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S c r e e n l i f e

Gem of a Job

Bill Vassar continues the fight for the future of the film industry in North Carolina

By Gwenyfar Rohler

Photograph by Mark steelman

“I’ve worked every day since I was 16

in the media — or at least every week,” says Bill Vasssar, chuckling with delight. We are in his office at the movie studio, the noise and bustle of calls and visitors audible in the background. But his grin and the twinkle in his eye tell me that Vassar is back in 1967 in New England. In high school, he worked part time as “everybody’s fill-in guy.” He recalls working at three different radio stations — all in different markets, all within biking distance of each other. Christmas Day would find him covering disc jockey shifts instead of at home with his family. “Oh, you can’t get anyone on Christmas? Call Vassar.” He grins and shakes his head. “I just loved it.”

Bill Vassar of EUE/Screen Gems in Wilmington is filled with the intensity of focused ambition mixed with the joy that comes from doing work you really love — a joy that bubbles over into ebullient laughter when he talks

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

about working the pilot for The Cosby Show or how he got hired at Screen Gems. With that velvety, almost hypnotic voice, it’s not hard to believe that he started in radio, but with his thick, dark hair and good looks, I can’t help but wonder why he wasn’t on camera. He’s had an incredible career working at NBC, on the forefront of 3-D set simulation, producing specials about the Time’s “100 Most Influential People” with 60 Minutes, owning a radio station and continuously working on projects that interested him. But really it all happened because of his seventh-grade teacher, Vassar says. “She knew I was interested in radio and television, so she said, ‘Why don’t you call Mr. Putnam and see if he’ll come talk to the class about editorials?’” Mr. Putnum owned the first commercial UHF television station in the country. It was in Springfield, Massachusetts, near Vassar’s school. “I called Mr. Putnam.” Vassar nods his head and swallows hard at the memory. “He took my call!” His voice fills with the surprise of a 12-year-old who suddenly feels very, very grown-up. Putnum came to talk to the class and Vassar managed to get up the courage to tell him that he wanted to be in television. To Vassar’s amazement, Putnum invited him to come by the TV station. Fast forward from the late 1960s to 2014. “It’s my seventeen-year anniversary with the company this week,” Vassar observed when we met. “Congratulations,” I responded. Vassar begins to tell me he didn’t have a job description when he first got hired — just direction to wear a jacket and tie. A friend warned him that this was a bad idea; if he didn’t have a job description, he could get fired and never know why. Vassar responded that it wasn’t that kind of company or that kind of relationship. It was more about November 2014 •

Salt

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November Salt 2014  

The Art and Soul of Wilmington

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