Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

TV at The Henry Ford: Live Broadcasts from Greenfield Village

October 15, 2014

"Today" show commentator Dick McCutcheon and museum curator, H. S. Ablewhite, discuss Henry Ford's race car "999," while Ken Schwartz waits patiently in the driver's seat. (THF116080)

As most of you who follow The Henry Ford know, television crews have begun filming the Saturday morning educational show, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation. Some visitors also may have actually seen the production crews in Henry Ford Museum or Greenfield Village several weeks ago as they shot footage for upcoming episodes. This has not been the first time The Henry Ford has played host to national television aspirations. Nearly 60 years ago in 1955, television crews invaded our campus on three separate occasions to broadcast live remotes. And like today The Henry Ford staff was there to help things run smoothly.

In April 1955, the Today show -- in Detroit covering the automobile industry -- planned a remote broadcast from Greenfield Village. Producers wanted to parade some of the museum's historic vehicles past the television cameras. So, staff worked around the clock to make a number of the automobiles operational. On the morning of April 18 about a dozen vehicles driven by museum staff motored past Today show commentator Dick McCutcheon and museum curator H. S. Ablewhite. The parade was conducted live three times to accommodate viewers in different time zones. All went well -- okay, once or twice a vehicle balked and refused to run for a showing -- but by all accounts it was a success.

Costumed staff provide 19th-century ambiance for a segment filmed at Greenfield Village for the Today show on July 4, 1955. (THF116168)

The Today show returned on July 4, 1955 -- this time to celebrate American songwriter Stephen Foster.  The tribute featured archives and artifacts housed in the Village's Stephen Foster Memorial (now the Sounds of America Gallery).  While outside, cameras filmed costumed staff who picnicked on the lawn before boarding the paddle wheeler "Suwanee."  Strains of Stephen Foster melodies could be heard in the air.  Another success -- but a bigger challenge lay ahead.

In October, NBC shows would broadcast three live remotes for three separate shows -- Today, Home and Howdy Doody -- from Greenfield Village.  The programs would also be in color!  Preparations began in September for the October 25th telecasts.  Fifty Village volunteers and staff were recruited for on air participation. Just as many enlisted for behind-the-scenes work: grounds crews, catering staff, carpenters, mechanics, costumers, security, and others who provided last--minute services.

NBC mobile production units on the grounds of Greenfield Village, October 1955. (THF116196)

NBC television crews arrived on October 20. Large mobile unit vehicles congregated on the Village grounds. Crews scouted positions for five cameras and snaked wires for sound, lighting and production equipment across the lawns. Rehearsals for Museum and Village staff began in earnest. By the morning of the shoot, October 25, all were prepared.

Greenfield Village students performed chapel services for the morning's Today show viewers. Later in the morning during Arlene Francis's Home show, costumed interpreters let viewers experience a "typical" day in 1855 America. The day ended with a remote for the Howdy Doody show. Kids in the Peanut Gallery got a taste of mid-19th-century education in America as cameras filmed Greenfield Village school children at the Scotch Settlement School. For the staff -- performing in front of camera or working behind the scenes -- it was a long and successful day.

And this was only the beginning. Television crews continued to return (in fact, the Today show came back less than three months after the last 1955 shoot to film the exhibit Sports Cars in Review) and staff have worked closely with the production crews. So the next time you visit and see bright lights, miles of wire, a camera crew or Mo Rocca -- look around for all The Henry Ford staff members who make these television shows possible.

Andy Stupperich is Associate Curator, Collections Digitization Specialist, at The Henry Ford.

The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation

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