Inside the WGBH Open Vault

Inside Boston's Symphony Hall, November 22, 1963

Thursday, May 2, 2013
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By Elizabeth Deane
Longtime producer and writer for WGBH

If you were old enough to grasp what was happening on November 22, 1963, you will always remember that day. Even if you were born decades later, you likely have seen the black-and-white images from Dallas, and newsman Walter Cronkite’s grave announcement of President John F. Kennedy’s death. This month we’re listening to two clips from WGBH Radio of that Friday afternoon in November, zooming in, Google Earth-style, on a stately building on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. No one in Symphony Hall that day will ever forget how they heard the news, and the music that followed.

This Month from the Vault:
Inside Boston’s Symphony Hall, November 22, 1963
Most of the audience for the regular Friday afternoon performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra knew nothing of the events in Dallas as they took their seats. An article in The Boston Globe published on November 23 says that the concert “had begun in normal fashion” at 2pm. Conductor Erich Leinsdorf opened with a Handel Concerto. But, says the Globe, rumors began to circulate in the audience as the concert continued. Early news reports said that there had been an attempt on the president’s life—Kennedy had been shot but his condition was not known.

Orchestra management got word of the assassination just after the concert got underway, according to BSO accounts. Leinsdorf was quickly consulted at the end of the ?rst half of the concert. As you’ll hear in the clips, the conductor told the audience of the tragedy and the orchestra played a splendidly appropriate piece of music, the funeral march from Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. BSO librarians had scrambled to retrieve the music and get it on to the orchestra’s stands.  

WGBH’s Ron Della Chiesa was in the hall that day with his father. He says in the second clip that it was not customary for the conductor to speak to the audience during a concert, and I think I hear a rustle of surprise—or possibly dread—in the audience before Leinsdorf speaks. WGBH audio engineers “opened all the house microphones to capture his words,” according to BSO documents.  The sound of the audience when Leinsdorf breaks the news is unforgettable.

The audience stood as the orchestra then played the funeral march, unrehearsed. “The dread beat of the march cannot be disguised,” says the Globe’s review. “Yet there is a middle section of the movement, a time of incredible energy and involvement, somehow, or so it seemed Friday, expressing eternal hope.”

But what would happen next?

Backstage, Leinsdorf had been part of a “heated discussion,” as he described it in his autobiography, between Henry B. Cabot, president of the BSO’s Board of Trustees, and George Zazofsky, chairman of the Orchestra Committee. Cabot insisted that the concert should go on after the funeral march; Zazofsky, Leinsdorf says, “assumed we would go home.”  

“We were not sure if the concert was going to go on,” says Idil Biret in a 2005 interview with WGBH’s Laura Carlo. The wunderkind pianist from Turkey, then barely 22 (her birthday was the day before), was scheduled to make her American debut that afternoon. “But during the intermission the president of the orchestra [Cabot] went on the stage and said that the day he lost his father, he went to the concert to ?nd some consolation, [and] that he hoped that the audience would also ?nd this consolation.”

Our clips do not include Cabot’s entreaty, but the Globe says “most listeners took heed…So it was the task of the orchestra, of Leinsdorf, and of a young Turkish pianist…to provide comfort through music.” Biret played Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, and “she attacked it with the rapture of youth.” “It was the most moving experience I ever had,” Biret says.

photo + video captions:
President Kennedy in Dallas, TX, minutes before the assassination.

A look inside Symphony Hall in Boston.

WGBH Radio announcer William Pierce can be heard describing the second half of the program during intermission of the Nov. 22, 1963 concert. He cuts short his remarks to introduce the conductor…. “Here is Mr. Leinsdorf.”

WGBH’s Ron Della Chiesa was in the hall when Leinsdorf told the audience of the tragedy. He reflects on the moment.  

Eleanor vs. JFK–The Back Story

By Elizabeth Deane   |   Thursday, May 2, 2013
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By Elizabeth Deane
Longtime producer and writer for WGBH Boston 
At first glance, the 1962 black-and-white video doesn’t appear to capture anything more than a straightforward interview. Former ?rst lady Eleanor Roosevelt quietly prods President John F. Kennedy about the status of women in America. But WATCH closely, and read on. These two had a rocky history.
This month from the Vault: Eleanor vs. JFK–The Back Story
You’ll see that the former first lady is polite, but dogged, and she’s on message with every word. She’s been fighting this battle for decades.

Eleanor Roosevelt & John F. Kennedy interview on Prospects of Mankind. (Credit/WGBH)

The president, looking as if he’d rather be anywhere but in that seat, dutifully expands on the goals of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. But he was a man of his time, and there’s a whiff of Mad Men-era assumptions in his careful language.
Filmed for Roosevelt’s WGBH-produced series Prospects of Mankind, their cordial conversation belies the adversarial past between these two power players in the Democratic Party. 
The discord between them first arose in 1958, as JFK’s campaign for the Democratic nomination moved into high gear. Roosevelt gave an interview to ABC TV in which she suggested that the candidate’s father, millionaire Joseph P. Kennedy, intended to buy the presidency for his son in 1960. The elder Kennedy, she said, “has been spending oodles of money in the country on his behalf,” and the Kennedys had “paid representatives in every state.”
JFK was angry—and worried. Roosevelt had considerable influence within the party, and he needed her support. He wrote to her immediately, suggesting that she was “the victim of misinformation,” and asking for the name of her informant. “Surely,” he said, she would not want to spread “false statements, rumors or innuendo.” 
In her reply, Roosevelt refused to retreat. Joseph Kennedy’s big spending was “commonly accepted as fact,” she asserted. “Building an organization is permissible,” she continued, “but giving too lavishly may seem to indicate a desire to influence through money.”
In our post-Citizens United world, the flow of big money through American politics is a given, but this was a different time. Worse, she had thrown a spotlight on JFK’s father. The elder Kennedy, once FDR’s ambassador to England, had supported the isolationist cause before World War II. He subsequently backed away from public life in disgrace, and kept a low profile as his son’s political star rose. 
Roosevelt was convinced that Joseph Kennedy was the real power behind the campaign, and with him, she believed, came an odor of corruption that threatened the Democratic Party. She wanted Adlai Stevenson, who’d been defeated by Eisenhower in 1956, to run again. 
Kennedy wrote back, this time blind copying his friend Donald Graham, editor of the Washington Post, and asking Roosevelt to “correct the record in a fair and gracious manner.”
Roosevelt stonewalled, but Kennedy persisted. She eventually yielded—just a little—while reminding him that there were other reasons for her opposition to his candidacy. “I have never said that my opposition to you was based on these rumors…but I could not deny what I knew nothing about,” she wrote. She added, “From now on, I will say, when asked, that I have your assurance that the rumors are not true.”
That last sentence gave Kennedy a small opening, and he seized it. “Many, many thanks for your gracious letter,” came his reply. “I believe we can let it stand for the present.”
Roosevelt answered with a telegram drenched in irony: “My dear boy I only say these things for your own good. I have found in a lifetime of adversity that when blows are rained on one, it is advisable to turn the other profile.”
Note the condescending “My dear boy,” and also the use of the word “profile,” rather than the familiar “cheek.” It’s a reference to Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage. 
WGBH legend has it that JFK wanted to formally announce his candidacy in January 1960 on Prospects of Mankind, but Roosevelt refused. He did, however, fly up to Boston from Washington after making his announcement on January 2 in order to appear on her show (a discussion of US policy toward Europe). She opened the program with a reference to his “announcement”—without saying what it was that he had announced.
Roosevelt continued to press for Stevenson’s nomination for many months, and to belittle Kennedy. Nevertheless, he won the nomination in July. Roosevelt then conceded that she would support his candidacy, but not campaign for him. 
Not enough for JFK. He went to see her in her house at Hyde Park, NY, in August. Finally, she agreed to campaign for him—but not without a price. Kennedy would have to involve Stevenson in the campaign on foreign policy issues. And, once elected, he would need to establish a commission on the status of women. 
It turns out this rocky relationship has a proud legacy. Roosevelt’s commission has helped mobilize forces still fighting for women’s rights today.

Elizabeth Deane is a longtime producer and writer for WGBH

Searching a Haunted Past

Wednesday, May 8, 2013
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By Elizabeth Deane
Longtime producer and writer for WGBH Boston 
Digging up a sidewalk in a small town in eastern Poland, three men unearth gravestones from a vanished culture. A black-gowned priest fetches tools to help them as a young boy looks on. The artifacts they seek are not ancient; this culture disappeared just 50 years ago. But time is running out for the three searchers. In a few years, all the living witnesses to this buried culture will be gone. 
This month from the Vault: Searching a Haunted Past
Holocaust Remembrance Day is April 8, and on April 30, a new film from Frontline, Never Forget to Lie, premieres. It’s Polish-born Marian Marzynski’s quest to enter what he calls “the haunted world of my ancestors.”
Marzynski (right) a child survivor of the Nazi destruction (Credit/WGBH)
Marzynski (right), born in 1937, is one of a dwindling number of child survivors of the Nazi destruction of the Jews. In earlier film explorations of the story, including Return to Poland (1981) and again in Shtetl (1996), he found he could not bring himself to approach his own experience head-on. 
The accompanying video clip is from Shtetl, and the gravestones he pries from the earth are in Bransk, Poland. It isn’t the shtetl (“little town,” in Yiddish) of his family but that of his friend Nathan Kaplan, from Chicago.
Kaplan, who was born in America, lost his father when he was two years old. “I have no memory of my father,” he tells Marzynski. “It’s only by going to Bransk that I can touch him, that I can understand who I am.” For Marzynski, it’s a bearable way into their shared past. 
The third searcher is a more enigmatic character. He is Zbigniew Romaniuk, nicknamed Zbyszek, a young Polish Catholic born and brought up in Bransk. Before the Holocaust, the town had a population of 4,600, more than half of whom were Jewish. When Zbyszek grew up, there were no Jews left in Bransk and he became intensely curious, almost obsessed, with learning about the town’s lost inhabitants.
He is a natural, if self-taught, historian and archaeologist, tirelessly and patiently reconstructing the world of the Jews of Bransk. It is he who found that the Germans, in an attempt to erase the Jewish past, had ordered that the gravestones be taken from the Jewish cemetery and used as under-pavement for local roads and sidewalks. 
As the gravestones are pried from the soil and their inscriptions haltingly translated by Zbyszek, who has taught himself some Hebrew, the stones begin to speak. 
Watch the clip to meet the three main characters and see what Zbyszek has created with the gravestones. I hope you’ll then venture into the full three-hour film, which will be posted on the Frontline 
website [] on April 5.
Like the epic film Shoah, it requires time and it is sometimes painful, but it rewards, and it sets the stage for Marzynski’s Never Forget to Lie. 
As you watch Shtetl, keep in mind that it stirred controversy among some Polish-Americans when it aired in 1996, and that Zbyszek Romaniuk, the young Polish Catholic in our video clip, was said to be unhappy with the finished film as well. 
Go here for more on the controversy.

From the WGBH Vault: MBTA Improvements

By WGBH News   |   Friday, April 13, 2012
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April 13, 2012

mbta 1989

The more things change ....

In this Feb. 7, 1989 segment from WGBH-2's Ten O'Clock News, reporter Hope Kelly talks to MBTA riders about changes under general manager James O'Leary's tenure. Both ridership and budget increased, and some stations were renovated — but not everyone was happy. Their complaints are a lot like ones riders have today. Their eyeglasses? Maybe not so much.

Check back for a week of WGBH News Focus coverage of the MBTA starting April 23.

Thanks to producer Gary Mott for archival help.

D.I.Y. Disco: It Isn't Dead

Friday, February 24, 2012
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BOSTON — If you can’t catch Opening Day at Fenway Park, don’t worry. We have your ticket to another (former) national pastime that is sure to get you out of your seat.

This Month from the Vault:  Dancing Disco, Episode 1, “The New York”

Been wondering how to do "The New York?" You're in luck. instructor Randy Deats lays out the basics of the disco routine. (If you're having trouble viewing this video, watch it on Open Vault.)

“So what’s a nice television station like WGBH-Boston doing with a national television series called Dancing Disco?” Executive producer Sylvia Davis asked this question in 1979, and then answered it with a line that was both decorous and slightly wacky.
“We’re the people who bring you Julia Child, The French Chef, Masterpiece Theatre, and Nova. Why not disco?  We figured if we could teach people the joys of French cooking, we could also teach them the pleasure of learning how to disco.”
Here’s How it Happened
Building on the success of The French Chef, WGBH caught “how-to” fever in the mid-to-late late 1970s. The Victory Garden launched in 1975, and the first episode of This Old House premiered locally in early 1979.
Davis and broadcast manager Mark Stevens jumped in with their disco idea after the huge box office success of John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever (1977). Disco may have been offbeat for public television, but it was in step with the times.
In Boston, “discos began popping up like spring flowers,” Davis explained in a companion book to Dancing Disco. “Based on the marvelous dancing [in the movie], we began looking for someone to teach on TV.”
When Davis saw Randy Deats on an audition tape, she knew he was the right choice.  “Suddenly, this man came on and began talking to me.  He told me to stand up, start moving my feet, and do what he did. And I did. What Randy Deats could do for me, he could do for others.”
Deats, who is still active in the dance scene and has a studio in Warwick, Rhode Island, is a terrific teacher. In this episode, host and then-WCOZ radio personality Lisa Karlin sets the scene, telling viewers to push back the coffee table and get moving. Then Deats takes over. He teaches a line dance called the New York, so viewers don’t need a partner. 
In other episodes, all shot at Club Max in Boston’s Park Square, Deats teaches dances with names like the Rope Hustle, the Triple Hustle, the Rock, and the Drop, among others. The episode featured here has a segment on disco fashion with Mademoiselle magazine fashion editor Diane Smith. Other shows include interviews with DJs, top dancers, special effects experts, musicians, and even a foot doctor—“because you can’t make those moves when your feet are sad,” according to a blurb in the WGBH program guide Prime Time from July 1979.
Whether you’re in it for the dance moves, or the clothes, or just the nostalgia factor, Dancing Disco is fun to watch. And keep in mind that entire cable channels have been inspired by the fruits of WGBH’s creativity in “how-to” programming (think Food Network and HGTV).

Dancing DiscoAbout Open Vault |

Open Vault is the WGBH Media Library and Archives (MLA) website of unique and historically important content produced by WGBH's public television and radio stations. It provides online access to video, audio, images, searchable transcripts, and resource management tools —available for individual and classroom learning.  

And to learn more about Dancing Disco, visit the Open Vault

A Pioneering African Environmentalist's Legacy Lives On

By Bob Seay   |   Thursday, October 13, 2011
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Oct. 14, 2011

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai with Linda Harrar in 1989 in Nairobi's Karura Forest, Kenya. (Jill Singer)

BOSTON — Last week, three African women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia; a peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who helped to end Liberia's 14-year civil war, and human rights activist and journalist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, who has been called "the Mother of the Revolution" in that country.

These three women follow in the footsteps of another pioneering African woman leader.

Making History

Last month, the world heard news of the death of Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai (pronounced wan-GAR-ee mah-THI), who in 2004 became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai was the leader of the Green Belt Movement, a women-led effort to plant trees.

Using segments from an interview in WGBH's Media Archive from the 1990 series Race to Save the Planet, former Nova producer Linda Harrar offered this personal remembrance.

"The first time I met Wangari Maathai, in 1988 in Nairobi, Kenya, she was a little reluctant to be interviewed. She shook her head and said, 'I get into a lot of trouble because I have a very big mouth!' Then she burst into laughter, flashing her unforgettable smile," Harrar said.

A Vision Is Born

As a strong critic of the government, and a courageous fighter for the environment, Maathai did get into a lot of trouble over the years because of her outspokeness. During the 1980s, Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi labeled the Green Belt Movement "subversive." Maathai was arrested, beaten unconscious and thrown in jail for her protests to save parks and forests from development. But she managed to capture the attention of the world, and through her willingness to put her own life on the line, won many of her most important battles.

Maathai started her career wanting to work on preventing childhood malnutrition. In the process, she realized soil erosion was one of the root causes, and that planting trees would be key to solving it.

In the 1990 WGBH series Race to Save the Planet, Maathai said, "I know for certain that the soil is the sustainer of life. Without it, we cannot live. On this continent, we have seen too much suffering, starvation, due to degradation of the soil, and it has taken millions of years to build this topsoil. It is so important to protect it, because if we don't, we are on our way to the end."

Bringing Home The Brains

While Maathai received some of her education in the United States, afterwards she returned to live in Kenya for the rest of her life. Linda Harrar recalled why this was important to Maathai.

"Wangari hated the 'brain drain' of Africa's brightest students being lured away from home, and she believed that Africans need to develop their own leaders to solve the continent's problems," Harrar said. "But she also understood the need for foreign aid to get some promising programs started."

After earning her PhD in Kenya, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which organized communities of poor women to plant trees and tend to them until they were strong. The women earned a small income for doing this work, in a land where jobs are very hard to find. The Green Belt Movement also taught children to grow green belts around their schools. And it taught farmers to plant trees in rows between their crops, which helps to restore nutrients to the soil.

Dr. Wangari Maathai in 2007 at a garden dedication at the Al Raby School for Community and Environment in Chicago. (via Flickr/Creative Commons)

Making The Mission Possible

Maathai wanted her movement to start with planting trees because it is something that anyone can do. The universality, she said, would help people access the movement.

"Then during the tree-planting campaign, you bring out all the other issues that are very much related: the issues of food production, firewood crisis, soil erosion. All these are part and parcel of what we are discussing, but when we first discuss, we start with the immediate problems, the local problems, the problems we can see every day," Maathai said.

Harrar says the movement planted over 30 million trees.

"Maathai would sometimes say that the healing of Africa is still only a dream. But she understood her own power to inspire people, of all ages and cultures to get behind her," Harrar said.

Maathai also had her human moments of doubt.

"Sometimes I get very discouraged because the problems are just enormous, and although the people are very willing, sometimes they really think that you can solve all these problems at once, and you can't," Maathai said. "But sometimes I also get very encouraged, especially when I see these trees growing in the nursery, or when they're so big that you see the farmers happy in their fields. It's very satisfying. So I go up and down all the time. And most of the time, I think I'm on the better side."

Crossing The 'Vale Of Tears'

What did Harrar find most striking about Wangari Maathai's work?

"Perhaps what I admired so much was Wangari's ability to keep fighting for what she believed in – and to inspire others not to lose heart. I last saw her just after 9/11, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when she was comforting us as Americans for all that we had lost when the Twin Towers fell. One of her best friends had lost a daughter. She of course knew that life can be what she called 'a vale of tears,' but she would always find a way to find strength in what she believed in," Harrar said.

Maathai reflected on why the work mattered so much to her.

"I don't really know why I care so much. I just have something inside me that tells me there is a problem and I have got to do something about it, so I'm doing something about it," Maathai said. "I think that that is what I would call the God in me. And all of us have a God in us, and that God is the spirit that unites all life, everything that is on this planet. And it must be this voice that is telling me to do something. And I'm sure it's the same voice that is speaking to everybody on this planet, at least everybody who seems to be concerned about the fate of the world, the fate of this planet!" Maathai said.

Linda Harrar said Wangari Maathai's legacy should serve as a source of inspiration for all of us.

"So here's an idea. If you're feeling sad or depressed, or cynical about the many problems of the world, think of Wangari Maathai's example: Get out and plant a tree, get your kids to plant a tree. It's something you can do for the future. And it would make Wangari smile that dazzling smile," Harrar said.

About Inside the WGBH Open Vault

Open Vault is the WGBH Media Library and Archives (MLA) website of unique and historically important content produced by WGBH's public television and radio stations. It provides online access to video, audio, images, searchable transcripts, and resource management tools —available for individual and classroom learning. Learn more:

About the Authors
Elizabeth Deane
Elizabeth Deane is a longtime producer and writer for WGBH Boston.
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 
Bob Seay Bob Seay
Bob Seay is the host of NPR's Morning Edition on 89.7FM WGBH Radio. He got his start in radio during college at WMUH, got involved with WGBH TV while in graduate school at Boston University and formerly hosted ME at WRNI in Rhode Island.


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