I had returned from my 3-day LA jaunt (details of which can be found here) but the writing muse was apparently still on the West Coast. I was not tackling the new draft of my script as quickly as I ought. Granted, I had only been home a couple of days, but this was MY BIG BREAK and I needed to put on my big boy writer pants. So I made a big decision. I was going to buy the new AtariWriter program!
As I was saying here, I had been keeping a journal of my big break in Hollywood. My diary keeping--er, journal keeping--is not very consistent. It was 3 days until my next entry (6/25/90) after I arrived home. I attempted to summarize the previous days:
As noted earlier in part 1 and earlier in part 2, the Warner meeting ran for 90 minutes and was chock full of new ideas.
At the end of the day, back in my room, I ran out of reasons to procrastinate and started working on the notes I had taken from my meeting for “an updated Pee Wee outline” (the first mention in my journal of Pee Wee). Turns out it was a good thing I did finally get around to that.
One of the things I packed was my portable manual typewriter and supplies. While packing for the trip, I truly wondered if bringing all that was too much. Turns out it wasn’t. I had to wade through all the notes, use them to retool the story and type up a new treatment for the meeting they scheduled for the next day. And if you ever saw my handwriting you’d know why bringing a typewriter was a good thing.
Well, the next few weeks may bring some good news. Or not. That’s the nature of the entertainment business. I’ve been circling around on the outskirts of “show business” for a very long time so I’m used to it. While the outcome could be great, I’m always haunted by the wish of it happening earlier. On the other hand, if it had, would I be in the midst of enjoying a long career or now be a has-been? I’m a “glass half empty” kinda guy. Actually, I’m a “Hey, who took my glass” kinda guy.
I’ve been writing things since grade school. School plays and assemblies. I did little cartoons for the school paper. I converted standard school projects into radio plays or short films; writing, acting, directing. We’d put on shows in the basement. I started by ripping off my favorite things, things I had heard or watched; Bob Newhart routines or Abbott & Costello (a lot of Abbott & Costello). For the 6th grace recitation contest, while other students memorized and recited “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” or “Casey at the Bat,” I did the Fat Albert routine from Bill Cosby’s “Wonderfullness” album. I wrote parody comics about my part-time job after school and passed them around to my co-workers.
I can create. Usually it takes the form of stringing together words to tell a story. All in the vacuum that is suburban America. As I get older and learn about people and things out there, I find myself drawing parallels to the careers of others. Maybe parallels isn’t the proper word. Comparisons; Parallel implies a sense of forward motion that is simply not there. I would occasionally have a vision of me motoring around Hollywood in a VW Beetle convertible, but there was no sweeping plan, no path mapped out for a career.
Now I’ve read the blogs of working writers. They tell amazing stories. One blogger writes about his youth. How, long before the invention of the VCR, he would set up a timer and a tape recorder to tape Johnny Carson’s monologues on the Tonight show. How he created “mix-tapes” before there was such a thing off of TV and radio. He was creative from the get-go and evolved into a writer. This was all stuff I had done!
I’ve read about another Staten Islander who went off to Harvard to basically major in comedy, so he could get a job at Saturday Night Live and work there for a decade. He did some stand-up. He worked on the college humor magazine. I did that.
I’ve listened to podcasts hosted by a guy from Staten Island who just jumped in a car and drove to Hollywood after he graduated college because that’s where you went to do writing. Was I supposed to do that? He wrote scripts and scripts until someone got interested. Check and check.
Yes, yes, I know, we're not supposed to compare ourselves to others. Things happen in their time. That’s the rub. I could do the writing, but I never had the moxie, the gumption, the ambition to upend my life, to make that time. But, it’s writing, I can do that from anywhere and send it out, no? Should I have relocated to LA and waited tables while I wrote? Was staying home, getting a job, raising a family, a decision made from being practical or made out of fear?
As a kid, I made movies with the other neighborhood kids. I took writing courses in college. I did showcases. It was a bit of a compulsion. Yet, I was only compulsed so far. I kept letting something (fear? Anxiety?) prevent me from pushing onward. The creative drive would take me far but I didn’t have that certain something, the nerve frankly, to tear up the track, to tackle the object of my desire. I could write and submit, write and submit forever. But follow-up? Not good at that. If they liked it, they would get back to me, right? Why would I go and ask them for an out-right rejection?
If I step outside my head, I might be envious of the number of things I’ve done. Inside my head, they’re all things that happened “out there” away from my home, while I was in the basement typing.
I hope this event comes to pass. Will it lead to things? Who knows? There’s nothing linear about what I’ve done. It’s a series of random odd-jobs, one never leading to the next. All fits and starts.
The what-ifs loom large sometimes. I could have done things differently. But then I would have had a different life. Is my life that bad? No, it’s not. Could I have better woven my writing career into my life? I have no idea. I think that’s what I’m lamenting.
But I know me. The anxiety of always trying to hustle for the next gig probably would have driven me insane. So, was I acting out of fear or self-preservation? My brain is filled with contradictory excuses and conflicting reasons for the way things are that I’ll never fully sort out. But I do keep at it. I’ve had exciting moments, until it’s hard to get excited about things that may or may not happen. The hope is there in earnest, though. Losing excitement isn’t nearly as bad as losing hope. Technically, I guess, I never have. That would be awful. But, yes, it would be great to feel the excitement again. To feel like the part of a project. To have people fuss over my work. I could stand that.
Well, here’s hopin’.
Okay, so there’s my David Letterman story where I didn’t meet David Letterman but got his autograph. Now I think I’ll tell the story where I still didn’t meet David Letterman and got his fake autograph.
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!
Actor Eli Wallach recently passed away. A local NYC boy and an amazing actor, I was privileged to interact with him once, and again, it was due to my duties as a member of the Writers Guild, East Activities Committee.
It was time to plan the annual awards dinner and, in a real change of pace, the hosts they secured for us were Eli Wallach and his wife, actor Glenda Jackson...
So it was early in my “career” (maybe someday I’ll get to remove the quotes) that I got to write for Steve Allen. It was a fluke, as most of this stuff is, and didn’t build to anything, as most of this stuff doesn’t. I had become friendly with renowned Newsweek reporter & author Charles Panati through my brother, who had met him at a gym my brother was employed at. I got to meet him. Corresponded a bit. He even sent me copies of his books (which were an amazing resource for researchers in the days before the internet). One of his books, “Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things,” was a fascinating book about how different stuff got started. Now, this was back in the day when the syndicated TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” was a huge hit. Around 1985, the producers of that show were looking for a companion piece to air with it. What better concept than to build a show around the origin of things like ice cream cones or Betty Crocker?
Okay, this is the big one. This is the event that got me into the Writers Guild. This is the time I actually was a professional writer. And then wasn’t. Let’s take it back 19 years---
I had completed a script called (at the time) “The Kringle Project” I was one of those ideas that came to me in a flash, the thing practically wrote itself, I just had to type it. Fortunately, I took typing in high school. It was a Christmas comedy that dropped a film noir-type private eye detective in the middle of a Santa-centric mystery. It was honestly the best thing I had done up ‘til then.
One of my first writing jobs right out of college was for the syndicated animation show “The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers.” That in itself is a story: I answered a want ad in The Village Voice newspaper and passed the interview. Okay, maybe not a long story...
Freelance writer, still hacking away.