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Jack Mulvain's CFN 60's 

& Panama Tales

Part 1

     

 

Menu of Stories
   
CFN Christmas
Pete Richards
CFN Crew
CFN Productions
Weather Girls
Stereo
Local Event Films
Bob Richardson
CFN Family
Bill Sanchez

  

  

CFN Christmas

The only kid show I can remember  was Letters To  Santa show at Christmas time. Bill Fleming played Santa Claus and I was elf, Holly By Golly. I was 6' 2" tall, hardly elfin. We made a lens cap with a slit in the middle. We put it on a wide angle lens. I was positioned on a black background on a far corner of the studio and appeared to be small. l was superimposed over various parts of the the main set. I might be under the tree, or on Santa's shoulder. Santa read letters from military an CZ kids. Occasionally a crew member would sneak in a raunchy letter. Bill was great at adlibbing around them. I provided chat about toy shop activities. Fleming was one of the best Santa's I have ever seen. I would try to break him up, like the time I told him I was making a lot of blond dolls down at the toy shop. He nearly lost it. 

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Pete Richards

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actor, to be in show business. When I was about 7 or 8  I took tap dancing lessons. I had a little ukulele and never missed an opportunity to entertain friends and family. When I was 9 my Dad scraped together $50 to buy me a used trumpet, saying, " Son, I don't care if you're not another Harry James, just bring home another Betty Grable." So music and sports became my life.

I dropped out of Ohio Wesleyan University in 1957 to pursue a career in the relatively new television industry. Back then stations weren't so much interested in your degree but rather your experience in the business. A family friend was the music director at WLWC in Columbus, Ohio. He helped me get a foot in the door. I started at the bottom and worked my way up, learning every phase of the business on the way. I started in the mail room and was immediately welcomed and mentored by an engaging young man by the name of Pete Richards. He had been promoted to supply clerk and I was replacing him. I soon became proficient at in house mail delivery and running errands in the company vehicle. 

Pete was a very outgoing guy who always had a story to tell. He had a knack for enhancing the facts, which always made the stories more entertaining. To augment my $1.00 an hour salary I warmed up the audiences for our big local live show. I also worked the switchboard on weekends and was soon working as a part time floor manager. It was during that time that I took a leave of absence and took a 2 week trip to California with one of our directors. A lot of TV production and programming was was moving from New York to Los Angeles. 

While there I enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse. On a trip to Charleston, W.Va. with another floor manager I visited WCHS-TV . Shortly after returning to Columbus I received a call from WCHS  offering me a floor manager job with an increase in pay. I spent 2 years in Charleston, honing my skills in lighting , set design, boom operator, floor manager, and spent many hours practicing one of my favorite jobs, cameraman. I even did on camera commercials for a men's store. In a short time I was promoted to producer-director. After 2 years I returned to Columbus as a producer-director at WTVN. 

After a few months there I was offered a Program/Production manager position at a small station in Youngstown. It was a smaller market but a better position. Then, in November of 1960 I received a letter from Uncle Sam, requesting my services. I immediately met with my local recruiter for whom I had done some favors. He said that if I would volunteer for 3 years I could choose my school. I took the chance and after basic training at Ft. Knox and the Army Information School at FT. Slocum, N.Y. I found myself bound for the Canal Zone and the Caribbean Forces Network. I was met at the port of Ft. Amador by a nice young man who was assigned to transport me to the station. We exchanged pleasantries during the trip. He asked where I was from and when I told him I had worked in Columbus he said, "We have a guy at the station from Columbus. His name is Pete Richards." 

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CFN Crew

By the time I got to CFN I had worked at 4 different stations and had learned the business from the bottom up. I had already established a pretty good career in TV. It was only natural that I be assigned directing duties. I immediately sought out my old buddy, Pete Richards. After Columbus I guess he decided on a career in Armed Forces broadcasting. He was now a Spec 5, married, with two kids, two monkeys, and two Spyders, Fiat Spyders, that is. He got me acclimated, introduced me to everyone and gave me the lowdown on life at CFN. As I recall, the OIC was a Warrant Officer, Harley Tollifson. Joe or Gabe can correct me on this if I'm wrong. The NCOIC was MSGT Tony Valentino who was beloved by the entire staff. Jim Pattison was the Program Manager a great guy and a great punster. 

Our friendship continued after I left and he returned to Pa. to fulfill his dream of owning a radio station. Navy Journalists Joe Ciokin and Gabe Ireton and Army Specialist John Makela  and Army Sgt. Wayne Cummings were the core of the on air news staff. Joe and I did a weekly late night jazz show on radio. I think Pete was doing morning radio and Sid Stark did afternoons. Bob Botzenmayer was Chief Engineer and fit the mold of every Chief I had known.  "Pappy" (I don't remember his first name) Taylor, Bill Pierce, a good old boy from Tennessee who played football at Auburn, and John? from York, Pa. made up the engineering staff. They were later joined by Ed Hernecker. I can't recall the name of our engineering crew chief. He was secretly referred to as "Stumpy". I think it was Bill Whitehead who picked me up and escorted me to the station. Don Boddy who was the only black besides Pappy was the co. clerk. Army Sgt. Art Wiener, I think, came a little later. Shortly after I arrived Atmy Captain Robert Kingsbury arrived as our new OIC and MSGT Gerry Duval replaced Tony Valentino as NCOIC. Capt. Kingsbury was a former Armored officer and was noted for having lost s tank in a rice paddie in Korea (so the story goes.) Duval was also more hard core military and was said to have survived a fall from a plane.

Since most of us were more attuned to TV (show biz) than to military activities, we went through a period of adjustment. Soon after that there was an influx of new and very talented bodies. Ron Queen, from Paducah, KY, Lee Bayley, from, as I recall, Oklahoma, and  Wayne Carpenter, from Louisiana, all experienced and gifted radio DJ's. 

Then came a career soldier, Bob Richardson, who is on my list of most interesting people I have known. Bob was very handsome, looked a little like George Peppard , and though married, was a real lady's man, a fact that would, later become his undoing. As far as I know, he had no broadcast experience, but we soon discovered that he had a great voice. Then there was Chris Kelly, who also had little experience but a great voice. Fleming and I worked with him and turned him into a pretty good on air news anchor and reporter who would become CBS's pentagon correspondent.  He was also my Best Man when I married. Always  short handed and in need of personnel, we found Gunnar Bennet, who would be our afternoon teen idol. and as it turned out, was an outstanding golfer and tennis player, achieving fame as one of the country's top amateur golfers..  And David Gerli.  David was a cook and lived at the Panama Hilton. He had a nice sports car which he drove to work. Not bad for an Army PFC. He was a a great guy and obviously one of class and affluent background. He spoke fluent Spanish, with, as my Panamanian wife noted, no trace of Gringo accent. He too, was trainable and was soon filling radio shifts. I'm not sure  where we found Howard Tannenbaum, called "Howard Christmas Tree" by some. He did the afternoon classical music show. He loved it and was quite good at it. Ralph Murphine was an on air newsman from Valdosta, Ga. He was smart, talented and contributed to our on air product in so many ways. He became one of the premier political consultants in the U.S. and South America.

He, Fleming and I were very close and actually worked together on Ralph's first campaign, a gubernatorial primary in W.Va. We won it. The AIR FORCE sent us Mike Allen, a pretty good director and gifted artist. Also Air Force SGT George Jackson, a director, who was actually brought in to replace me in that position. More on that later. George was a great guy and good friend. And then their was Baudilio Sanchez, a clerk and later, an all round utility man, doing, pretty much whatever we asked of him. He too, goes to the top of my list of most memorable people I have ever known. We have maintained our friendship to this day. Later, I, personally welcomed Army PFC John Harrelson from N.C. Up to this time I was doing the daily country and western show "Bunkhouse Roundup" as Cousin Cy and Bill Pierce as "Willie Bill". It was one of the most popular shows on radio. Even Capt. Kingsbury said, I don't like country music but I love your show. Well John was the real deal with an authentic southern accent. A natural. I hated having to be in the studio by 10AM every day. So I immediately got permission to assign him to replace me on the show. It was a good decision. John became even more popular than I had been. Randy McClain was another engineer. AF Sgt. Buck Paris was in news, along with

Carl Kupfer, civilian, and Chief Richard Craigen. We also had an Army SGT John Burke, who I think, replaced Gerry Duval. There was another Clerk, Ed Lesser whose goal was to open two bars to be named "Evil One" and "Evil Two". Ed would then be known as "Lesser of The Two Evils". Lastly was another black Army clerk, don't recall his rank, by the name of Jarvis. He was a real hip type and was dubbed "Jive-ass Jarvis". One day Howard Tannenbaum, in his haughty tone, inquired of Jarvis," Why must you talk like a negro?" Jarvis replied, "Look at me, man. Look at me." 

Well, I think I have covered our complete cast of characters. The stories will follow.

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CFN Productions

I arrived at CFN in the summer of 1961. I probably had a bit more experience in commercial television than the average new recruit. I was an old man of 23 years. Along with the crew listed in my last post, we set about revolutionizing broadcasting in the Canal Zone. We were innovators, and risk takers. Unlike commercial broadcasting we were not constrained by commercial considerations. Surprisingly, we were free to do almost anything within the realm of decency and good taste. 

We had a bit of an obstacle to overcome when Kingsbury and Duval came in. They looked at this group and decided that we had to be turned into a military unit. Duval started by instituting reveille. The first morning John Makela was absent. He had worked the overnight news shift and had gone to bed. The Sergeant was not happy. He marched up to the barracks sleeping quarters where he proceeded to rouse John. At this point, John was not amused he sat up and shouted at Duval something like "What the hell do you want. you crazy SOB." Duval was speechless. It was decided then that in the future certain personnel would be exempt. Eventually, we completely did away with it. 

We continued to adjust to the new regime. I was directing a news show and in the middle of the show Kingsbury  called on the control room intercom. I was in the middle of a show and didn't answer right away. He became more insistent. Finally yelled back, "What do you want?" The Captain was not thrilled with my tone and called me to his office after the show. I explained to him that calling during a live show was not the best time. We got past that but the Captain was not comfortable with me, Private, directing higher ranking personnel. His solution was to bring in AF Sergeant George Jackson to assume my directing duties. I was relegated to less responsible duties, like camera. I liked George a lot and we became very good friends. However, it soon became obvious that he was not equipped to do the job. I guess someone decided that I was needed in that position so the Captains solution was, every time I was eligible he waived my time in grade and promoted. Man, I was soon moving up the ladder like a soldier in a combat zone. Within little more than a year I went from a Private to SP5. 

I was made Production Supervisor and the station was "On Fire". We were turning out great programming and the station and individuals were getting praise and letters  of commendation on a weekly basis. Bill Fleming became my right hand. Together we were producing 30+ hours of local live and film programming a week. There was "Showcase", a weekly "Tonight Show" style format with a live band, International acts from the Continental Hotel. Fleming and Gabe Ireton were producing features like Fleming's highly acclaimed "Flying Doctors". We had a nightly show, Around and About which covered events of interest in the C.Z., a weekly live bowling show, our "Camera on Communism" and "Camera on Korea" documentaries. Bill and I wrote produced and I directed "Camera on Communism" a documentary which I consider to be the most significant thing I have ever done in my 50 years in the business. It was a very complex production requiring precise coordination of every element of the show, camera, audio, lighting, talent etc. Jim Pattison narrated this look into Communism and how it took over China, Cuba, and Hungary, with the prophetic warning "You think it can't happen here?" A columnist with the Pan American newspaper, had escaped Communist Cuba and was so impressed with the show that he implored the Captain to repeat it. I tried to explain to the Captain that though it was nearly flawless the first time that because of the complexity of the production  and it being live,  a repeat performance would be risky. We were made to repeat it and though there were a couple of glitches, it went pretty well.

We provided coverage of the first Man in Space utilizing AFRTS live audio and stock film footage of an actual lift off. It was as if it was live. 

One person I forgot to mention through all of this was our brilliant staff artist, Carlos Pineda. I would just say, "Carlos, this is what I want to express with the set and he would come up with the perfect set every time. I can't say enough about Bill Fleming. As anyone who served with us will tell you, he was difficult to work with. He never trusted anyone to do things the way he wanted them done. He and I formed an immediate bond we understood each other and had a mutual respect for each other's talent. If I had one talent, it was  the ability to take great ideas from creative people, like Fleming, and turn them into a workable on air product. With Bill, it was a seemingly endless stream of ideas. I would say, "OK, this will work or that will work, and this is how". Bill would usually agree and together we produced some great shows. We our minds seemed to work as one. I have never had that kind of rapport with anyone since. The Captain slowly softened his stance on how military we must be and how show biz we were allowed to be. As a result he was promoted to Major.

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Weather Girls

How could I ever Forget Ann Kalb, the most beautiful member of our staff. In our desire to keep pace with what was happening in TV news back home, we decided to add a female to do the weather. I think the first one was a girl by the name of Anita Mapes. Then came the gorgeous, charming and talented Ann Kalb. Suffice it to say, she was a big hit.

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Stereo

Bill Fleming was a guy who took a keen interest in anything that would further enhance the audio and or video of a production. Stereo sound was emerging as a great new innovation. Naturally, Bill immersed himself in the study of stereo sound. He came up with an idea of how we could broadcast a program from SCN ( By now CFN had become SCN.) He reasoned that by broadcasting one channel on SCN Radio and the other on one of the TV frequencies, we could produce stereo. Bob Botzenmayer had two really good, high tech microphones which he agreed to let us use. We then laid out the content and format for the show. I don't recall all of the details but it consisted of music and anything that would enhance the stereo experience. We then blocked the show, planning every scene to allow moving and resetting the microphones. It was a great success. At that time, I don't know if a stereo telecast had ever been done.

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Local Event Films

There was a dance studio in the CZ and a couple, I think their name was Dunn used to come in and dance. I can't recall the details of their appearances so if anyone can fill in any information on them I would appreciate it. What I do recall is this: Fleming had bought an 8mm movie camera and the Dunns asked if Bill and I could film a show that they were doing at the Hotel Continental which at  the time was fairly new. We agreed and made the arrangements. Our wives and Bill and I were the dinner  guests of the Dunns after which we filmed the performance. 

We were outside of the hotel getting some shots when we were approached by a couple who asked what we were filming. When we told them they told us that their daughter was getting married soon and asked if we could film the wedding. They had another daughter who was married in New York and a professional photographer had filmed it and they loved it. It was real state-of-the-art, with animation and effects. We thought about it and decided "hey, why not". At first, Bill was nervous about doing something that would live up to a film produced by a NY pro. I had all the confidence in the world that we could do it. Well, let me put it this way, I was sure that Fleming's genius would get us through this. It was a very ambitious undertaking. I had no idea how big this was at the time. Oh we also enlisted the help of Carlos Pineda.

The camera that Bill had purchased was a Yashica. It had rewind capabilities which meant you could do in camera dissolves and supers. We had a second camera for a 2 camera shoot. We started by shooting an opening  wide shot of Panama City. We superimposed the title "Sueno de Amor" over that. From that we built a love story leading up to the wedding. To say that the wedding was big would be an understatement. It was a Jewish wedding with the ceremony and reception at the Hotel Continental. There were a few hundred guests. They served a magnificent steak dinner and the two, count em, two biggest bands, Lucho Azcerrega, Mario Fabrega, ln Panama played for dancing. As I said we put this together to look like a movie with the bride and groom as the stars. Next came the real challenge, editing this masterpiece. Fleming was a true artist at the editing table. As we were putting the film together he kept worrying that it wouldn't meet expectations. I kept reassuring him. The final step was synching  a sound track. Well, when it was finished, I must say that it was spectacular. We scheduled a viewing date and nervously made our way to the couple's apartment where friends and family were gathered. We sat in the background as they watched this beautiful love story unfold. They were totally thrilled with it, saying that it was better than the one that had been done for their first daughter. And for all of this, I think we were paid some ridiculous amount, like $250 or $300.

It was this project that, years later, prompted me to be a pioneer in event video in the Pittsburgh area.

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Bob Richardson

I remember the third floor barracks on the third floor. Jose, a happy and charming San Blas Indian kept things clean and in order. He would shine our boots and perform other chores. I noticed a number of bleach bottles hanging throughout. It was Gabe Ireton who explained that that is where the booze was stored. The crew gathered once a week for a poker game. Gabe told me that they suspected one player, who will go unnamed. 

Bob Richardson had joined us by this time. He and I became good friends almost immediately. Bob was a guy who had lived by his wits, street smart and a charmer. I found out he was also a card shark. I was a big fan of magic and as such had learned a bit about cards. Long story short, Bob and I conspired to get back some of the money lost to our suspected  cheat. With Bob stacking the deck and me giving them false shuffles, managed to even the score. A few months later, Bob's wife and two kids were scheduled to join him in Panama. They were on their way. It was payday and his pay was decimated by withholding of money he owed for one thing or another. It was a Friday night and he had a radio shift. He desperately searched for someone to cover for him. He finally found someone and set out to find some action. I was in the barracks when he returned around midnight. He was laughing and throwing money in the air. He had turned the money left from his check into hundreds of dollars, enough to rent a place and buy some furniture. As I mentioned before, Bob had a great voice. He also loved poetry and wrote some pretty good stuff. I was a big jazz fan and came up with the idea of putting jazz to his poetry. It was beautiful. That reminds me of a  radio show that Bob and I created. I think we called it "Club Carribe". Featuring live performance albums by various artists, and continuous crowd sounds in the background, we created the illusion of broadcasting live from a night club. We even made up interviews with patrons. We had people calling and asking where this club was.

Alicia and I left Panama in November of 1963. In April of 1964 I went to work at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. Ironically that is exactly where Fleming had urged me to go when I got out of the Army. We rented a 2 bedroom apartment in Crafton, a suburb of Pittsburgh.

One day there was a knock on the door. I opened the door and there stood Bob Richardson. He told me he had come in from Cincinnati and was looking for work. He asked if he could stay for a few days. I said sure. We had an extra room. He would go out during the day, presumably job hunting. One day he said he had to go out to get some money. While he was out, Alicia was cleaning his room and found a book of blank checks on the dresser. They were from some company in Pittsburgh. The only problem was, Pittsburgh was spelled without the h.  When he returned later in the day he told me he was in trouble. He confessed that he had taken advantage of a woman in Cincinnati. He screwed her out of a lot of money and she blew the whistle on him. Now I had seen him take women for everything  they had and they still loved him. This time he picked on the wrong woman. He said the police were after him and the check thing was a federal offense. At the time we were doing a series on the FBI and I knew the Special Agent in Charge, "Bull dog" Jim Trayer. I told Bob go and turn himself in. He did and was out in jail. I visited him there and took supplies to him.

Jim Pattison had returned to the area and bought a radio station in Waynesburg, about an hour south of Pittsburgh. I told him about Bob and when Bob went to trial Jim was there. At that point Jim Pattison stepped up and said, "If you release him into my custody I will give him a job and assume responsibility for him. I remember the judge telling Bob, "You've lived by your wits all of your life and I am  sure that if I let you  go you will go I will see you back here again " Then, miraculously, the judge released Bob into Jim's Custody. Talk about a leap of faith, Jim Pattison put everything he had on the line for a guy of questionable character. Well, Bob showed his true character when Jims 2 year old became terminally ill with leukemia. Jim was devastated . Bob stepped up. took over and kept the station on the air while Jim's family went through this terrible ordeal. Bob eventually, went to Florida and was getting his life on track when he was killed in a car accident. I just want to say this about Bob. He was a con man and I saw him take advantage of his friends but never once tried to take advantage of me in any way. As a matter of fact he once gave me an antique Danish hand gun that he had won in a poker game, to express his thanks for my friendship. Yes, Bob Richardson is on my list of most memorable characters and in the end he represented what the SCN family was about.

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CFN Family

I don't know how connected some other groups remained through the years but it occurred to me that our was a fairly tight knit group. Alicia and I are Godparents to the late Bill, and Sally Pierce's oldest daughter, Lisa. We managed to visit them nearly every year, especially after they moved to Myrtle Beach. Bill and Judy Fleming were Godparents to our son Brian. We lived minutes away were close friends until Bill and Judy's passing. Bill Sanchez is Godfather to Joe Ciokin's son. They have remained close over the years. I think it was Bill who convinced Joe to take up martial arts while in Panama. As we know, that led to Joe's success as the Navy judo coach. Bill and I have maintained our friendship over the years. He visited us in Pittsburgh while here on business. We had a memorable visit with him and his wife, Bella when our son was about 13. He showed us L.A. as we had never seen it. We went to Universal studios and most fascinating day at the LaBrea Tar pits. Now, who would have thought of that as a tourist destination? He took us to an authentic Mexican restaurant for some real Mexican food, and introduced me to the poor man's Margarita, a can of Tecate beer with top of the can rimmed with salt and then the lemon. And then, the thrill of a lifetime, a trip through L.A. with Sanchez at the wheel. We saw the Pattisons when they returned to Pa. 

Then Bob Richardson when he came to work for Jim. Fleming, Murphine and I remained close until Murphine disappeared into the world of politics. We lost track of him for awhile and thought he had joined the CIA. Then, in 1996 we were on a Caribbean cruise. I was watching the news on TV in our cabin. There was a story about a political consultants convention and who shows up in an interview? Murphine. When we returned, I told Fleming and we both tried to contact him, but to no avail. For some reason he seemed to be purposefully avoiding us. It remains a mystery. I know where he is but but has refused to respond to all efforts to contact him. 

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Bill Sanchez What can I say about Bill Sanchez? I'm not sure, exactly when he arrived at SCN. He was a clerk and worked in the film library. Early on he, along with Wayne Cummings made it his duty to make life miserable for MSGT Jerry Duval. Bill had a devilishly creative mind. He was once stopped by an officer and chastised for not saluting. Without hesitation, Bill said, " Excuse me sir, but I thought it was an unwritten rule that you shouldn't embarrass on officer by saluting him when he is out of uniform." The officer realized that he wasn't wearing the appropriate head gear. 

One of the greatest Sanchez stories about the morning Sgt. Duval was arriving with an officer. As they exited the car and approached the building, Sanchez, who had just risen from his bunk on the third floor. As you recall, the barracks area was pretty open. Bill, upon seeing Duval, stripped to the buff and stood, spread eagle above the entrance. the Sergeant saw him and was not amused. He came inside and positioned himself at the foot of the stairs, where Bill would have to pass him to get to his work station in the film library. As soon as he was spotted, Bill jumped into his clothes, slid down a down a spout in the rear of the building, went through a window to the film library, out through the art department where Carlos Pineda was just having his morning coffee, grabbed a cup and exited to where Sgt. Duval stood waiting. He greeted him with a cheery, "Mornin' Sarge. Have you had your coffee yet?" Duval turned white and took the rest of the day off. 

I remember one day we had to take a baby grand piano to the second floor. I recall there were three guys on one side and only Bill on the other side. Bill has been a great friend but I would not want him as an enemy. Gunnar and Ralph Murphine shared an apartment in Panama City. After a great party there, one night I fell asleep. O.K., so I passed out. My wife was with me. I don't remember how we got home but I do know that Sanchez went with us and carried me up two flights of stairs to our apartment. You may recall the recent rage of "knock out", someone approaches an individual and punches him. Recently Bill told me that he was on his morning run when he was approached by one of these bullies and sucker punched him. When Bill recovered and saw that he was bleeding, he went after his assailant. He caught up with him and proceeded to beat him senseless. 

Bill is 75 years old. He celebrated his 75th birthday by sky diving. That was Baudilio Sanchez.

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