A "Year 1" Profile:
Before he became a life-long filmmaker, Jack was a U.S. Army photographer for The Occupation Chronicle, a military post newspaper in postwar Frankfurt, Germany.Jack extended his enlistment for a year at the start of the Korean War in 1950, and received his discharge in June, 1952. Taking a position with Brown University's Photographic Department, Jack was introduced to the wonders of motion picture film.
"Television was where I wanted to be," states Jack. "We did a half-hour a week called "An Evening on College Hill," which was broadcast by WJAR in Providence, Rhode Island. It was a P.R. piece for the college. We used a 100 foot Auricon and Bolex 16mm cameras."
Married and supporting a young child, Jack figured out that heading south was not only a good economic decision, but a possible career move. "I decided it was getting too expensive to live in Providence and spend $40 a month to heat a home," he explained. "The one thing I've never chased hard is money...I prefer adventure. And I figured'everyone waits until they're 65 to go FloridaI'm going now." Driving an old Rambler and carrying his savings of $180 in cash, Jack and his family arrived in Florida in January, 1955.
A week later, Jack landed a job with a new film company, Carey/Swain, Inc., in Sarasota, Florida.The company had landed a contract to produce $250,000 worth of films for the state of Florida, and Jack worked there for about six months when things suddenly went 'south'. "It turned out that the state, while they awarded Carey/Swain the contract, hadn't appropriated the money and that was the end of that project. I didn't feel like I was in a fix, because that's the way I lived my life."
A SPLICE OF LIFE
Jack scoured the employment pages and answered an ad for a film supervisor position at WTVT. He was hired by Monty Gurwit in August of 1955, when WTVT was only four months old with studios in the original converted restaurant. "It was the first real television station I'd been to. The studio's ceiling wasn't high enough to put lights up where you needed to, though."
Although live programming was an ongoing situation at WTVT, it was film that interested Jack. "I had no interest in pushing a camera around the floor, or being a director. Film has always engaged me, it's always been a part of me. Back in my film area, the syndicated programs like 'Highway Patrol' came in from Railway Express on 1,200 foot reels, and Maggie Kitchen and I would have to check them, clean them, and splice the commercials in. Some of the films were 'bicycled' and sent on to another station after we showed them."
The fledgling WTVT news department consisted of just two cameramen. "Marvin Scott shot film for the news, and the Chief Photographer was Dick Dale," recalls Jack. "I shot some film toonight football and basketball games. We didn't have a film processorwe had ahomemade 'rack and tank' system. We'd spiral the 100 feet of film around a frame of dowels and brads shaped to keep the film apart. We'd dip the unexposed film in the developer, stop, fix, and then wash it. We were shooting negative and they'd reverse-polarity to show it on the air. We were not shooting sound until Gaylord got our first Auricon."
Jack got along well with Channel 13's original owner, Walter Tison, who was generous when asked to help with the down payment for a house on the G.I. Bill. "He whipped $100 out of his pocket and gave it to me," exclaims Jack. "I was in the film department for about a year when Walter called me up to his office. He said 'you've done good work back thereyouve been quiet and haven't created any problems.how'd you like to be Chief Photographer?' Somehow he knew of my abilities, and I said 'I'd like that real fine.'" Jack's duties would be to film commercials, promotional advertisements, and short features that could be incorporated into the news or entertainment programs.
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS
Tison and his partners had put WTVT on the air with an initial investment of $350,000. With the upcoming sale of the station to E.K. Gaylord's company in 1956, Tison would earn back his original investment times ten, selling WTVT for $3,500,000.
"Just before Tison sold the station to Gaylord," recalls Jack, "I went to him and asked for a Kodak Cine Speciala 16mm camera that had through-the-lens viewing. I wanted it for animation and stuff. It was $1,000, and Tison said 'Just go ahead and buy it.' Several weeks later, the new station manager Buddy Sugg called me up to his office and said 'What's the big idea of just buying this camera?' I told him that Tison had given me permission, and that's when we started having purchase requisitions."
Jack remembers that the transition to Gaylord's company was smooth but everyone felt insecure. "It was pretty tense for a while after Gaylord bought uswe didn't know who would still have a job. But everything seemed to work out. Things got better under Gaylord. They brought down a Houston-Fearless film processor, and I had to learn about chemicals and processing. I said 'I need to buy chemicals for the processor,' and they said to wait until the machine came in. Well, here's the machine and they wanted film out of it that night. Just typical. Gaylord brought in some Auricon Cine-Voice cameras to shoot sound interviews, which contained a mini-amplifier and a 400 foot magazine.
Gaylord imported many people from their home station, WKY-TV, in Oklahoma City. Jack recalls being very impressed by the News Director and Anchor, Dick John. "Dick John was an incredible anchor. He would glance down at the script and give you the entire page with no teleprompter. He flick his eyes down again and give you the next page. He was incredible.
Wayne Fariss was a neat guythey were all a good bunch. Dick wanted me to come into the news department. He said I'd like tooling around in the new Chevy news cars. I wanted to stay where I was, and used to get sniped at by the news departmentthey said we should be out shooting the fender benders and county commission, and I said 'No, that's not what I do here.' I had the cush job there.
In November of 1958, the news program's title changed from "Newsroom" to "Pulse." Jack was called upon to shoot the banner opening on film. "We did things we didn't know we couldn't do. Andy Diaz painted a model globe in shades of gray. We hung it from a string and spun it gently, while I filmed away. Then, on a separate piece of film, I shot a waveform monitor that was wired to the sound of teletype machines. Finally, on another piece of film there was the "Pulse" title in white against black. I sent the three film elements up to Russell-Barton labs in Jacksonville, and they didn't know if combining the separate elements for a triple pass through an optical printer would workwith the build up of grain and so forth. It worked out fine and Channel 13 used my 'Pulse' open for years."
An unusual partnership was created to produce a nightly feature shown at the end of Pulse news."When Bob Gilbert came to the station, we started 'Pulse Extra.'," explains Jack. "Don Harris was a booth announcer and he became our reporter. We did a five-minute show five days a week. I was also the editor with a hot splicer and a little tiny Bell and Howell viewer.
We shot a controversial Pulse Extra on unwed mothers, with the women in silhouettealso an expose on a run-down hospital that was closed soon after we reported on it, and sponge divers in Tarpon Springs. We did a great one on Doc Webb, and Walter Fuller, one of the prime real estate developers in St. Pete. Don and I went to the Amazon for one, and I took a camera with me on a trip to Berlin and the station gave me an extra week there of vacation. We went to Japan, and El Salvador three times. We went to Costa Rica for a school-to-school project, and Gene Dodson suggested we get some shots of Irazu, an active volcano near San Jose. We went up to the top of the crater, set up the angle...then the camera started jiggling and a cloud of ash belched out of the volcano. You can hear me on the soundtrack saying 'Let's get the hell out of here!' Stones the size of our heads started to fall around uswe're 13,000 feet high and we had good run getting down.
People were so intrigued by 'Pulse Extra' that it brought the ratings up, and we became sort of 'untouchable.' 'Pulse Extra' was not produced by the news departmentwe were autonomous, and we boosted the ratings of the news show and they didn't mess with us."
TAMPA'S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS
Jack was called in to supply production services for 'The Mary Ellen Show.' "Mary Ellen occasionally did an adventureone was at Sand Hillanother one in a deserted house on Bayshore Blvd. We went in there and did a ghost adventure. We put a sheet over Joe Wiezycki's wife and I double-exposed her so she would be walking around the house transparent, like a ghost. That was one of the more thrilling adventures. After a while I got tired of it with Pulse Extra and commercials, and asked Joe Wiezycki to take it over. He got so intrigued with film he later made a couple of features."
Jack was instrumental in creating a valuable tool for Roy Leep's weather department: A time lapse camera that recorded hurricane activities off the station's radar system. Designed with the help of engineer Jack King, the 16mm setup allowed Leep to study the long-term patterns involved in an approaching hurricane...something that Channel 13 viewers found fascinating as well.
Jack vividly recalls a trip with Leep aboard a 'Hurricane Hunter' airplane for a segment of 'Pulse Extra.' The specially rigged Constellation wing's flapped up and down like a birds' as 160 mile per hour storm winds buffeted the photographer and meteorologist.
LIFE AT 24 F.P.S.
In the early 60's, 'College Kaleidoscope' was on the air when racial issues such as segregation were of great concern to the country. "When we were doing 'College Kaleidoscope' on film, we had featured U.S.F. and the University of Tampa, and St. Pete Junior College," recalls Jack. "I told them I wanted to do Gibbs College, which was a black college in St. Pete. We started doing that and always ate in their cafeteria. Once I said 'It's our treat this time, let's go to a restaurant.' Several guys looked at me and said 'We're game if you are.' We integrated a restaurant out near the Skyway. We sat in a corner, but nevertheless, got away with it."
Andy Hardy joined the sports department in 1962, and Jack was there when Andy was given his first film assignment. "When Andy Hardy joined the station, he was given an old Bell and Howell and told to go shoot some film. There's a strap on the bottom so you know which way to hold the camera. Andy went out and when we processed his film, everything was shot upside-down."
Jack left the station in 1966 to join Bob Gilbert in producing educational films out-of-state for 18 months. For the rest of the 60's, 70's, and 80's, Jack worked as a documentary cameraman and editor, camera operator on commercials, and producer of several documentaries. One of Jack's more intense and high-profile jobs was as cameraman for the 1980/1981 expeditions searching for the Titanic.
In February of 1991, Jack took a job as Senior TV Producer at the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, and retired in August 2000. Today, at the age of 73, he's still at it, having recently filmed in Honduras with his younger brother. "Currently, we believe we have found the only Christopher Columbus ship ever found, the Vizcaina, which he scuttled off Nombre de Dios Panama on his fourth voyage," says Jack, adding "...I haven't quitI dearly love shooting film, writing scripts, editingevery part of it. I will continue to do what I've always done and will till I have to stop."
And about his time at Channel 13, Jack concludes his interview with BIG 13 with this thought: "It was a great time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had the best job in the station, as far as I was concerned."
To Read about Pulse Extra producer Bob Gilbert, CLICK HERE
TO RETURN TO MAIN MENU, CLICK HERE