It was raining last Friday when William B. Suchmann walked into his temporary office in Massachusetts Hall. He seemed remarkably unperturbed by the weather, even though he would have had every reason for not taking it--or, indeed, his job--so calmly.
For Suchmann has undertaken an almost impossible task. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he is currently in charge of producing a movie for "A Program for Harvard College" which, he admits, is meant "to bring Harvard to Harvard alumni who don't normally get back here." Without a title yet, the half-hour film can nevertheless be summed up fairly accurately in one word: nostalgia.
Such an assignment would be hard enough for a Harvardman--after all, what would bring back nostalgic memories to thousands of alumni?--but for a non-Harvardman, it would seem impossible. Suchmann has accepted the challenge, however, and within the space of a few short weeks has probably learned more about Harvard than most undergraduates learn in four years.
Take last Friday, for instance. The rain forced cancellation of one sequence which Suchmann had planned to take in front of Warren House. It was to star Howard Mumford Jones, professor of English, and feature a student running up to him with an essay just before the 5 p.m. deadline.
Why did Suchmann want to shoot this particular scene? "Because it's one of the main things alumni remember," he explains.
To learn this bit of information, and much more, Suchmann has had just about a month. It was at the beginning of May that Henry Salomon, Jr. '39, head of NBC's "Project 20," and
Robert Saudek '32, producer of "Omnibus," asked Suchman--himself a feature editor of "Omnibus"--if he would like to undertake the projected Harvard movie, for which they were to be senior consultants. He accepted, and after one week's work--most of it up here in Cambridge--he submitted an outline to officials of the Program. It was accepted and now serves as the basic framework for the current filming operations.
No Script Yet
So far, no final script has been written, although John P. Marquand '15, the noted author, has agreed to undertake the assignment, and Ormonde deKey, Jr. '45 has dug up all relevant old film material. Until then, Suchmann's outline is enough. It emphasizes not only the past history of the University and its rise to greatness, but also the present and, obliquely, the future.
Harvard today is illustrated through three broad areas: the library, the faculty, and the student body. All of these are examined in such a way as to emphasize not only the present, but also the future.
The movie will show, for instance, the paperwork involved in taking a book out of Widener. It will also show, through trick photography, how the opening of a new field such as Slavic can suddenly necessitate the purchase of very large numbers of books. Both examples emphasize why the library, despite its size and resources, will need additional funds to maintain its current position.
To illustrate what the faculty is doing and thinking, the movie will concentrate on one particular member: Ernest R. May, assistant professor of History. He will be followed during a typical day, starting from the time he leaves his home in Lexington and takes the Boston and Maine Railroad to North Cambridge. Such a depiction should by its very nature interest alumni; it will also point out, however, how hard faculty members must work, how low, comparatively, are their salaries, and how difficult it is to find decent, reasonably priced homes in Cambridge.
The life of students will show, among other things, a typical House suite. And it will emphasize the individual's need for a room of his own by showing how crowded suites can become with the use of double-decker beds.
All these subtle messages about Harvard's future needs, however, are going to be kept in the background, Suchmann asserts. Nostalgic reminiscenses--largely based on the University's greatness--will play the major role throughout the movie.
Ironically, this approach is directly opposed to the one used on last year's "Omnibus television program on Harvard. Suchmann assisted in preparing that show, which consciously tried to avoid the "old school tie" gambit, although both the producer and the feature editor were graduates of Harvard and Radcliffe, respectively.
Actual filming of the current movie will probably end this week, after Commencement. Suchmann maintains he is always only one step ahead of the two camera crews in thinking up--and lining up--the next sequences.
Somehow or other, he manages to survive without becoming unduly ruffled. Both Dean Bundy and William Bentinck-Smith '37, assistant to the President, have aided him greatly with their broad knowledge of Harvard lore and history. Old film clippings, accumulated over the past fifty years, have also proved of great value: they will actually make up about 50 percent of the completed movie.
In all the sequences, Suchmann is looking for photogenic material. "We want a film of good quality," he explains. Both his cameramen are eminently suited to give him just this. They are Lloyd M. Ritter '50 and Murray L. Lerner '48, who photographed the Oscar-winnings Secrets of the Reef. They have also made a number of movies for television.
Following this week, Suchmann will spend a little more than a month editing the movie in New York. Then prints of it will be made for distribution to Harvard groups. It should make quite a show.