When my membership in the Writers Guild lapsed into “post-current” (or “comatose” as I refer to it), I was obliged to leave the Activities Committee. It was a real blow to my self-esteem and my concept of being a writer (I mean, really, if the Writers Guild doesn’t consider you a writer, who will?) Therefore, I was out of that loop for many years (and clung to the memories by writing about it obsessively here). Then this year I got a call from a friend still on the committee. They needed volunteers to work the 2014 awards show and she recommended me. Oh boy! Back in the saddle again! Yee-haw!
Here’s the thing, that was one of the committee’s duties, to escort the celebrity presenters and hosts into the venue, get their coats checked, bring them to the right place and generally welcome them and set them up for the night. In all the years I worked the affair, I never, NEVER, wanted to do this job. I was just afraid I’d get too nervous around the celebrities (if I knew them and liked them) or wouldn’t treat them with the proper awe (if I had no idea who they were). Irrational fear? I dunno. Let’s just say the idea of trying to make small talk to a celebrity didn’t do much for me. I did volunteer once, to meet Jerry Orbach, but basically I stayed out of the way. So now, the Committee Director wanted me to be part of the welcome wagon for one of the presenters. I hemmed and hawed, not warming to the idea at all. Then she told me who it was…a writer. Suddenly, it didn't seem so bad, it was just a writer. I could handle that. “What writer?” asks I. “Oh, Steve O'Donnell.” Steve O'Donnell? I knew of Steve O’Donnell; one of the first writers for David Letterman and Late Night, the inventor of the Top Ten List. Plus, get this, I actually worked once with his twin brother, the late Mark O’Donnell (before he was late).
That was an adventure. A friend (a different friend) and his partner got to pitch a show to the ABC network. They were looking to revamp their late night schedule to better compete against the reigning king, Johnny Carson. ABC had some concepts and personalities they were thinking of signing, so they made the unusual move of testing various shows out-of-town. Hartford, Connecticut being the town. They took over the local ABC affiliate for the summer and ran all their pilot programs in the late night slot. One of those test shows was a two-episode pilot for “Where’s the Party?” a comedy show centered on a penthouse cocktail party where guests (real and imagined) could drop in and a troupe of comedy regulars could do bits. My friend asked me to sign aboard and Mark O’Donnell was the lead writer. The show was produced, aired and quickly dropped off the radar. So that was that.
Now that it was determined that I would escort Steve O’Donnell, I decided to make it worth my while. When David Letterman’s Top 10 Lists exploded onto the scene, the Late Night crew capitalized on it by publishing several books of the collected lists. I had one. It was decided (by me) that I would bring the book and get Steve O’Donnell, the inventor of the Top Ten List, to autograph it. Why not, right?
So, I get to the Edison Ballroom, receive my instructions, get walked through the routine of what we are to do with the guests of honor and waited. At one point a tourist showed up who looked like Steven O’Donnell, causing some confusion. Oh, yes, it was Super Bowl Weekend in NYC, so the town was kinda of crazy that night.
Mr. O’Donnell arrived with his partner; I walked them through coat check and the red carpet/media gauntlet and released them into the cocktail reception. My next duty was to get him to his seat after the cocktail hour before the show began and brief him on who would get him and bring him backstage. I’m carrying the book along with other papers on my clipboard, so it all looked very official. The time came to bring Mr. O’Donnell to his seat, but his partner had wandered off. We decided to wait a few moments by the staircase down to the theater to see if he passed by. While we’re standing there, I figure it’s now or never. Deciding to chat him up, I mentioned how I worked with his brother (“A good looking man,” O’Donnell notes—they’re identical twins, BTW) and how I was a newbie at the time but Mark treated me as an equal. Steven O’Donnell even seemed to recall that Hartford project. Then I mentioned how it was an honor to meet him and I asked him if he might autograph my copy of the book. I pulled out the book and he said “You know, there were four of these.” I shrugged and said, “Yeah, well, I wasn't about to push my luck here” (I only owned the one. And it was a gift. I mean, I liked Letterman but not enough to spend money on him). So he signs the book, then seeing David Letterman’s name on the title page, he signs Letterman’s name too. “Wow, that’s really going to confuse them on Ebay,” I said, which got a chuckle.
I got him and his S.O. to their seats and the show went on without a hitch. Only I was quite irked that now they had members of the guild writing comedy bits for the guild’s award show, something I had been thwarted from doing so long ago. Also, I never got up the nerve to tell Steve O’Donell my David Letterman autograph story.
And so ends another (re)Brush with Celebrity!