Len O'Connor...

"Camelot to Sand Lot"

By Roger Lee Miller

I stood by the camera giving Len O'Connor time cues, and wondered to myself, how did this heavy old man with the monotone voice, ever get on Chicago television? Coming from Minneapolis, I knew little of Chicago's local traditions. Nor was I interested as O'Connor droned on and on, take after unfinished take, on the likes of School Superintendent Benjamin Willis and Police Superintendent Orlando Wilson. In Len's defense, these were the days before electronic Teleprompters. O'Connor simply typed out his commentaries. He attempted to maintain some eye contact with the camera while reading from the script.

(Floyd Kalber typed his "on camera" portions, using an oversize typewriter, on a roll of paper. This script was placed on a scroll device that was placed under the camera lens. If the camera was in close, it was obvious that his eyes were focused on the prompter. So Kalber had the camera move back the entire length of the studio to lessen the eye contact problem. Roger Adams, our first black associate director-stage manager, loves to tell the story that he had to wear white gloves to enable Kalber to see his cues. Today, writers, reporters and anchors write stories on their computer terminals. This information is fed directly to the Teleprompter monitor on the camera. An arrangement of mirrors projects the written script directly in front of the lens.)

O'Connor would get through about two-thirds of the commentary before blowing a line. He usually reacted with some expletive. Normally this was not a problem. The videotape engineer would recue the tape to the beginning, and the bad take would be erased as the new one was recorded. However, one night there was a change of tape operators between takes. The second operator did not rewind the tape. Instead he recorded from the point the first take had been stopped. The original operator was back on duty at 10:00 and he played back the first take, the one with O'Connor swearing.

WMAQ-TV carried Governor Ogilvie's speech at the opening of the Constitutional Convention on December 8, 1969. The two camera CG-4 was set up in Springfield for the live feed. Going down to the Capitol City, O'Connor and I shared the back seat of a small Piper "Apache." It was a tight fit. We were both big men. The engines roared to life and the small plane lifted from Chicago's aircraft carrier size Meigs field.

Len started to tell me a story about Miss Frances" Horwich. The light plane was buffeted by the wind, and the roar of the engines made it almost impossible to hear him. I tried to read O'Connor's lips, but they barely moved when Len spoke. What I got out of his story was this: In the early days of Chicago television, Jules Herbuveaux wanted to do a program for children. He asked Len for suggestions and O'Connor suggested a teacher, named Frances, who taught in Evanston. Jules went to Evanston and hired Frances Horwich to host DING DONG SCHOOL. However, O'Connor related that she was not the Frances he had in mind.

I saw Len O'Connor last on October 22, 1989 at the Broadcast Museum's tribute to NBC and our move to the NBC Tower. Len said he was glad to see me as I represented one of the few survivors of his era. Bill Heitz, former Producer-Director at Channel Five, said, after O'Connor's death, "I loved that old man." That is a standing ovation in any business!

Next: Bob Lemon...

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