Created exclusively for Scholars in the year 2100 to help facilitate their research.
Videos in this Highlight compilation are copies from Director’s 3/4inch cassettes. Master videos are available only at WGBH Archives.The archives, including documents, etc. are housed at Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI and WGBH, Boston, MA.
NOTE: Only videos marked X and Barzyk’s comments are cleared for use in all forms of print and media.
Link to VIMEO: https://vimeo.com/fredbarzykarchive
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Fred Barzyk describes the purpose of the Highlight videos. A short video collage of content is shown. Barzyk thanks the collaborators and his family for making this Archive possible.
Fred Barzyk tips his hat to Dan Beach, Alan Potter, Olivia Tappan, David Atwood and Dick Bartlett. He also thanks managers Greg Harney, Michael Rice and Henry Becton.
Fred Barzyk Autobiography: 1936-1959
Fred Barzyk recalls his early days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 2009, Barzyk took a video tour of the important places in his early life: Chester’s Tavern where he saw his first TV, and Ohio Street playground where he attempted to learn to play tennis. Barzyk tells the tale of competing in a citywide tennis match representing the playground, and its unbelievable result.
Fred Barzyk recalls WWII and Milwaukee’s celebration of VJ Day. He visits his old grade school and tells how the entire school was crammed into the auditorium to watch Harry Truman’s inauguration. The TV screen was so small that hardly anyone could see anything. Pulaski High School was the next stop. His homeroom teacher, Mr. Schmidt, had issues with young Fred. At a ball field behind the High School, Fred recalls selling his only prize possession, his small Stamp collection, to secretly take a bus to see a GIRL in Chicago…a girl he met at that ball field just a few nights earlier. This crazy adventure has been made into a movie script, which is available for production.The rights reside with Marquette University.
Off to Marquette University, 1954: cost is $250 for the first semester. Barzyk joins the MU Players and it changes his life course. He decides to become a stage director. His mentor is the impish priest who runs the Players, Father John J. Walsh. Walsh was a charismatic Yale Drama School scholar, with a touch of P.T.Barnum. Father Walsh’s 1950’s productions introduced Milwaukee to its first professional theatrical experiences. A documentary on the 30-year reunion of more than 250 former MU Players honoring Father Walsh is featured. The documentary highlights the crazy history of Father and the Players, while Barzyk interjects his own personal memories such as: the required disastrous Ballet classes; the late night rehearsals that drove his parents nuts; Father Walsh’s phone call to The Red Circle bar asking Barzyk to drink his beer and get over to the theater so he could begin rehearsals. In his senior year, Barzyk and Dick McCullough join forces to produce their first movie. Working with a small windup Bolex camera and no sound, they produce “The Music Box and the Bottle”.
In 1958, Barzyk planned to go to Yale Drama School but had no money. Friend and MU grad, Bill Heitz, had received a scholarship the year before and he insisted that Barzyk apply. Miracle of miracles, Barzyk and fellow classmateTom McGrath were both awarded scholarships. The deal: You studied for your graduate degree in communication at Boston University and had to work three days a week at a small Educational Television station, WGBH. Each scholar received free tuition and $600 to live on for the year in Boston! Bill Heitz said this scholarship would change Barzyk’s life. He was right.
A graduate from University of Wisconsin, David Nohling, was also a recipient. Nohling had a car and the three traveled across the country, stopping off in NYC. At Grand Central Station they see one of the great movie directors at work. Cruising into Boston, the car radio finds a Classical Music Station on an AM station which was a cultural revelation. Barzyk realized he was going to have to replace beer, baseball and bowling with Brahms, Beethoven, and Bach.
Barzyk recalls Boston,1958; visits “Rat Alley” where he and Tom McGrath lived; returns to the bar where they drank their beer. Then to the campus of Boston University School of Communication. Barzyk does not write a dissertation while at BU and does not receive a master’s degree. Barzyk decides to spend most of his time at WGBH. A crew training Tape shows how inept the new BU Scholars were at working a TV show. Always short of money, Tom McGrath signs up to be a paid guinea pig for a new blood thinning vaccine. He walks to Mass General Hospital, gets his shot and receives $15. The Doctor warns him not to be hit by a car. What did happen next to Tom could have been a disaster. But it wasn’t. It was Barzyk who was hit by a car. 16 stitches and $600 insurance helped him go to many theatrical matinees in Boston’s theater district. In 2018, Barzyk travels to the new WGBH Building and shows us the vault which houses his archive.
CHAPTER 1: Early Shows +Experiments +Artists +Video Art
In an interview with Susan Gates, Director of the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, Barzyk recalls the day he saw his first TV set at Chester’s Tavern in Milwaukee, WI. Barzyk shows first drama for WGBH, an anti war, Brecht- influenced story of two soldiers caught in an ugly war “Five Days” He describes his attempt to influence the producers of the Boston Symphony Orchestra by trying a more creative way to show the orchestra. A clandestine creation called Jazz Images is created after managers go home. Barzyk describes his 1961 documentary of the leaders of Black America, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and James Baldwin entitled “Negro and the American Promise.” Barzyk talks about his breakthrough series “What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?” This 16-part experimental series is aimed at the young college students during the 1960s, complete with hippies, love revolution, and drugs. One of the shows uses composer John Cage’s theory that “any sound is music;” Barzyk took the idea and changed it to “any image is a TV show.” In a psychedelic happening of a show, Barzyk created a non-linear exploration of Death. It wins him his first award from Educational Television. The Early Show Video ends with WGBH station manager confronting David Silver and Barzyk for breaking rules and the possibility of taking the series off the air. An amazing ending to this confrontation revealed the popularity of the show. Then, 50 years after it had gone off the air, the Boston Globe Magazine featured a special remembrance of the series.
In this drama, David Silver, the host of a fairly successful public television talk show travels around America searching for something intangible, leaving his wife and their infant child behind. Disillusioned with his life in television he tries to talk things over with director Fred Barzyk who is in the middle of a studio shoot involving singing and dancing children and teenagers. He travels to New York with a friend, and the two take to the streets, dispensing a pile of free used books and eventually finding themselves at a Hare Krishna gathering and Ellis Island. Eventually, Silver journeys to Washington to be part of a giant anti-war demonstration attended by the likes of Pete Seeger and Abbie Hoffman. He returns home to his wife, and the two journey to the beach in winter, where a giant billboard of some sort is being dismantled. He inscribes a piece of it with the words "Silver was here." This fairly straightforward story is interrupted by tongue-in-cheek advertisements for something called "America, Inc." narrated by Jean Shepherd.
In discussion with Susan Gates, Director of the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, Barzyk remembers 1968 and the first time artists took control of TV in the studios of WGBH. There was Nam June Paik, Otto Piene, Aldo Tambellini, Alan Kaprow, Thomas Tadlock, James and Mimi Seawright. Eight years later, Baryzk showcases Nam June Paik and his strange music to a national audience on CBS’s program “Camera 3”.
With grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Barzyk and WGBH set up The New Television Workshop to help artists of all disciplines to experiment in the new medium. Barzyk ran the Workshop for 10 years and over 100 artists participated in the grand experiment. Featured in this video are Nam June Paik’s invention of the world's first video synthesizer. Also featured are excerpts from the work of seven artists: Brian O’Doherty, Thomas Hilty, Andy Mann, Peter Campus,William Wegman, Jerry Ulesmann, Jerry Liebling, Bill Viola and Ron Hays.
With new grants, the Workshop expanded into the world of dancers and composers. Featured are a documentary on composer Michael Colgrass, and excerpts from choreographer Dan Wagner’s “George’s House; legendary tap dancer Honi Cole; Rudy Perez’s “District One” dance inspired by Boston’s new City Hall; Concert Dance Company’s dance for nudes; Trisha Brown and her “Dancing on the Edge;” and Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow Round My Shoulder” performed outdoors at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 1969.
Barzyk ventures off into his personal vision and attempts to stretch the scope of the Workshop. First up, humor. “Mother’s Little Network” is a visual cacophony of crazy ideas inspired by Ernie Kovacs, an early TV visual humorist. Following is the world’s first interactive drama done in conjunction with Qube, an interactive experimental station in Columbus, Ohio. The 15,000 viewers vote that this antic drama should be called “The Chicken that Ate Columbus.” Barzyk’s NBC production “People”, hosted by Lily Tomlin, leads to an original drama for WGBH called “Collision” and starring Lily, Dan Ackroyd, and Gilda Radner. It commissions video artists to complement the drama with their unique visions of “Collisions” and results in an unexpected major event in Barzyk’s career.
CHAPTER 2: The Television Shows with American Humorist Jean Shepherd
In 1962, American humorist Jean Shepherd makes his first program with Fred Barzyk. Shepherd tells the tale of the Great Ovaltine Caper and his secret de-coder ring. Shepherd and Barzyk's next collaborations are 3 “Rear Bumpers”-- short video essays aired at the end of the WGBH programming day. Shepherd celebrates baseball at the Boston Red Sox home field, Fenway Park. Shepherd waxes poetic about the American Drive-In Movie fad. Shepherd tells of the sinful pleasures of Slob Food. And in the last Rear Bumper, Barzyk does a surreal look for a missing Jean Shepherd.
Video 2: Jean Shepherd Drama: “Phantom of the Open Hearth” (1976)
This comedy/drama was written by Jean Shepherd, who appears at the beginning and the end and narrates it through voiceover. It tells the story of several events as they occur through the eyes of Ralph, a high school-aged boy. Ralph is anticipating the upcoming prom and is working up the courage to invite Daphne Bigelow, a beautiful and popular student who does not seem aware of his existence. Meanwhile, Ralph's father, referred to throughout as “the Old Man,” has just been informed that he has won a prize from a Nehi soft drink sponsored contest. He awaits the prize eagerly and when it arrives it is a tasteless lamp, which causes friction between Ralph's mother and father. Ralph's mother is seen going to recurring "Dish Nights" at the local movie theater. Those who attend receive free dishes, but week after week mistaken shipments result in multiple gravy boats, angering the patrons. Finally, Ralph invites not Daphne Bigelow, but his geekish neighbor Wanda Hickey to the prom. He and his friends go out afterwards with their dates and drink heavily. The evening culminates with them vomiting in the stalls of the men's bathroom. "Phantom of the Open Hearth" appears to take place in the 1950's or early 1960's and has a bittersweet feel to it. The anecdotal remembrances of Ralph are both humorous and nostalgic, revealing touching qualities, especially in his father. Nominated for the prestigious “Critic Choice” Awards.
Video 3: Jean Shepherd Drama: “Great American 4th of July and Other Disasters” (1982)
Starring actors Matt Dillon, James Broderick and Barbara Bolton in “The Great American Fourth of July,” writer Jean Shepherd, as an older “Ralph,” recalls his memory of a particular Fourth of July from his high-school years in Hohman, Indiana. Ralph plays the sousaphone in the high-school band to the instructions of the baton-twirling drum major Wilbur Duckworth. Ralph is grudgingly set up on a blind date, only to find himself in the company of the gorgeous Miss Junior Corn Blossom, who rejects his advances. On the Fourth of July Duckworth causes a power outage by twirling his baton onto an electrical line during a parade; the town drunk Ludlow Kissel sets off an enormous firework that explodes under his own porch; and Ralph’s father entertains the neighbors with his annual dramatic display of fireworks, a display that brings out the fire department and the police.
Video 4: Jean Shepherd Drama: “Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski” (1985)
The work opens with Jean Shepherd, as an adult "Ralph," at the screening of a Polish movie, which brings back memories of Josephine Cosnowski. Jumping back in time to the 1950's the story unfolds. Six weeks before Thanksgiving, a Polish family moves in next door. Ralph, who has a romantic fascination with Polish girls, finds himself pining for the elusive Josephine Cosnowski. The two become close and she invites him to a party, the same night as a big school basketball game. Meanwhile, Ralph's father obsesses over the cars at "Friendly Fred's" used car lot, and his younger brother Randy has been assigned the role of the turkey for the Thanksgiving play. When Ralph picks Josephine up for the party he is confronted by her two "beefy" brothers. The party turns out to be in the basement of a church, and Ralph is slowly introduced to members of Josephine's family. Howie, a former basketball star who married young, is at the party, looking trapped. He advises Ralph to get out of there while he still can, insinuating that Josephine is about to snare him into an early marriage. On Howie's advice he makes a run for it, chased by the brothers, finally escaping to the basketball game. Meanwhile at the pageant, Randy makes a huge splash in his gorgeous turkey outfit. At the end of the piece the whole family settles down to a magnificent Thanksgiving dinner.
Video 5: Jean Shepherd Drama: “Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss” (1988)
The fourth in a series of Jean Shepherd stories about a typical American family and its not-so-typical adventures. In this story, Ralph gets his first job and the family dog temporarily runs away to a better home, both of which threaten to cancel the annual summer vacation to a cottage on a lake. But in the end the family goes on their trek to Ollie Hopnoodle’s. In one disastrous event after another… a bee in the car, Randy getting car sick, the taking of a disastrous shortcut, then finally after reaching the wonderful rundown Haven of Bliss, the rain pours down as the family snuggles in their shack with a leaky roof. But it is their vacation and becomes the shared memories of summers past. Produced by American Playhouse and the Disney Channel. It was awarded “Critic Choice, June 5, 1989.
Video 6: TV series: “Jean Shepherd’s America” (1972 - 1985)
In these humorous and affectionate television poems, humorist Jean Shepherd celebrates America in all its richness and diversity -- from cars to candy, baseball to beer, motels to money. Each week a different aspect of our national psyche is explored as Shepherd travels to the Okefenokee Swamp, Death Valley, Milwaukee, the Old South, the tundra of Alaska, Inland Steel in Indiana, slop art in Florida and other far-flung locations. This series is the first to use a broadcast battery-powered color camera, the PCP-90 portable camera. It was the first program to give credit to the camera person as a “videographer.” There are 2 seasons of this series.
CHAPTER 3: TV Dramas by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Charles Johnson; Arthur Miller; Lynn Nottage; Ursula LeGuin
Video 1: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Drama: “Between Time and Timbuktu” (1971)
This work is based on materials by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Stony Stevenson wins first prize in a space poetry competition and trains to become an astronaut. Newscasters track his progress as he travels through space and time in the Prometheus Five spaceship. Mission control loses track of his movements, and he finds himself wandering from one bizarre situation to another. Elements of various Kurt Vonnegut stories are incorporated, and Stony finds himself on the island of San Lorenzo with the outlawed spiritual leader Bokonon, in a bizarre totalitarian courtroom, in a laboratory where the "Ice Nine" formula is being created, in a society where everyone's talents are equalized by government-imposed "handicaps," and in a suicide assistance "parlor." Finally, Stony meets a young girl on a fire engine, and she tells him he is in heaven. The parade that ensues is interrupted by the appearance of an Adolf Hitler figure who is supposed to represent death. He and Stony face off in a match that Stony pegs as "death against imagination" with Stony as the victor. In the final scene of the work, Stony finds himself back at his own grave on earth, where he is told that his space ship arrived at its destination, but his body was never found. Vonnegut's works were adapted for television by Fred Barzyk, David Loxton, and David Odell. David Atwood provided special effects, some of which appear to have used the Paik-Abe videosynthesizer.
Video 2: Charles Johnson Dramas: “Charlie Smith and the Fritter Tree” (1978) and “Bubba” (1979)
This is the story of Charlie Smith, a 134-year-old black man, who tells his life story, via flashbacks, to an orderly at his nursing home. The story moves from his childhood days when he was bought as a slave by a Texas farmer, Charlie Smith. Charlie treats the boy as a member of his family. When slaves are free, he decides to stay with Charlie until he dies. After Charlie's death, he assumes his name, as Charlie asked him to do. The story becomes picaresque, as Charlie moves throughout the Old West, being a ranch hand, gambler, train robber, bounty hunter, family man, honkytonk owner, and, finally, circus sideshow attraction. Through his life the viewer sees the changes in the history of the Old West, including attitudes towards blacks and racism. The drama was written by Charles Johnson, National Book Award winner for his novel “Middle Passages”
After the dramatized account is finished, video footage of the real Charles Smith's134th birthday party, filmed at his nursing home, is shown. The credits say that "his life has been the inspiration for this television fantasy."
Video 3: Arthur Miller Drama: “The Ryan Interview” (2000)
Arthur Miller's career as a writer spanned over seven decades, and at the time of his death, Miller was considered to be one of the greatest dramatists of the twentieth century. After his death, many respected actors, directors, and producers paid tribute to Miller, some calling him the last great practitioner of the American stage, and Broadway theatres darkened their lights in a show of respect. The Actors Theatre of Louisville commissioned short plays from many playwrights. “The Ryan Interview” was Miller’s contribution. The story: Young big-city journalist Fredericka Rose is assigned to do a "puff piece" on Bob Ryan on the eve of his 100th birthday. Fredericka goes through the motions, but Ryan gradually gets to her, and changes the way she thinks about her life. The TV drama starred Ashley Judd and Edie Bracken.
"Poof!" was part of the PBS' American Shorts series, which premiered in Aug. 2000 with Arthur Miller's "The Ryan Interview." Based on Lynn Nottage's play of the same title, "Poof!" concerns an abused housewife and her husband, whom she damns to hell. Rosie Perez, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in 1993's "Fearless," stars in the drama, as does Tony Award winner Viola (King Hedley II) Davis. Fred Barzyk directs.
Lynn Nottage is a playwright and a screenwriter. She is the first, and remains the only woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice. Her plays have been produced widely in the United States and throughout the world. Nottage is the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius Grant" Fellowship, Steinberg "Mimi" Distinguished Playwright Award, a PEN/Laura Pels Master Playwright Award, and a Merit and Literature Award from The Academy of Arts and Letters.
This was the most requested show ever from PBS and was eventually released as a DVD. The Lathe of Heaven is a 1980 film adaptation of the 1971 science fiction novel The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. It was produced in 1979 as part of New York City public television station WNET's Experimental TV Lab project, and directed by David Loxton and Fred Barzyk. Le Guin, by her own account, was involved in the casting, script planning, re-writing, and filming of the production. Excerpts with commentary from Le Guin.
The film stars Bruce Davison as protagonist George Orr, Kevin Conway as Dr. William Haber, and Margaret Avery as lawyer Heather LeLache.
In Portland, Oregon, in the near future, George Orr is charged with abuse of multiple prescription medications, which he was taking to keep himself from dreaming. Orr volunteers for psychiatric care to avoid prosecution, and is assigned to the care of licensed oneirologist William Haber. Orr's explanation of his drug abuse is incredible: He has known since age 17 that his dreams change reality, and tries to prevent himself from this "effective dreaming" because he fears their effects. Haber initially considers Orr's fear as a delusional symptom of neurosis or psychosis, referring to him as "possibly an intelligent schizophrenic". The doctor puts Orr into a hypnotic trance while attached to the "Augmentor," a device he has invented for monitoring and enhancing, or augmenting, brainwaves during dreaming, to help with patient therapy. He encourages Orr to have an effective dream, recording his brain function all the while. The world changes slightly during this dream, and Haber realizes that Orr is telling the truth. Haber begins to use Orr's effective dreams, first to create a prestigious, well-funded institute run by himself, then to attempt to solve various social problems. But these solutions unravel quickly: Haber suggests that Orr dream of an answer to overpopulation (resulting in a plague wiping out three-fourths of the human population), the end to all conflict on Earth (resulting in an alien invasion uniting mankind), and an end to racism (resulting in a world where everyone's skin becomes a uniform shade of gray). Only after several failed attempts to "make the world right" does Haber admit to Orr he believes in Orr's power. Having used the Augmentor to record and analyze Orr's supremely complex dreaming brainwaves, Haber begins creating a machine that will allow him to have his own effective dreams, and remake reality directly. Orr turns to lawyer Heather LeLache for help in getting out of his government-mandated treatments with Haber. LeLache doubts Orr's sanity, but agrees to help him, eventually becoming an ally. Orr falls in love with LeLache. As Haber continues to use Orr's dreams to create change in human society, Orr remembers a dream he experienced years ago, which is briefly portrayed at the opening of the film (and which, it turns out, is in fact reality): The world was destroyed in a nuclear war, and Orr was poisoned by radiation. In his dying moments, Orr dreamed a world where the war did not happen, resulting in the events of the film as we see them. Haber enters the final version of his machine for directing dreams and learns this truth, driving him mad. Orr, who has joined him in the dream state, is able to stop Haber's nightmare before it destroys the world. The result is a reality that jumbles together elements of the different worlds that Haber created via Orr's dreams, but is relatively stable. But he is heartbroken because the LeLache in this reality was never his close friend or lover. As the film ends, Orr is working in an antique store run by an alien. LeLache comes in to browse. She has only a vague memory of him, but agrees to join him for lunch. They encounter a wheelchair-bound Haber on their way to lunch. Haber recognizes Orr, but cannot come out of his catatonia.
CHAPTER 4: HBO and CBS Cable (1975-1985)
Fred Barzyk is interviewed by Susan Gates, Director of the Chelmsford Center for the Arts about early HBO Shows. In 1975, HBO was just starting out. To save money they approached Barzyk about doing a special where they would pay for the talent and WGBH would provide the studio with Barzyk as director. WGBH also aired this very first HBO Special because Boston had no cable at the time. The show was called “Bob and Ray: The One and Only.” This comedy special stars the comedy team of Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, performing skits in a theater-in-the-round setting. Highlights include the following: Wally Ballou (Elliott) interviews Ward Smith (Goulding) about cranberries; Dr. Dexter (Elliott) is interviewed about the whooping crane; Alfred E. Nelson (Goulding) defends his faulty history of the United States; Goulding grows exasperated while interviewing Harlow P. Whitcomb (Elliott), president of the Slow Talkers of America; Lester K. Grogin (Goulding), an alderman from Kansas, argues that his small town should be the site for a bicentennial celebration; Wally Ballou visits a diner; Thomas Rote (Goulding) receives a lucky phone call; sportscaster Biff Burns (Elliott) interviews a yo-yo champion (Goulding); and a news parody, "News In-Depth." The program concludes after subsequent visits with Wally Ballou; David Chetley (Elliott); Ralph M. Thayer (Goulding); and the McBeebee Twins. HBO asked Barzyk and partner David Loxton to do a series of docu-dramas based on Famous American Disasters. Three of the shows are featured: “Fire at the Coconut Grove” , “The Hindenburg Disaster” and the “Fire on the Morrow Castle” starring John Goodman. Barzyk was hired to do several other shows for HBO: “Crazy and Wonderful” featured celebrity lookalikes, mud wrestling and demolition derby; “So You Wanna be a Star?” documents struggling performers trying to become stars. It includes comedian Larry Miller, country music singer Charley McClain and Zora who paid the Coca Cabana nightclub to house her performance for critics and agents.
CBS Cable is a short-lived venture that focuses on the fine arts and is supported by Mr. William Paley, head of CBS. Susan Dowling, a member of the WGBH New Television Workshop, approaches Barzyk about pitching a drama based on Calamity Jane’s Diary to CBS Cable. Susan Dowling’s best friend Jane Alexander agrees to be the star. CBS Cable picks it up and it is videotaped in the studios of WGBH. WGBH does not air it but is paid for the use of the facility.
In 1984, HBO asks David Loxton and Barzyk to produce and direct a major TV movie based on the success of the Flashback series. The show is called “Countdown to Looking Glass” and is fashioned from a war game developed by a Navy Admiral Lincoln Bloomfield. Albert Ruben wrote the script working with Bloomfield. HBO would only put in half the money, so Loxton found a Canadian producer who would put up the finishing money. This also meant that the production would have to be shot in Canada with their crews and have significant characters played by Canadian actors. The full plot is in “more info below.”
The show wins an Ace award as best Cable drama of the year and Barzyk is awarded the Venice Film award for best TV director. Barzyk is listed as a Canadian Director.
CHAPTER 5: Shows for Broadcast TV (1980-1992)
ABC show “All American Pie” asks Barzyk and Loxton to provide some comic segments where real people are put in some unusual and hopefully funny situations. The show features football star Joe Namath. Barzyk chooses a worm farmer from New Hampshire and thrusts him into a first day as a counter guy in a crazy and busy deli in Boston. Barzyk then talks about how two local commercial stations in Boston decided to produce dramas as part of their public service, which allows them to keep their broadcast license. WBZ Boston asks Barzyk to direct a drama written by a 14-year-old boy whose parents have divorced. It is called “Tender Places” and features Jean Stapleton and young actor Freddy Kohler. The drama wins a Peabody Award. Then Barzyk gets a call from WCVB, the competing TV station in Boston, asking him to direct their drama. It is a docu-drama of a family in crisis because of their son’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. Barzyk plann to show the drama to a group of high school students but is advised that the show contains too much violence, nudity, drugs and alcohol. This would not be appropriate to “force” some kids to watch and who might be disturbed by the content in the classroom. So Barzyk creates a special video online that can be watched at home: “Secrets” starred a young Christian Slater and Barbara Feldon (she was Agent 99 on hit sit-com “Get Smart”). Barzyk goes on to direct each of the stations’ other dramas: “MAD HOUSERS” for WBZ; “NO ROOM FOR OPAL” for WCVB; “THE CHEATS” for WCVB and ABC After School Special; “JENNY’S SONG” for WBZ; and “MATTER OF PRINCIPAL” for WCVB.
CHAPTER 6: Education Projects (1960-1997)
Barzyk recalls his first Language shows, RUSSIAN and PARLON’S FRANCAIS, 1962. With a grant from the Annenberg Foundation, Barzyk and Prof. Capretz of Yale University embark on a unique way of teaching the French Language. “French in Action” was shot entirely in Paris, 1987. It is now the longest-running telecourse still in use nationwide as of 2021. Barzyk embarks on another language telecourse “Destinos”, 1992. Shot on location in Spain, Argentina, Puerto Rico and Mexico, this 52-part series has been one of the most watched Spanish language programs. It is based on the continuing story of a family in search of a missing mother of the family. The story leads us to each country allowing the student to hear the special dialect each speaks. Barzyk, who is not fluent in either of these languages, is finally given a 52-part series on teaching English as a Second Language. It is called “Connect with English”, 1998. Again the story is a drama that follows a young woman who desires to become a musician. Leaving her middle-class family in Boston, she gambles on going to music school in San Francisco. As a brave single woman she drives across the country alone. This leads to many teachable adventures… including meeting a young man in the desert of Nevada. Soon, a romantic triangle between this young man and his brother ensues. This 52-part mini-series is no longer available on Annenberg Learner website.
Barzyk, now a full-time director at WGBH, is assigned a lecture series on “European Imperialism,“1960. The lecture is given by Harvard Professor Albion. Barzyk does a promo for the show that runs into problems with management. The next series is part of the NET series for kids entitled “What’s New?”, 1961. These four half-hour shows feature musician and educator Tony Saletan. Each include the history of the location plus the songs of the era. The shows are “Saugus Iron Works,” “Fort Ticonderoga,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and the Wayside Inn,” and the “Shakers.” In 1987, Annenberg and WGBH ask Barzyk to take over a series in financial trouble, “Western Tradition”. Working with a limited budget, Barzyk manages to get the full cooperation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in selecting and providing all relevant images for the 26-part series for $30,000. As of 2021, it is still available on YouTube. In 2000, Barzyk executive-produced “Biography of America,” an historical telecourse led by acclaimed professors. Barzyk adds his personal vision by convincing the professors to have comments by TV Critic John Leonard and novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Appearing in the last show is Charles Johnson who was the playwright of “Charlie Smith and the Fritter Tree”
Barzyk and two young academics produce a pilot for kids teaching “Aesthetics.”
It has no title and uses a simple Sci Fi story line. It offers visual experiences and word play. It also features the appearance of Ron Hays, video artist and how he uses the Paik/Abe Synthesizer to create his video work “Tristan and Isolde.” The pilot is never aired. In 1963, WGBH asks Barzyk to direct a video documentary on a group of black parents who had banded together to raise money so their kids could be bussed to a school on Beacon Hill. It features noted child psychiatrist and educator, Dr. Robert Cole. His work with the children shows how much they benefit from being taught in this new school. He uses drawings to elicit observations from the children. One of the big take-aways: they have never seen a VW car before. And so the title of the show is “Kids, Crayons, and VWs”. In 1993, Barzyk teams up with the Connecticut Public TV station to create a half-hour show called “What If I am Home Alone?” 1993. It stars a young actor, John Taylor Thomas, age 10. Thomas goes on to be a star of TV sitcoms and the voice of the Lion King pup in the Disney movie. CPB funds it as a companion piece to a brochure they had produced years before. The brochure is much praised; however, this pilot is never aired. The powers in charge feel seeing dangerous situations that are portrayed will be too much for the children. Barzyk feels that it is a good show and is disappointed by it not being aired.
PBS Specials for WQED, Pittsburgh
“Breast Care Test” 1994
“Listen Up!” 1991
In 1994, Barzyk produces and directs a special documentary for WQED, Public Television, Pittsburgh. It is called the “Breast Care Test” hosted by TV news anchor Jane Pauley. Also created for WQED in 1991 is one of Barzyk’s signature documentaries. Using a vast number of people, from noted artists and singers, from academics to the Muppets, from comedians to the teacher of the year, the show demands the audience pay attention to the problems with education in this country. It is called “Listen up!”
CHAPTER 7: The Museum Shows (1981-1985)
WGBH burns to the ground in 1961. It finds various places to continue to broadcast for the next year. One of those locations is the Museum of Science.
WGBH builds a small studio in the basement of the museum and becomes an exhibit for the museum goers. In 1976, when the founder Brad Washburn is about to retire, Barzyk produces and directs a feature on his creation. It is WGBH’s way of saying thank you. The show is called “The Museum that Brad Built”
Russel Connor, artist and TV host of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, secures a grant from the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York to do a documentary called “Art in Public Spaces”1973. In Connor’s expansive walk-through New York City he visits and comments on dozens of public art projects old and new.
Barzyk and Connor collaborate on a tribute to the artist and sculptor Noguchi in 1978. This documentary is done for the Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Chicago Institute of Art exhibits photographs from Polaroid artist Marie Cosindas in 1967. Barzyk produces and directs a documentary on her work for the NET series “Creative Person”. The DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum commissions Barzyk and video curator George Fifield to produce a documentary on the state of video art in America. It starts with the early video art experiments to the futuristic work in CybeArts. It is called “The Electronic Canvas” 1996.
And last, Barzyk presents excerpts of work done for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In its original format, the Museum wants to explore all things “wood” or “trees” and use them as station breaks on WGBH. After the pieces are produced, they are edited together to make one half hour show called “Trees” 1969. This eclectic assemblage showcases works in the museum and more unusual devices. For example, Barzyk places a tree in the middle of a bustling urban street in Boston and captures people as they try to figure out why a tree is there. It finishes with a quote: “When was the last time you looked at a tree?” It also showcases a couple arguing in the style of Eugene Ionesco's play “Bald Soprano”. Words created from the concept of trees and wood are used instead of normal conversation. For example: Woman says “You’ve got a chip on your shoulder;” Man says “Don’t go knocking on wood.”
CHAPTER 8: “Writers & Books” Book of the Month Club (1982-1986)
Barzyk, in the middle of the 2021 Pandemic, records from home. He explains his relationship to books and recalls several more personal stories that should have been in the Autobiography. He recalls the first visit to his little neighborhood library; the book that made him yell at his mother; the time he got involved in the spy ring at the Milwaukee Public Library and finally his dismal time as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, crunching through the snow looking for a customer. Barzyk was hired by Book of The Month Club to produce and direct a TV series based on interviews with some of America’s finest novelists. The series was called "First Edition” and aired on A&E Cable and then on PBS. The majority of the shows are hosted by John Leonard, editor of the New York Times Book Review and Nancy Evans, then editor-in-chief of the Book of the Month Club. The authors interviewed are John Updike, William Styron, David Halberston, Jimmy Breslin, John Korda, Gail Goodwin, Joe McGinnis, Joseph Heller, Elmore Leonard, Toni Morrison, Robert Gottlieb, Lewis Thomas, Louie Auchincloss, Maureen Howard, Robert Caro, Seymour Hersh, Paul Theroux, Saul Bellow, Barbara Tuchman, Norman Mailer, William Kennedy, William Conroy, P.D. James, Raymond Carver, Janwillem Van de Wetering, Robert Hughes, Tracy Kidder.
CHAPTER 9: Barzyk, Self- Proclaimed WGBH Historian and Advocate
Barzyk describes how he became a self-proclaimed historian. He begins with the reasons he calls WGBH his “spiritual home”: GBH allowed him to do a drama as a condition of his being hired; the clandestine creation (after management went home) of “Jazz Images;” assigning him to an experimental series called “What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?” and then letting him break all the rules with no consequences. Barzyk then turns to his actions as a station advocate: How he brought HBO’s first Entertainment Special “Bob and Ray, the One and Only” to WGBH; his securing the production funds to WGBH for a drama he did with CBS Cable, “Calamity Jane,” starring Jane Alexander.
Barzyk’s advocacy for artists working with new small TV equipment allowed WGBH to produce the “Very First Half Inch Video Festival’ in 1967. Barzyk recounts doing a show for NBC, “People '' starring Lily Tomlin, that let him bring Lily and writer Jane Wagner to WGBH to create an original Sci Fi comedy called “Collisions”. The production also commissions 5 video artists to enhance the drama. The show is a disaster and has never aired. Again, WGBH allowed Barzyk to continue his experimental ways by making him the Director of the WGBH New Television Workshop for 10 years. Barzyk then became determined to capture the history of this station. WGBH’s important history is revealed in a series of 18 video clips.
Barzyk describes how the WGBH Auction brought the entire staff into a “family”. He gathers all his notes, awards, etc and donates them to the WGBH Archive, then revives archival interviews with staff. He and others host over 125 archive interviews. In 2000, Barzyk convinces WGBH to hold a reunion. Over 400 alumni come to celebrate WGBH’s history. From this event, 3 important volunteers create and maintain the WGBH Alumni website. It is filled with history and stories of WGBH. After 5 more reunions in the next 10 years, Barzyk, Michael Ambrosino (creator of NOVA)) Olivia Tappan (long-time producer) David Atwood (much-awarded Director) and Bruce Bordett (alumni of 30 years of service)
take one last tour of the old WGBH studios before it is torn down. Barzyk describes his attempt to have the history of WGBH written. Since that attempt was futile, he decides to create this highlight reel filled with comments and stories that a historian can use to write WGBH’s history.
CHAPTER 10: The Access TV Shows (2007-2010)
Barzyk joins forces with his town’s Public Access station, Chelmsford Telemedia.
He decides to train town volunteers, none who have ever done TV shows, to become his crew to capture for history the activities of the Town’s institutions. He enlists the help of another volunteer, John MacAuliffe to be his host for the series. The team’s first venture was “Our Town, Our Voices: The Senior Center”. Next came “The Library”; then “Celebrate Food”, focusing on where to eat out in town; and then a musical journey through the town with “Celebrate Music, Chelmsford Style”. What follows are excerpts of these four local specials.
Barzyk puts together 4 teams of volunteers and they videotape for days before the big parade. Each crew is assigned certain aspects of the Celebration; the singing competition (in the style of American Idol) for a townsperson to sing the national anthem; the making of several floats; the parade committee’s efforts to raise money and publicize the parade; the setting up of the street festival the night before the big parade; the Chelmsford Tradition of setting up of hundreds of chairs days before the parade; the John Carson road race, done each year in honor of a high school boy who was killed while running… over 2100 people came to the race that year; and then the big Parade itself. After weeks of editing with his volunteers, this video was screened for the people who made the celebration happen. A packed house of more than 200 people gave a standing ovation to the amateur crews who had videotaped the event. Barzyk considers this the best of his documentaries on the town.
CHAPTER 11: Chelmsford Community TV Dramas (2011-2012)
Barzyk embarks on the challenge of taking non-professional actors and technicians and making acceptable dramas. First up for viewing is “The Treasure Hunt” 2012. Barzyk convinces his neighbor (Ken Cantrell, who was at the time teaching computer science in a Massachusetts jail to inmates) to write up a script of his childhood experience. The search for child actors is painfully slow and Barzyk settles on the only two boys who showed promise. The story is simple: A soldier is furloughed during WWII, returns home and begins to dispose of his childhood toys. Two boys, friends for years, agree to pay him $15 cents for all his toys. He makes it a game and sells them two Treasure Maps to the toys. The boys find the treasure and find themselves in the middle of a strange mystery, a mystery that has become a “tale of legend” in their hometown.
The first of the access dramas “The Journey” 2011 was written by Barzyk.
Its story revolves around a poem that he wrote when in college:
“A soft cold hand that soothes, smooths and smothers.” With a nod to the TV series “The Twilight Zone” the drama explores “other world” experiences, and then breaks off into a take-off on Pirandello’s play “Six Characters in Search of an Author” The story, true to the literary conceit of the time, employs a deconstructionist ending. Barzyk not only videotaped the drama with volunteers but convinced 40 volunteer musicians to perform a commissioned original score …. also written gratis. The total cost for the drama was $500.
One of the volunteer technicians, Dan LeBlanc, shoots a documentary of the entire production, including the recording of the music. Dan uses a sense of wry humor and sarcasm in his construction of the documentary. Some people enjoy his documentary more than they do the play. And so it goes.
CHAPTER 12: Miscellaneous
Barzyk produces and directs two fundraisers. First, a light-hearted audience participation mystery format where the audience is given all the clues to solve the crimes. Featured are Radio/TV stars William Conrad, Gene Barry, Tammy Grimes, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Howard Duff. The second fundraiser is a musical tribute to America, “Of Thee We Sing.” The hour-long show features Peter, Paul, and Mary; Loretta Lynn; Gospel Singers; Singalong Messiah from San Francisco; and Diana Ross who gets the entire Las Vegas crowd to join in song.
Barzyk produces and directs a Boston Tourist Bureau video “Boston Is.”
Barzyk produces and directs a series of cooking shows: “Romagnoli’s Wonderful World of Pasta”; Craig Claiborne & New York Times TV Cook Book; Julia Child creates a video for the Smithsonian Museum with her take on “Primordial Soup; ” and then celebrated Chinese chef Joyce Chen takes her family to China and produces the first film report after President Nixon diplomacy opens the door to the country.
Video artists and the Boston Symphony Orchestra join forces in producing an experimental visual interpretation of classical music.
Barzyk directs a series of 4 shows showcasing female comics in a celebration of feminist humor, 1992. Features standup routines, musical songs and satire. 1992.
CHAPTER 13: Fred’s Last Show (2019)
Barzyk self-evaluates his creative work and compresses his more than 50 years of work into a 22-minute collage of highlights. The second part of the show finds Barzyk coming to terms with his main topic of creative imagining: That much of the work had to do with death. He shows examples and says goodbye.
Brian O’Doherty writes and narrates this piece to document the growing field of video art. The work features segments from approximately 25 different experimental works, ranging from documentary-style interviews and political works to feedback experimentation to polished "classics" by artists like Peter Campus, William Wegman, and Joan Jonas.
This double-channel work is created with video artist and filmmaker Stan Vanderbeek, a Rockefeller Artist-in-Television. During broadcast on WGBH channels 2 and 44, viewers are asked to place two television sets side by side. "Violence Sonata" mixes live studio action and a prerecorded video work to question violence, race relations, and man's ability to communicate at the beginning of the 1970's. On channel 2, the original work created by Vanderbeek is shown. This includes archival film footage of the Ku Klux Klan, street scenes, images of outer space missions, riots, and so on. This imagery is manipulated and enhanced through overlays and color saturation. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech is featured. A white man and black man repeat the phrases, "I want to like you" and "Adapt or die." Raised fists are recurring images. On channel 44, sections of this work are played before a live studio audience who responded to the question "Can man communicate?" At home, viewers are also encouraged to call in their responses to this question and, despite the somewhat dire issues raised by the work, viewers vote overwhelmingly in favor of man's ability to communicate. In one image from the work, a black woman and a white man appear in bed together.
Because the viewing of a double-channel program is impossible to duplicate online, it will be necessary to view it at the WGBH Archives.
DIRECTOR NOTES: Short Videos from Fred Barzyk Video Archive
Please find a list of names of people I have worked with over my career. This list was created in 2010 from memory and pure recall. I probably have missed someone. With this list you can quickly identify if a person you are researching is in the collection. I have tried to give clues to help you locate them.
It is quite a strange feeling to see all these names in print. Many memories.
Fred Barzyk, 2021
Lily Tomlin (Collisions for PBS/PEOPLE for NBC)
Professor Irwin Corey (Collisions)
Dan Ackroyd (Collisions)
Gilda Radner (Collisions)
Jane Alexander (Letters of Calamity Jane for CBS Cable)
Matt Dillon ( Great American 4th of July, & Other Disasters, PBS)
Christian Slater (Secrets for Hearst Network)
Barbara Feldon (Secrets was Agent 99 on Get Smart)
Peter Gerity (Secrets)
Christopher Reeve (Last Ferry Home for Hearst)
Ashley Judd (Ryan Interview by Arthur Miller for Kentucky Public TV)
Eddie Bracken (Ryan Interview stage actor and movie star 1940’s))
Bob and Ray (Between Time and Timbuktu, PBS, + Double Channel show)
Kevin McCarthy (Between Time and Timbuktu, PBS)
Bill Hickey (Between Time and Timbuktu, PBS)
Bruce “Juicy Bruce” Morrow (“ was big time DJ NYC radio)
Dorothea Duckworth (“
Franklin Cover (“ went on to star in TV series The Jefferson’s)
John Devlin (“)
James Sloyan (“)
Hurd Hatfield (“ was Dorian Gray in the Hollywood movie)
Dolf Sweet (“)
Benay Venuta (“)
Susan Sullivan (“ was pitch person for pain reliever on TV for years)
Charles White (“)
Phillip Bruns (“ went on to Mary Hartman TV series)
Ariane Munker (“ was little Wanda June on Broadway)
Page Johnson (“)
McIntyre Dixon (“ starring in stage show Boston, 2010)
Bruce Davison (Lathe of Heaven for PBS)
Kevin Conway (Lathe)
Margaret Avery (Lathe -nominated Best Supporting for The Color Purple)
Richard Ward (Charlie Smith)
Richard Dysart (Charlie Smith)
Mary Alice (Charlie Smith)
Glynn Turman (Charlie Smith - married Aretha Franklin, proposed on set)
Morgan Freeman (Charlie Smith started on Sesame street, now big movie star)
John Amos (Listen Up for PBS)
William Conrad (Great Whodunit! for PBS great radio guy, Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke)
Gene Barry (Great Whodunit! Radio, TV stage, was great in La Cage aux Folles)
Tammy Grimes (“ she wanted me to be her “director” …nope)
Geraldine Fitzgerald (“)
Howard Duff (“ was the radio star Sam Spade detective)
Loretta Switt (Matter of Principal for Hearst Network was in TV Mash)
Tyne Daly (No Room for Opal for Hearst Network- one of the few who had trouble with me as director… interesting story)
Daniel J. Travanti, Jr. ( was star of TV series Hill Street Blues)
Claire Dane (“ has become a TV star in series “Homeland))
Moses Gunn (“)
Theresa Wright (“ was in a lot of movies, Hitchcock))
Ben Vereen (Jenny’s Song for Westinghouse Network – song and dance)
Freddie Kohler (Tender Places for Westinghouse Network- best kid actor ever)
Jean Stapleton (Tender Places famous for Edith in All in the Family TV series)
James Broderick (Phantom of the Open Hearth for PBS- great man, father of
Mathew Broderick, the movie star)
Barbara Bolton (Phantom wife of composer Norman Dello Rio)
Roberta Wallach (Phantom, - daughter of the actor Eli Wallach)
David Elliot (Phantom, was in Jaws 2)
James Sikking (Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss , Disney PBS – he was big in TV series Hill Street Blues)
Dorothy Lyman (Ollie, funny actress, in many TV series)
Jerry O’Connell (Ollie – fresh off film Stand By Me, now TV series and Now a stud!)
Rosie Perez (Poof! For PBS made a splash in Spike Lee’s first movie)
Mark Consuelo (Connect with English, PBS married to Kelly Ripa, TV star)
Geoffrey Holder (What If I Am Home Alone for PBS great dancer)
Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“ was star on TV Home Improvements And voice of Lion King in Disney movie)
Ed Asner (Listen Up… lead in TV Mary Tyler Moore TV series)
Jason Robards, Jr. (Madhousers for Westinghouse
Richard Kiley (Madhouser was star of Broadway musical, Man of La Mancha)
John Goodman (Flashback for HBO- went on to be big movie star)
Larry Miller (So You Want to Be a Star for HBO comedian/movie actor)
Eric Severeid (Countdown to Looking Glass and intro to Flashback, HBO
used as news commentator, gentle nice man)
Newt Gingrich (Countdown – used as Congressman, which he is leading the Republican take over of Congress in the 90’s)]
Helen Shafer (Countdown – Canadian actress, in many movies)
Mike Farrell (Of Thee We Sing – was big name in TV’s Mash)
John Houseman (Cable Arts, in many films, worked with Orson Wells)
James Wood (Andrew Silver drama, went to Hollywood and did well)
Mary Kay Place (People, Mary Hartman TV series, docu on Louise Lasser)
Louise Lasser (People, was married to Woody Allen and was controversial)
(Michele Pfeiffer In So You Want to be a star. Was in Scarface)
Jane Curtin (Pretzels for HBO, original SNL cast )
Joe Summers (Last Ferry Home)
Jessica Walters (Jenny’s Song)
Robert Protsky (Hindenberg for HBO)
Scott Glenn (Countdown to Looking glass
Michael Murphy (Countdown to Looking Glass)
Kevin McCarthy (Between Time and Timbuktu)
Paul Simon (walk on in People with Lily Tomlin)
Garret Brown (Jenny’s Song)
Mike Farrell (Of thee we Sing member of TV sitcom MASH)
Pete Seeger (Two links of a Chain – WGBH)
Taj Mahal (Folk Music USA)
Dave Van Ronk (Folk Music USA)
Kweskin Jug Band (Folk Music USA)
Sonny Terry and Bownie McGhee (Folk Music USA_
Loretta Lynn (People – docu she named her sister on a bus trip back to
Butcher Holler after her favorite fast food place, Crystal Hamburgers)
Baltimore Symphony (Did visuals for Alan Miller who had PBS grant
Good review in the New York Times)
Boston Symphony Orchestra with Eric Leinsdorf (Inside Symphony Hall)
Joe Raposo (theme song for WGBH school program, Joe went on to
wrote most of the songs for Sesame Street)
Tom Leherer (Listen UP,. Song writer big in the 50s and 60s, wry sense
Of humor, math teacher. He, Raposo and I attempted to write an original TV musical in 1962. It was going to be a musical of an English farce called “Sweeny Todd” Tom still has some of the songs stored in his basement. This was three years before Sweeny was done by Sondheim and its spectacular Broadway run)
Lukas Foss (Soundings for PBS)
Michael Colgrass (Soundings for PBS)
Gunther Schuller (Soundings for PBS(
Arthur Fiedler (Inside Symphony Hall for WGBH)
Jose Feliciano (Folk Music USA for WGBH)
Tom Rush (Folk Music USA)
Charles River Valley Boys (Folk Music USA with legend Joe Val)
Phil Ochs (Folk Music USA)
Charly McClain (HBO- So You want to be a star C&W singer)
KISS (traveled with them for 6 weeks directing big projections so the audience could see their faces.. also did music video)
Tony Saletan (folk singer and educator, What’s New? 4 TV series NET)
Leonard Bernstein – did his opera Trouble in Tahiti, early days WGBH
Luigi Nono – (“Intolerance” Opera for NET – worked with Greg Harney who had directed a live coverage of Sarah Caldwell’s staging I re visualized certain dark scenes from the live coverage. Worked with Sarah and her crew, but she got concerned that I was taking over the artistic direction. She had a lawyer serve me with a cease and desist legal order. I did it anyway. NET
Exec. Prod. Curt Davis. Sent me a nice letter. He later became involved With Russ Connor and Cable Art.)
Michael Small (Lathe of Heaven, original music. He has many
Movie credits under his name, did Marathon Man/Parallax View)
John Mauceri (Music , USA spots for WGBH, John has gone to conduct many major orchestras in US. )
Peter Gabriel (did a music video with Peter Campus)
Joan Tower (Soundings)
Ivana Themmen (Soundings)
Ralph Shapey (Soundings)
Geroge Rochberg (Soundings)
Harry Somers (Soundings)
Walter Robinson (Soundings)
Sarah Caldwell (founder Boston Opera Co., worked on Intollerenza )
Itzak Perlman (Hartford PTV< From the Top)
Michael Tilson Thomas (while at BSO he did music for Ron Hay Music Image Workshop.)
Eric Leinsdorf (feature early TV show, Inside Symphony Hall 1960)
Diana Ross (Of thee we sing special)
John Cage (did several things with Paik and John)
Jean Shepherd (Many, many projects, worked with him for over 30 years)
Jane Wagner (Collisions and People for NBC)
A.R. Gurney (Pete) (did first TV movie when he was teaching at MIT>
Early 1960’s, drama tape lost in WGBH fire)
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Between Time and Timbuktu)
Ursula LeGuin (Lathe of Heaven)
Arthur Miller (Ryan Interview)
Lynn Nottage (POOF1 for KET)
Greg MacDonald (artist in residence Workshop, Globe TV critic
fan of my work, went on to write the Fletch mystery series
which were made into movies starring Chevy Chase)
Charles Johnson (Bubba, Charlie Smith and Fritter tree, Listen Up!
Long time relationship with Charles, who won National
Book award for Middle Passage, Prof at University of Washington,
and given the MacDonald “Genius” grant.)
Charles Olson (Brattle St. Forum, early WGBH show, Poet)
Esmeralda Santiago, author of When I Was Puerto Rican
Arthur Golden (Bio of America… Memoirs of a Geisha)
Book of the Month Club shows (ABC and PBS) “FIRST EDITION”
(Hosted by John Leonard and Nancy Evans. List all the writers interviewed.)
Janwillem Van de Wetering
Nam June Paik
Stan Van Der Beek
Brian O’Doherty (aka Patrick Ireland painter, also art critic for Today show NBC)
Russ Connor( Artist, Rose Museum director/NY state Arts adm./Whitney Ed. Chief)
Marie Cosindas ( Polariod Photographer docu for NET American Artist series)
Jerry Liebling ( Photographer On Photography ½ hr. show WGBH)
Jerry Ullesman (Florida photographer artist at Workshop)
Tony Oursler (Electronic Canvas)
John Cage (Cage on Cage with Paik)
Melanie Kahane (archive , NEA at WGBH, Int. Design Black & White room)
Lee Krasner interviewed by Barbara Novak (archive project)
Noguchi (great sculpture, docu for Walker Art Musuem)
Minor White ( photographer , did lighting for Andrew Silver drama Workshop)
Derek Lamb ( created animation for Shepherd/director of Canadian Film Board)
Alan Kaprow (creator of Happenings was in Medium is the Medium)
Trisha Brown (Workshop artist)
Rudy Perez (District 1)
Donald McKayle (Jacob Pillow NET dance program)
Twyla Tharp (aborted project All About Eggs, given to WNET LAB)
Merce Cunningham (PBL segment for Ford Foundation)
Concert Dance Company (As Quiet As)
Honi Cole (Archive interview, tap dancer)
Honi Cole (Archive interview, tap dancer)
Gus Solomon Jr. (Five Days. MIT grad/ danced with Merce and
did City Motion Space Game for Workshop )
Mimi Seawright (Medium is the Medium,)
Louie Falco Company (Collision)
Alexia Hoff & Avind Haerum(dancers ‘Between Time ‘ Vonnegut)
Jacques d'Amboise (Of Thee we Sing =works with students)
Marcel Ophuls (docu at WGBH archives)
Richard Attenborough (People for NBC. Included in scenes Sean
Connery and Anthony Hopkins)
Stan Latham ( black movie director, worked with Stan at WGBH early years)
Scott Rudin (movie producer, who was my casting director for Great American 4th of July and other Disasters…cast Matt Dillon as lead)
Andy Warhol (interviewed for What’s Happening Mr. Silver)
Dennis O’Neil (worked on Collisons with me, then went on to Hollywood and wrote the film The River Wild)
Sam Mercer (interned for me at WGBH, now producer in Hollywood)
Sally Dennison (my first prod. Asst at WGBH, she went on to become Casting director for Antononi, and Speilberg’s Close Encounters I helped her cast Zapriski Point.)
Douglas Brinkley (Bio of America)
Prof. Robert G. Albion (early WGBH telecourse, European Imperialism)
Donald Miller (Bio)
Eugene Weber (Western Civ for Annenberg)
Robert Coles (Kids, Crayons and VW’s local WGBH show)
Kenneth Keniston (What’s Happening Mr. Silver, Yale prof.)
Edward Rowe Snow (pilot for NBC, local historian of harbors and islands, wrote many, many books. Was the Flying Santa delivering presents to light houses at Xmas)
Hans Holzer (Ghost Hunter, early WGBH show on Halloween.
Went to haunted houses. Bad reaction from the WGBH board.. too commercial)
Dick Gregory (Comedian/activist Whats Happening Mr. Silver)
Bill Buckley (Conservative commentator, publisher, What Happening)
James Baldwin (writer, Negro and American Promise)
Martin Luther King (minister, Negro and Am. Pro.)
Malcolm X (Black Muslim spokesman, Negro and Am. Pro.)
Abbie Hoffman (hippie spokesman, Whats Happening)
Living Theater (artists at Workshop friends of Paik)
Theater USA (early docu series traveled to the fledgling rep. acting Major Companies across America)
Richard Schechner (Artist at Workshop, The Drama Review publisher
Editor and avant garde stage director)
Nicholas Negro-Ponti (Whats Happening, MIT Lab, spokesperson championing in expensive computers for the world)
Bob Vila (CTA took him commercial with a series called Home Again With Bob Vila. His PBS show This Old House inspired sit com” Home Improvement”)
Jane Pauley (Breast Care Test for Pittsburgh PTV)
John Kenneth Galbraith (several shows at WGBH)
Eugene McCarthy (Countdown to Looking Glass)
Erica Jong (Cable Arts,NYC.. A for Arts program on Poetry)
Cooks and Cook Book Authors
Craig Caliborne (New York Times Video Cookbook)
Julia Child (many shows with Julia, Primordial Soup for Smithsonian.
James Beard (with Julia at Wayside Inn doing clam chowder ¾ only)
The Romngoli’s (Pasta videos for Rizzoli, Franco and Margaret)
Anne Willian (Pilot for cooking show)
Joyce Chen Joyce Chen Goes to China docu)
Books published from TV show I directed
Negro and the American Promise
Phantom of the Open Hearth
Between Time and Timbuktu
Lathe of Heaven.
Bruce Cronin and Babe Sargent (filmmaker amateur actor/.Workshop)
Kate Clinton (World according to us)
Margaret Cho (same )
Paula Poundstone (Listen Up local comedian, gone national)
Muppets (Listen Up)
Larry Miller (So you want to be a star? HBO)
Bob and Ray
The following document recalls my experience of moving to Boston and becoming a graduate student at Boston University. I had won a scholarship to the School of Communication which required me to work 3 days a week at a small educational TV station in lieu of paying tuition. WGBH, Boston, and the shock of everything new led me to a deeper understanding of what is meant by “A Stranger in a Strange Land...”
A Stranger in a Strange Land
It all began on a hot summer’s day. The two of us waited, standing on the corner, staring hard at the passing cars. We were searching for our ride.
We waited, not quite sure of our new adventure. Not that one, not that one. Tom McGrath and I waited there for what seemed hours, our overstuffed suitcases surrounding us on the hot pavement.
It was 27th street and Oklahoma Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just up the street from Leon’s Frozen Custard Stand, an icon of all thing’s dairy in America’s Dairy Land, and right across from Pulaski High School. I had graduated from Pulaski just four years ago. You could tell by its name that this was the South Side, and very Polish. My Aunt Jenny had a sausage shop just a few miles down Oklahoma Avenue; she had all kinds of Polish delights in her white gleaming glass cases. Kiszka, Headcheese, Mettwurst, Kielbasa, and of course, Blood Sausage.
A big old black car pulled up and out stepped our fellow traveler, David Nohling. “Hi, guys. Nice to meet you.” As we loaded the suitcases into the car, I wondered if it could actually make it all the way to the East Coast.
Tom sat in front and I in the back, shoved in with everyone’s belongings. We were all to bear the cost of the drive — gas, tolls, etc. — we were all to take turns driving, thus avoiding the cost of having to stop at motels, just drive right on through to Boston. It was going to take 16 plus hours.
And then it hit me. This was a standard shift car! I could only drive automatics! They were kind to me. Don’t worry, we can do all the driving, they reassured me. I felt like a jerk.
On the Road
The car lumbered down 27th street toward Chicago. Soon we were on the interstate heading East. Dave had figured out that if we drove at night, the car would be a hell of a lot cooler than it would be driving during the day. His car did not have air conditioning. Dave was a good planner.
Dave had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was a communication major, very knowledgeable. Tom and I had just graduated from Marquette University, with degrees in Speech. Yup, that was what they called it.
Why us? God works in mysterious ways. I could understand why Tom was chosen. He had already worked part time at a local commercial TV station, he had experience. I had no experience. I mean, Marquette didn’t even have real TV cameras: we used wooden mock up cameras, faking TV shows. But as I huddled in the back seat, I knew the only reason I was here was because of Bill Heitz.
Above: Paul Noble and Bill Heitz
Bill was finishing up being a BU/WGBH scholar that summer. He had graduated from Marquette the year before. He insisted that I try to get into this scholarship program; he said it was absolutely great. You studied for your graduate degree in communication at Boston University and worked three days a week at the Educational Television station. Free tuition and you got $600 to live on for the year in Boston! Bill said this program would change my life. He was right.
I slept a lot during the trip. Darkness came and went, and we drove on and on. Then Dave gave us his real surprise. He had never been to New York City. Neither had we. He was a good planner.
It was late morning when we drove into the heart of NYC, the big enchilada. We drove through the traffic, staring up at the tall buildings. And then Dave pulled over into a no parking zone, got out of the car, opened the hood and peered at the engine as if the car was having trouble. He told Tom and I to go in first. He had stopped outside Grand Central Station. Tom and I moved through the crowd and into the giant train station.
Above: Alfred Hitchcock (image from Wikipedia)
And there he was. Just sitting in a chair while the rest of the film crew moved around the cameras and lights. Someone came to him and asked a question. He responded, but never left his chair. Tom said “It is Alfred Hitchcock!”
We had stumbled into the filming of “North by Northwest.” There was Gary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. They were walking towards one of the train tracks.
While they were acting inside the station, Dave was doing a wonderful acting job outside. Tom and I came back and now we stared into the engine while Dave rushed in to have a look.
We couldn’t believe our luck as the car headed off toward Boston.
Boston at last
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.
Several hours later, tired, sweaty, thirsty, we drove into the Boston area. We had made it, and it took just over 18 hours.
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.
Heitz opened his apartment to us. We showered, had some beers, talked about our trip, and went to sleep. The next day Bill took us to what he thought would be the perfect place for us to rent. It was just down the block from Massachusetts Ave., right on Marlboro street.
The entrance to Fred Barzyk and Tom McGrath’s little hovel in “Rat Alley,” 1959. Photo by Brooks Leffler.
The three scholars from Wisconsin rang the doorbell and the landlady opened the door. Mrs. Gautraux. Her hair was frizzed, her elderly eyes had that crazy look after all these years of renting to college kids. She led us to the basement, to a two-room apartment fashioned around steam pipes and the furnace. “$80 bucks a month.” We took it.
She gave us the key and said we should use the backdoor for coming and going. She opened the door, which led directly to the alley. The alley. What can I say? Here among the garbage cans, cars parked in little spaces, lived some of the largest rats in Boston. Bill told us this was known as Rat Alley. Ah, yes and now it was our home.
That night Bill took us to see the latest WGBH remote. There was a huge arts festival happening in a park called the Boston Public Garden. The three of us stood beside a pond in the middle of the Garden and watched as members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra drifted by in a Swan Boat playing Handel’s Water Music. And our little TV station was broadcasting it live! Wow!
Photo: The entrance to Fred Barzyk and Tom McGrath’s little hovel in “Rat Alley,” 1959. Photo by Brooks Leffler
That night as bedtime approached, Tom and I acted like freshman who had just moved into a dorm. Both Tom and I had lived at home while going to Marquette. This was real freedom. Alone at last in our own space. We giggled on about Rat Alley, you know, “Snow White and Seven Rats,” that kind of thing. Stupid stuff.
Dave soon made arrangements to move in with another scholar, Brooks Leffler. Now it was up to Tom and myself to make the $80 monthly rent.
Then the big day. The 1958/59 scholars were to assemble at WGBH. We walked down Massachusetts Avenue, over the bridge into Cambridge. On the bridge were strange markings, Smoots, based on a man named Smoot who was placed end to end in the ’40s by his MIT fraternity. They measured the bridge in Smoots!
Finally, we arrived at the address. And there it was, right in the middle of the MIT complex of buildings. It was in a low-slung three-story building. It appeared to have some non-descript businesses: a drug store that served lunch, not much else. In the middle of the building was a plaque on a pillar announcing that this was the home of the WGBH Educational Foundation.
We climbed the wooden stairs leading us up to the reception area. There sat Rose Buresh, receptionist, the one person who really knew what was going on at WGBH. We were ushered into the studio. It was huge. It was once an old roller -skating rink. Its wooden floor proved to be problematic when moving the TV cameras. If you went straight forward, going with the floorboards, you got a pretty smooth ride. But going across the grain led to some very bumpy dollies. We all took notes.
The notorious Boston University Scholars “Crew of ’59.” Top left to right: Al Kelman, Phil Fields, Tom McGrath, Fred Barzyk, Don Knox, Bert Bell, Sue Dietrich, Dave Nohling, Jim Hennes, John Sunier, John Engel. Bottom left to right: Lew Yeager, Joe (Mark) Mobius, Brooks Leffler, Mel Bernstein. Not present: Hiromichi Matsui. Caption by Al Boyns.
We met our leader, Bob Moscone: from then on to be known as the King. Bob was once an Arthur Murray Dance teacher; a slender attractive Italian man who carried a little note card on which he kept track of what was going on at the studio. And he also controlled when we were to work at WGBH. He was the man in charge. He was the King.
“Prospects of Mankind.” Left to right, Bob Moscone, Dave Davis, Virginia Kassel (behind Dave), Paul Noble, and Eleanor Roosevelt, fall 1959.
His second in command was Kenny Anderson. Kenny was a young slender guy with a terrific Boston accent, full of energy. I found out later he was a true lover of women, all women. The King asked him to show us on how to hang and focus a light. Kenny climbed the ladder, moved the light and then to show off, slid down the ladder. The scholars gasped. The King smiled. He hoped we should all be able to do the same in a few days.
Our audio man was Wil Morton. He seemed to be very young but with a keen sense of professionalism. He showed us the mikes, the cables, the endless cables. Eventually we met the TV directors and producers. Jean Brady (The Queen) a sweet, lovely woman with a wonderful southern accent; Gene Nichols (the Court Jester) a quiet man with a great smile; Ted Steinke, a big smiley guy from the midwest; Lou Barlow, who seemed to smoke whenever he directed. I don’t remember him smiling much.
And then there was Paul Noble, who had been a BU scholar in Bill Heitz’s group and had just been hired as a producer/director. It is important to note here that Paul and his crew really set the culture of WGBH scholars. It was family, fun, and camaraderie. His team bonded like no other, still meeting yearly, nearly 55 years later. Paul and his team created a WGBH yellow journalism news rag, The Ille Novi. (Latin for “Here’s the News,” which were the words used by Louis Lyons each night when he opened his news program. Copies of it are in the WGBH archives.) This mimeographed tabloid told all the “real news” for the scholars. Paul once told me his greatest talent was reading memos upside down as they sat on the executive’s desk. Long live yellow journalism.
Above: Sitting front row: Vic Washkevich, Paul Noble and Ed Donlon.
There was Whit Thompson, who seemed to do all the music shows. His dad was Randall Thompson, composer of symphonies and other pieces, who taught at Harvard; Lenny Bernstein was one of his students. Whit wore glasses and was very erudite. And then there was Cabot Lyford who had a nasty habit of kicking the wall every once in a while. He was the director of the Museum of Fine Arts show “Invitation to Art,” a big remote production from one of the country’s great museums. (Not many people know that the museum was internally wired with TV cables in expectation that the MFA and WGBH would be doing shows for a long time. I wonder if they are still there.) The host was Brian O’Doherty, a visiting Doctor from Ireland who had come to Boston to study heart-related illness at Harvard University.
Brian became a dear friend. Years later, Brian became head of the National Endowment for the Arts Media Panel. His panels awarded many grant dollars to WGBH. Brian was also the fine arts commentator for NBC’s Today show for 9 years and is a celebrated artist painting under the name Patrick Ireland.
Brian would occasionally invite me to have lunch at Ken’s deli restaurant in Copley Square. I mean, we never even did a show together, but he had somehow become interested in what I thought about TV and art. That was really hard to imagine. I was just a kid from the South Side of Milwaukee. It was very unexpected but complimentary. I really enjoyed the talk and the food.
An aside: the culinary arts.
Yes, the food. Food was a constant concern at our apartment in Rat Alley. Tom and I existed on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pasta and cheap canned tomato sauce, and every once in a while, a piece of meat. Milk, when we felt really rich.
I remember one day I traded my jelly sandwich with cameraman Don Hallock for his tongue sandwich. Tongue! I wasn’t sure about eating tongue but what the hell, it was meat. After all, I had eaten a lot of weird things in my mother’s Polish kitchen. Czarnina, a black duck blood soup with prunes and raisins; boiled chicken hearts and gizzards over mashed potatoes. I sort of liked the tongue sandwich, even though it was kinda chewy.
Brian, I can still taste those big Reuben sandwiches at Kens. Thanks. It meant a lot. More than you ever knew.
Russ Morash, who would soon become one the most important producer/directors at WGBH, had just married. He and his wife took an extended honeymoon in France that summer. Russ eventually returned to direct a French Language show for kids called “Parlons Francais.” He had studied acting at BU and his wife had graduated with a degree in set design from BU, fellow theater artists. I ended up using Russ in a number of dramas that I did for PBS. The most memorable is when I cast him as a fellow TV newscaster with actress Lily Tomlin. They were perfect together.
There was also Bob Squier. Talk about energy. He was the quickest, the most animated of our directors. He took more shots in one show than most of us ever thought about. Bob soon moved on to become an independent producer and eventually became the Democrat’s PR spokesman. He appeared often with Roger Ailes, the Republican counterpart (now head of Fox Cable News). Bob passed away a few years ago. Sad.
Above: Don Hallock, Al Kelman, and Tom McGrath
A reflection: As I now look back at the staff of WGBH in those days, it dawns on me how young we all were. I mean, the average age of the camera people, lighting and audio was 23. Even the engineers were young; Bobby Hall, blond, happy guy; Jerry Adler, FM engineer, the only practicing Jew with a Southern accent I had ever met; Andy Ferguson, the only African American on staff, were all in their late 20’s. And the staff camera people, Don Hallock, a true artist and one of the greatest TV camera operators I have ever known, was not even 20. Bob Valtz, a recent Harvard grad who wore his tie flung over his shoulder while running camera, was 23. Frank Vento, a dark-haired, intense camera/lighting person was probably near 30. Even the executives were only in their thirties.
Above:: Frank Vento and Mary Lela Grimes
The Executives. The visionaries who helped make WGBH so special. There was Dave Davis, manager of the station. He was a former trumpet player and lover of jazz and good music. In addition to his duties as station manager, he also directed the Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts. His was a tightly run production, which created the most sophisticated music/camera shot list ever.
It was amazing that he could take a bunch of BU Scholars along with this young staff, and make the broadcast seamless and professional. (The BSO and WGBH have paired up to release some of these early TV concerts on DVD, to be released in 2011.)
It is fair to say that Dave was the paternal figure in the organization. He didn’t say much and it was expected of you to present your questions in an exact and quick manner. He would then give a quick answer back.
Dave appreciated hard work and creativity. Once, after a music show that I did, he called and complimented the staff and me. It was really a big moment for us. That didn’t happen too often. We celebrated by going out and having a few beers at the Zebra Lounge.
The Zebra Lounge on the corner of Mass Ave. and Beacon Street. The home away from home. (Now, called The Crossroads.) The corner booth was covered with fake Zebra cloth. Our corner booth. A place for the young scholars to relive the day, laugh at what we did and did not do.
Our BU Scholar group broke into three groups. First, there were those who had come back from the war and were going for their master degrees. They were older, married, some with kids. Second, there were the serious scholars who wanted their degree. They studied hard, did their WGBH work and acted like adults. And then there were the rest of us.
We thought all of this was fun and games. A great time to learn, try new things, drink beer, laugh, what me worry? Not many of us finished the degree. We went to class and were responsible students, but spent most of our time at WGBH. I mean, we used to go to the studio after closing hours, crank out the big boom mike into the middle of the studio, and play volleyball. This was fun. The whole thing was fun.
Young ladies came into Tom and my lives. Tom hooked up with a sparkly woman, Peggy. I met Ruth Smith casually at the Zebra lounge. She was from Revere, graduated from Chandlers, and now was a special assistant to some big wig at Bank Boston. After a few dates, we became a number. As a matter of fact I ended up marrying her. As she likes to remind me, we will be married 50 years next March. How time flies.
Three important executives who influenced my life were Mike Ambrosino, Greg Harney, and Bob Larson. Bob was program manager. He had graduated from Harvard and was a practicing Christian Scientist. It was Bob who saw the potential of a TV series for a tall Cambridge woman who had appeared on our weekly book show: her name was Julia Child.
Bob thought I could only be a director since he questioned the kind of education I might have gotten at Marquette. I accepted his opinion then and said, “I will show him that there is more to me than he thinks.” He was my challenge. Years later he accepted me as someone who could become a producer. Bob passed away from stomach cancer, much too young. His religion, which he cherished, did not allow him to see a doctor. His prayers were not answered. Sad.
Left: Michael Ambrosino, September 1956
Mike Ambrosino, though an executive, also produced and directed a number of shows. He was in charge of creating the Eastern Educational Television Network. He also created the 21 Inch Classroom, a coordinated program between WGBH and 35 independent school systems to see if TV could be used in the classroom to enrich the teaching experience. We did a lot of 15-minute shows directed to grade school kids.
Mike did a lot of science shows, especially with Gene Gray, a teacher from Newton. It was during one of Gene’s shows that he poured some acid into a plastic cup only to see it dissolve the cup. (This is still in the archives.) Not much you could do because the show was live. Gene did a great job making the disaster into a teaching moment. Ambrosino later went on to create one of the great staples of PBS: NOVA.
Greg Harney. What can I say? He had arrived from CBS at about the same time as our crew. He was one of the best lighting directors at CBS. However, Greg was ambitious and took the job as production manager at WGBH to expand his choices. He took a hefty pay cut and supplemented his WGBH salary by teaching a grad course at BU, Lighting and Production. This was a class that all of the BU scholars took. His style of directing, lighting and program style was gleaned from his days at CBS and it was soon our style, too.
Above: Script Conference, “A Time to Dance,” 1959. Left to right: Paul Noble, AD; Jac Venza, Producer; Martha Meyers, host; and Greg Harney, Director.
Greg and I always had an “interesting” relationship. Greg liked to call you into his office after one of your shows and critique your performance. A dear fellow director, Ed Scherer, told me how to handle these sessions. Agree and then go do what you normally do. I did this many times. Many.
Finally, one day Harney confronted me in the hallway, and accused me of not really listening to him. He had me caught. What to do? I blurted out that he was probably right. I should really listen to him. He looked relieved. Of course, I just went back to what I was doing anyway.
Greg was pushing me to be the best I could. Many years later, he said that he had tried to hire me as a director when our scholar year ended. But there wasn’t any money. He kept after me, bringing me back three times to WGBH for short stints as a director.
Then one day, when I was back in Milwaukee doing a silly job working for a Polish Newspaper, he offered me a permanent TV directing job. Somehow, he had found me at this little office where I was doing blind calls for a Polish newspaper, Novini Polski. I would call up people who were trying to rent apartments and suggest that they should rent to good Polish people who were clean and reliable payers of rent. All they had to do is place an ad with the Polish newspaper.
Greg’s offer was exactly what I needed. I walked up to the office manager and quit. It wasn’t even 10:30.
So, for the next 50 years I did at least one show a year for WGBH. Sometimes, I did as many as 100 TV shows in a year. It became my professional and spiritual home. As I often said to the present executives, this is my station.
I haven’t said much about Hartford Gunn. He was the head of the whole thing. He was the brains behind the operation and soon left to create the whole PBS system. Hartford was there, but we didn’t interact with him on a daily basis. He was gracious to us all as he bustled about his business.
Above: Hartford Gunn
Years later, Hartford and I had an interesting confrontation. In those days, I wore white shirts and ties. Hartford grabbed me by the tie and pushed me up against the wall.
Why? My fellow producer/director Dave Sloss and I had written an internal memo criticizing David Ives for not being adventurous, as we wanted him to be.
The musician’s union had complained about our local folk music show because we didn’t pay anything. David felt we were in danger of being blackballed by the union and we should cancel the show. He said we always get in trouble when we do entertainment. Our memo took Ives to task for this position, in rather brutal language.
Hartford wanted to make a point to me while holding me by my tie and up against the wall, that he too wanted the station to venture into entertainment. He warned me that we had to be careful. Go slow. I agreed with him. The folk music show continued. It was my most intimate moment with Hartford.
Left to right: Fred Barzyk, Barbara Goble, Libby Alford, Al Reese, Don Hallock, and Ruth (now) Barzyk with her back to the camera.
Fact: Our personal history is not made up by remembering specific days, but by remembering the special moments. There were three special moments during this period:
First, was my birthday party. I turned 22 in October and the gang gathered at our apartment in Rat Alley. Beer flowed, laughter filled the small apartment, there was even food that somebody brought.
And then, Hallock and Vento paraded into the packed place carrying a birthday cake. The crowd sang Happy Birthday. Then they plugged the cake into a wall socket and the whole thing exploded. BOOM! The room filled with smoke. At first, everyone cringed but then, realizing it was a joke, broke into loud laughter. In she came.
In her bathrobe.
She yelled and screamed.
The place cleared out fast.
What a birthday!
Second was Halloween. It had been decided by our crew that Educational Television was dead. It would go nowhere. ETV is dead. It was even chalked on the side of the building in Rat Alley. (I think that was me who did it.)
Anyway, it was decided that WGBH scholars, along with the staff, would join in a Halloween parade that was planned for Boston. Don Hallock, God Bless him, built a wooden coffin. They dressed Nohling up as a cadaver and placed him in the coffin and drove around the city in a convertible. A banner declared that ETV was dead. Probably no one in the crowds ever knew what it meant.
The driver of the convertible had a little too much to drink and I guess it was a pretty harrowing drive. The WGBH crowd ended up at some apartment on the seedy side of Beacon Hill. The next day, Don Hallock and I carried the coffin across town to my apartment. And there the coffin stood, propped up against our wall, open and empty. It stayed that way until I moved out months later.
And finally, the last week in the apartment, we had a picnic in the alley. Everyone brought whatever booze they had and we poured into one of our old pots. We called it a Wassel bowl. English phrase, I guess. As I sat there thinking about the last days in Boston, I looked over to our open apartment door. A rat quietly walked out of the apartment and into a garbage can next to the building. It was the end. The end of my scholar days. The end of a great year.
Wait! Not yet. I haven’t talked about Henry Morgenthau III.
Above:: Mrs. Roosevelt and her staff. Henry Morgenthau, Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Noble, and Diana Tead Michaelis, fall 1959.
Henry was a producer at WGBH. He was rumored to be wealthy. I know that he had a man, someone to drive him around, cook his meals. I guess you would call him a butler. But Henry was one of us. He laughed and played just like the rest of us.
But one important fact: Henry knew Eleanor Roosevelt. He convinced her to be part of one of WGBH's early important shows, “Prospects of Mankind.” (This program is also in the archives.) Everyone was on that show; John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, you name it. And it was all because of Henry.
Henry’s father was Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury, signer of all the nation’s currency. And here he was, one of our producers. Henry was great. Fun and creative. He and I ended up doing a whole ton of shows together, none more important than “Negro and the American Promise.” (Also is in the archives.)
My Dad was very impressed that I knew a Morgenthau. My Dad was a lifelong Democrat. He was very pleased that I was in good company, especially the son of the man who signed all the nation’s money.
My Dad always said “follow the money and you’ll find the truth.” All I know is we never had enough of it in those days.
Tom and I had each derived ways of making ends meet. Some of them were not very pretty. Fortunately, Greg Harney and Henry Morgenthau were bringing in big budgeted shows that were shot on weekends. That meant the crew was paid overtime. Tom became one of the regular paid crew members. That money really helped him.
However, in some kind of desperation, Tom signed up to be a medical guinea pig.
He went to the Mass. General Hospital and was injected with a blood thinner. Then they took out some blood and tested to see how thin it really was. I guess it was pretty thin because of what happened next.
Tom walked home. The Doctor told him not to get hit by a car or he might bleed to death. Ha, ha, I guess this is Doctor humor. Tom told me all about it as he combed his hair in our little bathroom.
All of a sudden, the bandage came off and he started squirting blood all over the place. I mean pumping, squirting blood. He held his arm over the tub to catch the blood. I went crazy. I handed him a towel, got the name of the Doctor, raced upstairs to the pay phone in the hallway, dialed MGH and asked for Tom’s Doctor. As I waited, I wondered if I should have called 911.
The operator came back on and said there was no such Doctor at the hospital. Egads! I rushed downstairs to see if Tom could make it to the street where I could call an ambulance. Fortunately, he had applied enough pressure to the wound that the blood had started to coagulate. Whew! Disaster avoided. Tom’s payment for all this … 15 bucks.
Above: Jerry Adler
My money problems were solved in other ways. Bill Heitz had told me to try and get the Sunday master control job.
The local CBS station would not carry the networks’ Sunday morning shows, so WGBH, as a service to its audience, worked out a deal with CBS for Ch. 2 to air the programs from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The station needed an engineer, a booth announcer and a master control operator.
I got the job. My pay was $10 for each Sunday worked. That took care of the rent.
My buddies during these Sunday stints were (usually) engineer Bobby Hall, booth announcer Bob Jones, and Jerry Adler who was right next door to master control running WGBH-FM from a small control room. We were a quiet group, sometimes fighting off hangovers, planning what we would do with the rest of Sunday.
There were talk shows, and then there was Camera Three. Camera Three had been a cultural godsend to me when living at home in Milwaukee. It did segments on the fine arts, the theater, dance, photography. It was up to speed with the NYC art scene and exposed me to ideas and concepts that were beyond my wildest dreams. It helped determine my style and approach to TV.
An aside: Camera Three and Nam June Paik
Many years later I was asked to be a guest producer for Camera Three. And to show what a small world it really is, one of the executive producers was a former BU Scholar from Bill Heitz’ group. I chose video artist Nam June Paik as the star of my Camera Three.
Nam June Paik
That meant bringing into the CBS union studio all of Nam June Paik’s broken-down TV’s; Charlotte Mormon, who would play her cello while wearing Paiks’ Video Bra; an upright piano which Paik would destroy; and lots of his small non-broadcast electronic gear.
It probably was the first time that this kind of electronic equipment had been brought into a studio of CBS. I think every engineer in CBS found some reason to walk through the studio on their way to wherever. And every last one of them had to stop and gaze at what Paik had created.
The show was called “The Strange Music of Nam June Paik.”
CBS never asked me back to do another show. As a matter of fact, this turned out to be their last season; Camera Three was no more.
Still, it was wonderful to see the cycle completed. From an avid viewer as a college kid to a full-fledged TV producer creating something for a show that meant so much to me. Special.
And then, my money problems were solved.
Late in that first summer, I walked across Mass Ave. heading from WGBH to MIT’s indoor pool. We were going to do some kind of remote. As I crossed the street, I was hit by a car. Not really hit, more like bumped.
The problem was that, in those days, cars had hood ornaments. This was a Pontiac, which carried a shiny Indian-face ornament. This sharp little piece of metal pierced my left side, causing a rather deep wound.
Moscone took charge. Somehow, I was in a car racing to Boston City Hospital. They took me to the emergency room. The King kept telling them it was not a knife wound. I don’t know if they ever really believed him. Anyway, they washed out my wound, stitched it up, bandaged it and told me not to lift anything heavy for six weeks. I went home and rested and healed rather quickly.
But Bob Moscone, being the King, went a step further. He took me to see a lawyer. The lawyer’s office was situated in a back room of a walkup in a seedy part of Boston. The lawyer listened, got the name of the person who hit me, and said he would get back in touch. I didn’t hear from him for over 4 months.
Then I got a message from Moscone. The lawyer wanted to see me right away. I went to his office and with great fanfare, he presented me with the insurance company’s settlement. A check for $600.
This money changed my lifestyle. Since I’d dreamed of making the professional theater my career choice, I spent a lot of the money going to plays, Wednesday matinees, in Boston’s theater district. Yes, in those days, there were still plays up and running in one theater or another. It seemed like there was a new one every couple of weeks.
I became a regular in the balcony section. I shared the spot with a group of ladies who were also weekly attendees. We became great friends. They started bringing me sandwiches. They were great. I saw Carol Burnett, Tom Bosley, Tommy Tune--so many great stars. It was heaven.
I decided to celebrate my new wealth by taking Ruth out on a real date. We went to a little French restaurant, which existed on Mass. Ave. (and is no longer there). We had Duck a l’Orange and a glass of wine.
Then we took a bus to Harvard Square and went to see a New Wave French film at the Brattle Theater. The Brattle, whose theater history I knew and appreciated, was not built in the faux-Oriental style that I was used to in Milwaukee. No, the Brattle was a basic box theater with little international flags on the wall, tight hard seats, and a back screen projection system.
As Ruth and I settled into our seats, it was clear the audience was young, college kids, most likely, intellectuals. Probably Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Brandeis, BU. We were early and so sat back to wait for the beginning of the film.
And that’s when it happened. Like a flash of bright white light, the truth bopped me on the head. This was the Eureka moment!
Somewhere in the theater, somebody had turned on some music to keep the customers entertained until the movie began. It was a scratchy, LP record. The audio was slowly turned up until you could finally hear it. It was a harpsichord. Oh no, it was a Scarlatti Sonata.
And right then, at that very exact moment, I knew I was a hopeless stranger in a wildly exotic land. It was as if I had been plunged into some distant planet, a planet filled with flying things, a planet so different from where I had come from that it left me speechless. Clueless. Sitting, watching, not believing — right there in the Brattle Theater!
The recorded music grew more intense, filling the cavernous room with harpsichord music. The young couple in front of us moved closer together. Tighter and tighter.
She looked up at him, lovingly.
“They are playing our song.”
“I know, I know.”
And then they kissed.
The following documents are meant to enrich the context in which the early shows took place. They are memories and stories about
Five Days; Jazz Images; Negro and the American Promise; and What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?
This was my first TV drama. It was a live staging of the Henry Ziegler play. This Bertol Brecht-like drama was introduced by Eliot Norton, Boston’s most important theater critic, a professor at Boston University and host of WGBH’s “Eliot Norton Reviews.” This was a truly generous act, since he didn’t know how good a director I was. To be honest, he never did let me know what he thought of the drama.
Jazz Images was an experiment in the coverage of music. Below is an excerpt from a June 1, 2001 letter I wrote to Brian O’Doherty (artist, doctor, National Endowment of the Arts Administrator) who was writing the major article for my Haggerty Museum exhibit catalogue.
“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 Eidophor 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 set up 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.”
These are my personal memories of an important civil rights program produced by WGBH in 1963, “Negro and The American Promise.”
Above: Henry Morgenthau
I was assigned to direct, working with executive producer, Henry Morgenthau III, who also produced Prospects of Mankind with Eleanor Roosevelt (1959), Conversation with Svetlana Alliluyeva (1967), and many local GBH shows such as “Where to Get Off in Boston.”
Henry and I go back a long way working together at WGBH, and this was our most memorable program. (As of this writing, Henry is 99 years old. Congratulations, Henry!)
Henry’s guests featured then-new and controversial leaders: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and writer James Baldwin.
One of his most brilliant choices was to bring in psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark to do the interviews.
Clark’s soft, probing questions allowed each person a chance to create their own dynamic while still leaving room for their reflections and emotions.
“The program aired in a climate of racial conflict, just months after Alabama governor George Wallace’s defiant support of “segregation forever,” and before the March on Washington.”[Source]
Here is Dr. Clark’s introduction from the program:
Above: Dr. Kenneth Clark
“James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X are, in different ways, symbols and spokesmen for the Negro crying out for his full rights as an American citizen. And now, if one dares to look for the common denominator of such seemingly different forms of Negro protest, one sees in each of these men a dramatic response to America’s attempt to deny to its Negro citizens the fulfillment of the American promise.
By all meaningful indices, the Negro is still, and unquestionably, the downtrodden, disparaged group, and for a long time was systematically deprived of his dignity as a human being. The major indictment of our democracy is that this is being done with the knowledge, and at times with the connivance, of responsible, moderate people who are not overtly bigots or segregationists.
We have now come to the point where there are only two ways that America can avoid continued racial explosions. One would be total oppression. The other, total equality. There is no compromise.
I believe, I hope, that we are on the threshold of a truly democratic America. It is not going to be easy to cross that threshold. But the achievement of the goals of justice, equality, and democracy for all American citizens involves the very destiny of our nation.” (Read the full transcript from American Experience website)
Here’s how this landmark program came to be.
Henry and I surveyed a small studio that was operated by NET, across the street from the UN building used by diplomats and others for quickie news stories. The rental price was right and just large enough for our two-person interviews. We agreed to three interview dates.
I believe our first interview was with Martin Luther King, Jr. I had the studio crew set up black curtains and use a lot of backlight to separate participants from the dark background. There were the obligatory comfortable chairs and table, with water for each person.
The day arrived and Dr. King came to the studio with a few members of his cadre. He knew Dr. Clark and the atmosphere was friendly and professional. The interview was adequate but not filled with the kind of passion we had seen Dr. King give from the pulpit.
Dr. King spoke about his non-violent philosophy and talked about the politics of change.
Above: Martin Luther King, Jr.
Here is an excerpt from King’s interview:
“There’s a great deal of difference between non-resistance to evil and non-violent resistance. Non-resistance leaves you in a state of stagnant passivity and dead-end complacency. Wherein non-violent resistance means you do resist in a very strong and determined manner. And I think some of the criticisms of non-violence, or some of the critics, fail to realize that we are talking about something very strong, and they confuse non-resistance with non-violent resistance.”
Next to be interviewed was Malcolm X. A tall, lean man, he arrived in the studio with several members of the Black Muslims. All were dressed in suits, white shirts and ties. They were silent and seemed to view us with suspicion. Dr. Clark was nonplussed and posed his questions with a soft intensity. Malcolm X was strong and passionate. From the Malcolm X interview transcript:
“History is not hatred. We are Muslims because we believe in the religion of Islam. We believe in one God. We believe in Muhammad as the apostle of God. We practice the principles of the religion of Islam, which mean prayer, charity, fasting, brotherhood.
And the Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us that since the Western society is deteriorating — it has become overrun with immorality — that God is going to judge it, and destroy it, and the only way black people who are in this society can be saved is to not integrate into this corrupt society but separate ourselves from it, reform ourselves, lift up our moral standards, and try and be godly, instead of trying… try and integrate with God, instead of trying to integrate with the white man, or try and imitate God, instead of trying to imitate the white man.”
Above: Malcolm X
Next came James Baldwin. He and Dr. Clark arrived very, very late for the interview. I knew something was really wrong. Baldwin looked terrible and Dr. Clark used every “psychiatric” tool to calm him down. Finally, he was able to get Baldwin to sit in our set. Baldwin lit up a cigarette and stared out into space, obviously angry and upset. Later we learned why. Bobby Kennedy, then Attorney General, had called Baldwin a day earlier and asked him to gather a group of black friends to his luxury apartment in NYC to discuss the civil rights problem. Baldwin quickly gathered artist friends, actors, writers and a young man who had been beaten during one of the freedom rides.
This is how the meeting was recalled in Larry Tye’s new book, “Bobby Kennedy, The Making of a Liberal Icon” (Random House, 2016):
"Black novelist James Baldwin had pulled the group together, at Bobby’s request, to talk about why a volcano of rage was building up in the Northern ghetto and why mainstream civil right leaders couldn’t or wouldn’t quell it as summer approached…
Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t welcome, nor were the top people from the NAACP and the Urban League, because Bobby wanted a no-holds-barred critique of their leadership. He also hoped for a sober discussion of what the Kennedy administration should do, with Negroes who knew what it already was doing. Having a serious conversation without the serious players would have been difficult enough, but Bobby made it even harder: what he really wanted was gratitude, not candor. Baldwin did his best given those constraints and one day’s notice…
Dr. Kenneth Clark, the black America’s preeminent psychologist, came prepared to lay out studies and statistics to document that corrosive racial divide, but he never got the chance. Jerome Smith, a young activist who had held back as long as he could, suddenly shattered the calm, his stammer underlining his anger.
“Mr. Kennedy, I want you to understand I don’t care anything about you and your brother,” he began. “I don’t know what I’m doing here, listening to all this cocktail-party patter.” The real threat to white America wasn’t the Black Muslims, Smith insisted, it was when nonviolence advocates like him lost hope. The 24-year-old made his words resonate. He had suffered as many savage beatings as any civil rights protester of the era, including one for which he was now getting medical care in New York.
But his patience and his pacifism were wearing thin, he warned his rapt audience. If the police came at him with more guns, dogs, and hoses, he would answer with a weapon of his own. “When I pull a trigger,” he said, “kiss it good-bye.”…
Bobby was shocked, but Smith wasn’t through. Not only wouldn’t young blacks like him fight to protect their rights at home, he said, but they would refuse to fight for American in Cuba, Vietnam or any other places the Kennedys saw threats. “Never! Never! Never!” This was unfathomable to Bobby.
Others chimed in, demanding to know why the government couldn’t get tougher in taking on racist laws and ghetto blight….
Three hours into the evening the dialogue had become a brawl, with the tone set by Smith…. Bobby had heard enough. His tone let everyone know the welcome mat had been taken up. His flushed face showed how incensed he was.”
This is what caused the delay and the desperation in both Dr. Clark and Baldwin. Somehow they managed to conduct the very intense interview. It was an unbelievable moment as Baldwin, near tears, spews out his frustrations, despair and hopeless anguish.
Above: James Baldwin
Henry knew we had filmed an important moment. He released the interview that night to a local commercial station in NYC. He could do that because WNET, based in New Jersey, did not have a New York City channel. The New York Times picked up the story and ran it on the front page the next morning. “Negro and the American Promise” was soon published as a book.
Henry had also carved out monies to shoot some film related to each of the guests. It was a way of bringing a visual aspect to a traditional talking head show. Staff cameraperson Stan Hirson and I plotted out the locations. (Stan Hirson started his professional career as a documentary filmmaker in Boston. He covered the civil rights movement in the South and made film portraits of James Baldwin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Hirson joined the documentarians, the Maysles brothers, and was involved in films such as The Beatles in America, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and numerous other documentaries.)
The budget was tight. All we had was a silent film 16-millimeter camera and limited reels of black and white film.
We decided to introduce Malcolm X by filming at and around the Black Muslim Mosque in Harlem. Then, we would travel to Martin Luther King’s church in Atlanta to capture his religious persona.
One other plan was hatched. Stan agreed to a special assignment, one that turned out to be dangerous for him.
Stan agreed to join the black civil rights group, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which was led by James Farmer. He would travel with them in a car traveling across Mississippi to capture footage.
“Although the United States Supreme Court… had ruled that segregated interstate bus travel was unconstitutional, such buses enforced segregation below the Mason–Dixon line in southern states. Gordon Carey proposed the idea of a second Journey of Reconciliation and Farmer jumped at the idea. This time the group planned to journey through the Deep South. Farmer coined a new name for the trip: the Freedom Ride.” [From Wikipedia]
Stan flew to Mississippi to join the Freedom Rides. I had an agreement with CORE that their people would drive Stan back to King’s church in Atlanta to meet me for the next shoot.
It turned out to be his most frightening drive: one white guy with a camera and three African Americans in an old black car driving across America at night.
Stan was to meet me at our hotel in Atlanta by 8:00 pm on a Thursday. That afternoon, I flew from Boston to Atlanta and planned to check into one of Atlanta’s oldest and grand hotels, the Dinkler-Tutwiler Hotel.
Above: Dinkler-Tutwiler Hotel
As I walked from the plane to the terminal, an older man wearing a hat and long coat approached me.
“Are you from Educational Television”
“Yes, I am.”
I reached out my hand to this person who was welcoming me to Atlanta. He leaned in and whispered menacingly.
“Get back on that plane. We don’t want you here.”
I was taken aback, shocked, really. Then I thought it was a dumb joke. But he wasn’t kidding. I laughed, shaking my head in disbelief, shrugged my shoulders and headed on my way. I never did see him again.
I took a cab to the hotel and checked in. I asked if Stan Hirson had left a message for me. The clerk said there was no message. He pointed me to the elevators and handed me a key to the 7th floor. He said my luggage would be up shortly.
I walked to the elevator and the door opened. Inside was a young black girl in a quaint hotel costume. She ran the elevator. I stepped in, mentioned my floor and we took off.
On the way up, I asked her how long it would take to get to Dr. King’s church via cab. She moved closer to the elevator doors and said nothing. I got the message. She had to be careful and wanted no contact with hotel guests. Who knows what had happened in the past. I backed off right away.
I got off the elevator and headed to my room. It was nice, big and a bit old fashioned. There came a knock on the door. It was the bellboy with my bags. He was an older black man with a great smile. He put my bags down and I gave him a good tip. He asked if I wished to have any beverages brought to the room. So, being a kid from Milwaukee, I ordered two beers. He left and I unpacked, turning on the TV. Nothing special on the local station.
Soon, another knock at the door. It was the older gentleman bringing me my two beers and a frosty beer glass. I gave him another good tip. He turned to me and said:
“Your friend will be here in two hours.”
“What? How do you know that?”
He smiled and left. My God, this was the second person that knew I was in town. It seemed everybody knew what I was doing. It was clear that a series of networks had been created to survive the tribulations of the civil rights conflict. I sipped my beers … actually downed them pretty fast.
After an hour, I decided to get a bit of fresh air and do a walk around the hotel. I went to the elevator, rang the bell, and soon the doors opened. It was the same girl. I entered and moved way back in the elevator so as not to alarm her. As the elevator headed to the main lobby, she turned to me and smiled.
“It will take about an hour to get to Dr. King’s church”
“Oh … thanks.”
Stan finally arrived, safe and sound. He told me he had hidden on the floor of the car as he rode back from Mississippi in that car with the Freedom Riders. I bought him a couple of beers, too. We went to bed, wondering what the next day would bring.
Morning arrived and we headed out the front doors of the hotel to the cabstand. The driver got out and opened the trunk to house Stan’s equipment. He asked where we were going. When I said King’s church, he slammed the trunk shut and told us to use the cabs across the street. “They’ll take you there” he said, as he climbed into his cab.
Stunned, Stan and I went over to the “black” cabstand. No problem for the black driver when we mentioned where we wanted to go. As Stan and I drove to the church, we tried to process all that had happened over the last couple of days. It felt really unreal. I felt like a stranger in my own country. As I looked out the window to see the streets of Atlanta, I wondered how the people of the city adjusted to the civil unrest.
Our cab came to a stop at a red light. A white, middle age woman drove up next to us in a large American sedan. She looked over at us; two white guys in the backseat of a black cab and gave us the most frightening hate glare I had ever encountered. We were nothing but despicable interlopers in her town.
That look has stayed with me my whole life. I will never forget it.
Below is an excerpt from the March 1, 2018 issue of the Boston Globe newspaper.
“If you were watching WGBH on February 7, 1968, in a house with two TVs, you were in luck.
That Wednesday night, without warning, viewers were invited to take part in a radical experiment. Instructions appeared on the screen: ‘Gather two television sets in the same room. Place them 6 feet apart. Turn one to Channel 2. Turn the other to Channel 44.’
On the left screen appeared a young British man named David Silver, who proceeded to interview theater director Richard Schechner. This footage was in black and white. On the right television, tuned to Channel 44, Silver materialized in full color, adding commentary to the interview unfolding on the other screen, putting himself down as a phony. Elsewhere in the show, home viewers watched agog as the young British invader played Ping-Pong across screens, the tiny white ball magically zipping between two unconnected boxes in their living room…
For two years, twice a week, What’s Happening, Mr. Silver? transformed home televisions into portals for a psychedelic fever dream, uninterrupted by commercials or common sense…
[Producer/Director Fred Barzyk had been] looking for a way to take the avant-garde sensibility he had fallen in love with in college and apply it to television…
Silver recalls Barzyk’s vague but exciting proposal from their first meeting: “We’re gonna set up a situation in Studio A and you’re just going to do things, and hopefully they’ll like you.” …
There were certainly experimental films that approached the level of absurdity found in Silver and Barzyk’s creation, but the difference was that this program snuck into people’s homes twice a week — and not just in Boston. What’s Happening, Mr. Silver? appeared on thirteen partner stations across the United States. Andy Warhol may have been the superstar of the experimental film world, but even he had to convince the public to seek out his movies. For Barzyk and Silver’s form of madness and intuition, you didn’t even have to leave your couch.”
Reflections from Fred Barzyk:
One of the most influential episodes of “What’s Happening Mr. Silver?” was John Cage and his controversial composition “4 minutes and 33 seconds.”
In that piece, which we staged in the middle of a very busy Harvard Square, Cage sits at the piano, takes out a stopwatch and plays nothing. At the end of the allotted time, he stands up and bows. The confused crowd applauds. Cage smiles from ear to ear.
What was the meaning?
Anything you heard during that time, whatever noise, should be considered music. So, I reasoned that any crazy image that appears for 29 minutes of a TV broadcast, is also a TV program. ANY IMAGE AND IN ANY ORDER. That was the underlying construct for that one show. We were all shocked when “Madness and Intuition” won the 1968 “NET Award for Excellence for the Contribution to Outstanding Television Programming.” The plexiglass Award sits on my desk today.
None of this could have happened today. It could only have happened in those crazy 1960’s.
“Julia Child often did her show in Studio B when we were doing “What’s Happening Mr. Silver?” in Studio A. One of my fondest (and most delicious) memories is of eating leftovers from her show along with our two studio crews. Question: What could be more wonderful than that? The answer: Well, it’s having dinner cooked by her at the Child house and eating with Julia and Paul, her gentle, witty, knowledgeable husband, not only dining on the obviously supremely tasty food, but hearing from the two of them a series of juicy, hysterical anecdotes about their learning curve on French cooking early in their marriage. As a 23 year old on-camera TV neophyte, watching Julia’s completely honest and wonderfully natural television presentations actually helped me in my own slightly panicky weekly approach to hosting a television show.
Conspiracy/televisual anarchy without anger or agenda. That was basically the underlying urge in the work we did on What’s Happening Mr. Silver? way back in 1967 and 1968. Fred Barzyk’s vision was never static, never ideological, never even self-consciously artistic. He consistently utilized and manifested his muscular mischievous side as a way of creating TV. This irreverence was effortlessly coupled with a remarkably liberated intellectual and visceral vision of what TV could be. Everyone working on our show thoroughly enjoyed production meetings, shoots and post. So he fused a little Ernie Kovacs into Boston-imaged Fellini-esque caricature and then threw in the already ongoing madcap everyday gestalt of the later sixties and voila – you had television without the usual and sometimes tedious cadences of both spoken word and visual presentation. I remember with glee the repeated trick of shooting the live show on a Thursday night, usually with me more or less alone in the studio, while multiple film chains, often controlled by the brilliant mind of David Atwood, sort of spluttered into the ongoing show, be that an interview or a monologue or a purely visual piece of madness. The mix of absurdist stock footage and locally captured 16mm weirdness never allowed the show, or the staff, to settle. So I never knew what was about to happen, which made for an attack on the clichés of broadcast television. It didn’t always work, but it pushed the media envelope, when almost all the other envelopes were being relentlessly pushed by the wild spirit of those days – in politics, music, civil rights, protest, movies, fashion, culture, design, etc. Fred and Olivia Tappan and David Atwood et al dropped the conventional wisdom plan of attack, as it were, and came up with a very potent, if eccentric, TV display of total spontaneity, sixties zeitgeist, and did it trusting all the participants to be somehow revolutionary and, simply put, different.
The two 16mm cameramen on our show were Peter Hoving and Boyd Estus. How magically fortuitous was that? It was a constant source of humor and skill, in entirely different ways, from both of them. It simply made their film inserts in the show an art form all unto itself. I was always magnetized during filming (occasionally in obscenely early morning hours) because of the wonderfully lethal mix of Fred’s endless creativity and their usually spontaneous expansion upon that. And I was amazed that we always had access to these two highly dexterous professionals working a couple of times a week usually on a myriad of remote films for us. Completely different personalities and attitudes towards the art of Arriflex/Éclair/Aaton shooting – Boyd, the consummately calm camera operator, quietly taking in every detail of a scene (whether it was a head shop in Cambridge or a political be-in on the Common) while, in marked contrast, Peter Hoving hovering intensely over all he surveyed, guiding his lens rapidly to the expected shots that we basically needed for any given show, and also to the unexpected and explosive. These days, all is video it seems, but I maintain that the texture and visual resonance of 16mm film added a very special feel to the show we did, where the audience was triggered by the film segments to sense yet another dimension to the Barzykian vision. But even more than that, I have to say, the sheer fun of working with these two totally WGBH level-of-excellence operators was a once-in-a-career gift to me as well as a consistent delight for our viewers.
Thalassa Cruso was my English pal and compatriot at WGBH. Her gardening show, Making Things Grow, was almost a sister show of Julia’s. Thalassa was equally idiosyncratic, yet, just like Mrs. Child, was a clear and no-BS articulator/teacher. WGBH presented three women-hosted TV series in just a few years, with three groundbreaking female TV hosts: Thalassa’s show along with The French Chef and, just a bit later, Maggie Lettvin’s Maggie and the Beautiful Machine put WGBH-TV years ahead of the Food Channel and workout videos. Thalassa could be quite pugnacious, always audacious and horticulturally very sagacious! Maggie was married to the late, lamented MIT scion, Jerome Lettvin (also a terrific guest on What’s Happening Mr. Silver?). Her verve and brio and knowledge was a joy to watch and she was and is a joy to be around.
We once did a What’s Happening Mr. Silver? show when we invited soldiers (who were still in uniform and had been in Vietnam) to a Studio A party where the other invitees were draft resisters and antiwar activists. Fred had the studio decorated with military objects – guns, swords, footlockers, medals, and I was frankly kind of anxious that when these two diametrically opposing groups came together, a mini-war might ensue! Well, we lubricated everyone with beer and spirits and before long, a remarkable confluence occurred, rather easily. Everyone started talking together, and there was a completely counter-intuitive thing happening. Everyone got along famously. There were disagreements obviously, given the roles of the men in the studio, but there was almost no anger. I wafted around chatting ad lib with everyone, and I remember vividly the good vibes generated and a subtle truth emerging quietly. Civility prevailed, cordiality grew and even though there was the crucial element of the demon alcohol in the mix, it was a truly lovely evening. Unfortunately, this show was wiped. Two inch high band videotape was very expensive and it didn’t even seem weird at the time that this show amongst quite a few others from the series had to go bye-bye. After all, NBC wiped many tapes of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, so who am I to complain?”
The following is from a letter I wrote to artist, art critic and author Brian O’Doherty. Brian had agreed to write the main catalogue article for the Haggerty Museum’s exhibition of my work in 2000. I attempted to explain the aesthetics of my vision for both the TV series “What’s Happening Mr. Silver?” and the un-scripted drama “America Inc.” that followed. Playwright Bertol Brecht’s theories played a major role in the drama “America, Inc.”
“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 country 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 (Executive Producer of NET Playhouse) 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 Massachusetts 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…..
What follows is an article I wrote for the Haggerty Museum of Art exhibition of my television work. This short article was included in the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition. I described the first time I met Nam June Paik as we prepared to do “Medium is the Medium”, the first time artists were given control of TV. It goes on to tell the story of his creation of the world’s first video synthesizer.
Fred Barzyk, TV Producer/Director
Boston, Massachusetts 1995
I always remember Nam June Paik standing in a television studio, in big old rubber boots, his hands somewhere inside an old TV set, telling me to stand back since TV sets sometimes explode when he does this. I backed off. The TV did not explode but gave forth a dazzling array of colors, buzzed and slowly died, never to live again.
"Don't worry. I got more TV sets." said Paik.
And more he did. That day, in the television studios of WGBH-TV, the flagship station of America's Public Television network, Paik burned out more than 12 TV sets. Fortunately, this time their dazzling images were captured on 2 inch videotape. These " visual moments'' became part of a six minute video piece which was included in a half hour program called "Medium is the Medium." This was the first time that artists were allowed to control the professional TV cameras, producing their own unique vision for a network show. And quite a show it was.
Paik was one of five artists who created video pieces for this segment of “Public Broadcasting Laboratory", a weekly two-hour show supported by the Ford Foundation. The artists were selected from a 1969 gallery show, "TV as a Creative Medium" at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York. For his video piece, I had to deliver Paik a videotape of a Richard Nixon speech and a woman dancer in a bikini bottom and pasties for her nipples. He did all the rest, to the great delight of the TV crew. This was not the normal public TV show!
This program began my long association with Nam June, along with my partner Olivia Tappan and colleague, Dave Atwood. The three of us became the supporters, defenders and co-conspirators in the creation of the Paik/Abe Video Synthesizer.
Why did it happen at WGBH? With me? I had been interested in using television in a more "artistic" way for a long time. My background was theater and art and I was longing to find a way of expressing it. I got into an aesthetic argument with our senior producer/director about WGBH's coverage of the Boston Symphony concerts. Why couldn't the cameras paint pictures instead of showing old men blowing horns and bowing violin strings? Not possible, not at WGBH. I finally convinced a group of engineers and camera people to stay late a couple of nights and we created what is supposed to be the first video experiments, "Jazz Images" (1963). You must remember, we were like a closed society. No one had TV cameras except TV stations. They were just too big and too expensive. We were like a fortress surrounded by a moat, and no artist was allowed to cross over. So we, those on the inside, had to put a break in the structure.
This kind of experimentation gave the three of us (Barzyk, Tappan, Atwood) a reputation for being "far out". We were bringing this kind of "experimental" look to a local jazz show and a local series called 'What's Happening Mr. Silver?" This kind of continued experimentation within the system was what brought Paik and ourselves together. The producers had heard of our work and we lugged heavy 2-inch tape to New York to show to the artists. Fortunately, they liked our work. We agreed to collaborate.
Howard Klein of the Rockefeller Foundation became the next major player in the creation of the video synthesizer. Klein offered an artist-in- residence grant to WGBH. I was asked to head up the project. Paik was one of my first choices.
He was brought to Boston for an extended stay as a Rockefeller Artist-in-Residence. We tried small little video experiments, but Paik was frustrated because using WGBH's TV studios, crews, etc. was very expensive. He saw his small grant disappearing without any major creations. He looked for ways to make his work " as inexpensive as Xeroxing."
One day he presented me with a most complicated-looking diagram. I am not an engineer and sometimes have trouble understanding what Paik is saying, and was totally unsure that day of what he was describing to me. What I was able to fathom, was that he wanted to go to Japan and work with a Japanese engineer (Mr. Abe) to create a low-cost video machine. This machine would cost $10,000 and give Nam June the ability to create constantly without worrying about costs. He further explained that the $10,000 would include his travel, the engineer's time, all the electronic equipment, and bring the machine and engineer from Japan to Boston to set up its operation. Was this possible? He insisted he could do it. And he did.
Paik and I had lunch with the head of WGBH, Michael Rice, to try and sell him on the expenditure of the grant money to create this video machine. Michael sat there and listened as Paik went on and on about the beauty of the synthesizer and the images it would create. We laid out the diagram on the lunch table, and Paik gave his best presentation yet. To his credit, Michael Rice agreed, right there on the spot.
Nam June would soon be on his way to Japan.
"That's the easiest $10,000 grant I ever got!" said Paik.
For the next three months, I heard from Nam June every once in a while. Back here in Boston, I had convinced the station to give over a very small studio to house the synthesizer. Finally, passing through customs, Paik and Abe arrived with boxes and boxes of equipment. Paik had also purchased an old record turntable on which he would construct objects and spin them at either 33rpm or 78rpm. This was the focus of the synthesizer's black and white cameras as the two men set up their video machine. I knew the day it was working, when Nam June showed me a mound of shaving cream whirling around on the turntable, which was being transformed into a mélange of color and images on his color TV sets. The Video Synthesizer lived.
The first broadcast of the synthesizer was a New Year’s Eve video marathon, broadcast live from 10:00 pm to 1:00 AM. Paik called it "Beatles, from beginning to end". That night he played every Beatle tune that had been recorded (some several times) and created one abstract image after another. People, friends showed up to help. The costs of this three hour television broadcast, including shaving cream, tin foil, and assorted objects plus supper for Paik and Abe, was $100.
He had done it. He broke the back of expensive broadcast TV. The only problem with that evening's broadcast was that he blew out the TV transmitter. The chroma level coming out of the synthesizer was much too high and destroyed a component. It had to be replaced and it was very expensive.
"What's television coming to?" said WGBH's head engineer.
"I can't believe what's happening on my TV." said a TV viewer.
"Beautiful. Like video wallpaper." said Nam June Paik.
Here is a simple description of the WGBH New Television Workshop. I was the director for the first ten years. The next ten years was run by Susan Dowling.
Our national reputation for experimental TV allowed us to put together grants, which created The New Television Workshop. Its mission was to allow artists to work with television professionals and air their video art locally. The artist owned the copyright and WGBH Workshop retained the right to show the work in perpetuity. Grants came in from The Rockefeller Fund, the National Endowment of the Arts, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, and the Ford Foundation. The Workshop set up an "artist-in-residence" program. The first artist was Nam June Paik and he eventually created the world's first video synthesizer. When he aired his 4-hour work on WGBH his chroma level was so high that it burned out our transmitter. The program also included artists as diverse as Bill Wegman, Peter Campus, and Tricia Brown.
Writers, dancers, local artists and actors/directors all used the Workshop as their laboratory. The Workshop lasted more than 20 years and had over 300 artists working in our program.
Here is both a remembrance from the editor who was like a 2nd director, and Michael Colgrass’ obituary from the New York Times.
Above: Michael Colgrass
“I was saddened to read that Michael Colgrass, the brilliant composer who was the focus of the first program in the 1970s WGBH “Soundings” series, has just died. “Soundings” was produced by Bunny Olenick and directed by Fred Barzyk. Each program in the series consisted of a character-driven documentary segment and a studio performance segment — all focused on the work of chosen composers of “new music”.
Colgrass was the first in the series but we covered established composing stars like Lukas Foss, Joan Tower, and Ralph Shapey, among others.
I’ll never forget when Fred Barzyk asked me to edit that first, very challenging documentary about Colgrass and the studio performance of his work. In the studio Fred recorded each instrument separately and it was a big challenge to synch them up on the then state-of-the-art 3/4 equipment.
In the documentary segment, filmed in Colgrass’s home in Toronto and in his classroom Colgrass stood in front of a blackboard and instructed his students to make a visual representation of their individually uttered sounds ‘“beep, vroooom, yeeeek” etc — then he led them as a group to sing and blend each sound. This was his way of teaching composition!
The other important memory is that first program allowed me to work with Bunny Olenick, along with Fred and Olivia Tappan and Al Potter — powerful mentors and creative forces. The series continued into about thirteen programs and represented the kind of in-house produced programming that became a trademark of WGBH.”
“Michael Colgrass, Composer Who Transcended Genres, Dies at 87
Michael Colgrass, a composer of vivid, genre-crossing orchestral and chamber works who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for “Déjà Vu,” a concerto for percussion quartet and orchestra, died on July 2 in Toronto. He was 87.
His wife, Ulla Colgrass, said the cause was squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.
Mr. Colgrass refused to align himself exclusively with any of the warring postwar new-music styles. He found his own path by drawing on whatever styles and techniques suited the composition on his desk.
He used 12-tone and serial techniques alongside soaring lyricism. The rhythms, timbres and energy of jazz — his earliest musical passion — are heard in several works, including “Déjà Vu,” in which jazz-tinged brass figures seem to arise from the colorful percussion writing and take on lives of their own amid slow-moving, atmospheric string scoring.
Elsewhere — for example in “Folklines: A Counterpoint of Musics for String Quartet” (1988) — Mr. Colgrass borrowed from disparate world music styles. And in some works, like “Letter to Mozart,” he used quotations from composers of the past, transforming them with modernist techniques…
Mr. Colgrass usually built his scores on imaginative and often whimsical ideas, rather than standard structural models. His early work “As Quiet As” (1966), an orchestral score that the Boston Symphony Orchestra recorded, was based on a newspaper article in which children were asked to complete the phrase “as quiet as a … ” Mr. Colgrass chose seven responses and characterized them instrumentally in the work’s seven movements…
Mr. Colgrass’s inventiveness and wry humor were not confined to his compositions. Writing for The New York Times in 1972, he described a visit to a junior high school in Fort Wayne, Ind. He had been invited to speak about being a composer, but he saw immediately that he was facing a difficult crowd.
“I went out on the floor and stood there a moment looking at the students,” he wrote. “Then I undressed and stood on my head. There was a wave of murmuring, and the room got very quiet. I somersaulted, fell onto one shoulder, rolled to the other, raised my body on my forearms and shook my feet in the air, twisted, stretched and arched like a cat and collapsed motionless on the floor.”
When he finished, he told the students: “Your body is the first musical instrument ever invented. Like any instrument, it has to be tuned. That’s what I just did, and I’m going to show you how to do it”.”
This article describes my work with Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner doing a major NBC commercial show, People! The article goes on to explain how this collaboration led to the creation of a Sci Fi Drama for WGBH called “Collisions” It describes my experimentation of mixing video artist’s works into the drama. The mix turned out to be a disaster. The show never aired and sits in the WGBH archives.
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 director’s 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.
I wrote about the video shoot with Loretta Lynn in a 2015 email to Lily and Jane, in which I asked them to share stories about their time working on Collisions.
“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's 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 had 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” where 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 the 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 wandered 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 sidles up to him and asks if he would escort her. He agrees and we watch poor Paul being left alone to 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, then 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.
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 not being 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.
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.
Below are some photographs by Bruce Bordett taken during production of Collisions. Bruce noted “As I recall, a great time was had by all.”
Above: Lily Tomlin
Above: Gilda Radner
Above: Dan Ackroyd
The first article was written for the WGBH Alumni Website in 2010. It fleshes out the video story and gives a more accurate accounting of the event of Shepherd telling his first TV story for me and WGBH. The second article is a remembrance by Bob Weimar, one of Jean’s fans, on Jean’s death in 1999.
Above: Jean Shepherd, 1970 (Photo by Ofindsen)
I first heard Jean on the radio in Boston. It was 1961. I was taking care of my young son and, while idly scanning radio stations, I heard this person, this intense personal voice, talking to me.
Whoa! Is it possible? Something clicked in me. Had I found a kindred soul?
Jean had grown up in the Midwest, in Hammond, Indiana, the industrial Midwest. Me, too, I grew up just an hour away in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My father worked in an International Harvester factory, and my mother worked in a Perfex factory during the war. My neighborhood was surrounded by all kinds of factories. You could smell them in the air.
Jean was weaving a tale about The Steel Mill, running, delivering the mail. He recalled a horrible accident: a vat had turned over, killing one of the steel men. But he also talked about the beauty of the giant plant.
He never played any music, he just talked! Come on! This was a Saturday afternoon, for God sake. Who the Hell is this guy? Right then and there I knew I had to work with him.
Fred Barzyk, 2007
I was a young television director (22) working at WGBH-TV, a little Educational Television station housed in a former roller skating rink, above a drugstore at 84 Massachusetts Avenue and right across the street from MIT. There were 45 employees running the TV and FM radio stations.
I was on contract to direct a series of French Language shows aimed at grade school students. But what I really wanted to do was dramas for TV. This Jean Shepherd person might be the storyteller I was looking for. Maybe.
“How the hell am I going to meet him, or get to work with him?”
Youth is great. I figured I would just write him a letter and offer him a half hour of airtime on our little station. I huddled with Mike Ambrosino (a fan; Mike was responsible for the development of the Eastern Educational Television Network and created NOVA) and John Henning (a fan; John had grown up in New York City listening to Jean on the radio. John became one of Boston’s most distinguished newsmen.)
Here was the problem: WGBH had no money. We were lucky to meet the weekly payroll. I was making $80 a week and trying to support a wife and baby, and I had no money. So we offered an artist the one thing they can’t resist. Free airtime to do anything he wanted to do.
I was directing a series of French Language shows, but what I really wanted to do was dramas for TV. Maybe this Jean Shepherd person might be the storyteller I was looking for.
We couldn’t afford his airfare. He would have to sign a release devised by our financial officer, Jack Hurley. Jack insisted that some hard cash pass between WGBH and the talent, so each person was to receive $1. The chances of Jean Shepherd even responding to this offer were very low. Probably, non-existent.
Boy, was I wrong. He wrote back and agreed! We talked on the phone and decided on a date. Now I had to tell management that I had made this offer and it had been accepted. (No, I never did get permission before I sent the letter. What the hell? I never thought he would respond.)
Bob Larson, programming manager, looked dubious. A comedian? No, I said, a great storyteller. How much will this cost? A one-dollar release. Somehow (don’t remember what I said) Bob agreed to let me go ahead with the show.
Bob had graduated from Harvard and was very erudite. He once told me I would never be a producer because of the school I had gone to, Marquette University in Milwaukee. I shrugged and said OK, time will tell. Bob took a chance on this one and, for me, it started a 30-year working relationship with Jean Shepherd.
There is an important event that I forgot to mention. That little TV station above the drug store — it had burned down to the ground several months before. With an amazing amount of public support from institutions and viewers, a campaign to build a new state of art studio was created. We were offered free space from many institutions while the new studio was being built. WGBH was spread out across the city in 7 different locations.
Museum of Science (2000) photo by Don Hallock
The TV studio was a small room in the basement of the Museum of Science. There was a window from which the paying visitors could watch us make TV shows: We were an exhibit. The producers, directors, and execs were housed in a small red wooden building behind the Museum, right on the waters of the Charles River.
Bob Larson laid out the rules of the game. I would have a single camera and the show would be a half hour live and recorded on tape. (That original tape exists in the WGBH archives: “JEAN SHEPHERD, AMERICAN HUMORIST.”) I decided we would shoot from the dock behind the building.
I would need a big light to cover the area since the show would air at 10:00 p.m.. The opening and closing credits would be created on a large piece of cardboard perched carefully on an easel. Camera starts on cardboard, pans to Jean, he talks for a half hour, pans back to the cardboard. Done.
The day arrived and so did Jean with a young woman, Leigh Brown. She was introduced as his secretary. She never said much but watched with great interest.
Jean was affable and eager to do his bit. I introduced him to the crew and we headed out to the dock. He had a crew cut, wore a summer jacket and tie. He was fit and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to do this for WGBH. I later found out that it was our connection to Harvard, MIT, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Brandeis, Tufts, and Boston University which made this gig really appealing. Jean was looking to forge his credentials in the world of academia.
Jean Shepherd on the dock behind the Museum of Science for his first TV show with Fred Barzyk. With him is Margy Pacsu, a WGBH Staffer. Photo by Dan Beach.
Jean had brought his theme music on audiotape. The time arrived and we were on the air, in living black and white, with the Charles River behind him. He proceeded to tell us two of his classic stories. First came the Ovaltine story and the magic decoder ring. He ended with the blind date story.
The stage manager gave him the one-minute cue, he concluded his bit, and we panned to the cardboard credits. The crew applauded. Egad, this wasn’t like our normal shows. I mean we were doing lectures, piano shows, educational courses for distant learners. And here was this guy entertaining us. Wow! This called for a celebration.
Jean, Leigh, myself, and most of the crew made off to one of our favorite watering holes; this night was going to be on me. (Might blow the family budget, but it was worth it.) I would pick up Jean and Leigh’s drinks. I had assumed that Jean was a beer drinker, like my Dad, but no. He ordered a martini! And just one. The rest of us bought the cheapest beer in the house. We laughed and talked.
And then something amazing happened. Jean asked how WGBH was doing. We said what do you mean? How are the ratings? We all laughed. We never knew if anyone was watching us. Jean asked “What kind of shows did we do?” At that moment, WGBH was doing a lot of Harvard extension courses for the Navy. Physics, calculus, trig, a series of shows for the crews of atomic subs that stayed submerged for months at a time. The crew could get academic credit for taking this course when they took an exam upon returning to base.
Shepherd’s eyes twinkled. He smiled that crooked smile of his, and he created a story right in front of us in the seedy beer-smelling bar. Jean began:
I can see it now. Professor Schmidlap appears at a blackboard and begins to explain calculus to the TV audience. He is amazing, his voice flying out over Boston … talking MATH!
Suddenly, after just two weeks of his little show, the ratings are soaring. The local commercial stations take notice.
“Who the hell is this guy? What’s going on? Maybe it’s that theme music. I mean who the hell can understand calculus?”
Four weeks later, Professor Schmidlap is number one in Boston TV.
The news spreads to New York. They call up and get an air tape. These Big time execs gather in a large conference room and they watch!
The theme music comes up. (They lean forward.) Prof. Schmidlap appears and begins, writing a long equation on the blackboard. (They lean in further.) Professor smiles as he shows us the solution. (They are now standing.)
“Get this guy on the phone. Now!”
Professor Schmidlap is at home when the phone rings. It’s one of the big time New York agents.
“This is _________. Who’s your agent?”
“My insurance agent?”
By month’s end, the Professor has his own show on NBC. His show is broadcast over the entire nation. And the ratings take off. Before long he has won the coveted 9 p.m. slot NATIONWIDE. The other networks respond. Soon there are shows on Physics, Metaphysics, Epistemology.
And what happens to WGBH and educational TV? They start running old Ed Sullivan shows.
It is worth noting that, in the year 2002, WGBH aired several episodes of the Ed Sullivan Show. After exactly 39 years, Jean Shepherd’s prediction came to pass.
Other Notes about Jean Shepherd by Fred Barzyk
Who was Jean Shepherd?Jean was a genius. He told us a story about what happened to him as young boy. He took an IQ test in grade school and did so well that he was called down to the principal’s office and accused of cheating. He was always underrated. Jean had total recall. Somehow this man’s brain retained the smallest of details from his early life. I mean, he could tell you all the names of candy bars, the names of countries and their capitals, the kind of import/export that they did. And he always used this minutia to give a ring of authenticity to his stories.
Jean was an avid crossword puzzle man. His recall of obscure words was amazing. Jean loved cars. He told me that he had five antique cars. He drove one up during a shoot back in the early 80’s. Because he and Leigh brought their dog (Fuzzhead) we had to put them up at a Ramada Inn on Soldiers Field Road. They were one of the few motels that allowed dogs.
After we finished business and returned to the Ramada, Jean found that his $50,000 car had been stolen. We immediately went to the Brighton Police station and reported it stolen. They did not give Jean much hope.I was surprised how calm Jean was through all this. I assume he had adequate insurance on the car. But maybe he didn’t. He never told me.
Jean liked dogs, but Leigh adored them. The first two dogs they brought up to WGBH died. They were left in Jean’s car during a hot summer day. Leigh found them. She totally lost it. One of my crew members, Greg MacDonald, kindly got rid of the dogs. Any hope of working further that week was over. Leigh was so in love with animals she actually suffered when watching anything bad happening to a critter. Jean and Leigh were at my house, watching (I think) the Kentucky derby when a horse went down. Leigh knew right away that it would be put down. She was a total wreck and had to go back to the hotel to recover.
Jean had a place up in New Hampshire that he used to go to when he first got to New York. Leigh convinced him to buy two horses. (I think Jean saw it as a way to not pay some taxes.) They hired a local guy to take care of the horses while they were away… which was most of the time. Leigh took a liking to this guy. Jean was really quite jealous. It was a subject that was taboo to talk about.
Jean attracted a young and devout audience, mostly teenage boys. I once attended some kind of function put on by WOR. There must have been 100 boys, all lined up to get his autograph. The interesting thing was that many were surprised that so many other kids were actually there, too. Each thought Jean was talking to them, and them alone. One of the kids, a really big fan, was Bobby Fisher the chess champ. Jean said Bobby would trail him around, almost a nuisance.
Another great story is the one about Stanley Kubrick. It seems that Kubrick’s mother used to listen to Jean. One night, Jean lit into Dr. Strangelove, calling it a polemic instead of true satire. Jean said Kubrick should have had the Russians also send a bomb toward America. That way, each country would be seen as crazy and unable to make sane judgments. Well, Kubrick’s mother told Stanley. Kubrick rushed over to see Jean, demanding an audience. He showed Jean his scrapbooks with all the rave reviews. Jean couldn’t have cared less and still insisted he made a flawed movie. Never did hear how it ended that night.
Jean also claimed that he and Norman Mailer had gotten into a big fistfight.
Jean claimed to have known the Beats and was considered one of them.
Jean Shepherd died last week. The 70-something Florida resident is dead, gone, kaput. But all over the metropolitan area men and women are walking around with bits and pieces of him clinging to them as cat hair clings to fabric.
Jean Shepherd, 1970, by Ofindsen
He was the Mr. Chips of New York radio, a teacher masquerading as an entertainer. The role playing was so successful that he attracted millions to his lectures, strange improvisations that started in the mid-1950s on an afternoon drive-time program on radio station WOR. It was appropriately called “Drive East.”
But as always to be the case with him, nothing was static. He was next heard doing one of the most remarkable all night stints in the history of talking out loud. He sat in a studio at the WOR transmitter in Carteret, NJ, and talked, and wherever that 50,000-watt signal excited speaker magnets, people found themselves looking toward the radio and listening to something new and alien. Inspired strings of words sprang from the speakers, and those bright strings embraced the night and held it captive often — far too often — until dawn crept in with the milk delivery trucks. (They were still around then.)
He spoke of ordinary things, remembered things: his mother at the kitchen sink in her rump-sprung chenille bathrobe; his brother, Randy, whining under the daybed; his father’s Blatz beer burp; the long afternoons of boyhood; the Indiana summer moving in like a 300-pound woman settling on a picnic bench.
He looked back on himself like a butterfly might dream of its chrysalis. He immersed his listeners in time and place and the awareness of what it was to be alive. In the meanest of terms he taught what Socrates meant when he said, “The life which is unexamined is not worth living.” He examined his life, and his listeners laughed and grew light and took wing even as they learned terribly hard lessons about the importance of the ordinary, about the efficacy of wonder.
He increased the world’s stock of whimsy, and he taught joy to the Silent Generation, the one that came of age in the time of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose monotone mantra — in “Mr. Chairman, point of order, point of order, Mr. Chairman” — still lingers in the basements of the mind. In counterpoint, Shepherd dismissed things official with the catchword, often spoken, never truly meant: “Excelsior!”
He would explain it meant onward and upward, and he found the very idea funny, for in his view events and people were constantly tripping and falling, exposing — on the trip to the hospital — dirty underwear. It was Shepherd’s thesis that the greatest fear of the list-compiling, credential-checking world was of being found out, having shallow roots exposed, holding office naked without epaulets or company credit card. To that end, he proposed once to befuddle the list makers by having their listeners visit book stores and ask for a nonexistent book, “I Libertine,” by Frederic R. Ewing, an expert on “18th Century erotica.”
He later capitalized on the small stir the hoax created by selling the idea of publishing it to Ballantine Books. He then proceeded to write it (with science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon) and promote it on his nightly broadcasts. It came out in 1956, and a first edition now lists at $487.
He wrote other books alone; he wrote many articles in many magazines, including Playboy and Mad magazine. He made personal appearances and packed Carnegie Hall. He did a TV series for public television. He wrote and narrated A Christmas Story, which was to become a holiday staple. He made records. Much of this work was done after his radio days. He thought he was moving onward and upward. But sadly, for him, the excelsior process was tinged with irony. He
never surpassed the genius of his radio days.
Those distant magic nights are intact in the minds of his audience, his “night people.” They know he lives to heckle them as they grow fat and gray and comfortable among their credit cards and epaulets and credentials.
This is a short story by Nat Johnson about his experience working with Jean Shepherd on the drama “The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski.” Nat came to my rescue as I reuws to direct the drama, with Shepherd complaining about the location. Thank you, Nat for making that day easier to handle.
by Nat Johnson
In my youth, before talk-shows ruined radio, many of us had our own, hallowed heroes of the airwaves—some were writers and actors, with prominent air personalities all rolled into one. Mine was Orson Welles. For others, it was the late-night American storyteller, radio and TV personality, writer, and actor, Jean Shepherd, often referred to by his nickname —Shep, the now largely forgotten, genius creator of A Christmas Story.
At night, Shep could be heard across the country over clear-channel WOR in New York, and he certainly had his followers around Boston. WGBH producer-director Fred Barzyk was one of them and, eventually, succeeded in bringing Shep to public broadcasting. Despite the success of this significant undertaking, working with Shep turned out to be somewhat more of a challenge than Fred or his colleagues could have anticipated.
Cut to the shoot: I was a freelance assistant to the production manager on this shoot. I was on the set early one morning in Somerville on the set of The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski (1985). Shep was in true form, chewing out Fred for his displeasure with the design and details of a small grocery store.
“I told you, Fred, I told you! This is not nostalgia; it’s all wrong, all wrong,” and so on, hardly stopping to catch his breath.
Fred stood fast, without speaking—his face flushed but smiling.
“It’s all wrong,” continued the Shepherd rant. “You’re missing the whole point, Fred. This is not what we agreed to,” etc. Having encountered Shep’s temperament while engineering his live radio show on WGBH Radio, I realized it was probably time to retreat and prepare the next set: “Friendly Fred’s Used Car Lot.”
At noon, Fred—frustrated and at the end of his tether, but still smiling— walked over to the car lot set, handed me a twenty-dollar bill, and said, “Take Shepherd off the set and out to lunch, now!” Accompanied by Jenny, our script manager, we left the location and walked down the road where, we were advised, there was a gourmet pizza parlor. Shep talked non-stop all the way; I have no memory of a word he said, but in fifteen minutes, the three of us were standing in front of the restaurant.
“This place is supposed to have great food,” I indicated, holding the door open for Jean and Jenny. Inside it was dark and peaceful. In one corner stood a large gentleman in a black, shiny suit—watching us and not smiling. Shep walked right over to a display case where the menu was posted:
Deep Dish Pizza
Tuscany Grilled Chicken Pizza
Immediately, Shep turned to me and, in tones audible throughout the entire restaurant, cried, “You know, Nat— heh, heh—this isn’t real pizza!”
When the man in the shiny black suit jumped and lurched forward, I wondered if we were about to find ourselves either out the door or headed on a one-way trip to Boston Harbor. Yet, we managed to order, eat our lunch, and return to the shoot…unscathed.
Shep jabbered through the entire meal; neither Jenny nor I could get a word in, but on the way home, I brought up my story about meeting a colorful cast character from one of Shep’s other stories. Shep listened and never uttered a word—I had done all the talking during that fifteen-minute walk back to the shoot. Jenny looked up at me, grinned, and gave me a big wink.
What follows is an article I wrote about the creation of Vonnegut’s drama and how we gleaned it from his many books. To me, the most important aspect of this filming was Vonnegut’s last minute re-write of the ending of the drama. It captured something essential to his outlook on life. To me, it was the highlight of the drama.
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.
Above: Kurt Vonnegut
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 “Slaughterhouse-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.”
Above: Bill Hickey
Hickey 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 WNET 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) 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.
The 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.
We 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.
Above: Bob and Ray
Bob 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 our 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 “Slaughterhouse 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.
The first article is a remembrance of my working with David Loxton in creating the drama. It honors David’s vision and perseverance in making this production possible.
The second article is David Loxton’s obituary from the
The third article is from the “Oregonian” newspaper with their take on the Lathe of Heaven and reflecting on the death of Ursula LeGuin.
The Making of the Lathe of Heaven
By Fred Barzyk
November 29, 2015
Above: Fred Barzyk
It is still amazing to me how many people of a certain age remember watching this TV movie. I mean it was 1979 when it aired! It was on PBS, whose ratings were no were near the network’s audience numbers. That’s a long time for a TV movie to stick in someone’s memory bank. It is very gratifying and wondrous. A tribute to Ursula Le Guin and David Loxton.
Let me begin at the beginning. David Loxton, an ambitious young Englishman was working for Jac Venza at WNET New York. Jac was head of cultural programs and David was one of his main assistants. I was working at WGBH Boston doing a show called “What’s Happening, Mr Silver?” David Silver, also a young Englishman, was teaching literature at Tufts University in Boston. Silver and I got together to create an experimental show, “What’s Happening, Mr. Silver?”
The year? 1968. The summer of The Love Revolution! Hippies! Drugs! Don’t trust anyone over 30! Free Love! Love-ins! I was asked to produce and direct a series reflecting the Cultural Revolution and David Silver became the on camera host. He was in his early 20’s, English and looked a lot like Mick Jagger. And he was teaching at a university! Perfect for our audience. The two Davids knew each other from school in England. David Loxton came to watch one of our productions. He couldn’t believe what we were doing. Sometimes we couldn’t either. I almost got fired … twice.
The show lasted almost a year and tested the very boundaries of television. We were the first to do a double TV broadcast. The show asked the audience to take two TV sets and place them six feet apart, turn one TV to Ch. 2 and the other to Ch. 44 (both owned and operated by WGBH). The audience was presented a show that was in stereo, both in picture and sound. The images and sounds were different on each channel. They were responding to each other while the audience tried to relate the happenings on the two screens.
Above: David Loxton
David Loxton and I became partners in doing television shows together. We produced “People” for NBC starring Lily Tomlin; “American Pie” for ABC with Joe Namath; “Flashback” hosted by Eric Severeid and “Countdown to Looking Glass” for HBO; “Phantom of the Open Hearth” a drama by Jean Shepherd for PBS; “Between Time and Timbuktu” a crazy mix of the writings of Kurt Vonnegut for PBS.
I was also instrumental in getting David the directorship of WNET’s TV Lab, an experimental project similar to the WGBH New Television Workshop that I ran for 10 years. Each of us had different strengths but usually assumed a shared producer/director credit. In practice, David was the producer and I was the director.
We ended up doing many shows for HBO, a special for NBC with Lily Tomlin, and many dramas for PBS.
Above: Ursula LeGuin
David had a vision for doing sci-fi dramas for PBS. However, the label of “sci-fi” sounded a little too pedestrian for PBS. So David began calling his proposed dramas “speculative fiction.” He raised enough money to do one drama and he selected the novel “Lathe of Heaven” by Ursula Le Guin.
He traveled to Portland, Oregon and convinced her that he could do a creditable interpretation of her book. She agreed and David went out and cobbled together a budget of $750,000. (To be honest, David and I both used cash from our respective Experimental Labs to defray over-run costs)
A description of The Lathe of Heaven from its DVD release in 2000:
“For George Orr, sleep is not a respite.
For Dr. William Haber, dreams are tools.
For sci-fi fans, the wait is over.
Praised as ‘rare and powerful’ by The New York Times, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven is one of the most celebrated science fiction novels ever written. This innovative adaptation-never before released on DVD-brings the towering vision of Le Guin’s masterpiece to life.
George Orr is haunted by dreams that become reality. In a world where pollution has destroyed the ice caps and plagues rage unchecked, a psychiatrist sees Orr’s power as a way for humanity to escape its bleak fate. But as each attempt to direct Orr’s dreaming ends in failure, the doctor’s obsession with playing God grows stronger… a chilling fable of power uncontrolled and uncontrollable.”
And so we began.
David was the Executive Producer and we shared the Director credit. David hired a writer, Roger Swaybill, to write the treatment. His work was adequate but it lacked a special vision that we wanted. David, myself and a young writer, Diane English, holed up in a New York office for 4 weeks rewriting the script. (Diane went on to Hollywood and became a star producer, creating a hit TV series “Murphy Brown.” She and her husband helped fund the Broadcast Museum in NYC.)
The most difficult part of the script to realize was when the lead character, George Orr, has an “effective dream” in which he dreams up the plague reducing the world population by millions of people. How the hell do we create such a disaster, and especially before computer magic as we know it today? And with as little cash as possible? I turned to two influences. First, the British film, Great Expectations. It was the scene of the scorned bride who still sits in her dust filled castle room, now old and wrinkled, left only with her dreams that gave me the emotional foundation. The other was a video artist, Peter Campus, who created a video art piece where he wraps plastic wrap around his face, over and over again. My vision took all of George Orr’s friends and relatives, sat them at a large banquet table, lit large English-style candelabra and had the camera truck around the table over and over again. Each time it went around, the people’s heads became covered with dark scrim, until they slowly slumped into the table. George Orr, Dr. Haber and the woman psychologist watched but did not expire.
Cobwebs, dust, and darkened lighting of the scene culminated when George stands and gives an inhuman scream, while a door opens, again and again, the constantly dolling in of the camera revealing a blazing white screen.
The white screen became the sky outside Haber’s lab, finding George Orr standing in the window, devastated by what he had just witnessed.
The first order of business was to find the right actors. David and I viewed a number of films that our casting director asked us to watch. We were impressed with Bruce Davidson’s work in “Short Eyes.'' He had the vulnerability and soft demeanor, but with a flash of anger and combativeness that was needed for the part of George Orr. We made him an offer and he accepted.
Kevin Conway had appeared in a WGBH production of “Scarlet Letter.” David and I went to see him in a New York stage performance and were impressed. He had a crispness of speech, the breath of deep and grand voice, a smaller man who could embody the Napoleon complex of Dr. Haber.
We offered him the role and he accepted.
The role of the psychiatrist went to Margaret Avery. Her Bio includes the following:
Above: Margaret Avery
“Avery scored a major success with her role as the sultry and spirited blues singer, Shug Avery, in Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985) opposite Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover. Her performance in this screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s prize-winning novel of the same title earned Avery an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.”
The Lathe of Heaven was shot in Texas, with a few exterior cutaways in Portland and a scene on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. It was the first time that we had worked with a Hollywood based Director of Photography, Robbie Greenberg. He brought his people along and they did a professional job. Our audio person was Dennis Maitland, one of the best audio people I have worked with on a film shoot.
An example: during one of the opening scenes, I had George Orr walk through a crowded hallway. I asked that as he passed by groups of people, we could hear their conversations. I set up the camera dolly and tried the move a couple of times. In a very short time, we were ready to shoot. However, I didn’t see Dennis or his boom person setup for the shot. I asked if he heard the various groups as Orr walked past.
“Oh yes,” he said.
“Heard them all”
“How’s that possible with no boom mic?”
“I have a wireless mic on every group.”
I never saw him do it. He never once asked for a rehearsal. He just did these quick and perfect setups, time and time again. It was amazing. Dennis has retired but his son has followed in his footsteps.
The costume person, Laura Crow, created magic working closely with David. Especially her design for the “future” costumes the characters wore. Not too far out, and yet somehow special and reflective of a dysfunctional world. And when the world turns “grey” and all characters, black or white, became grey, she outdid herself in look and budget. No small feat.
I want to take this moment to express my great respect to the set designer, John Wright Stevens, and his staff for their ability to work with the smallest budget ever, to create such unbelievable locations and settings.
He helped us find the great locations: Haber’s most expansive lab at the new City Hall in Dallas, Texas (the mayor had not even moved in at the time of our shooting!) and the glass exterior of Haber’s final lab at the Hyatt hotel in Dallas. We used both the inside and interior with the complete cooperation of the hotel management.
John found great locations in Fort Worth: the Tandy Center and its mirrored elevator, the abandoned Oil Company building, and the bombed-out exterior of the opening scene. He even convinced city officials to let us set off special effects — fire, coloring the fountain red and bubbling with dry ice, a 30-foot explosion on the base of the memorial site — in one of its prized monument plazas. Explosion, fire, smoke and the city let us do it. Thanks Ft. Worth!
Small back-story: As we were setting up for the big scene which had to happen at night, the local police told us to move out for a while. When asked why, they said a drunken cowboy was walking down the street toward us, shooting as he walked along. We moved out for about a half hour and then the police said the coast was clear. That’s shooting in Texas in more ways than one.
One of the most difficult of all was trying to create special effects with a limited budget. Since David and I both had been working with video artists in our respective labs, we knew people who could create some effects for little money. Ed Emschwiller, a prolific video artist who also created works for sci-fi magazines, helped with several difficult images, including flying saucers.
The most inspired effect was a laser creation as the two leads fight out in the cosmos. David had located a laser company and we descended on them with our two lead actors and no knowledge of how to make this work. The owners of the company showed us what smoke and sprayed water looks like when added to the laser beams. What followed was a total free for all as we improvised actions that we thought might help the movie. It worked way beyond what we had hoped for. A fitting look for a sci-fi movie with a very low budget.
Now comes time for the biggest thanks. The editor, Dick Bartlett, a longtime collaborator on my projects, created a marvelous product. The cameraperson hated it because the editor did what he does, mix and match. The DP wanted his long and complicated shots. But Dick was right. He spent time in NYC working with David. The most daring part of the show was the opening 2 minutes, were nothing happens at all. Just shots of a peaceful world, until the bomb. That kind of opening would never have made it through a commercial network. Only on PBS could that of happened.
It made the show special right at the beginning. Today, cable networks would accept this as normal, but those were different times.
Only three times in my professional career did I ever have original music.
Lathe was one of them. Michael Small and an orchestra of 20 created a wonderful musical score. Michael worked for scale because he liked the project. We were very lucky.
“Michael Small (May 30, 1939 – November 24, 2003) was an American film score composer best known for his scores to thriller movies such as The Parallax View, Marathon Man, and The Star Chamber. Relatively few of his scores are available on compact disc. Michael Small died at the age of 64.”
The TV movie was released on PBS nationwide. Its reviews were good.
More importantly, Ursula liked what we did. The buzz lasted for a while and then died away. That was until a group of sci-fi groupies started pestering WNET to release the show on DVD. The cost of step-up fees to actors, writers, musicians, etc. was considered too costly. But the noise reached new levels as sci-fi writers started writing articles about the lost masterpiece. Against many objections, WNET did finally break out the cash for a DVD release. WNET said they have never had as many requests for a DVD of one of their shows ever. I thank them for their commitment.
People still tell me how important that film was to them when growing up.
Some are real fanatics, able to recall scenes, shots, even dialogue. This has never happened to any other show I have ever created. It is a tribute to all who made this happen, no one more important than David Loxton.
Obituary for David Loxton - New York Times, 1989
Above: David Loxton
“David R. Loxton, a producer of documentaries and other programs for public television, died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday morning at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. He was 46 years old and lived in Manhattan.
Mr. Loxton joined the production staff of WNET, the major New York public-television affiliate, in 1966. In 1972, he created the Television Lab, which presented the work of independent filmmakers like Nam June Paik and of the choreographer Twyla Tharp, who has worked with video.
In addition to serving as the director of the Television Lab from 1972 through 1984, Mr. Loxton developed the Nonfiction TV series, which presented such works as” Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang,”” I Remember Harlem” and” The Times of Harvey Milk.” Mr. Loxton was the executive producer of Nonfiction TV from 1978 through 1983.
Mr. Loxton was the executive producer of programs for the Great Performances, NET Playhouse and American Playhouse series.
He received many honors, including an Academy Award for “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1985), Emmy Awards for that documentary as well as for “The Police Tapes” (1977), “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang” (1979) and “Third Avenue: Only the Strong Survive” (1980), and Du Pont/Columbia Awards for “Lord of the Universe” (1974), “The Police Tapes” (1977), “I Remember Harlem” (1982) and “Pesticide and Pills” (1982).
In 1985, he won an ACE. award, cable television’s equivalent of an Emmy, for best original drama, for “Countdown to Looking Glass,” about a United States-Soviet confrontation in the Middle East. He was co-executive producer, with Frederick Barzyk, of the program.
“It’s very hard to put together projects in public television, and he had the resources and drive to put them together and the skill to produce them,” Arnold Labaton, a senior vice president of WNET and director of the station’s production center, said yesterday. “He also had a great talent for working with others. He did it with immense tact and judgment.”
Most recently, Mr. Loxton was director of drama for the “Great Performances” series and senior executive producer for specials, both at WNET. He was executive producer of ”Tales From the Hollywood Hills,” a critically acclaimed series shown under the auspices of ”Great Performances.” When he became ill, he had just begun production of “Childhood,” a six-part documentary for the Public Broadcasting Service.
Mr. Loxton, a British citizen, was born in Kingston, Ontario, and grew up in England. He is survived by his wife, Pamela, and two sons William and Charles, all of Manhattan; his father, William, of Ruscombe, Berkshire, and a brother, Peter, of London.”
How Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘The Lathe of Heaven’ became a cult TV hit
From The Oregonian – January 23, 2018
“Ursula K. Le Guin, the Portland-based writer who died on Monday at age 88, was a master storyteller whose speculative fiction influenced countless artists.
Despite her literary output, there have been relatively few film adaptations of Le Guin’s novels and stories.
“I’ve mostly had such bad experiences with movies of my work,” Le Guin told The Oregonian’s Marty Hughley in 2013.
It wasn’t a film, but the 1980 public TV adaptation of Le Guin’s 1971 novel, “The Lathe of Heaven” is regarded as one of the more intriguing attempts to capture Le Guin’s vision (a subsequent TV movie, in 2002, is remembered less fondly.)…
On Le Guin’s website, the author wrote approvingly of the 1980 production of “The Lathe of Heaven,” which was directed by David Loxton and Fred Barzyk:
“I was involved in this production at many stages, including casting, script planning and rewriting, and filming.
“Our budget was so small we couldn’t do retakes, and as for special effects, well, the Alien Space Ships are frisbees, and we had to choose which one of the Alien’s arms could move, because it cost too much to make both its arms move. But the directors understood the story and the actors did a beautiful job. The film is an oldie now, but it’s still a goodie.”…
A rare example of public television entering the world of science fiction, “The Lathe of Heaven” became a cult favorite, a status probably enhanced by the decades that elapsed between its initial airings and its subsequent revival.”
Here is a synopsis of the drama along with its awards.
Countdown to Looking Glass is a Canadian made-for-television movie that premiered in the United States on HBO on October 14, 1984 and was also broadcast on CTV in Canada. The movie presents a fictional confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf. The narrative of the film details the events that lead up to the initial exchange of nuclear weapons, which was triggered by a banking crisis, from the perspective of an ongoing news broadcast.
Unlike similar productions such as the previous year's Special Bulletin and the later Without Warning, the producers of this film decided not to make the entire production a simulated newscast, but instead break up the news portions with dramatic narrative scenes involving Shaver and Murphy. The appearance of real-life newscasters, as well as noted CBC Television host Patrick Watson (although he does not appear as himself in this film) lent additional authenticity to the production.
The CVN news network's nightly program, starring Don Tobin (Watson), with reports from correspondents Michael Boyle (Glenn) and Dorian Waldorf (Shaver), discusses a terrorist bombing of the American embassy in Saudi Arabia that killed the American ambassador. The week before, a global banking crisis, caused by several South American countries defaulting on their loans, led to turmoil in Southwest Asia. Before the unrest spread to Saudi Arabia, Soviet-backed militants led a coup in Oman when the Omani economy collapsed. Shortly after, a new report shows the banking crisis may soon begin to ease.
The following day, it is revealed that a large military operation was launched to keep the peace in Saudi Arabia, with many American soldiers, ships, and planes being sent at King Fahd's request. This move is heavily criticized - in the US and abroad. The United Kingdom, America's closest ally, refuses to take part in the operation as do many other of America's allies. However the attitude of the American representatives is clear that they can perform the peacekeeping mission alone, citing the success of the British in the past in containing the Russians' previous provocation in the area.
In response to this move, which the Soviet Union sees as provocative, the Soviet-backed puppet government in Oman imposes a $10,000 toll for every oil tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. The Soviet government claims it will remove the toll if the Americans withdraw troops from Saudi Arabia. The captains of the tankers refuse to pay the toll, effectively creating an economic blockade in which no oil can be transported through the Persian Gulf.
A breaking news alert on the fifth day of the Middle East crisis reveals that a short battle took place between American warplanes and unidentified enemy warplanes, presumed to be from Iran or Kuwait, in which an American reconnaissance plane was shot down over thePersian Gulf before two of the five attacking planes were shot down. The attacking aircraft were presumably aiming for an oil refinery in Ras Tanura in retaliation for Saudi Arabia's request for American troops.
Meanwhile, Waldorf brings a story to CVN: her Pentagon insider boyfriend provides her with satellite photos that suggest the Soviets have pulled out some troops and materiel from the Middle East. However, Tobin reluctantly insists that Waldorf have more than one source for the story.
On day six of the crisis, an American aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz and its battle group, armed with both nuclear and conventional weapons, are sent by the U.S. President to the Persian Gulf to ensure the free passage of oil tankers in the region. The Soviet Union quickly responds to this action by sending submarines to the Persian Gulf. CVN sends Michael Boyle to the Nimitz to cover the deployment.
On day eight of the crisis, in response to the growing urgency of the situation, CVN begins to broadcast 24 hours a day. Shortly after a state department briefing, the Defense Secretary dies, perhaps of a heart attack brought on by the stresses of crisis management.
On day nine, the crisis deepens when an Omani gunboat attacks and apparently destroys an unarmed Dutch vessel which tried to go through the Strait of Hormuz. The CVN broadcast also notes the presence of Soviet attack subs[N 1] near the site of the attack. At this point, people begin to evacuate cities, overseas air travel is suspended by the FAA, many American schools begin closing, the Strategic Air Command redeploys B-52 bombers throughout the nation's airports, and people are urged to stay off their phones. By nightfall, an evacuation of the White House is ordered. A night battle then erupts between Omani gunboats and the U.S. Navy in the Strait of Hormuz, with an Omani gunboat firing first and disabling an American warship, then subsequently being destroyed. Despite the gravity of the situation, Tobin discusses his optimistic viewpoint of the situation with correspondent Eric Sevareid, believing that "[r]easonable people, once they've looked the Devil in the face, aren't going to shake hands with him."
Shortly after the Omani gunboat exchanges fire with the American ship, a Soviet submarine slips through the perimeter of American ships and is tracked towards the Nimitz, which begins exploding depth charges towards the submarine before eventually firing a nuclear depth bomb at the submarine when it gets too close. Shortly thereafter, a nuclear weapon[N 2] is launched at the battle group, causing an unknown level of damage, yet apparently not sinking the Nimitz. Shortly thereafter, Boyle and the Nimitz lose contact with CVN.
At this point, the White House is completely evacuated, with the President, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other White House officials evacuated onto the National Emergency Airborne Command Post plane with the Strategic Air Command's airborne command center Looking Glass in accompaniment, and the Emergency Broadcast System is activated.
In the moments before CVN's broadcast is transferred over to the Emergency Broadcast System, Tobin reiterates his optimism, discussing the opinions of a deceased colleague who was considered an expert in nuclear war scenarios. His colleague held the belief that a nuclear exchange would someday take place, but when the two superpowers were confronted with the horror of the situation, they would choose peace over war. As a now-bewildered Tobin prepares to turn things over to the EBS, it is obvious that he is shaken by the events that have occurred, and is, moreover, almost mournfully fearful over the inescapable realization that both mankind and the planet Earth may very well not have any future at all.
Scott Glenn as Michael Boyle
Michael Murphy as Bob Calhoun
Helen Shaver as Dorian Waldorf
Patrick Watson as Don Tobin
Nancy Dickerson as herself
Eric Sevareid as himself
Matsu Anderson as Matsu Yamada
Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr. as himself
Newt Gingrich as himself
Eugene McCarthy as himself
Paul Warnke as himself
Robert Ellsworth as himself
Gene La Rocque as himself
1985 Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy
August 26 - September 6, 1985
This is a tribute to a long-time collaborator and friend, Russell Connor. He was an artist, the host of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston TV series for 3 years, and head of the education department for the Whitney Museum.
April 22, 2019
By Fred Barzyk
What can I say? How shall I remember him?
I guess with a smile on my face as his witty comments on art and artists swirled around me… followed by his gentle smile and soft laugh.
Or should I remember him back in those early 1960s when he was the host of WGBH’s “Museum Open House?” Russ jokingly called it “Museum Open Mouth.”
Dear Russ, he suffered through every show, always trying to get the right words to describe the painting. Delaying everything. Drove the producers up the wall. Then he would just step in front of a painting and weave the perfect mixture of fact and wit.
Maybe I will remember him bringing those crazy video artists to an exhibition at the Rose Art Gallery at Brandeis University. The first ever Museum Exhibit of Video Art.
I remember Russ wandering around the outside of the Gallery, trying to recover after one artist bitched and moaned. Ah, Life as Art!
Photo © charles mayer photography via Fair Use
Or the day he moved to New York and became an administrator for the New York State Council on the Arts. Russ provided grants to video artists across the state.
Photo from the New York State Council of the Arts via Fair Use
I was fortunate to sit on that panel, giving thumbs up or down. And then the panel gathered at a local watering hole to laugh, argue, and enjoy the good life.
Early on, Russ received a grant from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to do a film “Art in Public Places”
He asked me to direct and we wandered around the city amazed at all that was happening.
Russ was a strong and brave creator despite all his self-deprecation and feigned uncertainty.
Heroically, he attempted to showcase the Arts on the fledgling NYC Cable stations. It was called Channel A for Arts. And the shows were good. I remember…
The author of Fear of Flying, Erica Jong, gathering with other writers to celebrate Poetry.
By Milton H. Greene PD-US, via Wikipedia
The elegant actor, John Houseman, hosting a show on architecture.
And today, so many shows just sitting on the shelves of Russ’s Apartment.
Ah yes, the apartment. What a terrific location.
Across the street from the great Carnegie Concert Hall …
… and a view of the Russian Tea Room.
And, of course, the female neighbor who insisted on watering plants in the nude.
Ah yes, The Big Apple of those early years.
I am afraid I used Russ to be in many of my insane shows. There was the time I cast him as the blind TV director in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Between Time and Timbuktu”. The dog we got him was bad-tempered and Russ suffered. He was terrified of the temperamental dog.
There was the time when he appeared on my series “What’s Happening Mr. Silver?” He was the co-host.
And of course, this was the show that we went too far and I was almost fired. But Russ also came to my rescue…
The Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis had hired me to do a documentary on an exhibit of Noguchi sculpture. Unfortunately, Noguchi got sick and could not attend.
I immediately called Russell and asked him to fly out and write the copy and be the voice of the film. God Bless him, he was my savior.
And of course, there was the time I did a show for CBS series “Camera 3,” “The Strange Music of Nam June Paik” Russ was the voice-over commentator.
Poor Russ, in the control room he told me that he had the worst hangover of his life. But, being a trooper, he performed just fine. No one ever knew, except us.
I tried to thank him for all his contributions. I commissioned Russ to create a music video with a performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra … all he needed was a dancing nude girl and the Paik Abe Synthesizer.
And when I had my Museum Exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art, I insisted that a TV be placed in the exhibit running the paintings of Russell Connor from his website.
A website put together by another long term friend, Dan Beach:
The website came about when I called Russell, in around 2004, and said I’d do a little website for him, gratis (I had an established website business at that time, and “gratis” was a word he really liked.) It’s located at russellconnor.com. It was natural since there was such an abundance of visual material.
I figured we’d add a few paintings and a little note from Russell. As anyone who visited Russell knows, he has an enormous work output, so we just kept adding to the site.
There are well over 100 works shown.
What started as a couple of pages, using very basic HTML coding, became a pretty extensive catalog of his work.
But the budget being almost zero, and as my own capacity to keep up with the web was waning, we just kept it simple.
I think that one of Russ’ most rewarding moments was when Alan Alda not only bought a painting about 4 years ago but expressed such delight with his work.
It was as though someone really understood the Connor sense of humor, with an absurdist twist, anchored in art history.
Dear Russell, may you rest in peace and know that we dearly love you. I want to assure you that your paintings will be respected … one day … maybe … (Sorry, couldn’t help “pulling your leg” one more time).
Ah, I can still hear your mischievous laugh.
Your work in television, art, and the government has been essential with support for artists and viewers. But most importantly, it was a blessing to have you, a visionary companion on this adventure through the electronic cosmos searching for truth and beauty.
The last words belong to Russell Connor. Please watch this video of Russ. It is worth it.
Reflections from Fred Barzyk — 1/16/2010
Back in 1961, when Greg Harney offered me a permanent job as a director at WGBH, I agreed but only if I could do a drama. I promised him it wouldn’t cost the station a penny, that I would beg, borrow and steal the props, find volunteer actors, and find a play that would be acceptable to Bob Larsen. He agreed.
I went to many amatuer theater performances with my volunteer assistant, Sally Dennison. (Sally went on to become a casting director in Hollywood, working for Otto Preminger, Antononi, and helped cast “Close Encounters of a Third Kind.”) I got free costumes from MIT, Martin Block painted the floor, and Peter Prodan provided the minimal set pieces. I paid $10 for the rights to the Play, “Five Days.”
I was able to save the only 2″ black and white videotape of the drama from the fire, and it now resides in the WGBH archives.
What comes around, comes around again. The little drama you are about to see was my attempt to take 20 volunteers, some in their 60’s and 70’s, and mold them into a movie crew. The local access station provided the gear (4 HD cameras, audio equipment, lights, final cut pro, Photoshop, etc.)
I convinced the New England Institute of Art to let me have students intern for the movie. They were the young ones on the crew and handled the lighting assignment. I found amateur actors in the greater Boston area: a former probation officer; a lawyer working at the Kennedy Center; an older actress who had appeared in JAWS as the mayor’s wife; and a gentleman who works at the Chelmsford Access Station. He just happened to have been a professional actor in Estonia before he moved to the states.
I convinced the music director of the Chelmsford Community Band to write an original music score. He had never done one before. He and I put together an orchestra of 30 musicians at no cost. They came from the Community Band, the High School Orchestra, the University of Massachusetts Lowell music department. I was able to get UMass Lowell to provide me with a recording theater and graduate students to run the 16-track recording system.
The entire out of pocket for this production was $500. This was an experiment that could have easily been a bomb. Yes, we did make mistakes, but none so bad that the story was destroyed.
So, here it is. The Journey.
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 through 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.
One of the great characters that came through 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 threw 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 a 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 Aldous Huxley. Mr. Huxley was nearly blind and had a female secretary accompany him for the shoot.
After a morning rehearsal, Ed invited Aldous 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 a couple of years, going on to NBC where he executive produced a national science show for young adults.
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 Filene’s department. 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.”
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.
By Fred Barzyk, 2010
The first day I met Stan VanDerBeek (STV) was in the parking lot of WGBH, the Boston flagship station of PBS. Stan was smiling and very anxious to find out as much as he could about WGBH and me. I took him to an editing room and showed him some of the work we had done. He was intrigued by a series I had done the year before.
It was called “What's Happening Mr. Silver?”.
David Silver, a young Englishman recently graduated from Trinity College, was teaching Poetry at Tufts University. He looked a lot like Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. David and I had teamed up to do an experimental TV series aimed at the young college crowd in Boston. We tried everything, including the first double channel broadcast. Here is how that worked.
Since WGBH has two channels, Ch. 2 & Ch. 44, we asked the audience to put two TVs next to each other, turn one to Ch.2 and the other to Ch. 44. Our specially created show would allow the audience to experience an interactive and stereo TV program. Sometimes the people on one channel would walk over to the other channel; sometimes people would talk to each other and exchange objects. If the audience had only one TV turned on they would be very confused. The content was not built to make any sense with only one TV. We never did find out how many people actually watched on two channels. It didn’t make any difference to us anyway.
We also did a show using John Cage's theory of chance. We allowed the show to go in any direction it wanted. We had every videotape machine, film machine filled with unrelated material that we could cut to when chance would have it. The studio was filled with artists painting drawing, films projected on the cyc. Two old people were seated in chairs watching all the activity. David was in bed with two women talking about some scientist. We even had a guy on a motorcycle who showed up roaring around the studio. In the control room we filled with friends, and they were instructed to yell out when they were bored. We would then switch to whatever, with no rhyme or reason. It was visual chaos. One lady called up after the show and instructed us to stop this kind of thing, because it was giving her brain cancer.
Somehow it caught the PR wind and took off. Newsweek, an important news magazine in the United States, wrote a positive review. They saw us as being in the vanguard of the artistic use of TV. We also won an award from PBS, as the most creative show of the year. (We were totally surprised)
The reputation of this experimental TV group up in Boston led to us being hired to work on a breakthrough special, Medium is the Medium. The executive producer of the Public Broadcasting Laboratory show was looking for a TV station that would be able to work with visual artists. The premise was simple: for the first time in history we would let 5 artists take total control of TV (Otto Peine, Aldo Tambellini, Nam June Paik, Alan Kaprow, Thomas Tadlock. James and Mimi Seawright).
Our national reputation for working with artists allowed us to put together grants which created The New Television Workshop. Its mission was to allow artists to work with television professionals and air their video art locally. The artist owned the copyright and WGBH Workshop retained the right to show the work in perpetuity. Grants came in from The Rockefeller Fund, the National Endowment of the Arts, the Mass Council on the Arts, and the Ford Foundation. The Workshop set up an "artist in residence" program. The first artist was Nam June Paik and he eventually created the world's first video synthesizer. When he aired his 4 hour work on WGBH his chroma level was so high that it burned out our transmitter. The program also included artists as diverse as Bill Wegman, Peter Campus and Tricia Brown.
Writers, dancers, local artists and actors/directors all used the Workshop as their laboratory. The Workshop lasted more than 20 years and had over 300 artists working in our program. And this was how STV and I got together.
After viewing more of our TV programs, touring the station, meeting the staff, Stan went off to contemplate what he wanted to do. He decided to create a visual symphony, using his work, live events in the studio, and newly created visual images to reflect on Violence. He insisted that it had to be on two channels. He called it Violence Sonata.
For weeks he edited down his older material, reordering, reshaping and reducing it to one hour. This was to be running on both channels and cut to when needed. He spent several days in the studio creating new images to heighten his treatise on Violence.
We had two people in bed, a white man and a black woman, apparently naked, talking about anything they wanted. Many cameras were focused on them and Stan multi-layered special effects over their conversation. Eventually it ended up in a raucous pillow fight amongst many people, feathers flying everywhere. (Boston was a hotbed for racial tension in those years. The local paper, The Boston Globe’s TV critic, railed against this scene when reviewing the show.)
Stan had a piano delivered to the studio and had it destroyed with an axe hitting the piano strings. It was his most striking image.
My job was to find as many groups in the Boston area who had a bone to pick. Black panthers, free sex advocates, radical politicians, hippies, white supremacists-- you name it, we found them. They were to be live in the studio, arguing against each other to create a climate of violence. We had every camera in our large studio trying to cover the nonstop dialogue and yelling. All this got mixed in with Stan’s film images and the new video scenes. It was as multi-layered as we could possibly create.
Stan was disappointed with the result. It never got to the density that he wanted. Also the constriction of one hour meant that he had to leave many beloved images on the editing room floor. I still believe that these restrictions actually helped Stan achieve a really important work. I was pleased to be part of the venture.
The written reflections below are on my personal history as I produced my last TV drama.
Ah, yes … The Waiting Room. This was my last TV drama production. After almost 60 years of trying to create situations where I could direct dramas, it finally comes to an end. This half-hour show was the only way for me to say “goodbye” to all my actors.
I love actors. I love how they are willing to give of themselves, to be vulnerable to critics, to wrap themselves in personas not their own, and how they love what they do.
It has always been my style to support their work. My job as a director was to protect them from outside noise, let them practice their craft surrounded by people who appreciate what they are doing. I, as the director, would always stand next to the camera and act as their “audience.” I would stifle a laugh when they said a funny line, or get depressed when things were going wrong for the character. I hoped this helped. I tried my best.
The Waiting Room is the most personal drama I have ever done. It came to me in the middle of the night, the whole thing just popped into my head. I got up from bed and wrote the script at 2:00 in the morning. It’s probably why the whole story is a little murky.
With that murky premise, I think I have to give you a little back-story so you can maybe understand the motivations behind the script.
I was this kid on the South Side of Milwaukee, growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood. I was an only child, spoiled rotten. My Dad worked at International Harvester. He worked there for 50 years and was proud of it. He was also proud that he graduated from High School. He was devoted to doing crossword puzzles. His mother had died of Spanish influenza. He and his sister were placed in an orphanage for several years. His father remarried and they joined Grandma Barzyk in her little grocery store.
My Mom ran away from home when she was 13. Her mother died young, her father remarried and soon there were 4 other girls. She never got over the loss of her mother or the entrance of so many other girls in the family! So she ran away in the middle of the night, boarded a train in Clinton, Indiana, and went to an aunt who lived in Milwaukee. Soon she was a “live-in” nanny at a Jewish family’s big house on the East side of Milwaukee. She lied to the family that she was 16; not her real age of 14. That lasted a few years until the boys got measles and she had to leave.
She ended up as a nurse’s aide at Milwaukee Children’s Hospital, feeding kids in the contagious disease ward. During WW2 she worked the night shift at a factory making artillery shells. I can still remember her smelling of copper filings and oil. But her longest job was a sales clerk at Gimbel’s Department Store, downtown Milwaukee. She worked in the men’s dept. but she liked to say she worked in men’s underwear.
My appreciation for the aesthetic seemed to develop around the age of 6. We were renters, the bottom floor of a two-family house. We had concrete walkways to the front porch and alongside the house to the back porch. From the sidewalk you would have to climb up 2 concrete steps. Each of them (like all the others in the neighborhood) were neat, with sharp corners. For some reason, I thought they would look better if they were rounded. So I got a hammer from the basement and attempted to round them off. It wasn’t pretty. My Mom said I had gone too far. The landlord never complained. I went back to see the house a few years ago
and the ragged corners are still there.
And then there was my piano playing. For some reason, I thought I could be this great piano player. Hell, my mom’s cousin had the most popular swing band in Milwaukee. My aunt Frances was a friend with a famous Milwaukee Pianist: Liberace. So I took lessons. I was really bad. Very bad. My father kept saying it must be the teacher so I kept going to other piano teachers.
One time, as I was waiting for my lesson to begin, I heard this kid in one of the rooms reciting a monologue. I wanted to do that instead, and so I began elocution lessons. I even ended up in a play a “walk-on” role with no lines at age 10. But the real moment of truth happened at one of those horrible piano recitals. We kids would sit in the back room, all-nervous, dressed to the nines. And then I realized that if I made some goofy sound, I would break the tension. So I did.
[Imagine sound here.]
Did it ever break the tension! They started to giggle, trying to hold back. I did it again and again, till I had them laughing out loud. This was it. This is what I wanted to do. Entertain a crowd. The teacher came in and yelled at us. She pointed at me and said “Freddy Barzyk, you cut that nonsense out. You are going just too far, do you understand?” Boy, did I ever.
I went to Marquette University in Milwaukee because that is what my parents could afford. I lived at home and the tuition was only $250 per semester. I thought maybe I would be a sports announcer. Soon as I took my first acting class, I was hooked. I realized I wanted to be a stage director.
There so many things were happening in the theate: Guthrie had established his regional theater in Minnesota, and then other regional theater started popping up all over the country.
Then there were the plays! My Fair Lady, Long Day’s Journey into Night, West Side Story … all on Broadway. Off Broadway was happening too. European playwrights were being celebrated: Bertolt Brecht’s “Three Penny Opera,” Eugene Ionesco’s “Bald Soprano,” Luigi Pirandello’s “6 Characters in Search of an Author.”
The theater was happening. And I wanted to be a part of it.
I planned to go to Yale Drama School. The problem was that I had no money. A dear friend of mine insisted that I apply for a scholarship to Boston University for a master’s degree in Communication. The deal was you had to work 3 days a week at a little educational TV station, WGBH. I got in. BU was disappointing. Channel 2 was great. I spent all my time there.
After the scholar year was over, my boss, Greg Harney, offered me a 3-month directing gig to cover for one of the full- timer directors who went off to Saudi Arabia on a special assignment. That happened two more times. Greg knew I still wanted to go to Yale Drama School. He had another plan for me.
I found myself back in Milwaukee, trying to figure out how to raise monies for Yale. I would take strange little jobs. One day, I was working at a Polish Newspaper, “The Novini Polski.” I would do cold calls. I would take the big newspaper in town, use their “Apartments for Rent” section and then pitch the owners to place an ad in “The Polski.” You know, these Polaks are reliable, clean, and would pay their rent on time.
Suddenly the boss yells out to me, “You got a phone call.” Who the hell could have found me here? My mother must have given them the phone number. I was shocked. It was Greg Harney.
“Ok, Fred, this is it. I am offering you a full-time TV director job. $80 a week … but no more talk of Yale and the theater. You have to commit.”
And then it happened.
I paused, looked back at the room full of callers trying to convince people to put an ad in a Polish newspaper, and finally said … “Ok, but you have to let me do a TV drama on my vacation. I would need 5 days in the studio.”
Pause on the other end.
Had I gone too far once again?
Finally … “Ok.”
I was now a TV director who would be allowed to do dramas. It turned out to be the best of both worlds. I had not gone too far.
First thing I did was go to every community theater production I could squeeze in, constantly looking for actors who would volunteer for my plays. My volunteer assistant was Sally Dennison who went on to cast Antonini’s “Zabriski Point.” She also helped cast “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I now had an actors’ group of 20 people.
I paid $10 for the rights to a play I selected, “Five Days.” I had use of the art department, scenic, and TV crew. All props, costumes, any out-of-pocket costs would have to been picked up by me. It worked. Elliot Norton, famed Boston theater critic, agreed to introduce the play. It was a Brechtian anti-war play, done “live on videotape” with black and white cameras. The management liked it. I was given permission to do another.
There was a teacher at MIT who was an aspiring playwright. I took his play and paired it with a French farce and called the show “2 for Laughs.” (WGBH is on Channel 2). Pete Gurney was the playwright’s name. Pete has gone on to have a very successful career in the theater. He is now known as A.R. Gurney, author of “Love Letters,” one of the most often performed contemporary plays across America. His TV play was lost in a fire that destroyed WGBH back in 1961. As luck would have it my first TV play survived and is now in the WGBH Archives.
In the new WGBH building, I did an outrageous play called “The Pit.” This time WGBH picked up all the costs. “The Pit” was a surreal play featuring a little girl who has fallen into a pit and an older man, a Good Samaritan, who tries to get her out. Of course, he never does and is finally hauled off to prison as a “subversive.” It didn’t have a lot of good reviews. Except for the one that really mattered. Kurt Vonnegut saw it and laughed.
My dear friend, David Loxton, who worked at WNET, New York’s Public TV station, suggested we approach Vonnegut and see if we could do an original TV movie based on his work. For some reason, he agreed!
It was called “Between Time and Timbuktu.” This time I hired real pro actors but filled out the rest of the bit parts with my coterie of local actors. This was it! The beginning of my long career working with actors.
Here are some of the names I have been fortunate to work with:
And now, here in Chelmsford, I returned to my roots. I found great volunteer actors, had the latest video equipment and a dedicated volunteer crew, which allowed me to continue this long love affair I have with actors and my little dramas.
We raised the money for this production by the use of Kickstarter, an Internet fundraiser. We raised over $4,000 to support this production.
Well, we did it. Former WGBH professionals who also volunteered their time and talent joined my trusty group of Chelmsford Volunteers, some in their 70s: Bill Charette, John Osborne, Bob Burns, Debbie Dorsey, and Marcia Hully. God Bless them all.
In many ways, this little movie was a final tribute to the many actors who graced my pictures with their amazing talents. It’s still hard to believe that a kid from Milwaukee actually worked with all these wonderful actors. I must have died and gone to Heaven.