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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OMG Stop!

96_frayed

Did you ever have one of those weeks where every big issue in the news and pop culture is annoying?  No, the answer is not every week – even if that is the case.  If you live your life perpetually annoyed then you are not annoyed at all – what you are is a malcontent curmudgeon.  What I’m talking about is a convergence of issues in one weekly cycle of what’s what that has you weighing the possibilities of turning it all off, packing up a slew of books and going underground to become a survivalist.

Since the latter won’t happen to me in this lifetime in that I need to call in experts to hang a picture properly and recently failed twice at reading Proust (it was me, not him), I have made peace with the fact that I will forever dwell in the weekly cycle.  And perhaps you have also.  But that doesn’t mean we have to live here happily during each seven-day period.  In fact, it might just be that weeks like this – particularly SUCKY periods that are so annoyingly dumb and cloyingly stupid – actually make us appreciate all the other wonderfully happy ones.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself right now.

Again, perhaps you are too.  After all, misery loves company.  And remember, it isn’t real misery if it only happens once every few months.  Think of it more as a healthy cycle of intellectual binge and purge.  Or the alternative to living in the woods for a year with several boxes of classic literature and enough food and water to get by.

I've got a spare bedroom!

I’ve got a spare bedroom!

As much as you might think that’s appealing, how much Proust or even Shakespeare can you read in a row while eating prepared vittles from a package or can?  Not much, that’s how much.  Plus, a world where you literally had no one else to complain to could be even worse than this one.

So let’s review those things that had me in a snit… and made me want to scream OMG STOP IT!

1.   ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE COVERS ARE NOT A NATIONAL ISSUE

The twitpic seen round the world

The twitpic seen round the world

One of the top news stories this week is Rolling Stone’s cover photo of Boston Bomber (do we need to say suspect?) Dzhokhar (Jahar, to friends) Tsarnaev – all tousle-haired, doe-eyed and sporting the come-hither look and dark chin scruff of a teenager stoner.  Mr. Tsarnaev is, indeed, all of those things, and also, as the magazine clearly identifies him in very large black type, THE BOMBER.

I have actually read the 11,000 word article that the cover promises is about how a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into Radical Islam and Became a Monster.  It’s a very good read, a simultaneously awful and fascinating story – which is what good magazine writing is all about.  Does it answer all of the questions its headline promises?  Well, as much as most magazine or even newspaper pieces fully do.  Which is to say mostly, though not exactly.  And, in the world of journalistic reportage, which is always left open to interpretation, that’s sort of the point.

So what’s the problem???  Well, the Mayor of Boston says using this picture is “insensitive” to the people of Boston and still others claim that the story, placement and accompanying image makes Dzhokhar a sort of — rock star?  Never mind Rolling Stone has used images of Charles Manson and O.J. Simpson as cover draws in the height of their notoriousness.

The entire point of the article is that what makes this kid particularly scary is that he has the non-descript visual image of a sort of iconoclastic cool kid.  Hence, the cover image, which has been used on the cover of the New York Times previously, would seem to be the right one.  Would it be more appropriate if Jahar had a long beard, a turban and was wearing white robes?  Well, it’d obviously make many in the US more comfortable.  Among that group are corporate chain stores like CVS, Rite Aid, K-Mart, Stop ‘n Shop and Walgreen’s – all of whom have not only removed the current issue of Rolling Stone from their shelves but have refused to even sell it in its stores.

Here’s what would make me comfortable.  How about K-Mart refusing to sell guns in its stores?  Yes, I know Jahar and his brother didn’t use K-Mart rifles to set their homemade bombs off at the Boston Marathon the way the teenagers in Columbine did.  But at least it’d be one small actual step to curbing future domestic terrorism.  Refusing to sell a magazine, one that chooses to do a timely story that some people might disagree with, is not.

 Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

–      George  Santayana, philosopher (1863-1952)

Pump the brakes!

Pump the brakes!

2.    KATEWAIT – WHEN A ROYAL BIRTH IS A ROYAL PAIN

Insert terrible "crowning" pun

Insert terrible “crowning” pun

It’s a Boy!  But admittedly, I will never understand the fascination with royalty.   You’re bowing before a person born into privilege who wears a diamond studded crown or fantasizing about having millions of your own subjects who want to touch your garment because of your innate talent or ability to….do what exactly?

Now before you take away my chair (throne?) or refuse to ever let me use the word queen again, let me explain.  I have the utmost respect for the service that the Royal family of England gives back to their country and to the world.  It’s worth admiring.  But why are thousands of reporters from all over everywhere camped out in front of Wills and Kate’s home/castle/car/palace/estate and speculating about a birth, and then a name, that has a 50-50 chance of being either male or female? (Note:  Okay, I suppose they could choose the name “Pat,” but instead went with George Alexander Louis.  How dull.  I mean, my parents even came up with Faith Bari for my sister!).

Yes, this is what it has come to.

Yes, this is what it has come to.

As Holly, my cohort at notesfromachair, pointed out to me several days ago – NBC’s Today sent Natalie Morales to London several weeks ago for KateWait and she had been reduced to knitting on camera waiting for the baby to arrive.  Not only was this not a good strategy for boosting Today’s lagging ratings, it did little to honor the service of the Royal in question. If you’ve ever known a pregnant woman – and all of you have known at least one – do you think her idea of fun is to have gaggles of photographers and supporters surrounding her as she tries to maneuver her enlarged self out of the house and onto the hospital delivery room table?  That was, and is, a royal pain in its truest form.  And it’s not even unusual or salacious – two of the essential elements for news coverage these days.

To repeat: a boy – George Alexander Louis – 8 lbs., 4 oz.  That’s it.  I’m done.  Any further questions…

tumblr_m3egilqtsp1rpp260o1_500

3.    EMMY AWARDS ARE FOR SISSIES*

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

What do I have to do here to get nominated for a goddamn Emmy?

In the last few years of her life Bette Davis enjoyed posing in full makeup on a couch, next to a pillow that said, Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies.  Being a sort of gay icon she can use the latter word, as can I* (no – most of you cannot).  As for the Emmy nominations announced this week, the term should be used to describe some of the TV Academy’s choices this year in several categories.

There are lots of omissions but let’s cut to the chase – no writing nomination for the best-written show on television, Mad Men.  By eliminating the series that has been nominated every other of the six years it has been on the air (including four wins), the blue ribbon panel of choosers or perhaps other writers who nominate are saying what – that this year Mad Men wasn’t even the fifth best written drama series on TV?  Haha – that would be as funny as you telling me that they’re going to actually let Kim Kardashian’s mother host a new television talk show in 2013, or…..oh – never mind.

Kander & Ebb famously wrote the lyric: …Everybody loves a winner… for the song Maybe This Time from Cabaret but that’s actually not quite the case in the entertainment industry.  It’s actually more: Everybody hates a winner who wins too many times the way Mad Men creator Matt Weiner has.

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Trading her switch for an Emmy?

Which is to say nothing of the fact that the most Emmy nominated series this year, American Horror Story (17 nods and one of my favorite not so guilty pleasures) is going against the very overpraised and retrofitted Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra in the best miniseries and movie category.  AHS is likely to lose, because as we established in our previous #2, this country and the world can’t resist a queen. (and yeah, I can say that, too).

Emmy night is Sunday, Sept. 22.  Look for all of my Steven Soderbergh DVDs (including Magic Mike) flying out the window in the hills of Los Angeles at the very moment this injustice is announced – that is if you’re interested in some free and only slightly damaged swag.

You said it, John.

You said it, John.

4.    PRES OBAMA IS NOT A RACIST FOR SPEAKING OUT ABOUT RACE, YOU MORON

Trayvon_Obama

The country is in uproar because a mostly White female jury in Florida found an adult male carrying a gun, who stopped and eventually shot and killed a Black teenager armed with nothing but a bag of Skittles and some iced tea, a. not guilty and b. back onto the streets with the eventual return of the gun he used in the killing.  We have a Black (well, half-Black – which, fyi, means he’s also equal part White) president and a country with a really checkered history on racial issues.  What’s He supposed to do – say nothing?  What year is this – 1923? ‘33? ‘53?

All our Black (or half White) president did several days ago was try to explain the reason for the outrage about the verdict among the African American community by noting said verdict needs to be seen in historical context when he said: “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

Uh, does anyone doubt this is true or truly thinks that this is a controversial statement?   Then why is he getting pillared for it?  And why is Fox News letting people like Sean Hannity tell millions of viewers that Trayvon Martin was stoned on marijuana the night of the shooting and clearly capable of aggression (not munchies, dude – like, fighting) when that whole theory has been clearly debunked.

Why Barack Obama wants to bear his soul on this issue to the inevitable vitriol of a vast right wing machine/conspiracy is beyond me – and probably the reason this hopeful guy should be President.  It’s just that…well…when exactly did it become wrong for the president of the US to open a conversation on sensitive issues?   And not even a Liberal conversation.  There has not been a real liberal in the White House in at least 50 years – which should make one wonder if perhaps we could do even better.

The night before Pres. Obama made his remarks I had dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel where I spotted an overly made up middle aged woman with dyed blonde hair and too much jewelry sashay out of her milky white Bentley (approximate cost: $200,000) as she handed her key to the valet.  Taped to the inside passenger side window of her vehicle was a large printed white sign with black lettering that read: OBAMA SUCKS.   This, alone, tells you what he’s up against.

make-it-stop-o

SMALL ANNOYANCES ADD UP TO ONE BIG ONE

1. The barrage of incessant news from Comicon is working my last nerve.  Isn’t it enough you’ve taken over the movies? Why, oh why, are Superman and Batman going to be in a new tent pole film (sans Christian Bale) directed by Zack Snyder?  And why do you need to rub it in all our faces, over and over and over again.  Wake me when its 1968 again.  Please?

Whisk me away, Jon

Whisk me away, Jon

2. The Way, Way Back is the kind of movie I should love, love, love.  It’s a coming of age piece about a nerdy but too smart for his own good kid being raised by a divorced, single mother.  And it’s got some of my favorite quirky film actors – Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, etc.  So why, why, why was it turned into an actor fest of predictability with characters that felt written and not real?  I don’t know the answer to these questions any more than I know how the television works or why the earth is round and not flat – though all have been explained to me numerous times.

A rerun discovery

A rerun discovery

3. Cold Case is a television series that ran from 2003-2010 that I thought I was too superior to watch until several weeks ago when I was looking for yet another reason to procrastinate on some writing. It was created by Meredith Stiehm (she wrote for Homeland and now does The Bridge) and each week tackles a decades (sometimes many decades) old unsolved murder – alternating seamlessly between period flashbacks of then and now in genuinely compelling fashion.  Well, guess what?  This was a pretty freakin’ great network television series.  If you haven’t seen it, catch up with it in reruns on your DVR because it’s not available on DVD due to its music budget – the largest ever for a TV series.  The producers were smart enough to realize that even with good, taut writing and acting, nothing can bring back memories of the decades past than actual recordings from Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, the Police, Journey, and Cyndi Lauper, just to name a few.  Maybe one day the movies will start to do this again, or better yet, try to discover someone or something exciting, original or even new.  At this point, I’d even settle for a group of the studios to STOP and simply take a long hard look at what they’re doing now – and how it bodes for their – and our – futures.    Like the president…

I can dream, can’t it?