- 1911 - 2012 (Production)
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To examine the 34 years that trailblazing producer and director Mario Prizek spent at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is, in many ways, to track the development of Canadian media and society as a whole. A fearless and provocative creative spirit, Prizek often ruffled feathers at his place of employment as his work – ahead of its time in both content and style – polarized Canadian viewership, boldly tackling race, sexuality, and other hot button topics of the 1950s and 1960s.
Born in Edmonton, Alberta on March 22, 1922, Prizek was a first generation Canadian of Spanish, French, and Polish descent. Before being recruited by CBC Vancouver to produce radio in 1951, Prizek led a multi-faceted life: studying painting and design at Banff School of Fine Arts; dancing for Edmonton’s Empire Opera Company; serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force; and teaching English, theatre, painting, and design at University of British Columbia. Staying with CBC until the company’s period of mass layoffs in 1985, Prizek transferred to their Toronto offices in 1955; he would live in the city – including roughly five decades in the City Park complex – until his 2012 passing.
After joining CBC, Prizek became best known for his collaborations with musician Glenn Gould, including the series Music in Our Times, but they represent merely the tip of the iceberg: more than 60 productions comprise Prizek’s corpus. A deeper look at Prizek’s CV – both with CBC and with the British company Granada TV – reveals his commitment to the advancement of social issues. In 1955, he produced The Eleanor Show, a CBC Vancouver production starring Black singer Eleanor Collins. Overseas, Prizek produced South, the earliest surviving gay-themed British television drama, in 1959 – just two years after the Wolfenden Report. In what is perhaps the most turbulent period of Prizek’s career, he produced experimental television series Eye Opener in 1965; canceled after one season and modified by CBC management, the series tackled issues as diverse as drug use, racism, war, and homosexuality.
A career as prolific and a life as idiosyncratic as Prizek’s would be well worth celebrating even if they unfolded today but contextualizing them against their time and place in history make them all the more remarkable. Thriving in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” paradigm at the CBC well before the 1969 decriminalization of homosexual acts in Canada, Prizek straddled the fine line of public and private, creating a rich body of work in the process.
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