Merrill Brockway, Patron of the Fine Arts on TV, Dies at 90

He directed and produced for PBS’ landmark series “Dance in America” and CBS’ “Camera Three.”

Merrill Brockway, an Emmy Award winner who brought the arts into the living rooms of millions of Americans by producing and directing Camera Three for CBS and Dance in America for PBS, died Friday in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 90.

Brockway later directed American Masters installments on famed acting teacher Stella Adler in 1989 and Tennessee Williams in 1994 and produced a film of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker that was released by Warner Bros. in 1993 and featured Macaulay Culkin.

Brockway was working as a director at WCBS-TV in New York when he was asked in 1967 to move over to Camera Three, a variety series that premiered in 1956 and showcased drama, ballet, art, poetry, music, etc.

Through the show, Brockway helped bring the world of performing arts to ttelevision. Among those he worked with were Adler, Balanchine, Martha Graham, Eugene Ormandy, Agnes de Mille, Ruby Dee and Merce Cunningham.

Earlier, as a student at New York’s Columbia University, Brockway had seen Graham perform for the first time. In his words, “I went, and there was this little woman alone onstage. She grabbed my gut and pulled it out and tossed it around and smashed it on the stage. Martha’s language was mother’s milk for me. I was hooked.”

Brockway later pioneered dance on television on the Emmy Award-winning Dance in America, which debuted on PBS in 1976. It featured the great artists of the day, seeking to remain true to their choreographic visions, transitioning from the stage to the small screen. Balanchine was among those who forged the new, interpretive model for televised dance.

In 1980, Brockway returned to CBS to work as executive producer of arts programming for a new CBS Cable cultural channel. He also produced the independent projects Les Ballet de Monte Carlo in Monte Carlo and The Romantic Era in Guanajuato, Mexico. 

He retired to Santa Fe in 1993 and began his involvement with the National Dance Institute of New Mexico and, more recently, the fledgling New Mexico School for the Arts. Brockway donated his Dance in America archives to the National Dance Institute of New Mexico two years ago — about 130 tapes plus additional documentaries that spanned decades.

Brockway was born in New Carlisle, Ind., and began studying the piano at age 7. He earned his master's at Columbia, served in World War II in Europe and taught piano, coached singers and toured as an accompanist until the early 1950s, when he began working in television at CBS in Philadelphia.

His memoir, Surprise Was My Teacher, was published in 2010.

Brockway had no survivors.