Here's a major find. Buried in our archives we found a xerox of a hand written personal history of someone's adventures with W3XE and WPTZ. The document had no identification on it. It had a date of October 16 & 17, 1982 on it. Whomever it was, worked there from 1939 or so until at least 1950 and he was their chief set designer.
Roy Neal e-mailed: "...I remember him. I think his name was Smith...Art Smith, I believe. He designed "Open House" and all other sets we used. I saw him once, in Hollywood, after he left Philadelphia. Very talented guy."
Well, the other problem is that is on ten sheets of paper. Keep in mind that these are xeroxs (sorry, we don't seem to have the originals) and at the bottom of several of the sheets, it becomes unreadable. We have not left anything out (other than what we couldn't read). It is simply amazing. It's a fantastic piece of Philadelphia broadcast history.
We are not sure where this document came from. However, it is believed to be part of the "memories" file that was used as a basis for the 50th anniversary of Channel 3 done in December of 1982 by KYW-TV.
We now know that Smith's first name was William. William Craig Smith passed away in August of 1986 at the age of 67. Smith was nominated twice for Emmy Awards because of his work in television. He was also nominated for an Oscar in 1982 for his efforts in Victor-Victoria. He studied under Clyde Schuyler and Alexander Wyckoff here in Philadelphia. He was born in 1918 and went to Art School after High School. That would have put him about age 21 in 1939. It fits in perfectly with what is below.
Here's what the paper said:
As far as I can tell from this distance, I began working for W3XE either in 1939 when I graduated from art school or early in 1940. My interest was actually in set, that is to say scenery, design but the real need was for cameramen and my time was spent both building and painting sets and operating one of the two studio cameras. I was not used to operate the remote camera since I had no real knowledge of baseball or football and was too slight in build to handle the enormous cameras on field tripods which were inherently top-heavy and difficult to handle. These field cameras (we may have had two, I don't remember) had only sports sights consisting of a wire frame at the front and a peep-sight at the back. The cameraman had no control over focus which was adjusted from the control truck (or temporary control room) by remote control, and the field seen in the crude sports-sight was, I'd have to assume, fairly inaccurate.
Clarence Thoman was in charge of these sports programs and could tell much more about the early cameras, etc. I haven't heard from him in many years.
In the studio it seems to me the two cameras, both of them hand built in the Philco lab, did not match. One was obviously older and used a single lens. The "view finder" consisted of a hole cut in the back of the camera housing through which one viewed the image as it appeared on the target of the iconoscope via an ordinary pocket mirror glued inside the front of the housing! The silver spattered mica of the target was basically gray so that the observed image was very dim. It was also upside down and was seen that way by the cameraman! Control room instructions had to be quickly transmitted by the operator - down for up, up for down, etc.
The other camera was much newer and had an optical view finder involving 2 lenses, one for the picture tube....
Both cameras were huge by today's standards and the one just described can be seen in some of the accompanying photos or film. The cables to control had been hand fabricated and stuffed sausage-like into canvas sleeves. The final assembly was about 2 and ½ inches in diameter and extraordinarily clumsy. When it was found that the canvas covers caused objectionable swishing sounds when pulled across the floor they were later recovered with velour or cotton velvet. We did not see electronic view finders until after the war and the studio bought two of the newest RCA orthicon cameras. I remember the engineers being too impatient to await delivery from Camden, going across the bridge in a station wagon to carry those instruments like new born babies up to the top floor of the Architects Building on Locust Street. They spent days playing with the new lower light levels made possible by the image orthicon - lighting pipes and cigarettes and using only the light from the matches....
To go back to the roof top studio at the factory.... As you might expect the heat when all these lamps were on defied description. The studio at one point bought the cameraman pith helmets but they got in the way of what crude view finders there were and were finally abandoned. Performers, frequently passed out on camera. I remember one group of nurses from one of the hospitals who did a program of christmas carols during the season. As they sang, they started to slide out of the bottom of the picture and were slid along the floor into the "shady" end of the studio until they came to. The effect on our audience of 300 or 400 must have been fairly startling. I had of course no budget for what little scenery we built, or props we required and I deemed it quite a coup when I was able to borrow a fine ebony grand piano from the Wanamaker store. It had already been sold (probably eight or $9,000 dollars at the time) and we were cautioned to be extra careful in handling it. Later that day, the pianist discovered that without some protection he could not touch the black keys which had absorbed all that radiant heat from the lights. He covered the tips of his fingers with Dr. Scholl's corn pads which were flesh colored and thought to be invisible. I doubt that these improved his touch. The real horror was to come. When we went on the air, the top was raised on the stick. Now it was closer than ever to all those glowing lamps and I watched in silent horror as the hand rubbed varnish erupted in melting bubble and popped open. Wanamakers piano department was not amused. In an adjoining space on the roof was a really monstrous air conditioning plant which more often than not froze and seized up in a vain attempt to cool that inferno.
(Left to right) Bob Jawer, Pat Moore and Morris "Moose" Charlap
Monday, March 3, 1947
(Note that the varnish is bubbling on the right piano)
BROADCAST PIONEERS NOTE:
Morris "Moose Charlap was born on December 19, 1928 in Philadelphia. He was a composer whose works included the TV version of "Peter Pan" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass." Pat Moore was a local singer and Broadcast Pioneers member Bob Jawer who was a TV producer in the early days and later the region's first time salesman for television. The photo was posed after the live broadcast. Bob Jawer told us that the rehearsal was held in another studio without the lights being under full. He said that they were quite surprised at how hot the lights really were.
The control room, the size of a large broom closet,was a jerry built pile of video amplifiers, hundreds of vacuum tubes adding more heat, and the whole thing draped like a Christmas tree with garlands of resistors and condensers and what-not in experimental configurations hoping to improve the picture. Many of these soldered together chains of components ran across the floor and walking was hazardous.
Obviously these pictures had all the charm of a portrait taken in one of those dime store booths. Aside from the shell-shocked appearances of the performers forced to endure the heat and searing brilliance of the lights they managed to look more or less normal on the air thanks to one of the most bizarre systems of make-up. As it was explained to me, the camera's tubes were very sensitive to infra-red radiation and without special steps taken the whole veinous structure of the face and other flesh tended to show through as if the skin had been stripped away. Joe Noble made up a batch of make-up in shades of gray. He concocted this disgusting mess out of cold cream, zinc oxide and (I presume) lamp black. It managed to black out the radiation but the prettiest of women under all the battleship grey turned into strange aliens and plain people were so grotesque as to bring children to tears and strong men to near hysteria.
Since no shadows could exist in the white hot effulgence of that tiny sound stage lighting "effects" were impossible. I made a practice of having Joe or somebody light the set with a couple of conventional 750s and painted the shadows directly on the walls of the set. When the lights used during a transmission came back on there was at least the appearance of shadows. This attempt was moderately effective, but the engineers thought the whole thing was a waste of time. At a time when they were still trying to figure out how to cross fade between 2 cameras, I suppose now, it seemed fairly esoteric....
Scene painting techniques were more those of the poster than of Vermeer. The resolution was not so good that we couldn't get away with painted details which today would be laughable. Pictures, lighting fixtures and sometimes furniture were often painted on the walls.
In this tiny studio, the Germantown Theater Guild reproduced their production of Coffee & Cowen's "Family Portrait." Two cameras, two operators, one stage manager and a cast of over twenty, a couple of hundred "Birdseye" photofloods and scenery (such as it was) crowded into this miniature inferno of heat and light can not be imagined. It had to be experienced. Talk about troupers, not a soul passed out even though the last supper candles were in liquid puddles two minutes into the scene. We should have known better.
Shortly after the war broke out, I believe; the studio shut down due to the fact that our frivolous activities were interfering with the testing of certain secret devices downstairs in the factory. Nobody ever said so but most of us knew it was radar. Frank Bingley, an English engineer who had worth with J. L. Baird in London was drafted for this secret work early on, was flown quietly to England on a Clipper and on a subsequent trip was lost at sea. A brilliant man and we missed him terribly. In the time before the operation was reduced to showing film from facilities at the transmitter at Wyndmoor, Pa, it seems our on the air time from Tioga & "C" was severely curtailed partly to save the iconoscopes which were in short supply having been, I think, built right there. At night I remember these tubes were gingerly removed from the cameras, stored in specially plush lined boxes and locked in a safe!...
For some reason I never completely understood, these tubes were sometimes baked a day or two in electric ovens in order to restore their efficiency. I don't know if I've got this right, but it seems that in use electrons splashed off the target and attached themselves to the inside of the glass envelope. Baking chased them back where they belonged. The handling of these precious tubes from care to storage and back again was performed with the kind of care later lavished on open heart surgery, so it was only natural that we'd have some fun. I had built a crash-box for sound effects; a wire mesh box full of fragments of broken glass, rusty bolts, etc. Hidden behind a drape, we waited until two engineers had carefully removed the neck yoke and were easing the picture tube out of the camera housing. We then unended the crash box with a racket like a jeep going through a plate glass window at Gimbels. Three electronic wizards with their backs turned to this operation had to be assisted to chairs in the control room! George Borden developed palpitations and the crash box went into permanent retirement. Shortly after most of us were in the armed services.
Some activity went on during the war at the transmitter, I'm told, all from film since the tiny studio was now off limits. We wrote to each other when we could and sometimes (before being sent overseas) we were able to visit the old gear while on leave. We'd knock back some beer in the glow of slowly fading monitors and talk about how great it was all going to be "someday." Someday finally came - and it all was.
Let's see now. The war was finally over and if I'm not mistaken, all of us who had been overseas came back more or less whole. Old gear came out of storage and work began to convert existing facilities atop of the Architects Building into a TV Studio. Formerly the headquarters for the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. This penthouse space with flanking roof-top terraces and elegantly tall french doors was beautifully detailed and maintained. The library with its tile floor, Italian marble fireplace, and walnut book shelves became the scene shop! In six months, it was a paint spattered ruin, shelves which had held leather bound volumes of Palladio and Vitruvius now held cans of paint and boxes of nails and screws. The fine Italian fireplace held our compressor and paint spraying gear. The classical moldings were taking a dreadful battering. The big board room was partitioned off for a control room at one end and down from Tioga and C came all the piping with their photoflood lamps, and another camera was built to match the pre-war models. A great tower went up on the roof to get the signal to the factory tower (or maybe directly to Wyndmoor - I'm not sure). Offices were on a lower floor. Ernie Loveman became president and our call letters changed to WPTZ. People were hired at such a rate that almost everyday someone new showed up. We "workers" all joined a local of the IATSE and became charter members. Philco was a bit unhappy but this post war enthusiasm was pretty heady stuff. I was making $135 a week I think - or was that a month?...
We had game shows, cooking shows (one opened with the announcer saying "Ben Butler has pig's feet" which panicked the populace) quiz shows, puppet shows, ballets, plays, short operas, tricky titles - the works. Up at the factory, they were playing with color. New RCA image orthicon cameras arrived and with them the era of nicely lighted pictures.
After a couple of years, the studio, now too big for its quarters began a move to the KYW radio studio, over on Walnut Street. This handsome Art Modern building had been built with the top area (2 stories high) left unfinished for "possible television use." I guess we leased the space - not sure how that worked. I got the chance to design new studios, some space was allowed to stay two floors high, the rest sat on newly constructed floors. Sound proofing was meticulous and, I thought, over built. Stage walls were layered with rock wool and perforated transite. All the metal studs were isolated from each other with rubber. Entire floors were poured floating on a sea of crumbled rubber nuggets...
While we were still at the Architect's Building, budgets were somewhat on the slim side. My lumber was carefully nurtured and grip would sometimes spot empty crates in the alleys behind Locust Street and haul them up to the top floor to add to my stock. Andy McKay, God bless him, was our most energetic and ingenious propman. And frugal too. One day for some set I needed some curtains made for a couple of windows. I'd bought some cheap clintz at Kresge's, I guess. I said, "Andy take this material down to a tailor somewhere and get him to sew up these curtains. Here's three dollars." He was gone for hours. When he finally came back he handed me back the three bucks. "How come?" Well, he said he'd gone into the Singer store and asked if he could try out a sewing machine. Sensing a sale to the station they let him. He'd sewn up the damned things himself on the latest model in the window on Walnut Street! We finally did buy a machine, I think, the same year. I got a table saw from Sears Roebuck.
While we were still at the Architects Building, things were heating up and I really needed help. One day a tiny lady showed up fresh from the Goodman School of the Theater in Chicago. She had a portfolio of stunning sketches for sets and photographs. She had built most of them herself! I was immediately intrigued and moved to hire her as a carpenter/scene painter. You can imagine the distress of our brass. A woman? In the scene shop? She'll get hurt! I threatened to quit if I couldn't hire her. They gave in. She stayed for a year or so to get better at her craft than most of the guys I had. She left to go to Chicago to do the original Dave Garroway show, came to New York shortly after I did and became the only female art director at that time. She's in Hollywood now doing big things...Jan Scott. We see each other once in a while.
While doing her shop work she dressed in jeans and wore heavy shoes suitable for a day laborer. One day she was in the ladies room. Evelyn Green, Ernie Loveman's rather flighty secretary went in there and spied Jan's trousers and feet under the stall door. Evelyn's screams. ...Panic broke out on the floor. By the time the cops arrived Jan was back in our ruined library/scene shop ripping a 2x12 on the table saw. They popped in, popped out (the noise was ear-splitting) searched the building and left. That night she and I split half a case of something called Champale and had a good laugh. A blow struck for freedom....
My connection with WPTZ came to an end some in 1948 or early 1949. The bulk of programming was coming from New York. I had exhausted the possibilities in Philly and was courted by NBC in New York. By 1953, the programming was coming from Hollywood and I've been here ever since, later doing film work almost exclusively!
By the time I joined W3XE, Philco had been experimenting with mechanical and electronic TV for about six years, so I know little about those very early years. I recall them telling me that Philo Farnsworth had worked with them in the beginning and had later gone on his own. When I got there, the chief administrative job was held by someone called (I think) Nick Alexander. I don't think he saw the future in television and within a year he was gone to form a Dydee-Wash. And that's the truth. Under him was Warren Wright, the man who hired me originally and who stayed....
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
W3XE test pattern courtesy of Norman Gagnon's website, GGN Information Systems
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Bob Jawer
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All Rights Reserved
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