Remembering John Silber

By Sadie Roosa

Former Boston University president and gubernatorial candidate for Massachusetts, John Silber, died today of kidney failure at the age of 86. Serving as president of BU for a quarter century, Silber was an important figure in Boston’s history, and he continued to be active in the Massachusetts political and education arena after stepping down as president.

The Boston Local TV News collections cover the span of his entire career, and highlight many of the important stages of impact on the Boston community.

The WHDH collection has the beginning of his career in Boston with Silber’s inauguration as President of BU in 1971. It also contains several addresses he made early in his tenure, including one on American Universities.

The WCVB collection contains a lot of his career at BU, including coverage of the faculty and clerical worker strike that epitomized the tension that existed between Silber and the BU faculty and staff throughout the 70s. There is also footage of him discussing student loan policy and Affirmative Action.

The WGBH Ten O’Clock News collection overlaps with the WCVB collection and contains some coverage of Silber’s career at BU, including him giving an honorary degree to Zulu chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and BU taking over management of the Chelsea public school system. The Ten O’Clock News also covers Silber’s career outside of his role as president a university. The collection has his views on bilingual education, a discussion/argument with Noam Chomsky on Contra aid, and coverage of his gubernatorial race in 1990 against William Weld, which includes a Ten O’Clock News Special profiling him as the democratic candidate. There is also a retrospective piece in the collection, containing photographs of Silber in his youth, at his wedding, at college, and with his family. Some of the Ten O’Clock News footage of Silber has already been digitized and is available on Open Vault.

John Silber had a large impact on the local Boston community, and our Boston Local News Digital Library is one way that impact will be recorded, preserved, and remembered. The catalog will be online soon to research these stories on his life and career.

Mayor Kevin H. White, 1929 – 2012

This weekend we lost a giant of Boston and Massachusetts history, Mayor Kevin White.

White served as mayor of Boston for 16 years and saw the city through immense growth and renewal. He also governed the city through a period of great racial turmoil during the 1960s and 70s, culminating in the controversial desegregation of the Boston City Schools through busing in 1974.

In the WGBH Archives, we have many video and audio recordings of White during his time as Mayor, but a few stand out as examples of his leadership style in times of tension.

Last year, on the anniversary of the event Elizabeth Deane posted a piece about White’s work with soul singer James Brown and with WGBH to broadcast the performer’s concert live the night after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. In this video from that night, Mayor White, humorously dubbed “a swinging cat” by James Brown, pays tribute to Dr. King, “one of the greatest Americans” and asked the audience to help him “make Dr. King’s dream a reality in Boston.” This pivotal moment quite possibly saved the city from the riots and violence that plagued other cities in response to Dr. King’s death.

A second pivotal moment in White’s tenure as mayor came in 1974 when the U.S. District Court ruled that Boston’s schools were racially segregated and discriminatory and ordered the implementation of a controversial busing program to desegregate the system. The Boston School Committee, led by Louise Day Hicks, actively resisted the court ordered program and many white neighborhoods protested against their children being bussed across the city to integrate predominantly black schools, and against black children being bussed into their neighborhoods. Many parents, particularly in the neighborhood of South Boston, kept their children out of school in defiance.

In this clip, Mayor White answers questions from the press regarding violent flare-ups and the timetable for the busing program. A year later, having experienced the tumultuous and sometimes violent first year of desegregation through busing, he addressed the city and appealed to the community to act responsibly, and with restraint, to allow children to enter the schools safely as they opened in September of 1975.

Mayor White’s passion for redevelopment and his strong vision for the future of the city also left their mark on Boston, particularly in the growth of the downtown area and the eventual submergence of the central artery highway underground. Even thought the legacy of the desegregation crisis as a whole is still unsettled, White’s leadership as a peacekeeper and the voice of reason helped to maneuver the city through extremely tense times of anger and controversy.

Other remembrances:

Elliot Norton Reviews: A Peek into Boston Theater History

by Jessica Green

Last Monday night, the Boston theater community gathered at the Paramount Theatre to celebrate an impressive season of groundbreaking theater and honor the designers, playwrights, choreographers, actors, and directors that made it such a success. The 29th annual Elliot Norton Awards, originally known as the Norton Medal, were founded in honor of respected Boston theater critic, Elliot Norton, upon his retirement in 1982, after 48 years in the biz.

From 1958-1982, WGBH, one of the sponsors for the awards, was home to Norton’s television show, the Elliot Norton Reviews. Think Inside the Actors Studio with Elliot Norton as James Lipton, no studio audience, and all Boston theater people. Each 30-minute episode features one to three actors, directors, playwrights, or other theater personalities speaking with Norton about their recent or upcoming production, season, or career as a whole. They discuss the writing, rehearsal, and production processes and touch on topics including script analysis, production changes, design choices, acting styles, and casting decisions.

As an intern at WGBH and drama nerd, I have the privilege of cataloging the Elliot Norton Reviews this summer. This entails the joyful process of skimming through the videotapes of each of the 150+ episodes in the WGBH archives and writing a short summary of the topics covered by Norton and his guests. Unfortunately, it would take far too long to watch and transcribe every full episode, but these records will at least make researchers aware of the resources available to them at WGBH.

As a part of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supported Participatory Cataloging Project, the records for the Elliot Norton Reviews will be published online and available free of charge later this summer. These records, along with other records in WGBH’s Media Library and Archives catalog, will raise awareness of the rich collections available at WGBH.

Researchers and theater enthusiasts will be able to view records of the individual episodes and potentially come to WGBH to view the episodes firsthand, or work with WGBH archivists to access them online. There will also be an opportunity for scholars to enhance the records that are specific to their areas of expertise. In addition, WGBH is planning to work towards supporting and making available streaming archival media. These archival records will be a valuable resource for scholars, students, and all the theater people out there who are looking to remount a production, deepen their understanding of Boston’s rich theater history and find out fascinating tidbits about some of their favorite plays and actors.

– Jessica Green, Intern

Boston Local News Project Funded!

Happy Holidays! Santa came early to the WGBH Media Library and Archives: we’ve been selected for a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Program to fund our Boston Local News Project! This project, also funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, will be able to officially launch in 2011.

The project, a partnership with the Boston Public Library, Northeast Historic Film, and Cambridge Community Television, will make a catalog of 4 local television news collections available online. In addition, we will digitize 40 hours of material, selected by our users. These 4 collections (WHDH, WCVB, WGBH and CCTV) cover over 40 years of local Boston history as well as national stories.

For progress to date on this project, see our intern’s posts on his important work this fall, and watch this space for more news from this important and exciting project!

Robert the Intern's Story: WHDH-TV Card Catalog

by Robert Johnson

One of the most interesting things about working on the WHDH-TV collection was being able to read about news stories in Boston during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Each of the estimated 39,000 cards in the WHDH card catalog corresponds to one piece of 16mm film footage (occasionally more than one) that is located in one of 2,300 film cans. Each can holds multiple reels of film, however, and each reel apparently can be composed of many different pieces of footage spliced together. Nobody is quite sure yet because we haven’ t yet been able to look at all of the reels of film.

I have been transcribing some of these cards into a database in order to make them searchable and sortable. Perhaps my favorite index card I transcribed was the one about a “bizarre kidnapping and hold-up attempt” at the Brockton Fair in July of 1970. The next card was for an interview with a seven-year-old kid about the hold-up. Was he the victim? The culprit? I have no idea. I would love to be able to watch the actual film for these two cards.

There were also a dozen or so cards about Judge Brogna, who was implicated in a bribery scandal in late 1971/early 1972 and later censured for accepting phone calls from a fellow judge (who himself was disbarred for accepting bribes) and not reporting them. According to news articles I found online he was never accused of being offered or accepting a bribe. Nonetheless, the governor of Massachusetts at the time asked him to resign. He refused.

There are also more than 20 cards about two robberies involving Brink’s trucks: one in 1968 and the more famous one in 1950 (The Great Brinks Robbery, as it is known). Boston University the topic of many cards, as was Boston City Hospital and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Senator Edward Brooke had lots of cards, too, as did Francis X. Bellotti and William Baird. Can you tell I was in the “B” drawer? One of the Bellotti cards referred to him as a “victim of Harold Stassen syndrome” and I did not understand the reference until I learned that Stassen was a politician known for his numerous failed bids for president of the United States.

There are also a number of cards about the NASA, the Apollo 11 mission and astronauts. And plenty of celebrities: Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, Cid Ceaser, Imogene Coca and Doctor Spock. As someone born more than a decade after WHDH-TV ceased to exist, there were many occasions when political figures both local and national were unfamiliar. I often found myself doing research that may not have necessarily had any impact on the database I was building but certainly helped me understand what many of the news stories were about. Someday, when all of these card describing the collection are digital and online, I can only imagine the value they will offer to students and researchers alike!



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Notes from AMIA 2010

Last week several staffers from the WGBH Media Library & Archives attended the annual conference of the Association of Moving Image Archives in Philadelphia. Always a productive time for us, we presented, worked, networked, enjoyed rare archival film screenings, and consumed many a cheesesteak!

cheese steak

Our director Karen Cariani chaired two popular sessions – one which featured a panel of funders discussing their priorities for funding moving image projects, and one which featured legal experts discussing the challenges faced by archivists trying to make materials accessible online.

WGBH Legal’s Jay Fialkov provided an overview of copyright and Christopher Bavitz of Harvard’s Berkman Center presented on their work for our Boston TV News Digital Library: 1960-2000. Chris outlined 4 sections of law which the Berkman report will address: copyright, trademark, state law (privacy, defamation, etc.) and contract law. Both panels were well received for their practical bent and slides from the copyright panel available here:

Opening the Archives for Access
Jay Fialkov – Understanding Copyright Barriers (ppt)
Christopher Bavitz – Legal Issues for Media Archivists (ppt)

Other highlights of the conference included a strong presence by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American Archive Initiative, the opportunity to network with our public broadcasting colleagues from Wisconsin to Louisiana and a visit to WHYY, Philadelphia public media station, to discuss our American Archive Content Inventory Project.

Read more about the conference in this Philadelphia Inquirer article, “Film restorers focus on timeless home movies at Phila. convention.”

New Project: The Boston TV News Digital Library

The Boston TV News Digital Library is an IMLS funded project in partnership with Northeast Historic Film, Cambridge Community Television, and the Boston Public Library. The official title is “The Boston TV News Digital Library: 1960-2000” and it will be the first online resource providing a city’s commercial, noncommercial, and community cable TV news heritage to educators and the public. The project will publish the news collections from these institutions. This includes news footage from WGBH, WCVB, WHDH, UPN 38, and CCTV. The project will also work with WGBH’s Teachers’ Domain to enable access to the materials in classrooms.

We are seeking financial support for this project. If you are interested in donating, we encourage you to support Open Vault. If you are interested in learning more about the Boston TV News Digital Library, please contact us.



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