Dr. Richard Ward’s Cinematic Vision
Dr. Richard Ward, Professor of Communication, now in his twenty-second year at USA,
will be the Interim Chair of the department for the 2018-2019 academic year. He received
a B.A. in Cinema Production at the University of Southern California in 1975 and an
M.S. in Mass Communication from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1978. He
earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1995.
Ward taught with a Master's degree at Northeast Louisiana University (now the University of Louisiana at Monroe) from 1978 to 1981, and then at the University of Southern Mississippi until 1988, with the exception of an intervening period. According to Ward, “For much of 1985 through 1987 I had the ‘Hollywood phase’ of my career, most of which was spent in the Post-Editorial Department of Universal Studios. The highlight of my career there was a 1985 trip to the home of my fellow USC alumnus, George Lucas, as a courier/bodyguard for a 35mm print of Universal's newest film at the time, Out of Africa.”
After finishing Ph.D. coursework at the University of Texas and while writing his dissertation, Ward taught at Eastern Connecticut State University. He came to USA’s College of Arts & Sciences in August of 1996.
Film and television history, particularly the silent film era, have been the focus of Ward’s research. He is the author of two books: his 2006 monograph, A History of the Hal Roach Studios(a revised version of his dissertation); and, his 2016 text, When the Cock Crows: A History of the Pathé Exchange. As Ward describes him, Hal Roach was “a small independent producer not unlike Walt Disney in his early years, except that Roach specialized in short comedies rather than animated cartoons.” Ward says the Pathé Exchange “began in 1914 as the American Distribution arm of a pioneering French film studio.” He adds, “Eventually, with the financial help of a couple of young American businessmen named Merrill and Lynch, the Pathé Exchange became an independent U.S. company specializing in the theatrical distribution of independent films. Largely as a result of the financial dealings of Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the future president, the Pathé Exchange was folded into the RKO studio in 1931.”
Ward’s current research centers on the advent of color television in the 1950s and early 1960s. For economic reasons it took some time for the emergent technology of color television to replace black and white television. According to Ward, “It was a very slow roll out, although not quite as slow as that of HDTV replacing standard-definition television in our own time. Much like the situation with HDTV, the television networks in the 1950s faced a dilemma: the public would not buy color television sets unless there was color programming to watch.” He adds, “in the meantime, while trying to get to a critical mass of color television ownership, advertisers were unwilling to pay more for commercial time to sponsor programs that would only be seen in color by a fraction of the population. It was difficult for networks to justify the added expense of color if no additional revenue was coming in.”
Ward’s passion for research is matched by his love of teaching. His favorite class is film history, and he takes particular pleasure in “guiding students through a wonderful universe of films and filmmakers that they never knew existed. I still have students contact me from time to time and thank me for introducing them to a film or filmmaker.” Ward also enjoys teaching film/video production courses, and he proclaims, “I am as proud as they are when they make a really good film.”
Given Ward’s skill in research and teaching, it may come as a surprise that he did not plan on becoming a professor while earning his Master’s degree. At that time, he imagined his career would be in film production; however, an unexpected opportunity to teach at Northeast Louisiana University in 1978 reoriented his career trajectory. Ward says, “Being a college teacher was the furthest thing from my mind, but I couldn't think of any way I could turn a firm job offer down. Forty years later it looks like I might be sticking with this teaching thing. And the beauty of this career accident is that I discovered that it is possible to earn a living working with film history.”
When Ward is not teaching about film/television and production, or not writing about film/television history, he is—you guessed it—watching film and television. This self-described “mono-subject” knows what he likes to do and has been quite happy being able to immerse himself in film/television history at USA. Now he looks forward to serving as his department’s Interim Chairperson with the upcoming retirement of Dr. James Aucoin.