Classic Arts Showcase was the vision of Lloyd E. Rigler. It was his lifelong love of the performing arts – and his concern that the majority of Americans are rarely exposed to the world’s greatest performances – that inspired this vision.
After tracking ticket sales of live performances for decades, Rigler found arts organizations were performing to more empty seats every year, selling fewer tickets and charging more for them. With current audiences aging, and little or no arts exposure in homes and schools to build new audiences, Rigler sought to foster a wider appreciation of the classic arts nationwide – through television. He envisioned the creation of a 24-hour non-commercial arts network, designed to bring the classic arts to the widest possible audience.
In 1981, MTV began airing short 3- to 5-minute rock music videos in succession, with no schedule and no particular order of play – and millions of viewers tuned in to see what was coming next. Rigler believed this format would be ideal for presenting classic arts performances – one in which viewers could see a wide variety of short performance videos, each of which would be a rare and unexpected gem.
Classic Arts Showcase was launched on May 3, 1994, offering a not-for-profit 24-hour satellite programming service free of charge to local public service channels, and both cable and broadcast stations. Today, it is available in more than 50 million homes. At a time when most offerings on television consist of “reality” shows, grisly crime dramas, sitcoms and “info-tainment,” Classic Arts Showcase presents the greatest recorded performances of all time at no cost to the viewer, and with no commercial interruptions.
Early Life and Career
Born in 1915 in Lehr, North Dakota, Rigler grew up in the town of Wishek, working in his parents’ general store, which served a large farming community. He became a Boy Scout at 12, was an Eagle Scout at 16 and graduated from high school a year early, so that he could work to begin saving for college. He went to Chicago in 1933 and stayed with relatives, and he immediately found a job. By the fall of 1935, he had saved enough money to attend the University of Illinois. In 1939, Rigler headed for New York, to go into theater. To support himself, he worked as an interviewer for a marketing research agency and did the initial research for the Waring Blender.
He later headed guest relations at RCA’s exhibit introducing television at the New York World’s Fair in 1940. After the fair, he trained as an RCA Victor Red Seal record promotion specialist – and Rigler came to Los Angeles a year later and became a Los Angeles salesman for Decca Records. Rigler enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942 and was selected for officers training at the University of Arizona. He served until the end of World War II, in 1945.
Business Success and Support for the Arts
Rigler met his longtime business partner, Lawrence E. Deutsch, while working as a food broker after World War II in New York.
Deutsch and Rigler discovered a product that would become a household name – Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer – at a Santa Barbara restaurant owned by Adolph Rempp, and they later bought the name and recipe. They introduced it on a Los Angeles television home show in 1949, and the product quickly became a success. Adolph’s was sold worldwide, and Rigler and Deutsch later sold the company to Chesebrough Ponds, in 1974. (Today, Adolph’s is owned by Unilever.)
Rigler and Deutsch had created a foundation in the early 1950s – and with the sale of Adolph’s, they began to concentrate on philanthropy and support for the arts. Long before “corporate responsibility” was a buzz phrase in America, Rigler and Deutsch were building relationships with a number of major performing arts organizations across the country – not merely as donors, but as members of executive and finance committees.
Deutsch had been an assistant to Lazlo Halaz, artistic director of the New York City Opera. While there, Deutsch met Julius Rudel, who replaced Halaz, and brought singers such as Samuel Ramey, Catherine Malfitano, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Michael Devlin to the New York City Opera, and created a memorable relationship with Norman Treigle and Beverly Sills.
Rigler and Deutsch were among the founders of the Los Angeles Music Center and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
They were instrumental in getting the newly founded Los Angeles Opera, of which Deutsch was president, to bring the New York City Opera to the Music Center. They handled all of the administrative duties and had a regular season of 28 performances of 13 different operas for 16 years.
Deutsch had been an avid collector of records – and Rigler discovered that everything that had been commercially recorded since the first Edison cylinder record until 1946 was stored in five different libraries: the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library and the libraries at Yale, Syracuse and Stanford universities. He received permission from the U.S. copyright office to provide audio copies to anyone who requested one of the records from the archives for $5, cataloging the information on each recording and photographing each record label. He underwrote the project, which became known as the Rigler & Deutsch Index of Recorded Sound. It can be found in every library in the U.S., and many re-releases of recordings on CD owe their discovery to the Rigler & Deutsch Index.
Rigler served on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for more than 20 years, as well as serving on the boards of City Center of Music and Drama in New York and Community Television of Southern California, station KCET in Los Angeles. He served as co-chairman of the New York City Opera, and later as vice chairman; and he introduced the Student Coalition for the Arts, an audience development project.
After his passing in 1977, Lawrence Deutsch left his estate to the Lloyd E. Rigler – Lawrence E. Deutsch foundation.
Rigler passed away on Dec. 7, 2003 at age 88, at his home in Los Angeles. But his legacy – and Classic Arts Showcase – lives on.