By Evelyn De Wolfe and George Lewis
Ashlin Press. Available on Amazon.com
Reviewed By C. MacDonald
Everyone who watches TV will be fascinated by the remarkable story of Klaus Landsberg, a pioneer engineer and genius in creating "must-watch" television.
The German native built a crystal radio receiver at 6 and went on to be an engineer at the first Olympic broadcast in 1936 Berlin. Three years later he worked on the first Public TV demo at the New York World's Fair and later came to Paramount Pictures in Hollywood to develop technology and programming that would be used at KTLA, the first commercially-licensed TV station in the Western United States.
Evelyn De Wolfe, his first wife, and TV Reporter George Lewis explain the significance of his work in their honest book, "Line of Sight, Klaus Landsberg—His Life and Vision." Evelyn described Klaus as part Edison, part P.T. Barnum. "His passion, brilliance and dedication mesmerized me," she wrote.
He literally helped usher in the Television Age, became the King of locally-produced live shows and figured out how to technically provide live TV coverage of breaking news stories (explosions, riots, nuclear bomb tests, and the 1949 attempt to rescue 3-year-old Kathy Fiscus, who fell into an abandoned water well shaft in San Marino. He and his crew overcame power, electrical and other transmission challenges to ensure that a growing audience would sit spellbound watching this event for more than 27 hours.)
Klaus further created "must-watch TV" by broadcasting the Rose Parade, professional wrestling, pro sports (Angels, Lakers and Dodgers) and the Emmy Awards. He made Lawrence Welk a TV star, broadcasting the band every Friday night from the Aragon Ballroom at the Santa Monica Pier. Welk went on to nationwide prominence over network TV and his shows can still be enjoyed on Public Television.
You'll learn fun things in this book, not only about legendary reporters like Stan Chambers, but the first broadcast of the Emmy Awards, where a 20-year-old, Shirley Dinsdale and her puppet Judy Splinters, won the first Emmy!
He helped develop some terrific shows, including "Time for Beauty," a Children's Show so popular even Albert Einstein enjoyed watching it. He also built loyal audiences by running popular old films, including Hopalong Cassidy.
The book, whose title, Line of Sight showed that TV signals were limited to the visible horizon, goes into a lot of technical challenges that Klaus helped solve with his relentless ingenuity, which enhanced TV production and viewing.
But this isn't just a story about early TV, it's the story of a driven genius often totally obsessed by his work and how it affected the relationships he had with those around him, including his talented, Brazilian-born wife, Evelyn, who would later become a journalist with the Los Angeles Times.
The development of their loving relationship is interesting as Klaus wrote letters on how he wanted her to work with him. Often, that work turned out to be listening to his passionate ideas about television.
In 1945, they married in Hollywood and her parents held a brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel. As they prepared to leave, Klaus heard there was a transmitter problem and had to go to the station, where he ended up working until 1am, before departing for a honeymoon at Riverside's Mission Inn.
Evelyn had no idea TV would become such a demanding mistress. Even after they had a child, Cleve, he spent more and more time at his job. She started feeling like "a wife without a husband." He was a workaholic, striving for perfection, sometimes at the cost of a family relationship. The marriage would end, although they remained friends through his death from cancer at 40.
Not only was Klaus KTLA's founder, general manager and Paramount TV's vice president, he created or produced thousands of shows. One of the most fascinating stories is how he was able to broadcast live, a nuclear bomb test in Nevada, which was seen by 30 million viewers in 1952.
He and his crew were able to lay out a 275-mile microwave relay across the desert, including landing 6 tons of equipment via helicopter to get a clear signal from the test site to Los Angeles. But minutes before the blast, the power failed at the test site, knocking out the TV cameras.
Fortunately, Klaus had another camera on Mount Charleston, 40 miles away, which was able to show the moment of the blast, before the other cameras came back up.
"His raw courage, physical endurance and technical brilliance inspired a great crew of engineers and reporters," wrote Charter Heslep of the Atomic Energy Commission. And reading this book will inspire your own creativity and show we're only limited by our imagination. Anything's possible. Klaus proved it!