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Friday, February 6, 2009

The Names Have Been Changed To Protect The Innocent.

"The Story You Are About To See Is True.
The Names Have Been Changed To Protect The Innocent"

These were the opening words of every episode of the series "Dragnet".
My ex-wife used to love to watch "Dragnet" when she was a little girl.
But it was on past her bedtime.
Going into the last commercial, the announcer would always say "The results of this case in just a moment".

My ex-wife's parents watched "Dragnet", and unbeknownst to them, their little daughter would be sitting on the staircase landing, watching along with them.
Once, during the last commercial, she was spotted on the landing and immediately ordered to be off to bed.
And she cried out "Can't I just see the zults? I just wanna stay up to see the zults!!"

After she told me this story, the word "results" was never used in our house.
It forever became "zults"

Do you know what a "Roman-a-clef" is?

Here's the definition, according to Wikipedia:

A roman à clef or roman à clé (French for "novel with a key") is a novel describing real life, behind a façade of fiction. The 'key' is usually a famous figure or, in some cases, the author.

Well, this is going to be a Post-a-clef.

Ordinarily, I hate using this form.
I've been totally candid about everything so far, but in this case we must protect the innocent. And one of the characters is SO innocent that I don't want to hurt him.
And one of the characters is so guilty that I don't want to get sued.

Years ago, I wrote, produced, and directed one of my plays, a romantic comedy,
in Los Angeles in one of those 100 seat Equity Waiver Theaters that dot the L.A. landscape.

Equity Waiver means you don't have to pay the actors.

There's something you should know about theater in L.A:
Nobody goes to see it.

I mean, theyll go to the Dorothy Chandler, or the Mark Taper Forum, or the Ahmanson downtown.
But they don't go to the Equity Waiver Theaters in any kind of serious numbers.

So why are productions done there?
Two reasons.
Either to serve as gymnasiums for actors, places for them to work out.
Or to serve as Showcases for actors, directors, or writers with Agendas.

I put my play in one of those theaters because of my Agenda.
I wanted to show Show Business that I wasn't just a sit-com guy, but a real playwright and theater director.
(And maybe they'd also see this play as a Back-door Pilot.)
Heavy Agenda.

Very important TV stars are sometimes willing to work in Equity Waiver Theater, for free, because they have Agendas.
One such important TV star, a veteran leading actress of several TV series and too many TV-Movies to count, clamored to be the female lead in my play.
For free.
Because she had an Agenda.
She wanted to prove to the industry that she was adept at comedy.
Comedy was something she was rarely considered for.
She was willing to read for me.
She had the tools for comedy.
And her name value would certainly fill some seats.
So I wanted her.
Let's call her "Millie".
But Millie's agent was very protective of Millie.
Let's call him "Asshole".
That's what most agents are called anyway.
Asshole wanted to make sure that the leading man would be someone of her stature, and would make her look good.
This was a tall order to fill, trying to find someone like that who'd work for free.
But we all started to compile lists of potential leading men who would fill the bill.
We would contact the actors Millie deemed acceptable.
We had a few solid nibbles, but couldn't nail anyone down.

The closest I came was a major comedian who got big around the same time as Robert Klein and George Carlin, was more mainstream, had had a short-lived sitcom, and was just itching to have another go at it.
Let's call him "Dick", although he certainly wasn't one.

Dick's big plaint was how he opened the doors for guys like Seinfeld who had these huge hit sitcoms, but he has no respect as an actor, and couldn't get another series.
I'd seen him complain about this on TV.
Meanwhile, he was making money hand-over-fist in Vegas, and nightclubs, and concerts.
So he saw my play, which he loved, as an opportunity to get that respect.
He read for me and was really good.
But he was wavering.
It would mean giving up a lot of money.

I told him a story I had heard, about Mel Torme.
Mel Torme was offered the opportunity to play Mickey Rooney's brother on what turned out to be an Emmy award winning episode of "Playhouse 90", written by Rod Serling in the late 50's.
Mel Torme was torn.
He moaned to his friend Edmond O'Brien, who was already cast in another part in this episode, about how he was only being offered $500 to do the show, and how it would mean turning down the $5000 a week for three weeks he would have earned in nightclubs.
O'Brien said to him, "Melvin, you should be paying them."

Torme played Mickey Rooney's brother, and was great.

I told Dick the same thing.
He understood.
I almost had him.
But in the end, he couldn't turn down the money.

Next case.
I considered Casting my forte, and my gut usually proved right.
Starting to scramble, a name entered my head that I thought would be really good.
The star of a MAJOR action series in the 60's, who I had seen be VERY funny.
Let's call him "Manny".
Manny wasn't all that visible lately, and I had a feeling doing this play with Millie might do him some good, get him great exposure and that he'd do it for free.
Manny didn't even make it to Millie's ears.
I mentioned Manny to Asshole, who said "Him? Are you crazy?! He's not funny! And he's got to be a hundred years old! You're not going to put him on the same stage with my Millie!!
That's how he thought, and that's how he talked.
He was wrong, but I wasn't going to press the matter.

I later learned that Asshole not only represented Millie.
He also represented Manny.

How would you like to be Manny, having Asshole as your agent?
Or at least this particular Asshole.

So we pressed on.
The longer it took, the less qualifications were insisted on.
Stature became less important than making Millie look good.

So I thought of really good actors I'd worked with, and mentioned someone primarily known as a comedian, very well-known in the 60's and 70's.
This was the 90's.
Millie and Asshole deemed him acceptable.
Let's call him "Jackie" (What else is new?).

In the interim, I was coaching Millie on how to be better in the part, even though the play wasn't completely cast yet.

After a couple of sessions, I get a call from Asshole:
"Millie really thinks a lot of you. She's reading for a sitcom pilot next week. Would you be willing to give up your Sunday and go to Millie's house to coach her for her audition? I'd really owe you for this".

I agreed.

Like I said, Millie had the tools, and was very malleable. She completely trusted me.

It was good material, which made it easier.
I made many suggestions, which she immediately adapted to easily.
By the time we were done, I thought she was quite good.

For whatever reason, she wasn't cast.
But I felt redeemed when the pilot, which didn't sell, was aired the following summer.
The actress who was cast, let's call her "Swoosie", played it exactly as I had instructed Millie to play it. And was quite good.

Okay. So I call Jackie's agent, and explained the situation.
He requested a script.
I shortly hear from Jackie.
He loves it and wants to do it.
Raving and raving about the script.
And he's thrilled that Millie wants to work with him.
Jackie is in.

I meet Jackie for lunch.
He has bandages on his face.
He's just had a facelift.
He tells me he had it done live on the Internet.
So he could get it done for free.

A week later, we hold the first cast reading at Millie's house.
Jackie is terrific.
Millie seems to be keeping her distance.
I sense Trouble In River City.

Everyone leaves.
I ask Millie if anything is wrong.
"No, everything's fine".
I less than believe her.
I leave, with the citizens of River City yelling "Trouble! Trouble! Trouble!" in my car.

Next day, I get a call from Asshole.
"Millie can't do the play. She's really sorry". I thought this was probably not a good time to mention to Asshole that he owes me.

Turns out, between the time she accepted Jackie until the first cast reading, she found out about Jackie's free Internet facelift.
She couldn't get past the words "Tacky" and "Cheesy".
I really couldn't blame her.

So I had Jackie and no Millie.
And now Jackie is threatening to pull out if don't get someone of equal stature to Millie.

I tried.
But there were several actresses of that stature who also thought Jackie represented "Tacky" and Cheesy".
Jackie was sensational in the part and I really didn't want to lose him.
And I thought he might still be a bit of a draw.

The best I could do was a really terrific actress and comedienne who I knew, very well-known for her only TV series, a big hit show, now considered legendary.
But I think it typecast her.
She thinks so too.
People had trouble thinking of her as anybody else.
This happens some times.
As Garry Marshall was often given to say, "It's not a fair business".
Let's call her "Aurora".

Jackie didn't want to hear about Aurora.
His almost precise words were "Don't give me no Aurora!"
I said "What happened to the raving and raving about the play?"
He said, "That's when you had Millie!"

I loved and love Aurora. Personally and professionally.

So here's the zults.

I told Jackie to go screw. I was going with Aurora.

I was going with less star power.
For the male lead, I went with an actor whose work I loved, but who was only known in more limited circles.
He was actually much better known as a child actor. Let's call him "Morris".

Aurora, matched up romantically with Morris?

Well, Morris was now 50. It worked great.

It was wonderful to watch the two of them together.

We got great reviews, and Equity Waiver being what it was, did sparse business.

Morris left during the run. We got someone else. A really good actor, with no drawing power.

Now, I don't want to see anything on the "Comments" section offering up guesses as to who all of these people are.
You'd have to know me really well to get that kind of information out of me.
If you think you know, keep it to yourself.
I didn't do it this way to tease you.
It was the only way I felt I could tell this story with any kind of tact.

You know what? After Morris left the run, I probably should have gone after Manny.
He still would have been great.

And Asshole still owed me one.

He still does.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(From April 2014)  Not too long ago, I was made aware of a website called Kickstarter.com
I'm sure many of you have heard of it.
I figure that this is the last chance for me to get a movie that I wrote made.
Being a sequel to "Network", it's called, appropriately enough, "Another Network".
I'm trying to raise $225,000 to get it made well.
I implore you, I beseech you, to at least go to Kickstarter.com, type in "Another Network" where it says Search Projects, click on it, watch the fifteen minute video of me being interviewed about it (rather entertainingly, I think), read the details provided, and if you feel at all generous towards me, make a pledge to help me get this movie made.
If I don't reach my goal, it won't cost you a thing.
If I do, your pledge will be activated.
And think about how happy you'll be.
At least for me.
And how happy this relatively old man will be if you come through.
And I promise you that I will make it my business that this movie gets seen.
And that you will be proud to be a part of it.

Also,, my books ,"Show Runner" and it's sequel,"Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store.
Along with the newer ones, "The Man Is Dead", and "Report Cards".
You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne and Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
Check them out.
You don't need a Kindle machine to download them.
Just get the free app from Kindle, and they can be downloaded to an IPhone, IPad, or Blackberry.
The paperback, "Mark Rothman's Essays" is still available for people without Kindle.
I have many readings and signings remaining, and the thing about Kindle is you can't sign one.
If you'd like one, contact me at macchus999@aol.com.
And now, we've got my reading of my "Laverne & Shirley Movie" screenplay on YouTube.

******

12 comments:

  1. It's a great story without the names and probably more fun when you get to guess. Very educational, too. An agent who talks that way about one of his own clients amazes me. I have to wonder how much work he was getting that poor guy. The thought that that may be typical behavior in Hollywood is a bit chilling.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bruce,

    You've pinpointed why I thought this story was worth telling.

    The agent is really the only villain here.

    Everybody else's behavior is understandable.

    You can still have the fun of guessing. I just ask that you do it in private

    ReplyDelete
  3. So, Mark -- when are you going to put all this together in your book about Hollywood? Terrific story that really gets to the heart of the issues - it's insightful and amusing.

    ReplyDelete
  4. K.A.,

    When? As soon as some smart publisher starts reading this blog and offers me a very lucrative book deal. That's when.
    I have a feeling that then, I'd start pulling a lot fewer punches.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Mark, I love the stories. My very dear friend was a Hollywood writer 1960's-early 1990's and he used to tell us some great Hollywood stories. (he included the names,though! Smaller audience.) His name was Jim Carlson. We lost Jim very suddenly last year. Your stories bring back fond memories of his storytelling. You tell them just the way Jim did. Thanks, and keep em coming.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jim Carlson? Didn't he collaborate w/ Terrence McDonnell on a few episodes of the original "Battlestar Galactica"?

    ReplyDelete
  7. You got it! Actually he did quite a few episodes of that, plus Laugh In, Adam 12, etc. He went to a bunch of Battlestar conventions and they treated him like a star. Glad you remember him. I met Terry at Jim's memorial service and he and have stayed in touch since. Terry remains busy.

    My name is Peter. I am not familiar with the "Comment as" choices, so I just post as Anon.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Can we get it together and try to get a little less anonymous around here? Just to avoid confusion?
    Just pick a name. It doesn't have to be yours.
    Not including the names on my part, if you'll notice, is far more the exception than the rule. I don't wish to indulge in that unless absolutely necessary.

    ReplyDelete
  9. How's that, better?

    As I was saying, I'm glad you knew of Jim Carlson.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This still is one of my favorite posts. We need more mysteries like this, IMHO.

    ReplyDelete
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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at macchus999@aol.com. Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."