Look, Ma! “Gravity City” Interviews Larry Brody Part 3

(LB zooming away like a motherfucker)

Time now for Part 3 of my interview from Gravity City Mag. I remain deeply appreciative of writers/editors Christopher Valine and Artie Cabrera. And I am, of course, still in love with this blurb they published with the original article:

“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.”

(Before I forget. If you came here to see the latest installment of Live! From Paradise! have no fear. It’ll be on the blog tomorrow morning. Really, I mean it. Tomorrow morning for sure.)

Part 1 is HERE

Part 2 is HERE

And now, starting with the continuation of my answer to one of Mr. Valin’s questions, this is Part 3:

larry brody Interview

Christopher J. Valin

[…Not only did I hate the show I was working on,] I also wasn’t too happy with my family life. My second wife and I knew we had a big problem, so we took our kids to Santa Fe, New Mexico with the intention of relaxing in the very inspiring scenery and history of the Southwest and getting our lives in order.

Instead, things between us got worse. During a visit back to L.A. all this angst came to head, and the pivotal event of the early 1990s for me was packing up my dog, D’neh (the name is Navajo for Navajo, and D’neh had simply jumped into our car and come home with us while we were on the Navajo Reservation in Monument Valley, Utah one day a few years past), my comic book collection (every Marvel superhero comic starting with the first issue of The Fantastic Four up to the time Stan Lee stopped writing all the books), my Ludwig drum kit (I’ve been playing drums since I was 11), and jeans and T-shirts into the Montero SUV that was the most practical of the four cars we had for no sane reason at all, kissing my kids good-bye, and returning to the Santa Fe area from a visit to L.A. alone.

To cut to the chase, I spent a couple of years living on the Santa Clara Indian Pueblo north of Santa Fe and learning all I could about the ways of those who referred to themselves not as Indians or Native Americans but “Indian People,” while also teaching television writing and production at the now no-longer-existent College of Santa Fe. Oh, I also encountered the wonders of some very special tea made from peyote buttons, datura buds, and magic mushrooms. In other words, I spent two years flying through the sky and meeting all kinds of spirits, good, bad, and in between, without ever doubting their reality nor being especially excited by it. They were simply part of the magic that was my new normal in life.

I also remarried again, this time to the wonderful woman who has been my rock for twenty-seven years so far, through an amazing thick and thin that it would take volumes to describe. Which reminds me that the first volume of those experiences just happens to be available on Kindle. It’s a book of poetry called Kid Hollywood and the Navajo Dog. I, of course, am Kid Hollywood. D’neh is the Navajo Dog. The book’s been around for years and has sold, well, probably about a dozen copies in all that time. So if you buy one you’ll be part of a very wise and very, very small insider crowd.

Okay, now it’s time to get to my involvement in TV animation. You probably won’t be very surprised to hear that after a couple of years I ran out of money to support my two ex-wives, four children, and my mystical lifestyle, which meant that my new wife and I sold everything we had except the dog, the drums, and enough Southwestern art and furniture to fill several houses to be able to afford to return to the L.A. area and don the mantle of productivity once more.

What enabled us to make the move was that I very reluctantly sold my comics because, “Oh shit, look at this, FF#1 has been hermetically sealed for almost 30 years but it’s developed a little tear on the cover…and what the fuck, so have Amazing Fantasy #15 and Journey Into Mystery #83!” Or to put it another way, I wasn’t doing a good enough job of taking care of these prized possessions and their value was heading downward.

Fortunately, a Pueblo shaman I knew had an archeologist friend who’d turned to comic book collecting as a form of therapy for his schizophrenia. The archeologist couldn’t afford the collection, but the shaman, who also was the largest publisher of guidebooks to the Southwest and everything old, new, human and inhuman in residence there, could, so he made a present of my beloved Marvels to his buddy, which resulted in our path westward, while not paved with gold, at least ending up paved.

The shaman also assured me that things would go very well upon my return to showbiz, and within a few weeks of our arrival in Thousand Oaks (on the day of the Big Northridge earthquake of 1994 because why should my Second Coming to L.A. be any less fraught with negative signs than my first?) I was sitting with a Certain V.P. of the then thriving Fox Kids Channel at a North Hollywood pizza place.

It turned out that the Certain V.P. was a fan of my work and wanted to know what I was going to do now. I explained that I had no desire to become reinvolved in the politics, machinations, and disappointments of primetime TV, and he smiled and went into a pitch about how I was perfect for what Fox Kids was doing…and, hey, my kids would finally be able to watch what I wrote so it was win-win, right?

I called My Friend the Shaman Travel Guide Publisher, thanked him for putting me together with the Certain V.P. (which he denied he’d had anything to do with) and over the next six years was the writer and then creator and showrunner of shows like – let me see if I can remember them all – Spiderman, Spider-Man Unlimited, Superman, Xyber 9, Diabolik (an Italian comic book made into a French TV series), Spawn (an award-winning cult HBO series based on the award-winning cult comic book by Todd McFarlane), and of course The Silver Surfer, a cult Fox Kids series that proved that a Saturday morning cartoon show could be aimed at a teenage audience as well as younger kids and score big with the critics even though it had more than the usual three lines of dialog per page.

The CVP proved himself to be a demanding, hard-assed executive who actually knew what he was talking about and had higher standards of creativity than any other network exec I’d ever worked with anywhere. He drove me crazy. So crazy that the only way I could make myself sit down and do any work on the projects we shared was to start each work session with Xanax.

Even so, I was very proud of the work we did together and thoroughly enjoyed our daily battles not only because of how well the Surfer turned out but also because with CVP everything was upfront, in-yer-face, and often offered just the kind of catharsis I’d needed but never gotten in the live-action, livid back-biting days of my earlier career.

Don’t misunderstand. No way in hell would I work with the man again. But I’d be happy to hang out with him any time.

You won some awards for your work on Medical Story. Is that the show you’re most proud of, or do you have other favorites?

The series I’m most proud of being a part of, as a writer and story editor, was called Gibbsville, and I’m sure you’ve never heard of it. Very few people have. It was an adaptation of various short stories written by the brilliant author John O’Hara and starred Oscar winning actor Gig Young and a very young John Savage as newspaper reporters in a small Pennsylvania mining town in the 1940s.

The show was real drama, sensitively treating the various joys and sorrows of the human condition in a way no television series had ever done before. Although we had a few continuing characters, Gibbsville was really about the guest stars and the characters they played. There was absolutely nothing about the series that fit any TV show profile, and when we were about a quarter of the way through shooting it, after only three episodes had aired, the new head of programming at NBC announced that he hated anthology shows, which Gibbsville basically was, and canceled us. To add insult to injury, we had to keep writing and shooting ten more episodes without a break because the previous studio head, who was a master salesman, had pre-sold the show throughout Europe. In fact, if I remember correctly, I was told the series had the highest foreign pre-sale in NBC history. So the writers, cast, and crew toiled away for months, knowing that no one in the United States would see what we were doing.

And, as far as I know, to this day that’s still the situation. No one here has had a chance to see anything but the first broadcast of the TV movie that was the pilot and three episodes that followed. It was heartbreaking. Gig took it particularly badly, and it didn’t seem very surprising to me that only a few years later he shot and killed his newish young wife and himself.

You’ve said that you’re a strong believer in social responsibility and making sure productions are meaningful as well as entertaining, which I think is a very important statement coming from someone with your experience in the industry. Can you talk about that and about your feelings about the tremendous social awareness and (hopefully) societal changes that are happening?

I’m always ready to go into intricate detail about my belief that the only writing worth doing in any media is writing that’s about something, and that the best writing is about something the writer feels passionate about. I started my career in thrall to the act of writing itself. It was putting the words on paper in and of itself that fulfilled me, but before long I realized that telling stories alone wasn’t enough. It was the process of self-revelation, of expressing my feelings, concerns, and beliefs that, right or wrong, and I could in fact be very wrong, made writing the most important thing in the world to me.

On the other hand, I feel woefully inadequate to the task of talking about television writing vis-a-vis social awareness and change in our current life. Not because I don’t have any opinions about the matter, but because I’m no longer in the production trenches and therefore not up to date on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering being done to fight for truth, justice, and the way to make our culture truly humane in a practical as well as philosophical sense. These days, after all, I’m just a guy with a website.

What made you to decide to start TVWriter.com?

In 1998, I was simultaneously running the writing end of both The Silver Surfer and Spawn, two very different shows. Spawn’s storytelling style was intensely tight and visual, with a hero who seldom spoke, and The Silver Surfer’s Big Kahuna was a guy who couldn’t shut up. I mean, his whole life was a monologue. And not just any monologue, oh no. It was my personal monologue about trying to find a way to understand what the hell existence was all about.

Most of the animation writers I’d hired for these shows were having trouble getting into their style and pacing, which were much slower and more complex than the writers were used to, so I created the TVWriter™ website as part of a search for new talent that would be more open to breaking the Saturday morning three speeches and a fight template.

I’ve met many wonderful people and fine writers via the site, which then was called “The TV Writer Home Page” and discovered that I was enjoying searching for and guiding the new writers more than I’d enjoyed the actual business and, frankly, effort of writing for many, many years, so when first Spawn and then Silver Surfer went out of production (I was going to say wound down, but Surfer especially was a sudden CRASH! caused by Haim Saban’s unexpected sale of Fox Kids to Rupert Holy Crap If This Isn’t The Devil Who The Hell Is? Murdoch) I decided to turn my online talent hunt into a way of helping as many new TV writers as possible, with the added side benefit of being able to support myself by doing so.

Over the past 22 years, TVWriter.Com has gone through many incarnations, growing and then shrinking and then growing again, with news about both the art and craft of television writing, contests for spec pilots and spec episodes of existing series, online classes in various aspects of writing and production (of films as well as TV), summer in-person workshops – first at the ranch I had up in the hills on the Malibu-Westlake Village border, later in its successor ranch in North Central Arkansas where the Brodys relocated for several years (“Thanks for all the help, Bill Clinton and friends!”) and finally in – shudder – Las Vegas. We even had an intellectual property registration service that somehow managed to offer the fun of more writing contests to subscribers.

During this time I’ve seen dozens of our contest entrants, students, and mentees make their way into various levels of showbiz, including becoming showrunners. Of course, I’ve also seen many fine talents not make their way into the biz, many times because they’ve found something more meaningful, and many times because the shit has hit the fan and I’ve had to go from supporter/mentor to hand-holder. But this kind of panorama is what life is all about, yeah? We struggle, and we grow.

Over the last several months, TVWriter.Com, which I now refer to as TVWriter™ for no reason other than I think it sounds cool, has cut back a bit, delivering more tweets than original posts due to the COVID-19 horror, various other health concerns, and a bit of energy depletion on my part (Hell, I’m 75 years old and have survived two heart attacks, quintuple bypass surgery, and, most recently, prostate cancer treatment and surgery – and yes, thank you, I’m all healed and clear, my friends) but I still teach two weekly classes, the Advanced Online TV and Film Writing Workshop and Larry Brody’s Online Master Class in TV and Film Writing.

I don’t, by the way, consider myself to be teaching “writing” per se because I don’t believe writing can be taught. Instead, I teach bright, intelligent people of all ages, genders, etc. how to think like writers so they can make the best possible use of their talents. I also consult about TV writing and production with various companies and individuals, not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Which gives me reason for another shout out, this time to to my friends in the Hong Kong entertainment industry. “Keep fighting the good fight, kids! The best is yet to be!”

Are there any writing projects you’re currently working on?

I’m no longer writing new fiction, because the teaching and consulting thing has become the big recipient of my OCD. That, and spending as much time as possible actually living my life instead of just observing it.

The last couple of decades have been extremely gratifying in more ways than I ever could have expected. I couldn’t ask for more. And, hell, one important life lesson I’ve learned is that once you face all the realities, just about anything is easier than writing.

One last question, not directly related to writing: I know that you’re a drummer. What type of music do you play and what’s your musical experience been like?

I’ve played the drums for over 60 years, professionally and very unprofessionally as well. I’ve substituted in various bands, some of them Very Big Bands Indeed, others local groups playing open mic nights. Since self-isolation started I’ve put together a jazz trio we call The Bird Street Jazz Band.

We’re a trio, tenor and alto saxophone, electric and upright bass, and drums, and we play outside, masked except for the saxophonist, in our shared neighborhood once or twice a week to audiences numbering in the high 1’s to 3’s. We’ve even been paid a couple of times. A little girl in the back seat of her mother’s car gave us a crisp, clean five-dollar bill through the window, and the 47 year-old-Parisian woman who may or may not be Jim Morrison’s current significant other bought us a pizza.

In spite of the current world situation, I feel that I’m living my life in the best way ever. The actual jazz playing experience is totally stress-free and brings a kind of peace and contentment I’ve never before had. To further accentuate the good, three-quarters of my children still talk to me – frankly, we talk more than ever before – and my wife and dogs fill me with love while teaching, by their example, the power of acceptance and compassion.

Thanks for getting in touch with me, Chris, and for caring about the answers to all your great questions.

NOTE FROM LB: A few things in my life have changed since this interview was done. I’ve had to take TVWriter™ offline and drop all my teaching/mentoring/consulting for health reasons, specifically the return of my prostate cancer and the accompanying further surgery and treatment.

As of this writing, the prognosis is good, and I’m feeling pretty damn fine, although that may be due to the fact that after 5 weeks of being ensconced in the place that catheters traditionally inhabit in situations like mine, my catheter has been removed and I can now do exciting things like shower and touch myself and live pretty much normally day to day.

In fact, posting this interview has been one of the ways of celebrating my new freedom, and you know what? It’s even better than all the chocolate cake with pink frosting I’ve been eating. Well, almost better. You know how it is.



End of Part 3
Thanks for reading, y’all!

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Look, Ma! “Gravity City” Interviews Larry Brody Part 2

(The magazine cover I should've run with Part 1)

Last year I think it was, Gravity City Digital Magazine‘s Christopher Valin and Artie Cabrera honored me with an interview in the third issue of their mag. And I’m deeply appreciative of this blurb:

“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.”

Gravity City ran this entire 7000+ word article in one issue. Considering blog format problems and such, I’m reprinting it over three separate posts.

Part 1 is HERE

This is Part 2:

larry brody Interview

Christopher J. Valin

What’s your writing process like, and how much is it informed by your own background? Is the “write what you know” maxim important to you?

My writing process began as a magical formula for escaping this world and all its slings, arrows, and personal, cultural, and political outrages. As a reader, I was a huge science fiction and fantasy fan, starting with my reading – entirely by accident – Frederick Brown’s novel Martians Go Home when I was in junior high. It was time I’d ever read something breezy and funny and insightful that wasn’t aimed at “younger readers.” (I don’t think the literary world had established a Young Adult category then.) As I look back at it now, I realize that it was pretty much the same tone Stan Lee used about 10 years later in what I consider Marvel’s Golden Age of Silver Age comics.

The book totally surprised and enchanted me, and so did s-f and fantasy as genres, even the more seriously written material, so when I started writing short stories a couple of years later, those were the genres I wrote in.

I’d say that during junior high and high school I probably wrote at least fifty short stories, most of which had nothing to do with me as a person but with places and situations into which I wanted to escape. Amazingly, every single one of the stories from that era was eventually published, not because of my Chicago agent but because during a six-month dry spell in my TV writing career in the late ‘60s I went through the inevitable ‘young writer saving family and bank account by writing porn’ period.

I churned out novel after novel under a name similar to that of a multiple-Emmy-winning TV writer-producer who had kept me constantly employed on various cop and medical shows, you know, the kind we now call police and medical procedurals, because I thought that was pretty damn funny. (Hey, I was a kid in my mid-twenties, for crying out loud.) The novels were intended as parodies of “real porn,” and one of them earned me a review in which the critic said “this fucking writer can’t even write a fucking sex scene,” but somehow that particular analysis got me a job as an editor of a whole line of soft core men’s mags, the publisher of which always insisted that one or two short stories be included with the photo spreads – and, believe me, they really were “spreads”. Those short stories were the ones I’d written during my teens but with sex scenes, um, inserted, you could say.

As the ‘70s and I grew up, I matured enough to want to write about ideas, beliefs, and even realities. I would gladly have put those themes into science fiction, fantasy, and porn if they still were my markets, but I was back in TV now, full bore, and at the time that mean writing episodes of Ironside, Cannon, The Bold Ones, Hawaii Five-0, Police Story, you name it and trying to make them as adult and significant as I could. It was a freelance business, and I often sold the same concept two or three times to different shows if I didn’t like the way the original versions had ended up after studio and network input and the usual production letdowns.

I loved the freelance days of TV writing because more often than not I would have several assignments at a time and as a result was making more money than those I worked for. I saw this as giving me the freedom to write the way I wanted and being able to say “Fuck you” to producers and executives who I seemed to be trying to put their imprint on my work, but in the mid-70s I finally succumbed to the hope that I would have more of a chance of protecting my writing by producing it as well and accepted a gig as producer (in the real sense of running everything and not just being a glorified story editor) on what then was generally considered the best drama on television, Police Story. And lo and behold, it turned out that a steady salary was much easier to live with than I thought it would be, and being at the studio every day – hell, just driving onto the lot – was even better than being a character in any science fiction novel of the era. What a wonderful alternate reality I lived in!

When you were a producer or showrunner, what happened if the story just wasn’t working as it was pitched in the writers’ room? Did you ever have to rewrite something from scratch or just dump the idea in that case?

On pretty much all the shows I produced, I did the job now referred to as “showrunner,” and I think I was a pretty fair boss. I only hired writers I absolutely believed in, and I believed in myself even more. That means that once we’d agreed on a concept and had an approved outline, the plot was for all practical purposes set in stone, guaranteed to work (for us, anyway). I would leave the first draft as well as any that came after in the hands of the individual writers, giving them my notes and the network notes that I believed in and just letting the writers fly with them.

We couldn’t afford to dump any script that went the distance in terms of fees, so even if ultimately I or the network thought the writers’ last script pass wasn’t what it should be I’d give the story editor one last crack at it. And if that still didn’t work I’d take over and put in however many hours it took to add whatever pizzazz was missing. Sometimes that was a hell of a lot of hours…or days…or once or twice even weeks, but I never put my name on a script I rewrote. It didn’t seem fair to play the game that way, especially when doing so would take residual money out of the original writer’s pocket and the job I was being paid for was to fix things that got broken.

I have to say, as a child of the ‘70s I’m extremely impressed that you wrote an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. The idea that Steve Austin would work alongside Soviets and that none of them were villains was very forward-thinking for the time. Was that your idea, or did they come up with it on the show and assign it to you?

That’s a great question because on that particular occasion, I was freelancing and excited that I was actually getting to write s-f! The producers gave me a synopsis I assumed they’d written, so my job was to work out the specifics of the storyline, found it approved quickly and easily with no further suggestions, and then had a ball writing the script. After I delivered my final draft I learned that another writer had come up with the idea and written at least an outline, if not a first draft. The writer was Jimmy Sangster, who to me was a kind of legend because he’d written so many of the Hammer Studio horror films I’d grown up with.

I think that the way I learned about it was because of a credit arbitration. I don’t remember how the arbitration turned out, but I do recall being so upset with the executive producer, Harve Bennett, and the production team for not alerting me that this was officially a “rewrite” that I never worked with Bennett again. During the writing, he’d been all smiles, and when I turned in the final draft his smile was even wider as he told me how happy he was and invited me to “dance this dance again.” He called me once after the episode had been shot to talk about another one, and this time I had the big smile when I told him to go away because we’d already had our “last dance.” It was a dumb callback to his line but felt good to say.

I know you wrote some Star Trek episodes, from The Animated Series to Voyager. But you’ve talked about a bunch of pitches that you made to the Star Trek producers over the years that didn’t get picked up. What was your favorite idea for an episode that you really wanted to write for one of the Star Trek shows but weren’t able to?

Funny thing. I’ve written about all the Voyager pitches that got shot down, but the episode that I’ve always wished had made it to the air was the one I sold to Gene Roddenberry and Dorothy Fontana for TAS. As originally pitched, it was quite simply, “The Enterprise discovers God in the far reaches of space.” It was the kind of thing Gene loved, possibly because of his own God complex, who knows?

NBC turned it down because of their fear of alienating Christians all over the country, but Gene didn’t give up. He came back with, “Okay, okay, but what if instead of God, Kirk and the others come face to face with the devil?” and they give him an ovation for that.

As a result of the devil episode, called The Magicks of Megas-Tu, Gene Roddenberry and I grew close. He became a mentor to me, and my earliest staff gig was his story editor for a show he was doing with Universal, called Genesis II. In the end, the original version of that series never got beyond the pilot stage, although later it metamorphed into ST: The Next Generation.

By the time TNG came out, I’d established myself as a producer, so Gene offered me the producer job there. The offer was contingent on only one thing – that I write a sample episode of the series first. However, it turned out that he’d also offered that same job to a dozen other top-ranked writers, as a way of getting us to write scripts for the show, and all of us turned it down.

You worked on a lot of comic book-related shows, such as Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, Silver Surfer, and a couple of Spider-Man series. How did that come about? Were you always a comic book fan, or was it just a result of your TV writing experience?

I was a huge comic book fan. My first published work was a poem in a neighborhood newspaper on the North Side of Chicago, but my second was a letter in an early issue of Spider-Man. I was even active in early comics fandom for a couple of years and won a Shazam Award for fan fiction. The runner-up was another kid my age named George Martin. My winning story was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction a few years later. George followed up his fan success a few years later with some series of books that HBO called The Game of Thrones.

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s I wrote quite a bit of material based on my love for comics. You know, little things like a baddie on the series Cannon who was a comic book artist. I remember that I described the character in the comic as wear the “usual long underwear,” assuming that everyone in the world knew that meant he was in a superhero costume, only to discover when Quinn Martin happily sent me the artwork used on the air that they’d literally shown a closeup of a man wearing genuine long underwear. And it was baggy to boot.

My ultimate road to becoming a head writer (God forbid the animation companies of that era should ever call anyone but an artist the producer) of TV animation was quite indirect. In 1991, I woke up one morning and found myself re-examining my life. At 46ish, I’d accomplished everything I’d ever wanted to, except finish the novel I’d sold to Ace books over twenty years ago, but instead of being able to celebrate it, I felt miserable.

My most recent experience co-creating and co-running a series had been a disaster. I’m not going to name the show or those involved in it other than to say that the head of the company was a non-television guy who bragged about having been a big-time drug dealer. Not my favorite lifestyle, you know? I’d left that show and the money I believed it owed me for work already done, because I absolutely couldn’t – and believe me, I mean COULDN’T in boldfaced, all caps italics bear the idea of working in showbiz again.

End of Part 2
More to Come Here

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Look, Ma! “Gravity City” Interviews Larry Brody Part 1

(Gotta admit it. I love this pic from Gravity City Mag #3)

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.

End of Part 1
More to Come Here

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