomlin and Time magazine had proposed a TV show to NBC called People! Not only was it scheduled; Lily would like me to be the director. I still didn’t believe him and said no thanks.

Several days later I got a call from Jane Wagner. She explained that she and Lily worked together and that she, as the executive producer, wanted me to be the director. I asked why? I was just a TV producer/director working for WGBH in Boston. I had never done a commercial show. Jane told me she saw my “Medium is the Medium” segment on the Public Broadcasting Laboratory show and was impressed. That segment was the first time artists were given control of the TV equipment to create art. It was an important art event and was recognized by a lot of press.

But what did a lot of crazy video images have to do with a commercial TV show? Jane said the “way I thought” was just what she needed for the show. I finally understood that this was a real offer.

We agreed to meet in NYC. At the time, I was a member of the arts panel for the New York State Council on the Arts and it had a meeting a week later. We agreed to meet in a Chinese restaurant that was in the same building. I was still very skeptical. We met in this strange, dark Chinese restaurant and sipped tea. Jane was charming and very complimentary. Finally it sank in that I was going to do an NBC show with Lily Tomlin, a recognized talent. This was never in my plans, but what the hell. I said I would do it.

I did not belong to the directors union, DGA, but since it was being produced out of house by Time, it didn’t matter.

I called my dear friend and fellow producer, David Loxton, to join me in this adventure. He couldn’t believe it either but he joined as co-producer. And so we worked for several months with Jane and Lily.

Jane would arrive with this large bag and pull tons of articles clipped from newspapers and magazines. She and Lily would pick out the ideas that made them excited. David and I divided up the segments to produce. My first one was Loretta Lynn.

In 2015, I sent an e-mail to Lily and Jane describing a book idea. It would tell the history of WGBH, which many consider the best TV station in the country. In the e-mail, I also described the shoot with Loretta Lynn.

Dear Lily and Jane:

One of my pet projects is to somehow develop a WGBH History Book, collecting all the great stories of what many consider the finest TV/Radio station in the country. You were part of a big experiment trying to combine drama and video art. An Experiment that did not work.

But it taught me so many things that it was well worth the gamble. I am hoping you might take a few moments to write a short story about that time. My hope is to gather all these great stories that could one day become a testimony to the adventure that was WGBH. Thanks for considering helping.

But in turn, I owe you a story. I am not sure if I told you all that happened to me on the Loretta Lynn shoot for People. I first went out to meet her agent in Nashville. He took me to a very fancy French Restaurant. He wanted to know what the angle was to our story. I told him we wanted to celebrate her work and career. He agreed and we set a shoot date.

I never talked to Loretta, never met her until the night we were to begin shooting. I arrived at the Grand Old Opry (huge crowd), met my local film crew (husband and wife) and was informed that I could only film Loretta performance from backstage (unions). I still had not met her but was introduced to her dear friend, the Butcher Holler doctor who told her she was pregnant at age 13. A happy man who welcomed us all to the very special world of Loretta.

At the end of the performance, I met Loretta for the first time and she announced we were getting on her bus and heading to Butcher Holler for the shoot. She was “going home!” I turned to my crew and they agreed to the plan. On the bus, before we began the trip, Loretta had to read my palm. After looking at my hand for several minutes, she agreed. Whew!

The bus headed off into the night with Loretta, her agent, a female reporter from Rolling Stone, and her Butcher Holler doctor. Along the way Loretta came to the back of the bus and announced that she has just created a professional name for her sister: she was going to be called Crystal Gayle. Loretta said that was because her sister loved the hamburgers from the fast food restaurants named Crystal Hamburgers.

We traveled all night, making just one stop so the driver could get some biscuits and gravy. Conway Twitty’s bus pulled into the same parking lot. Loretta did not want to see him and sent her agent to say hello.

When we arrived in Butcher Holler it was early morning and none of us had any real sleep. The Doctor invited us to his place and gave us each a pillow. We all ended up on the floor, Loretta, my crew, the reporter from Rolling Stone, and me. As I squinted my eyes at our situation, everything just seemed surreal as we tried to get some shuteye.

Next morning, we headed out to visit the “shack” were Loretta was born and raised. Along the way we visited some of her relatives. Now, I want you to imagine the situation. Loretta had not been back there for many years and now she shows up with the group of strangers holding cameras. The welcome to Loretta by her family was rather cool. We finally made it to the “shack.” She went up alone first, and then allowed us to film inside.

The trip ended up at her mansion back in Tennessee in a small town that survives because of her presence. Her husband was off doing some kind of covered wagon adventure across country. As we drove up toward the mansion there was a burned-out auto sitting on the side of the road. We later found out that it was her son’s car. We filmed her diving into the Olympic size pool. And so ended my trip with Loretta.

The next segment was a live comedy performance by Lily at a university in Boston. Then I was off to California to videotape a conversation with Louise Lasser. Louise was starring in a comedy TV series called “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” The segment was going to take place on a beach with these two comedians. The conversation was all over the place in content and ended up with them talking about their shoes.

David and I both worked on the best segment in the show, a documentary segment that juxtaposed a glamorous model and a young blue-collar boxer. They both end up at disco clubs … the model in a chic club in Manhattan and the boxer at a seedy Brooklyn joint.

The night we were shooting at the chic club, Paul Simon wanders over to say hello to Lily. She asks him to be in the show. He agrees. We decide to have him, with Lily on his arm, try to get into this exclusive club. They won’t let him because he is too “short.” Paul is measured against a mark on the wall … but he is too short. Lily creates another plan to get into the club. A young man in a tux enters and he is OK’d to join the crowd. Lily saddles up to him and asks if he would escort her. He agrees and we watch poor Paul is left alone bemoan his fate.

David, Lily, Jane, and I put the show together with editor Dick Bartlett and submitted it to NBC. Lily announced that there were not enough “hugs” in the show. So I got a cameraperson and we ran thru the streets of New York hugging total strangers. What would NBC say?

The network’s man in charge, Dick Ebersol, made the final decision of which segments appeared in the hour show. People! aired in the same time slot as Saturday Night Live right after their first season ended. We only did one show and People! ceased to exist.

And now for the WGBH connection: Since I had befriended Lily and Jane, I offered them a chance to do an experimental drama for the WGBH New Television Workshop. The drama would involve video artists and a dance company. They agreed. Wow! And for minimums!

This wild experimental “thing” was called Collisions.

Collisions

My idea was based on an assumption that video artists, working on their own, would create personal visions around the “idea” of Collision. Then (somehow) we would put them into the drama to “enrich” the story. Jane would write the drama and Lily would be the main character.

I needed help with this project and so David Loxton joined our merry group. We combined our limited grant monies — David ran the TV Lab at WNET/13 in New York while I was the head of the WGBH New TV Workshop — to fund the project.

The artists were Stan Van Der Beek, Ron Hays, William Wegman, and the Louie Falco Dance Company. These artists were free to create whatever they wanted about collisions. It was up to David and me to figure out how to put them into the drama. This was a huge gamble. David was very dubious. And he was right.

Jane’s script arrived and it was a satiric Sci-Fi romp about an alien spirit (a pulsating light that bounced) arriving on Earth to figure out what life was like. The alien spirit takes over the body of a TV newscaster (Lily) and then sends back her findings to a group of big shot aliens on a planet somewhere in the galaxy. And whom did we cast for them?

Because it was Lily and Jane doing the show, we were able to gather some of the biggest names from NBC’s Saturday Night Live(As of 2016, that show is still on the air.) Dan Ackroyd and Gilda Radner agreed to appear in the show. I added another wild comic, a non-stop talker who spoke gibberish and eventually goes berserk, running all over the auditorium. His name: Professor Irwin Corey.

A great deal of the production took place in Studio A at WGBH. There was a giant blue screen in which we inserted nighttime stars. The big shot aliens (Ackroyd, Radner, Prof. Corey, and actor Charles White) were seated around a table, which also was a blue screen. Inserted in the table were images of Lily telling them what she found out about Earth people.

The next day’s production involved a typical local commercial news set. Lily was the news anchor, with Russ Morash as co-anchor. After the newscast, we see her body taken over by the alien spirit. This time she reports to the distant planet all the strange things she has found out.

We then took a film crew to shoot sequences around Boston where the alien spirit causes havoc. Then came the last big shoot, one that is very special to me.

Lily was all into the project, and she invited us to her mother’s hometown, Ashtabula, Kentucky, to film the last scenes. Inside her mother’s home, we filmed many of Lily’s relatives as she talks about her strange feelings of being not herself. The show ends with her lying down on a grave in a local graveyard. The story was done, and it was time to figure out how the artist’s works fit.

Needless to say, these artists’ visions were all special and not a natural fit.

  • The Louie Falco Dance Company did a dance in a deserted building in the Watertown armory. They used a Nina Simone song.
  • Ron Hays created the opening animation depicting the existence of a distant planet. This was the most comfortable fit to the drama.
  • William Wegman did a stand up wearing a pair of slinkys as eyeglasses. I am not even sure what it was about.
  • Van Der Beek gave us images that were abstract and used as B-roll enhancing the alien spirit taking over Lily’s body.

We edited for months, trying to make this all work. But alas, the show was a bust. Lily, Jane, David and I agreed that it would never air. Lily did allow a University Film Cooperative to play it on campuses across America.

Years later I was given an award from the French Video critics for my work with video artists. I traveled to France for the ceremony. They asked me to play one of my works for the crowd. I chose Collisions.

I warned them it was a total failure and proved a point: unless you are willing to have total failures you can never create meaningful breakthroughs. The crowd of 150 cleared out long before the show ended. Only one person was left and he told me that it was important that I had shown it. He said he understood my choice. And so ended Collisions.

From Bruce Bordett

Some pix I shot during production. As I recall a great time was had by all.

Collisions by Bruce Bordett

Collisions by Bruce Bordett

Collisions by Bruce Bordett

Margaret Faulkner, 80, Development Leader

candle-500x500Margaret J. Faulkner of Newton, MA died on May 1, 2016, at age 80. A devoted wife, mother and grandmother, Margy is survived by her beloved husband of 57 years, Robert K. Faulkner (Bob), her grateful children and their spouses, Robert C. (Donald MacDonald) and Elizabeth (Kevin O’Halloran), and three adoring grandchildren, Chase, William and Margaret O’Halloran. She is also survived by her brother, Alan McConaghan, his wife Barbara, and their children William, Megan, and Adam.

Margy was an exceptional student and could have been a scholar and professor had she so chosen. Her undergraduate studies were at Earlham College and the London School of Economics. As a Woodrow Wilson Scholar, she earned her Masters degree in political science from the University of Chicago, where she met her husband. Later, she turned a paper for a continuing education course into a children’s book, “I Skate,” published by Little Brown & Co.

Re-entering the professional sphere once her children were in school, she led a distinguished career in institutional development spanning positions at the Belmont Hill School, the Museum of Science Boston, and WGBH. Margy then enjoyed a long and enriching association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, serving happily on the Ladies Committee, class of 1998, and thereafter with the alumnae in the MFA Senior Associates. She was also an active member of the Chilton Club.

Those who knew Margy will remember her for her “effortless” entertaining that made every guest feel special, her refinement in the artistic pursuits she loved, her high personal standards, her uncomplaining perseverance through physical hardships, and her penetrating and candid demeanor. She was an avid homemaker, hostess, gardener, photographer, reader, community volunteer, participant in the arts, and world traveller. Always wise, judicious, exacting, generous, and gracious, she will be deeply missed by all who knew her.

In lieu of flowers Margy requested donations to her beloved MFA Senior Associates, made payable to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and mailed c/o The MFA Senior Associates Tribute Fund, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, May 7, at 2:00pm in Lindsey Chapel, Emmanuel Church, 15 Newbury Street, Boston.

Source: Legacy.com

Fred Barzyk’s Snapshots: Scene 2

This entry is part 17 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the second in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director.

barzykAesthetic Influences

An excerpt from a letter to Brian O’Doherty (artist, doctor, National Endowment of the Arts Administrator) who was writing the major article for my Haggerty Museum exhibit catalogue.

June 1, 2001

Dear Brian,

This is the first time I have ever tried to explain my aesthetic influences to anyone. So forgive me if this gets too obtuse.

My work has always been tempered by two parts of my personality: boyish enthusiasm and quiet politics. This entails equal amounts of innocence and cunning. On one hand they would call me “Freddy berserk” while still admitting, “everyone likes to work with him.”

I tried to take advantage of both sides. Like Cristo, part of my art form was dealing with management and the egos of those involved in production. It was important for them to feel that whatever crazy thing I did it would not upset them … too much. It worked most of the time except when Michael Rice yanked one of my shows off the air. Even then I got around it. (Remind me to tell you the story.)

I also believe in the intelligence of the audience. No matter how confusing my TV shows might appear on first viewing, I always assume the viewer will understand the intent after reflecting on the content/form. It doesn’t always work, but I have never changed the basic assumption or approach.  In later works I have begun to give the audience a few more hints, a few handles to grasp the intent.

Juxtaposition became an important tool. Almost like a Rauschenberg, I would pile discreet content upon content hoping to create a new whole. Editing became a process that was not just functional but also emotional and educational. Here is where the Brecht theory comes in. Brecht called his theater “non-Aristotelian”: he deliberately did not want his audience to experience any kind of catharsis. He wanted them to see history, to educate the public about how society influences the characters. He was a poet/playwright who could also bring humor to his plays.

Hey, I was working in educational television. Maybe this approach could work for me!

My first TV drama was a Brecht style play with an anti war theme; “FIVE DAYS.” Here I used the Brechtian techniques in a TV drama. It took me years to learn how to apply the Brechtian concepts directly to the structure of non-dramatic TV program. That happened in the late 60’s.

The Double-Channel Experiment

I was asked to produce and direct a program for college kids during the summer of 1967. The series first started as 4 one-hour shows featuring a young Englishman who was lecturing at Tufts University. His name was David Silver and he looked a lot like Mick Jagger. This was the “Summer of Love, Love Ins, and Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30.”

I had been given Carte Blanc to do whatever might appeal to this particular age group. It was just what I needed to hone my personal vision quest. (I will write more about the Silver Show in a later Snapshot.)

The Rockefeller Foundation provided monies for a visiting artist program at WGBH. Michael Rice administered it. I asked Michael if I could invite Richard Schechner one of the people who most influenced me with his Drama magazine “The Tulane Drama Review.” Richard was always pushing the envelope and I thought his comments about our series with Silver could be explosive. It was.

What follows is the Wikipedia bio.

Richard Schechner is a University Professor and Professor of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, and editor of TDR: The Drama Review.

Richard Schechner received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University in 1956, a Master’s degree from the University of Iowa two years later, and a Ph.D. from Tulane University in 1962. He edited The Drama Review, formerly the Tulane Drama Review, from 1962–1969; and again from 1986 to the present.

Schechner went on to become one of the founders of the Performance Studies department of the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He founded The Performance Group of New York in 1967 and was its artistic director until 1980, when TPG changed its name to The Wooster Group. The home of both TPG and TWG is the Performing Garage in New York’s SoHo district, a building acquired by Schechner in 1968. That year Schechner signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. In 1992, Schechner founded East Coast Artists, of which he was the artistic director until 2009. He additionally writes for journals worldwide.

Richard came to WGBH for a week of viewing and talking about TV, especially focusing on the David Silver show.

He was not complimentary.

As a matter of fact, he thought we were being lazy and not taking enough real chances at being controversial. He yelled at me about formats and attitudes, and then he challenged us all to do something unique.

He knew that we had two TV stations, Ch. 2 and a UHF station, Ch. 44. He said we should broadcast our show on both channels at once, so that the story and images would bounce off each other in a stereo viewing of the show. We took the challenge to heart and produced the very first 2-channel experience in broadcasting.

We asked the audience to take 2 TVs and place them 6 feet apart, tune one to Ch. 2 and the other to Ch. 44. We then created 2 shows that week. As David was talking to Schechner on Ch. 2 in a normal interview style, you could see on Channel 44 a man going into a Laundromat, stripping down to his shorts, and washing his clothes. We also used some random B roll shots available in our film bin.

It wasn’t a good show, but it did take us into new territory with more double channel shows; a drama by Mary Feldhouse Weber directed by Rick Hauser, and a major dance piece by Gus Solomon Jr., called “City/Motion/Space/Game”, directed by Peter Downey.

Then the WGBH NEW TV Workshop and WNET’s TV LAB  produced a double channel show in NYC. The show aired simultaneous on WNET and the local independent station, WNEW. My contribution to the hour show was a 15-minute piece that featured comedians Bob and Ray. One of the highlights was their endless search to find the right script, forcing them to walk back and forth between the two channels. The segment was called “The Yin and Yang of It”

What’s Happening Mr. Silver

“What’s Happening Mr. Silver?”, a docu-drama-performance art TV series, was the structure I needed. I was able to capture on film the “shocking” activities of 1968-69 college age kids …  you know, drugs, sex, rock and roll, and, “oh, my heavens”, long hair (!) and construct the confrontation as theoretical, historical, educating the public about how society influences the characters. How Brecht! The confrontation of society by these theatrical hippies, “flower children,” flaunting their antics in staid Boston helped push them and others across the county into a radical movement. Society’s actions were influencing the characters.

The TV format for “What’s Happening” used a dispassionate and cynical approach, filled with whimsy and self-deprecating humor. To some critics the series seemed politically radical and inappropriate for educational television, but to me it was a philosophical and theatrical hoot. The Boston Globe’s critic at the time, Gregory MacDonald (he later wrote the “Fletch” detective novels), proclaimed me, “an underground filmmaker secretly working at a TV station”. Fortunately, he was a fan and wrote some terrific articles about the show. These articles probably saved my ass. I should send him a thank you note.

Side note: I found out in the 80’s that Army Intelligence had sent a guy to infiltrate our What’s Happening Mr. Silver “groupies”, investigating us to see if we were anti-government subversive militants. They even tapped my phone. What nonsense!

At the end of this series, David Loxton and I convinced Jac Venza to let us do a drama using David Silver as our dramatic vehicle; a young Englishman travels around the US trying to understand America. It was called “America Inc.”

We shot the entire drama without a script. We just went to places and made up the story: a burned out church; a used book store; an ice cream parlor that created huge, obscene sundaes; the abandoned Ellis Island, and The March On Washington protesting the Vietnam War. Now the challenge was to get the Brechtian overview into the drama.  What could I do to show society’s pressures actually influencing the actions of this young man?

I created phony commercials; public service spots if you will, which appeared throughout the play. America Inc. turned out to be some monolithic do good organization that was trying to reassure Americans not to be upset about what was going on in the country. The commercials provided an address where you could order a free booklet, a self-help book that would answer your questions and allay your fears, a totally tongue in cheek act.

(We received over 10,000 requests for the non-existing book. Venza said legally we had to create one. So we wrote a four page handout and mailed it along with an “America Inc.” pin)

The final commercial finds David Silver in Washington to observe the anti-war march, where he is accidentally caught on film by America Inc. and featured as a typical American youth, learning to be at peace with himself and the angry protests around him; the ultimate usurping of one’s existence, and by a TV commercial. Great!

There still wasn’t enough societal observation and emotional separation from the characters. So I introduced a woman’s voice-over which interrupted the drama at various points, giving factual information about American life styles — i.e. while Silver and his companion are eating a ridiculously large ice cream sundae, the voice gives us statistics on the kind of ice cream Americans prefer; vanilla 62%, chocolate 28%, strawberry etc.

Still not enough.

So I brought humorist Jean Shepherd into the mix. Acting like a Greek Chorus, Shepherd would talk directly to the audience and reflect on what it is to be an American. Not on the story line, but on the very stuff that makes us Americans:

“Hi, my fellow Americans, fellow travelers on the yellow brick road of life. Do you sometimes feel that your life is the product of some really bad film editor? You know, while Gene Kelly is dancing and it’s Paris, you find yourself standing in line at the dry cleaners. It’s not easy being an American.”

In the final scene of the drama I had art students from the Mass. College of Art construct a huge sculpture on a snowy beach at Plum Island. They constructed huge cut outs of pop images from the story and began to mount them on a 20-foot steel scaffolding … a 10 foot sundae, 15 foot red lips, a 10 foot Statue of Liberty.  Then suddenly a cold gust of wind swept down the beach and blew the whole thing down. Fortunately, no one was hurt. I had ordered a helicopter for filming and when it arrived I asked everyone to grab a small American flag and march around the collapsed structure. So in the freezing cold, knee deep in snow, fifteen of us marched while being filmed from a circling copter.

Add a little Fellini music…..

The End.

Wood and Trees

Let’s leave Brecht and turn to my interest in challenging prevailing TV formats.

Here is an example from 1964. The Museum of Fine Arts wanted WGBH to do a program on the importance of “wood” and “trees” in art, both in the content and in the actual making of art.  I proposed a series of short videos (1 to 3 minutes), which would appear unannounced between programs for one solid week. No promos for upcoming programs, no fundraising, just little pieces about art, trees and wood. there would be no statement about their purpose or who produced them, and no mention of the MFA. Somehow I got this through WGBH and it ran for one week.

I’m afraid the audience was left confused. We finally ran it as a half hour program called ‘Trees”. One video featured a single tree both in full color and in reverse polarity all done to music. Another one used the “Bald Soprano” approach. Two people talked, argued, but their conversation made no sense. They talked in clichés and phrases that used wood and trees; “he’s a chip off the old block”, “you’re barking up the wrong tree” etc.

“And Now for Something Completely Different”

This snapshot is about my continuing search for a personal vision in broadcast television.

I tried to find it by experimenting with no traditional formats, and especially if it used new electronic equipment. I was fortunate to be at a TV station that allowed me to do just that. Here are a few “firsts” that gave me opportunities to pursue my vision. It also reveals a hell of a lot about management’s cooperation and generosity. I was truly lucky.

Ever since arriving at WGBH, I had serious questions about the coverage of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Couldn’t there be a more visual interpretation of the music, something besides the endless shots of the trombones, violins and flutes? I talked to many of the people directly involved in the production but they really didn’t want to hear my ranting. So I had to do something to prove my thesis.

I would need 3 camera people, a new TV director, and 3 engineers to help create 4 visual interpretations of short Jazz pieces in the studio AFTER THE STATION SHUT DOWN! This would have to be a clandestine production.

I convinced Bobby Hall, Larry Messenger, and Wil Morton not only to do video and audio, but also to videotape the 4 videos.  I asked Mark Stevens, Peter Hoving, Bill Cosel, and Bill Aucoin to create the visual interpretations. They agreed with enthusiasm.

Each would choose a Jazz piece and direct the shoot.

Dan Beach, who was head of traffic, somehow found an “old” 2-inch tape for us to record on. Remember, during this era, tape was very expensive and many regular shows were wiped so the station could use the same tape over and over.

The clandestine production was going to take 3 nights. In 1962, after the fire of 1961, WGBH’s main studio was in the basement of the Museum of Science. We usually shut down around 10:00 pm and no execs were around. This is when we went to work.

First up was Peter Hoving. He picked a Miles Davis piece and used layers of scrim, screens and a constantly moving candle for his visual tools. Using the focus changes of the fixed lens on the black and white camera, his images melted and flowed into each other, while the candle slowly danced to the sad music of Davis.

Mark Stevens picked a Sauter-Finnegan piece. His vision included a 50-cent kaleidoscope attached directly to the lens, a turntable with a mound of crumpled aluminum foil, and 3 lights, each hitting the foil from different directions.

Bill Cosel and I had seen the “Steve Allen Show” record a comic bit on videotape and then run it backwards. This was a major technical breakthrough for the industry. Bill planned to do the same for a Blossom Dearie song. Bill peeled a potato to the rhythm of her song and then he was to run it backwards, so the potato would magically add its peel. We never could get it to work. (It should be noted that Bill Cosel became the renowned producer/director of the Boston Symphony Pops in which he perfected the coverage of an orchestra via the traditional images.)

Bill Aucoin hung real instruments from the grid and moved the camera around them to the strains of a Jazz piece. It was the most traditional of what we called “Jazz Images”.

A French critic has hailed this clandestine experiment, labeled as “Jazz Images”, as one of the first “video art” pieces.  Merci!!!!!!

Incidentally, Bill Aucoin went on to NYC and soon created the rock group KISS. He later hired me to direct what may have been the first attempt at projecting CU shots of the musicians via an Eidofore projector live during the performance. The conclusion of my six-week tour was in Madison Square Garden in NY. By this time, I had 10 cameras covering the band. On the very first shot, the camera in the pit spun around and went to black. Some jackass in the crowd had thrown a beer bottle and hit my cameraman. He recovered and did the show without a hitch.

I also did a music video with the band in an armory in Bill’s hometown of Ayer. The shoot took place at night and employed vast amounts of fireworks. It took forever to setup the fireworks and we finally were ready to record at midnight.

I rolled tape and yelled out ”Stand By Fireworks!” The fireworks guy misunderstood and set off the entire load. It took him another 2 hours to set the new round. We finally finished at 2:00AM.

That was it for me. No more traveling with rock groups. No more KISS.

Jim Kaup, 71, scenic carpenter

jim-kaupJames Albert Kaup of Watertown, 71, with grace and courage, died at home on January 25 after a long illness.

Son of the late James A. Kaup and Ruth Connolly Kaup, he is survived by his wife, Deborah Myerson Kaup of Watertown, his sister, Susan Kaup Kelley and his nephews, Andrew, Matthew, and Daniel Kelley.

Jim was quiet and unassuming, unless he felt called upon to make a stand on a principle. An autodidact with a vast knowledge of many subjects, he listened more that he spoke. His sense of humor endured to the very end. Some people thought Jim “could do anything.”

From the mid 1970s until 2006 Jim was a scenic carpenter at WGBH, a job that utilized his many talents. As president of AEEF, the in house union, he negotiated for fairness and safety.

In his youth he was involved with Club 47, a folk club in Harvard Square. Later he designed posters for the local concerts. While taking courses at Boston Architectural Center he interned at The Architects Collaborative.

A celebration of his life will take place in the spring. Donations in his name may be made to Good Shepherd Community Care or the charity of one’s choice.

  • Published in The Boston Globe from Feb. 2 to Feb. 7, 2016. Source

From Chas Norton

A celebration of Jim’s life will take place on April 30, 2016, at 9:30 am at Story Chapel, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge.

Fred Barzyk’s Snapshots: Scene 1

This entry is part 18 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the first in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director.

barzykGreek Columns in the Studio

In 1959, WGBH did a lot of piano shows. The Lowell Institute members provided the musicians and the only expense was for set decorations. One cheap way to create a proper classical feeling was to have Greek Columns framing the piano. This was done by using large carpet rolls painted as if marble.

In one memorable show, the director had the camera dolly back thru a column of carpet rolls, making the piano smaller and smaller as the piece came to an end. One problem, he forgot about the camera cable and as the camera dollied back the cable proceeded to topple each and every Column.

At the end of the half hour show you could see the stage manager running in trying to stop the columns from falling. They fell with a loud “bloop” sound that only carpet rolls could make.

Ed Scherer and Aldous Huxley

One of the great characters that came thru the doors of WGBH was a producer/director by the name of Ed Scherer.

Ed had made his mark while working at a Washington commercial TV station. He was assigned as TV director to cover a Senate hearing. It turned out to be the famous Joseph McCarthy Army hearing. Ed was 24 at the time. He then headed off to Cuba where he was to be the TV Executive Producer of Cuban Summer Baseball. However, Castro came to power and thru him out of the country.

Ed had met Dave Davis some years earlier and he called out to Dave for a job. Ed was brought in to do MIT Science Reporter. He was the highest paid director at the time, $150 a week.

Ed was charming, funny guy who always just stepped over the boundaries. I once asked him how he was going to shoot a MIT Science Reporter show that had so many stage walls and corridors filling all parts of Studio A. Ed said “Badly.”

On one of the shows he had an English guest by the name of Aldus Huxley. Mr. Huxley was nearly blind and had a female secretary accompany him for the shoot.

After a morning rehearsal, Ed invited Aldus and his secretary to his favorite lunch place. It was a neighborhood bar not frequented by MIT students or faculty. It was where Ed often disappeared to quench his thirst.

Mr. Huxley ordered hot tea with his sandwich. Ed spoke to his favorite bar tender for tea, which was a very strange request. The bartender asked, “Who is that guy anyway?” Ed responded, “Oh, he’s a writer. English.” The tea was eventually found and, as Ed was heading back to the table with his 2 bottles of beer, the bartender said, “Hey, make sure you keep bringing people like that to my place. I’m trying to upgrade the customers, you know. I need some writers.”

Ed left the station after couple of years, going on to NBC where he executive produced a national science show for young adults.

Window Designs to Video Wallpaper

I was assigned to do a lot of piano shows. Hundreds of piano shows. With a meager budget of $10 per show for set design I started to emulate store window designs.

I calculated where each element would go. I hung them from the grid so there would never be a problem with cables knocking over the set. I would take the subway down to Jordan Marsh and Filenes’s dept. stores and look at what they did for design in their windows. I would steal those ideas and bring them back to the studio.

Every once in awhile I was given a performance show, which entailed larger concert groups. One of the shows was a major breakthrough for me: it was a group of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons. However, it was a new piece of music and the orchestra had forgotten to send over a copy of the score so I could plan my shots, and there were no recordings since it was a new composition. So how should I plan to cover this piece?

WGBH in 1960 had 2 studios. Studio A was the big studio with three cameras and a mini crane. Studio B was small and had 2 cameras. My idea led to a new configuration. Since I didn’t know which instrument was going to play, I figured that if I had many cameras covering the performance it wouldn’t matter. I could dissolve between cameras to eventually find the right instrument.

So, I turned to the engineers and asked if they could extend the Studio B cables to reach Studio A. Somehow they agreed. I was informed that I would not have control of the switcher in Studio B. I would need to have a separate person at that switcher. So, now I had 5 cameras, 3 in A and 2 in B. I had 2 switchers and somehow I could super Studio B shots thru my Studio A switcher.

The musicians arrived, played a little for a sound check and I realized that the music was a moody, interlaced slow moving contemporary piece. I decided to do nothing but supers throughout the show. I had to give dissolve directions to two separate switchers. What happened on the air looked like video wallpaper, with long slow dissolves of 4 or 5 cameras at a time.

When the show was over, Bill Pierce, our booth announcer and the voice of the Boston Symphony Orchestra broadcast, walked over to me and announced, “You have gone too far this time, Freddy!” After that, and a few other incidents, my nickname became “Freddy Berserk.”

A Different Approach

Sometimes my approach to things was a little different than what management wanted.

I was assigned a show called European Imperialism, part of a Harvard Extension Course. It featured Prof. Albion, a Harvard Professor of History and a legend in the academic world. It was a simple talk show in which the Prof. lectured directly to camera and the few visuals were mostly pulled from books he brought from Harvard Library. These were produced in the temporary studio at the Museum of Science after the fire in 1962 or 1963.

My best memories: Prof. Albion taking a swig from his flask before he began and actually falling asleep during one of his own lectures.

Here is where I went awry:

I was asked to produce a promo for the show. I went out and bought a black and white chess set which featured the heads of Medieval characters (King /Queen/ Bishop, etc.) I put them on a turntable, up high, with the camera shooting up and played Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare to a Common Man.”

The Announcer and the copy sounded like something from an epic movie of Roman times. Greg Harney and Dave Davis took one look at the promo and pulled it. Dave Davis said “Hey, Fred! Remember this is only a talking head show!”  Whoops.