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1945 GE Television Broadcast

A month after we’d opened Plattsburg, a barracks buddy of mine, Steve Kopcha, and I got our two-week furloughs together. He and his strikingly beautiful wife both hailed from Chicago, where they’d met when he played football for Northwestern University before the war. She was also a student. When Steve went into service, his wife moved to New York. Our joint furloughs gave me a chance to visit my family and some friends.

A day or so after we got to New York, Steve called to make arrangements for dinner with me in the Village. "Come by the apartment," I said, "and we’ll have a drink before we go out."

They showed up about six-thirty. After being introduced to his wife, while we were enjoying a highball in the living room (my parents were out for the evening), she said, "Steve, I think Rick would be perfect."

Steve’s wife was assistant to Constantine Joffé, the leading photographer for Vogue magazine. There were, in New York City in early 1945, maybe two thousand television sets. But General Electric saw the potential and was doing a lot of experimental broadcasting. They’d made a deal with Vogue to split the costs on a half-hour show that wouldn’t be shown to the public. They were going to do three days of shooting (16 mm film) in Joffé’s huge loft of a studio in mid-town, and then do a live show in Schenectady, in mid-state New York (the home of G.E.). They would inter-cut the film with the live show as it was aired and send it across town by telephone cable.

The filming was to be a dream sequence, involving me and some models (a surrealistic, dreamy fashion show). The live segment was to take place aboard a Navy ship (in a studio set) with three or four young officers having coffee in the ward room and reminiscing about their wives and sweethearts back home. That’s where Vogue came in. As the guys reminisced, the camera would cut back home to a fashion show, intercutting with dream sequences. In 1945, nothing in television was corny, considering the extent of the medium.

The next day, I went to see Mr. Joffé at his studio where Sue introduced me to the director/cameraman. They all agreed with her that I was perfect for the part. But, could I get away on two separate occasions to do the show? I was pretty sure I could wangle a couple of three-day passes. They’d pay all my travel expenses, hotel, etc. in Schenectady, and give me $150 for the job. Inside, I was jumping all over the place, even walking on the ceiling, with a little trepidation that maybe I couldn’t get the passes.

But there was no need to worry. My company commander was so impressed that he was going to have a professional actor in his company that he agreed to the three-day passes as if I was doing him a favor. He was generally a nice guy, anyway, and, like the rest of us, couldn’t wait for the war to end.

The shooting in New York at the end of February went well. A month later, when I reported to Schenectady with the script they’d sent me, I knew my lines. The work was easy. The tough part took place in the editing booth on the sound stage where the director and his technicians had to cut from live, to film, to live, to film, and so on, switching as smoothly as this brand new broadcast medium would allow.

Next: Striking an Officer in Wartime

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