Christopher Valin, a wonderful editor/writer from Gravity City Digital Magazine, has honored me with an interview in the third issue of the mag. And I felt even more honored when I read this blurb by Christopher and his partner in digital crime, Artie Cabrera:
“Gravity City asked legendary writer-producer Larry Brody about his storied career in television and other media and got back one of the most entertaining interviews we’ve ever read.”
What knocks me out the most about what they said is that I didn’t even have to pay anybody anything to write the kind of thing about me that I’ve always wanted to hear.
Gravity City ran this entire 7000+ word article in one issue. Considering blog format and all that, I’m reprinting over three separate posts. Here’s Part 1:
larry brody Interview
Christopher J. Valin
I know you’ve told this story a million times, but for our readers who aren’t familiar with it, how did you break into the business of writing for television and film?
I think I’ve told it even more often. Probably 2 million and never the same way twice. Today I’ve got a whole new version, one possibly even truer than the others, so how about if I go with that one?
I always wanted to be a writer, even before I knew how to read. I mean, it was just a given in my life. And from the first time I saw a TV show, I knew that was the kind of writing I wanted to do. It took a little while to get there though.
As a huge s-f fan (in honor of Harlan Ellison, one of my mentors, I refuse to call it sci-fi), I began writing s-f and fantasy in high school and started selling it in the early ‘60s, when I was in college, thanks to a former Yiddish Theater child star named Eddie Friedlander.
Eddie was the father of my first wife. He’d given up the acting thing because of trauma he suffered serving in the Pacific during WW2 (another great story that I would need a hell of a lot more time to tell.) He was an optometrist in Chicago, where we all lived at the time, and had a patient who was a literary agent. He told the agent that his son-in-law was trying to be a writer, and the agent gave the polite response that he’d be happy to read my work.
I sent him half a dozen short stories, and not only did he say they were “great,” he actually sent them out to the science fiction and fantasy mags of that era…and every single one of them sold. For two cents a word. He sold them so quickly that some of them ended up being published under pseudonyms so I wouldn’t be a glut on the market. Those that kept my own name all appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which was my favorite mag at the time.
During this time, I was accepted into a University of Iowa Ph.D. program that would allow me to write a novel as my dissertation, and my wife and I moved to Iowa City. From there, I sent the agent the first 50 pages of a novel I was working on, and he sold that too. To Ace Books as one of their “Science Fiction Specials.” I was thinking of the book as genuine Vonnegut style literary fiction, but was so young and ignorant that I didn’t know I could actually tell an agent how to market it. I took the deal, but I was pissed off.
So pissed off that instead of finishing the book with success-fueled energy, I put it aside and wrote a screenplay. I’d just seen one of the earliest TV Movies – I don’t remember the name, but it was directed by Paul Wendkos, who later became a good friend of mine – and was genuinely inspired by it.
The U of Iowa had no screenwriting classes at the time. I don’t think any school did back then, and I’d never seen a screenplay, but I found a book in the university library that talked about live TV format so I decided that since this was a TV movie I would follow that.
I finished it in about a week and sent the first draft to my Chicago agent. He sent it to an agent he knew at the William Morris Agency is – OMG! What a thrill – Beverly Hills. And then he reported back to me that she loved it and wanted to talk to me.
I didn’t hesitate, not for a minute, and took the second plane ride of my life to L.A. There, the WME agent, Sylvia Hirsch, told me that she thought the script was wonderful but in the wrong format and gave me the script of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid so I could learn what the correct format was.
She also told me that I was way overdressed for a Hollywood meeting (Yes, I had a fucking suit on because how the hell was I supposed to know I shouldn’t?!), and, most importantly, that she figured that I had as good a chance to get TV writing assignments as any of her current clients and that she’d be happy to represent me.
She may have said more, but those were the last words I heard. I went back to Iowa City, and my wife and I started packing and selling the things we couldn’t pack. She quit her job, I dropped out of school (not officially. I didn’t bother with that. I just left.), and off we went.
Within about a month, there we were in L.A., no job, no place to live, you know the drill. We stepped off the plane and went to get our luggage, and as it started coming down the ramp, a middle-aged woman standing in front of us suddenly keeled over and hit the floor. The woman beside her hunkered over the woman and screamed, “She’s dead! She’s dead! Somebody help!”
I stood there, paralyzed. The rest of the people nearby barely acknowledged what was happening. They merely stepped over the major obstacles – the dead woman and her friend – and stepped around the minor obstacles—my wife and me—and got their luggage.
“Welcome to Hollywood,” said a voice in my head.
But, yeah, there I was, in Hollywood. Totally bewildered…and totally certain I was on my way.
I’m fascinated by the fact that you met with Jim Morrison while working on the script for a film he was supposed to star in. Can you talk about that meeting and what you thought about him?
Ah, the Jim Morrison situation. It’s part of the origin story, but you’ll have to be patient. I promise I’ll get there.
The name of the TV movie script that I’d written in the wrong format was Orion, and after our first night in L.A., which we spent at a cheesy motel on, I think, Fairfax, called The Farmer’s Daughter (and where I got my second big “Welcome!” because the room we were in – the Honeymoon Suite, no less – turned out to be the exact place where the only porno movie I’d ever seen in my life had been shot and the woman behind the desk turned out – you probably just guessed it – to be the female star of that woebegone piece of risible trash) after that first night the wife and I went looking for an apartment and ended up in North Hollywood, where we saw the third great welcoming sign: A real sign that said “Orion Apartments.” That and the fact that it was almost affordable made it clear that it was the place for me to board my rocket to stardom, so that’s where we moved in–
And met an out of work actor named Sammy Jackson, who lived there, spending his days lounging by the pool, drinking red wine, and surrounded by young women who wanted to give him blowjobs.
Why did they want to blow him? Because they all were aspiring starlets and he’d starred in a sitcom called No Time for Sergeants, playing the role Andy Griffith had in the film version. Why was he lounging around the pool getting drunk instead of going to work every day? Because the show was now canceled, Sammy’s fiancee had left him, and Sammy was heartbroken and doing his best to fill his life with others he hoped could mend it.
When Sammy Jackson heard I had come to L.A. to be a TV writer he smiled knowingly and offered to help. He still knew a lot of producers, he said, and they were always asking him to bring them projects he could star in. So if I were to, say, create a sitcom tailored for his TV persona, he would be happy to show it around.
So I did. I’d read the original novel version of No Time for Sergeants, seen the TV special that brought Andy Griffith to the world’s attention, seen the film version, and even a few episodes of Sammy’s series, and I made use of all that I’d learned to write a non-science fiction short story (probably shorter than these answers) that gave Sammy a smile as wide as I imagined those wannabe starlets’ blowjobs did. I also rewrote my Orion film so it was formatted properly and gave him that as well.
And, oh the glory of being so welcomed to L.A. and Hollywood and showbiz, the first producer he showed it to, Sam Katzman (who’d risen to prominence as the producer of Superman cartoons and Republic serials and at that time was producing an Elvis Presley film at MGM), called me in for a meeting where we made a deal in which he optioned the spec and the short story for Sammy and hired me to write a cheapo feature called The Rise and Fall of a Rock and Roll Star. The project had a director (a very kindly man about ten years older than my parents which made him seem even older to me than the woman who’d died waiting for her luggage at LAX) an outline written by that very director, and a star they were considering attaching.
A guy they’d never met and barely heard of by the name of Jim Morrison, who was rumored to be hot. Not super hot, by Hollywood movie standards, but hot enough for the B movie. They were going to make.
Sylvia Hirsch had no idea who Jim Morrison was, but she was very, very pleased when the MGM business affairs guy called her to make the deal. She got me genuine option money, not the hundred dollar variety that was the thing at the time, and WGAW minimum for the screenplay.
I, who did indeed understand as much about Jim Morrison as anyone in their early twenties at that time did, was more than pleased. I was ecstatic. I worked with Arthur Dreifus everyday for about a month, and together we molded his very, very, very, very old-fashioned concept (it was kind of like the silent Al Jolson version of The Jazz Singer combined with recent headlines about a pop star named Jimmy Rogers who’d suffered major brain damage after having had the crap beaten out of him because – it was rumored – he’d tried to get out of a deal with his mobster agent, with its main character being the one Anglo guy who became a star after double-crossing his Puerto Rican bandmates and, of course, was brutally murdered by his mobster agent) into a tolerable vehicle for Mr. Morrison.
What? You’ve never heard of this film? Well, of course not. Mr. Morrison was never approved as the star. In fact, to my knowledge no one ever was approved for any role, and that was that.
Except that because I’d been hired by a real live film studio to write a script for a real live rock star, Sylvia Hirsch was able to turn me into the hottest new TV writer in town. After I’d been up and at ‘em in L.A./Hollywood for a total of three months.
At the time, I thought I was a genius. I mean, talk about “the rise of…!” And I continued to think that for the next twentyish years.
Now – and this is the point of telling this story this way – I understand the truth. I was just amazingly, awesomely, and absolutely, uncontrovertably lucky.
My father-in-law knew a literary agent. Luck, yeah?
My literary agent knew one of the top TV agents in the world. Luck, for sure.
My TV agent told me what she told all of her clients…that she was pretty sure she could get me work and then actually did!
She did it after I met a fallen star who said he had connections and actually did. And his connections were, it turned out, looking for a young writer who had the energy and excitement to work his butt off on an outline that anyone with any experience or sense would have sneered at disdainfully and thrown away. But, hot damn, she did it.
Moral of this story: Showbiz isn’t about being a genius or even being all that talented (although I still think I did have some ability back then), it’s about all the right coincidences converging in the right place and time and then riding the rocket they make as high and far and fast as you can. It’s about putting yourself out there, taking a risk and, yes, working your ass off, even it takes longer than three months.
Oh, wait, your question was about Jim Morrison and meeting him and how much or why or whatever I liked him or hated him or didn’t care about him. Sorry, but I’m just plain not going to answer that.
However, I will tell you about a rumor I recently heard, said rumor implying that – guess what, everybody – Mr. Morrison is in fact still alive and living in hiding somewhere in the south of France. And his current lady friend, a 47 – no, wait a minute, she just turned 48 – year old event planner from France, got stuck here in the good old U.S.A. a few months ago while visiting relatives when COVID-19 reared its horrifying (or maybe mythical, who the fuck knows?) head.
Said rumor goes on to intimate that Ms. Event Planner currently is camped out in a refurbished glamping tent near the backyard of a certain aging TV writer who some say was in Ray Manzarek’s house in Laurel Canyon listening intently as the song L.A. Woman was written by Messers Manzarek and Morison. And, hell yes, I think Jim Morrison was a hell of a talented guy and smart guy, and probably would absolutely be dead and forgotten today if The Rise and Fall of a Rock and Roll Singer had ever been made with him as its star.
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