Zvi Richard Dor-Ner, 75, Executive Producer
Excerpts from the Boston Globe
Whether producing documentaries or sailing to a country he had never visited, Zvi Dor-Ner was always searching for an adventure.
As an executive producer at WGBH-TV, he made it his mission to tell stories of daring, and among his career highlights was a 1992 documentary about Christopher Columbus, whose spirit of discovery paralleled Mr. Dor-Ner’s in many ways.
Despite the subjects he chose, though, Mr. Dor-Ner never overdramatized the stories and lives he portrayed in documentaries, said Peter McGhee, his former boss at WGBH.
“Television has great temptations for a producer because you can make things so exciting by manipulating images and sound,” said McGhee, a former vice president for national programming. “Zvi would never cheat. He would look for hard truths and look hard for the truth, but he was utterly faithful in his discoveries.”
Mr. Dor-Ner, an award-winning executive producer at WGBH for about 30 years who as a child lost most of his family in the Holocaust, died April 6 in his Brookline home of pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
There were other echoes of Columbus in Mr. Dor-Ner’s life, in addition to his documentary and his love for sailing. He named his last boat the Nina, after one of the three ships Columbus used on his trip across the Atlantic. Mr. Dor-Ner also had business cards printed with his title when he was aboard his sailboat: Captain of the Nina.
His adventurous spirit was contagious, family and friends said, and he was adamant about encouraging those around him to share his sense of curiosity…
Zvi Richard Dor-Ner was born in 1941 in what was then Lvov, Poland, the only child of Nathan Dor-Ner and the former Joanna Berl. Soon after Mr. Dor-Ner’s birth, German forces occupied Lvov, and many of his relatives were killed during the war.
His father died in Lublin Castle, a medieval castle in a city to the north where the Nazis had created a ghetto. Many thousands of Jews were imprisoned in Lublin before being sent to extermination camps.
Mr. Dor-Ner and his mother survived the war and moved to Israel when he was about 8. He served in the Israeli Intelligence Corps of the Israel Defense Forces, and also worked as a cameraman for a television network in Jerusalem.
He studied at Boston University, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications…
Mr. Dor-Ner, who was a Nieman fellow after college, worked as a producer at WGBH for about three decades before retiring in 2009.
Producing documentaries, he chose topics that interested him, which was the case with “Columbus and the Age of Discovery.” That series “doubled the average PBS prime-time audience with its premiere,” according to Mr. Dor-Ner’s biography on the PBS website. Mr. Dor-Ner also wrote the companion book for the series.
Over the course of his career, his work took home honors including Emmy Awards, for work such as the series “Enterprise”; George Foster Peabody awards for “People’s Century” and “Shattered Dreams of Peace – The Road from Oslo”; and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for the series “Arabs and Israelis.”
“Zvi’s impressive portfolio includes some of WGBH’s proudest moments and reflects his wide-ranging curiosity and intellect,” Henry Becton, former president of WGBH and vice chairman of its board, said in a statement. “He was a master storyteller, and masterful at choreographing the complex international production partnerships that enabled such sweep and range.”
Mr. Dor-Ner’s credits also included “Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back,” the series “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” and “The Longest Hatred,” which examined anti-Semitism….
Regardless of where he lived, Mr. Dor-Ner was always in search of an adventure. His daughter Anna said she didn’t understand when she was younger why he frequently left to travel, but realized as she got older it was something he had to do.
“That has always been his passion. It was like his love,” she said. “He wasn’t as happy as he could be if he wasn’t sailing.”
- Read the story at the Boston Globe
From WGBH QuickNooz
The WGBH community mourns with sadness the passing of Zvi Dor-Ner, former WGBH Exec Producer. Zvi died yesterday morning at age 75. He had been doing what he loved—skippering his beloved boat around the world—when in late January he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Zvi began his distinguished career in 1966 as a WGBH news cameraman. He returned in 1979 after working in television in his native Israel and honing his journalistic skill as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Before his 2009 departure from WGBH, Zvi executive-produced such milestone productions as the duPont-Columbia Award-winning series ARABS AND ISRAELIS; the International Emmy and George Foster Peabody Award-winning PEOPLE’S CENTURY; COLUMBUS AND THE AGE OF DISCOVERY, which doubled the average PBS prime-time audience with its premiere and for which he authored the series companion book; WAR AND PEACE IN THE NUCLEAR AGE; APOLLO 13: TO THE EDGE AND BACK; the Emmy Award-winning business series ENTERPRISE; and more than a dozen films for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, FRONTLINE, and NOVA.
“Zvi’s impressive portfolio includes some of WGBH’s proudest moments and reflects his wide-ranging curiosity and intellect,” says WGBH Vice Chair and former President Henry Becton. “He was a master storyteller, and masterful at choreographing the complex international production partnerships that enabled such sweep and range.”
“Zvi was WGBH’s own Columbus,” recalls former VP for National Programming Peter McGhee. “He was resourceful, daring, and creative…a generous and loving man and loyal friend. His body of work is an enduring monument to and measure of the man.”
A service in Zvi’s memory will take place Tues, 4/11, 12 noon at Mount Auburn Cemetery’s Story Chapel. Rest in peace.
From the Nieman Foundation
Zvi Dor-Ner, a longtime WGBH executive producer and NF ’77, died April 6 at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts from pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
Dor-Ner spent 30 years at WGBH, Boston’s PBS affiliate, starting as a cameraman and going on to produce several award-winning series and historical documentaries. He worked on celebrated programs such as “Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back,” “People’s Centruy,” “Columbus and the Age of Discovery,” “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age,” and “Arabs and Israelis,” along with more than a dozen films for “Nova,” “Frontline,” and “American Experience.” Throughout his career, Dor-Ner and the programs he produced won awards including a duPont-Columbia award and multiple Emmys and George Foster Peabody awards.
Born in Poland shortly before the Germans took the city in 1941, Dor-Ner and his mother escaped to Israel; his father and most of his immediate family members were killed by the Nazis. After serving in the Israeli army, Dor-Ner began his career in 1966 as a news cameraman at WGBH while earning a degree in communications at Boston University. Following his graduation, he returned to Israel to work as a camera operator, producer, and director for various entertainment and documentary programs for several years. After his Nieman Fellowship in 1976-77, he rejoined WGBH and stayed there until his retirement in 2009.
Preceded in death by his wife Alexandra Dane, who died in 1991, Dor-Ner is survived by his girlfriend, three daughters, and four grandsons.
Zvi Richard Dor-Ner, 75, died Thursday, April 6, 2017, at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Zvi was born on July 13, 1941 in Lvov, Poland just weeks before the Germans took the city. His father Nathan and most of his immediate family were killed by the Nazis. Zvi and his mother Joanna (nee Berl) escaped to Israel where Zvi attended school, served in the army and began his career as a cameraman for Israeli television.
Zvi was a journalist and an exceptional story-teller. After graduating from Boston University and spending a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, Zvi spent 30 years as an executive producer for WGBH, the Boston PBS affiliate. The historical documentaries he produced won many awards including a duPont-Columbia award, as well as multiple Emmys and George Foster Peabody awards. Zvi chose topics that were fascinating, complicated and often controversial. He transformed them into vivid and compelling stories– he had a natural gift for narrative which he honed, over decades, into a science.
Zvi loved sailing. He built his first boat at the age 12 and launched it from the beach in Bat Yam. As an adult he captained his ketch ‘Nina’ across the Atlantic several times exploring the Northeast, Caribbean and Mediterranean. He made a thorough study of dockside fish restaurants, maritime museums, cockpit sunsets and cold-water swims. Every year after his retirement in 2009, his friends looked forward to a letter from the ‘Meandering Navigator’ that would describe his anticipated four month itinerary and invite them along for two weeks at a time.
Even at home, he was everybody’s port in a storm. His guest room and kitchen were almost always inhabited by the recently heartbroken, the newly arrived, or the otherwise lost. He offered warmth and optimism but also clear-eyed perspective to all of them.
Zvi was married for 23 years to Alexandra Dane. Together they traveled all over the world, lived in Boston and Paris and Jerusalem and had two daughters: Daphne and Tamar. When Ali died in 1991, Zvi raised his 12 and 13 year old daughters alone. In 1997, Zvi had his third daughter, Anna, with his then-partner Win Lenihan. From the beginning, Tamar, Daphne and Anna have enjoyed and adored each other.
Zvi was an exceptional and unusual father. He had high expectations when it came to academics but never missed a chance to take his daughters out of school to travel the world. He cultivated their skepticism and their independence – even when it came at the expense of their alignment to his point of view.
As a father of three daughters, Zvi was delighted by his four grandsons and they were delighted by him.
He is missed by friends all over the world, in Israel, Poland, Paris, Portugal, London and beyond. In addition to his three daughters, he is survived by his four grandsons, Henry, Felix, Gideon, and Abe, and his girlfriend Pesya Altman.
A service for Zvi will be held at noon on Tuesday, April 11th at the Story Chapel in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Nieman Foundation (to promote and elevate the standards of journalism, nieman.harvard.edu) or to Etgarim (empowerment and social integration of people with disabilities, etgarim.org).
From Hanna Golebiewska
Hanna Golebiewska sailed with Zvi between 2011 and 2014.
Since Zvi paid a lot of attention to historical facts, I would like to correct some points mentioned in the obituary:
Zvi was actually born two weeks before German troops took Lvov. His mother did not have a chance to escape to Israel as Israel did not exist yet. It was by chance that he was born in Lvov; they were actually living in Lublin at the time.
His father, with a “Jewish” appearance, had to hide in surrounding villages while his blond-haired mother was working as a nurse in Lublin hospital having little dyed-hair Rysio (Zvi’s given name) with her. His father and an uncle were taken by Germans and later shot in Lublin Castle.
Just before withdrawing in 1944, the Nazis massacred its remaining 300 prisoners and Zvi’s father and uncle were among them. It was a very important fact for Zvi. The names of the father and uncle were put on a monument in Lublin just recently and Zvi was planning to go there in July to participate in an anniversary of the massacre.
After the father had been arrested Joanna escaped from Lublin and, after long voyages, was hidden with little Rysio by a Polish railwayman in Lowicz where they stayed until the end of the war under a fake name Bialozorski.
They lived in Cracow after the war and went to Israel in 1949 where Rysio was placed in a boarding school while his mother went to live in Paris, and this influenced his future emotional life. In Israel, Rysio Dorner (Bialozorski at that time) became Zvi Richard Dor-Ner.
I met Richard when he was already retired and wanted to spend more time sailing; he always had discoverers in mind. Richard, who had sailed all his life, bought his current boat in 1993. With American flag S.V. NINA, he sailed extensively on the US east coast and with which he has crossed the Atlantic in 2000. Since then he criss-crossed the Mediterranean from West to East and from North to South, often more then once. I belonged to that part of his life. We crossed on the Nina East to West in 2013.
This is what Zvi wrote about himself on his sailing profile:
I have sailed since childhood. When I did not sail, I was a TV producer of documentaries on historical subjects. I have done it for many years and as a result know something about documentaries and history. I have published two books: one about Columbus and the age of Discovery and one an Emergency Action Guide for Sail and Motor Yachts. This in addition to more then 300 documentaries. I am qualified as Yachtmaster offshore by RYA and have a 100-ton license from the USCG. I crossed the Atlantic back and forth. I sailed extensively in Europe and the Mediterranean. Now I sail in the Caribbean and central America.
We cruise for several months every year. The boat is left in a different port when I don’t sail then I pick it up with a crew of friends and sail for 5-6 months. While I stay on board all the time, most of the crew changes every 3-4 weeks. I like to have a crew that knows sailing and something else very well. For each segment I like to assemble a crew of 2 or 3 that is diverse and interesting with a mix of talents, skills, knowledge and experience. Most of the times it works extremely well.”
Richard’s wrote this after crossing the Atlantic in 2013 (12/27/2013):
Today, in the morning, Nina entered the “Galleon Passage” between Trinidad and Tobago. It is only thirty miles wide, but we see neither of the two islands. It is disappointing to pass, what is an important marker on our trip without seeing it. One way or another, on the basis of GPS the Atlantic Crossing is over. It did not change, the Atlantic. It is still just the same as it has been for the last few days, gray, overcast, with occasional rain and, as we still sail with wind and swell just astern, very very rolling. We have another seventy miles before we drop anchor or dock.
This is the fifteen and last day of our passage. For a cruising boat our size it was a very fast transit indeed, all of it under sail. In fact, for the whole trip we have been flying just one sail, our large 140 percent Genua. It is rigged with its working sheet lead through a snatch block attached to the end of the main boom which is extended, with a boom vang, to all the way out to port or starboard depending if the trade are blowing from slightly North or slightly South of East.
The only sailing maneuver we carried out was to jibe occasionally and furl and unfurl the sail frequently, almost akin to changing gears while driving.
We have been lucky with trade winds. A very high pressure era above Bermuda and the Azores provided those. We seldom had wind of less then twenty knots, frequently for days and nights at a time, we where powered by 35 knots of wind.
Our speed log registered speeds it has never seen before, of 10, 12 and 13 knots as we surfed down 16-foot waves. This was a blessing, but there was also a punishment. The strong winds produced a huge massy swell coupled with another distinctive wave train from slightly different direction combining in a distracting, disorganized, yet powerful sea that hived and shook us in many uncomfortable ways.
The swell rolled Nina terribly, often from gunwale to gunwale, in the first days inducing semi-seasickness and limiting all of us to only the most basic and necessary actions. Eventually it became just a nuisance requiring a lot of energy and planing for the simplest action, making a sandwich for example.
Sixty feet up from the deck, the top of the mast will move violently through such rolls, inscribing a very large arc. Frequently this would force the air out of the sail which will then snap violently as it refills with wind on its swings back to the other side. The sound of this routine was like a gun shot and as wrenching. You kind of know that the sail can’t take this kind of punishment forever, sometime it will have to give in and tear itself to shreds, or destroy its fittings…It did not do that, but the possibility was constantly on my mind and it was it scary…
We had equipment failure on small and large scale. Often, I was able to deal with problems then and there, while other remain waiting. The Genset, which creates electricity to charge batteries and toys, died on the second day. A sunny, happy Spanish mechanic fixed the atomizer of its little diesel just before departure; he changed the two bolts holding the injector down and one of those tore. We had to charge batteries by running the main engine two hours a day and face the fact that this was our only way to generate electricity.
Our automatic pilot worked great in the worst conditions but gave up eventually, now we mostly have to stear manually. Steering manually in a following wind and great swell requires a total concentration and doing it for six hours a day is just tough.
However it sounds, none of it was grim, it was not even hard, even if often tiring. We had great time. For me there was the added tension of being in charge, and having, presumably, have answers to every contingency. I did not, and often there are no good answer beside endurance.
Now it is all over, the Atlantic is smaller. The experience of dealing with it in such an intensive way will sink in eventually and be digested on another level than the nuts and bolts, both actual and figurative.
I have added excerpts from stories about Zvi Dor-Ner in the Boston Globe and Nieman Foundation to our memorial on the WGBH Alumni website.