Marty Pasetta, producer of the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards, "Paul Anka in Monte Carlo," "Barry Manilow in Concert" and the UNICEF rock 'n' roll spectacular "A Gift of Song," was preparing to stay up the longest night of his life. He, along with the rest of his office, was on the phone, his voice slightly muffled. He shook a little as he sat huddled in his blue cardigan sweater, his chin resting on the deep red turtleneck that came up from under it, and he put his hands through the gray Beatle-bangs that hung over his brow while he talked.
In a suite of offices not high above Third Avenue in Manhattan, he was producing The Show Most Likely to Be Most Watched in the History of the World, "Let Poland Be Poland," an American-produced expression of solidarity with the Poles. It would be broadcast on Sunday, Jan. 31, endorsed by the Reagan administration, sanctioned by the Congress of the United States, and featuring Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Glenda Jackson, Orson Welles, Max von Sydow, Henry Fonda, several worldwide crowds of many thousands and the leaders of the United Kingdom, West Germany, Belgium, Norway, Denmark.
"!!!!!!" Marty Pasetta said.
On that floor not high above Third Avenue, a whole wall was filled with pink and blue index cards on which were the names of most of the show's participants, in the order in which they might appear to viewers in more than 50 countries around the world. Marty Pasetta heard something he liked on the phone and grew slightly calmer.
"!!!" he said. He turned to the small cordon of staff standing around him, and stood up. "Let's get going," he said. "Let's get moving right now." Marty Pasetta put on his coat and went down the hall.
He was agitated because in Europe, where he had just spent six days -- he'd been back from France only a day -- many press people who felt they were closer to Poland than Hollywood, California or New York City were riding him hard for what they called American vulgarity. Pasetta had been chosen by Charles Z. Wick -- friend of President Reagan and head of the International Communication Agency -- to produce an exportable television show in which recognizable faces would express American solidarity with Solidarity. He had done what he knew how: "We called people who we knew would be known around the world, like Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas. We wanted stability of taste, class and dignity. They all lent that, and were just right to tie the international rallies we're going to televise together. We needed some sort of glue. They were just the kind of glue we needed."
Marty Pasetta of Bel Air, Calif., shivered in the cold on the street. There wasn't a cab on Third Avenue and he had to get uptown to Jan Sawka's apartment to choose some of the Polish expatriate's art as backdrops for the show. "We know what we're doing here," he said, "We're not in a panic; we don't work that way." It was Wednesday. About 20 percent of the contents of the show's hour had been received at the Manhattan office.
"I don't know whether this is going to be the biggest TV show of all time, and I don't care," Pasetta said. "What I have here is, I happen to have a little knowledge of how to use the medium, and since television is entering more people's lives than anything else in history ever has, this is a great thing to do with it. I know something about the business, and so they called on me to do this. We're not telling anybody what to say. What I'm doing here, because I understand the medium, is acting as a conduit here for other people's thoughts. It's all based on our knowledge of show business. We're taking all the elements and putting them together in one show, one world statement, and it's going to go into, I don't know, at least 50 countries. First we were going to put it in some arena, but then we thought, no, that's too show-bizzy. And then we thought if we contacted people around the world...
"Nobody -- not Douglas, not Heston, not Orson Welles, was handed a statement and told 'read this,'" he said, still looking around for a cab. "Most told us what they wanted to say and we just helped them prepare their statements and make sure they were shorter than the world leaders'." His producer, Eric Lieber, and his son found a cab and hurled themselves into it.
Wick had called Pasetta 2 1/2 weeks ago and told him he needed help. Pasetta had already helped on the vastly ambitious Reagan inaugural balls, and through the Academy Awards and satellite rock concerts had experience in packaging programs for international broadcast. Wick's office had prepared a set of names of entertainment industry people they knew would have the strength to carry the message the Reagan administration wanted. Wick himself had contacted Sinatra and Bob Hope.
"They told us how they felt about things," Pasetta said, "based on their experiences. Kirk Douglas had received a film award in Poland a few years ago. He wanted to speak about his memories of the students there. Frank Sinatra had, long ago, recorded a song, 'Ever Homeward,' that had part of a very moving Polish folk song in Polish. He suggested it. We thought that was just right and we had him and all of them prepare their statements, and we taped them in advance so we could make sure we didn't have entertainers going 20 minutes while Margaret Thatcher got five."
The cab pulled up in front of an apartment in the East Fifties, and Pasetta, his son and Lieber got out, ran through the lobby and up into a small apartment where a round, dark, bearded man opened the door.Jan Sawka had been thrown out of Poland in 1976. He took his prizes and his family and went first to Paris, then came to New York, creating political art as he went. In the apartment his daughter, a little girl in a flowered nightgown, held on to Sawka's leg while Pasetta stood and looked at his big paintings: one, created for Solidarity and confiscated and destroyed by the government, then reproduced after his expatriation, showed a Polish landscape lit by a sun that had become a Solidarity button. Another, created after Dec. 13, 1981, showed the same landscape covered with shadow under a black, eclipsed sun.
Pasetta stood and studied the cards. "Sen-sational," he said. "Sen-sational." He picked up one piece of art, a series of small drawings depicting views of repression in Poland. "Sen-sational!" Pasetta said. "This I can photograph."
Sawka stood and chain-smoked Camels while Pasetta appraised his pieces. His small daughter ran a truck across the floor. "Bruhmm, bruhmm!" she said in a high, squeaky voice. "Look," Pasetta said of a card that carried the title "Let Poland Be Poland," in several languages, "look, perfect." He turned to Lieber. "Have you ever seen such a card?" He picked up a button with the Solidarity insignia on it. "Who designed this?" he said.
"I don't know," Sawka replied, "somebody in Poland at the beginning of the movement."
"It's pretty," Pasetta said. "It's a good design."
Sawka agreed with Pasetta. His little girl showed her mother a Lego skyscraper she had made and said something in Polish. Pasetta turned to the black landscape with the eclipsed sun. "We can use this for a match dissolve," he said. Sawka nodded and lit another Camel while his daughter reached up and grabbed him around the waist.
"These are really beautiful," Pasetta said. "We can shoot them in the studio Friday morning." He was pacing back and forth in the room, picking up pieces of art. "We can blow this one up and use this --" he pointed out a detail to Lieber.
"I never wanted to be a political artist," Sawka said, "it just happened to me."
"I want to use the black and white," Pasetta said. "And we'll use these drawings as the basic sets on the show. I can use these between the leaders and the Sinatra." All at once Pasetta said he had to go. Sawka's wife brought his coat and Sawka's daughter hid behind her father's leg, smiling. "It's going to be great," Pasetta said, and walked down the hall, took the elevator to the first floor and got a cab.
The cab hit a traffic jam and Pasetta, with the heads of the world's great states about to send in their tapes to him, began rocking back and forth on the taxi seat. "Oh God, oh God," he said, and then sat up.
"You owe society," he said, "you gotta pay, not just with a check all the time. Sometimes your services are more meaningful." Marty Pasetta got out of the cab at the Berkshire Place Hotel. He was tired. Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles, Henry Fonda, Glenda Jackson, Max von Sydow, and Bob Hope were in the can, but he still hadn't gotten tape on the mass rallies, and as for the leaders of the free world, he couldn't put them in the script because he didn't know what they would have to say or how long their tapes would be. And the president wasn't even going to do his reading until Friday. But Marty Pasetta knew that would go okay. "His people are doing it," he said, "they know what they're doing."