HELLO AMERICA!—It is rather gratifying to receive so many messages from people, young and old who indicate how much they respect my determination to survive in the industry for so many years. They even ask about some of the experiences which made it a tough journey; hopefully, encouraging them to keep the faith as well, I thought they might relate a few of my work encounters that I experienced while at NBC. I don’t hesitate to point out that two of my closest friends in the business during those early, rough times were actors Chris Robinson (“General Hospital” fame) and Ron Walters (actor, makeup artist Emmy winner at Universal) who insisted that I apply for the Associate Director position opening at the NBC-Burbank studio.
They noted that Blacks were being signed for many different positions at the studio and I should definitely apply for one. When I did a few weeks later, I was quickly signed and began my training period which was a bit challenging at first. However, I managed to get through it and was assigned to scheduled shows. Life for me suddenly existed only within the studio gates. I was sucked in. In the early mornings, I was scheduled to deal with the morning religious prayers, there were the game shows, variety productions such as “Laugh In,” “The Andy Williams Show,” “The Dean Martin Show” and political interviews. Never a dull moment!
Tom Brokaw was the golden boy for the primetime news. There no doubt that he was going to be pushed to the top. My relationship with him was a bit shaky. He claimed that I made him nervous when giving directions. Nothing about Tom seemed real; he appeared to play it safe. During the Nixon and Watergate scandal he supported whichever direction the majority favored. There was a distinct arrogance about Tom that affected the entire crew. Of course, it was possible I was slightly envious of the man who was being given every opportunity to reach the top of his profession without hindrance. Having to sit in the back of the bus for so long, frustration and resentment still lingered deep inside.
Another reality had to be faced as far as other Black people already signed in other positions at the studio. My being the first Black ad at NBC caused not only resentment from many whites, but some Blacks too. One of them, a cameraman, nearly caused my death while taping one of the interview shows. When standing between two of the cameras one of the young Black operators, clearly knowing what he was doing, swung his camera in my direction just missing my head. I quickly got the message and was extremely cautious whenever he and I were scheduled for a show at the same time. I could not understand his kind of resentment. There were, of course, tons of memorable, exciting moments as well.
When Hubert Humphrey arrived for an interview following his presidential loss to Richard Nixon, he chatted with me about the experience. He noted that he took his wife Muriel by the hand, led her into the bathroom and said:
“Well, sweetheart, we can flush this one down the toilet.” Sid Caesar when appearing on the show, accidentally cut deep into his leg with a knife while performing one of his routines. The blood gushed from the wound, but Sid kept his cool. He took a cup from a nearby table and said: “I’ll send this directly to the Red Cross.” Tommy Smothers and I watched the Nixon “I’m no Crook” speech in the editing department. Tommy couldn’t handle it and rushed from the room cursing.
Two years later, on my final day at the studio. Johnny Carson was leaving his stage where he taped the “Tonight Show” and Lou Rawls pulled up alongside Bing Crosby to guest star in a musical special. I looked back over the busy corridors watching people running to fit into their assigned spots. A few red lights flashed Do Not Enter. Damn it! I still felt some excitement for it all. However, I took a big breath, shut the big over-sized door behind me and walked away.