Serling, Lear & Goldman

 

No, this is not a law firm.  As far as I know.

These are the names of three show business icons better known as Rod Serling, Norman Lear and William Goldman.

It’s not a good idea to trot out words like icon or legend too often.   You sound like a syndicated talk show host whose sole purpose in life is to overpraise someone more famous in the hopes that it’ll do you some good.

Think Mike Pence whenever he’s in the presence of the Electoral College POTUS.  (Note: And how could you not?)

Let’s hope that’s all he is #Mueller?

Still, there are some cases where the word icon feels exactly right, especially if we are to believe the dictionary definition:

Icon: A representative symbol of something.  Synonym,  idol, paragon, hero. 

Certainly Mr. Serling, Mr. Lear and Mr. Goldman are all of the above and more to most everyone in the writing trade, the entertainment industry and by extension, through the reach of their life’s work, the world.

Hyperbole?  I think not.

Thank you Stefon

In the last several days I was reminded of the gargantuan achievements of these three writers, all born within 10 years of each other, for completely different reasons.

William Goldman, who died this week at the age of 87, was for years the most respected and highest paid screenwriter in the business.  Consider the movies from over 40 years, beginning with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, then on to All The President’s Men, Marathon Man and The Stepford Wives and then back around to The Princess Bride, Chaplin and Misery and you might begin to get some idea.  If not, you can throw in tons of uncredited rewrites on things like A Few Good Men and Good Will Hunting and perhaps it will get clearer.

The Real Deal

It was William Goldman who introduced the infamous phrase follow the money into the lexicon of political writing via his Oscar-winning screenplay for All the President’s Men.  Peruse his other scripts and you will no doubt find many others.

Just ask Wallace Shawn  #asyouwish

Though none of them will even come close to his three-word perfect summation of the movie business:  Nobody knows anything.

For those not directly involved in the industry, here’s a full sentence of his  elaborating on that thought:  Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work.

That and a lot more were written by Mr. Goldman in his 1983 seminal book on navigating Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade.  But more than anything else, those three perfect words – NOBODY. KNOWS. ANYTHING. gave hope, courage and permission to a generation of people starting out in the business, myself included, to soldier on and persevere.

Cheers to you Mr. Goldman

His screenwriting work was brilliant, and he wrote a bunch of fine novels (on some holiday vacation read his first, Boys and Girls Together).  But his ability to so bluntly tell the truth about what he experienced and observed extended far beyond fiction or the movies.  He gave so many of us who had our noses pressed up against the glass the belief that the people we thought we had to impress didn’t have all the answers – we did.  All we had to do was to tell the truth through our work and we had as good of a shot at making it as he did.

Rod Serling and Norman Lear might not seem a natural combination at first mention but when you give it some thought it’s exactly right.  They were born within two years of each other in the 1920s and though Mr. Lear, now 96 and still active, has lived twice as long (Note: Mr. Serling died prematurely at the age of 50,) each writer changed the face of television by being fearless in their own very specific ways.

.. and both have a signature look

By his early thirties, Rod Serling was already an accomplished playwright and Emmy award-winning writer devoted to telling meaningful stories that touched on social issues.  Still, he was known in the biz as a bit of an upstart who had grown weary of battling corporate sponsors and executives too timid to support the kind of tales he wanted to tell.

That was when he got the idea to write in the more commercially appealing science fiction genre, grounding his characters in a way so relatable it would enable him the ability to tackle such timely themes as war, racism, class, politics and censorship.

Like you’d ever forget these faces

One can hardly imagine when The Twilight Zone first aired in 1959 that even he could foresee the enduring legacy of that groundbreaking anthology series.  Not only does it still run all over the world more than half a century later, it has been reinvented as a feature film, in numerous television spin-offs and remakes, as well as homaged in the music world.

Most recently, Jordon Peele was announced as the host of a new CBS reboot of The Twilight Zone set to air in 2019.

But perhaps even more impressive is the fact that those three wordsTHE. TWILIGHT. ZONE. – are now embedded as a permanent part of language and pop culture as we know it (Note/Nee: Being an American these days is like living  in The Twilight Zone) that will forever be associated with its writer and onscreen narrator.

It was in that spirit this past week that Ithaca College presented Norman Lear with its annual Rod Serling Award for advancing social justice through popular media.   (Note: Serling taught at the college in the 1970s and his archives are housed there).  As a professor and Chair (Note: Ahem) at the school’s L.A. program, I got to be part of that evening and had a front row seat to Mr. Lear’s sharp as ever comic timing and humility as he got up to the podium at L.A.’s Paley Center to accept.

The man himself, pictured here with Ithaca College’s Park School Dean Diane Gayeski, and One Day at Time colleague Mike Royce

Anyone who has watched television comedy in the last fifty years has likely seen one of Mr. Lear’s shows and the majority of we baby boomers came of age on them.

To watch a first-run episode of All in the Family in the actual era it came of age was to see for the first time in half-hour prime time TV an unvarnished version of ourselves and our extended families in all of our inglorious prejudices, ignorances and, ultimately, humanity.  No one had ever used THOSE WORDS before on the Big Three networks despite the fact that they used them and we heard them every day of our lives.  Heck, no one had ever even heard a toilet flush on TV before the series did it in 1971!

Archie is not that impressed

Mr. Lear also gave us the first upwardly mobile Black family (The Jeffersons), the first TV comedy episode to ever deal with abortion (Maude) and the first divorced prime time mom of the era (One Day At A Time).  (Note: The latter also recently rebooted on Netflix). The fact is if we don’t see an immediate connection between the subjects tackled by the fictional law partners, Serling and Lear, it is merely due to our own shortcomings, not theirs

Among the unplanned comic gems during Mr. Lear’s acceptance speech at the Paley was the moment when his iPhone began to audibly ring.  He stopped mid-speech, instantly reached into his pocket and saw it was a family member, began a conversation with her, and, without missing a beat, put it on speakerphone so the rest of us NOT at the podium could hear.  Most actors, not to mention us non-96 year old pros and non-pros, couldn’t rehearse this and get it right (especially the speaker part) never much less be funny in our ad-libs to a faceless voice.

More skillful, however, was what came next. After he said of his TV work: I didn’t do it alone  he went on to reassure his many admirers that he really is only a person who gets up in the morning, eats, goes to the bathroom and then goes to sleep at night – just like they do.

Don’t mind me.. getting emotional over here

Then suddenly he, and then the room, fell dead silent as he contemplated this for a few VERY long moments.   As we all got concerned something was wrong, he finally looked down, then right back out at us, and said:

You know, everything in life led me to this moment.  Isn’t that something?

At which point he let some more time go by, evoking more silence once again, until he reiterated:  And to this one.

Then once more again, echoing:

And that one.  Everything you have done before has brought YOU right here…..Think about it.

One couldn’t help but wonder if what he was really telling us was that taking in the moment, really feeling it, and then sharing those feelings with others, was not only the key to his art but the secret to life.

Of course whether that’s true or not is in the eye of the beholder. Since, let’s face it, nobody knows anything.

“Those Were The Days” –  Theme from All in the Family

 

 

 

 

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20 Reasons to Floss

* Part of our mission statement here at Notes from a Chair is to give readers a heads up on potential good and bad things to look forward to in contemporary life.  On the list of the bad is dental work.  Of any kind.

The Chair endured some dreaded gum surgery on Friday and was forced to spend the weekend recuperating and reflecting.   The following is a cautionary list that might help avoid doing (too much of) either in the future.

20 REASONS TO FLOSS:

Floss (verb): to clean (the teeth) with dental floss.

Dental floss:

  1. a soft, strong, waxed or unwaxed thread, usually made of nylon, for drawing between the teeth to remove food particles and prevent the buildup of plaque.
  2. the answer to many of life’s problems.

1. You love disposable income.  When you get to middle age you do not want to give your tooth doctor the cash equivalent of what could be the cost of your beloved new Kia.  And even though we wouldn’t recommend a Kia (a car mechanic told us some years ago it was the one car never to buy – new or used), the same amount could be used to purchase a glamorous Italian vacation; several Tom Ford or Stella McCartney designer somethings (depending on your gender and/or gender choice); or a lifetime worth of movies tickets several times over till the end of time anywhere in the world.

2. Dental surgery does not make you “hip.”  We went to one of the finest and most expensive periodontal specialists health insurance could buy.  Still, we were treated to a Beverly Hills waiting area that featured:

  1. Large purple and lilac tubular cylinders on a dark gray wall that were masquerading as either objects de’op art or potential surgical instruments.
  2. A middle aged woman incessantly muttering and humming to herself in an indecipherable native tongue.
  3. A Beverly Hills matron either giving us the evil eye or flirting to the tune of said native music.
  4. The Entertainment Weekly cover image of Jessica Lange as an ax-wielding nun presiding over her own medical establishment in the new season of “American Horror Story.”

3. “White privilege” is alive and well . Although we live (allegedly) in a post-racial society, whiteness is still given the upper hand in all things dentistry. This was confirmed all the more in a post operative weekend of trash TV that included a human something called Carter Oosterhouse hosting a 1:00 ayem HGTV program called “Million Dollar Rooms.” (yes, that’s a single room, meaning one).  Hell, it was either that or watching the “Insanity” workout infomercial.  Which one would YOU choose????

Oh, and he’s married to actress Amy Smart. #teethwhitening2.0

4. Cindy Crawford has perfect teeth. There is a late night infomercial that will sell you the rare juice/oil of a European cantaloupe to ensure you will age as well as the 45 year old Cindy Crawford. Her perfect teeth seem to confirm the ad’s claim that Cindy uses the juice ALONG with a strict health regimen to all parts of her body, including her teeth.  Not that anyone is looking at her mouth.  Or – are they? (Note: One wouldn’t know any of this unless he/she had unwanted surgery on a part of the body they neglected that wound up keeping them awake in the middle of the night).

5. Waiting sucks.  Having an oral medical “procedure” is not unlike queuing up for gasoline in the 1980s – there’s always a wait.  In our case, it was done to 45 minutes of MUZAK that included a mix tape of Jackson Browne’s greatest hits.  Not to get too “nasty” about a “Jackson” but — do you ever need to hear “Running On Empty” again??  Not if you’re really nasty. #MissJacksonifyouare

6. You will never be on the political stage… but will forever be forced to listen to them.  This came particularly into focus when out of sheer desperation I happened to hear vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan speaking before what must be a made-up entity called the Family Values Association.  Honestly, if Ryan was a private in the military and I had to save him, I wouldn’t.  Spielberg or not.

7. The drugs aren’t worth it. You don’t get the drugs of your choice when you get surgery, just the drugs they give you.  I don’t like things like Percoset.  They make me feel groggy and weird.  But when I try to explain that medical marijuana dispensaries are legal in California I get a blank look from my doctor. #Truckin’

8. Your dreams come to haunt you.  While under the influence, you will invent and watch more imagined tacky television shows than you can imagine just for your own perverse amusement and then be embarrassed for thinking them up.  This includes programs like “The American Bible Challenge” on the Game Show Network where comedian host Jeff Foxworthy tests your knowledge of scripture and then awards cash prizes you are then forced to donate to charity, and Showtime’s “Gigolos,” which centers on a group of overly muscled, tanned and tattooed “males of the evening” in Las Vegas who compete against each other for lady clients.  This is not so bad in itself until you wake up the next day and realize that both of these programs exist and that real life has become your nightmare. #SetyourDVRifudontbelieveme

Actually, THIS is your brain on drugs.

9. Faulty tech equipment. The music guaranteed to drown out the loud sound of drills and strong gloved hands digging other pointy instruments into roof of your mouth, can easily get derailed when you realize the right ear of your headset is devoid of music but not what else is happening in the room. This is especially disconcerting because your right ear is your one good ear in addition to the side of your face that contains the gum in question and is being treated to the sounds of all the excavating action. #SeeMeFeelMe

10. Mouthus Interruptus. –You might think your dentist is brilliant, rich, painless and powerful but you didn’t take into account his desirability will likely cause you to feel like one of those large pieces of real estate that was halted mid-construction by the global economic crisis.  This happens when he walks away to take a phone call from a more important client with either a bigger emergency or a bigger name (since he is the best and very much in demand) and leaves you with a lot of dangling metal instruments and cottony stuffing in your mouth (the kind of cottony you see on the insulating walls of unfinished buildings).  To carry the metaphor even further, you have no earthly idea when work will resume, despite the written contract you both entered into prior to when said work began.

10. Bradley Cooper is still single. #Nuffsaid

11. Angelina Jolie is technically still single .  And she could help you with your career. #Itaintovertillitsover4eitherofu

The new Brad and Angie

12. Trash TV has its limits.  You don’t want to get to the point where you’re so bitter that the only reason you know you’re feeling better is that a) you’re angry you weren’t able to guess the #1 scandal in the Logo special “Scandalicious: 20 JUCIEST CELEBRITY SCANDALS OF PASSION” and b) you are even more angry that your choice was #2.

(FYI – Arnold Schwarzenegger having a child with the maid who helped Maria Shriver raise their children was my #1 choice at #2.  Logo’s #1 choice was the far less scandalicious Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher).  #Theyresolame or #AndyCohenrotinhell

13. Really good doctors are really good actors. Each one can make you feel like you’re the most important person in the room if they want to and at some point they will want to and you will want to believe them.  (Note:  This is why it’s perilous to have too many actor friends – you never quite know how much is true friendship or just a dramatic evocation of one).

So inevitably, this year’s winner of best doctor in a starring role will give you all the care and attention of the best Meryl Streep character when they’re with you but once you blink back to reality and the performance is over they’re suddenly gone and the only reminder you’ll have is the pain in your missing or mended body part when you receive their bill.

On a more immediate basis, this leaves solely their assistant to explain to you the do’s and don’ts of what you’re told is imperative post surgical care while one side of your face feels like a side of beef and the other side, the one with the good ear, is now on the fritz because Amy Winehouse finally kicked in too loudly on the doctor-supplied fritzy headset at the tail end of your surgery.

He wears a mask afterall!

14. You’re a dork. Your eagerness to leave a medical office in disgust and neglect is interrupted by your actor/doctor actually returning in true sensitive Streep-ian fashion to give you a well-prepared, type-written check list of post surgical instructions and to spend time with you kindly answering any questions.   He even puts a reassuring hand on your shoulder.  Now you feel like the little jerk played that year by Katherine Heigl because you leapt to such a snap judgment. Still, since he was billed to you as “the best” and in our case this is Beverly Hills, one still has to wonder– DOES he really care or IS he just acting??

15. It’s never over. Once you see a specialty dentist they are in your life forever– sort of like when that one night stand produces a child. (Speaking of Ms. Heigl).  So it should not surprise you when you are told to book two follow up appointments in the next six weeks and, now that your surgery has been completed, you are not given your doctor’s optimum morning appointments but relegated to mid-afternoon AND told you’re being squeezed in.  This is like both marriage AND divorce. #Ihavecustodyoftheteeth

16. No one will talk to you about it (except on this blog). The percentage of people who want to know anything about gum or dental surgery is equal to the percentage of those who would watch a rebroadcast loop of both the 2012 Republican and Democratic presidential conventions rather than a new season of either “Arrested Development” or “I Love Lucy” with its original cast.  #nochanceinhell

17. Imposed censorship. After you have any kind of dental surgery you are told it is imperative to keep your mouth clean.  How do you do this when you take pride in a lifetime of having done anything but this up until now?  #phuku

Speak no evil.

18. You don’t love baby formula.  Dental or full body, your post-surgery food will be as exciting as baby formula – soft, bland and gooey.  To compensate you will decide to eat excessive amounts of chocolate or other delectably mushy desserts of your choice.  Thus, you will either gain weight or shorten your life (or perhaps both) while you think you are really convalescing.

19.  Goodbye Tooth Fairy, Hello Hitler.  You will never again have to fear a new dental specialist who will remind you of the Nazi doctor who tortured Dustin Hoffman in the dentist’s chair sans anesthesia in “Marathon Man.”  Or, for that matter, be afraid the love child of Jack Nicholson and Steve Martin’s demented dentists will come back to haunt you in that ill-advised 3-D studio remake of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

20. One less thing to worry about. You have to cut down somewhere in that category.  What’s worse – carrying some waxy thread or experiencing any of the above ever again? #tellemJohnny