Saturday, August 8, 2015


Today I'm starting to post excerpts from my upcoming memoirs / how-to-get-started-in-show-biz / and general backstage gossip called Funny is Money. The bulk of the show biz aspect of the book consists of war stories. Most are pretty funny, many are just strange.  The first excerpt is about my encounter with Norman Lear while working as a staff writer/story editor for the sitcom One Day at a Time. I'm thinking of retelling it at some story slam:

Meanwhile, we wrote our first script for One Day at a Time, a story designed to introduce a new friend of Ann’s (naturally played by an actress Lear or one of his minions discovered in a Broadway show).  I don’t remember the precise story line – something about a nosey neighbor - but we thought it was pretty good, and Bensfield and Grant seemed to be okay with it.  But we would soon learn their feeble opinion hardly meant anything.  It was all about what Norman Lear thought about it.
Then came the trek to Norman Lear’s office, and we were to realize that Bensfield and Grant were deferring to Lear, thereby throwing us to not mere wolves, but the biggest in Hollywood at that moment.
This was when our office was located in the Sands Motel on Sunset, if you can believe it. I think some writers from Good Times were also there. Just not enough office space for all of Lear’s show staffs on the main lot. Or at least not for us. We at first occupied a trailer on the back lot of the studio (at least it was a double-wide), but later there was the motel move.
Anyway, the trek to Norman’s office that was to be rather life changing: Norman Lear’s throttling of our script.
Do you know what they say that your worst fears and your fondest dreams will never happen? Well as far as fondest dreams, I may have set a low bar but I eventually did marry Barbara Pariot, and I did put my hand on the Arc de Triomphe. But my worst fear was always something about being exposed as a fraud, by some big shot, and get booted out of show business in some humiliating fashion.
Well, I’m not sure if I was exposed as a fraud, but I certainly got the boom lowered by only the biggest powerhouse in all of television at the time, and possibly all time – Norman Lear.
This was the process: send in two or three week’s worth of scripts to Norman, and then go to a meeting at his office to hear his notes.
So it was eventually our script’s turn. Lear was there with his famous floppy tennis hat. The tape recorder started, and Lear could not wait to rip into our script. He absolutely hated it. He referred to the character we were introducing as a “buttinsky”. He said he found no "endearing moments".  The words and his voice are vivid in my ear to this day near 40 years later. There was nowhere to hide.  Sweat burst from every pore. There was nothing to say. The other guys, probably with the exception of Bensfield, were quick to defend us and even fall on the sword. After all, they had signed off on it – unless they were deliberately throwing us to the big dog. But Lear cut them off, “No, they’re grownups!” It was flabbergasting. It was a young TV writer’s (at least mine and my partner’s) nightmare – times about 100. Because even when you worry about such things, you sort of secretly know they are unlikely to happen. But it happened. The king of television was crashing its wrath down upon me, like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.  He as usual had notes on other scripts and story lines too, prompting Bensfield to groan about all the work they had to do, etc. Lear said “Would you really rather be doing anything else (other than work in television?)”. I at least thought, yeah, better would be to be working in television as Norman Lear. And so we staggered out of there with the rest of the guys, and I’m sure they gave us words of encouragement as we made our way back to our trailer/office stuck on the Metromedia lot. I’m not sure what Stein and I spoke about, except I know what was unspoken – we were fucked. Now no nightmare could be ruled out – fired perhaps, career wrecked by Norman Lear, or worse, having to remain on that goddamn show. No, at that moment, we didn’t think it was the greatest place to be working, Mr. Lear.
It did get worse. The next part of the process is for the writer’s secretary, a woman named Pat Fischer, to transcribe the tape into typed pages – lest anybody forgot anything Lear had to say. And the asshole Fischer, smirking, delivered us our copies of the transcript saying “Wow Norman really didn’t like your script.” I wanted to ask her “how did he like your script? Oh, oops, I’m sorry, I forgot, you don’t write scripts - you TYPE scripts for high paid, unionized Emmy winning writers.”
In any case we felt pretty much out of it, ostracized if you will by the sucky show and the decidedly unfunny writers, Perry and Dick, with whom we did not see eye to eye. And who had pretty much thrown us under a bus named Norman Lear.

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