Omnibus

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Release date: June 15, 1980
Directed by: Bill Davis, Don Mischer
Produced by: ABC Television
Running time: 90 minutes

Starting out as a live show from New York City, "Omnibus" was hosted by Alastair Cooke and featured everything from discussions about science and the arts to original works, interviews with celebrated people both inside and outside the arts, and featured performances by many of the most famous actors, singers and dancers of the day. It was revived in the 1980s by ABC. Its June 15, 1980 episode featured Meryl Streep reciting America the Beautiful with the National Theatre of the Deaf.

Ann-Margret, Carol Burnett, Cher, Sandy Duncan, Lola Falana, Linda Gray, Edith Head, Gene Kelly, Cheryl Ladd, Carol Lynley, Loretta Lynn, Bob Mackie, Peter Martins, Yvette Mimieux, Luciano Pavarotti, Valerie Perrine, Victoria Principal, Jill St. John, Lewis J. Stadlen, Meryl Streep, Lynn Swann, Toni Tennille, Cindy Williams

What the creators of ABC’s “Omnibus” had in mind, Meryl Streep explains, was a recitation of “America the Beautiful” performed to the accompaniment of the National Theatre of the Deaf whose members would sign it. “At first,” she says, “I thought it was going to be very sentimental, a soapy kind of thing. It’s not that at all. It’s very clear and very beautiful.” Indeed, the performance, moving, often poignant, seems to bring greater meaning and eloquence to the time worn “America the Beautiful.” Meryl also signs the last stanza with the group and appears particularly adept at the art. “Meryl is wonderful, it’s magic,” says National Theatre member Ed Waterstreet, through the company’s interpreter Nikki Kilpatrick. “We don’t feel the separation. She has become part of us. She cares about the work, she doesn’t just imitate.” Meryl has followed the work of the National Theatre of the Deaf for many years, her interest strengthened by the fact that Elaine Bromka, the only speaking-hearing member of the company, is a long-time school chum (they attended Dartmouth together). “They use signing as total communication,” she offers. “They use it to express all sorts of subtleties, not just to get the words out. They make each voice different. They all sign differently, and I can see they all speak with their own voice. That’s very interesting to me. It was something I never thought of before.”