News from the Archive

Television's Holiday Specials

December 5th, 2016

Just in time for the holiday season, the Archive has once again partnered with the Google Cultural Institute to create a brand new exhibit: Television's Holiday Specials. Check it out below!

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Remembering Grant Tinker

November 30th, 2016
Grant Tinker

We’re so sad to learn that executive/producer and co-founder of the Archive of American Television, Grant Tinker passed away on Monday, November 28 at the age of 90. Tinker began his career in television in 1949 as an intern at NBC. He is perhaps best remembered as the co-founder of MTM Enterprises, a successful production company known for the critically acclaimed programs The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Lou Grant, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere. In 1981, Tinker left MTM to become CEO and chairman of NBC, helping to resuscitate the network. 

Below are some selections from his 1998 interview:

On The Mary Tyler Moore Show:

On starting MTM:

On how he'd like to be remembered:

Watch Grant Tinker's full Archive interview and read his obituary in The New York Times.

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Remembering Florence Henderson

November 25th, 2016
Florence Henderson

We're so sad to learn that actress Florence Henderson passed away yesterday, November 24, 2016, at the age of 82. Henderson began her acting career on the stage, starring in "Fanny" on Broadway in the 1950's. She soon moved to television, making appearances on The Bell Telephone Hour, The Tex and Jinx Show, and Tonight Starring Jack Paar - eventually becoming the first female guest host of the latter. She was a "Today Girl" on NBC's Today and performed on Jim Henson's The Muppet Show, but is perhaps best known for her role as "Carol Brady" on the hit sitcom, The Brady Bunch. She later appeared in several other Brady made-for-television movies and feature films, had a long-time affiliation with Wesson Oil - you may remember her in Wesson's television commercials - and in recent years was a contestant on Dancing With The Stars

Below are some excerpts from her 1999 Archive interview.

On being a "Today Girl":

On being cast on The Brady Bunch:

On playing "Carol Brady" on The Brady Bunch:

Watch her full Archive interview here and read her obituary in The New York Times.

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Producer's Pointers: How to Turn Your Holiday into Family History 101

November 22nd, 2016
John F. Kennedy quote

The holidays are often times when families gather together to share a meal, to catch up, and at times, to argue. Instead of the latter, if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by family members, consider taking advantage of having them all together by starting a conversation about your family's history. Ask your relatives about their most vivid childhood memories. Ask them what they know about your family's roots. Ask about birthdays, marriages, and family traditions. Start to gather the pieces of your family's past as you pass the potatoes (or your favorite dish on your family's table), and be grateful that you have loved ones around to share their stories with you. And I highly suggest recording these interviews with your relatives. Imagine watching a video now of your holidays from 1996, when you learned that Great-Grandma Livia was a matchmaker: she arranged for a boy with a crush (Uncle Pete) to return a borrowed silver platter to the girl on whom he was crushing (Aunt Jennie) at an opportune moment, and it resulted in a 60-year marriage. What stories could you have captured twenty years ago that may now be lost to history? Who was around then that isn't around today? Holidays are opportunities to get to know your family members, so seize the chance to interview them and preserve their treasured tales. 

FIGURING OUT WHAT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR RELATIVES

If You Merely Have Minutes:

If you have only a few minutes to ask your relatives questions while you're eating dinner, your interviews are likely going to be fairly informal. That's great - these are your interviews - they can be as long or short, as formal or informal as you like. You may already have a sense of what you’d like to ask your family members, but if you’re looking for some resources to help you put together your questions, here are a few:

If You Happily Have Hours:

If your family members are willing, see if you can do long-form, in-depth video interviews with them. If you’re familiar with our Archive of American Television interviews, you know that we follow a life history format, which is a great way to explore someone’s story. We start with questions about the interviewee’s early years and influences: name at birth, when and where s/he was born, parents’ names and occupations, early interests, hobbies, family and school life, etc. If you’re interviewing a family member, there are lots of opportunities to learn interesting tidbits here! I learned that my dad didn’t have a middle name at birth. I always assumed his full name was on his birth certificate, but his middle name came along when he was seven. The things you learn when you actually ask questions.

For Archive interviews, we then move into how the interviewee got started in his/her career. We talk about early jobs, learning a trade, co-workers, and memorable moments. We have a craft section, and at the conclusion of the interview we talk about lessons learned and advice for future generations. It’s a nice model for hitting on different events and emotions in someone’s life.

When I interviewed my own parents, I started by asking the first set of questions about my great-grandparents, the earliest generation that my parents knew personally (and the generation that emigrated to the United States). “What was your grandfather’s name at birth? When and where was he born?” My goal was to get as much information about the generations that came before as possible. (Full disclosure: my interviews with my parents were quite long, 4-7 hours each. But if your scope is not multi-generational, just scale back your questions accordingly.) 

I got rich answers from my parents' interviews that told me stories I had never heard before. My mother’s Grandpa Louis loved Chiclets and sunflower seeds. My father’s Grandpa John fought constantly with his own father, and never spoke to him again after leaving Italy. My Grandpop Moishe was a volunteer Air Raid Warden during World War II. Those people whom you’ve heard of in passing, or whose name you knew only from a label penciled onto the back of a crimped photograph, come alive when you know their likes and dislikes, their grudges, their passions. I love that these people from my past are now part of my present.

Here are some examples of various types of family oral histories:

  • Talk to MeThe Huffington Post’s series in which children interview parents. Here's their How-To Guide for making your own "Talk to Me" video.
  • Family Film School: Our friends at The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences have a series in which families with multiple generations in the business sit down for a chat.
  • StoryCorps: Audio interviews between generations (some between colleagues, friends, peers, too.)

STARTING DOWN THE GENEALOGICAL RABBIT HOLE

If you're at a relative's house for the holidays, ask to see family photos. Maybe you'll discover albums full of old black and white photographs. Maybe you'll get to see '60's slides in a Kodak Carousel and your grandparents' vacation to Las Vegas will spring to life. Maybe you'll get a peek at 8mm films of your father's 16th birthday. (Those are priceless. And my dad was HANDSOME.) Ask your relatives if they have family members' diaries or letters (correspondence during war years, love letters, letters between pen pals), birth/death/marriage/naturalization records, newspaper clippings, photos, home videos (many of mine contain headless bodies if Grandpop Phil was the videographer), etc. These are the primary source materials of a family historian's dreams - the eyewitness accounts/documents created from the time your ancestors were alive. I was a history major in college, so I'm trained to look for primary sources when conducting research and I LOVE when I actually find them. You will, too.

Here at the Archive, when doing research for an interview, I look to primary sources as much as possible. I watch the actual television show/episode I’m going to talk about in the interview. This gets tricky with some early material (thank you Paley Center for Media), but I like to go to the original source if I can. I read autobiographies and watch other interviews that the interviewee has given during different points in his/her life. I’ll look at secondary materials, too - I read period newspaper and magazine articles, and sometimes the obituaries of the interviewee’s parents (to learn more about the people who shaped the interviewee’s life). I read critiques of shows, television history books, etc., and then I make a packet full of all the materials that I’ve gathered, usually 50-150 pages or so: a chronological guide to the person’s life. It’s my bible for the interview.

We spend weeks researching the life of the interviewee and creating an interview guide of questions. (You don’t need to spend weeks doing research for your family interviews - if you’ve already got questions in mind, by all means, begin!) But you might be inspired to go looking for an official document after a family member tells you a particular story. Or maybe a letter a relative gives you makes you want to research your ancestor's military service. Perhaps you've already done some genealogical research - in that case, read through the materials you uncover, and see if any questions surface that you want to ask your family members. You can spend twenty minutes on research, twenty days, twenty years. Do as much or as little research as you like, but know that there are likley some genealogical gems out there just waiting for you to discover them. If you’re interested in delving into your past to learn the genealogy of your family, come along for the ride. I promise it will be worth it - it just takes a little detective work. So go get your cap and magnifying glass; we've got some work to do.

Conducting Genealogical Research

I am a genealogy junkie. I’m addicted to finding ships' logs, census records, birth and death certificates, local newspaper clippings, military records… if a document exists about a family member, I want to see it. I’m fascinated by looking at Great-Grandpa John's signature on his naturalization card and reading the assigned description of his complexion: ruddy (translation: Italian). I got a sense of peace when I located the death certificate of Grandpop Moishe's twin, Henry, who died at two days old, and then bafflement when a whole new, still-unsolved mystery opened up when I discovered Henry's birth certificate. I was stunned when a census report revealed that Grandmom Minnie had a sibling named Dora who died before my grandmother was born, and no one in my family had ever heard of this older sister. I located the cemetery where Dora was buried and paid my respects. Each document that I uncover is a piece of the paper trail of my DNA, and often serves as a starting point for me to learn more about a person from my past.

If you want to go sleuthing for primary texts from your family's history, here are some places to begin: 

  • Ancestry.com: Take advantage of the free two-week trial period. Start typing in names of family members and you’ll likely find some associated documents. Try multiple spellings of last names in your search (e.g. Faillace, Faillaci, Fallaci) - with all of these sites listed, remember that data has been transferred to computers by humans who are trying to decipher original cursive records, which were often written by someone who did not speak the language of the person entering the country. There's plenty of room for human error here.
  • Cyndi’s List: A great aggregate of sites for genealogical research, broken down by categories - location, immigration, etc.
  • Ellis Island Foundation: If you have family members who emigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island, you’ll likely be able to find the ship's log of their journey to America. 
  • FamilySearch: A large records repository, assembled by the Church of Latter Day Saints, includes a repository for African American Genealogy Records.
  • Federal Land Records: Titles, deeds, etc. If you know family members owned land in the U.S., this might be a great place to start to find where that property was. Also consider looking at city maps of neighborhoods - you can learn interesting connections by seeing whom your family members lived next door to or down the street from.
  • Historical societies: There are state, county, and city societies. Each may help give context and specificity to government records.
  • JewishGen: A starting point for those with Jewish ancestry.
  • Local archives: Cities have archives where records are kept. They usually have names like “Office of Vital Records.” Check out the archive in the city where your family has roots and see what documents you can find. You can often find birth/death/marriage records, deeds of sale, etc.
  • Local newspapers: Newspapers have archives, too. Some are digitized and online, some are not. If not, visit your local paper and ask to look through back issues. If your relatives were business owners, you may be able to find ads run for those businesses. You might find obituaries, accounts of awards won, birth announcements, etc. These kinds of clippings help give the people of your past a context that you might not otherwise get from an official government document.
  • National Archives: Where many government records are housed. You can request military records here.

If you love the idea of family history and genealogy, but don’t actually want to dive into doing all the work yourself, there are people out there who will gladly do it for you. Check out the Association of Personal Historians to locate someone in your area who would be thrilled to start assembling your family’s history.

With the documents you discover from your research, you’re now armed with the roots and branches of your family tree. It's time to put some leaves and flowers on them with the information you'll glean from interviews with your relatives. Remember: your family members are primary sources, too - first-hand witnesses to the events in their own lives, and often valuable secondary sources of family lore passed down from their parents and grandparents. Your relatives are perhaps your most treasured resources of all.

GO FORTH AND INTERVIEW 

If the tips for interviewing and researching outlined above are helpful to you, wonderful. If they seem overwhelming, just set up a camera and start asking your relatives what you’ve always wanted to know about your family's history. Use the video feature on your phone and record short segments. Set up an audio recorder if you don't want to do video. Ask family members to write down their most memorable moments. There are many different ways to conduct family history interviews; the most important thing is to actually do them. Now. Before the people you love aren’t around anymore and this becomes one of those things you regret not doing.

So if you're gathering with relatives for a meal this holiday season, consider positioning a camera, an audio recorder, or a stenographer at the table. Ask your family members about their memories of their grandparents, about their high school crushes, about their first memories of you. Ask them if they have old photos, home movies, letters, or keepsakes that you could look at - maybe you'll get a glimpse of the matchmaker's silver platter. Ask about the pieces of your family’s past, and you’ll start to see a clearer picture of yourself. Odds are there will be some scars and wrinkles in there, but rest assured, it’s a picture worth examining and preserving for future generations.

- by Adrienne Faillace

To learn more about the value of oral histories, check out the first Producer's Pointers article in this series: Why I Became an Oral Historian and How You Can Be One, Too. 

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Aspects of the JFK Assassination: Our Interviewees Remember

November 22nd, 2016
Robert MacNeil

In its roughly seventy-year history, television has, at its best, served to bring the country together in times of crisis and sadness. Watergate, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and 9/11 are a few that come to mind. But never more so than on November 22, 1963. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was the first time people looked to television for comfort, while everyone tried to make sense of what had happened and where to go from there. From the first news bulletin on CBS News interrupting As the World Turns, to the solemn state funeral, viewers were automatically and compulsively drawn to the television in a way they’d never been before. 

We’ve covered the topic of the assassination with many of our interviewees, but newsman Robert MacNeil’s account is particularly spellbinding. He was riding on a bus directly behind the motorcade in Dallas and he speaks in such vivid detail, if you close your eyes, it’s almost as if you’re there. It is essential viewing for those who want to know what it was like to be there in Dealey Plaza that morning. In our over eight hundred interviews, this might be the most important remembrance we’ve committed to tape.

There are so many aspects to the story of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. A big piece of the puzzle, of course, was the home movie taken by Abraham Zapruder of the terrible event that day. Life Magazine published still frames of the film in 1963, but the original remained in a vault at Time-Life, unseen by the general public for over a decade. Until, in 1975, Geraldo Rivera’s ABC series Good Night America ran a grainy and blurry version of it. One of the few non-governmental citizens who viewed the film before 1975 was Dan Rather. He recounted that experience for us, and, fascinatingly, what he was told to leave out when reporting on the film.

We’ve got many news people speaking on the assassination, but we also have stories of what happened with television shows that were in production that day, how people found out the news, and the reaction of the television community at large. Judy Garland famously sang a stirring, teary rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on her 1963 variety show The Judy Garland Show in tribute to her fallen president and friend. Skitch Henderson, the then-leader of The Tonight Show band, filled us in on a fact that, but for our interview, may have been lost to history. The evening of the JFK assassination, Johnny Carson did not go on, but NBC had a plan.

We’ve got dozens of interviewees discussing John F. Kennedy, including his presidency, his assassination, and the conspiracy theories it continues to spark to this day. Many knew him and were there, witnesses to history. Among them are Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Roger Mudd, Bob Schieffer, Ted Koppel, Barbara Walters, and Don Hewitt. It is a treasure trove of information, and an invaluable resource. 

- by John Dalton

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