Rick is listed in the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) as “Director, Producer, Writer.” Unfortunately, that description seems to barely scratch the surface. If anything, his best accomplishment to date seems to have been finding his wife Nancy. She is well known in our Mount Zion community, for her efforts as videographer and editor of our Temple’s 150+ oral histories (which include my own), a labor of love that our current Humans series can only appreciate, and emulate.
We recently met at two coffee shops – with Rick waiting at Nina’s, while I showed up at the Finnish Bistro. Lacking a remote feed and interactive screen, we soon connected in person at Nina’s, where I took the “one shot” of him in the photo above (a director’s term he taught me).
As Rick points out, there are likely many more volumes of his life still to be written. In the meantime, we will have to see if imdb.com can accommodate a few more descriptors – including son, husband, father, scholar, archaeologist, author, and Kabbalist.
I was born in Kansas – Wichita – which is really odd, because I fled just as quickly as I could. We had moved to Colorado Springs for a while, and then Omaha, but then ended up back in Wichita where I graduated from high school.
I had an older brother who died at just a couple months old. We very seldom talked about that. It was sad, it was hard for my parents. It was a time when it would be cured if he had been living now. Then I came along, and so clearly, I was cherished to within an inch of my life.
Daddy was a salesman, but really a master salesman for Coleman’s, the gas lamp people, which was big in Wichita. They gave an annual award for the best salesman every year, and my father always won it, and so they finally discontinued it. My mother was the secretary to the president of Coleman, and so Daddy being fairly notable, their paths crossed and that’s what happened. I haven’t thought about that in years.
And when we came back to Wichita, he started a home improvement company called All Weather Products, and it became the second largest company of its type in Wichita. I had a very unprofitable stint as a maker of windows, while I was in the 8th grade.
Do you remember any grade school teachers?
Mrs. Ziegenfuss, isn’t that a great name? She taught first grade, I think.
Were you active in high school?
I was the salutatorian, it was a large class, and Dolores Covey was valedictorian. Dolores was very serious and did better than me. I think I got a C in gym, so I think that’s what did me in. And I was mostly active in drama. I did try to join the tennis team, and I was on it for a week and a half, and then I got cast as Peter Marshall, in A Man Called Peter. That trumped it all. From then on, I was always in the cast.
And I directed – you probably know this one act play, we all seemed to do it, it was called Submerged.
I thought you were going to say The Lottery. I was in The Lottery.
No, The Lottery is good, and Submerged was very much like that, it has to do with a lottery as well. I directed it, and did a lot of the set design, and played the role of the coward.
Snippets from a synopsis found online:
A trapped submarine crew is forced into one compartment of their damaged sub. The commander announces that the only hope is for him to sacrifice himself by launching himself out of the torpedo hold, strapping their location onto his onto his body, which will float to the top and be spotted by rescue ships. Despite the commander’s noble decision, the crew ultimately decides to draw cards to decide who will be shot from the tube. The “coward” Brice (our Rick) wins the draw but soon ‘cowers and blubbers’, and instead, the “dreamer” Shaw steps up and offers himself as sacrifice.
In the true spirit of a high school production, the sound of torpedoes being fired off was provided by a toilet that would be flushed, miked and on cue, just one floor above the stage. (Rick assures me that “the only thing that matters is the effect”) The next time I hear that sound though, it will be hard not to think – that could have been Rick.
What did you do for college?
From high school I went to New Haven, to Yale, for four years. I was given the chance to study my junior year in France, so I majored in French language and literature. It was a great department, great names in the discipline at that time. I had a Jewish roommate at Yale who invited me to a Chanukah candle-lighting. I thought it was a pagan rite. Honestly!
And after college?
At first, I taught high school for a year at the Staten Island Academy. And from there, I applied to graduate school. Though I made a mistake. I thought I was applying to Ohio State University because they were very strong in research, but by mistake I applied to Ohio University. And they were just thrilled to have this application, and they offered me an incredible scholarship. And everything I learned about television I learned there. They were wonderful to me. Every week I was responsible for 17 hours of live television, and so that’s where I learned my craft.
Where did you go after graduate school?
While I was at Ohio I saw this incredible video of an opera with words dripping down the screen, and that image attracted me. I said ‘I want to go there! That’s where I want to work!’ And it turned out to be WGBH in Boston. It is known for things like Masterpiece Theater, and the Julia Child series.
So I looked into it and went there on a production internship, and from the first week on, I became a producer, director, writer, and I stayed there for fourteen years – and that’s where I met Nancy, toward the end of that period of time. I did a billion things there, including cultural programs, and weekly “how to” shows. There were also interactive dramas, which were well seen, and won awards. I ended my career at GBH with the Scarlet Letter mini-series. PBS had never done a remote drama outside, so we took the newly portable TV cameras into the wild, where we had overlayed a medieval Boston city onto a Revolutionary War fortress in Newport.
What happened next?
The Scarlet Letter is what got me to Hollywood – they saw that and invited me to work at Columbia, though I ended my years there at Paramount. I can still remember – there was a full moon high above a phone booth in a field of cows in the Dordogne— where I made a midnight call to my agent to accept a “firm job offer” to direct TV in Hollywood. I ended up directing a lot of things, mostly war dramas, like the mini-series for From Here to Eternity, and Call to Glory. I was in Hollywood for about twelve years, and then we came here.
How did you end up here?
KTCA brought me from Hollywood, to be the senior executive producer in charge of arts and culture. But my worst fear was that I would come to Minnesota and be unemployed. And after 5 years they decided they didn’t like art very much, or culture for that matter – the news triumphed.
But within a year of leaving KTCA, I had created something called THE PERFORMANCE LAB, which is an interactive television experiment that taught the performing arts at different locations, and cities, and all by live hook up. And the LAB still exists, in fact Nancy’s current oral histories of Minnesota dance pioneers will lead off the new home page. But the constant grant and fundraising for all these projects began to wear thin, and I’ve since moved on to other interests.
How about your family?
Nancy (Mason, originally Meznikoff) was from Middletown, New York, and had studied to be a professional dancer at the National Ballet School in Canada. Later she became a dance critic with DANCE Magazine in New York, and The Christian Science Monitor in Boston.
At one point she had come to Boston and was looking to get into television, so she interviewed with me at WGBH the day before I was to go to the Amazon for two months.
We disagree on exactly how the interview went, but our meeting dates to that time. She began at GBH while I was in the Amazon and stayed on. And we did several projects together, like the production and filming of Tzaddik with the great choreographer Eliot Feld. It was quite spectacular, where the ‘students’ would dance in a world of Hebrew letters, and it ended with a scene in which the teacher, the rabbi, wraps the students in Torah. Very beautiful.
And Nancy and I were married at her home in Middletown in a Reform service, but the only thing the Rabbi wouldn’t let me do was to stomp on the glass – which has always been one of my great regrets. And so Rabbi Adler said that she would set up a ‘crushing of the glass’ ceremony for me in the Johnson Social Hall. I still haven’t done it, but I really do want that to happen. Next year will be our 40th anniversary, so that might be my chance. And I remember going around the table, at my first Seder, and the question was asked “We’re all trying to escape from something, aren’t we? Now, Rick! What is it that you are running from?” I felt like a deer in headlights, until Nancy came to the rescue with “Wichita.”
And we now have two kids. Hannah is 35 and living in Burlington as a social worker in AIDS education and prevention, she is married and she has two charming boys Orie and Gus. And our son Noah will be 30, in January. He had been working on Wall Street but was recruited back to Minnesota by Xcel Energy and has since moved on to Nuveen Investments. He is not married, but is hot in pursuit.
What has been your connection to Mount Zion?
We have deep ties to Mount Zion. Nancy and I lead Daily Services two or three months a year. I can read from the bima in the Chapel —but not in the sanctuary on High Holy Days! And we have spent time teaching English in Israel with Engliyada. We were also in the first Mussar group, and Nancy is still involved. And our Hebrew classes with Siana were such a gift! And I also now study Kabbalah, and I find that deeply satisfying.
I have always felt very accepted, and we have so many good friends at Temple. Though I never have converted, but there has always been the chance. It’s kind of like going for the PhD.
Yeah, there seem to be a lot of people that go through life fine, just a couple credits short.
I know that you also study archaeology. Can you tell me about that?
While I was still in Hollywood, I found my way to UCLA, and met an archaeology professor there, Giorgio Buccellati, who was enamored with media. And I began going with him to a site in Syria called Tell Mozan (originally, ancient Urkesh). That was in 1983, and has continued to this day. In fact, part of my deal at KTCA was that I would get two months off every year to go to Syria.
It’s a very terrible situation there now, of course, though I do know that our site is safe. It’s in the Kurdish area, and our dearest friends and villagers rose up and protected the site. So I have worked to integrate both archaeology and media. I’ve done documentaries about the site, but I also dug. And even though we haven’t been able to go back for about five years, I am still editing films about ancient Urkesh. See here.
I also currently happen to be a visiting research fellow in the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures at the U, which is kind of odd. I am basically a consultant, and they look to me for my interactive media experience.
So what does the future hold?
Well you know I still write. We were walking through the site in Syria one day, and someone said to me “Rick you really need a specialty.” So I looked down to the figurine I happened to be standing on, and said “how about figurines?”
In recent years, I have finished two books, one on terra-cotta animal figurines. (Reading figurines: animal representations in terra cotta from royal building AK.) Then more recently, a colleague and I wrote a book that brings together art, archaeology, and the cuneiform sources. It is kind of a ‘go to’ source on the domestication of horse like creatures, studying figurines from sites at the base of the Caucasus mountains, where there were migrations over many centuries that were all intimately connected to the domestication of the horse. The Domestication of Equidae in Third-Millennium BCE Mesopotamia. (Juris Zarins and Rick Hauser, Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology, vol. 24, (2014), pp. XI + 432).
Do you have a book or next project in the works?
For last three years now I have been working on ‘object biography’, because of my anthropological past. Studying what objects have to tell us about culture, and using them as a window on the past. In our next book, colleagues and I will edit papers that were given in our workshops on that subject.
And before that, for four years, colleagues and I created a series of workshops on the looting of artifacts, for the American Schools of Oriental Research. More recently, I have become curator of an online exhibition of ivory artifacts from the pre-modern era, for a site called MAPPAMUNDI, out of the University of Texas. .
Have you found a solution to artifacts that have been looted?
Many of us are trying to find a way that artifacts that are traded – or stolen – can be published without increasing their value on the open market. Publishing an object makes it more valuable.
How might you do that, other than to prevent the publication?
The only antidote is to provide a free market of knowledge.
I’ll stay tuned for that, and thanks. This has been fun.
It has been! Strands of memory. In anthropology, we call that “entanglement.”