Nancy Cain, Member of the 1970s’ Guerrilla Television Collective Videofreex, Dies at 81

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Nancy Cain, a member of the Videofreex collective that utilized the first portable videotape recorders to capture the social and cultural upheaval of the late 1960s and early ’70s, has died. She was 81.

Cain died Aug. 22 at her home in Desert Hot Springs, California, her sister, Linda Grossman, announced.

Cain, also an author, painter, photographer, performer and filmmaker, was married to Paul Krassner, the author and political activist who coined the phrase the Yippies, from April Fools’ Day in 1987 until his death in July 2019.

In 1969, Cain, then an assistant to CBS producer Don West, was working on a pilot for a show about the surging American counterculture called Subject to Change, which was to replace the canceled Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

To work on the program, Cain hired Videofreex (as in Videofreaks), whose founders had met at the Woodstock music festival that summer, and among those interviewed were Yippie Abbie Hoffman and Black Panther Party member Fred Hampton.

When CBS rejected the pilot, Cain joined Videofreex. After three years in a Soho loft studio in New York City, they moved to a 27-room house in upstate Lanesville, where they operated a media center and low-power TV station.

During their nine-year history, the 10 Videofreex partners produced thousands of hours of independent programming and mentored producers around the world with their Media Bus training workshops.

“Back then, there was a utopian idea about video technology,” Andrew Ingall, an independent curator who assembled the museum exhibition “Videofreex: The Art of Guerrilla Television,” told The New York Times in 2015.

The portable videotape recorders were “accessible and affordable,” he said. “It was democratic. It could document what was going on and spread the word. People thought it was going to change the world.”

Cain hosted hundreds of live Lanesville TV shows from 1971-78, and her 15-minute film, Harriet, a 1974 docu-drama about personal liberation, served as an example of ’70s feminist filmmaking.

She also was a Portapak video producer and camera operator on nationally broadcast shows for Top Value Television (TVTV) and a collaborator with Survival Arts Media and other early video production groups and artists.

Beginning in 1978 with her romantic and Videofreex production partner Bart Friedman, Cain operated a nonprofit media center in Woodstock and was the program director at the town’s cable TV station.

She came to Hollywood in 1984, directed reality TV programs and was a field director for the Fox late-night series The Wilton North Report and a West Coast camcorder correspondent and segment producer for the alternative PBS series The 90s.

And with Judith Binder, she co-founded and co-produced CamNet, a 24-hour all-camcorder programming service.

Born on June 3, 1940, Cain began her career in the ’60s as a theater performer and lounge singer in Detroit.

After moving to New York, she sang in a quartet that was signed by Sire Records; performed in a radio sketch show called It’s Your Life (And You Can Have It) with Chevy Chase and George Coe and in a cabaret trio with Lily Tomlin and Madeline Kahn that appeared regularly at Jules Monk’s Rendezvous Room at the Plaza; and appeared in TV commercials until her agency told her she had to take a nude shower to sell shampoo.

A chance meeting with a CBS executive on a New York street corner in 1969 changed the course of her life, and her 2011 book, Video Days: And What We Saw Through the Viewfinder, chronicled her media adventures.

She and Krassner moved from Venice, California, to Desert Hot Springs in 2002. After his death, she managed his archive and sales of books and posters.

In addition to her sister, survivors include her nieces, Sadie and Liza; nephew Adam; daughter-in-law Holly; and granddaughter Talia. Condolence messages can be sent to [email protected]

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