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A Grand Source of Support: The KCET Women's Council

KCET Women's Council
Members of the KCET Women's Council, at their annual meeting at the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel in June, 1985. | Photo: KCET Women's Council

As KCET celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year, an important subset of the station celebrates a milestone of its own, for it was 50 years ago this week, on November 17, 1964, that the first meeting of the KCET Women's Council took place.

The KCET Women's Council was a volunteer organization of diverse community-minded women from across Southern California, whose goal was to provide additional fundraising support for the station through an annual benefit event, the proceeds of which went to ensure the continuation of KCET's quality programming. The group also fostered public interest in the station through community service.

The group's formation began even before KCET first signed on the air on September 28, 1964. Mary Lou Loper, wife of then-Community Television of Southern California Vice President Jim Loper, and Carol Horton, wife of CTSC co-founder Winter Horton Jr., decided that the new station should have a women's support group. The two sought out strong, effective, prominent, and capable women who could act as fundraisers for KCET and aid in promoting a publicly-supported educational television station. They scanned club rosters and listed names, with Mrs. Loper culling women from the Los Angeles area, and Mrs. Horton scouting names from the Pasadena area.

In early September of 1964, these influential women from L.A. and Pasadena were invited by CTSC President Dr. Lee A. DuBridge to gather at KCET's Vine Street studios on September 16 -- some two weeks prior to first going on the air -- to learn more about this innovative and exciting concept coming to Southern California's television airwaves, and to form a women's support group to help the station fulfill its mission and provide the region with quality educational and cultural programming.

Loper and Horton chose Mary Russell, the wife of architect George Vernon Russell, and Sue Taurog, wife of Hollywood film director Norman Taurog, both active and well-connected members of the community, to lead the new women's support group.

On a rainy November Tuesday, the Women's Committee of KCET, as the organization was originally called, had its first meeting at Studio A on the Vine Street studio lot. Their first project headed by Russell and Taurog was to help organize KCET's star-studded Dedication Dinner event at the Beverly Hilton on January 20, 1965.

Several months later, the group's name changed to the KCET Women's Council, and KCET became unique among the 300 educational TV stations in the country for having its own support group run solely by women.

In October 1966, the KCET Women's Council had its first major fundraising event, the premiere screening of the move Hawaii, starring Julie Andrews. Tickets ranged from $12.50 to $100, and the event was considered the first time a major Los Angeles fundraiser event charged $100 a ticket -- the equivalent to almost $735 today. Photos from KCET Women's Council galas (and the influential individuals who attended them) filled the society pages of L.A.'s newspapers back when they were in vogue, helping to further raise the profile of the station.

From then on, the KCET Women's Council organized at least one major benefit event per year, usually in the form of exclusive movie premieres at famed Hollywood venues. But occasionally they got to break the mold when the opportunity arose.

In September 1980, the Women's Council helped launch the KCET-produced PBS series, "Cosmos" with some 1,100 VIP guests dining on the front lawn of the Griffith Observatory, and being treated to an intimate talk with Dr. Carl Sagan himself.

In February 1996, the Women's Council celebrated the return of downtown L.A.'s legendary Angels Flight railway, with a "First Night at Angels Flight" gala dinner under the stars in the middle of L.A.'s urban core.

In the 21st century, the Women's Council organized "Star Luncheon" events giving guests the opportunity to have lunch with KCET personalities, public figures, or celebrity hosts, such as Art Linkletter, Bob Newhart, Arianna Huffington, and Huell Howser.

Television legend Art Linkletter was the special guest at a KCET Women's Council Star Luncheon event in 2007. | Photo: KCET Women's Council
Television legend Art Linkletter was the special guest at a KCET Women's Council Star Luncheon event in 2007. | Photo: KCET Women's Council

Events organized by the KCET Women's Council have raised nearly four million dollars for the station throughout its history.

In addition to staging fundraiser events, the KCET Women's Council was also active in
participating in the station's auctions and pledge drives, as the ladies of the organization were a familiar sight during pledge time staffing the telephones on-air.

Women's Council members also volunteered as greeters at the lobby at the Sunset Boulevard studios, greeting visitors to the station with a warm "hello" and a bright smile.

The Women's Council also organized the Festival of Student Art, where approximately 400 pieces of artwork, designed by local children, were spotlighted on the air during station breaks. The group has also long been involved in advocacy activities, connecting members, and friends with public figures and lawmakers in supporting KCET and public television as a whole.

In 2011, the KCET Women's Council was discontinued, primarily due to an aging and dwindling membership that was not able to sustain with newer and younger participants. But what might be perceived as the failure of an organization, was a success in the bigger picture: In 1964, the Women's Council was formed as a way for women to become actively involved in the growth and popularity of KCET, during a time when only a scant few women were employed at the station, much less were a part of the station's administration. Today, six of the 10 VP-level executive positions at KCETLink are held by women, and females make up a majority of the company's workforce.

The time and dedication given by the members of the KCET Women's Council throughout the years has, without a doubt, played a tremendous role in KCET's proud 50-year history.

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