From Anne Damon: As Jay and others may know, I am not a social media person. I virtually never look at — never mind contribute to — most platforms, sites, postings, etc. One exception, however, is still the WGBH Alumni website, which I do read and enjoy; but until now, reflecting on the many tributes that have been written over the past week in honor of Rick Hauser, I have never been moved to share my thoughts there as well.
In November of 2019, Nancy Mason Hauser got in touch with a number of folks to ask if they would help put together an audio file keepsake for Rick on the occasion of his 80th birthday. Over the last several days, I’ve been thinking that what I sent to Nancy two years ago might perhaps also serve as my tribute to, and commemoration of, Rick and those long ago days at WGBH when he (there is no other word) flourished there.
What follows is what I wrote and recorded for Rick back in 2019. Here’s my offering, pretty much in its entirety — appropriate, perhaps, since Rick, too, always had a terrible time leaving things on the editing room floor.
For Rick – November 2019
Late in the summer of 1973, when I was 21 years old, I reported for my first day of work at what was my first “real” job out of college. It was at WGBH, the public radio and television station in Boston, and I had been hired as something called a Programming Assistant to a newly-minted, first-time executive there named Henry Becton. Henry had just recently (but inevitably) been promoted out of the production ranks himself, into a new position that came with the imposing title of “Director of Community and Feature Programming.”
My timing couldn’t have been better. Just a few weeks earlier, TV Guide had run an article about the then-little known station that had made a star of Julia Child, and its commitment to the development of more “how-to” and instructional programming in a variety of arenas, both traditional and non-. Those projects would now be primarily under Henry’s aegis, along with basically anything else that didn’t fall under National or Public Affairs; and in those days, those myriad projects pretty much all originated in the actual studios of WGBH.
And yet: even with this knowledge (having of course done my research about the station, its history, and its current activities), I found myself somewhat alarmed — and not sure that I was even going to last out the day — on my maiden tour of 125 Western, guided by my new colleague, the incomparable Kathy Brady. About half-way through our rounds, as we stepped out of the elevator onto the second floor, I heard my very first page over the station-wide intercom system, consisting of the deathless phrase: COULD SOMEBODY PLEASE GET THE TRANQUILIZER GUN TO STUDIO B – NOW!?!?!?
Without breaking stride, and barely interrupting her introductory spiel, Kathy just looked at me and commented: “That’s probably for the producer.”
That producer, of course, was Rick Hauser.
The show was Walsh’s Animals; and I can’t remember if that particular tranquilizer gun was for the giant tortoise bleeding from his giant toenail, or the frenzied seagull in attack mode, or the baby you-name-it that inevitably turned out to be nowhere NEAR as cuddly as you thought it would be; but I can recall thinking by the end of that first overwhelming day: this place may actually turn out to be a better fit for a Literature Major (particularly one with delusional narrative aspirations of her own) than a publishing house ever could have been. I was right about that, that very first day; and I continued to be right about that for many, many years to come. And the very best of those years were the years I was lucky enough to work with Rick.
Now I have to admit that I’m taking some liberties here with the phrase “work with.” Whatever PC job title someone in my position was given in those days, the fact of the matter was: I was Henry’s secretary … despite the fact that he could type better than I could. I answered his phone and I opened his mail and I booked his appointments — basically all the things in a job I swore I would never, ever do.
But I also got to know the group of producers, directors, ADs, APs and PAs who made up the Community and Feature Programming Department. These station luminaries now reported to Henry, and therefore had regular — and often not-so-regular — meetings with him. And since Henry was almost always running late, the visitors’ chair next to my desk outside his office on “The Strip” quickly became my favorite spot in the whole station.
The collective talent of this relatively small group of people, for a relatively short period of time in the 60s and 70s, helped create the legend and the legacy of what WGBH is and was. These brainy, funny, wildly innovative people became my graduate school faculty — generously sharing their ideas and their excitements, and sometimes their frustrations, with me — someone whom they could easily have ignored, or at best, politely condescended to. Instead, so many of them became dear friends and mentors; and it was no secret to anyone that to me, one of the dearest of them all was Rick.
There’s a wonderful movie that came out in the early 1980s called My Favorite Year. A relatively low-level production assistant on an early-50s Sid Caesar-style TV variety show is thrilled when his hero, the swashbuckling film star Alan Swann, graces the live TV production for several magical days as a guest co-star. I may not exactly have been Benjy Stone. But Rick was absolutely my Alan Swann. I think there was virtually nothing he did that I didn’t almost fanatically admire. (With perhaps one notable exception … which I’ll get to later.)
One of my earliest connections with him came out of my typing up my first program proposal (yes, bad as I was at it, I still had to do it) that listed Rick’s credits and vitae. Among them was the fact that he was the literary executor of the estate of the French poet and dramatist Paul Claudel. When Rick was next waiting outside Henry’s office, I gathered my courage and asked him about that. From there, I think we ended up talking about turn-of-the-century French literature, then turn-of-the-century English literature, and who knows what else, until Henry’s door finally opened. What I remember most clearly, however, was that after his meeting was over, Rick came back to the visitors’ chair to talk some more about Oscar Wilde. It was just the first of countless instances when Rick made me feel that even a bad typist (and eventually a bean counter) was part of the WGBH family and the incredibly valuable work that was going on all around me.
Of course, as valuable as all (well, most of) that work was, in those days at WGBH, even nationally-recognized producer/directors worked in the community and on the local level as well; because at home here in Boston, folks, we were “Your Own Channel 2.” (Thank you, David Ives.) And so Rick’s many productions included not only treasures for Theater in America, but also, along with Masterpiece’s Joan Sullivan (as she was then), coverage of any number of local annual parades (not necessarily his favorite assignment, by any measure). There was the aforementioned Walsh’s Animals; exercising with Maggie; gardening with Thalassa; the list goes on, with many of Rick’s local series and specials ending up in national distribution. He created co-productions with the Museum of Fine Arts, and helped pioneer the whole new field of video artistry, which led to the creation of the WGBH New Television Workshop, which led in turn to the creation of the New Television DANCE Workshop, headed up by a lovely new dancer/producer named Nancy Mason. (But THAT’s a whole other story … with, as we all know, a very happy ending.)
But back to the 70s: because virtually all of Rick’s projects, local or national, involved Henry, I was usually lucky enough to be somewhere in the neighborhood of their creation. Nothing pleased me more than to look up and see Rick in the door of one of the offline editing rooms (which were then still on the second floor), beckoning me to come listen to something. His constant request to “Tell me if you can understand what she’s saying” — followed by the inevitable, “No, listen again,” and Susie Mottau’s long-suffering look of resignation when, of course, I never could — became sort of a standing joke.
Just due to sheer propinquity, I was often privy to some of the challenges, on both sides, that frequently characterized a Rick Hauser production. One memorable quote that still resonates, even after all these years, originated with East Boston’s own Joanne Natola, Rick’s PA for Kirk on Furniture and any number of other shows. Reporting in on a particularly fraught shoot, Joanne’s exhausted summation came down to: “Awl I can say is, Jawn Kirk must wanna be a TV stah VERY badly.” But whatever the challenge, whatever the conflict, if called upon, I was sure to be Team Rick (except, of course, for that one exception …).
And there were instances where sides, however fleetingly, were drawn. One perpetual tussle between Rick and Henry over the years had to do with the issue of titles. No one will be surprised to hear that Rick’s first … and third … and tenth offerings were always sparkling jewels of sheer poetry. Henry usually went for the more informative approach. One typical example was a special about the gradual erosion of the Massachusetts shoreline. Rick’s script was called Thalassa Means The Sea. Henry felt the name of the actual show should be more along the lines of something like “The Cape is Corroding.” The compromise – to everyone’s relief, as I recall – came to be Beyond Sand Dunes.
I can’t believe how long ago were those days of what I think of as the best adult-education course anyone could wish for, and those exceptional instructors, like Rick Hauser, whose work created, curated, and informed it. I know, Rick, that in the years since then, you’ve brought your own special touch of the poet … and the painter … and the dancer … to many, many other beautiful and significant endeavors. As one who was so very privileged to watch and wonder, laugh and learn so much from you, I wish you all happiness on your 80th birthday; ongoing joy to you and Nancy and all the family; and many more years of stories to be told.
With much love always,
Oh, yes, that one exception: Also on my very first day of work, Henry let me listen to a piece of music that the producer of that eventful show in Studio B desperately wanted to use as its theme. Unbeknownst to me, that producer — who clearly had already been having something of a day — had walked into the office behind me … just in time to hear this complete stranger of a 21-year-old pipsqueak say to Henry: “Honestly? That’s the schmalziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Rick, I know I could have lost you forever that very first day. All I can say is, thank God for Paul Claudel and Oscar Wilde … and Henry’s visitors’ chair.
Sadly, as we now know, it turned out that there were not many years left to Rick for more stories to be told. I will always hold dear the memory of having witnessed and shared and celebrated the unparallelled works he generated at WGBH so long ago. Like the man who created them, they were unique, and they were unforgettable.