Today: How Frannie Buss, television’s first female director, succeeded against almost impossible odds.
Growing up in St. Louis, Frannie dreamed of becoming “a great actress” and got stage and radio work as a teenager in her hometown. But to attain stardom, she’d need to move to New York and at just 18 years old, she did in 1935.
Joined by her older sister, the two young ladies studied acting and actively auditioned for roles. But the competition was intense, the work scarce, and eventually her sister returned to St. Louis.
But Frannie refused to quit and stayed in New York. Occasionally, she acted in radio soap operas and commercials but it was the Great Depression and even office work was hard to get especially when one had to keep a flexible schedule to audition.
Frannie struggled but scraped by as she kept her costs low and her hopes high.
Then in 1941, after six long years in New York, Frannie got a two week temp job as a receptionist at what became CBS Television. At the time, television was experimental and largely unknown.
So unknown that as a receptionist, Frannie answered few calls and fewer visitors stopped by. In the quiet it let her look into what was going on there.
What she saw was shows broadcast to a tiny audience for few people had TV’s. She offered to stand in under the hot lights as they ran their tests, and she created signage and drew maps for news shows.
When their receptionist returned, CBS kept Frannie for she was involved in practically every show they were doing.
Among her jobs, on “The CBS Television Quiz” Frannie was on the air as a scorekeeper and she was a dancer on “The Country Dance.” When Pearl Harbor was bombed, she helped broadcast the news, including drawing maps of Hawaii so viewers could understand what they were seeing.
Finally, after years of struggle, Frannie was doing well.
Then her career hit a wall. In 1942, CBS suspended its television broadcasting and she was out of work. But with her newly developed broadcast skills, she soon got a job with the Navy making training films for the war.
When CBS Television began broadcasting again in 1944, they rehired Frannie and her career took off. As an assistant director and then as a director, she directed one of the first cooking shows, “To the Queen’s Taste,” directed game shows and directed one of the first talk shows, “Mike and Buff,” starring Mike Wallace.
Frannie also directed dramas and directed Brooklyn Dodger baseball games, boxing matches and other sports events and even a children’s show as well, starring popular puppeteers Bil and Cora Baird.
But suddenly, something she never saw coming changed her life.
In 1949, she got a telephone call from a Bill Buch, who fondly remembered her from her training film days.
Frannie didn’t recall him and didn’t respond to his calls. But he was persistent and convinced her to have lunch with him. They began seeing each other regularly and he captured her heart. Soon they were married.
But there was a problem.
Frannie had a nice paycheck but Bill was out of work. At the time, living off his wife’s money could crush a man’s ego. Through her contacts, she helped Bill get a job.
Eventually, he became a successful pharmaceutical salesman with a substantial income and the couple moved to New Jersey to accommodate his job. With Frannie’s long hours and her intense work schedule, commuting to New York City was difficult for her.
So in 1954 she brought her professional career to an end.
Frannie and Bill were happily married for 49 years, until he died in 1998. In 2010, Frannie passed away a few days after a stroke at the age of 92. No children survive them.
But in an era before Civil Rights and Women’s Lib, Frannie had blazed quite a trail, as television’s first female director, making her mark on many of CBS’s original shows.
What advice would she offer you? “Take any job you can get,” she told an interviewer in 2005.* and “keep your eyes open.” In other words, get in the door and make your own opportunities.
Success Tip of the Week:
Even in hard times as there are now, and there were during the Great Depression when Frannie arrived at CBS, there are always opportunities if you look for them.
*To see any of the five segments of a two hour interview of Frannie [Frances Buss Buch] in 2005, when she was 88 years old, please visit the Archive of American Television.
In the next KazanToday:
How a successful real estate developer found his dream job, one that he never expected, and it will surprise you as well.