Story

MERCY STREET
Southern Mercy

 

On the second season of this Civil War drama, allegiances blur and loyalties shift. The scope of the war pushes beyond Mansion House, the former hotel serving as a Union hospital. Follow the precarious position of the Green family and the changing situation of the burgeoning black population.

 

Southern Mercy
After the Second Battle of Bull Run, Hopkins and Emma set out to rescue a stranded group of wounded Union soldiers. Lisette, a hospital observer, discovers the truth about a young soldier, shocking Foster. Hopkins and Emma share an intimate moment.

 

MERCY STREET
One Equal Temper

 

On the second season of this Civil War drama, allegiances blur and loyalties shift. The scope of the war pushes beyond Mansion House, the former hotel serving as a Union hospital. Follow the precarious position of the Green family and the changing situation of the burgeoning black population.

 

One Equal Temper
As Pinkerton looks at the Greens more closely, they join forces to hide an ugly secret. McBurney, hoping to distance Foster from Mary, sends him to a nearby army camp on a house call. Alice helps Frank escape and Samuel earns Charlotte’s respect.

 

This program will encore Thurs., Feb. 9, 10:00 pm

 

VICTORIA ON MASTERPIECE
An Ordinary Woman

 

This seven-part dramatic series follows Victoria (Jenna Coleman) from the time she becomes Queen in 1837 at the age of 18 through her relationship with Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), her first prime minister and intimate friend, and her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert (Tom Hughes).

 

An Ordinary Woman
Courtship at court leads to second thoughts and other complications. Will Victoria and Albert take the fateful step into matrimony? And will the queen promise “to obey” her foreign prince?

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Michael Titterton

 

Born into a struggling family in the east end of London, books and radio offered young Michael Titterton a glimpse into a different life. His insatiable curiosity led him to travel around the world, eventually landing him in Hawai‘i, where he took on the challenge of turning around a faltering Hawai‘i Public Radio. Under his leadership as President and General Manager, HPR has grown into the vital and trusted radio network it is today, serving the entire state. This month, Hawai‘i Arts Alliance will be recognizing Titterton as their 2016 Alfred Preis Honoree for his lifetime support of the arts.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 12 at 4:00 pm.

 

Michael Titterton Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

There are very few human behaviors that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. Any time we pass knowledge from generation to generation, you know, if we don’t have a written language or anything, which we haven’t for most of the history … and it’s how we bond. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized. That’s what life is; it’s the stories we get to tell.

 

Michael Titterton has been in the business of storytelling most of his life. Yet, it’s only one of the many skills that he needed to transform Hawaii Public Radio from a small faltering station into a robust statewide network. Michael Titterton, distinguished 2016 Alfred Preiss Honoree, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Michael Andrew Titterton moved to Hawai‘i in 1999 to take over as president and general manager of Hawaii Public Radio. Under his leadership, HPR expanded its reach as a vital community resource, broadcasting on every island, and serving the entire state. He stepped down in June of 2016. This conversation took place six months later, after he did some traveling with his wife, artist Madeleine McKay. Travel and moving on have always been Michael Titterton’s passion. In fact, his time in Hawaii was to be just another stop in his roaming life journey. But after ending seventeen years at Hawaii Public Radio, he’s still living happily in Honolulu. Michael Titterton started out life in postwar London. He’s restrained in that very English way, in the way he describes tough times.

 

At the time I was growing up, the part of the east end that I grew up in was the most populated, most densely populated urban area in the world, with the exception of Calcutta. I was born immediately after World War II. And the east end of London being industrial, was an area that was a focus of attention for the German air force during World War II and so, a great deal of bomb damage. Every block, you know, for as far as I can remember had houses that were missing or that were just walls. You know, earliest memories is walking around the block and looking at houses, and into rooms that had two walls left, and the other two walls were gone, so you could look in and see pictures still hanging on the wall, and wallpaper, and looking into people’s intimate lives. And it was a routine, very routine occurrence. Never thought it was odd.

 

Did you feel unsafe?

 

No, not at all. Not at all.

 

So, it was kind of a homogenous diverse neighborhood?

 

Not that diverse; it was mostly Irish.

 

And your family is, by background, Irish as well?

 

No; not at all. My father is English, my mother is Welsh. So, you know, yeah, we were outliers, I suppose. But it never really seemed that way. Life was sufficiently challenging that you didn’t give any thought to social standing, or any of that. It was later in life, I became acutely aware of it, and acutely aware that I was motivated to leave. I didn’t want to stay there. Once I became aware that everybody didn’t live this way, then I began to form the idea of a wall that I had to sort of scale and get over, and I tried all sorts of ways to do that.

 

Did you feel deprived of anything as you were growing up?

 

Only books. My my father was not an unintelligent man, but he was very uneducated and was quite defensive about that. And he wouldn’t have books in the house.

 

Oh … and you loved books?

 

Yes, perversely, as one does, you know, forbidden fruit.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And … yeah. I developed a relationship with the local library, and smuggled books into the house. And I’ve had a romance with books ever since. And that was how I found out, ultimately. That, and radio. That, and radio.

 

That’s how you found out that you were living a life that many people did not live.

 

Yes, yes, yes. It was my first glimpse over the wall. And it was an intoxicating one, and it’s one from which I’ve never sobered up, at all.

 

So, how did you scale that wall to get out of the east end?

 

Oh, well, I left school at fifteen, as everyone did. Moved out on my own. I did an apprenticeship as a tool and die maker. Factories, you know, was the thing. You went on the line, or you learned a trade.

 

Was it expected that that’s pretty much what you would do?

 

M-hm; that, or become a criminal, which was quite popular option. But that was the skill that I had early on, and I parlayed that into a little business which I ran for a while, making specialty parts for racing engines. Very long story; we don’t have time for that.

 

Because you love autos, too; right?

 

Well, it was an automobile environment. Dagenham was the principal factory area where I grew up. And that’s the Ford Motor Company. And it was all about automobiles, and you know, this was the 50s. And yeah, I have gasoline in my veins, I think.

 

So, you did build a business.

 

I built a little business. Just a very modest thing, but it was quite successful in a surprisingly short amount of time. But I had no judgement; I was very young.   And I took in a partner who brought in a little capital which I desperately needed. And he developed a romantic association with another one of the employees, and they disappeared to Australia with all the fluid assets of the company. And that got me quite vexed. [CHUCKLE] And actually exhausted the last of my patience, and I liquidated everything. Sold off machinery and whatnot to make payroll, couple other people working for me. And I was reduced to a minivan and a couple of sleeping bags, and I took off to Europe. I just wanted to be anywhere other than England at that point. I was just really quite over it.

 

Without much more than the clothes on his back, Michael Titterton left home. He had no plan, other than to see the world. Now, he didn’t have to mention to us his stint in a foreign jail over an incident involving the concentrated form of marijuana, known as hashish, but he did. Because that’s part of his story, and he is a storyteller.

 

I just took the ferry across to France, to Callet. And spent little over two years, I think, going from place to place. North Africa, Middle East, and Europe, Western Europe, doing odd jobs.

 

What were some of your odd jobs?

 

Oh, working in garages. I could always pick that up. A a job in Marseilles for a while, cleaning boats, you know. I had a job on a trawler in the North Sea, and some disgusting adventures.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That you don’t want to hear about. Just things like that. And then, every now and again, I’d go back to Dagenham and I’d get a job on the line at the Ford Motor Company.

 

And essentially, you were always making a living with your hands.

 

Oh, yeah; yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

 

And what did you aspire to? Were you happy with that? Were you …

 

I was thoroughly occupied with that. It was wonderful. I was getting to see the world, or at least a part of it. And I remember a moment when I was still an apprentice toolmaker, and we’d clock in, you know. And the clock was at this counter outside where you could see up. And I was coming in for a night shift, and I looked up and I saw the moon. You know, regular old moon. But I had this moment when it occurred to me that this moon could be seen just like this by people who weren’t in Dagenham, but were all over the world. And they must have thoughts just like that. And I knew I wanted to meet some of them. I couldn’t meet all of them, but I’d like to meet some of them. And that we had this experience in common. And that moment has just always haunted me. I think that might have been a propellant. But I’ve always had this real need. It is a need to travel, and see different things. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to gratify it in all sorts of ways, some more comfortable than others.

 

Well, when you approach a new city, or a new region, how do you decide you’re going to see it? There are so many vantage points.

 

Well, in those days, it was simply a matter of how am in gonna manage breakfast, and how am I gonna make the money to, you know, buy the next tank of gas. Or after a while, actually, I sold the van, and so, it was, you know, little more survival oriented even than that. So, it was how do I get by, especially when you don’t speak the language anywhere.

 

Were you all on your own?

 

M-hm; for most of the time. I mean, I had the occasional traveling companion. But no, pretty much on my own.

 

So, you were just living day-to-day.

 

Absolutely; yeah, moment-to-moment, really.

 

That’s a great formative—

 

It was the best time of my life.

 

Was it? Even though you must have been anxious, too.

 

I was anxious, I was uncomfortable, I was wet. A lot of the time it was too hot, a lot of the time I had rocks in my shoes. I mean, it was horrible by any rational measure, but it was a joyful, wonderful time.

 

Because everything was new?

 

Yes; yes. And there was no safety net, but at the same time, there were no barriers.

 

Did you ever fall into a hole that you thought you couldn’t get out of?

 

Oh, yes. It happened in Morocco, and it went on for about three months. And I really didn’t think I was gonna get out of that one, but ultimately did. It had to do with a camel saddle that I had, I thought, quite skillfully repackaged. Took the stuffing—you know what a camel saddle is; yeah?

 

What is it?

 

What is it? Well, [CHUCKLE] I’m not sure I’ll ever go near a camel. But it’s shaped like a saddle on the camel, and it has a cushion on the top, and it’s used as a piece of furniture. And tourists like to take them home and call them camel saddles. So, I replaced the stuffing in the top of this camel saddle with a quantity of very pure white hashish. You’ve heard of hashish?

 

Yes, yes.

 

Yeah. And attempted to mail it back to myself in London, and enlisted the help of a young man to do this. And he agreed, ‘cause you know, you can get anybody to do anything in Morocco. And he took it into a post office with this. And I thought that would be the sensible thing for me to do. And he did, and he disappeared. Oh, he didn’t disappear, he just didn’t come back for a long time. And I got curious and a little antsy after a while, and I poked my head in the door and this was another moment that I shan’t forget, the tableaux, this young is standing up against a counter. And as I poked my head in, I see him and the camel saddle, which has been ripped apart. And there’s two or three officials behind the counter there, and the child is in the process of turning around, you know. [INDISTINCT]. And you know, That’s the man. And that was that, really. I was the center of attention for a little while. And three months later, I find myself hitchhiking away from Tangier.

 

It sounds like you were lucky to get off with three months.

 

Oh, yes. I had one visitor, the young man that I’d been rooming with. And he sold my van and he got for me a lawyer, or at least some sort of representation. And I’m sure a portion of the money went to the legal representation, and another portion went to whatever happens to money that flies around in Tangier at that time. And to my immense surprise, I was in a room with uh, with a number of other people. Suddenly, I had a visit from the attorney type, and I had no confidence in this at all, but a week or two later, I was summoned into a court, with no preparation, no fanfare at all. The proceedings went on that I didn’t understand a word of, and within half an hour so, I found myself back on the street. And that was that.

 

You could have been left there a long time, and …

 

It was the one point at which I’ve ever considered suicide as a rational alternative. And in that sense, it’s been extremely useful. Because, you know, life has had its bumps, as life does, but it’s a wonderful thing to know, or at least believe that you know what your limits are, how bad things really have to get.

 

You could have ended up locked up and wasted away.

 

I could have. Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

Instead of in management.

 

Michael Titterton next went to Greece, where he met a young American woman who traveled with him to Israel, where they both worked in a kibbutz. She returned to the United States to attend college, and he later followed.

 

So, love brought you to America.

 

Yeah; yeah, pretty much. Well, I knew I wanted to come to America anyway, ‘cause I just hadn’t been there yet. But yeah, it was very romantic. And this young lady hitchhiked out from Oregon and met me in New York, and we spent a little while there, and I bought a car from a junkyard in New Jersey for, I think, ninety dollars; 1962 Tempest.

 

But you could fix it.

 

Yes, I could. Yes; I’m a very capable fellow. And fixed this thing up, and we drove it back to Ann Arbor, which was where her family was. I worked at odd jobs in Ann Arbor for a little while, and then got convinced that I really needed to investigate higher education. So, that’s what I did. And it was a little dodgy, because I hadn’t finished high school in any technical sense, but found that I could go to school in Canada, which wasn’t far away.

 

I notice you got your master’s degree in public speaking and rhetoric.

 

Rhetoric; yes.

 

Why did you choose that?

 

Bear in mind, this is the very, very early 70s. It’s 1971, actually, and coming into ’72. And I knew the US was … I mean, this was … social mobility was here, and that’s what I was really after. I didn’t know it at that time, ‘cause I didn’t know the words. But social mobility, and meritocracy. You know, if you work hard, you can get places. And it’s really what everybody dreams about, when they dream about America when they’re not from here. If I was going to understand this place, the quickest way to do it might be to study the media, because that seemed to be the bottleneck through which everything passed. And it was a very busy bottleneck at that point. Watergate, for example, Vietnam War, all the unrest on college campuses. Glorious time. And all of it was being fed through a media, which was under suspicion, as much of it is now. And so, I specialized in that. Wayne State had a particularly strong rhetoric department, and that was where I found myself, with a lot of wonderfully eccentric people.

 

And you’d already had experienced storytelling, because you had stories to tell along the way.

 

Well, everybody does. Yeah. But I did. Just because of the basic courses that I had to then take as part of being in the rhetoric program, I began to learn something about the mechanics of storytelling, if you like, the idea of a narrative. And I was very quickly drafted into teaching public speaking. So yeah, I hadn’t really thought about it, actually, as being part of the whole storytelling business, but I seem to keep coming back to that. But that’s what it is. That’s what life is, it’s the stories we get to tell.

 

And sometimes, you do things without having a name for it; right? And then, you find out—

 

Oh, yes; most of the time, actually.

 

Your real self keeps popping up in the form of what you do.

 

[CHUCKLE] Yes; that is true. That is true. But storytelling, I guess that’s a lot of the attraction that I have, or that radio has for me, because it’s a storytelling medium, and storytelling is … there are few human behaviors that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized.

 

And radio has that intimate quality.

 

Mm. It’s a one-to-one medium, and it’s frighteningly intimate. And the best of radio is indistinguishable from pillow talk. It’s that intimate. And that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to love?

 

Michael Titterton started his career in radio by volunteering at his campus radio station, which he helped to become one of the first national public radio stations. From this valuable experience, he went on to spend the next twenty years building, managing, and consulting for public radio stations across the United States. He was thinking of moving on to a new career, when an unexpected opportunity arose.

 

Hawaii advertised this job at Public Radio for someone to take a very troubled station and make something of it, and you said, That’s for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh; yes. And actually, it was funny the way it came about. Because I’d been consulting for a couple years, going around fixing broken stations. And that was great fun. But I’d reached a point where I thought, this Public Radio thing has been wonderful. And it really has. I mean, I’ve never regretted a moment I’ve spent with it. But I’ve done everything I really want to do. You know, I’ve been an operations manager, I’ve been a reporter, I’ve been a producer, I’ve been, you know, pretty much every position, and I’ve been building stations and running them. Time for me to go back to Europe now and reinvent myself again, and see what happens next. And I was in the process of doing that. I had my house on the market. I was winding up all my little business things. I hadn’t known about the situation in Hawaii, and I had three phone calls in the space of a few days from different people that I knew. And essentially, the message was, If you like broken stations, have I got a broken station for you. Anyway, I wrote to the folks here. In all honesty, I thought, you know, this will be one more fix-it job, and then—you know. But I came out and met with the board, and they were all very interesting people. They were clearly all agents of change. That’s why they were doing what they were doing and were so committed to it. There was a real will, there was a real spirit about the organization, [INDISTINCT]. It just felt right. And we reached an agreement, and I came out and went with them.

 

There was a real will, there was a real spirit about the organization, [INDISTINCT]. It just felt right. And we reached an agreement, and I came out and went with them. Uh, as I say, Honolulu was a big surprise. I—uh, you know, you have this idea of a tropical paradise, and Honolulu is anything but. You know, it’s a—it’s an intense, very densely populated city with a lot of uh, um … issues of its own. Uh, it’s uh, multiethnic beyond imagination. It’s uh, like all those planets that shows up in Star Wars Trilogy, you know. Um, everybody’s from somewhere else. And HPR was that way. I—when I met uh, the crew, everyone was from somewhere else. It was like taking over the Enterprise. You know, there were people from different planets. Um … and, yeah, grateful, jump in, and uh …

 

How did you get it to rise, when it was definitely in the hole in the ground?

 

[CHUCKLE] I think probably the … the lever that had the most benefit to it was the one of taking on the challenge of convincing a community that had begun to really give up on this. You know, this is a good idea, but it’s just not gonna happen. And convince them that it was a success. That it was a success. Not that it could be a success, but that it was a success. And in that first year, we did three fundraisers, and we’ve been doing two a year ever since.

 

And were you on the desk for HPR? You were handling the pledge interviews and appeals?

 

Oh, sure. Oh, yeah.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah, yeah; yeah. I’ve always enjoyed pledge drives. I get a lot of credit for being a fundraiser. I’m really not, but I love this business, and the pledge drives are a means to an end. You’ve got to have the money. The money is a means to an end. It’s not about the money itself. And I believe in the thing sufficiently, that getting on air and begging and pleading doesn’t bother me that much, because I believe in what we’re raising it for. And it was successful, and it seemed to turn around the consciousness somehow. And if people believe you are a success, then they’re gonna get behind you.

 

And there was always another problem after the one you solved; right? Because you were facing a situation that was layered, upon layered, upon layered with, you know, obstacles, which is exactly what brought you here.

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] yeah. I mean, I just thought it was gonna be, you know, another quick gig in this exotic circumstance. But then, you know, the idea got hatched of, Well, we seemed to have stabilized this, now there are a number of things technically wrong with the thing. You know, the old KIPO transmitter, and the fact that we weren’t heard in a great part of Oahu, much less the rest of the State. And we built the station in Hilo just because we happened to have a license that was about to expire. We were very motivated to build that station, which we did. And that got us to the point where, Well, you know—

 

Let’s go statewide.

 

Let’s go statewide; we’re Hawaii Public Radio, after all, and let’s try and make it so. And that was the narrative for the next two years.

 

Do you reach farther than for-profit radio stations with your broadcast signal?

 

Oh, absolutely; yeah. Yeah, we’re the only radio station with statewide reach. Yeah; absolutely. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here in Hawaii with the industry that I love so much. I like to think that Hawaii is an even better place now, than it was before we developed our Public Radio the way it is. It’s grown up now, it can stand on its own however many feet it has.

 

Hawaii Public Radio has received national recognition as a nonprofit organization for its achievements in news programming, fundraising, and fiscal responsibility. Michael Titterton, now HPR’s former president and general manager, was awarded the 2016 Alfred Preiss Honor by the Hawaii Arts Alliance for his lifetime support of the arts and community building. Mahalo to Michael Titterton of Makiki, Honolulu, for putting his skills and service to work for our community, and for delightfully sharing some of his many stories with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Looking back at how much physical ground you’ve traveled, and then of course, how much emotional and social ground you’ve traveled, you’ve had a chance to reflect a little bit on your life, and how you were gonna be a tool die guy.

 

Yeah.

 

And then, with a business, and all of a sudden, you’re getting a master’s degree and getting into public media, and being a turnaround expert.

 

Well, yeah. I never expected any of it. In terms of reflection, I’m still coming to terms with all of that. I feel enormously grateful. I mean, I don’t want to be too sloppy about it, but not everybody has the breaks that I’ve had. And I’ve been fortunate. I used to think it was a rotten break, but I was fortunate enough not to be born wealthy. Life is good; life is good. It’s been a fascinating journey, and it doesn’t seem to be quite done yet.

 

[END]

 


Strategy from a Swordfighter

Musashi Miyamoto, right, as depicted by artist Yoshitaki Tsunejiro

 

Musashi Minamoto, right, as depicted by artist Yoshitake Tsunejiro.

 

Leslie Wilcox, President and CEO of PBS HawaiiOne of the greatest swordfighters in history comes to mind as PBS Hawai‘i sets out to draft a new strategic plan to guide us in a rapidly changing media environment.

 

“Do nothing which is of no use,” wrote samurai Musashi Miyamoto, when he wasn’t roaming Japan wielding two swords, facing enemies in the Edo period.

 

Yes, Miyamoto-San, we must decide what skills and habits of mind we need to take with us into the future, in order to serve up great content on the many viewing screens in people’s lives. Folks might want to lean back for an hour-long documentary on a big wall monitor; catch a one-minute clip on their smartphone; or participate in a globally interactive discussion on their tablet. In fact, it’s already become common for people to use two digital devices at the same time to access content.

 

“Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy, it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.” So true, Minamoto-San, as we clear the bias of the present moment and attempt to see with clarity how we and fellow Islanders will want to use media and storytelling in the years ahead. Our organization used to peer ahead five years; now, even trying to pin down the next three years in this industry seems foolhardy.

 

In meetings held so far, our Board of Directors, Staff and stakeholders agree that PBS Hawai‘i must create a far-reaching system of touch points for people to encounter our programming. We’ll go where people are, rather than wait for them on a television monitor. We’ll continue to broadcast. However, many more people will want to engage in content online, selecting what they want to see when they want to see it. We want that, too.

 

First and foremost, we’re storytellers. We can and will adapt, to meet the need for quality stories and interactivity in different ways on different digital devices.

 

“Fixation is the way to death. Fluidity is the way to life,” wrote Miyamoto, who was known for anticipating an opponent’s moves and unleashing unexpected moves to bring victory.

 

However, the future isn’t all about fluidity and change. Like many of our viewers, we intend to hold onto our mindsets of curiosity, discovery, resilience, fairness; our belief in exposure to diverse viewpoints and civil discourse; and the value of universal access to education and reliable information.

 

When our Board of Directors adopts a new strategic plan at mid-year, we’ll share the plan with you and count on your feedback as we evolve. As Miyamoto-San said, “It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.”

 

At least we don’t run the risk of sword injuries! We do stand a fighting chance of creating richer and more versatile viewing experiences for you.

 

Aloha a hui hou,
Leslie signature

 

MERCY STREET
The House Guest

 

The Civil War drama returns, as allegiances blur and loyalties shift. The scope of the war pushes beyond Mansion House, the former hotel serving as a Union hospital. Follow the precarious position of the Green family and the changing situation of the burgeoning black population.

 

The House Guest
A house guest becomes the focus of Alice’s schemes. When Mary falls gravely ill, Foster’s attempts to care for her antagonize the new chief. Charlotte tries to contain the smallpox epidemic and Samuel has to make a difficult decision.

 

This program will encore Thurs., Feb. 2, 10:00 pm

 

VICTORIA ON MASTERPIECE
The Clockwork Prince

 

This seven-part dramatic series follows Victoria (Jenna Coleman) from the time she becomes Queen in 1837 at the age of 18 through her relationship with Lord Melbourne (Rufus Sewell), her first prime minister and intimate friend, and her courtship and marriage to Prince Albert (Tom Hughes).

 

The Clockwork Prince
Albert pays a visit against the queen’s wishes and meets royal disdain. Where could it possibly lead? Meanwhile, the mystery of Miss Skerrett’s past deepens.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Harry Tsuchidana

 

Harry Tsuchidana’s love of art would carry him far in life, but it would hardly be a straight path. His tenacity would take him far beyond his childhood in Waipahu, to the Marines, Washington, D.C. and eventually, New York City. Now 84 years old and a successful abstract artist, Harry still creates with the same urgency and passion that fueled him early on.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 5 at 4:00 pm.

 

Harry Tsuchidana Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

In all the years that I’ve been painting, I took some standing eight counts. Standing eight. It’s a—it’s a base—uh, it’s a boxing term. When you get beaten up, you get a standing eight count. I took several of those. But I—

 

Because people didn’t like your work? Is that what you’re saying?

 

Yeah; yeah. Or me.

 

That must feel terrible when you feel it represents you, and they reject it.

 

Yeah. Well … lot of actors are like that, too; right? They get rejected.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

So, I just—uh, I just created it. Yeah. So …

 

So, the confidence, you still have the confidence and the—

 

Yeah.

 

And the—well, tenacity is what you also mentioned.

 

Yeah. And I’m still in the ring. I’m still in the ring.

 

Yeah. You got up.

 

Yeah. I got up. Still in the ring.

 

As a boy growing up in the plantation town of Waipahu on the island of Oahu, all he wanted to do was draw. As a young man living a Bohemian life in New York City, all he wanted to do was create art. Today, he wakes up every day and still draws…still creates art. Harry Tsuchidana. Coming up, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaiʻi’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. How many of us can truthfully say that we are doing what we set out do as a child? That we had a dream, followed through with it, stayed the course through thick and thin, and achieved the respect of our peers in doing what we love? Abstract artist Harry Tsuchidana, 84 years young at the time of our conversation in October of 2016, has spent his life doing what he loves. While Tsuchidana’s “Stage Series…” a collection of abstract expressionist paintings, is celebrated for the use of straight lines that divide the canvas, Harry’s journey as an artist was hardly a straight path.

 

I was born in Waipahu . . . May 28, 1932. And I was born with an asthma, so I couldn’t play with rest of the other kids. So, I start to trace comics.

 

Tell me what your parents did for a living, how you were raised, what—

 

We had—

 

–were they like.

 

Yeah; we had a farm…we raised uh, eggplant and uh, bitter melon. That’s what we raised. And … my mother was a very strong—they were illiterate, they couldn’t write or read their own language. But they were strong-willed, and uh, religious too. And she always stopped and pray. So, I said to her, Did you pray for me? She said, You’re the first one. I remember that.

 

I understand for much of your life, your mother only raised you; single mom.

 

Yes.

 

Your dad had left.

 

Yeah.

 

What was that like? ‘Cause a lot of kids at the time had both parents in the house.

 

Right. Well, uh, she wasn’t uh … she saw me doing artwork, and she said to me, Do like—what you like to do best. And I—and she never said anything about the bottom line, how you’re gonna make a living. She said, As long as you like what you’re doing, that’s the most important thing.

 

 

And brother, sister?

 

I have a brother. And my sister left, you know, so just my brother and I, and my mother were there. So, uh, yeah, we worked on the farm. I always wanted to be an artist. Always. I told everybody I going be an artist. You know, so—

 

And what did they say to you?

 

I don’t know. They did better grade than me. I didn’t do too much grade in art, you know. Because I thought I was better than the instructor.

 

In art?

 

Yeah. That’s not a good thing to do. Yeah.

 

So, you didn’t get good grades in art?

 

In other works too. Yeah. But it didn’t bother me.

 

M-hm.

 

Yeah. Grade didn’t feel that I should … grade didn’t determine me, how good I am. You know. So …

 

You just always felt that you had this talent, and you were going to use it.

 

Right; yeah. Well, it’s really tenacity. You know, stick-to-it-ive. I was intrigued by uh, creating by adding and eliminating. You know. I did a—there was a landscape, and there were and there were junk trees, and there were nothing on the land. So, I just turned around and looked, and there was a mango tree. So, I put the mango tree there. So, I could move things. And that’s the thing that fascinated me. In fact, when I was seventh grade, I did a tree, Waipahu Elementary School. The tree is still there. I did a red and blue background. And the teacher said to me—her name was Mrs. Wong, she said, That’s not a tree. But, I said, that’s my tree.

 

Just as Harry Tsuchidana saw more than the literal tree, his vision for the future went beyond the eggplant and bittermelon crops in Waipahu. So what’s next for a young man who dreams of being an artist? How about the United States Marine Corps?

 

Now, tell me why you joined the Marines. That’s tough guy land; right? I mean … and tough women now, but …

 

Yeah.

 

Why Marines?

 

I saw a movie called Halls of Montezuma, with John Payne and Maureen O’Hara. It wasn’t like the movie at all. It was like Cool Hand Luke.

 

Really? So, you enjoyed the Marines?

 

I—I served only two years, you know. But uh, well, yeah, I really liked Marines. I developed alligator skin, you know. And uh …

 

Why did you develop alligator skin?

 

Because, you know, being the kid from Waipahu, you’re sensitive, everybody says something, you get hurt by it. You know, in the—in the service, you know, they kid you around, and you know, you develop that. You know. When I was stationed in Japan, in the enlisted men club, this person in charge said, You should have a show. I did some artwork. An—and then, I got a note from a second lieutenant saying that, You shouldn’t be in the infantry. You know, you should be in GS2. So, he transferred me. That changed my whole life, that second lieutenant.

 

Because you were made a GS?

 

Yeah. You know. And well, in the enlisted men club, there was a library there, and in that library they had a art in America. In the back of that art in America, they had all the list of art school, and I wrote to every one of ‘em. Rhode—Rhode Island School, California there was one, Chicago Institute. I wrote to National Academy in D.C.

 

Harry Tsuchidana was accepted at the National Academy, which helped him get settled in Washington DC. A short time later, Tsuchidana enrolled at the Corcoran School of Art. But it was while Tsuchidana was at the National Academy that he met an unlikely tutor who directed him to study the work and creative techniques of some prominent French painters.

 

There was uh, uh, a gallery named uh … Phillips Gallery. And there was a man, the doorman, you know, when you walk in, they click you. And he and I became good friends, and he taught me everything I know today. He said, When you look at—when you do artwork, measure the eye distance from here to here, from here to here, from here t—to here, and to study Pierre Bonnard. Because underneath all that color has the geometrical shape. And study Cezanne.

 

I think he was a dark Italian or Armenian. He knew everything, but he couldn’t paint. But he knew … what artist for me to study. He said, Study Seurat; he discovered the white light. If you—if you have the primary colors projected through a pinhole, it will create white. He taught me all those—uh, uh, as a … just coming out from the Marine Corps an—and uh, uh … all these things that they don’t teach you in school.

 

The indirect line that Harry Tsuchidana was following was beginning to straighten. The doorman directed Tsuchidana to seek out abstract painter Karl Knaths, with whom Harry became close friends. By chance, Tsuchidana befriended another abstract artist, Hans Hofman. Tsuchidana’s formal arts education was being supplemented with real-world advice and relationships with noted artists in the Washington D.C. area. Then one night, Harry Tsuchidana had a surreal moment…He believes that his late sister, who had died in an auto accident, spoke to him as he walked alone one evening.

 

I felt that the sister that died in 1945 is my guiding angel. I think she’s the one that talked to me in D.C. when I’m crossing the street. Move.

 

Go to New York.

 

Yeah; I think she’s the one that did it. I’m sure she’s the one.

I lived close to the White House, and I was crossing one night the Pennsylvania Avenue to go home at uh, was—at Lafayette Park. And a voice came to me, crossing the street. It said, You’ve gotta leave to New York. And I’m talking to the voice. I said, How I’m gonna do it? He said, Write it down, what you’re gonna do. You know. And put—put a sign on the bulletin board in school that you’re looking for a ride to go there. And someone wanted my apartment, so was everything he can—everything to take me to New York.

 

But you hadn’t finished art school.

 

No. That was—yeah, that’s right; I didn’t finish art school. First day in New York …, I see this guy. Hey, you’re from Hawai‘i. That was Jerry Okimoto. First day in New York. And uh, and h—he wrote his phone number into my—and that was also the key to go to the place that all the artists lived. And uh, and that’s how I got to meet all the artists.

 

They were all living in the same—

 

Building.

 

–building.

 

Yeah. Isami Doi was on third floor, Tadashi Sato was in the next unit, uh, Satoru Abe was on the fourth floor. You know, so Bob Oshikuru was on the first floor.

 

At the time, did you know that there was this small movement of Japanese Americans from Hawai‘i to New York? Did you know that?

 

I didn’t know that.

 

And you ended there, too, with them.

 

Yeah.

 

As one of the youngest.

 

Yeah; I was the youngest. I didn’t know; it just was there.

 

Artists following their muse, I guess.

 

Yeah. Uh, uh … amazing, how it turned out to be. Being the youngest, I was more of a listener and observer than a contributor. You know. And I learned a lot from them.

 

What did you learn?

 

Well … Isami Doi had an uncanny way of looking at art. He was very. And he had that view. Lot of the landscape had that view. And uh … uh … gotta say Sato was uh … I liked the way he used uh … uh, the form, and the space, and color. And uh, uh … Satoru Abe did the sculpture, he did the form, the intricate moving form that that sometimes I apply in my work as well. And Jerry … to me, he combined op—op art and … uh, pop art together. You know. And that’s—what a combination, he did that.

 

What about personality wise? How did you guys get along? What did you talk about?

 

Uh, well, we played cards a lot; Pinochle uh, and there was the corner bar, John’s bar, and we used to drink there often. You know. So, uh …

 

Well, these were the 50s, the mid-50s.

 

Yeah.

 

What was it like for a Japanese guy from Hawai‘i to be living there with other Asians? How did—

 

You know, I never—

 

Was there prejudice?

 

Yeah; I never thought of that, you know. I never thought that I was Asian and they were—you know. Uh, we just were there.

 

LESLIE UPPER #4:

You may have heard the phrase, “nature versus nurture” in the debate over which has more of an influence on how we’re shaped…our genetic makeup or our environment. In the case of abstract artist Harry Tsuchidana, his environment was clearly nurturing him as an artist…from his formal and informal education all the way to the guys with whom he played pinochle. He began expressing himself through photography and printmaking. And to make ends meet, Harry, as most struggling artists do, took a night job.

 

It was perfect for me to be at Museum of Modern Art.

 

What did you do at the Museum of Modern Art?

 

I was a night watchman.

 

You were the night watchman? Did they know you were an artist as well?

 

Uh, yeah, I’m sure. Uh, the personnel director, Anita Baldwin was because a lot of Hawaii artists were there, working there. And they had a good reputation of being a good worker.

 

I see. And so, at night, as watchman, you roamed the museum—

 

Yeah.

 

–looking at art?

 

I’m looking at art. And there was one time when Pablo Picasso had a show there. Lot of times, the janitors are Black people or Spanish, and they were discussing Pablo Picasso’s work. Yeah.

 

And so, you discussed it with them?

 

No; I just let them, you know, go. But I can watch the curator setting up a show. Lot of work. They tear down the wall, paint the color for the paintings. Oh, lot of work.

 

And what was your plan at that time?

 

To get married. Well, no. I don’t know; I just uh, uh … the excitement of being there, you know.

 

And you were working on art on the side?

 

Yeah, al—always painting.

 

Always?

 

Yeah.

 

Always.

 

It was after World War II that abstract art expressionism gained popularity in America, with artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and the aforementioned Hans Hofmann leading the movement.   Loosely defined as a style in which the artist conveys emotion through non-traditional means, abstract expressionism had its center in New York City. Harry Tsuchidana’s early abstract expressionist works had nature themes, with organic shapes. His later paintings, most notably his Stage Series, took on a whole different style.

 

 

What kind of art had you been doing all this time? You started when you were a little kid, and going through the Marines—

 

Mm.

 

–I’m sure you didn’t stop.

 

Yeah.

 

What kind of art had you been doing?

 

Nature motif, like weed it out uh, uh, sprouting. But in nineteen s—seventy-nine, I depart from that. I did uh, uh, uh, stage series. Maybe—can I demonstrate?

 

Sure.

 

I think it be a good time to do it.

 

Stage series; so, non-nature.

 

Non-nature. And uh, it’s uh … uh … uh, uh, I’m … okay. Now, this is … okay. This … uh, let’s see. Usually, I use T-square, but this will do. Okay. This … this distance here … took me a while to get that distance. The early ones, I made it higher. You see. This is eye level right here. So, my view is right here. This one is right there. And the vertical line … randomly, I put this here.

 

So, you’re actually drawing this, and people would look off the paper. I mean, you’re directing eyes off the paper—

 

Yes.

 

Above.

 

Yeah, above; yeah. Yes. Okay. Constantly, I’m aware of the distance. Constantly. Okay. Now, there’s two areas right there, and there’s another area. I’m breaking the space.

 

Hm.

 

That’s what it is. There’s an area there. Now, this is where the—right here … okay. I have a T-square at home—

 

M-hm.

 

–that my mother-in-law, when she passed away, was in that room.

 

Oh …

 

I use that every day. Okay. Now, this is the angle, right here. This is the angle. And you put another vertical line here … yeah, this. I did this ’79. To this day, I still do it. It fascinates me. And this angle right there. So, constantly moving. Dave Shoji do this every day; right? This way, he shift things. Yeah. So …

 

When he considers what to do in his volleyball games, you mean?

 

Yeah. You know, the way he look at things from an angle.

 

I see.

 

Same thing applies. It applies to—it applies to you; right?

 

Three-sixty looking at things, you mean?

 

Yes; yeah.

 

Except yours is on a linear plane.

 

Yes; yeah. Okay; this—this where it comes. After a while, I don’t think like that; I just do it. You know, so …

 

So, you’re trying to get people to look at, quote, all the angles.

 

Yeah; all the angles. And the color … uh … then that’s—that’s another level. You know, because you create a sensation when you put color next to each other.

 

I have alienated lot of people by doing the stage series.

 

Why is that?

 

Because there’s no handle. There’s no representation. So, uh, so just look at the lines. They don’t know what it is; right? So … so, that’s why it was important for me to demonstrate on that, to see the angle. So …

 

I’m sorry. I don’t understand when you say there’s no handles.

 

Yeah. Handle mean there’s no representation that you can say, Oh, that’s what uh, that—that’s a tree, or you know, whatever. So, the uh … the uh … uh, stage series, you know, there is no handle; it’s just lines.

 

So, you weren’t trying to make your art friendlier to the user.

 

Yes.

 

Right?

 

Right.

 

And why is that?

 

I don’t—

 

You figure, that’s my business, not yours?

 

Right. And I can reach more people, I felt applies to more people, the stage series. You know. Uh, and …

 

You can reach more people, even though they don’t know what you’re going for? Or were you trying to reach a different kind of person?

 

Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I just did it, uh … hoping that they will see what I’m doing. You know.

 

Harry Tsuchidana moved back to Hawai‘i for a short time, then to Los Angeles, finally moving back to Hawai‘i for good in 1972. By this time, the Bohemian artist, while still following his passion, had a family to support…his wife, Violet, and his son, Grant. And while Violet provided a steady paycheck by teaching, Tsuchidana worked a variety of jobs to help provide for his family.

 

Now, you became a father along the way.

 

Uh, uh, that’s when we came back from New York, 19—

 

How did that change you, having a son?

 

Well, I did all kind of uh, jobs to support him. Because my wife, you know, was schoolteacher, but she didn’t work, you know, for couple of years.

 

Well, tell me about your wife and how she felt about being married to an artist.

 

She was very supportive. In fact, she—you know, she was a schoolteacher, and she’s the one that supported me. And that’s the work that you see there. And she said, you know, Keep an eye on the ball, you know…so, she did … big help to me.

 

Because you didn’t go out promoting your work, and selling yourself. You—

 

Yeah.

 

You did art. That’s what you did.

 

Yes.

 

You’re more of a purist.

 

Well … well, thank you for saying that. Yeah; I just created, you know.
And I didn’t ask anybody for help. I did all—I did um, about seven job in one year. And my mother-in-law said to me, Gee, I didn’t know you knew many things.

 

What kind of jobs did you do?

 

Kamaboko.

 

At a factory?

 

Yeah.

 

Kamaboko factory?

 

All the—all the kamaboko factory. Um, uh—

 

What did you do at the factory?

 

You know the kamaboko, you cut the end. You cut the end. And Tupperware; I was—you know, the warehouse, stack the thing. And uh, um, Waikiki, there was—oh, I work as a dishwasher. And uh, what else I did? I did all kinda things. Yeah.

 

Did you … enjoy all of them?

 

I did. I had fun doing that.

 

Really?

 

I was exterminator at Sheraton Hotel.

 

Pest exterminator?

 

Yeah; exterminator.

 

Uh, you know, about one or two o’clock in the morning, the chef prepare for the next day. They put the salt, pepper. Ajinomoto, at the time, they used to put. Okay. And that gave me the idea that I put all the primary colors mixed together, and then take from there, and put a white … and mix the white. And all the colors will mix with the white, has all the colors. And that’s how I got the idea, from the chef.

 

But you know, when I was um, at the uh, Sheraton Hotel wor—working, two o’clock in the morning, I pushing the uh, fogger. And I’m thinking, One day, I’m gonna have a studio, and one day I’m gonna have a—you know, just paint. Walking three o’clock in the morning, and I still had that dream.

 

Still.

 

Yeah.

 

Harry Tsuchidana finally got that studio…he bought a condo unit for his family in Salt Lake on Oahu, and also bought a second unit to serve as his studio. Fittingly, a sale of his art to the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts helped to pay for the condo units. He also had some very handy real estate advice from land developer and art lover, the late Pundy Yokouchi.
You lived in New York, you lived in L.A. And when you came back to Hawaii, how did you decide to live?

 

Well, I was very lucky to get the condo. You know.

 

How did you get the condo?

 

Uh—

 

In Salt Lake; right?

 

Yeah; in Salt Lake. I knew that when I was in L.A. Uh, Pundy told me that they’re gonna develop a condo in Salt Lake. And he said, Well, you gotta wait. When you come back, you have to rent a place, and then … you know, to get that Salt Lake. That … that architect of that building … was my wife uh, classmate husband, Mike Suzuki.

 

And you do art every day?

 

Every day.

 

Do you have a regular schedule?

 

Not a schedule. It’s uh … uh, I have a coffee, I read the paper first, and then coffee, and then did that. And watch TV later on. Okay.

 

Mm. So, you don’t wait for inspiration; you’re already working.

 

That’s Hollywood. Hollywood wait for inspiration. I chase the buggah. I don’t wait for the inspi—I come to them.

 

Do you think you’re still getting better at art?

 

I—I … uh, Bumpei Akaji once said to me, I’m over-productive, but I always believe that the more you do, the more you evolve. You know. And I feel I’m getting better, and better. Even though some people don’t think about it, but that’s okay. Just getting better, and better.

 

But you have the process, too.

 

Yeah; process.

 

So, is it more about the outcome, or the process.

 

It’s the process. You know, the Eastern philosophy is not hitting the target; it’s getting the bow and arrow, and let go.

 

M-hm.

 

You know. And then, the—uh, and the … uh, the scientific perspective is this way. But the East is this way. As you get older, you get wiser. Bigger.

 

Famed artist Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Harry Tsuchidana, who, as a young boy, drew his tree, grew up and remained an artist…one who found happiness and the admiration and respect of his peers and the public in doing what he loves, and who still wakes up every morning and “chases the buggah.” Mahalo to Harry Tsuchidana of Salt Lake on Oahu for sharing his story. And mahalo nui loa to you for joining us. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

You know, you said you developed an alligator hide when you were in the Marines ‘cause of all the put-downs.

 

Yeah.

 

Have you developed that in art? When people don’t care—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–much about—

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

–this or that.

 

Yeah. I—yeah, I learned to cope with that. Yeah. In fact, when people insult me, say, you know, they don’t like my work, I shake their hand, you know. I—

 

Do they actually say that to you? They don’t like your work.

 

 

Yeah. At my home my home. And one, you know, at—uh, at the show. So, I shake their hand. I said, I’m sorry I caused you a problem.

 

[END]

 

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