Stan Lathan Chapter 1


INT: Okay, Stan. I'm interested in your journey in this interview today. I know that the journey is far from over, but your children, mine, need to know how you got there, which will also tell them how I got there. Got here. This'll be for the young people coming up who'll be the ones to watch this to get hints of what their journey may be. Should be. The obstacles that they, that you overcame, the people who helped, that thing in you that pushed you through, those experiences, those missteps that you use to learn form, used to learn from and triumph over, as in playing golf, it's not just the easy balls that you hit from the fairway, but those balls that end up in the rough, behind the trees, that you figured out how to get it back in play. Those shots make the truly great golfer. Those comebacks make the great man. And you are sitting here because you are one of the greats. Not that the clean hits off the tee aren't important. Boy, are they. How did you do those as well? You mentioned at the African American Steering Committee tribute, that going over those old shows, they brought back memories, good and bad. Those are the things that will be interesting to us. Not interested in the gossip, but the obstacles that they created.


INT: My name is Oz Scott. Today is September 29th, 2015. I'm conducting an interview with Stan Lathan for the Directors Guild of America Visual History Program. We are at the DGA in Los Angeles, California.


SL: I'm Stan Lathan. No, I'm Stanley Lathan, known as Stan by most people. Born July 8, 1945 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


INT: So, Stan, as I know you, talk about your early life. Talk about your childhood. I mean I've known you for a long time. I know you have your brother, Bill [William Lathan], who's a doctor, who is also a Director, doing theater for a while. Philadelphia. 

SL: Philadelphia. 1945. You know, I lived in, we lived in--I was raised in the projects, in the James Weldon Johnson projects in North Philadelphia. My mother was pretty much a single parent, because my father was gone early on, when I was like three or four years old. I never really knew him. And then later on, there was a stepfather that came in when I was around 12 or so. But pretty much it was a single parent home. My brother and I, my brother's eight years older than me. And he became my role model because I didn't have a dad around. And he was a very impressive young man. He was, he was a great student. He ended up going to Penn State [Pennsylvania State University] and pre-med, and then he went into medical school. And I was eight years behind him, so I was kind of trying to follow in his footsteps. And I ended up going to Penn State. And we lived, you know, very typical, I think, life, you know. I had a great childhood. I thought it was cool. [INT: Was it just you and your brother or…?] It was me and my brother. I have an older brother, who is, a half-brother, who's even four years older than Billy, but he didn't actually live with us. He lived with our grandmother, and he was there a lot, so we were, there were really three boys. The oldest was 12 when I was born. So by the time I was 12, he was gone. He went away to college. He was a musician, went to Arizona and has been there ever since, as a musician and so forth. But anyway, I ended up, we ended up moving to West Philly [West Philadelphia], and I went to Overbrook High School, which is a pretty well known high school. In fact, it's the same school that Will Smith went to years and years later, and they named a company Overbrook [Overbrook Entertainment]. But I, you know, for us, because of our extended family, there was several doctors in our, I had a couple of uncles that were doctors. They were brothers, and they were doctors. So they were also role models. So the whole idea of college education was something that was with us from the very beginning. No question. And even though we lived in the projects, and even though nobody else around us was thinking about college, literally, not thinking about it, this was our-this was our destiny. We knew it, and so we operated like that. We tried to get the best grades. Tried to, you know, we tried to just be, excel in our courses, and in our lives, actually. And it all came. It was sort of a family thing, that we were encouraged by our uncles, and grandma, grandparents and stuff like that.


INT: So let me ask you about, you know, I mean, Bill, being your older brother, being your role model, he was probably in medical school when you were still in high school. Just almost-- 

SL: Yeah, but he went to Hahnemann Medical School in Philly [Philadelphia], and literally was in the room next to me. [INT: The whole time?] The whole time. So let me tell you something, that's why I decided I'm not gonna go to medical school. Because he was next to me, I couldn't, you know, I couldn't play the radio in my own room. This was my brother, now, because he was studying, like, literally, around the clock. And, it, and also when I would go down, when he became an intern, I would go down to the hospital, and I didn't like, you know, I didn't like the idea of it, didn't like the smell. I didn't like the atmosphere, so I was off of medicine early on. Plus I wasn't much of a math student. You know, the sciences were fine but wasn't something that I really wanted to…


INT: What'd you enjoy doing in high school? Where did you see yourself? And you know, or... 

SL: Well, I was a good student; I liked to write. You know, I was at, you know, at Overbrook [Overbrook High School], you know, there, we, it was half and half. It was half Jewish and half black, because it was a big Jewish community right there on the edge of, it was right on the edge between the big Jewish community Wynnefield and Bel Air, and our community, which was West Philly [West Philadelphia], so. So, it was, so there was really, the education there was pretty good, you know. But I, me and a couple of my friends were in all of the advanced classes, and all of the non-advanced classes were, you know, just kind of mundane, public school. And Overbrook, because it had a pretty strong parent, you know, committee and so forth, really did work hard at having the right folks teaching the right courses in the right way. And this was in early '60s [1960s]. So when it came time for us start looking around for schools, I knew I wanted to go to Penn State [Pennsylvania State University]. I applied to two schools, Penn State and Howard [Howard University], and I got into both of them, but Penn State was a state school, so it was very inexpensive at the time. It was a time when--at that time, state schools were affordable. And, so, that's where I went, and that's, I was one of, there was a few of my friends that actually went to college. But, because I grew up in West Philly, there was kind of a singing thing going on. There were a lot of singing groups. And so, coming up in high school, I was in a couple of groups. I was in, you know, I was in one group called The Veltones, which ended up becoming The Delfonics. The same--I was the only one that actually left to go away. And so, there was kind of a performance thing happening. [INT: The Philly sound was really big then.] Yeah, Philly sound, Ken--Kenny Gamble [Kenneth Gamble] and Leon Huff were in the neighborhood. Patti LaBelle was in the neighborhood. There was a lot of groups, and even some white groups: The Dovells. And it was a very interesting time. [INT: I remember, you know, because they had, Detroit had their sound. Philly had their sound. And that went on. It was not just there in the '60s, it had been in the '50s [1950s] too.] Oh yeah, no, no. Philly is pretty, a pretty happening town. [INT: That's great.]


INT: And any teachers, anybody in that early time that really sort of stuck out? 

SL: Well, you know, the one thing, what's interesting, though, is there was one encounter I had in high school [Overbrook High School], when we got down to this college interview stuff. And I had my college counselor, tried to talk me out of Penn State [Pennsylvania State University] and into Cheyney State [Cheyney University of Pennsylvania], Howard [Howard University], Lincoln University, all the black schools. And she just said, she didn't think I would, she told me she didn't think I would fare well at Penn State. Which, you know, it was like on deaf ears, 'cause, you know, I already had a brother that went. I used to, I would go up to see him and be amazed at, you know, this, this place, so. But I remember that. And I always think about her and wonder, you know, if she could see me now, that kind of thing. And--[INT: And of course, it was a white teacher?] Yeah, well yeah, it was a, yeah, college counselor. Yeah, there was no black college counselors. It's at Overbrook. [INT: Right. Yeah.]


INT: So you went on to Penn State [Pennsylvania State University] and… 

SL: I went on to Penn State and that was a revelation for me. [INT: In what way?] In what--well, because I got to see the, you know, America. What was interesting is that, as I said, Overbrook [Overbrook High School] was half black and half Jewish. And so all, you know, all my white friends were Jewish. You know, when Jewish holidays, we would not, we took off, because all the classes I had would be empty, so that's what I knew. You know, I knew about bar mitzvahs and those kinds of things, but I didn't have too much exposure to white Americans, non-Jewish Americans. And so suddenly, I'm in, like, the heartland, which is what Penn State was like. And it was weird, 'cause I felt like... I felt like, okay, so even among the white folks, there's a divide. Because that, you know, I didn't realize that, you know, that there was, you know, certain persecution toward Jews also, that was happening, that I never even realized was a thing until I got to Penn State.


INT: So, what happened, you know, what started pushing you towards theater? 

SL: Well, it's interesting, because, as I said, you know, we had this little performance thing going on with the singing groups. So I wasn't afraid of that arena. When I got there [Pennsylvania State University], I became, I was a liberal arts student. I was thinking, "Well, maybe I'll go to law school," 'cause that, you know, I didn't know anything, you know. I didn't know what--the neighborhood I was in, it was like either a doctor, maybe a lawyer, or a pimp or a drug dealer, so... And those were the people with the money. So I, you know, as I said, I liked to write, so I thought maybe, you know, so I got into, you know, I took my normal English courses, and at the end of my second, well my second semester, I took a journalism course that, a beginning journalism course. And it so happened that the course was taught by a man named Arthur Hungerford [Ethelbert Arthur Hungerford, Jr.], one of my first mentors, who was a retired Producer of, you know, he'd worked in news, television news, and so forth. He was an old, you know, wise man, who decided to, you know, in his older years, to teach. And so he was the chairman of the broadcasting department. Just so happened he was teaching this entry-level journalism course. And, you know, I was, amazed by it. Of course there was, I was probably the only black kid in that particular section. And he took a liking to me. You know, kind of, you know, this was early, this was like '64 [1964], '63 [1963], '64, so, civil rights was starting to bubble up around. And so that was, there was much more of that awareness, at that time, of the inequalities in education and so forth. So, he actually became my advisor. I actually, by the end of the semester, you know, we had, he had helped me a lot with the course and so forth and encouraged me. I asked him if he would be my advisor. I switched, and he became my advisor. And you know, actually, ended up with a, with the intent of majoring in journalism, ‘course I had another year before I had to even choose a major. In the meantime, he suggested I take some theater courses. And, so by the end of my sophomore year, I was thoroughly kind of, you know, moving toward theater. Journalism was, had the film thing happening, you know, so broadcasting, theater, film, I knew that this was exciting. It was fun stuff. You know, it wasn't, you know, math and science. It was fun stuff. [INT: Did you do plays? Did you do… What did you do?] Yeah, I actually joined--I actually became very active in the theater there. [INT: Acting?] I did a little acting, but not really. I was immediately interested in directing, because, I just, you know, with, my initial stuff was to work in the, you know, on the Crews and so forth, you know, of plays. But, it was the Directors that I got, you know, kind of inspired by. And actually, most of the Directors were, actually, professors or teachers and they directed. And so there was a kind of a teaching thing going on at the same time.


SL: So, I, by the end of my junior year [at Pennsylvania State University], I was pretty much a theater person with, you know, intent--there was other things going on that you know about, and that is that my brother Bill [William Lathan] was in New York. This was in '66 [1966], '67 [1967]. And he was a doctor. Now he's a practicing doctor. But he also has this love and interest in theater and wants to direct. So, you know, he and I, you know, had similar goals now, similar interests. And he encouraged me, "Look, look, when you graduate, you gotta come to New York." You know, this Bob MacBeth [Robert MacBeth] has this theater company up in Harlem called the New Lafayette Theatre, or where--they were just starting it, actually. Ed Bullins, this amazing, you know, playwright, who, you know, is part of this organization, so a lot of young, great Actors and so forth, and even some older great Actors. So that was my dream. I was gonna go to New York when I graduated and work in the theater. And meantime, at Penn State [Pennsylvania State University], you know, I was president of the jazz club. We were producing a lot of concerts that kinda got me involved and interested in not only the music-- jazz. It was jazz, so. But I got to know a lot of the artists. I got kind of, you know, savvy about promoting. And that all helped just kind of build this awareness and interest in the arts and theater and so forth. And film, because I was, you know, taking the film courses.


INT: Did you direct any plays when you were at Penn State [Pennsylvania State University]? 

SL: I actually did, yes. [INT: Which ones?] I directed a play called "And People All Around," which was an original play by a professor there, Rife Snyder was his name. And it was his stab at doing a play, a civil rights play. It was, it was pretty awful.


INT: So, you obviously went up, because I remember those times at the New Lafayette Theater, where I would go in there, and I was just amazed at... 

SL: Yeah, but see there's a second part to that story. [INT: Okay.] So, I actually would travel to New York. I went to New York on weekends to kinda hang out, you know, to go... I went to, you know, I went to the Negro Ensemble [Negro Ensemble Company]. And… well anyway. So, this is great. So in order to, at the same time, you know, there was a war going on, the Vietnam War, and a lot of people were being drafted, especially young black men. All, all my friends in New York, in L.A., I'm sorry, in Philly [Philadelphia], were either in the war or strung out on drugs at that time. Strung out on heroin, actually. And, but most of them had been drafted. And, so I had this student deferment. And the, for a lot of us, we were always trying to plot, "How do we keep from getting drafted?" And one way to keep from getting drafted was to go to graduate school. So, you know, I was very reluctantly figured that that's what I needed to do. My dear friend, Arthur Hungerford [Ethelbert Arthur Hungerford, Jr.], told me about a program that was a joint work-study master's BFA, I mean MFA program, with BU [Boston University] and WGBH [WGBH-TV] in Boston. So--and he said, "Listen, you gotta apply. I think you can get in, even though it's very rigid, and they get hundreds of applications for five or six spots. The fact that you're black in 1966, with, you know, with your background, you know, I think you have a good chance. I'm gonna write you a great letter." And I got in. And so, in June of '67 [1967], I graduated and I went straight, literally, from graduation--that's the third time I've used that word. I'm sounding like Sanaa [Sanaa Lathan] now. [LAUGH] She says literally, "I'm literally gonna leave the house," that kinda stuff. But anyway, so, so, I went to Boston. I literally--literally from, away from graduation, I drive to Boston. And I had a little '57 [1957] Chevy Bel Air. [INT: That was a good car.] Great car. Stick. In the, in the column. But because I had to start the program a week after I graduated, and that program started at GBH.


SL: I would spend the summer at GBH [WGBH-TV], and then I would spend the next, the first semester, in school at BU [referring to master’s program at Boston University]. So I immediately got involved in the station. I got all kinds of experience, you know, production experience, worked in the, in the promotional departments and programming, planning, all that kind of stuff. But mainly production was what I was drawn to. And I had a little bit of, you know, knowledge about certain kinds of stagecraft and so forth. And so I kind of stood out among the group. I think the other thing I should mention is that I established the understanding that I had to be in front; I had to be on top. And the only way to do that was to kinda be very, you know, be the first person to volunteer, be the first person to, you know, to say "yes" whenever it’s, there was an opportunity. And I kinda got that from my brother and from my family, the strivers: "Hey, if you gonna make it, you gonna have to stand out because, you know, you know, your color is gonna keep you back, and you have to overcome that." So I was at GBH, that really became my thing, and so immediately kind of got a lot of attention. And there was talk about, "This young kid is really cool," you know, that kind of thing. I also got to Boston and looked up the theater opportunities. And the Theater Company of Boston had a group called the Om Theater Workshop. And I was very interested in that. I went, I went to a coup--you know, I met somebody at a party who told me just, "You gotta come." And so, she was interesting enough to get me there, to get me to show up. And then--but I started working with them, in a kind of, just kind of in the evenings and so forth, and that became something that was very important.


INT: Okay, but let's go back to Penn State [Pennsylvania State University], ‘cause there, you were at KDKA, KDKA-TV. 

SL: Oh yeah, yeah. That was part of my, you know, being, you know, being very, aggressively volunteering for things. There was a Westinghouse Broadcasting internship program. And, you know, like I said, Hungerford [Ethelbert Arthur Hungerford, Jr.] kinda made me aware of it, I applied for it, and I spent my, one of my sophomore semesters in Pittsburgh, at KDKA. Once again, doing the whole thing, you know, working in the studio, observing, going out on sales calls because that was a commercial station, going out on sales calls with the people that were selling time and so forth. Programming, scheduling. All of those things that sort of, once again, got me a little bit more savvy about--[INT: The business.] --broadcasting, the business of broadcasting. And then, as part of that, I noticed in my notes that didn't mention that I also spent that summer at KYW [KYW-TV] in Philly [Philadelphia], 'cause I was, you know, that's my home. And they put me into KYW, which was interesting because they shot THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW in Philly. And that was a daily talk show, right? The Executive Producer of, at the time, was a man named Roger Ailes. So I actually worked with Roger Ailes for a summer, I mean, worked, you know, around him. He was a very good guy; he was very thin too, at the time, by the way. Or much thinner, I should say. And so I had great exposure to broadcasting through Westinghouse. And it was called their management-training program, and they were very disappointed when I didn't even try, or accept any kind of, you know, offer to, you know, try to get involved with them, ‘cause that's not what I wanted to do.


INT: Tell me about WGBH [WGBH-TV] and the Boston communications [Boston University School of Public Communication]--so you were going to BU [Boston University], you were going to college. They had a program but sounds like you did a lot of that program at WGBH. 

SL: Well here, the problem was, the only reason I went, the only reason I even got to Boston, once again, was to avoid the draft. Otherwise, I would have been in New York at, you know, 137th and Seventh. But the summer that I spent there, with the, at the station, and with the Om Theater Workshop, was pretty amazing. And Boston was a cool town at the time. [INT: Who was running Om at that time?] Woman named Julie Portman. [INT: Okay, yeah.] She ended up--anyway, but Julie Portman, and she was another mentor. She was, she very much influenced by Ellen Stewart and the La MaMa group [La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club], and by Grotowski [Jerzy Grotowski] and the Polish Lab Theatre [Laboratory Theatre]. Very spiritual, very environmental, experimental theater. And, it was pretty, it was a great contrast to WGBH. And, but yet, you know, they kind of offset each other. It was really cool.


INT: So, when you talk about that, Julie Portman with that, sounds like there was a lot of also improvisational [at Om Theater Workshop]-- 

SL: A lot of improv. [INT: A lot of improv, which probably helped you later on.] A lot of improv. We actually mounted a production that I was, performed in, that I was, you know, one of the Actors in, and that I later, when it went to another stage, I directed it. But that's because, at the end of that summer, those three months, then I had to go to BU [Boston University]. I had to go to school. And I went, you know, and I said, "Man, I have to go through..." And BU was, it reminded me of like, you know, registering for class, and the books cost hundreds of dollars, and I really didn't want to do it. So, I took, you know, there were certain courses that I had to take. I took a--but what I did was just take a couple of elective courses. I took, you know, two photography courses, for instance. And so I figured, if I'm gonna be here, I'm gonna do something that I'm interested and excited about. And that, so, I did that. And then, but halfway through the semester--now, this was the fall semester. Somewhere around the, about Christmas time, or maybe it's Thanksgiving time, the opportunity to do a play, to do that play, it was called "Riot!", and it actually went to New York and won an Obie after I got out of it, came along, and I wanted to do that. I didn't want to go to school. I just felt like I had done this for four years, I spent four years trying to avoid taking hard courses. And now I just, you know, you can't avoid it in graduate school, so. And I went back to GBH [WGBH-TV] and I said, "Listen, I want to drop out of school, but I want to continue to work for you guys." They said, "No way. We can't do that. You know, we got these other six guys; they can't just drop out of school and get a job. Sorry, we like you but, you know, no thanks." So then I had a decision to make. So I said, "Okay, I'm just gonna go with the theater company [Theatre Workshop Boston]. I'm gonna take my chances with the draft, and I'm gonna do something that's gonna, really one of the most exciting things I've ever done," which is, work on a show that… At this point, the whole idea of Off-Broadway was something that was very prevalent. And we were performing this play, "Riot!"; it was like, it was a huge hit. And I was very excited. It was a very good time for me. And that's what I did all the way, for most of the winter, and into April and Mar--March and April.


SL: So in April 4th [April 4, 1968], or was it 14th? But anyway, Martin Luther King was assassinated. And when that happened, oh, you know, everything changed. We, I remember, we were at the theater [Om Theater], we were rehearsing [“Riot!”] and everybody, there was this moment when, 'cause it was, you know, this was a very mixed cast, which is another thing that made it kind of significant at that time, you know, a mixed cast with a play that was, you know, doing well, in Boston. So, WGBH [WGBH-TV] decided, "Oh shit, we gotta, you know, Martin Luther King's been assassinated. There was riots last year in Boston. This year they'll probably burn the town down." Everybody was expecting that in the summer there would be huge rebellions across the country. That was, you know, that was a prediction. So GBH, being the liberal stronghold that it was, decided they needed to have a show. They needed to do something to reach out to the black community. And why not put together a show, a black show, you know, that is specifically programming for the black community. And they were hip enough, smart enough, probably one of the pioneers, and "Let's get a black staff and black production Crew." And so that was a prerequisite. And they, then they did this exhaustive search to find this Crew. They got one of the guys was soundman, from, that worked at the station, you know, who was a graduate of Tufts [Tufts University] and, you know, but he was doing sound, and he, they got him. There's a Producer. And they hired a brilliant young man named Ray Richardson to produce. And they searched around, and the closest thing they could figure out as a Director was me, because I'm, you know, I'm in the theater; I'm directing show over there. They knew me from, they knew I knew production, or at least, you know, there's--[INT: So you had already been out because they told you…] I had been out. [INT: So you were…] I was gone. I was over with WGBH. And they came back to me. And now they had to pay me, so. And there was this thing about, you know, there were people at the station that would say, "No, you can't bring him back and give him a job! What about the other students that six months ago were working with him?" And, so...


INT: Was there a person there [at WGBH-TV] who really, you probably connected with somebody, that really... 

SL: Several people. It was, like I said, it was a liberal stronghold. [INT: Right.] It was, you know, it was very, there were some really great filmmakers and Producers there. And there were, you know, it was the place for that to happen, for them to put together a show. So they, we produced a show called SAY BROTHER. It went on the air in '68 [1968], in June of '68. I watched David Atwood, my, another mentor, direct the first episode. And then as he got up at the end he says, "It's all on you now, brother." And so, I directed the next two, for the next year and a half, I directed every episode, and it was weekly. And we did, we did all kinds of programming. The first thing, we wanted to always have some kind of music performance component, so. And the show came on Thursday nights, so on Wednesday nights, and there was a club called The Sugar Shack, and every week they would bring in a new headliner. And they would start, they would work from Tuesday to Saturday. Tuesday night, we'd go down, watch the show, go backstage and say, "Hey, listen, if you want your Friday and Saturday shows to be hot, you gotta be on SAY BROTHER on Thursday--live." And it worked. And it became a point where the club was even pushing us, pushing them to do SAY BROTHER, because they would be on Thursday night, and then Saturday night, Friday and Saturday, their shows would do well. [INT: What were some of those acts?] The Dells. Archie Bell & the Drells, some new band called Sly and the Family Stone, the Delfonics. I mean it was crazy. It was amazing, actually. And a lot of other bands that you might not have heard of, but they were all coming through there.


INT: So, but now Ray, you had worked with… Had you worked with Ray Richardson before when he was… [SL: No, that was it [on SAY BROTHER].] That was the first time you worked with him, so. But before that, were you an Assistant Director [AD] for ON BEING… 

SL: Well, yeah, I… Well, as part of the… No, this was all happened after I went back [to WGBH-TV]. I went back and was hired as a Director at the station. So, that was my job. But my show, that I, you know, I was one of the staff of Directors, but I directed all the SAY BROTHERS. Because GBH did a lot of outside production, I got to work with other Directors who would come in from out of town, as an AD, and mainly be, for a couple of reasons. One is because I was black. And the other, and they would usually, when a hot LA or New York Director came to town, they would assign one of the staff Directors as the AD, so that, because that person knows the, you know, the structure and processes at the station. So it was kind of a, so I got to work with Kirk Browning, who was, you know, an extraordinary Director of opera. He was the main Director for LIVE AT LINCOLN CENTER. I learned a lot about directing music and dance with him, and the show I worked with him on was an Alvin Ailey special [ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER] that starred, you know, Judy Jamison [Judith Jamison] and George Faison and people like that. They were dancing and Alvin Ailey who was still, kind of, you know, well taken, taking care of himself. I got to work with them, and later I went back and did a special with them, with that, with Ellis [Ellis Haizlip]. But I got to work with Rick Edelstein, who was a, worked in soaps, but he came and he produced, it was a series called ON BEING BLACK, which was a half, one-hour dramas, and they brought in their Directors for that. And Fielder Cook, who was another pretty well known Hollywood television Director. And I learned a lot from them about the work, about that, sitting at a, in a control room and calling cameras and so forth.


SL: And then I actually got to direct one of those shows, ON BEING BLACK. That was, you know, another great experience, worked with a show with Tony Fargas [Antonio Fargas] and Fred Pinkard. [INT: My god. But that sounds--so you were just getting all this information that just...] Oh, it was, it was crazy, my two years in Boston. And it was only, no, I guess it was '67 [1967] to the end of '69 [1969]. Middle of ‘6... was packed with development. And the part of that development was not only, was not just the skills that I was like exposed to, but just, you know, we were at a time that was very volatile, you know? There was a war [Vietnam War] going on. There was an extraordinary Civil Rights Movement going on. There was this backlash that was happening, and there was this sudden awareness that, you know, African Americans were gonna have to be dealt with on more levels than just, you know, giving them, letting them in the schools and letting them on the buses. You know, they gotta get into the system. You know, they got to get jobs that are meaningful. And I was, I think, one of the guys that really, one of the people that really benefitted from that need. No question about it. I actually… So, because… In the PBS system--it wasn't called PBS at that time. It was National Educational Television. PBS, Public Broadcasting System, came along a few years later--I was well known. I mean, I was like, SAY BROTHER--it's not so much that I was well known, but SAY BROTHER was like, you know, a well known example of what could happen. And there were no riots in that summer. We actually took Sly and the Family Stone, and we actually shot them in a park in Roxbury. Sly was an hour late getting on stage, but staggering on stage, but, but there was, it was really a pretty exciting time. And as a result, toward the end of '69, Bill Greaves [William Greaves] gives me a call and says, "Stan, you know, we're doing a show called BLACK JOURNAL. We've been hearing about you," and he said--did you know Tony Batten? [INT: Yes.] He sent Tony, Tony Batten came to Boston on a pilgrimage to recruit me. I remember we sat and we were having lunch, and he said, "How much you make?" I said, "’Bout 300 a week." He said, "We'll double that." I said, "Damn!" I said, “Woo-hoo!” I said, "How could I pass this up?" I was gonna--they were gonna fly me to New York. They want to move me to New York. They'll give me like $500 to move, find a place, and I'd immediately go to work as a Producer and Director of their studio stuff. They wanted the directing thing.


SL: But they [National Educational Television; NET] also wanted me to produce documentaries, which we were doing on SAY BROTHER also, anyway. So, I was--and it was New York, which was my dreamland. You know, we would go there--I would go there weekends and hang out with the… So I quit the job immediately. I went in to see head, the general manager of the station. I said, "I'm going." And he said, "I can't believe it. You're our," you know. [INT: You're our boy.] "You're our boy. We getting extra money because of you." And so I had to do it. And so I left in the, I think November or December of '69 [1969], drove my little, you know, Chevy to New York, packed with all my stuff. Stayed in Kent Garrett's empty loft on 22nd and 7th, middle of Chelsea, which at that time was a real factory area, you know. And started working. Started working at... [INT: So you were doing BLACK JOURNAL.] Doing BLACK JOURNAL, which had offices at WNET, 13, Channel 13. And within weeks, I get a call from, literally weeks, I get a call from Jon Stone, who was the Producer of and Director of SESAME STREET. And he says, "Stan, we need you to come over here and," and it wasn't even like we need to interview you. "Come on down. We getting all this public money, and we ain't got,” you know, they had no black people, nowhere, in this company, you know? I mean there were a few in the, you know, researchers and so forth, but you go into the stage, onto the stage, the only black people were Actor playing Gordon, and that was, and I guess Maria--Loretta Long. Where were, was it Loretta Long [Loretta Mae Long]? [INT: I think it was Loretta.] Yeah. And so I'd started doing that. And I started directing. I would go in two days a week, twice a month, something like that, and direct all the studio stuff, which, because they would schedule like, they would schedule Oscar [Oscar the Grouch] days and Big Bird days, you know, where they were able to just put a lot of stuff in the can. And then there would be, we did a show, I did a show with Matt [Matt Robinson] called ROOSEVELT FRANKLIN, which was Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and a couple of other people, playing black school kids, one of which was Roosevelt Franklin. And it was pretty funny, but--


INT: Is that where [SESAME STREET] you met Matt Robinson? 

SL: No, no, I knew Matt Robinson. Matt Robinson is from Philly [Philadelphia]. He--[INT: I know he's from Philly.] He grew up around the corner from me. But he was much older than me. He was one of my brother's buddies, my older brother. But I knew Matt. [INT: 'Cause Matt's going to become part of your journey as we go through this, yeah, which is great.] Yeah, yeah. Yeah no, we, there, you know, when I got to New York, that's where we kind of, you know, reunited and more things started to happen. [INT: And what did you...I mean getting to work with Jim Henson and that whole...] That was pretty amazing. [INT: It had to be.] Jim, Jim Henson was amazing. I'll tell you who I really was impressed by and influenced by, and that's Caroll Spinney. Caroll Spinney was the Actor who played, the puppeteer who played Big Bird--and Oscar [Oscar the Grouch]. I think Frank Oz might have, he created Oscar, but anyway, when it got down to doing the shows, Caroll was playing both of those. [INT: What was it that ins--what was it?] He was just a real, true artist. You know, an exceptional, he had an exceptional ability to transform into those characters. Big Bird was a puppet that's like seven feet tall, eight feet tall. And the reason he's eight feet tall is because the puppeteer inside is, had, his neck is his arm. And he operates the mouth and when he talks and he looks at you, it's all, it's up here. And Caroll Spinney's face is in his chest. He could see through the hairs in the chest. So you, he would be, and this arm, was real. But that arm was kinda tied to it. And so he had a hand, he had a face, and he could walk around and so forth. And Caroll Spinney was also the kind of guy that when he was in that costume, he would only talk like Big Bird. It wasn't like you could pull him to the side and say, "Hey man, you want to walk over there a little faster?" It would be [BIG BIRD VOICE] "Oh, okay." [LAUGHS] And the other thing that happens, you find yourself doing is when you stand there giving him directions, you talk to the hand even though his face is right there. It's like, it was uncanny. And he was brilliant. And he was, like I said, he transformed.


INT: Is this [SESAME STREET] where you started… was this, really, the first comedy you were doing? I mean, could you… 

SL: I'd say… probably, yeah. Actually, yeah. And then he [Caroll Spinney] was Oscar [Oscar the Grouch]. And his thing is that sometimes he would take off his, he wouldn't do it in front of people, but he would go back and he'd take off this bird [Big Bird] costume, because we'd have an Oscar segment. And he'd come out, but he still had the legs. So, if you looked down behind where the trashcan is, you would see these big duck legs, and over here is Oscar's, it just… It was pretty--it was an amazing experience, that show. [INT: So that must have helped you in terms of your timing and for later on.] Just learning, just, just I think getting an appreciation for comedy. Jim [Jim Henson] and Frank Oz were both brilliant also. But I didn't get to work with them as much as I did Caroll, and Caroll, I worked with over a long, over period of time, so I got to, I think, just kind of marvel at his ability to focus and to lose himself in the character and to, you know, go for the jugular vein on the funny. You know, he was always making, whatever it was in that script, funnier just by the way he said it, you know.


INT: As a Director on SESAME STREET back then especially, because it was sort of all beginning too, did you as a Director, did you have to work with them being funny? Did you have to, or was it, were you… 

SL: Not really. Not those guys. No. And it was kids, it was for the kids. Everybody, you know, even the Actor, Sonia Manzano who played Maria, and, oh, I can't remember the other names, they were all really committed children, to children's stuff, you know? [INT: Was there improv going on in that too?] There was a lot of improv, because we would work with, we would work with, you know, sometimes, with just concepts. You know, there were certain points you had to hit, you know, for the educational value of it, but there was, you know, room to kind of stretch a little bit.


INT: Now you were doing, still doing BLACK JOURNAL at the same time [as SESAME STREET]? 

SL: I was doing BLACK JOURNAL at the same time. [INT: So you were going back and forth.] I was, yeah. Well, you know, I was in 82nd Street, 59th Street. 82nd and Broadway was the stage, and you know, we were at Channel 13, which was right on 58th and Broadway. I was mostly producing documentary, small docs. So when I had to leave, you know, we would prep. But when I had to go do a doc, because Jon [Jon Stone] and I had a great relationship and my employment there was valuable to him, I was able to go away and come back. This went on for several years, actually. Actually, even after I moved to L.A., occasionally I would go back for a week or two to do SESAME STREET. And that was a gift. I didn't make a lot of money but I, you know, it was a great experience.


INT: So, while you were there [New York City], I mean because there was so much happening in theater, did you ever do anything? Were you just, you were just so, I mean I know you had a lot to do with just those two shows [SESAME STREET; BLACK JOURNAL]. 

SL: Yeah, I worked, I did a workshop with New Lafayette [New Lafayette Theatre]. [INT: Okay. Did you direct it?] We had, there was a theater. Yeah, they had a little theater over on 110th Street, right in the middle of junkie heaven. I mean they were like nodding out on the steps of the theater at that time. It was pretty bad. 110th and Lenox, actually. It was called Black Theatre Workshop, was what we called it. Ed Bullins was our, the guy that was in charge of that little segment. And we worked on the weekends. Richard Wesley was involved. Did you know OyamO? [INT: OyamO, yes.] OyamO was a member of that. And that was, I can't remember it. There was a lot of other young guys, but, and very talented kids. And we had a, we did a playwright's workshop, and we did a, and we put on, we actually did a show that ran a little bit. And we did a play by OyamO and a play by Ed Bullins. And... [INT: Do you remember the names of those plays? Ah, let's keep going.] Yeah, I know. [INT: So you were directing a little theater once in awhile too.] Yeah, yeah. [INT: That's good. So you stayed, you kept your hand in it all.] Yeah.


INT: So, then you get called... 

SL: By Ellis Haizlip. [INT: Oh, by Ellis, yes.] That was one of the highlights of New York. And he had a show called SOUL!, which was a weekly music show. And by now, I was very comfortable; it would all, any kind of music after my two years at SAY BROTHER. And this show was, you know, I think one of the highlights of my career, actually. [INT: Really?] Well yeah, because it was, Ellis was an amazing Producer. [INT: Absolutely.] He had an amazing staff. And it was all black. [INT: Anna, was Anna on that staff?] Anna Maria Horsford, Loretta Green, Alonzo... Brown [Alonzo Brown Jr.], something like that, and Ellis, and... [INT: So did you do a number of those [SOUL!]?] I did two years of those. [INT: Two years of that.] Yeah, yeah. Two years. I did probably, I don't know, a dozen, really great shows, and a lot of, you know, kind of, you know, whatever we could get our hands on.


INT: And so what type, well again, what other music acts did you [SOUL!] have there? 

SL: Well, we had, you know, Stevie Wonder. We did a show called SUPERSTITION, or SUPERSTITION was the main show but there's Stevie Wonder for sure. There was a kid--a guy named, that we had to get. He was appearing at the Apollo [Apollo Theater] and there was, the word was out. You gotta get this guy, and his name was Al Green, and he showed up. He showed up… You know, we shot in the morning, and he's, he looked like he just rolled out of a haystack. I mean, literally, he was so tired. And we said, "Man, this cat, I mean, I don't know if he's gonna make it." And he, music hit, and you know, he had a track. He sang to the track. He just blew us away, everybody. But you name it, we had… we did shows with Carmen McRae and Lou Lester [Louis Lester] and Earth, Wind & Fire went, we went to the… There was a club on Columbia, Columbus Avenue in the West Side. [INT: '70s [1970s] or '80s [1980s]? In the '70s, yeah. [INT: Was that Cafe Central?] I don't... [INT: Around there?] I don't remember if it was Cafe Cent--it was on 72nd Street. Anyway, we went to see this group called Earth, Wind & Fire. It's, they had this new song out called, [SINGS] "After the love has gone. Da da da da da..." that one. That was their big hit. And that was before, you know, the explosion. [INT: So that was the club on, around 72nd and Columbus?] Yeah. [INT: Yeah.] And they came and they, you know, literally we went to see them on a Friday and that, you know, Saturday afternoon they were performing with us. [INT: Now, it was the Beacon Theatre, because Beacon's on Broadway, right?] No, this wasn't a theater. It was a club. [INT: It was a club.] Beacon's on Broadway. [INT: Yeah, yeah...] But...


INT: So the experience, okay, getting back to the directing part of SOUL! Was there anything different you were doing there? I mean, obviously you were growing with each thing. And the Director in you was like, "Oh my god, I can do this. I can do that.” Was there anything about SOUL! that was different in terms of your directing? I mean, your growth? 

SL: No. I think I got, you know, I was very much about prepping because we didn't have a lot of rehearsal time. So I had an AD [Assistant Director] I worked with named Mara Lee, and we would spend, we would, as soon as we knew who the group was, we would just get their record and play it over and over again just to, you know--I learned at DGBH [WGBH-TV] from Dave Atwood [David Atwood], who's the Director who was a very precise kind of guy, I learned how to deal with drafts and plans, and I had a little device called a Brett's plotter, which you could plot out camera angles, literally. And so we would sit and listen to the record over and over again, and I would picture the, I would draw a diagram of this group, and we'd pick camera shots based on, you know, the changes in the music, so that at least we knew on the day of. And Saturday morning, we would show up at the stage, which was Studio 55 on 55th and 8th. We'd show up at the stage, real early in the morning, and set it up, light it. I had a great Lighting Director named Mike Mannis, who ended up doing a couple films with me, actually, because he was so good. And the band would come in some time around, you know, you know, we'd get their instruments, they'd come in around one, two. We'd rehearse them. And then, you know, they'd break and then somewhere around seven or eight, we'd do the show, live. [INT: That was great, yes.] Not the live on the air but live--[INT: Live for you. And 'cause you had one take.] Yeah. And the thing is, the reason why it became the thing to do for a lot of these bands is because their exposure to TV was, you know, HULLABALOO or whatever, but they were always singing to track, you know, just their hit. And when they came in for SOUL!, they came in to do a set. And they loved that. [INT: That's great.] And we had the best audience in town, of course. And so they got, not only did they get love from the audience, but they got a good show. They got a good TV show. [INT: And people were listening to them.] Oh yeah. And we had great, you know, we were, you know, it was New York. It was, you know, a New York Crew. The sound was perfect. The lighting was great. Those camera guys were all, you know, really as good as they could be. And, you know, the Director just kinda just sat. All he had to do was snap his finger a couple times. [INT: Yeah, but you planned, and you planned and a lot of times...] Yeah, I know, it was all about prep. It was all about knowing… I mean, we would get, we would, you know, we'd get from their, we would get their stage plot. In fact, many of these guys didn't have stage plots yet. Nowadays, you know, when a band goes on the road, they have a, you know, some kind of a kit that they could give to people. But they didn't have, they didn't even, we would have to actually work with the Manager or the Road Manager and say, "Okay, where's the drums gonna be?" "It'll be here," and you know, that kind of thing, because they weren't used to doing these kinds of gigs on TV.


INT: And the cameras you had [on SOUL!], you didn't have those, you know what I mean? 

SL: Yeah, no. We had occasionally--I had a little Chapman crane every once in a while, you know, with the driver on it? [INT: Yeah.]