The Omnibus television program of the 1950s and ‘60s has been called “the most successful cultural magazine series in the history of U.S. commercial television.” One of its most popular and innovative undertakings was a seven-part series—plus a bonus eighth performance—Leonard Bernstein made for the program between 1954 and 1958.
Now the Arizona Senior Academy is presenting those eight episodes on separate dates this summer in the Academy’s Great Room. The second, to be shown at 3:30 p.m. Thursday (June 23), is entitled “The World of Jazz.”
Critics have noted the “inevitably dated aspects” of the program, which was originally broadcast on Oct. 16, 1955. They point out that the jazz show includes just one African-American singer in an otherwise all white jazz band. But critic John Rockjwell notes: “In his persona Bernstein remained a ‘50s hipster, cool like Sinatra yet warmer and more overtly emotional.”
Rockwell adds: “So as early as the ’50s, when these programs were made, Bernstein was hardly a raw beginner. He was a fully formed musical genius, not yet crippled by self-doubt, compromise and the lure of European glamour. He was at his peak. Add to that his classic good looks and irresistible charm and you have a ready-made television star, not just a uniquely gifted musical explicator. In these programs he appears as a dazzling young man at the outset of a dazzling career.”
Later programs from the “Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus” collection will cover conducting, American musical comedy, modern music, J.S. Bach, grand opera, and a bonus performance of Handel’s Messiah.
Omnibus was created by the Ford Foundation, which sought to increase the education level of the American public. The show’s producer, Robert Saudek, pledged to “raise the level of American taste” with educational entertainment. The series won more than 65 awards, including seven Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards.
Written by Mike Maharry, Academy Village Volunteer