Marina del Rey resident Bill Wyse grew up in the broadcasting industry, watching his father run a radio station in their hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas and becoming a DJ himself for the station when he was just 16.
He loved broadcasting and moved on to television, where he spent about 30 years in the industry working as stage manager and associate director for many popular sitcoms, including Sanford and Son.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, October 27th, Wyse will share his inside story, answer questions and show film clips from some of the TV shows he worked on, at the Lloyd W. Taber-Marina del Rey Library, 4533 Admiralty Way, in Marina del Rey. Information, (310) 821-3415.
The event, sponsored by Friends of the Library, will be held in the Greg and Mimi Wenger Community Room. All are welcome to attend.
Initially, Wyse never thought of making a career out of his passion — broadcasting — so he went off to Kansas State College to get his bachelor’s degree in business.
“But business didn’t really interest me, so when I graduated from college, I figured, ‘What the heck? I’ll do it [broadcasting],'” Wyse said.
So in the early 1950s, Wyse moved to Atlanta for a job as an apprentice film editor at a local TV station. He later moved to Kansas City, Missouri and Wichita, Kansas for television jobs.
“And then I came to California in 1961 to pursue a directing career,” Wyse said, pointing out that, even then, he was one of many thousands trying to “make it.”
Wyse came to Los Angeles with $800 in his pocket and got a job as a cameraman for TV station KCOP.
He eventually became a stage manager for NBC and by the late 1960s was also working as an associate director and director.
But attaining the success he did wasn’t easy — it took unwavering determination.
“There’s nothing like perseverance,” Wyse says. “I had three or four different jobs to make a living before I got a job at KCOP and I got laid off the day before Christmas. They [KCOP] gave me a turkey and a pink slip. But you just can’t get discouraged.”
And he didn’t. He kept on keeping on and got a gig as stage manager on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in, which included regular appearances by performers like Goldie Hawn.
He worked as associate director on many NBC shows. He worked on the Dean Martin Show, was an original cameraman on the soap opera Days of Our Lives and was also stage manager on The Johnny Carson Show.
Additionally, Wyse was associate director — and sometimes director — of the Sanford and Son sitcom in the ’70s.
The most fun he had was working as stage manager on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in.
“It was so spontaneous,” he said. “I think it was probably the most challenging, exciting show to do.”
Wyse also worked on several Frank Sinatra specials as stage manager.
“I’d always admired him as a kid, so it was quite a thrill,” he said. “Frank Sinatra was one of my favorites.”
Wyse remembers working with many stars throughout his career.
“Dean Martin was a pussycat,” Wyse recalls. “He was so nice. And Redd Foxx — despite all the controversy about him — always treated me decently.
“I fell in love with Petula Clark. She was an angel.”
And while Wyse loved his job, he admits that it was certainly stressful.
“Time is money and there’s a time pressure always,” he says. “There’s a very strict schedule [in TV] and, yeah, there’s a certain amount of pressure involved.”
But Wyse has no regrets.
“It was my passion,” he says. “It’s consuming. It takes a lot of stamina. It’s an adrenaline rush. We all have our ups and downs and get discouraged.
“When it’s all said and done and you look back on it, it was a wonderful experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The good far outweighs the bad.”
Wyse has been retired for over 20 years now.
“I really don’t miss the long days — we had 12-, 14-, 15-hour days — but I really miss the people,” he says. “The people were wonderful. I consider it a privilege to have worked with these brilliant, crazy people. All these people I have great respect for.”
But working with some people was difficult. Wyse said one of the biggest challenges working as stage manager and associate director was dealing with the actors’ and actresses’ egos. And sometimes, there was lots of competition between the talent on the set.
“You learn diplomacy really fast,” he says. “That was tough.”
Wyse has many stories to tell of his experiences.
“I’ve had stars freeze up on me,” including Bob Hope, whom Wyse said it was an honor to work with.
While filming a TV special, Bob Hope “turns to me and says, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ It was kind of a surprise to me.”
But Wyse was immediately able to help Hope, refamiliarizing him with what to say and do. And the show went on.
Wyse also remembers once while working on Sanford and Son accidentally cuing a special effect — water — to go off too soon for a scene and saturating the whole set too early.
“I thought I was going to get fired on the spot,” Wyse says, knowing the money and time involved with making a mistake.
Bud Yorkin was the director at the time, and Wyse remembers, “He just said, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’ll do it again.'” Wyse says he was “beyond relieved.”
These days, he enjoys flying; he has had his pilot’s license since 1952. He also likes watching movies and sailing.
“And do I watch TV?” Wyse asks. “No. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a sitcom.”